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Travel blog I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast, but I'm intercontinental and I eat French toast (Beastie Boys) | | | Photos available at www.istockphoto.com/georgeclerk

Malaysia, truly Asia

MALAYSIA | Wednesday, 18 March 2009 | Views [6132] | Comments [1]

I started off in Kuala Lumpur, and headed up to the Traders Skybar opposite the Petronas Towers, armed with camera and tripod, but I only managed to fire off a few snaps before a friendly waitress came over and told me that the use of a tripod up there was forbidden.  So I opted to have some (expensive) drinks instead, and ended up having a good time, meeting some great Malaysian and Indonesian locals.

From KL I headed to Taman Negara on buses, via a night in Temerloh.

Floating restaurants on the river opposite the national park entrance

Taman Negara is a national park about twice the size of Luxembourg.  Walking in the jungle was very hot and humid, and home to all sorts of wildlife, lots of butterflies, monkeys...

...Unbelievably big ants...

...And apparently some nasty hunting spiders.  This sign was near the start of some walking trails, and I reckon that it was meant as a suggestion to do the walks with a guide!  The park also has tigers, leopards, rhinos and elephants, but I think you have to venture quite far into the jungle for a chance to see any of those!

They have a long and excellent series of walkways, high up in the trees.  You can walk along and spy lots of wildlife and jungle below.

The view from Bukit Terisek.

Having got to Taman Negara by bus, I left by boat, on a journey down the river that took a bit longer than planned.  After about an hour, the heavens opened and we had half an hour of monsoon-style rain.  As we were drying off, the boat's motor spluttered and cut out.  It wouldn't restart, so we drifted down the river for a while, wondering if we were going to need to use the little paddle that was tied to the roof.  But we didn't need it in the end, because a boat eventually came upriver to tow us down the final bit to Kuala Tembeling.

Finally the clouds lifted, but it was still pouring

From there it was a short bus ride to Jerantut (right in the middle of the peninsular part of Malaysia), where I stayed for a night before catching a mail train on the 'Jungle Railway'.  It took over nine hours on the train to get to Kota Bharu, which is up on the north east cost, a few miles south of the Thai border.  We passed hours of thick jungle, with occasional tiny villages, and gigantic, hot-chocolate-coloured rivers.

The train went fairly slowly a lot of the time, and stopped in dozens of villages.  Some of the stops were for ages (time for a few creepy-crawlies to have a poke around the carriages), but that turned out to be because there's only one physical train track on the railway.  Use of the track is controlled by a token, which is passed between the drivers and controllers at some of the stations, so a fair bit of time was spent waiting for other trains to clear the tracks and pass over the token.

I stayed in Kota Bharu, which feels very different from Kuala Lumpur, partly because its population is almost completely Muslim and ethnically Malaysian, compared to Malaysia overall, which is a mixture of Malaysian, Indian and Chinese people (thanks to the British Empire).

From there I headed south down the coast, and out to the Perhentian Islands, which were a lovely mixture of clear water, sand, sunshine, and friendly people.

'Romantic Beach' on Perhentian Kecil

Long Beach, the main backpacker one

At 9am, there were thousands of these termites crossing the path on the ten minute walk through the jungle between Coral Bay and Long Beach, and when I came back at midday, there were still tonnes of them crossing...

Also on the path I saw some monitor lizards... the first one was massive, about the size of a child!  Honestly!!  This one was a lot smaller, but at least it did pause for a while for photos...

Pasir Petani beach

At the second place I stayed, the Watercolours Impiani (which was very good) on Perhentian Kecil's Pasir Petani beach, there seemed to be wildlife everywhere.  When I first went into my wooden hut, I was greeted by a brightly spotted frog which was living in the half open cistern of the loo.  Outside the hut (not at the same time, though!) I spotted a snake, the monitor lizard below, several big Golden Silk Orb-Weaver (thanks Wikipedia) spiders, which seem to be all over the jungly bits of Malaysia, funny little squirrels, little ghost crabs on the beach, lots of different butterflies and other insects of all descriptions - including the ones that start up about an hour before sunset, and make a very loud, high pitched screaming sound.

