Long weekend to remember spent exploring Malaysia
THESE days the new long weekend isn't necessarily about packing up the car and travelling a few hours down the road, as it is about getting on a plane and going to another country.
I recently had the privilege of spending such a long weekend in Malaysia, a country of contrast and colour, of differences and yet cohesion.
With a population of 28 million made up of three main people groups, cultures and religions it stands as an example of what can be achieved when tolerance and respect are practiced.
It is also a boon for the international traveller who can experience the sights, smells and sounds of a country rich with history, lifestyle and shopping - especially the shopping.
We arrived at KL International airport on the Friday night after flying with AirAsia X in celebration of their new Kuala Lumpur to Sydney route and five years of operation.
We were greeted by a wall of humidity but never fear as air-conditioning is in most buildings and public transport.
After being whisked away to our hotel, the brand spanking new Ibis Styles situated in the Fraser Business Park, we were treated to a cocktail party and nibbles for dinner.
Serious sight-seeing started the next morning on the Saturday with a visit to the Batu Caves, a place of wonder and awe when you consider how this natural limestone monument has formed over millions of years.
There are three caves with the main one containing an ancient Hindu temple.
The kicker is you have to climb 272 steep, long steps to be able to see the caves and temple.
The large statue of the Hindu Lord Murugan which overshadows the steps watches as Hindu devotees and determined tourists huff and puff their way up to the top.
Also, keep any food you have on you close as there are plenty of little monkeys around who would be more than willing to relieve you of your burden.
Incense burns everywhere and there are plenty of roadside stalls where you can buy a trinket, a coconut drink, some roti, join in a tea pulling display or get a henna tattoo.
From the caves we hit the road to the world-renowned Royal Selangor Pewter factory where we were given a tour of the history of the company and saw how this mixture of tin and copper is made into beautiful pewter items from tankards and vases to jewellery and photo frames.
I'd also like to announce that 90% of my Christmas shopping has been achieved.
Lunch was enjoyed at the grandest building in Kuala Lumpur, the JW Marriott Hotel where we were entertained with traditional dancers and a buffet that ensured I had to undo my belt a notch.
If you're looking for a place to have pre-dinner drinks you can't go past the Luna rooftop bar above the Pacific Regency Hotel.
Not only do you see much of the city lit up at night but you have a birds eye view of the Petronas Twin Towers.
At nearly 452 metres the twin towers are a world-renowned icon and the centrepiece of Kual Lumpur City Centre which consists of a shopping mall, hotels, a landscaped park and a convention centre.
No visit to KL is complete until you have stood at the Skybridge on the 41st floor and viewing deck on the 86th floor.
For those who want to sight-see a bit further outside the city I recommend a visit to Bukit Melawati Monkey Hill and as the name suggests there is plenty of furry wildlife to feed and take photos of.
Be aware that these little fellas and gals will jump to where they see food, so hold your offerings high and be prepared for photos of them sitting on your head or shoulders.
A night-time trip to the firefly colonies of Kampung Kuantan in Kuala Selangor is a must for a beautiful display of nature.
Groups of four are taken out onto the river in a punt-like boat and in the still darkness, with only the rhythmic sound of an oar splash, the dark bushes along the river are lit up like synchronised Christmas lights from thousands of fireflies.
Now for the serious side of the long weekend. Shopping.
Kuala Lumpur is very serious about it's shopping with acres and acres of malls and markets to browse through.
Rated in the top ten of places to shop in Asia, there is a place for every budget.
The Pavilion is considered the Beverley Hills of KL with its upmarket merchandise.
This lowly journo didn't spend much time there preferring the 'value-for-money' mall known as the Sungei Wan Plaza in Bukit Bintang and the Petaling Street markets and Chinatown.
You can pretty much buy anything there and if you have an inkling for haggling, then the markets are the place to go.
For those who love to try something completely different while at the Petaling Street markets, check out the fish foot spa where over a hundred little Doctor fish get the opportunity to munch on your feet and take away that nasty dead skin.
The mankier the foot, the more popular it is with this little group of munchers.
After that experience it only seems natural to talk about the local food which is plentiful with sidewalk stalls selling all things Indian, Chinese, Malay and American (think Mcdonalds).
I had the privilege of not only enjoying a Roti Canai (flat bread served with a fish 'gravy') and a freshly squeezed star fruit juice on the first day, but also got a tour of the tiny kitchen by an over-enthusiastic stall-owner who made sure I tasted all sauces/gravies available.
The cost is more than reasonable coming to a princely sum of $8AUD for three people.
The next day we tried another food stall and had a serving of Nasi Lemak (rice dish with anchovies, egg, curry and a sambal sauce) which deliciously burnt my mouth.
Being a chilli freak, that's a good thing.
Then when it's time to turn for home and the luggage allowance has been stretched, the long weekend traveller can rest in the knowledge that the time difference is only three hours and the trip is just a sleep on the plane away, ready for work on the Tuesday.