Week 21- Koh Bulon Leh

On Wednesday morning we finally bid farewell to Malaysia as we boarded a local minibus that was to take us from Georgetown to Hat Yai in Thailand. The minibus was full so we didn’t have a lot of room to stretch out or move, but the journey was straightforward and only took about 4 hours. We stopped just before the border for a toilet and food break, where we tried sour, unripe mango for the first time- not a hit with Ben, Cara or Piran but now a firm favourite for Jago. At the border we got out of the minibus to get our passports stamped as we left Malaysia, then we were shuttled the short distance to Thai immigration, where our visas and passports were quickly processed. As we entered Thailand the scenery changed to mile upon mile of rubber plantation, with the taps at the bottom of each tree clearly visible as we passed. The roads weren’t nearly as scary as I had been expecting with most people driving their pick ups, cars and mopeds fairly sensibly. As we headed north we started to see the occasional golden Buddha statue by the side of the road, our first glimpse of this integral part of Thai culture. We’re still not clear why the Buddhas need to be quite so enormous, but they certainly do catch your attention. We reached Hat Yai just after lunchtime and caught our first tuk tuk of Thailand to our hostel. Piran was worried we might fall out the back, but eventually relaxed and started to enjoy the transport. We didn’t do much in Hat Yai apart from booking our train tickets north on the sleeper train for the following week, which was incredibly easy to do in person at the railway station, organising the bus and boat transfer to and from Koh Bulon where we planning to spend the rest of the week, and eating lots of delicious food. We had lunch at a Chinese restaurant where we experienced our first hotpot, with a pot of boiling water in the centre of the table that we used to cook our own food. I can’t really see the attraction of this as I normally go out so that I don’t have to cook for myself, but it seems to be very popular! After lunch we did a small spot of shopping where the children’s blue eyes were greatly admired and Jago nearly received a marriage proposal before we rescued him from the hordes of admiring shopgirls. We also enjoyed our first authentic Thai food at dinner time, finding a fantastic local restaurant with delicious green curry, coconut milk and galangal curry, and pad thai. Yum! We are definitely going to like the food here.

We were collected from our hostel early on Thursday morning and transferred by minibus to Pakbara, a small seaside village with just a few shops and cafes that is the main port for passenger boats to the southern islands. We had a few hours to wait for the public boat to Koh Bulon Leh, so we retreated to the cool of an air conditioned restaurant for a couple of hours. We have really noticed how much hotter it is getting now that we are into March and further north. I always thought that I would like to live in a warmer climate but this weather isn’t good for much more than lying by a pool or on the beach- I hope we adapt to it enough to get out for some walks over the next few weeks. When we were in Hat Yai we had noticed lots of street vendors selling fruit out of carts full of ice by the side of the road and had been amazed at the cheap prices, and it was fantastic to see them again here in Pakbara-, looking like this is widespread in Thailand. We love mango, pineapple and watermelon and it is such a treat to be able to have such delicious fruit so easily available. Having whiled away a few hours we finally boarded the tightly packed public boat to Koh Bulon and within half an hour we had made it to our paradise island. It really is as beautiful as the pictures, with clear turquoise water and white sandy beaches with a jungle interior. The speedboat was unable to reach the beach due to the shallow water so we all transferred onto local longboats which then took us around the island, dropping everyone off at the beach closest to their accommodation. I had booked us in to Chao lae homestay which was a minute’s walk from a quiet, shady beach that wasn’t good for swimming or sunbathing due to large amounts of coral but which was perfect for relaxing and playing on. Our accommodation was clean and comfortable and the food here was the best on the island- truly delicious. Mango sticky rice is my new favourite thing; I think I would put on weight very quickly if I lived here! It only took 10 minutes to walk over to the other side of the island with its fine, soft, white sand and warm sea suitable for both swimming and snorkelling and the island felt really safe, so the kids were able to have some proper freedom here and explore without always needing to be accompanied by an adult. There were enough restaurants to have a good choice of food but the island was free of the commercialisation and party vibe that I have read about in some of the bigger islands, with everything locally owned and run. With its beauty, simplicity, excellent food and small size it was perfect for us.

We stayed on Koh Bulon for 4 days, although I could easily have spent a couple of weeks here. The kids enjoyed scavenging the island for old bits of string, rope, bottles and other items of rubbish which they then used to make rafts for their toys, a bird feeder (Cara), a mobile (Jago) and some drums. Sitting on a swing made out of large plastic containers and watching Cara and Piran launch their raft with Chocolate (Piran’s toy dog) and Kiwi (Cara’s toy kiwi) on board was a particularly happy time for me. They had designed and made the raft themselves without adult assistance. Aurora (Cara’s toy fox) also enjoyed a ride in the ‘Aurora explorer’, a hollow coconut shell, and Jago and I attempted to build a raft strong enough for him to sit on which failed spectacularly but which we both greatly enjoyed. Jago decided to make a 2nd model by himself the following day, displaying a good ability to learn from his first attempt by modifying and improving the original design. I console myself that these kinds of activities more than make up for the lack of ‘formal’ education these past few months. We also managed to dedicate some time to guided reading, enjoying our first Thailand book, ‘Jack and Max Stalwart and the Emerald Buddha’, which we will use as a model for writing our own stories about Bangkok, and a bit of time for music, with Cara learning an Elephant song on the recorder which the boys accompanied on home made drums whilst I sang.

The rest of our time was spent playing football and stuck in the mud, swimming and building sandcastles, and eating. Cara and I went snorkelling off the beach by the Bulone resort, the nicest part of the island, and saw beautiful blue-tipped coral, hundreds of beautiful fish, sea cucumbers and sea urchins. This whet our appetite for more, so on our final day we chartered a longboat and went for half a day snorkelling and fishing around the other small islands making up Koh Bulone which were just as beautiful and mostly deserted. I had a wonderfully relaxing hour or so sitting by myself on a beach, hearing the sea lapping on the shore, watching crabs scuttling on the rocks, and feeling very serene as I appreciated the quiet paradise around me whilst the rest of the family caught fish on the boat. Jago was put off snorkelling by the large purple jellyfish swimming in the water, but the rest of us snorkelled in several spots, the highlight being a large white rock which for sheer numbers of fish was unlike anywhere we’d ever snorkelled before. We finished our trip in a large cave, accessible only from sea, that is home to hundreds of bats, and Jago finally joined us in the water to get a whiff of the guano, although only Ben and Cara were brave enough to venture further into the cave than the initial opening. It was a very relaxing outing.

Despite the beauty of the island, we still experienced highs and lows on Koh Bulone with ongoing arguments over bed sharing and Cara still demonstrating extremely challenging behaviour. We have overcome similar problems with all the children over the past 6 months, and I believe that it’s good for us that whilst we are travelling together we have to address these difficulties whereas at home we would just have carried on with normal life; I feel we are slowly getting better at resolving our issues and we are growing closer as a family. However it does feel extremely hard dealing with this without any friends who can empathise and share their experiences of similar situations. Similarly the children haven’t got friends to distract them from any tensions at home. After long discussions about whether or not we should bring our travels to an end and return home from Thailand, we agreed not to make any hasty decisions in the midst of a challenging time and to trust that we will emerge from this phase much better equipped to cope with the impact of the hormones that lie ahead if we deal with it rather than run away. It certainly feels tough some days though! Talking about it with the kids, everyone has agreed that they would feel happier if they had more time apart from each other, having some dedicated 1:1 time, so trying to incorporate this into our life, as well as planning the rest of our travels, will be our focus for the next few weeks.

I could very easily and happily have spent a couple of weeks relaxing on Koh Bulone but we had the enticing offer of my schoolfriend Pomme’s beach house in Huahin waiting for us as well as a reunion in Bangkok planned for the following weekend, so on Monday we bid the island farewell and made the journey back to Hat Yai, ready to continue with the journey north. I would absolutely come back to Koh Bulone for beach holidays in the future- it really is an unspoilt tropical island paradise, absolutely perfect for families.

Huahin

When we got to Huahin it was raining so we walked in the rain to my mum ‘s friend Pomme’s house. When we got there it was very nice .There were dogs and Cara and I love dogs. Pomme offered to let us stay there because she wasn’t using it. There were enough beds for two people to share a double bed and three others to each have a single bed but instead four people used two double beds because one was in the sitting room. The last person had a single bed. One of the good things about sharing a bed is that when you have a bed to yourself you will really enjoy it. One of the bad things about sharing a bed is that you always get cramped in the corner.

We were right next to the Beach. It had really soft sand. The following day Mum, Jago and I went jet skiing. Jago drove the Jet ski, I sat in the middle of the jet ski and Mum sat at the back of the jet ski. The problem with Jago driving is that he drive’s fast and then stops. At the end Jago started to just drive. It was very fun but the waves were only small .When we finished we decided to get a ice cream.Very kindly Mum let us have sprinkles on our bubble gum ice cream.

In the morning we went to a shop where we bought pulpy orange juice which I thought was disgusting. We hired a car and spent hours trying to find an elephant sanctuary. We found it eventually. We jumped out of the car and jumped in the safari bus. We saw an elephant it was massive and it had two really sharp and hard tusks. It squirted water all over it and washed it self with dirty water. It was awesome, I thought I could sit there all day watching it. For my birthday I will have a day with elephants I am really looking forward to my BIRTHDAY.

 

The Adventure of Wat Chai Wattanaram Ruins

Chapter 1- Wats going on?

The three friends were really excited as they boarded the plane that would soon be taking them to Thailand. As the plane took off Jack looked out of the window and then across at his two friends sitting the other side of the aisle. Sam and Max were reading the newspaper though Jack couldn’t read their emotions.They were good friends and they both loved football. Max was small and clever whereas Sam was tall but not as smart.

As they got off the plane Sam came up to Jack and told him that they needed to go to Wat Chai Wattanaram ruins straight away. Then he sprinted over to Max to tell him as well. In five minutes they were in a three wheeled motorbike called a tuk – tuk heading for the place Sam seemed so eager to see. On the way Sam told Jack and Max what he had read in the paper. “The paper says that at Wat Chai Wattanaram ruins there have been ghosts spotted and 7 tourists lost”.

Chapter 2 – Ghost hunting

When the tuk -tuk pulled over Jack, Sam and Max all jumped out and started towards the entrance. When they got to the ticket counter there was no one around so they walked straight in. There was one central temple in Khmer style with a pointed roof and a big staircase leading up to a door. There were lots of chedis surrounding the temple but half of them were lying on the floor in heaps of rubble with Buddhas surrounding them on what used to be the walls. The walls were red and brown brick with no traces of the gold that used to be there.
Jack said they should split up so they could investigate quicker but Max said that if they did then they might get attacked by the ghosts. Jack didn’t think that was true, he thought it was because Max was scared but he agreed so they set off round the temple. They only got about half way round when they heard an earsplitting scream coming from the middle of the temple. “Come on quick”, shouted Jack as he ran back round towards the steps of the temple.

Chapter 3 – The lava lake

Jack raced up the steps with Sam and Max on his heels but just as he got to the top he saw a glowing figure gliding into the door. Jack stopped so suddenly that Max ran into him and fell down a few steps but he got up and tiptoed to Jack’s side.”What is it Jack?”, Sam whispered as he caught up. “I…I saw a ghost go into the door and it was terrifying, in the shape of a human but glowing with blood red eyes”, Jack replied in a scared voice. “Alright let’s follow it and see whats there”, Max said sounding as terrified as Jack. The boys started creeping slowly into the darkness within.
Inside there was a narrow passage with a faint glow at the end so they followed it through. As they got to the end they came out into a large cavern with stalactites dangling from the roof. In the center there were 7 human shaped ghosts floating above the thing that was making the light. The boys crawled around the edge and hid behind a rock, peeping over the top. The ghosts were chanting but they couldn’t hear what they were saying.
Jack was just about to crawl closer when the stone beneath him began to crack. He jumped back hitting his head on the wall causing the ghosts to stop chanting. The ghosts started to come over so Max ran out towards the light. All Jack and Sam could do was follow him so they both jumped out and ran after Max. When they came to the pit they jumped in without stopping but when Jack looked down he was terrified to see they were plunging into a pit of red, bubbling lava.

