Archives for posts with tag: Malaysia

June 21, 2012

I’m taking a ferry from Melaka to Dumai, on the east coast of the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. It’s overcrowded and a little scary as I am sitting on the lowest level (below the waterline) and in the very front. The way out to an exit is up a very narrow staircase and I know if we crash I’m a goner. So, after realizing all these facts I decide not to worry about it, what else can you do? On the ferry I meet a young woman who wants to practice her English with me, this is going to become very familiar over the next few days. She offers me a ride to the bus terminal with her family who will be picking her up from the ferry, what a sweetie. I also meet a man who is traveling with his family, wife and 3 children (aged 17-22), they also offer me a ride and as he will be the one driving I accept because I feel it will inconvenience him less than the young woman.  They wait patiently for me to make it through getting my visa on arrival and going through customs (where for some reason the officer takes a very thorough interest in the padding in the back support of my bag and scans it 3 times before letting me through). The family has a driver and everyone is crammed into the back 2 seats of their suv, they insist I take the front seat, I have no choice but to accept.

We drive to the bus station and the father jumps out of the car and tells me to wait, that he will arrange my ticket for me. When he comes back he gives me the ticket and I try to reimburse him the $9.00 but he won’t take it. I leave the money sitting on the front console of the car, hoping he won’t notice until it’s too late.

They then insist on taking me out for lunch, again, I have no choice and I know better now than to try to pay, I just thank them many times and try to be an interesting eating companion. We are having a “Padang meal”. What this mean is that many, many dishes are placed on the table in front of us and we eat what we want to. When we are finished the server adds up what has been eaten and charges accordingly. It’s a good meal, and while I am trying to make conversation the family is busily and speedily eating away, probably downing about twice as much as I do in the same time period and then waiting for me to finish up. I hadn’t realized eating customs were so different. Perhaps because it’s lunchtime? Maybe because they are Chinese Malays? Maybe they just typically eat really fast as a family? In any case it’s a serious business and quickly finished.

After the meal they invite me back to their house to wait for the bus. I accept happily and we drive to a large 3 storey building that looks more like a warehouse than a home. There is fencing all around and cameras as well. I’m getting the impression that this is a pretty wealthy family my Indonesian standards, and the dad is a bit evasive when I ask him what he does for a living. I am in their home for about 45 minutes, and spend most of it chatting with the 2 older girls. Eventually the bus shows up, it’s actually another suv, it turns out that a lot of the “buses” here are suv’s. I say goodbye to my hosts and settle in for what is supposed to be a 5 hour journey (was actually 7) to Pekanbaru, about halfway across the island heading westward and my stopover for 2 nights.

June, 22 2012

Pekanbaru turns out to be an ugly place, god, I though KL was bad but this is terrible. I can’t think of one redeeming thing to say about the place as there just wasn’t anything to do. It was hot and smelly, really dirty and smoggy. It looked a lot like Dumai and I was starting to wonder what I had gotten myself into coming to Sumatra. All I could do was keep my fingers crossed that my next stop, Bukittinggi, would be better.

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June 19 – 21

Melaka is to be my last stop in mainland Malaysia before I head into Sumatra Indonesia. It’s a quaint little town and I enjoy wandering through it. I get my hair cut, desperately needed, and meander into Chinatown.

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While I am walking I meet a trishaw driver who is shining up all the metal he has decorated his ride with, he lets me take his picture, what a smile.

