With our bus departure time only ten minutes away, Kerri and I realise we’re waiting in the wrong place. At any other bus terminal I’ve been this would not be too traumatic, but this particular bus terminal just over the border from Singapore is ridiculous in its size and volume of buses flowing through. We’ve been here over two hours and we’ve only realised now….we split up (her blond hair should be easy to spot in a sea of black) and begin our frantic search. With seconds to spare we locate our beloved bus before taking our seat with still elevated heart rates.
TIOMAN ISLAND, MALAYSIA
Our arrival on Tioman Island off Malaysia’s south-east coast coincides with the imminent arrival of the wet season, so with few tourists remaining we enjoy our few days here interacting with the local islanders who work here as kitchen staff/tour guides/dive instructors etc.
One end of Timoan Island has the five-star mega resorts endless sandy beaches and the swaying palm trees you see in travel brochures. ‘Our’ end of the island lacked the picture postcard beaches, but over compensated with great diving, snorkelling, hiking and a low-level of development that allows a laid back casual vibe and an opportunity to immerse in the lifestyle and culture of those who call Tioman home.
A little older than the others and with the deserved nickname of ‘Mad’, his family for generations had grown up on this island. Mad had his own fishing boat/trawler and invited us, along with two English girls we had befriended and some of his own friends on an impromptu afternoon boat ride. There was no itinerary, just a quick pack of towels, food and drinks.
For most of the afternoon we snorkelled on a small but fantastic coral reef which lay adjacent to a tiny uninhabited island. Exhausted from snorkelling we moved a little further off shore for some fishing and squid jigging for which we were surprisingly successful. With the sun setting we made our way back again to the tiny island and setup on a gorgeous white sand beach. With a bbq of our fresh caught seafood, bonfire, music and drinks; we partied into the night….the weather so warm we slept on the beach. Perfect afternoon and night in a perfect location.
With few tourists left, the relaxed and laid back atmosphere and night times parties are very addictive, but alcohol in a Muslim country is not inexpensive. So with a near empty wallet, a monsoon season that seems to be increasing its presence with each day, and a great reluctance; we make our back to mainland.
KUALA LUMPER, MALAYSIA
A 1.30am arrival by bus is not ideal. Fortunately backpacker accommodation with 24 hour book-in was across the road.
I found KL a modern, vibrant and enjoyable city to explore. The view from atop KL tower (one of the worlds tallest towers) is incredible both day and night, equally the view from the cross bridge joining Petronas Towers which in approx one months time will no longer be the worlds tallest building!
The mix of cultures provides a wonderful culinary range. Malay restaurants interspersed with Chinese cuisine, best found in ‘little China’ section of the city as is the food in ‘little India’ which I was fortunate enough to coincide a visit during the Saturday night market and the start of Ramodan….crazy but fun!
One morning as I set out to explore the city I was approached by a Malay man who seemingly was genuine in his approach and told me he was waiting for his sister to arrive from Borneo. He was going to show her some of the sights of KL and offered for me to join them on her arrival, to which I answered in the affirmative.
After a couple of hours of sightseeing they offered for me to join them at the family house for lunch and again I agreed, comfortable in what I believed to be their genuine nature. We had lunch, after which their ‘Uncle’ (who incidentally was feeling very unwell from a bout of the flu) pulled out a deck of cards and proceeded to show me some tricks and hand signals they employ to cheat punters in a Casino where he is employed as a supervisor! His unwell state forced him back to bed and my ‘friends’ dropped me off at the National Museum alone from where I eventually returned back to our accommodation in the city centre.
On arrival I run into Kerri in a distressed state. She has had an almost identical experience, except the ‘Uncle’ was not unwell and upon showing her the tricks, advised that their was someone coming over to the house and would she assist in ‘fleecing’ them! After a short time playing and losing what money she had on hand, they took her to an ATM from which she was able to escape.
After further investigation and talking to others, it was apparent this was a common scam. Object is to lull you into a false sense of security with small winning bets using hand signals etc, then significantly ‘up’ the bet and turn the tables on the unsuspecting visitor. We heard of one Australian guy who was taken for many thousands of dollars! We were both very lucky and I felt foolish that I had gone to their private residence alone in an unfamiliar part of a city and country I had never been!
Despite this incident, I would recommend KL as a stopover…the shopping was excellent for price, variety and quality….just dont play cards with someone who claims to work at a Casino!
CAMERON HIGHLANDS, MALAYSIA
1500m above sea level far away from the city bustle surrounded by jungle and tea plantations, the cool mountain air giving sweet relief from the heat and humidity, this is the Malaysia I imagined! Two days of jungle trekking, not caring where the trail ends…eventually you find a road and hitch a ride back to town! On one occasion came upon a tea plantation and was free to wander through observing the people hand-picking the tea leaves, seems such an old and tedious method of harvesting, yet wonderfully harmonious with the scene in which its set.
The rain here in the mountain interior is becoming a little too constant, even cold. Time to move on.
PENANG ISLAND, MALAYSIA
Situated off the North West coast with Georgetown as its capital. The train which pulls up the steep slope of Penang Hill in the island heart is a must with 360 degree views of the island. I relish the chance to eat from the many street vendors the city is famous for…cheap and delicious, excellent combination!
I will remember Georgetown for two things. The first being the ‘ladyboys’…bizarre yet funny! The other was whilst sitting on the steps of our guesthouse one night having a beer and a competition to see who could count the most rats running around the street….they were huge!
Tomorrow is Thailand, but I look forward to my return to Malaysia in a few months. Even despite our ‘sting’ in KL, I have enjoyed my interaction with Malay people and while the alcohol is restricted, food is outstanding in quality and expense.
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