MALAYSIA & SINGAPORE
March 9 - April 2, 1997
Hello from Mel once again!!
We are now sitting on a beautiful beach in Thailand and Rob is enjoying the topless scenery, so I thought Iíd catch up. As usual, Rob will go into the details and Iíll give a quick update.
Singapore was a nice, clean city. As the budget accommodation turned out to be horrid (dirty with bed bugs, etc.), we treated ourselves to a real hotel with a TV and air-con. Aside from exploring the sights such as museums, shops, etc., we spent a rainy afternoon at the IMAX theater, then to the movies to see "Mars Attacks" (great movie) with a McDonalds hamburger to end our western day.
Malaysia was special for us as we met so many great travelers there. Most had come from the north and could offer their insights and advice. As a side note, I am writing this from China on the computer of Andy and Tina, a wonderful couple we met in Malaysia while they were on holiday. We are visiting their home in China, They are here on a 3 year contract. Also, thanks to Katie and Pat for your Vietnam Guidebook and all the hours of notes you poured into the margins. I canít emphasize enough how happy we were to meet such wonderful people.
In Malaysia we explored only four areas, I'll highlight each a bit:
Malacca (straights of Malacca) - Full of history and every bit of it meticulously detailed. The culture is diverse as there was Portuguese, Dutch, British, Japanese and now Malaysia rule coupled with a population of Chinese, Indian, European, etc. On top of all this, people worship many different ways - Muslims, Buddhist, Taoist, Deity Worship, Judaism and Christianity all co-exist. This made for a great mix of foods, cultural shows and shopping.
Kuala Lumpur - The two highlights for me were seeing "Hootie and the Blowfish" in concert and meeting Kwan and his family. The concert was excellent. We were on the floor with standing room only, or rather dancing room. Every type of culture, with traditional dress to jeans and T-shirt, surrounded us bee-bopping along. The usually shy Asians really let their hair down. Rob will talk of Kwan but Iíd like to say thank you again for your hospitality.
Taman Negara - This is the largest national park in Malaysia. The rainforest here is unique in that it has changed little in 130 million (!) years. To explore the jungle, we decided to do a 3-day hike into the heart of it. To begin the hike we took a boat ride up the river to a drop off point. We began the hike back down river from there. On the boat trip we met a great couple from New Jersey doing the same hike so we spent the next several days with them. The hike itself wasnít difficult but the 99% humidity and heat made it more challenging. We drank about 4 liters of water each per day!! Along the trail, aside from the lush vegetation, we saw beautiful butterflies and birds. We heard monkeys but never saw them. In one cave we saw thousands of bats. As the floor was covered in several inches of guano and associated insects we didnít explore too far into it. At the entrance there was elephant poop and tracks. I didnít know what was more exciting, the bats or signs of elephants. The park has a lot of wildlife, but you have to be very lucky to spot it. Although there are some tigers here, one local guide said he had seen 3 in over 10 years in the park.
Kota Bharu - We ended up in the best guesthouse weíve found in Asia. Our room was on the roof-top and one wall had large windows along the front. The roof was full of plants and flowers as the ownerís wife has a green thumb. We felt so at home in our private garden we ended up there 8 days! Kota Bharu is the last strong hold for many of the Malaysian cultural dances and games. The Muslim dominated government has banned most activities throughout the rest of Malaysia. They are slowly doing away with the few that are allowed here. We enjoyed the cultural shows and found it sad that whole generations of people will lose their ancestral heritage because of fear and ignorance. Rob learned the old game of top spinning and I played the large wooden drums. The food in Kota Bahru was wonderful. We found a great curry house and a night market where we could sample a lot of different dishes. Some of the things we just pointed to so I have no idea what we ate. I am not so sure I would want to know.
Taxi's in Asia
One little story that illustrates the bargaining hassles in Asia: we get a cab at the airport, our driver is Chinese and the total is supposed to be 3ORM. We start off, meter is running and I am watching. Content it is a fair meter I turn away. Meter is at 5RM. I check it several minutes later and it is at 5O RM. Here goes---
"Excuse me, I think the meter is not working."
Cabbieís hand to forehead and very dramatically, "Oh, Iís sooo unlucky today. Soooo unlucky to have you in my cab.í
ĎThe fare is supposed to be 3ORM all the way there. Please check the meter."
"Okay, okay. I go - only 7O RM for you."
"No, we pay the fair price."
Ohhhh, I soooo unlucky. Soooo unlucky today. I not eat tonight."
