Hopping the border to Malaysia...a whole new world!


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Asia » Malaysia » Pahang » Cameron Highlands
June 6th 2011
Published: June 18th 2011EDIT THIS ENTRY

If you would have asked us where our first stop would be in Malaysia, for about 2 weeks would have told you we were going to Pulau Langkawi. It’s funny how the night before we left Koh Lanta, 8pm at night over dinner in fact, we randomly decided that we would go to Penang instead. How did we come to that decision? We flipped a coin and then played paper, rock, scissors. Haha, just kidding. Talk about making a last minute decision. We were planning on grabbing all local transportation to get to Penang, but things didn’t work out quite that way. Let’s back up just a bit though. We had ran into a couple while we were having dinner a couple times on Koh Lanta and said “hi”, but never too much more than that. On our ride to Trang, we ended up on the same minivan as them and really got along well. When we arrived in Trang, we were offered a deal to get to Penang for the same price as it would have cost us to do it on our own. Since taking this route was already putting us in Penang at 7pm without transferring buses on the way down (plus add maybe 2-3 hours for typical Southeast Asia travel), we figured we might as well just take the ticket. What the hell? Why not? Arriving in a new place late at night is never fun so we opted for the “easy” way to cross the border. We said goodbye to the couple we talked to on the van, Daniel and Sofie, because they were headed to the eastern side of Malaysia right away and weren’t exactly sure how they were crossing the border yet. Nate said to Jessie, “I wish we were crossing paths for longer with them. I could totally see traveling with them for a while. I really like them.” Jessie: “Me too.” And that wouldn’t be the last time we’d see Daniel and Sofie…sounds like we are writing a Thai soap opera but we promise the story isn’t full of tears or drama.

The border crossing was a breeze and we had our Malaysia visas in hand in less than 20 minutes. One thing we noticed immediately when we entered into Malaysia, was how much more advanced it is than Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Is that an actual street sign and an exit ramp leading off the proper highway? Where's all the "rubbish" on the side of the road? Wait, are there more cars here than motorbikes? Did we just drive for 30 minutes on the road without being cut off by a tuk-tuk driver? We oddly looked around almost in a state of confusion, scratching our heads a little. Obviously it was evident we weren’t in Thailand anymore when we started to notice what people were wearing in the predominantly Muslim country, where everywhere you look most women keep their hair covered up and many wear only long sleeves and pants or a long dress. One thing that DIDN'T change however, was the crazy ass driving. Our driver had the van redlined most of the way to Penang! After crossing the longest over water bridge in southeast Asia, we were dropped off in Georgetown at a place called Banana guesthouse, which happened to have a really friendly staff and cheap, clean rooms. With our asses pretty much dragging on the ground at this point, we just grabbed a cheap fan room for the night and took off down the street to find an ATM machine. As we were walking, we looked across the road, and who do we see? Frickin’ Daniel and Sofie! “Holy shit! What are you guys doing here?” At the last minute they had decided to head to Penang for a couple of nights and arrived only 30 minutes after we did. We all went for a walk to load up on our new currency, grabbed some dinner at a good Indian restaurant, and headed back to get some sleep. We were all spent. One other thing you couldn't help but notice as you ventured the other way from Banana was all the prostitutes out at night. Nate has become pretty much petrified of the lady boys! Nate asked Jessie, "How can you hate your penis so much that you have it surgically tucked up inside of you? Either that or someone's getting a nasty surprise when the time comes. Can you imagine that?! You'd be scarred for life!" It's just a little scary.

We were pretty pumped to do some exploring the next day and decided we would just do our own little walking tour of a few areas. It was pretty amazing to see such a huge mix of Indian and Chinese people coming together in one city, sharing culture, food, and language. We almost had to laugh a bit when we ate at a Chinese buffet place for lunch and a lot of the food tasted like it was half Indian, not like it mattered because it was pretty damn good! Most of the day was spent walking around and checking things out before heading to the mall in town to check out some new portable hard drives. Air conditioning was NEVER so welcome! It was hot as hell outside, and we mean HOT! After a long, sweaty day of walking, we decided to check out a different Indian restaurant for dinner. On our way, we decided that one thing Penang could do without is the open gutter system lining the streets, which provides a great home for the dirty asshole of the rodent world, rats! We had our fair share of rat sightings here, that’s for sure. When we arrived at the place we wanted to eat, low and behold, who do we run into for dinner? Daniel and Sophie! Crazy huh? They would be headed to the other side of the main land the next day, but we were pretty excited we would be meeting up with them again once we made our way to the other side as well.

