Travis and I spent eight days in Malaysia, splitting our time between George Town (on the island of Penang) and Kuala Lumpur.

George Town is a colonial town in Penang, in northwestern Malaysia. Penang is known for its food, and is heralded as one of the street food capitals of Asia. We found a pretty awesome hawker food culture in George Town, and spent our nights eating in crowded local eateries, ordering by pointing and having no idea what we would actually be getting. The gamble worked out great and we tried tons of random dishes (most of which featured “noodles” and “fish sauce” as primary ingredients, resulting in brownish plates with bits of veggies and seafood). We ate at the Red Garden food center two of our three nights in town, and some notables included Hokkien Prawn Mee, Char Koay Teow and amazing fried dumplings called top hats. We also came across an amazing dessert stand called Dessert Rhapsody, which served up killer crepes, cheesecake and molten lava cake.


We devoted our time in Penang to eating, walking around, hunting for street art and drinking iced coffees. There were torrential downpours for and hour or two each evening, which gave us a nice excuse to hang out in our hostel and relax. On our last day in town, we took a taxi to a beach called Batu Ferringhi, where we worked on our tans and jumped in and out of the extremely hot ocean (really, its like bathwater! A truly alien phenomenon for this norcal native).


One of many murals on random street corners

So all was well in Malaysia. Until Kuala Lumpur.

I had gotten mixed reviews from people prior to visiting, and the consensus seemed to be that the Patronas Towers are awesome, but the city overall is “just another big asian city,” worthy of about 24 hours or so. We didn’t listen and booked four nights in KL before we had to catch a flight to Koh Samui. We knew we’d be craving a home base by this point in the trip, so booked three of those nights in an Airbnb apartment, plus one night in a random hostel.

Our first day in town was a bit of a write off as we got into town around dinner time. I went on a mini-hunger strike (fun for Travis!) until Tripadvisor led us to Bukit Bintang, one of the more developed food/shopping areas, where we enjoyed some awesome Japanese/Malaysian fusion food. We capped the night off with a drink at our hostel’s rooftop bar, which featured some gorgeous views of the Petronas and KL towers.

The best part of our time in KL was, without question, our apartment. We rented an apartment in a luxury high-rise, which included a gym, laundry service and fancy water features, including a rooftop infinity pool on the 37th floor. And after almost a month in hostels, it’s amazing what having your own kitchen and couch will do for morale! We cooked up a pasta feast one night and drank wine while maxing out the extremely fast Wi-Fi.

Pool View

Getting our rooftop pool fix in KL

We visited the Batu Caves, a cave complex and home of the world’s largest statue of Hindu god Murugan. The site features 272 steps leading up to the limestone caves, which are completely overrun with huge monkeys who do NOT fear humans. It was interesting to note that the Hindus climbed the stairs barefoot, which seemed like it was an important pilgrimage for them to make. Inside, the caves are massive and full of shrines and offerings. This was a pretty cool sight, and very conveniently accessible from KL by one of the trains.


This has to be some sort of omen, right?


Rude little monkey

Travis shirt

No explanation needed


Inside the caves

We also visited the National Mosque of Malaysia, which was quite cool as it’s the first mosque either of us had visited (and my first time donning a hijab). The geometry is striking and it’s a great place to wander.


New look


Inside the minaret

And of course, no trip to Malaysia is complete without spending time in the malls. Our friend Xarli called “malling” one of the national sports in Malaysia, and he’s right: these guys know how to do malls. The malls are huge and beautiful, with every brand you can imagine (including Paris Hilton’s eponymous purse shop), with lots and lots of food options. Travis decided to get his hair cut at a salon in Pavilion, which marked his second experience in a fancy Asian hair salon in the past year (he also got pampered at Tony & Guy in BKK). Before, during and after are below.



During -- look at this diva!

During — look at this diva!



In hindsight, Kuala Lumpur wasn’t a bad place to visit, though I wouldn’t return anytime soon (or recommend that you do). I found KL to be a challenging city, with a difficult transit system, crummy signage and traffic insanity. I felt that the good things saw took a huge amount of effort to visit (think multiple rail systems, each with their own ticketing system requiring exact change, plus a 15 min walk to each sight after the train in 100% humidity). It’s not a walking city, and it’s disorienting if you are on foot because you’ll constantly be passing through huge hotels and malls and then trying not to fall into a drainage ditch on the unpaved sections of the same road. There’s no continuity. We walked into our luxe apartment building through this pedestrian entrance:


The official pedestrian entrance from the main road, through the garage and up two elevators without interior lights.

That said, I’ve found that my impressions of a place can be hugely skewed by independent factors, like timing, how much sleep I’ve gotten and my hunger level. Hangry Gaby hates most places, and really shouldn’t be making judgement calls. We showed up to KL after an unexpectedly long day of travel, tired and disoriented, and we weren’t able to shake our initial negative impressions. On the plus side, we got some much-needed time off the tourist trail, lived the high life in our rooftop infinity pool, and saw the main sights we came to see. And the Petronas Towers are fantastic!


Moral of the story, immediately after getting to a new place, A1 priority is getting food, water, and perhaps a beer from our local 7/11.