Koh Phanang – Koh Tau

Please note, this blog was bent to be posted before the visa run blog.

Day one: Good buy Ko Phanang, hello again Koh Tau! The boat ride was smooth but that didn’t stop some poor lady from throwing up over the side after we left Koh Phanang (Side effects of partying up the night before at the half moon festival I’m guessing).While arriving toward the Koh Tau  loading dock, I could clearly see our local bar with our Australian mate (Andy) sitting on his throne watching the boat come in. Little did he know we were on the boat and back for more adventures (ha ha). With Sara and I as well as all of the other tourist on the dock watching our bags being thrown off the boat and in front of us then trying to sort through the mass heap with everyone (my arse got pinched at this point, by who I’m not sure), it was time to head off to Andy’s…..I mean look for accommodation, then Andys. It was only 2pm after all. Couldn’t help it and went to Andy’s first. Our excuse was that he may be able to help us with finding cheap accommodation. After shaking hands and then him (jokingly) moaning about us being back (Kiwi/Auzzie thing) he was more than happy to point us in the right direction for cheap accommodation. He pointed across the road opposite his bar to a dairy. Turns out the Dairy owner also runs an accommodation place which Just happens to be a 40 second walk to Andy’s bar (Hmm, local conspiracy perhaps). This was going to be in our favor over the next four days as we were in line to run into some more good people and excellent deals. SO, room viewed and approved, backpacks unpacked again, small domestic on who’s got rights to what side of the bed (Sara won), it was time to get some late brunch including dessert. The dessert was eye candying the awesome dirt bikes up for hire around the corner from our place of accommodation and the late brunch was stopping at Andy’s place and having a couple of quiet ones. It was 3pm after all.

Andy's Tattoo Bar, Koh Tau

Andy’s Tattoo Bar, Koh Tau

Two and a half hours later the drunken topic of snorkeling for the following day came up after talking to another one of our friends, Duncan from Master Divers (He spotted us heading into the bar. Master Divers also happens to be across the road from Andy’s), our minds were made up to hire a bike and venture out to various parts of the Island to the coolest snorkeling spots Koh Tau has to offer. “Yeah but you have to take a good scooter to take on some the hills around here.” commented Duncan. Without hesitation and while I was still up right and able to talk reasonably well, I was off on a ten second walk and inquired about hiring a Honda 250cc dirt bike for the next day. All sorted and done. Cost is $500 Thai Baht ($50 Malay Ringgit or $18 NZ Dollars for 24 hours). The catch here is handing over your Passport as deposit. NOTE: Enquire about the place of hire and don’t damage the bike. If you do your looking at paying for damages yourself if you have the time or 40’000+TB if you have the money to get your passport back. ALSO, Don’t be afraid to take photos of the bikes condition before you sign the dotted line. Thankfully we had it in good knowledge that the place we were hiring off were sound and honest. Another beer later and it was actually time to get something to eat and have an early night without stumbling to much to get anywhere. Another beer later we actually did head off to get something to eat.

Day Two: Woke up early (thanks to an earlyish night) to have a shower and get ready to head to the bike hire shop. Arrived there at 0830. Both the owner and I thoroughly went over the bikes condition which was mint. They sure do look after there bikes here. Satisfied with the owner even advising me to take photos, I signed the dotted line and parked the bike up at the front of our accommodation called Safe Bungalow then headed up to our room to wake Sara and spend the day snorkeling . With Sara awake and ready to go with snorkels (and life jacket in hand we borrowed from Master Divers. I can’t float well which will eventually have me discover a new snorkeling technique) we jumped on new big bike and were of to our first beach on the other side of the Island! But first we rode our way to Surri for breakfast then to one of the first of many beaches on our agenda and with our trusty map we were confident we would find it for sure. The roads were steep and went from sealed to dirt to sealed with potholes then sealed but covered with sand, so it was a good result to choose a dirt bike for the day. However, spent so much time navigating our way to the first stop that we actually overshot the turn off and ended up at another beach we were meant to be going to later in the day. Stuff it we said, and navigated our way down the steepest hill on the Island (so I thought). Scooters could get down there with ease but it was going to be a ‘get off and push’ all the way up. Made it to the beach and we were not disapointed! The water was clear and the fish were out in full and with my trusty life jacket I was able to float around and take my time to soak up the views. We spent at least an hour in the ocean before it was time to find the actual beach we were initially suppose to be at. Heading to shore we were greated with a topless beach goer. Blushing and trying not to look (plus I knew Sara was looking at me wondering if I was looking at her) we steered past her and went for a refreshing bottle of water before jumping on our new big bike. Typically we saw a couple trying to make there way up Mt Everist before stopping and letting us pass. I could not help myself and hooned up the hill while hearing the guy on the scooter saying to his lady friend “See, now thats a bike we need!”.

