Malaysia : hot, humid,multi cultural

Malaysia 02.05.-04.06.2014


We have set out quite early in Thailand, have decided to go to Malaysia today - why should we hang around at the border any longer?

The border is both easy to find, and easy to cross. I've almost been waiting for difficulties on the Thai side, because the half year paper for our bike, but everything is fine.

Formalities on the Malaysian border are done unexpectedly quick, the visa is being unceremoniously stamped into our passports- and nobody wants money from us! Now that is a real novelty! Then we are sent a few doors on to buy the insurance for our motorcycle, but here there's now a problem - because it’s Friday the small insurance office at the border is closed (oh yeah – I remember now that there was something about Muslims and Fridays…) Now we have to drive to the next border crossing from here – which means driving 25km without insurance through the country – we are warned by  the nice border officers to drive carefully (hati hati) so that nothing happens. While I clarify with the guys from the office that normally issues a badge which certifies that you vehicle is properly insured and legally on the road in  this  country, where and how we get the required insurance, Kevin takes care of to the customs import of our Liza a few doors down and having the Carnet stamped. I make friends with one of the border guys on Facebook and when I finally join Kevin at his end he’s immersed in conversation with some very excited customs men about our trip and now we have to take pictures with one of the nice officers, because both our bike and we are unique! Then we are welcomed warmly into the country and sent on our way.

Our first route in this country leads us along a hairpin spiked curvy road with super beautiful views of mountains and valleys, which are covered in tropical forest.

The directions of the border officials for the insurance office prove to be foolproof and this next                        hurdle is taken quickly - my fears about astronomical prices also prove to be unfounded - 20 Euros for a month are really manageable.

Then we have to go to the border again but this time it’s a different one to get an official entry badge  but no one is in the office concerned and after some asking around, it turns out that the man is on his lunch break, which probably takes another forty-five minutes - the official needs to have enough time to go to the mosque for noon prayers - well: new country, new customs.

We pass the time in a small cafe at the border and are welcomed several times by various people in this country - everyone wishes us a good time and a safe ride.

After the drawn out lunch break the last formalities are soon sorted and we quickly get the last missing paper and now exactly on time for our official launch into this country, we are facing a half-hour monsoon shower, which more deserves to be called a flash flood and since we have to go in the same direction as the storm has taken we decide to call it a day for now and look for a guesthouse - which is however shabby and extortionate - with  an internet that makes smoke signals appear as a more effective alternative.

Our first goal here in Malaysia is George Town - we want to get our visas for Indonesia and also sort the shipment of our motorcycle to the next country before touring Malaysia – I have quite some  doubts (I think rightly) as to whether it will be so easy with our fat lady. I have followed the progress of James and Anna on the Internet and seen pictures of how their motorcycle was loaded a vegetable boat - the pictures make me doubt that this will work with our vehicle as well. Also we have noticed from other travelers that it is not necessarily easy to get a 60 day visa for Indonesia – so we have decided to sort out all the difficult bits first and then we will know how much time we can spend here in Malaysia and tackle things accordingly and then we want to visit the BMW workshop in Penang as well. It’s time for a big service with change of all oils and we also urgently need to  have the valves, ignition and carburetors adjusted. In addition, we have long been without a brake in the sidecar, which is bent and need's a vice and workbench to straighten it again ... ..

After the promising ride on our first day we find the drive to Penang rather boring - the roads are extremely well developed (4 tracks) and the landscape more flat and very tidy. A lot of shiny and big new cars are on the highway, but again, we are often greeted and get a thumbs-up and the usual amount of pictures are being taken of us. Along the way there are quite a few toll booths but we pretty quickly figure out that if we use to the one on the far left we are let through like all bikes and don’t have to pay anything because here they only have to lift a barrier out of the way to let us through - GOOD.

What is really nice here is the fact that fuel is subsidized (Malaysia is one of the oil producing countries and gives some of the proceeds back to its population this way). Here 1 liter costs 2.1 Ringgit, which is just over 50 € cents - because of this refueling is even fun. It is also noticeable that the people here are generally wealthier and the fact that the cost of overnight stays is higher we  have already noticed. However, it is nice that Malaysia was once a British colony and therefore almost everyone - even the older people speak good English, which greatly simplifies life - as always when we are new to a country, we need a few days until we find our feet  and have settled - here it is easier for us because we can ask how things work and everyone is nice and only too willing, to help us.

What gives us problems is the heat which in this country seems to be able to top everything encountered so far by a few degrees - the rainy season is in full swing and the humidity is according. Even traveling on the bike with our built-in air conditioning we feel like being in a Roman steam bath and when we stop or get stuck in slow traffic it gets really unbearable. Somehow everything is getting too much and even though we are moving about in slow motion we are still constantly wet with sweat.

In the early afternoon we arrive at the bridge to Penang and Georgetown – to cross the bridge we can’t use the bike lane(too big and too heavy) and now we have to pay toll like a car - Kev gets really upset and tries to  argue but to no avail.

The island on the other side looks very built-up from here and all shimmering with huge skyscrapers and we hope that the historic center of George Town is as beautiful, as promised.

