Why should you make time to discover street art in Malaysia
When people decide to go to Malaysia, it is for the pristine beaches, the beautiful mosques, the stunning jungle in Borneo, the colonial vibe in most cities, the delicious food, and of course the bustling capital, Kuala Lumpur.
We discovered however that there is another gem hidden within the streets of its cities. You can find the most amazing street art in Malaysia! There are complete walks devoted to urban art. Don’t expect plain graffiti but real masterpieces. Paintings and graffiti that took lots of hours by (famous) artists.
Lots of fun for kids and adults
Whether you are traveling alone, as a couple, with friends, or as a family, you will have lots of fun with street art in Malaysia! The paintings aren’t just 2D drawings. A lot of them have the extra asset of some kind of object incorporated in the painting. Our kids (and we admit, mum and dad too) loved sitting on the bicycle, climbing the swing, or getting on the bench.
Another nice part of it is you get to see the city. Walking from one drawing to the other, you explore the little streets and get the city vibe. The girls also loved taking the map and trying to point out to us where to go. The excitement when the next painting came insight ☺️ …
Beautiful pieces of art
Some renowned artists have contributed to street art in Malaysia. It actually all started in 2012 when Ernest Zacharevic got permission to make some street paintings for the Georgetown Festival in Penang. Locals and tourists liked it and since then, more and more drawings have appeared in the streets of Malaysia.
In the past, graffiti and wall paintings were considered as vandalism. However the attitude has changed, and the government has organized a few initiatives to promote urban art and give artists a place to express their art form. Entire walls or streets have been transformed from plain grey to beautiful vibrant paintings.
Most drawings are a reflection of the thoughts of the artist. They show us fragments of Malaysian life and artistic interpretations of the people and animals living in this amazing country. You’ll love the way they have used the existing buildings and structures and incorporated a door or window in their drawing.
Where to find street art in Malaysia?
We won’t be telling you where to find street art in Malaysia exactly, or on which corner you should look. A big part of the fun is exploring the streets, looking in the little alleys, and searching all the artwork. Go to the visitor center or ask your hotel, they will provide you with all the information about where to look or even give you a map with an entire city walk to discover the street paintings.
We also made an itinerary of 7 days in Malaysia which includes Kuala Lumpur, Georgetown (Penang), and Langkawi.
The capital is one of the best places to see some amazing street art. Penang and Melaka were the first cities where the hype began, but Kuala Lumpur soon followed. The art is just everywhere, waiting to be discovered. If you want a guideline, try to get a map of the street art tour. Or just wander around and let the city surprise you.
In the neighborhood of Jalan Alor, we ourselves discovered by accident some lovely streets completely transformed into vibrant colors. It almost gave us the feeling we were in Puerto Rico or Cuba. It was our first encounter with the street art of Malaysia, and we didn’t realize there was so much more to come. We wrote an article about the best things to do in Kuala Lumpur with kids.
UPDATE 2023: The picture below is from 2018. When we visited this place in December ’23 the building on the right was gone and all street art was damaged…
Alongside the Klang River, artists have given the walkways a facelift with their urban art. One last example is this piece, The Fighting Cockerel by Kenji Chai, a local artist, who painted this for Nando.
You probably never heard of Ipoh, and neither did we before traveling to Malaysia. Ipoh is an old, more provincial town with its own unique vibe. And we had a wonderful time over there (read here our travel diary on Ipoh).
We discovered it is home to some amazing street art. Ernest Zacharevic, the artist who got it all started in Penang, got to make 7 paintings in the old town center, which are all masterpieces. Definitely worth a visit.
Penang, George Town
This is where the whole hype started, in 2012 by the artist Ernest Zacharevic, with his amazing urban art. But nowadays, a lot of artists have their own paintings in the old streets of George Town and the rest of Penang Island.
It will take you a while if you want to discover them all! And you won’t be the only one that is looking for them. It can get very crowded because everyone wants its picture with these interactive drawings.
We definitely had an amazing time exploring it all (check our travel diary of George Town). Hours of fun while walking through the city, looking for the art and in the meanwhile discovering the beauty of the old streets and buildings of George Town.
Unfortunately, we only had one day here. So we didn’t have time to discover a lot of the street art of Melaka. But the city was the second one, after Penang to jump onto the hype of urban art! They understood it was a huge attraction for tourists so they gave the artists room for creating some beautiful paintings.
The old city of Kuching, located in Borneo, is another great and recent spot to explore street art in Malaysia. The hype didn’t stay just on the mainland. The cities of Sarawak and Sabah also jumped on the train.
When walking around in the old center of Kuching, you will discover a lot of amazing paintings. One piece we really loved was the orangutan on the walls of the Singgahsana Lodge.
And again, Ernest Zacharevic was contacted and has some beautiful work here. You will find it mainly around the Kuching Waterfront. But take your time to check the other ones in the surrounding streets. You won’t be disappointed.
And in many other places…
The list of the cities above is the ones we’ve visited. But of course, a lot of other cities in Malaysia followed the art movement. If you want to go all the way exploring the street art, visit Petaling Jaya, Shah Alam, Johor Bahru, Kuala Terengganu, and Seremban on the mainland of Malaysia and Sibu and Kota Kinabalu on Borneo.
- Almost every city has its own walks to discover its street art. Ask for a map in your hotel or guesthouse, or if they don’t have one, go to the visitor center. Guided street art walks are sometimes available.
- Try to avoid the weekends or public holidays. It can get very crowded. If you don’t want to wait in line after 20 Asian girls who all want an individual perfect shot of themselves with the painting, come in the week, very early in the morning or in the evening.
- Be prepared that some paintings aren’t the same anymore. Over the years the colours fade out a bit. Some are still as shiny as the picture on your map, others won’t be. But you’ll discover some new ones, so that balances it out.
Hopefully, we convinced you to go and discover street art in Malaysia! Have you been there? Leave us a comment on what your thoughts are! Or do you have new information, or things to add? We love to hear from you!