Putanga – Life on the Road

Stories from my journeys around the world…

Archive for the ‘Malaysia’ Category

Selamat pagi, Malaysia!

Posted by Monica Johansen on October 1, 2009

It is Thursday morning, and I have just woken up in busy Kuala Lumpur to a new working day on customer site. I arrived late Monday night and I will only be here for three days so I am flying home already tonight. Tomorrow, I will be back in the office for one more stressful day before I jump on a new plane, but this time to go on holiday! Quarter end is always a hassle, and I am SO looking forward to getting away from work for a few days. πŸ™‚

Temple in Bangkok

Temple in Bangkok

Tomorrow night I am meeting my good Norwegian friend Edward in Bangkok (he is already there waiting for me, but I had to finish a project first), and on Saturday we are heading up to Laos for a new and exiting adventure. The plan is to first visit the capital, Vientiane, and then go further northwest to Luang Prabang, which is the former capital of Laos and a UNESCO World Heritage city. I am bringing my SLR camera and a couple of good lenses, and you can all look forward to a bunch of new photos posted here soon… πŸ™‚

By the way, Edward is also a Canon person, just like me, so he will be bringing a couple of nice lenses too. Hence, we can use each others lenses and share the weight load between us. It is always great to know other passionate Canon people with interesting lenses.

Have a great Thursday! πŸ˜€

Posted in Asia, Malaysia, Travel | 1 Comment »

Back in Kuala Lumpur

Posted by Monica Johansen on September 8, 2009

This week I am working a few days in Kuala Lumpur, and it has been a while now since the last time I was here. I am staying at Le Meridien at KL Central, as usual, and I still recognize a lot of the people working here. I also saw my favorite concierge this afternoon when I came back from the office, and he recognized me right away and came over to say hello. He is one of these people who make you feel really welcome, and I was happy to find out that he is still around.

Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur

Currently, we are in the middle of the Muslim holiday Ramadan, which is the Islamic month of fasting. Life in Muslim countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia changes a bit during this month, since the majority of the population, which are Muslim, will change their daily routines. For instance, the food courts and office canteens are almost empty since most people won’t eat lunch. In addition, people come into the office earlier than usual in order to be able to leave earlier in the afternoon and get back home and prepare for the evening’s meal with the family.

I have discovered that having dinner in the hotel restaurant can be a bit stressful during Ramadan since a lot of people will go out for dinner to celebrate. It is almost impossible to get a table, and if you are lucky enough to find a vacant seat you will have to stand in line to get to the food in the buffet. The whole thing is a bit stressful, so most of the time I skip dinner and just grab something simple on the way back to the hotel to avoid the crowds in this period.

Tomorrow evening I will be flying back to Singapore, and I must admit that I am looking forward to getting home. It is a bit funny actually, but when I am home I always want to get back on the road, but while on the road I always miss my home. As an American friend on mine once pointed out to me, it is not about where I am, it is about where I am not… πŸ™‚

Posted in Asia, Malaysia, Travel | 1 Comment »

Climbing Mount Kinabalu

Posted by Monica Johansen on April 18, 2009

Wednesday morning Shane and I were picked up at the hotel by our driver for the transport to Mount Kinabalu. The drive from Kota Kinabalu to the mountain took around 2 hours, and we were dropped off at the registration station and introduced to our guide who was taking us up to the mountain peak. The guide’s name was Thomas, and he looked like a typical sherpa, short, slim and very strong.

Mount Kinabalu

Mount Kinabalu

We started the ascent at Timpohon gate which is located at an altitude of 1800 meters above sea level. From there we hiked up the steep forest trail for around 6 hours to get to the base camp, Laban Rata hut, at 3300 meters. As we passed the 3000 meters mark I started to notice the altitude sickness typically evident by nausea and dizziness. In addition, it rained quite heavily most of the way up, and I was starting to get wet and cold. After ascending 1500 meters my body was drained of strength, and the sickness is often intensified by exhaustion, but nevertheless I made it up to base camp.

At the Laban Rata hut there were quite a few climbers who were planning to reach the peak the next morning, and Shane and I ended up having dinner and chatting with two English guys and one Australian woman. Dinner was served by the local staff around 5 PM, and we discovered that these people were in fact walking up and down the trail every day to carry food and supplies to the hut for the tourists. We were exhausted by just carrying ourselves and our little backpacks, and we were pretty amazed by the physical strengths of the locals.

