HOT INFO On The Road

Margaret and Keel's Asian Adventure
Riding Tigers: REPORT #26

June 20, Y2K BKK, Thailand

HEY MALAYSIAN FRIENDS! This is an update for the website that my husband and I (well, really he) have been reporting to as we travel. the address is : itisnet.com it's a good independent travelers website. But I wanted to forward a copy of the message to all of you that were such a great highlight in my weeks in Malaysia!

Update from Margaret -- 21 June, 2000

Happy Summer Solstice Everyone!

What? There are less than two months left of our trip and I have only written on the website twice in the past year? How could that be? Where has the time gone!!!

Keel and I are back in Bangkok, having been reunited after nearly an entire month of solo travel. I had an "excellent adventure" in Malaysia and Singapore, where I met up with a great British chic named GEORGE -- together we ripped up the countryside.

For anyone considering a jaunt into PENINSULAR MALAYSIA, I cannot stress enough the wonderfullity of the Cameron Highlands -- especially if you are in dire need of a respite from the heat of the rest of southeast Asia -- which I certainly was at the time. (Hey, I'm a northerner, from Maine, for goodness sakes. We practically see penguins it's so cold there.) For those of youthful soul, I can highly recommend a friendly little guesthouse called FATHER'S. There was a very groovy bunch of other travelers there -- who taught me how to play the classic traveler's card game, "Shithead." There were also a handful of studly Canadians that gave me a run for my money in "Hearts," -- I am still waiting for a re-match you guys! Another plus about Father's was that I got to catch up on all of the new movies that are out -- for free! They've got a great video collection (perhaps of dubious origins...) and I got to see a new movie every night --psych!

THere are some wonderful hiking trails all around the Highlands -- though dont rely on the local maps. When you wander off into the jungle, it's best to be prepared to get lost -- out of 9 days of hiking I was never completely sure that I had actually hiked the trail that I had set out to conquer. But there was some great jungle scenery, I worked up a good sweat and used some of those muscles honed in Nepal, and there were NO LEECHES (major bonus).

After a good long stay in the Highlands, George and I, accompanied by our superhero buddy SHMIKE,
made the jump to hyper-space and moved onto to Kuala Lumper -- which we nicknamed Kuala DUMPER: it was quite a shock to be in a big westernized city after being deep in the jungle. We stayed at a guesthouse in Chinatown called WHEELERS which was fine, passable, but not one to put in the "Princess's Guide to Budget Travel" (a guidebook series that I am considering penning in my next life). It was in a good location, the price was right, but the room Georgie and I shared really was a shoebox with a fan. This is what happens when you get back into civilization -- high prices for little return.... practice for my return to the US? YIKES!

We saw the Towers Petronas (tall, man), did it up in the Central Market (my wallet is considerably lighter and my husband not particularly thrilled about it George -- I have to blame it on you for taking me into that Chinese clothing boutique...!) Other than that, KL is an expensive town and if you want a gin and tonic, I suggest taking out a loan.

We bade farewell to some of the Father's pals that trickled in through Wheeler's while we were there -- Darryl (and his newly arrived consort, the lovely Megan:-), Bertrand, Janice, Autumn, and Alastair -- Alastair on his way HOME to Scotland-- hope you made it dude, yikes, a frightening foreshadowing for Margaret.
Then it was onto Malacca -- our great privilege that Shmike continued to escort us. Now Malacca is a funny little place, which the guidebooks rave about but in reality is really kind of a seaside mall town -- with no place to really walk on the edge of the sea, but plenty of mall walking. We searched high and low for the touted "Portuguese Influence" (?) but were hard pressed to uncover any of Malacca's famous colonial past, save the ruins of the fort on the hill, which was really just a backdrop for chintzy souvenir hawkers. But you got a good view from up there. One saving grace was the very interesting show at the PEOPLE'S MUSEUM on "Beauty." It showed the concept of beauty through the world's cultures, and the torturous means humans put themselves through (from piercing and corsets to tattoos and foot binding) to achieve the status quo. It's worth a visit. While you're there, I can recommend the lovely little BACKPACKERS TRAVELLERS INN, it's just down the street from ROBIN'S NEST (the perennial favorite that was booked out when we were there). The INN has a great common area, very clean and well run and well priced!

