Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Malaysian Road Trip

For my third weekend in Malaysia, my friend, Kama Zaid, made an interesting proposal.

"Let's go on a road trip to Kelantan," he enthused. 

No strict agenda, no rules, no timetable that we couldn't change on a whim. He had a few ideas about interesting places to visit and some thoughts about our route, but otherwise, we would totally play it by ear.

Well. You know I'm a fool for spontaneity.

And I certainly never say no to a road trip.

So on a fine Thursday morning, I packed up my bag, hopped into Hammie's waiting car, and off we went. 

Five fascinating days later, I returned home with dirty laundry, two hundred new photos on my camera roll, and some solid suggestions for anyone else who may be considering such a no-holds-barred journey.

So here I present to you, my top twenty tips for cross-country travel in Malaysia.


1. Stop for lunch at a rustic open air restaurant in remote Pahang. Boldly order the roti canai and a Coke in English, but remember to say terima kasih. Watch the waiter's head spin as he slowly realizes that the white woman is speaking his mother tongue. Smile with satisfaction.

* * * * * 


2. Drink in the details that make life in Southeast Asia such a novelty and surprise. Planters full of flowers at the entrance to the restaurant? Yes, totally common in America. But who on earth has ever imagined that such peculiarly precious little Dr Seuss blossoms might exist? Allow your brain to be boggled.

* * * * * 


3. Lull yourself into a hypnotic trance by watching countless acres of palm oil trees roll by while listening to the unintelligible but highly entertaining speech habits of one Mat Ja Abdul Malik, who joined our merry band in mid-afternoon. The man punctuates his every word with hand gestures and body movements that qualify for a Cross Fit workout, yet he never takes a breath. Fascinating.

* * * * * 


4. Enjoy the nightlife of Kota Bharu by watching a Red Warriors match with the gang down at the stadium and then wandering around the performing stage near the river front. Watch out for pop star wannabees, the snake charmer with a ten-foot python, and aggressive pet monkeys wearing diapers.

* * * * * 


5. Pop in for an unannounced visit at your tour guide's family home. Surely, most rural Malaysian women are prepared for an uninvited American to show up on their doorstep on any given afternoon, right? Ha. But this fine lady took one look at the intruder, ducked into her bedroom to freshen up, and then sailed back out to serve a delicious snack of orange juice and fresh fruit as if she handled stray white folk every day. Bless her.

* * * * * 


6. Visit the fine array of temples in the greater Kota Bharu area - the sleeping Buddha, the sitting Buddha, and this, the standing Buddha. Well, yes, standing Buddhas, in the plural. There are clearly more than one. While all these temples are basically creepy with their shiny, shiny statues and giant urns of burning incense, this one boasted a plate of fresh oranges, and that made it so much better.

* * * * * 


7. Cruise the straight streets of KB and rejoice in their structure and order. Compared to the snake pit that is the highway system in Kuala Lumpur, navigating around the city is a breeze. 

* * * * * 


8. Beauty is where you find it, so keep looking. My lodgings at a modestly-priced homestay were surprisingly chic as evidenced by this lovely formal entry and shockingly good wifi in my room.

* * * * * 


9. Beauty is where you find it, Part Two: Along a gritty alley, amidst the endless urban hardscrabble, someone has planted a charming garden. Give thanks for the tender spirit who dared to dream of this little oasis among the concrete.

* * * * * 


10. Watch out for the tour guide's secret photographs. Demand to see every shot he's taken, and delete the ones that make you look fat. Ain't no shame in that. 

* * * * * 


11. Collect shells. Pay no mind to those who laugh. 

* * * * * 


12. Fear not the spirits of the legendary jinn or the murderous powers of a stampeding elephant, and drive boldly into the mysterious mountains of Tereneggnu at night. If the monsters don't get you, the pot holes might.

* * * * * 


13. A climb to the top of the waterfall on Gunung Stong would certainly be a beautiful thing. If you don't mind 90 minutes of steep climbing in the tropical heat and humidity. Please note that there is a perfectly fine swimming pool in the easy-access lower falls that will save a lot of time and trouble, not to mention heatstroke. 

* * * * *


14. And the scenic view from said pool is a gem. Take an hour to contemplate it, while soaking in the cool, refreshing waters of this sweet jungle stream. 

* * * * *


15. Heck, take two hours, and spend some time gazing up at the tree tops, too. Or as we like to say in the jungle, the canopy. 

* * * * *


16. Stop for a glory shot of the falls and note the dark storm clouds rolling in. Be glad all over again that you didn't make that hike to the top.

* * * * *


17. Wander slowly back toward the big city via Cameron Highlands, the mountainous town famous for its hillsides covered with plastic-roofed crops. Stop for a delicious treat of fresh strawberries, but train your camera on the much more photogenic butter lettuce. Love those ruffly leaves.

* * * * *


18. Wind through at least 18 billion hairpin turns on the road down to Ipoh. When the tedium of the journey is just about to blacken your soul forever, stop at one of the many roadside stands to buy some fresh honey from the locals and their scary dogs. 

 * * * * *


19. Stagger into the home of your guide, and collapse in a heap on his fine white floors. Eat the delicious late supper prepared by his lovely wife. And in the morning, feed the stray cat.

* * * * *

20. Write down all the best parts of this experience so you will remember them always. And say thank you.

* * * * *

Thank you, Hammie! You outdid yourself with this amazing trip and I appreciate every single inch of our journey.

2 comments:

  1. its a crazy exhausting roadtrip...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. i had a crazy fun time, and was not exhausted at all!

      Delete

Please comment...I'd love to hear from you!