In the morning the boy from the poor Muslim house brings us coffee. His grandmother, who sent him, waves us merrily from inside the house. There is so much goodness “lurking” behind every corner!
We go back at the station where there are luxury bathrooms with cabins – free of charge. After taking a bath we discover something that looks like an information center with books one can read and computers that are free to use. We sit a few hours and then start hitchhiking.
Two drunken Chinese take us and insist to drive us to Ayer Hitam Town, though the village they go to is much closer. We stop at a restaurant on the road and they buy the typical Chinese filled bred bao tze. It starts getting dark, the sky turns grey and it seems that any moment there will be a tropical storm. The Chinese left us and we go on the highway, but cars here drive very fast and it seems improbable that anyone will stop. We go under a bridge and soon it starts raining. Nobody will stop in the rain in the dark so we decide to sleep here.
We don’t see any lawn or glade in the vicinity so we decide to pitch the tent under the bridge and then move it when it stops raining. We are just ready when a car stops by us. We are dumbfounded when we see that inside the car is a woman with her baby. She is alone with her little child and stops for two strange looking guys who have their tent pitched under a bridge on the highway!!! She is going to Segamat which we don’t know where exactly is and whether it is in our direction.
The woman seems concerned about us and insists for us to come and sleep at her house at Segamat. We don’t believe what is happening. We see it as a sign from the Universe 🙂 We gather our stuff and enter the car. We drive for 150-200 km and arrive at a big village house. The whole family is waiting for us: her mother and father and her two sisters with their children. They are a traditional Malaysian family, very friendly and hospitable. This is our first visit at a Malaysian home.
The family of the woman who helped us (she is at the right with the red dress)
They serve us dinner and accommodate us at one of the many rooms. The relationships of the family are harmonious and the fun never stops with so many people. We appreciate the privacy and the personal space the typical European family provides, but after living with different numerous Asian families we see that there are many benefits in this way of life too. For example mothers with young children are surrounded by helpers and can always rely on someone to care for their children when they are busy. In this way caring for a child is easier and not so exhausting. Also family memebrs rotate doing the chores so one is not always thinking about what needs to be cooked or who will clean the house. For elderly people days pass by in joy and fun and they are always surrounded by young people and are not depressed by having to live their life in solitude.
In addition the feelings of isolation and lonliness of thousands of western people is unknown here. Of course for societies that put indivudality first, life in such a family will be a real nightmare and family wars will be the norm 🙂 So as we say “there are passengers for every train”
Traditionally Malay people go outside for a breakfast. For lunch and dinner they stay and cook at home. At 7 a.m. all are awake and ready. At the street next to the mosque there are several eateries full of people. Our hosts order vegetarian lontong (rice bites with sauces) for us and the rest buy rice noodles with meat. Malaysians love eating and as a result of their relatively new high standard way of life they, just as the Thai people, have most of their meals sweetened and eat a lot of meat. That is the reason why we see many overweight people here.
After breakfast it turns out that the bigger sister plans to travel to Kuala Lumpur and offers to take us to the fork to Malacca. She is going there in order to issue a book for deaf children. Malaysian Muslim women are very modern and though they always wear their hijab, they are emancipated and work in all areas of life. Most of them drive cars and have love-match marriages.
Cars in Malacca 🙂
So in the early morning we find ourselves 10-15 km away from Malacca. Then another two sisters take us to the center. We leave our baggage at a hotel and start walking around.
East Dutch Indias
Historical facts: Malacca is a historical city listed in UNESCO. It played a major role in the development of various European countries as well as the region. Several hundred years ago it had been the most busy port in the world due to its strategic location at the most narrow part of the Strait of Malacca. Different countries had conquered the port because of its key role in spice trade.
First Europeans, the Portuguese, arrive here in 1511 when the ruler of the country was still the sultan. Then the Dutch conquer the city followed by the British. During the times of the last conquerors the river and the quay clog with mud and trade fades away which in turn makes Penang and Singapore rise and prosper. Few people know how important the spice trade was for Europe just hundred years ago.
