Melaka

Melaka Square

Melaka is a quiet town, we realised that from arriving at the bus station, not a lot around from the start. Checking in to the hotel, we headed out for a wander around the city to get some bearings. As this was a Dutch colony, the influence over the buildings is clearly visible, windmills and Dutch looking decor can be seen around the main areas of the town.

CendolBeing thirty as hell, we stopped to try this local “drink”, which came in a bowl and was made from coconut milk, red beans, brown sugar and something I just don’t quite know, it was disgusting, back to the Coke Zero for me.

A large replica Dutch boat sits down the road from the hotel, we went down for a visit and quickly wished we didn’t bother, it was a bit pish, the inside was a museum and really dull. Next up we decided to see the city, myself Adam, Hugh and Debbie hired bikes and went a cycling. New levels of sweating were discovered that afternoon, the midday sun, a high level of humidity and exercise is an intresting mix for sure. A good laugh we had, the traffic in Melaka is calmer than other parts of Malaysia so the roads can be negotiated by cyclists, but four lanes of traffic is still daunting at times, we make it around but after a few hours retired back to the hotel for food and hit the rooftop jacuzzi for some much needed relaxation.

Time to hit the road and negotiate the Malaysian / Singapore border.

Kuala Lumpur

KL Twin Towers

Leaving the cooler hills of the highlands, we made our way to Kuala Lumpur, back to the heat and sweat. First stop was a wander around to “Times Square”, which we discovered was a large shopping mall, nothing like the New York equivalent. The evening was spent in the China Town area, looking though the various stalls. It was noted that you really had to haggle, but prices would drop from their initial high figure without too much effort. I struggled to find any clothes I liked, the fakes were a bit horrible when compared to what I saw in Thailand. As per most nights, we headed to the bar and finished in the small hours of the morning.

A really early start the next day was avoided, four of the group went to queue for tickets to the KL twin tower, tickets are free but you need to be there around 7am to get in line. I couldn’t make it out of bed so skipped it and we all joined up at the KL communication tower, similar looking to the London BT tower, nice views over the city and a reasonably intresting audio/video tour.

Big Buda at the Batu CavesIn the afternoon whilst looking for taxis we stumbled across the correct bus and made our way to the Batu Caves, not really sure what to expect bar a 270 step climb into the caves and another budda.

Approaching the area it was clearly worth the trip, the budda was enormous, the climb was fun and the temple are inside worth a gander, more monkeys were on the prowl for food, bags were closely guarded!

That evening, we had a superb western meal, everyone thoroughly enjoyed it but noticed that the prices of Alcohol have been creeping up as we get further south, Malaysia has a horrible 40% alcohol tax. To save cash we all had a little hotel room party (my room was chosen before I even knew it) and then headed to the beach club.

Standing with Hugh having our first drink, it became quickly apparent that there was a lot of “working” ladies in this club, just sitting in a row watching us…. Best not to hang around on your own near the bar me thinks. Turned out to be a good night, lots of drinking by all (even though it was overpriced), music was a right bizarre mix of trance, dance, indie, rock and even a blast of the YMCA.

KL, nice city, there wasn’t quite enough time to see it all, but well worth a visit if you are around that area.

Cameron Highlands

Cameron Highlands Tea Fields

Leaving the city for the higher ground of the Cameron Highlands brought a nice drop in temperature, giving us all a chance to cool down a bit. The drive here on the bus was rather slow. A full coach of people and all our backpacks took it’s turn on the engine, not leaving much horsepower left when hitting those steep hills – the fact it felt like we were running on square tires didn’t make sleeping easy, though I did my best…

Out first night, another Indian restaurant (three in a row, result) and then a late late night in the pub, again. In the morning we decided on a half day tour, up to the peak of the hills to catch the view and a small trek though the jungle, not the best idea in flip-flops, mucky feet ahoy.

TJ, Jennie, Hugh, Debbie, Lisa, Adam, Georgina & Me over the Tea fieldsNext stop, the large Malaysian Tea fields, the drive though them made some great scenery. Stopping at the Boh factory, we had a quick tour of the tea making process, some videos on the company (comedy gold in there) and then a visit to the onsite cafe for a superb cup or tea, a scone with jam (though no clotted cream) and a sannie later, we were all well chuffed.

