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December 27, 2004
Amy writes:

For those of you who know us quite well, you'll agree that Jody and I aren't really the outdoors type. Yes, we like a good BBQ in the garden, a stroll in the park but normally we're much more at home with indoor pursuits which is why four days in the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia's foremost jungle trekking and hiking destination may seem like a bit of a strange choice.

I was definately not expecting mountains, rolling hills and Swiss-style buildings which made you feel like you were in a scene from "The Sound of Music".

However, we still got stuck in. We're stayed in the strangest place (Father's Guest House) where the rooms are in old tin-roofed bunkers like air-raid shelters above ground. It was comfortable though and cosy under our thick fleece blankets at night. Yes, it was bloody freezing!

On our first full day, Jody and I attempted a walk in the rainforest on the trail known as 9a. The trails are quite well worn but some are still a bit high, slippery and precarious. You can imagine:- Me, little-miss-no-balance and Jody with his long legs, trying to squeeze through the tiniest gaps and not fall off the cliff. Having walked for over an hour longer than we were told the trail should be, we did get a bit worried at the end. Jody had to shout down at a man working in the fields below and signal for directions. We soldiered on, then realised that parts of the path on this final stretch had given way. I scrambled across, then burst into tears as Jody got stuck mid-way and my throwing him a branch (as seen in all good Indiana Jones movies), only blocked his way even further. My tears turned to tears of relief as he jumped to saftey, clutching vines and we both realised it was the end of the trail. Hurrah for that!

The following day, we tried a guided walk - the guide kept handing us plants to smell, touch or eat. We didn't mind until one flower made our tongues go numb (then we learnt that it's used as an anaesthetic).

Something we won't forget about the Cameron Highlands is the day we tried Durian. It's a huge spiky fruit like a big pinapple but it's banned in most hotels because it sinks. People often describe the experience of trying it as like eating custard in a sewer. It apparently tastes better if you can get over the smell but I couldn't. All I remember is the beige, avocado-like flesh, biting into it and trying not to gag. People in Asian countries go mad for it though.

We left the Cameron Highlands to spend xmas in the capital, Kuala Lumpur but we've been here for four days and we find it characterless and dull. Had a good Christmas though (thanks Jody for my Gucci timepiece) and even managed to get ourselves in the newspaper today! (See photo).

December 26, 2004
Jody writes:

Leaving disasters in our wake, we're currently in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, so we haven't been affected by the dreadful earthquake and tsunami that has just rocked Asia.

We also luckily missed the bus crash in the Cameron Highlands which happened the day before we left. A couple from our hostel were involved, but walked away.

Instead we're eating and sweating lots (once again, we're in hot territory). I bought Amy a Gucci watch for Christmas (a two quid fake of course. Only the best for my girl). She bought me a watch in return, since the one I bought in Bangkok broke after six weeks. We had Christmas dinner in a posh Thai restaurant on Christmas Day. There was no turkey in sight. Instead we had Pak Choi, Curry Kapitan (a dish famous in Penang - basically a chichen korma with a chilli chucked in) and black pepper beef. It was great, even if there were no crackers and daft hats.

Merry Christmas everyone. I would wish you all here with us, but Kuala Lumpur is pretty bloody dull and the accomodation here is filthy (Amy recieved FORTY bed bug bites in one night... Bite-o-meter: Kerching!) so you're probably better off at home. We're thinking about travelling to Australia ahead of schedule to catch New Year there if we can.

December 23, 2004
Jody writes:

A 66-year old man peddled us and our luggage to our bus on Sunday morning. He didn't even break a sweat. We were leaving Penang's chaotic Chinatown to take a winding journey up to the peaceful Cameron Highlands. The day got off to a strange start when a marathon (see photo) delayed the arrival of our bus, but it wasn't until we reached the Highlands that the madness really kicked off.

When we arrived at our destination we headed for a bite to eat, settling for a seat in a restaurant opposite a smiling Indian man. We starting chatting - he lived out of town and said he owned his own retail business - and it wasn't long before he'd taken over our meal, ordering the staff to bring us extra chillis and sauces. We were unable to stop him paying our bill before he invited us to join him and his family for a tour of the Highlands.