On the Internet I have well informed myself, about where to find the backpacker and budget accommodation here. We find the area quickly and set to finding a half decent affordable room.  We do also check out the places recommended by the Lonely Planet but as usual the prices here don’t match the book and they do definitely exceed what we are willing to spend on bunk beds a shared bathroom and the dubious honor of sleeping with 10 backpackers in one room  and so I'm wondering around in the neighborhood, take a look  at numerous places but with little luck: either it is full, too expensive or there is no parking - we are in this direction not really picky, but get told again and again that we can’t stay, because otherwise we get into trouble with the police - in the end we do manage to find a really nice place to stay with a room just for us , private bathroom and even place of honor for our Liza just outside the door, and above all affordable. Next door is a Chinese temple and the house after that has one of the attractions of the city: the huge painting of a child on the wall. All rickshaw city tours come past here and the tourists get two attractions for the price of one now because Liza is at least as often photographed as the mural and not for the first time, I think that, actually we should have a collection box attached to our bike with the words: feel free to take as many pictures as you like - donations will be gratefully received!

We bring our stuff into the room, cool off with a cold shower and then decide refreshed as we are to take a stroll and discover what there is to see - needless to mention that  someone hits us around the head with a hot wet towel right outside the front door and the cold shower has been completely for the birds, because we’re wet and sticky again straight away..

Armed with a map we flounder around a few blocks and are already looking for  a place to rest in the shade under a tree, when suddenly I see a motorbike with an English number plate turn the corner and then stop - of course we need to have a look at that and this is how we meet Ben. A young Welshman, who has come all the way from UK using a different route to us, but  also wants to ship his bike from here to Indonesia now and then continue towards Australia. We immediately pounce on the poor guy and squeeze every bit of information out of him as if he was a ripe orange and learn where and how we can ship our bike and what is even better, what we must do to get a 60 day Indonesian visa. Here's how: You book 2 flights on the internet, one from Malaysia to Indonesia and the other about 60 days later from Indonesia to wherever. You follow the booking process to shortly before the payment and then just print out the summary - this you then sell at the Indonesian Embassy as your ticket which is sufficient for a 60 day visa under normal circumstances. Super - our hotel has wifi - I'll probably spend the evening on the computer and then maybe we can already tackle the majority of our projects here tomorrow.  

Ben wants to look for a room and then sort the shipping details for his bike with the transport agency so he can continue his journey asap and since we had a really nice conversation and like each  other we exchange contacts and decide that we need to meet again in the next few days and have a beer together.

After Ben says goodbye, we consult our map again and choose to take a closer look around the neighborhood – there is a quarter called little India – which in fact is just around the corner and we are hungry. A delicious Indian meal would be just what the doctor ordered. The district holds what its name promises: Lots of Indian shops and restaurants - I think the heat here has softened my brain, I actually am beginning to flirt with the colorful saris ....

Meanwhile, the sky clouded over and it can not take long until the daily wash out so we take refuge in one of the small restaurants and it is confirmed once more for me: The Indian food is the best thing I can do for my taste buds - and then the Teh Tarik with sweetened condensed milk (the tea with the condensed milk is poured from one container into another, the two containers are pulled apart in height this way a lot of oxygen is getting into the tea, giving the mixture a slightly malty note - and then many ice cubes) - delicious !!!

When we step outside the restaurant the first downpour has indeed stopped, but there is still or again some rain in the air so we place ourselves under a market stall and wait for it to stop. Instead of becoming less the rain becomes more violent - with thunder and lightning and then it really pours down with rain. I'd still run to the hotel, but I'm afraid to ruin my camera and so we stay where we are. We chat for a while with a Chinese man who feeds us with fresh mangoes from the fruit stand next door, but eventually he decides that it will not get better and rides home on his scooter despite the power shower.

Slowly I have had enough - but there is still the problem with the camera. Eventually, the saleswoman at the fruit stand takes pity on us and lends us an umbrella. It is pitch dark and we don’t really know our way around and only have a rough idea about the direction which we have to take to our hotel and as we turn around the next corner we stand before a proper mess: the road has become a knee-deep river – there is only one thing to do: shoes off, pants up and ... don’t think about what there is floating around our feet. We wade around until we finally get to a corner, which occurs familiar to us and when we reach our hotel we are soaking wet despite the brolly, but the camera could be saved. Liza is up to the axles in water and the river has risen up two steps of the hotel - slowly we get some idea about the meaning of monsoon rains.

I manage to find two matching flights on the internet and wangle up some flight tickets for the Indonesian embassy  I copy the files onto a USB stick, find out the address of the Indonesian Embassy and the associated road in our navigation program and then we have had enough for our first day in this city.

The next morning we find a photo shop around the corner, have the "Tickets" printed and then I try to navigate us through Georgetown. For the first time we now make acquaintance with a Malaysian habit: constantly declaring roads to be one-way streets, and despite GPS we circle like vultures around the target, without finding it. We pass the BMW workshop on the way and I make a mental note to remember the whereabouts - because that place we also want to visit.

