Relaxing by the Emerald Clear South China Sea of the Perehentian Islands

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This island is taking my breath away!

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The water is this clear!

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Rob knows he can find me, day or night, in one of the many hammocks on the beach if I’m not in the water

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Lounging in the hammock

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It took us nearly a full day to travel by bus and boat from the Cameron Highlands to Perhentian Kecil, the smaller of the 2 Perhentian Islands on the east coast of Malaysia’s mainland, but oh, was it worth it!  This place is absolutely beautiful with it’s crsytal clear emerald waters that you can see through as you stand on the shore or ride a water taxi between isolated beaches.  Sheltered from the sun by a palm tree as I lay in the hammock and listen to the waves lapping against the shore I can only think, “Ah, it feels so good to do nothing on the beach.”  We have had a great mix of doing just that – nothing – and snorkeling nearly every day, taking jungle walks across the island, sampling the beach bars, watching sunsets over the water and laying in the hammock.  The beauty of this island is reminding me so much of Kenawa and I find myself reminiscing about that special month where we enjoyed the unique once in a lifetime opportunity of living on a near private island.  Snorkeling out our front door, cooking on the front porch and watching the sunrise from bed. Man, we had it good.  And it’s not too shabby now either, I must admit.

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The beach in front of D’Lagoon

We arrived on the island Friday, Malaysia’s Independence Day, and were really fortunate that a place we wanted to stay ad a last minute cancellation because everything else was booked.  Our plan was to just show up on the island and go to the backpacker hotels and hope to find a room, but thankfully, with our booking secured the night before, the boat  from the ferry on the mainland dropped us right off at the beautiful beachfront of our accommodation.  By 5pm we were sitting in the shallow water of the warm sea with a cold beer in our hands and marveling at our surroundings.  We chose this hotel specifically because it has great snorkeling directly off the beach.  No need to take a boat anywhere.  Already we have seen schools of black tipped sharks, half a dozen stingray, the largest parrotfish we have ever laid eyes on and big beautiful clams with iridescent colors. With the bright sun, clear water and lively underwater world here we are very content.  Before we leave we will take a boat trip to nearby islands for more snorkeling and I hope we can see a turtle. Some friends of ours, that we met in Ipoh and again here on the island, were able to see a turtle on an excursion they did over the weekend.  Fingers crossed!

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Wild orchids 

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This monitor – all 6 feet of him – visited the beach one afternoon. Look at that tongue!

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Turtle beach is a ten minute walk through the jungle and puts you on the west of the island where you can catch a great sunset on a deserted beach 

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Our accommodation at D’Lagoon is simple, basic, very quiet (other than the loud group of 16 young, drunk European travelers returning from the party area of Long Beach at 3am one evening) and cheap.  Just the way we like it.  With our own room with a fan (more than adequate in the evenings) and a shared bathroom we paid the peak season rate of $80RM over the weekend and $70RM every night after.  Very affordable at $20 or less a night for a slice of heaven.  Most of the accommodations on the smaller of the 2 islands are pretty basic, catering to backpackers and people more interested in partying and laying low.  The larger island is known to have more resorts, families and higher prices.  The 2 islands are a 5 minutes water taxi ride from one another and very easy to go between.  It’s very common to stay on one island and travel to the other or even between different area of the same island by water taxi.  We never traveled anywhere where you take a quick $10RM ($2.50 USD) boat ride down the island to have dinner and return later.  One evening though, when enjoying dinner and drinks with our UK friends, Dan & Hanna, we lost track of time.  Between it being late – past midnight – and some rain we weren’t able to get back to our hotel by taxi and it is an hour walk through the jungle which was not an option at the hour.  But, it’s the island, and life is easy.  We took a bed in a room above the bar that “helped” us lose track of time and when we woke up at 8:30 the next morning we got on a taxi and were back in our bed by 8:45.  These are the worst of problems here – having to stay on another beach because we were having too much fun!

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Enjoying a few beers at a great beach bar on Long Beach, a 5 minute water taxi ride from D’Lagoon.  Long Beach is the busiest area of the island with more hotels, dive shops, restaurants and bars than anywhere else…and a pretty thriving night life…

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…Complete with fire shows.  As Rob says, “it’s all in the name of selling more booze.”

