Southeast Asian Travels! – Singapore & Malaysia

10 09 2010

Well, after a tearful good-bye to the Philippines, I hit the road for my several month long journey through Southeast and East Asia. The journey began with my flight from Manila to Singapore. So far I’ve spent 4 days in Singapore, 2 days in Kuala Lumpur, 1 day in Melaka, and 2 days in Georgetown (Penang Island). Tomorrow, I leave by train for Thailand – first to Hua-Hin/Phetchaburi for a night, then by train to Bangkok for 2 nights, and so on!

Obviously, a lot has happened already in just these first 9 days, but I’ll just outline some highlights / impressions, then give you pictures! 🙂

Singapore – My first impression on walking around Singapore was the *silence*. No horns, no yells, just an extremely efficient and multicultural city with a *tonne* of rich people / rich-acting people. I’ve never seen such a high concentration of nice cars on the streets before, seriously. The first day was pretty rough, emotionally, due to the cold North American-ness of it all, and my missing the Philippines, but since then I’ve adapted and am enjoying each day more!

Singapore has  a lot of great sites and is very compact and walkable, not to mention having an amazing LRT system. I read in a local paper that, if the whole world followed the Singapore model of high density development (5 million people in a 700 square kilometre land area), we could house all 6.5++ billion of us on only 5% of the Earth’s surface! While you’d still need lots of land area for agriculture / forestry / etc., the massive urban sprawl of other societies like North America would be eliminated.

In terms of accommodations, I “Couchsurfed” (www.couchsurfing.org) with a friendly Japanese man who owned an amazing condo near downtown. I slept on the floor with a couple other couchsurfers, but had a great time with them. We had dinner together a couple times and went to a local “shisha” cafe, where you smoke flavoured raw tobacco out of those huge water pipes (I learned later that, despite the water filtration, they’re still pretty terrible for you! Oh well..)

The nice thing about Singapore was its variety of districts – Chinatown, Little India, Kampong Glam (Arab quarter), the Business District, and the Historic Downtown District. And the food scattered throughout all these districts, well, let’s just say I gained a few pounds 🙂  While there are a tonne of restaurants and classy places for upper class dicks, there are an equally large amount of hawker stalls / food court-type places serving up great Chinese / Indian / Singaporean dishes hot and ready for only 1 or 2 Singapore dollars per dish. These were essentially the only places I ate at and the only major thing I was spending my money on. The abundance of juices – fresh squeezed fruit juices, sugarcane juice (yum!), kopi/teh tariks (pulled coffee/tea), etc. etc. was a wonderful feature too – I must have been getting 5 – 10 each day!

So, needless to say, after that bounty, arriving in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, (by train), a Muslim country (60% of the population)  in the middle of Ramadan – the month of fasting from sunrise to sunset, plunged me into a culinary void. Many of the shops were closed, there was essentially no street food to be found before 7pm, and restaurants that were open had very few customers, which means very low turnover and poor freshness. So I mainly spent my 2 days in KL and day in Melaka not eating much – wandering around and seeing all the sights (nice cities both – KL has a great tower you can go up to see the whole city, some nice parks, the Petronas Towers of course, and some nice market areas and mosques; Melaka, which I took a daytrip to, has a nice historic area, a tonne of museums, and a nice shopping street). These 3 days, I couchsurfed with a friendly Chinese-Malay lady who sells her inherited Grandfather’s stamp collection on EBay for a living (a good living!). She took me out for delicious local Chinese-Malay food on 2 of the nights, for bah kut teh (delicious meat soup) and a variety of fried dry mee (noodles). I also ate a fast-breaking Ramadan meal after sundown at the National Mosque, which I first toured and spent 2 hours arguing with the guide about Islam – a fun experience. I did the same the Singapore and can say now that I know more about Islam and have a greater respect for it (though obviously still wish for an atheist world!).

I also discovered an alternative to my favourite Filipino dish – halo-halo – that is called “Cendol” – a delicious milky ice dish with sweet-beans/corn/pandan-flavoured ‘noodles’/caramely syrup. Yum yum!

After my last night in KL, it was onward by bus to Georgetown City – Penang Island, which I arrived in yesterday. After finding a nice little cheap hotel, I set out to wander the city – being immediately impressed by the great amounts of street foods and market areas, even during Ramadan! I knew I would like this city! 🙂

However, shortly after I began my exploring, I was walking along the shoreline and wanted to get a better photo of the coast, so I scrambled along some rocks hoping to get to their other side to get the shot. The rocks were slippery though, so I climbed up to the shoreline ledge that looked like it opened into an empty field and began walking along that instead. As soon as I did though, a couple angry dogs came charging out of the bushes at me, barking like mad, so I scrambled madly back down the ledge, fight-or-flight reflex in fuller gear than its been in years, but slipped on the rocks and smashed my big toe into them. Luckily the dogs didn’t follow me down, but my toe was killing me. I still pressed on to get the shot (!), then hobbled back and spent the next couple hours sitting on a street-side curb nursing my toe. I think it may be badly sprained or hairline fractured, as it still hurts like hell today, but after some ice last night (and a small miracle check-up from a doctor! – While I was on the curb, a couple walked past and I asked them if they could get ice for me from the nearby restaurant, 2 other people had already said no {wtf?!}, but these folks not only agreed, but turned out to be vacationing doctors, so they gave me some painkiller, checked my toe and told me it wasn’t serious!) I continued on my exploration of Penang, albeit much more slowly and painfully – hobbling along the streets! Although the nice thing about that was it slowed me down and forced me to appreciate things I would have passed over had I been walking more quickly!

I hobbled all through Georgetown today – eating delicious meals at all the street food strands and not letting my toe bother me too much! Its another great city – a UNESCO Heritage City with some beautiful old buildings. I think I may be turning into an Anthony Bourdain-type traveller – all I care about is food. I don’t spend money to go into any of the museums, I don’t shop for anything but a couple postcards, and I certainly don’t spend my time sitting in the backpacker bars with beer and other white people! I just eat, eat, eat, and I love every second of it! I think I had the best meal of my life this morning – I discovered a bustling Chinese street market and ate fresh-fried thick dry noodles, followed by a Chinese doughnut and the sweetest and juiciest star fruit ever. If that isn’t heaven, I don’t know what is!

Ok, enough talk, here’s some pics! (Just a few, its tough to upload here at the net cafe, but I’ve got tonnes more I can show you later!)

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One response

27 09 2010
Dennis Weber

Wow! What else can I say! keep it up Julian. It is showing me things I would never have dreamed of or have seen in my life. Be safe, and good luck in all you do and experience. I you need anything just let me know.

With lots of love!
Dennis

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