Part Eight: Rollercoasters and Skyscrapers in Kuala Lumpar
Malaysia Blog Series
As modern and exciting as its dizzying Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur blends mosques and colonial charm with modern transport and the tallest skyscrapers in Southeast Asia. Test your credit card in the glam shopping centres of Bukit Bintang, pick up woodcarvings and batiks in the lively central market, stroll through the hibiscus-scented Lake Gardens, and climb the steps to the shrines of the Batu Caves.
A cooling retreat from the Malaysian heat, the stunning Cameron Highlands are home to quaint villages, manicured gardens, and tea plantations barely changed since colonial times. Or take a trip to Malacca; the oldest trading port in Malaysia was once ruled by the Portuguese, Dutch and English, and the architecture proves it.
Malaysia's jewel-like islands are adorned with rainforests and coral reefs, and blessed with some of the best beaches in South East Asia. Treat your taste buds in Penang, Malaysia's food capital; see Langkawi's cluster of islets from above on the breathtaking SkyCab cable car; and meet macaque monkeys in the jungles of Pangkor's tropical paradise.
With its Malay, Chinese, and Indian heritage, Malaysia is one of the great cultural melting pots. Discover gold-domed mosques, brightly-painted Hindu temples, colonial architecture, and Malaysian longhouses where entire villages live under one roof. Fall in love with Malaysian cuisine, explore Kuala Lumpur's Little India and Chinatown, experience jungle tribal dwellings, and play traditional sports like Wau-kite flying.
There are a number of airlines flying into Kuala Lumpur with onward connections available to Penang, Langkawi and Borneo. Flight time to Kuala Lumpur is approximately 12 hours 30 minutes.
Direct Carriers: Malaysia Airlines offers two flights per day direct to Kuala Lumpur.
Indirect Carriers: Emirates, Etihad Airways, Singapore Airlines, Qatar Airways and KLM.
Departure Taxes: Departure taxes are included in the price of flight tickets.
British Passport holders are not required a visa to enter Malaysia for tourist stays up to 30 days only. Your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond your intended stay in Malaysia. Please contact the Malaysian Embassy for up to date country and visa information on 0207 235 8033.
The official currency is the Malaysian Ringgit, often referred to as the Malaysian Dollar. You can buy them in the UK, but you can only take 1,000 Ringgits in cash in and out of Malaysia. There is no limit to the amount you can take in foreign currency or traveller's cheques, and UK Pounds are the easiest currency to exchange. When you get there, you can change money in commercial banks and major hotels. It may be more difficult to exchange foreign currencies outside the main tourist areas.
MasterCard, Visa and American Express are widely accepted, although you should carry cash in rural areas. Cash machines are found in all cities and most accept international cards from major issuers like Visa and MasterCard, but remember to tell your bank that you are travelling to Malaysia. Traveller's cheques are accepted by banks, hotels, and large department stores.
Most bills include a 10 percent service charge and five percent government tax. Further tips are not expected, but are becoming more common in tourist areas. One or two Malaysian Ringgits is fine for hotel porters, and taxi drivers will be happy if you round the fare up to the nearest Malaysian Ringgit.
April to June and August to November
Hepatitis A, Polio, Typhoid immunisation and malaria tablets are recommended. All travellers should be up to date on routine immunisations. Yellow fever immunisation is required if arriving from an infected country or area. For full details, please contact your GP.
Pack to stay comfortable in Malaysia's heat and humidity. Check the monsoon seasons for the area you plan to visit and always take an umbrella and rain jacket in case of showers. Women should cover legs and upper arms away from the beach, and both sexes will create a better impression in trousers rather than shorts. There is no need to bring an electrical adapter; Malaysia uses British-style sockets.
An underwater camera for snorkelling.
Long sleeved cover-ups for evening;
lightweight clothing in natural fabrics like cotton or linen;
High factor sunscreen;
A wide-brimmed hat to keep the sun off your face;
Comfortable walking shoes for exploring;
The delicious national cuisine is one of the best parts of any holiday to Malaysia. Dishes often share similarities with Thai and Indonesian food, as well as influences from Europe, China and India; but Malaysian cooking has its own style, packed with lemongrass, chilli, ginger, lime leaves, peanuts, and coconut milk. The Indian and Chinese communities have their own culinary traditions too, like mamak cuisine, imported by Tamil Muslims.
Penang Assam Laksa
This spicy-sour fish noodle broth will have your nose running, but in a good way. Flavoured with flaky mackerel, chilli, lemongrass, ginger, tamarind, mint, onion, and pineapple; this aromatic laksa is a favourite in Penang, as its name suggests.
You will find, and smell, the mouth-wateringly fragrant national dish everywhere you go in Malaysia. Rice is steamed with coconut milk and aromatic pandan leaves, then served with dried anchovies, sambal (a spicy sauce), peanuts, sliced cucumber, and boiled egg on the side, traditionally on a banana leaf.