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I find some lunch at a little hole in the wall and watch as 3 Malaysian guys work their way through a bottle of Jack Daniels, then they start on the beer. They start chatting with me and insist I join them, I do and for a while I manage to convince them that I don’t drink before nightfall but eventually they wear me down and I agree to a beer.  I sit with them and chat for a while they are pretty drunk so it’s mildly entertaining when they all ask me the same questions again and again. It turns out that one of them is the manager of a temple just down the road (Richard) and he agrees to give me a tour. One of the guys heads home (to nap I assume) and the other, who has taken a bit of a shine to me, insists on bringing his car down to the temple. He seems to think that I am going to go out for dinner with him, I’m not sure why as I haven’t agreed to it and when I tell him that I won’t get in a car with a drunk person he calls his driver to come and join us, I still have no intention of going anywhere with this guy and start to try to think of the best way to be rid of him. Meanwhile I am getting a personalized tour of the temple from Richard (who insists that he take my picture many times, in front of everything), it’s quite beautiful and the history is interesting but I am a little distracted by the Malaysian guido who’s breathing down my neck.

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Eventually the tour ends and I thank Richard for showing me around, My guido friend is all impatient and says ok we can go now. Finally I just flat out tell him that I’m not joining him but make vague promises to call him later in the evening, so he gives me his phone number. As he drives off, having dismissed his driver, I see two guys (tourists) coming towards me, they hear me laughing so I tell them what’s gone down. They had seen me in the temple and noticed the letch as well and are pretty amused with my story. I join them and we roam through the town for a little longer.

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We meet another girl and I convince everyone to go come out for Indian food with me, it wasn’t hard. We had a delicious feast, happy all round and then headed down riverside for a few beers to cap off the evening. All in all a great last day in Malaysia.

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June 17 – 19

Kuala Lumpur, I don’t plan to stay here long, really I only want to see the Petronas towers (once the tallest buildings in the world). I figure that I will see them in the daytime and then go back at night which is what I do.

In the intervening time I take a taxi out to see the Batu caves. In the taxi I see this sign, so no kissing then I guess?

The cave is pretty but very touristed compared to some other caves I have seen a fair amount of the natural beauty has been spoiled by pouring concrete down to even out the floors and putting in railings to herd people around, moo. There is a Hindu Shrine here and the man offers me a blessing, I make sure I don’t have to pay for it and then allow him to anoint me with ash mixed with water to form a paste which he smears on my forehead and gives me a small rose to tuck in my hair. On the way back down the 272 steps I encounter the bunch of monkeys that live here and I enjoy watching their antics for a bit. I never get tired of monkeys.

I head back into town by train and then MRT (a light rail system) which is a little complicated at first by I get the hang of it, and I love this there is a car set aside for women only, how nice.

Back at Petronas towers for the evening view, all lit up and purdy, I like shiny things.

In all I don’t find KL very compelling, it’s expensive and dirty and so I only spend 2 nights and one full day here, it’s enough in my opinion.

May 29 to June 12, 2012

Leo and I part ways, I’m on my own again and I head down the east coast to a tiny little town called Cherating. At first glance it has a fantastic beach, but after sitting on it for an hour I realize I have 3 sandfly bites, done with the beach then. But Cherating grows on me and I have a nice little bungalow to stay in so I rest here for a bit. What did I do there, nothing, except finally start this blog, something I have been meaning to do for a couple years. So I spent about 8 days here backdating all my original Facebook posts and trying to get the blog completely up to date, I didn’t make it though, I had to get down to Singapore to meet up with Emily, a friend from home who I have known since she was born. She is an anthropologist and has been living in Indonesia off and on for the last 8 years or so, I’m looking forward to seeing her. But I’m making a detour on the way to visit Tioman Island, just to get a little island time before the big city.  I stay on Tioman for a few very chill days and then I make the plunge back to big city life.

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May 27, 2012

Leo and I head to Kuala Terrengganu for two nights, he’s heading down to Singapore and I want to start heading slowly down the east coast. We spend a day in KT and traipse 8.2kms (I Googled it after) through the city to find the Crystal Mosque. We make a detour along a bridge because I thought that the mosque was on the other side of the river, I was wrong but we are able to get a good view of the mosque and it helped us to figure out which direction to head in, also I got this picture….

Also on the way we find these guys who were able to give us some good directions in exchange for me taking their picture….

