Around Malaysia


Our experience tought us that when travelling in group it’s important to delegate responsibilities for the planning – it would become a big mess if everybody just follows his own ideas! So for this time Colu and Isa had to feel like a Tamagotchi, enjoying what Marti and Nadia already had in mind based on the travel guides they got as a Christmas’s present.

Arriving to peninsular Malaysia we were pretty sure that anything we would see would be very interesting, and the only “must-go” place was Taman Negara National Park, the biggest in peninsular Malaysia. Time available: 10 days.

The trip was planned to optimize distances, as we wanted to see lots of things in those few days, so from Kuala Lumpur, where we arrived and passed one great day, we decided to go northwards to Penang Island. We took a night bus and reached Georgetown.

Arriving to Penang we had to take a taxi to actually reach the city, and this was an epic experience. The guy was an Indian Malaysian who showed us all the touristic points and told us a lot about Penang’s story. A very good guide!
He even told us a funny story that later caused lots of laughs. Well Nadia, Isa and Colu were sitting in the part behind, Martina was chatting more with the driver sitting next to him. She was the only one who could actually hear what the guy was saying, but I promise the efford from behind was big to try to follow. At one point, he was explaining the origin of the name Penang and related stories.

Betel nut

One of the stories was a bit weird and maybe his English too, so it was very easy to mistake the word “Betel nut” (“Pinang”, in Malay…) for “Bitter nut” (Martina interpretation) or “Beetle nut” (rear seats interpretation). After a few minutes confrontation after the taxi we decided that “Bitter nut” was probably the actual version, and it was crazy funny when Marti discovered in a book of a friend, months after this, that the actual name of the fruit was a third one. A big pity, mostly because after the conversation with the guide-driver we tried hard to understand the cool story behind the “bitter” fruit, that according to him is very much used in the Indian tradition by women who want to paint their mouth and lips – a vegetal lipstick!DSC_7173

Well,  Penang was a short stay but we enjoyed a lot! We went to the island National Park (not a very wild one) and enjoyed its beaches and monkeys – and obviously took hundreds of pictures.
The city of Georgetown is very nice, with its narrows streets full of graffiti, the people riding their bikes and the colorful cafes and bars with live music. It’s quite touristic so many places have a western style, mostly in the city center. Our activities were mostly related to food (Penang is very famous in all Asia for the very good dishes), but we also found some time to walk around, drink beer and sleep 😉

After we went to Tanah Rata, in Cameron highlands, this spot on the mountains where the production of tea and strawberries is the central attraction. The nature is so beautiful there! And it’s full of Hindi and Buddhist temples that we were glad to visit.
The high altitudes give to the region a very fresh and pure air, and inspired by that incredible nature we took some of the mountain treks to discover the place.
The third day our friend José reached us for some days before going to Australia. We also met new people, including a talkative man who we found catching butterflies on the top of a mountain (what a beautiful view from there!) while singng Led Zeppeling. We also did some of the touristic attraction, such as visiting the tea plantations (a residual practice from English colony times) and strawberries productions.

The final and most waited destination was the Taman Negara National Park. To reach it from Tanah Rata we took a van and then a two hours boat, after which we arrived to a small and cozy village which lives mostly on tourism. We were lucky to be there in the low season, so our hostel in the middle of the forest was hosting only the five of us.

After some evaluations we decided not to take a guide, so with a couple of very simple maps we tried to find the trails and things to do on our own. We walked a Canopy Walk (mean height 30m)that was really suggestive, seeing such forest from the upper stairs is something that humans don’t normally experience, a very interesting feeling! One of the treks (which seemed to never end) led us to a beautiful beach on a river, so we passed some hours there to rest and swim.
The magic of the park was about its “hundred shades of green”, the singing of the birds, the crazy attacks of the leeches (somehow we liked them, come on), the lianas, the majestic trees, the unidentified noises and sounds coming from the dense forest, the wonderful views after hours walking in the hot sun… Well, we just loved it!

After this short but intense travel our eyes were already full of new colors and images, our lungs full of fresh air and our ears full of new words in Malay. We were satisfied and now a new place was waiting for us: our future Home-Sweet-Home, Kuala Terengganu!

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Travel route, 1287 km






The arrival


It wasn’t just any day, for sure! We were about to leave for six months in Malaysia! Clearly, the four of us were the main reason for that flight to exist. Bologna-Istanbul-Kuala Lumpur, wait for us!

And there we are. Nadia, in peace with her life after the last crazy 24 hours in Verona, trying to help the Vietnamese friend who lost his passport just the day before leaving (oh yes, we were supposed to be five…); Isabel, that after checking one hundred times if Cubans need any visa for the Turkish airport finally said “Hasta luego” to the beautiful Florence and her winter clothes; Columba, that after saying goodbye to her beloved friends from Ferrara and her Mexican bike took the train towards the airport; and last but not least Martina, who after a memorable night with her friends in Bologna was suffering all the symptoms of the hangover.

Ready, set, go!

