One astonishing fact about Malaysia is that there’s only one place in the whole country where it’s legal to gamble. It’s astonishing because this is a country with 6.6 million Chinese inhabitants, and the Chinese love to gamble. So why the government isn’t cashing in on this and setting up casinos in every town, I don’t know – but it may have something to do with the fact that gambling is banned for Muslims, so they can’t be seen to be actively promoting something which is prohibited for over 50% of the population.
Malaysia’s Las Vegas, as it’s known informally, is the Genting Highlands, and it’s about an hour’s drive from KL – high up in the wonderfully-named Titiwangsa Mountains, where the temperature is a refreshing 15 degrees; a world away from the 30-plus degrees of stickiness of the lowlands.
The cable car takes you up through the clouds
with some beautiful jungle views on the way up –
until you reach the summit, which is an area of built-up hideousness, with ugly hotels –
and an unfinished 20th Century Fox theme park, which has been 12 years in the building already, and is still nowhere near finished –
The whole place is intended to be appreciated from indoors rather than outdoors, and the windowless casinos, hotels and shopping malls all lead into each other with no walking trails to enjoy the views (‘eat can, gamble can, walk cannot’ as the locals say).
I’ve never been a gambler – I feel that I have enough vices already, without acquiring another one – so just enjoyed the understated decor inside the casino hotels, where you can see leopards –
and snakes –
dangling from fairy-lit trees – presumably to give the illusion of being outdoors, without any of the inconvenience of actually having to go outdoors.
Far more interesting was the Chinese temple, halfway up the mountain, where I went on a journey of enlightenment to learn about the Ten Courts, or Chambers, of Hell in Buddhist and Taoist beliefs.
The temple has a spectacular setting –
with all the views that are missing at the top of the mountain –
The Ten Courts of Hell are similar to Dante’s Circles of Hell, and ironically the Second Court includes all the gamblers, who are frozen into blocks of ice for eternity –
– obviously not a very effective deterrent in these parts.
There is also a special Court, or chamber, in Hell for children who show disrepect for their parents –
These ungrateful offspring are wedged inside a couple of giant stones and squashed –
– like a non-vegetarian Bourbon biscuit.
I shall be sharing these images with my children, to serve as a dire warning.
The second phase of my enlightenment that day took place at lunchtime, when I decided to try my first ever chicken feet –
– and I acquired the wisdom to understand that these gelatinous, bony extremities are not the most palatable part of the chicken. When the Cockneys decided to refer to feet as ‘plates of meat’ they obviously didn’t have chicken feet in mind.