With more than 300 years’ presence of the Dutch in Indonesia, the Southeast Asian archipelago definitely holds a special place in the hearts of many Dutch people. So, when 23-year-old medical student Erik Michels had a summer break from his studies recently, he decided to brave the almost 14-hour flight from Amsterdam to Jakarta for a month-long holiday, accompanied by his girlfriend, Jeanine Raadschelders.
“During our tour of Indonesia, we received an opportunity to visit Malaysia. It was supposed to be just four days to Malacca but through our research on the internet, we found ourselves captivated by the multiculturally-rich community as well as scenes of pristine beaches. Not only did we accept the short trip to Malacca, we even extended our Malaysian stay to a month, after flying in from Lombok, Indonesia.
“As you see, we altered our plans drastically to accommodate one month of travel in Malaysia but we had no regrets,” said Michels.
In Malacca, Michels and Raadschelders were part of a group of social media influences, engaged to promote the attractions in the state to a wider audience through various platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The four-day tour of Malacca saw the group visiting a host of tourism products, including Kampung Morten, Kampung Alai Homestay and Sky Tower.
“After spending four days in Malacca, we went backpacking from Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh, Cameron Highlands, Penang, Langkawi and Johor. Kuala Lumpur became our point of transit and we visited several times. We just enjoyed the city; it was crowded, yet cosy at the same time, unlike Jakarta where traffic was seriously bad.
“We fell in love with Chinatown and spent long hours browsing the stalls, even though we had already walked past them multiple times. I guess it was the atmosphere that made us feel welcomed and comfortable,” explained Raadschelders.
Another highlight of their backpacking expedition was Penang. “Penang Hill in the evening looked like a mini Disneyland to us! At the top, we were able to get a panoramic view of a beautifully-lighted George Town. It was such an amazing sight that we were both in awe.
“Returning to the city, we had a wonderful time exploring George Town. Being huge foodies, we had a good time hunting down local food, especially dim sum. We don’t have a street food culture where we come from, so it was both eye-opening and satisfying. Love Lane also caught our attention, being a main bar street,” Michels added.
Indeed, with both Kuala Lumpur and Penang offering different kinds of sights and experiences, it was difficult for Michels and Raadschelders to choose their favourite Malaysian city. Yet, despite the modernity of Kuala Lumpur and the historical George Town, Malacca remained memorable, with the kuih onde-onde and inang-inang sagu they helped to prepare, as well as being roped in to dance the ronggeng.
After a month on a maiden trip to Malaysia, Michels and Raadschelders came to a number of conclusions: “The street food is everywhere but the locals love their chicken! It also needs some getting used to for us to eat rice in the morning, and of course, the squatting toilets. When we sought for more food that people eat every day, nasi lemak was the only answer we got. Homelessness seems like a real problem in the capital city, yet, strangely, alcohol is really expensive compared to the other items,” said Michels.
Having gained such an insight of Malaysia over one month, would this Dutch couple return for a second dose? It was a unanimous yes. “We were in Malaysia during the monsoon season which hampered our plans to visit the East Coast. We would definitely plan our next trip better as we would like to get some sun and sand in Perhentian Island as well as some other attractions in the east coast. Being tanned is a fashion statement in the West,” shared Raadschelders.
“Besides, Malaysians are really warm and friendly. Everyone helped to make our stay as comfortable as possible. We did not face any communication barrier as most Malaysians spoke English and went out of their way to explain things to us when we looked confused. There was once, a local man that we met at a temple offered to take us around in his car so that we could visit more temples and compare their differences. It is instances like these that made our trip extra memorable. We certainly did not feel as though people were looking for an opportunity to take advantage of us like what happened in neighbouring countries,” added Michels.
Michels and Raadschelders wrapped up their first Southeast Asian tour with Singapore and Thailand.
Note: An edited version of this article [Extended stay? No regrets!] was published on 25th February, 2017 in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.