Coordinates: 2° 30’ N, 112° 30’ E
Malay Monsoon – Let the rain begin!
For the last time I would meet up with a friend and travel together with someone from home for a while. This time I was meeting my dearest friend from Berlin in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. For the next 17 days, we would explore Malay culture and the country’s beauty. Unluckily, the both of us did not quite inform ourselves before we decided to do our trip in Malaysia. We just did not know that Monsoon season was different for every single country in Southeast Asia. I thought we should be fine in November. Well, in our case… it was not.
The Monsoon season of Malaysia’s mainland just started at the east coast. Everyone I told I was traveling to Malaysia in November, everyone we met in the meantime, told us the same: It is the worst time to go! You can only travel to Malaysia’s west coast, which is not as beautiful as the east coast, or you take a flight to Malaysian Borneo. Of course, we could have easily changed our plans and take a flight to Borneo or Thailand. Nonetheless, we decided to explore the mainland Malaysia anyway. How bad could it be? Not that much actually. Indeed, it was raining every day on the west coast, but only for one or two hours. Heavy, but short showers of rain. Sometimes accompanied by strong thunderstorms, which we both liked to watch. I actually really enjoyed the refreshing feeling of cold raindrops falling on my skin every now and then. It was pleasant to cool down for a little during the humid hot days…. If you are not hanging out at beaches all the time, you are more than happy about all different ways of refreshment 😉
Our trip started in Malaysia’s capital. We both flew in and met at the airport. How I love meeting with my friends around the world! It is almost like being back home for a short amount of time even though you are just in a completely different country.
After my week in Singapore, I have to admit that Kuala Lumpur appeared to me as the desperate attempt to copy its neighboring highly developed country. KL (as everybody likes to call it) is nevertheless a surprisingly modern, clean and more or less well-structured city. I was not expecting such a developed capital to be honest. Like in Singapore, there were hundreds of construction sights – visible evidence for a flourishing economy.
My favorite must-see that I would highly recommend every KL visitor: The Batu Caves. You can get there easily by train.* It is a little bit outside of the city, but definitely worth an entire morning or afternoon. There is a huge Hindu temple and shrine embedded in limestone cliffs to explore. The main attraction for most of the tourists is probably the large statue of the Hindu God at the entrance where you can walk up 272 steps to enjoy the beautiful view of the city center’s skyline. For me, the true attraction were all the monkeys frolicking and fooling around, all focused on stealing tourists’ foods and drinks. That was quite some entertainment!
* Women even have their own wagons separated from men. Just to be safe. Well, more or less. Unfortunately, you could see many traces of external violence on the wagon’s windows. People obviously tried to break them.
Another must-see are the Petronas Towers, of course. You cannot visit Kuala Lumpur without going to its most famous landmark. The construction of the 452m tall twin towers was finalized in 1999. Ever since, they are the tallest twin structures in the world. If you have the money and interest, you can cross the 170m high sky bridge and enjoy the stunning view over the city. Furthermore, you can go all the 88 floors up to the observation deck.* The twin towers are a symbol for Malay culture. From the inside, the interior motives reflect local handicrafts and Islamic patterns. From the outside, the design of each Tower’s floor plate is based on simple Islamic geometric forms of two interlocking squares, creating a shape of eight-pointed stars. Architecturally, these forms describe important Islamic principles of “unity within unity, harmony, stability and rationality”.
* My friend and I did not go up for one reason: The different prices for Malays and tourists. Something you have to get used to in Malaysia are the differing price categories. As a foreigner, no matter where you are from, you will always pay at least three times as much as locals. I did not get used to it. Well, I also did not want to get used to it. Not every foreigner, not every traveler is automatically rich. When the entrance fee for the towers is even more than I have to pay to go up the TV tower in Berlin, than I gladly pass on this touristic attraction.
