|Final Statistics: Alex & Maz||Total distance: 93,550km|
|Furthest Point: Rotorua, NZ||Now settled in Sydney, Australia|
|Final Statistics: Martin||Total distance: 79,698km|
|Furthest Point: Hobart, Australia||Now settled in Bristol, UK|
Bloodsucking beasties and ones with flashing bums
Malaysia, Country 22, Diary entry 23rd-30th June 2006, Total distance in Malaysia: 2294km
The jungle of the Taman Negara is claimed to be the oldest in the world, having existed largely as it is for the past 130 million years. None of the ice ages affected this part of the world and it has also been free of volcanic activity and other geological upheavals. After only a couple more hours' driving from our camping spot we arrived at the village of Kuala Tahan and found a nice little guesthouse called Durian Chalets, which despite being set in a small durian grove did not smell too bad at all. The village is just across the river from the national park and there are boats offering a ferry service to the park headquarters on demand. We decided that we really wanted to do the Canopy Walkway - this is a network of flimsy suspension bridges joining platforms precariously perched on the trunks of some of the bigger trees. With 10 bridges in total the walkway is over 500m in length and depending on who you believe, takes you either 25m, 40m or 50m above the forest floor.
Unfortunately we arrived shortly after an entire school so we had to wait for about an hour before we could start the walk but this was ok because it gave us an excuse to have a good long rest without feeling like we're just being lazy. Eventually our turn was called and we started the walk. Slightly disturbingly there are signs everywhere telling you to keep 5m apart on the bridges, no more than 4 people on a platform etc. and it's impossible to observe both rules at the same time but we were lucky, the whole thing didn't collapse while we were up there and we found it most enjoyable to wander round such a long way above the forest floor whatever the actual height is looking down on the jungle undergrowth, even if the bridges were so bouncy that it was nearly impossible to cross them without using one's full concentration and both hands, making camera work all the more difficult. Got some nice snaps from the platforms though.
After reaching solid ground again we decided to climb the nearby hill Bukit Teresek, which was signposted as being a mere 800m away. No problem for athletes like us, we decided, but the 800m must have been as measured on a map and not actually counting the ups and downs. The going was tough, with the heat and extreme humidity together with the torrential rain the previous night having turned the pathway into a mud bath, it was only because of the maze of roots criss-crossing the path forming a kind of ladder that we were able to climb up to the top of the hill. The view from the top was wonderful over the rolling jungle-clad hills and the occasional short stretch of mud-brown river and we really felt we had achieved something for our trouble, even if we were drenched in sweat and mud by this time.
We decided to climb down by a different route to make a circuit back to the park headquarters and somehow it seemed a lot longer climbing down. The path was much steeper and with some places not aided by tree roots, some kind soul had left a knotted rope along some stretches but still at one point I managed to do an unintentional Tarzan impression swinging out over the jungle on a vine. I even made a noise something similar too. Finally we reached the junction with the path following the river and signposted another 2km back to HQ we plodded on. With more obstacles to cross it took us over an hour more to get back. First stop was the minimart for an ice-cold can of Coke and Lara noticed blood all over the knee of her trousers - we investigated and it turned out she had been attacked! A small bloodsucking creature was feasting on her - it looked like a small leech but as she'd been walking her trousers kept stopping it making a good seal on her skin so blood was going everywhere... nice. We removed it with a small penknife and patched up the hole as best we could (I'd forgotten to pack a first aid kit in my day bag - duh) but it kept bleeding so we headed back to the chalet and got my big medical box from the car. With Lara feeling so weak from the blood loss (must have been a good couple of teaspoons) we decided to take it easy for the rest of the afternoon and to help regain her strength we visited one of the floating restaurants moored on the village side of the river. There are a number of these floating restaurants and we chose the one which was busy despite having the most unstable-looking stepping stone and plank arrangement as a bridge from the river bank. If it was that hard to get to and still busy then it must be good. Well it was a nice theory, the food was barely acceptable. We went back to the chalet and did our best to rinse our clothes which were totally soaked in mud, sweat and in Lara's case blood, and then hang them up just in time for the next torrential rainstorm. We holed up in the room with the laptop and a DVD for the rest of the evening.
We wanted to take a boat ride the following morning but after discussing with the booking agents we were left unsure as to whether they were trying to rip us off or if the boats really are that expensive. Basically they were saying that we had to charter a boat and the minimum number of passengers is four, and if we wanted only two we'd have to pay for four anyway. This pushed it out of our league somewhat and we threw in the towel on that idea, had a quick breakfast and business meeting to discuss plans and decided we liked islands so we would head in the general direction of Kuala Lumpur (or KL as I'm allowed to call it, now I've been there!) and check out Pangkor Island off the coast a little way to the north.
