Porcupine, wild boar, mouse deer - and that's just dinner

MY ROUGH GUIDE

Best Discovery

You don't have to negotiate the journey into peninsular Malaysia from Singapore shoehorned into a bus whose air-conditioning unit is turned up to 11. If you've got money to burn, there's no more luxurious way to travel into Malaysia than on the sumptuous Eastern & Oriental Express, a fairy-tale trip that shamelessly recreates the pampered days of the region's colonial past. Even as the plebs are still rooting around for their passports at the causeway linking Singapore to Malaysia, you'll be nibbling cucumber sandwiches and cake-y treats while your room boy pours out the Earl Grey. Later, you can sharpen your appetite with a cocktail in the observation carriage and watch the rubber plantations and steaming jungles of Malaysia unfold before you, before drifting into the dining carriage for a gourmet Asian supper.

BEST MEAL

Gourmands could argue the toss all night, but for me there's nothing to eclipse a steaming hot bowl of laksa. The earliest Chinese immigrants to the Malay peninsula settled in Melaka and Penang. When they took local Malay wives, a new people, know as the Peranakans, evolved. Peranakan cuisine borrowed all that was good from its Sino-Malay ancestry, and this happy marriage of influences resulted in taste sensation like laksa, in which noodles, beansprouts, prawns and slices of fishcake are doused in a spicy chilli-coconut soup.

USEFUL PHRASE

The dollar is king in the Chinese-influenced cities strung up the west coast of Malaysia. Cross to the beaches and fishing villages of the east coast, though, and you'll soon find that life shifts down a few gears. After a few days out east, you'll start to chill out, and if you miss your bus, or if the rain sets in for the afternoon, you'll shrug, and say: "Tidak apa-apa" (no problem).

FREAKIEST ENCOUNTER

The shelf of coral ringing Pulau Sipadan, a tiny island off the coast of the east Malaysian state of Sabah, was labelled "an untouched piece of art" by Jacques Cousteau, who knew a thing or two about the ocean. Most visitors are scuba enthusiasts, but simply snorkelling can be a breathtaking affair, as I discovered on my maiden be-flippered waddle out into the surf. Sipadan's waters teem with marine life. Vast clouds of gaily coloured tropical fish swarmed and scattered; and turtles, so lumbersome on land, soared by with the grace of angels. Amid all this colour and beauty, a sinister shadow slunk past. And then another. Sharks. Almost chewing through my snorkel in horror, I trod water as two grey reef sharks circled me, button eyes staring dully. In a few seconds they disappeared again into the coralscape.

FAVOURITE HOTEL

Ye Olde Smokehouse up in the mists and mountains of the Cameron Highlands, has much to recommend it, not least the afternoon cream tea, which is taken in delightful gardens. The place is said to be only 60 years old, but who cares? The Smokehouse oozes colonial charm, and its four-poster beds, leaded windows, and wooden beams faithfully re-create an English country inn in the heart of Malaysian tea-plantationland. Then there's the Borneo Rainforest Lodge, way across the South China Sea in Sarawak. A major new eco-tourism initiative, the lodge offers levels of comfort rare in the belly of the Borneo rainforest. Takers for its wildlife treks see animals as diverse as leopard cats, orang-utans and Asian elephants - though some prefer to sit back on the veranda, listen to the gibbons's evening chorus, and watch the prehistoric-looking hornbills wheeling over the Danum River.

TOP NIGHTLIFE

Grabbing a beer in Kuching, capital of the east Malaysian state of Sarawak, is no problem - De Tavern, opposite the Hilton, is a decent boozer. But for a really cracking night out, you'll want to make for a longhouse, where scores of tribespeople live under one roof. If your trip coincides with a festival, you'll find the rice wine flowing freely, the house band in full flow, and an awful lot of people intent on teaching you their tribal dances. Munchies are quelled by a spot of porcupine, wild boar, mouse deer, or whatever else the hunters caught the previous evening.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

    £21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Guru Careers: Email Marketing Specialist

    £26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Email Marketing Specialist is needed to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
    World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

    Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

    The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
    Why the league system no longer measures up

    League system no longer measures up

    Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
    Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

    Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

    Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
    Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness