Gary Allen visited Malaysia's big cities, historic ports and picture-perfect islands.
By Gary Allen | Published #57, Summer 2014
Most people I talked to about Malaysia had really only been to Kuala Lumpur and had either lived there or had been for work reasons. I don’t think that you can get a true feel for a country and its people until you’ve ventured outside the big cities and I knew there was much more to Malaysia for me than Kuala Lumpur’s huge towers.
The people of Malaysia are Chinese, Indian, Arab, Portuguese and Dutch. Just think about the food that might result from all those flavours and spices combined! Very exciting for someone like me who chooses travel destinations with food in mind. But this article isn’t about the Malaysian food, it’s about my journey in Malaysia.
When I go to a country for the first time, I always try and take one interior flight to another destination. Also, travelling by car for a three to five-hour drive can be great as well. It gives you the chance to drive through some villages, see some natural beauty and stop off for some food or to have a walk around.
YTL Hotels has beautiful historic hotels in two of the places I wanted to visit, Kuala Lumpur and Malacca, as well as a resort on a private island. When you’re staying at all three properties, they’ll arrange seamless transfers between, which leaves you free to just relax and enjoy the scenery. Both of the hotels in KL and Malacca are renovated historic buildings that have personality and beauty and are also luxurious. It’s nice to stay in a building that has been around for a long time and is a bit of a local itself.
The city centre of KL is about 45 minutes by car from the airport so I opted for the 90-minute drive to Malacca directly from the airport. It is known as the real historic city of Malaysia and is a great place to start a Malaysian journey. The Majestic Malacca is right in the heart of Malacca. It was built by a wealthy Chinese businessman who had three wives, all at the same time, and multiple children. Back in those days, the number one wife was allowed the use of the main door while wives two and three had to use the door to the left. Ask an employee to show you where the secret trap door was that was used to see who was knocking and whether the family wanted to answer or not.
The hotel offers its guests a walking tour that meanders its way into the middle of the small town and you can hear all about Malacca’s history and its stories along the way from a local. The tour ends at Jonker Street, the main shopping street. Just walking along and browsing stores, grabbing local street food as you walk is nice to do. Try the shaved ice with palm sugar syrup over it. It’s a local favourite and you will know why. I always support the local economy and buy some of the handicrafts on offer. There are plenty of opportunities on Jonker Street to pick up something to take home.
There are also plenty of restaurants in Malacca, but I had heard that Nancy’s Kitchen was where the food was great and truly local. Malaysian food can be spicy so if you don’t really like spicy, ask your waiter to go easy to start. I think they took all of the blends of cultures and took all of the “heat” from each to make Malaysian food. If you really like spicy food, ask your waiter make it “local spicy”. It’s fiery! After our lunch, we walked back to the hotel 30 minutes away to be on time for a planned two-hour spa session. The hotel has a beautiful spa that offers all the expected delights, and we were going to get a couples’ treatment. Malacca is a must go and is small enough that just a couple of nights is sufficient to see a lot of it.
In the opposite direction from Kuala Lumpur is the island of Pangkor Laut, the next stop on my journey and a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Malacca. We opted for a car and driver and the time went by quickly. Around about the time we were tired of being in the car, we were there. It’s a short 15-minute boat ride to YTL’s private island and an aquatic limousine was waiting to take us there. YTL has a few boats and we were on the 20-metre YTL Lady. Our very large and beautiful boat moved off and we are away. Sandwiches and drinks were quickly served up and it was a great, refreshing change of scenery after the car. It’s a quick ride and I would have enjoyed a longer one, but we were soon approaching our island. The island is a very private one with the resort owning the entire 300 acres, of which only a fraction is the resort property. The rest is thick jungle and vegetation with plenty of wildlife. We were staying in the Pangkor Laut Estates, separate from the resort rooms. A short drive in the Land Cruiser with our butler and we were there.
Expansive and incredibly beautiful with three separate bungalow bedrooms, our own lap pool and Jacuzzi, separate outdoor lounging area and private dining bungalow with kitchen for our private chef. Our butler was always within a short distance to take us wherever we would like to go and whenever we were scheduled for something, as well as providing refreshments and anything else we might want. Just fantastic!
We were going to the local market on the main island of Pangkor Laut accompanied by a chef to choose ingredients for our lunch, as well as catch our own fish at the fish farm. It’s a great opportunity to see the community of Pangkor Laut and their way of life.
The resort does have plenty to do if you choose to leave your estate. We were going to the local market on the main island of Pangkor Laut accompanied by a chef to choose ingredients for our lunch and cooking class as well as catch our own fish at the fish farm. It’s a great opportunity to see the community of Pangkor Laut and their way of life. Of course, there is also a fantastic spa to visit. It is vast and beautiful in a tropical setting with some additional amenities such as an authentic Japanese bath and an outdoor garden pool with rain and aromatherapy experiences. And this is all BEFORE your wonderful treatment!
The resort will privatise any meal you choose and we had amazing lunches and a dinner set up just for us on the beach with white tablecloths and all the trimmings. The dinner was especially memorable as there was an incredible sunset followed by a candlelight meal of steak and lobster. The beach was ours for the evening and it was sensational.
The island’s ancient rainforest is there for exploring and we went on a jungle tour with the resident naturalist who pointed out animals, insects, birds and plants along the way. It’s a really short walk but so fascinating. Ask about the ibuprofen plant of which there is just one on the island; one drop is stronger than any tablet you’ve ever had. Later that night after a strenuous workout in the gym, I was wondering if I could take a flashlight and find that plant.
We soon had to say goodbye to Pangkor Laut and its amazing island as we were off to Kuala Lumpur for our stay at the Majestic Kuala Lumpur, another YTL property. Back to a big city for shopping and city experiences. The Majestic Kuala Lumpur is again in an historic building and right across from the historic train station. The hotel is actually two buildings, one old and one new with rooms across both. The historic building was painstakingly restored and the YTL group had to adhere to strict regulations along the way. The results are extraordinary. So much history and so many interesting rooms to discover, like the Film Room that plays black and white movies continuously with big comfortable recliners to lose yourself in for a couple of hours. High tea is on offer with tasty food and great teas. Locals book in advance for Sunday afternoons.
Kuala Lumpur’s big draw card is its shopping and there’s plenty of it. You can choose from everything from luxury shops to high street malls. There is plenty for everyone and it all just goes on and on. Stop for lunch and enjoy a local restaurant for some delicious delicacies. The city is easy to get around and everyone is friendly and helpful.
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Weather to go
While is it unusual to have very many days without any rain in Malaysia, it is also rare to have many days with no sunshine, as rain showers tend to come and go quickly. Heavy rains occur from late October through January, so the best time to visit is between May and September when temperatures are around 28 degrees Celsius and there isn't too much rain.