Part of a trip through Southeast Asia encompassing Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia’s Sumatra, Brunei, Malaysian Borneo, the Philippines and Taiwan.

Peninsular Malaysia

– visited May/June 2015 –

George Town

Malaysia feels great. After two months in Asia, I love to be in a country where nearly everybody speaks English. George Town’s Night Market is wonderful, a common seating area is surrounded by all kinds of foodstuff. And all the people are easy to talk to.

George Town is on Penang Island which is located in the far north of Malaysia. It was the first British settlement in Southeast Asia and together with Singapore and Malacca it was part of the Straits Settlement that protected the vital shipping lane, the Strait of Malacca, the main shipping channel between the Indian and the Pacific Ocean.

George Town is rich in colonial history but has also plenty of temples and mosques. Compared to other Southeast Asian countries Chinese influences are a lot stronger. Malaysia is obviously an ethnically mixed society: About half of the population are ethnic Malays, a quarter are ethnic Chinese, 11% are indigenous and 7% are Indian. George Town, for example, has an Indian quarter.

Malaysia is territorially split in two. There is the peninsular Malaysia which occupies the southern half of the Malay Peninsula but there are also two states belonging to Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak, on the island of Borneo. Borneo is shared with Brunei and Indonesia. Peninsular Malaysia compromises only 40% of the territory but accounts for more than 80% of the population.

Malaysia has its origins in the Malay kingdoms which, from the 18th century, became subject to the British Empire. Peninsular Malaysia was unified as the Malayan Union in 1946 and restructured as the Federation of Malaya in 1948. Independence was achieved in 1957. Malaya united with North Borneo, Sarawak, and Singapore on 16 September 1963 to become Malaysia. In 1965, Singapore was expelled from the federation and thereafter went its own way.

Malaysia is a federal constitutional elective monarchy. The King is elected to a five-year term by and from among the nine hereditary rulers of the Malay states; the other four states, which have titular Governors, do not participate in the selection. By informal agreement the position is systematically rotated among the nine. The King’s role is largely ceremonial (since 1994) and political power rests in the hand of an elected parliament.

Perak State

Taiping had once been an important tin mining centre. It also played a role in allowing the British to gain influence on the Malay peninsula. They intervened decisively in a local power struggle and thereby gained a foothold. Bukit Larut in the nearby hills had been a cool hill station in British times (Maxwell Hill). Taiping receives more rainfall than other areas of the Malay peninsula. I admire the century-old rain trees in the Taiping Lake Gardens.

Pulau Pangkor is a beautiful island. Tourism and fishing are the main sources of income. The island is well-known for its large population of hornbills. I take nice shots of this delicate birds with their big bills picking food in flight out of people’s fingers.    

Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur, KL to the people in the know, is the heart of Malaysia, its cultural, financial and economic centre. It is a vibrant city which combines old and knew, religious and secular, modern and traditional. Highlights include the KL Tower, Jamek Mosque, the National Monument, the Old Railway Station, the Hindu Batu Caves, the National Mosque and the Islamic Art Museum. The Petronas Towers is still the tallest twin building in the world at 451,8 metres.  

Melaka

Melaka is one of the oldest Malaysian cities. The Strait of Malacca, the important shipping channel connecting the Indian and the Pacific Ocean, was named after the British name for Melaka. It is located at the narrowest stretch of the strait. The city drew the attention of traders from the Middle East, South Asia, and East Asia, as well as the Portuguese, who intended to dominate the trade route in Asia. The first Portuguese attack was launched in 1511. After that, local rulers from the Malay peninsula or nearby Sumatra, the Dutch and the British all vied for influence. Eventually Melaka ended up in British hands. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site (together with George Town) in 2008.

I came back to Melaka from Indonesia and I am going to leave in the night from Kuala Lumpur’s airport. A hostel bed is only about 4 € so I decide to take one anyway. That gives me a place to leave my backpack, allows me to have a shower and rest a bit before heading to the airport. After spending the last night on a bus, this will be my second night on the road. Arriving with the last bus at the airport, I am not alone, plenty of people are already there, waiting for the early morning flights. I take out my mattress and sleep for a few hours.