A Travellerspoint blog

April 2013

Day XIV: Coast to Coast

PI to Penang

all seasons in one day 38 °C
View RTW 2013 on WorldWideWill's travel map.

I was on the beach for sunrise, camera poised. It was awesome. Once again, it felt like I was the only soul on the island and I sat watching the orange orb rise into the sky smiling to myself.

My peace was shattered by arrival of the transfer boats from the mainland and I jumped into action - we were due to be on one of these boats at 8am and needed to pack and hightail it down the beach. We had decided to leave the Islands after just 2 nights (a) because we were low on funds, and (b) because we were becoming increasingly conscious of the impending national election and needed to be clear of Malaysia within the week. Unfortunately the closest Malay/Thai border to the Perhentians is highly unsafe for foreign travellers and reports of kidnappings and violence had done enough to put us off a crossing attempt purely for the sake of convenience. This meant we would have to traverse Malaysia once again to meet the Western train line that goes across into Thailand in the Northwest corner above Penang.

At the water's edge we waited in line as the speedboats zipped to and fro from the beach to the waiting transfer boats riding low in the water, overloaded with passengers and their bags. Our turn came, and I had yet another 'discussion' with a local who claimed we had to pay him 2 Ringgit each for the 30 second trip from the beach. Too tired to argue I caved in and focused instead on securing all of my luggage in preparation for the supersonic bumpy ride back to the port. I would advise anyone attempting this boat journey not to eat breakfast beforehand! Every second wave the hull would smack against the water with a shudder that sent shockwaves through my pelvis and if there had been any food in my stomach I'm convinced it would have found its way over the side of the boat halfway across the sea.

In desperate need of cash we hiked for half an hour from the port to the nearest cash point and back again to pay for our bus tickets to Butterworth, the mainland town across the sea from the island of Penang on the West coast serviced by the international trains to Bangkok. We received a small discount (85 down to 78 Ringgit) from the Penang bus service as we were not travelling the extra hour across to the island - we wanted to stop by the train station to check times in person and book our tickets into Thailand. Breakfast was hard to find in the mini-market, and I settled for a coconut bun (my staple diet for the last 2 weeks) and a bottle of water before we got on the bus. H & I made up half of the passenger count, and grabbed a row of seats each. Our driver was crazy. Again. Not mental like the last one, but he drove like a madman with a death wish and a need to reach his destination as soon as physically or mechanically possible, regardless of the consequences. Thankfully I found a seatbelt this time, which remained securely fastened for 5 hours of 2-wheel cornering and blind/impossible overtaking.

In spite of my terror I couldn't help the occasional glance out of my window as Malaysia whipped by. It is amazing to see, even on the highways, that you are surrounded by rainforests and mountains and every now and then I'd catch a glimpse of sunlight reflected in a hidden lake between the trees. The roads are for the most part well maintained and with the breakneck speed and magnificent backdrop it felt like we were on some form of theme park ride. The day's highlight came, as it usually does for me, with lunch. We stopped at one of the ubiquitous Malaysian truckstop cafes where rows of coaches and minibuses sit waiting (engines still running to maintain the air con circulation) for their passengers to relieve and refuel themselves. The usual multiple choice pots of food on the buffet here were made rather unappealing by the flies, and I was instead drawn to a little man in the corner with a burger stand. I saw his sign offered egg benjo and I ordered, then nearly fainted at the price - RM1.50! I couldn't believe it, 30p for what turned out to be an amazing egg burger in the middle of nowhere, complete with salad and 3 sauces. Topping it off with an ice lolly for 20p I got back on the bus rather pleased with myself.

We arrived in Butterworth in record time and walked through the rain to the train station. H's train to Bangkok leaves at 1420 every day and I take the same train for 3 hours to the border for my connection to Krabi for just 11 Ringgit. Happy that we could just turn up once we had spent enough time on Penang we walked to the ferry port and legged it onto the passenger boat just in time. My Dad will laugh, as once again we are staying in Chinatown! We are at the Reggae House hostel on Love Lane in Georgetown, a notorious area for good and bad reasons! The hostel is amazing, a stark contrast to the wooden shack largely due to the fact that it has air con, hot showers, internet, sheets, CCTV... We ventured out and sampled the famous street food earlier this evening and it was indeed wonderful, and cheap! I have now had a few hours online to check emails, top up cash cards and post 3 blog updates!

Tomorrow I'm heading out to explore with the camera, and with any luck I'll be able to meet up with a friend of a friend who has offered to show me the sights. The morning already looks good - full breakfast included in the room rate and rumours that there is free food all across town due to the Labour Day holiday. Happy Will.

Posted by WorldWideWill 23:14 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Day XIII: Beached As

Waking up in paradise

sunny 38 °C
View RTW 2013 on WorldWideWill's travel map.

Today I woke up on a tropical island.

At 7am I was woken by the sound of the generator switching off, which in turn shut off the fan and prompted me to grab a pair of swimshorts and leave the room. The beach, a 15 second walk from our door, was deserted and wonderfully quiet. As I waded into the cool sea I let the stress from the previous evening wash away and with the sea all to myself I dived in for a morning swim.

The islands are very remote, and in many ways this is a wonderful thing to experience. There are no roads, no cars, no ugly buildings and no mains electricity. Power is sourced from generators which run through the night to power air con and fans but shut off during the day, and it is amusing to see the different hotels competing with one another based on how many hours of electricity they can provide. There are of course several drawbacks to the isolation, the main ones for a modern traveller like myself being the lack of cash machines and internet. With the exception of updating the travel blog I was happy to be away from the internet for a few days, however the lack of ATMs puts pressure on the wallet as you have to make do with whatever cash you decided to bring from the mainland. Unless you know what to expect it somewhat limits what you can spend on food, rooms and experiences so my best tip is to take way more than you think you need!

The sun was already scorching the cold sand by the time I swam back to the beach so I dived into the shade of our accommodation's restaurant and enjoyed fried eggs on toast for breakfast overlooking the water. I was relaxed, and looking around I was happy to see that our room was not as bad as I'd thought the night before. We were staying in one of a series of wooden huts staggered up the hill, each with its own elevated porch complete with hammock and chairs. Inside was still basic, twin beds with thin mattresses but the mosquito net and fan were life savers and after seeing the bites received overnight at the posh hotel I was especially glad that we had only paid 6 pounds each for the night.


We went for a swim in the lagoon, contemplating our plans for the day and watching as hundreds of striped fish came over to meet us newcomers. I wanted to see more so we booked an afternoon snorkeling trip on the beach and scoffed some fried noodles for energy. The trip cost us 40 Ringgit (8 quid) each and included a two hour speedboat tour of the islands, stopping at three key spots to dive in and see the marine life. There were no other customers, being a quiet Monday, so we got the boat and its driver to ourselves and took our sweet time!

