Here’s how we can improve KL’s famous Bukit Bintang area — by Leesan
Thanks to the nature of my work, I have been able to visit as many as 123 countries and see some unique tourist attractions. These include natural wonders like the Niagara Falls, Amazon Rainforest, Galapagos Island, Uyuni Salt flats (Salar de Uyuni) and the North Pole, as well as important historical sites like Machu Picchu, the Pyramids of Giza, Chichen Itza and Palace of Versailles.
I have also been to many cities, some of which offer great shopping attractions, fantastic restaurants and a vibrant nightlife.
At all these tourist destinations, safety, cleanliness, accessibility and availability of information are important things to take into account.
Perhaps affordability is also a factor for some people but high prices and entry fees do not usually deter travellers from visiting these places, if they feel they are worth it.
Still, when it comes to getting tourists to spend more money in our country, nothing beats shopping and eating, especially in our capital city, Kuala Lumpur, or KL.
KL is my city as I have lived here – in Bukit Bintang, specifically – for the past 23 years after returning from my studies in Japan. I know the ins and outs of the Bukit Bintang area like the back of my hand. I feel like there is so much potential to make KL even more popular than George Town and Melaka, for example, if we fix several issues.
As far as tourists are concerned, KL is synonymous with the Petronas Twin Towers and KLCC. They are Malaysian brand names known the world over. They are also icons of the city and a must-see landmark much like the Empire State Building in New York or Trafalgar Square in London.
Thanks to the development of KLCC, the area – once a popular racecourse – is now filled with skyscrapers, international hotels, parks and shopping malls with connected walkways.
However, neither the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) nor the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry has made any effort to set up a proper spot for tourists to take good pictures of the Twin Towers. I feel this is such an obvious thing to plan for especially in the age of Instagram and selfies.
Although KLCC Holdings and DBKL launched six photo spots way back in 2009, today, tour buses are unloading tourists at a private compound near Jalan Stonor instead of the designated areas to take their pictures. This is quite a dangerous spot because there is a lot of traffic in the area and tourists risk getting hit by passing vehicles.
After checking out KLCC, tourists will usually head to the Bukit Bintang area. Actually, Bukit Bintang may be the main choice for many tourists to stay and spend time at. The success of this area is largely due to developer YTL Coropration calling it Starhill (which is the English equivalent of Bukit Bintang) and Bintang Walk many years ago.
However, I feel more can be done to give the place more “wow” factor. Think along the lines of Singapore’s Orchard Road or Melbourne’s Central Business District in Australia.
I think this is achievable with the development of the Bukit Bintang City Centre or BBCC. When I first heard of this plan in 2016, I, the Bukit Bintang resident, got really excited. I even worked out a dream layout for BBCC to become a tourist paradise.
In my plan, connectivity between areas is the main thing, as this has worked for many cities. Take, for example, Manila’s Makati Green Belt in the Philippines. The shopping centres and buildings there are connected with a green theme which helps to boost urban economy and attracts a steady stream of people to the place.
Bangkok and Hong Kong, too, have the same concept, where most of their malls are directly connected to the subway stations.
Currently, there is already an overhead pedestrian walkway that connects Pavilion KL to KLCC. There is also an underground walkway connecting Fahrenheit Mall to Pavilion, but this walkway does not extend to Starhill Gallery which is just opposite Pavilion, or to Lot 10 Shopping Centre further down the road. This is such a pity.
In my dream BBCC, I am able to go through a walkway that connects to both Starhill Gallery and Fahrenheit Mall from the sixth floor of Pavilion KL. This walkway continues to Lot 10 or go further along to Sungei Wang Plaza and Low Yat Plaza across the busy Jalan Imbi, and then all the way to Berjaya Times Square.
Along the way, visitors can enjoy a good view of the area, one of which is what used to be Pudu Jail.
In my dream BBCC, safety, cleanliness and accessibility are no longer issues we have to face every day. The walkway is clean, brightly lit, comfortable and safe; there is no need to worry about the rain or hot sun. Under the walkway is the steady flow of traffic on a pothole-free four-lane highway.
There are also paved walkways with beautiful landscaping and greenery around, and free of rubbish, too. Greater accessibility is provided by a well-designed bicycle lane with convenient bike rental stations like those in Taipei. Besides that, the subway in the BBCC zone is also fully operational and the exits at MRT stations are conveniently connected to all shopping malls, residential buildings and office blocks.
Insufficient parking space? Not a problem in my dream BBCC. Neither will there be unlicensed hawkers selling knick-knacks by the roadside nor rubbish strewn in back lanes.
My dream gets bigger and it extends beyond BBCC – I want to see the whole of KL be rid of the ills of the city, where roads are all well maintained, pavements are smooth and safe for use for the young, old and the disabled.
In my dream BBCC, Jalan Alor and Changkat Bukit Bintang become even more famous as places to go to for street food and a happening night life. Restaurants and bars are all clean with no rats running around and smelly clogged drains at every corner.
With incentives from tourism stakeholders, traders and local authorities, we may be able to turn Jalan Bukit Bintang itself into a covered pedestrian shopping street like Prague’s enchanting street market, offering beautiful local arts and crafts. BB Park could even become a Satay Village featuring the best satay in Malaysia!
Cabbies need to learn a thing or two from Japan’s taxi drivers who are dressed properly, always polite and professional, and pick up/drop off passengers in an orderly manner at designated locations in metered taxis.
My dream KL also takes pride in well-maintained buildings, especially old shophouses which reflect the city’s architectural heritage. And it is safe to walk around everywhere, day and night. I hope to see tourists happily approaching friendly tourist police officers for information, or simply to take selfies with them.
That is my dream. Cynics may just think of it as a futile plan. It could even be a nightmare especially if it ends with a snatch thief on a motorcycle grabbing my phone as I am busy taking a selfie … well that should wake me up.
Leesan, the founder of Apple Vacations, has travelled to 122 countries, six continents and enjoys sharing his travel stories and insights. He has also authored two books.