Malaysia - travelling through
Jan 25, 2005
|There was a sense of relief on arrival in Kuala Lumpur as we've both been here a few years ago. After months of discovering new places and getting to grips with the different languages, it felt good to be in a familiar city and just do the ordinary things that we are so used to - hitting the shopping malls; lazily drinking coffee while watching the world go by and eating all our favourite comfort foods, especially roti canai (a flaky paratha type bread dipped in spicy curry gravy).
We managed to get yet another good deal and stay in a nice, fairly central hotel. The short Malay bellboy who brought our backpacks to the room was very entertaining. He could talk non-stop for hours about himself. He claimed that Indian visitors thought he looked like Salman Khan (a Bollywood actor, think younger Indian version of Arnold Schwarzenegger) - he didn't -and followed this with a rendition of Hindi songs and dialogues from his favourite movies. Next he showed us his impressions of "The Rock" from WWF. When not watching Indian movies, he was addicted to wrestling!!
After a few evenings spent browsing the cheap goods in Petliang Market and drinking in expat haven, Bangsar, we decided to head to Penang. Luckily it hadn't been affected as badly as we had thought by the tsunami.
But first we had to try and get tickets on the bus to Penang. The central bus station in KL was chaos. People everywhere you looked - standing; sitting; rushing around, there wasn't any empty floor space in the whole station. Drifting along with the crowds, we managed to locate the ticket windows and passed each screaming seller until we found a window with seats available on a bus to Penang the next day. In a strange system, we would have to return to the same window the following day to be told which bus number to get on. Now all we had to do was remember the window we had to return to!
Bags packed, bus number obtained, we were on our way to Penang on a surprisingly comfortable bus.
Penang is a small island accessible by a bridge from Malaysia. It has an interesting blend of Colonial buildings with traditional Chinese merchant shops and houses. Not forgetting a small Indian area thrown into the mix....no place is complete without an Indian area!
We stayed in a place called Hotel 1926 which was originally built as civil service staff quarters. As such it was an architecturally interesting building but cramped and stuffy inside. It didn't take us long to move to another place in the centre of town.
In our few days there, we walked around the Colonial area by the sea; ate with the locals at the Hawker centres (an outside foodcourt with cheap, tasty food) and off Banana leaves in the Indian area; took in the Chinese influences and stumbled across a small room which doubled as an Indian pub. There we drank beers while watching a group of 5 Indian men (the only other customers) with big handlebar moustaches getting increasingly drunk. Tamil soap operas were playing very loudly on the TV, thankfully making it unnecessary to talk to anyone.
Nearing the end of our stay in Penang, we heard that the South Indian Thaipussam festival had started. Thaipussam is where people show their devotion by piercing strange instruments (needles, knives, etc) through their skin. Due to the lack of publicly available information, we spent the better half of a morning searching for the devotees. Finally, we arrived at a temple in the Indian area and watched what at first appeared to be a normal morning puja (people praying) from the outside. On closer inspection, we found that the low-key ceremony was actually where the devotees were piercing their skin. The group of devotees consisted of Indian teenagers, boys and girls, and one petrified Chinese boy. The Indians had a small needle pierced through their foreheads, whilst the Chinese boy went one step further and had a skewer pierced through one cheek coming out the other cheek! He looked like he was really regretting it whilst his mother watched on proudly and the cameramen filmed his every grimace!
We continued to watch in amazement as they smashed coconuts and were blessed by the priest outside the temple before making their pilgrimage to a water temple outside of town.
The next stop on our journey through Malaysia was Johor Bahru, the closest town to Singapore. A full day's bus journey via Kuala Lumpur brought us to this border town at its liveliest time, at night. We spent hours searching for accommodation, only to discover that all of the budget accommodation we'd been looking at was situated in the red light district. Leaving the scary looking women, with their war paint and stilettos behind, we spent one night in a relatively expensive hotel before hotfooting it to Singapore.
The journey from Johor Bahru to Singapore looked relatively straightforward to our inexperienced eyes. 25 minutes in a bus across a causeway seemed easy enough....or so we thought.
First step was to lug our backpacks up stairs and through the immigration on the Malaysia side. Next, we boarded a "Smiley bus" for the 25 minute drive across the causeway. Now in Singapore, we had to grab our backpacks off the bus and climb another few flights of stairs (who needs a stairmaster when you can just cross this border each day?!) for the Singaporean immigration. Not only did our bags go through the scanner this time, but a friendly security guard analysed Neha's Beer Chang sweatshirt and rolled up painting ... such thorough people these Singaporeans, after all it is the land of rules!!
All that was left to do now was to wait for another bus to drive us the 40 minutes into the centre of town.
We are planning to spend a few days with Kiran's family in Singapore before Neha's mum joins us from England. Singapore is Kiran's second home and so we are continuing our break away from backpacking, in comfortable surroundings and catching up with family and friends.