I have always had a certain weakness for Asian countries. The economic prices, the ease of getting around on the road, the varied gastronomy and the touch of cultural and religious exoticism make this continent one of my favorites to grab the backpack and enjoy a good holiday exploring new areas. On this occasion, I go on my first trip to Malaysia. When we were planning our first trip to Southeast Asia, we knew we would spend Christmas and New Year in that area.
So we started to investigate where we could celebrate New Year, in which cities events were held if it was really celebrated in a big way! We ended by choosing to start the year in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, at the foot of the hyper-known Petronas Towers. Among the options, we consider Shanghai, Bangkok, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. Finally, we ended up choosing the latter one.
In the case of Shanghai, it was ruled out by a theme of dates and climate. In Shanghai, it was going to be very cold! Then we went to consider Bangkok and Singapore. In the case of Singapore, we discarded it simply because of the issue of dates. In Bangkok, we know that many parties are celebrated, so it was a strong option. On the other hand, we were tempted a lot by the fireworks show that takes place in Kuala Lumpur at twelve o'clock, right at the foot of the Petronas Towers. So the decision was difficult.
As you know, Malaysia is one of my favorite countries. I have been there three times, in different places. In fact, it is one of the best prepared and ideal countries for family tourism, a perfect place to travel with children. In Malaysia, you have golden sand beaches and crystal clear water but without the party atmosphere of Thailand. There are cities where colonial architecture is mixed with street art as in any other country in the Southeast.
There are tea plantations, jungles and some of the best diving spots in the world. There is the influence of Chinese and Indians with their culture, food, and religion, but without leaving the same city. There are mosques, monasteries, and temples. You can enjoy Ramadan, Chinese New Year, Diwali and Holi in the same spirit. It is the country I always recommend when one asks me the best place to make the first incursion in Southeast Asia. So I have decided to present my adventure in this country.
We leave Thailand, our town because it's almost like going to the town every time we've been there and we headed to Malaysia. To get there, we took a very cheap flight directly from Krabi to Kuala Lumpur. We did not go with much anticipation since the airport is small, and we also do not want to waste time waiting.
It was December and we had decided to spend New Year's Eve in Kuala Lumpur, to enjoy that party in a big city. But we were wrong. Yes, seeing the fireworks announcing the New Year behind the Petronas Towers is cool, but when it comes to partying, it's not the best place to go. Not much less.
With this destiny, we had screwed it up a bit, really. January is not a good date to come to Malaysia because the best places in the country are in full monsoon. The best it has are the eastern islands (Perhentian, Redang, and Kapas), and at this time it was raining non-stop. In addition, another of our priorities was to dive in Sipadan (Borneo), and from January to April, they recommend not going for the strong currents. So, the island of Borneo was also ruled out.
We decided then that our itinerary in Malaysia would be, for 12 days. It would touch Kuala Lumpur-Penang-Cameron Highlands-Melaka. After that, we would spend a few days in Singapore until we got a flight to the Philippines, which we had scheduled for the middle of January. We would stay hanging a few days in one of the islands, go to Borneo to see the volcano, the orangutans and snorkel and the jungle of Taman Negara. We will do it later when we go to Indonesia.
But let's get back to what concerns us, and at this moment, it's the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. In Kuala Lumpur, there are a thousand accommodation options, at a good price, including backpacker hostels and slightly better hotels. Although it is not a proper backpacker destination. The tourism that there is of local people, families, and couples. It does not have that roll of long-term travelers as in the rest of Southeast Asia. At least the part we were in. In Kapas apparently, things change.
We had booked by booking a hotel very well located at the gates of Chinatown and close to the Central Market. They were not too nice, and the room, even though it was fine, had no window. But what we liked most about this place was, of course, the pool with views of the city skyline and cool water.
Kuala Lumpur is a very curious city, where a lot of different cultures coexist peacefully. On the one hand, there are a lot of Chinese, with their restaurants, street stalls, shops, and red and yellow temples. Very close to Chinatown is Little India, with all its restaurants, Hindu temples, and its saree shops. Then there is the Muslim part, the most important and most important in the country, with immense and very beautiful mosques. And finally, the modern Asians who want to be Japanese. Those you usually find more in the shopping centers.
