MALAYSIA – Facts
Capital Kuala Lumpur
Government Constitutional monarchy
Area total: 329,750 km² land: 328,550 km² water: 1,200 km²
Population: 25 million
Malaysia is a country in Southeast Asia, located partly on a peninsula of the Asian mainland and partly on the northern third of the island of Borneo. West (peninsular) Malaysia shares a border with Thailand, is connected by a causeway and a bridge (the ‘second link’) to the island state of Singapore, and has coastlines on the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca. East Malaysia (Borneo) shares borders with Brunei and Indonesia.
Malaysia is a mix of the modern world and a developing nation. With its investment in the high technology industries and moderate oil wealth, it has become a rich nation in Southeast Asia. Malaysia, for most visitors, presents a happy mix: there is high-tech infrastructure and things generally work well and more or less on schedule, but prices remain more reasonable than, say, Singapore.
Before the rise of the European colonial powers, the Malay peninsula and the Malay archipelago were home to empires from Indonesia. The Srivijaya and Majapahit empires saw the spread of Hinduism to the region, and to this day, despite being nominally Muslim, many Hindu legends and traditions survive in traditional Malay culture. Mass conversion to Islam only occurred after the arrival of Arab traders during the Melaka Sultanate.
This was to change in the 16th century when the Portuguese established the first European colony in Southeast Asia by defeating the Melaka Sultanate. The Portuguese subsequently then lost Malacca to the Dutch. The British also established their first colony on the Malay peninsula in Penang in 1786. Finally, the area was divided into Dutch and British spheres of influence with the signing of the Anglo-Dutch Treaty in 1824. With this treaty, the Dutch agreed to cede Malacca to the British and in return, the British ceded all their colonies on Sumatra to the Dutch. The line which divided the Malay world into Dutch and British areas roughly corresponds to what is now the border between Malaysia and Indonesia.
World War II was disastrous for the British Malayan Command. The Japanese swept down both coasts of the Malay Peninsula and despite fierce fighting, much of the British military was tied down fighting the Germans in Europe and those that remained in Malaya simply could not cope with the Japanese onslaught. By 31 January 1942, the British had been pushed all the way back to Singapore, which also fell to the Japanese on 15 February 1942. The situation was no different on Borneo, which fell to the Japanese on 1 April 1942 after months of fierce fighting. The Japanese occupation was brutal, and many, particularly the ethnic Chinese, suffered and perished during the occupation. Among the most notorious atrocities committed by the Japanese was the Sandakan Death Marches, with only six out of several thousand prisoners surviving the war.
After World War II, a single British colony known as the Malayan Union, with Singapore splitting off to form a separate colony was formed. However, widespread opposition to the Malayan Union led the British to reconsider their position, and in 1948, the Malayan Union was replaced by the Federation of Malaya, in which the executive positions of the sultans were restored. In Borneo, the White Rajas ceded Sarawak to the British crown in 1946, making it a crown colony of the United Kingdom. Malaya gained independence from the British in 1957. Six years later, Malaysia was formed on 16 September 1963 through a merging of Malaya and Singapore, as well as the East Malaysian states of Sabah (known then as North Borneo) and Sarawak on the northern coast of Borneo, with Brunei deciding not to join. The first several years of the country’s history were marred by the Indonesian confrontation (konfrontasi) as well as claims to Sabah from the Philippines. Singapore was expelled from the federation on 9 August 1965 after several bloody racial riots, as its majority Chinese population and the influence of the People’s Action Party led by Lee Kuan Yew (later the long-ruling Prime Minister of Singapore) were seen as a threat to Malay dominance, and it became a separate country.
Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy, nominally headed by the Paramount Ruler who is “elected” for a five-year term from among the rulers of the 9 royal states of Malaysia, though in practice the election usually follows a prescribed order based on the seniority of the rulers at the time of independence. This gives Malaysia a unique political system of rotational monarchy, in which each of the state rulers would take turns to be the king of Malaysia. The current king, from Kedah, was sworn in on 13 Dec 2011.
