Monday, 21 November 2011

Taman Negara

Me and Alec left Andy and travelled from the highlands on a 3 hour bus journey and 2 hour boat ride to the oldest jungle in the world. The bus journey was pleasant enough, sleeping for the majority. The climate soon changed as we descended out of the highlands to the lowlands. We briefly stopped for refreshments and continued to the Tembeling river, departing a few hours later on a small wooden boat from the Kuala Tembeling Jetty. Alec and I made the most of the boat ride for the first half hour or so and then we both dropped asleep. The river ran through the jungle with trees on both sides. There were few houses and huts, just mainly floating jetties in very random places. The experience was quite surreal. We arrived at Taman Negara at 4 o'clock, pulled into Mama Chops restaurant and were briefed on the area. There were countless floating shops and restaurants. Following the brief, we went to find a hostel, the place was like a ghost town, neither me nor Alec knew what to think. We walked for half hour or so to the other side of the village and just decided to stay at Tahan Guesthouse. Very very basic and 25RM a night which for what we got was expensive. Anyhow we went for some dinner at Mama Chops. Neither uf us felt comfortable really. But we tried to keep an open mind. We were out in the wilderness on the edge of the oldest jungle in the world. What did we expect?
The village itself was very small with abandoned hostels, a few mini marts and a very small market. There were very few Malay or local people around, let alone tourists and backpackers. Had we missed something or was it because of the low season. There were a quite a few resorts about which were obviously much more expensive. Maybe there were more people there. We decided to ride and see what the night brought, and sure enough some more backpackers made it to Mama Chops for dinner. Finally...civilisation!!
Coming to Taman Negara, I wanted to see some wild animals and this became real when a snake moved under the decking of the restaurant. All of the staff became alert and
moved towards myself and Alec. They were stamping on the decking to try and deter the snake as it was directly below our table. Holes in the decking allowed us to get a good view of the snakes black and yellow striped body. The staff informed us that this snake is very poisonous and would kill in 30 mins. This didn't seem to deter any of the other diners in the restaurant, all wanting to get a good picture. The situation calmed down and the snake started to slither out into the river. First with it's head just petruding from underneath the wooden boards. The snake then made a move and with a cry "GO GO GO GO" from a member of the staff, it swam very quickly to the other side of the river. This was the first time we could see the length of the snake. About 2m long. An entertaining first night though.
Alec and I booked a half day trip to the Canopy walk ways over the jungle for the next day. It was an early morning and big breakfast, pancakes, toast, scrambled egg and a another sweet coffee despite for the 4th time asking for NO sugar. We entered the national park from the boat and walked the short distance to the walkways. They were quite unstable and not for someone scared if heights, but an experience to see the jungle from above, or bits of it anyway. We continued across 5 or 6 canopy walkways and then trekked into the jungle to a view point to witness Mount Tahan. The tallest mountain in the area.
The walk wasn't strenuous but good fun either way and worth the money paid. In the afternoon we chilled out and did nothing. The weather was very hot and humid. We had only planned a short stay in Taman Negara and I think 2 nights was enough. We booked our boat and bus ticket to Kuala Lumpur for the following day. Really looking forward to the Malaysian Capital!