To eat, the cheapest is to go to the first floor of the central market, where you have a lot of Asian food options. Jalan Hang Kasturi Street, which is next door, also has full of street food stalls. We ate at the market, although we did not like it too much. It was almost all fast food and junk, no matter how Asian it was. At the stalls, we tried the shakes and a traditional dessert. It is an impossible mix of ingredients of all kinds ranging from coconut milk to gelatin, to beans, liquid caramel, corn grains and ice.
In the afternoon we went for a walk to the skyscraper area, full of shopping centers, where is the KLCC park and the Petronas Towers. This city is not to be walked on. First because of the heat, and second because of the traffic. They may be very modern here, but do not have anything like the traffic lights and the zebra crossings. Crossing a street without being caught by a car is a real feat, and that vehicles respecting pedestrians in a step are a real chimera. That is why there is a great option that is tourist buses. There are three lines, blue, green and purple. The latter is free, and above has wifi.
The purple line goes straight from Pasar Seni, in Chinatown, to the Pavilion mall. We spent a couple of hours doing shopping, without going over because we took a suitcase of maximum 10 kilos to go unbilled. We visited the one that for me was the flagship store of the commercial precinct. A store dedicated exclusively to DC comics products, decorated with life-size figures of Batman, Superman, and Catwoman. A paradise for geeks, and a disaster for the personal economy, because prices are high!
After that, we walked for about 10 minutes through an air-conditioned tunnel that led directly to the KLCC park. A complex designed by a Brazilian architect, Roberto Burle, in 1998, which includes green areas, a jogging track, and a swimming pool.
In this same park is the famous Petronas Towers, the highest novenas in the world with 452 m. We looked around and decided to go up to the sky bar, to see the sunset from there and the Petronas lit up at night. The sky bar, with exorbitant prices, had reserved from where the towers looked good, and a part open to everyone with views to the other side. So we took the matter up, for a change. We went to a part that was closed to the public, sitting on the floor, next to a window from where the towers could be seen, and without consuming anything. Nobody threw us out or force us to ask.
The next day we dedicate it to see the most emblematic sites of the center, such as the Sri Mahamariamman temple, the Lake Gardens Park, where the most important mosque in the city, or the Merdeka square. Not without first going to an Indian restaurant that we had discovered the night before, in which we had chai. And it was not just any chai, it was masala chai! Very sweet and with its dose of perfect spicy touch. They put it to take in a plastic bag with a straw. What an illusion to take true Indian chai again!
As for the Merdeka square, it contains one of the highest flags in the world, with 100 meters. This is where the independence of Malaysia was celebrated in 1957. In the square is also the palace of Sultan Abdul Samad, the Cathedral of Santa Maria and the old town hall. What is most beautiful is the contrast of the skyscrapers with the Muslim architecture. The more contrast a city has, the more charm it has. And Kuala Lumpur is what it has cultural diversity in abundance. That day was almost all closed and full of stages to receive the year that night, but we preferred to go to the Petronas.
After this, we took a walk to eat something and went back to the hotel. It was time to change and prepare to receive the new year in Malaysia. So we did that. Already from the hotel, we could hear the noises of the street, cornets, horns. We could tell that the movement was beginning. We had been told that the Petronas area was getting crowded. So we went around 9 o'clock at night to take a place to see the fireworks.
The street was very crowded with people. We bought some lights with twinkling lights and little by little we were locating. The show did not look much but it was heard. We were right at the foot of the Petronas, from where the clock was at the top and we would have the fireworks in front. We thought about going to the other side to see the towers and behind the fires. But the truth is that we did not want to miss the excitement of counting among the crowd, to take pictures. So nothing, we were there among all the people.
We had stayed there with a couple of Englishmen we met in one of the Myanmar treks, and they were also here, but it was impossible to find them. We were giving a lot of laps, and nothing. It was overflowing with people who were going to say goodbye to the year there. But the worst of all was that all those people were there, prostrate in the street, without taking a beer.
Finding alcohol in a restaurant of Kuala Lumpur is quite complicated, and buying it at a street stall is almost impossible. So we spent almost two hours scouring the area looking for a drink. Come on man, it's New Year's Eve! We finally found a place where they sold cans of beer to which we went like flies to the wounds.
In New Year's Eve, the local people, instead of drinking, dedicate themselves to playing a kind of trumpets that sell in the stalls, and to walk from one place to another. Come on, rolling above the private parties in the bars were expensive. We did not get drunk or anything.
11:59 arrived! We go under the towers to see the fireworks at 00:00 hours. And the coveted count began...5...4...3...2...1...Happy New Year! In that very moment, while we kissed the New Year, the fireworks began with everything. The show was impressive, everything coordinated with music and lights, and lasted more than 20 minutes. It was really exciting to be there receiving the New Year in Malaysia, in front of the Petronas, on the other side of the world. Without a doubt, it was worth it.
And when we wanted to go back, we got surrounded by beer and a really funny sympathetic Indian, who just said, "You happy, I'm happy". As soon as he realized that we were starting to be too many people to be in the middle of the street, he offered to take us to a restaurant he owned. There the lights went down, the music went up and the spontaneous party continued under the cover of a disco ball.
And there we were dancing, in the style of each one, in the culture of each one, but all united by the desire that we had to have fun. The celebration ended with a surprising and delicious Indian dinner prepared by our host at 5 in the morning. And thinking about how fun life can be, we went to sleep.
On January 1 we got up at a decent hour and without a hangover, for the first time in our lives, we took a train to the BTS bus station. From here we take a 4-hour bus that would take us to Penang. We left to see the Batu Caves, on the outskirts of the city. But at this point, a giant Buddha no longer impresses us. We climb 272 stairs until we reach the main temple. Along this staircase, there are lots of monkeys waiting for bananas or peanuts that they sell in the shops at the bottom of the stairs.
As our cave visit ended early when we arrived in Kuala Lumpur and decided to go to the Kuala Lumpur Tower on the tourist bus. It took us a long time to get to the tower, and in fact, we missed the free guided tour that was at 12.30. This tower is 421 meters high.
When we went up, the girl who sold us the ticket told us that it was going to get foggy. But we ignored it and in a matter of minutes, we were not able to see anything from the tower. It started to rain heavily. It was the only one that day it rained, but come on, that was amazing. In fact, we could not leave in a couple of hours. When it stopped raining we went for a walk around the huge shopping centers that are in KL. After that, we went back to the hotel. The next day we will be in Malacca. We had arranged a taxi to take us and leave us again in Kuala Lumpur.
That day when taking the elevator to go down for breakfast, we were greeted with a "Hello, good morning" and we were surprised. In the room right next to ours, there was a boy who went alone, with whom we had breakfast and told him about our idea of going to Malacca. And at the end of breakfast, he joined us for our day in Malacca.
Our taxi driver spoke very good English and he really tried to make himself understood. In only 1 hour 40 minutes we are in Malacca. He left us at the Town Hall Square and told us that if we wanted to ride a trishaw, the prices were the same for everyone so that they did not compete. So we took one.
Melaka or Malacca is a famous historic harbor located in the Strait of Melaka. It was a spice trade center, the most important in Asia. It is a city that has historical buildings and is one of the most visited in Malaysia. There are people who say it is not worth it. We liked it a lot, the colors of its houses, a Chinatown so clean, and the fort. In fact, at first, we thought about staying overnight in Malacca before arriving in Kuala Lumpur. But due to problems of dates, we had to change it and we regret it.
After our walk, we meet again in the square and our taxi driver and we go to Chinatown. This is the palace of the Sultanate, which is a replica of wood. It is built without using a single nail. The entrance costs 2 RM. We have to remove our shoes when entering, as in most places in Malaysia.
On the ground floor there is an exhibition and a simulation of an audience scene and on the floor above they simulate the Sultan's bedroom and its costumes. Next to this building is the Monument of the Proclamation of Independence. The admission is free, but we did not realize the time and we could not enter. We ate at a cafe, which is on JL Tun Tan Cheng Lock street. In relation to coffee, it was great and very cheap.
Then we went back to the square to look for our taxi driver and after spending some time we walk around the square again. Ee went back to Kuala Lumpur, where we went to see the Petaling market and had dinner at a small club near the hotel.
Well, next day is our flight to Penang. We had breakfast and went to the airport. The flight this time was without turbulence and lasted approximately 45 minutes. When we arrived at the airport of Bayan Lepas, which is the name of the Penang Island airport, we took a taxi, again. There is a system of going to a booth located inside the airport, saying which hotel we go to and paying the money, and we went to the hotel. From the airport to Georgetown it takes about 50 minutes.
