Malaysia - 08/10/01

Malaysia (7/11/01 - 8/10/01)

After two weeks of being drenched in Laos, we decided to run away from the rainy season in SE Asia. Instead of continuing on to Vietnam as originally planned, we turned back through Thailand (for one last weekend of shopping, partying, a mildly nerve-racking run-in with the police and two mean hangovers) and headed south to Malaysia. We thought an easy relaxing month on the sunny beaches of Malaysia would be the perfect way to end our odyssey.

Well for being one of the “five tiger” countries of Asia, Malaysia sure started out disappointing. Aside from being more expensive than Thailand, it wasn’t set-up to make things so easy for tourists (and by the end of the year we were ready for easy). We decided the country’s motto should be “Malaysia – all closed, all the time!” It started with a frustrating week in Panang (a nice place to visit – for a day or two). We were waiting to pick up our plane tickets from an agent who decided to close shop for five days and not answer the phone. We finally gave up waiting and hoped he’d be able to forward the tickets on to us in some other town (which worked out all right in the end).

We headed to the east coast and spent a couple of days in the neat little town of Khota Bharu, enjoying the variety of food offered at the night market. From here we booked a stay at the fanciest beach resort on the Pherentian Islands to celebrate our upcoming five-year wedding anniversary. The islands are two little-developed perfect specimens of tropical paradise. Unfortunately, their popularity have outpaced development and finding a place to stay on the islands can be near impossible if you just show up (as backpackers are want to do). At least that was the excuse we used to book the only place available, which happened to be the priciest. And boy were we looking forward to the getaway!

After a three-hour boat ride we arrived at the island and found the resort. Nice! But then we learned that our reservations had been lost and the place was booked solid. “But it’s our anniversary!” No amount of pleading, begging, arguing, crying, or groveling helped. We were stuck on an island with no place to stay. Our anniversary was spent tramping up and down the beach hoping something would open up in any of the other full bungalows on the island. After resigning ourselves to sleeping on the beach, a ray of sunshine slipped through and we found a hut that had become available. We stayed there for a night and then moved to the resort the next day. That’s when the Malaysia segment of the trip began to improve.

We scuba dived with sea turtles, snorkeled with sharks and eels, sunbathed by the pool, abused our air-conditioning and ate some excellent fish. The week passed quickly and we had a great time. Regretfully we left the island and returned to Khota Bharu to happily find our tickets waiting for us at the hotel! Things were looking up.

From the beach paradise, we decided to head inland to visit jungle paradise. Malaysia has one of the largest primary rain forest preserves in the world, Tama Negara. To enter the park you travel by long boat three hours upriver. The forest surrounds you on all sides and monkeys and monitor lizards line the banks. It was true picture book jungle. Of course picture books don’t give you any idea of how bloody hot and humid it really is. A fifteen-minute hike would soak every inch of clothing in sweat. After one small hike, we gave up our plans to do the seven-day trek to the highest mountain in the park. Why end our trip with torture? We had plenty of sweaty fun doing short day hikes. We walked the canopy walkway that meanders for a kilometer at 75 feet above the jungle floor. We hiked up one peak for breathtaking views of the park and Geoff (the lucky bastard) encountered a bear on the trail and saw a flying lizard along the way. (I was probably to busy trudging behind him bitching and moaning about the heat to notice anything.) We went on a guided night hike where we saw the most incredible things including a foot long walk stick, a Dr. Suess like caterpillar, tree frogs, and phosphorescent fungi.

Although we had a great time and met some great folks (that’s you Lucy and Pauline) we decided to cut our jungle trip short and head back out to the coast to escape the heat. We headed back to the east coast to a town called Chertling, reputedly the most laid back town in Malaysia. It probably was too; you could actually openly order beer here. We kept ourselves occupied doing nothing. We spent a day learning how to do batik, which was quite a bit of fun.

We bussed it back west to Kuala Lumpur where we would spend the remaining days of our world tour shopping and visiting the fancy, air-conditioned malls. We treated ourselves to meals at Chili’s and the Hard Rock Café, reflecting upon the trip home. Finally, the day came. With mixed feelings we boarded the plane to make our journey home.

Final Thoughts

We’ve been home for three months now and have had some time to think about what our world trip really meant. It was truly an amazing experience that I’m not sure can be put into words. I have so many happy thoughts associated with the past year. In addition to the crazy things that happened, the amazing people we met, the beautiful sights we saw, the fascinating things I learned, I know I’ve changed as a person. Confidence mostly, assertiveness, perspective. My relationship with Geoff grew even stronger. I have never been so happy and content. But mostly I feel proud. I made my dream a reality and that’s what really makes me glow inside.

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The funicular railway on Penang Hill

Kota Bharu's fabulous Central Market

A week of pure luxury on the Perhentian Islands

Up the Sungai Tembeling to the Rainforest of Taman Negara

A half kilometer hike 75 feet above the forest floor

Is that a smile or a grimace of fear?

Yep, that's cute.

Lisa makes a friend

What you lookin' at?

Nighttime in the rainforest

Walkingstick = 1 foot

Climb another mountain, get another gorgeous view

Lisa trains in the art of batik making

The finished masterpiece

Ten-foot-tall pitcher plants?

If you want to go to Merdeka Square, there are a few rules you'll have to follow.

The Petronas Towers- one problem, tourists can't go to the top

Don't mess with this