Wednesday, September 16, 2009


The islands of the Indonesian archipelago are strung like beads across the equator. Clear blue seas lap pristine beaches, gentle breezes carry scents of spices and flowers, and divers are entranced by the ocean's riches. Inland, dramatic volcanic ranges tower above a green mantle of terraced hillsides and lush rainforest.

Bali, Lombok and Jakarta
Bali offers an image of paradise: stunning scenery, gentle sarong-clad people and sunsets of legendary glory. On peaceful Lombok, life moves at a slower pace, while bustling Jakarta exhibits Indonesia's cosmopolitan, modern face.


Komodo Island's‘living dinosaurs' and the entrancing ‘sea gardens' of Suwalesi invite exploration, as do Borobudur's architectural treasures, which include 5km (3 miles) of Buddhist relief carvings. Adventure-seekers head for Kalimantan's remote jungle interior or explore Sumatra, with its teeming wildlife and wealth of tribal groups.


Long-term president, General Suharto was forced to resign in 1998 after decades of keeping control of the country in his own hands. It wasn't until September 2004 that the first ever direct presidential election was held when Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was elected. The government is taking a strong stand against terrorism and tourism is slowly returning to the numbers experienced at the end of the 1990s. Once again visitors are discovering the myriad marvels scattered throughout this intriguing archipelago.

Indonesia lies between the mainland of South-East Asia and Australia in the Indian and Pacific oceans. It is the world’s largest archipelago state. Indonesia is made up of five main islands – Sumatra, Java, Sulawesi, Kalimantan (part of the island of Borneo) and Irian Jaya (the western half of New Guinea) – and 30 smaller archipelagos. In total, the Indonesian archipelago consists of about 17,508 islands; 6,000 of these are inhabited and stretch over 4,828km (3,000 miles), most lying in a volcanic belt with more than 300 volcanoes, the great majority of which are extinct. The landscape varies from island to island, ranging from high mountains and plateau to coastal lowlands and alluvial belts.

The staple diet for most Indonesians is nasi (rice), which is replaced on some islands with corn, sago, cassava and sweet potatoes. Indonesia's spices make its local cuisine unique. Indonesians like their food highly spiced - look out for the tiny and fiery hot red and green peppers often included in salads and vegetable dishes. Seafood features highly on menus (with salt and freshwater fish, lobsters, oysters, prawns, shrimp, squid, shark and crab all available). Coconuts are often used for cooking. A feature of Jakarta is the many warungs (street stalls); each specializes in itsown dish or drink.

National specialties:

Rijsttafel (a Dutch-invented smorgasbord of 12 various meat, fish, vegetable and curry dishes, sometimes served by 12 ‘maidens’).
Sate (chunks of beef, fish, pork, chicken or lamb cooked on hot coals and dipped in peanut sauce).
Rendang (west Sumatra; buffalo coconut curry).
Gado-gado (Java; a salad of raw and cooked vegetables with peanut and coconut milk sauce).
Babi guling (Bali; roast suckling pig).

National drinks:
Es (ice drinks with syrups, fruits and jellies).
Brem (Bali; rice wine).
Tuak (palm-sap wine, a famously potent local brew).
Arak (rice or palm-sap wine).
Kelapa muda (young coconut juice).

Legal drinking age: 18 (minimum purchasing age: 16).

Tipping: 10% is normal unless service charge is already included in a restaurant bill.

Jakarta nightclubs feature international singers and bands and are open until 0400 during weekends. Jakarta has loads of cinemas and some English-language and subtitled films are shown. There are also theaters providing cultural performances.

Dancing is considered an art, encouraged and practiced from very early childhood. The extensive repertoire is based on ancient legends and stories from religious epics. Performances are given in village halls and squares, and also in many of the leading hotels by professional touring groups. The dances vary enormously, both in style and number of performers. Some of the more notable are the Legong, a slow, graceful dance of divine nymphs; the Baris, a fast moving, noisy demonstration of male, warlike behavior; and the Jauk, a riveting solo offering by a masked and richly costumed demon. Many consider the most dramatic of all to be the famous Cecak (Monkey Dance) which calls for 100 or more very agile participants. Many of the larger hotels, particularly in Bali, put on dance shows accompanied by the uniquely Indonesian Gamelan Orchestras.

Throughout the year, many local moonlight festivals occur; tourists should check locally. Indonesian puppets are world famous and shows for visitors are staged in various locations


Malaysia, which celebrated 50 years of independence in 2007, is one of the rising stars of South-East Asian tourism, a nation looking to the future while cherishing the ways of the past. Centuries of trade combined with a vibrant mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian and tribal influence have created a mix of peoples and culture that make it a colorful and intriguing place to visit.

