Penang to the Cameron Highlands and back 10-28 February 2008
It is a bit unfortunate that familiarity is beginning to breed contempt re: our relationship with Penang. It is a very pleasant happening town with friendly people and lovely food ..but after having to keep filling in time here whilst awaiting the car we are getting a bit over it and the oppressive heat is getting a bit much (probably helps if you have air con but Georgetown guesthouse doesn't run to that!) Nevertheless we put our best feet forward to see some more attractions.
We got the bus out to Penang Hill and caught the railway cars up to the summit 830 metres above sea level. Unfortunately as it was busy for Chinese New Year we had to wait nearly 2 hours to get on a train to go up and the same to get back down! The journey takes 30 minutes at a slow crawl and involves changing train at a station mid way up. It was the first hill resort founded in 1800 and was a popular retreat from the heat of Penang for the early ex-pats. It was noticeably cooler than Penang which was a relief and the view from the summit over Georgetown and back to the mainland was awesome. On the way down we saw the Kok Lok Si Temple which is the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia. It was all lit up for the New Year Celebrations and looked amazing.
We also went to see the Sleeping Buddha at a Thai temple Wat Chaiya Mangalaram. This temple which is over 150 years old houses the immense reclining Buddha. The gold Buddha is over 50 years old 32 feet high and 108 feet long, supposedly its claim to be 3rd largest in the world is a bit suspect as there are larger in Thailand and Myanmar but we still thought it pretty impressive! The building was very ornate housing many statues approximately 30,000 Buddhas, from all over Asia. Opposite was the Dhammikarama Burmese Buddhist temple this was apparently the first Buddhist temple in Penang built in 1805. Inside we gave a small donation in gold leaf for the monk who was very busy coating one of the Buddhas. He was working long hours to get this done, a bit of a never ending task.
Back in Penang we continued to shop and eat ..but also managed to take in an art gallery exhibiting local artist's work and we saw a street performance of Chinese Opera to celebrate the New Year which was very good. Good news from Medan they have now found a special high top container to fit our car…less good news due to cancellations for the New Year and the resulting back log they can't get it on a ship until the end of next week!! We really don't feel we can cope with another stretch in Penang so are booking a bus and heading to the Cameron Highlands in the centre of the country for a change of scene and to enjoy some cooler temperatures!
It took 6 hours in a bumpy bus but we arrived safely at Tanah Rata. It is an attractive little highlands town. This area started as a tea and vegetable growing area, and grew as a popular retreat for the British and others seeking relief from the heat of the lowlands. It will be a great place to return with the car as there is lots to see not easily accessible by public transport. We met some French overlanders going the other way they had been through Europe and Africa, Iran Pakistan and had just shipped from India so we were able to pick their brains about road conditions. We have had a pleasant few days relaxing, and doing some trips to strawberry farms (see the delightfully kitsch Big Strawberry!) and extensive fruit and vegetable markets, so our vitamin C levels are up! The area is also renowned for production of honey and has very beautiful orchids, having very fertile soil and the right climate. The climate is lovely, bright sunny days followed by cool nights ..a bit chilly at first as all our warm clothes are with the car but we stocked up with some woolies so are now prepared! Found a nice Indian restaurant with banana leaf curries to warm our insides too! All in all a pleasant place to hang until (PLEASE!!! with everything crossed!!) the car arrives next week!
We spent the next few days in the CH very pleasantly visiting the Boh tea plantation, having very nice cream teas in a tudor stye tea room (very English..Andrew is practising in our picture for when we hit England in case the Queen invites us for tea!!) and going for walks. We visited the San Poh Buddhist temple, in Brinchang the next little village where the Buddhas and other gods had various offerings laid out before them. We particularly liked the God with a taste for Guinness and lucky strike ciggies some of the gods also had offerings of iced gems and cupcakes..a bit like a kid's party.
Back in Penang we set off to pick up the car …to find it had indeed arrived in Malaysia, the only slight hitch being it was in Port Kalang near Kuala Lumpur ..rather than Penang where we had been waiting for it. We offered to jump on the bus down but unfortunately as the dispatch papers say it is to be unloaded in Penang this will have to happen….thus we have to wait for another week as everything comes via a feeder ship from Port Kalang!!!
In addition the shipping agent we used in Surabaya is now trying to say we cannot reclaim our deposit which is held by customs pending the car's exportation as we have not exported the car in time!!!! This is the first we knew of this time constraint and is a bit rich as the car has been sitting on the docks for 7 weeks. After a few panicked phone calls this seems to be resolved and at the time of writing we are told we will get our deposit though I will believe it when I see it!!
We are starting to realize why no one else we have met driving has gone through Indonesia. It is a real shame as the country is beautiful and the people lovely and in need of tourists but dealing with the authorities is a total nightmare. Enough of this …..not much we can do but unfortunately it has left a bit of a sour taste. We are off tomorrow to Langkawi an island 3 hours by ferry from Penang for some r & r. Langkawi is a beach resort which is duty free …which is just as well as the whole car thing is driving us both to drink!! So, once more we shoulder the backpacks (we only packed for a week or so so both heartily sick of wearing the same clothes!) and once again left Penang. Hopefully when we next return our visit will be short and sweet!!