Sure, you’re familiar with Asia’s big cities, but do you know the neighbourhoods that really make them tick? How about the best place to get a special type of steamed bun in Kuala Lumpur or where to find cool street art in Singapore? Our local teams have let us in on their city’s secrets sharing where they like to go again and again.
Read on to find out their insider tips and for more local experiences, browse our Go Local collection of itineraries and excursions that take travellers right to the heart of the destination they’re visiting.
Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown, is busy morning, noon and late into the night. A foodie and shopper’s paradise, it’s famous for street food and bargains. Most ‘shops’ are street-side stalls selling an array of affordable items ranging from souvenirs and shoes to electronics and fabrics. The Central Market Kuala Lumpur is also home to a variety of goods sold by Malaysia’s melting pot of people – here you’ll see Lorong Melayu, Lorong India and Straits Chinese all hawking their wares.
After shopping, it’s time to eat! Some of my favourite spots are getting gai wo bao (chicken nest buns) at Restaurant Clan, The Owls Cafe, myBurger Lab and Moonlight Cake House (they have incredible desserts) then going to Dart Musketeers for a game of darts.
Kuala Lumpur isn’t the only good place to eat in Malaysia. While many people have heard about Sabah’s natural beauty and outdoor adventures, Sabah’s capital city, Kota Kinabalu, also has amazing food options. Though I’m based in KL, I go back to Kota Kinabalu at least once a year to visit relatives and stop by the Diethelm Travel Sabah office. Normally I make sure to stay at least a week (longer if possible) to continue working my way through a must-eat foodie list that just keeps getting longer.
Don’t believe me? Click here for the list!
– Kelvin Chong, Product & Contracting Manager, Diethelm Travel Malaysia
Known for being a hipster paradise, Tiong Bahru draws in an eclectic mix of people to its quirky streets. From trendy new cafes to the century-old Qi Tian Gong temple, this district offers a unique blend of dining and shopping options all with a touch of history. Instead of big malls, you’ll find intriguing shops (Books Actually or Curated Records are fun to stop into!) and plenty of coffee houses everywhere you turn. I also love trying to spot all the street murals depicting a bygone era by artist Yip Yew Chong.
Another must-see neighbourhood is Bugis, which is easily one of the most culturally rich areas of Singapore. Though historically a red light district, today Bugis is a go-to shopping and dining district that’s home to both independent boutiques and high street stores. Travellers love stopping by the Bugis Street Market, which offers some of the most affordable clothes, souvenirs and more anywhere in the city. You can also choose to dine at a wide variety of eateries in the area. I tend to go see an exhibit at the nearby Singapore Art Museum then go out for dinner!
– Judy Lum, General Manager, Diethelm Travel Singapore
Bangkok is split up into 50 districts and 169 districts – it’s big! – but certain neighbourhoods definitely stand out from the rest.
Nestled between the business hub of Sathorn and vibrant Yaowarat (Chinatown) district, the Charoen Krung district along the Chao Phraya River has managed to carve out its own unique vibe and shows no signs of slowing down. In the past couple of years, Charoen Krung has exploded onto the hipster scene with several galleries and art centres, edgy bars, retro cafes in converted shophouses, and some of the hottest restaurants in the city. I always recommend people visit the Thailand Creative & Design Center (TCDC) then go grab a cocktail at the Teens of Thailand bar or splurge on a special meal like at the incredible 80/20.
Another neighbourhood popular with both locals and tourists is Ari. Located along the Sukhumvit BTS line, this is where I come to spend a slow weekend afternoon, wandering the tree-lined streets and sipping artisanal coffee. Ari has a more laidback lifestyle compared to the rest of Bangkok, but it’s also home to some of the city’s trendiest restaurants and cafes. My picks for coffee include Casa Lapin (a local Bangkok chain), Sutdrip and Aran Bicicletta.
