Saturday, February 14, 2009

Penang Hill, Cameron Highlands, and Singapore

Wow, so a lot has happened since our last blog. I don’t even know where to begin, but here I go.

So our last day in Penang was spent exploring the beautiful Botannical Gardens and riding a train hundreds of meters up what is known as Penang Hill.
Botannical Gardens was huge, and it wore us out a bit because it was quite hot. There were several monkeys around, and after seeing the German girl being attacked by one, Bryan has decided that he is “NOT” (according to Bryan) scared of the monkeys – meaning Bryan is terrified of them now. : ) Ha ha, I was his protector as we were walking by them on the path.
We then took a taxi to Penang Hill and rode up a very steep hill on a train. Thankfully, we made it to the top okay and took pictures of an amazing view of Penang. We decided to eat at one of the restaurants, but decided it was a bad idea after we saw a sign that said “warning – pit viper may fall on your head” or something to that effect. So we went to a different location and ate what is known as laksa. Laksa is described as a fish broth soup spiked with a sour tang from tamarind paste and a mint garnish – served with thick white noodles. Supposedly, it’s one of the best foods in Penang, but Bryan and I thought it tasted like feet. Maybe it depends on where you eat it, but it will be hard for us to try it again.
Baba Nonya food is a type of food found in Penang (Laksa is considered baba nonya) and is considered to be one of the bests according to some critics. Bryan and I decided to give it another chance, and so we went to a major hawker section in Penang and ordered another dish known as Char Kway Teow. Basically, this dish consists of  rice noodles,  veggies, shrimp, dark soy sauce, and more. Bryan and I also thought this dish tasted like feet, so we gave up and ate chinese food instead. We probably would have tried more but we had no idea what we were ordering. Oh well.
The next morning we woke up at 5:45 am and  went on a mini van to Cameron Highlands. Cameron Highlands is 1, 829 meters above sea level, so you can imagine how happy we were going to a place where Bryan isn’t sweating 24 hours a day. It was so much cooler than Penang.
Our first stop before we arrived to Cameron Highlands was a place that had strawberry coffee and strawberry milk tea. The strawberry milk tea was the best thing I’ve ever had. I was going to buy some, but decided that this tea would be everywhere in the Highlands. Turned out, that cute little shop 40 minutes away from Cameron Highlands was the only place that had it. : (
We were riding with 2 ladies from Spain, one lady from Italy, and a couple from Australia. For those of you who don’t know, Bryan speaks pretty good Spanish, but I had no idea he was so good at making conversation. The two ladies from Spain were happy to speak to someone in their native language. They even complimented him on his Spanish accent.
Once we arrived to the Highlands, our driver took us to a couple hostels and allowed us to decide whether or not we wanted to stay there. If we didn’t care for it, he would take us to another. Bryan and I already knew which hostel we wanted to stay at, so our first stop was for the two ladies from spain. However, they decided it was too expensive and jumped back in the van. The next stop was the hostel we wanted known as Twin Pines. The Australians wanted to stay at a different hostel, but quickly changed their minds after they found out that the rooms were only 20 ringgets per night (about $6.50). The ceiling was slanted, but I didn’t care once I layed on the bed. It was very comfy. All of the people in our van ended up staying at this hostel.
We then ate breakfast, took a shower, and then explored the town. It was quite small but very nice.  Cameron Highlands consists of mainly Muslim people with some Hindus. At the time, I was wearing my pink t-shirt that I thought was modest, but then I quickly realized it was not quite appropriate after I received a couple glares from the people. So, I ducked into a clothing boutique and found the biggest shirt EVER. It was a little stylish, but it was mostly just 3 times too big for me, but hey, I didn’t receive any more glares afterwards and I felt much more comfortable.
Bryan and I were tired from staying up too late and getting up early, so we decided to go back to our hostel after eating Indian food. We went back and found the fourth season of Lost part one – right where we left off a year ago. Basically, we sat and watched Lost the rest of the day – it was just what we needed.
The following morning we barely caught the 10:30 am bus. There is only one bus in town (aside from the private buses) which leaves every two hours. We sat in front of a couple from England and quickly became friends. Our first destination for the day was BOH tea plantation. It was fun going to a tea plantation with a couple of Brits because they had never seen one before. Once we arrived by bus, we had to walk up a winding road which took about a half hour. The view of the plants and hills were quite beautiful and I took about a million pictures (as always). Once we made it, we all enjoyed a couple pots of tea and talked for a good hour or so. Jez and Faye have been one of my favorite couples so far. They have actually been traveling for 16 months and will probably go home in a couple of months – or at least until their money runs out.
We were walking around, reading all about the process of making tea before one of the workers started lecturing us about good tea. He told Faye and Jez that English tea is bad and why. I told him that Bryan and I often buy tea bags because they are cheaper, and he about flipped out. He said, “Promise me you’ll always buy loose leaf tea.” Bryan described him as one of those wine connossouirs from Napa Valley who consistently tell you why their wine is better. It was really funny.
We then decided to hike up the tea plants thinking it would be a shorter route back to the main road. I can now say that I’ve hiked through tea plantations in Malaysia. : ) It was the first experience for all of us. It was a bit steep towards the end, but the plants were so old it was okay to hang on to them for support. We thought we had made it to the road, but it turned out it was a private home. There was a huge dog growling at us from a far. Luckily, he was chained to a tree. The man who lived there quickly pointed us the right way, and once we arrived to the gate we saw a sign that said “Beware of dog.” Ha ha, that was also really funny.
