Travelogue: Kuala Lumpur, Taman Negara, the Cameron Highlands (Malaysia)

Because access to travel is one of the great plusses about living in HK, I am going to attempt at another “regular” column called Travelogue, to record some of the thoughts and experiences I have had while travelling. 

Easter is a great time to take off in Hong Kong since we generally always have a 4–day weekend (Friday off for Good Friday, and the Monday after Easter Sunday off).  Last year my sister visited and we went to Guilin/Yangshuo.  This year, I hooked up with newly expatriated friends from college in Kuala Lumpur, where both happened to be on business (they live together in Singapore). 

KL: I was pleasantly surprised by the city.  Though I didn’t spend that much time there, I was happy with the monorail and had a good long walk through Chinatown, Independence Square, Little India, and past the in-town rainforest Bukit Bintang, back towards the City Center, near the city’s iconic Petronas Towers, where Phil had hotel stay.

It wasn’t unbearably hot for late April and I found as long as I took a break at 1pm, I was able to deal with the heat and humidity, particularly in the shade.  I loved the strong Muslim influence on architecture (the former Petronas headquarters was in an incredibly peaceful looking building, covered in gorgeous Islamic detail), while sensing a great deal of diversity between the Chinese, Malays, and Indians. 

Of course – the highlight would be the food.  I enjoyed many of my favorite Malaysian dishes, and unfortunately discovered a bad allergic reaction to the delicious soursop.

Taman Negara: Taman Negara is Malaysia’s most visited National Park due to its proximity to the capital.  We rented a car for 170 MYR a day and drove nearly 6 hours out to the less frequented Northern entrance at Kuala Koh.  Here there was but one resort, so choices were limited, but we found ample things to do — self-guided trail hikes in rather dense forest, tubing down the river, a guided night walk, and a dizzying canopy walk.  We didn’t see much for animals, unfortunately (not even birds), in spite of plenty of evidence of their presence — leeches galore and lots of chirping and other sounds.

Our leech experience was eye opening.  We all had visions of fat slugs when in reality they are tiny worm-like creatures that do this twisty kind of movement standing on one end, likened to an alien slinkie, trying to bite at whatever brushes past it.  They do look creepy and once they’ve had a good feed, where anticoagulants prevent your blood from clotting, leaving a messy red mess for about 30 minutes, they actually can resemble the nasty fat slug.

Phil went from 5 bites on our first outing, to 2, to none, so I’m going to take that as improvement.  Though our 95 RMY a night A/C chalet was luxury jungle living, we decided to hit the road and see what else was in store after 2D/1N in the jungle, especially since there was no rafflesia in bloom this time. Boo 😦

Cameron Highlands.  We drove around 4 hours to find ourselves in the Cameron Highlands, famous for tea and agrotourism.  The scenery was outstanding, and the mountain tea plantations were one of a kind.  I’d seen plateaued rice fields in Guangxi, and saw similar terraced farms in pictures of Sapa, just north of Hanoi, but these tea plants were something else. 

We enjoyed a “traditional English breakfast” (more like a sub-par English breakfast) at what appeared to be a very misplaced English cottage, surrounded by an orchid-filled garden, and found a strawberry farm run by a pair of Bangladeshis where we picked a kilo and a half of strawberries (which we subsequently ate up during our drive down the highlands).

The weather up there was cool and crisp, and nothing at all like the stickier places we’d been just 24 hours before.  It was an amazing change of pace, and makes one really reconsider moving permanently to Southeast Asia where a respite from the heat was just a matter of hours’ driving away.

The drive back to KL wasn’t bad, though definitely took longer than the 2.5 hours we read.  Overall, driving in Malaysia is not bad.

The downer — I missed my flight by a matter of minutes next day and had to pay up the wazoo to buy a brand new ticket (the price difference between the next HK flight and the one I’d bought was more expensive!) to Shenzhen, where I was only too anxious to come home.  I must say, this trip had better be a real lesson learner — and I vow to tack on an additional 30 minutes to whatever time I plan to leave for airports from now on! (I swear, I left when everyone recommended — but the airports of KL are just too darn far!)

So the down and dirty on this itty bit of Malaysia:

Pros: renting a car and driving on your own gives you flexibility and is surprisingly enjoyable and easy (esp when you have an awesome navigator like Scilla!)

Cons: AirAsia can kiss my big toe and transport between the airports and KL is too darn slow and long.

Con to Pro: leeches can be conquered!

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