I had been getting antsy for another trip, and at long last I could hit the road again for some furthered exploration of this vast world. This time around had me with two other teachers from Takamatsu, John and Saad, and also longtime friend Neil for a romp though Southeast Asia. The four of us arranged to meet in Kuala Lumpur to get things going. We had planned almost nothing aside from our meeting arrangements and return flight from Cambodia, but in this part of the world such an off the cuff trip is rarely a problem.
As has happened in the past, I had to leave directly from a work drinking party to catch an overnight ferry to Kansai. Things went without any issues this time and before long we found ourselves in Kobe rushing to a bus bound for the airport, followed by some casual wasting of our time away in the airport McDonalds. Incredibly, they still have the 100 yen menu despite it being at an airport, so we had our fill. Eventually our time came and we were on our way to Kuala Lumpur. Planes, trains and automobiles later we arrived at our hostel on the edge of Chinatown ready to get the adventure underway. I had been to the city before, but this was a new area.
John: “When people emigrate to the USA, can they live in any state or are the assigned?
Saad: “No, it isn’t Hogwarts”
When we arrived at the hostel, there was a discrepancy between our reservation and the number of beds available, but we decided to let them sort that while we went out. The three of us, along with a Frenchman named Ian ventured out into the wilderness to see what fun could be had. We started by getting some dinner at an overpriced and underwhelming western restaurant, which seemed pretty foolish on our first night there. I decided to take whatever the country could throw at me by drinking tap water. I figured that if sickness was going to gut me, I might as well face it head on rather than living in fear. We left there and then meandered the night market that sprung up in the streets. It was a bit early to be thinking about souvenirs, so we just sampled a few of their choice brews and strolled about instead. Bear Beer was a favorite. Another treat was the fruit durian. I’ve tried this numerous times at the ex girlfriend’s house and knew full well just how nasty it would be, but I also knew that I had to delve into its dark world again if I were to convince my companions to try it as well. In the end, it was just as bad, if not worse than I remembered, but the disgust and disappointment that they wore on their faces made the pain worth it.
Mmmmmmm, so good!
Further on into the night, we decided to take a cab over to the Skybar at a nice hotel. We weren’t really dressed for the occasion, and didn’t shell out for any of the exorbitantly priced drinks, but mostly took advantage of the stellar view out over the Petronas Twin Towers and the dance floor. We weren’t all feeling the dance floor, but made good of it and ended up having a great time. A highlight was some guy thinking he could do a back flip off of a speaker, which he failed at miserably. In his defense though, he would have almost certainly completed the rotation if not for kicking the face of some innocent female bystander. That was quite an amusing moment, certainly not something you would expect to see at such an upscale place. Some time around 3am we took our leave, having dropped not a dime at the place, and returned to the hostel for some much needed sleep. As we were arriving, we realized that food far more important than the sleep, so we got our first round of street food. Back in the hostel, they still hadn’t resolved the lack of beds in the dorm room, and had to give a private room to John and Saad.
The next morning, by the time we had all woken up, Neil was there waiting for us. After a bro hug and some introductions we stashed our bags and took off for the Batu Caves. I had been to this spot when I came solo over two years go, but I didn’t mind checking it out again, since I didn’t know anything else worth seeing. On our way, we booked some bus tickets to the Cameron Highlands departing that night. About a half hour on the train later, we were arriving at the caves. It was just as I remembered: lots of monkeys, lots of stairs, and some big gold statue whose importance I do not understand. While walking around, I had a monkey hop on me and try to take something out of my pocket. I just stood there, and it eventually made off with my candy bar wrapper. On the way back from this spot, we had a number of traditional Indian/Pakistani desserts off a snack stand. Jalebi was probably the best, but everything eaten back-to-back was a bit too much.
After making our return to KL, we gathered our things and set out for the bus depot. No longer in über punctual Japan, we waited about 30 minutes in a sweltering bus dungeon – pit stains were all but inevitable from activity no less strenuous than respiration. Eventually, we were led out of the place altogether to find our delayed bus arriving outside int he fresh air. Once aboard we all passed out and enjoyed some much needed sleep. When I came to, we were winding back and forth through dense jungle on an incredible curvy road. I was sitting in the very front seat of the bus and the turns had me about reaching for a bag. We arrived just in time to put those urges to rest and then were transported to Daniel’s Lodge where we checked in and got ready for a much needed dinner.
At the lodge
Walking into town, a remarkable oasis of creature comforts in an otherwise vast expense of jungle, we soon found a suitable spot to dine. Though sanitation was perhaps questionable, we dwarven men four had no qualms. The cuisine was fairly Indian (as was the clientele) and once we had plates filled to our heart’s content, the man working the register ballparked a price. I had 15 ringgit worth of food, which in Monopoly money is about equal to zero. The food tasted great and we all feasted till full and beyond. All of us except for John that is. Normally known for his cavernous gut, he could only look on in bewilderment as he tried to fathom why it wasn’t going down. Sitting like a fool before his plate of shame, I requested a ”sheepish look” for the camera. After our already late dinner, we just walked back to the hostel to share a Singa Beer with the guys at the Jungle Lounge. Along the way I bought some ranbutan, but I couldn’t get anyone else to partake of the succulent fruit. where I stopped along the way to pick up some of the local produce.
