Malaysia won’t leave you speechless…

Malaysia is so much different from its neighbouring countries both on the north and the south. Landing in the dense, smoky urban jungle of Kuala Lumpur can be a massive shock, especially for me as I was coming from over a month spent on the pristine beaches and unspoilt natural beauty of Samoa and Fiji.

Malaysia isn’t beautiful – and this is the first time I say this of any country I’ve visited – sorry my dear Malaysian friends, no personal offence intended!

At the end of my Pacific wandering, I was looking for a place to meet up with my best friend and spend Christmas together. I shall be honest, Malaysia was our choice simply because for both of us (from Samoa and from Italy), it was the cheapest flying option.

Info about Malaysia

60% of the population in Malaysia is Muslim and you will find (and hear) mosques everywhere. But, you can also find temples too. Around 20 % of the population are Buddhist and Hindu.
Malayan is the language of the country and I recommend you learn a few words before heading there. It’s always nice to be able to say hello and thank you wherever you go.

Before heading to Malaysia

Currency

The local currency is Malaysian Ringgit and the current exchange is 1 USD = 4.46 Ringgits. Withdrawing money from  ATMs is easy and Malayan Bank doesn’t charge any commissions for foreign cards.

Safety

Malaysia is very safe. I’ve never felt at risk or in a dangerous situation while there. It’s like this in most of the countries in Southeast Asia I have been to.

How to get there

If you want to get by plane, there are many cheap flights companies coming from the countries around Southeast Asia. Air Asia offers good deals, especially flying to Kuala Lumpur. Check Skyscanner to make sure that you get the best fare if you are coming by plane.

You can also get to Malaysia overland from Thailand and Singapore. From Thailand, you can get there by train or bus.

Visa

Securing a visa for backpacking Malaysia isn’t going to be an issue. Most of the countries have free visa for 30/90 days to visit Malaysia. You just need to hold a passport with at least 6 months left, and you should get your stamp at the airport with no issue.

Weather

The weather in Malaysia is quite unpredictable and different from part to part. Peninsular Malaysia can be wet any time of the year even though the wet season officially lasts from November to March. The dry season is from April to October.

How to get wifi in Malaysia

Getting wifi in Malaysia is easy. You will find wifi almost everywhere. There are many places like malls, shops and bars where you will find wifi. And the connection is really good compared to a lot of countries in Southeast Asia.

Accommodation

Accommodation is very cheap in Malaysia. There are a lot of hostels where you can pay $4-5 for sleeping in a dorm and there are beach cottages for even less!

Below you will find my recommendations as always under the Dream section.

Kuala Lumpur

Initially, exhausted by 14 months of non-stop travelling, I spent almost three weeks in KL hosted by a dear Instagram friend from London who has relocated there with her husband. I lived the great life in her stunning apartment a stone’s throw from the Petronas Towers; I could actually see them while typing away on my Mac in her living room and while swimming from her awesome pool. Valeria totally spoiled me with her scrumptious and healthy lunches and I also managed to get back to the gym in the morning too. It was strange to finally settle back in the old home life and routine after so long on the road. It really felt strange to have a home, even if not mine, even if only for a short time. And it was amazing. Thank you, Vale! <3

The capital of Malaysia is a huge, messy, work-in-progress Asian city. Traffic jams are guaranteed every day and it’s far from being a pedestrian-friendly town. However, being the perfect shopping capital in South East Asia (after its bigger sister and architectural inspiration, Singapore), it’s a place worth a short visit (two or three days are enough).

Things to do in KL:

Petronas Towers and Marini’s on the 57

Sri Temple  

Batu Caves  

Brunch & Work at VCR

Get lost in The Rabbit Hole…. 

For some mysterious reasons, I have no pictures of this place even after spending several awesome nights there…I can’t tell you exactly where it is, but the Alice in Wonderland’s Rabbit Hole is here 🙂
Address: 16, Changkat Bukit Bintang, 50200 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Pulau Pangkor

After exploring KL, my best friend and I headed to the ocean for some well-deserved relax and beach time.

– Directions: take a bus from KL to Lumut and then the ferry from there.

 

Georgetown / Penang 

Georgetown is such a well-made cocktail of cultures, religions and history that my friend and I struggled to leave when it was time to catch our ferry north.

