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|Sunday 3 April
I promised to write one more episode after we got back to Ottawa. After a week and a half we are pretty well acclimatised once again so here is our last report of our visit to Malaysia on our way home.
Taking advantage of an extended layover in Malaysia turned out to be just what we needed. It gave us a taste of the country and the determination to return another time to explore more of this very pleasant land.
We landed in Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 9 PM on March 9, 2004 and took a taxi 70 km into the city. We had bought the latest addition of the Lonely Planet for Malaysia before we left Sydney and their Author's choice of a budget hostel sounded just what we needed - centrally located, good lobby/lounge area, breakfast included and helpful personnel. If that was the author's choice I would hate to see the others. It was so run down we only stayed one night. You can't win them all.
We switched the next morning to the Coliseum Café and Hotel. It was advertised as having a potent sense of history. It was built in 1921 and has not changed since. Apparently that is good luck in the Chinese tradition. The Café remains very popular with locals and they had a few suitable large rooms upstairs. The toilets with original fixtures were down the hall. It was also close to several good restaurants in little India, including their version of a food court. You order from one of several booths and find a place to eat on one of the long tables while they cook your food to order.
Kuala Lumpur (KL) was easy touring. You can walk, grab a taxi or take one of the above ground train systems to wherever you want to go. A plus was the lack of hard sell from the merchants and the general welcome from the people. We spent two days exploring Kuala Lumpur. We took a walking tour through Chinatown, visiting the central outdoor market and searching out small temples hidden between larger buildings.
The second day we took a taxi to the 92-hectare Lake Gardens, once the retreat of the British elite and now enjoyed by all KL residents. We headed for the Bird Park, a huge mesh covered aviary housing 160 varieties of birds. Most of the mainly Southeast Asian species fly free under the tenting, feeding on pieces of fruit skewered on sticks and are quite tame. We spent the morning walking the pathways, then relaxed in style in the next door restaurant, lunching on the balcony overlooking the Bird Park.
In the same area were the Orchid and the Hibiscus (the national flower) Gardens spread over several hectares where we admired more cultivars than we thought existed. Our last stop was the mesh covered Butterfly Park where about 150 varieties of colourful butterflies flutter by your head, stopping to feed from the profusion of flowering plants or trays of sugar syrup. Our favourite was the National butterfly, Rajah Brooke's, a bird sized black velvet insect with iridescent green splashed across its wings. When you leave the butterfly area you pass through an insectarium displaying live and mounted samples of the largest beetles, scorpions and spiders found in the world. Most of them were scary enough to give you nightmares.
Our initial plan to visit Malaysia entailed a whirlwind tour of the peninsula. We changed our minds and concluded that a week at a beach resort is what we really needed to end our trip. Pulau Tioman, the largest island on the East Coast of Malaysia, and the model for Bali Hai of South Pacific fame, sounded ideal. At 20 km long and 11 km wide it offered at variety of accommodation, excellent beaches and snorkelling and ferries ran regularly from the port of Mersing, near the southeast end of the Malaysian peninsula.
We left a huge bag full of camping gear and warm clothing in safekeeping at the Coliseum and took off for the bus depot. Six hours later we were in Mersing. We were met at the bus by a representative of the Ferry Company who asked if we were planning on going to Tioman. Our bus had been a little late so the last ferry of the day had been held for our arrival but was leaving in ten minutes. He also offered accommodation at Panuba Bay Resort. Lonely Planet has spoken highly of this resort so we reserved for three nights and were whisked over to the ferry. Three hours later we had crossed the 51 km to Tioman, were checked into our cabin and were seated on the balcony dining area ordering dinner.
Pulau Tioman is a volcanic island with steep, jungle clad hills falling straight down to the coast. There is not much level ground at beach level so most of the resorts are built in a thin line across from the beach or up the sides of the hills. Panuba Bay Resort was a collection of simple wooden or more luxurious concrete cabins built on stilts up the side of a hill. The Bay is bounded on both sides by rocky headlands that ensure a quiet atmosphere but make it difficult to visit neighbouring beaches. We decided the resort suited us just fine. The beach was white sand, the waters were nice and warm and the corals, right offshore, were home to tropical fish of all colours and sizes. We had a simple wooden cabin on stilts with fan, with attached bathroom, cold water only, but we cares when the days are warm.
Ray walked over the headland to the next busier beach and reported back that we had by far the best accommodation. With that news we upgraded our cabin to a larger version with an air conditioner and extended our reservation to one week. The breezes cooled our cabin so nicely that we never even turned on the A/C and only used the fan a few times for a short duration.
We spent our days reading on the beach, snorkelling to our heart's content, being entertained by the macaque monkeys that dropped fruit on your head if you sat under their favourite tree, and watching a resident giant monitor lizard crawl across the beach on his morning stroll to the woods. We took two excursions to Pulau Tulai (Coral Island), just offshore to experience even more coral reefs.
We returned to KL to spend one last day in the city before boarding a midnight plane back to Canada. We arrived on the last day of campaigning before National Elections. The streets were festooned with posters and banners. A large group of campaign workers had a booth setup on the sidewalk almost next to our hotel, the Coliseum. The good news is that it was a peaceful election, the bad news is that they blared forth music and encouraged passing car and motorcycle drivers to honk their horns in support until the wee hours of the morning. My earplugs were put to good use that night.
Our last Sunday in KL we decided to treat ourselves. The highest telecommunications tower in Asia, the Kuala Lumpur Tower - like the CN Tower, but a little shorter - has a revolving restaurant on top with a sumptuous buffet lunch for 64 Ringits (less than $25 CAD). We were able to get a table by the window and spent the next few hours feasting from three long tables covered with enticing Asian and Western foods and enjoying the view of KL as it slowly passed our table. Ray looked very sartorial in his Malaysian sarong, provided by the management to disguise the fact he had arrived in shorts. We got a photo of him with the Petronas Towers, currently the world's tallest buildings. After lunch we descended one level to review the city again from the observation deck. It was a great way to spend an afternoon.
We had kept our room at the Coliseum until 6 PM, enabling us to have a rest and repack at leisure before leaving for the airport. When we were ready we took our bags down to the Café Bar and sat down to have a beer. A young, local trio at an adjoining table said they were fellow travellers and would we please join them for a drink to share our experiences. They were most interesting and hospitable, leaving us with pleasant memories of our time spent in Malaysia.
And so another odyssey was ended. We pronounced our whole trip a success. We still have parts of Australia that we haven't seen and we will be sure to return another year to properly explore more of Malaysia.
So until next year, we bid you farewell. Now it is time to visit all our friends and relatives back in Canada.
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