It’s my first mosque and turns out to be much prettier on the outside then inside. When we arrive we are made to wear long robes and, for me, a headscarf. I think I look downright portly but the ladies exclaim that NOW I am beautiful, sure, if you think a sack of potatoes is sexy.

We are escorted by a woman who is very friendly and wants to teach us all about her religion, turns out it’s her job, volunteering to educate the “unbelievers”. It’s interesting, she’s not pushy but she certainly has a lot of answers (believe me I don’t agree with most of them) when I question her about women’s rights, female circumcision, jihad and more. She never bats an eye, never gets offended, but her answers often leave a bad taste in my mouth, I try not to let her see it. I’m here to learn, not change anybody’s beliefs, so I zip my mouth. It’s a good thing I did too because Leo and I missed our last chance to take a bus and were looking at another long walk back when she pulled up alongside us and offered a ride back to our guesthouse which we greedily accepted.

May 19 – 26, 2012.

Pualu Perhentian Kecil, it’s the small island and it’s beautiful. I spend a few days on my own, sun tanning, reading, eating well and I did meet a couple of lovely women from New Zealand but I was trying to keep it low key as those boys have been tiring me out. To restate a fact I keep having to learn, 40 year old people need to pace themselves a wee bit more then 20-somethings.  The boys join me and we get great bungalows on the middle path of the island, between the 2 beaches, long beach and coral beach.

At night we hang out on the beach, sitting around low tables in the sand smoking Shisha (hookas) and drinking “Monkey Juice” and coke. It’s Darraugh’s birthday while we are here and cake is not available so we buy him a deep-fried snickers bar and stick a bunch of candles in it, he was pretty pleased/embarrassed, the entire restaurant sings happy birthday to him.

We shell out for a snorkeling trip which is freaking amazing, the most beautiful coral I have seen so far, many little Nemos (clown fish) hiding out in sea anemones, giant clams, parrot fish and countless other things that I can’t name. We see a giant turtle, she’s probably about 30 years old and it’s one of the most blissful things I’ve ever experienced in the ocean, I could have watched her for hours… gliding along the bottom and then coming up for air, her head poking up out of the water just long enough to catch a glimpse of her without the distortion of water, I loved it.

I also swam with a shark, yup me, and a shark, in the same water not 4 meters from each other, I can’t believe it either. To be fair it was a so called “vegetarian shark” (that’s a joke I think), a black tip shark, over a meter long. I knew there was a chance that we would see sharks in this certain area we went to and quite frankly I almost didn’t make it into the water at all, but those beautiful boys were angels and surrounded me all sides as “bait” while we went looking for the sharks. We didn’t find any at first and the boys were pretty disappointed, I didn’t mind so much honestly. So we started heading back towards the boat, we kind of separated a bit at that point and then Julian came racing up to me, I heard him yelling “shark” through his snorkel and I literally almost jumped on top of him with fear. But he held on to me and showed me where the shark was. I was fascinated and terrified at the same time. My eyes were huge, my heart was racing and my breath was fast, I couldn’t let go of his arm, he let me hang on tight, god bless him, and we followed the shark as it meandered along the ocean floor about 4-5 meters away from us. Julian let me set the pace as we followed, never pushing me to get closer then I felt comfortable with, he was the perfect host and I cannot thank him enough, it was most definitely an experience I will never forget.

The Perhentians were perfect, crystal clear water, white sand, etc…I could have easily stayed longer and probably would have but it was a school holiday, all the guesthouses filled up for the weekend so we got kicked out of our rooms, forced onwards, and we were splitting up, heading in all different directions.

May 15, 2012.