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On the fast boat to Perhentian Kecil from the harbor

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Giz likes his Thai beer, Chang

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Sunset from Coral Bay

We did get some disappointing news from the  captain of the boat we were expecting to sail to Indonesia this month.  Due to some maintenance issues he is having with the boat we are not going to be able to sail with him this year.  It’s a real bummer because we had been planning this for months and possibly may have even gone home earlier had we not been waiting to sail.  Not to say we didn’t have great experiences hiking the Annapurna Circuit and exploring Malaysia along the way. I wouldn’t change a thing because I loved all of those adventures. It all worked out for a reason.  And since we bought our airline tickets with frequent flyer miles we have the luxury of changing our return flight home without any fees.  We have taken full advantage of this perk multiple times already.  As we finish up this blog post we are eating calamari while lounging in our respective hammocks and deciding whether to keep traveling Asia since we are already halfway around the world and have no idea when we will be back…or come back to the States.  Even if we come back we will still travel a bit.  Definitely not the worst decision we have ever had to make…and we still have 3 more days on this island!

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From coffee…

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…To cocktails we are loving the Perhentian islands

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Late night fun with Dan and Hannah, new friends from Malaysia. We had a great night out and all we have is this crummy photo and good memories!

Malaysia: Cameron Highlands

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It’s beautiful here!

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Mainland Malaysia on the left.  The right shows our journey from Kuala Lumpur in north to Ipoh (A) and east to Cameron Highlands (B)

The Cameron Highlands are a short 2-3 hour bus ride east from Ipoh and into very welcome cooler temperatures.  So cool in fact, that the feeling of the cool breeze while hiking in the area made me long for my unbelievably comfortable sleeping bag and tent. One of my favorite things in the world is to sleep outside and feel the wind. Sometimes in Hunter, with a perfectly good bed inside, I’ll sleep on the porch. I used to try to convince Rob to sleep with me on the porch of our 19th floors high rise in Dallas so we could feel the wind, but I never quite succeeded on that one. 

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When the bus approached the area, Rob and I both thought that the town seemed larger and more touristy than we expected.  Fortunately, we booked a place a street back from the main thoroughfare in Tanah Rata.  The French family that rafted with us a couple of days before recommended a hotel they stayed in and we were glad they did!  It was very reasonably priced, clean, quiet and comfortable.  Trying to keep our accommodation expenses low, we opted for a room with a shared bathroom. Before traveling this summer, taking a hotel room with a common bathroom was a foreign idea to me, but it’s a common option in Asia and if the facilities are well kept it’s an excellent way to minimize your costs.  Traveling in Nepal, nearly all the teahouses have common bathrooms so almost any bathroom after that seems clean!  I took a hike up to the summit of one the mountains that evening to try and see the sunset, but it was too cloudy to get much color.  We were rewarded with great views the following day when we rented a 125cc scooter and explored the area, having a fun touristy day.  We both love having the freedom of a bike and it’s an almost instant recipe for a fantastic day.  Helmets on, Gizmo in the pack and a beautiful sun shining day we were ready to experience the beauty of the Cameron Highlands.

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Clouds hanging low in the morning at Mossy Forest

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Beginning the day with fresh strawberries, waffles and strawberry white coffee

After stopping for fresh strawberry waffles at one of many local Strawberry Farms we went to the Mossy Forest. Here, you are guided through the beautiful mossy, lichen jungle landscape on a boardwalk so as to preserve the natural surroundings. After climbing a lookout tower for 360 views we continued the journey by hiking a path that was technically closed. It’s being closed seemed more like a suggestion to us so we climbed over roots and stepped in mud for an hour to further be saturated in the beauty of the area.  The entrance to the forest is near a tea plantation and seemed to be the next natural stop for us. The surrounding plantations are absolutely gorgeous. Very different from the rice paddies we have been accustomed to viewing this summer.  We enjoyed a nice little break after hiking over a pot of BOH Gold Tea and a slice of strawberry tea cheesecake.

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Taking the boardwalk through the Mossy Forest to the jungle trail at the end

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In the Mossy Forest

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This hike was the first time either of us saw a pitcher plant. Very cool!

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A bit a workout with all the roots taking over the trail

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View from the tower

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BOH Tea Plantation

Since I can never get enough fresh flowers in my life Rose Valley was our next destination.  It’s not so much a valley as a massive ongoing greenhouse with more flowers than I imagined. Certainly exceeded expectations with an abundance of orchids, roses, lilies, bleeding hearts, giant hibiscus and other flowers we had never seen before! We covered every inch of this massive flower heaven and left smiling. I was talking about how great the experience was all day!

