Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Day 90 - Cameron Highlands and Kuala Lumpur

Our first full day in the Cameron Highlands was very full on. We'd signed on for a tour the day before so we were up bright and early and piled into a jeep at 08.45. The jeep took us up the highest mountain in the Cameron Highlands, and we passed the gorgeous tea plantation we would be visiting later on the way up the windy roads.

At the top, we climbed a very rusty tower for a view, and then we headed further down for a tour round the 'Mossy Forest'.

This is essentially a section of forest where the trees are heavy with moss because, due to the height, the daily clouds form moisture around the trees. Our guide explained to us that due to the fact that this is now a popular tourist visit spot, a boardwalk has been built to prevent further destruction in the forest. In past years, visiting tourists were able to simply enter the forest and explore, but this has done damage that will take years to repair.

Anyway, after a very long talk about the forest and several plants being pointed out and discussed (Ben and I tuned out quite early on), we wandered around for ourselves.

Plants done. Onto the bit we were excited about, the tea plantation!

A zip round the factory, an explanatory video and Ben and I hot-footed it to the bit that mattered, the cafeteria. Where we ordered three different teas. We agreed Ben's loose leaf choice was the best and wandered over to the gift shop, where they informed us that they were sold out. Great.

The guide took us to a lovely viewpoint of the plantation where we took pictures and cursed the blue plastic in the background, and, the tour was done.

Ben and I asked to be dropped off in Brinchang on the way back. We had plans to visit the strawberry farm and pick our own strawberries. A complete tourist gimmick and rip-off but we didn't care, we just wanted to pick our own strawberries!

So, that done, we walked in search of the Buddhist temple nearby. We accidentally came to the Hindu one.

Never mind, we located the Buddhist one afterwards. 

Then, we decided to head to the Smokehouse which is famed for it's scones. A longish walk around the golf course and we arrived back in England.

The famed scones are average and the cream was lacking flavour. But hey, we ate it all. It was past two and a long time since breakfast.

We continued a long walk home, past a waterfall I'd spotted on our map which turned out to be disappointing as there was so much rubbish downstream, and, exceptionally tired we arrived at our Guesthouse. 

Planning to head straight to bed, we walked up the stairs to find the door open and the room immaculate, and empty.

Panicking, we headed back down to reception where we saw our two backpacks, next to a garment bag and a black bin bag and asked why our room was empty. The receptionist told us we had only booked one night. I looked accusingly at Ben as we both informed her that no, we definitely booked three. After digging his tablet out of his backpack, Ben brought up the reservation. Turned out, because we'd checked in at the same time as another couple, they'd accidentally given them our room and us, their room. So, grabbing our big backpacks, little backpacks, garment bag and bin bag of our belongings, we were shown to our room, again. 

Luckily, this room was much nicer than the one we'd had the night before and we crawled into the freshly made bed to rest up a bit before enjoying a tasty dinner out. 

The next day we did next to nothing. Also fun.

We took a bus from the Cameron Highlands to Kuala Lumpur. It took about four hours, the first hour and a half of which were hugely winding roads. It meant I couldn't read or watch anything on my tablet since trying to do so was making me feel incredibly ill so I stared out the window. I ended up seeing about seven or eight waterfalls either along the roadside or set just a bit further back in the cliff face. It was pretty awesome. I love waterfalls. Hopefully we'll be visiting one tomorrow that we can swim in and my travel goals will be nearly complete!

Anyway, our time in Kuala Lumpur, though it was four nights, was pretty uneventful. People generally recommend you don't spend too long here but I'd (somewhat accidentally) organised four nights. It worked out though because it meant we had a day to recover after watching the six nations game which aired at 00.50 Malaysian time.

Our hotel in Kuala Lumpur was interesting. It was slap bang in the middle of China town, which, as I remember from staying here 6 years ago with Fiona, sold all kinds of jewellery and random souvenirs. Now it's purely knock-off products... And not good knock-offs, I was sad to find when I looked at a 'mulberry' bag that felt like crap and was lined with something akin to paper. 

The hotel itself was made up of rooms which one TripAdvisor reviewer called 'cells'. Ben and I quite liked the painted brick small rooms and it had a lovely for terrace you could sit and have a drink at watching the market bustle beneath you.

