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MALAYSIA (updated 10/2012, Western Malaysia only, excluding Borneo):RoutePadang Besar (from Thailand) - Alor Setar - Butterworth - George Town - Taiping - Ipoh - Tanah Rata (Cameron Highlands)- Teluk Intan - Kuala Lumpur - Fraser's Hill - Malakka - Johor Bahru - (Singapore) - Mersing - Kuantan - Kuala Terengganu - Kota Bahru - Sungai Kolok, Narathiwat (Thailand) - Kota Bahru - Taman Negara National Park - Genting Highlands - Kuala Lumpur - Port Klang (shipping out to Indonesia)Entering/Exiting- via Padang Besar crossing (from Thailand): one hour. Carnet de Passages was unheard of at first. No importation of meat, fruits, vegetables.- via Tanjung Piai/SecondLink (from Singapore): ca. 30 min., CdP was unknown at first. Motorway tolls apply for access to the checkpoint (Touch'n'Go card only, no cash). Further tolls apply for the bridge (SecondLink), to be paid in SGD on the Singapore side.- via Rantau Panjang/Sungai Kolok crossing (from Thailand): one hour, CdP unknown at first. Note the state of emergency on the Thai side (Islamist terrorism)- via Port Klang (to Indonesia): customs and immigration handling as recommended by the shipping agent, no problemRoadsDrive on the left. Conditions are good, very high traffic density. Fridays after 1 pm the whole Klang Valley gets jammed. Driving style: a bit undisciplined. Motorway tolls apply (toll gates, ca. EUR 3/100km), sometimes payable only with a prepaid Touch'n'Go card. Radar cameras (fixed/mounted, laser gun, speed and red lights). Drunk driving is not uncommon. Partly bad road planning/construction (e.g. steep climbs, narrow turns).FuelPetrol and diesel always available, dense station network. Prices: Diesel EUR 0.45/L, premium unleaded 95 EUR 0.47/L, premium unleaded 97 EUR 0.97/L, premium unleaded 100 EUR 0.75/L. Officially premium unleaded 95 must not be sold to foreign vehicles, but hardly anyone cared.Camping... is generally relaxed, no problem. Some beaches or parking lots provide toilets and/or showers. Locals leave a lot of rubbish behind. Keep an eye on wildlife (ants, termites, snakes) and be prepared for torrential rains, esp. on soft ground, under trees, on rivers and slopes. For some nice places check out my Camp Spot List.MiscellaneousATMs only in cities. Few open wifi networks. Tropical climate all year. Exceptions: Cameron and Genting Highlands, Fraser's Hill. Unreliable mobile internet (with provider maxis). Asthmatics beware of the haze season (large area smog). Pretty consumer unfriendly ways of business (misleading ads, wrong ingredients lists, hidden cost traps). English is spoken in cities and in tourist places, not so much on the east coast and in rural areas. Safety: In Malaysia, too, every now and then a car gets broken into - in my case in front of Midvalley Mega Mall (Petaling Jaya). Felt very safe in general.All information subject to change (note time of writing).
February-June, 2011 -- Upon crossing the Malaysian border, I once again enter a new cultural sphere: Having known Islam so far mainly from the Orient, here it shows its Asian face. Malays are Muslims. But they make up only a good half of the population. Another 30 percent are of Chinese descent; about ten percent have Indian roots. In addition to that also traces of former colonial powers (Portuguese, Dutch, British) are visible: Tea and crackers, forts and farms, driving on the left.
Truly Asia?Malaysia, claiming to be the true Asia ('Malaysia, truly Asia'), does indeed bring many customs and influences from all over the continent together. This makes it difficult to identify certain things as typically Malaysian.It certainly leads to great cultural diversity. Should you only be able or willing to visit just one Asian country, Malaysia would not be a bad choice for a first impression.
I enjoy four mostly relaxed months on beaches, in cities, hills and jungles. With fuel prices lower than 50 Eurocents and good roads, I circumnavigate the Malay Peninsula and get a good idea of the different mentalities, of big city and kampung (village) life.For several weeks the van is parked by the beach. Travel life in Malaysia can be very cheap, simple and comfortable. Every now and then I reunite with travel companions.