Deeply infused with coconut and lemongrass, this slow-cooked, tender beef dish is well worth the wait. Also flavoured with galangal, onion, garlic, ginger, chilli paste, tamarind, and coconut sugar, it is often served at festivals with lemang; sticky rice, and coconut milk grilled in bamboo.
Some of Malaysia’s best eats can be found right at the roadside; the mouth-watering result of this country’s multi-ethnic culture. Street food hotspots include Pasar Malam market and Jonkers Street in Malacca, George Town in Penang, Gaya Street and the central market in Kota Kinabalu, and Chinatown and Little India in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s foodie mecca. Be careful to only order street food from vendors whose food is clean, fresh, and cooked right in front of you.
A real favourite at street stalls and night markets, this dish is made with pre-cooked rice and ingredients like shrimp, crab, beef, vegetables, or scrambled egg. It is stir-fried in a wok and seasoned with flavours like cumin, curry powder, chilli paste, soy or oyster sauce.
Tasty and cheap, you will find this Indian-influenced flatbread everywhere you go, usually served with a spicy curry sauce. As with so many things that taste good, the dough is usually made with ghee. Cooked in a flat pan, the perfect roti canai is fluffy on the inside, and crispy and flaky on the outside.
Char Kway Teow
This fried noodle dish has a bit of a reputation for its high fat content, which is probably why it tastes so good. Traditionally served up to energy-burning labourers, it contains flat rice noodles stir-fried with soy sauce, chilli, prawns, cockles, bean sprouts and Chinese chives, with added calories from pork fat and lard croutons.
Most people find their money goes a long way on Malaysia holidays, although it is more expensive than nearby Thailand or Indonesia. Keep in mind that Kuala Lumpur is more expensive than the rest of Malaysia. On average though, a three course meal in a mid-range restaurant will set you back around 45 Malaysian Ringgits, a bottled beer is about 12 Malaysian Ringgits, and a 1.5 litre bottle of water is around two Malaysian Ringgits.
For men, the traditional Malay attire is the baju melayu, a loose tunic worn over trousers and under a sarong-style sampin around the hips, accompanied by a songkok cap on their head. Malay women wear the baju kurung, a knee-length tunic over a long skirt, worn with a scarf or shawl. Both sexes often dress in bright colours.
With three major ethnicities in Malaysia, social conventions are dictated by each religion and culture, with different norms among Muslim Malays, Indian Hindus, and followers of Chinese religions. Make an effort to respect religious beliefs and follow the Malaysian example, particularly when it comes to dressing appropriately.
When it comes to etiquette, keep the following in mind:
• Greetings tend to vary between people of Malay, Chinese, and Indian origin, although a gentle, sometimes two-handed, handshake is the most common way to say hello. The Chinese will sometimes accompany it with a touch on the arm. Malays will add the salaam and a slight bow. And Indians will also use the namaste (hands pressed together, pointed upwards). Between men and women, a simple nod or bow will often do; wait for the woman to initiate.
• Touching the hand to the chest is a sign of respect.
• Avoid touching and overly direct eye contact with the opposite sex.
• Malaysians prefer to stand at least an arm’s lengths from one another. Two to three feet is normal.
• Women should avoid wearing revealing clothing and heavy make-up.
• Take your shoes off before entering a house or temple.
• Always use your right hand to eat, touch, pass or receive.
• People beckon one another by extending an arm and making a scratching motion with their fingers.
• Beckoning or pointing with a finger is considered rude. Use your thumb with the rest of your fingers clenched in a fist instead.
• Pounding your fist into the palm of your other hand is an obscene gesture.
• Avoid touching or passing anything over the top of anyone’s head as it is viewed as the most sacred body part.
• The surfer's ‘hang loose’ sign (presenting the back of the hand while extending the thumb and smallest finger and keeping the three middle fingers curled) is an obscene gesture.
Naturally blessed Malaysia has some of the most varied wildlife on Earth. With most of the country cloaked in ancient rainforests, it is the perfect habitat for the 210 mammal species, 620 types of bird, 250 kinds of reptile, and 150 types of frog found here. In Borneo alone, hundreds of new species have been discovered since the 1990s, including the world's largest flower and the world's biggest cockroach. Malaysian wildlife includes gibbons, monkeys, orangutans, scaly anteaters (pangolins), elephants, tapirs, tigers, leopards, honey bears, and snakes like vipers, pythons, and cobras.
Dive with Marine Life
The warm waters off Malaysia’s endless coastline are part of the biologically diverse Coral Triangle, also known as the ‘Amazon of the Seas’. Malaysia’s islands are bursting with places to snorkel and scuba dive, so jump in and swim with rays, starfish, sea fans, shrimp, puffer fish, and so much more.
These long-limbed, ginger-haired apes have become Borneo’s biggest tourist draw. Interact with baby orangutans at the rehabilitation sanctuary at Shangri-La's Rasa Ria, or venture further afield to Sarawak for your chance to adopt one for a year.
This is your chance to see the green turtles of Sandakan. No matter what time of year you visit, the show on display is unique, whether you see the adult females nesting in the sand or the young hatchlings trying to make their way to the ocean. Accommodation on the island is scarce, so book early.