It takes forever until we finally find our way to the embassy  and we are told that now we are too late for Today - duh. On the way back through the one-way street cobweb we can’t find the  BMW workshop again and then are sick of the heat and for the rest of the day - we hide from it in our room gasping under the fan until it is getting cooler outside. Then we sit on a bench in front of the hotel and watch the world go by.  A young couple looks at our bike and then comes over to us to ask us in German if we are the owners of this amazing thing - they present themselves as Niels and Maryjanna from Frankfurt - also long term travelers and we have a fun-filled afternoon with great stories of being on the road - the two are immediately sympathetic to us, which is to count for both sides and while we sit and talk Ben comes suddenly past with his friend Pat (American and also on an rtw bike trip) and we all decide spontaneously to have dinner together.

Pat and Ben have something to celebrate - they have loaded their bikes today for the journey to Indonesia(an interesting story) and Pat has also applied for his visa this morning -for this he has also used Ben's recipe of success and it seems to work.

After a nice evening among globetrotters and a contest of interesting anecdotes which is real fun we manage to apply for our visa the following day and we can already pick them up one day later. I have been in contact with Mr. Lim from the shipping agency and he seems to be hopeful that everything will work out. We have also visited The BMW workshop and after some initial hesitation, they promise that we can come here and use the workshop for our service and repairs, but we have to be there early so we can find space in the garage.

In the evening we therefore ask at the Guesthouse that they knock us out of bed at half past seven in the morning. Actually I had dug our mobile phone from the depths of the bags, but it seems to have been moist some time, nothing works anymore and the battery is covered in green gunge - another piece of ballast for the dustbin. Kevin wakes me up at half past six because he believes having heard a knock. ... Super, my night is over and he snores again.  

At half past eight, when the knocking actually comes I'm just about ready to drop off again but we drag ourseves out of bed, are washed and dressed in no time and after a cup of coffee on the way to the workshop. We have big plans change all filters, big service with every oil changed, adjust valves, timing and carburetors, look where she loses oil, brake repair in the sidecar ... ..and what not

When we arrive they make plenty of space for us, but tell us at the same time that they are not familiar with these old bikes and can not help us except with tools and oils - well fine – that eliminates  already around 50% of the planned work because for the valves, timing and carburetors, we need help and for the brake a vise and workbench (both not there). There are no spare parts available for our old boxer here and so we have to use up all we have in store but at least get oil for the gear box and differential (this after all seems to still be the same with the new motorcycles - otherwise mechanics nowadays just have to know how to replace components and read the  diagnostic computer... ..

Well –this way we are done around 12 - fortunately, because it is bloody hot and humid and I sweat so much that my glasses keep sliding off my nose. Our good Liza is however duly admired by all who pass by and I entertain the mechanics and customers with pictures and videos from the Cambodian jungle – they are all amazed as to what you can do with our bike ... but after all we are here – are we not?

Back in the Star Lodge we are both in bad need of a cold shower and then breakfast! But first however, I have to send an email to Mr. Lim, to find out if he can organize the shipment of our motorbike to Indonesia in four weeks - for a definitive answer and price he needs the exact dimensions and weight which we have measured for him.

After the shower I throw myself into the airiest glad rags my wardrobe offers(even if I look, like a beached whale that has fallen into the paint pot in it) then we look for a little something from a street stall that keeps us going and make the planned photo tour through the old town.

Georgetown has a colonial past, World Heritage status, a beautiful old town and a really nice multikulti mixture with an Indian district, many Chinese, Muslims, Buddhists and Christians - all as it seems harmoniously side by side and then they also have a taste for art here and so you can find something that is worth to take a picture of on almost every street corner. I love this town and Little India is my absolute favorite with the colorful shop windows and street stalls ... and of course the Indian food

We shoot through the old town with the nightly lightning storms building. We decide, as the first heavy  drops fall, that we will spend the storm in an Indian restaurant and it turns out to be a great idea.

After the absolutely delicious food with lots of iced tea (for 40 ringgit expensive here - so 10 € for both of us together) it’s raining just a little and as we have not forgotten  to take an umbrella today that is no problem at all.

Now a beer at the Guest House and then go to bed, because tomorrow we want to go as early as possible - in the Cameron Highlands, where finally we can cool down a little bit.

Mr. Lim has sent us a quote and the dates for possible shipment for the next 4 weeks, and we make the arrangement that we will let him know which day is good for us about a week before we want to leave the country – so now we can relax and sightsee around Malaysia as much as we feel like and the next day we venture on.

As soon as we are off the island, it already begins to pour and does not stop. Although we stop a couple of times and seek shelter under one of the small huts that have been built everywhere for motorcyclists (they are even signposted on the roadside with a motorcycle under an umbrella) at some point we are soaked to the underwear and decide that it can’t get any worse anyway and we just keep winding up in the cool heights of the Cameron Highlands - unfortunately we don’t see much except greenhouses, because we are in the clouds. The area was named after Sir William Cameron, who discovered it in 1885 while doing a land survey. The Cameron Highlands form the spine of the mountain range that runs through the country and were not only an attractive respite resort  for homesick Englishmen in the 19th century, but also to heat-afflicted locals and tourists of nowadays the area has a magical appeal. One can cool down here so wonderfully and of course a lot of things are grown which thrive nowhere else in Malaysia - tea, strawberries, roses, various vegetables ...

