Malaysia is a former British colony in Southeast Asia whose strategic sea-lane position brought trade and foreign influences that fundamentally influenced its history. Japanese conquest during World War II ended British rule. It is located partly on the Malayan peninsula and partly on the island of Borneo.
Hindu India, the Islamic Middle East and Christian Europe to its west, and China and Japan to the northeast were major influences brought by shipping routes passing through the region. Malaysia has many things to offer the adventurist tourist. A jungle trek in one of the national parks can be a profound experience. Nature has been infinitely inventive with life in the rainforest, producing the world's largest flower, fantastically adapted insects and mammals, and trees that will make you gawk at their size. Most visitors have a native guide for such treks.
In the rainforest, along the rivers of Sarawak and Sabah, are some very unique native communities where people live in structures called longhouses. They are really entire villages housed under a single long roof. The people live off small crops and the bounty of the rainforest. Some of them put up tourists in longhouses, or even provide a "guest longhouse."
The tropical waters off Borneo offer some of the world's best scuba diving. This is a place endowed with some of the sport's best possibilities. You can dive with whale sharks, hover around immense coral gardens, or dive on ominous and hulking WWII shipwrecks.
The variety of bargain items you can find in the major markets is endless, ranging from quality electronics to blowguns to traditional arts and crafts. And the cuisine is unique. Sauces tend to be highly developed, often incorporating local fruits and spices, and the seafood dishes are what you'd expect from a country almost entirely surrounded by ocean.
The capital city of Kuala Lampur, founded only in 1857 as a tin mining outpost, is fairly new as far as Malaysian cities go and lacks the rich history of Georgetown or Malacca. But with the world's cheapest five-star hotels, great shopping and even better food, increasing numbers of travellers are discovering it.
PORTS OF CALL
The U.S. Navy has one port of call, Kota Kinabalu, on the island of Borneo, and another, Port Klang, on the Malaysian peninsula.
Kota Kinabalu is on the northwest coast of Borneo facing the South China Sea. Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, a popular spot for snorkeling, lies on one side, and Mount Kinabalu, a favorite climbing destination for sailors on liberty is in the background.
The city's waterfront is a downtown entertainment spot with restaurants, cafes, pubs and a nightclub. Tanjung Aru, about four miles from the city center, has a beach stretching over a mile complemented with food and drink stalls, restaurants and night clubs.
Among the sights of the city are the stilt villages, built on coastal shallow waters and typical homes for the Bajau and Suluk inhabitants. The 30-story Tun Mustapha Tower features a revolving restaurant on the 18th floor.
The North Borneo Railway offers a scenic tour of the countryside. Near the city is the Kota Kinabalu City Bird Sanctuary on the remains of a mangrove forest. The zoological and botanical park at nearby Lok Kawi, is arguably the largest zoo in Malaysia. The Tuaran Crocodile Farm, about 20 miles north of the city, has around 1000 crocodiles in its enclosure.
The Crocker Range National Park, about 40 miles from the city, is a popular spot for jungle trekking and camping. And Kota Kinabalu is also the gateway to the very popular Kinabalu National Park. The world's largest flower species, the Rafflesia, can be found there.
Port Klang started operations in 1901 and is the country's largest seaport. Though not a particularly attractive place, it is known for its excellent seafood. Another attraction is the ferry service it provides to popular spots on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, and the fact that it is only an hour by train to Kuala Lampur.
Another interesting ferry ride is to the mangrove island of Pulau Ketam (Crab Island). The entire village there is built on stilts, making it an interesting day trip. Most locals head out to the Bagan Hailam area for good and relatively cheap seafood. Restaurants line the road and most are built on stilts over water. Other areas famous for seafood include Pandamaran and Teluk Gong, both south of Port Klang.
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