Country #29: Malaysia

Up next in my travel reflection series is Country #29: Malaysia. Let’s return to summer 2019 when I visited the country in late June.


Originally written in June 2019 (lightly edited for clarity):


This past week I was in Malaysia, and Malaysia taught me an important travel lesson. Some countries aren’t evidently incredible. What makes them special comes after being there for days. They grow on you slowly and after talking to locals. They’re not for impatient tourists or those looking for the obvious. They’re for people who are willing to look for what is hidden behind closed doors.


Caroline and I arrived in the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, at nighttime on June 24. The airport was pretty far from the city, so we took the train in and crashed at our hostel which was in Chinatown. The hostel was nothing special, and it housed the most uncomfortable bed I’ve ever had the misfortune of sleeping in. In the middle of the night, I had to stuff the thin comforter the hostel provided underneath me, so my back would stop aching long enough to fall back asleep.


Malay culture is a mix of Chinese and Indian. Their foods, communities, and cultural influences are heavily seen. We found Kuala Lumpur to be a relatively difficult place to spread out over two days. There were more shopping malls than attractions, and it was so hot that it was hard to enjoy just walking around in a concrete jungle. 


We spent our first day in the city checking out places like their Central Market and the Petronas Towers (very cool). On the second day, we went to the Batu Caves. This was a perfect example of locals not always being the most helpful to tourists. We arrived 15 minutes before an 8:40 train to ensure that we could beat out a bunch of tourists at the caves. Unfortunately, the platform had terrible signage and where the stairs ended and benches were to wait for the train, the train didn’t actually stop.


We missed the train — along with a Taiwanese couple — and just stared as it sped past. It was something out of a sitcom. We jumped up as it passed — our mouths wide open and faces puzzled wondering how we missed it. We had no idea why it didn’t stop until the locals and construction workers (who had plainly seen we were waiting for it for 15 minutes) informed us that we hadn’t been sitting in the right spot for the platform. Oh, and just our luck, the next train wasn’t for another hour. Something they could have told us earlier but didn’t.


The Taiwanese couple started to leave, but we asked if they wanted to share a taxi to the caves and split it four ways to make it cheaper. The guy (probably 5 years older than us) had enough English to converse, and he called one using the Asian Uber called “Grab” (an app I now have and one we used to get to the airport in Penang because Malaysian public transport is a mess). It ended up being only slightly more expensive than the train and much faster.


When we made our original plan to go to the caves, we wanted to beat the other tourists and crowds. We succeeded for the most part, even with our delay. After that, we spent about an hour heading up the stairs and checking out the caves and temples. On our way back to the train, we ran into our new Taiwanese friends who told us the next train wasn’t for another hour and a half at 12:15. So, Grab it was!


The next day, we went to Penang where we spent the rest of our time in Malaysia. This city really grew on both of us on our last day. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is pretty cool. The main area of the city is called George Town as well, so we got a kick out of that. On the final day, we took a walking tour, attended a heritage festival at night, and met a local named Jonathan who showed us some cool street food and a bar with live music. A great way to end the trip in a place we were struggling to love. 


I’m writing this update from the beaches of Phuket. I’m sitting under a red umbrella and the waves are crashing around me in the steamy 88-degree weather. We’ll be here until the 3rd when we go to Krabi. Then, we’re in Bangkok from the 6th to the 9th and Chiang Mai from the 9th to the 13th. After that, we go to Cambodia. I’ll write my next update about Thailand then. 


I’m also attaching the cover of my book, so you can see what it looks like. It went to print today. (You can now buy it here on Amazon.)