The following day we were on a mission to figure out exactly how we were going to get to the Cameron Highlands using only local transportation to keep the cost down as usual. We had done as much research online as we could and done some checking around town, but in the end we found out it was going to be almost the exact same amount of money to just book a minivan to get there instead. There’s definitely a big part of us that feels really guilty for taking the easy way, but what can ya do? After checking out some more of Georgetown, we were ready for a break from the sweltering heat again, and off to the mall it was for some free AC and a new hard drive to store pictures on. This time however, we would have a little treat in store for us. McDonald’s was calling our names! It was on the 3 floor of the mall, but you could hear Ronald from the 1st level. “Naaaaate…Jeeeeessie…you know you want some greasy, fatty, 100% non-nutritious western fast food.” “Why yes Ronald…yes, yes we do.” We stood in line behind a minimum of 20 other people, waiting for a good 45 minutes to get our food. Even JESSIE was excited this time! It was almost as quiet between the two of us as it is at Christmas dinner when you’re eating the best, home cooked meal of the year. When we were done, we looked up at each other. Jessie, “Oh my God, I feel so fat.” Nate, “Oh my God, I feel so happy.” We both immediately busted out laughing, knowing we were both thinking the exact same thing, typical comments from both of us in that situation. Jessie, “I can’t wait to tell our parents you just said that!” Nate, “My stomach is literally thanking my brain for putting that food into my mouth right now.” It was the opposite of disappointing in every way! Nate had a smile on his face for a good 2 hours after we left the mall.

We really didn’t do a whole lot more for the day other than book a ticket to get to the Cameron Highlands. Georgetown was a pretty interesting place with some good food options, but there really wasn’t THAT much to do. We had some more Indian food for dinner, and ran into a guy who we had met for about 60 seconds at our guesthouse on our way back. “Hey! My friend! You remember me? Please come sit by me!” We weren’t really in the mood since we had to get up early the next morning, but we didn’t want to be rude either. We went over and took a seat by him and starting chatting for a while. He was a local Malay man who seemed decent enough when we first started talking, but about a half hour later, we got a weird feeling from the guy. He was randomly offering us a free room to stay in at his house and free use of his car whenever we wanted. We had somehow gotten onto the subject of tattoos and piercings, and he kept going on and on about what he wanted to get and what his “friends” from around the world had gotten. For some reason, he felt the need to carry around passport sized photos of people he said were his friends and had a story for every one of them. He proceeded to start asking Jessie if she had any tattoos or if she had her…wait, did you just say nipples pierced? Nate gave him the WTF look and then looked at Jessie, who gave him the pinch on the leg signal (time to go). Yeah, that it was. Immediately after getting pretty personal, he started asking to see pictures of us from the camera (which we said we didn’t have on us) and asking for our email (which we didn’t give him). “We have to go pack. Have a good night.” We were walking away before he could even finish answering. It’s hard to tell who is just being friendly and who is looking for a target (to rob), we choose not to take our chances…let’s just say Jessie is glad she didn’t have to pee during the night because it would have taken Nate 20 minutes to get the door open.

Cameron Highlands
We got on the minivan bright and early the next morning, ready to see what was in store for us next. We had heard that there was a national holiday time during these 2 weeks and that some of the more popular areas of the country might be pretty busy. When we were about 20 minutes from Tanah Rata, the town we were staying in, we hit some MASSIVE holiday traffic. We were a little nervous since we had decided not to worry about booking a room, yet again. We told the driver where we wanted to be dropped off, and he was nice enough to take us right to the place we were looking to stay at. Nate did some looking around, but in the end, it was quickly apparent that prices were going to be inflated for the holiday and we had better just grab the first room we looked at since it wasn’t all that expensive and it was a clean little place. We could tell right away that we wouldn’t be sweating much here in the highlands. It was definitely going to be much cooler!

Since we hadn’t eaten all day, we were more than ready to find some lunch. We went for a little walk into town where we found a cheap Indian place with quite a few customers and decided to give it a shot. The tandoori chicken set was absolutely delicious! It came with a perfectly cooked chicken breast and leg, clay stove cooked naan, 3 different little curries, and rice for a little over 2 dollars. Nate couldn’t even believe he was eating meat 2 days in a row! Shocking! After our satisfying late lunch, we did what little bit of exploring in town there was to do, checked out a couple of options for treks and possible tours, and just hung out for a bit. We ate at the same place for dinner since it was such a
bargain, and called it a day.

We weren’t really lucking out much with the weather here. It was raining off and on every single day, but we still managed to sneak in a few things. We took one afternoon to go check out a nearby tea plantation, which is something Jessie really wanted to do since she loves tea so much! The scenery was really nice and we enjoyed a nice, hot cup of tea overlooking the plantation until the rain moved in again for the day. Nate grabbed the umbrella and stood at the side of the road ready to flag down the first taxi he could find, waiting…waiting…waiting...until finally seeing the only taxi on the road around where we were. Luckily, the guy who was already inside was nice enough to have the driver stop for us since it was so nasty outside. Whew! We really weren’t too excited to have to hike about 5K back up the mountain in the rain. There wasn’t a whole lot more we could day for the day, and at night we found ourselves eating at the same Indian restaurant, yet again. How could we not? We got a nice big portion of food, it tasted great, and the best part was, it was the cheapest Indian place in town! Thank God we like Indian food.

