Tag Archives: Religion

Travel Guide: Ipoh and Cameron Highlands

With the aid of the trusty Lonely Planet guidebook that a friend left me when she fled to Australia and the sheer willpower of our dependable Kancil, known as Daisy, Mitch and I embarked on a road trip north to Ipoh and east to Cameron highlands.

Yes, we took this baby on a road trip up mountains. No, she did not survive the journey unscathed. More on that later.
Yes, we took this baby on a road trip up mountains. No, she did not survive the journey unscathed. More on that later.

For the geographically challenged, here’s a map of where we went:

It did not take 4 hours and 37 minutes. That is a lie.
It did not take 4 hours and 37 minutes. That is a lie. It took much, much longer.

If you’ve never travelled overland in Malaysia before, expect loads of traffic all the time for no apparent reason; lane closures that are unmarked until the moment the lane closes, leading to more traffic, speed limits of 110km/h that really mean cars are driving anywhere from 70-130km/h, and lots of trucks. As Mitch and I learned, stopping at a rest area is a bad idea. They are very crowded and there’s not nearly enough parking. I’m not sure if that’s because we were travelling over a holiday week/weekend, but that’s the experience we had. It honestly would have been faster to drive into a town to use the washroom and buy coffee, but we didn’t know that. So that slowed us down a little, too. Finally, if you’re driving in Malaysia, be aware of the demands you will put on your vehicle. Our Kancil has a 660 cc engine, which means it cannot go very fast. 90 is pushing it. 110 is nearly impossible. It also doesn’t accelerate, which is really scary when there are larger vehicles and motorcycles whizzing past in all directions at unthinkable speeds.. All that said, we got there and back in one piece. Well, Mitch and I did. Daisy needed a new battery after we left the lights on overnight. Oops.

Our trip started Saturday late morning and we planned to stop in Ipoh to wander around Old Town and grab some food. It took us a lot longer to get to Ipoh than we’d hoped or anticipated, but we did stop to wander, eat, and stretch our legs. Ipoh’s Old Town is a cluster of streets full of buildings with colonial-style architecture. There’s also a wonderful little hipster plaza where we saw three couples taking wedding pictures!

This is Ipoh’s Birch Memorial Clock Tower, dedicated to James WW Birch, its first British resident. There are figures painted on all four sides and we’re quite curious about who was rubbed out:

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I really enjoyed wandering around the hipster corner, and not only because I got a real salad at a great restaurant! The shops were adorable and a few had Christmas displays and Christmas crafts for sale. The whole place was basically restored buildings built in, around, and incorporating trees. There was a public toilet behind the wall of books, which is a strange place for a toilet. We also got a kick out of the rather ancient Chubb safe.

Ipoh, like Penang, is filled with street art. At least one artist who colored George Town in Penang also had a hand in painting Ipoh. We didn’t see nearly as many murals as we did in Penang because we didn’t spend as much time there, but the ones we saw were charming and the art itself was really impressive.

We left Ipoh in the late afternoon and began the ascent to Cameron Highlands, which is about 5000m above sea level. Everyone told us to avoid the back route and avoid travelling in the dark. So what did we do? We took the back route and we arrived in the dark. It was honestly an accident. We were perhaps too reliant on our GPS and didn’t check the route map before following blindly. I was terrified and not driving; Mitch was very calm and driving, so that worked out. He got loads of practice shifting, too!

As we learned in the morning when we could see, Tanah Rata is an adorable little town full of steamboat restaurants (the local preference) and Indian restaurants (my preference). There were also a number of restaurants catering to Western tourists and even a well-hidden Starbucks which, I am proud to say, we only visited once.

Tanah Rata
Tanah Rata

We were surprised to see a convent on a hill overlooking the town, but it was actually a comforting sight. Three years at OLM has had quite the influence on my feelings towards religious houses!

Convent in Tanah Rata
Convent in Tanah Rata

There are dozens of little markets all over the place in the three main Cameron Highlands villages – Brinchang, Tanah Rata, and Ringlet – and along the roads connecting the villages.

