Exotic Crossroad

Malaysia's rich history on the trade route between Europe and Asia can be experienced even today.

By: Roger Allnutt

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia Over the centuries, Malaysia’s geographical position on the trade routes between Europe and Asia has brought many conquerors, traders and colonists. And their varied influences have helped define this modern and vibrant nation.

Kuala Lumpur is the capital, located midway on the western side of the Malay Peninsula. The new Kuala Lumpur International Airport is about 40 miles south of the city, with excellent transport connections available for incoming passengers.

There are many fine buildings within the capital, making it an especially good destination for clients interested in architecture.

The distinctive Sultan Abdul Samad building, with its curving arches, domes and tall clock tower, sits next to the large green sward of Merdeka Square, where the Malaysian flag was raised at independence in 1957. A short distance away is the Masjid Negara, or National Mosque, one of the largest in Southeast Asia.

The National Museum, built in Malay-style architecture, has displays on Malaysian history, arts and crafts, flora and fauna and the development of the rubber industry and tin mining.

But don’t think for one moment that this city is stuck in the past. There has been a boom in high-rise buildings, and none are more impressive than the famous silvery twin towers of the Petronas complex, which dominate the skyline.

Kuala Lumpur always has been known for its shopping; the traditional area is centered around Chinatown and has everything from textiles and household goods to herbs and ancient remedies. Clients should also try the large shopping complexes such as Sungei Wang Plaza and Lot 10. And at night the area around Jalan Petaling is transformed into an open-air bazaar that’s full of activity.

Eating is another pleasure in Kuala Lumpur, with many restaurants specializing in Malay, Chinese, Indian and Western cuisines. Clients should be sure to try the wonderful Nyonya cuisine, a blend of Chinese and Malay cooking.

All the major hotel chains are represented in the city, including Hilton, Sheraton and Shangri-La. Tour companies and airlines offer package deals that make even the five-star establishments affordable.

Furthermore, Kuala Lumpur is centrally situated for trips throughout Malaysia, such as stops on the resort islands of Langkawi or Pangkor, the hill cities of Genting Highlands and Cameron Highlands, the east coast between Kuantan and Kota Bahru or, farther afield, to Sabah and Sarawak.

Malacca, 100 miles south of Kuala Lumpur, is the oldest city in Malaysia, and reminders of Portuguese and Dutch rule are still to be found there.

The Porta de Santiago gateway is all that remains of the Portuguese fortress built in 1511. And, on a hill behind the ruins of St. Paul’s Church, are tombstones with Latin and Dutch inscriptions. The body of St. Francis Xavier was laid here in 1553 but later was moved to India.

The Stadthuys, built in 1641 as the official residence of Dutch governors, is believed to be the oldest Dutch building in the East. Jonker Street, now called Jalan Hang Jebat, is the perfect place to shop for antiques and artifacts.

Connected to the mainland by a bridge, the island of Penang, about 230 miles north along the coast from Kuala Lumpur, is the site of the oldest British settlement in Malaysia.

If clients want to relive the glories of the British Empire, the historic old Eastern and Oriental Hotel in the main town of Georgetown is the place to go.

Built in 1885, it is renowned for its magnificent colonial architecture and tradition of gracious living. They can have a drink in the wood-paneled bar and imagine themselves as characters in a Somerset Maugham story.

Penang is renowned for its fine beaches and hotels at Batu Ferringhi (Foreigner’s Rock) on the north coast. On a short trip around the island clients can see traditional Malay villages, many temples, including the enormous Kek Lok Si temple, and take the cable car for spectacular views over Georgetown.