From One Jungle to Another

Our flight back to Malaysia was pretty uneventful, we even all managed to sleep on the plane. However we were keen to get back to the truck. As you may have read in the previous blog we had heard that there had been a fire at the hotel where we had left the truck and the hotel was currently not operating. We had been told the truck was fine but were keen to see it ourselves. The trip to the hotel got off to an inauspicious start. The taxi we took had a clutch problem and just after the airport the clutch stopped working. Eventually the driver managed to get it into a gear and we drove all the way to the hotel in just the one gear, fortunately it was only a few kms. We were soon reunited with the truck and relieved to see it was fine. Now the issue was where to stay for the night. We had a booking at the hotel but had not paid. We could not stay there and did not want to drive to an alternate hotel as it was already dark so we asked if we could just sleep in the truck in the car park as no one was staying there anyway. The staff were very helpful but said we could not stay as they had "investigators" in. However they suggested we drive just outside the hotel and park on some grass less than 50 metres from their security gate. This seemed ideal so we settled in for the night. Unfortunately jet lag kicked in and we were all awake at 2.30, so as soon as it was light we decided to head towards Kuala Lumpur. As it was early we decided to visit one of the sites on the way, the Batu Caves. These are caves in a limestone hill just outside Kuala Lumpur in which various Hindu shrines have been built. We then headed into the concrete jungle of bustling Kuala Lumpur. We had heard that it may have been possible to park at the Malaysian Tourist Centre car park right in the middle of town only 500metres from the Petronas Towers. Again the people here were extremely helpful and found us a great secure free parking spot. We are quickly finding that people in Malaysia are so friendly and helpful. This is where I think I have gone a bit soft. We could have slept in the truck in the parking place but with the heat, humidity, noise and jet lag I decided (supported by Alisha and Lucy) that we would check in to the nice hotel over the road for a few nights. Gilly was disgusted but came around that night when again we were all awake at 2.30am. It was much better doing this with a bit of space and some air conditioning. We spent a pleasant few days checking out the sights of the city such as the Petronas Towers and eating in Chinatown. It is Malaysia National Day in a few days time and when we headed to Merdeka Square, school children were busy rehearsing their dances on the square. As we won't be in Kuala Lumpur for the day itself and as the viewing seats would be reserved for VIPs anyway it was nice to watch our own private performance. We toured the old colonial architecture and popped into a few museums before heading back to the hotel for an afternoon nap. It was proving difficult to throw off the jet lag. One evening we met up with a former student of Gilly's from her time as a teacher in Moscow. We had a lovely dinner with Syafiqah, her father, brother and house mate. It was great for Gilly to meet up with one of her students and find out what she has been doing. She is now also a teacher.   It was time to get back to proper overlanding though and to get back in the truck. What with shipping from Perth and a trip back to the UK it seemed that we had been away from it for too long. So we headed out of the concrete jungle of Kuala Lumpur to one of the oldest jungles on the planet, Taman Negara National Park. We had visited another jungle a few weeks ago which was wild and very untouristy. We knew Taman Negara was more developed and would be busier. One advantage of this was that the road access was much better. Arriving in the little town of Kuala Tuhan our first task was to find somewhere to camp. The easiest spot was in the corner of the coach park which was quiet (except for the teenage boys on motorbikes using it as a place to do wheelies in the night) on the edge of town. I think the car park attendant had had overlanders stay before as when we pulled in he immediately asked us how many nights we would like to stay. The National Park and jungle proper was across the river and the only way of accessing it was on a boat so there was no chance of parking the truck there. The following day we headed across the river into the jungle. It is a dense jungle with ancient buttressed trees with vines all tangled around them. The trails near the town are well traveled and much of it is a boardwalk making for an easy walk. Whilst the jungle does contain tigers and elephants there was very little chance of seeing these. More likely were the leeches but fortunately we managed to avoid them. Along the way there was a large canopy walk that allowed us to get above the trees and stare into the dense undergrowth below. We also headed up a hill for for a view of the jungle. On the way back we took a short cut away from the boardwalk and had to slide down amongst the tree roots before coming to a lovely beach by the side of the river where we were able to enjoy our packed lunch picked up from one of the stalls before leaving the village. We spent the afternoon fitting some of the spare parts we had brought back from England to the truck. Fortunately one of the gas adaptors fitted so we can now connect the kitchen to the gas bottle. Mind you I am not sure how much we are going to use it. As we keep saying the food is delicious and here it was so ridiculously cheap it made no sense cooking. In fact before we left we even went out for breakfast of rotis with egg or banana served with tea terek(sweetened boiled tea). As we had a long drive ahead of us we also decided to pick up a take away lunch of Nasi Goreng. How could we resist when combined breakfast and lunch was just $8 for all four of us!

