KL, Cameron Highlands, Penang & Langkawi- Malaysia

Trip Start Sep 15, 2009
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Where I stayed
Couch surfing at Sree's place
Cameron Highlands

Flag of Malaysia  , Wilayah Persekutuan,
Thursday, October 15, 2009

Our travel from Indonesia to Malaysia got us into Kuala Lumpur airport at the ungodly hour of 3am.  This is where Keith and I got our first dose of airport sleeping in...and I learned that my backpack makes for a decent pillow.   (All I have to say is don't knock it until you've tried it!)  For the record, we were not certainly not alone in our desire to get a little shut eye, there were many other travels just as exhausted as we were crashed out all around us like an international slumber party. 

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia was where we had our first official couchsurfing experience.  For those unfamiliar with the Couchsurfing.com network, it is an online service that helps connect the worldwide community of travelers to local residents in a particular country, or even other travelers that are local at the moment but come from various countries.  Everyone involved is interested in meeting each other to experience a true cultural exchange.   Both "surfers" and "hosts" must post pictures and a profile about themselves online where others then can post their review regarding their interactions with that person on their profile.  Many "hosts" welcome traveling "surfers" by opening up their homes and offer their "couch" to host travelers (a "couch" may truly just be a couch or surface area to sleep on, or it could even be a private room with a bathroom).   Some local couchsurfers may have no space available to host in their house, but still want to engage in the couchsurfing community and are happy to meet up for "coffee" (or various other meet-up situations), or just show a surfer around their town.  So when Keith and I were reviewing potential hosts' profiles to determine whose "couch" in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia would be the best fit for us, we felt confident when we selected our first host seeing that he had pages upon pages of multiple positive reviews from people whom he had hosted.  (And thank goodness he gave us a chance to surf at his place considering we are fairly new to couchsurfing, and at the time had only a couple of reviews from friends who just so happened to also be on couchsurfing.)

After we woke from our airport slumber party, we started on our journey to our Malaysian host's house with the intention that we would arrive at his apartment at an hour more decent than our 3 am airport arrival.  So after a couple of transfers, and a useless taxi cab ride, we finally arrived at our gracious couchsurfing host Sree's skyrise apartment.  Sree's bachelor pad boasted a beautiful view from the balcony overlooking Bukhit Jalil park, in the Kuala Lumpur district about a 30 minutes train ride south of downtown.  (Bukhit Jalil Park is a great place to get some exercise, and also observe hundreds of huge catfish and turtles hanging out underneath the bridges waiting for some fish food.)  We were put to ease as we immediately discovered that Sree was a very down-to-earth, very easy going guy that truly loved to meet new people and share his Malaysian culture with travelers.  We even had our own room and bathroom, so we really felt like we were being spoiled. 

Our first night there, Sree introduced us to his favorite local eatery where we got our first taste of local naan bread with dipping sauces and tea tarik or "pulled tea" that became my personal favorite.  This place even had hookah with many different flavors to choose from.  (Hey, we didn't want to risk insulting our host so "had" to have some hookah!  Plus you know that saying "when in Rome..."- this can be applied worldwide.)  The next day Sree joined us as we toured Kuala Lumpur, and he introduced us to our first try of delicious banana leaf vegetarian Indian food.  As Westerners, we are unaccustomed to using our hands instead of utensils for the entire meal.  But here, you use your hands to scoop up rice with various types of prepared vegetables and beans in delicious sauces that were ladled onto a strip of banana leaf which served as your disposable placemat (after your meal this goes to the compost or to feed the pigs instead of into the landfill, in fact this method of eating is extremely green with no trash and nothing but your hands to wash).

We then walked a good portion of downtown Kuala Lumpur, seeing Merdeka Square and its surrounding historic buildings.  Sree then took us through little China where you can get "authentic" designer watch/purse/belt/jewelry or "original" CD/DVD/electronics for rock-bottom fell-off-the-back-of-the-truck prices.  After this, we happily ducked into the Central Market mall to stand in the air conditioning and cool off for a few moments. 

Later Keith and I went on to see the Islamic Arts Museum, where the guard at the entrance asked if we were students, and I replied "yes, but of course...right now we are students of Malaysia."  Which earned some brownie points with the man at the ticket booth, who then generously let Keith and I both in at the student ticket rate.  This museum was a great educational stop, and we were particularly impressed with the incredibly detailed replicas of various famous mosques around the world, including the Holy Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the Taj Mahal in India, and the Alhambra Mosque in Granada, Spain. 

