One of the world’s most diverse, enchanting areas is modern Malaysia. From the dense forests of Borneo to the shimmering towers of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia offers both tourists and residents a wide range of life styles and experiences.
The modern Malaysian state formed from 1955 through 1963. Malaysia won its independence from the British, then had to fight off Indonesia which attempted to wrest away Sabah and Sarawak. The fledgling state built its economy on rubber, palm oil, tin and tea. Although opted out, Malaysia further fueled its economic growth through oil and natural gas development. Technology and light industry also expanded in the last part of the twentieth century.
More recently, Malaysia has nurtured the growth of a vibrant tourist industry. Capital Kuala Lumpur is the centerpiece of tourism. This old trading village, set up at the confluence of the Klang and Gombak rivers, now displays the trappings of a modern state center.
A metropolitan area of over 3 million residents, Kuala Lumpur is best indentified by the enormous, pagoda shaped Petronas twin towers, once the world’s tallest buildings. The towers were designed by Argentinian architect Cesar Pelli, who also designed New York’s World Financial Center and London’s Canary Wharf Tower. The towers rise up 88 stories (1483 feet) from the enormous, elegant, ultra modern KLCC Park mall and shadow the adjacent KLCC Park, which itself is surrounded by modern high rise hotels and office buildings. A trip to the towers’ top is must for tourists wishing an overview of the city.
Notable for both it’s large Chinese and Indian populations, the city is dotted with iconic Buddhist and Hindu temples, including the Sri Maha Mariamman, Chan See Shu and Thean Hou Temples. The Central Market (Cultural Bazaar) offers the handiwork, goods, foods and resources of all Malaysia’s varied populations.
The former lifeline for shipping these goods, the sprawling Kuala Lumpur Railway Station merits a visit no matter how one reached or will leave the city. The building is a celebration of colonial architecture, Moorish in elements though designed by British architect AB Hubbock.
A more natural design, though just as culturally important, are the vast grottoes of the Batu Caves. The caves have been converted to huge memorial to the Hindu god Lord Murugan, whose 150 foot high likeness welcomes tourists to the 272 step steep, monkey populated entry to the bat filled middle cave complex. A naturalist guided tour is available. On the sides, other caverns are populated by dioramas from Gita of Hindu lords Ganesh, Shiva and Durga.
On a smaller scale, Melaka (Malacca) shines a light on Malaysia’s old colonial and shipping heritage. Jonkers Street (Jalan Hang Jebat) and Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock (Heeren Street) are both dotted with old architecture, temples and newer, upscale commercial shops and restaurants. The Maritime Museum, Old Fort and Baba-Nyonya Museum (Chinese Malayan cultural alliance) all give a look at the trading and social history of this famous port town.
More earthly delights are found on Bornean Malaysia. The national parks in Sarawak also contain enormous caves. But their natural beauty ranges from mountains to lush rain forests to sand swept beaches. These tropics are home to monkeys, orangutans, crocodiles, honey bears, porcupines and a variety of exotic birds. Villages of the indigenous Dayak peoples dot the area, as farms where land is arable and as hunting outposts where jungle is dense.
The state of Sabah, on the very northern tip of Borneo, is best accessed through its capital of Sandakan, a small vibrant center of markets and transportation hub. The nearby Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center and further Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary provide close up encounters with the native species. Just to the is Turtle Island National Park where between July and October visitors can see the large turtles lay their eggs in the sand. The 3 million bats of the Gomantong Caves, a bit further to the south, do not lay eggs. But their contribution to the economy are the tons of valuable guano they carpet the cave’s floor with. A visit to the caves around dusk can catch the thick throng of bats as they flow out of the cave to roam the night seeking their insect prey.
From the cosmopolitan towers of Kuala Lumpur to the steamy jungles of Borneo, a tourist visiting Malaysia will be rewarded with a sights, sounds and tastes, day and night.