The Best of Singapore Malaysia
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b524585 Ch01.qxd 4/22/03 8:53 AM Page 1 1 The Best of Singapore & Malaysia I couldexotic beauty of the city’s old mosques I’m in awe of As I cultural myster- ies and spend a lifetime exploring Singapore. and temples. the pass the facades of buildings that mark history, I get nostalgic for old tales of colonial romance. Towering overhead, present-day Singapore glistens with the wealth of modern miracles. And when I smell incense and spice and jasmine swirling in wet topical breezes, I can close my eyes and know exactly where I am. The longer I stay in Singapore, new curiosities present themselves to me. Singapore thrives on a history that has absorbed a multitude of foreign elements over almost 2 centuries, melding them into a unique modern national identity. Beginning with the landing of Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819, add to the mix the original Malay inhabitants, immigrating waves of Chinese traders and workers, Indian businessmen and laborers, Arab merchants, British colonials, European adventure-seekers, and an assortment of Southeast Asian settlers—this tiny island rose from the ingenuity of those who worked and lived together here. Today, all recognize each group’s importance to the heritage of the land, each adding unique contributions to a culture and identity we know as Singaporean. I’ll confess, many travelers complain to me about how westernized Singapore is. For many, a vacation in Asia should be filled with culture shock, unfamiliar traditions, and curious adventures. Today’s travel philosophy seems to be that the more underdeveloped and obscure a country is, the more “authentic” the experience will be. But poor Singapore—all those lovely opium-stained coolies and toothless rickshaw pullers are now driving BMWs and exchanging cellular phone numbers. How could anyone possibly find this place so fascinating? With all its shopping malls, fast-food outlets, imported fashion, and steel skyscrapers, Singapore could look like any other contemporary city you’ve ever visited—but to peel through the layers is to understand that life here is far more complex. While the outer layers are startlingly Western, just underneath lies a curious area where East blends with West in language, cuisine, attitude, and style. At the core, you’ll find a sensibility rooted in the cultural heritage of values, religion, superstition, and memory. In Singapore, nothing is ever as it appears to be. For me this is where the fascination begins. I detect so many things familiar in this city, only to discover how these imported ideas have been altered to fit the local identity. Like the Singaporean shophouse—a jumble of colonial archi- tectural mandates, European tastes, Chinese superstitions, and Malay finery. Or “Singlish,” the unofficial local tongue, which combines English language with Chinese grammar, common Malay phrases, and Hokkien slang to form a patois unique to this part of the world. This transformation of cultures has been going b524585 Ch01.qxd 4/22/03 8:53 AM Page 2 2 C H A P T E R 1 . T H E B E S T O F S I N G A P O R E & M A L AY S I A Southeast Asia CHINA Re R d TA Ri ve Macao r r MYANMAR Hong Kong (BURMA) Hanoi Luang Prabang Haiphong Haikou Gulf of LAOS Tonkin Hainan Chiang Mai Yangon M Vientiane ek on g o Hue Luz THAILAND R. Da Nang B Hoi An M Bangkok VIETNAM An da m a n CAMBODIA South P Se a Ko Samet Mind Pattaya Nha Trang Phnom China Penh Pa Gu l f o f Sea Thailand Ho Chi Minh City ( Gu l f o f Si a m ) (Saigon) Ko Samui Palawan Sulu Phuket Sea Langkawi Island Kota Zamboan Bharu Kota Penang Kinabalu Island Peninsular Kuala Terengganu Bandar Seri Malaysia Begawan Sabah Kuala Kuantan BRUNEI Medan Lumpur St Tioman Island t ra it of M A L A Y S I A it tra M Sarawak a l Malacca ac rS Kuching c a Johor Bharu ssa IN AP S IN G AP O R E ka Ma u m t ra S um a tra Pontianak Padang Kalimantan Balikpapan Jambi Bangka (Borneo) Sulaw I Palembang Belitung Banjarmasin Java S e a I N D O N E S I A Jakarta Flores Bandung Java Surabaya Flo Malang Bali Lombok b524585 Ch01.qxd 4/22/03 8:53 AM Page 3 T H E B E S T O F S I N G A P O R E & M A L AY S I A 3 0 500 mi TAIWAN TA I WA N N 0 500 km National Capital ong el Chann Bashi PACIFIC OCEAN Luzon Philippine Bagio City Sea Manila THE PHILIPPINES Puerto Galera Mindoro Samar Panay Cebu Cebu City Negros Bohol Palawan Sulu