Just as people always associate NYC as being this great melting pot of culture and civilization, this is definitely true of Malaysia.  You can see influences coming from China, India, Malays, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Christians.  There is something for everyone to see and experience in Kuala Lumpur. 

Another day we got out to see the impressive Twin Petronas Towers of Malaysia, and the KL tower, all located in the Golden Triangle area (read: the $$$ area).  Underneath the Twin Petronas Towers is a ridiculous shopping mall (read: strictly window shopping)... where Keith had the privilege of paying to use the bathroom (which is normal in tourist areas of southeast Asia), and as I waited outside the bathroom in the mall for him I had the privilege of getting immediately reprimanded by the security guard when I squatted down to stretch my weary legs. (Later in this blog entry, you will notice that I had some issues in Malaysia on appropriate ways to stretch my legs.)

While we stayed at Sree's, another Couchsurfer friend of his from Germany named Toby showed up.  Toby was a repeat surfer with Sree, having been to Malaysia many times.  Toby was just about the happiest person we have ever met.  He punctuates all of his sentences with a contagious laugh that made him great to hang out with.  The first night he was there he showed us his professional quality pictures he took of past travels to Kuala Lumpur on his laptop.  This resulted in two outcomes:  1) Keith and I decided to stay in Kuala Lumpur an extra day so we could go with Toby to the Batu Caves and  2) that Toby's Canon G10 Camera takes amazing pictures AND our camera is on its way out....so hmmm...1 + 1 = new camera purchase in Malaysia.

The next day Toby introduced us to our first roti with egg (thin Indian bread kind of like a soft tortilla) with a spicy dipping sauce.  Delicious roti with egg became another Malaysian favorite for me.  Keith, Toby and I then bussed to Batu Caves, the largest Hindu temple outside of India, just a several miles north of Kuala Lumpur. It is impressive to walk up to...there is a large towering golden statue of a Hindu goddess guarding the entrance comprised of 272 steps up into the caves.  You walk into these huge caverns where there are several shrines and people praying around you.  We happen to be there on Deepavali (also known as Dewali), the festival of lights.  So there were many people there celebrating the Hindu holiday.  Although this was a holy space, (just like our experience in Bali) the Batu Caves have their own share of misbehaved monkeys.  One particularly fresh monkey- that is going directly to karmic hell for this one - stole a bottle from a baby and scurried up to an overhang, where he ripped off the plastic nipple and gulped it down like he was doing a shot.

After several days, we said our goodbyes to Sree, Toby, and Kuala Lumpur, and we were onto our next stop....Cameron Highlands.  We took a bus on a very very windy road to the Cameron Highlands which are located half-way up the Malaysia peninsula in the mountains.  Because the Highlands were at a higher altitude, for the first time in a month and a half, we weren't sweating profusely just by simply breathing.  Even for me (the person who is always freezing in the middle of a desert heat wave) the cooler air was a welcome change!  We stayed at a fun backpackers haven called Dan's Lodge where we met a lot of interesting travelers from all over the globe.  Another bonus for us at Dan's lodge was that even though it was budget accommodations, we actually had the luxury of HOT water to shower with for the first time in a month and a half.  In Cameron Highlands the popular dish is called "steamboat", where you have a portable butane grill in the middle of your table, and they give you a large pot with broth and an assortment of raw vegetable, seafood, and meat trays that you cook yourself.  So if the meal turns out overcooked, the only chef to blame is yourself. 

In Cameron Highlands Keith and I finally gave into the temptation of trying the famous Malaysian foot reflexology.  There are tons of these shops EVERYWHERE.  Malaysian foot reflexology shops are like the Starbucks of Malaysia...you can find one on every corner.  We had to see what all the hype was about, plus we bargained with the lady and got her down to 10 Ringgits ($5 US) each for each of us to get a half hour treatment  (which we determined was within our budget LOL).  So after a half hour, we had happier feet, but for the record- it certainly wasn't a life changing experience.  The best part was how the reflexology therapists REALLY got a big kick out of Keith's jangot.  (For those that missed our Bali blog..."jangot" means beard in Indonesian, and we later learned its the same word in Malaysia too.)  
 
A couple of days later, we hopped back on a bus traveling on another very very windy road and then over a bridge to the city of Georgetown on the island of Penang, off the upper west coast of peninsular Malaysia.  We stayed at Old Penang Guesthouse, located on Love Lane (insert AWWWW sound here....or gagging sound may apply too.)  Old Penang proved to be one of the nicer hostels we have stayed in to date (read: HOT shower water again!), although halfway through our time in Penang we unfortunately had to move down the street because Old Penang ran out of rooms. 

