11.03.2011 - 11.05.2011
Arriving in Malaysia was a breath of fresh air. After a month in China, I was actually surprised when people in Malaysia were being polite and helpful. I had forgotten what the rest of non-China civilization was like! Even taxi drivers would help you with directions and not be jerks cause you didn't ride in their taxi. People were smiley, friendly, apologized when bumping into you, cars waited for you to cross the street, and you weren't constantly surrounded by people yelling and spitting. Incredible! Malaysians are also friendlier than most I think. I love this place - definitely going to have to come back.
I spent a whirlwind day in Kuala Lumpur since I only had a day. I checked out the Old Railway Station which is interesting because it is a good example of Moorish architecture. Then I clambered over to the National Mosque nearby. Arriving simultaneously with a group of young Western tourists from a hostel nearby, I just seamlessly joined their tour. In order to enter the mosque, we had to be covered up. They provided these bright purple robes with hoods that make us look like some stellar flamboyant Jedis. It was my first time in a mosque. This one seemed to have a lot of open space with marble floors, some pools and fountains, and lots of columns. The area where people actually go to pray was closed off, but you could look inside at the pretty lights. A worker tried to convert me with lots of literature on Muhammed and Islam, but shhh I left all the pamphlets on a table somewhere inside the mosque.
Only in KL can you go from exploring an Islamic mosque one minute, to exploring a Hindu temple and a Chinese Buddhist temple the next. Then nearby I perused Chinatown, where there are also lots of food vendors and stalls selling all the fake designer stuff and more. I walked a little further to Kasturi Walk, a covered outdoor promenade of more vendors and food stalls which leads up to Pasar Seni, or the Central Market, which is an indoor mall made up of kiosks and little shops selling woven goods, batik printed goods, and lots of wooden carved objects and such. There was a food court upstairs, where I ended up eating buffet style. Malaysia, though not expensive, is not quite as cheap as China...But the pineapple curry chicken and the veggies I got were all pretty tasty. I decided I will just be eating my way through Malaysia Somehow from the time I went inside the mall when it was hot and sunny and the time I came out after lunch, it started pouring down rain. I took cover for a bit waiting for it to subside. It never fully stopped, but plateaued to a drizzle for the rest of the day.
Undeterred, I marched onward to the main square, Dataran Merdeka, which is a big green field (swamped over from all the rain however) with government buildings around it. Across the street was another famous Moorish building called Sultan Abdul Samad Building. I tried to go to another mosque called Masjid Jamek, but because of the rain they wouldn't rent out the robes and thus no more Jedi time for me Instead, I took the train to Bukit Bintang, a popular shopping area. It wasn't so lively in the afternoon in the rain though so just perused some of the malls and had a snack (green tea egg custard and peanut sesame ball, yes please!).
Surrounding the KL Tower was a big central park area, so I tried to go there to kill some time before heading up the tower to see sunset. However, I got lost, and then by the time I got the KL Tower area, the park was closed. So up the tower I went and stayed for over an hour because the sun decided to take its sweet time setting. Finally it started to get dark, and I took some shots and left - was getting a bit impatient. I ate dinner on Bukit Bintang again at a curry house. I ordered a masala thosal, which I think is just the Malaysian version of a South Indian dosa, or pancake crepe thing.
I was pretty tired after a full day of walking, getting lost and trying to stay dry in KL. I would definitely have liked to have had maybe one more day there, to spread my time out more and maybe see some more things. But a good time nonetheless.
The trip to Malacca was only about a 2 or 2.5 hour bus ride, but the buses here are nice with tons of leg room. I had a tricky time finding my hostel, which was on the top story of some building with only a hard-to-see banner signifying its name. Then I had to wait at least 30-45 minutes for the hostel owner to set me up in a room. Finally I dropped my stuff in the room and set out for sightseeing. Malacca isn't very big and there isn't a ton of stuff to see there, so I covered most of it in a couple hours. It's an interesting town because it was an historical port city that came under Portuguese, then Dutch, then British rule and received many Muslim traders from India and the Arab parts of the world, in addition to Chinese immigrants. It thus is a mixture of many cultures and influences architecturally and food-wise.
I visited a Maritime Museum that is housed in a large replica of a Portuguese ship, where I learned about the history and all the different eras of rule the city encountered. I walked down the famous shopping street called Jonker Walk, had roast chicken and rice balls at a Chinese style restaurant followed by Mango Cendol, a dessert with some shaved ice, coconut milk, these worm-like green jelly things made from rice flour, red beans, gula melaka (aka palm sugar) and mango of course. I explored a couple small temples, bought a batik painting from a famous artist, and walked along the river. There is a main square with some red buildings called the Studhuys, a clocktower and Christ Church where lots of hawkers and vendors pounce on the tourists to ride in their trippy, decked-out trishaws. On the way back to my hostel, there is part of a Dutch fort and big water wheel worth checking out.
After some downtime in the hostel, watching No Strings Attached with some British girls , I ventured out again. This time I explored a small night market near the hostel where mostly locals go and is geared more toward the Muslims. I tried some dessert of this crispy crepe with gula melaka I think, nuts and sweet corn in it. Super yummy.
Then I decided to take up this one trishaw (like tuk tuks) driver on his offer to see some of the sights for half an hour. His bike wasn't as elaborate or fancy as some of the others who had strings of Christmas lights on them, and big flower displays, blaring pop music on big speakers and such. But he seemed like a genuinely nice guy. I got a good feeling about him. And was I right! His name was Atan. I chatted with him a bunch about Malacca, and he told me about the sites. We drove down one street which I didn't realize was there that was just a row of tons of museums as well as a big old fort. He took photos for me. We became BFF and I got this photo with him at the end. I told him I'd post it on the internet and tell everyone who goes to Malacca to ask for Atan's trishaw ride. He liked that idea and told me next time to come find him
Atan dropped me at the night market on Jonker Street where I continued my attempt to eat my way through Malaysia with Assam Laska, a spicy soup with thick noodles, some sea coconut and honey drink (?) and some onde onde desserts of gooey rice balls dipped in gula melaka and dipped in shredded coconut as well as some pineapple tarts. I met a girl who was from Vancouver and used to work for Lululemon who was taking a year to travel the world, and potentially longer. So far she'd covered Ireland and most of SE Asia in 6 months. She is taking her time, spending a couple months in one place if she likes it. I've only been traveling a little over 1 month, and I can't imagine doing an entire year or more. The traveling is very exhausting. Though I suppose if you're planted in one place for a couple months, it's not so bad.
Anyway. At the end of the night market, there was a man doing a show that attracts a huge crowd. He used to be a kung fu master, and now is some kind of Chinese medicine doctor. He was selling some spray that supposedly helps with all sorts of ailments. But in addition he'd do entertaining things like split a small piece of paper with a whip and cracked open a coconut with the blunt force of his ELBOW. He'll definitely need some of his magic spray on that later.