While in Kuala Lumpur, Ben and I had fun shopping, bowling and getting Ben another tattoo. On our last night we had dinner with Mai who we had met in Langkawi when we crossed over with her and Mel's holiday. Funnily enough, we had Vietnamese food, which we'll certainly be having plenty of in the next few weeks!

I'll have to write again on our week in Borneo!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Day 75: Yogyakarta, Singapore, Langkawi and Penang

Since the start of our travels, Ben and I have been wary of being scammed. Tourist scams are, unfortunately, pretty common in southeast Asia. Six years back Chris, Fiona and I were subject to a very irritating scam in India.

Wide eyed and excited, we'd arrived in Delhi and told the airport taxi guy that yes, it was our first time in India and we were very excited to be there. We told him where we wanted to go (a budget option listed in Chris' lonely planet guide) and he put us in a taxi. Some amount of time goes by (maybe forty minutes, I forget) and the guy drives slowly past a blocked off, very quiet, and seemingly abandoned road. He tells us this is our road and that it is closed for the night. It's quite late, so we're a bit concerned about this, but the taxi driver says he will take us to a tourist center...

The 'tourist center' was a back alley shack with a man trying to book us into one of his hotel options. Feeling uncomfortable, we ask the taxi driver to take us back to the airport, thinking we'll speak to the guy in charge we had originally spoke to. En route, reading the lonely planet guide in the back of the car, I find the section entitled 'beware' and exactly what had just happened to us was listed. Irritated, we checked into a hotel near the airport for the night, and travelled to our planned hotel the next morning. It wouldn't have cost us more than an extra £10/20 but it was pretty annoying.

More irritating was in Thailand, on a booked bus trip, when my backpack was raided and £100 was taken while we sat unknowingly on the bus.

That was pretty annoying, but it could have been much worse.

Anyway, my point is, Ben and I have been extremely wary. This is a bit of a shame as it means, in part, you're automatically suspect of a friendly local.

So now to Yogyakarta. Walking to the water palace a friendly guy started chatting to us. We stopped to talk politely, defences up. Small talk ensued. He mentions, among other things, that if we were interested in batiks (famous here in jogya) then we should be careful of the knock offs they sell around the tourist hotspots such as the water palace. He said, if we were interested, we should visit the student art center where they are taught batik and put their works up for exhibit. He mentioned we should go today as tomorrow the exams were starting. Ending the conversation as politely as possible, we continued on our way to the water palace and chatted about how nice he had been... funnily enough we never discussed going to the art center, we're not interested in batiks, we were here for the temples.

So nothing struck us as untoward until later, when another friendly Indonesian asked us if we had visited the art center. Slightly pushier, he told us it was literally 200m away from our present location and that we could visit malioboro market (where we were headed) anytime, as the exhibit was closing. We politely declined, making mumbled comments about another time as we didn't want to outright say we don't care about batik, and walked off. After that, fairly suspicious it was some kind of scam, when people mentioned it, we just told them we'd been already.

After some googling, I'm still not entirely sure what the scam is. People who went and bought aren't sure whether they got a real or fake batik but I think the key is to not spend the money unless you've done the research.

The upside to backpacking is that we're not really shopping as there's nowhere to put it!

Anyway, on the bright and positive side of life we did experience a genuine act of kindness from a local. On our way to the water palace we were crossing a road, or attempting to. We had been stood a few minutes, judging the least likely time we'd be killed, when a man in a helmet appeared, waved at us to start crossing while he walked in front of the traffic and held his hand up to stop/slow down cars and scooters. Once safely across, Ben and I called thank yous to him as he mounted his moped and continued on his journey. He had actually pulled over to help us out. How nice is that?! There are good people!

Anyway, to recap Yogyakarta, we did a day trip (booked through our hotel) to the two big impressive temples nearby. Borobudur, which I've been excited about seeing since before we left, it's one of the biggest Buddhist temples in the world, and Prambanan, because... it was also nearby.

After that we were a bit templed out, and, since we had to get up at 4.30am for the tour (whyyyyy), when we got back to our hotel at 2pm, we went back to sleep.

We flew from Yogyakarta to Singapore. Ben helpfully pointed out that this was the same route as the Air Asia flight that went down in 2014. Despite the odds that our flight would be a safe one, knowing this did nothing for my newly acquired fear of flying. Neither did the extreme turbulence, complete with stomach-losing drops that I have never experienced on a plane before.