Before we knew it we were sitting in a van with his wife and three kids heading to Brinchang - a village a few miles away from where we're staying in Tanah Rata. They took us to an Indian temple and a Chinese temple, stopping off at the occasional market and plant shop along the way. Mr S (as we'll call him) and his wife were jolly and talkative, but his three kids were sour-faced and appeared annoyed that Amy and I were getting star treatment. I don't know why, but I sensed tension in the family and felt that Mr S was only running the tour for the benefit of Amy and me.

By now Mr S had knocked back a few bottles of Guinness - when we met him in the restaurant he'd drunk at least two, with an additional two at stops along the way. I was concerned that his reaction time might be hindered when driving around the windy, blind corners up in the hills.

I bought some chocolates for our kind adopted family and they repayed us by showering Amy with gifts - sweetcorn from a street vendor, a Cameron Highlands T-shirt and a keychain made of plastic strawberries. The children looked on, unamused. The mother said that this was their first holiday in 16 years (and it was only one-day long) - the last was their honeymoon, also in the Highlands, and that time they took an Australian couple for a tour, staying out late and missing their 'honeymoon', so to speak.

After our three-hour trip, we agreed to go for dinner with the family. But first Amy and I headed back to our guesthouse to change into warm clothes. We've had our fair share of cold weather in the Highlands after almost two months of sweating through the rest of Asia. It's around 23C in the day and 14C at night.

Arriving back at Mr S' hotel, I was surprised to see his wife and kids were in bed and that only he was joining us for dinner. Slightly saddened by this, we left the family behind and went to the same Chinese restaurant where this all began. We ordered a steamboat - a traditional Highlands cuisine consisting of meat, fish and veg cooked in one of two stockpots left heating in the centre of the table on a gas burner. Our host hardly ate a thing - earlier in the day he said that he didn't even like steamboats and it seemed that he was only doing this for our pleasure. We said that we liked prawns and he bought an additional plate of them. When Amy said she liked eggs he asked for another basket full, but I stopped him.

He was silent during dinner and I tried hard to keep the conversation flowing in repayment for his kindness. When the bill came, he refused to let us pay, so I decided to show our thanks by buying him a couple of large beers to take home. This is where it started to get weird.

He said that he couldn't take alcohol home with him - a man in his 40s, afraid of drinking in his own home. It was if he lived his life by a rule that drinking was only allowed in the Highlands. He'd binged on it all day and said that when he was a bachelor he would drive to the highest point to get smashed on whisky while watching the view, but would never think of drinking at home.

By now the restaurant was closing so we moved outside. Drunk and tired, Mr S went on to reveal how he doesn't love his wife but can never leave her and he resents her for being old and in poor health. He said that he never looked after his children when they were babies because it wasn't his role.

He then lectured Amy on her duties as a woman. Apparently it's her job to cook the food I want to eat when I want to eat it. Although Amy's cooking is pretty good now, I don't think I could stomach it seven days a week. I explained how things are different in England and that both partners share responsibilities, but he couldn't get the idea that Amy was having an easy ride out of his head and spat out her duties once again.

"What do you do for him?" Mr S asked. "I sing and dance," Amy joked. Mr S then said that if I wanted to see girls sing and dance I could pay for that, while Amy stays at home preparing my dinner.

Noticing our distress he left the table, standing a few feet away to compose himself before returning to apologise. But the conversation was still much the same and I was keen to leave. Despite his kindness that day, I wasn't prepared to sit through another lecture on how to run a 1920's household with all the perks it brings (children that fear their father! A robot wife whose only interests are cooking, cleaning and washing! No divorce no matter what happens!).

So we walked Mr S to his hotel. I wished his business and family well. He's undoubtedly a kind man - he bought his children gifts while we were out and offered another couple in the restaurant a lift back to their hotel when they enquired about a taxi. He strongly believes that if he is kind to strangers then god will be kind to him. Though we're grateful for the money he spent on us, I hope that he'll put his family first in the future.

December 18, 2004
Jody writes:

See our Penang pictures.

We arrived in Georgetown on the island of Penang on Wednesday, falling foul to a final Thai con. When crossing the Thailand / Malaysia border, the passport control officer who stamped our passports demanded a fee of 20 baht each to let us through. We handed the money over, but were later told we'd been conned - by a man working for the Thai government for pity's sake!

