After a reasonable flight and a couple of hours' sleep we arrived at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. The immigration and customs formalities were swift and painless , as was the luggage collection. To catch a taxi from the airport to your destination you purchase a ticket at the main desk and hand it to the taxi driver outside the terminal, which we duly did (it was MR70 for both of us to go into town and then we still would have had to catch the KTM commuter train all the way out to the port). We paid MR75 (US$20) for a 45 minute journey to a motel in Pelabuhan Klang relatively near the port area. Our introduction to Malaysia was very pleasant - excellent motorways near the capital, with lots of forested and swampy areas still to be seen. We saw quite a few new housing developments too - similar to the new housing estates in England, but more closely packed.
The motel wasn't too bad, though not the cheapest at MR90 a night. We put our luggage in the room and I changed into my strops (sandals), which were much cooler. We walked down to the local KTM station at Raja Uda and caught the train to Shah Alam, near the RTW/Evergreen offices. Our taxi driver took us on a somewhat scenic route to find the place, but we got there eventually. The team at RTW were very helpful and friendly and spoke excellent English. Unfortunately, the RTW office in New York had forgotten to tell the Malaysian office that we had already paid the destination delivery fees (shown as $225 on the RTW Malaysian invoice). We had no choice, but to pay the full invoice of $305 ($80 for local docs fees and agency fees) and Yap Soo Pei said she would contact the NY office to confirm we had paid and we would have the relevant amount refunded. We had a lovely cup of tea while waiting for our taxi to take us down to the port warehouse to see RTW's contact, Ms Pangas.
Ms Pangas was remarkably helpful. She discovered that RTW had issued the wrong clearing document as our container had the status changed from full container load (FCL) to light container load (LCL), which allows us to unload the vehicle at the port warehouse instead. She called RTW and arranged for them to reissue the correct document and Soo Pei kindly agreed to take it to Ms Pangas house that evening. She went with us to the customs building (her new assistant Kate taxied us there - 5 minutes by car) to help us clear the vehicle (because the forwarding agents wanted a whopping $650 for the pleasure). She got some of the forwarders to give her some tips and then she spoke to the customs chief, who informed us that someone could inspect the vehicle this afternoon, but that we should get insurance and a free ICP (road tax permit) in order to drive in Malaysia. So, the customs inspector drove with us back to the warehouse where Ms Pangas had already phoned ahead and told them to open the container.
Getting Nyathi out proved more difficult than we would have liked, as her battery was flat. The inspector said all he needed to see was the engine and chassis numbers. So he squeezed down the side of the container, with torch in hand and Michael had the bonnet open so he could see the numbers and that was it. Ms Pangas suggested we might like to give him something for his trouble, when we offered, he declined saying he was just doing his job, so we thanked him and he went on his way.
After numerous attempts to start the car Otman (one of Ms Pangas' warehouse workers), towed Nyathi out and eventually we used his battery to start her up. It turns out our jumper cables had a bad connection. We pumped up the flat tyres (no problems there, none of them had come off the rims), Michael tied the bikes on the roof and then drove Nyathi into the are house for the night. Kate drove us back to the customs building where we caught a taxi back to the hotel for MR35.
We were both hungry and tired, but exhaustion won and after munching some Nutticrust biscuits we fell into bed at 19h30 with the air conditioning blowing full blast. Our first day in Malaysia has been a bit of a run around, but we got much further with the clearing than we anticipated. In fact, if RTW had issued us with the correct document, we could probably have brought Nyathi home tonight!
We both slept well until 23h30 last night and then we were restless until 07h45, when we got up. We had a refreshing shower and caught a taxi to the JPJ road transport department to get our insurance and ICP. Firstly they told us it wasn't necessary to have it, but then the officer was being very helpful and made some phone calls. It turned out to be more difficult than we'd anticipated as he told us we needed to go to the head office in town to get the ICP issued and we needed to get our insurance first. Then we discovered you can only get insurance for a year.
We decided the best bet was to get back to Westport asap, get the documents sorted out and then to get the insurance! We walked about 1.5km to the nearest KTM station (Padang Jawa) and caught the train to Pel. Klang, where we caught a taxi to the customs building at Westport. We waited for about 1h45 for Ms Pangas and she came across with the correct documents (which Soo Pei had dropped off last night). After some to-ing and fro-ing the 2IC in customs signed off our carnet for us (the inspector yesterday wasn't senior enough to make the final signature and the chief wasn't there today). Then after lunch we went back to the warehouse where I did the paperwork and Michael finished pumping Nyathi's tyres etc. We only had to pay Ms Pangas MR20 for the warehousing fees and she didn't charge us for storage last night. We gave her and Kate a big box of chocolates to say thanks for all their help. They really went out of their way to make it easier for us and were phenomenally friendly.
