A Travellerspoint blog

Penang - Pearl Of The Orient?

semi-overcast 30 °C

We were hit with the heat again in Penang. We arrived mid afternoon and reached the island, also known as the Pearl Of The Orient, by driving across a long 13km bridge from mainland Malaysia. We were famished by the time we arrived in the city Georgetown so we immediately sought out some lunch. We stumbled across a bustling restaurant in China town & devoured the most tasty Hainanese style chicken & rice. Chinatown, like in most cities, offers cheap accommodation & as this Chinatown had a good feel to it, we made it our home for the next few nights.

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Penang, similar to mainland Malaysia has a real mix of cultures. As Nathan says, it's hard to tell where you are in Malaysia- India, China or indeed Malaysia? One of the benefits of this however is the food! Each day we've been able to vary the cuisine.
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From our point of view, we felt Penang, Georgetown, had seen better days. However, there are some hidden gems that we discovered in the city. Below you'll see our favourites:

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion- Cheong Fatt Tze moved to Penang in the 1800s when he was only 16 & became of the most successful Chinese businessmen in history. The mansion was one of his first homes & features 18th & 19th century Chinese architecture as well as rare antiques.
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Khoo Kongsi- A grand clan temple
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Kapitan Keling Mosque-
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Little India- Quaint & lively town
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Chinatown- Unique old clan houses & shops
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Edleweiss- Fav cafe to take some time out
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To get a good appreciation for Georgetown, the best way is to walk the streets & take notice of the intricute details above ground level. There are fascinating old Chinese row houses all with orginal shutters & doors as well as beautiful shrines & temples. The city also has a big colonial & anglo indian influence which you can see in many of the public buildings architecture.

During our stay, we also wanted to get a taste of the Penang's coastline so we caught a bus to the most northerly eastern tip, Batu Ferringi. As soon as we jumped on the bus we realised there was a really foul smell..honestly the stench was horrendous. I don't know why we stayed on the bus but we stuck it out. After about half an hour the bus pulled up at a main station & the driver walked up to the back of the bus & started yanking this guy off. This guy was carrying a bag of rubbish/fish guts who knows what & it was leaking rotting liquid & maggots! Hundreds of the squirmy maggots fell out & went everywhere on the bus. A bunch of school girls were screaming & minutes later we all decided to do a mass exit. It was disgusting but hilarious at the same time. Such a random experience. Eventually they cleaned the bus & we jumped back on & arrived at the beach 10 mins later.
Batu Ferringi is a laid back beach town with a long curved bay. The strip of beach is lined with a few big name resorts and many watersport shops trying to sell you every adventure under the sun. In our eyes it was pretty avergage. Perhaps we were spoilt in the Perhentian?
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On our last night in Penang we ate at the Red Garden open air food market. To Nathan's delight he got to watch his beloved spurs in action...or not as the case was. For him Penang ended on a bad note.
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Posted by willbourn 06:02 Archived in Malaysia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Taman Negara Rainforest & Cameron Highlands

Jungle Fever & High Tea!

semi-overcast 25 °C

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After our first experience with long distance public transport, we treated ourselves to the luxury of a reclining seat, air cond mini bus to take us the to Taman Negara rainforest. The roads wound round & round, up & down the mountains with lush palm trees and thick forest vegetation lining the way. We arrived in Kuala Tahan, which is the base camp for the Taman Negara Rainforest, after 7 hrs of driving.
P1000356.jpg view from the top of Kuala Tahan

With our trusty lonely planet in hand, we walked straight to the Durian Chalets which we liked the sound of from our extensive reading (research) on the journey. We were warmly greeted by the husband & wife team and shown a selection of rooms. We decided on the colourful, clean, double bed, private bathroom (with hot water!) chalet with a fan. I know this all sounds very basic but trust us when we say it's a luxury for 10 quid a night, especially the hot water part! These chalets are set quite far back from the centre of Kuala Tahan though at night we got to hear many of strange jungle sounds & had the most amazing view of the starry sky.
P1000415.jpg Our jungle chalet

To enter the rainforest you have to take a 2 min boat ride across the river from Kuala Tahan. Once we arrived we were given a map of the National Park & started what turned out to be 5 hours of trekking in a jungle. The path was a maze of tree roots and giant steep slatted stairs. We had an incredible day, although it was tough it was really rewarding. We climbed to one of the highest points ' Bukit Teresik' where we took some great photos of the rainforest and then did the canopy walkway which was basically ropes, netting & ladders tied together in the tree tops. As you can imagine it gave us a true 'Birds Eye' view.

