KL to the East Coast - 25  March  to 8 April 2008

 As promised the car was fine by Tuesday morning (replacement of seals on fuel pump) and we were off again, with the car as good as new.  Had a few days in KL, did some shopping and laundry re-charged all appliances (harder now we’re on the road). We also took a trip out to the Batu caves, a huge limestone formation 13 kms out of KL. They are fronted by a huge gold statue of a Hindu God (Shiva?) and are full of Hindu shrines. There are 272 steps up to the main cave a route beset by ferocious monkeys! The temple is a site of pilgrimage during the Thaipusam festival in February which we witnessed in Penang-see previous pages for photos. It was hard enough walking up the steps in the heat doing it barefoot with spikes through you would be quite something! 

Finally leaving KL for the east coast on Friday we headed to Lanchang and the Elephant Conservation Centre- Kuala Gandah. This centre which was established in 1974 is the centre for the elephant relocation team. As the elephant’s natural habitat is being lost due to man’s greed (palm oil and tea plantations and logging mainly) the elephants have to be relocated to safer areas mainly the national park   Taman Negara. This is a dangerous job and the tame elephants really help by calming the wild ones down. It is a bit distressing for the elephants to be moved, particularly as family groups often get separated and there is no guarantee that the will be reunited  but overall it is better than leaving them in their shrinking environment.

We were able to get up close to the elephants watching them bathing, taking part in feeding them (fruit ..Papaya and bananas the big favorites!) riding them, and finally a trip back to the river. The elephants on command roll you off into the water which was nice and refreshing. They were beautiful creatures very gentle and they seemed to enjoy the human contact. We camped the night at the centre (the keepers were a bit worried re wild animals but we survived!) and woke up to elephant trumpeting. The next day 2 large elephants were loaded on a truck, off to work calming a relocating wild elephant. As we left we spotted a elephant in the jungle who had been “parked” there, by the trainers. They let them out to experience their natural habitat and he seemed quite content.

We drove on back to Kuantan where we stopped for lunch, and then 10km north on to the seaside town of Beserah where we went for a swim and camped the night on the beach. We went to a small café for chili squid – very nice.  We woke up and had another swim next morning and saw the fishermen on Yamahas collecting their nets, we had read  that  this was the only beach in Malaysia where buffaloes were used  for this job but it seems they have been largely superseded!

So on Sunday 30 March we drove on to the beach side town of Cherating.  Cherating is a lovely sleepy little town with a few tourists who are mostly passing to and from the nearby islands and a some good  shops and cafes. We hung around for a day enjoying the beach, where we found a nice campsite a short walk from a beachfront restaurant. Cherating is number 1 surf spot in Malaysia but sadly for Andrew we had missed the season which runs November to February during the monsoons.  We were also next to an equestrian centre with some beautiful horses and it was really great to watch them galloping along the sand for their morning exercise.

We motored on up the east coast stopping for a swim whenever we got too hot. The beaches and water here are much better and cleaner than the west side of the country.  We passed through the gates which marked our entry into Terengganu. Together with Kelantan to the north Terengganu is the most   traditional Malaysian state. This means it has a great deal of traditional Malay culture i.e.) songket weaving, batik printing.  It is also very staunchly Muslim the Islamic Party of Malaysia or PAS having been dominant for years. The PAS are keen to impose Islamic law on the state though so far this hasn’t happened. The people are very friendly but you can really feel that it is more conservative. No one actually said anything but unless the beach was deserted (which luckily happened a couple of times) I felt I had to do as the locals do and go swimming wearing at least a t-shirt and shorts rather than a bikini. It is reminiscent of doing life saving at school, where for some reason they made us dive into the pool to retrieve a brick wearing our pajamas …not terribly streamlined! Also whilst obtainable at some Chinese restaurants alcohol is not widely available. We still do have a nightly cold one out of the fridge but try not to be too conspicuous about it!

We carried on up, passing little fishing villages and palm fringed beaches. On the way is Kertih which sticks out as a bit of a blot on the unspoilt landscape as it is nothing but oil refineries for miles.  We  camped at Kuala Dungun- this is where the large leatherback turtles come to lay their eggs but sadly not for a few months, so we’ll miss it. Nearby we visited the brand new craft centre which has demonstrations of traditional crafts –songket or cloth with gold thread weaving and batik printing, and painting (amazingly done directly by hand) combined with a shop upstairs. We then hit the state capital of Kuala Terengganu which is a nice little town. We had a look at the floating mosque down near the beach which as the name implies is set on the water, (and you’re not allowed to fish in its moat as the sign says!) and the Crystal Mosque which is made out of stainless steel and glass so it does look as if it’s made of crystal. It’s very beautiful I don’t think my pictures really do it justice. We also made a point of going to Pulau Duyung Besar or Duyung big Island the largest island in the Terengganu river estuary which is renowned for traditional wooden boat building which Andrew was very keen to see. We met one of the boat builders and he showed us round which was interesting.

By Thursday 3 April we made it to Kuala Besut, a little fishing village which has a nice enough beach nearby but really its main function was as a departure  point for the Pulau Perhentian Islands. We hadn’t really planned to visit these, planning to save island hopping for Thailand but we kept hearing from people who had been to many islands saying these were the best going so we decided to pay a flying visit. We are so pleased we did it was absolutely amazing. I will go out on a limb and say it was the most beautiful island I’ve ever visited. The sand was pure white powder and the water a beautiful clear turquoise with excellent visibility. There are 2 islands Besar (big) and Kecil (small ) separated by a narrow strait. We stayed at Kecil a bit less exclusive with more budget accommodation. It was a bit more pricey than we are used to (approx $25 Aus per night ) but as we have been in the freebie Toyota hotel for a while we felt justified!

We spent our full day there on a 6 hour snorkeling trip. This involved visiting 6 different spots by boat and lunch at the fisherman’s village. It was an incredible experience – well perhaps not the lunch as my tuna sandwich was a little disappointing being surprisingly tuna free- (“we don’t have so we give you cheese!”) but the snorkeling was fantastic. We saw/swam with reef sharks, parrot fish all manner of amazing reef fish and turtles. The marine life must be used to people as they were all quite unfazed  and didn’t seem to bother about us. The largest turtle we saw was huge, over a metre  long. We visited several colorful coral gardens with a multitude of fish and brightly coloured clams. All in all a real highlight of the trip so far. We both (particularly Andrew) got a bit burnt as the sun was pretty strong and it’s easy to lose track of time when snorkeling in such amazing surroundings but it was worth it! Next day we took the 90 minute boat trip back to the mainland (the police had kindly minded the car for us) and I’m writing this having set up camp again on the beach.   Off again tomorrow (Sunday 6th April) to the northern state of Kelantan.