This is a very photo-heavy and text-light post – the majority of my trip to Malaysia consists of ridiculous inside jokes and near-calamities best suited to being told in person. This post is insanely overdue (my mom aka my number one fan has officially asked me where my posts went, so I knew I was in trouble if I didn’t get this up) – I went to Malaysia at the beginning of April to celebrate my friend Madi’s birthday (if you’ve been religiously reading my blog, AS YOU SHOULD BECAUSE I’M SUPER INTERESTING, you may remember Madi from our adventures last year at Amsterdam Pride). Basically, Madi was supposed to have come to Everest Base Camp with me, but got really sick the week we were supposed to have gone, and the flight ticket prices to Kathmandu jumped up when she was thinking of visiting. Since the Kathmandu life can wear you down, I was more than happy to hop on a plane to Kuala Lumpur and experience a more modern South East Asian city.
The trip started out somewhat disastrously – for one, I am an eternal plane optimist, which means I expect in-flight entertainment and at least a snack. This never works out for me. Then, when I arrived in Malaysia, I found literally the worst cab driver in the world, who first, could not find my Airbnb, and then threatened to take me to the police when I refused to pay him for not taking me to where I was supposed to be. Luckily I met a lovely Malaysian man at the mistaken location where this cabbie had delivered me, who drove me to the Airbnb Madi had booked. The room we were promised ended up being a cubicle with beds in it, and that night, the Malaysia Factor was born into our trip.
We left KL first thing in the morning to head down to Melaka. We knew we didn’t want to spend all our time in KL, so our trip planning went a little something like this:
So in the spirit of choose your own adventure, we followed my desire to see a “magical palace in the sea” (ie. a mosque; my upbringing in a town that identifies as 67% Christian and 33% no religion might be showing) to Melaka.
Originally a trading port for the Portuguese and the Dutch, Melaka was also once under British control, and occupied by the Japanese. The city centre is a UNESCO world heritage site, and during its heyday, the port was booming. It’s now a relatively small city of roughly 900,000 people, but the architecture has maintained a definitive Dutch influence – much to my delight.
The influence of different cultures in Melaka was really cool to see – there were definitely Dutch aspects, old Portuguese forts, and a large Chinese influence. The guest house we stayed in originally belonged to the first Chinese family to immigrate to Malaysia, the Baba Nyonyas, who have distinct Chinese-Malay cultures, foods and traditions.
As a bonus discovery, Madi and I stumbled upon a church, dedicated to the same saint as our alma mater! I clearly knew nothing about ol St. Franny X, because he dedicated several years of his life to missionary work in Melaka. If I can’t make it into our alumni magazine based on my achievements, I’ll do it by exploiting a photo op.
We were also able to travel a little ways outside Melaka City to a beach, which involved a series of Malaysia-factor incidents. The first, figuring out the bus system in Melaka. The second, getting from the bus stop to the beach. The third, finding the sea turtle sanctuary. The fourth, discovering the state of construction of the sea turtle sanctuary, meaning, no baby sea turtles (obviously that was one of the most appealing aspects of this beach). In the end though, we essentially got to hang out on a locals-only beach for a day, with nobody else around.
I was so excited to go swimming – as someone who grew up on a lake and spent a lot of time on either coast of Canada, I really miss being close to the water, and for some reason, the Bagmati River just doesn’t do it for me.
But, the coolest part of Melaka was the magical palace that drew us there, the Masjid Selat Melaka (Melaka Straits Mosque). The mosque is only ten years old, and is located on Pulau Melaka, a man-made island just off the coast of the city. Right now, the only thing on the island is the mosque and some development projects. The mosque is built on stilts, so when the tide comes in, it appears to be floating.
We went to the mosque in the late afternoon, as we wanted to go inside, and as non-Muslims, are not allowed to enter during prayer time. And, of course, we wanted to see the sunset (though looking back, it would be amazing to have seen at sunrise as well). Living in Kathmandu, I’ve acquired some more modest, and thus, mosque-appropriate, attire.
Madi, on the other hand, needed to rent her gear.
The inside of the mosque was really quite plain, which is different than a lot of the mosques I’ve visited in Africa. However, sitting outside, especially with the sun going down and the call for prayer in the background, was one of the most beautiful moments I’ve experienced. When I was in Greece last November, I took one evening where I literally just sat and watched the sun go down over the Aegean Sea for three or four hours, and it was one of the most peaceful and enjoyable moments I had had in a long time. Take time to watch sunsets, is what I’m saying.
Melaka had a couple more Malaysia Factor Moments™ for us, but overall, it was a really cool city, with amazing food, shops, and sights. And, honestly, the busyness of Asian cities can get overwhelming at times, so both Madi and I were happy to have spent time in a city where you could cross the street without having to pull out a whiteboard to draw up a crossing play. Melaka was really relaxing, which was something we both needed!
As much fun as it was just chilling in Melaka, I love big modern cities, and especially after being in Kathmandu, I was ready to go to KL and see a modern city skyline.
I think Madi thought I had gone a little crazy. I mean, I’m used to living in Kathmandu now, and I really hope that I don’t forget what it feels like to live here, or take for granted all the modern conveniences I’ve been afforded in every other city I’ve lived in. Because we got to KL, and I was like a little kid. A kid with a fixation on city sanitation programmes. I kept telling Madi how clean KL was – there were garbage cans on the street that are emptied by city staff, and city staff picking up litter on the side of the road or sidewalk, there were trees and other plants incorporated into the urban design, there wasn’t any dust in the air, the sidewalks were flat without potholes (huge for someone with weak ankles), there was power for 24 hours, there was running hot water, Uber was available, there was a transit system, with real trains, for Christ’s sake… It felt so bizarre to be back in a city with all those things – it was overwhelming.
Also, I think KL is a pretty underrated city – honestly, the only reason Madi and I chose to meet up there was because it was the cheapest place to fly to from KTM. But it has a lot of cool things to see, very cool neighbourhoods to explore, with quirky cafes, and amazing food. We ate so much.
One really cool random thing we checked out in KL was Kampung Baru, a residential village in downtown KL, which is the last site in the city where people maintain a traditional Malay village lifestyle. The land was given to the Malay people by the Brits during colonization, as a means to protect their traditional way of life at a time in which there were many Chinese immigrants (and European colonizers) moving into Malaysia. There isn’t much to look at, really, it’s just small houses surrounded by skyscrapers, but it’s pretty cool to have walked on one of the most expensive land tracts in the world – the value is currently roughly US$1.4 billion, due to its location.
Not your typical tourist stop, but I always try to throw some lesser known visits into my travels – my theory is that you will never have to worry about missing the places everyone knows about, because you can always go back there, and you won’t forget them.
Of course, we did do a lot of the stereotypical tourist things as well, including going on a hunt for the man with the diaper-wearing monkey (it’s a KL activity you really must do. We were, unfortunately, unsuccessful in our hunt. Next time, sir).
And of course, we had to ball hard because it was Madi’s birthday, so in KL, we stayed in an apartment with an infinity pool, with views of the KL skyline.
We had an amazing night on Madi’s birthday – from drinks atop the city to being stalked by middle schoolers on the train to an impromptu tapas meal to so many free drinks to the weirdest after hours dance club to the monkey hunt to the being hunted by another taxi to the immediate VIP treatment at Echo to the Petronas Towers to the cyborgs on the cab ride home to the note taking before going to bed – it was quite the way to ring in Madi’s 27th year! And we’ve now managed to cross off three continental explorations together… who knows where we’ll head next!