10/03: Day 40 – Bye bye Singapore, let’s head to Malaysia!
My bus was in in the early afternoon, so didn’t really have time to do much, although I wanted to visit some more of the city! I did spend a lot of time having meetings, lunch and diners with people living there, but I definitely didn’t see half of what there was to do!
Went for lunch and hoped on the bus. That was a long ride for that distance. Do you know how many check points there are between Singapore and Malaysia and how long it takes??? Well… how long it takes when you have buses of Chinese that arrive at the same time as you! The line was nicely organised until they came along. Hundreds of them. These tiny Chinese ladies, would just push their way through the line, pushing you with there elbows and when you would say something, they would just look at you smiling and continued pushing their way through. I couldn’t believe it! I had to battle to stay in the line. Some people who were in the bus with me and seemed to have the habit of the Malaysian boarder organisation, told me I really needed to stick with them and push away any person who wanted to pass in front. It was crazy! Both boarders took ages, definitely over an hour each time.
I arrived late in Melaka, around 10pm. Obviously, the bus station was way out of the city, so I needed to take a taxi to get there and, obviously, it was very expensive. At some point, this guy, late 30s, comes up to me, asks me what I am looking for and tells me he is a guide, in the station to collect some tickets for some clients and if I waited 15 min, he could give me a lift back into town. Saying Yes was 1 of the 2 most stupid things I did during my trip (and actually both most stupid things I did happened to me in Malaysia. On top of that, considering the most “uncomfortable” stories I heard later in my trip were related to Men, in Malaysia, it was even more stupid; but I didn’t know back then). I mean, again, it’s 10 at night, in a bus station, out of a city you know nothing about, in a country you know nothing about, you’re a solo girl backpacker, this random guy comes up to you and sais he’s going to bring you back to the city for free and that you just need to wait 15 min… There’s trusting and trusting… that was STUPID trusting!
After saying “yes why not”, I went to get some food while I was waiting for him and then started to think that, yeah, maybe it wasn’t the best idea I had had… (stupid, stupid, stupid), anyway. When he had finished with his business, he joined me and we started chatting and he was telling me that he had lived in England, as a doctor, blablabla… telling me about his company… It’s always difficult to decide whether people like that are telling the truth and then their life is pretty cool, or if they’re just big liars who invent themselves a cool life to gains people trust or interest. After I had gulped up my rice and chicken off we were. We started walking outside, to the parking lot, then through the parking lot and his car was parked outside of the bus station parking lot, in some dark place (stupid, stupid, stupid). I was expecting a nice-ish car, cause he had a pretty good English, British English actually, but no… it was a shitty old car and as I looked at it, I was really thinking by then, what excuse could I use to get out of this situation… Honestly, at that point, I wasn’t really thinking of how stupid I was, but I was more getting kind of uncomfortably nervous… unfortunately, my brain didn’t go fast enough and by the time all of that went through my head, he had already taken my backpack and shoved it into the boot. So I got on the car… the whole 20 min trip to the city seemed like ages. I literally grabbed the knife I had in my small backpack and was holding on to it the entire way, ready to… do whatever if ever something went wrong. Especially as, as he was a guide, not only did he bring me back, but he also started to tour me around the city, explaining me what everything was and the history of it… I was like yeah, yeah, yeah, great, can we just go to my hostel. I remember him at some point slowing down in front of a church so he could show it to me and me thinking that someone was going to open the door and kid me… big time drama… He actually made a comment about me seeming nervous and that I needed to relax because nothing was going to happen to me… Ha ha…
In the end, nothing happened, the guy dropped me off at the hostel and left. Lesson learnt right?? Hum… not so sure…
Anyway, as I though drama was over and that I could finally relax, I arrived at the Fernloft Melaka hostel I had booked… this weird looking fat guy opened, checked me in and brought me to my dorm… to my 16 bed empty dorm!! Great. Thought #1: apparently it’s not in Melaka that I’m going to meet many people. Thought #2: I don’t really like the idea of being alone in a hostel, with that guy at the reception all night… By then it was too late to change anyway, so I left my stuff and went for a walk. Reassuring thing he advised was not to stay out too long and to stay on the main roads… Melaka can be a bit dangerous… “Wonderful” I thought!
