Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Malaysia Take Ten: Tioman Island Marks the End

Singapore hawker stalls? Check! Malaysian jungle? Check! Caves? Check! Rivers? Check! Culture? Check! Hiking to the top of mountains? Check! Capital city and Petronas Towers? Check!

Requirements for final destination: beach, ocean, cheap booze. Ice Cream and fish (seeing and eating) are a plus. Final destination pick: Pulau Tioman island.

To get there from KL required an overnight bus (which turned out to be the high school party bus with teens noshing on KFC and talking allllll night long) followed by a ferry ride.
The ferry left from Mersing, a tiny coast town known only for it's ferry access to Tioman. We arrived at 4:30am: dark enough to make for a somewhat intimidating walk to the ferry but early enough to see the gorgeous sunrise before boarding at 7:30am.

On the ferry, I made a new Canadian born, now nomadic, 76 year old friend. He was awesome. We rocked out to jazz the whole way there, because of course a 76 year old would have his mp3 player on him.
Meanwhile, Julie was dying. It was a pretty choppy ride.
On solid ground! Tioman, island baby! The destination for where we'd finish off our trip in true 'spring break' style:) DUTY FREE!

We found a place to settle for the next few days that was cheap and cozy. I don't think you really could've gone wrong here, though.
Awww, we missed you guys!
After setting down our bags, getting our giant 80's style spray painted key for the room, having a delicious breakfast and changing into swimsuits we decided it was a perfect day for snorkeling. We wanted to go to the best the island had to offer, which was Coral Island. Most people take a boat here, but we decided to embark on a two hour hike and then just swim out to the island. We hiked the Pinnacles - how bad could this be? Not bad, not bad at all. If you had like, 12 leisurely hours. It took time and we ended up feeling more rushed than was desirable. Still, we got a great view of the ocean and extremely colorful reef and fish.
Check it out! Sea turtle!

Purple sea clam - awesome.

We made it back in time for sunset and happy hour with my intense "encouragement". The combination of these two things make me a very happy girl, especially when the happy hour special is 3 beers for 10 ringit ($3). We end up meeting a super cool Aussie couple in their 40's who invite us to come visit them on their dairy farm. You know, I never did make it to Tasmania...
This was the cute 'lil love shack we settled on after looking at maybe five other options. Felt luxury to us, even though the shower water's still cold, you pull a string to flush the toilet, and we slept in one bed under a net together. Lots of space though, right price, only footsteps to a perty beach and good restaurant, and right next to a hiking trail.
In case we forgot where the beach was, there was a very helpful sign posted.
Biologists dig Tioman because its relative isolation has generated flora and fauna that distinctly deviate from mainland species. There were tons of creatures hidden throughout inland Tioman, but these huge monitor lizards weren't modest in the least.

The next day we embarked on a 2 1/2 hour hike across the island (you'd think we be sick of it by now, right?) A)because we could and B)because it led to a more "secluded" beach. Not that the island was swarming with tourists where we were. Really, I think I'm just addicted to hiking and wasn't ready to just do the 'lay out all day and do nothing' think quite yet. So, off we went.
We made it! Long white beach to ourselves, crystal clear water to dip our now disgustingly sweaty bodies in, and blue skies with sun shining to relax under. Paradise defined.
There was even a nice little cafe we could have lunch at to beat the heat for awhile. While we both beat the heat, I beat Julie in a game of checkers. I beat her good. As you can see, she is very humbled. I got cocky, too cocky, and she proceeded to rock me in the next round.
"Paradise is in your mind." -India.Arie "Paradise is in Tioman." - Sarah Moersfelder
Fact: There is one road that was just recently built that leads from the east to the west coast.
Fact: It is possible to call/persuade a driver to come over to this side to do a pick up.
Fact: It is expensive, even above and beyond Julie and Sarah standards.
We debated back and forth , back and forth about whether to stay and beach for a few more hours or make the trek back on foot. I doubt it's any surprise that we ended up doing the hike back. Which again, cut our time too short for the 'max and relax' ambitions of the day. But, when there's a happy hour and sunset calling you on the west coast, you gotta do what you gotta do.

Saw this plant on the way back. It was green. Or was it blue? Or was it green?
Yay! Back in time for sunset!
And happy hour!
Dinner the first night was super disappointing. The fish I ordered was clearly a cut straight from the freezer and my "salad" was really coleslaw drenched in mayo. Lame.
Anyway, the second night we find another place which was far superior. It was the best meal I had the entire trip, and possibly the cheapest. The day just kept getting better and better.
And just when I thought it couldn't get any better, I saw the dessert menu! Fruit and ice cream? Yes, please!!!
Last full day on the island, we decided to get some more snorkeling in. A much shorter hike to Monkey Beach, which again we had to ourselves, and some shallow but nice waters to snorkel in.
Last night = one last happy hour. The majority of the time, cheap trumps taste for me, hence the 3 for $3 beers the previous two nights. But, since it was our last night we decided to "spoil" ourselves with girly drinks. I did a thorough check of all the prices on the 'strip' and decided we'd go here for the night.

