Wander&Lust’s e-books – Malaysia

Dear readers and followers,

As many of you may know, tomorrow is World Book and Copyright Day, a date chosen by the UNESCO to celebrate books and authors, find out more on https://www.un.org/en/events/bookday/. To celebrate WBD, we have decided to share with you a surprise: We have put together the articles about Malaysia to give you a handy guide for your trip to this beautiful country. With a few changes from the original posts, more photos and less links, this e-book will give you tips and personal insight on how to spend two weeks in Malaysia. Just click on the image to download the e-book, we hope you enjoy it!

Wander and Lust in Malaysia

Happy travels and stay tuned,

Mr Wander & Ms Lust

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Malaysia – What to pack

Dear travellers,

How many times we have heard that, when packing for holidays, we should do a pile with all the clothes we want to bring and one with the money we think we will need, and then we should take half the clothes and double the money? Well, it is usually true, without piling the money, that is not handy at all. For most of our holidays in 2017 we have spent a lot more than our budget and we haven’t packed too wisely, although our trip to Malaysia was not too badly planned. To almost complete our series about Malaysia, we are sharing our tips in a nutshell. Mr Wander has already talked about the itinerary here, and I will tell you what to bring and what not to bring on your trip, with examples of our mistakes. I am talking about two full weeks as we did.

Shorts

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At least a pair, you will need them for the boat tours. If you like to wear them when visiting, pack two to three pairs, but remember that women will need them to cover their knees in some  places like the Batu Caves. Capris are also fine, but choose them wisely, I bought a pair (see them in the following picture) that were just in between sizes for me and they were not too comfortable for some activities as they ended up being too tight on the knees when sitting.

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Trousers

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A few pairs of trekking trousers, joggers, or tracksuit bottoms, as to hike in the rainforest you will need long trousers. I was extremely comfortable with my old tracksuit bottoms as I prefer to carry my stuff in a bag and I don’t mind not having pockets too much; Mr Wander, on the other hand, prefers trek stretch trousers as they have plenty of pockets. Keeping in mind that it is muddy in many places and that not every accommodation offers a laundry service, you will need two (if you also use shorts) or three pairs (if you only use long trousers for your excursions) in order to have time to wash them if you get covered in mud as we did in the Mossy Forest.

Tops

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It is hot and you won’t be able to reuse the ones you used in your trekking trips. Pack eight or ten but be prepared to have to wash a few, I prefer that to over-packing. Choose white clothes when possible, mine are mostly purple, black, and blue, but it is better to have light coloured clothes in order not to attract insects, you don’t want them to think you are a flower!

Smart-casual attire

I am always for packing a nicer shirt and a comfortable skirt that I know I can use a few times just to go around in the city. The classic little black dress will always come in handy, I have a stretchy LBD that doesn’t need ironing and is pretty plain and can work during the day or for a nice night out. I had a jumpsuit and I also bought one there but, if you want to wear it to travel, remember that it is comfortable but you need to undress completely if you need to use the ladies’ room, and that may not be handy when carrying a few layers.

Underwear and socks

Pack many pairs, one per each day at least, and plan on having to wash them anyway as you may end up so soaked in mud that your underwear is also muddy! If you use your underwear depending on what clothes you are wearing (I couldn’t see myself with a black bra showing from a white top for example), pack accordingly. I took with me three white and three black bras to have time to wash them after hiking and to swap them without stressing my little colour-obsessed brain!

Jackets

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Plan for all kinds of weather but without overdoing it. You will need a warm jumper, hoodie, or cardigan for the means of transport and for the Cameron Highlands, and a rain jacket. I have a trench coat that looks like the one Inspector Gadget uses and I decided not to buy a new item; all in all, I am happy with the choice, it is not lightweight or easy to pack as a rain jacket but it is long and covers most of my thighs if worn normally or my backpack and my bust if worn as a cape (this was my favourite way of using it as I wouldn’t sweat and still be protected). We carried an umbrella just in case as we could also use it to protect us from the sun as well but I don’t think we used it at all.

Swimming suits and accessories

Depending on how many days at the beach you have and on accommodations with swimming pools, I would say have at least two so you can have one drying while you use the other one. We took goggles as we knew we had a swimming pool and also we wanted to make sure we could have a look underwater if needed, they are pretty small and light, and won’t affect your luggage allowance. Here is a perfect example of Mr Wander posing with his going-to-the-beach outfit:

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Scarves and hats

Yes to both as the scarf can cover your shoulders when visiting a place of worship or just when getting sunburned outside or too cold in public transport. The hat, obviously, is great while exploring as even in the forest the sun filters through the branches. Choose one with a wide brim to protect your neck as well.

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Bags

Have a small backpack to carry your bottle of water, your sunscreen, and your insect repellent as you need to have those always with you. I had a smart handbag as well for the days out in the city as this one was light and easy to flatten, but I realised it was not the best quality of eco-leather as I ended up with brown marks around my shoulders; a tote bag is your best choice.

Now some serious piece of advice on bags: Pack wisely your daily bag, I am rubbish at that, I always carry a 50000 mAh power bank as if I were to take days of time lapse videos, a camera, my phone, the water and all the usual things I would have in my handbag at home. As a result, I have felt overwhelmed a few times as the heat was too much when combined with the weight of my backpack. Carry a bottle of water; a small power bank if you use your phone for pictures, the single charge ones are pretty light, although you will probably have enough with a full charge for most days; tissues and wet wipes or hand sanitiser as, I’ll say it once again, you will end up covered in mud more than you would wish.

Shoes

Your trekking shoes will be your best friends, as they usually are when exploring. Do not buy new ones for your trip or, if you do, use them a few times before travelling, walk in them for a few hours in order for your feet to get used to them and for the shoes to adapt to your feet, you don’t want blisters when climbing to reach the Mossy Forest. Trainers are also a good idea as most routes are not as hard as to require hiking shoes, but again use old trainers that you don’t mind damaging, a couple in our Mossy Forest tour were wearing brand new tote trainers and we saw the horror in their eyes when they saw the mud in front of us.

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Flip-flops are another unmissable item; as I don’t like walking bare feet but most accommodations ask you to take your shoes off, I had a pair to use just indoors and one for going out. I also had a pair of sandals (see them in the picture above with one of my jumpsuits) to go with my smart-casual outfit but you can definitely use your flip-flops and pack one pair of shoes less. If you decide to bring this extra pair, try not to go for ballerinas or completely flat shoes as your back should always have the support of a 3-4 cm heel, especially when walking a lot.

Towels

One microfibre bath towel will take up little space and will save you in some cases, they are very light as well. We also brought a beach towel although our last accommodation provided towels for the beach and the swimming pool; it is handy to have one especially for the boat tour. Remember to pack your microfibre towel or a hand towel in your hand luggage as most airports have showers and you can refresh yourself if you have a long stopover.

Toiletries

Don’t overdo it, I am guilty of that but I am improving and I took almost just what was needed this time. Most accommodations offer basic toiletries, so just pack a travel size shower gel and shampoo for the airport and emergencies, toothpaste and toothbrush, deodorant and perfume although you can skip this one as it is not the best idea in the forest, sweet smells attract insects and you don’t want it to conflict with the insect repellent anyway. I always pack a few emergency things such as plasters, disinfectant, manicure set, and sewing kit. If you wear make-up, make sure it is long lasting and with sun protection factor as the sweat will try its resistance. I don’t use wipes anymore for removing my make-up as they are hard on your skin and create too much waste, but I have carried them on this trip as I had a few packs I bought before switching; your best choice is some detergent and cotton pads.

Sunscreen and insect repellent

It doesn’t matter the colour of your skin, wear sunscreen every day, not just on holidays, as melanoma is one of the most common cancers. SPF between 15 and 30 is perfect and will provide your with the best possible protection; 50 SPF makes no real difference according to this article. We usually buy the spray bottles as they are a lot handier and can be easily applied in a moment as the product is never too thick and can be spread evenly.

The insect repellent can be strong or extra strong, you don’t have too many problems in the areas we have visited. Doctors still advise to apply sunscreen first and insect repellent after in order not to reduce the effects of the latter, but remember that this will lower the efficacy of the sun protection. The combo products with both, apparently, are not as effective as the two separate products.

More details: We use cruelty free toiletries and make-up and you can find many brands that suit your needs, but most of our toiletries are Superdrug own brand and we were quite happy even with their insect repellent. Talking about make-up, most of my products are produced by The Green People and I am quite happy with the foundation, the powder, and the blush as they let my skin breath, don’t contain talc and SLS, and the first two have SPF 15; their mascara is not my favourite as it smudges a bit but I can’t offer a good alternative at the moment; my eyeliner and eye pencil are not cruelty free as I bought them over two years ago, they last very long, and I don’t want to throw them away and add to waste, I will keep you posted as soon as I finish them, almost there now.

