Malaysia, Truly Asia

A friend of mine intends to take some time out in Kuala Lumpur on her own, just for a break from work. I am not sure if she intends to move around Malaysia or just stay in the capital itself. But I will urge her not to restrict her experience to just Kuala Lumpur, even if I regard KL as one of the finest cities I have set foot it anywhere in the world.

This post is dedicated to her, whom I shall introduce to you only through her initials – FR

Insightful and engaging travel writing is mostly about personal experiences of the writer. And so, this is the approach this write up will follow for FR, and of course for you.

Many years ago I attended a 3 days Asia-Pacific regional wildlife conference in Penang. A wonderful experience, with about 20 delegates from several Asian countries and some from the West as well. All, including myself were wildlifers, a fraternity the members of which instantly bond even on the very first meeting. The experience of those 3 days deserves a dedicated write up by itself, which will follow in a later post sometime. The highlight being the post-conference tour of 2 nights / 3 days in Taman Negara (National Forest), reputedly the oldest virgin rainforest on the planet!

Have a passion for nature and wilderness? When in Malaysia, do the Taman Negara visit.

Back to some quick travel tips.

In KL itself – stay in a downtown hotel – the Bukit Bintang area or on Jalan (avenue) Sultan Ismail. If visiting for the first time, book yourself through any local tour company (online or through your hotel) on a half day or full day city tour. Always best to do this first time in a new city. You get to see all the ‘must-see’ tourist attractions – heritage buildings, a museum, KL Tower, Petronas Towers and so on, with an expert English speaking guide explaining it all. Then you can venture out of your own – the Bird Park, KL Zoo, the several malls, the Oceanarium, bistros and restaurants, night clubs and discos, Chinatown …. Street food is excellent, hygienic and inexpensive. Eat Malay or Chinese. Avoid American fast food chains!

Within the central area, use the international standard elevated mass transit to move around – clean, convenient, fast and inexpensive. For longer or tangential journeys and late at night, hail one of the omnipresent taxis. They have meters, but these are seldom used. You bargain the fare before you get in.

No bargaining over prices of goods in the major malls or in the high street shops. Must bargain in the other shopping centers and on the street. But be realistic and don’t create a bad impression of Pakistanis. Many others are doing that anyway. Good things to buy – electronics, computers, cell phones, readymade clothing – functional daily wear or designer wear, batik, and most definitely local handicrafts made of wood, metal, paper, cloth, etc. I have a friend who travels around the world frequently and he is into collecting masks from as many countries as possible! In Malaysia too you will find a variety of masks.

Street food is fresh, safe, cheap and fast! Seafood is excellent. Malaysian dishes invariably have some sugar or natural sweetener in them; a sweet-sour-spicy taste. Savour it and don’t crib about the sweet tinge in it. Satay and chili crabs highly recommended.

Do Petronas Towers and KL Towers again on your own. Reach KL Tower just before sunset and go up to the revolving restaurant at the top. Take in the majestic birds-eye view of the city from way up, even as the sun goes down and the city lights come on. Have the set-price buffet dinner. Descend around 11 pm to party the night away in a chic club! Girl alone / couple / group of girls / mixed group – head for Zouk. Boy alone, group of lads – head for the Beach Club opposite the Shangri-la Hotel.

KL done, the choices are limitless. Choose next stop depending on what gets your adrenalin flowing:

  • Day visit to the high-tech official capital Putrajaya, just outside KL.
  • Whole day or overnight visit to Genting Highlands, 1.5 hours ago by road. Cool clime like the Murree Hills; only this is where the comparison stops! In Genting – hilly treks, amusement park, casinos, shopping malls, ga
  • gardens, cable cars ….
  • At least 2 nights, 3 days on Penang Island. Best reached from KL by aircon coach seeing the countryside. Georgetown is the capital of Penang Island (province) and has hundreds of heritage buildings. Penang also offers among other attractions – water sports, jungle treks, exotic night market, batik factory visit, a butterfly park, fresh fresh seafood, a cornice, ….. and on and on….
  • From Penang catch a ferry to Langkawi Island – a honeymooner’s paradise. White sand beaches, a crystal clear azure sea, exotic jungle surroundings, limited sea-sports including scuba diving, luxurious resorts and luxuriant spas that rejuvenate and detox you in a way that you are convinced that you have died and gone to heaven!
  • Go south from KL for a day trip or overnighter to the town/city of Malaka or Malacca. White, sparkling, clean, historic, relatively laid back. The perfect integration of different cultures – Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Buddhist people coexisting in harmony.

Feeling more adventurous and inclined to go off the beaten path?

  • Take a domestic flight from KL or the coach, to the East Coast of peninsular Malaysia. Few tourist go to the East coast. Mainly Western backpackers and nature seekers. Spend a couple of nights or more on the rustic islands off the Eastern coast. Redang is one choice. But I am told by a person I trust (I haven’t set foot on it myself so far) that Prehentian Island is as close as you can possibly get to Paradise, anywhere on the planet! So if you ever do make it there, please do send me a write up to post here!
  • Or take a longer flight out of peninsular Malaysia to the other (smaller) half of the country – the provinces of Sabah and Sarawak on Borneo Island. That is, if you are a committed nature person, deeply interested in experiencing unique local cultures, or simply said, a wanderer and not a tourist! Happy tripping in Malaysia, FR! For some more specific do’s and don’t’s, give me a call.

6 Responses to Malaysia, Truly Asia

  1. Raza Tahir says:

    wonderful place summed up very well. I’d recommend trying spicy fried chicken at Mcdonalds (we dont get it here) and Nandos on bukit bintang…sauces were as good as anything I have eaten. Langkawi is a must 3 nights minimum…lucky to have stayed there on a full moon night.

    • Zohare Ali Shariff says:

      Hi Raza. Thanks for your comments. But my dear friend, I wouldn’t recommend anyone to eat at an American (or any other origin) fast food chain in a foreign country, even if the good is somewhat localized! This is a definite NO-NO in my travel commandments. You absolutely have to stay with the local food in local restaurants, trying different flavours and cuisines. For many countries will offer a variety of local cuisines. In Malaysia as you no doubt know you can get excellent local Malay, Chinese and Indian cuisines to start with. Not to forget also Thai, Vietnamese and still other cuisines.

  2. HUnaid says:

    As someone who took 2 months break from life in his September years (last year), I only wish I had done it in my youth like your friend. My experience was rich because I lived with the monks for 2 months inside a temple and lived their lives. Sometimes, it is not the places we see but the people we meet and connect with.

    • Zohare Ali Shariff says:

      Its never too late to travel. Yes, traveling while young is fun, but so is traveling at any age, perhaps even more insightful at a relatively mature age. And these days with everything easily organised at a few online clicks, just get up and go! Do the less traveled roads … near where you live, perhaps Costa Rica or Ecuador …. Galapagos Islands ….. Tierra Del Feugo …. the choices are limitless!!

  3. Hunaid says:

    Thank you for mentioning Tierra Del Fuego – having been to the other 3 places you have recommended, AND ALWAYS the less traveled road as I prefer to hang out with the locals, I started looking into Argentina. Am planning something and will keep you updated with hopes you can join me 🙂 It would be memorable.

  4. Hasan Iqbal says:

    I most definitely agree with every word mentioned regarding Malaysia, It’s truly majestic! Visited this place thrice consecutively in three years and still makes me want to go there again with a feeling that iv missed out on some beauty somewhere on that exotic island.

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