My week in Malaysia was probably the most stressful and painful of my whole trip. If I’ve been able to talk with you in person I’m sure you’ve already heard about the beach incident, but I’ll recount the whole week here.
|One redeeming quality of Malaysia|
I basically had to be kicked out of Singapore. I don’t know whether I truly loved Singapore or whether it was a welcome change of pace after six weeks in SE Asia, but I ended up staying almost twice as long as I had planned. One of the owners of the hostel I stayed at eventually put me on a bus headed for Johor Baru where I would pass through immigration on my way to Melaka. The border crossing was in two stages, both requiring disembarkation. We first had to pass through the Singapore side, get back on the bus, then get off at the Malaysian side. As soon as I got my passport stamped, the chaos of SE Asia returned. Without any signs indicating where to go, I ended up following a group of people from my bus who were not going where I needed to. I tried to go back but the corridor was one way so a police officer (who spoke perfect English) stopped me. He informed me that I needed to go a different way but that would spit me out in no man’s land so I would have to go back through immigration. I did this, but the non-English speaking immigration officer did not understand what had happened. My passport indicated I had already entered Malaysia and that I hadn’t left. Finally a supervisor was able to figure out what happened and waved me through.
|An abandoned building in Melaka|
Melaka is a former Dutch and British colony; the old part of town consists of buildings from this period. In my wanderings, I found an abandoned building, just behind the heavily trafficked historic buildings, that appeared to be the same style architecturally. Without any regard for my personal safety, I wandered inside. I discovered that the building had been an art gallery as recently as five years ago but was no longer in use. No one else was around and I had a great time exploring.
|Doorway blocked with debris|
I am able to recognize it now, after documenting my daily activities for three months, but I have a tendency to explore places that are abandoned, the highest point in the area, and the lowest. In this case, the building was near the top of the hill so I was able to get two things out of my system in one go.
|Petronas Towers on NYE|
This confusion regarding the transit system continued when I tried to go to Batu Caves. I tried to buy a ticket to Batu Caves but the operator of the train I was at isn’t the same as the one that goes to Batu Caves. The transit map is fully integrated so there was no way to know where I had to go to for a connecting train that sold the correct tickets. The guy whose job it is to help people buy fares told me which station to go to, and after getting there, I still wandered around for about twenty minutes as there are two physical buildings at the station, each of which sell different tickets, and I couldn’t find the appropriate one. The caves were worth the trip, especially as I was able to climb a long staircase to go up to the cave, and then descend deep into another, satisfying my desire to climb things and descend.
Although I had heard good things about the Cameron Highlands and I still had some time to play around in Malaysia, I was getting very frustrated and wanted to get to the beach in Thailand as quickly as possible. When entering Thailand by land Americans are granted a fourteen day visa. Given my schedule, I still had a few days that I needed to spend in Malaysia so that I wouldn’t run into visa problems.
|Hiking through the park in Penang|
I decided to leave KL and headed to Penang. The main tourist spot in Penang is George Town which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. At this point I was on an island and I wanted to go to the beach. I took the bus out to a park where there are hiking trails that lead to several beaches. I set out for a hike, ready to give Malaysia one last chance to impress me.
Due to beach and trail closures, my route was already picked for me. Hike out past two beaches, stop for a swim at the third, and depending on the weather/time I could continue onto a final beach. I passed the first two beaches and the rain was holding off. It was a pretty quiet day but there were several other hikers out so I felt comfortable going into the water for a swim whenever I made it to the third beach where I had planned my swim.
|Doesn’t the beach look so inviting?|
I found a small area, surrounded by rocks and out of sight to hide my bag and clothes. I hopped into the ocean and felt so comfortable. It was the first time I had been in the water since my scuba trip over a month earlier and I was desperate for a good swim. I swam half way down the beach when I stopped to tread water for a minute and look where I was going. As soon as my legs dropped below my torso I felt a familiar pain in my lower left leg and foot. The only other time I have been stung by a jellyfish I nearly blacked out in the water, so, given that the beach was nearly deserted and I didn’t know how many minutes behind me the other hikers were, I tried to stop moving entirely and drift onto the beach.
|The tentacle wrapped around
my leg, creating a nice band
Fortunately this sting was nothing compared to the last one I had, but I didn’t know how severe it was. I slowly limped back to the rock encircled area I had left my bag and sat on the beach to soak the sting and scrub it with some sand. At this point, the monkeys who lived on the beach decided to hit me up for some food (of which I had none). They climbed onto the rocks which surrounded me and began to bare their teeth. I’ve been around other animals in attack mode before, but staring the head monkey in the eyes scared me more than almost any other time in my life. I didn’t know what to do as I was still in pain from the sting, I wasn’t thinking clearly, I couldn’t escape, and I had nothing with me with which to distract the monkeys. Eventually I got fed up with the situation, started screaming at the monkeys, they slowly realized I had no food, and left one at a time.
Once the monkeys were gone, I grabbed my stuff and ran off the beach, leg still stinging, and into the jungle. Finally clear of the monkeys, I put my shoes back one and started hiking as fast as possible back to the park entrance and the bus. I tried to explore a little more of George Town that night but I was unsuccessful in cleaning out the sting and new venom kept being released when I would walk. So, I mustered up the strength to walk to the ticket office and bought a ticket to Phuket. The beach was Malaysia’s last chance to win me over and she blew it.