Summing it up : Malaysia 

Now that I’ve left Malaysia I see how much more westernized it is comparing to the other SE Asia countries.  

I’ve spent around 40 days in the land where number 4 is forbidden (4 and death have the same sound in Chinese),  where English is phonetic (teksi,  polis,  julai… Etc) and the currency has the name of a cartoon character (Ringgit). 

I was not meant to spend all that time there but I decided to extend my stay and take a massage course.  Kuala Lumpur is very cheap comparing to every other big cities I’ve been.  Food is extremely cheap and being multicultural by nature you can find every type of food.  I got stuck with Indian,  and with roti canai in particular (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roti_canai).

The population is composed by Malay,  Chinese and Indian for the majority.  Only a small percentage is made of foreigners (and there are many).  In Malaysia is difficult to meet people (as explained in my previous post)  but I still managed to meet a few very cool characters.  In particular my CS hosts.  The islands are beautiful places and in general pretty well preserved.  Tourism has not corrupted all yet.  

Every nationality is well integrated in Malaysian lifestyle but each of them keep their own specifics.  Chinese feel Chinese,   Indian feel Indian (as opposed to Malay)  but neither of them would like to live in their original country. It’s funny how they insist on the fact that they are this or that although their passport is Malay. 

I volunteered for 2 weeks in Oriental Heritage House and even if nothing went wrong I didn’t enjoy the experience (but the house is amazing!!! https://m.facebook.com/orientalheritagehouse/). I didn’t really learn anything and the communication with the management is very poor.  Also it is in a very quiet area but this means that you’re far from the city center and the public transport is very bad – as in Kuala Lumpur in general.  So,  since I was busy only in the mornings I decided to fulfill a dream that I had for long time and take massage classes in the afternoon. 

After a research in internet I decided to go to Wellness art training centre (https://m.facebook.com/well.ness.3158) in the very center of the city,  a few steps away from the famous towers.  It all started on a bit bumpy way.  I had discovered that my CC had been cloned so my bank blocked it.  Therefore I could not pay the entire price in one go and the management insisted that I had to pay before starting the class.  I told them I could not and if it was a problem I would just cancel the course.  They told me it was OK but the didn’t stop to send me WA messages asking me how I was and when I could pay.  So at one moment I told them that their attitude was very annoying because I felt they didn’t trust me.  And I understood that they don’t know me so why should they trust me but also told them that in Europe you can pay in two or three times and it was not an issue.  And the management replied that in Malaysia things are different.  And so I realized that even in the small things we have to be careful.  We all think in different ways and we should understand that something that is absolutely common for us it might not be for some other culture. 

If I had to choose one Asian country to live in Malaysia would be one of the candidates but honestly I felt a bit lonely there.  People told me that Malaysia is cool,  fold is amazing and places are beautiful.  And it is true.  But still.  There’s something missing that I cannot quite spot.  I still enjoyed my stay in KL and I loved my massage classes.  

I’m still in touch with some of the people I met along the way and hopefully I will see them again some day. 

The bubble 

So… Where to start… 

I’ve been in KL for more than one month now and I think it’s time for me to move on. The time spent here it’s been good,  a needed a little nest to make home for a little while.  Travelling is cool but it’s also tiring and every now and then is good to go back to the comfort zone. 

But yeah my time here is up.  I realized it yesterday. It took me time to buy the ticket to Cambodia.  And not only because of the problems I had with my credit card (yes.  It’s been cloned… but this is another story…).  It’s been difficult to make up my mind and buy the ticket because I was good here in KL,  I had a home again and it was nice to settle down in the everyday routine.  But luckily for me KL is not the place I wanna settle down again.  It’s a big city but still very human in a way.  The prices are honest (apart from the rent,  like in Barcelona basically) and the food is good.  But the dark side of it all is that people here are very busy, for real or not. 

