Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Tahman Negara

 


The adventure at Tahman Negara starts proper at the Jetty at Kuala Tembeling where we board a long boat with about 20 others for the 3 hour journey down the Tembeling River.



The river, muddy brown, wide and fast flowing, winds its way through the dense jungle that pushes right to the rivers edge for most of the journey with occasional sand bars and rocky outcrops on which bleached trunks of trees lay stranded. Not much to report on the little town and hotel except that there are several floating restaurants that all sit pretty low in the water with only minimal barriers to stop the diners from toppling into the strong current.

 
The following day we set off for the canopy walkway at 9.00am planning a shortish walk that turns into 6 hours of almost constant trekking that leaves us soaked and drained of energy. The entry to the national park is made via a river taxi that runs you across the short stretch of water. We then set off on the trail to the canopy walk. The trail is somewhat disappointing after those we have been following in the Cameron Heights as it is a totally sanitised board walk with handrails and yellow painted steps. However this only goes as far as the Canopy Walk and after that it becomes a proper trail with roots, rocks, climbs etc to tax us. The Canopy Walk itself is 40m above the forest floor and is a very wobbly suspension bridge affair which adds to the excitement of being so high up but was not quite high enough to allow a view just above the treeline. Still very nice though. Once down we set off along the unmade tracks which were far more what we were looking for and for the next 4 hours we


saw no one. Just us, huge trees, green leaves and a cacophony of insect noise. Walking in the jungle is hard work. Luckily it was a trail so did not have to cut our way through but even so the effort of moving was surprisingly difficult. The humidy is through the roof, the air often fetid and close and the heat of the sun, an rampant and rotting vegetation meant we sweated like never before. I am a sweaty chap at the best of times but I surpassed myself with no dry patches on my shirt, shorts, backpack or socks...both of us were just awash.


Just as were about to turn around we saw a marker to the top of a 500 metre hill called Bukit Indah (Indah Hill). To give the walk purpose we followed the trail and were soon hauling ourselves up fixed ropes, through rock clusters and  along a narrow root trapped path with 40m sheer drop on either side to the top where the magnificent view made the effort all worth it but took the last of our reserves so the walk back for the next 2 hours went on and on and all done with no more water so were parched most of the way.

This afternoon we have had a great time ‘shooting the rapids’ in the Tembelling river. Whilst not wild they were still great fun and our driver ensured that ever swirling mass of wave was expertly dumped upon us. For an hour we drove along the river in this wooden longboat with another couple and drank in the real beauty of the National Park.  Sunlight glinting on the often churning white water that ran between large boulders, long stretches of sluggish brown river drifting between the trees and occasional groups of the local village dwellers swimming or washing. We both got thoroughly soaked! On the way back the boat pulled up at a sandbar that ran between the river and the jungle and we spent a further hour swimming in the warm water and laying on the sand. Was lucky enough to find a jungle vine hanging from a tree over the river so clambered on some nearby rocks and was able to swing Tarzan stylee into the water. I was please to find that the vine, no thicker than my finger, was strong enough to hold me. So can now verify that Tarzan could possibly have
 
 
swung from tree to tree. Arrrrr Arr-A-Arrrr Ar-Ar-Arrahhhh! I can also confirm that Rachel swam in a brown river, with a squelchy bottom (the river not her) that has large fish, snakes and monitor lizards in it. Unfortunately today is our last day because we have ran out of money and there is no ATM so after doing a gentle jungle walk tonight (where we don’t expect to see more than spiders) will pack and head off to KL tomorrow to see our lovely friends Melanie and Gary who are here to spend a week with us Perhentian Islands.
 

 
Footnote on the night time jungle walk. We went about 1km into the jungle and back and it took about 45 mins. We sweated so much and it was 8.00pm at night and pitch dark - see photo on return to room.


Didn't see too much to write about - a few fire flys, moths, a dog ran out of nowhere and Rachel nearly crapped her self, a couple of lizards and, oh yeah, a bloody huge tapir. We were walking out of the Park complex at the start of the trail and suddenly we saw this fabulous chap although I dont think he was wild going by his proximity and his total lack of interest in us.