"We will call the police and let them deal with it."
The meter gets erased. "Okay, okay 5O RM."
Back and forth this goes for 20 minutes.
We paid 35RM.
We were definitely ripped off.
***This goes on all the time, even for an apple. You really have to have patience.
Our health is still good and weíve had only minor stomach trouble so we are lucky.
Take care of yourselves!
MALAYSIA and SINGAPORE ACCORDING TO ROB!!
We flew into Kuala Lumpur (KL), Malaysia from Manila in the early afternoon and made our way to the City. We stayed in Chinatown, cheap hotels, good eats, shopping, etc. We figured our strategic plan would be to head down to Singapore and explore our way up north into SE Asia and beyond. After a day of taking care of routine big city stuff (American Express office, mail, photo developing, etc.) in KL, we headed to Singapore by air-con bus, a great way to travel in Malaysia.
Singapore is a sparkling city in SE Asia though the Government is a bit authoritarian. It is what the rest of the region wants to be, DESPERATELY. Apparently it was part of Malaysia for a short period of time after the Brits left, but decided to go its own way. This makes sense as it by far more prosperous and mostly populated by ethnic Chinese rather than Malays. Although Manila was modern in some parts, Singapore was a breath of first world air after our initial foray to developing countries.
There are a lot of shopping opportunities in Singapore, but the prices are about the same as in the USA. A few expensive items (like watches) may be cheaper, but thatís about it. We splurged on the "New 7th Story Hotel" with a double room for about $4OUSD. The place is pretty good and just down the street from the Raffles Hotel. Price was becoming a factor fast, and shopping was a bust, so we saw most of the main sights and headed back to Malaysia. The one thing we really regret not doing in Singapore was breakfast with the Orangutans at the Zoo.
Apparently, the Orangutans are orphans that were taken from people in Borneo (Sabah and Sarawak) who tried to raise them as their children. As they got older they couldnít handle them any more and gave them to the zoo. There are two sittings for breakfast, and at one you actually eat with them at the table. You get cereal and they get fruit. Their manners are pretty good and they hold your hand while you eat or look through your hair for tasty morsels. We met a couple who did this and they said it was a scream.
Costs: About the same as in the States for everything. You could spend a lot of money here. There are lots of western food available. We even saw a Hooters Restaurant. We didnít make it to the Long Bar at Raffles for a Singapore Sling. Next time. We spent about $70+USD per day.
We bailed out and took a bus to Malacca March 14.
Malacca was great. We had the opportunity to learn about the history of the town and Malaysia from the days before European settlement to the present. I found it interesting that there was thriving trade between the Arab States, India, China, Indonesia, and the Philippines long before the Europeans made it over here. Of the Europeans, the Portuguese were the first, arriving around 1500. The Dutch booted them out about a hundred or so years later (Dutch East India Trading Co.), and then the British (who took over for the Dutch when Napoleon was giving them trouble), moved all trade to Singapore by giving incentives (an early enterprise zone?). This pretty much signaled the decline of Malacca as a trading port, with most trade moved to Singapore. Lots of old cargo is still found by fishermen and divers who snare onto old wrecks and debris left over from a 1000 + years of trading. W.W.II saw the arrival of the Japanese then the end of colonial rule when Malaysia was granted independence. After a few days, we headed up to KL.
KUALA LUMPUR (KL)
On arrival we found a place to stay and went out to check mail at AMEX and ate dinner at TGI Fridays!! I had a chance to go meet Kwan, one of the participants at the IAEA meeting in Manila, and visit with his family and at his hospital.
HP ALERT*** Technical info inserted
Kwan taught at U of Wisconsin and had just returned to his old job in Malaysia. I had the opportunity to visit his facility and attend a lecture on imaging. Once again, I gave my lecture on ThD. As usual, it was helpful as they had just bought a Harshaw/Bicron 4 element TLD reader and were getting it on line. We discussed some of the experiences I had with the system and I got to meet with the technicians.
Kwan discussed his desire to form an association of HPS in the region. This is one of the areas that I think HPS in the States can help with. Many of the professionals in this area have plenty of training, but little in the way of reference material. Perhaps a way could be found to transfer old textbooks and journals over to some of these countries. The expense of subscribing to journals and purchasing reference materials can be astronomical for people in this region.