There must be starving children all over China who would have loved to eat that food
For this next day, we had booked a tour that encompassed most of what the region was famous for. Had we come in season, we could have trekked out to the massive stink flowers that grow in these parts, but with that out of contention we just made our rounds to the other attractions. We started the morning by heading over to a tea plantation. I had been to one of these before in South Korea, but this was a different type of tea plant, not that I really care. Seeing endless rows of the plants all along the mountain slopes is really a beautiful sight.
The rolling mountains were everywhere.
This tour also included a quick pass through the processing facilities and also a cafe that made tea using the local leaves. I don’t know anything about tea, but the extortionate price suggested that it must have been of the finest quality. From there, we drove to the highest point in the Highlands, though this was massively delayed on account of the narrow plantation roads and tourists who were very much out of their element. One slight scare came when our driver hopped out of the van to help with the traffic jam. Thanks to the steep grade of the road, and especially the poor quality of our transportation, the parking brake began slipping and we started to inch backwards, with no one at the helm. Most everyone panicked and leapt out of the van, though I figured I would just go down with the ship. In the end, the crisis was averted and all was well.
Tea Time, gentleman style.
By the time we actually did reach the chilly and gusty 2000 meter high lookout point, the dense fog that obscured everything sucked whatever merit we had hoped to find out of it. Not to worry though, this wasn’t the only thing to see up here. Despite the damp weather that was upon us, we took a short trek through an extremely mossy jungle. Our guide constantly warned us to be on the lookout for deadly cobras in the trees. We unfortunately didn’t come across any though. He talked a bit about the jungle and what significance it had to their economy, and also educated us a bit about the foliage. One of the more smile inducing moments came as he talked about the carnivorous pitcher plant just as one of the other tour members broke it off. He looked on in horror, while I laughed. Finally after getting cold and wet, and our shoes very dirty, we returned to the van to continue on with the day’s adventure.
The next stage of the journey was a butterfly and critter zoo. This sounded a bit on the lame side, but we didn’t have a choice in the matter, so in we went. I was pleasantly surprised by all that I was able to see here though. The butterflies turned out to be the worst part of the exhibit, since they were all amassed in the far corners of the mesh netting. There were a few enormous insects that would have put my mother on her deathbed. A personal favorite were the foot long walking sticks, though a millipede the length of my forearm and beetle the size of my palm were both noteworthy as well. After a little while it was time to leave and make our final stop of the day, a strawberry tourist trap.
This is the largest insect I have ever seen
Strawberries are produced in this region for no reason other than the tourist allure of it, since they are not a native species. After we arrived, despite being unable to pick any ourselves, we were given every opportunity to buy random strawberry desserts at a cafe. I am rather doubtful that these were produced on site, or anywhere near it even but they were more appealing than we can get in Japan, so we all sprang on the cheaper chance to treat ourselves.
Once back at home base, we prepped for another quick departure. We figured the pain of a Christmas Day van adventure from the jungle to Phuket could be alleviated at least somewhat by taking care of the first leg to Penang that afternoon and evening. When the van finally showed up, we hopped aboard with some other foreigners and hit the winding road. I was particularly in awe of the flora and how much it changed along with the elevation. We stopped along the way to admire a sort of waterfall rapids area which was alright, but at least worth the chance to stretch out legs.
Fast forward a bit to the late evening when we are finally arriving. Once there, we checked into the ultimate craphole that our previous accommodation had booked for us. We would be leaving from there at about 6am the next morning, so it didn’t really matter much, though the bed bugs weren’t so appreciated. Other highlights included an ice cold shower and sink that we broke off the wall. As an added bonus, the walls of the rooms only went about halfway up to the ceiling, allowing us to sleep under the wonderful florescent lights. It is certainly places like this that will make me appreciate wealth if I ever come in to it, and also epitomize a type of travel that will probably only be acceptable in my 20s.
This was the first round of noodles
Anyway, despite the late arrival and our unpleasantly early departure the next morning, we decided to venture out and see if we could find any of this wonderful food that we had heard so much about. We talked about going to uptown, but fortunately passed on that for some awesome street food nearby. It was our foursome and a Spanish girl that we met in the van and together everyone was pretty interesting. We were all getting delicious noodles, giant beers and some seafood stir fry. Everything was dirt cheap and super delicious. We hung around till midnight, officially marking the start of Christmas, and then made our way back to the hotel. We took a circuitous route, stopping at some random temple and also a Seven Eleven. Along the way we were met by an enthusiastic ”Merry Christmas!’ from many of locals. After another refreshing shower we tried to get in a few hours of sleep before more glorious van time.
Not sure how we managed to drag ourselves from slumber, but there we all were sitting in the lobby of this luxury resort hoping our van would actually show. The owner spoke almost no English, which made the check in/out a bit complicated, and though he was talking at us now, all that we could really fixate on was passing out in the van. It showed at last, and we were off. At first we thought we had it to ourselves, but to our utmost disappointment we made another stop to let two more people on board. Among their company was an overly talkative, smelly, hippy/gypsy French girl and her companion. I could probably sleep though Armageddon so I wasn’t too bothered, but our more dainty members we annoyed. This was to be about a 13 hour journey in total, and I made sure to sleep for as much of it as I could.
Malaysia is one of the more developed countries in the region, thanks largely to their oil reserves. Despite a a much stronger currency than their neighbors, it is clear that they are still a developing state. I really like Malaysia on account of the diversity of cuisine and the beauty of the nature. Also, as an overly Islamic country it offers a rather different religious flavor from many of their neighbors. Combined with what I saw the first time I visited the country, it was great to expand on what little I had seen previously. I have another chunk of the country staked out that I would still like to see, but that will have to wait for another day.