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MALAYSIA & SINGAPORE


Year of the Rat Witness the build-up to Chinese New Year in Singapore, then enjoy the spectacle of Malaysia's CNY Open House in Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur. Images

Journey by train on the real orient express from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur up to Bangkok at a tiny fraction of the price and five times the fun. Rice paddies, rubber trees and rainforests of glide past your window... Comfortable sleeper trains continue north to Chiang Mai; north-east towards Laos and the Mekong. Images

Jungle Train To travel on Malaysia's East Coast Railway is more important than to arrive. "Bank slip" declared the guard as the mail train creaked to a halt under leaden skies, somewhere amidst the primeval jungle at the heart of the Malayan Peninsula. Back around 1990, the monsoon rains imposed a forceful reminder that to travel hopefully on the East Coast Railway, also known as the Jungle Railway, is more important than to arrive. This time around, a more successful journey ensued, with some intriguing Australian connections along the way. Images

Crystal Mosque Beside a wide, muddy river flowing out into the South China Sea, stands a gleaming new mosque constructed from 'crystal'. Well, panes of smoked glass, but the effect is certainly that of a giant, multi-facetted crystal. The Crystal Mosque forms the focus of the Islamic Civilization Park in the Malaysian State of Terengganu, a collection of meticulous replicas of the great works of Islamic architecture. It feels a little incongruous to admire Lahore's Badshahi Mosque as Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock looms immediately behind... Images

From Kampong to Capital: Kuala Lumpur in Profile A booming city which was once a tin miners' camp; one of Kuala Lumpur's most endearing features is the legacy of British architects entranced by the Islamic heritage of Mughal India. Another is the mingling of Malay, Chinese, Indian and other cultural strains in a 21st century metropolis sometimes futuristic. Images

Malacca, the red city: Once the capital of a mighty empire, the riverine trading port founded centuries ago by a Sumatran prince absorbed the incursions of Portuguese, Dutch and British invaders and nurtured such distinctive cultural blends as the Straits Chinese: Babas and Nyonyas.

Penang's capital Georgetown is an authentic Chinatown where the clock stopped 50 years ago, an easygoing city of bicycle rickshaws, crumbling shophouses and ancient temples. The colonial era has bequeathed elegant Georgian and florid Victorian public buildings. Images

World Music Reverberates from Madagascar to Malaysia. One of the pleasures of the annual Rainforest World Music Festival in Sarawak, is its sheer incongruity. No huge industrial stadium here: concerts are staged amongst the rainforest giants. In 2003 the Quebecois fiddlers, La Volée d'Castors, got the crowd dancing on the ricketty bamboo terrace of an Iban longhouse whilst Tarika, led by the charismatic Hanitra Rosoanaivo, demonstated a unique blend derived from the musical roots of Madagascar. Images

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