The first two weeks of Malaysia...
Trip Start Aug 25, 2003
38Trip End Jul 23, 2004
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We flew into Singapore from Bali; it felt even more like the US than our first visit. We spent two nights in a marginally acceptable hotel and paid 5 times more than in Bali, but Singapore has the benefits of a first-world city, in addition to the cost. We went to the Night Safari, and it was fabulous. I especially liked the Bat House; there were no barriers between you and the bats. Well, except Phil, but I was just pushing him in front so that he could get a better look. Really. He will probably believe me when the rabies shots are finished. No, just kidding, the bats were very well behaved. So was Phil.
We took a bus to the border with Malaysia and, with only a minimal amount of confused milling in front of Immigration (we weren't sure if we could bring in our Singaporen bananas; for the public's general information, you can, if Immigration ignores you), we crossed into Johor Bharu. The difference is immediately noticeable; although I have not gotten harassed in any way, there was a significant increase in the amount of staring. Even though male Westerners don't normally get as much attention as the women, Phil's red hair attracts quite a lot of interest. I have remained very conservative in my clothing; I usually wear either long pants and a elbow-length shirt, or, more often, my "Westerner burqa": a long-sleeve, loose-fitting gray shirt and a long, baggy skirt. It is my respect for the Malaysian Muslim culture, and not my complete lack of personal style, that results in my wearing clothes which don't match. At least, that's what I tell myself when I am looking at the photos we have taken with the digital camera, and I realize that it is going to look as if I have worn the same outfit since we left home.
We left Johor Bharu for Melaka (also spelled Malacca), which is a small city on the west coast, just south of Kuala Lumpur
After three very relaxing days in Melacca, we headed to central Malaysia to Taman Negara National Park for some jungle trekking. There have, supposedly, been sightings of large animals in the park (leopards, elephants, etc), but not for several years. We went to see primary jungle and sweat. Both goals accomplished. The first day we walked to the Canopy Walkway, which is a rope and cable bridge strung 40 meters in the air through the jungle canopy. Actually, we only walked half of it because we were told that the other half was "closed for annual repair"
The next day we went on a 2 day trek to several caves in the north of the park. It was a challenge, not only because the terrain was primarily muddy tree roots, but also because we were soaked with sweat from the humidity. Phil's hat was steaming for almost the whole day; it made him look like a volcano. We had been warned about leeches, but at first all we saw were these tiny little inch worms which stood up on one end and waved at us. They were so cute. They were leeches. They got into the vents on our boots and we burned them off with lighters. Phil and I both had our pant legs tucked into thick wool socks; not the next big look coming out of Milan, I imagine, but it kept us basically leech-free. We spent the night in a massive cave which had elephant poop near the entrance, and Mike (our guide) said it was probably a week old. The only animal life we saw that night, though, was a ceiling full of bats (of course), and a small rat which ran over my foot as we were playing cards. Yes, I initially thought it was a kitten. The mind is an amazingly powerful thing... The next day we hiked to a hide (a hut on stilts used for night-watching of animals) and then to the river to head back to the village. It was sad because we had been hiking with three other people, who continued on for another night: Gemma and Dan (England), and Erwin (Ireland). It is true that one of the best things about travelling is meeting really fabulous people; they even made running the gauntlet of leeches fun.
One of the best parts of a trip to (and from) Taman Negara is the two to three hour boat trip between the jetty and the park village. There is also a minibus option that only takes 90 minutes, but on the boat trip we saw water buffalo. And a monkey. So the boat is obviously cooler. So, after 5 days in Taman Negara, we headed back to Jerantut to catch the night train to Kuala Lumpur. Trains: what a brilliant way to travel. We splurged on sleeper berths and Phil and I were asleep within minutes. It was heaven.
We stayed in Kuala Lumpur (KL) for three days; saw two movies; went to the Islamic Arts Museum (very cool scale models of several mosques around the world); had a room with a/c for $5. It is really easy to get around KL; three subway train lines go through most of the city, but they are all separately run, so you have to pay for a new ticket when you switch to a different line, but they are still very good for getting around the city. Phil has been talking longingly of snow and skiing, so, in the interest of keeping my beautiful and adaptable and infinitely patient husband from melting in the tropical heat, we caught a bus to our current location: Cameron Highlands. Since this has been an insanely long entry, I will write about Tanah Rata in the next chapter...