Tuesday, 18 September 2012

My Ten Day Tour of Malaysia

I've been bad at updating the blog so now left myself with loads to write - going to have to break it up into different posts. I'm now in Perth, Australia but more about that another time!  I'll just update you on Malaysia for the time being. I really loved it there and it was a bit of a whistle stop tour compared to my long stay in Thailand but I feel like I've packed so many completely different things in it was like visiting more than one country in a way.

So I left Thailand on the 5th Septemeber and flew from Phuket to Penang. I thought that goign by plane would eman less hassle, but no... It was raining badly and I had decided to walk to the bus stop to save money but got lost ont he way. Then I lost my footing and ended up face down in a muddy puddle with my HEAVY backpack pinning me down to the floor and wriggling around trying to get up while people actually stepped over me! I thought Thais were menat to be friendly? So yeah, I guess I must have looked quite funny... I'm surprised they didn't stop me entering the airport when I finally arrived covered in mud and blood before I could get changed. I did get asked for my phone number by the Thai immigration official though so I can't have looked too bad (didn't give it to him in case you were wondering!!). Flight itself was pretty good though, we even got a free orange juice, not bad for a super cheap 20 quid flight.

The hostel in Penang - Reggae Mansion - was amazing. I'd heard about it from other backpackers and it was really cool, the beds were so comfortable and private and we had hot power showers. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven after some oft he places I've stayed so far. Met some other travellersa nd we all went out for drinks with some of the hostel bar staff then the next day I decided to go see the sights of Georgetown. Unfortunately I forgot my camera and so can't post any photos but I did take some on my phone which I uploaded to facebook so if you really want to see them I'm sure you will be able to find them. Georgetown is really nice to walk around, it's full of interesting buildings and colonial architecture and lots of history which I won't bore you with here. I started at the Penang museum and encountered my second over-friendly official of the past 2 days. His name was Ahmed and he worked at the museum and insisted on following me around everywhere and giving me a priovate tour which I'm sure was well intentioned but became quite annoying. He also wrote his number down for me and wanted to drive me around the island in his car but I made some excuse and ran away! The other thing Penang is famous for is its food so I went to a street food centre and pointed to something on the menu (Ice Kachang) and hoped for the best. It turned out to be a mound of perfume tasting ice and the return of the congealed frogspawn from my stay in the moastery. Also went to Little India for dinner and was a bit disappointed with taht as well. I feel a bit bad becuase it's got such a reputation for good food, I wish I'd liked it but at least I tried. Maybe I ordered the wrong things or maybe I just don't have adventurous tastes.

The next day I had to wake up at 4am for my onward travel which was difficult. Can't believe I actually did it for 10 days at the monastery. I went with a guy called James I'd met at the hostel to Kuala Besut on the East coast where we got a speed boat (very bumpy ride - everyone had to wear life jackets) to the Perhentian Islands. I was really looking forward to this part of my trip as I'd heard so much about them from people and it really was like paradise - I felt like I was inside a holiday brochure. The water is so clear that you can literally walk into the sea until you are neck deep and still look down and see your feet. The accommadation wasn't great though. I'd got used to the luxury of Reggae Mansion and now I was back sharing my room with frogs and mosquitos. We also only had electricty from 7pm - 7am as the islands aren't that developed. And there are loads of monitor lizards everywhere! I saw the first one of these at the monastery and was petrified  - the biggest ones look like crocodiles. But apprently they are harmless and really scraed of humans so that's OK. I guess I have to get used to all this wildlife stuff especially as I am now in Oz -spider/snake/creepy crawly central. I had a really good time there though, just chilling out for a bit. On the second day two of my friends from the hostel in Penang - Kelly and Ryan - came to meet me and in the evenings everyone sits on the beach and listens to music and smokes shisha pipes, it was really cool. There was a band on the first night as well, singing Wonderwall by Oasis. It's funny, everyone seems to love that song here I've heard it everywhere.

So after 3 days on the isalnds I was starting to get a bit bored of just chilling out and decided to head over to the Cameron Highlands. It's so different here it's unreal. The temperature never gets above 20 degrees and it rains every afternoon, I was FREEZING! Was really nice and refreshing though after the heat and felt a lot like I was in the English countryside. There's lots of beautiful scenery and nature and lots of farms and stalls selling local produce. The main attraction here is hiking which I'm sure you will not be surprised to learn that I didn't do any of. I signed up for the 'lazy' tour and visited strawberry farms, butterfly gardens, markets and my favourite - a tea plantation. It was SO nice to have a proper cup of tea and the scenery was amazing. I also tried a 'Cameron apple' which is a weird purple fruit that the locals nickname lovers fruit because apparently it is 'sometimes sweet sometimes bitter' (!) Mine tasted like a potato...