I wasn’t really looking forward to stopping at the Selamat Datang Butterfly Garden, butterfly’s were well down the list of things to see and do here. Our tour guide for the day was a crazy man called Ravi, this man has loads of local knowledge and no fear. Walking around the area, looking at the giant bugs, Ravi was straight into the cages, picking them up and passing them around.

Scorpion DinnerI’m not only keen on picking up insects so passed on most of them, but I just had to pick-up the scorpion. My palms and feet were sweating with fear, every time I went to grab the tail, it would turn around, making me freak out and pull back. Finally with some help from Kit, I got it in the air, photos taken and the hell out of there.

Finished the day with a stop at the strawberry fields, scoffed a lovely strawberry, cream and ice cream Sunday went down a treat and worked off a great excursion, one of the best.

The highlands were good fun, nice guest house we stayed in (almost to ourselves) so we had full use of the lounge for some much need relax time.

Penang

Crossing the Thailand/Malaysia border

This is us departing Thailand, over the border into Malaysia. To break up the journey south, we stopped in at Penang for a couple of nights. Not the biggest city but worth a stop for a day to see some sights.

Walking the city, we caught some of the sights at the harbour and then headed for dinner to an Indian restaurant. Oh my god, I’ve sorely missed a good curry and this turned out to be one of the best, served on a banana leaf and just tasty, loved it so much so some of us returned the night after.

Durian HellSampling the local food has become a speciality of mine; I’ve got a really good digestion and tough stomach so really enjoy buying food from really dodgy street vendors selling some form of meat, so far its all went down very well. Arriving at the hostel in Penang, we saw a sign saying no Durian’s and a picture of what looked like a pineapple. Kit, the super tour guide told us about the local delicacy and how bad it smells, so bad that it will stink out the whole hotel and therefore it’s banned from most indoor places. Guinea pig ready, on the way back from the pub (best time after drinking), I opened the tub and nearly fainted with the stench. It smells like a little box of sewage and seriously disgusting, trying to get past that I scooped some of the gooey texture and tried to eat it. Couple of seconds later, my body was having none of it, returning it to the box. It was passed over to a little man on the street who was delighted to eat it, enjoy! I then visited a shop to buy, mints, deodorant and use their sink (I didn’t ask, they offered!).

Me & Adam tackle the snakeNext day was a visit to the snake farm, we taxied down and went in to see free roaming snakes around the room. Holding a snake for the first time was rather scary, I didn’t like the feeling of the skin staying in place whilst the body retracted in side, once this photo was taken with me and Adam, a couple of seconds later I was out of there… In the middle of the museum area, with tanks of Snakes were little Monkies chained up, they were great to watch, the signs informed that they play rough so stay away, we felt sad for them, for now….

Monkey and babyAfter visiting one of the biggest temples and budda’s so far, we headed to the botanic gardens. Walking in, we were delighted to see free roaming Monkies; with signs around advising they should not be fed at all. Walking up the path with them looming at the sides, things changed. One of them hissed at Lisa, then another one ran for Anne’s plastic bag of souvenirs, jumped on screaming and hissing, she paniced, dropped it as the little buggers legged it with the contents, before coming back for the second bag. It was amazing to see but rather worrying, wouldn’t like a scratch or bite on my leg. The locals dealt with them, stand your ground, wait for them to move on and got the goods back, minus any food. Bring back the chains, little b’stards.

Finally we took the funicular up the hill to get views over city at dusk, it was worth the wait to see the city’s lights come to life whilst sitting in the warmth.

Penang was worth the stop to break a journey, but not a city full of much to see, a couple of days was fine and lots of fun. Next stop, up the hills to the Cameron Highlands.

Koh Pangan

Pre Full Moon Crowd

After a long train journey, we headed in a van down to the ferry port and then boarded the hottest ferry known to man. A three hour sweat fest with a hangover was never going to be fun, adding on another hour when we arrived at the hour in a Jeep though the jungle to get to our side of the island.

Arriving at the hotel, we were amazed at the sight of the gorgeous beach. The huts were literarily two minutes walk from the sand, this was going to be great.

