The sun has just set on our 2nd week here in Malaysia so it seems like a good time to finally write about this awesome country. To be completely honest, upon leaving Thailand, all I knew about Malaysia is what I read in the inflight magazine… so in other words… nothing. Just two weeks here have left me speechless. Malaysia has surpassed my expectations for a multitude of reasons.
The first one being the diversity. I expected Malaysia to be a lot like Thailand, they are neighbors after all. I was wrong, very wrong. Thailand, in general, is not all that diverse. The majority of people are both Thai and Buddhist. Malaysia on the other hand is home to a melting pot of different religions, cultures, and ethnicities. The main ones are Malay, of course, Chinese, and Indian. From food to clothing to architecture, Chinese and Indian cultural influences are very visible in nearly every aspect of society.
Little India in Georgetown, Penang has so far been my favorite place. The closest I’ve ever felt to actually being in India. Along its busy streets are shops full of gorgeous fabrics for sarees, traditional Indian dress. Blaring pop music from 2008 plays into the street next to shops full of copy written movies. As I aways imagined India to look, the streets are full of color. Colorful head coverings of muslim girls, and flowing, vibrant fabrics of traditional sarees flood the streets. Then, there is the food. I don’t think I could ever grow tired of Indian food. Everything from somosas to deserts are cooked by street vendors. The smell of curry and spices wafts into the street from every direction.
Malaysia’s state religion is Islam so everyday, five times a day, we hear the call to prayer blaring out of the nearest Masjid (mosques). Contrary to some other Muslim countries, the law promises freedom of religion. Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and various other Chinese religions are also widely followed.
Contrary to popular belief, while Muslims practice modesty in clothing you don’t have to. As long as you are wearing clothing you should be good. T-shirts and shorts are perfectly fine- especially in cities like Georgetown or KL. The only restrictions are your comfort zone, and (women) covering your knees and shoulders in Buddhist, Hindu, or Chinese temples. Mosques are a little trickier to visit because for women you must cover to the wrists, ankles, and hair. Men only need to wear slacks. Ug.
Evidence of Malaysia’s colonial past is also preset. The big giveaway is that everyone speaks English. Menus are in English, venders speak English, and you can easily ask for help- which people are usually more than happy to give. There’s nothing like being able to order food easily, and know what you are eating after a long day. The language of Malaysia is Bahasa Melayu, but for many people this isn’t even their first language. Many people speak English as a 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th language.
Food. Like I said earlier Malaysia has some bangin’ Indian cuisine, but that’s not all. There are also outdoor covered food courts all over the place. I don’t remember seeing anything like it in Thailand. Dozens of vendors set up shop under this huge tarp. All you have to do is walk around, order food, and they vendors bring it to your table. It’s super cheap too, a meal running 3-6rm (.75 – 1.50 USD). No more expensive than Thailand! These food courts are hubs of Chinese food especially, and are very popular with the locals. In KL they feature more diverse food options like Arabic and western food.
Last but not least, the transportation system. Malaysia has invested quite a lot into their transportation system in the recent years and it is very visible. Even the lowest class on long distance trains are very nice. Super clean, Aircon, reclining seats, and pretty good food. We ate on the train to KL (something we avoided at all costs in Thailand) and the food was surprisingly good, comparable to airplane food. It was cheap aswell, just 3 USD each. Penang has an awesome bus system that can take you around the entire island (with aircon) and KL has an amazing light rail system that travels just about anywhere in the city.
All in all Malaysia is pretty great. I havn’t found one thing to complain about yet. Can’t wait to explore even more in the next months!
Thanks for reading and happy travels! XX -Iz