Having been in the country over a week by this point it was obviously overdue time for me to be meeting the local police but this was remedied on the drive south from the Taman Negara park heading towards the highway taking us to KL. I was flagged down by some policemen who claimed I had been speeding! Me! Of course I was shocked and tried telling them that my car is incapable of such dizzying speeds as the 105km/h they were claiming I had done (in a 90km/h limit) so I insisted on seeing the photo. The kind chap had a look at my driving licence (which is in French but he coolly pretended he understood every word), had a look around the car and was sympathetic to my predicament and offered to help by reducing the 150 ringgit fine to only 100 ringgit if I were to pay in cash! Didn't sound like much of a bargain to me - I told him I'd rather pay the full fine than have a penny go into his pocket and again insisted on seeing the photo. He sent me back a couple of km up the road to where the speed trap was set and the chap there was ready for me with the photo in hand - yes it shows my car at 105km/h. Yes, he said, the machine is calibrated regularly and it's from the USA! Not Malaysian! OK so what do I do now...? This chap was not only also corrupt but cheaper, and with 50 ringgits handed over I was on my way. He even let me keep the photo.
We drove on, and the road took us past the edge of Kuala Lumpur where we could see the massive twin Petronas Towers scraping the sky high above the city, but that would wait another few days. Back in (or on the edges of) civilisation again we found large motorway-style service stations so having been on the road for several hours and with several more to go we pulled over for a coffee. Inside we found one of the great Asian inventions that is a wonder why it's not made it to Europe yet... an instant mashed potato vending machine!!! We had to try it and it was... well, instant mashed potato.
We stayed overnight at the boring little town of Telok Intan which has no redeeming features except that it had bars with televisions so I could watch the football (England v. Ecuador) and faced with few sanitary-looking options for food we ended up at Pizza Hut simply because it was less likely we'd die that way. We stayed overnight at the only clean-looking hotel in town, Hotel Anson, who in the morning quoted us a higher rate than they'd quoted the night before and as we'd paid a key deposit we couldn't just walk off so a big UP YOURS TO HOTEL ANSON (let's hope Google finds that). We decided we'd avoid this town on the way back.
Finally we found the town of Lumut which is the ferry terminus for Pangkor Island, parked in a hotel car park at a cost of just a few ringgits for the security guard, and got the ferry across to the island. Wanting to stay at the village on the other side of the island from the ferry terminus, we had decided we'd get motor scooters, and there was an enterprising chap there waiting for us as we got off the boat. We decided to grab some food and use the internet first, but then we negotiated a good price for a single bike big enough for the two of us. Lara decided she couldn't trust her motorcycling skills but that she could trust mine - hmmm. I obviously hadn't told her about my and Charbel's exploits in Koh Tao by that point. Surprisingly though the chap even had a couple of helmets so we donned them and with our sunglasses we looked quite the part, just like Jon and Ponch out of CHiPs. We took the road across the island to the beaches on the other side where we found a nice little place to stay and then the thrill of speed and danger tempted us back on the bike to complete a circuit of the island's one road. The poor bike was a bit underpowered for the job - two people of whom one has been eating all the satay... well the other had to get off and walk for some of the steeper stretches. We stopped at a temple with a marvellous model of the Great Wall of China snaking off into the hills and finally we made it back past the ferry pier to an old Dutch fort from the Dutch East India Company days. There wasn't a lot of it left - just a few old walls showing where the buildings used to be but that was all. Last stop was another temple. Now you may think I ought to be getting a bit templed-out now but occasionally you find a jewel, just when you think you've seen it all you find something new. Well this was certainly the first time I'd seen a temple with a statue of Donald Duck welcoming you in, and it was certainly well worth the effort of going to see it.
Scuba diving has not made it to Pangkor Island yet but snorkelling has taken off in a big way. We decided to rent some gear and we let ourselves be persuaded to upgrade to a bout trip out to one of the smaller islands nearby, the snorkelling there so much better they said. It was very nice and Lara had the chance to finish off her little disposable underwater camera on a few clownfish, batfish etc. We were glad when the speedboat came back for us an hour and a bit later though as we'd not really thought things through very well and found ourselves with rather less drinking water than we would have liked. We soon fixed that when we got back to Pangkor, and then we got back on the mean machine, drove back to the ferry pier and caught the ferry back to the mainland. One quick soto ayam later and we were refuelled and ready to drive on to the next sight.
