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When it comes to place in Southeast Asia, Malaysia is one of the most wonderful destinations.  With a strong economy and tremendous wealth, you will discover a unique infusion of cultures of Chinese, Indian, and Malay.  Because of this, you see a colorful country with many wonderful cultures regarding architecture, clothing, food, and dance.  Some 10,000 years ago, aboriginal Malays started coming down the peninsula from southwest China.  At this time, the Cambodian Funan, Srivijava, and Majapahit empires started ruling the peninsula. 

Then in 1405, the Islam people came to Melaka with vast wealth attracting powers from Europe  With this, the Portuguese took over control of the peninsula in 1511, and then in 1641, the Dutch.  Next, the British arrived in 1786 and just nine years later, took power over Melaka.  As a part of the takeover, the British colonized the peninsula’s interior.  Soon, east Malaysia also fell into British hands, as well as Sarawak and Sabah once World War II ended.  The problem was that the native labor was not strong enough to support the quick growing tin and rubber industries so to help, Indians were brought into the country in large amounts.  With this, a new racial mix was established. 

However, in 1948, Malaya was overrun by the Japanese.  This created a serious armed struggle between the communist guerrillas and the British with Malaya reaching independence in 1957.  At that time, Sarawak, Sabah, and even Singapore joined Malaya, which was the establishment of Malaysia in 1963.  However, in 1965, both Indonesia and Philippines withdrew.  Then, as battles continued over border rights, things began to settle down in the 1970s and in the late 1990s, the economy was booming. 

Again, this country is multinational where you have Chinese, Indians, and Malays all living together in peace.  In addition to nationality, you also see a wide array of religious beliefs to include Hindu, Taoists, Buddhist, and Muslim.  Language is also diverse as you can imagine with Bahasa, Hokkein, and Cantonese.  Surprisingly, while Bahasa is the primary language in Malaysia, when you have different ethnic groups speaking, they will often communicate in English. 

While there are several tribes in Malaysia, the main natives are Iban of Sarawak.  Approximately 395,000 people make up this tribe, which lives along the Baram and Rejang Rivers.  Another tribe, although smaller at 107,000 people, is the Bidayuh tribe that lives on the Skrang River, and then the Orang Asli tribe of approximately 80,000, living in small communities within the peninsula. 

When visiting Malaysia, you will discover so many wonderful things such as the music, which is important to all cultures and influenced by both Islamic and Chinese.  Most often, the music will be based around a native drum called the Gendang.  However, Malaysian music also includes percussions with some made from seashells gathered off the beach.  Then, there are trumpets, flutes, and even gongs.  To go along with the music, dance, and dance drama is also an important part of the culture.  Shadow puppetry known as Wayang Kuilt, martial arts, batik weaving, brass work, and silver work are also very popular with beautiful designs created. 

Interestingly, trying to find authentic Malay food is difficult.  However, you will find food known as Nyonya, which is a wonderful blend of Malay and Chinese food.  Typically, the dishes are made with many Chinese ingredients and great local spices.  For instance, meat kebabs in a spicy peanut sauce called Satays, is a great dish.  Other common dishes include fired soybean curd in peanut sauce, fiery curry prawns, sour tamarind fish curry, and a spicy, curried meat marinated in coconut. 

Just as the food is unique and tropical, so are the beverages.  One that everyone should try is called Cendol, which is coconut milk, sugar syrup, and green noodles.  However, the Ais Kacang is just as good but made with beans and jellies that have been topped with syrups, shaved ice, and condensed milk.  Although very different from what you would find in westernized worlds, these concoctions are actually very good. 

To see the countryside of Malaysia, you can visit both East Malaysia and the Peninsular Malaysia.  Although more than 400 miles apart, both offer a beautiful environment and wonderful culture.  Approximately 40% of the country’s landmass is located in Peninsular Malaysia while there are a number of mountain ranges.  Malaysia also features some fertile plains on the west coast, as well as coastal plains to the east. 

If you love the mountains and enjoy outdoor activities, you want to get up close to Mt. Kinabalu, which is located 13,450 above sea level, the highest peak in all of Southeast Asia.  Keep in mind that 60% of this country remains tropical rainforest.  Because of this vast area, you will discover more than 8,000 species of flowering plants, over 2,000 tree species, 200 types of palm trees, and 800 beautiful species of orchids.  For fauna, there are leopards, tigers, tapirs, elephants, gibbons, sun bears, and orangutans. 

Keep in mind when visiting that Malaysia is hot and humid regardless of the time of year.  Although temperatures will tip down to around 68 degrees, most often they land somewhere around 85 degrees with humidity around 90%.  The rainy season varies depending on the area of the country with September to December being the wettest on the west coast and October to February on the east coast. 

Just as there is the outdoor beauty of Malaysia to enjoy, you will find many festivals and celebrations as well.  Two considered the best is the Hari Raya Haji, which is a two-day feast of sweets and cakes, and the Chinese New Year that includes parades, dancing, music, food, and more.  For sightseeing, there is Kuala Lumpur, which offers a peek into the old colonial architecture, Melaka where you will find a number of ethnic influences and a ton of history and the home to the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple, the oldest Chinese temple in the country, or Georgetown on Penang Island.  This last destination is the oldest British settlement and a magnificent place to explore and gain a better understanding of the country.


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