Well, being so close, I just had to see Singapore, though Miss George was not interested. So I embarked on my own! I took the bus -- just a few hours (and many violent videos blaring at full volume -- who are these bus drivers??) and I was in the cleanest most beautiful city I've ever been in my life. Wow -- Any Rand would have a lot to comment on in Singapore. I stayed at LEE TRAVELLERS CLUB, which, again, isn't ranking high on the Princess guage -- but adequate and affordable, to be sure. I had an even smaller shoebox than George and I had in KL, but no matter, I didn't spend much time there, and, besides, it was across the street from a STARBUCKS coffee shop, which made up for everything. Listen, would-be Asian travellers, seeing a Starbucks is like a light in the decent-coffee darkness that is this part of the world. I nearly bowed down and worshipped the Cafe Latte I had. Much to my delight and amazement, and a testament to the First class first worldness of Singapore, there is a Starbucks every few meters -- one on every corner and in every mall and shopping center. Believe me, Singapore is well stocked in shopping centers, all with very western SET prices. Fun window shopping, but even better was the BOTANIC GARDENS, right
in the heart of the city. A beautiful spot to stroll and contemplate peaceful thoughts, and see one of the most remarkable collections of orchids anywhere in Asia. You can even buy orchids there and bring them out of the country -- they're all sealed and sterilized with a note to the customs man.

How awesome is that?? Singapore is another great place if you need to ship things abroad -- the prices are decent and affordable and the service is reliable. And, while in Singapore, pay a visit to the historic Raffles Hotel -- there's a small museum there and one's imagination can recreate a time when the likes of Somerset Maughm strolled its corridors.

After just 2 nights and 3 days in the shining city, it was time to head north again to meet Georgie Girl for more jungle trekking in Taman Nagara National Park. Unfortunately, the train was at night, so I couldn't view the countryside along the way. Amd, I was to arrive in the town of Jerantut at 2:30 AM. I spent the day before I departed desperately phoning the
guesthouse where I was to meet George, but, alas, no answer all day! I was to arrive at 2:30 am with nowhere to go! Blessings on the wonderful George -- she met me at the train and saved my lily while %@!* from an uncertain fate. The image of her vaulting towards me in mock-slow-motion is one that will remain within my thankful heart forever!!!

The next day we went to the park -- took a really fun 2 hour boat ride up the Tembling River to get into it, found a place to stay, and hiked and hung out and drank Milo shakes everyday. There were only 3 leeches that we saw, and they have nothing on their gymnast cousins in Khoa Yai Park, Thailand. Taman Nagara boasts the world's oldest rain forest, and I actually managed to survive the canopy walk. The "walk" was more like an Outward Bound ropes
course, if you ask me. I dont know how people can enjoy the canopy or look for birds when they are suspended 45 metes above the forest floor on tin ladder that's covered with a piece of plywood ! Well, its probably safer than I describe, but i was white-knuckled the entire time. The coolest thing that happened in the park is that we met face to face with a real-live-not-set-up-for-the-tourists Orang Asli native! He was hunting, in his loin cloth and afro, lugging his bamboo blow pipe over his shoulder, and he just, literally, appeared -- materialized, poof!-- in front of us on the trail. It was a true National Geographic moment. In hindsight I wish that I had taken out my camera and got a photo, but, you know, I think that would have ruined the moment. Sometimes you just gotta take these photos with your memory.

After 3 days in the park, it was time for me to get back to Jerantut and the train station to get north to Bangkok and meet the "hus" again. George and I had to stay up to the "wee" hours again in order to catch the night train, which we rode together until daylight. We said goodbye as I got off to cross the border into Thailand and she continued on to the Perentian Islands where I am sure she is getting a great tan. And so concluded "Madge and Fred's Malaysian Romp," an unexpected highlight of my year in Asia.

And now Keel and I are trying to plan the remaining weeks of our tour -- China is out -- as the money is dwindling, we really cant afford to fly to Beijing and spend alot of money on hotels. So we will probably get back into the north of Thailand again, where the pace is slow, the food is amazing, and the guesthouses about $3 a night. Then, in mid-July, we make our way to the airport and do a jaunt to Japan before continuing back to....... aaaaahhhhhhggggggg!!!!!! ....... the US.

That, besides a few incidences with puppies and kittens along the way, is all the news thats fit to print, presently. Hope all of our faithful readers (the small handful of you) have enjoyed a little desktop travel with us! Ciao friends -- Margaret


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