The Cameron highlands

I took the bus up to the cameron highlands on Friday evening. After arriving I had supper at the hostel and had a chat with my roomates before falling asleep. The next day I got up fairly late as I hadn’t slept amazingly on the train and had brunch of a mostly tradtional English breakfast at a nearby restaurant before returning for another chat. Then at 2pm I headed out on a walk up the side of the valley to a peak called G. Jasar. This was a tough climb through the trees to reach the top and get views of the jungle and the hotels starting to invade it – there is more jungle left than in Argentinas northern province however. I also got to walk directly underneath an electric pylon which was quite interesting to see architecturally. After this climb I then climbed down again to an electric substation – once there I could see a road on the other side but not how to reach it so I turned back and returned the way I had come.

Then on Sunday I decided not to do a walk and instead took a totally average tour to see various sites. These included a beautiful rose garden. A strawberry farm that was just an opportunity to buy strawberries (these were good, but not up to my mothers standards. There these are grown in plastic to keep them healthy and to stop pests eating the strawberries. This seems to work but I’m not sure on the plastic usage – at home we use straw. After this we went to a tea factory and then a butterfly park both of which we good before heading to the beautiful Sam Poh Chinese buddhist temple that included interesting but slightly tacky gold Buddhist statues probably including the four kings (the guardians of the Buddha from the north, south, east and west) as well as the laughing Buddha – the guide didn’t seem to know anything about the temple so I didn’t push.

The next day I got up early and after checking my email and doing some shopping I headed out on a fairly ambitious walk. I was going to return to the Sam Pho temple but the final bit of path was very steep so I gave up and did a circuit back to town which took about 6 hours and covered about 9km or so – though most of it was on narrow and twisty woodland paths. This walk was a success in another way as this time I didn’t have to turn back. The woods were beautiful though I heard a lot of birds I didn’t see much wildlife except a snake very briefly. I thought I saw the bushes move in a snake-like fashion on the first walk as well.

One thing I like about Malaysia is that the prices are reasonable so you don’t have to bargain as much as in other countries which makes a nice change!

Ipoh and Singapore Zoo

On my last day in Singapore before I caught the overnight train to Ipoh I went to Singapore Zoo. It takes quite a while to get to the zoo, taking almost an hour from the railway station where I was buying my ticket out of the country, but it is quite out of the way for Singapore.

The zoo contains lots of different types of animals and some, like the Orangutans are able to freely go around a large area of the park, I really enjoyed it and spent about 3 hours there. One thing to note is that the zoo has a tram which cost $5 extra, that I didn’t use, basically the problem is that it doesn’t have enough stops so it isn’t obviously bad until you are actually there.

After visiting the zoo I caught the bus/MRT back to town so I could go to the excellent Hawker centre Lau Pa Sat which I went to last time I was in Singapore, there I had some Indian food before returning to the hostel to collect my bags and head to the Singapore railway station.

The Singapore railway station is actually owned by Malaysia and you can tell the Singaporeans don’t like it much as there isn’t an MRT station (even though a line passes straight underneath and there is a numbering gap for a station there) and most of the bus routes avoid it too. Anyhow the train ride was fairly uneventful but the first half was very bumpy until we got near to Kuala Lumpur where everyone except me in my carriage got off. After this the train went on practically brand new and smooth track all the way to Ipoh (which is pronounced eepoh with a “spanish” i; not iPoh like iPod or iPhone :p).

Ipoh is a nice friendly little town with very cheap food costing just $1.50 for a full meal, it is an OK town with some really nice building and some that aren’t so nice, it reminds me of Italy to be honest though and it is much nicer than I expected. I spent a few hours waiting for the bus to the Cameron Highlands where I am going to tonight as I just missed one at 11am and then had to wait until 3pm.

The HSBC treewalk and more

On Tuesday after I left off I headed to the Asian civilization museum. This was quite interesting and had lots of exhibits but it didn’t really hold my attention. This is probably because their technology which made the museum more interactive didn’t really work very well. It was supposed to recognize your ticket to personalise the mseum but basically it failed to work properly. They did have an excellent special exhibition on photography of Asian people taken in a couple of London photography houses.

After this at 3pm I headed over to the HSBC treetop walk not knowing I wouldn’t arrive until nearly closing time at 5pm which saw me rushing through the jungle to get there. Basically as is typical in Singapore the bus took ages and all in all took an hour to get from the museum out to the carpark for the treetop walk. From there though the treetop walk wasn’t very close as implied by the guidebook but was actually 3.5km away meaning I had to practically run the last 1km to get there! Not fun in the Singapore climate. I shouldn’t complain too much as the walk was through the beautiful (and surprisingly empty) jungle. The treetop walk itself was quite good and was a good way to overlook the trees I’d been walking through. However the main highlight of the walk was after this when I got to see wild monkeys in the trees above me which was amazing – especially in the middle of a city! All in all it was about a 10km walk in a loop to the bus stop at the bottom of the park. I really enjoyed it too. From there I took the bus and MRT back to my accommodation on a very roundabout route.