Total success!!! This was my bartender/boyfriend for the night, Jackie Chan. Hilarious and interesting guy who hooked us up with delicious cocktails for a price of beer. Double score!
Enjoying our last sunset in Malaysia.
Good-bye, Tioman!
We make it back to Mersing in time to do some final 'omiyage' (small gifts you're essentially obligated to bring back for Japanese coworkers when going on a trip that requires you to use vacation days) shopping as well as make some ridiculous buys for ourselves. At the top of the list were these matching Barbie watches for ourselves, complete with an identical Barbie replica on the face of what looked like us, in Barbie form. It was especially special since the boys in Kuching kept calling Julie Barbie.
On the commute back to Japan (via buses, planes, trains), I had a lot of time for thinking. We did some reflecting of the trip and how awesome it was to have such a like minded travel buddy. I also felt extremely fortunate to have even had the opportunity for two weeks of travel in any country my heart desired, given time and money constraints. We both thought we were pretty smooth, arranging travel days and times to get two full weeks out of it, but then got a little pinge of jealously talking to all the other travelers we met who had anywhere from 1 month to years to travel Malaysia/southeast Asia/ the world. The jealously was shortlived and I was grouded again quickly as I reminded myself not to play the comparison game, but I did begin to think if it was possible for me to really live that lifestyle. In the end, I don't think I would enjoy being 'on the road' for that long. I really like having the security of a job and income and having a place not only to call, but to feel, is my home.
That being said, I did feel much sadder leaving Malaysia than I ever have leaving any other foreign country before. I think on top of the fact that it really did feel like a paradise and all the experiences and situations were exactly to my liking, it was the realization that this was really the last 'big trip' I'd be doing for a LONG time. I was going back to Japan, a country I love, but I knew would still be cold, grey, rainy and having to hop back into work responsibilities and plans for coming home. After returning stateside, I know I won't have time or money to being doing any international travels.
I wasn't ready yet, and the idea of staying in Malaysia and prolonging the paradise thang was incredibly appealing to me. I wonder when/if that travel bug itch will ever be scratched out in me? I will probably never know, but for now I am extremely satisfied with my experiences thus far and eternally grateful to God for providing and bringing me closer to Him through each experience. I do know that as long as I still have the financial means, the physical capabilities, and the time to travel I'll be jetsetting whenever. Who's with me?

Malaysia Take Nine: Kuala Lumpur

Like I said in the last post, after 5 long and glorious days in the wilderness, we were ready for a change by hitting up the big smoke of Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur. It's the most populated city at over 1.8 million people and the fastest growing in Malaysia. "It's curious that a city where you still have to watch your step for pavement cracks and pot-holes can also feel cutting edge, but cast your eyes to the skyline and around the streets and you'll see what we mean. In just 150 years, KL has gone from a tin prospector's hovel in the jungle to a thoroughly modern metropolis..." (82 Lonely Planet).

KL definitely kept us entertained for a few days with the gorgeous parks, impressive colonial-era building remains, the food and cheap rip off markets, and the restaurants representing cuisine from China to India to the middle east.

The hostel we really wanted to stay at was completely booked, so we wandered around and ended up staying at a place with a giant padlock on the outside and plastic sheets on the bed. The price was right and owners were new and eager to please (ie: coming back to folded clothes one day). Awesome!

Here are some city scenes from Kuala Lumpur:

Lake Gardens.
Pitcher plant fountain.
School's out!
Tandoori chicken on the skewer.

Cruising through Merdaka Square, we got a great view of the city and the Sultan Abdul Samad Building.
The Little India bazar, where we proceeded to get ripped off with our fake makeup purchases.

Dinner at a Lebanese restaurant. Sooooo good.
The Petronas Towers: the biggest attraction in Kuala Lumpur because of its 88-stories of steel-clad twin towers rising 451.9 meters above the ground and also offering (of course) a huge mall and a world-class concert hall which Brooke's friend actually had the honor of playing in less than a week before we arrived.
Not many people know this, but I am actually the main support for the two buildings. It's a pretty important job, so I don't mean to brag or be boastful about it. But, it's kind of a big deal.

Loved the aesthetic of this.

Back to Lake Gardens for some cheesy senior pictures to kill time before our ticket allows us to get up into the Petronas Towers.
Back at the towers to be a true tourist. I got my pass to prove it!
The Sky Tour visit included a free video in 3-D!!! More exciting than it sounds. It talked a lot about oil and looked more "blurry" than "3-D". But, we looked awesome in the glasses and it was free, so it was totally worth it.
View of KL from the Petronas Towers Skybridge on the 44th floor.
Looking down over the park.
Persuaded by a gay guy from Florida to eat at this Indian restaurant while we learned about his dramatic life history. Great food, great price, 'interesting' guy.

I wouldn't say KL is a "not to be missed" destination in Malaysia, but it is a major hub for flights and relatively entertaining if you've got the time and energy. We got our tummy's fed, our tourism ticks checked, and our clothes cleaned. I'd say it was a success!