Mission 20: Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur

Arriving at KL airport was a bit of a culture shock compared to the last 16 weeks in India and Sri Lanka, everything is shiny and modern and clean, the trains are fast and quiet and cool, it felt like we’d arrived in the future. And it had the price tag to match, it seemed really expensive. We’d managed to live within our budget quite easily in India and Sri Lanka, eating really well and staying in decent guest houses, in Malaysia it wasn’t going to be so easy.

We spent a really enjoyable few days in Kuala Lumpur, at a great budget hotel (Comfort City Inn), all squeezing onto one bed of course. We spent a lot of the time at playgrounds and visited a soft play once, to dodge the rain. The playground at KCC Park is epic, it’s like ten really good playgrounds all joined together, and it has a splash pool. We ate at street food markets, and loved it, especially the one at Jalan Alor, it has the best of South East Asian food, and is all delicious. We were recommended the Heli Pad bar as a way to view the KL skyline, it was much cheaper than going up the KL/Petronas towers, in fact entry is free, you just have to buy a drink, which is surprisingly inexpensive. And the view of Kuala Lumpur is brilliant, even in the middle of a storm.


We’d already researched workaway and had found a place we liked the sound of in Penang, a guest house and café that needed all sorts of help. We travelled there by bus, the most luxurious bus we’ve been on in a long time. We arrived and met the owner, who was really nice and friendly. We were put up in the guest house, in a dorm style room and were to share a bunk bed each with the boys. There were two more beds in our room, reserved for two Russians arriving the next day, we were a bit unsure how it would work, but they turned out to be the sweetest young couple, who were travelling around with almost no money, the lady was a yoga teacher, and the bendiest person I have ever met, who gave me excellent early morning yoga lessons, and the guy was super friendly. They didn’t seem bothered about sharing a room with young kids, so that was a relief! There were about eight or ten workawayers during our two week stay there, and they were all really cool, especially Matt from Poland M Gradowski trip, who is travelling around Asia with his tent and next to no money, doing workaways, camping any place he can find, and hitching his way from one place to the next. We took inspiration from him and gave hitchhiking a go, our first attempt was very successful, waiting just five minutes for a lovely couple to pick us up, in their shiny BMW, we tried a few more times whilst we were on the island, once when we got a bit lost, once on the way home from the beach when we got a lift within seconds of putting her thumbs out, and each time worked out really well.

The work they wanted from us was Electrical, lots and lots of it, so Jess was grafting really hard for half days, to try and get it all finished before we left. He was provided with very few tools (one screwdriver, and his own penknife!), but made friends with the two Bangladeshi guys working there, who were kind enough to lend him some of theirs. While the boys and I were tasked with looking after the fish and watering the plants. In the afternoons we went to the swimming pool at the end of our street to escape the heat, it had a children’s splash pool with playground inside, and it was awesome, plus a lovely 50 metre pool. Jess was especially pleased to meet us there after work, having spent the morning working in a really hot space with no air conditioning. We also visited the playground a few times, which was pretty amazing, but way too hot to spend much time in after 10am.

The highlight of our time in Penang was definitely our trips to Georgetown, it’s so beautiful, with such interesting street art and delicious food. On our second visit we hired bikes with child seats and had a brilliant time cruising around all day.

We tried to visit one of Penang’s islands one afternoon, but the information we found on the internet was pretty inaccurate, so we were unable to get the boat across. We did visit a very beautiful beach a few days later, on Penang itself, it was deserted, the sand was soft and white and we shaded ourselves under trees, unfortunately the water was pretty dirty and not great for swimming, plus we’d been warned about jellyfish.


After two weeks in Penang, our next stop was Langkawi, we found the cheapest way of getting there, by bus and then boat from the mainland (the boat from Penang direct to Langkawi is more expensive, and we didn’t fancy 3-4 hours at sea, the seasickness from the whale watching trip in Sri Lanka was too fresh in our minds!)
We stayed at a motel, which was very nice and pretty good value, less than 10 minutes walk to Pantai Cenang beach. The beaches on Langkawi are beautiful, fine white sand, and really clear calm water. We were also excited to find that Langkawi is duty free, so the beer was a quarter of the price it is elsewhere in Malaysia, and we could even afford wine! Jacob’s Creek for less than £6, yay! We were glad we chose to be in Pantai Cenang, although it’s the busiest most commercial beach on the island, we realised that the other beaches, though beautiful, didn’t have much in the way of food shops, restaurants etc, so it was much easier being here. In the evenings we bought food on sticks (chicken sausages, prawns, crab, fish, corn on the cob) from the stalls and ate it on the beach, it wouldn’t have been easy to eat so cheaply had we stayed near the other beaches.

We took an Uber out to the cable car one morning, as soon as we arrived the heavens opened, we deliberated for a while, was it worth going up when you can’t see anything?! It got a bit brighter and we made our way up, by the time we were at the top it was clear blue skies and really hot. It is allegedly the steepest cable car in the world, and certainly felt like it, the views from the top are amazing, and you can also walk over the (wobbly!) skybridge.

The following day we hired a car, we thought the boys needed to catch up on sleep so decided against a moped, we had the car for ten hours and neither of them slept until we were nearly home! But it was a treat to have the car anyway. First stop was Pantai Kok beach, which was a bit disappointing, so we went straight to the next, Pantai Pasir Tengorak. It was beautiful, secluded, not too busy, white sand and clear water. We had a picnic at the beach, and were lucky not to have been spotted by the naughty monkeys, who stole other people’s picnics. We’d been warned several times about jellyfish in Malaysia, we only saw one on a beach in Langkawi, but did feel like we were getting mild stings all over when swimming in the sea, Dylan especially, but it didn’t stop the little fish from enjoying the sea. We got back in the car and stopped at Shark Bay, said to be one of the best beaches here, but it doesn’t have much sand, and also has a cement factory in the background, so isn’t very picturesque. We kept going, to Tanjung Rhu beach, which is the one we wanted to go to the most, and where we wanted to spend sunset. It didn’t disappoint, it was definitely the best beach we’d been to here, really stunning, with beautiful trees right on the beach. The sunset here was spectacular, we had to sneak onto the Four Seasons private beach to get a better view.

Our next stop was Ao Nang beach in Thailand, to meet friends, as usual we left it to the last minute to plan our route, we asked at the travel agents in Langkawi, but it seemed (and it was) really expensive, so we got the ferry from Langkawi to Satun, the boat left at 9am and they were playing a really inappropriately scary movie, so we had to hide the kids behind the seats! An hour later we docked in Thailand! Immigration was pretty quick and painless, but while waiting in the queue we were talked into buying a bus ticket from an agent, turns out we could have got it a little cheaper at the bus station directly, but at least we saved money by not buying the tickets in Langkawi.

We hadn’t planned to visit Malaysia, but we had a really enjoyable few weeks here, our highlights were Georgetown, with it’s beautiful architecture, amazing street art and delicious food, and the beautiful beaches of Langkawi. We wish we could have explored more of Malaysia, but we had places to go, and people to see!

Up4amission recommends:

  • Jalan Alor for amazing street food in Kuala Lumpur
  • KCC Park for a huge children’s playground in Kuala Lumpur
  • The Heli Pad Bar, a cheaper way to view the KL skyline
  • Cycling around Georgetown, it’s the best way to see all the street art and taste all the delicious food
  • Tanjung Rhu beach, the most beautiful beach and the best place to view the sunset in Langkawi
  • Waiting until you reach the bus station to buy your tickets, it will be much cheaper


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