Cameron Highlands

Alec, Andy, Kirstie and myself said our farewells at the Red Inn, staff and backpackers alike and tentatively stepped onto the mini bus to head for the Cameron highlands. All four of us hung over from the antics of the previous night. With not feeling 100%, I slept for the first part of the journey, or tried to anyway. I awoke, not to the sight of high rise buildings or a rushing city, but to miles of mountainous landscape. Tall trees and tea plantations filled the bus window. The views were stunning. For the remainder of the journey I regularly alternated between sleep, iPod and writing blog and diary. As we entered the highlands we continuously climbed with the roads turning every 50m or so. It was then it became Impossible to sleep as head and body were rolling around the bus and on the unfortunate occasion head hitting the window. The views however just got better and better. There were few small towns and villages up in the highlands but markets were in full flow. We arrived in a Tanah Rata, the town that we were staying at and politely asked the driver to take us to 'Fathers Guesthouse'. Again with exceptional views from the hostel, we were greeted by the owner who was very eccentric. He showed us round the guesthouse and to the largest dorm we had all stayed in. There were over 20 beds and the owner never hesitated to put more mattresses on the floor if need be. It reminded me of being on a school trip or having a big sleep over. It was brilliant!! We dropped our bags and headed for a walk into the town. Me and Andy bought some trainers to do some trekking whilst we were here, as we had previously decided that flip flops were not necessarily suitable.
We quickly realised that up in the highlands the temperature drops considerably and it rains at least once or twice a day. I wasn't prepared, having left my hoodie in Koh Sammui and owning just shorts and my hemp style pyjama trousers, I was going to be cold, it was to be a case of 'Manning up'.
The following day, we all went for a trek. 3 Bsc geographers who did modules in map reading, naturally got lost before we even hit a trail. It was myself, who, out of the corner of my eye,  glimpsed a small bridge with people walking. We followed and lead on to trail 9! What a crap trail!  Alec therefore, took it upon himself to head the group and lead us onto trail 8. It only took a few steps and we all realised that this was going to be a brutal walk. After 2 hours of climbing and rambling in the forest, we reached the summit at about 1800m. We caught our breath and followed another trail for an hour then the descent down trail 5. Alec again taking the lead and Kirstie coming up the rear, Ran down the side of the hill, with the group following. The hill running took half an hour and we were at the bottom. We then headed back in town for lunch. So the hunt continued for a a good Indian, and I think we found one. Peshwari naan with curry sauce and a huge piece of tandori chicken!
Back at the hostel we realised that the Cameron Highlands were great for walking and viewing tea plantations, but not much else. There is no night life, which isn't necessarily a bad thing but we did struggle come mid afternoon and evening time. It was very often that we would either have an afternoon nap, play some cards or watch a film put on by the hostel.
Alec and Andy wanted to a monster walk the next day, so me and Kirstie booked a half day tour for the morning. After getting into the 4x4, I immediately got talking to Miranda who as it turns out was from Goole! Before we knew it we arrived at the tea plantations. This was very much like the plantations I saw in Mulanje, Malawi, however the views were exceptional. 600 acres of tea, and this was the smallest of 3 plantations in Malaysia. After walking around for a short time seeing the tea workers and watching Miranda fall on her arse every 2 seconds we eased back to the jeep.
The next stop was the 'Mossy Forest'. a short walk up to the entrance and inside all trees and plants covered in moss. The scenery was very much like the set for the film Avatar, just without the blue people. After being told we could
Taste the apparently amazing tea from the plantations, we drove to the factory, not really too bothered about how tea is made, me Kirstie and Miranda went straight for a brew. I'd say Yorkshire Tea is better, but nevertheless, it was enjoyed with a cake or two.
There was one last stop at the Butterfly Farm before going back to the hostel. Miranda was scared of butterflies but still paid the 5RM fee and we all pursued in. Some of the butterflies were huge with their wings spanning 20 to 25cm and their patterns were amazing. Outside of the butterfly building, the farm also held poisonous Vipers and other snakes, as well as huge beetles, scorpions and deadly centipedes. Our guide, not phased at all, decided to pick up one of the poisonous scorpions to show the eager crowd!
Back at the hostel, we all chilled out and Alec and Andy showed up soon after. Kirstie was leaving for Kuala Lumpur the next day so we decided to raise out glasses of vodka and whisky on her behalf. She wasn't too well. this was followed by bags of curry and naan bread in the early hours.
Me and Alec booked our tickets to Taman Negara and Andy was leaving us for KL.  We had an emotional last super and said our farewells in the morning.The Cameron highlands was a welcome change. Having been on the islands and in cities since I have been travelling, I spent 4 nights here and it was a place to do your own thing in a very relaxed atmosphere. I assume Taman Negara national park will be similar, but I am definitely Looking forward to KL as well!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Penang, Malaysia

Penang is an island just off the north of Malaysia, connected to the mainland by a large bridge about a mile long. When we first arrived at 10pm after an 11 hour journey, I though it was just a huge city and was quite disappointed. But opinions did change.

We hadn't drank since entering Malaysia due a heavy first month on the islands in Thailand and it was a nice change to be honest, I could actually end my lads holiday and start doing some travelling!
Penang and Malaysia itself was not what I expected. So much wealthier than Thailand, sky scrapers and shoppin malls. And much more expensive. It's amazing how when you cross the Thai Malaysia border things can change so dramatically in terms if wealth. For example the local busses that run around the island were up to English standard.
Penang started with meeting a lad who lives in a brothel in koh Phangan. Me and Geordie Andy stayed in the banana hostel in a 3 bed room with Billy. This lad had some stories. been bitten by a wild dog, had to pay 10,000 Baht for overstaying his visa and of course lives in a brothel, and doesn't dare lift the mattress to find what's underneath as his bed is 'The' bed.
We spent the first night or 2 with this lad, and met Alec and kirstie (met in koh Phi Phi last week) the following day. Nice surprise as didn't know they were even in Georgetown.


