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    Tuesday, 27 October 2009

    Featured Travel Photo

    All Smiles, Trang, originally uploaded by Homdaum.

    All Smiles, Featured Travel Photo from Trang in Thailand

    Friday, 23 October 2009

    Niah Caves - An Awesome Sight

    Air Asia Flight[Enlarge & More]
    After Kuala Lumpur we finally ended our overland adventure and boarded an Air Asia flight to Borneo. We’d spent the last 3 months travelling overland by bus, boat and car and both of us felt odd getting on a flight. To get to Borneo we had no choice but it did feel weird.

    Air Asia is a low-cost carrier and it felt like boarding an Easyjet flight, the only difference being the theme was red not orange. Borneo is split into two distinct regions and our 2.5 hour flight took us to Kota Kinabalu in Sabah. However we wanted to be in Sarawak so we boarded another 50 minute flight to Miri the following day. We did have some time in Kota Kinabalu but we knew we’d be returning in a few days so only went out for some dinner.

    Traders Cave [Enlarge & More]
    The whole reason for going to Miri was to explore some of the rainforest and caves in the area. The effort and cost to get there was richly rewarded as I got to see the single most impressive sight I’ve seen in the 4 months of travel so far, the caves at Niah National Park.

    We chose to do Niah National Park as a day trip from Miri, an area of rainforest which also includes a set of caves. Once at the park, about a 2 hour drive from Miri, you have to hike for about 1.5 hours through the rainforest to reach the caves. It’s hot work as it’s just what you’d imagine a rainforest to be like, very hot and humid. The caves themselves are famous for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the bird nests inside them are highly sought after as a delicacy and secondly, the remains the oldest human life in South East Asia were found in the caves.

    Traders Cave [Enlarge & More]
    Upon reaching the caves, I couldn’t take in what I was seeing. First you reach the Traders Cave which is where all the workers who used to harvest the bird nests lived. It now contains some rickety structures which until as recently as 1970 were home to the workers. The Trader cave is huge but around the corner you come across the Great Cave which is enormous. I really could not comprehend what I was seeing at first, as it’s so vast. A few people had made the hike into the cave before us and as I saw them in the distance I really got a feel for the enormity of what was in front of me.

    Great Cave [Enlarge & More]
    As I settled into the view I started noticing the clicking noises the birds and bats were making up above me and as we explored further into the cave the ground underfoot became soft with their droppings. As we ventured further in, the air became still and heavy with the stench. We turned another corner and in front of us was a beam of sunlight like if a spaceship was ready to beam someone up. That single sight was the just awesome, absolutely magical.

    Beam of Light[Enlarge & More]
    About another hundred meters in we turned on our torch and the path got darker and darker until there was only the light from the torch. A few more minutes into the walk Jono said “I don’t want to go too far in” and even though I was thinking the same we ventured on. I had had the foresight that morning to stick a spare set of batteries into my bag and I was thankful as I don’t know what we would have done if the torch light had gone out. It was pitch black. It’s funny how the mind plays tricks on you as the shadows caused by the torchlight spooked me a few times and I was really pleased I was not alone.

    Remains, Painted Cave[Enlarge & More]
    I think it was about 15 minutes of walking in total darkness before we saw light ahead and an exit. As we got closer to the exit I heard voices and when we got out there was a group of school kids, one of them was hyperventilating while surrounded by all her friends. The darkness must have got to her.

    Following a further 20 minute walk we got to another cave which had paintings and remains of prehistoric man. There were basic drawings on the walls, wooden burial boats and what looked like recently excavated human remains. It’s a pretty inhospitable place now and I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like back then.

    Leaving the Great Cave [Enlarge & More]
    The whole trip was amazing and we had to do the whole journey backwards to get out of the caves and rainforest but this time we had a little more confidence and I even shone the torch around a bit, not afraid of what I might see this time.