So I walked along the Sungai Melaka (the Melaka river I guess) and I found the only bar in Melaka, for sure, maybe in the whole of Malaysia, that played Reggeaton, the Parrot Café. The staff was really sweet, so chilled there for a bit. Along the river side, close to Dutch square, you have sweet little bars and cafés. Not much happens during the week, but it gets lively at the weekends. Anyway, it was already late, so I went back to bed and made sure to lock the dorm door and sleep with my dear knife under my pillow…
Fernloft Melaka hostel: I can’t really recommend it… okay it was well located, but the whole set up was dodgy, even if there actually had been people…
11/03: Day 41 – Melaka’s curiosities…
Ouf, I passed the night! Unfortunately, I had the terrible tendency to wake up late and therefore start the day around 10.30/11. What’s the problem in that? Well usually when the temperature can climb to 38, 40 degrees Celsius, you go out when the sun is low and AVOID the times when it’s the hottest between 11 and 2… that’s not how I saw things… (stupid, stupid, stupid). So late morning I started walking along the river. Went passed the “Maritime Museum” (LOL, not sure if a single boat can really use the definition of Museum, but fine..). The passed in front the Menara (tower) Taming Sari, which is some kind of tower you go up to have a view of the city I think. Not very interesting. It seemed to be closed when I went there. What I do remember is that I wanted coconut water (so good and very very hydrating). They were actually selling the coconut, with the water, but without its’ shell. I don’t have the slightest idea how, but they managed to take out the flesh, leaving it its’ original shape.
Continued to A Famosa, which is the remains of an old fortress, built back when the Portuguese owned the city. Anyhow, that is not really the important and interesting part of the story! There I was wondering around Saint Paul’s Church and the Dutch graveyard and that’s where things got interesting. This little 65 year old Malay guy came up to me with the regular questions: “where are you from?”, “What are you doing here?” and of course (as this seems to be becoming a trend for me), “if you want, I can be your guide for free.” After explaining I had no money to give him at all and him agreeing completely, saying he was just happy to practice his English, he started walking me around…
Portrait of Micheal (what is stated here is purely word of mouth, true or not, I will never know…):
- Michael, very sweet 65 years old approx. man, former firefighter in Singapore, who just recently took his retirement and will be spending his 50K USD insurance or retreat or whatever, back in Malaysia…
- Main hobbies: swimming, fishing and… gambling (on horses because it seems to be the only one you can do in Singapore).
- Family and marital status: “Lonely ranger”. Got married once when he was 18, got divorced once when he was 19. When he lived for 5 years in Cambodia, he had 4 girlfriends, at the same time, all of them being perfectly aware of the situation. Michael is or was definitely the Don Juan party boy; he seemed to have all these girlfriends all over the place.
The peak and most interesting part was actually when we started talking about why he left Melaka to go to Singapore. Well, Michael was part of a gang when he was young and by the age of 18 ½, had gotten into too much trouble (ie, killed too many people) and had to run away. Ho but no worries, he had since understood and learnt from his mistakes and had converted into a good spirit. We actually had an interesting conversation on how knifes are very easy to use and slide very well into flesh… He was even spotting out the different places he had had fights and said at some point: « look, that’s where I had my last fight, where I slit 2 peoples’ throats and that’s why I had to run away »…
At this point I was already wondering if my life was just dull and boring, or if half of the people on this planet are crazy or mythomaniac… But I remember being curious and fascinated by this guy, or rather by his stories. After my Washington host, here came Michael from Melaka !
He was very sweet, took me around everywhere, explained me everything. Took me out for a very local cheap lunch. There’s actually a lot to see in such a small city (for 2 days), I was surprised. The mix of Asian, European, Catholic, Buddhist, Muslim influences really left a rich heritage. He explained me that one of Melaka’s legends, is that it was founded by a Hindu Prince and political refuge from Java; grate way to start…). A couple of years later, in 1511, Portuguese took over the city as they thought it would become a strategic port to relay Portugal to Macau, China and the rest of the Spice route. It then went to the Dutch and after that to the British. Heritage you can feel throughout the city.