We all went to bed early that night, since the climbing would start very early the next morning in order to get to the peak before sunrise. Our guide knocked on our door at 2:30 AM, and we started the climbing to the top in the darkness. We used torches to light up the trail in the beginning, but it was a clear night and once we reached the tree line the light from the moon and the stars was in fact sufficient. After around 3 hours and a strong effort we reached the summit, Low’s Peak at 4095 meters above sea level. It was still dark when we got to the top, and we found a spot to sit down and wait for the sunrise so we could take some nice photos. It was freezing cold on the top, especially since we had been sweating from the climbing, but the view was fantastic and when the sun started to appear we all forgot about our muscle pain.

Descending

Descending

Once the sun was up we had to start descending to get down to base camp before the rain started. Apparently, it always rains in the afternoon on the mountain because the peak is so high that the clouds cannot pass. The rainfall starts as early as 10-11 AM, and we wanted to get below the tree line to get some shelter before the clouds would come in. We reached base camp around 8:00 AM, and we had a huge breakfast before we started the long descent down to the Timpohon gate. The trip down took around 4 hours, and since the trail is very steep it was extremely hard on my knees. The rain started when we were half way down, and we were soaked when we finally reached the pickup point where our driver took us back to our hotel in Kota Kinabalu.

We didn’t have much energy on Thursday night, and Friday we flew back to Singapore. My body is still sore after the effort, but it feels good to have reached an altitude of 4095 meters, which is about 1600 meters higher than the highest peak of Norway.

Posted in Asia, Malaysia, Travel | 2 Comments »

Orangutans and English Tea

Posted by Monica Johansen on April 14, 2009

Shane and I arrived in Sandakan on Sunday night, and Monday morning we took a taxi out to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center to have a look at these close relatives of mankind. The orangutan feeding happens twice a day, at 10 AM and 3 PM, and we wanted to be there for the morning feeding since it often rains in the afternoon in this part of the world.

Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary

Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary

I had very high expectations to the sanctuary, and I must admit that I was a little bit disappointed. First of all, I was under the impression that the visitors would be allowed to feed the animals and actually interact with them (as advertised everywhere), but the reality was that we were watching one of the care takers sitting on a wooden plateau build around a tree and giving the orangutans bananas from a bucket. The animals were so far away from the visitors that I had to use my 300 mm lens in order to take photos. Secondly, I had expected a relatively large number of orangutans present for the feeding, but only three showed up. Of course, these animals are living in a sanctuary, and they are free to come and eat when they want, but it would have been nice to see more of these beautiful and amazing creatures.

After the feeding there was not much more to do in the sanctuary, and besides, it started raining heavily so we decided to head back to the hotel and figure out what to do next. We ended up having a chat with the people at the tourist information center in the hotel, and we book a mangrove cruise for the next day and were also advised to have a look at the Chinese temple in town. We took a taxi up to the temple, which was located on a hill overlooking Sandakan, and from there we had a fantastic view of the area. We also went for a walk around in the town center, and we discovered that the town was not very well maintained. It was interesting to walk along the harbor with all the local fishing boats, and the locals were smiling and waiving at us. Apart from that there wasn’t much to see and do in the town center, so we went back to the hotel and had dinner in the hotel restaurant.

Stilt fishing village

Stilt fishing village

The next day we had to check out of the hotel in the morning, and while Shane wanted to have a look at the pool area I went for a walk. I found a road leading up to a lookout, and, to my surprise, on the top of the hill I discovered a lovely little restaurant called The English Tea House. The place looked like something being taken out of a movie from the 1930ies, and it was beautifully restored and maintained. I decided to take a closer look at the place, and I sat down for a drink and an ice cream. While I was sitting there a polite man came over to my table and asked me if everything was OK. It turned out that he was the owner of the place, and we ended up having an interesting conversation. His name was Rory Richardson, and he was a true English gentleman. He had lived in Sandakan for a while, and while running the restaurant he also participated in local cleanup projects to make the town look better and be more attractive to tourists.

While sitting there I also ended up talking to a British-Indian man who was on holiday. He was in fact in Borneo primarily to look for a new property, and he was a very interesting person to talk to. When I had to head back to the hotel to meet Shane he drove me back so that I would make it in time, since I had to be back by 2 PM because of our mangrove trip in the afternoon. However, we decided to keep in touch since it is likely that we will be able to run into each other again somewhere in this region.

