Saturday, March 03, 2007

Kuala Lumpar

We Managed to get toast, tea & juice for brekkie before catching a taxi to the bus station. The coach was nice with lazy boy type chairs, with free water and a movie, "The Medallion" with Jackie Chan. It was a 6 hour journey with the standard 2 stop border crossing. Once over the border, we stopped and had toasted waffle with chocolate inside. The toilets were really strange - sunk into the floor - but at least they have some "western" loos.

Our next stop was KL. We were expecting the KL stop to be at a major station, so when it pulled over at the side of the road we though it was an additional stop. All the announcements were in Malaysian, so we didn't know where we were and ummed and ahhed about whether we should check. Luckily Ev did, otherwise we'd have ended up....

Our panicked departure meant we weren't that prepared and it felt very strange being dropped off on the side of the road, in a bustling city, no one speaking English or able to tell us the way to the Tourist Information office. Luckily we saw some white people with blonde hair, who turned out to be a very helpful Swedish couple (turned out they were "close" cousins, complete with hairy legs and pits) and they took us to their first hostel. It was really dodgy and a typical scummy backpackers place with practically no windows, air con and bed bugs thrown in for free, all for the bargain price of RM45. So, we went to the Backpackers Inn and got a room for RM35 with a balcony. It was still not great, being very hot and the fan only worked between 5pm-9am, but for £5/night we cant complain too much.

To get out of the sauna, we headed to Nandos for lunch for RM43! and then headed along the main road to Times Square. This mall was huge - it even has a theme park with roller coaster inside!

We caught the train (DLR) (which was much better than walking due to the pollution) to the Info centre. They couldn't help us too much so checked their internet to find the best way to Krabi. We decided to fly to Phuket and go from there as direct routes were only long haul bus or train. They couldnt help with the accommodation either, so we decided to leave it until tomorrow and just drink a lot tonight :)

We headed to Hard Rock Cafe, luckily in time for Happy Hour as cocktails BOGOF were RM43 each. So, Margaritas and Long Island Ice Teas later, we headed back to the train station and along the way we met a very friendly New Zealand chap who invited us back to his hotel for drinks. Perhaps we would have if we'd had a 3rd cocktail...

At the hostel, we bumped into the Swedes again, Ida and Martin, so had a couple of beers before they introduced us to Yatzee!, which Ev won. Around midnight we headed back and managed to get some sleep (surprisingly, or perhaps not considering the cocktails;)

Next day, we had an early start to get our free tickets for the Petronas Towers. We got there at about 8:15 and there was a huge queue already. We managed to get tickets for 9:45, so loitered for a bit and had some smoothies and yukkie shots of wheat grass (supposedly high in energy and anti-oxidants). Our tickets got us to the bridge, which gave some pretty good views over the city. We then headed back to book our next night at the hostel, but couldn't work out why the train ticket machine wouldn't take our money. Soon realised we were using Singapore $ not Malaysia RM!!

We had a fairly full on tour planned, though on the way we got distracted by a large crowd of people. Being nosey, we stopped to see what was going on. Turns out that it was Lion Dancing to celebrate Chinese New Year (which ends tomorrow). We were really lucky to see this as not something we would see back home. It was very skillful with two guys in the dragon jumping from pillar to post in tandem with the other dragons. The dragons were spitting out oranges to the crowd, a sign of good luck if you get one. This shows was one of the highlights of KL.



We carried on to the post office as we wanted to send some boxes back to the UK, but it turns out it closes the last Saturday of the month. Bad timing! We wondered over to the National Mosque, and typically went the dodgiest, least scenic route over the highway. The Mosque was closed to the public, though we weren't dressed right in any case. We hopped over a wall and headed to KL Sentral to book flights as we decided KL wasn't for us and we'd rather head to Phuket, Thailand. It meant another long, hot walk over more highways, and then back again to the Bird Park, which Ev thought was recommended by her Dad (but it was actually the Singapore one).