After grabbing a hot shower and relaxing a bit in our chilly room, we were lying in bed doing some research and working on the blog when we heard a couple of little kids screaming and playing in the hallway. Their family was staying right across the hall from us, and the voices echoed through the halls like a screaming hyena! We listened for about an hour until Jessie heard Nate say in a southern accent, “Shut UP in there Om tryin’ tu sleep! One uh you turds is about to get slapped in the mouth!” Now, if you’ve ever seen the movie Taledega Nights with Will Farrell, you’ll know exactly where this came from. After getting such a rise out of Jessie, Nate decided it was necessary to repeat the line about 10 more times in order to force Jessie to hold her stomach from laughing so hard. It was all in good fun and provided some entertainment for a few minutes at least (obviously he was just kidding). Ah yes, Nate gets weirder by the day, but at least Jessie is hardly ever lacking free entertainment. Jessie always tells him, “If only everyone else could see just how crazy you really are.”

We got up early the next morning, had a bite to eat, and decided on which trail we were going to hike for the day, rain or shine. We had decided on one of the routes not far from where we were staying so we could just walk there instead of having to take a taxi or a bus. The path was definitely a bit slippery when it was actually paved instead of dirt, but it was so nice to be in the jungle and taking in all the fresh air. As we were walking down the path, Nate heard Jessie scream. “Aaahh! Holy shit! Look at the size of that thing!” This was followed by an “I pray that thing never touches my skin EVER” dance. Nate had no idea why she was worked up again, but he quickly understood when he looks down into the plants on the side of the path. She had spotted a jet black millipede that was just under about a foot long with a bunch of little legs underneath it. “I hate those things!” It was like something from a sci-fi movie that you’d see running up onto your bed and trying to eat your toes! Let’s just say, he didn’t exactly blame her for freaking out. Poor Jessie. That wasn’t the only thing she got to experience on this trek. The last half of our hike was spent in the rain, which we pretty much knew was going to happen as soon as we started out. When we got to the end of our slippery, muddy trek, Jessie looked down at her ankle where her sock was and started frantically shaking her leg. “Aaahh! Get it off! Get it off of me baby!” Nate looked down at a little red patch on her sock only to find out that she had just picked up a little friend who was feeding on her blood…a leech! He hadn’t been on there long enough to really get stuck, so at least he came off easy, not like that was much comfort to Jessie. “I’m getting leech-proof socks before we go to Borneo!” Nate laughed a bit, but completely agreed with her at the same time. You can’t really argue with that can you?

Yes, we had run into a couple of critters on our hike, but that was to be expected. Overall, we had been pleasantly surprised with Malaysia. The people have been really nice, the food’s been good, and prices haven’t been bad either. So what is it that’s keeping so many of the “package tourists” away from this country? That’s easy. The alcohol is expensive! Well, so far, we can definitely say we’re more than happy to sacrifice having a couple beers or drinks to avoid the mass amounts of tourists. Being able to really interact with the locals is something we’ve always enjoyed, and we’re hoping we’ll get more of that here. It was nice to get out and do some hiking through the jungle and get some fresh mountain air, but how could we not be excited to get to our next destination? We’re headed to the Perhentian Islands on the east side, and we couldn’t be more excited!

Traveler Tips
Getting There
Penang- We found it was actually pretty easy to get a minivan from Trang all the way straight through to Penang for the same price as taking buses all the way there. We paid 550 Baht each from Trang to Penang. You are better off buying either bus or mini bus tickets along the way instead of in Koh Lanta. We would have saved a little money if we would have gotten our tickets to Penang in Hat Yai instead of in Trang.
Cameron Highlands- You can get a minivan for the same price as the local bus from many places in Georgetown, but you really need to book a day or two early. Many places use the same minivans and they can fill up fast. We ended up booking ours with Banana Guesthouse because we waited until the day before to book it, and in the end paid an extra RM12. Banana charges RM50 since they have their own vans, you can find others for as cheap as RM 38.

Staying
Penang- If you’re looking for a clean, cheap room and don’t mind sharing a bathroom, Banana (the new one) is a really good way to go. We paid RM25 for a room here and the staff was incredibly friendly and helpful. You can’t go wrong.
Cameron Highlands- Twin Pines was a great place to stay at as well. The lady who runs it is very sweet and helpful. Rooms are clean and there are plenty of bathrooms with hot water showers as well. For a shared bath, twin bed room it should cost RM35. We were paying RM40 because of a national holiday, which still wasn’t bad at all.

Eating
Penang- If you’re staying around Little India, you can find plenty of places to eat at for cheap. Since Chinatown is right here as well, you have many choices of Chinese restaurants to eat at. There are vegetarian buffets at many Chinese restaurants for lunch as well that are super tasty.
Cameron Highlands- We were in love with Sri Brinching, next to Starbucks. The chicken tandoori set is absolutely delicious, and for RM7 for the whole set, it’s a steal! It was one of the best values in town for sure.

Transportation
Penang- Georgetown is another place that is easily explored on foot, even in the sweltering heat.
Cameron Highlands- If you’re into trekking, you’ll be in heaven here. There are plenty of paths to keep you busy for days. If you ARE there during a holiday, it’s more than possible that you won’t be able to find a taxi driving willing to take you to certain areas where some of the treks start due to the crazy amount of traffic on the road. The local bus runs every day but Sunday to get from Tanta Rata to Brinching.



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