Palau Sea Mindanao Zamboang Kota abalu Isabela Sabah Celebes Sea a it Se tra rS Halmahera ca ssa uc ka ol Ma M MOLUCCAS Sorong papan Sulawesi Jayapura Ceram Sea PAPUA NEW GUINEA I N D O N E S I A New Guinea Seram Buru Kepulaua Banda Sea n Sea Weta Kepulaua Flores n Arafura Sea Timor bok Melville Timor Sea Bathurst Darwin AU S T R A L I A b524585 Ch01.qxd 4/22/03 8:53 AM Page 4 4 C H A P T E R 1 . T H E B E S T O F S I N G A P O R E & M A L AY S I A on for almost 2 centuries. So, in a sense, Singapore is no different today than it was 100 years ago. And in this I find my “authentic” travel experience. When the urban jungle gets me crazy, I escape to Malaysia. Even Kuala Lumpur, the capital city, seems relaxed in comparison to Singapore. In fact, many Singaporeans look to their northern neighbor for the perfect vacation, taking advantage of its pristine and exciting national forests and marine parks, relaxing on picture-perfect beaches in either sophisticated resorts or quaint bungalows, taking in culture in its small towns, shopping for inexpensive handi- crafts, or eating some of the finest food in Southeast Asia. Malaysia offers some- thing for everyone—history, culture, adventure, romance, mystery, nature, and relaxation—without the glaring buzz of an overdeveloped tourism industry. It almost makes me overjoyed that few tourists venture here. My favorite part of Malaysia, however, is the warmth of its people. I have yet to travel in this country without collecting remarkable tales of hospitality, open- ness, and generosity. I’ve found the Malaysian people to be genuine in their approach to foreign visitors, another fine byproduct of the underdeveloped tourism industry. For those who want to find a nice little corner of paradise, Malaysia could be your answer. I’ve crept down alleys, wandered the streets of cities and towns, combed beaches, and trekked jungles to seek out the most exciting things that Singapore and Malaysia have to offer. In this volume I’ve presented the sights and attrac- tions of these countries with insight into historical, cultural, and modern signif- icance to bring you a complete appreciation of all you are about to experience. I’ve peeked in every shop door, chatting up the local characters inside. I’ve eaten local food until I can’t move. I’ve stayed out all night. I’ve done it all and writ- ten about it here. I can only hope you will love Singapore and Malaysia as much as I do. 1 Frommer’s Favorite Singapore Experiences Sipping a Singapore Sling at the of their world travels. Drink up, my Long Bar: Ahhhh, the Long Bar, friend; it’s a lovely high. See p. 180. home of the Singapore Sling. I like to Witnessing Bloody Traditions: come in the afternoons, before the Every so often, a magical Saturday tourist rush. Sheltered by long jalousie night comes around when you can shutters that close out the tropical sun, witness the Kuda Kepang, which is the air cooled by lazy punkahs (small not your average traditional dance. It fans that wave gently back and forth features young men on wooden horses above), you can sit back in old rattan who move like warriors, whirling and chairs and have your saronged waitress spinning and slapping the horses to serve you sticky alcoholic creations shake intimidating sounds out of while you toss back a few dainty them. Accompanied by rhythmic and crab cakes. Life can be so decadent. repetitive traditional Malay music, Okay, so the punkahs are electric, and, the warriors dance in unison, staging come to think of it, the place is air- battles with each other until by the conditioned (not to mention that it end of a long series of dances, the costs a small fortune), but it’s fun to horsemen are in a trance. A pot of imagine the days when Somerset burning frankincense is produced, Maugham, Rudyard Kipling, or Char- from which they all inhale. After that, lie Chaplin would be sitting at the bar all hell breaks loose. The dancers are sipping Slings and spinning exotic tales whipped, fed glass—which they chew b524585 Ch01.qxd 4/22/03 8:53 AM Page 5 F R O M M E R ’ S FAV O R I T E M A L AY S I A E X P E R I E N C E S 5 and swallow hungrily—walk on glass geeks, and gabbers. Everybody is here, shards, and shred entire coconuts with milling around every mall, clustered their teeth. While the whipping around every sidewalk bench, checking appears somewhat staged, I assure you everybody out. At the corner of Scotts