First Impressions of Malaysia

Before my big trip I always had such a romantic view of Malaysia, the name itself conjured up images of an exotic country, the pearl of Asia and one where I would feel like I was a million miles away from the Western world.

I couldn’t have been more wrong if I tried….

 

As I boarded the posh bus from Singapore to Melakka my stomach was filled with butterflies. Melakka was a place that I knew very little about, I actually picked a random place in Malaysia and booked a bus ticket there and then. This was what real travellers do! I crossed my first land border as I crossed the border from Singapore to Malaysia, the process seemed too beautocratic and I was already starting to hate my 20kg backpack as I dragged it from scanner to scanner.

Then I was through the border! In a different country! I struggled to find my bus in a carpark of identical buses and then I was on my way to ‘The pearl of Asia’.

I didn’t want to read or sleep on the bus, I wanted to see every bit of this new country on the journey, the butterflies faded as I saw miles and miles of road, tarmac and sparse vegetation. I soon realised that Malaysia was not going to be the exotic country that I had been hoping for.

But that was not bad, just different to what I was expecting. As a newbie traveller I still had an awful lot to learn about the world and I needed to stop seeing it through rose tinted glassess and see the real countries.

The bus stopped for a toilet break (I was surprised to find the dreaded squat toilet…), I was starving but had no ringets to buy some food. We then made our way to a massive bus station where I was going to try and find a bus to the centre of Melakka.

At this point I wished that I had done even a little bit of research about a new country. Luckily my fears were unfounded and it was easy to buy a bus ticket, the gentleman even told me when to get off the bus.

As I looked around the bus station I saw women wearing hijabs in every colour under the sun manning stalls selling modest Islamic clothing. The hijabs were differnet to any that I had ever seen before and had kind of an integrated peak in them. It certainly felt very different to Singapore, Sri Lanka and Dubai but everyone was very friendly and I felt at ease.

I boarded the bus to the city centre and was gretted by the world’s chirpiest bus driver. I stood up for the entire journey because I could not cope with the pain of picking my backpack off the floor when I had to put it back on again.

The bus driver let us off at the ‘Dutch Square’ that had a beautiful terracotta church in it’s centre. I cheekily asked fellow backpackers if they knew the way to my hostel, Jalan jalan hostel. They pointed me in the right direction through the narrow busy streets.

The streets were bustling with activity, cars and bikes whizzed past me as I watched people setting up market stalls for the night market.

It seemed alive!

Graffiti marked houses line the riverside in Melacca
Graffiti marked houses line the riverside in Melacca

 

Brightly coloured buildings in Melacca
Brightly coloured buildings in Melacca

 

Some helpful locals pointed me in the right direction and I found my hostel. Little did I know that I would be staying at one of the friendliest hostels in the world where I would meet friends who would travel in Malaysia with me.

I thew my backpack next to a free bed in the ten bed dorm that had no windows and set out to explore the town centre. Every corner I turned held a sight to behold, beautiful mosques and buddhist temples set against shops selling every item under the sun. It felt like a weird juxtaposition of East and West, of old and new. Exotic enough to feel like I was in ‘real’ Asia but Western enough that I didn’t feel culture shock.

 

That night I went out for a delicious Indian meal with the rest of the travellers from my hostel. I met a guy from England that in time was to become a Buddhist monk and partied the night away with my new friends in a crazy Malaysian disco where we ‘falangs’ were the centre of attention. The next day I wandered around the beautiful town and riverfront and ate a very delicious burger in one of the many bijous yet cheap restaurants dotted around the quirky town centre.

Malaysia was not what I was expecting at all!

 

Have you ever travelled to Malaysia? Did you have any pre-conceptions about it like me?

 

First Impressions of Sri Lanka

 

As I got off the plane I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew that Sri Lanka is a developing country but also breathtakingly beautiful. The airport was civilised and calm. Little did I know that the chaos would begin when I got outside….

As soon as I stepped outside men swarmed around me, ‘you want tuk tuk’, ‘you want taxi’ echoed around me as I tried to get used to the searing heat. Eventually I managed to shake them off and make it to the road outside. ‘There must be a bus to Colombo somewhere?’

