Friday, January 13, 2012

Magnificent Malaysia ... An Undiscovered Gem in SE Asia

Without a doubt, some of the most significant and profound travel experiences I’ve had were in Asia, and the diversity of the landscapes in Southeast Asia is absolutely awe-inspiring.

From bustling cities like Bangkok, Hanoi and Kuala Lumpur to tiny fishing villages, sublime coastlines to serenely breathtaking rural hamlets, from the jungles of Malaysian Borneo to the deluxe resorts in Damai, from temples of Angkor in Cambodia to the modernity of Saigon, Vietnam, Southeast Asia offers a glimpse of the extraordinary, an explosion of colors, sounds, smells, textures, and life that will send you home with a wider vision of the human experience.
And no country embodies this wonderful diversity in landscape, culture and people of Southeast Asia like Malaysia, and it has everything that one can hope for in vacation destination, a great mixture of cultures, history, people and some of the most delicious food I've had in SE Asia!

Being a major hub in SE Asia, naturally, our trip started out in Kuala Lumpur. KL, as I like to call it, is a wonderfully cosmopolitan city, not as big or crowded as Hong Kong or Shanghai, but big enough to provide all the conveniences.

From there, we rented a car, and although driving on the left side of the road (as in the UK) took some getting used to, overall, the highways and road conditions in Malaysia was absolutely superb … dare I say, better than the highways in California … and with a good map, we had no trouble navigating through the country.

Next, we were off to Georgetown (Penang) … aka “heaven for foodies”. Malaysian cuisine is as diverse as its people, and the mélange of Chinese, Malay and Indian … and even German (Café Edelweiss) dishes I had in Georgetown were some of the best I’ve had in the world.

Also, one of my favorite travel experiences was staying at the beautifully restored Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, which was like staying overnight at a living museum. 
Then, on to a gorgeous mountainous area called Cameron Highlands, known for producing some of the world’s finest teas and lovely plantations.
Of course, no trip to Malaysia would be complete without visiting Melaka, a charming little town about 3 hours north of Singapore. We really enjoyed staying at a beautiful little Hotel Puri in the heart of old town, and Cafe 1511 was our favorite spot for meals, snacks and everything in between.

Our last stop in Malaysia was Borneo. We took a quick and easy flight on Air Asia, which by the way is an extremely economical and convenient way to travel in not only Malaysia but also SE Asia, to Kuching and stayed at Damai Beach.
Less known to foreign tourist then other beaches in SE Asia, Sarawak (Borneo) is a verdant land, home to ancient rainforests with endangered inhabitants such as orangutans and sun bears. It's also a richly diverse landscape and offers a great mixture of breathtaking beaches, lush tropical forests and even jungles (Bako National Park).
We really enjoyed our fabulous hotel Holiday Inn in Damai Lagoon, and the fantastic little café next door on the top of the hill … and watching the breathtaking sunset there every evening was definitely the highlight of our trip!
My favorite part of Malaysia, however, was the warmth of its people, and there are only few countries in which I have traveled where I was treated with such remarkable hospitality, kindness, and generosity (S. Korea & Turkey being the other). I've found the Malaysian people to be genuine in their approach to foreign visitors, another fine byproduct of the underdeveloped tourism industry, and unlike other countries in SE Asia where the majority of tourists tends to be Westerners, in Malaysia, most of the vacationers and tourists were Malaysians, which I really appreciated and enjoyed.

Overall, our 3 weeks in Malaysia was an absolutely unforgettable experience ... one we hope to repeat someday soon!
My Recommendations ...
Kuching, Sarawak:
  • Bako National Park
  • CPH Travel Agencies (Santubong Wildlife Cruise) – 70 Padungan Road, 082 243708 
  • Permai Rainforest Resort – Pantai Damai Santubong PO Box B91, Satok Post Office, +6082 846490


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