I spent eight amazing days in Malaysia. I was impressed with many things, including the general sophistication of the cities and the kindness of the people. However, it is the geographical beauty, the delicious food, and the fascinating culture that sticks out most in my mind.
The geographical beauty
By far, the lush landscape and stunning hills of Cameron Highlands was my favorite. Cameron Highlands is about 200 kilometers northeast of Kuala Lumpur, and definitely worth a visit. It’s easy to catch a bus from KL airport and it only takes about 5 hours. Highlights of my visit in that area included a day touring a tea plantation, dining at The Ye Olde Smokehouse, and trekking through the ancient Mossy Forest. The waterfront area of Penang also took my breath away. Make sure you take a ferry over to George Town. It takes about 20 minutes and the view is spectacular.
Eating Malaysian Food is an adventure in itself. A lot of the seafood is sold whole, with the eyeballs still on! It was a little shocking to me. Most of the time I really had no idea what I was eating and because of the language barrier I couldn’t understand what they were telling me about the menu. Apparently that isn’t an unusual event because they would then hand me a picture menu and I would just point at something and hope it was good. The “point and eat” approach worked in my favor every time except once when I was served a dish with every piece of what I assume was chicken, was nothing but gristle. Yuck!
My favorite Malaysian dishes included steamboat, pau and fried noodles. Steamboat is a boiling hot broth that is brought to your table and served over an open flame with a bunch of raw ingredients that you then add to the broth according to your liking. It was absolutely delicious! Pau is a round Malaysian pastry with yummy ingredients inside. My favorite was the barbeque pork pau. The breakfast pau was also quite delicious. It was a little sweet and tasted like it might of have had cinnamon in it.
The Malaysian culture is fascinating. On one hand they are very civilized and sophisticated, but on the other hand they still have squat toilets and ancient traditions influenced mostly by their religions. Approximately 62% of the country is Muslim so quite often you hear the amplified prayer music throughout the day at prayer time. There are many colorful and impressive temples and mosques to visit, as well as old Christian churches from the British influence.
One of the more interesting cultural things I did was to visit Batu Cave which is about 30 minutes outside of Kuala Lumpur. It is an ancient temple inside of a gigantic cave. You have to climb 272 steps to get inside. While I was there they were celebrating and Indian festival where Hindu followers do a pilgrimage to the holy site and pay homage to their gods. The monkeys there are extremely aggressive and tourists are warned to hide their food and beverages so the monkey don’t steal it. The only sad thing about Batu Cave is that in my opinion it is not well preserved. All of the tourist activity has obviously damaged the rock formations and you can see many places inside where it has been reinforced with concrete. Hopefully in the future they might adapt a more sustainable approach to protect the natural environment of the place.
The other thing I did that was really fun was to attend the Chinese New Year Celebration in George Town, Penang. It was very crowded, but the food, music and fireworks were a site to behold. It was very colorful and a rare cultural event I will always remember.