Monday, 6 December 2010

Spitting, boat rides and bad bathrooms

Saturday 4th December 2010

MP3 track of the day: Last Christmas -Wham

Weather: Humid, not hot but humid and it's spitting!

Not fully knowing what time I was likely to be picked up I got up around 6am and I was ready for 7am. As I waited I spent my final minutes communicating to the outside world and reading what was happening in Blighty (apparently some lady has had her snowman nicked: classic). A gentleman came to the door and my hostel receptionist told me that he was here to pick me up (as obviously he couldn't speak himself). We headed out and into a small van where he transferred me to a bigger coach half way across town.

I was worried that I would be the only one on this trip; my worries were nicely put aside when I saw a group of middle-aged 'European looking' people get on the coach. Unfortunately none of them spoke a word of English and so, with a group of non-English speaking Europeans and a Malaysian non-speaking driver, I put my MP3 player on and looked out of the coach.

I noticed a few things on my journey, some good, some bad and some bizarre. We'll start off with the good; soon after leaving Kuala Lumpur we started to drive through rainforest type terrain that was very pretty indeed. There also seemed to be a Malaysian car rally starting today; lots of different cars where parked along the motorway with official looking vehicles at the front. It all seemed like a lot of fun for the boys taking part … however, whilst peering into the car windows from my coach, it seems that girl friends, wives and children had been brought along and they seemed to be having a less than enjoyable time.

The bizarre things included seeing a shop mamma-kin – with a road workers jacket on, shades and it's arm stretched out with a flag in it – being used to inform drivers of a lane closure and the fact that the coach driver had to fill up twice on a three hour journey.

The worst thing about our trip was the driver; it wasn't the fact that he was a bad driver, or unpleasant (I couldn't really see his driving from where I was sat), it was the fact that he continually spat out of the window throughout the entire journey. The sound alone was enough for me to turn my mp3 player up high. Finally, as we drove through the Malaysian countryside, I did notice that the rainforest type of terrain did give way to huge palm oil plantations. Now I haven't mentioned this before (mainly because I keep forgetting) but Malaysia is covered - as far as the eye can see sometimes – in palm oil plantations. Lonely Planet describes Malaysia's environmental policies as “Yon name it – logging 60% of their rainforests, huge palm oil plantations and dam creation that floods thousands of acres of rainforests and forces indigenous people to move from their homes – Malaysia's done every environmental unsound action it can think of”

After three hours the bus journey was at an end; we had reached the jetty at the beginning of the park. I think that all on-board were glad that the bus journey had ended; the journey had been freezing due to the air-conditioning being on full blast. Once at the jetty things were pretty well organized; I got given my vouchers for the two days (1x voucher for the boat trip, 1x voucher for my accommodation, 1x voucher for breakfast and 1x voucher for my travel back to Kuala Lumpur). I had an hour to kill before our boat left the jetty and, as it was midday, I headed to a restaurant to have something to eat; I also needed to get my park and camera license (these cost 6 ringgit; without these you face a 100,000 ringgit fine and three years in prison … harsh).

Throughout my coach journey I had wondered if this had been a good idea; I worried about the fact that I was going to a remote area and I reckoned that food prices would be sky high. However, when I got my vouchers, I also got a map of the village where I would be staying – Kampung Tahan – which showed many restaurants, shops and an internet cafe. My fears of high prices was lowered a little after seeing all the competition.

Once on board the boat I settled down, quite comfortably, for the three hour boat journey to the village. The journey was stunning, we headed down a brown colored river with jungle on each side. As we were following the course of the river I lost all sense of direction due to the amount of 'S' bends within the river. I also had Sir David Attenborough in my head: “... And here we are, the Taman Negara Rainforest, the oldest Rainforest in Malaysia...” etc, etc.

For three hours jungle after jungle came into view, which some might have thought would have become very monotonous, however it didn't. Each bit of the jungle seemed different and I saw a beautiful bird with an orange under-belly, and bright blue wings. The only annoying thing on the whole trip was the European in front of me who, on a couple of occasions, put his hand into the water to cool it down (possibly) but didn't realized that his actions was causing spits of water to fly into the boat and hit me behind. I was a bit surprised that the guy in front needed to cool down as the trip was actually really cold, I put the life jacket on willingly just to keep warm (this was very weird to me, I thought the rainforest would be boiling hot).

Once at the village of Kampung Tahan I thought that it had already been worth coming for the boat journey alone. The village was on a hill to the right of me, and the actual park was on the left (I had to get a boat across to the park when I wanted to visit … it only took two minutes to cross). My first impression of the village was that it was a Blue Peter activity that went horribly wrong (today children we are going to build a Malayan jungle village using plastic bottles, a yogurt pot, cardboard and lots of sticky tape) with badly made sheds being used as houses, restaurants and lodgings. I put my first impressions aside and went in search of my accommodation ' The Lana Hostel'.

Even though the village was pretty small I couldn't find my hostel; combined with the humidity I didn't fancy searching for long and so I saw this guy – who turned out to be Canadian – and asked him for directions. Luckily for me he was staying at the same hostel and gave me the heads up that the dorm was clean … well that was good.

Once at the yellow building, that was my hostel, I had to wait a while for the receptionist to turn up before I got my key and saw my dorm for the first time. The room was clean however, due to being a wooden 'shed' structure, there were holes in the wood that I thought looked very 'mosquito size'. The beds seemed okay but there was no top sheet, only a sheet for the bed and a pillow case … I actually didn't think that mattered as I reckoned it would be pretty hot with four people in this small sized room, with no air-con, in the jungle. I then went in search of the washrooms.

Located down a corridor that resembled the corridor Leonardo DiCaprio walked down, in a Bangkok hostel, in the film The Beach, I made it to the mens washroom. It was so disgusting that I immediately decided that I would spend as little time in their as possible, which meant no showers for me as the showers were so grotty (I would just have to stink for two days). The toilets didn't fair much better and there was no toilet roll so I had to purchase some from a local shop. I was not impressed at all (I would class it as 'barely habitual') and I did wish for the 'riverside resort' up the street … still it was only two nights.

After chucking my stuff in my dorm I had a quick walk around the village, taking a few photos, before meeting the Canadian guy and having a chat. It turned out that we were in the same dorm, it also turned out that he was broke and his mate had gone into town today to use an ATM as they through there would be one here (we are in the jungle I thought). As we chatted, and waited for his mate to come back, we sat overlooking the river and the national park. It made me very eager to go and have a look around.

Whilst chatting I worked out that I had spent 50/60 ringgit more than I needed to for my trip here, if I had done it on my own. I was slightly annoyed as I could have used that money to do an activity or, more probably, upgraded my accommodation. I also found out that a coach goes to the Cameron Highlands from here everyday, which meant that I didn't need to go back to Kuala Lumpur and I could have brought all my stuff here and then head straight to the highlands … again this meant that I was spending more money when I didn't need to and if this was explained to me then I could of acted on it, yet again lack of information was costing me time and money.

Once his mate came back we went for a drink before getting some fried chicken from a stall; at first I was a little annoyed with the Canadians choice of meal, however after eating my chicken I was pleasantly pleased (when you order chicken in Malaysia, most of the time you are greeting by chicken bones with scraps of meat on … this time the chicken pieces were loaded with meat ... so much so that I may come back tomorrow).

After this we chatted before taking an early night; tomorrow I shall head into the park, towards the canopy walkway (which my guidebook states is a must) for a day trek. The two Canadians are going much further into the park and spending a night in a hide … sounds fun.

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