I made it to the other side of Malaysia, the Peninsula side. The best part of this trip were the little things. The famous landmarks such as the Petrona Towers are of course great to see but it is the little things that make this trip fabulous! The best parts are the spontaneous, unpredictable, simple moments that truly fill the heart with joy and make you smile.
In Malaysia, I found so many of these special moments… eating freshly made roti (South-India influenced flat bread) in the mornings with spicy curry while exchanging stories with fellow travelers. Watching thousands of termites make their way up a tree branch during a hike in the jungle and trying to figure out where they began their journey. Enjoying the rain in the jungle as we negotiated our way down the slippery muddy trails. Going through the jungle at night to look for interesting insects and finding two stick insects mating. Eating the most spectacular Indian food on banana leafs in Penang. Meeting couples and hearing their stories of how they met and fell in love during their travels, and are still traveling together. Exchanging stories with other travelers about frustrating moments we’ve had in dealing with other cultures over a delicious cup of ginger tea. Seeing parents and their teenage kids traveling together and actually getting along. The countless friendships made along the way and how it is always hard to say goodbye but we accept that we must keep on moving. The amazing memories that we create with others that stay with us forever is what truly matters!
I have this tradition of getting a bracelet from every new country that I visit to keep as a souvenir. As much as I want to buy all kinds of hand-made stuff on this trip, I have to avoid making my backpack heavier than it already is. I am carrying a total of 21kg between my two backpacks! For some reason I had a really hard time finding the one bracelet that would remind me of the great times that I had in Malaysia. It took a whole month to finally find it; it was on the last day in Taman Negara, my last stop in Malaysia before heading to the Middle East. I was enjoying a plate of warm roti and having a nice conversation with my new friends- Polina from Ukraine, Michelle from Switzerland, Thomas from Germany and Hannah from Germany, at a local cafe next to the bus station. They were getting ready to board a bus to go to Penang. I walked them over to the bus to say goodbye. I usually try to avoid the heartfelt, emotional goodbyes; there are just too many of these on the road and they are inevitable. But on this particular day I was feeling very emotional and enjoyed a long goodbye hug with them. I had only met them a couple of days before but it felt like we had been friends for a long time; it felt very comfortable to be around them. On the road it is easy to form friendships and bonds fairly quickly, perhaps because you are away from home and you are living so many new experiences together. And for those of us traveling alone for a long time, it is always special to make those friends that for a few days make us feel a bit of normalcy, it almost feels like you create a little family for a short period of time and you learn to quickly love them… in a way. The bus takes off and as I wave them goodbye, I spot a little store across the way where a man is selling hand-made bracelets. I immediately make my way there and find one with a little charm in the shape of a heart with the word LOVE on it. How fitting…
As soon as I arrived in Kuala Lumpur, I contacted my friend from couch surfing that had previously hosted me a month before, Pauli. He was very nice to take me to the Sky Bar where you can get a fantastic view of the Petrona Towers. As expected, the drinks were so expensive that we left shortly after to go to Bukit Bintang, a famous place in the city for its great nightlife and fabulous food stalls. We ended up in a place called Havana where we danced for a few hours to mostly Latin songs and some fun Punjabi music.I toured the city on my own the following day and enjoyed photographing beautiful temples in China town and Little India:
I posted a message on Facebook to see if anyone I knew was in Kuala Lumpur (KL) and Esme and Lonneke, two Dutch girls that I had previously met in Indonesia responded. I met up with them on their last day of their three-month trip in S.E. Asia. We went to try some of the fabulous food in the street stalls of Jalan Alor:
I took a day trip by train to the Batu Caves, located about 13km from KL. Here you find pretty impressive large caves, a Hindu shrine and a giant statue of Muruga (aka Lord Subramaniam), one of the most important deities worshipped by Tamil Hindus in Malaysia. The statue stands at the foot of the 272 steps leading up to Temple Cave.