Detergent

I have decided to carry a travel size toiletry bottle filled with clothes detergent and I suggest you do the same.

Tissues and wet wipes

Carry a few packs of tissues for your bags although you will have tissue boxes in the rooms, and a travel size hand sanitiser if possible, or wet wipes if not, as you may often find basins near the temples but it is for worshippers and you shouldn’t use them to refresh yourself after a hike.

Small appliances

I usually don’t go out without drying my hair even when it is hot as it only takes me 2 minutes. I brought a hair dryer with me and my hair straightener, both travel size, and I suggest you do the same as most budget accommodations don’t include these kinds of appliances.

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We didn’t carry tablets or any other devices apart from our phones and our cameras but we carried a small extension lead as sometimes accommodations have few sockets. Malaysia have the same sockets as the UK, so no need for adaptors but you should consider carrying one if your appliances come from different countries.

It may sound like we had too much, but we each had a big backpack that weighted about 11 kg and a smaller one as hand luggage of about 7 kg, which were pretty easy to carry up and down the stairs when no lift was available. Our biggest worry was space but our 60 l bags were enough. My small backpack can be attached to the front of the big one but I found it too complicated to carry as I can’t keep balance, I preferred to carry the small one in front instead.

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One last suggestion, especially if your blood type is 0, which makes you vulnerable to insect bites more than anyone else, try to avoid sugary drinks (I know you can’t resist teh tarik but try to avoid it at least when hiking) and drink black tea and coffee without sugar as that makes your blood bitter and insects don’t like that!

That’s all for now, stay tuned,

Ms Lust

Malaysia – Two-week itinerary

Dear readers,

As you may have seen already, we spent two weeks over Christmas and New Year’s travelling around Malaysia. We have already published individual posts about the places we visited, and now we’ve decided to add some practical tips we picked up from our trip. One thing that’s always difficult to decide on when planning a trip like this is the itinerary, not only where to go but also the order in which to see places and how to get between them. So to help out with this matter, here are my suggestions for a two-week break in Malaysia.

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Malaysia is split into two areas, the Malaysian Peninsula and Malaysian Borneo. With two weeks it is only really possible to explore one of these areas, so you will need to choose. We chose to dedicate our time to the peninsula, saving Borneo for another visit. It is also important to consider the climate for the time of year that you are planning to go, Malaysia has a more tropical than seasonal climate, but there are wet and dry seasons which are not always at the same time in all parts of the country. We visited during the wet season, at a time when it is usually worse conditions on the east coast rather than the west. As a result we focussed our plans on the western side of the peninsula, again saving the places we would like to see along the east coast for a future visit.

So, this itinerary is aimed at trips to the Malaysian Peninsula, focussing on the west coast. I will however provide some advice for how to modify it for the east coast instead.

Days 1 – 4: Kuala Lumpur

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Unless you are entering Malaysia from Thailand or Indonesia, your point of entry is almost certainly going to be Kuala Lumpur. Take a few days to see what this eclectic city has to offer, and to introduce yourself to Malaysia and its culture. Use one of these days to travel to the Batu Caves and experience this unique place of worship, while the rest of your time should be spent exploring the city itself. The Petronas Towers, KL Tower and Eco Park, the Masjid Jamek and Sultan Abdul Samad building, and the Chinese Quarter are the main sights that should be on your list, with many more that can be added on. Check our post about Kuala Lumpur here for a more detailed tour of the city.

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There is plenty of accommodation available to suit all budgets, we stayed at the Orange Pekoe Guest House in Bukit Bintang and can’t recommend it highly enough if you’re looking for accommodation nearer the budget end of the scale. For food, you can’t beat the local vendors that have set up shop in many of the forecourts and shopping centres throughout the city. Jalan Alor is a popular place for eating and for good reason, the wide range of dishes on offer make it the perfect place to hone your tastebuds and find your favourite Malaysian foods.

Days 5 – 7: Cameron Highlands

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After you’ve acclimatised and seen the best of Kuala Lumpur, it’s time to head out of the city and start exploring the rest of the country. The best place to start is the Cameron Highlands, a mountainous area in the centre of the peninsula. A 4-5 hour bus journey is the only option for getting here unless you have your own transport, which will leave you in the main town of the area, Tanah Rata. It’s entirely your choice whether to find accommodation here or in nearby Brinchang, we opted for the Hillview Inn Guest House in Tanah Rata and again it is highly recommended.

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The Cameron Highlands are popular for two reasons; the tea plantations that cover vast expanses of the area, and the cooler climate that gives a bit of a respite from the humidity of the rest of the country. This provides a great opportunity to get out and discover the natural wonders of this region, there are many jungle treks and walks in the area for doing just that. A day should be reserved for the tea plantations as well, it’s wonderfully romantic to sip tea while sitting on a verandah overlooking the very plants from which it was produced. The Mossy Forest tour offered by Eco Cameron Tours is a great way of ticking off both activities in just half a day, and the guides provide fantastic narrative along the way. The rest of your time can be spent seeing the many markets, temples, and natural wonders of the area, check our post here for more details about things to do in the Cameron Highlands.

Days 8 – 11: Penang

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It is from this point that your plans will change depending on whether you have chosen to travel along the east or west coast. If you are venturing eastwards, the next logical place to visit is Taman Negara Malaysia, a vast national park in the middle of the peninsula offering even more chances to get in touch with nature. If you are heading westwards, as we were, Penang is another popular destination for good reasons. Whichever route you choose, buses are again your only option for transport but there are frequent departures to both destinations.

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Penang is an island just off of the west coast, home to the country’s second city, George Town. We only spent two days here which really wasn’t enough, so my advice is to stay at least one or two days longer than that. The city should keep you busy for a day or two, exploring the contrasts of the colonial and Chinese quarters is very interesting, especially the wall art found dotted all over George Town. The rest of your time should be spent exploring the rest of the island. A day can easily be spent seeing Penang National Park and Penang Hill, while an additional day spent travelling south from George Town will enable you to see the many temples in the area (the Snake Temple is one I wish we had had time to visit).

You will most likely be staying in George Town, we found accommodation at the M Hotel near the Komtar building. Not only was it a convenient location for travelling to and from, the hotel itself was very clean and comfortable. Food vendors seemed to be a bit harder to find here than in every other place we visited, so my advice is to grab a bite when you see them! Some of our favourite good spots are in our post about Penang, along with more things to see and do, which can be found here.

Days 12 – 14: Langkawi

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After all that travelling around, you’ll most likely be looking for a place where you can relax and unwind. For those on the east coast, I’ve heard wonderful things about the Perhentian Islands and I can’t wait to visit them myself. For west coast travellers like us, there are a number of islands to choose from such as Langkawi and Pangkor, we opted to head north and visit Langkawi. The best option to travel between Penang and Langkawi is the ferry, which takes about two hours. We used www.easybook.com for all our long-distance bus and ferry bookings, it is incredibly easy to use and train bookings can be made here as well.

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There are a few towns on the island, and where you decide to stay needs to reflect your plans for your time on the island. We were looking for some beach time, so Pantai Cenang was an obvious choice for us. Kuah may be better suited for those wishing to spend more time exploring the island, while the resorts in the northern part of the island would be better suited to those looking to discover the island’s natural wonders. We splashed out a bit and stayed at Nadias Hotel, again highly recommended although a bit more expensive than the accommodations we stayed at in other places.

With the best beaches and water that we saw during our entire trip, this is the best chance you’ll have for some sunbathing and swimming. Take as long as you want for relaxing, but if you do want to see some of the other sides to the island as well, Dev’s Adventure Tours come highly recommended. There’s tours to suit all budgets and desires, we opted for the Evening Jungle Walk and the Mangrove Boat Tour, both of which were excellent. Other options open to you for exploration days are the Langkawi Cable Car and Skyway, and the rice paddies in the middle of the island. Our post has a more detailed account of what to see and do on the island, which you can find here.

Final day: Kuala Lumpur

Unless you are carrying on your travels into one of Malaysia’s neighbouring countries, you’ll probably be leaving from Kuala Lumpur. We flew from Langkawi to KL, which is an option from almost anywhere on the peninsula. Use this last day to grab any last-minute souvenirs (the Central Market is a great place for that), or to indulge in your favourite aspects of Malaysian culture before jetting back home. I hope you’ve found this itinerary useful, we didn’t follow it exactly due to New Year’s but it is how we would have liked to have spent our time in Malaysia in hindsight. So now you know where to go and how long to spend in each place, it’s time to start packing! Head over to Ms Lust’s post about what to take on a trip to Malaysia, and you’ll soon be ready to discover this fantastic country for yourself!

Happy travels,

Mr Wander

 

Wander and Lust’s first anniversary

Dear readers and followers,

We are proud to say that our blog is one year old today and we would like to thank all of you who have been following our adventures in these last 12 months. For our newer readers, here is where it all began with our introductory post.

