The Slaughterhouse is Gory... But Great Tandoori!

Trip Start Sep 09, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Malaysia  ,
Sunday, February 24, 2008

So we finally got to Kuala Lumpur having been fined at Jakarta airport for staying a day too long on the visa (I still reckon it was rent for all the hours we'd spent in their bloody airport myself) to find we couldn't get any money - all the ATMs close at midnight for 2 hours to be refilled and all the money exchange places finish at midnight too. So there we were, the last bus leaving in 10 minutes and all we had was the equivalent of about 25p in Indonesian Rupiah. We both turned our backpacks inside out and luckily found enough in left-over US Dollars to buy tickets for ourselves and for a Chinese guy we'd just met who also had no money! After shoving knickers, bikinis and all manner of toiletries back in the bag we were ready to go - and Charlie had to pack her backpack too, boom boom!

We got into KL Central just after 2am and, together with an American guy who got off the same bus as us we found a hostel with a triple room and decided to share. Having signed in, paid for the room and taken just one key as we were sure we could all trust each other, we realized we didn't actually know his name...

Kuala Lumpur turned out to be more than just a funny name (although we did find ourselves singing the Oompa Lumpa song an annoying amount of times!) and is actually a pretty cool city. This is helped by the amount of Indians living there, which means the food is fantastic and was exactly what we'd been longing for from the minute we left Delhi - eating proper curry with our hands in a dingy little café being stared, nodded and smiled at the whole time... ah heaven! Charlie also discovered Tandoori chicken here for the first time now that she's a fully-fledged meat eater and immediately began to rue all those times in India where I would settle down to a fantastic whole chicken spiced and cooked to perfection and a stack of naans whilst she had to make do with lentils and carrots!

The skyline of KL is pretty impressive with both the Petronas Twin Towers and the KL Tower immediately standing out as landmarks. They also had M&M-imitation sweets called 'Nips', which kept us amused for hours!

We took a night bus from KL across to Mersing ferry terminal so that we could travel/island-hop up the East Coast. We were told the journey would be 7-8 hours which gave us the chance to get some kip... or so we thought. About 5 minutes into the journey (which started at 11pm) they turned the TV at the front on and put on a horror film about rats and mice, at full volume of course. So not only did the deafening sound of squeaking and hundreds of little feet scurrying keep you awake, but you also kept twitching and brushing your feet anytime anything touched it, paranoid there were mice running loose around you. Or so Charlie tells me - I slept through the whole thing!

Snag number 2 in the getting-some-sleep plan came when we actually arrived at Mersing at 2.45am. We've gotten pretty used to people being a bit 'liberal with the truth' when giving us journey times on buses and trains in Asia but this was a first - arriving EARLY! With 7 hours to kill until our boat left the dock we made ourselves... well not comfortable at all, but we laid down on the plastic chairs in the outdoor waiting area. Charlie again bemoaned the fact that there was no way we could possibly get any sleep... apparently, I was snoring too loud to hear her.

We'd been told by a lady we met in Indonesia about a small island in Malaysia called Rawa which she described as the 'closest thing to paradise' she'd seen and so we made that our first port of call. As the boat neared the island we could see straight away that she was right - a tiny island with white sandy beaches, clear blue/turquoise water with plenty of opportunity for snorkelling, a mountain backdrop and absolutely nobody on the beach. We stepped into the first of the two very small resorts to ask about rooms and were told they had plenty available, the cheapest starting at RM180 (just shy of 30 quid - the cost of about 2 weeks' accommodation in Indonesia)!
We shuffled out pretty sharpish and called into the second place, only to be given the same 'cheapest price'. When we asked where the guest houses and cheap hostels were we were met with a mixture of disgust, pity and laughter. With 5 hours until the next boat we decided to 'treat ourselves' and booked in for a night (making sure breakfast was included!). The place was as good as we'd hoped and more - beautiful, peaceful and unspoilt - and a perfect day or so was had, although our budget meant we could only have a bag of peanuts and an orange juice for dinner!!

The boat taking us from Rawa to Tioman wasn't enjoyable - not only because we really didn't want to leave Rawa, but the sea conditions were terrible and the top deck was actually cleared as they were worried people might fall over!?

Tioman is a duty-free island so we spent a few days there relaxing and enjoying the cheap booze! One night during a drunken game of Scrabble (still keeping them brains ticking over!!) we spilt some vodka over the table, covering the notepad we use to keep score. Charlie, a little worse for wear, decided she would try to dry the alcohol-soaked pages... using the naked flame of a candle! I'm amazed we made it this far at times.