Malaysia’s government is largely based on the British Westminster system, consisting of a bicameral national parliament. The lower house, is elected directly by the people. The upper house consists of 26 members elected by the state governments, with each state having 2 representatives, while the remaining members are appointed by the king. The head of government is the Prime Minister, who is the party leader of the winning party in the lower house. The United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party and its National Front (Barisan Nasional) coalition have ruled Malaysia uninterrupted since its independence, and while periodic elections are contested by feisty opposition parties, the balance has so far always been shifted in the government’s favor, partly due to press control and use of restrictive security legislation dating from the colonial era. In practice, the king is only the nominal Head of State, while the Prime Minister is the one who wields the most authority in government.
Peninsular Malaysia occupies all of the Malay Peninsula between Thailand and Singapore. It is home to the bulk of Malaysia’s population, its capital and largest city Kuala Lumpur, and is generally more economically developed. Within Peninsular Malaysia, the West Coast is more developed and urbanised. Peninsular Malaysia consists of plains on both the East and West coasts, separated from each other by a mountain range known as the Barisan Titiwangsa which runs from North to South.
East Malaysia, Some 800km to the east, occupies the northern third of the island of Borneo, shared with Indonesia and tiny Brunei. Partly covered in impenetrable jungle where headhunters roam, East Malaysia is rich in natural resources but very much Malaysia’s hinterland for industry and tourism.
Malaysia is a multicultural society. While Malays make up a 52% majority, there are also 27% Chinese, 9% Indian and a miscellaneous grouping of 13.5% “others”, such as the Portuguese clan in Melaka and 12% of indigenous peoples (Orang Asli). There is hence also a profusion of faiths and religions, with Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Sikhism and even shamanism on the map.
One of the significant characteristics of Malaysian culture is its celebration of various festivals and events. The year is filled with colourful, exhilarating and exciting activities. Some are religious and solemn but others are vibrant, joyous events. One interesting feature of the main festivals in Malaysia is the ‘open house’ custom. This is when Malaysians celebrating the festival invite friends and family to come by their homes for some traditional delicacies and fellowship.
Multicultural Malaysia celebrates a vast range of festivals, but the ones to look out for nationwide are Islamic holidays, most notably the fasting month of Ramadan. During its 29 or 30 days, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking and smoking from dawn to sunset. Not all Muslims follow the tradition, or sustain the full period or Ramadan fasting but most do make a very serious effort. Pregnant, breast feeding or menstruating women are not expected to fast, nor are the elderly, the infirm, or travellers. Unless incapable those who do not fast during Ramadan are expected to catch up the missed days at a later time. People get up early before sunrise for a meal (sahur), and take off early to get back home in time to break fast (buka puasa) at sunset. At the end of the month, many locals take one to two weeks off to ‘balik kampung’ or return to their home towns to meet family and friends. Accordingly, this is the one of the many times in a year when major cities like Kuala Lumpur has virtually no traffic congestions. Travelling around Malaysia is usually avoided by the locals. Another important festival is the Muslim festival of Eid ul-Adha. It is during this festival that Muslims perform the Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca. In local mosques, cows and lambs are donated by the faithful and sacrificed, after which the meat is distributed to all. Family reunions are also celebrated during other main festivals in the country. Locals usually put on traditional costumes and finery as these festivals are an integral feature of Malaysia society.
During the month of Ramadhan, non-muslims are expected to be courteous of those fasting. Non-Muslims, as well as Muslims travelling (musafir), are exempt from fasting but it is polite to refrain from eating or drinking in public.
Other major holidays include Chinese New Year (around January/February), Deepavali or Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights (around October/November), the Buddhist holiday of Wesak (around May/June), and Christmas (25 December).
The climate in Malaysia is tropical. The north-east monsoon (October to February) deluges Borneo and the east coast in rain and often causes flooding, while the west coast (particularly Langkawi and Penang) escape unscathed. The milder south-west monsoon (April to October) reverses the pattern. The southern parts of peninsular Malaysia, including perennially soggy Kuala Lumpur, are exposed to both but even during the rainy season, the showers tend to be intense but brief.
Malaysia is close to the equator, therefore a warm weather is guaranteed. Temperatures generally range from 32°C/89.6 ºF at noon to about 26°C/78.8 ºF at midnight. Temperatures tend to be cooler in the highlands, with the likes of Genting Highlands,Cameron Highlands and Fraser’s Hill having temperatures ranging from about 17°C/62.6 ºF at night to about 25°C/77 ºF in the day. Mount Kinabalu is known to have temperatures falling below 10°C/50 ºF.
