11th November 2011
Awaking relatively early, we breakfasted on chocolate cereals and bread with honey before getting ready to explore Taiping. An historical town, formerly the principal town of Perak before being replaced by Ipoh, this place is a centre of firsts; the first railway line and the first Hill Station in Peninsular Malaysia among them. Formerly an administrative centre for the British administration, there are a great many colonial buildings here, and schools with names like King George VI stand in the greenery on the North East side of the town.
Early encounters with the local populace were encouraging… they were welcoming and friendly. The previous evening we had struck up a conversation with and chinese and a malaysian whilst eating our dim sum, and they offered us some of their chinese tea as they had some to spare.
Today we intended to visit the Lake Gardens for a look see, and climb up Bukit Larut at the top of which is the Hill Station – well I say climb, we intended to get a jeep up and walk down as even coming down takes over 2 hours. And, then as a reward visit the Burma Pool, a natural pool formed by a cascading stream where you could swim, and cool down.
Along the way to Bukit Larut (Maxwell Hill) we passed some of the old buildings, and a huge play park – whilst waiting for the boys to slide and run and jump the family next to me engaged us in conversation. He told me he was a Pastry Chef at a hotel at KLIC and before that in the Cameron Highlands. Then following the lakeside we arrived at two huge lillie and lotus ponds. Although disappointingly strewn with litter (the lakes and ponds that is), the lake gardens were otherwise tranquil and beautifully laid out. In the centre of the park many busy workers were setting up marquees and stands in preparation for the 2011 Bukit Larut 4×4 Challenge on 13th Nov. We stopped and chatted to a chap who was setting up a 4×4 display track with see-saw and ramps, and he told us that we may have a chance of having a ride in one tomorrow….. oooohhh!!
We continued on towards the base of the hill where stands the jeep office running the shuttle service for the 30 min drive up the steep, hairpin bends to the top of the hill. On arrival the news was not good, as it was Friday, all of the drivers had gone to the mosque and would not be back before 3pm. So we backtracked to the Burma Pool instead and cooled off in the clear waters under a heavy rain storm… whats a little more water???
Suitably refreshed we returned to the Lake Gardens proper and made our way to Taiping Zoo. We ate a quick lunch in a cafe and then entered the zoo and boarded the “train” that took us on a whistle-stop tour of the zoo before depositing us at Zoo Sentral so that we could explore at our own leisure. Jungle vegetation lined the route and cages overgrown in some places gave way to great enclosures with titles of West Africa, and Australia. As usual, it is amazing to see these animals in the flesh, but the tinge of sadness is there too as we realise that these creatures in their natural habitat that have miles and miles of wild savannah and forest to roam in, are here caged into too small a space. The eternal dilemma when it comes to zoos!!
Having had our fill of exotic animals, we left the zoo and headed back to whence we came. Stopping in the park to play football with a Malaysian family for a while – the boys have been missing playing football since we left home – and then back to the hotel.
A quick investigation of where to eat and we were off again to one of the oldest Indian restaurants in Taiping. Around since the 1900s, it looked as if it had not been decorated since opening, however the food was great, not too spicy and disappeared quickly!! The staff were really friendly and brought us little samples of the goodies that they sold. They offered us a taste of the filling that they were stuffing into a kind of pasty they were preparing for the morning – it was gorgeous, and we resolved to come back again the next day to try some of it.
Returning to the hotel and then bed to the dulcet tones of Stephen Fry reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkabahn.
12th November 2011
Day two in Taiping. We were going to head south today, but there was so many things to do and see that we decided to stay in Taiping. We still had to climb up Maxwell Hill, and there was the 4×4 show in the Lake Gardens as well as countless old buildings. But first, we had to return to the Indian restaurant that we had eaten at the previous evening and taste the wonderful pasties that had been in preparation last night.