    Thursday, 22 October 2009

    Great Attractions in Kuala Lumpur

    Petronas Towers, KL[Enlarge & More]

    We left Melaka, which had a lot of charm and character for such a tourist-trodden town. However, we had a schedule to keep to before our flight to Kota Kinabalu in Borneo in a few days time, so we headed to the bus station to catch a coach to Kuala Lumpur. We’d asked a couple of people if we needed to book a bus ticket in advance or not. The hotel we were staying at said “Yes, definitely”, and the tourist office had said “No, definitely not”, so we decided to leave it to chance and just turn up. We arrived at 10am to find a bus for the 2 hour journey. We walked straight up to a counter and bought a bus ticket for a 10am bus – noting it was 10:05am we verified that the bus was still around – and jumped straight on. There was us and two other passengers, and off the bus went. So easy!

    Twin Towers [Enlarge & More]

    We arrived in Kuala Lumpur at midday, and thanks to some skilful navigation by Mahmoud (!), we got off the bus fairly close to our hotel. We lugged our bags around the back of the Times Square shopping centre, to a small hotel called Classic Inn. It was a neat and tidy little place, very good value for money in the heart of the city. Shocked that we’d arrived at our destination at a time of day in which we could actually do something, rather than the 5-7pm arrival time we normally have, we planned our next moves.

    First of all we wandered through the massive shopping mall next door – 11 floors of shopping and food goodies, including Malaysia’s largest indoor roller coaster, which you could hear roaring around the track from most of the mall. We had some really surprisingly yummy Malay food from the food court – you wouldn’t have thought it would be great quality there, but it was really nice. We wandered up the road to the Petronas Towers after that, the most internationally recognised buildings of Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia. They were an amazing sight in the mid-afternoon sun, and made me feel very small standing next to them!

    Skybridge [Enlarge & More]

    The next day we turned up and went on the “free” tour up to the 41st floor skybridge. I say “free”, because in return for turning up and having a look you also get the privilege of being subjected to a 10 minute corporate video about how great the Petronas company is. They give you 3D glasses to make it more exciting, but unfortunately it didn’t make it that much more exciting for me! Still, the view we got after the video was amazing. We were popped onto an express elevator which blasted us up to the 41st floor, and we walked out onto the skybridge. Definitely worth a mundane corporate advertising video!

    Jamek Mosque [Enlarge & More]

    Another highlight was our visit to Merdeka Square and Chinatown. Here you get a sense of the more traditional side of Kuala Lumpur. We didn’t linger too long in Chinatown, as we’ve seen a few and to be honest it didn’t even touch Melaka’s Chinatown. Merdeka Square housed some impressive buildings, including a massive flagpole with a massive national flag hoisted up it – pretty cool!

    Monorail [Enlarge & More]

    On that same day, we walked down to the nearly deserted Kuala Lumpur train station, and then on to the state mosque – a beautiful piece of architecture. We didn’t go in as the mosque was closed to tourists at certain times of the day, but it was worth the look. Our main mode of transport around the city was the metro and the monorail. We planned to walk from the mosque to KL Sentral (the Central train/bus station) to get the monorail back to our hotel – it turned out to be a bit far though, and we ended up walking back to Chinatown to get on the metro from there!

    Small Rangoli[Enlarge & More]

    It was pretty hot in Kuala Lumpur while we were there – fortunately for us, there are a lot of shopping malls in the city with good air conditioning systems – perfect for dipping in and out of on a hot day! We spent a bit of time in shopping malls while there – although we didn’t buy a lot, there were some great people watching opportunities. While we were there, preparations were underway for the Hindu Deepavali ceremony. One woman in the Times Sqaure Shopping Centre was attempting a Malaysian record of the largest Rangoli done by a single person within 48 hours. A ??? is a large piece of art created on the ground – traditionally using flour, but in Malaysia done using coloured rice. Her piece was very interesting, but she looked absolutely shattered! I think she’d been going non-stop for nearly 36 hours by the time we left KL – it looked like hard work.