Most nationalities can enter Malaysia without a visa, and they would be issued a 14, 30 or 90 day entry permit stamp on their passport. Note that Sarawak has separate immigration laws and you will get a new visa on arrival there.
By plane: National carrier Malaysia Airlines (MAS) has extensive worldwide network coverage and regularly ranks high in airline quality assessments.
By train: To/from Thailand: Direct sleeper train services operated by the State Railway of Thailand connect Bangkok and Butterworth near Penang (Malaysia), while Keretapi Tanah Melayu (Malaysian Railways) runs trains between Hat Yai (Thailand) and Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia). To/from Singapore: Singapore is the southern terminus of the Malayan Railway (Keretapi Tanah Melayu) network. Comfortable overnight sleeper and somewhat misnamed daytime “express” trains connect Singapore with Kuala Lumpur and Tumpat, near Kota Bharu. Bizarrely, tickets purchased at the Singapore station are twice as expensive as those purchased in Malaysia; you can save quite a bit by taking the train from Johor Bahru instead.
By bus: Long-distances buses/coaches into Malaysia run from Brunei, Indonesian Borneo, Singapore and Thailand. Brunei – there are no direct buses into Brunei. However, there are buses from Miri and Limbang going to the border where there are connections to Bandar Seri Begawan. Indonesia – direct buses operate between Pontianak in West Kalimantan and Kuching in Sarawak. Singapore – a multitude of bus companies operate direct routes from Singapore to various destinations in Peninsular Malaysia, including Malacca, Kuala Lumpur, Penang. Frequent buses make the short run between Singapore and Johor Bahru. If you are planning to take on arrival visa, you must enter Malaysia via link 2. Thailand – several companies operate services from Kuala Lumpur and other cities in Malaysia to Hat Yai in southern Thailand, where direct connections are available to Bangkok and many other Thai destinations.
By boat: Ferries connect various points in Peninsular Malaysia with Sumatra in Indonesia and southern Thailand, Sarawak with Brunei, and Sabah with East Kalimantan in Indonesia and Mindanao in the Philippines. Brunei – ferries daily between the Muara Ferry Terminal in Brunei and Labuan island and Lawas in Sarawak. Speedboats, mostly in the morning, also run between Bandar Seri Begawan jetty and Limbang, Sarawak. Indonesia – the main jumping-off points from Indonesia are the Riau Islands of Batam, Bintan and Karimun; Dumai, Medan and Pekanbaru on the Sumatra mainland as well as Nunukan in East Kalimantan. Philippines – ferries run between the Zamboanga Peninsula and Sandakan, Sabah. Thailand – four ferries daily between Tammalang at Satun and Kuah on Langkawi, Malaysia.
By plane: Largely thanks to budget carrier AirAsia. Malaysia is crisscrossed by a web of affordable flights. Flying is the only practical option for traveling between peninsular Malaysia and Borneo, as well as reaching some of the more remote outposts of Borneo. In Sabah and Sarawak, MASWings, operates turboprop services linking interior communities, including those in the Kelabit Highlands, with coastal cities.
By train: Long-distance trains in Malaysia can rarely match road transport in terms of speed, but state operator, KTMB, provides relatively inexpensive and generally reliable services around Peninsular Malaysia. The main western line connects Butterworth (near Penang), Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru, while the eastern line runs through Gua Musang and the Taman Negara National Park to Kota Bharu, near the Thai border and the Perhentian Islands.
The pride of KTMB’s fleet is the ETS (Electric Train Service) from Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh, running modern air-conditioned trains 10x/daily at 140 km/h with a travel time of just over 2 hours. The rest of the network, though, is mostly single-track, with slow diesel locos and all too frequent breakdowns and delays. First and second class are air-con, third class has fans instead. For sleeper trains, KTMB’s epitome of luxury is Premier Night Deluxe between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur only featuring individual cabins containing two berths and a private shower/toilet unit. More economical are the Superior Night (ADNS) sleeper cars, which have upper and lower berths along each side. The carriages shake and rattle quite a bit but are comfortable and clean.
