Tomorrow is our last day in Malaysia before we fly to Thailand to complete our last month of volunteer work and exploration. I am not a terrific "travel blogger", in fact my blogging skills in general are still up for debate, so I will spare you any "Top 10 lists." Before I came here, the only two things I had heard about Malaysia were the recent rampant corruption scandal and the loss of Flight 370. Thankfully, there was a whole lot more to see during our stay in this newly independent country (1957).
First, Malaysia is prohibitively hot. I visited Moscow in the winter and that was prohibitively cold. Malaysia was worse. After about 8am, the sun is oppressive and by 10am, I needed air conditioning at all costs. Today was the first day in my life I used an umbrella in the sun. (And for someone as fashion conscious as myself that means it is real hot)
Second, the mid tier cities (250k - 1mm people) are the best spots and worth the visit. There is a lot of history here thanks to the Malay people, their frequent colonial invaders and WWII.
Malacca, in the south, was a wonderful surprise. It is about a 3 hour drive from the center of Singapore. Jonker Street on a Friday night or Saturday night was the highlight. I had part of my first durian: a fruit so wretched in smell it is banned from most hotels.
Kuala Lumpur was a disappointment. There were some incredible feats of engineering like the Petronas Towers below, but in general, I found the city to be lacking any real character. They had the gargantuan malls there, as in Singapore, which are a welcome respite from the heat, and some decent buzz around its "Times Square," but were it not for an incredible experience teaching refugee children from Myanmar, I don't think I could have spent more than 3 days there.
Now, once one drives about 3 hours north of Kuala Lumpur, there are 3 great cities about an hour apart from each other before the border with Thailand: Ipoh, Taiping and Georgetown. Each has an interesting cross between Chinese culture and British architecture. There are some buildings that look like the British left them 100 years ago and they have not been touched since. I would recommend stopping in each as there are multiple UNESCO heritage sites and wonderful "street food." (I think I have had enough Nasi Goreng, noodles and Laksa for multiple lifetimes.).
A few photos from each city:
Apparently, about 100 years ago, Ipoh was a big manufacturing hub for tin. The big bosses of the tin companies would come down from Taiping and check up on operations every once in a while and when they did, they would also see their mistresses. Hence the name of this famous street:
Taiping: A Major Port in Malaysia. A fishing village still remains and still looks like it did decades ago:
Georgetown: Where the British had a major outpost and occupied Fort Cornwallis.