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Archive for the ‘Ipoh’ Category

All went smoothly with our moving-on day. Breakfast, packing, down in the lift to settle up and then get a taxi to the bus station. We had nearly an hour waiting for our coach and Kirsten bought a few snacks from one of the stalls to see us through the journey; little bags of dry cereal for the girls and a larger pack of hand-fried crisps. The latter didn’t exactly melt in the mouth and were hardly low fat, but they sufficed in lieu of lunch.

The coach turned up only a few minutes after the scheduled 11am departure time (the time-keeping is far better here than in South America) and we occupied a block of four seats right at the front – no reserved seating – which we shared with a stack of parcels destined for various recipients in the Cameron Highlands. Not a rice bus but a post bus, and a rickety old banger at that; the speedometer didn’t work and the engine barely wheezed up the twisty hill roads from Ipoh. At least we weren’t bothered by cornering G-forces; the sedate journey allowed us to sit back and enjoy the view of forested limestone hills and bare crags. (Incidentally, my teeth are suffering similar erosion after all these refreshing soft drinks we’ve been having.)

Leaving Ipoh.
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Terraced slopes (I don’t think they were used for growing anything) and concrete retaining walls perforated by dozens of drainage pipes; at one corner a man was filling water containers from the run-off. We drove through a heavy shower and began dropping off parcels (the Chinese ones economically wrapped in newspaper). Through Tring Kap and then Brinchang before we arrived in Tanah Rata – a little under three hours after our departure.

Post bus.
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We dragged our bags off and were accosted by a leaflet-waving Indian man. No, we had our accommodation sorted, thank you. Then we realised that he was representing our hotel and here to collect us… We gratefully accepted, and a couple of minutes later we were checking into the Hillview Inn, on the edge of town in a (seemingly) peaceful location.

They don’t accept payment by card here, so I coughed up for the first night in cash. We upgraded from our family room to two connecting double rooms; the extra space is worth the £8 difference. We still hadn’t had any proper lunch so we returned downstairs to have an early cream tea; scones with Chantilly cream and strawberry jam (they’re big on strawberries here in the Highlands) along with a pot of local tea. Even the girls joined in with their iced lemon teas.

Hillview Inn.
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Then an initial explore of the town. Tanah Rata is a far smaller settlement than Melaka or Ipoh and we soon got the hang of the main street, pausing for a while in the children’s playground at the far end. Plenty of places to eat, as well as quite a few food stores and reflexology parlours. You get accosted all the way along, not quite knowing if it’s your feet or your stomach they’re after. But it’s so wonderful to walk around town and not have sweat saturating your clothing within five minutes – it’s a cool 20’C in the Highlands.
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We returned to our rooms for an hour or two’s rest, and just in time, too – it began pouring only minutes after we got back. But soon the sun came through again and we popped out for supper. We ended up at The T Cafe – a spur-of-the-moment choice hidden away upstairs – and we pigged out on pasta for a change (vegetable and beef lasagna with a salad for Kirsten and me) while the girls shared fish and chips again. Four empty plates, so we followed up with apple pie and ice cream. This made up for our lunchlessness and we now hope we’ll all sleep well tonight.

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The Lost World

Some little pancakes with syrup at breakfast provided relief from the usual rice dishes, beans and chicken sausages we are offered. The weather looked as if it would hold – cloudy but no impending storms – so we took a taxi to The Lost World of Tambun, a family adventure/water park some eight kilometres outside Ipoh. There is probably a 30 pence bus ride to get there, but this would require us to walk a good kilometre across town to and from the bus station; the taxi there cost us 15 Ringgits (£3).

We joined a short but slow queue to buy our tickets (wristbands); no family discount but children under 90cm tall would be free. (No chance for ours, then.) Our bag was searched as we went in through the turnstile; did we have any food or drink? Only water, but later we noticed several local families with entire picnics in wicker baskets. It’s probably more a matter of keeping glass out of the park.
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Plenty of shaded seating with tables, so we grabbed one by the main pool, dumped our stuff and cooled off in the water. The pool has an artificial sandy beach (with volleyball court) and a gentle wave machine, and the base is helpfully colour-coded so we simply advised Ellen to stick to the light-blue area to avoid getting out of her depth.
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Malaysia is an Islamic nation and so there are prayer rooms provided just opposite the locker area, but no proper changing rooms – just a large toilet/shower block with a bench along one side. No changing rooms because most people went in the water pretty much fully clothed. Okay, shoes off, but hijab and all for the women and shirts (usually) for the men. Even the Chinese contingent kept tops on, and Kirsten felt obliged to ask several members of staff whether she could wear a bikini (the answer was yes, but we saw only two other visitors clad thus).

