I crossed the border into Malaysia by bus from Singapore. The first stop was the historic port of Malacca, and whilst it’s not the most exciting place I have been to, it was interesting having a look around the Muzium Budaya (cultural museum), the Proclamation of Independence, Porta de Santiago (ruins of the old Portuguese fort) and walking up Bukit St Paul to St Paul’s Church (the ruins and tombstones there mark where St Francis Xavier‘s body was interred). In the afternoon I took a boat trip up the river and saw some huge lizards (around 3m long!) basking on the riverbank, and entire villages where the houses were all on stilts. From there I wandered around the iconic Dutch quarter, Chinatown and the temples and mosques. Cheng Hoon Teng (temple of the Evergreen Clouds) was particularly interesting as it’s the oldest traditional Chinese temple in Malaysia and there were lots of buddhist monks around praying, drumming and chanting.
One day was enough in Melacca so I moved swiftly on to the capital, Kuala Lumpur. The city seemed so big to a lone backpacker, but I took it sections – I had a look at Masjid Jamek, the Friday Mosque, and the rest of the Arab buildings in Kampong Glam, the Malay-Arab quarter. I meandered around the Central Market where I watched the glassblowers hard at work, checked out the temples of Chinatown on Petaling Street, the perfect green of Merdeka Square, and the crazy Night Market, where every street seemed crammed with hawkers selling watches, handbags, T-shirts and jewellery. I had a wander through Little India and the deluxe mall at Suria KLCC, and gaped up at the mighty Petronas Twin Towers. I struggled finding a decent hostel in the capital (I suffered mice, bugs, plastic mattresses, flashing neon lights and more) until I discovered Pudu Hostel, which was like a palace in comparison! I watched a traditional Malaysian music and dance show at the Malaysian Tourism Centre and wandered around the Golden Triangle. I was becoming more and more accustomed to the delicious street food while travelling Asia, and while I was in KL I tried the local speciality, bah kut teh, I’m still not sure what it is, their translation on the menus was pigs feet, but Lonely Planet described it as pork ribs and rice… hmmmm…
Another friend had joined me in the capital for a few weeks travelling, and from there we took a very comfortable bus (complete with armchairs) to Penang. We stayed in the capital, Georgetown, from where we could stroll along the seafront, past Fort Cornwallis, churches, temples and mosques, all the way down to Cannon Square and the ornate and impressive Khoo Kongsi (half clanhouse, half temple) and the shopping mall. We got a bus to Batu Ferringhi (Foreigners Rock Beach) for the day, which unfortunately broke down on the way back – one of the risks of budget travel!
After Penang we journeyed on to the paradise of Langkawi Island, via trishaw and a two and a half hour ferry, and stayed in a bungalow on the beach at AB Motel in Pantai Cenang, it was only for a couple of nights but it was the perfect break from the chaos of Asia that I had so far experienced and such a beautiful setting to get accustomed to beach life, ready for the many weeks of beach hopping that awaited us in Thailand.