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Presenter : Justine Shapiro

Malaysia & Southern Thailand

Presenter Justine Shapiro explores the heart of South East Asia – modern Malaysia, with its ancient forests and vibrant mix of cultures, and the beaches of Southern Thailand just across the border.

image:Justine meets new friends in MalaysiaHer first taste of Malaysia is Kuala Lumpur. The capital is central to the Government’s Vision 2020 policy, which aims to make Malaysia a fully developed nation by the year 2020. Justine visits during Ramadan, when Muslims fast each day until sunset, but she finds out that there are two places to find food before dark – Chinatown and India Street.

Justine hires a car and heads north through theCameron Highlands to the Temenggor Dam. The area is home to ancient rainforests and tribes, and Justine and her guide Ruben, who is trained in jungle survival skills, take a boat trip out to a village where the Orang Astli people live.

In preparation for a hunting party the next day, Justine witnesses the villagers making deadly poison darts. That evening the celebratory Sawang dance is performed in the village for the new year, where the dancers wear woven leaves and the women beat out the rhythm with bamboo poles.

Next morning Justine joins the hunting party and takes lessons in the law of the jungle. The party build their own shelter for the night out of palm leaves and the hut will remain standing image: Kadavi carrier at the Thaipusam festival for 6 months. Meanwhile the hunters catch a tasty dinner of frogs in the river which are cooked in bamboo.

From Temanggor Justine travels to Kota Bharuin the Islamic state of Kelantan. She is invited into a home to celebrate the festival of Hari Raya the end of Ramadan, where she helps out in the kitchen preparing an enormous feast and meets the pet monkey, trained to pick the best coconuts from the trees. The family also takes her kite-flying, a popular competitive sport on the east coast.

Before flying back to Kuala Lumpur, Justine spends a day on the unspoiled Perhentian Islands, where the beaches are fabulous and the crystal clear waters invite scuba divers to explore the marine life and coral reef. She drives along the coastline taking in the palm-lined white sandy beaches and tiny fishing villages.

Justine arrives back in Kuala Lumpur in time for the extraordinary Hindu festival of Thaipusam. It’s a chaotic affair as a million Hindu devotees undergo weeks of purification, then pierce themselves and carry heavy burdens as acts of penance all the way to the Batu caves outside the city, where they pay homage to the Lord Muruga.

Over the border to Thailand by train, Justine makes her way round the coast to the island of Phuket. Tourism is big in Phuket, but a private beach is a great place to enjoy a Thai massage. That evening Justine hails a motorbike taxi to check out the legendary night-life in Patong. However she finds the blatant sex trade in town unpleasant and off-putting and opts for an early night instead.

Outside Patong is a sanctuary which gives a home to lesser known casualties of sex bars – gibbons, a breed of monkey, which are drugged and abused in the name of cheap entertainment. Justine goes to see a nearby island where they are monitored and gradually reintroduced to the wild.

Justine’s final adventure begins in the town of Krabi – a sea canoe trek back across the bay to Phuket. The Sea Canoe Company is run by an eco-warrior John Grey, also known as Cave Man who fights against the mass tourism which is destroying the lagoons. He takes Justine to the famous cave formations now under threat from vandals, where she sees the beautiful stalactite formations and learns the ‘look but don’t touch’ message of respect for the environment.

Places Mentioned - Thailand

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