cut and paste from http://sosogay.co.uk/2012/travel-malaysia/
some very nice pics also on the site no time to copy.
Young is a 23-year-old post-graduate Media student who has written for SSG since June 2011 and as of July 2012 is the magazine's Travel Editor.
Malaysia is like the Great Britain of Asia. Not for its temperamental and unpredictable weather, but for its multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society, which makes it stand out from the rest of its neighbours in the world’s largest continent; two thirds of its population of thirty million are Malays or indigenous, a quarter are of Chinese descent and less than ten percent are Indian – with small pockets of other Asian ethnicities and British, American, European and Australian settlers dotted around the country.
The blend of different Asian influences can be seen in its architecture (thousands of Islamic mosques and hundreds of Chinese and Indian temples can be found all over), cuisine, history, languages (of which there are 137 known to be spoken) and traditions. Additionally, much of Malaysia has managed to retain a semblance of the British and European heritage left behind since it was occupied before and during colonial times.
After it was granted independence from the British Empire in 1957, Malaysia fell into political and racial turmoil and experienced a steep decline in its economy, although rapid progress began again in the 1970s and by the 90s, Malaysia had established itself as one of Asia’s most promising and prosperous countries. It is now the third richest and most developed country in Southeast Asia behind Singapore and Brunei.
This guide will take you through some of the best places to go to in Malaysia, the things we recommend you see or do and the culinary delights we think you should try. We will also outline what LGBT life is like in Malaysia, what you should careful of when there and where you should visit if you are a gay traveller.
However, it must be kept in mind that while Malaysia continues to try and move forward as one of Asia’s top developing countries, one prominent aspect that makes it remain a backwards country is the government’s not-so friendly stance on homosexuality, as will be detailed later on.
‘Malaysia: Truly Asia’: where to go and what to see?
Cameron Highlands’ rolling green paddy fields and hills are a beautiful sight to see.
Most people who think of Malaysia will probably automatically envision the country’s most famous sight – Kuala Lumpur’s Pentronas Twin Towers, which was once the tallest building in the world. While the modern and urbanised setting of Kuala Lumpur may appeal to those who are used to a bustling city life, good shopping and an eclectic nightlife are probably the only two major attractions – aside from the many fancy government buildings. The rest of the country has so much more to offer than that.
Besides the big cities, Malaysia’s diverse landscape ranges from breathtaking mountaintops to rocky caves and from beautiful beaches to untamed rainforests. Much of the country is mountainous – especially in the centre of its lands. Although the majority of its mountains are inaccessible by foot or road, two areas that are popular destinations for tourists – especially for the much cooler climates – are Cameron Highlands and Genting Highlands. Cameron Highlands is known for its lush green pastures while Genting is more of a popular hotel and theme park resort.
The coast of Penang Island during sunset.
Harbours and beaches are commonly found along the west coast of the Malay Peninsula – two of the most well-known areas being Penang to north near Thailand and Malacca, southwest of Kuala Lumpur. Much of Penang, notably George Town, is where most of the British invaders settled during colonial times and therefore a great deal of British-influenced buildings were established there. The beach area along Penang Island, known as ‘Batu Ferringhi’ – literally meaning ‘Foreigner’s Rock’ – is a hotspot with tourists and the ‘pasar malam’ (night market) is very popular too; it’s a good place to find great trinkets, extremely cheap bargains and of course, a tonne of knock-off goods – including fake designer perfumes.
While Penang experienced a strong British presence, Malacca was moulded by the Dutch and Portuguese during the 16th and 17th Centuries, before the British took over in the 1800s. Much of it is now split into two halves, with the Portuguese influence on one side of the Malacca River, and the Dutch on the other. Malacca’s rich and intriguing history means there is plenty to explore for such small city and it therefore attracts a vast number of tourists – helped by the city having been listed as a World Heritage site in 2008, alongside George Town. The river cruise that travels up and down the river inbetween the two settlements is definitely worth a few ringgit for the unique sights you’ll spot along the way.
The picturesque views along the Malacca river.
Langkawi is famous for its beautiful, clean beaches.
For a more relaxing getaway amongst the beaches, seas and islands, the islands of Langkawi are the place to go. This cluster of about 100 small islands – including the largest, Langkawi Island – lies further north of Penang, right by the border to Thailand. The area remains virtually untouched despite its big boost in tourism, and the beaches are even more pristine. Many of the islands consist of mountains and hills, forests and natural vegetation.Lastly, Borneo, to the east of the Malay Peninsula, is another recommended destination – especially if you want to do something other than laze around sunbathing on beaches all day. Roughly a quarter of this island – the vast majority of which is lowland and mountainous rainforests – belongs to Malaysia (it is also known as East Malaysia), nearly three quarters belong to Indonesia and the little remainder is owned by Brunei. For expeditions to Malaysia’s highest peaks and along its longest rivers – oh, and of course to see its variety of wildlife, including the orang-utan – Borneo is perfect for those looking for a real, wild adventure whilst visiting Malaysia.