Our first stop was Turtle Point, and within minutes we spotted a giant turtle on the bottom munching on the sea grass. The crystal water made it easy to see its mouth moving and as we swam above, it came up for air and swam beside us for a moment or two. We stayed for ages, watching the same routine of feeding and breathing over and over until the boat driver gave me a wave and we jumped back on board and headed for Fish Point and the Coral Garden. There were thousands of amazingly colourful fish here and the coral looked healthy which was good to see. I spent a long time finding Nemo and finally came across the anemone grass they love so much and discovered a whole family of mini clown fish hiding away from the big boy parrot fish swimming by. No trip with H & I would be complete without some form of drama, and it duly came when she fell while trying to climb back into the boat. Gentlemanly instinct was my downfall this time, and as I reached out to support the ladder I let go of my flippers, not realising until one clipped my foot as they sank. Grabbing a mask in panic I took a breath and dived deep and fast, but the splitting pain in my ears stopped me just short of grabbing hold of the fins and I resurfaced with an apologetic expression towards the driver. With a spare set of fins on board we continued to the final stop, Shark Point, and spent a while searching in terror for sleek silver shapes. As we were heading back I came face to face with a baby shark and nearly swallowed a mouthful of sea in shock but it disappeared immediately and we never saw another.

He wanted 50 Ringgit for the lost flippers but I argued my side and got him to accept 41 (I know). This was unneeded expenditure on a limited cash supply, and needing to calm down I grabbed the camera and toured the beach. Before long I was back on the porch, reading my book in the breeze and nursing a nasty case of sunburn on the back of my hands with copious amounts of aftersun. The German lady opposite chatted with me about Thailand and Laos, and then asked if we'd seen the sunset from the other side of the island, giving us directions to the somewhat hidden path through the forest. This turned out to be just what I needed, and I found my inner peace once more watching the orange and red sky over the sea. We stayed on Coral Beach and ate well and cheaply (compared to party beach), and then wandered back past a restaurant showing a film on a giant screen outside.


With the breeze gone the heat inside the hut was unbearable, and after failing to get to sleep for over an hour I employed desperate measures and brought the room fan inside the mozzie net. I was asleep in seconds.

Posted by WorldWideWill 23:06 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Day XII: All downhill...

From Highlands to Islands

sunny 34 °C
View RTW 2013 on WorldWideWill's travel map.

NB: Don't leave Cameron Highlands on a Sunday. It is truly a wonderful part of the world and part of its charm is the roadside market culture, but if you want a stress-free stay you should avoid travelling on the weekend.
One last (free) Cameron Highlands tea and I was ready to go - in 6 short hours I would be at the port on the East coast ready to sail to the lovely Perhentian Islands. A quick dash into town for supplies and cash was enough to sap all of my energy in the burning sun - the cool mountain weather had moved on and it was time for me to go too.

Our bus driver was mental. I mean, certifiably so. I was the first 'guest' to be picked up, so I was also the first to step into his spotless minibus, and the first to encounter the rage that came with his OCD. Upon seeing the pair of trek-soiled shoes attached to my bag the poor man almost passed out, and before I'd even sat down behind the newspaper-covered seat backs he was yelling at me to put the shoes carefully on the floor and not make any mess. As we collected more travellers from the other guesthouses, each one was treated to a similar outburst and a fellow Brit even received a firm slap for daring to put his feet up on the newspaper! The mood was set.

Leaving CH took over an hour. The traffic was static all the way along the mountain roads as the Highlands sagged under the weight of visitors to its Sunday markets. Despite the lack of progress and the heat this turned out to be the best part of the journey. As soon as we hit the open highway there was an audible scramble for non-existent seatbelts around the bus as we all watched the driver swerving from lane to lane, chat on his mobile and even disappear under the dashboard for who-knows-what reason! The delay meant we arrived late at our lunch stop, where we were given just 15 minutes to eat while our bags were transferred to a second bus. Inside was an all you can eat buffet for 12 Ringgit (2.40, a slight rip-off seeing as the sandwiches were all tuna...), and accepting the challenge of getting my money's worth before the bus left I paid and wolfed down a few plates' worth of egg fried rice, french fries and watermelon. Outside our bags had been unceremoniously launched into the front seats of the new bus (this driver clearly didn't share the old man's dirt complex) and we were piled in likewise for the remaining 3 hours.

Arriving at the port at Kuala Besut felt like we were about to embark on a cruise, and after registering our visit in the logbook(s) we were led down the sunny jetty to a waiting speedboat (we had purchased 'fast boat' tickets instead of the slower, cheaper option). Here we paid RM5 entry fee for the islands, a National Park and conservation area, and were then loaded like sardines with all of our backpacks into the boat. No-one was prepared for the speed at which the boat erupted out of the harbour, and I think several pairs of new trousers were needed when the captain ramped up the first wave and took flight before an organ-rattling landing. This continued for half an hour, and by the time we slowed into the straits between the two islands everyone was sporting impressive quiffs and salt-encrusted smiles. Along with two new Dutch friends from the bus, H & I decided to get off on the quieter, but slightly more expensive, 'Big Island' (Pulau Besar). It took an hour of walking with heavy backpacks and getting rejections from all of the hotels along the beach before we admitted defeat and hailed a water taxi. It was the first time most of us had taken note of the day of the week, and the weekend visitors had filled all of the vacant rooms.

So after a heated haggle over the taxi price we set off for Long Beach, aka Perhentian Party Central, on Pulau Kecil (Small Island). Another hour's search found just two twin rooms on the beach, one for 120 Ringgit in the fancy hotel at the far end, and one for RM60 (12 quid) nearby - a wooden shack with just two beds, a mozzie net and a fan inside. Helpless from the long journey and now unable to see in the near-darkness we agreed to take the cheap room and let the Dutch walk down to the posh end. We dumped our bags, collected a padlock for the shack door and ran down the beach in search of food. Trying to play it safe and simple, 3 of us ordered an egg banjo (or benjo, as they spell it) on my recommendation. An hour later I was presented with a beef burger and had to use every ounce of will to restrain myself from throwing the waiter into the sea. He was sent back to the kitchen with a stern word and I sat and watched the others eat, contemplating my speech for the arrival of the bill that I refused to pay! The food was mediocre at best, nothing compared to Dad's banjo (largely due to the absence of ground black pepper in Malaysia) and after negotiating a suitable discount we retreated for the evening.

I still managed to appreciate the sunset over our new place though.


Posted by WorldWideWill 20:48 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Day XI (Saturday): Jungle

sunny 30 °C
View RTW 2013 on WorldWideWill's travel map.

My first beer of the trip was wonderful for a number of reasons. Last night H & I came very close to booking a bus to the Perhentian Islands which would have left this morning at 10am. It was one of a string of decisions that we have encountered in which we would have to compromise in order to continue travelling together. Instead I decided that I was staying in the mountains for an extra day to make the most of the fresh air and jungle trails.

So, sat with my Chang (sorry, elephant soup) I chatted to every new arrival at the guest house and asked for help planning my onward solo journey. By the end of the night I had 7 new friends, a detailed itinerary and a place to stay in Hanoi! Beer is good.

This morning the rain came without waiting for its afternoon time slot so I had a lie in and a leisurely breakfast sat listening to the mountain birds. Intrepid as I am, I waited for a lull in the downpour and set off in search of the soggy trail. H had by this time decided to stay put too and together we walked out of town looking for the "well signposted" trail entrance. An hour passed and we were still hiking along the road and being gassed every few minutes by the black exhaust soot of the highland tea trucks, so we headed back. Already exhausted we bumped into Johann, a friendly Belgian from our tour, who was heading for the same trail and had a map (genius).


