Why you should visit Selangor, Malaysia
SHAH ALAM, Malaysia - Malaysians sure have a knack for catchy slogans. After "Malaysia, truly Asia," you can add "Selangor has more" to the list.
Where is Selangor you ask? Selangor is one of the 13 states of Malaysia and is located on the west coast of the peninsula.
It turned out I've even been to Selangor, without realizing it. If you've traveled to Malaysia, then you've probably been to Selangor, too.
Sepang, where the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), the new KLIA2 and the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (which will be closed down next week) are located, is part of Selangor state. Sepang, incidentally, is also where the F1 Malaysian Grand Prix is held.
Tourism Selangor and AirAsia recently invited a group of Filipino journalists and bloggers to experience what Selangor has to offer.
Saad Mahsah, Tourism Selangor product development manager, said they wanted to attract more Filipino tourists. He noted the state is the most developed in Malaysia, yet it still has a lot of greenery and nature.
"Our tourism slogan is 'Selangor has more'... We have ecotourism, agrotourism, theme parks, homestay... We also have Batu Caves, firefly farms and Bukit Melawati, and a lot more," he said.
"City people are always tired and stressed... This (Selangor) is a place where we can rest, slow down and go back to nature," he said.
Tourism Selangor is busy promoting the state in preparation for Visit Selangor Year in 2015, where they target to attract 6.8 million tourists. In 2013, Selangor reported 6.6 million tourist arrivals.
With the many different sights and activities offered in Selangor, it seems that they can achieve that tourism arrivals target easily.
Here are a few highlights from our trip to Selangor.
1. The Blue Mosque
Upon reaching Shah Alam, the capital of Selangor, we are struck by how well-planned the city is, as the modern buildings are balanced with lush greenery.
No trip to Shah Alam would be complete without visiting the Sultan Slahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah Mosque or simply the "Blue Mosque." The blue dome is a gorgeous sight, surrounded by four minarets that are some of the tallest in the world. The Blue Mosque is Malaysia's biggest and second biggest in Asia, next only to the Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta.
Located near the mosque is the Sultan Alam Shah Museum, where visitors can learn about the history, culture and arts of Selangor.
2. Bright lights, "stars" and snow at I-City
I-City, also located in Shah Alam, may seem like just any ordinary business hub by day, but it is also a leisure park. It boasts of four major attractions - City of Digital Lights, SnoWalk, WaterWorld and FunWorld.
During daytime, visitors can go for a swim at WaterWorld, which features Asia's first tornado ride; have fun taking photos at the Trick Art Museum, or get scared at the House of Horrors.
Visiting i-City at night is highly recommended, so you can be dazzled by the brightly colored "pine trees" and displays that use over a million LED lights.
At the Malaysia's first wax museum Red Carpet, you can take "selfies" with wax statues of well-known personalities and celebrities -- from US President Barack Obama and Prince William to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. There are also a few Asian stars on display such as Psy, Jackie Chan, Andy Lau and "Jewel in the Palace" star Lee Yong-ae.
At the SnoWalk, you can experience -5 degree Celsius weather amid beautifully lit ice sculptures, and even an igloo. Don't worry about getting frostbite -- you can borrow winter jackets and boots at the entrance.
A representative from i-City said a Best Western Hotel will open this year, while a Central Plaza Mall, a joint venture with a Thai company, will open in 2016.
3. Jungle-trekking at the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM)
Located in Kepong, FRIM is a lush and thriving rain forest. Nature-lovers will especially enjoy hiking or cycling along the trails, or even have picnics.
Before heading into the jungle, remember to put on sunblock and insect repellent since there were a lot of mosquitoes.
Our guide Yan, who worked for FRIM, shared interesting bits of information about the various trees and plants in the forest. He pointed out the tall, pretty camphor trees, as well as mushrooms and flowers in the forest.
Yan also showed off the Tongkat Ali plant, which is considered an aphrodisiac for men. Tongkat Ali literally means Ali's walking stick," he said.
However, our tour guide Raj noted that the Tongkat Ali herb should be boiled and not consumed in pill form (many Tongkat Ali pills are available commercially). He said there is a female counterpart for Tongkat Ali called Kacip Fatima, although we didn't see that particular plant.
After the trek through the forest for more than an hour, we had to walk a steep slope leading to the "canopy walk." The U-shaped canopy walk, which our guide said was suspended 140 feet from the ground, offers stunning views of the Kuala Lumpur skyline and will make you forget your aching legs and sore feet for a while.
4. Monkeys and fireflies in Kuala Selangor
Bukit Melawati, located in Kuala Selangor, was previously the stronghold of the Selangor sultanate in the late 18th and 19th century. We rode on a tram up the hill, where you can find remnants of the old fort, palace grounds, royal graves, cannons, a poisoned well, and even a flat stone where they used to behead traitors.
At the top of the hill, there is a nice view of the Selangor River and an old lighthouse.
The trees along the road are filled with monkeys. Some of us bought bags of long beans and bananas to feed the monkeys. But beware because some monkeys get overly excited at the sight of long beans, and may even jump to grab them.
Some monkeys were quite friendly, happy to quietly munch on bananas while you take "selfies" with them. However, some were aggressive, even attempting to grab a woman's bag at one point.
When night falls, head over to Kuantan Village to see the fireflies. Here we rode a traditional boat (4 people per boat) along the Selangor River, where the "berembang" trees are lit up with fireflies.
The synchronized flicking of lights from the fireflies is a sight to behold. However, our tour guide Raj said the fireflies are facing challenges, such as pollution of the river, the bright lights of the town and the loud noises. He also warned us not to take any flash photography during the boat ride since it will disturb the fireflies.
5. "Kampung" (village) life at a homestay in Sungai Sireh
Homestay is one of the tourism products being pushed by Tourism Selangor.
"This is a unique experience where you can stay with the foster parents and you will feel the hospitality and the experience of living in a kampung (village). When you wake up in the morning, you will hear the animals. You share the food, work in the paddies with the family... Sometimes you can see the traditional performance or see the Malay wedding," Mahsah of Tourism Selangor said.
Our group was given a chance to experience the agrotourism homestay program in Sungai Sireh, located in the middle of the country's rice-growing area.
Abu Bakar Moin, the head of the homestay program in Sungai Sireh, said they wanted to offer something new to tourists and at the same time help the farmers in the village augment their income.
The homestay experience can vary, depending on the family that "adopts" you. Raj reminded us to always be respectful of our host and to refrain from using our index finger to point at anything. Instead, he said we should use our thumb to point.
Our homestay host was Ibu Maria (Ibu means "mother" in Malaysian). The pretty, 47-year-old mother of 8, greeted us with a big smile and welcomed us into her big and spacious home. Her husband was a farmer, but judging by the number of cars in their garage (6), they were one of the richest farmers in the village.
We were worried at first about our accommodations, but it turned out to be alright. Our room had bunk beds with clean sheets and electric fans. There was a communal bathroom, but it was clean and had a water heater.
For breakfast, Maria served curry puffs, sweet potato doughnuts and nasi lemak (a rice dish with chicken wrapped in banana leaves), together with teh tarik (black tea with condensed milk).
She chatted with us about her farmer-husband and her eight children, as well as life in the village. It was a surprise to find out that she was a big fan of ABS-CBN's "Be Careful With My Heart", watching the show every afternoon.
After saying goodbye to Maria and her family, we gathered at the village hall to do a quick exercise and a funny dance called "Pocho-pocho."
Despite the heat, everyone gamely rode a tram for a village tour. The first stop was the vegetable farm, where we picked long beans and bitter gourd (ampalaya). We also looked at the rice fields, which had an impressive irrigation system. Filipino farmers would also be envious of the well-paved roads and subsidies given by the Malaysian government to its farmers.
The homestay program also included fishing at a small creek full of hungry catfish, kayaking along the river, and batik painting.
For lunch, we were served with nasi ambeng, a dish composed of fried rice, chicken, fried noodles, salted fish and crackers with peanuts, on banana leaves. The dish is popular among Javanese-Malay communities in Selangor.
Tips for tourists
Tourism Selangor's Mahsah offered some advice for tourists who are visiting Selangor.
"For first-time tourists to Malaysia, I advise 3 days, 4 nights to tour Selangor. You can choose nature, homestay, plus a little shopping and dining... Young people can go on extreme adventures, budget travel, four wheel drive, paragliding, white water rafting - there's a lot of things to explore," he said.
For those interested in experiencing a homestay, Mahasah said you should only book with those who are licensed by Tourism Malaysia. He said more information about Selangor can be found on their website.
AirAsia Zest flies daily from Manila to Kuala Lumpur. AirAsia also recently launched a 4x weekly route from Kalibo to Kuala Lumpur.