Crossing the border from Malaysia to Thailand

As our next step after Penang Island we decided to head into Thailand. In a few days’ time we had a booking at a resort on Ko Phi Phi, but in the meantime we were aiming for Krabi. We hadn’t booked anything and figured we would just see how far we could get. Turned out this would require lots of different forms of transport. We left our hostel at about 9:45am.

Ferry

First we caught the ferry from Georgetown to Butterworth on the mainland. This is the way we should have arrived in Penang, it took much longer to go to the Penang bus station then get a public bus into Georgetown.

The best thing was that the ferry is free in this direction!

View of Penang Island from ferry

Looking back at Penang Island from the ferry

 

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Walking in Penang

On our first full day in Penang we arranged to meet up with Luana and Milan to head up Penang Hill. We were planning to walk up and then maybe catch the funicular railway down. We arranged to meet at the base of the railway. Turns out that this is not even close to where you start walking.

As an alternative we bought tickets to head up on the train. Then we got into the queue. The line zig zagged around the room. Then took us into another room where the line was split in two. Then a third room where it zig zagged again. I told Luana that I thought it was the longest (distance wise, not time wise) line I had ever been in. She laughed and commented that I had obviously never been to a theme park. Once we finally got into the carriage it was super quick which was lucky, because it was also uncomfortably crowded. About an hour after buying tickets we made it to the top.

View from Penang Hill

View from the top of Penang Hill

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Georgetown, Penang: Street art and street food

We arrived in Georgetown on Penang Island mid-afternoon, found our hostel then went out exploring in search of street art. In 2012 the local council commissioned a number of street paintings from Ernest Zacharevic and a whole range of other street art has popped up since.

There are lots of maps available showing you where the most popular pieces are located. You can also hire a cycle rickshaw to take you on a tour. Our preferred strategy was to wander aimlessly then follow rickshaws or groups of tourists with cameras. If we saw multiple cycle rickshaws drive past we knew we were on a good street. As a last resort we used the map so that we didn’t miss any of the ‘big’ pieces.

Street art in Georgetown, Penang

Classic street art – children on a bike

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A tour of the Cameron Highlands and the local Indian restaurants

In my last post I briefly mentioned that the temperature is cooler in the Cameron Highlands. I’d like everyone to take a moment to appreciate how awesome this is. Thus far on our trip we have been dripping with sweat all day every day and suddenly in the Highlands it was just a nice temperature. We didn’t even need air conditioning.

OK I can move on now. On our first night we were wandering around the town of Tanah Rata and what do you know, we see Luana and Milan. We arranged to meet the next morning to take a taxi up to the tea factory. For dinner we had Indian at the Cameron Curry House – pretty average curry unfortunately. Although through convenience we also had breakfast there the next day. Roti for breakfast is the best.

We found a taxi and he drove us up through the highlands to the BOH tea factory (Best of Highlands). He asked if we wanted him to wait but we sent him on his way. Unfortunately the factory wasn’t operating that day but we could still take a look around which was pretty interesting. I learnt lots of fun tea facts:

  • BOH makes up 70% of Malaysia’s tea production
  • 50% of the tea drunk in Malaysia is BOH tea
  • They harvest the leaves every three weeks. This used to be done by hand but is now largely done by machine which is why the tea plants are so flat on top
  • If you don’t cut the tea plants, they turn into proper trees
Boh tea ambassadors

We sure do love BOH tea

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Tembeling River – a cautionary tale

On our first morning in Taman Negara we headed to one of the floating restaurants, ‘Mama Chop’ for breakfast. As an aside, they apparently sell lamb chops, NZ steak (impressive if it’s true) and chicken chops. Does anyone know what a chicken chop is?

Also, after all of the rain last night the river level was way up and there were quite large logs regularly floating down. I guess the restaurants float for a reason.

We met up with Luana, Milan and Hudson, along with two new Germans, Julian and Toby. The seven of us made a plan to go check out the canopy walk, which seems to be the activity in Taman Negara. We caught the boat across the river, bought water, went toilet and about an hour later were ready to go. Travelling with seven people is like herding cats.

