Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Malaysia on the move

With its tourism getting a boost, the Southeast Asian country offers a trove of hidden treasures for travelers, including cost-conscious vacations at five-star hotels

By Adrien Glover

A tourist builds sandcastles on Chenang Beach in Malaysia's resort island of Langkawi at sunset
We’re going to let you in on a secret: Malaysia is teetering on the verge of being “discovered” by international tourists and travelers seeking culture, cost-friendly vacations and emerging paradises to call their own. The Southeast Asian country’s government is optimistically pumping money into its service infrastructure and resorts, and has even declared certain regions “duty-free” zones. (We’ll get to how you can enjoy and profit from such initiatives in a moment.)
Travel to Malaysia gets really interesting when you consider the 99 beach-fringed, rainforest-filled islands of Langkawi now compete directly with their well-known and more expensive Thai neighbor—Phuket—offering more beach for less money and with fewer crowds. And, you’d be hard-pressed to find such good shopping and unusual nature, a diverse a collection of cultures--anywhere. Malay, Chinese, British, Japanese, Indian and Arab influences all come together in Malaysia. The result? A rich tapestry of locals, many of whose warm reputations precede them.
"Malaysia is a very safe and welcoming country. You never feel like you're being cheated or robbed, and that's because the people do quite well for themselves there," says Laingan Corio, who grew up on Malaysia's rural western coast and who travels there frequently from New York City to visit family.
"It also has the best of food in all of Southeast Asia, which is mainly due to the combination of Chinese, Indian, Malay flavors and culinary traditions. You can taste it anywhere--in Kuala Lumpur, or outside the city where life really slows down and you can enjoy long leisurely meals," says Corio, who admits that her all-time favorite destination in Malaysia is the old-fashioned town of Sarawak, where many people still travel by boat and live in long houses.
Today, in Malaysia, you get a higher degree of luxury for your well-earned buck than in many other similar destinations, but very often its top tier of hotel properties remain out of reach for the average visitor. Enter Malaysia Airline’s recently launched Golden Holidays (www.goldenholidaysusa.com). The new vacation wing of Southeast Asia’s largest carrier is debuting with nicely priced packages that actually include stays at swanky five-star hotels. One even includes accommodation at the plush Datai resort on a secluded cove on Langkawi, named by some as the “world's best resort.”
Right now, Golden Holidays is advertising a trio of launch specials, each priced at $699 per person (based on double occupancy). All include round-trip airfare any day of the week from Los Angeles to Kuala Lumpur on Malaysian Airlines, which has won numerous awards for its in-flight service, and bundle five night’s accommodation at your pick of five-star properties, hotel transfers, breakfasts, and a tour with an English-speaking guide. You can also pick your Malaysian destination: modern Kuala Lumpur with its mighty skyscrapers and colonial British accents, historic Penang (aka the “Pearl of the Orient”) or lounge-inspiring Langkawi, filled with nature preserves and waterfalls.
To be eligible for this across-the-board low price, however, all tickets must be booked and purchased by Mar. 31, 2004, with travel completed by Jun. 03, 2004. Departures are available weekdays from Newark International (NYC) for $100 additional, $200 on weekends. The trips are double occupancy only, and sadly off-limits to single travelers. However, the ticket you’re issued is for 30-days, so you have a lot of leeway in extending your visit.
For its 2004 offers, Golden Holidays has a number of customizable vacation packages, 25 to be exact, and many themes to choose from: spa, adventure, romance, golf, and diving. Given that Malaysia Airlines flies hundreds of flights in the region, the packages are also flexible when it comes to adding or subtracting new itineraries and trip extensions. The bulk of its other offerings are a good deal pricier, but generally don’t go over $2,000. One example that clearly falls in the “romance” realm is a six-night trip to Pangkor Island that includes stays overwater bungalows at the Pangkor Laut Resort, where the staff even plants a tree for every couple's visit. The vacation runs $2,016 for midweek departures, and there are cheaper versions available.
Golden Holidays will also organize dream dive trips to the underwater paradise of Sipadan, a tiny island northeast of Borneo, whose vast coral beds teem with rare marine life, including the Hawksbill and Green turtles. Dive vacations can be arranged for one or two divers, with nine dives included in all for its $1,922 package. If you’re feeling more adventurous than anything else you might be interested in boating through the bat caves of Mulu or perhaps trekking through the rainforest, where endangered orangutan roam freely. Golf lovers can enjoy their pick of over 200 professionally designed courses. No matter which trip you choose, if you buy by Mar. 31, 2004, you’ll receive 10 percent off.

Parent site: "Focus on Malaysia"