Suitably stuffed we headed off to the Lake Gardens. As we approached the centre where the 4×4 show had been set up, there was a jeep making a circuit of the track and we were beckoned over to have a trip in the car.
and then on to the climbing wall…
before walking the long road to the start of Bukit Larut (formerly known as Maxwell Hill). It was after 4pm when we got there and it was with crushing disappointment that we learned that the 4×4 trips to the top stopped at 3pm. As we dithered at the base of the hill an old Chinese man (aged 66) stopped to chat and then offered to lead us up the hill via a shortcut, something that he did every day by way of constitutional walk. With slightly unenthusiastic children we set off after him. He chatted all the way up, informing us about the wildlife – the large red tailed ants were harmless, he had seen a cobra the day before and had to chase it off with his umbrella. Now, the trek we had undertaken in Taman Negara was hard going in places, but this was much harder by far. The heat was oppressive and we were dripping wet as we stepped up and up on the roots of trees filled in with soil and stones to make a kind of natural staircase. Through jungle-like forest we climbed and climbed, passing armies of ants blazing trails along branches and roots, and the odd leach or two. Oh no! I thought we had done with them :o(
At last we reached the top – well ⅓ of the way up and emerged onto the road. Checking for nasty hangers on – none found, but Oskar had been bitten by something as he was bleeding between his big and 2nd toe, a large red patch on his sandal. Pausing to chomp on some biscuits and take on some water, we then started off down the road, a steep descent with hairpin bends. As we neared the base camp there was a palpable change in both temperature and in aroma, and we could tell that we were coming back to civilisation. It was a shame that we had not been able to get all the way to the top, but on the other hand, we had made a new friend.
We started off back to the Lake Gardens along the straight main road, bidding farewell to the nice man. About half way along, the man came past on his moped and stopped to offer us a lift – first the 3 boys went, and then he came back for Tania and then me. By the time I got to the central park area, the boys had already raced off to the quad bike area and had had a ride on a “super moto”. We searched around for some food and settled on some Mee Goreng and sat down under a pergola as day turned to night. We headed home and had some more chapters of HP III.
13th November 2011
A very lazy morning passed in the hotel packing up the rucksacks again and preparing our the departure for Pinang, an island on the NW coast of Peninsular Malaysia. The train was not until 13:54 and so the nice lady at the hotel allowed us to leave the bags in the hotel room (checkout was 12:00) whilst we headed to the Bismillah Restoran for some more of those lovely pasties and an egg Roti or two for the boys.
Suitably stuffed we grabbed our bags and took a taxi to the station where we waited patiently for our train to arrive (late) and then we were off, right at the end of the train without a/c in the sweltering afternoon heat and humidity. The rear doors were propped open so as to allow some air to pass through the carriage, and the door right at the back gave some great views of parallel tracks disappearing into a perspective point in the distance.
Three hours or so later we arrived in Butterworth, the port across the Straits of Melaka from our final destination. Hoisting our bags onto our shoulders we walked out of the station, up two flights of stairs, along a corridor, stopped to change some money into coins for the ticket barrier, and then walked onto the ferry for the 20 min crossing to Pinang.
Disembarking at the port we arrived at the local bus station, conveniently next to the ferry terminal, and after a brief conversation with the information man, we jumped on a bus to Jalan Pinang, which turned out to be entirely the wrong Jalan Pinang – not Pinang Road, but Pinang Street, and so we spent ½ an hour tramping around trying to find the right place. Finally, a nice man we had previously asked for directions, stopped in his car and asked if we would like a lift to the Friendship Motel – strangely enough, we said Yes Please!!
Finally arriving at the right Pinang Street, and our hotel, we checked into our double double room, and then found a great Indian (called Kaffa) for some tasty tucker. At the next table was an Englishman, a Chinese man and an Indian – and no this isn’t the start of a joke. They said hello and we were soon chatting away, they were from Calafornia and over here on business. Ere long we were suitably stuffed and tired, so we bid them goodnight and headed home to bed. Exploration was on the cards for tomorrow and with no WiFi in the hostel we had an early night to the end of HP III.