Archive for August, 2011

Small Paradise!

Here we got one more video from the Perhentian Islands which we couldn’t post before because it didn’t upload fast enough, enjoy…

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The lights of the city….

But before that, immigration controls and luggage checks. All went smooth, and we reached Asia’s financial powerhouse in the evening and went downtown for yet another couchsurfing experience. This time with a Japanese expat based in Singapore. He was rather busy all the time, so there was little we shared during our stay unfortunately.

Marina Bay

Marina Bay

If Kuala Lumpur has many malls already, Singapore has gazillions, and they are huge. So yes, you can shop till you drop- if you got the cash…We opted out.

Yet, as the title suggests, cash we did spent- but otherwise.  But: first things first. Before we relieved our bank accounts of a substantial amount of cash, we went sightseeing around town- visiting Chinatown, the Colonial district, The CBD, the riverside and the gigantic, fairly new Marina Sands Bay area to the South- a huge complex featuring a shopping mall of high end brands, a luxurious hotel with incredible rooftop bar/restaurant (we did not go up, as already that costs 20 dollars…yep, Singapore is expensive) and one of Singapore’s ‘integrated resorts’ (or casino for the layman). Hint- some of our money vanished here…

Legendary Barman from Frankfurt having the legendary Singapore Sling in the Raffles

Legendary Barman from Frankfurt having the legendary Singapore Sling in the Raffles

Singapore still features some old buildings from Colonial times, such as the Raffles hotel, which we visited for the quintessential Singapore Sling in the hotel bar- to our huge disappointment, it was not that great…shame on you, Raffles!

There is this atmosphere of commerce in the air when you walk around town- business men and women everywhere, everyone dressed to impress (did we feel shabby) and expensive restaurants, bars and shops, shops, shops. Definitely not everybody’s cup of tea- and worlds apart from many of our previous travel impresssions.

Nevertheless, there are also the more ‘down-to earth’ suburbs, one of which we visited for some cheap beers along a busy road one night, seated at plastic tables, on plastic chairs, no fuss, just the real thing.

And there is nature to be found around Singapore as well- forest reserves with hiking paths, and the huge Singapore zoo, one of the best we have visited in our lives. It has an open concept, meaning many of the animals are free to roam the area at their own will- no fences. So you may just spot a Orang Utan right above your head. Amongst others, we saw reptiles, alligators, seals, monkeys, birds and many incredible jungle inhabitants like the mouse deer. And the Proboscis monkey, with the most incredible nose ever!!

Well, only one cocktail wasn't enough

Well, only one cocktail wasn't enough

So where did all that money go, then? Well, one night we just treated ourselves to a proper dinner at a French resturant, and the bill would have even been accepteable, had it not been for the wine that accompagnied the meal… After that, we ventured out to the casino to try or luck- as the title suggest, we did not have any, and left the place somewhat poorer than we had entered it….

Another giant fruit bat

Another giant fruit bat

But no regrets, and the lavishness will be doubly compensated by an instant noodle diet once we get to Australia.

Thus ended our time in Singapore and we boarded a plane headed to Kuching on Borneo, the Eastern part of Malaysia for some jungle adventures…

More on that soon…

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The Duck Story!

Every time you go to the Chinese  restaurant around the corner you probably wonder: “where does this delicious Peking duck actually come from?” In the far east they probably treat those ducks with special care, they hug them every day and they and instead of killing them, they sing them a lullaby before they fall asleep in their frying pans… Well that’s obviously not the case and in order to tell you the “real duck story” I went into some dodgy small alleys in Malaysia just to provide you with a small picture story about ducks, blood, slaughter and passion at the workplace. Next time you have your duck, take a few seconds to think about me and my duck-story, enjoy the pictures…..

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From the capital, our way led us up into the mountains, into the refreshingly cool Cameron Highlands (even though it has to be said that temperatures in Malaysia are fairly pleasant in general- humid and warm, but nor unbearably hot). The highlands are famous for strawberry and tea plantations as well as for hiking. We checked out number 2, and engaged in number 3.

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

But first, all hostels were booked out, so we ended up sleeping in the TV room of one of the guesthouses- thanks to the owner’s flexibility. On the culinary front, we discovered the Chinese version of fondue- called steamboat, where you are being served various bits and pieces of meat, fish and tofu as well as veggies that you then steam in a pot of some hot broth (chicken flavored, or spicy…)- very nice indeed!

The next day we went on a steamy (read: sweaty) jungle hike up a mountain (and over lots of roots….), and discovered the infamous jungle monster (buuuuaaahhhhhh!!!!!) before re-descending down the slope to arrive at Boh tea plantation for some educational insights about tea growing, harvesting and production. Of course, we could sample some of the tea as well- and a nice slice of carrot cake, before walking on.

From the mountains, we reemerged into the plains to Ipoh, a town famous for its buildings remaining from Colonial times, such as the court, train station and city hall- and the food: Ipoh chicken rice. The name is pretty self explanatory… What made our stay in Ipoh one to remember, however, was an encounter at a bar (yeah yeah, we know what you think: always the alcohol). It so happens, we went for some cold beers and were invited by the people at the next table to join them for some more drinks.  Some more turned into many,  1 bar became 3, and at the last stop, all nice and inebriated, we found ourselves singing karaoke- all loud and out of tune, and not caring, and laughing- in short: brilliant. The next morning brought a hangover from hell, but that was a price we happily paid…. 😉 Thanks again, guys!!!!!

Who can spot the Germans

Who can spot the Germans

I wear  my sunglasses at night

I wear my sunglasses at night

Nico and the ladies

After that, on to Penang we went, an island off the west cost with its capital Georgetown. We really liked the place a lot. Good atmosphere, nice things to see (like beautiful temples, old buildings, quiet lanes…) and excellent food! One day,we rented a scooter and explored the entire island,stopped for some fish soup for lunch and visited the most commercialized Chinese temple ever. It is a massive structure in general, the countries biggest Chinese temple- and it is very colorful (reminded of Disney Land a bit) and then there is souvenir shops at every corner that sell everything from snickers to kid’s toys…talking about spirituality, hey? Afterwards, we went to a tropical fruit farm to learn some more about the delicious fruit we had been enjoying ever since our arrival. Unfortunately, our tour was somewhat spoiled by a huge tourist group from the United Arabian Emirates, who (obviously NOT interested) chattered away instead of listening to the guide’s explanations, but captured every second of their stay on their i phones (thanks, Apple), ate all the fruit from the trees despite being asked not to do so (it was for sampling only), and then devoured the final fruit buffet that was offered as if there was no tomorrow. At least one of their noisy kids fell into a pond, much to my amusement.

Penang Street Art

Penang Street Art

IPhone and Chanel Bag, what else....

IPhone and Chanel Bag, what else....

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Our next stop was Kota Bahru, a town located in the far Northeast in one of the most Muslim provinces of the country, where even Islamic law is enforced. The difference to the rest of Malaysia was visible, as women adhered to Islamic dress code much stricter- and there was not even a cinema in town. From here, we went to Paradise for a couple of days. Yes, you read correctly. Paradise in the form of Pulau Perhentian- the Perhentian Islands. Two beautiful little treasures in the South China Sea, where we spent 5 days in total, 2 on the big, 3 on the small island. The water is crystal clear, there are white beaches, palm trees, corals, fish, few people (depending on wehere you go, and we opted for isolation)- so there is just time to relax. We went snorkeling, got sunburnt, made friends with an Otter (he belonged to the place we stayed at), hosted two squirrels in our hut, were visited by rats at night, swam in the sea, went walking and just thoroughly enjoyed our time there ( no internet as well, brilliant!).

Then it was time to leave, we spent two days in Cherating, a small surfspot down on the Eastcoast. Unfortunately the surf is only possible during monsoon season, so we checked out glowworm populations during a night excursion instead- and found the first proper Rastafaris of Malaysia- and we could have sworn they were smoking pot despite the death penalty on drugs in the country….