Following the signs to the canopy walk, we started off along a raised walkway. The whole thing was very well signposted, you certainly don’t need a guide for what we did. We came across a hide which looked out over a paddock but the only wildlife to be seen was another human with a huge lens on his camera (not a euphemism). After peacefully sitting and looking out for a while the approach of a loud Chinese family was our cue to leave.

Looking out of the hide

Looking out of Tahan Hide

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Monsoon season in Taman Negara

We woke up bright and early to reach the meeting point for our bus at 8:00am. Here we met a German couple, Luana and Milan, and another Kiwi, Hudson. Luana was holding a board game box that advertised 100 different games. This sounded pretty exciting until they told us that it’s actually just ten games and 90 matchstick puzzles.

We jumped into a minivan and headed towards Taman Negara, the most popular (I think) national park in Malaysia. Taman Negara literally means ‘national park’. The minivan ride was about three hours and was pretty uneventful except for some dodgy overtaking by our driver. We passed a lot of palm plantations.

First stop was Kuala Tembeling where we moved onto a boat for the rest of the trip. The boat was pretty cool, it was a long wooden canoe and we were very low to the water. I would estimate that our bums were at water level. 

kuala-tembeling

Kuala Tembeling jetty with the lovely brown Tembeling River water

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Exploring Batu Caves

After Singapore we’re a bit sick of big cities so we decided to only stay in Kuala Lumpur for two nights. Today was our one and only full day, so we had to make the most of it.

Batu Caves is apparently one of the most visited tourist attractions in Malaysia so it seemed the obvious choice. We like caves. With some googling we discovered this morning that there is a dress code and women need to cover their knees. I had yet to buy a suitable skirt or pants for this purpose. The only trousers I have are Cactus pants and there is no way I could wear them in these temperatures. My legs would just be rivers of sweat. Off to the market we went.

Last night there were a tonne of stalls but this morning a lot of them were still opening up. We found one of the ubiquitous hippy pant/sarong/t-shirt stalls and I picked out some blue pants with elephants on them. Basically by trying to leave to have a look at other stalls I bartered the price down from 25 ringgit to 15 ringgit (about NZ$5). I have no idea if this is a good price or not but it was lucky I went for it as we didn’t actually see any other stalls open selling pants.

We hopped on the Komuter train using our Touch’n’go cards. Totally becoming such public transport experts. We’re also collecting prepaid cards for a variety of international cities. It was super easy to get to Batu Caves which is the last stop.

batu-caves-entrance

Brittany at the entrance to Temple Cave

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Don’t mess with Melaka

We are in Melaka for a couple of nights. This city is UNESCO World Heritage listed and full of colonial architecture. It was originally established by Parameswara. He was sitting under a Melaka tree when he saw a mouse deer fight one of his hunting dogs and win. He was so impressed by the mouse deer beating a dog larger than itself that he decided to set up an empire at that very spot. It became a successful trading point along the Straits of Malacca.

In 1511 it was conquered by the Portuguese, in 1641 they were overthrown by the Dutch. In 1824 the Dutch temporarily ceded to the British as they were being attacked by Napoleon back in Europe. Finally it was occupied by the Japanese during WWII. Suffice to say that Melaka has a lot of history.

We have basically just wandered around the town and eaten a lot of good food. It is so hot that even malls are becoming appealing.

St Paul's Church in Melaka

St Paul’s Church in Melaka

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Crossing the border from Singapore to Malaysia

On Tuesday it was time to say farewell to Singapore along with Hank and Katie. After a slow start we left our hostel in Singapore at about quarter to eleven.

We made our way to the Queen Street bus terminal which was right near the Bugis MRT station. We lined up for the Causeway Link bus, which is conveniently bright yellow and easy to recognise. The buses seem to come every ten minutes or so, there was a huge queue but we got on to the second bus. It cost $3.30 and we could even pay with our MRT EZ-Link cards which was a bonus as we had money leftover on them.

causeway-link-the-smiling-bus

The smiling bus 🙂

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