Friday, 25 May 2012

Malaysia. The best food in Asia

Landing in Kuala Lumpur – the first one of many future stops. At this point I didn’t know that next 3 months the city (or better said the airport) would turn into my base in South East Asia. The reason - Air Asia of course.
I landed at stupid time, around 1 am and it took me at least 1 hour to get to the centre. I was supposed to stay with my very talkative friend Ivan from Zaragoza and just knew the name of the hotel he was staying at. Imagine my surprise when the shelter bus dropped me off in front of a 5 star hotel and I got in like Cinderella (the modern version J) with my 2 backpacks. Apparently Ivan was living in Renaissance, one of the best hotels in KL. That was definitely a treat, I don’t think I´ve stayed in a 5 star hotel before. I spent the first two days sleeping and just meeting some people from CS in the afternoon and waiting for Ivan to finish work, some walking around (or more like sweating around, its extremely humid and always rain in the afternoon).
Ivan works for a Spanish company that had bought a factory in the outskirts of KL so he was sent there for a few months to find out how to increase the efficiency and productivity of the factory, in other words he was the one to decide how many of the workers will have to be left without jobs. Pretty shit task cos he was working crazy hours and making friends with the people who were supposed to be fired. Anyways, despite his busy schedule, he found time to spend with me and take me to some local places (even though he doesnt like local food). Too bad he couldn´t join me around the country.
For a city so in love with new high-rise buildings, Kuala Lumpur is surprisingly green. I loved the Lake Garden park, Orchid garden, Hibiscus garden and all the other parks nearby, spent almost a whole day there. 
Petronas Twin Towers (88 floors) -t he world tallest free standing towers
Orchid garden

Another stop sign
Its definitely not my outfit, and not my colours...but had to do it!
National Mosque of Malaysia (Masjid Negara)
Masjid Negara
The most modern mosque I´ve ever seen

Since Ivan hadn’t been anywhere in Malaysia, he decided to come with me to Penang for the weekend and then goes back to Kl and I continue alone. When I surfed with Rana from Mashad (Iran), she recommended me a hostel in Georgetown, so we went straight there. Was not bad, central and quite nice. Bus 101 (get a jumper or something because the air-conditioning on the bus is way too strong) goes to Penang National Park. Along the north-western coastline, on the opposite side of the island from Georgetown, lie some of the finest and least known beaches on the island. Sparkling sea, powdery white sand, and sunlight filtering through coconut groves awaits those who are willing to hike the jungle paths that are the beaches' only access. And the walk to Monkey beach for example, takes only 1 h. It is also accessible by short boat ride from the entrance of the park (we came back by boat cos it was raining season, so every afternoon it rains). It is relatively isolated but is preferred to other beaches on the island (infested with jellyfish) because it is considered safe for swimming. And yeah, there are lots of monkeys on the beach, you have to watch your belongings.

Ivan´s happy face after a beer
Love all of them!
Went for a few beers and food but Ivan is complicated because just like most of Spaniards cannot take spicies.. and almost everything is quite spicy in Malaysia. Wrong country my friend J))
It was extremely hot next day so all we did was to get on the free bus that goes around the city, didn’t get off at all so we didn’t see any of the sights (I was told later that there were quite a few of them). I regret it now. Instead we watched from inside the bus (air conditioned) and the alternative of getting out in the heat was unanimously voted down. So yeah, we saw nothing in the city. Pretty useless, yeah.

My highlight in Malaysia - PARIT BUNTAR AND DAVID

I was randomly invited by David from CS to visit his village. It looked suspicious at the beginning but reading his references it made sense to go. David (Munusami is his real name) is 60 year old Malay Indian, who traveled all over USA and Europe by bike (having heart problems and diabetes – he has to take 11 pills every morning!!).
Spent 4 amazing days in the country side (Parit Buntar), a hidden paradise, the best option if you wanna get off the beaten track. The only foreigners that ever come to this place are the ones invited by David . The second day a French couple (Nathalie and Philippe who completely change my opinion about French people) came along and joined me for all the activities that David had prepared for us. We went riding bikes for 50km a day and we explored everything. He took us to so many places, I think we saw everything that could be seen in the area - fireflies at night (they were everywhere, we took a boat), mangrove trees, walking around the fishing villages and seeing how they actually get the fish, crabs and clams..., cycling through the jungle, eating lots of local food - Indian, Chinese and Malay, swimming under  waterfalls, going to steam baths, seeing how they make the pottery, coconut wine and charcoal and so on....

Roof making

He is showing off with the cards he got done at the Great Chinese wall
The fish we got given from the fishermen
The oldest house in the area
Making the tea
I still have the hat that David bought me (somehow disappeared later)
No hat :)
With Nathalie and Philippe

At charcoal making furnace

Finally, got to the waterfall

Nathalie working on her pottery skills
My jackfruit…I was got obsessed with trying Jackfruit (I think I had it for the first time in Thailand but I didn’t remember how it tasted so wanted to try it again).. Its probably the biggest fruit I´ve ever seen, its huuuge! So I picked one from a tree on the road and David told me its gonna be ripe in 3 days so I decided to carry it to Cameron Highlands. The saddest thing was that I managed to do it for 3 days but I left it on the bus from Cameron Highlands to KL…Got so angry at myself, after all (its not a small thing to carry along for 3 days, and definitely not the lightest!).
Here I got my jackfruit
You can´t say you´ve been to Malaysia or South East Asia without trying Durian. I got there in the beginning of its season so there weren’t that many on sale yet and you definitely notice it cos it stinks so badly that in most of the hotels there is a sign saying “No durians allowed”. There are mainly two types of ways to enjoy durian. Most enthusiasts or purists would say that the best durians are those that have just fallen from the tree. Everyone will huddle together at the floor, already lined with newspaper and now laid across with durians half opened, and then dig into each for the pulps. These are ceremoniously eaten with your hands, digging into its soft flesh while slowly licking them off the seeds and your fingers of course.

