Which of us hasn’t speculated already about the fate of flight MH 370? This modern day Marie Celeste-like mystery has had us all transfixed for the past five weeks and still with no satisfactory conclusion in sight. I happened to be in Malaysia a few days after the flight went missing and was struck by how much life was continuing on as normal for this vibrant country of some 30 million people. True, all the national dailies and all the news channels were carrying wall to wall coverage of the inexplicable tragedy but as the trite saying goes: ‘Life must go on!’
It was my first time in Malaysia so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Having been to neighbouring Thailand a few times over the past 30 years, I assumed that Malaysia would be somewhat similar but was surprised when I saw its first-world motorway infrastructure and the quality (and size) of much of its western-style housing developments. True, such suburban developments were probably beyond the reach of your average Malaysian, but they were certainly indicative of a thriving, modern and forward-facing economy. Malaysia has slightly less than half the population of its next-door neighbour, Thailand but its citizens enjoy twice their annual income. Indeed, such is the general infrastructure in Malaysia — particularly around the capital Kuala Lumpur (or ‘KL’ as locals call it) and Putrajaya — that an alien visiting Earth for the first time could be forgiven for thinking that Ireland was the poorer relation.
The aforementioned Putrajaya is the purpose-built administrative capital of Malaysia — their version of Washington D.C., if you will — and it is an extremely impressive development on a truly monumental scale and thus a definite must-see excursion out of the capital for anyone spending a few days there!
Malaysia is a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual country that is an exciting mix of indigenous Malay, ethnic Chinese, Indians and other minorities. The principal religion is Islam but Malaysia is a secular state much like Turkey and so they have a much more relaxed attitude to things such as alcohol and dress codes although the usual protocols should be observed when visiting places of worship such as Mosques, Buddhist temples etc.
Other places worth visiting on a short stopover in KL include the world-famous Petronas Towers, the Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur Bird Park (the largest such bird enclosure in the world and a fascinating way to spend a leisurely morning or afternoon with the kids) and old Malaka city, located a 2-hour drive south of KL, heading towards Malaysia’s border with Singapore. Further afield, you have idyllic islands such as Langkawi to chill out on or the Malaysian provinces of Sabah and Sarawak which are located on the northeastern end of the island of Borneo — home to the ‘old man of the forest’ — the Orangutang!
Malaysia is a fascinating country that is full of surprises and contrasts and is to be highly recommended for anyone who wishes to experience the best that the Far East has to offer but who perhaps is not well-traveled and thus does not want to have to contend with too much culture shock. Malaysians drive on the left and most speak English due to their colonial past pre -1945