Ipoh to Melaka (Melaka)

Our time in Ipoh has come to an end and we need to travel south back to Kuala Lumpur to drop off the car before we go to Melaka. So we set off down the expressway towards KLIA2. But not before we take an hour to stop at Kellie’s Castle just south of Ipoh.
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Kellie’s Castle was built by William Kellie Smith, a Scottish man who came to live in Malaysia. We didn’t know what to expect from the castle so went on a whim merely because we had seen the brown tourist signs pointing towards it. And what a delightful whim it was.
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William Smith’s castle proved to be a grand ruin. Smith started building his mansion and castle in 1909 but never completed his work due because he died while in Portugal sourcing materials. But what work he did complete was complex and creative.
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The first thing that struck me were the windows. Smith was inspired by Hinduism and it shows in the way he shaped his windows. I think this is what makes this building so wonderful to explore. Every room provides a different view depending on both the way it faces and the shape of the windows Smith selected. These upside down water drop windows are probably my favourite.
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Though higher up these triple windows make even the palm tree plantation look picturesque (trust me, palm tree plantations are not picturesque).
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It is said that Kellie’s Castle is haunted by a range of ghosts, including Smith’s daughter Helen. She didn’t die here but it is said her spirit walks the balcony corridors near the room that was to be her bedroom. Perhaps her spirit is still here because when we walked along the corridor, neither Paul nor I noticed the door to Helen’s bedroom. We walked straight past it and into the room that was to belong to her younger brother Anthony. It wasn’t until we noticed the secret passageway between Anthony and Helen’s rooms that we knew about her bedroom. Now it might be that Helen didn’t want us to enter her room from the corridor. Perhaps she was standing there and didn’t want to be disturbed. Or maybe we were just too busy looking over at Kallas Mansion (the house Smith originally built for his family to live in) to notice Helen’s room. I know which version of events I prefer and it’s not the latter.
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Kellas House sits close behind Kellie’s Castle. It was named after Smith’s home town in Scotland. The House stands almost totally in ruins and one wall is held in place by heavy metal scaffolding. But even in this state the house is a grand piece of colonial architecture.
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The colour of the house alone screams wealth and style. The few rows of old Italian marble tiles speak to Smith’s tastes and it is said his death in Portugal occurred while he was sourcing yet more elegant fittings for the house.
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After Smith died his wife and children returned to Scotland and the house fell into ruin. Slowly, over time, the jungle took over and covered the property and buildings. It’s easy to see how this can happen here in the tropics where everything is green and lush. Even now, the jungle is still trying to defeat the efforts of those who keep this attraction open to tourists. We both enjoyed Kellie’s Castle. It was an unexpected find with enough story to keep us entertained and enough historical information to help us appreciate its relevance.
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But all good things must come to an end and we had a 2pm deadline to return the car at KLIA2. It was already 11:30am when we drove out of Kellie’s Castle and back towards the expressway. With about 210km to travel, this meant we would be cutting the car hire return fine. We actually made really good time for the first 140km of the drive, cruising along easily at 110kph (the speed limit on the motorway). But then we reached the north of Kuala Lumpur and traffic came to a screaming halt because road works were being completed on the middle lane of one of the busiest north-south sections of the highway. The calm and sensible driving we had experienced in the north went to the dogs as cars and trucks battled each other to make headway. It was like being back home in Brisbane where drivers prefer to block traffic in order to be first than to wait their turn and allow traffic to flow for everyone. It was the first time I had really sensed a Western “I have more right to get where I am going than you do” attitude to driving anywhere in Asia. It was an unpleasant 45 minutes of trying to go with the flow without being crushed by trucks or dented by cars.
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Though the traffic jam did mean we got to sit behind this Ferrari for a little while and get some photos of it. I’m not even into cars but think this was a pretty sweet ride.
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Somewhere in the traffic jam we decided that we didn’t want to rely on public transport to get to and around Melaka. So when we got to KLIA2 half an hour late, we asked whether we could extend our rental for another three days. The car was available so we amended the rental agreement and set off south on the now quiet expressway to Melaka. Finding our hotel was relatively easy, thanks to Paul’s iPad (large screen) and Google maps. After settling in and having a rest for an hour we went out to look for food. It had been a long day of driving and I was exhausted so we decided to leave any real exploration of the city for the next day. Besides, the hotel had airconditioning and wifi so we could escape the heat and catch up on Facebook and my blog.

