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I came into Malaysia by land this trip. After spending some time diving the southern islands of Thailand, I took a ferry from Koh Lanta to the mainland, a bus to Hat Yai Thailand and then a train across the Malaysian border to the ferry terminal that takes you to the island of Penang and the fabled city of George Town.
When I arrived at the border crossing two odd things happened. First, as I disembarked from the train, I accidentally dropped my passport off the station platform, and it landed four feet down and under the train. I calmly waited for the train to pull out to retrieve it, and when it did, two hours later, I ended up being the only person in line at passport control.
Second. I attempted to enter the country of Malaysia using my newly acquired and almost blank Italian passport instead of my American passport. A senior officer was summoned and when he arrived, he was flanked on either side by two heavily armed security personnel. So, we made a deal. I would use my American passport with the Thailand visa stamp in it, and they, ‘Malaysia’, would in exchange give me a two-month visa instead of the customary one month. They are very reasonable people, the Malaysians.
- George Town
George Town is old. First settled by the Portuguese in the 15 century long before the Americas were recognized. About 53% of Penang’s current residences are ethnic Chinese, many from the Hokkien clans who migrated early to mine tin. Another 10% are of Indian origin, brought to Malaysia by the British, during the British occupation of the Indian empire, 100 years later to work the fields.
One reason that I enjoy traveling in Asia is that you can rent a motorcycle (scooter) virtually anywhere. Old George Town is charming, packed with Chinese temples, mosques, ancient colonial buildings, restaurants, and bars. After a week in Old Town, I rented a suite on the Golden Coast ‘about 5 miles away,’ from Airbnb, on the 37th floor of a prestigious skyscraper. Malaysia is very economical. I was in no hurry; my rooms overlooked the ocean; I had a great gym at a fancy mall and a swimming pool on the 42nd floor. Touring the island by bike was a major pass time.
After a month of living there, it was time to move on.
- Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur or K.L. as the locals call it is a clean modern city thronging with busy city dwellers and bustling street life. I had only gone there this trip because I wanted to apply for a Chinese Visa. I again rented an apartment, this time in a brand-new twin 60 story tall condo complex. My room was on the top floor and I am quite certain that out of the 40 rooms on that floor mine was the only one occupied. My balcony looked directly out across the city to the Petronas Towers, once the tallest building in the world.
After a leisurely week hanging out at the many cafes and restaurants, I went back to the Chinese embassy only to be told that my request for a visa would not be considered as my passport was “too beat up!” Huh, well not to be undone, I went home, threw my airline ticket to China away and booked a flight early the next morning to a place that had always called to me. The small province of Aceh on the Indonesian island of Sumatra and the undisturbed, protected waters of Palau Weh island on the Andaman Sea.