Hey there folks! We've asked Slat, who came to visit us around New Year, to guest-write our last chapter on South East Asia. Not only does it relieve us from the hardest chore of our travelling life(!), but it also gives you some new eyes on what our everyday life is like here. Thanks again Slat for writing up about these awesome times we've had with you, Brig and Shuv on our Asiarooney holiday. Of course, some things are omitted here...to name just a few: Slat wears shoes on the beach (we managed to get him to buy some crocs, which is as near as flip flops as he would venture!), and he also carries his backpack on his belly like a proper tourist! Besides all that, what an awesome time we had with you guys! Cider Pit, New Year's eve, Shuv's rat bedroom in Penang, the motherfucking boat to Langkawi, cocktails on the beach, numerous sunsets, karaoke night, the mangrove tour, our own private island….lots of great times together! To everyone else - happy reading! Hopefully he might encourage some of you to come out and join us for a bit! As always it’s great to hear
how you’re all doing, so drop us an email if you get a chance! Malaysia Kuala Lumpur and Melaka: 27 Dec - 30 Dec
I have been given the pleasure and the honour of being asked to write this little section of blog for Lee and Ori following our recent fortnight traveling together. Lee and Ori have been my best friends these past few years and it was a big loss to me to see them go off on their yearlong odyssey. We have a history of many road trips, holidays and adventures together and so we hatched a plan that my girlfriend Brigid Jones and I would make the journey to visit them. Another very good friend Siobhan Oerlemans made the move to Singapore 18 months ago and thus it seemed like fate that we would all meet up and celebrate New Year’s together on the other side of the world.
Although Brigid had visited Malaysia before, this was my first time out of Europe. We flew with Emirates with a 6.5 hour journey to Dubai and a second 6.5 hour flight to Kuala Lumpur. We flew into the city in the late evening
and the lights of the city from above were more striking and strong than you would see in a western city. We took a train from the airport and went to meet Lee and Ori in Chinatown where they had found us a room in a hostel. The first thing to comment on, on seeing them again only a quarter into their trip, was how unbelievably happy they are, constantly smiling and obviously loving every element of their trip; it was a pleasure to see and we would soon see why over the next two weeks. We walked through the quiet nights streets to our hostel and after a delivery of chocolate, a new camera and a few newspapers, we promptly drank a large bottle of gin and sat about till 3am talking and laughing. For the night in KL we paid about £6 for a double room, it wasn't up to 'British' standards but it was perfect for our needs. Of note was the large amount of rats we could hear scuttling around on the streets and climbing up the walls outside the hostel while we were drinking.
The next day we were informed that there was an
even cheaper hostel run by the same man just around the corner - so in what I imagine to be an everyday ritual for back packers, we packed up and booked ourselves into the other place before setting out.
We had lunch in Reggae bar, which comprised of the most bizarre set of fillings for a club sandwich and Brigid eating lettuce on bread as the vegetarian option. The first real taste of the local life was hitting the Chinatown market - a long, partially-covered pedestrianised road absolutely bubbling with life. In every nook and cranny they could fit, a market seller had set up shop selling counterfeit watches, glasses, wallets, purses, clothes and trainers, dvds and a world of other items. Everything was costing literally a tenth to a twentieth of what you might pay for such a thing in the UK - although this was for a reason, as I later found out. We later went onto the indoor market, which was a slightly more polished version of the Chinatown market, with some genuine independent merchants selling fine wares or any fabric with the label 'pashmina'. Then we went on to walk around KL admiring the tall
towers interspersed with some fine religious buildings and colonial structures.
We set off to see the sunset from the top of the KL tower which, while not particularly famous, offered a substantially higher view than from the Petronas Towers, and a full panorama of the city. On the way we were caught by one or two downpours and boy did it rain! All the locals out on the street ran for shelter under any cover they could find and life seemed to just be on pause till it stopped. We waited for 20 minutes but then grew our balls back and walked it. From the top of the KL tower we saw the sun set and the city come to life. The traffic on the roads was quite striking, as was the beauty of the towers lighting up. After this we went for a walk around the city at night to stand under the Petronas Towers which are as wondrous as they appear in the photos.
For our evening meal, we had our first taste of street food and ate like kings and queens for a couple of pounds each, the food blowing out of the water anything you
would order in the UK. We also dared to go to the night market and even though it didn't seem possible, the market we saw in the morning seemed to have doubled in size. I bought a pair of sunglasses for £5 and didn't haggle to Lee’s chagrin - I would come to suffer for this later.
