Kuala Lumpur – A Bland Capital City

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One of the downsides of traveling is that you tend to get a little bit jaded, as you’re spoiled on daily basis by all the riches the world has to offer.  You’ll read this again and again in all travel blogs.  This waterfall is beautiful, but not as beautiful as the last; if you’ve seen one temple/church you’ve seen them all; the cheese in this country is good but not as good as the last, blah blah blah blah blahhhhh.

That last bit was a little dramatic.  Cheese is always good in countries that offer it as a part of their everyday diet, AKA I’m just cheese-deprived over here in Southeast Asia & craving.  I miss grocery shopping in Florence, Italy.  But anyways….

Ironically, traveling also kind of comes with this pressure to be wowed with everything.  Sometimes people get into what I like to call the “fake hippie” ruts.  It’s when you pretend like everything is so amazing and impressive just because it’s exotic.  And the more exotic and off-the-beaten-path it is, the more you love it.  Even though sometimes things are off the tourist beaten-path because they’re not really that memorable.

Not that I’m trying to encourage negativity, just something to keep in mind when you read articles and travel blogs that glamorize travel.

Back to KL…

I think all of the above might be the reason that Kuala Lumpur didn’t wow me.  And maybe because of the pressure I mentioned above, but I don’t like to say negative things about a city or a country, they’re all amazing in their own ways.  But nothing about the city really stood out to me.  Everything I liked about it seemed borrowed from another.  For example:

  • Little India – amazing Indian food, but hellooooooo it’s Indian
  • Little Arabia – amazing shwarma & falafal, once again borrowed
  • Batu Caves – interesting somewhat (although I’m salty about climbing to the top and being greeted by an unfinished cave) but paid more homage to a religion than a local culture
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@ Little India. 

MalaysiaAndyWarhol.pngI think we’re starting to see a pattern here.  I guess the real beauty in Kuala Lumpur can be found in it’s diversity?  Dear lord I sound like a middle-school lets-paint-rainbows-and-hold-hands presentation.  But actually, the culture and people in KL were the most mixed I’ve seen since landing in Asia.  Thailand is full of Thai people, Indonesia Indonesians, Cambodia Cambodians….most countries I’ve seen aren’t very mixed.

Maybe the mixed culture just didn’t seem exciting to me because I grew up in the red white & blue melting pot that is the USA.

What else can we get from this review?  The food was dankkkk.  The mix of Chinese, Indian, and Malay influence among others made for a wide array of culinary options, including the best shwarma I’ve ever had in my life.

So what do you do in Kuala Lumpur?

GETTING THERE

Hack – the cheapest way to get from the airport is the Airport Coach bus at 10 Ringgit a person, about $2.50.  It took around 30-40 minutes when I did it.  Taking the metro from the airport is faster, but it costs 35 Ringgit.

Visit the Petronas Towers

dsc_0103These massive towers are definitely an icon of Kuala Lumpur.  They cost a whopping 85(about 20USD) Ringgit to go up and get a view, however.  That’s just about as much as it costs to go on the much cooler skydeck at the Sears Tower in Chicago.

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We opted not to go up because of the cost, and just took selfies in front of it instead.  While we were taking pictures some guy wanted to get a picture with us, leading to a line of people forming to take pictures with us…not something I was expecting in Malaysia.

See the Batu Caves

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Even though personally I didn’t find the caves exciting, the big to-see in Kuala Lumpur is the Batu Caves.  These are a series of caves with different statues depicting stories from Hinduism, along with Hindu gods.

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There’s one large main cave that requires walking up a ton of steps, and a bunch of separate little caves around it.  However, each of the little caves comes with their own separate entrance fee, so personally I wouldn’t recommend them.  I don’t remember the numbers exactly, but they were pretty cheap, if you forget the fact that you have to pay for each one.

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The main cave is less than exciting to say the least.  You climb up a ton of stairs and battle off monkeys all the way up for a mediocre view of the city and a cave that’s under construction.  There are some statues in it, but not many.  I don’t know the background on the cave but I think it has some kind of spiritual significance, as there were many Indian people there who looked like they were paying homage.

The caves are conveniently located at the end of the line on the metro, so they’re easy to get to.  They were inconveniently scaffolded and under construction, but life happens sometimes.

Surprisingly, a lot of people also wanted pics with my friend Melissa & I at the caves.  I’ve heard that people like taking pictures with white people in India, and a lot of people seemed to be visiting from India, so maybe that had something to do with it.  I was cool with the picture taking until I was sitting on a bench waiting for the train & caught an old dude taking selfies with me in them without asking or even letting me know.  I’m chill with the paparazzi but not the stalkerazzi.

Grab a drink at a helipad bar – Heli Lounge Bar

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Kuala Lumpur seems to be chock full of rooftop bars, and also helipads.  Maybe it’s for the nice view of the Petronas towers?  Whatever it was, my friend Melissa & I paid way too much for cocktails and wine so that we could go out for a drink with a view.