Our next stop was the honey bee farm, which was not all that exciting. We were basically surrouned by thousands of bees doing their thing. We left and went to the butterfly farm.
The butterfly farm was actually very cool. Butterflys, insects, and reptiles were everywhere and we were able to hold many of them. It was very educational, but also very disappointing to find out that the butterflys only live for a week once they are taken out of the jungle by the Malaysians. Also, many of the butteflys had lost part of their wings and were acccidentally being stepped on by the tourists. : ( Aside from that it was a great place to take pictures of very unique creatures.
We started walking towards the strawberry farm until we realized the map did not accurately describe distance, and so we had no idea how far it was. We decided to skip the farm and go back to town. The taxi was more expensive then we thought and ended up waving at a private bus for a ride. We didn’t know it was a private bus, but we ended up only paying about 1ringget each for the ride. We were all very happy. 
We ended up going out to dinner with Faye and Jez, and had a lovely evening talking about traveling, politics, and religion. Faye and I got along very well. Afterwards, we ended up saying our goodbyes as they were headed to Kuala Lumpur the next morning. Bryan and I went to bed early because we were going jungle trekking the next morning.
We chose Adventure two which is a full day tour. Our guide picked us up around 8:30 am and our group consisted of an elderly lady from Germany, a young couple from Italy, and an older couple from England. Little did Bryan and I know, but our first stop was BOH tea plantation. Needless to say, I didn’t take very many pictures. We learned more about the plants from our guide and went on an actual tour, so I guess it was worth a second trip.
Our guide quickly described the rest of the day, and told us we would be trekking for four hours. We made it to the location (about an hour away) and started the trail. About a half hour in, the elderly lady from Germany started talking to our Malaysian guide about how she didn’t know it was going to be this difficult and that she was not informed it was four hours. She told him that if it was going to be four hours the trekking should start at 6am and not 10am and that his company is going to be in trouble one of these days for taking people out in the heat. The Malaysian guide was quite offended by her words and was angry at her from then on. We had no idea what to do because we understood both situations. We were all very concerned for her and didn’t think it was a good idea for her to come along either. However, she kept going. I consistently asked her how she was doing and told her to let us know anytime she needed to take a break.
The trail was filled with mud and it was hot since we we had come down several meters from the Highlands, but it was so much fun. I loved every minute of it, aside from worrying about the German lady.
We had the opportunity to drink Bamboo water (apparently illegal to do in the states and Europe) which tasted almost like lemon water. It was very refreshing.
We eventually made it to a bridge made out of bamboo. : ) It you are afraid of heights, you would have not enjoyed this part of the journey. Unfortunatley, this is where the elderly lady quit. She basically said there’s no way she will continue. We didn’t know what to do because none of us wanted to leave her behind, but she was not about to continue. Once we made it across, our guide found out she was not coming. He ended up staying behind with her and left us with his partner from the Aborigine village who didn’t speak a lick of English. It became quite the adventure from then on.
Our next stop was a waterfall. Not the most impressive waterfall ever, but it was still a highlight of the journey. There were bees everywhere, and this is where I was stung by a bee by a waterfall in the jungles of Malaysia (I like saying that). ; ) We ended up swimming in the blistering cold water, but it was rather refreshing.This is where our guide gave us some kind of fruit to eat from the jungle, but we had no idea what is was. It was sour but good.
We then hiked up the steepest part of the journey, and eventually (after almost sliding off the slanted pathway a couple of times) made it to the biggest flower in the world – the Rafflesia. It was very impressive. We took several pictures before heading back to the village.
It took about two hours to get back to the Aborigine village. This is where indigenous people live and work. It was quite interesting to see how they live. They hunt food in the jungle with a tool known as the blow pipe. Basically, they make what looks like a dart with poison at the end and shoot it out of the blow pipe. The animal will die within 10 minutes – and this is what they eat. We all had the opportunity to blow on the pipe, aiming towards a dart board that the people made.
We made our way back to town, but ended up going to the strawberry farm and a different butterfly observation before going back to our hostel.
It was quite the day, and we were very tired. The following morning we headed on a bus to Kuala Lumpur and then took a train to Singapore.
The train was actually decent. We watched Looney Tunes and “Fun with Dick and Jane” a couple times throughout our seven hour journey.
Singapore is a lovely and expensive city. Supposedly, Singapore is one of the cleanest and safests cities in the world, and I am pretty sure that is true. There are fines for everything here, but the crime rate is low, so I guess the fines work.
The architecture is very unique and the people have been so helpful and kind. It is very easy to get around either by bus, taxi, or the underground subway. It is a lot like NYC but better and cleaner.
Yesterday, we explored the shopping district (way too expensive), ate good food, and watched a couple movies at the theatre. It was a great day.
Today, we went to the water park. Bryan told several people that this waterpark was one the largest waterparks in the world, turned out it is one of the smallest. : ) However, it was a lot of fun. We had to leave early because of thunder and lightning, but we still had a good couple hours to play around in the water.
Tomorrow, we are flying to Bali, Indonesia. I am excited.
Miss you all,

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