Monday, January 03, 2011

December 15, 2010 - Langkawi, Malaysia



After Lake Toba, we flew to Kuala Lumpur to discover Malaysia. Maybe without the boat we would have more success.
“KL”, as it is known around here, sounds exotic but it is a big, modern city with state of the art airports, fast trains, monorails, magnificent shopping malls, great nightlife. Its icon, the shining stainless steel Petronas twin towers, were, for a moment in the not too distant past, the tallest buildings in the world. In addition to women in veils (from hot pink with glitter to black all over except the eyes), we saw a lot of modern Islamic architecture here and in the new capital city, Putrajaya. This takes concepts like the Five Pillars of Islam and translates them into design elements and motifs. In contrast to the decaying marinas along the coast, we were impressed by the architecture and by the road system. Extravagant, yes, but Malaysia seems well on the way to meeting its goal of becoming a first world country by 2010.
We took a road trip into the highlands of Peninsular Malaysia, visiting Bukit Fraser, a hill station established by the British in the relative cool of 6000 feet. After a short walk on a nature path in the jungle, I pulled off my shoe to find a leech on the bottom of my foot. It bled like a river for 90 minutes, then, all was well.
We visited the cities of Malacca and Penang. Both have long histories and quaint Chinatowns and Little Indias. We stayed in musty old buildings that oozed charm and antiques, visited temples, palaces and forts, learned about the trading days, rode in a trishaw. As everywhere, we tried to sample as much of the renowned local cuisine – Chinese, Indian, Malay, Baba-Nyonya (Chinese/Malay), as we could. Maybe we were too adventurous for too long a time, because our digestive systems rebelled. Our attempts to communicate in the Malaysian language (closely related to Indonesian) were frustrating – maybe because most of the people we were trying to talk to spoke Chinese or Nepali. Fortunately, English worked well.
After two weeks on the road, we concluded the west coast of Malaysia just wasn’t all that interesting. We returned to the boat in Langkawi to be fitted for 50 yards of shade and rain awnings by Nasir, one of many migrant Indonesian workers in Malaysia. Mission accomplished, very successfully, we headed to Thailand for the holidays.

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