Thursday, 23 February 2012

IATTOUR Feb 14-21 Malaysia and Chiang Mai, Thailand

February 14 Enroute to Malaaca-Melaka, Malaysia

Our route out of Singapore was a snap on the metro to the Golden Towers complex to catch our bus up to Maleka Malaysia.  Being Singapore, everything is running on time, so away we were precisely at 1045 am.  The process of leaving Singapore and entering Malaysia were mere formalities done in very short order, the bus barely stopped rolling.  The bus driver had a bit of a lead foot and was passing everything left, right and centre; soon we were in Maleka dumped at Melaka Sentral, the main bus depot for the state.  We purchased our onward bus tickets for Kuala Lumpur for 2 days hence, then started looking for the local bus to get us into town.  After a bit of hit and miss found the town bus, for a whole 1 MY each (~30cents) into the old town square.  Everything was done up in red for Chinese New Year in this section of town.  Off to the Hotel Puri--a gem of a place just to the north of the canal.  A bit of a stroll along the riverfront, showed the town being a very charming place.  Being Valentine's Day, we treated ourselves to the Hotel's special Valentine's dinner in the courtyard; we wore our special Cologne- bug dope (very romantic) as there were a few mozzi's about.  Reading in the paper Malaysia reports about 5-600 cases of Dengue a week!

things that go bump in the night, sitting along the river about 5 ft long

February 15 Malacca

Malacca is likely the most exotic stop of our trip thus far.  We knew little of its history before arriving, but soon found out that it has changed hands more than a few times as the crossroad of the SE Asian trade routes.  It has been ruled by the Malaysians, Portuguese (1510ish), Dutch (1640is), British (1830ish), Japanese (WWII) and is now back in Malaysian hands.  
Original Portuguese gate circa 1511
1 of about 93 costume pictures Elaine took, you can ask for a special show!
from the church they kept St. Francis Xavier in Maleka before shipping his body to Goa
A gift from the Dutch.
Arab adventurers brought the Islamic faith in the 1440s, Siamese pirates harassed traders, St. Francis Xavier carried Christianity to SE Asia through this port and at one time, 84 languages were heard locally.  Such an interesting place with a fascinating "Reconstructed Sultan's Palace",  ruined fortifications and many museums, not to mention lots of historic mosques, temples, churches and buildings.  
Admiral Cheng Ho--arrived in Melaka from China, circa 1400s
We walked and walked and walked through the city, ate along the canal and got haircuts (finally) for $5/each.  
Elaine being brave; a haircut with no common language!
There were some interesting posters warning tourists of the bogus monks...too funny. 

Everywhere there are people from different nations exclaiming over sights and enjoying exotic treats.  I am so glad that Shary and Fraser steered us this way.

February 16 Kuala Lumpur

Alright!  We negotiated the city bus, back to Malaaca Sentral (first time we have had a bus driver stop at a service station to fill up) in time to catch our next ride to KL.   How fortunate to find ourselves seated next to an extremely interesting group of  University professors/travelers from Java Indonesia.  We chatted non-stop regarding traveling (he had lived in the eastern part of the US for school and Internship and she had spent time Interning in Europe and traveling throughout).  So wonderful to hear their interests and opinions; it made us sad we had missed some of the Indonesian sights they spoke of.   We parted ways in KL, but hope that we will see them again one day.
Once in KL, we found our (upscale) accommodation, The Swiss Garden Hotel, and wandered through the evening streets of this very busy business-oriented city.  The local night food market had no shortage of mouth watering treats.

Fast and Furious...for Nick

Ad for waxing hair removal!

February 17 KL

Bonus of the upscale hotel is the upscale breakfast spread; lots to keep us charged for the day's explorations.  We head out in search of the central market that Elaine scouted to view the myriad of treasures (at least that what Elaine thinks; Tony's not so sure).  
Pak Bamboo-rice and coconut treat steamed in bamboo tubes-yummy!

Yes Bill the trains are still running in KL

After much perusal and a few buys, we strike gold with a Malaysian treat (Pak Bambu) that keeps us until dinner.  Next, off to check out the twin Petronas Towers and complex.  We are certainly not the only visitors to this modern wonder of the world and shrine to Malaysian business; unfortunately we find that tickets to the top are sold out until Sunday.   

Dinner at the same great spot in the street is punctuated with lightening and thunder, but tastes just as good.  We wandered into another electronics mecca of 7+ floors jam packed with patrons looking for a deal.  More high tech toys available everywhere and we spotted a too--funny T-Shirt that stated: Video games ruined my life...good thing I have more lives!"

A whole international array of bears (for Tex).

February 18 KL to Chiang Mai

On the road again, we dash through the rain and grab a train to the airport; turns out we are at the wrong terminal and have to cab around to KCCT terminal where the Air Asia flights depart.  After a bit of a bumpy ride, Chiang Mai appears out of the haze and we find ourselves in Thailand in late afternoon.  This time we are staying in The Star Chiang Mai Hotel (just out of old town Chiang Mai) and are back in the land of tourists not business travelers.  After a quick wander around, we find that the shopping opportunities are endless (Saturday walking street) as are the massage/eating opportunities.  And temples, moats, Tuk-Tuk cabs as well as people around every corner.  

some new instruments for the crew at Mary's
 February 19 Chiang Mai Temple day

Things get going slowly in most of these towns that have an evening mind set; nothing really starts moving until around 11am.  We head to start seeing some of the 60+ temples that reside within the walls of the Old City.  The key historic section of town is very walkable, but if you do get tired a Tuk-Tuk is always in site.  There are old un-restored and glittering restored temples, shrines, Buddha statues, waxen monks (or are they very still monks, we are still unsure!) and modern temples of every size imaginable, with many devoted followers and visitors aplenty.  

