The June holidays fade away like dust in the wind, its effects forgotten, its supposed purpose unrealised, as if it never happened at all. The December holidays, in contrast, are much more substantial. So, what to do during the December holidays?
A hugely popular option, obviously, is to go overseas. And one of the candidates, standing tall and proud in all her red, white and blue glory, is Malaysia.
What makes Malaysia such an ideal travel destination is the country’s proximity to our own: the Causeway bridge is barely longer than 1km (unless you travel on a public holiday, in which case expect to be stuck in a slow-moving rollercoaster ride with road hogs). Moreover, Malaysia’s cultural makeup is vastly similar to ours. We speak similar languages so there is little language barrier, though it may be useful to have a basic command of the Malay language. Another pro is the cheaper prices of things in Malaysia. It would be less of a dent in your finances to go to Malaysia than to Japan, where you might spend your hard-earned cash on raw, tiny pieces of fish attached to even tinier portions of white rice by a thin strip of seaweed.
Our journey begins in Bangunan Sultan Iskandar, better known as the Malaysian customs located at the northern end of the Johor-Singapore Causeway. The bored customs officer, whose eyes might be fixed on the screen of his smartphone, carelessly smashes his chop on your passport, hands it back to you and you are off! Adrenaline surges through your body as your speedometer creeps up to a hundred kilometres per hour. The roads seem a little bumpier: Welcome to Malaysia!
No trip to Malaysia is complete without visiting the country’s first international theme park. It is located in Iskandar Puteri, Johor, Malaysia. While Singapore has its own major theme park, Universal Studios Singapore, an entire theme park of LEGO would be a unique and novel experience, especially for the LEGO enthusiast. It has over 40 interactive rides, shows and attractions, and was the first Legoland theme park in Asia and sixth in the world when it opened, on 15 September 2012. Besides the theme park itself, there is also a Lego-themed water park right next to it, and the Legoland Hotel, which is also the first to open in Southeast Asia. In November 2017, it also launched the world’s first Lego virtual-reality roller coaster.
From Johor, we travel on Malaysia’s main expressway as the sun sets in our left window. Your wallet feels a little lighter as three Lego boxes bounce happily in your car boot. Palm trees zoom past, and on the side of the expressway is a little marker. Its words are a bit hard to make out: Welcome to Melaka.
Another must-go location in Malaysia is Jonker Street. It is located in Malacca, Malaysia. Malacca is probably one of the most well-known states in Malaysia, and the place has come very far after competing with Singapore as a port city in ancient times. The port is now gone, but the state is still brimming with historical value, and Jonker Street is no exception. The street is in an area filled with historical houses that date back all the way to the 17th century. These houses are now occupied by shops that sell almost anything from antiques to souvenirs like refrigerator magnets and shirts. It is best to visit it in the evening, where there is a huge night market every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Malacca is also famous for its special chicken rice – the rice is rolled into balls before being served. This unique form of chicken rice can also be found in Jonker Street, so visiting serves you more than just a feast for your eyes.
Full to the brim with rice balls and Kampong Chicken, you stumble, half-asleep, to your car. It was pure bliss as you ate the chicken rice, but maybe you should not have eaten so much. Sitting in your car, you ponder about whether you should keep going. Darn it, this is Malaysia! You chug a can of Coca-Cola and make the drive. Before long, your car rumbles past a huge sign decorated by neon lights: Welcome to Desaru!
The hordes in Jonker Street and Legoland Malaysia can be extremely suffocating, especially if you do not like crowded places. Desaru is a beach which is home to a number of resorts in Kota Tinggi District, Johor, Malaysia. It is known for its perfect and pristine beach beside the South China Sea. It has fewer tourists compared to the loud and noisy Jonker Street and the even louder and noisier Legoland. Desaru is essentially a relaxing paradise for anyone who visits: you can even camp there to feel a greater connection to nature. It is in close proximity to many seafood restaurants, all of which are excellent.
You wake to the sounds of waves lapping on the beach. All you slept on was a rolled-up sheet of fabric, but it was one of the best nights of your life. Deconstructing your tent should have been a tedious and gruelling task, but, with the magic of the beach enveloping you, you find yourself invincible and absolutely immune to fatigue. You run to the car, ready to begin the next lap of your journey. As you drive further north, you might discover that a crab has somehow crawled into your car and it settles comfortably on a door handle. Before long, it starts gesticulating wildly at a huge yellow sign. You crane your neck to look at it. Welcome to Genting Highlands!
Genting Highlands is a small city located on the peak of the mountain Ulu Kali, in central Peninsular Malaysia, at an elevation of 1800 metres. Established in 1965 by the late Chinese businessman Lim Goh Tong, it is a huge tourist attraction. There is a hill resort located there known as Resorts World Genting, which is similar to Resorts World Sentosa back home. There are many casinos and theme parks situated there, and the place is as much of a gambling hotbed as Marina Bay Sands. But you could also have fun at theme parks like Outdoor Theme Park Kids, dance at “Cloud 9” and visit the famous Chin Swee Caves Temple.
You are decked out in Genting Highlands merchandise: a red shirt with big white letters spelling out “GENTING SKYWORLDS”, a sticker on your hand with the words “Gohtong Memorial Park” written on it and a mineral water bottle in your pocket labelled “First World Hotel”. You drive further north: Welcome to George Town!
George Town is the capital of the Malaysian state of Penang, and its greatest virtue is its food. Long regarded as the “food capital of Malaysia”, it is globally renowned for its delicious and varied street food, which has been influenced over many years by Malay, Chinese, Indian, Peranakan, Thai and European cultures. The place is a literal melting pot of food culture. The city has been recognised by CNN as one of Asia’s top street food cities, as well as the world’s top culinary destination by the Lonely Planet in 2014. In 2004, Time magazine also claimed that Penang had the best street food in Asia. Prominent local dishes include asam laksa, char kway teow, curry mee and many more. Some, if not most, of these dishes use handmade noodles, which are a rarity in Singapore, which is dominated by noodle types crafted by robotic hands in hot and sweaty environments. Much like weapons crafted by mechanical hands in a forge, “factory-made” noodles are hard, tough and sometimes carry an intangible but distinct smell, which makes it necessary for people to cover it up with various types of sauce in their wanton noodles. This is opposed to handmade noodles, whose dough had been pressed and beaten into shape by the hands of a living, breathing human with blood in his veins. Its texture and taste occupy leagues of their own; you can eat them plain and still have the best bowl of noodles in your life.
Having eaten every single thing George Town had to offer, you tumble into your car. The suspension creaks, you can never do a pushup ever again and you will never touch your toes. But you have become the living embodiment of satisfaction: your wallet is less packed with cash (currently, as of 1 Nov 2023, the exchange rate stands at 3.49 Malaysian Ringgit to 1 Singapore Dollar) but your petrol tank is full (fuel is comparatively much cheaper in Malaysia) and you have had one of the best culinary experiences of your life, without much of a dent in your bank account. Malaysia has transformed you; you are as free as a bird now, or maybe you are just a fat jovial knight.
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