A Travellerspoint blog

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Capital city time, rather than just the airports

overcast 28 °C

Kuala Lumpur is the capital of Malaysia, centrally positioned halfway down the Malaysian peninsula. So far we have only used it as a base, taking advantage of their low cost routes to Sabah and Brunei. We had a couple of days to explore the city, before enjoying another flight to Australia.

We landed promptly from Sabah and managed to get out the airport within 20 minutes, managing to catch the half one bus to KL Sentral with minutes to spare. Perfect!

From there, we took the monorail to Bukit Bintang, where we had booked our accommodation. Checking in was relatively long process, with them wanting the passports and for Chris to sign the reservation as they filled out his details. We paid, and then the spent ages writing out the world's most detailed receipt. This though is fairly standard in Malaysia, where of all the countries, check in seems to take considerably longer. Once everything was sorted the receptionist casually announced that he would call someone to show us to their second hostel as that one was fully booked. And so the fun began. But it was OK as their second hostel was the same, just as good, same price, just 10 minutes drive away in Chinatown, where we did not want to be based. The second man arrived to take us across town and was very put out that we were being so ungrateful as he had organised and paid for a room for us at what turned out to be his girlfriend's guesthouse. He became quite rude, complaining that he would lose his money and that this happens all the time in peak season, especially when it transpires that a group booking for 24 had come in and that was naturally too good an opportunity to refuse. We took our refund and checked into the guesthouse next door for convenience, which rather annoyingly cost twice the price. We moved on the second night to KL Sentral station to stay in a cheaper hotel, ready for our early start to Australia. This room was so small, the bed was in the way of the door!

Particularly over the last few weeks, we have woken up a few times either in the middle of the night or in the morning, wondering where we were. On our first morning in KL, the alarm went off and I had no idea where we had stayed, but immediately thought, do we need to get up promptly for a flight, as we had flown so much over the past few days. I remembered Australia was next, but didn't think it was that day. After about a minute, I remembered where we were and that today was set aside to Kuala Lumpur. You feel so stupid that it is gradually taking longer and longer to work out where we are. At least it wasn't as bad as when I woke up in Koh Jum, convinced we were in a canoe! Nothing like another continent change to help with that!

We visited the Petronas towers and had a wander around the shopping centre underneath, stopping for a coffee part way round. This shopping centre has loads of designer shops and a few travel shops. The following day we visited the Pavilion shopping centre, which had virtually every shop you could imagine yet still Chris and I managed to leave without buying anything.

We wandered around the colonial part of town and Merdeka square, which was being used for various bike races. We stopped and watched the ultimate foldies race, which required participants to run the first few metres to find and unfold their bikes. Some of these folding bikes really did not look as though speed output even nearly justified the energy input required.

We ate at an Indian restaurant one night and one of the Chinese market restaurants the following night. As usual, the food was tasty and the waiting staff were on another planet. You can only laugh at their incompetence. They bring out dishes, which do not look as your expect or the picture, question what it is and they have no idea or ask what did you order. If you say is this rice, even if you were pointing at noodles the response would probably be yes. You might get your drink, you might not. Your food could be dumped on the table as they pass by. They will ask who ordered the chicken (maybe) before putting it down in front of the other person anyway. As rice comes from a large pot, it will come 10 minutes before your food. And the best part is 10% service charge appears to be compulsory, or at least as a tourist it definitely must be paid. Not like in England where if service is shocking, you can argue the 'compulsory' service charge.

We tried to visit the national mosque, which holds 10,000, but the opening times were different to what we had read. There were some pleasant fountains around the edge, but this mosque is not as grand or impressive from the outside as others.

In the evening, we decided to head up the telecommunication tower over the Petronas Towers as if you're up the Petronas, there's not too much else worth seeing. We went up to the observation deck a little too early, so had to wait about an hour for dusk at 7.15pm, allowing us to see KL by day and night on one ticket. The high rise tower blocks are relatively spread out with a lot of low rise buildings in the middle. The Petronas towers look brilliant lit up with white lights after dark.

While we were waiting for sundown, a lady approached Christopher, asking to take pictures of the side of his head, as the one she had taken from afar had not come out too well. She spent the next five minutes taking Chris' headshots from various angles with the city behind him. She showed him the photos afterwards, most of which were blurred; however Chris was unsure as to whether this was intentional to create an art effect. Who knows what she is going to do with them!

We returned to our box room, showered and went to bed, ready to get up at 5am for our flight to Sydney.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 22:24 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

Borneo: A view from below

sunny 30 °C

Kota Kinabalu is located on the northern coast of Borneo. It is popular for its island hopping tours and more so for the gorgeous beach resort of Gaya Island.

We decided to visit here to do a Discovery Dive as we had run out of time everywhere else. We booked with Dive Down Below, and having been impressed with the wildlife on land, we were very excited to discover Borneo from under the sea. We love snorkeling and have been on some pretty decent snorkeling trips, surprised by the variety of fish we were able to see with just a snorkel. As with all discovery dives, it was advertised that we had 3 dives; however the first 'dive' is in 4ft deep water.

We were collected promptly and taken across to the jetty before taking a speedboat for 10 minutes across to Gaya Island where the company is based. The sea which meets the island is very tidal, and so there was a 200m wooden walkway down to the boat. When the tide came in later, this added to the beauty of the view of this remote island.

