Stepping into the giant, beautiful airport in Kuala Lumpur (KL), Malaysia, we first were delighted by the conveniences and shiny new-ness. Pretty quickly, though, our delight turned to despair as we realized what had happened. Crap, we’re back in the first world.
AirBnB runs rampant in KL. Two days prior, we chose the apartment with gleaming new appliances and city views from the ninth floor outdoor swimming pool. We arrived at noon, having been shuttled swiftly and smooth as silk by the new airport express train. No more than two minutes in the Sentral Station was needed to figure out how to hop on the monorail (yes, a monorail!) to our swank new digs. The path to the monorail flows seamlessly through a swank new shopping mall where we paused to guzzle down our first Starbucks of the trip. That’s the moment when we should have seen the reality of the situation, but we were still giddy on over-roasted coffee beans and delighted about our post-India location.
And here is where we have to come clean – we knew nothing about Malaysia – did a little research, but pretty much just knew that it had beaches and good food. The first night we walked to the main market down well paved sidewalks, well marked intersections, and well lit streetlights. When we got there, we realized there was something severely missing from the market – authenticity. We had come so freshly from the general chaos of India, where we felt more like we were spectators dropped into an alien society. In Malaysia, everything seemed like it was purposely created to bring us there. We started a multi-day descent into the doldrums. We had Culture-Lag*, and we had it bad.
I think it was when I was wandering through Uniqlo (or was it H&M?) when I hit bottom. The adventure, the intrigue, the row of rickshaw drivers waiting to drive us. Gone, all gone. We had regressed back to the first world, our “first world problems” coming full circle, as it were.
We spent two days in KL. We saw the Petronas Towers, which I’ve loved since they first went up – and saw the KL Philharmonic at the theater inside, which was great. There were some things to see in KL, but not really much to experience.
After two days, and still not much more knowledge about Malaysia, we headed south to Malacca, famous for its Straights. I should note here that the bus station where we got our ride should be a model for all bus stations. There was one centralized reservation counter that efficiently sold tickets to every destination, regardless of carrier. Then through a quick security check and down to a separate waiting area for all of the bus gates. It felt like an airport. It was great.
Malacca is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, meaning that it’s culturally important and pretty well preserved, but it also means that it attracts herds of tourists. It is a lovely town, and we stayed at a lovely guest house in the heart of the old city. Really, it’s picturesque as hell.
The weekend market had the same feel as the one in KL (not there for locals), but this town was mainly catering to domestic tourists and weekenders from Singapore.
It feels better when the herds of tourists aren’t whiteys like us. Still in the depths of the doldrums, we recalibated and set our sights for the one location to turn us around – the beach. That’s when we headed east to Pulau Tioman.
*I don’t presume to have created the term Culture-Lag, but if I did, mark it, baby!