''Be forewarned, death for drug traffickers under Malaysian law'', was written on the back of our immigration card. ''It's kinda late once you're on the plane'', I thought. Just as I was concerning over Malaysia we stepped outside the airport and my fears turned to joy from seeing a Dunkin' Doughnuts. Instead of Dal everyday we can have doughnuts everyday!
We landed in Kuala Lumpur early morning but the heat was already stifling and the humidity was a killer. Getting from the airport to KL is real easy, there's about 4 options so we grabbed a map and headed for the cheapest... the bus. We chose the back seats, being the naughty kids that we are, and watched in awe as we passed the first palm trees of our trip!! Then there were more, and more, then even more.....Is this the only thing in Malaysia?!
Just a quick note: I write here about our experience on the western coast of the Malaysian peninsular. We saw none of the East, it's divided by a mountain range (lets stay out of the mountains for a while) and the monsoon was bashing the East when we arrived. Malaysia is primarily divided into two, the peninsular and Borneo. We are yet to travel to Borneo so I can't comment, apparently it's really great. The only fact I know is that 85% of the Malay population live on the peninsular.
The bus dropped us at central station and again it was real easy to cycle our way to 'Bukit Bintang', the main strip of KL, including the cheapest guest-houses. Already people were really friendly, even the taxi drivers, nice! I was really excited and Radka was really tired... I kept rambling on but she just wanted to sleep and only got her way after, quite politely, telling me to shut up :p
We were settling into our guesthouse, Radka resting and Jonny on the toilet, when a HUGE crack of thunder burst out! I honestly thought the building behind us had fallen down. I legged it (after wiping of course) to the front of the hostel and watched in sheer amazement as the heavens opened, and thought ... ''looks like the monsoon season's still here then!''. Contradictory to our beliefs, the monsoon actually ends the month after we arrive... ooohh silly us.
Our second day brought more rain so we cycled anyway. We let ourselves get drenched and since that day this has been the way we approach the monsoon. Take off whatever you can and enjoy the rain! It's so refreshing and exhilarating. The rain comes and the temperature drops around 6-7 degrees, from 35 to 28 degrees in minutes, a nice break! You feel alive as you wazz down the road soaked to the bone with people looking at you like you've just escaped for a mental home. It's good to keep the t-shirt on actually cos when the rain stops it'll give you around 2.5 minutes of comfort until the sun's scorching your back again!
South-East Asia is HOT, the whole year round! Many people worry about the monsoon but it's a refreshing break actually and it hardly lasts more than a few hours a day
We stayed just off Bukit Bintang, the main strip of Kuala Lumpur's city centre and home to many shops, massage parlours, diners, bars, clubs, pretty much anything. It's a main attraction to take the 'Bukit Bintang walk' and it can quite easily incorporate a trip to the Petronas towers.
Whilst exploring KL it took around 3 minutes to stumble upon the best vegi restaurant in the world 'BlueBoys', the owner Chung became our best friend and we went back everyday, sometimes just to see him. You wouldn't believe how happy we were to be in this great, clean city!
Malaysia's clearly a multi-national country consisting mainly of Malays, Indians, Chinese and a small proportion of the remaining Orang-Asli (the original Malays inhabiting the mainland, peninsula of Malaysia).
All main cities will have an Indian and Chinese quarter, which gives a really great choice of food! It was especially funny for us to see the Indian restaurants after being in India. It's like Indian food but served in an Asian manner.
By this, I mean that it's so hot in Asian that in most places they don't have typical closed restaurants like us westerners. Their typical eatery is a wooden veranda with some tables, chairs and a steel self-service bar/structure thingy containing bowls of many different dishes (ok, it's hard to explain, so i'll put a pic below). You rock up, grab a plate of rice, whack on what you like, eat, pay, then go. Perfect for the hungry cyclist! We'd FILL our plates, take a Kopi-o (Iced Coffee) and the bill would be 1.50 euros each! Amazing!
Just a little more about food...Malays have nailed the vegi restaurant but you have to search for them in most towns, saying that, the Indian joints serve lots of vegi stuff so its's never really a problem. It's a little trickier in the remote areas, then all you get is fish! In some places there could be 15 selections and they'd all be fish! ''ok, i'll take the fish head soup please''
I spent our whole 6weeks in Malaysia oriented around food. Tempeh (soy beans), Roti Canai, Chapati, Masala Tosai. They've also nailed Kopi-o. Nothing better to get you going in the morning. Our typical breakfast would be rice and vegetables with iced coffee. I was pretty upset if I didn't have it.
So maybe a week in KL is enough... visiting the Petrona towers, Japanese gardens, KL tower, roller coaster inside a mall, china town, walking around Bukit Bintang at night, taking a sneaky cocktail and people watching. I love KL, it's great for cycling, the perfect sized city for the bike. Many people say it's too loud, busy and polluted but I think it's very quiet actually, although we had come from Delhi.
Around 60% of Malaysia is Muslim, with the rest being mostly Buddhist (the Chinese) and Hindu (the Indians). Malays are really pretty... I can say this with confidence, kinda, that Radka won't get angry because she agreed. The women wear Hijaab's which are very intriguing, and their circular heads (Radka fits right in) peer out like a kind of pretty E.T. They speak good English but are mostly very shy, to the point where they won't speak to you. It's kinda cute. Every time we saw a bunch of nurses or school kids they'd be looking at us, mostly whispering and laughing, and I'd be looking at them whilst saying, ''Radka, look at the aliens!''. They just look so different, it's nice! Malays have a really nice persona and their kind, shy, intrigued nature makes them even more attractive.
Malaysia, seems to me, as a very safe and stable country in South-East Asia. It was colonised by the British for over 100 years which was when most of the Chinese/Indians arrived. It's very nice to explore the history of Malaysia and especially, for me, the evidence of the British rule.
I know Singapore's meant to be amazing but you should really go to Kuala Lumpur.
One thing I noticed was some kinda strange thing going on with fat, rich white guys. They all have a really pretty young girl hanging onto their arm. Someone told me that in India fatness shows a sign of richness, perhaps it's the same in South East Asia.
13km north-east of KL are the Batu Caves, a religious Hindu sight. There's a huge golden statue outside which is pretty cool, and 272 steps leading to caves full of monkeys (the real reason we went). There's some small statues at the bottom of the steps of the Hindu god Ganesha, 'the remover of obstacles'. He's not keeping up his part of the deal if you ask me, shouldn't he have removed the steps!? Not much else to say really, although we did see a monkey snatch a bottle of water out of a woman's hand then unscrew the top and start drinking it.
After this we headed north-west to the coast. We made it but realised that it was completely muddy this far South and that we'd cycled about 60km out of our way for nothing, it was still enjoyable. So we smashed out a North-East dash of 100km before arriving at our destination, 'Tapah'. A town at the base of the central mountain range dividing East and West Malaysia.
Radka developed a rash on the top of her back whilst cycling this day. It had disappeared by the time we reached Tapah so we put it down to a heat rash.
Our next blog will tell you all about our 60km cycle up the mountains to Tanah Rata, with a total vertical accent of 1500 meters. We went to bed early that night.