Yum yumFood is extremely good value for money, delicious and rich in variety, mainly thanks to Chinese and Indian influence. The more conservative, Muslim east coast is dominated by traditional Malay cuisine: Rice, noodles, soy sauce - and lots of oil.In the world city of Kuala Lumpur you might even encounter Bavarian delicacies. Which is, of course, what qualifies a city as a world city in the first place.
Kuala LumpurIn 'KL' the mix of cultures becomes most visible: Mosques, temples, churches - and the universal cathedrals of cash: banks, shopping malls, skyscrapers.The once shabby mining town grew into one of Asia's economic powerhouses.The night sky over KL is lit up by the Petronas Twin Towers, Malaysia's number one national landmark. The van has a nice spot right beside the towers. Its owner roams the city streets, goes for an arduous midnight run through the nearby park or fills his tummy in the mall. Life is good.
The weather: As alwaysLife may be good, but in Malaysia it is, above all: Hot and humid. Tropical heat is so steady that local weather forecasts don't even bother to show temperatures.It's always 25 to 35 degrees, with thunderstorms and torrential rains most afternoons. Add to that the constant humidity of around 90 percent, and you have ideal conditions for mould and insects. For a human being living in a car it's a bit strenuous.
'Feel the Ice'Whoever wants to know what 18 degrees feel like needs to drive up into the highlands. A couple of villages at around 1500 m.a.s.l. promote their strawberries, tea plantations and casinos, but most people probably come here for the temperature. Many Malaysians have never experienced such a natural cold.After months in the South East Asian steam bath, it is an indescribable feeling for me, too, to sleep under a blanket again, to take a walk through the mountain forest and to breathe fantastic fresh air. It immediately evokes memories of home and of an every day life where you did not sweat all the time. All those clothes you need to put on! A sweater! Long pants! Now how crazy is that?
Malaysia is multi culturalThe ethnical composition of West Malaysia (things look different on Borneo) is the result of a long episode of colonialism and immigration. The land has once been ruled by Portuguese, Dutch, British and Japanese. Chinese and Indian immigrants gave the nation a new look during colonial years. The original indigenous people of the Malay Peninsula, however, are hard to find these days. Their communities live secluded in remote corners of the country.Today the dominating ethnicities are Muslim Malays with about 60% of the population, Chinese (ca. 30%) and Indians (ca. 10%). The first speak Bahasa (Malaysian) amongst each other, the second a kind of Mandarin (Chinese), the third Hindi or Tamil. Connecting element is the English language and mutual respect. While they live as tolerant neighbours, the different ethnic groups barely mix. It is, for example, pretty unlikely that a Muslim Malay will marry an Indian.
Racism reloadedAs ethnic Malays regard themselves as Bumiputera, meaning the country's indigenous (at least their ancestors came from the region), they are being strongly positively discriminated: Malays can study or start a business much easier, some building lots or real estate are restricted to Malays only ('bumi lot'). The initial idea behind this was to level the inequality of living standards between wealthy Chinese and Malays.Critics remark, however, that - besides the injustice - this policy was more of an invitation to Malays to relax on their racial privileges instead of striving for success on their own. Still, the Chinese remain the wealthiest group within Malaysian society.With his head wobbling, an Indian Malaysian explains to me that he can forget about studying, getting a good public housing apartment, or becoming a mayor. 'It's like this: The Malay is a rice farmer. His son then maybe makes it into administration. The Chinese goes about his business, and the Indian works on the plantation.'
At the same time Malays have to submit themselves to Islamic law. They're automatically been born as Muslim, and it's almost impossible for them to convert. Alcohol and pork are off limits, wearing the headscarf is mandatory for women. Religious police keep a close eye on unmarried couples, so they don't make out. Who gets caught together in the car, for example, can expect the cane and a prison sentence. So after all, there's just no way around tinted windows.
Being polite and respectful, Malaysians are very good hosts. You can generalize that even though mentalities of Malays, Chinese and Indians surely differ a lot.I dont come across any religious fanatics. And if you still make that greenhorn mistake to (willingly and knowingly) camp in the vicinity of a mosque...Well, your own fault, really.