Most people we've met who've been to Georgetown have hated it, but that's probably because they were expecting a beach resort that panders to tourists. What you actually get is a dirty great city squashed into the corner of an island, with few tourists in sight. We love it.

Penang's inhabitants are a nice mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian groups. We've been staying in Chinatown in a vast guesthouse called the Olive Spring run by a friendly Chinese family. Tan - the head of the family - occasionally sits me down to tell me something and though I always expect it to be some ancient oriental wisdom passed down for generations, it usually ends up being some hogwash about the man-eating fish he says he keeps at the back of the guesthouse, or something similar. One of Tan's relatives (who looks like a Chinese version of Jaws from a Bond movie) acts as night security and can be found sleeping in the corridors during the day. It's a nice place (yey!), but we have bed bugs (boo!).

The people in Georgetown are extremely friendly. The island doesn't rely heavily on tourism so there's no real need for the locals to be friendly to us foreigners like there is on the islands off Thailand, but they still go out of their way to make us happy. While waiting for a bus yesterday, a policeman, a lady from a shop and another man in the queue all asked if we needed directions. On a few occassions, we've been the only foreigners in packed Chinese cafes, but the staff still take time to explain what the hell the menu's all about.

While in Penang Museum today, I was chatting about the friendliness of the people here with the Indian security guard. "We are friendly because we all have a passion for Penang," he said. "Even to our most vile enemy, the Japanese, we are polite and smile." During the Japanese occupation of Penang during WW2 the security guard's grandfather was beheaded, I was told.

Yesterday we took a 30-minute train ride up Penang Hill with a girl we'd met called Kate. There's a small village at the top, 2,500 feet above sea level. (Here's a pic of Amy and me at the top). The houses up there are either derelict or owned by rich bastards (the British Empire were the first to build up there, so every house is huge and decadent). The three of us tried to find an apparently beautiful hotel that lays abandonded, but after an hour of walking up and down paths we were only rewarded by the presence of a big dog that chased us back the way we came.

We also tried a canopy walk (which is a bridge made of planks of wood, erected high in the trees and held up by rope). It only took 15 minutes to reach the end, but it was hell. Every step made the bridge wobble and because I'm a glutton for punishment I couldn't help but look down every couple of minutes, before wincing with fear. I took one picture of Amy while up there, but the rest of the time I was too terrified to let go.

Tomorrow we leave for the Cameron Highlands in central Malaysia, where we may meet even more jungle terrors (but hopefully no man-sized venus fly-traps - even Tarzan can't cope with those).

Amy writes:

One of the most surprising things I've noticed so far about Malaysia is the distinct lack of tourists compared with Thailand. Walking the streets, you notice people going about their every-day business, ignoring you and it feels good to see that not everyone's lives in these countries we visit, revolve around tourism. In fact, in 90% of the restaurants/cafes we've dined in so far, we've been the only non-Malays in the place. Not that it's been plain sailing...

Unfortunately the flip-side is that when you're in a place unused to foreign visitors, it can bring a host of other difficulties - all of which we've found in the past three days. You may have trouble reading the menu (if there is one) because it's in Bahasa Melayu, Cantonese, Hakka or Hokkien, you don't know how to order and the staff all seem to just ignore you or simply that when your dish comes it's... Revolting/not what you ordered/different from what you expect.

On our first night when we'd literally just touched down on Malaysian soil, we (plus Mark, Richard and Kate whom we'd met travelling from Thailand) headed into little India for a curry. There wasn't much open but we settled for a brightly-lit place with a number of meat curries of varying degrees of spiciness on the menu. Maybe alarm bells should have started ringing when all the chicken curries looked the same, although everyone ordered something different. Maybe it was just a case of crushed expectations. We'd all heard about great Malaysian curries but none of us enjoyed the meal. The chicken curries were all cold (Hmmm.. could they have been the same thing?) and all of them (even my mutton korma) was too spicy for the person eating it. Something neither naan, rice or pepsi could cure...

Jody's since tried stir-fried frogs legs (not at the same place) and he can confirm that they do taste like chicken. Last night we had an excellent indian meal that was all served up, not on plates, but on giant banana leaves. Well, I guess it saves on washing up.

