A Travellerspoint blog

Elephants and Timber

sunny 32 °C
View Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia 2008 on shinenyc's travel map.

From Kuala Lumpar, I took a bus at Titiwasa Bus Station to Temerloh, a small town in Pehang province, to visit the famous Kuala Gandal Elephant Sanctuary in Lanchang. This centre relocates and rehabilitates wild elephants all over South East Asia when the elephants raid farmer crops in previously forested land. Forced to separate from their families and land, some relocations create tremendous stress on the elephants which causes death. The lucky ones are placed on the northern side of the Malaysia National Park, Taman Negara, and reunited with their families. The young or injured are brought to the centre for treatment and rehabilitation.


I must have picked the busiest day of the year because there were busloads of school children and tourist crowds all anxious to see and ride these magnificent animals. All the elephants look quite relaxed and well-trained when dealing with people. Some of them are very picky at the kind of fruits visitors offer them. The highlight of my visit was the bathing of the baby elephants. The two were so at ease with playing in the water with visitors that for a moment it might seem to temporarily ease the painful memories of family separation for these youngsters.


I also visited the Deerland Zoo, a nearby small zoo that housed various animals, such as macquets, sun bear, pocupine, flying squirrels etc. Although the zoo allows touch and close contact with all these animals, I cannot help but think how much money the owner is making by putting a fence or cage around these once wild and free animals.

From Temerloh, I took a bus to Jerantut, the gateway to Taman Negara, the National Park of Malaysia. Waiting for the night bus to Kuala Tahan, the village at the park entrance, I wandered into a hotel hoping to rest in air-con lobby away from the humidity and heat from the streets. Once inside, I casually asked if there is any guide willing to take me up to Gunung Tahan, the highest mountain in peninsular Malaysia. The Chinese receptionist gave me the phone no. of a local guide. With nothing to do for the next few hours, I decided to try my luck.


To my surprise, the person on the other line was very professional. Within 15 min, he came to see me at the hotel lobby with pamphlets of jungle activities and explained to me that treks up to Gunung Tahan is very rare because it takes more than one week and too expensive for one person. Instead, he offered to show me to his regular job, timber truck driver.


Within a few hours, I was taken in a large timber truck to the logging hut on a clear patch of logged land in the middle of the jungle. The woman workers welcomed me with warm enthusiasm. We talked with broken english and malay until late night and felt asleep. Next morning, I was greeted with a delicious fried maggi noodle with chicken breakfast. After breakfast, they showed me around different logging areas by different owners, mostly Chinese. I spent hours watching the skillful workers carefully loading each truck with timbers, with meticulous precision to ensure safety and chatted with the owners about the timber market.


Apparently, timber drivers are paid relatively well because of the demanding working conditions. Many workers are indians and chinese who spend over 10 years taking timbers out of the precious rain forest. Timbers are logged in the inner jungle, then transported to the 'outer station' for loading. Trucks will take these measured and categoried timber to different factories for cutting. Prices flunctuates often depending on the quality of wood and on market conditions. I said farewell to the logging team, feeling very lucky to be able to see the story on the opposite side of conservation on this side trip.

Posted by shinenyc 22:43 Archived in Malaysia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Honggie in KL

sunny 31 °C
View Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia 2008 on shinenyc's travel map.

Malaysia is quite possibly the most diversed city in Malaysia. Since it became independent from Britain 51 years ago in 1957, capital Kuala Lumpar (KL) had transformed from a colonial town to one of the most modern cities in Asia. The majority population of Malay lives relatively peacefully with minority Indians and Chinese, compared to its neighboring countries.

Nowadays, most tourists come to KL to see the architectural gem, the Petronas Towers. With many islamic element built in with its design and superior lighting, it is honestly the most impressive buildings of all the concrete jungles in the world.


The experience in KL was short but delightfully. After the airport shuttle dropped me off in front of my guesthouse on one of the busiest tourist street Bukit Binteng, I briefly strolled around the night market crowded with name brand stores next to mini-markets and street food stools. Wandering aimlessly, the sight of Petronas Towers suddenly caught my eyes. The highest twin towers in the world, Petronas Towers had brought Malaysia's architecture to a new height. The islamic elements in the tower design are not only asthetically beautiful, but architectural exceptional. Almost every angle reveals a different perception in the building's design. Almost every curve symbolizes the achievement of modern Islam. I sat next to the fountain outside the entrance watching passerby carrying bags of top name brand stores in and out of the shopping mall and testing my new Malaysia sim card in my mobile phone for a good while.