Ms Pangas also arranged for one of the workers in another office to lead us onto the federal motorway (which was a rather complicated route). Soo Pei said she would wait in the office for us to arrive so we could have our $116 refunded! Sadly, the traffic was badly congested and we were only passing the area of our hotel at 17h20 and we knew it would ages before we arrived in Shah Alam. I called Soo Pei and she said it was probably better to do it tomorrow, so she said she'd call at about 09h00 and arrange to meet us near our hotel - how nice! So we signalled to the guy we were following to say we'd rather turn around and go to Shah Alam tomorrow and thanked him for his help!
At the hotel we squeezed Nyathi in under the carport and then we went for a walk down the road to look for a place to eat. We had delicious Nasi Ayam (steamed rice with chicken cooked in a variety of ways - in this case, in a chilli, ginger and mushroom sauce) which was delicious, especially for MR10 (US2.75) for both of us. We ate with chopsticks and the mushrooms proved slippery customers! Then we went to a local supermarket and bought drinking water, milk and condensed milk which amazingly cheap at US$0.60. We took a slow stroll back to the hotel enjoying our lolly ices. Michael put the battery on to charge and pottered about with Nyathi for a bit. I read some of the Malaysia brochures and then we both watched a silly Christmas movie on TV (the only English programme available).
The phone woke us up with a start this morning. It was already 08h50 and we discovered Soo Pei from RTW was outside the room admiring Nyathi! Firstly - I couldn't believe we'd slept so late and secondly - I hadn't expected her to come directly to the hotel or else I would have set the alarm. How embarrassing. I confessed we'd overslept, though I'm sure by our sleepy faces she could have guessed. She refunded us the US$116 we'd already paid. The reason the charge had increased to US$225 (a figure we didn't recognise) was because the status had changed to LCL, which means more cost at Port Klang. It was so good of her (and her colleague) to come to our hotel to save us the journey to their offices - the New York office could learn a thing or two about customer service from the Malaysian team. I gave her the box of chocolates we'd bought for her and the girls at RTW and then she produced a beautifully wrapped gift of red heart chocolates for us as a Christmas present!
We spent the rest of the morning busily preparing Nyathi for the road. We took the electric blanket and duvet off the bed, packed away all the clothes, stored the suitcases, cleaned the cab a bit, cut Michael's hair, showered, washed my grease marked trousers etc. etc. Before we knew it was 14h00 and we hit the road...
Progress was slow. Our maps are not the most detailed and the GPS map has basic information, with no city or town roads at all. The traffic in Kuala Lumpur city was incredible. The motorcyclists take their lives in their hands weaving in and out of the cars and trucks at speed and the number of traffic lights which were gridlocked was unbelievable. We got to see the Petronas Towers from a few blocks away, while we parked and ate some McD burgers and chips (we were starving, wanted something we could eat on the runs and it was cheap - US$0.60 for a double cheeseburger and, surprisingly the server gave me a free coke to drink while I waited for fresh chips to be made).
We drove through both the dodgy and upmarket areas of the city and it all had a welcoming feel to it. Leaving the city was easier said than done and at one stage we ended up at the police check point at the entry to the parliament buildings! Eventually we got onto the correct road heading north out of the city toward Ipoh.
We arrived at Templer's Park at about 18h45 - it looked lovely and green. We drove down to the end of the grassed area and parked next to the river (as far away as possible from the hawkers and the one little tent we saw). The insects were out in force, but at 35°C with 75% humidity it was just too hot to sit in the cab. I quickly did some journal notes and then jumped out into the cooler night air. We rigged mosquito net up for the game-viewing hatch which cooled things down a little inside, but we still preferred being outside. We had a cold bush shower and climbed up into the tent with the fan blowing. We read all the Malaysia brochures and did some trip planning. At 22h00 we hit the sack to sound of myriad frogs and insects...
What a blissful night's sleep - despite the initial heat. It was so fantastic to be back in the comfort of our own bed. In the early hours of the morning it even got a bit cool (at the giddy height of 60m)! We had a leisurely start to the morning, only getting up just before 08h00. We put the website address on the sides (and back) of Nyathi and they look good and of course we added Malaysia to our list of visited countries. We had cereal for breakfast and then Michael fixed the cigarette lighter connections while I tidied away all our paperwork, which I hadn't had time to do yesterday. We did not have to pay for the overnight stay and went on our merry way.