Following cultural requirements, we wear longish clothing and remove our shoes outside each shrine.  Just when we think we have visited the grandest site, another appears around the corner.  During time out for drinks and lunch, we eat fabulous Thai food and pick up a brochure for tomorrow's adventure tour with "Earth Eco Tours"; there are many, many tours in town.  



After wandering all the temples, we stopped off at the fish spa to get a foot treatment. For the first 5 minutes we couldn't stop laughing because it tickled so much with hundreds of fish nibbling between our toes, then it started feeling really good.  Apparently, the fish have a bit of electrical charge to go along with the cleaning of dead skin...our feet never felt softer.

Yes, all the travelers we have spoken to mentioned the great Thai food everywhere...they were right!  We book our tour and return for the night market and dinner.  Many hours later, we return home exhausted and out of humour--beaten by the night market.  What a place!
Tony finished with the Night Market

February 20 Chiang Mai Trek and Tour day

Up early, we join 4 fellow travellers (a couple from France, one from Germany and one from the US), all up for an adventure.  
the view from the back of our trek transport heading out of town
What we don't realise is that this is going to be a tour like no other we have experienced before.  Action-packed would be an understatement!  From 8:15 am to about 5 pm, we are treated to the most exciting hours $40/person has ever purchased.  First we are off to view gorgeous orchids at a farm--who knew that they would be growing virtually in air?  

Next, we stop to visit with a number of hill-tribe people (including the "long-necks" and learn about their culture.  We do feel a little uneasy taking photos of people as if they were objects, but are reassured that the money tourists bring in helps fund the tribes' schooling and provides a large part of their living.  Their brass neck rings are built up from when the girls are about 5 years to reach a maximum when 25 years. These collars weigh about 6-8 kgs; with the origin as a means of protection from wild beasts and rats chewing on necks.
sitting at her loom weaving fabric


And then...elephants!  The mahouts seat us on top of these gentle animals and we lumber along the road, stopping to feed the elephants bananas over their heads and take excited photos of everyone and everything.  
another banana please!
Elaine going bare back...tickles.
Our pachyderm was a 48 year old female.  The elephants definitely have plans of their own--helping themselves to various plant life, water and stopping unanticipated breaks.  So amazing! Then, lunch at a roadside shack and again, the food is delicious.   
note the ladder to climb up to get wild bee hives

Off we go, hiking about 60 minutes to a trail-head platform where we soak, swim and shower under a plunging waterfall...boy does this feel good.  Along the way we had target practice with slingshots at one of trekking guest houses situated on the track.
Hanging around we notice a few fat big mozzies (i.e. Aedes variety - not good).  Bug dope applied, we return after an hour and are back on the road again.  This time, it is to go rafting...the white water kind.  With life jackets, helmets and safety procedures in place, we climb into the large rubber raft and ready our paddles.  (Sorry no photos--our camera is not waterproof!) After the first drop, we relax...until the guide emphasizes that the next section is going to require us to drop to the floor and hold on.  Yes, it certainly did require that.  Wow!  Many more exhilarating drops and rapids later, we think that we are going to get out, but we are transferring to bamboo rafts and floating the rest of the way.  Our older guide hangs on as we dangle on a rope and float semi-submerged to the take out point.  Is that the end?  No...we towel off and change...if we remembered dry clothing...and head off to visit the last village.  

a bit of a Christian influence in this village
Our knowledgeable guide, who comes from another, more northern village, explains the customs and answers our questions.  It has been a very, very full day.  We return home in near silence, fully satisfied with the experience.  No night market for us tonight as we barely fit in eating before we are back home to sleep.

February 21 Chiang Mai Last Day

Well, today is a lower key day.  We wander out to "Chinatown" after breakfast (as well as signing up for a "handicraft tour"--Elaine only) and find a giant indoor market.  I imagine that Bangkok must look like this, but larger.  Everything from sun-dried eels to diamonds for sale here.  


and for all would-be linemen, here is the test find the broken wire!

Dividing up after lunch, Tony checks out the dental treatment (first rate- 800 B for a clean) here while I head off with a guide for the "handicraft tour"--aka--factory tour.  Although this could easily be done by hiring a tuk-tuk to take you to the factory section outside of town, however the guide did scout out the best places to view demonstrations.  We visited the leather factory,the Thai Silk factory (many photos and videos there), the Gem factory and showroom (largest in the world with gargantuan gems in gold), the umbrella factory (buy a t-shirt,then have it specially painted in front of you), the lacquer-ware and silver factory.  Elaine has video of the silk making process, but the file is too large and will not load, ask for a special show on our return.

I didn't need to go to the night market after that so we finished the day with a macro-biotic veggie dining experience (a great place for Val, Anne and Thierry).

Tony managed to get our laundry back after a few unsuccessful attempts at retrieving our goods, but all was good...not bad 3.5kg of laundry washed and folded for 75 B ($2.5).

And, yes...there is a distinct foreign age/gender group present here with younger Thai women on their arm's.  On to Krabi tomorrow.

For your cooking pleasure:

Balinese Satay:

Pineapple Tarts:

Singapore Sling:

Malaysian Chicken Curry: