Guest post alert! My friend Erin who went to Thailand and Malaysia back in July has written another guest post for the blog (you might remember her last post on Thailand). This one is all about Malaysia, so sit back, relax and enjoy.
Driving into Malaysia from Thailand is the best way to do it. The landscape is unreal; rice patties, mountains, the ocean, all on winding roads and highways heading through the countryside. We were lucky enough to be traveling at sunset, the magic hour, and it costs only a few dollars. I highly recommend it.
With that said…the driving is also unreal! Tailgating at 200kph on windy, narrow highways! At first, I thought I’d live my last moments on the highway heading to Penang, but I quickly realized its how everyone drives and they actually know what they are doing! So just hang on tight, and enjoy the ride.
The Malay people are the nicest I’ve ever encountered! Our van driver was instructed to drop us off at the ferry in Butterworth and we’d do the last leg to Penang on our own. Instead, he insisted to take us directly to our hotel (for no extra charge) and told us some of his favorite local spots in Penang that we must see, clasping his hands together as a sign of respect, he wished us the best and we parted ways. That was a great introduction to Malaysia.
We stayed at Yeng Keng Hotel and the girl at the front desk was absolutely WONDERFUL! She gave us tips on the best food markets, activities, advice on places to avoid, all without being asked. And at the end of our trip – she wouldn’t even accept a tip! She said she wanted only to make our trip to Penang as best it could be and that made her happy. I told her I’d love to repay the favor if she ever came to New York. She told me her dream is to come to Madison Square Garden and see professional wrestling…. okay, not quite what I expected but I hope I can help her out one day! I can’t say enough about the people of Malaysia’s kindness and their love of their culture.
Okay, let’s really get down to the business of Malaysia. CULTURE, CULTURE, CULTURE.
I absolutely loved the intertwined cultures that peacefully coexist. The city of Penang literally has something for everyone; Little India, Chinatown, Mosques, Hindu Temples, Buddhist temples, Christian Churches, Historic Mansions, food markets offering every type of cuisine found in Malaysia and beyond. The entire city smells of incense and delicious food. I think I gained 10lbs in the 4 days I spent there.
We were lucky enough to be in Penang during Ramadan – totally unplanned – And I was worried because of the fasting we would have trouble finding places to go to eat. Exactly the opposite! During Ramadan they have special food markets that open at sun down, and they are AMAZING. The celebrations at sun down were so much fun and really gave us the opportunity to immerse ourselves in their culture.
Penang is a small island and the bus system makes it very easy to get around.
We took a half-day trip to Kok Lok Si Temple to see the largest Buddhist temple in SE Asia. They have a 33-foot statue of Kuan Yin, Goddess of Mercy. Another lesson learned here, trust the locals!! We were told to head up through alleys covered with cloth; it was dark, sketchy and definitely did not look like it would lead to the temple on top of the hill. Being un-trusting New Yorkers, we went the opposite direction. After wandering around for 30 minutes – we took the locals advice and headed into the dark alleys. SHOPS, FOOD, SHRINES! Who knew?! The Locals. That’s who.
Malaysia is my favorite spot I’ve been to so far. The culture, the combination of the old world mixed with the new, the bustle of the markets and the kindness of the people makes it a must see destination. I’m so happy to have experienced it and I can’t wait to go back!