So there's this thing when you live and work in Malaysia called "tax jail". It sounds scary, I know, but I swear it's not.
In Malaysia, in order for expats to be taxed as a resident, they need to be in the country for at least 182 days of the year. This means that as our teachers arrive in late June, we essentially have to stay in Malaysia right until December of that year, give or take a couple of days, and start our international travel in the new calendar year.
For some people, this is the WORST thing in the world! Say goodbye to your international traveling dreams. For me? I LOVED IT. Here's why:
1. Cool down in Cameron Highlands.
Oh hello, regular temperature weather, butterfly farms, and tea plantations! Hello fresh strawberries and steamboats dinners! A glorious 3 hour drive away from KL in the mountains for a perfect weekend getaway.
2. Beach PARADISE on Tioman.
Make friends with the locals staying on the island, in the clearest, bluest, fishiest ocean that you have ever experienced. This was the first ocean that I went snorkeling in and I couldn't believe what I saw. Beach campfires, farewell cakes... a 5 hour overnight drive and a 3 hour ferry, to the east coast, but well worth it.
Make sure you go between March - October (not during monsoon season: Nov-Feb!).
3. More beach paradise in Perhentian Islands and Kapas!
Also on the east coast. Same as Tiomon, don't go during monsoon season!
4. All-You-Can-Eat Penang.
Food. The food. Go for the food.
They also have fun street art all around the city!
About 1.5-2 hour drive south of KL. It is a beautiful old port-town, and you can stay in little hostels that are right on the water. If you go on a weekend, you can catch the weekend Chinese Market! Lots of fun shopping and hand-made products here.
6. Duty-free Langkawi.
A fast easy flight away, and then BAM you're on a beach. Langkawi is on the west coast - not as nice as the east coast beaches but hey, doesn't matter! Langkawi is duty-free heaven, so pick up your chocolate and favourite liqueurs here!
AND THEN THERE'S BORNEO.... (3-4 hour flight from KL)
7. Cat-City Kuching.
Cat City… There’s a cat museum. I’m not really sure why else it is called Cat City. There are many day trips that are very close by to the city and very easy to get to (only 2RM for buses!). I went to an orangutan sanctuary and got to see these beautiful animals in their natural (but protected) habitat. I also stayed overnight in Bako National Park... Which was ABSOLUTELY SO COOL. It's in the middle of the jungle, so the biodiversity was unbelievable. Green vipers, flying lemurs, scary giant life-sucking spiders (I'm a bit scared, can you tell?), proboscis monkeys. Many endangered species of animals all in this little park. Ah!
8. Kota Kinabalu
I went here for a weekend for a half marathon, and saw the most beautiful sunset I've ever seen. There is also one of the highest mountains in southeast Asia (Mount Kinabalu) that I will be climbing in the new year! This is the one that experienced an earthquake a while back, so hopefully the trails are up and running soon!
9. Mulu National Park and the Pinnacles
I'm going here in the new year too! The cave is a UNESCO World Heritage site, with one of the largest piles of bat poop in the WORLD! Apparently if you go at dusk, millions and millions of bats will start to leave the cave and it will be SO cool until it goes on for 10 minutes and there are still millions of bats leaving, and you get bored. AWESOME. There is also a hike where you can see some very cool natural rock erosion spikies.
Scuba diving in Sipadan, I have heard, is one of the most incredible places to go diving. The biodiversity, once more, is HUGE, and the species of marine animals are so unique and rare that you can hardly see them anywhere else. I'm also planning on going here in the new year. So many trips!
I'm really excited for all of the adventures that await up ahead. I know a lot of people skip over Malaysia on their southeast Asia travels, but with so many National Geographic zones and pristine beach locations, how could we pass it up?
See you soon, Borneo!
- Sticky Note