Skimming Deep

Searching, traveling, talking, reflecting, and exploring. Read along with me as I continue on my journey through life.

Category: Malaysia

Reflections on 3 Months of Travel

I’ve been back in the U.S. for a little over a week now (it feels so much longer already!  My travels seem like a dream!), and I thought it would be good for myself to do a post on my overall reflections from my travel.  At the halfway point, I wrote a reflection post; and just for the sake of closure, and for my own processing, I’d like to use the same format to look at the 2nd half of my trip (quickly) and also my overall trip.

SECOND HALF OF MY TRIP: (Nelson, New Zealand to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

LOWLIGHTS

  • My first few days in Bali.  I was overwhelmed by the heat and humidity and the touristy facade to EVERYTHING; and it being Thanksgiving, I was a little homesick, too.  Once I hit Amed for the scuba course, though, everything turned around.
  • The heat, humidity, pollution, dust in the big cities in both Bali and Malaysia.  I missed the fresh, cool air of New Zealand.
  • Getting tons of mosquito bites and even some allergic reactions to tiger balm (that’s my diagnosis, at least) on my left leg in Malaysia.  I was so itchy for days it wasn’t even funny.  The Malaysian mosquitoes were quite vicious (and that was confirmed by another traveler I met).
  • Saying goodbye to New Zealand.  I was so sad to leave that beautiful country.

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HIGHLIGHTS

  • The biggest highlight (not only for the 2nd half of my trip but overall, I’d have to say) was getting my Open Water Diving scuba license.  It was such an amazing experience from start to finish, not only because it was so fear-inducing and fear-conquering but because I was able to see beautiful aquatic life 15-20 meters underwater.
  • The markets in Malaysia.  Sights, sounds, smells, tastes (the ones I ate at)… all amazing.
  • Cooking meals for my host family in Kerikeri in New Zealand.  We ate so well together, and they were so appreciative.  It was great fun.
  • The food in Melaka, Malaysia.  So mouthwateringly good.  And like nothing I had ever eaten before.  I wish I could have some now.
  • Riding a scooter around Pulau Pangkor.  It was so liberating and fun.  I wasn’t even going that fast, but it was so nice to be going faster than walking speed and not be in a car.

LESSONS LEARNED

  • Traveling in Southeast Asia as a single, young-looking (because I look a lot younger than I actually am) woman raises lots of people’s curiosity and admiration.  I was surprised by this because in New Zealand, it was quite common to find other single female travelers. In Asia, though, that was something that was not common, and I always had to figure out what kind of answer to give and was even wondering why they were asking.
  • I am not a great tropical-region traveler.  I always knew that I’m not good with heat and humidity, but being in Bali and Malaysia during their rainy season where I think the humidity was even higher than other times of year was quite a challenge.  I kept hoping it would cool off in the evenings but it didn’t.  And my spirits were definitely a little lower as a baseline because of the humid weather.  If I could travel in a tropical area and always have a pool or ocean to jump into to cool off, I think I’d be much better off.
  • Bringing some laundry detergent with me was a good idea.  I was washing some of my clothes almost every other day in Southeast Asia because 1) I didn’t have a lot of clothes and 2) I was sweating profusely each day and didn’t want to be a smelly person.

OVERALL 3 MONTH TRIP

LOWLIGHTS

Overall it was an amazing trip, and I didn’t experience ANY mishaps, accidents, dangerous moments.  I was pretty good about staying alert and not doing anything too risky (except for diving, but that was with an instructor, and it didn’t seem dangerous to me), so I was OK.  So the only lowlights I can really think of that stand out were

  • mosquito bites
  • the over-tourism of Bali
  • some of the traveler’s guilt I felt in Bali and Malaysia, especially the poorer areas

