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Peninsular Malaysia

In 1998, the Chinese New Year and Muslim Hari Raya celebrations occurred in the same week. Angie and I took advantage of the long holiday to drive around the perimeter of of the Malay Peninsula.

Malaysia is spread across two land masses.
Half of Malaysia sits on the Malay Peninsula, between Thailand and Singapore. The other half occupies a large part of Borneo (sharing the island with Indonesia and Brunei).

We traded our Singapore car for a Honda Accord with Malaysian plates and set off on a route that would take us over 2200 kilometers and 10 days.

Our first destination was Kuantan, a resort town halfway up the East Coast.

Malaysia is a country that is still covered mostly by greenery. Endless beaches, thick rainforest, rubber and palm oil estates, and mangrove swamps provide endless opportunities for interaction with nature. We saw hornbills, monkeys, and a couple critters that may have been lemurs.

The parts of Malaysia that are not covered with greenery are occupied by a fascinating mix of traditional architecture.

The Central Market in Kota Bharu
In Kuantan, we relaxed at the Hyatt for two nights, collecting shells, and walking through the coastal rainforest. A lot of fig trees, vines, palms, butterflies, and grasshoppers are here.

Next we drove to Kota Bharu in the north. This is a very traditional Malaysian town. All of the action here revolves around the Central Market and the Night Food Stalls. These are great places for people-watching.

We then drove the East-West highway, through the heart of Malaysia, to Penang. This route across the rainforest is one of the best drives in the world. As we motored through, we saw mist clinging to mountains, tall trees reaching to grab moisture from low hanging clouds, fog drifting through valleys, and the only elephant crossing sign I've ever seen.
It was a perfect demonstration of a rainforest eco-system in action.
My only complaint is that there are no turnoffs for viewing.

Soon, we crossed the line from east to west, from rain to sunshine, and cruised to Penang Island.

Penang is known for having great food, great beaches, an interesting city, and rural life.
Well, the beaches were disappointing. The sandy area is small, and jellyfish were everywhere. There are many better beaches throughout Asia (many better in Malaysia, in fact).
The food was very good, and we had a great day visiting the kampungs in West Penang.
I can't say much for Georgetown, the main city in Penang, except that the architecture is interesting and varied. We were there during the holiday, so almost everything was closed. It may be a great town when things are open, but I wouldn't know.

Two other things about Penang:
First, Penang has the best Batik painting in South East Asia.
I like batik very much on clothes, but I've always been disappointed by the paintings in Thailand and Indonesia. In Penang, however, the paintings were excellent. I even bought a few.
Second, the show at the Penang Cultural Center is great. The music is exhilarating, full of pounding drums and exotic rhythms. The dance is equally exciting, varying between athleticism and artistry. Very under-rated stuff. In addition, the performers greet you as guests in their home, creating a warm atmosphere. Go see it.

A mosque in Penang

Finally, we went to Melaka.
Melaka is a city rich in history, as the oldest port in Malaysia.

It's very popular with tourists, as it has a well preserved Chinatown, a Portuguese settlement, old churches, great food (again), a lot of antique shops, and it's close to Singapore.
We enjoyed the town, and will probably go back. The highlight of our visit was being invited into the house of the Sharifas', a local family.

Our last event was a trip to the Department of Immigrations. The folks at the border had forgotten to stamp our passports when we entered Malaysia, so we went to Immigration to get our paperwork in order.
Well, they detained us most of the day, interrogating us, accusing us, and boring us. We apologized many times, and finally, after a lecture from the captain, "We are too busy at the border to make sure every passport is stamped. It's your job to check it," we got our paperwork.
Yes, sir.

Doesn't matter, bureaucracies are horrible everywhere (a universal truth if ever there was one). We had a great trip.

More Malaysia
-Go people-watching in Malaysia
-Visit a kampong
-Look at Chinese architecture
-Visit the Sharifa household