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Published: June 19th 2015
Koh phi phi was an incredibly attractive island. Upon arrival liz and I found this beach house on the shore of a pristine bay and nabbed a room. The following day we trekked through the jungle to 'long beach' which was quieter than the other bay and offered a clear view of koh phi phi leh in the distance. That evening liz and I got a delightful foot massage which almost sent me to sleep.
The next day was quite rainy so I strolled around town with my rain mac and had some tea. That evening I went to a bar which I had been encouraged to visit by two promoting girls on the door, had a few drinks with them, got drunk, then sauntered to the beach party with a group I unsophisticatedly introduced myself to and don't quite remember. On the beach I took free shots and did a fire limbo with a person whose identity I do not recall. I don't remember the rest of what happened that night but liz told me it was messy and I had a few scrapes on my foot and leg.
The following day liz and I joined a tour which took us to a range of bay and beach areas by boat. These included monkey beach and the famous maya bay on ko phi phi leh. At a few points we were able to jump off the boat and snorkel. One bay in particular provided a staggering spectacle underwater: the full range of colours and shapes were observable in the endless variety of fish which swam over and around you in the crystal sea.
At another point I spontaneously decided to do a cliff jump: I had to scramble up a rock formation which jutted sharply out of the ocean more than 20 metres towards the sky, and then jump off the pinnacle into the ocean which sprayed and gleamed distantly below. And I thought the 11-metre challenge in Vietnam was a 'death jump'. Tsk.
We jumped out of the boat to swim in one bay enclosure purely to admire our surroundings, which were almost cinematic in their beauty. Maya Bay was literally cinematic in this sense, since it is where The Beach was filmed. The bays transport you to a paradisiacal world with their towering green rock formations which stand like grand Kings around glistening baby blue water. Point is, I digged it - a LOT.
At the end of the tour we jumped into the water at sunset to see plankton. This was a bit disappointing. I might have seen a few sparks underwater but that might have been a psychological phenomenon born of my desire to see them combined with bubbles and tricks of light.
Lizzy left the next day. Afterwards I trekked to an island viewpoint and was amply rewarded with one of the most breathtaking sights I have ever enjoyed. What was before me was a majestic vista of the island. Coconut trees swayed dreamily in the foreground. Just beyond these were the adjacent beaches of the island separated by the main island strip which runs between them like a zip. The deep-blue beach port was on the left; the bay was on the right. The bay comprised rippling shallow blues and light greens, and gentle waves lapped lazily upon the blonde fringe of the shore which skirted it like a boomerang. In the background were majestic emerald karsts standing sentry duty right across the width of the island, almost framing the view like a postcard. I've put a couple of photos of what I saw online, but photography will never do this sight justice. I will never forget that view.
The next day I travelled to koh pha ngan. That evening I met a girl called Sadie in my hostel and we hung out, had a couple of drinks and jumped a skipping rope of fire on the beach.
During the day on the island I would laze on the idyllic beach and occasionally take a dip in the refreshing sea. I was reading a book by Dean Koontz called The Taking. It was to do with an alien invasion basically: some malevolent intelligent life form tries to establish dominion over earth and it starts trying to grow its own wildlife on our planet, which incidentally wreaks catastrophic destruction and appears to preclude the continuance of human life. The situation seems pretty goddamn irretrievable three quarters in, and let me tell you I COULD NOT WAIT to find out how the main characters escaped doom, because it was clear from the tone of the novel that they would. Would they fly to another planet? Would they develop some kind of weaponry that would destroy the enemy? Would they find the perfect hiding place?
No. The aliens left. THEY JUST LEFT.
Suffice it to say that I endured perhaps one of the worst endings a novel could possibly fart into my face.
Anyway - on the eve of the full moon party I attended the jungle party with some guys from my dorm. On koh pha ngan they sell buckets of spirit drinks. I had a vodka bucket when I arrived, and I must have been drunk because before I knew it it was daylight and I was in the jungle with someone I didn't recognise. Don't ask me what the music was like - I don't have a clue.
The next day was the full moon party. More drinking, more madness ... My friend from the jungle turned up which was a bit awks tbh. It was a UV extravaganza; I kept banging on about how much I loved 7 Eleven so in the end '7 11' got painted on my arm. I was inebriated and distracted so my memories of full moon have a hazy curtain wafting in front of them. Think pulsing pop and electro, colour, fire, alcohol, pizza, a bruise-inducing water slide - and bodies, so many bodies, jumping in unison in a wave of flesh, paint and sweat. I stayed up until sunrise, and then went to bed. Decidedly alone.
The next day I booked my plane ticket, and the day after that I travelled to krabi airport, and the day after that (after an uncomfortable night's 'sleep' slumped in the airport) I flew with Air Asia to ... MALAYSIA.
I arrived in Kuala Lumpur. First impression: GLITZ AND SOPHISTICATION. Wow. We're talking super-efficient, slick monorail straight into the city honey - with little embedded TV screens telling you to book a taxi at the counter on arrival and displaying celebria gossip and news updates. We're talking CLASS.
Of course, it's a bit of a ruse.
On my first day in Kuala Lumpur I visited little India and absorbed the vibrant sights and scoffed the samosas and onion Bhajis.
