If New York is the “melting pot” of the west, then Malaysia must be the “stir fry-wok” of the east, dishing out a smorgasbord of people, tastes, sights, and sounds that are anything but monotonous. A refreshing blend of ethnicities churn together inside a giant smoothie of culture to create one delicious gulp of travel in this benevolent land. The dominant faith is Muslim, guiding the souls of Indians, Chinese, Malay, and others through life in the funnel tip of Southeast Asia. Inexplicably awesome is not seeing a predominant ethnicity, as was much the case in previous countries we visited. Not that one ethnicity is a bad thing, but variety of faces and personalities is highly welcomed on a trip through Asian countries.
We loved Malaysia! Especially the capital, Kuala Lumpur!
Anyhoo… Our first stop was Penang, across the longest bridge in Asia to Georgetown. Chinatown was the drop off point from our Thailand border crossing adventure and we were greeted with some slightly overpriced, slightly roachy guest houses. Not to worry, we picked one and left early in the morning to a
nice little reprise in Batu Ferringhi, just up the coast. Here we experienced our first real
taste of the Muslim world. Most women wore traditional headdresses, many men were sporting the full robes, and still a fun mix of slick, semi-slimy Indian street hawkers pushing fake Louis Vuitton handbags and phony Rolex’s. A “nice” surprise was hearing the Salat, the Muslim morning prayer, for the first time ever. Four in the morning… A hauntingly off-key melody weaves into your dream like a bullet through plywood. And it’s loud. And long. Blasting from terrible sounding speakers in a tower at the nearest mosque, there is nothing you can do but wait it out. Ear plugs help.
The people were so nice and helpful wherever we went. The Muslim stereotype created by American media was completely obliterated by these kind and warm people. It took getting out of our country to realize that they are people too, not some fictitious breed of fanatical lunatics like Fox News would like us to think.
The food was sooooooo good! A fusion fest of all the cultures that live here: Indian and Thai curries mixed with Chinese noodles and rice, toss in some chili-enhanced soy sauce, and dip the garlic naan in some masala and lentils… Fan-friggin-tastic!
little slice of heaven called the Perhentian Islands (Per-HenT-ee-an) gave us the best snorkeling we’ve ever done and some great low key island bungalow relaxation. Located off the east coast of the peninsula, we took an under crowded night bus across the country to the port town Kuala Besut. This bus driver was nuts. He was blasting the A/C so cold, that we were forced to wear our only means of coverage in our small backpacks: our ponchos. Just picture an empty bus with Meg and Jake huddled in the back, in our bright fluorescent blue and teal rain ponchos—complete with elastic Eskimo hood. Finally, I took a stand for the four passengers on the bus and demanded him to turn down the A/C. Ahhhhh… much better.
We stayed on the smaller of the Perhentians. An island with no roads, no cars, and powered by generators that only run from 7 p. m. to 7 a.m… Perfection. The trails veining across the island were lined with massive spider webs made from twine-size web. And the inhabitants of the webs were not friendly looking. At a solid six to eight inches across, these mothers owned the trails. The ground, however,
was owned by a much larger reptile. Giant monitor lizards roved the island like watchdogs, many over five feet long. Picture a crocodile crossed with a lizard and then imagine it just outside your door, cruising around in search of a snack.
We booked a full day snorkeling trip and headed out early in the morning (we already acquired our own gear back in Thailand). Six dive spots and a turtle guarantee ensured a good trip to places with names like: the lighthouse, shark point, turtle bay, and coral gardens. We saw tons of vibrantly colored marine life and massive schools of fish. A few white tipped reef sharks checked us out then eluded us. We swam with giant green turtles, and floated among jagged coral reefs. The turtles were the real highlight because they swam just fast enough to stay ahead of you while you chased them, while gracefully maneuvering through the aqua waters. We almost lost Meg at one point because she chased a large male turtle until she was totally out of energy. Good thing the boat had more gas than her.
Leaving the Perhentians, we headed for the grand capital, Kuala Lumpur. Truly an
awesome city, this place was the most modern/developed/civilized/border-line-futuristic city we’ve been to yet. The famous Petronas towers tickle the skyline, symbolizing the nation’s financial powerhouse status and worthiness in the global economic ball game. Yet the place still oozes culture with Little India, Chinatown, and enough markets to empty that authentic handmade Thai wallet in a hurry.
The city was alive in every way. From the streets to the people to the weather, there is always something going on, on every corner. We stayed in the centrally located Golden Triangle; less bedbugs than Chinatown, but still a hop away from the action, we shacked up in a little place called the Green Hut. For us, KL was like a vacation from the rest of Southeast Asia. All the modern conveniences of home (and more) gave us a chance to catch up on some much needed mega-mall meandering time and city life activities. The KL hop on-hop off bus was the perfect way to cruise the city—simply hop on and hop off as you please at major destinations. Kuala Lumpur gets top honors as favorite city thus far.
We stayed the remainder our time in Malaysia on Pangkor Island,
before our departure to Sumatra, Indonesia. Though not as spectacular as the eastern islands, it was still awesome and tropical and stormy and very Malay. We ate with our hands and enjoyed nasi lemak (special fried rice) and iced milos (like chocolate milk). Daily sights included wild macaques (monkeys) tight rope walking on the power lines and hornbills feeding on whatever they could find with their massive beaks.
Malaysia was a fantastic experience! Super travel friendly and overflowing with culture… Everything you could ask for and even a little more!
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