Stadthuys – the old Dutch part of the city
The city has narrow streets filled with history. Our walk is extremely interesting. This becomes now our favourite city in Malaysia. It resembles the old town in Penang and Singapore, but the atmosphere here is much more romantic and calm. The Dutch neighborhood Stadhuys has the most preserved Dutch architecture in whole Asia. The red buildings and the church on the main square are emblematic for Malacca. Here we also see ruins from the time of the Portuguese, old cathedrals, churches and fortress walls.
Ruins form the Portuguese fortress wall – Porta de Santiago
Tombstone of an European grave
At the Chinese neigborhood the atmosphere of ancient times is preserved and there are still many craftsmen and local shops. (In Penang and Singapore the Chinese own mainly electronic shops and other similar businesses).
Street in the old city
Here we encounter the typical temple street too. There is a mosque with beautiful Indonesian style decorations, Chinese and Hindu temples follow one after the other every 100 meters. At night we walk on Jonker Street where we see many local vendors selling food at triple the prices to crowds of tourists, mostly from China.
The Chinese Temple “Jade Clouds”
The mosque “Captain Kling”
Inside the mosque
The cathedral “Saint Francis Javier”
In the evening we find the perfect lawn surrounded by trees next to the sea. The place is just 5 min walking distance from the old city, but is at the same time outside the tourist zone and we see only some fishermen. Next to us we have bathrooms and the port used by the ferries sailing to Indonesia – no more than 2-3 a day though.
Replica of a Portuguese galeon
The next few days we stay in Malacca in order to film our latest documentary – you can now see it for free here (when you enter the page scroll down for download links or view it in your browser). We go around all the corners of the old city. We feel quite nice here and are totally not in a hurry to leave.
Visiting the house-museum Villa Sentoza
During the day we leave our luggage at a small hotel owned by a nice Indian guy. The guy even said that if all the rooms weren’t occupied, he would have given us one for free – anyway we wouldn’t have accepted it 🙂 He is helping us a lot because a dozen of other hotel owners have refused us to leave our baggage there. We warmly recommend his hotel in the old city. It is called “Bala’s place” and is at Hang Kosturi Street. You will meet the sweetest hotel manager there.
There are beautiful graffitti all over the city
Some evenings a very funny Chinese guy comes to talk to us. He had spent some time in prison and is now a retired painter. Two of the mornings he came bringing us breakfast and fruits and admired the fact that we sleep in a tent.
The river in Malacca
One afternoon we find ourselves in a beautiful street with many old Chinese family temples built to honor the ancestors. One of the main cultural-religious aspects of the Chinese view of life is namely the honoring of the ancestors and the respect to parents and old people. This is so common that you will probably never meet a Chinese person who doesn’t take care of his parents all the time.
The family temple of the Fo Family
Abandoned house of a rich family in the Chinese neighborhood
Inside these family temples there is usually an altar with wooden plates with the names of the ancestors dating back hundreds of years. The family members honor them by making bows and lighting incense sticks during certain holidays as Qing Ming Festival (The Festival of Bright Light a.k.a the Festival for Sweeping the Graves). Special rituals are being performed in order to show honor to the dead. One of them is to burn fake money and replicas of precious belongings in special urns in the temple’s yard. This way the living symbolically send money and valuable things to the world of the dead.
Family home of one of the richest clans in Malacca – The Chi Clan
The decorations of this street are very interesting. Around every door and window there are stone hieroglyphs related to moral values and prosperity. Some of them say “white moon”, “tender bamboo” and in general most mention some earth elements that bear symbolic meaning.
Facade of a house
The temple “Eternal Spring”
Altar in a Chinese temple
We film and montage the whole day at an Internet cafe and as we don’t have any time to cook we discover some really nice offers in an Indian restaurant. White rice with several vegetable dishes served on a banana leaf costs mere 4 ringgit (0.80 euro cents), other delicious meals from South India cost 30-40 euro cents.
Traditional Chinese ice-cream made of beans and green noodles called chendol
Delicious panckaes with pea-nut butter
When we come back in the evening the fearsome ants with which we share the ground are asleep, but in the morning things get tricky. The pain from their sting (yes, you read it right, they sting) is long and arduous. Anyway we studied their customs and realized they are stinging only when we are too close to the tree where they live.
