Malaysia is a wonderful country to visit, and as I have good friends there, I have been there many times. I have been inspired by Matt Dan who went to visit Malaysia and never left, learning the language (in local dialect – so he sounds like a native) and embracing the culture.
I won’t be going that far, but I will try a little bit of each area on this visit.
As I was visiting during the time of fasting and just before Hari Raya, Kuala Lumpur (KL) was a buzz with activity. Our first stop was a market to buy my traditional Malay outfit, and have a night-time (breakfast meal). I was very tired after the trip, but excited to be there!
The next day we drove to Kelantan – a rural state in the northeast of Peninsular. It may be rural, but it was not quiet. What would normally take four hours to drive from KL took us 13 hours. The next day was Hari Raya, which I was invited to celebrate with my Malaysian friends. So I decided to check-in to my local hotel and get a good night’s sleep.
Locals don’t’ see too many ‘orang asing’ (foreigner) in this area so I had a few people staring at me, and they don’t mind staring too! Granted – I was probably a sight – An Irish guy, in traditional Malay clothes, carrying a Malaysian child (my friend’s daughter – who stuck to me like glue for the entire visit). But I felt very welcome, and soon forgot how awkward I felt.
The Malays have many wonderful traditions on Hari Raya, and one of them was to cook massive amounts of wonderful foods and desserts and invite all their friends and neighbours to dine with them. In fact, neighbours and guests got to eat first, in the house I visited. Some neighbours were not Muslim, but they too were invited in for a meal and a chat.
I’m glad I’ve been to Malaysia before because I had learned the basics and learned to respect and not forgot them. The first is always take off your shoes before entering a household, and sometimes even a local shop. The second is not to shake a woman’s(unrelated by blood) hand unless of course, she offers it first. I think this is also an Islamic custom.
The first time I visited Malaysia I was not aware of this last one. I shook a ladies hand, she accepted it but covered her own hand with her garment. Live and learn!
Being Irish, it’s very refreshing to see people having a great time with family and friends staying up late, and not a drop of alcohol was touched! It can be done, folks.
Over the next few days, I was driven around in an envoy of three packed cars (families are massive in Malaysia) to see all the local sites. They even drove me three hours to see some Buddhist statues, despite the fact they did not want to see it themselves.
I really appreciated what these people were willing to do to keep me entertained but maintain their beliefs! They took me to see the ‘Sleeping Buddha’ temple in Kelantan which is a 40-metre statue of a sleeping Buddha, which is the longest of its kind in Southeast Asia.
The food in Malaysia is amazing, but I have to say I wish I was more adventurous with what I ate. Some foods and desserts look and taste amazing and are so inexpensive in comparison to Dublin, it makes you wonder what else are you missing out on in this world!
The next few days were a blur, but we drove across Malaysia and down the west coast, stopping at some very packed, but very scenic resorts along the way until we arrived back in Kuala Lumpur. There we spent two days shopping and drinking copious amounts of coffee.
Next a trip to Penang Penang Island, where the capital city, George Town, is located.
We did not have long to explore Penang Island which was a shame, but the drive there across the longest bridge I have ever seen was an experience in itself.
On Penang Island, there seem to be much more Chinese people than Malay people, so I noticed in particular much more pubs and entertainment venues, as well as people wearing slightly less modest clothing! (not that I was looking or anything).
Anyway, If you visit Penang, make sure to visit Penang Hill, where you can get a train up the to the top of the hill for a breathtaking view!