malaysia my second home
Malaysia , where to go ?

Manifold Malaysia

Jungle and metropolis, colonial and contemporary, upmarket and bargain – Dorinda Elliott explores Southeast Asia’s colorful melting pot

Malaysia is more than one trip for any but the most ambitious traveler.  Though only a little larger than New Mexico, the country is separated by the South China Sea into Peninsular Malaysia (to the west) and Malaysian Borneo (the larger area).  Even for a lush tropical nation, it has remarkable variety and, of course, great natural beauty.  We concentrate here on Peninsular Malaysia, a region with white beaches, verdant rain forests, rushing rivers, and a profusion of ethnic cuisines.

The country code for Malaysia is (6).  Prices quoted are for October 2009.


You can visit several tea plantations in these highlands, play a round of golf, or hike through thick jungle there are plenty of marked trails, but a guide is recommended.

            One of the nicest of the faux-Tudor hotels that have cropped up, the Cameron Highlands Resort has a cozy living room with a fireplace and luxe colonial furnishings (03-2783-1000; doubles, $250-$350).  For a real taste of Surrey , the Smokehouse Hotel and Restaurant has exposed beams and lots of chintz (05-491 1215; doubles, $115-$195).  In Tanah Rata, Restaurant Bunga Suria serves meals of South Indian curries on banana leaves (66A Perslaran Cemellia 3; 05- 491 4666; dishes, $2-$6).


The capital has few interesting hotels-except for the Carcosa Seri Negara, the former British governor’s home in the hills above the city.  Take tea in the veranda, as ceiling fans cut through the humidity, and you get a sense of how the British ruled until their departure in 1957: from on high.  The rooms have heavy European furniture, and the hallways are lined with portraits of the country’s nine sultans, who now take turns as figurehead king (03-2145-9599; doubles, $295-$350).  The Mandarin Oriental is centrally located and efficient, with modern rooms (03-2179-8818; doubles, $180-$370).
            From Asian fusion eateries filled with English-speaking Chinese and Malay yuppies, to high-end European restaurants, to cheap open-air Indian and Chinese canteens, Kuala Lumpur has something for every taste.  Bijan serves traditional spicy Malay sambal stew and fried prawns in a hip space with huge round lanterns above the bar (3 Jalan Ceylon; 03-2031-3575; entrees, $12-$70).  Inside what was once the guild hall of the Selangor & Federal Territory Laundry Association,  Old China Café is furnished with heavy wood tables with marble tops.  The specialty is the nyonya fare of the Straits Chinese: Laksa, a spicy coconut milk soup, and piee tee(“top hats”), crispy rice-flour snacks with minced chicken (11 Jalan Balai Polis;0 3-2072-5915; entrees, $3-$11).

            The excellent Islamic Arts Museum is a light-filled space with delicate pottery, miniature Mogul paintings, and textiles from the Silk Road (03-2274-2020;  Little India, which sprawls along Jalan Sultan Ismail, is a jumble of colorful sari and jewelry shops and excellent, super-cheap open-air restaurants. 


An island circled by beaches, it has all manner of seaside activities.  Or you can just lounge at the pool, watching the monkeys and monitor lizards.

            Isolated on a hill above the sea, The Datai has an open-air lobby, elegant rooms, two pools, and its own long stretch of beach (03-2145-9599; doubles, $435).  The Four Seasons Langkawi, on Tanjung Rhu Beach, has a sexy infinity pool and 90 villsa done in a mix of Chinese, India , and Arabic motifs (4950-8888; doubles, $527).  The eccentric Bon Ton Resort has eight century-old Malay bungalows, updated with a romantic mix of Asian antiques,  all overlooking a lap pool and lagoon.  Its Nam restaurant serves delicious Asian food with a Western twist (04-955-1688; doubles, $140-$300; entreen, $8-$27).  Anew sisiter hotel, Temple Tree, has eight buildings-including a plantation house, a Chinese villa, and a funky workers’dormitory.  A percentage of the profits goes to owner Narelle McMurtrie’s foundation, which provides care and shelter for the island’s stray animals.  Be prepared for purring cats (04-955-1688; doubles, $140-$310).

George Town, with impressive colonial and Chinese architecture, is an old trading port on Penang Island that was ceded to the British East India Trading Company in 1786.  A heritage movement has saved many old shophouses, which are now being restored and painted in bright pastels.
Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion is the refurbished home of one Asia’s great early industrialists.  The exterior is bright blue, with exuberant Chinese flowers along the eaves, and the courtyard is decorated with Chinese daybeds, stained glass, and patterned tiles.  The 38 guest rooms have high ceilings and four-poster beds (04-262-0006;doubles, $100-$250).  The other memorable hotel, also a bargain and now fully renovated, is the 1885 Eastern & Oriental.  It has elegant suites with colonial furniture and large baths.  The coolest spot is the pool, set alongside the Strait of Malacca, where the attendants wear knee socks and pith helmets.  Have a tiffin lunch of curried chicken and mussels at Sarkies Corner, the hotel’s buffer (04-222-2000; doubles, $165; buffet, $28).

            Try the chopped barbecued chicken with rice and bok choy at the Qing Tian Coffee Shop, a popular open-air canteen below the Sky Hotel (Chulia St.; dishes, $3-$5).  Penang noodles are a must, and the best are sold in hawker stalls.  Curry Mihoon, or rice noodles, and laksa soup are also must (about $1).


Most women wear head scarves on the peninsula’s east coast, which is mainly Malay.  The Tanjong Jara Resort is the one luxurious place to stay.  Designed to look like a palace, it sits on a long beach and has two pools, one in a grove of trees.  The resort emphasizes the concept of Sucimurni, nurturing both spirit and health, which you can experience at the spa, where the petite masseuses have iron fingers (03-2783-1000;doubles, $350-500; massages,$68-$102).
            Terapung Puteri, a Malay restaurant on stilts in Kuala Terengganu, has all sorts of seafood (Jalan Sultan Zainal Abidin; 09-631-8946; dishes,$3-$7).  Nasi dagang, glutinous rice flavored with coconut, is served with fish curry at the marketplace.  Keropok, a grotesque-looking fish sausage that is a local delicacy, is eaten fried.


Anthony Burgess’s The Long Day Wanes: A Malayan Trilogy, written in 1959, is a hilarious send-up of stereotypes (from pompous colonials to laid-back Malays and obsequious Indians) that conjures the nation on the eve of independence (Norton, $15).

            For practical information, Lonely Planet’s Malaysia, Singapore &Brunei is helpful ($24).  Online, is the source for news and the latest sex scandals. ~ Conde' Nast TRAVELER ( OCT'09)

Kuala lumpur Boh cameron highland