Being British, Gilly and I do enjoy a nice cup of tea. In fact one of Gilly’s biggest fears is running out of good tea. Her theory is that almost anything can be coped with as long as you can have a cup of tea. Before we left on the trip we stocked the truck with hundreds of tea bags from the UK which she saved for the high Andes in South America. When we arrived in Australia we were in tea heaven, not only was there great tea but also the British brands we were used to. Before we left Australia she bought 400 Yorkshire tea bags for emergency use in Asia. Fortunately they were not found when the truck was inspected for shipping so they were not confiscated. Not that we need to have worried as after our break on the Perhentian Islands we headed inland to the Cameron Highlands – tea heaven!
The Cameron Highlands is the premier tea growing area in Malaysia and it didn’t disappoint. Each afternoon we were there we had a lovely afternoon tea together with scones, jam and cream. How very English! The tea was great and made all the better drinking it with the lovely tea plantations in the background. Not satisfied with our current stock in the truck Gilly decided to buy some more, I think we should now have enough to get us back to the UK. Quite why we are taking tea to China, I haven’t quite worked out but it will keep her happy.
After been in the heat of lowland Malaysia the Cameron Highlands are in a delightfully cool climate at 1500m. As we headed up towards them we could feel the temperature drop, we were all looking forward to been able to sleep better in the cool temperatures. Even the main road was horribly wiggly through the steep hillsides. The area was full of greenhouses and shade netting for market gardens all stacked on terraces up the slopes. We drove past kilometres and kilometres of tomatoes, lettuces, strawberries and cucumbers. As it was early evening all the farm workers were out getting their shopping and the narrow road was full of old land rovers. First we had to find somewhere to stay, it wasn’t looking promising. We found a parking area near a small waterfall. On arrival we were disappointed to see a no camping sign. However there was a security guard so we asked if we could stay. No problem he said but the gate is locked from 7pm to 7am, not a problem for us. I think the no camping sign must have been to stop tents been erected in the nice grassy area in front. The place was perfect, flat quiet and we had it to ourselves most of the time.
We didn’t just spend all of our time in the Cameron Highlands drinking tea but also went strawberry picking. Agrotourism is really big and hydroponically grown strawberries were surrounded by a sea of strawberry themed tourist tat. The girls absolutely loved both the picking and the eating though. Our short hikes were also much easier in the cool temperatures, it only reached the low 20s during the day. As it cooled down at night we decided we could cook inside for a change and one night Gilly produced a lovely Chicken pie. It was all feeling very unlike Malaysia, so on the last night we went out for the local speciality “Steamboat”. This is where a bubbling pot of broth is put on the table on a burner and you then proceed to cook various seafood and vegetables in it.
Our break in the cool climate was only temporary and we headed back down the mountain to the West Coast of Malaysia and more specifically to the Island of Penang. To get there we had to cross I think, the longest bridge I have ever driven on. It was a 20km drive across a bridge over the sea. The real reason for visiting the island of Penang was to visit historic Georgetown but the town is busy and chaotic so we headed to a quiet beach on the other side of the Island. Here we found a spot to camp next to a pleasant beach.
We then had one of those days when everything just seemed to go right (I am sure that means we are due one where it all goes wrong). It started about 3am in the morning when we were all awoken by a massive thunderstorm. Not been able to sleep, I checked my e mails to find good news from our agent in Burma. The Burmese government had decided to allow transits of Burma again and that we should be receiving our permit in the next few days. Secondly, as we had driven round Georgetown the previous day, Gilly had spotted a coach park only 4 kms from the centre. We decided to drive into town to see if we could park there. The manager could not have been more welcoming. Of course we could park there and yes if we wanted to sleep in the vehicle that was no problem, he had 24 hour security and no we didn’t need to pay anything. There was also a bus stop right outside with a bus every 10 minutes into central Georgetown, not a bad result. And then thirdly as we were enjoying the sights of Georgetown we received a message from our Thai agent sending us our Thai permits which had just been issued. This has been a major headache for us for the last few months, so it was a huge relief that they were finally allowing the truck in.
We really enjoyed Georgetown, I am not sure if it was the town itself or the good news we were having but I think it was the town. The town is an intriguing mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian together with colonial hangovers from the time of the British. It’s a chaotic city with traffic everywhere and very little in the way of pavements but it has some wonderful old houses and fantastic food. The centre of town has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Area which has managed to preserve it and stop the encroaching development. We spent our time there touring the sights, visiting the museum as well as some of the historical houses. The wonderful Chong Fatt Tze mansion was probably the most impressive. It was also a boutique hotel. Should we get a room or head back to sleep in the truck in the bus car park? It was a tough decision but the truck won out in the end.
We also visited one of the Chinese clan houses. These were complexes built by Chinese immigrants from the same clan who had come to Penang. The one we visited was particularly impressive covering a large area with houses, meeting halls, a wonderful temple and even an opera stage. As Alisha and Lucy were studying Islam, we also visited a mosque where we were met by a charming gentleman who showed us around.
Georgetown is also famous for its food so we were not going to be cooking while we were there. The choice of food was amazing and reflected the different mix of people living there. First we had Indian and then for lunch the next day we had been recommended a Chinese restaurant. We were told it would be busy so got there just after it had opened for lunch. We managed to get a table but if we had been 5 minutes later we would have had to join the huge queue. After eating a fantastic meal we could see why it was so popular. One other benefit of where we were parked at the coach park was that it was only a few hundred metres from one of the best Hawker markets in Georgetown. So each night we headed there for Malaysian food. It was really colourful and an attack on all your senses with the smells, the food and the noise. There were lots of families eating there and so we sat down and joined them selecting different dishes from the many different stalls.
It was time to head to Thailand. Our permit gave us a specific entry date and entry border so the day before we decided to drive close to the border so we could cross early the following morning. We found an idyllic spot at a viewpoint overlooking the small state of Perlis, the Limestone Karst formations and the reservoir below. It was a nice end to our time in Malaysia.