 

MUST – DOs in Georgetown: 

Upside Down Museum

Malaysia

Caffeinated break at Wheeler’s Coffee

Malaysia

Wander along Love Lane for some weird encounters…

Malaysia

Eat, Love and Eat. And Repeat 

Thanks to its Malayan, Chinese and Indian communities that gather to this peninsular country many centuries ago, here you can find incredible types of food that will never leave you hungry. Malaysia is truly foodies’ heaven and even the most sophisticated palates are going to find something new and delicious here.

malaysia

Dream at House of Journey

A cute, little hostel with an incredible vibe and staff. Minimal breakfast is included. Wi-Fi is weak but free.
 
Address: Pulau Pinang, 10200 George Town, Penang, Malaysia

After spending a few days in this little multicultural town, Fede and I got the ferry  to Langkawi 

Langkawi

Langkawi is the perfect place for relaxing that you can’t miss it when backpacking Malaysia. It’s a cheap place to buy alcohol and devices. And if you think about the usual party places of Thailand, Langkawi is not one of them. It’s a place for you to enjoy the beach during the day, and the quiet peace at night.

Do NOT Dream at Tubotel

I rarely leave bad reviews, but Tubotel really was a massive disappointment. The staff is poorly trained and far from friendly. Facilities are often dirty and despite they have and advertise having wi-fi, it is always turned off for some obscure reasons (even when politely requested…I work online!!!) The location is also inconvenient and next to the airport/port. No beach. We only stayed here because we made our booking at the very last second for NYE and it was one of the very few places available (we now know why!) The only plus of this place was the generous breakfast which was free and delicious.

Malaka

While backpacking Malaysia, Malaka or Malacca must be part of your itinerary. This old colonial town still retains the charm of the Portuguese influence and architecture. I loved this place maybe because it’s totally different from the other places in Malaysia.
friendship

Masjid Selat 

Work from 

Kaya Kaya Cafe

A very lovely cafe that serves excellent coffee and sumptuous meals. WiFi is quite good too.

Kaya Kaya cafe

Dream at 

Ringo’s Foyer Guest House
Address: Jalan Portugis, Kampung Dua, 75200, Malacca

The owner of this hostel is a character and full of life person who will take you to explore the town by bike and he’s always making sure the guests are having fun and are comfortable. The hostel is very nice and clean and in a OK position. I reccomend it ! 🙂

Directions: from Langkawi take the ferry to Kuala Perlis and from there catch an overnight bus to Melaka.

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The ancient art of globe-making

Sometimes all you need in order to exploit a new passion or even create a new business is to disregard mediocre results from others and get stuff done yourself. This is what Peter Bellerby did in 2008 when he couldn’t find a decent globe for his father’s 80th birthday and started making one himself. What he thought was going to be a long, but accessible task revealed to be a very tough job. But a year later,  he realised he had done something very special and unique and founded Bellerby & Co, Globemakers.  Today, Globemakers is one of only two handmade globe making company in the world and the only handmade globemaker.

I had the most amazing start of the week, as I was exploring their beautiful studios in North London with my friend Alex. It was like an immersion in the past, in a world where things are made with care, patience, love and time. Lots of time. I learnt about painting and I watched the most careful hands placing slices of the world on naked globes. As you know, I’m a traveller and I have this obsession with globes and maps, because every time I look at one of them I learn something new. They inspire me to travel more, to respect planet Earth but they also make feel me so close to other human beings. So, for me, being able to spend a few hours there, it was just one of the most inspiring experiences of my life. In fact, if I wasn’t leaving in 10 days, I’d ask Jade  and Pete to hire me for an internship 🙂

From their stunning studio in Stoke Newington, they do everything from scratch except the fabrication of their moulds which come from Formula 1 experts. Again, as perfection is the main goal, Pete and Jade decided to kill the probability of errors from the start and have perfect globes.  From there, applying the slices of paper and paint them, it’s a very delicate and long process. In fact, a small globe can take four weeks while a large one can take almost a year. At Bellerby, the team is obviously the perfectionist type. They would never let gores (the slices of map) to overlap or compromise quality with wrong latitude lines. And I get his point. I’m a detail-oriented person too: why would you want something, anything, if you are not getting the absolute best? Pete told us that if there is any mistake, the globes get stripped completely and they have to start from scratch again.

