Category Archives: Malaysia

To Rent a Car in Malaysia?

I visited Australia at the beginning of my Around the World trip. I knew a few Aussie’s at the time and they all told me to buy a beat up old car to get around Australia in. Not to bother to rent a car. First of all, I was alone and know nothing about cars. Odds were: I was going to breakdown in the middle of the outback without a cellphone

Birds Eye of Brisbane
Looking over Brisbane

signal and trapped. The intention was reasonable on their part. With a car, I could not pay for transportation, go wherever I pleased and whenever I wanted, and I could even use it as a place to sleep when I needed. It just was not an option that I saw beneficial for myself. After Australia, I flew into Malaysia.

Malaysia is quite small. It never occurred to me to even consider to rent a car or buy a car here. I even went to Singapore on an overnight train for 8 USD from KL! Can’t get much better. However. Let’s talk about public transportation in Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur was fine. I had a better experience walking around the city than I did with the monorail though. Everyone jams onto it (like any Asian city I suppose), and you have to be very careful of your pockets. But to travel to beaches and outside of the city?

Kuala Lumpur
Back streets of KL

My English friend Martin, who had just spent a lot of time traveling around Asia (including Malaysia), kept insisting that I should take the time to go up to Penang and enjoy the town and neighboring fisherman villages there. He said it was beautiful and delicious, after all it is noted as the “food capital of Malaysia.” How could I not go?

After I figured out how to take a train outside of the city center to the bus depot area. The bus “station” was basically a massive dirt lot with a hundred buses. None of the buses were on and no one near them. I found out, after doing a couple of circles around the building structure, which bus was the one to Penang with only a few stops. They told me it was leaving in 15 minutes! Great! I paid and got on the bus. It was actually a nice interior and clean-ish. I sat there and waited. I wrote in my journal. Looked through my pictures on my camera. Read about Penang in my travel book. 40 minutes

Wild Atlantic Way
Rent a Car for Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland. Smart Choice

had passed. I inquired about the depart of the bus again. The man who looked like he was going to drive it said about 15 more minutes. Ok. Cool. I people watched out the window and read a little more of my book. 30 minutes later (about an hour after original departure time) I inquired again. I didn’t want to miss out on my day in Penang. He assured me “really” 10-15 minutes this time. OK. I was a little anxious at this point because I was missing out on my time up there. 35 more minutes later there were more people on the bus and no signs of leaving. This time I told them that I really couldn’t be waiting that much longer or else I would only be in Penang for 2 hours. They then told me that the buses will leave once they are full. Ohhhh!!! Ok so…2 hours of waiting later….now they tell me.

So…I had to get off. It just wasn’t the best means for me to go. I should have found another way, but it would not have been a good use of my time. I then asked for my money back and they refused. They told me that I was a “stupid girl,” and that it was my fault for giving them money. Over and over again they told me to get out and “go away.” I told them that I would appreciate my money back and I wasn’t leaving without out it. A group of drivers stood around me laughing at me. They kept on calling me “stupid.” I was so embarrassed, but the more they kept on, the more stubborn I was to get my money back.

The man with the cash box tried to walk away and I followed him. He was getting annoyed. Finally they gave in. A couple of them followed me to the entrance of the bus depot shouting at me. Who knew that my morning/day would’ve ended so terribly. I was in tears from the whole ordeal, because it was just a lot to experience and very high tensioned.

Later than stressful day, I met Rebecca and knew I wasn’t meant to get on that bus!

I never made it to Penang on this trip. Never went to any beaches or small fishing villages like I wanted to. But I would still like to go back again and see all of Malaysia. Next time I will rent a car for certain, without any hesitation. The waiting is just not worth it.

How To: Third World Travel

Third World travel from the Western World can be a tricky and sensitive thing. You want the truth?

You WILL be asked for money from someone who is so sweet and

Me assisting my mother while she works with the African clients in Malawi
Me assisting my mother while she works with the African clients in Malawi

lovely that your heart just might literally break. If you give that person money, there is a possibility of about 98% that they will tell their neighbor and their neighbor will come to you asking for the same. And it will continue until you must say no, and now you have introduced jealousy and greed and hate into the community. You WILL be asked for your phone number and/or email address, and however lovely it may seem to keep in touch with such wonderful people….you will then be asked to help financially. You being there is special, so much so that how could the people in this third world community not take the opportunity to see if you would give them a leg up? You WILL fall in love with the children whose entire being signifies “innocence.”

Truth: A wonderful present to give back to the people of the 3rd world is a smile and conversation.

Polaroid gift in Malawi Third World
Having a choppy conversation with a woman in Malawi

Truth: Taking a Polaroid camera for pictures to give back, is unlike anything I could compare. Most people have never had their picture taken and if they have they have not kept it. The look on this woman’s face viewing herself laughing frozen in a moment in time  is irreplaceable in my memory.

Truth: There IS danger in the 3rd world. Government regulations, informal sectors, driving….anywhere, wild animals, poisonous insects, and of course parasites living in produce waiting to feast in my stomach.