It was also noticeable that the only mixed groups were families or couples; any unattached young women and young men kept very much to their own groups with no overt interaction. (What a contrast to every other country we have visited so far…)

The Lost World is one of those parks where you have to pay extra once you’re through the gate; extra to feed the fish, rent a swan pedalo, ride the train. The Lazy River circuit required a large inflatable ring and the sign indicated that you’d pay a deposit and get it back when you return the ring. Well, there was a RM10 deposit but also a RM12 overhead that you never saw again. What exactly were we paying for, then? Another RM10 for the electronic lockers and you’re spending nearly as much as the child admission cost.

We opted to get one double ring (triply connected, like my thesis; i.e. with two holes) and take turns on the river (the longest such in Asia, apparently – they’re ever so keen on letting you know that Attraction X is the Nth biggest in the country/Asia/the world). Hannah and I went first, only to discover that we just floated around not going anywhere. The river had no flow, and we spent five minutes wondering if we’d chosen the right way to go (I had stood up in one hole and was walking us along). Just around the riverbend we came to the wave generator which was shooting half-metre-high swells in our direction of travel, only these did nothing to propel us either; vertically yes, but horizontally no.

The occasional ‘surprise’, such as a tunnel with concrete elephants and a rather too loud trumpeting over hidden speakers, or fibreglass frogs that squirted water at you from their mouths, but Hannah was more captivated by a real lizard with a surprisingly long tail on the wall to our left (not part of the theme park plan at all). Plus beautiful views of yet more limestone crags surrounding the site.

Eventually I walked/paddled us right around the circuit and we handed over to Kirsten and Ellen, forewarning them of the surprises. Afterwards we dragged our double doughnut to the main pool where the girls spent the rest of the day having great fun floating and pushing each other (or even me) around on it. Especially when they chose to push me under a water fountain…
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We didn’t try the water slides (even grown-ups were shrieking in terror) or visit the Petting Zoo (seen ’em all before) or have a go on the fairground rides (the usual centripetal hell – no thanks).

For lunch we shared two flimsy transparent plastic boxes of chicken rice. They don’t fillet the chicken, but rather cut it up into bite-sized morsels using a scary chopper so you have to pick out the fragments of bone, skin and worse as you go. But we ate all that we could and then followed up with three crepes. Crepe, but not as we know it. Prepared in the usual way on a hotplate with your choice of topping smeared over before folding into a neat wedge. Only they turn out rigid as a board and can be snapped like a poppadom – weird, but not unpleasant. Is it because the batter is made with rice flour? Just a guess…

We decided to return to our hotel just before tea time; we were directed to a secret office off the main entrance hall where the staff phoned to get us a taxi. It is often tricky having a conversation with locals whose grasp of English is limited and who are thrown by a real English accent as opposed to the Manglish (the apt name for Malaysian English) that they usually hear. They latch on to the 50% of your sentence that they understand and give you a response to an entirely different question.

So when I enquired if pomelos grow all over Malaysia or just around Ipoh, yesterday’s driver replied no, but he has a friend who could drive us all around Malaysia if we wished. Or the first time Kirsten checked about whether it was okay to wear a bikini, she was simply pointed towards the toilet/changing area. Or when we asked our hotel receptionists this morning where we should go to catch a taxi, they exchanged flummoxed looks for a while, then wondered if we might want to go shopping, or… (thinking “how are we $%*£ing supposed to know where you want to go in a taxi?”)

There’s also the ‘definition by repetition’ trick; you ask what something is, and they give you the Asian version of SOCKS (eso si que es – that’s what it is). “What’s Kaya? What is it like?” “Kaya is… Kaya.” “What’s Bee Hoon? A sort of noodle, or a vegetable?” “No. Is Bee Hoon.”

And then it’s not always easy to interpret the reply. One taxi driver was enthusiastically pointing out all of Ipoh’s sights to us; “There’s Rice Bus. You know, Rice Bus?” We nodded along, assuming that if you can get chicken buses you might also have a rice bus. At that point we passed Ipoh’s racecourse. If I felt inclined to quip that it should be called the Ipoh-drome, I also knew that the attempt would be futile.

As we left Melaka the other day I saw a coach prominently branded with the company name ‘MataHari’; I didn’t know until recently is that this is the Malay/Indonesian word for the sun, literally ‘eye of the day’. No exotic services with a touch of espionage on board, then – though we were later overtaken by a ‘First Class Massage Coach’.

And that ‘SUDAH POTONG?’ billboard slogan that we saw is apparently a controversial one. Meaning ‘cut already?’, it is perceived as referring to circumcision as well as to wireless broadband… Rather more mundanely, ‘memotong’ is simply ‘overtaking’ and ‘beras wangi’ is a type of rice. So now we know.

View from our hotel window.
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Pomelo and pummel – ow!

