Settling in with the cats, getting sand in our shoes, and joining the evening social hub on the patio.

Day 66: Penang, Malaysia. After breakfast, we packed our bags and moved to a new guesthouse just a few minutes walk away. We decided to extend our stay in Georgetown by a couple of days, and as our current guesthouse wasn’t available, we found another one right around the corner (there’s certainly no shortage of places to stay in this town).

Before we left the guesthouse, we had a lengthy chat with an animated New Zealand guy called Andy, who arrived in Georgetown late last night. He was eager to pick our brains on what to do in Penang and where the best places to eat are (tricky one to answer, given there are so many options). He’s travelling with his wife and son for 8 months around Asia, then Europe, and he admits they’ve got a bit lazy and ‘don’t do enough research’. Which is probably why he and his family found themselves at the wrong airport the night before, and had to throw away three flights, and book new ones. He arrived in Georgetown, thinking it would be a small village, and was blown away to find it’s a pretty big place.

Travel research is definitely time consuming, but it’s necessary if you want to arrive in places at the best times, stay in the best locations, see what there is to see and plot the most efficient routes from place to place. Lil does pretty much all our travel research – she’s good at it and enjoys it, though gets frustrated sometimes when information is tricky to find online or transport connections don’t connect well or at all.

Our new guesthouse is somewhere between a guesthouse and a hostel – rooms are very basic but fine, it has a communal kitchen area and is filled with lots of young backpackers. It’s also a little cat-centric – there are pictures of cats everywhere and three (very well looked after) moggies roaming around the place. It’s a lot of fun.

After settling in to our new place, and scoffing toast and coffee, we decided to check out the seaside. We caught a bus from Georgetown to Batu Ferringhi, a popular beach resort about 15km north of the city. The traffic was horrible again – the bus was well behind schedule, and the journey took about an hour. The beach was surprisingly quiet given how many European tourists there are in Georgetown. We also assumed there would be lots of locals there too, given it’s Sunday today. It was lovely to have a relaxing stroll along the beach, and enjoy the calm after the hectic streets of Georgetown.

Batu Ferringhi is billed as the second most popular tourist destination after Georgetown. There are lots of high rise apartment blocks and large hotels, heaps of restaurants and cafes, however lots of places seemed closed. High season is November to February, but even so it seemed weird that things were so quiet.

We got caught by the incoming tide several times, leading to wet feet and socks full of the sharp sand. And in the high tide line, we found a good reminder why we should keep our shoes on – a cone shell, which is highly venomous.

With wet sandy shoes, we caught the bus back to Georgetown, headed back to the guesthouse and had a late afternoon nap. Then we headed out for dinner – our guesthouse is in Little India and we chose a local Indian eatery. There are some amazing buildings around here too, and more great street art.

The menu selection was small – there seemed to be only one main meat option – a spicy chicken dish wrapped up in a big crispy dosa with a number of sauces to pour over the dosa, or dip it into. The guy also dropped some sort of bread on our table, and a spicy vegetable pastry. He was an expert salesman and tried to further upsell us on some Indian green sweet, but we said no thanks.

Afterwards we went for beers in Love Lane. Lil had lots of research to do, so we settled down with laptop and drinks. 20 minutes later, the place was getting really busy, the music had been turned up and we decided to head off somewhere quieter. We remembered that our guesthouse has a street-facing patio at the front, so we decided to go and sit there for a bit of peace and quiet. Turns out the patio is the social meeting hub for people staying in the guesthouse – before long there was a gang of us sitting drinking and chatting for hours.

It’s always interesting to meet new people, and hear about their travels. One of the other guys is a skydiving instructor from Melbourne called Aaron – over the winter he earns hardly anything in Australia, and said it’s a heap cheaper for him to go and live in Asia for a few months. He’s also a base jumper (in his own words ‘a real fruit loop’). Some of the others are long term travellers too, and some are just here for a couple of weeks’ holiday. All lovely people.

And of course, the guesthouse cats were happy to hang out with us too.

Tomorrow we’re planning a long walk through Penang National Park, and then doubtless more great food and beers.

More then.

Lil bans ducks feet at breakfast, a personal tour of the snake farm, and Spiderman sprints past with a wheelchair.

Day 65: Penang, Malaysia. We woke to another bright sunny day, and headed for dim sum for breakfast, this time at a different local restaurant. It still feels a bit odd to be packing in Chinese food for breakfast, but it certainly beats toast and marmalade. Lil’s only proviso is that Jim doesn’t order ducks feet or anything equally icky at that hour of the day.   

Our plan today was to visit the Snake Temple, a Chinese temple about 12km south of Georgetown. We’d read a bunch of reviews about the place – some good, some bad, but decided to give it a go and form our own views. We caught the bus from Georgetown, which took about an hour in the packed Saturday lunchtime traffic.

The temple was built in 1850 to honour a Buddhist monk called Chor Soo Kong for his many good deeds, including healing the sick and giving shelter to snakes. Devotees from as far as China, Singapore and Taiwan visit the temple to pray on the monk’s birthday. Legend has it that not long after the temple was built, Wagler’s pit viper snakes started to take shelter in the temple.

Today there are lots of pit vipers in the temple. They supposedly went there for refuge, and now hang about coiled up on counters next to urns and religious offerings, and on top of small wire trees. Pit vipers are venomous snakes – one bite is enough to land you in hospital for a week. There are signs warning visitors not to touch or prod the snakes – whether they have had their venom removed or not, we have no idea, but we certainly weren’t going to take any risks.