HIGHLIGHTS

  • As stated before, I think the scuba diving course, staying in Amed at the Geri Geria Shanti Bungalows, and meeting the amazing people there was a highlight.  I will never forget those first days diving in the amazing reefs and the shipwreck.  It was truly amazing and life changing.
  • All my WWOOFing placements were great, and I am still in touch with most of the people and hope to go back someday.  I learned a ton, got to really get my hands dirty (literally), and got more in touch with nature than I ever have.
  • Seeing lots of sunrises and sunsets in all three countries was wonderful.  I was basically awaking with the sun and sleeping when it got dark, rarely using an alarm clock at all, even when I had things I had to do.  I was outdoors most of the time, and I really enjoyed that– the hiking, the walking, the exploring, getting to know new flora and fauna.
  • FOOD!  Both in New Zealand and Malaysia.  In New Zealand because so often it was organic, fresh from a garden or a farm and often homemade.  In Malaysia because it was just soooo good.  I wasn’t crazy about the food in Bali.

LESSONS LEARNED

  • I really, really enjoyed traveling on my own, and I don’t think there were any moments that I felt like I couldn’t do something because I was by myself.  However, I think it would have been enjoyable to have a companion at various points to celebrate the high points together (or even to have some company when I was homesick over Thanksgiving.).  On the one hand, I’ve really gotten to enjoy and value solo travel, but I don’t think I’ve been put off from traveling with someone(s) for ever.  It’s nice to have someone to reflect with at the end of the day, to talk through decisions with, and to enjoy the good times with.  I think that’s why I really enjoyed the places where I met great people with whom I could talk and connect with.
  • Keeping an open mind- being ready to meet new people, try new foods, go down new paths- is important to me for travel.  I could have planned everything before I left, down to the hour, but I didn’t have the time nor the energy to do that kind of preparation.  So I ended up figuring out my general itinerary a few weeks in advance and then went day by day.
  • Tripadvisor is a great resource for accommodations.  The reviews that I read were accurate for the most part.
  • Having a Schwab account with ATM card was a HUGE asset.  No ATM fees anywhere, and I could withdraw any amount of money from any ATM machine.
  • I went the cheap route for as much as I could but splurged here and there– last dinner in a town, the scuba course, last hotel for all my travels.  Those splurges were nice treats to myself, especially when I had gone budget for everything else, including walking that extra mile with all my baggage instead of getting a taxi.

FOR THE FUTURE

I know travel is always going to be a part of my life, as it always has been.  I’d love to go back to New Zealand and explore more of the North Island and the southern part of the South Island.  I’d also like to try WWOOFing again at some point if I can, maybe somewhere else in the world– Italy, France, Japan…

So to wrap things up, here’s my itinerary:

  1. Landed in Auckland from Los Angeles.  1 night.
  2. First WWOOF home outside of New Plymouth.  10 nights.
  3. Wellington with a family friend.  2 nights.
  4. Seresin Estate in Renwick.  15 nights.
  5. WWOOF home outside of Christchurch.  9 nights.
  6. Wanaka.  3 nights.
  7. Franz Josef.  3 nights.
  8. Punakaiki.  2 nights.
  9. Nelson.  4 nights.
  10. Wellington.  1 night.
  11. Intercity overnight bus.  1 night.
  12. WWOOF home outside of Kerikeri.  8 nights.
  13. Auckland airport.  1 night.
  14. Ubud, Bali.  4 nights.
  15. Amed, Bali.  5 nights.
  16. Sanur, Bali.  2 nights.
  17. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  2 nights.
  18. Pulau Pangkor, Malaysia.  2 nights.
  19. Melaka, Malaysia.  2 nights.
  20. KL, Malaysia.  3 nights.

TOTAL: 86 days

  • 3 countries
  • 16 towns/ villages/ cities
  • airplanes, trains, boats, scooter, taxi, buses, cars, bicycles
  • almost 2000 photos and short videos
  • three pairs of pants, two pairs of shorts, some t-shirts and tanktops, my Keen shoes, a pair of Tevas, and other clothing

I’m happy to share more detailed tips and information for anyone that’s looking to travel to these places.  Ask while I still remember!  Leave me a comment!

Kuala Lumpur: The Finale

Kuala Lumpur is an interesting city. I can't quite put my finger on what it is. I guess the word that comes to mind most quickly is “MIX.” It's a mix of so many things: cultures, architectural styles, modes of transportation, languages, people, foods… And my whole time in the city, I only came across white tourists a handful of times. The rest of the time, I was surrounded by different kinds of Asians– South Asians, east Asians, Malays, mixes of ethnicities. And I couldn't tell who was a tourist and who was a local.

The Petronas twin towers overlooking small side streets with hawker stalls.

I was in KL a total of about five days, and there's so much that I saw, so here is a random assortment of highlights:

  • The markets were definitely my favorite part. I saw six in all:
    • Chinatown at Petaling Street— I wrote about this in my first blog post about KL. I went back to Chinatown as almost a homebase, mainly to eat! On my last day, I went back for some asam laksa and tofu fa. I was looking for this guy who was making a sweet treat (a cookie wrap with sugar and peanuts inside), but I think he only comes out at night. Bummer. The best part about this market for me was the food. Otherwise, it's just lots of vendors selling bags, gadgets, and typical Chinatown-wares. Not my interest.

    Chinatown in the morning before the vendors and hawkers have set up their stalls. Quite peaceful in the morning.

    • Central Market and Kasturi Street— this is more of a tourist market, I think. It's right across the street from Chinatown. There are tons of vendors selling Malaysian and Chinese trinkets, souvenirs, batiks, keychains, clothing, etc. And there's a food court of more “upscale” food– not that it's expensive, but it's more expensive than the hawker stalls in Chinatown for sure! It's a fun place to walk around and buy souvenirs for people back home, which I did on my last day.
    • Pudu wet market— this was the first “wet” market I went to in KL. It's called wet because they sell fish and meats and to keep the meats fresh and cool, they use ice and water which means the pathways are often wet. There were so many colors– the fruits and vegetables, the plastic bags used for customers, the meats, the makeshift signs and tables and umbrellas covering the stalls. And so many sounds– people yelling their prices and their products, butchers chopping their meats on wooden chopping blocks… I loved it! I really wished I had access to a kitchen so I could have bought some stuff to go home and make. I had some congee at one of the hawker stalls. Most markets have areas where they sell prepared food; it's just a matter of finding that section!

    • Imbi market (also called Pasar Baru Bukit Bintang)– another wet market with the same kinds of things as at Pudu. This place had a better set of food vendors, and I tried a few different things. Pohpiah, milk tea, and the wantan mee. I also bought some kuih because they were just so darn pretty.

    • Kampung Baru night market— I read up on this and this night market supposedly opens up around 6pm on Saturday night and goes until the next morning, the wee hours. I didn't want to be out walking around so late, so I went around 7pm, and I must say I didn't get the best vibe. I saw a few rats as I was walking toward the market area (my first rats that I've seen in all my travels these past three months! I was surprised I hadn't seen more, actually). And the market just wasn't as interesting. I think I was probably too early for the full night market feel. Also, I just didn't feel so safe there. So I came, saw, and left.
    • Chow Kit wet market— this was another great market. It felt bigger than Imbi and Pudu… but with these markets, it's hard to get your bearings. I just walked down paths, meandered to the right and to the left, ended up somewhere new… I could have done this for quite awhile in any of the markets to really map out my path, but I didn't take the time. There were lots of fresh produce at this market. This market also has more of an Indian/ Malay feel than the other markets I'd seen. So I had a noodle soup at a hawker stall– the vendor called it soto ayam– a curry soup with chicken, I think. It was good.

    I loved walking around these markets, mingling best I could with the locals. I rarely saw any other tourists. I'm sure I stuck out, though, with my backpack and iPhone taking photos. But it was great fun to just walk around and use all my five senses to just soak in the environment.

    I usually went in the early morning (since I was waking up anytime between 5am and 7am everyday), which is the best time to go to be part of the crowds of people who are buying what they need. Markets just aren't the same when there's no one around. I loved the hustle and bustle of the shoppers and the vendors.