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Mango view point, Koh Tau, Thailand.

Penang 111 Finally found the turn off to the other beach. This is where you can go to see the Reef sharks. Decided to ditch the life jacket so I could dive under and see the giant clams up close as well. We were not dissapointed here either and the Reef sharks were awesome. Just swimming around people and sometimes swimming between their legs. They are not dangerous at all. In fact, the fish that do bite are small and have a type of rainbow colour to them. They just come up, check you out then take a peck at you to see if your real. So after that (and a few rainbow swear words at bitey little fish) we decided to check out the other side of the beach. For some reason while out in the deeper part, I decided to suspend myself in an upright position and start walking around. It worked! I was walking in the ocean and Sara was having a laugh at my expense. She even tried it! We decided to call this new craze ‘Walkeling’. Done and dusted here and laughing at the very little fish following our feet while walking from ocean to land we were once again greeted with another topless beach goer. We decided to call it a day and head home to check out our emails, but not before going for a good hoon on new big bike including going to a view point called Mango to have a beer and enjoy the views! Back at Save Bungalows in the open cafe part (wifi is strongest there) and enjoying the ocean views. From there we went to get something to eat and a few beers for us to enjoy just outside our room. As we did,  one of many female tourists staying at Save Bungalow was walking past our room. “hello!” Sara and I said, and with that she just sat down and started chatting to us like we were old mates, just random We found out her name is Natalie from Austria and we have said hello to each other while passing now and then on random days (kiwi kindness) and was doing her advanced masters dive course here before she has to head home, so her and Sara hit it off straight away. We ended up meeting her American friend Jesse, who is an awesome bloke, and basically spent the night at another bar having a drink with them and sharing stories.

Day three: After our night with Jesse and Natalie, it was time to have a chill out day and catch up on our blog and organize our day for our visa run tomorrow. Jesse spent the morning with us having breakfast – he is very good at speaking Thai – which was handy. He then did his thing while we did our organizing. Natalie was out all morning finishing one of two dives that day to complete her advanced. The day went on and we went snorkeling just out in front of our Bungalow which was ok but a bit shallow and hard to see in some places. As night fell we had some dinner and another beer outside our room when we saw Natalie. She had finished her 2 of 2 dives early and was keen to get on the beers with us. Magic words said, all four of us went out and played pool and had a great night as well as meeting other adventurers on our durnken journey, it was our last night here after all!

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Penang 126Penang 132Day 4: Alas after a great night out and after remembering how I got a bump on the head (walking into the top of the door frame) It was time to pack and head off for our Visa run. Natalie spent the whole morning with us as well as the start of the afternoon but Jesse was nowhere to be found. We were passing like ships in the night apparently so we never got a chance to say good-buy properly. With time nearing (catching the 2.30pm boat back to Champon) and after realizing we were going to be waiting for the night train to come in at 10.30pm )but it actually came in at 11.30pm, see previous post) we were going to be in for a long wait. Final hugs to Natalie with sad good-buys we were on the boat and making our way to Champon, then bused it to the train station where we had something to eat including this lovely rice soup (hot and melt in your mouth) snacks while enjoying Thai tea and watching the live English League soccer. For Sara, this slowed time down tat little bit more but for me I was secretly hoping the train would be late (prayer answered) so I could enjoy another live soccer match, Chelsea Vs Liverpool with Chelsea winning 2 – 0 (WOOHOO!) The train finally arriving, we were on and in bed enjoying a shaky sleep back to Butterworth to sort our visa extension.

Watching Soccer with the locals and other tourists while waiting for night train.

Watching Soccer with the locals and other tourists while waiting for night train.

 

 

 

Tucking in for the night. Night trai

Tucking in for the night. Night train

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Thailand, Visas and Buddhism

We were off to Thailand, goodbye Malaysia (thanks for having us) hello tropical islands, spicy food, Buddhists & cheap beer (this order does not necessarily reflect the importance of each item). We went by train (see previous blog), this seemed like a good idea at the time – as so many of my ideas do. But, crossing by land only gives you a 15 day visa and then you have to cross the border somewhere else to get, you guessed it, another 15 days. If you cross the border by air (fly in) you get 30 days. We didn’t. But we were planning on staying approx 6 or 7 weeks, so no matter whether we came by train, or I flew in on my broomstick, this was never going to compute.

