The Daily Explorer

September 16, 2010

Mosques, Mid-Life and Michael Jackson

Cameron Highlands, Malaysia: September 2010

MOZZIE BYTE (Editor): A warm welcome back to all our Daily Explorer readers and greetings to those of you who are joining us for the first time. For new readers, Ray has been living nomadically for nearly five years since he left England in November 2005 and has visited or lived in 16 countries. We have been publishing news and stories about his journey throughout that period. You can find all of these in our Previous Issues archive. Our aim at The Daily Explorer is to create a great publication for you to enjoy, so please keep sending us your comments and suggestions as to how we can improve what we are doing. You can use the comments box on this site, or email Ray (ray@thedailyexplorer.com), ‘Mozzie’ or any of our correspondents at mozzie@thedailyexplorer.com

Our latest issue has been put together by Po Scard, our cultural correspondent (above), who has been following Ray since he arrived in Malaysia a few weeks ago. In this issue, our traveller explores mainland Malaysia before bidding farewell and returning to Thailand. Highlights include Ray’s visit to Malacca and Terengganu, celebrating his 50th birthday on Cherating Beach, trekking in Taman Negara National Park and a sighting of the rare Rafflesia flower in the cool, lush Cameron Highlands.

In case you missed our last issue, Po completed our three-part feature about Ray’s exploration of the island of Borneo. Our global nomad made his way to Sarawak to round off his visit to the third largest island in the world. Highlights include the magnificent caves at Gunung Mulu National Park, which is also home to ‘The Pinnacles’ – one of the most challenging and visually breathtaking treks on the island. And we also reported on his visit to the city of Kuching and nearby Bako National Park. You can read it now at: Borneo Uncovered (Part Three)

Above: Deer Cave, in Gunung Mulu National Park, is one of the largest of its kind in the world and is just one of the amazing places to explore in Sarawak. If you missed our last issue, you can read the full story at: Borneo Uncovered (Part Three)

Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy, consisting of thirteen states and three federal territories and has a total landmass of 329,845 square kilometres (127,354 square miles). The country is separated by the South China Sea into two regions, Peninsular Malaysia and Malaysian Borneo (also known as West and East Malaysia respectively). Mainland Malaysia shares its land border with Thailand and has maritime boundaries with Singapore, Vietnam, and the Philippines. The country is located near the equator and has a tropical climate. The capital city is Kuala Lumpur (KL) and the population of the country stands at over 28 million. “I spent a fair amount of time in KL a few weeks ago before heading for Borneo and must admit, I wasn’t that enamoured with it. So when I returned to explore the mainland, I decided to head straight for Malacca” he told me.

Malaysia gained independence from the British over 50 years ago. The Union Jack was lowered and the first Malayan flag was raised on midnight 31st August 1957. Peninsular Malaysia is also known as West Malaysia (Malaysia Barat) or Malaya (Tanah Melayu). The term “Peninsular Malaysia” is used more often than “West Malaysia” to avoid the idea that West and East Malaysia are separate countries (like West Germany and East Germany used to be until 1990). Malaysia is a mix of the modern world and a developing nation. With its investment in the high technology industries and moderate oil wealth, it has become a rich nation in South-East Asia. For most visitors, it presents a happy mix; there is high-tech infrastructure and things generally work well and more or less on schedule, but prices remain more reasonable than, say, Singapore, which left the federation and became independent in 1965.

Above: Map showing location of Malaysia, which is split into two parts – Western and Eastern – the Peninsula (above Singapore) and the upper section of the island of Borneo (circled)

Below: This map shows more detail as to how mainland or ‘Peninsular Malaysia’ (left), which borders Thailand and Borneo (right) are divided politically. The tiny island state immediately adjacent to the south of Johor is Singapore. The Strait of Malacca is one of the world’s busiest shipping routes 

Malacca (shown on map as ‘Melaka’) is rich with heritage buildings, ancient landmarks and colonial structures. It was here that colonial forces first made contact with Malaysia, which eventually shaped the country into its current economic and political system. “You can still see the imprints of British, Dutch and Portuguese forces left behind in forts, museums, churches and towers” observed Ray. “While Malacca has a multi-racial population of Malays, Chinese and Indians reflecting the overall racial make-up of Malaysia, it is the Peranakan and Portuguese culture still practised by a few descendant communities that attracts visitors” he told me. “The Peranakan and Portuguese descendants in Malacca today are the result of the state’s long history with trading and colonisation by Oriental and Western powers” added our budding historian. “Let me give you a couple of examples – The Christ Church was built in 1753 by the Dutch to commemorate a century of their rule and is a landmark of fine Dutch architecture. The beams were constructed from cutting and carving a single tree and have no joints! The church is indeed a sight for those who love fine structural design. And the clock tower was built by the third generation of a Chinese philanthropic millionaire family. Although named after Tan Beng Swee, it was in fact built in 1886 by his son Tan Jiak Kim, to fulfill his father’s wish. Tan Beng Swee, was the son of Tan Kim Seng who donated both the bridge adjacent to the clock tower and land for the Chinese cemetery. The original clock was imported from England. When the clock was replaced by one from Seiko in 1982, it caused an uproar among the senior citizens of Malacca who still recall the harsh treatment they suffered during Japan occupation” explained our traveller.