We found the trail (not signposted), and for a long hour we climbed up through rugged rainforest to the first peak summit, ducking under fallen trees and tripping over tree roots and vines. The noise of the town was quickly absorbed by the jungle and was replaced with the loud chatter of birds and crickets, and at some point I'll upload a video of it from our halfway rest point.


At the summit we were rewarded with panoramic views across the highlands from our 1,700m peak, and as the clouds rolled in we made a run for the trail back down (after a quick chat with a random butterfly catcher strolling through the forest with a giant net!). At the bottom we found the elusive sign hidden in a bush.

Back in town we had our cheapest meal so far, street stall egg pancakes with crushed peanuts and sweetcorn followed by an ice cream for 60p! A cold shower was called for after the trek, and then we got chatting to 2 new friends Sam & Alli. These guys are amazing, Sam left the UK 4 years ago to work in NZ and then moved to Vietnam where they've lived and worked for the last couple of years. I came away with a recommendation for a tailor in Hanoi too!

Every weekend there is a night market in Brinchang, the next town from Tanah Rata. We shared a taxi up with S & A and feasted on BBQ corn (after our tasty KL experience), noodles, tempura, sweet potato and pumpkin balls and chocolate covered strawberries. A great way to end our highlands visit.


A friendly cabbie drove us home and gave me some Thailand advice and a bar where mention of his name would get me discount, and then we shared a drink with S & A while debating US gun law and the NHS!

Tomorrow (Sunday) H is coming across the Perhentian Islands with me and we're hoping to follow Sam's directions to a beach where you can snorkel with turtles :)

Posted by WorldWideWill 10:03 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Day Ten: High Tea!

all seasons in one day 24 °C
View RTW 2013 on WorldWideWill's travel map.

What a great day! Mountain air does wonders for the soul :) It didn't start so well, I slept on a solid wooden board with a sheet and then woke up to discover that my big bottle of travel wash was still in KL! Gutted. Nevertheless we were up and out by 8am with grand plans to catch a local bus up to see the tea plantations for a fraction of the 50 Ringgit price charged at the guest house for a half day tour.

In town we quickly realised the principal issue associated with remote highland public transport: there is no timetable! Desperate to see the sights and not waste a day trying to make our own way (I'm not convinced H should be let loose on a motorbike!), we followed a tipoff from the Germans who had found the half day tour for just 25 Ringgit in town. With only 2 minutes to spare before the tour's 8:45 start we managed to buy tickets for the last 2 seats on the minibus and even received a free bottle of water each!

The tour was brilliant, if not a little random at times, and along with our charismatic and highly informative Indo-Malay guide named Rashid we met a great group of Canadian, Dutch and French backpackers to share it with. Our first stops included a visit to a rose garden (a giant flower farm with the best smelling roses in the world... probably) and a honey bee farm where we sampled the delicious local honey and watched the bees playing Russian roulette wth the highly allergic Canadian girl. This was all well and good, but not what we came for.


Our journey from the bee farm into the hills could have been used on a Malaysian tourism video, it was spectacular. As we drove along the winding, one-car-wide country roads we were all mesmerised by the bright green mountain slopes carpeted in tea plants as far as the eye could see. There was even a hint of tea in the air as we approached the Boh Tea Plantation.

After a free factory tour we bypassed the expensive retail shop and sat on the balcony overlooking the plantation sipping the hand picked Pasar Suprime tea. You could sit there for hours on end, just marvelling at the scenery and trying to pick out the white specks of the leaf pickers amongst the green hills. The history and the manufacturing process are equally impressive, and though the staff quarters are excellent it is hard to ignore how little they earn here - just 22 cents (4p) per KILO of leaves. LEAVES!


Reluctant to leave, but eager to get back ahead of the daily afternoon mini-monsoon our tour of the Highlands continued, stopping first at a butterfly farm with giant technicolour butterflies all trying to sneak out of the garden by attaching themselves stealthily to unwitting tourists' backs. Our final highlight of the trip was a visit to a local strawberry farm. Once again, our guide arranged a tasting session (best strawberries I've ever tasted) and then we piled into the attached shop to buy homemade strawberry cake. Om nom nom.

Laughing as I drop the forkful of cake just as the timed photo clicked!

We arrived back in Tanah Rata, via a Buddhist temple, moments before the rain and with only enough time to grab a banana for lunch we dived into the hostel for more free tea (grown at the plantation) and a good rest while watching the rain.


Tonight we will head back to our host's restaurant of choice after last night's gorgeous food and then back for a beer with the man himself. According to guest house rules he can only serve beer until 8pm, after which he will only respond to guests' orders for soup - elephant soup (Chang beer) and tiger soup (Tiger of course)!

Tomorrow we are off to explore one of the numerous hiking routes around the town and perhaps climb to the top of the highest local peak, claimed to rise 6,666 feet. With such a chilled atmosphere, and especially now that we have discovered private rooms (comfy beds & our own shower) for just 10 Ringgit (£2) more than the shared dorm, we may just stay a while longer...

Posted by WorldWideWill 08:43 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Day Nine: Into the Mountains...

Time for tea!

all seasons in one day 24 °C
View RTW 2013 on WorldWideWill's travel map.

Leaving Kuala Lumpur is a great feeling, for a hot-blooded man like myself the heat and humidity are just too oppressive to enjoy the city and even though the food and the hostel have been really quite good at times I will not plan to return.

So this morning we said farewell to Golden Boy Zlatan as he settled in for another day in KL to await his flight to Siem Reap tomorrow morning. It has been a genuine pleasure to travel with a Bosnian with such an open mind (and often abrasive attitude!). Hopefully we will meet up further North in Vietnam in a few weeks, otherwise I look forward to showing him round our green hills and introducing him to the British ales and pies that he has been fantasizing about! Sadly we also had to say goodbye to another new friend Maria, from Uruguay, who was headed in the opposite direction.

The goodbyes followed a long discussion over the use of Malaria tablets. It turns out that I am the ONLY ONE taking them out here. Zlatan & Hijlkje were both advised that this time of year is low risk and decided it was too much money. For me, low risk is still risk and avoiding a forced stay in a foreign hospital is worth a huge amount of money! This was started after seeing H's reaction to some mozzie bites from last night, one of which has swelled to the size of a small dinner plate on her leg. Despite being highly allergic to bites she had no antihistamines in her first aid kit and I suggested that we made a pharmacy stop before braving the mountain jungles!

Off we walked, Hijlkje & I, heading for the bus station to catch a ride to Ipoh and then on up to the Cameron Highlands. At the station doors we were met by a swarm of walkie-talkie clad ticket touts from the various tour operators, all vying for our business. Nearly 10 days in and feeling smug with my seasoned traveller knowledge I pushed past and headed straight for the desks - where the prices were the same. Ah well. We decided to stick to our plan of connecting in Ipoh rather than paying an extra 15 Ringgit to go direct to the Highlands. This was largely because we wanted a chance to meet up with Jarrod or even Philippa who had caught the train there yesterday. The desk lady was very helpful, despite her questioning why we were visiting Ipoh, and we were issued with 2 tickets for 40 Ringgit (4 quid each). At the 'gate' we met a friendly Brit called Ollie, also a solo traveller, and assuming we were getting the same bus we got chatting and discovered he hails from Bournemouth! My pang of homesickness was interrupted by the call for our bus, which was 15 mins earlier than his. Plenty more Brits out here I hope!