 

Chapter 4 – Flying foxes save the day

Jack’s heart was beating fast and he thought that there was nothing he could do to save them from dying. Just as they were about to hit the hot surface of lava three shiny, green-eyed things with massive black wings came swooping in and caught them on their backs. Jack sighed a breath of relief as the black creatures started up towards the mouth of the pit. As they came up the ghosts were nowhere to be seen so they flew straight into the dark passage.
Just as the creatures came to the entrance the ghosts appeared at the mouth of the cavern but this time they had galactic guns that they started to use on the three boys. By the time they reached this point Jack realised that he was sitting on the back of a flying fox but this one was 10 times the size of any he’d seen before. The boys managed to dodge the first shots by leaning to the left or the right to control the flying foxes. On the fifth Max got hit on the ankle and his skin turned purple and brown. Max screamed in pain and hit the roof with his head, causing the tunnel to collapse behind him blocking the ghosts in.

Chapter 5 – Captured

“Well done Max”’, Jack shouted as the flying foxes put him down “We’ve blocked them in so now all we have to do is get rid of them. “I’ll go and make a ghost proof cage to catch them in”, Sam said. Within minutes Sam had finished it and they were standing outside ready to let the ghosts out. The flying foxes rammed into the rubble sending it soaring into the sky. There were a few seconds of silence then the ghosts came gliding through the dust and into the cage.
The three boys immediately closed the cage door and put it gently on the floor. “Ha ha we’ve caught them”, Max said with delight. “Please don’t hurt us, because we are only tourists that fell down the lava pit and died but we needed your help so we tryed to catch you”, said one of them. “We can’t rest until we have been buried where we come from”, said another. “Where do you come from?”, Sam said calmly.The first ghost replied “an island off the bottom of Thailand called Koh Bulon”. ” You will be buried there then”, Jack said. “Oh thank you”, cried all of the ghosts together.

 

 

Chapter 6 – Koh bulon

As Jack, Sam and Max boarded, the boat started its engine and they went zooming off towards the island. When the boat got to Koh Buon they dragged the cage over the soft white sand and through the middle of the island. They were surrounded by beautiful jungle and Jack could see why the ghosts wanted to be buried here. After twenty minutes of walking they came to the other side of the island where it was really rocky and the sand wasn’t as nice but the sea was as blue as the sky on a mid summers day.
They dug a small hole in the sand and pushed the cage in. Once they did that they filled it in with sand and collapsed on the hot sand panting.” I know what to do”, Max said ” Last one in is a rotten egg.” The three boys then ran back to the other side of the island and jumped in the sea to refresh themselves.
While swimming Jack said ” This is quite a nice island and seeing as we’re here lets stay here for a holiday instead of going back to Bangkok”.”Good idea”, said Sam ” Lets go find a place to stay. Soon they were in a place called Choelae homestay relaxing without having to bother about the ghosts anymore. They were very glad that they were still alive after the terrifying adventure they had just experienced. As they then boarded the plane one week later they knew it was a holiday they were never going to forget.

Hua Hin

On Monday we all packed our rucksacks at dinner time and walked to Hat Yai train station where we were going to get a sleeper train. We waited for ten minutes and soon our train arrived so we found our seats and sat down. Dad sat opposite me and I couldn’t wait to see the folding beds. When our beds were made I climbed up to the top and Dad got in the bottom.

I read for ten minutes and then I fell asleep. When I woke up it was two o’clock but I couldn’t get back to bed so I lay there for four hours until everyone else woke up. It felt like ages but eventually they did. We packed our rucksacks and got off the train. It was half past six in the morning and I had hardly slept that night.

We went to our house which was right on the sea front so we had a really good view. We spent the day around the house going onto the beach once to get ice creams. I made up a game called ‘Restaurant Jago’ and I made everyone breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The next day we went to a national park and did some walking and then after the park we went to a elephant park. On the way to the elephant park we got lost and it was very fun not knowing where the park was. Eventually we found it so we got on a tour and about five minutes into the drive we spotted one.

It was a lot bigger than the one at Danum Valley and this one had tusks. It was in the bushes to the left of us and it was wandering around itching itself. It even washed itself by sucking up water and spraying it back. It was really cool but we only saw one of them on the drive. We then drove back and went to the night market. I got a chicken wrap and mango sticky rice.

The next day we stayed at the house and Mum, Piran and I went jet skiing. I steered and it was really fun. I had to pull down a lever to decide how fast to go. At the beginning I kept on going fast then slow then fast and slow again but at the end I started getting the hang of it. By the end we were going the same speed the whole time which was about 27 mph but it felt a lot faster. We also saw a massive jellyfish that was a tall as two of Mum’s shoes.

The next day we were going to leave so we packed and went back down onto the beach so we could see if we could jet ski again. The man said yes and he went to get the jet ski for us. Just after a storm came so we decided not to go do instead I went back and played Minecraft. After I finished we went and got a bus to Bangkok.

I really enjoyed Hua Hin and it was one of my favourite places while traveling. My best part of Hua Hin was the jet skiing and restaurant Jago.

Week 20- Cameron Highlands and Georgetown

By the Tuesday after Chinese New Year, buses were starting to resume and accommodation was once again available and affordable, so we decided to get back to our planned itinerary, albeit a week later than originally anticipated. Getting to the Cameron Highlands from Cherating was going to be a full day’s travel with 3 legs- Cherating to Kuantan by taxi, followed by Kuantan to Raub and then Raub to Tanah Rata by bus, but after all our journeys recently we were confident we could cope with it. We set off at 7am and finally reached our destination at 6.30pm, with everything going to plan except for a 45 minute delay leaving Raub. I think everyone is actually starting to enjoy the long days of travelling, watching the landscape change around us, reading kindles, playing apps, listening to audiobooks (especially Sherlock Holmes) and the odd bit of times tables practice.

We arrived in the cool hills and immediately noticed the drop in temperature, with everyone complaining about the freezing cold weather. Goodness knows how we will cope back in England, as this ‘freezing’ temperature which had everyone reaching for their fleeces was 18C- practically paddling pool weather before we left the UK. After the quiet, laid-back vibe of Cherating, it took a while to adjust to being back in a busy tourist hub with almost as many westerners on the streets as Malaysians, but with the benefits of a large choice of restaurants right on the doorstep of our budget guesthouse in the centre of Tanah Rata. There was a lot of South Indian cuisine here, and we swapped our largely Chinese-Malaysian diet for a couple of days of fiery curries and naan bread which made a very nice change.

