Kuala Lumpur has shrugged off its image as a city for fake knock-offs, emerging as a hotspot for polished malls and designer goods
With such diversity elsewhere in the country - tiny emerald islands mushrooming out of the Indian Ocean, large velvet stretches of sand, mountains laced with acres of virgin rainforest – Kuala Lumpur’s status in Malaysia has always been that of a gateway city. But with the launch of Air Asia’s low cost flights (around £250), as well as a heavy injection of cash to revamp and introduce high-end shops in the city’s centre, it’s fast becoming a shopping haven for those fed up with being spanked in the wallet by the euro and the gradually-rising dollar.
The beautiful Petronas Twin Towers watch over the city like metallic sentries (tip: skip the guided tour unless you want to be bored rigid), symbols of KL’s inching towards globalisation. The eye of regeneration has been strictly focussed on Bintang Walk downtown, turning it into a classy little enclave of polished glass and billboards reaching up to the sky. Head straight there, as it’s easy to do a sweep of all the major shopping malls – Lot 10, Pavilion KL and Starhill Gallery – most of which were only built this time last year. The idea of heading out to a modern shopping mall when London has so many might seem a bit pointless, but each has – apart from the usual Louis Vuittons and Chanels – brilliant brands that are only available in Malaysia or Japan. Brera, a beautiful Malaysian shoe and bag store in Pavilion specialises in high end leather, with prices averaging £20 for shoes and £30 for bags, while Skin Food, a Japanese beauty store in Sungei Wang Plaza offers top products, starting from £2.
Looking down onto the hot and humid streets of the city, Starhill is stupendously upmarket with gilt glass elevators and an instore art gallery, and while the exchange rate on Lanvin and Mulberry isn’t that generous, if you time it right, you can walk away with some absolute steals. August to September is when the Shopping Carnival takes place, while December is the mega sale period. Charles and Keith, the Singapore-based shoe designers, also offer steals during sale time, with shoes starting from £15 at Pavilion. Double up your sightseeing with shopping at the Suria Shopping Complex at the bottom of the Petronas Twin Towers, as it features iconic Malaysian brand Aseana. At around £100 it isn’t cheap, but the handmade clothes with exquisite beading and embroidery would fetch at least three times that in London. I bagged a £200 dress for £80 in the sale - made from raw silk and hand-stitched beading, it would have cost me a week’s rent back in England.
Speaking of accommodation, it’s worth noting that five-star hotel chains such as the Hilton Kuala Lumpur and the Mandarin Oriental charge significantly less than their European counterparts, and are conveniently located in the shopping belt of the city. The latter is adjacent to the Petronas towers and acts as a convenient base if you want to pop in and out with your shopping bags.
If your companions are looking for cheaper bargains, however, the thrifty can always be appeased by spending an afternoon sauntering around old established areas such as Petaling Street, KL’s ancient Chinatown, where t-shirts and fake handbags reign supreme - but if it’s quality you’re after, then the real bargain lies in bagging goodies that’ll last more than one wash. For those with time, the Melium Outlet on Jalan is worth a peek, offering designer (although not necessarily current season) clothes at a snip. Similarly, while Berjaya Times Square might be the city’s biggest mall, Plaza Low Yat is a warren of relatively cheap electrical goods from iPods to mobile phones. What KL really needs is a guide that brings all its local brands under one umbrella (much the same way as Chicago), but until then, happy hunting – the fun is in the rummage.