My last trip before going home was to Malaysia. I had considered some other countries like Thailand (rainy season) or Singapore, but ultimately decided for Malaysia as it seemed like a pretty diverse and interesting destination. Since most cheap flights leave Hongkong late at night, I arrived at Kuala Lumpur International Airport at around 1am, which was a bit inconvenient. I then decided to book a follow-up domestic flight to Penang at 8am to make the most of the situation as I did not want to be stranded at the airport all night or take a cab into Kuala Lumpur. All in all, my plan worked out wonderfully – I put most of my luggage in storage since the next flight only covered carry-on luggage and picked it up again upon my return. I also picked up the pocket wifi I ordered. The provider offered 24/7 pickup. So far, so good. Less ideal was that the store was at the different terminal, which is only reachable by cab during the night. Not quite as convenient as I was used to from airports like Incheon (24/7 free transfer with automated trains) or Hongkong (just walk for five minutes and you’re at the different terminal), but oh well.
However, this allowed me to get to know the Malaysian taxi system, which was pretty interesting. While big cities in Korea and Japan as well as Hongkong have first-class public transportation, Malaysia is not quite on that level. The Kuala Lumpur train system is decent for a few destination, but not as complete and convenient as I had gotten used to. My host in KL immediately recommended to forget about public transportation altogether and just go with uber or similar services instead. However, you need a working SIM card for that as they all require activation via text. So I guess I would have been better off with a temporary Malaysian SIM card instead of my trusted pocket wifi.
Anyway…taxis are quite ubiquitous, but drivers are apparently quite notorious for ripping off unsuspecting tourists. As soon as you enter KLIA, you are immediately approached by taxi drivers offering you a ride. Right above them are big posters warning tourists in English never to take them up on those offers. Instead, there is a pretty interesting system: You can go to a cab counter at KLIA, tell them where you want to go, and pay for the fare at the counter. Then you get a receipt and give it to a cab driver. The cab driver then has to get his money from the central counter and you don’t exchange any money directly, thereby guaranteeing that you are not charged extra. Such counters also exist at a few tourist hotspots like Kuala Lumpur’s KL tower. Interesting system.
So, I booked a cab to take me from terminal 2 to terminal 1, picked up the pocket wifi, and took another cab back. However, I have some doubts about the efficacy of this system because the ride back cost less than half as much as the first one. Same route, maybe 2o minutes later. Not sure what’s going on there, but oh well.
I was quite charmed by the little bits and pieces of Malaysian language I was able to pick up on. As a former British colony, pretty much everybody seems to speak English. However, they have an interesting way of spelling many words. Basically, these (often English) words are spelled pretty much the way you would pronounce them in German, so e.g. ‘taxi’ becomes ‘teksi’. Charming.
Malaysia is a very diverse country, especially compared to the two countries where I had spent most of the previous four months: Japan and Korea’s population both consists of more than 95% ethnic natives. While both countries and their cultures are really fascinating and I fell in love with both, they can still be quite homogeneous. Contrarily, only just about half of the Malaysian population is Malay, and there are large numbers of Chinese, Indian, and indigenous people in the country. This is certainly reflected in the places I visited. Often times, you would just have to walk a few steps and suddenly felt like you had entered a different country. One second, you were surrounded by Chinese temples or houses, the next second you felt like you were suddenly in India. Add in many old remaining colonial buildings and you have a very diverse and interesting landscape.
Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy. Islam is the state religion, but other religions are allowed to be practiced freely. And at least from my brief impressions, they all seem to coexist peacefully – there are Buddhist temples, Hindu temples, Christian churches, and mosques all over the place. Malaysia’s economic development has been strong and the country seems quite stable and safe in general, which also played a part in me going there. The little bit of research I had done on places like Thailand (constant military coups), the Philippines (awful, awful, awful president), and Indonesia (a lot less stable) certainly sounded less alluring.
Anyway, Malaysia is a fascinating place and I really enjoyed my time there. Stay tuned for the next two posts in which I will talk about the two places I visited: Penang/Georgetown and Kuala Lumpur.