We had come to the Cameron Highlands to enjoy a few days trekking in the cooler temperatures, with the promise of ‘High tea’ as a reward for our efforts, with strawberry farms and tea plantations galore in the region, as well as scones, cream and jam being a staple here since colonial times. On our first day we had an easy walk through the surrounding forest, once we had finally found a trail to follow. We spent the first hour or so trying and failing to find the entrance to trail ‘4’ before finally stumbling upon walk 5, which was marked by a combination of arrows on lampposts, walls and signposts which we had fun trying to spot, much like a game of hare and hounds. We had intended to come back this way, so it was no problem just to do the walk in reverse. We made it to a strawberry farm in a nearby village for lunch, before returning past a local waterfall, which was so unimpressive after all the fabulous falls we have seen that we didn’t even realise we had reached it! It was just wonderful to be out walking again without collapsing in the heat for the first time since New Zealand, surrounded by different trees rather than the rainforest we have become accustomed to. It definitely whet my appetite for a longer walk in a couple of days time. On return to Tanah Rata we stumbled upon ‘the Lord’s cafe’, a simple cafe with no frills, small portions and self-service, but a lovely atmosphere and so cheap compared to all the other places offering high tea that we were able to indulge in a full meal of sandwiches, scones and cakes washed down with a good cup of tea. I don’t miss a lot about the UK, but tea is one of the things I absolutely love love love, and we all enjoyed the reward for our day’s effort.

On Thursday morning we decided to visit one of the local tea plantations. Boh is a local tea company that has a small, free visitors centre explaining the tea production process, a factory that you can walk around and miles and miles of plantations, transforming the rolling hills into a sea of green cobblestones as far as the eye can see. It was perfect for a short outing and as well as being struck by the beauty of the hills we learnt everything we needed to know about tea production, all the way from cuttings being planted in the nursery to it being packaged into boxes for sale and distribution. We had a short visit to a butterfly farm on our way back to Tanah Rata where we could admire the magnificent size and colours of the Rajah Brooke butterfly, as well as look at a few cages of bigger animals including snakes, scorpions and toads as well as some rather random guinea pigs which the kids enjoyed. Ben spent the afternoon working whilst I took the kids to the local park where they enjoyed running up and down the skateboard ramps and playing stuck in the mud. As we were just over the road from the Lords’ cafe it seemed a shame not to return for tea again today, knowing it will be a very long time before we see strawberries and scones once more after we leave the Cameron Highlands, so after burning off some energy we found ourselves back at the same table as before, now starting to feel like regulars. Everyone was tired after a disturbed couple of nights’ sleep, partly due to the hard, uncomfortable mattresses and partly because we were so cold at night, so we finished with an early night in preparation for a full day’s walking on Friday.

Having researched all the walking trails in the Cameron Highlands, I decided that trail 1 up to the top of Mount Brinchang easily sounded like the most fun, with other blog posts reporting a muddy adventurous climb up a path formed out of tree roots, through peaceful lush forest filled with flowers and birdsong. It was closed for rainy season until 31st January, but was supposed to have reopened on 1st February, however when we asked the taxi driver to drop us off at the start point he informed us that it was still shut. Not perturbed, I persuaded Ben that we should carry on with our plan, having read a few trip advisor reviews from other folk who had done the walk within the last fortnight. The main problem was that, yet again, the start of the trail was unmarked, with a water treatment plant between us and the path that we wanted to take. We ended up climbing into the jungle up a small ladder that had been placed by the side of the road, feeling very naughty, and following a water pipe around the perimeter of the plant, tiptoeing and whispering as quietly as possible to try and avoid detection from the workers down below. It all felt very James Bond, and Ben seemed to delight in making the kids think that we could be arrested and shot at any moment, although I think he was just enjoying the peace and quiet. We eventually made it round to the far side of the water treatment plant where we crossed a stream before beginning our ascent up the side of the hill. It was a fantastic walk and well worth the effort to find it, possibly my favourite of our travels so far as we clambered up tall steps formed out of tree roots, sometimes using ropes to haul ourselves up, feeling like proper adventurers as we climbed higher and higher into the canopy and above the clouds, having conversations about wars, weapons, guerilla fighting and Communism. It is amazing how absorbed the boys get talking whilst walking, when compared to sitting and chatting. Piran can easily chat all day non-stop if he is on the move at the same time! We had one terrifying moment as we neared the top with a sheer drop down to the side, looking out over the mist swirling below, as Piran thought “don’t go near the edge” meant “please step closer to edge”. As he put his foot near the precipice he slipped, but I was nearby and managed to grab onto him. I am sure he would have been fine even without my help, but it was enough to give me the fright of my life and it took a while for us to recover. Needless to say we didn’t stray near the edge again after that! We reached the top in good time, although after the epic climb there weren’t any views to be had due to the cloud and trees. We sat and ate our packed lunch under the shelter at the top, pleased to be covered as torrential rain suddenly poured down, then passed again as quickly as it had come. Luck was on our side as we managed to stay dry throughout the day. Having reached the peak, we started our descent on the road until we reached a mossy forest fitted with a boardwalk and observation tower. The pale green and grey moss covering the trees either side of the boardwalk had an ethereal other-worldly feel to it as we made our way along to the tower. Finally we were rewarded with fantastic views over the valley, well worth the effort of the climb. We had a further 7km to walk back to the town, through the tea plantations, but our weary legs easily made the long trek and we all enjoyed the satisfaction at the end of the day as we made our 3rd and final trip to Lords’ cafe, this time thanked profusely for our ongoing custom. Despite the hoards of tourists in the town, none of our walks had been busy and we had enjoyed 3 lovely peaceful, cool days in the Cameron Highlands. I can see why so many people choose to visit here on their travels through Malaysia.