There’s also a snake breeding area in the garden out the back of the temple, where a few large trees have heaps of pit vipers curled up amongst their branches. When we’d had enough of spotting and counting the snakes in the trees, we headed inside where there were a few huge burmese pythons in a display case, with no lid on.

We had the opportunity to have our photo taken with the biggest python (for a chunky fee), which we declined. While we were in the room, one of the pythons decided to crawl out of the display case and go for a bit of a stroll. The guy who was sitting supervising them didn’t notice at first, and then didn’t seem too bothered that his snake was escaping. We scurried quickly out the door and around to the adjoining snake farm.

The snake farm was set up about 12 years ago, and we think it’s fabulous. It’s a little similar to the one we visited in Bangkok, except here the snake housing seemed to be more roughly tacked together with plywood and nails (Lil spent a fair bit of time checking out the construction, fearful that a snake might find a means of escape while we were there).

There were lots of snakes to oggle through the perspex windows, including some highly venomous ones like king cobra, monocled cobra and mangrove pit viper. As we were viewing a huge albino python, a guy came up and started chatting to us about the snakes. His name is Teoh, the manager of the snake farm and an experienced snake handler and collector.

We were incredibly lucky to meet Teoh – he’s a fabulously friendly and very knowledgeable guy and he spent ages showing us around and talking us through each of the snake’s background, toxicity, behaviour and origin. He also told us lots of stories about his experiences as a snake handler. He has been bitten once, which he says was ‘because he was being lazy’. Instead of following proper process he put his hand into a snake cage when he was cleaning it to get a water bowl, and a pit viper bit him. He was in hospital in severe pain for 5 days, and now has very restricted movement and no feeling in his left thumb as a result.

He also told us about a renowned ‘snake charmer’ who used to work with him at the snake farm. The guy’s speciality was kissing king cobras, until one day he was bitten by one on his finger. King cobras are highly highly venomous. Teoh was there are the time it happened, and says his only choice was to get a knife and chop the guy’s finger off, then apply a compression bandage and get him to hospital. There’s a picture of the guy’s finger above the cage, and it ain’t pretty. He demonstrated how feisty king cobras are by opening a cage and prodding one with a pink brush – we watched fascinated (and to be honest, a little terrified) as it repeatedly reared up ready to strike.

We became a little fascinated by a 5 metre long python in one of the cages – it was slithering up the wire door like it was trying to get out, and flicking its tongue through the wire (we stood well back). Teoh explained that pythons get fed once a week – and today was feeding day. Their weekly meal is 5 or 6 live chickens, eek. He was due to push another live chook into the cage, but the python was too close to the door at that point, so he had to wait for fear it might get out. Teoh also explained that if a python that big is hungry, it will happily and can quite easily consume a human. He was keen for us to stay and watch the feeding action taking place – we said we were happy to give it a skip. The stuff of nightmares.

We left to catch the bus back to Georgetown. By now it was late afternoon, so we decided to can our plans to head west around the coast to visit a floating mosque. We got back to the town, and had a pre-dinner beer in a very cute bar on Love Lane. While we were sitting with our drinks, Spiderman ran past, pushing a wheelchair. Never a dull moment, as they say.

After another great dinner (this time chicken claypot, fish noodles and dumplings), we headed for some Saturday evening people watching and beers on Chulia Street again. Along the way we passed a fun band playing music as part of the Georgetown Festival – the drummer had an interesting drum kit made up of Milo and baby formula tubs, a dustbin for a bass drum, and a metal teapot for a cymbal, using chopsticks to play. And it sounded great.

Then we headed back to the guesthouse to catch up on some reading and have an earlyish night. Tomorrow we’re moving to another guesthouse up the street, so we can stay an extra day in Georgetown. And hopefully we’ll pack in a long sunny walk too.

More then. 

A seaside walk with no view, people watching on Chulia Street, and getting serenaded with forgettable pop songs.

Day 64: Penang, Malaysia. We woke today with legs achy and tired after our long and hilly hike yesterday. We’d agreed to have an easy day today, so we pottered about the guesthouse this morning, catching up with online messages, doing some planning and generally chilling out.

Around lunchtime we went for a walk around the town to check out some more old historical buildings and landmarks. Lots are in superb condition and have been kept well, but we also walked past some sad looking buildings and houses that have fallen derelict, and others that badly need some repair.

We also wandered into the Northern Road Protestant Cemetery, an interesting space which dates back to the first settlement of Penang by the British Oriental Company in 1786. The cemetery was in use for around 100 years. Protestants were interred in the northern section, and Roman Catholics in the southern section, with the two sides later separated by a dividing wall. The Catholic section is now locked and closed off to visitors, but we spent a bit of time wandering around the Protestant graves and reading inscriptions.

A plaque at the entry mentions that around 33% of the identifiable people buried in the graveyard were aged below 30, reflecting the high mortality rate from diseases such as malaria, cholera, dysentery and hepatitis. Thank goodness for modern medicine.

Afterwards we headed towards the water, but due to some upgrade works along the Georgetown seafront, and a planned ‘world class park-on-the-sea’ on reclaimed land further along at Gurney Wharf, it wasn’t a particularly interesting waterside walk. The buildings that are placed along the waterfront must be fed up that their view has gone, and they’re now stuck looking at high fences until the Wharf has been finished.

Just past Gurney Drive we were able to walk through an upmarket gated community and along a small pathway on the waterside, with no fences, and lots of water monitors, some pretty big. As we popped out a security gate at the end of the path, we turned to see read a sign that said the area we’d walked through was for residents only. Oops. Never mind.