I was interested to know what Ray’s overall impression of the city was and put the question to him after a couple of days. “Well Po, let me answer by referring to the “Lonely Planet” guide, which sums it up quite nicely: “Back when Kuala Lumpur was a malaria-ridden swamp and Penang was yet to become the ‘Pearl of the Orient’, Malacca was already one of the greatest trading ports in South-East Asia. Over time, it lost favour to Singapore and became a sleepy backwater compared with its high rolling cousin, but today it’s the ‘lost in time’ feel of the place that makes it so charming” – “I couldn’t agree more” said Ray.

Above: Malacca Central with the Christ Church and the Clock Tower. A few years before the British left, they painted all the buildings on Dutch Square a most unsympathetic salmon pink, for the sake of conservation if not aesthetics. In an only partially successful attempt to remedy the ghastly result, the colour was later deepened to its current rust-red tone

Below: Night-time view of one of Malacca’s many pretty canals

Chinatown is the heart of Malacca and by far the most interesting area to wander around. “During the day, Jonker Street becomes a famous haunt for shopping antiques and other old goods” Ray told me. “At night on weekends (Friday and Saturday), the place transforms into a fantastic eating stretch where you can bask in the moonlight while visiting stalls upon stalls of traders peddling all sorts of goods and food” added Ray. “Similar to a ‘Pasar Malam’ or night market, Jonker Street shuts its doors to traffic at 7pm. Then, hawkers congregate on the area to dish out a variety of sumptuous delights, most of them unique food from Nyonya culture. The hawkers themselves use traditional utensils to cook their fare, adding to the cultural charm of Jonker Street. And to top it all, there is some fabulous street entertainment, like the infamous Dr. Ho Eng Hui, who I had heard about from other travellers and read about in my guidebook” said Ray.

Above: The bridge which connects Jonker Street with Christ Church and the Clock Tower (left). And the charming Jonker Street night market which is open every Friday and Saturday evening

So who is Dr. Ho Eng Hui? “He is a Kung Fu master who eats fire and throws knives, but the real reason to find him is to watch him pummel his finger into a coconut” said Ray. “If you are not familiar with the strength of a coconut’s husk, think back to Tom Hanks in the film ‘Castaway’. Remember how he spends hours hurling a coconut on the rocks trying to break the damn thing open? A soft human finger shouldn’t be able to pierce through the husk but this guy really seems to do it and has been entertaining folks by doing this for over 35 years! It turns out that he is in fact a doctor, and the purpose of his performance is to sell a ‘miracle oil’ that cures aches and pains. My friend Michele actually rubbed a little into a sore muscle around her neck and shoulder and within hours, experienced significant relief, so it seemed to work” recalled Ray. “Whether or not is does, his little show was very lively and great fun”.

I heard from Ray’s friend Michele, who has been travelling with him through Malaysia, that our traveller himself had been the unlikely source of some entertainment that evening, when he spontaneously decided to gatecrash a small group of ladies practising Malaysian Line Dancing. “”We both stopped to watch them through the doorway of their local community centre and after a couple of minutes, Ray suddenly leapt up and decided to join in. Luckily, I managed to get the video camera rolling for a few seconds and capture some of his moves on film, so that Daily Explorer readers can see for themselves how brave, or how daft he is” she told me. “When he finds out I have sent this to you, I am sure I will be in big trouble” she laughed. “What line dancing? – don’t know what you are talking about!” was Ray’s very short response when I questioned him about it. You can judge for yourself when you see Michele’s video clip!

Above: Some great entertainment is provided by Dr. Ho Eng Hui, a real doctor who can pummel his finger into a coconut – “He works the crowd really well and his show is more like a 45 minute infomercial for selling his ‘miracle cure’ than anything else, but its a lot of fun regardless” said Ray

Below: The moment of truth as “Dr. Ho” prepares for his big moment. He has been doing this twice a night, every weekend for over 35 years and is a Malacca legend!

Above: Further entertainment in Malacca was provided by Ray, who spontaneously decided to join in with the local ladies practising their Malaysian Line Dancing. Luckily, his friend Michele captured a few seconds of our nomad’s moves on video and sent it to us (see below)

Above: On Saturday night, there is a complete Cabaret of entertainment for the locals at one end of the market – “It is all performed in Malaysian so I did not understand any of it, but the crowd seemed to like it” observed Ray

Below: If you need to get around Melaka at night, there are several of these wild and crazy Trishaws available for hire. Outrageously kitsch, the favourite decorations are plastic flowers, baby doll heads, religious paraphernalia, tinsel, Christmas lights and a sound system. Taking a ride in one is potentially the most ‘touristy’ thing you can do in the town, but it supports a dying industry and is great fun

Above: A replica of the Frol de la mar ship, on display beside the Malacca waterfront (Photo: Wikipedia)

Next stop on our travellers itinerary was the tiny beach resort of Cherating, on the east coast of the Malaysian Peninsular and I was curious to know why he was headed there. “Since we started travelling together in Borneo a few weeks ago, Michele and I have been on the go pretty much non-stop and anyone who has been a traveller will know that constantly moving around gets a bit exhausting. You are continuously researching how to get to the next place, finding and pricing accommodation options and having to constantly re-pack your bag all the time” explained Ray. “Although I am now quite used to this, having been doing it for nearly five years, when Michele mentioned she would like to take a break on a beach for a few days, it sounded like heaven to me too. We had researched Cherating and discovered that most travellers give it a miss because it is small, quiet and undeveloped, with little or nothing to do, so for our purposes it was perfect!” he explained.

