Exchange rate at time of travel: 3.11 Malaysian Ringgit to 1 dollar
Travelling to Kuala Lumpur. Nothing interesting to report apart from that finding a hotel was kind of hard seeing that I could not find any cheap accommodation (looked in the wrong part of the city) and finally settled for a dormitory for 40 ringgits (about 13 dollars, exchange rate was at the time roughly 3 Ringgit to 1 dollar), which turned out the be the nicest I had when travelling alone.
I will not write a complete diary for these days. I was stuck in KL and did not do anything superbly interesting during these days but rather met a couple of interesting people (remember that I had only 7 dollars to spend per day... so did not have the money for doing anything but walking). These are David Nguyen, Chris, Hamza Vali, the guys from Singapure (Merel, Suzanna, Anouk, Toralf, Alan, Melissa, …). I had a look around at the sights in Kuala Lumpur, the twin towers, going to a park with them. I also explored KL, which was indeed very interesting owing to its mix of ethnicities. (45% Malay, 30% Chinese, 15% Indian, 10% others). I have posted the photos here. Although after Hongkong, it was not as interesting, it is still worth a stopover.
DO NOT GO TO THE BATU CAVES; it is ugly, full of tourists and expensive!
I decided to travel to Kuala Selangor that day. I had to travel from KL using the KL Kommuter (the train) to Klang. In Klang I had to find the bus station to take the bus to Kuala Selangor. Here I realized that my knowledge of Indonesian does not really help me when communicating in Malay. Although these languages are very similar, the pronounciation is completely different. The Malay use Bahasa as their primary language (therefore dialects are able to develop) while the Indonesian learn Bahasa in school as their second language (No dialects can develop). Therefore Bahasa Indonesia is much more correctly pronounced than Malay (kind of like comparing Schwaebisch with German that is learnt at school). Therefore very few Malay can understand my Indonesian (plus they use some slightly archaic words) unless I speak as if I had a hot potato in my mouth and as if I was in a terrible hurry (in the end I managed that though).
Anyway, once I arrived in Kuala Selangkor, I set out to find a cheap hostel. The search did not prove very fruitful, the first place I visited having been the cheapest (due to the prominence of KL in the region and the attractiveness of Kuala Selangkor, a lot of Malay tourists flog there and therefore it is relatively expensive.). In the evening I went to see the fireflies with two (probably gay) frenchies. The males of these little beings (about as big as a mosquitoe) tend to sit in a massive group on clumps of one tree species and then flash synchronously in order to attract females. When they flash synchronously it lights up the entire tree on which they are sitting. My first thought when seeing those trees emerge through the darkness (we were travelling by boat) was that the most fuel efficient way to light up a Christmas tree has been found. The trees were flashing really synchronously…
Anyway it was a superb display and well worth the 20 ringgit (6 dollars) I put forward for going to it.
I got up at 8, just missed the bus at 8.30, the bus at 9.30 never showed up and I finally got the bus at 10.30. After changing over 3 times (Malay bus system seems to be a bit bad…), I arrived in Pulau Pangkor at 5.30 in the evening… Most of the time was spent waiting for the next bus… Due to the high petrol prices in Malaysia, the buses are rather expensive. This makes a huge dent in the budget.
I found a cheap and cheerful place, which, due to its cheapness, attracts as good as only backpackers (It cost only 8 Ringgit per night). Here I also met another group of four backpackers who I got on very well with (Leon, Jess, Saul and …). They were having a bbq out here and I was joining in (although moderately since I did not pay anything).
During the night there was a storm and the aftermath could be seen the whole day afterwards. It was raining the whole day so I just watched with the other backpackers a couple of films.
The next morning, I went to the beach after getting up very late. Saul had told me about a nearby beach that was really lovely (white sand and nobody on it) that could be reached by going through quite a tortuous path over the rocks that were lining the coast (kind of resembling rock climbing) until I arrived at quite a secluded “beach”. True it was white sand and it was lying right next to the sea but it was not really a lovely beach. Only later was I to realize, when Saul came to join me at the “beach”, that I had not yet arrived at the beach but only at an intermediate little patch of sand. Either way, till then I had struck up a conversation with Malaysians in both English and Bahasa (my bahasa is too awkward, especially since I speak Indonesian and not Malay, and their English was not sufficient for proper conversation) about fishing squid. At 2.30 I had to leave already, in order to go into town proper with the really lovely guesthouse owner called Riza (on the first day he did my laundry, gave us free moskito coils, let us use his freezer, cooked for us (!)…). He had to go anyway to town so he took me on the motor bike. The town turned out to resemble towns in Indonesia, however the progress that Malaysia had made as compared to Indonesia was immediately apparent in the stone house “shopping malls” (couple of little shops selling souvenirs and one supermarket) that were present. However, on the contrary to Indonesia, the amount of Chinese and Indian immigrants present on this island was staggering.
That night was finished by Riza cooking for me and the other three backpackers, and then us watching a film. Late at night, another group of 5 young people (it turned out that they were from KL University making a holiday here.) However, we did not get to properly meet them since they were going to a “party” that was happening at another hotel. Their names were, as I was later to find out, Frank, Anna, Mat (in), Sam and Sheda. Frank and Anna are from Brazil and the other ones from Iran. All of us got together to send a Happy Marriage wish to one of the backpacker's friends.
After getting up late again, I met Anna (who had just woken up) and talked to her for a bit. I wanted to go jungle trekking, however this did not happen because it started to rain. That day, we didn’t do anything either but watch films and talk. It was raining the whole time.
The next day, I again put off the jungle trekking… In the morning, I just read a book. After the 5 woke up, we went into town (Riza gave us a lift for free, only thing we had to pay was the petrol…) to the main town to buy some food for the bbq that we wanted to do that night (as well as some alcohol). The 5 spent a horrible big amount on alcohol (beer is very expensive in Malaysia) however I had my own stash, much cheaper and less dangerous than beer as well as an agreeable amount of food. The afternoon was spent on the white sand beach that I had tried to reach two days previously. Here I saw again how bloody annoying monkeys can be. One of those buggers stole our crisps… I was to have a few more encounters with those little buggers…
The bbq afterwards was superb. Riza added some of his own food to the mix and helped prepare the bbq (well he actually did everything, when I wanted, to help he told me to leave the bbq to him…). This was a really nice evening that was finished off by some night time swimming. The water was fluorescent so every stroke stirred up thousands of luminescent plankton which gave the whole an eerie feeling. It was a superb day.
I went jungle trekking that day. I must confess this was not the best jungle trekking experience I ever had… At first, I did not find the path that Riza had said I should follow (Riza had confused left and right when he told me to turn at a junction…) and then the jungle trail was not that beautiful seeing that a water tube was running alongside it (and the waterfall it led to turned out to be a mini version, barely half a meter high...). Frustrated, I decided to go into the jungle on my own guiding. It is not as dangerous as it sounds since I was walking straight up a mountain and we were on an island and I had no intention of deviating from a straight line, nor was the jungle very dense). When climbing up, I came across a lot of these extremely spiky palm plants (the ones I talked about earlier that had the spikes on the underside of the leaves). However, while those plants were usually small in Thailand, here they grew to absolutely enormous proportions (about 7 meters high with spikes up to 3 cm long and broad or 5 cm and needle thin and rock hard). After a while, I had to duck under overhanging ones and had to take care where I put my hand (it was very steep). Finally, when I realized that nothing but these plants grew around me, I had to forfeit, I was never going to make the top without killing myself either going up or slipping and falling into one of those bushes, so I decided to go back down. The rest of the jungle trek was uninteresting since the sight of these plants and the thought of what their spines could do to my eyes and face made the whole trek seem far more dangerous. I went back as soon as was possible for me.
Shortly after coming back, I joined the 5 at the beach. They had installed themselves somewhere where there was no shade at all so, wise to the scorching qualities of the sun down here, I left early. The others all got massive sunburns…
The 5 had to leave that day so I said goodbye to them and watched a film with Jess and Leon till the morning.
