We've arrived in Penang, Malaysia. Malaysia mostly comprises of a mainland, Penang Island and the northern part of what used to be Borneo. Indonesia owns the southern part.
We booked a hotel in Georgetown which is the old colonial main town on Penang. Surprise, surprise it's a UNESCO world heritage city. When we booked in I flippantly said to the receptionist 'We will of course want your finest room'. 'That's handy' he replied. 'I've just upgraded you'. Result.
Georgetown is a microcosm of Malaysia. It has a number of distinct ethnic groups. There are indigenous Malays, a large Chinese and Indian immigrant community. Languages range from Mandarin, through Malay to English. The English were here for centuries hence they drive on the left and use 3 pin plugs like home. Oh, and you can get baked beans on toast at breakfast.
We were close to Chinatown/Little India and the backpacker area of Love Lane. When we heard the hostels described as Love Lane flop houses we decided not to stay there. What you immediately notice in Malaysia is that it is much more orderly than Indonesia. There are not nearly as many mopeds and everyone wears a crash helmet. The police enforce traffic laws.
First night and we are off hunting for food. We go to a semi open air Indian restaurant. 40 or so plastic tables and chairs. Most of the food has been pre-cooked so it arrives in double quick time. I had a stunning buttered chicken. The bill for our meals was about £6. Despite apparently being stricter muslims than the Indonesians beer and wine are readily available albeit quite expensive.
Georgetown is a melting pot. Mosques sit alongside churches which are next to Buddhist and ancestral temples. On a political note it is often said that the Malays have a government but it is controlled from China. Having said that the Malay government recently introduced cheap loans for Malay owned companies. They also awarded contracts to them. That has caused a few ructions.
Interestingly there are 240 million people in Indonesia making it the largest Muslim populous in the world. Malaysia is reckoned to be very Muslim. However in the two countries I have seen only 3 women in full burkhas. There are a good number of women and girls in headscarves but an equal number not. Fundamentalist religion seems only to thrive in closed societies and ex pat communities.
After a couple of days we had seen all we wanted in Georgetown. There are a lot of coastal resorts on Penang but we didn't have the time or inclination to visit them.
After the heat and humidity of Penang our next stop was the Cameron Highlands. This is a more mountainous area on the mainland. It has a much cooler climate. It was discovered by an English surveyor by the name of Cameron. It has developed into a tourist area and is renowned for its tea plantations and jungle walking trails.
We had picked another good hotel. We are having a run of luck there. It was a four hour drive to the highlands. We had been looking forward to this being keen hikers. We were therefore a bit disappointed as we drove in. It is said that the battle is on in the area between tourism and logging. The one that makes the biggest buck will win. Clearly they have overlooked strawberries. If you want a classic example of human destruction of habitat for stupid reasons this is it. Large swathes of beautiful hills have been cleared and covered with hideous poly tunnels for growing strawberries and flowers. The same debate rages in England where a similar situation exists. Surely profit can't be everything. I'm confident the world can live without cheap strawberries.
Fortunately as you go deeper in, this unsightly scar disappears to be replaced by dense jungle and huge tea plantations. Forest is cleared for tea but at least the replacement is pretty, green and supports wildlife.
We spent the afternoon getting a feel for the town. We searched in vain for the tourist information office. There are lots of signs but no office. Odd in a tourist area. It seems most people explore the area on organised tours. Not something we enjoy.
Next day we got a small map showing the trails etc. We walked a couple of miles out of town to a tea plantation. There was a big tea shop on site and you could walk around the plantation for free. There were no pickers working so I guess it's not harvest time. That night it rained very heavily. Rain forests eh?
In the morning after breakfast it was our plan to walk a jungle trail. We set off and eventually managed to find the start of one. Unfortunately the undergrowth was head high and we would have needed a machete to get through it. Clearly not one of the popular trails. We were also in shorts and figured we might need to change to long trousers.
Having made the change we headed for Robinsons waterfall and a trail up to the highest point in the area. This was looking more promising. It was one of those trade description moments. Yes there was water, yes it did fall a few feet and yes it was discovered by Mr Robinson but it was not as we had imagined. It was more like Shalford weir. Anyway the jungle waited. It was listed as a four hour hike only to be undertaken by the very fit. Yeah yeah, keep your opinions to yourself.
It was a long and pretty relentless hike up hill to the summit at around 6000 ft. The trail was pretty clear but it was wet and slippery underfoot. I love the sounds of the jungle and the rustling in the undergrowth. No big predators here but who knows. We soldiered on to the summit and didn't see another human until we got there. It was great and precisely what we had come here for. Fortunately it was downhill all the way back on another trail. A cold beer waited.
That evening we settled on the bed with a bottle of well earned red and watched Chelsea (Jill's team) struggle to beat Stoke. At least they won so she was happy. On a trip like this it's nice sometimes to do something normal and homely.
It's morning and after a hearty brekkie we are on the bus to Kuala Lumpur or KL as everyone calls it. Most people fly in change aircraft and fly out again. It's a major Asian hub airport. We have decided to spend a day there and see if there is anything worth seeing.
Well we've had a day and a half in KL and we rather like it. It's not too big so easy to do on foot. Yes it's got lots of high rise blocks but it also has a lot of older buildings. It is also a very green city with lots of open spaces. If you are ever routed through it on a flight I would recommend stopping for a day.