We however are frozen to the bone and sitting in weekend traffic jam, because Kuala Lumpur is not far and it's Friday – we should have thought about that when we set off but we were just too keen on moving on. When we arrive in Tanah Rata (the city that is at the top and from where all the trail and tours start) everywhere is of course crowded and the prices for even the most rundown hostel has climbed to astronomical figures and it takes quite a while until we finally find a reasonably and satisfactory accommodation (well - it is clean and we can even have a hot shower) - in the room a lot of my little bloodsucking friends are already waiting for me - because one of the window panes is broken - so I can look forward to a fun night. Although we enjoy the pleasant "coolness" of 28 ° C we do not stay too long, the tourist crowds and the prices here spoil it a little and we have no desire to pay admission to have a look at strawberry fields. However, we have to wait until Monday - then all the locals are back to their work and we can at least enjoy the winding descent on the other side of the mountains towards KL - gorgeous. Hardly any traffic and lots of views on tea- or jungle-covered mountain tops combined with the best biking curves for over 150 kms make you wish that the journey towards the ultra-modern metropolis of Kuala Lumpur may take forever but unfortunately we far too quickly reach the glittering High-rise jungle and again our navigation system has difficulty to lead us through the many one-way systems.

We got an address for a motorcycle workshop by a Malay, whom we met in Russia and hope here we can put everything in order what BMW Georgetown failed to do but we do not want to stay here for long - we are only country bumpkins and the hustle and bustle of the big city is more a nuisance for us - and also shopping exerts little attraction. We want to be done and away as fast as possible and so we lose no time to find the address of the workshop - contrary to expectations, we get there relatively quickly (only takes about 5 wrong turns and a little asking around) then we have found Sunny Cycle. The workshop is run by an entirely motorcycle crazy family - Sunny an ex-racer and his sons know everything there is to know about 2 wheeled vehicles and we really manage to make all repairs and maintenance jobs we need to do (of course with the help of Sunny's son). Unfortunately it turns out that the brake disc in the sidecar is warped during this action and since everything about big motorcycles is taxed between 100 and 130% in most countries in Asia that does really hurt – so we bite the bullet and pay the price! After a skilled setting of valves, ignition and carburetors our good old Rubber-cow is running like new.

We also meet Akosh - a young Hungarian who had to completely disassemble his Suzuki DR and  is now while waiting for spare parts restoring the whole bike and  engine from the ground up with the help of Sunny and family trying to bring everything in order which two years of touring have done to his motorcycle. Akosh teaches us how to go get away with things like using pedestrian zones to avoid circling around  a one way system and then even to get the backing of the police (I often wish we had done this trip at a younger age –all this bargaining and talking your way out of problems and just ignoring rules is much harder for us – after a lifetime of obeying rules and set prices it is nice to meet someone who simply dismisses it all with a shrug and a loose tongue - how refreshing).

In-between trips to the workshop and sorting our bike we do of course take a city tour and make the obligatory pictures with Petronas-tower and the other main sites . It’s even free because in KL there is a bus line (GoKL) where you simply can get on and off without having to pay for it. We are the only foreigners using this service but we are used to that and what is really nice in Asia, the young people still offer a place to oldies.

Overall, we enjoy ourselves in this city, but only stay as long as we absolutely need to and then we are back on the road even if we have to grudgingly admit that the modern high-rise buildings have their own charm.

Our next destination is the town of Melacca, where we once again get lost on our way through one-way streets to fight once more with this bad Malaysian habit  (Malacca, Malacca or Melaca - seems to make no exception here) - we and our GPS are pussyfooting around the area circling ever closer to where we want to go. and with a lot of patience we end in the center of the old town, where, according to Wikitravel, the budget accommodation can be found - it's even true: The room in which we end is indeed really small, but so far the cheapest we have found in Malaysia and this is despite Melacca (I've now just picked this spelling)being a UNESCO world Heritage city. After only one night here, it looks as if a clothes bomb has exploded in our room- it’s just one of those things you have to put up with when you live out of a duffel bag - what you need is always at the bottom. We sort a pile of dirty laundry out (which makes some space in the room) and take it to the front desk, then we want to find some breakfast (preferably not in the sh ... expensive tourist quarter of last night) where ended up because it was already too late to search for something better) and meet a nice Australian outside our hotel who’s already stayed here for a while and can give us some useful tips. He suggests some places to us and we wander off looking for an Indian restaurant, which he recommended to us We find it and the food is is really tasty, good and cheap  After the spicy breakfast we want to work off the calories and explore the city - this is easier said than done, because it is now so hot and humid that the sweat runs not only down our backs and after a few minutes already we look as if someone has poured a bucket of water over us and that is not exaggerated in any way. We move at a snail's pace along the streets, always in search of shade, the covered walkways really are quite helpful here. After a while we come to a marketplace with tourists from all countries and of course the colorful and decorated rickshaws, which are to be found everywhere here (I do not honestly know where the drivers take the energy to chauffer tourists around). Here there are trees, a fountain and a two-man band which gives us a welcome excuse to have to sit down and listen. The atmosphere is really nice, beautiful buildings from the colorful Portuguese-Dutch-English colonial period (Melakka can boast an interesting past as the port could be used all year-round the city was being claimed and conquered many times) and this applies not only to the buildings. Throughout a variety of churches, temples and mosques can be seen - in the street of our hotel are a Chinese temple, a Hindu temple and a mosque almost next door to each other. It's just great, at the same time of evening  prayer call you can hear wild drums and vocals from the Hindu temple and everyone seems to find this ok. I once asked a taxi driver in KL after the holidays in this country and he told me, grinning, that Malaysia probably has to be World Champion here, since each religion has its own holidays and he  finds it nice to have friends of different religions, as he can participate in all holidays this way (I know some people and nations that could use a slice of this way of thinking). Here everything is so varied and colourful - the buildings, the people, the clothes and we love it. The choice of restaurants and things that we need to give a try is incredible.