 

 

Sunday, 22 September 2013

More mountains - The Hghlands



Thursday morning and as I open the door to let the sun shine in I find two bags of tea hanging on the handle (drinking tea from a bag is normal in Asia because you can buy it and hang it from the handlebars of a bike!). It is still warm and lovely and there is no note so it’s like the tea fairy has been. Later that day I find out it was a gift from one of the Singaporeans who had gone to town to get breakfast and thought it might be nice to bring us back tea…IFLM now as well. Today we are going to climb Gurung Brinchang. A nearby 6500ft mountain 10km away which we reach by bus. As we get off the bus at the start of trail to the mountain we are shocked to see a guy called Jamie who we had met 7 months ago in Laos when we stayed at the same guest house. Consequently we spent several hours slogging up the mountain and catching up. Today’s trail was interesting in that there was more scrambling than the previous trek as the route was more direct and sheer so there were few places where you could actually just walk. Mostly it was stepping up through vines, clambering up muddy inclines and pulling ourselves over fallen branches and tree trunks. At one point Rachel nearly lost her footwear after sinking ankle deep in cloying mud, at another point Jamie’s feeling of vertigo almost stopped him scaling up a vertical bank. But generally we spent the entire time marvelling at the jungle landscape of huge leafs, hanging vines, copious foliage and trees laden with thick green moss. It was a taxing trek but exhilarating. The weather was once again ideal and the views from the summit far reaching over the whole of the highlands. The only thing that spoiled our walk was the fact that there is a service road that leads to the telephone masts and this meant we lost that sense of reaching somewhere remote. The flip side is that the walk down was a pleasant although lengthy (11kms) stroll. Luckily shortened by a kind couple in a car who picked us up after we had covered about 5km.

 
 
 


At the bottom of the mountain we part ways with Jamie who we meet up with later for dinner and go to a nearby bee farm. The farm has about 50 hives set in gardens with some exquisite flowers – trumpet flowers, giant hibiscus, canna lilies and many others we cannot name. We finish off by buying and eating a lump of honey comb dripping with deliciously sweet honey.

 

Friday…. Apart from another beverage in a bag offering we have done little today apart from read, sunbathe and chat. Krish told us about the ten incarnations of Brahma and various other deities then ran us into town and treated us to lunch. Very nice! Tried to skype peeps but the connections are appallingly slow and patchy – very surprising for such a technologically up there country. Came back to guest house had a few rum and cokes and beers with Marco and Sonny (really nice, interesting men)and some other Malaysian lads who are staying and who partied all night so not a great night’s sleep.

 


Saturday. Tea but no Singaporeans. They have left already to go back and there last kind gesture was a final bag of tea. Pity would have liked to say goodbye. Climbed yet another mountain. This one only 5800ft above sea level. This was a lovely path. Minimal scrambling and with lots of walking along trails which were not too steep. We reached the summit and took in a fabulous 360 view with the sun beating down on us. Couldn’t initially find a through route into the jungle to go down the other side. We had been told this was the case but refused to believe it. Luckily, perseverance paid off because after following a few blind tracks and scrambling up a sand bank we found the route. Pretty much overgrown in places but really nice taking us past some great views and moss covered trees. As the path became more obscure we decided to eventually clamber down a long muddy slope holding onto vines to get to a discussed road we could see. The road, we found, was slipping into a deep sided valley here and there and being reclaimed by the fecund jungle consequently slabs of it were missing and vines and leaves were laying on the crumbling tarmac. Weird walking down a long traffic free and silent road that seemed  to be reverting to nature. Felt a little post-apocalyptic. Found a bright green snake and just before reaching the outskirts of the town, 5 hours after leaving, watched the progress of a huge civil engineering project, with tractors and rollers and diggers all beavering away from the precipice of the crumbling road. We get home just in time to catch 15 minutes rest before having to get ready for an Indian marriage meal we have been invited to by Krish who is the uncle of the bride.

 

The meal attended by about 300 to 400 people is in a large hotel out in the countryside. We arrive on our own and have to traverse a tunnel of welcoming relatives of the bride and groom all of whom have no idea who we are. It was really pretty strange and embarrassing and we must have shook hands with about 40 people before we spot Krish and his wife Jane and are then taken out of the introduction loop and handed over to a relative of his to be looked after. The meal is held in a large room with dozens of large round circular tables covered in plain white tablecloths and filled with the friends and family who have arrived. The women in brightly coloured saris’s. The men generally much more casual although some of these come is wild psychedelic colours too. The meal is a curry buffet affair and being the curiosity token whites we are encouraged to push into the endless queue. We eat and are entertained by wild drumming, Indian style singing, Bollywood acting and choreographed dancing by the family teenagers who are all excited and brimming with energy. We only stay a couple of hours but were thrilled to be invited. We hitch a lift home with a couple of departing guests. Back at our guest house the Malaysian boys are partying  and do so until 5am when they are eventually quietened by the owner and the noise is replaced by the towns Iman calling out from his minaret..Arrghhhh!