Day of travelling… Left the hostel at around 10.30 and hitchhiked my way to the jetty. Once on the mainland, I took the 12.30 bus to Ipoh. In Ipoh, I had a layover of 7 hours, so I decided to explore the town a little bit. After some confusion, I found the local bus which took me to the train station for something like 30 US cents. Around the train station in Ipoh, a few colonial buildings have survived. The train station in itself is one of these and it is possible to see that the “colonial building style” of theEnglish has in fact been taken from India. The train station (in itself a colonial building) is not called for nothing the “Taj Mahal” by locals…
Just as I started walking, I saw that a massive storm was building a couple of miles distant from me. However, the light was just right for couple of really good photos so I still decided to press on. The colonial buildings were absolutely superb and I managed a couple of shots until it started to rain lightly. Having already seen (and felt) how strong monsoon rain can be, I quickly hurried back to the station where I found shelter. As soon as I was in shelter, the monsoon rain started, even worse than I imagined. The wind picked up, bending the palm trees at right angles and it started to rain so hard that it seemed as if the sky had suddenly turned into a water hose turned on at full. I could not see more than 10 m because of the rain (the photo below was taken at the start of the storm). I had never ever seen rain that strong. If anyone would have gone outside at this moment, they would have been drenched to the bones in less than a second.
Shortly afterwards, the rain let up and I went again on an exploratory tour. This time I managed to take pictures of only one (amazing) building before the whole rain procedure started again. Again I hid in the station. Afterwards, I took a bus back to the express bus station and waited for my overnight bus to Kota Bahru. I barely slept on that bus…
At 4 I arrived at the bus station in Kota Bahru. I had to wait till 6.30 till the next bus left. Once in Kuala Besut (the only place where the boat to Pulau Perhentian leaves), I had another shock since it costs 22 dollars (more than I live on for a day). However I had saved up the previous days so I was able to pay for it more or less. The boat turned out to be a small 4 meter long boat to which some crazy person had stuck two 200 horsepower outboarders. It absolutely flew over the water (and probably was guzzling away the petrol as fast). Once arrived in Long beach, I was strongly reminded of Ko Phi Phi, an island in Thailand that I hated. It was a place where young people could party and feel just like at home, when going out and getting drunk at home (just a lot more expensive). I hate those places…
In the end, I walked over to Coral Bay with my luggage. It was still very touristy and I did not like it very much either. So I walked on with all my luggage in the middle of the day heat (that’s how much I have grown to hate these kind of touristy places) until I finally arrived at Mira Beach. For 20 Ringgit (6 Euro), I could have a bed in a dormitory (50 for a normal house) but it turned out that there was nobody else in the dormitory during the three nights that I stayed there, so for 20 I got a massive place all for myself.
Mira Beach was superb, as compared to other places in Thailand. Quite, not very crowded, lovely staff, clear water, white sand beach and still I was not content. I wanted to do something, to see something, to move, to see sights. The next day I wanted to go deep jungle trekking, however, I was too tired to do anything that day so I just chilled on the beach reading a book and talking to the other guests (who were all Germans apart from one French woman). I got along with everybody. One of them, Jannis (manager of some kind in the mining business, on his way back from skiing and working in Australia making a stopover as holiday in Mira Beach) wanted to come with me the next day jungle trekking.
We left relatively late, around 11.30 o’clock. Lan (the owner of the hotel) had told us that there was an overgrown path that led up the mountain, into the jungle. It had been used a couple of month ago by fieldworkers collecting the durians that grow up in the mountains. He also lent us a small bushknife (not quite a machete) which proved to be a godsend on the trip. During the first 30 minutes all went fine. It was going steadily upwards (the mountain on the island was about 400 to 500 meters high and covered in dense jungle). After about 15 minutes, we saw a green iguana (pretty rare to see, because they can adapt their colour to the underground on which they are lying). The only reason why we even managed to find it is because I nearly tread on it and it had to flee from my stomping feets, which gave it away. Although the path was somewhat overgrown, it was relatively easy going (compared to what we would do next). After a while, the path was not visible anymore and Jannis and me decided to go straight up the hill, through quite thick jungle. As it turned out, it was not the thickest jungle we were to encounter but we had to fairly hack our way through it. Our progress slowed terribly, however as the jungle got thicker and thicker. At one point on the way up, we took about 15 minutes to go 100 meters because lianes needed to be cut away, smaller lianes were tangling our feet, hundreds upon hundreds of tiny ants settled upon our T-shirts and had to be brushed off, big detours had to be made around patches where the jungles was just too thick… While going up, we saw some unforgettable sights, like listening to the incredibly loud noise a colony of big black ants (about 1-2 cm each) makes near anthills (a kind of continuous, obviously less loud, machinegun fire), or like ants which were 5 cm big (imagine one of them biting you…), or lizards that fast scramble into hidey holes when you approach, or jungle rat-squirrels jumping from tree to tree (they did look like rats but with a bushy tails). When we arrived after 3 hours at what we thought was the top, both of us were joyous of having made it. By then, both of us were sweating profusely and had drunk more than ¾ of our water….
