Chapter 6: Loneliness of Malaysia

Getting food poisoning while in a foreign country sucks. Having to travel on a plane, bus, or boat, with the threat of impending doom? That’s a nightmare.

The day had come for me to move on from Thailand. I wasn’t ready. I had barely scratched the surface of what there was to see and explore in this beautiful country. I thought I had nothing but time but unfortunately, the tourist visa claimed otherwise.

My flight to Kuala Lumpur was early at 7 am. That wasn’t even the worst part. Earlier in the morning, I had awoken by my stomach, screaming at me. I already knew what those screams were. There was going to be a very bad problem.

The bathrooms in this hostel were two flights down. I knew that if I waited, I wouldn’t make it so I got up and made a run for it. I hadn’t even made it to the stairs when I realised there was just no way.

Thankfully, I discovered a hand basin by the stairs, I hadn’t noticed it before, it was like someone knew this was going to happen and placed it there conveniently for me. I only just made it to the edge of the sink before I hurled. All that delicious food from yesterday, gone.

Getting food poisoning while in a foreign country sucks. Having to travel on a plane, bus, or boat, with the threat of impending doom? That’s a nightmare.

I hailed an Uber to take me to the airport. I still felt terrible. The anxiety of exploding in this guy’s car was almost worst than just letting it out.

With relief, I made it to the airport without incident. I checked in and made a pitstop to the bathroom. I guess this is the time to pitch anti-diarrhea pills. They are truly a blessing. After taking one of these, I still didn’t feel great, but I made it to my hostel in Kuala Lumpur without incident. Seriously, I would never travel without these things.

Still feeling terrible, I decided that I needed to see at least some of Kuala Lumpur. I visited the Petronas Towers, I went up to the Skydeck, I wandered around China town and the markets.

Malaysia was different from Thailand, the people, the culture, even the travellers visiting here, there were similarities but there was also no question that I was in a different country. Thailand was a solo backpacker paradise, it was all too easy to meet others and find things to do. Malaysia required a little more effort.

I had come to Malaysia without any real plans of what to do or where to go. When I was bitten by a dog in Chiang Mai it forced me to change my plans. I had intended to go to Laos but due to the uncertainty of medical facilities, I had to come here instead.

That is part of the fun of backpacker life. Learning to take things as they come. Who knows what will happen or who you will meet that will change your plans. Having the freedom to go with it, to say yes to any adventure, is just another thing that you’ll come to love.

On a gloomy rainy day in the Cameron Highlands, I decided I needed to make the most of my time in this beautiful part of the country. It’s known to be a bit of a hikers paradise with trails that start not that far from the town centre. I did some research and asked the staff in my hostel about which would be the most scenic tracks to do. I tried to convince some other people in my hostel to join me, but no one was excited about the prospect of walking through the bush in the rain.

Nevertheless, I decided to go at it alone. In hindsight, this was probably not the smartest thing to do. Walking on a wet, slippery, narrow track with steep drop-offs could potentially be dangerous. Doing it alone? Well, no one would know I had fallen to my death.

I was perfectly fine with keeping myself company. I had read stories about solo travel being lonely. I hadn’t experienced that in Thailand. There wasn’t a single day where I hadn’t met someone who wanted to do something. If anything, I was trying to find reasons to do things alone, even for just for a moment.

A lot of us are afraid of loneliness. I can attest that it weighs on you. Its heavy presence is like a dark cloud, building, threatening to fall and drench you. It’s easy to get lost in the darkness of loneliness and fail to appreciate the beauty of it instead.

When you travel alone, feelings of loneliness seem heightened. The language barrier certainly doesn’t help and everything becomes that little bit more difficult. You can’t just leave your bags and go to the bathroom, there is no one to take photos of you, which is actually a really good way to start a conversation with strangers, and there is no one to share in all of your quirky observations.

In embracing loneliness — it’s cliche I know — you can learn a thing or two about yourself. A lot of us try to avoid being in our head. We try to busy ourselves so that we don’t have the time or space to let our minds wander and reflect. It can even be painful to get lost in our thoughts. We need pain. Life isn’t all sunshine and roses. Sometimes you find yourself in a storm, walking alone down a narrow path in the bush. It’s how we act and what we do in these situations that reveal our true selves.

Having struggled to meet anyone in Malaysia, I decided to head back to Thailand sooner than anticipated. I had already planned to visit Koh Lipe, a Thai island not that far from Langkawi. Instead of returning to Langkawi to fly to my next destination, I’d spend another week travelling north through some of the southern islands of Thailand.

When I was in Kuala Lumpur just a few weeks ago getting the forth of my rabies shots, I had asked the doctor if I would be able to get the final shot in Langkawi, “No problem” the doctor said.

The morning of, final-shot day, I headed off to the local hospital. I just assumed that would be the easiest place to get it. I arrived and asked at the main desk who I can talk to about getting the shot. The two ladies at the front desk talked to each other then said I needed to go to a clinic in Kuah, another 20 minutes away.

Walking into the clinic was a completely different scene to the hospital. It was chaotic. There were people everywhere. Some were coughing, some were missing skin, presumably from motorcycle accidents, and there were kids crying all over the place. I asked a passing employee where I should go and they pointed to a nondescript desk in a corner.

It was a long wait, over an hour, eventually, my number was called and I saw a doctor, “How can I help you today?” He asked. I explained that I had been bitten by a dog back in Thailand and that I needed the final shot. The nurse and himself conversed and laughed with each other a couple of times, “We don’t have rabies shots on the island. Langkawi has been rabies free for many years” Super annoyed that I’d just wasted money and half a day to be told I can’t even get the shot, I said nothing, grabbed my passport and documentation from his hand and left.

It felt a bit like a cruel joke. It felt like I wasn’t welcome in this country. I just wanted to leave. However, there is still a lot to love about Malaysia. The scenery is beautiful, the transport options make it easy to get around, and there truly is a great variety of food to be tried.

I was trapped in my own negative mindset loops. Loneliness had taken hold of me. It had blinded me from the beauty of this country and its people. I did actually meet a few fellow travellers in Malaysia. I was also able to reconnect with an old friend from home. Looking back now, I realise, despite spending more time alone, I had some really great experiences in this country.

In Taiping, I walked into a packed out local Laksa restaurant where nobody spoke English, they had no menus, they just gave me a bowl of their finest Laksa. I sat on the edge of a small table with a family while they watched and analysed my every move. They tried to speak to me in Malay, I tried to respond in English, neither knew what was being said, but everyone was smiling and having a good time.

In Langkawi, I rented a motorbike and rode to the top of Gunung Raya Mountain. I was the only one on the twisty road to the top. Overrun by Monkeys, overgrown by greenery, and overwhelmed by stunning views in every which direction, my heart was content. It was one of my final days in Malaysia and as I sat and looked out over the island feeling like Simba, a king, I surprisingly felt like I would miss Malaysia.

Despite the struggles, I would do it all over again, there are many things I still want to do and see here. I knew now, that I can handle loneliness. I learned, instead of feeling sorry for myself, instead of trying to avoid the pain, I could embrace it. And for that, Malaysia, I am truly grateful. I will be back.

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