Week 24: The Final Day

The final day.

05/09/2011: Day 57

The day has arrived. Despite what I had considered during the previous week I got on my flight to London instead of the tempting hop back to Hong Kong.

We woke up very early to get the transfer bus to the airport, about an hour from the city. we somehow managed to do this despite our sleepy daze. It was then a matter of checking in and waiting, taking in our last breaths of Asian air (for 9 months as least). It was not long until we had to take our short walk towards the plane and say goodbye to Malaysia, Asia and the best period of my little life…13 hours from this moment I would be arriving in London (aren’t planes amazing?).

So that was it, 12 months of my life end with a small seat on a plane…but what a year it has been!

I can now reflect on my second trip to China in amazement. I arrived with no money and lived on a pound a day for nearly two months, I had 3 amazing jobs, made lifelong friends, travelled extensively in China and visited Vietnam and Malaysia, learned, saw, heard and tasted so many incredible things, spent 4 months couch surfing and had an unbelievable learning experience. I now need to find another way of getting the buzz I get walking when going into a classroom of children who are chanting my name and get excited to the point of soiling themselves when they see me. This is one job I’ll never forget.

I think its fair to say that there are so many people I need to thank for helping me even despite my scatty nature. Aside from the support of my friends and family the one person who I would probably not have stayed so long without is my host, Danny. She allowed me to stay in her home without asking for a penny, she fed me when I had no money, she didn’t mind if I didn’t come home, she trusted me with her house when she was away, she taught me some chinese, and she even stuck hot rods in my face and punched me in the back whenever I showed signs of illness. She is an amazing woman! And someone I will never forget or lose contact with!

So, the last 6 months have been totally different to the first 6, but I would not change a minute of either. The things ive seen, the people I’ve met, the food I’ve tasted and the anecdotes I’ve acquired mean this has been the perfect year! Long may it continue. In this respect, the struggle, the blood, the sweat and the tears (surely not? :P) I have given to my experience have been more than worth it!

To be continued…

Week 23: Malaysia part 2

29/08/2011: Day 50

We woke up with the unfamiliar feeling of a comfortable bed in and airy room and without any aches or pains. Is this the way people are supposed to live? However, this new comfort meant that we were more sleepy than normal, perhaps the comfort makes us want to sleep more.

Despite our desire to sleep we were both asked to breakfast by an eccentric English girl and other friends. She made breakfast sound very appealing by telling us that she knew somewhere that served banana bread. Eventually, once she had managed to gather half the hostel together, we left for the famous cafe. We eventually did find it but I think we lost a few people along the way. We ended up eating breakfast with a South African couple, an American, the English girl and an Irishman with an Australian accent. Despite the absence of the banana bread there was honey, which goes equally well with bread in the morning. We are in Malaysia and eating a european breakfast, so?. It turned out that the group we were sitting with were all teachers in Thailand and had to come to Malaysia to extend their visas. Naturally I was quite interested in their work in Thailand.

Following breakfast we returned to the hostel to have another nice and lengthy shower before we made ourselves presentable enough to leave again, but we were certainly in no rush. In fact, once I was ready I decided to log in to the internet. Here I found an email that shocked me; a friend from uni had informed me that my PGCE course was to start on the 5th September…a week today! What!!. Apparently we had been told in April but I had wrongly assumed that it would start at the normal time. This means I will be starting the day that I return and need to find accommodation and do my pre-course essays before then. What a bummer.

Not to dwell on the news that I will be a social hermit in one weeks time both myself and James decided to explore the island a little more. Today we would look around Georgetown, the capital of Penang and the main township of the Island. We had agreed to join a Chinese pair for the afternoon. One was a girl from Chongqing and another a lad who is studying at the University of Liverpool. Together we walked around Georgetown and both myself and James were immediately taken back to China whilst we followed the two of them. Not only were they ‘guessing’ where they were going instead of having the ’embarrassment’ of consulting the map in their hands, but they were also walking at a snails pace….so Chinese. I miss it.

We arrived at a side street bursting with people. The girl told us that the stall (which had dozens of people surrounding it) served food which was ‘famous’ to Georgetown. I have learned to be cautious when a Chinese person says ‘famous’ as they often mean ‘popular’. In fact, this was highlighted later when she told us a friend of hers was ‘famous’ in Liverpool (the mutual friend of the two of them). It turned out that she is just well-known amongst the chinese students at the university for being the chairwoman of a literacy club. However, it turned out that the food was famous to the area. We all tried it (except James who once again had toilet issues). It was an ice cold soup served with red bean and green worm like things. It didn’t taste of much other than watery sugar and the texture, influenced by the worms, didn’t make it too appealing to me. The Chinese lad finished two. Good lad.

This wasn’t quite enough to fill me up and James still required at least something non-runny to eat. We took to walking around Chinatown for some nice food. We came across a noodle market where we sat and ate some fried noodles. They didn’t last long and we were soon keen on seconds. Unfortunately our Chinese friends went somewhere else after our bowl before. But this meant we could walk at normal speed again.

Once we had finished James decided to return to the hostel and take advantage of the comfortable bed. I didn’t blame him. I, however, decided to have a walk around the coastal area of the town. I walked up Love Lane (where we were staying) and quickly came to several buildings; museums, town halls, and art galleries. Eventually I reached the sea front where there were very few people other than the men fishing. For a while I walked along the coast, following the map and heading towards recommended sights. Eventually I came to a fort dedicated to the British man who first landed on Penang; Francis Light. Here I walked around and got another history lesson about the island; its occupancy, the wars it has seen and the trauma of Japanese occupancy in world war two. There were a few cannons too.

I took a different route back via the clock tower and a big roundabout before getting back to James after about 2 hours of exploring. I found him asleep so decided to find out more about my course. I have a lot to do.

Eventually James rose once again and we went out in search of food. In hindsight it seemed that food had become the focal point of the day. In doing so we passed many restaurants and even saw a man who looked identical to Jangers…it couldn’t, could it? We walked passed him a couple of times and came to the conclusion it wasn’t. James then spotted a car park that stated it served ‘traditional Penang food’. We went to have a look and were happy to come across a hidden Jem. Inside was a massive market featuring dozens of food stalls serving every type of asian cuisine; Malaysian, Hong Kong, Japanese, and Chinese. We had walked into my heaven. What was more, there was entertainment in the middle of the surrounding tables. If the show Benidorm was set in Malaysia (instead of Benidorm) and featured only Malaysian people we were in that show. We joined a table with two spare seats (which is normal in Asia) and so sat at a table with two strangers. They were father and son and both Malaysian of Han Chinese descent. Both myself and James took it in turns to walk up and order our food. All of which we were satisfied with and full afterwards. We already planned to return tomorrow, it’s too good to miss.

30/08/2011: Day 51

Given that we hadn’t seen much of the Island on the previous day we took to exploring it a bit more extensively today.

Our first job, however, was to sort out what we were to do next. Initially our plan was to spend a few days r&r in the perenthain Islands as it had been recommended t us and it would have been nice to return to England with the sort of tan I had during my travels in China or we both obtained on the beaches in Vietnam. However, Time was not on our side and nor was our budget. So we decided to hire the night bus to KL as it was cheap and we wanted to see the National Day celebrations in the capital. It was from there that we would be able to decide how to spend out final days.

