One day hitchhiking in Malaysia…smile!

I traveled solo to Cameron Highlands, Malaysia, but I soon met Daniella, an experienced solo female backpacker, who assured me that hitchhiking in Malaysia was not only easy and safe, but often the most efficient way to get around.

Near Tanah Rata, Malaysia.

The next morning, Daniella’s only advice was to smile. She turned to face traffic, started walking backward, and thumbed it with the most cartoonish, full-faced, crazy-person smile you can imagine. She looked like a hiker taking a triumphant selfie from the summit of Mount Contentment. And, let me emphasize: she’s walking backward. On the roadside. Not really a chill pastime. It tends to induce less smiling and more focus on avoiding oncoming semitrucks.

Anyway, I turned around and smiled too, and we were picked up by the third car. Known in the hitchhiking lexicon as the “Golden Taxi.” (Not really). It was an old pickup piloted by an elderly Malaysian couple. We had pleasant conversation in English and they dropped us at the trailhead.

The next day, I tried hitching alone. I was caked in dirt from the waist down after hiking a steep and muddy ridge trail through thick jungle, so I wasn’t expecting to get picked up, but, lo, it was only 20 minutes along this remote road before a family stopped and offered me a ride. They were packed into their car, but they still insisted on giving me the front seat and doubling up in back. I apologized for getting dirt on their seats.

They dropped me miles away from Tanah Rata, so I hitched another ride, this time from a fruit and vegetable trucker. This guy wanted nothing more than to talk about Premier League soccer. I had nothing to offer on the subject. Undeterred, he whipped out the sports section of a British newspaper, and so began my lesson on the state of English football. My lecturer had a contagious enthusiasm for the sport, but ironically he seemed also to be a bit deaf, so I absorbed his entire lesson at a volume that can only be described as raucous shouting.

All in all, I got 3 rides in Malaysia and my average wait time was 5 minutes, and I felt safe and welcome at every turn. 

I did hear a story about a male German hitchhiker who years earlier was abducted and gang raped by 3 Malaysian men. I was told this anecdotally, and I can neither confirm nor deny it. I can only say that it will certainly not deter me from hitchhiking the next time I visit southeast Asia. But, alas, if you’ve somehow arrived at this blog hoping to confirm your preexisting belief in the danger of hitchhiking, there you have it.

The muddy trail.


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