Above: Map of the Malaysian Peninsular, showing the location of the tiny village of Cherating (circled)

Below: The beach at Cherating. Very few people and nothing much to do – “It’s perfect” said Ray

I touched base with Ray after a couple of days to find out how he was getting on. “I have to admit Po, that this place is turning out to be quite a bit better than I thought” admitted Ray. “In fact, I would go so far as to say it is one of the best kept secrets in Malaysia” he said enthusiastically. “When we arrived, Michele and I had to walk almost one kilometre in the blazing heat with our luggage, which made me feel (at the time) that coming here had possibly been a mistake. And as we walked through the village looking for a place to stay, it was like walking through one of those old towns in a western/cowboy movie, when a shoot-out is about to take place – everyone is inside their homes, with just the sound of tumbleweed and the heat and dust for company. But eventually, we found a place that seemed like it would be pretty good for a while and booked a room near the beach. I then discovered that the ‘Don’t Tell Mama’ Cafe – a reggae bar beach hut and the only place on the beach serving food – actually had a free wi-fi network, meaning I would be able to upload my pictures for The Daily Explorer. And the whole town was full of wildlife as if it were somehow integrated into the nature surrounding it, making me feel like I was living inside a great big zoo!” recalled Ray. “And if all that wasn’t enough to be in bliss, I discovered the reggae beach bar also had a satellite TV link which meant I could see live soccer games, and they served the best French fries in the whole of Asia” said our gourmet traveller. “Because I was staying put for a while, I was able to establish a bit of a routine, which is something you might not immediately think of if you have never lived nomadically. For example, fitness – last year I was able to train for a marathon because I lived in the same place for six months and worked out a daily pattern in which I could fit my training, fundraising and social activities” explained Ray. “Constantly moving means no two days have the same pattern, which makes it much harder to plan things like this. But being here gave me the chance to get my running shoes on again 3-4 times a week which I was very grateful for” he told me.

Above: Our traveller was in a bit of a spin when he first arrived in Cherating (left), but soon relaxed after discovering that a nearby restaurant was serving a full English cooked breakfast everyday, with fresh coffee. When he was looking for somewhere to stay, one of the places that got the ‘thumbs down’ was the ‘Ranting Beach Resort’ (right) – “I can only guess that the owners had no idea what the name means in English” he laughed

Below: The peaceful and picturesque Tanjung Inn was finally chosen to serve as home for a few days in Cherating – “Sometimes, I wish I had kept a note of how many different beds I have slept in over the last five years – it must be several hundred” said Ray

Above: This monitor lizard was not in the least bit shy, joining Ray for breakfast one morning…..

Below:…. whilst this little monkey and his friends was often seen hanging around in town – “I saw at least 20 of them when I went running early in the morning” said Ray 

Above: Like most places in the world, conservation is critical. In Cherating, they have established a Turtle Sanctuary to help protect the various species that are threatened – “It’s such a shame that places like this have to exist” said our traveller

After talking to some of the locals, I realised that Cherating is not quite the ‘best kept’ secret that Ray had suggested. Cherating has the perfect combination of great surf, a wide stretch of white sandy beach, plenty of accommodation, a growing number of dining choices and a classic surfers’ nightlife scene. Surfers linger for days and even months in this small enclave to catch the best waves and chill out with fellow surfers. In fact, “Surfers’ Haven” has long been the description of Cherating Village since the 1970’s. The beach is immaculate and breath-taking; so much so that Club Med decided to build its first Asian base right here, which apparently turned out to be quite lucky for our traveller. “Readers who remember our last issue may recall that my 50th birthday was imminent” said Ray. “I had no idea that I would end up celebrating it in Cherating, where there is practically nothing available that you could describe as lavish. None the less, Michele was determined to create a sense of celebration for me, which I am extremely grateful to her for” recalled Ray. “She was very creative under the circumstances, engineering many little surprises during the day for me. And one big one too that evening, as she had secretly arranged for us to have dinner in the (ever so posh) restaurant at the Club Med Resort” he told me. “It just happened to be Club Med’s own anniversary, and they were having a huge champagne party for all their guests, following a tribute concert to the late, great Michael Jackson. Michele found out about all of this (without letting on) and managed to get tickets for both of us to attend. But first she treated me to a superb meal, accompanied by some fantastic red wine, which was the first I had in ages and which really added to the sense of occasion” said our 50-year-old nomad. “My big day was really superb, with over 40 messages or phone calls from friends all over the world. And I was really well taken care of by Michele. Fortunately for me, I had an opportunity to do the same for her three days later, on her own birthday. She had been saying for weeks that she really wanted to learn how to ride a motorcycle, so I found someone in the village who was willing to rent me his moped for the day. And there was a car park adjacent to where we were staying, creating a perfect, safe venue for her to try her hand at riding. She was absolutely thrilled!” Ray told me.