Our day began with a public bus. From my research there were a few things on the bus route that looked quite interesting. For me the most interesting seemed to be the floating Mosque. Yet, James made it clear he had no interest in it, but I selfishly dragged him along with me anyway in the hope he would enjoy it. Little did we know that we were going to have a little adventure on the way. For some reason the bus driver told us we had arrived at the floating Mosque about 10 minutes after we left Georgetown (we had previously been quoted half and hour). This meant we were dropped off in the middle of nowhere. After consulting the map it seemed as though it wasn’t that far so we began to walk. However, after a few minutes it became clear that we would have to get back on the bus again. oops. We waited at a bus stop and had 3 buses whizz past without stopping because they were too full. It is now a Malaysian public holiday and most people are off work. Eventually one bus driver allowed us to squeeze in and he was very helpful. In fact, he tried to have a conversation with us throughout our whole journey despite the cramped conditions on the bus.

Eventually we did arrive at the mosque. It was billed as Malaysia’s first floating mosque, but it wasnt actually floating…more like a mosque on a pier. However, it still looked quite impressive. We walked along a platform to reach he mosque and to have a look around. How could we say we have been to Malaysia and not been in a mosque? Initially James was reluctant to enter for reasons I didn’t understand but eventually we both looked around it. we were able to appreciate it but it wasn’t overwhelmingly spectacular. I don’t really know what I was expecting though. Within 10 minutes we had walked around most of it and already heading out. I was glad we went but felt a bit responsible for dragging James there.

We were now walking along the coast towards the famous beach of Penang. Once again it was a longer distance than the map indicated. I had been walking all day in bare feet since the flip-flops bought in replacement for my sandals were a little uncomfortable (they only cost a pound so didn’t know what to expect). After about half an hour we reached a beach (but not THE beach) having accepted that it was a little to far to walk. Here we sat almost motionless for a couple of hours. It was nice to sit with the peace of the sea. I ended up reverting to a child like state by playing with pebbles and the sand whilst James supervised me with his I-pod.

We then got a direct bus back to Georgetown where we were able to recuperate and pack in preparation for our KL return. Before we could though, we had to eat…of course. We headed back the short distance to the food market from the previous evening. This time the entertainment was a very old man dancing and miming to music. As I looked around I noticed that myself and James were the only ones showing any interest in him. He certainly didn’t know that as he swaggered off the stage every 3 minutes for a sip of his beer with a smile on his face. This time I decided I was hungrier than last night and ordered dim sum to go with my sushi, duck rice and pineapple fried rice. I knew that it would be my last feed in the food haven that is Penang, so went all out.

We returned to the hostel for a short wait for our 11:30 bus to KL. It turned out that we were picked up by car and joined by a Malaysian girl named eve. However, we were not to travel the whole distance by car, instead we transferred to a bus where we would sleep for the night. Eve also joined us along with some Iranian lads. Naturally, given the good coaches in Malaysia, we were able to get a few hours sleep along the way.

31/08/2011: Day 52

Today was a day of mourning, for my wallet. Also it was a day of celebration; Malaysia’s national day.

We arrived at a Kuala Lumpur terminal at around 6:30am. In my haste to get off the bus I offered my seat no more than a quick glance to check I hadn’t left anything behind. I concluded that I hadn’t and exited the bus. I soon realised that I hadn’t checked hard enough and my wallet was still on the bus that had swiftly parted once we jumped off. O no. By the time I realised we were approaching the monorail with Eve, who had appointed herself as our tour guide. I left the two of them at the monorail whilst I went back to the terminal in search of the bus…it wasnt there and no one was able to locate it…we had been in a ghost bus. I returned to James and Eve and informed them that I would make my way to another depot. I told James that I would meet him at the hostel a bit later. So I began a little mission, to locate my wallet. The wallet had gone everywhere with me since I was 16, for this reason I was more attached to the actual wallet than the £60 that was inside. I felt quite lucky that I had stored my bank cards and driving licence elsewhere and that it wasn’t my passport left on the bus. In fact, the only contact information in the wallet was my business card or Pattys home address. I now fear that my wallet has been posted to Mexico.

However, I made my way to another depot where I was helped out by some very nice people at customer services. Through them I was able to get into contact with the bus company, and then the bus driver himself. He told me the bus had parked up beside one of the monorail stations for cleaning. So I headed straight there. When I arrived, perhaps 20 minutes later, the bus was nowhere to be seen. Another driver offered his assistance and I used my phone to recall the driver. He told us that he would return at 11:30 with the bus so I should meet him then. Since it was not 8:30 I decided to go to the hostel to drop off my heavy bag.

Once I arrived I recalled the driver to find his phone had been switched off. I managed to get hold of him again at around 10:30 and he informed me that he was now on his way back to Penang on another trip. I suspect that this wasn’t true and that he had found the wallet with the money in it, but I am not one to accuse. Instead I had to admit defeat, and accept that my wallet has gone. I am still hoping to receive an email telling me that someone has found it though. However, it seems it may have fallen into dishonest hands.

We were back in the same hostel that we stayed in originally and one of the staff knew us by name already, despite only talking to him briefly. He expressed his concern about my wallet but was more interested in the Angry Birds t-shirt I was no sporting.

We had a couple of hours sleep before we headed out. James had stayed in touch with Eve, the Malaysian girl from our coach and had been talking to her throughout the day on Facebook. She offered to take us with her friend to a famous night market on the outskirts of KL. Naturally, with it being National Day, we agreed to join them. We walked to the station in the early evening where we were surprised to be met by Eve and taken to massive car…kidnapping? Instead a young lad was in the driver’s seat. The car was seriously huge. It turned out Tommy, the boys name, is a young looking 20-year-old driving his rich fathers car. Very impressive. We were able to cruise through KL central and see how the city had lit up in celebration of the national day.

In the end we did reach a market, and we were pleasantly surprised to see that it was aimed quite specifically at the locals. In fact, I don’t think we saw any Western tourists the whole time that we were there. Tommy parked his car (too big for him) and we began to walk down the narrow market street under the street lights. It was packed full of people and we struggled to move anywhere quickly.

Whilst at the market we explored several different kinds of stalls. Quite predictably I was very interested in the food. We ate a few weird and wonderful things cookies shaped like bears to unknown fish parts in leaves. Eve was kind enough to buy us some lovely sugar cane. Despite the presence of stinky tofu I suppress the temptation to have any. I think I have had my fair share of sticky tofu. However, the longest queue of the night was at this stall.

None of us actually bought anything that couldn’t be consumed but we did enjoy our time at the market (if I can speak for all of us). Myself and James were then lucky enough that Tommy offered us a lift back to the hostel. By this time the market was dying down and we were able to escape quite swiftly.

I still need to buy a wallet though 😦

01/09/2011: Day 53

Things are beginning to unwind and going home is becoming an unwanted reality check. The last thing I really want to think about is going home. Time should probably stop around now.

Despite our limited time, we didn’t really do much with the daylight today…perhaps for the first time in a long time. Instead we both took the opportunity to reorganise ourselves and do some reading for uni. Apparently we have to do work before we start the course….heads have been shaking and eyes have been rolling.

However, I needed something essential…a new wallet. I left James at the hostel whilst I walked around Chow Kit market. We have been told about the dangers of this market because of pickpockets. But, since I didn’t have a wallet I didn’t need to worry about getting robbed. In the end I bought a cheap wallet. I have to work hard to get as attached to the new wallet as I was to the old one. Anyway, I started to make my way back to the hostel when I man approached me and asked if I wanted ‘a young girl’. I told him I didn’t want a young girl (I don’t know what he really meant, but I can guess) and then he asked me to come and look at his young girl. This was weird and I didn’t hang around long enough to find out how ‘young’ this girl was going to be. As I walked away quite puzzled a large woman approached me and asked if I wanted a full body massage, I told her I didn’t. She then told me to do something rather crude to her (I won’t put it here but one can imagine what she asked for). I guessed I had walked into the wrong area….I seem to interact with prostitutes far too often.

