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  • Writer's pictureKristin

Malaysia | Taking a Vacation From Our Vacation

Updated: Apr 9, 2021

Alex's birthday was a couple of days ago, so we ended up taking a couple of days to stay at an actual hotel and not do the "backpacker" lifestyle. Birthday presents from his parents and Kristin's parents helped to fund the 'excursion' to the Eastin Hotel and full body massages on Monday afternoon. We just relaxed mostly for those 2 days and tried to take as much advantage of the comforts of the soft bed, normal shower (without the toilet & shower being in the same space), hotel pool and watching TV.

Super Bowl Viewing in Malaysia

However, the morning of Alex's birthday we didn't sleep-in; in fact, we were up at 6:30 so that we could catch the breakfast downstairs before heading to watch the Super Bowl. (Don't worry we did sleep-in the second morning though!) The breakfast was pretty amazing and because the hotel catered to so many different groups of people that they had Malay, Chinese, Indian and western food all available for breakfast. Just a sampling of the items included: dim sum, toast, rolls, yogurt, dried fruits, nuts, french toast, pancakes, rice, cereal and a made-to-order station for eggs and roti. We were so full that we knew we wouldn't need lunch that day!

When we arrived at the hotel the day before we realized that our hotel didn't have the cable TV channel carrying the Super Bowl. So the previous night we scouted around the area, probably stopping at about five different places, to ask whether they'd be open at 7:30 in the morning and if they had the Astro SuperSports station. Finally, on the 5th place they said 'yes' to both and agreed to let us come watch it in the morning. So the morning of the Super Bowl we went over to watch the game and ordered a couple of teas; and then by the second half it was at least 9 a.m. so we decided to ordered a couple of beers. Nothing like a beer at 9 a.m. ;-) We were so impressed with how nice they were with letting us stay there and take up their TV for 4 hours. At the end we tried to tip them, but they wouldn't accept it. We even got a couple of locals that seemed to be watching it for part of the time....we'll start a revolution in Malaysia making American football popular! Highly doubtful though.

By the time the game was over it felt like 3 p.m. so we went back to our hotel to relax and then headed out to have our 2 hour massages for 80 RM each (or about $24). Kristin's was pretty nice, but unfortunately, the birthday boy got a Thai massage which was a little hard at times. For the birthday dinner we went to a revolving sushi restaurant where we picked different colored plates of sushi off; at the end they tallying up the number of colored plates to give you your total. It was a pretty fun experience and we're excited to do it in Japan when we go back; unfortunately, it won't be as affordable as it was here in Malaysia!

Back to Backpacker Travel

We took advantage of the nice hotel as much as possible before checking out at the last minute on Tuesday morning - the day after Alex's birthday. As we were walking to the bus station, a car pulled over and asked us if we'd like a ride to the bus station. We accepted and when the guy found out that we were going to Georgetown he offered to take us all the way there because he didn't have any pertinent plans for the day. We graciously accepted.

We have been so impressed with the people here in Malaysia. Whereas in other countries, like Vietnam and China, you have to be worried about people trying to rip you off or offering things to only get something in return, the people here have been so generous with their time and hospitality. Plus, since they can all speak English relatively well it is easier to make travel arrangements, order food, get directions, etc. -- making it nice to travel here. As we were telling him about our future travel plans we mentioned that we were going to take the ferry to Langkawi island and he even took us to the office to buy the ferry ticket before dropping us off at the hostel.

However, it was great to talk to him on the drive over because he gave us some good insight on Malaysia. He was a Chinese Malaysian and could impressively speak about 3 different languages, as well as several dialects within a couple of the languages. However, he was telling us that there was very much division among the different ethnic groups. For instance, only Malays can hold government offices, whereas Chinese and Indian Malays cannot. However, he did share that Malaysia is much more accepting of different cultures. For instance in Thailand, Chinese individuals would need to adopt a Thai name; however, Chinese in Malaysia can keep their Chinese names and still be considered Malaysian. He also told us that many college students here can choose to study all their classes in English, which we found impressive.