Third World travel is not impossible. It is not something to avoid, but is something that deserves respect and awareness. These people should be met. They are inspirational. These communities are beautiful and insightful on how we all should live. However they do

Volunteering in Malawi
Teaching high fives

NOT deserve to be treated like “human zoo’s.” This is a term I actually read in a blog about a travel writer who signed up for a tour into the slums of Manila (the Philippines). A tour of the mountain of garbage and people living off of this mountain. An actual tour. She stated that it was eye opening and unlike any experience she has ever had.

Let me just say it one more time: A tour group specifically designed to take people of the Western World to view those in poverty.

I have been fortunate to go to this same place. Her pictures hit me

Smokey Mountain
Smokey Mountain

hard thinking about my experience with the children and parents living off of that garbage and smelling that smell everyday. However, I went with a non-profit organization that was compiling success stories of people working themselves through poverty and out. We were there to congratulate a group of those people for working hard and to acknowledge their efforts. I am appalled that such a tour group exists benefiting off of others misfortune, and even more so that people are signing up for it. They are not an exhibit to view, to open YOUR eyes.

Please if you go to these incredible areas and meet these inspiring people (and you should), please treat them as PEOPLE.  Enjoy your time there. Learn to say “thank you” in their tongue. But please stop staring. Please do not support these tour groups.

Third World Travel
Alone in the village in Ghana

They are too good to be treated so poor.

Sometimes You Have to Choose the Dirt Road

I arrived at my hostel early in the morning. The sun had not fully risen and I was already sweating. I had arrived before my check in time, so they offered for me to drop off my backpack in the storage room and then come back in a couple hours. I am not sure what

The dress I was wearing throughout Australia, and the first day of Malaysia
The dress I was wearing throughout Australia, and the first day of Malaysia

happened to my sensibility at this point, but I do know that I had just landed off a long flight, found my hostel through public transportation, and was sweating before 10:00 in the morning. My senses may have been altered. I agreed to put my bag in the storage room and while in there I seemed to think it would be a good idea to take my pants off from under the dress I was wearing and my coat. Well I was wearing boots and the storage room was the size of a closet. Why I did not ask to go to the bathroom at this point is beyond my knowledge, but here I was. Trying to get jeans off of sweating legs over boots in a packed room the size of a child’s closet mixed with my clumsiness made for a nice concoction of awkward encounters with the hostel staff and maybe a little flash of my behind. Hello Kuala Lumpur!

KL is not entirely as modest with women as some other Muslim based Asian countries, but women still shouldn’t be depants-ing themselves in a public storage room. Needless to say I thanked them repeatedly while sprinting out of the hostel…praying that the staff would have a shift change by the time I came back. Last time I was in this type of major city in Asia was when I was traveling around the world with my mom and Opportunity International (a non-profit helping people to work themselves out of poverty) in Manila. I walked out into the sun outside my hostel. To the right of me was a gravel road leading to a huge square with massive malls bordering it and to my left was a dirt road with black water littered with

Dirt Road to the Left of my hostel
Dirt Road to the Left of my hostel

garbage running next it. I took the dirt road. After having taken off my jeans I was much cooler, however I suddenly realized how short my dress was. Did it shrink on the plane? Surely it wasn’t this short in Australia! I settled on the thought that the boots made up for it.

If I could paint you a picture of DSC_2345overly tired delusional Shannon at this point, it would look something like a chubby, sun kissed, Dukes of Hazzard Daisy with big eyes and a totally readable face. I think the word may be “chump.” Usually I am so much more aware than this. Anyway as it turned out, the dirt path paid off for me. Being in my short dress and bright blonde hair I of course attracted attention. This older woman in a restaurant out of the back of her house beckoned me over. I went over and sat down since I didn’t really have a plan. She told me everyone calls her “Mama” and insisted that I be no different. After a long conversation that involved Mama and several other people at the restaurant, she finally turned to me and said “You are very tall and very pretty. Yes you are very beautiful.” I laughed and thanked her but then I realized what she was getting at. She was worried about me. She commented on my dress and my hair a lot. She was worried about all the attention I would attract. She said KL was a good place. A good city. Lots of great people. But you still do not want to attract the wrong attention. After she cooked me a free rice dish and a couple of glasses of iced tea, I thanked her for her hospitality and left heading for my hostel to change my clothes. I told her I would be back, but I never found the opportunity or time in my stay in KL to visit again. I wish I had. I could’ve shown her that I really was a head smart traveler and had real clothes.

Kuala Lumpur is a big city with lots of people and sporadic evidence of the Western world but not entirely too advanced. Venders were still on the streets selling food, and plastic

Malaysia street
Malaysia street

lawn chairs were often the furniture in an “outdoor café.” Don’t be too misled. Down the street from these impoverished looking apartment complexes with sewer water running down the middle had a five star restaurant with a dozen big screen TV’s right around the corner. KL is a city of many classes. It’s a little difficult to transition from one to another, but you get the hang of it eventually. Just be smart about it and respectful toward the people of the city. Patience and street smarts. That is the perfect mix to get around KL.