***Back to your regular programming
From KL we decided to get remote and head for Taman Negara, peninsular Malaysiaís large national park. I will attempt to add a bit more REALITY to Melís account. The hiking was great as we spent three days and two nights out in the jungle. The trail was reasonable, but unfortunately there were no reliable maps telling you how far to go from sight to sight. Supposed 10 minute walks took about 2 hours. The first dayís hike took about 5 hours and left us at the "fishing lodge". The lodge was great and the 4 of us were the only ones there. We spent the later part of the afternoon lazing by the riverside and cooling off in the water. We used our binoculars to spot a few birds. The next morning we watched some flying squirrels play in the tree next to the hut before heading out for the Caves.
The trail was good, but it was very hot. Unfortunately, the air was not dry, and we spent the next day totally soaked in sweat and stinking. Every once in a while we could smell some kind of wild animal scent on the trail (above our own funk). We replenished our water and rinsed our clothes in the many streams we crossed. Fortunately, Joshua and Cathy (our travel companions) had a good water filter.
The trails had only a few hazards to speak of. The trees had huge roots that you had to climb over and there was the small problem of the leeches. We had been warned about the leeches and had bought some bug spray for our shoes. This worked if you didnít touch the ground with anything but your shoes. Each stop required a leech check. While resting or walking you could see the leeches stretching with all their might trying to catch hold of you. When you sat down they seemed to know you were there and would come inching along.
If one got on your shoe, you could watch them slow down as the poison got to them and they would drop off. A few would make it past the first barrier and you would find these when you took your shoes off. Your socks would be covered with them. We fared much better than most as there were relatively few (?) leeches and none seemed to live to make it to our skin. Many people we met said they had to get them off with matches and their legs would be covered with blood and their shoes filled with bloated leaches when they took them off. Fun stuff.
The bat cave was great, and we camped (after 10 hrs hiking in the jungle) in another cave that was about 50 meters in diameter. In the center was one giant stalagmite that stretched to the 30- meter ceiling. Elephant dung and footprints were everywhere and you could see where the elephants had climbed over the rocks (they must be remarkably agile) to get in. Exactly what they were doing in there I canít even guess. We had no visitors that night, and hiked the last 7km out the next day.
The park is a great place. There are a few upscale lodges and one restaurant in the park along with camping facilities. Across from the park is a small village with a couple of hostels and floating restaurants. The Restaurants take you back and forth across the river for free in hopes you will eat at their place. A great setup. The only animals we saw were a bunch of either pigs or Tapirs wandering along the fringe of the campground at about 3am. We heard a lot of things in the jungle, but didnít see much. All the obvious animals had been eaten by the local tribesman. We didnít see any of them either, but their lean-to shelters were all along the trails.
From here, it was up to Khota Bahru, then onto Thailand.
**Mel again-we also saw 2 different kinds of wild monkeys that make it their habit to come into the camp and steal food. Also a very testy hornbill bird, like a black and white touscan.**
Malaysia is a strange place. Of course, that phrase seems to sum up Asia so I will expand. The population is mostly Muslim (About 1000 AD some missionaries from Arabia arrived) with a few Chinese thrown in. Bangladeshis are imported for the hard labor. The Chinese are industrious and control wealth disproportionate to their population. For this reason, the Malays arenít entirely happy with them. Government positions are meted out depending on ethnic group and the Chinese are required to achieve higher scores than the Malays for entry to University and such. Probably for this reason, there are a lot of Malaysian Chinese students in American Universities. I even had a Chinese roommate from Malaysia at college.
There is a trend toward Muslim conservatism in the country and there seems to be calls for stamping out everything not invented on the Arabian peninsula. The society is still in transition
and this always leads to problems. Visitors, especially women should be conscious of dress codes in society. Men generally wear long pants and at least short sleeve shirts around town. Women should always wear long pants or preferably a skirt and cover their stomachs and shoulders. Bikinis will lead to a lot of stares at a crowded beaches.
The Government is much like others in the region in that they believe that spending money on glamour projects will increase their prestige in the world. In KL, the tallest buildings in the world are being finished off. The twin towers are visible from the many open sewers along major roads in the city. Donít drink the water.
That said, we really enjoyed our time in the country. We missed Borneo (States of Sabah and Sarawak), Penang, and the Pyrinthian Islands, places with a lot of history and unspoiled island scenery respectively. We heard a lot about these places from other travelers and would definitely give them a look next time around.
Costs: (2.5 Ringit (RM) = $ 1USD) Food generally costs about $4RM per meal in the markets, beer (thank God for the Chinese) about 2.5RM, and a room ran about $25RM. We spent about $3OUSD per day.