Saturday, 22 November 2008

Asia Update #5 - Malaysia, Singapore

Been a few weeks since the last update, since then we've actually moved on from Indonesia - but even after two months we didn't see everything there that we wanted to.

Our last week in Sumatra was spent riding around giant crater lakes, firstly Lake Maninjau which takes almost 3 hours to get around; where Ben stacked his bike good and proper but remains alive; where we got drenched coming home and sheltered in a friendly barber shop. To get down to the lake you need to negotiate the famous 44 hairpin bends, which one local didn't negotiate so well - came off, lost a brake handle, then jumped back up with a grin and rode off. We saw him go off the next hairpin too since he couldn't stop any more.

The second was Lake Toba, where we stayed for a few days on the island on it (the one bigger than Singapore). It was one of the most relaxing places we've been so far, and both want to go back. The accomodation was great and super-cheap ($6 a night?), and we made some good friends: Laurence and Kasia, an English/Polish couple. On a day ride with them and some Spanish girls we suffered dodgy brakes, a flat tire, riding dirt roads downhill in torrential rain, a soak in hot springs (ok not so bad), another flat tire, then a very slow ride home in the rain at night.

We arrived early for our flight to Malaysia, which was then delayed for hours without notice, so after 10 hours at the airport we arrived at our place in KL at 4:30am. I take back everything nice I said about Air Asia. The lady we stayed with had been into couchsurfing only a year, but had already had about 250 people crash at her house. One of the nights we stayed, there was 6 of us sleeping on the floor. One of them was a hardcore Polish guy who had been travelling for almost two years, and had hitchhiked all the way from Poland, including rafting down the Ganges in a tiny canoe.

Malaysia is a bit more civilised than Indonesia (for better or worse) but prices are correspondingly higher. Kuala Lumpur is clean, with good roads and public transportation. We spent most of our time there in museums, mosques, parks, and a whole day in the Petronas twin towers. It's not as pretty a name when you realise it's the headquarters of a multi-national oil giant.

We also visited the Batu Caves just outside of town, which sport a massive gold statue at the base of the stairs leading up to the main cave. Inside the cave is a Hindu temple, and there are various other statues and temples around the complex.

After KL we went two hours south to Melaka, an old trading port which has been colonised by the Portuguese, Dutch, and the English. It's now world heritage listed, and is a great city to walk around, checking out Chinatown, the old forts and ruins, and the refreshing public pool.

From there we continued south to Singapore, where Ben was taken aside for a friendly chat with Customs. An hour later, turns out they'd found the knife he'd been given as a gift by the family in Jakarta. Somehow he escaped without a fine and even managed to get the knife back a few days later.

Anyway we spent a day walking around the city and Chinatown, and a day at the Singapore Zoo, which I'd half-seen before but had been rained out. Well this time we got rained out too but at least I was prepared, and we saw pretty much everything there. Except the white tigers - that exhibit was closed because apparently a few days ago a zoo employee tried to commit suicide by jumping into their enclosure, and succeeded.

From Singapore we took a sleeper train to Ipoh, a few hours north of KL (using "sleeper" in the loosest sense). The train broke down for two and a half hours, and we got to our new place in the Cameron Highlands after almost 24 hours on the move.

So that's where we are now, staying with another great couchsurfer, Nash. It's beautiful and cool up here, with rain every afternoon. We've been to a butterfly farm, tea plantation and a trek in the jungle this afternoon.

Tomorrow we'll head to Penang and Langkawi off the west coast of Malaysia, and then to Thailand at the end of the month. Can't believe we've been here for ten weeks already, it's disappearing too easily.

Until next time...

PS. Happy birthday Matt!

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