 


Sunday. Sleep til ten, get up, call the Malaysian group “Arseholes”, go for breakfast in town and return at 12 to find they have been kicked out and we are once again the only guests. Rachel has a bath and whilst looking up through the plastic sheeting that is beneath the reed roof sees a  2ft long snake slithering by. Today is scheduled to be a reading, sunbathing and do nothing much sort of day in preparation for 4 days in the Taman Negara rainforest national park. Its supposed to rain but once again is beautiful.

 

 


Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Cameron Highlands,Central Malaysia



Joy of joys. The road from Ipoh to the Cameron highlands winds up through green jungle valleys with brown and white crags standing proud of the trees and steep drops falling away from the road. Soon there acres of poly tunnels growing strawberries and lettuce and flowers. A common sight in many highland communities the world over.  Each group of tunnels is perched on any available piece of flat ground which, from a distance, gives the impression of there being hundreds of little lakes upon valley slopes. Still further up and we start to hit the terraced and rolling tea fields that make the Cameron highlands famous. The town is small with a little High Street lined with cafes, tour operators and convenience stores.  Again like most high up places there is a buzz, a feeling of hope brought about by the cleaner, cooler air and with the sun shining down on us it bodes well for our stay. We are picked up at the station by Krish – A Malaysia born man of Indian descent, the owner of De’Native guest house. A very friendly, charismatic and interesting man who gave up the corporate life of the town’s bank manager 7 months previously to follow his dream.
 
We follow a steep single road out of the little town of Tanah Rata to his secluded property 5 mins drive away. There we see and instantly fall in love with our reed hut (one of 5) that sits overlooking the valley with a small garden with chairs to sit on. Although small about 9ft x 7 with bathroom extension it is well made with solid walls covered with reed matting, a scruffy rush roof and comfy bed. It’s perfect. Whilst the accommodation is somewhat small and basic, the concrete floored bathroom has a claw footed roll topped capacious bath and can be filled with lashings of lovely piping hot water in the cool evenings. Rachel had her first bath for over a year – And it was about time!

 
 


Krish turns out to be the perfect host - welcoming, helpful, funny and generous. Before we have barely unpacked he is plying us with drinks on the terrace along with a detective friend of his. I think that between him, the hut and the surroundings that we might be here for a few days.

Here’s a funny thing… There is a puppy called Native at the guesthouse. He is the pride and joy of Krish who tells us that he only speaks to Native in English and not his own language of Tamil. He adds he is having real problems with his employee Ram (the sort of handyman, helper at the guesthouse) because “this 65 year old fellow keeps talking to the dog in Tamil and it is confusing him”. Consequently poor Ram is having to learn English in order to talk to the dog!!!!

The night drops quickly at about 7.20 here and with it the minimal noise that reaches the huts from the road below. By 9.30 all we can hear is the rustling of critters in the rush roof overhead, tree frogs calling to one another, and the insect hum that forms a backdrop to everything.

 

Today we walked, climbed, scrambled and trekked along jungle paths that lead out from the town. The town is at about 4,100ft above sea level but over the next 5 hours we covered 7km or so and reached the peak of Gunung Berembun at 6,050ft. In terms of height and distance this may not seem too much but the going was hard following first, rocky paths, then trails covered with roots, scrambling up sandy banks, and limestone outcrops, clambering over fallen trees and pushing through foliage. The whole time the landscape dropping down into crevises that needed
 
 
 descending and ascending.  It was a real adventure. In the 5 hours we passed two other little groups of people. A welcome event as we could mutually assure one another that we were going the right way. The whole time we were surrounded by nothing but jungle sounds of rustling of leaves in the light breeze, the sound of cicadas and bird call and sunlight shafting through the canopy above. A truly brilliant day!

 

Blimey heck! Another brilliant day. Woke up and went to the main house to get Rachel and I a cup of tea. It was all locked up with two bewildered looking Singaporeans sitting outside wondering what was happening to their room booking and who was in charge. I walked around, tried a few doors then called Krish (the owner) on his mobile to tell him Sonny and Marco (the Singaporeans) had arrived and wanted to get into their room, that I wanted to get into the house and that his man Ram was not there. Sadly he had been drinking the night before so was a little dozy and told me they (I assumed the Singaporeans) were in Room two, that it was open and that he would be there soon. Sure enough it was open so went in to check it was tidy and found a half naked woman on the bed. She screamed, I jumped and quickly left. Krish, it turned out later, had thought I was asking what room some other guests called Sophia (the screamer) and her boyfriend Marco were in!  Anyway he arrives and can’t get in to his own guest house because he hasn’t got the keys - Ram has. So, because, according to him, I am 4 years younger and therefore fitter than him, I have to climb through a window and open the place from the inside. Even weirder, a little later when we are going out and Krish has gone off somewhere again, the Singaporeans try to give their keys to me and I have to go around and lock the place up before we leave.