My prayers were answered and I was soon shuffled on what I would come to know as a ‘luxury’ bus. The man motioned me to sit in the front seat. ‘oh I will get a good view from the front seat’ I thought. Little did I know that out of sight, out of mind is the best motto to abide by when travelling on Sri Lankan public transport…

I held on to the rail as the bus proceeded to travel at breakneck speed through the busy streets. Loud bhangra music was playing and the toys and various Buddhist paraphernalia rattled against the front window.

The bus actually knocked into a car! In England you would stop, get out and exchange insurance details. Here  he bus driver just carried on. He must have fancied an early morning game of bumper cars.

I was surprised to see that there were no pavements as such and that people just walked at the side of the road. Many women wore beautiful saris and held umbrellas to protect them from the scorching sun.

I made it to the main train station, Colombo fort! Once again I got hassled as soon as I stepped off the bus. I just walked straight to the station to buy a ticket. As I bought my ticket to Hikkaduwa all I could understand was 25 minutes. ‘oh great’ I thought, ‘that’s no time to wait for a train’ so I made my way in to the station.

Tuk tuks line up in the street in Hikkaduwa
Tuk tuks line up in the street in Hikkaduwa

‘Your train is not until 2.25’ the ticket man said. ‘you get bus instead’ and proceeded to place my ticket in the bin! It was hard to believe that there wasn’t another train for over three hours! I decided to take the train and explore Colombo, my nerves couldn’t take another bus ride and I wouldn’t know where to get off anyway. The man grudgingly picked my ticket out of the bin for me.

Colombo was bustling with shops and stalls, everyone kept staring at me and quite a few people tried to talk to me, telling me about a temple that I ‘must see’! It all got a bit too much for me, my backpack was really heavy too so I decided to hole up in a small cafe and eat some Sri Lankan snacks until the train came.

The train was packed (not surprising when there’s only a few trains a day!’. It was rickety and I had to stand up right near a door for the entire journey. Being so close to men felt weird after the slight segregation of Dubai and I was a little scared by the open train door. Vendors squeezed their way through the train selling various spicy snacks and drinks. I was too busy clinging on to even consider buying one!

As I got off the train I asked a lady who had been in Hikkaduwa for three months to point me in the right direction to my hostel. She pointed me in the opposite direction….

Luckily a local boy helped me find the hostel. It was located down a narrow road with no street sign  As I walked down the road I was surprised by the thick foliage. Everywhere you looked was thick with palm leaves. I felt like I was in the jungle book!

Green jungle as far as the eye can see in Unawatuna
Green jungle as far as the eye can see in Unawatuna

We finally found the hostel. After a cup of tea I decided to get to bed. I had had no sleep for over 24 hours and I had been travelling for nearly 16 hours non stop from my hotel in Dubai the previous night.

I placed my sheet on the bed and swirled the mosquito net around the bed and slept for a solid fourteen hours, dreaming about what this chaotic but charming place would have in store for me….

 

 

One month of travel: Summary and review

 

I can’t believe that I have been travelling for one whole month! At times it has been hard but for the majority of the time it has felt like one big holiday!

I was waving my old life goodbye one month ago, leaving everything for the unknown. Parts of my trip have felt like a dream, too much happiness in such a short period of time! With the highs comes the lows though, feeling slightly homesick and missing good old Western food!

I have experienced three very different cultures this past month. I’m finding the variation exciting and am loving getting my bearings and discovering each new place that I travel to.

So where have I travelled to in the past month?

My first stop was the breathtaking Dubai. I was greeted with masses of skyscrapers and a city full of contradictions.

I enjoyed a night out at an expat bar, I got lost in Dubai mall, I was in awe of the amazing architecture, I learned about Dubai’s culture and history in Dubai museum and I had an experience of a lifetime on a desert safari.

I fell in love with the exotic Arabian culture and decided that I would love to work in Dubai one day!

 

 

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Jumeirah Mosque

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Then I landed in an Island very different to the urban utopia that is Dubai: Sri Lanka! I was greeted with chaos in Colombo, cows on the road and crazy drivers aplenty. I had some amazing experiences on this Island paradise starting with being a beach bum in Hikkaduwa. After acclimatising and getting over slight culture shock it was time to explore the Island. I will be writing about my experiences very soon!

Sri Lanka definitely made me a stronger person.

