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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

Cameron Highlands to Singapore

SINGAPORE | Tuesday, 28 October 2008 | Views [2802]

Mon 20th Oct -  The Father's Guest House has been excellent, and for anyone on a budget an ideal place to be located.

Booked a minibus to Taman Negara leaving at 10:30am. Just three of us on the trip, so plenty of space and comfortable. The weather today was beautiful; Blue sky, wispy clouds and some of the best scenery that Malaysia has to offer. This whole area is a verdant fertile garden, full of a diverse eco-system that is interesting to drive through.

We were heading north out of the highlands and then east, with a stop for lunch at Gua Musang, where we also changed to another minivan that was doing the journey in the opposite direction. One interesting reminder later about the fact we are in a Muslim country...a fuel stop at a service station was a bit confusing for the girls as the toilets were adjacent to prayer rooms, all segregated of course, so the ladies toilet door was adjacent to the ladies prayer room. For the unsure, the symbols on the door could be confusing...the prayer room is a lady wearing a scarf!

 

The minibus terminated atJerantut at a tour office. I am always apprehensive about this as they seem to have sown up their business arrangements to the point where you feel you have lost our freedom of choice. You are also expected to book your exit from the area before you have arrived! As it turns out, this isn't a bad thing in this case, but not essential as there are travel agents in Kuala Tahan ( the town on the other side of the river to the Taman Negara park).

As it was late when we arrived, didn't want to spend much time in the dark sorting out accommodation and finished at the 'Tahan Guest House' for 40 Ringgits a night. The rooms have funky painted surfaces and a relaxed feel. No food or drink available here though.

Kuala Tahan has No beer as this is a Muslim town, with one exception, notably the Woodlands hotel. The downside is that they can charge what they like for it and a small can is extortion at 10 ringgits!

Meal at the LBK restaurant where we were told there would be a video presentation about the park at 8pm. This was a scam as the video wasn't shown as they wanted to watch a TV programme instead. After the meal we stopped at the Liana Guest House for a drink and played guitar with the locals for a while.

 

Tue 21st Oct - Victoria's birthday today. Woken up at 4:30am by the muezzin call from mosque next door. Hamid who owns the Tahan Guest House is also the muezzin! It had been raining heavily all night and so sleep was disturbed quite a lot.

No breakfast available at the guest house, so ate at one of the floating restaurants. Not too impressive but enough. 1 ringgit for the boat crossing to the head quarters where there is also a spa and restaurant plus the most expensive minimart in the area. 5 ringgits for a bottle of water, although you do get 1 ringgit back if you return the empty!

1.5km walk, partly on raised pathways with sign boards giving information about the flora and fauna of the jungle. The 'Canopy walk' was excellent. A maximum height above the jungle floor of 45 metres and a great view of the treetops. Some of the creepers are amazing considering the distances they cover.

A further steep climb for nearly 1km to reach Bukit Teresek at 344 metres. A great view and managed to see plenty of colourful birds. Within minutes of starting the descent, the rains began and the deluge was immense. We had brought umbrellas. Of course, being in a rainforest in these conditions meant that the leeches were out in force. Victoria got attacked first, with one attached behind one of her knees. Tried to burn it off with a lighter, but that didn't work, so had to pull it off, which normally means it itching for a while. Within the next 10 minutes we had both been prey for the leeches in search of fresh blood, and your clothes and socks soon take on the added colour of red streaks. They appear from everywhere and aren't always obvious, being quite small until they swell up from their human dinner! Victoria was proud of the river of blood flowing down her legs...some grizzly photos!

Nice to get back to the guest house for a shower and fresh clothes and count the leech bites!

 

We had met an Austrian girl and a couple from Holland who joined us for a nice meal at one of the floating restaurants. It is frustrating here to not be able to buy any alcohol. I managed to find a bottle of non-alcoholic champagne in Talah Rata to bring for Victoria's birthday...Not very exciting but all I could find.

On the way back there was accompaniment from what sounded like loud donkeys braying. Turned out to be bullfrogs puffing out their throats. We found a couple hiding close to one of the large drain pipes that gave it the loud echoing sound. Light brown with dark spots and the throat speckled with white.

