I kind of started to like non-alcoholic parties. Especially when you have to get up at 4am half-dead to catch a ferry to the mainland. After 2 hours of sleep on the ferry we were ready to hitch to the next country- Malaysia. We started to love it way before crossing the border. Luckily we got picked up by a lovely Malaysian family (parents and 5 kids) and travelled with them all the way to Penang. Crossing the border was never as quick and easy. “Passport, please!”, a stamp and done. Thank you very much. After a delicious dinner with our Malaysian squad the worst part came- looking for the accomodation. After 2 hours of wandering around Butterworth city we were saved by a young gentleman who saw us walking around like two stray dogs and took to some guesthouse. The cheapest room was GBP 12, bollocks! We didn’t have any better option, though, these are the accomodation prices in Malaysia… Getting out of the city the next day was a nightmare but with a bit of luck we managed to get to Ipoh in the evening.
Joe, our firs cs host was a truly nice guy. Although a bit weird (I like cleanliness as well but covering everything with foil and newspapers to protect them from dust is a bit too much…) he had a really good heart and was happy to share everything that he knew. The first night he took us to probably the best food market I’ve seen in my life. It was massive and the variety of food was indescribable. There was hundreads of stalls and each one was offering a completely different thing! It was one of these moments when I wished I had Callum’s stomach… As Joe is a self-employed cook he also took us to his sister’s restaurant for a delicious breakfast and stuffed us with food in local restaurants. We visited Perak Cave temple together where climbing a thousand steps Joe shared with us (or at least tried his best) many details about the history and Chinese tradition as him, like many other country’s citizens, was Chinese-Malaysian. He took us to Gunung Lang park and the oldest Chinese temple in town where we watched a ceremony of driving away the enemies. It’s crazy how many symbols and traditions there are in Chinese culture – every little thing has a different meaning and each ceremony is dedicated to a different aspect of life. I’m quite cynical about their effectiveness but I really respect the people who can remember them all.
Ipoh wasn’t the most interesting city in the world but we didn’t give up hope. The old town was quite small but the architecture and the street art was really interesting, giving the city a cool vibe. Beeing a foreigner in Ipoh means being a celebrity so after a while we stopped refusing the people’s generosity and accepted every free food that was offered to us. On the way back we met 2 German backpackers, clearly lost in action. We had such a nice chat that we decided to meet up for a dinner. Together with Joe we went shopping in order to cook the best spaghetti ever made. Sitting by the table covered with newspapers (Ah, Joe…), eating basic homemade pasta with the guys reminded me of my student times… 😉 Lisa and Yan were really cool so we decided we would meet up again in Java as we were going in the same direction. All right, all right. Not all the Germans are dull 😉
When we heard about Cameron Highlands we didn’t think too much- we had to get there, escaping the heat to a lovely mountainous area. Well, I thought it would be lovely but when I saw the amount of people, cars and greenhouses, my dream of the green paradise collapsed. Cameron Highlands are the main area for production of tea, flowers, fruits and vegetables in Malaysia and, for this reason, it grew as a big tourist attraction, mostly for Malaysians. Fortunately, we found our oasis at Westwood Highlands guesthouse where Troji, our new host, accepted us for a few days. It was a family guesthouse with a flower farm on site so we could closely observe and even participate in preparing the flowers for their journey to Singapore. Troji was probably the coolest and the most relaxed Chinese we’ve met so far. As we didn’t want to feel like 2 parasites occupying his hotel, we tried to help him in whatever we could. Callum built a cupboard for an oven and a couple of shelves and I became an interior decorator, painting a garden table and bringing as many flowers home as I could. Helping someone who deserves it feels really great 😉
The weather in the mountains was unpredictable but we were lucky to choose a good day for our trek to Mt Brinchang. It took us almost the whole day but it was definitely worth it. Once we passed a white layer of greenhouses we entered a sea of green hills covered with tea plantations. The main highlight was the Mossy Forest, though. “Do not pass”, a little sign advised. Why would someone put this here? It’s completely safe! Well, soon we found out why. Mossy Forest was truly mossy and… swampy. Jumping from a root to a root we tried not to drown in a mud that was really difficult to avoid. The Mossy Forest was full of weirdly shaped trees, lianes and palm trees. A truly magical place. Definitely better than Tanah Rata, the main town of the area, where we went later. As Callum lost his credit card we had to find some exchange to change our cash (fortunately we had some, heh) to ringgits. The traffic was insane. Although it was only 30 km from our place it took us 3 hours to get through this hell. At home we had to finally decide what we were doing next. We bought a flight ticket to Bali, hoping we could get in about a month through Java and Sumatra back to Kuala Lumpur and fly from there to Melbourne. Ambitious plan, you must admit.
