I’ve uploaded the final set of photos from the last part of my trip and named them over the past few days. You can view these on my photo page.
My next few days on Langkawi continued the pattern of lounging around and relaxing. I read some more books and headed to Underwater World an aquarium which started off not very good and got better. At RM22 (£4.50) for students the price was OK too. I also headed to a Reggae bar on the beach and a club where surprisingly as I am massively out of practice I was complemented on my dancing! The music was solid too. Not dance but more poppy music which I prefer. I don’t go clubbing that often – I can count the number of times on my trip on one hand but if you are with friends it is great fun (though as I want to have a real attachment to a woman it’s not my ideal place to pull women.).
After Langkawi I returned to KL which was fine though the bus trip was a bit dodgily organized so I had to buy the bus ticket twice. Only RM50 (£10) lost but still it’s not good.
After arriving into KL late I went to my absolute favourite restaurant (McDonalds) for dinner before going to bed. The next day after breakfast I headed by bus (which took seemingly forever) out to the Batu Caves. These are an awesome set of caves on the outside of Kuala Lumpur. The caves are a Hindu temple and have a giant gold statue of a Hindu god outside. The caves themselves are also impressive and absolutely massive and stretch up to the top of the hill breaking through into the jungle as well as giving a great view of KL. Unfortunately they are also very dirty and smelly and need more proactive clearance of rubbish. I also headed into the dark caves for an “educational” tour which was interesting and cost RM35 (£7). This contained lots of bats and other animals which live off the bat excrement including cockroaches that was interesting to see. We also got to learn about the beautiful rock formations in the caves and a temperature controlled “wind tunnel”.
After this I headed back to KL and went back to the Petronas towers to do a brief bit of book shopping and bought this weeks Economist (which has a very interesting article on the spread of English – EDIT: link) before heading to have dinner and watch Slumdog Millionaire. First though I had the most expensive meal I’ve eaten in Malaysia which was delicious Korean food. It cost RM17 so I would spend more than RM15 to get a free cinema ticket to see Slumdog millionaire. I did OK as the cinema would have cost RM8 otherwise. On the film itself I don’t know if it’s a true story but it’s an excellent and believable tale on modern India and love that is well worth seeing if you have the chance. The premise is a guy from the Indian slums beats lawyers and rich people to win 10 million rupees (about US$200,000) and the police don’t believe him as he’s uneducated. Of course coming from the slums exposes him to the “real world” more than the lawyers so not everything is against him.
My friend Rupert has kindly uploaded a bunch more photos for me, which I’ve started to name, I’ll finish when I’m not in the most expensive internet cafe in Malaysia in the KLCC complex (it costs RM8, 1.60GBP for 1 hour!). I’ve named some of them as well
On Saturday evening I thought I wasn’t going to get up to much, but in fact I had had quite an interesting evening. I was pursuaded that it would be a really cool idea to go to Thaipusam festival which was being celebrated by the Tamil in Penang. First to get there we headed up towards the festival by bus which took almost 90 minutes; unfortunately we didn’t get off at the right place so we had to get a taxi back towards the festival so the whole process took ages. After we eventually got to the festival we grabbed some food before heading towards the temples themselves.
The festival is actually a two day affair and I only caught the first day, where a chariot is brought up from one temple to another pulled by bulls. The festival also involves people piercing themselves which people do to prove their resistance to pain. They often had a bar in between their teeth to stop them biting off their tongue so it must have hurt a lot. First we had a wander around the temples, one of which was surprisingly in a colonial style building and the other opposite was more traditional before we walked back to the bus stop and the chariot. This took absolutely ages as there were tons and tons of people walking, and there was a bit of a crush as we tried to pass the chariot which got a little scary for a moment or two.
The festival was really good overall – much better than the mediocre Chinese New Year.
On Sunday morning I left Penang and I arrived into Langkawi on Sunday morning on the express boat, the journey was fairly uneventful, except that they didn’t have breakfast on board the boat and I got to watch some tom and jerry cartoons. That evening I had a pizza for dinner which was expensive at RM30, but the main issue was that I ate it too fast as I hadn’t had much food that day, so I had to sit down afterwards on the beach for 30 minutes to digest it fully.
Over the next few days I basically just chilled out, and on Monday I sat on the beach for several hours and managed to get really sunburnt which still hurts a bit now a couple of days later. I’m not going t-shirt less on the beach or snorkeling again as its actually pretty embarrassing. One of the main problems was that I didn’t get all the sand off as the showers are cold so that probably made matters worse. On Wednesday I went up to a nearby mountain to go on a cable car which gave great views of the rest of Langkawi island which was really good to see.
Langkawi itself is a tropical island in the north of Malaysia near the Thai border, basically it has lots of restaurants and the prices aren’t too bad, really its like a combination between Tahiti and Moorea though the prices are literally less than 20% of those on Tahiti, and I’m eating all my meals out here, rather than buying food from the supermarket as I did on Tahiti, except for one meal/day where I’d buy a meal on the side of the road.
Well it appears that the mosquito bites I talked about weren’t actually mosquito bites at all but were actually bed bugs, so now I have to wait for my clothes and stuff to be washed to get rid of them.
It also appears that the accommodation in question, Love Lane Inn has a problem with them. There is a trip advisor review from 2006 saying the same thing, as well as the owner of where I am staying now on Langawi.
Oh the joy.
On Friday evening after an excessively long bus ride that included 2 hours messing around in KL bus stations and no movies I arrived into the small port of Butterworth. From there I was able to get the RM1.20 (US$0.33) ferry across to Penang island itself. As the sun set Georgetown looks like a typical city with some skyscrapers towering overhead. After the boat docked I headed into the area of town with the travellers accommodation and checked into a guesthouse. That evening I didn’t do much other than grab some chicken noodles from a nearby street stall before heading to bed. I decided to stay in Penang for a couple of nights though so I wouldn’t have to leave first thing the next morning to go to Langawi It also gave me some time to sort out accommodation.
The next morning I set out to explore Georgetown. First I headed to the KOMTOR tower where the tourist office was supposedly located. I also thought that I’d be able to grab some breakfast as well. Upon arrival the only open place for breakfast was an overpriced Starbucks where they hadn’t even put on the air conditioning. After a wander I found the tourist office but it failed at it’s task by only having it’s opening hours in Malay – for a country with a sizeable Indian and Chinese community and where English is the lingua Franca between those communities and the Malays as well as being the language of tourism that was very surprising to see.
After this things got much better however. I headed back to my accommodation to book my onward transport and accommodation on Langawi. After doing that I headed to the excellent Penang museum which only cost RM1 ($0.28). This had thoroughly interesting coverage on how the British founded Georgetown and the communities that live there. It was pretty fair in general though it was probably a little biased towards the British. After seeing that I went to an Indian restaurant to have a delicious sweet lassi and slightly spicy rice and cashew nuts that also wasn’t too expensive – the whole meal only cost RM6 ($1.67). After this I headed through the colonial part of town before looking at the main mosque and an impeccably restored Chinese temple before returning to my hostel to shave (which is actually an event when you don’t use a manual razor) and catch the end of Casino Royale on Star Movies which was excellent.
Of note the island of Penang is actually spelt Pinang in Malay and like many only recently romanised languages it is pronounced like Spanish or Portugese (and maybe Venetian) reflecting those countries dominance in the world in the 16th century.
I arrived into Melaka on Wednesday evening. The bus ride up wasn’t particularly exciting as it was motorway driving all the way. The crossing over from Singapore was fairly painless however. Melaka itself doesn’t seem to be particularly exciting beyond the usual shopping centre. Even most of the restaurants shut early. The town itself is quite pretty and has some ok European style buildings but it isn’t really my favourite city. The highlight was sitting around my hostel chatting and on Thursday evening having a satay dinner where you dipped scewers into a central pot. It was good but a little expensive at RM10 (£2). On Friday I’m going to get the bus up north to Penang and from there I’ll probably go and relax on the beach for a few days.
After arriving into Singapore once again I took the MRT back to Bugis and my accommodation, the Inn Crowd hostel. In the afternoon I uploaded some photos to Flickr and did a brief bit of shopping. After this I had a delicious Burger King burger before heading over to the Singapore Night Safari using my pre-purchased ticket I got at the bird park before I went to Cambodia.
To get there I took the special S$4 bus which was an adventure in itself as I was running late for the bus (something I’ve *never* done before.). Once I got there the Singaporeans around tried to be helpful but failed miserably – the first guy refused to tell me which street I was on and instead gave me directions somewhere else. The second then told me to stand on the wrong side of the road where there was a public bus bus stop so I had to cross like it was Viet Nam to get the bus.
Then after all that fun I arrived at the Night Safari itself. The night safari itself was absolutely amazing and was well worth the entry fee. First I saw their night animal show – this was complete at the beginning with a request not to use camera flash in 5 languages (everything else was only in English.) – unsurprisingly this wasn’t followed through and people used their camera flashes anyway. The show was pretty good and entertaining even so. Probably the flashes where on because the people didn’t know how to switch them off – or they are like my Canon which auto-reenables the flash in auto (and even night scenery) modes. Yeah it’s lame Canon – the Panasonic Lumix range doesn’t do this.
After this I ignored the crowds going on the tram and walked around the enclosures that you can reach on foot -this enabled me to see lions, tigers giraffes as well as a sloth bear and giant flying squirrel which was amazing to see. The animals also seemed to be fairly lively.
After a nearly 2 hour walk around the animal enclosures (I don’t have photos as my camera was out of battery.) I decided to not be cheap and shell out the S$10 for the tram which took me round some more of the animals I had missed in my initial explorations with surprisingly few duplicates before I headed home to bed.