 

Wed 22nd Oct - Another night of torrential rain, which has become the normal. Fortunately, the sun was now shining and so we decided to head out for another jungle trek. Instead of going over to the park headquarters landing pier, we went to the western pier to head towards Lubok Simpon. From getting of at the jetty it is organized different than the more popular side we were on yesterday. As it turned out, we didn't see another trekker all the time we were there, which was bliss...just us and the sounds and sights of the jungle. About five minutes into the walk and I spotted a viper slithering along with a mouse in its mouth, so ran after it to catch a photograph. Yippee, that was an exciting start! A fairly steep climb to the top of the hill through this primeval jungle...did I mention that this is claimed to be the oldest jungle on earth at over 130 million years! Further on and a surprise, not marked on any signs or the map, we came upon an Asli aborigine village. They were going about their daily business of collecting water, making things and  just living the way they must have done for many generations. One thing became obvious...they didn't like us being there. Either that or they are always miserable? No smiles or welcoming gestures like we have been used to in all of the other villages we have encountered on our travels. Another notable thing was that they all had tight curly hair. The Malays we had met so far were more Indian in features and hair...dark and straight. They were also darker and more rugged in skin complexion than others. As we got the feeling we were encroaching on their privacy, we didn't stay long as you have to be sensitive to people and not make them feel uncomfortable.

On the way back, another stroke of luck by spotting a scorpion scurrying around in the undergrowth. Time to play with it and get some nice photos...excellent! Soon afterward we had some lizards cross our path. Firstly, a 2m stocky lizard that flew off into the growth when we approached, and then a more approachable smaller one that we managed to track for a while.

We hadn't seen much yesterday by comparison with today, and I wonder whether the higher volume of people on the other side of the river has frightened most of the wildlife away?

As we had got caught out yesterday by mis-judging the onset of the rain, we were more cautious today and turned back early. Back on the other side of the river and having something to eat, it was amazing to see a crowd of maybe three hundred people appear at the steps of the head quarters on the other side of the river. Over about three quarters of an hour they were bundled into boats in what seemed like rush our in the jungle. It was awful to see so many people in one group and thankful that they weren't here yesterday or on the other side of the river we had been this morning. It would have been hell to have the tranquility of the jungle shattered by such a hoard. We had been lucky to escape!

A short while later and the sky did its usual and opened up big style...it bucketed it down through the night again. It was getting to the point where we had no useable clothes left to wear. All we had was filthy and soaked, with no way of drying any of it out. Resigned to the fact that we had to wear badly soiled clothes for our trip tomorrow.

 

Thu 23rd Oct - Back out of the jungle today and off to Kuala Lumpur, the country's capital. First thing was to catch the boat upstream to Kuala Tembeling. We had booked an open ended ticket for this in Jerantut on our way here. The boat we were due on was to leave from the LBK restaurant. Easy when the water was low! With the amount of rain that had fallen recently, the river had risen and made a more challenging place to reach, having to climb down a muddy embankment. All part of the adventure....the narrow boat left on time at 9am. The two hour journey is attractive, but not much sign of wildlife. A few birds buried in the trees, but otherwise quiet. At Kuala Tembeling we transferred to the waiting mini-coach that took us to the transfer stop in Jerantut, where we lunched for an hour before taking the bus at 1pm to Kuala Lumpur. Jerantut isn't the sort of place where you stay unless you have to. There are a couple of interesting mosques, one we quickly visited has blue spires and a bright gold dome that looked superb against the clear blue sky.

The bus dropped us at the Mandarin Pacific hotel, right in the centre of KL's interesting Chinatown district. Looked at a few cheap options for accommodation, and most were dire. You don't get much for your money here. 45 ringgits gets a grotty little box with zero character and well faded surroundings. Settled on the fullmoon guest house only because we got bored looking and needed somewhere.

After checking in, headed for the bus station to sort our means of escape. Victoria is going north back to Thailand and I’m going south to Melaka on my way to Singapore. The bus station is the usual mass of ticket windows, so you have to shop around for the best deal and timing. Sorted my bus for Saturday mid-day for 12.2 ringgits.

Out to explore the area and spent most of the time clothes shopping in the Chinese market in Petaling street. Incessant hawking for business from the tightly packed stalls, but no problems as it is all very friendly. The starting prices are way too high and so haggling is essential as normal. Needed a break from the shops and headed for a meal to the Reggae bar. Good music and great food.

The rooftop where we are staying is a good vantage point at night to see the pretty KL Tower. Not the highest in town....that label goes to the dominating Petronas towers, that we hope to visit tomorrow.

