#15// Malaysia + Singapore: Nat grows a moustache
Another Selamat Pagi to ya'll! (In Malaysia they speak the Malay version of Bahasa, similar to Bahasa Indonesia, so you've heard it once, you've heard it twice). We arrive late at night in Kuala Lumpar and head straight to Nat's step-uncle's family home. It is in a swanky gated community, Desa Park City, AKA our accommodation of DREAMS. In fact, I love Desa Park City so much that I am very reluctant to leave to go and sight see around KL and our first day in Malaysia is primarily spent watching Peaky Blinders on the projector and catching up with my very old and faithful friend Marmite. It has been a long 6 months without Marmy, and I have missed that salty tang on toasted bread more than I can say. Nat's uncle Julien and Julien's wife Nural are so welcoming and generous (and their children just the most adorable) that when we have to leave after 2 days to begin our Malaysia circuit we are reluctant (but, I remind myself gleefully, WE'LL BE BACK).
Our first bus journey in Malaysia is to the Cameron Highlands. Megabus has nothing on the Malaysian Unititi Express, I can tell you. Wide, plushy seats and fringed curtains = a truly delightful bus trip (who knew fringed curtains brought so much to the rotary table). The Cameron Highlands were discovered by colonialist William Cameron in the 19th century so there's a distinctly colonial British feel (not just because it has unpredictably rainy weather) and as Malaysia's primary tea-production province there are lots of sweeping plantations to visit. Bit ironic that I'm there then, because I have never understood the attraction of milk mixed with brown water. Nat and I head out on our first hike of many wearing inappropriate footwear (flip flops) and get caught in a TORRENTIAL downpour. There's absolutely nothing romantic about it - we're cold, snotty and drenched (and our flip flops squelch loudly). Fed up and stranded, we turn back to our hold hitch-hiking ways and get picked up by a friendly Mr Choo in Mr Choo's Tourist Bus (written in flamboyant pink). Next day we head to the tea plantations, courtesy of a random Malaysian who lets us sit in the back of his truck with his cabbages. Not much to report on the tea plantations - in my eyes they're rather glorified patches of shrubbery (Nat's edit: "Chania, they're a bit nicer than that"). On the way back we hitch with a couple called Mutti and Lisa, two Indian Malaysians. Mutti nearly crashes the car when he swivels round in utter disbelief and shock that we are white and vegetarian ("but white people eat SO MUCH MEAT!?!?!").
(Strong pose from Lisa)
Next morning, thanks to a chatty chap, Dominick - who has "contacts" in the Malaysian bus network - we are able to catch an early bus to Ipoh for the night. Ipoh is sort of like Georgetown (where we head afterwards) - artsy, quirky and sweltering hot. There are very cool murals all around the city but sadly not many places selling great soup with crusty bread (which is what I REALLY fancy). NEXT day we have sour cream and onion Pringles for breakfast because it's my birthday!! We had to Kek Look Tong Cave which is rather splendid, and we enjoy the statues outside surrounding the lake (I'm particularly fond of the 'very grumpy and holding a pot' stance). I request Nat sing me Happy Birthday in a quiet corner of the cave because it has great acoustics and then we catch a very stuffy, uneventful, squished bus to Georgetown. For supper we eat THE BEST FALAFEL WRAPS EVER and just like that my birthday's over. Damn. Hoping next year's doesn't involve a traffic-jammed four hour bus journey.
On our second night in Georgetown I convince Nat to shave off everything on his face, except that above his lip. Life as a moustached man of sophistication begins, and for all of the first 24 hours I am an enthusiastic fan. Nat and I have been pining for the cinema and some popcorn, so during our Georgetown stay we embark on a complicated bus route to see 'Yesterday'. In my opinion, the popcorn was better than the film (that's not a bad review - the popcorn just REALLY hit the spot) but the Malaysians loved it and enjoyed some great laughs. Georgetown is the main city of the island Penang, situated just to the left of mainland Malaysia.