Armed with food we boarded the "VIP liner", which looked like a National Express coach from the outside but inside was fitted with twenty-something plush seats (split into singles on one side and doubles on the other, weird) and filled with locals. I took note and texted Lucy with the bus number plate just in case it didn't make it up the road! The "VIP" status had obviously been awarded based on the somewhat elaborate curtains that hung from the windows, tassles and all, as well as the BED in the back! H & I ended up in the back row and had at first assumed the curtain on the back wall was just covering a window. That was until, 5 minutes in, it started snoring! It turned out to be a substitute driver, and we were thoroughly entertained by the half time swap over as one emerged and the other jumped in!


3 hours of snoring drivers, bouncy suspension and a leaky roof later we arrived at the Ipoh terminal (FYI, nowhere near Ipoh), and seeing the torrential rain we sacked our plans for the town and bought 2 slightly more expensive tickets onwards into the mountains. Our 2nd bus was amazing, and we practically had it all to ourselves. The scenic journey to the Highlands is much like the transfer you experience on a ski holiday, with the bus winding to and fro up the steep mountain roads, only this was through virgin rainforest with epic views over the valleys where mist hangs in the branches. From our plush seats we saw rice gatherers and many, many farms growing vegetables and strawberries, and as we dropped off the other passengers one by one we felt like we were heading into the middle of nowhere. It was exciting.


The aforementioned Southeast Asia On A Shoestring is a battered 2008 edition. When we arrived in Tanah Rata, the main town of the Cameron Highlands we expected to find a small community living on the mountain slopes, with one shop, one bank and a handful of hotels as listed in the guidebook. What we found was a bustling, semi-modern settlement with an almost perfect blend of modern conveniences (including a 'we sell everything' supermarket, and they do - I even found guitar strings!) and rural scenery. What a difference 5 years can make! It is still perfectly formed and hasn't succumbed to overtourism just yet, largely because at over 1,800m above sea level it isn't the easiest place to access! The heavy rain has flooded the only road to the guesthouse we had been recommended, and feeling the cool breeze on our faces as we made our own way through the trees we fell in love with the setting and its contrast to the busy, sticky city.


We have checked into the 'Eight Mentigi' Guest House, a lovely place down a small track away from the town centre that is full of British and Dutch travellers (in a good way) and run by the most friendly Malaysian man you could hope to meet. So friendly in fact, that after committing our names to memory he recommended a place to eat and later came to the restaurant to check that we were being looked after! The guest house is clean and serves free local tea from the plantations all day long, and I have spent the evening chatting to people from all over the UK, the Netherlands and Germany and after speaking to a brilliant retired couple from Stockport my spirits are at an all time high. This place is truly wonderful.

IMAG1028.jpg IMAG1030.jpg

Tomorrow we're up early to take a tour of the tea plantations, and I will be thinking of my tea buddies (especially you Sam!) as I live out my colonial dreams sipping freshly picked tea on a veranda overlooking the terraced hills.

Posted by WorldWideWill 22:43 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Day Eight: Man vs Monkey

storm 26 °C
View RTW 2013 on WorldWideWill's travel map.

We survived the night. A long, decent sleep was had by all and yesterday's drama felt like a distant memory this morning. Philippa marked her last morning with us by bringing everyone a peanut butter and jam toast sandwich (legend) down from the roof terrace breakfast bar and we left the hostel happy, if not a little rushed to get up to the caves before she had to leave KL.

The new train line from the city to Batu Caves is brilliant, it takes less than 30mins from KL Sentral and costs just 1 Ringgit (20p). Having stumbled across a battered copy of Southeast Asia On A Shoestring at the hostel, we spent the journey in silence contemplating our 4 separate journeys out of Kuala Lumpur. It was strange to have no plan for the following day, and almost uncomfortable to have no accommodation booked for the night.

Batu Caves (for those who haven't already Googled it) is quite a spectacle. Surrounding the huge natural limestone caverns are a series of vividly decorated Hindu temples and statues, and the complex is encircled by small opportunist businesses selling refreshments and monkey food. I barely noticed it all at first, because in front of the grand steps were sat not one, but three... HUNDRED pigeons! Those that know my dark secrets will appreciate how much my spirits were lifted at this sight, and abandoning all dignity I ran towards the mass of feathers, crushing biscuits in my hands as I went. They swarmed, and seeing their non-European hygiene standards I rather regretted choosing to sit on the floor but still, this was great! I could think of only one thing (other than food, and by now I had broken up most of my snacks and scattered them over the tarmac) that could make this better, and then I saw them: monkeys!


These were macaques, and there were loads of them. Everywhere you looked, from the temple roofs to the refreshment stalls, there were monkeys. Intelligent monkeys, drinking bottled water and coke from the can; hungry monkeys, eating everything they could find (including flowers and even old socks); and angry monkeys, who disliked the posh lady trying to stroke them and jumped on her back! Z, P & H had long gone by the time I came to my senses, my memory card was overflowing with monkey shots and I didn't want to tempt a rabies bite.


There is no charge to climb the 272 steps into the Temple Cave (a missed opportunity in my opinion), and once inside it is clear to see why such a vast space would have been used to house religious ceremonies - the acoustics are fantastic. Even from the other side of the cave you can hear the chilling echoes of the Hindi music playing at the entrance, and you can imagine how awesome a choir would sound. The visit doesn't take long, and unless you fancy a 'Tour of The Dark Cave', which sounded a little dodgy to us, you can do it all comfortably within an hour including the short walk to and from the station.


We took the train back to the hostel (decided to stay another night) and ate once again at what I now refer to as the 'Fat Rat' food court in Chinatown, and owing to the arrival of yet another thunderstorm we have spent the last few hours enjoying some much needed rest. Tomorrow, Zlatan will depart for Cambodia to explore Siem Reap and Hijlkje is undecided about flying in the opposite direction to Indonesia to see the orangutans. As for me, I have decided to take the bus North to Ipoh, a small colonial town (with a Tesco!) about 2-3 hours from KL from which I will access the magnificent tea plantations of the Cameron Highlands. With any luck, our friendly Ozzie Jarrod will still be in Ipoh to recommend a hotel and after a few days of tea binging I may head East to chill on the white sands of the Perhentian Islands before moving over the border to Thailand.

I have now tracked down a card reader after mine died in Singapore, so please look back at the updated photos in the last 2 blog entries. All photos to date are now on Facebook, prints available! Hehe.

Posted by WorldWideWill 07:28 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Day Seven: A Storm Gathers

We're not in Kansas any more...

rain 25 °C
View RTW 2013 on WorldWideWill's travel map.

Dear all,

Below is today's original blog entry, compiled as usual through notebook entries throughout the day. Before you read it please remember that this is a personal account of one day in Kuala Lumpur, and although I hold the city responsible for my current bad mood, my first dodgy travelling experience and the falling out and subsequent separation of the group I do not want it to shape your opinion of the city - you need to see it to hate it.