Our stay on Tioman was cut short when a micro-tsunami weather warning was issued for the area. The whole on the East coast was evacuated although the West coast was more sheltered so they gave everyone the option to leave that day (the boats after then wouldn't be running for the next 4-5 days) or to stick it out. We chose to leave... along with just about everyone else on the island! News had broken a few days earlier of a reported tremor on the site where THE tsunami is thought to have originated so understandably there was a bit of panic about the area at the time. We climbed aboard to find the locals sat in their seats, all wearing life jackets and clutching rubber rings - and this was inside the boat! Sick bags were like gold dust and I was half expecting some kind of trading market to spring up: "I'll give you 2 goats for a handful of sick bags and a Fire Exit seat"!

Back on dry land we headed up the East Coast to Kuala Besut to board another boat to the Perhentian Islands. Whilst awaiting our boat we ordered some (allegedly) chicken fried rice. Now I've eaten some dodgy meat since we started this trip, but the chewy and stringy lumps of meat that dotted the rice didn't look like any chicken I'd ever seen! Charlie immediately piled these lumps of pigeon-esque 'meat' - which looked as though even the cat had half-chewed them and spat them out into the frying pan - onto my plate. I was so disgusted I only managed to eat half of it...

After a few more relaxing days on the Perhentian Islands - where we had our first 'in-house' rat living in our bathroom, and I fixed Charlie's leaking snorkel with a cut-up plastic bottle top - we returned to mainland once more to head West. We made our way to a small 'transport hub' town called Jerteh, arriving mid-afternoon for the night bus that evening to Pinang. Jerteh turned out to be one of the most boring, non-descript and depressing places we've visited, there really was nothing to do. Batam Centre was bad but at least they had seedy massage parlours and illegal gambling - the closest thing to excitement in this place was asking for a fried egg with your rice! When our only salvation, an internet café closed for dinner we set out to find that age-old boredom battler, cold beer.

We eventually (the town is also heavily Muslim so bars and liquor stores are the devil's hang-outs) managed to find a shop which sold beer from the very back of the store - you chose your drinks which were then wrapped up in a black bag for you to take to the front and pay. We walked out feeling like tramps buying cider at 7 in the morning and found a bench by the side of the road. Mindful not to upset the locals, we wrapped the cans in toilet tissue and sipped them discreetly, throwing in the occasional "Ah, what lovely lychee juice"!

The night bus this time had no horror films, instead the floor hatch in the aisle next to us was broken and so every bump we went over would send the hatch popping up, exposing us to part of the baggage compartment, the axles, tyres and the road below!

We checked into a hostel in the Little India section of Georgetown on Pinang and managed to grab a bit of sleep but with a flight booked to Borneo, we only had 24 hours in Pinang. After awaking to a strange noise - I thought it was the sound of Bollywood movies being played in the shops below us but, on looking out of the window Charlie discovered was actually the wails of animals being ferried into a slaughterhouse opposite - we decided to take out a bike to see as much of the island as we could. Unfortunately, things didn't run quite as smoothly as on our previous bike trips: once again I had to take out a manual, and once again the gear pedals were too low for me to work properly (the flip flops probably don't help!). As we started winding our way up one hill in third gear I was too busy trying to find out where we were going (yes, another dodgy-map-and-kid's-compass journey!) and hadn't noticed the increasingly steep gradient. As the bike began to slow down to an almost complete stop, and with Charlie on the back chuckling, I tried to change down a gear, but got nothing. I kicked and kicked the pedal with no joy, until suddenly it shot down to first gear. With my hand holding down full throttle hard, the sudden change of gear saw the bike shoot forward and up to a wheelie with the front tyre 10 feet in the air in front of me. Luckily we'd both managed to jump clear of the bike and the exhaust and, once I'd tossed the bike out of the air and onto the grass verge next to us, we scampered to the side of the road out of the traffic!

Malaysian people have proven to be easily some of the friendliest we've met so far and, on seeing us at the side of the road with the bike laying down, so many people stopped to ask if we were OK. We dusted ourselves down and I looked to start the bike but got nothing. At this point another passer-by had pulled up and came over to help. He took one look at it, gave an 'ah-yes' humming sound and went back for his tool kit. He walked back with a hammer and proceeded to bash the foot pedals, gear levers and chain with all of his (considerable!) might. It started first time.

With the bike now running (although rattling a little!) and nerves calmed slightly we set off for the Kek Lok Si, a Chinese-Thai Buddhist temple up in the hills.
This turned out to be one of the most beautiful and enjoyable temples so far - the highly decorative and ornate buildings were stylish without being too garish, with literally tens of thousands of alternate red and yellow lanterns hanging everywhere. There was also a very special ambience to the temple as the gentle sounds of chanting, drums and bells and the smell of sweet incense drifted around as you looked out across the island.

We returned back to Georgetown for more fantastic tandoori chicken and naan... and to superglue the broken bits of plastic back onto the rear of the bike!!
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