Jungles, Waterfalls & Beaches on Tioman Island

Day 1:

“THE ISLANDS, here we come!!!!” Well at least that was the excitement we felt the night before. This morning was another story. After staying up till 3am on Skype and having to wake up at 6am to catch our 8am bus to Mersing, we were feeling less than enthusiastic to say the least. We had no clue this would turn out to be one of our greatest adventures yet! So bear with us…

From our trusty backpackers, we walked to Oceans Mall where we caught the public bus to Melaka Central Bus Station (MYR1). From there we caught our “pre-booked” bus to Mersing, a jetty town on the East coast of mainland Malaysia. This is the access point to Tioman Island. The bus ride was roughly three hours long and cost us MYR25pp.

NOTE: Bus tickets to Mersing should be booked a couple of days in advance as the route is very popular and there’s no guarantee you’ll get a seat on the day. This is especially important if you are connecting with a pre-booked ferry (in Mersing) to the island. Also note, Mersing is not a destination. It is a small town that can be explored in an hour or two whilst waiting for your ferry or bus, if you so desire. There area few motels along the main streets near the main ferry terminal though, if you do happen to get stuck there for the night due to transport times or ferry cancellations.

Just across the road from Mersing’s eerie bus terminal is the ferry company “Bluewater Ferries” who claimed to be the one and only company offering ferry trips to Tioman. If there was any doubt, their monopolistically priced tickets confirmed the fact. After scrambling to find a better alternative, with no luck, we caved and paid the MYR70 return ticket (per person). For most traveler types, this isn’t much, but for us frugal backpackers this, plus the transport getting here, was almost our entire daily budget gone!

NOTE:The ferry service only runs three times a day in each direction (sometimes only two), and is very dependent on tidal/weather conditions and passenger numbers. During monsoon season (late Oct to mid Feb) the ferry has been known to shut down for several days at a time. Secondly, Tioman is a popular tourist destination for all types of travelers all year round, therefore demand is always high. We recommend booking your ferry ticket (and accommodation for that matter) in advance, either by calling Bluewater Ferries (+60 7 799 56 96) or by purchasing one online at tiomanferry.com. Make sure to give Bluewater Ferries a call before making your way to Mersing to check that your ferry is still running on the day. Lastly, plan to arrive well in advance of your ferry time.

Mersing’s ferry terminal is just a short five minute walk up river from the bus terminal. If you are facing the river, go right. From the bus terminal head towards the main intersection, walk a couple of blocks through thecity centre and passed the stadium till you find the ferry terminal. Here you show your ferry ticket at the ticket counter thirty minutes before departure and wait to board.

Mersing Ferry Terminal.
Mersing Ferry Terminal

Like the last minute travelers we are, we still hadn’t booked our accommodation for Tioman. Bad, bad idea! We had been lucky enough to get ferry tickets, were we going to be lucky enough to get accommodation? The travel agent next door to Bluewater’s office had told us all accommodation on the island was sold out, except for a few places onJuara Beach, a lone beach on the east side of the island. For some reason we were not feeling very trusting today, so whilst waiting for our ferry, we used the opportunity to check out accommodation online. We popped over to the surf-styled café next to the ferry terminal for a quick bite to eat and to take advantage of their free wifi. We really regretted it. The food was nasty, the waiter incredibly rude and the wifi…no existent. No accommodation…what were we going to do?

Just before hopping on the ferry we asked some locals working at the ferry terminal what our best bet was. They also suggested Juara Beach, as we were likely to have little luck at the other five beaches on the west coast. At this point we were feeling like the naughty kids being banished to the corner of the playground. Little did we know this part of the playground was full of great adventures just waiting to happen.

Now, the ferry takes approximately two hours and stops at the five main beaches along Tioman’s west coast. We jumped off at Tekek (no.3) as it seemed the most centralized beach, and from there we could decide our next move. Almost all of the accommodation was booked, bar a place called “The Beach Shack” on Juara Beach. Feeling super beat up, hot and frustrated about how our lack of organization had seemed to have got the better of us this time, we just went with it. The local owner sent a driver in a 4×4 driver over the island to pick us up. And this is where the adventure began!!!!

The view from our ferry ride to Tioman.
The view from our ferry ride to Tioman.
Finally made to Tekek!
Finally made it to Tekek!

Our driver, Zam, immediately lightened our spirits with his gentle, friendly personality. Although, his gentle-side didn’t last long; and thank goodness for that. It takes one fierce and confident driver to be able to tackle the treacherous, unforgiving jungle road to Juara. But like a boss, Zam got us there in one piece, all the while telling us stories of recent encounters with python and komodo dragons, just a few of Tiomon’s deadly, local wildlife. What a thrilling ride!

Zam's Taxi
Zam’s Taxi

We had now hit Kampung Juara, a local village. As Zam drove us down the narrow village road we paused to take it all in; the young Malay children chasing their ball through the tall grass, a few coming from school running behind their friends’ bicycles, some local woman congregating together on side of the road whilst an old man drove past on his scooter piled high with Durians. We couldn’t have been happier. This is exactly where we wanted to be…in amongst the locals. Seeing how exhausted we were yet utterly excited, Zam pulled off the road, parked the 4×4 under a palm tree and ushered us towards a small wooden shack right on the beach in amongst some locals homes. A little confused at first, we soon realized he had taken us to his friend’s beach café to treat us to the traditional Malaysian dessert, ABC (Cendol) and a few other local treats. As we sat there on the beach, under the palm trees eating our ABC’s, having just met this man, both of us felt utterly overwhelmed and humbled by his generosity and the experience so far. We spent the next hour listening to Zam share his life story, including one of his most hectic experiences that left Mike and I completely shocked, which for Zam’s safety we can only ever share with you in person.

Zam's friends beach cafe.
Zam’s friends beach cafe.
Enjoying ice cold ABC, yummmmmm!
Enjoying ice cold ABC, yummmmmm!

NOTE:There are two ways to get over to Juara Beach; the first being the 4×4 (MYR50), and the second, a three hour trek through the jungle. There are a few taxi drivers in Tekek who might offer to take you, but you would be mad to accept. We suggest arranging your initial transportation through your accommodation provider. Once in Juara, don’t expect to catch any form of transportation. There is one main road with dirt road off-shoots and probably only half a dozen cars, a few motorbikes and some scooters in the entire village. Luckily the main road is no longer than two kilometers so most people just walk or cycle. Also note that ninety percent of the accommodation on Juara Beach is owned and run by local people who have expanded their homes, or built small basic chalets to accommodate visitors.

Our first day on Tioman ended with dinner on the deck, a refreshing night swim under the stars and some great conversations with fellow travelers. This place was so off the beaten track it was so incredibly beautiful and peaceful.

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Day 2:

Our accommodation, The Beach Shack, was incredibly rustic and simple, the closest you’ll get to actually sleeping on the beach. The vibe was incredibly laid back providing for the perfect beach bumming conditions.

The Beach Shack!
The Beach Shack!
The entrance to the Beach Shack.
The entrance to the Beach Shack.

To set the scene, Mike and I literally stepped out of our beach shack onto the cool white sand, placed an order for banana chocolate pancakes and coffee, had a refreshing morning dip in the crystal clear ocean waters to wake up before being called to the deck by the lovely owner to devour our freshly made pancakes. What a dream! I mean can life get any better? I mean really!

Our Juara home
Our Juara Home

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The night before whilst taking every moment to rest and relax in this incredibly calm and peaceful place, we got to know the other crazy inhabitants who had been lucky enough to find their way here; two German girls, two Canadians and an Aussie dude. Crossing paths with fellow backpackers on the road always leads to amazing experiences and broadened minds, and this time was no exception.

We all spent the morning hanging out on the beach and discussing plans for the day. Eventually we all decided to get our act together, fight the laziness and hike through the jungle to a waterfall. We say we “all” decided, because none of us where prepared to take it on alone, at least not after hearing the news of what had happened on this same walk the week before we had all arrived.

The deck of the Beach Shack.
The deck of the Beach Shack.

A couple of weeks before, a male foreigner helping at the Turtle Conservation Centre further down the beach went on a hike by himself and was found dead earlier in the week. There were rumours that he may have fallen, injured himself and not been able to get back to safety. However, his face had been eaten by a Komodo Dragon. Oh hell no!! We were all more than happy to admit we felt safer with numbers! It also meant our adrenaline was pumping before we had even hit the jungle.

So off we went, high on excitement! A couple hundred meters down the beach though we were stopped in our tracks. The tide had risen, and between us and the jungle path now lay a large mass of water, also known as the estuary. The color of the water didn’t exactly make any of us want to dive in and swim across and neither did the fact that we weren’t certain there wasn’t anything man-eating underneath it too. We didn’t have much of a choice though. We had barely started and already faced our first challenge. What an adventure!

