(Ramblings on a pan-Malaysia trip taken in November 2004.)
We went backpacking to Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Perlis, Langkawi, a couple of islands there, and back to Singapore via Johor Bahru. For the geographically- inclined, that would mean an end-to-end trip across peninsular Malaysia; we went from the southern tip (sg) to the north western border (some remote islands beyond Langkawi), almost touching Thailand. Indeed, my mobile got Thai coverage for a significant portion of the time; the map here will give you a better idea of the route we covered.
Now, the interesting bit about Malaysia isn’t what it is, but what it isn’t. It isn’t Singapore, so the swanky signage on the highways and malls aren’t quite in English, but in Malay. The toilets in the world’s second tallest building, the Petronas Towers, are clean, well-designed, and spacious, but have no toilet paper. All cabs, intra-city buses and subways have air-conditioning, but the road in general reminds you not of Orchard Road, but Sultan Bazar, Kothi.
This, however, is where it gets tricky; it, still, isn’t India! So even if you know you’d have travelled faster, and more comfortably, on Indian highways, you still have to acknowledge the fact that the inter-city roads are, indeed, six-lane expressways with zero bovine traffic. The dirt-cheap, stinking, oil-smoothered bus you’re on actually has air-conditioning, and the decrepit shed that passes for the inter-city bus-station actually sells Turkish doner kebabs and German bratwursts. The temple inside Batu caves might have fairly routine south Indian temple sculpture, but the temple priests wear no jandhyams, and no, the temple, for all the stalictites surrounding it, does not have a dhvajasthambham.
See, Malaysia is subtle in that sense; like the Thai green curry, you think it is sweet until you take the second mouthful. That’s when you realise it is, in fact, hot to taste. Insidiously spicy, sweeteningly chilli.