After 2 days of the rain of the Cameron Highlands I decided it was time to head back to the heat and visit Kuala Lumpur. I really loved KL, there was so much to see and do and its so interesting to have a wonder around. I stayed in another Reggae Mansion hostel which was great again and even better as this one has a rooftop bar where you can see the Petronas Towers and KL Tower lit up, so we went there both nights. The first afternoon I arrived I had a look around the central market which was raelly cool. There were lots of signs saying no photography, which is a shame but there was so many weird things for sale. My fav was the foot massaging sandals which looked really uncomfortable! I also had a look around a couple of museums and Merdeka square ("Freedom square") which was the focal point of the lowering of the Union Jack flag and raising of the first Malaysian flag after independence from Britain was declared. That evening we went for food and drinks in China Town which was really good for people watching!
The second day was a hectic one as I only had one day before I left for Singapore. Went for a walk to see the Petronas Towers and the KL Tower which took me right through the main central business district and I saw a lot of other interesting buildings too, like one headquarters of a bank with a camel somehow engraved into the side of the glass. After taking a few photos I continued walking around, getting lost in an industrial estate on the way but eventually finding Bukit Bintang. I imagine this is like the KL version of Oxford Street/Picadilly Circus with lots of restaurants, bars, hotels and shops. I'd found a voucher on my city map for 20 miuntes fish pedicure at a spa on this road so decided to give it a try. If you don't know this was really big a few years ago and started off in Asia. It involves putting your feet in water and fish nibbling on them - which sounds disgusting but apparently is good and pretty much everywhere now. I lasted 2 minutes though before I left, I just kept pulling my feet away, the fish looked so scary and big! And it tickles! Glad I didn't pay for it, I can't believe some people would fork out 30 pounds for that. Weird.

That afternoon I got a train (with female only carriages!) out of the city to visit the Batu caves. These are caves that have been turned into Hindu temple and shrines to Hindu gods and were really interesting to look at. There are 227 (I read that in my Lonely Planet book, didn't count them!)  There are also hundreds of monkeys just running around inside - I tried to steer well clear as they are so unfazed by humans I spotted them stealing food from the people's bags in front of me. After a visit to another museum and walk around the lake gardens by KL Sentral train station I then went out again to Bukit Bintang for dinner and drinks with a big group from the hostel.
Merdeka Square

Rooftop bar

Fish pedicure!

Petronas Twin Towers

KL Tower

Half way up the steps at Batu caves

Batu caves from the bottom of the steps

Monkey in Batu caves

One of the trains had this carriage.. haha!

Such an exhausting two days but I really loved KL I would definately love to come back at some point anyway to explore a bit more. It's so interesting to see the mix between the ultra modern skyscraper buildings of the financial district and all the historical buildings and the mixture of cultures too (even though that does sound like a travel cliche). All in all I loved Malaysia and even though I only spent 10 days there I feel like I got to see and do a lot!
Will let you know about Singapore soon....
Love Jemma x

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Phi Phi, Phuket Town and Goodbye to Thailand

Hi everyone :)

The Thai leg of my journey has almost come to an end, so thought that before I board my plane for Malaysia tomorrow I should update you on what I have been up to for the last couple of weeks.

After landing at the pier and practically half-swimming half-walking what seemed like miles I got to my hostel. I hadn't actually stayed in a shared dorm with strangers yet as I'd always been travelling with people that I'd already met so was a bit apprehensive, but travelling solo you really have to do it or you wouldn't meet anyone. So my first proper experience of a hostel dormitory was this one - a room with 20 beds and not much else apart from loads of ants, cockroaches and (it has been claimed, thankfully never actually seen by me) - a mouse. Oh, and a shared toilet block with three showers one of which had the door hanging off. As you can imagine I wasn't ecstatic about this, but it was OK. I met some nice people but there was actually hardly anyone in the dorm, and the island in general, as it was coming up to the Full Moon party and so most travellers were on their way to Koh Phangnan instead. Also the storm meant that the boats had stopped running - it turned out that mine was the last for at least a day.

The weather did eventually get better on the third day though! I was so pleased because there's not really much to do at all when it's raining. I was a bit disappointed with Phi Phi to be perfectly honest because it had been hyped up so much by everyone I met but it just reminded me of being in Tenerife or Ayia Napa or somewhere like that. The main beach is disgusting and covered in rubbish, and the main area is just full of drunk tourists falling out of clubs and promotors handing you leaflets (I feel a bit snobby saying this but you know what I mean - doesn't really feel like you're in Thailand!)