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We noticed an old crusty longboard lying on the grassy bank and thought it would be great to use to keep our shoes and bags relatively dry whilst we all swam across. We walked along the bank a little, looking for a possible owner, but really, we had barely seen anyone let alone the owner of an old, unused surf board. We were pretty sure no one would notice if we borrowed it and returned it later, but upon attempting to balance all of our gear on the board, a woman shouted out from a clearing in the trees and said angrily that the owner would not be happy about it. She literally came out of nowhere! All of us just burst into laughter at the utter surprise of a woman just randomly popping out of the jungle. Granted that if she could appear out of the bush chances are the owner could too. So to plan B; Mike and Joel (our crazy Aussie friend) being the two tallest would carry our packs on their heads across the shallowest part whilst we the rest of us swam across. After watching them struggle but eventually make it across, another random stranger came out of the jungle behind us. This time, luckily for us, he was the proud owner of the little boat that was docked, and was more than happy to give the rest of us a ride across. You can obviously imagine how the two drenched boys were feeling at this point.

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Dry shoes on (thanks Mike and Joel), and off we went. The path was not very strenuous but breathtakingly beautiful. It was not clearly marked, but we were told to stay alongside the large water pipe running through the jungle. Not wanting to be left behind the girls and I chose to walk in the front, not knowing this would set us up for the biggest fright of our lives. At one point during the hike a loud rustling noise came from a bush up ahead. We slowed my pace and as I went to take my next step, a HUGE lizard, literally the size of a crocodile, burst out of the bush and ran across the path. I had never seen a lizard so big. We were certain it was a Komodo dragon.

We continued up the path, thinking it had gone, and as we reached the point where it had crossed this giant lizard sitting in the bushes beside the path makes a move, runs up the bank beside us and disappears into the jungle. I don’t often swear but when you get the second fright of your life in the space of two minutes!? Off to the middle of the pack I went!

Our View
Our View

We eventually arrived at the waterfall, which was more just a large rock pool, but spectacular none the less. The water was so refreshing, and as we all took turns to slide down the rocks, it was crazy to think that we were a group of friends from all over the world laughing and chilling in a rock pool in the middle of the “real” jungle (not a joke, this one).

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The Juara Crew
The Juara Crew

Arriving back down at the beach, we discovered a rope swing that swung into the estuary. Who can resist a rope swing? So after about fifteen minutes of getting crazy on a rope swing, the woman…yes, that woman, jumps out of the bush a second time and this time warns us of the parasites her friend had discovered in the water recently. You’ve never seen a group of tired hikers move faster than we did that day, as we jumped out of the water, ran into the ocean further down the beach and rinsed and scrubbed every part of our bodies.

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Feeling fairly adventured-out at this point, and starving, we walked down to the jetty to grab some food at a local restaurant, Satai Restaurant. It has great food at good prices and even had a tv showing the highlights of the soccer world cup.

View from Satai Restuarant next to the pier.
View from Satai Restuarant next to the pier.

Note: Between about 12-6pm the only place to really get food is the convenient store and a couple of local restaurants near the jetty.

We spent the rest of the day chilling on the beach, playing Frisbee, not a care in the world besides where to next?

Our day ended with some quality chill time on the deck with our mates, listening to music, chilling on hammocks, drinking beers and jamming our favorite game, action UNO. However, this time it was high stake action UNO, the loser forking out MYR5 and having to run down the beach and jump the water under the stars and the moon…but butt naked! No one was ready to lose… well except Joel perhaps. After a few beers and some intense rounds of action UNO, Scott (the Canadian guy) was declared the loser, and before we knew it was naked running towards the water. What a trooper! It looked like he was having far too much fun, so moments later we were all running down the beach, finding our own patch of darkness, dropping down to our birthday suites and diving into to the water! I mean tropical island, away from civilization, beach shacks, hammocks, the stars and moon out on full display, is there any place more perfect to skinny dip? Did we mention the glowing plankton that glittered in the water around us as we swam! Memories are made of this!

 

Day 3:

Our last day on Juara beach, but not Tioman, was really relaxing with a routine start; banana chocolate pancakes and coffee after our morning dip. We spent a portion of the morning trying to use the intermittent wifi to find accommodation on ABC beach (the other side of Tioman) with no luck. Joel and Scott took a kayak out to see what was around the bay and whilst we went for a “romantic” stroll down the beach to a resort called River View. P.s. Don’t be startled by the number of monitor lizards you’ll encounter if you stroll along the main road. We all spent the rest of the afternoon lazing on the beach.

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NOTE: River View on Juara Beach seems really great. It is slightly pricey and the chalets are simple but right on the beach. They seem to have a host of activities like beach volleyball, table tennis, kayaking, snorkeling and more. It’s owned by an older Australian couple who have been there for quite a few years and have a wealth of knowledge about Tioman.

Our night ended with our typical chill session on the deck, playing cards and drinking beers. We settled our tabs and packed our gear to head to ABC beach early the next morning with Scott, Megan and our awesome driver/co-owner of the Beach Shack, Zam.

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Day 4:

If we could have stayed longer on Juara we would have. It was a sanctuary! To end our time there we all rose early to watch the sunrise on the beach. Now Mike, being from Africa, has had the opportunity to see some spectacular sunsets. Nothing can compare; but this came pretty close.IMG_9073

As we packed up our last few things and said out good byes, we bumped into Joel who the jungle to the other side as opposed to taking a 4X4. We were all very admirable of him, but we also thought he was nuts! The trek can take up to three hours, that’s if you don’t come across any komodo dragons or pythons along the way. If you are travelling extremely light it could be worth it. Otherwise, it might be a tad rough.

Our 4×4 ride, on the other hand, was just as thrilling. We got a flat tyre winding our way through the jungle roads, and had to go snail pace the rest of the way, so slow, we even bumped into Joel a few times along the way. Zam, our skillfull driver, managed to make it all the way to Tekek with the flat tyre, where we took an easy fifteen minute stroll over to ABC.

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Luckily for us, being mid-week we managed to find a place to crash for two nights, called Mokhtars Place. The shacks were very simple and cheap, nothing to write home about, but all you need when you spending most of your day lazing on the beach.

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As you have noticed with the timing of these posts, blogging is ridiculous amounts of work, not to mention the time needed to edit, proof read, organize photos whilst also trying to incorporate multiple experiences from mine and Mike’s perspectives into the posts. We therefore dedicated a large portion of our morning to catching up on our blogging at a casual restaurant at a resort called Nazri’s Place just next to Mokhtars Place. However, when your office is right on the beach like ours was the distractions can be endless. Hence, the blogging was over after lunch.

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NOTE: Nazri’s Place is really popular. It’s the first resort you come across on the nicest part of the beach (Tekek side), and it has its own Sunset beach bar and restaurant. It is slightly pricey but worth it as it is a great place to hang out.

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Work over, play time begins! We spent the afternoon in the water snorkelling around the rocks, and napping on the beach. I mean it had been a hard day in the office! Early evening we hit up the Sunset beach bar for some delicious pizzas and a banana boat dessert, whilst enjoying some of the FIFA world cup highlights. In Mike’s words, “Life in this moment is good; a beautiful wife, sport, sunset, food and a beer to wash it down, not to mention a camera to capture it all. Tell me what more could a guy want?”

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Later on we met up with the rest of the crew from Juara at the dive bar down the beach. The vibe here was poles apart from where we had just come. A group of chilled out islanders who worked at the local dive centre, and also just so happened to be incredibly talented acoustic musicians (Project AK), started jamming on the deck whilst the rest us of chatted and enjoyed the free “Green Turtle” cocktails (the bar tenders specialty drink) that kept coming from the bar, well at least they were free for Megan and I. To tell it how it really was, Mike has to take over for this part.IMG_9191

Mike: “Now if you know my wife you’ll know she is not a fan of alcohol, unless that alcohol tastes like juice. Hence her slight addiction to apple sours. So after one and a half Green Turtles, my dear wife was tearing it up the “dance floor” along with the rest of us, me mostly to keep her up straight. She had managed to get the vast majority of us up on the deck dancing, so hard in fact that the deck was bouncing up and down. The musicians played harder, the crowd grew bigger and the laughter continued long into the night. It was an amazing vibe, chilling under the stars listening to music with waves crashing in the background. This was definitely one of my favourite moments on the island and the night had only just begun.

I carried my wife, although she will refuse to admit it, back down to the Sunset Bar where we sat on the beach with a large group of people and watched the Swiss play Argentina in the FIFA World Cup projected onto a large screen, the only thing on tab being water for my more than vocal wife. So after the soccer and a few too many trips to a random toilet in the jungle after having digesting like 2 litres of water, it was now finally time for bed! It had been another unforgettable day on the island of Tioman, Malaysia.”

Day 5:

So, waking up a little fragile from the late night of course, not the Green Turtles, we grabbed a bite to eat at another local café called Mawars before packing our bags and heading to the main dock to make our ferry back to Mersing. We were fortunate enough to bump into our fellow Tioman crew and say our last goodbyes ending our incredible time on Tioman.

