Traveller Ian Wright sets off on a journey of contrasts, taking in Malacca, Penang, and the wilds of Borneo. Steeped in history and home to ancient tribes, flamboyant temples, manic street markets, and superb cuisine, Ian discovers the rich and colourful diversity of cosmopolitan Malaysia.
Ian’s adventures begin at the ancient port of Malacca (known locally as “Melaka”), birthplace of Malaysia and one of the region’s top cultural heritage sites. Its rich and varied architecture bears witness to its former rulers – from crumbling old colonial mansions, beautiful Chinese shophouses, and the windmill on Dutch Square, Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese and English colonists have all left their mark here.
Ian decides to soak up the local culture with a trip around town in a trishaw, with its garish décor and cowboy driver, it’s loud, cheap and extremely cheerful!Malacca also happens to be the arm wrestling capital of Malaysia and Ian simply can’t resist signing himself up for the annual Arm Wrestling Championship. Naturally, he can’t say no when asked to challenge the reigning champion, a former Mr. Asia! Watch the show to find out who wins…
Next stop is the island of Penang, 4 miles off the west coast of Malaysia and home to one of the largest Chinese populations outside China. In Penang, Ian visits an old Baba Nonya house and marvels at the intricate design and amazing detail of the furnishings. The Babas were wealthy Chinese-Malays who prospered when the region began to flourish as a trading hub of the British Empire.
Penang is also the food capital of Malaysia – as Ian discovers on a tasty trip to one of the many night markets. The choice is incredible, with everything on offer from sumptuous satay sticks to flavoursome frogs legs porridge.
Ian’s journey continues north, across the Andaman Sea, to the unspoilt island paradise of Langkawi, where he goes in search of Mother Nature, accompanied by seasoned eco warrior, Irshad who takes him on a trip through the mangroves, explaining their importance to the environment along the way. They stop off to take a dip a a local waterhole and bump into Osthma the snake charmer, who just happens to have caught a King Cobra. Ian watches on in amazement as Osthma wrestles with the deadly reptile, which could either kill him outright or put him in serious coma for a couple of days.
From the beauty of Langkawi Ian heads across the South China Sea to the provinces of Sarawak and Saba on the Island of Borneo, a land of mystery and intrigue. Here he ventures deep into the rainforest to meet his hosts: an ancient head-hunting tribe, named the Ibans. Thankfully, the tribes people have long since given up head hunting but they still keep skulls to ward off evil spirits.
The Ibans are a deeply spiritual people who live simple lives in communal houses that rest on stilts beside the river. During his stay, Ian gets to sample some tasty beetle maggots: “That’s disgusting, yeah, but it’s full of protein and that’s the main thing, hey!”. He also witnesses a Sandau Ari Festival which takes place when tribe members feel a pressing need for spiritual guidance.
Help is at hand and the local Shaman is called in – a pig is selected and swiftly sacrificed. Ian looks on as the Shaman interpret’s the tribesman’s future fortunes by reading the dead pig’s liver. A rice wine drinking session ensues and Ian gets to party the night away.
Next day, Ian flies across to the east coast of Borneo to visit Nehru, the orangutan he has adopted at Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, which helps rehabilitate orphans and return them to the wild. Orangutans are an endangered species so visiting them is a once in a life time opportunity. Ian meets up with the centre’s founder, Sue Sheward, a headstrong Brit dedicated to saving orangutans from extinction.
As Ian’s journey draws to an end, his biggest challenge yet lies ahead – a 2-day hike up Mount Kinabul, the tallest peak in south east Asia, known to the local population as the Revered Place of the Dead.
The mountain is believed to be the sacred resting place of ancestral spirits and some locals still refuse to climb to the top, afraid of angering the spirits who dwell within. Ian braves the climb, and triumphantly reaches the summit, just as the sun begins to rise.
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