Not too long after the end of the Singapore Grand Prix, we took a bus to Malaysia. Can you guess our main purpose? Yes, indeed discovering the numerous beauty Malaysia as to offer was in the top 3. The main reason thought, was to attend our second F1 Grand Prix in Asia, the Sepang GP in Kuala Lumpur. As we were a week too early for the event, we decided to go to Penang Island first
The 10 hours bus ride from Singapore went without any problems. Although, we were delayed by a 2 hours stand-up wait at the Singaporean border… Yep, we had to kindly stand in a queue, while all the Chinese people around us tried to find a way to NOT queue. I understand it’s not in their culture to do so, but it gets annoying pretty quickly. It got out of hands, to the point where the police was called in to maintain order!
First Stop: Penang Island
We decided to head to Penang first because it is at the top of the country. It only made sense to start North then travel South. Actually, it is more accurate to say from East to West, as we did the East mainland and then the West Island of Malaysia.
When I first started writing this posts, I had a massive section about Penang. It.s more suiting to allow this gorgeous state a post of its own, rather than skip some of its must-do’s. So, you can find all we did on the island and our highlights, right here!
As a foretaste to that post, I can tell you that because this place was occupied by the Chineses, the Indians, and by a British colony over the years, the architecture as well as the culture and food merge all these cultural influences. Beside being a top culinary destination according to CNN, Penang as a lot of stunning vistas to offer all over the Island. If you look closely you might even find some hidden gems doting the view!
Read more about Penang- The Glory of an Old Colony and a Secret Hotspot.
Kuala Lumpur & the Grand Prix
In KL, we based ourselves in the Chinatown neighborhood. This location offers a great gateway to food, and is a pedestrian friendly distance to many points of interests. And MARKETS! I think we discovered one market per evening. Enough to satisfied my hunger for markets! Food and goods markets are all bustling with lights, people and colorful decors. We spent a great amount of time looking for the best place to eat and looking for all the odd products presented to us. After a splendid (& gigantic) pineapple rice, we walked the few kilometers to KL Tower and then to the Petronas Twin Tower. Both of the monument stand tall and shining in the horizon of KL, splendid!
Our main purpose- as you know- was to attend the Sepang F1 Grand Prix. And that’s what we did for three days in a row. The race circuit is not that close to town thought. Therefore, we had a 15 minutes train/subway ride to the KL central station, and then an hour (and a half if you’re lucky) of bus to reach the event. On the first day, we arrived at 1 o’clock -as it is a day time race- to assist to the first qualification and get acquainted with the site. 15 minutes later and we had walk the entire main area…
There was a display of the drivers parade cars, a few foods stall, a stand for Petronas (main sponsor), and that’s it! All that in barely any shade, with a sun that heavy it’s a bit of a bummer. The stands are all covered thought, thank god. On that day, there was hardly anyone in the stands, so we changed seat during the race from the departure lane/pit lane to turns where the cars don’t pass too fast. The ambiance wasn’t to the Singapore level, but we at least had the opportunity to watch the race quietly…
Day two, was exactly the same. No one, and blasting hot. I came prepare this time with an umbrella (you’d understand if you where there too). Sadly, that’s all there is to say for the second qualification day.
In contrast, race day was PACKED with people. Never thought it would happen considering the past two days, but it was cranked. Many more food stands, doted the main area, and thousands of people sat on the grandstand. Our official seats being in the tower, we had a perfect view of the cars slowing down in this hairpin turn, to either speed up after or take the pit lane. The race didn’t go without its share of safety cars, the very first one entering the race straight after departure. We assisted to a few crash happening straight in front of us, as our field of vision was in a tricky part of the circuit.
In time, Daniel Ricciardo inherited first place on the podium, when Lewis Hamilton had to retire the race due to engine failure. The celebration gave place to the arrest of a few Australians. They thought it was clever to undress to a smallish bathing suit branding the Malaysian flag, and drink from their shoes… Oh well!
The closing event was a performance from Usher.
But after 45 minutes of wait in front of the stage, and no sign of Usher, we embarked the bus for our daily 1. 45 hours drive back to KL central station… The driver even stopped to a mosque on the way, for his evening prayer, extending the ride for another 20 minutes! Thank you. At least we knew we would go to the best Indian/Malay restaurant on arrival, which saved the day. As well as the past two ones.
In fact, Husen Cafe stands a few corners from KL Central and is the absolute best place we ate at. During a layover to Australia, we ate there for the first time, at 2 AM after watching Avenger’s Civil War. The experience was out of this world! So we came back 4 months later, for many more rounds. Their recipe is quite simple: tasteful meals, large menu and cheap price (like 10$ for 2 very hungry people).
Discover the Wilderness in Kuching & Bako
After an early flight and a good McDie’s breakfast box, we arrived in Kuching, on Malaysia’s East Island, Borneo. The flight on itself was short, and the view you had on the Sarawak River was splendid.
We did not book an hostel prior to our arrival, so we asked the taxi driver to drop us to the city center. From there, we toured around the streets to have a look at the accommodation options. Our choice fell on the funny Hero Hostel, which exhibit numerous super hero art pieces. We both really like the Marvel and DC Universe, but as soon as Wyliam saw this place there was no going back. We stayed there for a week. It was lovely all along, the staff is charming and the location is excellent.
On our first night, we went on to discover our dinner options, and stumbled on another French-Canadian. We were casually waiting for our food when our waiter brought our order. We could tell straight away he was one of us, just by his accent. That meeting gave way to a night of drinking, and plans for the next days.