I slept fairly well last night, apart from getting up a few times to adjust the air conditioning. One minute I was too hot, then I was too cold.

Hannah, who shared my room, said she had slept really well. We decided to phone our neighbouring room to find out whether Tim and Ellen had woken up yet. They both had slept very comfortably as well.

After a wonderful and powerful shower, Hannah and I went to get Ellen out of bed so we could head downstairs for breakfast.

Breakfast was again buffet style and this time we had a bigger choice of salad stuff (lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber and grated carrot), hard boiled eggs (either halved or still in their shell), scrambled eggs, baked beans, sausages, plain rice, chicken porridge (with several different toppings), a noodle dish, toast and two different jams. Again we had a choice between tea or coffee (with proper milk as opposed to powdered milk) and two different flavoured drinks. Unlike our Melaka hotel, the dishes or juices weren’t labeled so we had to find out with trial and error. Both Ellen and Hannah preferred the Melaka breakfast as it had potato wedges, nicer eggs and the baked beans were slightly warmer, but I think overall we have a good selection of dishes here.

We returned to our bedrooms to collect cameras and water bottles and headed out before the weather would get too hot. Our aim was to walk to the older part of the town by crossing the river. The map in our Lonely Planet was not at all clear and we couldn’t really get our head around it.

I have found that Malaysians are more than keen to help out whenever possible, so I wasn’t surprised when a middle-aged man and his family approached us to see if we needed any advice. We explained to him that we wanted to go to the bus station to buy tickets for our journey to the Cameron Highlands on Monday. He told us it would be quite a long walk and would we like to “live”. Huh? No, he meant would we like a lift!

His car was parked a little further down the road and he and Tim sat in the front while his wife, teenage son and the girls and I took up the back seat. Although there were five of us in the back, it was still pretty comfortable.

This kind man dropped his son off first at school for Saturday activities before giving us a guided tour around part of the town, while at the same time showing Tim where exactly we were on his Lonely Planet map.

He pointed out some buildings, like the Information Centre (closed in the weekend) and the police station. He also showed us where to go for delicious spring rolls and pomelo (a big citrus fruit – in England only available in certain branches of Waitrose).

He finally dropped us off at the bus station. We really couldn’t thank him enough and were very grateful for his kindness and information.

We located the correct ticket counter and bought our tickets to Tanah Rata, Cameron Highlands. We had to explain a couple of times that the tickets would be for Monday, not today, and for the 11am bus.

Tickets in hand, we wandered around the station wondering what to do or where to go. According to our guidebook we should be able to catch a bus to the cave temples, but couldn’t track down either bus 66 or 73 that would take us there. By now I was feeling pretty hot and uncomfortable and longed for the coolness of our air-conditioned rooms.
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Instead we decided to catch a taxi that could take us to the Sam Poh Tong cave temple just a few kilometres south of Ipoh. The driver was more than happy to take us there and wait for us to return.

Ipoh is surrounded by limestone hills in which you can find several cave temples which started out as smaller meditation grottoes. Sam Poh Tong is the largest one of its kind and was extremely crowded today with lots of worshippers burning incense sticks and offerings for their dead. One of the main attractions is the tortoise pond, where worshippers bring tortoises to ‘balance their karma’.

Tables of offerings.
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Tim and I were both speechless at the beauty of the setting. The buildings were colourful, mainly red, white and yellow, and the roofs had their corners turned upwards.
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Inside, the caves were large and roomy, so I felt quite comfortable, and were decorated with numerous statues of buddhas. The tortoise pond was habited by tens of tortoises/turtles. Near the pond was another temple surrounded by cliffs and greenery. This place was quite breathtaking.
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We retraced our steps and left the cave through a different exit. Now we approached the place where numerous visitors were worshipping. Hundreds of incense sticks were burning (imagine the scent!), food and flowers were set out on long tables and further down the path people were burning their offerings to the dead. When we looked up we saw several monkeys “monkeying around”, some carrying their babies on their tummies.
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Greatly incensed.
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We headed back down the main track in search of our taxi driver, who suggested visiting the Kek Lok Tong cave temple. He said we would like this one even more, and once there we totally agreed. To start with, it was so much quieter with only a handful of other tourists there. Again the cave is quite sizeable with several buddha statues and an even more amazing view out the back!

Kek Lok Tong.
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Ipoh is also famous for its pomelos and we really wanted to buy one from the road stalls we had passed earlier. By the time we returned the pomelos and vendor had disappeared, but our taxi driver knew of a different road lined with pomelo stalls. We ended up buying a good-sized, sweet pomelo for RM10, and then it was time to return to our hotel.
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We headed straight for the hotel restaurant and had a selection of tuna/mayonnaise and egg/mayonnaise sandwiches and two iced lemon teas to share around. Whilst nibbling on these we wondered whether to take advantage of the 20% discount voucher we were given yesterday for a foot massage.