It’s really hard to meet anybody,  let alone get to know them.  Via couchsurfing and other apps I got in touch with hundreds of people (not kidding) but I managed to meet only a few.  They’re all super interested in meeting with you but you can never get a date from them.  And when you finally get a date they cancel at the last moment.  Or you meet,  all goes well,  “let’s meet again ” but again never comes.  You have to organize with at least a couple of weeks in advance.  It’s true that distance here can be discouraging and that public transportation is awful but still… There is always something else in the middle. Commitment is a word that is not really taken into consideration in KL.  The enthusiasm is killed easily.  I feel like they are collecting chats or friends in CS or FB.  The virtual word is waaaaaay more important that the real one.  Even when people go out together they are checking their phones all the time.  There is always someone or something else capturing their attention.  They’re there but not really. I’ve wasted so much time and energy try to connect with locals and in the end I was so frustrated that I decided not to open any app anymore. 

I have only a few days left in KL.  Time to finish my classes (to be discussed in next chapter)  and then I’m off to Phnom Penh.  I’m really looking forward to visit Cambodia.  A change of scenery will do me good. 

Island hopping part three: Perenthian island 

So.  I took a bus from Penang to go to Perenthian island on the east coast.  It’s a long and boring trip but it’s worth the effort. The bus arrived in Kuala Besut and from there is the ferry.  

The bus arrived at KB at around  5am.  The first ferry is at 7. To kill time I started to talk to people that arrived with me and we had a very bad tea at the local restaurant.  We paid our ferry fee to this guy that “attacked” us (standard here) and waited.  Time comes to go to the ferry and we discover that to get to the island we have to pay an extra 30RM (around 6€) for the environment.  Happy to pay if the island is spotless (guess what … It was not) 

I get a little mad at this rule especially because once again for the local is 5 times cheaper and truth to be said its the locals who throw all the garbage around… But anyways… 

1/2 an hour ride and we finally arrive to the island (Kecil).  I didn’t book any hostel but in Travelfish website (https://www.travelfish.org/accommodation/malaysia/peninsular_malaysia/terengganu/perhentian_islands/all) I read about this place called “Butterfly chalet” a self check-in place directly on the sea.  The ferry arrived at Long Beach where the parties are but thankgod Butterfly is on Coral Beach on the other side of the island,  just 10 minutes walk across the jungle. 

Arrived at the chalets luckily I can check in immediately as 3 people had just checked out.  I choose the chalet number 2 as it is the closer to the beach.  The view is beautiful,  directly on the sea and behind me, the jungle. 

The rooms are very basic but I gladly paid 14€ a night (room only)  to sleep peacefully in this corner of paradise. 

The following day I was exhausted and slept the whole day.  I don’t know what happened but I just couldn’t do anything else.  I just slept.  I guess that 2 months moving around like a pinball had taken their toll on me.  In the evening I managed to wake up and went for dinner at this super posh (for the beach standards)  place called “Shari La Island Resort” (http://sharilaresort.com/) where they serve buffet all you can eat for the equivalent of 3€. Thus I was able to stuff my face with a lot of yummy food without having to worry if it was vegetarian or not. 

The following day I just beach combed as I wanted to finish a book that I was dragging around since the beginning of my trip and so I just did nothing and enjoyed every word of my book. 

Once again I didn’t do any scooba diving,  or snorkelling (except in front of my chalet and during my morning swim)  or visited any beach close by.  But I really enjoyed my time there.  The food is good. In general expensive but on Long Beach there is this local place called “Kak Yah Local Food” where you can eat cheap and the portions are important.

I needed a break from my wanderings and I got it.  I managed to recharge my batteries before starting my volunteering time in KL. 

Melaka and Penang 

After KL it was time to move to a smaller place and this was Melaka (aka Malacca). 

Melaka is a city two hours drive south of KL.  I checked in at “Victor’s guest house ” (30, Jalan Munshi Abdullah, Kampung Jawa, 75100 Melaka).