Along the way, we stopped at the National Museum and saw some good displays explaining about the Chinese New Year. We almost didn't make the Bird Park, but scrapped enough cash together in multi-currencies for the RM30pp entry fee. The park itself was ok, but was tarnished by some very disrespectful Indian-Asian men who were pulling feathers from the peacocks tails. Ev had a word, and they were very rude due to her being a woman!

One thing we haven't mentioned yet is the smell. Everywhere you go there is a smell kind of like sewerage, and its pretty disgusting. It follows you around the streets, shops & markets. We went for dinner at a restaurant an the indoor market, and turns out the smell is part of the food. It was part of the spring rolls and one of the main flavours of Marc's curry. Its either fish sauce or egg plant. either way, not nice.

We headed back to one of the stalls to negotiate a price on some souvenirs - a wooden carved dragon face and a meditation bowl which makes a lovely soothing sound. We thought they were expensive but got sucked into the "we're only here once" and brought them for RM150 and RM350, down from RM300 and RM480. Not sure it was quite worth it, but its a nice momento. We've never been able to replicate the soothing sound quite like the guy in the shop, though he did say he played it continuously for a whole day before getting the sound perfect.

To round the day off, we headed to the roof bar at the hostel to watch Pool v Man U before packing up for the flight tomorrow.

In the morning, got a 'Buckies before heading to the airport. Came across another lion dancing show, so stayed to watch that for a bit, and bumped into one of the guys from last night - James. Watching the show meant we missed the bus from KL Sentral, so we caught the next one at 12:45. When we checked in at the airport we got stung for excess baggage - RM168!

Friday, March 02, 2007


The flight from Oz to Singapore was our first long haul flight for a while – about 8 hours. Quantus were pretty good and the flight was smooth apart from a bumpy patch over Darwin.

Whilst we did a lot of prep for Asia, we heard accommodation was easy to book at the tourist office at Singapore airport so we decided to just pitch up and see what was on offer. However, we (Ev!) got the flight times wrong and we landed at 9:30pm not 19:30 which meant all the decent back-packer accommodation was gone! Being on a budget, we opted for a cheap hotel in a less reputable area, which was a real eye opener! As we arrived at our hotel and wondered what so many women were doing out so late without their husbands. There were lots of men offering them lifts home - so they were being looked after – at a price. Our room was small and had a stench of cigarette smoke so had to put the air con on “full blast” to try and remove the odour. It didn’t really work, but it was better than sleeping at the airport!

The next day, we searched our lonely planet guide - as most local calls were free, we phoned around and found the South East Asia Hotel. We thought we’d walk to the train station, which didn’t look far on the map. However, it is always a lot further when you’ve got back packs, so it wasn’t long before we caught a taxi to the station (which turned out to be on the other side of the road)! We then jumped on the train, which was really clean and spacious, even in rush hour, and then walked the short distance to the hotel.

They only had a triple room, which was a bit more expensive, but it included breakfast which turned out to be noodles, filled parcels and deep fried potato. This was in a perfect location between China Town and Little India, and the landlady was really friendly and helpful so worth the extra money not to mention a far better area. The location was on a pedestrianised road with open-air food stalls where the locals were getting their breakfast of noodles or rice. A couple of buildings down were Hindu temples, and the street was lined with small family run shops selling novelty items

Food Market

One of the first things you notice is how clean it is here – there is no litter anywhere as you get fined if drop anything including chewing gum and the street cleaners are out regularly. The second thing you notice is the cultural diversity – Hindus, Buddhists, the old China Town, Little India, the British colonial buildings, and the modern sky rise buildings – and with only two days here we had a lot to fit in.

Abdul Mosque

On our first day, we headed north and went to Little India where we found a nice little Australian run café for brunch, which did some nice scrambelled eggs and tea. We visited some of the bigger mosques including Abdul Mosque before it started to rain. At this point we caught the MRT (Mass Rapid Transport) over to Orchard Road famous for shopping, so we went to Lucky Plaza, had a look around the shops, had a Starbucks, then headed back to the hotel area.

