Once a humble rubber estate, Damansara Heights is now in the same league with trendy areas in New York, Seoul and London, recognised by travel experts, Lonely Planet a few years ago as among the top 10 coolest neighbourhoods in the world.
Damansara Heights, or Bukit Damansara in Malay, is one of the most sought-after postcodes in KL. A tranquil, low density township, fully grown tropical trees line the roads, providing a green haven for residents and visitor alike, despite being a mere 7km from the city centre.
From spelling mistake to luxury living
In the colonial era, Damansara Road was an exclusively European residential area. Meanwhile luxury residences, Pavilion Damansara Heights, was once the site of a rubber factory, surrounded by rubber estates.
The origin of “Damansara" is unclear, especially since the word does not have any easily recognisable meaning. However, damar is a tropical tree and resin, used as glazes, adhesives and incense, while sara means precious or important in Sanskrit, leading many to suspect that the name “Damansara” was the result of a colonial land registry misspelling.
After Independence, the government acquired the 1,534-acre rubber estate, and some 200 acres were marked for public institutional land, including the National Institute of Public Administration, National Science Centre and the Securities Commission. This has led to some interesting architectural styles – from traditional vernaculars, to modernist, to futuristic - jostling together on the hill.
International landscape architects Royston Hanamoto, Alley and Abey worked alongside a local team to create what eventually became the much-loved Bukit Kiara Federal Park, which cuts through Bukit Kiara, Taman Tun Dr Ismail and Damansara Heights. This vast green lung is a firm favourite among families, and a hotspot for recreational activities, such as hiking, jogging and cycling.
From the 1980s, a majority of homeowners preferred mixed-community neighbourhoods, perhaps reflecting the multi-ethnic character of Kuala Lumpur, as well as a comfortable environment with plenty of amenities. Damansara Heights fitted the bill perfectly and started to grow as a residential area.
Surrounded by the louder, buzzier Hartamas, Bangsar and Mont Kiara, Damansara Heights is an elegant oasis of calm, yet it’s also just a hop, skip and a jump away from all the action KL has to offer. Accessibility is among its many selling points; the Sprint and LDP highways run right through it, and there are two MRT Stations (Phileo Damansara and Pusat Bandar Damansara).
Speaking to Asia Tatler, Justine Lim, mother of three and a resident for 6 years, said one of the joys of living in Damansara Heights is the unrivalled convenience: “I can do my grocery shopping here and we usually dine out in the area too.
Health aficionados will relish both the quantity and quality of health centres found here, with international names, such as Firestation Fit and Minister of Burns, competing to give the best health and fitness services.
“There are also lots of fitness studios here so I can easily fit in a workout between school runs,” Justine adds.
With an impressive array of independent food places, Damansara Heights has become a gastronomic playground. Foodies regularly name check Birch in D.C. Mall, known for its signature spatchcock and the spicy fried buttermilk chicken doused in Korean hot sauce. The luscious biryani at Flour in Plaza Damansara - light and fluffy long grain rice laced with spices and prepared with generous chunks of yoghurt-marinated meat - is a hit with those searching for authentic northern Indian flavours.
For coffee lovers who want to pair their java with homemade bread, cakes or cookies fresh from the oven, Huckleberry Food & Fare in Plaza Damansara and Yellow Brick Road in Plaza Batai are Insta-friendly, top-of-the-class cafes.
In fact, the whole of Plaza Batai is a must-try for any foodie worth their salt. Whether you want fine dining Omakase, courtesy of Sushi Kazu, or authentic Malaysian kopitiam street food, found at Yum Me Place, or farm-to-table deliciousness at Sitka, stylish Plaza Batai has it all. You can even fit in a spot of grocery shopping at Ben's Independent Grocer, a colourful outlet filled with the freshest food ingredients from all over the world.
Over the years, many developers have cashed in on the coveted “Damansara” name, branding their own projects after it. At last count, there were at least 25, some rather far away from the original area! Still, Damansara Heights continues to hold firm as the most desirable and distinguished of them all.