Malaysia: Shopping - fake and fabulous

By Kate Shuttleworth

Kate Shuttleworth gets a bargain, or several, on a Kuala Lumpur spree.

Kuala Lumpur's markets sell knock-off designer bags.
Kuala Lumpur's markets sell knock-off designer bags.

I didn't set out to go shopping; it happened by default. I blame the friend who asked for me to look out for a fake iPhone while in Malaysia.

"A friend just got one in Thailand for $80, it works perfectly," they told me.

Sceptical, I put in a quiet request to my guide, Paul. Ever the professional, he told me you couldn't buy any fake iPhones in Malaysia. I don't think he looked at me the same way again.

Kuala Lumpur (KL) is the main shopping hub in Malaysia, and stores revolve around high-street fashion and electronics. I set myself the task of enjoying obscure shopping experiences and, during my 10 days, I was not disappointed.

In Penang, I got swept up in the fanfare of the night market at Batu Ferringhi beach. The stalls selling imitation goods are open from 7pm until late, and the market is within walking distance of the Hard Rock Hotel and Shangri-La's Rasa Sayang Resort and Spa. I don't need anything from the markets; I've just bought a pair of real Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses so have no need for fake ones.

But I'm swept up in fellow traveller and food editor Anna Tait-Jamieson's quest to find her friend a white, Gucci-style watch.

We scour the stalls and exercise the advice not to settle on first finds.

After a few quick photos sent back to New Zealand, she finds one she thinks fits the bill.

Meanwhile, we get carried away with accessories: she buys two "Hermes" wallets.

We become ruthless in our bargaining, playing several stallholders off against each other on the price of two (fake) Jimmy Choo handbags. Hers is orange, mine a modest brown. After getting flustered with one stallholder who persists with a higher price, I storm off with Anna in tow.

"I know who to take with me when I want a bargain," says Anna. I score us the two "Jimmy Choo" bags for RM130 ($47).

At some point I decide I want to buy a new camera, a Nikon D7000. I set out comparing prices in Penang, Langkawi and KL. It becomes not so much about the cheapest deal but finding a real and adequately valued camera.

Penang probably offered the best price at RM3500 including a full lens kit. Surprisingly, the duty-free haven of Langkawi isn't the place to buy cheap electronics - the same camera is overpriced at RM4000.

Langkawi is better for buying cheap alcohol, cigarettes and chocolate: a litre of Bombay Sapphire gin is NZ$16; Glenfiddich Single Malt Scotch Whisky is $33 and a bottle of Absolut Vodka is just $13.50 - less than what you'd pay for a cocktail at the Library Bar in Wellington.

The chocolate is mostly cheaper, but I find a shop selling Whittaker's and, I can say with authority, it's cheaper back home.

The camera purchase was finally made at Low Yat Plaza in KL, Malaysia's largest electronics mall with 12 floors of shopping. The electronics get more serious as you progress up each floor. Laptops, desktop computers and parts to fix them are on the top floors.

I visit seven shops before I settle on a camera. Some offer cheaper prices but no warranties: they make excuses about sending them out later. I take the safe option and buy a Nikon D7000 from Fotoken on the ground floor.

The next day, when I feel up for more shopping, I seek out a less obvious place. I am directed to Publika, on the outskirts of KL. It's a mall housing emerging and young designers, and is a hub of performance art.

There is a design store called Outdated with retro home furnishings, including an orange couch and old typewriter, and artwork by locals. We find Ben's General Store, a high-end grocery store catering to urban dwellers who prefer organic produce and enjoy oyster bars. The store has a restaurant in the space. After more than a week of Malaysian cuisine, we opt for pizza and a glass of Malbec while looking at the cheeses on display.

On our second-to-last night in KL, Anna gets distracted by a street stall selling toy rats on strings. I stand next to her rolling my eyes as she gets the man to demonstrate how the toy moves - it looks flimsy and like it was made out of a margarine container.

I notice a man standing next to me and guard my handbag defensively. But when I glance at him, I realise it's the moment I've been waiting for.

"Are you selling iPhones?" I ask, going with my sixth sense.

"Yes, you want?" he says quietly, pulling out a believable-looking iPhone 5.

"I'll sell it to you for RM500 ($194)."

Overexcited, my bargaining skills go out the window. Anna has bought her rat on a string and is now joining in, suggesting I buy two. I tell the man it's too much for a fake iPhone but he insists they are real. I downscale and ask about an iPhone 4s.

Eventually, I agree - for research purposes purely - to pay RM400 for the fake model. It's probably worth only about $50.

I don't have the cash on me so we walk to an ATM machine outside the mall with the seller - he refused to take the money in the mall, saying it was illegal to sell counterfeit phones. I didn't find out what penalties there were for buyers of fake phones.

Once in China, the seller of a fake iPhone was stabbed to death when a man realised he'd been sold a fake and took to the seller with a kitchen knife.

I took the phone home, not harbouring any hopes it would work. It was pre-programmed with tunes by Britney Spears and a few apps.

But back in New Zealand, I insert a SIM card - and it works. Just before I turn it off, I realise Steve Jobs is smiling up at me from the screensaver.

Shopping in Kuala Lumpur

Bukit Bintang: The popular shopping area is in the Golden Triangle, KL's commercial district.

Suria KLCC: Located in the KL city centre at the base of the Petronas Towers; six levels of retail outlets sell clothing, homeware, electrical goods and more.
Pavilion: Another mall with 500 brands; a mix of luxury boutiques and high-street stores. You'll find high-end designers such as Gucci and Burberry alongside chains like Topshop and Zara.

Lot 10: A mall built in the 1990s that houses Swedish retail giant H&M.

Fahrenheit 88: Popular with the locals and houses Japanese brand Uniqlo.

Starhill Gallery: Next to Pavilion and has exclusive labels such as Louis Vuitton, Dior, Fendi, Missoni and Alexander McQueen. Markets sell knock-off designer bags; Suria KLCC, at the base of the Petronas Towers, offers six levels of shopping.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Malaysia Airlines flies six times a week from Auckland to Kuala Lumpur.

Kate Shuttleworth travelled as a guest of Tourism Malaysia.

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