Malaysia 2018: my first journey alone!

My trip to Malaysia alone was a surprise and a blessing. I qualified for a participation grant to attend the IFLA WLIC 2018 in Kuala  Lumpur which I wrote about in my last blog entry. Malaysia is the third country outside the Philippines that I've visited. The first was in Hong Kong in June 2017 with two relatives. The second country I went to is Taiwan from June-August 2018 (I will write three blog entries on that after this one), for a study program in a Buddhist monastery.

I was scared to go alone at first, but I dared to. I knew some pretty hardcore travelers in Taiwan, most of whom are traveling alone for quite a while. Though I don't have the personality of a backpacker, I admire their risk-taking, fearlessness, and adventurous spirit. I asked around about Malaysia, and most who have gone there encouraged me to go. So I went.

Malaysia's tagline is 'truly Asia', and it is a melting pot of major Asian cultures. There are the Muslim Malays, the Chinese, and the Hindus. There is an interesting cultural diversity and harmony you can find in the country. Though Islam is the state religion, it also coexists with the belief of other cultures present in the same place. Malaysia is also good for solo travelers since most people can speak English. Malaysia is one of the places I really want to go back to with friends and family next time. I didn't have any bad experience, the places are pretty easy to navigate, and the people I met were kind.

As for affordability, the price range of necessities such as food and transportation is quite the same as Manila. I think their transportation via monorail and train is cheap, and I love that there are free GoKL buses that go around the popular routes in Kuala Lumpur. Too bad that I didn't go to other places outside KL, though I did go to Malacca for a day trip.

One thing that surprised me is that many words in the Malay language are similar to Tagalog and even Hiligaynon! I saw words that sound and mean the same like pintu (door), balai (house in Ilonggo, which I understood as 'space' in Malay), batu (stone), jalan (means street, sounds like 'dalan' which also means the same thing in Ilonggo), bayaran (pay), and a lot more. The language also sounds pretty similar to Filipino languages, and my visit there made me want to learn it.

As for solo traveling, I really enjoyed my time alone in Malaysia. I lived with other people when I was in Taiwan, and sometimes you do have to go along with a group. In Malaysia, I had to rely on myself and it was a great experience. I actually felt like a grown-up. Though, if you're alone, you have to take extra precautions (I always use public transport and walk in crowded, well-lit places). It's something I would love to do again. As someone who is usually drained in social situations, it was perfect to recharge and have some alone time.

Here are some places I went to and thoughts about the food in Malaysia:

Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur
The place where I'm staying is actually the shopping district of KL. It has several high-end malls. For the first time, I saw Armani, Chanel, Sephora, and other branded stores. Though I couldn't afford them, I just strolled through them out of curiosity and it was interesting.

Armani in the Pavillion Mall

Times Bookstore in the Pavillion Mall
 Chinatown in Petaling Street
Chinatown in KL is like Divisoria in Manila. Here you can find cheap items such as souvenirs and clothing.

A Chinese Taoist Temple in Petaling Street

Hindu Places: Sri Mahamariamman Temple and the Batu Caves
Though Islam is the State religion of Malaysia, 6% of the population (mostly Malaysian Indians) practice Hinduism. These are pictures of two famous Hindu sites in Kuala Lumpur: Sri Mahamariamman Temple and the Batu Caves.

I came across the first by accident. I went to Chinatown in Petaling Street then passed by here. Its my first time in a Hindu Temple and it happened to be the first Hindu Temple in Malaysia, since 1873. I also took off my shoes and sat on the floor with the devotees. Then the music of the bell, trumpet, and drum started as the priests put offerings on the altars and it was such an other-worldly feeling. I realized that most religions use some kind of music - and its the same kind of headspace I get in Buddhist chanting (which also has its own unique instruments).

The Batu Caves are holy caves in a limestone hill said to be 400 million years old. It has a 140 ft golden statue of Murugan, a god of war. The 272 steps are newly painted with Instagram-worthy rainbow gradients to prepare for Thaipusam Festival. This celebrates the event when Parvati (goddess of divine strength/power) gave Murugan a spear called the "vel" to defeat Soorapadman, a demon.

They also have the Ramayana cave, which contains dioramas that tell the story of the epic.

Malacca, Malaysia
Malacca City, Malaysia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008. Malacca is known as the 'first city of Malaysia'. What's amazing is the cultural diversity and history - structures from the Portuguese time, the first Chinese temples in Jonker Street, and Dutch colonial buildings all in one place. I also got to try a bit of "Nyonya" (Chinese-Malaysian) food, which is superb.

The famous "Harmony Street" has a Chinese Buddhist temple, a Mosque, a Hindu temple, and a Christian Church. That's like an example of how diverse Malaysia is.

Remains of A Fomosa, a Portuguese fortress
National Archives of Malaysia

Remains of St. Paul's Church in Malacca, the oldest church in SE Asia (1521)

An Anglican Church at Dutch Square, Malacca built in 1753

This fountain has a carved profile of Queen Victoria

Malacca River

A Chinese temple
National Monument
I left Malaysia last August 31, and that is a special national holiday in Malaysia - Independence Day! I'm glad that the Grab driver thought to stop by and I'm glad I went. It was the 61st anniversary of the Independence of Malaysia from the British Empire. August 31 is known as 'Hari Merdeka' (Independence Day), and it's a big celebration in Malaysia. The enthusiasm of Malaysians for this day is infectious!
"Dedicated to the heroic fighters in the cause of peace and freedom, May the blessing of Allah be upon them."

Since the majority of the Malaysian population are Muslims, most food must comply with Halal requirements. It's rare to see alcoholic drinks and pork. I got to taste authentic Nasi Lemak, usually a dish with chicken and rice cooked with pandan leaves and coconut juice. There are many variations of the dish, it could be fried chicken, curried chicken, etc.

I really love the traditional Malaysian breakfast - two softboiled eggs, kaya toast (with coconut jam and pandan butter), and coffee or Teh Tarik (milk tea). I didn't get to taste a lot of different food or go to many restaurants but Killingers Cafe in Kuala Lumpur Convention Center had the best kaya toast I ever tasted. Really, I'm going back to Malaysia just for that!

I also had breakfast in ChaFei which served really great breakfast and coffee na kaya kang ipaglaban.

In Malacca, I got to try Nyonya cuisine (a fusion of Chinese and Malaysian), and I like it since there's a lot of seafood but with the unique Malaysian spices.

Overall, it was one unforgettable experience I will always remember. This is surely not the last time I will go to Malaysia or travel solo!

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