After facing the crowds of Thaipusam I had two days to leisurely explore the capital city of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. After talking to friends and reading various blogs/travel reviews I didn't find many must see attractions in the city. I figured I'd stop by the Patronas towers, random markets, Chinatown...and erhh what else? In reality, I only wanted to spend a day, but because of the huge price differences in airline tickets, I had more time. Sunday night, after a much needed shower Riz and Angelina wanted to treat me to dinner near the Petronas towers which was not necessary, but incredibly nice of them. It was another rainy night, but thankfully the skies cleared just long enough to get a good view and a few pictures of the towers.
Twice now in my travels, I've been lucky enough to coordinate plans with major festivals, hopefully a trend that will continue in the future. Last time it was Koninginnedag,while visiting one of my best friends in the Netherlands, and this time Thaipusam, in Malaysia. I researched before leaving Korea and found that the festival is celebrated at the Batu Caves just north of Kuala Lumpur. Thaipusam is a Hindu festival in which devotees travel on a pilgrimage to the caves and practice various acts of devotion (shaved heads, piercings, and carrying offerings to the temple). The festival has been celebrated at the caves since 1892, so I was thrilled to be able to attend. I was lucky to make a local connection via a friend I had met in Korea. They offered for me to stay with them, but warned it wasn't the most convenient as it was north of the city. Had it been any other visit this may have been true, but the location made it a perfect spot for my purpose. Aside from having to face the heat and battle through the crowds, it was promising to be an easy day.
After having been gone for just over two weeks and visiting 3 different cities I realized my vacation was still missing something. I'm not sure if you've noticed but aside from the few stops at Bake National park, I'd yet to have some quality beach time. In order to change this I decided a visit to the island of Langkawi was in order, so Wednesday morning I packed up my bag and hopped on the ferry - 3 hours later I found myself arriving in paradise. I departed the ferry to find a cab to take me to Pantai Cenang where I planned to spend a lot of time on the beach. I got lucky with my driver, but although he was speaking English I had a hell of a time trying to understand him - pointing out countless hotels, shopping centers and other things he deemed important and we wound up and down the streets of the Island. After checking in (with more friendly staff) I dropped my bag and headed for the beach, which is where I stayed all day.
One long, cold, uncomfortable bus ride later I found myself on the island portion of Penang, Malaysia. One of the few down sides to taking overnight buses is that you find yourself in the next city at the wee hours of the morning. I had made arrangements with my next couchsurfing host but my phone decided to make my day and chose not to work thus leaving me stranded and confused at the bus terminal. I decided to get a taxi into town where I could find some wifi and send John and email. I think the taxi drivers in Penang might have been some of my favorite people along this trip - super friendly, talkative and kind, A+! After killing some time at Gloria Jeans I managed to contact John and was soon in his car getting a high speed introduction to Penang - first stop, Cendol, John wasn't messing around.
By Monday, a week after my arrival in Malaysia, I decided it was time to venture out on my own. Richard dropped me off at the visitor center where I booked a room and got the bus information to head out for an overnight trip to Bako National Park. I enjoyed being show around town and treated to many things I otherwise may not have experience but I was ready for some alone time and a little bit more nature. The journey to the park involved an hour bus ride followed by a half hour boat ride. I arrived at the jetty around 12pm but to my dismay was told that i'd have to wait until 1:30 for the tide to rise, with nothing but a small coffee/snack shop to entertain me the time passed a bit slow, but I was in no rush, after all this was vacation. The boat fare was 47RM regardless of the amount of people so I was excited when 3 other travelers turned up to split the cost with me.
Only a few days in and I knew that I had made the right choice by starting my vacation in Kuching. The people, food, sights, yoga....everything was awesome, the only thing I could've asked for was a bit more sun - but that's what you get when you plan a vacation during the rainy season. Thursday morning came and we were off on another adventure, this time headed for Gunung Gading National Park. The main attraction at this park is the Rafflesia flower which can grow up to one meter in diameter (and I'm told) is pretty impressive. Unfortunately the flower blooms pretty much whenever the hell it wants to, with no particular season, and only lasts for 4 to 5 days. We figured the drive would be worth it even if the flower wasn't blooming considering the park is huge and has multiple hikes, some including waterfalls
My first stop was Kuching, Sarawak Malaysia which is on the island of Borneo. Generally when people plan trips to Malaysia this area is overlooked, and it's definitely not the first stop along their trek. Hence the reason that many of the people I met in my first week were dumbfounded as to how I wound up in this small, rural city. Upon arriving I was met by Richard, my first CS host, at the airport where we proceeded to the mall so I could get a Malaysian SIM card for my phone. He also treated me to a sushi dinner before dropping me off at the yoga studio, my home for the next weak.
I got lucky picking this as my first major, solo=backpacking trip. The locals that welcomed me into their homes and taught me about their culture fueled my fire for travel. The food is diverse and delicious, as is the country itself. With heavy influences from both China and India there is a lot on offer.