How safe are South East Asian airlines?

Courtesy FlightRadar
Courtesy FlightRadar

2014 was a terrible year for aviation in South East Asia, with three fatal crashes involving Malaysian-owned carriers, and a combined loss of 699 lives. Not surprisingly, concern has increased about safety standards, particularly in light of how congested the skies have become over the region.

Continue reading How safe are South East Asian airlines?

A Malaysian year in festivals (2015)

Festival year 10

Malaysia’s reputation as a tolerant, multi-cultural nation has taken somewhat of a battering over recent years, thanks to the rising persecution of religious and ethnic minorities. For the time being though, there are still sizeable communities of non-Malays and non-Muslims, each of which marks a number of festivals every year.

What follows is a selection of some of the most important religious and/or cultural celebrations which visitors can expect to see in 2015*Continue reading A Malaysian year in festivals (2015)

The Great Farini, Lulu Farini, and the Lost City of the Kalahari

Courtesy: UK National Archives
Courtesy: UK National Archives

The Kalahari Desert extends for 900,000 square kilometres, across three countries: Botswana, South Africa and Namibia. Its name, which comes from the Tswana for “great thirst”, gives a taste of just how inhospitable it can be.

That’s entertainment

And yet in 1885, a former entertainer and impresario – the Great Farini – claimed not just to have become the first white man to cross the Kalahari on foot, but also to have discovered the remains of a lost civilisation. What is more, he had the photos to prove it! Continue reading The Great Farini, Lulu Farini, and the Lost City of the Kalahari

2015 ethical travel guide to South East Asia

Tourists 12

It is an unfortunate fact that the majority of tourists do not choose their holiday destinations based primarily – or even partly – on ethical criteria. Even during the darkest days of repression in Burma (Myanmar), hundreds of thousands of visitors still went there every year.

We believe strongly that tourism can be force for good in the world, but for that to be the case, people need to travel with their eyes wide open. It is our hope that this guide will help inform travellers about the ethical strengths and failings of the ten countries which make up Asean (the Association of South East Asian Nations).

In deciding our rankings, we have considered a whole range of criteria, including democratic vibrancy; freedom of belief, whether religious or political; levels of economic, racial and gender inequality; official corruption; and care for the environment. (See Main sources below for more details)

Overall, we have given as much weight to the direction of movement – whether the situation is getting better or worse – as to the present reality. Independent travel has taught us that it often the journey which is just as important as the destination. Continue reading 2015 ethical travel guide to South East Asia

Oktoberfest 2014 and the rise of intolerance in Malaysia

Oktoberfest advert 2

When Carlsberg Malaysia organised its Oktoberfest 2014 events, culminating in a three night party (October 10-12) at One Utama shopping centre, it cannot have predicted the huge political storm which would erupt. After all, it, and the country’s other large brewer, GAB (Guinness Anchor Berhad), have been organising these annual homages to the German beer festival for years. Continue reading Oktoberfest 2014 and the rise of intolerance in Malaysia

Ambitious plan to turn round Malaysia Airlines, but will it work?

Mas 2

Malaysia Airlines (Mas) is to undergo a six billion ringgit (approximately 1.9 billion US dollars) restructuring programme, in a last-ditch bid to save the beleaguered carrier. It is the company’s fifth – and most radical – restructuring exercise so far. Continue reading Ambitious plan to turn round Malaysia Airlines, but will it work?

New border regulations add to Thailand’s tourism woes

Faced with a serious crisis in Thailand’s tourism industry, the country’s military regime appears intent on making a bad situation even worse. Not content with overthrowing a democratically-elected government for the umpteenth time, the junta has ordered a tightening of border restrictions. Continue reading New border regulations add to Thailand’s tourism woes

Malaysia’s unsung heroes: Captain Francis Light

Looking at the official history of Malaysia, you could be forgiven for thinking that civilisation began with the arrival of Islam, that nothing good happened during colonial times, and that the only worthwhile deeds were carried out by Malays. With this series of articles we give some overdue recognition to the unsung heroes of Malaysia, the people who belonged to the wrong ethnic group (non-Malay), the wrong religion (non-Muslim), and/or lived in the wrong era (all of history except the Malacca Sultanate and post-independence).