After half an hour or so of instructions and training, we were kitted up with wetsuits and flippers before heading down to the water. At the edge, the oxygen canisters and inflatable jackets were put on, making our rucksacks seem incredibly light in comparison. We trudged into the water until we were at chest height. We knelt down so that our heads were below the surface and practised breathing normally! We also needed to practise retrieving and clearing our regulators, in case another diver caught ours and knocked it out, as well as how to empty water from your mask while submerged. As there had been quite a bit of rain the previous day, visibility was at about 30cm and it felt a little strange just sat on your own in all this silt, waiting for it to be your turn to practise.

After this, we took a boat out to do our first open water dive. As you dive down under water, you have to equalise your ears, popping them as you descend, otherwise your ears will hurt so much you won't be able to dive down. This is because the air contracts inside, due to the change in pressure and the weight of the water. To pop your ears, you just need to pinch you nose and try to push the air out of your ears. (Or at least that's what you feel like you're trying to do.) Most people do this all the time on planes if their ears do not pop, and it's pretty easy to do under water.

As we began to descend, the instructor was making sure we were OK and our ears were popping. Unfortunately, Chris couldn't equalise his ears and therefore couldn't get below two metres. We all went back up and Chris tried to pop his ears. The other girl with us was also struggling, but she managed it after a few more attempts. Chris could not pop his ears, so he stayed near the surface scuba snorkeling while the other instructor took us two ladies down to 4 metres. We saw all the usual fish, with some rainbow coloured parrot fish. We also saw a clown fish (Nemo) hiding in some coral. The coral was varied with some blue coloured tubular corals as well as ones which looked even more alive than normal plants. Luckily as we were only a few metres down, Chris didn't miss too much and as we headed back to base for lunch, Chris practised popping his ears.

Back in the water after lunch, we were heading down to 6 metres and from the surface, you could hardly see a thing. We all got in the water, rolling off the boat backwards with all our gear. We all started heading down slowly, and Chris sank like a rock! I was worried as you're not supposed to descend that quickly, and because of the problems he had had earlier. I don't know what the second instructor was doing, as he was not helping me and I could not get his attention to retrieve Chris. When he did finally realise, he dived down and dragged Chris back up, who was completely oblivious. It turned out his ears were fine, and he was able to complete the 45 minute dive. During this dive, I was left to swim freely, while one of the instructors kept hold of Chris and the other girl for the first half. I loved being able to swim unrestricted, and enjoyed filling and emptying my lungs to increase and decrease my buoyancy. This dive was a lot better as we were deeper, seeing coral which due to visibility only being about 5 metres, was invisible from the surface and could not be seen with just a snorkel.

I was really pleased that Chris had managed to sort his ears out as I did not want him to miss out. It later transpired though that he did not know how to pop his ears and was not doing it right.... He was just holding his breath and forcing the air in his mouth. There's always one! At least I had managed to teach him at lunchtime, otherwise he would have missed the whole thing!

In the evening, we went to a café for a coffee and as the price difference was only 50p between small and large, we both opted for a large latte. We had not expected them to be served in pint sized mugs and they became a bit sickly, especially as mine was a white chocolate latte. It was however delicious and one of my favourite flavoured coffees ever. Now to hunt that down in England!

Tomorrow it's on another plane back to KL for the third time but to finally visit the city, rather than just using it as a base for their low cost flights.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 03:09 Archived in Malaysia Tagged islands fish diving beach coral Comments (0)

Sandakan and the Orangutans! Sabah, Borneo

Visiting the orangutans and rainforest

storm 35 °C

We left Brunei and landed in KL, where we spent the night in an airport hotel before taking a flight back to Borneo the following morning to Sandakan, Sabah. The simple reason for this somewhat convoluted route, similar to that of travelling from Leeds to Manchester via London was all down to cost. Flying back to the mainland and paying for the pleasure of staying in a slightly questionable airport hotel did not even begin to make a dent in the price of flying across Borneo. And so apologies to the earth for our carbon footprint, but the flight was going anyway, right?

Almost doubling our accommodation budget, we splurged on the newly opened Sheraton hotel in Sandakan, which, although the Radisson in BSB paid more attention to detail, this was significantly nicer than we are used to. We had a side on sea view room on the 20th floor, allowing great views of the bay from the large window. This hotel did have a gorgeous infinity pool overlooking the sea on the 13th floor.

Sandakan itself is not really a tourist destination, but more a base for exploring the surrounding area. Despite the fact there are quite a few backpacker hostels and hotels, the locals are still fascinated by you being there. At least they wave and say hello rather than just stare as they did Vietnam.

Of our two days in Sandakan, the first was forecast to rain heavily all day, particularly in the morning and so we decided to head up the hill to The English Tea House, which had a vaguely English feel to it. The tea rooms had a croquet lawn which looked out towards the sea. The staff wore black dresses with white collars which had an early 20th century feel to them. For £5 you could have afternoon tea, with sandwiches and scones. The scones came with jam and what they called clotted cream, which although it was not, it was a pretty good attempt at clotted cream. This was all washed down perfectly with a pot of English Twinings tea.

We were very lucky and it remained dry long enough for us to walk the heritage trail around town, which took you on a slightly desperate route past a clock tower, which was literally just a clock on a painted concrete stand in the middle of a mini roundabout. You also passed a really cute miniature Chinese temple, which looked more like a converted traditional house. Carry on a little further, and you come to an English church. On our trip, we have read about various 'English' buildings that when we have been, you can see a hint of British to them but would never find them in the UK, as was the case with the tea house; however this church actually looked like it had been shipped over from a quiet little village and repositioned behind some Malaysian tower blocks. We were very impressed with this cute little church.

