Published: July 9th 2010July 7th 2010
For someone who is not the biggest fan of huge settlements, giant skyscrapers, shopping malls and the bright lights, I seem to have spent a lot of time in exactly these sort of places during the first two weeks of this trip. It's not been all bad, cities are damn useful places to get fast internet, reliable pharmaceuticals and a decent cocktail. However I definitely had more fun stepping away from the bustling streets and kicking back on a tropical island for five days - this girl is definitely made for days lounging on the beach, evenings sunset and stargazing, and nights strolling to the bar for another cold beer!
From Dubai we flew direct to Kuala Lumpur. No surprises that we needed another good lie in after an 8 hour flight, but eventually we dragged our arses out of bed and off to explore our surroundings. We found the old part of town where the colonising Brits had put up grand administrative buildings to make a contrasting foreground to the shiny Malaysian skyscrapers and glittering Petronas Towers. Bored rigid by big buildings after Dubai we instead delved into the heart of Chinatown and the markets stuffed to bursting with
fake Gucci handbags, RayBan sunglasses, Crocs, Swatch's, Tiger Beer t-shirts, and lighters disguised as chewing gum packets. With a pack as heavy as I am there was no shopping indulgence to be had here, instead I attempted to pile on the pounds by stuffing my face with extremely cheap and tasty fresh fruit and extra spicy laksa.
We also visited the Batu Caves, a Hindu temple set in a big ass cave on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. It was pretty damn impressive I have to say. All Hindu temples seem to be a rainbow of quirky statues and multilimbed half-human, half-animal deities and this one didn't dissapoint. The crowning glory was a brand new statue, gleaming gold in the glare of the afternoon sun, towering over the tourists and worshippers climbing the 250 steps to the cave entrance. We were rather amused to see a sign at this point forbidding us to exercise further...yet there were more steps inside the caves and no locals offering to carry us around, so what's a confused tourist to do?
As well as quirky animals of the statuesque variety, the temple was also populated by a marauding gang of monkeys keen to
confisgate anything remotely edible from passers by. “Oh how cute” came the cries of the American tour groups, quickly followed by yelps and screams as the little darlings snatched bananas from their backpacks and clawed at their pockets for sweets. I made the mistake of teasing one particularly evil monkey and was taught a lesson when I smashed my glasses as I leapt back from its gnashing teeth!
Two cities in a row was more than enough for us, we were craving island life and beach time like a monkey craves tourist snacks. The rigours of Africa had prepared us so well for Asian travel that absolutely everything we do and use seems luxurious in comparison to the past few months exploits. The bus we got from KL to Mersing not only left on time, it had armchair-like seats that I could curl up and fall asleep in. The windows didn't leak when it rained, it stopped regularly for food and pee stops at places that had real toilets, and it probably cost less per mile too! The ferry was not so great, the Asians haven't found a way to stop boats rolling around in zero swell, but at
least it was only half full so we could spread out, and it didn't take too long to hop across to Tioman Island.
Tioman is lovely, although Africa does still win in the paradise island stakes with Zanzibar, at least Tioman was 1/3 the price to make up for the smaller beach and garden shed bungalow. The island is covered in dense tropical rainforest that would encroach right down to the shoreline if it wasn't for a bunch of enterprising islanders clearing a 10 metre strip and knocking up a few wooden shacks and cabins for backpackers to stay in. We stayed for 5 nights and by the second night I felt like I'd been there forever. We had our favourite restaurant for dinner, our spot on the beach, the place we went for internet and the place to hire a snorkel, as well as a bunch of friendly faces we recognised when we got to the bar at happy hour for a beer. A few nights spent drinking and days spent asleep in a hammock were not a complete waste as unfortunately it was quite cloudy and even rained a few times while we here, despite the monsoon
supposedly being on the other side of the peninsular at this time of year. I finally braved snorkelling again with a lovely Aussie guy to hold my hand and discovered I really enjoy it, despite being stung all over by teeny jellyfish that no one else could see or feel. Saw loads of funky fish, never found Nemo as I was too hungover but I heard him and his buddies were out there in the bay.
There was another good reason other than pure laziness for my reluctance to do more than sleep, eat and drink on the island...elephantiasis. Well, ok, that might be a bit of an extreme and possible non-medically correct diagnosis, but whatever it was that happened to my leg last week I was certainly the Island Freak and the talk of everyone I met! The mildly swollen and infected bite I got on the plane to Dubai decided on the bus to Mersing to turn weepy and ooze white puss, much to the horror of the motherly instincts of a lovely older Kiwi couple we met on the bus. By the time I got off the ferry on Tioman the red patch was spreading outwards
around my leg and the next morning I awoke to find my knee cap had completely disappeared under a massive, tender swollen red lump twice the size of my other knee. From then on I was hobbling around the island for 2 days, unable to walk further than the bar or the restaurant. Thankfully the swelling eventually subsided and I was able to evacuate the island without Hannah having to carry me and my bags, something she was particularly happy about! I'll put pictures of my knee up for those that like to be grossed out, but leave them at the end in case you're eating your dinner!!
On our last night in Tioman we met some guys working in JB, the Malaysian town on the boarder with Singapore. A beer or two later and Han had sweet talked them into giving us a lift in their company car all the way to the boarder the next day. Even better, they weren't leaving until late afternoon so we could celebrate our last night in style, which mostly involved a lot of beer and World Cup matches at 7 hours time difference and then more beer...you do the maths of
how much sleep I got before I had to check out!
