Fun, Friendly, and Flavourful
We didn’t spend a whole lot of time in Malaysia, but it was still a treat to visit. While the people in Thailand were friendly, the people in Malaysia were even friendlier. People spoke more English, which made it easier to engage with them, while things also seemed to flow a little more smoothly. Our travels were unfortunately limited to:
- Historic George Town on the Island of Penang
- The Cameron Highlands, a tea-lover’s dream
- Kuala Lumpur
- Malaysia’s paradise, Tioman Island
We just had a brief taste of Malaysia, but it was still enough to make us want to go back!
George Town on the Island of Penang
Penang Island was our first stop in Malaysia, with George Town making a fabulous first impression. The former colonial town is rich in a mix of Malaysian, Chinese, and British colonial history, with very well documented placards on display in English for the curious history buff. Its shaded promenades along the historic streets offer a respite from the sun for those perusing the many shops displaying their wares shoulder-to-shoulder in narrow historic buildings. A walk along the shoreline offers splendid views and the ghosts of tall-masted ships to the imaginative mind. Its street food is to die for. When we were there in 2013 we had the best samosas of our life in the Little India part of town from a grumpy man with a cart at the main crossroads. You’ll know you’ve found him when he hands you your samosas with a scowl.
While in George Town we also learned one of our first lessons in talking to locals for tips rather than trying to be totally self-sufficient. When we returned to our hotel and informed the owner that we would be leaving the next day, he asked whether we had bought bus tickets with a local company called Banana Bus. We indeed had, and he shook his head in exasperation- if we had just asked him, he apparently could have gotten tickets for 2/3 the price!
That bus ride, by the way, was one of the most windy and nauseating that we’ve been on. It was certainly manageable, but you may want to plan ahead if you tend to get sick on mountain-side, blind-passing, are-we-going-to-die bus rides. The reward was high, however, after we dropped off our bags at a local hotel and we took the big old local bus out to the tea plantations.
Endless rolling hills of well-manicured tea surrounded us we walked from the bus stop to the tea museum at the end of a long and pretty road. As happy tea drinkers, it was interesting to see how one of our favourite beverages is grown. It was also enlightening and a bit sad to walk down the road with the beautiful green tea on our right and the equally as beautiful green jungle on our left, knowing that the hills and valleys of the tea fields were once also covered in jungle instead.
Another interesting observation from the Cameron Highlands was that this is apparently where all Land Rovers come to die. Formerly overseen by British tea-loving interests, it seems that British manufactured Land Rovers of all different variations have been sent here to eke out their last usable days as workhorses in the fields of the Cameron Highlands. Those hearty beasts that have sputtered their last breath are left on the side of the road and cannibalized for any and all usable parts, with colourful, rusted old shells of vehicles still littering the roadsides. Unfortunately we don’t seem to have snapped any photos of these old vehicles, but it is surely a sight to see for car or especially Land Rover aficionados.
Wowee! What a big city. As we’ve said before, we’re not huge fans of big cities, but there’s still always something interesting to discover no matter where you are! Lots of food, lots of buildings, lots of stores, lots of energy.
Have we also mentioned before that we like to travel cheap? In Kuala Lumpur, our thriftiness resulted in Lisa having the worst travel sleep of her life. We opted for the cheapest room in a hotel we stumbled across, and this room happened to be about just as big as the double bed that was in it with, along with absolutely no windows. It was also about 40°C all night. Plus there were some chatty Americans in the neighbouring room up partying until about 4AM. But hey, at least it was cheap!
Luckily for Lisa our next stop was Tioman Island, a short bus and ferry ride away from Kuala Lumpur. Its peaceful and tranquil beaches promised to offer the recuperation she needed.
It also offered the most wildlife sightings we had on our entire trip, including little crabs, gigantic bats, a dangerous-looking (but dead) snake, and huge monitor lizards that place themselves in the middle of sunny walkways and hurriedly shuffle off with a scraping shuffling sound when humans approach.
There was also great snorkeling, almost on par with Koh Tao in Thailand.
Everything was going fine for us until… THE MONKEY ATTACK.
At this point the two of us had spent almost every minute together for the preceding month. We were together at all times during the day except for bathroom breaks. That is some serious love to be able to do that and not go crazy, and the longer things kept going well the more we knew we were meant for each other.
There was ONE point, however, when Lisa decided to go off and take some pictures of the island by herself. Elliott decided to stay at the little bungalow for a relaxed afternoon of cheap whiskey, wafting incense, tasty samosas, and a good book (The Mysterious Island– a classic and entertaining read, though perhaps a bit implausible).
Lisa set out and a few minutes later she found the perfect photo subject, a big friendly monkey!
… except the monkey wasn’t so friendly. Moments after this picture was taken, the monkey rushed down the tree and started to approach Lisa, his white teeth glaring and menace glowing in his eyes. He attacked, swiping his evil monkey paw at her and grunting with rage. She parried, swinging her cloth bag at the menacing monkey and hissing at him with all the ferocity she could muster. He swiped again, and she replied with another bag swing. A third time, a fourth time, and eventually the monkey backed off momentarily, allowing Lisa the opportunity to flee to safety.
Elliott was oblivious to all of this, and after only a few minutes of reading Lisa came rushing back to him, visibly shaken by her traumatic experience. From then on, they both carried large, knotted “monkey defense sticks” for their travels by foot across the island.
Don’t feed the wildlife
Although the story of the monkey attack is a bit comical, it’s really not all that funny. That monkey was likely fed by tourists and conditioned to associate humans with food. We reported the incident to locals and they told us that the monkey would most likely have to be killed to prevent anybody from getting injured. It’s a sad ending that could most likely have been prevented.
With that, our brief time in Malaysia had come to an end. Another ferry and bus ride brought us to our next stop on the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula: the city-state of Singapore.