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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Batu Caves, Cameron Highlands and Penang

Batu Caves and Lord Murugan

Cathedral Cave
One of the major Hindu Shrines outside India is just on the northern outskirts of KL. And Shannon wanted to take us there. There are 272 steps to reach the ‘Cathedral Cave’. In addition there is a statue of  Lord Murugan, the Hindu god of war and victory adjacent to the steps. It is quite an imposing sight to see, but is also a major tourist attraction which does detract from its pilgrimage purpose. Every year in late January there is a pilgrimage here and up to 300,000 Hindu’s will descend on this place. Fortunately for us, it was a quiet day when we attended.

Sandra and Shannon at the Caves

Independence Day
No, not the first or fourth of July, it’s just we have got wheels now to tour Malaysia without calling on Shannon, or a Tuk Tuk or Teksi, to take us somewhere. We head out Sunday to Cameron highlands, an area NE of KL ( approx.. 250 kms) at an elevation of 5000 ft. where Jim Thompson, a Brit, was instrumental in introducing tea production there. The road in (Hwy 59) is likely the twistiest road I have ever driven in a car, perhaps even a bike, and I’m driving it on the left side of the road in a right hand drive vehicle, a Nissan Almera.
Almera can you say gutless

This vehicle is gutless, but new with only 6300 kms on it. At day’s end, it has 450 kms more and it worked for every one of them. Shortly after heading out of town we spot a vehicle which has gone off the road, done a head on with a massive tree, and it caught fire and burnt both the car and tree, in the last while. I think well maybe I might take a pic and send it to the kids to joke about what happened to the ‘first’ car, but then I think it would be Bad Karma. And that’s big here.

The road up crosses through some serious jungle, and I take a um, break for a minute and get eaten alive with mosquitoes. Next we stop at a beautiful waterfall area
Waterfall on the way in
with tons of vehicles stopped and a number of stalls selling deep fried whatever they can get their hands on, bananas, Rambutan, etc. Sandra and I both buy Rambutan for RM 1.5 each and they are delicious. As we continue up I see a very flat area in the valley that looks like freshly planted red earth fields. As we continue on we see that the fields have little wavelets on them and then I realize it is actually the referred to lake with a beautiful old English lodge overlooking it. Hmmm… not exactly Kananaskis Lake.

Higher we climb, and we begin running into the tea fields, whole mountainsides that have been tiered by hand and planted in various teas. One of the growers has a tea stand where you can buy a cup of tea, and/or purchase bulk tea. We try two, a black tea, and an orange tea, and exchange cups. 

Wow, the orange tea is unbelievably flavorful. We reach the tourist centres of the highlands which are the Malaysian equivalents to our
Brown Lake
 Banff and we check the time. Oh Oh… we are starting to run late, due to sightseeing but mainly this unbelievable twisty road, and slow gutless drivers/cars on it.
I do my impression of Stirling Moss, (picked since this area has British influence), and head back down the mountain in the direction of Ipoh where we get access to the Expressway to Butterworth/ Penang island. 

Tea Fields

Unfortunately along the way we are slowed by a fatal accident involving a small scooter driver. If you see how they operate here, they take that risk every minute of every day. No other vehicle was involved. We also note that several of the lorries (trucks) have armed escorts. Sandra notices this and comments to me. It seems odd but then once we are in Georgetown we get the morning paper and read this article.
Lorry Story, Yikes!
Hmmm…. Not as safe as in KL.

As we join the expressway north the area is gorgeous in scenery with mountains very similar in shape to the Phi Phi islands, but we drop seeing them from time to time as huge downpours of rain sweep though as we race north. At each overpass now we see huge collections of scooter drivers waiting out this latest rain, and I mean likely 75-100 under every underpass.
We finally cross over the toll bridge onto Pulau Penang, (Pulau meaning island) and the town of Georgetown. Our final destination here is the Trader’s hotel, an amazing 5 star hotel close to our walking tour, and at very reasonable rates. We booked the Trader’s club floor which includes both breakfast and a hosted evening wine and appetizers event each evening. Let’s be careful now… this doesn’t fit our motorcycle travel lifestyle. 450 kms later we enjoy some excellent red wine and great company with some Swiss people and a journalist who has some very interesting insight into modern day Russia and Putin.

Touring Penang
Rested, we head out in the 33C temperatures armed with our Google Nexus 7, and a walking tour of the religious groups that populate this region.
Yap Temple
Yap Kongsi

Spectacular Art
Coupled with several other highlights Sandra identified, Kek Lok Si temple  and Kuan Yin statue and the Mansion we saw in downtown Georgetown made it a full tour day.
Acheen Muslim Temple
Kapitan Keling Mosque
St George's Anglican

Kuan Yin Statue

Then we leveraged our stay at the Trader’s Hotel, part of the Shangri-La chain, and took a shuttle bus to their Golden Sands Resort and spent a day at the beach, swimming, and having lunch by the pool. Wow are we spoiled.

Shangri-La Hotel Sandra in Foregrd.


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