Kuala Lumpur, the economic capital of the country, is the best introduction to Malaysia. The city is impressive with its skyline of glitzy buildings standing next to beautiful colonial mansions. The capital is also the centre of Malaysian culture, reflected in its numerous museums and in its very active arts scene. Shopping is one of Kuala Lumpur’s strong points. In the city’s so-called “Golden Triangle” dozens of shopping centres and malls offer anything from luxury goods to small gadgets. Tourists generally enjoy the Handicraft and Art Market (Pasar Seni) selling plenty of souvenirs. KL’s multi-cultural life is best reflected in its cuisine. A real experience is to stroll around the streets food stalls and courts offering the country’s most famous delicacies. Cuisines include Malay, Chinese, Indian and Nonya, a mix of Chinese-Malay cooking.
Georgetown, the first British settlement in what would become Malaya, is the capital of Penang. It has been one of the world’s true melting pots ever since. The prosperity of Penang Port attracted people from all over – Europe, Persia, the Gulf, Burma, Indonesia, Thailand and China. They all cohabited together and from this fusion Penang was born. Visitors will still feel this incredible symbiosis today, through the city’s architectural heritage, its gastronomy and its arts. Penang’s social fabric and its beautiful architecture were strong reasons for UNESCO to name the city as a World Heritage site. Being an island, tourists will also enjoy the beautiful scenery of the coastline, especially the fine resorts located along Batu Ferringhi. The centre of the Island boasts tropical rainforests. Penang has something for everyone, from the history buff to the nature lover to the beach fanatic.
One of the first European settlements in Southeast Asia, Melaka – or Malacca – was established by the Portuguese in the early 16th century. It has managed to retain the old world charm of a small provincial city. The best to discover its delights by walking around the old town and climbing to the top of St Paul’s Hill, which is dominated by the ruins of a cathedral and Famosa Fortress.
At the foot of the hill, the old town is a wonderful kaleidoscope of colours and smells with old Chinese temples, minuscule shops, and old style cafes and restaurants. UNESCO World Heritage status has helped Melaka to create new cultural attractions such as museums celebrating the Peranakan (Sino-Malay) way of life and the local architecture, while a new boat ride on the city’s river gives travellers a new perspective on the old town.
The capital city of Sabah is a pleasant destination with its large boulevards, its waterfront restaurants and shops, and the Filipino market open every day until the late afternoon. It is a popular place for tourists to buy cultured pearls and local handicrafts. At night, the famous Filipino Night Bazaar takes over, offering all kinds of fresh seafood as well as souvenirs. KK has few historical vestiges due to massive destructions during WWII, but interesting architectural attractions include the Sabah Museum, the Tun Mustapha building, Borneo’s second highest tower and the Borneo Marine Research Institute complex, which comprises the Marine and Maritime Museum. Just 15 to 20 minutes by boat from Kota Kinabalu waterfront is the beautiful Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, a protected sanctuary consisting of five islands, where it is possible to go diving and snorkelling or simply chill out on the multitude of small beaches.
Borneo’s ‘jewel in the crown’, Kuching has managed to preserve its old lifestyle and restore many of its old colonial buildings that date from the days of the earliest White Rajahs. The waterfront features attractive gardens with small coffee shops, restaurants and boutiques. Kuching is best discovered over time. The city is increasingly turning into an alternative cultural hub with youngsters meeting in some of the central districts to play music or create art pieces. Kuching is also an ideal gateway to explore the rest of Sarawak and Borneo.
An hour’s drive away, visitors can discover the alluring Borneo rainforest or enjoy beautiful sunsets on the South China Sea. An hour by flight, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Gunung Mulu National Park, provides a glimpse into some of the most spectacular caves on earth shaped by sea water cutting deep into the gorges of limestone mountains