Skimming Deep

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

Tag: 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!

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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.

 

Kuala Lumpur, Part One

I'm liking Malaysia so far, mainly because the food is so tasty and so cheap. I've eaten solely at hawker centers since arriving Friday afternoon, and I haven't spent more than 8 MYR (about $2.75 USD) per meal. That's a dish and a drink, like tea. And I don't think I've even eaten at the best hawker stalls, but every meal has been really good.

Lots of things on sticks to dip. I didn't try this, but it looked yummy. At a stall in KL's Chinatown.

My favorite meal so far was my first meal. I stumbled upon a laksa stall. I'd been told by many travelers to make sure to eat laksa, so when I found this little tiny stall in Chinatown, behind some electronics and clothes vendors (I went back the next day to look for the stall and couldn't find it– did it disappear only to reappear in the evening?? I will try to find it again when I come back to KL at the end of my stay here.), I was excited. I ordered off the homemade sign on the wall (asam laksa– fish soup broth), got the bowl, took a first slurp, and I was so happy. It was like a mix of sour, salty, a touch of sweet…all with some good noodles and some fish. So good.

Since I'm only in Malaysia for about ten days, I've limited myself to just visiting three towns/ cities: Pulau Pangkor, Melaka, and Kuala Lumpur. So I'm starting in KL and ending in KL.

I spent my first evening (after that delicious bowl of asam laksa) walking around Chinatown, Jalan Petaling (the main drag with all the vendors). It was kind of like New York Chinatown on drugs. So crowded, so busy, sooo many stalls selling the same things– cell phone cases, bags, t-shirts, various knock offs. And in between some of the vendors there were hawker centers tempting me with their bowls of noodles, plates of rice and noodles… I just wanted to keep eating, but I was full and needed to control myself. 🙂

The trademark Chinatown gate in KL. My hostel was right down the street from here!

I'm staying at The Explorers Guesthouse, a nice hostel right on the outskirts of Chinatown. It's in a great location (a few steps away from the Chinatown gate, so I've mainly been eating there), and it got great reviews on TripAdvisor. I have my own room and have to share the bathroom with the rest of the floor, but it's all clean and fresh (a fairly new place). And the main lobby also serves as a hang out area with free wi-fi.

Main lobby of The Explorers Guesthouse in KL.

For my full day (before heading up the west coast), I bought a ticket with the KL Hop-On Hop-Off City Tour bus. It cost 38 MYR ($12 USD). I think it was a great way to see the whole of the main city this way, at the beginning of my stay. Now I'll know what things look like above ground, and I was able to take a lot of surface photos of landmarks. When I come back to KL, I'll most likely walk a lot or take the underground. The only cons about bus travel are that it takes a long time (two and a half hours for the whole loop), so if you're in a rush or impatient to get places, this is not for you. But I wanted to have a day of leisurely travel, so this was perfect.

After a nice breakfast of pork congee for 5 MYR, I got on at the Central Market stop after an hour wait (that was way longer than usual) and then just sat on the bus for the whole loop. It was like a long tour bus because there is running commentary about landmarks along the way.

The Petronas towers and KL Tower in the distance, viewed from the tour bus.

After doing the whole loop, I came back to Chinatown for lunch– some noodles and a deliciously fresh roti canai, both of which cost me a total of about 8 MYR or $2.60-ish (along with a drink). I love this place!

With my stomach filled (the good thing about portion size here in KL, or at least the hawker stalls in particular, is that they're pretty small, not like American portions. So I'll be plenty full but then I want to eat again in another 3-4 hours. Works great for trying different snacks and eats all throughout the day!), I ran some errands:

  • Got a simcard and internet plan for my phone. It wasn't totally necessary, but I thought it would make travel in Malaysia a ilttle easier– to be able to do research and use the maps anywhere, not just in my hotels where there is free wi-fi. And it was pretty cheap, so I went with it: through DiGi, 30 MYR got me a sim card and 20 MYR credit to use for data. I chose a daily data plan of 100MB each day for 3 MYR. Not bad, I must say.
  • Got a travel adapter from one of the Chinatown vendors. I thought I brought all the ones I needed. I bought a pack of them from Amazon– a great deal. But it ends up that I didn't bring the right one, so I bought one for 8 MYR. Cheap.

I got back on the tour bus and headed to the National Visual Arts Gallery, one of the stops on the loop. I saw that admission was free, and it seemed like an interesting museum. Plus it started pouring rain while I was on the bus, so I figured it would be a good place to spend a few hours in the midst of the storm, which I thought would just last a few hours.

It was a great stop. I spent about two hours there, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. There were some really cool exhibits, mostly showing Malaysian artists. It seemed like a new venue; everything was spotlessly clean. And I was the only visitor in the whole place– so I got five gallery spaces all to myself. Here's one piece I really liked, a big charcoal wall piece. I'm not sure if I wasn't supposed to take a photo of this; in other galleries, there were signs about not taking photos…

Made it back to the Central Market in time for dinner at an Indian cafeteria-type restaurant. It was a roti with a chicken and egg omelet type thing. It was tasty, but I think the plain roti canai was better. It was pouring rain all evening, so I just went back to the hostel and hung out in the lobby.

 

V is for “Vast”

The world is both small and big at the same time.

Small in that we can travel to any part of it on a plane in, at most, two days.

Small in that we can talk to anyone anywhere anytime.

Small in that we can run into people we know in any part of the world coincidentally.

Big in that there’s so much to see that it’s really hard to see it all in one lifetime.

Big in that driving across the U.S. still takes a lot of time, in actual hours.

Big in that the sun takes awhile to cross the skies of all parts of the world.

I’m going to be seeing just a bit of that vastness in my travels.

Here’s my planned itinerary:

By car:

  • Boston to Niagara Falls, Canada to Chicago, Illinois to St. Louis, Missouri to Aurora, Colorado to Santa Fe, New Mexico to Globe, Arizona.

By plane:

  • Phoenix, Arizona to Los Angeles, California to Auckland, New Zealand to Bali, Indonesia…

And that’s as far as I’ve got planned right now.  I’m hoping to throw in a few more countries like Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, and Korea at the end.  I’m leaving soon.  September 3rd to be exact.  Excited and nervous.  Trying to finish my packing.  Last night could only sleep 4 hours.  The days are passing [too] quickly.

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