A Travellerspoint blog

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Ancient temples in Bagan

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From the over night bus, we arrived in Bagan very early and straight off the bus we were surrounded by taxi drivers wishing to take us to the town. After some tough negotiation, which started a fight between some of the drivers... We finally got to town. We checked into winner guest house was slept until early afternoon recovering from the bus journey!

In the afternoon we hired electric bicycles. This was to be the start of a beautiful relationship with motored bikes... it was so much fun razzing around on a bike, so much freedom, and it wasn't tiring at all. With the rest of my gang we teared up the town!
Steffi messing around skidding in the sandy roads!

We took our bikes that day towards town, to Shewezigon Paya, a huge stupa covered in gold. The entrance to the temple can be made at four points aligned to the compass, we went in the south entrance, which was lined with hawkers and street sellers which were very pushy. The temple was impressive though and afterwards we drove through the town along back alleys and, I think sometimes, through back gardens! We ended up at the river before finding ourselves at the north entrance of the big temple... how we got here I have no idea, we were definitely lost the whole time, but it was great fun!

We headed out to the famous plains of bagan from here, where literally thousands of ancient temples were built between 9th-17th century. We went with the aim of catching a good sunset, but we didn't find a good spot in time.

From here we went to a place in town cleverly named 'Weatherspoons'! The owner was a Myanmar man who had lived in Bristol for some years, and so Steve and Paul were instantly his best pals!

The next day we got up early and hired the electric bikes again to explore more of the plains. We were able to climb up some of the temples and so we scouted out a couple of good temples for good sunsets, before spending the rest of the day getting lost and driving along sandy dirt tracks.
Quick pit stop in the shade!
Sandy paths

At one temple Steve and I got accosted by a group of locals fascinated by our height and skin colour! We spent about 10 minutes posing for pictures with them, I took a couple as well... why not!

We finally found a great sunset spot on top of a temple, but our peace was disturbed by children trying to sell pictures and tacky souvenirs!

After an afternoon nap, we went to a local curry house and had the best beef curry, Steve and another guy we picked up along the way ordered 2!! We sat people watching after this and noticed that it seemed to be the women that do most of the heavy lifting and construction work here...
These women were carrying up to 15 bricks on their heads whilst about 6 men stood around a concrete maker, watching it rotate... bizarre!

After a full day of climbing temples, the next day we chilled at a local swimming pool which we got to by riding 2 people on each electric bike! This only just worked, but it did the job! When we returned to our guesthouse we caught another overnight bus to Yangon.

I loved Bagan, the temples were beautiful and exploring them on the electric bikes was so much fun! However, the tourism here was l starting to become more prevalent... I'm glad I came to Myanmar when I did as I think in 5 or so years the places will be too touristy with too many people trying to rip you off or exploit you... like what I thought of Cambodia's main towns and tourist spots...

Posted by Libbytes 01:10 Archived in Myanmar Tagged bagan Comments (0)

City living in Yangon

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Yangon used to be the capital of Myanmar until a few years ago when the government, paranoid about naval invasion, decided to build a new city from scratch in the centre of the country. We never went to Nay Pi Taw, and I had heard from other travellers we were right not to as it's a very strange city, brand new government buildings and streets, but deserted...

Again, we arrived very early in Yangon and checked into the cheapest option in town; Okinawa hostel. After a quick catch up on sleep we visited a coffee shop for the day (to steal their Wi-Fi), had amazing biriyani (best ever) then went to a Myanmar 'club' for drinks and a party.

The club was very weird... First, I got in free and the guys had to pay about $5-10, which included a drink. Women weren't allowed to drink, which I only realised after standing at the bar waiting to be served for about 20 minutes. The manager told me because we are tourists I was allowed to drink, but after one I felt a little uncomfortable so just had coke.

But there wasn't just the drinking that was weird... like the bar in Mandalay, the dance floor was like a stage and women, dressed in the same outfits, would parade around the floor to music (staring at the ground and walking very wooden). People stood around the dancefloor watching, and you could pay for the tinsel garlands and staff would deliver them to the women.

In the female toilets the women were getting changed into their outfits, stacks of bags in the corner held identical dresses and makeup. The women also left all their belongings, purses, mobile phones and bags in the toilets when they went on stage.