The next day, I took a local bus to the famous Batu Cave, the holy sight where tens of thousands of hindu believers gather every January/February with self-torturing ceremonies. When I was about to come out, rain started pouring from all directions, I was left to hang out with the monkey families outside the Dark Cave next door.


Back to the city, I took the Metro Rail subway to a neighborhood called Kampung Baru, inhabited mostly by Malay. Sitting in a small restaurant within this quiet neighborhood watching the Petronas Tower light up for the night, one cannot help but notice the gap between the few rich and the rest of common people in this developing countries. After a quick dinner, I rode the Light Rail to Titiwansa. KL is not a walker friendly town. Wrong direction given by the rail reception resulted in me walking alongside the highway for about 20 minutes, unable to cross to
the park where the Eye of Malaysia is located. Luckily, I was not the only lost soul. I finally hailed a taxi with another couple behind me and got to the park.


Although much smaller than the London Eye, the Malaysia eye is delicately positioned above a lake with nightly laser show. KL's skyscrapers from the eye on a full moon night look both peacefully and magically. After a short stroll in the park, I took a taxi back to Melaki Square, where a Bangledesh festival was going on. This is where the British administrative offices were located and so nowhere else in KL is colonialism so apparent reflected in these buildings.


On my last morning in KL, the guesthouse owner gave me, 'a Honggie' (People from Hong Kong) a lesson on how to pick a good cab driver. I decided to visit the Islamic Museum of Art, a graceful building designed with an entrance resembling the Kaaba in Mecca. The collection was equally impressive, with everything from fabric, utensil, coins, furnitures of different muslim communities in history to in-depth explanation of fancinating arabic calligraphy and mosque design around the world. The visit was well-worth it. My leaving the museum coincedes with the friday praying at the National Mosque and in no time, I was completely engulfed in crowds.


Posted by shinenyc 03:29 Archived in Malaysia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)


semi-overcast 25 °C

From the beaches of Nha Trang, I took another overnight bus to Hai An, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, because of its ancient Chinese history and architecture in this small Vietnamese town. A short walk from my 3-star hotel, An Phu, is the old town, where all the local markets and tourist stores are located within a number of old Chinese temples. I feel like walking in a TV or movie set, only missing is the film crew and my traditional Chinese costume, replacing these is the motor bikes and 'farangs'.


Overnight buses can be very tiring, yet for budget travellers like myself, it is also the best and most economic way to go from one town to another. The night bus from Hoi An to Hanoi proved to be a test to my patience. Vietnam drivers love to honk for anything in their way, more so than in Cambodia. Because of the large number of modern cars as well as motorcycles on the streets, sleeping under constant honking is virtually impossible. Not only did my inconsiderable driver play loud Cheesy English club songs to wake up his passengers, he stopped at a local canteen with sanitary standard so low that if I had lunch earlier that day, I would not submit myself to a bowl of nasty noodle soup and then got overcharged without the ability to talk myself out with the rude waiters. Little did I know that this is only the beginning.

By the time we pulled into the humidity of Hanoi, local people already crowded the streets on their motorcycles to work. The gloomy town looked and felt miserable compared to the rest of Vietnam. Once we got off the bus, taxi drivers started to hassle us and offered to take us to the 'Old Town' area for free. Of course, he dropped us off at an old guesthouse/travel agency outside of the area and asked us to pay. Together with two other women from Hong Kong, we managed to struggle off the rude driver and took another taxi with meter to find our own guesthouse.


Courtesy is applied with prejudice here. If you are asian tourist not in a group tour, most cold Hanoiese will just ignore you to a point you actually feel unwelcome. Otherwise, you will be treated as an ATM machine. The first guesthouse receptionist made it pretty clear that we are disturbing his work whe we asked for rooms. After couple trials, we managed to find a decent guesthouse but then I found out everything in my backpack is damp and smells. Finally, I sit on my bed, can't wait to start planning for my departure date.