Sultan Azlan Shah Hockey Cup 2015 (Perek)

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We saw signs advertising the Sultan Azlan Shah International Hockey Tournament as we drove from Ipoh city to the mushroom farm on the first day we arrived. Having attended some sporting events in South Korea, I knew it would be fun to go see some sport while here in Malaysia. The best thing is that the event had free entry. So, on the opening day of the tournament, we turned up at about 4pm to watch Australia play Canada and then to watch Korea play India.
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Neither of us have ever watched a hockey match before. We both dabbled a bit with the sport in high school but didn’t really play that much. So we weren’t sure what to expect. It turns out that hockey is quite a good spectator sport. It’s fast moving and energetic. Goals are hard won but not as difficult to score as in soccer so the game moves quickly while still having a good tactical element. And the relatively small field means that you can see the action from almost anywhere on the sidelines.
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The first match was a white wash by Australia who defeated Canada 7-0. Australia played a relentless attacking game and didn’t stop running the entire match. The team seemed so professional. The coaches used tablets to monitor the game and each of the players was wearing a heart rate monitor under their sleeveless tops. Even the Australian contingent of spectators all wore Hockey Australia uniforms and seemed quite disciplined in their lack of boisterous support for the team.
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On the sidelines a group of Malaysian school children in green and black uniforms waved a large plastic Australian flag and chanted cheers. They were as excited by every Australian goal, attack and defensive effort as if they were a group of Australians. I don’t know whether local schools or clubs selected foreign teams to support or how the school came to be so enthusiastic in their support for Australia. Later in the day, another school would arrive to support Korea in the same way.
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We stayed for the second game of the day: Korea v India. During warm up the difference between the way the two teams approached the game was clear. The Koreans seemed extremely disciplined while the Indians seemed more fluid.
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After the national anthems were sung, the game was on and the difference between this and the previous game became obvious. While Australia attacked and ran for the entire game against Canada, the Korean and Indian teams played defensively against each other. I wonder whether anyone kept statistics about the number of passes pushed backwards towards each team’s own goals. I bet if they did they would have found that more passes were made backwards than towards the goals. Attacks on goal only seemed to come from set plays so it was no surprise that the score ended in a 2-2 draw.
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The best entertainment in the Korea v India game came from the sidelines. Just as the game started, a group of about 15 Indian men turned up and sat next to us. They cheered loudly enough to fill the stadium. It was good natured support for their team. They chanted, they clapped and they danced with every good play. Unfortunately for us they moved at half time to sit at the other end of the ground to be closer to their team’s second half goal.

It was fun to attend the hockey and wonderful that it was free to the public. As far as spectator sports go, I enjoyed it in the same way as I enjoy rugby league. I would certainly go to a hockey match again if the opportunity arose again.
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Oh and I learned that hockey is actually played on a wet field. I never knew this. But during the half time breaks and between the games sprinklers were turned on to we the field. It was Paul who told me that usually the fields have water feeding from under the astro turf and this is why it always looks like the hockey field has just been rained on.

Ipoh street art (Perek)

Ipoh has some amazing street art. You can find it all by following the city’s street art guide. Here are some of my favourite pieces:
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I love the playfulness of this painting and the way children view the world as being full of possibilities, such as flying in a paper plane.
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I like the historical story this painting tells and that, in it, women are not relegated to the role of wife.
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I like this painting because the hummingbird seems to be fluttering in place.
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This painting is so lifelike, especially because the artist has incorporated an actual trishaw that is partially sticking out of the wall.
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I asked Paul to help the little girl reach the bird cage.
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Not a painting but how cool is this!
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Yes, a painting of a tourist taking a photo of a painting. It at once pokes fun and encourages the tourist to take as many photos of the paintings as they can.
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Of course not all art needs to be serious or meaningful.
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But by far my favourite series are these paintings of children playing. This one speaks of friendship between boys while the little sister just wants to join in.
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And no depiction of childhood would be complete without some story about children playing jump rope.
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And then there’s this three-piece work spread over three walls in a lane. The children hiding are on the main street while the boy counting to ten is inside the laneway. It’s probably the most creative and well thought-out street art work I’ve ever seen. I just love it.

If you like street art, you will love Ipoh’s contribution to this creative outlet.