Anyway, despite what some may argue being a waste of a few hours (and others a productive time geared towards success in later life) we made our way to China town in the afternoon. We were glad to arrive just as the stall owners were returning from their mid afternoon siestas and there was more variety around China town than on our previous visit.

We decided that our priority should be food (when is it not?) and we quickly found a nice Chinese place to eat. However, we found ourselves hungry enough to seek greater portions of better taste. We were instructed to go to a famous food street in China town not far from where we were. There we immediately found something I had been missing….rice clay pots. These are dishes of boiled rice topped with meat of any kind. There is something about being cooked in a clay pot which makes it taste amazing. Rice is exciting. We shared one of these as it was quite expensive but we found we were sufficiently full to continue our journey.

One thing that we have noticed about Malaysia is that the nights end quite early. Obviously there are bars and clubs but the true local venues (and cheaper ones) seem to die down around 10pm. Indeed China town is no exception. Given that we were still eager to explore Kuala Lumpur a little more we decided to head back to the Petrona Towers since we had only seem them in the daylight.

A short monorail trip later and we were back in the ‘Golden Triangle’. Here we were able to walk (once again I was barefoot) towards the nicely lit towers. Once again we walked around inside trying to work our way around one of the towers. Once we were out the other side we sat for a while beside the large lake. It was here that it really hit me that I will be returning home soon. I then realised how much I am going to (and perhaps already am) miss China. It seemed that China could offer me everything beside the PGCE and that made me seriously consider getting a cheap flight back to China via Hong Kong instead of going home. James convinced me the best thing to do would be to get the PGCE out the way first. Are children going to chant my name and cheer when I walk into a classroom in England….?

Anyway, with that realisation that home was actually going to be a reality we retired for the night. England beckons.

02/09/2011: Day 54

Despite only a few days remaining in Malaysia I decided that I needed to see one more new place before we leave. James, quite sensibly, decided to use the next couple of days to complete his pre-course work. So I woke up around 6am to head alone to Melaka about 2 hours to the south of Kuala Lumpur.

I managed to get a bus from one of the stations in central KL. This time I had my new wallet and held it tightly, I am not losing this one, yet. The journey went nice and quickly but I was then dropped off at the central station, which was nothing but central. In fact, I was told that I was 9km from the centre. A taxi driver approached me and asked if I wanted a lift. He then told me it would cost £4 to get to town….no way! Instead I decided to find a public bus which I got for 20p.

Having done very little research into Melaka I didn’t really know when to get off the bus. I decided, as I new it was a port town, that I would get off when I got to the sea. The bus never reached the sea. After about 45 minutes we were outside of any urban area. The driver noticed I was still on the bus and told me that we were about to enter another town, and that we had passed through Melaka…opps. I got a bus back and missed Melaka again, arriving make at the station. What a plum.

Eventually I did make my way to Melaka itself (decided to walk most of it in the end) and booked into a very smart-looking hostel. Despite being a 25 bed dorm the room was very modern and we had curtains between two people for privacy. However, I didn’t know who I would be sharing with at this time.

I explored the town and found it to be a very pleasant place and the people were really nice. When the British Empire first arrived in Melaka it was the most lucrative port in Malaysia so the town used to be a very rich area (before Singapore took over). However, now it seems to be very poor and survives solely on its history. I visited one of the ships which had been converted into a museum and walked around for a while. I noticed that I was a subject of stares and giggles for the first time in Malaysia. It appears that Melaka is perhaps not all that familiar with western faces. I must admit that I like that attention.

I then visited the relics of St Peters church. It looked very similar to the building of the same name in Macau, which is also an old portuguese colony. Both have fallen apart in the same way. Surely that’s not a coincidence.

Following a few hours around the town I returned back to the hostel to get ready for an evening in the town (which people had been raving about). I got chicken curry and custard buns on the way back.

The evening in Melaka did not disappoint, even though I was on my own. As I entered the main night street there was a crowd forming around a man with some coconuts. Naturally I was curious as to what was going on. It turned out he was a holder of two Guinness World Records for piercing coconuts with one finger….mental. I sat with the rest of the crowd and he began his show. As I should have expected the man (Master Ho) spotted me. He made me stand up and join him in the middle in front of a crowd of over 100 and still growing. He made me throw playing cards at him before he embarrassed me by showing me how a kung fu master does it, very impressive. He then made me attempt to pierce a coconut with one finger. Of course I was not able to do this without breaking my finger. I looked quite the fool but I think he was trying to demonstrate that the coconuts were real. Thankfully he allowed me to sit back down with a rather red face. Good fun though.

I sat through the whole show, which lasted about an hour and he actually did manage to piece coconuts with his finger. It was quite bizarre how he channelled all of his power into one finger. Afterwards he showed the crowd his finger. It had immediately became very swollen and crooked. He reassured us that it always happens like that and that the swelling would reduce in time and the finger had been broken many times before. Although impressive, I decided I am glad I have not chosen coconut piercing for my career.

I spent the rest of the evening walking around the Melaka night streets. In my opinion it was a better version of the Kuala Lumpur China town. There was so much food and chinese stuff around. I decided to eat some dim sum and some noodles and bought a chinese themed camera case. Other than that I just admired the streets, which were beautiful. I then had a great conversation with a Malaysian who was interested in having a conversation in Chinese with me. Although we quickly reverted to english I always like it when people respond in chinese when I ask in chinese. All too often they respond in English because they like to practise their english too. That said, my chinese is nowhere near as good as it should be, and that I want it to be.

The night was great, but in fitting with Kuala Lumpur everything ends quite early unless you want to buy over priced beer. I retired to the hostel where I met two Vietnamese girls. One of which was stunning. That said, I was in bed not long after midnight where I found out I had been paired with a Japanese girl (not in the same bed but two in a cubicle, like a hospital cubicle. Throughout the night she kept waking me up with her itching (the room was rife with mosquitos). I felt a little sorry for her but since I was getting bitten too I guessed I was also itching in my sleep. Aside from the mosquitos the night was quite comfortable.

03/09/2011: Day 55

Despite only arriving in Melaka the previous day I needed to head back to Kuala Lumpur today. I had fallen in love with the town but it was quite small and only needed the morning before I had seen it all. Perhaps if I had more time or if James was with me we may have stayed a little longer. It is now a winding down time and the next few days are more about

After a morning in the town I began to make my way towards the central station. I had previously been told that the station was 9km from where I was. I decided that it wasn’t worth risking getting the bus again and decided to try to orienteer my way there. I was quite impressed with my memory trying to follow the bus route to the station. It only took around an hour and most definitely was not 9km away. Still, I was on my way back to KL.

When I arrived back in KL it was already mid afternoon and James was working at the hostel. We had a quick catch up and then got ourselves ready for an evening at a local restaurant. We made the decision to stay local and get an indian, thus saving one final chinese for our last night in Asia, it would be the only fitting way.

