Sandwiched between Thailand and Singapore, Malaysia is country with a mixed diversity of people, foods, and religions. Growing up, Malaysia is one of those countries that I did not know much of, and didn’t have a solid impression of at all. I met a friend during my time in Japan from Malaysia, and through the guide of a local was I able to enjoy exploring this country. Up until this point I was used to solo travel, but this was an especially gratifying experience traveling with a friend in their homeland. By the end of this blog, I hope you add Malaysia to list of places to travel!
I first arrived in Malaysia in its capital, Kuala Lumpur. The locals refer to it as KL, so I will too! KL is the central hub, where the city streets rival the likes of Tokyo and Manhattan. The city’s infrastructure is supported by subway transportation and Grab taxis. Grab is the Southeast Asian equivalent of Uber, and a convenient way of getting around. The main places to visit in KL include religious landmarks and metropolitan sights. Here are a few of the places I had the pleasure of visiting:
One of the corridors of the Islamic Arts Museum, located near the downtown are of KL. It includes a lot of the historical architecture of mosques and items from the royal Muslim families from around the world.
Outside the Zhongshan Building, a repurposed building with art galleries, a music record store, library, and several coffeeshops inside it’s minimalist walls. It’s the kind of place that you should visit if you consider yourself an artsy person.
These are the tallest twin skyscrapers in the world, as known as the Petronas Twin Towers. Being from NYC, I really appreciated the view of another twin towers as I hadn’t known that there were other twin towers in the world before visiting KL.
Snapped a shot of the Sultan Abdul Samad Building from Merdeka Square, where Malaysians declared their independence from colonial British rule in 1957. The building was formally a colonial government office and now the symbol of Malaysian independence.
My favorite sight to visit in KL was the Batu Caves, the entrance of which includes a tall statue of Murugan, a Hindu deity. Inside the caves is a shrine and several places of worship. To enter the caves, you have to climb up a colorful and steep staircase. There were quite a few macaques being fed by tourists on the staircases, which my friend said was an inadvisable thing to do. The views at the top of the stairs and inside the cave were remarkable. Here are a few pictures I snapped of the caves:
The incredible Batu Caves is another sight you must visit while in KL. I have never seen anything quite like this.
On the way up the stairs, I got a quick snapshot of the macaques running down the stairs!
Inside the caves there were several places to pray. The staircases inside were just as colorful as the ones outside the caves. The cave structure reminded me of the karsts in Vietnam!
The food in Malaysia was delicious….and quite spicy! I consider myself having an intermediate tolerance to spice, but I quickly realized that my spice tolerance was nowhere close to the level it needed to be to eat all of these delectable meals. My friend would ask several times at the restaurants we went to, to lower the spiciness of a dish, but even at a lower spiciness, I found myself struggling to some of the dishes. Here are some foods I tasted while in KL, and some from Penang, the other city I visited in Malaysia that I will describe later in this blog:
Nasi Lemak is a national dish of Malaysia. It includes spice fried chicken, steamed rice cooked in coconut milk, peanuts with sambal sauce, and sliced cucumbers. The restaurant in KL where we ate nasi lemak was packed, and for good reason!
Orh kioh - shaved ice with jelly, a slice of lime, and longan, a lychee-like fruit—a refreshing treat from Penang. Behind you can see the food cart selling this icy treat.
Coconut ice cream served in a shaved coconut! Another tasty and refreshing treat. In between our coconut ice creams is dry iced kettle corn.
Clockwise in this picture: A drink of teh tarik (“hand pulled” tea), oti canai, paper tosai, roti telur—popular dishes from Malaysian Indian restaurants. I was surprised by how much Indian food had an influence in a place far away like Malaysia. It’s one of the many things I learned while being in Malaysia.
Another Malaysian-Indian staple: banana leaf restaurants! In red bowl in the back of the photo is dry lamb curry. On top of banana leaf “plate” is an assortment of vegetarian side dishes (vegetables in yogurt, dhal, and chutney) and white rice covered in the least spicy curry they had to offer…because my tolerance was so low!
While building my tolerance of spicy foods in Malaysia, my friend gave me a short tour of Penang, where we were able to sightsee, hit the beach, enjoy delicious foods, and observe a lot of street art. Penang is a small island of the northwest coast of Malaysia, filled with street art in Georgetown, a UNESCO world heritage sight. And by far the most popular city in Penang to visit. Georgetown is a combination of colonial buildings with Asian architecture. It’s a coastal town with a lot of colorful streets and plenty of nightlife.