All the jungle on our way up had been completely undisturbed (the path that we had taken could actually be seen quite clearly due to us needing to hack our way through the jungle) After a rest (Jannis had a piss and joyously declared: “I am probably the first person who has taken a piss here, ever”.) we decided to continue along the path we had taken (going in the direction that I thought where Long beach was lying).
Going downwards was much more of a struggle. The jungle was ever more dense. Furthermore, there was the problem that the slope was very steep and the lianes kept tripping us up. We ran out of water after a very short time on the decent as the heat was absolutely sweltering… We had to get some water…
Both of us were wondering at the tree that we saw that had fruits (or seeds) growing directly out of the stem when we came past it. In the end, we ended up near a beach, which was on the diametrically opposite side of the island compared to where we wanted to go… We forgot to take a compass and therefore had not kept the direction as accurately as we thought… Both me and Jannis were really happy to be able to jump in the sea and we had an extensive bath. After coming back to the hotel, we finished the evening with a bbq next to the sea (that was the first time that I had paid more for a meal than for my accommodation and hopefully it will be the only one (25 ringgit, 8 dollars)).
That day I went to trek from Mira beach over the fishing village to Long Beach. I met a young Italian couple at the start who were planning to do the exact same trek. It was fine till the village (where I ate lunch) and then (on our way to Longbeach) the path was starting to turn to a small “trampelpfad” and then, suddenly, it disappeared. What we did then is turn towards walking along the stony beach (well… more like boulders), jumping from rock to rock. The path then turned to small stones, which were far easier to navigate. The next thing that happenend was that the path turned back again to boulders which were going bigger and bigger. As we rounded the point of a bay, I was just thinking that this is the end of our road and that we would need to turn back. What was in front of us was a cliff of about 6 meters high… Luckily at the end we found a place where we could safely climb the cliff. We thought that the cliff was the only of its kind, however we were wrong. Turned out that the whole next bay was like that (keep in mind, I was rock climbing with flip flops…). We climbed along without it ever being really dangerous until one moment when I was about 6 meters high and only standing on a ledge of about 10 cm, underneath me ragged stone and me… in flip-flops. Finally, we arrived at a hole in the cliffs that was uncrossable. We had then to make our way to the water tube that had been built recently in order to connect Long Beach water system to the water system of the fishing village. Finally with about an hour of daylight to spare (as assurance I ALWAYS have my torch with me), I arrived back at my hotel at Mira Beach. What an adventure.
That day I travelled to 3 hour distant Kuala Terrenganu. On the bus to Terrenganu I met 2 swedish girls who were also going to Kuala Terrenganu (with a connection the next morning to Kulau Kapas). When arriving, we took a hostel and went out to have dinner. The city in itself was not interesting but at least the dinner was nice…
Went on a day trip to the “Floating Mosque”. This is a mosque built on an artificial lake, supported by concrete pillars that one cannot see due to the overhanging architecture. At first I was disappointed by the small size of it, however once I was inside it was really beautiful. Again the photos show much better what I mean than I could be bothered to describe here.
Afterwards I went to the Kompliks Muzeum Terrenganu, which was supposedly the biggest museum of south east Asia. The building structure was indeed interesting but the interior was a bit arranged haphazardly (an exhibition on the mount everest was right next to one on how to make traditional weapons…). Still I had a good time down there. The evening was spent exploring downtown Kuala Terrenganu, which wasn’t anything special. Unfortunately, I could not see the traditional boat making that still happens on the Pulau Duyung there because it was weekend.
