Tea fields, markets and rock climbing
16.01.2012 - 20.01.2012 32 °C
Cameron Highlands (Jayne)
Our alarms sounded at 8am the following morning which felt far too early as we were all still exhausted from the jungle palarva. Happy to find our little lodge not surrounded by an unfeesable amount of water although it HAD rained all night, Chris, Callum and I trudged our way up a hill to meet the 9.30am bus to the Cameron Highlands. The Cameron HIghlands sit at 1300m - 1800m and is famous for it's rolling hills of tea plantations, strawberry farms and hiking. The original plan was to stay for 2 nights, hiking for a day and visiting farms for the second, but it was strongly agreed that we skip the hiking bit ;-) so 1 night it was. We hadn't pre-booked any accomodation and the first couple of hostels where full, so we decided to spend an extra £4 and splash out on a lovely guest house with a very friendly owner who was horrified to hear of our flood experience and immediatly thrust a cold beer into our hands. We dropped of our stinky clothes that had got wet in the jungle at a laundry and headed around to the very helpful man at tourist Info booth who did us a good deal on a half day tour the next day. He even offered to pick up our laundry and look after our backpacks for us the next day so we would make our bus to Penang after the trip and fed us random bits of friut as we stood chatting to him.
He pointed us to a food stall where we could find some good Malay food, and we ordered 6/7 dishes to share, as usual the food was amazing - and cost only a couple of pounds each. We did splash out on a chocolate fondue afterwards though!
Our tour the next day, was great. We were taken in a 4 x 4 up to the highest point in the HIghlands, passing tea plantations and had time to stop and watch the men operate the cutting machines that pass over top of the plants (the fresh shoots are picked every 2 weeks) and the ladies who hand pick the difficult bits!
It was explained that all tea comes from the same plant and its the age of the leaf and the oxidation process that determines how strong the tea is, or whether is green, black or white tea. We then reached the mossy forest at the top of the sealed road and had a half hour walk around listening to the guide tell us about all the flora and fauna and explain about what leaves are good to stop leech bites from bleeding and show us how to use bamboo for fire, even if it is wet. He showed us the Manuka honey flowers and gave us leaves from cinnamon plants to chew on. Were was this man when we needed him most!! We then stopped at a butterfly farm which looked more then a bit tatty and although the butterflies had a big enclosure and lots of tropical plants, we should have guessed that there would also be a selection of other insects/reptiles and bird that looked very sorry for themselves :-( The route home took us past a tea shop for an overpriced pot of tea with a beautiful view.
We made it back to the helpful Tourist Info guys, grabbed our laundry and backpacks and jumped on our bus to Butterworth where we would catch the ferry to Georgetown in Penang.
Georgetown - Penang
Butterworth was a bit rough and industrial so we were quite pleased to be jumping straight on the 20min ferry across to Penang. We saw a beautiful sunset whilst on the ferry and then watched Penang's city lights get brighter and closer.
We couldn't find an avaliable hostel, but we did see a lot of available ladies on street corners - actually, it was decided a large percentage were actually men once-upon-a-time. We did eventually strike it lucky with a Chinese cafe/hotel and got a good deal on a room with 2 double beds for all 3 of us. Hungry after another long day of travelling, we headed around the corner to find a food stall selling something tasty and came across a Chinese lady selling an even tastier version of the fried radish cake we had eaten in Melaka. As we ate this and drank some cans of beer, we chatted to a German and a Dutch man about our storey so far and about their travels in Nepal. They advised us to visit Nepal sometime and we advised them not to go into the jungle and we parted ways with our beds and a midnight curfew at the hotel calling us.
Penang - Day 2
The next day was good fun, we hired two mopeds (one for Chris and myself and one for Callum) and we braved the mangle of cars/trucks and mopeds in the crazy streets of Georgetown in search of some religion. We decided on Buddhism first and paid a visit to SE Asia's largest Buddhist temple on a hill overlooking the town. It was indeed an impressive structure with a lovely calming ambience inside.
Unfortunately our camera was broken in the Jungle so Callum took pictures and we haven't had time to get them from him yet - sorry.
We padded around bare foot to look at the 1 billion million buddah statues (the exact number escapes me) and i brought a CD of lovely calming buddist music - much to Chris's dismay. (Chris - too right, it cost more than our moped hire including fuel!) We took a ride up the mountain where we found a reservoir and then had a death defying ride back down, halfway down Chris informs me the brakes don't really work with 2 of us on the moped.... Awesome.
We found flat ground - phew, and stopped at a large Mosque in town where we were given full length gowns and asked if we would like to be shown around. We agreed and spent a very informative hour finding out and asking questions about the Islamic faith.
