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Our world Travel On 10th May 2007 I fled the UK on a journey around the world with a long list of places to go. Got as far as the Philippines where I met my wife. We got married on 11th May 2010 and are now sharing the experiences of travelling the world together

Enter Malaysia and on to Cameron Highlands

MALAYSIA | Sunday, 19 October 2008 | Views [1783]

Wed 15th Oct - A ridiculously early pick-up at 6:20am from the Blue Ba You, with a stop for a change of minibus in Krabi. Easy journey from there south to Hat Yai, where we had another change of minibus to a different tour operator and lunch. Immigration registration cards for Malaysia were issued here to fill in to speed things up at the border. Set off again at 12am towards the border at Sadoa, where we exit Thailand at a small kiosk, getting there by 12:45. Off with the baggage as we had to go through security scanning and customs clearance after passport control to enter Malaysia (given 90 days visa). Took about an hour to clear through customs. As soon as you enter Malaysia, the differences in language become noticeable, with signage in three languages of English, Chinese and Malay.

After a few hours of comfortable roads and sub-tropical scenery, we arrived at the Penang Georgetown com-ta bus station. First thing was to get some currency, and fotunately the Maybank branch is next to the station. Changed my Thai baht (9.58 baht = 1 ringgit)  and got some more from an ATM, currently exchanging at about $1 = 3.5 Ringgits (1 ringgit = 100 Sen with coins 5, 10, 20 and 50 sen).

It had been suggested that we aim for the north part of the island and a small place called Teluk Bahar. Buse fares are distance related and paid to the driver on entrance (enter front, exit rear), RM2.5 on bus 101 to Teluk Bahar. Got off at roundabout and asked directions to Miss Loh's guest house. It was dark but got there eventually. Miss Loh supposed to be a bit eccentric, and worth meeting. She unfortunately doesn't live there, but can be found at building 159 on the main road by the roundabout. One of the residents was there to show us around. A very basic place for RM30, so moved on and look for something better. Ended up at the Hot Bay motel for RM 55 after some bargaining from RM 80.

First few observations about my first day in Malaysia....

1hr time zone change forward to GMT+7 relative to Thailand. Not surprisingly they drive on left, as in Thailand following the British colonial days. Another legacy of that era is that they use the British electrical 3-pin rectangular sockets. Plenty of English speakers so far!

A disappointing sight on the bus from Georgetown of KFC, McDonalds, Starbucks, Pizza hut, seven-eleven etc... Cannot escape these places!

Muslim is the national religion and so almost all women wear head scarves and full length clothing, although there are many western Asian women here too. There is a high Indian presence as well as Chinese, with anglicized signs everywhere.

 

After settling into our rather featureless room, time to find out what food is on offer....nothing to exciting being that we are in a small fishing village community...no beer (typical of Muslim communities), but good food similar to when I was in India. Later got a beer from another place and sat on beach to drink it, listening to waves and taking in the first day in a new country.. Always an exciting time.

Later in the evening the rains started and carried on throughout the night with great force. Sounded like the roof was going to fall in at one point, it was so loud.

 

Thu 16th Oct - Malay breakfast of rice, spiced veg, curried chicken and sweet milky tea. Teluk Bahar is only a short 20 minute Walk to Penang National Park through the fishing village. A lovely rickety wooden jetty winds its way through the old boats and beautiful green/blue water to offer a superb view of this idyllic little place...so much nicer in daylight than it appeared last night.

The park is free entry but you have to sign in at the entrance lodge. Two possible routes. We took the coastal route to Monkey beach which has some boardwalks in parts. A really nice stretch near to the beginning has picnic tables set out on small piers with a lovely view out to sea and small floating huts.

Shortly after entering the park we saw some monkeys close to us in the trees, but they were very timid and soon disappeared.

Monkey beach was initially deserted and quiet, apart from us and a Muslim couple. He was in normal swimming shorts, but she was fully covered from head to foot in swimwear and headscarf, something that is so evident in this Muslim dominated country.

 

Later the beach filled with a large group of students between 11 and 13 years old, who were from all over Malaysia on a science development week, sponsored by the government, They soon set up a rocket experiment on the jetty with missiles made from coke bottles and launched with compressed air. I got talking to one of the professors who said the students were expected to return to their own schools and pass on their knowledge to fellow students. Each year a different part of the country was chosen and a diverse range of subjects covered. Later in the day, they were learning about astronomy and studying stars and had also been making solar powered boats.