Penang is known for it's amazing street food. And after being told I could eat a curry with my hands by Kev, I was determined to find a decent curry. The culture is an infusion of Chinese, Indian and Malaysian. The food is very similar. Allot if Indian food. So we ate copious amounts samosas. Every evening we attempted to hunt down a good Indian curry. We found one that was really good and would give the Ganges a run for their money! Ate one curry with my hands, and one that arrived within a pancake. A very odd combination! It actually turned out that the street food was brilliant. There was very little western food in the area, unlike Thailand.  But If you really desired a pizza Hut/KFC you could find one.

Drink in the area is generally hard to get hold of due to the culture and religion. But we did find the odd alcohol store. 7/11's also sell small beers. Very few bars in the area and as we were on detox from Koh Tao and Phi Phi so we didn't go looking really. Saw a few bars but it was almost English prices, no buckets either so didn't see the point!
It was only the last day when we were chopping cheap dirty vodka and gin playing drinking games with Finnish lads! Brutal! woke up this morning still drunk and we had to get the bus at 8am to the Cameron Highlands. 7 o'clock start. Ended on a good note though, by pissing everyone off in the dorm. I seem to have found that the car horn alarm at 6.50am does the trick, especially when you don't wake up to turn it off, and you finally awake to the guy below kicking your bed and Geordie Andy shouting and swearing at me.


The second hostel we stayed in was the Red Inn, by far the better out of the two. Much more sociable as it was dorm rooms. Met 3 Finnish lads, one of which went by the name of Beethoven. Really odd fellow, but was drinking 12% larger every night and was a good laugh.

The first day involved a tour of the city, found a small map and headed for the tourist attractions. So city hall, various mosques and temples and beach...naturally.
Me and Andy decided to enter one of the mosques just outside a part of Georgetown known as little India. Got a nice little tour from one of the local people and post tour, saw one of his 'brothers' who preached Islam to us. He was so passionate about the religion and started Singing the quaran to us. Very hard not to laugh, but wow, what an experience. Then proceeded to hand me 'an illustrated guide to Islam' ....really!!
This just confused everyone. Workers in the 7/11 gave me discount as they thought I was becoming a Muslim. I accidentally left the book in the fruit shake store, only for the bloke to come running down the street, book in hand, shouting me. Quite embarrassing!
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On the second day i visited the national park of Penang, just a standard trail walk really but to a gorgeous beach which was like walking on embers!! Baby turtles in conservation to be released when a little older was really cool! The sites and views were amazing. To be fair though we were knackered by the time we got back. It was not flip flop territory.
The following day, I decided to trek the 5Km to the top of Penang Hill. I got the bus with Andy to the Botanical gardens. Really hot day, the gardens were really peaceful. Quick look around, monkeys all over the place. Then we commenced the 850m climb starting off with the 1386 steps. Savage!!! My vest became a sweat rag!! Literally dripping from the brow, we made it, we then walked the remaining 3Km up the road. This was just brutal!! Every corner a steeper hill. Not one stretch was down hill. The only thing that kept me going was the remaining mentos from the previous night! I've never seen andy move so quick when we got chased by 2 wild dogs because we made a wrong turn into a locals farm land. He was rambling through the forest! We  finally made it and summited about 2 o'clock. 2 and half hours of climbing! But the views from the top were so worth it. Panoramic view of all Georgetown and over to the mainland of Malaysia. Unbelievable!
There was not a chance we were walking down, so we got the tram. 10 minute descent. Sweet!!
Me and Kirstie decided to walk to the Komtar tower, the highest building in Georgetown but was  closed for maintenance. So just knocked it on the head and headed back via the bakery!! Plum muffin with tea coffee blend was unreal!

Overall Penang was brilliant. We stayed 5 nights and only planned on a couple. Seems to be the norm when travelling. It was nice to actually get out and see the mosques, temples and a bit if the area. Whilst on the islands in Thailand that became very difficult for obvious reasons and every day was a beach day.
So onto the Cameron highlands with Andy, Alec and Kirtsie where I have heard good things.