Malaysia is an assault on the senses-a cultural fusion of colours, flavours and dialects combined with sticky tropical heat. lt boasts superb beaches, mountains and national parks, plus a heady mix of people-Malay, Chinese, lndian, and the diverse indigenous tribes of Sabah and Sarawak in Borneo. Historical influences loom large in the stately colonial architecture of Georgetown (Penang) and Mallaka, and the prosperous nation’s love of progress is proclaimed in its gleaming, futuristic buildings.
May to September (the dry season)
Balancing on the creaky canopy walk over Taman Negara National Park Snorkelling with Technicolor fish in crystal-clear waters off the Perhentian lslands Sipping a freshly snipped brew of full-bodied Highlands tea in the Cameron Highlands Climbing the challenging craggy peak of Mt Kinabalu Haggling for bargains under the bright ofKuala Lumpur’s night markets
Read Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim-adventure on the South China Seas and the real-life story of Raja Brooke of Sarawak; The Return by KS Maniam-contemporary Malaysian fiction exploring the lndian Malaysian experience
Listen to traditional Malay gendang (drum) music; kampong-style world music by Zainal Abidin; KL alternative rock band Flop Poppy
Watch Mahadi J Murat’s Sayang Salmah (1995), a taut family drama set in post-independence Malaya; Guardians of the Forest, a documentary account of the plight of the indigenous Orang Asli people, directed by Alan D’Cruz (2001)
Eat the stinky but delicious durian fruit; laksa (spicy coconut noodle soup)
Drink air kelapa (coconut water); tuak (Borneo rice wine)
Jalan-jalan (l’m just traveling around)
Orang-utans; tea plantations; Mahathir Mohamad; colonial remnants; Petronas Towers; jungle; logging and dams; tropical islands; hawker food; gleaming mosques
Malaysia is well on the way to achieving its goal of becoming a fully industrialized nation by 2020; nine state sultans still reign, and they take five-year turns at being yang di-pertuan agong (chief sultan of Malaysia)
Moving from the cities to the more rural, and thus Malay, parts of the country, the laid-back ethos becomes stronger and lslamic culture comes more to the fore, particularly on the east coast of the peninsula. ln Malaysian Borneo you’ll be fascinated by the communal lifestyle of the tribes who still live in jungle longhouses-here, hospitality is a key ingredient of the social framework.