Chaotic would be the one word I’d use to describe our arrival in Kuala Lumpur which incidentally also seemed to set the tone for the rest of our stay in Malaysia. KL’s rail network is run by several different companies which is all well and good but there were no clear indicators which ticket office you are supposed to queue up at. The ticket machines also only seemed to be there for show which usually meant joining a lengthy queue for the few station assistants available.
I won’t dwell too much on our time in KL as apart from the obvious highlights of the Petronas Towers and Batu Caves which were quite awe-inspiring to see and will always make me glad I visited, KL itself as a city seemed to lack a lot of charm and that underlying atmosphere which makes other cities such a pleasure to simply walk around. Batu Caves is approximately half an hour away from the city centre on the train. Heads up for any female readers, please try and wear something which at least goes to your knees as otherwise you will be made to wear a sari if you want to see the actual caves and get up close to the golden Buddha.
For accommodation, Tom and I chose airbnb for our stay in Kuala Lumpur as we found a studio apartment which had access to an infinity pool with amazing views over the city centre. It was also an absolute steal at £34 per night (https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/1099279).
Our next stop was to another UNESCO World Heritage site – Georgetown, Penang. Georgetown captured just about everything that I was hoping to get out a trip to Malaysia; bustling night markets serving delicious meals for under £5 and character-filled streets with beautiful temples and quirky shops usually just around the corner. It was also near Georgetown that we came across this stunning temple complex called Kek Lok Si which kept my camera very busy. Also as it was a bit off the beaten track it was also very quiet which was quite refreshing after the hustle and bustle of central Georgetown.
It was then time to for us to move on to Langkawi which involved 3 hours on the ferry (or submarine really if you’re forced to sit in the downstairs area). Throughout the journey some sort of gangster film was blaring out from the TV at the front which was not appropriate at all for the many kids on board. Not that they seemed to notice as they too busy running about and treating all seats as their own play area. This journey should also be avoided if you’re prone to sea sickness as Tom who has never felt sea sick before came off feeling quite queasy. So the moral of this story is that even if you’re on a budget, do yourself a favour and opt for an internal flight.
Tom was quite excited to get to Langkawi having never forgotten its beauty and its relaxed vibe from his trip a couple of years ago so I was also quite intrigued and looking forward to seeing it. We stayed in an area called Pantai Cenang which is the region geared towards tourism. While some of its raw beauty still very much remained, the area also seemed very much a victim of over development and Western influences, for example Pantai Cenang now has not just one McDonalds but two. So aside from just lazing about either at the beach or round our hotel pool, we also went up the Langkawi Cable car where on a clear day you can see all the way to Thailand. Alas it was not a clear day for us and we couldn’t see much beyond the emerald hills next to us. Still the views were pretty and the cable car ride is quite thrilling on its own (not for the faint-hearted or those adverse to heights). It was also nearby that I got to tick off one item on my bucket list which was to ride an elephant, an experience heightened by the fact it was in a relatively natural setting and you weren’t surrounded by your fellow tourists gawping at you. The other excursion we did was to Pulau Dayang Bunting or the “Isle of the Pregnant Maiden”, which if you look closely at the picture with the boat below, you should be able to see how the island got its name. The particular excursion we did also covered eagle watching which was quite an interesting spectacle and also a trip out to these remote islands which had nothing but a few beach huts and a bar (a round of beers cost £1.60!).
Our time in Malaysia had now come to an end as had my threshold for the slightly aggressive way of selling out here. Whenever we showed the slightest sign of interest (I’m talking a slight turn of the head level), someone would instantly materialise and then 99% of the time go for the hard sell. The “most subtle” way of customer interaction I encountered, whether browsing in a shop or restaurant menu, was for someone to hover next to you the whole time. Even though in one shop I explicitly stated that I was just looking and did not need any help, this did nothing to deter the shop assistant from being my shadow round the shop. This approach to selling or marketing appears to be deeply ingrained in Malaysian culture, which ultimately I found to be too wearying for my introvert nature and I felt very glad to be moving on to our next destination which was Vietnam.