Since our last entry in Bangkok a lot has happened so this might be a long 'un!
Due to time restrictions we decided we could only fit in one Thai Island so we picked Koh Lanta (fairly close to the Malaysian border and in the Andaman Sea) and headed there. After what seemed like the longest journey ever we reached the beaches and were pleasantly surprised to find that, although it was very pricey, it was also very quiet. We had stretches of the beach to ourselves most of the time. We were also pretty lucky to find an Irish bar showing the start of the 6 nations, so that was a bonus! Unfortunately, despite the relaxing and incredibly gorgeous surroundings we spent alot of our time in Koh Lanta trying to sort out the stolen credit card mess with police.
Although Koh Lanta was beautiful, because we are pretty lame beach lovers we decided to move on to Penang, Malaysia - country number 5. We spent a couple of days in Georgetown doing a "Pug" walking tour - always the best, and always free! - which included going to the top of Penang Hill (in a weird train) for the great views over Penang (plus the breeze at the top was a blessing).
Then our trip took a little random, semi-unplanned turn as we decided to 'pop' over to Sumatra, Indonesia for a few days (because this was a possible trip it is one of the reasons we decided to only do one Thai Island and use the time here instead). I think we would both agree that it was one of the best parts of our trip so far - and so well worth the money and the 2 full days of travel there and back! They claim the boat takes four hours, but this is infact a lie and it takes about 6/7 - not so bad if you don't have all the people on the boat being sick. A real bonus on the way over was that we met some Australian guys (Seb and Jared) who had a portable dvd player and had recently purchased feature length episodes of Family Guy and Futurama - it was a pretty good way to pass the time!
When we reached Sumatra the 4 of us were lucky enough to strike a deal (being back to bargaining was quite fun) to get us straight to Bukit Lawang that night, which is where we wanted to be and meant we didn't have to spend a night in the city of Medan - the driver even stopped for us to have dinner in this random roadside restaurant where the food was excellent and we had our first (definitely not last) experience of hand eating. It's pretty messy if you're not used to it! However, being back in the real Asia also took it's toll when we realised we had to change vehicles and would be travelling with a family in a minivan! The family were fantastic - we found all Indonesians really friendly, smiley and fun - but we were pretty crammed in the van, I was sitting on a funny stool seat which I kept falling off. The highlight of the van trip, however, was when the baby in the front (being held over her grandma's shoulder) woke up towards the end of the journey. She wasn't very happy about the bumby road which resulted in a projectile vomiting incident over myself and Jared! Luckily it was just our feet and legs, but I was a bit worried Jared was going return the favour by the look on his face.
When we dropped the family off at their house (together with a huge new TV they had bought, which took up two seats in the minivan) it had just started to rain a little and the driver took us further on to Bukit Lawang. He picked up a tour guide on the way - Alik - who told us of a few accommodation options and took us to the cheapest as requested! The minivan couldn't reach the guesthouse so we had to walk. By this time the sky was emptying - we have never seen rain like it - and we had to walk, with our packs, through the flooding town in pitch black, up some lethal concrete steps and cross the heaving river over a high wooden bridge (and back down more lethal steps!). It was certainly funny looking back on it, but at the time it wasn't so fun.
Once dried off and with a beer (surprise surprise) Seb and Jared talked us into doing a two day one night trek. The whole purpose of us going over to Sumatra was to see an Orangutan feeding session, where jungle rangers interact with semi-wild orangutan to encourage back to wild feeding, but Alik assured us that we had a better chance of seeing orangutan on the trek anyway. So that was that, the next morning we headed out on our jungle trek and within 10 minutes we saw a mother and baby orangutan. It was incredible. She even swang all the way down the trees and was within less than an arms reach of us. Throughout the rest of our first trekking day we saw another 5 orangutan, including Mina who is a pregnant vicious lady! The guides had warned us about her (Bobby our guide said he was biten on the leg by her once and he couldn't walk for three days), it was just unfortunate that she decided to turn up after we had made it half way up a very steep hill, which we then had to run down to get away from her. As well as the orangutans we saw thomas-leaf monkeys (even got to feed a semi-wild one), white-handed gibbon swinging through the trees, Mekak monkeys (including a very cheeky male who was trying to steal our breakfast the next morning), giant insects,a giant monitor lizard and a poisonous snake in the waterfall where we were washing! Unfortuantely we didn't see any rhinos but as there are only 10 left that's not really surprising, and we managed to avoid the tigers! The trek itself was pretty good but there was quite a bit of steep climbing involved and then lots of falling over on the way down. It was incredibly humid in the jungle and water(/sweat?!) was just pouring off us, even when we were standing still - jungle whiskey (ginger tea) was fantastic once we reached the camp for rehydrating us!
Luckily it didn't rain during the evening because our tent was just some bin bag plastic over some poles! One of our guides crushed up garlic and put it all around the tent to keep away mosquitos, snakes, spiders (he gave me a pretty long list of what the garlic keeps away, think he was trying to freak me out). The evening was spent with the trek guides trying to catch us out with riddle and trick after riddle and trick. They found it hilarious. Our second day was very chilled in comparison to the first. We spent the morning eating alot and in the waterfalls, then we tubed/rafted down the river rapids back to Bukit Lawang.
Bukit Lawang was incredible. Our couple of days there were some of the most enjoyable ever. It's pretty small but the scenery is amazing and the people are really friendly - plus there weren't many backpackers or tourists about at all. We definitely want to go back to the Sumatra jungle and see more of Indonesia. But unfortunately this time we had to head back to Penang (especially seen as we only had a 7 day visa!). After our second day trekking we got straight on a bus and headed to Medan. What we saw of Medan seemed quite nice, but it wasn't somewhere we would have wanted to spend longer. Then the next morning we got back on the boat to Malaysia - which was less pleasant than the trip over even if slightly shorter.
The definite highlight of Malaysia so far was the Cameron Highlands. Despite an horrendous day attempting to get a bus there from Penang, once we arrived we managed to find a great guesthouse - the family who ran it were ultra friendly and helpful and the gardens and views (and breakfasts!) were fabulous.
Instead of paying for another trek we decided to devise our own (with the 'help' of a very bad map). Our first day we got slightly lost because our map routes didn't match the signposts so we ended up walking along the roads for most of the time. But we made it to the strange butterfly farm and saw all the strawberry farms (and got back) which was the intention. Our second day trek was more successful, we walked through the jungle and then up a long windy road to a tea plantation - a pretty long walk just to get some tea (complete with chocolate cake and scones with jam obviously) but well worth it. Our legs are suffering today though from all their recent activity!
And now we are in Kuala Lumpur (and almost at the end of this blog, bet you're all sighing with relief!), we only got here this afternoon and are staying in the most laid back guesthouse in the world - I was sure it must be run by Sean when we walked in, but apparently not. Malaysia is alot different to the other Asian countries we've seen, in both good and bad ways. Their roads are great, and it's really easy to get around. Their more western approach to life ensures you don't get hassled - which is strange now, we get off a bus and there's no one trying to compete with each other for your attention. We kinda miss it!! The greatest downside however is the price of beer, it's extra expensive - boo. Guess it's setting us in good stead for Singapore and Oz though.
Also, they really like Boys II Men here as well which is a bit weird - I'm loving it, Pug's not so much.