From what we could work out, and from what people told us (it was difficult to ask what was going on without sounding too nosy or rude) it was a sort of dating/potential prostitution outlet.
The women who receive garlands are obliged to go and talk to the men that bought them. This could either start longterm dating and a legitimate relationship if they like each other. Or, nothing could come from it at all. Or, at the woman's choosing, the man could pay for something more.… It was very bizarre.

After all the parading, the dance floor was opened and everyone, back in normal clothes, dances. BUT... men and women are strictly not allowed to touch. Security from the club enforces this, and they will literally push people apart if they get too close! It was like a child's school disco in England... I'm pretty sure this doesn't help the high level of sexism in their culture as this even permits friendship, as since the music was so loud you couldn't even get close enough to talk. It seemed like they made an exception for us though. God knows what they thought of me, one woman with three men.... :[

First impression of Yangon; a neglected, dirty city where men and women are certainly not equal.
Yangon street outside our hostel
We arrived back to find this!

The following days were a complete wash out, with our time spent eating and stealing WiFi at various cafes.
Flash flood!

On one nice day we managed to get to the main temple in the city; Shwedagon paya. On arriving we realised that the entrance fee was $10 and so we got a few quick camera shots and made a fast exit... all other temples we'd been to were free... We felt a little exploited here (it was free for locals).
Guardian lions were impressive
This one didn't even have steps, it had escalators instead!
Quick snap and quick exit...
The whole way up to the top was full of hawkers and street sellers who continuously harassed us... So we took a different route down.
The temple was nicer from outside anyway!

We walked from here to Yangon zoo and botanical gardens, but didn't expect much for our $2 entrance fee.

Steve had found an interesting bakery online; Yangon bakehouse. Which was a training and development charity for local women. So we got a taxi to there and had the most amazing cakes ever!

More Yangon bakehouse was to follow the next day, as well as the best Shan noodles I had at a little restaurant called Home K, next to the bakehouse.

That night we went to a different club, recommended by some Myanmar people we met at dinner. It was the same set up as the last place... women parading, no alcohol for women, but at least I get free entry.... :S it was getting difficult for me to watch the blatant sexism. Even in the streets, or going to a restaurant, the male waitors would ignore me, taxi drivers would only take directions from the guys, I was technically supposed to walk behind the men in my group not at the front... I realised how lucky I was too live in a society where women are (95%) equal.

Again we had a bit of a wash out few days, more bakery and more internet cafe. On the last day the weather picked up and we took the circular train line around the city. We paid a tourist price again, but it wasn't much more and only $3.
The train was old and very slow, most of the time we probably could've walked faster...

The city from the train really was dirty...
But the further we got out of the city and into the suburbs it got a little nicer.

After the train we walked around part of the city northeast of our hostel.
More dirty streets...
Next to a beautiful park...
With riot barriers just in case...

And then to the little India area where there was a beautiful Hindu temple and amazing smelling food! Made a difference to all the horrendous smells and durians in the down town area...

I really enjoyed my time in Myanmar, but ending the trip in Yangon did disappoint me. Before here, my impression of Myanmar was as a clean beautiful place with friendly people. Yangon was dirty with unfriendly faces and a sexist culture more prevalent than in the rest of Myanmar. In my trip so far, it is probably the only place that I didn't enjoy staying in, and if it wasn't for our flight booked out of here back to Bangkok I would've left after a day. But, we did find the bakehouse, a great charity organisation, and learnt more about the cultures and society.

Posted by Libbytes 01:58 Archived in Myanmar Tagged yangon Comments (1)

Bangkok with Ben

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Steve and I flew back to Bangkok. And with Steve staying only a few days before going to Indonesia, Paul going to Chiang Mai before home and Steffi staying in Yangon for his Chinese visa, it was to be the end of the gang... I planned to be in Bangkok on these dates to coincide with when Ben was in town for work.

The day I arrived, Steve and I met Ben for lunch before going out that evening for drinks around Silom district with one of Ben's friends Mam. Wet had quite a bit to drink and ended up playing pool in a dodgy club at the end of the night!
Trying to teach Mam to pout!
Apparently the new craze in Japan for selfies; toothache.
More toothache
We all have toothache....

The following day I met Ben for food and some serious day time pool!!

After we ate at a very cool mall which is designed and themed like an airport terminal; terminal 21. The food that night was delicious and we followed it up with some amazing cheesecake before watching the new planet of the apes.
The mall was so posh it had toilets with controls... Yep, one of the buttons sprays perfume at your bum...

