The Malaysian experience
The Malaysia experience has become, in the recent past, a most sought after holiday escapade. True for Asian visitors and Western tourists alike, the country is a hotspot pick as a choice of vacation, with a wide range of holidaying experience: from extreme adventure to quiet relaxation, Malaysia offers everything.
Jungle trekking in Savah Serawak to just watching the sun go down on the white sandy beaches of Langkawi, to unforgettable shopping and mouth watering multi-cultural cuisine, all offered in a nutshell of tradition and culture that is truly Asian. A land of diversity, it gives tourists a feeling of being at a home away from home.
Food is what one misses most when on vacation but not in Malaysia. Apart from their Laksa -- Malay style and Chinese cuisine -- you also get Indian food just like at home. Roti Chanai is one of their national foods, which is simply paratha and dal for us. Authentic Indian restaurants like Aryan in Kuala Lumpur with fish fried deshi style to beef bhuna and waiters speaking in Bangla, is as close as you can get to home.
However, Malaysia's most attractive offer is its retail therapy to shopaholics: malls almost at every corner and whatever your mind desires like the pink lip gloss from MAC to body butter from Body Shop to Chanel aviators or Arrow wallets, or just six pairs of shoes from Vincci, Malaysia's own brand; simply lets your mind soar and let shops like British Raj take shopping to heights unimaginable. And after you are tired from all that walking in dazzling malls like Pavillion you can rest by dipping your feet into and trying the very tickling but extremely therapeutic fish spa.
But while in Malaysia it is highly recommended that you get out of the capital and enjoy the rich offering of the other states of the land.
All roads lead to Putrajaya
For one, you can take a 30 minutes' drive south of Kuala Lumpur to Putrajaya, which serves as the federal administrative centre of Malaysia. It is a planned city, covers a vast sprawl of 4,931 hectares, which were mostly palm plantations before the federal government purchased the lot from the surrounding state of Selangor.
Putrajaya is natural, but the landscape has been extensively reworked by man: lush greenery and botanical gardens are spread across the landscape, crisscrossed by large bodies of water and wetlands.
Five confluences meet at the north forming a main waterway, the Putrajaya Lake, which flows across the city area and offers short cruises. It is an "Intelligent Garden City" and her adjacent sister city, Cyberjaya, is built along the same lines, but is aimed at attracting the IT industry.
Up in the clouds
This is as close as you can get to Las Vegas in Asia, with casinos and boutique hotels and extravagant shopping malls. Just 45 minutes outside the bustling metropolis of Kuala Lumpur is Resorts World Genting.
Amidst the refreshing cool air of the mountains, it is an integrated award-winning resort that has everything to offer, combining fun-filled attractions with entertainment and the luxury of an international class destination, to cater to the many diverse cultures and visitors from all walks of life.
Initially conceptualised as a retirement home in the mid-1960s by its respected founder, the late Tan Sri Lim Goh Tong, Resorts World Genting has since evolved into one of Asia's leading integrated resorts for entertainment, recreation, relaxation and conventions.
The resort features six hotels -- Maxims Genting Hotel, Highlands Hotel, Resort Hotel, First World Hotel, Theme Park Hotel and Awana Genting Highlands Golf & Country Resort -- with over 10,000 guest rooms (one of which, namely First World Hotel, was once named the World's Largest Hotel by Guinness World Book of Records in 2005), over 100 distinctive dining outlets, an alluring shopping paradise with over 80 stores, pulsating indoor and outdoor theme parks with more than 50 fun rides.
The resort also operates Genting Skyway -- one of the longest cable car rides in Southeast Asia -- spanning 3.38 km from the mid-hill at Gohtong Jaya to Highlands Hotel at the peak.
The Outdoor Theme Park boasts exhilarating rides such as the Corkscrew, Space Shot, Pirate Ship and the unique Flying Coaster. At the First World Indoor Theme Park, more exciting rides await. Signature rides are the skydiving simulator Sky Venture, the wintry Snow World, the engaging 4D Motion
Master plus the well-known Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum!
For elegant dining, there are restaurants where world-renowned Michelin Star Chefs have been guest chefs offering fine tastes from around the world.
Resorts World Genting is a city in every sense of the word. Not only does it have the best of entertainment, accommodation, food and fun, it has all your shopping needs covered too.
Maybe after you come down from Genting Highlands, you really need a few hard knocks to get your head out of the clouds. Stop at Royal Selangor Malaysia's Pewter factory and for a nominal charge, enroll in the school of Hard Knocks and be an apprentice pewter-smith and, using very basic hand tools, you can craft your own simple pewter bowl much like it would have been made in the late 19th century. Pewter is a versatile alloy of tin, copper and antimony that can be transformed into an endless variety of home ware and gift items.