Without mentioning the long list of little temples, museums and things to do and see in Melaka, the 2 unique pieces I would lend to Melaka:
- The Bukit Cina, a Chinese and Hindu cemetery, which was quite unique, as it was the first time I saw one (didn’t even know they used cemeteries).
- The second thing would be these delightful, colourful, way too expensive and kind of kitch and noisy tuk-tuks, typical from Melaka.
Of course the most famous attraction in Melaka is Christ Church, the Bell tower and it is also full of cool street art and little charming places to see.
We also went for diner together in this delicious Indian place, where I ate on a banana leaf, with my hands. The pleasure of eating dirty with your hands, makes the food even better. We then went to the night market and I had something I didn’t find anywhere else and it’s quite hard to describe: take a watermelon, cut off a round, small part of the shell and then dig in with a whisk (that kind of blender), until it’s pure juice. Add ice cubes and drink! Soooooo good!!
After that, it was time to go back to my empty dorm…
12/03: Day 42 – Melaka to Kuala Lumpur. Now, is the lesson learnt?
I left early in the morning for Kuala Lumpur. As I got in the city with the metro, one thing jumped at my eyes: most, if not all, of the women were wearing vales. Not that it’s good or bad, but you don’t really notice it in Melaka and I had never been in a Muslim country before, so it was surprising or interesting or different, if I may say.
I dropped off my stuff at my hostal, Raizzy’s Guesthouse and started my first day tour of Kuala Lumpur. Started with the Central Market, which is full of touristy little boutiques, with textiles, souvenirs, etc., it’s just next to the Chinatown area. Very touristy, you can buy souvenirs, small electronics, eat… Also went to the Indian block: similar to Chinatown, only with more textile goods. Then passed in front of the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, which is quite impressive. They were having a sort of motorbike rally or a motorbike sale show, I’m not quite sure, but there were 100s and 100s of them, with loud music and 99% males around. I basically started the KL Historical Buildings tour, with my Triposo App.
I’m pretty sure I was heading to the Petronas Towers, just after lunch time, when this guy, in his mid 30s, seeing that I was looking around a bit lost, came up to me and asked me the classicals. Where are you from? What are you looking for? After 10 min chatting with him, he told me he was a guide and had just finished his day, so still had his company van and that he could take me around for free… CLEARLY, I STILL hadn’t learnt my lesson and accepted…… (stupid, stupid, stupid).
So I climbed in the van and Gopi, as per his name, first suggested we should go to the Batu Caves, one of the “must dos” in KL. The thing to know about these caves is it they are about 25 min drive out of the city. So, there I was again, checking on my phone that we were taking the right direction, because, at the end of the day, the guy could have been bringing me wherever… Anyhow, got to the caves and we started walking around. I have to say it was good to have him, since he explained all the history and everything, so it was interesting. Okay the set up (the big status, the stairs) is impressive, but it’s nothing THAT amazing and it’s really dirty!!! The only entertainment, if you haven’t seen any yet, are the monkeys, which again, as it seems to be the case all over the world when you have monkeys in touristy places, they were nasty, aggressive and real thieves.
After that he ABSOLUTELY wanted to bring me to Templer waterfalls, saying it was a really beautiful place. On the way there, we started talking about our hobbies. So when he asked, I said basic things like cooking and travelling, but he felt the need to be, apparently, funny about it… Very spontaneously admitted that one of his hobbies was watching porn… not that it’s a problem, but… still you know… Anyway, we got there and I can tell you, these waterfalls are most certainly NOT mandatory nor unique, but I would rather say, terribly dirty and have very little interest (a bit like the caves… sorry…). By the time we had gotten there, I uncomfortable and was fed up by him and really wanted to go back. He decided it was going to be otherwise and really wanted to go to the different pools of the waterfall. It was so disgusting, trash everywhere, insects, berk. We were stopping at each pool, sitting down so he could smoke and he was heavily insisting to do me a foot massage, which was absolutely never going to happen! So each time, I had to politely refuse, smiling, to avoid that he would get upset and ditch me in a random place or leave me here by my self…. After about 4 pools, it was enough for me and said we had to go back there and then.
The way back was awfully long…. it was getting dark and I was still thinking that he could just be bringing me anywhere… In the end, I told him to drop me off by Chinatown, so he wouldn’t see where my hostel was and managed to give him a random number saying that I would call later to meet up again, which, obviously didn’t happen…!
I was so annoyed with myself, letting myself again get into a stupid situation like that…!! Which could have gone so bad… Okay, this time, I promised myself, it was going to be the last and although I don’t think the occasion presented itself again during the trip, I didn’t accept propositions from weirdoes.
To forget about all of that, I went to have food in a Malay restaurant and just wanted to relax. As I was eating, this girl, storms in, sits in front of me and asks me if she could join me. We started chatting and Anna was a really fascinating girl. Young Polish, who had already crossed most of Europe hitchhiking and that had as objective to do all of it before she was 25, had just been spending the past couple of weeks in Asia, with a friend who had just left. You know how some encounters mark you more than others, well she was one of those. So mature, determined, she knew what she wanted, really well travelled. I mean, at her age, I was still sucking my thumb (even though I still do), in my mum’s skirts (I know it doesn’t really translate very well in English…, but anyway). She gave me some of the best advice for my trip. All the places she recommended were really good. The out of the way kind of ones, that I hadn’t even heard of. One of which (Koh Ta Kiev in Cambodia), I adored and then recommended it myself to everyone.
Anyway, after a long chat over diner, we agreed to meet up the next day in front of the restaurant to spend the day together.
Raizzy’s Guesthouse: Is in Chinatown. It was fine, nothing special. The only thing I really remember is that people kept putting the aircon on and it was freeeeezing cold all night. I had to sleep with shirts, my jumper and cover up with everything I could possibly find. Also that the next day, a guy was sleeping in one of the above beds and had been clearly drinking all night and as he was turning in the bed, he fell on the floor. It was a big guy, so he really heavily fell. I was just laughing so badly, even though I was sure I probably hurt himself.
13/03: Day 43 – Kuala Lumpur
We had agreed with Anna to meet up at 11 in front of the same restaurant to do some sightseeing together. So we started walking in direction of the impressive Petronas Towers. They are so massive, great to take fun photos, especially with a GoPro. We took masses from the front, from underneath, from the back, from the park (a really nice little park), from the bridge. It was funny because Anna being a cute blond white girl, so many people, Asian or Indian, wanted to take pictures of her. We were stopped every couple of minutes to do a photo session! We also tried to see if we could find a free or cheap way to go up the towers, but didn’t succeed.
Then went to Masjid Jamek, one of the old mosques of KL. To visit it, as a woman, you have to be covered from head to toe. So when you go in, they lend you this robe, which makes you look like a KKK member. But anyway, it was interesting to visit, especially as I don’t go often in mosques and they are, just like churches, heavy in culture and history.
For Lunch, we stopped in a very local Indian restaurant, where again we ate some rice and spicy chicken on banana leafs and drunk some typical lemon ice tea (believe me, when it’s that hot, it the perfect thing to have!).
We then stopped at Masjid Negara and then headed to the Lake gardens, nothing too too special, but it was nice. What happened there is that we got caught into one of the biggest rain storm I’ve been trapped into. Nothing dangerous, but you know when it’s sunny one moment and in 15 min, clouds have covered the sky and this heavy hot tropical shower starts poring over your head. Washington was nothing next to this. I only had something similar in Bolivia and maybe Vietnam. Rain started flowing down the paths of the garden and keeping shoes on, started to be totally unnecessary, so I took them off and was running around to find a shelter barefoot, with water to my ankles. It was actually pretty funny.
After about 25 min, we were able to make the most of a temporary slowdown, rush to a main road and through ourselves into a taxi. We were completely soaking wet and felt pretty sorry for the drivers’ car… but he didn’t seem to mind too much. Anyway, we were kind of in a hurry because at 4pm we wanted to join a free guided tour.