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We spent the next 10 hours killing time in Mersing as our bus to Merang Jetty, where we planned to catch a ferry to Kapas Islands, only came at 11.45pm! Six of them were spent inside the air-conditioned KFC playing UNO with two girls we met from Denmark who were in the same position. Reality has never hit harder! We did however, get some delicious dinner at a local Indian eatery before heading off to the bus stop where we spent the rest of the evening hanging out with a bunch of stray cats and Christian and Isabella, a French Canadian couple who also have a travel blog. Check it out.

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Like I said at the start, we had no clue we were embarking on one of our greatest adventures yet! Tioman absolutely blew our expectations out of the water! We will never truly be able to express in writing how that time changed us and the memories we will hold dear to hearts long into our old age! You’ll only ever truly understand when you get the chance to visit yourselves one day!

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The unforgettable memories don’t stop here!! They are only really starting! In our next post we will share with you one of Malaysia’s hidden gems!

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The Beauty of Malaysia- Melaka

Day 1:

Rarely do we ever make an early start, but today was a lucky day for all those who got to see our beautiful faces before the early hour of 8am.  We make no apologies – we are on holiday!  After having unpacked and re-packed our bags several times we were beginning to feel like pros.  Off we went to the subway station to make our way to Kuala Lumpur TBS (Terminal Bersepadu Station), but not before stopping past our local eating hole, ‘Faya’s Curry House’ to say good-bye.  And what a send off we got!  I don’t think we realised just how much of an impact we had made simply by appreciating their local food.

Our local curry house! Terrific curry!
Our local curry house! Terrific curry!

Arriving at the TBS, we managed to jump on the 9am bus to Melaka Sentral (MYR12.20).  There are numerous bus companies heading to Melaka leaving every few minutes. T he bus ride took about 2.5 hours.  From Melaka Sentral we hopped on a local bus for just MYR1 (platforms 6,7,8,16 and 18) that dropped us off at Ocean Mall, a mere five-minute walk from our backpackers Ringo’s Foyer, which is located near the famous Jonker Street.  A taxi would set you back about MYR15.

The view of our hostel from the street.
The view of our hostel from the street.

Ringo’s Foyer is probably the most basic accommodation we have stayed in on our backpacking travels, and yet the most rewarding.  The vibe was really great and the location so central to all the major attractions.  Most of the folk staying there seemed to have been there awhile and were so willing to share their knowledge on all the local gems which meant we were able to experience more of the “real” Melaka in the short amount of time we had.  We would suggest two to three days as the maximum length of stay needed to see and do Melaka.  We also experienced the most incredible night ride – which you can read about further on – which made our stay even more worthwhile.  We paid MYR65 per night for a quite basic private double room with air-conditioning, and shared bathroom.

Wouldn't go near a place like this in Durban, South Africa! #budgettravel
Wouldn’t go near a place like this in Durban, South Africa! #budgettravel

With the afternoon left to our disposal we meandered down Jonker Street in search of a place to satisfy our hunger pangs.  Melaka is so quaint with its Venice-style river and cobbled streets; you can’t do much more than a meander.  We stumbled across a local Malay restaurant Jonker 88, where we indulged in some home-style Malay cooking.  We definitely recommend the spicy dry noodle soup … yum!

The dry spicy noodle soup! So yummy!
The dry spicy noodle soup! So yummy!
Jonker 88 restuarant.
Jonker 88 restuarant.

When backpacking you can get a little out of touch with the “real” world, for example, the shock and excitement we got when we heard the new Transformers Movie had just come out.  We didn’t even know there was a new one.  And occasionally, when backpacking, you need to just stop … take a deep breathe … and go watch Transformers!  So that is what we did.  On the way to Melaka’s Mega Mall, we turned a corner and there, on the side of the street, was a giant Pirate Ship.  For some reason (we put it down to tiredness or fatigue) we both just broke down in hysterics.  From there the jokes continued for the next hour until … oh ship, we were late for our movie!  The “mega” part of the mall didn’t help either.  It took us nearly 30 minutes to find the movie cinema within the mall.

Melaka Mega Mall! #Jumpy
Melaka Mega Mall! #Jumpy

Arriving back, we met Howard, the owner of Ringo’s Foyer who is a bit of a bike enthusiast.  About 99% of the reviews we read before coming raved about Howard’s free bike tours in and around Melaka.  If you know my aversion to bikes, you would understand my reluctance to accept his offer.  But, oh my goodness, I do not regret my decision!  What a genuinely authentic and beautiful experience it was.  Myself and Lauren, led by Howard, cycled through the backstreets of Melaka, away from the popular tourist spots to a local Indian restaurant.  I use the word ‘restaurant’ in the loose sense of the word.  It was simply plastic tables and chairs set up on the sidewalk serving the most incredible Indian food we have ever had; it is obviously incredibly popular for this reason. Unfortunately, we never got the name of the place but I would highly recommend staying at Ringo’s Foyer in the hope that you might get the opportunity to visit this sidewalk eatery.  Lauren still maintains that if she could fly back for only one meal, it would be to Melaka for their garlic cheese naan and curry.

Bike ride through Melaka. A must-do experience!
Bike ride through Melaka. A must-do experience!
The side street eatery that Howard took us to!
The side street eatery that Howard took us to!

We ended the night biking back through cobble streets and alongside the gorgeous lit up river.  At one point we stopped to help an old Malay man who had fallen off his motorbike trying to park it on his porch.  The bike had been too heavy for him to lift.  It was in that moment that I was reminded why I travel, and why I love it so much!  The opportunity to be able to engage on the purest level with people of all cultures and ethnicities is something you just cannot buy.  It is the kind of experience that stays with you for a lifetime.  The bike tour was an incredible experience that left us on a high for days.

Cycling along the river as the sun sets on our first day in Melaka.
Cycling along the river as the sun sets on our first day in Melaka.

TIP: For last-minute budget accommodation, we suggest booking through the following websites: bookings.com, hotel world, and agoda.  We’ve found these websites to be the most reliable and efficient method for booking accommodation.  We very rarely booked our accommodation in Thailand or Malaysia more than a night in advance.  In saying that, however, it was the off-season.  We would not recommend last-minute bookings in peak season.

Day 2:

It was going to be difficult to top a wonderful first day, especially with this being our last day in Melaka!  We struggled with the temptation of staying just one more night, but chose instead to make this day count.  After a quick breakfast, we strolled along the river till we came across Discovery Cafe, another popular backpackers/cafe.  There we met a super-friendly guy, whose name we never got, who gave us a map to kick-start our explorations.  After a two-minute rest stop in an air-conditioned bank across the road, just to get some relief from the heat, our mission was to see and do as much as we could.

Good morning world! #jumpy #travel
Good morning world! #jumpy #travel
Morning stroll along the river.
Morning stroll along the river.

Check out our adventures below:

Melaka Square – this vibrant square is popular for its beautiful cathedral, lovely gardens, interesting water feature and its central location to most of Melaka’s major attractions, including the famous, yet outrageously expensive, Hard Rock Cafe.  From here you can take funky trishaw rides.  What makes them unique is the 70-80 year-old drivers in their cheerfully decorated tuk-tuks with two massive speakers on the back, blaring techno or dub step.  Oh, and there are few Hello Kitty and Frozen themed ones as well.

Roaming around beautiful Melaka. The centre of town.
Roaming around beautiful Melaka. The centre of town.
You can enjoy Melaka square in one of the "rickshaw" kinda vibes with some awesome techno music.
You can enjoy Melaka square in one of the “rickshaw” kinda vibes with some awesome techno music.

St Paul’s Cathedral – the beautiful remains of the church can be found on the top of a hill overlooking most of Melaka, a distinctive atmosphere created by a local acoustic guitarist who sat amongst the ruins strumming away. However, the most moving experience was meeting Francisco, a local artist, who has sat painting at the entrance to the church for decades.  As he sat working on his latest masterpiece, we were blessed to hear his life-story, including the people he has had to opportunity to paint for, one of them being a British Prime Minister.  What a phenomenal life story!  After chatting a while he gave us a few of his paintings, sharing the powerful meaning behind each, and then proceeded to write a life secret on the back of each one.  Once again we walked away overwhelmed by the powerful opportunities travelling affords.

Francisco, a local street artist with some extremely radical life lessons.
Francisco, a local street artist with some extremely radical life lessons.
Our free paintings, what a legend! #travel #localculture
Our free paintings, what a legend! #travel #localculture
local street performer at St Paul's.
local street performer at St Paul’s.
St Paul's Cathedral, inside the ruins.
St Paul’s Cathedral, inside the ruins.

The Sultanate Palace Museum – if you enjoy history then this place will give you a little more insight into the Sultanate period of Malaysia’s history and the traditions and customs of the time.  The museum can be found inside a replica of the Sultan’s Palace set within beautifully manicured gardens.  An interesting note: the wooden palace was built entirely without the use of nails.  For MYR2 it is a worth a quick visit.