  • Air conditioning. So it's not so eco-friendly of me to think this, but in this tropical climate, I was so appreciative of the blasts of a-c that were ever present in shops, stores, public transportation, my hotel. I'm just not meant for tropical weather, I think. I really felt like I was melting. I don't think the actual temperature was higher than the low 90s, but the high humidity, burning sun, and heat-absorbing asphalt all combined to make it feel like it was in the 100s. I was dripping sweat the minute I stepped out the door. I needed a handkerchief to wipe the sweat off my face and neck every few minutes. Not fun. So a-c was a welcome treat. I even went into malls (which I usually can't stand) to get some a-c relief.
  • Craft Cultural Complex (aka Kompleks Budaya Kraf). This was a nice surprise. I ended up spending a few hours there. It's a combination museum, artist colony, exhibition area, and store. It showcases traditional Malaysian arts– batik, songkat, woodcarving, silver and other metalwork, painting, and other fabric arts. The artist colony consists of little huts all over the campus that are artists' workshops. They do their thing in these huts and people can walk around, talk with them, and admire their work. What I really enjoyed, in addition to seeing the artists' huts, was doing my own batik piece for just 15 MYR ($5). I got to pick out an already prepped design, and then I got some paints and I went to work. Very cool and so worth it. Batik is basically creating designs with wax and then using paint and water in those wax-outlines. I bought some souvenirs, too.

My batik creation of a gecko. Purty!

  • Batu Caves Hindu Shrine. This was a last minute sightseeting decision. I hadn't even really known about this place until Sunday, my last day in the city before my evening flight, when I was trying to see if there was anywhere of interest that I had not yet visited. I did a bit of research and read about Batu Caves. It sounded interesting as a landmark plus it was a train ride away which would use up some of the ample time I felt I wanted to use up. So I paid one MYR to take a 30 minute train ride out of the city to this really impressive and jaw-dropping natural PLUS man made wonder. Batu Caves itself naturally formed– caves with really cool craggy stalactites from above. Really tall, too. The shrine part was built by people and includes some small Hindu temples scattered around the site as well as two really really tall Hindu gods– Hanuman and Murugan. Really really tall. These photos don't do their height justice. But alongside the caves, it's really quite cool. I'm glad I went. The site also includes a 272 step hike up to the cave entrance, and then you walk around inside. Totally worth the trip. And it was free except for the 3 MYR or so that I spent on public transportation there.

Murugan on the left (the 272 stairs are to the left of his statue) and Hanuman on the right.

I'd say in all, I enjoyed my stay in KL. I'm not a big city person, though, so I could only take so much at a time. I splurged my second time around and stayed at a nicer hotel– the Sky Express Hotel, right near Bukit Bintang which is the hip, happening shopping district (still, only $60/ night!!), so I did some sightseeing in the morning and early afternoon, came back and rested for a few hours, and then went to get some dinner. It was nice to have a spacious and clean air conditioned room to come back to for a few hours.

Now ready to go back to some non-city living. Back to the U.S.!

Scrumptious-ness Abounds in Melaka!

When I was in Indonesia, I met a German traveler who had been in Malaysia. I asked her some places to check out and I asked her about the food. She didn't seem all that impressed by the food, which surprised me because I thought the food was famous here… I must say with no reservations that she was totally wrong. Or I should rephrase that, we must have completely different palates. The food in Malaysia is AMAZING! I have to say that pretty much everywhere I've eaten, both places I did research on and places I just ended up at have been really tasty. I have not had one disappointing meal.

Melaka has been a highlight of my Malaysian food pilgrimage. So much to try, and I think I was able to try all that I wanted. Sorry if you're not as into food as I am, but I'm going to do a meal by meal documentation here. Get ready for the ride!

I got into Melaka in the early evening on Monday, and after checking into my guesthouse, I headed straight to Jonker Dessert 88, a popular joint for cendol (a Malaysian ice dessert) and other dishes. I'd been craving laksa, so I got their signature baba laksa, which is noodles in a coconut soup base with fish cakes and a few veggies. So tasty. A great first meal in Melaka and it cost me 6 MYR ($2). Woohoo!

