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  • Writer's picturePeter Antonucci

Kuantan, Malaysia

Saturday | December 20, 2014

What a jam packed day!

The day began with a quick breakfast aboard the ship before we headed down to the Plaza to join friends for our tour of the day. We had retained a private car and driver to take us around Kuantan, Malaysia. As perhaps an indication of the economic state of Malaysia, this particular driver drove down to Kuantan from Kuala Lumpur – a 3 hour drive.


A few facts about Malaysia:

  1. There are 29 million people living in Malaysia.

  2. A little over 1 million people live in Kuantan.

  3. There are 12 states in Malaysia.

  4. Kuantan is the second largest state in Malaysia.

  5. Nine of the 12 states have sultans.

  6. December through February (right now) is the rainy season in Malaysia.

  7. Malaysia obtained its independence from Britain in 1957.

  8. 55% of Malaysians are Muslim and 20% are Hindu. The remainder are Chinese.

  9. Petroleum is very inexpensive in Malaysia compared to Thailand. When people cross the respective borders, they are only allowed to carry a certain amount of petroleum and they must show their passport at the border.

On our drive, it became readily apparent that Malaysia is more economically sophisticated then the past few countries we saw – Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. We drove on beautifully paved roads and passed spotless apartment buildings and modern hotels that would have been right at home in Chicago or Boston.

Unfortunately, with all that modernity came McDonalds – everywhere.

As we drove past the cemetery, our guide, Bahnir, explained that cemetery plots are divided into male and female. The male plots have an orb or sphere sticking out of the ground. The female plots are flat to the ground.

The police department had a lovely barracks and grounds for the officers to live in. The structures were made up of about eight or nine buildings, and included playgrounds and other recreational facilities for the children of the officers.

Perhaps not ironically, one of the next facilities we passed was a prison. It is definitely the most luxurious person I have ever seen. From the outside alone, one can view the tennis courts and golf facilities. Apparently it is only for white-collar and misdemeanor level criminals. The hard-core criminals are housed in penitentiaries in Kuala Lumpur.

Bahnir educated us to the fact that palm oil is Malaysia’s leading export. Palm oil is derived from small fruit-like looking clusters in those trees.


The fruits are opened and the inside is used for cooking oil, while the outside is used for cosmetics soaps and a host of other applications. They look quite similar to palm trees, but instead of growing coconuts, they grow these little clusters of fruit. It takes approximately eight years for a newly planted palm oil tree to bear fruit; after 30 years, they die. They may not be fun places to play because cobras are known to sleep under palm oil trees due to their abundant shade. Every year, numerous Malaysians die while harvesting the palm oil trees as they disrupt the daily life of the neighborhood cobras.

Pythons also present a problem in Malaysia. They routinely eat goat, sheep, dogs and children.

The sultans have quite a good gig going. As reported above, most states in Malaysia have a sultan. The sultans are treated like royalty. And in fact, the sultans get together every five years and elect one of their own to serve as king for the next five years. (It sounds quite similar to the College of Cardinals electing the pope, but the term is only five years, and cannot be renewed.) Theoretically, a sultan can be made king twice in his lifetime, but each election would only come 45 years after the previous one. In fact, the current king of Malaysia did serve as king 45 years ago; he is the first repeat king.

Apart from the wonderful lifestyles of the king and sultans, the prime minister is the titular head of the government.


He differs from the prime minister of Great Britain in that the prime minister of Malaysia needs to get approval from the king to do anything.

Not only did we drive by the “house” of the Sultan’s son (which seems to encompass about 20 square blocks), but we were privileged to drive by the sultan’s house.


This particular Sultan is a sporting man so his property boasts a beautiful polo field, tennis courts, a soccer field, and all kinds of recreational facilities.


His son is also an accomplished athlete and he is the president of the Malaysian Football Federation.

And , as one would expect, the Sultan has his own mosque.


Malaysia has its own car company, Proton Saga. These Protons are manufactured in Malaysia and subsidized by the government. As a result, cars are readily available to most everyone, unlike Vietnam and Cambodia.

Similar to what we have seen in other Southeast Asian countries, the Chinese have been building a large influence through investments in huge public facilities. In fact, they just finished building the Panang Bridge. At 24 km long, it is the second longest bridge in the world.

Our first stop was the Pahang Art Museum. The museum was only open to the public in 2007. It promotes the interest of the arts and craft industries in Malaysia. Most of the pieces on display were not only truly unique, but very indigenous to Malaysia.


On the lawn outside the museum were beautifully hand carved wooden horse statues.


Of course, the Sultan and his wife were prominently featured throughout the museum.


Members of the royal family and the regalia were also presented everyhwere.


As mentioned above, the Sultan is a rather sporting man. This room depicts many of his sports objects and paraphernalia.


In the first part of the museum, we were treated to depictions of the Jah Het culture, who believe in the supernatural, spirits and demons.


Our next stop was immediately across the road (and canal)

, the Pekan Watercraft Gallery. A diverse assemblage of brightly painted wooden boats and models highlight the region’s aquatic history in a handsome, open-sided building.  We viewed an assortment of watercraft.



And a Malaysian floating house.


We stopped for lunch at a local Malaysian restaurant and insisted that our guide sit with us.

Out of habit, I kept putting on my reading glasses. But none of the menu was in English. So every time the guide suggested something, I again turned back to the menu, only to again remember that I couldn’t read a word of it. He was quite candid about his reflections on the government and the country. He was also very funny. He explained that whereas Muslims pray five times a day, Chinese eat five times a day.

We enjoyed Tom Yon soup, rice, fried prawns, broccoli and a chicken dish. They were all excellent, but the soup was very spicy. Beer was not available. After all, alcohol is not served in Muslim restaurants.  Our wallets remained with us, notwithstanding the warnings.


We headed towards the Blue Mosque, but it was prayer time so we didn’t enter.


On the 90 minutes drive back to the ship, we stopped at a Batik factory where hot wax and dyes create often vibrant textiles.


When we returned to the ship, we had an appointment with the Chief Electrical Engineer in our apartment. When we showed him the two bathrooms and the kitchen and my complaint about it not being bright enough, he immediately knew that we needed nine extra lights installed in one bath room, seven light in the other bathroom and three series of LED under cabinet lights in the kitchen. That should certainly brighten things up a bit.

Once Tor left, I came to the conclusion that the yellow paint on the walls is not so bad after all and that only the red needs to be repainted. Certain residents aboard the ship have painted their apartments themselves. Because the bid just to paint three rooms was in excess of $50,000, I think I will become the new Gaudi when the ship gets to Barcelona! Then, all we have to worry about is the carpeting.

After listening to a harpist in the lobby bar, I enjoyed a wonderful Canadian lobster, accompanied by a smooth bottle of Pax and Hall pinot noir. The conversation was great and we learned some more shipboard gossip. (For example, there is one very attractive couple who, according to rumors, are only masquerading as a couple. It is believed the woman, who is totally toned and muscular, is the man’s personal fitness instructor!)

Exhausted from the day, I couldn’t even rally for a glass of port to hear the harp after dinner. Alas, to bed.


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