Written by Jessica Lau
A central tourist hub for Southeast Asia, Malaysia’s unique diversity never ceases to astonish holidaying foreigners. Malaysia is special in that it is a multiracial country, with a colourful collision of different religions, traditions and cultures. As such, Malaysia is also known for its exquisite traditional cuisines, each one with a story to tell; and its variety of tourist attractions, rich with history and local legends. This beautiful country is also famous for its tropical rainforests, breathtaking beaches and idyllic islands which never fail to leave visitors in awe.
Lately, I’ve realised that a majority of Malaysians underestimate what our country has to offer. Plenty of us travel overseas over break, and remain ignorant of our own country’s treasures. Thus, I would like to share with you the story of my travels across the country that have left me with a 360 degree turn on my perspective of Malaysia.
One of the places I fell in love with is the capital city of Perak, located by the Kinta River – Ipoh. It’s well-known for being the gateway to the Cameron Highlands Hill Station, and it’s a beautiful town in an indescribable way. At night, there is a cooling breeze, pure and fresh, as you cruise down into downtown Ipoh with the car roof open and the windows down. Accompanied by a dip in temperature (often by a few degrees), it is an experience which you can never get in Kuala Lumpur. Ipoh is also the home of good ‘dim sum’, ‘kai si hor fun’ (a famous dish, known for its slippery noodles, chicken shreds, prawns, and a simmering broth), chicken rice, curry noodles, its famous white coffee and their traditional toast with butter and kaya.
Kellie’s Castle, a historical attraction near Ipoh, has also always been a landmark I’ve always wanted to go to since I was a child. It is an unfinished castle by a Scottish planter named William Kellie Smith, who built it as a symbol of love, much like the Taj Mahal. It is a remarkable landmark due to its beautiful architecture – even the unfinished ruins leave a lot to be admired. The brick walls, the unfurnished spacious rooms, the intricate old designs – this place is a heaven for photography enthusiasts.
Another place that I absolutely love in Ipoh is a collection of back alley market streets known as the Concubine Lanes of Ipoh. The origin of their name is fascinating – the houses on the three Concubine Lanes were famously given away by mining tycoon, Yao Tet Shin, to his three wives. There is also a common folklore about rich men in the olden days hiding their mistresses on these lanes. Famous for delicious street food, traditional Chinese coffee shops and street art, these Old Town streets are a hidden gem with a forlorn beauty. Here, visitors can enjoy plenty of boutique hotels decorated with eclectic elements and secondhand antiques, as well as an array of goods ranging from handmade flowery handbags, cotton candy, to fragrant coffee.
On a second note, a getaway to one of Malaysia’s tropical islands is a must-do on your bucket list, Langkawi Island being amongst one of the most well-known. Quoting ICCEMS’ travel site, “surrounded by turquoise sea, the interior of the main island is a mixture of picturesque paddy fields and jungle-clad hills”, with “a shoreline fringed by powder-fine sand and swaying coconut trees”. Langkawi’s other attractions include popular diving spots and historical attractions.
The island also has a one-of-a-kind tourist attraction, the Langkawi Sky Bridge. During my trip there, I learnt that it could only hold 250 people at a time. For an individual with a phobia of heights like me, the experience was at once terrifying and exhilarating. The strong wind gives the bridge brief tremors, but the view overlooking the horizon is breathtaking, especially at sunset. The bridge also overlooks a few of Langkawi’s famous spots, like Gunung Mat Cincang, Telaga Tujuh Waterfalls and several islets surrounding the island. Fun fact: this bridge is also where the cast of the Hindi blockbuster, ‘Don: The Chase Begins Again’ shot their last scene!
Another interesting tourist spot is the ‘Gunung Mat Raya’. According to local legend, this mountain is cursed by a giant named Mat Raya. It is covered with thick forests, and is home to flying foxes, leaf monkeys, hungry mountain hawk eagles and hornbills amongst many more. The mountain looks like a massive granite formation and gives a marvelous view of the natural surroundings and the Andaman Sea. I had a quiet retreat at the D’coconut Hill Resort Langkawi, located halfway up the hill and famous for its spa centre as well as its historic eight-storey viewing tower.
The largest amongst 13 other states, Sarawak is located in northwest Borneo and has long been the home of orangutans and hornbills. As the capital of this sprawling state, Kuching is a place rich with scrumptious traditional food – kek lapis, gula apong ice-cream, kuih lontong, Sarawak Laksa… not to mention rich with history, folklore and culture. For a taste of the famous Sarawak Laksa, one should visit the famous Choon Hui Café, which was even recognised by the late Anthony Bourdain (who I actually accidentally bumped into a few years ago when he was filming an episode of his show!).
My days in Kuching were spent exploring hidden spots around the main bazaar. There were bars with live bands singing local songs, talented musicians playing instruments on the streets near the Old Courthouse, overlooking the river. On the other side of the river sits a beautiful and unmistakable landmark constructed during the Brooke Dynasty – Fort Margherita, named after Charles Brooke’s wife, Margaret Alice Lili de Windt. This fort was designed to protect Kuching from the entry of pirates through the Sarawak River, but now serves as a museum about the Brooke Dynasty.
Another legendary landmark is a 45 minute drive away from the town of Kuching – the famous mountain of Sarawak, Mount Santubong. This mountain faces the South China Sea and has a mountain face shaped like a woman’s profile, with a tragic backstory to be told. According to local legend, Santubong and Sejinjang were princesses from heaven known as ‘Kayangan’, who descended to Earth to stop the fights between two villages. Santubong was talented at weaving, and Sejinjang was talented at pounding delicious rice. The two beautiful princesses fell in love with the handsome Prince Serapi, who wanted to marry both of them, but they refused to share him.
Both princesses started to quarrel with each other to be Prince Serapi’s wife. The quarrel ended up being a frightful fight. Sejinjang hit Santubong’s cheek with her pounder, and Santubong used her ‘belidak’, a tool to weave clothes, to hit Sejinjang. The force and sharpness of the ‘belidak’ broke Sejinjang’s head into a million pieces. This tragedy caused the King to be very angry with both of them, so he cursed them to become Mount Santubong and Mount Sejinjang. The broken pieces of Sejinjang’s head scattered into the sea and became little islets. Mount Santubong is now a national park and tourist attraction consisting of the Sarawak Cultural Village, ‘Kampung Buntal’ (a village which actually sells fresh and affordable seafood) and Damai Beach at the foot of Mount Santubong.
These were my adventures in Malaysia as a local citizen of this country. As a Malaysian, my travels have left me incredibly proud of my country because we have so many interesting tourist attractions rich with culture and traditions. By exploring my very own country, it’s given me an opportunity to appreciate the beauty behind this multiracial community. Thus, we should all take an opportunity to travel within the country and discover our nation’s treasures. Don’t forget to leave a comment about your favourite city or local spot, and share with us the story of your travels in Malaysia!