The Jungle Railway is the apt description for the eastern line between Tumpat (close to the Thai border) and Gemas, including stops at Gua Musang, Kuala Lipis, Jerantut (for Taman Negara National Park) and Wakaf Bahru (for Kota Bharu and the Perhentian Islands). The original “Jungle Train” is the slow daytime service which stops at every station (every 15-20 min or so). It’s 3rd class only, meaning no air-con and no reservations, and some stops may be lengthy as it’s a single line and all other trains have priority – hence the “Jungle Train” waits in side loops along the way so that oncoming or overtaking trains can pass. Some find it to be a fascinating and stunningly scenic ride; others feel there’s not much to see when you’re in the jungle. Tickets can be booked and even printed online at KTMB’s site. Enquiries and reservations can be made by phone at KTMB’s call centres, ☎ +60 3 2267-1200 (Malaysia) or , ☎ +65 6222-5165 (Singapore).
By car: Malaysia has an excellent highway network, culminating in the North-South Expressway along the West Coast from Singapore all the way to the Thai border. Petrol is slightly cheaper than market prices at RM1.90/litre. Tolls are payable on expressways, but these are priced at varying degrees, ranging from expensive to reasonable: driving the length of the country (734 km) from the Thai border to Singapore costs RM 108 (~US$25). While you can drive from Singapore to Thailand within a day on the West Coast, the highway system is considerably less developed on the East Coast, with no expressways, and even less so in Sabah and Sarawak. Toll prices for highways and causeways inside major cities, especially Kuala Lumpur, is priced exorbitantly ranging from RM4.00 to RM7.00 for each exit.
While driving quality and habits in Malaysia are better than most of the rest of Southeast Asia, it is not necessarily great. Traffic in Malaysia drives on the left, a legacy left by the British.
In Kuala Lumpur, the budget taxis are usually coloured Red and White or Yellow. The Blue taxis are larger saloons and more luxurious. These cost typically 25-30% more than the budget taxis. Additionally, beware of unlicensed taxis (taxi sapu) at the airports. They can literally take you for a ride. There will be touts at the airports offering travellers their taxi service, even pretending to be legitimate. As unbelievable as it may sound, some have been known to rob first time visitors hundreds of ringgit for a single trip into the city, charging 100 times more than the correct fare. At the airports always get your taxi from the authorised operators’ booths set up in the airport itself & never from anyone that solicits directly.
By bus: The cheapest way to travel in Malaysia is by bus. All towns of any size have a bus terminal offering connections to other parts of the country. 24-seater “luxury” buses are recommended for long-distance travel. If travelling on holidays or even over the weekend, it is advisable to reserve your seats in advance. Note that air conditioning on some buses can be extremely cold so don’t forget to bring a good sweater, pants and socks, especially for overnight journeys on luxury buses!
The sole official language of Malaysia is Malay. English is compulsory in all schools and widely spoken in the larger cities, as well as around the main tourist attractions, although in rural areas a little Malay will come in handy.
There are various beautiful national parks in Malaysia. It is very unlikely in most of the national parks for you to see a tiger or an elephant. Malaysia is also well-known for some pristine beaches with great diving opportunities, such as Sipadan off the coast of Sabah and the Perhentian Islands, which are off the coast of northern Terengganu. Coastlines in the less industrialized parts of the country, in general, are well worth driving through for their natural beauty and relaxing seaside kampung (villages), though beware not to swim at any beach which is not protected by capes, lest you be swept away by a powerful undertow.
If you are most interested in taking the pulse of a city, Kuala Lumpur’s crazy quilt ultra-modern skyline, including the famous Petronas Twin Towers, is worth visiting. Ipoh may be of more interest if you prefer a somewhat slower paced city that features elegant colonial-era buildings from about 100 years ago, and Malacca is for those who want to trace the colonial and imperial history of Malaysia several hundred years further back. Penang is known for its great food and relatively long-standing and institutionalized Chinese and Indian communities.
Malaysia has excellent scuba diving. The most popular spots are the islands off the East Coast of peninsular Malaysia (Perhentian, Redang, Tioman and many more), although the dive season is limited to April to September. However, the most famous dive site — often ranked among the best in the world — is Sipadan, off the easternmost tip of Malaysian Borneo. There are many other less well known sites, like Layang Layang.
Whitewater Rafting: You can find tame Grade I to incredibly difficult and dangerous Grade V rapids in Malaysia’s many national parks:
Banks and airports are not the best places to exchange money if it is not urgent. Licensed money changers in major shopping malls often have the best rates – be sure to say the amount you wish to exchange and ask for the ‘best quote’ as rates displayed on the board are often negotiable, especially for larger amounts.