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If you already follow us, you may have noticed we have been slowly modifying the style of our blog in order to keep it interesting, and we will soon bring you a few surprises that we hope you will like.

You may also have seen that we are experiencing a few changes ourselves, leaving Cambridgeshire as our base and going to explore a new shire in this beautiful country. I feel like this move is taking forever, and it is, probably almost three months now, but we cannot complain, so far it hasn’t been as bad as we expected.

All these changes and the one-year anniversary made us think that what better way of celebrating than taking you down memory lane and sharing with you our favourite posts and trips of the past year?

Egypt

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We’ll start with our trip to Egypt, which for me was a real tale of two halves. We immensely enjoyed seeing both the buildings and artefacts left behind by the ancient Egyptians in their original location, and the wonderful and varied marine life of the Red Sea. However, the way that tourists are treated by the locals left a bitter aftertaste to the whole experience, as we really felt like we were nothing but walking ATMs to them. It’s fair enough for them to want to capitalize on the flow of tourists that flock to this country for the reasons mentioned, but to be so relentless and aggressive with their sales techniques made dealing with them very stressful and tiring. Looking back now, we try to focus on all of the incredible things that we saw during those ten days, from Karnak Temple and the tombs of the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, to swimming and snorkeling with dolphins and turtles. Here you will find our posts about Luxor and the Red Sea, in which you can find out more about our adventures in Egypt.

Malaysia

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This is the most recent of our trips and we wrote a series of four posts (plus a supplementary page about food) about how we spent two weeks travelling in the Malaysian peninsula, from the capital city to the tea plantations and the islands. This country captivated us with almost every aspect of its culture: The people, the hospitality, the food, the nature and the wildlife, and the language just to name some of them. Read our posts about Kuala Lumpur, the Cameron Highlands, Penang, and Langkawi, and the page about Malaysian food.

Scotland

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This trip was Ms Lust’s birthday treat and it lived up to expectations. The weather was rainy, no surprise in that, the landscape was breathtaking, the food was scrumptious, and to that you must add whisky and swimming with the fairies. There, no need to say more. Read all about five days in the Scottish Islands and Highlands here.

Cornwall

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We had been making plans for this trip for a while, which unfortunately the weather didn’t play along with. We tried our best not to let the wild conditions get in our way, and still managed to see most of the places we had planned to. There was just a lot less time spent on the beach than we would have liked! But with plenty of old mine buildings, stately homes, and small coastal towns to explore, we were able to fill this time in other ways. So if you’re looking for ideas on how to spend wet, windy days in Cornwall, here you’ll find our post about when we spent five days doing exactly that!

Thank you all for following us over the last twelve months and stay tuned for our next travels. Here’s to another year of wonderful adventures and unforgettable experiences,

Mr Wander & Ms Lust

 

Malaysia – Langkawi

Dear readers and travellers,

Welcome to the fourth and final instalment of our Malaysian adventure, about the last place that we visited, the island of Langkawi (Pulau Langkawi in Malay). This was our chance for some relaxation on the beach after all the travelling we had done, and we also decided to indulge a little more on our accommodation.

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Our accomodation was the Nadias Hotel Cenang, just in front of Pantai Cenang beach and it was an absolute treat. The room was big and comfortable, everything was clean, and the food was extremely nice, with an abundant buffet for breakfast. It is not just that they had endless dishes of noodles for breakfast, it is that they really cater for everyone and I was appalled by how complicated people can be even in this situation. I am not talking about allergies or dietary requirements in general, that is justified; I am talking about grown-ups wanting everything exactly as mum would cook it! For instance, there was a person cooking eggs on demand and to taste and nothing was good enough for some people. Sometimes we forget that people are not our servants or our moms just because we are on holidays and we are paying, and that they cannot cook exactly as our granny used to for us when we were kids!

Langkawi is the northernmost Malay island on the west coast, which makes it a popular destination for those travelling from the nearby Thai islands in the north. Part of an archipelago of 104 islands which bears the same name, Langkawi is the biggest of these islands and one of only two that are inhabited.

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Access to the island is only possible by sea or by air, with ferry services from Penang and Thailand arriving at the ferry terminal in Kuah (the biggest town on Langkawi Island) and flights from all over the region arriving at the international airport near Pantai Cenang. There are no public transport services on the island, so once there your only choices are to take taxis or to hire a vehicle if you want to get around the island. We used taxis to take us from the ferry terminal on arrival and to the airport when we left, and we found them cheap and easy to find. The main taxi rank in town had a price list displayed, so it’s easy to find out how much the fare should be to eliminate any fears of being scammed.

There are a number of great beaches on the island, we stayed near Pantai Cenang (Cenang Beach), while the interior of the island is mostly covered in forest. The northern coast of the island is also famous for its mangroves, which can be seen on guided boat tours. One of the most popular attractions on the island is the Langkawi Cable Car and Skybridge. Located in the northwest corner of the island, these give the opportunity to see the island and its natural features from above. We didn’t have time to visit, but we heard from other travellers that it is often closed due to strong winds or poor visibility so it requires a bit of patience or luck to catch it on a good day!

Pantai Cenang

Kuah is the biggest town and capital of Langkawi, and also where we disembarked from the ferry from Penang. This wasn’t where we would be staying however, and after a fifteen minute taxi ride we arrived at Pantai Cenang. This is possibly the tourist capital of Langkawi, and consists almost purely of hotels, restaurants, and gift shops, all lining the main (and almost only) street. This runs directly behind, and perpendicular to, the beach, which is a long stretch of soft white sand. The beach is the reason behind the town’s name, which translates from Malay as Cenang Beach. This may bring thoughts of places like Benidorm or Surfers Paradise to mind, but happily Pantai Cenang has taken measures to avoid the transformation into an overcrowded high-rise tourist trap. Planning laws have been passed which ban any developments that would be higher than a coconut tree, and as a result hotels have had to expand outwards rather than upwards. It also preserves the view from the beach and the traditional feel of the town.

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There is no avoiding that this is a place built for tourists however, something which is not helped by Langkawi’s duty-free status. There are large duty-free shops all along the street which are all very similar to those you would find at the airport, although the alcohol and tobacco areas are much more hidden and discrete. You will also find all the western brands you can think of here, from fast-food chains to clothes retailers and everything in between. These are all interspersed by gift shops which all seem to be selling the exact same things (mostly clothes and accessories), although there are some unique shops with local crafts hidden amongst them. Finally, the last few remaining plots are taken up by local restaurants, and every cuisine from all around the world seems to be catered for.

As I said before, despite all the tourist businesses here, it does still retain a traditional feel to the town and it is still very easy to eat local foods and to find local products. We found it very enjoyable to stroll up and down the street after dark and to try as much of the food that was available from the stalls (most of which only appeared after 6pm), as well as to see what else was on offer. It was here that we discovered the joys of deep-fried ice cream and Pandan leaf curries, both of which are compelling reasons to go back!

Our favourite place to eat was D’Khas Café, a place open 24 hours according to the big sign outside (Google doesn’t agree but we didn’t check personally if that were true). They serve an interesting mix of oriental food and had a very relaxed staff. We have eaten there at least three times and the best way to describe the place is with a picture of their wall.

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Langkawi is also pretty famous for its seafood restaurants and you can see plenty of places with their aquarium at the entrance to show you their availability. Partly because of my origin and partly because of our favourite dishes, we skipped these places and stayed loyal to noodles and satay, but your hotel staff and your tour guides will definitely suggest the best seafood restaurants if you fancy that. One thing that we had a few times there and nowhere else in Malaysia is ice cream. Fried ice cream (aiskrim goreng), as Mr Wander said, is very popular, with a few stalls serving it, but you also have a very nice ice cream place near the beach, Gelato Cabana, definitely good quality, creamy gelato. As we were in Langkawi for Mr Wander’s birthday, we also had a slice of cake from Leena Bakery. We passed in front of this place many times as it was next to D’Khas Café, and we decided to try their desserts: Thumbs up! If you want to know more about Malaysian food, our supplementary page is available here.

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Our main reason for coming to Langkawi, and for staying at Pantai Cenang, was to go to the beach. With all this tourist activity going on, I had some concerns that the beach was going to be similar to the one we went to in Egypt and that we wouldn’t get a moment’s peace without someone trying to sell us something. Walking on the beach we were confronted with signs advertising watersports and other activities, and the jetskis and inflatable boats all along the beach seemed to confirm my fears. I needn’t have worries though, as this was the end of the sales pitch and at no point did anyone come over to try and sell us anything. We were able to relax and enjoy the beach and the water to our heart’s content, and we did just that. The sand was very soft and reasonably clean, while the water was warm and certainly the cleanest we saw in Malaysia.

