The tourism slogan for Malaysia is “Malaysia is truly Asia.” And you know what? They’re right – it is! I feel that this country is the most comprehensive “blend” of the various Asia cultures that I’ve seen. First off, this is a Muslim country (and it’s Ramadahan), so you see woman in burkhas everywhere. I thought I’d have to dress more conservatively, but fortunately, there are plenty of Indian woman dressed in saris and western clothing and plenty of Chinese in western clothing as well, so I don’t feel out of place in my tank tops, which is a huge relief considering that it’s REALLY hot here.
Getting into Malaysia, I headed straight to Penang, an island in northwest Malaysia. An animated French woman that I met on my mini-bus served as my impromptu guide, and she promptly pointed me in the direction of a nice hotel. Then, she and I went to eat some delicious Indian food (masala thosai served on a large banana leaf which is pictured above) with a very tattooed British/Canadian man. Sometimes while traveling you meet the likes of him. He absolutely disdained anything that most of us deem as a normal life and applauded himself to the point of being really annoying for being a perma-nomad. Now, I love traveling for the experience, the food, the people I meet, but I also love returning home for the comforts provided there, and I don’t think that makes me a boring person or less of a person, but he made it seem that way.
But, once that was done, then I had a knock on my door and my friend Becca and her boyfriend Theis had arrived! It was so great to see a familiar face and Becca and I have traveled a bit together – Mexico, China, roadtrips all over the Midwest – and we are definitely two peas in a pod when it comes to well, a lot of things, but especially traveling. It was great to see her and meet her boyfriend and have some familiar faces for a few days.
Penang was great for the food. My friend Des recommended some great food, on which we imbibed. My favorite, aside from the fact that I can get roti with EVERY single meal, was the cendol, which is made of strands of sweetened pea flour layered on top of crushed ice, coconut milk and a brown sugar syrup. Delicious!
After Penang, we headed to the Cameron Highlands where it was cold at night! This is the closest to the equator I’ve ever been and being able to wear jeans and a long sleeve shirt at night was a welcomed change from the unyielding heat and humidity of the lowland regions. We went on a self-guided hike through the area (it seems to be a big tourist destination for locals, as there are loads of tea plantations and strawberry farms). Our hike was great – through the thick of the jungle, and a good reminder how much the Annapurna Circuit is going to absolutely kick my butt. We ate phenomenal street food for dinner – all of our tasting a bit of this and some of that cost us well under $2 per person. We stayed for about $3 a night, so I’m happy to say I haven’t burst my budget yet. The plane flights to Borneo and around Indonesia might be a different story…
After the Cameron Highlands, I left Becca and Theis and headed to Taman Negara, which, at over 130 million years old is the world’s oldest rainforest. I went on a night safari, which was just a couple of us driving around in a 4WD jeep while our guide shone a bright light to stop animals in their tracks. We did see some animals, but it was a tad disappointing. Riding on the back of a jeep through the palm plantations and watching the nearly full moon was an experience unto itself though. The next day, I went hiking in the national park – it boasts the world’s longest canopy walk (40m above ground and 450m long). It was cool and despite its height and length, felt pretty sturdy. The picture is of me on the canopy walkway. It’s disgusting but it’s really hot and I got really sweaty (which you unfortunately can also see). I was going to stay longer here, but internet was really expensive and most activities were expensive (ie visiting a village and using a blowpipe for $13). I’ve done things like that before and opted against it. Instead, I headed to Kuala Lumpur for some good quality internet time. I still have to apply for jobs while I’m traveling and today is a great day for that.