A Short Trip Home

On a trip like this there is one thing we all miss, seeing family and friends. So it was with great excitement that we jumped on a plane in Kuala Lumpur and popped back to the UK for a couple of weeks. The official reason was that the girls needed new passports, the UK passport office only issue small passports for children and with all the visa stamps we will need over the next year they will soon be full. Malaysia seemed the best place to leave the truck and it had been a while since we had seen anyone, so we were all keen to get back for a while. Our first afternoon back was so quintessentially English you couldn't have made it up. The rather surreal effect was even more pronounced as we had been up since 2am with jet-lag. My sister Clare and her boyfriend Noel took the girls and I out for afternoon tea at Wimborne St Giles's Village Hall. We whizzed down single lane country roads bordered by hedgerows to arrive in the pretty village. Nestled amongst picture-perfect thatch cottages we enjoyed delicious cakes prepared by a local bowls club, washed down with lashings of tea. As we wandered around admiring the ancient village on the Shaftesbury Estate, it seemed a world away from tropical Malaysia we had left the day before. P1000094 P1000092 Wimborne St Giles Steve and I started the working week with a day trip to Newport in Wales for the kid's passports. Apart from having to go in person for the express service, it was all relatively straightforward and they arrived a week later. Steve also had to renew his HGV licence which needed a medical, which was far easier to do in the UK. As the forms had got lost to us in the post, we did a quick 120km detour to hand in the application personally. Even I was happy to be woken at six early one morning, as Steve shook me awake to tell me that Thailand was going to process our truck entry permit application. Hurray! We had almost given up hope that we would be able to pass through Thailand and have had a stressful 6 weeks lobbying the authorities and coming up with alternative plans. We are now just keeping our fingers crossed that there is no hiccups in the paperwork. We had some rather more alarming news from Asia the next day, we heard from another traveller that the hotel we had left the truck in had burnt down! A few emails later we were immensely relieved to learn that although the main building had indeed caught fire, the area around the back where we had left the truck was supposedly untouched. The hotel is now closed but they said we can retrieve the truck when we get back. It was wonderful to be back staying with my Mum and near the rest of the family. The whole McDermott clan got together one day. All the nephews had shot up since we saw them just over a year ago, when we popped back while shipping from South America to Africa. My brother Courtney and his partner Charlie were due to have a baby in the second week we were back. Unfortunately for us, my soon-to-be nephew is far too comfortable where he is and still hadn't been born when we left. DSC02365 DSC02356 DSC02362 DSC02355 The girls had an absolutely fabulous time at Grannie's cooking, sewing, playing with all the old favourite toys and generally being spoilt. There were sleepovers at Auntie Clare's; individual days out with Grannie and Clare to a farm, cinema, forest and historical houses; and lots of fun. It was no wonder that they both said they wanted to stay longer. P1000271 DSC02395 P1000236 We spent a day with old friends from Prague, Victoria and Paul, who were back visiting family in Winchester. Alisha was delighted to see Mimi, her old classmate, again and all the children got on like they hadn't ever been apart. We got to immerse ourselves even more in England's history as we explored Winchester and the kids dressed up as knights, queens and soldiers under King Arthur's round table in the Great Hall. DSC02385 DSC02370 DSC02371 DSC02390 The second week was centred around seeing Steve's family as his Mum and Dad flew over from Spain to stay at his sister Jo's house. We went over to Southampton to see them everyday. We were all impressed to see Matt's (Steve's nephew) new racing wheelchair and hear about his exploits on the track. It was wonderful to see everyone and catch up in person, FaceTime on the iPad doesn't make up for actually being together. DSC02431 DSC02446 DSC02422 DSC02397 Southampton DSC02430 A year seems a long time away, that is how much longer we plan to be on the road driving back to Europe from Asia. However, we did have one detail we wanted to get into place before we return-Alisha's schooling. After 4 years of being in a "class" of two, we didn't want her return to more formal schooling to be too much of a shock, so have explored lots of different options for her. Especially as she will be going into Year 8, the second year of Secondary School, when we return. Part of the problem is that we don't know what our lives will look like when we return back. It has been nearly 20 years since we have lived in the UK and the girls have never lived there. We