One of our favourite activities on the beach was to watch the tiny crabs busy at work both in the morning (video here) and at night (video here). You have quite a few restaurants on the beach but you can easily enjoy a mix from the food stalls that start opening around 8 p.m. and have it on the beach while watching the sunset. Most of the places on the beach have a nice view but also a puzzling mix of western fast food that seems a shame to eat instead of the amazing local cuisine.

The only thing that did concern me was the number of boats and jetskis that were whizzing around on the water, coupled with the lack of lifeguards or segregation from swimmers. We didn’t witness any incidents however so I was probably worrying for nothing! There wasn’t too much else to do here, so it was the perfect place to relax and revitalise ourselves after all the travelling we had done over the last two weeks.

Of all the things that impacted me in these few days, probably the two main ones are those related to the trip to the airport before leaving. I had noticed a few times that the cows had all their companion cattle egret by their side (see them here). One actually had it on their head and not having my phone ready to immortalise that in a picture to show you is another big regret of this trip. I don’t know you, but this symbiotic relationship always fascinated me since when, as a little kid at school, I learnt about it. I had never seen these two animals together and I don’t think I had ever seen water buffaloes either. Well, the reason why I love this pair has probably to do with language, what a surprise. In Italian, the name for the cattle egret is airone guardabuoi, which literally is look-after-cows egret or, as I usually translate it, cows’ caretaker egret. I just find it incredibly poetic, that’s all. Well, here comes the other impacting thing: I was looking out of the car window to get a better picture of this strange couple, and I saw a dead buffalo in the middle of a field, not abandoned there, it looked as if it had just happened, it was lying there, the legs up in the air. I got hit all of a sudden by the fact that in most fields there was only one animal, probably all that the families could afford, and I felt sad for this family. I know, it is a sad note, but sometimes we forget about the actual reality of the countries we visit as we only see the tourist side.

Not wanting to spoil your enjoyment of this post any longer, I will also say that we were lucky enough to many cute animals much more alive and jumping about. This last part of the trip included Mr Wander’s birthday and he chose a few tours as presents. We booked them both with Dev’s Adventure Tours and we highly recommend them. Their tours offer some of the main things we like: Respect for the environment and immersion in nature. Our first choices were the Jungle Trek Evening Walk and the Sea Safari, but the second one is only offered with a minimum of bookings and we had to change it for the Mangrove Boat Trip.

Evening Jungle Trek

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The Jungle Trek is nice and relaxed enough, you get picked up at your hotel and the tour lasts approximately 3 h starting at 5 p.m. at the Berjaya Langkawi resort, and starts with a two-hour trek through the forest behind. Similar to the treks we had done in Penang and the Cameron Highlands, there wasn’t a distinct path so our guide was most definitely appreciated! We walked up through the trees, with our guide stopping regularly to point out different species of plants and animals. Before the trek had even started we managed to spot a Dusky-eyed Leaf Monkey, along with our usual entourage of macaques.

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We learnt a lot about the environment and the species of trees and animals, and we also saw a spiky tree that is still used for corporal punishment in Malaysia. But the most interesting thing of all (and I remind you that I had fluffy squirrels flying above my head) was to learn about the Bintangor Tree and its importance in trying to find a cure for HIV.

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The last section of the trek was completed in ever-decreasing light levels as dusk started becoming night. Once back at the resort, we now spent another hour looking for the nocturnal inhabitants of the area and our reason for booking the evening tour.

In the tour description you are not guaranteed to see all the local animal stars but we were lucky enough to see them all: The colugo (also known as flying lemur despite the fact that it is neither a lemur nor flies), the red giant flying squirrel and the pygmy flying squirrel. Now, I’d love to show you photos, but my choice was between seeing them and trying to get a picture and missing them, so I have to admit I am not sorry I didn’t get any shots!

It was such a wonderful sight to see them leap from branches and spread their legs to open the skin between them that allows them to glide, and it was very surprising to see the speeds and distances that they are able to glide for. Unfortunately it was too dark to be able to capture any photos or video footage, but it was so fantastic to see that I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.

Along with the squirrels and lemurs, we also saw a few other creatures of the night. A few geckos were spotted clinging to the outsides of the chalets, and bats could also be heard flying above our heads. This tour was an incredible insight into the flora and fauna of Langkawi, and an excellent chance to see two different environments at once. Trekking through the jungle really did feel like true exploring, and the accompanying commentary was very informative and entertaining. To then be able to see nocturnal life for animals on the island was a real privilege, something which we certainly couldn’t have done without the help of our guide. I would recommend this tour to absolutely everyone that goes to Langkawi, and this alone was enough to make this a very special birthday present.

Mangrove Boat Tour

The Mangrove Boat Trip is a longer trip and a more relaxed one in some ways. The tour starts at 9:30 a.m. and finishes around 3 p.m. and includes a few stops. From your hotel you are transferred to Kilim Geoforest Park. Langkawi Island is all protected as UNESCO Geopark and Kilim Karst Geoforest Park is one of the three geoforest parks associated with the Langkawi Geopark. From there, you walk to where your boat is and start your tour.

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The boat was a similar style to the one we had taken to Monkey Beach in Penang (read more here), just slightly larger to accommodate more people. Again it was an exhilarating ride, which was made all the more exciting by the narrower passageways through the mangroves. We stopped a few times along the way to witness some of the natural features and wildlife of the area.

The first one is the Bats’ Cave, Gua Kelawar in Malay, where your tour guide will take you around and will explain a bit about the wildlife: The macaques, the mudskippers, and the crabs outside and the different kinds of bats inside.

You will also learn more about stalactites, stalagmites, and more rock formations, but if you read about the Batu Caves in our post about Kuala Lumpur you know enough already. If you haven’t, here is the link. Some of the stalactites have interesting shapes, such a frog or a snake, and you can also see a beautiful column formed by a stalactite and stalagmite joined together.

Outside the cave, you see the mangroves at their best at low tide with all the roots on sight, but you can also see the living fossil, a plant called cycad that exists since before the dinosaurs. After this stop, you get on the boat again to cruise along the river and see more wildlife, especially the monitor lizards which apparently, thanks to my growing up in a Campidanese house with massive garden, I am scaringly good at spotting! We also saw a few snakes that we are not sure to this day whether they were real or not as they never moved during the 10 minutes we were there, with our guides under the branches they were on.

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This tours also takes you to see the eagles but doesn’t feed them, a main point for us when we booked. Now, this is a controversial point. For a long time, tour guides used to feed the eagles to attract them and, consequently, attract tourists. When this practice was deemed not environmentally friendly and the feeding stopped, it had gone on for too long and the birds were not able to hunt anymore because they hadn’t done it for generations and the mothers couldn’t teach the young ones. The birds started starving and now there is a set amount of food they can be provided. It is beautiful to see them, but our obsession with having this kind of experiences is nonsensical, what is the point if it is not natural at all anymore? By forcing animals, we are not enjoying them in their natural environment or learning how they live, we are just abusing them! Please always look up your tour companies and support those that respect the environment. The two species we saw are the white-bellied sea eagle and the brahminy kite, and this second one is said to give the name to the archipelago, as lang is a contraction of the word eagle in Malay and kawi is the reddish colour of the animal’s feathers.

After this we took the boat out onto the open sea in search of a secluded beach, which happily we found. Seeing the fishing boats at work with a few Thai islands in the background was a wonderful sight, especially as the water was so calm and clear. The beach was not too big, but thanks to its location it was not busy at all with just a few people there from another tour. The sand had a rich yellow hue and it was very soft and clean, and it’s the first time I would have described the water in Malaysia as inviting. It was so calm, clear, and warm that it was impossible not to go for a swim. As always our macaque friends were on hand to remind us not to leave our belongings unattended for too long, and our boat only stopped for about half an hour, but I would have happily stayed there all day.

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The final stop after a thrilling ride back into the mangroves was a floating restaurant and fish farm. We came around a corner to find a whole floating village, with a number of restaurants and what I assume were houses for the people that worked here. We stopped at the Hole in the Wall for a traditional meal which, due to their proximity, had a definite Thai influence to it. We enjoyed our first tom yum soup followed by fried rice (nasi goreng) with choice of fish or chicken. The meal was very tasty although having the floor moving underneath was a little unnerving! Afterwards we were given the opportunity to have a look around the adjoining fish farm. This is something I could quite happily have missed, as seeing the fish swimming in circles and thrashing around in small enclosures was a bit depressing and not the best way to finish the tour. But it wasn’t quite the end and we still had another wonderful ride with incredible scenery back to the jetty. Again this is a tour I would highly recommend, and all thoughts of having missed out on the sea safari tour were strictly behind us.

As the two tours are quite different, the dressing code also is: Long trousers and T-shirt, possibly white, with comfortable hiking shoes for the jungle trek; swimming suit under shorts and T-shirt, hat or cap, and flip flops for the boat tour. In both cases, plenty of insect repellent, and sunscreen and a towel for the boat tour. You always receive bottled water included and a nice tip is to spray insect repellent on your shoes so termites don’t attack you. We are planning a post about what to bring on holidays and what to wear, so we will write more about that soon.