Elephant TrekkingAfter a few too many beers again at the local bar, we decided the next day would be best spent on an all day excursion. First up was an Elephant trek, which in theory sounds good but in reality was just some sorry looking elephants walking around a small track for half an hour, it was worth doing but I wouldn’t see myself there again.

Next up was down to the beach to try snorkelling, two of the group, Adam & TJ, already dive and snorkel, but for most of us it was the first time to get under the water. Wandering through the coral, it took me a few attempts to get the mask working and my breathing calm, but after a few mins I was floating around seeing the amazing fish and coral in front of my eyes, a great experience but dampened by the shallow water and large coral, queue cuts and grazes on everyone’s feet and ankles.

Final stop of the day was a trek to a waterfall, having chatted with some travellers at lunch time about the Palmolive advert with the lady washing her hair in the water had a bunch of sweaty travellers keen to get there. On arrival we were gutted to see a dribble of water down a rock into a dark puddle. Overall a bit of a disappointing excursion for small reasons.

A few days were spent kicking around the beach, playing with kayaks, drinking and going in the water at night. I eventually decided to get a jet ski, couldn’t resist flying around the waters, especially in Thailand where there’s not really any health and safety rules, it was worth while, I was grinning and laughing like a maniac for the whole time.

When I was in Bangkok, I became aware from other travellers that the full moon party on the beach of Koh Pangan was on the 18th, the day we leave. Everyone in the group didn’t want to miss out on the party so we looked at options and decided to do the pre full moon party, the night before.

Body PaintHeading over to the other side of the island, we appreciated how relaxed our beach was, the full moon area was quite like the Spanish party islands, lots of bars, people and music, just what we were here for. The party was outstanding, heading on the beach, getting tattoo’s pained on our bodies (I got my arm done) and drinking from plastic buckets of super toxic red bull and vodka – we had already noticed that the red bull here is rocket fuel, we think it’s mixed with some sort of speed and keeps you awake all night.

Fire Skipping RopeThe party was amazing, fire dancers every few meters dancing away to the music without a care in the world. One big draw for the crowd was the large jumping rope. We were advised to avoid going on it as it’s obviously rather dangerous. Imagine two wooden platforms, two Thai men standing on them with a giant piece of rope coated in lighter fuel and burning away. People take their turns to jump in and skip. After watching it for a few mins I had it figured out, don’t stay in too long or they will speed it up till you fall…. so in I went, terrified on every jump but loved it – and luckily picked a good time as it ran out after a few skips, saving me from making an escape, fantastic. Seriously fantastic night, everyone was disappointed when 3am arrived – we were leaving early the next morning and decided that was a good curfew, could have easily made it to sunrise, especially with those red bulls.

Leaving Koh Pangan was gutting, what an amazing time we had there, it was as close to paradise as I’ve seen and will be going back for sure.

Bangkok Final Days

Wat Arun

Having a full day to explore Bangkok, I decided to skip the malls and head to the Mae Nam Chao Phrayar river. The boats in Bangkok are heavily used as a means to escape the chaos of the city traffic. I headed up the boat, jumping off at a few stops to catch the Wat Arun temple, which looked as impressive close up as it did from the river, huge steps to scale and wander around, seeing the city from up top.

Heading further along the river, I jumped off at the top and found myself in the Banglamphu area of the city, streets here are geared towards the backpacker, many a bar, shop and guest house. The main street was full of markets and made wandering a pleasure, picking up a few extra bits of clothes for next to nothing was a bonus, a few quid for a T-Shirt cannot be argued with. A thunder storm opened up, covering the streets in rain – I used this time to jump in a Tuk Tuk (little strange taxi thing) and ride though it in some form of comfort.

The following day I packed my bag, headed out to find the hostel I’d be starting the tour though Thailand in, asking a few taxi drivers if they knew where it was I quickly realised it was the Banglamphy area I visited the day before, traffic was chaotic but a good friendly driver got me there in just over an hour, checked in to the hotel and I was ready.

Bangkok Garage BarThe first night of our tour was just introductions and out for food and a few drinks, the Garage bar (I think that’s it’s name) was rather funky, a disused petrol station’s forecourt lined with tables and chairs, with bar service – wouldn’t recommend smoking here.

Thailand Floating MarketAn early start to the next day, we had a fair commute ahead. First stop was the floating markets, about an hour outside of the city, jump in a boat and cruise around the market buying tat from other floating boats, quite cool idea, having no need for wooden elephants and the like, we passed on their sales pitches.

