Chinese New Year in Kuala Lumpur: what to expect

Chinese New Year in Kuala Lumpur

It used to be that I dreaded Chinese New Year (the ang pows that I would receive not withstanding!). The only reason would be the hours stuck in traffic heading out of KL back to our hometown, on the East Coast of Malaysia. I think our record was 8 hours in crawling traffic and this was before all the mega highways were built. Some legs of the journey included rural roads which were narrow and twisty, and I was not the best passenger to begin with (cue car sickness).

My parents would try and leave a day or two pre-reunion dinner but that was not always possible what with work and school which had to be considered.

When I married a born and bred KL boy, I finally got to celebrate Chinese New Year in Kuala Lumpur, as with the traditional Chinese custom where wives spend reunion dinner and the first two days of Chinese New Year with her in-laws.

And boy, oh boy, Chinese New Year KL is a completely different creature from your day-to-day KL and was an eye opener for me.

Chinese New Year in Kuala Lumpur

Here’s what you should be prepared for if you’re remaining in town for Chinese New Year during the first few days:

Open roads(!)

Roads devoid of traffic. I think this is the best part. If you’re sick off always being in a jam, Chinese New Year is probably the only time you’ll ever get to cruise (nearly) empty roads in KL. And what joy it brings!!

Malls and F&B outlets

Attractions and even malls will be closed. But if you’re really hankering to do something, the cinemas are always open. It used to be after a reunion meal, we’d hit a cinema for a midnight movie. Even if the cinema is in a mall (which would be closed), there will be access to the cinema. Another plus point here is that you get to see an empty mall – which is also such a rare sight in this land of shopping malls. Although be aware that the cinema halls will be quite full.

IMG 7638 Enhanced SR - Happy Go KL

As with malls being closed during Chinese New Year in Kuala Lumpur, plenty of F&B outlets also close on the first and second days of Chinese New Year. That includes the kopitiams. So word to the wise, do stock up on groceries to tide you over during these two days. Unless fast food is your cup of tea, then you’ll be perfectly fine for food. Although, in recent times (especially post COVID), there are more outlets open for business.

Do you need ear plugs?

If you live in a residential area with plenty of landed properties, listen out for banging drums and clanging cymbals, for this is a local lion dance troupe circling the neighbourhood, fishing for business. And if you’re lucky, a neighbour who’s celebrating Chinese New Year will stop the lion dance troupe for a performance (the Chinese believe that it brings good luck). If this happens, hurry on over to that house and you get to watch along! No home owners have ever turned spectators away. It adds to the joy and festivities.

Chinese New Year in Kuala Lumpur

Fireworks will be going off throughout the entire Chinese New Year in Kuala Lumpur period but nothing comes close to the eve of Chinese New Year and the eve of Pai Ti Kong, which is the 9th day of Chinese New Year. Pai Ti Kong is a Hokkien celebration of the Jade Emperor’s birthday. On these two nights, fireworks go off non-stop until the wee hours of the next day. And mind you, these will be the loudest fireworks one can possibly get their hands on out there. If you’re a light sleeper and have an early start the next day, I suggest getting ear plugs to get you through. Or be like us and check into a hotel for the night. Hotels have double, and some even have triple paned windows! Yes, this is definitely a splurge, but a splurge well worth it if you ask my husband, if only so that he doesn’t need to deal with a cranky me the next day.

Pop pops
Pop Pops

Chinese New Year in Kuala Lumpur set menus

All Chinese restaurants have Chinese New Year sets or Chinese New Year dishes that are only available during this period. You will be missing out if you don’t at least try it once. Especially yee sang (an Asian salad) – which is not available out of Malaysia. Ok fine, in Singapore too but nowhere else. Yee sang is one of the biggest things during Chinese New Year as it’s a fun, messy, full of good wishes dish. The louder, the messier, the better. If you’re wondering where to go, check out our picks for Chinese New Year 2024!

Yee sang
Yee sang

All in all, even though KL will seem like a ghost town during the first few days of Chinese New Year (although times they are a-changin’ and more folks opt to stay in KL instead of heading back to their hometowns), I say lap it up. For it’s only just a few days of solitude before the crowds head back in!

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