Malaysia has a tourist-friendly visa policy. With a German passport you don´t need a visa but just get a stamp at the border. I´m allowed to stay for 90 days in the country. Free of charge. This is very pleasant for me, because the 4 weeks I got in most other countries in South East Asia are often too short for me.
Malaysia is a Muslim country. Mosques are everywhere, you see women in headscarves and men with traditional headwear. But in Malaysia, there are also many people of Chinese descent and people with Indian background. Because of that you find often a Chinese and an Indian temple in the immediate vicinity of a mosque.
The coexistence of different religions seems to work quite well, but various ethnic groups are not treated equal. In the Constitution is written that only who is Muslim, speak the Malay language and follow the Malay traditions can be called a Malay. All other people are nonmalaysien citizen of Malaysia.
In politics, the parties are not separated by their programs and contents, but according to ethnic groups. There are parties for Malays, Chinese and Indians.
The Malay people dominate politics. Chinese, Indians and indigenous peoples are disadvantaged. So is it more difficult for these people to study at universities or to find employment in the public sector.
Despite these absurd demarcation and division of people based on their origin, the different cultures influence each other and make Malaysia a melting pot of cultures.
I have met Buggi, with whom I cycled already a few days in southern Myanmar, again. Our first destination is Georgetown, a city on the island of Penang. The city was founded by the English and the old city center is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Houses in colonial style attract tourists, the city is also known for its street art scene and for food.
In Malaysia, you can often find so-called food courts. It is a square or a large hall with tables and chairs in the middle, on the edge are various food stalls and everyone can choose what he wants to eat. Due to the many cultures, there are of course many different dishes and drinks.
In the district of Little India I really feel like back in India. Women in colorful saris and tall Indian men dominate the streetscape, it smells of incense and loud Indian music is playing from the shops. In the Indian restaurants I get delicious food from South India. I dig a few Indian words out of my memory and order in Tamil, which leads to amazement and amusement of the Indians.
I stay a few days in the city, Buggi continues alone and I go back to Alor Setar, near the border with Thailand. There I want to see a project, a few local cyclists want to create a bike path there. The route is already established and leads through idyllic rice fields, always on small pathes and side roads.
I know about the Kedah bicycle path project from the two world cyclists Annika and Roberto. They bring me in contact with Apit, who is involved in the project and has studied in Germany. Hospitable he takes me to his house and we note that he was one time in Arnsberg, my hometown. The next day I meet with Saifuddin, who shows me the planned route and wants to know my opinion.
Annika and Roberto write on her blog in more detail about the project, the opportunities for the local population and the overall benefits of cycling and cycle tourism.
From Alor Setar I cycle south again. The east coast of Malaysia is not so exciting. There are no beautiful beaches and most of the time the roads pass through palm oil or coconut plantations.