Because of the big walk yesterday we decide to go to a tea plantation and to make it even more exciting we decide to hitch the 12kms. Last time we hitched I was 17 and Rachel 15 so we are very excited. We tentatively stick out our thumbs and 7 cars go past before a nice Chinese lady stops and we jump in the back of her pick up for a 4 km ride before she turns off. I cannot tell you how cool this feels – the sun is shining, the scenery is stunning and we are hitching in the Malaysian highlands and sitting in the open back of pickup whizzing along the road with the warm wind in our hair. Next, again really quickly, an old Chinese couple pull up in their beat up landrover and take us a further 3kms before they too have to turn off. They speak no English so it’s mainly a case of pointing and smiling. Next an Indian man pulls over and he asks the lady to get in the back and the “gentleymen to be getting in the front”. Unbeknown to us the turning we want is only a couple of hundred metres up the road so no sooner do we get in but we have to rather embarrassingly get out.


Finally, after walking for only 10 minutes along the plantation road our last lift picks us up in another pick up and we are hurled around in the back until he drops us a short stroll from the entrance. All in all a very exciting and positive start to what might well become a new way for us to travel in the future.

 

The plantation is beautiful with undulating slopes throughout all covered with stunted tea bushes all planted close to one another with minimal space between the haphazard lines so a field of tea looks like the surface of broccoli. The intriguing configuration goes on and on for 12,000 acres and can be seen on almost vertical slopes and over slow rolling fields. All shades of green mixing together, dependent on the age of the leaf - light green shoots topping darker older leaves and all against the backdrop of the blue, blue sky. It is stunning and every turn in the landscape shows us a new and wonderful view. We have tea (naturally) with a scone and jam on a sky terrace that overhangs the fields and provides the most perfect setting. Finally we start our way home and since not many cars are on the plantation road have to walk (no hardship to do is such a setting) for about 20 minutes before we are picked up and brought all the way back to town, where upon the kind Malay man waves goodbye and heads back to where he lives some 5 kms up the Road.

 

And now. On this Wednesday afternoon at 4.00pm we sit on wicker chairs in the garden of the guesthouse, The Thievery Corporation plays quietly in the background whilst we lay back reading, eating apples, sipping iced tea and feeling the delicious warmth of the sun on our skin. Rachel laughs, I look up and question’ what’s funny’, “nothing, I am just so happy that it just bubbled over and had to come out somewhere”. Is it any wonder I love her so very much!!!!!

Just coz it made us laugh...Can't imagine why!

Ipoh



Our lodging in this, Malaysia’s third biggest town, is a pitiful little guesthouse tucked away down a side street and which, without doubt, must be one of the worst, shabbiest and shittest in the city. When conceived in 1964 it was no doubt contemporary accommodation. However, 50 years later, it is probably in need of a spruce up and a bit of a clean. The walk from the small overfilled foyer led us up Spartan stairs with dust drifts in the corners of the risers, past an ancient fire extinguisher whose only real purpose could be to prop open a door , past the landing with dismantled bed frame, old mattress and rusting tubular chairs, past a second with an 8ft long 70’s stereo system piled with old newspapers and a dilapidated filing cabinet, down the stark, fluorescent lit corridor to a beige paint splattered door of room 26. It is the sort of door that you take an intake of breath before you open it. And good that we did, as once Rachel had finished floundering in the dark interior with an array of bakerlite switches and sockets on the wall we presented with a truly breathtaking view

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


A lumpy double bed with more springs than padding shoved tight against one wall. A gaudy, chipped, laminated hardback chair and coffee table. A knackered old dresser with the remnants of old scraps of newspaper adhering to the graffiti covered surface and, standing in the corner, a  small square and relatively new (20 years old, maybe) tv perched upon a wooden cabinet thick with dust with a door that hung loosely on one hinge. The walls were an institutional blue with peeling paint poorly repaired and daubed with dubious stains of brown and white. The curtains – a pastiche of orangey brown lines in a decidedly 60’s styled material hung in frayed, moth eaten tatters in front of a dusty slatted window looking out into a dingy alleyway. Luckily we had opted for a private bathroom rather than the horror of what can be found in a shared bathing option. Consequently the fag end in the grey stained toilet pan, the dripping taps, the browned ceiling tiles, grubby shelving and blanket pinned to cover half the window was all ours.

