Selamat datang di Malaysia!

Selamat datang di Malaysia!

We’ve finally reached Malaysia – country number 20 on our epic trip from London to Sydney overland!

After an overnight stop in Hat Yai near the Thai / Malaysian border, we hopped back on the Oz Bus and drove a further one hour to the border itself. Once we’d officially checked out of Thailand our bus driver dropped us at the car park where we were due to meet our Malaysian guide and driver. Unfortunately we had to wait a little longer than planned as they had apparently mixed up the day we were arriving and hadn’t planned to pick us up until the following day!

Most of the group took it in their stride however and promptly whipped out a cricket bat, stumps and a ball and began playing in the car park to keep everyone amused.

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We then all walked down to the huge on-site Duty Free complex to do some shopping, exchange money or use the ATM until the bus turned up a couple of hours later.

Malaysian customs was hassle free, despite the massive queue, with no visas to obtain. A simple bag scan later we were all back on the bus and ready to enter Malaysia!

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Our first destination was Penang – the country’s only island state – around two hours drive from the border, past fantastic scenery. The highway is flanked by jungle with rows and rows of palm trees, coconut trees and distant mountains – certainly a nice change from the views on the M25 in London!

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We crossed the impressive Penang Bridge (13.5 kms long) on our way to Georgetown where we were staying.

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Our hotel was near to the Komtar Tower – Penang’s tallest building and the sixth tallest building in Malaysia which acted as a great landmark for anyone planning to go out and get lost!

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As soon as we checked in, Rich and I went straight back out again to look around. We only had one night booked here so wanted to see as much as we could. We decided to take the free ‘hop on hop off’ bus run by the Government which is great for getting a mini-tour of the historical city. The bus route weaves in and out of some of Georgetown’s oldest streets, dotted with British colonial buildings leftover from the 1800’s.

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We got off on Farquar Street, location of the Bayview Hotel and its revolving restaurant, before walking around to Penang Street (Jalan Penang) – one of the most visited streets in the city. Upper Penang Street is home to a host of bars and cafes as well as a street market that is held on the last Sunday of every month.

Unfortunately it started to rain whilst we were taking a wander so we took refuge in a local pub, ‘Soho House’, where we had dinner. Penang is well-regarded as a ‘food paradise’ with some of the best dishes in Malaysia, so we’ll probably get a bit of stick for our choice of restaurant, but we were really craving British food after having lived off rice and noodles for the last two months, so ordered steak pie and chips! It was bloody gorgeous though!

The rain only got worse and with the sunlight gone we weren’t able to experience much more of Penang, such as its temples, jetties and Penang Hill, which apparently gives great views of Georgetown, so we were a bit disappointed with that. But, we had an early start in the morning as we were straight off to Malaysia’s capital – Kuala Lumpur!

We left at 8.00 am the next day and pulled up outside the iconic Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur at around 1.00 pm. Most of the group had hoped to be able to go straight up the towers but it turns out that the viewing deck (Skybridge) is closed EVERY Monday – the day we arrived of course! So we devised a plan which involved our Malaysian guide queuing at 6am the next morning, ready to buy us all tickets when the office opened at 8.30am, then took some photos before heading to our hotel.

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Our hotel was in the heart of Chinatown – a great location with loads to see in the immediate vicinity and just a three minute walk away from the bus station and LRT (train) station. With the possibility of not being able to get tickets for the Petronas Towers the next morning, we decided to go and visit another of Kuala Lumpur’s landmarks – the massive KL Communications Tower – just incase.

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We walked round to the Pasar Seni LRT station and got the train to KLCC at a cost of just 1.70 RM (Malaysian Ringgits) each.The train stopped underneath the Petronas Towers so we had another look inside whilst we were there. The towers are home to the huge Suria shopping centre with five floors of designer shops, cafes and concessions, You really could spend hours in there and it’s very easy to get lost due to the sheer size of it.

We then walked to the KL Tower and took the free shuttle bus to the entrance. The observation deck there costs 38 RM each and the revolving restaurant, two floors above it, costs from 48 RM depending on what time you visit. We thought that this price was a bit steep but were prepared to go up there for the magnificent view – but then the heavens opened and it started raining! It quickly became cloudy and grey and we knew that any trip up would be wasted so gave it a miss!

Keeping our fingers crossed that we’d be successful in our Petronas bid the next morning we walked back to the twin towers to get some dinner in the Signature food court on level 2. We opted for some local Malaysian food which had to be explained to us by the girl at the counter as nothing was written in English. We opted for an Ayam Masak Merah (red, sweet chicken) and Ayam Rendang (dry curry in coconut milk). They were both gorgeous and really spicy. The only problem was that the restaurant didn’t have any knives, only forks and spoons so we got really messy trying to eat it with our hands!

Malaysian food is really interesting as it is influenced by the many cultures that make up the country, especially Indian and Chinese. The dishes we tried were very much like Indian curries (which is probably why they were so tasty!) but other food we spied on menus included noodle soup and typical ‘Chinese’ flavours. It’s impossible to go hungry here but we were never quite sure if the foods we came across on the streets or in the cafes were truly ‘Malaysian’ or from a different part of Asia such as Thailand, Vietnam or Japan as the city is so multi-cultural!

After we had eaten, we got back on the LRT and returned to Chinatown. This part of the city is also very multi-cultural despite the name and is home to Hindu temple and mosques as well as Chinese temples, hawker stalls and markets. The most impressive mosque in this area is Masjid Jamek, situated at the convergence of the Klang and Gombak rivers. It’s Moorish architecture stands in stark contrast to its Chinatown surroundings and it looks pretty stunning lit up at night.

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Just a couple of minutes walk from the mosque is Merderka Square or ‘Independence Square’ – the site where the Malayan Flag was hoisted on August 31, 1957 signifying the independence of the country from British rule.

Opposite the square is another striking building, Sultan Abdul Samad, which houses the Ministry of Information, Communications and Culture of Malaysia. Also displaying a Moorish influence, it’s a beautiful site at night.

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Inspired by the illuminated buildings in Chinatown we decided that we just had to go back and see the Petronas Twin Towers all lit up! Boy were we glad that we did as they looked absolutely amazing! The towers looked like they were ready to blast off into outaspace with the bright silver light effects and standing underneath them was awe-inspiring.

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Before heading to bed for the night, we took a quick walk around Petaling Street, back in Chinatown, which is famous for it’s street stalls which stretch the length of the street selling souvenirs, watches, clothing and other bits and pieces.

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The next morning we got up bright and early and waited for the call from our guide as to whether he had managed to get us tickets for the Petronas Towers Skybridge. They are sold on a first come, first served basis at a cost of 10 RM per person and only sell 1300 per day. Turns out that Chris, our guide, got up at 4am to start queuing and, success! tickets obtained!

We all piled on the bus and raced across the city to get there for our allocated 9.40am time slot, walked straight past the remaining queue and up to the elevator! The Skybridge is 41 floors up the towers and joins the two of them together. We got 15 minutes to walk around and take photos. Whilst we were up there we tried to remember where Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta Jones stood in the film Entrapment! Whilst not being located right at the top of the towers, the Skybridge still gave fantastic views of Kuala Lumpur.

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With our visit to Kuala Lumpur’s star attraction over, it was time to leave the city, just 24 hours after we arrived. We’d have loved to have stayed longer and KL most definitely has a ‘buzz’ about it, but we’re back with the Oz Bus now and have a tight schedule to keep if we’re to make it to Sydney for NYE. We’ll have to leave the rest of it for ‘another day’…

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