The next day, I left for Cheratin because Tat-seng, a friend of mine from my boarding school, had informed me that he will be in Singapore in 4 days time. I wanted to see the most possible of Malaysia still before going to Singapoure. When arriving in Cherantin, I realized it was a touristy place without very much to do but lie at the beach (Don’t worry, it was not the touristy place that I had come to reallz loath, the party tourist places like Ko Phi Phi). I met a couple of Dutch people. Two guys, travelling around the world, and two girls, just on holidays for 3 weeks. I “partied” (meaning we sat in a bar and drank) that night with them and it was quite fun.
Was tempted to go to Johor Bahru this morning but when I looked at the Lonely Planet, I realized that Jb was not an interesting place. That day, I did a fat load of nothing the whole day and was chatting to the dutch. The dutch left at 2 in the morning and I stayed up and talked to them until they had to leave. The two dutch guys (Sim and Bart) were going to go Sumatra and I was to meet up with them there.
This day, I left to Johor Baru at around 1. I arrived in JB at 2.30. I had 8 hours to wait. A big number of those 8 hours (well ok, 2 at most) were spent wandering through the rather uninteresting streets in JB looking for a place where I could go on the internet. At the end I found one tucked away in a corner about 1 km away from the bus station. I also arranged to meet up with a couple of friends I have previously met in KL (students from Singapore) in Singapore. I also arranged to meet up with my Sevenoaks friends (Tat-seng and Darius) on Thursday. Either way, Jb is quite an uninteresting city, at least for me who has seen already to a lot of other Asian cities .I had eaten dinner at a Chinese, where I met Tommy a rather interesting and nice Chinese dude and where I thought that I had lost my wallet. Luckily I didn’t (how annoying would that be), however I had lost my bus ticket. Luckily the counter madam and the bus driver where so nice as to let me on the bus without me having to buy another ticket (there is no way anyone could have been that frenetically searching again and again his bag if he hadn’t really lost his ticket…)
After some uninteresting border crossing, I arrived in Singapore. I have always heard about the wonders of Singapore, having had friends from there. After this one day, I now can sum up Singapore in one word: dull. Having found my hotel, I met Claudia totally randomly. Claudia is a German girl from my boarding school from the year below me. She was and is a good friend who I had completely lost touch with over the past years. I only knew that she was studying somewhere in Australia. And now she was standing in front of me. It turned out that she was on the way to see her boyfriend in Australia and had a layover of a couple of days in Singapore.
That day, I went to Sentosa island (the tourist island) and found it disgusting.
Then I walked through Chinatown and found it less interesting than the China town of KL. The same for Little India. Although it is true, I have not been to the zoo as well as to the nightsafari which are one of the highlights of Singapore according to Lonely planet (which I really did not want to do, preferring to see animals in their natural habitat), I can distinctly say that I find Singapore not as interesting as for example Hongkong with its stark contrast between Chinese and Britsh.
After some confusion and my phone not working as well Darius forgetting to include me in the messages that he was sending to Tat-seng, I met up already on Wednesday with the guys from Sevenoaks (when I had organized to actually meet up with the people from Singapore that I had met in Kuala Lumpur). This was quite a fun evening. I then went to see the people from Singapore in the club where we had arranged to meet, however I was not allowed to enter because some stupid bouncer had a problem with my shoes (although I had a good shirt on…). I was really pissed off, so I decided to leave this shit city the next morning.
Went to back to Malaysia, more precisely to the town of Melaka. It is a really beautiful city set in the strait of Malacca. Luckily I met an owner of a budget hotel, who after some haggling, agreed to let me a room for 20 ringgit (an ok-ish price). That day I didn’t do anything noteworthy apart from eating at a foodcourt. Later on in the evening, I met two girls there who apparently studied in Singapore. They were far too full of themselves (they said to me seriously that since they studied in Singapore they knew South East Asia (Singapore being the most expensive and most Western city of whole SE Asia…). When we went past a market and it smelled slightly of old rotten water, one of them nearly had a heart attack. I left them pretty quickly and was glad that I did. These were the most annoying people I had met until then.
