Malaysia- full of surprises

Trip Start Aug 18, 2010
Trip End Aug 31, 2011

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Flag of Malaysia  , Wilayah Persekutuan,
Saturday, December 29, 2012

I didn't quite know what to expect from Malaysia but the initial impressions didn’t quite match the expectations, and not necessarily in a negative way either. My flight and arrival to Kuala Lumpur was ordinary and I soon managed to find the bus to take me into the city and then make the transfer to a taxi from the central station to my hostel situated right near Chinatown (the area is called Jalan Balai-polis). I settled into my room, a cheap single fan room which was already steamy hot as Malaysia didn’t let down in the expected temperature stakes. I had a few things to accomplish as I was mainly in the country to attend a wedding the following day, let me explain.

While I was living in New Zealand in 2010-2011 I stayed most of the time in a hostel in Auckland and got to meet some great people although it was obviously a very transient population living in a hostel! One of the people I met, Kim, is from Malaysia and we just got on very well and stayed in touch - modern day pen pals if you will- and when she announced her engagement and wedding was fortunately coinciding with my time travelling in Asia I told her I would do my best to attend the special day. So there I was in Kuala Lumpur and very disorganized but on top of all of Kim’s wedding planning she had also organized a lift for me to take me to the wedding which was about a 45 minute drive outside of KL and organized for me to be able to sleep at the villa her family had organized nearby the reception! But I had a suit badly crumpled at the bottom of my backpack, no smart shoes and little time to get my suit steam cleaned!

So after getting my bearings and some tips of cheap nearby shopping, I was pointed in the direction of the nearby Chinatown markets at Petaling Street. It’s pretty similar to any other Chinatown, filled with cheap knock off products and vendors willing to barter prices as well as a assortment of new and good looking arrangement of food. I made a few enquiries on some decent pairs of shoes and also a belt as my one and only belt had of course broken in the middle of this rush, and made the decision to come back the following morning to buy everything I needed but I did settle in for something to eat at the excellent nearby Old China Café which according to their website "is actually the old guild hall of the Selangor & Federal Territory Laundry Association. The guild was set up at the turn of the century and moved to this part of Chinatown in the 1920s." It’s still very old school and has a touch of class and many similar building have been torn down so it is a piece of history. More importantly the food is amazing and very affordable and I had my first Nasi Kendar which was incredibly tasty and very different to the foods of Vietnam.

In the afternoon I took a nap and finalized plans with Kim via email, she had arranged for her cousin to meet me in the city to take me through to the wedding, so I had a bit of time in the morning to return to the market and buy everything I needed. First though I spent a few hours trying to iron out creases from my suit and even took the advice of the staff at the hostel to leave it hanging in the bathrooms as they tended to steam up and hopefully it would assist! Life on the road is fun.

In the evening I did return to the markets to grab a bite to eat and a drink and watch the shoppers pass by. I was surprised at how surprised I was by the mix and range if people. I think after having spent a month in Vietnam where the general look and shape of the people aside from the tourists tend to be similar, now all manner of races, human heights and size were presented to me as well as the diversity of religion and sexual orientation which Malaysia is obviously proud of despite a predominantly (I assume moderate) Islamic government.

So the next day I packed a few belongings into a bag and left my backpack at the hostel storage room and made my way in semi dressed suit and new shoes to one of the many shopping malls in the city centre for my pickup to Kim and Kelvins wedding. As I mentioned I was pretty disorganized for the wedding and my stay in Malaysia, actually having booked a very cheap flight to Cambodia for New years eve as the wedding was on December 29th and I didn’t know anyone else in KL I thought if I did meet some good people I would just stay on for a while. Anyways after a short wait for Kim’s cousin to meet me, of course after a couple of wolf whistles from some feminine men in the city centre, I made my introductions to Michelle (Kim’s Cousin) and we started out journey out towards Genting, which is a beautiful eco-tourism area, but not before a coffee stop and getting kind of lost a few times as Michelle hadn’t lived in KL for a long time but actually lives up North by a few hours. Once we were what we thought was close proximity of the venue we got repeatedly lost despite the best efforts of the security guards and were also conscious we were probably holding up the late morning Tea ceremony!

Once we did eventually arrive, I was introduced to various family members and of course Kelvin who I had heard so much about but yet to meet. The Tea Ceremony got under way shortly thereafter, which was a more traditional Chinese custom as the couple are both Chinese/Malaysian, and the ceremony is a number of personal exchanges of blessings and gifts between family members and the couple. Afterwards we were all treated to a fantastic buffet lunch which again included an arrangement of amazing food (I’m sorry food is going to be mentioned a lot in this entry as it’s so good in Malaysia).

