As the sun sets over Kuala Lumpur, a formerly polluted and unsightly stretch of its river is illuminated by blue light, creating a spectacular setting for the city’s newest tourism hotspot. Six years after its launch, the ambitious River of Life project has now completed its first phase. What was once a largely disused riverside area, at the confluence of the Klang and Gombak Rivers in the city centre, has been turned into an attractive public space that is now drawing throngs of visitors. Apart from cleaning the river water and building colourful light displays along its banks, the project has seen the installation of footbridges, walking paths, manicured gardens, a public performance space and, on the weekends, a food truck park.
This roughly 500m stretch – between Chinatown and the historic Merdeka Square – was a prime area to develop as it boasts some of the city’s most striking old buildings. Grand Moorish architecture is on display at the Masjid Jamek, the Sultan Abdul Samad Building and the office of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture Malaysia, all of which overlook this part of the River of Life.
This section is the crown jewel of the S$1.5 billion project, which involves cleaning, beautification and development along eight rivers in the Kuala Lumpur area. Plans have also been put in place to open a range of new restaurants, bars and shops, in an effort to capitalise on and retain the new influx of visitors.
A new footbridge across the Gombak river connects the Masjid Jamek to the food truck park. In the evenings, as the river and this bridge light up, and a “dancing fountain” starts its regular display, crowds flock to take photos.
The project is already benefiting businesses in the area, according to Wira Raftara, manager of Avenue J Hotel, which overlooks the River of Life. “It attracts many people, especially in the evenings, when they come to watch the light show along the river,” Raftara says. “Things are definitely busier now.”
The hottest spots around KL’s River of Life
1. Lim Kee Cafe
Enjoy nostalgic décor and local breakfast favourites such as roti kahwin (Marriage Bread) where butter and kaya (coconut jam) are ensconced in white bread, and tah tarik (pulled tea).
2. Botak Liquor
Sourcing from selected organic farms, the cocktails here feature local ingredients. Try the carrot and limau purut (kefir lime) cocktail or the fizzy nangka (jackfruit) and grapefruit brew.
3. Jao Tim
A former hotel, this café now welcomes smartphone-wielding café hoppers drawn by its photogenic high ceilings, exposed bricks walls, wooden detailing and, of course, good coffee.
This article was originally published in the March 2018 issue of Silkwinds magazine.