 

Rachels first words, delivered with a huge smile …. “Fabulous!” followed by “I think I fucked up”. That said, we stayed two nights. Some madness took us over. The sense of stoicism and adventure making us accept the unacceptable. And why? Because this is the story – a story that isn’t told by staying in sanitised hotel rooms where you over tip someone for carrying your bags a few yards and show you how to work an aircon. The story, the adventure, is only experienced by sometimes accepting differences and, by doing so, putting yourself outside the normal parameters of existence. This situation, although far from ideal, was something that we both understood could be laughed about later. OK the room was shit – and, in fact, whilst I am typing this, still awake, on the second night at 4.30am because the hotel is situated between three karaoke bars and what seems to be a race track for boys with suped up cars that shitness is even more apparent. This is however all somewhat irrelevant because the owner of the hotel was a charismatic old Chinese fella who was captivating, open-hearted and, when we arrived, immdeitatey took us on a car tour of the highlights of the city and then to the best hawker stands in town for sate, oriental biscuits rolls and chinese tea. Even buying us some cake as a going away present when we left.

 

People – travelling is so much about people. Even arriving at the hotel was exceptional in that rather than take the taxi from the out of town coach park we opted for the local bus. As we got on the driver asked Rachel where we were going. She said the old town terminal. He then asked which hotel and after a brief discussion with other passengers to establish where it was  said once he had dropped the other people off he would take us there. Good to his word we arrive at our hotel door courtesy of the bus company in a 44 seat single decker 13km from where we set off for the princely sum of 35p each.

 

Ipoh itself is fairly unexceptional. An old part and a new part with one or two lovely old colonial looking buildings and a fine green with cricket playing locals. The two exceptional things are the train station which the locals call the taj mahal because of the domed roof, porticoes and doric columns – At night the locals congregate here to enjoy the newly installed fountain park. Set in front of the station, on a wide plaza, are a series of fountains which perform displays whilst illuminated with pretty lighting. There are a few stalls littered around to sell bubble guns and refreshments and the night we were there a street performance group of drummers to entertain people whilst kids can either watch the displays with the parents or run in and out of the smaller water jets sited about the place. A further attraction is a night walk along the river which is dotted with illuminated trees and restaurants. Again a place of families and gentle community enjoyment. Fight back England. There were no rowdy teenagers laying claim to it at the exclusion of all others! No need for booze to fuel congeniality. No bouncers or patrolling police. It saddens me so much that social life in England is so far removed. Anyway that’s about it for Ipoh. We were only here a day and two evenings but we walked and ate and enjoyed ourselves and even avoided to go the night market which goes on till 12.00 midnight – and guess where it is? Outside our hotel.

 

Next stop the Cameron Highlands and hopefully a bit more quiet and a lot more comfort.

 

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Languishing in Langkawi



Think of Lombok, Bali, Langkawi and you immediately think of a profusion of green, a whole range of blue and turquoise and a uniform golden yellow. What doesn't spring to mind is every variant of grey, wind and rain. Sadly that's what we got on this lovely island. We feel moist - and not in good way! We have been here 4 or 5 days - the rain has blurred time so am not sure.


 

So far we have had maybe 6 hours of sun at most. When it happened it was amazing. Mist rising off everything, leaves glinting, huge puddles reflecting the blue sky and warmth seeping through our bodies. We quickly hired a bike and set off on the picture perfect, winding roads along the coast and into the hills to bathe at the seven wells, a series of pools sitting in a clear mountain river that cascades over rocks before dropping over the edge of a precipice and tumbling a few hundred feet to the valley floor. An hour later we go to a


waterfall proper. The waters swollen because of the rain fly over the ledge some 200 metres above our heads and drop in huge noisy white torrent. Both Rachel and I recall being amazed how, on our respective first balloon flights, that once the balloon is in the air, that there is no sense of the wind that you experience when on the ground. Logical really because you are travelling at the same wind speed. Similarly it was not until we were in the sheer sided valley and standing in front of the falls that we appreciated that that same wind is made through transferrance of energy from one medium to another. In this case the water dropping 200 metres into a pool - the result being almost gale like force of wind emanating from the falls.


There is a cable car here that can take you (should you care to pay the entry fee) up to the highest point in the island. There are mangrove trips in canoes, helicopter trips, paragliding in a buggy, zip lines and all the usual suspects for tourists. Sadly, travellers are not tourists (especially those on extended trips) so we have to accept that we can't do everything. That said the scenery around the island give us more than enough pleasure as we trundle around the roads and villages. We end our afternoon of sun on the beach with a bottle of rum and a lovely sunset. This stuff makes you feel good and it was so cool to just sit and be.