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Stingray flower – new to us

As we sat down to Indian food for dinner, I looked across the tables sitting along the sidewalk and there was Christoph, the Frenchman we hiked with towards the end of the Annapurna Circuit.  Small world!  He joined us and we all recounted what we have been up to since we last saw one another.

The following day we relaxed, played cards and didn’t do a whole lot of anything except laundry, pack to leave the next morning for the Perhentian Islands and eat more Indian food.  I am obsessed with it lately and can’t get enough naan, paneer, roti canai, curry…you name it. There will certainly be Indian aromas emanating from our kitchen when we return home.

 

Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur & Ipoh

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Celebrating our 3 year wedding anniversary on 8/23/18.  We have now been traveling together almost half of our marriage ❤️

Lacy: In our typical style, we purchased our flights to Malaysia a couple days prior to leaving Nepal. We need to be in Pangkor, a tiny island on the west coast, to set sail to Indonesia on the 10th. We didn’t do much research on our next destination or even book a flight for the night we arrived before boarding our 5 hour, 80% empty flight from Kathmandu.  It felt like a private plane there were so few passengers. We have traveled through Kuala Lumpur (KL) airport for long layovers twice this summer, but never left the airport so imagine our excitement when we grabbed a taxi and realized that KL is a rather large and modern city! Highways that are paved and don’t have potholes! Speed limits?! High rises and skyscrapers, no cow shit on the street to avoid while walking, real laundromats! We are officially NOT in a third world country anymore after five months of traveling through Indonesia, Cambodia and Nepal.  Admittedly, we both experienced a bit of culture shock for the first 24 hours.  Rob will tell you that I am drawn to the lack of polish and rawness that are inherent in the other countries we have visited, but it’s still nice to experience what Malaysia has to offer us!

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Arriving at the airport in Malaysia…excited for our 4th country this summer!

At the last minute, (meaning in the airport before getting into a cab) we booked 3 nights in the Bukit Bintang district of KL near the night market area. This was intentional since we didn’t check in until midnight and having not eaten a real meal since breakfast in Nepal, we were starving!  Throwing our backpacks down in our teensy tiny room we set out to explore what late night delicacies Malaysia could serve up for us. The best bites, by far, were the spicy chicken wings. So good, in fact, we had them again the next evening. Overall, we found the night market to be disappointing with bland food and massages being hawked as you walk down the street until the wee hours of the morning. All we wanted was some good spicy authentic Malaysian grub.  We went to sleep near 3am which we later realized set the tone for our first week in this country. Late nights! We are no longer rising and setting with the sun as on the Annapurna Circuit.  An entirely different scene emerges in the city as the sun sets. Tables and chairs are set up on the street as food stalls open, doors along the sidewalk that your didn’t even realize were closed before now reveal either a speakeasy or local bar. Sure, there has been a very prevalent street food scene at night throughout the countries we have traveled, but in Malaysia it seems to be working on a higher level here.  The food here has many similarities to Indonesia – rice, sambal, chicken, fried noodles.  We can lean on some of our comfort foods and explore new ones.  It’s easy to read the local signs because Malaysian and Indonesian are very very similar languages.  We have that prior knowledge of the language working to our advantage, but almost everyone speaks English so you don’t even need to speak the local language.  Honestly, that’s a bit of a bummer for me because the new languages are one of the things I enjoy most when traveling. You can feel the lingering British colonial influence here from the prevalence of English spoken, the architecture and existence of traditional high tea throughout the country.

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Meat, seafood, vegetables and just about anything that fits on a stick is available for your choice at the night market.  Make your selection and they will cook it up for you on the spot (photo bottom right).

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This is the best 😳photo we have from the late night food scene the evening we arrived – me stuffing my face with a delicious spicy chicken wing.  Well, it tells the story like it was 🙂  During the day all these tables and chairs on the sidewalk are gone, the small grill on the sidewalk closed up and you would never know this place existed in the evening if you hadn’t seen it before.

We enjoyed walking many many miles the next 2 days throughout the city exploring the various parts from Little India to Chinatown and viewing the Petronas towers.  It’s very hot in KL right now and I wished I had brought my bathing suit in my bag when we stopped for a drink at The W pool overlooking the Petronas towers. Management was very kind to help us celebrate our 3 year wedding anniversary that day with free chili and kefir leaf infused tequila shots.  Yum!