The next morning, I was up early and went to Low Yong Moh for dim sum. I ordered a bunch of things, but I had no idea what I was eating. I really wish I could read and speak Chinese! The roast pork bao was delicious. The other dishes were good, but I think I've had better dim sum. I spent 13 MYR ($4.30) on this spread!

For lunch I went to Poh Piah Lwee for poh piah (a Malaysian crepe-spring roll with some mix of veggies. I thought it was onions, but I think it's turnips and/ or jicama (according to Wikipedia!). So delicious. Light, savory and a bit tangy. I've never had anything like it. This place specializes in it. The cendol I had for dessert was ok… Someone had reviewed that this place's cendol was great. I'm not sure if I agree. But the poh piah was definitely worth it. And all together, 6 MYR ($2).

I had a snack later of a Nyonya dumpling from Poh Piah Lwee. The cute lady of the shop told me to come back that afternoon for their dumplings. She was too cute, so I came back to give her my business, and I was not disappointed. It was sooo good. And I ordered two more for takeaway. There were people driving by and buying up bags of these dumplings! Glad I got the two extra. I had them in my hotel in KL! Each dumpling was 4 MYR (a little over $1).

The dumpling was just a snack, so I went to Calanthe Art Cafe for dinner. I had passed it several times and it had a really cute exterior, so I went in for some coffee and more baba laksa! The waitstaff were really friendly, and I had a nice chat with one while getting bitten up by mosquitoes, as I found out when I got back to my guesthouse. These Malaysian mosquitoes are vicious! The interesting thing about this cafe is they have gone to all 13 Malaysian states and come back to sell all those types of coffees under one roof. They also have other kinds of coffee drinks and various Malaysian and Western dishes. They were setting up their Christmas decorations and playing Christmas music while I was eating; it was a really nice holiday environment, and the coffee and laksa were yummy. All together for 16 MYR (about $5.30).

Thursday was my last day in Melaka, with an early evening bus ride back to Kuala Lumpur. I had some Nyonya kuih and a nasi lemak at a small little eatery, Dans Dapur Ekspres. The owner, Danny, was a nice guy and chatted with me and two other visitors, two guys from Singapore. The kuih were good. They reminded me of Vietnamese rice flour desserts or Japanese mochi or Korean 떡 (rice cake). The lemak was ok. That's a very traditional Malaysian rice dish that usually has some dried fish.

An assortment of Nyonya kuih on top. Nasi lemak below.

Nyonya food is the traditional fusion food of the Malay women who married Chinese babas. My understanding is that Nyonya food has developed in its own vein, and it's a unique blend of various cultures. In any case, all the dishes I has were delicious!

My last meal in Melaka was at Nancy's Kitchen, known for their good Nyonya food. And it did not disappoint. I got Kueh Pie Tee, which is basically the poh piah filling in these little pastry shells shaped like top hats. Great hors d'oeuvres type snack. Then I had the chicken candlenut with rice for my main dish. Candlenut looks like a macadamia nut and it's used in sauces. This dish reminded me of a curry of sorts, very flavorful, lemongrass, ginger, and other Southeast Asian flavors. Really rich and tasty.

Kueh Pie Tee

Chicken candlenut

Thus ended my eating travels in Melaka. Very enjoyable and scrumptious! There are lots more places and foods to try, so if you end up going, just do some research and approach it all with an open mind and empty stomach!!

Melaka: UNESCO World Heritage City

Two days in Melaka (aka Malacca). So much to see and learn; I know I won't do it justice here, so I think I'll divide it up into two posts: one on the food and one on the unique history and culture.

Melaka is an important place in Malaysian history. It was an international port city for hundreds of years, bringing Chinese merchants, Portuguese, Dutch, and British colonizers, and even the Japanese during World War II. It became independent in the mid 1900s and joined with other states to become part of the Malayan Union and later Malaysia (source, Wikipedia).

