“If you don’t expect anything, you will always be pleasantly surprised.”
I heard this phrase about 2 years ago when going to a toilet in Jordan, and asking our guide whether there would be toilet paper. This was her answer and it was one of those phrases that stick. It’s also very appropiate to describe our second country.
Malaysia has never been on our dream destination list. After Nepal we just wanted a smooth country with smooth roads, preferably with a direct connected flight from Kathmandu, and into the direction of Thailand. After a little reseach, Malaysia seemed to tick those boxes and we just booked the ticket. After 2 weeks in Malaysia I can defenitely say it was the best decision! We didn’t have any knowledge nor expectations towards the country, and just discovered it on the go.
First stop: Kuala Lumpur! A great mix of modern skyscrapers, Indian areas and Chinese streets, a melting pot of cultures with 60% being muslims, but you have hindu temples, christian churches and chinese buddhist temples in the same street. A city of contrast and diversity, and it seems to work well together!
We finally started cycling, like real cycling. It took a while to leave the vast city of over 8 million inhabitants where still a lot of construction and expansion is taking place. Direction: the sea. Because this is a tropical destination so the beaches should be scenic. This one expectation I had, proved to be wrong as mainland Malaysia’s coastland on merely used for fishery. For the nice beaches, you need to be on the surrounding islands. So that’s were we headed! North, through the immense green lush nature and palm plantations.
And we loved it! The roads were pure bliss. Smooth asphalt, a little hilly and curvy so you never get bored. This country has some serious race bike potential!! You often get to see animals on the side of the road (monkeys, turtles and a sporadic lizard/varaan). Some monkeys were pretty cheeky so they made us pedal a bit faster from time to time.
And the people are the kindest! We read somewhere that Malaysians find cyclist cute, and indeed, we received plenty of encouring honks, thumbs ups and waves. Almost every where we stopped we had a friendly chat and often got offered a drink or a meal. Sometimes it made us wonder if it was because we created some animo or because we just looked so sweaty and piteous.
at a stoplight we received this bag of delicious duku’s from a stranger, and he rode off before we even could say thank you.
I’ve never seen so many palm trees together in my life. The country is filled with palm plantations, so it’s good to read that the Malaysian government has decided to stop that expansion and keep at least half of the territory as unspoiled nature. Palm oil has a bad social and environmental reputation. But reading myself a little into the topic, it’s not all that bad and many initiatives are taken to make it more sustainable, like keeping wildlife in the plantations (have you already seen a lot of wildlife on our potato fields ?) and giving good working conditions and a decent life standard to the local people. For sure we could limit the amount of palm oil in our food and cosmetics, but the alternative is not better or more planet friendly (did you know that coconut oil, that also could be used in e.g. tooth paste, takes 10 to 20 times more territory to deliver the same amount of oil?). It kept my mind a little busy while cycling these magnificent green plantations…
We also discovered some new food in Malaysia: Roti pisang and Thosai for breakfast. Fresh sugarcane juice and coconuts during the day. And Indian or Chinese for diner. Overall we prefer the Indian cuisine, but regularly went to a Chinese eatery because in the rural areas, that’s the only places that serve a refreshing beer (which we definitely prefer over the sweet milk tea you get served everywhere else!). The restaurants had the most funny names, and almost all off them had a buffet – not so our favourite as it stands in the sun all day. They have other food hygiene standards here I guess!
A short ferry ride and we arrived on our first island: Penang. Still many skyscrapers and a lot of construction, like a booming economy. It’s main city George Town is Unesco world heritage because of its pretty architecture, that protects it from vertical expansion. Great, because the houses are really cute and there’s a lot of street art adding a a certain coolness to the city.
We decided to keep islandhopping our way up to Thailand. First Langkawi (still Malaysia), then Koh Lipe (a tiny Thai island) and then up north. Maybe we can try to avoid the rainy season that way, that is currently coming down from Thailand and mainly active on the east coast. Fingers crossed!