– Wipanee Leewairoj, Group Marketing & Communications Manager
Hanoi’s Old Quarter is still one of the most happening places in the city. Filled with historic charm, and tonnes of good food, the area always seems buzzing with activity and is one of the best places to partake in the local pastime of sitting in tiny chairs right on the street drinking glasses of beer. Here, different streets are known for different specialities – head to Ta Hien Street for that cheap bia hoi (draft beer) and Hang Manh Street for bun cha. For street food, nightlife and local coffee, I like wandering down Luong Ngoc Quyen Street, Hang Buom Street, Ma May Street and Hang Bac Street.
– Hue Nguyen, Marketing Business Leader, Diethelm Travel Vietnam
More of a street than a neighbourhood, Kandal Village is just south of Siem Reap’s old French Quarter and filled with local, eco-friendly and socially-responsible boutiques, cafes and eateries. The Little Red Fox Espresso offers a fun spot to sip on strong brews while the ultra-trendy Vibe whips up vegan dishes and healthy drinks like green juice, kombucha and coffee made with cashew milk. For shopping, stop into Saarti to stock up on small-batch bath products and candles, or find an array of homewares, jewellery and more at the trendy Trunkh. The boutique has another outlet in Phnom Penh and is known for its highly curated collection of goods. After browsing, unwind at the charming Frangipani Spa. Even though I live in Siem Reap, I could still easily spend a couple hours in Kandal Village seeing what’s new in the shops and grabbing a bite to eat!
– Coralie Romano (Coco), Siem Reap Branch Manager, Diethelm Travel Cambodia
Situated at the junction of Bogyoke Aung San Road and Shwedagon Pagoda, Junction City is a mixed-use development downtown featuring the 5-star Pan Pacific Yangon, a sprawling shopping centre with international stores along with several high-end brands, like Chopard and Furla, that can’t be found anywhere else in the country, offices, high-end residences, and one of the country’s largest food court and cinema. Since it’s so easy to get to, this where I’ll come to catch a film.
When I need some retail therapy, another good shopping spot is Myanmar Plaza, which boasts two department stores featuring a range of international brands. Aside from shopping, shopping and more shopping, Myanmar Plaza also has a massive food court plus fine dining venues, cafes, teashops and more. Head to the roof to catch the sunset while you sip on a sundowner enjoying a view of Inya Lake.
For special drinks, I always recommend Atlas Rooftop Bar & Lounge on the 12th floor of the Uniteam building in Sanchaung Township, which blends a luxurious Champagne bar with a more relaxed, lounge atmosphere. It also has one of the best views of the city – you can see the Shwedagon Pagoda and Yangon River!
– Khin Thanda Kyaw, Product Manager, Diethelm Travel Myanmar
If you happen to be in Colombo on a Saturday, be sure to hit up Good Market’s Saturday Market which runs every week from 9:00-17:00 hours! You’ll find everything your inner yogi desires, including juices made from different superfoods and aromatics, like gotukola, fresh Sri Lankan dishes, and a tonne of eco and ethically conscious products. I recommend heading there on an empty stomach with tote bag in hand to put all your gorgeous gifts and souvenirs to take back home.
The market organisers also run a brick and mortar shop that’s open every day. It’s a lovely little space that’ll make you feel right at home if healthy and organic foods are your jam. It’s actually a social enterprise that consists of three independent businesses (I love a collaboration) – The Good Market food store, Life Food juice bar and Brown Bean coffee shop. I always buy the food store’s virgin coconut oil, and the coconut and cacao spread to enjoy on toast.
Another cool shopping spot that’s just as much about the atmosphere as the goods is the 17th century Dutch Hospital in Colombo Fort. Here you can wander down cobblestone courtyards surrounded by historic Dutch architecture, stopping in at small shops and snacking along the way. In the evening, head to Hospital Street (right behind the hospital) for more food and live music.
– Menik Paranawithana, Assistance Manager Product & Contracting, Diethelm Travel Sri Lanka