For an avid traveller looking to enjoy on a modest budget, the multi-cultural Malaysia is the place to be
Typically known for its rainforests and beautiful beaches, Malaysia is much more than a tourist’s paradise. A country boasting a budding multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-cultural population, it welcomes you regardless of your religion, race or background -- and makes you feel at home.
With fast-flowing traffic and a three-lane freeway, it takes approximately one hour from the airport to reach the main city of Kuala Lumpur.
The moment you step out of Kuala Lumpur International Airport, you are welcomed by a never-ending line of taxis. Majority of the drivers are of Indian origin, but they have become so localised now that they do not seem much different from Malays.
Malays are the ethnic majority making up for more than 50 per cent of the population, and the rest are Chinese, Indians and Eurasians. Muslim Malays are easily distinguishable due to their South East Asian features, and women wearing the headscarf.
However, the warm and humid climate may be a little hard to bear if you come from a relatively cooler part of the world so it is highly recommended to not plan a visit in mid-August.
Entering the metropolis, skyscrapers surround you -- planned so strategically that you are astonished that the city does not seem clustered with high-rises. The atmosphere appears to be completely pollution-free with not even a particle of dust visible in the air -- this is to the extent that you question your personal standards of cleanliness. The most symbolic landmarks of the city are the famous Petronas Twin Towers and the KL Tower. No matter where you are, the view of the towers will not disappear from sight.
The sky bridge that connects the two major giant twin towers is open to public to visit any time of the day.
Kuala Lumpur is not a typical capital city; with a dynamic nightlife and virtually limitless shopping options. If you are looking for a fancy night-out with an exceptional view, the Sky Bar is the finest place to be. This upscale cocktail bar and café located on the 33rd floor of the Traders Hotel offers incredible sight of the Petronas Twin Towers, the KL Tower and the city at large.
A place you must have on your itinerary is the beautiful Langkawi beach. An archipelago of 104 islands and a little off the mainland coast of northwestern Malaysia, Langkawi is the largest of them all. The expensive flight from KL to Langkawi is definitely worth it. Known for its crystal clear beaches and water sport facilities, Langkawi is the ideal go-to for those who want to laze around the beach with a margarita.
The most fulfilling attraction there has to be the Langkawi Skycab that leads to the sky bridge. The magnificent view of the rainforest from the heights of your cable car gets the adrenaline pumping through your veins. To add to that, Langkawi has the Pentai Cenang, known to be the busiest town on the island with cuisine choices ranging from Chinese to European to South Indian, and a diverse mix of cafes, restaurants and souvenir shops.
Besides the fancy food options, there is always the cheap and scrumptious street food which is hard to ignore. Be it the streets of Bukit Bintang in Kuala Lumpur, open bazaars in Langkawi or a five-star hotel in Penang, the cuisine in Malaysia is truly unique and delicious.
Across the Pentai Cenang market in Langkawi is the Cenang Beach. It is a beautiful, calm beach specifically dedicated to various thrilling water activities and sports with options ranging from parasailing to snorkeling to riding on a funny-looking banana boat. Of these options, the most refreshing and equally time consuming is parasailing. First, you are to sign a liability form claiming that you are solely responsible if you end up dying in the process -- and for a moment you are concerned. Then you go slightly more confident as an introductory safety video is shown and life jackets are provided based on your weight and height. You are then harnessed in and hooked up to a parachute and raised into the air like a human kite.
Although it is costlier compared to other adventure options, it is hands down a breathtaking experience.
Penang, on the other hand, isn’t as captivating as Langkawi or Kuala Lumpur, but it does have the charm that comes with various colonial buildings, temples, mosques and churches. The densely populated state of Penang is divided into two - Penang Island and Malay Peninsula with George Town as the capital of the Penang Island. In comparison to the two other cities, George Town has a higher ratio of local Malays than foreigners which can be clearly evident if you plan to visit the Penang Hill. An entire day should be devoted for visiting the Penang hill -- aside from the fact that it’s far, it’s so over-crowded that it takes almost two hours just to wait in queues. You can see locals rushing to travel to the hilltop via the speedy Penang Hill Funicular Railway.
A more sensible alternative to the Penang Hill is visiting the temples on Burmah Lane. The Wat Chayamangkalaram also known as the Reclining Buddha Temple is a Thai Buddhist temple that possesses a 33-metre gold-plated Buddha literally stretched out inside the temple. The sleeping Buddha is the largest of its kind -- built in the year 1845 on the land gifted to the Thai community by England’s then Queen Victoria.
On the same road, opposite the Reclining Buddha Temple is the Dhammikarama Burmese Temple, which was also the first-ever built Burmese monastery-temple in Malaysia. Both are historical attractions that shouldn’t be left out of your bucket list if you are in Penang.
A two-hour drive from Kuala Lumpur is the strait and town of Malacca (also written as Melaka). Malacca and George Town are both historical colonial cities that formerly functioned as trading harbours connecting east and west. The Strait of Malacca is considered one of the most significant shipping lanes in the world and operates as the main waterway between the Indian and Pacific Ocean. The small town of Malacca has its own multicultural heritage with churches, fortifications, squares and government buildings.
If you want to say goodbye to the noisy city life and surround yourself with nature, Langkawi is the place to relax and unwind. Because even though Kuala Lumpur is the commercial hub of the country with well-maintained roads and efficient public transport, two days are enough as the experience of the city can potentially become monotonous and even potentially boring if dragged on too long. Penang is also a great place for those of you who want to wander inside religious buildings, take on an interesting fruit-tasting tour or visit a unique butterfly farm.
With a small but diverse population, Malaysia is a living example of a harmonious and peace-loving nation. For an avid traveller looking to make the most out of a trip with a modest budget, Malaysia is the place to be.