the rest is real. It’s a traditional dance Road and Orchard, just under the that’s taken very seriously both by the Marriott, there’s an alfresco cafe where dancers and by the huge and mostly you’ll find local celebrities hanging out Malay crowds that gather for it. to see and be seen. International What’s more, the next day the dancers celebrities and models have been spot- don’t recall what they did—and ted here on occasion, too. In the mix, they’re never injured. Unfortunately, you’re bound to see most every tourist the dance is not performed on a regu- on the island, coming around to see lar basis. The group works mostly for what all the excitement is about. private ceremonies and gatherings, On Saturdays, school lets out early, and appears at Malay Village (& 65/ so the malls are filled with mobs of 6748-4700) on the off Saturday night bored teenagers, kicking around, try- when they don’t have a gig. Call ahead ing to look cool, and watching the to find out if they’ll be performing. music videos in the front window of See chapters 5 and 8. the HMV music store in The Heeren. If you’re not able to catch a per- Moms and dads also have half-days at formance, but still want a little cere- the office, so the strip takes on the feel monial gore, check out the calendar of an obstacle course, as all the parents of events in chapter 2. During the race around wielding strollers, trying Thaipusam Festival, men pierce their to run errands while they have the bodies with skewers, and during the chance. Meanwhile, outside in the Thimithi Festival, they walk on burn- shady areas, you can see crowds of ing coals. To celebrate the Birthday of amahs (housekeepers) and workers the Monkey God, Chinese priests will relaxing and catching up on the latest slice themselves with sharp imple- news on their free afternoon. ments and write chants and prayers For some, the scene is a madhouse with their own blood. to be avoided; for others, it’s a chance Checking Out the Orchard Road to watch life on a typical Saturday Scene: You can’t find better people- afternoon in downtown Singapore. watching than on Orchard Road every And it is typical, because however Saturday afternoon, when it seems like huge and delightful the scene is for every Singaporean crawls out of the tourists, it’s just part of everyday real- woodwork to join the parade of shop- ity for residents of the Garden City. pers, strollers, hipsters, posers, lovers, See p. 136. 2 Frommer’s Favorite Malaysia Experiences Opening Your Mind to Good Medi- Needless to say, my first day in the cine: The first time I went to Tioman doghouse was nutty. The rustic little Island I was appalled by the rows of A- cabin felt like it would fall apart at the frame shacks that passed themselves first breeze. Really, I’ve stayed in more off as bungalows. “I wouldn’t let my attractive places at summer camp. The dog sleep in one of these! Who’s your concrete latrine in the rear was as architect—Lassie? Call the concierge, back-to-basics as you could get, save there’s been a terrible mistake! Good going outside behind a tree. But I Lord, where’s the minibar?!” somehow survived my first night, cold shower and all. b524585 Ch01.qxd 4/22/03 8:53 AM Page 6 6 C H A P T E R 1 . T H E B E S T O F S I N G A P O R E & M A L AY S I A The next day, after strolling around through the outskirts of town, the the kampung village, lazing about at sights becoming more and more rural. the beach, chatting with friendly He turned down a dirt road, past graz- locals and fellow travelers, eating great ing water buffaloes lazing near rice barbecued fish and drinking some paddies. Soon the fields turned to cold beer, I had to admit, the place jungle, and a small kampung village had its charm. And I also had to admit appeared in the trees. I watched out my doghouse was starting to look the window as we passed traditional rather cozy. No annoying telephones, wooden stilt houses where grannies no loud TVs, no distractions. Just fanned themselves on the porch peace. watching the children chase chickens By my third day, I began to redeco- in the yard. Beside each house, color- rate. Drape a little sarong over the ful batik sarongs waved in the breeze. window here, place another mosquito The path wound to the house of candle on the table there, sweep out Pakcik’s nephew. I was welcomed the sand; it was my little home. I inside with curiosity, perhaps the first couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt foreigner to visit. They offered me a so laid-back and satisfied. The hectic straw mat, which I used to join the world I’d left behind began to look others resting comfortably on the more and more insane with each floor. Within minutes, an audience of passing day. And as the years of stress neighbors gathered around, plucking melted away, I couldn’t imagine why fruits from the trees in the yard for anyone would ever want more from me. I listened as Pakcik told them of life than this. Civilization is so over- my search for a gasing, and was sur- rated. See p. 249. prised to see every person scatter. That Experiencing Kampung Hospital- afternoon I was offered every gasing in ity: Pakcik (uncle) was just slightly the village. older than his ancient Mercedes, but My afternoon in Pakcik’s kampung his price was right, so I hired him for is one of my most cherished memo- the day to drive me around Kota ries, and a most meaningful experi- Bharu. Sometime after lunch, during ence. You see, as Southeast Asia a stop at the kite-maker’s house, I becomes increasingly affluent and spotted a beautiful gasing, a wood- globalized, this way of life becomes and-steel Malay top. It would be the steadily endangered. It’s a lifestyle that perfect gift for my brother! I just had for many urban Malaysians captures to have one. the spirit of the good life—simple Well, the kite-maker didn’t want to days when joy was free. And everyone give his up, but Pakcik had a few will be proud to show you; all you ideas. After coming up empty at the need is an open heart and a big smile. local shops, he took on my quest with Malaysian hospitality never ceases to personal conviction. Off we drove amaze me. 3 The Best Small Towns & Villages Any Kampung (Tioman Island, firm, and those who seek escape rarely Malaysia): Even though Tioman was leave disappointed. See p. 249. developed for the tourism industry, Malacca (Malaysia): As perhaps the you’ll never think this place is overde- oldest trading port in Malaysia, this veloped. The casual and rustic nature town hosted a wide array of interna- of the island’s tiny beach villages holds tional traders: Arabs, Portuguese, b524585 Ch01.qxd 4/22/03 8:53 AM Page 7 T H E M O S T FA S C I N AT I N G T E M P L E S, C H U R C H E S & M O S Q U E S 7 Dutch, English, Indian, and Chinese, down, head for the hills. The colonials all of whom left their stamp. See favored this cooling retreat for grow- p. 225. ing tea and roses and for building Cameron Highlands (Malaysia): lovely Tudor country homes. See When the tropical heat gets you p. 217. 4 The Best Beaches Tanjung Rhu (Langkawi, Malaysia): lively, with water sports and beach Perhaps one the most stunning beach activities plus food and drink. Every in Malaysia, this wide gorgeous stretch so often you’ll find an all night dance of white sand hugs a crystal clear, deep party here. However, if you really need blue cove. Even Alex Garland would pristine seclusion, you’ll have to head be impressed. See p. 247. for Malaysia. See p. 151. Kampung Juara (Tioman Island, Cherating (Malaysia): If you’re a Malaysia): This beach is what they leatherback turtle, you’ll think the best mean when they say isolated. Be pre- beach in the world is just north of pared to live like Robinson Crusoe— Cherating. Every spring and summer, in tiny huts, many with no electricity these giant sea creatures come ashore at all. But, oh, the beach! Most visitors to lay their eggs, so if you’re in town don’t get to this part of the island, so from May to June you might catch a many times you can have it all to look at the hatchlings. Meanwhile, yourself. See p. 253. during the turtles’ off-season, interna- Central Beach (Sentosa Island, Sin- tional windsurfing and water-board gapore): This is just about the best enthusiasts gather annually for com- beach you’ll find in Singapore, which petitions at this world-famous spot. isn’t really known for its beaches. It’s See p. 256. 5 The Most Exciting Outdoor Adventures Trekking in Taman Negara Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve (Sin- (Malaysia): With suitable options gapore): Every year during the winter for all budgets, levels of comfort, months, flocks of migrating birds and desired adventure, peninsular from as far north as Siberia vacation in Malaysia’s largest national park opens the warm waters of this unique man- the wonders of primary rainforest and grove swamp park. Easily traversed via the creatures who dwell in it to every- wooden walkway, the park will never one. From the canopy walk high atop disappoint for some stunning wildlife the forest to night watches for noctur- shots. See p. 146-147. nal life, this adventure is as stunning as it is informative. See p. 253. 