We finished off the trail at the tourist information, where we wanted to double check where you caught the bus to the orangutan sanctuary. The lady in the tourist information was very strange, and was more than happy to express her opinions. She disliked that we were staying at the Sheraton, therefore choosing to give our custom to an international chain rather than a local hotel. (Maybe if they were not so expensive for a room with a bathroom in a closet smaller than most people's downstairs toilets we would!) She also wanted us to take a taxi rather than the 5 ringgit bus. She got her way in the end as the 5 ringgit bus was conveniently delayed meaning you would miss feeding time at the orangutan rehabilitation centre, but a special 10 ringgit minibus was available shortly. Reluctant to potentially miss feeding, we took a taxi for 10 ringgit each with another couple.

The orangutans were beautiful. As the man began walking up to the feeding platform, a few of them began swinging through the trees in ropes ready for the food. In the morning, there were loads of cheeky little monkeys stealing the bananas and we returned for the afternoon feeding, during which the orangutans were more lively. At one point, a large male swung in along the ropes, put a bunch of bananas in his mouth and two in his feet before immediately swinging back off to eat them. About half way through, behind the viewing area, one of the old males began shimmying down a tree before getting onto the decking and making a beeline for the crowd of people, coming within a metre before one of the keepers got him to move away. He headed back up towards the entrance, and fifteen minutes after feeding had finished, we were waiting for the bus, when he came striding around the entrance hut, across the grass and ploughed straight through a half metre wide hedge, crossing the path and into the next bit of garden. As the orangutan was crossing the road, a young boy was riding his bike and had to break suddenly and shuffle back to avoid the orangutan on a mission. The look on the boy's face was priceless.

Just before we left the orangutan park, we saw a bright green viper snake hiding in the tree with its evil looking red eye. These snakes are venomous, and there was no mention of an antidote at the rainforest discovery centre. He was gone by the time we returned for the second feeding....

Between the morning and afternoon feedings, we walked up the road (in the sweltering heat) to the rainforest discovery centre, which is set withing the rainforest. There is a visitor centre showing you the wildlife you can find in Borneo and in their rainforests. Next, you head into a well maintained plant garden, which has a sizeable collection of plants and flowers you might find, all labelled up. After this, you are out into the rainforest, which although has paths, the plants have been left to their own devices. Other than a slimey looking 4ft long snake, which we saw slithering away into a log, we didn't see any wildlife, but the trails around the lake and centre were still very enjoyable, with a variety of plants.

In the middle there is a canopy walkway set amongst the tree tops. I'm sure if you were better at spotting birds and other animals, then there is a lot hiding in these rainforests but Chris and I struggled to see the great big monkeys being pointed out in Brunei so we didn't really have a chance.

After dinner, we had a couple of cocktails in the hotel bar with the couple we had shared the taxi earlier. The following day, we took a flight to Kota Kinabalu.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 05:39 Archived in Malaysia Tagged rainforest orangutan afternoon_tea Comments (1)

Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

A little taste of Islam

sunny 35 °C

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Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque

Brunei is an oil-rich country, home to nearly half a million people, described as the green HEART gateway to Borneo. Brunei is ruled by the Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, whose official title runs into some 31 names. As an absolute monarch, the Sultan combines the roles of prime minister, defence minister, finance minister and monarch, with various members of his family forming the government.

On becoming a Malay Muslim Monarchy in 1991, alcohol was outlawed in public, creating an underground drinking scene, including the non-muslim Chinese restaurants serving up wine and beer surreptitiously from traditional teapots and expats regularly making the 90 minute round trip to the first off licence over the border into Sarawak.

Due to the Sultan's wealth from the oil resources found in Brunei at the turn of the twentieth century, most things are subsidised, including the pilgrimage to Mecca.

According to the Brunei Times, tourism is on the up with nearly 200,000 visitors in the first nine months of 2013; however you would struggle to believe this on arriving at the capital Bandar Seri Begawan known locally as BSB.

Brunei is over halfway through their five year tourism initiative and so far, they have failed to reinstate the centre's tourist information, which was closed in 2008 and the remaining counter in the airport was withdrawn within the last year. There was also no evidence of their '8 hour transit tours' which had previously run for those with long connections. Buses which are scheduled to pass by the airport do not, with the car park man stating 'maybe tomorrow' when enquiring about the bus.

The night before our flight, we stayed at a hotel in KL Sentral, which had a dual aspect view.....of the monorail looping around our building, at the same height as our window. Just beyond that was a mosque, which issued its first call to prayer at about 4am. It is incredibly disorientating having an Arabic prayer call, something you associate more with the middle east, penetrating your sleep when you are fast approaching your eightieth hotel of the trip, and you were pretty sure you were still in Southeast Asia when you went to bed.

On our flight, the air steward double checked we were in fact travelling to Brunei as a final destination before handing over the landing cards. As we left the plane, we were wished in an unsure voice, 'a good time in Brunei'.

On landing, it was announced that there were renovations going on in the airport, causing disruption and delays at immigration. Knowing it could never be as bad as clearing immigration in London, we were pleasantly surprised to find separate desks for Brunei, ASEAN communities and foreign passport, with a clear run for us.

