My lodging budget as a solo traveler is $20 a night. That’s $600 a month — think about that for a moment. Rent, utilities, wifi — my bills. People constantly ask me “how can you afford to travel?” and I don’t know how to make them understand that I can’t afford NOT to travel.
I had a little money left in my housing budget this month, so I “splurged” on a $42 a night hotel room for a week. People who know me well won’t be surprised to learn that I opted for a room with a giant bathtub, even though it didn’t have any windows. I was looking forward to air conditioning, a mosquito-free environment, and a deep soaking tub.
As I was packing to leave, I discovered that my debit card was lost. I was upset at first, but then I heard my mother’s voice in my head. “That’s what life is… solving one problem after another,” she used to say. “But it beats the alternative, right?” I wish I could ask her if that turned out to be true.
I solved my cash problem by persuading a friend to put a little money in my Paypal account so I could use my Paypal debit card when I arrived in Malaysia to get local currency. Tip: Always travel with a Paypal debit card if you can! They charge foreign transaction fees, but will save your ass in an emergency. Also, friends are awesome!
I arrived in Kuala Lumpur without a hitch, found the taxi stand (many airports have a system where you prepay the taxi; always use this system when you find it). My cab driver was very chatty and eager to tell me all about KL and Malaysia. When he found out I’ve been traveling for two years, he said “Oh, you’re a very rich girl!” *sigh*
He wasn’t sure of the exact location of my hotel, but when he thought we were close, he slowed down and started looking at the signs, and so did I: Prada, Gucci, Coach, Aigner, Fendi. When I spotted a whole store displaying about six Rolex watches. I thought we were lost; no way was my cheap hotel in this neighborhood!
But there it was, tucked in between two malls and surrounded by Moroccan and Lebanese restaurants. In fact, half the people on the street were Arabs. As a former bellydancer, I felt right at home!
My room was small, but immaculate and had everything I needed, including a ceramic Chinese-style hot pot and a filtered water dispenser. I can honestly recommend the Victory Exclusive if you love bathtubs and don’t care about windows!
Too hungry to research restaurants, I headed to the nearest Moroccan place on the theory that there’s no such thing as bad Moroccan food. Even the worst Moroccan food is tasty, and that’s about where this place landed.
After lunch, I explored a bit. I wasn’t expecting the Arab-ness of it all. Arabs enjoy the relatively moderate weather and fine shopping in KL, and my neighborhood is their base. The shiny malls, smell of zataar and shisha, veiled women, and thick Khaleegy accents gave me Dubai flashbacks (although these tourists weren’t the well-heeled Emerati type). When it started raining, I ducked into a mall and discovered that it’s Malaysian Fashion Week.
The mall was full of the usual mall types. A few creative fashionistas who make dressing into a high art, some interesting counter-culture looks, and masses of the special kind of mall-dweller who wears their boredom like a black cloud of ennui and try to fill their empty lives with things. I love the window displays in a high-end mall — architectural shoes and handbags, whimsical fashions that look like modern art — but the people tend to depress me, so I went back out into the rain.
Anything I buy I have to carry around the world on my back, so the only shopping I was interested in was some LUSH goodies for my tub. Turns out I was misinformed about there being a LUSH store in town, but look what I found just around the corner from my hotel!
Also, this cocktail bar right on the sidewalk where you can get a mojito any time you want one!
At dinnertime, I followed TripAdvisor recommendations to an underground food court, where the best street food hawkers have been invited to share a crowded but clean and excitiing space under a mall. I was totally overwhelmed and had no idea what to eat, until I saw a Korean BBQ vendor offering bibimbap, which I’d had before in Seattle. It was soooo yummy.
I got a little lost after dinner. It wandered around in the drizzle, worried that if the Korean food affected my system the way the Moroccan food had, I wasn’t going to make it to a bathroom in time. But I had to stop at the Starbucks for a latte! I don’t love Starbucks at home, but it seems like a great hometown treat when I’m in other places.
When I got home, I filled my tub and soaked, then crawled into bed with my laptop to research Malaysia a bit. It’s a complicated place, made up of a native Malay Muslim majority (who are treated with special privilege by the government), and large Indian and Chinese minorities. The government is Muslim, but there is freedom of religion here. Sharia law courts exist for the Muslim population to settle family and religious matters, but those laws are not enforced on the Hindu and Christian citizens.
Overall it’s one of the more successful countries in Southeast Asia, in terms of peace and prosperity, but there have been tensions and race riots here. I’m told some protests are planned for the end of the month and I should avoid the city center because there will probably be rioting.
I fell asleep, clean and happy and free from mosquitos, looking forward to the “Food Marathon Tour” I had booked for the next day. Can’t wait to tell you about that!