Sultan's Palace.
Sultan’s Palace.

Jonker’s Walk Night Market – the street’s vibe changes entirely when it’s heaving with market goers.  The street itself is closed to all vehicles for the night market which runs every Friday-Sunday.  Most stall owners begin setting up as early as 5pm, but the market only truly comes alive after 10pm.  It was at this very market that we purchased our quirky SpongeBob Uno cards which have travelled with us everywhere.  Many people people we have since met along the way, have had the privilege of playing Action Uno with our SpongeBob set!  Besides buying cards, there is also a wide variety of local food stalls, souvenirs, and antiques, cleaning tools, body products and more.  If it is entertainment you are looking for, there is even a live karaoke stage where you can test your singing ability alongside some of Melaka’s best.

Strolling back towards Jonker street, very stressful, NOT!
Strolling back towards Jonker street, very stressful, NOT!
Joker Street.
Can you guess the street name?
Top end of Jonker Street.
Top end of Jonker Street.
Look Mike! Joker Street!
Look Mike! Quick, snap the photo

After exploring the market we stopped at Jonker 88 for a little treat.  Here we experienced our first ABC (or Ice Kacang), a popular Malaysian dessert traditionally made of a mound of finely shaved ice, sweetened with flavoured syrup and evaporated milk, topped with chunks of jelly, sweet corn, green noodles and red beans. However, at some places, such as Jonker 88, you can select many different toppings.  We chose passion fruit flavour which was tasty, but not as good as the authentic ABC we were lucky enough to taste at our next destination, Tioman Island, which you can read all about in our next blog post.

Joker Street Market
Joker Street Market
Some interesting fruit, and characters!
Some interesting fruit, and characters!

We ended our time in Melaka with a relaxed evening, packing all our gear and skyping family and friends back home before getting a good night’s rest for our long trip the next day.  We were more than ready to hit the islands once again.  Little did we know though that these would be some of the most gorgeous islands we have ever visited in our lives, and that we were about to have some of the most memorable experiences of our travels thus far.

Melaka, dubbed ‘The Historic State’ exceeded our expectations.  This little town is made rich by its deep history, culture and traditions, as well as its Dutch influence.  Malaysia’s extensive cultural diversity was never more evident for us than in Melaka.  Wandering the streets, interacting with the local people, experiencing their local traditions as well as visiting places like the cathedral, mosque and palace was an incredibly memorable experience.

Melaka! #jumpy
Melaka! #jumpy

South Africa calls itself the ‘Rainbow Nation’ because of its cultural diversity, but we have yet to achieve true cohesion between the cultures that give us this name.  By contrast, Malaysia’s unique beauty is found in its unity and solidarity of cultures.  If you are anywhere near Kuala Lumpur, or on your way by land to Singapore, the little town of Melaka is definitely worth a quick visit.

Big City Life: Kuala Lumpur

DAY 1

We had only been in the lush, green Cameron Highlands for two days and yet it’s cool air and peaceful surroundings made it feel like a lot longer. We now felt rejuvenated and ready for, what we expected to be, a bustling, crowded and face-paced capital city similar to Bangkok. Rather, we were greeted by tall, gleaming apartment buildings and sharp, sophisticated sky rises. In contrast to the almost clumsy and un-organized nature of Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur projected a very organized, neat and methodical nature.

Backstreets of Pudu
Backstreets of Pudu

To get to Kuala Lumpur from the Cameron Highlands, we took a five hour bus ride booked by our friend and hostess, Jay at Gerard’s Place, leaving from Tanah Rata late afternoon. This worked out well as we were able spend the entire morning really experiencing all that the Cameron Highlands had to offer on the Cameron Secrets tour whilst still being able to travel in the afternoon.

The bus arrived at KL Sentral, the central subway/train terminal, at around 8pm. Feeling a little like small fish in a big pond, we made our way to the information desk, grabbed a subway map and re-orientated ourselves.

Note: The subway system in KL is very efficient – we relied on it solely to explore KL. Everywhere worth seeing seemed to be in walking distance of a station, even Batu Caves. Our hotel, Hote123, was not centrally located but in walking distance of Pudu Station.

Arriving at our hotel later that evening feeling pretty shattered, the man at the front desk helped us order some much needed Western food, MacDonald’s. We settled in for the night, hardly believing that in one day we had done a tour of the Cameron Highlands and were now tucked away in a small hotel in the outer suburbs of Kuala Lumpur!

DAY 2

After yesterday’s adventures, we spent the morning recuperating. Around lunch time Lauren went in search of food and found the dingiest looking curry house next door, Faya’s Curry House After arriving and seeing her sitting in the corner of this busy, male-infested (it seemed) “back street” type restaurant, I decided to wait to see the effects on her before giving it a whirl. Little did we know it would become our KL “gem” (read the note below). Instead I waited to find food at Batu Caves….bad idea! Surrounded by filth and pigeon pooh I was forced to consume a bowl of noodles with what could have been pigeon meat for all I know, just to drown the hunger pangs.

Batu Caves. So many pigeons, so many monkeys.
Batu Caves – so many pigeons, so many monkeys

Note: Yes, outside appearances can be deceiving, but for or a delicious roti canai and tandoori chicken at only R10, Faya’s Curry House in Pudu area in KL is definitely worth a visit. The lunch hour is a mad rush of local men eager to have their daily curry fix, but don’t let that stop you girls, you won’t regret it. The local man who owns the joint is super friendly and always eager for you to try something new at his expense.

Hey look... a monkey!
Theives… I mean monkeys!
Climbing up the to the cave. So many stairs!
Climbing up the to the cave. So many stairs!

Now to the MONKEYS! Prior to our visit, we were warned that the monkeys that lined the steep stairs to the caves were vicious, ruthless thieves. From food, to handbags, even cameras and cell phones, we were told to hold on to it tightly or avoid taking it in the first place. Unfortunately for those who did not get the memo, but to our amusement, high-pitched screams and wails could be heard at intermittent moments during our climb to the top. Although, some of them were asking for it…I mean, who tries to take a selfie with a thieving monkey? – Not Africans at least, we know better.

Inside the Cave.
Inside the Cave.
Climbing back down...
Climbing back down…

The cave itself was nothing spectacular, besides the monkey entertainment on the way up. It was large and hollowed out, with an opening at the top and had two temple-like areas where you could partake in Hindu rituals. Unfortunately for us, our expectations of visiting sacred, and in a sense, untouched temples often leave us sorely disappointed in the touristy, “souvenir-like” temples we encounter instead. However, it is worth a visit and will only take up about two-three hours of your day.

NOTE: How to get to Batu Caves – The KTM komuter train runs from KL Sentral train station straight to Batu Caves every 30 minutes. The trip takes about 25 minutes and ticket costs MYR4 return. There is no need to book a tour; you can have a lot more fun exploring it on your own.

Finishing up at Batu Caves we headed to KLCC by train to visit the Petronas Towers – a definite must-see if you are ever in KL. The towers are located beside the up market Petronas Mall, if you are looking to blow your backpacking budget in a couple of hours – but still worth a visit if you are in the area. Outside the mall is a quaint park with a lake where you can sit, relax, and take in the spectacular view of the towers as the sun goes down.

Petronas Towers by day.
Petronas Towers by day.
Petronas Towers by night.
Petronas Towers by night.

Eager to end our night with a movie we stuck around and had an average meal at the Petronas Mall food court before watching “How to train a dragon 2” for MYR18 each. Like I said, expensive when you are on a tight budget but occasionally you just need it.

NOTE: A visit to the top of the Petronas Towers will set you back about MYR. However, if you happen to be there early enough, you could get lucky – they give about a thousand free tickets to the first customers of the day.

Petronas Towers reflecting on water. I know, cool right?
Petronas Towers reflecting on the lake. I know, cool right?

DAY 3

Day three was hectic! Our goal was to explore as many of KL’s main attractions as possible – which we managed to do quite successfully. Starting off at KL Sentral just after lunch time, we took a walk around some office buildings, alongside an overpass and down some stairs to the KL National Museum (you may need a map).

After a quick and informative visit to the KL National museum (entry 5MYRpp for foreigners) we took another bridge across a highway and up some steep stairs to the KL Planetarium (12MYRpp). Now, if anyone knows me, I am not such a poster child for things like aquariums and planetariums, however Lauren goes absolutely crazy-nutty for them! I thoroughly enjoyed the air-conditioning while Lauren immersed herself in everything else the place had to offer!

KL National Museum! She wanted to drive it...
KL National Museum! She wanted to drive it…
Ok... I slightly enjoyed the planetarium..
Ok…so  I slightly enjoyed the planetarium.