Tongs (temples) of Ipoh (Perek)

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There is a strong Chinese influence in Ipoh so it stands to reason that that there are also many Chinese Buddhist temples scattered around the city. Many of them are cave temples that have been built into the surrounding limestone mountains. We start our day of exploration at Sam Poh Tong. This temple is marked on almost all the tourist maps of Ipoh and I have found many references to it online.
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We start by entering the temple cave and following a pathway through to the other side. Here there is a garden surrounded on all sides by steep cliffs many meters high. A building sits in pride of place at the center of the garden. It is closed off to the public but looks amazing sitting proudly in place hidden from all but those who venture through the temple cave. It must be a wonderful place for contemplation and prayer for those who use it for that purpose.
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Nearby is a turtle pond. There are many small turtles sitting on the banks of the pond drying their shells. They are rather cute to look at unlike the four or five massive turtles swimming around in the pond itself. The big turtles are huge and fight each other for territory. You could buy small cherry tomatoes at the entrance to the cave temple. People who have bought them throw the tomatoes into the turtle enclosure and giggle as turtles eat the fruits. There are more tomatoes in the enclosure than the turtles want to eat but still we humans can’t help ourselves and take great delight in feeding the animals. We didn’t realise that the tomatoes were for the turtles or we too might have joined the tomato throwing because we like to feed animals too.
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Back outside the cave there is a rock island garden in front of the temple. I love these Chinese-style gardens where spiritual landscapes are recreated in great detail. The rock islands are decorated with little bridges, temples and pagodas. Figurines fish, walk and meditate on the islands. It conjures up images of the Confucian, Taoist and Buddhist aesthetics of old who might have spent their entire lives in contemplation.
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Sam Poh Tong has a huge blue urn building to one side. This is where urns containing the ashes of the deceased are stored. This is where all the people have come. I’m not sure whether they come to pray for the deceased every weekend or whether this weekend is particularly important. But the air is filled with joss stick smoke as people walk around waving them and then leaving them in these huge joss stick holders.
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Tables are laid out with feasts of food. I can only assume they are for the deceased. A beggar eyes off the food hungrily but controls his urge to take some. The food that has been placed here are not just small offerings of fruit or flowers to deities. Rather, these are elaborate meals including dumplings, rice, fruit, beverages and sweets. Flowers decorate the tables like center pieces at an American Thanksgiving dinner. I’ve never seen anything like this before.
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A little further along there is a huge pit where cardboard boxes shaped like treasure chests, luxury cars, luxury homes and Lois Vitton handbags are being burned. The heat from the flames is intense. Someone told me that the items being burned represent products that are being sent to deceased loved ones in the next world. This is probably a simplistic explanation but I’m no expert on Buddhist practices and am just reporting what I see.
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With all this praying and the thousands of people who will come here to make offerings today there is a lot of cleaning up that needs to be done. Elderly men fill large baskets with food from the tables and carry it over to this big rubbish pile. Everything comes here: fruit, meals, styrofoam containers, plastic bags and flowers. Other men are stoking and clearing the fire pit of plastics, which they also bring here. Everything is being burnt but this doesn’t deter the local monkeys from trying to steal the food scraps. They sneak across to the rubbish pile while the elderly cleaners try to chase them away. It seems like a dance that has gone on for decades.