The next day, Ben and I went to Siam park theme park and water park. It should've been expensive, but with Ben's expired (but no-one notices...) residents' card we got in cheap.
The roller coasters were pretty good, there was one which went through a few loops and corkscrew before then doing it backwards. And one which was identical to the traumatizer which used to be at Southport.

Yep, more toothache....

It was great seeing Ben, but on Monday his workshop started and so Steve and I decided to take a trip to Phetchaburi just south of Bangkok. I planned to continue south from there, and Steve would come back to Bangkok to catch his flight.

Posted by Libbytes 00:41 Archived in Thailand Tagged bangkok Comments (0)

Wildlife spotting in Phetchaburi

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Steve and I left Bangkok on a minibus to phetburi where we checked into Mayom hostel. The owner there, Roong, was a lovely person. The hostel was new and really pretty, we were almost the first people to stay here!

We rented a scooter and drove to the national monument on top of a hill in the centre of town. There was macaques everywhere, some of which were quite scary and intimidating. Once if them stole Steve's water bottle!!
The views from the top were beautiful though.
Steve pretending to be a giant!

That evening we drove around the town and ate some of the best dishes I've had in Thailand. A minced pork with large Thai beans, deep fried pork with lime leaves and prawns with baby sweet garlic.

The next day we attempted to go to Kaeng Krachan national park to see animals, but were faced with a lot of closed barriers and high prices. The drive to the park was nice, and we visited the lake and river. However, we didn't see many animals on the trails we were allowed on.
Motorbike shot!

The next day we arranged with Roong and one of her friends to go to the national park again in Roong's car. Once there we met her friend who had a resort in the park and a 4wd. We were finally allowed in the park, and this time we saw lots of animals!
Some serious bird watchers!
I tried to join in... it was a red-wattled lapwing!!
Spot the gibbon
Lar gibbon
Giant squirrel
Bees nests
Leaf monkeys
Another 2 monkeys!

Steve left the following day and so I chilled with Roong and had lots of food and coffee!

Phetchaburi was a great Thai town, with lots of friendly people and good food. The national park was great, it made me wonder why there wasn't many other tourists here, being so close to Bangkok, but it seems most people don't venture too far outside the main cities which is a shame.

Posted by Libbytes 03:28 Archived in Thailand Tagged phetchaburi phetburi kaeng_krachan Comments (0)

Perfection in Prachuap

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I left Phetchaburi for Prachuap via minibus and had the intention of blogging on my journey, however I quickly realised that I had left my notebooks back at Mayom hostel. I messaged Roong on Facebook and amazingly she was able to 'post' them to me on the next minibus leaving Phetchaburi.

After arriving I checked into Maggie's Homestay, where I had a private room by the beach for so cheap! I hired a bicycle and went back to the minibus depot to collect my notebooks. Whilst waiting one of the ticket sellers gave me a massive bunch of grapes for free, of which I only ate a few to be polite as they were small and full of pips! I put them in my bike basket and almost forgot about them...

After collecting my notebooks I rode among the coastline and through a military complex to the next bay along from Prachuap, where I had heard there were spectacled langurs which were friendly. When I arrived where I had been directed I could see nothing... no monkeys. Then I remembered my grapes. As soon as I got them from my basket at least 30 monkeys descended from the trees around me; I don't know how I had missed them before! They took the Grapes from me one-by-one and shared them out amongst their family groups. They were very gentle and patient, taking them carefully from my hands as I offered them. They were beautiful, with bright orange babies! It was incredible to see them so close up.
Prachuap coast line

Road to the monkeys


Cheeky monkeys

The view of Prachuap from the peninsula.

From here I rode among the beach and had some food at a little stall, watching the local weekend holidaymakers playing on the beach, swimming in full clothes! The beach was very popular with local Thais. I ordered fried chicken with rice noodles, and that's exactly what I got... a while fried chicken and a plate of dry rice noodles!

I returned to the town and met some of the other people staying in my hostel when I was at the weekend night market. They were a group on a TEFL course on a weekend 'Thai culture' experience. They were all very nice and so I ate my street food with them sat on the pier wall and we all had a few drinks afterwards. The following day the group had planned to go on a boat and snorkelling trip out to some of the small islands just off the coast and they invited them with me. The day was lovely overall, although the snorkelling was poor; the beach was lovely and the company was great. Due to my last small boat experience in koh rong, I made sure I bought some motion sickness pills before hand, which was very lucky for everyone as my 12 tablets were quickly reduced to 3 in a matter of seconds!!

