A new trip, a new country, and a whole new set of expectations. We build up places in our minds and sometimes we have them all figured out before ever setting a foot in. Perception can be deceiving and sometimes the worst thing we can do to an otherwise perfect trip is to stuff it with expectations.
When I closed my eyes and envisioned Malaysia before my trip all I would see was green jungle. Malaysia was Borneo, orangutans, sunsets, and enticing rice dishes. That was till I arrived and reality hit me. And as it sometimes goes, reality was everything I expected and much more, yet, so very different.
Before I booked my flight to Kota Kinabalu, I had a choice to either fly via Kuala Lumpur or via Singapore. I chose KL and while I wouldn’t call it the wrong decision, I was a bit disappointed. Besides having the most awesome taxi driver in the world, the city seemed to be lacking character. Mind you, I was tired and jetlagged for my one day of exploration, but the city couldn’t light my fire. I was so exhausted and unenthusiastic that I chose to do a Hop On/ Hop Off bus tour and once I said down I basically slept for an hour and a half with my eyes open.
Only Chinatown and the Optimist coffee shop put a little smile on my face and, of course, Villa Samadhi’s very own alligator snapping turtle T-Rex made up for a lot.
Everybody told me the sunsets in Borneo were famous. The best. Un-freaking-believable. I thought they were just okay. Mind you, sunsets are like pasta – even bad pasta is good pasta. And okay, I didn’t complain here…
Malaysian food was a real disappointing and I didn’t see it coming. Considering that Intrepid even offers a Food Tour Malaysia, something they only offer in countries renown for their cuisine, I had the highest expectations. But after eating my way through Thailand and Vietnam, loving the variety, the freshness, the distinct regional flavors, Malay seemed a bit bland for the most part.
Having that said, I was staying at a lot of lodges in Borneo where we would be served buffet style meals. Those were usually surprisingly good, but also not really authentic I guess. And while I enjoyed simple noodles in soy sauce for breakfast (yeah, I am weird like that…) I couldn’t get my noodle order right for the other meals and always ended up with the ones in the glutenous sauce/soup, my least favorite style.
I did, however, love Nasi Lemak for breakfast and the seafood choices. Mind you, the latter put me into a bit of a moral conflict because seeing things on your plate after seeing them on a dive makes for rather mixed emotions.
The jungles of Borneo were everything I dreamed of and how I envisioned them. They were lush and green and while I didn’t see any during our hike I knew snakes were hanging in the trees just like the Jungle Book tells us.
And did I tell you that I managed to find a kitten to carry through the jungle? I cannot mention it enough, because though you think me crazy, it was definitely a jungle highlight and the only lion-esque creature to find. There are simply no lions in jungles, people, don’t believe everything pop culture tells you!
In general, though, the wildlife in Borneo was unbelievable; if you are into apes and monkeys, rare birds, elephants, turtles or marine life – this is the place for you!
Lost in translation
In most Southeast Asian countries I have been to, I found the people incredibly friendly, but in Malaysia they were something else. The Malays I met were not only so very kind but outspoken, opinionated, direct and very open. And many spoke really good English which made communication a lot easier. I know it is not something one can expect and I always try to learn some local phrases wherever I go, but, unfortunately, it usually means conversation will only go so deep. In Malaysia, I was able to have proper exchanges and learned a lot more about the people and the country for it.
Oh yes, I almost forgot, there was also this mountain I wanted to climb, but couldn’t! Mind you, that wasn’t Malaysia’s fault, but some silly tourists’…
Some general tips if you want to be part of the Jungle Book too
Prices in Malaysia are higher than in many other countries in Southeast Asia. It isn’t terribly expensive, but still, don’t expect to pay Thailand prices.
I found Malay a lot easier than other Asian languages and by the end of my trip I could master a good little amount of phrases. Also, as I mentioned before, a lot of Malaysians speak excellent English which made communication really easy. Even the kids in the village near Mount Kinabalu were learning English at school and excited to practice with me.
What to take
You don’t need to take malaria medication, but have some precaution with you. I ended up buying the local, natural mozzie repellant there as it was much better than my German version. And of course, tigerbalm if they still get you!
Take a zoom and/or binoculars. I never take my zoom because it is big and heavy and I never end up using it. Here I did all the time, you will definitely need one for all those monkey pictures you want to take.
Have you been to Malaysia or Borneo? Any other tips for first timers I should add?