Malaysia

Day 1: from Schiphol to Kuala Lumpur

Malaysia: a different kind of Asia. This amazing holiday destination is on my bucket list for quite some time now and I am One Lucky Travel Agent, since I get the opportunity to join a select group of travel agents on a promotional trip. We meet at Schiphol Airport at the end of October and quickly introduce ourselves. Everyone is enthusiastic about the adventure that awaits us! We will be flying with Malaysia Airlines to Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysia Airlines has had a hard time this year. On March 8, the MH370 went missing and on July 17th, the MH17 was shot down and 298 people died, 65% of the passengers being Dutch. I am Dutch and my country is still in morning. It had a huge impact on so many people. Before we board our plane, we are invited by the airline to visit their office. The staff has been affected by both tragedies and they just have to keep on going. We also visit a temporary memorial room at the airport. It is heart breaking to see the written notes, cards, letters, flowers and personal gifts. We all get emotional and cannot help it when tears roll down our faces.

The airline keeps on going though, no matter how hard the struggle and to me Malaysia Airlines remains a great airline to fly with. Tourism in Malaysia has suffered a lot because of these tragedies and hopefully we can make a difference by experiencing all that Malaysia has to offer and pass on the message.

Our group consists mainly of women. We are happy with the 30kg free baggage allowance the airline allows us to take with us. No matter how many times I say that next time I will travel light, it never works and I always end up taking too much with me. Our flight leaves around noon and it leaves on time. We get better acquainted during the flight, but also try to sleep since we will skip a night and go ahead in time.

Almost 12 hours later we arrive at the airport of Kuala Lumpur; it is morning. Upon arrival and after having collected our luggage, we are welcomed by Dutch guide Giles, who works for De Jong Intra (the tour operator that made this trip happen). Giles is not alone, next to him stands Mr. Loh, the Malaysian guide, who has the most friendly face ever. It is warm and a bit sticky in Malaysia. The difference between temperatures is quite big, so we change clothes at the airport before we leave.

Day 2: from Kuala Lumpur to Sepang

Our bus driver takes us south to Melaka (also know as Malakka or Malacca), our first stop for today. The drive is about 1 hour and 45 minutes. Upon arrival we are taken to Hotel Equatorial and when entering the hotel we see the most beautiful hand made decorations on the floor. Deepavali (Dewali), the festival of lights is just a few days away.

The hotel has some rooms available for us, so we can freshen up, which is great after such a long flight. We take a quick shower and go for a short tour through the hotel. For us travel agents this is always interesting. We have a saying in Dutch: “knowledge is power” and seeing accommodations, going on tours or sight seeing, etc. helps us to do our job and inform our clients so much better. After the tour we have a delicious lunch. I have heard that Malaysia is known for its excellent cuisine and if this delicious lunch is how our food will be for the rest of the trip, then we are in for a treat!

In the afternoon we go for a city walk through Melaka to see the sights. Despite the enormous heat that we have to get used to, we enjoy walking. Mr. Loh shows us the most beautiful places and the city feels very friendly and welcoming. We visit the Portuguese fort A Famosa, St. Paul’s Church and the Windmill at the Dutch Square with the robust Dutch Stadthuys from the 17th century. We admire the colourful rickshaws or tuk tuks that are waiting for tourists who want to go for a ride. We walk through the narrow streets of old Chinatown with its old Cheng Hong Teng temple and we pass by mosques and graveyards. What a great mix of cultures and religions and it seems that everybody lives together in peace and harmony.

Being Dutch makes it interisting to see the Dutch influence in the city. Mr. Loh tells us the Dutch ruled here for almost 183 years. If we would have had more time, I would have walked the Dutch heritage trail and find out about all the Dutch occupation of Melaka.