  • * * *

I take it all back. I was blinded by fancy roof terraces and water features and ignored the warning signs. Last night was not good.

Once yesterday's blog was squared away I grabbed Z & P from the rooftop and we headed to bed. The temperature in the room was practically arctic, and stepping inside was reminiscent of my time at M&S where many a morning was spent nursing a hangover in the freezer room! Drastic measures had to be taken, H was already fast asleep but only (it seemed) after putting on most of the clothes in her bag and dusting off her so far redundant sleeping bag! The reception man took an hour to come to our aid, kindly adjusting the temperature from 16 to 28C (!) - I was greeted in my bunk by a sudden hot jet of damp air and was instantly soaked under the many layers of bedding I had hidden beneath. Then there was the beds. Possibly the least stable and squeakiest examples of dormitory furniture I have ever witnessed (even in 9 years at boarding school), and the noise was so loud that instead of sleeping we ended up in hysterics, shouting "Wooo! Travelling!"

Today wasn't much better. We woke late (obviously) and decided to have a slow morning to do some laundry, swap over the cash in our wallets and move rooms! We then went out to explore the city. We did enjoy roaming through the local Central Market and browsing the crafts and antiques stalls, and we ate well too. But from then on we hated almost every minute! Kuala Lumpur is close to a polar opposite of Singapore, and not in a good way! The streets are dirty, the maps are misleading and the transport is frustrating. It started raining immediately and didn't stop all day. On top of that, humidity was at 100% and we were all drenched inside and out of our raincoats within minutes of walking from the hostel. We walked for what seemed like an age to reach the Botanical Gardens to escape the city, but became so overwhelmed with fatigue from the humidity that we gave up and paid an extortionate amount of money to board the KL Hop-On, Hop-Off Tour Bus to take us towards the Petronas Towers. The air con on the bus beat the hostel room hands down, I'm still surprised that the layer of sweat on my arms didn't freeze! We were stuck in the mobile fridge for over an hour before we hopped off to follow a tip-off from Philippa that there was a cinema and an indoor theme park (complete with rollercoaster) INSIDE one of the city shopping malls.

The walk was horrible. There were limbless homeless people on the pavements, rubbish everywhere and I had to politely decline a 'special massage' several times along the way. I convinced the girls to join me for a roadside barbecued corn-on-the-cob, partly due to hunger and partly to give a couple of much needed Ringgit to the poor man trying to make a living in the rain! They were epic - he coated them in butter before cooking them over the coals and then basted and flash fried them in coconut milk! To quote an old cartoon favourite: "it was but a little ray of sunshine on an otherwise cloudy day".

IMAG1002.jpg IMAG1004.jpg

The Berjaya Times Square Mall is enormous: 9 floors deep, and it indeed has its own theme park (complete with rollercoaster). We had travelled far to reach it and Zlatan was desperate to add a shopping centre thrill ride to his achievements list. Upon seeing the RM50 entry fee (10 quid) the rest of us stopped in our tracks, reluctant to waste yet more money on something that I wouldn't write home about. Tensions were already high, and the corn hadn't done enough to stop the hunger rage bubbling inside me. Z was furious, and I was beyond caring about anything apart from food getting out of KL. Words were exchanged, none of them particularly friendly, and we simultaneously realised we were no longer united by common goals. P went home, Z & H admitted that KL would be their last stop together and I took a deep breath before suggesting we find our last meal together.

Having denied him the rollercoaster I felt I owed Z his final wish, to experience real local Malay cuisine in KL. He assured us that he knew the way to a non-tourist food area close to the Towers and after being ripped off at the station by a poorly explained ticket system we found ourselves at a deserted station and then walking down a long, dark and dodgy road with no obvious end. I hoped the KL muggers were sheltering from the rain and wouldn't turn this into a worse day than it already had been. We found the place eventually, and found a table at a local eatery where you took a plate and loaded it with an assortment of dishes before paying. The food was good, but the locals had clearly never seen tourists around these parts before and we endured half an hour of staring and laughing. When the Coke I ordered arrived as a vanilla coke, I didn't argue. I wanted to leave, I wanted to feel safe, I wanted to check that my underwear was still hanging on the hostel roof...


Our silver lining was a night visit to the Petronas Towers, gloriously lit up against the black sky. Such an impressive landmark, though sadly for KL one of the only things to see in the city! I patched things up with Z and agreed to plan a reunion in Vietnam next month (I think I'll stay in Malaysia for a short while longer). We've arrived back at our new room now, it's a nice 20 degrees, the man has oiled the bed frames ("I give dem da medicine") and my boxers are still on the roof. Tomorrow we're going to explore the Batu Caves further North, and from there we will go our separate ways.


I hope the next entry will be more upbeat, don't be put off!

Posted by WorldWideWill 23:28 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Day Six: The Train

Another day, another country.

all seasons in one day 28 °C
View RTW 2013 on WorldWideWill's travel map.

I have a new nickname: Big Daddy. This questionable title of honour was bestowed on me by our Bosnian companion after a chaotic morning of poorly timed personal admin, bag repacking and complaining forced me to take control of the group to get everyone to the station in time... just.

We had agreed (or rather, the others had seen the validity of my argument) to catch the afternoon train from Singapore to KL instead of waking up at 5am for the 09:15. I'm not one to pass up on sleep if it can be avoided and I'm certainly not a man who ignores an inclusive breakfast! Our meticulous research and planning had set our departure from Chinatown at 11am to allow us to reach Woodlands Train Station, grab some food and go through passport control ready for the 14:18 train (the next one was the 23:00 sleeper service. At 10:45 I had eaten, finished packing and checked out, and with no sign yet of Zlatan or Hijlkje I ran into the market for postcards. 11am came and went, there was no sign of Z or his bags and it became clear that his 10 minute appointment at the local Western Union at 10am had run a little long! When he appeared, red faced and apologetic at 11:15 we got up to leave, and then gasped in horror as he told us that he still had to pack, send an email and check out. Meanwhile H had started to complain about the weight of her backpack, and after fixing the zip on her jacket yesterday I felt compelled to once again call upon my years of outdoor retail experience to help out. Knowing my way around an Osprey pack pretty well, I quickly made some basic adjustments and then 2 recommendations: use the hip belt properly (!) and ditch the 3 kilo Lonely Planet guide to Australasia!

We got on the tube a little after 11:45, having used up all of the buffer time I had allowed. I was nervous. Including changes the tube took almost an hour, followed by a 10 minute bus ride that we barely had enough leftover currency to pay for (even at 60p each!). It didn't matter, we were nearly there and with an hour still to go we could still get our tickets and food before boarding. Or so we thought. A friendly Australian popped the bubble by asking "are you guys catching the 13:45 to KL?" Bugger. He told us the times had changed, and seeing as he had a prepurchased ticket we weren't going to argue, just run!

