Just steps from touristy Petaling Street – a shopping district located in the heart of Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown – is Kwai Chai Hong (Lorong Panggung), a laneway whose once derelict shop houses have recently been transformed into trendy spaces that celebrate the heritage of its early residents; migrant workers from China’s Guangdong province.
Lured by the booming tin mining industry, these labourers put down roots in then Malaya (now Malaysia) in the 1800s and established a strong presence in the city, even amidst heated civil war and rivalry between secret societies.
Some say the name Kwai Chai Hong, which means ‘Ghost’ or ‘Little Demon’ lane in Cantonese, harks back to the days when migrant workers used this unusual moniker to summon their mischievous children home from a day of playing in the alley.
Others believe the word ‘ghost’ refers to the less than savoury characters who haunted the gambling halls, opium dens and brothels that mushroomed alongside the legitimate businesses in the area.
Still others are convinced the term was derived from the title given to young members of the Dragon Tiger clan who used the area as their hideout.
Whichever the case, what is clear is that, over time, the area fell into ruin, its once vibrant shophouses mere shells of their former glory.
In late 2018, Project Kwai Chai Hong – an initiative to restore 10 shophouses and the laneway between Lorong Panggung and Jalan Petaling – was spearheaded by a group of friends under the banner of a company called Bai Chuan Management.
The aim was to bring people to Kwai Chai Hong by sparking conversations about the history of the area through interactive murals depicting life on the lane back in the 1960s.
QR Code technology on the walls offers an immersive experience through sight and sound, with tales of fictitious former residents helping to set the mood.
Interestingly, the murals do not gloss over the darker character of the area; instead, side by side, just as in life, children play with marbles just feet from a man bowing an erhu, while a lady of the night stands by her window, waving a pink handkerchief.
Where to eat
Chicken rice fans can’t miss the Michelin-starred Hawker Chan. The chef Chef Chan uses a Hong Kong recipe that he was taught 35 years ago. He marinates his chicken in soy sauce, roasts it, chops it, cooks the rice with chicken fat and then he serves it. It’s something that sounds very simple but is a great dish.
Concubine KL is a new restaurant and bar inspired by the events that took place within its walls. It serves quality Asian-inspired cocktails and tapas in a relaxed venue.
By MRT | LRT
Head to Pasar Seni Station.
Walk toward MRT Exit – Pintu A towards Jalan Panggung.
Kwai Chai Hong is behind the row of shop houses at Jalan Panggung.
By KL Monorail
Go to Maharajalela Station. Walk towards Jalan Petaling. Kwai Chai Hong is about 10mins walk from the Station.
By Grab | Taxi
Search for Kwai Chai Hong or Lorong Panggung
Book a private Kuala Lumpur city tour and request to visit Kwai Chai Hong.