Getting into the swing of it in Malaysia
After Taman Negara, we headed East, passing endless palm plantations and Chinese-Malay petrochemical complexes, before hitting the East coast. We were a bit flat when we finally reached Cherating, a beautiful laid-back beach town.
We camped right on the beach, and set about, unsuccessfully, doing a few jobs on our ‘todo’ list. The problem was the friendly and inquisitive Malays, the first of which was Hani, a young guy who rolled-up in his Pajero 4WD. He excitedly talked about always wanting a Defender and insisted we have his model Defender, which took pride of place on his dash. ‘Mini-Lara’ is now pride of place on our dash, along with our other mascots. Shortly afterwards, Jon was enrolled into the local 6-a-side beach soccer team, and was luckily on the winning team as the opposition had to do push-ups every time we scored.
Next stop was Lake Kenyir, where we worked up an appetite kayaking round some of the many jungle-covered islands. Dinner here proved pretty challenging. We were now off the beaten track and fewer people spoke English. The girls working at the local restaurant appeared to draw straws as to who would have to try their English on us – but in the end we got our dinner and some pretty disgusting drinks (something looked like cola, but had bits floating in it).
A long drive back to the West took us to the Cameron Highlands. This was paradise, pleasantly cool at 1,500m, full of manicured tea plantations stretched over idyllic valleys and jungle walks. More important than all this though was the number of Land Rovers. Every second car was a beaten-up Land Rover pick-up (Land Rover would never make a ute) ferrying bags of tea or fruit about the place. For a brief period, Lara was in heaven.
Penang, on the west coast, claims to be the food capital of Malaysia. It was also the over-development capital and full of flash Malaysians showing off their sports cars. I think they call it ‘progress’. But if you look beyond that, the old colonial heart of Georgetown is a unique melting pot of Malaysian, Chinese and Indian cultures and the food choices are endless. We chose Penang assam (fish) laksa and char kwey teow (substantially better, and cheaper, than you would get in a Brisbane food court) followed up with fried oysters.
We then met the only rude person in Malaysia. Whilst we were camping in the car park of the Penang National Park, the security guard, Mr Grumpy himself, woke us at midnight to tell us we had to leave before his boss came at 6am – even on a Sunday. We were then evicted at 5am, and moved next door to the smelly and noisy fishing docks, not so nice. But the park itself was great, we even saw some wildlife!
After Penang it was north to the Thai border. We covered 1,750km in Malaysia, and regarding breakdowns, I have proven my colleague Andy Way wrong. The Malays are wonderfully friendly and polite, if a little shy. Its just a a bit of a shame that the world has developed such an appetite for palm oil!
PS don’t forget to place your bet for the total number of kilometers you think we will drive from KL to London!!! You have until 1 April to place your bet! 🙂