June 2024

Mmmm... Malaysia


Our short time so far in Malaysia has been filled with two of our favourite things: hiking and eating. OK, hiking isn’t really one of our favourite things, we just seem to do it a lot and enjoy the payoff. Alas, I will begin.

The Cameron Highlands

After arriving in the Cameron Highlands after a short bus ride from KL, we immediately got sucked into doing a tour the next day. The operators of our hotel, Father’s Guest House, were just so pleasant we couldn’t help but succumb to their suggestion of a tour. The tour we settled on was a Rafflesia Tour – a full-day tour encompassing what I claim to be a day filled with all of my favourite activities, so I get to write the blog.

The Elusive Raffleasia

Scott using the blow pipe apparatus. And yes, that man (who is the chief of the village) is really that short.

Scott using the blow pipe apparatus. And yes, that man (who is the chief of the village) is really that short.

Our hike started off with a quick jaunt to a local hill tribe Malaysian village, where we briefly got to see the way people live, and try our skill at blowing a dart through a blow pipe, which is the traditional way to hunt for food. Then, we were taken up a really rough path via 4×4 that made Fraser Island look tame…and got dropped in the middle of nowhere and were told to walk further up the path. As we were walking, we heard this loud meowing…and out of the bush popped a tiny and adorable kitten! The kitty started to follow us frantically up the path, meowing like crazy. It broke my heart. Asia in general has a huge problem with stray animals, and I was almost certain that this little guy had been brought up to the middle of nowhere to die. They do that here, since there are so many of them and the people have a challenging enough time feeding themselves, let alone 10 stray pets (who multiply exponentially every year). Anyway, so this kitty followed us for a solid 20 minutes, until the path got too treacherous, and we had to leave him behind. I cried a little bit inside, but hoped he’d be waiting for us when we came back down.

The hike to the Raffleasia Flower was very hard, and long. We learned that we had to walk two solid hours just to find it. Two hours just to see a flower? Seriously? And this is two hours in rain forest jungle, in intense heat and humidity, nonetheless. We finally made it, and the flower was very interesting. It’s apparently quite rare and not many people actually ever see one in their lifetime. We learned that the flower is not actually a true flower, but rather a fungus. It spends 9 months growing from a small spore into a large “flowering” thing, and only actually lives as a flower for 4-5 days. The one we saw was about 3 days old, so it was already looking a bit dead. So, although it was worth it to see the flower (we were probably the last group for a few months until a new one bloomed), it was a pretty intense trek for a different sort of pay-off than we’re used to.

The Raffleasia. We are wearing tribal crowns that our tour guide made for us. He told me I am a princess.

The Raffleasia. We are wearing tribal crowns that our tour guide made for us. He told me I am a princess.

On our way back down, we found my beloved kitty. Our guide picked him up and we brought him back with us in the jeep – I fed him a bit of a granola bar too. He was so hungry. Our guide gave him back to the village (I’m not sure that will solve the problem) and the little guy tried to follow us as we left for lunch. I really wish I could have put him in my bag, touted him around for the next three months, and brought him back to Canada for a good home. If I wasn’t allergic, I very well may have. He was the sweetest little kitten I’ve ever met – you could tell he adored humans (most of the strays out here ignore you or snarl at you) and he would have made someone very happy. 🙁

Tea, Butterflies and Strawberries – A Girl’s Perfect Afternoon!

Next, we went to a tea plantation, which was really cool. We learned all about how they make tea, and got to spend some time on a beautiful terrace, overlooking the tea fields drinking my new favourite drink – Teh Terik (sort of like a chai latte, but with an altogether different taste). Touring the tea plantation really confirmed our superstitions that Malaysia is a pretty well-off country: none of the locals actually work in the plantation anymore, because it doesn’t pay well enough. Mostly, the workers come from Indonesia or India. They only make about 20 cents per kilo (with about 200 kilos a day), so the wage is minimum…but the tea plantation will pay for their room and food, so they can just send most of the money home to their families in poorer nations.

