Friday, March 29, 2013

The Great Adventure: Malaysia and Thailand (Part 1)

So the Fall semester ended well: good grades in every class, confident about my improvements in Chinese, and new friends. What would the greatest end of the year present be to myself? Perhaps an iPhone5? A set of paints? Heck, even some nice chocolate and a few good books to survive the Guiyang winter would be nice, right? Those are all great but in the end, I chose a trip down to South East Asia!  What would be nicer than escaping the bitter cold in China by traveling throughout Malaysian Borneo and Thai islands? In my opinion, nothing.

Therefore, this blog will be primarily picture updates. With really short blurbs about locations, things I did, how I felt. This way you can see my Great Adventure through my eyes. :)

So long, China!
Getting off the plane in Kuala Lumpur
So on my flight I came up with a short bucket list of things I wanted to do while in SE Asia. My budget for the trip was a little under $2000, which didn't include several plane tickets- to and from Borneo and my ticket to Malaysia from China. I originally planned on going back to China via a train from Laos. In the end, this didn't happen and I just flew back from Bangkok.

Bucket List
1. See an orangutan in the wild
2. Pet a tiger (most likely not in the wild)
3. Try some traditional Thai food
4. Ride an elephant
5. Attend some kind of religious service in either country
6. Go scuba diving
7. Go to Laos on the way back to China.
8. Sleep in a tree house and also in a beach hut.
9. See where parts of "Lost in Thailand" was filmed in Chiang Mai
10. Attempt to utilize Mandarin skills in some way so they don't deteriorate.

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (January 6-9)

My first stop in Malaysia was a couple of days in Kuala Lumpur. The first few things that caught my eye on the map of the city were the National Mosque and the National Zoo. (I wanted to see an orangutan up close, even if not in the wild). Malaysia's national religion is Islam. This is also the first time I had been in an Islamic country. So the National Mosque (the place of worship for Muslims) and Islamic Art Museum were high priorities for my 2 days in Malaysia's capitol. 

NATIONAL MOSQUE

At the National Mosque I was able to get a private tour by a nice volunteer. The minarette (tall tower in left picture) is called the closed umbrella, and the inside prayer room is the open umbrella. I had to wear a robe because I was wearing shorts. It wasn't time for a call to prayer while I was there, so I was not able to see the mosque being used as a place of worship, but it was a fantastic example of Islamic architecture. The layout and architecture of mosques in Vietnam or Malaysia are very different from those in China, which in turn are dissimilar to those in Northern Africa and the Middle East. The beauty of the stained glass here paralleled many American churches. 
See why it's called the "open umbrella"?



Right outside of the main prayer hall.

Another part of the National Mosque. This was surrounded by a moat of some sort. 

View of downtown Kuala Lumpur (KL) from the National Mosque
          
On the way to the Islamic Art Museum (no pics :( ) I stopped by KL's old train station, another great example of Islamic architecture. Note the arches and columns. I loved the mix of gleaming white, Islamic architecture with KL's towering skyscrapers.



While not at museums, mosques, or animal parks I managed to explore KL's Chinese and Indian areas, several night markets, and even walked almost from one end of the city to the other. Malaysian cuisine was strongly influenced by Indian, Thai and Chinese style cooking. Tired of Chinese food, I found myself eating Indian food for almost every meal the first few days! I also discovered that Malaysians are some of the most friendly people from anywhere in the world. Strangers would come up to ask if I needed help or if I was enjoying the city. I got tips on where locals like to eat and how to use the transit system. Ok, the cab drivers were a little obnoxious, but other than that, it was great! In just two days I was already sure I would love to move there in the future.

Some flowers and paper lanturns in a store around Chinatown

Part of the Chinatown Market when it wasn't busy

Really awesome graffiti near one of the metro rail stops.

One of the night markets in KL


KUALA LUMPUR OPEN BIRD PARK
and the ZOO NEGARA (National Zoo)

Ever since I was a little kid I have had a fascination with animals. Hasn't everybody? Whether it was Thanksgiving breaks being spent at the Lazy 5 Ranch around Salisbury, North Carolina, or summers at the National Zoo in DC, I would often end up observing our furry, scaly, and feathered friends. So of course I had to check out what kind of crazy animals lived in Malaysia. My only hope was the zoos here would not be as sad as local zoos in China. I also went to what I believe is Asia's biggest aviary, where hundreds of birds could fly around in a caged-in psuedo-environment. The zoo was much better than Chinese zoos, but enclosures were a little small. The aviary on the other hand was fantastic! The birds had tons of room to fly around, and I got to see some really rare species of bird, including the hornbill, the state bird of Sarawak, one of the two Malaysian states in Borneo.

  




Photo op with a fishing eagle

Hornbills live in Africa and Asia. A Malaysian ethnic group
believes one species is the god of war.



Asian elephant
You wouldn't believe how big this tapir was.

You wouldn't want to run into this thing in a dark ally.

Orangutans can quickly move through trees and can be dangerous. They could easily rip off your arm.

African flamingos were pale and taller than Carribean ones.


A monitor lizard. Most of these were not in an exhibit.
They just ran around free.



And with that, my time in KL was up, and I was off to visit Sarawak, the southern Malaysian state in Borneo. I would have loved more time in Western Malaysia (the peninsular part), but the jungles of Borneo were calling out to me. Sarawak is home to orangutans, rainforests, Malaysian ethnic minorities, a city of cats, villages of head hunters, and some of the world's great biodiversity.




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