Our accommodation was the newly renovated four star Radisson, which has to be our poshest hotel to date. Out of town sits Brunei's one and only contender for a Dubai style six-star hotel in the Empire Hotel and Country Club. With rooms starting at £200 a night, this was sadly beyond mine and Chris' meager £17.50 a night budget. Maybe next time?

First impressions Of Brunei, with its pristine new tarmac and immaculately maintained painted pavements, are of a wealthy nation; however a lot of the buildings are low rise concrete eyesores, which could have done with being demolished, shortly after they were built in the 1960s. BSB is often compared to as a diappointing low key concrete version of Dubai, yet I would say that was not doing the place justice as a destination in its own right. BSB is a quiet Islamic capital with a wealth of culture and makes for a pleasant change from other more Buddhist Asian countries.

The whole centre of the capital takes barely 15 minutes to cross on foot with a lush green jungle like park called Tasek Lama on the outskirts. We set off on a short 1.7km loop, which for the first third was on a tarmac road, with overly maintained flowerbeds. It was still a better park than the supposed botanical gardens we attempted to visit in Georgetown. A third of the way round there was a viewing platform, which offers great views of the park. After this, you squeeze down a narrow concrete path past a water plant and the terrain completely changes. The remaining kilometre or so involved you scrambling up and down muddy near vertical tree root covered hills in a mature jungle. As we had set out for a stroll in the park, I was, as ever wearing my inappropriate Birkenstock sandals with their worn smooth soles after 5 months of continuous wear.

Down by the entrance, there was a group of monkeys playing around in the trees, swinging from the branches over the stream before letting go when the branch stopped swaying. They were having so much fun cooling off and pulling each other by the tail as they scrambled up the bank ready to go again.

Afterwards we returned to the hotel with a dripping wet Christopher and enjoyed a refreshing swim in the pool. I have my suspicions that this pool could have been chilled rather than heated.

The following day we visited the local market, which is said to be its busiest on a Friday morning. (Today.) The market is squeezed on to the riverbank and sold every kind of fruit and vegetable imaginable. There were a few other stalls selling cooking equipment and the odd one selling food.

The majority of BSB's housing can be found in the village of Kampung Ayer, which literally translated means 'water village'. This village, which is home to 30,000 people, sits on stilts within the rivers Kadayon and Brunei. A water taxi across the river takes you to the Kampung Ayer Tourism and Culture gallery, which serves as an excellent starting point to explorations of the water village. This centre shows village life through the centuries and includes a viewing tower, which offers 360° views of the village.

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Kampung Ayer water village

Towards the front of the village, immediately outside the centre, you will find a collection of large new builds, with smart painted wood cladding, which look better suited to dry land. It seems incomprehensible that such a large and proper looking house could be built over water. These identical, soulless new houses have concrete walkeways between them with railings along the edge. Every street is the same. Fortunately behind these houses lies traditional Kampung Ayer, with interconnecting rickety walkways between the traditional wooden built houses with large veranda gardens out front. These houses are a lot bigger than you would expect and also other houses we have seen on water. As we wandered around, the locals would call out to us, one of them you could hear the faint end of a hello, turned round to find a guy some 20 metres away madly waving.

Within the village are schools, police station, fire station, grocery stores and medical clinics. Although it seems strange that a capital city's accommodation in a rich country is timber built housing on the river, it is through choice and tradition, as there have been many attempts to try to relocate the families to land, but they do not wish to be moved. It would be interesting to see if more of the area is given over to spacious new two storey housing as time goes on. For now, it makes for a very pleasant and authentic walk along the maze of interlinking wooden walkways.

Unsurprisingly, Christopher was drenched after this trip in the midday sun and so as everything shuts for lunch on Friday, it was time to return for a dip in the pool.

We headed back out to the Royal Regalia museum. The main entrance is a large domed round room with a magnificent chariot for transporting the sultan during parades. Around the perimeter were various rooms exhibiting photos of the sultan from his childhood, including one from his circumcision ceremony. The majority of the museum housed the many gifts the sultan has received from different countries, including an cross stitch portrait which looked like an unfinished child's school project. The head was completed, and the person had clearly begun the yellow background, covering a square inch with thread. But that was all, therefore the background was just the yellow hessian material it had been done on.

In the evening, we tried to visit the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque in the centre, which is sat in the middle of a pool of water and has a large long boat in front of it. This mosque is a grand white building with a large gold dome in the centre and several smaller domes off of turrets around the edge with a high minaret to the side. It is the simplicity of this white mosque reflecting in the water with the ornately decorated blue and yellow mosaic patterned boat in front which makes this mosque so beautiful. We returned at night to see it lit up with some questionable green lights to take some photos.

As Brunei is dry, before dinner we enjoyed a coffee overlooking the river, watching the water taxi speedboats zip up and down, wondering how they manage not to crash all the time.

We headed to the food market, which has been dubbed the most atmospheric place to dine. We had high hopes after the one in Georgetown; however this was clearly more for locals. The food was really well presented, as if we were in a classy restaurant; the drinks came in a 1.5 lite plastic bottle served into china mugs.

Our final day in BSB started early with a boat trip at 8am in search of the proboscis monkeys. Brunei is one of the best places to see Borneo's native proboscis monkeys, identifiable by their oversized noses. These are larger and more pronounced on the male, flapping up and down when they call out. You can do an official tour from $85 (£42.50) each for an hour's trip, or book privately with one of the local water taxis for $10, the difference is they might potentially speak little to no English and lack of lifejackets. Chris and I can both swim and dislike organised tours.