At 2 PM Shane and I were picked up at the hotel by our tour guide. Two other couples came with us on the tour, one couple from Australia and on couple from England. The guide drove us down to the harbor where we jumped on a boat to get out to the mangrove area, and I didn’t really expect too much from the tour, but it turned out to be a great trip. We floated through a stilt fishing village where the kids were laughing and waiving at us, and after the village we saw a bunch of animals in the mangrove, such as huge lizards, white herons, king fishers and several groups of proboscis monkeys. On the way back we stopped in the village and took a walk on the stilted trails, which was a bit scary since they didn’t feel very secure.

The English Tea House

The English Tea House

We were back in Sandakan town center after 2.5-3 hours, and I wanted to show Shane the English Tea House so we decided to go there for afternoon tea and dinner. Shane was just as impressed as I was with the beautiful surroundings and great service, but unfortunately he did not have the pleasure of meeting the nice owner since he had left for the day. Nevertheless, we ended up having a wonderful meal, starting with English tea and scones and ending with a lovely dinner. Shane’s lamb meal was enormous, and I was impressed by the fact that he managed to finish it. In addition, since our meal was a little delayed the waiters came out with free drinks and a snack as an apology, which is something that characterizes a high quality eating place. Shortly, I will highly recommend the place to anyone who comes to Sandakan for a visit.

We had a 9 PM flight back to Kota Kinabalu, and now we are back on the other side of Sabah. Tomorrow morning new adventures are waiting, and it is time to get some sleep to prepare for a couple of physically challenging days.

Posted in Asia, Malaysia, Travel | 1 Comment »

One Day in Kota Kinabalu

Posted by Monica Johansen on April 12, 2009

Last night Shane and I arrived in Kota Kinabalu, which is the largest city in the Malaysian state of Sabah located on Borneo. Today we have spent most of the day walking around in the city and looking for something nice to see and do while waiting for our flight to Sandakan on the northeastern side of Borneo. Sandakan is where the famous Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary is located, and we are planning to spend a couple of nights there in order to have a full day with the orangutans in the jungle and in addition have time to see other sights in the area.

Kota Kinabalu Harbor

Kota Kinabalu Harbor

Kota Kinabalu appears to be like most Malaysian cities, i.e. full of life but not particularly neat and tidy. The buildings are old fashioned and run down, but luckily the traffic is pretty well organized. We started off this morning by visiting the Sunday marked, which was very crowded already at 9 am. We didn’t really want to buy anything, but it was fun walking around and looking at all the stuff they sell there. However, to my disappointment I discovered that not only did they sell handcraft and food, but also live animals, such as cats, dogs, rabbits, budgies, chickens and gold fish, and it didn’t look like the animals were happy in their too small cages. It was in fact quite a disturbing sight to see the chickens hanging their heads out between the bars in order to get some air, and the poor baby rabbits were constantly poked and picked up by their tails. I think some of the international animal rescue organizations should have a look at that marked. I wanted to buy all the animals to rescue them from their horrible destiny, but as Shane so rightfully pointed out to me, I didn’t have anywhere to keep them, and it is not very likely to get them into Singapore.

Anyway, I look forward to the day it is illegal to treat animals like toys or objects. Although they don’t have the same level of intelligence as us humans, they are still living social creatures that can feel pain and that need positive social interaction. I boycott all cruelty to animals, and I will definitely not buy a fur coat or start eating meat again any time soon!

After visiting the marked we walked over to the harbor to have a look at the boats and the scenery. The harbor area is not as fantastic as in Sydney, but it is nice and fresh with the breeze coming in from the ocean. We ended up having lunch at an Irish pub by the water, and it was nice to get some good old fashioned western food. When I moved to Singapore I had Asian food all the time, and I wanted to get used to it and try all kind of different food you can get there. But now, after being there well over a year, I must admit that I have more or less completely converted to western food, and I think it is because there is so much bad quality Asian food out there. Western food is mostly more expensive, but at least you know what you are eating.

Well, Shane and I are at the airport in Kota Kinabalu, and it is time to jump on a plane again… πŸ˜‰

Posted in Asia, Malaysia, Travel | 1 Comment »