I wasn't using a telephoto lens, but since this spider was staying very still in the middle of its web, I managed to get brave enough to go really close to it.  The spider didn't seem bothered, but then suddenly it jolted into action and moved like a flash out of the viewfinder.  I jumped back quickly (obviously), much to the amusement of one of the guys who worked there...

... but thankfully it turned out that the spider hadn't jumped onto my head or shoulder or anything.  A bee had flown into the web, and the spider killed it quickly before wrapping it up in silk to eat later.

Perhentian Kecil, the smaller of the two main islands, is classed as the 'backpacker' one, and having spent five nights there, I went across the water to Besar for the last two nights, and was surprised to find that Mama's Chalets (which were excellent) were cheaper than either of the places I'd stayed on Kecil - 60 Ringgit, about £12 per night.   Having said that, on Kecil there were some very cheap huts available, from 20 Ringgit.

It wasn't all blue skies in the Perhentians - most mornings started off overcast, and then the cloud burned off in the afternoon.  But on the day before I was planning to leave, we had proper thunder and lightening, and torrential rain for several hours.

The rain didn't stop on the next day, and having got packed up and ready to take a motorboat back to the mainland at noon, it turned out that the boat wasn't coming, so I stayed for an extra night.  The huts were great, but they weren't posh enough to have aircon, so all of my stuff got damp and heavy - even things in the bottom of my bag.  But the hut was still a lot more dry than the jungle around it, and being in a corner plot, I got a good amount of animal visitors seeking refuge from the weather.  Some of them weren't very welcome, but I liked these geckos, which had made a home on the bathroom ceiling.  Those four things at the top left are their eggs that had been there for ages, two of them already hatched!

The next morning it was still raining, but the motorboat did come, so we all got completely soaked on the hour long crossing back to the mainland, especially the Swedish couple next to me, who were sitting in the direct line of the sea spray.  That was the start of an eleven hour journey down the coast to Kuantan.  After the boat and a short taxi ride to a town with a bus terminal, I had a two hour plus wait for a late bus, then a seven hour bus journey. 

The bus stopped at a roadside cafe for us to get some food, maybe some designer clothing!

Arriving in Kuantan, getting out of my still-wet clothes and into a hot shower - for the last six days on the Perhentian Islands I'd only had cold running water - seemed like a dream about to come true!  But unfortunately the water in the Kuantan hotel was cold too!  It wasn't until I'd had the shower and was getting dressed that I realised there was a switch in the room to turn on the hot water - Duh!!


The next day I got a bus to Kuala Lumpur and had a stroke of luck.  I was quite late checking into a hotel, and the receptionists had a long discussion about which room to put me in, before asking if I wanted to pay 40USD to upgrade to a superior, twin towers view room.  I said no, but clearly there were no other rooms available, so they had to give me the upgrade for free!  So I had a room with an obscenely big bed, marble everywhere and all the other trimmings.  I celebrated with a beer from the minibar in the massive bath!  It was my first beer since leaving Kuala Lumpur over two weeks ago.  Alcohol isn't widely available in NE Malaysia, though you can it find fairly easily if you make the effort.  Also, it seems to be about the only thing in Malaysia that's heavily taxed, so after a fortnight of detox, a cold can of Carlsberg in a hot bath was very welcome!


All photos © George Clerk.  All rights reserved.  Licenses available at www.istockphoto.com/resonants or please contact me at photos@foogaloo.com

If anybody wants a proper, full resolution copy of one of the pictures in this blog, email me at photos@foogaloo.com, and I'll send you a code for iStockphoto which will give you ten free credits when you sign up.  You may well find better pictures among the 4.5 million there, and decide to download them for free instead!  Not all the pictures here are on the site yet, but when I'm home I'll be (eventually) uploading most of the ones that aren't.

Tags: kuala lumpur, malaysia, perhentian islands, taman negara




I'm glad you broke the law and used a tripod, your photo of the Petronas towers is spectacular!

  Ken Vyhmeister Mar 23, 2009 9:28 AM



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