A Travellerspoint blog

Malaysia

Checking in

sunny 34 °C

I've just returned to Sandakan from a few days in Kinabatanan National Park, where I saw Bornean pygmy elephants, proboscis monkeys, long-tailed macaques, a silver langur, a couple of orang utans, water monitors and a croc. Not to mention snake birds, brahminy kites, crested serpent eagles, Storm's stork, stork-billed kingfishers and great egrets.

I'm off in the next few minutes to spend the night on Turtle Island. Meanwhile here is a photo of a bat, taken yesterday at Gomantong cave.

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Posted by Wardsan 09:05 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Cameron Highlands

storm
View Asia 2008 on Wardsan's travel map.

I'm posting from Melaka, the old trading town that dominates the narrowest point of the Melaka Straits. The last couple of days have been hideously hot, but today promises showery relief. I feel rather bored of travelling today, but we're only here for a day so I'll head off shortly to a couple of museums instead of just sitting down and reading as I'd prefer.

We bussed yesterday from Kuala Lumpur, where we spent two nights. KL was hot and humid. It possesses fifty or more buildings above 25 storeys and more outlets of US chain stores than London does. So it's probably like Atlanta, except more muslim: most women cover their heads and quite a few are in burkas.

Before KL we spent a couple of nights in the Cameron Highlands, named after William Cameron, who discovered the plateau while surveying in the late nineteenth century. (While the coast of the peninsula has been well surveyed for centuries, most of the interior was only surveyed in the twentieth century.) It's 1,500 metres above sea level, and its specialities are tea and strawberries. This makes afternoon tea and scones a possibility, and they are on offer; I indulged gladly in a tea room that took me straight back to Yorkshire. A lot of other plants are grown under polythene; the area is an important source of agricultural produce for Malaysia.

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In the Highlands we visited a tea plantation run by the Boh company, which is still owned by a British family.

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In the lowlands the picking is now largely automated, but in the highlands the leaves are still picked by hand. The pickers come from Indonesia, Nepal and Bangladesh.

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The picked leaves are left to wither. Then they are rolled in order to twist and break and withered leaf and expose its juices. The third stage is 'fermentation' (actually oxidisation). Then the leaves are dried for twenty minutes at 100 degrees C. Finally they are sorted. The best grade is leaf. The intermediate grades are broken, and fannings. The lowest quality is tea dust; this goes into tea bags.

After visiting the tea plantation we went for a walk in the rain and in the jungle. It was warm work. After about an hour and a half we reached an area containing several buds and flowers of Rafflesia arnoldi, discovered by Raffles and Arnold in Sumatra in 1818. It is the largest flower in the world; this alien-spawn is a bud. The plant is parasitic.

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They flower for only a couple of weeks, unpredictably. For the first week they are bright red, as here, and they don't smell of much. Then they darken and begin to stink of rotten meat, which attracts the flies essential to the plant's reproduction.

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This is Hannah with a millipede. I managed to cope with it crawling on me for about two seconds.

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Then we visited a waterfall. The water was muddy and uninviting, but three hydrophiles entered. We had been told that there were no leeches, but two people got little leeches on their feet. This is John, our Gruppenfuehrer.

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Upon retracing our steps some of us had a go at blowpiping darts using the blowpipes that some of the local non-Malay bumiputra use to hunt. The blowpipes are about two metres long. It takes less blowing effort than you'd think.

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And then we bussed off to a butterfly farm. This was great fun. First we were shown a number of large insects and other arthropods. This is Sam with some scorpions.

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Hannah with a mantis.

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A Malaysian horned toad, and a couple of lizards.

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Then we wandered into the butterfly enclosure. It was well below the temperature at which the butterflies are active - cold, in fact - so they just sat torpidly in vast numbers. They only live for a few days, and quite a few had ceased to be.

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The majority were Rajah Brooke birdwings, Trogonoptera brookiana, named by Alfred Russel Wallace after the first White Rajah of Sarawak. These butterflies have red heads and brilliant tooth-shaped flashes of green on the back of their wings.

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This is a beautiful idea: Idea lynceus fumata.

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Posted by Wardsan 08:19 Archived in Malaysia Comments (3)

Straits Times

semi-overcast 31 °C
View Asia 2008 on Wardsan's travel map.

I’m posting hurriedly from George Town, the capital of Penang, named after the chap who lost America. Penang is both an island and a state on the west coast of the Malaysian peninsula at the north end of the Malacca Straits. It was given to the East India Company by the Sultan of Kedah in 1786. He thought that the EIC would provide military defence in return; when the EIC declined, the Sultan tried to grab it back, and the EIC ended up renting the island off him. It was the first British base in Southeast Asia.

I’m on an organised tour heading towards Singapore. Along with the five Brits are two South Africans, four Australians, two Canadians and a German. Here are the Solihull sisters.

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On the way we visited a floating market near Bangkok.

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Most boats are paddled, but some puke acrid fumes over everybody.

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Then we bussed to Kanchanaburi, where the famous bridge over the River Kwai was built. (Kwai rhymes with day and, like Avon, means river.)

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There is a good museum dedicated to the building of the Burma railway. 100,000 people died building it – 80,000 of them Asians. 42,000 out of 70,000 workers from Malaya died. They were Malay, Tamil, and Chinese. 40,000 out of 90,000 Burmese workers died. 6,904 Brits died (captured in Singapore), 2,802 Australians and 2,782 Dutch. The Japanese kept accurate records of the dead westerners but did not bother with the Asians; not one Asian was buried in a grave in which his identity could be discovered. One thing I did not know was that the Japanese High Command gave orders that all prisoners were to be executed in the event of Allied landings in the vicinity. This order was carried out in Borneo and the Philippines.

While waiting for a train at Nakhon Pathom we visited Phra Pathom Chedi, where Buddhism was introduced into Thailand from Sri Lanka. The stupa is 120 metres tall. Around the cloisters are statues of Buddha in seventy-something positions.

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Then we took an overnight train to Surat Thani and a ferry to the east-coast island of Ko Pha Ngan, home to the full moon party.

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Fortunately we missed the party by a couple of days. We stayed in a fairly quiet bay on the northeast side of the island, a lovely spot.

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We did very little for three days and four nights. At night if you walked through the waves the plankton phosphoresced. I did a lot of swimming; one thing they are not likely to mention in the brochures is the sea mites.

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One day four of us went diving off Sail Rock. The fishing boats had come inshore the night before and it was blowing. There was good visibility, plenty of fish and some barracudas. I was sick ten times, which took the gloss off it a bit. Puking while floating in the sea requires a technique I haven't learnt so I had to do it underwater. The fish loved it.

We’ve missed all the football. It’s on at 2.45 am Malaysian time.

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Posted by Wardsan 17:52 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

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