Guide to Malaysia

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					Despite its recent economic crisis, Malaysia continues to careen along
the fast track of development. For visitors, this means that Malaysia is
a comfortable country to explore, as the roads are smooth, public
transportation is good, and familiar comforts abound in all but the
smallest of kampungs (villages).

For centuries, Malaysia has been a crossroads for trade in materials,
traditions, and ideas. The region was originally settled by the Orang
Asli people and migrants from southern China; Indian traders subsequently
spread their cultural and religious traditions throughout the area. Islam
took root there during the 15th century, when Prince Sri Paremeswara--who
founded the empire of Melaka--became a Muslim after marrying a Sumatran
ruler's daughter. In 1511, the Portuguese invaded Melaka, only to lose
power to the Dutch in the late 1600s. The Dutch maintained control of the
region for almost three centuries, until the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1874
ceded the Malaysian kingdom states to the British. On August 31, 1957,
the Peninsula was granted independence as the Federated States of Malaya.
Singapore, Sabah, and Sarawak joined the Federated States of Malaya,
which became Malaysia in 1963. Then Singapore assumed independence in
1965, leaving the peninsula, Sabah, and Sarawak as the Malaysia that
remains today.

Travelers seeking both relaxation and the stimulation of a different
culture will find that Malaysia offers the perfect mix of serene
coastline and spicy street life. Though Malaysia's beaches are not the
most spectacular in Southeast Asia, stretches of coastline on the
peninsula's east coast, as well as on islands such as Pangkor and the
Pehrentians, offer seaside seclusion that is difficult to find in other
parts of the world. Away from the lapping tides, the streets of
Georgetown and Kuala Lumpur pulse with the energy of big-city life. Open-
air markets attract throngs of people seeking fresh fruit and vegetables.
Hawkers at sidewalk stalls dish out tasty pan-fried food like nasi kandar
(curry rice) and ormee goreng (spicy noodles). There is also a spiritual
flavor to the city streets--Islamic mosques stand beside Hindu and
Buddhist temples, bearing testimony to the intertwined history of these
Eastern religions.

Malaysia is a country on the move. Its official mission is to become
industrialized by the year 2020. But despite the rapid pace of its
growth, Malaysia will likely keep its welcoming atmosphere, as the warmth
of the people is as unchanging as the tropical weather. The population is
a diverse mix of ethnic Malay (58 percent), Chinese (26 percent), and
southern Indian (eight percent). Though tensions exist, fomented by
blatantly pro-Malay policies enacted by the majority government,
interactions among ethnic groups remain remarkably open and peaceful.

Cameron Highlands

The Cameron Highlands is a lush area of mountaintop jungle in a remote
corner of Pahang State. It's easy to see why the British chose this spot
for retreat--the temperature is ten degrees cooler than low-lying Kuala
Lumpur, and the landscape is an enchanting patchwork of rolling jungle
and terraced plantations. There are three towns in the Cameron Highlands:
Ringlet, Tanah Rata, and Brinchang. Tanah Rata is the main town, and it
offers hostels and mid-scale hotels, as well as many restaurants and
shops. Trails snake for miles through the jungle, leading to breathtaking
mountaintop vistas and cascading waterfalls.

Cherating

Cherating lies off a quiet stretch of highway about 12 miles (20km) north
of Kuantan. Hiding behind ramshackle restaurants is a beautiful half-moon
beach, one of the most dazzling beaches on the peninsula. This is one of
the top 10 windsurfing spots in the world, and every afternoon the ocean
is dotted with colorful sails flapping in the breeze. Inexpensive but
comfortable cabanas cluster in the shade of palm trees at the edge of the
beach. Club Med owns a gorgeous section of coast a little more than a
mile (2km) away from Cherating's main beach.

Kuala Lumpur

The bustling capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur is proof of the country's
movement into the industrialized world. KL (as it is commonly dubbed)
received a citywide facelift for the 1998 Commonwealth Games, and since
then the capital has boasted a buffed atmosphere of almost Singaporean
standards. Travelers should see the Petronas Towers (the tallest
buildings in the world), stroll in Merdeka Square, visit the elegant
marble Masjid Jamek (a lovely mosque in the center of the city), and
enjoy the booming nightlife in a city rivaling Singapore as a hotspot for
clubs and bars.

Langkawi

The big island of Langkawi is one of 99 islands in the Langkawi group
that cluster off the northwest coast near the border with Thailand. More
so than perhaps anywhere else in Malaysia, Langkawi exhibits extremes in
untouched landscapes and developed coastline. The island is lovely to
drive around. There are many pristine beaches and waterfalls to see, as
well as fishing kampungs (villages) and magnificent caves to explore.
Because of its remote locale and relatively large size, those who stay
for at least two full days best enjoy Langkawi.