After this beautiful city walk our bus takes us to Sepang in about 1,5 hour. We drive by the F1 Circuit and this sport event brings loads of tourist every time there is a F1 race. By the end of the afternoon we arrive at the luxurious 5-star Avani Sepang Goldcoast Resort and lucky us: we get to spend the night here. It is an ideal place for travellers who have just arrived in Malaysia and want to recover from their jet-lag at a beautiful location. The city of Sepang itself has not much to offer, but this resort is beautiful and what a perfect place to stay for our first night in Malaysia. We are welcomed by the manager, are offered a coconut drink and then check in.

I share a room with a sweet lady from a travel agency in the north of The Netherlands. We all have superior rooms and all rooms are located on the water, how amazing is that?! We have a shower, get changed, enjoy a beautiful sunset before we have dinner. I love Asian food and in Malaysia there seems to be a mix of Malay, Indian and Chinese cuisine, what a great combination! We take our time for dinner, enjoy a glass of wine and relax.

We have a good night sleep, although I do wake up somewhere in the middle of the night. I remember having a look outside the window and thinking: where is the water? The tide of course goes out and comes in changing the view over the water. But this sleepy head (together with a bit of jet lag) did not realize that in the middle of the night.

Day 3: from Sepang to Kuala Lumpur

The following morning after breakfast we have a look around the property. The resort is built like a palm tree on the water; the entrance and the reception of the hotel are on land. The comfortable rooms and villas are built on stilts in the sea and they are spacious and beautifully furnished. There are seating areas inside, but also outside if you want to enjoy a cool sea breeze and the beautiful views. At the entrance of the resort there is a little beach and in the middle of the palm tree we find restaurants, a spa and a stunning infinity pool.

What a great place to have stayed for our first night in Malaysia! And I would love to stay a bit longer, but we have to move on. So we check out and go back on the road to continue our Malaysian adventure. We have more luxury hotelstays to look forward to during this trip, so I am curious what still awaits us…

From Sepang we go to Putrajaya, only a 45 minute drive. It is a state-of-the-art city located south of Kuala Lumpur and since 1999 it is the administrative centre of the federal government of Malaysia. Putrajaya does not have a lot of atmosphere or coziness, but the city has some great architecture, is very green (plenty of beautiful parks) and is famous its largest roundabout in the world and for its beautiful bridges.

We stop at Putra Square to take photographs of the bridges and the Putra Mosque (from the outside; we are not allowed to go in). We have 2 beautiful blonde young travel agents amongst us and young men ask them to pose with them for a photograph (hmm… I wonder why 😉

From Putrajaya it is only a short drive to Kuala Lumpur. Close to arriving in the capital you cannot help but notice the amazing Petronas Twin Towers who dominate Kuala Lumpur’s skyline. Before we enter the city, we have to stop for a quick photograph and then it takes us quite some time to reach city centre, since traffic is jammed in the city. But it gives us some time to look around. Kuala Lumpur is a huge city and bustling and alive.

On our program is lunch at the Renaissance Kuala Lumpur Hotel. We have a quick look around and the hotel looks pretty comfortable to me, all the facilities you need are present here. To me a huge plus is the large pool in the garden, where you can cool off and leave the city bustle behind you.

After lunch a city tour by bus is on the program. Kuala Lumpur is the lively capital city of Malaysia and there is a lot to see. The city has some special architecture to offer and different building styles. During this tour we discover both the old and the new city, located at the start of two muddy rivers, to which the city owes its name. We get a really good impression of this bustling metropolis. I like this city; it is clean, modern and full of life!

Our guide Mr. Loh tells us wonderful stories during our stops: we have a stop at the National Palace, we visit freedom square, the war monument and more! When I go on holidays I never go with a group, but it really does help seeing things differently when having a guide like Mr. Loh giving useful information and history lessons. It really makes this trip more interesting!

When we have explored the city extensively, our bus takes us to our overnight hotel, The Istana. The hotel is in city centre, so centrally located in the ‘Golden Triangle’ and many sights, various shopping centres, entertainment venues and a metro stop are within walking distance. We have dinner at the buffet restaurant and the variety of food is amazing and we do not know what to choose. We al try local cuisine and I have a stir fry with veggies and prawns: yum!

