24 October 2010

Kuala Lumpur & Melaka

Kuala Lumpur: Malaysia's busy capital city
The Towers are a quarter of a mile high!
From the green rolling hills of the Cameron Highlands, we took a bus to Malaysia's bustling capital. The journey was supposed to take a little over four hours, but our driver (who thought he was Michael Schumacher) breezed it in two hours forty minutes!

That night, we headed straight for the iconic Petronas Towers. It was not hard to find them, as they were illuminated at night and loomed over every other building in the city. If only Aberdeen had buildings like this!

'Splashing' on the hologram
The following day, with the temperature hovering around 35°C, we took the easy option and hopped on the city tour bus, which was a really good way of seeing the various highlights of Kuala Lumpur and hearing about the history of the place.

I'm not usually a fan of museums, but we hopped off the bus to see the National Museum and it was actually pretty good. For me, the highlight was not the numerous displays of historical artifacts or the informative videos but a really cool projector that shone a hologram of water (complete with fish swimming around) that reacted when you walked over it. I know, I'm so cultured...

A few weeks ago, we were pointed in the direction of this article, which recommended ten budget restaurants in Kuala Lumpur. We ended up eating at three of them and were not disappointed. My favourite place was Precious in Central Market. The restaurant's decor made me feel like I had been transported back to the 1900s and my spicy chicken dish with coconut flavoured blue rice was delicious.

Tasty food from Precious in Central Market
After three days in the capital, we travelled south to Melaka - a town which was ruled by the Portuguese, Dutch and British before Malaysia gained its independence (the National Museum taught me something after all!) For that reason, the town attracts a lot of visitors and there are loads of little guesthouses.

We stayed in an old, family run hostel on the river where the owner baked a cake each day for the guests. While there have been no more incidents of chingchoks crawling around our bedroom, we did come across a massive lizard swimming down the river. Our hostel owner could barely suppress a laugh when I asked him if what we'd seen was an alligator. He explained that it was a monitor lizard.

"How can I sneak you through customs?"
Melaka is such a beautiful place. Pam and I have enjoyed walking the streets and talking with the friendly locals who take such pride in their town. The small shops are kept immaculately clean, the restaurants owners always seem delighted when you come to eat their food and the rickshaw drivers decorate their vehicles in flowers and tinsel and attach speakers to play music to their customers. Basically, Melaka is a vibrant version of Georgetown.

So, leaving Malaysia on a high, we now head to Singapore.

James 
    

16 October 2010

Georgetown & Cameron Highlands

An aerial view of Georgetown


Our first taste of Malaysia was Georgetown - an odd town-like city full of old buildings that reminded us more of Portugal than Southern Asia. We spent our time wandering around this unusual place that looks as if it is from a different era, making the most of the little cafes along the way as we battled with the heat!

On our second afternoon, we discovered a row of shopping malls and were lured by the prospect of some air-con shopping (well, I was anyway, I won James over with the promise of a milkshake!) We stumbled across a cinema and, for just £1, we watched The Switch - a bit of a chick flick, as James discovered a little too late! Jennifer Aniston was in it though, so he didn't complain too much.

An amazing view!
Moving on from Georgetown, we took what will probably be the most scenic bus trip of our lives to the Cameron Highlands. The difference in temperature was instantly noticeable and we were both quite excited by the thought of digging out our jumpers and jeans!

We checked in at Father's Guesthouse in Tanah Rata - a pretty little hostel on the top of a hill overlooking the sleepy town - and were delighted when we were taken to our room in the newly opened Gerard's: an extension building which had been open for only three months. It was luxury accommodation at a bargain price, so with destination and accommodation getting the thumbs up, we set off to explore the town and booked to go on a tour to a local tea plantation (this is big business in the Cameron Highlands) and the Mossy Rainforest.

The tour of the Mossy Rainforest


The tour was really good fun. There were about 15 of us in two Land Rovers and driving up the extremely narrow roads till we were at the top of a mountain 2,000 metres above sea level was an experience in itself! We made it to the top of the viewing tower (well, technically I made it about half way up) before we watched the clouds roll up the mountain - I have never been at cloud level before, so watching that was pretty cool! James managed to coax me down the bottom half of the tower and off we went into the Mossy Rainforest.

