The Journey Through Northern Malaysia
Published June 30, 2018
It was a change of plans.
We had spent the last few weeks in Bali and now it was time for the second leg of our trip - Vietnam. But I had been turning against the original plan.
Our flight to Hanoi had a layover in Kuala Lumpur and the option of throwing away the Hanoi flight and staying in Malaysia was becoming more and more enticing.
By the time we boarded the plane to Kuala Lumpur, I had decided.
“Let’s travel Malaysia for a while instead.” I said to my Vietnamese girlfriend.
On the last trip we had travelled Vietnam together, I had a feeling going back so soon would be an anticlimactic end to this one. I wanted to add a new country to the list too, so Malaysia it was.
The flight to KL was peaceful and smooth. An Olympic ice skater slicing across the rink with elegance and ease. Blue ocean below, blue sky above, cute, cream puff clouds floating by every now and then.
It was an almost perfect flight until the scraggly looking white woman sitting next to me in the middle seat became a fucking Sky Demon. She started rage kicking and skinny girl rioting when the father of the baby in front tried reclining the seat.
She was a really shitty shade of disgusting.
“We have a little baby.” the father said in his Eastern European accent.
“I DON’T CARE!” she screamed back.
I enjoyed this verbal war between the Sky Demon and the parents before becoming bored by it. I stuck my elbows out over the armrest and made the scraggly bitch squash up even more and then went into my mind and started worldbuilding to spend the time before we landed.
The plane touched down as galactic empires were in the beginning stages of war in my head.
As we walked through the KL airport, my girlfriend suddenly became nervous about the change of plan or maybe she was just a little home sick.
I sweetened up the new reality by reminding her of the new stamp she would be getting in her passport and the unknown nation ahead. But she still kept asking – half seriously – if we could still get our flight to Vietnam.
I laughed off her pleas and dragged her ever so lovingly into Malaysia.
I didn’t know what I was expecting from Malaysia. I had never really thought of it as a place I really wanted to go. Always just that jungle north of Singapore. I’ve often called Singapore Hot London, but Malaysia is something else entirely.
Maybe Hot England?
Trees, concrete and malaise.
I didn’t like it too much.
We’ll get to that.
First though, Kuala Lumpur.
Our first day in KL and I knew it wasn’t a city for me.
It was a big city, futuristic in some aspects, but it also had a slow beaten down feeling about it, with a street design ludicrously in favor of the car over the person.
We arrived to the chain hotel we had booked, the place had a just about to go out of business feel to it. Up in the room we discovered it also had the worst WiFi on the planet. No connection would have been better than the false hope of a signal popping out of the air and saying hello for 10 seconds before fucking off again for five minutes.
With no WiFi, we decided to head straight out and see the Malaysian capital.
The walk was a blurred mess. The DEATH HEAT of Southeast Asia was on top of its insidious game.
We ate lunch at an American-style diner then went back to the room and fell asleep on the bed.
Two dehydrated balls of human.
Later that night we rehydrated and levitated out of bed, floated around the room for a bit, mildly amused and then went out and ate at a crowded, buffet restaurant that had a decor resembling some wild psychedelic drug ride.
I covered my rice in a bright red sauce that looked extremely delicious but made the plate of food inedible. I played with the blood rice soup while girlfriend meekly chewed on her food, she didn’t like the grub much either.
We left the shitty DMT buffet and took another long walk around the city and discovered nighttime KL was a lot more pleasing than daytime KL.
‘Maybe it will grow on me in the future.’ I thought.
We checked out of the crappy hotel the next day and headed north to Ipoh.
On the bus ride into the city we drove past a wild landscape of cliffs and jungle and I finally felt a sense of great excitement, thinking, ‘maybe
this is gonna be where Malaysia starts to turn into something more.’
The only special moments in Ipoh took place in the little makeshift hostel room we stayed in, on the random street sofa outside the hostel building and at the local KFC.
The rest of Ipoh was a crap comic strip of mediocre-looking hookers, substandard restaurants and shitty street food. Quiet, boring, blurry streets. With a few majestic buildings the British Empire left behind.
It wasn't until we reached Georgetown on Penang Island that things changed.
Separated from the Malay peninsula by a slick of water, the island seemed to have developed independently from the rest of the country.
I liked it instantly.
As we got off the bus, me and the girlfriend had a big fight. It was her fault.
She disappeared in an angered puff of smoke, seemingly breaking up with me.
I walked around admiring the city and then went into a Starbucks and bought a coffee. I felt relieved. I prefer breakups over endless arguments. I was alone again, and felt much better.
She came back eventually, entering the Starbucks much calmer and nicer than she had been a couple hours earlier. Puppy-dog eyes, all ready to get on the floor and show her belly I’m sorry, I’m sorry…
Alright, then. That’s fine too.
We left the Starbucks and went to the place we had booked. It was another crappy hotel or hostel or something, but
somehow also perfectly OK. The WiFi just about worked, the air-con was decent, we were in the center of the Georgetown action. No complaints.
And finally MALAYSIA began…
Each day we squeezed the juice out of Georgetown.
We squeezed the old town and it’s charms, squeezed the street food, squeezed the large shopping mall, squeezed the coast and finally
we squeezed the jungle.
We kept putting off Penang National Park, until I’d had enough of both of our excuses, “Today we go to the jungle!” I proclaimed, and so we did.
We found the park in bad shape.
All of the jungle fairground rides were closed and not a single other human was around. Only us, some docile monkeys, colorful dead snakes and a trillion bugs. I liked the absence of humanity but a few rides would have been nice to play on, but no, Monkey Beach was blocked by landslide and the jungle walkways were aggressively closed off behind thick green barbed wire.
So instead we trekked around in circles, danced on some metal platform among the trees and had some JUNGLE SEX.
We left after a few hours, bitten to pieces, sweat-drenched, in need of air-con and a bed.
Malaysia gets 5/10
Penang Island a solid 8/10
Some places are just made for running away to, dancing in the streets, singing wild in the rain. Georgetown was special, Penang Island was special.
Malaysia was Malaysia but Penang Island was a country in it’s own right.
I’ll be back.
Some more things…
Malaysians are awful at directions.
Mall security guards in Malaysia take their jobs far too seriously. They can all FUCK OFF.
Despite living in and travelling many Asian countries before Malaysia, I had never tried those convenience store rice triangle thingys (onigiri). I did in Malaysia, they were nirvana in my mouth.
The Penang flag is one of my favorites. Vertical bands of light blue, white and yellow with an areca-nut palm in the middle. Pleasant. Refreshing. Fun.
I watched Liverpool lose the Champions League final in Georgetown. I stayed up to watch it and was incredibly annoyed by the loss. Annoying.
Malay taxi and Uber drivers are the friendliest around.
Malaysian trains are surprisingly fast and comfortable.
I’ve always loved the Malay accent on women but for some reason I have no recollection of thinking that while I was actually in Malaysia. I guess it lost its appeal through abundance.