I met Women’s Health Malaysia’s editor, Sueann Chong during a visit to Kuala Lumpur, last year. We got to know each other over dinner at Ashley’s by Living Food in Bangsar. Even though we’d never met before, as soon as Sueann walked into the restaurant, I knew it was her. Chong is blessed with one of those warm, contagious smiles. She was beaming. We perused the menu and Sueann skipped straight to dessert, ordering a mouth-watering raw chocolate tart and a glass of organic red wine. This was a woman after my own heart. So when I was putting together a guide to Kuala Lumpur I knew I had to call on Sueann to give me her invaluable local knowledge on what to see, where to eat and where to work up a sweat in the capital.
What do you think Kuala Lumpur’s biggest attraction is for visitors?
When I have visitors from overseas here, the first thing I take them to are the best Malaysian restaurants and food spots. Malaysians are big foodies and we are proud of our culinary offerings. To really understand what the food culture is here like, I’d say go to Jalan Alor, one of the night markets (pasar malam in Malaysian) and any famous banana leaf restaurants.
What are the must-see landmarks in the city?
Definitely the Petronas Twin Towers, Batu Caves and Dataran Merdeka (Merdeka Square).
What is your favourite thing to do in Kuala Lumpur?
Since I work in the city, I usually try to avoid it like the plague (on weekends). But if I have to pick something, I’d say for a night out at a good restaurant or a run around the KLCC Park.
Which are your favourite healthy restaurants and cafes?
I used to hate salads because, in Malaysia, they used to consist of a bowl of lettuce, cucumber and cherry tomatoes (yawn), but that was before places like Life Juice and Chai Bar popped up. I like the option of making my own salad bowl with healthy ingredients. I also like Simple Life and Ashley’s in Bangsar.
How do you think Malaysians compare to the rest of the world in terms of their approach to healthy living?
It’s hard to compare with the rest of the world, but if you’re talking about a country like Australia, I’d say we have a long way to go. In fact, I know a lot of young Malaysian entrepreneurs who have started healthy salad and juice bars, restaurants, bakeries and gyms, because they had that experience when they were studying in Australia, and decided to bring the idea back here. However, we are progressing in terms of practicing a healthier and fitter lifestyle and more people are getting involved in wellness programmes and signing up for gym memberships.
What are the biggest health movements you are seeing across Malaysia right now?
Personally, I think social media plays an important role here. It has almost become a form of motivation and inspiration for many young Malaysians to embark on their fitness journey after seeing so many posts of themselves working out and cooking good, healthy food. I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all since it has such a positive result. Another thing would be running. Malaysians love to participate in runs.
How do you personally stay fit and healthy?
Luckily, I have a job that exposes me to healthy eateries and new workouts all the time. I get bored easily and need constant change to keep me on my toes. I also have a little girl that keeps me running after her all the time. She’s like my own personal trainer and pretty hardcore too.
Which are your favourite parks, gyms and studios?
Women’s Health Malaysia is still a new publication. How has it been received and what is your audience most excited about?
I beam with pride when I see women of all ages and background buying the magazine and reading them. My friends have started this thing where they will send me snaps of other people reading Women’s Health on trains, in gyms and cafes. Creepy for them but exciting for me. It’s the perfect timing for us to come in now as more Malaysians are turning their lifestyles around. It feels like we are on this journey together as we work towards getting fitter, better and stronger. It sounds like a marketing spiel but I truly believe in that statement.
We had a very funny attempt at badminton during our visit to the capital. It has traditionally been the most popular sport around the country. Is that still the case?
It’s a game most Malaysian children grew with. As kids, we used to play badminton with the other neighbourhood kids using our house fence as a net. The fact that Malaysia was put on the map because of badminton, every child’s (or parents) dream back then was to be an international badminton champ. It’s not the same as it used to be but I would say it’s still very popular.
Is activewear and fitness fashion a huge trend in Malaysia the way it is in the rest of the world?
Hell yeah! I used to hate the term activewear but now I’m a huge advocate of it. I think it’s the same with a lot of women here. Finally, we have an excuse to rock out in our treks and sports tops. Plus, activewear comes in such cool designs now, it will be a shame to just wear it to workout.
How do you think women’s body image in Malaysia compares to the rest of the world?
Women in Malaysia are generally petite. Saying that, we have a high rate of obesity in the country and that’s due to our poor diet. Also, looks can be deceiving—while some people may be skinny, it doesn’t necessary mean they are fit or healthy.
We have a lot of influential athletes in Australia who encourage people to become healthier. Who are your game changers in Malaysia?
Squash player Nicol David is a national hero. We featured her in our October issue last year and she was so inspiring. Her passion for the game and what she wants to do helping young women in sports proves that her sportsmanship goes beyond the court.
When I had the chance to speak to gold medalist Farah Ann (another sports hero we have featured in Women’s Health), I felt she was real. She spoke about how gymnastics build her confidence and perseverance. People used to tell her she was either too tall or too big for the sports and that didn’t stop her. She believes in herself, the sports and nothing could stop her.
Skye is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Fit Traveller.
She is a journalist, writer, photographer, intrepid traveller and a former personal trainer with a passion for helping others reach optimal health.
As a TV journalist and producer, Skye has worked for household names such as 60 Minutes, Sunrise, TODAY and Nine News. She has also written for Women’s Health, Fodor’s Travel and Yahoo7 Travel, among many others.
Equally comfortable in a 5-star resort or hiking a far-off mountain, Skye loves the unexpected and enriching life experiences that each trip brings and can often be found in a backstreet chatting to locals with her camera in hand.
Skye is based in Sydney, working to master the balance between motherhood and her appetite for adventure.
Read more about Skye’s story here.