We reached the ticket desk at 13:18 and ordered 3 second class tickets. $102 please. I mentioned before that we were fresh out of currency, and when our request to pay by card was politely declined we realised that our assumption that an international station would have an ATM was both foolish and misguided. Between us we only managed to scrape together $85 (Zlatan had some notes saved for his return to SP next month) and I volunteered for the dash to the nearest ATM, "just over the road". If there's one thing I can pass on to future Singapore visitors it's this: when it comes to times or directions, completely disregard what they say! After a mini marathon over the road, through the car park, up the steps, along the market, into the shopping mall and back again I returned exhausted, threw 4 sweaty $10 notes on the desk and grabbed our tickets.

Running outside in 36C heat is a challenge, but it doesn't compare to running up a flight of stairs and along 200m of corridor carrying 2 heavy packs with the ticket officer's words still ringing in your ears: "better be quick, train doors close 10 mins before departure" - it was 13:30 and we were still the wrong side of immigration. I've not encountered a border crossing within a station before; once you have shown your passport and handed in your entry card to leave Singapore you walk down a short corridor and repeat the process , this time with a bag check and fingerprint scan, to enter Malaysia. Me and Z were (technically) between countries when we realised H was missing, and looking back we saw her being escorted to the interrogation room - she had lost her entry card.

I began contemplating the ultimate traveller's dilemma: wait for a friend that you've only known for a few days and threaten the success of your own journey, or go it solo, abandon them and hope they find it all hilarious when the catch up in 12 hours' time? Fortunately I was spared the decision, in her typical dippy fashion H skipped out of the dark chamber of doom having searched through her purse and found the card (in Narnia I assume). One last faux pas later (trying to take a photo of the train did not impress the police) and we were on board at last.

As we crossed the water into Malaysia the skyscrapers disappeared and we were flanked by palm tree forests and wild jungle, interspersed with small villages where groups of men all sit huddled around a giant coolbox in the shade. The train itself is awesome, we have air con, a pair of reclining seats each and in our carriage we have a makeshift kiosk from which a mild-mannered Malaysian ladyboy sells fried noodles, sandwiches and drinks. The Malaysian Ringgit is worth roughly half of the Singapore dollar and for less than $20 (£11) we clear out the shelves and come away with 2 boxes of fried noodles, 1 of fried rice, 2 packs of egg sandwiches, a pizza roll, a pack of cookies, a pack of Oreos, 2 cans of Coke and a cheeky wink. Even the Malaysian toilet on board couldn't dampen the mood.

IMAG0983.jpg IMAG0982.jpg

As the train pulled away from its first station I copied a local and sat on the steps in the warm open doorway and watch the amazing scenery go by, careful to pull my legs in when a stray tree came my way! This is the life.


The 7 hour journey was nothing short of wonderful. We all sat looking out of the windows, each in our own little world of calm watching as the palm forests became fruit plantations, and then open fields and finally the suburbs of the country's capital. We made 2 new friends, a Swedish girl called Philippa and the friendly Ozzy from the bus, Jarrod. We chatted for several hours and mocked each other's accents and strange cultural nuances before a thunderstorm marked our arrival at Kuala Lumpur and we waved farewell to Jarrod as he continued on his missionary work. Great guy, hoping to meet up further down the trail. Having already changed carriages to join us on the train, Philippa couldn't resist joining our group in KL instead of continuing on to Thailand. We treated her to a sample of the morning's drama as we disembarked and promptly got lost trying to find the night's hostel. Hungry and soaked through from the humidity I left the decision making to the others and soon we were in yet another crisis-resolving taxi, huge backpacks filling all the available space in the back seats. Once again it turned out that we had gone in the completely wrong direction. She was now one of us, the wolf pack is now 4.


We are now checked in at the Fernloft Hostel in Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur. Bigger and in some ways better than Beary Nice! in Singapore, here we have a 6-bed room almost to ourselves, a roof terrace and even a water feature complete with sad looking fish. Of course the biggest difference is the price, and from SP$28 p/n (14 quid) we are now paying just 32 Ringgit (8 quid). Flush with cash and ready to eat Zlatan if necessary I bounded up the road into town to find something to eat, and despite seeing both the world's largest cockroach AND it's largest rat in the same food court (maybe there was a conference or something) I ordered the 'vegetarian chicken' again with baited breath. It was good.


We ended the night with a drink and a heated game of chess on the roof terrace, which ended with the UK's humiliating defeat to Bosnia at 2am. Can't wait to explore the city tomorrow, Petronas Towers are of course on the agenda followed by a local market and a stroll through the botanical gardens for good measure. Time for a well earned sleep now methinks.

Posted by WorldWideWill 01:55 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Day Five: It doesn't just rain, it Singa-pours!

And other poorly executed puns...

rain 26 °C
View RTW 2013 on WorldWideWill's travel map.

This was it, our last day in Singapore and we were all set for the beach on Sentosa Island. The sun was shining, we had eaten well and I was especially excited to try out the 'MegaZip' zipwire owned by a family friend.

Upon arrival at the cable car station, we had the option of riding away from Sentosa first to explore Mount Faber and marvel at the views over Singapore before heading down to the beach and we were in a spontaneous mood. The journey up did indeed offer amazing views... of the blackest of clouds approaching from the Singapore Strait. Within seconds the storm had pounced and once again we were treated to a Southeast Asian end-of-the-world intensity downpour. Unlike our first, this one came with a gale force wind and did not stop, and along with all visibility we lost our desire to visit the now invisible beach below. For the first time, I was actually cold.

After an hour of captivity inside the top cable car station we had a very tasty, discounted lunch (good old vouchers) and braving the drizzle we walked through the park to check out the Henderson Wave Bridge:

OK, one of us decided he wanted to surf the wave too

OK, one of us decided he wanted to surf the wave too

Then, keen to get make the most of his ticket to the aquarium (the man loves his fish), Zlatan headed us back to the cable car at pace and we took the aerial route over to the island. Sentosa is essentially a giant fun park, full of rides, pools, cinemas, an aquarium, and a big ol' zipwire. It's also the only place in Singapore that you can safely swim in the sea. As we arrived the clouds opened yet again and Z was forced into buying an outstanding yellow poncho for the walk. I was the only one not sensible enough to pack (or buy) any rainwear, but despite being wet through I convinced the others to follow me up the hill to investigate the price of the zipwire. In 5 minutes we had 3 complimentary zipwire tickets thanks to Mum's contacts back home, and thanks to the rain there was no queue which allowed us to do this:


We landed on the beach and I was still desperate for a swim so after a quick change we stepped through the palm trees and jumped in (with a camera of course).


I spent the rest of the day by myself, and the cooler weather gave me enough energy to walk to the Raffles Hotel to try and steal a souvenir for Mum. Sadly the bar was closed (sorry Mum!) but I took great pleasure in walking my sandy feet around the magnificent buildings past impeccably dressed porters and very fancy cars. The grounds were beautiful, and outside the immaculately tidy main entrance I spotted a lovely white flower on the pavement and named her Lucy. She kindly let me take her picture, one of my favourites of the day. Together we decided that we were too good for Raffles and continued up the road.


