2 March 2018 - Malaysia Road Trip
Another month has gone by, and I can report that we’ve done a little bit of boat work, and have seen more of Malaysia. Diane’s brother Henry arrived to visit us, with gifts of liquorice and RotoZip bits in hand - both impossible to obtain in Malaysia.
Meeting Henry at the airport, we first stayed in Kuala Lumpur for two nights, enough time to visit the downtown area, the Petronas Towers and a huge shopping mall. This was also enough time for Henry’s suitcase to catch up with him. Here is Diane and Henry posing in front of the iconic Petronas Twin Towers. According to Wikipedia, they were the tallest buildings in the world from 1998 to 2004 and remain the tallest twin towers in the world. The 88-floor towers are constructed largely of reinforced concrete, with a steel and glass facade designed to resemble motifs found in Islamic art, a reflection of Malaysia's Muslim religion. Thousands of people were evacuated from the twin towers on 12 September 2001 after a bomb threat the day after the September 11 attacks destroyed the World Trade Centre towers in New York City.
While in Kuala Lumpur, we visited the Bird Park, billed as the "World's Largest Free-flight Walk-in Aviary", with 20.9 acres to be explored. As expected, we saw lots of birds indigenous to SE Asia. I even took a photo of this guy, who paid big bucks to have all these birds roost on him.
We had a really nice local lunch at the Bird Park, and Henry tried for the first time, Malaysian lemonade, which is based on freshly squeezed lime juice. Normally this drink is highly sugared, but we asked for less sugar, because the Malaysians have a real sweat tooth.
Next, we drove to Malacca, where we’ve been before. We thought this was a pretty special city and deserved seeing again. This is a view from our hotel balcony, actually it was just the common hallway. I found it odd to be on the 17th floor and be able to walk outside with a handrail at about chest level. I suppose that suicide jumpers are not a big concern. This view shows the exterior of a really big shopping mall, the kind that you can get lost in.
I’ve posted other pictures of Malacca before, so I won’t repeat what we’ve already seen. I thought this downtown photo was neat.
I pressed Henry to get a massage, something that he said he’d only had once before in his lifetime. In this area of the world, massages are cheap and plentiful and I want to “live like a native”. Henry’s 60 minute massage cost about $20.
Then, we drove South to Johur Bahru and positioned our rental car so that we could visit Singapore. Although Singapore is only a “bridge” away, we couldn’t drive our rental car into Singapore without first buying a special permit. Regulations say that only the vehicle’s owner can buy said permit - so, we left the car at Puteri Harbour Marina. Our previous experience was to take a bus across into Singapore, but with 3 people, we figured that we were now entitled to an upgrade - to a private car. The costs for said car are advertised in Singapore dollars, $150 round trip (same day), or $100 one way. Since this was Chinese New Year (CNY is the common acronym here), the price was bumped up by 50%. So, we paid in total $300 for two trips, in a private car. It was still worth it though because the private car took us from our car in the parking lot directly to our hotel. We never even had to step out of the car when passing through Customs and Immigration. Door to door it took about 50 minutes, rather than 3 hours and fighting with the crowds. It was an excellent adventure.
Unfortunately, two things went wrong in Singapore. First, I booked us into a 3 star hotel, and there were cockroaches, not only in the room, but seemingly - in the neighbourhood. Secondly, our grand plan was to spend CNY in Singapore, Chinatown, where there were obviously a lot of Chinese people. I had visions of dragon parades, festivals etc. In truth, Chinatown was completely shutdown, as well as 2/3 of Singapore. The local Chinese won’t work during CNY, and they either have family coming home or they leave town - maybe they go to Malaysia?
Our first stop in Singapore was the famous Gardens by the Bay, a nature park spanning 101 hectares (250 acres) of reclaimed land in central Singapore, adjacent to the Marina Reservoir. Gardens by the Bay is part of a strategy by the Singapore government to transform Singapore from a "Garden City" to a "City in a Garden". The stated aim is to raise the quality of life by enhancing greenery and flora in the city. This is not one of my photos, but a glossy tourist photo - but it really shows the area.
I’ve seen these views once on television, and they really are spectacular when you see them in person.
We did stumble upon some CNY celebrations though with this “dog dance” happening right in the gardens.
These are some photos that Henry took at night, quite beautiful.
No tour of Singapore would be complete though without stopping off at the Marina Bay Sands, an integrated resort fronting Marina Bay. At its opening in 2010, it was billed as the world's most expensive standalone casino property at S$8 billion, including the land cost. The resort includes a 2,561-room hotel, a 120,000-square-metre (1,300,000 sq ft) convention-exhibition centre, the 74,000 m2 (800,000 sq ft) The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands mall, a museum, two large theatres, "celebrity chef" restaurants, two floating Crystal Pavilions, a skating rink, and the world's largest atrium casino with 500 tables and finally - 1,600 slot machines.
