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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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You meet the strangest people in an Iban longhouse. Several years back my wife and I traveled up the Rajang River to a longhouse called Rhuma Atap on the far side of a dangerous stretch of rapids. It was the back of beyond in every sense of the term, yet shortly after sundown an Italian fashion photographer arrived with a Swedish model whose assignment, we learned later, was to pose in clothes made of bird feathers. Sarawak has over 550 species of birds.

Dressed is a safari jacket festooned with epaulets, rings and assorted mesh pouches, the photographer viewed himself as a suitable mate for the Swede. She, alas, passed the early evening hours slurping rice wine from a five gallon can with a straw.

An Iban longhouse is not the best place for a tryst. Guests sleep on pandanus mats laid on a floor of split bamboo. Still, the Italian’s failed conquest was the source of great amusement. When we left the longhouse the following morning the chief volunteered an embrace and told our guide that we would always be welcome at Rhuma Atap. “We like it when tourists bring entertainment,” he smiled. “Please come again.”

From longhouses to market places, did David DeVoss get to the heart of Malaysia? Chime in about his experiences in the comments.

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By David DeVoss for Peter David is a senior correspondent for the East-West News Service in Los Angeles, first visited Malaysia in 1972. Since then he has returned more than 30 times.

Image Credit, unless indicated otherwise, BigStock