I think there is not much more to say about this trip apart from thanking our two guides, Jerome and Ciro (I hope I am spelling the names correctly, I apologise if I am not!). I definitely have a soft spot for Langkawi.

Well that’s about all we got up to on Langkawi, but there is still lots of other activities and sights that we didn’t have the chance to see or do. This also brings us to the end of our Malaysian adventure, as after this we took a flight back to Kuala Lumpur for one last day before catching our return flight to London. It really was an incredible trip with so many wonderful memories, and discoveries that we have brought back with us (such as our new-found love for fried noodles!). The contrasts of this country are what makes it so special, from changes in the landscape and nature to the varying mixes of cultures that are subtly yet noticeably different wherever you go. We are certainly not finished with Malaysia though, as there is so much more to explore and discover there. I cannot wait to go back to see the east coast of the peninsula (I’ve heard and seen great things of the Perhentian Islands) and a trip around Borneo is another on the wish-list. And now we know how friendly and welcoming the locals are, and how much we enjoy their culture and traditions, our appetite for more couldn’t be stronger!

I love Malaysia and I am a bit sad about the contrasts I have seen, mainly related to environment and economy, and these contrasts were even more evident and impacting in Langkawi, but maybe also for that I have fell in love with this place so much.

So all there is to say is thank you for following us around this fantastic country. We may have finished writing about our experiences, but we’ll be back soon with some handy tips for itineraries and budgeting.

Happy travels and stay tuned,

Mr Wander & Ms Lust

Malaysia – Penang

Dear readers and travellers,

Welcome back to our Malaysian adventure, and our next instalment in which we take you through our time on Penang Island. We only spent a couple of days here, and in truth it wasn’t enough and we really should have stayed for an extra day or two. However this wasn’t the case and we had to try and cram in as much as we could, and we still managed to do quite a lot in the short time that we were there. So here’s what we did for two days on the island, and some tips for other places that we didn’t have time for.

 

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Part of this was written on the ferry from Penang to Langkawi just after spending a few days in Penang. The experience has been a blast although a bit messy for food as many places seem to only be open for lunch. Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of food stalls and restaurants serving at night, but it seems that the city is a lot more active up to 6 p.m.

We arrived by bus on 2 January from Kuala Lumpur and I can’t avoid thinking that three nights there were just too many, you might have read our post (if not, you can find it here) and may understand why I say so, but it is not just for that. The city is interesting, but this country has so much to offer outside of the capital that I keep feeling that we should have stolen one of those days for either Cameron Highland or Penang, probably Penang.

Getting there and around

There are many options available for getting to Penang from all over the Malay Peninsula, and also from other islands on the west coast. The most popular form of transport, and the most readily available, is by bus, with very frequent arrivals from all over the peninsula. We took this option also, and our bus from Kuala Lumpur took approximately five hours including a refreshment stop along the way. When taking the bus there are two options for points of arrival, Butterworth or Penang bus terminals. The terminal on Penang is about 8 km from George Town, the main city on the island and most popular place for accommodation, and will require getting another bus to take you into the city.

You may want to do what we did and get off at Butterworth to get the ferry there. It will take less time and it will get you to the jetty where all the buses are. There is a free shuttle bus that takes you from Butterworth bus station to the jetty, which is not far away but just hard to reach. The ferry takes about 15 minutes and payment is not required for your return journey. This was the option we took, and seeing the city grow as the ferry chugged ever closer was a nice introduction to the island.

It is also possible to take a train from Kuala Lumpur to Butterworth, although it takes just as long as the buses yet at around double the cost. Normally I would say it might be worth the higher cost for a more comfortable journey, but in this case I can’t find any fault with the long-distance buses we used in Malaysia and therefore can’t think of any reason not to use them. As the train terminates at Butterworth as well, a ferry trip across to the island is again necessary.

Penang also had its own international airport, so flying here is another option. Although flights here are cheap, both domestic and from neighbouring countries, I feel it should only be considered when time really is a scarce commodity. It is possible to see so much more of the country when travelling by road, albeit out of a window, and I would much rather spend an extra hour or two to get there and not miss out on the views. The final option is to arrive by ferry, which can be taken from Langkawi Island and Belawan in Indonesia. These ferries arrive at Swettenham Pier, located at the northern end of George Town.

Once you have made it to Penang by whichever means of transport you have chosen, the next task is to get to your accommodation and around the island. If you don’t have your own car, the bus network on the island is an excellent substitute. There are buses heading out to all corners of the island, the vast majority of which originate from one or both of the bus terminals in George Town. These can be found near to the jetties at the eastern side of the city, and underneath the Komtar building at the western side. They are frequent and cheap, just make sure you have plenty of small notes and coins as the drivers are not able to give change. The buses run until 10pm on most routes, although the frequency is much reduced after 8pm. There is also a free bus that takes a route around George Town, which has CAT displayed instead of a route number. Taxis are your only other option, although we found that the buses were able to satisfy our needs very well.

We booked at the M Hotel and that was a pleasant change after the nasty place in KL. The hotel is small but seems quite new. The room is nice and of a decent size. You can choose a Hello Kitty or a Doraemon themed one for a higher price, but we just got a normal one with window. You don’t get bottles of water or breakfast but the bathroom is nice and clean, and has a comfortable shower. All the bedding and the towels are clean and the guys at reception are very friendly. The bus 101 takes you very near to the hotel and you are not too far from Komtar, where most of the buses stop.

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As our accommodation didn’t include breakfast, we went both days to a Chinese pastry shop that serves delicious pastries, Ming Xiang Tai Pastry Delights. You have a few in town and luckily one was near where we were staying. They are famous for their egg tarts as they started their business selling them on a rickshaw in the ‘70s, but many pastries are just wonderful, the Pandan Kaya Puff is definitely my favourite.

George Town

Now that we’ve covered how to get to Penang and how to get around once you’re there, it’s time to move on to what to see on the island. For almost all travellers, George Town will be the first place you will see on Penang. This is the second largest city in Malaysia, dwarfed only by Kuala Lumpur, and a true melting pot of cultures that have shaped and changed the city over time. George Town achieved a listing as a UNESCO World Heritage site due to the buildings and history from its colonial past, as it was the first place in Malaysia to be settled by the British. Although Malaysia is now independent, many of the buildings remain and its foundations as a far-flung outpost of the British Empire is not forgotten. This is most evident in the northeastern corner of the city, where many of the old administration buildings are although we didn’t find time to explore this part of the city fully. We did see the Jubilee Clock Tower on our way back to the ferry terminal, which is found on a roundabout. Built in a Moorish style in recognition of the local culture, it was commissioned in honour of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. The tower is 60 ft tall, one foot for every year of her reign, and it serves as a wonderful reminder of the city’s colonial past.

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The Jubilee Clock Tower, also called Queen Victoria Memorial Clock Tower, is not the only monument in the area. Next to it is a modern sculpture that looks like an avocado but is actually a betel nut. This sculpture, the Pinang Fountain, symbolises Penang Island as its names comes from pinang, Malay for betel nut.

Further south, it soon becomes apparent that you have entered the Chinese quarter of the city. The best way to explore this area is by a self-guided walking tour of the local street art, which can be found all over Chinatown. Most tourist maps show the locations of the most popular murals, and we also found a map dedicated to these alone. Many of them use props to bring the artwork to life, such as bicycles or swings that have been attached to the wall. Seemingly a more recent addition, there are also a lot of wire sculptures in the same area, which have been placed just in front of the walls to allow for their silhouettes to be projected onto the masonry. As I said, this is a great way to explore the area, so it’s important not to focus too much on the murals alone. The area is full of wonderful oriental temples and Kongsis, which are Chinese clan houses that are often just as ornate as temples and can be easily confused for them. Khoo Kongsi is the largest of these in George Town, and Malaysia, as can be visited for a small entrance few. We didn’t have time as it was on our last morning before leaving that we came across it, but it was certainly impressive from the outside and I imagine the interior is no less stunning.

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Our first night on the island we just went exploring the city centre following the street art map and we found most of the murals and the steel rod street art. The murals were painted by different artists, but some of the most famous are those commissioned to Ernest Zacharevic in 2012. The steel rod street art is a set of iron caricatures describing the life of the city. You can find a comprehensive guide here. Unfortunately, due to the light, our pictures of them are not the best as the shadows are in the way of the image. At some point, we stopped at an Indian street restaurant before keeping exploring. As I said, the streets are a lot quieter at night and most of what you see is other tourists going around with their map, until you go back near the pier where you have more bars and the food stalls stay open a lot later.

