Is it cool? You bet! A day in the highlands is REALLY cool.
It’s not difficult to understand why the resorts in Malaysia’s highlands are so popular. Like the everywhere-you-are malls, the air conditioned cars and the ultra-cool buildings, the highlands resorts are a heaveny respite from the warmth and humidity of life outside and down below in the real warm world. It’s so cool there–in every way and most especially temperature-wise.
About 60-90 minutes from the centre of the bustling capital city, Kuala Lumpur, ‘Genting Highlands’ is essentially a huge resort, or perhaps two, nestled on a mountain peak with a maximum elevation of about about 1800 metres (5,900 feet or so) within the Titiwangsa Mountains. That mountain range forms the backbone, as it were, of the Malay Peninsula, and runs north-south from Thailand.
Much of the drive is a series of hairpin curves and switchbacks–there are zero (none, nada, zip, trust me!) sections of straight roadway. Derek had been warned that our little rental car a Malaysian WAJA Proteon, might not make it. It did, though at some points we turned the air conditioner off. The 1.6L engine in the little beast, with an automatic transmission was (to say the least) pushed to the limits of its capability.
There’s also a cable car which, when it opened a few years ago, was the world’s fastest and Southeast Asia’s longest. We only discovered it on the way down so that’s something for another day. I believe one would catch it part way up the mountain to go to the top and the main resort; our experience of the main resort was that the best approach was simply to go through it on the way back down…there wasn’t any other way to get back down…as it was ‘over the top’ in too many ways for us that day.
As it turned out, we made our destination the Chin Swee Caves Chinese temple, quite by accident since we got there and, well, there it was, inviting us and we never got any further. In the end, we spent quite a while there. We knew we weren’t the “casino types” for the big resort higher above–somehow, a hotel with 10,000 rooms, alleged to be the largest in the world, the giant theme park and all the other attractions of the “City of Entertainment” hadn’t the draw for us that it might for some, or some other time.
The Chin Swee Caves temple, which is Taoist, really was “what it says on the tin”: peaceful. It was tranquility in the high mists of the virgin rainforest. Gorgeous vistas, refreshing breezes. It was completely free of charge to explore and just hang out, though we did pay for lunch in the restaurant–I had a lovely big bowl of Chinese noodle soup and Derek had a stir-fry noodle dish. We were one of two parties in the vast restaurant–was everyone else at the casino, then? Well, who knows!
Chin Swee Caves Temple is also a hotel where one can go and stay–and most who do are there for the spiritual aspect of it. The rooms are advertised “for devotees” and appear to be free of charge, or available for a small donation, most of the time. For casual visitors like we were, just exploring the many pavilions and taking lots of photos, the temple, the exhibits, the statuary–all while enjoying the cool air–was just the thing, to refresh and revive.
The temple was built on a 28 acre plot of land donated by the founder of Genting Highlands, the late Lim Goh Tong. He was a devotee ofa Chinese spiritual leader called Chin Swee, who also has a large statue there. It really is all quite beautiful–and the amazingly high location makes it even more stunning. To see more photos, click here for the album or play a slide show.
The site was chosen, we learned, due to its resemblance to the original site of the temple of the same name in China. Construction was arduous and risky due to the steep and rocky terrain–amazing, really, when I thought about it, that anything could be built there. Never mind a decision was taken to build the temple complex manually and slowly–which explains why it took 18 years to complete.
Though the work was dangerous and time consuming, no casualties or accidents were reported during the entire construction period. There was one story, however, about a giant boulder which dislodged itself and rolled down the mountain. No one was hurt, though it had to be darned scary! They left it where it lay and wrote on it — I took this picture of the top of the boulder, from high above, but have no idea what it actually says. If you do, please enlighten me! I imagine it’s something like “We’re not moving this thing back up the mountain so here it stays.”
There was much to see and enjoy at this wonderful place…my favourites included the turtle pond and the giant statue of the seated Buddha, plus all the statuary inside the main building, which was very interesting–and none of it small in any way. Very impressive.
The best bits, though, had to be the temple itself, ornate and incense-filled, ‘the real thing’ and not just for show, with loads of people coming along to pray and make offerings at the huge alters. Outside, nearly on the cliff edge, burned a wonderful assortment of incense–large hanging spirals swaying in the wind, lit from the bottom (there are photos), giant sticks of incense, large incense candles and more we never actually figured out.
This really was a place for all the senses–‘sound’ was mostly silence with the occasional bell to reverberate through the hills, ‘smell’ the many forms of incense, ‘touch’ the mists and breezes on the skin, ‘sight’ the wonderful forests and mountaintops in the distance. Oh, yes, and ‘taste’ the yummy soup and hot jasmine tea.
After we returned, we learned that had we carried on up and over the mountain pass, we would have found other delightful places for hiking and walking in the cool and serene highlands. Hoorah for that!
all in all, a wonderful place to visit and one we’ll definitely go back to for more of the same: tranquility and (ahhhh…..) cool!