Published: September 5th 2008September 2nd 2008
We know titles have descended into silly-ness now, but to be fair its all nearly over now so we havn't got time to think of blog titles. We will be back in the UK in a week, its worrying to even say it. But hey we will save all those end of travels type messages for the final blog from Singapore we think...
...Anyway how are you readers? :) Hope you are all well and have been behaving yourselves while you've had no blogs the last few weeks to keep you entertained on those balmy British summer evenings! Believe it or not it has been raining a fair bit here too, though I doubt you have that much sympathy for us :) There are even more photos than usual in this blog as it the last big blog and covers a much longer time than usual so get your seats comfy and drinks to hand before you start flicking through.
So yes there were a couple of mentionable things we did before we left Kuala Lumpur to head up country that I should include before we get going. Most memorable was our 'durian' night! For anyone who doesn't
know what a durian is (i.e. most of you!) it is a fruit encased in a spiky shell thing. Visually a beachball sized cross between a pineapple, cactus and coconut. Now onto the smell... The durian is widely considered the stinkiest thing found in nature, even stinkier than the skunk. The smell is stomach turningly rancid. To be vulgar the smell is somewhere between rotting flesh and an open septic tank and no less intense (having lived on a farm I can vouch for both). Its a running joke between asian (especially Malay and Thai) and westerners. It is culturally revered here as a national dish and a night out all rolled into one. For this reason Jennifer and Jonathan said that we couldn't leave town without loosing our durian virginity!
Predictably it took a bit of planning as Jonathan is a durian connoiseur (there are myriads of different breeds and ways of eating) and so we had to wait until Friday night for the right durian at the right place to be available across town, so off we went, very very nervously! The venue was an infamous roadside stall akin to a rundown craft fair under an overpass
at about 10pm, packed onlooking locals (no pressure). As soon as we got out the car (50yds from the fruit!) the smell of the buggers hits you, GAG! After a brief guide on how to pick the perfect durian (err...usefull stuff to know!) we settled down at a table and cracked them open to extract the flesh inside. So yes as if the smell wasn't bad enough by now, you've then got to put it in your mouth. Again to be vulgar, imagine having to sit down and put something that smells like excrement in your mouth! The video probably conveys it better than I ever could but it was HARD work to make the leap. Then comes the shock, its NOT THAT BAD. The taste and texture is a mix of tropical fruit like papaya, blue stilton cheese and strong dark rum. I must admit that at the same time as we were thinking we were about to vomit I started to think I can actually see what all the fuss is about. Now don't get me wrong I wouldn't go so far as to say I liked it, but there is a certain addictive appeal to a food
that has such a strong taste. Sars face was more like... IT TASTES LIKE IT SMELLS! Much giggling, laughing and applaud from J&J and the locals later (for finishing one between us) we set off back to the flat, a definate travel experience highlight, thanks guys!
Next day it was an early start to KL's main bus station out by Chinatown. We got ourselves tickets for a nice VIP coach to the Cameron Highlands in central Malaysia. The bus was a real bargain at only a few quid with big comfy reclining seats complete with leg supports lazy boy style. Take note national express! The journey took about 5hours in total. What started out as relatively un-interesting tropical/urban lowland soon transformed into rolling hills and mountains covered in a carpet of beautiful tall rainforest. Our destination and accommodation was Fathers Guesthouse on a small hill abobe the regions capital Taban Rata. One of the biggest backpacker bargains around at 8 quid, the place was worthy of double the price and even had in-room wireless internet to keep me and my Archos happy!
The climate in the highlands was like Britain but with a stronger sun. The air was
relatively crisp considering it was 20'c and there was a gentle breeze the whole time that brought the odd downpour each afternoon. We came here to walk and generally de-city ourselves after a long time in Kuala Lumpur. We didn't really allow ourselves enough time and only managed a few days here. The walks that we did do were straightforward enough but the trails need some maintenence. Think paths collapsing into rivers! The trees were cool though and the place had a suprisingly relaxed quiet feel considering its popularity. The fresh fruit and veg was great and for this reason we decided to book onto the daily Countryside Tour for the next day to see a bit more of the area before we left.
The tour started first thing and our hilarious Malay/Indian tourguide took us and around 6 others off out of town in a minivan. His accent was brilliant a mix of Punjabi Indian, Welsh and Tony Blair! First up was the flower gardens and farm. The flowers on show were amazing and the scale of the place had to be seen to be believed. We have included as many pictures as possible for grandparents, it was
even impressive to us younger types! Second we skitted over to the butterfly and insect park. Smaller and cheaper than the one in KL the butterflys were pretty cool, but the real highlight was all the cool insects at the end. Huge beetles, scorpions and snakes all in a very you-want-to-touch setting. Needless to say neither of us fancied having scorpions drapped over us! After this stop we headed out to the hydroponic strawberry farm. At this point I should say that Malaysian people love strawberries, but theirs are SO sour! The ones here were a bit better and the way they were grown was a technical marvell but I think that good organic British strawberries in season still come out firmly ontop! The last stop in that area was the honey bee farm. To be honest the farm was a bit of tourist trap but the market out the front was packed with treasures! The chinese vendors selling steamed sweet potato and buttered sweet corn were amazing. We also got a big glass bottle of pure local honey at a way better price. How on earth we will get that home in one piece I will never know!