Thanks to his local Chinese-Malay girlfriend and him, we discovered the delicious Kuching Laksa before heading to the Annah Rais Hot Springs. Located quite far from the city center, the springs were the perfect place to relax after our copious meal. Nestled in a quiet jungle spot, you can get nature full healing power by going from the hot baths to the cold stream . The same day we also went to the Annah Rais Bidayuh Longhouse close to the hot springs. Since, we visited Borneo early October -aka the low season for tourism- we were pretty alone at most of the attractions we went. With our friends, we also enjoyed a few good dinners and we are so grateful for all the discoveries we made with you guys!
They also told us we should ABSOLUTELY visit Bako National Park, so we did of course.
Wildlife discoveries in Bako
With our accommodation booked and our bags stored at our Hero hostel (really helpful if you don’t want bulky luggage), we embarked on a bus leading to the Bako Villa boat jetty. After a bumby boat ride, we landed on the beach and made our way to the Head Quarter to check in and get a trail map. Then we went on a short trek in the jungle, where we experienced the thick fauna of the island and saw many wildlife species. At dusk, we walked on a gathering of proboscis monkeys on Telok Paku! These rare monkeys can only be found in Bako, therefore we had to spend a little time admiring them. (In the video we talk in French about how they are impressive to see.)
The same night, Wyliam went on a wildlife guided tour while I stayed behind and enjoyed the rest of my supper with the company of a bearded boar. My darling came back to me with a detail report of all the animals he saw. Lizards, spiders, monkeys, carnivorous plant, the guide showed them all, and add a words of explanation to all encounter. On that, we went to sleep.
Early next morning, we headed for a 3 hours trail after a lite breakfast. While on the Telok Pandan Kecil, we saw some noisy long-tailed macaque passing in the trees over head. Other than that, we had a quiet walk in the humid jungle, and were rewarded by a stunning view on a gorgeous sandy beach surrounded by spectacular sandstone formations.
Let’s visit more monkeys!
We left the beauty of the Island the same day, and went back to our hostel. The next morning, we rented a scooter and to visit the orangutan at Semenggoh Nature Reserve(click the link for explaination on the reserve and stunning orangutan pictures). We arrived for the afternoon feeding session. Perfect timing and a stroke of luck gave us the opportunity to see two dozen orangutan coming for a free meal. The first to arrive to the party were a muma and her son coming airways. They waited quietly for the Alpha to join and start eating, before feasting themselves. After that, many others arrived from all directions.
Park Rangers -there to ensure wild life respect- were pleased to present every parties in details, and did so with passion and commitment. It made the experience all the more remarkable to get name, age and family genealogy of each orangutan we saw.
One last meal with our French-Canadian friend, and we were off on the road again.
Relax in Miri
After all the discoveries we made in Kutching, we well due to relax a bit. That’s exactly what we did in Miri! So if you are looking for activities and things to do over there, probably best to look on Lonely Planet. We spent most of our late night on Netflix watching the first season of Stranger Things, after having a copious dinner at one of the night market hawkers located straight in front of our homestay.
Everyday was so hot, that all we did is lingering on the roof top terrace. Okay, we still managed to find our way to a pool, the Beach Republic located straight by the beach. It is nicely set right before the South China Sea beach, has a gym (if you fancy that), jetski, banana boat, soccer, volleyball, basketball & tennis court and offers good food plus a variety of drinks. We were really there for the pool thought, so we stayed in it all day. After having a lite dinner there, we went on our way home, which was only 2.5 hours of walk away… We took a taxi to go because it was too hot. At night thought, walking was enjoyable for both of us.
Don’t forget food!
For me, the highlight of this city was a Chinese bakery not far from our hostel, the Sau Pau Cafe. The shop was packed the first time we walked in and for good reason, their buns are SOOOO DELICIOUS! We took a coconut bun, two chocolate buns, a few bbq pork buns and some curry puffs to go. We had them for breakfast along with coffee (ok, only for me), and we were astonished at how good they were. Wyliam’s favorite stays the chocolate bun. Mine, on the other hand, was the pork bun. They are called Cha Siew Bao, and are the best thing I ate in Asia. Ever.
A Plane to Kota Kinabalu Later,
and we survived death! On the night we flew, there was a terrible THUNDERSTORM… I thought you couldn’t fly in such terrible temperature, but our flight was only delayed, NOT canceled. Anyways, we landed safely and made our way to the Bunk Boutique Hostel where we stayed for a few days. The location was truly ideal, being close to all the places we wanted to see.
We visited A TON of markets, met artists at a Tattoo Convention, spent time exploring the surrounding islands and ate so much good food! That’s why this popular gateway deserve a post of its own! In that article, you will be able to get some good tips and even add a few items on your KK to-do list.
Read more about Beautiful Kota Kinabalu & Its Compromised Future.
All things considered,
The opportunity to explore Malaysia was a blessing. In Penang, we indulged in culinary sensations, just to be ready for a hot Grand Prix in Kuala Lumpur. After a week stay in the capital city, we took a plane to visit the wildlife in Kuching. Next on the list was Miri, where we ate delicious pastries and relaxed in a beach side pool. We finished our trip in Kota Kinabalu where there was many attraction to discover. Hopefully, you get to discover all these places too. We had a fabulous time in Malaysia, and would definitely go back to discover more of its wonders!
Next step, Indonesia!
Don’t be shy to share your experience in Malaysia and any thoughts on the subject! We’d love to hear from you!