The tour took us from Selamat Datang to Kampong Bharu, it was really good. We visited some old, typical Malay houses, got a bit of history on the city, but most interestingly, he took us around a local market and made us taste loads of delicious local specialities.
After the tour, Anna and I went back to the market to have some diner. She had had been dying for a Tom Yum, a famous spicy Thai soup, so went to Suraya Seafood. The food was delectable, the place very popular and very very local.
To complete our KL experience, we needed to go and have a drink in one of these rooftop bars that always have these amazing views on the city, in this case on the Petronas Towers and are outrageously expensive. We went to the Sky Bar, which great and stuck to the definition of a rooftop.
14/03: Day 44 – From Kuala Lumpur to Penang
Today was quite light. Walked around some more in the city, had lunch with Willy (a year later, I have absolutely no recollection of who this guy is, so don’t ask me…) and basically headed to the station, direction Georges Town (the city), on the island of Penang. The bus drive was pretty long and I remember thinking that Solitude was getting a bit heavy already… but looking at it today, I just had got into some stupid situations, I hadn’t met many people and Malaysia hadn’t been my favourite… it definitely quickly disappeared.
I arrived at night and had to take a taxi to get into town. That 15 min drive was just another funny crazy moment. I think he was Chinese and we started chatting and I don’t know if I’m the kind of person that people feel comfortable talking to and I appear like someone who can listen to problems, but he very quickly started talking to me about his marital problems. That after some years of being married, the desire for his wife wasn’t really there anymore, that they were not having sex enough and that was probably why he was attracted by the idea of cheating on her… He was definitely crazy, but at least in a funny way… Again, I remember asking myself if people were deranged or if it was me who was just too tight up…
Anyway, got to my hostel, Couzi Couji, walked around a bit and went to bed.
Couzi Couji: it was a good hostel. The rooms where nice, well located, a chill place, but I guess there are more lively hostels, like the Tipsy Tiger probably the most well-known if you want to party or other ones.
15/03: Day 45 – Penang
Georgetown is a cute city. I preferred it to Melaka. An interesting mix of old and new, authentic and rebuilt. It can be done in one day minimum, but if you like these charming little cities, sparkled with small cultural pearls, you could stay a day or two extra. Most of it is walkable; I think the botanic garden is a bit far, but then again… another one…
Unlike Melaka or KL, most of the monuments you need to pay for; I guess being a UNESCO world heritage site has a cost… but Melaka is as well, so… anyhow, up to you to decide if you want to spend the money or not; I didn’t. It is also overall slightly more expensive. Like the rest of Malaysia, the city is a blend of Malay, Chinese and Indian culture, mixing, there again, Churches, Mosques and Chinese temples.
Georgetown, besides its cultural heritage, is famous for its street art and its food. You’ll find the street art map about anywhere; it’s a great fun way to discover the city and learn more about it. So start the treasure hunt!!
I don’t know if it is specific to Georgetown or if I only noticed it here, but there were quite a few (mostly?) older Brits, who seemed to be on what may have been some ancestors trail. The city was founded in 1786, so quite a bit earlier than other cities in Malaysia, by the British and actually still keeps some of that influence in its architecture and still has a nice cemetery.
At some point I was just too hot, so I decided to go back to the hostel and chill there for a bit. I started chatting with this guy who was on a 1 year roadtrip and he was saying that it had been 6 months that he had left and that he was already kind of getting tired of it. I was super surprised and thought “I hope I won’t be like that in 5 months…!”. Luckily it was never the case! 🙂
Georgetown is quite a relaxed city, in the sense that some shops won’t open until 10pm, some, most, after 12pm and even then, they seem to open and close, depending on… I’m not sure, but point is, you have to be flexible! The city is quite lively at night, with a large variety of bars, restaurant and shops, open up to around 12 am.
To eat, you can check out the food map for restaurants or the top 10 cheap places to eat. I had diner at the Kedai Makanan Dan Minuman, basically a food court, with a large variety of Chinese and Malay, but there are many options!