By now we’d reached Straits Quay, a marina and shopping mall, again sitting on reclaimed land. We walked around the small marina, read the information board outside the Eastern & Oriental Visitor Centre (the centre had already closed for the day), and got hassled to have a beer at an Australian pub along the waterfront (we declined).

At this point Jim’s feet were killing him – a combination of the long walk yesterday and his plantar fasciitis playing up. So we decided to grab a Grab, and headed back to the town. Despite our easy day, we still managed to walk over 12km – which may also explain why Jim’s feet were extra achy.

Land reclamation is a bit of a sore point here just now. There’s a lot of controversy about a reclamation project to create three artificial islands to the south of Penang. The idea is the government will build the new islands, totalling about 4,500 acres, then sell off around three quarters of the land to fund improved transportation infrastructure across Penang. The project got the green light a few months ago, however registered fishermen in the area aren’t happy as it will directly affect their livelihood, and environmentalists are voicing their concerns too. There have been protests and calls to can the project – it will be interesting to see how it all pans out.

After dinner (again at the food hall – we could probably eat there every evening for months and not work our way through all the options) – we decided it was time for a spot of Friday evening people watching with beers. Just down the street we stopped for a bit to watch a couple singing and playing music – no idea what the instrument the girl is playing is called, but it’s pretty impressive. It looked like a vertical xylophone with bamboo pipes.

We plonked ourselves in the doorway of a bar along Chulia Street, which was a couple of doors down from the Reggae Bar we visited yesterday. We had to keep our eyes down as the sales-keen staff tried to woo us into the reggae bar again with shouts of “Free drinks for ladies!”

We spent a happy couple of hours drinking beers and watching the world go past – it’s a very busy part of the town and there’s certainly never a dull moment. The tourist season is really starting to heat up here now as England and other European countries start their summer holidays.

The owner of the bar we were in also has a fruit stand right outside, selling chopped up fruit in plastic bags and fruit shakes. He was working so fast we could hardly keep up as we watched all sorts of fruit shakes being whizzed up in his food processor and small bags of fruit slung into plastic carry bags.

He had some regular visitors too who dropped past to collect their usual orders, including a guy in a bright yellow t-shirt who sang us a few lines from a song called ‘Gimme dat banana’ (a 1970’s number by Black Gorilla apparently, we’d never heard it before); and as he was leaving on his motorbike, a funny wailing rendition of ‘Bye bye love’ from the Everly Brothers (we know that one). It was a lot of fun.

Then home to the guesthouse. We decided we need an extra day in Georgetown (there’s a lot to do and see on the island). Sadly it turns out our current guesthouse isn’t available, so we’ll move to another one 5 mins walk away on Sunday, which is a shame as we love it here. Lots of great chill out areas, lovely friendly people and fun painting and art installations too.

Tomorrow we’re planning to visit a few more sights, and we might try out the local bus system to give Jim’s achy feet an even longer rest.

More then.

Devouring dim sum for breakfast, a monster hike up Penang hill, and running clear of fighting monkeys.

Day 63: Penang, Malaysia. Breakfast today was dim sum, in a traditional rustic Chinese shophouse a couple of minutes walk from the guesthouse, which was packed with locals. There were huge wooden baskets on the counter and piled alongside on a steamer, full of lots of different types of freshly cooked dim sum. Accompanied by egg tarts and a huge pot of Chinese tea, it was just what we needed before we set off for a very long walk to and up Penang Hill.

The weather was perfect, warm but not too hot and a little overcast. We walked through the town, choosing some different streets so we could check out some more old colonial buildings along the way, then headed 5km north to the Botanical Gardens, to the start of the Penang Hill trails. Along the way, Lil was desperate for some more caffeine so we stopped for a Penang White Coffee at a roadside cafe, which came served in ‘Happy 2013’ mugs.

There are a few ways of getting to the top of Penang Hill – the funicular railway, drive up a crazy steep main road, or hike up rough steps and trails through the jungle-like forest. Not surprisingly, we were keen to try the latter, though we’d read that it’s a fairly tough hike.

Penang Hill was used as a retreat during the British colonial period, and today it’s a popular tourist attraction. We seemed to be the only ones doing the hike though, so presumably everyone else saves their legs by driving or catching the funicular railway.

We walked through the Botanical Gardens and found the unmarked start of the trail a little way along on the left. We started climbing steeply up through the forest, stopping for water breaks along the way and enjoying being in the rainforest with a huge array of trees, plants and flowers, squawking birds and screeching monkeys.

We scrambled up muddy slopes, kicked our way through piles of leaves (praying there were no snakes hiding underneath), stepped over black and red ants that were a few centimetres long, and spotted a fabulous silver and red lizard that stood still just long enough for us to snap a couple of pics.

Part of the trail consists of the Moniot Heritage Trail. It’s named after the man who surveyed the area, Jules M Moniot, who went on to become the first surveyor-general of the Straits Settlements. It was finished in 1825, using convict labourers of Indian descent from British Bencoolen (now Bengkulu in Indonesia). There are lots of rare plants and animals in the area on the WWF endangered species list.

The hike was a long and tiring one, and when we finally reached the top, it was a bit of a party town, packed with families and couples. The Penang Hill 2019 Festival was also underway, with lots of stalls selling food and nick-knacks, and offering photography and golf buggy rides round the summit.