We got to an indian restaurant and it appeared that we had finally learned how much indian food we needed to fill us both up and not waste any. We ordered just enough dishes, with some new ones. As is normal with Indians here, everything tasted like the best thing I have ever put in my mouth. My taste buds have been spoilt in the last year. How will I adapt to fish and chips again?

Still we enjoyed a very relaxed evening and were back at the hostel for 10pm. How could we end our penultimate evening in Asia….introduce our new asian friends to Fawlty Towers of course….’drive carefully dear’.

04/09/2011: Day 56

Now, if I had been given a reality check during the previous week I was now to be brought right back down to earth (metaphorically).

I never thought I would have a ‘uni day’ in Kuala Lumpur, but as I am returning to uni on monday I needed to write an essay and do some reading. Naturally I wanted to do this to the best of my ability. So when we both naturally woke up we made our way to the communal area and both performed the tasks our unis had set us….we are meant to be on holiday! Of course this was a helpful few hours in allowing me to have some reassurance that I have done some prep work for uni….which I should be starting tomorrow.

Of course we couldn’t waste a whole day writing essays and reading the school curriculum. What kind of travellers would this make us? Instead we packed our bags in preparation for our departure in the morning and then headed towards China town via monorail.

It was now that James revealed that he had been in contact with Eve. We were to meet her and Tommy in China town. Initially I wasn’t sure this was a good idea as we both intended to do some final day shopping but it turned out to be great. As one can probably guess it was great because there was food involved. Instead of us experimenting with different stalls and restaurants Eve took us to a famous Chinese restaurant in China town. Wow! I loved the food….I will bloody miss Chinese food (or just food….I know I write far too much about what I eat and havent gained any weight to justify it). Every mouthful was savoured.

Myself, James, Eve and Tommy then spent he rest of the night walking around China town. We decided to have one last go at Dr Fish (which I think I forgot to write about before). It’s basically a tub of fish that feed on dead skin. James informed me that it is popular at home now. 3 of s paid to dip our feet in with the massive flesh-eating fish. Quite embarrassingly I was given 3 plasters and told that I had to wear them over my leech marks and mosquito bites as the fish would re-open the wounds. It’s fair to say that my feet look quite weathered at the moment. Still, once our feet were in the pool the fish swarmed towards us for their feast. As with the first time it created an uncomfortable ticklish feeling but after a while we only really noticed the fish when they sucked to hard or got a leg hair in their mouths. 10 minutes was enough, and our feet felt refreshed even if they didn’t look it.

The remainder of the night was spent walking around the market and taking in the last few hours of Asian atmosphere…it really is coming to an end.

Following the market we were offered a lift home by Tommy and Eve. We accepted and went to the hostel in his car. Whilst we were sitting in the back Eve produced 2 large bags from the passenger seat. She then gave one to each of us and told us they were presents for myself and James. Eve and Tommy had bought us presents…we were overwhelmed but very thankful. It seemed a fitting way to end our experience in Asia, with two people displaying the welcome and hospitality we have now become so used to in Asia. What an experience. Thankyou Eve and Tommy.

We were now alone again and had to prepare for our 5am departure. Online check-ins, bag packing, currency changing and photo sorting all made it quite clear; we are really going home.

Week 22: Vietnam part 4, Malaysia part 1

22/08/2011: Day 43

Today was our final full day in Saigon, and with that our final full day in Vietnam. We aimed to make the most of it.

Given that James is starting a history PGCE in September and both me and Catherine had developed an interest of our own in the Vietnam war we decided to visit the Cu Chi tunnels. In fact, it would have been a worthwhile visit had we not even had any interest. The tunnels are an underground network used by the Vietcoms in order to protect themselves from americans and offer surprise attacks. The underground tunnels are so advanced that they stretch between towns and even reach rivers.

Once we were up we made our way downstairs with the view to buying some breakfast before our bus departed to the tunnels. To our surprise Pollyanna was already downstairs awaiting her arrival. We had suggested that she joined us the previous night but given the early start we didn’t know that she would actually come. Nonetheless it was good to have an extra body, and she turned out to be a major source of entertainment for the day.

We were then a foursome on our way to the tunnels. Despite being only a few kilometres away we were told that the journey would last two hours. We later found out that the reason for this was that we took a detour to a toilet that was twinned with an embroidery factory housing workers who were second generation victims of American napalm and agent orange. Despite their disabilities these people were very talented.

We later arrived at the tunnels and were first introduced to the passageways from above ground. Pollyanna got a bit too excited too early and started running and looking into an empty hut which had no relationship with the tunnels. She then joined the wrong tour group and had to be called over. We couldn’t help but smile when we looked at her and her large lenseless glasses. The entrance to the tunnels was so well concealed that we could imagine how the American soldiers were puzzled as to where the Vietnamese disappeared to in the forest. Not only this but there were also a series of ‘termite hills’ within the forest. We were told that these were artificial and that the holes led directly to the tunnels below so that a steady airflow could reach the soldiers hiding below. clever.

Our guide then showed us examples of traps set up by the Vietnamese. These were often shockingly brutal. For example, digging a six foot hole and placing sharp bamboo sticks at the bottom. There was ten a camouflaged swinging door placed on top so that when someone fell in they stayed in. There were lots of spikes and traps going on, things I was more familiar with seeing in video games like Sonic the Hedgehog. Apparently they were real. Since the Vietnamese were using limited or backdated weaponary many of the traps were created using recycled american weapons. Their resourcefulness was incredible.

After this we were encouraged to go to the shooting range and try out the gun of our choice. We chose the cheapest one as they were about 70p a bullet. Myself, James and Pollyanna shared a round. Catherine, quite nobelily, stood by her stance of non violence by being the photographer. As I was not wearing my glasses I have no idea if I hit the target. All I do know is that I didn’t kill anyone else. Pollyanna, being about 5ft 1 didn’t quite suit a rifle. The again, I probably didn’t either. We came away from the driving range with our ears ringing from the AK47. Its hard to imagine what months of conflict with them could do to your ears.

What followed was the highlight of the day; actually going into the tunnels. We were told that the average Vietcom fighter in the tunnels weighed around 40kg and was probably only a little taller than Pollyanna. This made life in the tunnel for myself, Catherine and especially James incredibly challenging. James in particular came out with bloody knees. We were able to transport ourselves through the narrow tunnels battling against claustrophobia by crawling on our hands and knees and crouching where possible. There is no way that the VietCom were comfortable in these tunnels and it came to show what they were willing to do to fight the Americans. Pollyanna managed to walk most of it as we struggled behind. As I came out one of the exits a bat managed to fly in. James spotted it and managed to get a picture of it flying. It seemed like the bat was much more suited to the tunnels and flew happily in there for a few minutes. When we were all out we were all soaked in sweat and dirt. It’s hard to imagine considering the tunnels a home. I was surprised the Americans were not able to discover them as they were definitely exposed if they were discovered. An amazing war story though.

We then returned to Saigon city in a much shorter time than our first trip, dropping Pollyanna off on the way. This gave us the opportunity to change our dirty clothes before spending the rest of our day in the city. We decided, as it was our last day in Vietnam, that we would go to the market for some souvenirs. I wanted a T-shirt, not only to remember Vietnam but also to own some clean clothes.

We walked around the market for about an hour and bought a few bits and bobs. Since we still have 2 weeks in Malaysia to go I was a little discouraged from buying too much to add to the weight in my bag. Naturally we were to stumble across something familiar in the market, yep, Emily. After a brief discussion we organised to go back briefly and meet up later for dinner. We returned to the hostel.