Above: Ray commemorates his fiftieth birthday – “I can honestly say, as I pass this milestone, that I feel like I have become the “best version of myself” that I have ever been to date” said our traveller. “I believe that I have found a way of living that suits my soul and if my life were to end at this point, I would definitely be satisfied with the way things have turned out, especially in the last five years. This year has been very special for me and my sense of inner peace is growing all the time – I am very excited about what’s in store and have a number of things I would like to try my hand at, including writing a book. Running the marathon last year was a great investment in my health and consequently, I am in great shape – the challenge as a nomad is to stay that way!” he told me

Below: The fabulous restaurant at the Club Med Resort in Cherating (left), where Ray was taken by his friend Michele (bottom left) as part of his 50th birthday celebrations – “It was so lovely to drink some good quality wine (right) and really savour this particular moment in time – coming to places like this is something I don’t do very often as a budget traveller and I really appreciate all the trouble that Michele went to on my behalf ” he told me

Above: Club Med celebrated their own anniversary by staging a tribute to the late, great Michael Jackson. What did Ray make of it? – “It was tremendous. As far as entertainment goes, you could not ‘Beat It’. With the cast all coming from the staff at the resort, the show was a bit ‘Off the Wall’, but nevertheless a ‘Thriller’. I felt ‘Bad’ when it was over” joked our music fan

Below: Ray meets Michael Jackson at the party after the show – “The cheeky bugger” said Ray. “Somehow, he must have seen the video of my Malaysian Line Dancing, because he asked me if I would stick around and teach him some of my dance moves – I couldn’t believe it” said our astounded birthday guest

Above: The Club Med Chef brings out the cake (left) whilst Ray drinks champagne and talks to some of the other guests (right)

Below: Three days later and Michele enjoys one of her birthday gifts from Ray; an introductory lesson on how to ride a motorcycle – “Given she had never ridden a motorcycle before, she did really well and learnt the basics pretty quickly. Don’t tell her this, but I think I might leave it a while before I accept a ride as her passenger” said Ray cautiously

Above: The ‘Don’t Tell Mama’ Cafe on Cherating beach not only serves the best French fries in Asia and shows live football (left), they also have a free wi-fi network which our connected traveller took full advantage of (right)

Below: Ray asked us to include this picture as a special treat for one of our readers in England – an avid Daily Explorer follower and our global nomad’s number one fan – his mum!

Refreshed and rested from his beach retreat, our global traveller set off for Taman Negara National Park. At over 4,300 square kilometres in area, and at twice the size of Luxembourg, Peninsular Malaysia’s greatest national park sprawls in a huge, verdant swathe across the states of Pahang, Kelantan and Terengganu. Everything about Taman Negara is big: the trees are dwarfing, the forest impenetrably huge, the timescale dauntingly massive (the jungle is 130 million years old) and ants and fellow creepy crawlies are simply outsize. “Having the opportunity to enjoy a natural phenomena like this, which has been around for millions of years is just awesome and it is the kind of experience that really makes travelling worthwhile” said our intrepid explorer. “To get into the National Park, the easiest way is to head for Jerantut by bus, which takes around 3-4 hours from Kuantan (see map above). From there, another short bus journey takes you to a jetty at Kuala Tembeling where you can jump in a longboat and be ferried up the river to park headquarters in Kuala Tahan, where most of the guest houses are located. It’s a very scenic journey and really pleasant, as long as the boat engine doesn’t break down and leave you stuck on the river in the soaring heat, which does happen from time to time” explained our traveller. “It is billed, perhaps wrongly, as a wildlife park. Certainly this magnificent, lush region is a haven for endangered species such as the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), tigers, leopards and rhinos, but numbers are low and sightings are rare” Ray told me. “It’s unlikely that you will see anything more exotic than snakes (dog-toothed cat snakes, reticulated pythons, temple pit vipers and red-headed kraits all live here), lizards, monkeys and small deer. Michele and I spotted a couple of tapir (the first time I had ever seen one) and some wild boar” added Ray.

“Bird life is prolific, however, and you will probably glimpse more insects – many at extremely close quarters – than you’ve ever seen in your life” he told me. The park is also home to the nomadic Batek people, one of Malaysia’s aboriginal groups. The diverse flora is equally enthralling, ranging from luminescent fungi to rafflesia (a parasitic plant devoid of stems, roots or leaves and the world’s largest flower), orchids, two-tone ferns and towering, ancient trees with trunks that flare imposingly into the ground. The jungle at Taman Negara is so dense that you could pass within metres of an animal and never know it. The probability of spotting wildlife increases the further you trek from the heavily trafficked park headquarters, but sightings are never guaranteed. Some travellers are subsequently disappointed, but that is perhaps to miss the point; the greatest reward of a visit to Taman Negara is to be present in one of the world’s oldest, most pristine extant primary rainforests. None of the Ice Ages had any effect here, and Taman Negara has eluded volcanic activity and other geological upheavals.

