Melaka, Kuala Lumpur, Cameron Highlands and Penang
Paya Mahang, Malaysia
Melaka was our first point of call after arriving in Malaysia. It's a really pretty colonial town about three hours away from Singapore and made a lovely place to spend two or three days catching up on sleep and finding our feet!
We'd had a rather odd night the previous evening staying in Johor Bahru, a city just across the water from Singapore. We decided to stay here for our first night as it was much cheaper than staying in Singapore and seemed a good location for finding public transport further into Malaysia. The hotel was so so but the area the hotel was in was a large industrial area and so finding food and water was a bit difficult. We eventually found a small cafe and ate a "pao" an almost meringue like bun filled with chicken curry. Not so sure about that one personally! It didn't matter too much though that the place was a bit bizarre as we were both so tired from the flight we fell asleep at about 4pm and slept right through!
We got a taxi into the town of Johor the next morning to catch a bus to take us to Melaka and after being hassled by a couple of touts we were on our way! On one of the nicest coaches I've ever seen, it was quite a treat as I had expected to be sitting in some ramshackled van filled with chickens. We took a taxi straight to our guest house from the bus station as the town was much larger than we had expected and it turned out the bus station was located a little further out and we hadn't yet figured out the local bus timetable! When we arrived I don't think either of us quite knew what to expect as it was our first taste of staying in a hostel together. We had booked two nights at a place called The Oriental Riverside Residence through hostel world. It was fantastic!! As soon as we walked through the door we were met by the owner Asri and his wife. They were just so helpful and kind to both of us whilst we stayed there. He sat with us for about an hour going through a map of the town pointing out good places to eat/drink/sightsee and it made our stay in Melaka wonderful as we had a bit more direction to what we were doing!
The guest house itself was also really lovely. From the outside it didn't look like much but inside our room was great. We had a king size bed, fan and even a small balcony just to ourselves! Unfortunately, we didn't have a view of the river which ran just behind the house but they had benches outside that faced the river that we sat on and had a few beers with the owners. It seemed that they had been running the guest house for years but through speaking to Asri we found out he had actually lived and worked in Kuala Lumpur for over ten years and decided he had enough and that he wanted to 'see the blue skies' as he told Dan.
The town itself was quite quiet but had a lively night market on Jonker Street which proved to be great fun at night with lots of food and antique stalls to browse. Asri had told us that there was a stage at the end of Jonker street where they have regular evening performances so we took a stroll down to have a look and it seemed that they were doing kareoke. We learnt (after laughing a lot and getting death stares from the locals) that Malaysians take their kareoke VERY seriously and the stage was the size of the small stages at festivals and there must have been 100-200 people engrossed in the performance. You know us though and of course we got the giggles and had to move on pretty quickly.
All in all, we really enjoyed ourselves in Melaka and would definitely recomend it to anybody going travelling who just wants a couple of days in a quiet town full of culture, good food and great people!
From Melaka we made our way to Kuala Lumpur on the public bus. The hustle and bustle of the city was a bit of a shock to the system after being in a chilled out town. Luckily we had prebooked our hostel through hostelworld to make it a little easier as the city can be very busy in January and the thought of wondering around looking for beds seemed a bit daunting! We stayed in a nice hostel in China town which is the back packer destination for KL, every other building was a hostel and of course the ones in between were bars, always good!
I think the thing Dan and I liked most about KL was the mix of old and new, that being the traditional architecture and culture mixed in with the modern, sophisticated city. You can really see it as you're walking around looking at spectacular buildings like the Petronas Towers and then two doors down there might be an old mosque. We sat at Mederka square which we both loved and you could see how diverse the architecture of the city is. One of the lovliest places we saw was funnily enough the KL train station, such a stunning building which we later found out was constructed by the chap who owned the tea plantation we visited in Cameron Highlands.
From KL we headed to the Cameron Highlands which to begin with was a tad disastrous. In a slightly drunken stupor a couple of nights before hand we had seen that much of the accomodation for CH was booked up so we had again decided to book somewhere ahead of arrival. The first disaster was that there are three towns in CH - Ringlet, Tanah Rata and Brinchang. Tanah Rata is the largest of the three and serves as the centre of tourism. We had thought this was where we were staying. Turns out we'd made a mistake and got taken to Brinchang, which is not so nice and seemed to be mostly locals but we decided to go with it. We got to the hotel which in true Dan and Sara fashion was located above a dodgy restaurant (why does this always happen to us?!) and this lady who barely spoke a word of English came out to speak to us. After struggling to make sense of each other she took us to the room in what looked like an abandoned hotel and said that we needed to speak to her boss who was on her way. To be frank, the hotel was like a porn set (it was even playing a song called porn - ironic). The sheets were dirty, it had dim lighting and weird webcam cameras everywhere!!! And then to top it off Dan found a huge cockroach which was followed by three more. As you can imagine we were desperate to bail. After waiting nearly 45 minutes for the boss to turn up we had decided we were going to go back to Tanah Rata and try a few hostels we'd heard good things about. Eventually the lady turned up and she was quite sweet but we decided to leave anyway. This was probably the best decision we will make all trip!
