Ocean Stories: Malaysia

Winter in Tokyo isn’t as dreamy as imagined. They don’t celebrate Christmas, so there’s hardly any decorations set up throughout the city to give off that winter vibe (not to mention the lack of presents) and furthermore, Tokyo’s weather produces sub-zero temperatures without the enjoyment of snow. So basically it’s just freezing and miserable. That’s why some friends and I decided to escape the neon lights of what was quickly becoming the ice age by hopping on an aircraft to the tropical land of Malaysia.

 

Initially, the plans were to meet our Malaysian friends (who previously visited us in Japan) and after exploring the capital of Kuala Lumpur, head to the paradise island of Langkawi (lit. Eagle Island). This was however, until I (as well as my just-as-hopeless Chinese friend) confessed that the two of us hadn’t bought plane tickets to Langkawi in the hope of catching a cheaper means of transport. We were a little shocked upon being told that the only other way to get to Langkawi was a cheap and rusty old jetty that leaves from a port in the north of Malaysia. Upon being informed of this, our heroic Malaysian friend (big up Asyraf) said that he would drive us to the jetty instead of staying in Kuala Lumpur; therefore instigating a mad and rushed road trip across Malaysia in Asyraf’s car.

So after spending our few days in KL exploring the religious and stunning Batu Caves temple, checking out the Petronas Towers, visiting the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park and having a drink at the top of a helipad bar, we set off from Kuala Lumpur and started the gruelling six hour hot and humid car journey with our slightly excited, slightly worried looking Malaysian friend.

From leaving the capital city, it wasn’t long until we were speeding down the highway checking out the endless fields of palm and coconut trees. In fact, we weren’t sure whether the hills actually had eyes or not as there were so many palm trees in this scorching hot country. Within time though, we were driving through the Cameron Highlands blasting Zayn Malik’s ‘I Don’t Wanna Live Forever’ and feeling like we were in a drama series based on the adventures of an English guy, Malaysian dude and confused Chinese girl.

When heading out of the Cameron Highlands, we soon found ourselves in Ipoh. Ipoh seemed like an area the size of England covered in tropical fruit trees and colourful plants. We couldn’t however, investigate much as we were in a desperate rush to arrive in Kuala Kedah before the last Jetty to Langkawi left later that day.

After a couple more hours filled with time-passers such as ‘Never Have I Ever’, Malaysian language lessons and the rest of Zayn Malik’s album, Asyraf confessed that he doubted we would arrive in Kedah anytime today. Pulling over for a toilet break (travellers tip; don’t use gas station toilets in Malaysia), we were torn between hitting the gas pedal and hoping we hadn’t missed the last Jetty, or finding a nearby hotel for the night and catching the Jetty the next morning.

In the end, Asyraf pulled me over and said it would be best to go to the nearby city of Penang and find somewhere cheap on AirBnB for the night, thus setting a plan into motion.

 

Penang, unbeknownst to me, is actually one of the most visited areas of Malaysia as it is swarming with foreigners who come for the beautiful beaches, history, street markets and really cheap food. We decided to explore the most popular street market that evening, lining the beach so you could hear the sea as you squeezed through the busy market stalls hoping to find something cool. Once we bought some dragonfruit smoothies, we headed to a Tiki-themed bar literally on the beach, where we stayed for a few beers until we found the cheapest and closest hotel for the night only 15 minutes away (hallelujah AirBnB).

Waking up the next day, we felt less rushed as we had all day to catch the boat to Langkawi and Kuala Kedah was now only 1 hour away. We therefore decided to check out more of Penang’s street art and architecture, which in Malaysian terms, meant we ended up sitting on the back of a bike-cart watching a sweaty Malaysian guy struggle in the heat to drive us around Penang whilst we sat back with ice cream pretending he wasn’t there pedalling like his life depended on it. (Don’t worry, he got a very good tip).

Eventually, we decided to get back on the road to Kedah and finally catch the mythical jetty that everyone has been so obsessed with.

The memory of driving away from the beautiful city of Penang is only slightly clouded by the memories of entering the small Malaysian town of Kuala Kedah.

Two things I specifically remember about Kuala Kedah;

-chickens were considered pets and you were uncool if you didn’t own at least four,

– 98% of the town’s very small population had never seen a white person.

If you want to get a better idea of this area, here’s the wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuala_Kedah.

That being said, I loved it. The people were so kind and welcoming, the food was actually really good (and so cheap) and even though we spent 23 minutes waiting for a group of cows to move off the road, it was a unique experience to say the least.

Once we dropped off the car at another Malaysian friend’s house, who happened to live in Kedah, we were introduced to not only his whole family had rushed to come and see the white boy and co., but also to his four chickens.  Soon enough, more and more friends turned up at his house motivated by the sighting of a white person in Kedah. And pretty soon, my roadtrip buddies and I quickly found ourselves surrounded by fascinated Malaysian people drinking from coconuts and learning about religious aspects and the culture of the people in Kedah and Malaysia in general. It was an amazing experience I’m so grateful for, which we could have easily missed if we had chosen to fly straight to Langkawi from Kuala Lumpur like my other amigos had.

After adding our new Malaysian friends (the ones that had phones) on facebook etc, we bid them a thank you for their hospitality and promised to send them photos from langkawai as we walked up to the heavenly gates of the Jetty Port to finally catch the fabled boat to Langkawi.

The story doesn’t end there though, as in Langkawi we re-joined the rest of our group and did everything there was to do on the paradise island. From riding a cable car up to Langkawi Bridge, feeding eagles in the wild, spending the day on a beach and another at the waterfall and even renting out a boat and going island hopping off the coast, there was so much to do and we did it all (travellers tip; every night in Langkawi there are fire tamers on the beach from 9pm, but there are also mosquitos – so take bug spray).

Travelling Malaysia with friends was a trip of a lifetime that I would 100% recommend to anyone. Just don’t be persuaded to take the easy way by getting a flight from one place to another and bare in mind that if you drive across the country, it means you’ll have to drive all the way back too (that’s a story for another time though).

-Jack

Current Location: Tokyo, Japan

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