We are coming up to our second week in New Zealand, so I realise it is very lapse that we are only now updating the blog. So apologies to all those who do read this regularly (Mum).
So, I believe I last wrote from the Cameron Highlands in Peninsular Malaysai. We left the cool breeze of the highlands to the somewhat steamier Teman Negara rainforest - the oldest rainforest in the world. We stayed in a small village in the midst of the rainforest, which involved a beautiful 2 hour boat journey to get to it. The only down side of the village was it was a dry village... (as in no alcohol). This was the start of an alcohol reduced part of our travels, which was to last until we reached New Zealand really - mainly due to lack of supply and high taxation by the Malaysian government.
The highlight of the jungle was a canopy walkway, a half hour walkway built on suspension ropes high up in the tree tops. It felt pretty nervy in places, as the ropes had a bit more give than you wanted, but it offered a lovely view of the jungle and river. We came across wild macaques, who were very playful... but eyed your belongings a little too keenly at times. It paid to keep your bags on you at all times, when these little monkeys were in the vicinity. We stayed a few night nights in the jungle, walking and taking another boat trip. It was really peaceful and great to be in the midst of so much beautiful nature.
After all the wildlife, we decided to get back into a more people environment and headed to Melaka /Malacca.
Melaka is a great city with a real fusion of cultures and history. You can find old churches and government buildings from Dutch, Portuguese and British colonies. The Chinatown area of Melaka is particularly vibrant, and we saw the Chinese New Year in here. This involved a bit of a street party on Jonker St, with local VIPS coming along to watch some bloody awful performances, by what I believe were the winners of the Malaysian equivalent of X Factor. We were singled out for handshakes by the VIPs on the way in and out of the street party in front of the cameras. I think our blond hair made us stick out like sore thumbs... and the Prime Minister must have thought Melaka bringing in the Western Tourism Money would make a good pic.
We had a few days left before flying out to Borneo from Kuala Lumpur, so not wanting to spend the whole of our last week in cities we took advice from the Lonely Planet on a mid way stop off point. We read about the beach town of Port Dickson... a multi kilometre stretch of white sand, from which on a good day you could see Indonesia. Sounded good to us, so we got on a few local buses and made our way there.
We arrived to the last day of the Chinese New Year Bank Holiday. It was hot, and we were both looking forward to donning our swim wear, having a nice swim and then maybe a cold beer afterwards after being in a very hot Melaka for about 4 days. Well, we soon changed our mind, upon arriving at a seriously litter strewn, alcohol free beach, full of people fully dressed from headscarf to toe. Definately not a place to get a sun tan! We left early the next morning. Mind you it gave me enough time to get food poisoning. Not a highlight!
Kualur Lumpur was an impressive city. Its has some of the biggest malls I've ever been in. Particularly the one right underneath the Petronas towers. We rediscovered the cinema here, putting on our sweaters to sit in the ridiculously over air conditioned state of the art cinemas (usually no more than 2 quid a ticket). There seems to be a faily good balance of green spaces in KL which keeps the city from seeming to hot and concretey. There is also some of the biggest rats I've ever seen running around the open sewers all over the city.
From KL we flew to Sabah, in Borneo. This was always going to be a final highlight of the SE Asia leg of this trip and it lived up to expectations. The experiences that resulted in this where...
Climbing Mount Kinabalu - the tallest mountain in South East Asia at over 4000 metres. This was a fantastic trip taking place over 2 days. We started off at about 10am, and spent a full day climbing thousands of big steps. We arrived at Laban Rata at about 3.30pm - our base for the night (sort of). Here we were fed and warmed - mainly by drinking a big tea pot full of delicious hot chocoloate, before going to sleep in a freezing cold damp room. At about 1.30 am, are alarm went off. It was time for 'supper'. A bit of a feed before the final ascent to the mountain top. At about 2.30am we started the climb to the summit in the dark and freezing cold. At times the dark was actually a help, as I was quite glad not to see the sheer drops down the mountain side. Some of the climb involved a rope, but for the most part it was just a steep uphill trudge. We got to the top of the mountain at close to 6am... where it really was absolutely freezing. Temperatures had got as low as - 4degrees a few days previously... which I know is nothing to you England based readers now... but you really don't have much in the way of winterwear on you when you climb a mountain that begins in a tropical climate. We caught sunrise, and the clouds stayed away for long enough that we could get a good look around. It felt a bit like being on the moon up there, its such a barren but eerily beautiful landscape. Down one side of the peak is an area called Lows Gulley. It is pretty much a wilderness. In the 1980's the British army sent some soldiers down there to explore... they got stuck there, and it took 3 weeks before anyone could get into the gulley to get them out. At that time, apparently they found hundred of new plant, animal and insect species that exist only in that gulley too.
So climbing Mount Kinabalu was a really exhilirating experience, and at that point on the top, with the sun rising it felt like the best experience of the trip so far. Foolishly I thought the hard part was over. I hadn't counted on the 10k downhill walk ahead, and quite how crippling walking down big steps for hours on end would be. Oh and it poured with rain the whole way down to add more discomfort to the pain. Matt and I were walking sideways down stairways for about 4 days after that trip!
Monkeys! - Borneo is one of the few places in the world where Orangutangs exist in the wild. We were lucky enough to see them first at the Rehabilitation Centre in Sepilok and even more excitingly in the wild during a stay at the Kinabatangan Jungle Lodge. Orangutangs were one of my key drivers for adding Borneo on to our South East Asia trip, and they were beautiful and worth it, but I discovered a new primate favourite on this trip... the Probiscus Monkey. The Probiscus Monkey has to be one of the most comical looking animals ever created. The males really steal the show, with enormous dangling noses, complimented by protruding pot bellies, all finished by long skinny limbs. The females on the other hand have funny upturned noses... so yes maybe Matt and I liked them due to sharing a few characteritics! We were also extremely lucky during our jungle stay to see pygmy elephants, also in the wild. This is quite a rare sighting, and unfortunately it was dark at the time, so our pictures didn't really come out. But honestly they were there... demolishing some poor guys vegetable patch!
Sipadan - the ultimate dive experience. Sipadan is reknown as one of the best dive sites in the world, and rightfully so. The number of visitors are limited by a permit system, which you appreciate when you are there. We spent a day undertaking 3 incredible dives off Sipadan. The favourites were the last 2, which were drift dives. This felt like being on a current conveyor belt, where you just sat back and got carried along, enjoying the view. The big highlights on all these dives were the turtles. There were just so many. Whichever way you looked there seemed to be a turtle lounging amongst the coral. However, there were also big reef sharks, a school of barracuda and lots of beautiful coral fish.
After Borneo we had a stop over in Singapore. Singapore is just a completely different world to anywhere else in South East Asia. Its so clean, efficiant and comparitvely very expensive. Singaporeans appear to live to shop. Orchard St. the main shopping road is something else - and stealing a description from our host Sheryn, it is like Oxford St on Christmas eve every single day. Absolutely manic. We took a few hours out of the consumer mayhem to visit Singapore Zoo, which I think rates as the best I have personally visited. Again, lots of organutangs, in a great big area that seems to criss cross your walk thruogh the zoo. Definately worth a visit on any stop over here.
So, with a bit of shopping under our belt, and a whole lot of wildlife, we made our way back to a real life of sorts in Wellington. We arrived on a glorious hot sunny day, which has been followed by windy sunny days. We've done a little bit of nearby camping in Otaki Forks, but will head over to the South Island tomorrow for some more serios camping in Abel Tasmin and the Marlborough Sounds. Fingers crossed for some sunshine!