Another Grand Prix and Finally a Beach!

Trip Start Sep 16, 2002
Trip End Jun 14, 2003

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Flag of Malaysia  ,
Thursday, March 20, 2003

First stop north after crossing the border from Singapore was Melaka, a small historic city made famous during the early trading days in Asia. Now it is like many Malaysian cities containing a multitude of intersting and dynamic cultures, religions, buildings, people, tastes, smells and, every now and again ,rats. Each city we visited seemed to have a Little India district and a Chinatown, which unlike the Chinese 'eat-as-much-as-you-can' buffets which seem to litter London's Chinatown, these are authentic areas which the Chinese community eat, trade and worship amongst other things.

A dirty river runs through the centre of Melaka and a short boat trip up it provides a good insite into the city. The guide was tremendous, not only naming each of the large lizards living on the bank after Hollywood filmstars ("look to your left, under the oil drum, is Tom Cruise" - who would have thought?) but for spending the entire length of the return journey saying goodbye in every language you could imagine including eskimo, brummie, cock-er-ney and Scottish. The buildings around the main square are well worth a look and overall the city has a relaxed, small town feel to it.

The impressive Petronas Towers dominate the Kuala Lumpur skyline, whether during the day or night. These towers are the tallest in the world and featured in the terrible film, Entrapment. You can visit the towers or more specifically the bridge linking the two for a fine view over this bustling, cosmopolitan city. We stayed in Chinatown in a place which due to the Grand Prix was packed. It also appeared that many of the people here were transfixed by the on-going coverage of the war on CNN and in order not to miss a bullet sat there all day watching it. Sad, sad people. The hostel was also close to the Night Market which was packed with all kinds of fake items from DVDs (less than a pound), CDs, glasses, watches and clothes. Our advice is book a cheap ticket to Malaysia and come with an empty suitcase (or you can buy one here!).

We decided to go to the Grand Prix, partly because it was cheap and also Laura, a friend from home who was now travelling with us, wanted to go. We went on both the qualifying and race days. It was empty on the qualifying day which did allow Simon the chance to finally get his picture with some scantily clad race girls. The circuit is only five or so years old and the view from pretty much everywhere is excellent. Unfortunately the part we were in was not covered and sitting all day in the burning sun (35 degrees with 40% humidity) was a nightmare. It is said the drivers lose two kilos in sweat during a race - God knows how much we lost but we were dripping at the end. Good result for the Finnish though and Schumacher not on the podium again after causing a ruck on the second bend. Sadly it took an age to get back from the curcuit rather than the 10 minutes it took to get back from Melbourne. Think that will be it for the Grand Prix for a while.

Finally we got to a beach and the weather was pretty good throughout. We headed for the Perenthian Islands on the east (and Muslim) side of the country. We stayed on the smallest island which has two beaches, no roads (only water taxis), a few restaurants, chalets and dive schools. Given it is Muslim, there is only one place on the island selling beer (and they frequently run out) which makes the whole place and atmosphere very unlike the Thai islands. We spent the days chilling out, reading, sun bathing and swimming. The snorkelling on the island is fantastic with plenty of fish, colourful coral, turtles and 2m sharks which were slightly too close to Simon for comfort. Would more than recommend a visit to the island before it inevitably turns into a resort island.

Kota Bharu is the Muslim capital of Malaysia so much so that most of the women wear headscarfs and everyone should really cover up. The city does have an excellent day market and tasty night market which sells ridiculously cheap food. We did manage to track down beer here although it was in the most seedy place which luckily had a dart board on which Jo surprised us all with her arrow technique.

We braved a night bus over to Penang which was surprisingly comfortable but arrived at 5am in the morning! Georgetown, the capital of Penang Island, is a fantastic mix of religions and cultures all crammed into a small area. Taking in the view from the Komtar tower makes you appreciate how much things are packed in. A visit to the Kek Lok Si Temple, the largest buddhist temple, is recommended as is a trip up on a funicular to Penang Hill. Only slightly worrying was the restaurant on the hill which had Green Pit Vipers sleeping in the vines above our heads - we were told if we left them alone they would not disturb us. Georgetown is a great place to just walk around the small alleys and roads and enjoy the fact within a five minute distance you can pass a mosque, Hindu temple, a church and Chinese temple. The food is also excellent and varied but the bars seem to attract a fair share of odd characters, including the largest mullet of the trip to date.
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