Malaysia: Golden melting pot tempts

By Mike Yardley


If you're Kuala Lumpur-bound, capitalise on your Malaysian rendezvous by venturing beyond the city centre.

Kuala Lumpur is blessed with irresistible sightseeing day-trips, headlined by a southern saunter to the storied trading post of Melaka. One of the country's top-drawer tourist meccas, Melaka, also spelt Melacca, is a multicultural melting pot of Portuguese, Dutch, Islamic, Chinese and British influences.

The first European traders and missionaries were the Portuguese in 1509. Overthrown by the Dutch 150 years later, they endowed Melaka with a string of ochre-coloured public buildings and churches, stamping their imagination on the city like an architectural tattoo.

Before independence, the British controlled Melaka, following the intervention of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the visionary founder of Singapore. Melaka is the most popular weekend destination for Singaporeans, who flock into town to shop themselves silly in Jonkers St. Oh yes, retail revelry hits top gear in this traditional trading street, overflowing with antiques, hand-made crafts and trinkets. In recent years, the Chinatown hot-spot has become heavily commercialised. However, if the hordes of shoppers or the humidity get the better of you, the elegant, aromatic temples that speckle the district will provide welcome respite.

The Cheng Hoon Teng Temple, a riot of black, gold and red, was my photogenic favourite. Built in 1646, from materials by artisans hauled brought south from China, this is the oldest Chinese temple in Malaysia.

Other requisite heritage sights include the timeless charm of Town Square. Flanked by Dutch buildings constructed from pink bricks shipped from Zeeland, Christ Church and the Town Hall are top drawers, as is the curving row of 17th-century shops. Head up to St. John's Fort for cinematic views across the Straits of Melaka and stop by the replica ship, built in honour of Ferdinand Magellan, who sailed into port in 1509.

A 30-minute drive north of Kuala Lumpur brings you to the Batu Caves. This cavernous sanctuary was discovered by an American naturalist in the 1890s, and soon after a Hindu shrine was erected in it. Arrive early morning, to beat the crowds and humidity, to climb the 272 steps which lead to the soul-stirring Temple Cave. Added attractions are playful monkeys that climb all over the limestone cliffs, the towering golden statue dedicated to the Hindu god, Muruga, and the tranquil turtle pond.

Putting on the Ritz

Being so close to the equator, the tropics can be a stamina-choker. It's hot and humid year-round in Kuala Lumpur, with the daily mercury hardly ever dropping below 20C, even after dark. You don't have to walk for long in the heat of the day before your body starts to marinate in its own sticky sweat.

Perhaps that's why the Malaysian capital is studded with gussied-up spa retreats, gushing with refreshing treatments. The Ritz-Carlton's Spa Village is widely acclaimed by city-dwellers and visitors alike as a benchmark spa retreat, melding the world's most sophisticated treatments with regional healing practices.

The dizzying palette of treatments runs the gamut from luxurious body scrubs, pearl and rice facials and rose hair wraps to rejuvenating body steaming and royal herbal baths. The outdoor pool, complete with jungle foliage and cascading waterfalls, is urban heaven.

In addition,  Spa Village boasts a range of day packages, whether you're staying in-house or not. English  afternoon  tea is served six days a week, with a selection of 40 teas and three-tiered tea sets overflowing with freshly baked, mouth-watering morsels. And every week, Sunday  roast is served in the wood-panelled, richly furnished Lobby Lounge, featuring  black  angus prime rib and traditional Yorkshire pudding.

Needless to say, for in-house guests, the rooms and suites are a gold-standard triumph of style and comfort. All in all,  the Ritz-Carlton is a superlative urban sanctuary. For details on all packages, go to www.ritzcarlton.com/kualalumpur

Top tips

Great value, personalised sightseeing tours to Melaka and the Batu Caves can be pre-arranged before you head overseas through Adventure World. The company's professional drivers/guides will greatly enhance your sightseeing with their  local knowledge. Ph 0800 465 432 or go to www.adventureworld.co.nz.

Air Asia  flies direct from Christchurch to Kuala Lumpur, from just $274 one-way (taxes inclusive). Go to www.airasia.com or see your travel agent.

- The Aucklander

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