It was long way from Parit Buntar, I took 3 buses (cos I didn’t wanna wait for the direct bus) and for the last 80km I hitchhiked. That was the best alternative, rather be walking with my thumb up than waiting 3 hours for a bus in a shit bus station. A Malaysian couple picked me up to the final destination (Tanah Rata) . They had a catering company back in KL and came all the way to Cameron highlands to buy fresh bamboo cos its much cheaper here and better quality. We were stopping at all the stalls along the road to buy all the bamboo the locals were selling. 
The forty seven kilometre journey to Ringlet, the highlands first town, takes about one hour and is an experience in itself. The journey begins with the road gently working its way up through Malay villages backed by dense jungle. The road twists and turns its way up, passing by small bamboo huts precariously placed on the rim of the valley, but enjoying stunning views of the surrounding forest. They are the homes of the Semai, part of the Senoi group of Orang Asli, (Indigenous people), many of whom still find their livelihood from their knowledge of the rainforest. They collect insects and butterflies, carve blowpipes, weave baskets for the highlands tourist market, or sell one or two unusual souvenir items at the roadside near their homes.
As the road continues up towards Ringlet the temperature begins to cool, the air becomes fresh and the general stickiness associated with the lowland areas disappears. The flora and fauna also changes with the temperature and there are spectacular glimpses of the valley below and distant mountain ranges all the way to Ringlet and Tanah Rata.

Bamboo hut

The weather wasn’t very nice, rain most of the time but I still manage to see quite a lot. Went to the famous tea plantations where I got caught by the rain so hitchhiked back, saw the butterfly garden, skipped the strawberry farms and hiking through the jungle in the rain. My bag zipper broke so I had to urgently fix it. But wasn’t that easy – the only tailor in the town didn’t have zippers, in this town they didn’t have proper zippers anywhere, a had to go to the next one and got lucky there, had exactly what I need, but they didn’t have a tailor there, then come back again hitchhiking in the rain but made it just on time so the tailor did his jobs and 2 hours later I had a brand new bag. Missions!
Boh Tea plantations
Butterfly garden

Didn’t socialize very much in the hostel, wasn’t in a mood or don’t know what but stayed quite away from the other travelers. I guess I needed some time for myself. The dorm room was a big spacious room with no door, just 8 beds in it..and it was fucking cold! Later on, I met other travelers and they all had the same experience – freezing as hell.

The town is a mix of Dutch, Portuguese and English architecture, Buddist, thaoist and Indian temples and Islamic mosques. Melaka´s multifaith culture is deeply  evident everywhere. And it´s heaven for food lovers! 
I stayed with an Indian Malaysian gay couple from CS and their 4 dogs. They were in their late 40s and were very nice and welcoming. I had my own room and they had a housekeeper who was in charge of the food and coffee (and im sure of other things as well but that was what I noticed). They had friends staying as well so we all had an Indian dinner (yummy). One of the guys was a doctor (very famous actually and a professor at the University in Melaka) so he was busy most of the time and I spent more time with the other guy. Next day when I was ready to leave for the bus station, found out that the dogs ate my flip flops J. Luckily I had trainers in my backpack (I left my big backpack with Ivan in KL) so it wasn’t that bad and at the bus station bought new ones. Anyway, it was time to get rid of them. And I got some Jack fruit at the market, after all, I was satisfied. Cant say the same thing about Ivan though...cos I brought some to his hotel and it is quite smelly as well, not as smelly as Durian but still, he wasn´t happy.

They love their karaoke!
My hosts and their 4 dogs
Leaving town, I accidently bumped into a cow slaughter, the festival of Eid ul-Adha. 7 of November
Muslims across the world celebrate Hari Raya Aidiladha (Eid al-Adha) or “Feast of Sacrifice” — a religious day to mark the end of the annual Haj pilgrimage to Mecca. During the celebration, Muslims commemorate and remember the trials of Prophet Ibrahim. They begin the day by performing Eid prayers in a large congregation at the mosque. This is followed by the ceremony of sacrificing cows (korban) where a percentage of the meat from the animals will be donated to poor and needy families.
They had 3 cows (all donated by rich Muslims), one of them was already dead and they were sharing the meat between all the families in the neighborhood. I was invited to have some drinks and food while “enjoying” the slaughter. When they were about to kill the second cow, I just left (decided to spare myself the pleasure of watching).

Next victim waiting its turn
As I was walking side by side with a local guy and his 2 year old daughter, we started talking and he told me the every family in the neighborhood gets 1 kilo of meat. He was living nearby and probably I looked quite interested in his lifestyle so he invited me to his house. It was a poor house but they had 5 kids, all aged from 2 to 10. His wife (Indonesian) started offering me food straight away, I couldn’t say no and had some seafood with rice which was pretty good. They were very happy having me there and very welcoming, actually like all the Malaysian people I´ve met so far.

Since Im finishing this post a few months later (yeah, im lazy), I can tell now, that the best food I´ve tried so far was in Malaysia. Such a great mix of Chinese, Malay and Indian food and such a big variety of fruits and vegetables. Loved it, couldn’t stop eating, and wanted to try everything. My mouth is watering now just thinking of all those delicious things you can get anywhere in Malaysia. I definitely didn´t see much of the country, it is pretty big and has lots of things to offer, other backpackers I met later spent months here (it´s pretty good for diving). Probably it´s a good thing I didn´t stay longer cos my belly would explode if it got any bigger :))


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