On my second day I teamed up with a guy in my dorm called Nick and we caught the LRT to the Golden Triangle (a sweet spot in the city upon which multiple high risers tower tall in an ostentatious display of wealth, development and commercialism) and marvelled at the impressive Petronas Towers. From there we strolled around, got some food, and then travelled to Menara Kuala Lumpur - a tower the top of which probes the sky and is somewhat evocative of a spinning top. We caught a speed lift to the top and enjoyed a bird's eye view of KL in the daytime. The sprawl of the city below us almost resembled a child's play mat: mini traffic lights, tall towers that were so distant they looked like models and snaking roads that appeared from our position to constitute a grand metropolitan labyrinth. Except that the scale was almost beyond all comprehension, and the combined effect of the view was to overwhelm and induce a sense of awe.
We went down to the lower observation deck, and looked through some telescopes for a while. When night fell, we managed - through some deception - to get back up to the top floor. I always find cities more alluring at night and KL was no exception. The play mat was transformed into a sea of lights - an electro-metropolis. Seeing all the lights blazing against the dark blanket of the night like that creates a sense of magic I think.
On my third and final day I explored the city some more, visiting a temple and a super-mall.
Next I caught the bus to the Cameron Highlands. It was much cooler here, which was a welcome relief. However it was also rather rainy. Upon arrival I visited a super-Satanic cult called Lord's Cafe and had a cream tea.
On my first full day I followed a marked trail through the jungle on my own. It was a pleasant walk - not too much of a strain. In fact, due to the way the trail looped around the town, the walk along the road back to the centre was longer than the trek itself, which was a bit disappointing. That evening I walked to a tea plantation and took in the incredible view of the rolling hills upon which the tea is grown and closely tended to. I also had some tea, naturally.
The following day I went on a tour, which took us to another tea plantation. Our excellent (and hyper-cautious) tour guide was eager for us to 'step into the shoes of the harvester' and so we squeezed through compacted, dewy tea bushes to make the precarious journey up a slippery hill. It was worth it though for the view on the crest of the hill. We were able to see the winding valley and the lush quilt of green tea laid over the undulating landscape, which extended into the distance.
We also visited a viewpoint tower which took us above the clouds and a unique mossy forest which was pretty much what it said on the tin. I had more tea and cake and we stopped by a butterfly and reptile farm and a strawberry farm. That night I had the most delicious paneer masala ever and had a few drinks with the people from my tour group around a crackling fire.
The following morning I woke up very early to catch the minibus to Penang. Penang is a cool and cultured town, characterised by its extremely cheap and delectable food, imaginative street art and engaging history. I basically spent three days hawking amazing food and curries, visiting a museum and various temples and spotting street art. On my last day I visited kek lok si, which is a large Buddhist temple complex. It is couched high on the hills and so from that position I was able to see Penang from above.
Then I made a bit of a boo-boo.
I decided I wanted to see Ipoh - South of Penang - because I heard the food was good and I had time to kill. As soon as I arrived I hated the place. I think this may have been partly irrational because I had struggled to find affordable accommodation and had been walking aimlessly around town in the dark frustrated and confused. It may also have been because lonely planet warned about brothels in the area, so that I could not erase a sense of seediness about the place from my mind. However even in retrospect the town impressed as utterly charmless. High-rise self-proclaimed boutique hotels sprung from what felt like every corner and at the end of every road amidst bland shopping markets, closed stores and dark gritty car parks. I stayed the night in an inordinately dingy, overpriced room and it will come as no surprise to you that the following day I wanted to get the hell out of town and never look back.
Which is what I did - except too late. I was intending on going to Kota bharu (on the east coast) to reach the perhentian Islands but it transpired that there were only two buses going there: 10am and 10pm. It was past 10am and I didn't fancy getting a night bus because of all the accidents that happen on those. Plus I didn't want to wait a whole day give or take. I'd already paid my pricey taxi fare to get to the bus terminal. What I should have done was gone back to Penang, but reflection is a wonderful thing my friends. What I in fact did was think, 'In this situation anywhere on the east coast is good enough,' which is what I most definitely should NOT have thought, and booked a ticket to Kuantan. This bus journey ended up being a Malaysian motorway marathon which took me on a 9 hour tour back through Kuala Lumpur, and through countless towns the names of which I had never heard before. In my defence the simplified map in lonely planet portrayed the distance between Ipoh and Kuantan as shorter than it actually was. But it was my own fault.
I spent a day in Kuantan, having thosai for breakfast (my God I LOVE thosai), drinking coffee, reading and visiting a mosque which glowed ethereally at night in soft lighting.
Then I caught a bus to Kota baru. I stayed in zek guesthouse which is family owned and very homely. That evening I visited the night market with a lady I met in the outside living area and we ate blue rice. It had a wholesome flavour.
Yesterday I visited the central market which featured the full array of fruits and vegetables and chopped animals. After 5 months of procrastination I eventually tried durian - a supremely smelly fruit which is banned on many forms of public transport - which was alright I guess: very sweet with a creamy texture that resembled fatty cheese spread. The aftertaste that came with mini burps post-consumption approximated more closely to the smell than the taste, and so were somewhat nauseating. I had a banana leaf curry for lunch and dinner. I also visited a museum in the afternoon.
Today I caught the bus to kuala besut, the jetty town from which I will FINALLY pop over to the perhentian Islands tomorrow. HURRAH.
Had some noodles. Chatted to a mature Japanese man about China. Then I finished writing this.
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