    View from KL Tower [Enlarge & More]

    Another highlight was when we went up the KL Tower. The view from near the top was incredible – at around 481 metres you could see the whole city. We chose to go up at night, but when we got there, there was a fair bit of glare from lights within the tower, and the view was spoiled a little bit by that. The other slight disappointment was that even though the brochures we’d picked up from the tourist information office said that the entry fee was 20RM, it was actually 38RM – nearly twice the price! Still, in the end it was still worth it, and the lights of the city were an impressive sight from so high up. It may have been a little better if we’d gone during the day though.

    Traffic KL City [Enlarge & More]

    Being in Kuala Lumpur, you could be in just about any western city. English is everywhere, and the multi-ethnic population gives the city a diverse feeling. It’s very different from the rest of Malaysia – you could be anywhere, so it doesn’t really feel much like Malaysia. The only bad point that I noticed was that Buddhist monks tend to come up to foreigners and try to push good-luck charms into their hands and then demand money. This happened to me a few times – each time I just ignored them, but one time a monk followed me for a few minutes down the road, about 2 feet behind me the whole way! I had to dip into a shop to lose him in the end! After seeing the humble and friendly monks of Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, these guys seem like real con artists.

    I enjoyed Kuala Lumpur from a sights and comforts perspective. You need to look hard though, or you might forget you’re in Malaysia! Still, from our perspective, it was a great stop for a bit of home comfort, and to see some amazing urban sights. The people are friendlier than you might expect from a big city too, which was a pleasant surprise. I’m pleased we spent four nights there – it was a welcome stop-off before arriving in the more “rustic” Borneo!

    Wednesday, 21 October 2009

    Charming & Historic Melaka

    Jumping Monkey [Enlarge & More]

    Cherating would have been a disappointment if it hadn’t been for the river trip. I was amazed at seeing all the different animals, the monkeys flying through the air were a particular highlight. I was, however, pleased that we left and headed to Melaka, another world heritage sight. It’s a coastal town first colonised by the Dutch and then taken over by British.

    To get to Melaka we first had to take a local bus to Kuantan and then get on a coach to Melaka. We hailed the local bus to Kuantan from the main road and jumped on board and made ourselves comfortable for the hour-long journey. I love to watch the locals go about their business and a local bus is just perfect for this. One thing common in all our journeys so far have been the women who are travelling with unbelievably heavy bags. It amazes me how agile they move about with such heavy loads were as I still only manage to fumble about with my backpack and hold everyone up. One oddity on this occasion was a man who had adorned on him chains made out of D clips. I could tell this was not normal behaviour as I caught the others on the bus taking furtive looks. Strange!

    Baba House [Enlarge & More]

    We got to Kuantan within the hour and headed for the main bus station to get our ticket. Once that was sorted we had time to kill so I thought it was about time I started to replace some of the clothes I’d been wearing constantly for the last 4 months. We found a big mall and I got myself a right bargain.

    The bus journey to Melaka was slow, we thought it was going to take 5 hours but after we stopped at every little town on the way it dragged out. I think by the time we got to Melaka, we were the only ones who did the whole journey. The scenery along the way was pretty interesting mainly because we got to see swathes of country side covered in plantations and even more swathes slashed and burned.

    We arrived in Melaka after dark and headed to the hotel we had chosen, Baba House, right in the centre of China Town. Checking in they only had a room for two of the 4 nights we’d planned to stay so we had a scout round some of the other hotels nearby but all were full for the weekend. This is the only time this has happened and it was because we were approaching the weekend. Luckily we asked at reception the next morning to see if there had been a cancellation and got a room for the remaining two nights, which was a spot of luck.

    Kampung Hulu Mosque [Enlarge & More]

    Melaka was full of character and had a lot to do and see. We easily filled our time there, ambling about looking at all the different sights and taking in the atmosphere of the place. Melaka is full of history and some of the more interesting sights were the Mosques, which, unlike the traditional dome roofs you see, had peaked roofs - very Chinese looking. I did wonder if they had been converted to mosques, but apparently they were built like this.

