Road trip. The phrase conjures up mental pictures of driving long distances with the windows down, wind blowing through flowing blonde locks and a radio blaring the latest (although probably not greatest) pop music, headed off into the great unknown. Ross-family road trips were regular occurrences back in the States, but they usually had a decidedly more nerdy twist to them. Most of our road trips were in search of a new national park to visit and rather than singing along to whatever tunes the local radio station offered (not like we could agree on anything other than NPR anyway, and NPR doesn’t make for great karaoke), our trip was filled with the sounds of narration- me reading whatever book we’d chosen for that trip. Often, our book of choice ended up being one we’d pick up at the national park bookstore on our way out, stopping to get the coveted National Parks Passport stamp.
We’ve not had such great luck with road trips in Malaysia though. After two years in China, relying on cabs to get us around (or our scooters, but they had a fairly small travel radius), I was super excited to buy a car in Kuala Lumpur so that we would have freedom to get out of town on the weekends. (Said car is now for sale since we are leaving this summer…anyone interested?) Not long after we settled into our new home and routines, we decided to take the right-hand drive X-Trail on a long weekend outing. We’ve been told Penang was wonderful, full of great food and awesome street art, plus Thad had a Kuna High classmate and his wife living/working up there, so north we headed. (How three Kuna High School graduates all ended up in Malaysia is beyond me…)
Penang should be a four hour trip. If you don’t go on a local holiday weekend.
Being new to the country, we didn’t realize that everyone clears out of the city for Hari Raya, headed home. Malaysia has a really well-developed freeway system, which I think would work well when it wasn’t carrying the entire country’s population. Between traffic jams and nightmare backups at the toll booths, what should have been a lovely four hour drive through the Malaysian countryside became an eight hour slog, listening to the one radio that would tune in, which ended up being a loop of ten pop songs over…and over…and over…
(I am leaving out the details of the huge rain storm that hit just before we crossed the bridge to Penang, flooding the low-lying roads in town and making passage in anything less than a 4WD impossible. Suffice it to say, we made it to our hotel well after midnight, hungry, tired and a bit cranky.)
Needless to say, after our less than stellar attempt at a Malaysian road trip, we were in no hurry to repeat the experience.
Fast forward eighteen months and the nightmares had finally ended. It was time to try it again.
This time, we were taking a shorter trip- just to Melaka, about two hours south of Kuala Lumpur. The plan was to just go for an overnight, so to leave Saturday morning and come home Sunday evening. That part of the plan worked, out, but not the driving part.
I really need to learn to look at a calendar around here! The weekend we decided to go turned out to be the first weekend of the local school’s holiday, so everyone with kids was headed out for the equivalent of spring break. Once again, it was us and half the Malaysian population.
Our two hours trip south ended up taking closer to four hours. We arrived mid-afternoon, just as the current heatwave hit its high point for the day. (Over the last couple of weeks, Malaysia has been breaking high temperature records. That sun is blazing!) After finding our hotel and dropping off our overnight bags, we found chairs at a nearby café, had some great chicken satay and whiled away the afternoon people watching. It was too hot for movement beyond that!
With afternoon naps and massages covered, we once again ventured into the great outdoors, spending a crushing evening on Jonkers Street where anything and everything can be bought, if only you can wind your way through the crowd. The evening wrapped up with more roadside treats and drinks, enjoyed while watching masses of humanity go about their evening activities.
Between the scorching heat and the ridiculous traffic, once again our road trip became a bit more of an adventure than we had bargained for. We may have two strikes against us, but I’m not ready to sit on the bench quite yet. With a little over four months left in our tour, I’d still like to spend a weekend in Ipoh, make the trip to Johor Bahru or even overnight in Port Dickson. The way I figure it, we’ve got one more strike or, better yet, we hit it out of the ballpark with the next attempt and erase those other ticks in the playbook.