Melaka

Whereas Kuala Lumpur is the Malaysia of the present and the future,
Melaka is the Malaysia of the past. A virtual living museum, the old town
makes for a pleasant stroll past crimson buildings in the Dutch square,
around vendors hawking local handicrafts, and through the narrow
alleyways of Chinatown. There are many fascinating museums housed in the
old Dutch government buildings. The ruins of a Portuguese-Catholic-cum-
British-Protestant church surrounded by Dutch tombstones is testimony to
Malaysia's checkered colonial past. This is a good place to try nyonya
food, a spicy blend of Chinese and Malay cooking.

Mount Kinibalu

Mount Kinabalu is located in the northern region of Sabah, on the island
of Borneo. Kinibalu is Southeast Asia's tallest mountain, peaking at
13,451 feet (4,101m) above sea level and rising every year. Untouched
jungle-covered mountain slopes surround Kinabalus' granite core; a
breathtaking setting typifying many travelers' ideals of tropical
Southeast Asia. Climbing to the Kinabalu summit is no small feat, and
should be attempted by only those who are fit and prepared.

Penang

Though Penang's beaches are arguably the least interesting of all of
Malaysia's island beaches, the island remains a highlight because of its
combination of lovely coastline and the bustling cultural center of
Georgetown. Georgetown is a feast for all senses. Open-air markets,
congregations of food hawkers, and throngs of pedestrians and motorbikes
are sure to excite young and old. The resorts at Batu Ferringhi offer an
antidote to the Georgetown racket. The luxury hotels that line the
northeastern coast of Penang are a perfect beachfront destination for
those who like convenience and creature comforts.

Perhentian Islands

Pulau Perhentian Kecil (Small Island) and Pulau Perhentian Besar (Big
Island) are located about 12 miles (20km) off the northeast coast of the
peninsula. These isles are the perfect getaway destination for those who
are willing to sacrifice resort-style luxury for solitude and pristine
stretches of sand. The Small Island is famous for Long Beach, where the
sand is wide and white and the water is ideal for swimming. The Big
Island is less popular (though the west coast attracts young divers) and
therefore offers more seclusion.

Pulau Pangkor

Pangkor is a small island off the west coast that is located roughly
equidistant from Penang and Kuala Lumpur. In size and atmosphere, Pangkor
is like Penang's and Langkawi's little sibling. The island is small
enough to drive around in half an hour. Its compact nature lends the isle
a charm conducive to relaxation. Pangkor's smallness also precludes
monotonous strips of resort development, allowing for the simple
enjoyment of sun, surf, and sand. The Pan Pacific Resort offers luxury
accommodations and water sports on Golden Sands Beach; there are also
mid-market hotels at Pantai Pasir Bogak and budget cabanas at Teluk
Nipah.

Taman Negara

Taman Negara National Park, located in the center of the peninsula, is
one of the last remaining areas of indigenous rain forest on the
peninsula. Though the larger animals, such as elephants, tigers, rhinos,
and leopards, rarely venture near the developed parts of the park, there
are plenty of magnificent birds to be seen. The most convenient place to
stay is the Taman Negara Resort, which runs a ferry service from Kuala
Tahan. There are guided treks and a canopy walk that allows visitors to
see the forest from planks suspended above the treetops.

Tioman
Though Tioman's land is becoming overcrowded, its waters are still a
diver's paradise. The azure-blue waters are clear to a depth of more than
10 yards (or meters). Diving and snorkeling excursions depart from
Kumpung Tekek and Kampung Salang. Those who simply want a peaceful
retreat will find lovely chalets on stilts at Kumpung Air Batang (Bamboo
Hill Chalets) and more isolated accommodations at the Juara Bay Resort,
cut into the hills at Kampung Juara.

Top Cities in Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur - Penang - Langkawi - Kota Kinabalu - Georgetown - Kuantan -
Malacca - Johor Bahru - Kuching - Petaling Jaya - Cameron Highlands -
Kuala Terengganu - Kota Bharu - Subang Jaya - Fraser's Hill

Top Hotels in Malaysia

Tanjong Jara Resort - Batu 8 Off Dungun A Famosa Resort - Jalan Kemus
Simpang Empat Imperial Hotel - 76-80 Cangkat Bukit Bintang Cititel Hotel
- 66 Jalan Penang Mandarin Hotel - 2-8 Jalan Sultan

				
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