The BOH (Best of Highlands) tea house over looking the valley.

The BOH (Best of Highlands) tea house over looking the valley.

Our next stop was a butterfly farm, the sole purpose of which is to breed butterflies and keep them safe (again, something you only really see in a more developed nation). In addition to beautiful varieties of butterflies, they had an assortment of other crazy creatures including beetles, tarantulas and scorpions. I’m not really afraid of much when it comes to bugs and critters – I used to own a leopard gecko and feed it live crickets. I must have stood out as one of the non-squeamish ones, because as I was visiting with a cute little gecko, the guy threw a very large green thing on my neck. It tickled. Then he brought out the scorpions, and most people cringed – and offered for us to hold it. There were no takers…and I figured, what the heck? I’ve jumped off a canyon and out of a plane…I’ve dove on the Great Barrier Reef with sharks in the pitch black…I’ve gotten on the back of a motorcycle of a 15-year old Balinese kid with no helmet in hellish traffic…and survived it all. Holding a small little scorpion for a few seconds is harmless, right? And I actually was totally ok with it…until the dude threw two more on my shoulders. The immediate thing I thought was “don’t react or these suckers are going to kill you. They can smell fear. Remain calm.” And I did. I didn’t really enjoy it, but I did it. Only in Asia would a guy throw deadly creatures onto a Western girl, without true knowledge of how she is going to react. I’m pretty sure if I had of started screaming and running around, I would be dead right now.

Kenna playing with not-so-pretty scorpions

Kenna playing with not-so-pretty scorpions

Anyway, on to more friendly topics…we finished the day at a strawberry farm. The Cameron Highlands have the perfect climate to grow strawberries all year round, and so have become virtually famous for them. We sampled waffles with strawberry sauce, strawberry ice cream, and a strawberry Teh Terik – it was strawberry heaven!

The Rocky Road to Penang

We awoke the next morning after a short, restless sleep, to catch the 8 a.m. bus to Penang. The combination of going to bed way too late, and the number of the caffeine-laden Teh Teriks that we had consumed that day caused both of us to sleep poorly, and we were grumpy. That’s ok, we thought, we’ll sleep on the bus. Being high in the highlands (about 2000m above sea-level), the air is much cooler than on the coast, but the air conditioning on the bus didn’t seem to know that, so the bus was freezing. Consequently, we barely slept at all.

To make matters worse, while both of us were sleeping, the bus stopped and everyone on the bus started getting off, so we figured this was our stop. Even our fellow Penang-bound British friends that we had met earlier got off the bus and got their luggage. It wasn’t until about the time the bus started pulling away that we realized – this isn’t Penang at all. This was Butterworth, the port town on the mainland (Penang is an island). Kenna tried half-heartedly, while still semi-asleep, to chase after the bus, but it left without us. Being dead tired and really bitchy, Scott and I proceeded to have a little spat that pretty much alienated the British friends we were with. Luckily, we got it together pretty quick (we have quickly realized on this trip that we are each other’s only friends and alliances on this side of the planet at the moment, so we have to treasure each other) and managed to get a ferry off to Penang, so the damage was minimal. Lesson number 756: Never get off a bus without knowing exactly where you are. We could write a book with all these lessons we’re learning the hard way, couldn’t we? Why doesn’t the Lonely Planet include all of this information?!

We’ve heard so many good things about Penang being an amazing culinary treat, but what people neglected to tell us was that Georgetown (the main town of Penang) is a dirty, ugly, hot, concrete-laden city with no sidewalks. Our initial impression of the island was not good, and it got worse with our super-cheap hotel.

The Food of Penang – WOW.

And then the food came. Penang is known for it’s delicious mix of Indian, Chinese and Malay cuisines, and this was what we had come for (well, mostly just the Indian. Scott and I are the hugest suckers for Indian food in existence). However, initially, it too was disappointing. We had shown up absolutely starving from our morning adventure at a Lonely Planet-recommended place for lunch, ready for some delicious Tosai Masala or Roti Cenai. However, oddly, every Indian place in the city only makes certain items on their menu at certain times, and that was very poorly explained on the menu (and we couldn’t really figure out what we could and couldn’t have with various time restrictions on everything). When we finally placed our order, after much deliberation, the annoyed Indian man told us that ¾ of the things we ordered weren’t available because it was between 3-4 p.m. Uh… ok? So we ended up with a “mini meal” (sheer disappointment), but all was made well again by the most amazing bread we ordered…a giant and fluffy, yet crispy, “Chenna Batura.” Part of me wishes we could have taken an Indian cooking class while we were here…but even if we had seen one advertised, I’m pretty sure we never could replicate the deliciousness of all these breads.

My new favourite food of all time - Cool-Cha Vegetables. (Indian Pizza).

My new favourite food of all time - Cool-Cha Vegetables. (Indian Pizza).

After a short nap, we went to a different Indian restaurant for dinner. Again, ½ the menu wasn’t available, but damn was it good. We sampled the most amazing Mushroom Masala (seriously, the best Indian dish we’ve ever had) along with a Vegetable Cool-Cha – “Indian Pizza.” Think melted cheese and veggies stuffed INSIDE a naan/roti type bread, with the most amazing chutney dipping sauce. Words cannot express my delight over this. The cost, you must be wondering, for such a scrumptious affair? A mere $7 Canadian (drinks included). Like I said, Heaven.

Teluk Bahang

On the northern tip of the island of Penang, about an hour’s bus ride away, is a small sleepy beach village called Teluk Bahang. We decided to escape the dirty crowdedness of Georgetown for the small, off-the-beaten-path pace – there really isn’t much to do, but it is entertaining and worth noting. The Lonely Planet guide describes it as “fallen off the backpacker’s map long ago, and there isn’t much to do, and that’s the point”. We thought that sounded kinda nice.

After arriving on the bus, we tried to find our guest house – the only guest house in the entire village, which proved elusive. We walked around the damned village in the blazing heat with our 20 kg bags for over an hour before finally hailing a cab, to which the driver laughed and told us we had missed the turn-off long ago. We ended up overpaying him to take us for a 2 minute cab ride, since you have to haggle your prices ahead of time – meters are essentially non-existent here, and we were unsure how far it was…and clearly not in the bargaining advantage position. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.

The Dogs and Men of Miss Loh

The guest house is called Miss Loh’s. We arrived at around 3 p.m. There was no one around besides a French guy in his undies. He informed us Miss Loh wouldn’t arrive until 4:30. This is interesting- we had called yesterday with our reservations and she made no mention of a specific time we had to arrive. We called her up on her mobile, and yes, in fact, she would be there at 4:30 and was not coming any earlier. So, we waited. As we were waiting, we met the first two resident dogs, two male puppies. In the remaining 1.5 hours, four additional dogs came wandering back, all of whom were let in by on of the “Iggy Pop” men who were staying at the hostel. In total, there were 5 male dogs and 1 female – all some form of dingo/German shepard breed. They were like this fraternity of scrappy dogs (most with bloody scratches on their muzzles), all nuzzling each other and providing comfort. We soon learned that the “Iggy Pop” men of Miss Loh’s were very similar to the dogs. Let me describe.

Miss Loh's Dogs (unfortunately, I do not have any pictures of the men).

Miss Loh's Dogs (unfortunately, I do not have any pictures of the men).

Everyone at Miss Loh’s has pretty much been here for months; they are all old, tanned, thin and hard-looking men (like Iggy Pop) except for a manish-looking lady (who Scott claims leaves the seat up when she exits the toilet…), and the vibe is really weird. It’s almost like you could make an amateur artsy movie about this place. We speculate that each person here is some wounded soul looking for the meaning of life or something. For example, one guy, who must be 70, literally spends the entirety of each day sitting topless and playing solitaire. We really haven’t seen him doing anything else. Another, as we were eating breakfast, said hello to us, then proceeded to chant some sort of mantra over and over again as he watched us eat. Yet another told Scott that he didn’t want him to sit on the bench outside his window. And last but not least, the guy whose room we are sitting beside as I write this is making grunting, burping, farting and sighs of relief noises all at the same time. Weird. And now he’s whistling loudly.