The following day on the way out for lunch, I bumped into Rick, a Thai guy I had met through the TEFL group guys and the hostel. He took me on his bike to get some noodles, which were delicious and then to his house sheet I met his family and ate fresh crabs caught by his dad!

My noodle chef!


Rick and crabs

I left prachuap that afternoon, and Rick gave me a lift to the train station.

Matching bag and helmet!!

Prachuap was a beautiful little town, the food at the night market was incredible and so fresh and varied. It was amazing to be able to interact with the leaf monkeys. The beach was beautiful white sand and clear water. Prachuap quickly became one of my top destinations in my whole trip and I now recommend it to anyone travelling Thailand.

Posted by Libbytes 08:43 Archived in Thailand Tagged prachuap_khiri_khan Comments (0)

Bike riding in Chumphon

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I left Prachuap on a local train, the journey was 3 hours and cost roughly 80p. I was sat next to a couple of elderly women, with bright red teeth stained with betel nut. They each had a handbag with a plastic bag liner and were spitting their red as saliva into it every few minutes between napping!

Upon arriving, I walked to Salsa hostel where I had a large dorm room all to myself! I ate at the night market in town and had some bitesize Thai desserts.

The following day I hired a bike and headed to some beaches to the north of Chumphon through villages and back roads. The ride was long, but the beach was beautiful and well worth it.

Down at the beach I got chatting to a group of Malaysian tourists diving just off the coast, this was a quick glimpse of the Malaysian friendliness and proficiency in English.

After a quick swim, a coffee and a beach massage, I headed back through the beautiful villages.

My little bike!

When I got back to the hostel I had new room mates and so we ate together and had a few drinks in the hostel's bar.

Chumphon was a quiet and non-touristy town, despite being one of the main ports for transport to Koh Tao. However, unlike the other towns I had visited so far, there wasn't much to do, so I headed away the following morning.

Posted by Libbytes 11:25 Archived in Thailand Tagged chumpon Comments (0)

Living on Koh Phangan

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I left Chumphon early with the intention of catching a train to Surat Thani and a boat to the Islands North of there, Koh Phangan. However, I missed the train and so caught a minibus instead! I arrived in Surat Thani and waited for an hour to catch the last boat to the Island. Watching the sun set over Ang Thong marine park (a collection of small protected islands) was the highlight of the journey and made the start of my adventure to Koh Phangan memorable.

I landed on the Island at 8pm and caught a tuk tuk going to Baan Tai to stop at a place I had found online, Echo Beach Backpackers. I don't really know my reasoning for choosing here (think it had something to do with there being a pool table in the bar) but I was going to find out soon that checking into this hostel was the best decision I made on my trip!
The beach of Echo Beach!

I checked in around 9pm and was immediately approached by a group who were planning on going to a local party; Eden, on one of the beaches around the island. I showered and got ready quickly to join them! We travelled by scooters to Haad Rin beach, about 20 minutes drive away, I bunked a lift off Ryan, but as there were not enough bikes for people, Marty jumped on the back too! Making it three of us on one bike the whole way from Baan Tai to Haad Rin; a long and winding road with steep inclines and descents. A crazy night so far! We arrived on the beach and each bought a bucket, literally a bucket filled with alcohol! We drank on the beach and when the time came (you can't be too late to one of these parties...) we got a boat over to a secluded bay where Eden was. The setting for the party was incredible; clambering over huge rocks and on wooden stilted walkways into a dancefloor built over the sea. But it was the people that I was with that night that made it for me... We were there until the sunrise, at which point we all jumped into the sea in our underwear! We got a boat back at 9am and slept most of the day!
A selection of lovely buckets...
Lina, Chris, Chelsea, Jacob, Me, Dave, Marty, the Eden week 1 crew!
In the boat on the way over to Eden
The venue for Eden
Party on the rocks in the morning!

