It has a monorail. I’ve had the Monorail Song from the Simpsons going round my head for the past five days. Monorail! Monorail! Monorail! I think if I lived here this would eventually drive me crazy.
When we arrive in KL, preparations for Chinese New Year are in full swing. The decorations are all up and there’s lots of shows in all the shopping centres; lion dances, martial arts etc. My favourite was a parade involving a man dressed as the “God of Prosperity” and the Nando’s chicken.
KL city centre is quite compact, but just because somewhere is within walking distance, don’t be fooled into thinking that it will be possible to walk there. KL hates pedestrians. I think the town planning department is run by a cartel of taxi drivers. But I refuse to get a taxi for a journey of under a mile, so goddamnit we walk to Lake Gardens on our first day (we found a secret underpass round the back of the Post Office). Once we managed to get there, we do a parkrun, visit the National Museum (which is pants) and the Bird Park, where we see the runner-up in the Malaysian tourism poster-boy stakes (second only to the orang-utan) – the Giant Hornbill.
On Chinese New Year proper, we visit Lake Titiwangsa (no sniggering at the back!), where we get some good photos of the city skyline.
Later on, we stopped for an ice cream, but the guy wouldn’t give us our chosen almond caramel until we’d first tried a free sample of durian flavour. Bleurgh. It tastes as bad as it smells.
We do our second parkrun of the week (yes, I said we. Mr Beet has suddenly developed a rekindled enthusiasm for running and has joined me on my last three runs) in KLCC park in the shadow of the Petronas Towers.
We also visit the Marks and Spencer in the Petronas shopping centre and I stock up on Percy Pigs. Percy got me through my marathon training and I’m hoping he will also get me to the top of Mt Kinabalu. There is an observation deck at the Petronas Towers, but it’s only on the 41st floor – 170m high. So we skip that and instead take afternoon tea at 270m in the Menara KL Tower.
More photos of Kuala Lumpur are on Mr Beet’s flickr page.
On our travels we usually just muddle along as we go, planning a few days in advance at most. But that approach will not work in Borneo, where permits and accommodation need to be booked in advance, so we have been doing a lot of planning for Borneo in the past few days.
We are planning to climb Mt Kinabalu, which is 4,095 m high and, like Mt Fuji, we will have to hike through the night to get to the summit for dawn. But that’s not the scary part. We’ve decided to get back down by via ferrata. We’ve done one of these before, but that was in the Lake District and was significantly less than 3,000m high. Basically, they fixed metals foot and hand-holds into the cliff face for you to climb down. We had a choice between the “easy” route, which takes 2 hours, or the tough one that takes 5 hours. Considering that we will have done 7 hours of hiking the day before, then got up at 1am to do 6 more hours of hiking before we reach the start of the via ferrata, we’ve opted for the tough route. Lunacy.
To take our minds off worrying about our forthcoming Kinabalu ordeal, we decided that the best thing to do would be to sign up for an even tougher trek. So we are also planning (I say planning, approximately 50% don’t make it all the way) a 3 day, 2 night trek to the Pinnacles in Gunung Mulu National Park. Day 2 is when you reach the top and get a well-earned view across the Pinnacles and that point is only 2.4 kilometres from the base camp. But in that distance, you climb up 1.2 kilometres. That is ridiculously steep. The last and steepest section is accomplished by a series of ladders and bridges that seem about as precarious as the via ferrata on Kinabalu, but this time we won’t be carabinered on to a safety wire. Ok, we would only fall about 30 feet, as opposed to 3,000 m, but we’d be falling onto pointy rocks.
Here’s some stuff we’ve come across while researching the Pinnacles:
“…unrelentingly steep and taxing…”
“…not only is it steep it is also rooty, rocky and slippery. If you take the steepest, rootiest bit of the waitak’s on a wet day, change the clay to rock, some of them razor sharp, quadruple the number of roots, make it 10 times as long and add 100% humidity, this is what the Pinnacles walking section is like…I quit when it got scary.”
“I am 160cm but I found certain parts of the climb quite challenging as I couldn’t quite reach the ladder rung or foothold…only attempt this is you are more than 160cm.” (Errrr…crap)
“An impassable labyrinth of razor sharp rocks” (Actually that’s Mordor, but I’m beginning to think it might have been modelled on the Pinnacles)
What do Malaysians and Scousers have in common, la?
For those not familiar with any Scousers, the “la” is a kind of vocal punctuation. As far as I can tell, Malaysians use it in exactly the same way, i.e.
You all right, la?
I’m going to the shops, la.
That film was awesome, la.
Since the use is so similar, I find it hard to believe that it evolved simultaneously, but I don’t know if it originated in Liverpool and got transported to Malaysia or vice versa.
