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Before we left on our trip, friends asked
us: “Why are you going to visit a Muslim
country? They put too many restrictions
on visitors, especially women.”
We discovered that the federal
government is very open to the fact
that Malaysia is a multiracial country.
The constitution supports freedom
of religion. We had no clothing
restrictions, except for visiting
mosques. (Everyone must remove their
shoes before entering. Attendants lend
robes to people wearing shorts.) Even
though Muslims don’t eat pork, many
restaurants serve it because the large
Chinese popu­lation includes it in many
The racial melting pot has resulted in a
cuisine that includes familiar Western
and Chinese specialities, as well as
spicy Indian and Malay foods and a
delectable assortment of fresh seafood.
Otak-otak, for example, is spicy minced
fish stuffed inside coconut leaves and
then barbecued. Steamboat is like
fondue. You select portions of meat,
fish and vegetables attached to sticks
like lollipops. After holding the sticks in
boiling broth to cook the food, you dip
them into sauces.
Luscious tropical fruits range from
juicy rambutans to durians. The spiky
green durians, which are supposed to
be aphrodisiacs, are very much loved
by Malaysians, even though they have
such a strong smell that hotels forbid
guests from bringing durians inside.
“They smell like hell, but taste like
heaven,” claim the locals.
We also found popular fast-food chains
here, such as McDonalds and Pizza Hut.
In addition to their usual offerings, the
former serves McRendang burgers with
spicy curry sauce and onions, while the
latter serves pizza topped with ground
mutton and fresh chilies.
Although Muslims forbid the drinking
of alcohol, visitors have no restrictions.
In Kuala Lumpur, the capital city, most
hotel rooms have mini‑bars. Several of
the hotels at which we stayed offered
guests welcome drinks in the lounge.
One hotel left serving‑sized bottles of
liqueurs instead of chocolates on our
pillows during evening turn‑down
service. Even Kentucky Fried Chicken
outlets serve beer.
We did see occasional reminders
that the official religion of Malaysia
is Islam. The airport has his-and-her
prayer rooms. Some hotels have arrows
painted on the ceiling enclosing the
word kiblat. The meaning eluded us,
because the arrows didn’t indicate an
exit or anything we could see. We later
learned that they pointed to Mecca, so
that Muslims would know which direc­
tion to face while praying.
Story and photos by Barb & Ron Kroll
As we travelled along the western side of Malaysia, one thought dominated our minds – Malaysia is
the best‑kept secret in Southeast Asia. Located south of Thailand and north of Singapore, peninsular
Malaysia is truly multicultural. Its 29 million inhabi­tants are a diverse mixture of Chinese, Indians,
Malays and indigenous tribes who not only live together in harmony, but also share each other’s
festivals. Take New Year’s Day, for example. Malaysia celebrates four of them – Western, Chi­nese,
Indian and Muslim – with traditional open houses and feasts. All nationalities are welcome to attend.