Friday, May 21, 2010

Al Fresco Dining in Genting Highlands

I've just returned from a lovely walk, in a terno, through the lush forests of Genting Highlands; and from an altogether wonderful evening of perfect weather, good food, fantastic entertainment and excellent company. Genting is synonymous with casinos and theme parks, but we're actually in a really quiet part of it -- so that I've not even
glimpsed anything remotely resembling a casino or a theme park. All we've had so far are nature, fresh air, and a pretty relaxing time.

This evening, the Travelife editorial team was invited to dinner by Tourism Malaysia and Resortsworld, and indeed they prepared a wonderful feast under the stars in the middle of mountain jungles. We were asked to come in national dress and from the hotel, we were ferried to a secluded spot in the mountains where the Resortsworld executive chef (who had earlier introduced himself to us as a Portugese-origin chef with a Filipina wife) and his team awaited us. Large round tables were set on a plain and surrounded by temporary stalls offering all kinds of food from every corner of Malaysia: roast lamb, Portugese-style baked fish, all kinds of curries, spicy noodles, salads and chicken rendang served with sticky rice, to name a few.

Before dinner, however, we were entertained by several dozen young people in the most colorful costumes. They performed a bamboo dance not unlike the tinikling, some lively dances that reminded me of performances I'd seen in India last March, and even the macarena. What I liked most, though, were the songs and dances they performed to music set to Tourism Malaysia's theme song of "Malaysia, Truly Asia." We just shook our heads wistfully, watching this performance to a tune and a slogan that almost everyone in this part of the world already knows by heart, and wishing the Philippines had an equally recognizable one as well. What a marketing success story for Malaysia, that travelers the world over now recognize this country by its slogan of "Truly Asia."

There were many other people present at this dinner, but for some reason, my managing editor and I found ourselves seated at the presidential table for ten persons along with our hosts from Tourism Malaysia, Resortsworld and Malaysian Airlines. It turned out to be a congenial evening where we learned much more about Malaysia's rich culture and multitude of influences. Malaysia's not a very big country in terms of population, but it has quite a wealth of natural and cultural resources. This was the main topic of discussion at our table tonight.

"Travelife is the leading travel magazine in the Philippines," one of our hosts said. "I hope you will help us to further promote Malaysia to your readers." My managing editor and I replied, almost in unison: "We certainly will."

We at Travelife Magazine do try to include interesting stories about Malaysia whenever we can. Malaysia, after all, is only three hours away from Manila and it's also a great value destination still. So with budget flights increasing, it makes for a pretty good holiday. In fact, in the current issue of Travelife, I've written about a trip I recently took on the Eastern and Oriental Express from Bangkok to Singapore. That three-night journey enabled me to travel literally from one end of Malaysia to the other, through wilderness jungles, rubber and palm oil plantations, and tea plantations; and allowed me to appreciate the diversity of its eco-system.

Personally, too, I myself am quite a fan and I've actually put my money where my mouth is, by buying a (modest) flat in Kuala Lumpur some years back. KL has always seemed attractive to me because of its lush greenery and its rich heritage. So when I chanced upon a nice property for sale in a lively expatriate neighborhood some years back, I bought it. So when I write positive things about Malaysia, I'm actually speaking from experience and from the heart.

Another interesting topic at our table tonight was the big Colours of Malaysia parade scheduled in KL tomorrow night, to which our team is going. Our host at dinner, the deputy director general of Tourism Malaysia, is also playing host to Martha Stewart, who is here for the Colours of Malaysia parade. Apparently it's her first time in Malaysia. She's going to be at the parade as well tomorrow night, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed for an opportunity to meet her!


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