Tuesday, 24 March 2015

CHINESE REMEDIES AND JUNGLE MELODIES- South Thailand and Central Malaysia

“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travellers don’t know where they’re going.” – Paul Theroux 

The break from Ko Fruitpoia was not as painful as might be imagined after such a long rest there. We were revived by the wonderful experiences this season, and ready for more, in places further along the road.

Bye bye till next time.....


Although Krabi is a particularly busy tourist town at this time of year, with tourists constantly arriving and leaving for the various islands, we appreciate the casual vibe of the place, varied food (now with 5 different food night markets to choose from!), cheap prices (compared to the relatively expensive islands) and of course one of our favourite guesthouses, Swallow. We indulged in all the things we crave to be away from while on Fruitopia- electricity, internet, movies and 7-11 to name a few.

The fresh morning market held our attention, with some unusual offerings....

Shellfish, any ideas on the name? Krabi fresh morning market

Dried fish, Krabi fresh morning market

Mountains of mussels, Krabi fresh morning market

Skinned frogs- at least these ones were dead, Krabi fresh morning market

Vivid blue crabs, Krabi fresh morning market

We visited nearby Railey and Ao Nang beaches after an absence of several years, and were dismayed at how ugly such once beautiful places have become- Ao Nang the worse. They are no longer the perfect picture the travel agents all have on their walls. Grey concrete paths, rubbish and rubble everywhere, noisy and polluting long tails boats lined up for miles, not to mention the inevitable mass building of restaurants and hotels, have nearly spoiled the naturally gorgeous beaches and limestone scenery. Nevertheless, we made the most of the days out, and found ourselves amused by the feeling of being on another planet, with sun worshipers, glamour pusses (one in a tiara and sequined bikini!), in a people watchers delight.

A bit different from what we're used to!! Railay beach

Trang and Hat Yai were short stopovers of a couple of days each, and we tried to see at least one new thing in each place, having visited these towns dozens of times. In Trang it was the Thungkai Botanic Gardens, where a forested area full of butterflies has been set up with walking paths, a canopy walkway, and is surprisingly well organised and signposted......and free. We also stumbled across a fabulous new hotel in Trang which, as well as oozing character (an old building very recently and beautifully renovated), had the bonus of a Trang street view from the wraparound verandah, was spotless, friendly, and only a few dollars more than the dive we usually stay in at 300 baht/AU$12! Trang's other huge draw is the new night market near the train station. We certainly felt we were entering in to the real south of Thailand, with the many different Muslim/southern Thai style foods on offer, such as kopi (strong, black, local coffee, sometimes served with condensed milk), biryani (flavoured yellow rice) and roti (see here on more on these brilliant breakfast foods!).

Thungkai Botanic Garden, Trang

Gorgeous peacock, Trang

Handsome devil on the balcony of our Trang hotel

Chinese temple, Trang

Southern treats for dinner, Trang (chicken biryani, coconut juice, guava and our fav pumpkin custard)

In Hat Yai, we followed the advice of a fellow traveler, and stayed in the alternative guesthouse area around the bus station, instead of in the town center, which, once we eventually communicated what we needed to the non English-speaking hotel workers, was much more convenient considering our short stay. The new places for us to visit in Hat Yai were a) the unexpectedly impressive Wat Mahapanya Vidayalai, a Chinese Buddhist temple with a huge, golden Buddha statue surrounded by dozens of lines of life sized Buddha statues, some containing the ashes of deceased monks, and b) the Hat Yai Municipal Park, a boringly named, but rather charming, shady garden with a large lake in the middle, and it was too tempting not to take a pedlo out on the water and feed the frenzied fish! Unfortunately, we didn't make it up the 1000 steps to see the various religious statues at the top of the hill, as Richard's recurring back problem flared up again, in a nasty fashion, and we decided the best thing to do was temporarily quit our plan for a slow trip back to Kuala Lumpur, and rush back to arrange some visits to the Chinese therapies hospital in KL.

Wat Mahapanya Vidayalai, Hat Yai
Wat Mahapanya Vidayalai, Hat Yai

Hat Yai Park

Yes, that's Sal asleep on the bus, under all that clothing!


While poor Rich was pummelled, massaged, jabbed with needles (acupuncture), and seared (cupping therapy) to try to get his back problem fixed in KL, we stayed at a perennial favourite Birdnest Guesthouse in Chinatown, and filled in the time between therapies with gentle activities such as swimming at the local public pool, eating food from Sal's favourite Yemeni shop (amongst others), roaming through KL Forest Park and admiring the National Mosque.

Poor Rich's back after having the cupping treatment, KL
Lovely window in KL

We tentatively set out on a two week excursion to see how Rich's back would hold up traveling with a backpack and moving around a lot. We were gutted to learn the Jungle Railway train line we hoped to travel on slowly from KL to Kota Baru was closed for maintenance for two years due to bad floods earlier this year. We instead found ourselves in Kuala Lipis, a town on the closed railway route, a bit bewildered to say the least. The "charming and easy going" place we'd read about had, in reality, a deserted and bland feel, perhaps as a result of the railway closure. But we dutifully slogged around to the many mouldering colonial buildings in the hills around the town, and found the people to be open and friendly and unused to tourists- one stranger even buying our drinks in a cafe. We decided two nights was more than enough in our grubby hotel, and legged it for Kuala Tembeling, on a delightfully decrepit bus with windows that opened (a rarity in Malaysia!).

Hindu temple, Kuala Lipis

Waiting for the boat, Kuala Tembeling

Kuala Tembeling is the start of the much lauded river trip to Taman Negara, the greatest and oldest national park in Malaysia. The journey up Sungai Tembeling was slightly disappointing, as the river level was very low due to little rain fall, and most of the trees along the riverside had been wiped out during the floods, creating quite a devastating scene in some places. Also, scenically we are very spoilt after many wonderful river trips in Indonesia. Nevertheless, it was a pleasant way to reach the park, and the one ringgit (about 30 cents) entrance fee was a refreshing surprise, compared to the ridiculously high fees recently imposed in Thailand, Indonesia and India. Malaysia does not generally have a duel pricing system for foreigners either.

Even with our high expectations, the 130 million year old (supposedly- how do they know??!!) jungle was magnificent, with the huge flared Tualang trees and Strangler Figs being the stand outs. Although we saw little wildlife except otters, furry critters (shrews?), monkeys, snakes, Kingfishers, Hornbills and many other birds, the sound of twittering, trilling, screeching and howling that accompanied our walks was wonderful. We stuck with short walks from the park headquarters, and found half a day of sweating and puffing was quite enough! We are very tolerant to extreme heat in general, but the humidity of the jungle in Taman Negara really took its toll on us. We found waking at dawn before the oppressive heat took hold for the day, was the best way to cope.

Beautiful river, Taman Negara

So many steps! Taman Negara

Old man of the jungle (the tree, that is!), Taman Negara

Strangler Figs, Taman Negara

A most unusual picture of Sal being energetic in the jungle! Taman Negara

At this point we finally got the call we'd been waiting and hoping for- that to go to Penang to prepare for extra casting for the second series of Indian Summers. For those who missed this post, we were lucky enough last year to hear about a final week of extra work for Series1 from some fellow travelers, and went along, and had a ball. We hoped this time around to pick up some more work, meet some more people, and have an even better time!


  1. Central Malaysia as poetry of nature moves travelers' to vistas of curious delights, each revealing the tropical imagination manifest through the keen eyes of journeyers of nation and natural.

  2. Hope Richards back is feeling better. It looks incredible guys. Love the Gilmour 4