Except us there was a couple of other foreigners in the guesthouse: a workaway girl from Taiwan, a “coffee maker” from USA and a Czech couple of couchsurfers. The last night Troji took us all with his car to a local restaurant where we ordered a massive Chinese hot pot. Moments like this remind me how much I love couchsurfing. Only like this you can get a proper insight in the country’s life and see the places that you’d probably never even think of.
Instead of noise and traffic of Kuala Lumpur as our last stop in Malaysia we chose volunteering on a little farm close to the capital. After a nice ride with 2 extremely kind Muslim guys and a Malaysian rock star we got to a tiny village surrounded by the jungle. David, a divorced owner of a aquaponic farm was a bit grumpy Chinese man (Where are all the Malaysians??), completely devoted to his little organic world. Although he shared a lot of his knowledge with us, he didn’t seem to care about his volunteers too much so after a few days we started to feel a bit… used. Especially that we had a really hard job to complete. Mary Joe, an inspiring Canadian painter, as an expert in building in cob was instructing us how to make a cob oven from the resources we had around us. Together with her, Ben (French musician), Mat (British dj), Antonia (a German student) and a French couple we dug as much clay from nearby slope and brought as much sand and stones from the river as it was necessary to start our construction. The first day was tough. We built the base and after many hours of working everyone was starving. We spent 4 days building our oven and although it was hard we had lots of fun together (as you can see on the below pictures…) as all the volunteers on the farm were just great.
The last day the work was finished and it was a time to have some fun. Firstly, we celebrated by drinking cow dung (yes, a cow shit mixed with water…) which, according to David, had magical abilities to heal and keep the body healthy. I guess I finally started to understand why Indians worship these animals so much… 😉 That day David was surprisingly in a good mood which was a bit suspicious. The secret was solved once we met his girlfriend. Everything would be great if only she didn’t mention about her husband and David wasn’t hiding her from his family, who arrived in the middle of the day, in our cabin. So romantic… Although the aquaponic farm was actually Callum’s idea, leaving it was much harder than I thought. The people made it harder. As everyone had something to share with the others, I’ve learnt a lot of useful things that I’ve never had a chance to try. Ben taught me to play didgeridoo and ukulele, Mary Joe taught us yoga and making handmade necklaces, Mat shared with me his love for trance music and performed for us his best sets on his dj deck. I used the time on the farm for improving my creativity, Callum on the other hand, felt like a fish in the sea, teaching the guys about healthy lifestyle and physiotherapy. Filled with tonnes of positive energy we only asked ourselves: “Why can’t we meet such people more often?”. I don’t know the answer for this question but I know that volunteering gives you much more time and opportunity to do that than just fast pace travelling. So it definitely wasn’t the last workaway for us 😉
As our flight to Bali from KL was at 10 pm we had some time to see the center. Despite my disgust to the cities, I actually quite liked it. Contrary to popular belief, Kuala Lumpur is not just about Petronas Towers. For me it’s one of the few cities in the world with such a variety of cultures. Malaysia is a complete mix of different nations. Looking at the panorama of the city you can see 10 different styles on one street, including Malaysian, Chinese and Indian that dominate the country. It looks insane. But beautiful. We walked around the downtown a little, exploring little streets, the Central Market and hunting for some Indian food. Although most of our experience in Malaysia wasn’t actually “Malaysian”, somehow I already miss this country: it’s variety, open-mindness and, of course, the food!