MALAYSIANS love to travel, and so do members of the expatriate community lucky enough to call this beautiful country their temporary home. But why go so far, when beauty, adventure and abundance are so close?
After calling Malaysia my home away from home for so many years now, I have become something of an expert on travel in Asia, or at least in South East Asia, I think. I have been to many neighbouring countries such as Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam and Cambodia.
I have travelled further afield to Hong Kong, China, even Mongolia; and I have certainly forgotten to mention a few more destinations.
Like any inspired traveller, I love to compare destinations with equally enthusiastic friends. As far as other foreigners go, our experiences and choices of holiday destinations are pretty congruent. So much so, that one always risks running into an acquaintance at the breakfast buffet during a beach holiday.
I will never forget finding myself face to face with my children’s speedo-clad headmaster by the hotel pool in Bali. A sight I will, very unfortunately, never be able to unsee.
When I compare preferred vacationing spots with my Malaysian friends, however, I bow my head and admit that they have enjoyed many European destinations that I have yet to tick off my own bucket list.
I have never been to Heidelberg in Germany, or Prague in the Czech Republic, for example, and I have not taken the time to admire the Alhambra in Granada, Spain so far. Even in my own home country, which features some breathtaking sights from the top of a few mountains I have still yet to conquer.
Many Malaysians tell me about the Interlaken and the Jungfrau, which I don’t even dare to admit I haven’t seen. Shame on me. I console myself with the knowledge, or at least with the hope, that I will have time to catch up at some later stage, when I’m old and grey.
Somehow, we all seem to follow the same modus operandi. We pick destinations that sound exotic, the more unusual the better. We book flights and passages, guides and rental cars, as well as all kinds of specialised equipment. We spend a fortune on accommodation in order to visit far-flung places.
Despite all this travel expertise, we often forget that some quite spectacular sights are here, right under our noses. Even if a durian might be an acquired taste for many non-locals, there is no denying the fact that it constitutes something of a national treasure. Yet not many of my well-travelled friends have taken the time to visit the little town of Raub, Pahang, over the summer months to experience the abundant harvest of this king of fruits. I certainly haven’t.
Or have you ever sent a postcard from under the sea? How about that for an exotic adventure? Pos Malaysia operates not one but two underwater postboxes for the pleasure of the intrepid diver. One is located on Mataking Island, off the east coast of Sabah in the Celebes Sea, or rather at the bottom of it, actually. A second functioning postbox can be found at a depth of 40 metres off Pulau Layang-Layang, way out in the South China Sea’s west coast of Sabah.
Should you ever get to send a letter or postcard from this particular underwater mailbox, your message will be sealed in a waterproof plastic bag and stamped with the Malaysia Book of Records logo.
Who’s gone hunting through the rainforest for the mighty sight and somewhat less spectacular smell of the world’s largest flower, the Rafflesia, in full bloom? Who’s climbed to the top of Mount Kinabalu in the ungodly hours of the morning in order to witness one of the most stunning sunrises far and wide?
While I know that a few of my fellow short-term nomads can answer “been there, done that” to some or even all of these suggestions, many more have travelled to the four corners of the world, and yet have not seen some of Malaysia’s most striking vistas.
The writer is a long-term expatriate, a restless traveller, an observer of the human condition and unapologetically insubordinate.