One glance, one cursory touch, or a few words spoken are never enough to seduce a person for a longer duration. These short-term cerebral interactions can, at best, lead to a temporary phase of infatuation… a long-term relationship results because of intellectual seduction and this takes time.
‘What are you talking about?’ asked Specky, my wife, as she read the paragraph.
I smiled and asked, ‘Would you agree if I say I am writing about tourism?’
Specky re-read the paragraph and then nodded her head, ‘Impresssive! So you mean a tourist needs to re-visit to form a real bond with a country or a place. Right?’
‘Well, yes,’ I replied, and then went on to tell her that the trend of 2-days-3-nights-tourism was making a tourist similar to a person in search of a one-night stand. A better idea was to either stay in a country long enough to interact with and understand its culture, people, systems, architecture, attitudes, history, and geography… or visit it again and again at different times of the year to make your interaction meaningful.
Specky seemed to understand my point and asked, ‘So if you were to visit Malaysia, you’d want to be there for a few weeks.’
I said, ‘Now that you’ve mentioned Malaysia, let me tell you that I was there in 2013, remember? I was there to drive the Michelin F1 car at the Sepang International Driving Circuit in Kuala Lumpur. But that was a short 2 day visit and my interaction literally left me panting for more.’
I then told her that I had chalked out a five visit itinerary for Malaysia which included visiting the country at different times of the year, reaching out to various parts, absorbing the varied cultural stimulations that were there, and making sure that I transformed at a least one small part of my being into a real-time Malaysian!
Visit 01 in January
Thaipusam in Batu Caves, Selangor + more
January is a great month to be in Malaysia. It is not just because there are a lot of activities taking place all over, but also because of the annual Hindu festival. You can get to know how the Hindus celebrate even if you happen to be in Kuala Lumpur. However, I’d love to be in the world-renowned Batu caves, Selangor, where ‘devotees perform various rituals as acts of devotion and penance.’ As the sea-side has a lovely and rather poetic genetic giggle at this time of the year, I’d love to combine this first visit by also going to Dayang Bunting Lake or ‘Tasik Dayang Bunting’, Langkawi, in Kedah.
This island is around 20 kilometres from Kuah town, and has an interesting legend connected to it. I love places with a story and this story is more than just being fascinating. The story is of a celestial princess Mambang Sari who’s favourite pool for bathing was the Tasik Dayang Bunting or the Lake of the Pregnant Maiden. Mambang was wooed by Mat Teja, a prince and tricked into marrying him. Their child lived for just seven days and Mambang was so grief-stricken that she left the child’s body in the lake and returned to her heavenly abode. The belief here is that barren women who come here and bathe, are blessed with motherhood.
Now isn’t the legend enough to make you want to go to this lake and spend a few days here exploring the veracity of the legend, talking to people and knowing all the other versions of the story?
Yes, there are other sea-side places in the country, like the ones in Sabah, Johor, Labuan, Terengganu, Kedah, and Pahang… but I’d opt for religion and beliefs for a first visit to get nearer to the soul of this wonderful country.
Visit 02 in May
Pesta Wau Antarabangsa Kelantan in Geting Beach, Tumpat, Kelantan + more
The annual 5-day Kelantan International Wau Festival is from 28 May to 31 May where colourful wau or giant kites dot the Malaysian sky. There are cultural shows and enough incentive for those looking for souvenirs, local craft-work, and mouth-watering cuisines to make your stay simply unforgettable. This visit would surely make me forget the pain of not planning to attend the Festival Layang-layang Sedunia (World Kite Festival) in Bukit Layang-Layang, Taman Bandar Pasir Gudang, Johor in February. Of course, you cannot be everywhere, and the Getting beach WAU fest will compensate for the earlier one missed. Imagine the great photo ops that this visit will carry with it!
I must mention here that if I manage to be in Malaysia just a few days before the wau fest, I’d love to be in time for Wesak on 13 May… and this day is all about the birth, enlightenment, and passing of Gautam Buddha and the Buddist fervour will be so enchanting! The processions, the Buddist-decibels, and the flowing robes would create the right mood to move on and start clicking the kites in Getting later in the month.