There are sweeping views across the city from the decks at the top of the hill, however unfortunately the air was misty and smoggy, so we couldn’t see a great deal. The pics below shows what we could see compared to what the view is like on a brighter day.

We sat for a bit to rest and work out how to get back to the town. Tempting as it was, it was too late in the afternoon to retrace our steps through the forest, and we’d already walked over 15km, a large chunk of that upwards – over 800m climb. So we decided to walk back down along the crazy steep main road.

The path we wanted to take back down to the road was closed off due to a festival special ‘photography love tunnel’ blocking the way, so we walked around and started our descent. Thankfully cars and 4WDs are used to hooting madly before each bend, so we were able to tell when there was one approaching in front or behind and jump into the ditch to let it pass. At points the road signs said 30% or 1 in 3 in the old money.

On the road down we walked past lots of macaques sitting on walls, running along the road and swinging noisily in the trees above. We had one unsettling moment when a group of about five monkeys decided to have an almighty scrap, then another bunch behind us decided to run to join in – and we were stuck right in the middle. We managed to sprint to the far side of the road and get out of their way just as the second set went hurtling past. As Lil always says, monkeys are cute until they start acting up, then it’s best to get well out of their way.

We also saw a snake on the road, which seemed to be dead. We prodded it with a stick just to make sure, before getting close enough to take some pics.

We got to the bottom of the main road, walked back through the Botanical Gardens and headed home. By the time we reached the town, we’d walked 27km and were feeling pretty flattened. We headed straight to a bar called Reggae Bar for beers, and Lil scored a couple of free rum and cokes, as ladies get free drinks between 6pm and 8pm. Not sure that’s even allowed in Sydney any more, due to tightening of RSA rules.

Then we went back to the same food hall as last night for dinner – we were both starving and quickly wolfed big plates of grilled fish with noodles, ramen chicken noodles and some awesome dumplings. The food was already scoffed before we remembered to take pics – suffice to say, it was delicious.

We headed home for a last beer at the guesthouse and to chill and catch up with stuff online, before a very long night’s sleep to recover from today’s hike.

Tomorrow we’re planning to take it easy in the morning, then we’ll head out for a shorter walk along the coast in the afternoon.

More then.

Gallivanting around Georgetown, Jim eyes up agar-agar jelly eggs, and a tribute to a cat called skippy.

Day 62: Kuala Lumpur & Penang, Malaysia. This morning we had another early start as we packed up our belongings, and headed north to Georgetown, Penang.

After a quick 10 minute walk to Sentral train station followed by a 20 minute ride on the KL Komuter, we found ourselves once again in the ticket collection area at Terminal Bersepadu Selatan bus station.

The bus left a bit late, but soon we found ourselves tearing along the freeway heading north out of KL. The main roads here are really good, and traffic seems to mostly flow without too many hiccups.

The uneventful bus ride took around 5 hours, and we pulled into Butterworth Sentral bus terminal just before 4.00pm. From there we just needed to catch a 15 minute ferry across the Penang Strait to Georgetown.

It was a pretty cool ferry ride. As the buildings of Georgetown came more clearly into view, we could start to see the buzzing activity along the jetties opposite. A little less cool was an Australian girl on the ferry who was explaining to some locals in excruciating detail how Australians and Europeans form orderly queues – or in her words, “everyone lines up behind each other – not like here, where everyone pushes and shoves”. We stood there kinda wishing the girl would go straight back to her orderly queues in Australia. How embarrassing.

We arrived at Georgetown wharf and walked to our accommodation, a very cool guesthouse in the heart of the old town. It’s an old industrial space that was once a jewellery warehouse, and has been superbly transformed into a guesthouse with a cafe, shared lounge areas and perhaps best of all – a bar with a live music stage.

The guesthouse is clearly very pro-music – there are posters everywhere advertising bands and gigs, funky music playing in the reception area, and in one of the chill-out seating areas there’s a huge selection of CDs for guests to select and play. They have open mic evenings and gigs most nights including tomorrow (Thursday), so we’ll go along and check the space out then.

Our very tiny but perfectly formed room is very cool – everything in the guesthouse has been well designed and thought through.

After we’d settled in (which pretty much involved slinging our backpacks into the space under the raised bed and shuffling around each other in the tiny space a few times), we headed out to take a look at the local area.

Georgetown is fabulous. Located at the north eastern tip of Penang Island, it’s Malaysia’s second largest city and a vibrant multi-cultural hub, packed with history. It was once an important Malacca Straits trading hub. These days it’s known for its colonial buildings, Chinese shophouses, spectacular mosques and a diverse range of sensational food to suit all tastes. It was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008. It’s an awesome place and we’re already thinking that four nights may not be enough here.

We spent a while walking up and down streets and laneways, admiring old buildings, sculptures and artwork. It’s a photographer’s paradise – around every corner there’s something unique and interesting just waiting to be captured on camera.

We strolled along a couple of the jetties by the waterside, each one named after a different clan (which was interesting given our trip to the Clan Association Temple in Chinatown, KL yesterday). On one of the jetties, a stall was selling Agar-Agar Jelly Eggs which looked very curious. Lil, who worries about food poisoning (perhaps a bit too much) dragged Jim past to stop him buying one, thinking that they’d probably been sitting out in the sun most of the day. Spoilsport.

We spotted a food hall opposite one of the jetties and decided to pop in and have a look. It was huge and lined with food stalls selling all sorts of local and wider Asian dishes, and packed with locals, which is always a good sign. We grabbed a couple of cold beers, then after a couple of laps of the huge range of food options, we settled on a Penang fish laksa, pork and cabbage dumplings and nasi lemak. Everything was superb.

