Hello people! Yes, we're still alive! Apologies that it's taken me a while to update the blog. We got to a beach and I completely lost the ability to do anything other than eat, sleep, sunbathe and read (except wash our clothes - I'm sure the poor lady in the launderette is still recovering!) And then when I could be arsed, I suffered an extremely slow web connection as I was trying to label the KL pics and then the website was closed for editing for maintenance, so it wasn't entirely my fault!
Anyway, our travels, what's been happening? We arrived in KL on 26th May after a pretty bumpy flight and instantly felt that we were back in civilization! Kuala Lumpur is a truly modern Asian city and we both felt that we'd love to return and explore some more, whereas we just wanted to leave Bangkok! We caught a Star Shuttle bus into town (the airport is 100 km out) which was easy until they dropped us off - we had directions from the bus station to our hostel, but unbeknown to us the bus station gets overcrowded so buses tend to drop people off somewhere outside, which is helpful! We started to ask for directions and were soon found by a tout for another hostel, who was sort of helping. Then a local called Phillip stopped. He hung back while the other guy gave directions then said to follow him and very kindly led us straight to the door of our hostel, waving off all attempts to thank him by saying that he travels a lot and has been helped by many people in different countries so was just returning the favour - thank you Phillip!
And we soon discovered that this is typical of Malaysians - they are genuinely lovely people, always ready with a smile and willing to help and you don't get the feeling that everybody is trying to scam you as you do in Bangkok. Our accommodation at the Serai Inn was good, granted it was a tiny room with plastic partitions, but with earplugs it was fine and we were lucky enough to have a window! Plus it was the only place in our price range that didn't have reports of bed bugs! We soon extended our stay from 2 nights to 3, partly so we could see more of the city and partly so we could eat more food - the food here is totally awesome! Malaysia, and in particular KL, is a real melting pot of different cultures so as well as finding excellent Malay food you can dine out on exceptionally good Indian & Chinese as well. Our hostel was conveniently close to both Chinatown and Little India so we could sample both easily. We ate the best Indian meal ever at a little place recommended by the man at our hostel, with the friendliest staff who truly appreciated our ravings of pure pleasure while eating. And as for their ginger tea, it was the nicest tea in the world - I don't think Su will rest until she has found the recipe! In Chinatown we ate at hawker stalls. First we found a satay stall and ate chicken & beef, grilled and dipped in a spicy satay sauce, and the following night we ate prawn wontons in chicken stock with crispy pork & noodles and some chillies in soy sauce. Delicious and very cheap! And of course we ate Malay food, notable for its flavours of sweet & sour. The most memorable meal was in a little café in the Lake Gardens, which I admit I approached with a little trepidation, thoughts of park cafes in the UK in my mind, but it was full of locals and we ate delicious and cheap food with huge smiles on our faces! Thoughts of returning to Malaysia and eating our way around are in both of our minds!
When we did manage to pull our stomachs away from food we also got to see some of the city. We did some shopping in the famous Golden Triangle and spent a day sightseeing. First we went to the famous Petronas Twin Towers and queued from 7.30 to get free tickets to visit the Skybridge for a view over KL (there are only so many tickets available each day). Here we met a rather gorgeous young Swedish guy called Magnus who accompanied us in our search for breakfast, which resulted in us stuffing our faces with warm pretzels dipped in cinnamon sugar, chocolate and nuts (not all at once of course - we went back for more!) and also in our trip to the Skybridge for a fabulous view, although I could have done without the 3D cinema beforehand - 15 minutes of pure Petronas propaganda! And meeting Magnus was of special significance for me as he was the person who told me that my lovely Spanish cousins at Barca had prevented further tragedy - can't have Utd equalling our league record and moving a step closer to our European one, all in one season! In the afternoon we went to the Lake Gardens enticed by the bird park, advertised as the world's largest free flying aviary. Sadly we were sorely disappointed here as we found that some birds were in tiny cages and others had their wings clipped so they couldn't fly, which was really upsetting and we wished we hadn't gone. Some birds were in large aviaries, but we didn't really appreciate the large hornbills dive-bombing people walking through either! Guess that's a lesson to us both - yes, the country is a lot more advanced than the likes of Laos and Cambodia, but we're still in Asia!
Then we moved to Cherating, a low key chilled resort on the East Coast, and here we remain. We only booked for 2 nights, then we extended, and extended again, and so on. It's just that kind of place! Our first contact with the warmth and charm of Cherating was at the bus station in KL. Here we were approached by a warm, free spirited German lady named Sheela, who has lived here for 20 years. She guessed our destination (it's a popular traveller spot) and told us to alight when she did which meant that we could relax and enjoy the journey without wondering whether the driver would remember to call out our stop! We found a room at the first place we tried, Payung Guest House, and found a little place we could call home. Our cabin is a little wooden a-frame on stilts with 2 beds, 2 mosquito nets, a table, and a fan each, plus we have our own bathroom with sink, toilet, and cold water shower, which spurts out in all directions but we have grown to love. It's probably the most rustic we can handle, especially for Su with the threat of snakes, as there are many gaps to the outside world, but the only wildlife we have had inside are the adorable geckos whose 'chirruping' call we find a comfort (now we know who makes it!) The mosquito nets help enormously as it's good to feel safe while sleeping and we soon felt quite at home.
The day we arrived was overcast with heavy rains and the following day was also grey and rainy which wasn't in the plan - apparently it's highly unusual at this time of year and seems to be symptomatic of climate change worldwide. Something else highly unusual and probably caused by the rains was a yellow cobra coming out of the jungle and going straight into the Internet Café in which I'm writing this, causing everybody inside to run out screaming! Thankfully we weren't inside at the time, but poor Su was on her way to buy water when the commotion happened, though she politely declined the chance to go and have a look! Typical! But yellow cobras aside, the rain didn't dampen our spirits and we loved our first day, just chilling on the balcony, reading, watching the little stripy squirrels run around and looking at the different birds.