We found it interesting that whenever people heard we were traveling to Penang they ALWAYS said the SAME thing "oh the food there is soooo AMAZING!"  Well, I'm not sure what restaurants they were going to, but we thought the food there had its edible hits and misses- just like every other place we had been.  Plus it was here in Penang that I hit a personal wall as far as not having my everyday foods from back home.  I was reeeaaally homesick for "my comfort food"...basically, I was ready to kill for a PLAIN OLD RAW SALAD...which is a big fat NO-NO when you are traveling in some South East Asian countries.  Keith and I have been following the traveler's (gastrointestinal) golden rule:  "boil it, cook it, peel it, or forget it"- which radically changes my nutritional options compared to my standard daily intake in the United States.  As a result, I've eaten more greasy fried food in the past month and a half while traveling than I have had in the past five years back at home.  Thankfully, around the corner from our hostel, on the recommendation from another traveler,  we discovered our favorite vegetarian Indian food spot called Sri Ananda Bahwan.  We wound up frequenting this place at almost once every day we were in Penang.  

In Penang we saw the very impressive Pinang Peranakan Mansion, or as our enthusiastic tour guide kept on repeating "The shack owned by the Chinese-Malay-Godfather-Mafia-Boss-Tycoon."  Well, this Malay-Godfather had a lot of money to burn, and which was reflected in the abundance of interesting decorations, furniture, sculptures, and art to see, supplying a plethora of amazing photo ops.  While we were touring, there were at least three different wedding groups taking pictures there against the beautiful backdrop of this magnificent mansion. 

While in Penang we were able to connect with many different couchsurfers.  One night we met up with a weekly couchsurfing gathering at the wharf.  It was here that we met Ang, Bhagwan, Carolyn, Stephen, and several others.  We soon discovered that Stephen was practically our neighbor in Silicon Valley and travels to Malaysia for work, and Carolyn was from NY.  (But interestingly enough, we've noticed that we are NOT running into many Americans traveling here....it has been almost entirely European, Australian, and Canadian backpackers)  Another couchsurfer we met named Ang is a very high energy local that was full of information on what to see and do, and helped us make a plan for later in the week to volunteer at the handicap house where he regularly helps out.  We also decided to meet with Ang the next evening behind the Emperor's Temple to get backstage to see the Chinese opera actors getting ready for their performance. 

The next day Keith and I bused over to see the Kek Lok Si Temple, next to Penang Hill.  This is a MUST SEE in Penang.   This beautifully styled colorful Chinese Buddhist temple was just breathtaking.  We didn't anticipate how much there was to see there, and we wound up spending the better part of the day exploring all corners of this temple.  We took waaay too many pictures there, trying to capture it all.  Keith also rang a prayer bell the size of a small car, and we are not sure if he was actually allowed to do this, so Keith may be joining those Batu Cave monkeys in karmic hell!

That night we made our way to the Emperors Temple and looked for Ang backstage.  Ang wound up not being able to meet us, but the actors invited us backstage to  watch them don their elaborate costumes, make-up, wigs, and hats and transform into characters that looked like they stepped out of a Chinese cartoon.  None of the actors could speak a word of English, but Keith and I gestured to ask if it was OK for us to take some photos as they got ready.  Well, that became the center of attention for a while...everyone wanted their picture taken and then they wanted to see what they looked like on the digital camera screen.  After the Chinese opera, we decided to head over to our now regular favorite vege Indian food hot spot, where we coincidentally ran into couchsurfers Bhagwan and Carolyn again.  We got to chatting with them and Carolyn mentioned that there was a free breakfast and lunch that she sometimes volunteered to help out at at a local Sikh Temple.  One thing lead to another, and Bhagwan (a couchsurfing host) graciously spontaneously offered to host us at his house the next couple of nights, and offered to pick us up at our hostel the next morning so that we could all attend the temple breakfast, and then get set up at his place to stay the remainder of our time in Penang.  I had seen Bhagwan's interesting couchsurfing profile and we were happy this opportunity presented itself!