However in the afternoon we are completely done in and urgently need to go in our dark cool hotel room where we wait until sunset and then slowly do some more exploring - we are faithful souls and so steer right back to the Indian restaurant from the morning - we have seen this morning that you can order banana leaves with a lots of different foods on it here and of course we want to try. It is not as easy as you think to eat with your fingers and we end up covered in bits like little children, but it's fun - just after eating something happens in my digestive tract and suddenly I have to get back to our hotel fast - do not pass Go do not collect 200 Pounds ... ..and thanks to the local spices one is doubly glad to have the ass washers everywhere - they cool so nicely. Afterwards we can have a nice stroll again we still want to see the night market – mostly there is only food on offer and we are still full to bursting – apart from that there is mostly tourist stuff and gifts and trinkets, but we enjoy just to stroll about and there is so much to see everywhere - we are only glad that this year the masses of Chinese tourists have stayed away (because of the way Malaysia went about the plane that disappeared) and it is not quite as full as normally. Back at the hotel we treat ourselves to a mini can of beer (320 ml for almost 2 €), we savor it with a cigarette on a bench in front of the hotel before we retreat first in the shower and then into the cool room.

We enjoy the multicultural crowd in Melacca for a few days, then it is time once again to spend some time in nature and it draws us to Taman Negara National Park (which is actually an unnecessary repetition  as Taman in Malay means park and Negara national), one of the oldest rainforests in the world (at least that’s what they say). The journey there is quite boring and leads predominantly through palm oil plantations. On the way we see quite a few gray windowless buildings which are quite high and large, have only small air vents at regular intervals and otherwise only a flight of stairs to the front door. The barns or whatever they may be are also always surrounded by barbed wire fences and this naturally arouses my curiosity.

I have asked Mr. Google extensively about the park and on the basis of this Internet search we are full of anticipation and supposedly you can camp here. In Kuala Tahan, a small village opposite the park entrance, which is accessible only by boat we stop in the sweltering midday heat and look for a small tourist info, to ask the way to Dakili Guest House / -Hostel / Camping and try to find out at the same time, what there is to do. The guy in there is so nice to tell us that we do not need a guide for a short jungle trek and the canopy walk and we decide to see whether we afterwards want to book a boat trip to a village of Orang Asli (native people) with the nice guy and I take this opportunity to ask about the strange houses in the jungle - the answer surprised both of us not a little, it is nesting houses for swallows we are told. On the roof there is a sound system, which plays bird calls to attract the animals and from the nests they supposedly made medicine. Later of course I consult Mr. Google and find out that the birds are swiftlets really - from their nests, the famous Swallow's Nest soup is made. This in turn is a delicacy in China (where else)  as - of course it is rumored to be a tonic probably with virility effect (no wonder the Chinese are so numerous that they had to reduce the birth rate drastically) - if you think about it ….maybe it would already help to just ban all animal parts with that reputation for the Chinese or better just spread the rumor that they actually have the reverse effect, at the same time rhinos, tigers and sharks would get a brake and if you whisper in the right ear that poachers testicles do a much better job this world could be a happier place….

Anyway the nests are normally found in remote caves and dangerous climbing by courageous young men is needed so they can be "harvested". They take the nests shortly after completion and before they contain eggs - the birds then will just build a new one.  Both in China and Vietnam astronomical prices are paid for this delicacy and the demand is constantly rising so you can really make money here (one pound costs 200 USD) - therefore probably the barbed wire fences - one even speaks already of caviar of the East and the Malay government is promoting the production. The nesting houses can also be seen in built up areas - people have put an extra floor to the roof to participate in the business. This however does lead to some friction as the birds droppings do annoy neighbours sometimes (especially when they are Westerners who moved here for the idyllic Asian lifestyle)

