Walking Kuala Lumpur

Walking in a city where anything on wheels is superior to anything without is more than just putting one foot in front of the other. More than just Lift, Step, Repeat.

It’s not always a case of green light, go, red light, stop if you’re a pedestrian in Kuala Lumpur, the only place I know where you still need to look right-left-right when the traffic lights turn red.

Kuala Lumpur is a city ill-designed for pedestrians. Where there are pavements, not all are wide enough for comfortable and safe walking. Neither are all our pavement tiles intact; I’ve seen many with corners that are chipped or broken, making it dangerous if you happen to step on the wrong side. Many of our drains are uncovered, some with entire concrete slabs missing, with holes large enough for an adult male to fall through.


Know your place

If you choose to walk in Kuala Lumpur, remember that you are secondary to everything else. Urban walkers are at the mercy of anything on wheels. This is unlike in Hanoi where motorbikes slow down in order to avoid hitting pedestrians. In KL, pedestrians are the ones who have to avoid motorbikes and anything with wheels, even when cars are supposed to stop. Spend a day walking in the Jalan Tun Perak-Masjid Jamek- Tun H.S. Lee area and you’ll know what I mean.

Petaling Street

Many drivers in Kuala Lumpur see people on foot as pests who slow down traffic. Zebra crossings mean nothing more than strips of paint on the road, to be ignored even when a pedestrian is waiting to cross –note: waiting to cross, because in Malaysia, it is always the pedestrian who is waiting to be allowed to cross, even on a zebra crossing. Take it from someone who, in spite of Kuala Lumpur, still loves walking in the city.

That’s not to say that walking in the outskirts, in Subang Jaya, Damansara or Petaling Jaya, will mean that you’ll automatically have the right to cross when the lights turn red. Most cars will stop, but there will be drivers who will pick up speed and cut right in front of you- while you’re crossing the road- because they simply cannot stop, not even for two minutes.


Mad dogs and walkers

Walking for leisure isn’t a thing for Malaysians who drive. I remember the horrified looks my friends once gave me – “You walked?!”- when I turned up to meet them after walking 700 metres from Masjid Jamek station. Walking on level ground for 700m takes less than 10 minutes, hardly something that qualifies as a slog.

Which brings me to another thing about urban walkers in Malaysia: We’re a bit strange. A bit odd.

Nobody bats an eyelid when I walk in a Western country but over here, urban walkers are viewed with curiosity. Why on earth would anyone walk in the hot sun? Surely not because she enjoys it (yes she does). Surely she’s only walking because she can’t drive (wrong) or doesn’t have a car (wrong again).

A few years ago after returning from New Zealand, I woke up one morning and decided to walk from my house in Petaling Jaya to wherever, along the motorcycle lane on the Federal Highway. I was ready for a long day out. Like I said, we’re a bit strange.

Graffiti by the Federal Highway

I only lasted till Batu Tiga in Subang Jaya not because I was tired but because I ceased to see the point of going any farther. The 14kms was a fair distance by my standards but it was also the flattest, dullest walk I had ever done.

It was a weekday and traffic was busy even on the motorcycle lane. Bikes honked at me. Some slowed down as they approached me, unsure why anyone would be walking on the highway. One or two motorcyclists followed me for a few moments, but not in a creepy way. “Are you okay?” “Are you lost?” they asked and when I replied that I was perfectly fine and of sound mind, off they went. Of course, the only reason they asked was because I’m female. Very few men would stop to ask an able-bodied, youngish male walking alone if he was all right.

I don’t suppose anyone would stop if I tried the same stunt at night in a long white dress.


Countryside vs City

I’ve written about country hikes and walks on the Ridgeway, the West Highland Way, and Bukit Kutu, but cities can be just as interesting. The only differences are your focus and subject of study. Instead of birdsong, running brooks and the scent of heather or the warmth of the jungle, your focus is the built environment and the humans who live in it. It’s a different set of sights, sounds and smells but it opens your eyes to the people around you and how they live. You’ll be surprised at some of the things you’ll find.

School shoes found by the roadside

I’ve done colour walks (I pick a colour and turn into streets where I see something or someone in that colour); right-left, or left-right walks (I turn into corners based on the direction I’ve chosen) and wherever-I-want-to-go walks, which is self-explanatory. I’ll be travelling to Penang this weekend, which seems like the perfect place for a smell walk.

I haven’t given up on Kuala Lumpur despite its traffic and how impractical it can be (and at times, unsafe for a woman) to explore on foot. On a bad day, her people appear to have very little time and patience for anyone but themselves. But that’s only on the surface; the city has a great spirit, and digging through that top layer and uncovering what’s underneath is part of the appeal of rediscovering KL.

It’s going to be hot, but I’m out to explore your streets and be a little strange.

© 2017, Anis. All rights reserved.

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4 Responses

  1. ZARAH NAUMUL says:

    dear anis.. you’re walking the wrong routes! Hehe. Try walking from Kl Sentral, up to Muzium negara, to Planetarium, down to the botanical gardens, and then to Masjid Negara..after that accross the old KTM railway station, to Pasar Seni and then to Merdeka place and walk till Sogo and then to Chowkit via Kampung Baru. you could also try walking from Bukit Nenas to Pavillion and then to Chowkit. All very long walks. The city comes alive, bustling with all walks of ppl. Though I dare say you’ll see lots of Bangladeshis or other foreign workers with big recycled bags walking these routes. haha.

    • Anis says:

      No such thing as wrong routes- it all depends what the person is looking for, and what draws her to a place. Different people wander differently.

  2. The utter chaos of Kuala Lumpur’s walkways does reflect on its character, doesn’t it?

    It’s everything from uncompromising to fiercely independent – you’re on your own in this truly concrete jungle.

    • Anis says:

      What disappoints me most is that the chaos also reflects on us. Those of us who have driven overseas/navigated foreign cities on foot will realise how inconsiderate some Malaysian drivers can be. Unwalkable walkways is one thing, drivers who don’t stop at red lights is something else completely. Kalau setakat berhenti (because the lights say so or sebab nak bagi orang lalu) pun tak boleh, what that does show about us. Drivers in New Zealand are required to stop completely at zebra crossings whether or not anyone is already standing there waiting to cross, just in case someone appears out of nowhere and suddenly feels inspired to cross (!). Having said that, I’m willing to put up with drivers, and uneven pavements in KL, including those that stop without warning…