Bhagwan picked us up the next morning, and on our way to the Sikh Temple he handed Keith and I each a cloth to place over our heads to cover our hair, to demonstrate respect when entering the temple.  The temple breakfast and lunch is open to anyone who wishes to attend, regardless of religious beliefs.  They served us incredibly delicious browned chickpeas, a thicker bread-meets-pita thing called pranta, and my favorite tea tarik.  Bhagwan was full of interesting information on how the Sikh religion is actually a blending of Hindu and Muslim beliefs.  He then invited us upstairs so we could see the prayer taking place, with the females sitting on the left of the room, and the males sitting on the right, everyone cross-legged on the floor.  Well I managed to get reprimanded (again!) by another woman within two minutes because I didn't realize that while I sat on the floor I couldn't stretch my legs and straighten them out in front of me by pointing them towards the front of the room (it is considered rude/inappropriate).  Thankfully I managed to make it through the rest of the prayer without getting any further correction.   We then went to Bhagwan's skyscraper apartment located just outside of city proper, with amazing views of the Penang skyline. Again we were spoiled by a couchsurfing host with our own private bedroom and bathroom.

That same day we met up with the couchsurfing Nomadic Ambassador from France, Alex, as well as some other couchsurfers at Penang's monthly Street Festival, which was reminiscent of an Art & Wine Festival from back home.   Alex volunteered at the House of Hope for Children, another volunteer program that we were volunteering at later that week.   Alex was full of interesting stories, and how he was personally working to bridge the gap between the US and France one conversation at a time...he repeated to us several times how much he LOVED the United States. 

After our time with Alex, and working on strengthening those French-American relationships, we went to go meet with Ang again.  Today was our day to volunteer with Ang at the handicap house.  The handicap house welcomed volunteers to spend time with its handicap residents who needed interaction and social stimulation.  When we arrived, Ang quickly connected us with residents that we could help most (those that spoke some English so we could have quality communication).  There were two residents in particular that we connected with.  A lovely woman who was very shy at first but opened up with time, and by the end was singing Christmas carols for us.  There was a gentle man who really took to Keith and was very inquisitive about many things, and was quick to joke around with us.  He kept saying he was going to travel with us for free by hiding in our suitcases.   We felt so fortunate that we had the opportunity to volunteer here.

After our time at the handicap house with Ang, Bhagwan came and met all of us for dinner at the The Culinary Center at the Palace of Fine Arts right down the street from where we were volunteering.  (This was also coincidentally the place that Carolyn mentioned to us was her favorite vegetarian Indian food in all of Penang.)  There were so many delicious choices on the menu,  but there are no prices listed on the menu.  Based on your financial ability, you make a voluntary donation at the end of your meal to the facility, which then goes to helping the needy, and help bring art into the community  Their menu reads "Eat as you want, give as you feel".  Well, we felt very full indeed.    

The next morning Bhagwan took us to the Mahikari center where he volunteered.  We learned that Mahikari is a Japanese healing art form where qualified practitioners share "light", and it has a transforming peaceful effect on the recipient.  Keith and I received a session each, and we both found it to be incredibly peaceful, and we both had our own personal "wow" moments.  It is one of those moments that would take each of us a volume to explain our personal experiences, and yet someone reading it still wouldn't "get it".  Let's just say Mahikari is something that must be experienced, not explained. 

Feeling "lighter", Keith and I then went to meet up again with Alex from couchsurfing to go volunteer with him at House of Hope for Children.  These children came from broken families living in impoverished conditions, and these children need guidance/support/role models to spend time with them in a safe and nurturing environment.   With all the unimaginable daily challenges some of these children faced, they still exuded a radiance from within...laughing, playing games, smiles.   Keith and I spent time playing computer games with them, seeing if they needed help with homework, playing a ball game called "monkey", and just chatting.  At the end of our day, Keith and I were paid in abundance with smiles and hugs.   These children were precious, and I found it really hard to walk away, wanting to bring them all home with me. 

That night we went back to the Chinese Emperor's Temple to meet up with Ang and several other couchsurfers to see the elaborate celebration marking the last night of their "vegetarian fast".  We saw the Chinese dragons dancing, ceremonial drums, and people in trance as part of the ceremony.  It was packed and it was a party!   But we soon called it an early night as we had an early morning to catch the ferry to our next destination- the island of Langkawi off the west coast of peninsular Malaysia.

Bhagwan was an amazing host, again reaffirmed the beauty of couchsurfing and the wonderful people that exist all over the world.  He even dropped us off at the ferry the next morning.   He was generous in more ways than one...sharing his apartment, sharing "light", and sharing his interest in meeting people from around the world.  We were grateful for yet another wonderful couchsurfing experience.

