Destination: Cultural Sites in Malaysia
The beauty of Malaysia lies in its robust, multi-cultural society heavily influenced by the Malay culture and the cultures of the country’s two most prominent trading partners – China and India. Although each of these racial communities has retained their religions, customs and way of life, they have also blended together to create Malaysia’s diverse heritage.
Batu Caves is probably one of the most frequented tourist attractions for its rich culture and being the focal point of the Tamil festival, Thaipusam. Guarded by a majestic statue of the Hindu deity, Lord Murugan in gold, ascend the 272 multihued steps to a limestone cave where temples nestle dioramas of mythic scenes create intrigue, accompanied by the occasional flutter of bats and the playful monkeys awaiting food. At the base of the hill are two more cave temples, Art Gallery Cave and Museum Cave, both of which are full of Hindu statues and paintings. This complex was renovated and opened as the Cave Villa in 2008.
Melaka Sultanate Palace Museum
Paying homage to the Melaka Sultanate, this museum is nestled against the foothill of St.Paul’s Hill. Boasting brilliant architecture, this palace museum is a replica of the Sultan Mansur Shah palace back in the heyday of the 15th Century and gives insight into the ancient Malay kingdom then. The Melaka Sultanate Palace museum was erected using traditional architectural methods and was built without the use of a single nail.
Sam Poh Tong Temple
Up north in Ipoh, Perak, lies the Sam Poh Tong Temple, also known as the Three Buddhas Cave. What’s special about this cultural site is that the temple was built within a limestone cave and wears the crown for being the oldest cave temple in Perak. The temple was created in a raw limestone cave in the mountains located about 5 km from the city centre and follows the Buddhist branch of Mahāyāna Buddhism. The present temple gateway was founded by a monk from China in 1890 who walked through the area from Ipoh and decided to make the cave his home and a place for meditation where he remained until the end of his life. This was then continued by other monks and nuns who dedicated their lives to Buddha where a new temple was constructed in the 1950’s. All good things come to those who climb because after a steep 246 steps, a sweeping view of Ipoh and its surrounding await. One can find a reclining statue of Buddha within the cave and visitors can feed fish and feed or release turtles into a pond there as a means of balancing one’s karma.
Kampung Laut Mosque
Masjid Kampung Laut was built in the 15th century by a group of Champa government transporters and it remains as the oldest surviving mosque in Malaysia. Today, this mosque can be found in Kelantan. The architectural style of this mosque embodies a traditional one, true to its time, climate-appropriate, much like the local houses within the vicinity and is said to be the remnant of a once culturally southern Indian Hindu architecture. The original mosque had a basic architectural style and structure — four pillars for the foundation and palm fronds for the roof.
Penang Peranakan Mansion
The Penang Peranakan Mansion is a tribute to the Babas and Nyonyas — a community of acculturated Chinese unique to Malaysia, especially in the Straits Settlements of Penang, Melaka and Singapore, ergo dubbed the Straits Chinese. These Straits Chinese eventually adopted the culture of the local Malays and later, the colonial British, which resulted in a unique lifestyle and customs which had not only left behind a rich legacy of antiques but its cultural influences like cuisine and language are still evident in Penang today. At the Penang Peranakan Mansion, expect over 1,000 pieces of antiques and collectibles of the era on display, along with eclectic design and architecture. Having survived the many decades of neglect and decay, the mansion has now been restored to its former glory of a stately home.