On our third day we head up to the north of Penang to the National Park - enjoying a jungle hike, once again in the wrong choice of footwear. Nat stubs his toe so often that by the time we leave I'm surprised we haven't left behind a large and hairy souvenir (nope - thankfully it's still attached to the end of Nat's foot). We go to Batu Ferringhi next and I eat some great onion rings. Nat forcefully barters down the price of a parasail (and I quietly wonder how safe their equipment is and whether it's ever (?!) been checked) and we get strapped up. Though I'm terrified and exhilarated for the entire duration waiting for a strap to snap, the entire duration lasts sub three minutes (no wonder they smiled so much when Nat thought he'd got a great price). Nat's moustache has been thriving but as the days have passed I have grown, slowly but surely, more repulsed at the upper lip adornment. A key turning point which I must share was Nat's enthusiastic enjoyment of an ice cream on a particularly hot Georgetown evening. (Read this with one eye if you must): The dairy curdled IN THE MOUSTACHE. And that was the last time I wanted to see (or smell) said face feature.
From Georgetown we make our way (via aeroplane) to the Perhentian Islands. We stay on Coral Bay, slightly less wild than Long Beach on the other side, and check into our alarmingly primitive "chalet" (read: a steel box in the sun). Our nights are spent bathing in the airflow of the vintage fan and listening to the chorus of rat scratching nearby (and watching some Peaky Blinders wisely pre-downloaded). Ewan's Chalet only operates electricity sometimes in the evening, we're told, and no, they cannot give us toilet roll (luckily I'm a bit of a tissue hoarder so this ain't such a problem). We're on the Perhentians because we heard rumours of veeeery cheap diving, and with our wet, glistening, sniffling mutts in the air, we followed the scent. Hey presto! It was worth it! It's £13 a dive, and we go on four. Here we meet a divemaster "with attitude" (as my mother would say) - Alex, a recent University of Plymouth graduate; a grumpy little twerp always bragging about his hangovers, and he actually gets cross when we spot a turtle he didn't (cue amusing furious underwater gestures). We enjoy the Perhentians (especially the mango smoothies on offer) and I mainly spend all my time with kittens. However, there is somewhat of a mosquito epidemic so it is with relief that we head on to Singapore, where air conditioning and strict limits on bodies of water like ponds is enforced to prevent mosquitos in the city -beckons. (That's true dat, look it up).
First things first, I need to write about Changi Airport. That place is NEXT LEVEL. I'm talking Sunflower garden, Butterfly garden, Rooftop Garden, Gaming room, Virtual-gaming room, huge indoor waterfall and jungle plants, FREE CINEMA... literally, the BEST place to hang out (with or without the involvement of flights). We meet Nat's brother Matt and his girlfriend Lottie and go for some great food at a Hawker centre in the city (Hawker centres = a myriad of glorious cheap cuisines, involving the BEST (usually) Indians). Later we visit Matt and Lottie's super nice hotel, chilling and chatting by their softly lit rooftop pool, then make our way to our own feet-smelling capsule hostel dormitory (sad face). We only have one full day in Singapore so plan to meet early the next day. Unfortunately post-Glastonbury and jet-lag fatigue hits Matt and Lottie like an elephant-laden lorry and they do not appear for the 10 AM meet up, nor for the 6 and a half proceeding hours. This gives Nat and I the chance to fall out on the street outside the golden mosque of Singapore (an argument about who has a more artistic eye - ME, obvs).
Later we all meet up and head to the exclusive Raffles Hotel, where we're told by a stern man we can't enter the premises. Then off to the tippity top of Marina Bay Sands for some Singapore slings and then back down again for the Gardens by the Bay free light show which I LOVE - who WOULDN'T enjoy mammoth-sized flowers lit up in patterned multi-colour, synchronised with the booming music of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker?!? Just fabulous. Next day we fly back to Kuala Lumpar (our carbon footprint couldn't get any squelchier at this point) and endure an excruciating Grab drive back to Desa Park City, where our driver misses the motorway turning four times. Four. When we finally make it back, at midnight, I have marmite on toast to celebrate.
Next day we leave the cushty confines of Desa Park City to meet up with Matt and Lottie and Lottie's brother and girlfriend at the Batu Caves. Monkeys galore and afterwards a crazy storm and crazy rush hour means we sit in a taxi for two hours on the 20-minute journey back into the city. Ample time to discuss the ways the world will probably end (and I'm always interested to hear new theories).
(As an only child I sport an odd fascination with siblings. See above my SIBLINGERY art installation)
Before we know it (and before I want to know it, to be honest) Nat and I are zipping off on a plane for a night in Manila airport, a glamorous way to begin our Philippines explorations...