Memoir of Malaysia - Spring 2010
Hi everyone, we are home from an exciting trip to Malaysia. Overall I think the trip was a huge success and a good time was had by everyone. Here is an overview of our trip with a couple of pictures to illustrate. ~ Dr. Melanie Marks
[Want to see larger versions of all the photos? View the photo album on Longwood's Facebook page]
The Journey to Malaysia
We flew into Bangkok (by way of S. Korea) and stayed overnight at a hotel just outside the airport. It was interesting to see that the airport entrances were completely guarded by police with shields, given the political protests that were taking place in the city. Clearly the government was not going allow the protesters the opportunity to take over the airport as they did in 2008). Just next to the hotel was a great outdoor café and the students enjoyed trying Thai dishes, including fried rice with crab, coconut milk soup, chicken curry, and spicy noodles.
The students were amazed at just how cheap everything was...a great plate of food was less than $2.
We also checked out the Tesco next door-a convenience store, like 7-11, but with products that were a bit foreign to us.
Since Thailand was no longer our final destination (location changed from Thailand to Malaysia due to the protests taking place), we got up in the morning for a very early flight to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. Malaysia is very different from Thailand. In Thailand, the population is homogeneous...almost all are Thai and are Buddhist. Malaysia is made up primarily of 3 populations: Malay, Indian, and Chinese.
Most people we came into contact with spoke some English so that made things very easy.
The first 2 days involved exploring Kuala Lumpur, visiting China Town, a gorgeous orchid garden (admission was only 30 cents), the national museum, Petronas Towers (the second tallest buildings in the world now that Dubai opened a taller building earlier this year), Little India (where great Indian food and Indian markets can be found)...and gathering at the hotel pool to relax.
After all, Malaysia is very hot!
Batu Cave and Selangor - Elephants and Monkeys
We then departed on a day trip to Batu Cave ...a Hindu place of worship built in a limestone cave overlooking Kuala Lumpur. The monkeys have taken up residence in the cave and will steal whatever food is in your hands, so we had fun feeding them. Apparently, just before I got to the top, a monkey stole a bag of potato chips from a little boy, causing him to cry hysterically. And, did I mention the 247 stairs that you must climb to get to the top? The view was worth it, however.
From Batu Cave we went to an elephant sanctuary and had a quick elephant ride. We were supposed to swim with the elephants/bathe them but the water in the river was too high, and the current was quite fast. So, the orphanage suspended that activity.
The highlight of the day was a visit to a park in Selangor where a different type of monkey than at Batu Cave comes up from the mangroves below and interacts with the visitors.
The monkeys are wild but they seemed quite gentle as long as we did not try to grab them.
They would take food from your hand and if you held it high enough, they would climb up your body and sit on your shoulder as long as you kept feeding them. Sometimes, they would jump from one of our shoulders to another person's shoulder...if there was food in it for them. Interestingly, the monkeys had figured out that having a baby (which were bright orange and turned grey at a later point like the adults) was a real attraction and a way to get more food. So, the adults passed the babies around...pretty brilliant strategy.
After leaving the monkeys (we had run out of food), we departed for an incredible family style seafood dinner at a floating restaurant overlooking the sunset on the river.
After dinner, we took a night boat tour to see the fireflies in the trees that blink like Christmas trees.
Taman Negara Rainforest - Boat Trip and a Canopy Walk
The next morning we departed for Taman Negara rain forest. It is the second largest rainforest in the world but it has been environmentally damaged due to clear cutting of the land for palm oil production. You can see the sediment in the water, which is a bit of a dirty color. But, it is still a beautiful place.
To get to the rainforest, you have to take a wooden boat for 3 hours...looked like it had been constructed out of plywood but it did the job just fine.
It was a nice ride except that your butt started hurting along the way and we could have all used a fluffy pillow.
Once at Taman Negara, we checked into our hostels...pretty primitive and it was more like summer camp, but that made it quite fun. To get to restaurants, etc., you have to travel across the small river by boat. So, that was pretty novel. We went on a night trek through the jungle and saw scorpions, deer, stick bugs, etc.
In the morning we took our boat "taxi" to our floating restaurant for banana roti- a type of local banana pancake that we all fell in love with.
