Malaysia, the Strait of Malacca, Singapore, South China Sea…these exotic names have fired the imaginations of generations of travelers, luring them to the Far East.
Malaysia is a country of contrasts that begins in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, or KL as it is commonly known, where ultra-modern, towering skyscrapers overlook old neighborhoods of wooden houses on stilts and five-star hotels. Traders and settlers arrived from India and China as early as the first century, establishing trading ports and coastal towns. The Indian and Chinese influence was strong, including the introduction of Hinduism and Buddhism.
As the main shipping channel between the Indian and Pacific oceans, the Strait of Malacca remains one of the most important shipping lanes in the world. From the 16th-century, Malaysia was controlled by a succession of foreign powers; first by the Portuguese, followed by the Dutch and British. All these influences came into play in Malaysia’s traditional arts – dance, carving, silversmithing, puppetry and weaving as well as architecture, music and food.
In addition to the rich cultural menu, nature deals an extraordinary hand here. The region is famous for its incredible cave systems. East Malaysia (Malaysia Timur) occupies the northern third of the island of Borneo, shared with Indonesia and tiny Brunei. Malaysia has some flawless beaches and beautiful national parks. It is one of only 17 countries identified as “megadiverse,” which means it possesses a very high number of species and high levels of endemism. It is estimated to contain 20 percent of the world’s animal species, including about 210 mammal species; more than 620 species of birds, 250 reptile species and 150 species of snakes.
Add the wonderfully eccentric island-city-state of Singapore, a free trade port in the 18th century, which attracted waves of Chinese, Indian, Malay and Europeans. The result of this colorful history is a dynamic city/state that offers up a unique style all its own, skillfully blending new world with old traditions.
Orchard Road offers sophisticated shopping that you would find in New York or Paris as well as venerable Chinese and India neighborhoods. Sentosa Island is a popular resort in Singapore that has a long sheltered beach, Fort Siloso, two golf courses, two five-star hotels and Universal Studios Singapore theme park. The combination of these two distinctive destinations results in an outstanding Far East adventure.
Indonesia Including Borneo & Malaysia Custom Tour Varied Days Navigator Series Interest(s): Adventure Travel
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As we drive out of Penang, we stop at the Snake Temple, constructed in 1875. It honors a Buddhist monk, Chor Soo Kong, who was said to have great healing powers and he sheltered snakes. Legends claim that when the temple was completed, snakes entered and never left. We walked passed a large, gold-colored incense burner, thin smoke from newly lit incense sticks carried the familiar heavy scent on the air. We removed our shoes before entering. Branches fashioned into the shape of trees and planted in tall vases that look like umbrella stands, are festooned with snakes coiled around and on top of each other. All alive but languid. The green, black and yellow snakes, we’re told, are pit vipers. Very poisonous, they warn. In the Main Prayer Hall, smoke from the incense fills the space that some people claim paralyzes the snakes. In a bowl are eggs – food for them. It’s said that the snakes eat at night and have never once bitten a person. Worshipers call the snakes officers of the deity and regard them as both holy and harmless. As we leave the temple, I think about my own concept of holy.
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Malaysia, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur bring to mind images of adventure. Wildlife, diverse ethnic groups, exotic flora, dramatic cave formations and distinctive cities are just the beginning of this southeast Asia region.