We are still on the island for one more day due to the fullness of escape routes so may well be spending another day reading on our balcony or sleeping or, if something interesting crops up, adding more to this blog. I am sad that the weather didn't play fair here but even so it has left us feeling fond of the place and certainly a location we could live in the future.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Penang



The melting pot that is Penang. We travelled first class sleeper from KL on yet another overnight train.....oh how we love those trains?!! then a short hop on the early morning ferry to Georgetown. Arriving at 6.30 in the morning we thought, no problem everything will be stirring and we can knock on a few doors and find a room. but oh no. 

 
 
Georgetown at 6.30am was quieter than Colchester town at this time on a Monday morning. We rattled on several doors only to be told "no room at the inn" and were starting to feel like Mary and Joseph except with no donkey and backpacks that were starting to get heavy. anyway, eventually we found a mediocre hotel with fairly comfy beds, hard pillows (so glad we kept our own soft ones) our own bathroom, hot water and air con. The air con was controlled in a most ingenious way....by sliding two bits of board across the vents! All of this was more than made up for by being on the tenth floor and having a fantastic view over the city. see the movie for the wake up calls we got too!

We explored Georgetown mostly on foot for several days. The streets are narrow and lined with the most beautiful houses/shops/restaurants filling colonial style buildings with shuttered windows and mouldy, flaking paintwork. Everywhere looks like something out of a movie set but these streets are how they really live. The government here have actively


encouraged street art and there are some fabulous sculptures and artwork that combine the architecture or a bike lent against a crumbling wall into the art. quite cool. there is of course a Chinatown and a Little India and the shopping district and in amongst all this there are scattered Mosques, Hindu temples and Chinese clan temples. all of which can be found in the same street next to each other. Almost every other place is a restaurant or a street hawker selling any type of food you can think of. Indian, Chinese, Malay, Korean, Japanese, Arabian and good old western fayre.


We visited Pinang Peranakan Mansion, which is a restored mansion that belonged to a Baba-Nonya merchant. (I know, I had to look it up too) they are of Chinese descent and would have been wealthy traders in something! is that enough info? anyway, this place was done out in the most amazing elaborate Chinese furniture with mother of pearl inlay and delicately carved doors and screens, windows filled with images of coloured glass and fancy chandeliers lighting each room. The central atrium was two storeys high and was open at the top to the weather but carefully designed so that water would only flow down and through the slats in the floor. it was pretty impressive.


Something else that was impressive was Penang Hill. 800 metres above sea level and no hard slog up the hill for us. We rather lazily sat in a funicular train and let it take us up to see some spectacular scenery. We could see across to the main land and both of the Penang bridges. The second is 24km and is due to be opened at the end of this month. We walked from the train to Tiger Hill, a couple of kilometres further, which is like walking through an English country village. the weather is just perfect and on the green slopes are dotted huge Tudor style cottages with massive gardens and great long drives. Apparently the wealthy merchants from Georgetown used to have homes here to escape the heat  of the city and this is now becoming popular again. You would need to be seriously wealthy though as these places are proper millionaire row.


Another interesting area of Georgetown is the Clan Jetties. These are whole communities that live in stilted houses over the water. Each Jetty would have been for a separate Chinese Clan though not sure if that's still the case. you walk along the boardwalk and past the front doors and can peek in to the living areas. There is minimal furniture but almost always a tv on.


Just one final thought. We are a long, long way from home.. Next stop Langkawi.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Pyay

 


Another day another journey, or journey’s. Hsipaw to to Mandalay in a coach 4.5 hours starting at 5.00am. 4 hours on a hot day in a bus park cafe being frustrated by dial up internet speeds then 14 hours on a coach to here. Our arses are sore and are ears bleeding. The appalling Burmese operetta that lasted 3 hours followed by dreadful, screeching, purile comedy that needed a drum roll on every punch line to help the audience identify it as a punchline was played at such high volume that even with earplugs in we could still hear everything clearly. Asking to turn it down had little effect as the Burmese, it seems, like it loud and the noise levels gradually increased again. It wasn’t until 5.5 hours into the journey that it was turned off!!! Arrrghhhh! Anyway arrive at 4.00am and hire two trishaw bikes to take us to a couple of hotels (so much for a guilt trip on the previous one). The first hotel, owned by a man we had woken by pounding on his door had bulging, sleepy eyes, a saliva trail on his fat chin that was covered with wispy hair, a big belly that, along with his crotch, was frequently scratched and a noticeable body odour was rejected due to cost, d├ęcor, single room occupancy for two people being unacceptable, smell, warren like layout, dirt, mattress condition and numerous other factors. Hotel two, apart from looking like the hotel in the Shining in the corridors was

