When starting to plan my travels (which I actually never did), Malaysia was never on my list of countries to visit. In fact, I would probably not have gone there at all if it hadn’t been for a good friend of mine who, against all odds, got one week off from work to come visit. Based on his flight alternatives and what later turned out to be highly untrustworthy weather forecasts, Malaysia seemed like the optimal place to go.
I had to leave Thailand by November 2, and Tuomas wasn’t going to arrive in Kuala Lumpur until the 5th, so I first spent three days in Georgetown, Penang, before I headed down south to Lumut, where we’d decided to meet up to take the ferry to Pangkor, an island just outside of mainland.
Georgetown was quiet. I did not do much but wander around the city and go to different cafes, do some writing, and try to catch up with myself after a few hectic weeks. As can be witnessed on Instagram, mine and so many others’, the streets were flourishing of art.
A good friend of mine traveled to Pangkor six years ago, maybe even earlier, and she told us that she’d found it a lot less touristy than e.g. Langkawi, the tax free island paradise a few hours north, where most people go. So, without looking into it that much further, we decided that’s where we’d go for the first couple of days once we’d met up.
One would think that things would change in six years or even more, but no. The island was super sleepy; it was as if time stood still. It was us and maybe five other westerners, the rest were locals. Come midday the streets would be all empty, and I mean all empty. There was no one in sight; not a single soul.
We didn’t mind, though. The weather on Sunday was cloudy and a bit rainy too, so we rented a scooter to explore the island. As expected, there was not a lot going on. We stopped for an ice cream at 7 Eleven and had massages at a place recommended to us by the hotel staff, after which we were happy to see that the sun was out (funny thing how the whole world is so much more beautiful when the sun’s out!). We cruised back to the hotel to get changed and got to the beach just in time before sunset. Although it was a bit cloudy, it was beautiful. Where I was laying in the hammock, watching the sunset and enjoying a sweet pineapple juice, I thought to myself (for the thousandth time?), life is beautiful.
If napping and eating (or licking your fingers clean of) melted chocolate doesn’t count, Monday was spent doing pretty nothing at the beach. It was almost empty: there was only a handful of people, including a guy sitting under a palm tree playing the accordion. The nearby water sports rental was playing super chill reggae mixes of all the best song, so there was not much to complain about.
We stayed at the beach all day, and had not only lunch and drinks, but dinner too, at the same restaurant. There wasn’t really much of a choice, but it didn’t matter; it was nice and cosy. The much anticipated sunset somehow managed to disappear into the clouds, but we had a good time anyways.
Then came my birthday. We were supposed to take the bus to Cameron Highlands, where we’d planned to spend the following couple of days, but instead spontaneously ended up booking one night in Ipoh based on some Swedish family’s recommendation of a fancy but affordable boutique hotel that was worth visiting just for the sake of the hotel itself.
I woke up at 5.45 am with a blogpost taking shape in my head, so I set out to write. I fell asleep again, and woke up to breakfast in bed (it used to be a tradition). Ever since we’d decided to go to Pangkor, kayaking had been on our list to of things to do. Based on the ’Top 10 Things To Do in Pangkor’ that we’d looked up it seemed like one of the not-too-many potential activities that might interest us. Bird watching did not really seem like our thing, so kayaking it was, and as we were going to leave that very same day, it was now or never.
We took the ferry back to mainland, from where we caught a bus to Ipoh. It was Just-In-Time management. It took a while for us to find the hotel once we got to Ipoh; the taxi driver told us that it’d be just around the corner and it turned out it was, however very well hidden in an alley. It was really cool, an urban rustic getaway built on the rooftops. Both the architecture and the interior were the perfect mix of worn out pastel colors, concrete, steel and wood. It was definitely worth coming for.
