During my 48-hour visa run in Singapore, I started to realize truly how easy it would be for me to just keep traveling up through SE Asia. As I was looking for flights back to Indonesia, I searched for how cheap it would be to get to Malaysia before I headed to Thailand. Another $20 USD flight coming right up! So there was no turning it down.
Malaysia was really never high on my list of places to visit. And honestly, and embarrassingly, I had only really associated a few things with Malaysia: the mysterious disappearance of American spy Jim Thompson and the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 — both not welcoming instances for a single female traveling to a new country.
Man, am I glad I ignored those high-profile stories and took the flight anyway! Malaysia could have not been a more beautiful and welcoming country. And even more surprisingly, I checked off quite a few items on my bucket list and ended up falling in love (don’t worry guys, it’s not what you’re thinking… just keep reading).
KL was a city I just figured I’d be passing through for a couple days, but it turned into so much more. In Singapore, I was dying to stay at the Marina Bay Sands for the world-famous rooftop infinity pool overlooking the bay and all of Singapore. Problem was, there was no way I was paying almost $600 a night to stay there. So I did a little research. I knew KL had a famous skyline with the silhouette of the Petronas twin towers, so I made it my goal to find a rooftop pool overlooking the skyline there. And I did, at the Regalia Suites Condominium (bucket list item #1 checked off). Best part? I had my own suite, complete with rooftop bar and infinity pool, for $15 USD a night. Wayyy better than Marina Bay Sands I’d say.
I was lucky enough to have the pleasure of meeting up with a friend of a friend from back in Florida who showed me all KL had to offer. From eating street food to bar hopping to seeing the Petronas Towers to exploring the Batu Caves (and walking up the incredibly steep 272 steps, fighting off monkeys, while pretty hungover), I had found a deep connection with a complete stranger across the world and had the time of my life. Traveling really shows you who your truly closest friends are back home (I owe you big time, Brett!) and how you can become such good friends and develop such a good connection with someone across the world within 24 hours (See you in Mexico next to plan our India trip, Jeremy!).
After just two full days in KL, it was time for me to move on but I knew I’d be back. KL is a special city. So if you do ever get the chance to visit, don’t write it off like I almost did.
My initial plan was to travel to Cameron Highlands then to Taman Negara to see the oldest forest in the world. Unfortunately, due to some time constraints for other things, I had to cut it short and eliminate one. But I am so glad I chose the way I did. I hopped on the bus from Kuala Lumpur to Cameron Highlands for a little over $10 USD and would’ve paid just that for the view on the drive up. This is when Malaysia really started to impress me. The road was narrow and winding, driving along the edge of the mountain, but I couldn’t have been more distracted by the natural beauty and bright green tea plantations that surrounded. It was cold, overcast, and a relaxing change to what I had been living in the few months prior.
That, and there were Land Rover Defenders EVERYWHERE! My dream car, a car that I rarely get to see in the States, was parked in every other parking spot of the small hillside town I was staying in, and my eyes turned into full-on emoji-style hearts everywhere I looked. Never did I dream that I would get to drive one. What happened next still makes me smile to this day.
I booked a tour of the tea plantations and the oldest mossy forest in the world. I walked downstairs from the hostel, waited at the corner, and up pulled the most beautiful candy-apple-red Land Rover Defender. After I picked my jaw up from the floor, I hopped in and off we went (bucket list item #2 checked off).
Guys, a manual right-hand drive Land Rover Defender with my favorite rear side-facing bench seats: forget marriage, I’ll take riding in that the rest of my life over any guy. I was literally living my dream in Malaysia and had totally fallen in love.
After spending a full day with my true love, hiking the oldest mossy forest in the world (I’ll take that second to hiking the oldest forest), picking my own wild strawberries (bucket list item #3 checked off) and drinking some of the best tea I’ve ever tasted, I fell asleep, dreamed of what the rest of my life would be like with him by my side, and contemplated how expensive it would be to get him (and by him I mean the Land Rover) back to Indonesia…
Just a few short days in Cameron Highlands, I was off on another bus, but this time to the island of Penang, off the northwest coast of Malaysia. As if I wasn’t already excited enough to explore one of the most famous spots in Malaysia, I was thrilled that I had planned to meet up with one of my favorites Brits in the world! We had worked together with the turtles for a short time (she had come about a month and a half after I had arrived) and became friends within seconds.
She had arrived to Penang a few days before me and had luckily found all the best things to do, including the hop-on hop-off bus that was available. If you are planning to head to Penang, this is absolutely the way to do it. In two days, I saw almost everything Penang had to offer at a very affordable price. Some of my favorites:
- Kek Lok Si Temple
- Miami Beach (This made me giggle)
- KOMTAR (The Top and the Jurassic Park exhibit, just be ready to laugh)
- Batu Ferringhi Beach
- Tropical Spice Garden
And of course, Georgetown, the reason I actually went to Penang (bucket list item #4 checked off). This little area of the island brought me all the feels of back home in Florida. Growing up, the Wynwood area of Miami was small, undisturbed, and mostly unknown except to local and some international street artists. It was still inhabited by Miami natives and was beautiful in every way. Now, the area has been completely gentrified. The small local food shops and dive bars have been driven out by high end boutiques and boujee coffee shops. The locals walking the street have been replaced with plastic girls in stilettos carrying LV bags.
To sum it up, Wynwood is no longer Wynwood anymore but a tourist trap of a destination. Georgetown was perfectly what Wynwood used to be. While it did have a couple more high end coffee shops and cafes, it was still pleasantly local, with street vendors and musicians on every corner. And of course the sight of every wall decorated with art gave this little town the feel that made Wynwood what it once was.
The island of Penang was different from any other place I have been in SE Asia so far. Actually, Malaysia was different from any country I’ve been so far. And while there is so much that I was able to see, I’ll definitely be heading back to explore again soon!
Have any questions about Malaysia: how to get around, best time to go, best restaurants/street food/bars? Let me know in the comments below!