I wasn’t in Langkawi on a Saturday, but since I am still two parkruns in deficit having skipped some in India, I did a run on the beach anyway to catch up. And look who ran with me!
Now if I can just squeeze in an extra run in Kuala Lumpur along with my usual Saturday run, I will be back on schedule before Borneo (when I will no doubt fall behind again).
From Penang we took a ferry to another Malaysian island, Langkawi. It is a real tropical paradise; golden sands, warm seas and swaying palms. Plus the interior of the island is dense jungle packed with wildlife.
For the first time on our trip we hired a car and explored the island. We started off at the Sky Bridge. It takes two cable cars to get up there and the views over the island are fantastic. You can see birds of prey wheeling at eye level.
After that we hiked to the Seven Wells waterfalls, where I took a dip.
We had been planning to do a guided wildlife trek in Langkawi, but we managed to see so many animals just hiking about by ourselves that we wondered if it would be worthwhile. We’d already spotted.
We decided to do the guided trek anyway and we are so glad that we did, although it was not what we expected at all. Most of the trek went through a hotel resort complex. What wildlife could we expect to spot there? As it turned out – loads. Before we’d even started the trek, the guide waved us over to show us something that he had spotted on his way in. A young buzzard had caught a lizard almost as big as itself. It couldn’t carry it away, so it was crouched in the undergrowth right by the hotel entrance, pinning its prey to the ground and waiting for it to stop struggling.
Once we’d started the proper trek, the first thing the guide showed us was a tree with some lumps protruding from its trunk. On closer inspection, the lumps turned out to be sleeping flying lemurs, but they were so well camouflaged that you would never have spotted them if you didn’t know what to look for. The lemurs would start getting active around dusk, so we would come back there later.
We also saw a giant squirrel, which we’d also seen in Laos and India, but we got a closer view this time, more dusky leaf monkeys and ubiquitous macaques.
Then we went into the jungle and our guide explained a bt about the types of trees. He showed us some huge termite mounds and told us that the locals can predict the weather by the termites. A few days before the rainy season starts the Queen termite produces a generation of winged termites who will leave the nest to set up elsewhere. If you see flying termites it means that rain is on its way.
Further into the jungle I spotted a small lizard on a tree. Just as I pointed it out, another lizard flew in to join it. These were cool gliding lizards and our guide was beside himself to get such a good view of them. He started telling us that the male can puff out his throat during courting, something that he’d never seen in the wild, only in documentaries. Right on cue, the male started puffing out the sides of his throat to show bright red patterns on either side.
Just before we left the forest, we came across a termite mound that appeared to be frothing. There were hundreds of termites scurrying over it and hundreds more flying out. So rain might be on the way.
Back on the hotel complex we sat watching the sleeping lemur tree, waiting for the sun to go down. The change from day shift to night shift is a very active time and we hardly knew where to look. The monkeys were going to bed, the bats were coming out and the lemurs were starting to wake up. As they began to move about, we could see that two or three had cute little babies clinging to their bellies. When they fly, they spread out their limbs and gliding membrane so they look like big pancakes gliding through the air.
We didn’t expect to see this much wildlife before we got to Borneo. We came to Langkawi for the beaches really, so this was a real bonus. Speaking of beaches, we got plenty of beach time as well.
More pictures of Langkawi are on Mr Beet’s flickr page, and in case you were wondering, the termites got it right. Later that night, we were woken up by thunder and torrential rain.
When we meet people on our travels they often ask what we do for a living. My favourite reaction to “I’m a lawyer” was from an Indian man who looked at me with silent awe and then shook my hand. But the more common reaction is “You don’t look like a lawyer“. I’m not entirely sure what this means, but I try to take it as a compliment. I’ve been told I don’t look like a lawyer in all sorts of places, which begs the question: who does look like a lawyer when they’re wearing a bikini or their hiking gear? I bet even Lord Denning didn’t look that judicial in his swimming trunks.
Penang is small island off the Western coast of Malaysia, famous for its colonial capital Georgetown and for its street food. Malaysian cuisine is a conglomeration of Chinese and Indian, plus Penang has it own unique “Nonya” cuisine. It is supposed to be one of the best places to eat in the world. However, the fact that a noticeably high proportion of the locals’ cars are displaying “McDonalds Drive Thru VIP” stickers rather undermines this. Our food is perfectly palatable but nothing special. Now, Hoi An – that’s a city with great cuisine. My mouth still waters at the very mention of it.