Anyway we are in Kuala Tahan and on the way to find the campsite. This is despite a drawn  map and explanations not easy, but some nice locals lead us n the end around some twisty corners to the desired destination. The campsite is situated on the river bank and is only accessible via lengthy, steep stairs - we're done by looking at it and also is down there next to millions of mosquitoes, not a single square meter of shade so we decide to stay in the hostel and to take a room with shared bathroom. They advertise here on-site restaurant and free Wi-Fi and after we checked in and paid for our room for two nights in advance the hostess disappears, never to return. We seem to be the only guests here and since the promised restaurant is not to be found, we walk back to the village, where there is a small corner cafe, because hunger demands food with a loud growl. After being appeased we have a look at the river and jetty for the boats to the National Park and then we spot some very dark clouds arriving quickly and just in time before the daily monsoon storm we make it back to the little corner café where we spend the rest of the day with ice tea and in the company of a nice Australian and Michael, a German wildlife photographer before finally stumbling back along dark and narrow paths with deep puddles. At the Guest House, we find then that in the evening the internet is shut down and to visit the toilets is a risky business because it is right around the back of the place and no light bulb working and then not a drop of water in the buckets  provided to flush the toilets - we find the showers but they don’t seem connected to water. The next morning, the landlady comes freshly showered around the corner and then disappears again before we can ask how she was able to have it - we brush our teeth with the remaining water from a water bottle and rub some of it over our eyes – the rest we use to make a coffee (this turns out to be camping with an expensive roof after all) then it goes over the river and into the National Park. The entry fee is one ringgit (25 cents), the photo permit costs 5 ringgit and the treetops trail 10 ringgit per person – compared with the fees of the Thai National Parks this is a pleasant surprise and now we sweat along the jungle path made of plastic planks - except one squirrel and a few orang Asli (natives) we only see a few other sweaty tourists. The idea to make the tree-tops walk was from me and a stupid one too. I think I've not been so scared in a long time! I have never imagined that it would involve suspension bridges and now I have the problem that I forgot that wobbly surfaces mean a great difficulty to me. I struggle forwards step by step - the eyes straight ahead always trying to make it swing as little as possible - on a very shaky long section I'm even tempted to just stop dead until someone comes to take me down but then I realize that this would cause even more rocking and so I force myself to keep going  one foot in front of the other  -it’s always nice to reach the next platform, where I then thanks to the solid surface am able to thoroughly enjoy the views (they are amazing) - I do not know exactly how many deaths I die here, but I make it in the end - not a hundred horses will ever bring me back to do such a thing!

In the afternoon we sit in our little corner cafe with Michael and the Australian and think aloud whether we want to take a boat trip to the native village or not - Michael has done it and says, that we can save ourselves that trip – the whole thing is just a show for the tourists the locals play "savages" and demonstrate shooting arrows with blowpipes, while in the bag ... the mobile phone rings. Well - I can not condemn trying to keep traditions and making a bob  of it - our medieval markets etc. are nothing different, but somehow we have no desire to stay here anyway – it’s all a bit weird and probably the visit to this National Park makes only sense if you are fit enough to do some proper hiking away from the tourist show (which is rather poorly staged).

While the usual monsoon rains tilt from the sky, we observe a couple with towering backpacks arriving, disappearing in the direction of guest houses and then a short time later they appear again looking for a way to get out of here. She has seen a rat and now doesn’t want to stay here !! Now that’s people for you - they come into the jungle hoping to see snakes, tigers, and what do I know and then they run away from a rat.

We leave the next morning - after a cat lick with bottled water (again)! I am quite cheesed off - as I’ve been running from one toilet to another in order to find enough water so that I could flush (everyone has his tick) and still no shower or water in sight and unfortunately I will not get rid of my frustration over this treatment again, because the hostess still shines by her absence.

Our next destination is the island of Kecil - one of the two islands that make up the Perentian Islands. Bente our Danish friend from London has highly recommended visiting this isle to us. After the usual Internet research we decide to try our luck on the smaller island of the two (the other would indeed be our first choice because quiet, but the prices are also correspondingly).

We need 1 ½ days to reach the port and are already intercepted at the entrance of the town from a business-minded young man who tries to make us book a boat ticket and his friend wants to rent us a car park for the time, but we want to  have a few more offers to compare before we book so we search for the cheapest hotel first which is a bit of a dump really – it has a bathroom and even sit on toilet but no water - and then we check out different travel agencies. In the end we find one where the crossing for both of us cost as much as they wanted per person at the beginning - we immediately book and pay and also find another car park which is much cheaper. If we have learned one thing in Asia, then it is not to trust someone who attacks us with great special offers.

We are asked to be in the office at 7am for our boat - so we go to bed early.  

In the morning at 6 before light, the first call to prayer of the muezzin and definitely before awake Kevin gets me out of bed-we must still put our bike in the parking lot and make a few purchases, because everybody who has ever been to the islands tells us that everything even water is expensive here. I have my difficulties with the awakening, because at night the mosquitoes had made a feast out of me, and besides, it was extremely humid and hot so to get at least a break from scratching I've swallowed a Fenistil tablet which has completely knocked me out.

When we arrive at the guarded parking lot, there is still no one there and all the stores, as well as the ticket store for our boat are still locked - we are much too early but at least we find a cafe that is open and we can have breakfast:  roti with egg and iced tea - we are already so far that we even drink the Malaysian tea with sweetened condensed milk for breakfast!

Slowly the town comes to life and after breakfast we go shopping. 5 bottles of water, 2 rolls of toilet paper, sunblock and bug spray - the whole lot costs 20 €! Ok- if we were in Europe that might be called cheap – but we are not in Europe…. Our normal daily budget here is around 27€!   I am beginning to wonder how expensive it will be on the island.

In the office of the boat people some sort of movement can be detected which suggests something is going to happen soon so Kev brings Liza to the parking lot and surprise surprise -  there is life too and shortly afterwards we sit on a speedboat that kicks and rocks across the waves and just before I have to worry about seasickness we are already there.  

