Malaysia and Singapore
Neither Malaysia nor Singapore were on our original list of countries to visit. Bali, the topic for our next blog, wasn’t either. These were, more or less, last minute decisions. When looking into flights from Tokyo to anywhere else in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific, Malaysia was the cheapest destination in terms of airfare. We knew we had some time before the flights we’d already booked weeks ahead from New Zealand to ultimately Hawaii, so we figured we would spend this “extra time” in cheap (excluding Singapore), yet beautiful countries. And why not!? When would we be back to this part of the world?
We spent a total of 16 days in Malaysia visiting Kuala Lumpur, the capital, Penang Island, and Langkawi, and then another four days in Singapore. Singapore was once part of Malaysia when that country was formed in the 60s, but now it’s its own city-state, which means it has its own currency, leader, laws, culture, etc. Frankly, having seen both, the difference is like night and day between the two.
I was worried about going to Malaysia since I had read and heard from friends about safety issues, especially for female travelers. Safety is a big priority for us because I’m alone a lot while Scott works. So while we were there, I wore my more conservative clothing and ventured out alone only during the day. Luckily, after the first day, I felt really safe. I saw lots of police officers and learned that the country was cracking down on petty crime, such as pickpocketing and harassment.
Note: A special “thank you” to Josie, who gave me great safety tips for this country!
The flight from Japan to Kuala Lumpur was another over-nighter, landing in the early morning. From the airport, we made our way via subway to our hotel, which thankfully let us check in super early, at 10 AM (vs. the standard 2 PM or so). We had an interior windowless room, so we asked to change rooms after our naps; we ended up having a great view of the city.
The first full day, I found a place to get my hair done, both trimmed and colored. The color looked great for about a week and then faded out. The “haircut” was barely anything, as I’m letting my hair grow out — so all in all, a bit of a waste of cash. The ladies were nice, though. I also got my eyebrows and toe nails done. I was feeling a bit grubby from traveling and needed a bit of pampering. 🙂
The rest of the day I wandered around the city as Scott worked. I saw the major sights, including several large shopping malls (which are everywhere, with all the high-end brands) and the Petronas Twin Towers, two large buildings connected by a sky bridge. Beneath the Towers was yet another mall. There was also a beautiful lake next to it that put on a great water and light show.
I wandered around again the following day. At the Central Market, I saw lots of beautiful crafts and got another henna tattoo, which I loved. At Petaling Street, a famous shopping market, I saw tons of high-end knock-off purses, wallets, belts, etc. I prefer the real thing, if I’m going to spend the money, so I sped through there and found some walking trails that led me to a former Sultans’ palace. It was hot as hell, so I called it a day around 3 PM.
That evening, we saw Aquaman. Scott was psyched to see the superhero movie, and I was psyched to see Jason Momoa without a shirt , so off we went. (Unfortunately, we both found the film to be pretty mediocre. But shirtless Jason? Hubba hubba.)
The next day was spent travel-planning as I lounged by the pool on the roof of our hotel: not a bad situation, if I do say so.
The next day, we took a 30-minute flight from Kuala Lampur to Penang Island and checked into a little studio apartment on the beach. It had great views of the ocean and an awesome infinity pool, where we spent many hours lounging, writing blogs, listening to audio books (and, for Scott, working).
We did two touristy things while on the island. The first was a food tour. Penang is known for its delicious cuisine, all of which was foreign to us, so we figured it would be best to get a guide. I booked one named Danny through Airbnb Experiences.
Luckily, there was only one other couple on the tour. The food in Penang is a fusion of three cuisines reflecting the three primary ethnic groups in Malaysia: Malay, Chinese, and Indian. We started with some Chinese rice balls mixed with coconut, then moved on to mutton biryani (one of my favorite dishes), Penang famous coffee, dry noodle soup, kuay teow (flat rice noodles), laksa with chicken curry, a red bean soup-like dessert, and a few other surprises.
We ended the night at a gin speakeasy called Out of Nowhere, which you enter through a secret door disguised as a bright orange refrigerator in a coffee shop. So fun! We and the other couple had a few of the signature gin cocktails and really enjoyed the atmosphere.
The second touristy thing was a bike ride through the countryside. We stopped to see a rubber farm; a massive mangrove tree; a traditional Chinese village and a Malay fishing jetty; some huge, scary monitor lizards; a goat-milk farm (the goats were all white and so cute and friendly! I got to pet a few and wanted to take one home…); and finally we had some local coffee sweetened with condensed milk. Our taxi driver was part of the family who owned the goat farm, so we chatted with him about it for a while and told him how much I had loved the baby goats. We also laughed about “goat yoga.”
There is a lot of famous street art around Penang, so I also captured quite a few shots of those pieces as we wandered around. These beautiful creations have really helped draw tourists to the island and are a magnet for Instagrammers.
Langkawi is another island further north of Penang, near Thailand. After another quick flight, we arrived at our hotel, located in the heart of the Cenang Beach. Our location was perfect, right across from the beautiful white sand beaches and clear turquoise water. The hotel has a great happy hour special, so we sat on the rooftop bar chatting with the very friendly manager as we watched a gorgeous sunset.
For the next couple days, I sat at the beach while Scott worked. Beach chairs and an umbrella were super cheap, just around $8 for the day, and I had an unobstructed view of the crystal waters. Awesome.
One day we took a four-hour jet ski tour. There were four other guys and two guides. I drove at first, as Scott had never been on one before, and I was eager to take the helm. Those things are so much fun!! We both want one now. We stopped a few times, once at a smallish island where we went swimming in a freshwater lake, and another to see the shape that the mountains on the island make, like a pregnant lady lying down — hence the legend of the island: if you swim in the lake, you’ll get pregnant. Ladies, take heed.
This tour was awesome except for me losing my expensive-as-hell Maui Jim sunglasses. I loved those things and am so sad they’re gone. I fell off the jet ski, and down they went into the abyss. I replaced them with some Polaroid-brand ones that look similar, but they just aren’t the same. Sniff, sniff.
I also hurt my hand in the fall, but priorities, people! My sunglasses!
Singapore is ridiculously clean, manicured, and expensive. A 150-square-meter apartment can easily set you back USD $6 million. It’s 16% more expensive to live there than in NYC! The food, however, is remarkably cheap, as it is in the rest of Southeast Asia. There are even simple food stalls that have Michelin stars! We went to two, in fact: one was seafood and noodles, at $6 for a large plate, and the other was a chicken biryani meal for $5 per plate. Both were delicious, as you’d expect for a Michelin star restaurant. I mean, what!?
We had only two days to sight-see in Singapore, so we did a hop-on, hop-off bus tour, including a night tour. In addition to riding around marveling at the amazing architecture and greenery, we walked around the Singapore Botanical Gardens. The gardens were free to enter, surprisingly, and huge, which is remarkable considering how expensive land is in Singapore. They have a “Ginger Garden” there too, so yes, we gingers on the move were in a Ginger Garden.
During the night tour, we went to eat in the Chinese Market. We only had 20 minutes to eat, and unfortunately the line for the cheapest Michelin-star meal in the world was too long: no “Chicken Rice Dish for $1.42 at Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle” for us!
Afterward, we went to my favorite thing in Singapore, the night show at the Marina Bay Gardens, home of the famous Supertrees. (The admission here is also free.) It was fantastic! The light show was accompanied by famous opera music and lit up the sky like no other light show I’ve ever seen. What an experience! I’ll never forget it. I went back the next day to see the park during the day, and it was still incredible. This place alone is worth the very long trip to Singapore.
Another iconic attraction in the city is the Marina Bay Sands, the three-towered, bustling hotel and tourist attraction connected at the top by a ship (!). This structure contains a casino, a convention hall, a hotel, the ArtScience museum, restaurants, a skypark with a pool, and a high-end mall. It cost $8 billion Singapore dollars (or about $5.9 billion USD) to build. According to the tour information, this one casino makes more profit than all of the Las Vegas Sands casinos combined. People who live in or visit Singapore have got bank!
I walked around the Marina Bay Sands mall, and I found, to my great surprise, high-end shops specifically targeting children. Can you imagine having enough disposable income to be able to easily afford Gucci and Fendi… for your kids!? Some people really do have more money than sense. It’s insane. What do you do with these clothes when they grow out of them in two months? Goodwill?? I would crap my pants if I was browsing at Salvation Army and came across a Chanel coat for a toddler. Can you say “eBay score”!?
I also went to the ArtScience Museum, which was super-cool. I chose the interactive exhibit that was mainly geared toward kids (but aren’t we all kids at heart? I sure am). There I got to draw a picture of a car, scan it into a computer, and then see it brought to virtual life, with animated rolling wheels and everything, in a make-believe city among everyone else’s cars, houses, planes, etc. It was so inventive and cool… who thinks of these ideas?
Another really impressive sight was the Singapore International Airport.
This place is bananas! It wasn’t brand new, but it is so well maintained that it looks new. It’s also totally decked out with all the latest, nicest furniture, shops, and restaurants, as well as the most high-tech gadgets, with charging stations by every chair, free mega-fast WiFi, and even computers free for public use. It was so nice, in fact, that we were sad to have only a few hours to spend there; we wanted to move in.
We had breakfast at “Heavenly Wang” (and yes, the name made us laugh like we were both 12) before we boarded our flight for Bali, the topic for our next blog.
Until then, love,
Connie & Scott