After three months in Thailand time was up, we had extended our visa and to make use of the second entry that we had on it we had to leave the country. Being in the south the obvious choice was Malaysia. It was never really on our list of places to visit but we had heard of some nice climbing spots, the highlands and the east coast so we decided to do more than just a simple visa run. Together with my nephew Hansi (who joined us for two months) we arrived at the small border near Thale Ban national park.
It is a very small border indeed and on both sides they have to open separate gates to let trucks and buses pass as the main lane has a height limit of 2m. On the Thai side our papers were processed quickly and we drove the short distance to Malaysian immigration which processed our papers equally fast. Immigration stamped us in and our carnets were processed without checking the vehicles. That’s when Mutlu decided to bark for a while alerting the obviously bored quarantine officer who just walked out to get his lunch. He invited me for a few questions and soon it was clear that without import permission Mutlu can not enter Malaysia. We tried to find a legal way to bring Mutlu into the country but it seemed impossible. The whole process would take weeks and anyways couldn’t be started from this small border post. Going back to Thailand was no option as Hansi had only a visa on arrival and Thailand doesn’t allow same day visa runs anymore. Stuck between the two countries we had plenty of time and I decided to move our truck a little ahead right in front of the Malaysian gate and walk back to Thailand immigration to see what’s possible. That’s when a big bus arrived that obviously couldn’t pass the border with us blocking the way. With the “heavy argument” behind us it took just a few minutes of discussion and the officials waved us into Malaysia. In the heat of the exchange nobody realised that we didn’t get the obligatory ICP (International Circulation Permit), never mind.
Soon thereafter we arrived in Bukit Keteri, a climbing spot initially developed by Mammut a few years ago and our first stop in Malaysia. The small village welcomed us with an outstanding market (and to our surprise unlike than in Thailand everyone spoke English) and after having filled up on food we started to discover the cliff which also meant: get out the machete! The cliff seems not to be frequented quite often which makes accessing the climbs an adventure but after having cleaned out access paths for half a day we were able to enjoy some of the climbing for a few days.
Mutlu discovered that he can chase more than just monkeys and started to go after monitor lizards the size of small crocodiles - luckily they preferred to escape than to confront him… Our next stop on the way south was Penang island with its capital Georgetown, full of street art and endless skyscrapers that also cover most of the coastline.
We headed further south using the new and impressive Second Penang Bridge with its more than 16km linking the high-tech manufacturing sites on Penang island and the mainland, crossing the endless rice fields of Northern Malaysia. Due to the strait of Malacca and the intense agricultural activity the western coast of Malaysia is not really inviting which made our decision to drive up into the Cameron highlands and follow the ridge further south even easier.
The Cameron highlands were initially developed in the 1930s as one of the oldest tourist spots in Malaysia. Apart from its tea estates, the plateau is noted for its cool weather which makes it a perfect retreat from the heat of the lowlands but also allows the cultivation of “non-tropical” fruits and vegetables (e.g. strawberries, tomatoes). And that’s also what strikes the eye when you arrive, plastic covered greenhouses, tea estates and new real estate developments for the upper middle class.
Of course there are still pristine forests and really nice places but we avoided the main area between Brinchang and Ringlet and decided to stop at a nice river with hot springs and loaded with Orang Asli (the aborigines of that area) myths further down the road. We stopped at a water fall near Fraser hill, Hansi decided to compete with the local fisherman for the biggest catch - we decided to cook carbonara - and hiked up next to a wild river through the jungle resulting in our first attack by leeches.
After all this time in nature we decided to move to Kuala Lumpur. We crossed the first extensive palm oil plantations and reached K.L. on the beginning of Ramadan. We found a nice place near Batu Caves in front of a climbing spot and stayed there for a few days, climbed, visited downtown K.L. with its impressive Petronas Towers, ate Durian (the king of fruits, ok Hansi didn’t like it), and got annoyed by kids that threw fire crackers all night to celebrate Ramadan.
On Monday we moved to the Mercedes workshop in the southern part of town, some routine work had to be done and I had planned on some improvements with the help of Hansi. In the end we stayed four days in this very professionally ran workshop.
Despite Ramadan we were able to explore K.L.’s nightlife making the days long and the nights short.
All of us, but especially Mutlu, were happy when we moved back to quieter places, this time at the beautiful east coast that we hit near Cherating. What we didn’t take into account was that on the rural east coast there is almost no Chinese population which made it almost impossible to get anything to eat before dark.
We enjoyed the pristine beaches, barbecued and slowly headed north. Our way back towards Thailand led us through the mountainous north and we stayed some nights at the lakes of Temenggor and Pedu before heading to the border town of Changlun where we filled up on cheap Malaysian fuel and once again crossed into Thailand.
It was the first time that we entered the same country twice on our trip, but as usual, more on that in our next blog entry…