Our first trip was all way up the west coast to Malaysia’s and Thailand’s border. We decided to begin at the northern tip slowly moving peu à peu more south until we would be close to Kuala Lumpur again. Sounds like a plan? It sure was 😉
Langkawi is a dream for all people who love duty free shopping. Since the island is so close to Thailand, the government decided to make a duty free zone out of it. The logical consequences are crowds of people coming all way up for cheap shopping. In Malaysia as an Islamic country, alcohol and cigarettes are very expensive. Thus, not only many Malay, but also Singaporeans are traveling to the island to refill their storage. It is worth the trip.
Langkawi’s Street Art…
After the Philippines, I have to admit that at first I was a little disappointed from the island. The water was not turquoise; the beach close to our guesthouse did not have white sand. Furthermore, swimming in the water was almost impossible due to a countless number of water sport activities: Jet skis, banana boats, parasailing, not even three minutes apart from each other. Action for the whole day.
We did not want to take part in those activities. I mean they were way too expensive anyway. Instead, we decided to do one afternoon of Island Hopping. In the Philippines, this was the most exciting activity. Well, not in Malaysia. First, it was ridiculously expensive. There was no reasonable value for money. Second, the tour brought us to a lake where we had to pay an extra entrance fee. Again, three times more expensive for foreigners. We did not go in. Third, the boat captain refused to speak to me. I could not see any possible reason fort such ignorance of another person. Maybe because I am a woman? Maybe because no husband was with me? Maybe because my skin was not covered? I will never know. At the end of the day, I went to the tour agency complaining about the worst tour ever. At least, I got part of the money back…
Not everything was bad when we were on Langkawi. Do not get me wrong! For example, one day we were renting a scooter and cruising around the city. Finally, we could explore all the hidden beauties of the island. All the sudden, we found turquoise water with white sand beaches. It was wonderful! The wind blowing in your hair while you are driving to the next paradisiac beach. This was our perfect day in paradise!
Plus, our guesthouse was gorgeous! We were staying in the T Star Cottage where our own little bungalow had an outside area for relaxing and enjoying the view. Especially at night, when I was looking at the laying sliver of the moon, I had the feeling I was actually in Thailand. I always associated bungalows, palm trees, beautiful exotic looking moons, monkeys, turquoise water and white beaches with the country. All the sudden, I had this picture right in front of me. It was breathtaking!
Especially the ‘naughty’ monkeys that were surrounding and entertaining us every morning when they were hunting for left outside food and drinks were my personal highlight. ‘Be aware of the naughty monkeys!’
At the end, we did have wonderful days in Langkawi. It is definitely worth a visit!
Penang – Georgetown
Next stop. Penang, respectively Georgetown. There is a ferry from Langkawi directly going there. It only takes about two hours. Easy going. Then you will arrive at the ‘Pearl of the Orient’, a former colonial island. The city is named after Britain’s King George III. The influence of the British colonization area is still visible in its many imperial buildings. The inner city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Just strolling around and looking at the colorful and convoluted buildings is already a pleasant activity. Besides the British, you can clearly see the influence of the Chinese as well. After all, Georgetown was the main waterway between Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Apart from these historical marks, you can explore a bunch of modern art. One of Georgetown’s landmarks is its beautiful street art, stencils whose style almost reminded me of Banksy’s… Nowadays, Georgetown is one of Malaysia’s most tolerant and cosmopolitan cities.
When we were looking around for the famous street art, the monsoon hit us. Of course, we did not have an umbrella or anything else to protect us from the heavy rain. Instead, we decided spontaneously to have a late coffee break and wait for the rain to be over. We did not look around much, just went inside the first café that passed our way. We ended up in the ‘Kopi Loewak Café’. The interior was very beautiful. You could immediately see that the owner had not only a very good taste in furniture and decoration, but also a passion for a pleasant and cozy ambience. We would have never thought to end up somewhere in Malaysia in a café where they actually serve the world famous coffee ‘Kopi Lawak’. Every coffee lover will understand instantly what I am talking about. Kopi Lawak belongs to the highest class of coffee beans delicacies. Why? Because the coffee cherries are eaten and defecated by the Asian palm civet (looks like a wild cat). After the past-digestion, you will gain the incomparable, distinctive and certainly unforgettable flavor of Kopi Lawak coffee. Yummy, yummy!