 

Fri 24th Oct - I had been forewarned to get to the Petronas towers by 8:30am to get a ticket and the first entry is a 10:15. Entry is free but they limit the amount of tickets issued and you only get 15 minutes on the 'Skybridge' at the 42nd level. The queue was massive when we got there and the electronic sign adjacent to the reception said they were issuing tickets for the 10:15 visit with only 26t people per visit. By the time we got to the ticket desk they were up to 11:45am! We had decided to move to a different guest house as the fullmoon wasn't what we were after and had to check out at noon. Got tickets for the 2:30pm visit instead to give us plenty of time to get sorted.

Petronas - Petroliam Nasional Berhad. Officially opened on 31st August 1999 and taking over 6 years to construct. At 452m above street level and comprising 88 storeys, the Petronas twin towers are home to Malaysia's national oil company and the design is a fantastic combination of stainless steel and glass with stepped design topped by a sleek ball final. The floor plan of each tower is based on the Islamic geometric shape of two interlocking squares, creating an eight point star. This reflects the islamic principle of unity, harmony, stability and rationality. The skybridge at the 42nd level serves as a safety escape for the people in the alternate tower ad 'floats' between the two on roller balls. They used to be the tallest structure in the world until 'Building 101' was built in Taipei.

The walk we took to the towers went through a very up market nightlife area but we chose a different route on the way back that went through 'Little India'. It is exactly as it is called, I was back in Bombay! In a couple of days time on October 27th is Deepavali, otherwise called the 'Festival of Lights', a major event in the Hindu calendar. Last year I was in Shimla in India for what they call Diwali, so this brings back great memories of that time. Time for breakfast and so Masala Dosa was in order, washed down with Masala Chai...aaahhh...good to be back in India!

The streets were full of so many traditional snacks and sweets that are part of the forthcoming festival and the colourful flowers and gifts were also in abundance. Another thing very remindful of being in India was the way that people wobble their heads when they talk to you. Magic people and a rich culture.

Moved to a great new guest house in Chinatown called the Grocer's Inn. From the outside, tucked away down an alley in amongst a street food area it isn't an outstanding place....inside however, and it is wonderful. Clean and full of character with nice rooms and antique furniture, organised around an open stairwell, I would recommend it highly. Prices are a little higher, but K.L. Is an expensive city anyway.

Back to Petronas in the afternoon and went in to the public gallery first which shows all you need to know about the construction of the towers with a video of the building process. There is also a nifty little height scanner which measures your height and tells you how many times your height the towers are (i'm 1.72m and they are 263 times my height). At the allocated time visitors are ushered into a video room to watch a short presentation and then split into two groups, one with red passes and the other with blue. Each group goes up in a separate lift and the ascent only takes a minute or so. Your 15 minute visit on the bridge is enough but the view is excellent. It is a shame that public cannot ascend to the 88th floor :-(

Back down at ground leel after and interesting visit and decided to try out some of KL's transport. First the KL Metro from KLCC to KL Sentral. Only 1.6 ringgits and very much the same as most modern underground metros across asia. Super efficient with easy ticket machines that give change. Touch screen selection of destination and easy maps to follow. At Sentral I wanted to use the monorail which is in a separate building across the road. Another 1.6 ringitts for 3 stops to Huang Tuan. Smooth and comfortable ride in fully packed wide carriages. Picked another route back into town from there which seemed to go past a police reclaimed goods compound. Full of old motorbikes, cars, stacks of computer goods etc. All overgrown with weeds and looked to have been there for many years.

Neede a break as it had been a long day and, as this was to be the last night together for Victoria and myself, we wanted to make it a good one and hit the town later. Had been told that we should aim for 'Bukit Bintang'. Was going to get a taxi, but the roads were gridlocked and would have taken an hour to do what took us under half an hour to walk. The Bukit Bintang road is otherwise referred to as the 'Bintang Walk', and is crammed with superb places to eat, massage places, bars and clubs and a great buzz. Had a superb steak dinner at the Ship Inn. The staff are dressed in sailor costume and there is a 3-button buzzer system for when you want either service, a menu or the bill. Best

Meal in a long time and good wine. Next door and upstairs is the 'Funtheque' bar, with a stage playing live music and a vaudeville style caberet/drag act that was fun. Also a pickup bar, so a mixed atmosphere!

