Hi everyone, how are you doing? It’s been a while since I posted. Life has been….heavy. I’ve been grieving for my mum (who died eight months ago), feeling frustrated about the ongoing lockdown in Germany, dealing with screen time fatigue and stressing about a fluctuating workload (where are my fellow freelancers at?!).
After spending hours in front of Zoom for my online lessons, I haven’t felt very motivated to write. I’ve also questioned whether people want to read new blog posts, seeing as very few of us are travelling internationally right now. Still, maybe my blog can provide some interest or entertainment during these strange, surreal times. Perhaps it can serve as a form of much-needed escapism. Perhaps we can reminisce together about our favourite destinations and the hidden gems we’ve found along the way. Perhaps we can drift away into a daydream, remembering that feeling of excitement and anticipation upon arriving in a foreign country. Those initial steps off the plane or train. The rush of being somewhere new, interesting and exotic. Somewhere just waiting to be explored, when the possibilities seem infinite.
I miss that feeling.
I miss so many things about travelling. And right now, I’m missing Malaysia.
My boyfriend Ian and I spent almost a month there in early 2020. I am glad he persuaded me to add Malaysia to our 2019-2020 Asian adventure itinerary. I must confess, it wasn’t a country I knew much about or had given much thought to, but I immediately fell in love. I’d go so far as to say it’s one of my favourite places that I have ever been to. It has so much to offer: fantastic food (an intriguing and irresistible medley of Malay, Indian and Chinese cuisine), dramatic architecture, quirky street art, magnificent monuments and friendly, approachable, and kind-hearted people. In this post, I am going to suggest five cities in Malaysia that you really should visit, and share some of the things I love the most about the country. Rest assured, each place we visited will get its own dedicated blog post. In the meantime, here’s an overview of what we did.
We began our time in Penang, a large island in northern Malaysia, close to the Thai border. After picking up our Airbnb key and dropping off our bags, we were keen to explore. We wandered down the road, turned the corner and froze. The building directly in front of us was on fire. Seriously on fire. Smoke was billowing out and flames were stretching out of the windows. The fire brigade arrived quickly and soon the street was full of people, watching flames licking the roof of the building and spreading along the road. As firefighters rushed around grabbing huge water hoses, onlookers video-called loved ones and recorded the blaze on their smartphones. Fortunately, no one was injured during the commotion, although it was a very dramatic welcome!
It was time to eat and luckily you can never run out of things to eat in George Town, Penang’s capital city. It is known as the food capital of Malaysia and it’s clear to see why. The street markets were bursting with a variety of dishes, at very affordable prices. There are also fantastic coffee shops and juice bars. George Town’s Old Town is very compact and easy to walk around, and if you want to venture further afield, you’ll find two free bus routes to take you all around the city (for locals and tourists alike). Within the Old Town, you can find Hindu temples and Taoism shrines, as Malaysian, Indian and Chinese people live side-by-side in this multicultural, multi-ethnic city. There are boutiques to browse, museums to wander around and shopping centres to get lost in. If you have time to see more of Penang, there’s also a national park, botanical garden, nature reserve, beaches and Kek Lok Si, a colourful Buddhist temple and important pilgrimage site for Buddhists across southeast Asia.
The Cameron Highlands
After Penang, we visited the Cameron Highlands and felt like we’d returned to our home country of England. The highlands were named after William Cameron, a British geologist who founded the area in 1885. It is the place for nature lovers, with tea plantations, waterfalls, rivers and hiking trails ranging from easy to Yee Gods (guess which one Ian made us do!?). Fans of British culture will enjoy the scones with jam and cream that you can find in different cafes and tea houses. The weather is very changeable (just like home!) – it was cloudy and wet on our first day, which led to some very atmospheric photographs at the tea plantations, with wispy clouds creeping down the hilltops. The next day, the weather was the exact opposite: gloriously warm with blue skies and sunshine, and to celebrate we hiked miles and miles through spectacular countryside. The tea plantations were such a vivid, vibrant green, they looked photoshopped. We hardly saw anyone else while we were hiking but were on our guard as maps.me warned of ‘feral dogs’ during some more remote parts. Yikes! Luckily, we didn’t see any, which is a good thing as we walked so far my legs were like jelly and I wouldn’t have put up much of a fight!
After the Cameron Highlands, we went to Ipoh. It was once a village and has now grown into one of Malaysia’s biggest cities. However, it didn’t feel like a large city. It was slow-paced, relaxing, and easy to walk around. We rested, recovered from our Highlands hikes, drank a lot of Ipoh’s white coffee (made from coffee beans that are roasted in margarine, and served with condensed milk). We ate a lot of chicken, as most of Ipoh’s specialities are centred around it.We took photos of Ipoh’s bright and colourful buildings and quirky street art. We enjoyed a self-guided walking tour, based on maps and blog posts, which highlighted Ipoh’s well-preserved British colonial-era architecture. We took a short taxi ride to Kek Lok Tong, a cave temple with a large garden, full of Buddha sculptures and statues. There is also a reflexology footpath, which Ian and I barely hobbled along. It hurt – a lot – and we quickly jumped off and put our shoes back on. Unsurprisingly, no one else was tempted to walk on the pathway of pins!
After Ipoh, we took the train to Kuala Lumpur. I wasn’t sure what I’d think of KL, as I had found myself preferring smaller Asian cities to the enormous sprawling capitals. However, it was a delight. There are great restaurants with every cuisine imaginable. However, start with Malaysian food because it is de-licious! Specialities include laksa (a spicy coconut noodle soup), nasi lemak (fried chicken with rice, peanuts, dried anchovies and a spicy sauce) and rojak (a tangy fruit salad with an unusual sauce made of shrimp paste, chilli sauce, hoisin sauce, soy sauce and sugar!)
KL is a city for architecture fans. You can find the imposing Petronas Towers, which were the highest buildings in the world from 1998 to 2004 (visit at night to see them all lit up!). Other impressive buildings include Sultan Abdul Samad Building, Merdeka Square, the National Mosque of Malaysia and the Masjid Jamek of Kuala Lumpur. There is a lot to do in KL, such as visiting the Islamic Arts Museum, the peaceful Perdana Botanical Garden and the Batu caves, which has 272 rainbow-coloured steps leading up to its entrance (my legs got such a workout in Malaysia!).
Our last stop was the city of Melaka (also known as Malacca), which has a particularly interesting history. It was conquered by the Portuguese in 1511, then the Dutch a century later, followed by the British and briefly the Japanese during World War II. You can see influence of this colonial history in the city’s architecture, food and historic landmarks. Fun things to do in Melaka include taking a river cruise, browsing the shops and market stalls and visiting landmarks like Cheng Hoon Teng Chinese Temple, the Sultanate Palace and Saint Paul’s Church (which was originally a Portuguese fortress in 1567). We had a great time stuffing our faces with street food on Jonker Street (a seemingly never-ending road that cuts through Melaka’s China town and hosts Friday and Saturday night markets). Melaka is also a great city for people-watching!
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I hope you’ve enjoyed my overview of our time in Malaysia. If you’ve visited Malaysia, I’d love to hear about your recommendations and favourite places. If you haven’t been there yet, I hope this post has piqued your curiosity and you will add Malaysia to your travel wish list. I know I’ll be back as soon as I can.
Ciao for now
The Curious Sparrow