At least I do post some pictures once in a while. Here are the highlights:
From Ko Mook, the cheapest route to Ko Lanta was something called a “tour ferry” – which turned out to be a day-long snorkeling tour of the surrounding islands and reefs. It was an excellent way to check out which islands I wanted to come back to! I met Laura from Scotland on Ko Mook, and we traveled together throughout the islands, and laughed until our stomach muscles hurt on more than one occasion. I got to dive at Hin Daeng and Hin Muang, some of the best sites in the area, and saw a sea turtle! We went to Muai Thai match, and saw four-year-olds punch each other! (We also saw a guy from Sweden KO a guy from Thailand, he wasn’t very popular.) We did a day trip to Phi Phi island from Ko Lanta, and it was very depressing: mother nature is still there, being as splendid as can be, in the middle of human destruction and waste. The place smells like a latrine, it is strewn with garbage, and I was so glad we were only there for a day tour. I have since heard from other tourists if you get away from the main beach it is okay, though. The snorkeling WAS amazing, and I saw barracuda and giant pufferfish – both of which I’d only ever seen diving, not snorkeling.
Heading back down south from Ko Lanta, we somehow ended up ‘stranded’ on Ko Ngai at the pier where only one rather pricey accommodation offer existed; we managed to bargain them down to a reasonable price and bore our suffering at a swanky seaside resort with dignity, at the pool, cocktails in hand.
One of the islands was my favorite place on earth, ever. I say this with confidence: I will never find a place I love more. There are colors that only exist in nature in this one place. Walking out through the impossibly clear, shallow waters about 100m from the beach, I found the most pristine reef I have seen, extending for kilometers in either direction along the beach. This is why I will refer to it only as Ko X: I can’t bear the thought of this paradise being destroyed, overrun, like Phi Phi. It’s not an island that belongs on a blog. It still doesn’t even seem real.
If I felt let down by the Cameron Highlands, it might not entirely be the Cameron Highlands’ fault. I had just left Ko X, and I wish I’d stayed at least one more day. Also, I didn’t know what to expect. I had read the guidebook blurbs, but what is a “hill station”? Something British, I suppose, since they apparently called it that. How cool is “refreshingly cool”?
I will list some characteristics of the Cameron Highlands. Where does this remind you of?
- Around 7-9 degrees Celsius
- Rainy and grey
- Lots of farmland, lots of corn
- Activities include: U-Pick Strawberries, having tea & scones, and visiting a butterfly garden
Yes, that’s right ladies and gentlemen! You can fly across the globe to the famous Cameron Highlands, OR you can take the short route and go to Brentwood Bay, BC! The corn AND the strawberries are better in BC, by the way. Harrumph.
Luckily Taman Negara National Park lived up to expectations much better. My expectations were: Jungle Jungle Jungle. We spent three days and two nights trekking through the oldest rain forest on earth: 130 million years old. There were leeches and we slept in a cave where we’d found lots of creepy crawly bugs and a giant toad and the next night we slept in a jungle hide to watch animals at a nearby salt lick and we visited two different Orang Asli villages, the indigenous nomadic people who hunt with blow darts made with poison from trees. It was COOL. And Jungly. Some people were disappointed that we didn’t see any big animals (there are tigers and elephants and tapirs in the park) but…I was completely satisfied with my Jungle experience.
After all this time in the woods, I didn’t really feel like going to a big city, so I was surprised when I really, really liked “KL”. It is flashy and sexy with lots of money and clean, organized streets and public transportation options. It still retains lots of Asian flavor though, and there are great food options everywhere. The Aquarium in the famous Petronas twin towers was a highlight for me, with its moving walkway though a ‘living ocean’ full of sharks, rays and giant fish.
It just so happened that I was in KL for Thaipusam, a Hindu festival I had never heard of. Other travelers had planned their entire trip around being in KL for this event. Devotees carry burdens called kavadi or pierce their skin with hooks or skewers during a pilgrimage from KL to the Batu caves about 15 km outside of town, in fulfillment of a vow. They are usually in a trance state, so they maintain they can’t feel any of the things they do to themselves – and also, they don’t bleed. There are 1.3 million people gathered at the caves. I went. I saw. There are no words.
I have some pictures and video posted. If you’re the kind of person who likes to see these things, click on the photo below!
For the record, I didn’t see anyone bleeding. The red color on some people’s tongues is betel nut juice, I think. – some kind of juice I saw people putting in their mouths.
I am now in Kota Kinabalu, setting out to hike Mount Kinabalu the day after tomorrow. Wish me luck!