Next stop Planet Hollywood for a beer and a Sheesha pipe. Had a nice blend of peppermint and grape, which was mellow. 30 ringgits and topped up as long as you want to stay. Had done this a few times in Syria, Egypt and Morocco. It is widespread here, being part of the Muslim culture, relaxing and different from anywhere else in Asia.

Back onto Bukit walk bumped into a guy we had seen a few times over the past day or so. Told us of some dodgy relationship he was in with his 'princess', where he had to get out of the country as she was in trouble. Could read between the lines and could see many possibilities as to the truth of his situation.

Heard some Latin music playing down one of the side streets so went to investigate...a good live band playing nice music with nobody dancing. Decided to entertain the locals a little by us salsa dancing along. Got some applause from the onlookers, who had probably never seen this sort of dancing before. I did expect there to be many dance clubs here, but they are spread out and we didn't find any. A great day with so much done. A god end to our time together.

 

Sat 25th Oct - Time to move on to Melaka. Booked on a bus leaving at noon from the Pudu Raya bus station a few minutes walk from the guest house. Victoria is going north back to Thailand to meet up with her daughter and family for three weeks. One of her daughter's babies she has never seen in the flesh other than on webcam, so she will be happy playing grandma for a short while. We have had a really nice time together since meeting up again in Ao Nang in Thailand, and it is sad to be parting company again. This is something we are used to now, but don't know when or where we will se each other again. Probably next year in Australia, but that will evolve?

It has also been a time recently of reminders that I am missing my children back in the UK. They are growing up fast, and communication hasn't been that easy recently.

Arrived in Melaka at 2pm after a smooth ride. The roads in Malaysia are well designed and spacious although there seemed to be a lot of traffic about today.

Got to Melaka Sentral at 2:30 and as usual a tout approached with a leaflet for a place in town. Had no real preference so thought I would give it a try. Bus 17 is one of those panorama buses that costs only 1 ringgit flat fee for any journey and hop on-hop off throughout the day. Didn't take long to find a place and ended up bumping into a girl from Germany who wanted to share a room so that worked out well. Settled in and then hit the town for an explore. Melaka is a surprising city. Full of great sights to see. Some great food too of every nationality. Walked to the waterfront to watch the sunset. A big ferris wheel is lying dormant on the neck to the Melaka straits. Not sure whether it has ever been used? On to town and the 'Menara Tamingsari' tower, the only rotating tower in Malaysia. At 80m high it has a view of around 5km. At night the streets of Melaka come alive and are punctuated by the pretty cycle rickshaws that are uniquely decorated by their owners, many with flashing neon lighting and music. They are the Malaysian equivalent of the Manila Jeepney in the Philippines. Took a ride in one to the amazing Jonker street night market. Closed to traffic, it is a superb place for shopping, eating and entertainment. At the start of the street was a street show by the guy who reached the Malaysian Book of Records for stabbing hid finger through a coconut and right into the inner. Anyone who has ever fealt the outer skin on a coconut will know how hard they are and at about 3cm thick plus the coconut shell itself, it is a tough thing to do. The showmanship was funny, and he played the audience well...and managed to fit into his act selling an oil treatment for failing joints and a lotion for soothing pains. There had to be a catch somewhere!

So many surprises along this street...a couple of karaoke halls in antique style buildings...a line dance being run in another hall to Latin music...amazing range of food from the stalls. Some great bars too so sat for a beer in one that started playing Latin music. Got up to dance with a lady that I had seen dancing earlier, so that was nice. Next off to the excellent Limau-Limau café for one of the best smoothies I have had in a long while.

The walk back to the guest house was attractive. This is a city of beauty and architecture dominated by Portuguese, Dutch, British and Chinese styles. On the water is a large mock galleon. Tomorrow should be an interesting day.

 

Sun 26th Oct - A busy day head as there seems a lot to see. Eating and drinking here is better than anywhere else I have been in Malaysia so far, and you can get decent coffee for a change. After breakfast headed to the St. Paul's church on the hill, the highest land point in town and offering a superb view of the sea and the Galleon in the dock. Next, to the Stadthuys, the original town hall from the Portuguese days and deceiving from the outside. It is massive and so much to see and learn about the history of the area that I got overload and had to give up well before finishing it. In front of the Stadthuys is the town square, where the pretty trishaws congregate. Along with the colourful planting and lollipop trees, it is an attractive setting to sit and people watch, as the malays are beautiful people.

