Multiculturalism At Work

By Jane Mountain | May 26, 2014

14,506 km so far.

We’ve read lots of bad things about the roads in Malaysia: crowded, bad paving, filled with crazy drivers, the usual. Today, we found our route along Highway 1 from Taiping to Ipoh to be none of the above.

HIghway 1 is a quiet road with a nice shoulder just outside Taiping.

HIghway 1 is a quiet road with a nice shoulder just outside Taiping.

For the most part, it was smooth, quiet, and drivers gave us lots of room when they needed to pass.

How About This Heat?

Our biggest foe today was the heat.

Our second-biggest foe was the Pig-Pen trucks. Where are the emissions standards?

Our second-biggest foe was the Pig-Pen trucks. Where are the emissions standards?

The temperature ‘only’ reached the mid 30s, but the humidity had it in for us. The extreme heat, which starts almost as soon as the sun comes up, makes it tough to keep going. We are finding it hard to drink enough water, and the result is a few classic signs of dehydration: headaches, wooziness, rapid heart rate, and brain malfunction.

To combat this, we are stopping and slurping as many cold drinks as we can. Luckily, there is an electrolyte drink here called 100 Plus that’s not nearly as disgusting as its American equivalents.

Stephen’s note: In fact, it is quite good. Lemony and limey and full of potassium.

Aside from the heat, we are pleasantly surprised by Malaysia so far.

Money Talks

I had no preconceptions about what Malaysia would be like, and I suppose I thought it would be indistinguishable from Thailand. But, in some ways that are tough to nail down, it’s a lot more appealing than Thailand (to us, so far).

To start, there are far more breathtaking views.

Karst mountain near Taiping.

Karst mountain near Taiping.

It is more modern here, generally cleaner and more organised as well. Even the small cities we’ve visited seem to be prosperous. We rarely see any wood or corrugated steel shacks/homes, and I don’t think I’ve spotted a single place that lacks electricity or running water.

Though the gross GDP of Thailand is larger than that of Malaysia, the per capita GDP tells the real story: Malaysia’s is almost double that of Thailand, and the percentage of people below the poverty line in Malaysia is half that of Thailand.

Stephen’s note: Yay! After a year+ on the road with me, Jane is spouting economics!

Culturally Speaking

Adults here are very friendly, often giving us thumbs up or great big smiles as we pass. If we meet on the street, they stop and ask us the usual questions (in perfect English – which almost everyone seems to speak) and offer us help finding our way.

There seems to be a generally high level of tolerance for other cultures and religions. Malaysia is predominately Muslim, but there are also huge populations of Buddhist Chinese and Hindu Indians. People from all cultures and religions seem to mix freely, all eating at the same restaurants and shopping at the same stores.

The famous Ubudiah Mosque in Kuala Kangsar.

The famous Ubudiah Mosque in Kuala Kangsar.

We went into one shop where a Muslim, an Indian, and a Chinese person were all behind the counter working together. It sounds like the intro to a stupid joke, but in Malaysia, it’s just everyday life.

The biggest surprise is the open friendliness of the Muslim women. They wave and shout hello and give us huge smiles. It is such a contrast to our experience in the Middle East a few years ago. There, the men are friendly and welcoming, but women are hidden away; we barely spoke to any women in our 6 weeks travelling through Egypt, Syria, and Jordan.

Based on my prejudices, I would have expected some coldness just because I am going around in skin-tight bike shorts, but in reality, no one seems to care.

We know that things in Malaysia are not perfect (more on that once we are safely in Indonesia) but from what we’ve seen so far, tolerance levels here are much higher than in the US and Britain. For the most part, people seem to be not just tolerating each others’ presence, but genuinely getting along.

Soundtrack: Liam Finn, The Nihilist | Gord Downie, The Sadies, And The Conquering Sun  

Want to see the route map? View it on Ride With GPS.


  1. Comment by Kimberly

    Kimberly May 29, 2014 at 7:11 am

    Sounds so different from the descriptions that I usually hear about Malaysia, or at least the preconceptions that I have. Can’t wait to hear more!

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane June 1, 2014 at 11:33 pm

      We didn’t know what to expect, so we’re enjoying “discovering” Malaysia for ourselves.

  2. Comment by Mauricio

    Mauricio May 28, 2014 at 7:38 pm

    YAY Malaysia

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