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So basically I f##ked up. Again. But in the immortal words of someone “insert your own quote here”. So anyway we went from Penang to Butterworth to Chumphon to Koh Tao, then to Koh Phanang for something different (like another beautiful tropical island) then back to Koh Tao (to do Visa run to Burma – meant to be easy – wasn’t, never happened), back to Chumphon, back to Butterworth (after holding up the train to process our overstaying by 1 day, 500 Baht each fine) and of course, back to Penang. Hi Malaysia, guess what? We’re back. We thought we’d use this opportunity to stay somewhere different, try some more of the famous dishes (Chocolate Roti) and do some more exploring. One out of three ain’t bad? We went looking for something (never you mind what) and, unusually, got lost. But this did have the happy ending of walking off way too much curry, plus chocolate rotis, from the night before, and finding the two Buddhist temples (1 x Thai, 1 x Burmese), they are fabulous, and I have decided that Buddhism is actually a quite nice religion when you consider the alternatives.

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Not that I have ever considered any of them (except to express utter disbelief), but this just seems sort of sensible, so sensible in fact, I’m surprised it’s a religion. Anyway, I digress (because I’m like that). Temples were beautiful, did lots of unexpected walking, blah, blah, blah. Visas. Why I’m writing this blog. In Georgetown (and I believe Kuala Lumpar and several other places – do your own research) you can get a 60 or 90 day Visa BEFORE you go to Thailand. Duh. For very little cost – 110 Ringgit (1100 Baht) for 60 days – unsure of the 90 days because we didn’t get it. For an extra 30 Ringgit, you can hand your passport to someone else (before 9.00am) and you will get it back at 4.00am that day, ready to go with your 60 day visa. Giving you plenty of time to sightsee (or in our case, get lost – actually ends up being the same thing, except getting lost is sightseeing without an itinerary – think accidental tourist, sounds better). If in Penang, go see Jim. At “Jim’s Place”, yep a lot of thought went into that. He’s hilarious & efficient. Sort of like the perfect employee, or even better, friend.

Jim Tachinamurthy (do not try to pronounce this EVER, luckily he answers to Jim)

Mob: +6016-6536963 (as of now)

Ph: 604-2618731 (as above)

Address: No. 431 Chulia Street (the sign is the size of a postage stamp so keep you eyes open)

Email: blackangel90@hotmail.com (did I mention he’s modest?)

Web: http://jimsplace-penang.com

 

But if I were you, just turn up, you’ll get the same result.  Plug for Jim complete, you can thank me later mate.

Visas done, we’re off to Bangkok tomorrow on the train, but because we booked late (day before) we have top sleepers not bottom – regardless it’s a great way to travel (for me, I’m short, sorry Big J, you’re not). See you in Bangkok.

 

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Island Hopping and scooter runs.

