Top Five Reasons We Love Malaysia

Yes, we went back to Malaysia! We had to get a couple of visas- the infamous Russian visa, as well as one for Myanmar. We were hoping to get the Russian one in Singapore, but no dice (we were too early to be applying.) Then we had hoped to pick up our Myanmar visa in Phnom Penh, but the embassy staff told us it would take fourteen working days. I asked them if there wasn’t anything they could do- we’d already bought our plane ticket! They said perhaps they could get it done in ten working days, but we didn’t have that much time left in Cambodia.

So we phoned up the embassy in Malaysia (God bless Skype) and they told us we could get it in five days, or three if we wanted to pay a little more. We had to rearrange our flights a little bit, and lost about a week in Myanmar, but oh well. Lesson learned. Always call the embassy first.

In the end, we spent an extra two and a half weeks in Malaysia, gathering our visas. But it’s not so bad really. If we have to be stuck somewhere, Malaysia’s not bad. It’s one of our favorite destinations, actually. Here’s why:

  1. (Almost) no language barrier. English is one of the official languages of Malaysia and everyone studies it in school. Moreover, since Malaysia is home to ethnic Chinese and Indians as well as Malays, English is the lingua franca. I met an American guy on the subway whose wife is a lecturer at a Malaysian university, and he told me that all tertiary education is conducted in English. These people are seriously good at English, which makes getting around a breeze. It’s also really easy to meet locals, and have good conversations, unlike, say, Thailand, where it’s hard to chat with anyone who’s not selling you something.
  2. Fabulous beaches.

    It's also a nice place to drink fresh watermelon juice by the water

    The Perhentian Islands have the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. I haven’t been to the other east coast beaches, but Pulau Redang looks just like the Perhentians. During the filming of the movie South Pacific, what island was used as Bali Hai? That’s right- a Malaysian island, Pulau Tioman. There is also some really fantastic diving and snorkeling. We liked the snorkeling around the Perhentians, but I’ve heard that Borneo (Pulau Sipadan) is even better.

  3. Melting pot of history and culture.Malaysia, due to its strategic location between China and India, has always been a meeting place for different peoples. Nowadays its population is made up of several different groups: the aboriginal inhabitants of Malaysia, the majority ethnic Malays, and ethnic Chinese and Indian groups. During the British colonial period, the authorities encouraged immigration from China and India- that’s why today Malaysia and Singapore have the ethnic makeup they do. One city, Melaka, was actually a colony of Portugal and Holland before it was part of British Malaya. More recently, the Japanese controlled Malaysia for a few years during WWII. It’s almost

    Shophouses line a street; Georgetown, Penang

    like Southeast Asia in a nutshell: it’s a great place to learn about the history of Southeast Asia, visit mosques as well as Hindu and Chinese temples, and see old colonial buildings. It’s also possible, in Malaysian Borneo or in Taman Negara, to visit indigenous settlements.

  4. FANTASTIC food. Piggybacking off of number three… all this diversity makes for amazingly varied food scene. As if three cuisines weren’t enough, many Chinese and Indian residents have been in Malaysia for several generations, so there is now also fusion food: Indian-Malay fusion is known as Mamak style and Chinese-Malay fusion is known as Baba-Nyonya style. Penang is especially famous for its Baba-Nyonya food (and the whole city of Georgetown is a World Heritage site, to boot.) During our ten days in Kuala Lumpur, we usually ate Indian food for breakfast, Malaysian food for lunch, and Chinese food for dinner. YUM…and if you crave something different, KL also has really good international restaurants.

    How about Chinese tonight?

  5. Easy on the wallet. The cost of living in Malaysia is a little higher than some of the Southeast Asian countries (Laos, Myanmar) but it’s a good bit lower than the US, Europe, or East Asia. Yet the standard of living is high-the highest in Southeast Asia, after Singapore.  Even staying in a guesthouse and eating out three times a day, our daily baseline budget was about $15 per person. Of course you can stay in resort or fancy hotel chains, but even these come at a cheaper rate than in Western countries. It’s also one of the most affordable places to get a scuba certification. Whatever your fancy, the important thing to know is that you can live it up without cringing at your bank statement afterwards.

Balinese Art and Architecture

No wonder Bali’s so popular. It’s absolutely enchanting. I loved the look of it. There are glassy rice fields just about everywhere you look, and their unique style of architecture is seamlessly integrated into modern towns. The sculpture is magnificent as well. One finds many characters scattered around, playing the role of protector.

Protecting a government building

Protecting an intersection

A Barong, a Balinese protective lion, appears often.

One day, we even got to see a Barong dance!

The barong makes his entrance

There are several types of traditional Balinese dance, and these are popular tourist attractions. We watched the Legong dance as well, which is a story about the good guys defeating a group of evil witches.

The good guy confronts the witches

No question, though; the temple gates were my most favorite.

A typical temple gate- yes, they're all this ornate

I know you’re wondering: “What about the beaches?” Hmm… how should I put this: “Just ok.” I think there are more impressive beaches on Bali, but I didn’t go to them, and neither do many tourists. When most people think “Bali,” they don’t think of the whole island (which is actually quite big,) they think “Kuta.” This is Kuta Beach, the most heavily touristed strip of sand.

Kuta Beach- reminds me quite a bit of the Atlantic Ocean

Australia: Three Favorite Things

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It’s hard to sum up eight weeks in a country- but I’ll try.

Three Favourite Scenic Spots:

  1. Uluru- obvious. Probably our favorite thing in all of Australia.
  2. The Great Ocean Road, west of Melbourne- especially the Twelve Apostles area. I had seen photos of them but I was completely unprepared for how big they were in real life.
  3. The Whitsunday Islands, particularly Whitehaven Beach

    Bob models a "stinger suit" at Whitehaven Beach

Three Favourite Attractions:

  1. Hunter Valley Zoo. We kept fondly reminiscing about this place for days and weeks after we’d visited.
  2. Horizon the Planetarium, at SciTech in Perth. This planetarium runs the most advanced software in the southern hemisphere- actually, the program is still in beta. We enjoyed getting a tutorial on the southern night sky. Very nice planetarium, interesting movies, knowledgeable staff (and the rest of the museum was a blast too!)
  3. Art Gallery of New South Wales- the free tours here were excellent. If you can’t make the tour, they also offer free audio downloads.  They have a great collection of Australian art.

Three Favourite Foods:

Dip in sour cream, then sweet chili sauce

  1. Potato wedges with sour cream and sweet chili sauce. The best bar snack EVER.
  2. Burgers or sandwiches with “the lot” (the works.) In Australia this means lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese, a slice of beetroot, and if you’re lucky, a fried egg and a slice of caramelized pineapple.
  3. Fish ‘n’ chips. We tried them all over the country, and our favorite was the fried basa in Bowen, Queensland.

Three Favourite Animals:

  1. Little penguins (at the Penguin Parade)
  2. Koalas (in any zoo or preserve)
  3. Tropical fish (at the Great Barrier Reef)

Three Favourite Wineries/Breweries:

  1. Paxton Vineyards
  2. The Monk Brewery
  3. Irongate Estate

Three Favourite Aussie Slang Terms:

  1. Bogan– the Australian version of a redneck.
  2. Budgie smuggler– the very cheeky term for a man’s Speedo swimsuit. Unfortunately, more common than we’d like.
  3. Too easy! This little phrase can be used anywhere, anytime, especially if you are a B&B owner in Townsville.