My research tells me that between the Wesak and the Getting kite fest comes the Colours of 1Malaysia on the 24th of May in Dataran Merdeka, Jalan Raja Laut, Kuala Lumpur. So it makes sense to remain in KL for Wesak as well as this one where the country’s diverse cultures will be presented through performances, flash-mobs, and generally vibrant festivities!
Visit 03 in August
Hari Raya Open House Celebration in Kuantan, Pahang + more
The reason for choosing to be in Malaysia in August is to begin with the Hari Raya Open House Celebrations in Kuantan. This day is all about communal harmony and is celebrated on 16 August. It symbolises the unifying spirit of 1Malaysia and is the right time to savour the country when all around is the joy of unity. There is also enough of traditional cuisines doing the rounds at this time, so go with an intent to taste Malaysia!
Once the unification message is absorbed, it will be time to get back to any bigger city like Kuala Lumpur to be a part of the 1Malaysia Mega Sale Carnival and also get a taste of how the Malaysians celebrate Hari Merdeka or their Independence Day on the 31st of August. The country became independent in 1957 and the spirited celebrations are not to be missed.
Visit 04 in September
Sarawak Regatta in Tebingan Kuching, Sarawak + more
Well, longboat racing might not be your hobby or interest… but watching these colourfully decorated boats with up to 30 paddlers can be quite an eyeful. Even your touristy instincts will be excited and you’ll simply go click…click…click! By the way, these races have been here since the 1800s and began as one of the means to put an end to the wars between local tribes. Obviously then, this is the place where you’ll get to hear all the wonderful stories from Malaysia’s past… so I’d simply be in Sarawak from the 12th to the 14th of September.
The other visits to Malaysia have covered a lot of facets of life in the country. However, there is no country that doesn’t have a bit of art in it. And it is in Sarawak during this period that I’ll also get to attend the Borneo Arts Festival which actually goes on until the 28th of the month and you can get glimpses of it in Sabah as well as Labuan, if you wish. This festival gives you a mysterious peep into the Performing Arts ((Bamboo Music Performance, Acoustic Guitar & Percussion, Sound of Music, Theatre), Contemporary Arts (Fashion Show, Food Carving, Street Magic, Fancy Bicycle Parade) and Traditional Arts (Borneo Traditional Food Fest, Photography Seminar & Exhibition, Dialogue Kalimantan Borneo, Story Telling Competition)… and is no less than any of such fests held or organised anywhere else in the world.
This visit will thus be a combination of adventure, art, and imagination!
Visit 05 in December
Textile Craft Promotion + more
The earlier four visits to Malaysia have obviously brought me closer to the people, the culture, and I’ve had a lot of varied experiences here. It is time to end the year by attending the Textile Craft Promotion at the Kuala Lumpur Craft Complex, in Kuala Lumpur from the 27th of November to the 07th of December. This is one time when any tourist can browse through the creativity through textiles that Malaysia gives the world… and even get to buy from the chosen best! What more can a tourist ask for?
This month is also the right time to get out and savour the diversity in Malaysian cuisine. The Fabulous Food 1Malaysia stays on until the end of the month and gives anyone the opportunity to taste not only the gourmet dishes, but also the sumptuous street food of the country. The Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Malaysia (MOTAC) organises this throughout the country. My itinerary will, therefore, include this month as I am an enthusiastic foodie and cannot miss the Chai tow kway & Oyster omelette found all over the country, Chilli crab and Lemang from Peninsular Malaysia, Bean sprouts chicken from Ipoh in Perak, Sata from Terengganu, Laksa from Penang, Mee Bandung Muar from Johor… and one of my all-time favourites is Nasi lemak. Well, well, well… all this foodie talk has now made me hungry and I really must ask my wife to prepare some Malaysian dish tonight. However, I know that I’ll need to be in Malaysia to get the authentic flavour.
Being a good tourist is not easy… you need to make sure that you experience a country completely and don’t come back with that feeling of emptiness that says: ‘I’ve been here but I just saw a few buildings, museums, beaches, and mountains.’ Every country has much more than all this… there are people there and interacting with them, their customs, their beliefs, and their lifestyles is what makes you a part of them.
I’d love to be a part of Malaysia… in the way I have defined it.