Bridge Over River KwaiNext stop on the tour was the Bridge Over the River Kwai, initially a lot smaller than I expected, it was intresting to hear the history of the bridge and the rail road, the thousands who perished due to the horrible conditions they worked in. The next stop, Jeath War Museum featured more on these fatalities and the conditions at the POW camps during the war, not nice but an intresting read.

Thailand TrainHeading on, we finally arrived ready to board the night train, eleven hours on an overnight train in Thailand, was guaranteed to be intresting. A small carry out from the local 7-11 was picked up, we boarded the train and settled in to our beds. The news of a bar further along the train was music to our ears, we headed along and found Frank. Frank was working on the train, a very camp local who made the journey so much more fun, lots of singing, drinking and carry-on till the small hours of the night, mixing with other fellow travellers, a great night was had by all. A 6am start was required, to get off at the right stop, heading to Koh Pangan…

Bangkok

Bangkok's Streets

Asia is great. Tokyo was outstanding, Shanghai a culture shock and Hong Kong right in the middle (bar that hostel). Coming to Bangkok I started to feel a bit bored with Asian cities and wondered if this would be more of the same.

Nope.

Bangkok is superb, arriving at the airport I went out to the airport shuttle bus and was hit by the wall of heat, god damn this place is warm. The bus journey sped though the city, having very little info on where I was going bar “Thong Lor” as the ticket man said, as the bus fired down the road I looked out and assumed I was at the right area, so jumped off the bus. Looking around I saw a sign advertising the hostel, checked the map and realised I was a bit too early. Backpack on – I started wandering down the street and realised Bangkok is crazy. Streets are once again full of mopeds, a bit more sain when compared to Shanghai but still rather mad for a westerner.

The hostel is superb, part of the Hostel International chain (as per my Chicago stay) it’s big, very clean and super friendly. Arriving, checking in and meeting a few guests I had some street food before a few of us hit a local-ish pub for a few pints, we decided to visit the well known side of Bangkok…

We headed to the famous Nana Plaza to see the chaos first hand. After a walk around the area, we picked a safe bar in the middle sat and took in the madness from a safe distance, no real hassle or trouble from the locals so it was a fine night out. No photos, I wasn’t taking my camera with me.. for fear of my life!

Awaking with a hangover, not too many beers but mixed with dehydration doesn’t help, we hit the mall area as it was air conditioned and therefore nice to hangout. Not expecting much, I was blown away by the size of the malls, six floors – bottom floor was an aquarium like deep sea world (skipped), next up was the biggest food mall I’ve ever seen, I’ve since been twice and it’s really damn fine. Floors upon floors of shops, one of them hosts luxury cars including Lamborghini’s and Porsche’s – crazy.

That evening I returned to the hall to catch Indy Jones 4, missing it in OZ, it wasn’t on in Japan (oddly every single other country got it on May 22nd) so therefore Thailand for me. The cinema was awfully comfy, reclining seats, large, comfy and superb. At the end of the trailers and adverts, the audience stand for the king! Can’t see that working in blighty… My experience was tainted by the fact that my sweet popcorn as some bits of the “cheese popcorn” in it, I’ve never tasted anything so disgusting.

Toasted BananaAnd that brings me nicely on to Thailand food – I’m well up for trying new flavours and ingredients, Bangkok’s resdient’s dine on street corners, vendors selling meat from little portable grills, plastic tables and overall stupidly cheap. My first sample was little pork (I think) kebab sticks from a place just along the road, coming with small bag of sauce and other with veg, it was stunning, especially for 46p (for ten!). I’ve had sit down dinners and lunches, but today walking though a market area up norh I sampled the pictured banana’s. Three little banana’s grilled, not very sweet but quite tasty once you adjusted, well worth it (and again… cheap!).

Wat ArunToday I headed to the river, got a day pass for the boats and headed up the Mae Nam Chao Phaya river. The boats are superb fun, jumping on is a hoot, loading and unloading takes around 10-15 seconds, so no time to doodle, you will probably be required to jump on to the boat and off and the ride is quick. I went up the river making many stops, first was un-planned but after seeing it on the horizon, it had to be done:

Seeing the sight of Wat Arun from the river, with people climbing up it, I was sold. I got off the boat, transferred onto a cross river boat and before I knew it, I was climbing step after step. Seriously steep steps which got you to an impressive height within seconds, the view over the area was superb, the climb down, especially in flip-flops was a bit of a challenge but well worth it.

