KL's Chinatown is a crowded colourful melange of signs, shops, activity
and noise. The central section, Jalan Petaling, is a frantically busy
market that is closed to traffic. It is most spectacular at night, when
the combination of street stalls, food, haggling and bright lights makes
impressions on all five senses. The old buildings - undergoing constant
restoration by conservation groups - are interesting in themselves, while
bargain-hunters and collectors of kitsch might be in luck as well. Chinatown
is about 300m (330 yards) southeast of Merdeka Square.
If all of KL's peace, quiet and culture is getting to you, head to the
high-rise-heavy Golden Triangle: a small city in itself, dominated by
the tallest building in the world, the Petronas Towers. Surrounded on
all sides by shopping, commerce and entertainment outlets, you'll feel
like you're in another country altogether. This area contains all the
expensive hotels and restaurants, with nightlife not for the budget-conscious.
Visitors will enjoy the Kuala Lumpur Tower - the fourth-highest telecommunications
tower in the world - with superb panoramic views on offer from the observation
These 92-hectare manicured gardens lie west of Merdeka Square and were
once home to the ranking British official. There's plenty to keep you
amused, including a butterfly park, planetarium, insect museum, walk-in
aviary, orchid garden and hibiscus garden. You can also hire boats on
Tasik Perdana (Premier Lake).
Site of the proclamation of independence in 1957, the square - formerly
known as Padang - is the centre of National Day celebrations. Surrounding
the square are many buildings of historical interest, including the Royal
Selangor Club, where KL's elite meet; the Sultan Abdul Samad building,
which is a great example of the Victorian-Moorish architecture common
to Malaysian cities; the National History Museum and library; and the
impressive, modern Dayabumi Complex. The square is in the heart of downtown
KL, near the convergence of the Kelang and Gombak rivers.
Off the Beaten Track
Just 13km (8mi) north of the city, the huge Batu Caves are among KL's
best-known tourist attractions. Now used for Hindu festivals and pilgrimages,
the caves also form an intense backdrop to the spectacularly masochistic
feats performed annually by Thaipusam devotees. The main cave, a vast
open space known as the Temple Cave, is reached by a 272-step climb. Beyond
the stairs is the main temple. There are several other smaller caves in
the same formation, including one with elaborately painted Hindu figures.
The caves can be reached by either the 11D bus (from the Central Market)
or bus 69 from Jalan Pudu. The trip takes about half an hour.
Originally developed as a dormitory town to Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya
- or PJ as it's inevitably called - has quickly established itself as
a major industrial centre in its own right. Many engineering industries
have their base in PJ, and it is also home to Malaysia's emerging high-tech
industries. On the way from KL, the University of Malaya is worth a look.
Once in PJ, there is a wealth of shopping and dining options. The biggest
attraction for lovers of good times is the Sunway Lagoon, a huge theme
park with large waterslides and the world's biggest surf-wave pool. Petaling
Jaya is 11km (7mi) southwest of KL and easily accessed by bus from Kelang
North of the city, Templer Park was established during the colonial period.
The 500-hectare (1235-acre) park is a tract of primary jungle featuring
marked jungle paths, swimming lagoons and several waterfalls. Just north
of the park is a 350m (1150ft) limestone formation known as Bukit Takun.
The park is one hour by bus 66 from the Puduraya Bus Station near the
centre of Kuala Lumpur.
Other Malaysia Attractions
The Cameron Highlands, in the centre of Peninsular Malaysia, comprise
a series of hill stations at altitudes between 1500 and 1800m (4920 and
5904ft). This fertile area is the centre of Malaysia's tea industry and
it's the place where locals and visitors come to escape the heat of the
plains. Attractions include jungle walks, waterfalls, tours of tea plantations,
beautiful gardens and plenty of wild flowers. The cool weather tempts
visitors to exertions normally forgotten at sea level - like golf, tennis,
and long walks - but this is really Malaysia's R 'n' R capital par excellence
for those who don't like the beach and enjoy a bout of colonial nostalgia.
Most of the budget hotels are in the village of Tanah Rata. The more expensive
options are scattered between Tanah Rata and Brinchang.