Above: Longboats at the jetty in Kuala Tembeling. The journey up river to Taman Negara takes about two and a half hours from here. If you don’t fancy it, there is a much cheaper bus from Jerantut which goes overland to park headquarters in Kuala Tahan

Below: It is very easy to obtain a permit to enter the National Park. Once inside, there is loads to explore, with dozens of treks, walks and experiences, like this amazing canopy walkway amongst the treetops in the rainforest

Above: At first this may look like a rock, but look closely and you will see that it is actually the base of a huge tree which has collapsed on to its side – “In the rainforest, trees die for many reasons, leaving space for new ones to take their place” said Ray. “This tree was huge and was impossible to photograph – you will have to imagine the trunk (not in view) which is the same diameter as the base and about 80-100 feet long” said Ray

Below: Ray examines more of the amazing rainforest tree species (left), including this spectacular bamboo tree (right)

Above: Our global explorer discovers these giant leaves – “They look like something out of Jurassic Park” observed Ray

Below: From behind the canopy walkway (see above), a trail leads to Bukit Teresik, elevation 344 metres (1,000 feet), from the top of which are fine views across the enormous, 130 million year old rainforest

I gave Ray a call as he was leaving Taman Negara to find out which places were still remaining on his itinerary. “My 90 day visa is going to expire in a few days and I do not intend to renew it” he told me, “which means that I have time to spend a couple of days in Kuala Terengganu and Kapas Island, and then head for the much cooler and greener Cameron Highlands before flying out” he told me.

The largely Islamic state of Terengganu is home to some of Malaysia’s most authentic heritage. Visitors quickly encounter a very candid window into Malaysia’s culture. Despite being a conservative destination, locals are welcoming of tourists and there’s plenty of friendly hospitality to enjoy there. “Despite rapid development and modernisation, it is as if time has stood still as the state retains all the rustic and idyllic charms so different from other parts of the country” explained Ray. “This is primarily due to the fact that until very recently, there were no major roads connecting Terengganu to Kuala Lumpur and the rest of Malaysia. As a result, local culture developed in isolation from the rest of the country. The discovery of offshore oil in gas in 1974 has granted Terengganu a significant change to its economic, technology and social structure. At current production, the oil and gas reserves are estimated to last for another 13 years and 41 years respectively” added our knowledgable visitor.

Above: Map showing location of the Cameron Highlands and Kuala Terengganu, relative to Taman Negara National Park

Due to its history, background and geographical location, Terengganu receives cultural influences from the neighbours in the north: Kelantan and Thailand. Though it is a conservative Muslim state, the general public is still enjoying the freedom of worship. However, beer or alcohol is not widely available in certain places, especially Malay owned shops. “My arrival in Terengganu co-incided with the start of the month-long Ramadan festival, which I became very aware of because many places that normally open for business, including restaurants, were closing for a large part of the day. This is mainly because devout Muslims only eat food in the evening during this festival” explained Ray. “As a mark of respect, and so we could feel part of the experience, Michele and I would purchase our evening food at the local market and wait in the park where locals congregate, listening out for the sound of the horn that signified the fasting part of the day was over. As soon as it was broadcast, everyone around us would tuck in to their supper and we would eat too” he recalled. “Although Non-Muslims are exempt from fasting during Ramadan, it is considered polite to refrain from eating or drinking in public, so it was a case of “while in Rome, do as the Romans do” said our traveller.

With only a couple of days in town, Ray’s main interest was to visit two of Terengganu’s most famous mosques. “It seems very appropriate to see them at this particular time” he told me. “One is the Tengku Tengah Zaharah Mosque which is the state mosque in Terengganu and the first ‘floating’ mosque in the country. Constructed between 1993 and 1995, the mosque was officially opened in July 1995 by Almarhum Sultan Mahmud Al-Muktafi Billah Shah, the late Sultan of Terengganu” he said. “The second is the Crystal Mosque, which is located at the Islamic Heritage Park on the island of Wan Man. The mosque was constructed between 2006 and 2008. It was officially opened on 8 February 2008 by 13th Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin of Terengganu. “They are really spectacular structures” said our visitor. “Unfortunately for me, the Islamic Heritage Park was closed for the month of Ramadan, so I missed seeing the models of famous Muslim temples from around the world” he told me. “I guess I will just have to wait until I have seen the real ones” he laughed. 

