As I said in my previous post, I was forced to change my itinerary due to visa problems. The closest and cheapest option for me was to fly back to Kuala Lumpur from Bali and spend some days there before going to New Zealand.
Malaysia is another Muslim country in South East Asia that is currently seen by backpackers as a transit between Singapore and Thailand. I haven’t met many people who got too excited about Malaysia or who spent too much time here. One of the reasons might be the lack of backpacking infrastructure. The quality of hostels here does not compare with Thailand or Vietnam. Also, the fact that clubs are not very common (except KL) and the high alcohol prices demotivates many young people from coming here.
Kuala Lumpur is a big developed city and an important transportation hub in Asia. Well known for the Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur is a good place to spend 2-3 days and enjoy city life. There are plenty of shopping malls with international brands, a few (expensive) sky bars and some touristic attractions.
My first visit to KL was in 2016 and it was not very pleasant. I arrived from Vietnam with a very bad tonsils infection and without any accommodation booked. I managed to find a decent hostel, but during my three days in KL I was on antibiotics and fighting with high fever. I managed to see some attractions, like the birds park and the twin towers, but I was not really impressed.
Almost two years later, just before 2018 NYE, I landed again in KL. It was a two days layover on a flight from Sri Lanka to Bali. This time the city felt different. I don’t know if it was because I met with some friends or because I not sick anymore. The truth is that in these two years many new hostels opened and some kind of backpacking community appeared.
I’ve got to know the city better after my last visit. It felt so familiar and I already knew all the cool areas, bars and hostels. However, KL is still not my favourite city, but I think it is a good escape from Asian style and culture and a place where you can have some fun for a few days.
Penang – George Town
George Town in Penang Island is an UNESCO Heritage Site since 2008. Known for the colonial architecture and amazing street food, Penang is a nice destination for a holiday. The old city offers a variety of restaurants and pubs, while the surrounding areas nice beaches to relax and explore.
One of my favourite things about Penang is the street art. Many of the walls were painted during Georgetown Arts and Culture festival in 2012. It was a crazy idea by the city council, considering that Georgetown is an UNESCO protected area. However, the commissioned artists integrated their street art into the local culture and the results were incredible.
(Un)luckly for me I was in Penang during the Chinese New Year. Malaysia has a big community of Chinese and for them this is the biggest celebration of the year. It is a celebration that has to be spent in family with a lot of traditional food and usually a lot of alcohol involved as well. What that meant for me? Very difficult to find accommodation, trains and busses fully booked and horrible traffic gems on the highway. Also a lot of local businesses like restaurants or shops owned by Chinese were closed for a few days.
On the other hand, the streets were nicely decorated in red and you could see performances with dragons on the street and fireworks.
Old Portuguese colonial town and part of UNESCO Heritage, Malacca is situated midway between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. It is popular stop by backpackers that do this route. I visited it in 2016 when I was still recovering from my tonsils infection. I remember it was the one of the few times when I stayed in a fancy hotel instead of a hostel. I had a hostel booked, but the rooms were so bad that I had to cancel it and I go to the fist hotel I could find. For 40$ I got a private room that even had a pillow menu. I had a good sleep that night.
I can’t say much about the city since I’ve spend there only one night. I know for sure that you can find plenty of good restaurants and the old town has more of a Portuguese feeling than Malaysian. I will just leave here my favourite photo from Malacca.
Less famous than George Town or Malacca, Ipoh is a mid-sized city that is mostly used as a gateway to Cameron highlands. This was also my reason to visit Ipoh, but because of bad weather I had to cancel the trip. During my two days stay I explored a bit the old town and Little India. Interestingly, the same street artist who did the famous murals in George Town, was also commissioned to paint some walls in Ipoh. Ernest Zacharevic not only adapts his art to the local culture, but he also integrates the environment to be part his creations.
How to stay fit while backpacking
This is often a taboo topic between backpackers. Staying fit while traveling for a few months can be challenging. First of all you don’t have a routine, you are on the move all the time and finding time to do some proper exercise is hard. During long time travels, most of the people gain weight, but that’s not always the case. I think it depends how many activities you do and how well you assimilate rice and alcohol. I am probably in the first category.
Compared to a classic holiday, backpacking is more active. You don’t lay on the beach all day and get served breakfast in bed. You walk a lot and rarely move by taxi from place to place. Just carrying your 10-20kg backpack from the hostel to the bus station involves a lot of effort. The most intense activities are usually the hikes. Trekking to a temple, a view-point or a mountain for a few hours in hot weather is more intense than one hour at the gym. I did some crazy hikes in China and Sri Lanka, but that is mostly leg workout. Surfing, yoga, swimming or beer lifting are other common activities that involves other muscle groups.
Sometimes I try to find a quiet spot for an hour or so and do a basic workout. It is usually a bit of running, push-ups, abs and other exercises that do not need any equipment. When I was on the islands, I used to wake up just before sunrise and go to the beach for this. Empty beach, the sound of waves, good temperature and an amazing sunrise. Perfect environment for a workout. In the big cities, you can always find a gym or even get a private room from time to time and exercise there.
I will fly from Kuala Lumpur to Auckland and spend around one month in New Zealand. I will arrive during peak season, so I expect to be very crowded everywhere.