 

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Sri Lanka has such beautiful beaches! I’m scared that nothing I see on my travels will compare!

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I am now in super clean, super organised Singapore and I love it! It’s a much needed taste of the West. I’m enjoying the variety of food after eating rice and curry nearly everyday in Sri Lanka and my heart rate is beginning to slow down now that I don’t have to dodge crazy tuk tuk drivers, bus drivers and cows when walking down the street!

I even met a Scouser today! That made me feel more at home!

Surprisingly I have spent a lot less than I expected, even though I have been having amazing experiences every couple of days! You can live cheaply in any city if you spend wisely!

Total countries visted= 3, UAE, Sri Lanka, Singapore

Languages attempted= 2, Arabic and Sinhala

Mosquito bites= 1052735 (approx)

Items lost = 1 pair of flip flops, ipod shuffle, tweezers, travel wash, umbrella  pacsafe case, travel adaptor and probably many more…..

Injuries sustained= Just bruises on my head from falling asleep on a Sri Lankan bus and a bruised ankle from falling over on a Sri Lankan bus (Sri Lankan buses are dangerous!)

Pizzas consumed= 4 (They had pizza hut in Sri Lanka! Thank goodness!!)

Rice and curries consumed = 243 (approx) I have had enough rice and curry to last a lifetime….

To Do list

I need to lighten the load in my bag! My bag weighs 19kg now! It’s manageable but far too heavy to carry for long distances. I need to have a sort out and send some things home or throw them out. My toiletries weigh more than anything. I thought I was really clever bringing 6 bottles of sun tan lotion but they are just not needed! I’ve only used one so far! I have not even gone through one of my 4 cans of deodorant either…..

I also need to eat my way through Singapore….

So what do you think of my first month of travel? 

Does anyone have any ideas about what I can post home/throw out of my bags to lighten the load?

 

What to wear in Dubai

 

People have many perceptions of Dubai. They immediately think that everyone will be covered up in burkas and that the laws regarding the flashing of flesh will be really strict. Understandably, I was actually really apprehensive about what to wear in Dubai! What I found was that-

Respect is key.

 

I wore clothes that were not too tight and that covered flesh because I felt that It was good manners to do that. When in Rome…. 

I feel that people respected me because I covered up a little and took me more seriously. I think that when you go to an Islamic country it’s very poor manners to wear skimpy clothing like you would in the West.

Examples of what I wore in Dubai.

Before my desert safari in Dubai
Before my desert safari in Dubai
A scarf looks classy and helps keep an outfit modest
A scarf looks classy and helps keep an outfit modest
Posing with respectfully dessed Japanese tourists.
Posing with respectfully dessed Japanese tourists.

 

For the most part in Dubai I wore my full length trousers, any top and carried around a scarf to cover my chest and shoulders. Luckily it was not too hot; everywhere inside is air conditioned anyway!

 

Here I wore a dress with leggings. As long as your knees and shoulders are covered its sufficient enough to be respected. You also don’t run the risk of getting kicked out of a mall because you are dressed inappropriately. The rule seemed to be wear what you like (within reason) apart from in the malls.

 

I also found it interesting that the news reader wore a traditional abaya. She sure knows how to make a shapeless black outfit look good eh!

Beautiful!
Beautiful!

This is me on the desert safari. I just wore a dress with leggings underneath. The leggings actually came in really handy when I rode a camel!

On the beach

I wore normal clothes to the beach and then took the clothes off when I was on the actual beach. Dubai has miles of beaches. Some Arab women do wear burkas on the beach which was quite a shock to me. I just placed my towel near other tourists who were sunbathing in normal bathing clothes.

So there you have it, my guide on what to wear in Dubai!

In the expat bars anything goes. Women wear micro minis, hot-pants and cleavage revealing tops. Ultimately what you wear in Dubai is your choice but as a solo female traveller I would advocate covering up a bit. Not because it will be unsafe if you don’t but because it shows the people of Dubai that you respect their culture and religion.

That’s why we travel isn’t it girls? To embrace other cultures and religions and learn about the people in each place that we visit!

Trying on a traditional Abaya and Niquab
Trying on a traditional Abaya and Niquab
Covering up is key!
Covering up is key!

What do you think of covering up in Dubai? Would you wear normal Western fashion or try to cover up like I did?