We went to a hostel called "Daniel's Lodge" back in the main town. The rooms were very basic just a room and a bed but place had a great atmosphere. There was a large outdoor communal area where people could get a drink and socialise, all the benches were chunky hand made wood and it was quite jungle like but great. We found that just around the back of the building they had "Jungle Bar" Dan's new favourite place. We went in for a drink together the first night after having had a lovely meal in the town and they were playing cool 80's rock and serving nice cheap beers! We had an early one that night as we had organised to go on an adventure tour organised by the hostel the next morning.
After dragging ourselves out of bed at some god awful hour we discovered it was absolutely pouring with rain. It's currently Malaysia's monsoon season so really I suppose we've been quite lucky to have no rain up until now. Sods law it would be on the day we were due to go jungle trekking etc. Anyway in the spirit of things we went and bought ourselves some cheap hiking shoes from what looked like a 7-11 and wore our really cool looking pac-a-macs and got ready to brave the weather.
We driven around all the different sights during the day in a battered old landrover which Dan loved and we were in a group of six with two Canadian guys Matt and Scott and another British couple Ross and Mindy. Luckily everyone got on really well and we had such an ace day. We started off with a "2 hour" trek which was more like 4 hours up a huge hill in the storm. It was great fun but we were absolutely soaked within minutes and knew that we had to wear these clothes for the rest of the day - not great. The trek was into the jungle to see the worlds largest flower. About half way through our mammoth trek (Dan saw it as the beginning of his training to climb Kilamanjaro!) we stopped and our tour guide went to speak to a local aborigine and came back looking devastated. "So group we come to see the giant flower" he says ... "well the tree has fallen".... "and the flower is dead!!" I just found this absolutely hilarious. We'd walked miles, through the rain and mud to see this flower that takes 2 and a half years to grow and blooms for just 7 days in the year that had bloody died!! He took us to see the dead flower for some sort of funeral service and it just looked like a giant pink mushroom, the guys we were with gave up and went for a cigarette it was that dull!
After all having a good laugh about the situation we trekked back and the local aboriginal tribe gave us a blow pipe demonstration. They call it the silent killer that they use to hunt in the jungle. It's a long bamboo shoot that fires out poison darts that can travel up to 30m and mostly they use it to shoot the monkeys. We then all got to have a go which is great and I learned that I am a natural born killer and Dan would be even skinnier if he had to hunt for himself because he missed!
We then went to visit a local tribe which was really interesting and our tour guide got a little over excited stressing how important it was that we all know the local women prostitute themselves to the men in local towns. Why we needed to know that we'll never know!
After a quick stop for lunch we went to the butterfly farm where everything was dead. Again, very very funny. The tour itself was a bit useless but the company really made the day for us because we had such a laugh. The butterfly farm was followed by a visit to the insect farm for a live showing of Tortoises mating. As you can tell the whole day was a bit ridiculous but we loved it.
The best part, which actually was very interesting, was the visit to the tea plantation "Boh." They had a cafe which jutted out into the valley of the plantation and the panoramic view was just spectacular.
Our day of fun was followed by a rather drunken evening with the people we had toured with. We decided we'd all earnt ourselves a beer or two and decided to go try the traditional steamboat meal at a restaurant in town. A steamboat is like a claypot oven where you are given a selection of meat, fish, noodles, tofu etc and a pan of chicken broth and you cook all the food yourself. We weren't really sure of the steamboat etiquette and just threw the whole lot in together and got a few dirty stares from the locals but it was all good. The food was absolutely great and I would definitely recommend trying one for yourself. It's a really fun meal out.
After the meal we went to the jungle bar to sit by the bonfire and have a few drinks. It was a great night but we rolled in at 4am knowing we had to be up at 6am to travel to Penang. Staying out drinking (as fun as it was) was probably the most stupid decision we will make. It made our 4 hour mini bus ride to Penang quite painful and has meant that we panicked when choosing a hostel in Penang and have ended up in a room the size of a prison cell, with lurid pink walls, bars on the window and a bunk bed for the two of us. The showers are cold and the toilet is grim but we were dying in the heat and think we just wanted to collapse anywhere with a bed. Now we are getting over our hangovers the room is looking worse and worse but it's just for one night. We're booked on to an 8.30am bus to Hat Yai (Thailand) where we will stay for a night to get currency and supplies to then travel across to Koh Lipe where we will stay for 3/4 nights and start island hopping.
Planning on travelling Koh Lipe, Koh Lanta, Koh Phangan, Phi Phi and Krabi so we may be unreachable for a few weeks as I imagine the internet connection, if there is one, will be pretty poor.
Ps. We will start putting up photos soon. I've made the decision to take care of the camera from now on as Dan either forgets to charge it, or take it out with him!