6 The Most Fascinating Temples, Churches & Mosques Thian Hock Keng (Singapore): One is the modern world that carries on of Singapore’s oldest Chinese temples, just outside the old temple’s doors. See it is a fascinating testimony to Chinese p. 130. Buddhism as it combines with tradi- Jalan Tokong, Malacca (Malaysia): tional Confucian beliefs and natural This street, in the historical heart of Taoist principles. Equally fascinating the city, supports a Malay mosque, a b524585 Ch01.qxd 4/22/03 8:53 AM Page 8 8 C H A P T E R 1 . T H E B E S T O F S I N G A P O R E & M A L AY S I A Chinese temple, and a Hindu temple architectural simplicity, tropical prac- existing peacefully side by side—the ticality, and spiritual tranquility. See perfect example of how the many for- p. 115. eign religions that came to Southeast Hajjah Fatimah Mosque (Singa- Asia shaped its communities and pore): I love this mosque for its eclec- learned to coexist in harmony. See tic mix of religious symbols and p. 231. architectural influences. To me, it rep- Armenian Church (Singapore): resents not just the Singaporean ability While not the biggest Christian house to absorb so many different ideas, but of worship in the city, it is perhaps also a Muslim appreciation and open- one of the most charming in its ness toward many cultures. See p. 133. 7 The Most Interesting Museums Images of Singapore (Sentosa Island, curious island. Plus, it doesn’t hurt Singapore): No one has done a better that the air-conditioning works very job than this museum in chronicling well! See p. 241. the horrors of the World War II Pacific Asian Civilisations Museum (Singa- Theater and Japanese occupation in pore): One of the newer displays Southeast Asia. Video and audio dis- on the block, this extremely well- plays take you on a journey through presented museum documents the Singapore’s experience. The grand evolutionary and cultural history of finale, the Surrender Chambers, fea- the region’s major ethnic groups. A tures life-size wax-figure dioramas of very informative afternoon. See the fateful events. See p. 152. p. 115. Penang Museum and Art Gallery State Museums of Malacca (Malay- (Penang, Malaysia): A slick display of sia): This small city has more muse- Penang’s colonial history and multi- ums than any other city in the cultural heritage, this place is chock- country, with some unusual displays full of fascinating tidbits about the such as kites and Malaysian literature. people, places, and events of this See p. 230. 8 The Best Luxury Resorts & Hotels Raffles Hotel (Singapore): For old- and selection of facilities in the whole world opulence, Raffles is second to city. See p. 206. none. It’s pure fantasy of the days Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang Resort when tigers still lurked around the (Penang, Malaysia): The oldest resort perimeters. See p. 61. on the beach has claimed the best The Four Seasons (Singapore): Ele- stretch of sand and snuggled the most gance and warmth combine to make imaginative modern, yet traditionally this place a good bet. Consider a regu- designed resort into the gardens just lar room here before you book a suite beyond. See p. 238. elsewhere. See p. 73. The Datai (Langkawi, Malaysia): The Regent (Kuala Lumpur, Malay- The Datai is as stunning as any of the sia): For my money, the Regent offers best resorts Phuket and Bali have to the smartest decor and the best service offer, without the Phuket or Bali price tag. See p. 246. b524585 Ch01.qxd 4/22/03 8:53 AM Page 9 THE BEST MARKETS 9 9 The Best Hotel Bargains RELC International Hotel (Singa- Right in the center of Kuala Lumpur’s pore): For a safe and simple place to bustling Chinatown, the Swiss-Inn is call home in Singapore, RELC can’t be the perennial favorite for travelers beat. One wonders how they keep here. A comfortable choice, plus it’s so costs so low when their location is so close to everything. See p. 210. good. See p. 84. Heeren House (Malacca, Malaysia): Traders Hotel (Singapore): Value- Bargain or no bargain, this boutique for-money is the name of the game, hotel in the heart of the old city is the with all sorts of promotional packages, place to stay in Malacca if you want to self-service launderettes, vending really get a feel of the local atmos- machines, and a checkout lounge just phere. See p. 228. a few of the offerings that make this Telang Usan Hotel (Kuching, the most convenient hotel in the city. Malaysia): An informal place, Telang See p. 81. Usan is homey and quaint, and within Swiss-Inn (Kuala Lumpur, Malay- walking distance of many major sia): Location, location, location! attractions in Kuching. See p. 275. 