 The place is very nice,  clean and very quiet and the staff very helpful. At first you have the impression that it is located far from the center but don’t be fooled by appearance.  Behind the hostel there is the river.  The entire area is under massive restructure and there are plenty of nice places to get a coffee or beer.  Walking along the river and crossing the bridge you’re in the cultural center of the city in 10 minutes. Melaka has a long story of invasion from different people (Portuguese,  Dutch, English)  and it is all reflected in the architecture and the language.  People are very nice and friendly and you never feel uneasy anywhere in the city.  Apparently the night market is very nice but it’s only on weekends so I didn’t get the chance to see it.  

At the hostel I met some people and together we went to have food in a Himalayan restaurant not far.  The food was good and cheap but the communication with the staff was not easy. Melaka is a place that I really enjoyed. Life is easy and quiet there although the tourist and you can take a rest from the fast pace of KL. On my second day I had lunch at “Mori vegetarian tea house ” (3, Jalan Kampung Kuli, 75200 Melaka), a bit pricey but the food was delicious!!! 

After two days in Melaka it was time to move on and since Singapore was not an option (that’s where people usually go after Melaka)  I decided to move north to Penang an island on the west coast. The bus trip was long (around 9 hours)  but not too bad.  I arrived at Butterworth harbor and from there I took the ferry to George Town.  The trip is about 10 minutes and once in George Town you land at the bus station. 

My host David told me to fetch the 302 to get to his place as he was not at home yet but after almost half an hour I was not even half way as the traffic is pretty bad so David – that in the meantime had freed himself – told me to get off at the first stop and wait for him there. And I did. And I waited another half hour.  

David lives in Gelugor 15 mins drive from the city.  We arrived at his place and after a shower we drive back to the city for dinner in an Indian place called “Thali-NR sweets cafe ” (Lebuh Penang, George Town, 10200 George Town, Pulau Pinang) in Little India. The food is very good and very cheap like in most places in George town well known for this.  I was supposed to spend only a couple of days in Padang but in the end I stayed 4. The city is very nice,  good choices for food and I felt at home there. In the morning David worked so I had a lot of time to visit and in the evening we met for dinner.  

  

On my second day there I met Tom and Jep,  from CS and with them I went to the temple on the hill and the evening we had dinner with David. After dinner David explained the he does charity work three nights a week and asked me if I wanted to tag along.  With his volunteer friends he goes around the city and distribute food and water to the homeless.  It was nice and sad at the same time.  People know them and wait for them.  They’re very nice and humble and when they take the food they say thanks 20 times. It’s been a very nice and enriching experience. 

The following day David was working only half day so in the afternoon we went hiking on a beach half an hour out of the city. The hike is fine but not for everyone.  Along the way we met with people from a CS group that David attend to and they invited us to a BBQ at the beach later on. After an hour we arrived at the beach but couldn’t swim as the water was very shallow and muddy.  To go back we took a boat as it was getting dark and it’s not advisable to do the hike at night.  We then drove to the beach for the BBQ. The others were already there and setting up the fire. It was very nice to spend time with them and talk.  They’re all members of CS from different origins and religions.  Indians,  Chinese,  Malay,  Buddhist,  Muslim and they all get along very well.  That’s why I really like Malaysia!!!

After the BBQ someone suggested to get into the water and since no one had a bathing suit we skinny dip although it’s forbidden in Malaysia.  It was funny,  we laughed a lot and a Muslim girl that until 2 minutes before was wearing a veil bathed with 5 naked men (she was wearing T-shirt and underwear) and wasn’t worried or offended by that.  Well on the contrary actually!!!  We saw the fluorescent plankton (amazing!!!)  and the water was so good that we couldn’t get out. 

On my third day I met Leo,  a local guy in CS also and with him we went to the protestant cemetery and the haunted school.  I have a thing for cemeteries and abandoned building although I don’t believe in ghosts or burial as for that.  Afterwards we had lunch at a place called “Yin’s sourdough bakery and cafe” (11, Pesara Claimant, George Town, 10100 George Town, Pulau Pinang) because I was craving for pizza and I heard that in this place was very good.  And indeed it was,  pesto and mushrooms pizza.  Delicious!!! 

