Malaysia may be known for its sky-high towers and bustling capital, but there are pockets of peace to be found among its many city delights, within and without the capital Kuala Lumpur. From the colonial cool of Penang’s George Town to the nightlife of Kuching, here are four ways to get the best of both worlds.
Colonial Cool: George Town
UNESCO-protected George Town in Penang is Malaysia’s undisputed arts and heritage capital. Malay, Chinese and Indian cultures blend in the shade of charming heritage shop houses and incense-wafting temples.
The historical lanes host glitzy boutique hotels, the dens of Malaysia’s most bohemian cafe culture, and an ageless mix of old shop houses where locals carry out century-old trades. Right in the shade of KOMTAR, Penang’s tallest building, gallery-cum-open-garden Hin Bus Depot is the spot for exhibitions and meeting local artists. The George Town Festival celebrates the city’s world heritage inscription by bringing in an array of international artistes and performers.
Into the Future: Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia’s multi-cultural capital is constantly reinventing itself. The obvious place to start is KLCC (Kuala Lumpur City Centre), with a stroll under the tallest twin towers in the world and a bonanza of world-class shopping.
The Jalan Alor and Changkat Bukit Bintang avenue area in central district Bukit Bintang offers a smorgasbord of street food and some of Malaysia’s steamiest night clubs. To sweat it out, the real rainforest is just a few LRT stops away in Kepong, where the Forest Research Institute boasts a staggering collection of tropical plants and hiking trails in a preserved forest eco-system.
More Malaysia inspiration:
Holiday gem: The Sultanate Of The Sea
Beautiful Malaysia: A Patchwork Of History And Highlife
The Quiet Side Of UNESCO: Malacca
Compared with Penang, little sibling Malacca, the other pearl in Malaysia’s heritage crown, oozes a more relaxed atmosphere that explodes on weekends along Jonker Street and the attractive cafe district across the river. Pulau Besar, 15 kilometres off the coast, is a mystic and lesser-known pilgrimage site of ancient Islamic graves.
Rainforest Beats: Kuching
The new artsy vibes and hipster culture have spun across the straits to Kuching, capital of Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo. This once sleepy river port has caught up with the Peninsula’s artsy momentum with a selection of brand new boutique accommodation and nightlife joints.
ChinaHouse at the Old Courthouse, former administrative seat of Sarawak’s unique White Rajahs, occupies 12 renovated heritage buildings at the heart of the old town. The new lease of life spilled to the adjacent old town, quickly transforming its neglected back alleys in a reign of urban cool, where artsy boutique accommodation (including Indah and Batik), open-terrace live music bars, and old-time zesty street food stalls rule the scene around the clock.
* Featured image: Kuching (Getty Images)
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