Miss Loh is a very old, stately woman, who reminds me of the happy Buddha, in female form, wearing a mumu and with some sort of strange face cream that doesn’t come off. She must have some sort of aura for attracting stray wiry beings and keeping them under her wing– both in the form of dogs and men. Scott and I have no idea what attracts these people here or what keeps them (obviously the food keeps the dogs, but the men?) – although we found it a nice place and can somewhat see the allure, we had essentially exhausted the town’s sights and restaurants in two days flat. Part of me wishes I could have spent some more time with all these men of the guest house, learning of their life stories and piecing together the strangeness of this place, but I didn’t, so all I can do now is suspect.

Hiking Teluk Bahang

And yet again, this blog post has seemingly turned into a novel (I really do apologize – I try to keep them short while honouring the detail and wonder of our experiences!), I will cut to the last hike. The attraction of Teluk Bahang is really only one thing – it’s close to Penang National Park, which contains within it a few beautiful remote beaches, accessible only by foot and boat, and a path to a lighthouse that was erected by the British in the 1800’s. We rose before sunrise very early in the morning in the hopes of completing the hike before the heat of the day. Based on the maps we had looked at, it appeared that the path was mostly along the beach, so we thought we only needed sandals – bad mistake. It turned out to be a 10 km round-trip in dense jungle, complete with rocks, tree roots and places where ropes had been fashioned to clamber yourself over sketchy land. The beaches were spectacular, but hiking in sandals is not recommended.

One of the beautiful beaches in Taluk Bahang, viewed as the sun is rising.

One of the beautiful beaches in Taluk Bahang, viewed as the sun is rising.

We decided to make the trek to the light house – which turned out to be extremely anticlimactic, and pretty much the most disappointing hike of my life. After the crazy dense jungle, we came to approximately 500 stairs to climb, with monkeys playing on either side of us. When we finally made it to the top (literally, drenched in litres of our own sweat), the lighthouse was closed. All we could see was a big fence with a weeny lighthouse behind it. Brutal. We climbed back down, and spent some time on the beach before making the hike back. A few guys offered to take us back by boat – I would have happily obliged, since our lack of food and appropriate footwear was really getting to me, but Scott trucked on.

Kenna in Muslim Clothes

I’m going to end with a funny story. We are leaving Malaysia tomorrow a bit early to head to Thailand. I’ve gotten somewhat weary of trying to cover up my lady parts in the intense heat. I’m ready for the lewdness of the Thai people…I can walk around in a bikini and feel not even the least bit interesting amid the lady boys and legalized prostitutes.

Kenna in Muslim Clothes, and yes, she is wearing a bra. :)

Kenna in Muslim Clothes, and yes, she is wearing a bra. 🙂

The funniest story about covering up comes from our hike to teluk bahang. There was no way in hell I was going to wear full clothing whilst trekking in the jungle, so I putt on my smallest roxy shorts, a bikini, and a teeny tiny tank top. I figured there wouldn’t be too many Muslim men on the path. But, to get to the path, we had to walk through the whole town. So, I figured I’d wear a sarong as a cape/snuggie type thing. It worked, until a nice (fully covered) Muslim security guard offered to take our picture at the park gate. She asks (signalling my cape) “you cold?” I think – how the eff can I be cold in 35 degree heat at 8 a.m.?! What do I reply!? “No, I’m covering my skanky outfit so your men don’t run off to mosque to pray for my redemption and their sinful thoughts?” (!!!) So I say “No, sun, don’t want to burn.” She says “You no bra?” And I say (while clutching my boobs a bit) “no, I have a bra. Sun. Hot sun. Me, white.” And she says “wear sunblock.” Scott, meanwhile was pissing himself laughing– she actually said “You no BROWN.” In the end, I wonder if she would have obliged to my terribly small outfit that was hiding under the sarong…I’ll never know.

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