There are two main parts to Melaka City– old Melaka and new Melaka. New Melaka has malls, boutiques, shops, restaurants. It's where the young generation generally seems to hang out to get their pop culture fixes through movies, music, and clothing.

Old Melaka has been preserved to maintain an historical feel, mostly for the benefit of cultural preservation and for tourism. It's a beautiful part of the city.

Melaka River runs through Melaka City, and it gives the city a feel of a Southeast Asian Venice. There's a boardwalk that follows the river with views of murals on the buildings and a mix of hotels, guesthouses, and personal homes. I didn't walk it at night because 1) mosquitoes are killers here and come out as soon as the sun starts to consider setting and 2) I didn't really want to be out by myself at night– to avoid people and rats. 🙂 But there are lots of twinkle lights and night lights, so I imagine it would be a nice romantic walk if you can withstand the mosquitoes! There's also a river boat that goes up and down the river, like the Venice gondolas, I suppose, but much louder. I didn't take it, but it seems it might be a fun touristy thing to do.

An important aspect of the cultural history in Melaka is a group of people called the “Baba-Nyonya” or Peranakan Chinese. These are people who have descended from Chinese men who came to the areas of Malaysia and Indonesia (before they became those countries) during the 15th and 16th centuries, settled, and intermarried with the local Malay women. The term “Baba-Nyonya” refers to the two different ethnicities– “baba” is Chinese for “man” or “father” and “nyonya” is an old Malay word meaning “lady” or “grandma.” So this became a very unique and particular fusion culture, including clothes, food, wares, furniture, etc.

The Baba-Nyonya became very wealthy– I'm not exactly sure why. It seems they had loyalties to the colonizers who helped them become very wealthy businessmen. And many of them lived on one of the main streets in old Melaka: Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock (also referred to as Heeren Street, a la Dutch colonizers, or “Millionaire's Row” because of all the wealthy families that live(d) on this street.

One of the ornate doorways of a Baba-Nyonya home.

Melaka isn't the only place where these Baba-Nyonya have resided, but it seems to be one of the best preserved and most known in this area. In old Melaka, there are homes that have been preserved as museums and eateries where they serve Nyonya food.

Because of the city has been declared a World Heritage City, many artists have relocated here, both Malaysians and expats, to set up galleries and workshops. I met a few artists and learned a bit about Melaka through their eyes:

  • Martin Wood is a Peranakan– half Chinese, half Scottish/ English artist who paints landscapes. He shared with me how he was developing and changing his style as an artist, moving from oil paintings that were more based in realism and impressionism to acrylic in a cubist style. I didn't take any photos in his gallery, but here's an image I got off googleimages.
  • Soobin Park is a Korean artist who relocated to Melaka about 6 years ago, drawn by the culture, beauty, and weather, she said! We spoken in Korean (I'm always amazed how I can pull comprehension and speaking ability out of thin air if forced– although I don't understand 100% of what she said…). She has painted paper cranes historically and since moving to Melaka has started painting more Malaysian icons– flowers, etc. It was really nice to chat with her, and I think she found it nice to meet a Korean-American traveler. She gave me a booklet of her works, and we took photos of each other.

Some other memorable sights I came across in Melaka were

  • Bukit Cina— supposedly the biggest Chinese cemetery outside of China. It's basically a series of hills, and there are graves built all over the hills, with some headstones being more elaborate than others. People use it as a jogging or walking area because there's no traffic and it's quite green and a good workout. It seems like it would be a peaceful resting place, overlooking Melaka. Much different from the orderly cemeteries of the U.S. and Europe.

I wasn't able to get photos off my camera of the cemetery, but I took this with my iPhone, so it will have to do.

  • the trishaws driven by men all over the city. I didn't ride any, but they were fun to look at with all their floral decorations and some blasting cheesy Malaysian music. It looked like fun to ride it at a leisurely pace around the city.

From googleimages- I didn't get any good photos of the trishaws.