I finished the evening in the Banglampgu area of the city, this seems to be backpacker heaven, loads of stalls selling everything from clothes (I got a T-Shirt for £2.50) and food, mixed with the usual Thailand copied material – I love the fact that they will sell you movies and music downloaded to your own iPod or laptop, skipping out the issue of media… Piracy gone hitech. During my time there, a thunderstorm started, soaking the streets, I jumped in a Tuk Tuk and headed down to the pier, avoiding the weather and enjoying the ride, great fun.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong Island

My last day in Hong Kong was a bit of a mop up day, used the ferry to cross the harbour and went to the post office to get some more clothes shipped home – my bag is still to heavy, now throwing things out as I see fit, no use for most of it now.

As the rain finally passed, it was a better day to walk around so I spent a while going between the museums, The History of Hong Kong museum was surprisingly intresting, really interested in the British to China handover which was featured. After that I skipped over to the space museum, which was a bit dated but fun enough for a wander around.

Out for a sort of traditional dinner and then packed to move on… Thailand.

Hong Kong

Tin Hau Temple

After getting out of the Hostel from hell, I headed over to the Hong Kong Island area – I’m staying in Kowloon which is on the mainland but travel between each area is rather simple. I decided to walk to the harbour and try out the ferry, cheap and a good way to see the city from the Victoria Harbour.

The Island isn’t that different to Kowloon, but has a tram system running around it, on the first day I headed for the hills and up the Peak Tram, a memory I had from my childhood. After staying in Hong Kong on our way to Australia, I recall various things, some long truck toy I had with multiple wheels – and a view master which had a slide show of Hong Kong. As per my Australian childhood memories, I query how much of these came from photos and how much I really remember.

Heading up the tram, which like most of Hong Kong, seriously cheap at £2.14 the ride was great, impressively steep – forced back in to your seat as the tram manages to climb a hill I’m struggle to walk. As it’s been raining since I got here (but still so warm, shorts and t-shirt essential) the skies are overcast, so the view was far from great (try non-existent) worth the trip though, decent little shopping area at the top with some odd Electronic Arts gaming area, it was closed for a birthday party – can’t say I was bothered.

This morning I awoke to the sound of thunder, having a comfy room I didn’t bother to look. Heading down later morning to find out about post offices, I noticed the screens at reception saying “Black Rainstorm” – not a clue what than means but was advised the post offices would be closed not because it was Saturday but due to the rain. Heading outside it was clear that the storm brought a lot of rain, the streets were a mess, the water was gone but shops were flooded out, mud was everywhere and chaos passed though.

Happy Valley RacecourseI headed back over to the central area, via underground and then got a much delayed tram down town towards Happy Valley, this is where I think we stayed in the 80s. The city was still very humid, possibly more than yesterday, not the best time to start walking up the hill but I wanted a good view on set on my way. After half an hour or so I got to a good vantage point and decided there wasn’t much more to see but cloud, a good view of the Happy Valley Racecourse made the trip worth while, I headed back to town (via post office) and though the nearby Kowloon park.

Kowloon park is rather decent – a couple of minutes walk from the hostel, it has a nice outdoor swimming pool, which I’ve still to try (twice I’ve looked at going but it’s either been closing, possibly due to the storm, or closed to the end of a ‘session’), maybe tomorrow. There’s also an jogging route, but I suspect in this humidity I may die of dehydration so skip on that idea for now.

So far, my impressions on Hong Kong are very good – A mix between Tokyo, Shanghai and your typical British City. Tokyo for the neon signs and technology (but no Akihabara), Shanghai as we are in China and there’s mainly Chinese residents. And Britain being an ex-British area, with lots of expats and signs of Britian on the streets. Everything from our usual high streets shops (Body Shop, Lush, Burger King etc) to the street crossing signs and double decker busses.