The following day the sun returned and we began our hectic schedule of breakfast-beach-lunch-beach-dinner-bed! And I really don't know what has happened to me but I appear unable to stop sleeping - I sleep well at night, but as soon as I get to the beach I read a little and fall asleep, turn over, read another couple of pages and I'm asleep again, quite heavily! Somehow I've managed to read a couple of books, but I can't believe how much I've been sleeping - Su thinks it's hilarious (and she's made me add a picture she sneaked while I was 'resting'!) But I do find the time to eat, and once again we've been enjoying this exercise enormously. Our accommodation is conveniently close to the food stalls and restaurants so we fall out of bed and over the road for our favourite breakfast: iced milo (basically cold chocolate) to drink, then Su has canai, a type of stretched fried bread with various flavours, while I've found my favourite start to the day is nasi lemak - rice cooked in coconut milk with sambal (hot chilli sauce), fried anchovies, a fried egg and salad garnish. I never thought I could eat spicy food so early but I'm well and truly addicted! I'm getting withdrawal symptoms at the mere mention of cornflakes! There are a couple of places that have a variety of dishes where you can help yourself for lunch - rice, chicken, fish, veggies, the best chicken soup in the world. And for dinner we share ourselves around a few of the food stalls and munch on various rice or noodle dishes, and occasionally treat ourselves to a little place where you can pick out your own fish, squid or prawns and these are barbequed or cooked to order. Yep, the food here is amazing!
And Cherating itself is charming. We are staying in Cherating Lama, Old Cherating, which is basically one road with a few guest houses, food stalls restaurants and shops, and then there's the beach, a lovely strip of white-golden sand, fringed with trees and an aquamarine sea that requires a long walk to swim when the tide is low. We are surrounded by wildlife of all sorts that we sit and watch while shading under the trees at the hottest part of the day: lots of birds, hornbills, brightly coloured kingfishers, woodpeckers, bulbuls, ioras and huge sea eagles gliding over the sea, plus massive monitor lizards, over a metre long, foraging for food in the trees. The beach is generally quite quiet aside from the weekends when it is packed with Malaysians flying kites, playing ball, frolicking in the water and picnicking under the trees, so people-watching is great fun. The US Navy are also here for a short break, and if we tire of people-watching the local riding school is often exercising its beautiful and very well looked after horses along the sands, or taking them for a swim and yesterday a monkey was being trained to climb the coconut trees and pick the fruit (or should that be nuts?) Honestly, no wonder I'm tired with so much going on!
We have managed a couple of excursions. I went on a river trip into the jungle to see snakes (surprisingly Su didn't want to come!) We plodded up the river in a tiny boat sitting low in the water and looked at the tangled mangrove roots, some stunning reflections in the water and glided underneath sleeping mangrove snakes. They are beautiful creatures, black with yellow hoops though the driver told us with some amusement that they are aggressive and dangerous to humans so we couldn't sit underneath them in case they dropped into the boat, then he proceeded to drive straight underneath one! We also saw a giant beehive, crabs, monkeys raiding a bin at a landing stage, plus lots of birds and butterflies. The following day Su & I walked to the nearby turtle sanctuary, which has helped thousands of endangered turtles hatch and return to sea safely. We saw some babies only 2 weeks old, plus larger turtles that were absolutely stunning with a shell that looked like overlapping scallop shells, and heads and flippers covered in a mosaic-like pattern.
After a few days Su & I had a difference of opinion over the next move. I desperately want to keep moving and exploring as there is still so much I want to see and do here and was planning to move onto the Perhentian Islands, further up the East Coast, famous for their stunning beaches and snorkelling. Whereas Su is getting tired of moving on every few days as it takes her longer to adjust to a place and she finds the process of moving and finding transport and accommodation mentally tiring, plus she read lots of reports about the rustic accommodation close to the jungle on the Perhentians and was worried about the stories of various unwanted wildlife finding its way into rooms! In the end the decision was made for us as we are in the middle of a 2-week school holiday and the buses and better accommodation were all booked, so we stayed here. And you know what, I've loved every second! We've got to know the place, where to find the best food, what sort of birds are around, the spot on the beach where the sun remains for the longest in the evening. And of course the locals, Jun & Trish, the Indonesian-Scottish owners of our guest house and their adorable daughter Yasmin are often around for a chat, we've met Sheela a few times, been to dinner with her and to her house for tea which Su bravely walked through long grass to reach, and of course we've met other travellers. And the whole village seems to know that Su doesn't like snakes, which they all seem to find amusing! The only annoyance has been the mosquitoes - we've run out of deet and can only buy natural stuff here which doesn't work for 10 minutes let alone the advertised 10 hours and we're covered in bites - irritating enough but when the mosquitoes carry malaria and dengue fever it's not funny and much as I hate using chemicals on my skin I'm desperate to get more deet.
But anyway, I've rambled on for far longer than I intended. Tomorrow it's time to leave - we're moving up to Kota Bharu where we'll stop for a couple of nights to check out the excellent market and then we'll cross the border back into Thailand and head to the islands!
Be in touch soon, with love, Jo & Su, xxx
nb - had a further problem with the computers last night as the website refused to load once I'd typed all of this into to Word and then the power disappeared for the rest of the day. So tomorrow is now today if you see what I mean & we're actually in Kota Bharu!