Strictly: Siam to Singa – Part #1: On a Shoestring

After Lorna left Bangkok and I successfully made it around Wat Pho alone it was time for me to join another G Adventures tour for my final two weeks. I was planning to do the end of my trip alone, but after my two weeks in Cambodia I pretty much decided that travelling completely by myself wasn’t really for me, and so it made sense to book a tour to get me from Bangkok to Singapore. And that’s literally what my tour was: Bangkok to Singapore on a Shoestring. For just under two weeks I would be overlanding it through the bottom part of Southeast Asia from Bangkok down to Krabi before heading over the Malaysian border and into Penang, the Cameron Highlands, Kuala Lumpur, Malacca and over the causeway into Singapore. As I’m sure you all know, I absolutely loved my G Adventures tour through the Australian outback so, even though I was excited to get on the road in a group again I was a little apprehensive in case this time it didn’t live up to expectations. And well, it was certainly different but I’m so glad I joined G once more (and I’m definitely a G Adventures convert, I’d quite happily do every trip for the rest of my life with them).

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The Krabi sunset

Our guide Touch was the most enthusiastic man I have ever met, and I can’t quite believe that someone who does the exact same journey so regularly can remain so consistently excited about it. As often happens with groups there were people I didn’t really get on with, but for the most part everyone else was lovely and it was definitely a good way to see Krabi and Malaysia. This tour was very different to my Australian one, which was probably a good thing as it made them a lot more difficult to compare, and was a lot more free and easy – the tour took you from place to place, organised accommodation and recommended some activities but for the most part you were free to do as you pleased. One of the few included activities we had was snorkelling in Krabi, on the only nice day in the whole time we were there, and was probably one of my highlights of the whole trip. I had wanted to visit Krabi for pretty much the entire time I was living in Singapore and doing a tour that included a few days there seemed a perfect way to finally fulfil that desire. Don’t get me wrong, the beaches and coastline were beautiful and we did some great snorkelling but the whole place had the feel of a European resort town, there were souvenir stores lining the front, loads of bars playing cheesy music and selling cheap questionable booze and so many sunburnt white people, I honestly could’ve been in Spain. We did have some nice food in Krabi, particularly an amazing pad thai from a street side stall on the last night, but I was pretty much done after three days there. Hoards of lobster red Europeans aside, the snorkelling in Krabi was honestly amazing. We spent a whole day on a boat going around various different snorkelling spots and beaches off the Krabi coast, including the famous Maya Bay (set of the movie The Beach) and the backpacker party hub of Koh Phi Phi. As it was Thailand everywhere was, of course, rammed with tourists, but some of the coral we saw was well preserved and we even got to snorkel with reef sharks, which was amazing. I expected to see one at a distance, if I was lucky, but after following a weird long silver fish I suddenly had three sharks in a line swim past my face, which was  breathtaking and only a little bit terrifying. With the exception of our snorkelling day the weather in Krabi was pretty pants and a trip to the emerald lagoon and some hot springs was dampened by the rain and even more tourists, they’re definitely everywhere in Thailand.

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This probably contributes to the ten million pictures of Koh Phi Phi that already exist online

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Maya Bay is the famous location for The Beach and, of course, it would be almost impossible to be stranded here today 