The following days rolled together with the group of us visiting local beaches, snorkelling, playing pool and partying more. We visited 'Secret Beach' a beautiful little bay fringed by rocks and coral with amazing snorkelling by the rocks.
Chelsea, Chris, Dave and I, with Marty at the front

Slowly, and one-by-one, the group left the island, but it was constantly renewed by new people arriving. I also got to know a few people living and working on the island, since Echo seemed to be a hub for local people to come to relax and socialise during the day, either around the pool table or in the air conditioned cinema room...

Jess, Michael, Ryan and I visited Koh Ma, a tiny island in the far North-West of the island connected to the mainland by a think strip of sand. Motorbiking across the island here was amazing, surrounded by beautiful scenery. We took a brief stop off along the way to play archery!
Ryan, Michael and Jess

One of the reasons Koh Phangan is well known as a island for tourism is due to it's monthly full moon parties. However, there are countless other parties on beaches and in the jungle throughout the rest of the month. Of these, the most popular are the half moon parties in the Jungle. My first experience of this was incredible, once again, because of the people I was with; Vince from the bar at Echo, Justine the new Frenchie, Ryan who also casually worked at Echo and Rob and Beth who live on the island and hang at Echo. There were thousands of people at the main stage of the party, however I preferred the music at a smaller Tech-House stage (as did everyone else at Echo) and so this is where we stayed
The music during the night started going a bit boring at around 5am and so we went back to Echo for an after party.
Beth, Justine, Myself and Deamon (with Zack in the corner... poor Zack!)
Resident DJ Vince entertained us all

My favourite party that I went to on the island was Maya, a relatively small event compared to half/full moon, with fire performers and usually great DJs. This party was weekly, so I did end up going to a few :)
Fire dancers starring Sarah, one of the Echo crew
Zack, Justine, Myself and Hugo
Taken by the resident photographer!

The few days I had planned to stay on the island quickly turned into a few weeks, and my flight home which I had booked for 26th August was looming.... I caved in, not feeling ready to stop my adventure, and feeling in love with the beautiful island and people, I rearranged my flight to the end of October and planned to stay on Koh Phangan for the rest of my thai visa. To couple with this, Mark; the owner of Echo, offered me a free bed at Echo in exchange for helping out a bit over full moon which was coming up. It was a pleasure to be part of the workings of such an amazing hostel and I spent the 4 days over full moon helping out where I could.

After the full moon period and once the island had settled down again, I decided to try something I had never done before and rented a scooter of my own.... It actually was very easy to ride and I loved the freedom of being able to do what I wanted and go wherever I could. I spent the whole day driving around the island before meeting some of the Echo lot down at the beach in the afternoon for sunset.
Ryan, Tom, Jen and Michael

The next few days rolled into one as I began to really relax and get used to staying in one place after travelling for such a long time. Koh Phangan began to feel like home... The beautiful natural surroundings were hard to ignore, but most of all it was the people that I met at Echo that welcomed me so genuinely and openly. In fact there is a whole different atmosphere on the island, more relaxed and more of a sense of community that I felt almost instantly when I arrived. And let's not forget the great parties on the island... it really does have everything. So I fell in love, like so many people do, I lost my heart to Koh Phangan. I hope it won't be too long before I find myself back there.

Posted by Libbytes 04:58 Archived in Thailand Tagged beach party koh_phangan Comments (0)

First taste of Malaysia

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I left Koh Phangan not because I wanted to (I could have stayed forever....), but because I had to... My thai visa had expired. I caught a very early morning boat/bus combo to take me all the way to Georgetown on the island of Penang in Malaysia. Only after paying a fine for overstaying my visa... eeek.

Once in Georgetown I headed towards Clockwise hostel which was unfortunately fully booked. Luckily, Claire, who organised the hostel, agreed to sleep on the sofa to accommodate me and we went out together where I had my first taste of Malaysian food; soon to become my all time favourite cuisine...

My first full day in Georgetown I walked around the water front and headed into the ancient Chinese clan villages and stilted houses built on jetties out into the sea. Walking through one of the quieter clan jetties felt a little odd, people were just getting on with their lives or hanging out in the back yards. I didn't want to take pictures of them, and in some cases I felt like I was imposing on their personal space. So I headed to the larder clan jetty, also the more touristy. Here, most of the houses had been converted into little shops for snacks or tourist trinkets. The jetty was so busy here, I think I arrived just when a coach load of package tourists arrived and so this jetty was uncomfortable for opposite reasons.

There were even Chinese temples in the villages
Giant otters playing in the sea
A view of the spectacular bridge connecting the island of Penang to the mainland.

