Travelling in South East Asia is always an adventure, there are so many places to choose from. Although I loved living in Phuket and Laos, and plan to come back to Thailand at some point, I am curious to know what some of the surrounding countries offer. With my interests in medicinal plants, holistic health and education, art and illustration, I can always find a focus or purpose for my travels which I find makes them all the more inspirational and enriching. Some of you Expat Life readers may recognise my name or picture from other issues, I usually write a Thai focused medicinal plant article accompanied with a painting. With “Travel” being the June 2017 theme for Expat Life, I am pleased to write a bit about my latest journey and adventure, leaving Luang Prabang, Laos, and heading south to Malaysia.
The decision to go to Malaysia was rather sudden. I was done with my projects in Luang Prabang and was thinking to go to Nepal but as I started to take a look at the weather, Kuala Lumpur was looking rather good, being March 2017. Hot weather appeals to me and I had recently decided to make a two year journey surrounding Thailand to get to know the neighbours so why not head south to good weather and continue following the sun! Once I got to Malaysia I realised that this is a perfect fit for me with the rainforests, indigenous tribes that still live close to their ways and the flora of the land with a wealth of medicinal plant knowledge, not to mention my love of the ocean. I could easily entertain myself here for a few months so when I found a nice place in KL to stay in, I spent a month getting to know the city, spent the month of April island hopping on Langkawi, Penang and Tioman and by the time you are reading this I will be in Malaysia Borneo, totalling about 4-5 months in Malaysia. I have found some wonderful gems along the way so far and in sharing them with you perhaps something I mention will be jotted down in your “to-do” list of places to see and things to do.
Being drawn to the arts, in KL I came across a little advertised art museum/gallery in the Petronas Towers called Galeri Petronas. The gallery showcases local and foreign artists that support development of a holistic Malaysian society. Opinions and views relating to humanity are presented using art as a universal language. They have a number of free lectures, workshops and exhibitions throughout each month with a calendar so one can sign up for these online before you go. I was fortunate enough to see a hands-on weaving and embroidery workshop and meet some of the indigenous people without even getting my feet wet. On a larger scale, I came across a traditional batik art gallery and workshop in the Kuala LumpurCraft Complex. The colours that assault you are outstanding, the pieces are truly gorgeous and hung from bamboo rods. You can spend an hour or a day learning how to do wax drawing on cloth, the dye process and how to iron out the wax when dry. Malaysia is known for their batik styles and here is a chance to learn this in that very country. Right down the road from the KL Craft Complex is the National Textile Museum. One can see all the different creations of batik, weavings and even jewellery from past times to present, all things Malaysian. The last place I will mention is the Perdana Botanical Gardens in KL. The landscaping is an art form in itself with a bit of whimsy “Alice in Wonderland” touches combined with very Zen like Asian influences. It has a small but well done shop where I saw some of the most beautiful batik-on-silk with all the large tropical flowers, fish and spices too.
I do find that having a focus or purpose to your travels can help inspire and guide you to see things of interest to your lifestyle. Sure, I enjoy smoothies or cocktails by the pool any day however most of us can do this at home. When away, making the effort to get to know the country and its culture is very rewarding. Even if your hobby is reading books you may want to visit the town/city centre library or go to a book fair. Maybe your hobby is trying new foods, Malaysia is a prime place for that, it is like Thai and Indian all rolled into one with various spice and herb differences. Perhaps exercise is your thing, then renting a bicycle to explore, going to a local dance/yoga/tai-chi class or engage on a local hike would inspire you. These are all opportunities to get out of the hotel and meet the local people, other expats, and try something new, different, and experience pushing the walls out a little bit more in your life. Since you are already interested in these things then it makes it all the easier to do and adds value to your trip.
After KL I decided to head to Langkawi, Penang and finally Tioman, all islands off Peninsular Malaysia. I am not normally a tour person but I can truly recommend the Mangrove Tour. It is 80RM, about 624B, $18. It is 6 hours, includes pick-up/drop-off/lunch and you see fish farms, the special mangrove monkeys that swim, get taken into the depths of the mangrove forests, see some poisonous snakes hanging from nearby trees, bat caves and loads of the Langkawi eagles as the guide threw food into the air … we were lucky and had a pod of dolphins swim next to our boat at the end! In Penang there is much street art in George Town and an abundance of gardens to see. There is the Penang Botanic Gardens, the Tropical Fruit Farm and the Tropical Spice Garden. Hiking up to Penang Hill is also a highlight as is the funicular railway that takes you up and down. As I write this, I am in the centre of George Town, Penang, and have yet to know of my Tioman experience but I am sure there will be some stories to tell. By the time I leave Peninsular Malaysia for Malaysia-Borneo, I hope to have a fairly well rounded knowledge of beautiful Malaysia and its people, arts, cultural mix and architecture. Long after my trip I will remember these special outings more so than that drink around the pool or another fancy dinner somewhere, these are memories for a lifetime. Happy planning expats!