I visited another cave where they had a lot of big statues telling stories of Hindu scriptures:
I travelled by bus from KL to Cameron Highlands. This turned out to be my favorite place in Peninsular Malaysia. I stayed in Tanah Rata, a quaint, small town with cool weather close to orchards, nurseries, farmlands, waterfalls, rivers, lakes, a mossy forest, a tropical jungle forest and tea plantations. The perfect escape to the city. It reminded me of a small town in the mountains near the city where I grew up in Colombia. I felt so at home here and I was happy to finally wear some of the long-sleeve shirts that I had been carrying in my bag for the past two and half months. On my first day I found some amazing food stalls with satay grill stations and fried goodness everywhere. I ended up eating at this one Malay food joint where I met the owners, a nice couple of Chinese descent who were both mute. We communicated through writing on a small paper pad that they kept on them at all times. They were the nicest and most hospitable people and made really incredible food. I watched the torrential downpour from my table as I ate my yummy hot noodle and vegetable soup!
I enjoyed some time at a local spa and got my first ear cleaning the Chinese way, ear-candling. Everyone should try this! even sand came out of my ears after having snorkeled for so many days in Borneo. My second day there I joined a tour to do a jungle trek in Kenala, a near-by town, to see the Rafflesia, the largest flower in the world. This flower is only found in Borneo, Sumatra and Kenala. It took us two hours of hiking in the jungle to find it as they are not in season right now. We visited a mossy forest and one of the biggest tea plantations in the area- Boh. I met a nice group of solo travelers in my Guesthouse: Ben from Australia and Leon and Kristina from Germany. We all went for a nice hike around another one of the tea plantations where we walked to the highest point to enjoy the amazing views. We also enjoyed some of the local tea and yummy pastries.
Kristina and I decided to continue to travel together to the island of Penang. We stayed in the city of Georgetown, one of the most beautiful and picturesque cities in Malaysia. We stayed in a local “women-only” hostel dormitory. We met Ursule, a super cool girl from Lithuania. We toured around the city to check out the street art and of course, enjoy more yummy food at the famous food center- Red Garden. We tried the fried oysters from a stand where we saw Anthony Bourdain’s picture and seal of approval. I have to eat wherever I see his picture 😉
I continued to travel northeast with my friend Kristina to the Perhentian Islands where we stayed on Long Beach on Perhentian Kecil, the smaller of the two islands. For some reason you cannot prebook accommodation on the internet before arriving. When we got there we had to spend the better part of our morning shopping around for a room. Unfortunately it is a very inefficient system and most travelers often end up switching places the second day. We enjoyed great snorkeling, yummy Indian food, lots of roti and curry and a night on the beach watching the fire dance with our new Malay friends Ikram and Faisal. Super nice guys! it was so awesome to hang out with actual native Malaysians and learn about them and their culture.
After spending three relaxing days in the Perhentian islands, I was ready to move on and see more jungle. I went to Taman Negara, the largest national park in Peninsular Malaysia. I stayed in Kuala Tahan; which is just across the river from the park’s headquarters. I met a wonderful group of people (which I mentioned at the beginning of the post) on the minibus ride from Perhentian. We did some hiking in the jungle during the day, checked out some of the insect life at night and walked on the largest canopy hanging bridge in the world. After my friends left I stayed one more day on my own and hiked in the jungle by myself for the first time! It felt pretty cool to be in the jungle all alone for a few hours. The trail was well marked and the rangers knew where I was going so it was not so risky… I saw a flying lizard, a few birds and butterflies and gorgeous views of the jungle and river from Bukit Indah, one of the highest points in the park.
I took the bus from Taman Negara back to Kuala Lumpur. On the way there we stopped in Kerantut; which is the launching point for trips to the park. I found a nice local cafe and met the owners. It is common to find cafes offering a self-service buffet of rice, chicken curry and vegetables for about US$3.
I went back to Kuala Lumpur to take my flight to Israel. I spent a couple of night at Agosto Inn; which is an awesome hostel in China town where I got to meet the wonderful reception managers Tahir and Teachainy. Teachainy is a very talented designer that was part of Fashion One’s (http://fashionone.com/) Design Genius reality show and won second place in the competition! As explained by her: “Design Genius took nine of the best designers from around the world were faced with unconventional materials to make the unimaginable, fashionable. This fashion-packed series has designers competing for a chance to win $20,000 cash prize and the title of ‘Design Genius’”. She has lived and studied in Malaysia, Australia, the US and Paris. She was such an interesting and sweet lady! I wanted to do a profile on her for my blog but unfortunately we did not find a time that worked for both of us to do the interview. Maybe I will meet her in Paris later on my trip…
This was my third time in Kuala Lumpur and I finally visited the popular Merdeka square where you find buildings of historical interest, and enjoyed some quite time in nature visiting the Orchids park: