Not The Target Tourist

Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

After being sick for a week in Penang, we needed some time to chill. We wanted to stop hiding under the humming motors of air conditioning. We wanted to go someplace cool. 

When I think about Malaysia, I don’t think of “Bashful,” or any of the other six dwarfs.

When I think about Malaysia, I don’t think of “Bashful,” or any of the other six dwarfs.

Looking through the tour books, blogs, and Trip Advisor, we found mixed reviews and recommendations for visiting Cameron Highlands, Malaysia. 

Our homework wasn't promising us much, but we had the time and hey, we were in Malaysia. What's not to like?  It is listed as a top thing to do in Malaysia, and it wasn’t 90 degrees with 90 percent humidity.

So we booked a room, and got on a bus.

The hills above the coastal urban areas are known for strawberry farms, tea plantations, agriculture, and a mild, comfortable climate. 

We committed to our Airbnb with only a little information about the area. The room had a small kitchen, a nice sitting area and a balcony overlooking a berry farm. It was close to shops and restaurants, and it would be good for our last two days in Malaysia. 

 

When we got there, we found the area very developed. The Butterfly Farm, the Cactus garden, the Bee Farm, the Strawberry Farm, tea plantation tours, the "Time Machine Museum" and other human-constructed attractions have overshadowed the natural beauty of the high jungle. I'm really not interested in spending time and money at those attractions.  

From our room, we had a view overlooking the famous Cameron Highlands’ strawberry farms.

From our room, we had a view overlooking the famous Cameron Highlands’ strawberry farms.

Rows of new corn in the Cameron Highlands.

Rows of new corn in the Cameron Highlands.

We were disappointed to find no trails and very few ways to access natural areas. The Highlands is clearly catering to the weekend tourist who is willing to pay a few dollars to be entertained for a few hours.  I also expect that numerous large bus tours stop at the shops and tourist attractions. 

Not to be deterred from seeing something 'real,' we hired a guide from Eco Tours Cameron for the day to take us out to see the Highlands' jungle. Keith was very excited about the opportunity to see more birds, so he hired a guide for a half day birding tour. 

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The guide picked us up before dawn and took us to a city park, not far from the local High School. There we were able to hike a trail through a section of the rare remaining jungle. We walked along a path that followed a small stream, past campsites, and picnic areas. It was quiet, and I like taking hikes in new places.  We found no mention of this place in our pre-trip homework. 

While on the trail, our guide would call out "there's a 'so-and-so' bird" and point at a tree or shrub.  Keith would find it in his binoculars and repeat the bird's name with much satisfaction.  

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Next Keith would call out  "there's a 'so-and-so' bird" and point at a tree or shrub. They were having a great time taking turns finding little peeps hidden in the jungle. 

I had fun just being there, outside, on a trail, surrounded by exotic native vegetation, and not sweating.  That's what I wanted to do. 

We hiked along a small jungle stream and listened to the noises of the natural landscape.

We hiked along a small jungle stream and listened to the noises of the natural landscape.

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Aside from the day with the guide, we didn't find much appealing about Cameron Highlands. We had a tough time finding food, and what we finally selected to eat was not good.  In fact, our two meals were the worst of our entire trip to Asia. 

I like pine cones.

I like pine cones.

I'm sorry that they chose development and tourist attractions rather than taking advantage of the area's natural beauty and wild spaces.  I wouldn't call it ecotourism or sustainable tourism. 

I'm not sure what I would call it; maybe "Tourist Tourism"? I could call it "something for somebody else, not me." 

How many people travel to buy keychains and cactus plants?

Not this wanderer. I already have a keychain. 

Anyone need a strawberry key chain?

Anyone need a strawberry key chain?

I’m glad I saw the Cameron Highlands, but it isn’t on my list of favorites.

I hope their target tourist has a great time.

A “Steven King IT” clown in the hotel lobby.

A “Steven King IT” clown in the hotel lobby.

Double Whammy

Chinese New Year In Penang, Malaysia

It all started with a beautiful ferry ride to the island of Penang, Malaysia. But, things didn’t go as planned.

It all started with a beautiful ferry ride to the island of Penang, Malaysia. But, things didn’t go as planned.

Sometimes things don’t go as planned. And I don’t mean “better” than expected.

Both of us got sick. Not one at a time, so well could help the ill, but overlapping sick for Chinese New Year.

Two of us sick, each with two ailments.

We alternated between intestinal discomfort, then coughing and aching. I am weak and tired, thinking, “I am dying,” and my dear traveling partner starts in with the same routine.

Our view from our bed. Some days we didn’t get out of our apartment.

Our view from our bed. Some days we didn’t get out of our apartment.

I missed seeing Wonderfood and the Trick Art Museum!

I missed seeing Wonderfood and the Trick Art Museum!

Being sick sucks. But getting sick while traveling really double sucks. It’s a double whammy.

When I wasn’t sleeping, I took a look at the pile of tourist brochures in our Airbnb. Penang is set-up and ready to collect every available tourist dollar brought to the island. I found the number of tourist attractions staggering.

Here are some of the places I didn’t visit while I was sick: The Asia Camera Museum, the Ghost Museum, the Ibox Glass Museum, the Made In Penang Interactive Museum, the Penang 3D Trick Art Museum, the 3-D Floressent Art Museum, the Upside Down Museum, the PG Gold Museum, The Phantamania Illusion Castle, the Sun Yat-sen Museum, the Live Magic Show, the Penang Time Tunnel History Museum, the Owl Museum, the Zombie Museum, the Toy Museum and The Lost World of Tambun Theme Park Hotel and Spa.

Look across the tree canopy.

Look across the tree canopy.

And that doesn’t include any of the shopping and dining locations I missed!

On one day between my feeling ‘better’ and Keith getting miserably sick, we did get to visit The Habitat.

We stood in line for one hour before we got on the funicular to the top of Penang Hill.

At the top, it is like a County Fair. Food vendors, balloon vendors, a place to take a photo of you and your sweetie under a plastic flower heart, clowns with balloons, and that guy that draws funny cartoon characters that are supposed to look like you. Not my type of place.

But after we leave the circus, there is the rich second growth jungle, the giant black squirrels, the monkeys, well paved meandering trails, and walks that take you above the forest canopy.

The canopy walkway at the top of Penang Hill, The Habitat.

The canopy walkway at the top of Penang Hill, The Habitat.

Look up! Wow. That’s tall.

Look up! Wow. That’s tall.

Look down. (Did I mention that I like ferns? )

Look down. (Did I mention that I like ferns? )

The experience is both big and small. Trees tower overhead, and lizards scurry away. Views stretch to the ocean, and running water trickles under nearby foliage.

Just when I thought I was getting better, Keith got miserably sick. While my sick as a dog traveling partner slept, I had a chance to visit the Heritage Precinct of Georgetown’s New Year Celebration.

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Four large city blocks were closed to traffic, and most of the historic family temples were open to the public.

There was the Heaven Region, the Earth Region, The Human Region, and the Harmony Region. Each with cultural exhibitions by Clan Houses. Stage names included the Stage of Cantonese, the Stage of Hainan, the Stage of Wushu, the Stage of Hokken Opera, and the Stage of Loyalty and Ambiguity just to name a few of the interesting titles.

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Seventeen stages of activities, each one with three or more performances every hour from 4:00 till midnight. Despite the numerous opportunities, I was disappointed that I missed all Lion Dance performances.

The streets were packed with families eagerly supporting their performers. I saw grannies dancing, traditional musical instrument performances, and I was amazed when six young children dressed in their Sunday best tried to remember their dance moves to Pit Bull’s “Fireball.” They were so cute! They had no idea what that song is about.

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I saw a Diabolo performance by young men on the Stage of Thanksgiving, and on another stage, I watched what had to be a High School Musical Theatrical song and dance complete with teenage boy meets girl angst. There were traditional musicians, a harmonica player or two, several youthful singers, and some things I just didn’t understand at all.

This had to be “High School Musical” for the Year of the Pig.

This had to be “High School Musical” for the Year of the Pig.

My favorites were the groups of ‘mature’ women all dressed in matching outfits doing dances as best as they could remember. Their supporters cheered them on from the crowd below.

Now appearing on Stage 3… and on the sidelines “I don’t think that is appropriate.”

Now appearing on Stage 3… and on the sidelines “I don’t think that is appropriate.”

Games for the kids.

Games for the kids.

One of the most prominent activities, by far, was having your photo taken, or taking a selfie. First, there is the selfie alone, then with friends, next serious, and lastly a silly selfie.

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The next day, another call to prayer echoes across the city and another shop keeper sets off fireworks to clear away any evil spirits. I fell asleep after lunch, and slowly I wake to again watch the pigeons on the rooftop below.

I was at the Chinese New Year Celebration for only a few hours, but I felt like I was partying all night long.

Seven nights in Penang, and I leave wishing I visited more than two activities. It was a comfortable place to be sick, but given a choice, I would opt out of getting sick.

My New Year’s resolution for the Year of the Pig is: Don’t get sick while traveling.

Anyway, that’s my plan.

Happy New Year.

Happy New Year.

Leave Me the Birds and the Bees - Please!

Pangkor Island, Malaysia

When I am on walkabout, I try hard to not make comparisons. “Be in the moment,” I tell myself.  Why spend time, money, and effort to be in one place, and mentally be someplace else? 

But sometimes I can’t help myself. 

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We were walking along a palm studded white sand beach on Pangkor Island, Malaysia, and I found myself singing an old Joni Mitchell song.  

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They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot spot.

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone?
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot.

It took a lot of effort for my skilled and knowledgeable travel partner and me to get to Pangkor Island, Malaysia. This trip to a popular Malaysian destination beach, reminded me why I live in clean and green Washington State.

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Our journey started at Fraiser’s Hill with an hour and a half taxi ride from hell, then we jumped a commuter train, a second metro train, a six-hour bus ride, an overnight stay (because we missed the last boat of the day), a ferry the next morning, and another short taxi ride, all to get to Vikri Resort on the West side of Pangkor Island, Malaysia. 

We learned two lessons, 1) Google maps doesn’t know everything, and 2) more than five transfers in a day is taking a big risk that you are going to miss a connection.

Six different public transportation modes plus a walk or two, is too much luck for one day, even for these skilled wanderers

 

We missed the first night of our reservation, but when we made it to Vikri Beach Resort, we were greeted by the friendly host and the resort was cute. It looked like fun. The brochure boasts “Vikri Beach Resort is a feel at home style, full-service beachfront resort best known for its exceptional personalized service.”

That is exactly what we found. We also saw hornbills, monkeys, and cute little white shells on the beach.

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We rented a scooter for two days. “Keep on the left” I would remind Keith and we made up a little song to sing. “Keep on the left,” were the only words sung to various melodies. 

On our scooter ride around the island we stopped at a beautiful new mosque over the water.

On our scooter ride around the island we stopped at a beautiful new mosque over the water.

Parts of the island were quiet and peaceful.

Parts of the island were quiet and peaceful.

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We had a beach view from our cabin room, and a tasty home cooked meal. Just a short distance away from the resort, we watched beautiful sunsets looking toward Indonesia.

Everything was very lovely. 

Walking along Vikri Beach, the water was warm but not what I would consider “clear.” The sand was rough on my bare feet. After seeing a rusty can with sharp edges, and a dead spiny urchin, I put on my shoes. I also noticed that there were no sand flies, no sand crabs, no gulls, no seaweed, and no little sandpipers running from the waves. 

Beautiful and dead.

Beautiful and dead.

There were long dead remains of muscles, and I couldn’t help but wonder about the six-inch metal pipes that came out of the ground and ran into the ocean beyond the waves. “I think those are sewer pipes,” I told my science trained traveling partner. “Now, you don’t know that.” He tried to assure me. “The only way to know is to trace it and test it.”

He was absolutely correct.

But, that did not comfort me. 

That is when I heard Joni Mitchel singing in my head. “Give me spots on my apples, but spare me the birds and the bees, please!”

It got me thinking about how hard it is to keep water clean when development encroaches into an ecosystem.

I thought, “Malaysia isn’t Washington State.”

When we visit beaches in California, Oregon, and Washington, we seldom swim, but we do look for tide pools, watch the gulls and birds grab little creatures out of the sand, and try to identify all the sea creatures we find.

Our beaches are so alive! Shellfish are everywhere, full of little sea creatures. It has been a long hard fight to keep our waterways clean.

I was singing along with Joni forty-years ago. And, we are still fighting to keep the Clean Water Act viable.

When we traversed the island, we saw numerous high-rise buildings partially constructed, appearing to be vacant or abandoned. It was if there was a title wave of new construction interrupted by economic crisis. Pangkor Resort World was not thriving. It was very quiet.

Do they know what valuable gems they have in the island’s beaches, waterways, and ecosystems?

An old sign for an unfinished resort complex.

An old sign for an unfinished resort complex.

I don’t want to be “The Upper Left Coast Traveler,” but Pangkor Island reminded just how lucky we are in the great Pacific North West. 

Leaving the island, we took a big pink taxi, a ferry, and a walk to the bus stop. After a four-hour bus ride, we took a ferry and a taxi to our next apartment in George Town, Penang, Malaysia. 

All the taxi’s on Pangkor Island are pink and yellow.

All the taxi’s on Pangkor Island are pink and yellow.

It takes a lot to get to a beach resort in Malaysia, and I’m glad we made the trek.

I hope Pangkor Island will always be worth the effort.  

“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…” 

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The Ghosts of Weekend Chills

Fraiser’s Hill, Penang Provence, Malaysia

There were very few blogs, articles, or tourist information about Fraiser’s Hill. What we did know from our homework is “It is a quiet relaxing place to take a break.”

After the busy urban experience of Kuala Lumpur, I was very happy to move upslope toward a slower, greener, more natural part of Malaysia. Fraiser’s Hill is one of Malaysia’s few pristine forest areas. It is mostly visited on weekends by Kuala Lumpur residents who want to get out of the heat.

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There was no one else on the commuter train.

When we get out, we are standing alone on the platform and my phone is showing “Grab is not available in your location.” Fraiser’s Hill is remote, 64 miles from Kuala Lumpur with no public transport except by taxi and there are no taxis to be found.

In my head, I am speaking loudly and firmly to myself, “This is the time to keep cool, be flexible, and be creative. Go with it.” I then see a human behind glass just around the corner from my initial view.

We stop for a photo on the way to Fraiser’s Hill.

We stop for a photo on the way to Fraiser’s Hill.

“Yes, Taxi. I will let you know,” and I am so thankful that many people in Asia know English as a second language. We were still one hour away from our Airbnb reservation location.

Not long after that, a black compact car, of a make I do not recognize, pulls up and someone is getting out.

“You need a taxi?” Yes, we do! My perceived problem was solved with only a little patience.

Our taxi driver speaks English and chats us up; where were we from, where were we going, how many children do we have, how old are we, do we like Malaysia?

Our new friend, Jamil is Muslim, 72 years old with two adult boys, one girl, and eight grandchildren who he likes to spoil. He works because he doesn’t like to sit still. For one-hour we rode up the winding road, through the jungle and up, up, up.

 

When we reached our destination, the Silverpark Hill Resort’s security gate, it was unusually quiet. We didn’t see any people. We didn’t see any signs of travelers, tourists, or guests. No cars in the parking lot. No lights in the windows. We had the place all to ourselves.