Francis Light 14

Without Captain Francis Light there would be no George Town. But his legacy is much more than just one city. When Light took possession of Penang in 1786, on behalf of the East India Company (EIC), he set in train a process of colonisation which resulted in all of present-day Malaysia, as well as Singapore and Brunei, coming under British rule. Continue reading Malaysia’s unsung heroes: Captain Francis Light

Goodbye LCCT, hello KLIA2: Kuala Lumpur’s new budget airport


Strange as it may seem, we at Itchy Feet, Itchy Mind grew rather fond of LCCT (Low Cost Carrier Terminal), Kuala Lumpur’s much-maligned budget air hub. Sure, in the early years it felt more like an Indonesian bus station than a modern airport. And its location was amongst the least convenient in the world. Continue reading Goodbye LCCT, hello KLIA2: Kuala Lumpur’s new budget airport

How many tourists did Malaysia really get in 2013?

Tourists 12

2013 was another bumper year for international visitors to Malaysia, at least according to the official statistics. In truth, both the total number of tourists – 25.72 million – and their total spend – RM65.44 billion – are massively inflated.

Malaysia has supposedly experienced a huge tourist boom since 1998, when just 5.56 million international visitors came to the country. That’s a near quadrupling in the space of just 15 years! During the same period, total tourist spend has risen by a scarcely believable 660 per cent, from just RM8.6 billion. Continue reading How many tourists did Malaysia really get in 2013?

Malaysia’s unsustainable palm oil industry

Oil palm 01

The news that Malaysia is about to pull out of the most respected international certification scheme for sustainable palm oil should come as no surprise. After all, the country has a long history of signing up to global agreements which it has absolutely no intention of honouring, such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and CITES (the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). Continue reading Malaysia’s unsustainable palm oil industry

Introducing Malaya and Borneo (1948-1950)

Introducing Malaya and Borneo (01)
Courtesy UK National Archives

We at itchy feet, itchy mind love old photos, particularly ones which give glimpses of what life was like in pre-independence Malaysia. So imagine our excitement when we found this beautiful collection of pictures from the UK National Archives, called Introducing Malaya and Borneo.

No date is given, but the set must have been published some time between the formation of the Federation of Malaya in January 1948, and the formal recognition of Indonesia’s independence (the former Dutch East Indies) in December 1949. Continue reading Introducing Malaya and Borneo (1948-1950)

A journey of delight into Sabah’s interior

Over the metals all rusted brown,
Thunders the “mail” to Jesselton town,
Tearing on madly – racking not fate,
Making up time – she’s two days late,
See how the sparks from her smoke-stack shower,
Swaying on wildly at three miles an hour.
Sometimes they stop to examine a bridge,
Sometimes they stick on the crest of a ridge,
Sometimes they find the line washed away,
And postpone their advance till the following day.
Beaufort to Jesselton – tour of delight,
Taking all day and the best of the night,
Over the rails all rusted and brown,
Drives on the “mail” to Jesselton town.
(Anon, North Borneo Herald).

North Borneo Railway 3
Courtesy UK National Archives

A great deal has changed in Sabah since this wonderful poem first appeared about a century ago. The publication it appeared in, the North Borneo Herald, no longer exists, having gone the same way as steam trains. And Jesselton town, has been known as Kota Kinabalu for more than four decades.

North Borneo Railway 08

But much endures too. The railway not only still exists – the only one on the island of Borneo – it remains a “tour of delight”, particularly the prettiest section from Beaufort to Tenom. It’s a great way to see the interior of Sabah, and forms part of a pleasant loop round some of the state’s most attractive scenery. Continue reading A journey of delight into Sabah’s interior

Suffolk House: the first and last of Penang’s “great houses”

Suffolk house 2

Unique is much overused word, but there is no other way to describe Suffolk House, the finest example of Anglo-Indian architecture outside of India. Built more than two hundred years ago, the “First Great House” of Penang, is not just visually stunning, it is a living link to the early days of British colonial rule in Malaysia. Continue reading Suffolk House: the first and last of Penang’s “great houses”

Three relaxed day trips from Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur may be one of the relaxed large cities in Asia, but it’s still a long way from being a stress-free place. Thankfully though, when the noise, the traffic, and the crowds get too much, there are a number of great day trip destinations, where the pace of life is refreshingly slow. Here’s three of the best: Continue reading Three relaxed day trips from Kuala Lumpur

Art Deco with a Malayan twist

Art deco 7

In its Jazz Age heyday, Art Deco influenced everything from jewellery to ocean liners, from graphic design to architecture. Rather than a set of hard and fast rules however, it was an eclectic mix of parts, which somehow came together to form a beautiful whole. Art Deco was the first truly global style, but ironically, for such an influential movement, its name was not coined until decades after it had fallen out of fashion. Continue reading Art Deco with a Malayan twist