 
 
fine and we hit the sack for a few hours before breakfast. Later we climbed the small hill on which a magnificent stupor was situated and looked at the great 360 degree vista which included the Ayerwaddy river, the town, jungle and a 10 storey
 
 
 high Buddha rising out of the treeline. It’s a lazy day today and Pyay provides just enough for that to happen. We sit under tarpaulin on broken down seats on the


muddy bank of the river and sup a few cups of tea, enjoy our 2nd only beer in Myanmar then a light, late lunch before getting back to our room just ahead of a tropical downpour. On way saw the tragic results of what can happen if you bolt down a banana.

 

 
 

And that’s it for Burma. Tomorrow a bus to Yangon then fly out to KL and off to explore Malaysia for a month or so. In conclusion. Burma is a wonderful place. We read somewhere that the amount of tourists visiting Myanmar last year was 300,000. It will have gone up this year but even so, in the three and a half weeks we have been here we have seen less than a hundred foreigners so consider ourselves so lucky to have visited whilst tourism and all its inherent effects have yet to change these delightful people. Virtually everywhere we have been well received, openly welcomed (shouted hello’s and welcomes from passing motorists, waves and greetings in the streets, smiles and struck up conversations the whole time). The idiosyncrasies of the country have charmed us. Just a few being tasselled curtains on the television in coaches and on their windows, tiny children clinging on to parents on the back of motorbikes, twigs in a can serving as a road block, no western restaurant chains, no push chairs, naked children running down the streets or groups of men in tea houses, farming everywhere they can squeeze a maize plant or banana tree between the lush vegetation, the longi worn widely by men, women and children, pigs with straight tails and the fact that a hotel will sent a boy out on a bike to follow guests to make sure they don’t get lost and tiffin box takeaways where people turn up with their little silver stack of cans that get filled with food or the plastic bags full of tea to be hung from the motorbike handlebar. We have revelled in the landscapes of rolling hills, mountains, and luminescent rice fields for as far as the eye can see. Green, so much green, that the eye is immediately drawn to anything else. I both urge our friends to visit this land and discourage them as we don’t want it to change. But if you do remember that if you do come the Road to Mandalay only leads to the one place not that worth seeing.

 

 

Hsipaw

 


Tucked in the hills some six hours from Pynn Oo Lwin is Hsipaw. A little dusty town with dirt track roads, muddy paths and a few scattered tea houses.  We get here by train (again) except this time the ride is incredibly beautiful. Swathes of luminous green rice, tiered down steep inclines, fields of maize and sunflowers, banana groves, bamboo forests and general proliferation of …. Green everywhere. Highlight of the journey was the Goktiek viaduct.


Once the biggest viaduct in Asia this steel structure spans a deep sheer sided crease in the landscape. The train has to crawl across which allows plenty of time to appreciate the height and potential drop. Something that the bridge painters took no notice of working hundreds of feet above the ground with no ropes or safety


harnesses. They even managed to let go to wave! We are travelling in the Upper Class carriage again and, apart from this one being a little tired, it is actually pretty cool. The seats are wide and comfortable with airline style tables that fold out of the arm rest. The best thing, however, is that they are all mounted on a pivot so can swing round to look out of the window. The toilets on the trains are universally a different matter altogether. They are the usual hole in the ground (this particular hole looking down onto the tracks) with two porcelain foot plates to stand on. On this particular train there was no light and only a small air vent to give any illumination on matters. Upon entering the small cubicle one has to stand with one foot on a footplate, do a pirouette and bring the other foot down on the opposing plate in order to be facing the door and consequently the right direction for squatting. Rachel will have done this manoeuvre a thousand times in the past but a combination of darkness and excessive swaying of the carriage meant that her foot placement after the pirouette was misjudged and she jammed her foot down into the toilet. She then tried to draw her foot out but the back of her footwear acted much like a fish hook and she couldn’t pull it out without losing her brand new flop which would fall onto the tracks. The swaying was causing her some concern about possibility of  breaking her leg and so the only option was to then squat down upon one haunch and whilst balanced on one leg and supporting herself with one arm to then reach across her body and thrust her free hand into the shit splattered pan, grab hold of her now shit encrusted flip flop then raise herself once more into a standing position which, for safety sake, meant then having to put her bare foot on the piss covered footplate – apparently the whole time also concerned about her Gucci sunglasses falling off the top of her head. She returned to her seat some ten minutes after leaving to have a wee drenched in sweat with one leg, one arm and hand dripping water after having washed most of the dubious looking stains away… Only Rachel!!??