visited 3 local schools and she had to take 3 hours of difficult exams for the one she most liked. Thankfully we heard the next day that she had passed the exams and they wanted to offer her a place. It is going to be a big change for her from homeschooling to go to a very academic, quite traditional, independent all girls school but that was what appeals to her most and we think she will rise to the challenge. Being younger, Lucy is less of an issue at this point as there is a small primary school in the New Forest village we have a house in. She is currently keen to stay homeschooled, which would mean we would not have to arrange anything in advance. As the two weeks drew to a close, we were very sad to say goodbye to everyone. Being away for so long enjoying other cultures and scenery has made me look with fresh eyes at our English history, culture and scenery which has been wonderful. As we got the flight back to KL, with our Thai permit hopefully being processed, we were ready to start driving through Asia.

Malaysia – Truly Asia

Sorry about the title to the blog but this was an advertising slogan run by the Malaysian tourist board for many years and as we crossed the border into Malaysia we just could not get it out of our heads. So after the modern international metropolis of Singapore was Malaysia going to give us a more fully Asian experience? First we had to get there and sort out the logistics of getting over the border. As it is illegal for motorhomes to be driven in Singapore we had to be towed by a tow truck from the port to the border. This meant I was picked up by the tow company from the hotel and driven to the port where first I had to queue up to get a temporary access pass before been reunited with the truck. It was great to see it again, and all in one piece. However before we could tow it we had to take off the prop shaft to avoid damaging the gearbox while it was been towed. After that it was just a case of waiting to exit the port, trying to find someone who knew what a carnet was to stamp it and then following the tow truck for about 12kms to just short of the border. Here another driver brought Gilly, the kids and the luggage to the truck and while we were reconnecting the prop shaft on the hard shoulder of the freeway they climbed aboard. After that it was just 400 metres to the border where we were met by a bemused police officer who was not sure what to do with us. He said we should not have driven in Singapore and we explained we had been towed from the port to the border. He said we had still driven a few hundred metres. I shrugged and said I just did what I was told to do. He shrugged made a call and directed us through. It would be so much easier if they just gave you a pass to drive from the port to the border but that's Singapore. The Malaysian side was much easier. We drove across the causeway and because we were too big to go in with the cars followed the bus lane rather than the commercial trucks. Again immigration asked why we were in this queue and we explained. They smiled and stamped us in. As there was no one else around we just drove into Malaysia. We had already bought our insurance and International Circulation Permit in advance so I hope we did not miss anything. We have noticed when overlanding that every continent has its different challenges as well as wonders. Immediately upon entering Malaysia we could see that driving was going to be a bigger challenge than Australia, mainly due to the sheer number of motorbikes on the road. They whizzed in and out everywhere swerving in and out of the traffic. It meant you needed all your powers of observation when driving although I think the unwritten rule is that they are meant to keep out of the way of bigger vehicles. Not that I want to test this. The second difference is where we will camp each night. There are very few campgrounds in Asia and when camping wild we have been used to camping in remote areas. With the high population density in Asia finding quiet camp spots was going to be a challenge. On our first night until searching until it was almost dark, we drove down a small lane and found a parking spot next to a park. There were a few people around but nobody seemed bothered and we spent a quiet night. The next challenge was getting cooking gas. You may recall we lost our gas bottle when shipping from Australia so had no way of cooking. Unfortunately gas bottles are like electric plugs in that each country has its own fitting. Malaysia was no different and had a different fitting to any we had used before. This meant none of our adaptors fitted and the outside cooker we had bought in Australia also didn't fit. Eventually the solution turned out to be easy, just buy a Malaysian outside cooker with the fittings for their gas bottles. As this only cost $17 it was a cheap and simple solution. At least we would be able to cook outside while trying to solve the adaptor problem for our internal gas system. Mind you I am not sure how much we will be cooking as eating out is so easy, cheap and tasty. We headed