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Proboscis monkeys!

We found a boat man and clearly struck gold. He obviously enjoyed doing this trip as much as we did, was very good at spotting the monkeys and even imitated their calls in an attempt to get them to appear. He named all the males Bob, and females Betty. We had a running commentary most of the way and when our hour was up, as we had just found a group of ten monkeys swinging in the trees, we just stayed for an extra half an hour, watching them jump through the air between two sections of trees. We also saw a family of three sat on some half metre high mangrove bushes right by the water's edge. We were so impressed with the wildlife on this trip which also included sightings of two crocodiles, a monitor lizard, kingfishers and an otter.

The trip along the river to where the proboscis monkeys hang out passed along the two kilometres of the Kampung Ayer before opening out to dense tranquil mangroves along both sides. Another kilometre or so up the river, you pass the royal palace and a little further along, perched high up on the hillside overlooking the river is the new palace which is currently under construction.

We were dropped off in the Kampung Ayer village, on a different section which is attached to the mainland and wandered through to the Omar Ali Saifuddien mosque, where before entering, despite wearing a long sleeved shirt and trousers, I was still required to put on a gown and as well as the headscarf.

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Me in my Muslim attire

Inside, the ceiling was very grand with simple gold patterns. We didn't see as much of this mosque and were not offered a brainwashing, I mean tour. Next stop on our mosque trail was the Jame 'Asr Hassanal Bolkiah mosque, which was a bus ride out of town; however we could not enter as it was closed to non-muslims due to a function. All the same the outside is so grand, it made it worth the trip just to wander around the grounds. This temple had lustrous temple towers rising high above the glistening gold central dome, with intricate mosaic patterns around the edges. The car park for this mosque was larger than your average supermarket car park, with two 25m long archways leading up to the mosque serving as shoe racks.

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Jame 'Asr Hassanal Bolkiah mosque

Our hotel was offering complimentary late check out, which was perfect for us with a 7 o'clock flight. We tried our luck leaving the 'please make up our room tag' out and were very surprised to find the bed had been made and fresh towels! I am definitely more suited to this style of backpacking. After lunch in town, we passed the final couple of hours at the pool before showering and taking a taxi to the airport, where due to torrential rain, our flight was delayed by an hour. Could be worse I suppose.

Bandar Seri Begawan served as the perfect weekend city break being one of our more relaxed city breaks. Without a guidebook, you would struggle to know what there was on offer in BSB, but it is most certainly well worth the effort of finding out.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 01:41 Archived in Brunei Tagged monkeys water mosque park river muslim water_village sultan oil wealth Comments (0)

Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia

Back on dry land....for a couple of days atleasts

sunny 35 °C

Our two hour early evening bus ride to Ipoh soon became a four hour journey, finishing at a bus station in the middle of nowhere shortly before 11pm. Local buses had finished and so we had to take a taxi into town. After asking a taxi to take us to our hotel, we had a five minute wait while three of them rather animatedly discussed the exact location of the hotel, waving our map around as they tried to work out where our hotel was located. The centre of Ipoh is about 2km across was a few key main streets running around the centre. I would like to think that if someone showed me a map of my hometown and asked me to take them to a point I could at the very least recognise the area? It always amazes me when they look at our maps as if they have never been to the town before.

Ipoh's name is taken from the local tree thge Upas which had previously flourished locally. It was once grown for its sap, which was used as poison by the Orang Asli for their blowpipe darts. What really put Ipoh on the map was the descovery of a tin field during the mining boom in 1880, resulting in an influx of merchants in search of their fortunes from all over the world, bringing with them their own styles and traditions. It is now the capital of the region of Perak and home to half a million people with the new downtown sitting alongside the colonial old quarter.

Once at our hotel, we had an anxious wait as the hotel could not find our reservation. For some reason, we had to be present while they sorted this out at half eleven at night and initially we were unsure as to whether they still had a room. Finally after 25 minutes, having found the booking, we were able to have our room.

The following morning, we had one day to cover Ipoh before catching the train to Kuala Lumpur. The grand train station building is considered an attraction in itself, with its white columns linking the upper and lower balconies of the grand facade. The interior was somewhat lacking in grandeur, with a station which could have been in any old common building.

After buying our train tickets, we looked into taking a taxi to Kellie's Castle, which is 12km away from the centre of Ipoh. Rather annoyingly, the price had doubled to £20, so we were initially unsure if we wanted to go as we had read mixed reviews; however there are not too many other reasons why you would make the stop in Ipoh en route to KL.

Kellie's Castle is named after its creator, a Scotsman named William Kellie Smith. Construction began in early 1909; however work was blighted first by funding problems, and secondly an influenza outbreak in 1920, which killed many of the Tamil workers. Before work resumed, Kellie funded the construction of a temple, which on completion saw the end of the influenza outbreak. Work resumed on the castle, but in 1925, Kellie died from pneumonia while traveling in Portugal and his heartbroken wife was never able to return, leaving the castle unfinished.

We had expected it to resemble more of a ruin, but actually the external construction seems pretty solid, with only the inside seeming incomplete. You can explore the three floors (and somewhat perilously, the roof) of the house and the off centred tower, which offers panoramic views of the grounds. In spite of it being deemed unfinished, Kellie's Castle is still exceedingly impressive with its red brick, Scottish style castle, with islamic influences, looking completely out of place on the Malaysian landscape and yet at the same time somehow managing to blend in nicely.

