Everyone knows that hitchhiking is dangerous. In a lot of places it is even illegal to help protect your safety. As a young, and new traveler, I remember being very surprised when I read in my Lonely Planet guide-book that hitchhiking was a recommended form of transportation in Malaysia. Even after reading this, I avoided hitchhiking in Malaysia…until I got to the Cameron Highlands.
The Cameron Highlands had no buses, only taxi’s. My newly made friend- Eric and wanted to visit a strawberry farm and, as budget travelers, we decided to walk there. We weren’t exactly sure how far away it was. After walking some distance along the quiet road, the sentence from the lonely planet jumped into my head. I was with a male companion so I figured this was a better time than ever to try to hitchhike. I stuck out my thumb.
One car drove past us. The next car to approach us pulled over. I hadn’t had my thumb out for more than a couple of minutes and already we had a ride. It was a nice young man we chatted with for a bit until he dropped us off at our location and he continued on his way.
After a few hours of looking around the strawberry farm and drinking strawberry coffee (read more about the Cameron Highlands here) we decided to head back. This time, without any question, we decided to hitch a ride. I stuck out my thumb with confidence. This time the first car we saw pulled over. I couldn’t believe it!
Eric and I jumped into the car of a young Malaysian couple, Jason and Xenia. Xenia knew a bit of English because she studied in England. They were very sweet and warm and right away we loved them. They were on their way to meet some friends for lunch and invited us to come along. We happily accepted the invitation.
Imagine this cute Malaysian couple walking into a restaurant – all of their friends already seated – with two dirty backpacking foreigners tagging along. Yet, right away, everyone was very welcoming – despite us crashing their lunch date. They ordered all sorts of different Malaysian cuisine and we ate community style – with everyone eating from the same dish.
Lunch was so much fun and we felt very blessed to be so warmly received by the lovely people in this country. Through our conversation at lunch we found out that the couple was actually from a city two hours away called Ipoh. When we said our goodbyes, they told us that if we were ever passing through to let them know.
Ipoh wasn’t originally on our plan of places to see but after meeting them, Eric and I reconsidered. We looked up Ipoh in our guide-book (the same one that recommended hitchhiking) and it sounded like a pretty neat city. We decided to head there next.
The next day we spontaneously jumped on a bus and headed to Ipoh. I had completely forgot to let our new friends know that we were coming, so it wasn’t until we were on the bus that I sent them a text message.
They replied immediately inviting us to stay with them. They also asked what time our bus would be arriving so that they could come pick us up. This kindness was very unexpected. Sure enough, an hour later – as we arrived at the bus terminal -they were both standing there waiting for us. They had taken the day off of work just so that they could host us!
Jason drove us to his beautiful house where he had two spare bedrooms for Eric and I to stay. Then picked up Xenia’s young cousin, Sabrina, who was fluent in English because she actually lived in the U.S and was just visiting for the summer. Sabrina was the most bubbly and happy-go-lucky girl you could meet and she was the perfect addition because she could help translate for everyone.
While we were driving I noticed two tourists on the side of the road who looked lost as they were staring at a map. Then Eric noticed them too and exclaimed; “those are the people we met on the jungle trek we did!”
So we pulled over the car and asked them if they wanted to jump in. It was a German couple that had been on the same jungle trek as us a few days before, Lisa and Thomas. Next thing you know- this tiny car was packed full with two Germans, a Swede, Canadian, two Malaysians and a Malaysian/American.
Jason and Xenia were great and they toured us around Ipoh taking us to beautiful cave temples where they treated us to fresh cane juice served in plastic baggies with a straw. Next we went to a huge cave that you can take a walking tour through- it was lots of fun! We never would have been able to see so much in one day without them.
For dinner, Jason’s parents joined us. We went to a Hawker’s centre where there were food stalls selling a variety of strange dishes. Jason’s family ordered a million different things that I have never tried before – including Jellyfish. For dessert we had shaved ice with gooey green beans on top. I think it’s safe to say that I would have never ordered this on my own.
We followed up our unique and interesting dinner by visiting a vibrant night market. At the market we walked around and I bought some jewlery as a souvenir. I still have them to this day and every time I wear them, they remind me of this wonderful adventure.
The adventure didn’t end here though. The next morning before we had to leave, Jason and Xenia took Eric and I out for a dim sum breakfast. Dim Sum is technically a Chinese dish – but Malaysia has such a huge Chinese population that dim sum is basically a local dish here. The Dim Sum was good but it was a bit heavy and oily to try and digest first thing in the morning.
After “breakfast” we said our goodbye’s and Eric and I headed off.
It has been over five years since me sticking our my thumb in Malaysia turned into an truly memorable experience – with even more memorable people. Since then, I have gone to visit Lisa in Munich and we celebrated Oktoberfest together. Sabrina, the bubbly little cousin, isn’t so little anymore and I have her as a friend on Facebook.
As for Jason and Xenia, I still have them on Facebook so can keep in touch with them and see what they are up to. I have yet to meet up with them but I know that I will never forget them or the kindess they showed.