The day started with me taking a breakfast at the food court (spicy soup in the morning, just perfect for stomach ulcers…) and then having a look around the town. It is true, the town is really beautiful with its little colonial style stone houses, its really Asian little shops selling absolutely everything, its colonial market and fort. Mum would have absolutely loved it. The only drawback of this city, in my eyes were its truly uninspired “new city” (identical stone houses built one next to each other like in ugly western towns) and the fact that at every turn Melaka was drawing attention to its UNESCO World Heritage status.
Either way, I started walking along the town, along the road where apparently all the main attractions of Melaka were. True, the sight was unique, a strange mixture of European architecture and Malay, English and Chinese writing and true it was very interesting, however for me having traveled Asia for more than three months (Sulawesi included) and having been born and bred in Europe, it did not exhibit as much charm on me as I had initially thought.
Again, true, the old market as well as the church of Adam (something like that) were really beautiful and unique (and I mean it), however there was this little something missing. It looked as if this part of town just got forgotten about while the rest of the town just went ahead with its development. This was especially apparent when I “climbed” the top of the hill with the fort and an abandoned church on top. I could see over some parts of Melaka and it was really only the tiny part situated around the hill on which I was that was even remotely attractive. The sight was rather depressing; tall mega-hotels jutting out of the ground, massive malls, the ugly new city, with only one hill having retained the fascinating architecture that the Dutch introduced here. It looked as if it this part of Melaka was just kept alive to appease those who give out the UNESCO World Heritage badge. There was this special something missing….
Do not get me wrong here, I did find Melaka extremely beautiful but for me there was this little something missing that is often so apparent in Indonesia and that I search for so much when I go travelling: spirit. This city, I thought, did not have any spirit, it did not live anymore its past with its architecture etc… It had just discarded it and lived somewhere else, probably in the consumer friendly world of the developed country.
However, enough of me rambling on. That night, I still met a French couple who I talked to over the evening. They told me that the walk along the river was very beautiful. Encouraged I did do the walk and yes it was beautiful and it was (at least some of it) kept in the same style as the colonial buildings in the old city but as soon as one left the river, one came found either hypermodern jet fountains showing a luminous water show (which was indeed beautiful) or into some old Indonesia style (apparently it was traditional with ramshackle buildings…) village/district. Although it was a really beautiful walk, again I left somewhat disappointed.
As a summary, I would recommend Melaka at any point. It is very beautiful and definitely worth seeing. The question is only if you like to stay longer or not. For some, like my mother, the contrast will appear marvelous (again true, the effect lighting that was used in the old center gave it a stunning effect) others, like me, will love it in the beginning and then start to miss the little something that that person will find makes the difference between a city that is lived in and a city that is just for show.
I left Melaka to go to KL. I was supposed to meet a friend in KL and stay with him (he studies in KL). I arrived a bit too early so I thought that I would just chill out for a couple of hours in Chinatown with a nice little Teh Tarik (the bad Teh Tarik are made with a bag of tea to which some sweet cream is added while the more expertly done ones are filtered twice through the same tea net and then through some sort of cocoa with added cream). However, once in China town, I did not find any respectable side street restaurant or café. I walked around for nearly an hour and then found in a little corner when I was just about to give up, a small restaurant (do not confuse with Western style restaurants, these are small sidewalk cafes which also happen to cook food. They ressemble the Indonesian Warung (actually are undistinguishable…). The Teh Tarik was awful. After having found a further restaurant and tried a further Teh Tarik (this one was awesome), I finally made my way to my mates in Serdang (suburb of KL).
Babak (my mate) then invited me to his girlfriends birthday party. It turned out that everyone was Iranian (as was Babak). The reception they gave me was wonderful and I had really a good night, with me learning to dance Farsi (actually like a Farsi girl, a girl (Nina) dancing with me and me copying her moves) and to party like a Farsi. It was a really perfect evening.
Didn’t do anything the whole day apart from relax. In the evening, I went to see Ka ching (my mate from Sevenoaks who lives in KL). After I got treated to a nice dinner of Indian food at a local restaurant, Ka ching took me his home where we sat outside and talked.
At around 11, I left and just got the last train back to Serdang. Both Babak and me decided that neither of us wanted to go out anymore (barely any alcohol (parents, be reassured) was served at the Farsi party but I danced all night long).
The next day I traveled to Indonesia.
Click on the travel guide to Indonesia if you want to continue reading