Biological note: Stinging ants (Genus Solenopsis) first bite with their jaws located at their belly in order to get hold of you. Then they put thier sting in you, same like wasps. Some people are allergic to their toxin solenopsin and a sting could provoke allergic reaction and even death. Stinging ants live at the Tropics in all continents and are very aggresive.
We decide to go out of Malacca by bus and again we see how inconvenient this type of transportation could be. People from the information center show us the closest stop in order to save us 6-7 minutes of walking, but as it later turns out, they showed us the wrong bus-stop. So without knowing we hop on the bus and head the wrong direction. Then we reach the bus-station at the outskirts ironically named “Malacca Central” Then we catch another bus to the botanical garden located close to the highway to Kuala Lumpur. All this costs us our budget for the day and 3 hours of traveling and waiting. Better to have walked for an hour to go out of the city, but all this might be for something better to happen…
Replica of the Sultan’s Palace in Malacca
We position ourselves right before the beginning of the highway, take off our rucksacks and at that minute a motor-biker stops and hands us two cold sodas. We are dumbfounded and the guy tells us with a smile that he had been to Belgium and knows how difficult it is to travel in far-away lands. Then he leaves. We think with an air of sadness that maybe nobody in Belgium helped him as he helped us, but maybe even people looked at him with distrust as he is a Muslim from Asia. We won’t turn this blog in a place where we discuss stupid political issues, but I want to just say that here people make us happy when they approach us with a smile, and sometimes a cup of tea, instead of xenophobia. This is so amazing! So dear reader, don’t judge people stereotypically and in general. One should form an opinion about the other, based only on the other’s deeds – here and now.
A street in the Chinese neighborhood in Malacca
Five minutes later a luxury car (produced locally, the brand is Proton) stops. An elegant man waves us to come in from inside. He is going to Shah Alam, a town next to Kuala Lumpur. On the road we chat about the way of life of people in Malaysia, where they like to travel, how they like to have fun and so on. At the end the man diverts and leaves us at a subway station close to the central part of Kuala Lupmur itself.
The man who took us to Kuala Lumpur
Finally we reach the capital. Most people usually start from the capital but we normally visit it at the end of our stay in the respective country. We enter the subway and arrive at the center.
The Islamic Center in Kuala Lumpur
A friend of ours stays at a hotel in the Chinese neighborhood and we pay him a visit. We leave our rucksacks at his room and accompany him to a meeting of local jugglers in some shopping mall. Several youngsters juggle with fire and the atmosphere is nice. We see a woman wearing short pants and a t-shirt for the first time since we are in Malaysia.
With our frined Teppei
Later Teppei and two of his friends from Hong Kong invite us at a restaurant with the best Ba Ku Teh in the city. This is a local Chinese specialty: pork soup with special herbs and spices. In Chinese it is called “rou gu che”, meaning “bones in tea”.
The story behind the name says that when the first immigrants from China came, they were poor and suffered from chronic malnutrition, so they decided to add to their soup some special herbs and secret spices from China to get more strength.
We try the vegetarian version. Later we get our luggage and head to the close-by park. It is almost 1 a.m. so we pitch our tent behind the first bushes we see.
At the park
We send our friend back to Taiwan and leave our baggage at his hotel. Kuala Lumpur is quite differnt from what we expected. It has ultra modern transportation system, high skyscrapers, mega shopping malls, futuristic buildings and shiny business towers, but the city is engulfed in an air of chaos and lack of organization. The contrast seems even bigger comapred to Malacca and Penang. Singapore of course can’t even be compared. Most of the facades of the old houses in the city are poorly kept, there is trash and garbage everywhere.
The old city
In the streets of Kuala Lumpur
Homeless people and shady guys sleep at night on the sidewalks, there are immigrants from all over the world (mainly from Muslim countries), the smog is pretty thick. It is not easy to go around if you are a pedestrian – for example you suddenly come across a big road you don’t see how to cross or you find yourself in front of a wall of skyscrapers and can’t find where the underpass is. The city plan is confusing and chaotic. There are many construction sites and walking is not a very pleasant endevour.
Kuala Lumpur Tower – 421 m. high
Anyway the city has its charms and there are many places to be visited. Merdeka Square is surrounded by beautiful old buildings Moghul style, a church, a mosque and several theaters. At the Chinese neighborhood there are few interesting temples and a Hindu temple. Though in general the historical buildings are not so much.