Since I still had no t-shirt and Catherine had not fulfilled her shopping cravings we continued exploring whilst James and Emily had a quick rest. When we did eventually return we had a short time to prepare ourselves for the evening ahead. We had arranged to meet Emily at 7pm but were running a little late. We heard a knock on our bedroom door and assumed it was Emily asking why we were late. Half apologetically we opened the door to an already beaming (and still wearing the large lens less glasses) Pollyanna. ‘Do you mind if I join you?’. We had a new member of the gang. And what a member. If anyone was to draw a Chinese girl it would be Pollyanna complete with her Angry Birds t-shirt. Her innocence makes her all the more fascinating. I hope she adapts to university life in England and I hope people welcome her in the same way we have. Although I fear she might have a more romantic view of England than reality.

Anyway, once we met with Emily we went down a backstreet for our last dinner in Vietnam. I chose to eat Vietnamese curry since I felt the need to have Vietnamese food on my last day. We all had a pleasant and rather cheap meal before going to a bar for a few drinks. Initially I was a little concerned about Pollynana (paternal instincts) as she was drinking her beer a little too quickly and I feared (having met a few Chinese girls like her) that she hadn’t really built up much of a tolerance to it before. I tried to raise the issue with her without patronising but she responded, with a sight slur, ‘I am good a drinking beer’.

Later in the night, and after a few beers, many of which were downed or drunk quickly, my fears appeared to be justified. The first sign was when Pollyanna asked her friend for a cigarette. From the way she smoked it was clear that she had not smoked before. although this was incredibly comical it was also a little concerning as she was already slurring her words and I couldn’t help but feel slightly responsible. Still she was still with us, just. We then joined a few Malaysians on the dance floor. Pollyanna decided to dance with us but ended up lying on her front on the dance floor. Had she fallen over? no. She had decided that the dance floor looked the most comfortable place for rest. Pollyannas bed time? A Malaysian man bought her a red ball to ‘get her dancing again’ but I didn’t think this was what she really needed so bought her some water and took her, with Catherine help, to her hotel. Pollyanna was still in good spirits and perhaps an even funnier drunk than she was sober. It was certainly an entertaining night.

We all retired to bed in Vietnam. For myself and James it was our final sleep. To sign off James gave a beggar boy the equivalent of about £7, a lot of money to him. We could only hope that he was the one who benefited from it.

23/08/2011: Day 44
Today was a bot of an odd day as we had to acclimatize to not only a new city, but to a new country.

Our flight from Saigon to Kuala Lumpur was due to leave at 10am, which meant we had to get to the airport for check in at around 8am. For only the second time since Hanoi we got in a Vietnamese taxi and had no trouble this tie since we paid up front. In fact, I slept the whole was so have no idea how far we travelled and how long it was.

Once we had checked in we made our way through customs and said our goodbyes to Vietnam. Looking back, Vietnam offered us an amazing amount of variety from countryside to mega cities, from con men to amazing acts of generosity and from sand dunes, paddie fields, rivers and mountains to underground tunnels. Vietnam had more or less everything.

That said, we were now to embark on our new adventure.

Because we had booked our flights at different times we were not sitting together. The allowed us to sleep most of the flight, which I took full advantage of despite the lure of the Dalai Lamas autobiography :P. The flight went quickly as expected, and as preparations were put into place for landing the man beside me decided to start a conversations. He was an interesting man and told me about his job; an events manager. He was flying to New Delhi, via KL, to organise an Asian gold tournament where the winner meets the winners of other continental tournaments in Germany. He also told me his plans for a Gran Torismo race in Vietnam. He was either talking rubbish or a very successful man. I believe the latter. When I told him about my role in China he offered to interview me, stating that he could provide me with a classroom and all the necessary marketing to make a successful career in Vietnam. What a tempting offer!? He gave me his details and told me to stay in touch. Maybe I should.

Once we landed we were in Malaysia! Malaysia! We were in Kuala Lumpur, the capital. despite being less than a couple of hours by air from Vietnam the people were immediately different. Not only were they all able to speak english but the multi cultural atmosphere in the city was overwhelming. There were western people, Indians, Chinese and other ethnicities from all over the world. Kuala Lumpur is clearly a very multi cultural city.

Our first task, despite our heavy bags and tired eyes, was to find our hostel. James had found one with good reviews online and we decided to head towards that one. On the map it appeared to be well out of town but in reality KL (as it is colloquially known) is a very small city. We arrived at our station, Chow Kit and had little indication about where to go after that. Instead we decided to walk around for a while and ask for help. Different people were giving us different directions. Eventually, after walking through a local market we appeared on the correct street and found our hostel. From the outside it doesn’t look like much but inside it is great (although mum would not agree). What we found most appealing about it is its traditional Malay culture, run by Malaysians. We were required to remove our shoes before entering and were told of specific customs within the hostel. We were sharing with a Pakistani man who was now asleep for the afternoon to take his mind off his Ramadan fasting. We were lucky enough to be in Malaysia as Ramadan was approaching its climax.

It was now late afternoon and we hadn’t really done much with our day (if changing country doesn’t count as ‘much’). In our hostel we met with a girl called Marina who had visited Kuala Lumpur 25 times and told us that she thought it was the best city she had been to. She invited us to join her at a restaurant in Little India for some curry. naturally we jumped at the chance.

Marina had no trouble in finding her intended restaurant. Both myself and James had naively assumed she would be vegetarian (stereotyping her) and both crossed our fingers that she would take us to a restaurant containing the meat we desired. We needn’t have worried since she was very much a meat eater. We sat at the table and looked at the menu. Having been used to Vietnamese small portions we both ordered two dishes, some rice and some naan for our dinner, as did Marina. We then washed our hands as we intended to eat as the locals do, with our hands (not that we wouldn’t wash our hands before eating anyway :p). When the dinner did arrive it was clear that the portions were not from Vietnam. They were huge! We had a banquet on our table and we were all salivating far to vigorously at the prospect. We had a variety of different curries which we all experimented with. Each one was as delicious as the other and we just wanted to eat all night. I cannot describe how nice a real Indian curry is. I guess being in Little India, Malaysia is the next best thing to actually being in India. If the food is anything to go by India has moved to the top of my ‘places to go’ list. Eventually though the food did beat us. For the first time since we left China we were full and it felt amazing. Perhaps now is the time we put on the weight we have lost in Vietnam? We shall see.

Following our massive and incredibly flavoursome meal we retired back to the hostel via the efficient monorail. As after all great meals, tiredness soon sets in and we were in bed in no time. If the food was anything to go by we are destined to love Malaysia.

24/08/2011: Day 45

So this was our first full day in the Malaysian capital. And we aimed to make the most of it. We have calculated that we could use this day to get a grasp of the city before extending our journey to further places in Malaysia before completing our KL adventure to end our trip. But there does seem to be so much to offer us here.

Our first task for the day was to locate China town and have a walk around there. We had a recommended walk that would enable us to see the majority of sights in China town within a couple of hours. However, once we arrived at the correct monorail station we immediately diverted towards a cricket stadium and then down the famous china town shopping market (which was where we intended to end our walk, it drew us in). We explored many areas around China town including and ended up eating at a nearby restaurant. ummm chinese food again! Although the noodles we both chose were not quite up to ‘Chinese’ standards. We let them off.

Thankfully we managed to see the worlds tallest flag pole just outside of China town. Aren’t we privileged?