The guys and I decide to take a hike through Penang National Park, our goal is monkey beach. It’s a nice hike, an hour to get there on the bus and about 1-1/2 hours each way once we are in the park it’s a slightly rainy day, so with the sweating we all end up soaked through. Before we left town we stop at a bakery we discovered in Georgetown for some snacks and got lucky with some amazing focaccia bread and cinnamon buns. The hike is good, not too hard, not too easy. About a half hour in I notice that there is always one guy behind me, and I realize they are doing it on purpose. I mention it and they unanimously state that it’s the polite and right thing to do, their mothers wouldn’t have it any other way. Ladies, you’ve raised your sons well, kudos. We do see monkeys, lots of them, but the beach itself is a bit of a disappointment, not so clean and not very good swimming. But the exercise is good so we’re pleased.

May 16, 2012.

Darraugh and Paulo head off to the Cameron Highlands, I’ll meet them there tomorrow. I decide to spend the day visiting a butterfly farm and nobody wants to join me, surprise. That’s fine, having been to one before in Honduras I’m well aware that I can lose hours in these places so it’s better for me to go on my own. I do and it’s amazing and I have about 200 photos to prove it, I’m well satisfied. I meet up with Leo and Julian later in the evening and we head out for yet another Indian feast. Tomorrow Leo leaves for Kuala Lumpur and Julian and I head to the Highlands to meet with the D and P.

May 17 & 18, 2012

Long bus ride up to the Cameron Highlands, Tanah Rata, and we find a hotel. Julian experiences my uncanny knack for falling almost instantaneously asleep on buses and amuses himself by taking this picture….

One in town we meet up with D and P and take a walk up to the next town about 5kms away. It’s not the prettiest walk, a lot of garbage along the trail and the town we end up in is nothing to write home about either. A bus back, dinner and a couple beers, I’ve caught a cold, also I’m freezing and wearing many layers, not the happiest gal. I take an early night and leave the boys to it.

The next day I’m still not feeling great, the boys head off on a big trek that I wouldn’t be able to do anyways because of my bad knee, so I sleep lots and rest up by reading in a café and my one big adventure of the day is a bus ride up to another butterfly farm. This is not as big or as nice as the one I visited on Penang but there is the added perk that I get to hold a giant grasshopper, pretty cool.

I meet the guys after their hike and we all get cleaned up and head out for a steamboat dinner. Steamboat is like Chinese hot-pot, 2 different broths and many vegetables and types of meat that you cook in the broth at your table. It’s messy and fun.

We go out after for a couple beers and some pool at the one local bar. I should mention, beer is comparably expensive here in Malaysia and not always available, you have to go to a Chinese establishment as the Muslims typically won’t sell it. We’re all leaving tomorrow, I’m heading to the Perhentian Islands and the boys are all headed down to KL. Julian has a couchsurfing host there, and Darraugh and Paulo are going to watch some important soccer/football match, sorry I couldn’t possibly tell you anything about that, except that it’s England and therefore a big deal for Darraugh. They’ll all meet up with Leo there and then join me in a few days on the island.

May 12, 2012

I cross the border from Thailand to Malaysia, I don’t have any problems but as I’m in line to get my stamp I see a guy try to run across the border at full speed, a cop chasing after him, I don’t see the take down but, after getting my stamp, I see him on the ground with 4 officers around him, hands tied behind and a knee in his back. Later I see him, hands now free, being escorted back to the Thai side. His hands in prayer and bowing to the guards, I think they may have actually let him go.

I arrive in Georgetown on the island of Penang, I had no expectations or ideas about this place and was in fact only planning a quick visit as I wanted beach time and was planning on hoofing over to the east coast Perhentian Islands as fast as possible, but I unexpectedly fell in love. It’s a fantastic town, I stayed in Little India at the helpful and clean Civilian’s Inn on Love Lane. Penang is an old city with a great mix of Chinese, Malay and Indian cultures. And the FOOD, ohmygod so good! After I’ve gotten myself settled in I go for a wander through town, photo happy. I have a map for a walking tour kindly provided by the good folks at the guesthouse and I try to see as much as I can. Chinatown pharmacies, an historic fort, the waterfront, shopping, and more. I feast on an Indian dinner and have an early night.