A Travellerspoint blog


On the Banana Pancake Trail in Malaysia

View 11 months around the world on geldere's travel map.

Travel has its good moments and its not so good moments – Leaving Koh Tao and traveling to Malaysia was one of the more frustrating moments. For starters, we rode in the uncovered back of a pickup truck to the pier in a light rain. Then, we took a two-hour ferry ride to the mainland which was delayed due to rough seas and pouring rain. The ferry also happened to have a ceiling leak in the passenger compartment which spurted water like a nicked artery every time the boat swayed far enough. Once we reached the mainland, we took a bus to the train station where we waited a few hours for an overnight train. Somehow, beyond our comprehension, we missed the train we had tickets for even though we were at the station when it passed through. As a result, we had to cough up more money for the next train heading south which we made sure not to miss after obsessively asking the police and train workers when it would arrive. The night train dropped us off early in the morning at a Thailand border town from which we had to catch yet another train traveling across the border and to the town of Butterworth, Malaysia. After clearing customs and immigration and arriving in Butterworth, we took our second ferry to the island of Penang. And, finally, we took a bus from the Penang port to Love Lane, the street where our next hostel was located. Lord have mercy, sometimes it’s a process! Jeff rolls his eyes at me as I write this – he didn’t think it was that bad ;)
IMG_0827.jpgThe ferry ride to Penang

Penang is an island on the Western coast of Malaysia and Jeff refers to it as the biggest place he’s never heard of - its skyline looks like a little Hong Kong. Georgetown, the main city on the island of Penang, is a real melting pot of culture and history. It was along a major trading route for the British and thus has scores of English architecture. We spent our first two days on Penang walking the streets of Georgetown, checking out the museums, and visiting the must see Chinese clan house (very ornate). We also scored our best Indian food since being in Dar es Salam, Tanzania and caught a movie at one of Penang’s extremely modern theatres (Sherlock Holmes). On our third day we took a funicular ride to the top of Penang Hill for some spectacular views of the city. We then walked back down Penang Hill and through the Botanical Gardens before catching a bus back to Georgetown. Penang boasts several great night markets with “the best hawker food in Malaysia” so we tested our taste buds and stomachs with some of the street food (see pictures below). The food choices in Malaysia are a reflection of the diverse culture - Malay, Indian, and Chinese.
IMG_0854.jpgThe Chinese Clan House
IMG_0897.jpgAt the top of Penang Hill
IMG_0918.jpgCendol: Shaved ice treat with jellies, coconut milk and cane syrup- Jeff's reaction was "wow, it's good- that is not as disgusting as it looks!"
IMG_0919.jpgChar Kway Teow: Medium width rice noodles are stir-fried with egg, vegetables, pork in a dark soy sauce. Also sugar cane juice which incidentenally was not that good
IMG_0925.jpgChicken Satay: grilled chicken on kebabs with the most amazing peanut sauce you've ever had
IMG_0920.jpgscenes from the night market
IMG_0922.jpgI passed on that one

The Malaysians we have met have been extremely nice and you get a smile and a hello wherever you go. Shockingly, almost everyone here speaks near perfect English – But for English, the three dominate ethnic groups (Malay, Indian, and Chinese) would have trouble communicating with each other. It’s also awfully hot here, very similar to Florida in the summer, hot and humid- walking into an air-conditioned building feels like taking a dip in a pool.

We then caught a bus to the Cameron Highlands which is about the altitude of Denver and in the center of the country. The ride was really pleasant and we’ve been blown away by how developed Malaysia is. The highway and bus systems are top notch and the rest stops were Western standard, if not better (clean bathrooms- don’t take them for granted). The elevation in the Highlands provides a unique “high-altitude tropical environment” which is perfect for growing strawberries and tea (the area’s specialties), plus it also provides an amazing break from the heat. We took a tour of the area which included stops at a tea plantation, butterfly farm, rose garden, honey bee farm, Buddhist temple, and strawberry farm. The area is really beautiful and reminded us a bit of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee (if by happenstance you’ve ever made the pilgrimage to Dollywood). Coincidentally, the area is also full of old Land Rovers that looked like they’ve been driven hard since at least the 1950’s. They’re used by farmers here to transport goods and such, but there’s so many of them, people refer to the Cameron Highlands as “the place where Land Rovers come to die”. On our second day in town we headed out to complete one of the many hikes the area is known for. All in all, the hike took about four hours, including several wrong turns along the way, but the views were pretty and it gave us some much needed exercise in order to burn off all of the Chicken Tikka we’ve been eating :) The Cameron Highlands is certainly a unique stop-off on the Banana Pancake Trail (as the Southeast Asia backpacker circuit is referred to) if you are ever in the area.
IMG_0963.jpgA view of the tea plantation
IMG_0982.jpgAt the strawberry farm
IMG_0997.jpgOn our hike up the mountain
IMG_1000.jpgTaking a breather

We then headed out to our last stop in Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, the capital of the country. We took a bus that sold itself as a “VIP” bus and were shocked when it actually turned out to be a nice bus. When buses are advertised as “VIP” or “First Class”, they usually just end up being standard, overcrowded buses. We cracked up as other Westerners boarded the bus after us and exclaimed our same sentiments – “holy crap, this is the nicest bus I’ve been on in a while”, “check out the leg room” – it apparently doesn’t take much to please us. We happened to meet two ex-pat Americans, Simona and Jason, on our tour in the Cameron Highlands who were living in KL and they generously offered to let us stay with them. All in all, we spent about three days in KL wandering the city, seeing the sights, and checking out the malls. We enjoyed the view from the top of the Petronas Towers (the tallest buildings in the world between 1998 and 2004) and headed out for some hiking on a “canopy walk” in a nearby forestry reserve. We saw the Batu Caves (a Hindu holy site) and amused ourselves by watching monkeys snatch food from visitors and drinking out of plastic bottles - naughty little creatures. While in KL, Simona and Jason took us out to some fabulous restaurants and we even worked out at their gym and swam in the huge and very refreshing pool at their apartment complex. It was definitely fun to experience the ex-pat life for a few days!

IMG_1168.jpgOur "VIP bus" :)
IMG_1048.jpgAt the mall in KL
IMG_1072.jpgPeople watching- Malaysia is 80% Muslim
IMG_1076.jpgThe famous KL landmark- the Petronas Towers
IMG_1139.jpgOn the skybridge at the Petronas Towers, 41 floors up
IMG_1100.jpgOn the canopy walk on the KL outskirts
IMG_1110.jpgOutside the Batu caves
IMG_1114.jpgEveryone gets thirsty
IMG_1162.jpgOur last feast with Simona and Jason- it had to be cake!!

Our time in Malaysia has come to an end and we are now making our way to neighboring Singapore. We really enjoyed our time in Malaysia and were very impressed by its “first world-ness” and the melting pot of culture and food. We’ll write more from Singapore soon!

Posted by geldere 19:42 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

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