Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Oops... Missed my flight!

11th of October 2006 - 12th of October 2006

Short blog entry, for once. When Morgan and I came back to K.L., I had a flight at 17:00 the same day, which was no problem, even though the train was two hours late. Spent a couple of hours hanging out at the Red Palm, and jumped in a cab, early enough to get to the airport in time. But... My cab got stuck in a huge traffic jam, which I kind off should have thought of with the crazy traffic of K.L., but didn't. So when I tried to check in in the airport, the guy behind the counter just said "You are too late", smiled and looked back at his computer screen. No mercy.

Fuck, fuck, fuck. What do you do in a situation like that? Well, you call your excellent insurance company and explain the situation. Then they tell you that they are going to cover your missed flight, and book you on to the very next flight going from Kuala Lumpur to Hanoi. When it turns there's no flights going until next morning, they check you in to a 5-star hotel for the night, and your completely miserable day turns out to be a good day after all. A very good day indeed. Because you have been backpacking for eight months, you have been sleeping in bunks in rooms with seven other stinky, snoring people. And the only time you have privacy is when you go to the bathroom... If you're lucky. So once you're in your room, and you realize that you actually ARE staying in a 5-star hotel, for free, you grin from ear to ear. The smile doesn't wear of when you eat the biggest buffet you've had in your life, either. Neither does it wear of when you realize the hotel has a gym, when discover that your room has a huge bath tub - or when you get the biggest breakfast buffet in your entire life next morning. No, you leave the hotel as a happy camper, check in at the Malaysian Airlines desk and board your new flight.

Then you smile and realize that the "ridiculous amount of money" you paid for your travel insurance wasn't a total waste after all.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Welcome to the Jungle!

7th of October 2006 - 10th of October 2006

When I (finally) escaped from Singapore, I went back K.L. to hang out with Vinnie, Reena, Naim and Micha for a few days before they left Malaysia, going separate ways. Then after another pleasant stay at the Red Palm, Morgan and I made our way to Taman Negara, a huge jungle in the middle of Malaysia, and apparently, with it's about 130.000.000 years of age, the world's oldest. To get there, we went on a bus followed by a three hour boat ride on the river, in a cool boat! Those boats are wicked, they are the perfect river boat and they are even comfortable enough to sleep in. After three hours of cruising, spotting monkeys and colourful birds and sleeping, we arrived in Kuala Tahan, a little town in the middle of the jungle. There was no doubt we had come to a pretty special place, with most houses etc. right by the river - and as you can see, restaurants and cafes floating on the river itself.

On our first night, we went on a night safari in, or rather on a four-wheel drive, as we were sitting on the roof :) First animals we managed to spot were a couple of birds followed by a snake. Then for a while, we didn't see a whole lot, but I didn't mind - I had plenty of fun sitting on the roof, dodging the palm branches and listening to all the noises you hear in the jungle at night. Suddenly, our guide spotted something sneaking around in the high grass - a leopard cat! Unfortunately, it was way to dark to take photos of it, but I assure you it was beautiful :) It looked just like a leopard (or a cheetah), except it was only the size of a big house cat. On the way home, we saw a really funny animal crawling on the aerial cables - a Slow Loris! Hard to describe it, but it is sort off a cross between a squirrel and a monkey, except it moves very slowly - as you can see on the video. Pretty cool. Oh yeah... At night I saw some kind of insect (looked like a fly) which was about the size of a tennis ball (both in width, height and length)!

Next day, it was time for a lot more jungle exploring. We had signed up for a two-day overnight jungle hike, with two guys from the UK, Billy and Andy. First thing we did was take a boat across the river to one of the major attractions in Taman Negara - the canopy walkway! These canopies are suspended about 40 metres above the ground, which gives you an excellent bird's eye view of the jungle. We also had a great laugh rocking it from side to side :)

Next up was a boat ride for a couple of hours to the place the hike itself started from. It was a beautiful ride - the jungle is spectacular. After that, we started walking, while Cha, our guide, showed us stuff on the way - e.g. poisonous trees. Though it was f*cking hot and humid, and we had to climb over a lot of roots etc., I really enjoyed being out on an adventure again... and getting a bit of exercise. And as our two group mates, Billy and Andy both were really nice guys, we were all having a good time... despite all the leeches. It got even better when we got to a big cave and climbed inside the rather creepy place to say hi to the thousands of bats who lived there. As the flew around us, flapping their wings all over the place, I kind of felt like Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins when he enters the cave underneath his house and is completely surrounded by bats... But that's just me being a total nerd. Anyway, after another couple of hours of hiking, we arrived at our 5-star luxury accommodation. It was without doubt the biggest room I've ever slept in :) We did have to share it with a bunch of other guys though... A few bats and and the biggest bloody rats I've seen in my life - size of a small rabbit, about 40 cm long including the tail (plus an elephant). But that's okay - gotta make room for everyone :o) It was pure homely comfort at night when we sat around the fire singing kumbaya. Couple of times when I went outside to do a wee-wee, I heard some spooky sneaking noises, sounded like a human sneaking around or something. After hearing it a couple of times, I told the others, and Morgan admitted she had heard it as well, but didn't want to tell us because we would probably just think she was imagining stuff. We never found out what it was, leopard, tiger, monkey, who knows... Spooky! Nevertheless, I slept like a little baby at night, on my mat in the open cave...

Next morning, after a bit of monkey-spotting outside, breakfast and packing our stuff, we headed off again. Still a very enjoyable hike - huge trees with roots wider than a car, dense growth where you had to cut your way though and high tech bridges across the streams. Not surprisingly, the dense vegetation prevented us from spotting elephants, tigers and leopards (they are all there), but we did manage to find both elephant footprints and elephant poo-poo! Lucky us! Coming across such a magnificent treasure like elephant droppings was a big moment in my life... It was as if, all of a sudden, my whole life made sense and I no longer had to search for the purpose of human existence on earth... or something. No, mum, we did not eat the funny little colourful mushrooms in the jungle. Morgan turned out to be the new Steve Irwin - she managed to spot both a dead Tarantula and a Leaf Frog. Eventually, after banging my head on a massive tree hunk, we made our way back to the river, near some old deserted bungalows - one of them completely smashed up by a crazy elephant. This bridge wasn't built for to carry elephants either. Anyway, after a boat splashing boat ride, we were back in civilization.

Billy and Andy left early next morning, whereas Morgan and I had an extra day, since we had decided to jump on the night train. We spent the day going on a short walking tour, drinking Milo at the cafes and visiting an Aboriginal Village! Very interesting. Other than learning about their life and culture, we learned how to fire a blowpipe and how to start a fire from scratch. Wicked! Starting the fire from scratch was actually surprisingly easy, once you had the right stuff - e.g. a special type of dry wood, a string plaited of some kind of palm leaves etc. What wasn't that easy was hitting the god damn target with the blowpipe :O) After about twenty tries, I (and resting the blowpipe on a stump, ehrem) managed to do it though. I was surprised how far you can actually shoot the darts with the blowpipe...! Quality hand craft, the 2 metre bamboo weapon.

Taman Negara is definitely something you just can't miss out on if you're in Malaysia - it is such a special thing, experiencing a proper big jungle, the wildlife, all the funny noises coming from the trees and the beautiful scenery. It was quite simply tremendous...

After a horrible minibus journey, a couple of hours waiting in some city, and a even more horrible train ride (the train was absolutely fine, but some poor guy was throwing up ALL NIGHT in one of the bunks next to ours, which did disturb our sleep a little bit), we were back in K.L.!

Next stop: Hanoi, Vietnam.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


2nd of October 2006 - 3rd of October 2006

When I left the wonderful Perhentians, I hadn't really made up my mind about where to go next. Not even on the day I was supposed to leave the island. All I knew was that I was going to try the jungle train, and probably go to either the Taman Negara jungle or back to K.L. But then I met a polish couple outside the reception, who were going to Singapore. Turned out it was only about a 14 hour train ride to Singapore, not that much longer than K.L., especially not on a night train. So I spontaneously decided to go to Singapore and check it out. When I left the island, a huge storm was on it's way causing massive waves. The boat ride back to the mainland was the most bumpy (and in some ways, scary) I have ever tried on water - took us one hour and five minutes go get back on the mainland, though it normally only takes about 45 minutes. But we survived :) Back on the mainland, the polish couple i was walking together with had some transportation to the train station, which was about an hour away, sorted out. Or rather, it was meant to be sorted out. The guys at their travel agency didn't speak a lot of English, and it was all very confusing. Eventually, a very nice married Muslim couple took us in their two private cars to an office about 20 minutes our of town. Sitting in the back by myself, I wondered why the hell I decided to go with the polish people instead of just finding my own way to the train station, felt kind of bad for wasting these people's time, but they didn't seem to mind at all. Anyway, when we got to the office, a very nice lady sorted us out with a minibus for a very small amount of money, which took us to the train station, though loads of funny little farmer villages, very interesting actually :) At the train station, only a couple of kilometres from the Thai border, we bought ourselves tickets to the train. Sadly all the sleepers were taken, but we got tickets for normal seats, for a dirt cheap price as well (I love Malaysia).

Next morning, after a pretty crappy sleep on a train seat, I woke up at the border between Malaysia and Singapore. After going through customs and immigration and a short train ride, we were in the center of Singapore. We had quite a bit of trouble finding the way to the hostel we wanted to stay at, especially because of the polish couple who were arguing constantly about which direction to go (I'm never gonna get married :-P). Even though I was a bit frustrated that I couldn't find my way around, I was quite cheerful, because loads of people on the street randomly asked us if we needed help. Singaporeans seems to be really nice people :) I did have problems though, as none of the ATM's i walked by would take my card. As I had no Singapore dollars, no US dollars, travellers checks or anything, I was kinda f*cked. When the people at the ticket counter for the underground weren't willing to help me out, I decided to go to a bank to see if I had any luck there, so I left the polish couple behind and went back up on the street. After waiting for ONE HOUR in the bank, it was finally my turn. Turned out it was a complete waste of time - all the incompetent lady behind the desk was able to say was "try again". Well, thank you very much... Grrrr!

Then I had a bright idea. Went to a money exchanger, and exchanged 10 Ringgit I had found in my pocket, which gave me the enormous sum of four dollars, which was enough to buy a ticket for the underground to Little India, the area where my hostel was. After having my bags inspected (Singapore have very high safety precautions because of some bombings), I went downstairs to jump on the train. Funny enough, The underground looked exactly like the one we have in Copenhagen. When I got of in Little India and found my hostel, I had to find a way to get some money, to be able to pay for my hostel and get something to eat. Therefore I decided to call the Danish credit card service. Had one problem though - I had absolutely no money to buy a phone card. Luckily, a very nice Indian guy lent me his phone card so I could get a hold of PBS, the firm who deals with all Danish card transactions. Turned out that every single Danish card, debit card, credit card, Visa, Mastercard, whatever, wasn't working due to technical difficulties - either in Denmark or in the rest of the world. Crap!! Explained my situation, and they made a temporary solution so I could get about 200 dollars out of my Visa card. To do this, I had to ask my receptionist to call the local Visa authorities, which I did, but they didn't seem to be able to work out at all. Craaaaaaaaap. Therefore I went to the nearest bank, who managed to get $200 dollars of my account. Success! I actually only asked for a hundred, but I didn't mind. I was just relieved that I finally had money in my pocket, so I could get something to eat.

Back at the hostel, I had a chat with some of my roommates, and we tried to find something to see and do. This is when I realized what a shit hole Singapore is - there is nothing interesting to see, really. All the sights are artificial, man-made things, like the worlds biggest man-made waterfall, a zoo etc. Pretty much all you can do in Singapore is go shopping. On top of that, it's a very expensive country - food cost about three or four times the prices I paid for the same in Malaysia. I had already decided to go back to Malaysia the next day.

We did find something to do though. Quite a bunch of people from the hostel went on a night safari in a park connected to Singapore Zoo. Compared to other zoos, animal parks etc. I've been to, this was actually quite good. We went on a tram ride though the park, with a female guide who sounded just like Count Dracula, according to Morgan, a Canadian girl from my room. No kidding. The park had some quite cool animals, among them flying foxes in a big inclosure you could walk though. At first we weren't able to spot any of them, until one of them zoomed right past us and hit me and the Indian guy :-D Quite cool. Other than that, they had all sorts of big cats, hyenas, bears etc. etc. I'm still not very fond of zoos though - despite this park being quite spacious, I still saw some animals who really behaved like living in captivity had drove them nuts - e.g. one of the hyenas which kept walking around in a circle for at least 20 minutes. Sad :(

Next morning, I went to the big and famous Sim Lim Square shopping mall, which is meant to be one of the cheapest places in the world to buy electronics. I didn't find it to be that cheap though, compared to some of the places back in K.L. Neither did it have the same big range of products. Enough - time to leave. Just like me and pretty much everyone else, Morgan, the Canadian girl had decided to leave as well. Since she was going to K.L. like I was, we booked ourselves on the same bus. Morgan turned out to be the highlight of my trip to Singapore. After a couple of hours of casual chit chat, I found out she was a huge Top Gear fan like myself. So we spent the next couple of hours on the bus watching Top Gear on my laptop, laughing our asses of, probably annoying all the other passengers... Wicked!

Anyway - Singapore is definitely just a big city meant for businessmen and other people wearing suits. Though I usually have a very positive attitude towards the places I visit, and always try to make the best of it, it is very possibly the most boring place I have ever been to.

Another day in Paradise...

26st of September - 1st of October 2006

Variety is the spice of life. Therefore I had decided to leave the big, noisy and busy city of Kuala Lumpur in favour of the very quiet, laid-back and simple Perhentian Islands. And as we all know, great minds think alike, so the Fantastic Four (Vinnie, Naim, Micha and Reena) we doing the same thing. Moreover, Jim was already there as he left a day earlier. Good stuff.

All five of us were completely blown away when we saw our night bus that should take us from K.L. to the Perhentians. Despite the price of RM30 (48 DKK/10 AUD), it was the nicest bus we had ever seen, with it's huge, wide leather seats. Didn't manage to sleep a whole lot on the bus though, because of the bumpy roads and because we reached our destination, Kuala Besut, at five in the morning. But what sucks even more is that I forgot my beloved Sennheiser headphones on the bus, plus a very gripping Dan Brown book (Digital Fortress). Damn it $#@#£$*#!!!! Anyway, after two hours of waiting at the jetty we jumped in a boat that took us to Perhentian Kecil (direct translation: Small Perhentian, the smaller of the two Islands. Guess what the other island is called? Yes, Big Island. They must have spent years making those names up). It was a beautiful morning to watch the sunrise. If any of us were feeling sleepy still, this was definitely cured by the bumpy speedboat ride! We had a huge laugh sitting in the front, struggling not to fall of (video), until the guy driving the boat told us to get our asses back on our seats. Guess he was tired of saving tourists from drowning :O) Never mind, this made it a bit easier for us to enjoy the stunning scenery.

As we approached the island, we were about to hit the coral reef, so we had to transfer to a smaller boat which took us to the beach. We checked in at Suria Resort in Coral Bay, and got some quite nice rooms that had baloneys with awesome views! After having a massive breakfast with eggs, fruit, french toast, cereal etc. we did what we had all been waiting for... We went to the beach! Brilliant... I got a bit sunburned though, as I was hanging out on a jetty for too long talking to some Canadians. After lunch we went for a ten minute walk though the jungle to Long Beach on the other side, the more crowded part of the island, to find Jim who was staying here somewhere. When we were about to ask for him at the reception at his resort, we suddenly saw something move. At first, I thought it looked like a turtle because of it's huge back, but it was a massive monitor lizard! It was at least 2 metres long. Holy crap. No luck finding Jim at his resort, but we eventually found him by playing Vin's famous bollocks game (which quite simply means yelling a word, in this case Jim's name, louder and louder for each time you say it) :O) After a few drinks on Long Beach, we all walked back to Coral Bay though the jungle. Later on at night, we sat on our balcony and watched a huge thunderstorm, probably the biggest I've ever seen (which makes sense, since I've never been this close to the Equator before)! It was amazing... I could swear that I both took photos and videotaped it, but both seem to have disappeared :(

Next day it was time for some scuba diving. I had decided to do two adventure dives, which would certify me as an advanced diver, rather than an adventure diver. Other than the compulsory navigation dive, I decided to do a wreck dive as the other adventure dive, since there's a sunken sugar transport near the island. I spent the first couple of minutes in the water getting used to breathe though a regulator again, and then we started our little adventure. It was very different from the dives I did in Australia. Obviously because it was at a wreck, but the aquatic life was quite different as well. Saw quite a few Lion Fish (spiky poisonous bastards), about one billion Barracudas and more. But the coolest thing was probably just the fact that I was swimming around a shipwreck! The highlight of the dive was when swam into an air pocket underneath the boat, where we could talk to each other and all... Awesome!! The visibility was all right most of the dive, except for a couple of minutes where it was about a metre. Couldn't even see my own fins :-D Next day I did my navigation dive, which was a lot easier than I thought. My sense of direction sucks, and it sucks even more under water, but it was pretty straightforward :) So I am now an advanced diver... Wohoo!

The following day I did another two dives - first one at a quite nice coral garden. But obviously, I forgot to bring my brand-new underwater housing :-S Eeeeeeeidiot. Finally got myself one at a cheap price in K.L., but it's kind of hard to take photo's when you leave the camera and housing at your hotel... Anyway, I brought it for the next dive! It was a really good dive, as we saw loads of special stuff, most remarkable Stingrays, actually about seven or eight of them! Some of them were missing their tails for some reason, like the one on the picture. Really weird. And as you can see, we saw quite a few Nemos (aka Clown Anemonefish) as well. But there you go, my first underwater photos. I'm not super pleased with them, but I guess everything comes with practice :)

The brits Jim left a couple of days earlier than I did. I stayed a bit longer, as I did my diving and generally loved staying on the Perhentians :) It has a true island atmosphere, where no one rushes, everyone is open-minded and relaxed, enjoying life...

What a great place. Guess life isn't too bad after all :)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

I'm in Asia!

21st - 26th of September 2006

I did it. I actually left Australia and went to Asia! After an extremely long flight, sitting in the middle seat, squashed by a big fat Bosnian dude with absolutely no manners, I set foot in Malaysia. First thing I thought when I got out of the plane was "Holy... This is a big airport", and truly, Kuala Lumpur airport is absolutely HUGE. It has a train inside to transfer people from one terminal to another etc. Anyway, after a couple of kilometers, going though customs, immigration etc. I found a cab, a big clumsy, but luxurious Ssangyong, with a very polite driver called me sir etc. After a good hour worth of driving on huge five lane roads, getting lost even though they claimed to know where my hostel was, I was finally at the Red Palm hostel, a place a girl in New Zealand recommended me ages ago :) The hostel turned out to be just as nice as she said it was, so that was all good. Went one block down the road and grabbed some food and a CARLSBERG from a sidewalk cafe... Haven't had one of those in eight months! Ate some food I had no idea what was, relaxed for a few hours and went to bed. Zzzzz.

Next day I went for a walk in K.L. so see what's what. My mission was to find the Masid Jamek mosque, which was easier said than done when you've never experienced the traffic in K.L. before! Coming from very pedestrian friendly Sydney, I found it absolutely INSANE - scooters everywhere, driving in all directions, crossing the traffic lights no matter what color is is etc. - and the car drivers, especially the cabbies, were all psycho axe murderers behind the wheel as well. It was pretty stressful, I actually went completely nuts and started to hate the world ;-) But after a (dirt cheap) ice cream from 7-11 I was all good again. Didn't manage to find the mosque, but I found some other cool buildings with domes.

Pretty much no matter where I was, I could always spot the KL Tower, so I decided to check it out. Between all the noisy cars I actually managed to spot some good scenery on the way. After a walk up the hill, I reached the bottom part of the tower, bought a ticket and went into the ear-popping elevator. The view from the top was quite good, but as you can see on the picture, it is quite hazy (most experts claim the haze is caused by forests getting burned in Indonesia) - but it still gave you a good opportunity for a bird's eye view of the modern city of K.L. They also had some really good headsets which gave you a proper introduction to all the sights in Kuala Lumpur. Except for the haze, the only annoyance I had at the viewing deck was a massive tourgroup who looked like a bunch of boy/girl scouts, as they all wore the same type of shirt :)

When I had solid ground under my feet again I went for a walk in the little forest next to the tower. I actually went on the walk because I wanted to see some monkeys, but I didn't manage to spot one, but they were definitely there, making funny noises and shaking the trees. For a forest in the middle of a big city, it was quite beautiful. After a while I started getting bit to sh*t my mozzies, so I had to flee :O) Got lost on the way back to Red Palm, but eventually I found it. Spent the rest of the day relaxing and hanging out at the hostel. Had a good chat about diving with Remee, a dive instructor from Switzerland, met a few new people, four brits and an American guy who arrived at night.