Leo is a local artist that lived in Armenian street very close to the bicycle painting and his place is full of cool stuff as he works as interior designer.  For dinner I bought some Indian food and got home where David had already arrived. 

The following day I decided to stay at home and organize my next move. So after fetching information from blogs and websites I prepared my bags and went buy the bus ticket to Perenthian island for that same night. 

Dinner with Sandokan 

So after leaving Indonesia one day before my visa expires I land in Kuala Lumpur. The idea of being in Malaysia brings back memories of my childhood.  Sandokan the pirate says hello from the depths of my memories and it feels funny to be here. 

For those who don’t know who Sandokan is,  you can check this link. 

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandokan

The first thing that attracts my attention is the multi cultural environment in KL. People are Asian,  Indian,  Chinese, Malay and everything in between. It’s fascinating to see these people from so different paths of life coming together as one same nation. 

I meet my host in KL sentral (it’s not a typo.  It’s sentral with S) and by train we reach his house.  We go for dinner in an Indian place open 24/7 like the majority of Indian restaurants and after he takes me for a night ride around town. Obviously the main attraction are the Petrona towers (or twin towers as the called them here) and like many other tourists we stop to take a picture – well more than one. 

The following day I’m on my own around the city as Joko – my host  – has to work.  I really like KL that although is a big city is still very “doable”. They have a free bus that takes you around town like an hop on – hop off thing and once in the center I get off and walk around.  It’s really hot but there is a good amount of shadow so it’s OK.  I visit the main attractions and have lunch in Little India. In the afternoon I meet my host and after dinner we’re off to bed. 

The following day I switch host.  Jr is a very nice man.  With a funny Indian face (although his family is 100% Malay) he greets me in his very cozy apartment on the outskirts of KL,  very close to Batu caves. We chill in his place for the afternoon and we go to yet another Indian place for dinner. The following day we meet with his friend Raizan and his couchsurfer and head to the caves. 

Batu caves are two caves a little hour outside KL.  They are at the top of his hill and you have to climb I don’t know how many steps to get to the top.  It was hard but slowly but surely I made it.  The main cave is pretty big.  I was told that there were bats inside but thankgod I didn’t see any.  My host and his friend stayed down as they had been up there plenty of times and they didn’t feel like climbing in that heat.  So it was just me and the other guest, a young man from Algeria that took at least 40 (thousand) selfies,  ten for each position… I couldn’t believe it!!! 

There is also the Dark Cave that apparently is populated by snakes and rare animals but we didn’t have time to visit as we wanted to go also a waterfall a little further down.

So after the caves and the “cover girl” photo shooting  we headed to the waterfall. Can’t really tell where that is but when we got there it was pretty busy as it was a holiday. We had to walk quite a walk to get to the less populated area of the waterfall but once we got there it was nice to jump into the fresh water and wash away all the sweat and dust of the climb. 

 

The following morning I was to take the bus to Malacca so my host suggested that I spent the night at Raizan’s as he lives closer to the bus (bas) station. 

Raizan’s is the most messy place I’ve ever seen in my life but I felt at home from the moment I put my feet inside.  

In the meantime a friend of Raizan’s arrived and the four of us (Raizan, his friend, Mustapha and I) went for dinner and then to the hot spring nearby.  The hot spring is a shallow pool of hot water that springs naturally near Raizan’s house.  The water is pretty hot and it was very nice to spend some time there.  

The following day I took a bus to Malacca. 

Summing it up – Indonesia 

And Indonesia also is done.  Strange country, three big islands (main ones) and three different realities. 