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We only spent a few hours exploring George Town and it certainly wasn’t enough, we could have easily filled another day or two just in visiting some of the temples and seeing more of the colonial side of the city. However we also wanted to see what the rest of the island had to offer, so we had to split our time to accommodate this as well. So please learn from our mistake, and give George Town and Penang the time they deserve if you are planning to visit.

Penang Hill

Penang Hill is situated just to the west of George Town and, as the name suggests, it is a large hill overlooking the city. There are hiking tracks that can be taken to the summit, but the much more popular option is to take the funicular railway to the top. If you are taking the bus from the city centre, route number 204 terminates just outside the bottom station of the railway. The ticket for the railway costs RM30 for non-Malaysian residents, and the trains seemed to run approximately every half hour.

The weather when we visited was much less than ideal, with monsoonal rain that seemed like it would never end. Because of this, we didn’t venture outside when we reached the top and the views were somewhat limited. The ride up the hill was still fun however, and I imagine it would be quite scenic in better conditions. The trip back down was less enjoyable, as we caught one of the last ones of the evening and we were crammed in like sardines! At the top is a large building that houses the visitor centre and many businesses such as food outlets and souvenir shops. We had dinner at one of the last few stalls to remain open, and I’m not sure if it was due to the tastiness of the dishes, our sheer hunger, or both, but we had to go back for seconds!

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There seemed to be quite a lot to do at the summit, with the attractions all connected by walking tracks. We didn’t have time, nor the inclination to get absolutely soaked, to explore any of these, our main reason for coming had been to see the views of the sunset over the city. The weather made sure that this would also not be possible, and the city only came into view through the clouds as the lights started to come on after sunset. It was still a nice view however, despite the rain, and it was easy to see that it would be incredible with clear skies. I’d definitely recommend coming up here, just choose the timing of your visit carefully to coincide with good weather, and I can see that it would be easy to spend half a day exploring at the summit.  

Penang National Park

The northwestern corner of the island is home to Malaysia’s first, and smallest, national park, Taman Negara Pulau Pinang (Malaysian for Penang Island National Park). Again it is quite easy to get here using public transport, as bus route 101 terminates just outside the park entrance and can be taken from either the Komtar building or the terminal by the jetties. The national park is mainly an area of dense forest, which leads right up to the ocean and some wonderful beaches. The two most famous of these beaches are Turtle Beach on the western edge of the park, and Monkey Beach at the northwestern tip. Their names give subtle hints to why they are so famous, yes you guessed it there are turtles that can be found at Turtle Beach and Monkey Beach is a popular hangout for the local macaque population!

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These two beaches are understandably the main draws of the park, and there are two options for getting to them. Walking is one, although the tracks are pretty serious and not for the faint-hearted. The track to Monkey Beach was closed when we visited as it had become unsafe, so our choice was limited to one! We started the walk, which quite quickly became a scramble up a steep wooded incline with only broken, and very unstable, steps to aid us. With the high humidity adding even more to the challenge, it wasn’t long before the reward of seeing wildlife and a couple of lakes along the way just wasn’t enough and we turned back. Even though we only completed a small section of the walk, we still saw some beautiful creatures such as a huge butterfly that stopped for a photoshoot and the ever-present macaques.

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So this leads us on to the second option that is open to you, and the one that we now fell back on. That is to take a boat, which will speed you around the headland and drop you at whichever location you desire. Although you won’t get to see the lakes that are hidden within the forest, the views of the coastline are impressive enough not to be disheartened. It is a fun trip as well, as they certainly don’t hold back and you’ll be bouncing off of your seat as the boat launches itself off of the waves. The boats are, like almost everything in this country, cheap, and they will take you and pick you up and whatever location and time that you request. There are plenty of people offering boat trips at the park entrance, and they’ll definitely make themselves known to you do there’s no need for me to tell you where to go!

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The boat ride to Monkey Beach cost us RM80 and, when we booked, the captain asked us at what time we wanted to be picked up to go back, which was quite nice. I would suggest something between three and four hours but no less. The beach has a few huts that serve food and drinks and we stopped at the Lazy Boys for a relaxed drink before hiking a bit more. The water was definitely cleaner in the afternoon when we left, but keep in mind that if you also want to have a swim you will need a bit more time. From the beach you have a 35 minutes hike to the lighthouse. This is also a pretty demanding trail as, of course, it takes you up the hill. The lighthouse is not big but you can visit it and it offers a pretty view of the coast. You have to leave your shoes outside and climb a pretty nice spiral staircase (I am serious, it is not bad at all) but then you have something like ten steps up a wooden ladder and those are pretty demanding if you are acrophobic, although I believe being barefoot made it a lot easier as I felt I had more grip. Once out I was still pretty shaken but I managed to go around the whole balcony to get you this video. The way back was also a bit demanding as the path is quite natural and the steps pretty worn out when they are there, but a rain shower kept us a bit cooler.

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As Mr Wander said, you have a few monkeys going around on the beach but they seem pretty wild and not interested in humans. Other animals you will find for sure are some crabs that are the same colour as the sand and, at the beginning, they just look like dust moving around as they move so fast. We were lucky enough to spot a few eagles flying around as well. If you want to visit, the bus 101 also takes you up to the National Park and back. One thing to remember if you decide to go to Turtle Beach is that it is not allowed to swim in it, or it wasn’t this time of year at least.

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That was all we had time for at the national park, and after our boat ride back it was time to catch the bus back to George Town. Despite being the smallest national park in Malaysia, there seemed to be a lot more to explore than we managed and it would be easy to spend a lot longer here. Just bring plenty of energy!

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So that’s about it for our time on Penang, but there’s certainly a lot more to the island than we saw. We didn’t even manage to see everything that we had planned, mainly Kek Lok Si Temple and the Snake Temple which are both situated just south of George Town. We could, and should, have spent an extra day or two here, but now we have the perfect excuse for a return trip! So for now it’s goodbye once again, but we won’t keep you waiting too long for the final instalment of our Malaysian trip, living leisurely on Langkawi!

One last tip before leaving: If you book with Easybook like us, you will have to print your boarding passes at the office before you board and that is just behind the corner from the entrance but it is not clear or indicated. Once there, and before entering the terminal, you will receive a pass with your seat number. The trip is not long and it is comfortable enough, but the screens show “Need for speed” in a loop, so you may want to head out and enjoy the view for a while.

Happy travels and stay tuned,

Mr Wander & Ms Lust

Malaysia – Cameron Highlands

Dear readers and travellers,

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Welcome back to the next instalment of our Malaysian adventure (part one can be found here), in which we will take you around the Cameron Highlands. As the name suggests, the Cameron Highlands is a mountainous area on the Malay Peninsula, located roughly halfway between Kuala Lumpur and Penang (and further inland). It is an incredibly beautiful landscape of forest-covered peaks and valleys filled with the greenness of tea plantations, and thanks to its altitude the climate is also a lot more welcoming. It is a great place to come to escape from the heat and humidity of most other parts of the country, as well as to take a break from the pollution of the big cities. This is also a very rural area, and the hustle and bustle of places like Kuala Lumpur seems like it’s a million miles away. So let us now whisk you away to laid back country life as we take you through all the fantastic places we discovered in the Cameron Highlands.

The first impact with Malaysian tea is a bit of a shock even for someone born and raised in Italy with not so nice blended tea. If you open your mind and let your taste buds enjoy the experience, however, you are going to find that blended tea can also be nice, although a bit blasphemous to traditional British standards. As our first stop outside the capital city were the Cameron Highlands, the first few days were going to be all about tea and plunging into Malaysian culture which is sometimes a bit missing in Kuala Lumpur.

You don’t have to be a tea addict to want to visit the Cameron Highlands. However, if you love tea, there you will feel like you are in heaven. As the name says, the region is in the hills, which is needed for growing the tea bushes. Malaysian tea is not known abroad for its quality both due to the altitude of the plantations and due to the lack of a real tea etiquette such as the British one. We stayed in Tanah Rata, one of the largest towns in the region located in one of the few flat grounds in the Cameron Highlands. As you can imagine for an area famous for its tea, rain is the main component of the local weather, but it is a nice, refreshing break from the humid heat of most of the country.

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Practicalities

The first thing to worry about is how to get here. There are no train stations or airports in the Cameron Highlands, so if you don’t have your own transport then the only option open to you is bus transportation. There are buses available from all over the country, with Kuala Lumpur, Penang, and Taman Negara being the most popular departure points. We travelled from Kuala Lumpur with CS Travel, a Cameron Highlands’ company that specialises in transport to this area. The journey took approximately four and a half hours, with a stop halfway for refreshments. The buses were very clean and comfortable, with the most legroom and best reclining seats I have seen on any form of transport. If you are also travelling from Kuala Lumpur, try not to be discouraged by the scenery during the first half of the journey. After the refreshment stop in Bidor, the seemingly endless miles of motorway gave way to a winding road through the mountains that provided wonderful views of the highlands and across the valleys. No matter what direction you arrive from, the buses terminate at the bus station in Tanah Rata and there are always taxis on hand here to take you to your accommodation if needed.