 

Decided on a change of environment and took a boat trip down the river from by the tourist information building for 10 ringgits. We were lucky to have an excellent guide on board. Much to see...unesco has donated a major sum of money to the development of the river front. Every building is being restored to its early design and traditional Malay houses are being replaced as authentic as possible. Wildlife is evident with water lizards, mud skipper fish and a number of bird species. A walkway/boardwalk is being built that is due for completion by 2010 that is flanked by numerous cafes and restaurants. When complete it will allow a continuous path up to 20km long. Numerous films have been shot along its length and it is easy to see why, as it has that worn period charming character.

Away from the busy area of the town square is the nice Taman Bunga Merdeka park....somewhere to get out of the stifling heat and relax under a tree for a while and absorb the day. They have a couple of train carriages, an old fire engine and an old word war II plane for the visitors to climb over. Back at the Guest House and a guy playing the Didgeridoo...you don't get this happening in a posh hotel!

I made another bad decision tonight about a choice of film at the cinema. Thought that 'Scenario the movie' looked fun and the ticket desk said it had subtitles in English...they lied! Had to sit through a crazy 90 minutes or so in Malaysian...not a clue what they were saying for most of it. Ah well, the seats were nice and I learnt that the Malaysians must be deaf as the volume was so loud it hurt!

 

Mon 27th Oct - Today is Deepavali (Diwali) and a public holiday all over Malaysia, so many places are closed or late opening. Hope to find some celebrations somewhere local and suspect that the 'Little India' area might be a good place to aim for although, if my experience in northern India last year was anything to go by, most festivities happen within the home rather than on the street. More important task first though, as I am planning on moving to Singapore tomorrow for a few days, so had to sort out somewhere to stay as cost is much higher there and didn't want to get stuck in an extortionate hotel. Normally I would just get there and find something, but as it is big city, I didn't want to take any risks, so booked myself into 'Sleepy Sam’s' and then headed off to the Melaka Sentral bus station to sort a ticket out.

After returning to town the temperature had cooled down a little from the mid 30’s…scorchio! So off for a walk around the back streets of the old town. It is a fascinating place with so much character to the buildings. It was surprisingly quiet today. I had expected more but the streets were fairly empty, so gave up and went for a meal at the excellent Newton Cultural food centre. Just about every style you could want under one roof. Had a nice traditional Malay dish of Loi cha, healthy vegetables and served with a separate bowl of peppermint soup, which you mix with the vegetables and rice… all for 4 ringgits.

Out in the evening to find some entertainment. The streets were dead. Everywhere with only a few exceptions was closed, so gave up and had an early night.

 

Tue 28th Oct – On the noon bus to Singapore. Thought it worth getting an early bus to the Sentral station in case I could change my ticket for an earlier bus, but it was full so had to wait until noon. Didn't matter as there is always something to do, and this bus station is massive. It has the only shop I had seen for a while with dates and dried fruit imported from all over the world. Ideal for long bus journeys. Met a couple of guys from the uk from the same hostel I had stayed in, also going south and on the same bus.

 

The highway south is fairly featureless, so it was a surprise when we stopped for a 20 minute break after one and a half hours, as I must have been lulled into a stupor. The service stops here are amazing as the range of food available is awesome. Unlike european services where you get ripped off with extortionate prices, here they seem the same as anywhere else.

Back on the road and the bus made a stop at Johor Bahru, a place I will return to after Singaore as this is where I fly to Kuching (Sarawak) in Borneo from.

 

Passing through the border control was a simple process. To exit Malaysia the bus stops next to the immigration building. Foreigners go through the door and up the escalator to the left. No queue, so straight through, stamp and out the other side to the waiting bus. Next across the causeway that links the mainland with Singapore and this time off with the luggage for passport control. Within a couple of minutes I was through immigration and baggage scanning and out the other side. Had cleared both customs in record time and the bus was back on the road before 4pm. Arrived at the Lavendar street bus terminal by 4:45pm.

 

I am staying at Sleepy Sam's close to Arab street, a couple of kilometer maximum away. Easy enough to catch a bus as many go that way for 1 Singapore dollar (SGD). I was impressed by how nice this area is. Very welcoming and looks a good place to explore.

 

More in my next posting.....

 

  

 

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