The Planetarium is located on the edge of the KL Perdana Botanical Gardens, so from there we lost ourselves in the maze of garden paths trying to make our way to the KL Bird Park. However, whilst lost we did get to see the lake, Hibiscus and Orchid Gardens, auditorium and Deer Park. We even got to walk through Tan Abdul Razzak’s Memorial House, the second prime minister of Malaysia, which is located in the gardens (somewhere) and open for viewing.

KL Botanical Gardens. Beautiful.
KL Botanical Gardens. Beautiful.
Beautiful, the flowers I mean.. Jokes!
Beautiful! The flowers I mean…jokes!
Malaysia's national flower, the Hibiscus.
Malaysia’s national flower – the Hibiscus.

Dead on our feet, we finally stumbled across the famous KL Bird Park (near the Butterfly Park), the world’s largest free-flight, walk-in Aviary in the world, and then…walked away. At MYR45 per person we half expected to be able to take a bird home with us. So after a quick photo by the sign to say “we had been there” we made our way by foot to the National Mosque of Malaysia (near the Ceramics Museum) on route to the beautiful Old Kuala Lumpur Train Station.

You are probably getting tired just reading this, but we still had some gas left in us, so off we went to Pular Seni to check out KL’s Chinatown and Central Market, a short five minute walk from the Old Train Station. If you like street markets, bargaining and crowds then Chinatown in the place for you; make sure to visit in the evening when their set up is complete. The Central Market, a few blocks away, is a bit less chaotic providing a more relaxed shopping experience if you are that way inclined – it is basically a large air-conditioned building with a variety of quaint local shops and food stalls in and around it.

Chinatown!!!!
Chinatown!!!!
Central Market! Really cool vibe!
Central Market! Really cool vibe!

Feeling broken and a little wrecked we dragged our weary souls to the nearest train station, grabbed some food, and headed on home after what we thought was a ridiculously productive day in the massive city of Kuala Lumpur.

DAY 4

A backpacker’s budget doesn’t often cater for anything more than a bargain at a local market. However, it is still nice to do a little window shopping from time to time. Today we went to check out the shopping district of Bukit Bintang, on our way to KL Tower. To describe it very briefly, it is a small cross section of streets with massive malls and shops separated by the odd coffee shop and restaurant – essentially a shopaholic’s heaven! We did splash out a little though on a tasty lunch at Nandos (Ah yes, a taste of home!), before heading to the tower.

KL tower is a subway stop away from Bukit Bintang. From the subway station it is a short walk up a steep hill to the gate entrance. If you still have the energy, from there you can walk up the path to the entrance of the tower. We would have walked it; however, we couldn’t let the kind Malay man down after he offered us a complimentary, air-conditioned mini bus ride to the top. A visit to the viewing deck costs approximately MYR49pp and MYR99 to the top. Unfortunately, our backpacker’s budget didn’t cater for shopping districts or over-priced tourist attractions (unless they are adrenaline pumping, serious FOMO kind of activities). However, we still enjoyed the chance to look around and buy a few souvenirs for the family.

KL Tower, can't afford it but loads of fun!
KL Tower – from the bottom

On our free…did we mention AIR-COND…minibus ride back down to the entrance, our friendly Malay driver told us about the FREE KL City Bus (pink and purple in colour) that operates in and around the city. A short walk back down the hill to the bus stop and we were on the “pink bus” making our way to Merdeka Square, until we got stuck in traffic and jumped off the catch the more efficient subway instead. If we had more time the bus would have been a really great option.

Note: To get to Merdeka Square, stop at Masjid Jamek Station and walk from there. You could pay a quick visit the Masjid Jamek Mosque before continuing on to the square.

The KL Art Gallery.
The KL Art Gallery
The KL city model.
The KL city model

Merdeka Square is a lovely place to stroll around. The beautiful landmark, Sultan Abdul Samad Building, is right across the street, as well as the KL Art Gallery which hosts the Kuala Lumpur City Model. The gallery performs a quirky little light show where parts of the model light up as the cities past and present story is told as well as its vision for the future. The five minute show is free and totally worth a visit if you have the time!

Central Market (near China Town) are also just a few blocks away.

What better way to end our time in Kuala Lumpur than with donuts and chocolate milk from Central Market (a few blocks from Merdeka Square) before heading for dinner at our favorite curry, Faya’s.

Reflecting on our experience of KL would couldn’t help but contemplate how different our experience had been from previous visits by backpacker friends. Many had said it was similar to Bangkok but for us the two places couldn’t be more different. We found KL’s major attractions to be more easily accessible, its transport system more efficient and the people, a lot friendlier.

Normally, when backpacking we like to avoid cities – However, we would recommend a couple days in this surprisingly lovely city. We got a real taste of the Malay culture and its people and found so much to see and do in our short stay.

Our up-coming post will be on the quieter side of Malaysia – the quaint, little town of Melaka!

Cool, calm and collected in Cameron Highlands!

DAY 1
So Penang was now over, it started off rough but was in fact quite rewarding in the end. We had to have a bit of an earlier wake up as Lauren was insistant that we walk to the port to catch our free ferry back to Butterworth. Beginning our walk I began to feel not so good….. South East Asia tummy problems you know… which for me was a massive problem because the quality of toilets you come across during travel days at bus stations and train stations are less than average – and average in this region was way below desirable! Anyways, arriving at Butterworth off I went in a hurry to find a toilet whilst Lauren sorted out our transfer to the Cameron Highlands.

The free ferry ride back to Butterworth
The free ferry ride back to Butterworth
 Finding the “toilet” I was shocked and astounded to find an old Malay lady sitting at a desk charging me 60MYR cents to get access to the toilet in my desperate state. Knowing full well that the Malays have a keen sense of entrepreneurship, and like to set up tables and chairs outside public toilets to charge you, I luckily came prepared with some money. Long story short – I left the toilet even more dumbfounded at the simple fact that I had paid for a pretty rank (meaning disgusting in my lingo) toilet and wasn’t even given toilet paper. The rest I leave up to your imagination…
 
On top of it all, my visit to what some people in Malaysia call a “toilet” was rushed by a hasty bus leaving to Ipoh which we had to catch to get our transfer to the Cameron Highlands. Now the bus ride to Ipoh would have been pretty uncomfortable for me travelling alone struggling with stomach problems, but the beauty of it all was travelling with my wife. Not feeling very well she took hold of the reigns and managed to book our ride to Ipoh (20RM pp), do shopping for some food and put our packs in the bus all in the space of about 3-5 minutes. Then getting on the bus I was met by my beautiful wife ready to get me settled to try and make the bus ride as comfy as possible. To those people contemplating travelling with a significant other, the positives far out way the negatives, believe me!
 
Arriving at Ipoh a couple hours later we were pleasantly surprised to find it a pretty clean and impressive small city. A quick stop at the impressive Ipoh bus station meant a short trip to the bathrooms, which I can say were actually really nice and I didn’t even have to pay! Lauren, taking the lead bought our transfer to the highlands for 18RM each. After a small panic at the ATM, thinking it had swallowed my card, followed by another minor panic trying to locate my wife and the bus, I was thankfully ensconced in its’ warm embrace (wife AND bus) and on our way to Cameron Highlands.
 
The bus trip to Cameron Highlands was high and windy  for those who get car sick easily I recommend packing a plastic bag or two, as the bus doesn’t stop anywhere between Ipoh and the Highlands. Arriving, after what seemed like an interminable trip, at Tanah Rata (a main town in the Highlands) we jumped off the bus and decided to grab some food before heading to our accommodation. Wanting to look up how far Gerards Place was from the bus station I realised I had left my IPhone on the bus and lucky for me it was still there when I ran back… I seem to have developed quite knack for leaving things in seats on different forms of public transport, in fact I seem to have a special ability to lose or leave things behind, period.
 
Upon arriving at Gerards Place by taxi (8RM) we were greeted by an incredible lady, by the name of Jay, and her son, who were both extremely friendly. Her son, who is autistic, checked us in within a matter of minutes, and Jay quickly filled us in on all the ins and outs of Cameron Highlands and the town of Tanah Rata.

Happy to be in Cameron Highlands!
Happy to be in Cameron Highlands!
NOTE: Although Gerards Place is slightly pricier than the other scarce accommodation in the Highlands (100RM per room per night with shared bathroom) we believe it is well worth the money and we would definitely go back there. It was recommended to us by Fathers Guesthouse, which we initially looked into but are frequently full. Wsubsequently met a few couples who had stayed in Fathers Guesthouse, because it is the cheaper alternative, and they all said that they preferred Gerards Place.

Our small "apartment" in Gerards Place. 3 double bed rooms, shared bathroom.
Our small “apartment” in Gerards Place. 3 double bed rooms, shared bathroom.
 Our day ended pleasantly with a short 10 minute walk into town, dinner and some fresh fruit to sustain us, and spending the night drinking Milo and sharing travel stories and information with the other couples in our small “apartment” at Gerards Place.

