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Travel & Holidays in later life


Malaysia celebrated its Golden Jubilee of independence in 2007 with  a series of nationwide parades, cultural shows, street events and carnivals to commemorate the country's Independence or Merdeka Day on 31st August.

During recent decades, the Merdeka Day festival has grown into a month-long celebration nationwide that includes cultural dancers, athletes and Malaysians from all walks of life. It's great for tourist interest!

Meanwhile, on the tourism front,  the country has also vigorously targeted the international spectator sport market. The 44m motor racing track built at Sepang near Kuala Lumpur's new airport has been rated as the Eastern hemisphere's most spectacular circuit. 

The grandstand holds 30,000 people, while another 100,000 enthusiasts can view most of the circuit from natural raised banks. Formula One racing is scheduled as part of a 7-year contract. 

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No visas are needed for UK passport holders.

Climate: reckon a steady 90 F year round. The rainy season peaks in November and December. Otherwise most of the year is dry but humid.

The Malaysian currency is called the Ringgit - around 6.90  to  pound sterling.

More information: Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board, 57 Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DU. Tel: 0207-930 7932.

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Likewise in 1998 Malaysia became the first Asian country to stage the Commonwealth Games. To prepare for the event, Kuala Lumpur spent 300m on stadiums and other sport facilities. 

All this may sound far removed from the usual tropical image of warm sandy beaches with a palm-tree fringe. But sport and tropical beaches can make a good holiday cocktail.

Even when Malaysia was still a British colony, the sport theme was already well developed. Managers of tin mines or rubber and tea plantations liked nothing better than to cool off in the Highlands and play golf. 

Today Malaysia is blessed with 219 golf courses, in a spectacular variety of natural settings - from lush coastal locations to the terraced slopes of the Cameron Highlands. Here, past fields of strawberries, visitors can still enjoy the original Brit colonial life-style with Tudor inns, cream teas, rose gardens and golf.On a north coast Penang beach

Ever since Independence, Malaysia's links with Britain have remained strong. UK visitors total almost half of all arrivals from Europe - either on round-trip holiday packages, or as stopovers en route to Australia or New Zealand. 

The Malaysian connection started in 1786 when Captain Francis Light of the East India Company established the island of Penang as the first British trading outpost in a region that was then controlled by the Dutch. 

Britain's colonial influence finally spread throughout this tropical land of rain forests, palm-fringed beaches and clear warm seas. 

But the island of Penang - the 'Pearl of the Orient' - is still the prime destination for UK visitors. The oval-shaped island, 15 miles long and 9 miles wide, lies only two or three miles off the mainland, reached by ferry or across Penang Bridge.

Hotels around a sandy bay on the north coast.On the island's north coast, luxury resort hotels fringe the golden beaches of Tanjung Bunga, Batu Ferringhi and Teluk Bahang. Other beaches are less accessible, though a 46-mile road around the island passes through lush green jungle with access to sandy coves.

There are plantations of cloves, nutmegs and the high-smelling durian fruit. In Malay fishing villages, families live in wooden stilt houses, surrounded by vividly-coloured flowers and bushes, and shaded by coconut trees. En route you can see the production of varied handicrafts and batik textiles.

In the southeast corner of Penang, the Snake Temple is home to scores of vipers which are sedated by clouds of incense. Penang is also a haven for birdlife, with the official checklist recording over 200 species. Garden-lovers are charmed by the Botanical Gardens, located on a bowl-shaped 75-acre site with its own waterfall. Numerous monkeys enliven the shady footpaths among the native tropical plants and trees.

Another show place is a Butterfly Farm at Teluk Bahang, where around 120 gorgeous species are reared. 

The chief town and port of Georgetown, site of the original 18th-century trading post, is a blend of Malaysian, Indian and Chinese cultures. As a booming high-rise business centre, Georgetown teems with traffic. Penang's tallest skyscraper is the 59-storey Komtar building, offering fabulous views. 

With Chinese forming more than half of PenaAlong one of the Chinese clan's population, the Chinatown district is richly interesting, particularly around the waterfront clan piers. 

The local tourist industry promotes Events, Food, Watersport, Shopping - and golf, of course. 

On the culinary front, the mouth-watering variety of cuisine ranges from hot and spicy to sweet and tangy. Local restaurants serve gourmet-style dishes at reasonable cost. 

Banana fritters while you wait. You can get a meal in 5-star hotel for under 10; or a tasty 3-course meal from a street hawker's stall for under 1. But alcoholic drinks are more expensive than in Britain.

There are several 'night markets' where hawker stalls offer very low-cost textiles, watches and luxury items printed with famous brand-names. Haggling is normal.

Apart from the usual travel-agency range of package tours, Malaysia Airlines offers Stopover deals for travellers who want to break their journey at Kuala Lumpur en route between UK and Australia or New Zealand. Kuala Lumpur airport is a magnificent building, designed to operate as a major traffic hub of southeast Asia.  

"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

Essential Malaysia by Christine Osborne - a pocket guide to the country, in the standard AA format.

Penang Insight Pocket Guide - Buy this one if you're planning to concentrate your holiday on Penang Island, together with Langkawi, featuring a dozen itineraries and a pull-out map.

Penang and Langkawi Insight Flexi Map (Insight Flexi Map S.) - A laminated collection of easily-used maps, with details of the main sightseeing highlights.

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