We stopped in the town of Rawang to fill up with fuel and chatted to Ayob, the fuel attendant who was keen to practice his English and I got some with appropriate Malaysian phrases I hadn't found in our phrasebook. Our basic words are coming along and it's amazing how pleased the people are when you say terima khasi (thank you), selamat tengahari (hello), selamat tinggal (goodbye), apah bahasa ... Malaysianya? (how do you say .... in Malaysian?) etc. It is going to be a whole lot more difficult in Thailand where they have different tones and an unrecognisable alphabet.
We stopped to change some dollars for ringgits. At Tapah we turned north east to head for the Cameron Highlands. The road was rather winding, but in good tarred condition, except for the bits near the top where they are doing significant repairs. We followed a very heavily laden Landie with sad looking shocks, beaten up bodywork and an enormous amount of body roll. How he managed to stay upright, I've no idea! We stopped en route to buy some durian fruit from a stall holder. They spoke no English, but we managed to make ourselves understood. They chopped the prickly fruit in half for us, but I'm afraid it was all in vain as neither of us liked the taste at all and Michael's face was looking sour even before he tasted it because it smelt disgusting. The fruit flesh looked a bit like a litchi, but once the skin was broken the underlying flesh was very mushy and pasty. When we stopped to check a slipping pulley about 400m further on, the durian was donated to the forest!
The lush green forest was beautiful and hung over the road in some places. The roadside was dotted with the odd waterfall and the some beautiful purple and pink orchids. We stopped at the Lakehouse Hotel just past the town of Ringlet to have tea and scones, but at US$4 each, we decided it was too expensive (especially considering what we've paid for food so far). Having said that, the hotel was spectacularly furnished and looked very posh. We stopped at the Cameron Tea House a little further on and had scones for US$2.50 for both of us. The view of the tea fields was lovely.
Our next stop was Tanah Rata, a bustling little town with lots of hotels, backpacker's hostels, roadside food stalls, internet cafes, shops etc. We both had a delicious chicken curry and rice for just MR6 (US$1.60). We met Willem from Holland who went back to his hostel to get his guide books (because we asked him about camping). He came armed with a local map and directions to a campsite owned by the forestry department about 3km away. We had an enjoyable time chatting to him and we swapped addresses as he's going to be in SE Asia for 4 months so we may well meet up again. We went to an internet cafe for 2 hours to check email, look for info on camping in Asia (which is not easy to find) and to check out the general situation in the surrounding countries from fellow travellers through www.horizonsunlimited.com, although their wasn't much to see (this time).
Then we set off in search of the campsite. After one wrong turn we found the entrance to the Forestry Department, but sadly, we couldn't find the camping section (even after adventuring up a small road which led us through tall tree leaning inward with scars from previous vehicles scraping by ) and there was nobody about to ask. What we did find was a tarred parking lot near the entrance next to the forest and river so we parked there for the night instead. It was great to be a bit higher (1450m) and cooler (23°C at 22h00). I sat and listened to music while writing the journal and Michael sat up in the tent playing on the computer.
We both had a cool, restful night's sleep and only woke up after 08h00. I worked on the website until after midnight, so that may have had something to do with it. Nobody came to ask us why we were parked there, so we were just left to our own devices, which was great. I sewed an elasticated cover for the keyboard (to keep out the dust) , while Michael took the pulley out to have a closer look as it felt a bit wobbly when we wiggled it last night. He says it has seen better days, so we decided to go into Ringlet a little later to find a spare (we'd seen load of Land Rovers there when we drove by yesterday). Lau (from Penang came over to say hello and see if we needed any assistance). We chatted for a while about our journey and I quizzed him a little on Penang. Then we drove back through Tanah Rata and on to Ringlet where we found a garage with plenty of old Landies in for repair and a large group of mechanics who shows lots of interest in Nyathi. Michael got them replace the pulley bearing and modify the winch pump tensioner. I spent my time with a pin and credit card pushing the air out of bubbles in the window film! Michael paid them MR40 for their services and we were on our way back down the mountains. We were again impressed with the lush, forested scenery and saw some spindly timber huts buried deep in the undergrowth.
We didn't spot any more orchids, but one thing that has struck me about Malaysia is the effort that towns and villages make with colourful indigenous plants and shrubs to make the surroundings more beautiful. There are so many different types of flowers etc. and I am ashamed to say the only ones I recognise are hibiscus, frangipani and bougainvillea. It reminds me of Zimbabwe!