The road down to Tanah Rata.
The road down to Tanah Rata.
DAY 2
Today was an “office day” – and judging by our blog backlog was well overdue. Blogging is hard work people, but well worth it in the end we believe. Spending a day writing about the privilege we have of travelling parts of the world, experiencing different cultures and having these incredible experiences was something we treasured. Sometimes you take it for granted, but when you sit down and put your experiences into words it makes you realise just how blessed and privileged you are to be doing what you are doing. Our hope is that reading our blog, and following our experiences, will give you some insight into what an amazing thing it is to be travelling.
 
After a long “business” day (they were becoming the epitome of stress during our trip), off we went into town to grab some dinner. We had read, and received a recommendation by Jay, that trying a Steam Boat in Cameron Highlands is a “must do experience”, so off we went to Mayflower, which apparently did the best Steam Boat in Tanah Rata. What an interesting and rewarding experience it was!

The steamboat Setup!
The steamboat Setup!
 
It is kind of difficult to describe but basically a small portable gas stove is placed on your table with a pot of your choice of soup. We had half Chicken and Tomyam soup to split the spicy, because Malay people know how to do spicy food! Your pot of soup is then placed on top of the small gas stove and on the side you are served a massive plate of raw meat, vegetables, noodles and tofu. Our plate consisted of 2 eggs, two different kinds of noodles, tofu, fish balls, prawns, mushrooms, beef, chicken, jellyfish, soya beans, crab sticks, fish, squid and various other vegetables. Whilst feeling a little unsure of what to do, one of the local waitresses, sensing this, gave us a crash course on the correct process to follow. This is how it goes – you throw whatever it is you want to eat into the pot of soup wait about 3-5 minutes for it to boil/cook and then pull it out, using the various utensils you are given, and enjoy!

Me enjoying the delicious options.. enough food? I think so...
Me enjoying the delicious options.. enough food? I think so…

Lauren amazed at the experience! This is why we travel!
Lauren amazed at the experience! This is why we travel!

What an amazing culinary experience it was for us, we thoroughly enjoyed it and the food was GREAT! Lauren and I definitely ate our fair share, and feeling super stuffed there was still more to eat so don’t stress about quantity – one is definitely enough to feed 2-4 people! The good thing was we walked a little of it off on the short incline back to our apartment.

DAY 3

Upon waking up for our tour Jay bought us a traditional Malay Breakfast, I forget the name but I distinctly remember it being surprisingly good and resembling what many of us call creme caramel. Then there was a short wait outside our apartment to be uplifted by our guide, Raju, in a 4×4 Land Rover to begin our tour.

Our Cameron Secrets 4x4! Tried and tested!
Our Cameron Secrets 4×4! Tried and tested!

NOTE: On arriving at Cameron Highlands Jay talked us through a few of the tours we could do in our short stay with the company she owned called Cameron Secrets. Look them up on Tripadvisor as they are quite reputable and our experience of their Mossy Forest tour was amazing.

Our first stop was the BOH tea plantation, which is the largest tea plantation in Malaysia. Here we were allowed to walk around the fields and just enjoy the clean air and the breathtaking views of the highlands. A short walk down the road we were met again by our super friendly guide Raju who gave us a brief explanation about the tea plantation and the process of making tea. His love for nature and wildlife, and his extensive knowledge and sense of humour, made the tour extremely interesting and our experience of it all was heightened because of it.

Beautiful and green, for miles!
Beautiful and green, for miles!
Loving the climate change! Mike a little chilly tho...
Loving the climate change! Mike a little chilly tho…
 Our next stop was a drive up to Mount Binchang, which is the highest peak in the highlands. Starting our drive up we quickly came to realise the need for a 4×4! As soon as we began to ascend we came across a Proton, driven by a bunch of tourists,struggling to get up the hill. Raju, making his jokes about “stupid tourists”, ended up having to reverse the car back down the hill and insisted that they wouldn’t be able to make it in that vehicle and they had to turn around. Shortly after that, a tour in another Land Rover burst a tyre trying to get back on the road. We of course found this all pretty hilarious, but after a few photos to commemorate the moment we began to sympathise. Finally, off we went on our steep drive up to the peak. Unfortunately for us it wasn’t a clear day due to cloud cover and haze, but apparently on a clear day you can see an amazing panoramic view of the Highlands and the Straits of Malacca as well.

On top of Mount Binchang! Super cold and misty but absolutely stunning!
On top of Mount Binchang! Super cold and misty but absolutely stunning!
 NOTE: At the top of Mount Binchang it gets pretty cold so make sure to take some extra layers with you, a warm Jacket and perhaps a beanie will suffice.
Next stop, the Mossy forest. Feeling pretty desperate to visit the bathroom we did a short trek through the Mossy forest which was really incredible. Again Raju’s vast knowledge of nature and the eco system within the highlands came into play making the tour that much more interesting and insightful. The Mossy forest wasn’t what I had expected but was still beautiful and well kept, and will hopefully stay that way if tourists pay attention to its value and are careful when trekking through it.

Wandering through the Mossey Forest.
Wandering through the Mossey Forest.

Our final stop was the BOH tea plantation to see how the tea process was executed, and a much needed bathroom break. After our amazing tea and cake that Lauren and I enjoyed at the tea shop we met back at the Land Rover and headed back to Tanah Rata.

Jumping the BOH Tea plantation! It's what we do!
Jumping the BOH Tea plantation! It’s what we do!
 
My beautiful wife! Oh and the beatiful tea plantation!
My beautiful wife! Oh and the beatiful tea plantation!

NOTE: The only downside of the BOH tea plantation was the massive influx of tourists, locals say it is best to go during the week as it is incredibly crowded on weekends and sometimes you will have to wait 2-3 hours before getting in.Heading back to Gerard’s Place quickly to catch our mid afternoon bus to Kuala Lumpur we were thankful for our visit to Cameron Highlands. The climate is vastly different to the rest of Malaysia and it was the first time we got to wear long pants and jackets to keep us warm and not to protect us from leeches.

 
Cameron Highlands was an amazing break from the hustle and bustle of travel life, the vibe is really relaxed and it really is a place to go for some peace and quiet, breathtaking views, and some interesting information about something that is a part of the Malaysian culture.

The cold makes you do weird things.. while your wife catches you on camera!
The cold makes you do weird things.. while your wife catches you on camera!

Now we head back into city life at Kuala Lumpur so keep following us to find our more about the Malaysian capital city!

Penang

DAY 1
Perched on the edge of a metal bench, full of anticipation, our ferry slowly moved towards Penang.  Looking ahead, we watched as the horizon of the island, lined with tall office buildings and apartment blocks, became clearer.  Expecting a small island with a quaint, small colonial town (Georgetown) at its centre, we were a little confused and asked one or two locals whether we were heading in the right direction.  With them confirming we were in fact just minutes away from arriving in Georgetown, we quickly realised that Penang was not going to be anything like what we had expected.

Butterworth to Penang by Ferry
Butterworth to Penang by Ferry
There are a number of ways one can get to Penang.  The most common and frequent mode of transport amongst backpackers is public and private buses (Transnational) that run daily from the main hubs of Kuala Lumpur, Cameron Highlands, Ipoh, Kuala Perlis (Langkawi), Kuala Terringhanu, and Kota Bharu (Perhentians).  Most buses will take you directly to the bus station in Butterworth, which is located next to the train station and the ferry terminal.  From here you can catch a ferry across to Penang.  The ferry from Butterworth to Penang costs RM1.20 per person, sails every 45 minutes approximately and takes about 15 minutes. Note: the return ferry trip to Butterworth is free.  Other modes of transport include plane, train and taxi.  The train to/from Kuala Lumpur goes via Butterworth on its way to/from Hat Yai and Bangkok (in Thailand).  The other, more costly alternative is flying directly to Penang Airport from various locations around Asia using an airline such as Air Asia.

Since we would be arriving from the island of Langkawi to the north, we were left with two suitable options: a ferry direct from Langkawi to Penang for RM60pp; or the more cost effective (but not much longer) route by bus back on the mainland.  Of course, you know which one we chose!  To get to the mainland, we took a ferry from Kuah Jetty, Langkawi to Kuala Perlis (RM36pp).  From Kuala Perlis ferry terminal we took a taxi to Kangar bus station, in the city (RM16).  There is a bus station a few minutes away from the ferry terminal, but after walking there we were told the only place to buy bus tickets to Butterworth was in Kangar, so off we went by taxi.  At Kangar, we bought Transnational tickets to Butterworth (RM15pp) departing just after lunch time.

Langkawi to Kuala Perlis by Ferry
Langkawi to Kuala Perlis by Ferry
Kuala Perlis to Kangar by Taxi
Kuala Perlis to Kangar by Taxi

After devouring some really delicious burgers from a burger stand opposite the bus station, and paying a quick visit to some really NASTY toilets at the bus station, we jumped onto the bus to Butterworth.  After a couple of hours on a relatively comfortable bus, we arrived in Butterworth.  A quick ferry across to George-city … I mean Georgetown, and we were finally on the island of Penang!