20140422_174725Ko Pha Ngan, here we come! Had a great time on Koh Tao and now it was time to Island hop for a new adventure. After shuffling with the crowd and basically being almost the last lot of people to finally get on, we had no choice but to stay above deck in the hot sun for an hour and 20 minutes as inside seating was already taken and the first class tickets were too expensive. But that was ok as we had a few others with us above deck to keep us company, not that anyone really spoke to each other.So Sara and I hung our feet over the edge on the boat and watched the world go by while getting a tan on. Arriving at Ko Pha Ngan dock we soon realized that being outside was to be in our favor as we were the first ones off and enjoyed watching the rat race continue on the boat as we got our bags. NOTE: When Island hopping in Thailand, make sure you don’t have anything in your backpack that can be broken as the staff offloading the luggage just throw it off the boat….literally. (Take that all you line jumpers haha!). No sooner had we walked 20 metres than we were greeted with people offering accommodation and transportation to anywhere. Sara wasn’t sure about our booking the night before, so we decided to catch a taxi to a place after we were tempted by a lad offering accommodation near where we were booked (or so we thought).  We asked how much the taxi was – 100Baht each. I thought sweet, lead us to our car! Heading towards a very nice looking four wheel drive, i thought ‘what a beast’! As it took off before we got there I thought ‘What the f#$k?’ On the other side of where the 4×4 was were two little scooters. Yep our taxi ended up being a scooter (one each, including luggage). Now you have to picture this, a little 75cc scooter with the taxi rider in the front weighing about 89kg, me at the back weighing about 96kg with a near 20 kilo backpack wedged between the driver and the handlebars, was going to make for an interesting ride on this scooter that you could now not see, as well as a few sideways glances from people. Then I turned and looked at Sara where we both gave each other that ‘Is this for real!’ look, more commonly known as ‘What the!’ look But no, this is pretty much the norm. And it was the fastest way to get to our potentially booked accommodation. The problem is, when we got there we were at the wrong place (lost in translation). The name of the hotel they thought we said led them to a hotel that sounded similar to the one we were suppose to go to which was now 5 kilometers in the opposite direction. We paused in thought for a minute before Sara said to the taxi riders to take us to the Hotel that this nice gentleman offered us at the dock. 100 meters later we were there (hmmmm) but that’s ok as it was right next to a school that had a soccer field which made me very happy, especially when I found out there were locals playing there every evening! Game on! The hotel was real good as well, with two swimming pools, three pool tables, a restaurant, Soccer on TV every evening, and a beach bar. Our room was very cool as well, as it came with it’s own Gecko (large, 40 cm) in the bathroom during the morning and giant flying cockroaches in the evening with the odd giant beetle perched on our front door at night, but no sounds of barking dogs next door going off at all hours of the night with the odd cat fight thrown in every now and then (our experience from our last accommodation in Koh Tao). After settling in and getting our bearings with an actual map we could understand, and after having a swim and meeting two Muay Thai kick boxers (male and female from the west), it was time to hire a scooter of our own and go venturing! Scooter arrived 10 minutes after we asked for it, got a brief on the ins and outs of it and we were off to look for a food stall. We were naturally not disappointed! Found a nice food stall just out of town with the most awesome green Thai curry (hot hot) then went tiki touring around the streets and eventually ran into a food stalls street banquet! We tried as much as we dared (weight loss program thrown out the window that day) until my honey felt a bit funny in the tummy so we went home where I went to play soccer. Sadly Sara could not come due to situations of epic proportions. Thankfully we remembered the pills her doctor gave her before we left for SAE. They are miracle pills, because moments after she took them, after suffering two hours of dread (the fast and the furious), everything stopped and she was back to her normal Sara self! They are called Diamide Relief pills and I recommend them for any traveler coming to SAE. It’s a ‘must have’ in the first aid kit. Come the next day and Sara was much better! So, a swim and a shower before scooting off for breakfast and a bit of sight seeing. Breakfast was great, naturally, and after a bit of organizing we were off to see a part of the island. The ride was a blessing as it helped cool us down with the breeze, but then we started going from a flat run to a hilly run, not just small hills, but long steep hills that our poor scooter could hardly get up without the engine going full tick. It came to the point that our poor scooter was struggling that much that Sara had to get off half way up one hill so we could get the scooter up the top. This included taking a big run up before we took on the hill. (Video of this is on my Facebook Page). ‘Right’ I said, ‘we’re upgrading to a bigger scooter’.  Sara nodded in approval.

Before we did that, I gave Sara her first scooter lesson in which she did well, minus a wobble moment down the hotel’s drive due to a big 4×4 coming in the opposite direction. After that, we proceeded to go to the bike shop to upgrade, and it was bloody worth it!  Much bigger, more room, bigger engine. Bliss. Night was falling so it was time for another game of soccer (won 3 – 1), shower, swim, shower, said ‘see ya later’ to our big beetle friend on our door, then it was off on new bike for dinner and evening sight seeing. The night markets and food stalls are amazing. Then it was another lesson on new scooter for Sara before we parked up for the night to watch ‘Deadwood’. Nek morning was more venturing around as much of the Island as possible. and with new scooter, it was not a problem! Zip zapping up and down bigger hills, racing past other westerners and laughing at their weak and struggling scooters, we were having a great time! The whole day was committed to snorkeling, but each beach we went to was not very good due to the tide being out as well as having no good footwear to walk out over the sharp rocks while trying to avoid all the sea slugs and sea urchins. So we carried on with our scooter venture and saw the Island surroundings which was outstanding.  We spent four nights in Ko Pha Ngan before deciding to head back to Koh Tau for better snorkeling and to sort out our visa run (Crossing the border to extend our stay in Thailand) which involves going back to Penang Georgetown where we were two weeks ago, then heading up to Bangkok for three weeks. To be continued…..