  • the Baba and Nyonya Heritage Museum— there was a 10 MYR fee but it was totally worth it. They have tours every so often, and that's worth it, too. My tour guide was Sabrina. We weren't allowed to take photos of the museum, which is still owned by a Baba Nyonya family, descended many generations. It's beautiful, and they've preserved it fairly well. The tour guide was funny, and she interjected some fun jokes here and there, which I don't know if everyone got. But I felt it was 10 ringgit well spent.

Photo from googleimages since I wasn't able to take photos inside. This is one of the courtyard areas.

  • St. Paul's Hill and Church. This was a church that was originally built when the Portuguese were in Melaka in the 1500s. Then when the Dutch came, the reconsecrated the church for their use in the 16-1700s. It was then used for fortification by the Dutch and later the British in the 1800s. Over time, it just broke down, and this is what is left. It's quite a beautiful set of ruins, with no roof and windows open to the world. I met an artist inside the ruins whose work was quite beautiful, and I bought a few pieces to support him in his endeavors.
  • Jonker Street, the main street for shops and eateries in old Melaka. Lots to see and do. I heard there's a cool night market on weekends when it's crazy crowded. I didn't think I was missing a lot by not being there for the night market. But there were quite a number of tourists even on the weekdays when I was there. Enough people for me!
  • Murals on the buildings on the Melaka river walkway. Some really vivid and beautiful. I wish I had someone to explain their meaning to me. But they were beautiful just the same.

There were other sights in Melaka that were fine to see– forts, old Dutch and Portuguese buildings, museums– but I'd say the above were the most interesting for me. And it was all walkable. I didn't need a taxi or trishaw. I was even able to walk over to new Melaka without any trouble.

 

Pulau Pangkor: Malaysian Family Getaway

On recommendation from a friend of mine, I chose to come to Palau Pangkor (“beautiful island”), and I wasn't disappointed. It's a tiny island off the west coast, south of Penang and about a 3.5 hour drive from Kuala Lumpur.

I took a bus from Pudu Sentral (Puduraya) Bus Terminal, right on the outskirts of Chinatown and a 7 minute walk from my hostel. The ticket was 24.50 MYR or $8 USD. And I just got it that day. Very easy. There are tons of bus companies, so you can just look for which bus leaves when you want (if it's a common destination). My bus went from KL to Lumut, which is where there's a ferry that goes to Pulau Pangkor.

After a fairly comfortable bus ride (they took a couple pit stops along the way), I got the next ferry out to the island. It runs every half hour, and the return ticket costs 10 MYR. It's a 35 minute ferry ride with a first stop at another small village before the main stop at Pangkor Town, which is where most people get off. The ferry was packed with families going on holiday, and they mostly seemed like locals (Malay, Chinese, South Asian)– I saw only one or two white faces.

I found my guesthouse online at TripAdvisor and Agoda.com– BestStay Hotel. And thankfully, it's a short walk from the ferry– about 7 minutes on a busy street, with everyone coming and going by car, van-taxi, and motorbike. The room I stayed in was nice and clean with a-c and TV with three channels. And two of the channels play Hollywood movies (as I write this post, the whole Lord of the Rings trilogy is playing. How fortuitous! I've been wanting to rewatch it since my travels in New Zealand!). I got upgraded to a larger room (I think it's low season and they're not full) with a window view of the town and a patch of water by the ferry.

Pulau Pangkor has a funny mix of local vacation site and fishing village. You can smell drying fish almost anywhere (thank goodness I don't mind that smell– I think people not used to it would find it suffocating.) There were lots of families at the beaches, wading and swimming with all their clothes on– men, women, boys, and girls alike. I didn't see very much skin and didn't see any two piece bathing suits on women at all. In fact, Muslim women were covered from head to toe and going into the water! It was a funny sight. So opposite from Westerners who take off as much as they can, or even all of it, to get tanned and show off their bodies.

(On a huge aside, can I say that I love Aragorn in this trilogy? He's so understated and yet noble. A man of few words but whose words are full of meaning and heart. A true king and leader. And I love the fellowship of him, Legolas, Gimli, Boromir (until he died), and the four hobbits. It's such a team who loves each other and supports each other all the way. That's the kind of team I want in life. OK, back to the regularly scheduled blog.)