We drag our luggage along the beach and get the impression that this will be a difficult mission but we are lucky and find a place to stay quite quickly - but only for 3 nights, then everything is fully booked. Fatima's is a kind of Resort (here everything is called Resort) - the room costs 60 ringgit, is largely clean, has a mosquito net above the bed ,even if it has quite a few holes, and a private bathroom with running water (first thing to check after the last few experiences) and on the little porch we even sporadically receive wifi. Sending mails, however, turns out to be mission Impossible.

We rest briefly from the room search in the sweltering heat then we decide to take a walk along the island. We follow a path along the beach which then winds its way in and through the jungle and this is more of a jungle path then the paved trail in Taman Negara National Park. It is extremely hot and humid but under the dense plant canopy, we have at least some shade and arrive at the end at a wonderful small beach with a simple resort of wooden huts with a small restaurant. as the day is quite advanced and we had not much this morning we decide to have an early tea. There are even burgers and chips at an affordable price on the menu.  After travelling around Asia for such a long time we are now at the point where we celebrate being able to eat something other than rice once in a while. The owners of the small paradise have an otter as a pet which zooms around as if stung by a tarantula and full of mischief- he jumps up on me and tries to get me to play - nibbling on everything and the pointy teeth are like little sharp needles, and so no one is upset when the young son of the house decides to play with the Otter and we finally have our peace. We have a little chat

with other guests of the house, I swim a lap and then we make our way back. We are a bit surprised at how far we have walked and it’s all getting a bit tiring when we get back to the place of a few modern age hippies who live in the forest in tents made of bamboo racks and plastic sheeting they  have created a home for themselves and they invite us for a cup of tea which goes down very well now.

Back in our cabin we organize a cold Pepsi to be mixed with some monkey whiskey (cheap ploff we got on the mainland) and quickly it gets dark and the mosquitoes drive us under the mosquito net - we are tired – so we might as well go to sleep. The bastards pretty quickly find the holes in the mosquito net so I get angry and start to spray the until I end up coughing - now I do not know what is worse - scratch or cough half the night!

The next morning a snorkeling trip is on the agenda - Fatimah's offers one with the equipment included - it costs as much as all others so we book right here and after a quick breakfast while the “captain” waits next to us we set off. There are five different snorkel stops around the two islands and we meet a nice Hungarian on the boat, who tells us how to deal with the fins and masks - luckily, because we have no plan here and there is actually nobody else that would provide us with advice.

The snorkeling is just great - at least, when we finally get to the point where we no longer constantly think we will drown - so after a few teething problems we both manage to relax to keep our heads under water and just float along ... and enjoy. It is amazing what you get to see with the aid of a snorkel mask: Lots of colorful fish of all sizes, corals and even grazing turtles. All too soon we have to climb back into the boat to be taken to the next stop and all my fears that I might be too stiff to climb into or out of the boat, or not be fit enough or to twist my damned knee when climbing into the boat again prove to be completely unfounded and soon we two old ones are always the last to come back to the boat, because we simply can not tear ourselves away from the fascinating underwater world. The lunch break then appears far too long to us and we are already sitting in the boat and wait for the others, so that we can start again. While we wait I'm talking to a nice young Malay who can not understand why we Europeans seem to be all so keen to be black. ... He thinks that if he could choose his skin colour, he would rather have white skin. I try to explain to him that there just is a lot less sun in our part of the world and not only the sea, but the country is much colder - that's why we are so pale and when we stay in the sun for too long we burn easily and turn painfully red – so the darker skin has it’s reason and protects him. Then I try to explain winter and snow to him, but here his imagination comes to its limits.  

After lunch we have two more snorkeling stops and much too soon we are back again - this was definitively not, the last time we have snorkeled!

Back in our cabin, we must realize that we have turned into overcooked carrots and our backs and legs - especially Kevin’s, whose legs have very rarely seen the sun for half a century are quite painful. But it was well worth it - just like the cuts from the coral on toes and fingers …. tomorrow we will rent mask and snorkel again and try our luck at the house beach!   

While I load the days harvest of photos on the computer Kev’s  gone out to try to snap a hopefully beautiful sunset, then we go to the neighboring beach hut, where they serve a lovely fish bbq at very reasonable prices – that’s the life!!.

We really love this place, although the island practically only lives of tourism. One day we walk to the beach on the opposite side of the island – it’s party zone for all the young backpackers,  completely littered and obstructed with buildings - although it is only a 15 minute walk there, it seems as though the other side of the island might as well  be a very different world (and not ours that’s for sure).

We manage to get an extra night at Fatimah’s but then we actually have to leave - pity it was so beautiful here, but our money is gone (too bad that we did not realize that the island might not have ATMs) and also our stay is fully booked from today onwards anyway.

