Entwined by shared history, Southeast Asia’s terrific trio offer steamy jungles packed with wildlife, beautiful beaches, idyllic islands, culinary sensations and multi-ethnic culture.
Why I Love Malaysia, Singapore & Brunei
By Simon Richmond, Writer
For Southeast Asia in a microcosm you can’t beat this trio of fascinating countries. From my first slurp of lip-smacking laksa noodles and taste of sizzling satay chicken at an outdoor food stall in Kuala Lumpur many years ago, to the continual thrill of watching the evolution of Singapore into an arts, architecture and culture heavyweight, the appeal of the region has been addictive. Whether exploring the heritage cityscape of George Town or riding longboats into the deepest recesses of Sarawak, it’s all one huge adventure in the company of some of the region’s friendliest people.
The icing on this verdant cake is the chance to encounter wildlife in its natural habitat. The most common sightings will be a host of insects or colourful birdlife, but you could get lucky and spot a foraging tapir, a slivered leaf monkey, or an orangutan swinging through the jungle canopy. The oceans are just as bountiful: snorkel or dive among shoals of tropical fish, paint-box dipped corals, turtles, sharks and dolphins. Even if you don’t venture outside the urban centres, there’s excellent opportunities for wildlife watching at the world-class Singapore Zoo or the KL Bird Park.
For many people this region is defined by its equatorial rainforest. Significant chunks of primary jungle – among the most ancient ecosystems on earth – remain intact, protected by national parks and conservation projects. Seemingly impenetrable foliage and muddy, snaking rivers conjure up the ‘heart of darkness’ – but join a ranger-led nature walk, for example, and you’ll be alerted to the mind-boggling biodiversity all around, from the pitcher plants, lianas and orchids of the humid lowlands, to the conifers and rhododendrons of high-altitude forests.
City lovers will be dazzled by Singapore, an urban showstopper that combines elegant colonial-era buildings with stunning contemporary architecture and attractions such as its Unesco World Heritage–listed Botanical Gardens. Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur (KL) is a place where Malay kampung (village) life stands cheek by jowl with the 21st-century glitz of the Petronas Towers, and shoppers shuttle from traditional wet markets to air-conditioned mega malls. Go off-radar in Brunei’s surprisingly unostentatious capital Bandar Seri Begawan: its picturesque water village Kampong Ayer is the largest stilt settlement in the world.
Also Unesco World Heritage–listed, Melaka and George Town (Penang) have uniquely distinctive architectural and cultural townscapes, developed over a half a millennium of Southeast Asian cultural and trade exchange. Both cities embody the region’s pot pourri of cultures. Muslim Malays, religiously diverse Chinese, and Hindu and Muslim Indians muddle along with aboriginal groups (the Orang Asli) on Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo’s indigenous people, scores of tribes known collectively as Dayaks. Each ethnic group has its own language and cultural practices which you can best appreciate through a packed calendar of festivals and a delicious variety of cuisines.