The fresh fruit juices were incredible and could be found at every restaurant...watermelon juice, mango juice, etc. And, it was not from a carton...was blended fresh by the glass.
After a good meal we departed for a big hike. And I do mean a hike. There was a path but it was a bit rugged (a workout that rivals "Buns of Steel"). But, it was a beautiful place.
At one point, we were able to cross the world's longest canopy walkway...but a portion of it was under repair so I guess we did not technically walk the longest canopy walkway.
But, it was pretty amazing.
If you are not familiar with a canopy walk, it is basically a suspended bridge made out of rope and cable, and usually wood or wire mesh. As you walk the bridge swings a bit...a problem if you are afraid of heights.
In the afternoon, we took a boat up the river to a place to swim with vines that you could swing on and then drop into the water. I tried this twice, as did Dr. Wentland.
All of the students had a blast!
From there we visited a native village...the Orang Asli tribe...Aboriginal people who live a very primitive lifestyle. While there we learned to shoot a blow dart and make fire using only things you find in the rainforest.
We returned to the village where we were staying just in time miss a huge storm.
Interestingly, in the hostel rooms next to us was a group from Radford University...what are the odds? So, we talked to them for awhile.
Port Dickson - Beach and Massages
The next morning we left the rainforest using the same wooden boats...but traveling with the current so it was shorter this time. A bus met us and took us for a family style lunch and then to Port Dickson, on the west coast along the Straights of Melaka. It is not Malaysia's best beach but it was the easiest place to get too...and far better than VA Beach, for example.
The hotel had an incredible pool as well, so we enjoyed both. Some of the students got outdoor massages.
Melaka - A Fish Pedicure and Tri-Shaws
From Port Dickson we went to the historical town of Melaka...it is on the UNESCO cultural heritage list. It is a beautiful town that looked very different from the rest of Malaysia that we had seen. It has Dutch and Portuguese influences and there are remains of a fort there. We spent the day on a walking tour with a local guide that I arranged and we had a great lunch. Shopping was good as well. In the evening, we took a boat ride down the river and the town was all lit up. We also tried a fish pedicure...this crazy thing where you put your feet in tanks of water and the fish nibble the dead skin, leaving your feet nice and smooth.
I think we all agreed that it tickled at first, but then we got used to it. Our feet were definitely smoother at the end though.
We rode around on tri-shaws...like rickshaws but is attached to a bike. The drivers were not thrilled to see that I had 3 guys that were each over 220 pounds (one was 280 pounds). But they gave it their all!
The tri-shaws were very interesting because they are decorated crazy with flowers and Christmas lights that flashed at night. And, they are allowed to drive against traffic in any way they want.
In fact, if a car hits one, the driver of the car will lose his or her license for 6 months.
After a great day in Melaka we left very early the next morning to go to one of Malaysia's many caves. Now I thought when we were visiting the cave that we would be on a path, like at Luray Cavern, for example. And we were on a path...again with tons of stairs...for about an hour. Then, our guide led us off of the path...down a big hill on our butts, down a little hole, to the river. We had to crawl on our hands and knees through the river to get through small areas, sometimes carrying our flashlights in our teeth. Fortunately, we had helmets or else I would now be completely brain damaged after banging my head at every turn
At the end, we were wet from head to toe but it was a really good time...and a completely unexpected experience.
From the cave we drove into the countryside for white water rafting. At one point we had to stop because the cows were in the middle of the road.
The river had level 3 rapids so it was a challenge but not particularly risky. We divided into 4 boats and took off with our guides down 9 sets of rapids.
Both the rafting and caving were great experiences.
Return to Kuala Lumpur and Home
That night we went back to Kuala Lumpur. The morning before departure, we hit Chinatown again for more stuff to take home. Chinatown is home to all kinds of interesting foods and lots of stalls...most of which sold counterfeit products. You could find everything from fake Polos to fake Raybans. And, you have to negotiate or else you will pay way too much. But, everyone in Malaysia is very nice so it is friendly negotiation!
The flights home were long...with some long layovers. But, otherwise they were uneventful.
Overall, we all decided that Malaysia is a beautiful place with extraordinarily nice people who are very helpful. It is a relatively easy place to travel and I will definitely go back with another study abroad group!