One of the things I love best about Southeast Asia is the closeness of other countries. I have already been able to visit two new countries; Singapore and Malaysia.
When I first stepped off the plane in the middle of the night in Singapore I knew it was going to be something entirely different from Thailand. The airport looked like a luxury hotel and the process was very efficient. We got a taxi from the airport to our hostel and were even told to do up our seat belts!
Myself and two fellow exchange students woke up the next day ready to explore. We only had one day in Singapore and we wanted to make the most of it. We began our day taking the train to the botanic gardens, the perfectly groomed greenery was a nice contrast from the surrounding city it reminded me of Central Park in New York City.
We then travelled to Little India. Here we saw beautiful yet quirky street art. Even in Little India, a place known to be more chaotic, the streets were so clean and orderly. I was beginning to see how ahead of the times Singapore was in regards with efficiency and modern development. It reminded me of District 1 in The Hunger Games.
By now it was lunch time and we were hungry for the cheapest Michelin star restaurant in the world. We headed to a hawker market in China Town to check it out. The food was tasty however I have tasted food of a similar quality and price in Thailand.
Following our quick sit down for lunch we headed to the Marina Bay area. This is by far the most glitzy and photographed area of Singapore. We had some time to kill before we the light show started, so we went to a rooftop bar, LeVel 33. Here I got their IPA that was brewed in house, it was pricier than anything else I’d spent that day but worth it. During our time here, the sun began to set so we headed out to the Supertree Groves. Their glow was stunning! The view from a distant lookout and below them were both gorgeous. Time was ticking on our 24 hours in Singapore but luckily, we only had one more thing to tick off, the light show on the Bay. I had read reviews about how it was nothing special, so I didn’t have my expectations set high, but boy I couldn’t disagree more. The special effect lights and sound were so perfectly timed to tell the story of a beautiful bird spreading its wings. For a free show that is on every night I felt that I got way more than my money was worth. My time in Singapore helped me understand that even if countries are in the same region, historic and current events can shape the economy and culture of those countries very differently.
We arrived in Kuala Lumpur early the next day. I would consider the development of the city somewhere between Bangkok and Singapore. We first ventured to the old part of the city to visit some museums that gave us greater perspective of Malaysia’s past and its current culture. We were prevented from entering the museum until an hour after we arrived due to Friday prayers. The echoing of the prayers over the old city was fascinating. We next visited the police museum. This enlightened me on how many colonies have tried to rule Malaysia. Later that night we went out with other people from the hostel to a backpacker bar area. It was lots of fun and I ended up learning salsa dancing from a Costa Rican!
The next day we visited the Batu caves. It is out of the city slightly. Once there, you climb 272 stairs to get to the top where there is a temple. We were lucky to be there at the start of a Hindu festival, Thaipusam, so there were many traditional ceremonies happening. One of the most notable things were people all dressed in yellow carrying offering in metal vases on their heads. Later that day we went to the new part of Kuala Lumpur to check out the famous Petronas Twin Towers.
The following day we headed to Cameroon Highlands, a popular Malaysian destination known for it’s greenery and tea plantations. We arrived in the afternoon and went on a small hike (there are many popular trails in the area). The trail led to a waterfall. As we walked along the waterfall to the bottom of it, I sadly saw mountains of rubbish that had piled up after going along the stream. It was a very visual representation of the ugliness and destruction our waste is doing to the world. The next day we walked one of the longest trails in the area, that also had the best view of the region. Along the way there were many beautiful trees and shrubs but again plastic was almost as plentiful as the trees in the rainforest. The walk was very pleasant and made even more so buy a dog that decided to come with us, I called her Milly. Our final day in the Cameroon Highlands the three of us went on a tour that included a small guided hike and a trip to the tea plantations, bee farm and strawberry fields. The guided hike was interesting, I learnt there were over 500 types of moss in the forest and that there were flowers that caught and fed off bugs. The tea taste testing was also delicious.
Our final destination for my two-week trip was George Town, on Penang Island. This town had a very heavy English influence, complete with splashes of classic English infrastructure around, such as the red telephone booths. One of my favourite parts of the area was the high value it placed on art. I have never been anywhere that had so much street art. All the art added so much character to the town. There were also many art galleries that displayed local visual artists. On the final day we visited the beach. It was nothing special as again, it was full of rubbish along the shore. However, getting in the ocean still felt like a perfect way to end my time in Malaysia.
It’s eye opening to see how different countries that border each other are. Singapore’s big difference is it’s valuable trading port, giving the nation great wealth to build modern infrastructure. Whereas, Malaysia is a melting pot of culture, it has a lot of Malay, Chinese, and Indian people and traditions that make up the country.