Leaving Malaysia...in a minivan

Trip Start Aug 25, 2003
1
6
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Trip End Jul 23, 2004


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Monday, October 6, 2003

It was hard to leave the Cameron Highlands. Made that much harder by the struggle of prying Phil's fingers from the doorjamb of our room in Barrack #5 at Father's Guesthouse. Ok, he wasn't that difficult to convince we had to leave the cool days of the hill station, but the difference, once we descended, was instantly hotter. Phil still misses the Cameron Highlands...
There are two main towns in the Cameron Highlands: Tanah Rata, and Brinchang, 4 km farther up the hill. We stayed, as most people do, in Tanah Rata. It's a big "backpacker hub"; this means, basically, that most restaurants have pancakes on the menu. Father's Guesthouse is a little ways out of town, near the local convent. The rooms are in World War II barracks of unsure origin; it gave the sleeping experience some atmosphere. They reminded me of metal soup cans, half buried. We spent a day exploring town, and another day hiking in the surrounding jungle with a fantastic Vancouverian, Sarah; I thought she was great even before she forgave me for not knowing north from south, but that really earned my eternal admiration. I have since permanently revoked my own navigation rights for the remainder of the trip. Phil and I also got a ride to a tea plantation and walked the 9 km (downhill; honesty is the best policy) back to Brinchang. Cameron Highlands is a perfect relax and recharge place; we had planned on staying two days, and ended up chilling for five. Which was a good choice, because our next stop, Ipoh, was deeply emotionally demanding and strained our marriage to it's limits.

How was that for compelling drama? Ipoh the town wasn't so bad, but we had a mosquito-and-bedbug tagteam infestation in our flophouse room that night, and they only ever bite me, which they did quite a lot, and this made me very very crabby. But we had had a good day before that, with successful (meaning right bus on the first try, with no embarrassing ticket-buying faux pas) local bus rides to Kellie's Castle (big house only partially finished because of the untimely death of the ownerand now you can wander around the ruins and climb up to the roof, where there aren't any silly guardrails; I love societies free of litigation-crazy people) and back towards Ipoh. Well, almost to Ipoh. We had gotten off the bus to explore one of the cave temples south of Ipoh; it was closed, so we headed back to the road to catch a bus, except none would stop (still have not figured out why; perhaps word spread about Phil's sandals smelling like burnt popcorn). So, we started walking the 3 miles back to Ipoh; it got dark and the sidewalks in Malaysia are...inconsistent, which made walking on them a guessing game of "is that a piece of cement or a hole through which I will plummet 6 feet into the sewer?" Fortunately, our high stakes game of death by open sewage pit was cut short by the arrival of our own guardian angel, Das. A Indian Malaysian, he told us that it was not safe to walk on the sidewalks at night and he would drive us home. When he stopped to drop off some papers (he was some kind of market delivery guy), he bought us cans of Coke, then drove us to the door of our hotel. Phil offered him money, for the soda and the ride, and he said, "God has given me the chance to help you." We love Das.
The next morning, after the Sarah Buffet for Nasty Bity Things, we took a local bus to Kuala Kangsar, and saw the coolest mosque in Malaysia, the Ubidiah Mosque. The color scheme is gold onion domes and black and white striped spires; it is just a very photogenic mosque. A few minutes walk past the mosque is the sultan's palace, which is surrounded by a high wall, but otherwise, is pretty settled in suburbia, surrounded by normal Malaysian houses. We don't have any royalty in the States, but imagine if the White House was kind of plopped down in the middle of a neighborhood in, say, Ferndale, Michigan, and you can get the idea.
From Kuala Kangsar, we took a bus to Butterworth, and then the ferry to Penang Island. I remarked to Phil, "It feels cooler, and the sky is pretty cloudy. I wonder if we'll get any rain?" And then it poured for four days, and the water drains flooded, and the streets flooded, and we discovered that rats can swim. Judging from their general attitude, I'm pretty sure they don't enjoy it, but they possess the skills. We waded around Georgetown, saw "2 Fast 2 Furious" (wow...it's really bad), and ate four times a day in Little India, hoping the rain would let up so we could...take some pictures or something. Today, it only sprinkled so we went to Kok Lok Si temple and I took 50 pictures of the turtle pond, to make up for the previous four days. Five days was too long for us here; Georgetown is a really easy city to get around (when it isn't flooded), but it's still the small towns we've been in that I like best.

Tomorrow we are headed to Hat Yai, in Thailand, in a minivan. Sometimes, it does seem too easy.
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