Before coming to Malaysia, I will admit that I was a little apprehensive because I wasn't sure what it would be like to travel in a predominantly Muslim country. Sitting in Thailand, reading Lonely Planet Southeast Asia's extremely biased account on Malaysia, made me wonder what we were getting ourselves into. Turns out LP is wrong again. Why would they hire someone who apparently hates a country to write the chapter about it? Thankfully the first thing we did in Georgetown was trade LP SEA for LP Malaysia and it is much more positive.
And Malaysia is awesome! Maybe I should be thankful LP SEA hates on Malaysia since less travellers seem to come here. I actually like most of the Muslim aspects of Malaysia's culture.
Five times a day prayers are broadcast from mosques in every town. At sunset in California, I will miss the melancholic singing of sentences from the Koran. Plus, Muslim food is really delicious, except for the fact that it involves no bacon. And they are not as conservative as I might have feared. Some women wear headscarves, but not all of them. My favorite is girls who are very nicely, fashionably dressed and otherwise look like any other citydweller, then they have their headscarf. So far, no one has told me I was shamefully unmodest for wearing shorts (at least to my face and in English).
In addition to the daily prayer broadcasts, I have enjoyed the varied mosque architecture and almost every major town has an old Sultan Palace, constructed in traditional Malay styles. The British colonialists got a little carried away when they were building in Kuala Lumpur. A few too many cupolas and flourishes make the old railway station look more Russian than Malay. A few days ago we visited the Islamic Arts Museum and I learned a fair amount about Islam. Perhaps this is what Rick Steves means about travel as a political act.
There have been some downsides to traveling in an Islamic country, namely the lack of booze. Muslims don't drink alcohol and on the east coast where things are more conservative, 7/11 doesn't even sell beer! Our hostel had placed a handwritten sign in every room that said, 'We Have Beer," which made it seem like a speakeasy in the Prohibition. You would quietly ask the Chinese owner about the beer and hand over about $5. Then he would go into some hidden room and come back with a big bottle cold Tiger for you.
The other glaring difference is the occasional lady in full cover, not just the headscarf, but the full body scarf with a slit for eyes. A full body black robe sounds like a recipe for disaster when I can hardly sweat enough in shorts and a shirt, but maybe they are used to it. I think it would be harder to travel in the middle east or a country like Brunei where the majority of women wear the black robes because the language and culture barrier between you becomes almost physical.
Other than that, traveling in Malaysia has been awesome. Surprisingly, we have seen alot of European families traveling here. Who knew Malaysia was the hot spot for a little European summer vacation? Family or no, I would recommend Malaysia to pretty much anyone, assuming they like Chinese and Indian food.