Just before we left Thailand, we witnessed one of the best North London derby games I have ever seen. Even Gareth Bale’s customary theatrics (article on why Gareth Bale dives) didn’t manage to do them much good. A great way to end our time in Thailand.
The journey into Malaysia was a collection of trips on various different vehicles, all of them as uncomfortable as the last. The usual promise of a VIP express trip of four hours turned out to be much longer. We left Koh Lanta at 8am and finally arrived in Langkawi around 6pm. As soon as we walked through customs at the port, we were greeted with shops selling Cadbury’s chocolate and cheap booze. It almost felt like home.
Langkawi is a duty-free island and with Malaysia being a predominantly Muslim country, this was the place to buy (or drink) cheaply. After checking into our hostel, we ventured out to find somewhere cheap to eat. We were surrounded by big resorts with lots of European tourists, so it was very different to where we had been so far.
The next day we took a walk into town to take a look around. Almost all the shops, bars and cafes were closed during the day, so after getting caught in the rain we headed back to our room. Being in the tropics we knew that the odd rain shower was likely, but even the locals were surprised by how much it was raining. But in between the showers the 35 degree sun-dried things out pretty quickly.
That night we went for a few drinks in the hostel and got chatting to an American couple. They told us about a bar that was open until midnight (which is very rare), so we decided to tag along. It was quite a cool place right on the beach, with fire jugglers and chilled music. The night came to an abrupt end when the bar suddenly shut because they heard that the police were on their way. In Langkawi you need a license to sell spirits, which the bar didn’t have. So we ended the night back in our hostel playing drinking games.
Overall Langkawi wasn’t one of our favourite places. Although drinks were slightly cheaper (£2 for a large bottle), food and accommodation were quite expensive. It was also very touristy, and full of tacky souvenir shops selling ‘Tre Bon’ sunglasses.
The next day we got a short flight to Penang. It was actually cheaper to fly than it was to get the ferry, so we thought we would treat ourselves to a flight which we’ve tried to avoid so far. When we were about the depart Katy wasn’t best pleased to find out that it was a twin propeller plane, but the flight went without incident and we arrived 30 minutes later.
On the bus into Georgetown (Penang’s UNESCO World Heritage City), we met an older English couple (Lee and Sally) who were also travelling around Malaysia. After hearing where we were heading to next, they very kindly offered us a lift to Ipoh, not far from our next stop. So we exchanged contact details and arranged to meet on Sunday.
We didn’t have a room booked when we arrived, so after some time walking through some more torrential rain, we found a cheap room above a mini-market. This room wasn’t the best, and most evenings we had to clear the room of cockroaches before going to bed.
The best thing about Penang and what it is famous for is the food. We were staying in Little India, and there were Nasi Kandar restaurants everywhere. We were in food heaven, and we tried most things from the menus. Chicken tikka, roti canai, butter chicken, tandoori biryani and murtabak to name a few. With most meals we were having freshly pressed apple juice, which was amazing. A big meal for the both of us was coming to about £5, and was some of the best Indian food we’ve ever had.
The next few days the weather was much better, and we spent our time walking around the city. Unfortunately for me, Katy found a big shopping mall and decided to buy more clothes. Penang is a really interesting place, with a mix of Chinese, Indian and Malay mosques, temples and churches. We are pretty templed out now, so we didn’t really venture into any though.
While walking around the city we found out that there was a music festival coming up in KL. We checked online and there were still tickets left, and it happened to be on a weekend that we were due to be there. We got quite excited as it will be our first gig of 2012, apart from having to listen to SE Asian karaoke. For those interested the line-up includes Chemical Brothers, The Wombats, Hercules and Love Affair, Chase and Status, Pendulum plus loads more.
To add to our good news, we found out that our friends Lucy and Tom and their two girls Ella and Georgia are going to be in Borneo when we are there. We’ve changed our travel plans to make sure that we have a few days with them, and it will be great to catch up with some friends from back home.
Just before we left Penang we also witnessed a Bolton win, which lifted them out of the relegation zone, so Katy was happy. Although we didn’t do a huge amount there, we really enjoyed Penang. The food was amazing and it was a nice place to chill out for a few days.
