Fort Miners

01 August 2017

Sungai Besi has gone from an unknown suburb to prime real estate. But standing in stark contrast to the area’s expensive transformation is Pekan Sungai Besi, the historical township that’s still bustling with activity today.

From the mid-1990s to the late 2000s, the area surrounding Pekan Sungai Besi faced rapid development, but the over 80-year-old township pretty much stayed the same.

In the span of 20 years, the area saw new highways, an LRT line, apartment buildings, a commercial district and a newly developed (gated) residential area with modern, three-storey link houses – all built within a 1-2km radius of the old pekan. Yet, the humble town carried on as usual, its ageing pre-war shop houses safe from the dreaded bulldozers but in dire need of preservation.

In 2013, DBKL announced that it would spend RM10 million to upgrade the area to “boost more visitors”, but it wasn’t until recently that road repair works – seen as the most crucial to fix and expand the town’s narrow, pothole-laden streets – commenced. Ironically, these ongoing works have made the roads even more congested today.

Once you get past the construction works however, much of Pekan Sungai Besi’s charm still remains. Sundry shops or kedai barangan am can be found on almost every corner –the toys and snacks on display by the five-foot way serves as an enticing sight for passing children. Meanwhile, tailors, barbershops, hair salons, goldsmiths and kedai dobi are aplenty.

At the heart of this former tin mining town is its wet market; a longstanding landmark that some say the British frequented back in the day. These days, with the nearby police station and Kem Perdana Sungai Besi (better known as Kem Sungai Besi), it’s not uncommon to see uniformed military or police personnel eating at the many warungs, getting a haircut or roaming about the area. This could also explain why most tailor shops here seem to specialise in uniforms.

Lake Fields, the adjoining commercial district of shops, restaurants and offices, may offer more hip and modern choices, but Pekan Sungai Besi will always be the go-to place for its vibrant mishmash of shops with a side of nostalgia.

Photos by Wong Yok Teng

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