Day 120: An unscheduled stop in Malaysia

Our initial plan was to go straight from Cambodia to Singapore, but flights through Malaysia were cheaper so we figured we could save a bit and get to know an extra country. Plus, this would also give us the chance to visit Malacca, a Malaysian state that was conquered by the Portuguese in the 16th century, in a (failed) attempt to control Asian trade routes.

So in a muggy and hazy evening, we found ourselves in Kuala Lumpur. Besides that bit of colonialist trivia about Malacca, we knew virtually nothing about Malaysia, so we got to work. Malaysia is officially a Muslim country (the first we visited on this trip), but its constitution warrants freedom of religion for the 40% of the population that isn’t Muslim (mostly Buddhists). That may look good on paper, but in practice it’s not that simple. For instance, there’s two parallel justice systems (a secular one and a Sharia one) with somewhat vague and overlapping jurisdictions.

Malaysia is also the only federation in Southeast Asia, made up of thirteen states (the fourteen stripes in its flag represent these thirteen states plus the federal government). The federation itself is a young one (it achieved independence from British rule in 1957), but the Malay kingdoms that constitute it go back to the 13th century, when Islam spread to the area. The Orang Asal, an indigenous people that today make up for 10% of Malaysia’s population, lived in the area way before that, probably since 2.500 BC. These days, Malaysia is one of the most vibrant economies in Southeast Asia, having grown at an average 6.5% between 1957 and 2005.

Enough about that, is Kuala Lumpur worth a visit? Well, I wouldn’t plan a whole trip around it, but there’s definitely cool things to see. The Chinatown, for instance, is the real thing and reminded us of walking around the Muslim Market in Xi’An. There are also many Muslim, Christian, Buddhist and Hindu temples spread throughout the city, illustrating Malaysia’s religious diversity. Then there’s the Petronas Towers, a classic. We didn’t actually go up to the observation deck, because the price is pretty steep (close to 20€) and the sky was so hazy we wouldn’t have seen a thing. The haziness you seen in all the pictures is actually man-made: every dry season, the smoke from slash-and-burn fires in Indonesia (an illegal technique used to convert forests into agricultural fields) spreads out though Southeast Asia, causing haze and respiratory illnesses.

What about Malacca? Malacca is a tiny state 150km (90 miles) south of Kuala Lumpur, and getting to its capital (aptly named Malacca City) by bus is a breeze. Because of its strategic location for sea trade, Malacca was coveted by many throughout history. In the 15th century, is was a tributary to China, which used it as a stopping point for Zheng He’s fleet. In 1511 it was conquered by the Portuguese, in hopes that it would help them control Asian trade. They failed miserably, only managing to disrupt trade and pissing off everyone involved. in the 17th century the Dutch clawed back Malacca from the Portuguese, but didn’t really do anything with it till the 19th century, when it was ceded to the British.

These days you’ll find plenty of references from these cultures throughout Malacca. A quarter of its population is of Chinese ancestry, so there’s whole areas of the city where you’ll only hear Chinese (Jonker Street is a blast to visit in the evening: highlights include Chinese karaoke and foul-smelling durian). There’s a Portuguese Settlement (created in the 1930’s as a haven for the Kristang, an ethnic group with mixed Portuguese and Malay blood) that attracts huge crowds looking for Portuguese-style seafood and fish. And there’s the Dutch Square, a profusion of red terracotta buildings built for the Dutch Governor.

Next stop is Singapore, which briefly made part of the Federation of Malaysia before being kicked out. They did pretty good by themselves, but I’ll let Jules tell you about that!


8 thoughts on “Day 120: An unscheduled stop in Malaysia

  1. Um desvio na rota prevista… leva-vos à capital da Malásia, Kuala Lampur, e a Malaca, um local onde outros portugueses – outros aventureiros, mas com motivações bem diferentes das vossas – também estiveram uns anitos atrás… mais propriamente no séc. XVI…

    Na capital incomodaram-se com o céu nublado pelo fumo dos incêndios das florestas – estranho! – reviram bairros chineses, contemplaram as imponentes Petronas Tower, passearam por bonitos parques, contemplaram coloridas pinturas nos templos… Ah, e até encontraram pastéis de nata! São mesmo internacionais, os nossos pastelitos de Belém… 🙂


  2. Mas… visitar Macala, o local em que os portugueses estiveram e deixaram marca, olhar para o mesmo mar que Afonso de Albuquerque contemplou em 1511, ver tantos sinais da cultura portuguesa num local tão distante, deve ter sido emocionante!… Possivelmente até sentiram orgulho, e não é caso para menos! E saudades também, há precisamente 120 dias fora de casa! 🙂

    Deliciaram-se com o agradável hotel Lisboa, à beira-mar, o simpático bairro português, a lembrar uma pequena cidade costeira portuguesa, os barcos de pesca, as pequenas e ternurentas referências portuguesas, como se vê na foto dos Mellos… os imponentes túmulos dos portugueses…


    1. Orgulho nos descobrimentos é sempre uma faca de dois gumes: a par dos avanços tecnológicos e culturais, houve também muito sangue derramado! Chegado a Malaca, aqui o nosso amigo Afonso de Albuquerque poupou hindus e chineses, mas achou por bem matar ou fazer escravos dos muçulmanos…


  3. Pena que mais tarde os brutos dos Ingleses tenham tratado de destruir a fortaleza portuguesa… mas nessa altura já os holandeses nos tinham roubado a possessão, que foi nossa pouco menos de um século… A época áurea dos Portugueses não durou sempre, sabemos isso.

    Mais do que Kuala Lampur, apreciei esta visita a Malaca, gostei de rever um pouco da nossa história e é bom ver o apreço ainda actual pela cultura portuguesa. 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s