Thursday, April 17, 2008

In touch with nature in Malaysia

Airasia, the easyjet of asia, started flying from china to Malaysia recently, just in time for a conference there. Since I'd worked the whole of the previous 3 day weekend, i took a few days off b4 and after the conference and found myself arriving at Kuala Lumpur (KL) at 4am wondering what to do.

Several hours later, after some last minute shopping for more sunglasses and sandals (always get broken somehow) and some yummy Indian food, the bus finally left for the Cameron Highlands, an area in the mountainous jungle that is cool, wet, green and very fresh. It was developed by the British colonialists as a retreat with plenty of hiking paths -along with the left-hand drive, widely spoken English and good infrastructure, just 1 of the (nicely) positive legacies the British have left here.

1 legacy the British did not leave behind is that of good maps. As with everywhere else in Asia i've been to, 'hiking' maps are inaccurate, not to scale and useless. This meant I had to run the back 3km of a hill path, partly bare-footed because my sandles were not tight enough to my feet, and hitch back to make my bus -in the end with 15 min to spare but it was close and some lucky guess work on paths was needed!

Earlier that morning, I'd joined a half day trip to the jungle and to the tea plantations (another British legacy) with a fantastic guide showing us which plant leaves can be used for what medicines, which smell good etc. It was a fantastic trip... combined with the afternoon hike/dash the 22 hrs spent in the Cameron Highlands (inc. 7 hrs sleeping) were well worth the combined 11 hrs bus ride there and back.

Malaysia has fantastic food -Indian, Chinese and Malay with wonderful flavours in the curries, a wide selection of fish, meats and vegetables and, most importantly, excellent mango shakes, which is always the highlight of coming to SE Asia.

KL is a very pleasant city which was only really developed in the last hundred or so years and has an interesting mix of Islamic style buildings, modern skyscrapers and more plain buildings. Overall it is a great city, with decent transport and good night life too.

What is most striking about KL is the mix of Malaysians of Indian descent, Chinese descent and Muslims as well as native Malays. On the streets there are women if full habib (if this is the right term), traditional dresses or those just wearing colourful head scarves. Then there are plenty of Indians and non Muslims, the latter likely to be seen in more modern clothing. All of them, of course, spend more time on their mobile phones than they do breathing of course... I can barely imagine what SE Asian culture was like before the mobile!

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