After dinner we continued our walk around the town and along the promenade by the water. There are some seriously great buildings scattered about the town – we’re looking forward to having a closer look at some of them over the next few days.

And then we passed a mural that tugged at Lil’s heartstrings, big animal softie that she is – a rescue cat called Skippy, who was one of the most photographed cat icons and passed away earlier this year. What a great tribute.

Tomorrow we’re planning a long walk through the Botanical Gardens and up Penang Hill, where we’ll have spectacular views across Georgetown. And maybe Lil will relent and let Jim scoff an Agar-Agar Jelly egg. Or some frog porridge.

More then.

Getting our caffeine fix in a brothel, Jim finds a new weird thing to eat, and world snake day slithers around again.

Day 61: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. After breakfast this morning, we spent a while finalising travel and accommodation for the next chunk of our journey. Tomorrow we travel 5 hours north of KL to Georgetown, Penang.

We headed out into a fairly damp day, to catch a train across town to the medical clinic at Petronas Towers as Jim was due for his second rabies booster shot today. Thankfully despite it being busier today, we were in and out of the clinic in less than 30 minutes.

We’d arranged to meet a friend from Sydney for coffee in Chinatown this afternoon, so we walked over that way to grab some lunch beforehand. We went back to Mee Tarik – the restaurant we ate in recently with the irritatingly loud squawking cockatoo. Thankfully the bird was snoozing soundly today, so we were able to eat our noodles in peace.

Chinatown is full of great cafes and bars. We went to Merchant’s Lane for coffee, a rustic hard-to-find heritage space, tucked away at the end of Petaling Street. The building has been superbly renovated, and is now billed as Petaling Street’s most photogenic restaurant and ‘Instagram worthy’. The cafe takes up the entire first floor of an old Petaling Street shophouse which has a colouful history, as it used to be a brothel.

The coffee at Merchant’s Lane was superb and the service was top notch too. We spent a while chatting and catching up with our mate Cynthia, her cousin and friends, then we all went for a wander to explore some back lanes of Chinatown.

We started by visiting the Chan She Shu Yuen Clan Association Temple (try saying that after a couple of Tiger beers). A clan association is a type of club for people who hold the same surname (in this case Chan, but including Tan and Chen which are written using the same Chinese characters – that’s rather a lot of people). The association would have helped new immigrants to Malaysia to settle and find work. The temple was opened in 1908 and is a fabulously adorned building, with decorative panels and painted pottery friezes, and an altar that honours the three ancestors of the Chan clan.

Next we visited Kwai Chai Hong, a restored hidden laneway and shophouses tucked between Jalan Petaling and Lorong Panggung. Kwai Chai Hong only opened a few months ago, and is fast becoming a popular tourist attraction, and for good reason.

The walls and building facades have been transformed into thematic murals, depicting daily life around the neighbourhood in olden days, when the laneway was a notorious spot, with drinking, gambling and prostitution all taking place. The six fabulous murals have interactive QR codes which visitors can scan, to see the story behind each one. It’s an impressive and extremely well executed project.

We stopped for a quick look at a tea shop called Purple Cane, where Jim was thrilled to find something new and quirky to eat – Chinese tea eggs, which are eggs boiled in some sort of odd-looking tea concoction. He bought one, peeled and scoffed it in record time, and declared it ‘delicious’. Lil stood by, wrinkling her nose at the weird smell.

By now it was beer o’clock, so we all trotted off to try out PS150 – a speakeasy type bar on Petaling Street, housed in an old shop and situated underneath Merchant’s Lane, the cafe we visited earlier in the day. The entrance to the bar appears to be a retro-toy shop, but squeeze past it and into the narrow corridor behind and there are three separate bar areas tucked away – an Opium Den with intimate booths, an outdoor courtyard and the main bar, which is where we plonked ourselves for beers and cocktails.

We squished around a cosy small table in the dimly lit bar, using our phone torches to read the drinks menus, which are cleverly designed around school copybooks.

One of the gang snapped a pic of Jim – is it just a coincidence that there’s a full moon today?

We finished the day closer to home with another beer and a read of the local newspaper, which reminded readers that today is World Snake Day. Apparently there are around 3,500 known snake species worldwide, so despite our recent snake sightings, we have some way to go to complete the set.

Tomorrow we pack up again, and catch the bus to Penang. We’re really looking forward to exploring Georgetown and the wider island of Penang – lots of history and walking, and we’ve been told the food is superb there too. And who knows, perhaps we’ll tick off a few more of those 3,500 snakes.

More tomorrow.

Eyeballing monkeys in the forest, a handsome goat called Remos, and Lil hatches plans to make cute Jim famous.

Day 60: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We had a late start to the day today. Jim needed a big snooze-on after staying up until 3am to watch the England and New Zealand cricket match. PS – he was ecstatic to see England win.

It was lunchtime when we finally made it out the door. We were keen on a bit of a hike today, so walked about 5km south west to Bukit Gasing Forest Reserve, passing some random loose chickens as we walked along the pavement.

Bukit Gasing is a 100 hectare stretch of green belt, which was once a rubber estate. It’s now a haven of lush forest, with some great walking trails running throughout the reserve, and a couple of lookout points (though the views are largely obscured by trees these days). It’s a hugely popular recreational area at the weekend, so we were happy to be able to explore it on a Monday when it was really quiet. We only passed about ten other people in total the whole time we were there.

