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Asia / Cultural Immersion / Culture / Southeast Asia

Malaysia: Highlights from 40 Years of Travel through the Asian Peninsula

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Historic Malacca sits south of KL on the highway to Singapore. The object of continuous struggle for the better part of four centuries, Malacca today is a sleepy town of 90,000 that defies the passage of time. In Malacca you can attend a Dutch colonial church that celebrates an Anglican service in English, Mandarin and Tamil. Or visit a Chinese pagoda, Hindu temple and Malay mosque that peacefully coexist on the same street. Or listen to archaic Portuguese spoken by a community of 500 Eurasians descended from the first spice traders who arrived with conquistador Alfonso de Albuquerque in 1511.

In Malacca everything flows outward from the Stadthuys, a rose-colored residence built 300 years ago by the Dutch. Blacksmith Street turns into Goldsmith Street, which becomes Temple Street about the time you begin to smell the incense wafting down from the Hoon Teng Temple. The antique shops on nearby Jonker Street are famous for locally-made porcelain and old Dutch photographs.

The road south of Malacca leads through miles and miles of oil palms. So most people with a schedule to keep reverse course and head north up the Expressway to visit the old British hill stations or the Chinese island of Penang. The first attraction north of Kuala Lumpur is Batu Cave. Actually there are 20 caves in the limestone mountain, but only two – Dark Cave and Cathedral Cave – are open to the public. Cathedral Cave is impressive, but be forewarned: these caves are full of bats.

Located 124 miles north of f Kuala Lumpur at an elevation of 5,900 ft., the Cameron Highlands is the biggest hill resort. It’s also the best. It was discovered by a government surveyor in 1885 who reported “A fine plateau with gentle slopes shut in by lofty mountains.” Most of the Tudor-style inns continue to offer faux British menus heavy on items like shepherd’s pie and bubble ‘n squeak. But people continue to visit since Malaysia’s hill stations are the only places where one can discover the beauty of the jungle without melting from the heat.