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Next door to Sam Poh Tong is another cave temple. This one is not as busy today as Sam Poh Tong though the burnt joss sticks in a large holding area indicate that it gets just as busy as its neighbour. This temple looks like it is slowly being swallowed by the cave in which it is built. Inside, this temple is far less ornate than its neighbour. It feels more somber and cavernous. There is no garden behind the cave. Rather, this entire temple is built into the mountain.
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A steep staircase leads upwards from the back of the cave. There are no signs indicating the destination of the staircase but there are signs warning that the temple closes at 5pm sharp and that visitors should not start climbing the staircase after 4:30pm. This should have been a warning that what was to follow was not just a short flight of stairs. But it’s not a warning we heed.
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After climbing 245 steps, we reach the top and discover there is actually nothing here. The austerity of the cave has continued all the way to the top. It’s almost like this cave is intended as a lesson in not holding onto anything and just accepting what is. The holes in the cave walls here at its upper reaches are largely shrouded by jungle trees so there are only glimpses of the city below. People have crawled out through some of the holes in the cave onto narrow ledges outside. Perhaps they have come here to meditate because it feels like that kind of space. The atmosphere was such that I would not have been surprised to see the white bearded Lao Tzu sitting cross legged meditating.
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Climbing and descending the staircase certainly was an act of faith; what with much of the top section being in the dark.
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And the mid section being rickety and wooden. But we got up there and back safely. I felt quite uplifted by the experience.
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Next door the Lin Sen Tong was a complete contrast to the other two temples. This is a bright and fun temple. It looks almost childish in it’s brightness. There are colourful cartoon-styled religious characters in the courtyard and concrete animals with stirrups that encourage you to hop on and ride them. And no, I wasn’t the only person riding the animals.
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A short drive across Ipoh took us to Perek Tong. Our host at the mushroom farm recommended this temple because you can climb some steps to see a view of Ipoh.
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She wasn’t wrong about the view. From the top of the temple there were stunning views over the whole city. It became obvious why the city is so hot: it is nestled in a three-sided valley between tall mountain ranges. On one side, the city is dominated by heavy industry, possibly related to the quarries in the limestone mountains. On the other it is all residential. Up on the mountain top above the temple, the city felt like it was a world away. Everything was peaceful and I again felt that sense of spirituality come to me.
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The mountainside pagodas helped with that sense of the sacred. Again I could imagine aesthetics sitting here meditating. My mind wandered to Dan Millman’s Peaceful Warrior books and the way Socrates trained Dan to run up mountains effortlessly and the stories of Socrates living for years in the mountains meditating. It is easy to see why the Chinese of old settled here in Ipoh with its tall mountains and limestone caves. There is something about the place that is similar to some of the sacred mountains in China.
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Though perhaps what I was feeling was exhaustion from walking up yet another long flight of stairs. This time there were even signs warning that those with certain health conditions should not attempt the climb due to the physical exertion required. The signs were not wrong. The climb was tough, especially in the soupy humidity. But, like I said, the views and sense of space at the top was worth it.