ATMs are widely available in cities, but do stock up on cash if heading out into the smaller islands or the jungle. Credit cards can be used in most shops, restaurants and hotels, although skimming can be a problem in dodgier outlets.
US Debit cards: Due high levels of fraud, many Malaysia ATMs do not allow you to withdraw using a US debit card. This is unique to Malaysia and is not applicable to Thailand, Singapore, or Indonesia. If you call your bank or even Visa/Mastercard, they are often not aware because the transaction is declined by the Malaysia bank. Make sure to bring cash or other form of money in case your debit card is rejected.
Most visitors will find Malaysia quite cheap, although it is noticeably more expensive than neighbouring Thailand and Indonesia. You can live in hostel dorms and feast on hawker food for less than RM50 per day, but you’ll wish to double this for comfort, particularly if travelling in more expensive East Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur is also generally more expensive than the rest of the country.
Kuala Lumpur is a shopping mecca for clothes, electronics, watches, computer goods and much more, with very competitive prices by any standard. Traditional Malaysian fabrics (batik) are a popular souvenir.
The crossroads of Malay, Chinese and Indian cuisine, Malaysia is an excellent place to makan (eat in Malay). Look out for regional specialities and Nyonya (Peranakan) cuisine, the fusion between Malay and Chinese cooking.
The violent crime rate is higher than crime rate, and street crime is prevalent. Crimes towards tourists are usually restricted to bag-snatching, pickpocketing, petty theft and group raping.WARNING: Malaysia treats drug offenses extremely severely. The death penalty is mandatory for those convicted of trafficking.Scratch and Win Scams are rampant in all over Malaysia. Victims are given reward tickets to scratch/tear/peel off on spot to see if they win prizes. In these cases, victims would be informed that they had won prizes in foreign lottery or lucky draws.The scammers would ask victims to make advance payment if they wanted to claim their prizes. They would even offer victims car rides to withdraw the large sums of money, reported a local news source. After which, victims would realise that the prizes never existed or were of lower value than previously promised.Credit card fraud is a growing problem. Use cards only in reputable shops.
Many taxis will refuse to use the meter, even though the official rate has changed recently and most taxis now have a sticker on the rear door that informs tourists that haggling is prohibited. Be aware that taxi drivers, sensing that you are a tourist, may drive around and take a very long route to reach your destination.
Tap water is drinkable straight off the tap as it is treated, but even locals boil or filter it first just to be on the safe side. When travelling it is best to stick to bottled water, which is very inexpensive.Ice in drinks might be made from tap water but nowadays, most restaurants and even roadside stalls use the cylindrical variety with a hollow tube down the middle that are mass-produced at ice factories and are safer to consume.
Heat exhaustion is rare, but do consume lots of fluids, use a hat and sunscreen and shower often!
Peninsular Malaysia is largely malaria-free, but there is a significant risk in Borneo especially in inland and rural areas. Dengue fever occurs throughout Malaysia in both urban and rural areas, and can be avoided only by preventing mosquito bites. The mosquito that transmits dengue feeds throughout the daytime, and is most active at dawn and dusk. If you experience a sudden fever with aches and lethargy, seek medical attention immediately. Aspirin and ibuprofen should not be used until dengue fever has been ruled out. Mosquito repellents (ubat nyamuk) are widely available. Be careful with mosquito coils, which can easily start fires: set them on a plate or other non-flammable surface and extinguish them before going to sleep.
It is advisable to dress respectfully, particularly in rural areas (wearing trousers or a long skirt, not shorts, and covering your shoulders is recommended but not essential). You will hear Malaysians criticize their own government,because the current ruling governemnt has ruled for 55 years and is considered the most corrupted, many politicians from the ruling party are accused for numerous bribery cases, murdering cases and raping cases. Besides that, the government is also racial biased, this idiotic mindset causes serious brain drain in Malaysia. When you see any Barisan National party members, please stay away from them, they are very dangerous.
When entering a home or a place of worship, always take off your shoes. Also, never eat with your left hand, or give a gift with your left hand; and never point with your forefinger (you may use a closed fist with the thumb instead), point with your feet or touch a person’s head.
