Crossing from Singapore into Malaysia the land is surprisingly empty for Asia – the bus passed only a few buildings and no towns on the way to Melaka… just acres & acres of palm oil plantations.
I spent a day in Melaka, an historical town where the Portuguese and Dutch fought over control of trade routes (and ultimately lost out to the British as Singapore became the richest city in the region), then on to Kuala Lumpur.
Kuala Lumpur is a big modern city with several attractions such as museums and wildlife parks, and the Batu Caves.
One of the highlights so far has been the authentic Indian culture, with the sensory overload of the Hindu temples making an interesting contrast from the elegant minimalism of the Japanese approach.
I also had the most delicious Indian meal I’ve had in years last night – vegetarian, all kinds of flavours, served on a banana leaf, and complete with roti, papadums, a drink and desert – for around $4 equivalent. You couldn’t even buy a sandwich for that in Perth these days.
It’s interesting to see Bahasa Melayu is one of the more accessible Asian languages to a westerner – it’s written in the Latin alphabet and has many European loan words e.g. teksi, bas, polis, informasi etc.I had a great time in Malaysia – definitely a country I’d like to revisit and explore further. It’s somewhere in between the semi-controlled chaos of Thailand or Vietnam and the expensive ‘perfection’ of Singapore or Japan, and not as overwhelming as China or (I imagine) India. The buses and trains run on time, the roads aren’t full of potholes, and English is widely spoken. There are some seedy areas and mouldy looking buildings in parts, but that’s probably true of any country. It’s also an intriguing cultural fusion, as you can find India and China on the same street, and the native Malay culture is something else again.
Also, the prices are so darn reasonable – I paid $20 a night equivalent for a nothing-fancy-but-OK room in a hotel in Chinatown, when you’d be lucky to get a dormitory bed in a backpacker’s for that in Australia or NZ!
The Petronas towers, are a focal point for the city and the symbol of modernity and progress in Malaysia. With the USA having lost its famous twin towers in New York, these ones seem to symbolise the new ‘Asian century’.
Despite all the hard times in Europe & elsewhere (Western Australia has become a pessimistic & paranoid place in the past 12 months too), a taxi driver was keen to tell me how ‘Southeast Asia is booming’.
Unfortunately disaster struck at the 11th hour as I was in a hurry to the airport (one too many temples to photograph and too little time) and left my phone in the back of a taxi! Stupid me… there’ll be no more photos that I haven’t already uploaded here, and I’ve lost all my video and sound recordings (at least I didn’t lose everything, as I did with Bulgaria and Spain in 2008). I guess that just gives me another reason to try and go back another time.
I had to abandon hope of retrieving the phone in order to catch my plane on time, so at least I’ve now made it to Yogyakarta…