Sundown

Sunset

Our last stop in Peninsular Malaysia was Melaka, a world heritage listed city famous for its Malay-Chinese (called Nyonya or Baba) heritage and beautiful Chinatown. There are trishaws cruising around town that the drivers have pimped up by adding plastic flowers and garlands, soundsystems and colorful lights at night- what a sight! Imagine a flowery, sparkling trishaw blasting Michael Jackson while illuminated in pink and purple zooming past you… The food was good as usual, the town itself is quite pretty and very tidy, maybe even a bit too much so for our taste (there has been much development ever since the UNESCO cash started flowing in, at the danger of things becoming a bit artificial).

Church

Church

We tried Cendol, a sweet local drink made from coconut amongst other things- with jelly in multiple colors floating around in the brew. Surely not everybody’s thing… A word on drinks anyways: Malaysia is full of fascinating (and sometimes weird) beverages. As we are always in for trying something new, there were lots of surprises for the tastebuds in the last weeks- some bad ones, too. Grassjelly is not our favorite, milk pearl bubble tea is ok, wintermelon is rather nasty, juice with aloe vera and nata de coco bits is very common and even Durian shakes can be savored. Experimenter’s paradise!!!

One last fresh coconut and we were on our way down to Singapore, for some city life again….

More on that in the next post!

A plus…les voyageurs.

And another temple

And another temple

Poor Cat

Poor Cat

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From the heat and noise of India we arrived in Malaysia and spent our first days in the country in Kuala Lumpur, its capital- an abode of calm to our ears- no honking cars, people queing (!!!) for public transport, most people with a smile on their faces, quite the change to the weeks before…

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We did enjoy these initial 4 days to relax and digest our previous experiences.  All this was done while strolling around the city, visiting its diverse suburbs, especially Chinatown and Little India (there is no escape it seems 😉 ) and savoring some very good Malaysian food.

Back in a Muslim nation, we found ourselves surrounded by more headscarved women again, yet here, they opt for very colorful headscarves and dress, often with floral patterns in bright shades. As Malaysia is a very diverse nation, however, cutural influences from a number of ethnic groups can be observed- as mentioned above, there are large Chinese and Indian communities, all with their respective traditions, dress and religion- and there is a peaceful coexistence. Additionally, there are immigrants from Indonesia, Thailand and the Phillipines, who have all contributed their share to Malaysia as it exists today. We have thus visited Hindu as well as Chinese temples during our stay, marvelled at mosques, seen different festivities being held- and enjoyed every single bit of it.

Even monks need Playstation 3 games as it seems

Even monks need Playstation 3 games as it seems

KL itself unites several worlds- reminders from the humble beginnings can be found in the more traditional suburbs and the markets that are still being held throughout town, moves towards modernization (and commercialization) are symbolized in the high end malls of the inner city, its huge business district and international hotel chains, fancy restaurants and bars.

Well, maybe I should open a “Christian Clothing” Shop in Europe….probably a market niche

And in case you wondered, yes, KL can be a shoppers paradise, if you are into it- the city boasts a huge number of incredibly large shopping malls- they make anything we know from Europe pale in comparison. One of the bigger ones, Times Square mall, even has its own amusement park with rollercoaster (with looping) inside (!) the mall itself…you can probably imagine that after 5 weeks of India and 2 weeks of Nepal, all of this seemed slighly surreal.

Well, that's where our steaks come from...

Well, that’s where our steaks come from…

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We tried out the many hawker street food stalls- they are found throughout Malaysia and serve excellent food at low prices (fresh fish for instance- we tried stingray). We also visited some of KL’s parks (and a butterfly park) and bought local fruit at one of the many markets around town- Rambutan, Mangosteen- and the infamous Durian. The latter being a very smelly affair that most Westerners find disgusting- we are divided on the issue. I love it in a perverted kind of way, Nico hates it. To enlighten you- Durian smells of rotten egg, petrol and vomit, gas….but tastes a bit like caramel. If you can get over the stench…. The markets themselves are surely not for those with a weak stomach or an aversity to seeing blood- the animals are chopped into pieces before your very eyes- we could witness the preparation of ducks from close by, which was rather fascinating (and bloody).

Anna and the Durian

Anna and the Durian

Thus, our first days in Malaysia proved to be a very colorful affair already, and there was much more to come in the fllowing weeks!!!!

Chilis

Chilis

Dragonfruit

Dragonfruit

Mangusteen

Mangusteen

Logan

Logan

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