By way of reminder our:
We are now in Phuket, Thailand. We about to get ready to go and watch Muay Thai Kick boxing before going to witness the torrid sights of Bangla Street in Patong. Over the next few days we will attempt to bring the blog up to date. Here’s our trip report between Singapore and the lively city of Penang in Malaysia.
Singapore to Kuala Lumpur
We caught the train from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur. We had to negotiate customs and immigration before boarding the train as we were about to travel internationally from Singapore into Malyasia but we got through unscathed.
We rode in an air conditioned carriage that demanded the use of my trusty Grantham Running Club hoody, the clothing garment that has saved my goose pimples on many occasions during this trip. I spent some time sitting at the coffee car chatting to a local. He was a businessman dealing in performance enhancing diet supplements. Although he was very chatty, keen to practice his English, I noticed that he was coy about talking about his enhancement products and I wondered if they were of the sexual performance kind rather than the athletic.
We had a great time in Kuala Lumpur finding it a bit more rough and ready than Singapore. We ascended the KL tower, ate more great food including my favourite, curry laksa. We ate at “food republic” a really good food court in the glitzy shopping mall and had more curry in the “Little India” district where we had to keep reminding ourselves which country we were in. We even visited a careers fair in the city. The careers fair was happening as we passed the exhibition centre so we broke a legal entry as I was interested to witness what the exhibiting UK universities had to offer Malaysian students. I found out that Malaysian students can study professions through a UK institution and qualify without ever visiting the UK. Perhaps I should have gone to Malaysia to study English law. It was strange to walk around the stands of English institutions, Nottingham Univeristy and Derby Univeristy to name but two. Another day we visited Batu Caves and wandered around the various temples and shrines.
Kuala Lumpur to the Cameron Highlands
A few days later we moved again by train from Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh where we changed for a 3 hour bus ride to Brinchang in the Cameron Highlands. Brinchang stands proudly at about 1800m above sea level, the environment is characterised by rolling hills which accommodate tea plantations and strawberry farms which grow pungently in the rainy humid climate .
We got the chance to eat during the interchange at Ipoh. We found an Indian street food cafe just outside the bus station after buying our tickets. We ate colourful chicken biriyani, fragrant mutton curry and fluffy light rotis whilst watching the locals eat everything with their hands. It seems the way to do it is to roll rice into a tight ball, squash it and use it to scoop up the curry. We used spoons.
The bus journey was uneventful apart from a police checkpoint where two people who were sitting in front of us were ejected from the bus. It was fairly intimidating as a young soldier boarded the bus along with his large shotgun, I doubted whether it was long ago that his gun would have been a toy. No doubt the soldiers were satisfied to find a brace of illegal immigrants and I pondered their fate as they were lead off the bus. We later learned that illegal immigrants head to the tea plantations to find work and the authorities are on a major crackdown.
We winded up and up through the green, luscious plantations until we reached Brinchang high up in the highlands where we stayed for two nights. We visited the Boh Tea Plantation and found out that it is owned by a Scottish family. Before the plantation visit we walked through a mossy forest and took photos of the tea plantations from above.
The next day we hiked a trail between Brinchang and the next town, Tanah Rata where we ate scones with fresh strawberry jam from a local strawberry farm. We later noticed signs in the local hostels and cafes advising people not to walk along trail 9. Apparently, somebody has been robbing people at knife point since July and he/she was still believed to be at large. We trekked trail 3, but we did meet a shifty local on the trail at a point where we were seeking shelter from the rain, he seemed agitated and nervous, most definitely shifty but he didn’t produce a knife and we were not at that point aware of the potential danger – ignorance is bliss!
We stayed the third night at Father’s Guest house, a brilliant hostel if with a damp room problem, we wished we had stayed there for the entire duration off our visit to the Highlands but we found out about it late in the figurative day.
Cameron Highlands to Penang.
We reached Penang by a three hour bus that took six hours but we were rewarded by a beautiful, intricate town with a Chinese influence and some of the best food that we have encountered so far. The food highlight was Cendol, a desert type food made with coconut milk, palm sugar, kidney beans, jelly noodles and shaved ice. Cendol is an acquired taste, I acquired it pretty quickly.
We spent nights at the “hawker” food courts where traditional fare can be consumed with cheaper ale, beer is relatively expensive in Malaysia. A meal with drinks would cost less than £5 for both of us and could be eaten in front of a stage where live singers would perform. We were only sorry that we missed the ladyboy show which happened a few nights after we left. We did however get to see traditional Chinese street theatre and it was very atmospheric to watch the beautifully adorned actors perform against music being played graciously from traditional Chinese wooden instruments with occasional Chinese rickshaws passing along the street to momentarily obscure our view – an amazing experience, proper oriental stuff.
Penang’s culture is further displayed through its street art. I wondered if Penangites got there before Banksy. We had a great time following a map tying to spot the murals, we felt a bit like Anneka Rice as we busily nosied along the streets occasionally shouting “I’ve found it” after successfully locating some of the harder to find paintings.
We had a fantastic day visiting Penang Hill. We rode the funicular to the top of the hill where we took photos across the city which we could see in the far distance below. We could see Penang Bridge in the distance, a massive concrete toll bridge spaning 8.4 miles which we had ridden on the bus the day before. We definitely got a better perspective of is size from our position on the hill rather than riding across it.
On the way back down we were determined to find the trail through the jungle rather than re-board the train. After various attempts we found a gate which looked like we shouldn’t walk through it. Of course we did walk through it and a little further down we met an exhausted, elderly Japanese man who had walked up the trail. He advised us not to walk the trail through the jungle as it was steep, rough underfoot and it would be especially difficult for Tracy being a woman. He estimated it would take three hours to get down, parts of which were on a rough track. “May God be with you” where his final words as we went against his advice and walked into the forest like lambs to the slaughter.
We emerged about 90 minutes later reducing the Japanese man’s estimated descent time by half and I think we looked in a better state than he did after his ascent. Surprisingly, the three of us were reacquainted on the bus back to Penang, the Japanese man had caught the funicular back down. We thought he was a bit of a hero for negotiating the steep track to the top of the hill and he thought Tracy was a hero for being female and going against his advice and taking the track back down. He was so impressed by the the feat of female endeavour that he gave Tracy a key ring – fortune favours the brave.
A visit to Cheong Fatt Tze’s mansion was a highlight of Penang. A rags to riches tale of a Chinese industrialist from a poor family that made good. His restored house was ornate and oriental. The tour might have been boring but for the expressive Chinese tour guide that was good at holding attention. I was particularly interested in the way the house had been built and layed out according to the principles of Feng Shui, “another practice to take back to the UK”, I suggested as Tracy rolled her eyes.
In Penang we had to arrange our Thai visa by catching a bus about 10km outside the city. The same day application process had recently been withdrawn so we had to queue for ages to submit our application and then return the next day with fingers crossed, to pick our visa up. The next day, instead of retracing the bus route, we hired bicycles and spent our penultimate day dodging traffic in the myriad of streets between the city centre and the Thai embassy. It was worth it, we were approved for entry and the on the return journey we found a more pleasant cycle path along the sea front where we rewarded ourselves with an ice cream from a passing vendor.
We left on the boat for Langakwi the next day where we stayed overnight before catching the boat to Thailand.