Malaysia See And Do
The cool climate of the Cameron Highlands makes them popular for weekend getaways. It was a favorite retreat of colonial Brits, hence the Tudor country homes, rose gardens, and tea plantations. The fertile hills also nurture commercial nurseries and strawberry farms. Of the various hill stations, Tanah Rata is the major tourist center, with cottages for vacationers. Higher up, pretty Brinchang has rose gardens and a Buddhist temple. The hills have great hikes: Walk to Robinson or Parit Falls, where you can swim in the pools below.
Kuala Lumpur and Penang may be better known, but this small port city, about 100 miles southwest of the capital, is a fascinating stopover. Malacca was once the world's most famous spice emporium. In the early 15th century, seafaring Chinese from Fujian Province established a trading post in a small sultanate and intermarried with local Malay, giving rise to the distinctive Peranakan culture. The rich spice trade and a strategic location beside one of the world's busiest shipping lanes made Malacca irresistible to a succession of European superpowers. The Portuguese, who conquered the town in 1511, were chased by the Dutch, who gave up the port to the British. The result is a multicultural society, some of the best fusion food in Southeast Asia, and a charming blend of architectural styles, from the Portuguese Baroque A Famosa gate and stout Dutch colonial Christ Church to the neoclassical Victoria Fountain and Straits Chinese homes. Some of the older locals still speak Baba Malay, a patois of Malay, Hokkien Chinese, and the odd Portuguese word that can be overheard at Peranakan restaurants such as Ole Sayang and Baba Low's. The old town can easily be toured on foot in a day. Be sure to visit the Maritime Museum, housed in a life-size replica of a Portuguese galleon, which offers a quick overview of Malaccan history; as well as the Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum, which occupies an opulent private family town house built in 1896, and is filled with sumptuous inlaid furniture and Victorian-era bric-a-brac, such as gramophones, pith helmets, and ivory mah-jongg sets. Walk a block farther west to Heeren Beaded Attire Shop, where master cobbler Lim Chiang Huat produces Malacca's most famous contemporary Peranakan export: handmade beaded shoes. Prices range from about $30 to nearly $500, the cost of a pair of ruby-red slippers glittering with thousands of pip-size Matsuno glass beads and bits of diamond.
Tel: 60 3 2282 6255
Built after independence in the style of a Malay palace, the museum now seems a bit stodgy, with heroic murals depicting scenes of the country's colorful past. Inside, however, it has been updated to provide a sophisticated multimedia presentation on every aspect of Malaysian life and culture, with galleries devoted to archaeology, ceremonial customs, Nyonya culture, musical instruments, and sports.
Open daily 9 am to 6 pm.
Balai Seni Lukis Negara
2 Jalan Temerloh
Tel: 60 3 4025 4990
The National Art Gallery was founded in 1958; its current premises, in a leafy enclave of KL near Lake Titiwangsa, opened in 2000. A modernistic blend of slate and tinted glass, with a striking, angular metallic roof, the museum houses more than 2,500 works of art. The collection concentrates on contemporary evocations of country life, in an Expressionist style that, while it may seem a bit old-fashioned to Western visitors, gives a fascinating window on how modern Malaysians see themselves. Admission is free.
Open Tuesdays through Sundays 10 am to 6 pm.
Penang has both gorgeous beaches and a rich history. Under British rule since 1786—when its then sultan gave it up in exchange for protection against his Siamese enemies—the island is the oldest British settlement in Malaysia. Its capital, George Town, was once a busy port that traded tea and opium with India and China. In early 2008, its importance as a commercial and cultural crossroads earned the town an inscription on UNESCO's World Heritage List, along with Malacca, another historic Malaysian seaport. Today, George Town is a vibrant, multiethnic town with well-preserved colonial-era buildings, modern high-rises, and excellent street food. The Chinese who migrated here built row houses and temples: Check out the Khoo Clan Temple on Cannon Square, a Chinese Baroque masterpiece (www.khookongsi.com.my).
Tel: 60 3 2051 1320
Malaysia's instantly recognizable icon is the Petronas Towers, the tallest buildings on Earth from 1998 until 2004, when Taipei 101 surpassed them. Designed by the Argentine-American architect Cesar Pelli, the towers have a gleaming glass-and-steel facade which echoes motifs of Islamic art. The most dramatic feature of the buildings is the sky bridge that connects the two towers 558 feet above the ground. Entrance is free, but only 800 tickets are given out each day. Unless you can score tickets from the concierge at your hotel and avoid the queue, the best way to see the Petronas Towers from the inside is to attend a concert at the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas, the gorgeous concert hall on the mezzanine level, which is home to the world-class Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (www.malaysianphilharmonic.com).
Petronas Towers bridge open Tuesdays through Sundays.
Taman Negara National Park
This spectacular national park covers more than a million acres of ancient rain forest. Rare orchids flourish here, as do birds (250 species), deer, elephants, monkeys, and leopards, among other flora and fauna. Forest visits range from a day hike to a jungle canopy walk (along a bridge swaying 148 feet above the ground) or a raft trip down the rapids. Tour operators offer packages that include accommodation, meals, activities, and transport to and from Kuala Lumpur. Try Mutiara Taman Negara Resort (Kuala Tahan, Taman Negara; 60-9266-2200 or 60-9266-3500; www.mutiarahotels.com).