I cannot and will not begin this post on Malaysia without using the word food in the opening sentence. Neither of us had much in the way of expectations when it came to what Malaysia had to offer but as I reflect back on our time there, all thoughts are of the delicious nibble we encountered every step of the way. In fact, typing this could prove difficult because I am already drooling on the keypad, but Megan will wipe my mouth and I will persevere.
After being stamped out of Thailand at one of the world’s great immigration posts on the beach of Koh Lipe, we boarded a ferry for the island of Langkawi off the northwest coast of Malaysia. Previous such trips via fast boat had left a foul taste in our mouth (probably remnants of the vomit we had to choke down), so needless to say we were a bit gun-shy. Thankfully, this time around couldn’t have been smoother and our beast of a boat was smooth and dreamy for the 2hour crossing and as we disembarked in Langkawi all was well in our world. After breezing through Malaysian customs we flagged a taxi and crossed the island for the tourist-friendly west coast. Turns out Langkawi is a major tourist draw for Malaysians because of their duty-free approach to alcohol prices and in hindsight we probably should have taken more advantage of that. Malaysia is an extremely Muslim country and one of the ways drinking and other ‘sins’ are discouraged is by imposing a ridiculous tax upwards of 300%. Good thing their beers are not very good anyways and we did find a nice price on a bottle of Baileys. Our stay there was unremarkable with the exception of a great day and the freedom of a motorbike. With Megan on back and me at the helm, we toured a wonderfully remote part of the island with little traffic and plenty of scenery. We hiked up to some natural water slides for a break from the searing heat and sipped cold coconuts in the shade. All in all it was an appropriate ending to our time on the islands so we prepared ourselves for cities and culture.
Next stop, Penang (which is actually also an island but feels like anything but). We arrived via ferry to Georgetown and checked into a place in the heart of Chinatown. We timed our arrival and picked our lodging strategically to coincide with the Chinese New Year, and we did well to do so. This is when the food theme really grabbed hold. Penang is a province renowned for their street vendors and we took full advantage of what proved to be culinary ecstasy on every corner. We drifted from stall to stall like cartoon characters being floated along by drifting smells of grilled this and frying that. As a connoisseur of street food, I can honestly say that during a decade of travel I have never encountered the likes of what Penang has to offer. There is an exotic mix of Malay, Chinese and Thai all coming together in wonderful edible unison. Every vendor specializes in their specific dishes, and for 2 weeks we ate at least 4 times a day without repeating a single meal. Amazing and delicious. One of our best purchases turned out to be a couple of small towels which proved essential for wiping sweat from our brows and curries from our faces. Between meals we wandered the colonial streets amongst mosques, temples and churches, with interesting markets and architecture down every alley. As the new year celebrations culminated we watched fireworks over the bay and gave many shouts of ‘gong xi fa chai’ with the locals. All in all, Georgetown was simply delicious.
Moving south by bus we arrived in the mega-city of Kuala Lumpur and the culture shock was nothing short of shockingly cultural. It had been many moons since we last experienced the hustle and bustle of a concrete jungle but the horns and hawkers had a familiar feel and we eased right in – luckily our traffic-dodging skills and tolerance for chaos also followed suit. We based ourselves in Chinatown once again and had a 7th floor ‘suite’ with a nice view of the cityscape and craziness below. The heat and humidity were relentless but all it took to help us appreciate the sultriness was a look at the weather forecast in frigid Minnesota. Sorry y’all. The city itself was actually quite enjoyable and we slept each night with sore necks from looking up at the impressive and seemingly endless sky-scrapers. The famous Petronas towers dominate the skyline and certainly live up to their reputation as the world’s highest connected buildings. Megan had to turn many a blind eye to the glitter of high end shopping malls but luckily there was no shortage of knock-off goods that were within our budget. I’m pretty sure most of them are real but her trained eye is not easily fooled. One thing for sure, the food stalls were definitely authentic and our sweat mopping towels continued to be abused at a mouth-watering pace. After 4 days we tired of the mosques and modern madness so again we packed up and continued south.
Our final stop in Malaysia was the historical town of Melacca and we thoroughly enjoyed our 4 short days there. Being a former Dutch colony, Melacca is filled with churches and architecture not usually associated with this part of the world and makes for some interesting sight-seeing. For us however, the interesting part of our stint there was getting to know some of the local population (and dining on their outstanding cuisine of course). While there we rented a room in a small house near the historical district and spent our evenings at the riverside watering holes. We quickly became friends with the owner of the local reggae bar, Ryan, and his friend Xiam who owns a coffee shop nearby. Spending time with these characters and their friends was a real treat and gave us quality insight to their culture and way of life. We are seemingly so different from them in so many ways but it turned out that we are remarkably similar. Their hospitality and kindness struck a chord in both of us and once again it was difficult to say goodbye to our new friends. So difficult, in fact, that we extended our stay for one last evening with them and Malaysia.
Sooooo…another country under the belt and a couple more stamps in the ol’ passports. It seems a shame not having been able to have spent more time in such a surprisingly wonderful country but one can never have enough time when it comes to exploring the world. Malaysia left our bellies full, our hearts warm, and our sense of adventurism longing for more…good thing because Singapore lies on the horizon.