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Friday, 2 December 2011

KL, TR and GT - Malaysia in 10 days

My first experience of Malaysia came 14 months ago with a 4 hour layover at Kuala Lumpur International at stupid-o’clock in the morning. It was not the best introduction to the country and I hoped for much more coming back a year later for a 10-day stint.

The Petronas Towers...big ain't they?
It did not start as planned. It’s a little known fact that there are actually two KL international terminals; there is the big, sleek and modern terminal for 95% of airlines and then there’s the LCCT (Low Cost Carrier Terminal) where the likes of Air Asia, my airline of choice for this trip, is housed. This is essentially a large warehouse with some immigration desks, a barely manned customs line and a mental taxi rank. Apparently a new modern LCCT is due in 2013; it cannot come soon enough.

The view from the hostel
The first 4 nights in Malaysia were spent in Kuala Lumpur. KL suffered from the problem of having to follow Singapore, a city I and quite a few others I met loved. It’s a bigger city, in many ways dirtier (although no dirtier than a lot of Asian cities) than Singapore and with a bit less to do. My time in KL consisted of wandering around photographing the various landmarks, taking my customary trip to the top of the observation tower (the most disappointing of all the observation decks so far- unfortunately the bridge at the Petronas Towers was closed) and spending my nights eating street food and drinking with the incredible view at the rooftop bar at my hostel. I was told that Reggae Mansion was a blessing and a curse as a hostel; it’s got one of the best bars in town and, because of this, you never want to leave it. What they don't mention is that trying to shift a hangover in 95% humidity is almost impossible.
Tanah Rata

Tired of the smoke and sweat of tropical cities, I headed to Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands for three nights. Here, and on the bus ride in on the incredible VIP service for RM35, you get to see so much more of rural Malaysia. A solid 10 degrees cooler than KL, Tanah Rata is not much more than a collection of food and tour stands around the main road through the mountains, with some guesthouses scattered around. It’s unusually proud of the local strawberry and tea crops (I could buy a Cornish Cream Tea from no less than 5 otherwise Malay cafes) and had a variety of walks into the mountains. I hit during the rainy season, which read to monsoon conditions every afternoon. This was fine by me, I was normally tired from a morning hiking around the local roads.

Just one of Penanag's 1000 churches
I finished my time in Malaysia in George Town, located in Penang in the North West of the country. It’s much smaller than Kuala Lumpur, in spite of being the second biggest town in Malaysia, and is the Hanoi to KL’s Saigon – much less developed with very few pavements meaning you work your way around amidst the traffic, but retaining the charm that only a city of this size can. It’s also overrun with churches, mosques and all sorts of mid 19th Century buildings to admire as well as the likes of the Red Garden food court, where Christmas classics were blaring out in 25 degree heat as I ate Japanese BBQ. The surreal experiences out here never seem to end,

It’d be amiss of me to not recommend the excellent Penang Museum. Charting the history of George Town from its beginnings as a British settlement and documenting the various races who make up the city, it cost RM1 to get in (£0.20) and passed a diverting hour.  All in all Penang may well be my favourite stop on the Malaysian leg of the journey.

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