I want to see all of Malaysia. I want to fly to an island. I want to check out street arts. I want to see the tea plantation and taste their tea. I want to glance at their famous twin towers. I want to tour their historical town.
All of it in 10 days. Crazy, right? So I did what I always do to achieve things.
Set goals. Budget money. Calculate time. And, action!
Funnily, in every destination I went to, regardless of the time I spent and the type of activities I dove into, I was left with one valuable message.
Day 1. Malaysia impressed me with its abundance of trees. I kept glancing out the window whenever the plane tilts, amused by the vast land of palm oil trees. So green!
For a second, I doubted that we’re flying over the land of Kuala Lumpur. The capital of the country. But it was. I confirmed with the Filipino Muslim man sitting on my left, bound to visit his children in KL.
Fly over Metro Manila and all you’ll see are buildings and traffic. I continued peaking, wondering how they managed to maintain their nature while they continually advance their infrastructure.
I landed 5 hours earlier to my flight to Langkawi Island. I can tolerate idle times by reading a book. But this time, I spent it in Putrajaya. I risked missing my flight for a bus tour around this architecture-loved city and almost 2 hours of hanging out at Putrajaya Mosque.
Time’s up. I took a smooth train ride back to the airport, enjoying the green surroundings Manila was lacking.
Flight was delayed. I suited myself on a chair in the boarding area as different race filled it up: a group of Malaysian and Chinese young adults who seemed to be going into the same university and now off for their summer break; an Arab couple, probably traveling for their honeymoon; British men with their large backpacks, on their nth destination; Chinese people, lots of them, on a group tour. I’ve lost track as the number grew.
It was already past 8PM when I arrived in Langkawi. I was supposed to have ticked off Island Hopping on my list by this time. I scanned my itinerary. Night Market. My stomach didn’t let out a growl. So I told my Uber driver to just take me into my hostel, one block away from the ocean.
Day 2. I have a whole day left to explore. Clock set. I started my day early from Fajr prayer to a jog along the Legenda park. I have risen before the sun did. Lucky enough, the gray skies split and let the sun lit up the island.
I navigated Kilim Geoforest Park with a Saudi couple and four Chinese girls. I climbed Mt. Gunung through a cable car with a Syrian family; squinted under the bright sunlight in the middle station overlooking the turquoise sea and a third of the green island; stuck and moistened for some minutes in the storm up at the peak on the hanging bridge, inhaling parts of the forming rain clouds rushing up; mistaken as Korean because of my eyeglasses; walked through a 3D art museum, entertained by the Skyrex and SkyDome.
I felt full and drained at the same time having experienced extreme weather from the waters to the top of a mountain. When I called Uber to take to the other side of the Island back to my hostel location, I decided to end it with an island hopping. I asked the driver to give me a few minutes to tread on every Island we’ll pass by.
The driver welcomed the idea. I believe this wasn’t the first time tourists asked for this activity.
I stopped by every open shores along Pantai Kok and Pantai Cenang, feeling the sands under my shoes, absorbing the red-orange light of the sky as the day closes, and taking in the joyous vibe spread all over by the locals and tourists hanging out by the beach.
I arrived past 6PM at Eagle Square, with the humongous Eagle Statue colorfully lit at the center of the park, a few kilometers from the hostel. Wanting more of the place, I thought I should hangout more. Ignoring my body’s low energy warning, I practiced night photography, tasted an authentic Mi Goreng before I finally closed my day.
Day 3. I hurried to the ferry station to buy my ticket to Penang Island. Despite people saying the weather is not fine to sail, I arrived in the station, the place packed with travelers. It was comforting. It seems like people from different parts of the world didn’t bother. The journey must go on.
Three hours later, I touched down Penang. I hunted down Love Lane using iPhone maps through the fine British architecture, checked-in, and started ticking off the Street Arts on my list by foot. I reached Clan Jetties, sighted souvenir shops on houses on stilts, hanged out by the dock with several other Malaysian women taking their selfies, overlooking the Penang Bridge.
I wished to visit Penang Hill, but I was too impatient with the rush hour starting. The bus seems stuck somewhere, I decided to take the Hop on Hop off tour Island. I waved through the zigzagged road up to the other side of the Island, again, soaked under the sunset light, by the sea. As soon as the tour returned to the city, I thought I should cycle back up there and explore the National Park. If the bus took 2 hours back and forth, I might need half of my day.
I would die. I trashed the idea. It probably came out of hunger. I crossed the street where the Night Market awaits.
