Malaysia: Truly… Indochina?

While Alona and I were traveling throughout what is historically known as Indochina (Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia), we were constantly bombarded with commercials inviting us to “Malaysia, Truly Asia.” It’s funny that as soon as we left Cambodia, we ended up right in the midst of something I’d be quick to describe as Indo-China if I didn’t know it had another name — Malaysia.

I ended up spending less than two weeks in Malaysia (since I took a week’s break in Thailand) and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of the place. As opposed to most countries I’ve visited, where there’s one dominant culture to get to know, Malaysia is a jumbled mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian. All of these are pretty foreign to me, since I’ve never set foot in China, India, or even a Muslim country before. And aside from these primary groups, there are indigenous and foreign minorities, as well as tourists from all over the world – particularly Muslim tourists from Middle Eastern countries I may never have the option to visit.

As mentioned in the last post, I didn’t find Malaysia to be the easiest place to start traveling alone. It’s a bit more expensive than nearby countries so doesn’t draw the same backpacker crowds, and many of the destinations I visited (mainly Cameron Highlands and the islands) tended to attract couples and families more than single travelers. But I’m glad to have had a taste of Malaysia, and since Air Asia offers some of the easiest & cheapest transit options in the region, I wouldn’t be surprised if I came back.

Kuala Lumpur

Alona and I spent a couple of days living the high life in KL, since we didn’t properly celebrate her birthday in Vietnam (I was sick then) and the city is a relatively cheap place to splurge.

Bathrooms = the best part of nice hotels. @Traders KL.

Plate too big for the food = fancy. @Gobo Upstairs, in our hotel.

One of the poshest bars in KL, also in our hotel!

Petronas Towers = most impressive at night!

KL is enormous and we spent a lot of our time visiting specific attractions rather than wandering the streets (which can be exhausting in the heat of the day). There are definitely certain neighborhoods I’d like to see if I pass through again though.

At places like the aquarium and the bird park, we sometimes found the other visitors as interesting as the main attractions…

Posing for a photo.

We also spent plenty of time in the typical KL habitat…

Suria KLCC (giant shopping mall)

The Islamic Art Museum was impressive, even more for its own architecture than for the exhibits.


After Alona left for home, I had the opportunity to meet up with my friend and former “bus buddy” Irene, whom I met on a Green Tortoise trip across the US this summer! She lives by the Batu Caves near KL, but had never visited until we went together. Funny how that happens! The caves are a neat combination of cultural (Hindu temples and statues) and natural (caves, sunlight, crazy scheming monkeys) attractions.

It's quite a climb to get to the top...

The stairs and cave are *teeming* with monkeys, who are constantly scheming and stealing.

Natural spotlight!

Irene took me out for some Koay Teow and then accompanied me back to KL and showed me around Chinatown for more food stops. I started to wrap my mind around how the multiple cultures coexist in Malaysia. The Chinese community speaks mainly Cantonese among themselves, but Mandarin is taught in school – along with Malay and English, of course. Hard to imagine four languages being the *minimum* you’re expected to know (fluently…)

Irene introducing me to some local noodles.

Anyway, after an exhausting day in the KL heat, I decided I was ready to escape to somewhere cooler and more relaxed – the Cameron Highlands. 

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2 Responses to Malaysia: Truly… Indochina?

  1. Steph says:

    Hey Dana,

    Interesting to see your take on KL as that’s where my Mum is from and most of my family live. Mum speaks close to 7 different languages (if you count all the dialects) but is pretty rusty. Although I visit yearly I have also never been to Batu Caves!

    The multiple cultures coexist tenuously in Malaysia. There’s quite a bit of discontent and although the race riots happened a very long time ago there is a general undercurrent. For example, Chinese kids go to Chinese schools (where they learn Mandarin) and have mostly Chinese friends. That being said, food knows no bounds and (religions aside) generally eat everything :)

    Aus Steph from Rio

    • Danna says:

      Thanks for the insight, Steph! I know I didn’t even begin to understand all the conflicts that must go on under the surface (or more blatantly in the past).

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