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Petronas Towers behind us as we celebrate our anniversary…

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….Into the wee hours of the night

KL, and Malaysia in general, may be a good soft transition from traveling in poorer countries to heading back home after sailing. While it is a big modern island it still has a lot of decent inexpensive options for food and accommodation that you wouldn’t find back home. There, you can hardly get a campsite for less than $20/night much less a hotel room.  Granted, $20 doesn’t go near as far as it did in Indonesia, which still remains my favorite country this summer. I haven’t been the biggest fan of traveling to larger cities on this 5 month adventure, but I quite like what Malaysia has to offer. It offers a lot of diversity for food, is clean, easy to get around and the people have been kind.

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View from rooftop in Ipoh

The third largest city in Malaysia is Ipoh and where we spent the following 4 nights.   After an easy 2 1/2 hour train ride we checked into a really cute hotel in Old Town Ipoh, The Happy 8. The town is split between “old and “new” by the river.  It’s also very hot in Ipoh, but we were excited to have our white coffee where it originated so we took a short hot walk to a local coffee shop right away. White coffee are beans that have been ground with palm butter and palm sugar giving it a nutty taste.  This began due to the lesser quality beans that the locals were using and they masked the strong flavor by adding condensed milk – hence, the “white”. Now, however, when you order a white coffee here it means you get a black coffee mixed with the condensed milk and sugar. Personally, it’s too heavy and sweet for me this way, but Rob loves it.  This is not a surprise since he eats cake for breakfast. Ipoh is known to have a great food scene. Locals travel here just to eat. Our first meal was so good and set the tone for a few days filled with good eating.  My veg curry was layered with flavor and spice and probably the best I have ever had.  Walking off our heavy bellies, we checked out Ipoh’s many murals and famous Concubine Lane.

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The best veg curry I have ever had (top right) and Giz gets into some Chilly Mee

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This mural is called, “Old man drinking coffee”, but Rob thinks it looks like a Malaysian version President

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The 3D murals make me smile

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Rob intrudes on a private moment on Concubine Lane 🤣

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This area is known for Buddhist cave temples that were discovered in the last 100 years.  Having visited so many temples this summer and enjoying seeing the differences between various parts of Buddhism and countries, we visited a few more.  It was a hot day, but we continued on to what we thought was a local village. When we arrived we realized that we were at a village replica!  It is set around a tiny body of water and looks like a movie set.  Most likely, you would take your kids to a place like this to show them what a typical Malaysian village would look like.  This wasn’t at all what we had in mind, but they had 2 seater bicycles and traditional hats and we thought, what the heck?! We are here, let’s be silly!  So we rode around the “village” a couple times laughing and taking photos before deciding we needed more food!  We had a great meal at the local food stalls the night before and there had been a fruit and ice cream dish I hadn’t had the space in my stomach for then, but after a hot day walking around I could think of nothing better!

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Inside a cave temple

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Sam Poh Temple

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Goofing off at the mock village

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A fantastic bowl of fresh mango, lychee, melons and more topped with ice cream is a great way to end a hot day running around; we stumbled upon a Malaysian speakeasy with great drinks; a truly delicious half of a roasted duck for $7.50.  Ipoh definitely delivered on food!

Rob: While in Ipoh, Lacy found a White Water Rafting outing we could do to take a break from the heat that wasn’t very far away. We could actually take a Grab (Uber here) all the way there, 40 minutes, for just 29MR (about $7). I’ve actually never been and neither had she. The water was a bit low and calm that day so we can both still say that we still haven’t been White Water Rafting, but we had a nice ride in a raft on a lazy river that had a few spots where we picked up a little speed and got a little wet. It was also up in the low mountains on a clear day, clean clear water and we were with a nice group of people.  Lunch at a local Warung was also great so overall it was a very nice outing in the Malaysian countryside.  The 1/2 day trip turned into a 2/3 day trip and threatened to have us miss our 3:30 Museum reservation.  We caught a ride back into town from one of the guys from the Rafting place just in time.  The little Museum in Ipoh told the story of how the Hakka people from China came to build and grow the town. It is a young town as far as Asia is concerned – really just a few hundred years old and only coming to worldwide prominence when Tin was discovered in large quantities right at the beginning of WWI and the need for packing and shipping canned food became a necessity. The Museum was fun and intriguing because even though it was Tin and not Gold & Asia, not the American West, the story of a mining boomtown with opium dens instead of saloons, prostitution and gambling was exactly the same.  It was also housed in the same building that had been the actual Hakka Miners Club with original interior and furniture which made the stories, excellently described by our guide, come to life.  A little Tin Mining Museum really is one of the “must do” things in Ipoh.

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