"Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalks again; we had longer ways to go.
But no matter, the road is life." -
Jack Kerouac


Malaysia thus far

We took the boat from Koh Lipe, Thailand a couple of hours south to Lang Kawi, Malaysia. After clearing immigration, we found a taxi driver who took us to a cheap hotel a little way from the pier. We walked into town after dinner, looking for something to do, but didn't find much else than Duty Free shops. If we had needed to stock up on booze or cigarettes, we would have been in the right place.

The next morning, we walked back to the pier and bought a boat ticket to Kuala Kedah, which we couldn't find on a map but were told was on the mainland and was also the quickest way for us to move south into the Cameron Highlands. A 1.5 hour boat ride, a taxi ride, and a 4 hour bus ride later and we were in Ipoh, Malaysia, a travel crossroads town. We booked a room over the phone and then took a late bus the remaining 2.5 hours into Tanah Rata in the center of the Cameron Highlands. The Highlands are in the center of the Malaysian peninsula and located (not too surprisingly) in the mountains. The bus ride from Ipoh to Tanah Rata was beautiful, creeping our way up a windy road cut in the mist-covered peaks of one of the greenest areas I've ever seen. Surrounding the towns in the Highlands, there were large greenhouses illuminated from within by their grow lights in the black night. The climate is much more temperate than the coast's heat and humidity, something that I was happy about.

Our first morning in the Highlands, we left on our "Countryside Tour" booked the evening before. First stop was a large, Chinese Buddhist temple. Nice, but been there done that. Next, a rose garden that featured more types of flowers than I've ever seen, including much more than just roses (Em shocked me by knowing many of the names of the flowers, I had no idea she was such a plant nerd). A strawberry farm was our third stop, where we were allowed to walk amongst some plants (and NO PICKING signs) before being led to a site to buy jam, fresh berries, drinks, etc. We settled on some fresh strawberry-covered ice-cream. The next stop (the one I was most excited to see) was the Sungei Palas Tea plantation, one of the plantations of the BOH tea company, the largest in Malaysia. The company is owned by a Scottish family that planted the first tea plants there in 1929, and is still harvesting them. Tea plants live for about 120 years, producing leaves to harvest only 2 years after sprouting, and the leaves are harvested every 3 weeks! Growing up on a wheat farm, I thought that this sounded like a money in the bank crop. I'm just not sure if North Dakota's climate is suitable. We took a short tour of the tea factory, and then stepped out onto a viewing platform/tea cafe where one could look out over the lush green tea plant-covered hills, and take a photo or 5. A butterfly farm was next on the tour. Having many different insects/snakes/lizards/birds/beetles in addition to butterflies, it was interesting. We saw insects that look exactly like thin tree branches and others that look exactly like dead tree leaves. The last stop was a bee farm, which was kind of lame but a chance of extra revenue (in honey bought) for the local economy. With the tour now ended, we went into town and looked around for a bit. I decided (okay, Emily recommended and then I decided) that I should get a hair cut. The older gentleman sat me down, put the towel and cape around me, picked up his clippers and, without asking me a thing, started clipping the sides! I was a little disconcerted, as I like to talk to my barber for a bit beforehand (get the game-plan established, if you will) and this guy didn't work that way. But I just let him go with it. He grabbed his scissors for cutting the top and started clipping them constantly and aggressively (like Edward Scissorhands), slowing down the clipping as he brought them to my head to actually remove hair. Five minutes after he'd started, he set down the scissors and started taking off the cape. I asked him to cut the top a bit shorter, which he did, then straight-razored my neck, and we were done. It looked pretty good and only cost about $2.50, so I was pleased.

The next day we decided to go for a jungle/mountain hike. We suited up (okay, just grabbed a jacket and some water) and walked to the edge of town. Another 0.5 km down a paved trail, and we were standing at Robinson Falls, a nice jungle waterfall. Then we reached the trailhead for our real hike. About 2 km of (sometimes) near vertical, scrambling with all fours over vine, tree, and root hiking followed with the end result being the top of Gunung Beremban (at 1812, 1840, or 1850 meters above sea level, depending on which source you are reading). That afternoon, we booked a bus to Kuala Lumpur for the following morning and occupied ourselves around town.

Photos from Tanah Rata

After a 4 hour bus ride, we arrived in Kuala Lumpur (KL, as the locals call it). We quickly found a cheap and okay guesthouse (with the help of a tout who also works there) and got settled in. Since we were in the old section of town, we walked to Merdeka square, a park-like site of diplomatic importance to the British (from when they colonized Malaysia) and to the Malaysians, when they lowered the Union Jack from the flag pole in 1957 and replaced it with their own flag to symbolize their independence. Around the square are many old buildings, reflecting the architecture of the various groups controlling Malaysia throughout the years. We walked south to the National Mosque, a large grounds with interesting Muslim architecture, fountains and a nice courtyard. Islam is the official religion of Malaysia, but "limited" religious freedom for the people is called out in the constitution. Continuing on, we found the historic train station (also nice and Muslim-influenced) and made our way to Chinatown. We passed the oldest Hindu temple in KL and then went into Petaling Street, a crowded mess of booths and salespeople trying to hawk fake handbags, watches and t-shirts. A bit of walking around and an iced-coffee later (have I mentioned how hot and humid it is here?), and the day was over.

Our morning the next day was spent trying to cancel my checkcard over the internet. I'd found out that someone had found the emergency $100 cash and card I'd hidden in a "secret" pocket of my backpack. The checkcard was still there, but the cash had been swiped, so I figured they had the cc number as well. It took some time, but luckily the bank cancelled it. For those who haven't tried to do any banking purely online (no phone), I'll tell you that it can be a real pain in the ass. You can't usually do ANYTHING without "calling a representative during normal business hours", an option that is both incredibly difficult and incredibly expensive for us. Anyway, we then found a used bookstore and spent some time finding literature to keep us occupied for the next 2 weeks. After, we jumped on the subway and went to the Petronas Towers, the tallest twin towers in the world. Pretty fancy, and with a nice sittin' pond/park behind them. The next thing to see was Little India, which I'd personally compare to KL's Chinatown but with less people, less junk (fake Louis Vuitton bags, etc.), less pushy salespeople and lot more bright-colored cloth. We took the Light Rail to the north end of town for something to do, snapped a few pictures, and then took it back to the guesthouse. Dinner that evening was at a Muslim Indian restaurant that was listed in the guidebook as a good bet. Surprisingly, they didn't have an English menu (surprisingly because most restaurants listed in the book are filled with English-speaking tourists, and our book is at least a year if not 2 or 3 old) so we picked a couple of slightly-familiar sounding dishes (written in Malaysian) and ate. It turned out to be pretty tasty.

The next day we jumped on a bus to Melaka, Malaysia.

Photos from Kuala Lumpur

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