The following morning we woke up early to catch the first bus of the day to Butterworth in Penang. We were off to Georgetown, excited to visit this Chinese hub and experience a bit more of the ongoing Chinese New Year celebrations which continue for at least 2 weeks. We were also planning to get visas for Thailand here, thinking that we would only get 15 days on arrival over a land border, not enough for our plans to spend 4-6 weeks there. Once again the bus journey was comfortable and straightforward, arriving at the ferry terminal where we caught the boat over to Georgetown, saving ourselves at least an hour of driving. Our immediate plans were somewhat scuppered when Piran reported feeling unwell and achy all over in the morning. Mid morning it became apparent what the problem was, as one of his arms started to swell with cellulitis spreading over the surface of his skin from an infected mosquito bite. He started to complain that his hand and fingers were tingling as the swelling increased. Luckily I had brought some emergency antibiotics travelling with us, so although suspension would have been better for him, I was able to start treatment straight away knowing it would be several hours at least till we could get to a doctor. Nevertheless on arrival in Georgetown we headed for the first cafe we could find with internet access and started researching local medical services and hospitals. Reading that Malaysia has a good medical service, we decided to try the local government hospital rather than one of the many private hospitals in town, so Piran and I headed there whilst the others took our bags to our Airbnb apartment. Having reached the hospital in a taxi, it was quite difficult finding the emergency clinic as none of the signs were in English, but after saying “Doctor” whilst pointing at Piran, someone pointed me in the right direction, and I eventually found an English-speaker who was able to confirm we were in the right place. We paid about 8 pounds to see a very junior doctor and the prescription was free. We were given a ticket and took a seat in the waiting room expecting a long wait. However within half an hour we were being seen, and duly sent away with antibiotics, antihistamine, steroid cream and calamine lotion. Another excellent experience of healthcare abroad! We didn’t venture out of the apartment again that afternoon, but the kids spent many hours playing with each other until bedtime, taking advantage of having more space again after our cramped shared bedroom in the Cameron Highlands. Sadly our plans for a good nights’ sleep all round were scuppered as the kids found sharing a double bed too exciting to settle at first and then, as they became overtired, resorting to kicking and rolling over each other until they cried. This has been fairly common on our travels, and one of the greatest frustrations for me and Ben who just can’t understand why there has to be such a big deal about sharing a double bed! I had hoped that as time went on they would become accepting of the situation and it would stop being a big deal, but it doesn’t show any sign of waning! I have found that a duvet, pillows or towels forming a barrier in the middle of the bed is the only solution. Caggie used to call this the ‘Colonel’ although I’ve no idea why… something to find out about!

On Sunday we headed to Chinatown, passing beautiful clanhouses as we walked, fabulous old colonial architecture rubbing shoulders with rows of narrow Chinese shophouses and fabulous street art on many of the walls. Georgetown has such a nice feel to it, Ben and I both loved it. The clanhouses were interesting to visit, serving as a meeting point for the community and containing a large dining area, space for socialising and temple. At one point we were walking through a throng of people on a busy tourist stretch, only to find complete peace and calm in a tardis-like open space when we turned through a narrow doorway into a clanhouse just off the street. This particular place contained a temple built by one of the ancestors for subsequent generations to worship and give thanks to himself after he died; there were hundreds of bats in the roof which were apparently very auspicious. The streets were lined with vendors selling souvenirs and street food and bustling with locals preparing for the evening’s festivities. We went on to one of the old townhouse museums to see an example of the opulent lifestyle of a wealthy Chinese trader from the 19th century. It really is something to behold with its carved gold-leaf doorways, beautiful wooden furniture inlaid with mother of pearl, crystal chandeliers and antiques.

After a busy morning we headed back to the flat for blog-post writing and a rest before heading out for the CNY festivities. On arrival we could hardly enter the throng, there were thousands of Chinese people out to celebrate and it was clear that this is a very big deal. As we reached a crossroads we could see a lion dance taking place, and a group of youths setting up for a drumming/drama performance. We waited a long time but when it finally started we were right at the front, able to watch this very dramatic story told through drumming, dancing, acting, throwing flour, unrolling long sheets and piling up drums, culminating in a battle where most of them appeared to die. It was very exciting! Afterwards it took us so long to get through the crowd for food that we didn’t see any more big performances but we had a taste of didgeridoo, gymnastics, dance and pan pipes as well as trying various different forms of street food. We finished off the evening with an ice ball, ice crushed into small pieces then compressed to form a large ball, smothered in flavoured syrup and sucked like a lolly. We’re sure this would be a hit at festivals and can’t understand why the idea hasn’t been imported to the UK. Maybe this will be my retirement plan!

Sadly our time in Georgetown marked the start of Cara demonstrating to us that she wasn’t really enjoying the travelling any more, that she has had enough of sightseeing for now and is finding it all quite exhausting. Before leaving the UK, we had expected that we would all get weary of travelling at some point, and had been planning a long stay in Thailand or Cambodia to stop moving for a while, to experience a more ‘normal’ life with routine, and just rest for a bit, but obviously it had all got too much sooner than expected, despite our efforts to incorporate downtime in places like Cherating and Kuching. We have had a series of melt-downs which are difficult to manage, and it is hard to know what the best thing to do is, for all of us, but it seems all the more important to have a long rest somewhere in the next couple of weeks. On Monday we set out for the Thai visa office in Georgetown first thing, with the aim of getting a 60 day tourist visa sorted, however we soon realised it wouldn’t be as straight forward as we had expected- needing evidence of flights or transport in and out of Thailand as well as accommodation details, plus the photos, forms and cash. Whilst there was a small van parked opposite that printed out fake flight and accommodation details, for a fee of course, it was going to be quite a bit more expensive than we had originally thought. Upon enquiring we found out that we would actually get 30 days free on entry, not the 15 we had expected, and suddenly it didn’t seem so important to get the extra time sorted before arrival. We decided to skip the visa application, just get the 30 days on arrival, and make a decision once we are in Thailand as to whether or not to extend it depending on how much we are enjoying our time there.

