On the island of Borneo you could visit Sabah the “Land Below the Wind” and visit Kota Kinabalu, a starting point for many adventures like white water rafting and river cruising. A hike to the top of Mt. Kinabalu followed up by a canopy walk at Poring Hot Springs or maybe a dive at the famous Sipadan site might be just what you are seeking. An excursion to Sepilok to view the Orang Utan sanctuary will be a lifelong memory.
In Sarawak, also in Borneo, you could find Kuching alongside the Sarawak River. You may be able to observe the canoe races if you’re there at the right time. Certainly you’ll be able to shop along the waterfront and at the Main Bazaar. My most memorable experience in Sarawak was a trip up the Batang Ai River to visit with an Iban headhunter chief. At least they used to be headhunters - hopefully, no more.
Malaysia has many, many more recreational possibilities. Golfing, sailing and fishing are readily available activities, but you might want to be even more adventurous and try a homestay through the Malaysian Homestay program and experience life in a traditional village. Or, take advantage of Malaysia’s state-of-the- art medical facilities. You might even join a culinary tour and become part of a cooking workshop conducted in the homes of some of the local chefs.
Shopping in Malaysia is a treat. From world class shopping centers with fixed prices (and these may be bargain prices based on your currency) to the Central Market filled with great souvenirs, handicrafts and antiques to the sidewalk vendors scattered about that will love to bargain with you. And don’t forget Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur - lots of great stuff here.
If you’re a fan of Batik fabrics and clothing you’ll want to visit a Batik factory where you can watch a demonstration and then find some terrific bargains. If pewter is your thing you can’t miss the Royal Selangor factory and Visitor Centre. After viewing the entire process of making and polishing the pewter - and you’ll be amazed at some of the hand-crafted design work - there will be plenty of opportunity for you to browse through an enormous showroom where you may want to fill next year’s Christmas list on the spot.
If that’s not enough pewter for you then you can sign up for the Royal Selangor School of Hard Knocks. Here, for about $16 or so you’ll spend a fun-filled half hour making your own pewter dish. You’ll get to keep the dish along with the School of Hard Knocks apron and they will award you a certificate for your hand-made treasure. I didn’t do it, but now wish I had - next time, for sure!
Now let me tell you why I really came back to Malaysia. I’ve been a race car fan since I was a teenager. That’s a long time ago. I lived in a small town in Florida that, before the interstate highway system, was on one of the main paths to Sebring. I used to watch the MG’s, Austin Healeys, Jaguars and a long list of exotic automobiles go trailing past my front door for a couple of weeks before and after the 12 Hours of Sebring every year. I was hooked after the first MGTD rolled by. I was Juan Manuel Fangio’s biggest fan in this little Florida town. Heck, I may have been the only kid who even knew his name.
In Kuala Lumpur it would seem that everyone is an F1 fan. The Formula One Petronas Malaysian Grand Prix at the fabulous Sepang International Circuit is the featured attraction for all of Malaysia in the month of March. I’m here for the 10th anniversary of this event and it appears that the blood of many Malaysian race fans runs Ferrari Red.
Part of the excitement may be generated by a Malaysian youngster named Jazeman Jaafar. In 2007 he brought home first place in the Formula BMW Asia Series by winning all 22 races for his team. Jazeman is 15 and hopes to be driving F1 cars by the time he turns 20.
If you’ve never heard the high-pitched scream of a Formula 1 car at 200 mph you haven’t experienced the best of auto racing. If you have heard it you know the thrill and excitement that all Malaysia has been gearing up for annually for the past ten years. And, hopefully, you know to bring ear plugs! The Army got a lot of my hearing years ago, so I just sit back and enjoy.
You can go to the track on Sunday for the Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix, but if you’re a real fan you may want to go on Friday for the practice and qualifying sessions. On Saturday there are more practice sessions, but also you’ll get to see some pretty exciting racing. The first race of both the GP2 Asia and Formula BMW Pacific series will fill your afternoon. You’ll certainly want to take the Paddock Club Pit Lane Walk.
There are more preliminary races on Sunday morning, but if you’re just arriving for the main F1 race be sure and get there early enough to mingle with the crowds and experience the excitement and anticipation of the big event. You can have your photo taken with some of the beautiful models, pick up a few of the give-aways, buy your favorite race or team t-shirt, grab a couple of snacks and drinks and find your seat. You won’t want to miss a minute of the race.
The Grand Prix at Sepang is a major tourist event. You’re just as likely to hear German or French or Spanish in your hotel as you are to hear English which, incidentally, is widely spoken throughout Malaysia. You’ll never feel stranded here. Besides speaking English, the people of Malaysia are very friendly and very helpful. The official language is Malay and I would encourage you to learn at least a few of the more common greetings when you arrive. Get a free copy of the Malaysia Travel Guide and there you’ll find lots of helpful information in addition to the basic Malay words you’ll use to let folks know you appreciate their culture and language.
The race may be over, but there are still some things you have to do before you leave KL. You simply have to stop by the Petronas Twin Towers. They are spectacular day or night, but you’ll have to go in the daytime to walk the bridge from one to the other at the 41st floor. Do be sure to see it at night, too. You’ll see it from all over town, but looking up from the base is dizzying.
I spent a few hours at the Bird Park and the Butterfly Park. Imagine 2500 birds flying freely in a natural state but all enclosed so you can get up close and really see them. Don’t forget your camera.
Take time to visit a mosque. Remove your shoes and enter quietly if there is no service taking place. They are beautiful buildings and will help further your understanding of another culture. It should be o.k. to take a photo or two. But not of the worshipers, please.
And swing by the beautiful new center of government - Putrajaya. There are lovely gardens, a waterfront promenade and a truly spectacular bridge. If at all possible, spend at least one night at the Shangri-La Putrajaya. This is a fabulous hotel with an excellent restaurant. I stayed here on my last visit to Malaysia and again on this trip, but this time for only one night. The rest of my stay was at the Parkroyal - very conveniently located in central Kuala Lumpur. A very pleasant and comfortable hotel.
If you can just squeeze in one more stop before you have to leave let me suggest the Batu Caves just to the North of KL. Walk past the 140 ft. high statue of Muruga, a Hindu deity and climb the 272 steps to the caves. Hold on to any food items you may be carrying or the monkeys along the way may grab them from you. They’re not terribly aggressive, but they’ll certainly enjoy your lunch if you let them. Once inside you’ll enjoy the enormous cave and see several Hindu temples. This is the site of the largest Hindu pilgrimage in the world, attracting 1 ½ million pilgrims to its annual festival. And as you exit you will be rewarded for your long climb with excellent views of the area.
I know you’ll love Malaysia when you visit. If you want to learn about the possibility of becoming an expat or just having a second home in this fabulous place the Malaysian government is ready for you. Check out the Malaysia My Second Home program.
Keep on Traveling.