I just got back from six days in Malaysia Truly Asia. All those Malaysia Tourism Board commercials between Anderson Cooper’s 360 and American Morning on CNN Japan did the trick. My partner and I have already been there twice.

The old Malaysia Truly Asia commercials were gayer than Dorothy holding Toto at an ABBA concert in San Francisco. I think they changed them after word got out that hunky, shirtless men frolicking on a beach together was considered gay. Really!? Now you see a straight, J-Crew-type couple sitting on a deck contemplating the surf–or their next navy-blue, crew-neck t-shirt purchase.

Kuala Lumpur was better than I remembered. Burkas and saris (women), flip-flops and tank-tops (men). A fez here, a beer there. Calls to prayer, dilapidated colonial buildings with Chinese flourishes, high-end boutiques in air-conditioned malls. Inexpensive five-star hotels.  What’s not to like?

The heart of Malaysia though, the cultural epicenter, must be Melaka or Malacca. My partner and I spent 24 hours in this Portuguese, Dutch, English, Malay, Chinese and Indian melting pot of a town that is Malaysia.  We wandered up and down the historic center, dodging cars and scooters along the way.  We put our cameras away only to take them out again when we turned the next corner.  Pale blue Portuguese buildings.  Red Chinese lanterns.  Austere English colonial buildings.  The oldest mosque, church and Chinese temple in Malaysia.   Old homes you wish you could buy, fix up, furnish and then lounge in.

We hired a trishaw expecting to be whisked down cobblestone streets like in those commercials.  Instead, our trishaw was “driven” by an elderly man who peddled along at a snail’s pace, and stopped at every block to wheeze, spit and converse with other trishaw drivers.

We hoped to stay in a suite at Hotel Puri, but instead got a traditional room–no hot water.  It’s a testament to the historic hotel’s architecture, beauty and history that I would even consider returning to a hotel with hard mattresses, dirty corners and no hot water.  Plus, the hotel has a spa!  Perfect after a day and night of walking too far and drinking too much.

I’m only sorry that we didn’t get to spend 48 hours in Malacca, which is what we intended to do.  That was before either heat exhaustion after my run, or that curry I had in Kuala Lumpur’s Little India, did me in.  I thought, “Dear Lord, I don’t want to die in Malaysia.  My partner will screw up the handling of my body and I’ll be cremated and tossed into some canal.  My mom will never forgive him!”

An extravagance (if you can all it that) worth mentioning is that we hired a car to and from Malacca.  Our safe, nicely air-conditioned hotel taxi to Malacca was around $150 US.  Our rickety, dusty local taxi on the way back to KL was about $50 US.  I recommend hiring a taxi because it minimizes the hassle.  You have to go to the bus station to book your ticket one day in advance and then must haggle with local cab drivers to get to and from your hotel.  Why bother?  Just remember, you get what you pay for, even in Malaysia.

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