Same-sex relationships are a taboo subject in Malaysia. Gay and lesbian travellers should avoid any outward signs of affection, including holding hands in public. Homosexuality is illegal in Malaysia.
Malaysia is one of the first countries in the world to offer 4G connectivity. Wi-Fi is usually available in hot spots in almost all restaurants and almost all fast-food outlets, shopping malls and City-wide wireless connections. Prepaid Internet cards are also available to access wireless broadband.If you are staying for a period, it is worth getting a Prepaid SIM card. Postage rates in Malaysia are cheap. Much much cheaper than Thailand, Singapore or Vietnam. Non-urgent letters and postcards can be dropped in postboxes inside post offices or red postboxes found outside post offices and along main roads. If there are two slots in a postbox use the one that says “lain lain” for international post.
MALAYSIA – The Trip April 15 – 24, 2013.
After crossing over the 2nd link bridge from Singapore on the deluxe (wide reclining seats), A/C bus, it was a quick stop to get the free visa on the Malaysia side. There was no need to change buses. The 5 hour trip to Kuala Lumpur was on a great 6 lane divided highway with little traffic and no towns until KL was approached. The minimally rolling terrain was covered with forests and miles of palm oil plantations.
Kuala Lumpur (pop 1.5 million) is a big modern city very similar to Singapore but without all the rules and more traffic and people (the metro in Singapore is so good that most of the citizens are invisible underground). I stayed at the Reggae Mansion, a big and beautiful “party” hostel. It is just north of Chinatown and close to all the sites, most of which I was able to see in a few hours in the heat. Masjid Jamek, set in a grove of palm trees beside the concrete enclosed river, is lovely with onion domes and minarets of layered pink and cream bricks. I walked through Chinatown to the Old Railway Station, a fanciful castle of Islamic arches and spires. Nearby is the Masjid Negara or National Mosque. Open to the public with no restrictions on the wearing shorts, everyone has to put on a purple robe to enter. Built in 1964, it is the most modern mosque I have ever seen. I holds 15,000. The main dome is an umbrella shaped 18 point star symbolizing the 13 states of Malaysia and the 5 pillars of Islam. Sri Mahamariamman Temple, a typical Hindu temple with a chaos of brightly painted statues on the quadrangular tower, is dedicated to Kali. However they weren’t sacrificing any goats here like in the last Kali temple I saw in Kolkata. It was then a good 30 minute walk to the Menara Kuala Lumpur, a 421m high tower, the 4th highest in the world. It was a 58 second elevator ride to the observation deck at 277m. I thought it would be nice at night but maybe the views would have been better during the day with more detail and a view to the horizons. Above the observation deck are a revolving restaurant, banquet hall, telecommunication floor, broadcasting station and antennae mast. The other towers in the world are CN Tower-Toronto-553m; Ostankeno Tower-Moscow-540m; Oriental Tower-Shanghai-468m; Menara KL-421m; Tianjin Tower-Tianjin, China-415m; Tashkent Tower-Uzbekistan-375m; Fernsehturm-Berlin-368; Tokyo Tower-333m; Sky Tower-Auckland-328m; Amp Tower-Sydney-304; Barcelona Tower-288. Probably the major attraction in KL is the Petronas Towers. These twin towers were the world’s tallest skyscrapers until Taipei 101 took the title in 2004. They are the headquarters of the national petroleum company. Of the three tours, the best is to the 88th floor observation deck in Tower 2 but the views are not as good as from Menara KL.
The next morning I caught the 4 hour bus north to Tanah Rata, the main town in the center of the Cameron Highlands, the hill area north of Kuala Lumpur. This area is a great reprieve from the heat of the rest of Malaysia, with temperatures that rarely drop below 10C or go above 21. Most come here to trek on the many trails or visit tea plantations and farms. With a pleasant young German, we did Path 1 that climbed up a steep, muddy, path full of roots to Gunung Brinchang, a 6,666′ mountain north of town. Arriving in the mist, we walked down to the Mossy Forest boardwalk, and then down the steep road. With a bunch of other young guys we hitched a ride through big tea plantations back to the main road and to Tanah Rata. This has been a nice relaxing place with a welcome cool climate and great company. With only 6 days left in this winters trip, I decided to move on to the east coast and the town of Kuala Besut, the jetty town for boats to the Perhentian Islands for some snorkeling and possibly diving.