The next day we decided to leave and boarded the coach to a town called Melaka, roughly halfway between KL and Singapore. My leaving impression of KL was that it seemed quite an exciting place and very similar to home. By this I mean that there was a complete multiculturalism, numerous religions and races all living side by side in a big patchwork of culture, and also dazzling wealth and prosperity, metres away from complete poverty and beggars. The multiculturalism however felt more comfortable, as no one needed to be overt and everyone was seemingly accepting of each other, no doubt as they have had several hundred years of practice at it.
Melaka was much like a quaint British tourism town. The sun was beaming, lots of museums, old buildings and attractions, and locals biking tourists around on rickshaws covered completely in
bright flowers. We decided to stay in Chinatown which was an area of narrow streets and thin buildings, with the frontage of each unit being some sort of commercial enterprise, be it a blacksmith beating metal, a pet store with a dog in a cage, a bar, a restaurant or a shop. Interspersed amongst these were wonderful Chinese temples and shrines full of a sense of calmness and brimming full of colour, and the streets were lined with Chinese lanterns. The day was spent exploring many of the tourist sights which included an old full size replica of a trading boat, and drinking in-between wandering around the streets. The night was whiled away at a bar sat by the river drinking and laughing, and with the colourful lights reflecting off the water, it reminded me of Amsterdam. Singapore Singapore: 30 Dec - 2 Jan
The following day, we made the coach journey to Singapore. We had decided to take some cheap booze with us as the Lonely Planet advised that you have a duty free allowance of 1 litre of spirits. First of all, we had to get off the coach and have our passports
checked at the border in Malaysia, before getting back on to drive over a huge bridge over the Straits of Johor. Over the bridge you see a huge intimidating citadel rise above you like something out of a Sci Fi film or computer game. Once over the bridge we had to get off the bus again, this time with our bags.
While having our bags scanned, both Brigid and I were stopped as they had found the alcohol we were carrying. They asked us to follow them and took us into a customs office. Two people not speaking a word of English (despite that being the state language) took about 5-10 minutes filling out various forms on paper and PCs while holding our passports and never looked at us once. Then a gentleman came in and asked us to bring out bags and follow him and he took us back outside the passport check area and into a second office. He showed us a room no bigger than a toilet cubicle with a mirror and a wooden bench and told us to sit in there and wait and he will tell us what is going to happen to us.
The fun part of me actually enjoyed this experience since I knew that we had done nothing wrong and that the experience was very interesting and quite a funny story to tell, but at the back of my mind I had horror stories running around of being thrown into prison for something we didn't do. In the end they explained that there is no duty free allowance between Malaysia and Singapore and waived the fine of several hundred pounds, but made us pay the duty. We then ran to make the coach which was about to pull away. This was our first experience of Singapore and obviously left us on edge for much of the rest of the trip.
We then got dropped off and took a taxi to meet Siobhan who we had not seen in 18 months.
Her condo was one of the countless we had drove past in the taxi - brilliant white, clean , luxurious inside with a swimming pool outside. After an initial drink and re-acquaintance we walked about half a mile to an empty flat of a friend of Siobhan's which would be our base of operations. Even though it was around 8pm
on a Friday, every shop and business was open and the entire place was buzzing and working. We walked past restaurants of several kinds which made your eyes pop out and senses think they had died and gone to heaven. We sat upon the roof of our holiday flat drinking coffee-flavoured Tequila and swapping stories before venturing to a local bar.
At the bar we had one of the most striking experiences of the entire holiday. Ori had spoken to two ex-pats - an English man and an Irish man and they had both drunkenly sat next to us and started conversation. The Irish man was the embodiment of the stereotype we had been told to expect from some ex-pats. He literally said the words “but I earn more than you so you don’t know what you’re talking about” in answer to any question he didn't know the answer to or like the tone of. The other gentleman was very apologetic for his friend and very keen to talk about home and while extoling the virtues of money and Singapore was full of sadness about his son not being able to see his family in the UK; it was
obvious that it was these emotions also dictating the shit coming out of the mouth of his drunken friend. Before we went to bed we jumped into the swimming pool with our clothes on and messed around to the chagrin of some of the tenants…
The next day was New Year’s Eve. We walked the same streets as the night before and they were just as busy in daylight. We went and ate street food again which again was nothing but awesome. At one point we walked past the Singaporean council housing which was made up of extremely tall tower blocks, maybe half a km from the coast. We visited the beach which at that point was the most beautiful beach I had ever been to, with near white sand, a clear blue sky and palm trees. Lee quite correctly reminded me that I had not seen anything yet. All along the horizon were container ships all waiting for their turn to dock.
We later went for cocktails on the roof of a colonial building in Club Street, in the heart of Singapore and walked to go for our tea. In what seemed like the bottom of a
brightly lit and full-of-life pit, surrounded by frighteningly high tower blocks, was a sea of tables and chairs, lined by hawkers pushing satay and all sorts of other food. Brigid had a humongous vegetarian curry and we had yet another meal to shame any other we had had to that point, absolute poetry in the mouth.