Just outside the ferry terminal in Penang, there is a Rapid bus terminal where you can catch a good range of buses that take you to different parts of the island for anywhere between MYR0.60-MYR2.60 roughly, dependent on the distance travelled.

However, our hostel, Red Inn Court, was “a short 10-minute stroll away”, said Lauren. So off we went, Lauren leading the way with the use of Google Maps.  After walking a fair distance Lauren began to look confused.  Fortunately, we bumped into a local Malay man who kindly pointed ahead and said, “Go left at the temple”.  In the next sentence he muttered the words “go right”.  So once again confused, we continued ahead.  Google maps and our local friend’s directions did not seem to match up.  Lauren and I began to get somewhat frustrated, with each other AND with Google maps!  A few minutes later, low and behold, the same Malay man, this time accompanied by a friend, drove up alongside us and then pulled over.  He seemed somewhat frustrated at the fact that we were unable to follow his simple directions and signaled for us to get in … before driving us in his super fancy Hilux double cab to the front door of our hostel, just five minutes in the opposite direction we had been walking.  Once again we were a little overwhelmed by the kindness of the Malays in comparison to the Thai people we had met.

Arriving at Red Inn Court tired and hungry, we were excited at the prospect of settling into a comfy room (MYR77).  We were sorely disappointed.  The room was entirely made out of wood which creaked, it stank and was literally the size of a WALK-IN WARDROBE!!  On top of that they put a gigantic cupboard inside the room that took up what little space there was between the two single beds.  Suffice to say, the next day we would be checking out!

Heading out to find something to eat, we happened upon Broadway Budget Hotel right next door which offered a double private room with en-suite bathroom for (MYR74).  We promptly booked a room there for the rest of our stay.
TIP: Always book at least the first night’s accommodation before arriving at a place.  It saves you a lot of stress and will often save you money.  Read up reviews on websites like Tripadvisor, HostelWorld, Bookings.com and Agoda.

Location-wise, we were very happy.  The accommodation was 10 minutes away from the ferry and bus terminal, two minutes from Little India, five minutes from Chulia Street (the most popular and central street in Georgetown), and in walking distance of many of Georgetown’s major attractions.

Chulia Street
Chulia Street

DAY 2
A little overwhelmed by the size of Penang and unsure where to even begin, we decided we would tackle some important chores before enjoying some retail therapy at a swanky new mall.

Little India
Little India

We took a short walk through Little India to get to the bus station (next to the ferry terminal) where we caught bus #102 to Gurney Paragon, a fancy shopping mall on the way to Batu Ferringhi.  Penang has a number of large shopping malls for those of you keen on doing a bit of shopping or, like us, escaping for a couple of hours to grab a bite to eat or watch a movie.

After dropping off a few important documents at DHL, just around the corner from the mall, we explored the different levels of the mall.  We had a quick look in Harvey Normans, an electronic store.  I casually strolled past the MacBooks and saw that there was a 13” MacBook Air on sale (for roughly R5000 cheaper than I could get it in South Africa).  So the wheedling with my wife began; you know how it goes.

After a clay pot lunch in the food court, watching the new X-Men movie with a large bucket of caramel popcorn and enjoying a complementary coffee at a rustic coffee shop it was decision time.  I think Lauren dragged me in and out of Harvey Normans about four or five times, agonising over the decision, before we finally came out with my “new toy”, and as she likes to call it, her “baby.”

After our little day trip, involving some rather expensive retail therapy, we hopped on a bus back to Georgetown, and headed to Love Lane just off Chulia Street for some delicious pizza and pasta at the Reggae Hostel Restaurant.

DAY 3
Today’s goal was to find an internet cafe where we could transfer photos onto our external harddrive, before exploring more of Penang.  Well, let’s just say we lost more from this day than we gained.

Walking down Chulia street we found a hostel with an internet cafe and asked the owner if we could briefly make use of a computer.  Obligingly, she pointed to the only one that seemed to be operating.  Unaware of what was about to happen, I asked my dutiful wife to begin deleting the photos off the camera that I had just uploaded.  The moment she had finished, the computer, with ALL of the photos from the past five places we had visited, suddenly froze.  Once rebooted, the computer was blank as though it had never received a single photo.  On top of that, the unsympathetic hostel owner had the nerve to then charge us for the use of internet we had not yet had the chance to make use of.

Frustrated and feeling a little defeated by some of the obstacles we had faced recently, we walked round the corner to a camera shop where a friendly shop assistant was able to recover about a third of our photos from the memory card for MYR40. The whole process took about six hours, so we went exploring while we waited for him to finish the job .

Making our way to Penang Hill, a supposed “must see”, we learnt that the area was closed for maintenance.  Instead we paid a visit to Kek Lok Si, the largest temple in Malaysia, at the bottom of the hill.  The temple is large and beautifully detailed, with smaller temple-like structures surrounding it.  Lauren and I struggled to explore all of it before our “hangry” (hungry+angry) moods set in.  We both agreed before leaving though, that we enjoy visiting religious places; however, we struggle to appreciate them as much when everywhere you turn there is someone waiting to sell you a selection of “souvenirs and trinkets.”  Maybe we have it wrong but we feel if a place is considered sacred then one’s actions must reflect this.  Putting that aside, we would recommend you pay a visit if you have the chance.

Kek Lok Si
Kek Lok Si
Kek Lok Si Temples
Kek Lok Si Temples

Hopping on another Rapid bus back to Chulia Street, we went in search of food, glorious food!  We stumbled across a quaint little cafe on a little street just off Chulia Street (one down from Love Lane), called Pit Stop Cafe #12.  They served the MOST DELICIOUS food and coffee at very reasonable prices.  If you find it, we highly recommend their bacon and cheese sandwich!  It is not your normal sandwich … just try it and you will see why we love it!  Apparently, there are a few more of these little gems (Pit Stop Cafes) scattered around Penang.

Pit Stop Cafe #12
Pit Stop Cafe #12
 DAY 4:

We woke up relatively early, excited for another delicious meal at our new favorite cafe, Pitstop.  After breakfast, we walked about fifteen minutes down the road to Penang Time Tunnel and 3D Mural Art Studio, before heading to Fort Cornwallis.  As mentioned earlier, most of Georgetown’s attractions are in walking distance of each other.

Penang Time Tunnel
Penang Time Tunnel
Some Interesting Displays
Some Interesting Displays

It costs MYR40pp to get into the Time Tunnel, which includes a visit to the Mural Art Studio upstairs.  Whilst we look back on it now and think it was a bit pricey, it was worth it.  The time tunnel was very interesting and incredibly informative about the history of Penang and its key role in making Malaysia what it is today.  They even give you a little quiz and small souvenir if completed correctly.  The wonderful 3D Art upstairs (and those dotted around the streets of Georgetown) is loads of fun!  It’s a bit difficult to explain so we’ll just let the photos tell the story.

Coffee Anyone?
Coffee Anyone?
Yum Yum!
Yum Yum!
Mwahaha
Mwahaha
Chores
Chores
Giant Octopus
Giant Octopus
This is the Life
This is the Life
Escalator Problems
Escalator Problems

Fort Cornwallis is located towards the end of the  promenade, near the wharf. The entrance fee is only MYR2, and although it is nothing exciting, it’s worth a quick visit if you’re in the area.  If you are not an history enthusiast then don’t go out of your way to see it.

Fort Cornwallis
Fort Cornwallis with Family
Fort Cornwallis
Mike & Emma
 Next we went to half-way round the island to Penang National Park, just five to ten minutes past Ferringhi Beach, by bus.  Entrance is free and there are a number of tracks you can walk, including one to a suspension bridge, which just so happened to be under construction.  So, although it was quite late in the afternoon we decided to attempt the 3.5km walk along the coast to Monkey Beach.  As the sun began to set, our pace quickened till we were literally running the track, diving under tree trunks and over roots in the hope that we could catch a boat back from Monkey Beach before they all left.  At the entrance to the park, boat companies charge MYR40pp to take you to any beach along the coast.  However, on our budget we were trying to avoid paying that.  Luckily, when we finally emerged from the jungle on Monkey Beach we met a group of backpackers also in need of a boat and shared the cost (MYR10pp).  As for Monkey Beach itself, it was beautiful, but nothing like the spectacular beaches you will see on the east side of Malaysia.
Walking Along the Coast to Monkey Beach
Walking Along the Coast to Monkey Beach
The Track
The Track
Monkey Beach
Monkey Beach

When we got back to the park entrance, there was no one in sight and all the offices were closed.  Earlier, they had asked us to sign a register for safety reasons – unable to sign out now, we couldn’t imagine how they would know if we had left or were still stuck in the park somewhere.  Not such a fantastic security measure really.