We had no idea of what we would find once there. We knew that the flight would last around 15 hours, that there would be many movies to watch, that the seven hours jet lag was waiting for us. We knew that in Malaysia it’s always hot, that they have a lot of oil palm (boycott!), that the people are nice and that we would live in an Islamic region, just in front of the sea. We knew that before arriving to destination we would have travelled with our backpacks for ten days, even if the itinerary was still to define. We knew that we would see the forest, the Buddhist and Hindu temples, the Pacific Ocean, the Chinese new year. But we really didn’t know anything.
I was in contact with Nadzim, CouchSurfer kind enough to let four unknown girls invade his living room to welcome us. We had no clear idea of who he was and where he was living, but we seemed in good hands and anyway nothing could damage us, the four warriors in love with the future.

And so, after waiting for the last call to the flight and for Martina – slow  and stumbling, but still alive – our heroines finally follow the line to get on the plane. Let’s go!
Next came the naps and nice movies. Change in Istanbul and hundreds of exotic languages. A quiet flight. And there we arrive! High luxury in the airport, and nice smiles everywhere! Cool!

Fine. The host’s address written on my notebook, we had to try to figure out how to reach Nadzim’s place. After considering that the 13 kg of our backpacks seemed to weight the double (jet lag effect?), we decided to go for a taxi. Nothing easier, as our pretty white faces were attracting men of all sizes and ages to convince us to take their car. After choosing a tiny and smiley old man, we went for a ATM to get cash (sounds easy, but it took us forty minutes) and finally got on the taxi. First surprise: they drive the other side! They hadn’t told me! Ok, we’ll get used to it. It was night already and we could only see the city’s light and skyscrapers. So many! The taxi driver was super funny – both him and his English full of “can” and “can not”. Close to the host’s house he showed us a Tao temple, wow! It was Chinese new year and we were really excited to know how it would be like.

Happy at Nadzim’s, Kuala Lumpur

The arrival at Nadzim couldn’t be better. This guy, living at the tenth floor of a white huge building, maybe far from town, was able to make us feel home immediately. He didn’t take long to get our interest, and after the shower and a few words he pronounced the magic words: “Do you want to go for dinner?”.

With our lighter clothes (it was 40°C guys, where the monsoon?) we went down to see what Kuala Lumpur would offer us. We had a good dinner, lots of spicy sauces, small fish and chicken, everything served with rice on a banana tree leaf. They eat using hands, but we weren’t ready yet and we shamefully asked for forks and spoons. Anyways, we happily ate everything filling our mouths also of questions to Nadzim, to which he answered carefully and patiently. On the way back, Isabel couldn’t betray her habits: she bought strange sweets that we tried curiously. Not even our guide could tell us with were the enigmatic ingredients.

After a worthy sleep, we woke up with the best view we could expect: the terrace of Nadzim was just on a spot of forest! Impossible to forget it, the best morning surprise! Our guide Nadzim, decided that we should eat a lot also for breakfast, brought us to a delicious Indian restaurant. Here we were introduced to what would soon become an addictive substance: THE TARIK, a strong tea mixed with condensed milk. Delicious.

With the satisfaction that only curry and rice can give, we were finally ready to face the city tour of Kuala Lumpur. The day was incredible, we probably walked around 15 hours and we saw any kind of thing and color. Chinatown and it’s icy fruit juices, the typical red paper lights along the streets, the colorful and messy street markets, the Malaysian traditional patterns and fabrics, the crazy hot temperature, the too many languages all together – Malaysian, Hindi, Chinese, English for us and some Italian and Spanish, the parks and the mosques, the huge trees, the temples. And finally Petronas towers, symbol of KL and Malaysian monument, the twin towers that overlook all the city. They’re really big, and they are surrounded by a beautiful and clean park – it seems another planet! The towers are a shopping center, and we did our first shopping in the shoes and book shops. Down in the park, we even saw a Chinese dragon dancing in commemoration of the new year!

We love KL!

It was evening already, and Nadzim led us to a helicopter landing pad at the 34th floor of a building. Did he want to send us back to our countries, was he so tired of us already? Well, luckily not! The helipad turns every evening into a helibar! From there the view is breath-taking, and we could admire the best sunset that KL could offer. Even if it was really crowded and we had our cocktails standing for three hours, but the mountains and city were just amazing. Seriously, what else?

After the drinks, tired and in the dark we were almost ready to go back home. Almost, because we were missing something essential! Sure, our dinner! Nadzim is not only an indestructible guide, but also a politically correct Malaysian. He fairly noticed that in our gastronomic tour an important pillar of the local culture was missing, we couldn’t leave the Malaysian capital city without eating in a Chinese restaurant! We found one (one hundred, to say the truth) in an overcrowded, overcolored and oversmelling street.

Once again with satisfied stomach and heart, we finally walked back home. And after some music and nocturnal chatters, we said goodbye to our first day in Malaysia holding in mind all the colors, tastes and smells that we were getting introduced to.

Terima kasih!