But for revolting foods in Malaysia, tonight's desert took the biscuit... We ate in an outdoor food court run by malay muslims. I had a Pad Thai-type noodle dish and Jody got a strange mix of battered prawns and batter with nothing in it topped with spicy tomato sauce. Throughout our main meal, we saw staff bringing out loads of these fantastic-looking, huge colourful deserts and decided to try one. It goes by the name of 'Ais Kacang', a huge ball of shaved ice coloured with brown and luminous pink syrup, with icecream on the top. Underneath the enormous, edible snowball was a mix of jelly, sweetcorn and beans. I had about two mouthfuls and felt sick. The pink side of the ice tasted like fish sauce. Jody was determined to eat his way through to discover what was at the bottom, an action which he now sorely regrets.

December 13, 2004
Jody writes:

"Stop swatting or you'll scare the frog," I said last night as Amy went about her routine of squashing mosquitoes. We were trying not to upset our latest lodger - a small fat frog who'd taken a liking to our bathroom. He'd left by the morning.

We've been quite lucky with our creature room mates thus far. There are always ants, mossies and friendly geckos, but thankfully my arch enemy Monsieur Cockroach has only made one appearance (I dashed the brute's chances of a night indoors after I deftly swept him out with a broom).

Amy's foe is as always mosquitoes. She can't spend five minutes in the room without stalking the place, flip-flop in hand, swatting the buggers.

The weather's been pretty ropey in Ko Lanta. One of the reasons why we've stayed here so long is because we've been holding out 'just one more day' for some sunshine. Our daily routine is breakfast, stroll to a nice spot on the beach, sprint back to shelter when it starts raining. The sun came out today which we've taken as a good sign, so we're staying just one more day before leaving for Malaysia.

At least it's been cool. I've enjoyed chosing restaurants on the quality of the food, instead of the size of the fan. The food is excellent on Ko Lanta - it puts the crap that was served up on Phi Phi to shame. The locals are extremely friendly too (quite suspiciously at first. We simply weren't used to it).

My stomach has reprogrammed itself since being here. I start the day with some hellishly spicy thing then continue through til dinner. Last week I tried a bland old pizza for a change and the stodginess of it kept me bloated well into the next day.

Today we explored Khlong Dao beach. It's a few miles north of where we've been staying and doesn't have the dead coral of 'our' beach. The only sea-shells in sight belonged to hermit crabs - hundreds of them, all scurrying into the sea en masse, only to get swept back again by the waves. They're angry little fellas and weren't too happy when we picked them up. But the clams are more rude - spitting water at Amy, then sticking their tongues out when she touched them.

On Wednesday we squeeze inside a small van to travel to Malaysia. I'll miss Thailand. It's been bloody great here.

December 08, 2004
Amy writes:

We are still on the beaches of Thailand - until some point next week. Then we head on down to Malaysia and into the unknown...

At the moment, we're really enjoying the lazy days (and nights) in Ko Lanta at Klong Khong beach. It's not as picture-perfect as it was on Ko Phi Phi - but it sure is a lot quieter. We moved accommodation yesterday after finding we were sharing our beach bungalow with a huge black rat. He didn't want to share, and neither quite frankly did we. It was horrendous. We spotted the vermin just before bed and after that it was a sleepless night under the mossie net, jumping at every sound and waving the torch around the room. I arrived at the Lanta Merry Hut (our new place) looking like the undead, but after an hour's kip in a hammock overlooking the beach and some hearty Thai fare, I felt right at home. And so it has continued.

You'll see from the above picture that you can't actually swim directly where we are on the beach. It's extremely shallow and so much so, at low tide - all the coral (dead and alive) appear over the waterline. The dead coral looks just like plain ole rock until you get up close. We've been told there is a swimming spot nearby but are too lazy to walk there.
Currently, we're too contented reading, playing cards, eating and watching the occasional movie shown in a beach bar. We've met a few people but it is pretty deserted here and I'm finding it brilliant having our 'own' beach (almost!). Jodes and I are having a good laugh and tonight, he found a mossie bite and I didn't get one! Note - the reason I'm in such a good mood. :)

Jody writes:

In September 2005 when our travels come to an end, I'm sure that one image will be stuck in my mind from this trip. It won't be seeing Angkor Wat at sunrise, or Machu Picchu at dawn. It won't be Ayres Rock or the salt flats of Bolivia. No. It'll probably be the harrowing sight of two strange cats I saw last Saturday on Phi Phi.