Georgetown - Penang Island
The 285-sq-km (177-sq-mi) island of Penang, off Peninsula Malaysia's northwestern
coast, is the oldest British settlement in Malaysia and one of the country's
premier resort areas. The island's beaches are touted as the major drawcard
but they're somewhat overrated. What makes Penang Island really tick is
the vibrant and intriguing city of Georgetown on the island's northeastern
coast. This city has more Chinese flavour than either Singapore or Hong
Kong, and in its older neighbourhoods you could be forgiven for thinking
that the clock stopped at least 50 years ago. Georgetown is a compact
city and it's a delight to wander around. Set off in any direction and
you're certain to see beautiful old Chinese houses, vegetable markets,
temple ceremonies, trishaws, mahjong games and all the other to-ings and
fro-ings of Asian street life.
You can still see the time-worn walls of Fort Cornwallis in the centre
of Georgetown where the first Briton, Captain Light, set foot in 1786
on what was then a virtually uninhabited island. He established a free
port here and the stone fort was finished a few decades later. The area
within the fort is now a park liberally sprinkled with cannons, many of
them retrieved from local pirates. Seri Rambai, the largest and most important
cannon, has a chequered history dating back to 1600. It's famed for its
procreative powers, and childless women are recommended to place flowers
in the barrel of 'the big one' and offer special prayers.
Penang has many kongsis (clan houses that operate partly as temples and
partly as meeting halls for Chinese of the same clan or surname), but
Khoo Kongsi is easily the finest. The original building was so magnificent
and elaborate that no-one was surprised when the roof caught fire on the
very night it was completed. This misfortune was taken merely as a sign
that the building had been too grandiose, so a marginally less magnificent
structure was built. One wonders at the opulence of the original, since
the present structure is a dazzling mix of dragons, statues, paintings,
lamps, coloured tiles and carvings.
Kuan Yin Teng Temple right in the centre of the old part of Georgetown
is nowhere near as impressive, but it's one of the most popular temples
in the city and there are often worshippers burning paper money at the
furnaces, night-time puppet shows or Chinese theatre performances. For
the best view of the city and the island, catch the funicular railway
up Penang Hill which rises 830m (2722ft) above Georgetown and provides
cool relief from the sticky heat below. There are pleasant gardens, a
hotel, a Hindu temple and a mosque at the top. The view is particularly
good at dusk when Georgetown, far below, begins to light up.
Most of the popular budget hotels in Georgetown are along Lebuh Chulia;
more expensive options line Jalan Penang. There are plenty of Chinese
and Indian restaurants, but be adventurous and try the succulent local
dishes on offer from the street stalls, which appear at night along the
Esplanade behind the Penang Library.
Melaka is an interesting blend of Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch and British
influences and is considered Malaysia's most historic city. It was once
the most important trading port in the region, but is now little more
than a sleepy backwater. Ancient-looking junks still sail up the river,
imbuing the waterfront with a timeless charm, and the city remains full
of intriguing Chinese streets, antique shops, temples and nostalgic reminders
of the now-departed European colonial powers.
The most imposing relic of the Dutch period in Melaka is the massive
pink town hall, Stadthuys, built between 1641 and 1660. It's believed
to be the oldest Dutch building in Asia and displays all the characteristic
features of Dutch colonial architecture (read incredibly weighty doors
and pleasant louvred windows). The building houses government offices
and an excellent Ethnographic Museum, which highlights aspects of local
history and culture. The imposing ruins of St Paul's Church, built by
the Portuguese over 400 years ago, stand in a beautiful setting atop St
Paul's Hill. It was regularly visited by St Francis Xavier, who was buried
here for a short period before being transferred to Goa in India. The
church fell into disuse when the Dutch arrived, but is still surrounded
by old Dutch tombstones. The Brits, with great sensitivity, used the church
as a gunpowder store.
For those who prefer their religious architecture to be a little more
colourful, the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple in the old part of the city is the
oldest Chinese temple in Malaysia. It was founded in 1646, and all of
the materials and all of the artisans who built it were imported from
China. The old part of Melaka is a fascinating area to wander around,
and this is where you'll find many of Melaka's famous antique shops; a
stroll along Jalan Hang Jebat will pass the best of them.