Bali is the “easiest” one.  Being the one more known and exploited buy tourism is the one more westernized.  Locals are very used to foreigners,  English is spoken almost everywhere and it’s easy to go around. But being so it’s not necessarily a good thing.  Prices are higher and once again the white person is a “walking wallet”. Every step you’re asked if you wanna a taxi (taksi sorry!) or a sarong or a selfie stick or if you want a drink or some food.  Well basically like any other Asia country where tourism it too well developed.
 

 

Comes Java and things tone down a little bit.  You’re still a walking wallet but it’s more discreet.  You are not attacked.  Just invited.  Over and over but it’s not too annoying. People in general are nice and help you.  Smile on their face but you can notice the difference from Bali. 

Last (in order of appearance)  is Sumatra by far my favorite. Unfortunately I only had a fee days to spend in this beautifully green land.  Here tourism and infrastructures for it are at a very basic level.  Tourists are but a few and locals are as nice as it can be. My hosts and his family have been fantastic.  People are very curious of the foreigner and are not annoying.  Don’t try to sell you anything and you are still you.  Just a foreign person in a beautiful foreign country. 

In my deep ignorance I always thought that Muslim countries are close and unfriendly but I haven’t seen anything of the kind during my wanderings  in Indonesia.  People are warm and friendly, curious about you’re country,  you’re habits, you’re life and the cold climate. 

Food is good and cheap and you are in trouble only if you desperately look for a beer.  Other than that life is humble but beautiful. 

I haven’t necessarily done all the typical things that visitors are supposed to do when they visit Indonesia.  Actually I’ve done very little but I don’t regret my trip at all.  I was looking for a true experience,  to meet locals,  mingle with them and live their lives and in a way I’ve succeeded.  I’ve learnt that this are far from what the TV and news papers tell you. I’ve learnt that we are more similar than we think and at the same time worlds apart.  And life is not really better in our uber developed society.  Here people have nothing or close to nothing but they’re more than happy to share it with you.  We should learn to do the same. 

Idul fitri 1438

For those of you who know nothing about Islam like I did (and still do for that matter) Idul Fitri is the end of Ramadan,  the month of the year when Muslim people fast during the day. I happened to arrive in Indonesia exactly at the beginning of Ramadan  and I’m about to leave it as the fasting period is over. 

I crossed from Java to Sumatra by ferry in about an hour and then in 2 hours I arrived at my following destination: Bandar Lampun where my host agreed to pick me up from the station and drive me to his place. 

While waiting for Ageng and eating an entire tube of Pringles many people approached me just to say hi or to enquire where I was going.  One of these people is a very shy man called Christo (in a Muslim country!!! 😀). We exchanged a few phrases and in the meantime I said hello to some 10 people looking at me with a smile on their face. 

Ageng arrived and drove me to his home where I met all is close family : mother,  father,  little sister and his uncle that is only 4 years older than he is. Aziz’s English is pretty good and we managed to have a decent conversation.  Ageng’s mom cooked dinner for me and then I went to bed as I  was pretty tired.  Ageng left his bed to me and slept on a mattress on the floor.

The following morning we woke up at sunrise and at 7.30 we were already on the road to go to Angeng’s grandmother. But before we made a pit stop at his aunt’s house to get more family in the van.  It took us almost 2 hours to get there.  But the road passed through towns and parts of forest so it was nice. 

Once arrived to destination we found more family waiting for us and everyone was super interested in me.  I was at the center of attention, the first to get the right to eat,  the one to have the right to the best food,  and was served tea,  water and everything that was available to eat.  In Sumatra (but I imagine it’s the same more or less all around Indonesia)  every house is always ready to receive guests. They have always a table set up with cookies and biscuits,  some water and tea (very sweet of course). So there I was, stuffing my face with all the food that had been prepared to celebrate the end of Ramadan and in the meantime receiving the complete attention of the all family that was getting larger and larger every moment.  At one point I asked if I could have a picture with all the family.  They agreed and it took a while to organize but in the end I managed to get my picture with part of the family, and it was already a big part.  But then the whole family wanted a picture with me.  One by one.  I felt like like a monkey at the zoo but it was funny.  After the photo call we were on the road again direction Way Kambas that I thought was a sanctuary for elephants.  The entrance is 7500RP for the locals and 250000RP for the tourists… The worst money ever spent. 

