Thursday, January 28, 2010

Tanah Rata, Malaysia

There's a Malaysian restaurant in Minneapolis named Peninsula that Jason and I ate at only once in the four years we lived there. Granted it was only open for the last two years, but we'd eaten a so-so rice dish and a okay soup so we didn't go back. I should have tried the Beef Rendang and the Roti. If I'd have known how delicious some Malaysian food was, we'd have eaten there once a week for the rest of our time in Minnesota. Malaysian food is that good.

I especially loved the breakfast food we ate in Tanah Rata. Savory food for breakfast - and no guilt! I've decided samosas are the perfect breakfast food. They're hot, tasty, and handheld. What else could you ask for? In Malaysia, samosas are a breakfast food - not prepared at any other time of day. Once they sell out, they're gone. This caused us to run frantically into town every morning of our stay in Tanah Rata looking for a restaurant that still had samosas to sell. When we did, we generally bought out their whole stock. I'm not kidding about the frantically running part either. The population of Tanah Rata is mainly Malay Muslims and they get up really early for morning prayers. We didn't beat them to the restaurants, but we generally made it before the second rush of the morning, beating out the non-Muslim folks.

In addition to the delicious food we sampled in the Cameron Highlands, we also visited some tea plantations which turned out to be one of the coolest things we saw on our whole trip. The scenery was absolutely beautiful. We took a few short hikes including one though The Mossy Forest, visited a local tourist trap that showcased the native people, their homes, and their hunting methods, and I had my genitals massaged by an older Chinese man through my feet.

Maybe I should explain that one a little better.

All over Malaysia there were shops touting the benefits of reflexology. I've tried a handful of 'alternative healing' methods in my time - various massages, acupuncture, acupressure, ect. But no reflexology thus far. I didn't really know a lot about it...or had forgotten everything I once knew about it. In fact, I'm an Amazing Race addict (thanks to my sister) and I watched the teams endure a reflexology foot massage during season 12. Somehow, that little tidbit of knowledge slipped my mind.

If you're at all curious about what one looks like, click on the link below. The massage starts around the 3:00 minute mark...and the pain starts around the 5:00 minute mark.

When I sat in the chair for my massage, I was handed a laminated card with a picture of a foot that was separated into different colored/numbered segments. Along the side of the card, was a key listing body parts or organs that corresponded to numbers on the foot.

It was a painful experience though not quite as bad as the people on The Amazing Race made it seem - either the masseur wasn't as rough on me or I'm a badass. I'd like to think it's the latter. What made the massage really uncomfortable was the foot chart I held in my hands.

Things were going well until he hit a particularly tender spot and I literally cried out in pain. He looked at me and said, "30". I looked at my chart and tried not to blush as I saw it read "genital glands". "Hmmm" was all I said. This continued for a whole half hour. They definitely didn't scrimp on their service. In that time I was aware of my hips, my thyroid glands, my anus, and my transverse colon (whatever that is). It was the most intimate massage I've ever received.

I have to say that, other than the pain, it was exceedingly helpful. My feet didn't hurt for about a week.

I would suggest trying it once. I tried and tried to get Jason to do it...but he kept opting for the traditional massages throughout the rest of our trip. Wussie!

The weather was much cooler up in the highlands. We were lucky we wore warm clothes to the airport in Seoul, or we would have froze.

Such a cute little baby.

Coconut milk is no tourist gimmick in Malaysia. Coconuts are sold everywhere and still have the green fruit around the coconut husk. The top is chopped off, they put a straw inside, and viola!

As always, I love the different flowers we see when we travel.

Delicious Malaysian breakfast!

Child's play.

On our first full day in Tanah Rata, we took a hike on one of the many trails that surround the town.

The trail was fairly well-kept and not busy at all.

The trail led us to a small waterfall.

Curled up fern.

The trail also led us to a look-out tower, but we were unable to take in the view.
After our hike, we found a restaurant to enjoy some more delicious food.

Tandoori Chicken - step 1

The chicken is coasted in a thick tandoori sauce, skewered, and placed inside a large pot where it's cooked over wood coals.

Tandoori Chicken - step 2

Tandoori Chicken - step 3

Banana leaf curry is one of the more popular Malaysian dishes. They simply lay a slice of a banana leaf in front of you, and then different people come around with pots of food that they ladle onto your banana leaf.

These are durians, a type of fruit native to Southeast Asia. The pulp is rumored to taste like butterscotch or creme caramel. I didn't try them however as they're more famous for their pungent smell. Let me quote travel writer Richard Sterling, as I think he has a way with words.

"... its odor is best described as pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock. It can be smelled from yards away. Despite its great local popularity, the raw fruit is forbidden from some establishments such as hotels, subways and airports, including public transportation in Southeast Asia."

The banishment of the fruit it true. We saw signs forbidding it in every hotel we stayed at.

Fields under cultivation for the Boh tea plantation.

It was a bit rainy and foggy while we were in the Cameron Highlands - all the more surreal and romantic.

To cultivate the tea, two people would pull this lawn mower-type machine over the bushes.

People with modified lawn sheers follow the lawn mower things to trim the leaves that are still sticking up from the shaped bushes.

The sheers have an attached plastic box to collect the leaves. Then they are tossed into the baskets the workers wear on their backs.