I spent my day and half in PP walking a bit, eating good seafood (mostly Chinese, I realized– those are the best restaurants here; and I wasn't too keen on the hawker stalls– they seemed a little rundown.), and enjoying the simple beauty of the island.

Chili crab - dinner for my first night in Pulau Pangkor.

And best of all, I rented a scooter for the day and had a grand time! When I was in Amed, I met a French couple who said they had rented a motorbike in Ubud, and that totally made their trip worthwhile. They didn't have an international license, and they said it wasn't a problem. The thing they highlighted was how much freedom it gave them. The guy especially was encouraging me to try it. If I had stayed in Amed a few more days, I think I would have worked up the courage to rent a motorbike– it's a quiet town, and I wouldn't have to worry about navigating the complicated Balinese driving rules. But I ended up not doing it there.

So when I came to PP, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to rent a scooter– easier to ride than a motorbike. And there aren't so many cars here, mostly just tourist-taxi-vans, so I felt I would be OK. The first place I went to try to rent, the woman asked if I knew how to ride a scooter, and I said no, so she said she couldn't rent to me. 😦 I tried another place where this cute old man with an electrolarynx worked, and he let me rent and showed me all the controls. He was so cute and funny.

Funny old man who rented me the scooter, posing with his electrolarynx.

I drove off after paying (30 MYR for rental for the whole day and a 20 MYR deposit), and a few minutes later, he came after me on another motorbike. With his limited English and sign language, he made it clear I was to follow him. I was puzzled– was he going to show me the way? So we turned around, and then I looked at the gas gauge and realized the tank was empty! He was taking me to the gas station down the road. Haha. Nice of him to be so concerned, so he made sure I got the right price for gas 5 MYR, and then sent me on my way.

What a wonderful thing to ride a scooter! The closest I'll probably get to a motorcycle. I loved the freedom to be able to drive anywhere, stop anywhere, feel the wind on my skin, the sun on my head, breathe the fresh air of the jungle in parts. There's only one main road that goes around the island, so I had to problems with directions. And I had enough time to do two full loops– one going west to east and the other going east to west.

On my first loop, I just took it slow, had to get used to making turns (leaning into it) and using the controls (super easy– brakes like a bicycle and an accelerator on the right handlebar), and didn't make it over probably 25 mph. Getting out of the towns was wonderful. I saw homes, empty beaches, jungle, long-tailed macaques (just hanging out on the roadside), some kind of hornbill (a bird that looks like a toucan with a huge beak and a knobby horn on its beak), fishing boats… It was really really nice. And once I got the hang of scooting, I just wanted to do it forever!

I came back to Pangkor Town for lunch– a Chinese noodle dish (didn't know what to order, so just said soup noodle, and trusted that they would bring me something tasty, and it was!). And then back to my hotel to rest for a few hours.

Headed out on my second loop in the early afternoon, hoping to find one of those deserted beaches to go for a swim, but it was low tide, so I was unsuccessful in that endeavor. I didn't want to go swimming in my two piece among the families and be ogled at by visitors and locals alike! My second loop was just as nice as the first. I stopped more often to take photos and take a few breaks to enjoy the scenery.

I saw a few more touristy sites, too– a Chinese temple, which looked pretty glitzed and glammed up for tourists, not very traditional. And the remains of a Dutch fort from back in the 1600s when the Dutch colonized the island. Those were both interesting. But my favorite sights were just the sea and the green hills and sandy beaches.

I returned the bike to the funny man, and he was so happy to see me back in one piece, I think. He gave me a big thumbs up, and I took his photo (see above). Then I went to dinner at another Chinese seafood place and had a scrumptious dish: butter prawns. Deep fried goodness. My stomach was happy. And now I'm back in my hotel, blogging, enjoying the AC, listening to the downpour outside (I came back just in time!), and watching the end of The Two Towers. Could life be any better? 🙂

I recommend a day or two stay in PP if you come to Malaysia. A nice quiet getaway.

 

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