Royal Selangor is one of the oldest and most well-known names in the pewter industry. Founded in Malaysia in 1885 by Yong Koon, Royal Selangor has an impressive workforce of close to 400 skilled craftsmen. Presently, the company offers over a thousand different tableware and gift items, from traditional tankards and elegant tea sets to photo frames and handsome desk accessories. Despite modern technology, every piece of Royal Selangor is still handcrafted.
Since the 1970s, the company has diversified -- extending its business to the design, manufacture and marketing of precious jewellery under the names of Selberan Jewellery and Comyns, and also hallmarked sterling silver.
Climbing the steps
Another tourist attraction is the Batu Caves, a limestone hill which has a series of caves and cave temples, located in Gombak district, 13 kilometres north of Kuala Lumpur. It takes its name from the Sungai Batu or Batu River, which flows past the hill. Batu Caves is also the name of the nearby village.
The cave is one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside India, dedicated to Lord Murugan. It is the focal point of the Hindu festival of Thaipusam in Malaysia. The limestone forming Batu Caves is said to be around 400 million years old. Some of the cave entrances were used as shelters by the indigenous Temuan people (a tribe of Orang Asli).
As early as 1860, Chinese settlers began excavating guano for fertilising their vegetable patches. However, they became famous only after the limestone hills were recorded by colonial authorities including Daly and Syers as well as American Naturalist, William Hornaday in 1878.
Batu Caves was promoted as a place of worship by K. Thamboosamy Pillai, an Indian trader. He was inspired by the 'vel'-shaped entrance of the main cave and was inspired to dedicate a temple to Lord Muruga within the caves.
In 1890, Pillai, who also founded the Sri Mahamariamman Temple, Kuala Lumpur, installed the murti (consecrated statue) of Sri Subramania Swamy in what is today known as the Temple Cave. Since 1892, the Thaipusam festival in the Tamil month of Thai (which falls in late January/early February) has been celebrated there.
Wooden steps up to the Temple Cave were built in 1920 and have since been replaced by 272 concrete steps. Of the various cave temples that comprise the site, the largest and best known is the Temple or Cathedral Cave, so named because it houses several Hindu shrines beneath its 100 metre vaulted ceiling.
in the emerald green
waters of Langkawi
Langkawi, the jewel of Kedah is a tropical paradise famed for its legends and myths; the island offers adventures under the sun or at sea, duty free shopping and peaceful relaxation amongst luxuriant tropical foliage. Langkawi is an archipelago of 99 islands in the Andaman Sea, some 30 km off the mainland coast of north western Malaysia.
With natural white sand beaches, lush jungle foliage and craggy mountain peaks, the islands of Langkawi remained a sleepy backwater until 1987, when the islands were granted tax-free status with the intention of promoting tourism. The 10,000 hectares of Langkawi and its 99 islands were declared a Geopark by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 2007.
Tourists in Langwaki can choose to stay in any one of its hotels or resorts, but Meritus Pelangi Beach Resort and Spa, situated on the west coast of Langkawi, has the most romantic settings. The resort spreads over 30 acres of palm-fringed beachfront located on the most popular and scenic Cenang Beach, with stunning sunset views. The resort boasts 331 rooms in 51 ethnic wooden chalets spread across colourful and beautifully landscaped gardens.
The resort, raised on stilts like a Malaysian village, is architecturally distinctive, featuring sloping roofs, trusses and spacious verandas. The most memorable dinner can be had in one of its restaurants right on the white sandy beach. The emerald green waves splashing on your feet while you pick shells and wait for your barbecue grilled salmon dinner, which you follow with a delicious array of mouth-watering desserts, is certainly an opportunity not to be missed.
It is a tourist destination and has loads of activities both on land and water. One of the most popular day tours around the island is the Eagle Feeding and Mangrove Tour that takes you to the Kilim Nature Park. The tour is a fun filled remarkable day trip that takes you from the mouth of the river to the open sea and back again to the river shores. The sprawling 100 square kilometre park features a beautiful melange of protected green mangrove forests, isolated white beaches and blue lagoons.
Starting out with a boat cruise down the serene and snaking river; you get a chance to marvel at the unique limestone rock formations emerging from the floor of the mangrove swamp and seabed.
Your first stop is the bat cave or Gua Kelawar, named after its inhabitants, the Malaysian fruit bats, and this cave is located along the Kilim River. Accessible only by boat, you can then walk along a wooden platform through a mangrove swamp, leading directly to the cave.
