Author Elizabeth Gilbert had to travel to three countries to eat, pray and love as chronicled in her New York Times best seller Eat, Pray, Love. I simply visited one metropolis in an amazing country to experience it all. Malaysia: The land of diversity and contrast is the nation’s slogan. And this diversity is visible from every hole-in-the-wall restaurant all the way up to their highest government courts.
I have lived outside of the U.S. and feel connected to the other side of the world but I am not an avid traveler. This reality however, doesn’t prevent me from having a philosophy on the matter. Whether I am traveling through my Golden state of California or across the globe, I sincerely believe that it doesn’t matter where you go. It’s the open minded wonder that helps us really see a place and its people. You can find a treasure at every corner and forge a deep connection in every chat with a local.
Part of my philosophy is to really attempt to soak in a place. Adding notches to my travel belt by island-hopping throughout Malaysia or nearby countries would mean dipping a toe in and certainly not allow any soul drenching experiences. Here, I’m taking you to Malaysia’s most diverse city, Kuala Lumpur with modern high-rises and ancient sites all nestled in a rainforest. Let’s eat, pray and love!
Fried foods that burst in your mouth with a loud crunch then ooze either a sweet filling (kuia kodok – banana fritters) or a spicy kick (curry puffs) are a must. Malaysia is famous for their curries that can create a fiery pit in your stomach. But they also have a sweet undertone since most of the food utilizes palm sugar to balance flavours.
A side of home-made sambal or other spicy concoctions are presented on the side, should you need more heat. Fish of every kind wrapped in banana leaves and cooked over flaming coals makes a succulent mouthful. Noodles swimming in flavourful broths are to be slurped until gone. The steamed dumplings offer a surprise of flavours in every little parcel. Needless to say, Chinese, Malay, Indian flavors all co-exist in this city. And don’t forget the Durian which tastes like an overripe mango. Try it, don’t be a baby!
Street food stalls to gourmet restaurants, all have a place in KL. The food is better at small eateries, for sure. The national dish Nasi Lemak or Nasi Kerabu is food for the soul and served for breakfast in most authentic restaurants. Try Restoran Anis Putri located on a street lined with other family owned restaurants. Many have tin roofs and motorcycles are constantly zipping past. Restoran Anis Putri served authentic Malay dishes plus, there is a modern banquet area in the back away from the busy street. The owners, like all Malaysians were very hospitable and even made my husband a plate saying “try it, I eat this every day.”
“The lamp is different but the light is the same.” These words by Rumi fit Kuala Lumpur like a glove. My over enthusiastic husband, pre-teen daughter and even my sluggish 9-year-old son and myself all had something specific we wanted to do on our trip. Mine was to see a few places of worship and investigate whether the country’s social fabric actually lived up to its slogan.
Thean Hou Temple
Nestled in the forest city, the Buddhist temple Thean Hou is like a postcard you can actually walk through. The Chinese architecture, painted a bright white accented with shining red dragons and cobalt patterns, is a visual feast. After a short flight of stairs, you are greeted with strings of yellow lanterns leading to the actual altar to the temple. Lotus flower shaped candles and incense are lit by worshippers wanting to make offerings.
The Wilayah Mosque offered the spiritual and physical cooling we all needed. The grand arches that gave shade, cool marbled floors throughout and an exquisite sense of peace had a very soothing effect. Ahmed Ridwan, our personal tour guide with a permanent smile, gave us insightful information on the Muslim majority country and its aim to maintain religious harmony amongst the faiths. We picked his brain for over two hours as he took us through the mosque. Then we prayed next to Muslim Chinese, Malay, Indian, Arab, African and even a few American ex-pats, side by side. Later, we had tofu fritters with our gracious host who wouldn’t take no for an answer.
No matter your faith, you must visit this grand mosque complex which encompasses a school, cafeteria, library, hamam like baths for ablution. It is a hive of activity for those seeking knowledge and enlightenment. During prayer times worshippers abandon everyday life and fill the mosque with fervent hearts and bow deeply in worship.
I’m certain every visitor to Malaysia puts the magnificent Batu caves on their itinerary and rightfully so. The caves are not in KL but in Selangor and impress on first sight with the 140 ft. high golden statue of Murugan towering below. Hindu worshippers and tourists of varying faiths flock to its rainbow steps and the many temples within the caves. Curious monkeys scamper up and down the stairs and are fun but can be a bit too friendly, hoping for a snack from you.
Once you reach the top of the colourful stairs, the cave’s giant mouth entrance greets you with cooling misty air. Natures complimentary air conditioning is offered via the Sungai river that flows past the caves. The tiny waterfalls provide a constant mist that settles on your face as you crane your neck to stare up and around. Beams of sunlight that pierce through the gaps in the cave ceiling gently illuminate temples and worshippers alike as they humbly press their palms together in peace.
Malaysia is home to a magnificent rainforest and nearby Borneo jungle. While the jungle rainforest is not a conventional place of worship, you can certainly feel the divine presence here. Watch monkeys swing from treetops, hear exotic bird songs, feel the humidity permeate your skin, taste the misty air and let the gratitude seep in. The experience of visiting the botanical gardens, the Forest Eco Park and hiking random, dense forest trails is a prayer in itself.
I don’t know if you ever have to look for love. You just have to show up and take a seat. One of my most favorite things in Malaysia was meeting its people. I struck conversations wherever I could. I chatted with our foot spa therapists at Pak Boh in the Central Market or our 20 plus Grab (Uber) drivers from all parts of Malaysia who shared their stories and asked questions about our lives back home, in wonder. We chatted with people for just a few moments and were even generously invited to join them and their families for dinner.
The hospitality of the Malaysian people was unprecedented. I viewed the society from the perspective of a journalist and a tireless connection-seeker. And I witnessed the fearless love of the Malaysian people in their faithful implementation of the spirit of co-existence. My conclusion: Their society lives up to their country’s slogan. Everyone I met in Malaysia wore a smile, even if sometimes only to make me smile. Every interaction was a meaningful exchange and connection.
This was my version of Elizabeth Gilbert’s love interlude, hers in Bali and mine in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. All I had to do to receive this love was show up and take a seat for a while in this beautiful country.