There was a women from the govt. working in the fields that day. She was full of interesting information about the plantation, the tea, and the workers. Her job was to survey the workers to determine if they were being paid appropriately and treated well. She was from Kuala Lumpur and spoke English quite well.

Raw Tea

These are the plantation worker's houses.

The Mossy Forest is located around the second highest peak in the Cameron Highlands. It sits at 6,700 feet.

It was raining or misting the whole time we were near the top of the mountain. It was lovely.

Everything was covered with a thick layer of moss and lichen.

The guide plucked this plant from the ground and handed it to me (I promise I didn't pick it myself). It's a pitcher plant - a carnivorous plant similar to a venus fly trap.

There were several stands identical to this one lining the main road through the Cameron Highlands. They were selling fruit, vegetables, and some sort sweet looking homemade drink.

This is one of several waterfalls in the area.

Another roadside attraction was a simulated Orang Asli village.

The man who toured us around was very charming. His warm outgoing personality made the experience less uncomfortable than I thought it was going to be.

While we both hit the styrofoam target, only Jason hit the monkey (stuffed animal).

It's hard to tell...but Jason is learning how to make music. He pounded different lengths of bamboo against the larger piece of bamboo lying on the floor of the hut.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

As I alluded to in my last post, we found Kuala Lumpur to can I put this delicately...not our cup of tea. We started off on the wrong foot and kept hopping around on it until we left the city. I blame myself for this, really.

For one thing, Jason and I are not really city people. When we travel, we usually like to experience the natural environment and visit smaller towns. After being in Singapore, I think we needed a relaxing green respite. Instead we arrived in a huge city where it rained constantly and the people seemed rude.

Also, I got us lost. I'd booked accommodations for a few of our intended visits beforehand, which for the most part worked out fabulously. It enabled us to start off in "the" place to be and we didn't have to wander forlornly from hotel to hotel lugging our backpacks in the dwindling daylight searching for something within our budget. The unfortunate thing about this was that I read the directions to the hotel wrong.

We'd taken a bus from Singapore that could have dropped us off mere minutes from our hotel. Instead, we stayed on the bus until it drove all the way to the other side of the city. It was hot, sprinkling rain, we had no Malaysian money, no map of the city, and Jason had left his tennis shoes on the bus. And although this sounds bad, it was easier than almost any travel day of our Central American trip. Within a half hour we had solved our problems (minus the shoes) and were on the air conditioned light rail train to our hotel. However, the tone for our stay had been set.

Which isn't to say that KL is a terrible city; I liked it better than San Salvador. Of course I only spent a dozen hours there, shuffling between a sketchy hotel and a dodgy restaurant a bit shell shocked after a bus hijacking. So, I guess that's not a good comparison. :)

The saving grace in KL was our hotel - it was lovely. We also enjoyed the shopping - we acquired some great stuff, and the food - we ate at a yummy Muslim restaurant daily.

While poring over the pictures in order to choose some to post here, it looked like we had a good time. Although we did enjoy ourselves (as we usually do) because we were seeing and experiencing new things...I won't hurry back.

Not the best map, but it did it's job.

We stumbled across this nature reserve while walking in the general direction of the KL needle thingy.

That's what I was talking about. It's officially called the Menara Kuala Lumpur Tower.

It's hard to see the color of these birds, but they're really pretty.

View of downtown KL from the needle thing.

Another view from the same spot of the Petronas Towers.

The park surrounding the Petronas was quite nice actually.

View from the train platform looking toward the National Mosque.

Peddling Street was around the corner from the hotel we were staying in. It was full of hawkers trying to sell everything from durian fruit to fake Jimmy Choo bags. Interesting to walk around, but the DVD sellers were persistent to the point of annoyance.

Mosque at night.

The food in KL was pretty tasty. We had some really delicious Chinese dishes as we were staying in Chinatown. Pictured above are fried dumplings and pepper chicken. Yum!

HotLink is a cell phone store. There was at least one shop on every block (possible exaggeration).

We took a public bus out to the Batu Caves on our last day there. The caves, or rather the largest cave, houses a Hindu temple. Apparently, it's one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside of India. Indeed I did feel as though I was in India for a few hours that day.

Behind Jason and to the left of the big yellow statue, you can see the staircase up to the mouth of the cave.

Cows are considered sacred in the Hindu religion, so there were a lot of them wandering around the streets in many of the places we visited in Malaysia.

Up we went.

My last breath of fresh air before entering the cave.

The cave is home to very aggressive monkeys, roosters, cats, pigeons, bats, and probably many more things that I didn't want to know about that day.

Opening in the top of the cave.

I was spooked by the monkeys, so I stayed close to the group.

This picture plays tricks with my eyes. My mind sees a Hindu Times Square, but no it's a souvenir shop selling very colorful religious souvenirs.

Ahhh, the air outside was so much better. It smelled of wet animal fur, feces, and urine inside.

The restaurant I mentioned eating at daily.

Their fish curry was one of my favorite dishes on the whole trip.

This is roti. I'm a sucker for anything bread-like. I even enjoyed watching it being made. The men throw balls of dough onto a counter, pull it into shape, and then fold some butter into it before it cooking it on a large griddle surface.

I just thought this was a cool picture that Jason took. Very colorful.