Capital: Kuala Lumpur
Official Language: Bahasa Malaysia
$1 = 3 MYR Malaysian Ringgit
Stay: Jan 17th to Feb 21st 2012
My trip to Malaysia was a very important one since it was my first experience of South East Asia. I had been living in South Korea for 1 year already and the opportunity to go to Malaysia for a month presented to me when my friend invited me for Winter vacations and Chinese New Year. Many people have the misconception that Asia is all the same. However it is actually more complex than that.
Most countries in Asia like Japan, China and Korea have one single race. Most natives look very similar, share the same religion, background and beliefs. While in Malaysia there are 3 main ethnic groups with completely different language, religion and physical characteristics.
- The Malay; the official language of Malaysia being Bahasa Malaysia and the official religion being Islam.
- The Chinese speak mandarin or Malaysian-Chinese dialect; mostly follow Buddhism or other traditional Chinese religion.
- The Indian speak English and some Tamil and Hindi who also follow Hinduism.
Of course with the characteristics of these 3 different ethnic groups there had to be special rules so that there can be a harmonious coexistence. When I went to the supermarket I noticed that everything was labeled in 3 languages; Malay, Chinese and English. Also at the movies they had these 3 subtitles which actually did cover some part of the screen. Even though Malay is the official language most citizens speak English as well. This has a lot to do with the fact that Malaysia was colonized by Great Britain. While I’m more used to the predominance of American brands in South America, I noticed that there were mostly British brands and trends in Malaysia. Moreover, even though Islam is the official and mandatory religion for Malay people, the country recognizes freedom of religion for the other ethnicities.
Even though it is considered high season in South East Asia (Dec – Feb) I found a considerably cheap flight. Well, its because I used a similar airline to RyanAir in Europe. It’s called AirAsia and it’s basically the same concept. Very narrow seats and you have to pay extra for checked luggage and food. I booked my flight in November for 319, 639 KRW ($270). It was a direct 6hr fligh.
My friend came to pick me up and let me tell you about traffic in Kuala Lumpur. We were stuck in traffic for more than 2 hours and from what I heard that was nothing. There is an excess of cars in KL. Not only traffic is bad but parking is even worse. Usually double parking would be illegal in most countries but there its a normal thing to do. You just leave your phone number on the window and if the car you just blocked needs to get out they will call you and it’s as simple as that.
Malaysia is also a tropical country so when it rains heavily it can cause floods even in the middle of the city. That’s why they created a SMART tunnel, a 9.7km storm water bypass tunnel that also serves as a highway. Even though traffic in KL is bad, when it rains its even worse so you can chose to either wait in traffic for more than 4 hours or go to the mall and try to find parking while you wait for the rain to stop and the rush hour to scatter.
That’s why we mainly used the Rapid KL
Even though Malaysia has a diverse ethnicity, it is still a Muslim country. Therefore it is recommended to dress decently. It can get extremely hot and humid but it is better to make an effort to respect their customs and not to stand out too much. I did wear thank tops and shorts a couple of times but I felt I was being stared at on the train and on the streets. Malaysia felt like a pretty safe place to me but the fact that they had a only-women passenger car on the railway made me wonder. I also read that they have introduced only-women buses and taxis in Kuala Lumpur.
We celebrated Chinese New Year on the 23rd of January with my friend’s relatives. We went to their hometown in Melaka and all her relatives came to visit the grandma’s house. All the married relatives would bring red envelopes with money inside and hand them to the single relatives. So it was around 3 days of visiting relatives, receiving red envelopes and eating a lot of Chinese food. I was happy to experience this first hand and learn more about Chinese New Year’s traditions. It was not my own family but they were all very nice and welcoming to me.
In Melaka we went to a big weekend night street market called Jonker Walk. Known as the China Town of Melaka. There we found many trinkets, cheap products and lots of street food. Also Melaka is very famous for it’s architecture and historical sites. Definitely a more traditional view from modern Kuala Lumpur. Not to forget to try some traditional Melaka food like Satay Celup and Chicken Rice Balls.
