JISHOU, HUNAN, CHINA — Here are some closing thoughts and even some statistics about my month-long journey around Malaysia.
I really like it.
There is something for everyone in Malaysia: big cities, wilderness areas, beaches, different cuisines and cultures. In fact, the part I liked the most was the multicultural atmosphere of the country. It’s something China really cannot offer, despite its 55 minority groups. Their culture is largely being subsumed by the majority Han culture. The largest cities, Shanghai, Beijing, and others, are cosmopolitan, to be sure, but not to the extent of Kuala Lumpur, George Town or Singapore.
Another big factor was the English level of the Malaysians I met. Even taxi drivers and bus drivers could speak enough English that we could communicate well. It baffles me why in China, which requires English instruction beginning in grade 3, even college graduates have trouble with ordinary English conversation.
Well, it doesn’t really baffle me. The focus in China is on reading, writing and grammar, mostly for the purpose of passing competency exams. Conversation is an afterthought, and only English majors get any real practice in it. Native English teachers at the secondary level may try to get their students to converse in English, but the graduation and college entrance exams do not test spoken English. The result is parents, teachers and students don’t place much importance on it.
My favorite places were: George Town in Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Kota Kinabalu. Cameron Highlands offered respite from the tropical heat, but there really wasn’t much to do there.
If I were doing this trip again, I would have shaved off three or days from Cameron Highlands, and added them to George Town and Singapore. Since I booked my lodging in advance, I didn’t have as much flexibility as I needed, but I arranged my trip this way to ensure I had enough money for everything besides lodging. I did.
There are many places I wanted to visit, but didn’t get to see, such as the eastern coast of Malasyia, Mount Kinabalu, and the rainforests of Borneo. I also had half a mind to visit Indonesia, but shelved that for another time in order not to go over budget.
So, what was my budget? When I was making plans in November, I decided $3,000 was more than enough for five weeks of travel, and I was right. Even after splurging on hotels in Hong Kong for four nights in total (about $400), I was still under budget when I finished the trip.
Here are the stats.
Lodging (using airbnb.com, excepting hotels in Hong Kong): $1,100
Food, including groceries: $500
Miscellaneous (entry fees, clothing, etc.): $380
GRAND TOTAL: $2,740
AirAsia’s dirt-cheap prices make touring Southeast Asia very affordable. Despite the low airfares, I found the service to be very good. All of my flights ran on time, weather permitting, and the meals (for which you have to pay) were as good as any on any other airline I’ve been on.
If I omit the Hong Kong hotels and meals for four days total, the total would be well under $2,000. Malaysia is very affordable, though Singapore can be pricey.
Whenever possible, I used public transport to get around. I now have transport IC cards for Hong Kong, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. An app called My Teksi (now called Grab) allowed me to book cabs in advance for a set price. Three of my five Airbnb lodgings offered breakfast; otherwise I would eat something I picked up at the supermarket. Lunches and dinners were all in restaurants or from street food vendors.
Some more statistics:
Total miles traveled (estimated): 6,900 miles (11,100 km)
Number of countries/jurisdictions visited: 4 (China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore)
Number of cities visited: 9 (Changsha, Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Kuala Lumpur, Brinchang, George Town, Kota Kinabalu, Singapore) The rail excursion took me to two smaller towns, as well.
This trip took me within 1.25 degrees of the equator, the closest I’ve been to it, aside from flying over it twice.
Additionally, I met people from several different countries, including Indonesia, South Korea, Germany, China, the Philippines and Japan. My Airbnb hosts in Kuala Lumpur (Pascal and Salsabila) and George Town (Peter and Mei) were wonderful people. Their homes are warm and inviting, and I’d stay with them again at the drop of a hat. My other Airbnb lodgings were two small hotels in Brinchang and Kota Kinabalu — very basic but comfortable — and a tiny room rented out by a young entrepreneur in Singapore. The best part of that, aside from the room’s air conditioning, was his rooftop patio — when it wasn’t raining.
This was my first real use of Airbnb.com, and it left me with a very favorable impression. As a result, I’ve come to realize I am more an Airbnb kind of traveler than a Couchsurfing.com kind of traveler. Couchsurfing has its advantages, most important of which it’s free, but the downside is hosts can cancel at the last minute, which happened to me on this trip. Another couchsurfing host offered me a place to stay in Kuala Lumpur, but never replied to my questions about it. Neither was an earth-shattering inconvenience, but I prefer knowing in advance where I am staying. That’s just me.
This was also the longest trip I’ve taken — 40 days in all — if we ignore the eight years I’ve spent living in China. When I returned to Jishou a few days ago, my feelings were mixed. It was good to be back in my apartment, but I was already missing the places I’d visited. It won’t be long before wanderlust gets to me again.