KUALA LUMPUR: This multiracial nation's tourism tagline is "Malaysia Truly Asia,'' and true to its slogan, it is home to a unique potpourri of Asian cultures - Malay, Chinese, Indian - along with many indigenous groups on Borneo island.
Malaysia is one of the most pleasant, hassle-free countries to visit in Southeast Asia. Aside from its gleaming 21st century glass towers, it boasts some of the most superb beaches, mountains and national parks in the region.
Malaysia is also launching its biggest-ever tourism campaign in effort to lure 20 million visitors here this year.
More than 16 million tourists visited in 2005, the last year for which complete statistics were available.
While the majority of them were from Asia, mostly neighboring Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Brunei, China, Japan and India, a growing number of Western travelers are also making their way to this Southeast Asian tropical paradise.
Of the 885,000 travelers from the West, 240,000 were from the United Kingdom, 265,000 from Australia and 150,000 from the U.S.
Any tourist itinerary would have to begin in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, where you will find the Petronas Twin Towers, which once comprised the world's tallest buildings and now hold the title of second-tallest.
Both the 88-story towers soar 452 meters (1,480 feet) high and are connected by a sky-bridge on the 41st floor.
Also worth visiting is the Central Market, a pre-war building that was the main wet market for the city, and has now been transformed into an arts and cultural center.
The limestone temple Batu Caves, located 15 kilometers (9 miles) north of the city, have a 100-meter-high (328-foot-high) ceiling and feature ornate Hindu shrines, including a 43-meter-tall (141-foot-tall) gold-painted statue of a Hindu deity.
To reach the caves, visitors have to climb a steep flight of 272 steps.
In Sabah state on Borneo island, you'll find the small mushroom-shaped Sipadan island, off the coast of Sabah, rated as one of the top five diving sites in the world.
Sipadan is the only oceanic island in Malaysia, rising from a 700-meter (2,300-foot) abyss in the Celebes Sea.
You can also climb Mount Kinabalu, the tallest peak in Southeast Asia, visit the Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary, go white-water rafting and catch a glimpse of the bizarre Proboscis monkey, a primate found only in Borneo with a huge pendulous nose, a characteristic pot belly and strange honking sounds.
While you're in Malaysia, consider a trip to Malacca.
In its heyday, this southern state was a powerful Malay sultanate and a booming trading port in the region. Facing the Straits of Malacca, this historical state is now a place of intriguing Chinese streets, antique shops, old temples and reminders of European colonial powers.
Another interesting destination is Penang, known as the "Pearl of the Orient.''
This island off the northwest coast of Malaysia boasts of a rich Chinese cultural heritage, good food and beautiful beaches.
In Pahang, Endau-Rompin National Park boasts of tropical jungles that date back millions of years, making them older than those of the Congo or Amazon.
Picturesque trails, giant limestone caves, fishing spots and river trips make it a haven for adventurers.
Tourism is the Southeast Asian nation's second largest-source of foreign exchange after exports.
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi launched the Visit Malaysia Year 2007 campaign on Jan. 6.
It coincides with the 50th anniversary of Malaysia's independence from Britain.
In late December, Tourism Minister Adnan Mansor launched the city's first luxury double-decker bus service providing a tour of Kuala Lumpur with prerecorded commentaries in eight languages to guide travelers through major attractions.
Adnan said cheap air travel would be crucial to giving a boost to the Visit Malaysia Year 2007 campaign.
The government is in talks with Tiger Airways to fly from Singapore to key tourist destinations on the east coast of peninsular Malaysia, and Sabah and Sarawak states on Borneo island, he said.
But Tiger Airways is unlikely to be allowed to fly the lucrative Kuala Lumpur-Singapore route, which is monopolized by flag carriers Malaysia Airlines and Singapore Airlines, he said.
The governments of the two countries have yet to decide whether to open the route to competition.
"We are persuading our Transport Ministry to try to get Tiger Airways to come to some other destinations in Malaysia that can also be lucrative,'' he said.
"We are also talking to Bangkok Air as well because they want to come to Malaysia. We would like more LCCs (low-cost carriers) to come to our country.''
He said Cebu Pacific recently launched flights from Manila to Kuala Lumpur, with a second Philippines-based LCC likely to start flying soon from Davao to Malaysia's Sandakan town in Sabah.
Thai AirAsia, the Thai affiliate of Malaysian low-cost airline Air Asia, has also just started flights from Bangkok to Malaysia's Langkawi resort island, he said.
In a further boost to tourism, Jetstar - a subsidiary of Australian flag carrier Qantas Airways - earlier in January announced plans to start direct flights between Sydney and Kuala Lumpur, making it the second foreign budget airline to fly to Malaysia.
The government is also looking at increasing chartered flights from Europe to lure long-haul travelers, he added. - AP
Source : STAR
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