We stayed in the Cameron Highlands for two nights, arriving on 28 December around 3 p.m. and leaving again on 30 December at about the same time. We planned it that way to be back to the capital for New Year’s Eve but it is enough time anyway. This region is easily reached by bus from KL, we booked via Easybook with CS Travels. The trip takes about five hours and the bus is extremely comfortable. You don’t have a toilet but you have an extremely comfortable and spacious seat that reclines more than I had ever seen before!

There are three towns in the Cameron Highlands; Ringlet at the beginning of the highlands, Tanah Rata which is the main town of the area, and Brinchang which is famed for its weekend night market. There is one main road that runs through all of these towns, which is usually quite busy with all the tourist traffic. If you need transport then your best bet is to take a taxi, just remember to agree the price before getting in. I read about a bus service that connects the three towns, but we didn’t notice any local buses during our stay so they may be a bit of a rarity! Your accommodation is likely to be in either of the two bigger towns, Tanah Rata or Brinchang, both of which provide excellent bases for exploring the area. Brinchang is closer to the main tourist attractions such as the tea plantations and temples, whereas Tanah Rata has better access to the local jungle walks and better amenities. Regardless of which of these towns you are staying in, it’s quite quick and easy (traffic depending!) to travel from one to the other.

Now that we’ve gotten the boring, albeit useful, stuff out of the way, let’s move on to the real purpose of this post, and all of the marvellous things there are to see and do in the Cameron Highlands.

Tanah Rata

I fell in love with the Cameron Highlands for two reasons; firstly for the beautiful landscapes and scenery, and secondly because it felt like we had found a place where we could experience authentic Malaysian culture. And for the second reason, really I’m talking about the town where we were staying, Tanah Rata. Although we had only spent one night there, Kuala Lumpur didn’t feel too far removed from most European cities, especially around the financial district and city centre. Tanah Rata couldn’t be more different. While it has had to grow and develop in order to satisfy the demands of the perpetual flow of tourists through the area, it has managed to do this without losing any of its traditional charm. Instead of the huge hotel buildings we found in Kuala Lumpur and Penang, here your choice is limited to small hostels and guesthouses (We stayed at the Hillview Inn Guesthouse and it was excellent). Likewise you won’t find any fast-food chains or fancy restaurants (with the exception of the new Starbucks on the main street, something which the locals are not happy about and which I dearly hope isn’t the start of a new trend), so your dinner choices are a great mix of local restaurants and street food stalls. We ate at the food stalls at every opportunity we could, and we discovered a wonderful array of dishes which started our love affair with Malaysian cuisine. My particular favourite was banana balls, which is essentially just deep-fried balls of banana bread, and chicken satay was the obvious choice for my dinners. Ms Lust had written a separate page about all the fantastic food we found in Malaysia, which you can find here.

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About the Hillview Inn, it is a house in colonial style on the hills a few minutes from the town centre. The inn is a family business and it is very nice. The accommodation doesn’t include breakfast but on the ground floor there is a cafe where you can order food at certain times of the day. We chose an en-suite room and it was of a nice size even if a bit chilly as the doors have a good five cm gap from the floor and the bathroom window would not close completely, but with the spare blankets and our backpacks against the door we were quite comfortable anyway. The family who runs the inn speaks English while the rest of the staff doesn’t therefore you may have a bit of a struggle to ask for what you would like (and sometimes you end up without it), but you usually are given pen and paper to write down your order for the kitchen and that makes it easier. Some of the tours are quite muddy so you may be happy to know that the inn offers a laundry service for RM12.

Talking about food, Tanah Rata is quite traditional, with only a Starbucks, as Mr Wander mentioned, ruining the unspoiled image of the place. All along the main road you have porches on both sides with restaurants and food stands. Nearer our accommodation, there was another food area with some food places on the lower floor of a building. The markets are other options if you want to eat in a different place every time. We enjoyed a few places in particular and became regulars for the little time we spent there. We divided ourselves between the stands along the river with curry puffs, banana fritters, and Indian food, and the satay and noodle place near the Hillview Inn. Only once we went to a restaurant under the porches before leaving and we were not disappointed anyway. Fruit Delight is a noodle and juice place run by young guys who are extremely friendly and serve scrumptious food. If you can resist the smell coming from the stands, give Fruit Delight a try as well.

In way of attractions in Tanah Rata, it would be easy to spend a day or two here without needing to venture out of the township. There is a network of jungle walks in the area, most of which have a starting point in Tanah Rata, which I will tell you more about later on. Another ideal place for nature lovers is Tan’s Camelia Garden, which is just on the southern outskirts of town. This is a essentially just the garden of a local house, but one which has been transformed into a botanical garden showcasing much of the region’s native flora. It wasn’t really our cup of tea, yet it still made for an enjoyable place to stroll around for 20 minutes or so. There are also a few religious temples in Tanah Rata, most of which are located at the northern end of town. We visited Sri Maha Mariamman Temple, which is where I discovered what a Hindu temple is truly like and why I wasn’t disappointed by what we saw when we visited the Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur. The temple is quite small, but it is still a beautiful building and well worth the climb up the hill to get there.

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Some things that you could include in your itinerary if you have more time is a visit to the surrounding villages and their night markets, but we just stayed in Tanah Rata and had a quick walk through the night market there. As we were leaving late in the afternoon the third day, we went exploring the other end of the village that we didn’t see the first evening. There, you have another shopping area with many clothes and souvenir stands, and a food area. Our main objective, though, was to visit Tan’s Camellia Garden, a little jungle created from a house garden. The entrance is free and you have a few paths to follow.

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But after a while, you’ll need to venture outside of the town’s limits to experience everything that the Cameron Highlands has to offer. A great way to do this is by booking a tour, which are advertised and can be booked at most accommodations in the area. We opted for the half-day Mossy Forest tour, and we were not disappointed. This tour combines a visit to one of the region’s tea plantations with a jungle trek through an area known as the Mossy Forest. Read on to find out more!

Tea plantations

We were picked up fairly early in the morning from the guesthouse, and we piled into the back of the Land Rover Defender along with the six other people who were joining us on the tour. The itinerary seemed to be somewhat flexible to facilitate changes in weather and traffic, so we were to head for the tea plantations for our first stop. The Cameron Highlands is the biggest tea producing area in Malaysia, helped by the high altitudes and corresponding cooler temperatures. The area also sees quite a high amount of rainfall, which further aids the growing of tea here. We visited the Sungei Palas Tea plantation, which is owned by the largest Malaysian tea company, BOH (stands for Best of Highlands). Stepping out of the Land Rover on a misty morning and seeing the plantation stretching out across the valley was a sight I will never forget. Everything was such a beautiful shade of green (with the brilliant blue flowers of the tea plants dotted around), and the uniformity of the vegetation emphasised the contours of the land perfectly. We were given thirty minutes to explore the area and to take photos, during which the weather cleared a little to enable even better shots of the landscape. We were given a short lesson by our guide about tea production in Malaysia, which is a lot quicker and easier than in most other tea producing countries. This is because Malaysians drink their tea with a lot of sweet condensed milk, which renders the quality of the tea a moot point. Therefore less care can be taken over picking the tea, which means it can be done using mechanical tools rather than by hand. This makes the picking process a lot quicker, which is very beneficial as, because Malaysia has no real seasons and conditions are perfect for growing all year round, the tea is picked every two weeks.

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After discovering a lot about tea production, we continued along the road to the processing plant and visitor centre of the plantation. Our guide stayed at the entrance where the workers accommodation is, and gave us some time to walk up and enjoy a cup of tea. First though we walked through the processing plant, where information boards describe what is going on in each area and large windows allow viewing of the processes in action. This only took up about five minutes, and then we went across the road to the visitor centre. Here there are more boards explaining the history of tea production, a gift shop, and a cafe. We headed more or less straight for the cafe where we enjoyed an authentic Malaysian tea and a cake, while looking out over the very plantation where our tea had been grown. A very unique experience, and a nice slice of cake too!

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The tour was booked with Eco Cameron and our guide, Satya, was extremely nice and taught us a lot about the environment and the wildlife. He told us he was a nature photographer before and it was extremely interesting to learn all he knew about Malaysian animals. Malaysia has a huge production of tea but it is only for internal consumption and it is extremely different from the neighbouring countries. As Mr Wander said, the leaves are not handpicked, which means that the three varieties that they usually separate in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh for example are just mixed here to give you blended tea. The leaves are also collected more frequently than in other countries and the bushes are a lot shorter so the workers can use their harvesting machines on them. This kind of tea is obviously of a less refined quality but that is not a problem because in Malaysia there is no tea etiquette as in the UK (see the leaves and more details here). The most famous Malaysian drink is teh tarik, which is an extremely sweet beverage made of tea and condensed milk. You can read more about it in our supplementary page about Malaysian food here. The tour includes a visit of the plantation, of the factory, and of the cafe and tea shop. Although it is quite busy, I suggest you take some time to savour a cup of tea at the cafe as you can sip it overlooking the plantation and it is an experience that cannot be explained.

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If you are interested in more tours, you have some that take you to the different farms, as the Cameron Highlands are famous for their tea but also their strawberries and their honey.

 

Mossy Forest

We then rejoined the rest of our group and continued onto the main attraction of the tour, the Mossy Forest. After a short drive we unloaded once again and were told that we would be going on a short jungle trek. Before coming to Tanah Rata, jungle trek had been synonymous for me with the walks and hikes I had completed while in New Zealand. Although the intensity of the treks may have been similar, the conditions and the environment couldn’t have been more different and challenging. We were to climb up to the top of one of the highest peaks in the area, and therefore Malaysia, and almost instantly it was obvious that it wouldn’t be a simple walk. The first obstacle was a farmer’s field which had been turned into a mud bath by the frequent rain and constant trampling by us and fellow tourists. After negotiating this without drama, we then dived into the jungle. From here on in the path was made up of footholds in the mud, the odd rock or tree root to use as a stepping stone, and a few ladders that had been lain over the muddiest sections. Ropes had also been hung as a handhold along the steeper parts, and they were often the only thing that made the scramble up the mountainside possible. But despite the difficulty and strenuous nature of the trek, I found it extremely enjoyable to be battling our way through an environment that was so new to me. Although we didn’t have much time to stop and take in the surroundings during the climb, it was clear that this was very different to any forest I had been in before. The whole area is essentially saturated, which is why it is such a wonderful place for moss to thrive in, and I couldn’t help but imagine it to be like the tropical rainforests of the world. But here the climate isn’t tropical, which is what makes it so unique by being somewhere in between tropical and temperate.

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As Mr Wander said, our second stop was the hike to the Mossy Forest. Plan your outfit wisely, as the path is quite steep and muddy. I would say it is slightly demanding, as in some parts you have to climb wooden ladders holding onto loose ropes or branches, but it is worth the challenge. At the top, you will have a spectacular view of the area and you will learn a lot about the plants and animals. The most incredible are the pitcher plants and, obviously, the moss, although I was really impressed with the spiderwebs which are incredibly thin and dance in the wind like a silk scarf. When they catch the drops of rain, they look like diamond jewels and they invite you to get close to admire them; even someone as arachnophobic as me couldn’t resist getting close for a picture! We did the half-day tour but there is also one that is for the whole day; what you do is go back to Tanah Rata, have some time for lunch, and then meet again in the afternoon for another hike.

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Finally we reached the summit and, after catching our breath, we took in the amazing views from the top. It was possible to see for miles and miles in every direction, with only a few small clusters of buildings interrupting the blanket of vegetation covering the entire landscape. There were also some wonderful things to see close at hand, as our guide now showed us the flora and fauna that made up this environment. The highlight for me was seeing pitcher plants, a carnivorous plant that uses a pitcher-shaped trap filled with a sweet liquid to ensnare and digest its insect prey. They were a lot smaller than I had imagined, which then made sense as our guide explained that they can grow much bigger in more tropical climates. We also saw a few of the native spiders to the area, and the main reason for coming here, more moss than I have ever seen in my life! It is the moss that enabled such a rich environment to have formed, by trapping the water and maintaining suitable conditions for other plants to thrive in. It also creates a very prehistoric feel to the forest, and you never know quite what to expect around each and every turn. This was a fantastic way to get in touch with nature in the area, and the climb to the top made it feel like a great accomplishment to have made it up there at all. The journey back down to the bottom was no less of a challenge, and each step had to be carefully planned to avoid falling and taking a more direct route down!

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Jungle walks

As I mentioned before, there is a network of jungle walks across the Cameron Highlands, many of which have a starting point in or near Tanah Rata. Most of these walks lead to local nature attractions such as waterfalls and mountain peaks, and some can also be used as a more scenic route between towns. The Cameron Highlands’ tourist map, which you can buy from your accommodation for a few ringgit, includes a map of these walks with their starting points also shown on the main map. If you are planning to do a lot of these walks, there is also a more detailed map available dedicated solely to them. I have one tip for anyone planning to go on these walks, one which I failed to heed myself and learnt my lesson the hard way! The walks can be quite tough in places, and they don’t seem to be maintained too much which means even more care is required. Take note of the warnings in the descriptions of each walk, most will be shown as being steep or overgrown, if not both. That way you can be more prepared for what awaits you and also you will be able to choose which walks would be more suitable to your abilities.

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We went on two of these walks, firstly walk number 9 to Robinson Waterfall and then walk number 4 to Parit Waterfall. Both walks were fairly short, taking only about 30 minutes to reach the waterfalls in both cases. It was on the way to Robinson Waterfall that I learnt my lesson about taking more care. The majority of the walk has been paved, however they used paving slabs which become very slippery when wet (and as it rains so much here, they’re always wet!). Add to this the fact that they either didn’t worry about levelling the ground beforehand or the ground has since subsided, and you soon find yourself tiptoeing across slippery stones which now sit at precarious angles pointing you down towards the valley floor. This requires a lot of care and attention to traverse safely, which I wasn’t giving it. Before I knew it, my feet had slipped out from underneath me and I came crashing down to earth with only my camera to cushion my fall against the hard paving. Needless to say, my camera didn’t appreciate being used as a crash mat and my overconfidence had been punished by breaking the viewfinder. I was certainly a lot more careful after that!

The waterfalls were nice endings to the walks, especially Parit Waterfall which had viewing spots that were a lot more accessible. The walk to Robinson Waterfall is a bit overgrown so viewpoints are limited to gaps in the vegetation. At Parit Waterfall there was a dedicated viewing area, and it was easy to climb down onto the rocks to view it from another angle. One thing which did surprise me at the time, but which I soon learnt was a common feature in Malaysia, was how dirty the water is. Every river and waterway that we saw was filled with murky brown water, and the eddies below the waterfalls had turned into a collection point for all the litter that is thrown into the water. This was particularly noticeable at Parit Waterfall, where the view of this natural wonder was somewhat ruined by the swirling rubbish just in front. We managed to take our photos from angles that blocked this out, but it will forever remain in my memory.

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I would definitely recommend either of these walks, especially as they are two of the easiest walks in the area, and they make a great way to spend an hour or so. Tackling some of the longer walks is only suggested for the very fit and sure-footed, and I expect some path clearing and self-navigation may be necessary. Definitely not something to be taken lightly!

The first afternoon, we went exploring by ourselves around Tanah Rata to see the Robinson Falls, a short walk outside the town on the left just after the bus station. You will pass a bridge and see a few signs but, as Mr Wander also said, I would suggest you get a map anyway, we bought one at our hotel for RM4 and it came with a plastic cover, which is a great idea in a place where the rain is perennial. The falls are just after a short path between houses and a greenhouse and are strong but not as impressive as you can imagine. You have a first glimpse of them and can go back if you want. If you decide to go further, be aware that the path is quite slippery due to the paving more than the water and leaves. The path is made of flat, smooth stone tiles that are painted in green and red to make them visible but that also makes them extremely slippery. We walked a little bit further, on the muddy side after the first slip on the tiles, up to a less smooth part of the path, but as it almost costed us a brand new camera, so I think I can safely suggest you see the fall from the side and then head back to visit the Hindu temple we saw on our way to the falls. For me it was the first visit to a Hindu temple (we visited the Batu Caves just after the Cameron Highlands) and probably it was strange as it was just opening when we arrived and it was empty and quiet. The building is nonetheless impressive and its decorations eye-catching with the hundreds of deities over the entrance and the main part of the temple.

Without even walking out of the town, you can take a shorter path from the gardens and reach the Parit Waterfalls. When we went, this path seemed a bit abandoned and not used much as the vegetation was everywhere, but when we arrived near the falls we found a restaurant and a car park and we understood that probably most people reach them by car or hiking from the other direction. This hike is not hard at all and it takes you to a pretty covered bridge over the falls.

So this just about sums up everything we did and saw during the three days we spent in the Cameron Highlands, which we found as a fantastic introduction to Malaysia and its natural beauty. As it is also the place where we discovered our love for Malaysian cuisine, I am certainly glad we decided to come here and feel it should be on everyone’s itinerary when visiting peninsular Malaysia. So that’s it for now from me and we’ll be back soon for another instalment of our Malaysian adventure.

I also believe it is time to take a virtual bus and move to another destination. Even if in the real trip we went back to Kuala Lumpur, we have already talked enough about that. Our next stop will be Penang.

Happy travels and stay tuned,

Mr Wander & Ms Lust