Next day, I went for a walk with Reena Naim, Micha and Vinnie, the four brits who arrived the night before. It was raining though... or rather, it was pouring! But we were up for an adventure, so we grabbed a couple of umbrellas and went outside! We were meant to go to Chinatown for lunch, but while we were on our way, Naim had a phone call from a friend who told us Chinatown had pretty much shut down because it was flooded. We had tremendous fun though, we got absolutely SPLASHED by a few cars, since the road was covered in about 200 mm of rain, everywhere the water level was at least angle high. If you think I'm joking, have a look at the video in the gallery. Anyway, we ended up having lunch next door to our hostel :O) This was the first time where we tried the Malaysian way of making fresh juice - they heat it up/boil it and fills it with ice cubes, which results in a really funny sudden change from warm to cold. Pretty special. The selection of food and drinks in Malaysia is awesome.

In the evening, we went to the flash and fancy part of town to see the Petronas Twin Towers by night! Holy... The Petronas is without doubt the most amazing piece of architecture I have ever seen in my life. Such a stunning sight, the completely lit 452 metre tall pair of towers - wow. We had dinner in a little cafe on the way back to our hostel, had several dishes each, ordered extra drinks... And pissed ourselves laughing when we saw the bill. It was about RM40 (64 DKK/9 AUD) for the four of us... Asia is great, huh?

Speaking of massive buildings, K.L. has some ENORMOUS shopping centres! We are talking 10-15 or more floors completely packed with shops. The brits, Jim and I went to one of the biggest ones, Time Square. The reason we went there was not because we wanted to go to any of the shops, but because we wanted to check out an attraction inside the shopping centre... And indoor fun park! We expected this to be a silly little kiddie playground or so, but we were completely surprised when we saw the place. The roller coaster we came for a ride was a lot bigger than expected as well - in fact, it had two loops and two corkscrews!! Absolutely crazy for something that's placed inside a shopping centre! We went for a couple of other rides and the whole visit was a huge laugh :-D Except the last ride we did... The DNA Mixer. All of us, except for the Vinnie (bastard), felt sick afterwards, especially me, so I was sitting on the floor all by my self looking pale for about half an hour before I was able to walk properly again :O) I didn't bring my camera, but I'll get Vinnie to send me the photo's so I can put them on the blog.

Another great sight in Kuala Lumpur is the majestic Batu Caves. The big 272-step staircase next to the huge Buddha takes you to some amazing big limestone caves. I've got to admit though, being a big animal lover (no... not like that, lol), my attention was caught by all the monkeys at the Batu Caves! They were so funny - jumping around doing the funniest stuff - e.g. eating stolen bread (they actually tear it out of peoples hands) or drinking Coke! I couldn't believe my own eyes when I saw the Coke-drinking monkey (video). They are amazing little creatures... One of them even had a baby! Very cute. Batu Caves was a great little spot, it had three of the things I look for when I travel, all at the same time (just like Kinder Egg!) - amazing nature (the caves), wildlife (the monkeys) and finally a bit of culture, as the last cave had a a Hindu shrine in it!

Other than that, I just spent my days in K.L. hanging out with the brits and Jim. It's quite funny to hang out with them as, being white, because Vinnie and Reena are originally from India, Naim and Micha from Bangladesh and Jim's Chinese - which makes us look like a group of locals taking some weird white dude (me) for a tour round K.L. :O) One night in Chinatown, Jim and I had fun trying to bargain the price on the same stuff - Jim got a lot better price as he speaks Chineese :O) I also spent a bit of of time hanging out with Remee, the dive instructor, and we went to Mid Valley, the biggest shopping mall in South East Asia Anyway, as it had a dive shop! Found myself some fins for my upcoming dives, for a decent price! Wee. But... enough said about K.L. - it's been quite fun, this city has a lot to offer... And the Red Palm is the coziest place I've ever stayed! Next stop is the Perhentian Islands, where all six of us (Jim, the brits and me) are going!

I've definitely had a good start in Asia so far.