As we approached the bridge from the mainland, heading to Penang (after crossing the border from Thailand to Malaysia), the sky seemed somewhat polluted and hazy... Was this the same haze that had hit Singapore, from Indonesia a few days ago? Hotel reception soon confirmed our suspicions but assured us the API (air pollution index) was well below 80, and safe.
Fortunately the highest reading was prior to our arrival and just 84 compared to the 750 experienced in Muar on the mainland.
Still, it was enough to have us debating over, whether to just to head back over the border and take our chances with the insurjents, rather than be exposed to the worst pollution that Malaysia has experienced in 16 years.
Reports of a change in wind and a heavy storm soon cleared the sky and by the following day we had experienced little more than a minor sore throat; which was more likely due to not drinking enough than the haze.
As I understand from recent news, the fires are no longer burning. Indonesia is left dealing with the fall out but at least it's now back on our list of potential destinations ;).
Similarly, so is Penang, at least as far as being a great place to hang out for a few days. The food here is simply amazing and after just a week, despite both of us having visited before, we will no doubt be considering another stop here in the future.
Read all about what we found Penang has to offer and how it has changed since our previous visits: Eating some amazing food
The main difference now being in Malaysia, after having been in Thailand for 6 weeks, is how well the different cultures and religions seem to mix here in Malaysia, in comparison. It seems to me that the issues experienced in the South of Thailand are the result of disputes between the Muslim and Buddhist communities there, and the governments insistence on maintaining a Buddhist lifestyle as the norm.
Here in Malaysia the Muslim religion is dominant, but the mix with the Buddhist, Hindu and Christian communities is vast. It's not uncommon to find a mosque in the same street as a temple - in fact, this seems to be to work well, even at prayer time when the call echoes around a temple grounds.
Behind the scenes there is no doubt more to understand, and conclude upon, whether the mix of religion is an issue or not, but it's not something I am keen to debate further here.
After Penang we headed to Langkawi. Outside of Kuah, the islands capital, everything is a little more segregated and spread out. Fridays is the Muslim holy day so everything is shut other than the malls and touristy areas.
I've been here before. Almost 10 years ago, and unfortunately have no positive memories to share. This visit really didn't change my view too much, but we were plagued with rain and bad luck generally, so I'll return to complete the related post when the dust has settled.