Thursday, August 11, 2011

Malaysia, Take Two

For my last weekend in Southeast Asia, we decided to make another trip to Malaysia, exploring other parts of the country. Unlike our first trip, we took a bus from Singapore to our first stop, Malacca, the UNESCO World Heritage Site. There's a lot of history to this small town - it was a Dutch as well as Portuguese settlement, and Cheng Ho, the famous Chinese explorer, visited it. The ride from Singapore was about 5 hours and it was nighttime when we rolled into the sleepy little town.

The area is predominantly Muslim, which explains why so many businesses and restaurants were closed, due to the Ramadan holiday. We wandered around the town for a bit before we found dinner at a busy little Chinese vegetarian place. Along with the requisite veggies, we ordered a spicy mapo tofu and a mutton curry. The mutton was made out of some type of vegetable protein product and it was delicious! All of the dishes were quite spicy.

The next morning, we woke up early to explore the historic city center, where the museums, ruins, and churches are located.

Malacca is famous for a dish called Chicken Rice Balls. This is a spin-off of the Hainanese Chicken Rice, a Singaporean national dish. The Malaysian version is a little anti-climatic: the only difference is that the rice is rolled into balls instead of being served under the chicken pieces. The rice is really tasty because it is cooked in the chicken fat. According to the owner of a nearby smoothie place, we should have gotten the chicken rice balls from the actual restaurant instead of the street vendor, which only sells an "imitation." Oh well, I still enjoyed it, along with a fresh carrot juice from the smoothie maker!

The city streets were lined with souvenir shops, small boutiques, temples, hostels and inns, and galleries of local artists. It was a touristy scene that somehow managed to retain a genuine cultural element.

We explored an old fort in the area. It must have been more intimidating in the olden days, without the tacky playground equipment and tourists lugging around giant cameras. There were also a ton of little museums with really random themes, such as the Museum for Democratic Governance, the Museum of Eternal Beauty, the Museum of Education, the Museum of Literature, and more. To be honest, the displays were a bit tacky and seemed forced.

I also had the experience of attending a Sunday church service at the Christ Church of Malacca. There was a really friendly and diverse crowd at the English service.

The smoothie place owner had mentioned that chicken satays are pretty famous in the area, so of course we had to try the dish. Basically it's chicken that is grilled on skewers and served with a spicy peanut sauce.

There is another fun activity in Malacca - riding these tacky rigshaws! They are brightly lit with Christmas lights and blare loud pop music. The driver will take you anywhere you need to go, and you agree on a price beforehand. I knew we had to have the experience as soon as I saw these wonderfully hideous things. On the second night, we rode one back to the hotel. It was quite an experience, weaving through heavy traffic and honking at nearby pedestrians.

On the third day we headed out to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. The bus ride took about 2 hours. We stayed in a nice little place called the Chinatown Boutique in the heart of Chinatown. Basically our whole trip revolved around shopping and eating, which was perfectly fine by me. Therefore, I don't have too many interesting photos.

For our first meal there, we ate at a hawker center in Chinatown. There was one vendor who sold various dishes by the "scoop:" one modest scoop of a dish was 1 ringgit, or about 30 cents. I picked out some broccoli, pumpkin, salted duck egg, and braised soy sauce egg. It was pretty good.

Our lone "cultural" activity in KL was visiting the Sri Mahamariamman Temple, a large Hindu temple. The architecture was very nice, but there was nothing too remarkable about the place.

We almost missed the plane heading back to Singapore because A) we were unaware that the airport is really far outside of the city, B) our taxi was very old and therefore drove extremely slowly, and C) we found out that our flight was leaving from another terminal that was located 20 minutes away from the main airport. Needless to say, it was an extremely stressful morning. But we made it safe and sound back to Singapore, and that same night I said goodbye to Southeast Asia and flew back to the U.S.

What a summer!

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