KL isn’t known for nightlife as Muslim countries tend to impose high liquor taxes, so we decided grabbing a drink was a good alternative to running around the city seeking out mediocre nightlife.

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NOTE – while I did not stay there, some of my friends that visited after said they stayed at Reggae Mansion hostel in KL and it was poppin’.  So if you’re looking to meet backpackers and party, I’d recommend staying there.

Eat

The only thing left to do in Kuala Lumpur is eat.  They have a wild mix ranging from Indian to Pernankan.  I was only here for 24 hours before I caught a bus to the Cameron Highlands, so all I managed to scarf down was a dosa and some shwarma.

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All in all, Kuala Lumpur was less than exciting.  There are other things you can do in the city like go up the Petronas Towers, but we opted out of that as it’s absurdly expensive.  I think the main draw to this city is that AirAsia is headquartered here, so there are always cheap flights when you’re in need of a visa run.

Just because I didn’t love the city doesn’t mean that someone else won’t.  But when you travel remember that you don’t have to always love everything, we’re only human now.

Munchin’ in Malaysia

Malaysia.  The only time I had ever really heard of this country before arriving in Southeast Asia was in Zoolander.  Long live the Prime Minister.  Coming all the way from the US it is kind of a random country to visit.  However, AirAsia is headquartered there, and therefore flights to Malaysia are super cheap.  So when coordinating a trip with my college friend Melissa who teaches in Vietnam, we decided to spend a week where it was cheap for both us to meet up.

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Side note – Malaysia borders the southern tip of Thailand.  You can actually take a bus from Thailand to Kuala Lumpur or Penang, but I hear the border is kind of sketchy.

What does one do in Malaysia?  Malaysia is a primarily Muslim country, and the resulting heavy tax on alcohol shoots drinking prices through the roof.  So it’s not really known for nightlife.  The beaches and Perhentinian islands are beautiful, but still don’t really impress when you’re coming from Thailand.  There aren’t very many UNESCO world heritage sites, or any other kind of monument that makes such a trek worth it.  So what do you do in Malaysia?  Eat.

Malaysia is an extremely diverse country, with an extremely underrated diverse street food scene.  That’s pretty rare for Southeast Asia – Thailand is full of Thai people, Indonesia is full of Indonesian people, Vietnam is full of Vietnamese people, you get my point.  People stare so much at people with different skin color because diversity isn’t really prevalent.  Malayia is much different from this; there is a mix of Malaysian people, Indian people, and Chinese people, setting the stage for awesome local noms.  The Chinese and Malay culture mix is called Pernankan, and Pernankan food is dankkkkk.

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A Pernankan-style mansion in Penang.

So here’s some of the best food I had in Malaysia, and probably my entire life.

  1. Nasi Kandar

Nasi means “rice” in Malay, the same as Indonesian.  Nasi Kandar is the Malaysian version of Indonesian Padang.  It’s everything over rice, and you pay per item.  When Sweet Lis & I were in Penang, we happened to be a nice little 3-minute walk from one of the best places in the city, Line Clear.

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Line Clear was this little outdoor-giant-food-stall-on-crack down an alley.  It was run by a bunch of super friendly Malay men, and was open 24/7, after the bar and for breakfast in the morning.  The best things Melissa & I had with rice were fried chicken for her, and every mystery mix of vegetables that I tried.  Sorry to be vague, but this was one of those point-and-grunt pick your food type situations.

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Looks gross, tastes great.  Our first round of take-away Nasi Kandar, and my pumped travel buddy Melissa.  Look at that happy little clam.

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Line Clear had a HUGE menu, including classic Malay fish-head curry, Indian-influenced roti, and others, which brings me to number 2…

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Fish-head curry on deck in the back.

2. Roti Canai

Roti Canai(pronounced like rho-tee chan-eye) is the Indian-influenced Malaysian roti.  We tried cheese with onion(I know not really Malay, there’s cheese, but we all have our vices), and upon recommendation from a nice guy that worked there we tried just the onion version.  They even hooked us up with some curry sauce to dip it in, SOOOO friggin good.

At a different roti place in Tanah Rata(Cameron Highlands), we also dabbled with butter & sugar roti.  Sooooo friggin good, I almost didn’t feel guilty after.

3. Teh Tarik

This is kind of like Thai tea, it’s a hot tea that’s super sweet and mixed with some kind of sweetened-condensed milk.  The tea guy that pulls the liquid through the tea leaves does a super-dramatic 4-foot pour back and forth to give the tea a nice strong flavor.  I wish I had it on video, it’s quite impressive.

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Breakfast of champions.

4. Rojak

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The Rojak is that weird bowl of past in the front.

Okay this one wasn’t so great, but it’s a common Malaysian thing to eat, so it made the list.  “Rojak” literally means “mix,” so it’s a mix of pasta with hardboiled egg, random vegetables, tofu, and other random things.  It comes with a sickeningly sweet sauce that you pour over the whole thing.  Pasta with a hardboiled egg and sweet sauce, REALLY not my cup of tea.  In defense of the cuisine we got it from a South Indian restaurant(that had dank food otherwise), so maybe Malaysian food just wasn’t their speciality.