Beautiful vegetables!
Beautiful vegetables!
Fish
I’m not sure where this fish comes from because there’s no ocean nearby, but it smelled VERY fresh

A note on the food for this trip: Indian food is my favorite food here in Malaysia because Indians understand what it means to be a vegetarian. Most of the tea in Malaysia comes from Cameron Highlands and most tea pickers are Indian, so Indian food was everywhere. We breakfasted each morning (and snacked once or twice) on some of our favorites: Masala tea, egg-cheese-onion roti with curry, and potato-vegetable thosai with dahl and curry. Delicious! I had vegetable curry twice for dinner because it’s just that good and we had amazing tom yam steamboat one night, too. The proprietor of this busy family restaurant clearly understood my dietary restrictions and assured me that there was no shrimp in the tom yam, but I’m still a bit skeptical. There’s shrimp paste in sambal, which is in just about everything spicy, so I’m willing to bet there’s at least a little in the tom yam. But darn was it good.

This sign was in front of the steamboat place where we had amazing food. The vegetables were kind of fresh, I guess . . .
This sign was in front of the steamboat place where we had amazing food. The vegetables were kind of fresh, I guess . . .

The first morning that we spent walking around Tanah Rata was literally the only time it wasn’t pouring. November and December are the rainiest months in the Cameron Highlands, which also makes them the coldest. We were not at all prepared for temperatures in the 60s Fahrenheit, but we joked that it’s good practice for our upcoming trip to Spain. Nevertheless, we had come all that way to explore and that’s exactly what we did.

Strawberry farm
Strawberry farm
Strawberry
It was weird to see strawberries grown so “unnaturally” – where I come from, they grow on bushes in gardens and are often eats by birds. There’s also much smaller at home and that’s how you know they’re going to be tasty!

I think our best adventure was to the Boh Sungei Palas Tea Centre. Boh tea is really popular here (think: Lipton or Twinings) and Mitch and I learned that we didn’t know anything about tea production. And now we do thanks to a factory tour! For example, all tea comes from the same plant that is picked every three weeks. The type of tea (green, black, white, yellow, etc) produced depends on the fermentation and oxidation time and temperature. (Who even knew tea had to be fermented and oxidized?!)

Roller from 1935 used to crush tea leaves that is still in use at the Boh factory
Roller from 1935 used to crush tea leaves that is still in use at the Boh factory

If teas are flavored or herbal, that’s because of added or substituted natural products, like chamomile flowers or ginger.

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The Boh plantation was astonishingly beautiful. Sadly, the pictures don’t even come close to capturing it.

We also made a very brief stop at a honey bee farm, mostly to sample honey sticks!

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Like everywhere in Malaysia, religion is important. It is telling that we didn’t see a mosque in Tanah Rata. Instead, we visited Hindu and Buddhist temples.

We couldn’t go inside Sri Tehndayuthapany Swamy but we enjoyed the gorgeous outside.

We did venture into Sam Poh Temple, quite a popular and even busy sight.

As if one tea plantation weren’t enough, we had to visit the other one, too. Cameron Valley Tea Estates didn’t seem as large as Boh, but it was equally incredible.

The other popular thing to do in Cameron Highlands is hike, but we had no real rain gear and it didn’t stop raining. I’m willing to bet that a hike in these mountains is a beautiful and unforgettable experience. Personally, I’m really glad we made this trip because this is the most beautiful land I’ve seen in Malaysia and we learned a lot about tea. If you go, go when it’s a little warmer and a little drier!

Travel Guide: Penang

I wasn’t sure what I was expecting when I accepted a job here in Malaysia, but then Mitch and I spent the weekend in Penang’s largest city, the UNESCO World Heritage Site George Town, and I found what I’d been hoping to find here – neighborhoods to explore, streets to walk, cafes to sit and eat and drink, bars with really good food, places to visit, and a multicultural, historical society. We had a wonderful weekend and I can’t wait to go back! (In fact, I’d rather like to relocate, but I don’t think there are many opportunities for Mitch there. Actually, I don’t know if there are any opportunities for me there. Anyway, we’re not relocating. At least, not to Penang.)

An example of what I thought I'd see in Malaysia
An example of what I thought I’d see in Malaysia

Part of the reason our weekend was so special is because we stayed in a perfectly comfortable, simple bed and breakfast in the heart of George Town. Steven, the proprietor of the Pedal Inn (I highly, highly, highly recommend it), told us what to do, where to go, and, most importantly, what to eat. Penang is famous for its seafood-based street food, most of which I can’t eat, but there are multiple vegetarian places, too! It really is a wonderful place.

We arrived late Friday night and began exploring on Saturday. Street art is both common and famous in Penang, so we spent a good bit of Saturday just wandering around the various historic neighborhoods and looking for it. There are maps to follow, but that would have been too easy. Some of the pieces were funky and fun and others were rather informative about the history of Penang. Still others, my favorites, made excellent use of the space around them.

