Wonderfully Diverse Malaysia
Article and photography by Michael Morcos
The smile on my face lingered just like the hot and humid night. This was already day five of our 12-day tour of Malaysia. The time was speeding by, but I relaxed with the knowledge that there were seven more days ahead to explore this fascinating country.
A Diverse City
Kuala Lumpur (KL), the capitol of Malaysia is extremely diverse. To my delight we were able to visit three different religious holy places in the same day and all within walking distance of each other. Our guide led us to the Anglican Church of St. Mary the Virgin, the Masjid Jamek Mosque and the Sze Ya Chinese Temple.
We were given time to shop in Chinatown along Petaling Street’s night market. We ended our day here, as we shopped for that almost-looks-like-designer stuff. Adding to the hustle and noise of the tightly placed stalls was the ever-present heat, humidity and pungent smells. This was as it should be in any street market and it was perfect!
Sightseeing in KL
Over the coming days we would be treated to the best sights in KL including the Royal Palace, Merdeka Square, the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, the Petronas Towers, the KL Tower and the impressive Batu Caves.
A visit to the Petronas towers was a great occasion to ascend the tallest twin towers in the world. Although the towers are impressive from a distance, it is nothing compared to being right in front and just below these giants.
Getting up to the viewing bridge was a well-scripted affair, due to the airport-like security. The high-speed elevator whisked us up to the Skybridge in less than a minute. Because of the number of tourists, our viewing time was limited to only ten minutes. However, this short time was truly unforgettable, as we stood on the bridge, suspended between the two remarkable shiny towers, with a panoramic view of all of KL.
The Caves are a sacred place for Malaysia’s Hindus. They consist of three main caves and a number of smaller ones. A 42.7m high statue of Lord Murugan is clearly visible from far away but dwarfs the visitor upon entering. You have to climb 272 steps, which lead you to the religious parts of the Caves. Luckily, during our visit we witnessed a baptism-like ceremony of a Hindu baby.
Kuala Terengganu was very laid back as compared to KL. People took there time doing things. Noticeably, most women wore headscarves and long traditional dresses that covered all but their faces and feet. This day and the following morning were spent visiting the floating mosque, the Royal palace, the local market and the State museum.
The Pasar Payang local market is where local merchants sold fruits, vegetables, spices and locally produced arts and crafts. I bought fresh spices packed in clear bags that I would give to family members back home. Each bag had four different spices, including cinnamon, anise, cloves and coriander.
These turned out to be the perfect gifts and cost almost nothing. They also made my luggage that much sweeter smelling. The other gifts I purshased included stone necklases, rings, braclets and other beatuiful locally designed jewlary.
The Art of Batik
The following day saw us making a last quick stop before heading out to a tropical island. Our shopping lists of souvenirs and gifts were drastically reduced as we visited the Noor Alfa Batik store and factory.
Batik cotton sarongs are typically Malaysian. They are either machine made or hand painted and can be worn in a multitude of ways or used to decorate furniture. The ever so patient artist, who paint the cloths and turn them into works of art, fascinated me.
The following three days spent in Redang made me realise what a true tropical paradise is like. Our hotel the Berjaya Redang Beach resort was in more than one way as far away from home as I had ever been. The hotel was located at the end of the island on a secluded bay.
I was able to rent a motorcycle and ventured out to explore the lesser-travelled areas of the island. It took me less than 15 minutes to cross the island. There, I visited a tiny village where I met some of the friendliest people a person could ever meet.
I was greeted with shy but curious smiles from everyone. In the end, I was humbled by the spirit of these people who though having little in material wealth, had an over abundance of happiness.
Our two days and nights spent in Kota Bharu saw us visiting the Istana Batu Royal Museum, the State Museum and the Istana Jahar Museum that were centrally located and walking distance of each other.
In the same neighbourhood we made a trip to the Handicraft Village that found us buying more gifts, which included locally made silver jewellery and traditional art in many forms. We also visited the night market, which is a place not to be missed.
On our last full day in Malaysia, we visited a Buddhist temple, located only ten kilometres from the Thai border.
As I sat in the plane coming home, I reflected on my trip. I was delighted to have had this great Malaysia experience, but it’s no easy task describing such a diverse country.
Let’s see now. I rode up the tallest twin towers in the world, swam at a secluded beach on the East China Sea, snorkelled in a tropical paradise, visited a Buddhist temple, a Hindu temple, a mosque and an Anglican church.
Other wonderful experiences included listening to the Muslim call to prayer, shopping in Chinatown, dining on Malay, Indian and Chinese cuisine and much more.
All this and I didn’t even have the time to explore to the more popular West Coast or to the Island of Borneo. I guess Malaysia just might just be the ultimate country of contrasts.
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