The railway station
The cathedral “Virgin Mary”
The colonial club Selangor, once only white people were allowed to enter
The Hindu Temple
One of our favourite things to do here is stay in local restaurants where one can watch some very interesting people: old Indians drinking tea, Sikhs, Malayan families, Chinese and many other representatives of the colorful mosaic of the Malaysian society.
A wall of a Chinese temple representing various acts from the opera
In the evening we go to take our rucksacks from Teppei’s hotel. The girl who is working now at the reception turns out to be a psychopathic Serbian. We sit to rest for 5 min and she tells the manager we stand somehow on her way and then asks us spitefully to leave the hotel. This reminds us of the hateful people who reside at the Balkans – thankfully not so numerous. We are travelling for months now and nobody had ever told us to leave or behaved badly… up to now (In addition we are from Bulgaria and our country neighbors Serbia).
Colonial building in Indian style
We head back to the park. The alleys are empty after the heavy rain. Soon we find a wooden terrace, built around a huge Brazil nut tree. We are hidden from view and the terrace is surrounded by a warning stripe saying some of the wooden plates are rotten. The lake sparkles below us. The night is quiet.
Our bivouac under the tree
Around 5-6 in the morning we hear the singing from the mosque calling people to go pray. I love to listen to that singing, it makes me feel calm and reminds me I am in faraway lands. I fall back to sleep and later on we wake up. The park is teeming with birds that sing and chirp, joyfully greeting life itself. Still sleepy we go to the bathroom walking on an alley with orchids and thick trees. Then we head to the center.
It is time for the Friday prayer so we sit in front of the mosque and watch people from around the world arrive. They are dressed with robes, fesses and other traditional outfits, prepared for the most important prayer of the week.
The National Mosque
One of the oldest mosques in the city built where two rivers run into one another, hence the name of the city: Kuala means to flow into and Lumpur means muddy water
We eat our breakfast at an Indian restaurant and head to the pride of Kuala Lumpur: the twin towers Petronas. The view from below is really impressive. The top of the building disappear far high into the sunny sky, poking it with its impressive 451,9 meters of altitude. The ticket to climb to the 86-th floor costs 180 ringgit (15 euro) so we don’t climb. Otherwise we would have seen what it is to be Jack from the tale “Jack and the beanstalk”. 🙂
The Petronas Towers
Detail from one of the towers
We finish walking, hop on the one-rail train and head to the outskirts where our host from couchsurfing.org awaits us. The train is high above the ground and if you peek down it looks a little bit like you are on a roller-coaster.
We arrive at a neighborhood with very old and shabby blocks. Our host lives at another place but he has left the key to the house at a secret spot. To our relief inside all is clean and well arranged. We have a shelter for the next three nights – and thanks God because every night it is raining cats and dogs.
The view from our host’s appartment
The next day our host named Azimi arrives. He is a very nice Malayan guy and we go out to have breakfast with him. He decides to take us to the water-fall at Chiling River. It is 100 km away from the city. On our way back we stop at Batu Caves which have Hindu temples inside them. The place is important for the Indian pilgrims. Here the yearly festival Taipusam takes place and is very impressive to watch. The pilgrims enter in trance, some have needles passing through their skin and they present gifts to the Gods such as milk, flowers, etc.
The entrance to the Batu Caves
A temple inside the cave
Today is our last day in Kuala Lumpur. At noon we meet our friend Hassan, he was our first host to accept us at Pakistan. The meeting is joyful. He just came to Malaysia and has his own business with perfumes. We can’t stop chatting. Later we go to the shopping mall and he and his partner give us perfumes despite our resistance. He invites us to dinner at his place and after a quick trip at the local weekly market we hop in his car and arrive at his place.
At the market
Later we catch the last subway car and go back home. There a couple from couchsurfing awaits us – a Spanish guy and an American girl. We have a really nice chat with them and go to sleep very late. Since we are in Kuala Lumpur we meet with old and new friends all the time so our mouths are tired from talking 🙂
The National Mosque at night
See the movie about Malacca here (the third download link)