Well, technically, I guess you could say that.
|Monkey Beach, Penang National Park, Malaysia|
Two weeks ago, I crossed the Thailand-Malaysian border by land and rolled up to my quaint colonial-style guesthouse in Georgetown, Penang - a city that has earned the rightful title of a UNESCO World Heritage site - ready to fine tune my rusty ol' social skills.
Not even an hour after checking into my 12-bed mixed dorm, my dinner plans were set with a range of European travelers. While two girls were traveling together, the typical mix of a dormitory hostel consists of solo travelers just like myself, each with their own tale to tell.
By day, I explored the fascinating cultural diversity that is Malaysia with my new friends, constantly surrounded by languages and faces both from the East and West.
My only solo venture in Penang was a private cooking lesson where I learned the secret behind some of Malaysia's mind-blowing dishes. Upon arrival back to the hostel, stuffed to the brim, a new dorm mate offered me a ride on his rented motorbike for the afternoon before either of us even thought to exchange names. In other circumstances this might seem odd, but amongst travelers, names often are secondary to nationalities and travel tales.
|I made this! Orta Orta in the back (seafood tart steamed in banana leaves) and Chicken Curry Kapitan in the front (the perfect blend of Indian and Malay)|
For my next destination, the incredible Perhentian Islands were on my radar in a big way, but rumors were circulating among travelers that they were shutting down for the monsoon season. I wasn't brave enough to chance getting stuck on my own, but fate introduced native Swiss but half Thai Eric just in time to take on the adventure with me. While I've already made and learned so much from friends all over the world in only my first couple weeks of travel, Eric is definitely an individual that will always stand out in my mind. With the type of meaningful conversation that I seek, I was sorry to see him move on to catch his Bali-bound flight.
But as island life went on, it wasn't long before I found myself enrolled in scuba diving training and my new social circle for the week became the kind people at Quiver Diving who took me in as one of their own. As slow season was a brewing and my dive instructor knew I was budget conscious, he offered me a free mattress in the shop, accompanied with the not-so-luxurious public toilet and cold shower that I happily accepted. I spent the week getting my open water and advanced scuba certification, where I could be found befriending the incredible creatures in the South China Sea. On land, no mirrors or personal space meant no fussing over make-up or appearances - it was a refreshing week of being al natural. Timing worked out just so that I even hitched a ride with my diving instructor six hours southwest to my next destination, Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur (referred to as "KL").
|Right to left: Mark (my patient and experienced dive instructor), myself and Wong (dive master). |
Both are Chinese Malays who I spent the week learning about all things diving to Malaysia from.
|Hoikken Mee - it's as delicious as it looks!|
With a group new pals we got some post-bar "diner" food in Malaysia. While I personally would have rather had Malay food, they were eager to see how a "diner" style restaurant compared to the real deal in America (it didn't). Another fellow American traveler hailing from Virginia and now venturing around Asia searching for programming work joined our table. The expats and Malays commended our solo traveling efforts, but we mutually shrugged off the compliment as only solo travelers know it's really not that impressive- it actually takes more effort to travel with someone else for an extended period. To those that aren't familiar with solo travel, it may seem daunting and scary, but believe me when I say I'm joined by millions of other solo travelers who too have discovered one of life's greatest experiences.