New Year’s Eve was spent in a bar called Mugumbo’s, near the river where we would later watch fireworks. In this bar there was a rule that if you rang the bell you bought everyone at the bar a shot, and on the wall was plaques for the highest scorer every month. One month someone had literally spent the equivalent of £10000 on shots. While amused, I was just mystified, also contrasting that to beggars we had seen in Malaysia only days before. We drank heavily for many hours and hit the dance floor. Of note were the many Asian and Eastern people watching us dance with sheer wonder and amazement at the moves we were pulling out. Some brave ones joined in and it was all pretty silly. We then walked through the city streets which were full of people; although the
whole scene was a lot better behaved then the equivalent would have been in any British city.
The next day we saw little India which Lee and Ori stated was much the same as the equivalent scene in some Indian towns. The streets were wall to wall Indian men, all with moustaches, all just talking and being very hands on and jovial with each other. The place felt, as everywhere had done, full of energy and high spirits. We went to a vegetarian restaurant and ordered half the menu! Malaysia Penang and Pulau Langkawi: 2 Jan - 7 Jan
The following morning we got flights to Penang, an island back in Malaysia. The airport was very intimidating with our passports being checked and bags scanned maybe 2-3 times each. We stayed in Georgetown on Penang which to me in many ways seemed like a poor man’s Melaka, the same type of town but only doing it half as well. We also didn't realise that it was a public holiday and thus many places were closed. We thus decided to take taxis to a beach miles down the coast and sat drinking beers on the next
best beach I had ever seen up to that point! We enjoyed yet another night market, with strangely identical wares to the one in KL, before sleeping in our hostel which was straight out of the first chapter in The Beach.
The next day we got on a mother-fucking boat to Langkawi, a 3 hour journey to a paradise island in the north. This journey for me was one of the highlights of the trip. We spent a couple of hours chilling on the roof of the boat simply taking in the air and the view. You could look to the horizon and see nothing but a clean line of bright blue sea hinting at the world’s curvature, and the sun glistening off it as if the waves were made of diamonds and gold. Straight out of a dream, in fact this whole part of the trip seemed too perfect to be real and often opening my eyes I thought I was dreaming.
On arriving in Langkawi, Lee’s warning came true and the sunglasses I had bought a week before in KL broke from wear and tear. Our hostel was in the far corner of the island and
came with a bar selling 60p beers and an extremely friendly and helpful local named Sam who ran the bar and became a good friend over our trip.
We spent the first evening on the new best beach I had ever seen. We swam, played frisbee, buried me in sand, drank several cocktails and generally relaxed for hours in the most picture perfect beach scene. We decided to get a banana boat towed by a jet-ski for a bit of fun. We went round the bay for five minutes which proved pretty boring and then we thought we would capsize the boat. As this obviously made the trip ten times more fun we did this a few more times, being thrown upside down into the water and then having to swim and climb back on. That evening we ate at a Mexican restaurant where the quesadillas were just tortillas with a smidgen of cheese and the red wine came in an ice bucket. It’s hard to be pissed off considering we paid about £4 each but it was rather crap.
The following day we rented a car and decided to go on a road trip. I have been
on maybe a dozen road trips with Lee and Ori over these past three years, driving all around the UK, and around the Alps, and it was hard not to feel that this one was the best. After a massive fail at a visit to a local tourist trap of a shrine, we drove to the top of the mountain at the centre of the island. The drive was slow and windy, and took about 30 minutes with a small glimpse every few minutes of the gift we would receive at the top. At the top there was a tower which cost £2 to climb and included a cup of China tea. The view was like nothing else I had ever seen, and at the time I thought it may be the best I will ever see. We could see the full circumference of the island, the ocean on the horizon dotted by islands and the shadow of the mainland to one side. We next drove to a private beach on the opposite side of the island and saw the new best beach I had seen up until that point - swimming, drinking out of coconuts and generally feeling sublime.
On the drive back to the hostel as the sun was setting it was hard not to feel amazing after what we had seen that day.
As a result when we returned we were all in high spirits and were greeted by home cooked food made by Sam which outdid anything we had had up until that point. He had even gone out of his way to cook special vegetarian food for Brigid. We ate and drank and chatted heavily with our fellow guests for many hours. At the end we decided to go to Karaoke, something Ori had been pining to do the entire length of the holiday. We booked out a room for two hours, got some more booze and let loose like there was no tomorrow.
