Batu Caves, Selangor, Malaysia

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We found ourselves in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia for a few days and spent a few hours at Batu Caves. These caves have become a Hindu temple complex and cultural centre.

Murugan statue at Batu Caves

Upon arrival the spectacular golden statue of Murugan, the largest in the world, greeted us. It was absolutely enormous, and behind were tall cliffs and a staircase of 270 steps (so we were told, we didn’t count them). Climbing the steep steps and avoiding the monkeys hanging around, we entered the main cavern area. It was easily the most spacious cave I have ever been in. Walking through were several temples, and statues of Hindu gods and goddesses dotted around. The temples are still very much in use; many Hindus were visiting, bringing offerings such as flower wreaths and milk to the shrines of gods.
We looked around and made donations (it’s free entry) and check out the souvenirs on sale. Fortunately there were no pushy sellers.

Returning to the bottom of the staircase, we paid the small entrance fee to visit Cave Villa, an Indian arts and cultural centre. We crossed a walkway over a koi pond and watched a short performance of Indian Bollywood-style dance, performed every hour on the hour while we were there.

There was a reptile house in one of the caves which made us wish we hadn’t come to Cave Villa. The reptiles were kept in inhumane conditions and cramped tanks and the staff persisted in asking us to have our photo taken with a reptile (for MYR10) even after we had refused several times. Back outside we walked past the aviary where a variety of birds (and, oddly a skunk) were kept. After we had said clearly that we didn’t want our photos taken with a bird, the staff member just dumped a bird on my husband’s shoulder, as if he would want it if it happened to him. He continued to ask for the bird to be removed repeatedly, while I avoided taking any photos so as not to get asked for a MYR10 fee. Finally when the staff member realised that my husband really didn’t like having a bird put on his shoulder, he removed it, and we went on our way.

The redeeming feature of Cave Villa was the art gallery, which is also in a cave. It features statues and dioramas of many Hindu characters, showing scenes from epic tales. This was lit very effectively to make the scenes come to life.

But overall, Cave Villa, which smelt of monkey and bird excrement, was a poorly maintained disappointment. There was a dirty fish spa pool that I would never have dreamed of putting my feet into! The rest of Batu Caves was a fascinating combination of nature, religion and culture, worth a visit if you are in the area.

Outside Cave Villa, back near the base of the Murugan statue, there are several Indian restaurants. We chose the on with the most Indian people eating there, and had a tasty thali plate for MYR8 each.

Worth noting when you are trying to leave Batu Caves by taxi – a driver tried to get us to pay fixed price at double the price of our journey. We went outside the caves complex and within a few minutes hailed a cab that went by the meter.

Churches, Temples and Mosques of Malacca, Malaysia

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Malacca has many religious buildings, including some of the oldest ones in Malaysia. Due to being Islamicized, then colonised by Christians, and having a large Chinese community, there is a good mixture of churches, temples and mosques.

Here are five that we found interesting:

1) Mesjid Kampung Hulu

Mesjid Kampung Hulu

The oldest functioning mosque in Malaysia, Mesjid Kampung Hulu was commissioned by the Dutch (who were keen to appease those who wished to practise Islam) in 1728. It has predominantly Javanese architecture, and we were surprised by how small it actually looks.

 

2) Kampung Kling Mosque

Kampung Kling Mosque

This mosque features a high tower, which was apparently inspired by the design of Hindu temples.

 

3) Christ Church

Christ Church

Part of the Stadhuys complex in the centre of the old town (a good focal point, and bus 17 from Melaka Sentral will drop you off here), this church features grave stones from 1800. While we were there a Chinese-language service was taking place, so we couldn’t walk around inside.

 

4) St Paul’s Church

St Paul's Church

This much older church sits on a hilltop over the town. Now in ruins, with no roof, it features graves from the 1600s, and spectacular views out to sea. The former tomb of St Francis Xavier is here (his body was moved to Goa, India).

Graveyard tourist

Some unusual tourism – photo with a gravestone, anyone?

5) Cheng Hoon Teng Temple

Cheng Hoon Teng Temple

This is Malaysia’s oldest traditional Chinese temple (dating from 1646). Its striking black and gold carved wood was totally different to the décor of other temples I have seen, which tend to be more colourful.

Inside Cheng Hoon Teng Temple

Penang: A Wander Through Georgetown

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Penang, a Malaysian island, is a popular tourist destination. I spent a few days looking around, following in the footsteps of my grandfather, Peter Allen, who often spent holiday time there. He frequently travelled to Southeast Asia for his work as a scientist in the rubber industry, and I remember receiving postcards from Penang (he also visited Bogor, Indonesia).

Temple rooftopsGeorgetown was the first place the British arrived in Malaysia, the beginning of Britain as a coloniser in Southeast Asia, and it’s full of colonial era architecture. Now preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, there are more colonial buildings in Georgetown than anywhere else I have visited so far in Southeast Asia.

Although it rained almost constantly throughout my entire trip, I didn’t want to waste time sitting in my hotel. Wandering through the streets of Georgetown and visiting some of the tourist attractions was still bearable, even if my hand ached from holding an umbrella for several days!

Fort Cornwallis

Fort Cornwallis (RM2 per person) is the site of the first British entry into this region. It is amazing to imagine Francis Light arriving here on his ship and building the original fort, made of nipah palm, and then remember that a palm tree fort was the start of hundreds of years of British rule in the Malay archipelago.

Gunpowder StoreAt Fort Cornwallis today, there are the remains of the old stone fort walls (that were built after the initial nipah palm construction), as well as the gunpowder store. Cannons point out to sea. Some of the tunnel-like rooms have been made into a museum that traces the history of the fort.

Padang

Across from Fort Cornwallis is the Padang, or “field”, a large open grassy area. There is a foodcourt here, called Medan Selera Lapangan Kota, where we enjoyed a tasty mee goreng (fried noodles) and coconut shake. On the opposite side of the Padang are some large and impressive colonial buildings, including the town hall.

the Town Hall buildingPenang Museum

Another short walk and we arrived at the Penang Museum (RM1 each). This was actually very interesting, adding to the knowledge we had gleaned from the Fort about Penang’s history. Each ethnic group has its own room displaying cultural items, furniture, clothes and so on, that are considered to represent the ethnicity. Upstairs are displays about old Penang. Outside in the museum courtyard is a real old-style funicular train carriage, that was used at the Penang Hill funicular railway.

Pinang Peranakan Mansion

Then we walked on to Pinang Peranakan Mansion (RM10 each). Peranakans are found in Malaysia and Singapore, and are mixed-race people. The term is most often used to describe people of Chinese-Malay mixed race ancestry. Peranakans have their own distinctive culture, from wedding traditions to home décor. The Pinang Peranakan Mansion is indeed a mansion house, where items of peranakan furniture, clothing and household items are displayed. The furniture is stunningly elaborate and highly ornamented with mother-of-pearl details and it fills an opulent house. There was not much information available about the items on display, but it was worth a visit to experience such extravagance.

mother-of-pearl benchEthnic Enclaves

Penang has its own ethnic enclaves, and we wandered through Little India, filled with colourful fabric shops. A man rushed up to us, trying to sell us a Bollywood DVD. We saw Sri Mariamman temple, but it was closed by that time.

We did see an interesting Chinese ancestor temple which had been recently refurbished and had amazing detail in its brightly painted carvings. Chulia Street and Campbell Street, parts of Chinatown, were filled with Chinese writing on shop signs.

Chinese temple paintingGeorgetown is a great place for randomly finding yourself somewhere interesting. It’s small enough to walk around in a day, including visits to museums and temples. And it’s bearable in the rain.