Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Malaysia: From West to East

I have now been to every country in Mainland Southeast Asia.  That said, as we prepared to leave for Malaysia I had expectations for how I thought it would be, mostly that I didn't think it would be that different from it's neighboring countries.   I was very wrong.
    On the hour bus ride into Kulala Lumpur from the airport I was stuck by how green and lush the countryside was.  Palm plantations stretched on for miles and miles.  As we got closer to the city we began to wind around green hills that reminded me more of Seattle (minus the tropical foliage) than Bangkok or any other city in SE Asia I've visited.
     Once we reached our destination (Chinatown) we were hurried off the bus.  Immediately a man approached us with a guesthouse option.  We decided it was worth a look.  He led us into the busy and crowded Jalan Patalang Market street.  We shuffled past dozens of stalls selling knock off handbags, watches and anything else you could imagine.  Finally we emerged at the other end and finally reached the guesthouse.  It was a no go, so we walked in the other direction in search of another option.  We finally found space at the Monkey Inn, a backpacker hostel down the next street.  Sarah and Kelly shared a double room while the rest of us decided to spend our nights dorm style.  It was interesting, not my favorite but I would do it again if I was traveling alone.
   We got into KL later in the afternoon so that night we got some dinner and then headed to bed.  The next day, armed with a map of the city we set off the see the dominating Petronas towers.   When we got off the subway we found ourselves inside an enormous western style mall.  Coach, Miu Miu, Northface could all be found here.  It was mildly alarming finding a place where we could be so comfortable.  We wandered around for a bit until found ourselves in an enormous atrium at what I assume was the center of the mall.  From there we took a Willy Wonka style glass elevator to the top floor.  There we found much to entertain us.  A science museum, Kinokuniya bookstore and an awesome cookie shop called Bakin' Boys.  Later some of the girls decided to check out the Science Museum while Shaela, Lucy and I took the Malaysian movie theater for a test run and saw "Clash of the Titans."
    I've expressed here before how AMAZING movie theaters in Thailand are so we had high hopes for this Malaysian movie theater in a beautiful western style mall.  Sadly, we were disappointed.  It was more like an American style theater c/o the 1990's, complete with a bright, star-filled carpet.  Another thing about Thai movie theaters are that they are usually quite cold, so when we go to see a movie we dress for the chilly atmosphere.  Wearing only shorts and a T-shirt we hoped that the Malaysian theaters would differ from the Thai theaters in this respect, and they did.  As we entered the theater we were blasted with air that was so cold I wanted not just a sweatshirt, but a parka and snowpants.  It was brutal.  I pulled my arms into my t-shirt and rubbed them to keep warm the entire movie.  When the movie finally ended and we left we were so frozen we literally had to thaw out, including a trip to Starbucks to buys hot chocolate.  At least the movie was good, otherwise it would have been an utterly disappointing event.
     After we had all met up again we decided to go outside to get a good look at the towers (earlier we had tried to go up into the skybridge between the two but free tickets begin to be distributed at 8am and are given on a first come first serve basis).  Right outside of the mall/towers is a nice lake surrounded by a lush, green park.  Sarah, Kelly, Shawna and I decided to take a walk around while the others sat and read for a while.  The first thing we stumbled on was a children's water park.  It looked like so much fun.  I wished I was 10 years old and had a swimsuit on.  We played in it a little bit all the same and had a fun photoshoot.

     That night Shaela and I walked to the bus station, which was mercifully close to our guesthouse, to get tickets to Mersing where we would catch the ferry to Pulau Tioman.  Our 6 hour bus ride left at 8am.  The ride wasn't so bad.  Malaysia really is a beautiful country. As we drove along we passed miles upon miles upon miles of Palm plantations.  I loved staring down the straight rows of trees.  It was like they stretched on forever.
    When we reached Mersing we went into a travel agency to have them help us get a ferry ticket to Pulau Tioman.  She was surprised that we didn't already have a hotel reservation because it was "Easter holiday for Singapore and even the schools in Malaysia had the monday off."  That caught me completely off guard.  I would never think about Asian counties celebrating Christian holidays.  So, she helped us book rooms at a small beach at the southern end of the Island called Nipah.  Since it was basically a private beach the only food option we would have while there would be the resorts restaurant so she suggested we stop at the grocery store before we head to the ferry.  We stocked up on snacks, cereal and boxed drinks and boy where we glad we did.  The food on the island wasn't bad, just pricey, and when there are no ATMs you really need to watch your budget.
    The ride to the Island wasn't so bad.  The ferry was pretty spacious and the seats comfortable.  The hour and a half seemed to fly by, to me at least.  Once we got to the pier at Genting we got off and were met by two guys from our "resort" with little motor boats.  All of our stuff was thrown into one boat as we call piled into the other.  As we looked into the distance we could tell that there was a storm coming.  On the horizon the edges of giant thunderclouds were illuminated by golden sun.  It was beautiful.  Our escorts could tell a storm was coming as well and they kicked the boats into high gear.  Sure enough if poured that night and a little the next day.  We made the best of it though.

    Soon we were at the beach and the guys helped us carry our bags up to the registration desk/restaurant.  My first impression on seeing this building, "oh my gosh what did we get ourselves into?"  The place looked like a shack.  Plastic chairs and old tables sat underneath this driftwood/plywood structure.  I was scared about what our rooms would look like.
     Each room was it's own little hut so one of the guys led us back to the three huts we would be using.  Since there was 7 of us one of the huts would need to have 3 people in it.  Shawna, Lucy and I decided we would just be the three, so we were given an Aframe.  After unlocking the padlock on the door visions of summer camp flooded back to me.  It was literally like a camp cabin. A double bed sad in the middle and an extra mattress had been laid on the floor, leaving absolutely no room to walk.  We could see the ground below through cracks in the floorboards, and the bathroom was actually a separate structure which had been connected through a hole in the back.  Shawna immediately declared she wanted to find accommodations elsewhere and later ended up moving her mattress into Sarah and Kelly's hut.  Lucy and I decided we would try to make the best of our situation and toughed it out.  In the end the room itself wasn't so bad.  After one night the bed started to break and poor Lucy nearly rolled off due to the slant but other than that there wasn't any really problems, well... except for the darn chickens!  These chicken were well trained I tell you.  Starting at 5am they would move around the compound, placing themselves as close the huts as possible then letting their squawking out.  One morning Lucy actually got up and chased them away.  I was pretty close to committing chicken homicide myself.

    I must say though, for everything the structures lacked, the island gave back.  Lazy palms stretched out over yellow sand dipping into aqua blue waters.  Behind us jungle covered mountains stretched into the distance.  It was so beautiful.
    Our 4 days on Nipah Beach were super relaxing.  We would eat, read, swim and repeat.  At night some of us would play cards and then we would go out on the beach and stare at the millions of stars in the sky.  It was so beautiful and wonderful, we honestly didn't want to leave.

Malaysia was a country that I didn't expect to like and I was pleasantly surprised.  I would love to go back one day when I have more time to devote to exploring and relaxing.

Stayed tuned for the continuation of our trip chronically our journey to Singapore and our adventures therein.

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