Archive for June, 2008

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I am home in Austin now, recovering from a bit of jet lag and trying to figure out what is next. I feel I should finish with a “What I Have Learned” post or something. I don’t have any profound revelations to share, but I can say that I definitely want to keep traveling – to see Borneo, Indonesia, India, and more…

I am so grateful that I had this opportunity and for the support I received from friends and family. In addition, I want to thank the following people:

  • The tuk-tuk driver in Cambodia who tracked me down to return my wallet 30 minutes after I had left it in his tuk-tuk, and before I had experienced the terror of knowing it was gone.
  • The teenage son of my guesthouse owners in The Philippines who insisted upon going out and getting me some medicine when my cold was at its worst.
  • The Thai ex-turtle poacher who made me some kind of magic potion that healed my stingray stung foot.
  • The Vietnamese cafe owner who bandaged my dad’s arm after he was hit by a motorbike, and then fed us a delicious meal of steamed fish.
  • All of the crazy bus, tuk-tuk, taxi, jeepney, tricycle, cyclo, and motorbike drivers who somehow delivered me safely to my destinations.
  • Everyone who knew the way or had a plan and let me tag along.
  • Everyone who gave me information, advice, encouragement, invitations, food, rice whiskey, conversation, and smiles along the way.

Tioman Island

It’s hard to believe that I have just left my final destination of this trip and am back in Singapore ready to head home tomorrow. Tioman Island was the perfect end – a beautiful island mostly covered by dense jungle with small, relaxed beach communities and great diving.

Making a good thing even better, Suzanne came down from Singapore to meet me on the island. Together we traveled through the heart of the interior jungle to  Juara beach, the sole settlement on the East coast of the island. The ride required a 4-wheel drive vehicle, and we basically went straight up a mountain and down the other side in 25 terrifying minutes. It was well worth the trip and was one of the most beautiful and peaceful beaches I have visited. The peace and quiet was broken only by a colony of fruit bats that lived in the coconut palm outside our chalet and tended to get really rowdy at around 4am.
While we were there, Suzanne did her first scuba dive and I think she is hooked! I did a few dives as well and saw some large Napoleon fish and colorful Nudibranch.

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Tea Time in the Cameron Highlands

I have been really enjoying the cool mountain air and beautiful scenery of the Cameron Highlands, a hill resort town in central Malaysia. The region is famous for its tea plantations, fresh strawberries, and great hiking trails.

Yesterday, I went on a fascinating tour focused on the plant life of the region. Our guide Kumar took us on a slippery trail through a “mossy forest” where insect-devouring pitcher plants and wild orchids thrive. Many “old-world” plants still survive here, and due to climate change many new species are popping up all the time.

Kumar then took us to a tea plantation where we saw the tea being harvested and the production process of oxidizing, separating, and drying the leaves. I was surprised to learn that all varieties of tea (green, oolong, black, etc.) can be made from the same plant just by using a different process. I have never been much of a tea drinker, but I have really come to appreciate it (especially with lots of milk and sugar and a side of fresh scones!)

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Crossing Malaysia

For the past week I have been inefficiently zig-zagging across Malaysia. I started on the West coast in Melaka and spent a couple of days seeing the sights, which include many historical buildings from the Dutch and Portuguese settlements there. On the advice of Dao, my extremely helpful guesthouse host, I headed over to the East coast to check out some of the beaches. After a day’s travel, I arrived at Cherating, a sleepy beach town with a mostly local crowd of families enjoying a school holiday. The heat was unbearable (I think the Singapore aircon made me a bit soft).

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SInce the masses were headed North to more beaches, I decided to veer back West and spend a couple days in Kuala Lumpur. I think KL (as everyone calls it) is one of my favorite big cities on this trip. Like Singapore, it is a very modern, multicultural city with tons of shopping and great food, but it also has a grittiness that gives it a more interesting texture.

The public transport here is also really good, which makes me very happy. I took the light rail to different areas of town, and wandered through skyscrapers in the business district and sari shops in Little India. I also did the tourist thing and took in the view from the top of the KL Tower (I didn’t take the stairs though).

Last night, I met a lovely young Malaysian couple who offered me a seat next to them after observing me wandering around confused through a bunch of local food stalls. They helped me order some delicious Indian food then paid for my meal when I wasn’t paying attention. Such sweethearts.

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Tasting Singapore

I just spent 5 days in Singapore drinking tap water, wearing seatbelts in cabs, and having cars actually stop and wait for me to cross the street. What luxuries! Not to mention that Andrew and Suzanne were such amazing hosts and tour guides. I can’t thank them enough.

Suzanne and I spent most days exploring diverse neighborhoods (Chinatown, Little India, Arab Street, etc.) and checking out sights such as the Jurong Bird Park and the freaky Har Paw Villa. I was struck by how truly multicultural Singapore is – there there are actually 4 official languages that include English, Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil.

I have to say that the real highlight of Singapore for me has to be the food, and I tried to sample as much of the local specialties as I could. Some favorites:

  • Kaya Toast: Creamy egg and coconut spread on toasted bread for breakfast. I’m addicted now.
  • Katong Laksa: Seafood and noodles in a chili and coconut soup. So good.
  • Otah-Otah: Kind of like a fish tamale – the mackerel version I had wasn’t my favorite, but I love the name.
  • “Carrot Cake”: Neither carrot nor cake, this is like an omlette made with radishes and glutinous rice and soy sauce.
  • Teh Tarik: Delicious milky frothy sweet tea.
  • Singapore Sling: As required, we drank these at the legendary Raffles Hotel where they were invented.
  • BBQ Stingray: Mmm, revenge is sweet (and pleasantly spicy)!

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I don’t feel like I have posted enough here to do Singapore justice, but I have already moved on to peninsular Malaysia. I’m in Melaka now and will be heading to the Cameron Highlands in a couple of days.