It was fascinating and mesmerising to watch Isis paint her way through China heading towards Japan. Pretty much my trip, or part of it. With the touch of her brush she took me to foreign and unknown lands and I think I spent a good ten minutes staring at her hand and being lost in lands I don’t know yet, but I already love.


Today, from this special studio filled with a young and creative vibe in north London, the team of trained globe makers produce high quality globes of all size and style, but they also take commissions for maps personalisation and other bespoke elements. Personally, I’ve already made arrangements for a globe that highlights my upcoming journey through Asia and Australia. I can already see Isis painting her way here, along mine there, so that, in a year time, when I will be back, my real-time travel globe will be ready for collection.

 

Read more about Globemakers here, their blog is one to follow too here, or have a glimpse at their stunning studios on their instagram page, curated by the lovely Jade.

Notes:
Their studios are not open to the public, you can see some of Bellerby & Co globes at Harrods in London and on their website.
I was a guest of Bellerby & Co during my visit. All views are my own.

 

Freedom

The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.
– Albert Camus

 

Is that true? Is that possible?

I have been questioning what Freedom is for a long time. And I have been wondering if I was free. Am I? What does really mean to be free?

I had some great input and answers on my instagram pool and while I agreed with some answers, I couldn’t understand others.

For some it’s “the ability to positively direct our lives” (@simplysimmybee), for others is the sensation felt while sitting on the top of a moutain in Ireland or in front of the ocean in awe of Mother’s Earth beauty (@the.red.brick.road), and for some is “time to spend with loved ones and things for ourselves (@Janne)

But what is Freedom?

For the Oxford Dictionary, Freedom is

the condition or right of being able or allowed to do, say, think, etc. whatever you want to, without being controlled or limited.

Taking this definition as a parameter, I doubt we could really be free. In any society, there are restrictions that don’t allow us to say, do or sometimes even think what we want. We respect other people’s feelings so we wouldn’t tell them if they look fat or if they are boring, right? (Well, unless you are an a**hole!)  We wouldn’t kill someone, would we? Some thoughts are also forbidden by some religions or cultures around the world. So, are we really free? We can’t always speak our thoughts and we can’t do everything we want without hurting someone or being outlaw, i.e. living in a country without the legitimate visa, killing, hurting, offending….

So, are we really free?

I acknowledge that we are much, much free-er than our ancestors, most of all us, women, in the Western world have achieved more in the last 50 years than in the previous thousands.

But F R E E D O M as expressed by the dictionary would be only achievable in complete isolation on top of a mountain or on Mars, where our actions wouldn’t affect other people’s lives. That level of freedom isn’t possible on our world.

However, for me Freedom is not the ability to do or say what I want. Freedom is the possibility to choose. It is the possibility to do the right thing for me (and others) in the right way and in the right moment. Freedom is the ability to let go of things that don’t add value to our lives so that we can focus on those who do. Freedom is the capacity to spend time doing the things we love and enjoy rather than being caged in doing what we are supposed to do. It’s freedom of choice.

Our society doesn’t allow that. We live to work and no longer work to live. Of course basic needs have to be fulfilled but consumerism have pushed us to pursue more than we can spend. The American dream transplanted a bit all over the world has made us slave of money and material possessions, on an endless and non-sense pursuit of more. More of what, you are asking? More of everything. How many televisions have you got in your house? How many smartphones? How many dresses or pair of shows you own? Whatever is the answer, they are too many. Advertising and social pressure makes us believe we need all of this, but we don’t.

We are no longer devoting time to have E N O U G H , we are wasting our lives to have more.

We can never be free if we don’t free ourselves of useless needs and superficial necessities that weight us down and fill our days and weeks for the majority of our awaken hours.

Could we have a better life if we had all the money in this world?

The answer is yes, for some who struggle to survive, but the reality is that over a certain threshold, there is no difference. There’s luxury, of course, but what’s the purpose of that? It’s just like fake filling, not real, not necessary.

And so, like many people I believe, we are not really free.

Not in the true, purest sense of Freedom.

But like many others, I believe w e c a n b e f r e e, we can make decisions to free up space in our lives, we can change the directions when things are not going as we want. We can turn things around more often than we believe.

 

Notes – the above is obviously a generalisation of our society, I’m well-aware that there are so many people struggling to get to the end of the month, or even have enough for the day or that are submitted to live in poverty or slavery.