Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

“Say hello to the orange ones,” my friend said when he dropped me at the airport. He was referring to orangutans, known for their distinctive orange color and endangered status. For years I had dreamed of seeing them in their natural habitat and now, with a little luck, my dream would finally come true. I boarded the plane to Sabah, a Malaysian State on the island of Borneo, arguably the best place in the world to see orangutans in the wild.

A juvenile orangutan in the nursery at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

A juvenile orangutan in the nursery at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

People have been fascinated for centuries by orangutans because of their humanistic traits. They are the second largest ape, after gorillas. Close cousins to Homo sapiens, they share 96.4% of their DNA with humans. Even their name speaks to our closeness; the word orangutan translates to “man of the forest.” Yet this fascination has not assured their continued existence. According to “The Last Stand of the Orangutan, State of Emergency: Illegal Logging,  Fire and Palm Oil in Indonesia’s National Parks,” a report published in 2007 by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), palm oil plantations are currently the leading cause of rain forest destruction in Malaysia and Indonesia. The report estimates that 98% of the rain forest may be destroyed by 2022, with lowland forest succumbing much sooner. Read More

I first met David Hogan, Jr., the publisher of the award winning Malaysia Asia Travel Blog, during a visit to Malaysia’s Penang Island. On that occasion, he took me to one of the island’s most popular “hawker centers,” where we ate our way through outdoor food stalls that stretched for blocks. Some years later David and I reconnected in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur (KL). This time he treated me to a delicious lunch at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant located in the city’s Little India neighborhood.

Me and David Hogan, Jr. at Thean Hou Temple in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Me and David Hogan, Jr. at Thean Hou Temple in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

I recently returned to KL for a longer visit and, of course, I had to meet up with my Malaysian buddy again. This time he had a special surprise in store or for me. Just 15-minutes outside the city center we wound our way up a hill to Thean Hou Temple of Selangor Keng Chew Association, the most popular Chinese Buddhist temple in the city. This is where Chinese residents come to ask for marriage blessings. Thean Hou Temple is a one-stop shop for weddings. Couples pray to the goddess Kwan Yin, the deity believed to ensure happy and prosperous marriages. Once they have the blessing of Kwan Yin, couples can get a marriage certificate, get married, and even have their wedding reception in a huge banquet hall on the ground floor of the temple. Read More

The historic Kuala Lumpur Railway Station

I rounded a corner and stopped in my tracks. The old Kuala Lumpur Railway Station stretched before me in all her glory. Her lacy white skirts were tatted with horseshoe, ogee, and keyhole arches, while her chhatri-topped towers were held aloft like frilly parasols, providing protection from the brutal Malaysian sun. This spectacular example of British Raj style and opulence is undoubtedly the grand dame of Malaysia’s capital city.

During the early years of British rule, Kuala Lumpur (KL) had been served by two smaller rail stations, but as the city grew, it needed a better transport hub. Finally, in late 1906 it was decided to build a new station. Charles Edwin Spooner, General Manager of the Federated Malayan States (FMS) Railways, oversaw the process. At the time when the world was swooning over all things oriental, the British had developed the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture, which combined stylistic elements from Islamic and Indian architecture with the Gothic revival and Neo-Classical styles. Spooner, who had worked in Ceylon prior to arriving in KL and was a fan of this architectural style, chose it for the new railway station and tasked British architect Arthur Benison Hubback with producing the final design. Read More

National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur

I was hot, tired, and sweaty after a day of exploring the Colonial Walk along the Gombak River in central Kuala Lumpur. I could have hopped on the Metro, but the city’s historic Railway Station, with its lacy onion domes and turrets, was on the way to my hotel, so I set off on foot. The main road I was following, Jalan Kinabalu, suddenly became flooded with hundreds of men walking in the opposite direction. I dodged and wove through the oncoming masses, wondering what on earth was going on. Around the next corner the tip of a tall spire came into view and I realized what was all the foot traffic was about. That spire topped the National Mosque of Malaysia, and the men were leaving after a prayer session. Read More

Kuala Lumpur, capital of the Southeast Asian country of Malaysia, has always been a “pass-through” destination for me. Either I never made it out of the airport during long layovers, or my time was limited to an overnight stay. I’d made the obligatory trek to see famous twin Petronas Towers, once the tallest skyscrapers in the world, and walk around the lovely lake and park at the foot of the towers. I’d had dinner in the Brickyards neighborhood more commonly known as Little India. And I’d spent one evening exploring Petaling Street, with its gorgeous canopy of scarlet and gold paper lanterns lighting the way past Chinese shops and street food stalls. But other than those three attractions, I never thought there was much to see or do in the city that is commonly known by as KL.

Masjid Jamek Sultan Abdul Mosque, which stands on the spot where the city was founded, is one of the top tourist attractions of Kuala Lumpur and the focal point for the River of Life Project

Masjid Jamek Sultan Abdul Mosque, which stands on the spot where the city was founded, is one of the top tourist attractions of Kuala Lumpur and the focal point for the River of Life Project

This time, with three days at my disposal, I was determined to discover more of the top tourist attractions of Kuala Lumpur. I began at Masjid Jamek Sultan Abdul Mosque, the oldest mosque in the city. It stands at the confluence of the Gombak and Klang Rivers, on the spot where the city was founded in 1857. The original settlement was borne out of necessity and practicality. The royal family had sent prospectors up the Klang Valley to mine tin. The miners needed to bring in supplies and ship raw ore out to the Strait of Malacca. The point where the two rivers met was the farthest upstream that boats could navigate. A small collection of rudimentary wooden shacks sprang up on the muddy, flood-prone, mosquito-infested spit of land. The settlers named it Kuala Lumpur, which literally means “muddy estuary” in the Malay language. Read More

It wasn’t easy to be a vegetarian when I began traveling the world in 1997. At best it was difficult to find food without meat; at times it was downright impossible. Thankfully, the vegetarian/vegan trend has taken off over the past few years. Rarely do I have problems finding my kind of food these days, regardless of where I travel. Recently, however, I discovered Away Chiang Mai Thapae Resort in Chiang Mai, Thailand, which takes vegetarian travel to a whole new level.

Vegetarian travel is easy when staying at Away Resort, with its Moreganic Vegetarian Restaurant

Vegetarian travel is easy when staying at Away Resort, with its Moreganic Vegetarian Restaurant

Away, which is located just outside the eastern walls of the Old City in Chiang Mai, opened in December 2017. Built in an architectural style that infuses colonial touches with the traditional northern Thai Lanna style, the interior of its 39 rooms feature soothing grey and green tones, dark wood floors, and plush comfortable beds with fine linens. Each room also features a private balustraded balcony with table and chairs, perfect for sipping morning coffee or enjoying views of the resort’s gardens and lap pool. Accommodation prices for deluxe rooms range from 4,500 baht ($138 USD at this writing) per night in low season to 8,000 baht ($245 USD) per night in high season. Read More