Our guest author Ben uses his new home Hong Kong as a springboard to delve into the beauties of another Asian country…
You get to a new place, and you are so focused on your new job and settling in that you sometimes forget one of the best things about being an expat: the ability to explore a new region of the world. So it’s good to remind yourself every now and then that your new home is a great springboard to jump off to small excursions. One of Hong Kong’s many advantages is being a transit hub and an ideal base for discovering East and Southeast Asia.
How did journalist Pico Iyer once describe traveling? “Traveling is a little bit like falling in love, because suddenly all your senses are switched on.” Recently, I took a couple of days off to visit Malaysia — and wow, what a way to switch on my senses.
As soon as I stepped off the plane, the heat and humidity were like a punch in the face. As I was walking down the steps into the terminal, I could feel the sun’s rays roasting my skin. Hong Kong is hot and humid, too, but Malaysia takes it to a whole new level.
Despite the heat, Kuala Lumpur is a great place to start exploring Southeast Asia because there are cheap flights to about, well, everywhere. KL is also a modern cosmopolitan city, which is well-organized, easy to get around, and has loads of fun things to do. You can find yourself in the middle of sparkling glass skyscrapers in the morning; wandering through a tropical rain forest in the afternoon; dining on a pristine beach while listening to the sea’s enchanting symphony in the evening.
Malaysia is where Malay, Chinese, and Indian cultures have intersected for hundreds of years, but also where the Portuguese, Dutch, and English each tried to exert their influence at various times. The mixture is evident in Malaysia’s languages, religions, and architecture. Just walk down a street in any Malaysian city, and you will find colorful Hindu temples, grand Muslim mosques, and smoke-filled Buddhist temples, as well as classic European churches.
But where the diversity really shines is in the food. With such a rich history and mix of cultures, you can find authentic cuisine from all over Asia or discover some of their fusion cousins. I suggest roaming Malaysia’s numerous night markets because that’s where the locals go to eat and you’ll be able to try the best dishes.
I remember strolling through a dark quiet alley, and all of a sudden, the street opened up into a lively market that seemed to materialize out of thin air. It was full of bright lights, people scrambling everywhere, mouth-watering food sizzling on the grill, vibrant flashes of color, and hawker stalls offering various goods as far as the eye could see.
One of the first carts I encountered served freshly made Roti Canai, and it was by far the best I ever ate. It was warm and soft and had the perfect combination of stickiness and flakiness. It was so tasty I had to order another one. I tried a sticky rice dumpling flavored with a blue flower that can only be found in Malaysia. I ate fresh seafood prepared in a Malay-Portuguese style with a subtle Chinese influence. I also sampled some interesting Baba-Nyonya dishes, which is a fusion of Malay and Chinese cooking.
Malaysia’s fascinating history, incredible vistas and, of course, the delicious food made this trip wonderful. But what truly made this journey unforgettable were the friendly and hospitable Malaysian people. They are so happy to help you find your way, recommend some scrumptious local delicacies, or simply strike up a conversation with you on the bus or at a food stall. I still remember each conversation I had with the people I’ve met, their kind demeanor, and warm smiles.
For me, Malaysia was the perfect place to awaken my vagabond spirit. I am already planning my next trip there, which is a good indicator of how much I loved it. I hope that in 2014, you will also have a chance to travel and switch on all your senses.
(Photo credit: Benjamin W.)