    Manara Taming Sari [Enlarge & More]

    The first thing we did was take a trip up the Manara Taming Sari tower. As you ascend, the platform rotates so that you get some fine views of the city. We went up on a particularly clear day and I think I could see Indonesia in the distance as it’s only about 50km across the sea.

    Eid Celebrations [Enlarge & More]

    As we were there at the weekend, the place had a real holiday feel to it. There were Eid celebrations still going on and even though Eid was 2 weeks ago, in Malaysia they have a month long celebration. We stumbled upon one such celebration coming off the tower. As we exited, we sort of fell into the celebrations and were being offered food. It was rude to say no so we had a plate full each of rice, chicken curry and beef skewers. While we munched on the food a band started playing and we were entertained by some singing. Everyone seemed to be having a great time and it reminded me of the street parties held back at the silver jubilee in the UK. Great spirit.

    Karaoke, Chinatown [Enlarge & More]

    That evening, just outside our hotel, a huge night market appeared and we found that it only happens at the weekend. It was great, you had everything being sold from roasted dried squid, which stank, to bric and brac someone had collected. Karaoke also featured heavily in the nooks and crannies as you’d hear the singing before you saw it. There was even a stage dedicated to it at one end of the market. Very brave for them to go up and sing in front of the big market crowd.

    We had one of the oddest experiences in Melaka, the shirt I’d bought in Kuantan turned out to be a bit too big so I decided to find a tailor to get it adjusted. Whereas in Thailand you were falling over them shoving their cards in your face, in Melaka they proved to be a bit more allusive. On the hunt we went and after roaming around for a while we came across one. We walked in straight to the back past all these people sat at sewing machines to ask if they could adjust it for me. I did notice that they were all eating and that there seemed to be a lot of camera lighting about but thought nothing of it. When I asked if they could help, I got an odd look and was told that it wasn’t a tailors shop. I looked puzzled which elicited that it was actually a film set and they were taking a lunch break. Anyway I did find a tailor and he adjusted my shirt for the princely sum of 90p.

    Base Jump [Enlarge & More]

    Oddly, we found some of the streets cordoned off to traffic, so we went investigating and we found a crowd looking skywards where we’d feasted on the free food the day before. As I looked up a man hurled himself off the top of the tower and what we’d stumbled across this time was base jumping. Amazing really, having been up there the day before I knew how high it was - pretty high, but not high enough to base jump from. I was so busy taking photos that as he landed I had to run out of the way as I nearly got taken out.

    Eye on Malaysia [Enlarge & More]

    Melaka is also hosting the Eye on Malaysia at the moment, it’s sort of like the London eye, but smaller and portable. You also don’t go round once but that may have has something do with us being the only ones on it. It’s a bit out of the main city, in the middle of nowhere so I don’t think it gets many visitors. The sun was setting as we were on it so the view were spectacular over the sea and I think we definitely got value for money by going round and round and round.

    To end a great stay in Melaka we found ourselves a restaurant serving Nyonya food, which is a mix of Malay and Chinese. To describe the food is hard but if you think of Chinese food but made by an Indian chef then you get a little idea. I think on the menu it described it as the original fusion food.

    Melaka is charming, it’s people are warm and friendly. The historical as well as the modern sights are worth a visit and the weekend is definitely the best time to come here and lucky for us that’s just what happened.

    Tuesday, 20 October 2009

    Featured Travel Photo

    Lotto Women, Sukhothai, originally uploaded by Homdaum.

    Beauty Regime of a Lotto Women, Featured travel Photo from Sukhothai, Thailand.

    Wednesday, 14 October 2009

    Exploring the East Coast of Malaysia - Kota Bharu & Cherating

    Broken Down Bus[Enlarge & More]

    Penang was a whirlwind introduction to Malaysia, complete with very bad weather, so we were quite pleased to be leaving and on our way to the east coast, starting with a stop in Kota Bharu.

    Our taxi arrived to take us to the bus station, and was driven by a middle aged Indian man from New Zealand. He was a very nice man – but we’ve found taxi drivers often have sad stories to tell, and they’re often driving a taxi because their old lives didn’t work out. In this case, his family still lived in New Zealand, and he was estranged from his wife – he was working as a taxi driver rather than his normal profession as an engineer, because nobody would employ him at his age – I felt a bit sad for him.

    Waiting for Bus [Enlarge & More]

    Anyway, we got on the bus and it broke down about halfway to Kota Bharu – typical that we travel all around southeast Asia, and the bus breaks down in a first world country rather than the likes of Cambodia. Fortunately, we stopped at a scenic outcrop in the rolling hills of central Malaysia, and it was a good photo opportunity. Another bus came and picked up a few people, but we were too slow with our bulky bags. Malaysians are very similar to Indians, in that rather than queue in an orderly fashion, everyone just rushes to the front and tries to get on first – we were just too polite in this case! The new bus came and went, and after a few minutes the remaining ten or so of us got back on the old bus, and off we went. I have no idea what was wrong with the bus, it seemed fine after that. Maybe there were too many people.

    Kota Bharu [Enlarge & More]

    We got to Kota Bharu a couple of hours late, and checked into our hotel – Crystal Lodge. It was pretty disappointing to be honest – compared to what we usually get for the price, Crystal Lodge was a bit tired and run down. Plus the WiFi didn’t work in the room, which got us both a bit upset. Once we’d calmed ourselves, we went out for some food. What a surprise! People stared at us as we walked down the street, and nearly everyone smiled or said hello. We walked into a small family run restaurant on the street corner near the hotel, and the rather surprised owners handed us a couple of menus in Malay. We ordered a couple of dishes, having very little idea as to what they were, and ended up having a very nice meal. The woman who was cooking came out and hovered nearby while watching us eat – a bit disconcerting, but we were genuinely enjoying the meal (luckily), so didn’t have to pretend to like it!

    That pretty much sums up Kota Bharu in a nutshell actually. Tourists generally spend at most a night in Kota Bharu, and very few spend any time at all, so really the locals don’t see many people from out of town. As a result, many people were quite curious about us and where we came from, and keen to talk to us. It was strange to be stared at so much – it reminded me of our time in India, but the stares seemed a lot more friendly, whereas in India people tend to stare more out of curiosity, and because it’s just what they do! We spent three nights there, and generally had a pretty good time, although three nights was definitely enough.

    Central Market [Enlarge & More]

    I think the highlight for both of us was the central market – definitely the best produce market we’ve seen. Housed in a massive concrete structure, the inside was lined with rows of vegetables, fruit, fish, chickens, dry goods, packaged goods – everything. I bought a bag of chocolate and a bag of sweets, although the sweets turned out to be cough sweets which weren’t so nice. A few people were keen to chat with us – one old man held up his mushrooms for Mahmoud to take a photo of which was very sweet. It was definitely one of the hubs of town, and all sorts of people were there doing their shopping. I think though, they were just as interested in watching us as we were in watching them!

    Throwing Spinning Top [Enlarge & More]

    Another highlight was the daily cultural show. We watched batik painting, kite making, top spinning, and drum banging. It was very interesting, and narrated by a slightly eccentric man with a few bad jokes, who had to leave halfway through to pray at the nearby mosque. The top spinning was very impressive – they spin the metal tops, and they spin for about two hours apparently – I guess whoever’s top spins the longest wins, although they need to resort to tactics such as oiling them while they spin and transferring them to smooth oiled surfaces etc. Unfortunately, the boat from the nearby Perhentian islands arrived shortly after the cultural show started, and tourists from the island descended on the performance, so it wasn’t quite so peaceful after that. There were a few really daggy tourists there – you know, the sort who look like they have poo in their dreadlocked hair, holes in their clothes and look like they haven’t washed in about 6 months. We have taken to calling such people farang kii nok (Thai description for birdshit Westerner) – on such an amazing spiritual journey, that they forget the rules of basic hygiene.

