Archive for the 'Malaysia' Category

South East Asia Adventure, Stop #4: Penang

Thursday, January 18th, 2007

A shorty but goodie. After a horrendous time getting there, Penang was awesome! Brilliant hostel - double room with AC for under $10pp. Awesome location - smack dab in the middle of Little India and Chinatown. Amazing shopping - electronics, movies, souvenirs, clothes - we went nuts. Excellent food, beaches only a local bus ride away. We loved Penang!

We met a lot of interesting people at the hostel, our fav was Q, this huge American black woman. She was great fun to talk to. She and a number of other people were on Thai visa runs. Every other shop and hostel in Penang specializes in getting Thai visas. I think Thailand needs to re-think it’s visa policies.

After 3 days in Penang, Sue and I endured another horrendous over-night bus back to Singapore. The AC on the buses puts the temp somewhere around 5°C, plus Sue had cold water dripping onto her seat. She moved to a conveniently empty seat at the back, but didn’t get any sleep there either. We’re back in Singapore now, and leave for Canada tomorrow.

Can’t wait to see you all! Love and hugs,

Mars and Sue

South East Asia Adventure, Stop #3: Taman Negara

Tuesday, January 16th, 2007

Last night in bed, Sue asked me if I had liked the jungle. I thought about it for a second, and said I both loved it and hated it. Then she asked if I would recommend it to someone else. I thought about it again and decided I’d recommend it, but not the way we did it.

Getting to the village of Kuala Tahan, just outside park headquarters, involves a 3 hour long boat trip up the river from the next closest settlement. You are given a brief welcome to the jungle upon arrival, and then set loose to find accomodations in the village. Turns out every building other than the school is a guest house of some sort. All quite rough, but it’s a village and what we’d expected. That evening we were approached by a travel agent guy and a guide to see if we wanted to join this group who were doing a 2-night trek into the jungle. It sounded like a good idea, all gear would be provided, so we decided to go.

Our guide was an old, slightly crazy Chinese man. He knew a lot about the nature of the jungle, got a lot of facts wrong, and has led a rather sketchy life. He was a heroine addict for 20 years, was in jail 4 times (once in Holland for drug trafficking, three times in Malaysia - the jails in Malaysia are quite bad, he says). All of his druggie friends have died of AIDS and they all used to share needles - terrifying! He lost himself in the jungle for a week in order to learn it’s ways when he arrived at this village over a decade ago, and has been a guide for over 11 years now. The younger, Malay guides refer to him as ’sifu’ - master, or teacher, and he is considered a wise man here. Sue considers him a freakin’ idiot.

The rest of our group consisted of 4 Swedish guys just out of high school. If we thought we were unprepared for this trek, they were a thousand times worse! The did the whole trek with one set of clothes each - each were in Billabong board shorts, K-Mart quality “running” shoes, and socks that wouldn’t stay up. Sue and I looked pro in our KL-bought long sleeves and pants tucked into Anita’s knee-high argyle socks that she’d left me when she moved back to Taiwan.

The trip probably wouldn’t have been quite so bad if we’d had Sue’s camping gear with us, but we left the big stuff at our hostel in Singapore so we wouldn’t have to carry things like sleeping bags and cooking stoves around Malaysia. Wish we had them! The sleeping bags were gross, we had to make fires out of soaked rainforest wood for every meal.

The trekking itself was okay. The paths were wide enough, and well travelled enough. But covered in leeches! I was the only one without any damage to my feet after the first day. Sue joined my club on the second. The poor guys! At least 7 made it through each of their socks, so gross! And the cuts just bleed after picking them off.

This was also the worst no-trace camping that either of us have ever done in our lives. I felt we only did slightly better than the group that took packed lunches in styrofoam boxes to the landing site and left all their trash there. So that’s not saying much for us.

We slept the first night in a giant cave. The cave was pretty cool. There were bats, our guide freaked us out about rats coming to eat our food in the night. Oh yeah, and the food was gross! Instant noodles for lunch each day, weird canned foods for dinner - squid in a can, and curry chicken in a can were my two least favourite. I didn’t sleep much in the cave.