Lucky Plaza
In the evening, we headed to Raffles – when we walked in we felt a strange carpet under our feet, and heard a crunching noise as we walked. When we looked down, we saw the carpet was discarded peanut shells from the bar. We ordered the obligatory Singapore Sling, which isn’t really that nice but has to be done. Raffles itself is a very grand and posh hotel, and an example of the British influence in Singapore.

After to chatting to some weird American lady, we headed down to China Town. We brought some silk pillow cases from a Chinese market, before chosing a spot for dinner. The chopstick diet has now begun...

City by Night

Next day, after breakfast we wandered up to the coach depot to get our tickets for the next day – an 8 hour journey to Kuala Lumpur. From here, we headed back south to Little India to wander around the shops and markets. The food markets are all open air, and wouldn’t pass any of the UK health and safety laws! All the fish and meat is uncovered and there are lots of flies around. The smell of fish follows you and there is quite often blood on the floor.

From hereafter, it rained pretty much all day, but that didn’t matter too much, apart from giving us wet feet and blisters! We took in China Town and had some yummy biscuits, before going to the Buddha temples, which were really peaceful and serene. The Hindu temples don’t always allow tourists into their temples, so we were grateful the Buddhists were more relaxed and allowed photos.
Hindu Temple (left) and Buddist Temple (Right)

Inside the Buddist Temple 
For lunch, we tried one of the open air food courts. It’s a real challenge as there are 60 odd stalls to buy from, the menus aren’t in English, and you don’t know what meat is on offer. After about 20 minutes of wandering, we picked the one with the longest queue, which presumably means it’s the most popular ;)

We walked around the docks and saw the famous peeing lion (Merlion), before heading to the 72nd floor of the Swissotel for happy hour cocktails (which were London prices even at half price) and got some great views of the city, although it was a little grey.

View from Swissotel

Cocktail number 1

  Cocktail number 2

On our way back, we stopped at the Hindu temple near our B&B and after watching the locals going in and out, we decided to take off our shoes to go in to have a look – we hesitated as it can feel a intrusive watching someone worshipping Gods you don’t understand. The Gods are a mismatch of different animals, having a human body with an elephants head. The sculptures and artwork are really colourful and bright, something we would rarely see in the UK.

We also stopped off at the SunTec Mall to take a look at some purple-gold jewellery - a bargain at only s$4,000 for a braclet!

In the evening, we went to the night zoo, as recommended by Heather and Sprocket. There is a train that runs around the zoo, passing animals pens. There are no cages, and the animals are in lowered pits surrounded by razor wire, so as you pass the animals at night, it doesn’t look like they are locked in. There are train stops scattered around so you can wander through various enclosures, such as bats. This is a bit more interesting than seeing the animals in the day as they are a bit more active.

One of the only pictures that came out from our Night Safari

It’s been a short stay in Singapore, but probably about right. Whilst we have seen most things we wanted to see, it is a place that we would come back to again as its ideal for a 2-3 day stop over.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

QLD - Final Stretch

When back in Bris, John mentioned that Sasha had given up booze for lent, so we got chatting and decided that as this is not something we normally do, Marc would give up any kind of fried potato such as chips and crisps and Ev gave up chocolate and cola. Although it has to be said that Marc lasted just a few hours as we had KFC for dinner and Ev lasted 3 weeks. However after some more chatting, John and Sasha came clean with the real truth. Sasha had to give up booze for another reason - they were expecting their 1st baby!! – so happy for them!

Our last week in Oz went by quite quickly. John and Sasha were away for a bit at a wedding so we went shopping at the markets before heading to Indroo (philly) for dinner at the Pig & Whistle and cinema to see Ghost Rider. Next day we headed to the Sunday markets and bumped into some people we met and Janelle’s birthday bowls – we’re beginning to feel like locals now!

Most of the week was spent planning for Asia and catching up on some blogging with the highlights of the week being another trip to the gold class cinema, dinner at a lovely Thai restaurant with Matty, Caroline and the kids and another popping round to Dave’s house to celebrate his birthday with some cake – yum.

mmm Gold Class
Our last weekend in Oz we were invited to spend with Charles and Debi (Ev’s 2nd cousin). They had arranged everything for us, but wouldn’t tell us what was planned or where we were going. Charles asked us to meet him Friday lunchtime in Brisbane centre, where he picked us up and we headed back to his house to meet up with Debi. We had a quick tour of their super nice house, making us jealous of their cinema room :) before heading off to our secret location – Coolibah - one of the beach resorts along the sunshine coast. They had arranged a self-catering apartment and Debi put on a nice spread in the evening whilst we sat around drinking and chatting.

On Saturday, they took us out to Eumundi as we were keen to go to the big market they had on Saturdays to pick up some local arts and crafts as souvenirs and presents. Marc had a mini-scare when he went to draw cash as the machine took his card. With only 5 days to go before leaving Oz, a lost card now would be unlikely to be replaced before getting back to the UK, and more importantly, Ev would be holding the purse strings. Luckily the post office was open (it was about 5 minutes before it shut for lunch) and whilst they said they couldn’t access the cash point the women called some people and managed to get the card back – phew!

We met Charles and Debi’s friends for lunch before heading out to Martaville, which is in the mountains, for a look around the local craft shops and had a drink taking in the breathtaking views. We then headed back to the Coolibah, for a stroll along the esplanade and watched the kite surfers do their stunts in the bay, before heading to the hotel for a swim, take away and DVD.

On Sunday we headed out to Noosa and caught a ferry over to the North Shore. Charles took us for a beach drive, which was good fun – a shame we can’t do this kind of thing in the UK, but the pebbles and groynes would ruin your car! We parked up and had a beer, looked at the jellyfish being washed up and enjoyed the sunshine.

the best way to drive

Marc, Charles and Debi

the best place for a ice cold beer
After the ferry back, we had to wash the salt off the car, it’s a pretty clever setup as there is a stop off were there is a pay machine to use the spray hoses to wash your car. We then stopped for lunch at the harbour where we found a cute Broncho’s baby grow for Johnny Junior. We had a great time with Charles and Debi and this was a fantastic way to spend our last weekend in Australia.

They dropped us off in Brisbane centre, where we spent the rest of the afternoon looking around the shops. We checked out some of the SLR cameras Charles recommended but we need to decide if we want to get it here or risk being able to find it cheaper in Asia but without any of the guarantees. John and Sasha picked us up and we went to Michelle and Pete’s for dinner – Pete is a top chef and cooked us up a lovely lamb spit roast.

We leave Oz on Tuesday, so spent Monday sorting out some boxes to send home. This was a major hassle as our boxes were too big and the post office wouldn’t accept them, so we had to unpack and repack into smaller boxes that we had to buy from the post office. We’ve enjoyed every minute in Oz (except the parcels) and hope to come back one day….

Thursday, February 15, 2007

QLD - Gemfields to Bundy

After a luxurious nights sleep in a cabin, we headed off on our next long drive for our second visit to Bundaberg. We went there in November to see turtles laying eggs on the beach, and we wanted to go back and see some hatching. As it was a long drive we split the driving, Ev doing the first 450k. Marc took over once we hit Bruce Highway and after about 30 mins, when heading down hill, the car picked up a bit of speed... just as an undercover cop car went passed and he quickly circled round and pulled us over. By that time we were going back up the other side of the hill so he didn’t buy the down hill excuse, nor the poor confused tourist approach. Marc was given a breath test and we got fined £150 or the equivalent of $10 for every km over the limit (25kmph over). It was so fitting that we only got caught speeding on our first and last drives in Oz!

When we arrived in Bundy, we knew just the place to camp - Turtle Sands, the same campsite we stayed at last time. It’s nice camping on the beach, but as we found, there is little shelter from the elements here. The wind was blowing a gale when we started setting up, and ironically for our last night of camping we needed to use every bit of equipment for the very first time. Every guy rope and peg was needed to make sure we didn’t blow away.