After lunch we had a few hours to unwind and explore the villa and the surroundings. The place was absolutely beautiful, placed in the hillside overlooking a green landscape of trees and jungle with a immaculate swimming pool and fish pond below sitting amongst well groomed gardens- definitely a little slice of heaven. I also got chatting to a few other guests such as Kelvin’s brother who lives north in Penang and was very proud of their food heritage. Also were three Japanese girls, friends of Kim, who like all Japanese people I have met, were incredibly polite, timid and excitable. Kim’s brother Arthur and his girlfriend were also great and I would be sharing a room with them and Michelle.

Before long we were all getting ready for the main event and changing into our finest clothes and heading down the road to the reception venue which was to take place in a large hall. On arrival I was blown away by the place, both Kim and Kelvin are incredible creative people- both having worked in the advertising space for some time- and it showed in the care, detail and thought put into the evenings setup. From Coffee themed tables, on hand baristas, an assortment of cakes and sweets and fun activities to complete before the ceremony got under way which included a checklist with items such as “Make at least two new friends” and “Chill at the lounge” (beanbags and a chill our area in the corner) it was all very interactive and colourful. I was particularly impressed with the sidecar/wedding car out front!

After the fun pre activities I found my table and got acquainted with my new table friends who all were fantastic company through the night. We got talking about all things Malaysia, partying, travelling and other nonsense and before long we were standing in ovation as Kim made her introduction, looking beautiful of course. The whole time a fantastic live band was playing who were amazing. Of course the main event started thereafter with some really great speeches and some more of the lovely couples creativity came through as short films they had created pre wedding and even on the day were played for us on the big screen, it was all cinema worthy. The food was outrageously good and with plenty of dessert and sweets as we made our way through plenty of wine. One of the guests sitting opposite me, on top of her stunningly beauty, was also a local pop/ R&B star on the rise so the whole night was a mix of surreal and fun with good people.( It also means I have been to a wedding on every continent- except the Antarctica!)

After the fun times and as guests started their departure, the hall needed to be cleared out and cleaned up with some effort before a group of us headed back to the villa to drink till the early hours, a mix of local spirits, wines and Japanese plum wines. Mostly the group consisted of advertising creative’s and it was pretty hilarious listening to their reminiscing, mainly n English for my benefit, of intern initiations, ad campaigns gone wrong and how seemingly important clients haven’t a clue of the real world.

The next day we had another fantastic breakfast, a mix of curries and rotis before some downtime, including a swim in the pool and the cleanup of the villa before I got a lift with Arthur back to KL. We did stop on the way at the famous Batu Caves, at which a massive (42m) golden statue of Murugan, a Hindu deity, stands as well as a series of steps into the caves. We only stopped for photos but I’m glad we did as I probably wouldn’t have made the visit otherwise. I was dropped off at the hostel, changed rooms to a dorm and got chatting to some good people, late into the night, including a Dutch girl who had found love on the road a Australian girl who was escaping a bad breakup and had planned a trip to SE Asia with a literary for every day which I thought was amusing. Earlier in the evening I had made it into town to meet up with Kim and Japanese girls for a meal, although the plan was to head to a street famous for its night market and street food, the torrential downpour scuppered that plan. We did have a meal and swapped details before Kim took them to the airport and with the rain having eased up I took a walk down the street market which was pretty entertaining!

On New Year’s eve I ventured into the city and saw the famous Petronas Twin Towers and killed some time at the shopping centre which was getting jam packed. I wanted to see The Hobbit, which I did and it was a little disappointing but the non English subtitle when there were Elves speaking means I probably missed some plotlines. By this point I had obviously decided to skip on my flight to Cambodia and stay in Malaysia  a while longer having gotten some good recommendations for places to visit and a New Years eve with some people I knew rather than taking my chance In Phnom Penh. I also got chatting to some new guests in the hostel, one of which had managed to ride her scooter in Bali through a shop window and was now nursing dozens of stitches on her leg!

In the evening I made my way out to a meeting point with Kim, and we went on to a restaurant to meet some of her friends, two of whom I had met at the wedding. Kelvin had decided to spend the time with his family. We had a selection of starters and some drinks before enjoying a decent meal, it was all very civilized and before long the fireworks and countdown had begun signaling another new year in another country (I think the 8th different one for me). The owner of the restaurant was related to one of the girls in our group and gave us some free shots and we had a few drinks with the staff too and then a few of us decided to head to a club at which one of the guys knew  few people so we decided to tag along. Before long we were pulling up to a busy place with a few Ferraris parked outside and a long queue to get in but obviously who ever the contacts were inside the club were wealthy or important as we were skipped passed the queue and got treated to free drinks with the group, bottles of whiskey, from the bottle! Of course this place had a massive swimming pool inside the club and before long I was swimming in it before heading back for more drinks and generally a fun night out! Kim was kind enough to drop me off in the city where I took a taxi back to the hostel and I had a great sleep in- random fun night out!

