After the steam heat, the first thing you notice about Malaysia is a harmonious diversity of three distinct cultures: Muslim, Chinese, and Indian. This friendly yet exotic country, where most people speak English, is a great introduction to Asia or an esoteric treat for qualifiers who have "been there, done that."

Sandwiched between Singapore and Thailand, Malaysia is a small country with big ideas. The Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur (KL) are the tallest buildings in the world, and when the new international airport opens in 1998, it will be the largest in Southeast Asia. It's impossible to escape the sights and sounds of construction in KL and its surroundings, which are currently being transformed into a high-tech hub designed to catapult the country into First World status by 2020. But the 721-room Shangri-La hotel Kuala Lumpur offers a luxurious respite from the traffic-clogged city.

Just a 40-minute plane ride from Kuala Lumpur is the island of Penang on Malaysia's northwest coast. Here, the city of Georgetown has preserved its colonial past. The 445-room Shangri-La hotel in Georgetown is handy to all city attractions. On Batu Ferringgi beach about 30 minutes from the city, Shangri-La's 514-room Rasa Sayang Resort and adjacent 395-room Golden Sands Resort stretch out over lagoon-style swimming pools, tropical gardens, and beachfront. Guests at any of these three Shangri-La properties have free run of the facilities at all the hotels.

Then there's Sabah in legendary Borneo, a great base from which to explore the natural attractions. There, the 330-room Rasa Ria Resort, opened in June 1996, sits on an isolated stretch of white sandy beach on the South China Sea. Well suited for corporate team-building, it has an outdoor experiential training facility, an 18-hole championship golf course, and a 64-acre wildlife nature reserve. Closer to the capital city of Kota Kinabalu, the 500-room Tanjung Aru Resort juts out of a peninsula on the South China Sea.