As we crossed the border between Singapore and Malaysia, we had great anticipation about what this country of thirty million people had to offer. One of the lesser travelled South East Asian countries, we couldn’t wait to get stuck in, especially as it’s home to an unbelievable range of mouth watering dishes.
Our tummies grumbled as our bus made its way along the modern, super fast highway towards Malacca. A UNESCO world heritage site, Malacca is a charming town, set along the Malacca river, dubbed as ‘The Venice of the East’. For European seafarers, it was a prominent port of entry for traders from Europe and Asia during the late sixteenth century. The town has some beautiful colonial buildings including St Francis’ Church, The Dutch Clock and a Portuguese Fort named Al Famosa. All of the buildings are painted red and the town itself has a really relaxing feel. Our guesthouse was called The Riverside Cardamon and was one of our favourite stays of the trip so far. For RM50 (£10), we had a spotlessly clean, air-conditioned room with a pretty comfy bunk-bed and a lovely Malaysian host. It also had a couple of bonuses which can be pretty hard to come by in budget accommodation! A really powerful shower; free tea and coffee and a really cheap washing machine, (much needed after eight weeks on the road!!). Believe me, we really needed this!
As we had arrived on a Friday afternoon, the weekend food street market was in full flow. I can honestly say it was food heaven! The famous Jonker Street was lit up with lanterns as hundreds of people tucked into a vast range of tasty dishes. Everything was on offer: Filled Dumplings, Dim Sum, Oysters, Duck, Malaysian specialities such as Chai Tow Kway, Fish Ball Soup, Hokkien Mee and Laksa and some amazing desserts including Charcoal Ice Cream and Ice Kacang, (a huge ball of ice with kidney beans, creamed sweetcorn, mango, colourful jellies, banana, crushed nuts, nutmeg, passion fruit and coconut ice cream), it sounds totally random but it is absolutely delicious! It’s fair to say we filled our boots as we worked our way through several tasty dishes. The price is extremely inexpensive ranging from RM2 to RM7 – no more than £2 per dish.
We spent the days in Malacca roaming along the river looking at the amazing street art and stopping at some lovely little cafés and a flea market. A man called John approached us asking if we would like to go and see a museum he was getting ready to open, next door to the flea market. He had converted two warehouses into a series of scenes from the 1950s; such a great idea. Definitely go and find him if you visit Malacca, we spent a good hour or so recreating scenes from each section!
A ten minute walk away from our guesthouse, we found a public swimming pool, which was a great escape from the searing heat. For RM5 (£1), you can spend the afternoon/evening swimming some lengths cooling down and also make some space for more delicious street food! We were actually evacuated one afternoon as a huge fork lightning storm hit the town, a scary but amazing sight.
Malacca has been a definite highlight of our trip so far and we highly recommend a stop on the route between Singapore and the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur. Bear in mind, the full food market only takes place on a weekend but still definitely worth a visit even midweek!
Kuala Lumpur is a huge city and is among the fastest growing metropolitan regions of South East Asia. It’s home to the Petronas Towers which are the tallest twin towers in the world and are an iconic symbol of Malaysia’s futuristic development. It has huge shopping malls, an extensive public transport network and more places to eat than are known to mankind. I personally wouldn’t recommend Kuala Lumpur as a back packing destination as it’s hugely developed, and in our opinion doesn’t actually have many interesting sights to visit or things to do. We had a trick up our sleeves. The real reason for our visit to Kuala Lumpur was for an amazing Air bnb option we had found right in the heart of the city at the Regalia Residencies. For £25/night, you can hire a huge apartment with the added bonus of FREE use of the complex’s gym and the infinity pool on the thirty-seventh floor. The views from the pool were absolutely stunning and for anyone visiting Kuala Lumpur, this is a definite MUST DO. Another attraction worth a couple of hours wandering around are The Batu Caves.
Travelling by bus in Malaysia is a great experience and actually has an air of luxury about it. All of the national bus services we have used have been super clean, extremely spacious and comfortable, and really cheap. Also, for the first time on the trip so far, we had been able to nod off into a deep sleep without being worried about a crazy driver steaming around blind bends at one hundred miles per hour! That was the case for me anyway, Miz could sleep on a bed of nails! The bus services we used had also been pretty empty, probably because so many bus companies are competing for your custom. Great sites for advanced bookings are redbus and easybook.
When it comes to food, one place in Malaysia, or in fact the whole of South East Asia comes to mind…Penang!
Penang has two parts, Penang Island where the capital city, Georgetown, is located and Seberang Perai on the Malay Peninsular.
Georgetown would be our home for the next four days as we checked in to the Just Inn guesthouse on Caernarvon Street. Georgetown is simply irresistible. It has a big city vibe mixed with a traditional way of life and an abundance of cultures, sights and sounds around every corner. One of the things we loved to do during our stay was to follow the map of street art around Georgetown’s backstreets. It’s pretty fascinating and gives you the chance to get involved.
Due to the various ethnicities and religions that have arrived on these shores, Georetown has gained a reputation as Malaysia’s cultural and gastronomic capital. The people here are extremely proud of the food they produce and the town’s cuisine is renowned around the world. It is ranked in the top ten cities for street food and has several dishes ranked in CNN’s World’s 50 best foods, including Penang Laksa, a fish based broth (a personal favourite of mine).The city has a food hall, hawker centre, restaurant, snack bar or café on every single corner and each dish we tried was fantastic. Penang also has a small national park which we visited as we simply had to do some exercise to compensate for our daily intake of tasty dishes. A lovely, shaded ten kilometre trek through the jungle led us to a white sandy beach with a small turtle sanctuary at one end. It would have been the perfect moment for a refreshing dip until we saw a sign listing the yearly death toll due to toxic jellyfish stings. We took a taxi boat back as we were both melting. It was seriously hot as I tucked into yet another Ice Cendol.
Roaming the streets of Georgetown in the evening is a pleasant experience. The lanterns and street art is lit up and street stalls come to life. We had been lucky as we caught the final day of Chinese New Year so there was a huge celebration. Fifty thousand people gathered at the Esplanade for a great evening of singing, dancing, of course lots of food stalls and a spectacular fireworks display.
Penang is a large island and has plenty of other activities on offer. A great way to see a bird’s eye view of Georgetown is to take the funicular up to Penang Hill. At the top there are various nature walks. There is also a botanical garden only ten minutes from the city that offers a shady escape from the heat of the midday sun. Kek Lok Si Temple is also a good spot to visit for a few hours.
Penang was a super place full of culture, historical sights, friendly locals and of course its award winning culinary delights. Half a stone heavier from excessive eating we boarded the night bus heading to the opposite coast of Malaysia to experience some of the country’s famous islands…Would they live up to the hype??