China Town is a great place to see where real locals buy food. Literally all kids of food. I made it past 3 stalls selling various meats and fish and had to backtrack through a maze of people. The smell. . . . But there were others places to look around!

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We bumped into a batik-painting museum in China Town that we quite enjoyed. I didn’t know batik is only around 60 years old!

The third floor of the batik-painting museum
The third floor of the batik-painting museum

Since Deepavali (also spelled Divali or Diwali) is this coming week, Little India was a hopping place, too. We ended up eating lunch there at a banana leaf place, much like No. 1 Top Curry, my favorite restaurant in Seremban.

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We walked down to the waterfront and passed some British colonial buildings along the way. My favorite feature was this post box:

Why yes, Malaysia is a former British colony
Why yes, Malaysia is a former British colony

It was also really neat to see people driving their cars off of the ferry. The mainland is rather close by – right across the Straits of Malacca – and you can see it without trying too hard.

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Dear Rochester, this is what the fast ferry was supposed to do

Other wanderings took us past various religious buildings that are everywhere. Penang has more churches than I’ve seen elsewhere in Malaysia, even in Malacca. It also had mosques, Buddhist temples, and Hindu temples.

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We also wandered around Fort Cornwallis, which is one of the most depressing historical sites I’ve seen. This former British fort has not been particularly well maintained and contains very little historical information. It feels a bit stale and cost RM2 per person for a reason.

Statue of Lord Cornwallis
Statue of Lord Cornwallis

It started to rain (we’re in the rainy season now so that’s a daily event) so we headed to the Blue Mansion for a tour. The Blue Mansion is iconic in Penang because it’s, well, blue. It was designed, built, and lived in by Cheong Fatt Tze, a Chinese immigrant to Malaysia in the late 1800s. Unfortunately, most of it is a hotel now so we weren’t able to see much. The 45-minute tour is mostly about what the architects found when restoring the house in the 1990s. Not worth RM16 per person.

Cool Blue Mansion windows
Cool Blue Mansion windows

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We went to a British-style pub called SoHo for a while to get out of the rain, wandered in the rain to find dinner, and ended up back at said pub. Great food, not impressed with the drinks, pleased that a cocktail menu existed.

On Sunday we explored Penang Hill and Itam, an open air market neighborhood. It was cloudy (rainy season) when we went up the hill, but it got brighter the longer we were there. We seem to have poor luck with hills. It’s hard to see anything in the fog! When the clouds cleared for a moment, though, it was really beautiful.

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Looking down on Georgetown
Looking down on Georgetown
Looking at another hill in the area
Looking at another hill in the area
Looking at Penang Hill
Looking at Penang Hill

We drove through Itam by bus on the way to Penang Hill and much of it had cleared out by the time we went back there to eat, but that didn’t stop us from sampling various vegetarian foods, durian ice cream, and a coconut tart at various stands! When we drove through originally, Itam was swarming with both people and cars. I’m not exactly sorry that we were there at a quieter time.

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Our visit ended with a trip to the heavily commercialized Kek Lok Si Buddhist Temple, which combines Chinese, Thai, and Burmese architecture. It opened in 1905 and renovations and additions took place in the 1930 and early 2000s. There were hawkers everywhere, which was weird, but the architecture was beautiful.

Take-home message: Visit Penang!

Spotted in Old Town

Tonight Mitch and I ventured into the original town of Seremban, known as Old Seremban, Old Town, or sometimes just Seremban. It gets a little confusing when you consider that there’s also Seremban 2 and the outskirts of both towns, all of which are known as either Seremban or S2. Right now, we’re living in one of the Old Seremban outskirts (called Seremban) and school is close to Seremban 2, though still within Seremban city limits. Go figure.

We wandered around for a while before finding somewhere to eat. Here are some photos I took along the way.

Tree roots growing out of the ground
Tree roots growing out of the ground
Really neat Hindu temple smack in the middle of the city
Really neat Hindu temple smack in the middle of the city
Hindu temple from the front entrance
Hindu temple from the front entrance
The detail is so amazing and beautiful
The detail is so amazing and beautiful
Christmas lights on plastic trees . . . in September
Christmas lights on plastic trees . . . in September
Christmas tree in the Chinese restaurant where we ate dinner . . . in September
Christmas tree in the Chinese restaurant where we ate dinner . . . in September

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anyway, welcome to Seremban, where apparently it’s Christmas all the time.