Malaysia – A visit and a cultural find
When my husband and I started discussing vacation plans for Dec ’17, we stumbled upon Malaysia by chance. As last minute planning proved costly for an Australian hop, we settled on Malaysia and Singapore instead. It turned out to be one of those unexpected, on-the-spur-of-the-moment decisions that just turns out great.
While I had the Singapore leg of the trip planned out in meticulous detail, both of us had decided to just sort of wing it on the Malay trip and figure out the itinerary once we landed. Once we were safely ensconced in an airport taxi, both of us put our heads together on a Malaysia map and were busy trying to figure out the touristy must-visit spots as well all of those quirky, charming, out-of-the-way places we could visit during our stay, all of four days. Langkawi was quickly ruled out due to the distance and logistical difficulties. Having already had our fill of sea walks, cable car rides and para gliding during the earlier vacation trips to Indonesia and Thailand, we felt no great qualms in arriving at this decision.
The sole ticketing we had done ahead before we arrived, was for a visit to Petronas Towers. This proved to be a blessing, as we later found out. On day 1, we found that all tickets for riding up to the top of the tower had all been sold out in advance, so all the stragglers (thankfully not us) who had turned up there without tickets had to return disappointed. The steel and glass paneled towers stand 452 meters up from ground level and offer a panoramic view of the entire Kuala Lumpur. For those who are photo enthusiasts, there is a small animatronics photo booth inside the viewing gallery where you can simulate lifting the towers on your hand and buy the photos in the shop on the ground level. For souvenirs and other knick-knacks, you are better off buying them in little India or China Town at lesser prices.
On Day 2, we visited the famous Murugan temple in the Batu caves and then the Gentling Highlands in the afternoon. Our chauffeur was an Indian-origin Malaysian. The drives to and fro were filled with pleasant chatter on snippets of Tamil-Malay culture and the strong affinity of the Tamil diaspora towards India and Tamil Nadu, in particular. I was surprised to find the driver, Vasudevan listening in on to the local by-election results for RK Nagar constituency in Chennai! The songs on his radio were all foot tapping fast music conjured in the studios of Chennai.
I also had a simulating conversation on the triumphs of Dr Mahathir Mohammed, a long standing prime minister of Malaysia and his economic policy during the 1997 Asian crisis. The conversation also proved to be an eye-opener on the strong trilingual (Malay, Chinese, Tamil) public educational system in Malaysia besides the usual English medium schools. It was a study of and in contrasts. The working populace and those taking up professional educational courses, more often than not, studied in the Malay, Chinese and Tamil medium schools which sufficed for succeeding in their chosen vocations. For those who aspire to work up and join in business ventures and for those who aspire to work in the tourism industry, English was a preferred medium. The government provides the citizens and permanent residents with free education and healthcare as well as cheap residential apartments and a hardship allowance for those who earn less than the prescribed minimum wage. This was the first experience I had of an paternal Asian government that conscientiously providing for the citizens’ social security and welfare.
If you are an admirer of tamil temple architecture, you will enjoy soaking in the spiritual atmosphere at the Batu Caves temple. The entrance is adorned with multiple shops both on the left and the right strongly reminiscent of similar outlets you would see straddling the Madurai (India) Meenakshi Amman temple. Young girls in traditional pavadai thavani and older women in sarees accompanied by dhoti clad men throng the area. The enormous Murugan statue at 42.7m tall just beyond the entrance is an awe inspiring sight.
If you are an animal lover, be sure to visit the playful and friendly silver leaf monkeys in the Bukit Malawati hills in Kuala Selangor. The baby monkeys are born pure orange in colour and acquire the dusky grey shade as they grow older. Local hawkers will sell you various greens and carrots to feed these vegetarian mammals. I saw one playful monkey shin up a man’s leg all the way to his shoulder to pluck the greens with which he was teasing it out of his hand! Another smaller monkey climbed on to a boy’s shoulder and contentedly ate carrots perched there while the boy’s family delightedly took snaps. The bird park and the adjoining orchid gardens are definitely worth a visit. Most of the birds are free flight inside the netting and dancing peacocks beautifully posed for a picture with me! The bird park puts on a tame talking birds show at high noon. I personally didn’t find the butterfly park of much interest but again, if you like the species, it’s worth the visit.
Gentling Highlands chief attractions are its cable car rides, the casinos, the shopping malls and of course, its famed Arena of Stars that telecasts enthralling animated story lines complete with a dazzling display of choreographed light balls. As we were travelling during the Christmas season, we were treated to stunning reindeer moving images as well as a princess themed mini movie show. This is should be high up your bucket list if you are travelling to Malaysia. The shows are telecast once in three hours. Be sure to catch the timings of the next show once you arrive at Gentling Highlands. The casinos are a popular gambling spot for the locals. If you plan on whiling away your time and money there, be sure to get a casino card issued to you by the cashier before you start the thrills at a machine. You’ll have to deposit cash at the machine before you can place a bet but you need the card to load your winnings before it can be withdrawn in a nearby ATM. You can get the casino card by giving a passport copy to the cashier. You also need to carry your original passport. For the modest winnings of 350 MYR that we won, we found that we couldn’t withdraw the money until a kind hearted gentleman helped us in withdrawing the money through his card.
The next tourist hotspot on our agenda was the boat trips along the coastline to watch the eagles feeding on the meat thrown in the shallow sea by the boat crew. The sheer size of the wingspan and the swooping motion as they descend is sure to capture your attention and an interesting sight to watch. The same boats will take you to the mangroves on the opposite end of the shoreline after twilight to watch the dancing fireflies. We were enthralled by the sight of thousands of fireflies lighting up the darkness as they danced from tree to tree in search of food. The countryside we passed by on the way to reach the boat ride was dotted with Hindu temples alongside farms for the Indian-origin Malay workers.
Shopping is an absolute delight in Kuala Lumpur. Ranging from perfumes to watches, KL has something for every shopper depending on your budget. For a budget traveller, Little India and China town offers great bargains for quality products if you know how to drive them. The Pavilion shopping mall just opposite to the JW Marriott hotel in the heart of KL was an absolute delight. We picked up perfume brands ranging from Michael Kors to Bentley and Chanel at Christmas bargain prices. On Christmas midnight, we found the entire Bukit Bintang Street packed with people watching the Christmas countdown on the giant display screens and celebrating the arrival of Christmas day by showers of fake snow. The Bukit Bintang Street is the fashion district of KL and is dotted with major international retail chains not unlike the Ginza shopping district in Japan.
Finally, Malaysia also caters to your taste buds and gastric juices by offering a variety of food ranging from continental, Indian, Chinese and ethnic Malay. With a strict vegetarian diet that we followed, our options were a bit more limited. We opted for Saravana Bhavan and Sangeetha dinners while we were there.
And with that, we were quickly back to the KL airport on day 5 on our way to Singapore.