By Emma Richards
Well, depending on where you come from, ‘Gosh, it’s hot!’ is quite often the first thing any expat will say about Malaysia. Stepping off the plane for the first time, feeling the humid air fill my lungs and the stifling warmth envelope me as I emerged from the cool into the tropical new world of Kuala Lumpur at sunset. That’s my first memory of Malaysia. It was 23 years ago now and I can honestly say I’ve not regretted a single one of those years since.
A lot has changed in those 23 years. I’ve seen KL evolve from a humble, blossoming city to a bustling metropolis of modernity with towering sky scrapers and state of the art technologies, but the vibrant energy of the city has remained largely unchanged.
It can take some time to get accustomed to life in Malaysia. The barrage of new sights, sounds and smells can be a lot to take in. The blaring horns, the shout of the roti man, the mosque’s call to prayers; KL has a vitality to it that’s all its own.
There are many things that strike you when you arrive in Kuala Lumpur these days…
The sheer abundance of shopping malls! Malaysians love to shop; it’s a national pass time and a weekend activity. Whatever your taste or style I assure you, there is a shopping mall out there that suits.
I’ve already mentioned the all-consuming heat but the weather in Malaysia takes some getting used to. The thunder storms are out of this world. The magnificence of the crackling thunder and the torrential downpour that accompanies it as lightning sets the sky ablaze is truly a sight to behold.
The vibrancy and colours of the city and its people are incomparable to any places I had experienced previously. The chaotic cacophony of sounds rising from the local food centres, the striking baju kurungs of all imaginable colours sported by the local women, the whizzing motorbikes and the pungent aroma of sambal emanating from the street stalls all accumulate to create a welcome assault on the senses.
All of this, along with the mish-mash of cultures, come together to create something quite unique to Malaysia. From the lion dances and lanterns of China town to the whirling colours and fragrances of Brickfields, you can find it all.
The integration of these many different races and religions allows you exposure to learn from a wide spectrum of traditions. The abundance of beautifully crafted mosques, temples, shrines and churches across the city are a great way to soak it up. This fusion has made its mark on many aspects of life in Malaysia and none more so than in the food. The depth of flavour and sheer variety on offer is remarkable and quite simply, utterly delicious.
While KL is leading the nation to the forefront of modernity, it has not forgotten its past. Jarringly juxtaposed next to towering sky scrapers, you can still find beautiful old buildings showcasing the exquisite architecture of the colonial times and beyond. Fine examples of this can be seen in the breathtaking Sultan Abdul Samad Building & the Royal Selangor cricket club at Dataran Merdeka.
And it’s not only in KL that you can find this. Town’s such as Georgetown & Melaka are two areas sandwiched between the modern world and their rich past; both holding on to the classic architecture from many years ago. You can even experience your own slice of this history as it’s possible to stay in some of these remarkable, Victorian era establishments.
Both of these areas can be easily reached by a comfortable and affordable train ride from KL city centre, giving the freedom to be spontaneous on a quiet weekend and jump on a train to a new, exciting experience. While they too are bustling, lively cities, they offer a look at a far different aspect of Malaysian culture and history to that which you will find in the capital.
But life in Malaysia isn’t all about city living. When in need of a break from the hectic pace of city life, Malaysia can also offer the peace and tranquillity you desire; stunning beaches and pristine rainforest are never far away. Malaysia is home to many a budget airline carrier, most notably the headquarters of Air Asia, and this makes travel accessible to many people and to fit any budget. There are not many places in the world you can find yourself on a deserted beach with crystal waters for all of £10. The freedom of being able to escape the city and go swimming with sharks in Pulau Kapas or canoe through virgin rainforest in Taman Negara is just one of the delights that makes living in this country so special.
Life is certainly different since my move to Malaysia. But whether it’s diving in Sabah, bartering in Jalan Petaling, relaxing on Lang Tengah, picking up an early morning roti canai at my local mamak or just an animated chat with a friendly taxi driver, there’s not a single day that I’m not grateful to be a part of it all.
Sultan Abdul Samad Building image featured from flickr