Land of ready smiles and incredible contrasts – Malaysia!

This article is written by Meenakshi Bhalla, a Businesswoman  and a travel writer, based in Mumbai, India

Landing into Sarawak one can’t help but notice the abundance of beautiful not seen before birds, flowers, and even pepper, cocoa, palm oil, timber which are aplenty all over Malaysia. If I had to describe Sarawak in one word I would say – verdant green. Sabah and Sarawak are located on the island of Borneo. Kuching where we stayed is the capital of Sarawak, one of the most charming towns I have seen. It has beautiful colonial buildings elegantly merging with gracious modern architecture, a bit like Pondicherry or Panjim if you will. Its wide ethnic communities give Sarawak the character and its uniqueness – they are a very tolerant and diverse communities living together here. Islam is the official religion; however Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism all pervade and are respected. English is the spoken language and hence as a tourist one always feels connected. Sarawak is known for its multitude caves and museums of which I saw none, because my agenda was always clear. Beach bum and no more

And of course there was this cultural village where the ethnic folks lived and sold their wares. One got to see lifestyles, handicrafts, clothes, music, games, arts of many different cultures. Plus there was this fantastic restaurant which we went to a couplea times – great ambiance and personalized service. And of course without fail there had to be a handicraft shop to splurge on – so if I had to buy souvenirs and memories here’s where I’d go. I didn’t buy anything from there as on my multitude visits to M’sia before, I’d done enough and more crafts shopping.

Sabah on the other hand has sanctuaries, mountain climbing and lush surroundings which if you are a nature lover – can be a great elixir for you (I am a water body). Mount Kinabalu is the pride of Sabah. It lures climbers to peak the 4000m scale and many trekkers do this with joy. There is also a thermal – pool here that gives Japanese kind of hot spring bath but in open air. Quaint and cute:)

The beaches are lined by palms and are mercifully not populated, one odd person you may chance upon if you really look! Gives you the privacy, the quiet serenity and uplifting calm you seek. Totally my kinda place. Though I wish there were some arrangements for food nearby. Yes I remembered Goa oft. My friends went diving into Sipadan island nearby and they were gung-ho about the colourful tropical fish and corals in its crystal clear waters.

Genting was not my cuppa tea (which I don’t drink at all!) If you got spare cash to lose and if you want to relive your childhood, then I guess this is your kinda place. The rides at the amusement park were a sham compared to my childhood days- so thanks but no thanks, you go to Genting if you pretty much have nothing to do. Though if it were left to me, I’d probably stay in my hotel room and watch some trashy B-grade soap than go to Genting which was o-so-not- happening. It’s like going to a picnic spot in Bombay imagine a visit to Goregaon Aarey Milk Colony or some such place…

So if you are headed to Malaysia then I would recommend less time in KL, no time at all in Genting and a must see for Sabah and Sarawak. These are virgin places, full of folklore and stuff to discover, touristy to some extent but – breathtaking nature which you hardly get to see and feel and imbibe if you are a city dweller like me. Smiling land of people blessed by nature!

Meenakshi Bhalla

29 Mar 2009

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