My last stop on my Asia tour was Malaysia. This is the second time I've been to Malaysia since 2008 and instead of only visiting Kuala Lumpur, I also checked out the beach city of Penang. One of my good friends from college who is a Malaysia native hosted me in her home (for the second time) while in Kuala Lumpur (KL). KL is much like any other modern, big city and since I had already been before, the highlight was Penang. But no matter where you go in Malaysia, and this is what I remember most from my first trip, I've had some of the most amazing and delicious food in this country. The multicultural influences from the three main ethnic groups that inhabit the country (Malay, Chinese, and Malay) all make for some very memorable meals.
While KL is modern, there are definitely "night market" type places like the Petaling Street Flea Market and hawker style/street food vendors. The Petaling Street Flea Market was interesting to walk through but there isn't really anything worth buying unless you are looking for cheap, tchotchke souvenirs. I preferred Hong Kong's night market much more which also sells cheap, tchotchke stuff. But of course, hawker food and hole in the wall restaurants are incredible. Again, you can find very authentic Malay, Indian, and Chinese restaurants all over. I loved going to hole in the wall Indian restaurants - they're literally everywhere - and most will offer buffet style Indian food. In some places, you can watch roti be freshly made on the spot by hand. And Malaysian Chinese food is so much more flavorful than most Chinese food ever I've had, even in China.
The new thing I did in KL was actually go up to the bridge and observation deck at Petronas Towers downtown. It's best to buy tickets ahead of time they only allow a certain number of people in at a time. So you can buy tickets for different time slots so purchasing tickets in advance will save you a lot of time. The view was nice and you are up high (the observation deck is on the 86th floor) but it is a typical tourist experience.
Public transportation is convenient and easy to figure out and buses are free once you are in downtown.Traffic is horrendous but if you are able to take advantage of Uber, it's UBER cheap (pun intended). This also applies to Penang - in Penang, I took Ubers everywhere and never once rode a bus, which is what a lot of people do. There is absolutely nothing wrong with buses, but I'd often find Uber receipts for likes than $5 USD for half our long rides! Some rides were even less than a $1 USD.
If you ever go to Malaysia, PLEASE add Penang to your itinerary. It reminded me a bit of Hawaii and is 10 times better than KL. There are familiar hotels that line the beaches. The most secluded and nicest part of the beach is called Batu Ferringhi. It's also near the big night market, which is not anything to write home about. However, the food at the night market was awesome. The further east you go, there is another large hawker style food market that is equally good. If you go into town to Georgetown, you'll find all kinds of things to do there. I highly recommend China House - they're known for they're super yummy cakes made of different kinds of exotic food (if I could only go back!) and they also serve regular food which was also very delicious. It's an awesome place to explore because you think the entire place is one restaurant but it's made up of multiple restaurants, cafes, art shops, and even a bar in the back with live music. I loved the randomness. Within the China House complex next to the restaurants was an extremely cute clothing boutique curated with lots of Korean made clothing and accessories. The decor was very simple with plenty of succulents and air plants. The place reminded me of a Kinfolk magazine. Needless to say, I walked away with some very cute, affordable items without intending to.
One thing many people don't know is that luxury shoe designer Jimmy Choo is originally from Penang, Malaysia. The shoe store where is apprenticed at is still there and is called Hong Kong Shoe Store. It's small and they still make custom shoes. There are pictures of Jimmy and some of his shoes (questionable whether they are really his designs) sold there. Definitely a cool place to see where he got his start.
Street art is also everywhere in Penang and it's fun roaming the streets looking for them. When you find one where there aren't so many tourists crowded around it, you feel so proud like you've found a secret treasure. Within Georgetown, you can also walk through the floating village, get henna drawn on your hand in Little India, and eat the most amazing food at all the restaurants and street vendors that occupy the streets. One thing Penang is known for is White Coffee - sweet and very delicious coffee.
There are temples all over Penang but I highly recommend Kek Lok Si - it's massive and said to be the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia. I also made a day out of Penang Hill. Penang Hill is made up of a group of peaks and makes for a very nice view of the city. To get up to the hill, you must purchase a ticket to ride the tram up OR you can rough it and hike up but be forewarned, the hill is steep. I originally was going to hike up but was dropped off at the wrong entrance so I ended up "tramming" it up like everyone else. I have to say, this place is VERY touristy, which was a turnoff for me. What is cool though is that there is a Hindu Temple and a Mosque at the top. To get away from the touristy experience, I decided to hike all the way down and I'm so happy I did. I may have passed about 8 people along the way with most walking up. And apparently there are 2 routes down and one of them is a truck route, which I've read is not recommended because it is the "boring route." I think I took the truck route BUT I saw so many monkeys! Had I not hiked at all, I wouldn't have seen them. At one point, I stumbled upon a station that looked like a place where locals hang out and possibly live at and all the monkeys in the forest seemed to congregate there. I saw a pregnant monkey and mom monkeys with their children hanging on to them as they walked. It was definitely a highlight that day.
I think most people are afraid to try new things, different foods, and take risks when they travel. I'm probably one of the biggest risk takers travel-wise and my love for food makes me an adventurous eater. But I would not have had all the amazing food I've had and the most unique experiences had I not (safely) taken my chances. So I encourage you to do the same!