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5 amazing things from 5 Asean countries

Star2 logo Star2 8/8/2017

Did you know that Asean celebrated its 50th anniversary on Aug 8? Yup it was the glint of gold for Asean yesterday!

Ten countries, many ethnicities, dozens of fables, scores of cultural symbols, hundreds of places to visit and thousands of delicacies to relish – diversity flourishes across this region of over 628 million people. Here are some, possibly lesser known, facts about the regional grouping.

Here are the first five countries with five more to come on Monday.


Catch the world’s biggest flower at Gunung Gading

Asean. © Provided by Star Media Group Berhad Asean.

Enjoy the beauty of the Rafflesia in Sarawak’s rainforest at Gunung Gading National Park. Photo: The Star

Mount Kinabalu in Sabah comes to mind at the mention “mountains” and “Malaysia”. But Gunung Gading National Park in neighbouring Sarawak also warrants a visit.

The mountain – named after the legendary Princess Gading (a guardian of three mountain peaks) – is touted as one of the best places in the region to see a Rafflesia in bloom. This is said to be the largest and most beautiful flower in the world. Home to a range of wildlife, the park has three nature trails that weave through a rainforest. The park is accessible by car from Kuching, in a journey of about two hours.

‘Rice’ and shine at Kedah Paddy Museum

Malaysia’s agrarian history is carefully curated at the country’s premier paddy museum (and only fourth paddy museum in the world after Japan, Germany and the Philippines).

Located in Kedah, the country’s “rice bowl state”, this three-storey building features exhibitions on paddy cultivation in Malaysia and around the world. Apart from that, one can learn all about the taboos and legends of paddy-planting.

Food for thought artist

Asean. © Provided by Star Media Group Berhad Asean.

Art you can eat: One of Samantha Lee’s creations. Photo: The Star/Ong Soon Hin

“Eye candy” would probably best represent what Malaysian food artist Samantha Lee does. A busy mother of young children, Lee started devising all sorts of quirky, cool lunchbox meals for her kids to encourage them to eat well, fashioning scenes from fairytales like Little Red Riding Hood and cartoons like Spongebob Squarepants from food. Lee has a over 700,000 followers on her Instagram account @leesamantha and she’s been featured on E! Online, The Rachael Ray Show, People magazine and Vogue.

The Jungle Bird cocktail

Asean. © Provided by Star Media Group Berhad Asean.

Jungle Bird, a Malaysian classic cocktail. Photo: The Star

Rum, Campari, lime juice, pineapple juice and syrup. These five simple ingredients make up the Jungle Bird, an internationally-renowned classic cocktail that was created right here in Kuala Lumpur. Created in 1978 at the Aviary Bar in the old KL Hilton on Jalan Sultan Ismail, every cocktail bar in KL worth its salt (and bitters) knows how to serve it.

Cutting edge gaming connection

Malaysians are used to seeing local gamers compete in eSports tournaments around the world, but how many know that there’s a local connection to the gaming equipment they use?

The all-Malaysian Penang arm of Taiwanese company Pixart Imaging Inc designed the most important component in popular gaming mice such as the Logitech G502 and G900, as well as Razer’s Deathadder and Abyssus – the optical sensor that gives them the sheer accuracy needed for gaming. Aside from gaming, its sensors are also used in the Apple Magic mouse and the Microsoft Surface Dial and several drone brands for hover stabilisation.


Why the name Brunei?

Local legend has it that the first settlers landed near the Brunei River and found an abundance of water and fish. One proclaimed baru nah! which loosely means “now we found it” which over time became Brunei.

A palace fit for every king

Asean. © Provided by Star Media Group Berhad Asean.

File picture of Sultan of Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Muizuddin Waddaulah delivering his speech before the Investiture ceremony at Istana Nurul Iman in conjunction with his 62nd birthday. Photo: The Star/Raja Faisal Hishan

The 1,788-room Bruneian palace, the Istana Nurul Iman, spanning a mind-boggling 120ha is the world’s largest residential palace, housing the Prime Minister’s office and the seat of the government of Brunei. It is also has a mosque that can hold 1,500 people, and has five swimming pools and even a helipad.

Venice of The East

Hospitals, petrol stations and even mosques on stilts might surprise those passing by Kampong Ayer, the water village along the banks of Brunei River. About 300,000 people live there and their village has been on stilts for 1,300 years.