We were at a place called the Hippies bar, approaching a large circle of people watching a fire show on the beach. As we prepared to join the crowd we noticed a few people who couldn't bring themselves to watch the show due to the horror that lurked on the sand: two terrifying cats, surely plucked from the depths of hell.

The cats stood totally rigid on the sand, making a tortured growling sound, both staring at the same spot. They're muscles were so stiff they looked like they'd been stuffed, but oh no, they were alive and appeared to be looking at something no human eye could see. I've heard that cats can see the supernatural. Were their eyes fixed on the ghost of Blackbeard?

Passing people gave the cats a wide berth, staring back at the felines in disblief. I tried to watch the fireshow, but couldn't bring myself to have fun while this horrible din roared from the moggies' throats.

After about 30 minutes of fear, some Thai men decided to kick the cats, pushing the rigid beasts so close to each other that their heads were touching. But still no movement. Then suddenly they scrapped.

All along they were just sizing each other up and marking their territory. It's just they had a very funny way of doing it. After a scuffle that couldn't have lasted more than three seconds, the black cat walked away. The ginger one stared rigidly at the departing moggy until it was out of sight and then called it a night.

I had to get that off my chest. Now look at some nice photos of Phi Phi. I'll upload some more when I get the chance.

Where am I? I'm currently sitting at a PC that's so badly wired I get an electric shock every time I touch my camera (which is currently hooked into the PC). I told the little man about it, but his only advice was to keep my feet off the floor.

December 02, 2004
Amy writes:

Phra Nang island Really enjoying the beach...

Today we braved the sea again on a longtail boat. It was supposed to be an organised trip but unlike the one we did at Ao Nang (more of that in a second), this time we had just one driver who spoke part English, part Thai and part sign; and an over-crowded boat. The people were pretty cool but the boat didn't take the route we'd been promised so we spent half the day trying to decipher where we actually were.

Anyway, it was all beautiful and we think we saw Maya Bay, the beach where they shot the film of the same name ('The Beach'). In fact, we staged a mutiny on the boat when the driver suggested that he wasn't actually going to let us get off the boat and forced him to go to shore (on the condition that we wouldn't get him in trouble and would pay the extra 20 baht fee to the rangers because Maya Bay is protected as a National Park). Cue: A good photo op and many happy punters pleased to feel dry land once again.

Another highlight was the snorkelling at Monkey Bay where I managed to keep the sea water out of my mouth, and concentrate of snapping pics of a few fish. Jody was on board giving me 'pirahna scares' by chucking bits of biscuits near me in the water so that right by my shoulder, there was a full-on feeding frenzy as a million and one fish scrambled for one bit of rusk! We also visited a place called Shark Point, but didn't see any sharks.

Ao Nang (Ao pronounced 'Ow' as in 'Ow, I've hurt myself'), our first beach destination which we left on Monday November 29, was a good intro to sandy shores but not the white sand/clear waters we're now spoilt with on Ko Phi Phi. Ao Nang is more of a package holiday destination. Our guesthouse there, Nong Eed House, was reasonably dire but when your budget is under 5 pounds a night, nowhere is great shakes. At least it was pretty secure and our washing came back nice and clean. But the staff were horrible, and it was right next to a bar which blared out Tom Jones, Guns'n'Roses and Bob Marley until 2am. Jody and I were literally shouting at each other across the room. Not good for an early night.

The four islands trip by longtail boat from Ao Nang was just amazing. The staff were professional and clearly explained each stop to us. We got to see the tiny islands with white sand beaches and sand banks. All the islands in this region are made up of beach, jungle and these huge limestone cliffs that fall into the sea (where there's no beach). Really never seen anything like it.

Think we've decided now to stick it here (not that it's all hard work) until Monday. All this swimming and sunbathing really takes it out of you so we need to conserve some energy for next week. Finally, I've decided not to take a diving course this time. Just not enough time to devote four days to, and not enough enthusiasm/passion on my part. Just getting the snorkel on is complicated enough for me. Is this a big mistake? PADI people, please comment...

For older entries, see the archives at the top right-hand side of this page.
Jody and Amy have finished their 10 month adventure around the world, that began Nov 2, 2004, and ended Sep 2, 2005. They're back home in London now, doing normal things, like going to work and drinking tap water. You can see a map of what was their planned route, but we didn't quite follow it.
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