    Cherating Beach[Enlarge & More]

    After Kota Bharu, we headed down the east coast to Cherating. The bus didn’t break down fortunately, but we did have to be vigilant in looking out for our stop as the bus was not due to stop at Cherating, and we had to get the driver to drop us off. On the bus we met a young Afghan student who was studying in Malaysia. He was only 22, but looked about 35. He took quite a shine to Mahmoud when he learned of his Pakistani heritage, and chatted away for quite some time. He also ate some of my sweets! I had to hide them in the end.

    Cherating was like a ghost town. It was so quiet there – I can’t imagine it is so quiet all year round. We were the only people staying in our hotel, and one of very few visiting the town – I think even the locals must have gone to busier pastures, it was so quiet. Anyway, our hotel was a bit of a dump for the price – Cherating Bayview Resort. Worst place we’ve stayed value-wise – actually, worst place full-stop really. It was not a pleasure to sleep in the room, and mosquitoes broke in, formed an attack squadron and chewed on my face and neck all night. Furthermore, the place was run by a sour-faced middle aged woman who didn’t look like she was that pleased to have us there!

    River Trip [Enlarge & More]

    Well, Cherating was a good place to relax, but in comparison to the beaches of southern Thailand it really did fall a bit flat. Still, it was peaceful and the beach was good to walk up and down. There were only a few restaurants open in town, and only one on the beach itself, which was where we ate most of our meals.

    One thing we really enjoyed was a trip up the river which ran alongside the town, and into the mangrove swamps. We saw an amazing amount of wildlife – snakes, otters, water monitor lizards, crabs living in trees, kingfishers, monkeys (which weren’t used to humans and bared their teeth). It was a really great trip, but at the end the boatman apologised thinking we hadn’t seen enough – we were more than happy though!

    After three nights in Cherating, we were more than ready to head off to our next destination – Melaka. With only a limited amount of time to spend in the peninsular part of Malaysia, we were conscious of spending too much time “relaxing” in Cherating, and wanted to get on and see what else there was to see! The east coast was definitely worth seeing though – we got a lot out of both Kota Bharu and Cherating. It was definitely a cultural experience – I felt like we got to see an unmissable part of Malaysia.

    Tuesday, 13 October 2009

    Featured Travel Photo

    Tuk Tuk Stand, Colva, Goa, originally uploaded by Homdaum.

    Featured travel Photo from India.

    Friday, 9 October 2009

    A First Glimpse into Malaysia - Penang

    Malay Rat [Enlarge & More]

    Georgetown in Penang was nothing like I expected. Firstly it had high rise buildings and secondly it was nothing like any other UNESCO world heritage site we’ve been too. On first impressions it was built up, noisy, dirty and pretty unspectacular.

    After checking into PP Island Hotel we rushed out to get something to eat. As I was walking down the road, I was stopped in my tracks, as a rat rushed passed my feet. Not a great start, I thought.

    Walking around looking for something to eat, I soon started to feel the character of the place. From street to street and sometimes shop to shop it felt like I was in India one minute, Hong Kong the next, and a mix of Cambodia, Laos and Thailand the next. It’s a real cosmopolitan place, which you don’t normally see outside capital cites such as London. The only difference here is that the majority of faces are brown with the odd spec of white.

    Victoria Tower [Enlarge & More]

    The food reflects the different ethnic groups that exist on the island too. The Brits in the early 20th century brought with them the Chinese and Indians and now you get Chinese dumplings and Indian samosas on each street corner. I have to say I had the best samosas I’ve had since leaving home - that’s with spending a month in India! They were delicious.