The whole mountain seemed empty, just us and the jungle.

The jungle view at Silver Park Hill resort.

The jungle view at Silver Park Hill resort.

Just us, the jungle, and a millipede.

Just us, the jungle, and a millipede.

Just us, the jungle, a millipede, and some monkeys.

Just us, the jungle, a millipede, and some monkeys.

No cars in the parking lot. Our room is on the top floor, left.

No cars in the parking lot. Our room is on the top floor, left.

The Tudor style buildings were part of the early colonial development of the area. We estimated that there were rooms for over 350 families, and we were in one of several building complexes.

During our visit, we walked the roads without incident, free to look for birds and enjoy the nearby jungle vegetation. In the distant jungle, we could watch great hornbills dart in and out of the tree canopy.

There was evidence on the horizon that change was coming. The land was being cleared for more palm oil plantations.

We ate one of our dinners at The Smokehouse, a historic preservation of the old colonial house. Only two other couples in the dining room. “Where is everyone?” we ask our hostess. “They come up on weekends. During the week we get ready for their arrival.” This place must be something when everyone shows up at the same time.

The view from our balcony in Silver Park Hill Resort.

The view from our balcony in Silver Park Hill Resort.

A historic silver tea set from colonial Fraiser’s Hill.

A historic silver tea set from colonial Fraiser’s Hill.

Change is visible from Fraiser’s Hill.

Change is visible from Fraiser’s Hill.

I enjoyed an old British colonial tradition, high tea, all alone overlooking the manicured gardens and the jungle beyond.

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Garden Ghost Tiger?

Garden Ghost Tiger?


But at night, things changed.

That is when the ghosts spoke to us.

The mist drifted up the canyons and the clouds settled onto Fraiser’s Hill. The wind blew and from the doors and windows there came a moaning.

oooOOOooooo. Whoooo… Ohhhhhhhhh

It could have been the ghosts of lost souls exploited by the area’s namesake, Louis James Fraser. He found rich tin deposits in the area and recruited Chinese labor to open a mine. Fraser also operated a gambling and opium den at his workers' camp, for a second time he sucked out the life and the wages paid to his employees. That must have created a few lost souls.

Or, maybe it was the ghost of Fraser who mysteriously disappeared.

Or, maybe it was the ghosts of Malaysian tigers, and other animals that were poached for profit.

But, I think it was the residual sighs of all the travelers who came up on the weekend to get away from the sweltering heat in Kuala Lumpur. The spirits of those who wanted to escape the heat. “We’re too hot!” they would moan. “We love the cool air” they would chant. “We are tired of sweating and smelling” they would cry. “This air feels so good!” “We like it here!” they would declare.

Norfolk Island pine is not a pine, but a popular jungle non-native landscape.

Norfolk Island pine is not a pine, but a popular jungle non-native landscape.

oooOOOooooo. Whoooo… Ohhhhhhhhh

Their bodies returned to the heat, but their spirits remained.

Not your traditional ghosts, but ghosts of goodness. Happy spirits breathing cool clean air, and splashing in clean water. Specters swimming in the clouds with joy.

I was able to fall sleep thinking the howling ghosts are happy and friendly.

It may have been just the wind blowing through the sliding doors and windows. But I think it was a cover for the real spirits, loving the cool clean mountains of a sweltering country, souls just wanting to chill.

Just us, the jungle, a millipede, some monkeys, many Norfolk Island pines, pigeons, hornbills, ferns, butterflies, clean air, clean water, and the spirits of weekend travelers.

Just us, the jungle, a millipede, some monkeys, many Norfolk Island pines, pigeons, hornbills, ferns, butterflies, clean air, clean water, and the spirits of weekend travelers.

When we left Fraiser’s Hill, we left behind the ghosts of weekend travelers. We took a wild taxi ride down the hill with Jamil, then two train rides, a bus ride, a second ferry ride, and a taxi ride to our next adventure on the beaches of Pangkor Island, Malaysia.

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