I highly recommend the walk up the Esplanade, the views are breathtaking and I immediately found veggie food at the nearby Makansutra Glutton's Bay food court to enjoy with by the water. I was here to ride the Singapore Flyer a little further up the Bay, the 165m giant of an observation wheel that you'll have seen in the night sky photo from day 3. I timed my 'flight' to coincide with the sunset, and after being mistakenly bundled into a pod with a bewildered Indian family I watched the sky darken and the city come to life. I kindly volunteered (of course) to take the family's picture, and was very surprised when they asked to have a picture of me standing with them! I will never see the startled look on my face, but I'd like to think it'll end up on a Delhi mantlepiece.


Back on the ground, at long last I found the now legendary water and light show that had started the drama of day 3, and I was treated to an awesome display over the Bay against the backdrop of the skyscrapers, surrounded by people of all cultures and still covered in sand and salt. For the first time since leaving home I rediscovered my reasons for travelling, and as Louis Armstrong provided the show's finale with "What a wonderful world", I had to agree.

  • * *

Tomorrow our 3-strong wolf pack will travel 220 miles North across the border into Malaysia, and as we have yet to agree on our accommodation there may be a gap in these blog updates! My next entry will be from Kuala Lumpur, see you there.

Posted by WorldWideWill 21:20 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Day Four: Lost & Loving It!

When exploring goes wonderfully wrong :)

sunny 34 °C
View RTW 2013 on WorldWideWill's travel map.


This message made my day. Such a small thing, once again somewhere that not many people would notice it, yet it had a profound effect on my mood (possibly exacerbated by dehydration and post-illness malnutrition!).

Last night, in deep conversation with my new Bosnian friend Zlatan he recommended (and showed my a video of) a light and water show near to the impressive Marina Bay Sands Hotel. Our hostel receptionist told us it was a 30min walk. I got chatting to another new friend, Hijkje, a girl from the Netherlands, and we decided to go down to the show together leaving at 20:30 in plenty of time for the 21:30 start. At 9pm it was clear that (a) this was not a half hour walk, and (b) we had taken the wrong road. Long story short, we never found the show, got lost in a tropical public park, failed to sneak into the MBS Hotel to use the infinity pool, and ended up lost, overheated and hungry miles from the hostel.

At midnight we gave up and headed for the tube, only to be almost locked in after all the lights turned out - we had missed the last train. The buses had also stopped, and without enough cash for a taxi we started walking back through the ridiculous shopping mall (so ridiculous is has its own water channel to ferry people from one end to the other!). Of course the food courts across the city had also closed, and at the end of a long 4.5 hour trek we found ourselves - to my great shame - in the only place still open at 1am: McDonald's :(

All was not lost though, and in addition to the all the delirious laughing we enjoyed as we got more and more hopelessly lost, we snapped some really great pictures. Never would have seen this view without an unscheduled detour:

Singapore Skyline at Night

Singapore Skyline at Night

This morning we explored Little India in search of cheap flip flops for Hijkye, and finding the place rather dull we ended up at yet another huge 5 storey shopping mall for some food and air conditioning. Once again, the food stalls failed to produce a vegetarian option (how can you stock every meat and then be 'out of stock' of mushroom noodles?!) so I sat forlornly nibbling on a sultana biscuit watching H eat her salmon fried rice! Happily though we stumbled across a Dutch pancake house on the way back, and after pointing out the spelling mistakes on the menu I splashed out $11 on a 'veggie treat' omelette and some cinnamon crepes to share. This was heaven. Until a simple act of poor labelling ruined my day:

Curse you Heinz, CURSE YOOOOOUUU!!!

Curse you Heinz, CURSE YOOOOOUUU!!!

Fear not, I survived to blog another day. This evening Zlatan & I had tickets booked for a night safari at the Singapore Zoo (it seemed like a novel thing to do with a new friend and I had no illusions of how wonderful it would be, especially in comparison to the Dennis family night game drive in the Masai Mara!). We hadn't considered that the zoo might be AN HOUR out of town (or so they said at the reception...) and as we ran onto the MRT at 18:30 we were cutting it fine to be there for our 19:30 start. By 7pm we had only reached the shuttle bus, another 45min journey, and with the reflexes of a somewhat groggy cat we dodged a zoo transfer bus scam and bundled into a cab.

We were there in 20 mins, and then 'enjoyed' a zoo experience like no other. Starting with a tram ride through the zoo (which is all in a rainforest) we then walked miles of winding paths from enclosure to enclosure, sweating like... well you know. It was spectacular to see the animals so close, but having seen most of them in the wild it was heartbreaking to see the signs of captivity madness in them and they were clearly on mild sedatives for the purpose of the tour. We came away feeling a little depressed at having funded the cause, and after a fire show we took the long bus home.

I'll sum up the night's final moments quickly as I know I've rambled on - don't go to Clarke Quay. For the uninitiated, Clarke Quay is where cultural exploration goes to die. It is an area of Western restaurants, nightclubs, bars (including Hooters) and hundreds of TV screens playing Western sports and it is full of British people. It is a gaping wound in the middle of this lovely, clean and law-abiding city, and includes at its centre an infamous bridge on which sit hundreds of drunken, smoking, swearing and violent, bottle-smashing Brits. It's Hell on Earth.

In fabulous contrast, tomorrow we explore the beautiful Sentosa Island, swim in the sea and possibly even try out a giant zipwire...

Posted by WorldWideWill 00:38 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Day Three: Sickness in Singapore!

Time to appreciate the finer details...

rain 28 °C
View RTW 2013 on WorldWideWill's travel map.

Perhaps it's the jetlag getting worse, or maybe it was the dubious 'vegetarian chicken' I ate down the street last night. Either way, today has not been a pleasant one!

Surprisingly, one of the hardest things for me in Singapore has been finding decent vegetarian food, and after an hour's searching last night I finally found a veggie food stall only to be met with a sign saying it was closed until Monday (when I leave). Desperate to avoid caving in and buying a McDonald's I splashed out instead on a bag of pistachios and a snickers from the local 7 eleven and prepared for an evening of comfort eating instead!


On my way back I stumbled upon the Ci Yan Vegetarian Health Food Restaurant (above), which turned out to be about 50 yards down the road from the hostel! Before I could decide if it was worth a try I was ushered inside by a friendly old man (my first friend!), sat at a table that I could barely get my knees under and an order for the day's special (veggie chicken and rice) was shouted into the kitchen. It arrived within minutes, but the suspicions it raised in me were quickly replaced by hunger and under the watchful eye of the owner I started eating. It wasn't great. The advertised brown rice (see photo) was so organic that it came with bits of grain husk and required an awful lot of chewing, and the beancurd 'chicken' was sadly laced with a coriander based sauce, my food-based nemesis. I felt incredibly guilty scraping most of it into the bin as I cleared my table, and made a hasty exit after reluctantly paying the nice man $6.50 for his trouble.


Today it rained. A LOT. Thankfully this made it mercifully cool outside (28C), but walking to buy water was still too much for my stomach and I retreated to reflect on the little details I've been noting here. A great man, and my one day grandfather-in-law taught me to read everything in a new place, and what great advice - I'm sure the subtle humour hidden around this hostel is lost on so many guests who don't read the safety notices (see above)! I extended this skill (of reading) to the Chinatown market earlier this afternoon where I came across a fridge magnet listing all of the weird and wonderful laws and penalties in Singapore. My personal highlights are: (1) Urinating in lifts - $500 fine; (2) Not flushing a public toilet - $150 fine; (3) Possession of firecrackers - the CANE! What a wonderful society, I now realise why everyone calls it "The Fine City".