It’s really quite cheap, not Shanghai cheap but money does stretch far, a typical days food and touring is about £30, without watching your money… all good for the backpacker. I’ve even found some rather good arcades without looking too hard, one finally has Chase HQ 2, which I’ve been looking out for since I started traveling, typically isn’t not as good as I expeceted… oh well.

Another day left here, plenty to see and do…. will keep you all updated…. cheerio.

Hong Kong, Hostel from hell

I arrived at Hong Kong airport, scooted though security, got my bag and with some friendly help got a bus in to the main city area. My hostel was on the Nathan Road which is part of the Tsim Sha Tsui area of the city. I jumped off the bus when the numbers were getting close and was ready for the mayhem.

I used the wonderful HostelWorld website to pick my hostels, very similar to the superb Trip Advisor, you get a list of all the hostels in the designated city and the option to sort by rating. After staying in a hostel, the site asks you to grade it and drop a small review. This has proven essential for arranging my trip, the reviews have been very useful and were very accurate throughout America and Australia, the only hostel I’ve really had an issue with was the Arlington House in Chicago… until now.

Looking though the Hong Kong options, nothing jumped out as a certain – it was more like picking from the best of a bad bunch. I put off booking for ages before settling on the Travellers Friendship Hostel. The reviews weren’t so great but I liked the fact that the owner took time to reply to the comments, explaining that Hong Kong has one of the highest land prices and therefore space is a premium. Other comments all were about the Mirador Mansion – where the hostel is based.

From reading it all, I was ready to deal with folk at the bottom of the mansion trying to trick travellers into their hostels – therefore I would not go anywhere but the 13th floor as the booking advised.

Getting off the bus, I was covered with folk offering hostels and taxis, a firm no and pushing though sorted them out – in my haste to get away (I didn’t want to stand and look lost) I walked away from the entrance, which was right in front and had to loop the block before coming back though. Finding the lift and a friendly operator, I was upbeat about the hostel, location looked good, loads to see and do outside, very handy and probably just a bit small but that’s no big issue.

Getting out on the 13th floor, I saw a desk in the hallway – this would be the “reception”, not a good start. Speaking with the reception lady, I asked about upgrading from a four bed room to a single bed room, it turned out to be only a few pound more so seemed worth while. I paid the bill and was told to follow her college, who would take me to the room.

We got back in the lift, down the 13 floors and left the building…. strange. Walking in to the next door mansion building (again full of shops), we got in another lift and went up 16 floors, then though some weird doors, up more stairs and around to what looked similar to the other building. On the way past I noticed the “bathroom”, a toilet with a sink and head unit…. before getting to the room.

Pardon my French but what a shithole, the bed is rock hard and against the window, that’s half the room taken up. A broken TV is mounted on the wall, there’s no sign of a safe or anywhere to lock any passions…. I’m suddenly very uncomfortable with the thought of spending four nights in this dump.

I picked up my day back, with everything valuable in it – left my rucksack and went down stairs, time to put emergency plan b into operation.

I’ve always said I could have done this trip with carefully selected budget hotels, but doing a lot of the trip on my own – it would be very isolating and boring. I’m so glad I didn’t do that for the previous stops, especially California but now when it’s came to this, I’m very willing to jump ship at the drop of a hat. This hostel lacks basic facilities never mind any form of socialising (I dare ask if there’s a kitchen or a common area room).
Walking around the local area, I noticed a few hostels but based on the reviews I saw before it’s a dead end, so went in to a few hotels and asked for prices. The Kimberley Hotel caught my eye, quite plush and nice looking from the lobby, I got a quote of around £70 a night for the three nights, but wanted to check online. A pop into a nearby Starbucks for Tea and internet, I got it booked after checking the reviews and some other examples on TripAdvisor…. £60 a night, well worth it so far…

So, checked out of this shit hole in the morning – I decided to do one night since it was getting late, got a bit of sleep, the bed was a bit of wood… Got up, very hot shower and everything bit of cloth that came near that room was bagged and took to the laundry woman down the street for a boil wash. No chance of a refund (was only twenty odd quid) my review on trip advisor will make up for that.

Bar that, Hong Kong looks good – it’s very humid here, about 30 degrees but overcast with drizzle. I walked the streets after booking the hostel, went down the night market – counterfeit city, will return there in a day or two I think… and had some kind of Chinese fast food which did the job fine.