Above: The stunning Tengku Tengah Zaharah Mosque is the state mosque in Terengganu and the first ‘floating’ mosque in the country

Below: The Crystal mosque was constructed just a couple of years ago and has a very eye-catching design – “I was told that in a newspaper report of Bernama, on October 26th 2008, a Government Minister commented on this building having Chinese characteristics and called on the Malay people to not be cynical about these types of mosques, asking them to focus more on the teachings of Islam. He said this because of concerns that Malay people do not want to share mosque characteristics with Muslim-Chinese people” said Ray

Above: The residents of Terengganu, who are predominantly Muslim, were celebrating Ramadan while Ray was in town, which meant that they did not eat any food until after 7.15pm in the evening (left). Many of the town’s residents congregate in the parks to break the daily fast together which creates an amazing atmosphere. Most muslim people will work during Ramadan, although some will close their businesses for the whole month. The motorcycle is still, by far the most popular form of transport in Asia, even for families, as this Terengganu man demonstrates by giving a lift to his two sons (right)

Whilst the mosques in Terengganu are stunning, the beaches are also one of the highlights. The state is endowed with unmatched natural beauty and has the longest coastline (244 kilometres) in the country. While the surf is notoriously rough and often not suitable for inexperienced swimmers, the beaches are sublime, sandy and largely vacant. You don’t have to travel far in Terengganu to find a beach that you can enjoy all to yourself. “The islands just off the coast sounded very appealing” said Ray, who had heard reports from many travellers about the Perhentian Islands, Pulau Kapas and Pulau Redang. “After weighing it up, I chose to spend a couple of days on Pulau Kapas, or Kapas Island and give the others a miss. The name ‘Kapas’ means Cotton Island and it is located about 5 nautical miles off the shore of Marang, which is only a few miles by bus from Terengganu. Many locals and backpackers alike choose it due to its fast accessibility from the Marang jetty” explained our traveller. “You can reach the island in 10 minutes by speed boat from there” he told me. “The place was very quiet and I reckon I could only count about 50 – 100 people in total in the eight or nine guesthouses there, which gave me the sensation of staying on my own private island” added Ray. “I had left most of my stuff, including my laptop, at the hotel onshore so there was very little to do other than eat, sleep, swim and enjoy the peaceful nature of the place. It was bliss!”

Above: Pulau Kapas is so small, it only takes 30 minutes to trek through the rainforest from the south side of the island, where the beaches are, to the uninhabited, undeveloped north side where you snorkel to your heart’s content without any interruptions from other travellers

Below: Ray goes for an exploratory walk on the white sandy beach on the south side of Pulau Kapas

For readers who might be interested in the weather, the climate in Malaysia is tropical. The north-east monsoon (from October to February) deluges Borneo and the east coast in rain and often causes flooding, while the west coast (particularly Langkawi and Penang) escape unscathed. The milder south-west monsoon (from April to October) reverses the pattern. The southern parts of peninsular Malaysia, including perennially soggy Kuala Lumpur, are exposed to both but even during the rainy season, the showers tend to be intense but brief. Because Malaysia is close to the equator, warm weather is pretty much guaranteed. Temperatures generally range from 32°C at noon to about 26°C at midnight. Temperatures tend to be cooler in the highlands, with the likes of the Cameron Highlands (see map above) having temperatures ranging from about 17°C at night to about 25°C in the day.

For the finale of his six-week tour of the Malaysian Peninsular, I discovered that Ray was visiting the Cameron Highlands and had arranged to stay at the Hillview Inn, in Tanah Rata. I caught up with him there on his last day to find out what he had been up to. “It’s been quite restful up here and considerably cooler than most of the other places along the coast ” he told me. “In fact, it has rained pretty much everyday which is something I am not that used to anymore. I was told by quite a few people that you cannot really leave Malaysia without getting a (very rare) sighting of a Rafflesia, so I spent a day with a small group visiting various places around the highlands, including taking a four wheel drive into a remote rainforest area where the local guides were certain we would find some in bloom. We also stopped in at a butterfly farm, a strawberry farm and visited one of the huge tea plantations not far from here” he told me.

For readers who are interested in history, the Cameron Highlands were named after and discovered by an English man named William Cameron, in 1885 during a survey operation in the Titiwangsa Mountain Range. Today, the area is a lively holiday destination with a multi-racial ethnic community encompassing Chinese, Malays, Indians and Aborigines. At an elevation of 5,000 feet (1,500 metres) above sea level, it is the highest area on the mainland. The size of the whole Cameron Highlands district is roughly two and a quarter times the size of Singapore. “I had a bit of a ‘deja vu’ experience here” said Ray, “when I found out something about Jim Thompson, an American businessman who helped to revitalise the Thai Silk industry in the 1950’s and 60’s and who subsequently made a fortune in Bangkok. I actually visited his home there, which is a major tourist attraction, in 2006″ recalled Ray. “Whilst there, I learned that he famously disappeared one day whilst out hiking and was never seen again. What I had not realised was that it happened while he was visiting the Cameron Highlands” exclaimed Ray. “He mysteriously disappeared on Easter Sunday, March 26, 1967, having told friends he was going for a walk. Many hypotheses have been put forward to explain his disappearance, but what actually happened to him remains a mystery” said our explorer.

