Malaysia, land of contrasts. You just get used to one sight when another elbows its way in.
Different cultures, religions, nationalities, clothes, food and language jostle with each other on the street. From sari to mini skirt, from purdah to fashion labels, this, mostly, Muslim country has it all.
If you time your journey for the early months of any year, you could be rewarded with a feast of festivals, each very different. The year i wrote this year Hari Raya was first, followed by Thaipusam and then the Chinese New Year; all celebrated with public holidays in this seemingly tolerant country.
Hari Raya Aidilfitri is the event that follows the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan and is marked by new clothes and feasting as well as gifts to the poor. If you like shopping, this is also the time of sales!
Thaipusam is the seemingly masochistic event during which Hindu devotees pierce their bodies with hooks and skewers before walking barefoot to the Batu Caves (Kuala Lumpur) or the Waterfall Temple in Georgetown (Penang)
And finally the Chinese New Year, celebrated with all the colours and noise of Asia. Drums, cymbals, street theatre and opera as well as lion and dragon dances.
After all these, have a vacation from your holiday on an east coast island. Mid to late February the monsoons have usually finished and I can recommend Pulau Perhentian Kecil, an island in the Perhentian group (a marine reserve near the Thai border).
At the Moonlight Chalets on Long Beach clichés come alive. Think of a quiet tropical island and you will have the picture. Palm trees, white sand, blue skies, sun, warm seas, fish, coral, butterflies, birds. Add good food, charming hosts, who remember your name from the time you arrive, add a chalet right on the beach for less than NZ $10, no roads, vehicles or jet-skis and paradise is complete. If you are looking for sophistication, this is not the place for you: simple, lazy and as the locals say ‘tiada masala’ – no problems. (this painting was done many years ago by a French man who stayed there, and before the land on the left was taken and the first concrete monstrosity was built on what was a peaceful, electricity-free paradise)
Arriving is just the beginning of the adventure. Two hours on a fishing boat from Kuala Besut ( better than the speed boats – after all what the hurry?) and you will be transferred to a speedboat for the exhilarating, frightening for some, race for the shore, the last metres surfing. Make sure valuables are in plastic. Bags are unloaded and then the decision of which place to stay. Along with Moonlight, names such as Symfony, Shake Shak and Tooty Frooty (no spelling mistakes by the author) invite you to come stay or eat. If you’re lucky you may hear tales of pirates, caves, buried treasure and even a ghost or two.
Along with a resplendent resident rooster, iguanas will wander or hurry past you, geckos calls loudly during the night, palm squirrels with bottle-brush tails chase each other up and down palm trees, monkeys swing, play and call from the trees, and mid year the turtles lay their eggs followed by the hatching some 45 days later.
That first year I was there, I witnessed the final monsoon storm! 48 hours of torrential rain, thunder and lightning, the beach rearranged, little creeks flood, gentle slopes and pathways become waterfalls and rivers. The generator fails. Palm trees sway, looking like umbrellas on a windy Wellington street. A green wheelbarrow, a large blue plastic drum, palm tree trunks and a two-metre iguana were all swept along in the violent rush. And then the sun returns, and island life begins again. Snorkelling, jungle walks, reading, beach-combing, swimming, sleeping and for many guests, a necklace ‘so you’ll never forget this island.’
Early memories of this island ensures this is where my mind returns to when mediating for relaxation