At night we had dinner at the restaurant below: a delicious three-course meal including garlic waffles for starters, a garden spaghettini as a main course for me and, perhaps best of all, a heavenly mouth-watering chocolate cake with a twist of orange for dessert… birthday cake, you know! Oh, and on top of that we also had a raspberry rocky road cake, not to forget two glasses of heavenly, just-the-right-temperature (post-Thailand where the wine is served ice-cold) Malbec. Ah!
It was the single most delicious, super nice dinner I’d had in a very long time.
And so my 27th birthday came and went. Trump was elected President of the United States, and it was raining heavily. Luckily, though, we had time to go check out some of the mural art that the city is known for before it started pouring down. Why don’t we have this back home?
We were stuck at the hotel waiting for a taxi that would take us to the bus station strategically located on the other side of town. It was time to get on yet another bus, this time to Cameron Highlands, where we’d have no more than one night as we’d decided to come to Ipoh. So many (too many) buses!
Cameron Highlands was located a mere 36 km away, but it took us two hours to get there. We swung by the gym and went to look for something to eat, ending up in an Indian restaurant in the centre of Tanah Rata. We’d booked a sunrise tour for the following morning, so once we got back to the hotel we enjoyed a hot cup of glögg (mulled wine) and some gingerbread cookies that my friend Hanna had been so kind to send me with Tuomas. For a moment it felt just like Christmas.
The tour took us to a lookout point at 2000 meters above sea level to watch the sunrise. It was a beautiful view, and a classic try-to-catch-the-moment-even-though-you’re-bound-to-fail kind of photography session. Luckily, it was just us and two French girls, so it was nice and quiet.
Once the sun had risen we went to some kind of a ’mossy forest’, which wasn’t particularly exciting except for the fact that it was closed to the public, but apparently they still took tourists there. ”I trust you not to throw any trash or touch anything”, said our guide, and off we went. A bit questionable if you ask me, but what to do as we’d had no clue about it.
The tour also included a visit to a tea plantation. Boh is Malaysia’s biggest tea producer, they have a total of four plantations located in the Cameron Highlands and around KL.We were introduced to the production process, how the fresh leaves transform into that which millions of Malaysians add to their cup of hot water daily. Our guide tooks us to the entrance of the factory, showed us where we’d get in, and then asked us if we’d have enough time if we met up again in an hour. A self-served tour, in other words.
We got back to the hotel as early as 10.30 am. Check-out wasn’t until noon, so we thought we’d have time for a quick power nap. The alarm went on and off again – who to blame, no one knows –resulting in an hour and a half of deep sleep and us nearly missing check-out. Luckily (and very much annoyingly), it was one of those times when you wake up and realize that you might just be able to make it if you really, really, really hurry. So we did.
We took a massage, a one-hour foot-and-shoulder massage, had lunch at the same Indian place as the night before, and went to collect our bags to go back to the bus station. Definitely too many buses.
Our hotel in KL, the Container Hotel, was built, as the name says, in containers. For the urban traveler, they say. Fitting only a queen-size bed and a one-square meter ”hallway” (not), the room was super tiny. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.
Friday was Tuomas’ last full day in Malaysia. We had breakfast at a bakery (so much for getting back to healthy routines after all the chocolate and candy that they’d sent me from home and I’d almost finished!) and wandered around Bukit Bintang. The neighborhood was packed with malls, one more luxurious than the other, which somehow reminded me of those in Dubai and the US. It was weird being back in a big city, in a neighborhood where commercialism was almost tangible. Indonesia and Thailand felt like another universe.
It looked like it was going to rain, which it eventually did, so we decided to go to the movies. At that time of day Jack Reacher starring Tom Cruise (not my personal favorite!) was pretty much the only option available, so we got tickets to that. I didn’t mind paying 2,50 euros for that, especially as I found it considerably better than I’d expected, which I took as a friendly reminder of giving things the benefit of the doubt.