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Koh Tao & Scuba Diving

George Town, Penang was awesome – but it was time to move on. Time to find somewhere that wasn’t a city. Time to find white sand beaches and swim in the beautiful clear waters that Thailand is renowned for. Time to go to Ko Tao. The reason this was our choice is because it is famed for being one of the cheapest places in the world to get your Scuba diving certification, and it’s gorgeous. I had conversations with scuba divers prior to going and they were pretty scathing in their remarks about the quality of training in Koh Tao – likening it to a Driver’s Licence you get out of a Weetbix pack – I didn’t care, I’m a cheapskate, and it was cheap. After a very long day to get there (bus, ferry, train, bus, ferry), 22 hours without much sleep, we arrived at the island. Our room wasn’t ready. We were starving (this is just a figure of speech because if you’ve seen photos of me it’s clear I am not in fact starving) and found a local food stall with Pad Thai, OMG it was sooo good, and hot, and spicy hot. So we sat and ate and sweated. That night, having had bugger all rest and only the one meal, we went to a local bar and got plastered. Not on purpose, but the beer was cheap and strong, the company good (hey Big Jim, Armindo, Richard & King Andy) and all was well until the Tequila shots. Enough said. Woke the next morning with a crushing hangover and half of Thailand’s sand on the floor, covering every surface of the bathroom, and best of all, in the bed. We had also gained a cat, I know this because it was asleep on the bed (if it had been sandy coloured we never would’ve spotted it). My course started at 1.00pm . Oh joy. I drank several gallons of water (I believe there is now a water shortage in Koh Tao), ate a bacon & egg sandwich/roll thingy (best hangover food ever) and headed off to my course. The first session was in the classroom (with free tea, coffee & water – I drank several more gallons), there were three of us, a German couple (hey Lena & Sebastion) and our instructor (Romina – young Swiss lass). Luckily the material is pitched at the level of a 10 year old, so it was easy and I only nodded off once. Next day was skills in the shallow water, the irony of being overweight when scuba diving is that you have to wear more weights than skinny people – this is particularly true of women because we have a higher fat to muscle ratio to start with – suffice to say, once all the gear and weights were on I could hardly walk and climbing out of the ocean back into the boat was one of my biggest challenges of the entire course. The diving was amazing, and once we were down and just chilling along looking at stuff it was relaxed and easy. But it was incredibly busy, there were other divers over us, under us, around us and sometimes running (swimming? gliding?) into us. Romina told me there are 64 dive shops on the island. And the growing number of people visiting & living there is impacting the pristine environment, the corals and the waters. So if you want to visit Koh Tao and not be disappointed – go soon. In saying that, it’s still a fabulous place to go, accomodation & food are reasonably priced, it still has the village vibe, locals are lovely, you don’t see KFC, MacDonalds & Pizza Hutt every time you move 5 metres, and no high rises YET. After 4 intense and exhausting days I now have my PADI Open Water Scuba certification – the three main lessons I learned were: 1) NEVER hold your breath; 2) Always check your gear; 3) I seriously need to do some diving so I can learn how to Scuba dive. And where was Big J while all this was going on you ask. Remember the pub we found on our first day? It was across the road from my dive school & next to gear centre where we arrived back after diving, so what more appropriate place to hang out & await the arrival of his beloved (me). We didn’t get to see much of the island, me, because I was fully immersed in learning how not to die under water, and Big J, because he was fully immersed in beer. On our last night we thought we’d go back to the bar (it was now a habit) to hang out with our new Aussie friends because they are just like us to hang out with – funny, extremely non-politically correct, boozy, loud & generally great company (hey Tracey, Lisa, Dennis and of course, King Andy). Next we’re off to Koh Phangan, then we have to suss out a Visa run to the Burmese border because we only got 15 days when we arrived by train. Onwards intrepid travellers (us).Image 

