You never know what you’re going to get when you arrive in a new country. We’ve found that those first few hours and even moments after emerging from the airport can entirely colour the way you feel about the place; while we immediately fell in love with Melbourne, for example, we just as instantly detested Jakarta. Unfortunately, those first few days in Jakarta really stained our whole experience in Indonesia, so I was nervous about what we’d encounter in our next destination. Would Malaysia be the tonic we needed to help us fall back in love with travel?
The Kindness of Strangers
“Welcome to Malaysia!”
The cry came from a mechanic in dirty overalls, peeking out of a garage as we walked the streets of Borneo at the beginning of our trip. At the time I was taken aback by this random display of hospitality but it turned out that the cheerful mechanic wasn’t just a one-off; everywhere we went in Malaysia we were greeted with broad smiles, kind words and offers of help.
From the family in the longhouse who welcomed us so warmly into their home to the woman in the Laundromat who insisted we join her for lunch, we were staggered by the kindness of the Malaysian people. During the course of our many adventures in Malaysia (of which I have much to write), we ended up having to rely on strangers for help and it was always willingly given. One girl we met arranged for her father to drive us all the way to a remote harbour when we discovered there weren’t any buses, while a longboat driver took us to stay at his family longhouse when we had nowhere else to go.
This kindness made a hugely positive impact on our travel experiences and reassured us that the world is a much friendlier place than we are often led to believe. Our time in Malaysia also taught us how we could be more welcoming to visitors in the UK – of all the tourists I used to walk past everyday in London, I don’t remember ever stopping to chat to any of them or ask if they needed help.
Falling in Love with Beautiful Borneo
It wasn’t just the people that amazed us in Malaysia; as we trekked through the wild jungles of Borneo, slept out under the stars and sailed along the rivers we fell in love with the country itself.
Although we set out in Borneo with the goal of glimpsing orangutans in the wild, our trip became, as they say, about the journey rather than the destination. It came to be about challenging ourselves to get off the beaten track; about learning to rely on the help of strangers and to trust that whatever happens and however long it takes: we’ll get there in the end, one footstep, bus ride or boat trip at a time.
So to you Malaysia, I say: Terima Kasih – Thank you.
Thank you to all the people who helped and showed us such kindness; to the beautiful jungles we trekked through and the winding rivers we sailed along, to the lessons we learned and the amazing adventures we had. Thank you Malaysia for helping us find joy in travel again. Throughout the three weeks we spent in the country, our freedom, which had often seemed too huge and incomprehensible to handle in Indonesia, became something to relish.