And so ended our exploration of Ipoh’s Tongs. There are many more temples here to explore but we think we got a good taste of the variety by seeing the ones we did. Besides, we can always come back another time.

Pantai Remis and Lumut (Perek)

We went to bed last night not having decided which of the many tourist attractions we want to see today. There are just too many choices and all seem either exciting or interesting. We could go white water rafting or caving or to the many temples or to the Old Town. We decide to wait and see what the morning brings.
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With the sun shining and a map spread out on the wooden platform at the mushroom farm pond we decide to do none of the typical touristy things. Instead, we decide to take a drive out to Pantai Remis (Remis Beach) and then south to Lumut. It’s a random choice of destination selected based on the lines on the map showing roads, rivers and sea frontage. The rivers and sea frontage mean there might be fishing boats. The word ‘pantai’ being in the location name means there might be some sort of beach. And Lumut is the departure point for the ferry to Pulau Pangkor (Pangkor Island), which is said to be a fantastic place for scuba diving so perhaps Lumut has something to see too.
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The drive takes us through dense palm tree plantations. Palm tree oil is one of Malaysia’s biggest exports. It’s a controversial commodity in the West where we have the luxury of pointing the finger at the developing world’s destruction of natural habitat without actually looking at the way we are destroying our own natural environments. That’s not to say that I support the destruction of natural forest and orang utang’s natural habitat. But my travels are helping me see that things aren’t always as simple or black & white as they seem from the comfort of the couch in a dry safe home when using a laptop or the latest tablet technology to surf the web using a fast broadband connection knowing that you will sleep in a warm bed and wake to food in the fridge for breakfast.
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We reach Pantai Remis. It’s a busy mid-sized fishing village. Some old painted shutters catch my eye as we wait at a set of traffic lights. This style of architecture is typical here in Malaysia.
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We search for the beach by following every road that leads to the sea. The first one takes us through the town’s main industrial area where fishing boats are repaired and catches sorted for transport. The area smelled of the sea and stank like fish. The roads were just narrow gravel lanes that jogged their way around the haphazardly placed buildings and over a steep narrow concrete bridge intended for pedestrians that cars are now using.
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On our first attempt at finding the beach we came to a muddy mangrove swamp at the mouth of the creek on which the fishing industry sat. Long tail fishing boats zipped in and out of the creek at breakneck speed as a giant hulking trawler squatted on the distant horizon.
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After retracing our steps back to the main road we made another attempt at finding the beach after which the township was named. This time we left the highway to follow a creek out to the sea. The road took us past often colourful fishing boats sitting up on the creek’s banks. Small shacks lined the creek. Some looked like places where boats and nets were repaired while others were clearly being used as homes. The contrast here between rich and poor is striking. On one side of the road are normal Western-style houses and on the other are shanty huts. I don’t know what to do with this knowledge yet except to share it in my stories and to reflect on what it means for us all as humans.
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Again we were unsuccessful in our mission, ending up at another mangrove swamp. But this time it was beautiful because the clouds were reflecting on the thin layer of water that sat atop the mud.
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Fishing boats maneuvered carefully in and out of the shallow creek, their engines churning up mud. I wonder what it would be like to grow up and live with the sea as your home knowing the way every tidal change affects the catch.
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And then there it is. On our third attempt at finding the beach we succeed. We follow a road west quite a few kilometers south of Pantai Remis. The road leads to a power station but a turn off takes us to some white sand. The beach is beautiful. But you have to look beyond the wide line of litter at the high tide mark. Interestingly, among the coconuts and plastic water bottles, the two most common items of rubbish are light bulbs and glass hip flask-shaped alcohol bottles. I wonder where these come from. Are they from locals or do they all come from far flung places in the world and get brought here by the currents? Back to the beach though – it’s absolutely lovely to see white sand and blue water. People sit fishing further to the north under umbrellas to shield them from the blazing sun. We don’t stay long because we don’t have an umbrella and it’s hot even for us Brisbanites.
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Having succeeded in our mission to find a beach, we drive to Lumut for lunch. There’s a delightful waterfront area here where you can walk and enjoy the seascape. It’s far too hot to enjoy it today so we take shelter in the shade at a local food stall.
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After a rest we brave the blazing sun and sticky humidity to walk along the waterfront again. We find some trees that provide some shade but the heat of the day chases us back to the car to shelter in the air conditioning. It’s not that we’re soft; it’s just that we’re not accustomed to this level of heat and humidity. Back home it gets hot and humid but there’s almost always some relief through sea breezes or shade.
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And then it’s time to head back to Ipoh. We want to catch a movie on our way home and it’s already about 4pm. Paul falls asleep almost immediately on the way home. This is normal for him in the car; he just can’t seem to be able to keep his eyes open. It’s peak hour on the roads and small packs of scooter riders form. They take up the whole left lane chatting to each other until one of their group takes off, usually on his rear wheel, and the others give chase. They then all stop to regroup and the display repeats itself. There are a few groups who I pass doing this. It’s kind of fun to watch because they are all over in the left lane together anyway.
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What’s less enjoyable is the battle for car parks at the Ipoh Parade shopping centre where we go to see a movie. It seems that carpark chaos must be an international phenomena. We are lucky and find a park by parallel parking over a speed bump. It’s a marked spot and I don’t know why so many cars drove past it but I was not complaining. The movie cinema is packed with young guys going to see The Fast and Furious 7. It’s showing in five theaters and each is close to sold out. I’m not surprised because custom cars are common here on the roads and many of the custom cars are driven racing style at high speeds (the right lane of the expressway has many cars traveling well over 150kph; not all young racers). Paul suggests that we see Cinderella given that neither of us has seen any of the Fast and Furious franchise movies. So we join a theater full of woman and children. It’s a fabulous movie and once again South East Asia’s movie cinemas prove themselves to be superior in quality and comfort to those we have at home in Brisbane. The seats are wider, the screens clearer and the surround sound more realistic. And so we ended a thought-provoking and interesting day of sight seeing here in Malaysia.

Cameron Highlands (Perek)

