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From Singapore onwards to Malaysia

MALAYSIA | Monday, 26 July 2010 | Views [432] | Comments [1]

The first stop on the next leg of our trip was to be Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. I was very excited by the idea of going to Malaysia on the overnight train from Singapore as trains are one of my favourite modes of transportation. I never get bored on trains even if the journey stretches over days, and I always manage to sleep very comfortably. Alas, the Singapore to Malaysia train fell short of providing me with the enjoyable travel experience that I had hoped for.

The journey started alright enough; the train looked good and our sleeping bunks seemed comfortable. However, we were mystified by the lack of arrangement for any luggage storage – there was no space under the seats, and neither were there any shelves near the ceiling. People just left their bags in the aisle of the compartment, which explains why the lights in the aisle were never switched off throughout the night. We had to store our daypacks on our bunks near our feet so the bunk was very cramped, which made me wonder how the giant people I had seen getting into another compartment managed to make it through the night.

We became aware of other problems once the train started moving. I guess the train was extremely well-sprung – I was plagued by the uncomfortable sensation that our compartment was going to bounce off the rails at any moment. It oscillated treacherously accompanied by distressing creaks and groans. I tried to ignore the swaying and go to sleep but this was impossible due to the aforementioned lights in the compartment, which shone directly into my eyes. Luckily there was a curtain which I could draw across my bunk and this helped to keep most of the light out, so I was able to sleep for a while.

I awoke suddenly an hour or two later feeling like I was suffocating. My bunk was dark and stiflingly hot and I had this vague notion that I had been entombed. It turned out that the air conditioning ducts were also in the aisle, along with the lights, and by drawing the curtains around my bunk I had managed to shut off my exposure to air. Needless to say, I spent the rest of the night staring out of the window into the darkness.

We finally arrived in Kuala Lumpur early in the morning, worn and weary, and eager to get to Cameron Highlands. We were feeling pretty good about our chances; we had done our research and knew that it was possible to get on a bus to our destination from the train station itself. One hour later we had walked every inch of the station and consulted at least 10 different people including the girl at the information counter who had all assured us that the bus we were looking for was indeed there; we just had to go out to the Mobil station. We finally gave up once we realised that, based on the directions we had been given, the way to the buses could be either on the first, second, or third level of the station, maybe all three, maybe none, or maybe on a secret halfway level like platform 9 and Three Quarters for the Hogwarts Train. We were now worn, weary and irascible.

In the end, we caught a bus from the main bus station and reached Cameron Highlands at around 4 pm, our spirits buoyed by the cool, crisp air. It was so refreshing to be somewhere that didn’t feel like the inside of an oven. We settled into the Twin Pines Hostel, ate a quick dinner, and then proceeded to sleep the sleep of the dead till the next day.

We had signed up for a full day tour the next day, which was to include a trek into the jungle to see the famous gigantic Rafflesia flower which only blooms for six days. We were also going to visit an aboriginal village, a tea plantation, a butterfly and insect farm, and a strawberry plantation. I discovered that I would be an asset in the jungle due to my skill with a blowpipe (no blowing-related jokes please, they are too obvious), and should Emma and I get lost in Taman Negara, I will have to hunt for both of us as she was rubbish. I can now add this skill to my ever-expanding list of utterly useless accomplishments and talents right below ‘ace at downing Jaeger bombs’.

After you have travelled for a while and done a couple of day trips, you start to realise how much embellishment is used in brochures in an attempt to make a lame activity sound exciting and worthwhile. A ‘trek into the jungle’ is usually more akin to a leisurely stroll through an area that is basically a grassy knoll with some trees. In this case, it turned out that the brochure was actually understating the strenuousness of the jungle trek. It started out with 15 minutes of jolting, jaw-rattling off-roading up a steep slope. The road was narrow in width, thick with wet mud, and there were deep channels created by the tires of other off-road vehicles. There were some hair-raising moments when our jeep’s tyres would slide on the mud, and the jeep would get really close to the edge of the road, beyond which there was a sheer drop into tall trees. Emma and I were gripping the sides of the jeep, staring ahead boggle–eyed, and alternating between saying “oh my god, oh my god” and just laughing in horrified hysteria. I’m not sure why we were laughing; that is hardly the appropriate response. We made it, alive, to the starting point of the trek, but our celebration of this fact was premature since it soon became obvious that, as they had failed to kill us on the off-roading portion of the trip, the tour guides were determined to do so on the trek. We set off at a manic pace along a trail which was mostly uphill, covered with tree roots that could make you twist your ankle if you weren’t careful, and with felled tree trunks that you had to scramble over (fairly easy if you’re six feet tall with long limbs, challenging if you’re midget-sized like the majority of the group). Halfway through the trek, we had to cross a gushing river. There was no bridge so we had to step bare feet into cold water and gingerly make our way across. The guide neglected to tell us that there were leeches in the water. Luckily, I didn’t get any on me. My heart and legs were protesting in agony and threatening to mutiny, but we finally made it to the Rafflesia flower. Apart from its size the flower is also famous for emitting the odour of rotting meat as it decays, but fortuitously, it had only just bloomed a day or two before so we did not have to deal with that.