We decided to go for it and Tim booked a body massage and I opted for the foot massage. We were shown to our treatment room and the girls were allowed to stay with us. They sat on the third treatment chair watching television or reading their books.

My massage started with a foot bath, and whilst my feet were soaking the lady started massaging my neck and shoulders. I never knew someone could have such powerful thumbs – it actually really hurt, she pushed down on muscles and pulled at my skin. But at the same time I could also notice the benefits and I felt so much lighter and more relaxed afterwards. From my shoulders she moved on to my head, face and earlobes!

At last time for my legs and feet. My feet were dried and rubbed in with lotion and then massaged. After the initial ticklishness I started to really enjoy it. She pulled every single toe, twisted my feet right, left and up and down, hammered down on my shins, bent my legs and then pulled them as hard as she could. It sounds cruel, but, oh it felt so good!

Both feeling refreshed, but also slightly bruised, we went back to our rooms so that we could catch up on washing, blogs and diaries and cut open our pomelo. Tim had chosen a slightly sweeter variety of pomelo and it turned out just as thirst-quenching as the more sour pomelo we usually get in England.

After the girls’ gymnastics show on one of the single beds we returned to the restaurant and chose three dishes to share amongst us. These dishes were fried butter prawns with plain rice and crackers (Hannah’s choice), grilled chicken chop and steak both served with black pepper sauce and french fries. Most of the food tasted delicious but unfortunately there was not much meat on the chicken and the steak was tougher than I would prefer.

The girls are swapping rooms for the night, so my companion will be Ellen who has just asked for an early night – suits me fine.

At the end of our first full day in Ipoh I’m still not sure whether I like the town or not. I think we were really spoiled in Melaka. So many museums to visit there, so many hawker stalls to try local food and everything was within walking distance (although it was pretty hot).

We have one more day left here; let’s see what that brings.

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Hired and Sikh

Time to move on in Malaysia. We had an unhurried start this morning, time aplenty to have breakfast, bring our bags down and settle up before getting a taxi to the Sentral bus station. There we had nearly an hour’s wait before boarding our Transnasional coach to Kuala Lumpur; it was nearly empty, but they do send them off every 15 minutes. Our driver didn’t seem to be in any great hurry (he spent the whole trip having a good old goss in Malay with a friend of his), and every other coach on the road sped past us as we chugged north.

This ‘two-hours-maximum’ journey took two and a half hours, and then we were deposited on a busy street a few hundred metres from the bus station, not what we needed when we had eight heavy bags and a matter of minutes to get our connection. There was just time for a quick loo stop before our Ipoh-bound coach commenced boarding, and this time there were hardly any spare seats, so a bit of a squash all round (especially when the lady in front of me reclined her seat and my legroom vanished).

We devoured our muffins and fruit as we were setting off through KL (good views of the twin Petronas Towers), and after another three hours on the road (passing through quite a few heavy rain showers) we arrived at Ipoh bus station. Ample time for Ellen to finish ‘Matilda’ for the second time – an apt choice as it features a little girl who is a voracious reader. (Hope we’re not as dreadful as the parents in the book, though…)

As is often the case here, the long-distance bus terminal is a few kilometres out from the town centre so a chatty Sikh taxi driver took us to our hotel (Regalodge) and even knocked a couple of Ringgit off the fare when I didn’t have the exact change. “Get out of the way, God bless you!” was the phrase he most frequently directed at his fellow motorists, but I didn’t entirely follow his stream-of-consciousness commentary about wolf-like policemen and successfully bribing Indian airport staff.

And so we find ourselves in a second town named after a tree; the prince who founded Melaka chose the local name for a plant he saw growing there, and the Ipoh is a poisonous tree whose toxins have been used on arrow tips.

We checked in to what seems an even plusher hotel than the one we left this morning; the restaurant stays open until midnight, there is a ‘man spa’ and they offer massage and reflexology. We even get complimentary drinks and nuts along with free toiletries including a toothbrush! The only drawback is that our adjacent rooms have no connecting door, and the two external doors are separated by a considerable distance, neighbouring rooms being mirror images – it would have been more convenient to have the room to the right of this one, not the one to the left. However, there are fine views from our windows over the striking limestone landscape that characterises this region.

We had a good supper at the restaurant downstairs to make up for our meagre lunch and then explored the surrounding streets on foot, walking down to see the local night market. Not a patch on Melaka, sadly; they were still setting up the stalls but we could only see clothes and footwear on offer. We got back to the hotel just as the rain was progressing beyond a pleasant and cooling sprinkle, then retreated to our separate rooms to give both girls a bath.

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