How rad is my life that I can go for a quick jaunt to Malaysia?! I mean, really, that’s awesome. Jon and I knew we had a very small window when he would not yet be back at his University job and that still gave me enough time to give notice of holidays, so we booked the time and figured we’d grab a flight somewhere. Which is what we did. Six days before our scheduled departure. We have our reasons (sort of), but in the end we just picked the flight that was cheapest (outside of Korea and Japan – Korea because duh and Japan because costs are so high there that it’s not worth a slightly cheaper flight cost-wise) and Malaysia was the winner. Not by a lot. It just beat out the Philippines but because of our slacking, we were already in for a lot more for the flights than we had intended. Oops!
We grabbed a domestic fight from Kuala Lumpur and headed to the Perhentian Islands. According to our harried and totally incomplete research, that was the place to go for rest and relaxation if you are poor. And all told, it worked out quite well for all of those reasons. We *did* find ourselves in a slight accommodation pickle initially because, though high season was officially over, it was in fact not over. And most of the places on the islands don’t take advance bookings because they don’t have internet or reliable electricity. So that makes sense. And as such we assumed it would be no big deal. And it wasn’t. Really. Unless you count spending twice our approximate budget on a hovel. I mean shack. Ok, hovel.
Here’s the abode. Don’t let the sunshine trick you. It was pretty dire. We were not put off, though! Who needs nice wooden floorboards when broken floorboards will do!? Who needs doors without holes when you can certainly just utilize the cage doors over top!? Who needs a shower without spider webs!?! Not us! Not us!
It really was that bad, but actually, we kind of loved it. Once we got over the initial sticker shock (we paid RM 80 per night). It’s the kind of place you expect to be staying for free, after all. But it was fun. Electricity only came on after 5pm and we had no hot water. Not to worry, because the bathroom was so depressing we weren’t about to lounge around in it anyways. However…and this is a good however…THIS was our little balcony. See what’s just right there beyond, nearly beneath it? Crystal clear, turquoise waters. Aaahhhhhh. Give me a hovel and that view any day of the week.
The next 3.5 days were spent doing nearly nothing. Or at least, the same things. Wake up with the sun and lollygag in bed until it was too hot and/or light out. Put on beach clothes and copious amounts of sunscreen. Head for food. Spend a long time waiting for food because “ya man, it’s Malaysia” (they sound Jamaican – no word of a lie). Head to the beach. Read in the rising sun until it’s hot and you’re thirsty. Get a beer and some chips. Lay in the sun and soak in the turqoise sea until you’re starting to feel crispy. Seek lunch in the shade. Head back to the sun or wander around aimlessly for a while. Grab a cold shower and a nap. Head for some beers and BBQ fish on the beach. Watch the sun go down over the water. Play some Uno. Read a bit. Bed by 10pm.
That was literally what we did. The only deviations from that schedule were the two afternoons of snorkelling. Yes, I snorkelled. I have snorkelled in the past (if you can call it that because I am a terrified baby and may have only been in the water for minutes) but never like this. Which, refer to the last comment, means I stayed in the water. FOR HOURS. Impressed!? I swam with fishies! Big and little ones. Zebra striped ones and neon purple and yellow ones and big mother of pearl ones and black ones! I saw regular coral reef and shark’s tooth coral reef! Jon saw a baby shark and I did not have a panic attack and die right there next to him in the water! (I froze and started swimming backwards while fishtailing hoping to catch a glimpse from a
extreme reasonable distance.) I saw a ginormous turtle! Like, Discovery Channel enormous. It was amazing. The thing swam at me twice. Was he lured by my bright pink bikini bottoms or just trying to escape the hoards of jerky snorkellers trying to touch his shell? I’ll never tell…
So ya, it was wonderful. I read three books in as many days. The only downside, and not even a real one at that, was the lack of booze. Malaysia is largely Islamic and as such, the restaurants tend not to serve any alcohol. You can bring your own, but being on that little island didn’t afford a lot of choice. That’s fine though, you know? It was too relaxing to even care that I couldn’t get a glass of wine. And we had been somewhat prepared on that front and brought duty-free alcy so we sipped on that with our BBQ dinners or had a beer. I mean, ya. By the way, the Malaysians do a BBQ in a wonderful way. I don’t know the secret entirely but I think they build the fire up, make a hole, and stick the foiled fish (HA-HA!) inside the hole for like an hour or more. It comes out cooked to absolute BBQ-y perfection.