The turtle watching was just as great an experience as the first time round. We had a bit of a nervous wait as we were in the 3rd viewing group. The hatchlings only hatch when the sand has cooled to a night-time temperature, and as it was a cloudy evening, the guides weren’t sure if it would cool down enough. The first turtles didn’t hatch for a couple of hours, when group 1 got called off and then shortly after then next hatchlings broke free. In the meantime we were shown some interesting clips about the nature reserve and had a Q & A time with some of the biologists. Whilst we were waiting round we also got to see a mummy possum with her baby clinging to her and some giant green frogs that came out to visit us.

  Mummy & baby possum

Famous Green Frog

As the 1st hatchlings were high priority loggerheads they were all collected up tagged, weighed and checked over by the research team. When they were done they were to be released at roughly the same spot to where they broke free from their nest. So we were lucky to be called out so see them being released and even better, we were allowed to hold some of them. It’s so cute to see their little flippers working over time! So how to get them into the big ocean? We had to point all our torches on the sand in the direction of the sea as the turtles then think this was the reflection of the moon on the ocean. Their instinct is to head to this light rather than the sound of the waves. So we were told to form a line from the hatching point to the sea and shine the torches on the ground so the turtles moved towards the light and through our legs. One by one the turtles made it to the sea and were whisked away by the waves. Of course, there were stupid ones who didn’t want to follow the light and whilst we moved them back into line, we don’t expect they made it too far out to sea as the survival rate of these hatchlings to full adults aren’t in their favour! On our way back, we had to abruptly come to a stop as we were told a Loggerhead had come ashore to lay eggs, unfortunately there were some very loud tourists who kept taking pictures and scared her off before she was settled, and hopefully she tried again later that evening.

Cute little turtle

So tiny!

Follow the light

Where the magic happens, little baby turtle make their way to the ocean only to return years later to lay their eggs and so the circle continues...

Next day, we just couldn’t leave Bundy without a trip to the Ginger Beer factory, and we picked up a few GB treats to keep us going for our last week in Oz.

We then headed back to Brisbane; this also meant that we had now come to the end of our driving and camping chapter of our travels. Whilst there are so many organised coach and hostel combo tours for travellers and we may have missed out on some of the traveller social life, we think we had the better deal with hiring a car and camping. This gave us much more flexibility as we saw so many things and never really knew what each day would bring us.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

QLD - Gemfields

Being Valentines day it was a day of romance and excitement. After a 400km drive and scaring some cows, we arrived at Rubyvale to find our fortune. We did a tour of some old mines where our guide was some crazy old bat called Fran, who had clearly spent too much time in the shafts with only herself for company - well, she did have her rag doll friends Eric and Bob who gave her someone to talk too. Luckily they were deaf ;)

Us with Bob
The excavation tunnel

After an enlightening tour, we scanned the jewelry store, before fossicking for our own treasures. We got a bucket of dirt, which we had to sieve and rinse a handful at a time. Once dried, we then picked through the remains looking for a sparkle and glint. We did find quite a few chippings, but nothing with a decent clarity, colour or cut! Marc was hoping on finding a valentines day present here ;) We were now hooked on fossicking, so got us a bucket of dirt to take back to Bris...
We struggled to find somewhere to stay, but eventually found somewhere in Emerald just before they closed. As it was a special day, we upgraded from a tent to mobile home for a few luxuries. We managed to find a nice restaurant for dinner, where we swapped presents - a ring for Marc and earrings for Ev (which we had picked up from the hot beach in NZ)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

QLD - Road Trip

We've decided to take a road trip to some of the National Parks we missed out on on our way down to Brisbane the 1st time round - to Carnavon and the Gemfields. It's quite a long way to our first stop, so we picked up the hire car early doors. When picking up the car, we mentioned we were going to Carnarvon NP and the customer service rep laughed and said, "well, that's as far as you are going to get before you run out of fuel" Turns out the petrol stations become very scarce inland - every 800km if your lucky! - so we had to make sure we filled up our little car on every opportunity.

