IT HAS been close to three years since I last visited the panoramic lookout point in Bukit Ampang, Selangor, and it was not a pleasant sight.
Instead of sweeping vistas of the Kuala Lumpur skyline, I was greeted by plastic tables and chairs placed haphazardly with dozens of stalls and food trucks by the side of a steep slope.
There was absolutely no consideration for hygiene, and rubbish was strewn all over the place.
This is the reality that should put off visitors to the “new lookout point”, but it seems to have the opposite effect.
When I visited the place in early 2020, there were about 10 to 15 stalls that were operating regularly there.
Not a great number, but one that was slightly more able to cope with the large number of diners.
Then of course, the Covid-19 pandemic hit and this makan spot was shut as travel and dining restrictions were introduced.
Fast forward to today and the traders are back. The number of stalls has almost doubled, along with an increase in visitors and heavy traffic.
Vehicles are parked by the side of Jalan Hulu Langat stretching almost 1km on both sides of the road, obstructing other road users.
Over the years, StarMetro has highlighted the dangers of this site but customers – many with children – dine there, oblivious to the potential danger.
No one seemed bothered by how the food and drinks were prepared without running water.
I even saw a stall operator give dirty utensils a brief “swirl” in a basin of water to be used by the next unsuspecting customer.
Those unfamiliar with the place might be forgiven for thinking that this was a daily bazaar approved by the authorities, as the crowds and stalls had grown over the past few years.
This is far from the truth as the local council, Ampang Jaya Municipal Council (MPAJ), has been trying to resolve this issue with no permanent solution in sight.
Numerous attempts by the authorities over the past several years, including legal action, have failed to deter operators from setting up shop.
After a batch of operators are removed from the site, new traders are quick to take over due to demand by customers.
The local council has even tried stationing enforcement personnel here every night, but this proved to be an unworkable solution.
More recently, MPAJ tried to use landscaping to discourage people from trading here.
Council president Mohd Fauzi Mohd Yatim said they had placed large rocks on the side of the road where traders used to set up their stalls.
This has proven to have some degree of success for now, but doesn’t solve the core issue – the illegal traders.
MPAJ has repeatedly said that it would be impossible to legalise traders operating there because of safety issues.
The municipal council is seen as a toothless tiger, with little power or is unwilling to take more drastic measures to curb the mushrooming of illegal stalls.
The main reason that operators continue to boldly trade here is the constant stream of customers.
From their perspective, traders said it was worth having stalls there despite the constant threat of enforcement.
“Just by operating during a weekend, we can earn enough to cover the cost for an entire week’s operation elsewhere,” one trader said.
It also does not help that travel and food influencers are constantly promoting the spot as a “unique dining experience” while neglecting to mention that the stalls are not supposed to be there in the first place.
There is also little mention of the dangers of dining there and the lack of proper parking space.
So the cycle continues – traders come in knowing that there is a constant stream of customers while diners flock there for what they think will be a novel experience.
But something has got to give. There are only so many near misses operators and visitors can get away with before something major happens.
Safety must take precedence over any concern the council may have in taking action against these illegal traders.
Should anything untoward happen, the fingers will surely and quickly be pointed at the authorities.
The onus is on us too as visitors, customers and diners to stop frequenting dangerous spots like this.
We should instead support legitimate stalls and restaurants that are struggling to cope with rising costs and could certainly use some extra business.