The following day, I took a funny taxi ride out to Kim’s family home- the taxi driver was incredibly helpful but couldn’t find the address and we eventually stopped at a MacDonald’s so I could use the free wifi and try get hold of Kim but the staff knew the address and came out to give instructions to the driver so after a funny 45 minute journey I found the right place, the driver refusing to let the meter run in the time we were asking directions, for all the negative press taxis get in KL, I seemed to get the few honest ones. The reason I went to Kim’s family place was they had a big post wedding party for all the neighbors, another tradition, so again a feast of food was on display as well as more good people to meet as well as a older relative who was very musical and had led an interesting life working for the local press for a number of years. At the end of the night the main event for me was being treated to the controversial King of Fruits, the Dorian. I was shown how the open the fruit and the ranges of flavor before slowly tucking into this strange smelling and cream cheese textured fruit which divides so much opinion and taste buds. I personally liked it but in moderate quantities, but it’s a unique fruit for sure and I can understand why its banned in so many public places due to its lingering and pungent smell.

I had decided the next day to make my way to either Penang or Malaka in the south; actually I was planning to head north but after being misdirected to a bus station whose routes were southbound only I took the bus trip to Malaka. The area was a former Portuguese and Dutch Colony and is also now a UNESCO World heritage site and the port town is very quaint, also known for its culinary delights but a little underwhelming. The hostel I booked into had a semi drunken manager who was pretty funny and very much over the place and couldn’t understand why people visited. Despite that I ventured out and explored the famous Jonker Street for its antiques and local foods, although it was very quiet and much of it was closed down, it was still a interesting place to explore. The meandering river that runs through the town adds a bit of romance to the place and the authorities have tried their best to maintain the heritage and cleanliness of it all. I also walked to the nearby stadhuys, the former Dutch offices, as well as the ruined fort and in the evening took a river cruise which was pretty insightful. One day and night was more than enough though and I decided to take a long bus up to Penang the following day.

The bus ride north to Penang was around 8 hours long but we got to see plenty of the countryside and passed a few places I had considered stopping by, including the Cameron Highlands. Once I arrived in Penand I was pretty clueless about what to do and where to stay so I eventually took a taxi to Georgetown and the famous Love Lane – although it sounds dodgy, it’s a popular backpacker and local area filled with places to eat and drink and I found a affordable and decent place to stay. I had been in contact with Kim and her family as they were staying on the opposite side of the island at a villa on the Batu Ferringhi beach side and planned to meet up with them eventually. I spent the evening exploring the local area and in the evening spent a frustratingly long time finding a working ATM machine to get some cash before heading into the what I think was called Red Square/Garden, which was a public eating area with loads of places to choose to eat from and drink as well as really bad live music and even a drag show. It was really busy with tourists and locals but had a good vibe and I sampled a few different cheap meals and a couple beers before heading to sleep.

The following morning I took the public bus to Batu Ferringhi to meet up with Kim and family and had a good breakfast while waiting for them. Once we met  up we went to a nearby waterfall which sadly was very polluted but was still very beautiful, it was a place Kelvin and his school friends had used to visit growing up and he said it had changed a lot over time. We then went back to the villa, which was breathtaking in its size and design but a beautiful place which included a great view and a swimming pool. We settled in for a while before heading out for a lunch at a nearby place, again the simple food was delicious and we all took it easy in the afternoon. In the evening we ventured out for an amazing Chinese-Malay meal, I have no idea what we ate as the family ordered for everyone but some of the dishes were fantastic. We stopped by the nearby night markets on the way back before a quick deluge of rain and then made our way back to the villa for the night.

The following day we parted ways and said our final goodbyes, as I took a bus back to Georgetown and decided on what I would do next but not before trying a few local dishes I was told wer a must try. So in the afternoon I took a walk and found the famous Jooi Hooi Café for a dish of Penang Laksa ranked 7th in the CNNs World Most delicious Foods of 2011 and then some Cendol which is one of the best but unlikely desserts I have ever had! Afterwards I hit one of the malls to watch a movie and some cheap shopping before walking back to the hostel and buying some street food- Samoosas and fried Banana fritters and finally deciding on booking a flight to Phnom Penh the following day via Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysia had been food heaven and surprisingly enjoyable, its far more developed but not expensive as I thought it would be and the mix and range of people is incredibly diverse as are the foods. There are quite a few more places I would like to come back to and see but maybe next time, I was fortunate to have met so many good people and a big thank you to Kim, Kevin and their families for being so kind.
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