My time in Malaysia was short, but nothing short of fantastic. I spent 5 days visiting my friend on the lovely island of Penang. The island was nothing like what I expected, but in the best way. The views on the descent were absolutely stunning. Green tropical waters met the forest-covered island edge, all right next to the runway. Although on a completely different spectrum, the sight was as beautiful as the descent into Edinburgh airport flying over the iconic Scottish bridges.
Obviously I was aware it was a tropical island but nothing could prepare me for the heat that hit me emerging from the airport, and the local words “this isn’t even that hot.” With sweat dripping down my face after 5 minutes of exposure, I realised I was not dressed for the weather. My travelling clothes almost always consist of leggings, a vest top and a jumper and scarf. I was not, however, organised with a change of clothes. My inner Monica was incredibly angry with myself.
The best way by far to see Penang, is from Bukit Bendera (Penang Hill, in english). With views of the whole city, there is no better place to witness Penang’s scale and beauty. After taking the funicular to the top (because we were not hiking it…there’s a funicular for a reason, am I right?), it was time to take in views of miles of buildings, forests and all with the background of lush green tropical sea. The humidity was UNREAL, and it was then I realised straightening my hair would be an absolute waste of time on this trip…my Monica hair was back. (Yes, I’m basically Monica from friends in every single way).
Penang hill is a really fantastic day trip. There’s quite a lot to do for every taste, from temples to an owl museum to the simple yet stunning views. One of the my favourite places is the love locket bridge. It’s so colourful and makes you feel all nice and warm knowing there’s all this love here.
On the way to the Botanical Gardens, I noticed an alarming number of motorbikes and scooters driving on the roads, whizzing past cars amazingly making it through without a scratch. These drivers don’t understand what a ‘queue’ is and interweave through all the cars to get to the front of the line. Being from the UK, the land of queueing, this was bizarre to me. I was told Asia’s road laws aren’t exactly laws, they are simply just ‘suggestions’ (basically the opposite of back home). I got myself into a bit of a panic even thinking about being a driver on one of these roads.
My worst nightmare. And I don’t even drive.
We didn’t spend long at the botanical gardens, but it was a lovely albeit a quick tour. I was warned about the thieving monkeys, so held my bag tight to my skin as we wandered. Anyway, onto a more important subject… FOOD. I couldn’t stop thinking about dinner that night: I was going to my first Korean BBQ. Being a lover of ‘western food,’ I was a bit sceptical of trying something so entirely new and completely different to anything I’ve ever had before. The only type of asian cuisine I’ve had is a Jimmy Chungs, and that’s not even close. The furthest from authentic as you can get in fact.
My Korean BBQ experience was more amazing than I thought it would be. SO many different flavours and spices were incorporated into every dish. A traditional way to eat the meat is to make your own DIY wrap: meat, rice, cabbage, and a spicy sauce all wrapped in lettuce. I would never have thought of combining those foods together but the flavours were TO DIE FOR. Another dish I loved was Bibim Naeng Myeon which is a kind of cold spicy noodle dish. Admittedly, it doesn’t sound too appetising but it was, again…TO DIE FOR.
Trying to use chopsticks was an embarrassing disaster resulting in the waiters staring at me, then interrupting our meal to hand me a fork. Being surrounded by people who had been using chopsticks their whole lives and whom I would consider “experts” I tried to persevere with them, but that lasted 30 seconds then I lapsed back into my western ways.
Are you really on a tourist holiday if you don’t go on a Ho-Ho bus? I’m such a sucker for being that typical tourist-er, taking photos of EVERYTHING, and soaking up the culture. It was a perfect day for the tourist bus. The sun was beaming and everything was so colourful! A nice day for a tan top-up too.
We stopped off at Georgetown which was by far my favourite place on the trip. Everyone on scooters whizzing around; little shops on the side of the road selling everything from tourist tac to handbags to vegetables; and plenty of cute old streets with every type of cuisine known to man. Georgetown is the capital of Penang and is filled with plenty of history and heritage. It’s also famous for it’s beautiful graffiti and street art, which is literally on every corner.
We must have wandered for hours on our graffiti trail when just our luck, the heavens opened. And when it rains in Penang, it rains. However, growing up in Scotland I know that a bit of rain can’t dampen a day out. So because of my Scottish blood, we trooped onwards for what felt like hours. In malaysia it’s so hot that there’s no point in wearing makeup as it would just melt off your face after 30 minutes. I didn’t have to worry about my mascara running down my face, so we embraced the weather which resulted in us looking and feeling like drowned rats. The locals all taking shelter were laughing at us and making comments like “crazy girls” and “don’t you have an umbrella?” (if we had an umbrella we’d be using it, no??)
It was almost monsoon rain!!! (slight, okay, huge exaggeration). But it was really heavy rain, I can tell you that. Eventually we took refuge in Chinahouse, my kind of eatery: cakes galore. Upstairs was a beautiful art gallery and outside a chinese garden.
On my last full day in Penang, we visited the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia: Kek Lok Sei. It was hyped up a lot so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Sometimes when people hype things up too much, your expectations go through the roof then you’re only left dissapointed. But this was not one of those occassions. My first ever temple visit, and I certainly was far from disspointed.
The sheer scale of the buildings were beyond what I imagined, the colours so vibrant and bright and the architecture impossible to put into words. It is, by far, the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. You could spend all day there, like we did, and still not see every part. Everything has so many intricate details like on the walls, in the gardens, and especially on the ceilings and floors. The sacred air was so still with nothing but the songs of the monks and the patter of visitors’ footsteps.
I feel I don’t need to describe Kek Lok Sei anymore than that. The photos speak for themselves, and you can see how obviously beautiful it is. Buddhist sculptures painted in 18K gold and a 50 metre Buddha statue at the top of the temple.
I was simply speechless.
And that was it, the next day I was off to the airport to catch my flight back to Australia. Well, if only it was that easy. My airport experience was not so plane sailing. This is a story I don’t think I could forget, even if I tried.
So we arrived at the airport 25846 hours early. When it comes to travelling I’m always super early, paranoid I’m going to miss the flight. After a few tears (surprise, surprise) and many emotional hugs, it was time to say goodbye to my friend and head through to security. The thought of going back to Australia to do my 88 days of farm work alone, was daunting but I was excited to get back to being the solo traveller that I am. It was all just a huge mix of emotions, I wasn’t sure what I was feeling. And it was all downhill from there…
Everything was going normally until I reached Kuala Lumpur, my changeover. I found immigration and they searched through my passport to find the stamp for when I entered the country. I knew fine well there was no stamp in there because I didn’t actually pass through immigration when I entered the country.
Okay, rewind back to first entering KL airport on the way to Penang where I had to change gates for my connecting flight. I saw the signs for my gate and of course, followed them. And there I was, standing right in front of my gate, no immigration to pass through. At the time I did think it was a bit strange, but figured if they had immigration it would be visible to the eye, changing from an international to a domestic flight.
So there I am, stood looking absolutely helpless in front of yelling immigration staff on the verge of tears. But I stayed strong, I didn’t want to be the girl who cried in front of immigration with a sob story. I wanted to be the independent woman I thought I was, and deal with the situation like an adult. And I did, which I’m proud of myself for. I was asked to step aside whilst the immigration lady, still dealing with other customers, kept shouting at me for staying in Malaysia ILLEGALLY. If you know me, you’ll know Jennifer and illegal do not belong in the same sentence. Yes I’ll admit it… goody two shoes ever here!
Once the queue of staring customers had died down, I was being questioned like mad:
“Where have you been?”
“Have you been to Thailand?”
“Do you have your incoming plane ticket?”
-to which my answer was yes, but it’s in my suitcase (which by this time was probably already on my Melbourne flight about to leave in 15 minutes!!!)
“Do you have another passport?”
-I was asked this about 10 times, and my answer was no every time. Then came “Are you sure?”
Then she kept staring at me and all I was left to ask was, “well what do I do?”
-To which her answer was “We can keep you here!”
After which I texted my mum and she had all the numbers written down ready to phone the embassy if need be. At this point I could see myself staying in a cell overnight.
After the interrogation and a lot more yelling, I was escorted to the immigration office at the other end of the airport. The room was mobbed with travellers of the upper age group, whom I’m not sure many, if any, spoke english. Safe to say I was the only 19 year old Scottish girl in the room. It was mortifying to say the least. After the same questions being thrown at me, and I’m assuming after a background check, they cleared my passport and I was free to go.
With only 10 minutes to change terminals, and get to my flight to melbourne I was just about peeing myself. With a failed attempt at running to get there, giving up because I was so unfit, I made it only to find out the flight was waiting on 7 other people. I’m so happy I wasn’t that last person on the plane who always receives hefty glares of hatred from the other passengers. Blood was pounding through my veins, I could have done with a nice double red rum and sarsparilla. My hands were shaking and I was completely puffed out from my pathetic attempt at running. But the nice end to the drama was I had 2 seats all to myself.
One thing, I can now say I stayed in Malaysia illegally but got away with it. Not many people have that story to tell…