Once the jungle trek was over, the rest of the day was very relaxing. The Boh Tea plantation was very pretty although I was amused by how fancy all the Boh Tea packages were. It’s just Boh Tea; you can get it at any discount supermarket. Emma and I spent most of the time at the tea plantation talking to an Australian girl in our tour group who was studying 3D animation at Uni. Halfway through the conversation she said to us “Were you guys born in the 90’s?”

The butterfly and insect farm wasn’t very big, but there were scorpions, snakes and lizards in addition to the butterflies and insects, and the guy manning the place thought that putting big bugs and butterflies on peoples clothing or hair was a hilarious joke.

On our last day in Cameron Highlands, we decided to do a trek recommended by one of the other travellers we met at Twin Pines, and end the day with jam, cream and scones. We were told that the trek was up a hill but not very strenuous, and since the downward leg of the hike ended close to the Old Smokehouse where we were going for scones, it was perfect.

Other travellers are often the best source of information, far more than most guide books. However, when you receive information about treks or hikes, I cannot stress enough the importance of making a considered assessment of the validity of the information, especially when the person you received the information from is Dutch or Danish. Life is very different when you are 6 feet tall and have long limbs. Sure enough, after around 20 minutes Emma and I were screeching “This is a mountain! Why the fuck are we climbing a fucking mountain?! All we wanted was a pleasant hike followed by scones with jam and cream!” But no one hears you screeching when you’re in the jungle.

We finally emerged from the jungle near a power station (we’re not sure if we were following the right trail by this time), ravenous, exhausted, reeking of sweat mixed with insect repellent, and looking very attractive in our grimy t-shirts and mud stained pants. We were nowhere near the Old Smokehouse. It was a further 20 minutes’ walk away, and inevitably on the way there it started to pour. When we finally got to the Smokehouse, we proceeded to gorge ourselves silly on overpriced but very delicious food, completely cognizant of the fact that we looked and smelled like mongrels and were rapidly bringing down the prestige of the venue. Later, as we sat in the lounge area drinking coffee and animatedly discussing the intricacies of the Harry Potter books, we heard the couple near us say, “Can you come up to Cameron Highlands by helicopter?” to the owner of the Smokehouse. He replied, “Yes, you can do so. The helicopter can land on our golf course.” The couple had come to Cameron Highlands by road in a private car, but had found the journey very uncomfortable. Poor things...they must have suffered such a painful ordeal.

We left the cool of the Highlands and made our way via minivan and boat to the Taman Negara National Park, a place that I have wanted to visit for as long as I have known about it. I was very keen to spend a few days in the jungle, sleeping in hides (a platform raised high above the ground used by people to observe animals without making their presence known, NOT animal skin) and caves. However, this was not to be. Taman Negara was a furnace. It was as hot as the incinerators used for cremation, and any physical movement outdoors was enough to cause death. There is a canopy walkway high above the forest which we walked along, climbed another freaking mountain, got back to our chalet around 3 pm and proceeded to sleep until the next day because we were so drained from the exertion. The next day we spent a few hours in the afternoon scrambling through some bat caves, and then departed the next morning for the Perhentian Islands.

The Perhentian Islands were a massive disappointment, and as I was pissed off for the majority of the three days we spent there (primarily due to accommodation woes), I am not going to bother to blog about them. However, if anyone has any questions about the Perhentians, let me know.

Tags: bats caves and guano, bugs beetles and butterflies up close, cameron highlands, dodgy train journeys, jungle treks, people at the kl train station are retarded, perhentian islands, taman negara, twin pines

Comments

1

you're back on the road! pity about perhentian. i kinda like it, despite how touristy the place is. somehow though, accomodation always seems to be a bitch! could you dive? how bad was the coral bleaching, i heard they've closed out some of the sites.

btw, incase you're passing through myanmar in november, keep an eye on the elections, they may create visa issues.
http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/thread.jspa?threadID=1947836

  amod Aug 18, 2010 6:55 PM

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