5. Indian Food

I apologize for the generic name of this one, but really ALL the Indian food we ate was amazing.  Indian is my favorite cuisine, definitely one of the most underrated cuisines in the world, so we ate as much of it as we possibly could while we were there.  Thailand is great, but they’re not much for international food, aside from expensive trendy western food in Bangkok.

This was a banana-leaf lunch special thing we got with mutton, and we actually tried eating it with our hands in traditional Malaysian-style.  In public.  10/10 would do again.

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6. Mie Goreng

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Malaysia actually had a lot of the same food as Indonesia, including Mie Goreng.  “Mie” means noodles, and it’s like their version of Pad Thai.  You can also get Nasi Goreng, or the same thing with rice, and it’s pretty good as well.  Below is a picture of Nasi Goreng that Melissa & I got at Gurney Drive, a well-known hawker center in Penang.  Hawker Centers are like giant street-food food-court type deals.  Heads up: if you visit you have to buy a drink if you want to sit down and eat your food.

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Shark fin soup anyone?

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It seems that mystery meat skewers are prominent in every country.

7. Chinese Pastries

These don’t really make the list because they were amazing; more because they were interesting.  I’ve tried several Chinese pastries in little Dan Chang, and I just don’t think they’re for me.  They usually include some combination of things that are too savory for me, like salted egg, red bean, and chicken floss.  The chicken floss is actually bearable, but the salted egg…not so much.  Here’s a mix of salted egg & flaky stuff, and custard & some flaky stuff.

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8. Chicken Shwarma

Yes, I know this isn’t Malaysian, or even Asian for the matter, but it was SOOO FREAKING GOOD.  By far the best shwarma I’ve ever had in my life.  Point – there’s a TON of diverse food in Malaysia.  In Kuala Lumpur, Little Arabia was right next to our hostel, where this epic shwarma was consumed.  We also ate our way through Little India, dosas and mimosas, am I right?

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HONORABLE MENTION

Starbuck’s at the airport in Java, en route to Malaysia

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I freaking love Starbuck’s.  I know, I’m the worst, I hate all chain restaurants and love small business, but I love Starbuck’s.  It’s good coffee, sue me.  Like McDonald’s, Starbucks is one of my favorite things to check out and compare from country to country.  There wasn’t anything too memorable on the menu at the airport in Indonesia, just this pastry.  Is it a croissant?  Is it a roll?  No, ladies and gentlemen…it’s a TUNA PUFF!!!  Not gonna lie, it was actually pretty good.

 

 

 

Painted Penang – the Dopest Street Art in SE Asia

Hello hello!!!!  I’ve been away from my blog/laptop for over a month now(serious separation anxiety due to the latter) and am SO happy to be back with a ton of new stories to share.  How have I been posting?  Blogger’s secret – I prepared a months worth of posts ahead of time and scheduled them accordingly.  I guess all the mind-numbing unpaid social media internships I’ve had have finally become useful for something.

I had a month off of school, as most Thai schools have a month-long break at this time of the year.  I visited Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore(only for a hot second), and headed back down to southern Thailand.  I ALMOST went to a Full Moon Party, but then the King died, but more on that later.

Luckily, my friend from home Melissa who teaches in Vietnam had a week off as well, so I was able to meet up with her in Malaysia.  We saw Kuala Lumpur, the Cameron Highlands, and finished in Penang.

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Penang.  I guarantee majority of the people reading this have never even heard of it.  I actually didn’t really know anything about it until I was researching for this trip.  Penang is a state in Malaysia located on a little island off the northwest coast of the country.  It’s capital is Georgetown, this cute little old-school-Chinese-influenced neighborhood full of pretty architecture good food.  That’s where Melissa and I stayed.

As I’ve mentioned before, I freaking love street art.  It’s high on my bucket list to go tagging somewhere myself.  I’ve found somewhere in Thailand where it’s not only legal but highly encouraged, but if I spilled the location now that would ruin the surprise later.  Georgetown by far has the best street art that I’ve ever seen.  Although I’m not sure if it fully meets the definition of pure “street art,” as a lot of it is being capitalized on for tourism.

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They actually have a map of the major street art pieces on display throughout the neighborhood, but the best ones Sweet Lis & I found weren’t on the map(so hipster I know).  It’s funny watching tourists take pictures of street art, because they run right past really nice pieces that aren’t on the map just to get a snap of the ones that are.  Doesn’t that kind of kill the point?  But anyways, here’s a little photo tour of the pieces that we saw, organized by on the map & off the map.

All of these, on and off the map, were found in Georgetown.  They were mostly on well-known Armenian street, but some were all over.

On the Map

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On the Map

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Don’t miss the little rat hanging from the corner of the building on the left in the cat picture.  I think it may have been added by a different artist later, as it seems to match the style of some of the off-the-map pieces that are shown below.

And here are the numerous pieces we found off-the-map.

Off the Map

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