A mere day and a half after I returned from Greece, slightly sunburnt and with a few vacuum-sealed bags of olives (which were opened almost immediately and consumed with a bottle of wine with Andrew on our balcony) it was time for our own adventure – Kuala Lumpur.
For the uninitiated, the Vietnamese visa situation is a red-tape mess that changes often enough that it doesn’t particularly matter if you ever get a handle on it and which seems to have varying degrees of enforcement based on who you’re talking to and who they’re getting their information from. It’s a bucket of fun. There are 1, 3, and 6 month visas, single entry (meaning you can’t leave without getting a new visa) and multiple entry (come and go as you please, but pay more). If you have a company in town, they handle this bureaucratic headache for you. If you don’t…you figure it out yourself with the likely help of some sort of travel agent magician. If you’re switching types (from tourist to business, resident, student, etc) you need to leave the country and come back in. This isn’t as bad as a similar regulation in Europe where, for instance, you have to go back to your country of origin ($$$) because you can take a quick flight to Bangkok for about US100 or – if you’re cheap and without much else to do – a 20 hr bus ride to Laos for about US15. These are called visa runs, and many people will do the round-trip in a day. Since we had a bit of free time and a desire to see a new place, we decided to make this an occasion, and nabbed cheap tickets to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
KL, being almost directly on the equator, is several degrees hotter than Hanoi but also much less humid, something that makes a pretty big difference when the temperature hovers around 100 and you intend to walk around all day. The city has three major ethnicities represented, Indian, Chinese, and the native Malay. This means, in short, that it’s a really dynamic city with some of the best food I’ve had in the world. With a fairly large muslim population, the city also feels very different than Hanoi: the trend towards a widespread level of comfort with less clothing in Hanoi (tank tops, shorts, short skirts, etc – all mimicking the Western clothing aesthetic) is definitely not true in KL, where the hijab was a regular sight (I’m estimating it at 20-30% of the ladies we saw).
We stayed in private room w/shared bath in a great hostel in the middle of Chinatown, wandered around night-markets and massive shopping malls, had drinks under the glow of the massive Petronas Towers, ate the BEST (no joke) Indian food we’d ever had for almost nothing, shisha and tea on a street nicknamed “little Arabia”, spent an afternoon in the world’s largest open-air bird sanctuary, and enjoyed some incredible malay/thai/chinese/fusion street food for breakfast/lunch/dinner. We sweat excessively every moment that we were outside, learned to navigate the monorail and train systems, and bought some fake sunglasses. And took a LOT of photos. As our first “vacation” together (not including trips to visit parents or the move to Vietnam from the States) it was…pretty damn great. We walked until our calves hurt, ate some almost-transcendant food, laughed at the sweat-sodden clothes and the local currency that feature sea turtles, slept in, got lost, and bought a couple cool things for our house in Hanoi.