Asian fusion at its finest: cuisine
Char kway teow: One of Malaysia’s most famous Chinese-influenced dishes.
Malaysian cuisine – like the country itself – is multinational; drawing influences from a mixture of different ethnic cooking styles and cultures, including Malay, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, Singaporean, Javanese and Middle Eastern. The majority of dishes are cooked and served with rice, noodles, bread or soup. And a word of warning: Malaysians like their spicy food.
Highly recommended foods that are famous in certain parts of the country include: ‘nasi lemak’ – usually considered the national dish – consists of fragrant rice cooked in coconut milk and served with curry and vegetables; ‘char kway teow’ – a dish which is popular in Penang – contains stir-fried noodles with egg, meat (seafood, pork, chicken or fishcakes), bean sprouts and Chinese chives; ‘roti canai’ (Indian-influenced flatbread), ‘ais kacang’, an ice-cold dessert made with red beans; ‘bak kut teh’, a hotpot soup of pork ribs with vegetables and herbs and spices; and ‘putu mayam’ – vermicelli-like noodles made from mixing rice flour with water and coconut milk. And of course, durian fruit - known as ‘the king of the fruits’ in Southeast Asia – is a must, if you dare. The large, pungent durian is like the marmite of the fruit world; you either love its bitter taste and strong odour, or you hate it.
The downside: LGBT rights are non-existent
Without wanting to put you off from traveling to and exploring such a diverse and beautiful country, the big black mark with regards to Malaysia is its absence of LGBT rights and condemnation of the community by political figures and the state-controlled media. A typically strict and predominantly Islamic country, Malaysia retains its colonial era penal code that criminalises sodomy, with punishments ranging from fines and caning to imprisonment or even death, and Muslims also being subject to punishment in Islamic courts under Sharia Law. In 2000, the former deputy Prime Minister was accused of corruption and committing sodomy, was found guilty and was subsequently imprisoned. He was released in 2004, but was again arrested in 2008 after further accusations against him from a political opponent were made. As of January 2012 he was acquitted of all charges and has since emphasised the need for liberalisation, including stating that he believed the national criminal laws against homosexuality should be reformed in order to protect consenting adults’ rights to privacy, although he also said that gay marriage is ‘going a bit too far’.
‘Queer Without Fear’: the fight for LGBT rights
‘Queer Without Fear’: The 2011 slogan for Seksualitii Merdeka.
While life in Malaysia may be daunting and dangerous for LGBT people, particularly for its native Malays, there are still those fighting for their rights. Seksualiti Merdeka, or ’Independent Sexuality’, is an annual festival that was launched in 2008 and is held in Kuala Lumpur. It is similar to a Pride in some aspects and the festival consists of talks, performances, screenings, workshops and forums. It aims to support the LGBT community in Malaysia, as well as promote and tackle issues faced by them. Although repeatedly hounded by local authorities who wish for it to be banned, the festival and the organisation has continued to operate.
The PT (Pink Triangle) Foundation is another pro-LGBT organisation that supports people who are vulnerable to – or are living with – HIV and Aids; mainly gay and bisexual men, transgender people, sex workers and drug users.
While these laws were put in place by the government and backed by religion, the main consensus in general society is that homosexuality is mainly ignored or simply not talked about – especially within families – but it is usually the non-Malays who are the safest from being persecuted. Despite all this, LGBT nightlife in Malaysia, which could be described as being very much on the lowdown, is still present. Although very few venues are predominantly gay, there is an increasing number of businesses which are ‘gay-friendly’, whether they be bars, clubs, cafes, restaurants, spas, saunas, gyms or hotels, and are hence frequented by many LGBT visitors. A few rare, gay-owned places to check out include: Frangipani, a French restaurant and bar owned by a gay couple in KL; Blue Boy, Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia’s oldest gay club; Enigma, KL’s popular lesbian-owned bar; and Nine Krub Cafe in Penang. Both Kuala Lumpur and Penang, as well as other large cities, also have a number of places that host gay nights or attract large crowds of LGBT people, a full list of which can be found here.
Aside from the country’s lack of gay rights, Malaysia is definitely still worth a visit – and not just for a pit-stop in KL on the way to and from Australia. The country has so much to see, do, and learn about – and has scenic spots, areas and attractions to suit, please and wow everyone. It is, however, highly recommended that you travel by road or even hire a car; public transport is still behind the times. In summary, Malaysia’s natural wonders, unique meld of modernity and tradition and various Asian cultures with that of the Western world, certainly help it live up to its national tourism slogan, ‘Malaysia: Truly Asia’