James by the tea plantation
Our guide described the Mossy Rainforest as being like something from a fairy tale, and you can understand why - it was totally covered in (you guessed it) moss and was completely unspoiled.

We ended the tour with a stop at the Boh Tea Factory and, being the only guests on the tour who didn't like tea, we thought it was about time we gave it a go! We liked the ice tea, but we struggled to finish our cups of hot tea - oh well!

Strawberry picking
We loved the Scottish feel to this place and decided to stay an extra couple of nights before leaving for the hustle and bustle of Kuala Lumpur.

On Friday, we went strawberry picking and tasted the best strawberry shake and strawberry pancake ever - James is still talking about it days later - and we have been enjoying the movie nights at the hostel. Cameron Highlands has definitely made its mark on us!

Pam

         

11 October 2010

Krabi

Originally, we planned to go from Ko Phangan to northern Malaysia but soon realised the journey would take nearly 20 hours, so, more to break up the journey than anything else, we decided to go to Krabi, which has turned out to be one of our favourite places in Thailand!

From our accommodation in Aonang, we took a longboat over the choppy sea to the scenic Railay Beach, which often appears in lists of top five beaches in Thailand.

video

I couldn't believe my luck when we arrived at the beach: a football competition was taking place. Eager to show my interest in case a team was short of a player, I warmed up by the subs bench. It has to be said that the standard of football on show was absolutely abysmal, which made the fact I wasn't called upon all the more frustrating. I could have made a name for myself!

Just along from the pitch was a game of 'football volleyball' that was drawing more of a crowd than the football match nearby. If this was an Olympic sport, Thailand would win the gold medal. This video shows why:

video

The highlight of our stay in Krabi is our tour of the Phi Phi islands (where the film 'The Beach' was shot). Here, we tried snorkelling, which was so much fun (once Pam relaxed into it)! The sea was totally clear and full of brightly coloured fish.

One of the many caves of the Phi Phi islands
Before we donned our snorkelling masks, the tour guide started handing us slices of bread. As the other passengers got off the boat and started to swim among the fish, I thought I would test how hungry they were and began to mould a 'bread bullet'. Once it had been made to a suitable standard, I took aim at the water where an unsuspecting, middle-aged woman was snorkelling. As soon as the tiny chunk of bread kissed the water - an inch from her half-submerged goggles - around 20 or 30 fish started flipping around like piranhas after a steak, no doubt giving the poor woman the most memorable snorkelling experience of her life. My fun came to an abrupt end when she shot a startled look in my direction.

We have now arrived in Georgetown in Malaysia, but more on that next time.

James

The stunning Railay Beach

Desperate for a game!



Tasty corn

5 October 2010

Ko Phangan

The view from our room - result!

McDowell clinching the vital point
Tropical island - check.
Beach bungalow by the ocean - check.
Irish pub showing the 2010 Ryder Cup - check!

Yes, our time in this gorgeous Thai island has coincided with the world's biggest golf tournament. Thankfully for me, Pam has shown grace and understanding in putting up with three consecutive nights in The Harp Bar, where I had the pleasure of watching Europe scrape victory over a stubborn USA team by 14½ points to 13½.

Anyway, enough about golf...

Overlooking the north west of the island
Ko Phangan is absolutely stunning. Palm trees line white sandy beaches, buffalo roam free (and thankfully keep to themselves!) and we have had a week of (mostly) blue skies. The island has a population of just 8,000 and is about the same size as the city of Aberdeen (that is where the similarities end).

Our beach bungalow
We are staying in a bungalow about ten metres from the beach in the Phrueksa Resort on the south west coast of the island, just a fifteen minute drive from Haad Rin - where the famous 'full moon party' is held.

At Hat Rin Nok beach
Driving the moped up and down the steepest roads I've ever come across, we made it to this backpacker haven. Little pubs had movies showing on big screens throughout the day ('The Beach' was on in a few of the places we passed) and there were small shops selling homemade jewellery and beach clothes.

Soaking up the sun
Looking back, this is where we should have stayed on the island, however, if we had, I might not have gotten to drive the moped - it's so much fun! 

James