When we got off the ferry at Langkawi's port, we knew we wanted to catch a taxi to a beach area called Pantai Cenang to look for a hostel.  Keith spotted another backpacker and quickly offered to share our ride and split the fare, and this is how we met Fabian.  We immediately clicked with Fabian, and wound up spending every day in Langkawi together.  Fabian's signature saying "WHY NOT?" quickly became our Langkawi mantra.  (For example:  Let's eat at Tomato Restaurant for the millionth time this week...."Why not?"...Do you want to listen to more reggae music at Legends Bar for the third night in a row...."Why not?")  We quickly learned that Fab is a chef in a posh ski resort in Switzerland, and was traveling with his friend Julia.  They traveled to South East Asia because Julia's sister and her husband had just moved to Penang.  After some time visiting in Penang together, Fab traveled ahead to Langkawi for a couple of days alone, and Julia stayed behind on Pengang to spend a little more time with her family.  We also quickly discovered the beaches of Langkawi are GORGEOUS and WARM.  Keith thought the water was not refreshing because it was so warm, but I thought I was in heaven.  

Julia got into town a couple of days later, and we immediately clicked with her too.  Julia was a waitress at that same posh Swiss ski resort.  Meeting Julia and Fab was a definite highlight of our Langkawi experience.  Once Julia was in town, we decided to do a day trip around the island and check out other beaches and a tram that takes you up the side of the tallest mountain, revealing beautiful views of the island.  When you get off the tram you can take a stroll on a walkway perched high above the valley and take in the breathtaking views. 

Fab and Julie had expressed interest in checking out the famous full moon party on Koh Phangan island in Thailand...which was our next stop.  We offered to split our reserved hostel space with them, so they knew they had a place to stay once they got there.  They wanted to stay behind in Langkawi, Malaysia one more day, and cross the border to Thailand the day after us.  So with a plan to meet up with them later,  Keith and I said our goodbyes to Malaysia, and started our adventure.  The plan was to catch the ferry from Langkawi, Malaysia, to mainland Satun, Thailand, and then road travel across the Thailand peninsula and catch another ferry to Koh Phangan, Thailand.  This string of connections is where we experienced THE MOST challenging part of our world travels so far.  (Details to be revealed in our next blog...)  But in summary, if at some point in your life you just so happen to find yourself looking for transportation from Langkawi, Malaysia to Koh Phangan, Thailand, DO NOT use a travel agency off the main drag in Langkawi! 
































































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Comments

Maribel on

Hello :-)
I'm glad to hear you guys are doing great; beautiful report and pictures, love it; please be safe and take care.
Love
Maribel

mercy on

Keith, Beth,
Love and miss you guys so much. All that food is making me homesick. Beth, you don't look as though you've been backpacking. No dreadlocks??

Sam on

dude Keith, I'm loving the beard y0. I wish you would've rocked that at Nvidia. I can tell you're having a good time buddy!!!! Take care and I'll stay tuned :).

Matt on

hey guys great to hear of your travels, makes me jealous and gives me itchy feet to hit the road again myself. Hey when is it again that your in Oz so i can try to tee you up something hopefully. Maybe able to get you in to the nice 5 star hotel I use to work at for a couple of nights on the cheap. Let me know your dates again, I might actually be back home there in January/February myself with Alli.
be safe and have fun.
matt

mom and dad on

We are so much enjoying staying in touch and knowing that you are happy and safe. Great pictures and narrative...Travelogue helps dad and Me travel with you. Good to know there are wonderful people in the world contacting with you two wonderful people. Keep it coming. xoxoxo

Pete Ingoglia on

I am so happy for you guys and at the same time so f@cking jealous. I love the blog and the pics. Keep them coming. Be well.

andrea on

did the full moon party myself, 15 years ago!!!!! great to hear you're having fun, you two.

Grandma and Tom on

So glad that you are having a wonderful time and meeting some very nice people. You both look great and can tell that you are having fun everyday in your travels. We look forward to hearing about your next ventures. Much love, xoxox

Paula on

Hey Guys!
Finally had time to sit with a cup of tea and enjoy your travels with you .... sounds wonderful.
This weekend was Thanksgiving and the food was far from vegan.... Turkey with all the fixins.... is it bad that I had it for bfast the next morning? :)
I latched on to your friend's comment about his G10... We used it's predicessor (the G3) on our year off and it took amazing photos. It still stands out as my favorite camera of all time. When my G3 died this fall I SERIOUSLY considered the G10.. but opted for the next step down so I could slip ity in my pocket. The G10 is a fantastic camera though.
Looking forward to the next Blog. Love you both!

Chuck & Sarah on

We are both enjoying your latest pics and stories, as having just returned from parents in SD. Nice goat on your chin, i mean goattee. Big hugs!

Hakim Hamzah on

An excellent write up on your visit to KL. Do consider posting this as entry to the www.blog4ft.com contest. Interesting prizes to be won!

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