My perception of Malaysia shifted completely over the last 3 weeks. I’d thought it would be all about jungle, white sand beaches and Laksa – but most of the time we struggled to find good examples of those things (we found other great stuff instead, just not those).

Having been in Thailand for a week, I already feel more at home here – that is, more welcomed, my tourist dollar more appreciated – than I did in Malaysia. That’s not to say that we didn’t have a whale of a time – it just felt like a tourism industry that had fallen into disrepair, especially all the times we rocked up and the beaches were covered in half finished resorts and litter. Half of Malaysia seemed to be ‘closed for maintenance’ and the other half didn’t really care to understand why we were there or what we were trying to do (eg, camp).

I always felt as though it was an unfortunate timing thing, as though we’d turned up just as everyone was sitting down to dinner – but in retrospect, had we bothered to learn even the basics of the language, I’m sure things would have been a lot smoother.

People were super friendly and helpful once they got over the astonishment that we were driving around their country in a big orange car. But it felt as though sometimes it was easier for them to say ‘no’ so we’d get out of their shop/resort/way.

From a history/tourism perspective, it’s all about Malaysia’s colonial past – the Spaniah, Dutch and English. But despite a couple of old square buildings, nothing much remains to speak of colonial times. More obviously, it’s the Chinese, Indians and Malays who are actually there showing what’s at the heart of the Malaysian culture – making for an awesome food-fest.

Perhaps the jungle is more typical on Malaysian Borneo than on the Peninsula, but it’s still a lush landscape, and an impenetrable force as we found out.

Most of all, and its difficult to say this without sounding stupid, I was surprised at what a dominate force Islam is – every service station, shopping centre and hotel had a prayer room – and everyday was punctuated audibly by the mosque-o’clock call to prayer – wherever you were. For such an everyday thing, it marked my memory of Malaysia.

The highlight for me was definitely Kuala Lumpur, a really fun and buzzing city but a complete contrast to the sleepiness of the rest of the villages we visited. I loved the scenery of palm plantations and the jungle as we drove from the west to east coasts (about 4 times), I loved the fact that every second male was an official of some sort in an official looking uniform. And I even loved the fact that my perception was shifted – because that’s what this trip is all about. It reinforced to me how amazing an experience we’ve got ourselves in for – the freedom to go off the tourist trail and get our own unique perspective on wherever in the world we are.

Country 4. Tick!