The guide books are a little scant on suggestions for what to see in the Selangor district (the district surrounding Kuala Lumpur) but we made our way along the coast, a couple of times along the way diving along some small roads trying to find a nice beach to sit on while eating our mangoes, but on the sole occasion where we actually did find the sea it was lined with mangrove forests so we decided to just push on to the little village of Kampung Kuantan which lies on the Sungai Selangor river which is famous for its fireflies. We arrived early at the place where the boats leave from, so we had plenty of time to messily eat our mangoes there in the car park by peeling off the skin and munching into the whole fruit, rather than cutting the flesh off the stone. Apart from just being more fun that way, this also ensures that the hairy bits stuck to the stone (the ones that don't end up between your teeth at least) are nice and long so you can make really hairy mango people out of them. This, I am told, is the reason that the Gooch daughters were made to eat their mangoes in the bath when growing up in Harare.
Lining the banks of the Sungai Selangor river is a good concentration of berembang trees which are the staple diet of a particularly bright breed of fireflies. After it was dark enough we went out on a wooden row boat to see them and we were amazed to see that it was like Christmas decorations! The trees were covered in thousands of flashing fireflies, and the brighter males all flash in unison so the whole tree was lighting up with thousands of tiny yellow specks of light and then disappearing into the gloom again. It was much more impressive than we expected as you could really make out the shape of the tree because of the pattern of dots, and the river was calm enough that the reflection was easily visible too. We were on the boat for an hour, during which time some of the fireflies decided to join us on our boat, on our clothes, on our hair etc. so by the end of the ride we were flashing away in unison as well!
It was our plan to head from there to the city but the roads were not as straight as I'd hoped, winding their way through the oil palm plantations, so I was soon tired and eventually we pulled off the road into one of the plantations and camped. This time the rain held off for the evening so it was a bit more pleasant underfoot than last time. We instead drove into KL the following morning, well it was afternoon by the time we negotiated the one-way systems (which were marked on our map but with arrows pointing the wrong direction for some of them - useful), sat in the horrendous traffic for a while and eventually after trying a couple of budget hotels recommended in the book but deciding they were not nice, we parked up and looked on foot. We found a place on Bukit Bintang which was quite good quality despite being surrounded by hotels advertising hourly rates...! We were told we couldn't check in straight away as they were still cleaning the rooms but to come back at 1:30pm giving us the perfect length of time to wander across the road and have a Starbucks - long overdue.
Once the hotel was organised we wandered round the local area then struck out for Chinatown as we'd read it was one of the things to see and do in the evenings in KL. It was around a 20 minute walk but took us past a juice shop, unfortunately selling juice in takeaway cups rather than plastic bags, and to Lara's great delight a Nando's chicken place. Nando's is of course originally South African and was the big treat for the Gooch family when Lara was growing up. I believe it's pretty widespread in the UK now but is still unknown in the States, and especially Lara's little Vermont town - I don't think they've even invented chickens there yet... Not wanting to spoil our appetites (yeah right!) we restrained ourselves and had just some peri peri chips but Lara also took the opportunity to restock her kitchen cupboards by buying a couple of their takeaway sauces. A nice souvenir from Malaysia!
We strolled along the main market streets of Chinatown but frankly we were quite disappointed. With the exception of a couple of fruit stalls, it was all for the tourists: fake designer goods but of a much worse quality than I'd seen in Bangkok, and models of the Petronas Towers in varying sizes from "hardly worth it" up to "where the hell would you put that?!". We escaped and stumbled upon an arts and crafts shop next to the Central Market. Lara was keen to buy presents for people but doesn't know anyone who'd appreciate model skyscrapers so this shop was ideal, with lots of wood carvings, batiks etc. from all over Malaysia and for a change it was good quality stuff. One particular thing that caught our eye was a cardboard target on one of the shelves with plenty of holes where it had been well used - for target practice with blow pipes! Lara had a go and got respectably close to the centre of the target much to her surprise - she was hooked, and so was I, we each had to have one, but we arranged that we'd be back the next day as they were about to close for the night and we still had half the shop left to look through. We caught a taxi back to the area near the hotel and found a tapas place for our evening meal - superb, especially the smoked aubergine dip, yum yum.
The next morning we decided we'd try to go up the Petronas Towers. These towers have become one of the symbols of Malaysia despite the fact that they were only completed in 1998. At 452m high they were the tallest buildings in the world on their completion overtaking the Sears Tower in Chicago which had held the record for many years, so the people who built it were probably a bit miffed when only a few years after that the Taipei 101 building overtook them to take the crown. The souvenir merchants have quickly changed all their tat to read "the world's tallest twin towers"... Disappointingly there is no observation deck near the top of the towers and the public are allowed only to the "Skybridge" - the walkway joining the two towers at a modest 146m above street level - but admission being free we decided to give it a go. Unfortunately the number of tickets issued per day is very limited so even though we were there at 10:30am or so, all had gone for the day. Anyone would think they had the businesses' best interests at heart and not the tourists'!