The first driving stint was going to be an incredible 800 km! Just outside of Roma, about 2/3rds of the way, we hit a really bad hail storm. We could barely see the front of the car let alone the road in front of us, so we just kept driving, slower than norm and even slower after we saw a kangaroo hop across the road in front of us!

The best view during the storm!!

The calm after the storm...

At about 6.30pm we reached our destination and set up camp as soon as possible, and not a moment too soon as just as the last peg was hammered in, the next rain storm arrived!
As it was raining, there was not much else we could do but make dinner, and it seemed like everyone had the same idea. We managed to get a space at one of the stoves and make our special tomato pasta, yum....

Next morning we set off from the Info centre at 9am for our 14km hike through the gorge. You end up crossing the river about a dozen times. Marc being Marc, he had to make the 1st splash - I think by the end we were even ;)

Along our walk we came across these little fury caterpillars crossing our path, we almost didn't see them but couldn't resist taking some pics.

The moss gardens were really interesting to see and quite a climb to get to them. The water runs down the side of the cliff face into the river and as it's so damp and shaded the moss grows very well here. I must say it was a relief to find this area being so cool as the hike so far had made us really hot and it wasn't even midday yet!

We kept overtaking and then being passed by two girls along the way and we all ended up at the Art Gallery. The girls had arrived there before us and we found out that they were going to camp at Big Bend tonight. They didn't seem convinced by the authenticity of the paintings on the cliff face and weren't the friendliest of people we had met so far on our travels. Even so, we still enjoyed looking at the rock art and trying to figure out what it all meant. We discovered a box with a book in it for visitors to write their thoughts in, so this seemed to shed some light on some of the carvings.

We were going to visit the Amphitheater next but it was closed so we decided to visit the waterfall and have some lunch before heading back to the info centre.

Arriving back at the info centre at 3pm and as it was getting pretty hot we decided to stop off at the rock pools, but with it being low season the water reeds were in full force and the pools looked very swampy so decided to give it a miss and opt for a cold shower back at the campsite.

As it was still early, we walked up to the campsite view point and shortly after arriving we heard a bit of a commotion and discovered that down in the valley a roo fight brewing. It was very scary hearing them yelp and hop after each other and kick about, but as we were quite high up, we felt a little safer.

In the campsite there were a few wallaby's and roo's scattered about and they are a little tamer so it's nice to see them so relaxed. We then headed to the river to try and spot another platypus but no luck here. Instead we opted for an ice-cream under the trees and then tried to try find some enchina's but still no luck.

During the night another thunder storm hit the campsite and we could hear the English boys in the tent closest to us fumble about to get the tent pegged down and put the cover on. We on the other hand were quite relived that the storm had come as the humidity and heat was becoming unbearable.

Since we didn't walk and hike enough yesterday ;) we decided to trek up Boowinda Bluff... before leaving the camp site Marc had a brilliant idea and managed to sneak our cooler box into one of the empty cabins at the back of the campsite, he he he

Then as we walked along the base of the cliff we saw a lot of kangaroos and wallabies. They looked like they didn't have a care in the world and on one occasion we stopped and just watched them and they in turn watched us for a bit too.

The climb was pretty tough and we probably didn't think it through properly, but as we're only here once, we may as well make the most of it. There was so many steps to climb up as the route to the top was between two cliffs.

We did have to watch out for the spider webs that streached across the paths as there are some very large & colourful spiders around and being bitten by one would be the last thing on our list of things to do in Oz.

Once at the top we were rewarded with amazing views over the canyon/gorge, there was a lot of mist hanging about at the top of the surrounding mountains as we were in the middle of a huge valley so the views were restricted somewhat. We did have to be careful as there weren't any guard rails to stop us going over the edge and also we didn't want to go too close to the edge as you never know how stable the cliff edges are.