Cameron Highlands and Melaka

Trip Start Jul 11, 2006
Trip End Mar 16, 2007

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

From the Perhentians, I began to make my way south again, heading slowly towards Singapore. My first stop was in the Cameron Highlands, a lush and hilly region around 200KM north-east of KL in the centre of the Malaysian peninsula. The 5 hour mini-bus ride took us through some impressively dramatic scenery and climate changes from the unrelenting heat and comparative barrenness of the coastal plains to the dense forests that coat the undulating highland landscape. The Cameron Highlands is one of the highest parts of peninsula Malaysia and the town of Tanah Rata, where i stayed for two nights, sits at 1.8km above sea level. The whole Cameron Highlands region now sports a vast and thriving tea, fruit and vegetable growing industry and the hills around all of the towns in the area have been converted to mass-production of tea, strawberries, cabbage and several dozen other fruits and veggies. I signed up for one of the tours in Tanah Rata visiting a vast tea estate owned by a Scottish family, a butterfly sanctuary that featured a variety of other unusual local creatures and going on a jungle trek to get a more unrestrained view of the local ecology. Check out the shots in this entry's photo album..

I stopped back in KL again, using this stay to check out the giant Batu Caves. These 120m high caves just outside of the city are accessed via a long and precipitous flight of stairs and are impressive in themselves but are made more so by the presence of a huge golden statue of the Hindu deity, Lord Murugan (see photo) next to the steps. The upper caves are in fact a Hindu shrine and are infamous for hosting Malaysia's annual Kavadhi piercing and mutilation ceremony. This ceremony, attended by upwards of a million people over two days in late January, is a form of Hindu pilgrimage on which pilgrims pierce their face and body with metal pins and hooks as a sign of their devotion. Pretty grim stuff but an impressive sight I'm sure. We also managed to get on an hour-long tour of Batu's less-visited Dark Caves. Our affable, talkative and slightly batty (no pun intended) guide took us several hundred metres into huge, dank caverns for a lesson in geology, to see the dwelling place of several hundred thousand bats of various species and for the surreal experience of complete light deprivation.

From KL, I travelled south to Melaka a characterful and colourful town on the main road to Singapore. Melaka has suffered a string of colonial rulers including the Spanish, Dutch and English. More recently the Chinese and southern Indians have practiced a more cultural form of colonialism, taking over much of the old town and erecting numerous temples and shrines. The result is a unique and concentrated mix of contrasting architectural styles with 200 year-old Christian churches within rock-throwing distance of Moslem, Hindu and Bhuddist mosques and temples, streets of filled with Chinese-style buildings intersecting with streets of European and Malaysian-influenced architecture.

I head off to Singapore tomorrow. I have thoroughly enjoyed my Malaysian jaunt. The people are friendly and courteous (and i encountered no scams), the culture is diverse and interesting, the prices are almost silly (Rhys and I went for a slap-up Middle-Eastern at one of the best Lebanese restaurant on my last KL evening and despite stuffing ourselves to bursting point with delicious food, the bill still only came to less than GBP15 for both of us!) and the country is packed with enough sights, sounds and experiences to keep a traveller entertained for many weeks. I would love to visit Malaysian Borneo but fear it will have to be on another sabbatical:>

One thing that continues to puzzle me about Malaysian culture, however, is why English appears to be promoted so forcefully and ubiquitously here. The taxi drivers all listen to English language radio stations, the majority of advertising is in English, most sign posting is in English, the book shops seem to sell only English language products and yet most Malaysians i talked to only had a rudimentary understanding of English. Most odd.
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