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George Town – Penang

Well our time in George Town, Penang is coming to an end.  Tomorrow we take the ferry to Butterworth (OMG I love these Malay names), then train to Chumphon in Thailand – 14 hours – arrive at 4.00am then have to find our way to the pier to be on the 7.00am ferry to Ko(h) Tao.  Of course this is going to all proceed very smoothly because I don’t have to refer to a “map” (please refer to various previous blogs) I was going insert hyperlinks at this stage but I’ve had a few beers and can’t be shagged, and also I don’t know how to do it.  But can’t be shagged was first.  On the subject of few beers, went to the loo half way through (squatty – definitely not conducive to taking newspaper or book to read) but somehow 50% of a 100% (duh) managed to find it’s way into my bladder the moment I got up to leave, I mean seriously WTF?  Other 50% went straight to my head – can’t piss it out – so it’s still there.  Ohh hang on, does verbal diarrhoea count?  Because in that case, welcome to today’s blog.  Sorry, totally lost train of thought for a moment there, although clearly not as long as MH710 has been lost.  Anyway.  Have loved this island, very chilled people, food fantastic and, I’ve think I’ve gotten slightly fitter due to sprinting across the roads because that’s the only way to get across safely – thank goodness for car avoidance training in Wellington & Levin (I’d mention Waitarere & Foxton but there weren’t enough cars to warrant skills crossing the road).  In Penang we once again hired a scooter (this is because bottoms do not have a brain and therefore no memory of previous scooter hiring experiences).  We (I) had an itinerary mapped out of sights to see for the day.  We saw one.  But we did see lots of the island in trying to find that one.  Yes, I had a map.  And I am a very slow learner OK?  To be fair this only took about an hour longer than it should’ve, and 375 U turns.  Eventually we found the Snake Temple, first stop on itinerary, it was sort of underwhelming but had taken so damn long to find it, we went in anyway.  Yay, there were snakes, they looked plastic so Big J touched one to check – they were not plastic.  Having built up his courage from past good experiences with snake touching he decided to pat them, this was before we saw the sign saying don’t touch the snakes.  I suggested caution as they had the triangle heads which warned of venomous bites, but he was well into his Snake Whisperer mode so ignored me.  We went to room next door and had our photo taken with a large python (tame and non-venomous) then continued to the snake farm.  There we learned the wisdom of my words, yes the snakes in the temple were venomous, and yes they would bite.  Pretty sure he’ll stick to Cat Whispering going forward, as for a Maori he looked pretty white when told.  Spent a fabulous evening eating chocolate & chips & drinking cheap whiskey in our room whilst watching Deadwood on the lappy with our new cheap speakers.  Intrepid as bro!  Today we decided to do a bit of walking and suss out some landmarks.  I was most impressed to see a church that was actually beautiful, to hold on to that thought we then avoided all mosques, Chinese & Indian temples which generally leave the churches in their (metaphorical) dust.  We went to the Museum, which was great, but when we came out the Rickshaw driver whom we’d passed a couple of words with earlier was waiting for us.  Guilt trip successfully executed we got into the Rickshaw to go around the corner – with the weight of us both it would’ve been quicker to walk, but never mind, when in Rome and all that.  Went to the Art Gallery with very little time before it closed – not an issue as it took approx 10 minutes to walk around the room (singular).  Into our Rickshaw and onwards to Little India to try the chocolate (recurring theme?) roti we had spotted a couple of nights earlier. Nope, too early – really?  How can it ever be early for chocolate?  So we thought we cool down with a beer first then return for the roti.  Well we had the beer.  Hence this post.

 