One of the things that drew us to Ipoh was the city’s proximity to the Cameron Highlands. With the promise of good weather, we decided to head straight up there today to see what all the fuss is about.
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We didn’t have to drive far out of Ipoh to discover why the Highlands are so highly rated on travel sites. The jungle-lined road wound ever upwards with vast mountain views at every bend. Once again, Malaysia’s quiet and well-maintained system of roads provided pleasant and easy driving to allow us to concentrate on the scenery.
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Small stalls lined the lower stretches of the mountain road. Some were vacant while people sat on their haunches at others selling bottles filled with cloudy liquid. I’m not sure what the liquid was but it was variously coloured milky white, golden yellow and polished bronze brown. We wondered whether the liquid might be some sort of fermented alcohol.
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The people selling the bottles of liquid lived in small huts that were nestled in the jungle. This one was close to the road and had a narrow walkway to it. Others were clumped together between the trees. Paths led into the jungle from some of the stalls, indicating that there might be more huts tucked away out of sight. I couldn’t help but ponder the way we in the West think about this reality of life. Some will see these pics and say “oh it’s wonderful that people still live in the traditional ways foraging in the woods and leaving a small ecological footprint” or “it’s sad that this traditional way of life is being destroyed by roads, mass farming and forest harvesting”. Me, I see the way the people here in the mountains live and feel grateful for the card I drew in the lottery of life.
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The Cameron Highlands are as amazing as the internet sites promised. But you have to look for the tea plantations; they are not just lining the sides of the road. The main road in the Highlands is densely packed with a mix of industrial complexes and high rise apartments. The industry here is agriculture. Enormous tea, strawberry and lavender packaging and despatch depots fill the roadside landscape. Higher up in the mountains where the roads must be too steep for the trucks, the roadside is taken up by enormous multi-story concrete apartment blocks, resorts and hotels. And there are more being built as we speak. I wonder whether there is that much demand or whether they are working on an ‘if we build it they will come’ philosophy.
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But once off the main road, the tea plantations are truly stunning.
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The best road is definitely the one from the top of the range where the new shopping complex has been built. It is signed to the Mossy Forest. It is narrow and twisting (not gravel like the photo above – that is a private tea plantation road). And it winds through the gorgeous mountainside tea plantations.
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We follow the road all the way down to Boh Plantation, which is one of the oldest tea plantations in the Highlands, dating to the 1920s (yes, they have only been growing tea here for less than a century). If you don’t like narrow one-lane roads with steep drops to either side, then this is probably not the place for you to drive. Or, you can challenge yourself to get past the fear by realising that local drivers are used to tourist traffic and that tourist traffic moves slowly. Also, Malaysian drivers tend to be courteous so they will make use of the many passing bays. And the scenery is worth the effort. Me, I like roads like this so was having a ball both driving and looking at the scenery.
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As we neared the Mossy Forest, the road grew increasingly steep and worn. We could touch the jungle on either side of the car if we’d opened our windows to do so. The little Proton Saga that we hired struggled, even in low gear and there was no way we could stop in some sections to let cars pass because we would have needed to roll all the way backwards down the hill because the car lacked grunt. But we got there and felt quite sorry for the many tourists we saw walking up the long steep road.
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The Mossy Forrest sits atop Gunung Brinchang (Mt Brinchang) at 2,000m above sea level. Here a timber walkway weaves through moss covered trees that look like Antarctic Beech trees but are actually a variety of oak tree. There are more trails to explore up here and you can walk to other mountains but it was hot and humid with storm clouds closing in so we decided just to stick to the boardwalk. It was a challenge on its own in some areas where trees have fallen or grown across the path.
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And if you like moss, this is definitely the place for you because there is plenty of it.
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After the mossy forest we continued along the main road to Brinchang town. Here we took a tour through the local history museum (they call it a time tunnel), which is actually just a heap of hoarded stuff that a picker has collected. But between shelves heaving with old Milo and Ovaltine tins, a box full of thousands of pencils (yes, pencils), walls filled with old advertising signs and random other collections of stuff (including a large display of piggy banks), there was some interesting historical information about the area. The Cameron Highlands were ‘discovered’ by Westerners in the late 1880s and tea plantations established in the 1920s. The area was later invaded by the Japanese on their march south to Singapore in the 1940s and became home first to British military bases and then Japanese prisoner of war camps.
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The thousands of battered old Land Rovers that drive up and down these roads are probably one of the things that remain from those military days. There was a photo at the time tunnel museum showing over 500 jeeps all parked at the highlands for a field day. Apparently the Cameron Highlands have the highest concentration of Land Rovers outside of British military bases. I’m not sure how accurate this statistic is but that’s what we read. The Land Rovers only pay 10% of the normal road tax if they stay within the Cameron Highlands, which is why they have the CH stickers on the side. The two I photographed above are two of the more road-worthy looking examples we saw; a testament to the old style Land Rovers’ toughness …
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… because these things are being used to haul some serious loads.
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Our day in the Highlands was magical. We saw some beautiful landscapes, learned about Malaysian history and witnessed the contrast that still exists here between rich and poor. On our way home we even got to see the power of Malaysia’s tropical weather when we just missed a massive storm that took down not just a few small trees but about a dozen large mature trees around the area near the mushroom farm where we are staying. The storm even ripped off shop fronts and caused trees to drop heavy branches on cars. Unlike at home in Brisbane where a summer storm of this magnitude would cause mass chaos and frantic radio reports about every little leaf that fell, the radio continued to play music and regular news (it’s in English language so we know what’s happening on the radio), police simply directed traffic around the many blocked roads allowing traffic to continue to flow, and the lady at our hotel smiled and asked how our day was. And we just took ourselves out to the pond in the mushroom farm to enjoy the most magical sunset (there is no photo shop in the photo above – this is actually what the sunset looked like).

Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh (Perek)

It’s 4:30am and I am already in the shuttle van from the hotel to the airport to pick Paul up. He messages me to say that he’s already landed and has cleared customs. A long four hour wait stretches out in front of us because our hire car won’t be available until 8:30am so it’s a good thing KLIA2 is a big transit airport with plenty of ways to pass the time. McDonalds has the most comfortable seating options so we pass an hour or two there with Paul falling asleep in his seat after we’ve eaten our breakfast. No one rushes us to move on and many of the other patrons are also just resting after completing their purchases. After getting tired of McDonalds we check out the massage chairs near the car hire counter. For RM3 ($AU1.07) we get 9 minutes of pummelling from the automated massage machine. It’s pretty intense but probably good for us. We pass the remainder of our time with Paul sleeping in a chair in a corner while I do some HIIT exercise sessions and a 2km run through the airport and outside bus terminal. Security just smile and greet me with a salute and “good morning sir”. They’ve obviously seen it all before. This is something I like about KLIA2: it’s a relaxed place to transit.
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We collect our hire car and head out onto Malaysia’s roads. I’ve heard mixed reviews about driving here. My parents say it is easy and that the roads are good while I’ve read some Trip Advisor reviews and forums where people say that driving here is particularly dangerous. So I’m curious about what it’s going to be like. I will soon discover that my parents are correct and that the expressway to Ipoh is an easy drive.
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We do spend about half an hour caught in traffic as we come close to Kuala Lumpur but I wouldn’t say it was any different to the 30km of traffic jams we get on the Pacific Highway heading into the city at peak hour. If anything, at least here the drivers don’t seem to be as aggressive as at home; they just wait their turn and there are fewer heroes trying to weave between the near stationary lanes.
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Once we’re clear of Kuala Lumpur the expressway takes us all the way north towards Ipoh. There’s not much to see for most of the drive, other than palm tree plantations. But this interesting overpass is pretty grand.
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We stop at a rest area. The rest areas here are similar to the large highway service stations we have in Australia. There’s a large service station where you can buy fuel, drinks and snacks, and a carpark attached where you can park to rest and buy drinks and snacks from little vans. We both notice the random flavours of the Twisties here in Malaysia. As well as ‘Chicken Yo!’ and cheese they have tomato and ‘BBQ Curry Dude’. The curry is spicy and leaves a burning sensation at the back of our mouths just like curry would. It’s not a disgusting flavour but I probably wouldn’t buy it again.
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The weather here is fickle. One minute it’s bucketing down heavily and visibility is greatly reduced.
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The next the skies are blue with woolly Simpson-esque clouds billowing around. This is how it’s been since I arrived so I guess this is what this part of the rainy season will be like.
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As we draw closer to Ipoh we are struck by the limestone formations that start to pop up in the landscape. They are fascinating. Many are heavily scared by mining and some of those being mined look like they are about to topple over under the pressure of constant digging and blasting.
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As we drive along the highway we notice this temple (Kong Fook Ngam) buried in a limestone cave. A short exploratory drive later and we have found our way there.
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A small pack of dogs greet us as we park the car. There are four caramel coloured canines and one black and tan mutt. They bark and snarl a bit but mostly keep their distance. They don’t seem to be a real threat and no one comes out to see what the commotion is about. I think the dogs are just as curious about us as we are about the temple so we walk on and they go back to whatever they were doing before we arrived.
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The temple is lovely and peaceful. Much of it is closed off and inaccessible but there’s a real sense of calm here in the relative cool of the cave.
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The formality of the Chinese Buddhist Temple is contrasted by the frivolity and colour of the Hindu Temple right next door. Its bright pink figurines and blue trim are punctuated by the dense jungle green backdrop. There is a tour bus parked nearby and a group of Indian people are eating lunch in a hall. Two monks greet us with the traditional Indian head wobble that I have seen so many times in movies (I haven’t made it to India yet). They indicate for us to enter.
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The ceiling under the pavilion is stunningly decorated with peacock feathers and portraits of various deities. We both stand in awe of it and the monks seem to appreciate our admiration of their temple. The monks seem to speak only Hindi so the whole experience will be completed using gestures. And what an experience it will be.
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We are led into the entrance of the cave and walk through a pink passageway. I can’t help but wonder whether this is meant to signify a rebirth of some sort.
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Once inside we are offered a blessing in which we apply water to our faces and the monk marks us with white ash. It all feels very spiritual. We make a small donation to the temple and then are instructed to dip another ringett note in the ash before placing it back in our wallets. Back in the main hall we are taken to another locked room where the monk lights a flame and blesses us with the fire. It doesn’t seem to matter that we are not Hindus; we are there and interested in his temple so he wishes us well.
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After a quick stop for some lunch as a local restaurant we make our way to the Every Fresh Mushroom Farm where we have booked a chalet for four nights. The chalet was only $AU24 a night so I haven’t got very high expectations of it given some of the places I have stayed in Indonesia and Thailand at that price point. But what a find it turns out to be. We have a private single room in a chalet set in a pretty tropical garden that is nestled under limestone cliffs. There is a large dam where we can fish (fishing rods supplied) or just sit to enjoy the sunset. The room is clean and well-appointed with Western bathroom and hot water shower. There’s a jug for boiling water, free coffee and a television with an English-language entertainment channel in case we get bored. The lady at the mushroom farm is super friendly and armed with plenty of tips for places we should see while in Ipoh. She even loans us two torches to use on the adventurous cave tour we want to do on Saturday. We just need to supply the batteries.