After dinner we have some free time to ourselves. In small groups we walk into town. We pass Chinese shopping streets, market stalls and walk into a shopping mall. Inside the mall there are a lot of decorations for Deepavali, the Hindu New Year. These decarions must have taking a lot of hours to create and are a true labour of love.

We walk through a short Sky Walk to the famous Traders Hotel with the even more famous Sky Bar. It is a modern bar with a swimming pool on the 33rd floor of the hotel. We have to have a drink there, although they are outrageously expensive and it is not so easy to get a seat. But we manage to find ourselves a table. The music is good, we enjoy the most amazing view on the Petronas Twin Towers, which are beautifully lit at night. I even manage to take some photographs without reflection through the windows. What an stunning view! After a few drinks (and having spent a small fortune) we walk back towards The Istana.

Day 4: from Kuala Lumpur to Cameron Highlands

The following morning, after enjoying an overwhelming breakfast buffet, we leave The Istana Hotel and Kuala Lumpur and head for Cameron Highlands. The landscape changes quickly once we are out of the city. The infra structure / the roads are really good in Malaysia, so a self drive holiday is definitely a possibility. The Dutch actuall mostly travel around the mainland with a rental car instead of a group holiday. While on the bus it starts to rain quite heavily, but these tropical showers do not last long. But if you are outside, you will get soaked if you have no place to hide. I see locals driving their mopeds hiding under bridges or tunnels untill the rain stops.

Our first stop today is at the famous and holy Batu Caves at Selangor, only 15 minutes away from Kuala Lumpur. The caves are one of the country’s biggest tourist attractions and a pilgrimage place for Tamil Hindus. The caves got their name for the Sungai Batu (Batu River), which flows nearby. It is very busy at the Batu caves, because of the Hindu New Year Deepavali. At the entrace there are little stalls where you can buy flowers and souvenirs. Candles are lit, people are praying… I do not know where to look; there is a lot going on here.

Also at the entrance of the cave there is a huge gold painted concrete statue of god Murugan (Lord Murugan Statue); it reaches almost 43 meters. We have to go up 272 steps barefoot to reach the main cave. On our way up we take a break now and then to supposedly enjoy the view (read: to catch our breath). After the 272 steps an impressive view, colourful temples and cheeky monkeys await us. Now I can tell you a lot more about what is inside the caves, but you should go and see for yourself. There is a lot of activity inside the cave today because of Deepavali, there is a lot of noise, a lot of fragrant smells, a lot of people… It is special to be here today. I am not religious, but am interested in and respectful to all religions and cultures, so this visit is a beautiful experience to witness. After a while we descend again, leaving the Batu Caves behind us.

From Selangor we go to the Lata Iskander waterfalls, it takes us about 2 hours to get there. Again the scenery is changing and it gets more greener as we get closer to Cameron Highlands. The Lata Iskander waterfalls is a great place to stop and stretch our legs. The stalls along the street sell all kinds of foods and one of my favourites: fried banana and… oh well … let’s taste some :). At the waterfalls families are having picknicks and go for a swim. I climb up the stairs to admire the waterfalls from above. Butterflies fly around me, I smell the beautiful flowers and I am loving this place.

Next we a visit an Orang Asli village, the original inhabitants of Malaysia, who still hunt with blowpipes. The Orang Asli village has become a major tourist attraction, the village has made them modern people and they are connected to the modern world and have Wi-Fi! We get a blowpipe demonstration from the residents and we can try ourselves. I do not participate in this, but I prefer to walk around and take some photographs. I do not feel very comfortable here, I feel like an intruder. Although the people are very welcoming.

Near Tanah Rata we get stuck in traffic, not for 5 minutes, but four almost an hour. It gives us the opportunity though to enjoy the view. The Cameron Highlands are mountains, vast plateaus with fresh green tea plantations, dense jungle and waterfalls. A beautiful explosion of green surrounds us. We see tea plantations on the left and on the right. The landscape reminds me a little bit of Nuwara Eliya in Sri Lanka. Due to its location in the mountains, the climate is nice and cool here, instead of warm and sticky. Also the vegetation is different from other parts of Malaysia.