From the clan jetties it was just a short walk to the modern cultural areas of Georgetown to look at the amazing street art. Along my way I was stopped by a group of locals to pose for some photos and they left me with a gift of 'Langsat' a small plum-like fruit which had segments and large stones like mangosteens. I had seen and tried them before, but I never knew what they were called until now!

Building on my skills developed on KPG, I decided to rent a scooter! Driving in Georgetown was so crazy compared to the quiet roads of KPG, not to mention the insane number of one-way streets. I drove to the mall to do a spot of retail therapy and fit in with the fashions of Malaysia. On the way there I "accidentally" drove through a police road block which took me by surprise. On instinct I just waved back to the police officer!! I think I could've blagged my way out of it anyway!
My bike
I got treated to a meal by Ken who rented me the bike...
Lok Lok was one of my favourite street stalls in Malaysia; you pick your skewers and cook them at the stall yourself either in frying oil or water baths, you get a paper plate and unlimited spicy peanut sauce. At the end you give the stall owner your empty skewers which are all colour coded based on price. Each skewer was no more than 40p!

The next day the rain was torrential, and so I started with coffee and a cake at a local 'cat cafe', where you could cuddle some posh kitties over your coffee! After the rain stopped I took my bike along the coastal road to one of the main beaches on the island; Batu Ferrengi, before continuing on towards the island's national park. Unfortunately, due to the rain and the fact that I stopped about 20 times along the road to take photos and look at the view, I arrived too late to enter the park... Not like me at all...!!
Batu Ferrengi
Jetty at the national park

That evening after searching the internet for a high rated restaurant; Ivy Nonya House. I treated myself to the first of many beef rendangs (probably the most expensive meal of my trip so far, the meal cost me all of £8!). The rendang was fantastic and set the bar very high for all future rendangs!

My final day in Georgetown I drove my bike through some of the local residential areas towards Penang Hill and the botanical gardens. The freedom of driving wherever you want on a scooter was just incredible and allowed for a more natural way to sightsee and discover the city. The buildings in the suburbs of Georgetown were very bizarre, like the concrete tower blocks from the 70's, built so high in concrete painted white the mould and staining on the buildings made them look awful, but the people living in this areas are what made it beautiful to explore. From the road I saw an amazing looking building partially up the hill and so headed towards it just from sight... As I climbed the hill up towards it I found that it was a huge Buddhist temple complex; Ke Lok Si, which was well kept and had great views out over the city.

A cow just chilling out at the side of a busy main road!
White concrete tower blocks dominated the area
Spotting the temple through the trees

The road appeared to continue on past the temple and there was some kind of cycling race going up there, so I decided to inspect further... Passing tired cyclists pushing themselves as hard as they could up the steep incline on a motorised scooter shouldn't have been fun, but every single person had a massive smile on their face and said 'Hi' to me as I passed. The road got very steep at one point, but then ended at a beautiful reservoir with an even better view point of the city... I relaxed here for a few minutes but left after I started to attract a lot of attention from the finished cyclists who all wanted photos with me!

For my evening meal I once again decided to splash out and went to another high rated restaurant I found online; 'Mama's Nonya House'. I sat at a table by myself, but before I had finished looking at the menu I was invited to join a table of 3 Malaysian business people on a business meal, one lady from Georgetown and two guys from KL. They were surprised to see me travelling alone and asked me many questions about where I had been and what had led me there. After the small inquisition the conversation turned casual, and we ordered multiple dishes off the menu to share, one of which was lemon fish head soup, which I did try but was pretty horrific! The group were really lovely, honest people, who were just genuinely interested in getting to know a foreign tourist. There was no scam, no trying to rip me off, no ulterior motive at all... in fact, they wouldn't let me pay my share at the end, for which I was very grateful. Unfortunately, my camera battery had not lasted the day, as it would be lovely to have a photo memory of this meal.

This was the second meal that I had paid for me in 3 days in Malaysia, and I was going to find that it would by-no-means be the last.... the relationship of the Malaysian people with tourists was so so different compared to what I had experienced in Vietnam or Cambodia for example. I was not being exploited, I paid the same as any Malaysian person, people seemed to be honest and but curious... I assumed that this was due to the wealth of the country, but I guess I would see as my travels continued...