Not before long we found ourselves in Little India once more. It was at this point that we realised that Kuala Lumpur city is smaller than we even thought possible. We had been walking for about 2 hours and already walked through China and into India. The shift in items being sold between China town and Little India gave us another indication of the diversity in culture, religion and life in Malaysia. It is a very interesting place.

Given that KL is synonymous with the Petrona Twin Towers that dominate its skyline it would have been neglectful to not visit them whilst here. So, having them in our sights we made it our goal to reach them on foot. I decided that they probably looked closer than they were so guessed that it would take us 45 minutes to reach them. James, on the other hand said it would take no more than 30 minutes. I laughed at his naivety.

15 minutes later we arrived at the base of the Petrona Towers. I blamed my eyesight. The towers are actually spectacular in both size and aesthetics. They are really impressive. We got the impression that we had approached the towers from the wrong side as their was heavy traffic and only a few people dotted around. We decided to try to get to the other side. And to my surprise the towers were actually open to the public to walk straight through. I don’t know why but I had wrongly assumed that it would be a private building. Instead one of the towers is a large shopping mall featuring designer and high street shops. However, we managed to reach the other side where there was a nice park for us to rest our weary limbs in the luke warm sun. Romantic? This also gave us a nice photo opportunity.

Following this we decided to try to make it to our hostel on foot. Thus completing a walk from south to north of Kuala Lumpur in less than a day. This was a little more challenging than the map suggested as we had to walk east to find a bridge to cross the canal/river/motorway thing before getting close to our hostel. This took us a little out of the way but meant we were able to see a few areas of Kuala Lumpur not yet exposed to the tourist trade. Within an hour we were back at our hostel, tired but happy with our days work.

With the curry from last night burnt off we decided to look for some local food around Chow Kit. We explored the area and eventually decided upon a restaurant because others were in it.Never eat in an empty restaurant! However, they left as we walked in, leaving us alone. We went ahead and ate anyway, deciding one fewer dishes but sticking with the curry. This meant I had 4 curries on 4 consecutive evenings. My bowels were not happy.

I then took an early night in order to ensure I could watch the Arsenal game at 3am and still maintain a good mood the next day.

25/08/2011: Day 46

When researching where to visit in Malaysia there was one place that stood out to me; The Jungle (Tamen Negara). The next three days were my chance to find out if my expectations were justified. I was already in a good mood because Arsenal had got themselves into the Champions league proper during the night.

Despite their being several tour operators offering trips to Tamen Negara we decided to make our own way there via public transport. Not only is this a less expensive method of transport, but it is also more fulfilling.

We made our way to the bus depot at Titiwangsa station and boarded a bus to Jeruntut, about 3 hours from KL. This bus was incredibly comfortable, as had the bus from the airport been, and even gave James ample leg room. The buses in Malaysia were already seeming to be a complete contrast to the cramped and smelly buses of Vietnam.

Once we arrived in Jeruntut we were greeted by two men who were offering us a boat journey to the jungle settlement that we intended to stay at. However, on closer inspection there was a grubby old public bus that was offering the same location for about £1.50, whereas the boat would cost us £6 each. We may have missed out on a great boating experience but we had saved ourselves half a days budget. No regrets.

Since the bus didn’t leave for another 20 minutes James took the opportunity to find an atm to withdraw some more money. However, he was not able to find anywhere that accepted his card. I had about £20 on me so I told him I could cover him. It wasn’t until later that we realised we would struggle.

Following an additional 2 hour bus we finally arrived at a village named Kuala Tahan. The sun was out in force and we decided to quickly find some accommodation before stress levels could grow in the heat and with a heavy bag. The guesthouse I had researched online had philosophical quotes dotted around the place and a very quirky looking building. It looked like fun but was out of our price range. Instead we ended up at the Rippi; a hostel featuring nothing more than a bed, a mosquito net and a fan…what more do we need. And what is more, we were on budget.

Once we were settled we were able to work out how we could use our money. Given that we had paid £2 each for the beds we now had £16 to last until we left, including money to get ourselves out. We realised that by obtaining our jungle permit, buying food and water and additional items for our trek meant we were pushing it fine. I love all that.

Nonetheless, we explored the village hopelessly in search of an ATM. There wasn’t any. Thankfully there was a tour operator there that was able to use James card to book the next leg of our journey, to Penang. But this wasn’t much use to us at this moment in time.

There was nothing we could do about our lack of funds so we decided to buy everything we needed for the trekking we would be doing over the next two days. We will be staying in the jungle so it was most important that we had enough water and food to keep us going. Against the park advice we also decided not to hire a guide, as we don’t have the funds. This was all getting very exciting…although I am not sure if I still have travel health insurance?

Around 5pm, the sun began to disappear and the rain came plummeting onto out roof. It was this that made us realise that we were truly in the rainforest. I couldn’t really hide my excitement about the two days ahead. I think a combination of the heat, the rain and the constant movement sent us both to sleep for about 2 hours in the early evening. Thankfully the french girls in our hostel did the same and were in no position to judge us. When we did eventually wake up we decided to have our ‘last supper’ before entering the jungle in the morning. We both had a budget of £2 each. Which we stuck to with ease but without a full stomach.

It was then time for our last sleep before the trekking adventure in the worlds oldest rainforest.

26/08/2011: Day 47

Day one in the jungle: Wow!

We got up early to set our bags full of water and yeast based foods before we were ready to set off. Since neither of us had sleeping bags or mats we were forced to enquire at the hostel about hiring them. As they were charging £1 for the rent of each item we decided against sleeping bags and James acquired only one sleeping mat. I decided against neither, considering myself hardcore when actually I would end up wishing I had got a mat.

We began our trek in high spirits and at a steady pace. To our surprise we didn’t see and human life for a long time. Instead we were soon alone with nature. All we had to do was make sure that we could still hear the sounds of the river on our right side to know we were going in the right direction.

In fact, our desired destination was a bumban (a hide) between 12 and 14 kilometres north of our original settlement (maps varied). This would end up being our home for the night before we planned to take another route back in the morning. However, the walk was not short of events;

Firstly, the path, although adventurous and exotic, was not over walked and therefore had millions of working ants tirelessly crossing it, several spiders scattering around the place and the sounds of birds and monkeys not to distant from us. There were also several trees that blocked our path on numerous occasions probably because of the recent rainfalls. Each of these were crawling with their own ecosystem. The rainforest was magical, at least I thought it was anyway.

The humidity in the jungle was very high and it wasn’t long before we were both covered in sweat, head to toe. This meant walking was thirsty work. However, we both had only 3 litres of water between us to last the 2 days. It was already clear that thirst was going to become an issue. Water was already being rationed though, so we were prepared for this.

One thing we were not prepared for, despite the warnings, were the number of leeches that would attach themselves to us. One of the french girls in out hostel had told us that she had 8 attached to her on her last trek. Both myself and James laughed this off as carelessness. However, within 2 hours or trekking I felt a sting in my foot. Leeches are meant to be painless. we took a rest and I took off my shoe. Inside was a leech who had got his head through my sock and was sucking my blood. I think that because he had become too big too quickly we was unable to get the rest of his body through my sock and therefore had a big blood bulge in the middle. As I removed the sock I took the leech with it. Leeches should not be pulled off as they make the wound worse as they try to cling on and increase the risk of infection. What was also special about this leach was tat he had attached himself to the vein in my foot. This meant the blood kept streaming out all day. Aside from that pest, I had two more on the same foot. I didn’t feel these but we were able to remove them with salt. I didn’t dare take my other boot off. Instead, resigned to the fact that both of our feet were going to be covered in blood we continued on our journey, still yet to meet another person.

