Malaysia – Kuala Lumpur & George Town

Since there was a cheap direct flight from Luang Prabang, my next stop was Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur. It was a dramatic change in scenery from rural Laos to a city as big as Kuala Lumpur, but I was happy. I think a lot of that had to do with the cafe directly next door to my hostel.

Coconut whipped cream!

Furthermore, there was an entirely new coffee experience awaiting me here. Their main coffee is called kopi, and its  preparation is interesting. Coffee beans are usually roasted alone, but kopi beans are roasted along with butter and salt! This was mind blowing. I got talking with one of the waiters there about it, and he told me what I should order, which was an iced kopi. It consisted of this specially roasted coffee with sweetened condensed milk, and I loved it!

The city itself was quite busy and modern, with an interesting mix of towering skyscrapers and Islamic and colonial architecture. While Malaysia is a majority Muslim country, they have freedom of religion and consequently some nice temples as well. 

My usual city walk began at Dataran Merdeka, Independence Square. There are some nice colonial buildings here, which were the former offices of the British colonial administration. It is also the site of the first raising of independent Malaysia’s flag. 

From here I walked to the mosque Masjid Jamek which sits at the confluence of two rivers in the city. Honestly, seeing the mosque situated on these rivers and surrounded by tall modern buildings made me feel like I was in a sci-fi scene.

Continuing through the city past more mosques and general fancy things, I got a nice view of Kuala Lumpur Tower, the 7th tallest freestanding structure in the world. 

The shape of the fountain in the second picture above is called a Rub el Hizb and it is a Muslim symbol. What I found super cool about the iconic Petronas Towers is that their shape is based on the Rub el Hizb. Both towers are basically a Rub el Hizb with an added circle at the intersections of the two overlapping squares to give more space inside. They are a fitting symbol for Malaysia in my opinion because they are modern and reflect the Muslim identity of the country.

There was a nice park next to the towers to relax and wander around in. There is a mall here as well, but it looked too expensive to approach. 

Deciding to call it a day I made my way past a totally normal and expected city forest, around the other side of the 7th tallest tower, mistook a hotel for a fortress, and finally saw a little church to further establish the religious diversity of the city before arriving at my hostel.

Since most restaurants around my hostel were closed, I walked 5 minutes to Mcdonald’s and retreated back to the comfort of my air conditioned room. I think that’s a clear sign of being ready for the comforts of home again.

The next day I took the super easy, cheap, and convenient transit system to the Batu Caves. 

The Batu Caves are a shrine to the Hindu god Murugan, as he is known to Tamil people, or more commonly Kartikeya. The holy spear he holds is called a ‘vel,’ and the vel like opening of the Caves is what lead to their dedication. If you look carefully to the right of the caves, you’ll see that there’s a golden statue of Murugan.

At the bottom of the steps there’s a sign to take off your shoes when you go into the temple. So, like an idiot, not realising the temple might be in the caves instead of hiding along the stairs, I took my shoes off and climbed those stupid steps in socks.

What was truly painful was going back down those steps in the afternoon heat in socks. The price of stupidity that day was having my calves annoyingly remind me for the next few days that they exist.

Before leaving the capital, I was lucky enough to meet a local Malay named Kimi who got me to try some true Malay cuisine. I later found out it was the national dish: Nasi Lemak. It had fried chicken, sardines, nuts, rice, different spicy sauces, and egg. I wasn’t a fan at first, but after being instructed to mix it all together I liked it. My palate was fairly confused, but I liked it. 

After Kuala Lumpur, I took a bus north to Penang that dropped me off in the town of Butterworth which is the real name of a real place. From there I took a ferry across to the island and my hostel there in George Town.

For some reason I had a lot of energy, so I just dropped my bags at the hostel and went for a walk around town and the coast as the sun set. 

There were many more places I wanted to see in Malaysia but simply didn’t have time for. Malaysia is one of 17 countries considered to be megadiverse, and can boast containing about 20% of animal species.

Being one of the first British settlements in the area, it has both the colonial architecture and a fort. Fort Cornwallis was built by the British East India Company, which you may either know as a real organisation or as the bad guys in Pirates of the Caribbean 2/3.

I saw a spotlight and the opportunity.

The Jubilee Clocktower was cool at night too.

The next day I got a ride past the Penang State Mosque (which looks amazing) to the Kek Lok Si Temple.

This is a Buddhist temple with multiple influences that mixes Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism.

There were prayer ribbons that you could buy for various reasons. Some were for academic success, others for bodily health, but there was always one box completely sold out: Success in Everything. Why waste your money on one thing when you can have everything? The unfortunate people who got there too late for a success in everything prayer had to get specific about what they wanted.

This temple was absolutely beautiful with its many levels and colours. It was enough to make me glad I made it to Malaysia. 

You already know what the empty box is.

At the top of the hill is a giant statue of the Buddhist goddess of mercy Guanyin.

“Look away human I will cut you!”

I finally found a real world application to learning about rotations in grade 7 math class, and that’s with the swastika. For years and years the swastika has been a Hindu and Buddhist symbol of well being, and is accordingly common at temples. The Nazi obviously does not stand for the same things and differs from these swastikas by its orientation. What I’m saying is, at any given moment your 45 degrees away from confusing a Hindu and a Nazi. That’s why math is important.

Finally, I had to climb the pagoda. 

This was easily one of the coolest places I’ve seen on the trip. The multiple areas made it feel like an adventure exploring here. 

Heading back into George Town, I got on a bus that I hoped went more or less the right way. I hopped off in a different part of town from my hostel to check out the street art. 

One of the best known pieces is called “boy on a bike.”

As one of the countries that wasn’t part of my original plan, I’m very glad to have made it to Malaysia and there’s a lot more of it I’d love to see someday.

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