up the coast to the town of Maur. After a walk around the colonial buildings we needed to find somewhere to camp. We decided against camping in town and instead again followed a little lane down to the seafront where we found a very small fishing harbour. Here there was a little track we could follow to park overlooking the sea. A number of friendly locals came by on motorcycles but again it was a quiet night. The next day we headed inland. We wanted to visit the jungle and had heard that Endau Rompin National Park was remote and not frequently visited. The park office is about 25kms before the park and we stopped there to pay our entrance fees and inquire about the trip in. We were told there was a campground and asked how the road was and if we would fit in. The guy came out to look at the truck, checked we had 4wd and said we would be fine. The first 20kms was along a narrow tar road in amongst the palm oil plantations. We had to brush under some of the swaying palms but this was no big thing. The last 5kms though was along a tiny track. After about a km I wasn't sure we would make it. We were having to push through the trees and the track was getting narrower. There were also soft edges and with our long wheelbase we had to take it very carefully around some of the corners to keep all the wheels on the track. Still there was no turning around so we kept going. After 40minutes we arrived at a wonderful clearing in the jungle that was the campsite. It was by a lovely bubbling river and the hardship was forgotten as we jumped into the cool waters. The next day we had hired a guide to take us deeper into the jungle to see some waterfalls. The jungle is still home to tigers, elephants and some very rare Rhinoceros. We would be very unlikely to see them though. Much more common were the leeches that sucked onto us as we walked through the wet undergrowth. They were not pleasant and if you flicked them off the bite kept bleeding due to the anti coagulant the leeches inject into you when they attach themselves. If you are squeamish look away now. At the end of the trek was a lovely waterfall where we had another refreshing swim. Due to the humidity we were all really in need of it. Alisha and Lucy did fantastically on the walk and were not fazed one bit by the leeches.   From the jungle we headed back to the coast to the old colonial town of Melaka. Before the emergence of Singapore, Melaka had been a key port in the spice trade. But following the Portuguese occupation it and gradually lost its importance. It had subsequently been colonised by the Dutch and then the British and in 2008 had been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. We spent a lovely day walking around the town visiting the old churches, town hall and forts. However the most interesting part was the old Chinese quarter where we also had some wonderful meals. A very interesting museum was in a house that had been preserved which represented houses of the Chinese traders. When they came to Malaysia they married Malay women and then wanted to preserve that mixed heritage through the generations by strict marriage guidelines. The house was a beautiful mixture of nineteenth century Chinese, Malay and British elements. While we were in Malaka it was also Alisha's birthday. Even though where we stayed, on a piece of waste ground near the centre, was not the most idyllic place for a birthday we still managed to do presents and birthday cake. As we are due to head back to England in a few days we needed to ensure we could find somewhere to park the truck securely for two weeks. Not wanting to leave this until the last minute we decide to head to the airport to ensure there would be something suitable. Our internet searches had not revealed anything other than multi-storey parking for cars. However no sooner had we arrived at the airport than we saw a large open space for long stay parking. Although it was designed for cars we spoke with the parking attendants who said it would be no problem us parking there and we could park where the buses parked. Relieved to have this sorted we went to book into a hotel for the night before our early flight. Here we were also told that we could leave the truck in the hotel parking while we were away so we had two options. Not sure why we were worried about this at all. With two days to kill we headed down to the beach at Port Dickson. This is a popular area with people visiting from Kuala Lumpur at the weekend but during the week it was very quiet. Driving down a small lane we found a small camping area. We were the only ones there and it made for a very quiet base for a couple of days by the beach. So Asia is definitely proving to be different and is going to be a different challenge but so far it is all proving to be worthwhile and we just can not get enough of the food. As we head back to England for a couple of weeks to see family the biggest challenge we have in front of us is Thailand. At the moment they will not give us a permit to bring the truck in. It is looking like we might need a Plan B.