Just over a month ago, I touched down in Kuala Lumpur to begin exploring Southeast Asia. While I was only expecting to stay a couple of weeks based on my initial planning, I’m leaving the country 32 days later with some amazing experiences under my belt, and a couple of destinations I’ve fallen in love with which I want to visit again.
I didn’t buy any souvenirs (I don’t have room in my backpack for them). But what I am taking with me are some great memories.
Overlooked on the backpacker trail blogs and forums as a place to stay “maybe a day,” I can’t say enough good things about Melaka. I would implore others coming to Malaysia to make a point of carving out a good chunk of time to spend here.
From a historical perspective, Melaka is the point from which so much of the history of Malaysia radiates. As a modern city, staying out of the historical centre and in the suburbs, you get a sense of what modern Malaysia is like – and gain an appreciation for daily life of average Malaysians.
Melaka is an affordable destination with great food, great people, and solid transit connections to the rest of the country. It really should not be overlooked.
Sabah State of Mind
Much like how Newfoundlanders will tell you life is different on the “rock” from the rest of Canada, or how a Scot will dig their heels in when you try to lump them in with everyone else in the United Kingdom, Sabah defiantly marches to the beat of its own drum. You get this impression from the moment the plane lands and you get that special extra little stamp in your passport showing you’ve visited Boreno.
In Kota Kinabalu, people are much more laid back – things run on island time. Show up for a 7:30am departure to Pulau Tiga, and it’ll get going sometime around 8. But, you’re on a trip – does it really matter? You learn to go with the flow pretty quickly.
However, don’t ever mistake the relaxed demeanour of those living in Malaysian Borneo for laziness. The locals prove that you can be laid back yet enterprising. The vibrant tourism industry here is big business – and I have lots of respect for those who work in it catering not only to backpackers on a budget, but to AMEX Black Card-clutching visitors for whom money is no object.
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Beach
You have to understand : unlike everyone else back home in Saskatchewan, I didn’t grow up in a family which embraced lake culture. My mom is terrified of water, we weren’t the camping types, and so our visits to the beach were more often than not to visit other relatives who were there for a few days. After an evening wiener roast, we’d pile back in the car and head home.
I’ve always wanted to love the beach, but it was always such a rushed experience I never really figured out a way to be relaxed and comfortable even as an adult while lounging on the sand.
Losing my audio recorder in the South China Sea while going to Pulau Tiga was a bit of a turning point for me. It was an expensive turning point mind you, but one where I just kinda threw my hands up in the air and said, “screw it.” If I was going to make the most of this trip, I would have to be all-in, and that meant just chilling out and enjoying the beach. No cameras, no audio recorders (anymore), just me, my sunglasses, and a good book.
A couple days later when I got to Langkawi, my brain started to realize that the beach was a marvellous place where I could unplug and relax. I didn’t need to be in the water (and wading around near the shoreline is inadvisable because of all the box jellyfish nearby), I just needed to learn to relax and not worry. I think this is why Langkawi is one of the true highlights of the trip. I feel where it’s the place where I’ve really adjusted to life on the road.
Maybe one of the best things about Malaysia has been the food.
Now, truthfully, I haven’t eaten as many “traditional” Malaysian dishes as probably many other backpackers have during their time here. I’ve done a few hawker stalls, and had a great noodle dish (pictured above) in George Town with Sean from Twenties which I can’t stop obsessing over.
But maybe the thing I appreciate most about food in Malaysia is that because this is such a multicultural country, the variety of dishes available is phenomenal – and on offer for very little money.
From occasional splurges at chain restaurants like Vivo where you can get a set meal with a decent sized pizza and a drink for about RM20 all-in to the great Indian place Sean and I found in George Town (where it was RM16 for both of us to eat) to the Korean BBQ in Johor Bahru where I spent RM33 and ended up with a feast fit for a family (even though it was little ol’ me sitting alone at the table) – I’ve never been left wanting for food in Malaysia.
If there’s anything I miss from home on this trip so far, it is bacon. Real, smoked, pork bacon. But because Malaysia is a predominantly Islamic nation, I totally appreciate the rules of Halal and what it means for food preparation and access to pork products. I can always have bacon another time, but I don’t know when I’ll be back in Malaysia.
A Shutterbug’s Dream
One thing I’m disappointed in my self about during my visit to Malaysia is that I didn’t shoot nearly as much video as I had in Japan. That said, I feel like Malaysia is really a still photographer’s dream, and that side of me really came out while I was here.
From the distressed storefronts of George Town and Muar to the spectacular sunset on Pantai Cenang in Langkawi, the landscape and scenery of Malaysia is an amazing gift to anyone who enjoys to snap photos.
Through my lens, I found some great images, and I’m happy that I took the time to snap them. I may not have ended up with many videos from Malaysia, but I am content with the quality of the photos I’m taking with me.
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Thank you, Malaysia. You have been an incredible host – and just the kind of introduction to Southeast Asia I was looking for. Now – onward to Vietnam.