Sunday, December 18, 2016

Malaysia Adventures---Winter 2008

It was a short flight on Asia Air to Penang, Malaysia at a cost of $80 on February 5th.  From there I took a taxi to Georgetown and after checking out about 10 hotels, I ended up at the Blue Diamond Hotel for 50 Ringgits--$12.  I turned out to be a real dump--the noise and music from the bar downstairs went on until 2 am, the sheets were grey and threadbare, and the towels were more like dishrags.  My priority for the next day was to relocate to another hotel.

I found the Banana Guesthouse that was very clean, A/C, hot showers, and TV for 55 Ringgits--$14.  I then walked to Chinatown where I visited the Yap Temple.  This serves the Yap Clan, built in 1924, and is dedicated to the god of prosperity.

Along the way, I saw that most of the shopkeepers were burning lucky money in front of their shops as the Chinese New Year approached.

A bit further I came to Little India where I bought a Bollywood DVD and then came to the Fort and the Lighthouse.  I climbed the lighthouse and 4 Malay girls had me pose with them as they took several pictures. By now I must be in dozens of home pictures all around SE Asia.

February 7th was the beginning of the Chinese New Year--Gung Hay Fat Choi--and most of the shops were closed, but large groups of celebrators were gathering in a nearby park for the New Year celebrations and the Tien Kong Than Temple.  The place was filled with incense smoke, sound of drums and fireworks, especially near the temples.  Lots of vendors there were selling more incense, amulets, lucky money and other New Year trinkets.

Serpentine dragons with their bands were weaving their way through the crowds and into some of the businesses that were still open.  Up on the stage, there were many well dressed speakers before groups of dancers, singers, choruses, and musicians performed and ended with a fashion show.  

As the show ended, the sky lit up with several rounds of fireworks in a background of beating drums.

On the 9th, using the Hop on-Hop-off the tour bus, I visited the KOMTAR building, the highest at 65 floors in Penang and the 6th tallest building in Malaysia.  I went to the viewing tower on the 60th floor and took pictures of the city spread out below. 

Other sights were the Penang Hill reached by a funicular train, Penang Khoo Kongsi, and the Snake Temple--wriggly vipers everywhere, Hindu and Muslim religious sites.  I took a short bus ride out to the Tanjung Bungah beach and resort area for the afternoon.

Penang Khoo Konsi Temple

Snake Temple

My Snake Temple Buddies.

Hindu Temple


My Hostel in Georgetown

Not my Hotel

My normal trip to replenish my local cash with an ATM machine did not turn out well on February 10th because the machine swallowed by ATM card.  It was Sunday so I would have to wait until the following day to see if I could retrieve my ATM card.

WARNING:  If you lose your ATM card, all is not lost because you can still get cash advances by using your credit cards, but at a very high fee.

Early Monday morning, I was at the Bank of Islam to recover my card.  The bank opened at 9:30am, but a bank employee showed up at 8:50am and it turned out that he was responsible for maintain the ATM machine.  Soon I was on my way with my ATM card and needed local Ringgits.

On the 12th I went to the bus station for my ride to the Cameron Highlands.  After walking by scores of beautiful sleek, clean buses I came to the one I was riding.  My bus was old, dirty, and worn out.  As we headed up the windy steep road at an elevation of 5,000 feet with occasional washouts, we were passed by almost all of the buses.  What an agonizing ride.  The scenery up to the Cameron Highlands was filled with hills covered with tea plants and hydroponic sheds of vegetable plants.  After looking at a few hotels, I settled on the Cameronian Hotel at 45 Ringgit--$12 per night.

I took a half day tour included visits to a Buddhist monastery, bee farm, butterfly farm, rose garden, and BOH tea plantations.

On the 14th, I took a hiking trail that took me through the BOH tea plantations.

I passed the Robinson waterfalls and met up with a fellow from Kuala Lumpur who was also on this hiking trail.  