With our day now freed up, we headed up Penang hill on the funicular railway to enjoy a walk in the forest and see the views of the city. The top of the hill was covered with colonial style houses and was a good few degrees cooler than the town below with lovely views, it was easy to see why so many British would have made this place their home. There were lots of tourists around the observation platform, temple and mosque, but further away on the nature trails it was quiet and peaceful and a lovely place to walk. I had read wonderful things about the restaurant on top of the hill and its fabulous cream teas, so we decided to treat ourselves to a cake before walking the 5km back down to the botanical gardens below. However, the fantastic restaurant with its beautiful garden and calm surroundings was only serving lunch, and the kids had their heart set on ‘tea for lunch’, so we had to go to the cafe just below. Unfortunately there was loud music blaring and terrible service, completely ruining the whole point of coming to this location for food, and I absolutely would not recommend this place to anyone. The cake tasted good though, and the kids got their treat. The walk down felt like a long way in the heat with our sweaty feet slipping out of our flip flops on the steep downward gradient. We managed to spot some very cute dusky leaf monkeys with rings around their eyes, before being thoroughly terrorised by a hoard of grey macaques. As the male of the pack charged at Cara and I who were running away screaming, Ben had to step in and show him who was boss. Cara was visibly shaken and is clearly terrified of these naughty monkeys now, that seemed so cute when we first saw them back in Bali in December. It was reassuring to see that Ben is able to protect us, though, as the monkeys didn’t give us any more trouble after he shouted at them! After a game of cards at the bottom of the hill, we headed home for a really fantastic local takeaway and an episode of Doctor Who.

Tuesday was our final day in Malaysia, after being here for a mammoth 6 weeks. We all needed to get new shoes and various other supplies, so after a lazy morning playing ‘shops’ which involved emptying the entire apartment onto Cara and Jago’s bed (the shop), we headed to actual mall. When we had successfully got our purchases we headed to town for a final ice ball treat, then on to Pizza hut at the kids’ request for some Western food. Malaysia had been full-on with so much amazing wildlife and so many busy cities, but we also had some of our most relaxed time here too. I really enjoyed it here, but after hearing so many people talk so fondly of Thailand, I am more than ready to move on to a new country at last. Hat Yai here we come!

Cherating

After Kuala Lumpur we went to Cherating. Cherating is a quiet village by the beach. We stayed in a traditional house on stilts. The inside was comfy but the outside looked like a rickety shack. We had nasi lemak (coconut rice) or roti canai for breakfast every day. Nasi lemak is coconut rice that normally comes with anchovies and peanuts. Roti canai is a bready crepe that we had with banana, cheese or lime for breakfast and with a curry dip for lunch.

We went to the same places all the time and after four days we got to know the village well. We went to the beach every day. At the beach we played and surfed. The sand on the beach was smooth and the water was warm. While we were in Cherating it was Chinese new year. We put oranges and letters on a tree. The oranges were for luck and we put nice messages and money in the envelopes for each other.

One day we got back from the beach and found our pens and pencils scattered around the floor. The pencil case was missing. When we got to the patio we saw a mug on the floor so we thought we had been burgled. The next morning we woke up to the sound of monkeys on our roof and realized the monkeys were the thieves! I like staying in quiet villages rather than busy cities because you get to know the place well and there is more space to do things in.

Georgetown

After Cameron Highlands we went on a big ferry to an island called Penang. Penang is a state in Malaysia but only has one city, Georgetown. Once we got over to Georgetown we got a ‘taksi’ (Malaysians spell ‘taxi’ like this!) to the apartment where we would be staying. Dad, Cara and I went up but Mum and Piran went to the hospital because Piran had a bad insect bite that Mum wanted to be looked at.

We went in and spent the rest of the day waiting for Mum and Piran to come home. Eventually they got back and we were hungry so we went to get dinner. Dad, Cara and I got our shoes on and were just about to walk out the door when a storm with thunder, lighting and really strong wind started. We waited for it to finish but it didn’t so we went to the shop anyway.

The next day we went and looked around Georgetown. Mum and I saw a clan house which was a building that was half temple half dinning area. It was where families and friends could meet up and eat together. We also saw a Chinese museum that showed lots of old furniture.

 

 

 

At the end of the day we went to Chinatown which was a part of Georgetown full of Chinese people. In Chinatown we saw a big group of teenagers doing a dance with drums. They were telling a story that I thought was about two groups of people fighting. I thought that the dancing was cool. After the dance we went to a stall that was selling things called ice balls. We got one to share and they were just ice in a ball with flavour on the top. I really liked the ice balls.

 

 

After that we went back to bed and the next day found ourselves getting a taksi to the Thailand visa building. We went in but we found out that people from the UK got thirty days for free in Thailand so Mum said we shouldn’t get a visa. Instead we went up a hill by train and then we walked back down again. It was four hours and very steep downhill but we still made it. On the way we got attacked by monkeys so Dad scared them away. The walk was hard but I still enjoyed it.

 

The next day was our last day and we went shopping at a mall five minutes away from us. Cara and I got new shoes, Dad got a new speaker and we also got lots of other useful things. By three o’clock we were all tired so we went for some more ice balls but this time one each. We then went to Pizza Hut and then back to the apartment where we all fell asleep after a long four days in Georgetown.

I really enjoyed Georgetown and my favourite thing was the ice balls and walking down the hill. While we walked around Georgetown I saw lots of very old and interesting buildings especially in Chinatown.

Week 19- KL and Cherating

 

On Monday afternoon we travelled from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur on the aerobus, a coach with reclining seats, personal screens for watching films and an in-flight meal of Nasi lemak and some truly tasteless jelly for pudding. Ben had read that the buses in Malaysia are often dirty and infested with cockroaches but this has not been our experience on any of our journeys, all of which have been clean and comfortable. We were dropped off near the huge Petronas towers, beautifully lit up at 11 at night. With Chinese New year rapidly approaching, accommodation was quite scarce and relatively expensive, so we opted to stay in a smart, clean condo with a fantastic swimming pool in the stylish area of Bintang for not much more than the price of a hostel. It was midnight by the time we had settled in but we all slept well and enjoyed a lie-in the next day.