We drove on the toll road up toward Ipoh. The motorbikes still whizz along the motorway with their jackets done up back to front! We think it must be the coolest way for them to wear them, while still protecting them from the wind and rain. The motorways have little pull-ins under bridges for bikers who get caught in a down pour and need shelter. After driving around a number of blocks several times we eventually found a parking in Ipoh's town centre, where we had some lunch at a hawker's stand. The chilli was pretty hot and we were both sweating by the time we had finished. A post-lunch ice lolly was required to cool down. We liked Ipoh. The buildings had a strong colonial feel and a few of the modern ones were quite impressive and tasteful too. The place had a buzz to it and there were a number of lively football matches taking place in the sports fields near the town centre.
We drove to the north side of the motorway in search of the Perak Tong Cave Temple and found it easily. It looked impressive carved into the side of the hill and surrounded by greenery, but sadly it closed at 17h00 and we got there at 17h15. So, we asked if we could park in a quiet corner of the grounds for night and they said it was no problem. There were loads of monkeys clambering about on the temple, shrieking and chasing one another. We sat for a while admiring the temple and listening to the birds singing in the depths of the trees. By 18h30 the monkeys disappeared up into the hillside jungle and we found there were some other not so entertaining creatures to take their place... mosquitoes and little biting flies, who were keen for a free feast so we ate our tasty passion fruit for dinner and soon afterwards we retreated to the cab with the fan blowing while we watched a DVD.
We were woken at dawn from our slumber by the striking of a gong across the other side of the temple. About two minutes later any thoughts of snuggling back down were shattered when the gong in the temple just behind Nyathi was struck twelve times by the friendly (and mildly grinning) caretaker, who asked cheerily where we came from when Michael poked his sleepy face up at the tent window - time to get up!
We're glad we didn't wait until the day got much hotter as the climb up through the back of the temple cave and to the top of the hillside had about 500 steps. We could see Nyathi way down at the bottom. We rested in the shade of the pagodas and enjoyed the cool breeze blowing up over the hillside. The view was lovely, though marred somewhat by the industrial activity and row upon row of corrugated iron roofed factories. We wandered back down while giving encouragement to those who were still on their way up...
The cave itself contains many different statues in alcoves hidden all over the place. The most impressive was a Buddha in the main entrance standing over 13m high. There were also a number of colourful murals painted on the walls and to be sure not to miss out on any commercial opportunities, lotus candles and incense sticks for sale, along with a small restaurant carved out of the rock on the right as you walk in. What was nice about the place is that is is a working temple where people congregate to pray, meditate and socialise and a feeling of friendliness and welcoming was very evident.
From there we drove along the back roads to the royal town of Kuala Kangsar. This is our favourite town so far in Malaysia. It was well manicured with beautiful plants, clean parks, rivers and roads and thronging with happy-looking people going about their Sunday business. There was a beautiful colonial-looking school and the residential palace of the Sultan of Perak was grand, but understated, however, the reason for our visit was the Ubudiah Mosque. I donned my sarong and Michael his trousers and we went inside the grounds to have a closer look. A friendly caretaker (Tenau) showed us where we could walk, look into the prayer areas etc. and even offered to take our photograph! The mosque is relatively modern and looked rather majestic with a huge gold dome and minarets, with a lovely blue fountain pool at the entrance.
We continued along the back roads north toward Butterworth to go across the bridge to Penang, stopping to check our squeaks which have become louder and more incessant and we are running out of ideas as to the cause. Sunday is obviously a very social day as loads of families were out together walking along the road, or squeezed onto scooters. We saw a number of big social gatherings, given away by the mish-mash of scooters, bikes and cars parked randomly alongside the road and then as we drove past we could loads of tables set up in big yards with people eating together and having a bit of a party!
It cost us MR45 to cross the bridge from the mainland across to Penang. Unfortunately we get charged the same fee as trucks with three axles and cars with trailers, so that makes it seem not so bad! We drove into Georgetown which was a bit traffic congested and had little in the way of helpful signage, but lots of one-way streets! We made our way to the tourist info office, but, unsurprisingly it was closed. So we headed back south a little to go to Tesco (yes - can you believe it?). The Tesco centre was newly opened and compares with a small British shopping centre, however, the number of people and trolleys was unbelievable and they still have a lot to learn about speedy check-out processes. Still, everyone was calm and polite which made it a pleasant experience, even the queuing. We loaded up with drinks, some fresh fruit, milk and cereal and headed for Batu Ferringhi on the north coast.
