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Xmas in the Malaysian Tropics

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Your Christmas in Malaysia certainly won’t be “white”, but it will be wonderful if you heed the advice of veteran travel writer (and Yuletide Reveller)

‘Tis the season to be jolly with the festive season upon us once again. Before you even say: “What happened to 2011?” face up to it; it’s the end of the year and the time to celebrate the passing of the old and the arrival of the new.

While many expats travel back home for the festivities, others stay put to enjoy a tropical Christmas. Being the multicultural nation that Malaysia is, most people love a celebration and the festivities aren’t the domain of just one community within the country.

The commercialism of Christmas hasn’t escaped the attention of Malaysian shops, department stores, hotels, restaurants and bars and the visible signs of Christmas are similar to many other countries. Leading up to Christmas and even after the holiday, there are major bargains to be had during the country-wide “Mega” sale.

Restaurants and hotels also have special promotions during this period, so keep your eyes out for these once-a-year offers. From a religious perspective, Christian services are conducted in many parts of Malaysia.

One obvious indication, however, that a Malaysian Christmas is very different to the traditional European Christmas is that the weather is vastly hotter than the traditional European winter. Much hotter and more humid, in fact. It’s a safe bet that the only chance of seeing ice and snow in Malaysia in December is in a shopping centre like Sunway Pyramid which houses an ice skating rink.

So while there’s no snow, there are a few places where the temperature is relatively cooler than the heat and humidity of the tropical lowlands. Furthermore, there are some destinations offering a colonial setting that may make those pining for a traditional Christmas, feel more at home. The coldest place in Malaysia is also Malaysia’s highest point. But even on Mount Kinabalu the chances of snow are extremely rare. At 4,101m, it does get cool and sometimes a little icy. The atmosphere there on Christmas Day will be no different to most other days and the thrill of ascending the mountain will definitely appeal to the adventurous few.

There are a number of other high altitude locations in Malaysia where comfortable accommodation and a cool temperate climate make for a pleasant retreat. Historically, these places known as hill stations have been a retreat from the heat and humidity of the lowlands. Colonialists sought refuge here decades ago and established temperate gardens, golf courses and houses in architectural styles to remind them of back home.

Malaysia isn’t unique in this regard as other Asian nations have similar colonial outposts. Pyin U Lwin (Myanmar), Dalat (Vietnam) and Darjeeling (India) are but three of the better known locations.

Scones and Tea 
Malaysia’s hill retreats continue to offer a relaxing destination for a Christmas break. The best known of these hill stations is the Cameron Highlands. First time visitors will be amazed at the isolation of the Camerons and the way in which agriculturists have managed to utilise every piece of available land. Terracing has enabled these farmers to grow temperate crops including delicious strawberries, a relative delicacy in the tropics.

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Devonshire teas and other colonial staples such as beef and Yorkshire pudding may seem out of place in Malaysia but considering the cooler weather it almost feels like nothing else should be served. Ye Olde Smokehouse, in the township of Tanah Rata on the plateau is as British as Anne Hathaway’s Cottage at Stratford-Upon-Avon.

The mock Tudor architecture (a common architectural feature in the Camerons), temperate gardens, log fireplaces and afternoon teas make this intimate hotel the perfect place to relax and ponder life back in England. To complete the scene, play a round of golf at the course immediately opposite and imagine you are at St. Andrews on a spring day.

From here it’s just a short drive to the Boh Tea Plantation at Sungai Palas. The narrow winding road passes through hillsides carpeted in emerald green tea plants used to produce some of Malaysia’s best known teas. The landscape is punctuated with colourful Indian temples and narrow paths used by the tea pickers. Relax in the gardens of the tea estate and sip a delicious cuppa or inspect the processing plant and see how tea is produced.

Genteel Retreats
Closer to the capital Kuala Lumpur is Fraser’s Hill. This hill station is more compact and jungle or road walks are popular here. A nine-hole golf course forms the centre of the community with most of the bungalows and holiday retreats surrounding the course.

One of the interesting things about Fraser’s Hill is the approach via the one way road from the Gap to the summit. Each hour the traffic flow is reversed so it’s important to arrive at the right time. There is another branch of Ye Olde Smokehouse in Fraser’s Hill as well as a few other small resorts where bookings are always recommended especially during the Christmas holiday.

Even closer to home, the Berjaya Hills Resort (including Colmar Tropicale) at Bukit Tinggi will be wishing their guests Joyevx Noël or Happy Christmas this December. This property is unique in Malaysia and probably Asia as it’s a replica of parts of the village of Colmar in Alsace, France. The cobble-stoned streets and timber-lined buildings make for a very unique location to celebrate Christmas; French style.

Stand in the main square, close your eyes and then open them and you could be excused for thinking you were somewhere in Alsace. If you want some mountain air, close to Kuala Lumpur take the short drive up to Bukit Tinggi located off the Karak Highway on the way to Kuantan.

Tropical Island 
While not a high altitude location, the island of Penang has two very interesting colonial properties where Christmas will be a special celebration. The Eastern and Oriental Hotel was opened by the Sarksie Brothers in 1885 as the sister property to Singapore’s Raffles Hotel and the Strand in Yangon.

If you’re in Penang on Christmas Day, do drop by and have a “G & T” or glühwein on the lawns facing the mainland and ponder the days when the British colonies occupied more of the world than any other colonial power.

Further around the beachfront at Penang’s famous Batu Ferringhi is the delightful and secluded Lone Pine Hotel. The 50 or so year-old property is the oldest along the stretch of sandy, shaded beachfront. The shade is cast by a row of towering casaurina trees.

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If it’s a seaside Christmas with colonial charm that you’re seeking then the Lone Pine could be the place. There are only 50 rooms here and Christmas is always popular so bookings are essential.

The rooms are charming with original antique furniture but with modern facilities to cater to today’s travelling public.

Guests dine within earshot of whispering casaurina trees that line the beachfront.

Most of these destinations are popular all year round holiday retreats and Christmas will be as busy as most other holiday periods.

A Malaysian Christmas offers a range of options from the summit of one of Southeast Asia’s highest peaks to the beaches of Penang.

While there is a temptation for indulging it’s also a period to reflect upon it being time of goodwill to all people.

Merry Christmas or “selamat hari krismas” as you’re most likely to be wished in Malaysia.
 

Source: The Expat December 2011
This article has been edited for ExpatGomalaysia.com
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