Travel log 9: Malaysia is Without Malaise
This update is long over due!! It’s been a wonderful 2 weeks in Malaysia. Here’s a little of what went down.
Yes, it is smoldering hot here and you can’t be outside for too long. But I love Malaysia. Compared to Thailand it is cleaner, safer, easier to get around, people are nicer, all the signs are in English, most people speak English, still fairly inexpensive, and a bit more civilized. It’s quite charming in a way. Places are called the silliest and cute names like Cravan Cafe, Cosmic Leisure Cafe, Yummy Cottage, Double Happiness, and Sweet Planet Marketing.
I took the bus down south to Penang, which was a full day of traveling. A travel agency in Phuket quoted me 1100 baht for the entire trip. That seemed like way too much from the research I did. My suggestion to you in your ever take a bus over a border where you will have to change buses is to do the trip in 2 separate legs. And you don’t really need a 1st class bus if the trip is not overnight. 2nd class was just fine. Phuket to the border town Had Yai, 2nd class was 247 baht. When I got there and ask around for a minibus to Penang. The first place I went to quoted 350, the 2nd place 330, the next place quoted me 300 baht. So, doing the trip this way cost me half what I was quoted in Phuket for the entire trip.
In Penang, I stayed a few days in a nice hostel called Old Penang Guesthouse (dorm 20-23 RM). Met some really nice travelers and ate at a few vegetarian restaurants suggested by Happy Cow. Then I headed to the University area for a couch surf. Boy was I glad I did this because they had a lovely flat on the 9th floor and a huge pool which I used many times. My host Fabio, was so kind, helpful (carried my backpack from the bus station), and took me to eat tasty Indian food. The first night I made dinner and we had a get together with about 15 people. They were all foreigners in their 20’s there at the University for a scholarship or internship. German, Iranian, Spanish, Italian, Indian, and Portuguese. I was the only American, which I’m finding is the norm during my travels. They were all meat-eaters, but they loved my food! It made me very happy that I was able to contribute something that was healthy to the party.
I had a great conversation with a guy I met on couchsurfing about his travels and about teaching English in China, which he had done for a year. He used to be in a band and traveled all over the US. He absolutely adores Texas and Austin, so he of course adored me and chatted with me all night. He really got me thinking about how easy it would be to go teach English somewhere, particularly China because you only have to work about 20 hours per week and you get 4 months off holiday during your year contract. He said you can live very cheaply, saving at least half the salary you make. This sounds good. I’m strongly considering it. A year will fly by, I will have time to write more cookbooks, learn a new language and do whatever I want while saving a ton of money. We’ll see what happens.
Cameron Highlands is a must-see in Malaysia. Filled with rolling hills, delicious food, strawberry picking, vegetable markets, tea plantations, and some great trekking. Be sure to give yourself at least 2-4 days because with the perfect weather and cool nights you’ll want to stay longer than you thought. The first day I went on the city tour which including many sites like rose garden, strawberry farm, butterfly farm, bee farm (I passed on this), and visits to the BOH tea plantation and Buddhist temple. The tea plantation was my favorite thing though the tea is not that great. Having lived with a tea expert who worked at Lupicia (one of the best Japanese tea companies in the world), I’ve become kind of a tea snob. But the grounds are beautiful.
My second day I enjoyed some hiking and found a delicious Chinese vegan buffet that had the best deal in town. A massive plate of food, rice and 3 choices, for only 2 MR. That’s not even one dollar! I stayed in a hostel that is bare bones, but very cheap (12 MR, $4), called Kang’s or Daniel’s Travel Lodge. If you aren’t used to the backpacking way of travel I’d suggest finding another place. I made do and met some really lovely people there. A girl from Hawaii named Brenda and I decided to meet-up in my next stop, Kuala Lumpur.
Kuala Lumpur is the biggest city in Malaysia filled with tall skyscraper buildings, smelly streets, tons of food choices, and plenty of sites to see. Brenda and I met some nice Australian boys and hit the town one night, finding a great dance club, called Aloha, with a decent dj and a spectacular show of pretty Malay girls doing Lady Gaga live. It was good times, but be prepared to fork over the dough if you want to go to clubs in KL. Entry fee was $30 with one drink (but we worked it and us ladies got in free). The drinks once you get inside are 22 RM and up. So Malaysia is not the place to drink and since I don’t really drink I’m not burning a hole in my pocket here.
I stayed in a really great hostel in KL called the Travel Hub (dorms , double 55 RM). The family that owns it are really wonderful. Two Pakistani sisters run the place and they couldn’t be sweeter and more helpful. The hostel is very clean, not too crowded, air conditioner, free wifi and breakfast, and in a great location on a side street not too noisy, but close to everything including different lines for train travel. We pretty much were in walking distance of everything but if you get too sweaty you can jump on the train. I highly recommend it if you are in KL.
The best thing about KL was a macrobiotic vegan restaurant I found where I had one of the best meals of my life. You must go to Woods Marche Cafe if you are ever in this neck of the woods. I had the special set meal, which I shared with Brenda for 26 RM. It had the tastiest dumpling I’ve ever put in my mouth, seitan-stuffed buns, stuffed yuba rolls that were deep fried and topped with a mustard sauce, steamed veggies, and this other thing that is hard to describe but had sauteed shiitake mushrooms with a spicy coconut yam mash wrapped in a banana leaf. It probably doesn’t sound like much but it was Extraordinary! Perfect balance of flavor, salt, and sweet, all the 5 elements, delish.
Next stop was Melaka, which is easy to get to via bus (12 RM, $4) and takes about 2 hours. I’m here now actually and it’s a cute little historic city with tiny streets and lots of character. There is a nice cool breeze blowing and I found a nice little hostel called Jalan Jalan (dorm 18 RM). It’s very touristy though, with fancy restaurants scattered among the local spots. Those are expensive, so stay clear of them if you are on a budget. There happens to be a good 5 vegetarian cafes here, two being a block away from the hostel!
If you are vegan or vegetarian and looking for a place to travel, I would have to say Malaysia has been the best place so far for vegheads. Even every mall has a vegetarian food stall in their food court. Chinese and Indian food is available on every block with veg choices. I’ve been eating SO much delicious food, my shorts are a little tight.
In a few days I head to Singapore, which I’ve heard is very clean, civilized and expensive. I have really enjoyed my time in Malaysia. I didn’t really know what to expect when I got here and I was happy to be greeted with smiling faces, delicious food, and beautiful scenery. I hope you can make it here sometime soon!