In the first part of my story, I talked about one of my first working assignments as a tour guide in Malaysia, where my âsifuâ Ramli and I brought a group of Australians from Singapore to Kelantan. .
The second part begins with a journey from Kelantan on Route 4 to Route 1 – Penang.
Once in Penang, we headed to the pier and onto the colonial-style double-decker ferry, to cross to the island. The Australians kept busy for the half hour journey by taking photos. One said she was eager to see the Queen Victoria Memorial Clock Tower near Penang Harbor, as well as Fort Cornwallis.
I love the state’s name in Malay, “Pulau Pinang”, because it tells us a bit about how the island got its name – from the ubiquitous areca palm trees. Ramli suggested that we go to Balik Pulau first, before stopping at the Temple of the Serpent, and then circling the airport area in search of areca palms. It was my first time in this part of Penang and I was very surprised that the place is still largely covered with thick jungle.
We could see a lot of tall palm trees on the slopes of the hills, but unfortunately they were of little economic value to the local residents who by then had started growing the more lucrative durians instead.
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After explaining the palm trees to the tourists, one of them asked, “Is it legal to clear the land to make way for the durian plantations?” I replied that they had to ask the original inhabitants of the hills – the very lively monkeys!
Penang is blessed with rich resources that are perfect for sightseeing, such as lush green hills, pristine beaches, and many heartwarming stories from the past. I introduced my guests to the local Chinese clan houses, temples, and all of the many festivals that we celebrate throughout the year.
We went to Khoo Kongsi near Chulia Street and I started telling them the story of the arrival of Chinese immigrants in the mid 19th century and how they took care of each other. I also explained to them the different Chinese surnames and where their respective ancestral homes were in China.
In fact, I have no idea how well the Australians understood me, although some of them asked a few questions and seemed very excited.
Besides the colonial buildings they loved so much, other things they found interesting included the local Nyonya culture, Penang food, and road names! All of this makes Straits Settlements Island a travel gem.
As I left the island, I asked tourists which aspect of Penang impressed them the most. They said the many stories from the people of Penang and the things they saw along the way were great, as well as the coconut milk cendol. That was 34 years ago – I wonder if that cendol stand is still around today?
While the way foreign visitors travel may seem carefree and “aimless” to some people, in reality they adopted a “see / learn as you go” mentality, something I felt I had to learn to. the time. I loved chatting with them in person because I was able to find out exactly what they thought about tropical countries.
Soon we were back on Federal Route 1, the main thoroughfare known for its breathtaking scenery and colorful social fabric. We made a brief stop at Taiping Lake in Perak before heading to Ipoh station to experience its magnificent colonial architecture.
Of course, in Ipoh we had to head to the old town for a fabulous white coffee, before heading to Kampar for its famous chicken curry bread. This delicacy is not only a hit with Asian visitors to Malaysia, Westerners adore it too.
There were many stalls along the main road selling all kinds of local produce such as petai, pomelo, cempedak and durian which caught the attention of our guests who could smell them.
Then a two night stay at Cameron Highlands. Back then, this place was not as developed (or overdeveloped) as it is today. All the places were tea gardens, vegetable farms, flower orchards and forests. We stayed at Strawberry Park and went to the Smokehouse for an afternoon of English tea.
We also took a jungle walk in the evening. A few of them cried out in amazement at the sight of a parched Rafflesia, the largest flower in the world.
But I didn’t need to tell them anything about Rafflesia – instead, they were the ones who told me everything they know about this unique plant. Looks like they really did their homework before coming to Malaysia!
Once we left the Cameron Highlands, we made a brief stop in the scenic town of Kuala Kubu Bharu, then visited the Batu Caves in Gombak, Selangor, before heading to Kuala Lumpur. In town, we visited the train station, Moorish buildings, Chinatown, the museum and the national monument.
In a way, however, I felt like they weren’t impressed with it all.
During this trip, I discovered that many Caucasian tourists were very interested in the multifaceted cultures of the former Western colonies. At Melaka’s Jonker Walk, visitors kept saying, âAmazing! throughout our walk, taking photos with their cameras.
It’s not hard to see why, as you could see places of worship of different faiths standing side by side or within a few meters of each other. Having traveled to 132 countries and territories around the world, I can say with confidence that this is something unique in Melaka – you cannot find it anywhere else.
I always tell people that Malaysia’s greatest heritage is our diverse community and culture. Unfortunately, I fear today that this beautiful cultural diversity is compromised.
I think we all miss the days when racial harmony and solidarity were our national benchmarks. A time when Soh Chin Ann, Santokh Singh and Harun Jusoh became symbols of a united Malaysia in the 1980s.
Our guests had a successful and enjoyable trip to Malaysia, or at least to the peninsula. After spending several days with foreign tourists for the first time in my life, the trip made me rethink the âglobal villageâ movement, and made me question so many things.
The opinions expressed are entirely those of the author.
Leesan, the founder of Apple Vacations, has traveled to 132 countries, six continents and enjoys sharing his travel stories and ideas. He is also the author of five books.