Spurred on by this snub, we decided to raise our game and headed for the Menara Kuala Lumpur (the KL Tower) where there is a revolving restaurant at nearly double the height above ground compared to the Petronas Skybridge, added to which the tower is set on a hill, and one can dine on a superb all-you-can-eat buffet for something like ten quid. The food was absolutely excellent and the views stunning. The restaurant revolved at just the right speed - we had completed just over one lap while we dined, though I was a little panicked at one point because I lost the dessert buffet which was set up on one of the non-revolving bits.
While so high above the city we had the ideal opportunity to plan the rest of our day and decided we would start with the Masjid Jamek, meaning Friday Mosque. We hailed a taxi from near the base of the tower and had an argument with him about using the meter (they are legally obliged to, but they often try it on). Fine if they're cheeky with it but he was quite rude, ordering us to get out of his cab when we refused to pay his exhorbitant price, but he backed down when I got my camera out to take a photo of the permit on his dashboard and he sheepishly set the meter going and started on his way. Not much further up the road he then crashed into the back of a truck and smashed his headlight and bumper so I guess that's karma in action.
The Masjid Jamek was interesting from the outside but pretty boring inside. The building roof was very ornate and mosque-like with the onion shaped domes but at street level it was open on all sides and there were people just sleeping all over the stone floor. Having visited many fantastically decorated mosques in Turkey, the Middle East and particularly Iran I'd got used to mosques being more interesting but here was a basic, functional mosque with not much decoration. I found it a little disappointing, but I have been spoiled.
From there we walked past the fantastically ugly treehouse fountain to Merdeka (Independence) Square. Basically this is a big patch of lawn that looks like a cricket pitch from a distance, and when you get close up you realise it actually is a cricket pitch. Never knew the Malaysians played cricket but it looked well-tended and not just another relic from us good old Brits. Surrounding the square were relics from our time there though, plenty of well-kept colonial buildings overlooked the square. On closer inspection they were covered in ropes of fairy lights so best off away from there before it got dark. It could only look dreadful.
Finally we returned to the arts and crafts shop from the previous night to complete Lara's present-buying obligations and more importantly for us to buy our blow pipes. They had a range of different length ones available. Rather like a rifle, the longer the more accurate, but the more difficult to handle. We chose the same at about 1.5m length and of course we had to test them - Lara once again got close to the centre of the target but mine, I'm ashamed to say, went low and bounced off the edge of the shelf, accompanied by much whooping from Lara - I swear she's turning into an American and it ISN'T PRETTY! A couple more shots and I was starting to get the hang of it, meanwhile Lara bought up much of the rest of the shop as well, and with several bags of stuff plus two bubble-wrapped long things we set off back to the hotel.
We were of course back in touristville Chinatown so all the taxis tried to rip us off again so we walked instead, and it seemed a lot shorter for us having the sense of righteousness on our side. In the evening we were both still stuffed from lunch and didn't want any food (yes, it's true) but after mooching around the area looking at more tourist tat we decided we couldn't let Lara's last evening in Malaysia pass without more Malay food so we ended up with a small midnight satay feast.
Lara's final morning in Malaysia had arrived. After jumping up and down on rucksacks trying to get everything in, I loaded mine into the car and then came back to help Lara with hers. I decided not to fight the terrible traffic again so we headed for the KLIA Expres train which whisks you to the airport in about half an hour where we failed to find any decent but fast restaurants (you can have decent or fast, but not both) and then bade our sad farewells until we meet next time, who knows where who knows when, as normal.
Credit for some of the photos goes to Lara, thanks for letting me use them, especially the one of the hornbill which I really wish I'd taken myself. Also credit for one of the photos goes to those wonderfully hardworking honest Malaysian police officers I met.
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|Comment from Scooter|
|Hi Martin, nice job on the speeding fine, gave me a laugh anyhow ;0)|
|20 Aug 2006 @ 10:01:24|
|Comment from Lara|
|teaspoons? - it had to have been half a pint at least!|
|21 Aug 2006 @ 02:14:09|
|Comment from Ant|
|Don't be too embarrassed about the Tarzan escapade, we all did Johnny Weissmuller impressions in our youth... (of course, we stopped by about the age of 7, but hey!)|
great mental picture it brought up!!! ;-)
btw, love the hairy mango people!
|21 Aug 2006 @ 14:13:03|
|Comment from Maxine|
|The running food diary has found a new low - instant mash machine - whatever next!?!|
|21 Aug 2006 @ 22:28:35|