We finally manage to get out of the traffic jam and arrive at The Old Smoke House in Tanah Rata, where they are waiting for us. We enjoy a very late lunch and it is the tastiest lunch I ever had and so worth the long wait in the bus. The Old Smoke House is an enchanting hotel/restaurant with a beautiful and colourful garden. After lunch I have a walk around the garden which is an explosion of flowers and I stand still to breathe in the fresh mountain air. The property looks typically old English and that is thanks to the British ;-). We unfortunately have to leave The Old Smoke House behind us.

Late in the afternoon we arrive at one of the most famous resorts in the area: Strawberry Park Resort, where we will spend the night and have dinner. Fortunately we first have some time to relax and look around the property. Our late lunch has not gone down yet, so we need a bit more time. It is a beautiful resort, also with an old English appearance but with modern rooms having all the facilities you could possibly need. Strawberry Park Resort is beautifully located on a hilltop with breathtaking views. It is about 4 kilometres outside of Tanah Rata. If you are an active traveller, you can hike and mountain bike as much as you want in this area. But also for the not so sporty ones, there are plenty of things to do and see.

It is time for dinner! We are not really hungry, but OMG… why is the food here so amazing?! I will go back home having gained lots of weight! So even though we ar enog hungry, we eat until we have to roll ourselves back to our rooms. Before going to sleep I sit on the balcony for a while and enjoy the cool air. The beds are comfortable and I fall asleep easily.

Day 5: from Cameron Highlands to Penang

In the morning the many birds wake us up. I open up the curtains and go on the balcony to see what kind of birds I hear. But I cannot see them, I just hear them. They are the best alarm for a wake up call. We have a delicious breakfast and enjoy the amazing views by daylight. After breakfast we leave Strawberry Park Resort.

Before leaving Cameron Highlands we stop at a fruit and vegetable market and the Rose Garden. The intention was to do this yesterday, but we had to skip it since we got stuck in traffic. I love visiting locals market, the fruit and vegetable stalls are clean and all looks fresh. In the area they grow strawberries and they look and taste delicious. But there are also lots of other fruits and vegetables and only half of them I recognize. I love foreign markets. The Rose Garden has over 450 varieties of roses and the roses are beautiful, but we do not want to spend too much time here; the building is not as beautiful as the roses are. Finally we make a photo stop between the tea plantations and then drive towards Ipoh.

We arrive in Ipoh to stop for a short lunch break. But our wonderful Mr. Loh has decided that we will first visit the Kek Lok Tong Temple Cave. It is not on our program, but we have some time left and he thinks we will enjoy the visit. And he is right! Kek Lok Tong means Cave of Ultimate Bliss (or Great Happiness). Mr. Loh tells us that many local visitors regard it as their favourite cave temple. The temple cave is impressive and really beautiful. We are grateful that Mr. Loh has brought us here.

We have to go up only a few steps and then we walk through the Buddhist cave. Inside I see gigantic stalactite and stalagmite formations and in the cave are all kinds of stairs that take the visitors to different “cave rooms”. Pretty Buddha statues are found throughout the cave and then suddenly on the other side of the entrance there is a sea of light and an entrance to a gigantic garden. The view over the garden is something spectacular. I understand now what Mr. Loh means: it is a beautiful, peaceful place and you instantly feel happy being here.

The garden is full with monkeys, birds, geese, flower beds and a giant lily pond. I see a group of photographers watching a bird with interest and it must be a special bird; maybe a nightingale? In the garden we come across a foot reflexology path and we walk over it (which actually hurts a bit, but we finish the walk and no pain, no gain). And then we need to leave and move on. I would have liked to stayhere a bit longer. The peaceful and healing feeling that comes over you when being here is something I cannot describe. But we have to go.

After a short lunch stop we continue our journey and drive towards one of the longest bridges in the world, which connects mainland Malaysia to the island of Penang. My Malaysian adventure continues here!

Travel Blog by Elisabeth, One Lucky Traveller

October 26, 2014

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