Malaysia: The Great and The Ugly

Time to say goodbye to a country of diversity in many regards. We cycled 2,134 km from north to south to east to south to west and to north, spent 73 days in the country, of which 38 days in the saddle, and visited most major sites on the peninsula. Time now to reflect on how we experienced this country.

1 – Food
Certainly part of The Great as the diversity of cultures can be tasted in a broad variety of delicious food. For breakfast we often enjoyed Indian Roti or Malay Nasi Lemak. Lunch was cyclists’ heaven, as we usually chose vegetables, chicken, fish, beef or pork from a buffet, always served with a huge bowl of rice. We often ended the day with a Chinese dinner of fried rice, noodles and vegetables. Yummy, yummy, yummy.

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2 – People
A diverse country that tries through its 1-campaign to unite the Malay, Indian and Chinese cultures. To us it seemed they all lived happily and in harmony next to each other as we could find a church next to a mosque next to a Chinese temple next to an Indian temple. But talking to locals reality seemed different. One would complain about his Chinese neighbour who’s only thinking how to make as much money as possible, the other would not like the Indian who is preparing lousy food. But still everybody loved the idea behind the 1-campaign. And we certainly loved the people, their openness and curiosity towards foreigners and their modern attitude towards women despite being an islamic nation – for sure The Great.

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3 – Landscape
We’ve not been impressed, we saw more stunning and breath-taking scenery elsewhere in southeast Asia. Too many palm-oil plantations, greenhouses or construction sites across the country. The coastal roads in northwest Malaysia and parts of the Cameron highlands were beautiful and we surely liked it here and there, but not enough to get the landscapes into The Great category, for us it just ranks OK.

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4 – Architecture
Wonderful old timber houses in rural Kampungs (villages), Chinese shophouses and colonial buildings in bigger cities are amongst our favorite in the region as they all are as different as the diverse nation itself. You can clearly distinguish a Malay from a Chinese house or mansion let alone the European colonial buildings. Except for the UNESCO heritage sites there isn’t unfortunately much done to preserve those buildings and many facades are ruined by cheapish and modern renovations – despite this, no doubt The Great.

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5 – Environment
Very bad, no environmental consciousness at all. It begins in the supermarket where you have to fight if not taking a plastic bag, or two or three. It continues with the food packaging, cookies are usually packed three times: each single cookie is packed in plastic, they are then put in a sturdy plastic container, which is wrapped in another bigger plastic bag to keep everything together. We felt so bad about how much waste we had to produce involuntarily every day. Starbucks serves coffee in paper cups, to serve customers faster. How ridiculous. Engines are still on while people do their shopping, to make sure the car doesn’t warm up in the meantime. I could continue endlessly – The Ugly.

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6 – Coffee culture
Not existing. They are producing coffee in the highlands, but it all seems to be exported, it is almost impossible to buy real coffee anywhere. But oh, they drink coffee a lot, in supermarkets you can find meters and meters of 3-in-1 Nescafe, which comes in all shapes and sizes. And that’s the only reason why we still went to Starbucks, each time we run out of good old ground coffee we needed to refuel our caffeine-used bodies. We needed a treat. And that was mostly only to have at Starbucks, sad enough. Not ugly but not great either.

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7 – Driving habits
In Malaysia you own a car, if you are poor or rich, it doesn’t matter, almost everyone who is allowed to drive has a car. And if you have a car you go fast, as fast as possible, doesn’t matter if your car almost falls apart in each curve. And don’t you dare to walk more than 20 meters. If there is no free spot directly in front of the shop or the food court you just drive to the next one, that’s so easy. And as one liter fuel costs less than a liter mineral water, who really cares? And yes, in consequence the population is getting fatter, too much fast food combined with little or no daily exercise. The Western should have taught you better – The Ugly.

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8 – Infrastructure
Fantastic. Many sealed roads in often good condition getting you everywhere. As long as you are sitting in a car. And not on a bike. No shoulders and roads that can no longer cope with the increase in traffic. The road death toll is high, too high. Internet is available for free almost everywhere. Everybody possesses at least one smart phone, two seems to be the average and you no longer talk to each other in restaurants, you are too busy with your smart phone. This by the way is true for a lot of other countries in the region as well. Thumbs up or down? Public transportation seems to be there, but is it  sufficient? We don’t know as we only used it in KL, the capital, and we were happy with what we got – Category So, So.

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This is our personal opinion and certainly neither complete nor objective. This describes how we felt about Malaysia. All in all we’ve had great times, good times and ugly times as always in life but have been very grateful for meeting so many good people, making friends for life and taking some long-lasting memories with us. Thank you Malaysia!

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