Waking up hungover from the awesome day before, we kept the car for a second day and decided to head out to the Seven Wells waterfall. On our way we stopped at a marina and ate a fine breakfast overlooking private boats and yachts. Above the waterfall was a series of pools of water where we went swimming for an hour in the sun, several hundred meters above sea
level with a killer view all the way down the valley to the ocean. It was hard not to feel that this day was going to be as good as the last.
Following our frolics we decided to have a jungle trek and walked further up the mountain through the jungle until we decided to head back due to the dimming light. Most striking was the piercing noise of the bugs in the trees; unrelenting and seeming like there were hundreds of them. Every look in every direction was a beautiful piece of art, uninterrupted nature with every shade of green.
Walking down the mountain we stopped off at the waterfall, hundreds of feet below the pools we were swimming in. At this point, light was beginning to dim and I persuaded everyone that we should run and go up the cable cars to the top of a nearby mountain to watch the sunset. We quickly drove and ran and made one of the last cable cars. On the way up we could see the waterfall and pools we were just at and it was hard not to feel we were about to see something special. At the
top we had a vision of heaven and out of the several sunsets we were lucky enough to see this one was definitely the best. Looking out west we would see nothing but the horizon and the sea, the sun shining with a wondrous path coming at us along the sea and the sky all shades of red. I have never seen a sight so simple and yet so beautiful.
The following day Brigid and I decided to spend the morning island hopping, and for £5 we got a four hour trip visiting the local islands to the south. On the first island, there was an inland lake surrounded by sheer cliff face, where we hired a solar powered boat and sailed around soaking in the serenity. The next island had the new best beach I had seen up to that point - brilliant white sand, clear sea and barely anyone around. I would open my eyes and it was too picture-perfect to be real.
After this we hooked up with the guys again who were with Sam from our Hostel and we went on a 4 hour boat journey around the Mangroves and north of the island,
taking in some caves, bats, a marina, fish farm, monkey feeding and finishing with another fine ending. He took us to a small island with a secluded and sheltered empty beach pointing straight out west where we landed and enjoyed yet another incredible sunset with a fire, surrounded by good friends. Our last night was spent drinking and playing darts and pool till we got kicked out of the bar at closing time.
It was hard to leave Langkawi but the fact the return journey was graced with another 3 hour boat ride almost made up for it. Singapore Singaporei: 7 Jan - 9 Jan
We later flew back to Singapore and had an early night. Our last day in Singapore was spent taking in a lot of the city centre and a walk around the Asian Civilisations Museum. We then went onto check out the Arab district and smoked a shisha and had a Lebanese meal. One quick drink back at the flat, and then we had to leave for back home. To conclude...
The last time I had said goodbye to Lee and Ori, on their last evening in the UK,
I was a little tearful as were they, but this time the goodbye felt quite joyous. Throughout the trip it was perfectly obvious that they couldn't be any happier and are having the time of their lives, always smiling and loving every aspect of the adventure. At the end of our little journey together it was also pretty obvious that we had done it very well, took a lot of opportunities, had a real adventure, seen some amazing things and had many memorable times, and thus I felt quite satisfied that we had done our trip as good as we could have.
The first thing I’ll take away from this is how accessible 'back packing' seemed to be. At every place you stop there is friendly staff who can fix most things you need, other backpackers who are mostly very friendly, and with some money and a rough idea of what you want to do, you’re pretty sorted. I can’t fool myself and think every aspect of it was as easy as it seemed for Lee and Ori all the time but I can appreciate how you can become confident and brave and start to go 'off piste' and
have some real adventures.
The second thing was the multiculturalism. Everywhere we met there was a mix of Chinese, Malay, Indian and Western people of every religious persuasion. Every culture had its space and breathing room, and merged together seamlessly and no one felt the need to push their culture above any other, in your face. Everywhere felt non-threatening and accessible. This was an absolute pleasure to see but was also in stark contrast to some of the tensions in an equally multicultural place like Birmingham, where I feel there is a tendency for people to have to shout about their differences sometimes, and go out of their way to be different.
The third thing I appreciated was the ease and attraction at going to somewhere like KL or Singapore to live and work. While it would be hard to settle there for a life time, the amount of opportunities you have with the money you can make there definitely offer a good option to spend a few years. There are a lot of westerners out there, the standard of living is extremely high and a lot of things catered toward your taste, including bars and places to
The last thing I took away was the general contrast from there and back home, something I only got a fortnight of and I know the guys will have exponentially more of. Be it comparing the council houses of Aston and Singapore; the View from my office window and the view out across Langkawi; my job in child protection and the lady with three toddlers on a moped with no helmets. The contrasts are innumerable and have made me start to question afresh many things I hold dear.
To anyone reading this, know that your friends couldn't be better and if you are lucky enough to go and visit them or to do something similar, then you really must!
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