Virtually Keeping KL’s Heritage Alive

Jane Rai giving an introduction before starting her virtual tour

If it wasn’t for tin, KL would not have been discovered, exclaims Jane Rai, veteran tour guide extraordinaire, who has been in the tourism business for 30 years now as she takes visitors on a ‘virtual’ walk of KL city.

Conducting one of her three types of Heritage Walking Tours of KL she calls ‘Old Kuala Lumpur East-West Connection: Tales of Sultans, Chinese Kapitans and Colonial Times’, Jane takes her audience on the tour using virtual reality technology. One can not only see KL from a bird’s eye view and at street level from various wide angles but also hear sounds and enjoy visual effects on screen.

It was quite an experience, as despite being a virtual tour, conducted online via Zoom, Jane is an engaging storyteller who takes her visitors through 100 years of history- from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s. Guests get to enjoy all sorts of fascinating images, as she switches from colourful views of present-day KL to black and white images of Sultans, Chinese kapitans and old Javanese settlements in KL’s days of yore.

The virtual reality tour is fascinating and exciting, as visitors get to enter a Chinese temple, explore its secret hallways and ‘watch’ the river of life water sprays at the banks of the Masjid Jamek, which adds a beautiful misty ambience to the screen, making one feel as if one were there in the flesh at the site which used to be a burial ground. Accompanying these colourful and three-dimensional scenes are Jane’s equally colourful stories that beguile the listener on the rich and ancient history behind today’s modern KL landscape.

Being the first Malaysian tourist guide to use this technology in Malaysia, Jane says that the virtual version of the heritage walk is a bit different from a physical tour, as visitors can enjoy the tour and learn about the places visited while doing so from the comfort of their own homes, especially during pandemic restrictions.

Jane herself has virtually travelled to 191 places around the world from her own home since March 2020, when the pandemic hit. Before that, she had just started Free Walk KL Unscripted in January 2020, running in-person tours on a private basis for homeschoolers and other groups. Unfortunately, all physical tours including her brand of Heritage Walking Tours had to stop due to the coronavirus.

Birds-eye view of Masjid Jamek during the virtual tour

Going back to 1989, Jane had left a short stint at a local newspaper to pursue a career in tourism. Now in her sixties, she has since guided thousands of tourists nationwide, held several senior managerial posts at destination management companies and is currently a Tour Product Development Specialist at Going Places Tour, an SME specialising in backpacker travellers and heritage walking tours. In 2018, she initiated a personal project called ‘Keeping Kuala Lumpur’s Heritage Alive’.

When Covid-19 forced all industries to pivot digitally, Jane followed suit. As the Heritage Walking Tours were no longer physically possible, her 19-year-old nephew suggested she put her tours online as Virtual Reality tours.

A tech company Lokalocal partnered with Jane to help with the technology, using drones to record 360-degree images and embellish them with sounds and visual effects.

“It’s very exciting, I am seeing a lot of interest. I can now do tours from my home for guests from anywhere in the world,” she says.

Her virtual tours launched in October 2020 and the rest was history, as they say.

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