By Lloyd Green
I sit here on the plane leaving Malaysia after eight months. An experience quite unlike any I have ever encountered. Malaysia is a country where the more you invest, the more you get out of it. You could be forgiven for thinking Malaysia is embodied by KL’s global reputation — its bright lights, shopping malls, bustling nightlife and iconic Petronas Twin Towers showcasing an opulence craved by many tourists — as well as pristine island getaways such as Langkawi and the Perhentian Islands.
But if you have ever had the chance to peer beyond its veneer, you will find a land of great beauty and a population eager to share it with you. This is where the real Malaysia lies and a world in which I’ve had the privilege to step into. You’ll enter one world and exit another taking with you snippets of many cultures that will not only shape your memories but also your relationships.
The view from one of the more secluded areas at Genting Highlands
Much of my adventure here is owed to the great local friends I have made. They have afforded me an authentic experience not often chronicled in your local tour guides: Guest at an Indian wedding in Klang; life as a local at Orang Asli kampungs in the jungle near Gua Musang and Raub; a road trip to Pangkor; KL’s burgeoning comedy scene; a guided tour of the famed Kacang Putih industry in Ipoh; hiking around the intriguing Genting Highlands; celebrating Deepavali with Indian families in Klang; KL’s underground punk rock scene; teaching English in remote and rural communities; celebrating Christmas in the Portuguese Settlement in Malacca; adventures to Peninsular Malaysia’s most stunning waterfalls and hikes including Chilling Falls and Gunang Tahan; picking rambutans and bananas at plantations in the jungle; witnessing Iban tribal ceremonies in Sarawak; staying on a boat house in the Royal Belum National Park as well as tasting local delicacies such as the best fish noodle soup in Petaling Jaya and homemade Indian curries in Brickfields and Klang.
That’s not to say Malaysia’s main attractions are unworthy of your presence — the tourist trail in Malaysia is reliable and growing stronger all the time. In the economic hub of Kuala Lumpur, flavours and colour of India, China and Malay locals float inconspicuously, adding great contrast and history to this modern megacity with landmarks such as Batu Caves, Bukit Bintang and KLCC ensuring thousands continue to flock there.
Venture north to George Town in Penang and Ipoh for a romantic cocktail of art, architecture and colonial influences with night markets, Chinese hawker stalls in Batu Ferringhi, the original Old Town White Coffee in Ipoh and the emergence of urban street art in both places giving reason for tourism to thrive.
The chance to live and look after Orangutans as well as the quest of climbing Malaysia’s highest peak — Mount Kinabalu — will always ensure people go to Sabah and the magic of the Rainforest World Music Festival is a beacon for Sarawak tourism each year. And of course if island hopping and diving is your thing, then you’ll fall in love with places such as Sipadan, Mabul, Kapalai, Layang Layang and Lankayan.
Malaysia has no doubt won a special place in my heart and I urge other travellers, tourists and expatriates to immerse yourself in the culture and let Malaysia sweep you off your feet. You will never regret it.