Thursday, 24 November 2011

Malaysia Part I

Next stop Malaysia. And time for our next bit of airport strife... we were running a bit late but only mildly panicking. The panic level increased considerably as we realised we were in the wrong terminal !!MAD PANIC!! Our terminal was a train ride and long walk away but we made it five minutes before the gates closed... phew!

But this time we felt like proper, hardened travellers: not wanting to take any more flights (the budget airlines here force you to have proof of onward travel) we Photoshop'ed a fake onward flight confirmation which - after a tense few seconds - was accepted by the check-in clerk and we were through.

Kuala Lumpur :: 03/08/11 - 05/08/11

After a short and uneventful flight, we arrived in Kuala Lumpur (KL) and were greeted once again by humidity but this time interspersed with rain to cool things off. We found a very nice hostel, again in China Town.  Suzy's guesthouse was a very pleasant find. The room was small and windowless but clean and new.

If you want to make your own Kuala Lumpur, simply take Singapore and place La Paz (Bolivia) on top of it. Thats how it felt; a mix of flashy buildings amidst hustle, bustle, mopeds, shacks, sounds, smells and a constant buzz of something happening somewhere.

Once again we're right in the heart of china town: home to delicious food and cheap black market rip-offs... 'Channel', 'Kevin Clein', 'Guccci', 'Paul Smitt' (yes, really) and so many more. A great place to people watch and a haggle with the locals. Katy got a 'genuine' Casio G-Shock watch (at least it was genuine until the words 'Casio' and 'G-Shock' rubbed off) to replace the Nike watch which literally fell apart in South America.  You'll be relieved to hear Tim fully re-stocked the underwear section of his bag with Kevin Cleins.

One of the most exotic fruits they have here is a spikey fruit roughly the size and shape of a rugby ball called a durian. You will smell one before you see it. They are a stinky cross somewhere between sweaty body odur and rotten drains. Many buildings and public transport have signs prohibiting them inside. People will tell you that despite their smell, they taste delicious... We tried a durian cake and for us it didn't smell as bad or taste as good as people seem to think.

We did the usual touristy thing of visiting the Petronas Towers: indeed, an impressive sight. The observation bridge half-way up is free and gives a great view of the city. Afterward, Katy decided that she would experience a fish spa. Katy had been told about it by a few people. Tim wasn't keen so headed for a coffee while she got nibbled by hundreds of piscine epidermivores. Very ticklish to the extent that Katy was sat laughing like a fool by herself. It wasn't the nicest experience ever, but it was an experience nevertheless.

Next we took a local bus (like a magical mystery tour in its own right) to the Batau Caves. Here - on a blisteringly hot day - we climbed the hundreds of steps leading up to an enormous cave full of shrines and monkeys.  And hot, wilting people. Though - as is so often the case around here - look around the corner of a shrine and its piled high with rubbish... different cultures, different attitudes I guess.

Buddhism aside, Malaysia is a very Muslim country and we had arrived at the begining of Ramadan (fairly typical 'travellingmarshs' ppp*).  A unique opportunity for us to observe a very cultural difference... just don't plan on eating any time soon. In the big cities its not so bad but head out to the backwaters and - just like the locals - you'll be hungry until nightfall. But then it is all-change. During this time (which ran from the start to the end of August) tented 'food villages' spring up all over the city where feasts are prepared and consumed socially. Such an amazing array of sounds, colours, smells and tastes. Some of which we recognized, but most we did not.

But in the big cities such as KL you can normally find something and at the recommendation of our hostel manager, we headed to the old bus station, below which there was a restaurant selling indian/malay curries jam-packed with Malay people. Once the crowd stopped staring at us so much, we were helped out by one of the people working there who suggested which huge pots of food we might want to try. It was amazing food and all-in cost less than US$2... we were frequent visitors thereafter.  

Melaka :: 05/08/11 - 09/08/11

Ahh - Melaka. Everyone Likes Melaka - including us - but for the life of me I can't quite think why. There's nothing particularly nice or special, it just has that certain feel. Just a few hours to the south west of KL and tantalisingly close to the coast, we travelled by bus and arrived to the small but bustling town centre where everything is painted terracotta red.

As usual, we head for China Town (in this case limited to a couple of main streets) and our hostel 'Jalan Jalan'. Again, everyone raves about how quaint and laid-back the place is, well, maybe its my age or maybe we've been travelling too long, but for me it was not so much 'quaint' as 'delapidated' and you can replace 'laid-back' with 'shabby'. But the mosquito nets were largely free from holes (thankfully, as the place was infested with them).

Its the kind of place which is a magnet to certain types of people (those very keen to 'find' themselves). It didn't take too long to discover the two (and too) overtly friendly americans were jehovah's witnesses. Luckily though, they were there to absorb the outpourings from the annoying ex-pat american who lived in Melaka but seemed to spend every day sitting in the hostel whining about life. The saving grace was Lewis, a laid back Aussie youth... he was completely normal. We didn't spend long talking with him (as we couldn't bare the others) but don't worry, he crops up again in our adventures with freaky regularity. Instead we hit the streets.

We were fortunate to be in Melaka at the weekend where - as evening approaches - the china town streets swell with a bustling night market full of all the food and tourist-tat you could ever wish for. A particular favourite was the uncoiled potato, coated in something spicy and fried all before your eyes, like an extended Walkers Crisp.

This is also the home of the pineapple tart, which is thankfully much tastier and less malodorous than durian cake. We feasted on a box full whilst watching the world pass by and sinking a jug of Tiger.

Food features heavily for us so we were delighted to find a tandoori restaurant which was both dirt cheap and delicious but most notable were the people at the table next to us - or more accurately - their snake. At first, the waiter went overto their table and it seemed like some clandestine drug deal, but then they pulled a
snake out a bag so the waiter could have his photo taken with it. Noticing our interest, they offered us to have a go too!

Taman Negara :: 10/08/11 - 12/08/11

From Melaka, we had a brief return to KL - which is a bit of a transport hub for southern Malaysia - before heading to the Taman Negara National Park. Whilst people are generally agreed that Melaka is nice, there is even more agreement that Jerantut is not.

Unfortunately it is where you have to stop off before reaching the national park. The slogan for the place is 'Jerantut - the blandest town in Malaysia'. Maybe. Its saving grace was yet another amazing food village in the bus station, filled with smells of spicy roasting chicken and huge pots of currys whilst our eyes were assaulted by the most vibrant of gelatinized deserts and unidentified drinks served in plastic bags.

Twenty fours hours and a roller coaster bus journey later and we're at the riverside waiting for our 3 hour boat ride to the park. Twenty minutes later, we were wishing we'd opted for the bus. It was initially all very exciting as we feared imminent capsize and death by pirhanna fish (or at least the loss of our precariously loaded bags), but tightly wedged in on the wooden floor of the boat, feelings of fear were soon replaced by lack of feeling of bum-cheeks.

WE MADE IT! In fairness, it was a beautiful view as we sped through the water, it was just 200% too long. Hot and bothered, we unloaded at a stoney riverside, beside floating restaurants. As a tourist destination (and it was decidedly touristy) it has been around a while but it feels like it is only half finished. Maybe thats just to keep a rustic feel to the place. Backpacks on we trudge up the steep muddy bank and hunt through the ramshackle village to find somewhere to sleep. This is the middle of nowhere remember, so imagine our surprise to find a room for $5 (albeit no bed, just a mattress on the floor)... with air-con... and the only place in the village with free wi-fi (are you listening Australia?!).

But of course we were there for the park, not for torrenting movies! There are defined paths through the park and to stray from those would create damage to the park and probably to yourself; tree-roots intertwine with creeping vines in boggy ground and there's probably something big and nasty in there to bite you too... stick to the path. Even the paths were tricky; it was so very hot and humid but at least it was dry... aside from the leeches, god knows how slippery it would be.

In the middle of the jungle there is a connected series of suspended rope bridge tree-walks. Your head tells you its probably fine, but the first few steps were very heart-in-mouth.

We were rewarded with great views at the top followed by a perilous rock infested descent. To cool-off at the end, we took a dip in the river, dodging the long-boats with their mighty engines as they sped past. But one day was enough for us and we still have so much to see...

*PPP: Piss Poor Planning

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