We stomped up and down tracks and steps and through glorious forest for a couple of hours. We didn’t spot any snakes along the way, but we did see some awesome monkeys swinging through the trees. It was great to see them active in their natural habitat, rather than running around temples, causing havoc and snatching food.

Afterwards, we caught the train to KL Sentral, then the monorail to Bukit Bitang to collect Jim’s glasses from the opticians.

By then it was beer o’clock so we headed back to Little India for a beer and a read of today’s newspaper. There was a great story in the paper about a goat called Remos, which has been labelled a ‘handsome goat’ because of a mid-line split on its crown and a long white beard with a hint of yellow. The farm owner posted a picture online and it’s gone viral. However the owner says despite being approached with attractive offers, he’s not selling the goat. Brilliant.

On Sunday evening when we were walking to Bangsar, a group of young guys called out to Jim and said “you are a very cute boy!”. Lil’s now considering posting a picture of Jim online, to see if he can achieve the same level of fame as the goat.

This evening we had dinner at a loud and fabulous pavement restaurant – more superb Indian food, and another monster meal.

After dinner, we had a night time stroll around the area to check out the action. Jim was disappointed that his Hare Krishna friends weren’t out singing and dancing again tonight (let’s be honest – he could do with the practice).

Tomorrow we’re heading back to the medical clinic for Jim’s second rabies booster shot, then catching up with a friend from Sydney in Chinatown late afternoon. It will be our last day in KL, before we head north to Penang on Wednesday.

More tomorrow.

A spot of essential shopping, Jim joins the Hare Krishnas, and getting our mojo back.

Day 59: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We snoozed on this morning until nearly 10am, both feeling a little flattened after the crazy events of the last couple of days.

We caught up with some stuff online, had some breakfast, then headed out for a spot of essential shopping (neither of us like shopping, so the window browsing stuff never happens).

Lil has been feeling very lost without her iPhone, which suddenly stopped charging last week. We’ve realised the damage likely happened from a power surge, while the phone was plugged into the socket on the bus to Cameron Highlands. Jim’s phone went black at the same time, but thankfully continued to work afterwards. Lil’s, however, would only charge to 5% and then quickly dropped down again.

It’s been a good test to see if Lil can manage without her iPhone and whether she might even get used to being phone-free. And there’s a very quick answer to that one – not a chance.

Every minute or two she was asking Jim what time it is, where the map says we should be going, whether we’ve received replies to messages from X or Y… And every time we stopped for coffee or to catch public transport, Lil had to borrow Jim’s phone to check emails and social media. Definitely a spot of phone addiction going on there.

We went to an Apple store in a flash shopping centre to see if they could help, however they didn’t have any diagnostic software so said we’ve have to wait and go to their service centre, which was closed on Sunday.

We were planning to wait until the next day, but then passed a phone repair booth in another shopping mall and decided to ask the guy there if he could help. He said it was most like a battery issue, and he could certainly fit a replacement. We watched while he performed open-heart surgery on Lil’s phone, praying that he was a qualified phone surgeon. 10 minutes later it was on test-charge and after 20 minutes everything was sorted, and the phone sprang back to life. And it was a heap cheaper than we would have paid in Sydney.

So with Lil weaving her way back through the shopping mall, heads down while looking at her phone and bumping into people (again, phone addiction is a worrisome thing) – the next essential visit on our list was an optician who could help with replacing the scratched prescription lenses in Jim’s Ray Bans.

The first few opticians we visisted all said they had a 5 day turnaround, which doesn’t work as we’ll be further north by then. Thankfully we found another optician who was able to provide a next-day service. They checked Jim’s prescription (reassuringly extremely close to the figures his Sydney optician had previously emailed through), he placed his order and paid (again a lot less than we would pay in Sydney), and we exited the shopping mall, happy to be free from the crazy crowds and bustle.

By now it was late afternoon so we decided to get out of the city centre and head over to Bangsar for a Sunday evening beer and a read of today’s newspaper, which is always a good way of getting some sense of what the key issues, initiatives and motivations are across the country.

A couple of cold beers later, we’d forgotten the hassles of busy shopping malls and with stomachs rumbling were now thinking about dinner. We headed back to Devi’s Indian restaurant down the street from the bar. We loved it when we visited last week, and it was every bit as fabulous this time around – we scoffed mutton varuval, spicy chicken curry, okra, spicy eggplant, cabbage, rice and some great nan bread with dhal. Lovely friendly people too.

Feeling more than a little stuffed, we caught a Grab car back to Little India and wandered around the streets for a bit to take in some of the evening action.

It’s a busy, vibrant place with continually blaring (but fun) Indian music. It’s lovely to see so many families out eating dinner together and packing in late evening shopping in the stores and supermarkets. We both love it here.

It’s also fascinating walking along the flower alley in Little India, and watching the stall holders arrange brightly coloured flowers into fabulous intricate garlands for spiritual worship and celebrations.

Just as we were about to head home, we spotted some Hare Krishnas further along the pavement playing music, singing their ‘Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna’ chant and encouraging people to join in with them. Lil stopped to take a photograph and they grabbed Jim and insisted he join in their singing and dancing. Lil took as many pics as she could while laughing her head off at Jim trying to follow the dancing patterns, and howling ‘Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna’ into their microphone. A lot of fun.

Then we headed home for another good night’s sleep. Jim decided to sit up and watch England and New Zealand play in the cricket final, and we both slept until after 10am again.

It was a good day, and having lost our mojo a little the past couple of days, we’re getting back in the groove again. Lil has been playing and singing the old Muddy Waters song ‘Got my mojo working’ while we’re planning the next chunks of our adventure.