The brand new Toyoto minivan was a pleasant surprise and it was a comfortable 5 hour drive with four unusually nice French travelers who made a real effort to include me in the conversation. The road moved through huge oil palm plantations. In Kuala Besut, it was a quick transfer to the water taxi for a half hour ride to Long Beach on Pelau Kecil, the most “backpacker” of the Perhentian group of islands. I stayed the first night at Perhentian Tropicana, but it was disappointing – no wifi, power on only at night, no A/C, and a very plain room for $25, a relatively high room rate for Malaysia. Coral Bay, a 10 minute walk across the island, was much nicer and that is where I spent all my time as it was wifi enabled. All the beachfront restaurants have a BBQ at night. It always feels odd to be the only one sitting alone out of hundreds of others – mostly twenty-somethings and a few families.
The next day I went snorkeling to five sites with imaginative names like Fish Point, Shark Point and Turtle Bay (yes there was a very cooperative turtle). The Lighthouse site had gorgeous fish – schools of little fish that you felt you were fighting your way through and loads of other larger fish. I upgraded my hotel to one on Coral Bay (the huge Shangri=La resort), with A/C and wifi in an attractive room for $25/night. I went diving to a ship wreck called Sugar Wreck that sunk in 2000. It was a cargo ship that carried sugar. Only about 20m deep, it was my first wreck and quite interesting with lots of fish and urchins. The third day, I went diving again to a pinnacle called Temple. Again there were many interesting fish but mediocre corals.
So after four days of the beach life, I caught the 8AM water taxi back to Kuala Besut and then another minivan 6 hours across the entire peninsula to the west coast and Penang. An island accessed by one of the longest bridges in the world at 13.5km, it was listed as a World Heritage Site in 2008. I was the only one in the 9 passenger van – how do they make money at this? It was a similar landscape with trees and oil palm plantations. The main city is Georgetown (pop 180,000), a big city with a big cultural mishmash. Outside the historic center with its chaotic streets and allies and British Raj-era architecture, are soaring skyscrapers and massive shopping complexes.
My last day in SE Asia was spent sightseeing in Georgetown. I hit the best roti canai stall in town for a great lunch. The Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion was built over 8 years by a Chinese wealthy mandarin, finishing in 8 years in 1888 (8 is a very lucky number in Chinese culture). With 38 rooms, wonderful stained glass, Scottish wrought iron, paste and glue ceramic dioramas, and a blue paint scheme, the 1 hour guided was well done. The Penang Museum illustrates the customs and traditions of Penang’s ethnic groups (Malay, Chinese and Indian), a worthwhile museum to visit. I walked the seawall to Fort Cornwallis built on the cape by the British in 1776. The Penang Peranakan Mansion has stunning carving on every door, wall and archway and a good jewelry museum. Kuan Yin Teng is one of the many Chinese temples in town (Confusius, Buddhist and Tao) with spectacular dragons on the roofs and gables. Sri Mariamman Temple is Penangs oldest Hindu temple. Kapitan Keling Mosque is Penang’s first mosque. Khoo Kongsi, possibly the nicest temple, is Penangs finest clan house, with a mixture of dragons, statues, paintings, lamps, colorful tiles, and wonderful carved lions, pillars and friezes. This only took 5 hours but I arrived back at the hostel totally knackered – the heat (33) or old age? There were lots of British style architecture in the old town.
This was my big fly day, April 24th, with 4 flights to arrive in Vancouver 9 1/2 hours after starting by gaining a day and several hours traveling east: Penang to Kuala Lumpur: 55 minutes, 2 hours layover; Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok: 2 hours, 2 hour layover (one certainly notices a step down in country development in Thailand – poor A/C in airport, bureaucratic process to get WiFi that works so poorly it is useless); Bangkok to Hong Kong: 4 hours, 1689km, 2 hour layover; Hong Kong to Vancouver: 11 hours. The Vancouver airport is one of the loveliest in the world with all the glass, water features, and Indian carvings. The Canada Line to Broadway, bus 99 to Commercial and a 3 block walk to get to my lovely daughters house. A gorgeous walk on the sea wall on a warm, sunny day in Vancouver, dinner at Vij’s (lamb popsicles are so yummy). So nice to be home. We live in the best country in the world (except for our right wing prime minister). I need a holiday.