Below: A typical scene in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's capital. Kuala Lumpur is an 80 minute drive along sealed roads from Peninsular's projects.

Tropical island resorts and endless white, sandy beaches offer a taste of paradise, while beneath warm coral seas, world-class dive sites await exploration. Orang-utans, the oldest rainforest in the world, cityskyscrapers and majestic mosques and temples, plus a gorgeous coastline, are enough to tempt even the most jaded visitor. And if that were not enough, Malaysia's culinary credentials are among Asia's finest.
Malaysia Best Beaches

The British were relatively late arrivals to the region in the late 18th century, following Portuguese and later Dutch settlement, but they played a key role following the European wars of the 1790s and, in particular, the defeat of the Netherlands by France in 1795. The Federated Malay States were created in 1895, and remained under British colonial control until the Japanese invasion of 1942.

After Japanese defeat in 1945, the 11 states were once again incorporated as British Protectorates and, in 1948, became the Federation of Malaya. In 1963, the Federation of Malaya merged with Singapore and the former British colonies of Sarawak and Sabah, on north Borneo, to form modern Malaysia. Singapore seceded to become an independent state in its own right in 1965, leaving Malaysia in its present form.

Its convoluted history highlights why Malaysia is so ethnically and culturally diverse. Even better, the magnificent landscape is no less fascinating - dense jungles, soaring peaks and lush tropical rainforests harbor abundant and exotic flora and fauna.

Malaysia is situated in central South-East Asia, bordering Thailand in the north, with Singapore to the south and Indonesia to the south and west. It is composed of Peninsular Malaysia and the states of Sabah and Sarawak on the north coast of the island of Borneo, 650 to 950km (404 to 600 miles) across the South China Sea. Peninsular Malaysia is an area of forested mountain ranges running north-south, on either side of which are low-lying coastal plains. The coastline extends some 1,900km (1,200 miles). The west coast consists of mangrove swamps and mudflats which separate into bays and inlets. In the west, the plains have been cleared and cultivated, while the unsheltered east coast consists of tranquil beaches backed by dense jungle. The major islands are Langkawi (a group of 99 islands), Penang and Pangkor off the west coast; and Tioman, Redang, Kapas, Perhentian and Rawa off the east coast. In Malaysian Borneo, Sarawak has alluvial and, in places, swampy coastal plains with rivers penetrating the jungle-covered hills and mountains of the interior. Sabah has a narrow coastal plain which gives way to mountains and jungle. Mount Kinabalu, at 4,094m (13,432ft), is the highest peak in Malaysia.

Malaysia Food & Dining

In multiracial Malaysia, every type of cooking from southeast Asia can be tasted. Malay food concentrates on subtleties of taste using a blend of spices, ginger, coconut milk and peanuts. There are many regional types of Chinese cooking including Cantonese, Peking, Hakka, Sichuan and Taiwanese. Indian and Indonesian food is also popular. Korean, Thai and western food are available in restaurants throughout the country. Although the country is largely Islamic, alcohol is widely available.

Things to know: Table service is normal, and chopsticks are customary in Chinese restaurants.Indian and Malay food is traditionally eaten with the fingers, but western cutlery is generally used. Set lunches, usually with four courses, are excellent value for money.

Dining in Malaysia

National specialties:
• Sambal (a paste of ground chilli, onion and tamarind) is often used as a garnish or dip.
• Char Kway Teow (a dish of fried rice noodles with meat or fish) is a very popular and cheap quick meal.
• Ikan bilis (dried anchovies) are eaten with drinks.
• Satay (consists of a variety of meats, often chicken, barbecued on small skewers and served with a spicy peanut dipping sauce and a salad of cucumber, onion and compressed rice cakes).
• Gula Malacca (a firm sago pudding in palm sugar sauce).

National drinks:
• Locally brewed beers such as Tiger and Anchor.
• The famous Singapore gin sling.
• Sugar cane juice.

Tipping: 10% service charge and 5% government tax are usually included in bills, and added to the menu prices.

Kuala Lumpur has a good selection of reputable nightclubs and discos, most belonging to the big hotels. Nightclubs generally stay open until 0500 or 0600 and usually request a cover charge which includes the first drink free. Many of Kuala Lumpur's bars have a happy hour, offering two drinks for the price of one, between 1700-2000/2100. Bintang Walk is a lively spot and has a good selection of alfresco bars and coffee shops.

Penang is also lively at night, larger hotels having cocktail lounges, dining, dancing and cultural shows. There are night markets in most towns, including both Kuala Lumpur and Penang Chinatown. Malay and Chinese films often have English subtitles and there are also English films. The national lottery and Malaysia's only casino at Genting Highlands are government-approved and visitors are not supposed to gamble elsewhere.