There are some examples of pure genius amongst the crazy though, the above being one of my favourites - giving pensioners a swipe card to allow them more time to cross the road: AMAZING! They also have a ridiculously cool mechanised car parking system (watch the videos on YouTube) and the girls match their umbrellas to their outfits.

Writing has given me energy to get outside again, I wonder what tonight's exploring will uncover?

Posted by WorldWideWill 17:45 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Day Two: Explore Singapore

semi-overcast 35 °C
View RTW 2013 on WorldWideWill's travel map.



I did myself a huge favour by not sleeping on the flight, and although the jetlag is still very obvious today I managed a few hours overnight and woke up at a 'normal' local time.

After a basic hostel breakfast I walked through Chinatown and past the local temples towards Marina Bay. I stopped in one of the immaculate little parks to take today's photo, already overcome by the 35C heat after less than an hour's walk! The city is an amazing contrast between streets of traditional style 2-3 storey houses or shops and huge skyscraper office blocks. And when I say huge, I mean GIANT. They always tell you to remember to look up in Manhattan, but trying to look to the tops of the buildings here does your neck damage! At 12 o'clock sharp, the doors of all of these glass monsters fly open to release hundreds and hundreds of businessmen and women as they flock to the food courts dotted around the city. Caught up in the rush, I became very aware of myself - not only does my 6ft 2", pasty-white frame stand a clear foot above most of the crowds here, but I was suddenly the least well-dressed person in a 2-mile radius and certainly the only one not wearing shoes (which raised some eyebrows when I casually sauntered into the Microsoft building to use their toilet)!

Following the crowds (when in Rome) I ended up at the Lau Pa Sat food court, home of around 60 individual food stalls selling everything from the standard chicken and rice combo to curried fish heads. I avoided both stalls and settled on a stall offering 'Tow Foo' dishes, assuming (1st error) that it was veggie tofu food and hoping (2nd error) that the stall owners would speak enough English to explain what was in it. I was met with awkward silence as I made creative gestures and said the words 'tofu', 'no meat?' and 'vegetarian' over and over until the older lady behind the counter simply pointed to the far wall of the food court (or gestured for me to leave, who knows?). I felt a little stupid upon seeing the stall with a giant 'V' on it, but promptly ordered the Bee Hoon, a great little dish of noodles, vegetables and tofu and I threw on a spring roll for good measure. SG$4.50 well spent. I have now learned that 'Tow Foo', or rather 'Yong Tow Foo' is indeed tofu, but it is stuffed with meat paste - a lucky escape!

The afternoon was spent weaving through air conditioned malls and taking frequent rest and water breaks until I reached a hazy view point of the spectacular Marina Bay Sands hotel (a cool $350 per night), took a quick photo and decided to retreat back to the hostel as the jetlag continued to sap my muscle energy and heat rash ravaged my legs! The sun has set once again and I am looking forward to a more restful night's sleep. My local climate research (which really should have been done in more detail before I left home) tells me that there is on average one degree of temperature change between day and night here, ONE DEGREE! Tonight is forecast to be 32C and I'm increasingly thankful for air conditioning! Time to find a quick local supper followed by an icy cold shower!

Posted by WorldWideWill 18:48 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Day One: Arrival in Singapore

Oh so very hot...

sunny 32 °C
View RTW 2013 on WorldWideWill's travel map.



Great flight from Helsinki, my longest to date (12hrs) so naturally I was hugely impressed, and grateful, to be welcomed to my seat by a pillow, blanket, headphones and my own touchscreen TV (with a remote control that doubles as a game controller!). Even more pleasing was the number of empty seats on the flight, so I immediately bagged 2 extra pillows and got ready to stretch out over 3 seats for some sleep. Except sleep never came, largely because the armrests between the seats didn't fully fold up, so I was 'forced' to watch The Hobbit, a couple of episodes of HIMYM and make the most of the unlimited free beverages for the remainder of the journey. Ah well!

Arrived at Changi Airport at 1640 yesterday and was immediately greeted by a warm, humid air hug. Instantly drenched with sweat (I was still dressed for Finland) I made a beeline for the baggage claim to grab flip flops and shorts out of my bag... which never came. The carousel stopped bringing bags and I was taken off to the desk no one wants to see and started filling out forms, completely beside myself - no warm weather clothing, no toiletries, no suncream... Only after completing the forms, digging out my travel insurance details and someone calling Helsinki airport did my poor bag suddenly appear, apparently having been sent to the wrong terminal or belt (I wasn't interested).

I decided to avoid any first day scam potential (unlikely in Singapore but you never know) and tried out the MRT instead of taking a taxi to Chinatown. The trains are beautifully air conditioned and clean, although I was thoroughly confused by the number of women who boarded and then stood facing me in my seat, and my inner gentleman was silenced by my aching shoulders and I decided that me and my heavy bag had just as much right to the seat as a woman carrying only a handbag. A sneaky photo taken on my phone shows that several stops later, a line of women had formed in the middle of the carriage, all facing me and my seat and I started wishing a pensioner would show up so I could legitimately give up the seat. One stop from Chinatown a woman boarded with a slightly pronounced belly, so, taking a gamble I leapt to my feet, offered her my seat and prepared to make a run for it - if she was pregnant I had just aced the social courtesy and had the respect of the whole carriage, if she wasn't she was happily surprised at my conduct and was now sat in front of a long line of pissed off Singaporean women!

Eventually arrived here at the Beary Nice! Hostel after an involuntary tour of Chinatown (took the wrong exit from the station), and it is rather nice! I have a top bunk above a small Chinese man who giggles to himself while watching anime cartoons, and there is a nice lounge with this computer and an illegal movie laden TV. Water is cheapest from the pharmacy next door, costing just 80c (40p) for a large bottle (compared to $3 in the 7 eleven supermarket) and the veggie food offering nearby seems hopeful. Time for a shower then bed.

Posted by WorldWideWill 23:11 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

That Helsinking Feeling...

snow 3 °C
View RTW 2013 on WorldWideWill's travel map.


Not sure what I expected from Finland, but I certainly didn't expect to leave the plane and nearly freeze to death! Ok, so it's not the best photo, but I had to snap a quickie of the huge amount of snow everywhere!

After 3 hours in a seat WITHOUT the advertised legroom (next to a man watching what I will only describe as a rather explicit movie on his iPad without headphones), I was looking forward to having a walk outside the airport to stretch my legs. I can guarantee I'm the only one here wearing ankle socks, and had I not kept my fleece in my hand luggage I'd be needing treatment for pneumonia and would already be regretting my decision to leave my EHIC card at home!

But apart from the 6 hour wait for my connection, this transfer is well worth it. Helsinki airport is badass, immaculately clean with awesome features from little one-man booths to sit in and charge your phone (photo) to bottle openers in the toilets! Throw a pub in on the top floor and they've nailed the perfect airport recipe. This will do.

Posted by WorldWideWill 14:26 Archived in Finland Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 15 of 23) Page [1] 2 » Next