The Malaysia trip, part 1

The Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur

The Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA — With a five-week holiday break coming up, I decided in November not to dilly-dally like I did last year, and make a plan for an extended trip to someplace warm. I settled on Malaysia for the most emotional of reasons — a friend posted photos of Malaysian palm trees and blue seas on WeChat.

I haven’t quite made it to the blue seas yet — that comes next week — but there have been plenty of palm trees, and so far, mostly sunshine so far. It’s going well.

Last year, I postponed buying air tickets to Indonesia until prices were too high, so this time I booked early. From Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur was only $182 roundtrip on AirAsia, including trip insurance and a $20 checked baggage fee. That was well within my budget, but I had to juggle departure and arrival times to avoid the price hikes around Chinese New Year (Feb. 7 and 8 this year). Air fares fell off dramatically for a long stay of four weeks. I bit the bullet, and booked the tickets.

This will be the longest vacation trip I’ve ever taken, and one of the first adjustments I’ve had to make is to realize I don’t have to hurry. I don’t have to cram a one- or two-week stay with daily activities, just to “get stuff done.” Instead, for this sojourn, I had only the vaguest of itineraries: start in Kuala Lumpur and visit places that are not in monsoon season, and take a day off once in a while, because it’s a vacation, you know.

[Eastern Malaysia has monsoons from November-February, and locals advised me to avoid the Eastern Coast and the states on Borneo, as there will be rains almost every day. It’s too bad, because the best beaches are in the east.]

Unlike last year, I am not using Couchsurfing.com that much on this trip. I discovered that, while I don’t mind being a CS host, as a guest, I really like having a real bed and my own room. Maybe something to do with age, or my own preferences, but there it is. This trip will be mostly an airbnb.com and hotel journey, because hotels in Malaysia are quite inexpensive, and airbnb spots even more so. Couchsurfing is to some extent not necessary.

I had one Couchsurfing spot lined up, but my host — a college student living at home — had to cancel because of family matters. Here’s another disadvantage of Couchsurfing — guests and hosts can cancel at a moment’s notice, because there’s no money obligations or penalties involved. That might not be an issue for someone on a travel adventure, but I prefer knowing where I am staying before I get there.

Even so, I’m making things up as I go along. For example, I was going to leave Kuala Lumpur on the 23rd, but learned about the big Hindu festival of Thaipusam would be the 24th. So, I adjusted my plans accordingly. Another example: I booked a motorcoach ticket online from Penang to Singapore for $20, only to find out a few days later I could fly for $40. The coach ride is 12 hours. The flight is 90 minutes. Though the bus ticket is non-refundable, I booked the flight anyway.

Winter has never really bothered me. Heck, I lived in Wyoming for two years. But there is no central heating or weatherizing in southern China’s buildings. So, when it gets cold outside, it gets cold inside, too. There’s no insulation in the concrete block walls, and the windows are single-pane.

So, when winter holiday rolls around, my thoughts turn to the southern climes. As it turns out, choosing Malaysia was wise, as even normally warm places like Thailand and Hong Kong have been chillier than normal.

My trip began Jan. 12, the day after I turned in my grades for the fall term. And here is the itinerary, now in progress.

Jan. 12 Changsha (hotel)
Jan. 13 High speed rail to Shenzhen, take SZ metro to Hong Kong crossing point; HK metro and bus to hotel
Jan. 14 Fly from HK to Kuala Lumpur
Jan. 14 – 23 Airbnb stay with Pascal and Salsabila [a wonderful experience!] in Petaling Jaya, a suburb of KL
Jan. 23 – 25 Stay at the Hotel Richbaliz, so I can reach Batu Caves more easily for Thaipusam
Jan. 25 – 30 Cameron Highlands (Brinchang airbnb, the Snooze Hotel), then motorcoach to George Town, Penang
Jan. 30 – Feb. 6 airbnb with Peter and Mei in George Town, then fly on AirAsia to Singapore
Feb. 6 – 9 Singapore (airbnb in Little India) for Chinese New Year
Feb. 9 – 17 Fuzzy — maybe visit Malacca. Still thinking about this part.
Feb. 17 – 19 Kuala Lumpur, again staying with Pascal and Salsa
Feb. 19 – 21 Hong Kong hotel (expensive, but WTH)
Feb. 22 Changsha maybe, or maybe high speed rail to Huaihua instead (Huaihua is just two hours from Jishou)
Feb. 23 back in Jishou. Classes resume the 29th.

I’m writing this in Brinchang (Berincang), where it has been raining off and on since I arrived. So, I haven’t ventured out much these last two days. This area of Malaysia reminds me of Jishou, with the green mountains all around, but Brinchang is almost, but not quite, a mile-high town. So, even though we are in the tropics, it can get pretty cool at night.

I’m hoping the weather clears up so I can enjoy the countryside here. Stayed tuned for further reports.

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