Wanting to try some local creations, we had what we thought were ice cream sundaes, but they turned out to be shaved ice with lots of different syrups, fruit and even kernels of corn. Henry didn’t like having corn in his “ice cream”, and neither did I.
We dropped in to Mustafa’s in the Indian quarter, this is a huge iconic store - in search of a replacement cargo bag suitcase since mine had a broken zipper. I compare the Mustafa Centre to Harrod’s of London. Clearly, Mustafa’s had the largest selection of suitcases anywhere, and we walked out with a replacement suitcase.
Diane and Henry went to the Botanic Gardens (which I had seen before), while I stayed back at the hotel, rested my leg, did the laundry (at the laundromat) and guarded against cockroaches. Our best effort was made before leaving to go to the laundromat, when I zealously sprayed the room and vacated it for a few hours!
We did enjoy our stay in Singapore, although it was somewhat different than originally conceived.
Next, we returned to Malaysia via JB and drove North, just North of Kuala Lumpur to visit the Batu Caves. Batu Caves is a limestone hill that has a series of caves and cave temples in Gombak, Selangor, Malaysia. It takes its name from the Sungai Batu (Stone River), which flows past the hill. The caves are one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside India, and are dedicated to Lord Murugan. The Batu Caves are also referred to as the 10th Caves or Hill for Lord Murugan (also known as Murugan, Skanda, Kumara, and Subrahmanya, is the Hindu god of war) as there are six important holy shrines in India and four more in Malaysia, some of which we have already seen.
It was a long way up, and a pretty steep staircase.
Inside, the open space was simply breathtaking.
There were lots of monkeys inside, watching the tourists and hoping for a snack, or maybe to snatch a pair of sunglasses or a cell phone!
Henry took this photo at the souvenir shop. It remains puzzling that their were plenty of Canada flags on offer. I suppose they’re popular?
At the foot of the hill, there are many smaller, but equally impressive caves to enter. All in all, it was quite interesting and a cheap way to spend a few hours.
Next, we left Batu Caves and drove North to the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia’s most extensive hill station and a district of Pahang state. It occupies an area of 712 square kilometres (275 sq mi). Surveyed by William Cameron in 1885, the outpost consists of three mukims (subdistricts) nestled at elevations ranging from 1,100 metres (3,600 ft) to 1,600 metres (5,200 ft) above sea level. The mean annual temperature of the retreat is about 18 °C (64 °F). During the day, the temperature seldom rises over 25 °C (77 °F); at night, it can drop to as low as 9 °C (48 °F) at the higher reaches. Developed in the 1930s, the tableland is one of the oldest tourist spots in Malaysia. Apart from its tea estates, the plateau is also noted for its cool weather, orchards, nurseries, farmlands, waterfalls, rivers, lakes, wildlife, mossy forest, golf course, hotels, places of worship, bungalows, Land Rovers, museum and its aborigines (Orang Asli).
We stayed in Cameron Highlands for only one night at an AirBnB apartment. At a local restaurant, we had our first steamboat dinner. This is essentially a big pot that we dumped a bunch of ingredients into and cooked our own soup. It was tasty. As you can tell from the jackets worn by Diane and Henry, the air temperature had dropped.
Henry gave his “strawberry smoothie” a big thumbs up. I figured it was the best one I’ve ever tasted.
We visited the Boh tea plantation, and I learned how tea (I never drink coffee and rarely drink tea or any other hot beverages) is made. They employ lots of manual workers and specialized cutting tools and simply trim the leaves off the trees, limited the tree growth to about chest height.
Next stop was to see the Sam Poh Buddhist Temple nestled in the Cameron Heights just outside of Bringchang. The Sam Poh Temple is the 4th largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia. Amongst others, it houses a large statue of Lord Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. The temple is quite pretty and has been well maintained by residents and local monks. Surrounded by a bright yellow wall, the temple is serene and peaceful. Inside, there are lots of different statues, both Buddhist and Chinese, and incense is burning in the background in memory of those passed on.
Leaving Cameron Highlands, unfortunately it was all “downhill” from there. We stayed one night in downtown Ipoh where Henry was completely bedridden, “sick as a dog”, apparently sicker than he had ever been. From there, we drove only 2 hours back to Pangkor, so we could “regroup” at the marina, our home turf. We abandoned our plan of going further on to Penang. After three days of R&R and a single doctors visit, I’m still unsure whether Henry had a really bad bout of the flu, or Dengue Fever - which is quite common this time of the year. Regardless, they both present similar symptoms and require similar treatment. Its just that Dengue, if left untreated - can be life threatening. In the end, Henry recovered so that he was well enough for his flight home and we have heard that he did indeed make it back to Ontario. We are very grateful for his visit and hope that we gave him sufficient exposure to Malaysia and SE Asia. Here is a parting shot of a palm plantation, representing the 4rth largest contributor to Malaysia’s economy, on the 4 hour drive to the airport at Kuala Lumpur.