Cameron Highlands – Tanah Rata & trekking

After a couple of nights in Ipoh, nice little city, cave temples fantastic, accommodation, scooter hire & food really good & really cheap, we were off by bus to the Cameron Highlands. Why? Because apparently if you come to Malaysia backpacking, this is one of the must visit places. Glad we did. Great views on the road – no Palm Oil plantations was a huge positive – and watching the forest/jungle change as you gain altitude then suddenly all the hillsides open up into terraced gardens. Everywhere. Cameron Highlands is a prime vegetable growing region, cool(ish) climate, no frost, high rainfall (more on that later)& I guess reasonable soil although it all looked like clay to me. There’s a lot of development going on – of what it’s hard to say – but there are great swathes of bare hillsides with heavy machinery working (sometimes, this is Malaysia after all). Tanah Rata is a great little town because it’s so small (one main road) that even Big J & I couldn’t get lost. Very touristy, but, hoorah hoorah, no malls!! Yet. One of the reasons we came was because there are several easily accessible walking tracks (according to the maps) which meant we could do some trekking in temperatures actually suited to trekking ie not 36ºC. Please refer to previous blogs re my experience with Malaysian maps. I was not disappointed – they are crap. For our first (and as it turned out, also our second) trek we decided to walk to the Robinson Waterfall. Sounded impressive. Very pleasant, well maintained path, at the start. We saw a couple of paths going off to the left but only one was marked on the map (it was not a map, rather an optimistic sketch of what may or may not have actually been there). Are you getting the picture? Well we weren’t, because as mentioned, it wasn’t actually a map. Anyway onwards we went until a fork in the track – left looked like the main way to go, so we did. After an hour or so clambering over fallen trees, the “track” was getting harder, narrower, more overgrown & slippery. Then we came across a sign stating the next 700 metres were not for the fainthearted, casual stroller, anyone with kids, those who hadn’t bought ropes, carabiners, harnesses etc. No f#@$%@g kidding – anyone think that perhaps that would’ve been useful information AN HOUR BACK? Oooh, oooh and I forgot to mention, sign also warned that it was particularly dangerous when wet. Approximately 30 seconds after passing the sign it began to rain. Then it begain to rain heavily. And then it pissed down. Luckily, although we had forgotten all our mountaineering gear (silly us), we did have rain ponchos – these did not keep us dry but did offer some protection from leeches. Did I mention the leeches? Yes there were leeches. Being intrepid kiwis, we inched forward until we came to another sign (same comedian) warning that the last 300 metres were extremely dangerous & there was an escape track 100m along on the left if you wished to live to see another day. I did, so 100m along on the left we escaped. Down a slippery hill into the middle of someone’s vegetable farm. To a dirt road which was transformed into a dirt stream. And thence to a semi-sealed road which was transformed into a small river with a semi-sealed bottom. From there it was an 11 kilometre road walk uphill in the torrentail rain. Big J was keen, I was not. I decided to hitch-hike, everyone who passed us decided not to pick us up. In retrospect hitch-hiking was not our most successful endeavour in Malaysia to date. We found a taxi. So that was trek one. This brings me to trek two. You get a bus from Tanah Rata to the next village, Bruching, find the beginning of the track from your map (yeah right), walk for twoish hours which brings you to the top of a dead end road (Gunung Bruching 2000m), then there is nightmareish downhill 10km walk back to Bruching, and then you have to make your way back to Tanah Rata – hitch-hiking was suggested (yeah right). So we decided to hire a scooter/motorbike. Good decision. Although we had to go in first gear at approximately 15 km/h up the hill – it was far superior to walking. We met a Hungarian couple at the top who had just completed the track – they looked knackered – they asked us how far it was to the tourist Tea Plantation, I don’t know what I was thinking, but I said about 2 kilometres or so, half way down the hill when we’d already passed them it suddenly came to me that in fact it was way more like 10 kilometres – oops, sorry guys, hope you made it home by dark. We had a fantastic day on our little motorbike, went to the Butterfly Garden and got to hold lots of enormous insects, a cool snake, geckos, chameleons & a huge black scorpion (apparently if you get stung it won’t kill you, just put you in hospital, so we thought, OK, what the hell!). We also saw some butterflies. This brings me back to the waterfall walk. Which we decided to do again the next day, but this time take the left hand track so we could finally see the Robinson Waterfall. This track was as bad as the right hand except it was a vertical downhill and once again we came to a fork. Right or left? Who would know, it only showed one way on the “map”. Big J wanted to go right but common sense (me) prevailed so we went left. Straight down. Forgetting my previous insight at Bako National Park which is that what goes down (me) must then come up. Down we went, slowly & painfully over fallen trees etc etc. When we reached the bottom, which was a powerstation, we realised the waterfall we had come to see, we had already seen. Twice. It was at the top and was so underwhelming, with no signs (not even from the comedian) that we walked straight past, as I said, twice. So it was time to go back up. And then it started raining. Again. An hour or so later we made it back, Big J towed me most of the way back with micro (5 minute) stops all the way (every 2 minutes). I was near death and drenched (rain and sweat). This ended all romantic thoughts of lovely strolls in the Cameron Highlands (Rainlands) ever again. Thank god for hot water, cheap whiskey & cigarettes. Next we are off to Penang – a bit of trekking in the hills perhaps? I don’t think so. Not. No.

 

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Sun, sand, surf and the tip of Borneo.

