10 Reasons Why You Must Visit Malaysia, by a Proud Malaysian

September 01, 2017

MALAYSIA BOLEH, YOU PUN BOLEH
(MALAYSIA CAN, AND SO CAN YOU)
10 REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT MALAYSIA, LIKE, NOW

"Malaysia, truly Aaaaasia!" comes the sing-song response from EVERY taxi driver/immigration officer/curious stranger ever once they find out where I'm from (although if you want to really go back in time, my roots are in the Imperial City). The fact that the mention of my tanahair elicits a musical earworm is literal all-singing, all-dancing proof of a job well done by Tourism Malaysia. Good work, guys! Yesterday marked our 60th year of independence and as much as I like to say "Make Malaysia Great Britain Again" - the running joke is that I immigrated to the UK because if the Empire won't come (back) to Malaysia, then the Malaysian must go to the Empire - I am genuinely, sincerely, and enthusiastically keen to extoll the virtues (as well as moan about the vices) of my home country. So! To honour Hari Merdeka (Independence Day) and in my patriotic duty as self-appointed Malaysian ambassador*, I present to you what I hope is 10 solid reasons to sway you towards what is arguably the most colourful country in South East Asia. Passports at the ready...

*NOT WRITTEN IN COLLABORATION WITH TOURISM MALAYSIA, ALTHOUGH THEY REALLY SHOULD REACH OUT TO ME - I'M NOT CALLED 'YIPADVISOR' FOR NOTHING....



1. A MULTICULTURAL MELTING POT... 
2. ...WITH A SMORGASBORD OF HOLIDAYS  

Nevermind noble, aspirational ideals: campaigns like 1Malaysia should be promoting the real selling point of multiculturalism, that is: more ethnic groups = more religious and cultural festivals, hence more public holidays. If that's not a rallying point for ethnic harmony and national unity, I don't know what is. Malaysia's 3 'main races' - 50% Malay, 22% Chinese (including yours truly), and 7% Indian - whatever differences we are led to believe we have, all share the same love for our frequent long weekends. 

For the tourist that means that whatever time of year you visit Malaysia, you're bound to get caught up in the local cultural festivities: whether it's the Chinese New Year weeklong binge of pineapple tarts, karaoke, gambling, and cognac; catching a Hindu religious ceremony inside the limestone caverns of Batu Caves, or the Istana Negara (palace) opening its doors to the public for a 25,000-person Aidilfitri (Eid) Open House dinner. Malaysia is a round-the-clock party, and you're all invited - just say when!

FURTHER READING:
• BATU CAVES •
• LANGKAWI ISLAND, KEDAH •
• MOOCHING AROUND MALACCA 

CLIMB THE 272 STEPS OF BATU CAVES (MIND THE MONKEYS!)... 
...AND YOU'LL BE REWARDED WITH SCENES OF MYSTICISM AND WONDER.

3. WILD, NATURAL BEAUTY 

It always amuses me when a non-Malaysian startles at the sight of a foot-long, juvenile biawak (monitor lizard). The look their faces make when I tell them that that's just a baby is almost as priceless as when I tell them that the forests on either side of our cities' highways are home to the greatest concentration of clouded leopards.  

Personally, my idea of enjoying nature is wood floors and marble kitchen counters, but for the tree-hugging sort there is wealth of natural beauty and wildlife to be enjoyed. Observing orangutans in Borneo (left), giggling at the antics of Proboscis monkeys (above), patting pachyderms at Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary, hiking in the world's oldest tropical rainforest (130 million years old, below), or watching parrots do tricks at the world's largest walk-in aviary...it's a jungle out there baby, a real journey into the wild.



4. FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD!

No surprise there: a multicultural country where alcohol is highly taxed (hint - go to Langkawi Island for some duty free-fun times) and recreational drug use is, um, risky to say the least needs a wholesome and legal indulgence, and that indulgence is food. A common greeting is "sudah makan?" - "Have you eaten?". With Malay, Indian, and Chinese cooking styles borrowing from each other; this is cultural appropriation at its best. Local favourites include nasi lemak (the unofficial national dish, a Malay meal of rice cooked in coconut milk and served with a plethora of toppings that always include ikan bilis - dried anchovies - and sambal - chilli paste), char kuey teow (flat noodles wok-fried in lard and served with beansprouts, cockles, and prawns), and roti canai (a Mamak - Malaysian Indian - flat bread, so thin its practically translucent, served with dhaal and dipping curries). Yes, Malaysia does do fine-dining, hip brunch spots with artisanal coffee, and other foodie trends but our truly defining culinary offerings is the food trail you need to get on - the street food, or hawker stall scene. Start with Jalan Alor, and then seek out anywhere with a huge queue of locals of all races.