 

Our apartment was overlooking the KL Forest Eco-park, an area of protected forest in the city containing a canopy walkway and several walking trails, as well as the very tall telecoms tower. We decided to spend a few hours exploring here on our first day, followed by an afternoon relaxing by the pool before heading out to Chinatown for dinner. We didn’t see much wildlife up in the canopy apart from a few small birds, but we had a good view of the surrounding parts of KL including several Christian churches amidst the enormous skyscrapers, mosques and colonial-style buildings. It was lovely and peaceful despite the busy city surroundings. The bamboo trail was a bit more exciting- when a branch fell on me I looked up, wondering if it had been dropped by monkeys above. Sure enough, there was a large group of silver leaf monkeys playing in the canopy, much to Jago’s surprise, as it transpired that it had actually been him who had lobbed the branch at me! We enjoyed watching them for a short while, seeing them take enormous leaps from tree to tree and noticing how the trees with thin trunks bent right over as they landed, acting as a springboard for their next jump. Somehow, spotting some wild animals on a walk seems to make the experience much more satisfying and fulfilling for us all, and we enjoyed sharing it with Ben this time, having seen these monkeys before in Borneo, with the children acting as tour guides sharing the knowledge they had gained with him. There was also a small group of the inevitable grey macaques but we see them so often that they are no longer considered exciting, we are just a bit wary of their naughty behaviour! The roof-top swimming pool and playground were the perfect spot to relax in the afternoon out of the heat of the day and the kids had fun playing for a few hours, followed by a few games of Rosie’s rummy which even Ben is now grudgingly joining in with, despite his protestations that the rules are all wrong. In the evening we headed out to Petaling Street and Central Market in KL’s Chinatown where we were going to meet up with one of Ben’s schoolfriends Mark and his wife, Tina, for dinner. Tina introduced us to some wonderful Chinese food including chicken claypot, a dish of very tender slow-cooked chicken and rice, spicy clams, sweetened soya milk and a pudding made from beancurd, both of which are meant to keep you youthful and give you beautiful skin, and finally coconut and peanut pancakes as it was Shrove Tuesday. We were incredibly full by the time we rolled home, and it was so nice to hang out with them for a couple of hours, for Ben and Mark to catch up with each other, and to get recommendations for the next phase of our travels.

 

 

Ben needed to get some work done on Wednesday, so the kids and I headed out to KL bird park for the morning, supposedly the world’s largest free-flight walk through aviary. It was jam packed with pelicans, storks and peacocks amongst many other smaller birds, although the peacocks looked very sad with many of them having lost most of their feathers. Although it was a good opportunity to learn more about some of the birds that we had been seeing by observing them at close quarters, after seeing so many wild birds soaring freely I couldn’t help but feel bad for these beautiful creatures being kept in a confined space, no matter how large. At the end of the morning there was a short show where the parrots and macaws displayed their intelligence and training which we all enjoyed. Cara was picked from the audience to hold up a hoop for one of the macaws to fly through which he did, twice, before swooping low over our heads to another hoop on the opposite side of the auditorium. It was wonderful to see it so close up and a happy note to finish our morning on. We managed to see some of KL on our taxi ride to and from the bird park, passing through Merdeka square with its fabulous colonial buildings, now with various uses including a museum and a theatre. Having enjoyed the multicultural feel of Kuching and Singapore, it was even more pronounced here in KL and I loved the feeling of not knowing what we might found around any corner. Again we spent the afternoon relaxing back at the condo, before strolling to Jalan Alor for dinner, a road lined with restaurants and hawker stalls that is cordoned off at night allowing pedestrians to explore and eat at leisure. We picked a busy looking place and had a fantastic meal of street food. While it wasn’t exactly cheap, the food was delicious, and we have all enjoyed eating food with more of a Chinese influence since arriving in Peninsular Malaysia. Nasi goreng and soy sauce noodles now feel like a distant memory, as we are eating more ginger chicken, pork ribs, bok choi and greens, food we all find delicious. So far KL has definitely had the tastiest food of our travels! After dinner, we decided that we couldn’t leave here without finding out what all the fuss about durian is about. This is a very strong smelling fruit that is banned in many hotels and on public transport, but which seems to be well loved by many people. I had never had a problem with the smell of it before myself, unlike Rosie who reported feeling nauseous even from catching a slight whiff from a roadside stall as we drove past. To lessen the effect we decided to try it deep fat fried in batter, thinking that it would only have a slight flavour of durian- big mistake! I can honestly say I have never tasted anything more disgusting in my life, and I definitely won’t be trying that ever again! I would still be willing to have a taste of it uncooked, hoping that the flavour might not be so strong, but unfortunately I have now joined the club of people who feel sick whenever they smell it. Oh well, you win some you lose some, and at least we gave it a try!

Our original plan for Malaysia had been to spend a bit longer in KL and then head up to the Cameron Highlands before continuing on to Penang, however with Chinese New Year falling this coming weekend, we realised that we would have to change our plans somewhat. We could either get a bus out of KL on Thursday, or not until Tuesday, and there was no accommodation available in the Cameron Highlands as it is a popular holiday destination for locals as well as tourists. We decided to head out on Thursday rather than get stuck in the city for a further 5 days, and to add in a trip to Cherating on the East Coast for some surfing and beach fun whilst waiting for the craziness of CNY to pass. We were grateful that our visas for Malaysia were for 3 months so we didn’t have to worry about how long we spent here. On Thursday morning we went to see an acrobatic lion dance at Central Market to find out a bit more about how Chinese New Year is celebrated. The two performers at the front and back of the lion were very adept at jumping onto poles, then onto each other’s shoulders in the very hot-looking lion costume, whilst children played music and drums in the background. It was great fun! After his performance, the lion threw mandarins and golden coins to everyone in the audience, and several people thrust red envelopes into his mouth. This is all supposed to be very lucky and auspicious, and it has been incredibly noticeable how superstitious the people here are with adults more desperate than children to catch the oranges, predicted fortunes advertised everywhere depending on what year you were born in, and lucky this and auspicious that used widely as advertising tools. The red envelopes are stuffed with money and placed on trees decorated with oranges, and we have been given so many packets of free envelopes with our shopping that we have plenty to celebrate Chinese New Year ourselves, in our own way. Rather than swap money, we have decided to write positive affirmations for each other which we will swap on Saturday.