The focal point of Georgetown, to me, is the street art sprinkled around Georgetown. Ernest Zacharevic from Lithuania painted a street art mural series in 2012, which brought more tourism to Penang. It seemed that other street artists also decided to leave their mark on the streets of Georgetown because there were so many places to see different street art, one of my favorites kinds was a wire art with captions about historical anecdotes of the people living in Penang and Malaysia as a whole. As an amateur artist myself, I absolutely loved Zacharevic’s simple artwork that held a lot of meaning. His artwork includes “Boy on A Motorcycle” and “Little Children on a Bicycle,” while other similar works of art were made by different artists. One of my favorite things to do in Georgetown was simply walk around the streets and randomly encounter a mural. After this paragraph are a whole bunch of photographs of the things I just described. Enjoy!
A beautiful street corner of Penang.
There was a lot of Chinese influence in the shops of Penang.
Selling soybean?? One of the many interactive murals I got to see in Georgetown!
Across the street from the “soy bean” mural was this one depicting two kids playing basketball…just no ball included.
Two children reaching for bao—this mural is called “I Want Bao,” very creative and you can get on the bike.
Wire art was also sprinkled around town. I described earlier that each wire art installation depicted a historical scene from Malaysia. Having the captions (this one’s captions are on the top left) gives the viewer context to its historical significance rather than give the viewer freedom to determine its meaning, like the other murals do.
A woman praying, one of the more hidden murals I was able to encounter.
Above the street cart selling chendul, a noodle and tea beverage, is this beautiful mural. A great treat—both the chendul and the mural!
Being a rather small island, my friend noticed that Penang was expanding its size and using manmade land to increase the size. One of the beaches untouched so far is in Batu Ferringhi, about a 20 minute drive from Georgetown. A clean beach with clear water, the beach in Batu Ferringhi was very quiet and had very few tourists. There were some motorboats around, but we just decided to sunbathe and take a dip in the water for a little.
One of the most iconic spots to visit in Penang is Kek Lok Si Temple, a beautiful temple complex with a seven-story pagoda and a large statue of Kuan Yin, Goddess of Mercy, inside a pavilion. The architectural structures are incredible and it requires several ropeway cars to get all the way to the top of the mountain. We walked into the temple during a Buddhist ceremony, and there were many people there praying. Other than a handful of tourists, the area was pretty empty. With my photos after this paragraph, I will describe the climb up to Kek Lok Si temple.
A bridge over a pond of turtles at the entrance of Kek Lok Si Temple. I am standing at the center of the bridge!
The seven-story pagoda combining Chinese, Thai, and Burmese architecture (starting from the bottom to the top). The red and yellow lanterns add to the loveliness of temple.
The celebration for the Year of the Boar in Kek Lok Si Temple.
Inside the seven story pagoda! There is an amazing view of the city from within the pagoda. I’m not sure which floor this was taken from, but seemingly not the top.
The statue of Kuan Yin within a pavilion. This behemoth of a statue was incredible to see, except there was no way to see it up close since the stairs leading to the statue were blocked.
One of the places I decided to visit was the Eastern & Oriental Hotel, where the first scene of the movie, Crazy Rich Asians, was filmed. This luxurious hotel is colonial-style and located in Georgetown. There were some cannons by the pools of the hotel, no longer in use but apparently they once were!
If I could stay here for a night, I totally would!
The architecture is quite beautiful!
One of the last places that we visited in Georgetown was the Pinang Peranakan Museum, a museum dedicated to the Peranankan culture, customs, and lifestyles. The Peranakans were of Chinese descent and settled in countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand. The inside of the museum showed us a highly ornate home with beautiful dining hall and artifacts from Peranakan families.
The second picture of the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion is another highly ornate home, but closed at the time of our visit. I got to snap a picture of it before leaving, since it was the place where mahjong scene in Crazy Rich Asians was filmed.
Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, also known as the Blue Mansion, got its color from the Indigo plant.
My whole trip in Malaysia was the highlight of my time in Southeast Asia. I am so glad I had the chance to visit it, and to have a friend show me the ropes was an even greater experience. Being an artsy person myself, I particularly enjoyed exploring the streets of Georgetown in Penang. Malaysia was a much more diverse country than I anticipated. This country is a mix of Indian and Chinese communities. A good percentage of the residents are Muslim, and I noticed many women were wearing hijabs. My friend said that it is not required to wear a hijab, and it depends on the religion of the person. I didn’t feel uncomfortable in being in mostly Muslim country, which maybe some Americans might be. In fact, it was a great way to immerse myself in such a completely different culture.
I am most certain I will visit Malaysia again, and hopefully my spice tolerance will be much better next time!
Once last look at an artsy street in Penang!