The next morning we met up with Lee and Sally for our trip to the Cameron highlands. Although they were supposed to drop us off in Ipoh, after a missed turning due to Katy’s navigational skills, we were treated to a lift all the way to Tanah Rata, where we were staying. Cameron Highlands is 2000 metres above sea level, and produces 90% of the fruit and vegetables for the entire of Malaysia and Singapore. It is also famous for producing tea, after William Cameron suggested the idea whilst surveying the area in 1885.
The journey to the Highlands took us along a stunning mountain road cutting through thick jungle. As we got closer to where we were staying, there were huge areas covered by market gardens producing virtually every fruit and vegetable you can think of. It was also accompanied by various very tacky stalls full of Chinese tourists buying strawberry earmuffs and other hideous souvenirs.
After saying goodbye to Lee and Sally, we checked into our hostel and had a look around the town. I was particularly interested in this area as my mum and auntie went to school here in the 1960s; SLIM School. I had been in contact with an old pupil who now runs a website for the school with various old pictures. The first little café we went into for a drink also had some pictures on the wall, with newspaper articles of when the school was opened.
The town itself was very small and quiet, with just a few places along the main street to eat and drink. It’s much cooler than the rest of Malaysia, and it was quite nice to get a break from the heat. As we were only there for two nights, we decided to book ourselves onto a tour the next day.
We started (don’t laugh) at a butterfly farm, where we saw…butterflies. Then we headed to the hills to see the huge tea plantations. These went on as far as the eye could see, with some great views over the valleys. After that we headed even higher to a viewing platform at 6666ft above sea level for some even better views of the mountains. In this area we were also taken into the ‘Mossy Forest’ which is apparently what the backdrop to Avatar was based on. Although that could have been our tour-guide embellishing to divert for the fact that we were stood in a boggy forest with mud all over our clothes.
After making it back to the 4×4, thankfully without losing any footwear, we were then taken to a bee farm. At this point we had slightly lost interest in being herded around with 200 other tourists, so we decided to just watch from the balcony whilst having a drink.
The tour ended with a customary trip to a strawberry farm. Maybe it’s just because I’m English and was brought up in the country (ooh-aagh), but the thought of visiting a strawberry farm didn’t really excite me. You can’t even pick your own strawberries there, so I didn’t really see the point. We did enjoy a very nice fresh strawberry milkshake though, while others looked on in amazement at the strawberries growing.
We ended the tour by being dropped off at a Buddhist temple about 9km from our town. We had decided that we wanted to do some trekking through the jungle, and one of the trails started at the back of the temple. The night before our hostel owner had warned us that this trail was a bit ‘adventurous’, but as our new year’s resolution was to be more adventurous, we ignored his advice. We were joined by a couple from Cambridge that we had met on the tour, Justin and Heather.
The first path was only 2km, but it was through some of the thickest jungle you could imagine. It was also raining quite heavily by this point, and some of the climbs were steep to say the least. But after a couple of hours we came out of the other side, happy to be out of the jungle.
On the walk back down to the road, we saw the school that my mum and auntie attended when they lived in Malaya. It is now a Malaysian Special Forces army camp. They weren’t too impressed when we walked up to the camp and started taking pictures, but I’m glad we got to see it.
We rewarded ourselves for our trekking with cream teas at a local farm shop. I don’t think tea and scones have ever tasted so good. This revived us enough for the walk back to our town, and a much-needed shower.
The next day we got a bus to Melaka via KL, where we are now. It took us about eight hours to get here, but it was a comfortable journey with some nice sights along the way. Since we’ve been in Melaka we’ve not done a huge amount. It’s another UNESCO World Heritage City, and is a pretty place, with buildings inherited from the Portuguese, Dutch and British rule. Most things close very early at night, so we were a bit caught out last night and barely managed to get any dinner.
Today Katy has dragged me around the shops for most of the day. We did manage to find a great place to eat again today though. We had some really nice Chinese noodle soup for lunch and another great Indian meal for dinner.
Until the next time…