Setting off early the other morning from our hostel in the town of Krabi, in Thailand, we expected to catch a 10am bus north to Ranong where we planned to renew our Thai visa for another fifteen days. Unfortunately, as soon as we arrived, we were told there was no 10 am bus. Bad advice from our hostel host! But we made the best of our three hour wait and started this blog on our Malaysia adventure…
In many ways, Malaysia seems like the perfect starting point for Asia Beginners like us. English is widely spoken and the transport infrastructure is well developed. Even so, we reeled a little with culture shock when disembarking our bus (complete with massage chairs!) from Singapore. We were glad to be starting in Malaysia and not India! We arrived in Melaka in blistering heat. Hot, sweaty and pasty white, we stuck out like sore thumbs as we tried to search out a reputable-looking taxi to take us to our guesthouse. Once the taxi dropped us off, we traipsed around, looking for our very well hidden guesthouse. It wasn’t looking good until Jeremy stopped some schoolboys who managed to point the way in broken English.
Melaka town is a rich mix of cultures; Chinese, Malay and Indian influences mix with the legacy of British, Dutch and Portuguese colonial rule. Surprisingly, amidst all the new cultural experiences, the place reminded us of eastern european towns we have been to while inter-railing a few years ago. At the heart of the town is UNESCO listed Jonker’s Walk, lined with ancient buildings now stocked full of touristy knick-knacks. It boasts a fabulous night market every weekend. The streets literally light up with hundreds of hawker stalls selling everything from shoes to samosas. We particularly enjoyed savouring the local delicacies of laksa (spicy noodle soup) and poipah (spring roll with minced prawn and vegetables). We savoured our first experience of hearing the Muslim call to prayer echoing through the streets morning and evening.
The Asian culture shock is like a double-sided coin. While we can feel assaulted and overwhelmed by new sights, sounds, language, food and people, it is these very differences that enthuse and enrich our journey.
We loved watching the gaudy tuk-tuks parading through the streets with their blaring pop music and hilarious mix of decorations.
From Melaka, we journeyed to Kuala Lumpar, the Malaysian capital. There, we enjoyed pounding the busy streets and finding some good eats. Restaurant Yusoof dan Zakhir served up such tasty Indian Muslim fare, we returned three times!
After deciding to skip a visit to the Cameron Highlands, we opted to venture straight to Penang. We settled into a dorm in Georgetown for four nights. Georgetown is bursting at the seams with food stalls, quirky shops, ancient crumbling buildings, temples and laneways strewn with fresco street art.
On our last day in Penang, we set out to visit Kek Lok Si Temple. Beginning in 1890, construction took over 20 years and lots of public donations. It is the oldest Buddhist temple complex in Malaysia. We walked through a jungle of souvenir stalls before reaching the first of many temples. We were awestruck by the artistry and moved by the devotion evidenced everywhere. Having said that, sandwiched between the temples were seemingly endless stores of religious merchandise, with everything from golden buddhas and beads to toys and clothing. The glitz and kitsch was overwhelming.
We picked up a book on Buddhism and read in it that Buddha is not a god or a messenger from God. This left us wondering why people were praying to the Buddha statues; lighting candles, insense, buying wishing ribbons and placing offerings of money in boxes and even into Buddha’s hands. These things sparked questions and as we journey further in Asia, we hope to gain more understanding.