By Mark Lean
Jan 26, 2021
OUR NORMALLY JETSETTING WRITERS MAY BE BOUND in by borders these days, but they’ve amassed enough intel on their home countries to last a lifetime. We asked five T+L contributors in five countries to tell us about the places they’ve been psyched to visit or would like to finally return without the rest of us pesky international tourists getting in the way. Basically, we asked them to think of domestic travel as the silver lining of pandemic prohibitions. (Just don’t tell them we’ll be booking immediately once we can use our passports again.)
Here’s our staycation bucket list for Malaysia, which has just reimplemented strict lockdown protocols, we report, “so my selections are definitely a wish list.”
Why listen to Mark?
Mark Lean, a T+L Southeast Asia contributor for more than 12 years, is currently based in his home country Malaysia. How does a travel journalist who’d previously spent almost every weekend in different cities around Asia cope with lockdown while avoiding the cliches? No, he didn’t get a dog or a cat, though he did kinda-sorta embark on a well-trod path to mindfulness. Like most curious writers, he is learning new ways of being inventive. This includes sacrilegiously adding jackfruit slices to cendol, a dessert composed of green jelly slivers, crushed ice, brown-sugar syrup and coconut milk. He also matches workouts with energy techniques that tap into the body’s innate strength — magical stuff. But as events of the past year show, the best approaches are the unexpected ones.
Mark’s 6 picks of Malaysia:
In the KL of two decades ago, an insider spot friends and I used to go to was Café Café, a refined joint that felt chintzy in large part because of its furniture, sourced from Parisian flea markets. The menu is equally French in personality — Café Café, now with its second outlet in Bangsar, promises sheer escapism, if only for the evening.
Funny Mountain Soya Bean
Up in former tin capital Ipoh, Funny Mountain Soya Bean is a streetside outlet that sells bowls of silkiest sweetened tofu pudding, and pre-pandemic the line of cars, a majority from out of town, would wrap ’round the block. My dad’s former office was located nearby, so each time I’m in the area I stop by for a bowl of nostalgia-laced tau fu fah — arguably the best one will ever taste. 50, Jalan Mustapa Al-bakri, Taman Jubilee, Ipoh.
For a Thai food fix, Erawan in KL is a classy and authentic alternative to YouTube-guided homemade green curry.
Like most people, I don’t just miss traveling. I also miss its rituals, the little things that offer familiarity when on the road. Le Meridien Kuala Lumpur, a minute’s walk from the KLIA Express was always (and hopefully will be again, soon) a convenient home base between trips. The staff is well acquainted with the quirks of road warriors, and will, for instance, graciously keep a bag with gym shoes to be collected after one’s next check in at the hotel. Or as one heads to catch the earliest of morning flights, the breakfast crew at Latest Recipe knows instinctively to carefully pack two strong coffees for takeaway.
A night out at Mizukami Highball run by Sean Chong, formerly of the award-winning speakeasy Omakase + Appreciate, is something to look forward to once things get back to (relative) normality. Their sake-laced cocktails are potent.
The Datai Langkawi, with its idyllic combination of beach and rainforest vibes, would make the ideal post-lockdown getaway — take me there already.
See our other Hometown Hit Lists from T+L insiders across the region: