Hello my Lovelies,
You find us in the peaceful Cameron Highlands of Malaysia doing the civilised thing and enjoying a nice cup of tea on one of the many plantations around here. All I need to complete this image is my white linen suit, Panama hat, a small boy fanning me and my tea drinking mother in law.
But let's not jump ahead of ourselves, as ever we have much to fill you in on. So let's pick up where we left off: on the way to Cairns. 3 days way up north in Australia was enough time to fit in a scenic coastal drive up to Port Douglas, a stop of at a crocodile farm....my goodness they are freaky up close and, of course, the obligatory trip out to the Barrier Reef. Now I don't mean to rain on anybody's parade here, but we have to confess to being somewhat underwhelmed by the daddy of all Reefs. Climate change has led to much of the coral being bleached and hence losing its vivid colouring, and although spying a turtle and various other multi coloured fish was fun, the snorkeling was better back in Belize. Perhaps we are just being picky and it's one of the hazards of travelling so much, what would normally be an amazing experience in isolation, pales in comparison to others.
Onwards and upwards though and we made our way to hot, steamy and stupidly clean Singapore. It's another one of those places that makes you feel immensely guilty for unashamedly seeking out the nearest giant mall with an A.C unit so large it literally sticks two fingers up to the green movement. Unfortunately for the said do-gooders, there are malls everywhere ready to take a healthy bite out of your wallet and suck your bank account dry. I have to confess it has taken all our resolve to fight the urge to splurge, well that and the fact we would have to carry our ridiculous purchases for the next 2 and a half months. I think it is fair to say that the number one pastime in Singers is shopping and the relentless drive to possess the next best thing on the market is what creates, as one Singaporean termed it to us, 'an aggressive culture' which would never see them spend their hard earned money on a year long trip around the globe.
Fortunately, there are antidotes to this materialism in the little less polished form of China Town, the Arab Quarter and Little India. The latter being very reminiscent of a Sunday in Southall. In fact it was not my pale skinned 'gori' wife that attracted all the attention, but yours truly. Yes the Indian community didn't know whether to high five me or hang a bell round my neck. You could actually see the thoughts going through their heads, ' he looks Indian, but he's definitely not one of us'. Whether it was the shaven head, the tourist back pack, the camera round my neck, the lonely planet clutched to my side or my blatant flouting of the Singaporean Government edict that states that all Indians must have a big black bushy moustaches, something clearly gave me away.
Little India is fun and having craved a decent curry for the last 9 and half months our prayers were answered in the form of the local speciality: the fish head curry. Do not be alarmed my friends - yes this does actually contain a giant fish head placed in the middle of it, but my Krishna does it taste good. In fact, the only thing that stopped me from leaping over the counter and proposing to the chef there and then was the fact that it tasted remarkably similar to my Mum's fish Kulumbar, and though good, the lack of yoghurt and any of Grandma's pickle mean it fell down in the final scoring. I tried to explain this to the sari clad woman at the counter, but she just looked at me like I was an idiot.
What else in Singers? Well there's the botanical gardens and our look through the National Orchid Gardens, Definitely in my top three national orchid gardens ever. Oh yes and the main event: Whoever said that the thing to do in Singapore is to go for a Singapore Sling in Raffles was clearly some sort of genius employed by the Singapore tourism board. So entrenched in the mentality of travellers is this activity that you find yourself accepting the fact that it's touristy but still doing it. Furthermore, the fact that you just blew 25 quid, your day's budget, on two drinks that mark you out as 'just been had' seems alright because, and let's all say it together: 'it's the thing to do in Singapore'. Well I began the fightback by attempting to eat my body weight in free bar nuts in the Long Bar. Yes nobody makes a monkey out of me and I urge you to continue the fight back should you make it to Singapore through eating as many nuts as you can and together we can bankrupt the Raffles Hotel in a matter of Millenia.
In other unrelated news it has been announced that the thing to do in Teddington is to go round to 5 Regina Court and pay me 25 pounds for a glass of water with a slice of lemon in it. If you are lucky I will let you watch me slice the lemon.
The trip North of the border to Malaysia is fairly painless and as long as you can put up with being treated like a leper as a potential carrier of piggy flu it's plain sailing. Arriving in Melaka we made our way to our 5 pound a night room....all I will say on this matter is you get what you pay for. On the positive side, Malaysia is a veritable smorgasboard of cheap culinary delights and we are struggling to break the 2 pounds on a meal for the both of us. The fare is fantastic; flavoursome and tasty. Further from Central American cuisine you could not get. Our Melaka tip is the Capitol Satay restaurant, where the ebullient owner ushers you to a table with a bubbling pot of satay on a gas heater in the middle of your table. You then choose various meat, seafood and veg to stick into your satay to cook it. The record for an English person in one sitting is 81 sticks....we managed 18 between us, much to the disappointment of the owner who was immensely proud in showing off the pictures of various Malay celebs who had eaten there and bizarely England rugby player Charlie Hodgson. Needless to say he had never heard of Crime Watch and declined my offer of a signed photo.
The next day we set off to the traffic ridden capital, Kuala Lumpur. The view from the Petronas Towers is pretty impressive and our jaunt to the Batu Caves, temples carved out of the mountain, served to nourish our inner Hindu. It's a capital though and as such, like most capitals, is not the greatest in comparision to the rest of the country.
A couple of days later we decided to set off for the jungle of Taman Negara, the second oldest rainforest in the world after Brazil. It is a sign of how far I come on this trip that the jungle no longer holds any fear for me...well not as much as it did before. The trek to get there is an adventure in itself and includes a 2 and a half hour motorised boat ride up the river to Kuala Tahan, one of the entrances to the jungle. Buoyed by the success in making the trip we decided to book onto a night safari through the jungle. Now the clue is in the title here...'night'...that is to say it's damn dark. One monkey, 2 snakes and a couple of birds later and that's 2 hours of our lives we will never get back. In fact more entertaining was the efforts of another group of guides to pack 15 Japanese tourists into one truck in a nod to Central American Health and Safety standards. Not to be too dismayed, me and the missus hot footed it on out own the next day into the jungle, refusing to pay guides for stuff we are eminently qualified to do and might I say what a fine job we did. 6 hours of trekking later and we made it all the way up the highest point...from there we could clearly tell we were in the jungle. What the b******s didn't tell us were the millions of leeches that prowl this space and needless to say they had a field day with us. Fortunately just the one made it through to flesh and wife now has one leg smaller than the other. Still at least they didn't touch my delicate skin.
And so we made our way to the relative coolness of the Cameron Highlands, by far our favourite place on the S.E Asia leg thus far. It's completely laid back, there's some good walking to be done, beautiful tea plantations, good strawberries and the fact we are now known at the D'Chennai Indian Restaurant where we will be dining on Masala Dosai tomorrow morning for the paltry sum of 40 pence each has swung it for us. It even has a chef that looks a bit like Uncle Sumi...if you squint. If you tip him a ringit he will even clip you round the head for being cheeky. Ah home life! We have already extended our stay here by the one night and may be persuaded to do it once more before heading to Penang.
You gotta love this travelling business!