Regardless, we landed in Singapore safely, my feet were very happy to walk on land once more.

Onto Singapore...this would be the first dormitory stay of our travels. It hammered home our suspicions that we, personally, feel we are too old for shared dormitories. We booked the smallest possible, a six-bed dormitory and, after check-in, walked into the three sets of bunk beds, waking two gentlemen who were still sleeping at 1pm, and attempted to bustle about quietly, putting things in lockers and figuring out our next move.

Downstairs in the lobby, we decided to explore our immediate area. We had booked into Five Stones Hostel, which was located in the colonial district, which was pretty awesome. We walked around the cute shops and up to Little India before settling down for dinner on Arab St, where we ate on tables placed out on the street. Food was tasty and cheap, and the novelty was excellent! Back at our hostel, we noticed a Nintendo Wii in the communal area and, as luck would have it, Mario Kart was in the game offerings. And so ended our first day in Singapore.

Day 2 was an unapologetic shopping day. Marks and Spencers was spotted to much excitement.

Day 3 we visited the cat café not far from us that we'd spotted on day 2. The cats were very cute, if a little skittish, and the cake was delicious! We followed that with a visit to gardens by the bay and the Cloud Forest. Then, highlight, we went to the Marina Bay Sands Hotel roof top cocktail bar and watched the sun go down and the skyline of Singapore light up. We headed down an hour later to catch the Super Trees Rhapsody and then headed back to the nighttime snoring of one of our dorm buddies. Eventful day.

Day 4 (Singapore was pretty jam packed with activities), Universal Studios. Just, awesome. Some rides, some shows, and plenty of fun!

Day 5, the infamous Singapore Sling at Raffles Hotel. Note: the cocktail is very sweet, I personally preferred the Raffles Signature Gin Sling. We ate many peanuts and threw the shells on the floor, as tourists must do.

Day 6, ten bloody hours at the zoo. River safari, regular zoo and night Safari. All awesome (though night safari wins it) and our step count was through the roof!
Day 7, we rested. Well, not true. We marched around trying to find a new phone for Ben after his took a swim in the toilet. No luck. Chinese new year, everything (well, Samsung) was closed. The next day we boarded a flight (yay) to Langkawi in Malaysia.

Four nights in beautiful Langkawi. The first night, I can safely say, was our favourite because we saw Mel, our friend from London who was doing the same Malaysian route as us, but on a shorter timescale. Fortunately, we crossed over at least for this one night, and we met her and her friend Mai for dinner and drinks. A mini beach bar crawl ensued with several delicious (and wonderfully cheap) cocktails, enjoyed by all!

Ben and I then enjoyed three beach days. Langkawi beach is beautiful. We spent one day at a small beach not far from our hostel which was wonderfully quiet. And the next two days on the main beach, renting sunbeds, watching jellyfish wash up and resolving not to go in the sea.

 On our last day, we decided to take the 'skycab' trip. This is one of the world's highest cable cars or something, and Ben and I discovered we are not a fan of one of the world's highest cable cars, especially when the wind swings you from side to side. At the middle viewpoint we got out, hastily took some pictures and then explained to the woman working there that we didn't want to go to the next viewpoint, we just wanted the hell down. Crossing some stairs, we steeled ourselves to get back in the little plastic box of terror, accidentally chose a 'panoramic' car (windows down to the ground) and counted the seconds until we were back on the ground.

Since our cable car ticket had included a trip to the 3D museum next door, we decided to whip round our third 3D museum in Southeast Asia. We have enough of these pictures to last a lifetime now.

From Langkawi we took the boat to Penang which is famed for its street food. I think too many people/books/articles had hyped this past anything it could realistically deliver in line with our expectations, so, while we enjoyed the edible offerings in Penang, we have also eaten just as well in other parts of Southeast Asia.

We loved the street art though.

We were also fortunate enough to be in town for the annual Hot Air Balloon Festival! Pretty cool!

Four nights of essentially eating and walking and today, we bussed over to the Cameron Highlands where we have spent the afternoon. So far we have eaten an extremely filling and incredibly delicious Indian meal and booked ourselves into a jam-packed day tomorrow exploring a tea plantation and a mossy forest, followed by our own plans to pick some strawberries, do a mini hike and maaaaybe enjoy an afternoon tea... But we'll see how tired we are... I mean, getting up for an 08.45 tour is the closest we come to work out here...