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P1000385.jpgP1000390.jpg view from Bukit Tereksek
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For meals we ate each day & night in the floating restaurants, mostly at the 'Family Restaurant' which did great banana shakes & delicous noodles, soups & stir frys.

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P1000353.jpg Dinner on one of the floating restaurants

On our second day I persuaded Nathan to go to the Gua Telinga 'Bat Caves'. It was a 20 min boat journey downstream & then a good 30 min walk to the entrance of the caves. You can hire a guide to take you through the caves though I may have said something earlier in the day along the lines of....."we'll be right". Not that we weren't nervous enough, at the entrance there was a sign which said ' Be responsible for your own safety'. Nathan gave me one of those looks...I hid my nerves well & put on a brave face. Thank god that not after too long, a guide with another couple showed up. No need to go into detail but we basically tailed them throughout the darkness & wet slippery rocks. We saw hundreds of bats and we were apparently "lucky" to see two snakes just above our heads. Nice. We were both really proud of ourselves. There was no way in this earth we would have managed to complete that on our own. Yes, I was wrong. We gave the guide a little cash gift as a thankyou & scrurried back to the jetty to catch the boat back to base camp.

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One evening we decided to go on a Night 4x4 Safari tour. There were about 8 of us who piled into the back of an open 4x4 trailer. We drove around for approx 2 hrs and all we saw was a leopard cat?, two wild boars, a kingfisher bird and some more bats, but being in the back of a 4 wheel drive in the dark & having a suspenseful feeling of the unknown was an adventure in its self. The actual real highlight for us was the view of the stars. I've never seen so many stars in the sky. It was amazing.

P1000451.jpg Nathan in 4x4
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After 3 nights in Kuala Tahan ,we left the Taman Negara early in the morning and took another mini bus to the Cameron Highlands.

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The Cameron Highlands are mostly known for it's tea plantations & old colonial Hill Stations. We stayed in a lovely hotel which is perched high on the hill in the main Highland town, Tanah Rata. As the Cameron Highlands sit at an altitude of 1300m to 1800m, the weather is much cooler & wetter than the tropical lowlands. The valleys are very picturesque with low clouds drifting around the mountains and the green tea plantations dotting the hills.

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We booked into one of the half day tours which takes you around the local towns, chinese temple, strawberry farm and the Boh Tea Plantations & Factory where we got to learn how tea is made. Most of the tea pickers we found out were from Indonesia, Nepal, India & Thailand due to their cheap labour. However the positives for these workers were that they were given free accommodation, free schooling for their children & free tea for 3 years! Nowadays the tea pickers use small machines to pick the tea leaves from the trees which is obviously more efficient.

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At the end of our day tour we asked to be dropped off at the Bala Chalet which we read was famous for its High Tea. We got there just in time before the heavens opened & the rain fell. It fell until the next morning. We cosied up in the Bala Chalet for the afternoon & feasted on warm scones with the works & Boh tea.

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On the down side, sadly it seems the local towns in the Highlands are changing due to the influx of tourists. All the roads are lined with tacky souvenior shops and the likes of honey bee farms and rose farms have been developed only to entertain visitors.

With plenty of rain to last us a lifetime (which we thought we already had after leaving the UK), we felt it was time to head back to the coast. Next stop..Penang

Posted by willbourn 02:34 Archived in Malaysia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Malaysia's Capital & East Coast Peninsular

KL & the Perhentian Islands

sunny 33 °C

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After flying for 12 hours from Heathrow, we finally touched down in the heart of Malaysia. We were welcomed with a tropical afternoon shower which didn't seem to bother us as the heat was so overwhelming. The first thing you notice when reaching these lands is A) the heat and B) the smell.

We caught the express train into KL central and found the courage to jump on the monorail & search for our small guesthouse in the streets of the 'Golden Triangle'. KL is a buzzing city. Lights, colourful outdoor advertising, cars, bikes, food stalls on street corners and music coming from everywhere which fills the city.