On our first day we start off with a walking tour of the capital Georgetown, checking out the colonial buildings, mosques, temples and Chinese clanhouses. The highlight is Pinang Peranaken House, which used to belong to a wealthy Nonya (Malay-born Chinese) trader. The guide was very enthusiastic and insisted on our posing by the opium bed.
The next day we went to Penang National Park. We hiked through the forest for a couple of hours to reach a beautiful beach (some other people were also on the beach having got there by boat – the cheats!).
Turtles lay their eggs on this beach, so bits of it were cordoned off and there is a conservation centre where you could see some of the babies.
We also saw lots of wildlife in the forest, which can be divided into;
Animals which frightened Mr Beet:
A lizard that looked like a snake
What we thought was a crocodile, but turned out to be a water monitor -it was huge!
Animals which did not frighten Mr Beet:
On our final day we went to Kek Lok Si Temple, built into the side of a hill overlooking the city. The temple is huge and designed on the principle that “more is more”. Since preparations for Chinese New Year were underway it was “even more is even more”. There were, at a conservative estimate, a gazillion lanterns decorating the temple.
Mr Beet hanging a prayer ribbon wishing for safe travels.
More pictures of Penang on Mr Beet’s flickr page.
The Stand – Stephen King
I was delighted to track this book down in a book exchange in Trivandrum. It almost made it worth going to India. The final book on my top 100 and I finished on a medium. The book was ok, although I did notice that Mr King has a bit of a urine obsession going on. His favourite adjective is variations on pissy, pissing, pissant and honestly, there are at least a dozen references in the book to people wetting themselves. I don’t know if this was meant to be a recurring theme in this book, or whether it appears in his other works.
So that’s one more item ticked off the list, and with less than six months to go until the big 3-0, a good time to fess-up that I’m not going to get this all done. Currently, the list looks like this.
1. Go to Glastonbury - COMPLETED Summer 2009, 2010 and 2011
2. Go to Edinburgh Festival – COMPLETED Summer 2010
3. Go kayaking – COMPLETED Summer 2010, plus we’ve done loads of kayaking on this holiday
4. Read the top 100 books – COMPLETED January 2012 finishing on Stephen King’s “The Stand”
5. Watch the top 100 films – INCOMPLETE 98 down 2 to go (Apocalypse Now and The Seven Samurai). We are hiring a campervan in NZ which comes with a dvd player, so I could have finished this then, but since I will have other things outstanding as at June 2012, then I’m not so fussed and they can wait until I’m back home.
6. Go surfing – COMPLETED February 2009 in Gran Canaria
7. Learn to ride the unicycle – INCOMPLETE – I have tried and it is bloody hard. Need to put the hours of falling off again and again in before you can expect results.
8. Go horse-riding – COMPLETED Summer 2009
9. Qualify as a solicitor – COMPLETED 2008
10. Go scuba-diving - COMPLETED Summer 2011
11. Go veggie for 1 month – COMPLETED 2008
12. Paint a picture – COMPLETED in Chiang Mai in 2011
13. Climb a Munro – COMPLETED Summer 2011
14. Get something published – COMPLETED Summer 2008
15. Take a circus skills class – COMPLETED 2010
16. Go to a big arena concert – COMPLETED 2008
17. Do a marathon – COMPLETED 2011
18. Learn to play a musical instrument – INCOMPLETE I don’t think 5 piano lessons can possibly count, will continue these on return to UK.
19. Go paintballing – INCOMPLETE I could get this one done in NZ I expect.
20. Go to a Shakespeare play at the Globe – COMPLETED 2009
21. Go paragliding – COMPLETED Summer 2010
22. Learn to dance – COMPLETED Summer 2009
23. Go zorbing – COMPLETED Summer 2008
24. Go to Notting Hill Carnival – COMPLETED Summer 2008
25. Go skiing – COMPLETED on an indoor ski slope in 2008 and in the real thing in Lapland in 2011
26. Go in a hot air balloon – COMPLETED Summer 2010
27. Learn to do the splits – INCOMPLETE – I’ve been really naughty and not done any stretching. I will start from today! It’s blogged now so it’s official.
28. Go rock climbing – COMPLETED 2008 and done loads since then
29. Go abseiling – COMPLETED 2008
30. Learn to rollerblade – INCOMPLETE – I can rollerblade, but I wanted to get good before I ticked this off. Still not good.
So I have six things outstanding currently and at least some of those (unicycling, instrument) I cannot do on my travels. It’s going to be a big, fat FAIL come 13 June 2012. But I still want to do those things, so I’m going to try to get them done before my 31st birthday. Now, I’m not changing the deadline and pretending that’s it still counts – I still consider this a FAIL, but I still want to finish my current list before I start drawing up a 40 things to do list.