Last night we had a proper thunder storm and all our clothes we had hung out there are soaking wet again and now we do not know how to pack everything. Well – we just stuff it all in a plastic bag – to be dried later. One last time we have breakfast on the beach and then I give my last 8 ringgit for a braided bracelet as souvenir from heaven ... from a nice couple - she German and he Malay. They want to move to Germany in the next few months, because she is pregnant and wants to get her child there. I highly doubt that they both will feel comfortable in Germany, but they'll have to find out for themselves – all I say is that it will be very different to the free life of selling bracelets on the beach and being  able to live of that and it is a  nasty shock with climate, country and its people too ... .. but as I said, they need to see for themselves.

I'm afraid to miss the boat and push Kevin to go to the pier - far too early, I should have known, that quarter to 12 here means at least half past. We are sent back and forth, then on a boat that first leaves and then returns to the pier and we are told to get off again. We have to climb over a second boat full with sacks over which we must climb to get to the pier and wait again until we are being sent to a smaller boat which then actually brings us to the mainland.

We need to get our bike from the parking lot but firstly have to find an ATM, which turns out to be difficult to impossible. So we decide to bring our luggage to the bike before asking our way to the ATM. It really is bloody hot and although we had worn long clothes for snorkeling after the first day the t-shirts must have floated up unnoticed so we both have to deal with another nasty sunburn, which   also doesn’t make it easier to endure the heat.

A young man takes me on his scooter to the only ATM of the place and it seems like half a world tour until we get there and then there is a mile long queue at the end of which I am now. Everything runs smoothly, until the woman in front of me gets there, then the ATM crashes...  

Behind me most have already given up and gone, but I need the money urgently and now. So I stay a bit longer and just as I decide to give up life comes back into the machine - well, thank God - now we can pay out our Liza and get back on track. We want to ride back to Georgetown and tackle the shipment to Indonesia - Malaysia was nice, but also quite expensive and it is time to travel on.

Our way across the country from East to West coast is generally quite uneventful, but  here and there we pass some fairly nice areas with real Rainforest and mountains, so we get something for the eye and it is even curvy after a while, the icing on the cake to a motorcyclists heart .

It is already dark when we finally find something like a motel - well, a huge room with three beds in it, broken windows and a fan, that fights a little at a loss for the size of the room. The toilet is outside and without light, and we pay for the honor of staying here on completely saggy mattresses (I use the one of the empty bed on top of mine and like the proverbial princess I can still feel the pea) and the company of rather many mosquitoes 50 ringgit - € 12.50 but we are in  the middle of nowhere, there is no other place and we are tired. Next door a gang  with all-wheel- off-road vehicles from the Petronas Adventure Team Malaysia,is staying  and our Liza of course is duly being admired and decorated with  stickers.

We organize something for dinner next door and watch a movie, I have “liberated” over several days from the Internet: Priscilla, queen of the desert. A very funny Australian road movie about a transvestite show crossing the Outback in an old bus converted to a mobile home, then it is time to cover in bug spray and hope that we can sleep.

Since I was only able to sleep at night after I've thrown in a Fenistil against the scratching I am difficult to wake up, but we want / need to get a move on.

Since I have no desire for a hose shower we decide to smell and the small cafe next door is full of Muslim women – looks like a day out from the women’s institute-so  we give breakfast a miss and just down a quick iced tea before departure (well – after the usual photo session that is).

The landscape is still rainforest and mountains, but changes relatively quickly into rubber and palm oil plantations and we only stop a few times for a cigarette break.

 In Georgetown we arrive in time for the weekend traffic jam and the now familiar power shower of a thunderstorm and pretty drenched we check into our old inn, where an en suite room with real shower, WiFi and air conditioning costs as much or as little as the dump of the last night.

After drying off, contacting the shipping company and sorting the last details of the shipment of our bike to Indonesia  we are on our way to little India to treat ourselves once more with the best Indian food outside of London. Well - this is now an assertion, which of course I can not prove and will possibly be revised on our way around the globe, but here in Asia on the of us so far traveled path it’s true. With a full belly we roll back to our digs while the rain has started again where we spend the rest of the day in the lobby watching television.

Our Liza is loaded the next day already on a wooden cargo ship for vegetables and Sunday she will hopefully safely arrive in Medan. We decide to fly there a few days early because for one we have already seen most things here on Penang and on the other hand, we hope that Indonesia will be a little nicer to our budget. We also want to use the time to acclimatize ourselves a little and make a few important errands.  

The flight is booked, the taxi ordered now we only have to kill the time till 13:45 when we get picked up and taken to the airport. I waste some time roaming the Internet - I look up budget accommodation in Medan and find out the exchange rate for Indonesian rupees, then we pack up, stow our stuff  in the hallway to vacate the room and one more time (who knows what food is like in Indo) we go to the Indian round the corner for a delicious Roti Canai with different sauces and chicken and have a last iced tea with sweetened condensed milk.

Finally it’s time to  leave and as always before a new country I have some stage fright - hopefully we have no problems with our oversized hand luggage (we were too stingy for the baggage allowance) and already I miss my Swiss Army knife that I have packed into the bike ... here .. knives are unusual and you eat with fork and spoon or have to just eat with your fingers, but I must confess that to me it is always difficult to use only one hand for this job but this is what the etiquette requires when eating without cutlery - I confess - I prefer to be a barbarian and cut up my meal with a knife.



But enough of that …. it's time to jump in a taxi to the airport: Off to new adventures - Indonesia; here we come!