We joined up and continued through the expansive black tea plantation until we came to a tea house where we stopped for some tea and goodies.  From there we headed to the orchid farm below that a friend of his owned.  His friend treated us to lunch and some oranges to take with me.  My hiking buddy stayed with his friend and I returned to my hotel.  For dinner I had ostrich along with crisp vegetables.

I wanted to avoid the bus disaster I experienced las time so I got a Super VIP bus for my ride to Kuala Lumpur on the 15th.  Unfortunately it was Super VIP in name only.  It looked like a normal bus and once we started, we quickly felt that the A/C did not work and many of the windows did not open.  Added to that, we had to stop twice for repairs which got us into Kuala Lumpur very late.

I checked out several of the Lonely Planet listed budget hotels and most were dumps and some were torn down or closed.  I finally settled on the Bollywood Hotel which was upstairs from their restaurant.  My room had A/C, hot shower, a TV with CNN, small refrigerator, but mouse crap in one of the drawers. In the morning it was worse, as I headed down the stairs to the kitchen and front door, I saw a fat rat racing through the kitchen.  Same thing happened when I returned that afternoon---maybe the same rat ran by the hallway to my room.

I visited some of the major attractions of Kuala Lumpur beginning with the Petronas Twin Towers.  

I enjoyed riding the light rails and monorail to the various KL neighborhoods including stops in Chinatown, Petaling Street, and Central Market.

While I was in Kuala Lumpur, I watched this bike race through downtown and a few days later they were continuing the race in Langkawai.

I took the night bus to Kuala Perlis at a cost of 33 R--$8--and arrived at 4:30am on the 18th at the bus station.  From there I walked to the ferry terminal where I got a 6:30am ferry ticket(cost $4) to Langkawi.  I made my way to the Pantai Cenang beach area and checked into the Shirin Guesthouse at 45 R--$11 per night.

The Shirin Guesthouse was owned by a Japanese woman and an Iranian man who use to be an Iran Air Force Colonel during the Shah's regime.  It turned out that the man had gone to Cal Tech and when I asked him if he knew my cousin, Ted, who had gone there, he said Ted was in the class just behind him.  What a coincidence.  My neighbor back home was an Iranian who fled Iran since he was a Baha'i so I asked him if he knew Max, and he did because Max had lots of his goods shipped for the Shah in the Colonel's aircrafts for the Shah.  This was an unbelievable coincidence.

On February 19th, I headed to the beach for some relaxing, and although I was in the shade, I got a burning sunburn.  OUCH!  Near the beach, I spotted a bulletin board with an advertisement for crew members to sail up to Phuket, Thailand in a 32 foot yacht.  I sent off an email indicating my interest, but he had already gotten his crew and was leaving shortly.  Too bad.

I took a three island hop on the 20th.

 The following day, I rented a motor bike and drove around the island.  I checked the ferry schedules during my travels as well as riding to the rain forest canopy where they  had a cable car that traveled over and through the canopy.  I also came across the continuing bike race I first saw in Kuala Lumpur.

I headed back to Thailand  on February 25th by catching a cab, ferry, and then bus back at Kuala Peris where I took a bus to the Pandang Besar, Malaysia border town.  I walked through the border between Malaysia and Thailand at the Padang Besar Border crossing with a Malaysian from the bus who helped me navigate my way through the Malaysian and Thai Immigration offices.  As we got closer to the border, he pointed out all of the staging places for illegal contraband was being loaded up for the border crossing to the north.  He also pointed out where money changers and other smugglers were working.  He cautioned me that many of these moneychangers were dealing with counterfeit bills and to avoid them. 

When I got to the Thai immigration official he looked over my passport and asked me just one question---"Are you voting for Obama?" and thumbs up from him when I said yes.  An uplifting way to end my Malaysian adventures.

Cost of Trip
The total Malaysia trip cost was $1,117 for a daily cost of $39. The travel and tour costs were $150 with the  flight from Bangkok to Penang cost of $78,  lodging costs were $218 daily average of $11 per night, and the food cost were $405  or $19 per day.

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