Friday morn we grabbed the early boat back to the mainland, grabbed a taxi to the airport, grabbed a plane to Kuala Lumpur, and grabbed a shuttle bus to the actual city, and a measly 8 hours later (owing to some nasty traffic into KL) we were there :). Our hotel in KL was really nice and Jon had done an excellent job of getting us set up right in the heart of the action. We were minutes from the square, Little India, and Chinatown.
As is becoming our travel trademark, however, we were unprepared and did not realize that it was Malaysia’s Independence Day. No we did not. And as such, being downtown in the midst of the fray, we had not bargained for masses of people and fireworks and parades. And all of this would have been fine, too, if not for the NOISE MAKERS. Like the kind of horns at hockey games, type noise makers. Noise makers from hell. Outside of our hotel. For HOURS, literal hours, nonstop, ear-deafening noise for hours. It’s funny now. A little. Because we are always so unprepared and unaware these days. But at the time, it was horrifying. There was no reprieve! Honk-honk-ho-ho-ho-hooooonk. Over and over. Without end. Did I mention that part yet? They did eventually, blissfully stop at about 1am and we were able to finally catch some shuteye.
Of interesting note (to me), Malaysia is our first mostly Islamic country. As Wikipedia so helpfully supplies…“The constitution declares Islam the state religion while protecting freedom of religion.” We didn’t make it into a mosque (we weren’t dressed appropriately and our plans to return failed us), but we did see some and they were beautiful. And it was interesting to hear the calls for prayer. Also, about 80% of Malaysian women (that’s my own estimation) wear hijab and a much smaller percent (maybe 2%) wear full burka. So that was really strange for us to see. As Jon remarked once, “it’s weird to see some young dude all decked out in name brands with a sideways hat and then, it must be his wife or maybe his sister, wearing a burka next to him”. Weird indeed. There’s also a huge Indian population in Malaysia and it was extremely common to see women dressed in wonderful, colourful saris. Actually, all of the women, regardless of ethnicity or religion (with the exception of the black burkas) were dressed really colourfully. I loved it. The people in general struck us both as apathetic. No one smiled much or went out of their way to be friendly, but everyone was quite kind. Things were generally quite organized, reliable, and very consistent. We could bargain but we never felt we were being swindled. Cabs charged set fees that were spelled out ahead of time and consistent time and again. I mention it because it can make a huge difference when travelling to not feel swindled somewhere. Go to Malaysia, if you need a break from all that.
The next day we kicked around and had a nice time. We checked out Little India and enjoyed some street Indian food (heavenly!). We puttered through Chinatown and tried durian and jackfruit (awful!). Durian, in case you didn’t know, is a Malaysian fruit that is renowned as the stinkiest food out there. It’s hard to even describe the smell. It took me a bit to even recognize what I was smelling repeatedly. It’s kind of like smelly feet, with a whiff of restaurant garbage. But not as pungent, more like a wafting yucky. And it’s banned from tons of Asian airports and hotels for that very reason. The Malaysians swear it tastes good (they eat it on its own and as fruit juice) but we don’t see how. It was plain disgusting, with a warm, soft, sickly texture. The jackfruit was barely any better. We also hung out in the Central Market and shopped and got massages. We bought pashminas and checked out some Batik art and found some neat wooden postcards, of all things.
That was it! We finished our last night in Malaysia with a ginormous Indian feast – vegetarian and for less than 20 bucks. It was a fabulous break and while I would have liked more time there, it’s the kind of place (small, basically) that leaves me feeling I still got a pretty good sense of it in a week. Recommended, if not the first place I might suggest.
* To get to the Perhentian Islands seems tricky from trolling the webosphere, but it’s actually really simple. If you fly into Kota Bharu, find the taxi stands inside the airport. Tell them you are going to the islands and they will help you sort everything out. You pay Malaysian Ringgit(RM)78 for the taxi each way. And you pay RM35 for the boat trip each way. Pay for the return boat trip ahead of time, but not the taxi. They will just assume this. The taxi ride is one hour to the boat jetty, then a 30 minute speedboat ride from there. And voila! Enjoy. Your hotel can help schedule a boat to pick you up when you’re ready to leave the islands.
* Some general costs in Malaysia are as follows: Beer for RM7-10, hotel for RM80+ (can be lower in low season), 30 minute taxi ride for RM55, one hour taxi ride for RM80, street food for RM1-2, restaurant meal for RM10+