10 The Best Local Dining Experiences Hawker Centers (Singapore and Imperial Herbal (Singapore): In the Malaysia): Think of them as shop- Chinese tradition of yin and yang, ping malls for food—great food! For dishes are prepared under the supervi- local cuisine, who needs a menu with sion of the house doctor, a traditional pictures when you can walk around healer who will be glad to “prescribe” and select anything you want as it’s the perfect cure for whatever ails you. prepared before your eyes. See chap- See p. 100. ters 4, 9, 10, and 11. Chile Crab at UDMC Seafood Cen- Gurney Drive (Penang, Malaysia): tre (Singapore): A true Singaporean Penang is the king of Asian cuisine, favorite, chile crabs will cause every from Chinese to Malay to Indian local to rise up in argument over and everything else in between. This where you can find the best in town. large hawker center by the sea is a Head out to UDMC to try the juicy great introduction to Penang. See crabs cooked in a sweet chile sauce. p. 240. Prepare to get messy! See p. 111. 11 The Best Markets Arab Street (Singapore): Even though exciting experience: batik, songket Singapore is a shopper’s paradise, it cloth, brassware, basket weaving—the could still use more places like Arab list goes on. See p. 261. Street. Small shops selling everything Petaling Street, (Kuala Lumpur, from textiles to handicrafts line the Malaysia): This night market gets street. Bargaining is welcome. See very, very crowded and crazy with all p. 168. who come for watches, handbags, Central Market (Kuala Terengganu, computer software, video CDs (which Malaysia): This huge bustling market aren’t exactly DVDs but can be played turned me into a shopping freak! All on a DVD player), and all manner of of the handicrafts Terengannu is blatant disregard for international famous for come concentrated in one copyright laws. See p. 213. b524585 Ch01.qxd 4/22/03 8:53 AM Page 10 10 C H A P T E R 1 . T H E B E S T O F S I N G A P O R E & M A L AY S I A 12 The Best Shopping Bargains Silver Filigree Jewelry (Malaysia): You can find them at any night mar- This fine silver is worked into detailed ket. Ever dream of owning a Gucci? filigree jewelry designs to make Have I got a deal for you! Can I tell brooches, necklaces, bracelets, and you about pirate video CDs and com- other fine jewelry. puter software without getting my Pewter (Malaysia): Malaysia is the book banned? Uh, okay, whatever you home of Selangor Pewter, one of the do, don’t buy these items! See chapters largest manufacturers of pewter in the 6 and 9. world, and their many showrooms Batik (Singapore and Malaysia): have all sorts of items to choose from. While most of the batiks you find in See the Kuala Lumpur shopping sec- Singapore come from Indonesia, most tion in chapter 9 for locations there. in Malaysia are made at factories that For locations in Penang, Malacca, you can often tour. The Indonesian and Johor call the Selangor hot line prints usually show traditional motif at & 03/422-1000. See chapter 9. and colors, while Malaysian designs Knockoffs and Pirate Goods (Singa- can be far more modern. Look for pore and Malaysia): Check out how batik silk as well. See chapters 6, 9, real those watches look! And so cheap! and 10. 13 The Best Nightlife Singapore, the whole city: Nightlife Bangsar (near Kuala Lumpur, is becoming increasingly sophisticated Malaysia): Folks in Kuala Lumpur in Singapore, where locals have more know to go to Bangsar for nighttime money for recreation and fun. Take the excitement. A couple of blocks of con- time to choose the place that suits your centrated restaurants, cafes, discos, personality. Jazz club? Techno disco? pubs, and wine bars will tickle any Cocktail lounge? Wine bar? Good old fancy. Good people-watching, too. See pub? They have it all. See p. 175. p. 215.