The area surrounding the lake is full of tourist shops selling everything from T-shirts to silk clothing to flags to grave stone. The famous tourist attraction near Hanoi, Halong Bay, was the main reason I went there. But at this point, I was so tired of being treated with bad courtesy and as ATM machine that I decided to skip the tourist-infested Halong Bay area. On the morning of my third day, after another crazy taxi ride to the airport, I flew to Bangkok, again.

Posted by shinenyc 22:35 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Vietnam - Motorbike madness

sunny 26 °C

It must be a special day when I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Just the sheer number of motorbikes on the streets rivals the bees on a beehives. Crossing a small street with no traffic lights proved to be a real challenge especially when you are carrying a large backpack. Nevertheless, I made it in one piece.


After settling down in a guesthouse, I had two delicious bowls of Vietnamese noodle (Pho) at a small local restaurant where Bill Clinton ate when he came to Saigon in the late 90s. I then took a 1-hour cyclo ride around town.


The next day, I visited the Ho Chi Minh museum and the war museum, where photos and details of the Vietnam war were echibited. Pictures of torture of women and children by American soldiers and victims of chemical warfare were vividly displayed in front of our eyes, with 300o tons bombs, tanks and fighter planes outside. I wonder if these photos are on shown front-page major newspapers in the States, will the public be more outspoken enough to change a regime which see war as nothing but a money-making tool.


I escaped Saigon quickly and arrived at Nha Trang, a beach resort for locals and tourists, after an overnight bus ride. This is my first time on this trip to see the ocean. Since there are many Chinese-Vietnamese here, I seldom get hassled by local women selling chewing gums or peanuts. While most foreigners lay under the sun for hours, locals sit and enjoy the breezy weather under coconut trees in groups. I enjoyed a nice walk along the Nha Trang beach on a Saturday night watching familes and children.

Posted by shinenyc 22:06 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Cambodia - the Rich and the Poor

sunny 30 °C
View Thailand, Laos, Camodia, Vietnam 2007 on shinenyc's travel map.

After a month stay at Muang Ngoi, I finally headed south to Luang Prabang, a world heritage town, for a few days, then to Vientiane, capital of Laos. Because of its history and location (next to Mekong River), most buildings in Luang Prabang are French colonial styled. To accomodate the large number of tourists, the city is also full of trendy restaurants and a great night market. With the assistance of my local friends, I even bought a traditional Laos skirt. Vientiane, in comparison, is not as interesting, however, it is probably the most laid-back capital city in the world with only a few large hotels, motorbikes and SUVs.


A 10-hour bus ride took me from Vientiane to Pakse, a typical small Laos town with plenty of guesthouses and a few wats (temples). From Pakse, I took a 2-hr minibus to Doi Det, the border of Laos and Cambodia. Because of the many islands here on the Mekong River, it is also called the 'Four Thousand Islands'. Since there is only a few hours of electricity at night and high humidity, I quickly moved on to cross the border the next day, after a nice relaxing boat trip at sunset.


My first day in Cambodia turned out to be a surprise. The people at my guesthouse invited me and another American couple to a local wedding after a boat ride for dolphin-watching. The abundance of cheap beer and good food provided everyone a great time that night.


From Kratie, a 6-hr bus ride took me to the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, a city that went through very much in recent history. After a short visit to the Royal Palace, I visited Tuol Sleng, the Genocide Museum, which used to be a local high school. Only 30 years ago, the Poi Pet regime had massacred about 14000 people at this school over a 4 year period. Photos of victims and torture tools filled the museum with a chilly atmosphere.


From Phnom Penh, I took a 'very long' local bus to Siam Reap, where the famous Angkor Wat is. As impressive as it is, the whole Angkor Wat was filled with tourists from sunrise to sunset. The town Siam Reap is, as a result, packed with luxurious resorts for all types of tourists, esp. Japanese and Korean. Compared with the shanty houses along the same avenue with disabled children running around with no underpants, one has to wonder if Angkor Wat actually benefits local economy or just a tourist trap?


Posted by shinenyc 07:04 Archived in Cambodia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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