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Malaysia-Report I


Hi Folks,

Had a few butterflies in my tummy leaving Bangkok to start yet another adventure. Awake early at 4am, I was packed and finally ready to go after a last Bangkok market breakfast at 6.45 just in time to get lost, yet again, on the city roads and wind up in the rush hour. Finally broke free and got onto the East coast road to find the sea and a great place to camp by the beach in Khao San Roi Yat National Park. There was even a cave with a pagoda in it nearby and a restaurant so I was very happy. Lovely white sandy beach and blue sea, perfect for yoga and fiddle practise. Was eaten alive by the tiny black flies though.

I cut across to the west coast thinking I may have a final look at Burma but when I reached the border port of Ranong the weather had deteriorated to the normal heavy rain and, not finding any decent guest houses I enquired at the Wat (no room) and was finally taken in by the local Tsunami monitoring station. Considering the terrible storm conditions this was apt except that the place leaked like a sieve and we had to position the bed so I wasn't drowned. Very kind of them to give me shelter and also dinner and breakfast!

I left in torrential rain the next day to ride to Phuket. I wasn't really interested in this tourist trap but had been given the name of a guy who has a Harley Davidson shop and runs a Thai Bike Magasine called Bike Thailand. When I arrived, in much improved weather conditions, Sumon, the owner and his bi-lingual assistant, Alicia, interviewed me and ensconced me in a luxury hotel nearby. Then Alicia and her friend treated me to a night on the town, doing the bars. We played pool and one bar had an amazing choice of music so I even had the great, unexpected pleasure of hearing Steeleye Span "All around my Hat" and the Poques "Dirty old Town" All this while downing a few beers, what more could a girl ask for? Thank you Bike Thailand.

The Phuket area is understandably popular with tourists because the scenery is superb, steep sided, jungle covered islands jutting out of the sea, visited by many boats. Lots of hidden coves and plenty of tourist accommodation and bars. I found a deserted campsite in a National park by the sea near Krabi and treated myself to my one and only beach day in 3 months! There are many fossils on the beach in this area and I was reminded of Dorset in this respect.

The last night in Thailand was spent in another superb(and free again) NP camping area by the sea, with my fiddling spot in a Tsunami look out tower over the ocean.

I was feeling a tad sad about leaving Thailand and was going to treat myself to a beer but the local cafe was Muslim run, so no grog, only iced coffee. Ah well, the longer I go without alcohol the longer I will remain under 50kgs.

After a diversion to a final Thai waterfall I crossed the border into Malaysia, having to instruct both sides how to fill out the carnet. The first town I hit was Kangar and, as I was feeling decidedly tired with all the excitement of entering yet another country, I found a spot to camp in the grounds of a snake park. It was next to a Golf Club with two enormous 18 hole links. Very impressive and it reminded me of some of my ball losing days in Blackwood, South Australia. Now my eyes are even worse, I wouldn't stand a chance!

My Malaysian workmate in Gibraltar, Choo, had warned her family to expect me so I rode into Penang and was met and guided by her brother in law to their family restaurant where they proceeded to feed me.

The next two days I went on to the island of Penang, initially to check out the Indonesian consulate and then to be a tourist around the historic town. It is the sister city of Adelaide, south Australia. Captain Francis Light founded Penang and his son, Colonel William Light, founded Adelaide. I spent quite some time in the old Cornwallis Fort . Francis Light reputedly had the area for this cleared very quickly by the locals when he used the cannons to fire silver coins into the jungle which inspired the workers to go to it!

The little chapel there had wonderful acoustics and was very cool so I spent a bit of time singing inside, out of the hot sun.

There is an informative Traditional trades trail around Penang old town and I used a few hours visiting the old crafts men; a coffee maker, a joss stick maker, a goldsmith, signboard engraver, Songkok (Muslim headwear) maker, rattan weaver, and a beaded shoe maker. These craftsmen are nearly all of Chinese origin and were a delight to watch and talk to. Though not all had good English, they were a lot better at speaking it than most Thai people and it was great to see the old ways of making things still going on today.

I took a ride around Penang island, now a very busy place. The main beach is almost totally obscured by high rise hotels and I'm sure that my friends who came overland in 1968 and took the boat from Madras to Penang would not recognise it now.

Ah Pin and her family took me to a superb local seafood restaurant on my final night. It was in Butterworth, overlooking the water and the lights of Penang. Far more peaceful in the evening than during the rush hour dash on the ferry in the morning or the deadful traffic jam on the long bridge that spans the water between the mainland and Penang Island.

After group photos of the family round the bike I headed south on the freeway to Ipoh. En route I spotted a sign for an island where you can see Orang Utans so I diverted and was delighted to see these amazing animals in a natural environment where they are being cared for by park rangers and vets. Apparently due to poaching problems in Sarawak and Borneo many of these animals are abandoned and need protection and rehabilitation. The Bukit Merah Laketown Resort has set up an Eco tourism park which enables people to see many animals, including these wonderful humanoid species, and it gives the paying public an opportunity to contribute to the conservation work. I was impressed.

On to the old tin mining town of Ipoh which is set amidst more carst hills and caves. Here I was met by another member of Choo's family, Doreen, with whom I am now staying while I get this report written. In typical Chinese Malaysian fashion her first question was "Are you hungry?" It's so good to be fed all this super food!!

I must admit I am astounded by the amount of traffic in Malaysia, not just in the towns but also on the highways. Also the driving is a bit haphazard and I have seen many accidents. The motorbikes overtake on both sides and so do the cars so I have to check very carefully when changing lanes. The peculiarity here is the way the motorcyclists wear their jackets. Like other parts of the hot Asian continent most of the small bike riders just wear thin cotton or nylon jackets which are not very protective. Here they are even less so as they wear them back to front with the zip open and flapping in the breeze. I am told that this is because of the hot sun. It is cooler to have the jacket open and therefore better to have it back to front. Easier to take it off when they stop too. Ah well, it takes all types. Many think my gear is unsafe too....

Well, that's it for now. I head up to the Cameron Highlands tomorrow to see if it is raining there and , if not, do some walking . Then on to Taman Negara National park where I hope to do some more strenuous trekking. Last night I joined Doreen in her Tai Chi class and had a cool swim in a lovely pool. Feeling fit and well and ready to tackle the heights. I have decided to put the Indonesian visa problem on hold till I reach KL. Plenty of time.

Thanks to everyone on this leg of the trip, especially Choo's wonderful family.

Take care and much love,


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