That night Claire from Clockwise and I went for a few drinks at the local reggae bar, where there was live music of a mixed duo. Their singing almost brought us close to tears on several occasions! After this we headed to a skybar across town and had some swanky cocktails with another great view out over the city!

I loved Georgetown, not only was the city full of art and culture, but also some cool bars and amazing food. But by far the best experience of Malaysia so far was the interactions I had had with the local people, It was a great first impression of Malaysia!

Posted by Libbytes 06:31 Archived in Malaysia Tagged penang georgetown Comments (0)

Living like a local in Ipoh

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From Georgetown I decided to take a bus to the city of Ipoh, not a place in Malaysia that is well-renowned for tourism, but it was only a short journey away and the bus was cheap! The bus dropped me at a bus-station that was quite a way out of town, but I didn't feel stranded for long; local people in the station showed me the way to the public bus into the city centre which cost about 20p!

Once in the centre I checked into an awful hostel... probably the worst I stayed in my whole trip, small with no window, pretty foul smelling and overpriced... but it was the only hostel in Ipoh that I could find. That evening I ate at an Indian restaurant, and on the way back to the hostel bumped into 2 swiss guys, Greg and Fady. I guess just cause we were all tourists, they said hi to me in the street and we chatted for a while before exchanging details to perhaps meet somewhere else in Malaysia since they were heading off.

The following day I planned to head out to some of the local temples and caves, but I was finding it difficult to work out how to get there. As I mentioned, Ipoh is not a busy tourist town, and so the infrastructure to the sights is practically non-existent, and I couldn't find anywhere to rent a bike or scooter even the locals didn't know how to get there. I eventually found one guy who was in the reception of my hostel talking to the manager who knew which bus to get to the temples, so I headed out.

However, I decided to go and grab some food first since and headed off in the opposite direction to the bus stop... a few minutes later, the guy who gave me the directions caught up to me in the street, concerned that I has misunderstood his directions. When I explained that I was getting lunch, he got excited to take me to his favourite kari mee (curry noodles) restaurant which we said was just around the corner. I figured that it was worth a try, and it didn't seem like he was trying to trick me. So we did go just around the corner to a little oudoors stall which was quite busy, and the kari mee was.... amazing!
This is what sparked my addiction to kari mee, which I then had almost everyday for lunch!

At lunch, I got talking with Ikram and he asked if I was still thinking of visiting the caves... I was. Ikram asked if he could join me in visiting the caves since he had never been before. I was a little doubtful at first, but based on our conversations I agreed and we went to the Sam Poh Tong Caves in Ikram's car. From here, we drove to Gua Tempurung, a massive cave system, and joined a walking tour through the caves which was full of local University students (who again all wanted photos with me, as the only tourist..). Ikram and I had a fantastic day, it really was fun. In our journeys between the caves we discussed the differences between our cultures and mainly religion. Ikram was muslim and couldn't believe that I didn't believe in any higher being. He kept asking, "but what do you think happens when you die?!", he couldn't get his head around it, and in the end we both just laughed about it!

A beautiful view of limestone karsts.... oh, and a kfc sign
It is good luck to release tortoises within the temple grounds, and there were hundreds of them here (quite sad really)

After the caves, Ikram took me for some cendol, (a malaysian dessert of shaved ice, coconut cream, sticky rice and sugary sweets... very odd), before dropping me off back at my hostel.

Back in the hostel I met 2 new additions to my dorm room; a Japanese guy called Takaaki and a Chinese guy called John. we arranged to go out for food together and so headed out to a local hawker market. The satay and peanut sauce we shared was pretty good, and dirt cheap.

After our starter, we met Ikram at a small restaurant where he introduced us all to cheese naans with curry sauce, before driving us to a place where we go a make your own fish medley... which if I'm honest, I wasn't a fan of. Most of the items where pretty fake tasting, like the artificial fish balls and fish sticks (a little like crab sticks but worse!). Ikram dropped us back at our hostel and after chatting before bed, we all planned to go to the bus station the next day to move on...