    For our first evening meal we settled for Indian food and while ordering I was transported back to India. The over enthusiastic waiter would not let us talk and every time we tried to order he’d finish our sentences. We did end up with some good food but not what we ordered. Funny as it took me back to India.

    The weather was against us all the time we were in Penang and not since Hong Kong had it been a pain. It pretty much rained the 2 days/3 nights we spent there and subsequently made the place look a little dreary as we walked around seeing the sights. I’m not sure even if the sun was out that Georgetown deserves the world heritage status. There are plenty of historical buildings to see dotted around but modernity has taken over with shopping malls, high rises etc.

    Lantern [Enlarge & More]

    We spent the first day wandering the streets looking at all the heritage buildings as well as exploring the shopping malls when it was raining. It looked like we’d just missed a lantern festival as there were lots of them about. In one of the shopping malls there were a few on display to be judged. I’m assuming they’d been made by school children and my favourite was the fish. Jono liked the cow.

    Heritage House [Enlarge & More]

    We did stumble upon a restored house, I poked my head in to see and before we knew it we’d paid to enter and were on a tour, this time with a very enthusiastic guide. He turned out to be half African and half Chinese, had excellent English and went into minute detail about the house as we toured round. He even went into detail about how the chamber pot was used. We do very few tours as both of us prefer just to amble around at our own pace. Out of the two of us Jono is less inclined to want to take a tour and about 30 mins in I caught Jono’s eye. He looked like he was ready to kill himself which I found really funny. Another 30 minutes later, we said our thank you’s as we headed to where we’d entered, grateful we were done. However, he said there was more and he was very insistent on showing us. On reflection it was a great glimpse into life in Penang in the 19th and early 20th century of a rich family who made their money in tin.

    Chinese Resturant [Enlarge & More]

    That night we ate at a Chinese restaurant and, yes, I felt we were transported to Hong Kong.

    Funicular [Enlarge & More]

    We spent the last day getting to Penang Hill. It’s a collection of hills accessible by funicular. Once you are at the top, about a 30 minute ride, you are rewarded with great views of the island. We were being optimistic as when we go to the top, about 800 m above sea level, all we got was a blanket of cloud and no view. Shame but it still made for an interesting day out.

    If Penang is anything to go by, I’m going to like Malaysia as I love the fact all these different cultures live together in what seems like perfect harmony.

    Tuesday, 6 October 2009

    Featured Travel Photo

    Taxi, Kerala Backwaters, originally uploaded by Homdaum.

    Featured travel Photo from India.

    Sunday, 4 October 2009

    Trang and a Border Crossing to Malaysia

    Thailand [Enlarge & More]

    We’d had a great time on the islands, but time was ticking on and it was time to start heading to Malaysia. Heading directly from Koh Samui to the Malaysia border was a bit of a long trip for one day, as the ferry times did not really fit in for such a long journey, so we decided to break up the trip by spending a couple of days in Trang.

    A lot of southern Thailand experiences regular problems with insurgency due to clashes between Muslims and Buddhists. This is mainly condensed in the south-east, with provinces such as Hat Yai and Trang only on the fringes of the problem spots, so we decided that Trang was a good, safe place to go, plus a good place to begin a border crossing to Malaysia.

    Car Ferry [Enlarge & More]

    We boarded a car ferry to the mainland from Koh Samui, which was not as flashy as some of the boats we’d been on previously, but did the job, and went through a series of buses and mini-vans to Trang. Some of the transfers were reasonably complicated, and we weren’t sure we were going to make it to our intended destination, but we did arrive in Trang as promised!

    After the heavily touristed islands of Koh Samui and Koh Tao, Trang was a breath of fresh air. It actually felt like we were in Thailand again – albeit, a very different Thailand from what we’d visited up north. Although Trang has a Buddhist majority population, there were significant numbers of Muslims in the town, which made it a very interesting place from a cultural perspective. Furthermore, the people were really friendly – genuinely friendly, like they were actually pleased to see you there, and not just because you’re a tourist either. There were very few tourists in Trang while we were there, and it was nice to walk down a street which actually had Thai people also walking on it, and not just working in bars, or pandering to tourists!

