Having spent time in four very different locations it’s not really appropriate to give blanket opinions, but these notes might help you if this region is on your list…
We’ll start with people. Malays are an extremely polite, well mannered race who seem universally kind and helpful. As we said in the blog, it’s hard to imagine them ever losing their temper; they are calm and content people with impeccable manners, the worst you will encounter is a quiet one. They ooze respect. Singaporeans are similar, though as city dwellers they are, understandably, slightly less engaging, but they have an extra, alluring side. Strict rules abound in Singapore, and it’s hard not to be pleasantly amused by their obedient nature; the metro system is full of messages about polite behaviour and respectful conduct, and everyone obeys. The city is impeccably clean; nobody drops litter, and smokers stand and smoke in designated areas rather than walk along smoking; dropping butts is an offence. It all makes it a rather nice place to be. Our advice is to make sure you are doubly aware of all of the rules, fines for infringement are heavy. The politeness extends to shopkeepers and even stallholders, this is definitely not the hard sell of Morocco or India.
A shawl over the shoulders and covered knees are enough in most temples, though some of the more important ones need a headscarf for the ladies. Away from the temples, shorts are OK everywhere and female vest tops don’t raise eyebrows or cause offence. Even when we stopped at a remote Hindu temple in travelling outfits, we were welcomed into the outer areas without hesitation. Remember though, the people here exude respect and it’s obviously important that visitors follow suit. Be at your most polite.
Malaysia’s roads are of good quality, even across country, and signposting is accurate and easy to follow. One way car hires though are a little scarce due to the limited number of accepted drop off points. Public transport in both KL and Singapore is first class: clean, extensive, cheap and efficient and as easy to use as anywhere we’ve been. In both cities, buy a prepaid card for the best value, then top up as necessary, it’s far better than joining the long queues at ticket booths. Singapore’s streets are badly congested and progress can be slow, particularly on rainy days. Our advice is to use the metro as much as you can and keep taxi use to a minimum. Walking in Singapore is OK, though humid, KL is generally not so pedestrian friendly.
Throughout Malaysia, all of the essentials were cheap: food, soft drinks, fresh juices, tea and coffee, petrol, and car hire, is all considerably cheaper than at home. All of our driving was done on £12 worth of petrol and not on any occasion anywhere did a meal cost over £10 for the two of us, often less. Beer costs more than dinner. Some items such as guided walks and ferry crossings are slightly disproportionate though you still wouldn’t call them expensive. For Singapore, start allowing a multiplier for everything, especially alcohol and anything around the more touristy areas like the Quays. £22 for 2 beers is steep anywhere. Malaysia, even KL, is cheap; Singapore isn’t. ATMs have English text options in both countries and are very straightforward; and a good tip is to change Malaysian money into Singapore dollars at or just before the border crossing, rates are reasonable and you don’t get ripped off (we used a money change bureau at Johor Baru bus station). You will need cash outside of the main conurbations; cards are though expected, let alone accepted, in the cities.
Now this is a tricky one, again due to our disparate locations. Malay food was initially delicious; KL, and Kampung Baru in particular, offers fabulous and authentic street food at great value. The devil seems to be in the detail; a coconut based curry will be an aftertaste rather than dominant, spice combinations are both delicate and exciting at the same time. The dishes can be extremely spicy but remain tasty; we’re not talking the Vindaloo type of curry which destroys your taste buds, these are dishes which get better as you eat them, not worse. Malays love moist chewy textures, like rice pounded with coconut milk until a lovely chewy consistency, then quickly dipped in deep fry to give a crispy coating. Bloody lovely!
However, there then came a big “but”. As we moved to the more remote areas of Taman Negara and Tioman, everything became hugely more repetitive, it’s basically a noodle dish or a rice dish three times a day, with omelettes and pancakes pretty much the only viable alternatives. No matter what you choose, the ingredients stay the same and only the sauce changes, and some of those changes are rather subtle. We were therefore very grateful for the fresh fish on Tioman, as even the outstandingly good dishes like sambal are, at the end of the day, still a rice dish. It’s fair to say we grew a bit sick of “rice or noodles” by the end of it, and the unbelievable choices presented in Singapore came as a welcome relief. But do remember the good comments at the start of this paragraph; it’s good food, it’s just that you can have too much of a good thing, too often.
We’ve covered this in a previous post. Best advice is, make Singapore your last call, you can make up for lost time there!
As ever, we took risks, and this time, unusually, we both had a bout of tummy rot. But then, we were in remote places and ate with the locals as much as we could; we took iced drinks in those remote areas, which we all know is risky, so we probably only have ourselves to blame for that one. The humidity is extreme, hence the concession for iced drinks, and, on Tioman in particular, the biting sand flies were rife. We recommend immodium, very lightweight clothing and the most powerful insect repellent you can find!
It’s been brilliant, and probably the most varied trip we’ve ever done in terms of content. The two city breaks were great, with Singapore an outstanding destination which needs a lot longer than the two days we gave it. We both want to return. The jungle experience was magnificent, quite different from anywhere else we’ve been; and Tioman truly is a paradise island and a beautiful location. It rained a bit too much, but hey. Make sure you avoid the monsoon season, the timing of which differs across the peninsula.
Final word? We’re going home too soon.