Our last stop was Confucius although this was not as informative as the temple was closing so we emerged out of there in a cloud of incense, not really any the wiser. Will catch up on Confucius in Thailand me thinks.
Anyway - temples - tick. Time for some food so we rode the mopeds down to the harbour front to the much raved about food court and took it in turns to have a wonder around and come back with an interesting plate of food. I started off with what I thought would be a plate of interesting but beige buffet food, although when i gave him my plate of choice nibbles for him to add up, he whipped it away, hacked at it all for a minute and handed it back to me all mixed up and doused in a lovely chilly, tomatoey sauce. Yum. Callums turn was a plate of cockles with a dipping sauce and Chris's turn was a spicy noodley effort. Yet another interesting food experience, all washed down with a cold Tiger beer.
Made it back well within the curfew time, and sat in the cafe drinking beer and having a planning session on tinternet.
Up at 6am - ergghh - to catch the 3 hour ferry to Langkawi. It was deemed appropriate to show Sharks 3D on the TV screens on our way across the water to lankawi Island!? We arrived just before midday and jumped in a taxi to take us to our hostel on the South of the island. Callum had to stay a few miles away from us as he wanted a hostel with a dorm room. The sun was out and we arranged to meet at an Indian restaurant the taxi driver had recommended called 'Tomatoe'. The service and food where horrid and the price higher then anything we had eaten in Asia until then, so pretty annoyed, we headed for the beach. The guys wondered off in search of some beers to drink on the beach and came back with a bucket, a bag of ice, a bag of fruit and a bottle of Pimms. I can only guess this was Callums influence as I had never seen Chris near a Pimms before in my life!! Anyway, good choice! Chris also bought a fully waterproof bag for our electronics, a little late me thinks as the camera and Kindle had already died in our Jungle experience, but at least any belongings that don't like swimming will be safe from now on.
We sunbathed and drank several buckets of Pims before watching the sun go down and then heading to a hawker stall hidden behind a tented market for dinner. This was the best food we have had in Malaysia so we ordered 2 plates each and Chris found his new favourite drink - Neslo. It is a mix of Nescafe and Milo which he had served on ice. I managed, yet again to chew straight into one of the sneaky green chillies disguised as a green bean - goddamit! After our large meal (which cost around £2 each including drinks!) we went for a few beers in a very chilled out beach bar. We sat cross legged on the sand resting our cheap beers on tiny tables and watched people chuffing Shisha and trying to dance to impossibly slow reggae. Around 2am we said a final goodbye to Callum (he is off in a different direction to us) and left for a 20min walk home in the pouring rain and had a good night's sleep.
Lankawi - Day 2
This day was a catch up and planning day really. Chris finished writing about our jungle experience and we arranged to spend a week in a Muay Thai training camp in South Thailand. We also booked some flights from Bangkok to Vietnam for the 3rd Feb and caught up with some friends.
As the sun went down, we went out for a run on the beach for an hour - although I'm not convinced Chris was running the whole time as he came back home with a bottle of 18 year old Chivas Regal! Whisky he brought at the local duty-free shop for £40! (Langkawi is a duty free island). How this will fit in his rucksack is a mystery :-/
Chris - I did run the whole time, even with the Whiskey to the amusement of the locals who I am sure thought I had just nicked it! And it will fit in my rucksack, even if I have to throw away some clothes I'll make it fit!
Lankowi to Krabi (Chris)
Up early yet again (people think travellers are so lazy, but all I seem to do is get up stupid early and spend days writing!!) and ordered a Taxi to get us to the ferry terminal that would take us to Satun in Thailand. The ferries go about 3 times a day and cost 30 Ringett (£6) per person. We got there just in time to queue and get tickets for the 9am ferry, although we did have to run to make it on before departure. The ferry looked a bit tired but inside it was not too bad, the seating sort of resembled an airplane. It was reasonably comfortable for us although a guy 2 seats in front had less luck, he spent most the trip constantly trying to plug a hole in the roof with anything he could find to stop rain dripping on his head. The journey took about an hour and when we hoped off we had to queue quite a while before immigration would let us in and grant our 15 day visa. (FYI – you get 15 days visa if you arrive into Thailand overland or sea and 30 days visa if you fly in)
Through passport control and we were instantly surrounded by Thai’s asking where we were going, did we want a taxi etc. We were ushered into an office where 2 guys told us the bus we needed was leaving in 10 mins and if we wanted it we had to book now for 600 Baht (£12) each. We declined the offer and walked out of the office to be instantly asked again where we were going by a young woman. A few minutes later we agreed to go with her bus and company as it was 500 Baht (£10). We bought some interesting bread products from a stall using some american dollars and sat eating them whilst we watched a constant stream of people being corralled into the other office (we had spent all our Ringett and there was no cash machine at the ferry port – Doh!). We had been told that the bus station was quite a distance from the ferry port so we would be taken by jeep to the bus station in due course. Several jeeps turned up and we watched as all the people who had paid more than us got onto the jeeps and disappeared towards the bus station. At this point we were hoping we had made the right choice as only us and 2 other people seemed to have gone with the cheaper option.