Having said that, when the weather got better and I had the chance to explore a bit more I did see some really beautiful places. I went on a boat trip to Long Beach, which was MUCH nicer and then on a half day trip to Phi Phi Leh which is the smaller island next to the main Phi Phi island and is where Maya Bay, the location for the film The Beach is. Because of this there are just soo many people doing exactly the same thing that the beach is completely crowded and you only get an hour and a half there. The whole trip was a bit dodgy really (but, you know 'that's Thailand'). We had to follow this guy who took us through the back streets and climb over rusty ropes and stuff to his boat that was parked away from the main pier. Then we stopped off at a few different bays before he told us that in order to get to Maya bay we had to a) swim and climb over these really sharp rocks and then climb through a half submerged cave and b) Pay him 100 baht (2 quid) for the 'national park entrance fee'. We obviously hadn't been told about either of these things beforehand, I just assumed we would pull up onto some nice soft sand but no, nothing can be simple. It was an adventure anyway... Once I had managed to scramble across all the rocks and cut my foot twice in the process we eventually got to the entrance where there was another Thai man sitting on a desk asking us to pay him another 100 baht to get in! We managed to persuade him that we had already paid after a bit of arguing, but I think there was definitely some sort of 'deal' going on between them. Anyway, Maya Bay was really gorgeous and so it was worth it in the end.

Me reading 'The Beach' on the actual Beach...

The assault course to get to Maya Bay


I'm glad I managed to do that when I did because the next day I got really ill. I'd managed to avoid illness for so long I was starting to feel a bit smug but living in the dorm where a lot of other people were also sick I guess it was inevitable. One of the girls I volunteered with also got ill there and I've heard a lot about 'Phi Phi sickness' so it seems like it was always going to happen. I woke up with a fever and couldn't move from my bed all day, let alone eat anything. I was really fed up of being in the dorm as well and not being able to sleep until 5am, being munched on by mosquitos and bugs and having none of my own space so as soon as I was OK to move I got on a ferry back to Phuket town. I booked myself into a hostel that is so much nicer it's in a different league (although I swear I have JUST seen a rat running out of the door!). The first night I got myself a private room with a double bed and hot shower and then watched a DVD and slept there for about 15 hours, which really did me good. I'm still feeling a bit ill and haven't eaten anything except plain rice and bread for a few days but I am getting better so don't worry! I moved into the dorms for the last 2 nights (need to save my money and its only 4 pounds a night, amazing!) but they are still about a million percent better than the ones on Phi Phi. And there's noone else in my dorm so it's like I have a private room anyway which is great as I'm really not in the mood to socialise at the moment. I've spent most of my time watching DVDs in the common room and chilling out (one of which was The Beach, just so I could point at it and say I'd been there).

There have been a couple of interesting things to have a look at around Phuket town, even though if I wasn't ill I would say you couldn't stay for more than half a day really. Firstly, when I arrived the whole street had been blocked off to traffic and there was a massive market going on and at night they played music and there were a couple of stages where dance groups were performing. A girl in the next dorm told me it was Chinese Halloween celebartions but I'm not sure if that's true as I Googled it and couldn't see anything about it.. In any case, it was entertaining to watch and I got a front row seat from my bedroom. It was VERY loud though so I'm glad I was in the other room the first night when I really needed my sleep.

Then this afternoon I felt like I should really do something cultural seeing as I was feeling better so I got a map from the hostel reception and went for a walk around Phuket Old Town. Couldn't believe I actually managed to find my way around and didn't get lost once - my sense of direction is getting better! Although the map listed all these amazing sights to look out for and, yes there were some pretty buildings along the way, a lot of it was in real disrepair and without reading about it you'd just walk straight past. Perfect example...

This is apparently a really historic hotel, the oldest in the town and coincidentally also where another part of The Beach was filmed (I feel like I'm on some sort of The Beach tour, shame Leonardo Di Caprio hasn't popped up yet.)

Also saw some nice architecture (in the Sino-Portugese style so the map told me) and a few shrines and temples. The whole walk took about ten minutes but at least I feel a bit cultural!

So that takes you up to today, I'm flying to Penang in Malaysia tomorrow and I'm really excited! It'll be nice to have a change of scenery and to see a different country. I'm hoping there will be less bugs and cleaner hostels, let's see. Have really loved Thailand though and feel like it's been a much shorter trip than 7 weeks. There's so much more that I want to do here and haven't got a chance to, especially all the northern parts which I didn't even go near. Maybe I'll come back one day....

Miss everyone back at home, lots of love xxx

PS - I have DEFINITELY just seen a rat and I am really freaking out now, great!