The stalactites and stalagmites are of gigantic proportions, the dark cave is punctuated with hanging bats, the entire atmosphere gives you an eerie feeling but bat caves are usually safe because they sleep during the day and on top of everything, these are cute fruit-eating bats.
After this unique exploration you are taken on a ride through the open sea towards the eagle feeding grounds where chicken pieces will be tossed at the eagles and they come in scores to relish the food.
You will witness a wonderful display of the majestic reddish brown eagles in flight. Though discouraged by environmentalists, this is a treat of a lifetime. The tour ends with a visit to a specialised fish farm in the open sea, where you get to see the oldest fossils and can touch and feed the humble yet regal Sting Rays. While you are there, the underwater aquarium is a treat, especially when you get to see penguins.
As much as it is a tourist's paradise, the tax-free status also makes it a shopper's heaven.
Another important tourist attraction in Langkawi is its cable car ride. Langkawi Cable Cars take visitors to Langkawi's second highest peak of Mount Mac Chinchang, where the view of the surrounding islands is simply spectacular.
On clear days, visitors can also see parts of Thailand towards the North and Indonesia towards the South-West. The cable car ride up the hill takes about 20 minutes and allows you to enjoy great views of the hillside flora, waterfalls and occasional glimpses of the wildlife and birds. And standing at 704 feet above sea level and watching the sun go down on the pristine waters of the Strait of Malacca, it is indeed one of the most breathtaking views you get to see in your lifetime.
Serenity Lili Marleen
While in Langkawi these are activities almost every tourist participates in, a completely new attraction for tourists who love adventure mixed with romanticism is a night stay at Serenity Lili Marleen, the luxury super yacht and Langkawi's new and only floating hotel.
Set afloat on board a 249-ft barquentine, guests are ushered into a unique cruise ship where a strong sense of style and an unparalleled service awaits you.
The Serenity Lili Marleen is a magnificent luxury yacht built in Elsfleth, Germany. Known as a "Tall Ship", this 3-masted vessel with over 13,000 square feet of sail cruises off the coast of Langkawi and provides her guests with luxurious accommodation during their stay onboard. Guests will be enchanted with her understated charm of cherry wood interiors and elm burr panelling, embellished with decorative marquetry and intricate inlays.
There are 25 staterooms offering august living at its finest -- delicate and ideal for both leisure and business travellers. Each stateroom is en suite with modern amenities and features porthole windows for an excellent view of the surroundings.
This luxury cruise ship is a must visit for tourists seeking peace and quiet. It is a total getaway worth every cent.
Makam Mahsuri The truth behind a curse
Makam Mahsuri is undoubtedly a major attraction not to be missed in Langkawi. The mausoleum was built after the death of Mahsuri binti Pandak Mayah -- an ordinary lady who was said to have a great influence on Langkawi's fate. The incident started with Mahsuri's beauty and ended with a curse on the island.
Mahsuri, with an attractive appearance and pleasant personality had drawn the attention of many people of the village and surrounding areas. At that time, the Chieftain had the intention to marry her but was unable to do so. Later, Mahsuri married the Chieftain's brother Mat Darus. However, her blissful marriage did not last long as her beauty had caused many to be jealous of her.
Her sister-in-law, the Chieftain's wife was jealous of Mahsuri and coincidentally, she saw Mahsuri greet a man by the name of Deramang. She then took the chance to accuse her of being unfaithful and having an affair. In 1819, Mahsuri was sentenced to death without any trial.
Using a spear, her Chieftain brother-in-law executed her. As a sign of her innocence, it was believed that Mahsuri bled white blood and she laid a curse on Langkawi, saying that the island will remain barren and ill-fated for the next seven generations.
Now, seven generations have passed and Langkawi has gone through a harsh period before being developed as a tourism destination. Makam Mahsuri was then built to commemorate this fair maiden.
Besides that, the museum in Makam Mahsuri also showcases a large portrait of Mahsuri, some of her precious jewels and the weapon which had been used to execute her. Coming out from the museum you will see Mahsuri's tomb.
Walking around in Makam Mahsuri, you will be amazed by the artistic and classical Malay architecture. There are several traditional Malay wooden houses depicting the lifestyle in Mahsuri's time and further inside, you will be able to see an old well in mosaic, which was said to be used by Mahsuri herself.
By Raffat Binte Rashid
Special thanks to Tourism Malaysia for arranging the Mega Familiarisation Programme and Malaysia Airlines for their hospitality.