25.02.2010 37 °C
I know it has been a little while and I have a lot to write, so bear with me, last week was fun.
Well Feb the 14th was not only Valentines day but the start of the Chinese New Year, so our uni decided to give us the week off. At first I was a little annoyed about this, only two weeks of uni and then a one week holiday already. Especially because the safety brigade kept telling me that it was monsoon season where I wanted to go and everything would be horrible, wet and closed.
I made an Australian friend here who was too scared to travel Malaysia alone, so Jess and I decided to cover some of the east coast together. I expected to be tearing her hair out by the end of a week, but luckily we got along OK and had a great trip. If anyone wants to look it up Johore Bahru - Kuantan - Cherating - Tasik Kenyir - Kuala Terengganu - Kuala Besut - Palau Perhentian Kecil - Kota Bharu - Kuala Lumpur and back home (JB). As I discovered on this trip, things in Malaysia are not always what they seem, in fact more often than not you will end up with a wierd wonderful or terrible suprise.
First step, book some transport. Easier said than done. My Malaysian isn't that great but it didn't take me long to figure out what habis means. Plane = habis, bus = habis, roads anywhere = habis, hotel = habis, Chinese new year in Malaysia = every damn form of transport and accomodation in the country is habis, habis, full, full. We finally weazeled our way onto a junky bus leaving Johor at 10pm to arrive in Kuantan at 3am with a cheap hotel room awaiting us, or so we thought.
10pm = wait for two hours in a dingy bus terminal until we come and get you to leave at midnight.
3am = 7am because we have to make several stops for apparently no reason at all and we won't tell you either.
Hotel booking = sorry, we gave the room to someone else and have none left!!!!!! Actually I don't think they even included the sorry. We ended up paying almost double the agreed price (white person tax) and getting a room with no running water before checking out 4 hours later. If I wasn't so tired I would have rubbed his face in my armpit because that was the most unpleasant place on earth at the time. Luckily the trip improved after this.
We ate a feast as always (have I told you the food here is amazing) and caught the local bus up to a surfing village called Cherating. This bus had "Sihat" written down the side, Malay for healthy. I would equate that to tattooing "healthy" on the side of a morbidly obese man smoking a cigar and drinking a cup of fat. But Cherating was lovely and the cheapest chalet in the town was not habis. The monsoon waves were actually pretty good, and I got very sunburnt bodysurfing. Even the pubs were good which is unusual here and at night we caught a boat up the river in complete darkness so we could see the swarms of fire-flies. It was like a whole river of sparkling christmas trees only the lights come and land on your nose! So much for that horrible weather everyone warned me about.
The coastline further north was beautiful but it seems that Malaysians have little respect for their awesome landscape. Perhaps that is a little unfair as some of them are barely surviving on what little they have, so the environment is not really their priority. A shame none the less.
We made it to a place called Tasik Kenyir, or Lake Kenyir. The buses were a bit scarce in this area so we resorted to a cab. Only thing is, there are no meters in the cabs once you get to Kuala Terangganu. This is not really an issue as the agreed fares are usually reasonable and if they get stuck in traffic, too bad for them. What it does mean is that any idiot with a car suddenly becomes a cab, especially when they see white people. The first time we opted for a cute little old man that actually had "teksi" written on his car. The fact that he couldn't speak english was fine, and stopping for prayer on the way was actually amusing (thankyou agreed fare), but when he slowed to a walk at sunset and almost stopped everytime headlights came the other way, we realised he actually couldn't see! We were in a cab with a blind man! Really!
Our next lift was pretty cheap, so even though the guy's van didn't have teksi written on it, we took him up on his offer. Back in 10 minutes he said. He then proceeded to fill his van up with half the town and dropped them all off one by one on the way to the lake. Seems he was on his way to the lake anyway and we had just paid for all the locals to get a free ride home. No matter, he was a nice guy and he wasn't blind.
The lake was amazing and we canoed around and saw some monkeys and huge monitor lizards. We then decide to hitch-hike back because really every car was a cab anyway, so what's the difference. The funny thing about this story is that when I arrived back at uni and told my Malaysian friends, they went into shock. They assume that every person that has ever hitch-hiked in Malaysia is dead and honestly I have not seen another single hitch hiker in the country. They were really horrified. So I was quite happy to inform them that we were picked up by a great guy named Kimi who was a professional driver for rich people. He had a black air-conditioned van with a TV screen, big leather seats and automatic sliding doors. Sounds nice, but I can assure you that in Malaysia it is more than nice. In addition to our luxury limo ride, Kimi took us directly to a cab rank and negotiated a bargain price for us to our next destination. He even messaged us later that night to check we were OK! So the safety brigade got it wrong again and Kimi provided us with one of the highlights of our trip.
Later that day we got on a bus with a boy racer. He was drag racing other buses, honking at girls on the road and swerving lanes like a game of frogger. We decided that hitch-hiking was much safer than the buses.
The last destination was a real beauty. It is a place called Palau Perhentian Kecil or Island Perhentian Small. The 400hp boat skipping through monsoon waves for an hour ensured my butt was numb and my clothes were wet but it didn't spoil the view. Even the hoards of tourist that we had so far managed to avoid, couldn't put a damper on this place. These islands are the real gold of Malaysia with beautiful beaches and jungle covered mountains just jutting out of the sea. Chalets perched on rocks, hidden beaches, a barely accessible fishing village
and an abundance of great snorkelling and diving.
I must say, for a week or two I was a little upset that my fellow students back home were enjoying a cruisy orientation week on the beach whilst I was sweltering away in a foreign psych ward. I thought maybe my decision to come to Malaysia was a poor one, but having a week off already was actually a great help to me. Now I was on a beach and for a mere $300 I got my open water diving license and 6 dives. I was swimming around with little nemos, blue spotted stingrays and bamboo sharks. Then each night return to a chalet in the hills with a view of the sunset and sit down to eat all the fresh fish I was just swimming with. Always served with a huge chocolate milkshake on a table so close to the water that the waves would sweep across my feet.
Even the fishing village was a treat as all the kids were on holidays and my limited Malay was exciting for them. They followed us around and gave us guavas from their tree. We even offered our medical support when one of them fell on her face at full speed down a hill. Actually Jess offered her support, I was trying hard not to laugh.
So now I am refreshed and Malaysia is really growing on me, quickly. My new friends at uni are fantastic and they have stopped telling me I can't do things already. They seem just as interested in learning from me as I am from them. This weekend is another public holiday. I am not really sure what this one is for, but I still get a day off. Tonight I head to Melaka to check out the old Portugese town and next week I am looking at a motrobike. Very excited. I might fulfill my dream of becoming "The Doctor" after all.
I hope this isn't too drab and thankyou everyone for the comments. I will try and get all my photos onto facebook soon. At the moment, this is a pretty sweet deal I have fallen into. I think I am supposed to study or something.
Salemat tenga hari, Sam.