The second day involved only 3 hours of trekking. We didn’t even get going until 11:30 am, and stopped at 2:30pm. When I found out that the other group that had stayed the night in the cave was simply trekking out of the jungle from there I was angry. We weren’t even taking a different route as the 1 night people! We were just spending another 24 hours squatting at a hide for the hell of it. We did see jungle cats that night though, so that was cool.

The night in the hide was brutal. Sue and I shared a wooden bed, sleeping head to foot, but neither of us really slept. Putting on my fetid jungle clothes the next day and preparing to face the leeches again was as near to torture as I’ve put myself so far. It also rained a lot in the rain forest, so the water level had been steadily increasing as the trip progressed. We traversed 2 rivers carrying our bags over our heads that last day. It was a short camping trip, but I’ve never been so anxious for a trip to end in my life!

If I did if again, my advice: take your own gear, and hike out to the first hide from HQ yourself, without a guide. Do the cave from there if you’re up to it. You can go there and back in a day, np, sleeping in the hide.

Before leaving the jungle, Sue and I and the guys went to an Aborigine village, and the canopy walk (very cool!), took a shower, and donated all our dirty jungle clothes to the lady at the hostel we stayed at our first night. We then took the boat back to town, then bus to the next town, then bus to the next town, then over-night bus to Butterworth, then ferry to Penang… where we got a hostel and collapsed.

South East Asia Adventure, Stop #2: Kuala Lumpur

Monday, January 15th, 2007

Our hostel in KL was an Islamic hostel. The people were soooo nice! Truly took care of us. I honestly wanted to come back to KL again on this trip just to stay there a bit longer. The hostel was also situated in an awesome area for shopping and access to transit.

Day 1 in KL saw us arrive, check in, then head over to the Petronas Towers just to get that out of the way. We arrived at the Towers at the end of the day, and all the free tickets for going up to the SkyBridge were of course gone but we checked out the information area anyways. Then 5 minutes later they had a bunch of extra tickets for the last trip up to the bridge since a group didn’t show up, so we got to go up anyway! No hassle, no waiting, charmed Martha is back after a brief set-back in Singapore!

Dinner at the Towers, some shopping, then a relatively early night for us.

Day 2 we got up early to go shopping, but none of the shops opened until 11am. So we went to the National Mosque instead. We arrived too late for the morning tour, so we went to the National Planetarium. Arrived a bit too late for a show there, so we went to the Orchid Park and Hibiscus Park. They were nice, it was hot. Back to the Planetarium, where instead of a star show we saw a film about protecting the biodiversity of Hawaii (random!), then back to the mosque for the afternoon tour.

The mosque was really cool. They give you (us women, anyway) robes and head scarves so that you can go in. We have some funny photos! The mosque itself is funny - it’s pretty, but then the architecture is some kind of Eastern-70’s hybrid. After leaving the mosque we discovered that my shoes had been stolen! At a church essentially! Who steals in church, seriously? Then I thought that Sue had hid them, but no. They were stolen. So a man at the mosque gave me his flipflops, then Sue and I went shopping.

The highlight of the shopping trip was the DVD buying. A girl working at the hostel had told us which mall to go to. After several hours of wandering around buying clothes and food and stuff, we found a promising looking DVD shop. We were looking at some of the movies, all about RG30 ($10), and not too new, when the guy asked “You want new ones, don’t you?” We said yes, so he gave us a map and told us to go to a certain store on a certain level, and to tell his friend there that he sent us. So we went. When we got to where the DVD shop was supposed to be, it was just a blank store front, frosted windows and a door. We were confused, were going to leave, but then the door opened and a guy ushered us inside. He gave us 5 booklets of DVDs and a printed list to go through, told us to pick the ones we wanted, and then our order would be ready for us in 40 minutes.

We picked about 10 films, then went for dinner. We were told to go back to the first DVD shop to pick up our order, and they’d get us as many as they could in 40 min. We went back in an hour, and we were taken around a corner by a 3rd guy, where we paid for the 4 DVDs that they’d managed to get for us. Very sketch. But awesome! Only RG10 ($3) per new movie :)