After our fun morning and grabbing some lunch at a hawker stall, it was off to the bus station once again to find a bus to Kuantan, a 4 hour journey from KL. Cherating was a further 30 minutes on from there by taxi, but eventually we made it to our destination where we were staying in a traditional wooden kampung house set in a large garden in the village rather than the tourist strip. It was a wonderful space in which to stay. Although it was dusty and not the cleanest accommodation we’d had, the house had a really nice feel and felt like a proper cosy holiday home. After spending nearly a week in cities, it was lovely to be somewhere more rural again, with no sightseeing agenda, time to indulge hobbies again such as reading, art and music, and the freedom to come and go to the beach as we wished. Cherating was easily the cheapest place we have stayed in Malaysia food-wise, with most of our main meals costing only a couple of pounds each, including lime juice to drink. It was a simple place with only a handful of restaurants run by local families who were always friendly and cheerful when we came to eat. We soon got into a routine of roti canai for breakfast most mornings and a Chinese-style lunch or dinner at a local place near the beach, although one evening our hostess, Piha, prepared us a takeaway meal to eat at our house which was amongst the best food I have eaten on our travels. The beach was wide with soft white sand and warm, clear, shallow sea that went out for miles at low tide, reminding me of Brancaster. The left side was perfect for beginner surfers, and Jago spent a couple of happy days out there, joined by Ben on one of those days, although sadly the waves were too small for surfing on the final day. Jago has had a lot of times on our travels where his plans have been unable to come to fruition, either because of the weather or because of his chosen activity being unavailable at the time, and I have been very impressed by how much better he is able to handle his disappointment as time goes on. Unfortunately if he decides to keep on with surfing as a hobby he is  going to get plenty of practice at this over the years! The rest of us enjoyed making sandcastles, jumping over the waves, pretending to be boats giving each other lifts in the shallow water and playing cricket, until the day that the cricket bat got left on the beach and sadly lost forever. It seems that Malaysia and Thailand have never heard about the sport of cricket as Google maps tells me that the nearest place to buy a replacement bat is India! Unfortunately we also managed to lose the football at Cherating so our active entertainment has now been reduced to catch, it and stuck in the mud. On the plus side, we don’t have quite so much to carry for now, and I’m sure it won’t be too long till we find new ones.

On Saturday we had a little CNY celebration, decorating one of the trees in the garden with oranges and the red envelopes we had prepared for each other. Our messages for each other were wonderful, all of us treasuring the kind words inside. Spending a lot of time together, it was a good way of lifting each other up and injecting some warmth and love in to the family. I definitely think we should try and incorporate a similar activity into our lives on a more regular basis.

After writing our affirmations we made the mistake of leaving our pencil case on the table outside when we headed out for the afternoon. On our return, we were surprised to see that the pencil case had disappeared, however the thief had dropped most of the pencils on the ground, as well as upturning a mug that we had also left out, and dropping some other rubbish on the patio. It was quite a mystery as to why they would have taken the case but left the contents and why it was necessary to make such a mess in the process. The following morning we were awoken by a loud pounding on the roof of the house. Looking outside we had our answer as the thieves revealed themselves to be a large troupe of grey macaques running around the house and garden, finishing up in one of the tall palm trees. We had forgotten that the outdoor spaces round here are not secure, and have learnt another valuable lesson about looking after our stuff! At least none of our clothes went missing this time…

We were so content in Cherating living a simple, relaxed life that we ended up staying here for 5 nights with no need for organised activities. After the structure and schedule of the last few weeks travelling around Borneo, then sightseeing in the cities of Singapore and KL, it was just the downtime that we needed before taking on the rest of Malaysia, and Cherating definitely ranks in my top 10 favourite places of our travels so far for its easy, relaxed vibe with beautiful beach, fabulous food and beginners’ surf.

Kuala Lumpur

We got a comfy, yellow bus from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur. The bus was very comfortable, it had TV screens, reclining seats and meals. The bus was 6 hours long and it was Piran’s favourite bus.

We stayed in a flat on the 17th floor, Piran and I slept on sofa beds, Jago slept on a sofa and Mum and Dad had the bed. There was a shared swimming pool and play ground we enjoyed hanging out at.

 

That night we met Mark and Tina (some of Dad’s friends) and had dinner with them. We had clay pot rice with chicken, vegetables and some seafood. After diner we wandered around and Tina brought us soya bean milk and a yogurt-y thing. I liked the milk but not the yogurt. After that it was getting late so we said goodbye and went back to the flat.

That morning we woke up and decided what we were going to give up for lent. Jago and I were giving up sugary snacks, Mum and Dad gave up alcohol and Piran gave up fizzy drinks. Then we went to see a lion dance. In the lion dance people walked around in lion costumes dancing and balancing on poles. There were two people in each lion and sometimes the one on the front would jump on to the person at the back.

 

We sometimes got given oranges and chocolate coins. When Mum, Dad and Piran were eating the chocolate coins, Jago decided he would give up giving up sugary snacks and would join Piran in giving up fizzy drinks so that he could eat a chocolate coins.

 

 

The next day, Mum, Piran, Jago and I went to a bird park whilst Dad stayed in the flat and did some work. At the bird park, the most of the birds roamed free but some were in cages. All the birds were very colourful especially the peacocks. After we had wandered around, we went to the bird show. The birds showed off their tricks, flew through hoops and talked to us! After the show we went back to the flat.

Kuala Lumpur is a busy and not very interesting city, although the activities around it are quite fun. The food from the local stalls was amazing and delicious.

Sarawak Cultural Village

After Danum valley we went to Kuching for a week. We went to a cultural village. There we learnt about different tribes from Borneo. We saw what their houses looked like and how they lived. The Ibans went head hunting. This is where they killed their enemies then put the heads outside their village to scare off invaders. The Bidayuh had small blowpipes for hunting . They put in poison darts and fired at their prey. The Penans also used blowpipes but their blowpipes were the height of Jago. There were also the Orang ulus, the Melanaus, the Malays and the Chinese.
The Bidayuh, Orang Ulu and the Iban lived in longhouses. Longhouses are long houses with rooms coming off the sides and are so long a whole village can live in one. I think I like normal homes better because you have more personal space. The Melanau lived in a tall house. A tall house can hold 200-400 families and can be four floors tall. I like the tall house best because I love being high. The Malay lived in a town house and the Penan lived in huts. The Chinese lived in farm house. We didn’t see the rooms but we did learn how to make birds nest soup. Birds nest soup is a soup made out of swallow saliva that has been taken out of birds nests. All the houses were made out of bamboo, even the tall house!

 

 

 

 

We watched a show were we saw traditional dances. My favourite thing was the show.

Next we went to a beach, had lunch and played. We used our blowpipe and Jago and Piran fought with sticks. After we had had enough time at the beach we went back to Kuching. Kuching was a nice place to visit and there were lots of things to do around there. We were going on to Singapore in 2 days time and that night we were excited to meet Dad but sad about saying goodbye to Rosie.