'Malaysia boleh!''Malaysia can do it!' is Malaysia's motivational slogan. And indeed, things are happening here. Malaysia is not a poor country. Schools, hospitals and infrastructure are working well, the economy is growing.On the other hand, social security barely exists - but I rarely get to see dire poverty. Some places look run-down, though.Even if many people in the countryside live under rather simple conditions, often there's at least a motorbike if not a car parked next to the traditional wooden stilt house. Traffic around KL regularly collapses, never mind a dense motorway network. In suburbia, high rises spring up like mushrooms.Malaysia is fully integrated into globalisation and, due to low production costs, an attractive location for the electronics, textile or car parts industry. To consumers everything is available - from spare parts for the van to a pair of new sneakers to even German gummy bears.
Theyre not greenOne can't help but get the impression that the relative wealth of the country is being achieved at high environmental costs. Palm plantations cover huge lands. Their oil serves as an important raw material for cosmetics, food and so called bio fuels.The tropical rainforest which used to cover all of Malaysia has mostly been destroyed forever. If you drive through the recently clear-cut plantation areas you will hear no jungle sounds, no monkeys, no birds. It's just dead quiet.Malaysian cars (brand: Proton), electricity and fuel are being massively subsidized. Pollution and waste of energy are ubiquitous. To make matters worse, a lack of consciousness joins with a consumerist, almost Western lifestyle. The results are brownish skies and piles of rubbish everywhere.
A day at the beachI observed this many times: A car pulls over at the beach, windows shut, engine and AC running. Only for a short moment the black windows go down a bit, releasing fast food packaging into the winds. After one or two hours, and without anyone having left the car, the visit to the beach is over. What a delightful journey to Mother Nature.Hardly anybody is walking. This might be due to the permanent tropical heat. But in most cities' traffic concept, pedestrians just don't seem to exist. They probably all got killed while walking on the street. There are no sidewalks.
Border linesIn the afternoon sun of March 23, I arrive at the mangrove forest near Tanjung Piai. 462 days after crossing the Bosporus I have now reached the southernmost point of the Asian mainland. Hundreds of ships line the horizon.Before finally shipping over to Indonesia in June, I take a closer look at another neighbour of Malaysia. On an island off its coast sits a small but successful city state.For about two weeks, I commute from the town of Johor Bahru across the border every day - to the Republic of Singapore.
Note:Unfortunately, before shipping out my beloved big camera gets stolen. With it about 90 percent of my Malaysia and Singapore pictures are lost, which explains the rather poor selection on this page. R.I.P., SONY F-828, you will be missed.
She hearts KL.(Kuala Lumpur)
Kek Lok Si, the biggest Buddhist temple in South East Asia (Georgetown)
Prime spot (near Cukai)
Beach walk (near Cukai)
Rare and beautiful, but dead:Giant Turtle (near Cukai)
Modern Malaysian cowboy (near Mersing)
Good subtenant: Gecko(near Cukai)
East coast mining town(Sungai Lembing)
Brettljause for 3 pax (Kuala Lumpur)
British colonial architecture: Sultan Abdul Samad Building (Kuala Lumpur)
Chinatown (Kuala Lumpur)
Petronas Twin Towers (Kuala Lumpur)
Picture proof (Kuala Lumpur)
Petronas is the state-owned oil company. (Kuala Lumpur)
Reliable forecast (Kuala Lumpur)
Malaysians love LEDs. (i-City, Shah Alam)
Just way cooler than that same old rain forest!(i-City, Shah Alam)
Any time is blossom time.(i-City, Shah Alam)
Tea plantations at Cameron Highlands (near Tanah Rata)
On my way intothe Cameron Highlands
Taking a break(near Tanah Rata)
A Butterfly as big as a bird(Tanah Rata)
Cool air is cool: New condos(Tanah Rata)
White Malaysians are rather rare. (Taiping)
Alpine spirit, Malaysian style (Genting Highlands)
Christ Church at Malacca's Stadthuys
Buddhist temple complex Kek Lok Si (Georgetown)
Ubudiah Mosque(Kuala Kangsar)
Chinese cemetery (Georgetown)
No wine today.(Kuantan)
Ferry to Penang Island (Butterworth)
Georgetown/Butterworth by night
Legends of the highway (Georgetown)
Rural life (Sungai Lembing)
City life (Batu Ferringhi)
Bad subtenant: termites (Kuala Terengganu)
Heavy traffic: One quarter of all global trade goods passes through the Strait of Malacca (Tanjung Piai)