Tomorrow we’ll get our walking shoes on and go for a stomp. And doubtless Lil will bump into a few people as she walks heads down clutching her resuscitated phone.

More then.

Jim gets chomped by a dog, a dismal visit to the government hospital, and deja vu in Kuala Lumpur.

Days 57 & 58: Cameron Highlands & Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The last two days have been a bit hairy, to say the least. And with everything we’ve had to deal with, we didn’t get a chance to write a blog post yesterday. So here’s a bumper edition – two days rolled into one.

There’s a lot of words, and not a lot of pics in this one – we’ll make up for it in tomorrow’s blog post. 🙂

It all started yesterday morning. After breakfast at the guesthouse, we headed out to hike another couple of walking trails in the Cameron Highlands.

We walked about a kilometre up the street, then turned left to the start of one of the walking trails, along a narrow track down to a waterfall. Only a couple of minutes into the walk, we passed a small wooden hut where there was an old man sitting on a bench, with a shifty looking dog prowling around.

The dog came over, walked past both of us looking a little unsettled, and then ran up behind Jim and bit him hard on the leg. Lil heard Jim yelp and turned to see him pulling up the leg of his pants, where two of the dog’s teeth had pierced the skin on his calf.

The old man called the dog over (we believe the dog was well trained both to come to attention, and to bite on command). The guy seemed totally unfazed that Jim had just been chomped.

We had no option but to turn back and head for the hospital, to get some rabies booster shots. We’ve both had rabies vaccines in Australia, with the knowledge that if either of us get bitten, we still need to go and get post-bite treatment, ideally within 24 hours, comprising two more booster shots, three days apart.

Cameron Highlands hospital was a 15 minute walk. We steered into their emergency department and the doctor there said they don’t keep any rabies vaccines, and the closest hospital that could help is Ipoh government hospital, nearly 100km away. We walked to the bus terminal to check the schedule – it was hours until the next bus, so we decided to hire a taxi.

A lovely Indian guy called Balan drove us to Ipoh, which took almost two hours. He suggested we try the biggest private hospital first, as the care is better, the wait time is shorter and as he put it ‘they have specialists there who ‘know what they are doing’. Unfortunately the private hospital didn’t stock the vaccine either, so our only choice was to go to the government public hospital, which turned out to be pretty dire.

Balan said he was happy to wait for us – 3 or 4 hours if needs be – and he headed off to get lunch and catch up with a friend in the town. We went into the emergency department, found the triage desk, then the registration desk, then were told to go and sit and wait in the corridor outside room 11B.

After a while Jim was called in and a lady doctor asked him 101 questions, including whether Jim had noticed any foaming of the mouth. We weren’t sure if the doctor was talking about Jim, or the dog that bit him, but the answer was no regardless.

The doctor went off to speak to the Infectious Disease Specialist, and came back to say she didn’t think they could help, as they didn’t consider Jim to be a high risk case. We said we’d still like the vaccine for peace of mind, so she called in the specialist to chat to us, and he said on the basis that there have been no ‘reported cases’ of rabies in Cameron Highlands, and Jim’s bite wasn’t excessively deep, the medical service would consider it to be a low risk situation and so he couldn’t agree to release the vaccine. They phoned around to see if any of the other private hospitals in the area stocked the vaccine, but none of them do – and if they order it specially, it takes days to arrive.

We went and sat in the waiting area again – the corridor ran between the emergency ward and intensive care, both of which were in full view of everyone. Every few minutes a gurney rolled past with someone on it – often in a not-so-great bloodied state – after a while we stopped looking as it was getting really disturbing.

The hospital is old and very dirty. Jim was called into a side room where they cleaned and dressed his wound, and he came out looking pretty horrified. By the standards we’re used to in Australia and Europe, it was horrid. Several people are treated at once in the same room, some getting plaster casts, some having shots, some having wounds dealt with, and the nurses seem to swap between those jobs without really cleaning up or changing gloves or washing.

Everyone at the hospital was lovely, and we both recognise and respect that they are doing the best they can within the resources available to them.

The doctor came past and said that an orthapaedic surgeon would look at Jim’s leg next, to determine if ‘anything further’ was needed. We weren’t sure what that meant, so we sat and waited – and waited… In the meantime another medical assistant came over and asked another heap of questions, including whether Jim had any stomach pains, and what had happened to the dog. Jim told her “the dog lived happily ever after”.

After ages, Jim was called into the treatment room again, where five people were gathered around discussing his bite. As we sat, keeping our bags clear of the bloody splats on the floor, they said that in Malaysia, for dog bites, they cut off the skin around the bite to open up the wound, and then you have to go a clinic every day for a while to have it cleaned. Having seen the state of the equipment in the room next door, and overheard the discussion where the interns were being told “it’s a very simple procedure…” and how to perform the op, there was no way Jim was agreeing to having his leg carved, so he said a very firm “No thank you, I do not want that”. They tried to convince him, but gave up and prescribed some antibiotics and painkillers (which turned out to be paracetamol).

After over four hours in the hospital, we headed outside and phoned Balan to say we were ready for pick up. By now it was rush hour, so we crawled through the town until we got to the highway and picked up some speed. It was after 8.30pm when we got back to Tanah Rata – we were hungry, worn out and frustrated that we hadn’t been able to get the vaccine after all our efforts. Lil said “let’s go for a beer and chat”, which usually means she has something on her mind or has an idea she wants to discuss – in this case, it was a bit of both. She suggested packing up our stuff last night, getting up very early this morning and catching the bus back to Kuala Lumpur, to see if we could get the vaccine there.