Once the movie finished it was already past 5 pm. We wanted to find a nice rooftop bar from where we could see the sunset, which was going to take place behind the clouds, but anyways. We’d looked up a few places beforehand, but hadn’t taken screenshots of it, so as wifi was nowhere to be found, Tuomas had to turn on his roaming, which resulted in a 40 euro bill in less than five minutes. We got the names and addresses of two potential places, though. One seemed to be located about 3 kilometers from where we were at, while the other one couldn’t be found on the map at all. There were two taxi drivers sitting on a bench next to where we were standing, so we asked one of them if they could take us to the latter. He found the address on his phone, and it seemed to be located about a 15-minute drive away, so we jumped in.
We jumped in, but only to realize that the place was located about 500 meters from where we’d gotten in. Traffic was crazy, nothing was moving, which explained the estimated duration of 15 minutes.
HOW. ANNOYING. WAS. THAT. We might as well have walked!
Luckily, the place turned out to be so worth the unnecessary taxi ride. Being one out of five helipads that are still active in the centre of KL, this place would turn into a bar at night, and you’d be able to enjoy drinks and snacks while admiring the not-as-bad-as-I’d-been-warned skyline of the city. It was raining, and once the clouds gathered around the Petronas Towers it looked like they were on fire. It was awesome.
We rounded off what had been a really nice day with a Japanese dinner at a restaurant right next to our hotel.
On Saturday we got up early to go explore (read: do some shopping in) Chinatown before Tuomas had to leave. I bought the last Christmas gifts to be sent home to my family, and a pair of flip flops so that I could throw out the disgusting yellow, pink and brown colored ones that I’d bought from the very first supermarket that I found when mine broke in Ubud in the middle of nowhere. Just as if I’d cleared out a whole lot of clutter I was feeling super pleased. Because of a pair of flip flops. Yes!
I wasn’t flying out until Sunday, so for my last night I’d booked a hotel close to the airport to be close by the following morning. Booking.com told me that the place would have a mini cardio gym, which turned out to just that: a treadmill and a bike crammed into a six square meter area without air conditioning. At the end of my 30-minute run I could barely see myself in the mirror, that’s how humid it was. Nevertheless, it was good to be moving again.
I had my last dinner at the only restaurant I found in the neighborhood. It was a weird place; some kind of an aviation campus or something. The restaurant looked like a place where it might be a good idea to get vegetarian food, so as I was unable to understand any of the menu I asked for the first thing that came to my mind, fried rice with vegetables, and some naan bread. What I ended up getting was a huge pile of white rice with onion and a few carrots accompanied by another pile – yes, pile – of naan bread. A healthy and nutritious carb-overload, just to say goodbye to South-East Asia.
When boarding the plane on Sunday morning I was in a weird state of mind. I didn’t want my adventure to end, although according to my original plan it hadn’t even started yet. Maybe I was hesitant about getting to Perth, feeling that it was going to be a moment of truth.
What if I don’t like it? Everyone might love it, yes, but what if I don’t? What if it’s not the place for me?What if I made the wrong decision to leave?
What if this, what if that…
What if I just wait and see how it goes?
Back to Malaysia, though. Even though I first I felt like I couldn’t get a grip of the country, it was quite okay in the end. All in all it was a nice ten days; I did not love it, but it wasn’t as dull as I had expected it to be.
If it hadn’t been for the rain, Penang would’ve been really cool. Pangkor was super sleepy; the perfect place to go if you’re looking for relaxing days of doing nothing – and by nothing I really mean nothing. Ipoh was artsy, I loved the hotel and all of the mural art, and Cameron Highlands lush, green and cold. It was 18 degrees and rainy, which offered me the perfect opportunity to wear my jeans jacket, jeans, and wannabe-Vans that I’d been carrying around for more than two months without never having to use them (lucky me!). It was refreshing. Even KL was nicer than expected – not a lot, but still. And the company was good.
I must say that Thailand’s still my favorite, though, with Indonesia in second place, which leaves Malaysia third. It was weird to be back in a big city (KL). Same goes for being back in the western world (Australia), too, but more about that later.
Today’s reminder: Don’t try to rush things that need time to grow.