I fell in love with food in Malaysia. Among my favorites were: for Chinese food Wanton Mee, Char Siu Bao, Dim Sum and Claypot Loh See Fun. For Indian food you could go to a Mamak. There you can find Teh Tarik (which was too sweet for my taste), Nasi Lemak and Roti Canai. And for Malay there was Sar Poh Mee, Satay and Cendol. Food was so cheap and delicious. Specially fruit juices. Freshly made and all natural. I didn’t get the chance to try Durian (I received mixed opinions about this, it’s one of those things that you either love or hate) but dragon fruit and mangosteen were really good. Another thing I tried for the first time was Chatime which is a brand for bubble tea and they had sooo many types. I also found out that they have many uses for coconut. Being milk, chutney or shaved. For making curry, the rice for Nasi Lemak and many kinds of sweets like Kaya. Coconut might make food more fatty but it also makes everything taste more delicious.
Wanton Mee and Dim Sum
Nasi Lemak and Roti Canai
Cendol, Sate Celup and Sar Poh Mee
I always like to see how big brands like McDonald’s and Starbucks adapt to the country’s culture and bring new items to their menu. At McDonald’s they have Bubur Ayam McD (Chinese Chicken porridge), they also offer chili sauce among the regular condiments and they claim that all the food served is Halal. And don’t forget Hot Milo (Not just any hot chocolate but Milo!) and of course their cold version as well. One of my favorites was Green Apple ice cream cone.
You can find so many kinds of Teas, Spices and Dry fruit products. Many places like the mall/supermarkets and even the airport had these stores. These stores were filled with boxes containing dry products and you could try them for free. So amazing! Some of them had a really weird strong taste but most of them were really good. My favorite was the mango and roselle.
In Kuala Lumpur we went around some shopping centers like Pavillion Mall, Suria KLCC, Sunway Piramid, etc. What I love about South East Asia is the clash of old and new. You can find many traditional markets like Central Market and Petaling Street. And at the same time these modern fancy malls. I found more British brands than American brands which I guess was the influence from colonization. A lot of people prefer to hang out inside the malls since it’s too hot and humid outside. But it can get really cold, especially at the movie theater. One thing that I found very cool was the bridge. The KLCC Pedestrian Walkway of 1.173km connected Pavillion Mall and Suria KLCC. It was better than walking the polluted and crowded streets. There was also some AC running and it felt very safe with security guards.
The main Touristic Point in Kuala Lumpur is the Petronas Tower. To go up and go through the Skybridge the tickets are sold on a first-come basis and there are a limited number of tickets per day. Unfortunately we didn’t get to go. But we heard that most people living in Kuala Lumpur have never gone either.
The monorail in Malaysia was really nice and clean, much preferred compared to buses. But I strongly recommend against taking the monorail during rush hour as you are more likely to be a victim of pick pocketing.They run on tokens which can cost from RM 1.2 to RM 2.5 depending on where you are going and just like in the malls the AC runs very cold. The temperature issue is very extreme. Its either really hot and humid outside or very dry and cold inside. Making it hard to choose what to wear. During my stay there were only 2 days of heavy rain.
One of the last places we visited was Batu Caves. A Hindu Shrine. There was a direct railway form KL Sentral KTM Station to Batu Caves for RM 2. The place was almost empty and very dirty. The Thaipusam festival for Hindu pilgrimage had just taken place a couple of days earlier so we encountered the remains of it. We had to climb 272 steps and it was not an easy thing to do in the humid weather. Also you have to be very careful with the monkeys. They were very aggressive and were not scared to approach you. Avoid wearing earrings or anything that dangles and shines because they will try to snatch it from you.
- Malaysia’s country side is also very famous for their mountain ranges and beautiful islands. Many people recommended me to visit Penang as it is a very famous vacation spot and also very famous for their street food. Many tourists also go on day trips to Singapore since it is only a 5 to 7 hours ride by bus. Singapore has more Chinese influence and tourist go mainly for shopping and dinning. Full of fancy buildings and malls, even though it’s such a small country, you will be amazed for its modernity and development. With extreme laws like the ban on bringing/chewing gum and not flushing the public toilet, its not for nothing that Singapore is known for being clean and having a low crime rate. Safe Travels!