On our host’s recommendation we drive to the nearby Kek Look Tong temple. This is one of the two more famous cave temples here in Ipoh.
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Again the temple dogs form a welcoming committee but this time we are not the first guests so they simply laze around relaxed at the top of the entrance stairs without snarling or barking.
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Inside the temple it is amazing. A lot of work has gone into the decorations over the years. There’s Chinese mountain scenes embedded into one of the side walls.
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And many statues of deities abound the cavern itself.
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But the most stunning feature is the garden in the large grotto on the other side of the cave. This place is spectacular.
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It seems to be a place of exercise too with a paved walking path that locals are using to take an energetic afternoon walk or slow jog. There is some exercise equipment off in a far corner but mostly the garden is dominated by the beautiful landscaping and walking path.
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There is also a rock walk for which you must remove your shoes. It is about 500m long and quite challenging. I’m not sure whether it’s meant to teach something or to be for reflexology. It takes me quite a while to get through the whole walk; partly because I have a heel spur that’s bothering me and doesn’t feel good when the rocks poke into it. But hey, that’s all part of the experience.
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It’s getting late in the afternoon so we are unable to attend any of the other nearby cave temples. Instead we drive into Ipoh Old Town. We wander around looking at the 3D art works (I’ll post about them separately) and look at the old buildings. The Birch Memorial is quite a famous landmark and quite an impressive colonialist sight.
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The ghosts of colonialism abound here in the Old Town. We’ve arrived after the daytime shops are closed and the night time restaurants open so the place is eerily devoid of people and overrun with commuter traffic cramming through the streets.
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The buildings here are old and run down on the outside but many are being repurposed for restaurants and retail outlets selling brand name clothing for the young adult market. Think RM200 ($AU72) for a 1970s styled button up shirt and RM12 ($AU4.50) for a small slice of cake. Mind you, the quality of the products and food is top shelf and not at all intended for the price-conscious consumer. And I think this is something I will like about Malaysia, just as I liked it in Thailand. There is variety and we can choose whether we feel like a RM4 ($AU1.45) meal or whether we want to treat ourselves to a little luxury.

By the time we head out to dinner at a small Chinese restaurant near our hotel it’s already after 8pm. It’s been a long day and we are both exhausted. Paul was up all last night on the flight over here and I woke early in the morning to collect him then drove up to Ipoh while he slept. But it’s worth the fatigue to have seen so much even in just one day. I can’t wait to see what the rest of our fortnight here brings.