On his maiden trip to Malaysia, our digital features writer experiences the best of heritage, culture, luxury, and adventure that the multifaceted land offers. By Kumar Shree
I am on the final day of my trip, on a cruise in Langkawi, watching the setting sun paint the sky in different hues—there’s the familiar golden orange and an astonishing blue, a colour that one doesn’t usually associate with sunsets. As I soak up the dreamy concoction of the gorgeous dusk, delectable food, and Ricky Martin’s Livin’ La Vida Loca, I realise my camaraderie with this magical land is a few hours from its culmination. And I invariably find myself looking back at my time in Malaysia.
It began in the city of towering skyscrapers: Kuala Lumpur. Any itinerary of the bustling capital city is incomplete without a visit to Batu Caves. A limestone hill in Selangor, this iconic tourist attraction has three main caves featuring temples and Hindu shrines. My fellow travellers and I scan the majestic statue of Lord Murugan that stands tall at the entrance and exchange surprised glances. An imposing facade embellished with statues of Hindu deities, against the picturesque backdrop of a limestone mountain, makes Batu Caves look like they’re right out of a postcard. A set of 272 rainbow-coloured steps, next to the Murugan statue, take you to the Sri Velayuthar Temple on top, where a similar facade, though humbler in size, greets you. Even if you’re not spiritual, the view of the cityscape from the temple is worth the climb. If you’re a vegetarian navigating Malaysia, you must grab a dosa at one of the many food stalls in the temple complex; vegetarian fare is not easy to find in the country. There are also many stalls selling coconut water, if you want to recharge after the climb.
Next on the list is Central Market Kuala Lumpur—a cultural landmark that has been classified as a heritage site by the National Heritage Department of Malaysia. What first appears like a blown-up version of a flea market turns out to be a well chalked out market with dedicated sections for merchandise from different parts of the world. I come across a section called Little India, selling handmade carpets and rugs from Kashmir. There is also a long line at the mehendi stalls here. By the time I reach Blue Eyes, a store that sells Turkish souvenirs, I’ve already stocked up on trinkets from the Chinese, Malaysian, and Japanese stores. The food court lures me with a heady mix of aromas. Most of the Malaysian street delicacies are found here, including roti canai (a form of puffed bread made of wheat flour, egg, milk, and margarine, and served with curry or dhal), chicken rice, and pie tee (a crispy hat-shaped cone made of rice flour and filled with sweet turnips, carrots, hard-boiled eggs or omelette strips, and chopped coriander leaves).
After spending many of my Malaysian ringgits in the Central Market, we head to the iconic PETRONAS Twin Towers—the tallest twin-tower in the world that register its highest point at 451.9 metres above ground level. I savour the sight of the Twin Towers from a staggering height of 282 metres—at Atmosphere 360, a modern revolving restaurant set atop the tallest tower in Southeast Asia—Menara Kuala Lumpur. The Sky Deck of the tower is perched at a height of 300 metres above ground level. While the buffet coupled with live music makes for a memorable affair, the sweeping view of Kuala Lumpur and the PETRONAS Twin Towers is what takes the cake.
At the end of an impressive first day, I try to catch up on some much-needed sleep so that I can be well rested for my next stop, Langkawi. An archipelago made up of 99 islands, Langkawi is a visual delight, I hear, with its powder-white sands and swaying coconut trees.
As I look down at the islands from my descending flight, it becomes clear that everything I have heard is true. Langkawi welcomes us with an overcast sky and beats of Gamelan music. While the music sets the pace for my days in Langkawi, the sky lends the perfect ambience for what’s to come.
The Frangipani Langkawi Resort & Spa, the ‘greenest resort in Malaysia’, is my home for the next few days. Set amid lush tropical plantations, the resort boasts a pristine white-sand beach overlooking the tranquil Andaman Sea. The resort also straddles the most popular beach in Langkawi, Cenang.
After witnessing another golden Malaysian sunset, this one from the resort grounds, our motley crew sets out to explore the street-food scene of Langkawi. Beginning with a burger at the renowned fast-food restaurant chain, Marrybrown, we move on to more indigenous offerings like nasi lemak (rice dish cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaf), fried ice cream, and a chilled tumbler of Milo, which is a common choice of drink in Malaysia. A cup of teh tarik (Malaysian tea) and roti canai should be tasted by anyone exploring Malaysia for the first time.
My remaining time in Langkawi is set aside for adventure. A jet-ski tour by Mega Water Sports eases me in. We tour the archipelago on jet skis and explore some of the most beautiful spots that are otherwise inaccessible. We stop by Dayang Bunting, the second largest of the 99 islands, for a dip in its freshwater lake. “This is called the Lake of the Pregnant Maiden,” our guide says and points at the hills that form the backdrop of the lake—they resemble a woman with a bulging belly lying supine.
Full of Magical Moments
Malaysia offers an assortment of experiences. While Kuala Lumpur is your arrival point, Langkawi is a must-do for adventurers.
The adventure leaves us ravenous, so we head to Huggin Hippo, a casual dining restaurant located on one of the most pristine Pantai Cenang beachfronts. We lounge in the open-air patio and peruse the menu that lists fusion dishes from around the globe. Finally, I settle for a grilled lamb rack, chicken run burger, satay delight pizza, and spaghetti carbonara.
The next stop is Langkawi Skycab, the steepest cable car in the world. Looming over thick woods, the base station of SkyCab is located at the foothill of Gunung Mat Cincang. It is also located in the oldest part of Southeast Asia, over rock formations that are at least 550 million years old. Dramatic views of the surrounding islands and ridges unfurl in front of you as the cable car heaves up the mountain. After a few initial minutes of exhilaration, fear takes over as all I can hear is the wind’s whisper and my racing heart. The feeling that I am fl oating among the clouds, 650 metres above sea level, in a glass box supported by a metal frame, is disconcerting. But once out of the car at the top station, I’m taken aback by the surreal view—360° views of the Langkawi islands and Southern Thailand greet me at the viewing platform. Deep chasms, cliff walls, isolated pinnacles, and the never-ending sea punctuate this vista. Fear is instantly replaced by an overwhelming sense of calm and tranquillity.
The final mile in this adventurous saga is the Umgawa Zipline Eco Adventures, where I soar through pristine, UNESCO-listed rainforest ecosystems, past hornbills and eagles, and over the ethereal Seven Wells Waterfall. I crane my neck and catch the expansive ocean at a distance. By the last flight in this one-hour adventure, I am fearless, my hands flapping in the wind and a grin stretching from ear to ear.
The sun has set, and the soothing cruise is coming to an end—as is my jog down memory lane. My last evening in Malaysia, I realise, has been the perfect finale to the intrepid holiday that had everything from spirituality to local food to high-flying adventure, and now, some retrospective relish.
KUALA LUMPUR: Tamu Hotel & Suites is a business hotel in the heart of Kuala Lumpur and provides easy access to most of the tourist landmarks in KL. From INR 5,200 per night.
LANGKAWI: Frangipani Langkawi Resort & Spa is a beautiful property with a private beach overlooking the Andaman Sea. From INR9,100.
KUALA LUMPUR: Atmosphere 360 is a revolving restaurant on the topmost floor of Menara Kuala Lumpur and offers a sumptuous Malaysian buffet.
LANGKAWI: Huggin Hippo is known for its speciality coffee and other delectable servings, and is ideal for lunch.