Our guesthouse, Number Eight, was alongside the famous food night markets on Jalan Alor which as you may guess, was one of our highlights. Each night we walked up & down whilst being haggled by the tenders. Each night we weren't disappointed. Health & Safety in the West would have gone ballistic but the food was amazing.

In KL we visited the Petronas Towers which gave us a pretty good view of the city. To be honest there isn't really much to see from the skies, the real KL is on street level. However going up to the skywalk was something we wanted to tick off our to do list. P1000189.jpg
We also went to Merdeka Sq which was the place where Malaysia declared independence followed by walking the streets of Chinatown & Little India in the sweltering heat.
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We took a day trip out to the Batu Caves which had 3 temples & yes...lots of bats. To our surprise monkeys had also made the temples their home which we got to get upclose with.
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We finished our last day in KL walking the Lake Gardens and Hisbiscus Gardens which was a pleasant break from the city and gave us a breath of fresh air away from the hustle & bustle.

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Our next destination was the Perhentian Islands on the East Coast of Malaysia. On first glimpse of the small island Kecil, we knew they were going to live up to everything we'd read or heard about them. Turquoise water, white sand, palm trees etc. However arriving in paradise wasn't easy...we endured a torturous 15 hour overnight train journey from KL. At first we thought the sleeping berths on the train were 'cosy' though they turned out to be mini saunas. At least the scenery made up for it.
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When we finally reached the shore of Long Beach on Kecil Island, we were left to our own devices to find suitable accommodation. We joined some fellow travellers & investigated our options trekking up & down the beach (this was whilst carrying our rucksacks in 33 degrees heat and being sleep deprived from our hellish train journey so it was a real joy). After realising that are options were pretty much the same...rickety huts, poor toilets, a hose pipe for a shower, we decided on the Moonlight Chalets.
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From the outside they actually looked really quaint, but don't be fooled, these also came with the added bonus of little visitors in the night..rats & lizards! We managed to fill every hole & gap in the room and made our chalet a fortress. The sea view from our room made up for it all.
P1000272__Small_.jpg 'view from room'

We spent 6 days in total on the island. Our highlight from our stay was the snorkelling day trip around both Kecil and Besur Islands. We saw the most colourful fish and coral, swam with black tip sharks which were approx 2m in length, giant green turtles and a puffed out 'puffa' fish. It was such an amazing experience.
Long Beach like its people is very chilled. We really got to unwind here and soak up the sun. Again the food was delicious, we feasted on fresh barracuda & king fish most nights.
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'Dinner with our fellow travellers'

Our last day on the island approached far too quickly. We hope the Perhentian Island stays as it is, beautiful and underdeveloped.

The rainforest now awaits us.

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Posted by willbourn 17:32 Archived in Malaysia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

The Beginning

overcast 18 °C

So where do I start? So many stories, so many adventures...

I'm currently 3 weeks away from embarking on (another) trip of a lifetime. The plan is to spend 3-4 months in sunny SE Asia before arriving back in my home town, Sydney. Trust me, it's been a long awaited return.

Before I continue lets quickly go back in time.

5 1/2 years ago my closest friend and I packed our rucksacks and waved goodbye to our friends and family in Sydney to explore an unknown Europe. It was an adventure nearly every young Aussie pursued and we were beside ourselves with excitement and nerves.

It was one of the most unforgettable Summer's I've ever had.

If only I knew then how it would change my life. I was bitten by the travel bug. Some would say in a bad way.

So during the past 5 and a bit years I've made London my home and have taken advantage of every work holiday day and long weekend to explore the UK, Europe, parts of Africa and the Middle East. I've taken in every sight, smell and sound and hope to share that with you at some point on this blog.

So, back to my introduction. This blog will kickstart with stories and pictures from the Far East.

I will be sharing this journey with my other half Nathan, who's never had the opportunity to travel in the sense of going from one place to another, with no set plan or agenda and most importantly no strict time limit. So as you can imagine we should have plentiful of stories.

Oh and not only has Nathan taken the leap to leave Britain's shores for the land of Smiles, Monks & Rice, I've persuaded my pom to give Sydney a whirl as a future home so wish us luck!

Will be in touch soon

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Posted by willbourn 14:48 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged preparation Comments (0)

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