Kellie's Castle contains a lift shaft, which was to be home to Malaysia's first lift; however it is believed Kellie was on his way to collect the bucket lift when he died prematurely in Portugal. Internally, the castle is architecturally interesting, due to Kellie's inexplicable and fairly extreme paranoia for the safety of his family, resulting in the seamless construction of multiple hidden passageways and staircases, creating secret escape routes into one of four tunnels built under the property. One of the 1.5 metre high and 1 metre wide tunnels extended to the Hindu temple 500m away. Kellie's perceived threat on his family remains a mystery even today.

After the castle, we visited the town's local museum which was shut, but was almost worth the walk as we went past the poshest and largest school building I have ever seen, which was a cream rendered building, which looked like 4 grand churches with spires which had been joined together to make this magnificent building.

We wandered around Ipoh, visiting Panglima Lane, which was formerly used to house the mistresses of the local wealthy Chinese merchants and was therefore better known was Concubine Line. The majority of the terrace shop houses have since been left to ruin with some looking incredibly run down and dilapidated. A few have since been restored and look beautiful with their well presented rendered fronts and quirky Chinese style doorways.

We looped back round the town and continued along the river, past several tradional wooden Malay houses. The Malay houses are completely wooden structures with slatted shutters covering the windows. On the other side of the river is a high rise tower block, which we assume could be some form of social housing or equivalent as the whole building was well maintained, with all the external rendering painted half in blue and the other half along a diagonal in green.

After an hour browsing the local shopping centre and a quick stop for a slice of chocolate fudge cake, it was time to catch our six o'clock train to KL.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 06:15 Archived in Malaysia Tagged food scotland castle scottish kellie's Comments (0)

Georgetown, Pulau Penang, Malaysia

Our first glimpse of traditional Malaysia

storm 36 °C

Pulau Penang is the name of the island just off of the Malaysian peninsula and can be reached by travelling over the bridge from Butterworth on the mainland. Or, rather conveniently, you can take the three hour ferry direct from the island of Langkawi, which lies north, just over the border from Thailand.

We arrived on our accommodation's street, Jalan Muntri, and knew the guesthouse we had booked was some derivative of Muntri inn/guesthouse. We found a very welcoming Muntri guesthouse, tried to check in, only to be told we were at the wrong 'Muntri'. We found ours a few buildings further along the road and initial sighting was somewhat less appealing. Fortunately, after a bite to eat, the room seemed more inviting with its traditional Chinese entrance and comfortable bed, which still feels like a novelty.

As is the case for most visitors to the island, we were staying in the city of Georgetown, the provincial capital of Penang island. Since 2008, the centre of Georgetown has had UNESCO World Heritage status. This is owing to its colonial Malay shophouses which line the streets of Georgetown, rendered and painted, the majority in tame neutral hues. A Malay shophouse was common place until they ceased to be built in the 1960s, with many since being knocked down to make way for larger developments and constructions. A traditional shophouse is typically a two storey building with a shop at the front, with the rear and above set aside to be the living quarters, which are often Chinese in style. To the front of the shop is a five-foot path located beneath the overhanging upstairs and is interlinked with neighbouring properties through archways. With temperatures averaging 32 degrees Celsius, these shop fronts are designed to offer shelter from the blazing sun, as well as the year round frequent afternoon showers. Add to this the occasional old fashioned trishaw passing by and you could believe you had stepped fifty years back in time.

After a very tasty and more importantly cheap breakfast at 'Trois Canons Café' we set off exploring the old town. In Penang, the Chinese, Indians and Malay all live in harmony alongside each other, with Chinese temples alongside Islamic mosques. We visited the Chinese temple of Kuan Yin Teng, which was quite popular with the locals and had a lot of incense burning. The inside was a lot more colourful and red in comparison to the Buddhist temples in Thailand. On the roof you will find intricately detailed sculptures of Chinese dragons, which will make you question the strength of the roof.

Afterwards we visited the National Museum, which gave a wonderfully clear explanation as to how the three communities successful live alongside each other. There were various exhibits showing different elements of mostly Chinese traditions but also Indian and Malay lifestyles. Outside the museum is a disused funicular railway carriage, which Chris was most pleased to find.

Georgetown is famous for being home to two mansion houses, one of which features in the world top 10 list. The first mansion house Peranakan was a modest size ornately decorated mansion house set around a central courtyard. The rooms were large, bright and airy, containing original items of beautiful Chinese furniture. The dining room table was laid with beautiful chinaware and crystal glasses.

Behind the mansion was an exhibition housing a collection of jewellery, with much of it far too grand for your average person to wear.

We later visited the mansion Cheong Fatt The, or 'La Bleue Maison', which although more grand in structure, lacked grandeur within, partly due to it containing less furniture.

Before lunch, we wandered around the area known as Little India, which can easily be recognised for its Bollywood music played at full volume from all the shops, the majority of which are selling colourful saris or tailored suits. We ate at Krishna Restaurant, which served up a traditional lunch of steamed rice, spicy chicken and 3 small unidentifiable portions of various vegetables in sauce, all on a big banana leaf. With it were three other unknown sauces to pour over the rice. We were given a spoon and fork; however the locals were just using their right hand. As a child, you desperately wanted to have a try at eating your dinner with your fingers and so we decided to give it a go. As a true lefty, I struggled perhaps more so than Chris, who wasn't finding it particularly natural either. This was a delicious lunch, one of our favourite meals even if we have no idea what we ate.