After battling with the town traffic initially we drove out along the winding coast road and found a spot to camp next to a beach water sports place owned by Chandra. It wasn't the most illustrious location, but Chandra kindly offered us the use of his toilets and showers and it was safe - so we were pleased to find a place still relatively close to the town and night market. We sat at some tables on the beach and chatted to Chandra, Anthony, David, Faisil and Diana for a while and then we went for a wander to the night market.
It was very lively with so many things to buy - from fake Burberry handbags and Cartier watches, to carved chopstick sets and masks, to DVDs and mini Buddhas. There were loads of restaurants offering countless choices, but as we'd eaten a big meal earlier, neither of us were hungry. A little later in the night I saw a street hawkers preparing what looked like pancake bits with cinnamon and sugar - I was beginning to feel a bit peckish. At RM1.50 I decide to give it a try and discovered it wasn't what I thought! I decided to wait until I had a drink to wash it down with. I think it was tofu bits with a sweet spice and crumb covering. It wasn't to my liking, but far better than durian fruit! So, the little beach puppies will have some breakfast tomorrow...
Neither of us felt particularly energetic in the morning, but we dragged ourselves out of bed. Michael checked and topped up the oils and of course I did the pumping. Then he did some more mechanical things and set up the battery charger for Chandra's old Landie. I spent ages trying to scrub the greasy marks out of our (though mostly Michael's) clothing. It's an Nyathi hazard - we are destined never to have spotless clothes. Then I wandered down to town with the pre-scrubbed clothing in search of a laundry, but they were all ridiculously expensive (I know I'm going to laugh when I say US48 when I get home) so I trundled back to Nyathi, washed the pre-scrubbed stuff and hung it on the line and left the rest. I know it's a third of the price on the mainland, so we'll do it there!
Then we went into town for a bite to eat and had some lovely chicken satay sticks with a spicy peanut sauce. There was a hummingbird's nest dangling from the restaurants fairy lights and we got to see the mother come and feed her noisy chick. The restaurant owner says it's the fourth time she's built the nest there - I am very impressed they've left her alone!
We had a nice long nap in the afternoon and then read up about Thailand, Laos etc. We bought four Footprint guides from Popular Bookshoop at the Tesco centre the other day and it was only MR216 (US$60) for all of them (including the 15% discount she gave me because I pointed out one book was slightly damaged and told her I'd take all four if she gave me a discount).
Michael helped Chandra with one of his tyres and chatted to the guys for a while. We paid another visit to the market to take back the DVD Michael bought which didn't appear to work, but DID when the guy put it in his DVD player, so not sure what's wrong with our system. We went to an internet cafe for a couple of hours and spent ages reading up on our friends' (David and Katja) website www.duksjourney.net. After a while we worked up a bit of hunger and had a very tasty sweet and sour chilli chicken dinner at Ferringhi Wok. The service was excellent and the place very clean too. On our walk back a little old man who tried to sell us little Buddhas on the way in, was still there. We explained we didn't want a Buddha, although they were very nice and we gave him MR2, for something to eat or drink.
We had a slightly overripe, but tasty pineapple for breakfast. After a cool shower we left Chandra and his friends at the beach and went on a drive around Penang island. Our first stop was a busy little fishing village which is next to the Penang National Park. There were loads of boats floating over the slow swell and some rickety looking piers stretching far out into the bay.
Tall apartment blocks are the order of the day on Penang to house as many people as possible in a small space. All the laundry hanging out the windows and across the balconies brighten up the drab cement.
Having said that, as we drove south into the interior there were fewer people, steeper winding roads and some lovely forest peppered with tropical fruit farms and the distinct stench of durian fruit! The drive only took us about two hours and we passed through some pretty smaller villages in the lowland forests before heading east and north back to the populated areas near Georgetown. We stopped in at Tesco to get more brake fluid (Michael had given the remains of ours to a friend of Chandra's who needed it) and to look for gear oil (no success). We drove back over the bridge to the mainland and went into Butterworth for gear oil (still no success). Penang was nice enough, but certainly not the Jewel of the East as it is purported to be. The waters are brown and dirty, the beaches not particularly clean (nor the streets) and we saw better example of lush forest on the mainland.
We spent the rest of the day driving slowly north toward the border. Michael had some take-aways, but I didn't feel too hungry. Annoyingly something gave me the runs today (pineapple?), which I could well have done without, but by the evening I was settled again, thankfully. We travelled on the toll road for quite a bit and stopped for the night at the rest area behind the last toll plaza. We drove right around the back, away from the parking and enjoyed a peaceful little camp for the night, with access to clean toilets!