A brief stop at the 'Restaurant at the end of the world' for a glass of Lemon wheatgrass drink. Sounds great doesn't it? Shame that it is a rather unimposing place as it could be made great with a name like that.

Went for a walk on the beach to see the sun set, which was colourful. To get to the beach was a track down the side of a massive five star looking hotel that has been deserted and surrounded by an ugly steel fence. Apart from the security staff, no other sign of life. There must have been a thousand rooms and amazing to see it shut down. Not sure how long ago, but within the past 5 years I reckon. It must have been a massive employer here and the loss to the area would have been tremendous.

The water world restaurant for for a fishy dinner... the busiest place in town.

Soon after sunset the beach came alive with crabs scurrying around for food. Had to head back early as the rain had started again and if last night was anything to go by, it was going to get much heavier. It didn't disappoint, and was soon throwing it down.

 

Fri 17th Oct - Slept like a baby last night and didn't wake up until 10am. Had planned to move on today as Victoria has only got 10 days or so before having to head back to Thailand. On my list of places to visit is the 'Cameron Highlands' area in the central peninsula. No great pressure to get there in a hurry, so had an Indian breakfast of Masala dosa with daal and sweet tea...note that we haven't seen any English food yet! The main connection point for getting anywhere from here is at Butterworth, over on the mainland. The 101 bus that passes through Teluk Bahar goes to the jetty for the ferry across to Butterworth, and took over an hour to get there (2.5RM) and stops right next to the ferry entrance. The ferry across is free...you only pay to come from Butterworth to Penang. The crossing only takes about 8 minutes or so. The view of Georgetown on Penang from the ferry is quite attractive, but across to Butterworth a bit of a non-entity. At the end of the walkway off the boat is the local bus station, but we needed to aim for the long distance bus station, which is ahead down the escalator. Lucky at the bottom was the usual touts as expected.

The Cameron Highlands is accessible from Ipoh on the main southern highway to Kuala Lumpur, but the better place to aim for was supposed to be Tanah Rata. Only one bus company at stand 19 seemed to go direct there, and fortunately there was a bus leaving at 2:30pm for 36 Ringgits, which gave us enough time to find an ATM (across the road is a standard charter bank) and have lunch. Found a nice Indian café for a chicken biryani. This is one of the unexpected things here...shouldn't be any surprise to find such a high presence of Indian people and consequently food amongst the Muslim and Chinese population.

One of the most comfortable buses in a while, classed as a 'Super VIP', with wide reclining seats and lots of legroom. Arrived at Tanah Rata bus station in the dark at about 8pm. Expected there to be a flood of touts trying to push their hotels, but there wasn’t. The only presence was a guy calling out for the ‘Father’s Guest House’, so we all jumped into the minivan that he had and within a couple of minutes had set off. As it was dark, didn’t get much opportunity to see what this place had to offer, but it had been a long day so just wanted to get settled into a room. As it turned out, the Father’s Guest House is an excellent place, offering mainly budget accommodation, but in a superb location and great atmosphere. As it was busy we had to accept the only rooms they had left and sort it out tomorrow. The dorms are like Nissan huts from the war era, basic but enough, with shared bathroom facilities. One great thing about backpacker places is that you get the home comforts that aren’t offered in other places. Dinner included warm tomato soup, good food, fresh coffee and tea plus all of the information needed to plan out our few days here.

 

Sat 18th Oct – A nice gentle start to the day and found that we had been lucky to land in a really beautiful location that we hadn’t appreciated in the dark last night. Another overdose of comfort with a nice breakfast before planning the day’s activities. One of the highlights of this visit for me will come tomorrow with a visit to see the rare Rafflesia flower…More on that tomorrow. For today, we decided to go on a trek on one of the many routes that criss-cross the area. An introduction to the Cameron Highlands….

The area was named after the British government surveyor William Cameron who discovered this area during a mapping expedition in 1855 of the Titiwangsa range. The british being the way we are, weren’t too happy in the hot humid climates that are normal in the lowlands for much of the year and so developed the area as a hill station, being much cooler. Along with that development came the things that make it for us…must have tea, and the altitude favoured the growth of tea, so the whole area is now a wonderful carpet of tea plantations, the first being the BOH plantation developed by John Archibald Russell. The area is also a fertile mass of vegetable plots and fruit orchards and that joy of joys…strawberries…everywhere.