Having felt mildly beer-induced sick all day I wasn't really sure if I could blame the ferry back to the mainland or the Malaysian-inspired driving of Joe on the windy roads to JB for my green contenance. I can safely say what I didn't need was a four mile walk around the immigration buildings at the Malaysian-Singapore border with 20kg of luggage on my shoulders. It was made slightly more bearable by the friendly Singaporeans who gave us detailed directions on where we needed to go and what to do. A couple of buses and MRT (metro) journeys later and we were dragging our packs the last 500m to our hostel and the long-suffering employee who had stayed up 2 hours after check-in had closed to let us in.
Singapore started off noisily. First there was the guy in the bunk next to me who insisted on leaving his phone alarm on snooze for 2 hours even though he had got up and left the room. Han tried to shut it up but she hasn't mastered the chinese for 'off' yet! Then the demolition work started on the
Good advice after climbing 250 steps in 30c heat and humidity!
petrol station across the road and we were forced out of bed by the ripping of metal roof panels and the pounding of pneumatic drills on concrete. The helpfulness of Singaporeans continued with the morning duty manager at our hostel annotating a map with all the attractions for 2 action packed days of sightseeing, including times, bus numbers, prices and clothing recommendations!
Having discovered the bakery 'Bread Talk' and gorged ourself on baked goodies we were ready to hit the sights. A stroll through Little India, Clarke Quay and Chinatown gave us a good idea of how multicultural Singapore is. In Chinatown we ogled at an Islamic mosque, a Hindu temple and a Buddhist temple all on the same street. All being hospitable religions the gates were open but we picked the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple for a more detailed explore. The temple was resplendant in red and gold. Over five floors there were approximately 10,000 Buddha icons lining the walls from floor to ceiling. A giant prayer wheel on the roof was surrounded by a tranquil orchid garden which muffled the traffic sounds from the street below. It was quite something to behold.
Skipping over to the City
Hall area on the MRT brought us to Raffles Hotel where we peeked a glimpse of how the other half lives and sneaked into the loos as they were bound to be even more luxurious than the public toilets everywhere. We couldn't afford a $25 Singapore Sling so instead we hunted out the New Asia Bar on the 71st floor of the Swisshotel and had cocktails for half the price with 71 times the view. When we eventually found the lift up there and ascended the skyscraper I stepped out and couldn't surpress a “Wow”. The view of Singapore all lit up like a christmas tree below us was absolutely stunning, especially the newest building on the scene, a casino in a giant boat perched on top of three skyscrapers...see the photos to realise I'm not making this up - even Dubai doesn't have that! If only I'd dressed up a bit the scene would have been complete, instead I wandered into this posh hotel bar in shorts, t-shirt and flip flops looking every bit the smelly backpacker that I am!
Having treated ourself to delicious cocktails, Han and I completed our girly night out by going to the cinema
to see Toy Story 3 in 3D. It was brilliant, so funny. I LOVE Spanish Buzz!! I also love Singaporean cinemas, half the price, twice the leg room!
Our second day in Singapore was spent out at the zoo. First though we spent all morning changing our plans and searching for flights on the internet. Coming to Asia without anything booked and three months to kill means we are totally indecisive and constantly changing what we want to do, often based on who we've spoken to in the past 24 hours and tales of where they've been or are going. Having concluded that we are not boat people and actually fairly lazy travellers, we have put ourselves off getting a ferry over to Sumatra and heading down through Indonesia at this point. With that in mind we headed to the zoo for a quick ogle at all the wildlife we'll be missing out on. Obviously absolutely no comparison with seeing all those exotic creatures in the wild, but it was still pretty cool to see Orangutans swinging about in the trees above our heads (one almost peed on us, that's a pretty wild encounter surely?), and spotting other SE
Asian oddities like the floppy-nosed Probiscus Monkey and the dragon-descended Komodo lizards. We also did the famous night safari; it felt a bit like you'd illicitly snuck into the zoo after dark, until you realised you were there with a thousand other paying guests and there was a woman reciting a particularly cheesy commentary at you in a bizarre quasi-American accent as you peered into the gloom trying to spot animals it's difficult to spot in their cages in the daylight, let alone at night.
So with our craving for Indonesian wildlife sated by watching caged animals pace infront of us, we were ready to depart the pristine environs and endless fine dodging of Singapore. In the past 12 hours we have spent more time in airports than is healthy for any human being. The first part was great with the luxurious carpeted surroundings and free services of Changi; but we were quickly whisked away by an uncharacteristically punctual Air Asia and then had to endure a night at the low cost terminal in Kuala Lumpur. The entire departure hall has about six seats which were all taken up by extended Asian families by the time we cleared immigration
at midnight. We found ourselves a patch of cold tiles to curl up on and Hannah pretended to sleep while I finished my book. Just as we were settling down as best we could the airport staff came and ushered everyone outside into the drop off area because the airport was closing for fumigation. Off we trudged to find a spot on some warmer slabs with the sound of buses idling and boy racers revving their engines echoing off the metal canopy. Two hours later we were herded back inside again to find cockroaches scampering around in the toilets. The insecticide might not have worked on them but everyone milling around the departure hall was coughing and sneezing. At this point I gave up completely on sleep, started reading another book and finished writing this blog...so any typos can be put down to my red eyes drooping.
Thankfully we have been recommended a luxurious hotel offering half price rooms by a friend we will be meeting in Chiang Mai so I am looking forward to lazing by the pool until my bed is ready to check in and sink in to.
There are more photos below