The trek became more difficult and even dangerous as we had to walk along narrow ridges and use branches to support ourselves as we went down steep hills. We even had to cross several streams. I must admit that I was in my element. I think James was also enjoying the novelty to begin with, although that later changed as we got deeper into the jungle.

As the walk was getting more and more dangerous the humidity was also effecting us more and more. Despite both of us maintaining our footing, despite several near slips James was about to be reminded of the dangerous of the forest. We were walking along a narrow ridge when I heard James slip and hit the deck. He let out a loud and painful scream that must have scared all the monkeys that may have been watching us. Slightly concerned about this out of character reaction I got closer to him to see if he was ok. As it turned out he had slipped and gashed his leg on a very sharp rock that happened to be there.The rck was so sharp that I was surprised he didn’t break his leg. James didn’t feel so fortunate at the time though. He lifted his shorts to reveal the damage and presented a massive gash down the side e of his left leg. It looked incredibly painful, and from James’ reaction I am sure it was. We both used our limited first aim skills to wipe away the blood,sterilise the wound (and the big cut on his elbow) before strapping him back up again. To be fair he took it like a man. Despite his injury there was nothing more we could do about it as we were about half way through our trek and thus an equal distance between base and the hide. He had to soldier on. He is a soldier. This, quite understandably, slowed the pace of our trekking down and we made a much slower progress as he limped away.

In fact, this was probably where the novelty of the jungle wore off for James as he began to curse the jungle. I always thing cursing the jungle is a bit risky as you never know if mother Nature is listening. If she can punish you anywhere it’s probably in a rainforest full of wild animals and unpredictable weather. The map indicated that we were quite close to a lodge, which we reassured ourselves would be an ideal resting spot to get James’ leg seen too. The map was wrong and it was hours before we saw anything that resembled a lodge.

Instead we were to meet with something completely new to both of us; a large wild mammal. I spotted something move just in front of me and stopped walking for a moment. I then saw what I thought (but probably hoped) was a big cat. I told James, whilst trying not to wet myself, that there was a big cat just ahead of us. The fact that there are wild tigers in the forest didn’t help my anxiety. Both of us, like little girls armed ourselves with penknives and large sticks as we approached what was moving in the undergrowth. If I had learned anything from Attenborough I would have known that tigers don’t make themselves so obvious to their prey. As we approached we noticed it wasn’t a cat at all but a big warthog/ pig/ anteater or baby elephant. Again, it was just my imagination that hoped it was an elephant. We later found out it was a probably warthog. We cautiously approached it was it had its snout in the mud and passed it without bothering it (except for a quick photo). We then continued our journey happy that we had seen a wild mammal in the forest. However, we turned around to see the big beast following us at quite a quick pace. We both, now wide eyed, quickened our walk as we approached the river. I assume that adrenaline must have kicked in for James as I think for a moment he forgot about his injury. We managed to cross a river and laughed about being followed by a big pig thing. Then, out of nowhere we again poked his head around the corner. The only way to describe it would be like in a horror film when the heroes think they have ran away from a monster only for the monster to say ‘boo’…I’m sure that must be a movie. We were amazed that it was still behind us and ran across another river. Crazy pig thing. About another 5 minutes of walking at a fast pace we disarmed ourselves and concluded that we had lost him. It was turning out to be a true adventure.

After crossing river after river and climbing hill after hill we became even more thirsty. But we had to ration ourselves and knew we weren’t in that desperate of a situation. A combination of our slow pace and regular stops meant we were in danger of either getting caught by the rain or the sudden shift from day to night in the early evening.

At one particular stop James took off his boots and socks to remove some of his leeches, bloody got everywhere. During this stop we met our first human, Jonas. He had been doing the same trek but had started after us. He explained that he too intended to stay in the hide we were heading for. We now had another companion for the rest of our trek. It so happened that we were quite close to the ominous lodge when we met Jonas. He also expressed the desire for water so we took a short detour to the ‘lodge’. When we did arrive it looked like a bit like Centre Parcs, except no-one lived there, it was derelict and there was no pool with a wave machine. We had no luck finding water in a ghost town in the middle of the rainforest.

Despite that we completed the final 2km towards the hide with little else to report. When we did arrive it was just as I imagine and I think James feared. It was simple a hut on stilts featuring nothing but wooden sheets for beds and a large hole in the wall for our observing. We were living in the Jungle! Tarzan and Jane. Our first task was to remove our leeches and sweat filled clothes and tuck into the bread rolls we had carried all day. We had made it! What made it even sweeter was that the rain began to pour almost immediately after we arrived. We were somewhat comforted by not being wet despite the uncomfortable squalor we now found ourselves in.

About half an hour after our arrival we were joined by an excentric dutch couple who had got a boat to down the river and walked the 2km from the river to the hide. They would trek back with us tomorrow though. That completed our gang, 5 of us.

Together we sat watching the salt lick until our eyes could not stay open any longer. We may have been a bit too loud or just unlucky but we were unable to see any wildlife come to the lake. This did not stop my enjoyment of the sounds of the jungle though. I was amazed. I was a little disappointed when James told me he felt it may have been one of the worst days of the trip for him, as I thought it was one of the best. But then I was not the wounded one. Despite his complaint I feel that he will look back and realise that he quite enjoyed the experience overall. Perhaps my enthusiasm for it was a bit too much though. As the night came quickly in the fireflies came out and the sounds changed from birds singing to frogs and other nocturnal animals flirting with each other.

It was quite disappointing that our bodies, minds and eyes could not stay up all night. But soon it became pitch black and the sights were limited. We were able to enjoy the sounds of the jungle from our most uncomfortable beds. Perfect.

27/08/2011: Day 48

So if I thought the previous day gave me everything I needed, today offered just that little bit extra.

Despite getting very little sleep on my wooden plank, and wondering why I hadn’t hired a mat, I woke up with a smile on my face. The reason: James was already up and watching out of the observation hole. I knew he was enjoying himself really!

Myself, James, Jonas, Luke and Nina all set off together when we felt ready. We felt a little responsible for leaving early as we were the ones who intended to get back in time for the last public bus at 6pm. Since we left around 8am there didn’t seem to be any danger of that.

It was certainly nicer to walk as a team and the conversation was just as good. Luke is a very interesting character and his views, twinned with a dutch accent, made him a source of delight. Jonas, in typical German fashion, was a very efficient trekker. He led from the front.

Early into our trek along this new route we came across our first obstacle’ a fast flowing river. Initially I wanted to find a way of crossing it without getting my feet wet (fully aware that wet socks attract leeches. However, when there was obviously no way of doing so we each made our way across individually using rope as support against the strong current. Perhaps this was why we were advised to have a guide with us. Still, we all crossed uninjured and were happy despite the wet feet.

The way back seemed a lot easier than the first day, partly because there were more of us and partly because there weren’t as many steep inclines and declines. This was until we made an error: somehow getting lost in the rainforest. After a short rest after crossing a small stream we began to walk up what we believed to be the correct path. After about 5 minutes it soon became clear that we were actually making our own path and were getting deeper and deeper into the jungle. Unlike yesterday, we did not have the river for guidance. Cutting our loses we decided to head back where we came from. Yet, because there was no distinct path we didn’t know where to go. There was quite a bit of head scratching. I decided that it would be easier if the others waited in one spot whilst I dropped my bag and looked for the correct direction. I was quite grateful to have the weight off of my back for 5 minutes whilst I tried to locate the right path without getting myself lost. Thankfully I arrived at the point where we last stopped and realised that our actual path had been cut off by a large fallen tree. As I looked over the tree to make sure I put my hand on it. My hand happened to land on a line of termites who reacted by gripping themselves to me. In a panic I shock them off but one managed to penetrate my skin. Horrible things.

