The view from our bungalow
So we have been back from our trip for about three years now. I wrote this blog entry in 2009 but for some reason I never published it. Better late than never!
The memories of our daily adventures in Asia are all that we have left now and those are fading pretty fast, so I'd better get this blog up before we forget everything.
If you remember, we left our brave travelers on the Thai island of Kho Phanang. From there we took a ferry to the mainland and then an overnight train through southern Thailand toward Malaysia at last. We had been eager to get to Malaysia....but we were also a little apprehensive as we knew that it was going to be the last leg of our trip.
As we drew closer to the border we started to notice a distinct change in the people and culture. Southern Thailand and Malaysia are predominantly muslim, which among other things means a drastic change in the way people dress - Say good-bye to the scanitly clad Thai beach bums and say hello to women in full burkas. Local militants frequently clash with government troops in Southern Thailand and there
have been attacks on trains in the past. Luckily for us we made it to the border and into Malaysia without incident.
With the help of a few other travelers, we made it to the Perhentian Islands on our first day in Malaysia. These islands, tucked away in the northeast corner of Malaysia, are absolutely incredible! First of all, Perhentian Kecil has the single best beach that we saw on our whole trip - hands down, nothing even close. Perfect. Without too much work, we found a decent little bungalow right on the beach, 5 meters from high tide. There was fantastic snorkelling and diving - lots of black tips of varying sizes, a number of turtles and a rare octopus sighting. We met a great crew of travelers, who we spent our nights eating and drinking with at Mamma's Kitchen. And the food...ohhh the food...Malaysian food is fantastic! My particular favourite was roti canai, a flakey flat bread dipped in a rich spicy curry - it was like a Indian food with pumpkin pie spices. Mama's also served a Snicker's Bar milkshake, which was unf--king real! The locals were cool, friendly and eager to chat. There are still
no roads, cars or motorbikes on this island, a situation which is sure to change in the near future. The only downside was the high price of booze, which was very very expensive. The only thing we could afford to drink was a local concoction they called Monkey Juice, which turned out to be ok when mixed with any kind of soft drink. I could have spent a month, a year or a life time here. Needless to say we were sad to leave the Perhentian Islands...but with only a month left we felt a little pressed for time.
I'll say right now that we made a lot bad decisions while in Malaysia, most of them due to the pressure to make the most of our final days. Sometimes we were so eager to get to the next great thing that we missed some incredible places and sights right under our noses. Ahhh well, you can't see and do everything...and you certainly can't always make the right decisions.
From the Perhentian Islands we took a mini bus to the the Cameron Highlands, passing right by Tamera Negara, which is generally considered the highlight of any trip to Malaysia...not
sure what we were thinking on this one. The Cameron Highlands were crap. I'll leave it at that. If you are reading this to prep for a trip to Malaysia, I would advise you give them a miss....unless you love tacky theme park-like attractions such as "Strawberry Land". Thumbs way down.
From the Cameron Highlands we took the bus to the Kuala Lumpur (referred to by everyone as "KL"). Before I talk about KL, I want to say that Malaysia is very different than the rest of SE Asia, and our bus trip to KL made it very clear. We had to buy deluxe bus tickets as the regular bus was sold out...usually "deluxe" just meant more expensive....in Malaysia deluxe means....well....deluxe. I mean this bus was really nice. A pleasant surprise. At the first rest stop Bex came out of the bathroom in a bit of a panic....there was no garbage can to throw your toilet paper in and she didn't know what to do (for those of you who haven't traveled in the third world, you aren't able to throw the tp in the bowl). I took matters into my own hands and sheepishly asked a young local
what we should do with our toliet paper. After doing his best to recover from the shock/horror/comedy of being asked about used toilet paper...he explained to us in his best "lets not confuse the clearly brain damaged foriegner" voice that we should throw it in the toilet. We thanked him for his help and then did our best to never make eye contact with him for the rest of the bus trip.
Unfortunately, having first world luxuries like toilets that take tp, comes with a price. Malaysia was much more expensive than any other country we had been in. On a nightly basis we paid as much a $25 for a room....I nearly had a heart attack at these exorbident rates. Luckily food was good and cheap!
We arrived in KL ready for the hustle and bustle of a booming asian city and we weren't disappointed. Bex and I had our usual arriving-in-a-new-city-lets-find-a-hotel fight. We fought about very few things on this trip, but this one was a regular. We ended up getting an odd smelling room with no windows and an old springy bunk bed in a renovated old theatre in Chinatown. It was great compared to
some of the other crack dens I checked out. The location was perfect, right in the heart of the street markets, within walking distance of most of the major attractions, including the Petronas Towers, the symbol of Malaysia's prosperity.
We spent a couple of days wandering KL. We scoured Little India desperately seeking a bag that Becky passed up buying while we actually were in India. We marvelled at reminders of the British colonial past, including a well manicured cricket pitch and pavilion. The city is also filled with beautiful traditional and modern Islamic architecture. At night we hit the street markets, where everything you ever might have wanted is for sale - well at least a knock of version of it is for sale. Better practice your haggling before showing up here! If you got a present from us, we probably bought it here - yup that means its a fake, sorry guys.
At some point after arriving in Malaysia, Becky got it in her head that she wanted to end our trip with one last adventure - she wanted to head to the wilds of Borneo! It sounded like a great idea to me, so we
The Monkey Juice
The Orang Utan Arak - a local firewater
bought a couple of tickets heading to a small town in Northern Sabah (a province of Malaysian Borneo). With images in our minds of wild steamy jungles and rural village life we hopped on our flight to Borneo! Man were we in for a shock!
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