Having made some new friends back on the beach, we decided to all take a bus to Ferringi Beach to watch the sunset and have a couple drinks.  The sunset was spectacular.

Ferringhi Beach at Sunset
Ferringi Beach at Sunset
Ferringhi is a much nicer beach than those on Langkawi, also offering a range of water sports, but at much steeper prices.  For example, parasailing is MYR200, but only MYR50 on Langkawi.  However, if you’re looking for tropical, idyllic beaches, then visit the islands on the east side of Malaysia such as Tioman and the Perhentians (see our upcoming posts).
Catching the bus back to Chulia street, we bought take-away noodles from a famous noodle house called Year Noodles just before they shut at 9pm.  Year Noodles offers a crazy selection of noodles, such as mint or carrot noodles.

It was a fantastic day!  We finally felt like we accomplished something here on Penang and caught a glimpse of its true beauty.

Gear all packed, we put our heads down, feeling more than ready to embrace the cooler temperatures awaiting us in the Cameron Highlands!
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see all that we wanted to in Penang. However, our family also recently visited Penang and recommend: the Botanical gardens to escape the hustle and bustle, the night markets along Batu Ferringhi, and the clan jetties situated along the waterfront next to the bus station; not to be missed are the Butterfly Farm and Tropical Fruit Farm which are about 5km and 8km (respectively) past Batu Ferringhi.

Loving The Locals In Langkawi

DAY 1
After 27 days of interesting experiences, tough learning curves, forging friendships and crazy adventures, our Thailand travels had come to an end. For now, at least. If all went to plan, by the end of the day we would be kick-starting our journey through Malaysia from Langkawi, a small island off its northwest coast.

A long day of travelling lay ahead, departing from Koh Lanta at 8am by minibus (B300pp). The minibus arrived at Trang bus station at 10.30am from where we caught the 11am public bus to Satun (B90pp). The bus journey took approximately 5 hours and terminated on a random street in Satun. However, a songthaew was waiting to take passengers to Thamalang pier, 15 minutes away (B30pp). Before departing though, we couldn’t help but try some deep-fried ‘banana slices’ they were selling at a roadside stall. They made for a really delicious snack and were very popular with the locals. With bellies full, we headed to the pier to catch our pre-booked ferry to Langkawi.

Border Crossing by Ferry
Border Crossing by Ferry

When researching about Thailand visas, we read that the authorities will often ask you to produce proof of onward travel (within 30 days) before letting you into the country. Our ferry tickets, booked online through Langkawi Ferry Services before we came to Thailand, was our proof of onward travel (B300pp/RM30pp). So, all that remained was to get our passport stamped (B10) before jumping on the 4pm ferry. On arrival at Langkawi we received our 90-day Malaysian visa.

Tip: Most taxi drivers are heading to Cenang Beach (RM30) so you’ll find it harder to get to Kuah (RM8) if you’re staying there. However, as you’ll read below, it’s cheaper transport-wise to stay in Kuah.

The Best Seven Motel, in Kuah, was very simple but clean and the owner was very helpful and friendly (RM60/night). He even gave us a lift to the night market in Kuah centre that evening where we tried some interesting new foods before catching a taxi back to the motel.

Kuah Town Night Market
Kuah Town Night Market

DAY 2
Today’s goal: to make it to Cenang Beach, Langkawi Sky Bridge and end off at the Sunday night market for dinner.

The owner of our motel suggested the cheapest way to travel the island would be by scooter (RM40) as opposed to hiring a car (RM50-60) or taking a taxi (RM30 just to Cenang). Helmets on, map out, and nerves steeled, we set out to tackle the island’s busy highways on our super stylish orange speed bike (aka scooter). There is nothing more exhilirating and freeing than exploring a place by scooter. You can take it all in; the sights, the smells, life playing out before you, no seat or window to obstruct your view.

The Orange Mean Machine
The Orange Mean Machine

Cenang Beach was not as picturesque as expected, but perfect for sunbathing, water sports and quenching your thirst at a local beach bar. If you’re into your water sports, the operators were offering very competitive prices. For example, parasailing for RM50 as opposed to RM200 on Ferringhi Beach, Penang.

Cenang Beach
Cenang Beach

On the main road, you’ll find a range of places to eat. Sadly, Macdonalds was the only place in our price range down this end of the beach. However, we later heard from a fellow backpacker that there is an amazing, cheap Indian restaurant that serves incredibly tasty roti canai at the west end of the beach (opposite end to Macdonalds).

Next to Macdonalds is Underwater World Aquarium, and although many would say “once you have seen one, you have seen them all”, I can’t help myself. Plus, many of the sites we had read said it was one of the top ten things to do in Langkawi. So we paid the rather pricey RM40 (per person) entrance fee and spent a good hour or more exploring the aquarium. If I am to be perfectly honest, as far as aquariums go, it was enjoyable but not fantastic. I can imagine the only reason it is on the top ten things to do in Langkawi is because, contrary to what we where expecting, there really is not that much to do here … well new and interesting stuff that is. We were expecting a lot more.

Underwater World Langkawi
Underwater World Langkawi

So, we had made it to Cenang Beach and paid a visit to the Aquarium. Winding through the jungle roads, we made our way to our next destination, Langkawi Sky Bridge (30 minutes by scooter). Sadly, like a lot of places we have been excited to visit, both in Thailand and now in Malaysia, it was “CLOSED FOR MAINTENANCE!!!” However, we could still take the cable car up to the top of the mountain for RM30pp. They cheekily still charge you the same price even though you don’t get to walk the sky bridge. Standing at the top, peering through the clouds, we could imagine the view on a clear day would be stunning.

The Ride Up
The Ride Up
The Skybridge
The Skybridge at a Distance

At the base of the sky bridge/cable car, is a small tourist village with a few shops and eateries located along little cobbled streets, with a small, picturesque lake at its centre. You can even take a pony ride, go go-karting, or visit a miniature animal farm (great for the little ones).

Tourist Village at Langkawi Sky Bridge
Tourist Village at Langkawi Sky Bridge

Late afternoon now, we jumped back on our orange mean machine, and headed to the Sunday night market, a few minutes away from Cenang. A little tired, we chose a few of our favorites and one or two new things to try (RM14) which we took back to the motel to eat there. I must admit, it was quite difficult trying to keep two juices from spilling as Mike nervously navigated us through peak hour traffic.

Sunday Night Market
Sunday Night Market
Getting Dinner "Sorted"
Getting Dinner “Sorted”

That night we went to bed hungry though, as the chicken on a stick (literally on a stick) was really dry and full of bones, the brown “donuts” turned out to be pure sugar and bean something or other, and the “you can never go wrong with a spring roll”, turned out to be stuffed with some sort of fish paste….yuckkkkkkkk! Mike’s last words to me as he drifted off to sleep were, “You must never choose market food!” In my defence, who disguises gross things in the shape of delicious donuts and spring rolls?

DAY 3
Today required an early wake up (on empty stomachs) to pack our bags before returning our beloved scooter and making our way to the pier. When hiring the scooter the day before, I had overheard the man saying his rental company was based at the pier so I asked if he and his coworker would give us a lift to the pier on the back of their scooters the next morning so we didn’t have to catch a taxi. They very kindly obliged and even brought a car to pick us up in the morning.

If you think that is kind, we were utterly humbled when the young driver of the car pulled over at his regular breakfast stop and bought us a local Malay breakfast after finding out we had not yet eaten. And although squid, baby octopus and fish curry is hard for a South African to stomach that early in the morning, we couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by his generosity and kindness to us, a stark contrast from our experience in Thailand. Having never eaten what looked like “stuffed” squid in this manner before, and not wanting to look like a fool, I confidently shoved a big chunk of it in my mouth, stuffing and all. Not a minute later, I regretted this spontaneity as I watched Wan, our driver, pull the “stuffing” out and explain “no eat … squid egg”. What appeared to be “stuffing” was actually the squid’s egg sack! Grosssssss! Trying to come to terms with what I had just eaten, my face obviously expressing some sort of confusion, he continued by using the analogy of a chicken and it’s eggs, making the situation a whole lot worse for me as I do not eat eggs at all. Yet somehow we couldn’t help but laugh at the situation.

A Free Local Malay Breakfast
A Free Local Malay Breakfast

As Wan drove us the rest of the way to the pier, we chatted and got to know a little more about his life. Thankful for all he had done, we said our goodbyes and made our way to the ferry terminal. If you are ever looking to hire a car or a scooter give Wan a call on 0195644581.

Wan & Mike
Wan & Mike

Our time on Langkawi had come to an end, but we weren’t too sad to be moving on. Unfortunately, like other backpackers we have met since, our expectations were set high by what we had read on the internet. We all agreed that two to three days is more than enough time to spend on Langkawi Island. Not because you can’t waste away a week in Langkawi, but because there are so many more amazing things to see and places to visit in Malaysia … like Penang, our next stop.

For information on what to expect in Penang, and information on how to get there, check out our next post.