So we were sitting in front of the café underneath a protective shelter enjoying our coffee and watching the monsoon showing off all its strength. All the sudden, the waiter brought us cake. ‘We didn’t order this.’, we told him. ‘Unfortunately for you, it is raining; fortunately for us, you can be our guest today.’, he responded smiling. Wow! We did not expect such kind of hospitality at all. With a smile on our faces, we enjoyed our coffee and the delicious cheesecake. My friend was actually thinking about buying some coffee as a souvenir for her coffee lover friends back home. If it only was not that expensive… all the sudden, the waiter came back. ‘Here, for you!’ He gave us free samples. This was our day!
Why all those free gifts? Well, lucky us, the owner of the café was sitting right next to us. Secretly he gave the orders to his waiters. I was observing him (as you can see I am a true Social Scientist… alsways watching people and their behavior… 😉 ). First cake, then free samples, at the end even ponchos for free. Can you believe it? We were happy about this wonderful treats for the next couple of days… Finally, we could walk in the rain and explore Georgetown’s street art anyway. It was such a lovely and especially unexpected experience! What a fortunate day!
What else can I tell you about our trip to Georgetown…? The botanical garden is a good place to relax, if you need a break from the busy city-life or if you just want to enjoy nature, the garden is worth a visit. Especially if you like to meet good monkeys. (Look at the pictures below.)
If you want to explore the whole city, you could buy a ‘hop on, hop off’ bus ticket. Just be patient. The traffic is a nightmare. Sometimes the distances between A and B would not even take five minutes by bus. Due to the busy, busy traffic, you will easily need up to 20 minutes. Sometimes you would be definitely better off walking. Anyhow. There is much to explore and to see. For example a couple of temples.
The Kek Lok Si Temple, which is the biggest Buddhist temple in Malaysia.
The Wat Chayamamgkalaram Thai Buddhist Temple with an 18 meter long Buddha laying in it.
The Dharmikarama Burmese Buddhist Temple where I got a foretaste what kind of temples to expect in Myanmar. I don’t like it, I LOVE IT!
As you can see, you can easily spend another day in another temple. The typical sightseeing activity in Asia, I guess.
This little island is a rather non-touristic place to hang out. If you are less interested in partying, but more in hanging out at quiet beaches and enjoying not doing anything, then Pulau Pangkor is the perfect place for you. Just be careful of the naughty monkeys. They wait at every beach to steal your food and drinks.
We spent about five days on this little island and enjoyed every single hour there. It is the perfect place to escape many tourists, to find cheap delicious food, to hang out with locals, to explore hidden beaches. Relaxing, relaxing, nothing but relaxing.
Last stop on our trip. We checked into Ringo’s Guesthouse Foyer, the place where I would stay for three more weeks to work a little bit. Melaka is a former colonial, very cozy town close to Kuala Lumpur. It is also at Malaysia’s west coast, but unfortunately without any beaches. Therefore, you can enjoy the quite artistic atmosphere of the town. Colorful, convoluted little houses, tight alleys, street art, plenty of cozy cafés with a variety of good and delicious cakes, a huge number of vegetarian restaurants. To sum it up, this is the place to be if you like to rest for a while and just enjoy doing nothing. You can stroll around the river and discover the decorating colorful colonial houses. At the weekend, you can do a foot marathon at the food market. Instantly I got addicted to all the cheap and super delicious food that you can find all over Melaka. For example, my beloved popiah, fried bananas, filled puffs, fried ice cream, chocolate strawberries and much more. My one and only favorite place where I went eating every single day was the Shui Xian Vegetarian Restaurant. There you can chose from a big variety of vegetarian dishes for 1 € (!!!). Can you imagine? High quality delicious food for such little money… Furthermore, Melaka is the perfect place for shopping nice handmade souvenirs for friends and family. Even though there is not much to do or to see, you can easily hang out and spend a week in Melaka.