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Travel Summary: Malaysia

February 28 2012

Three weeks is a long time to spend in a country that is not generally a feature of most Round-the-World adventures; perhaps that is why I enjoyed my time so much: it’s off the well-trodden travellers’ path. It actually surprises me that I was there for three weeks as I really didn’t do very much. I stayed in four places, yet only spent £4 on ‘attraction entry’: two national park entry fees in Borneo. I did go to the Batu Caves outside Kuala Lumpur (bit of an anti-climax but a fun public bus journey to get there), but other than that I spent a lot of time just wandering the streets, getting a feel for the communities I was intruding in.

A definite highlight of my time in Malaysia was my 5 day trip to the territory of Sabah in Malaysian Borneo. Admittedly I didn’t achieve very much whilst I was there; I climbed Mt Kinabalu (and ran back down in 90 mins with one shoe!), explored the harbourside markets and malls, and spent a rainy day snorkelling around one of the islands in the harbour. It was very nice but I wasted a lot of time and feel I should have done more with my limited time on Borneo. I mean, I was on Borneo! I thought about having a day trip to Brunei, or getting a tour to the Orangutan Sanctuary, but decided to accept my summiting of Kinabalu as my sole objective for my stay in Sabah. That could be expanded to be my whole stay in Malaysia in fact.

Take my time in Kuala Lumpur: I arrived straight from Cambodia to one of the most developed cities in Asia and was amazed at the contrast, but all I did was wandered the streets and markets to soak up the atmosphere. One particular wander, with Tina and Paris to Istanbul cyclist Chris, was fascinating. We initially headed to ‘Little India’ for dinner, and had amazing Roti naans and moreish snacks from street vendors before heading on a mall hunt. Chris had a fascination with shopping malls but Tina and I were less enthusiastic but happy to kill a few hours. We were quick to change our minds. It was hilarious running around these massive shopping centres like kids, playing with all the massage chairs, Tv and toilets. It was an incredible place – it sold everything! Including exercise bikes, so with From Backpack to Bike Rack in mind, I had my first training session with the very entertained shop assistant who was willing to let me mess about even after I told him I wasn’t buying anything.

bpacktobbikerack training

First Training Session!


After Tina headed home, Chris and I wandered the streets further now, towards the Golden Triangle. Within a few minutes we turned a corner to be greeted by the bright shining lights of the Petronas towers. After far too many photos of my heavily Movember-ed mug, we headed inside to the grand shopping centre. All the shops may have been closed (it was 11pm!) but the atmosphere and grandeur of the place was still evident. It’s a multinational complex of luxury, all the big names; Gucci, Armani, Topshop… Yeah, a bit of British culture smacking me in the face! I was a bit shocked initially but then laughed as we turned a corner to find a Marks and Spencer’s store. (A few days later I returned to purchase some Percy Pigs, just because I could.)

As we were approaching midnight, we headed back to the hostel, stopping by a McDonalds to indulge Chris’ McChocotop addiction. I popped upstairs to the loo to find a big screen showing live coverage of the Chelsea-Liverpool game to about 20 locals. I ordered Ayam Gorem (chicken drumsticks) and took a seat. It was one of the most surreal moments of my trip so far.

Sandwiching my Borneo excursion were trips to George Town (Penang) and Malacca, but the casual minstrel approach to Malaysia continued as I conquered many miles of concrete, and explored many shopping mall floors.

Crossing the bridge onto Penang, I noticed a Tesco out the bus window. The next day I searched it out, but it was much further than I could’ve imagined. I walked about 30km to reach it. Nothing, potential future employer or not, should encourage you to walk 30km in tropical heat. The next day I attempted to climb Penang Hill (800m+) in my flip flops – clearly not thinking about the sweaty conditions and soon had to walk bare foot after becoming gripless.

Malacca was smaller, thankfully, so my wanderings were less exhausting and I spent more time sat on the beach front admiring the sand dredgers and container ships waiting to port. It’s more idyllic than it sounds, and the town itself is a charming throwback to its Portuguese colonial past. It was also the location of my first non-stationary bike practice since setting my sights on the 4,000 mile Trans-America journey. I hope the bike I use in the States is of better quality though…

Melacca Bike

Colonial bike for a colonial town


One thing that surprised me about Malaysia was the shopping; there was such contrast. You could easily spend £1000s in the Petronas Mall, but you could get the same items, or convincing replicas, in the market behind my hostel for less than a tenner. I bought a Chelsea shirt for £4, plus presents for my brothers back home and the family I would be visiting in Australia here. It made me realise that I was a fool to start my trip in Asia: there were so many shopping opportunities but I had to limit my purchases as I can’t carry it around for the next 8 months. So there is some advice for any would-be travellers reading this.

Overall, Malaysia is an awesome place to relax. The food is great, the weather fine, and beaches sublime. I was disappointed to be visiting in the Eastern Monsoon season of October to December, preventing me from visiting the paradises of the Perhentian Islands, but the secluded golden sands of George Town, and the fish-filled waters of Borneo satisfied my, surprisingly inflated, beach lust.

So this oft-overlooked country proved to be a pleasant place to chill after the chaos of China, Vietnam and Cambodia. It’s off to the western comforts of Australia and New Zealand next, but first a brief stopover in Singapore.


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