So we left our accommodation a day early, and caught the 8.30am bus to KL this morning, which got to the city around midday. We jumped straight onto the monorail to a private clinic north east of city, under the Petronas Towers, that was recommended online.

After a short wait and a quick chat, they gave Jim a rabies booster – it’s a shame we didn’t go straight there yesterday, but we were acting on the advice of the local hospital. We need to go back for the second booster in a few days’ time, so we’re grounded in KL until then, which we’re both fine with.

Lil booked accommodation while we were on the bus to KL, which is in Brickfields (Little India). We have to take back everything we said before about Little India here not being very interesting – we just hadn’t found the core area. We’re staying slap bang in the middle of it all now, and it’s fabulous.

We had much needed chill-out beers this afternoon and read the local newspaper, then went for an unbelievably good Indian dinner this evening, enjoying lots of music and activity all along the street. We also bought some super-sweet orange flavoured cake, which is a bit like compressed fairy floss, and should take us a month or two to eat.

Tomorrow we’ll be snoozing on very late – we’re both flattened after the dramas of the last couple of days, and with hardly any sleep in between. It’s been pretty stressful, but as Lil so aptly puts it “shit happens”.

More tomorrow.

Boxer shorts at breakfast, hiking around the highlands, and time to call the firemen.

Day 56: Cameron Highlands, Malaysia. This morning we dragged ourselves out of bed and headed downstairs for breakfast at the guesthouse. Breakfast was simple but great – coffee, wholemeal and carrot bread, crunchy coconut bread and a selection of awesome home made jams.

In addition to standard rooms, the guesthouse also has some backpacker-style dorm beds, which we discovered are situated in the same room as the communal kitchen. While we munched our toast, there was a rustling behind us and a guy in his boxer shorts walked past us to the bathroom down the corridor. Never a dull moment.

We got chatting to a Swiss guy called Steve, who has been travelling for a month, and at this point has no plans to return home. He applied for a crew position on a boat from Darwin to Madagascar and was accepted, despite having no experience. He packed up everything in Switzerland, sold his car and just before he was due to go, discovered the boat company had decided to take a more experienced crew member instead. Steve was so fed up that when the guy who bought his car came to collect it, he asked him to drop him to the airport and got on the first available flight, which was to Singapore. From there he travelled into Malaysia, and after this he has no idea where he might end up. He tells us that ‘plans just stifle opportunities’.

After breakfast, we threw on our walking gear and headed off to try out a couple of the Cameron Highlands walking trails – starting with number 10, which joins later with number 6.

Lil has been a bit apprehensive about walking around the Highlands, as a few years ago there were reports of a madman with a machete on trail number 9, plus (on the same trail) other reports of muggings, robberies and a man with scary dogs. We chatted to the lady who runs our guesthouse and she said the trails are fine, but still to avoid number 9, where there is an indigenous community which doesn’t like tourists walking through their property, and they have a bunch of angry dogs that you don’t want to meet. We’re very happy to give that one a skip (and totally understand people wanting privacy).

The walk was absolutely spectacular. We started walking up the road, then straight into the jungle where we climbed up steep muddy slopes amidst all sorts of trees and plants (and probably snakes and other wildlife). After a short hike straight up, we followed the mountain ridge for a few kilometers until we arrived at the peak where there were sensational views across the town and hills.

Then we followed a fire break down a steep track through the trees, sliding down muddy slopes on our bums, and into some farming land where they were growing bitter melon, runner beans and egg plants, and finally into the tea plantations in the valley below.

We arrived at Cameron Valley Tea House, a popular spot with locals and tourists with a viewing and dining deck on its rooftop looking out over the hills and tea plantations. Lil was keen on a coffee, until Jim pointed out that if you’re in a tea house in a big tea plantation, with a chance to sample famous local tea, then perhaps tea is the way to go. Fair point. So we got a pot of Cameron black tea and two cups and plonked ourselves on the deck.

By the time we’d walked back to the town, we were starving. The lady who runs our guesthouse had recommended a Chinese restaurant close by – she even asked us what food we like and wrote down some dish names in Chinese, which we simply handed over when we arrived at the restaurant – the simplest ordering ever. The food was superb (and we forgot to take a pic).

This evening we wandered back to Jungle Bar again for a post-dinner beer. It was a lot busier and livelier than last night, perhaps there was an influx of new people staying at the hostel next door. We sat on one of the wooden benches with a seat cushion, which turned out to be the bar dog’s favourite resting place, so he jumped up and nudged Jim along until he could lie down comfortably next to him. Very sweet.

On the way home there was a spot of drama in the town. A fire engine was stopped outside a block of apartments, and a large crowd watched as a fireman inched his way along the open sided shop awning. We asked a local guy what was happening – he said “cat!”. We assume a cat had got itself stuck on a ledge underneath some windows and someone had called the fire brigade to rescue it. The cat was nimbler than the fireman and it scarpered to the far end of the ledge behind a sign, from where we reckon it could probably easily get down itself anyway. After a bit the firemen gave up and took off – hopefully the cat got home safely for its dinner.

And as a side note, Lil’s phone has decided it doesn’t want to charge. So while we’re getting that sorted out, she’ll be a bit slower in responding to any messages.

Tomorrow we’re planning another walk on local trails, though we suspect our legs will be aching from today’s stomp, it was a fairly tough one.

More then.