Culture, history, food in Malaysia

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Saturday, March 7, 2015

IF THERE'S one thing that we love to visit it would probably be a place with a familiar culture, unique history, and tasty food. It could just be a neighboring country in Southeast Asia where people’s skin and face are almost identical.

Malaysia is not new to us as Kota Kinabalu (KK) in Sabah is just few hours away from Zamboanga in Mindanao. In fact, Zamboanga is known for its barter and trading activities with products mostly from Malaysia. But KK is just one of the states of Malaysia. There are 14 other states and I am happy to have visited two of its well-known heritage sites.

Ipoh is the capital city of Perak State and one of the largest cities in Malaysia. It is 200 km. north of Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur or about three to four hours drive by bus or train from KL.


The historical buildings from the British colonial era such as the Railway Station, the Town Hall, and the Court House have become big tourist attractions in Ipoh. They were built in the early 20th century when British tin mining companies were set up in Ipoh.

All these buildings are preserved in the Old Town of Ipoh. The Railway Station, which was first built to become a hospital, is sometimes called the ‚ÄúTaj Mahal of Ipoh‚ÄĚ because of its neo-classical or Edwardian Baroque style.

Across the road from the railway is the Town Hall which was equally designed with strong classical elements. Built in 1916, this colonial building had been an important venue for the political party in Malaya.
But perhaps the most meaningful heritage tour in Ipoh is the Mural Art Trail where artworks are painted on the walls of old buildings. The seven wall art murals drawn by Ernest Zacharevic, a Lithuanian artist, will stimulate your interest on heritage conservation.

It will give you hope that the old structures surrounding us will never go to waste for as long as we make them into works of art. Today the old buildings with murals are visited by thousands of tourists.

Travelling from KL to Ipoh along the North South Highway, one could view the mountain terrain and the famous Gua Tempurung cave. This is the famous limestone cave in Malaysia where part of it is surrounded by electric lighting and walkways so spelunkers or cave enthusiasts could enjoy the site.

After discovering Ipoh, we travelled for three hours going to George Town, the capital of the state of Penang. George Town is known for its unique architectural design and cultural townscape and was formally inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008.

Some tourists explore George Town Heritage City using a bicycle or a trishaw. With a tour guide who will explain the history of those significant places, the tour could eat up three to four hours.
One of the sites is Chew Jetty, a water village over a century old composed of houses on stilts of various Chinese clans. At first glance, you will compare it to familiar places in the country where houses are built in stilts along the lines of the sea or river. But this one is different.

The area was once a wood yard used for the loading and unloading of goods and for the mooring of sampans (boats). But settlements grew and more huts sprung up. The huts were preserved though some were refurbished and the village has become a tourist spot remembering the way of life in the early 20th century.

Many temples are preserved up to this date and the famous temple in Penang is known as Khoo Kongsi. It is the grandest clan temple and it has retained its authentic historic setting in a granite-paved square structure.

Its story dates back to the 17th century when the Khoo family was considered the rich Chinese traders in Malacca and Penang. Though this temple was completed in 1906 after the original structure was burnt, the temple still boasts a magnificent hall embellished with intricate carvings and richly ornamented beams.

The Temple of Supreme Bliss, the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia, is also located in Penang. This place built on top of the hill and has become a wonder to some.

Malaysia was once colonized by British and Chinese just like the Philippines which was once colonized by the Spaniards, Americans, and Japanese.

But it’s not all about history and classical structures in Penang. It is well-known for its food too. In fact, the street food in Gurney Drive has always been the talk of the town. Tourists love to swarm the street foods and try different Chinese and Malay delicacies.

Tourists can have a sumptuous meal for only 3 RM, equivalent to less than 50 pesos. The most famous chendol topped with red beans, syrup, green starch noodle in a shaved ice (like our local halo-halo) is only about 2.50 RM. Everything is affordable even when converted to peso.

It’s good to discover places that make us remember who we are today. Our history is the biggest foundation we can ever have. The culture embedded in the human race makes us more civilized.

My trip to Malaysia is an eye-opener. It is surprising and amazing to see people preserving the past while living in the present. If we could only preserve what we once had, we could leave the best mark there is.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on March 08, 2015.


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