The next day I had no reason to get up early so I didn’t. I spent the first few hours booking accommodation and transport to get me back to Singapore for Chinese new year. I just missed the train tickets by about 5 minutes and found the bus situation to be worse and it took several hours to get it all sorted. Seriously though I don’t think the long distance buses are as developed as in South America or even New Zealand which is why it was so challenging. Booking the train (which is how I return to Singapore) was fairly painless however.

After all this I went to Sentosa; it was getting late so was shutting down but it seemed to be expensive and unfortunately sterile. Tonight is my last night in Singapore.

More time in Singapore

Over the weekend here in Singapore I didn’t get up to much at all – just uploading photos, sending a parcel, relaxing, playing games on my iPod touch (I’ve just discovered ronaldo and fieldrunners – both are excellent; especially ronaldo) and chatting with people in the hostel. I deserved it after having only around 2 hours sleep each night for my last couple in India. I also went to MOS burger.

Then on Monday morning I got up bright and early; first I had some admin to do so I had to sort that out and I had to catch the bus down from my hostel. This worked well thanks to the EZ link card – it’s a great piece of technology that actually “just works”. After that I headed to Burgis where I had some more admin to complete. While there (well Sim Lim tower actually) I picked up a new memory card for my camera – this is the first place I’ve ever seen memory cards for the same price or less than Amazon.co.uk. After this I had some pizza for lunch and went to a hairdressing salon unfortunately I didn’t manage to ask for the length correctly so it is now much shorter than I’d like.

After this I went to the Singapore National museum for the afternoon which was very interesting and was one of the best museums I’ve been to on my trip. It had an excellent section on the history of Singapore and went back before the British arrived. It did critise the British rule a bit and said we didn’t do enough education of the Singaporeans but overall it took a much more mature line to the British than the Indians generally didn’t. Although I’m sure we weren’t perfect many of the countries we ruled over the past several hundred years are now rich from the USA to Canada to Singapore itself.

After this I had a wander through the colonial district which was very European though there were buildings with a Singaporean twist and with bright colours before I caught the bus back to my hostel. This was a bit of an adventure as it didn’t actually quite go were I wanted and took ages. The moral of the story is if in doubt take the MRT. Then I had dinner at my hostel before going out for a drink before bed.

Further photos uploaded

I decided to get my computer time finished this weekend and I’ve uploaded and named all the photos I’ve uploaded over the past couple of days.

A final reminder, personal photos require having a Flickr account and me as a friend, view the help page for how to do it, though its not completely intuitive it is worth persevering on.

I’ve updated the instructions a little to make it a little more than a link and send me an email if you have any problems, as someone who wants to work in computer programming its important for me to be able to get this stuff right.

PS I should note I’ve met and helped people who’ve had problems switching off the flash on their digital camera and that is always incredibly easy, so I won’t bite your head off for asking for help :p.

Singapore and Milk

Note that the next three posts are all new today as I managed to grab some WiFi to get them online.

So leaving India early to go to Singapore was always going to be a bit of a paradox for me. Leaving the place I was looking forward to most to go to the place I was looking forward to least and only really staying to apply for some visas.

The good news is that I’m enjoying Singapore far more than last time I was here. Maybe it’s getting more laid back (people even jaywalk here which they don’t in Japan) or maybe I accept it more having been to Japan which it is similar to in many ways and yet also different. To give it a European analogy maybe it’s like the English and the French cultures.

On Friday I slept in the morning after a healthy Mcdonalds breakfast and afterwards headed out to lunch at a nearby and excellent restaurant. It was cheap too at S$5. After this I had some shopping to do including a smartcard for public transport and a copy of the Singapore and Malaysia bible Rough Guide. This took all afternoon before I had a burger king supper (I seem to have lost some weight in India.) before heading over to a nearby cinema to catch a movie.

There wasn’t much on so I picked the film milk which from the poster looked only OK. After sitting down to watch the film it wasn’t just OK and I will fully admit to crying at some of the more emotional moments. It is a great film that I thoroughly recommend and it is definitely a true story.

For those who aren’t aware Milk is about a gay businessman called Harvey Milk who in the 1970’s who was elected to the city of San Francisco as the first openly gay city official and they shot down a proposition banning the removal of teachers for being gay or supporting gay rights; in fact though at the time even Reagan supported them.

The sad truth is that this is still happening today with proposition 8 banning gay marriage and that influential organizations such as Apple are supporting gay rights today (though they weren’t as effective as Milk. In the UK things are much better as we have “civil partnership” for gays which has the rights of marriage but not the name to avoid upsetting the religious which is fair enough in my book and it seems the American gays haven’t taken that compromise position.