Water or gasoline? The latter is cheaper

Crude and natural gas, two of Brunei’s main exports, account for half of its gross domestic product. While many associate crude oil as a product of other regions, crude oil and natural gas production account for 65% of GDP and 95% of exports. It costs more to buy a bottle of 1.5l drinking water (US$0.78 or RM3.34) than a litre of gasoline (US$0.38 or RM1.63), according to some reports.

A first for many

Asean. © Provided by Star Media Group Berhad Asean.

Meet Maziah the first female athlete from Brunei to be an Olympian. Photo: ANN

Maziah Mahusin had the honour of being the country’s first female athlete to represent her country at the Olympics. In 2012’s London Olympics, Maziah represented Brunei in the women’s 400m race, and despite not being the fastest runner, it does not take away from the pride of being a pioneer for women in sports.


Khmer architecture is modern

French-educated Cambodian architect Van Molyvann led a profound period of architectural change between Cambodia’s independence in 1953 and 1975, during which he combined elements of the modernism of the 1950s and 1960s with traditional Khmer elements to create Khmer architecture. These elements included use of new construction material or reinforced concrete and the elevation of buildings on stilts.

These monuments, commissioned under the patronage of King Norodom Sihanouk, celebrate independence and symbolise hopes for a modern future. While many have been torn down, some New Khmer Architecture masterpieces remain like Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium, the Chaktomuk Conference Hall, the Royal University of Phnom Penh and the Cambodiana Hotel.

Global leader in gourmet pepper

On Cambodia’s southern coast, Kampot province’s mineral-rich red earth and salty coastal winds have created exceptional growing conditions for pepper. The red, green, and white varieties are the favourite of chefs around the world, particularly red which is used in France for pastry.

In 2016, the European Union gave pepper from Kampot province its seal of approval with the “Protected Geographical Indication” putting it in the same ranks as champagne, cognac, Parma ham, Gorgonzola cheese and more.

Once Asean’s rock ‘n roll capital

In the 1960s, Phnom Penh was the swinging centre of South-East Asia thanks to homegrown rock bands and pop singers who embraced surfer and psychedelic sounds of the era. While many of the artists were later killed under the Khmer Rouge, in recent years musicians and filmmakers have helped to renew interest in the era, including the acclaimed 2015 documentary Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten.

The reversing river

Asean. © Provided by Star Media Group Berhad Asean.

View of the floating village located on the great Tonle Sap. Photo: The Star/Julian Cheong

A lake named Tonle Sap in Cambodia has a reversing river every monsoon season, with waters flowing upstream back into it. This is caused by the increase in water volume from the Mekong river during the monsoon season, which exceeds the river’s ability to empty into the sea. This water then flows into adjacent tributaries, ultimately resulting in the reversed flow of the river. Those living in the area have made this annual flooding a part of their lives, harvesting carp and catfish stranded in small pools of water.

Pangolin Rehabilitation Center

Asean. © Provided by Star Media Group Berhad Asean.

Pangolins are one of the most trafficked animals in the world. Photo: The Star filepic.

The rare and shy pangolin is the only known mammal with scales. These nocturnal animals live off a diet of ants and termites, which they catch with tongues that can be longer than their bodies. They are one of the most trafficked animals in the world. An estimated 100,000 pangolins are captured every year, where they are killed for their meat and scales. The Pangolin Rehabilitation Center was opened near Phnom Penh in 2012 to protect those no longer able to get by in the wild.


Heard of Chicken Church?

Asean. © Provided by Star Media Group Berhad Asean.

The dove -shaped church that looks like a chicken. Photo: The Jakarta Post/Tarko Sudiarno

Hidden in Punthuk Setembuk hill in Magelang, a few hours’ drive from Yogyakarta, is an abandoned prayer house built in the shape of a crested dove (though locals think it looks like a chicken). Thousands have been driving up to see it after it was featured in the box-office romantic hit drama Ada Apa dengan Cinta? 2 (What’s with Cinta? the sequel). It used to be a well-kept secret spot for photographers to get an overview of the Borobudur Temple, but is now a favourite place, offering tourists an unforgettable Instagram moment at sunrise. Visitors start queuing from midnight.