Penang was founded in 1786. Georgetown is the main city on the island of Penang. It is located northeast of the island. Speaking to a man, he explained that foreigners usually pass by this city, or use it as a means of passage to the island of Langkawi, an island that I did not go to. It has the best beaches in Asia and they are not exploited at all. It consists of 99 islands located in the Andaman Sea and is a very popular place to do scuba diving.
Well, we arrived about 4 in the afternoon, so we went to the hotel. We were given the top floor of the hotel and the views are stunning. The hotel, although was quite good is quite far from the center. We changed and we went on a short tour of Georgetown. We took the bus as we had indicated at the door and it left us very close to the main street Jalan Penang. We toured the city and caught a trishaw.
It was very funny because the man gave us a tape of the Beatles. They have some radio cassettes attached to the handlebars. He took us for an hour through the Colonial District and Little India, which incidentally we loved. It smelled great, and the stores were full of Bollywood movies, and people eating while watching the latest movie hits. Then we went to dinner at an Indian restaurant that is right in front of the hotel. We had a great dinner. We took a taxi and went to the hotel. Tomorrow will be another day.
Today we get up early, have breakfast at the hotel, take the bus at the door of the hotel and go to the main street of Georgetown. We start with the walking route recommended by the guide. We started at the Clock Tower. It was built in honor of Queen Victoria and paid by a Chinese millionaire. Then, we cross the avenue and continue towards Fort Cornwallis. Currently, there are only the outer walls of the fort, the inner part is a park. There are also some cannons and a monument to the World War.
Then we went to the Supreme Court, which was very clean. It even had Finnish crystals (it is the only place I saw them). Then we follow the Church of San Jorge, which of course, is the oldest Anglican church in Southeast Asia, which was built by prisoners. The Penang Museum that had a lot of old cars and the convent of Lebuh Light.
Then we arrived at the Cathedral of the Assumption, during the mass, which was all sung, and there were DVDs and television screens. Finally, we visit the Eastern & Oriental hotel. This hotel is located on the edge of the sea. This hotel was founded by the same people who made the Raffles of Singapore. There were pictures of actresses and Hollywood actors in lockers in the Hall. The renovation of this hotel in 1931 led the owner family to bankruptcy.
In 1990 it closed and opened again in 2001 and it is currently a true pass.
A warning to those who make this route, take water. There is not a single water outlet, bars, or anything. We almost die dehydrated. When leaving the hotel we saw that there was an exhibition, with swords, and fans. All this took us almost all morning. So we stopped to eat and then we went to see the temple of Sri Mariamman, but before we discovered a Chinese temple.
Then we went to see the Indian Temple. They also say that it is the oldest Hindu temple. It represents Mount Meru and there were numerous people praying and making offerings. We also visited the Kapitan Keling mosque, built in 1801, but enlarged several times. It is the largest in the city and was founded by the Indian Muslims of Penang. And finally, we took a taxi to take us to the temple of Kek Lok Si.
The taxi to the temple cost us 20 RM. It is located on the hill of Penang. This hill is 821 meters from the city of Georgetown and has a funicular. The temple is located 3 km from this hill. This temple was founded by a Chinese Buddhist immigrant and began to be built in 1890. It took more than 20 years to complete and was financed by donations from the rich Chinese.
When we get there, the road forks and there are two lanes left and to the sides small houses and shops. The first breath of fresh air on the climb came with the pond of turtles and fish. It was very dirty, it smelled terrible and there were lots of people. That seemed like a pilgrimage, I do not exaggerate, it was amazing.
While we are going up, we see more temples. Then we arrive at the Pagoda, the Ban Pothar, (Pagoda of ten thousand Buddhas). It is 30 meters high. It has Burmese design on the top, Thai in the center and Chinese on the ground floor. To all this, we keep going up and we find people asking, restaurants, shops and finally the funicular (this is another one different from Penang Hill).
The funicular costs 2 RM round trip and you go up to an esplanade where there is a 36-meter bronze statue of the god of mercy Kuan Yin. There is a pond with lots of fish and a temple that precedes the statues of the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac. The truth is that the visit is worth it. There were numerous Malaysian and Saudi tourists.
Then to not go through again we decided to walk down. It's about 15 or 20 minutes. It goes through a river, fields and it's nice, but very lonely. From here we went back to Georgetown. We had dinner and get back to the hotel. The next day we went to Singapore, but that's another story.