To get to the actual sanctuary it takes 40min from the check point by car on a VERY bad road . Once there it’s easy to realize that the place couldn’t be further from a sanctuary. It’s more like a circus where the poor animals have to do the clowns so people can laugh.  As I  didn’t want to disappoint my host I didn’t say anything and tried to watch the show but it got to a point when I started crying so I decided to go to the toilet not to see the rest of the horror show and not to show my host my disappointment. Luckily they were in a rush to be back with the rest of the family and since it was raining they decided that it was time to leave and that way I could put an end to my agony. 

Back at grandma’s home there was still the family and still waiting for me and take some more pictures.  One of the relatives (don’t know what kind of relationship, here were at least 40 people in the house!) asked me if I liked coconut and when I said yes he offered to get one for me.  A few of us left to get the coconut from the jungle behind the house and the relative climed on a palm tree and got some coconuts for us that we drank and ate there and then.  (and in the meantime we gave a good reason to mosquitoes to stick around!) Back home we were really exhausted and went straight to bed. Idul fitri is something like Christmas for Christians so there is always good a gathering to attend to.  And just like Christmas it can be pretty exhausting. 

The following morning Ageng and part of his family took me to the airport but before we made a pit stop to introduce me to another branch of the family and do some other photo call. Ageng and all his relatives have been amazing.  They have treated me like a prince and also adapted the cooking to my diet restrictions.  They made me feel the most important person in the world and walked the extra mile to make me feel at home.  They also gave me presents and made my stay in Lampun unforgettable. 

My plane to Padang was more a bus than a plane.  It took three hours to get to destination and due to the fact that we stopped  in Jambi to let passengers out and pick need ones… Weird… 

We got to Padang with an hour delay and at the airport I found Alfano, a couchsurfer, to pick me up.  I didn’t find any host so I booked at Brigitte’s home (Jl. Kp. Sebelah X, Kp. Pd., Padang Bar., Kota Padang, Sumatera Barat) and Alfano although could not host me was so nice to take me there on his motorbike. Brigitte’s house is a very small hostel where I got a room for myself.  The place is more than decent but the fact that there is only one bathroom for the entire place can be sometimes really uncomfortable. 

Padang is a very nice city by the sea surrounded by beautiful mountains and jungles.  With Alfano we had dinner in a sushi place and then I called it a night. 

The following day Alfano came and pick me up and together we went to the beach some 20min far from the city.  Honestly it was nothing special as a recent storm had torn down many tree on the beach and the water is not crystal clear due to the movement of the sands.  Besides to get to a depth decent enough to swim you have to walk around 100m from the shore.  But it was still nice.  The area is still very wild,  with animals walking around free and I tried to get an interaction with some of the goats walking around but they always ran from me… 

After a nap in the afternoon Alfano invited me to spend the night at the hostel where he works (as he was doing the night shift and could easily sneaking me in) and so I was able to spend the night in a four star hotel and in the morning I had a gigantic breakfast and all this for free!!!

The night before we had dinner at this street food place called Waroeng Koki-koki where I had kwetiau goreng,  some kind of really thick rice noodles with vegetables and afterwards we had an ice-cream at Es Durian – Ganti Nan Lamo. At the restaurant there were these two kids singing and they were pretty amazing. Little Indonesia got talent 

The night rained cats and dogs but this morning the sun is shining. 

I really loved Sumatra even though I just spent a few days here.  Despite the fact that is the more Muslim compared to Bali and Java  I found the people very friendly and very open.  White persons are still something to look at with great interest, but they always say hello and smile to you. I’m not sure that if they knew that I’m gay they would be still so nice,  but I can’t really complain.  

Now I’m at the airport again ready to leave Indonesia as my visa expires tomorrow. New destination Malaysia.