Malaysia - The Land

Peninsular Malaysia begins with the northern most state, Perlis. From Perlis, the land stretches 740 kilometres south until Tanjung Piai on the Straits of Johor. Geographically, this is the southernmost tip of the Asian mainland.

After this is Singapore, across the Straits of Johor. But there is more Malaysia eastwards beyond the South China Sea where the states of Sarawak and Sabah are located. Both these states are part of the world's third largest island - Borneo.

The strategically located land at what mariners often called the crossroads of the world is the most convenient passage that links the West and East. So significant was this area that the Greek astronomer, Ptolemy, called it 'The Golden Chersonese'.

Ships making the long voyages from the vast emporiums of China to the western trading ports in Europe would often call along the east or west coasts of the Peninsular to replenish supplies for the next leg of their trip.

The beautiful island, Pulau Tioman, off the eastern coast of Johor, was one of their more popular stops. Evidence of their stopovers has only been discovered by archaeologists recently. Tioman was more like a preliminary stop, while Melaka on the west coast would be more of an obligation owing to the trading opportunities made available through the interaction of the world's traders.

Perhaps, Melaka was more like the culmination of centuries of prominence given to this land called Malaysia. Elsewhere in the peninsular cultural interaction through trade had been practised in places such as the Bujang Valley in Kedah and, earlier still, even in the remote Lenggong Valley in Perak.

Traders came to Malaysia for the valuable products of the land that fetched high prices back home - wherever that may be. Well, if not for the local products that they bartered or bought using the acceptable currency of the time - gold, they could still realise their mercantile mission by helping to turn places like Melaka into centres of international trade.

That was how it all began. Emerging from the layers of history is today's Malaysia; offering its myriad attractions, both natural and modern. Being in the tropics, it offers beautiful islands with white sandy beaches, azure seas, fertile alluvial plains, dense forests, mysterious caves and other treasures.

Running down the length of the peninsular is the Titiwangsa Range. It is the mountainous grid that helps to divide the culturally diverse eastern and western regions of west Malaysia.

Through Melaka, the western parts of Malaysia took on a more cosmopolitan persona. The migrant workforce comprising the Chinese, Indians, Arabs and others soon helped form an ethnically varied society, while the eastern states held fast to its Malay identity.

It is still more or less the same today - a characteristic that has helped to conjure a very interesting personality to this beautiful land. Culture and tradition is more entrenched in the social fabric of the peoples of the east coast states of Kelantan and Terengganu. However, this disparate cultural divide is by no means rigid, as each of the many regions of Malaysia still hold on to their identity through a profound affinity with various forms of culture.

The coming of the colonialists, starting with the Portuguese who overran Melaka in 1511 was by no means a favour as seen through the eyes of the 'masters'. It was destined. It had to happen, given the vagaries of life itself.

Not being apologetic to the fact, Malaysians held on to their ways despite the attempts by the invaders to subjugate them through domination on all fronts. Such resilience is today the hallmark of harmony that often holds visitors in awe.

After the Portuguese came the Dutch who ruled Melaka in the mid 17th century. Their hold on the once great Malay empire was quite short-lived as the British took over the colonial reins, dominating the land from the 19th to the early 20th century.

Unlike the Portuguese and Dutch, whose marks were only evident in Melaka, the British spread their influence pervasively throughout the land. Vestiges of their influence can still be seen today in the architectural forms especially in the popular hill stations such as Cameron Highlands, Fraser's Hill in Pahang and Bukit Bendera on Penang island. Visitors to these places are often mildly surprised to see English architectural forms in the buildings and even more surprising is the leftover of English ways such as afternoon teas with scones and 'fresh cream' and strawberries!

These are but colours that make up Malaysia. Anger and frustrations nurtured under the often-oppressive air of colonisation have all been relegated to the history books. What remains is nostalgia.

The ethnic and cultural diversity that runs parallel with the friendly disposition of its people make Malaysia an important and most-rewarding tourism destination.