The last stop of the day was a fair drive out of town and was the 600 acre BOH Tea Estate. Having been to one of the Tea Meccas of this world: Sri Lanka we expected to be slightly dissapointed but the layout was very picturesque and well worth the visit. The weather was also a damn sight better than the constant drizzle we had in Sri Lanka! We got a mini tour of the factory and a chance to enjoy a cup of their best tea at a panoramic cafe overlooking the tea fields. A fine end to a hectic whirlwind tour of the area. Oh and though the weather was better Sri Lankan Ceylon tea is still the best!
Having overspent in both time and money in Malaysia something had to go and that ended up being the Taman Negara rainforest reserve. To be fair we were both a bit gutted not to be able to go as it is one of the oldest in the world but I guess one day we will have to come back! Instead we had to head directly accross Malaysia by a 6 hour minivan ride to Kuala Besut to catch
a boat out to the Perhentian Islands. After a bit of faffing we hooked up with our pre-booked boat company and set off out to see for the islands. On a man note the boats they use for the trip out to the islands are amazing! A small-medium boat with 10 people on board is powered by two yes two v6 200 horsepower outboard motors. Now anyone who knows boats knows thats a lot of horses! Im sorry stuart your 40hp just wont cut it out in Asia. The obvious effect of these engines is that the boats are fast, VERY FAST!
It was relatively calm on the way out but there was a small swell running head on of a few feet and as such as we tore accross the ocean the boat crashed over waves in the most spine destroying way. Everyone just hung on while the boat driver casually put the pedal to the metal, the boat leaving the water occasionally. Lifejackets? Yes please! See video for an idea of speed.
We arrived at our hotel about forty minutes later to be greeted with perfect calm blue waters containing lots of fishies! We were staying
on the larger island, Besar, because we heard that it would be better and quieter there. Our accomoodation for the the first four nights was at Watercolours but then we moved over to the hotel next door for our remaining ten nights at the famous Mama's Place, a true bargain! In both places we were staying in a typical wooden beach hut/shack but with the added luxury of our own bathroom :-) Our Mama hut also was detached and we had our own little balcony overlooking the families garden so we ended up spending quite a lot of time reading books and relaxing there!
So two weeks on the island and we are trying to think of what we actually did for all that time... due to the lack of money unfortunately we decided we couldn't make the most out of the cheap scuba diving as we had hoped, however we did go snorkelling single every afternoon when the sun was not as strong. There were so many tropical fish to see, we saw different fish every day. To name just a few we saw plenty of nemos in their anamemaneminies? spelling :)?... some small nlack tipped reef sharks,
big colourful tropical fish, huge barramundis, garfish, shauls of little shiny baitfish, yellow angel fish, huge weird looking bump head fish, pretty coral of course with weird looking coral like flowers, bright yellow and electric blue fish, there are too many to name and I think we would bore you-it was like the cast of finding nemo, that might be a better way to describe it. Weve added a whole slew of videos for you to get a better idea. The other side of the coral we found some extremely cool and laid back friends, the huge leatherback TURTLES! They were so amazing, we were really lucky on our last day as there were a whole family of them swimming around us-amazing! SARAH LOVES TURTLES! Most of our non-water time was either spent avoiding the heat of the day by eating and reading and taking time to relax or pondering our experiences and what we want out of life the future. As this was sometimes getting a bit stressful (as you can imagine) we had to reach for our imported gin we had carried with us from the mainland! Gin and tonic on our balcony, life ain't half bad! :-)
After knowing that our funds would be pretty limited on the island we found some great bargain books to take with us from KL, all of which turned out to be very educational and have aided us in deciding on future plans! So loads of plans now for when we get back on the environment, money, world morals etc etc I bet you all just cant wait!
Whilst on the island we also managed to eat our way through the menus in Watercolours and Mama's! Most of the time we were working to our daily budget but we managed to save up enough to have seafood a couple of times towards the end as eating fried rice and noodles a lot makes your belly go round! O well!
The journey back to land was abit more eventfull as there was a bigger swell and a strong crosswind runing and the boat was pitching violently in a tricky swell that was coming from the diagonal. Hats off to the driver, still it took an hour to get back. From Kuala Besut we took a very comfortable sleeper train that night all the way back to KL. Though it was
slightly delayed and travelling on the first day of Ramadan was probably not our best idea (duh?!) we arrived back into KL Sentral with little effort and seeing as we are 'living' about 80p in a taxi from there it was pretty slick!
Since then we have generally mooched about and spent some time online and looking for jobs (and writing this beast!). Though we did engage our bums today and do the tourist thing and go up the twin Petronas towers in the city. very impressive! Ive again attatched pictures to the end of the blog that show you how cool the stainless steel looks. Oh and Clare and Si there was a huuuge painting in the Petronas gallery of a similar ilk to Clare's triptych. basically one huge long oil painting with crowds of different races etc all mixed up, not as emotive as yours and a bit too phto-ish but you guys may have liked it. Everything else in the gallery was utter tosh though!
So that concludes Malaysia and after a feast on chineese ribs, dim sum etc with J & J were off to Singapore. OUR LAST COUNTRY! And were only there for
5 days not 5 weeks, shock horror!
So we shall leave it at that, a prelude to THE END. Speak soon from the mega-metropolis that is Singapore!
Love to you all,
Dean and Sarah.
There are more photos below