After three days in Krabi it was time to cross over into my favourite Southeast Asian country: Malaysia. Avid blog readers will know that I’ve already visited this country an impressive four times, so as you can imagine I was pretty excited to return one last time. Even better was the fact that we were going to take in the two places I’d always wanted to visit but had never made it to, Penang and the Cameron Highlands. The nature of the Bangkok to Singapore tour meant that we only had a mere few days in each place, but as these two had been on my bucket list I was determined to make the most of both, but thankfully the weather was more or less helpful. Our only full day in Penang started with a city tour of George Town which took in the famous jetties, which were once owned by the most powerful families in the city and were hubs of trade and commerce, Penang Hill and the Chinese temple at its peak, the old fort and a very rainy botanic garden which was nice but not a patch on the Botanical Gardens in Singapore. It was fascinating to be able to see the history of Penang and to learn a little about the diverse Malay and Chinese communities who, along with the British, founded the city and allowed it to flourish, but it was an afternoon exploring the famous Penang artwork which really made this stop a highlight of the trip. George Town was made a UNESCO World Heritage City in 2008 and a government campaign encouraged local and international artists to create murals on the streets of the city, leading to world renowned street art spread across the old city. A few of us spent a whole afternoon with a George Town City Map trying to track down every site and I think we did pretty well. I enjoyed the street art  in Melbourne but George Town far exceeded it. Not only do you find art around almost every corner but a lot of it is interactive – children on a swing will have a real swing where you can sit for pictures and a boy riding a motorbike is on a real motorbike, amongst many others. It is all, honestly, fantastic, some of it is really weird and it’s a great way to spend an afternoon if you’re ever in Penang. It’s also so much fun to get involved in the artwork and I definitely felt like a kid for most of the afternoon.

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This is a tiny selection of my hundreds of Penang pictures. You’re welcome! 

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I did not want to leave Penang but after two nights it was time to head up into the Cameron Highlands and tick another place off my Malaysia bucket list. The Highlands are a lot higher up than where we’d previously been (obviously) and so they were, supposedly, going to be quite a bit colder. That was true in the evenings but on our day trip into the jungle it was ridiculously hot and sunny, broken only by a lovely rain storm and then some stifling humidity. On arriving in the Highlands we were given a choice of activities to do on our free day and I opted for the one which included a jungle trek to see the famous rafflesia flower. The rafflesia is a rare flower found only in certain parts of Southeast Asia and it’s not only one of the biggest flowers in the world but is also one of the smelliest. Its nickname of the corpse flower comes from the horrific smell of rotting bodies that a flower in late bloom gives off. They’re also incredibly hard to find as one flower takes nine months to grow and only flowers for five days, and will die if it comes into physical contact with pretty much anything, including human skin and heavy rain. In order to see a rafflesia we had to do what was described to us as a gentle walk, but which in fact turned out to be an epic hike through the jungle that included having to wade through rivers, climb muddy banks and scale terrifying log bridges. It was a hard walk, particularly in the heat, and thanks to my (sensible) decision to give up on trying to negotiate slippery rocks and instead just power straight through the middle of a couple of rivers I had very wet shoes and feet all day. Despite all this the authentic jungle explorer experience was great, and getting to see a fully flowering rafflesia in the middle of a Malaysian jungle was amazing. We also got to see one which had died after being touched by a person, and it was unbelievable to think that a small brush with a hand or a leg could cause such a huge, majestic flower to turn black and shrivel up. After escaping from the jungle we spent the rest of our day learning how to use a blow pipe like proper locals, visiting one of the biggest tea plantations in the highlands (which turned out to be tiny in comparison to plantations in Sri Lanka and India) and doing a very wet walk through the mossy forest. The mossy forest is a popular tourist attraction in the highlands and there’s a nice raised walkway where you can experience part of it in comfort. But our guide Joe was not one to take the tourist path and instead parked on the side of a mountain road and lead us all through a gap in a fence to do an authentic mossy forest walk. The forest gets its name because it’s made up of various different species of moss which cover the ground and most of the trees, and on a misty afternoon trekking through it was a really eerie experience, with moss covered trees suddenly appearing out of the fog, and some patches of ground being so covered in moss that they were springy and barely solid. After a short walk through the trees we came to a rocky outcrop which (according to Joe) is the highest accessible point in the Cameron Highlands, and the lack of any other people made it a great place to really take in the landscape. It says a lot about our whole day that when we visited the boardwalk we all ended up trekking out into the muddy forest when it came to an end without question, and only realised that it probably wasn’t the way to go when we ended up back in the middle of a jungle.

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The ‘Boh’ tea plantation in the Cameron Highlands
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I fell into this river more than once

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I’m now only halfway through my time in Malaysia but hitting almost 2000 words, so I’ll call this part one and come back with the rest of it later.

Leah Out X

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I had way too many Penang Street Art photos so I thought I’d include them as a bonus if you’ve managed to get this far. 

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