Well, today has been another adventure! Alarm went off at 0520, got out of bed at 0540. Mad panic pack before having the quickest breakfast in history before catching the 0700 van bus to Kudat. Left KK at 0720, hmm. Driver was obviously running late because we were going for it. Mental note: check to see if life insurance is up to date. Arrived in Kudat, immediately approached by taxi driver who offered us a ride to anywhere. This was to be a blessing as our original ride was going to be two hours late. The taxi driver ( Peter) was actually very pleasant and drove us to our destination…….40km an hour. So going from 120-140km/h speed rush from KK to Kudat to 40km/h scenic ride from Kudat to Tampat Do Aman certainly made for an interesting start to the morning. On arrival at Tampat do Aman we were greeted by a lovely person called Howard (from England) who fell in love with this part of east Malaysia and it’s people (one in particular – he married her), and culture, and thus decided to do something for the local community and it’s small village by buying up a bit of land, communicating with the government, following all the correct procedures and building an accommodation complex in the form of a local style village (including a long house) as well as a cafe/bar near one of the many lovely beaches here so as to bring in the tourism dollar and help the local people who are in a poverty rut. Needless to say, Howard has put in the hard yards and now it’s slowly starting to pay off! But reading this can not give you the sensation of our experience here. Truly, truly, truly come and experience this place for yourself. Find the time, bring a friend and give yourself a month to enjoy a small piece of paradise on a budget. After sorting our room in the longhouse and heading back to the cafe, Sara went for a swim while I played with the football lol. After that we decided to have a beer then walked back to the longhouse to have a shower (open outdoor) and chill out for a bit before we went back to the cafe for dinner. We got to sit on the back of the ute and laugh at OSH (no such thing here) on the way. Returning to the longhouse while on the back of the ute laughing at OSH again, Sara went in for a night cap (reading a book) while I went to the outdoor lounge area to do what I do best and socialize with the other tourists then went out to the main road to view the stars. 24/03/2014 Had a great night’s sleep and was good to go for the day! Got up at 0700 to look at the cell phone to see what the time is. Saw what the time was and went back to sleep until 0730. Woke up at 0730 going ‘woohoo I feel like going for a jog to the cafe for breakfast’ Woke Sara up and she was eventually into it as well (the getting up – not the jog)! However, time zipped past and the temperature was already at 28ºC at nearly 0830 which was the time the first shuttle was due to take anyone from the accommodation lodge to the cafe. We caught the shuttle. Hello cafe and breakfast and lovely warm ocean! Had a (man size) breakfast and a home made fruit juice then did some reading before going in for a well deserved swim! The ocean is clean, warm, with great surf and all the facilities you can hire to enjoy the day better. And beer. And yes people, I have surprised Sara and myself by jumping into the ocean without fear…….ok perhaps a bit of fear. But it soon diminished the more I was enjoying the waves! After our swim we decided to head back to the cafe for dinner and met an English/Australian chap called Roger and typically hit it of straight away, as with our Canadian and German and Austrian and Belgium and Norwegian and Rungus and Spanish and other Australian friends. NO Kiwis though…hmmm.
So, it was a nice night spent chatting before we headed back to the long house for more talking! 25/03/14: Tuesday: Was very much the same as yesterday with the exception of feeding two longhouse cats and discovering titten #1, and catching up on our laundry. That pretty much took most of the morning and when we finally got to the cafe after walking 2.3km there in the blistering heat (Temp was 35ºc) everyone we met from last night said a big hello and was wondering where we were which was very very nice! Lunch polished and ready for another swim – we decided to hire some body boards for an hour which was cool! Good waves for it! Eventually we put the boards away and thought it more fun to turn Sara into a surfboard and give her a good push in timing with the waves which worked bloody well I must say! Beach fun over and cafe fun beginning again, we eventually went back to the longhouse for some quiet chatting and to view the stars which are also most impressive as the skies are very clear here. 26/03/2014: Wednesday. Woke up nice and early to find titten #2. Today’s morning agenda: Cats fed, tittens fed, Fred the duck fed, off to the beach cafe again and James fed, and it’s another relaxing day in the sun, sand and surf! Our Canadian friends gave us the heads up on an available bungalow from tomorrow onwards (they took a bungalow the night before and they told us about the other one next door to them) so we made some enquiries and got the bungalow for the next three nights after today. Just 15 meters from the ocean, whoop whoop! So it was off for another swim and then for a walk to the tip of Borneo before heading back to the cafe for dinner prior to getting caught out in the rain. Was a bit of a quiet one that night (we thought) until we heard the kittens sneak in under the door and started miaowing at 11.30ish. Eventually they settled on my backpack, making for a nice relaxing sleep for all. 27/03/2014 Moving day! Was time to say goodbye to the long house and hello to the beach bungalow! Fantastic! What a great way to spent the last three nights at the tip of Borneo. Hot sand and cool surf during the day and warm clear night with the bonus of cooking your own food for breakfast and lunch. We still went out to the cafe for dinner to catch up with everyone from the longhouse and meet new arrivals as well. Spent the remainder of our time there snorkeling, swimming, lighting bonfires, walking, sightseeing, drinking and eating. Spent one night near the cafe with 12 others talking about the universe and it’s mysteries and about life and once again created another United Nations Positive meeting! Towards the end it was just Sara and I with a young British couple drinking the night away on cheap whisky and continuing the united nations party, I mean meeting. That was when our new British friend (also called James) decided he wanted to strip naked and swim with the glowing phosphorescent plankton. So we decided to join him…..but with our clothes on, first time round. Second time round I went in naked, but only James and I as Sara went to bed not long after the first round! Overall Tampat Do Aman longhouse (and as I have just been corrected by Sara) Tip Top Restaurant and bar, is a blood awesome place to visit for a nice recovering break after battling with the rat race of the cities. It’s very much worth coming to see. Regretfully leaving the tip of Borneo, we headed back to Kota Kinabalu in a shared taxi with a Australian lady we meet on our last night at the cafe called Eva, alias little dove. Then it was back to our ‘Stayin Lodge’ then a quick bite to eat before heading to soccer again hahahaha! Two nights in KK then a bus to the airport to head back to KL and make our way to Ipoh! Will blog again soon good people!

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