Destination Southeast Asia
July 21, 2012
This is the third story in a four-part travel series featuring Dubai, the Maldives, Malaysia, Vietnam and Sri Lanka.
Southeast Asia has a special place in my heart. It’s a place where your senses are overloaded by the beauty, culture, amazing food and endless sights. It’s a place where travel becomes exhilarating and you’re not just an outsider looking in, but rather immersed into the culture and activity.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, was our next stop on an offseason trip that already took Ryan and I to Dubai and the Maldives. From those two very different places we arrived at the Kuala Lumpur airport, which is about 45 minutes outside the city.
We only had a couple of days to explore before taking off for Vietnam. There was no better place to adapt than at the Traders Hotel, where we stayed, with panoramic views of the city’s famous Petronas Towers, the tallest twin towers in the world.
It was from the hotel’s lounge where we sipped some Tiger beers and looked across a city so large that it was hard to know where to begin.
Kuala Lumpur has become a modern city over the years, and visiting its shopping malls, contemporary restaurants and hotels is certainly a great option, but with two days to explore, we had other things in mind.
Where are the local people? Where do they eat? Where do they shop? That’s the experience we were after, and we found it in two very different neighborhoods.
First up, Jalan Alor – a street packed with food stalls and restaurants where outdoor seating spills out onto the road. It’s hard to know which place you’re actually sitting at and ordering from because there are so many, but it doesn’t matter because once you taste the food, you don’t care.
Fresh prawns the size of Florida lobsters, fresh crab, duck, chicken, beef and some other meats that weren’t as identifiable – food was everywhere. Some vendors sell the food on skewers from a cart on wheels, cooking whatever you want right there on the grill, while others present menus with a waiter there to take your order. We tried it all, and it was all fantastic. It was a Southeast Asian sensory overload for the taste buds.
Fresh prawns in a buttery garlic sauce; succulent duck breast cooked on a stick; silky, spicy stir-fried noodles – it was all excellent. You could spend hours going from food stall to food stall, trying everything in sight, and that’s exactly what we did. The best part was that while there were plenty of other travelers around – the New York Times mentioned Jalan Alor in a travel piece, which is how I found it – there were five times as many locals eating and socializing there, too.
Next up, Chow Kit – a neighborhood where we saw almost no other travelers and, frankly, an area where many travelers might not feel comfortable or welcome.
We got a few stares, but generally people were happy to see us and happy to talk to us. We were there for the so-called wet market, Bazaar Baru. The Chow Kit Monorail station is nearby, making the market easy to get to from the city center.
The market is intense – everything from the smells to the vendors.
“Mangosteen! Mangosteen! – you try?”
Sure, why not? The fruit vendor sliced open the fruit for us to taste a piece. I had never seen it before – a purple fruit that peeled away like a clementine, but had a sweet, yet tart white pulp. It was awesome.
“We’ll take two, please.”
And the regular mango was amazing, too. The sweetest I’ve ever tasted and the most vibrant orange color, too. We tried all kinds of food but kept walking past the cow heads and by the man blowtorching a dead goat (maybe to burn off its hair?).
Kuala Lumpur is thrilling. Its people, the food, the sights – it’s all part of an experience we won’t forget and will likely want to go through again someday.
Onward to Vietnam
With a 6 a.m. flight out of the Kuala Lumpur airport, we had to get a taxi at about 4 a.m. It was rough, but the excitement of heading back to a country we fell in love with two years ago kept us more than awake. We were heading back to Vietnam, and that was enough to smile about.
Vietnam is a breathtaking country – a place I could visit year after year and never get tired of. Two years ago, we visited the north (Halong Bay, Hanoi and Sapa) and the south (Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon, My Tho, Can Tho and Chau Doc). This time around, we wanted to see the central coastal areas of Danang and Hoi An.
Danang is a city undergoing development – it’s obvious right away that this city is already so different than it was probably as little as five years ago. And who knows what another five years will bring. In a taxi ride from the Danang airport south to Hoi An – about a half-hour drive – you can see massive hotels, gated housing developments and golf courses on both sides of the road. Some are under construction – and by the looks of it, some of that construction has been halted and is unfinished – and some looks brand new, yet mostly
It’s clear that the area is in transition. These developments will likely come back to life someday, and when they do, this region of Vietnam will be forever changed.
Read next Sunday’s Vail Daily for more on Hoi An, as well as the next stop on the trip: Sri Lanka.