Ipoh was not a touristy city by any means. I was very lucky to have found Ikram who played as a personal tour guide and malaysian-culture educator! After speaking to both John and Taka, I found that their experiences of visiting the caves were very different to mine; a 2 hour bus ride there and an expensive taxi journey back... didn't sound like the fun I had. Also neither of them had even heard about the large Gua Tempurung caves, it seems that it is more of a malaysian-tourist attraction rather than one for foreigners. I was beginning to feel the true warmth and hospitality of the Malaysian people. The day with Ikram was so fun, what's more, he insisted on paying for everything that day and wouldn't accept any of my money... there was once again, no scamming, not ulterior motives, just a genuine helpfulness and curiosity of tourists and foreign cultures (plus he also wanted to visit the caves and skive-off work!)

You could say that I took a risk... You are always taught not to go anywhere with strangers, especially strange men, and especially not in a foreign country, but the whole day just seemed natural. There were no apparent ulterior motives, I was never once suspicious, and I trusted my instinct to judge the situation. If I hadn't gone with Ikram, based on public opinion or risk assessment, then I don't know what I would have done... spent all day on hot public transport and potentially needing to be bailed out using expensive taxis....?!

I mean, it is easy to say it was the correct decision in hindsight, but I did learn a lot from this experience. The correct advice is to always keep yourself safe - at all times, not to put yourself in vulnerable situations, BUT - to trust your instincts and to trust humanity. Each individual should be judged separately, not everybody is out to get you.

Posted by Libbytes 16:56 Archived in Malaysia Tagged cave ipoh Comments (0)

Feeling the cold in Cameron Highlands

rain 20 °C
View PhD Celebrations! on Libbytes's travel map.

From Ipoh, John and I headed from the local bus station out towards the Cameron Highlands. The road there wound through the mountains and jungle and was one of the most incredible roads yet. The higher we climbed into the interior of peninsular Malaysia, the worse the weather got... foggy and misty looking out over the valleys from the road. When we finally arrived in Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands region, the sky was completely grey and it was raining heavily... A nice difference from all the heat, well, for about 10 minutes before I realised I only had one pair of full length cotton trousers and one jumper! By the time we checked into a hostel in the town it was late, so we headed straight for food at an indian restaurant which did delicious naan bread.

The next day the rain was still relentless, but John and I decided to try and brave it anyway. We got as far as a coffee shop where we had scones, strawberry jam and cream with local tea (well, coffee for me). The climate in the Cameron Highlands makes it perfect for growing many of Malaysia's fruit and vegetables, but in particular, strawberries, which were bought to the region by the British - hence the influence of locally produced strawberry jam with a cream tea.

After chilling for a bit the rain died down enough for a walk down into one of the valleys for some strawberry picking and sightseeing...
Chocolate coloured river!

On the way back to the town from the valley the heavens really did open up and we managed to find some shelter in a local golf pavilion when we stayed for about half an hour before sucking it up and just getting wet... we arrived back at the hostel very cold and very very wet! After a hot shower and a nap to recover we met some of the other travellers staying at our hostel; Chin, Romy, Roelie and Bryant. We made arrangements to meet up the following day to visit the tea plantations and hang out.

Surprisingly (and luckily), the following day was actually lovely weather, and so John, Romy, Roelie and I caught a taxi over to one of the local tea plantations that is open to the public. In the plantation was a small museum and information showing how the tea is dried and packaged on the site, but the main attraction was the views of the plantation out over the valley. After a quick pit-stop of cake and coffee we took a walk up one of the hills which we heard lead to a mossy forest and even better views over the valley.
Cake and coffee
We managed to hitch-hike back into town, which meant all 4 of us squeezing into the back seats!

When we arrived back the weather turned slightly and so we began a game of pictionary, which slowly attracted lots of people! I was the best by default... as the only English player it was easy to guess words such as 'Wellington boot', that nobody else had ever heard of!

After the game, Chin took us out for some traditional steam boat, a Malaysian variation of Chinese hot pot.
The evening carried on late into the night, with far too much Malaysian vodka being drunk... the next day was NOT a good one!

The Cameron Highlands region of Malaysia were such a contrast to the rest of asia I had visited, and reminded me somewhat of Da Lat in Vietnam, with the cooler climate and fruit and vegetable growing farms. However, it felt slightly more commercial than the rest of Malaysia, with more group tours, open tea plantations charging a fortune for coffee and all the gimmicky 'pick-your-own' strawberry farms. But this meant that I was able to meet lots of other travellers who I keep in touch with even now, and there was no denying the beauty of the plantations.

Posted by Libbytes 13:54 Archived in Malaysia Tagged cameron_highlands tanah_rata Comments (0)

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