Amongst the many alternative walks available, we chose route 9A which would take a couple of hours or so and finish at a convenient place to hopefully get some transport back to town. It rained a fair bit during the walk, but that didn’t matter as there was so much to see and rain adds so much to the lighting effects and the luscious nature of the vegetation. Numerous orchids cling to the trees and fern walls. Graceful mammoth tree ferns dominate large rifts in the grounds giving a feel of Jurassic park.

After the walk we hit the main road back to town with a stop soon at an apiary. Honey farms are numerous and one of the guys showed us the honeycombs and allowed us to dip our fingers into the fresh honey on one. Didn’t hang around much as the bees were swarming and not talking any risks. Across the road and an Orchid nursery, a good respite from the deluge that then commenced.

Hiked back towards town for a short while before deciding that I really had to stop for Tiffin…for the non-brits out there….afternoon tea complete with scones and fresh strawberry jam and cream, washed down with Indian Masala Chai, and sat overlooking an awesome carpet of tea plantations, flanking a fast flowing river in the valley below. The weather had cleared by this stage and the spectacle before us was magic. Afternoon tea overlooking a tea plantation in Malaysia…it’s a tough life!

Hitch-hiked the rest of the way back to town in the back of a pick-up truck and a nice shower and fresh clothes.

 

Sun 19th Oct – Booked onto a full day trek to see one of the world’s rarest flowers, the Rafflesia. Its main claim to fame is for being the world’s largest flower and only opens for short periods of time, maybe 6 or 7 days. There are many varieties, predominantly spread across the south-east Asian countries. Our guide for the day was in a poor state when he arrived, with a stomach upset and feeling nauseous. Felt sorry for him considering it was going to be a hot and long walk. There were three of us… myself, Victoria a girl from Canada plus the guide.

Didn’t take too long to get to the drop off point for the walk by minivan, where we picked up another local guide. A couple of hours relatively easy trek through the jungle and muddy tracks, with some nice bits of useful information along the way about the medicinal uses of some of the plants. The main highlight though was reaching the Rafflesia flower. Within a small area of a few metres square, there was one flower that had been open for 2 days, one for 3 days, one that was past it and a couple growing. As they grow, they are dark ball shaped and can easily be missed. Opening takes upto 2 days, but once open they are amazing. The best one was about 0.7metre across and an apricot colour, marked with mottled interior and leathery textured leaves. It does look like something from a science fiction movie or the ‘Little shop of horrors’.

The return walk was good and we didn’t hang around as the rains were expected sometime early afternoon. As it turned out, they never happened at all, to our advantage. A stop at a waterfall for a freshen up and to get rid of some of the mud and an interesting stop at the end of the trail to see an aborigine village. We were shown a blow-pipe demonstration and then had a go ourselves, just to prove how useless we were at it!

Next on the trip was the BOH Sungai palace tea Plantation, with a quick tour of the factory and a lunch stop. What was interesting was that they don’t pick the leaves by hand here, as I had seen in India and Sri Lanka, but use a form of hedge trimmer skimmed along the surface of the bushes by two people. They reckon it increases the yield, but the main problem is the poor quality of the crop. Normal hand-picking would only pick the new growth, whereas the machine method isn’t selective and picks old growth too, leading to poorer quality tea requiring more grading also. A high proportion of the tea goes to Japan apparently.

Next stop the Kea Farm butterfly farm. Some enormous butterflies with gorgeous markings, but the highlight for me was the insect section. I got to hold a scorpion, a number of species of leaf insects and some large bugs, and a decent sized millipede. Fresh strawberries from a farm on the way back ended the day’s trek off nicely. It had been a great day, full of interesting stuff and friendly company.

The Father’s Guest House doesn’t do food on a Sunday evening. Not surprising as the poor guy in the kitchen was heading for a breakdown when we saw him, rushed off his feet most of the time. Fortunately, the main square in town has a nice market set up until around 9pm, so managed to get some good food from the stalls. It started lashing it down again and so had to run for cover. We move on to Taman Negara tomorrow and it had been suggested that we take some snack food and dried fruit with us for trekking, so managed to pick up some things from another of the stalls.

Finished off the evening listening to the torrential rain overlaid with thunder rolling and the sky glowing with the occasional flash of lightening plus the sounds of Johnny Cash from the traveller’s pub…Am I in Malaysia?

 

That’s all for now………

 

 

 

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