Episode 2 – Malaysia and Thailand

Malaysia

Kuala Lampur

IMG_0850We did a whirlwind tour of Kuala Lampur, affectionately known as KL.  It is the capital city of Malaysia.  Malaysia is a mish mosh. KL is a sprawling urban area of over seven million people. But to the east, on the other side of a central mountain range, there is a vast rain forest that is sparsely populated.

Religion mish mosh:  Malaysia is predominately Islamic, but protects its minority religions. We visited Islamic, Buddhist, and Hindu temples in quick succession

Governance mish mosh:  Malaysia has been ruled by a variety of countries. Lots of unrest before Portugal initially colonized it.  They gave way to the Dutch, who later TRADED it to the British for territory in the Caribbean.  The Japanese took over during WWII and stayed a couple years. Then, the Brits came back.  Finally, in 1963, it became an independent State


More governance mish mosh:  Malaysia changes kings every five years.  They have a bunch of district sultans who decide.  Reminded me of Cardinals voting for a Pope. I wonder if they use smoke to signal an agreement?

IMG_0875Architecture mish mosh: A country that includes the Borneo Golf and Jungle Club, they also have the twin towers, high rise buildings nicknamed Petronas towers, because the national petroleum company occupies half of the building. A city and land of diversities.

The only non mish mosh is the weather. There are two seasons in Malaysia – hot and wet; and hot and dry. Right now, it is hot and wet, which somehow sounds better in writing than it feels when touring.

Penang

Today we visited our second city in Malaysia, Penang.  Penang is a city of one million people on a small island. It is connected to the mainland by an ultramodern 13 km bridge. It is also the oldest British settlement in Malaysia.  We took a funicular to the top of a mountain behind the city for views. IMG_0878

A funicular is a steep rail car, sort of, that is pulled by cables up the mountain. One goes up and one goes down. Kind of like a tram, but it doesn’t leave the ground. AND we discovered the cooler air at the top. Couldn’t have been a degree over 90 !!!!  There were Hindu and Buddhist temples at the top, but it reminded Lela more of the Cliff House in SFO.  And that is not a good association. The views, despite being hazy, were spectacular.

By the way, did I mention it is currently hot and wet here? And I learned a few other things that are not mish mosh in Malaysia. Days always have 12 hours of daylight, no matter the time of year it is light from 7 AM to 7 PM.  It’s boring being this close to the equator

IMG_0856We spent the rest of our day our touring a Buddhist monastery, which involved walking up 400 steps while in the steam room (have I told you about the humidity?).

Preparations are in place for the New Year tomorrow.  We will celebrate it in Phuket, Thailand.

IMG_0894The pic with the distances had a NYC arrow to hold. I picked it up, but thought we should take a shortcut through the Earth’s core, which is why the arrow is pointed down.

Final Thoughts on Malaysia:

I liked what we saw of Malaysia. It seems very low-key and tolerant.  The people go by freely with a mix of Malay (Muslim), Indian (Hindu), and Chinese.  Kids here learn Malay as their primary school language, but most also learn English and Mandarin. When I walk by, everyone assumes I speak English and they seamlessly fall into that communication style.

The economy is good.  They have 60% middle class, 30% upper class, and 10% at poverty level.  School is free through college level.  Health care is also free.

Life seems peaceful here.  We could use more places like this.

Thailand

Phang Nga Bay

Docked in Phuket this morning, but never got to the fancy hotels or the beautiful beaches. Instead, we headed out on a local boat cruise of Phang Nga Bay. The bay has mountains that come right down to the edge of the inlet.  Before the inlet meets the ocean, there are mangroves. It reminded me a lot of the Galápagos but no boobies, pelicans, or turtles. As we moved into the bay, erosion of the limestone formations left rock outcroppings that I thought were spectacular. You can decide for yourself from the photos.  Hollywood thinks it’s great because they’ve used the bay for many movie sets. The one I remember best was the James Bond film, “The Man With The Golden Gun. ”

We crossed the industrial side of the island by bus, but a gaze at the map showed hundreds of resorts on the beach side. I’m sure it’s nice, but I don’t think I would come all this way to stay exclusively at a Phuket resort…Miami, Cancun, Acapulco, and Hawaii are much closer. In combination with business in Singapore or sightseeing in Bangkok . . . might be a different story

Didn’t have as much contact with the people, but here are some observations. Same mix of temples, predominately Buddhist, but I didn’t see a single Christian church. Most of the houses here were brick or concrete with AC, but similar open-air markets and stores. More cars, less scooters.

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We stopped at a bayside village that included 700 small dwellings, most on stilts to stay dry in high tides. Their elementary school had a floating soccer field. A very narrow passage winded through booths that sold cheap goods and a variety of local foods that would probably knock our youngest out. The people here were all Muslim, and had a small mosque. They have been living this simple, open-air life on the banks of the sea for centuries.  Probably fishermen (and women) in the past.
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Finally, we had enough time for the guide to swing us by the mandatory gem warehouse. Beautiful rubies and emeralds, but I came up short at the Ivory room.  Not that I ever would, but I thought I could easily commit passive suicide by bringing an ivory carving home. My kids would slip something undetectable into my Diet Coke.

Editor’s Note:  Parents have raised with the cruise administration whether it is appropriate for tour stop to go to a place that sells ivory.  Thanks Dad!

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