Wow, I have some catching up to do. It’s only been a few days since I was “island hopping”, but it feels like ages ago and I’ve done and seen so much. After we left Krabi, we took a full day bus ride (private mini-van) to the Thai/Malaysia border and crossed into new territory. I’d never been to Malaysia before, so it was exciting. The landscape is similar to Thailand (at least in the north), but Malaysia is a wealthier country, so the roads were better and everything felt and looked more modern. We arrived in Georgetown, Penang, where we would be spending the next two nights and after getting settled into our rooms (at the Minimal Good Hotel – which was actually quite nice) we headed out for some street food. Penang is an island off the west coast of northern Malaysia and it’s well-known for its delicious street food. I had a vegetable soup and it was quite good.
The next day we had free to explore, so Jo (a girl from England) and I hopped on a bus and headed out of town to see the Kek Lok Si Temple. It was enormous and rather touristy, but still impressive. We didn’t have too much time to walk around because we were supposed to meet the rest of the group at noon for a walking tour of the city, led by our tour guide Kris. Asia isn’t known for it’s timely public transpiration and we got back just in time to meet the group heading down the street. Kris took us around the Colonial part of Georgetown and told us some of it’s history, but after about an hour the rest of the group was getting hot and tired and bored. So they took a bus back and Kris, Jo, Sarah, and I continued on to Little India and Chinatown.
We all met again at 7 for dinner and headed to an Indian restaurant that I saw in my guidebook. When we got there though, it was all vegetarian! Good for me, but most everyone else picked up and went down the street to another Indian place where they could order meat. I was disappointed to see that they couldn’t eat vegetarian for just one night. Sarah, Jo, and Kris stayed with me, though.
The next day we had another long bus ride into the mountains of Malaysia – the Cameron Highland, known for it’s tea plantations and strawberry farms. As we made our way up several thousand feet (4800 I think) on a winding road, the air got cooler and cooler. It’s actually cold enough to wear jackets, scarves, hats, and Uggs (yes, one girl brought her Uggs to southeast Asia) at night. We arrived late again, so we only had a little time to look around town before dinner. We ate at another Indian restaurant (I have a new obsession with Indian food) and my meal was served on a banana leaf!
Finally (I’m almost caught up), today we went on a full day tour of trekking, tea plantations, a butterfly garden, and strawberry eating. We first stopped at a roadside village where the locals showed us how to use a blow dart gun that their ancestors used to use to hunt. We got to try and I hit the bulls eye dead-on 🙂 After, two local boys who spoke no English led us into the jungle in search of the Raffelsia – the largest flower in the world and it only grown in southeast Asia. We hiked a very sweaty and muddy 45 minutes into the lush rainforest before coming across it. The Raffelsia is a parasitic plant that has no roots, stems, or leaves. Some species can grow over 39 inches and weigh up to 22 pounds! The one we saw was about 2 feet across with red flesh and a lot flies buzzing around (apparently they smell like rotting meat, but I didn’t stick my nose in it). It was pretty cool and looked very out of place in the surrounding greenery.
After hiking back out, we stopped for lunch at a roadside Indian restaurant 🙂 Then we visited a 600 acre tea plantation. It was massive. Everywhere I looked there were tea plants. The plantation (called Boh) was started in the 1920’s by a Scottish family and it’s still run by the same family. They now live in Kuala Lumpur and visit the plantation via helicopter. It was beautiful, though – the steep hills and mountains were all planted with tea plants and the sun was glinting off the leaves. There are only five types of tea – black, green, white, oolong, and flavored – and they’re all made from the same leaf. It just depends on how the leaves are dried, fermented, and processed.
We had a tour around the factory and a cup of tea in the “tea-ria” before moving on to the butterfly gardens. It was actually really cool. Butterflies were everywhere and we could hold them in our hands. They had other critters as well, like snakes (one of which I had draped around my neck), giant beetles, leaf insects, stick insects, chameleons, leaf frogs (they actually look like leaves!), scorpions, etc… All from around Malaysia. On our way back to the hotel we stopped at an open market and bought some strawberries from the surrounding farms. I actually didn’t try any because they were expensive and I’m a little skeptical about the pesticide use…
Tomorrow we move on again. We leave early and head south to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. Looking forward to more adventures!