After lunch, we visited the Masjid Kapitan Kling mosque where after being handed a headscarf, (I had already put on trousers and a long sleeved shirt,) we took off our shoes and were given a guided tour by what was probably the caretaker. Chris was thoroughly disappointed that my shirt and trousers were sufficient, hoping I would be required to wear a lilac gown to go with my pink headscarf.

The tour of the mosque itself was relatively brief, with an explanation about the architecture and the washing formalities before prayer . After this, we were shown the clock which works out the exact times of the five prayer sessions according to where the sun is in the sky, before heading to an information centre within the mineret.

We then must have spent the next 45 minutes hearing how Islam is the only correct religion, and that Mohammed was the last prophet, therefore the other religions were created too prematurely. Somehow, they had created a flow diagram, starting with Adam, and including about 50 key figures who appear in the major religions, showing how Judaism stops at Moses, Christians carried on further to Jesus before the Muslims completed and linked the various different chains with the last prophet Mohammad. (Or at least that's what I think was explained?) We were more than ready to leave by the end, not before being offered, and declining, a copy of the Qur'an translated into English.

Rather more interestingly though, it was explained that women must be covered with the exception of their face and hands as anything more poses as a distraction to a man's commitment to his religion. It is acceptable for a man to mistakenly glance at a women once; however should he look again, he will be deemed to be 'raping her with his eyes'. Therefore from puberty, a girl must cover up. I'm sure you can draw your own conclusions from this belief, but can a man not look at a woman and not see her as an object of sex? Apparently exposed or western women do not distract them and they will not judge us should we wish to flaunt ourselves. Maybe Muslim women are just a lot more beautiful; we shall never know!

For dinner, there is the Red Garden food market, which is thirty odd different hawker stalls around a hundred or so tables, serving culinary delights from across the globe. Here you will find Indian, Thai, Malay, Japanese, Italian, western and many more.

The following day, we took the bus to the Botanical gardens, located about 6 km out of town. This bus service was by far the worst and most inconvenient route I have ever known and that's coming from England. It took an hour to do the 6km journey, which involved doing massive loops and travelling up the same stretch of most roads in both directions. Even in England you're expected to at least cross the road to catch the bus in the correct direction. What country does that? The journey back was the same tedious and repetitive route. It would not have been as bad were it not for the fact every section of the botanical gardens was shut for no clear reason. After doing a circuit of the grounds, we headed back to town.

We wandered along the rickety Chinese jetties, which extended some couple of hundred metres out over the sea and had houses lining the main wooden street ways.

We stopped off at Armenian Café, located on the street of the same name, which is home to various pieces of street art, most of which features a cat of some sort. This café does the best 'devil's' chocolate cheesecake ever. Now if only they did that with a pot of real British tea...

I think it's safe to say, that bearing in mind I don't generally write about food, we have eaten pretty well in Georgetown with half of this blog being about food!

Finally we stopped off at the camera museum, which started off really well showing various models of the first consumer cameras but stopped around the 1990s, failing to include examples of cameras we would have recognised. It included a section on Polaroids, but didn't include the classics from the 90s. It did however have a dark room, where the process of developing a film was explained. Another room contained camera obscura examples and the final room explained how a camera works by putting a piece of glass in front of a pinhole in the wall to outside, showing the image upside down on the wall opposite. Along the wall of the building was a timeline showing the development of cameras from 1700 through to 2009.

After a busy 48 hours in Georgetown, we took an evening bus to Ipoh, halfway between here and Kuala Lumpur.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 18:01 Archived in Malaysia Comments (1)

Langkawi, Malaysia

Island hop number 4: Over than Malaysian border!

sunny 40 °C

The speedboat ride from Ko Lipe was literally like being on a rollercoaster for an hour, with added water sprays at regular intervals. We were very glad that not only had we saved money by taking the ferry between Lanta and Lipe, but the additional two hours on the journey time were more than worth it to avoid three hours on a speedboat.

We took a taxi across the island to our accommodation, which instead of being 300m from the sea as implied by our Rough Guide's clearly inaccurate scale, turned out to be 1.5km away. We got some lunch and then spent the remainder of the afternoon on the beach until the sun went down at half 7.

The following day, we went up the mountain on the Langkawi cable car. The journey took about 10 minutes to the top and offered excellent views over the forest as you headed up in the little 6 seater car. At the top, their were a couple of viewing platforms allowing you to see the entirety of the island.

Just up the road from the cable car is Telega Tujuh Waterfalls, otherwise known as Seven Pools. The walk to the top involved a gruelling 500 step climb fortunately in the shade of the forest. We arrived at the top, and having read that the pools are best visited in wet season, which finished two months ago, we were pleasantly surprised by the waterfall. This waterfall flows down rocks which over the years have smoothed in places, making a 50m stretch of natural waterslides running into seven different pools.

Chris did his usual dance as he reluctantly submerged himself into one of the cool fresh water pools as I decided I would just slide right in. I walked along the rocks and attempted to join one of the slides halfway down, slipped and ended up rather ungracefully sliding down into the water at a very strange angle. Chris was naturally very pleased he didn't miss this, mocking that yes my way was better. I now have quite a bruise on my bottom from this fall!