Day 4. The next day, I woke up late. I’m feeling burned out yet I haven’t had enough. Indecision struck me. Is it Penang Highlands or National Park? I must get on the bus after lunch, or my itinerary will be ruined. Clock ticks. I spent my last hours cycling around the city.
I rushed through the station though I have secured my ticket online, as always. Feeling heavy, I slept throughout the ride. Sometimes I would wake up, sighting lots of trees. Sometimes, on a quarry site.
It felt colder inside the airconditioned bus. We’ve arrived in Cameron Highlands. We went past several strawberry fields. My first. And after five hours, I walked through the cold atmosphere, back in the mainland of Malaysia.
Two places on Day 4, spent mostly on transit. Exhaustion kicking in, I dined shortly outdoors, strolled in the streets filled with local restaurants offering their special Malaysian dishes, and went up to my little atique in the hostel.
Day 5. Itinerary check. Half day for Tea Plantation tour until my trip to Kuala Lumpur in the afternoon. I walked through the green fields together with British, Holanders and French people in my group. We gathered near the main road to listen to the history how all types of tea - black, green, yellow - has started growing here. It was long and my head is filled up with the thoughts of going straight to their mini restaurant further up in the mountains. But before we actually did taste their refreshing tea, we entered Rainforest. It was warm outside. But it did get a bit cooler on the inside.
Our tour guide accommodated and educated us well. We took group photos for their Facebook account and for our memories as well. I have never been in that mix of people. There wasn’t much interaction except with the three girls from Holland as we sip our tea.
Time’s up, Cameron Highlands. I spent another five hours on the road. This time, to Kuala Lumpur. I spent an hour there in front of the Twin Towers and rushed off to Singapore for 4 days. I have no idea what to do in the city so I took a break in another country.
[Day 6-9 in Singapore. Fast Forward.]
Day 10. Melaka was small and is just 5 hours away from Singapore. I stayed there overnight before I fly back home. I took a night cruise, and in the morning, I tour the place with an Uber driver.
Day 11. Time check, 4 hours before I head to KLIA2. I visited and prayed in Melaka mosque. I love that the mosques here in Malaysia sits on the shore. It’s very calming. I ate Nasi Lemak, the famous Malaysian breakfast - a cup of rice with small dried and fried fish like sprinkles on its top, sunny side up, and spice served with it. I matched it with hot choco to tame its hotness on my mouth. I jumped off to a restaurant serving cool chendol, a popular dessert of ice with coconut milk and jellies on top, much like the Halo-Halo in my country.
I strolled around the Dutch Park, where a Malaysian man, dressed in blue suit poses like a robot, a box in front. A performer. And an old German lady playing her violin, its case filled with a few ringgits. I approached her and spent a few minutes chatting with her, curious how she ended up in the streets. I learned a bit of her history and gave her a tip for her time. I left her to play as more Chinese tourists arrived.
I sprinted up to the old Cathedral, witnessing painters, one using watercolor and another using pen, displaying their works. I stopped by the pen master, as he was drawing live, crouched on a small chair inside the structure. I was into drawing that time that I couldn’t resist not asking him for tips. I bought one of his work, featuring the old Melaka, to thank him for his time, and of the watercolor artist.
Time’s up. I asked the Uber driver to take me to the bus station.
I looked through my itinerary while I laid back into my seat, resting my body from the weight of my almost 10kg backpack from the souvenirs I bought.
Waiting to board for Manila, I stared out to the parked planes and reviewed my journey.
I have done all the things I wanted to do. I did tick off all the destinations I planned to visit. I successfully marked the places on the map, ‘touched down.’
I may have missed some activities I discovered just when I arrived in those location. With the hunger to travel and time and money constraints, however, I simply made my choices.
I did not let any minute pass sulking about delayed flights, the unexplored Penang Hill or the hike into National Park, the tea bags I was not able to buy in the plantation due to long queues, the sighting of Twin Towers, or the fleeting stay in Melaka.
I was genuinely happy. I was purposeful and straightforward as ever even with my travels.
But every time I will step into the boat or bus to leave, I always tell myself, “I wish I could stay longer.” Time checks. Time’s ups. I felt rushed. I seriously take time running out on me because I think that the tomorrow to revisit the places I want to visit might not come.
I flew home with a baggage full of dirty clothes, soiled camera and lenses, art souvenirs and with that lesson. A lesson I only realized and lived by months later.
No matter how the clock ticks, never rush the journey.