About half hour later our jeep arrived and off we went towards our bus and the bus station. Upon arrival we had to chuckle because all the other people who had paid more were sat on the platform waiting for the same bus we had just arrived to catch. Two minutes into Thailand and already people were getting ripped off, guess this country is going to live up to the reputation it is so well known for.
The coach arrived and it was bright pink with a massive sound system and was booming out some funky Thai dance track (interesting!). We all got on and the decoration inside was as amusing as the outside. It was fully leather clad from top to bottom and bright curtains and materials were attached everywhere!
It was at this point we realized it was a Karaoke bus complete with tv’s etc! Not wanting to embarrass ourselves singing in Thai we settled into our seats for the 6 hour journey ahead to take us to Krabi. There were many stops along the way collecting other people who had to sit in the isle and even the lower cargo hold as there was no seats left (wonder how much they had paid!!??). The trip was incredibly boring with only a brief stop to pee and collect some strange sour looking miniature pumpkins with chilli sugar dip (!).
Arriving in Krabi we were again accosted by many people asking where we were going and asking for 200 Baht each to get to our chosen accommodation (B&B guest house and hostel). A little negotiating later we paid 50 Baht each for a ride (looks like you never accept their first price in this country!).
The guest house was run by a very friendly chinese man who helped us book a rock climbing course for the next morning, with a discount on the price of course. The room was massive compared to some we have had so we spread the contents of our bags out before heading to the local night market just around the corner. There were lots of food stalls and interesting clothes to browse. We ended up having a collection of very spicy noodle dishes, barbecued items and finished off with fried coconut milk in batter while listening to local school kids on a giant stage singing Karaoke.
Day 1 – Krabi
We got picked up at 7:30 am in an old chopped up car with the front still intact but the back made entirely of wood and already full of people. We climbed in and they made way for us to sit down on the hard wooden bench. It took about half hour by the ‘car’ and about the same by a longboat to get to the island where we would be rock climbing. The long boats are weird things. They have old diesel car engines on the back and a huge long prop sticking out the back about 5 meters long. They are noisy as hell too but reasonably cheap and quick to get you short distances.
On arrival we were fitted out with our harnesses, climbing shoes and a bag of flour. While putting on our equipment we got chatting to a couple called Phil and Megan, can you guess where they are from?
The Thai guides led us along the beach to a cliff that looked just like many we had seen already on our travels. It was a beautiful place overlooking a beach and the sea. One of the Thai guys then suddenly scurried up it like a monkey, attaching a rope to hoops as he went. At the top he looped it around a large hoop and then sailed back down unclipping the smaller hoops. It was now just basically a very long rope which went all the way up the cliff and then through a single hoop at the top and back down again.
They explained some of the safety equipment and then it was our turn to climb the cliff. Jayne went first while I watched and took a few photos. She did really well getting about 50% of the way up before calling time and being lowered back down. They then got me to have a go on a part they said was ‘for man’. I was a little worried about this as I had been looking forward to the ‘for lady’ part of the cliff but with so many people watching I stepped up to be roped in. It was a little weird at first using your fingers to search for tiny cracks and hand holds while slowly pushing your way up a seemingly impossible vertical cliff face. But I got the hang of it quite quickly and really enjoyed it. That is until I got stuck looking for a hand hold and someone called out from the ground where it was which made me look down. At that point I realised I was in Thailand on a beach in the middle of nowhere half way up a cliff face with a tiny Thai man and a piece of rope between me and a long fall.
I asked for tension on the rope and made my way back down. A bit bummed out that I could have made it to the ring at the top of the climb but happy to be at sea level again. We then all took it in turns going up more and more difficult parts until the morning was done and we were exhausted. I completed 3 of the climbs ‘kissing the ring’ at the top, Jayne didn't quite make it to a ring but had a cracking effort at each one.
We were then given a choice to go back to the main land of stay here until 5pm for another boat, so we stayed. We walked along lime stone cliffs and through caves until we made it to a lovely beach. There were loads of people on it and locals selling food from their long boats.
The choice for lunch was endless and we settled on padthi and giant sweetcorn sticks, with coconut shakes for dessert. Spent the afternoon chatting to the couple from Swindon while we sun bathed and messed around in the water.
When we arrived back at our hostel it was time for dinner so we met up with Phil & Megan again for a nice meal in a restaurant before bedding down, knackered and happy with the days exploits.