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Malaysia 4 January 2010

Posted by uggclogs in Life, Travelling.
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My partner and I decided that we needed another holiday somewhere in the region, and in an attempt to cross off another one of our ‘must-go-to’ countries, we booked some tickets to go to Malaysia over New Years.

What a wonderful country. We spent one night in Ipoh, a town that in itself does not have much to offer apart from a chicken noodle soup called ‘Sar Hor Fun’ (which, to be frank, does not hold a candle to Vietnamese chicken pho) and a beautiful old quarter which was pretty much seen in one day. It was still lovely, and we had a wonderful afternoon exploring the city and the surrounding country side.

The best thing Ipoh has going for it, though, is the Indulgence Hotel, which is a boutique hotel newly opened near the centre of the new town. It started off as a restaurant in an old mansion, which has now been extended to a hotel as well. Each of the rooms have a theme, and the staff were such a delight. The restaurant has amazing food, and it is not expensive, so it was a fantastic way to start our time in Malaysia. Oh, and great coffee, too.

The next morning, we went to Gopeng, a small Chinese trading town in the mountains where we had booked a white water rafting trip. It was extremely fun, wet, and entertaining, and I almost fell out of the raft, only saved by the rock we were stuck on which I managed to push off on to get back into the boat. We did go for a swim as well, and the surrounding country side had amazing butterflies throughout. At one point, just after a small rapid, I looked up and there was a giant, white cow standing in the water looking at us floating past. It felt so surreal, I am not sure what it was doing there.

On the way back, we were loaded onto the back of an open cattle truck, which meant that when standing up, you were constantly ducking for branches, but the wind in my hair and the warm fuzzy feeling made it irresistible not to. What a magnificent day.

That night, we stayed at the resort that had organised our rafting trip. Their meals, which were set menu, were very tasty. The resort has lots of little bamboo huts straddling streams with little blankets on thin mattresses, and is supposed to be very serene and Feng Shui.

Unfortunately, there was a large group of students staying there that night, which meant that there was plenty of really loud singing and drinking games until late at night, and the guard’s quarters were next to our hut, so their talking woke me up several times after the students had gone to bed. Then, at 4 am, the pots and pans in the kitchen (located just behind the guard hut) started banging, with people yelling to each other over the din that they made. All in all, we did not have the best of sleeps.

The next day, we hitched a ride back into Ipoh town, and jumped on a bus to Butterworth. Malaysia has an amazing array of buses of mainly good quality zig zagging all over the country, and getting tickets etc was really rather straight forward. Unfortunately, there has just been a major bus accident where 10 people lost their lives due to alledged careless driving on the part of the driver. We even saw this bus parked somewhere, which was rather unsettling.

Everyone in the tourism industry speaks great English, which is a bonus, as my Bahasa is non-existent apart from a few words for Indonesian dishes…

From Butterworth, we jumped on a ferry to Penang Island, where we rented a car for 24 hours to have better mobility. We first drove out to Batu Ferringhi for lunch, and found a little, amazing guest house on the beach called Ismail Beach Guest House. It was basic but good, and the location was fantastic. We spent the rest of the afternoon swimming, walking along the sand, drinking cocktails and eating seafood. The water at Penang is not the nicest, it is murky and polluted compared to Australian standards, but we had a good time anyway, and the Malacca Strait was relatively warm.

Penang brought home the amazing mish mash of cultures that is Malaysia. If one is to generalise, it’s a crazy mix of Malaysians (mainly muslim, conservatively dressed, some women even wore a Shador), Chinese (very commerce minded and business driven, not necessarily conservatively dressed) and Indian (insane disparity of incomes, as they make up both the elite and the most disadvantaged in society). But it all felt so vibrant and alive, and the mix of all of these culture’s foods was particularily special. You could have anything that took your fancy, and it was cheap, too!

On New Year’s Eve, we drove around the entire Island, to see what there was elsewhere, and we stopped off at the Spice Garden, where you could smell all the spices that were so valuable and that made the Europeans came to Asia all that time ago.

The end of our drive was in Georgetown, the main city of Penang. Here, we spent the afternoon relaxing at the Eastern and Oriental (or the E&O as it is affectionally known), a very colonial and beautiful up-market hotel where we were going to splurge for the night. It had sea views, crisp linen, bath robes and a little private balcony where we could read the complimentary newspaper. Slice of Heaven.

Actual New Year’s was celebrated down on the promenade with a large crowd of people, locals and tourists, to watch the fireworks display. One second after midnight, we received a text message from my mother wishing us a Happy New Year (great timing, mum!). What a fabulous way to start 2010.

The first two nights of 2010 were spent with friends in Kuala Lumpur, a city I have never been to before, but which amazed me with its array of food (Malay for dinner, Indian for breakfast and lunch, Chinese for dinner after very civilised cocktails at SkyBar overlooking the Petronas Towers at dusk) and the ease of getting around. We had such a good time that it was almost a let down to be back in poluted, dusty and noisy old Hanoi. But I am sure I will find my vibe again soon.

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