February 23, 2015 – February 26, 2015
With our time soaking up the sun in Thailand’s vast archipelagos of islands come to and end, we made our way south to our 20th country, Malaysia. Like the city of Bangkok, much of Malaysia has been transformed and modernized by capitalism. In stark contrast from rural Thailand, Malaysia is a country of modern conveniences and commercialization. Most traces of the simple indigenous life have been erased and replaced with a land of shopping malls, resorts, restaurants and cafes. If you are looking for a relaxing holiday in southeast Asia, with beautiful weather and a plethora of great food, but don’t want to stray too far from your convenient lifestyle back at home, Malaysia might just be for you.
Georgetown, Malaysia would be our first destination in our 20th country on our trip around the world. But first we had to get through the Malaysian border, a process which was made quite long due to the high traffic during the Chinese New Year. Long queues awaited at each border for exit and entrance stamps and a one kilometer stretch of road in between, which our driver said usually takes 3 minutes to traverse took well over an hour. After spending a significant portion of our van ride at the border we finally got our 20th country stamp and entered Malaysia! Our next stop Georgetown, situated south of the border with Thailand on the northeast corner of the large island of Penang. We arrived via a tourist minivan from Trang, Thailand, which drove us conveniently right to the tourist center of Georgetown, where all the hotels and guesthouses are located. Most of the popular places to stay are located within a block or two in any direction from where we were dropped off.
Founded in 1786, Georgetown began as a British colony. As such it has a rich colonial history which is clearly evident with its many streets lined with colonial buildings and various hints of its European past. Due largely to its colonial roots, and the influx of laborers and traders from around the region, Malaysia has become a melting pot of Asia, with populations from China, India, Thailand and Indonesia, to name a few. You can spot signs of various cultures everywhere. Of particular note is the wide variety of food which can be found here. Malaysia is definitely a foodie’s paradise. Everywhere you turn you will find restaurants and street venders selling food as richly diverse as we have seen anywhere on our trip thus far.
Night Food Markets
There are even night markets simply devoted to food, with dozens and dozens of venders coming together just to prepare and sell food. It would be easy to spend a month in Malaysia and never once walk into anything resembling a restaurant with the abundance of food available on the street. The largest and most popular time for these markets to appear are at night, when the air cools down and the city comes alive with people in the streets walking around sampling food from all over the world. There were half a dozen or so of these night markets within walking distance of our hotel, not to mention the many solo venders spread out everywhere in between.
We also discovered our new favorite coffee in Malaysia, white coffee. It’s truly some of the best coffee I’ve ever had, even Krista likes it and she hates coffee back home. Being a bit of coffee enthusiast, the ability to brew a good cup is in fact the second most important criteria when evaluating a country. White Coffee is as its name would imply a lighter color bean, it is made by lightly roasting the beans then mixing them with margarine, salt and sesame and roasting them again. The result is one of the best cups of coffee I’ve ever had and one Krista will actually enjoy!
If you can drag yourself away from the food venders long enough, or even better yet get some food to go, Georgetown has a lot to see around town, and much of it within easy walking distance. The villages built on the piers are a great place to eat some take away food and drink an iced white coffee, as you walk along the wooden planks exploring the maze of little shops and homes all built over the water. Georgetown is also known for its street art, there are even maps showing where to go to see the very best examples, or you can just wander around between food venders and you’ll be sure to see some.
The Khoo Kongsi Clan House
If you are looking for a little cultural history be sure to visit the Khoo Kongsi clan house in town, a traditional clan house of Chinese influence. The clan houses were essentially just meeting places for members of a certain clan, and they took great pride in building them elaborately. Khoo Kongsi is one of the best examples, and it’s easy to walk to in the middle of Georgetown.
We found the Khoo Kongsi clan house, with its painstaking attention to detail and fine craftsmanship, to be a very impressive first stop in Georgetown.
Kek Lok Si Temple
Outside of town you can find the Kek Lok Si Temple, which is really a sprawling complex of temples leading up a hill to a massive 35 meter bronze statue at the very top of hill. The statue, which can be seen for miles around, may look like Buddha from a distance but is in fact a statue of Kuan Yin goddess of mercy. You can take a bus from town for the 45 minute ride inland to the entrance to the Kek Lok Si temple complex at the bottom of a hill. Wandering upwards through a maze of passages and stairways and past dozens of elaborate shrines you will eventually make your way to the top. The timing of our visit couldn’t have been better, the temple complex we found out is usually closed well before nightfall, but because of the Chinese New Year celebrations (which were going on all over town during our stay) the temple was open until after nightfall and lit up specially for the occasion, something we were told only occurs on the Chinese New Year. All of which allowed for some great pictures as the sun set and the lights came on.
With Malaysia making a good first impression we left Georgetown and the island of Penang behind and headed south by bus to the nation’s capital Kuala Lumpur. While some might find Malaysia to be too modern and built up and not too much different from back home, we found it a welcome relief from the much more primitive islands we had been on for the last couple weeks. We also were surprised to discover that Malaysia is quite cheap. Despite all its modern conveniences, finding a hotel and food on a budget is very easy, something we are happy to report continued for the rest of our time in Malaysia.