    Vintage Tuk Tuk [Enlarge & More]

    One of the best parts of Trang were the vintage style tuk tuks about town – these must surely be unique to the area, and we’ve not seen anything like them anywhere else. They’re so cute buzzing around town, and although we did not sit in one we admired quite a few! Trang also had quite a few classic cars buzzing about the place, lending it a real character and likeability factor.

    Trang Life [Enlarge & More]

    We spent the only full day we had there wandering about the place and taking in the feel of the town. We didn’t really see any sights, but just spent time enjoying the town. There is also a heavy Chinese influence in town, and many of the shops were selling Chinese food and goods – there were several selling lots of gold jewellery too! It was really nice walking around – people were happy just to say hello to us, something we’d not really experienced since Cambodia.

    We stayed in Sri-Trang Hotel, which was a place with a character all of it’s own. I’m not sure who was actually running the place, but it seemed to be jointly run by a syndicate of elderly Thai men who seemed to sit around drinking and smoking, but somehow also efficiently run a hotel. It was basic, but pleasant enough, and we had access to the internet cafĂ© downstairs – unfortunately, while sitting there in the afternoon, I was mercilessly mauled by mosquitoes in a period of five minutes – I was very upset, as mosquitoes don’t usually bite during the day here, they caught me out!

    Border Crossing [Enlarge & More]

    Two nights was enough time in Trang, and we booked a bus ticket to Pulau Penang on the west cost of Malaysia. Even the travel agents we booked the ticket through were friendly – definitely the most helpful travel agents we’ve met! A mini-van sped us off to Hat Yai, where we met yet more friendly people at a guesthouse while we waited for our connecting mini-van, which promptly arrived and sped us off to the border.

    While on the mini-van, we picked up a dotty old dear who was returning to Malaysia after a holiday in Thailand (I think, I kind of made up a story for her). She had a lot of food – she’d really stocked up. She had two bags full of bags of nuts, pickles, sweets, chocolates, cooking ingredients, meat, fruit, and bizarrely, kebabs. When she opened up her main luggage bag, I was surprised to see more food in there, including tinned tuna. Very strange.

    We got to the border which was a very formal and efficient affair in comparison to the other land border crossings we’ve done. It was kind of like two international airports tacked together, only you just carry your bags all the way through. I’m not sure how the dotty dear managed to get all her tasty treats through customs, but she emerged intact on the other side and off we went. We, meanwhile, gained our entry stamps for Malaysia – we can spend up to 90 days in the country – hurrah!

    Shortly after the border crossing, Mahmoud got hungry – as often happens. The dotty dear was snacking on some dried broad beans, and Mahmoud had a whinge – “I wish she’d give us some, I’m starving!”. What he wasn’t counting on was that a lot of Malaysians speak very good English, and within seconds she popped the bag under our noses and said, “Would you like some?”. I was highly amused.

    Georgetown, Penang [Enlarge & More]

    The view changed dramatically once we crossed the border. Within a few kilometres, we noticed the difference in the road – traffic was a little calmer, and the road was a little straighter, and all the road signs were in English. Malay is a very different language to Thai, it’s written in Roman numerals rather than script, and so looks quite similar to English (mainly as many words are the same), so it means you can understand a lot more. Within a few more kilometres, we started seeing housing estates, and the radio came on in English, playing Western music. We could have been forgiven for thinking we were back in the UK!

    Eventually arriving in Georgetown, Penang, our driver dropped us off at the door of our hotel. We breathed a sigh of relief to have arrived after a long day of driving, set our clocks forward an hour, and walked in. It was a shame to say goodbye to Thailand after a very good month, but time is marching on and Malaysia will be a new experience entirely!

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