This picture-postcard island lies off the eastern coast of Peninsula Malaysia
in the South China Sea. It boasts beautiful beaches, clear, coral-filled
water, technicolour marine life, virtually unpopulated jungle highlands,
crystal-clear streams, and the dramatic peaks of Batu Sirau and Nenek
Semukut. Tioman has been blessed with exotic place names like 'Palm-Frond
Hill' and 'Village of Doubt' and is generally quoted as the setting for
the mythical Bali Hai in the film South Pacific. The permanent population
on Tioman is low, and locals are usually outnumbered by tourists. June
and August are the peak tourist months, but during the heavy November
to January monsoon the island is almost deserted.
The island's west coast is dotted with villages and is home to a classy
resort. Pulau Tioman is the most popular travellers' destination, while
Kampung Nipah is the place to go if you really want to get away from it
all. You can get to Tioman by boat from Mersing and Singapore. The island's
largest village, Kampung Tekek, has an airstrip.
Just off the coast of Perlis are the 104 islands of the Langkawi group.
The islands are little visited, despite their good beaches, and the main
island, Langkawi, has direct boat connections with Thailand.
Low-key Taiping, in Perak, has beautiful lake gardens, well-preserved
Anglo-Malay buildings, a good night market and hardly any tourists. Also
in Perak is the historic royal town of Kuala Kangsar, which has fine mosques
and palaces, and was the birthplace of Malaysia's rubber industry. Ipoh,
Perak's capital, has elegant mansions and impressive cave temples.
Although pretty inaccessible, a visit to Tasik Chini in central Pahang
state is well worth the effort. It's actually a series of 12 lakes surrounded
by beautiful jungle territory, with great treks, and it's rumoured to
be the haunt of a cousin of the Loch Ness monster.
Taman Negara National Park, accessible only by boat, offers a rare opportunity
to visit one of the most pristine primary rainforests in the world. The
park covers 4343 sq km (2693 sq mi), sprawling across Pahang, Kelantan
and Terengganu. The wildlife is varied and abundant, but more evident
on extended treks or boat trips away from the more frequented areas.
Scenic grandeur and fascinating wildlife are the main attractions in (expensive)
Sabah. Just offshore from the capital, Kota Kinabalu, the huge Tunku Abdul
Rahman National Park (4929 hectares or 12,174 acres) is made up of the
islands of Gaya, Mamutik, Manukan, Sapi and Sulug. The islands have some
of the best beaches in Borneo and wildlife varies from monkeys and bearded
pigs to corals and tropical marine life.
Not far from the Kalimantan border, Batu Punggul has an adventure-camp
resort, jungle walks, canoeing and cave visits. The resort is accessible
only by boat, and the area is home to many longhouse-dwelling tribes.
North of the capital, Kota Belud is the venue of one of Sabah's largest
open-air Sunday markets and get-togethers (called a amu). It attracts
all manner of vendors, selling everything from magic pills to cattle.
Inland, Mt Kinabalu is one of Sabah's major attractions. It's one of
the easiest mountains in the world to climb and the views from the top
are sensational - especially at sunset.
Sarawak offers ever-shrinking areas of untouched jungle, the chance to
visit longhouse-dwelling Dayak tribes and a good system of national parks.
The area around the capital city, Kuching, has remote coastal villages,
such as Pandan and Sematan, and unspoilt tropical rainforest, beaches
and walking trails in the Bako National Park. Longhouses are found along
the Rejang River and its tributaries - central and southern Sarawak's
'highway'. The areas downriver from Kanowit and Song are generally less
frequented. In the northeast, the Niah Caves, accessible only by longboat
and a 3km (1.86mi) hike, are unforgettable for their rock paintings, forest
wildlife, jungle trails and night walks to see the luminous mushrooms.
Visitors to Sarawak cannot fail to notice the extent to which logging
is affecting the environment and the habitat of the Dayak tribes. Acquainting
yourself with the issues surrounding Malaysia's logging practices is recommended
before visiting the province.