Above: Ray stayed at the Hillview Inn in Tanah Rata – “The Lonely Planet had given it a really poor write-up, making it sound a bit like the hotel in the British sitcom “Fawlty Towers”. To be fair to the owners, the rooms, view and service were really excellent and I would definitely recommend the place to other travellers” said Ray

Below: The Boh Tea Plantation. At 5,000 feet above sea level, The Cameron Highlands mountain range is one of the most fertile agricultural spots in the country. Nicknamed ‘Malaysia’s Green Bowl’, the highlands possess all the right attributes of prime cropland – moderate temperatures, high altitude, abundant rainfall, long hours of sunshine and well-drained soil. These features were not lost on J.A. Russell, an established businessman who owned substantial tin and rubber investments in Malaya during the early 1900’s. A man of keen business acumen, J.A. noticed that the demand for high quality tea remained high even during slumps. So in 1929, J.A. established Boh Tea Garden, the country’s first highland tea garden in Cameron Highlands. Many of the bushes here are over 80 years old and they still yield fresh leaves every 20 days. BOH packs its own teas which are marketed in both domestic and international markets

Above: The heart of the Boh Tea Plantation, where there are over 600 acres of fertile bushes that produce fantastic tea all year round

Below: Ray was given a short tour of the BOH Tea factory to see how they process the leaves to get the finished product (left) – “I tasted a cup of their black tea and it was so good, I had to have a second cup” said our tea lover. Ray also visited a nearby butterfly farm…. (right)

Above and below: Inside the protected environment of the butterfly farm are flora and fauna from many different parts of the world, which create a perfect habitat for the numerous species of butterflies that are kept here

Above: It’s not just butterflies that you can see at the farm (left). There are plenty of interesting bugs and small creatures, like this leaf insect that has attached itself to our intrepid explorer (right) …..

Below: …… and this giant millipede that has decided to go for a walk around Ray’s hand – “It looks a lot more creepy than it actually was” said Ray, who described the feel of the creature’s legs as like a stiff-bristled scrubbing brush

Above: The Raju’s Hill Strawberry Farm – “As you enter this region, you cannot fail to notice that there are literally thousands of semi-rigid greenhouse type structures on every inch of available hillside, which produce millions of strawberries every year” Ray told me. “Oh – they taste pretty good too” he added

I wanted to know why Ray was so keen to see a Rafflesia in bloom and asked him if he eventually did manage to find one in the region. “Thankfully Po, the answer to your question is yes, although it took a considerable amount of time and effort and I needed a lot of help” he told me. “Just to explain to our readers, I haven never seen a Rafflesia in my life! I am aware that the flower is one of the rarest plants on earth. People started studying them about eighty years ago and they have also tried to cultivate the plant artificially, as they take 9 to 21 months to grow in the forest until a bud flowers – only to last for about a week! But all the experiments ended in failure. I had been searching for one in Borneo as they are known to grow in some of the places I visited, but I failed to spot one. Because they usually grow in dense rainforest, they are extremely hard to locate in the first place. People like me have to rely on word of mouth from a network of forest scouts who keep an eye out for them and notify the guides when they see one. Whilst they are in bloom, it is then a case of quickly getting in a four wheel drive and driving into the rainforest – it is usually too far and too wet and muddy to go on foot, although I still had to trek with my guide for about an hour from the drop-off point which the Land Rover was unable to go beyond” recalled our adventurer.

For the botanists among you, the Rafflesia lives as a parasite on the Tetrastigma vine, which grows only in primary (undisturbed) rainforests. It lacks any observable leaves, stems or even roots, yet is still considered a vascular plant. Similar to fungi, individuals grow as thread-like strands of tissue completely embedded within and in intimate contact with surrounding host cells from which nutrients and water are obtained. Perhaps the only part of Rafflesia that is identifiable as distinctly plant-like are the flowers; although, even these are unusual since they attain massive proportions, have a reddish-brown coloration and stink of rotting flesh, which is why it was nicknamed the “corpse flower”. This scent attracts insects such as flies which then pollinate the rare plant. The flowers are unisexual and thus proximity of male and female flowers is vital for successful pollination. These factors make successful pollination a rare event. How many of these plants still survive is unknown, but as the remaining primary forests of Borneo and Sumatra disappear, it can only be assumed that their numbers are dwindling. Many are known to be nearing extinction. Some environmentalists are thinking of a way to recreate the species’ environment, in an effort to stimulate a recovery in the population of this endangered species. This has proved unsuccessful so far, but the efforts have continued.