The next day I arranged my bus to Melaka and finally found the decent priced food court in Bugis junction – finally I could get a decent priced meal there and for which I had the speciality “carrot cake” and a delicious ice dessert.
Note that the food at the Night Safari is expensive at at least S$10 a meal. Also if you are catching the public bus back from the zoo/night safari then the 927 bus and changing onto the MRT at the far end is probably about 5 minutes faster even though you go to a more out of the way MRT station if your accommodation isn’t on the red (north-south) line. You could also probably get the 138 and transfer at the end of the upper thomson road to another bus and then get the MRT from Newton if you want to be really cool and that would probably be even quicker – though its only viable with an EZ-link card and you’d need to ask where to get off.
While my previous comment on the niceness of Siem Rep was a little hyperbolic it was still considerably nicer than expected, another thing was that the town seems to have kept the airport road full of 5* hotels and not slum-like buildings that you generally manage to see somewhere en-route, even in Santiago or New York. I also managed to have some food for generally only US$3 or so, and in one case less than US$2 including a drink.
Anyhow so on Thursday after my last blog post I headed to the Angkor national museum, this was expensive at US$12, but was of a good western standard and had a lot of good presentation of some of the Angkor artifacts including high-tech audio-visual displays in about 5-6 languages. They even have a collection of 1000 Buddha statues but it was way less impressive than the collection I saw in Kyoto. Unfortunately I did manage to get given a dodgy dollar bill at the museum, I detected and refused it though, its annoying checking if the dollar is real as you have to check the paper quality and there is no watermark to check like most other currencies.
Then on Friday morning I headed out for the day to Angkor Wat. To get to Angkor Wat I decided to cycle (for US$1) the 7km on flat roads to the temple complex, it was quite interesting as I was by far the fastest cyclist on the road mostly due to my practice in Oxford. I would also say that it was fairly safe, the cars mostly behaved themselves and the cyclists probably cycle safer than they do in Oxford. On the way I also had to buy a US$40 ticket to get access to the Angkor site for the next 3 days, this apparently doesn’t apply to Cambodians for whom it is free. There are a lot of police around though, and with help from foreign governments including China, the US, India and Japan they are maintaining the sites, the Japanese seem to be contributing to the most sites however and they also seem to be doing a really good job of the maintenance and reconstruction.
Angkor Wat itself is seriously impressive, basically it is located in the Jungle inside a set of massive walls with a huge moat around the outside that is probably 1.5km across. The most interesting things to see are the view of the site from across the lake where it blends into the jungle and close up where you can see the elaborate carving of battle scenes that exist throughout Angkor Wat and the other temples and buildings in the complex. As I said before, Angkor Wat is a massive complex, firstly there is an outer wall, and then significantly further in there is a much smaller central temple which you can walk around inside, it is also built up higher than the surroundings.
After seeing Angkor Wat I headed up the road north towards the old town of Angkor Thom, I didn’t get there however as I got distracted by a hilltop temple on one side of the road, this was beautiful as well, and you could climb up the very steep steps at the side to get a view over the surrounding jungle and fields that stretch off very flatly into the distance.
The next day I met up with an English and Cambodian girl working for a Cambodian NGO at my hotel and we went off to spend the day relaxing and chatting by a nearby lake that was mostly visited by Cambodians rather than tourists. The Cambodians themselves are generally very nice and relaxed people and this was shown here (as well as their cycling :p). In the evening we went out to the night market which was relaxing and we also saw a local orphanage perform some traditional Cambodian dance which was excellent to see, unfortunately the orphanage was spending a lot of money on not really needed stuff like US$180 on monthly internet access, that is as much as it is in Tahiti and internet cafes are nowhere near that expensive here.
On Sunday I then cycled out to Angkor Thom and the temples there which also had lots of beautiful carving as well as large faces carved into the stone, as well as this I saw a couple of other temples which really seemed like cliched temples that blended into the jungle, though they weren’t complete ruins which was good to see and I really enjoyed it. After this I cycled back before having dinner and going to bed around 10pm.
To be honest the story of the temples is better told with pictures rather than words and I’ll try and get them online soon.
I flew into Siem Reap airport from Singapore this morning on a nice and early 6am flight, fortunately I managed to get to bed early last night so I’m not too tired today. After arriving and taking the free transport to my accommodation I settled in and had a nap in the morning before exploring the town a bit.
Siem Reap is actually surprisingly modern and clean, the pavements are built up and there are a large number of expensive hotels here. There also don’t appear to be any shacklike buildings and the guidebooks sold in the shops aren’t photocopied! The prices for many things are correspondingly high, with the museum costing US$12, though I had a meal for only US$5 which wasn’t too expensive. The only hassle you get is occasional hassle for transport though the Cambodians are pretty laid back so don’t hassle you too much for it.
This afternoon I’m off to the museum and have a wander around town, before heading out to the temples in the morning.