Chennai (Madras)

First the really good news. Chennai is much nicer to visit than the north and is much more laid back and fun to visit. It was still not totally easy but far more comparable to Viet Nam for example.

After arrival I wandered around the airport to find the station to get the train into town. The given directions weren’t clear but the station can be accessed by walking across the carpark between the domestic and international terminals. Once on the train it is usually not too bad especially if you travel first class like I did. I also found it quite difficult to always actually find the ticket office to buy a ticket and once found they were expensive at 76 rupees (US$1.50) to get to the airport first class – this is probably to cover the probable overwhelming majority of people riding for free. I also had my first experience of the traditional indian method of crossing a railway which is over the tracks to make my way to the station to catch the train into town.

After getting to the centre I first went to the tourist office to see if I could go on a tour but none were available for the day. Then I walked through the interesting Muslim district to have lunch at the excellent Saravana Bhavan. For lunch I had a vegetarian special suggested by the waiter and it was delicious (guess what – he got a tip). It was pretty hot but not unbearable so he got that one right too! The chain also has restaurants in London and New York among other places which are would be a great place to try southern Indian food send me an email or make a comment if you want the phone numbers.

After lunch I made my way to Georgetown fort which was the old British fort in the town. Inside the fort I went to the chapel and museum both of which were pretty interesting. After that I wandered around Georgetown itself before catching the train back to the centre of town for a delicious supper at Vasanta Bhavan. This was a bit different from lunch as no cutlery was provided meaning you had to eat with your fingers – given how much you use your fingers it was surprisingly hard. Much more difficult than even chopsticks.

After this I headed back to the airport on the train which was a little busier but fine in 1st class. At the airport I found India is having issues with fuel meaning I timed my departure well!

Taj Mahal and Agra

On Wednesday I took a tour from my hostel to the Taj Mahal. We left early at 7:30am and made our way on the 5 hour bus journey to Agra. This was fairly uneventful if slow. I chatted to an Indian from Mumbai (Bombay) who spoke excellent English on the journey.

After arriving in Agra we first went to the very impressive Agra fort which was built around the same time as the Taj Mahal itself. Though the fort was actually built by four different kings and the Taj was built by a single king in the middle of this period. After this we headed to get some lunch and for a shopping opportunity where I got a marble Taj mahal model for 1100 rupees (US$23) – whether it is real or not I’m not 100% sure but as the tour was booked by the Indian YHA it should have been kosher (though actually there were some issues later). After this we headed to the Taj itself where we got to spend an hour looking at it’s stunning beauty. It actually really is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen and is up there with the Grand Canyon, Maccu Pichu and Iguazu Falls. The building is literally completely built out of marble and even after seeing all the photographs it still took my breath away. Even the gates surrounding it are impressive. We got views of it from far away and up close and even got reflections. We also went inside the maulsoleum itself to see the stone coffins inside. They are probably the only thing not built of marble.

The other interesting thing about the Taj Mahal was that even though it is a wonder of the world there were far less European and American tourists than at the other sites I mentioned. Probably even including the Iguazu falls which is far less well known than the other three. It wasn’t exactly unbusy though – lots of Indians had made the journey there. It was good that that didn’t spoil it however.

After this we headed back to the bus quickly but it was in vain and we managed to be first back (though it’s the Taj so I’m not convinced that is a good thing!) and we headed to the birthplace of Hindu god Krishna which was very interesting to see I also had some delicious warm milk and sweets before returning to the bus once more.

This time it wasn’t so great and we headed to a dodgy set of 5500 temples nearby. I went with the English speaking group and we were asked to donate large sums of money to the temple we were taken to. I basically told them to fuck off though not using those words so we didn’t lose any cash. What was more shocking was that the main group of Indians got this treatment which although this isn’t that dodgy as my experience in India went it’s something I’ve never experienced on a coach tour before in any country. Even the tour was fairy cheap at US$9.50 that is comparable to what Sinh Cafe charge in Viet Nam for one day tours and they offer far better service as they have more comfortable fully AC buses and give you loads of information enroute about Viet Nam as well. It was also booked through the Indian YHA so should have been 100% ledgitimate.

After this diversion we got back to Delhi very late and I only got a couple of hours sleep before my flight to Chennai in the morning.

Arrived in Singapore

I arrived in Singapore this morning from Chennai. I didn’t get much sleep for the past couple of nights so this morning I’ve been resting. I have to admit I liked Chennai more than Delhi; it was a far more laid back city. I’ll post more later as I don’t have much time online now as I want to get some lunch.

I’ve realised that Singapore is also quite like Japan, except with worse trains, slightly less clean, but with an architectural style.