Above: The word went out that a Rafflesia had been spotted in the Cameron Highlands region whilst our traveller was in town, so he jumped into a Land Rover with a guide to go searching for it (left). The heart of the rainforest is only accessible in a four wheel drive vehicle – “I am so impressed with the Land Rover – I can now see why they are a legend” said Ray as his driver got them through five or six miles of deep rutted troughs, full of wet mud. Eventually, after leaving the vehicle in a forest clearing and trekking for about an hour, Ray’s guide spots the Rafflesia flower they were looking for (right). It is the largest individual flower in the world and is named after adventurer and founder of the British colony of Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles

Below: Ray sent us this close up shot of the amazing flower, which apparently smells like rotting flesh – nice! This particular bloom is about 5 or 6 days old and will soon turn dark brown as it dies, like the one tucked behind it

Above: Heavy rain in the region made the journey in and out of the rainforest particularly difficult – “Even though these vehicles are extremely capable in these conditions, we had to get out a couple of times and push, when it got really bogged down. It was a great adventure and this episode added to the excitement immensely” said our traveller

Below: What a surprise! I discovered that one of Ray’s best friends, Dave Cox, who Ray has known since his schooldays and has remained in contact with for over 30 years, turned up in Tanah Rata on Ray’s last day there – “He now lives in Spain and is a keen traveller. I found out via an email that he just happened to be travelling through Malaysia at the same time as me” Ray told me. “The only day when it was possible for us to meet up was the last one, but better late than never, eh?” said Ray philosophically. “I love moments like these – they are very special” added Ray. “We get along really well and always have – he is a great chap”

Editors Note: Our very special thanks to Po Scard, who has done such a great job over the last three months in bringing us all of Ray’s news, stories and photographs from Malaysia. Ray has now returned to Chiangmai, in northern Thailand for a while and is not planning to travel in the next few weeks. I gave him a call a couple of days ago to get some idea of what he has planned for the rest of 2010. “Well Mozzie, I have been on the move for most of this year, starting with my trip to the UK early on to do the Hoffman Process, followed by visits to Chiangmai and Nepal to distribute the proceeds of my Calling All Angels fund and finishing with my recent three-month tour of Borneo and Malaysia. I am approaching the fifth anniversary of my nomadic experiment and I am feeling a strong urge to begin the process of capturing everything I have experienced on paper, so that I can see what I have learned in the process, and maybe look at ways that I can make the inherent knowledge available to others. I have an idea in my mind for a book, but have no track record as an author, so I am going to spend a period of time gathering my thoughts in a quiet space and planning what such a book might contain. And then writing as much as I can! I believe I will then be able to intuitively assess whether or not I am likely to be able to produce something worthwhile and will probably make a decision to go full steam ahead after Christmas if things are looking right. I will be spending Christmas in Sydney, Australia which I am very excited about, so if there are any Daily Explorer readers down under who would like to meet up with me, please get in touch” said our global nomad.

If anyone would like to contact Ray, you can get in touch with him directly (ray@thedailyexplorer.com).  We will be taking a break for a few weeks whilst Ray is in Chiangmai, collecting his thoughts from the last five years. In the meantime, I would like to ask for your help. We are searching for really funny, travel related video clips for inclusion in future episodes of The Daily Explorer. If any of you come across some on the Internet, please send me a link so that we can take a look and possibly feature it in an upcoming issue. To give you an idea of the sort of thing we are looking for, here is one of our favourites that you may recall seeing in one of our previous editions. It is hilarious!

As you most probably know, our aim at The Daily Explorer is to create a great publication for you to enjoy, so please keep sending us your comments and suggestions as to how we can improve what we are doing. You can use the comments box on this site, or email Ray (ray@thedailyexplorer.com), ‘Mozzie’ or any of our correspondents at mozzie@thedailyexplorer.com. We aim to be back online in a few weeks and will keep you posted!

MOZZIE BYTE

Above: Words of Re-Assurance. Ray recently spotted this hoarding in Bangkok as he briefly passed through on his way to Chiangmai. “It was set up around the burned-out Central World Shopping Centre, which was torched in May by anti-government protestors. The shopping centre has been re-opened in stages as repairs are made” he told me

Below: Before returning to Chiangmai, our intrepid explorer also had time for a bit of Karaoke with Michele (right) and Sara Man (left), who Ray met in England earlier this year during the Hoffman Process – “She has just taken a teaching job in Bangkok, which is just as well, because I don’t think any of us will ever make a living from our singing” he laughed

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4 Comments »

  1. Great stuff Ray… as usual! Most interesting. Loved the Cameron Highlands story (as I knew the Cameron family from Scotland) and always wanted to visit there but not on my bucket list! Great photos and looked like you had a lot of fun with the Karaoke… anyway, see you SOON! We’ll be arriving by over train, floods allowing this in the morning of 5th October. Will email you soon. Look forward to catching up with you OFF BLOG on piste… big hugs… Cream cheese X

    Comment by Susie Moberly — September 16, 2010 @ 3:58 pm

  2. Dear Ray
    Great and amazing as usual, I will put your site up in my Facebook as well, so many new people have the chance to look into your site. Love, Light, Health, Happiness and Hugs
    San-bao

    Comment by San-bao — September 16, 2010 @ 10:39 pm

  3. Another great story Ray. Well done & good luck with the writing. Lovely to see you in Bangkok:)

    Comment by Howard — September 16, 2010 @ 10:44 pm

  4. Just been reading your latest blog again and watched the video of you ‘Line dancing’! Very funny and well done! X

    Comment by Susie Moberly — September 18, 2010 @ 1:27 am


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