Thankfully I found my way back to the group and we were able to continue our journey, this time making sure we were taking the right course. It was not long before we saw a group of trekkers walking the opposite way who informed us we were about 2 hours away from our destination. With this spirits rose once again. we were close to some bottled water (We had taken to drinking purified river water). When we could hear signs of human activity we came to a derelict bridge. We made an effort to take advantage of the bridge, which was actually incredibly dangerous as it was just three pillars of concrete and a 30ft drop below. We balanced ourselves as we climbed across, naturally stopping for photographs.

eventually, and 7 hours after we had left our hide, we arrived back at Kuala Tahan and what a sense of achievement. We were all glad to be back and ready for a shower. We were covered in blood and mud and actually looked like we had been in a rainforest…wait…we had. We had to wait a couple of minutes for a boat to take us across the main river and back to our hostel. As we waited another boat turned up full of clean and good-looking people. We were all quite proud of ourselves when people started staring and glaring at our blood stained ankles and clothes. I am pretty sure they thought we were ferrel. I was quite proud of all the blood down my leg and ankle. I felt like Rambo or some other hero.

Once we were back we had the issue of getting our bags back. The hostel manager had locked the storage door with a padlock and then lost the key. He told me he was too lazy to look for it so gave me the keys to his jeep so I could have a look. I took them but all I really wanted was a rest. The keys were nowhere to be found so he got into the room with a pair of wire cutters. We were reunited with our bags, albeit with a new ants nest to go with them.

we were then able to have the best shower yet, and once again were as clean as human beings. We had made it back well in time for our 6pm bus and had just enough funds to get it. Perfect.

Once on the bus I realised that I had left my walking boots out to dry beside the shower. I was really disappointed as I had become quite attached to the boots that Emily (Chinese Emily) had made me by all those weeks ago. Still, they’re only boots and my bag was a little lighter.

Upon arrival in Jeruntut we quickly made our way to a cheap hostel. When we walked in we were greeted as though they had never had any guests before, and that may have been true. Initially, whilst James went to find an ATM, I was stuck with an old man whilst he chain smoked and nodded at me. Then, after about 10 minutes, myself and James met a man who showed us to our room. Since James was wearing a football shirt he asked if we liked football, of course we do. Immediately the man got excited and invited us to his teams futsal tournament. What? Despite being knackered from all of our walking we couldn’t pass up the opportunity of playing football for a local Malaysian team. The dream surely?

The tournament didn’t start until 10pm so we had about and hour to eat and get ourselves sorted. Once we did we got in a car with the rest of the team, who were quite excited. We were told that we would be the first White people to ever participate in the tournament, and people would stare at us. Naturally, we were quite excited about this. We were then told that the tournament could last until 5am, this we were not so excited about.

When we arrived at ‘the cage’ people were already intrigued about us. We put on our Tuisyen Saujanajaya (the team name) shirts and proudly wore them as we warmed up in the cage. When we talked to the rest of the team it became clear that our team mates were not the town based Malaysians we thought, instead they were all from Tamen Negara…the Jungle. They were all from civilisations within the jungle, some were boat men, some worked for the tour companies and others were just village inhabitants. We were in a football team with the natives…it just got better.

When the football did actually start we both had small cameo roles, and to be honest we didn’t set the world alight. However, the crowd were definitely enthusiastic about our presence. James managed to pull off some skill in the middle of the pitch which brought about the biggest cheer of the night from the crowd. Other than that, given we were guests and the matches only lasted 10 minutes at a time, we were given limited playing time. However, the experience of playing for them at all was enough. After our second game we decided to head back to the hostel given that it was another hour until our final group match and we were already dropping off. When we arrived back I realised I left my sandals at the pitch. I had loved the £2 sandals since the day I bought them (except they looked like Jesus wore them before I did), and now they were gone, not because they were uncomfortable or broken, but because I was careless. I had then lost two pairs of shoes in a day…my bag was getting lighter and lighter.

With that very memorable day concluded we slept in a bed once again ready for our alarm call and the next leg of our journey.

28/08/2011: Day 49

Well the intensity of the previous few days couldn’t last forever, and we were probably quite thankful for a day of travel on our way to Penang. It was a chance for our legs to rest (and James’ to start healing).

We left early from Jeruntut by bus to the Cameron Highlands. This left a little later than scheduled which gave us the chance to eat some breakfast in a cafe and get some water. Water should never be taken for granted :P.

Coincidently we found ourselves on the same bus as Luke and Nina (the Dutch couple from the Jungle), that was until we were asked to change buses again. It didn’t seem long before we arrived in the Cameron Highlands. If I am honest it looked like a great place to stay with the opportunity for some more trekking and some great sights. However, we probably needed a rest from the trekking, and I now had no boots. We decided, with little more than a week remaining, to proceed to the island of Penang soon after.

So after only about 90 minutes in the Cameron highlands, where we were able to eat and have a walk around, we boarded a bus in the rain bound for Georgetown, Penang. To our fortune this bus only contained us and another Malaysian man (who decided to sing in a high-pitched voice at random intervals). This meant we had a row of seats to ourselves to lie down.

The journey was to take only about 4 hours but after about two hours in the continuous rain we pulled into a car park and both the driver and our fellow passenger shot out of the car. It soon became clear that it was around 7:30pm and the fasting of Ramadan had just finished for that day. This meant the driver was probably dying for food, hence his haste to get some. We followed them and decided to eat as well. It was great to see so many people eating together at the same time, everyone (other than us) fasting since 5:30am. i was glad to experience Ramadan first hand and see how the people eat when the fasting is over. At our table was a Malaysian girl who was not fasting but happened to be eating at this time anyway (she said she often fasts for fun with her friends though). It would be interesting if I could challenge myself to fast like this, if only for one day, but I fear my experience of food in Asia will never allow me to stop eating.

Eventually we arrived in Penang and the driver was kind enough to drop us off at a hostel he recommended (although he probably got some commission). Initially I didn’t want to stay there as it was £5 a night but James convinced me to stay, and I was glad I did. Firstly, the bedrooms were amazing, similar to the capsules I have seen and heard about but looked a lot more comfortable. It turned out the hostel was only 3 days old, and it seemed like it. Everything was very new. something that was new to us as well was the showers, they were hot! For the first time since….I don’t know….I actually don’t know, we had showers that were more than luke warm. I didn’t want to leave the shower but had to because the ‘big game’ was about to start and the hostel was playing it. Arsenal were playing Man Utd, or at least were meant to.

In the end I had to sit through a massacre. Initially everything was going well as I sat next to a Korean Man utd fan. Then James joined us and Man Utd scored. James returned downstairs. When he came back Arsenal immediately missed a penalty. If I needed someone to blame it was going to be James. But even he couldn’t be to blame for the 8-2 defeat (which wasn’t helped by the South African who decided to offer his own commentary throughout the second half. I went to bed in a huff a little later :P. Still even losing 8-2 to Man Utd couldn’t spoil a week to be remembered. Malaysia seems to be another great choice.