Teen love movie still draws crowds, 15 years later

Asean. © Provided by Star Media Group Berhad Asean.

The stars and the people behind the hit movie Ada Apa Dengan Cinta? 2. Dian Sastrowardoyo, Mira Lesmana, Riri Riza, Nicholas Saputra. Photo: The Jakarta Post/Dhoni Setiawan

Ada Apa Dengan Cinta? (What’s with Cinta?) is one of Indonesia‘s most watched movies and marked the reawakening of the movie industry in Indonesia at the turn of the century. Produced by Miles Films in 2002, the coming-of-age teen movie brought the public back to cinemas and the film stayed on screen for months. Its sequel, released in February last year, saw most of the cast return. Producer Mira Lesmana hopes to complete the finale, Ada Apa Dengan Cinta 3, in the next few years.

Durian hotspot

Jakarta may be known as the Big Durian, but the King of Fruit is the tourism icon of Medan, in North Sumatra. The city has several 24-hour durian stalls, but one stands out – Durian Ucok – that draws tourists from all over the region for its durians. The shop offers a total replacement, free, if their durians don‘t quite taste right.

Indonesians speak Esperanto

The language, created by Polish physician Dr L.L. Zamenhof in 1887 to encourage people from different countries to talk to each other, is spoken in many parts of Indonesia. Till the 1960s, a club of Esperantists published bulletins and translated books and novels to spread use of the language. A movement to widen its use has been more noticeable since 2004.

Largest gold mine

The Grasberg mine in remote Papua is said to be the largest gold mine in the world. It was discovered by Dutch geologist Jean Jacques Dozy in 1936 by accident. He set out to scale the region’s highest glacial peak and discovered an interesting rock with green streaks, which was found to have high amounts of copper and gold. A company called Freeport Sulphur proceeded to develop the area for mining. While the mine has brought great wealth to these corporations, there is increasing concern about the welfare of Papuans. Indonesian President Joko Widodo has hastened development efforts and initiated a series of massive infrastructure projects.


One of world’s top Buddhism monuments

Asean. © Provided by Star Media Group Berhad Asean.

That Luang Stupa the symbol of Laos. Photo: The Vientiane Times/

Originally built in the 3rd Century at the same time Vientiane was established, That Luang stupa is the symbol of Laos. It was built to house bones belonging to Lord Buddha but the original structure was renovated on the orders of King Saysetthathirath when he moved the Lao capital from Luang Prabang to Vientiane in 1560. The stupa is regarded as one of the world’s must-see Buddhist monuments. Every November, the colourful That Luang festival is staged to celebrate the stupa.

Plain of Jars

Asean. © Provided by Star Media Group Berhad Asean.

The mysterious Plain of Jars in Laos. Photo: The Vientiane Times/

Mystery still surrounds the origins of the stone vessels of the Plain of Jars. While some believe the jars were built to store human remains, others theorise they were used to boil liquid during the Khoun Cheuang (6th Century CE) period. Jar Site 1 is the more popular of the two sites in Xieng Khuang province, 8km southwest of Phonsavanh and easily reached by tuk-tuk or bike. The site counts 331 jars, including the largest single jar – said to have been the victory cup of Khoun Cheuang, who, according to local legend, liberated the local people from oppressive rulers. The jars were supposedly made to brew and store huge amounts of rice alcohol which were drunk during the seven-month celebration held in honour of the victory.

Morning alms

Asean. © Provided by Star Media Group Berhad Asean.

Watching the giving of alms in Luang Prabang is popular with the tourists. Photo: The Vientiane Times/

Alms-giving early in the morning in Luang Prabang province is a fascinating activity for visitors, who get up very early to gather along the road side with rice, food and sweets to give to passing monks.

World’s most bombed country

Laos is regarded as one of the world’s most bombed countries, with the United States dropping more than 270 million cluster bombs on the country between December 1964 and March 1973. This number is equivalent to dropping a full plane cargo load every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years, according to the worldatlas.

Asean’s geological wonder

A huge cave in Konglor village in Khounkham district, Khammuan province, attracts thousands of visitors. The Konglor Cave is about 7.5km in length – the longest in the country – and 80-100m wide.

Source: The Star, The Jakarta Post, Vientiane Times, and Asia News Network. Information from several online resources was also used in this listicle. 

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