FURTHER READING:



THE BLUE MANSION, PENANG - A CLASSIC PERANAKAN MASTERPIECE
5. HISTORY (AND ARCHITECTURE) PORN 

Everyone - the British, the Dutch, and the Portuguese - wanted a piece of the action, and so should you. Throughout the ages, our fair country has made pacts with countless devils (random trivia: the Chinese slang for foreigner literal translates to "foreign devil") and been the b*tch of several orang putih (Malay for white men). While the Western world's aggressive attempts at bringing civilisation to the noble savages have left some with the bitter taste of colonial hangover (which, by the way would be a brilliant name for a bar!) - nothing too serious, just the occasional loser who blames the pale-skinned Lotharios for 'stealing all the local women' - the presence of the Europeans and other immigrants have left a rich, gorgeous, and striking architectural legacy.

Scottish castles in the plantations of Perak...the UNESCO-heritage Old Town of Malacca and its Dutch and Portuguese buildings...Baba Nyonya (Peranakan/Straits Chinese) mansions in Penang...a heritage home built for a British High Commissioner turned luxury hotel...the buildings in Malaysia do talk, and the stories they tell!

PETALING STREET, THE CHINATOWN OF KUALA LUMPUR
AN OLD-SCHOOL SPECTACLE SHOP TURNED HIP CAFE IN IPOH OLD TOWN

6. THE HOSTESS WITH THE MOST-EST


The meaning of Malaysia Airline's flight code - MH means 'Malaysian Hospitality' - doesn't just exist as PR spiel. Our famous hospitality and warmth has always been a very real, defining trait even before tourism became one of our major money-makers: when a Malaysian says they open their homes to you, they mean it. Friends who've accepted my invitations to stay with me in Kuala Lumpur have found themselves not only guests in my home, but also guided around attractions across different cities and states, chauffeured in my car too, no less.




7. ENGLISH IS WIDELY SPOKEN

There's no treading water with languages here in Malaysia - even a New Zealander with an accent ("You were polishing your WHAT?!" "My deck") could make himself understood, even if speaking English without the peppery colloquialisms of the local slang did set him apart as foreign (just in case the blonde hair and blue eyes didn't already give the game away). 

Although my bilingual abilities - Mandarin, Malay, Cantonese, English, dank memes - does go a long way toward being understood especially in more rural areas, for the most part the English-speaking visitor will get around just fine especially in cities like Kuala Lumpur with a more diverse population and exposure to international culture. Phrases to know, shoud you want to score brownie points with the locals, are: "Terima kasih (thank you)", "Selamat (good) pagi (morning)/petang (evening)", "Apa khabar? (How are you?)"
8. CHEAP N' CHEERFUL

Our financial cross to bear - one we have shouldered with increasing dismay since the '90s as the value of the Malaysian Ringgit (MYR, or as locals call it RM - Ringgit Malaysia) keeps plunging - is your ticket to flavour town. That analogy made no sense, but then again neither does an all-time low of over RM7 to £1. 

At the moment the Ringgit fluctuates North of RM5 to a £ - and when you can get a perfectly decent hawker-stall style meal for less than RM10 or a 2 bedroom condominium in a swanky part of expatriate city for just RM1,000,000, you can see why the low cost of living and the weakness of the local currency against the US Dollar, the Euro, the Pound (the everything, really) makes Malaysia such an attractive destination for visitors from the West including tourists, backpackers looking to get turnt up (ugh), and retirees - basically anyone coming to live like a king on a poor man's budget.





9. LUXURY OR BUDGET

Malaysia is a country where you can literally have your kuih lapis (layer cake) and eat it too. With a famously low-cost of living and high quality of life (it's perfectly common for a middle-class family to have live-in servants and a chauffeur), plus rapidly growing infrastructure as well as burgeoning tourism industry there is a buffet of accommodations to choose at every price point. Budget: Fancy staying in an industrial-chic treehouse hostel? Sekeping Kong Heng (below) has you covered, fam. Luxury: What about the glamorous epicentre of colonial-era Britain's high society? Have afternoon tea in the orchid conservatory of The Majestic Kuala Lumpur. Big spender: Got several dozen thousand dollars and a big ol' party to host overlooking the turquoise waters of Redang Island? Oh hello, The Taaras Villa...

FURTHER READING:


...and finally,



10. ...MALAYSIA IS A GATEWAY TO ASIA (AND AUSTRALIA)

Perfectly situated more or less in the centre of South East Asia with two vast international airports in Kuala Lumpur served by both full-service and budget airlines. From Kuala Lumpur, you can reach anywhere as nearby as Singapore and Bangkok in an hour or fly to Melbourne - aka the middle of nowhere - in 8 hours. You might fly First or Business Class with Malaysia Airlines, you might go the budget route with Air Asia, or you might even have the best of both worlds by snagging a flatbed seat for the price of a low-cost flight with this little trick I use...! Simply put, Malaysia is the springboard to dive from and into the wild, wacky region of Southeast and East Asia - plus Australia and New Zealand too, if you're feeling adventurous...

FURTHER READING:




THIS POST WAS INSPIRED BY THIS MONTH'S TRAVEL LINKUP AND THE 60TH ANNIVERSARY OF INDEPENDENT MALAYSIA.

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