Kuala Lumpur & Langkawi, Malaysia

In October of 2007, on the cusp of retirement, I went to Malaysia to participate in a long-awaited wedding. Although getting to Kuala Lumpur takes a long time, the new Air Canada Boeing 777s from Toronto to Toyko makes it pretty dreamy, especially in business class. Thirsty? Get up and serve yourself a cocktail (or three) from the bar.

The flight from NRT to KUL wasn’t as lush, but it was still fantastic. Malaysia Airlines flight attendants are clearly fairly paid and treat passengers well – almost to the point of doting. It was nice to be able to knock back a quick scotch before take off…it’s what every true Scot needs with his granola bar, first thing in the morning. Ha. The seat-back entertainment devices had taken the place of the ignominious SkyPhones (someone took a huge bath on that) and featured a brilliant selection of movies and television programs.

{{ travel:petronas.jpg?nolink}}When I arrived, I took the high-speed train from KUL to Sentral, the downtown station for RM35 (~$11). From there, Peter, the groom, fetched me to his house near Bangsar Village. During the next few days, I figured out the local train system, and visited Menara KL, a telecommunication cum observation tower that gives you a good view of the city – better than you’ll get from the iconic Petronas Towers. I also wandered down to the Petronas Towers because I love building architecture and those towers are a sight to behold. Thank you, oil money.

After a few days in the city, the entire wedding party embarked for Langkawi, a resort island off the coast. Nearly every travel guide cautions against renting scooters for reasons of liability, theft, financial legerdemain, danger, etc.. Blowing caution to the wind, many of us rented them anyway. They were splendid fun, but I can appreciate how going 120km/h down a bumpy road wearing flip flops and shorts might not be the wisest choice. After seeing those accidents in both Thailand and Cuba, I was rather cautious. Emboldened by the freedom and driven by the sense of adventure, our scooter gang took the name Wedding Crashers and toured the island. Together, we found gorgeous plants, bold monkeys, lovely waterfalls and a view (across the gulf) of the southern tip of Thailand. Eventually, our luck ran out: one of the guys took a spill and removed a not-insignificant portion of the skin from his arm and leg. He wasn’t badly hurt, but did end up conducting an $80 study into the effectiveness of Malaysian hospitals. They’re good, but that’s not the recommended way to enjoy a holiday.

After a night at the bars where I gently reminded the drunken Irish lads that the gorgeous girls were actually some pretty fabulous young men, days of epicurean gluttony, many kilometres on the scooter, hours of deep belly laughter and a few solid tumbles in the ocean waves, the wedding went ahead. Flying solo, I was seated at a table of random miscreants – there’s no place I’d rather be – and ended up between two charming women, who proceed to get rather drunk on free champagne and wine. Yadda, yadda.

A day after the wedding, with the scooters returned, everyone headed back to KL. You’d think the party would stop, but with so many people still on holiday, in transit home, or simply “working from home” the revelry continued. One evening, I ended up wandering around downtown Kuala Lumpur around 2 AM. It’s not safe. I was stalked by a gang of youths, taunted, had lit cigarettes thrown at me (burning holes in my shirt) and finally took refuge in a bank lobby, where a taxi was called. I would have simply run away from the danger, but I was with a young woman who was wearing heels. In spite of that little misadventure, I had a great time and visit some fantastic bars and restaurants there. The sheer number of ex-patriot dollars and oil dollars following into the country are leading to an incredibly rapid urbanization. Anyway, after yet another day out on the lash, it was time for me to head off to Japan. Selamat tinggal, Malaysia.

Incidentally, if you’re looking for a nice place to spend some of your retirement, Malaysia has an interesting program to lure well-heeled retirees to the country. And what program would be complete without a catchy acronym? Malaysia doesn’t disappoint: the Malaysia My Second Home program is known as MM2H. If you’re over 50, and want to retire in Malaysia, drop $50K in a Malaysia bank and you can stay as long as you like (but you can’t work, unless you start a business). If you’re under 50, you can do the same thing for $100K. A pretty sweet deal, I think.