After not being in the heat for the past few days, the afternoon heat & humidity was again a shocker. After lunch at a local Indian place in Little India, we decided to try out some of the local and famous Penang Coffee. Because of the heat, we got the iced version and we felt like we were drinking a Starbucks Frappuccino for $4 less, in fact it was only about equivalent to $.40 USD. In fact, we liked it so much that we went back for a second helping after dinner that evening.

Exploring Georgetown

Alex relaxed for the afternoon, while I went out and explored some of the parts of the city. Georgetown, Penang is another UNESCO site due to the different cultural influences that came when it was a prominent trade port city. So there are many different architectural styles, as well as different customs, foods and religions. I visited the oldest mosque in Georgetown, a couple of Chinese temples, and saw a few of the churches and Indian temples as well. The mosque was interesting to see and it was nice that they even had someone walk around and tell about it and some of the practices Muslims follow. One subject in particular was in relation to their 5 required prayer times throughout the day, which are dependent on the movement of the sun. The Chinese temples were interesting to see as well. Due to the approaching Chinese New Year there were many Chinese people saying their "good luck and fortune" prayers and burning incense in order to bring in a prosperous new year.

Georgetown Chinatown for Dinner

For dinner we went to the Chinatown section of town and tried out a Cantonese restaurant. We ordered some sweet and sour pork and a unique dish called Strawberry Chicken. The food was delicious; however, the most fun was the carts they brought around to the tables. From the carts you could choose different items you wanted. One cart had dim sum (the steamed baskets of dumplings) and another lady had more of the sweets carts with different rolls and specialties. We had some shrimp dumplings and then a sweet sesame roll with a bean paste inside.

Exploring Penang on Motorbike

Penang is actually an island off the coast of northern peninsula of Malaysia, so we thought it would be fun to rent a motorbike and go around the island and check out the real towns and some of the beaches along the way. We picked up our motorbike around 9 a.m. and then headed out for the day. As this was our 4th time renting the motorbike, Alex has become pretty much a local in driving the bike around by now. He zigs and zags between the cars and goes up to the front at stop lights just like the locals.

Penang National Park

Our first stop was at Penang National Park. We took a hike across the park to a beach on the other side that many sea turtles come to to lay their eggs in the sand. Unfortunately, we didn't get to see any baby sea turtles, because they mostly hatch and go out to the ocean at night. The hike was through another jungle and was very alive with many jungle creatures. We saw monkeys, which naturally live there, a huge scorpion, and tons of ants that were very busy working. In fact, once I glanced down and thought there was a snake moving at my feet; in reality though it was just hundreds and hundreds of ants moving across a tree root that just created the illusion of snake slithering across the ground. The sounds of the birds in jungle were cool as well as we walked through. After a little over an hour we got to the turtle beach and were SO hot that we decided to take a swim in the ocean - it felt so refreshing and we almost had the entire beach to ourselves. However, after 10 minutes Alex got a sting on his wrist, which we think might have been a jellyfish sting -- but he was alright.

Monkey Encounter

On the way back we also stopped at a canopy walkway where we walked across rope bridges in the upper parts of the jungle. However, the most interesting part of our walk was toward the end when we came across about 10 monkeys right along the walking trail. One of the monkeys even had a little baby hanging off of her belly. They were pretty good and kept their distance from us.... until Alex opened the backpack. This caused one of the monkeys to come up to us immediately. Alex thought it would be a good idea to offer them a banana; but he basically had to grab it out of the bag and throw it at them a few yards ahead of us so that they wouldn't come at us. I was the unfortunate soul with the bag on my back and was afraid that after they devoured that banana that they'd come straight after me for seconds! So as soon as Alex threw the banana, we ran! As we were running away, we heard the monkeys screeching and fighting over who would get the banana. Luckily, we made it out without any monkeys coming after us; but so far our track record with monkeys on this trip hasn't been the best! ;-)

For the rest of the afternoon we drove around the other side of the island. The roads were very windy and reminded us of the Hana Highway in Maui, HI. But along the way we did stop at a Tropical Fruit Farm and we each got a freshly squeezed fruit juice, which was delicious and refreshing after our hike. As we were finishing up our motorbike ride we ran into rush hour traffic, which Alex handled like a local!

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