We spent the next hour or so sliding between the pools, which seemed like they had formed especially to create a water park. Occasionally when you did slide out of control, you worried about what rock you would hit under the water, yet they were all smoothed at the right angle and as they were covered in wet moss, you would just slide straight off. The last two pools were round private looking infinity pools with sheer 100m drops the other side.

We started off walking through the woods along the waterfall, but you couldn't see much and we were not too fussed about going to the top and so returned for a little more sliding around.

Although these were some of the least picturesque waterfalls we have seen, other than the infinity pool drops, they were definitely the most fun and therefore secure a place in our top three waterfalls of the trip.

On our final full day on Langkawi, we visited the two main beaches. The white sands at Cenang beach were very pretty, but the constant stream of jet skis ruined any chance of it being considered paradise. After lunch, we returned to Tengah beach, where we spent the first day and enjoyed the peaceful golden sands.

A high percentage of the Malaysian population follows the religion of Islam and we had wondered how Islamic women manage to enjoy the seas, joking they go in head scarf and all. Turns out they do and just walk straight in dressed head to toe in their normal Islamic dress. What must they think of these western women going in and laying around in the equivalent of underwear? Even the men seemed to keep their t-shirts on.

On Sunday, we had a ferry booked at 5pm to Penang and so headed out late towards the beach. We decided to give the 6D cinema a go out of curiosity. To make it 6D, the film was played in 3D, which according to Chris was of average quality at best, the seats moved, but not the screen, making it difficult to watch and then there was random water sprayed at the beginning and wind jets throughout. Having visited Futuroscope some 15 or so years ago, despite all the many technological advances since, found that to be far better, as the seat movement here seemed to bear little to no relation to the film being showed.

Lunch was a large slice of chocolate cheesecake in a cute little English tea house. Although the building and decoration inside resembled nothing you would find in England, the tea was perfect, served in proper old fashioned teapots. This was by far the best cup of tea we have had in months. After two large pots between us, we were both ready for the toilet. Unable to see any sign of a toilet, I asked at the counter if there was one, and the man smiled as he replied 'no, but McDonald's is across the road.' Fair enough, for the whole of this trip McDonald's has been seen as a 'free public toilet'. (Is that not how everyone sees them?)

We spent the final couple of hours on the beach, swimming in the warm sea and hiding from the sun in the shade of the trees before taking the three hour ferry to Penang.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 07:24 Archived in Malaysia Tagged waterfalls chocolate beach tea car cake cable speedboat Comments (1)

Ko Lipe

Island hopping 3: Crystal clear waters and white sand beaches

sunny 40 °C

We finally arrived on Ko Lipe at about 5pm and the music was already blaring for New Year's Eve. We were dropped off on the beach and were surprised at how easily we located our accommodation; it was a little more challenging accessing it. We walked the entire length of the beach, and fortunately the tide was out, leaving nice compressed flat sand to walk on. After about 15 minutes, we came to some seemingly impassable rocks with our accommodation on the next bay the other side of the rocks. We noticed the most rickety walkway over across the rocks and so we clambered up some of the boulders on to the wooden path. All this in the 35 degree blazing sun with our packs on our backs. Our walk around the rocks looked far more precarious than it actually was and 5 minutes later we were at our bungalow.

We have had some pretty interesting rooms over the past six months with us getting ever closer to our hundredth place. Bearing that in mind, we have generally done very well and not had to rough it too much. This bungalow definitely had to grow on you with its walls covered in plastic laminate boards printed with green palm and bamboo trees. The bed was a matress on a raised section of floor with a pink flower bed sheet which would not have looked out of place in a 5 year old girl's bedroom. The curtains were a pink satin like material with frills along the edge and the mosquito net was florescent pink. The bathroom had a matching pink sink, shelf and mirror with a pale blue toilet, which was no more than a foot off of the ground. The toilet was a dipper toilet, meaning it did not flush and required you to pour a bowl of water down after you had used it. Obviously, despite not managing to plumb the toilet in, their was still a bum cleaning hose. The shower was cold. At least we had an uninterrupted view of the sea from our balcony.

That evening, we went out for dinner and although the bars were all playing loud music, none of them seemed particularly inviting for new year. We decided to buy some drinks and ice and use a dry bag as an ice bag and saw in the new year from our balcony. From 11 o'clock onwards, there were constant fireworks from the bay. As we walked along the sea front, we saw people lighting fireworks from their child's outstretched arms!

The following day was spent on the beach. We did the ten minute walk across the island to Sunset beach, which was quieter and less touristy. We saw some children going out and catching fish with a rod to spear them. They managed to get quite a large lilac and green one, some small ones and also a puffer fish. We decided to go snorkeling sooner rather than later in case the children killed all the good fish.

We had to swim quite a way out to see any decent fish but saw plenty of sea urchins, some large blue coloured fish and plenty of black and yellow striped fish. I wish we had had a waterproof camera for this part of the trip as we have seen some pretty cool fish and coral on all our trips. Maybe next time.....

We headed back round to the main beach, Pattaya beach, where we hired a glass canoe for an hour. This was clearly just a novelty as it was very hard to control. The water is so clear here, it was actually a little scary passing over the sea urchins and being able to see them brushing up against the boat. We also saw a couple of blue starfish on some of the rocks.

The following day we had a speedboat booked to Langkawi in Malaysia.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 18:19 Archived in Thailand Tagged beaches islands beer boat beach island sand Comments (1)

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