 
 
 


On this and other rail  journeys here I notice that train sidings are not particularly cared for by Myanmar Rail and consequently foliage grows so close to the tracks that when trains go along huge quantities of leaves and twigs get severed by the open windows and enter the carriage. Its like sitting in an armchair on the wrong side of a strimmer – comfortable but dangerous

Anyway. Enough about the train. We are here to see a little more of the country and maybe go on a trek. However, our first night was spent in a tiny room with foam mattresses which enveloped rather than supported our backs. Whilst I had taken a knock out anti histamine due to the flying foliage mentioned earlier Rachel had not and had a hot and uncomfortable night. First thing we asked to change our room but soon discovered that none of the successively higher price bracketed rooms had anything different to offer. Their super deluxe rooms did have mattresses but also were 2.5 times more expensive. We went in search of alternatives, found one and returned to the hotel. Telling them that the staff and everything about the hotel was great but we needed to sleep so had to go. The manager then came out and said the staff had spoken to her about how nice we were and so they gave us the best room for the same price. Brilliant. Even more so because we have been able to enjoy our palacial surroundings as it has rained all day and the streets are flooded from the overflowing draining ditches. We did start off on a short walk using a hand drawn map which should have led us through a stilted village, along a river, through a paddy field and eventually after an hour or so brought us to a hot spring where we intended to go swimming and read our books. We took a wrong turn in the village and after wandering around in a mainly submerged paddy field for 30 minutes realised we had gone wrong. We retraced our steps and checked our directions with a local. Once more we set off this time following the correct path which, once it started to rain, became dotted with puddles, that then joined and became a shallow stream. We persevered and hoped for ever higher ground to help our soggy cause. It was spied and we darted on only to find ourselves ankle deep in sewage and refuse being swarmed by flies and drenched by ever increasing rain. My reaction to run for it and in several bounds I was clear. Rachel however, was frozen to the spot, wildly batting flies with her open brolley and flailing hands whilst dry retching at the stink. I shouldn’t laugh but seeing her then make a strange open legged run whilst continuing to swat, scream and retch made me double over. Luckilly once she had controlled her gag reflex she too saw the funny side. We continued in the gradually worsening conditions for a few more minutes before Rachel convinced me of the absurdity of it all. We resigned ourselves and waded back through the paddy field to return home the same route as previously rather than risk the shit pile again.

 

A little later, after showering we went and sat for a couple of hours in a roadside tea house and watched the world of wet provincial Burma pass us by… A water buffalo draw cart with the driver wearing traditional clothes,  a tractor with 5 boys stripped to the waist with rolled up Lungi sitting in the trailer laughing at the downpour, streams of water running down the road with lorries and motorcycles splashing through, motorbikes and bikes driven by people wearing flowing water capes and holding umbrellas, water pouring off sagging tarpaulin, wet wild hair being pushed from dripping wet faces as locals run for cover. This wet world is really quite wonderful when one has time to watch.

 


Final day and we amble out to the outskirts of the town to find an area called little Bagan. Its just a rather grandiose name for a small collection of stupors of various decreptitude. However, what a pleasant time was had poking around in the lanes between houses, finding little gems of beauty such as a flowing lotus’s in pond surrounded by Banana plants, a multitude of different butterflies darting around the hedgerows, or just a tumbledown shack crawling with vines and being reclaimed by nature. Hsipaw has a quality of its own that at first is not seen. It takes a little time to see whats here because much is just the mundane – people shopping, working, lounging, farming etc. But that’s the thing that makes this place really charming. This all just goes on around you and tomorrow, when we are gone, it will simply continue.

Weird Shit

Man U vs Liverpool. I am not a football fan but this must undoubtedly be one of the biggest matches in the world since both teams are supported widely in every country. Sunday night 8.00pm and the tea houses are packed with hoards of opposing fans. You can sense the excitement – not because of the gesturing and shouting but because no one makes a sound and the tea is flowing freely. There must have been a hundred men in the tea room whilst we ate our dinner and we did not even have to raise our voices – in fact we felt obliged to quieten them. It was a strange but compelling thing to witness. Especially since several of the Burmese had donned their team colours to come and quietly will their teams on!