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The Mango Tree

In keeping with my promise to travel more, I decided to revisit Malaysia with my family after 12 years. The 6 days we spent were split between the hustle and bustle of the KL city life, the tea plantations and vegetable farms of the Cameron Highlands and the ever so inviting waves and crisp sunny days at Pangkor. Here are my highlights from the trip:

The Mossy Forest and the Boh Tea Plantation: 

 

The two days I spent in the Cameron Highlands was the highlight of the trip for me. Standing at 1100 metres above sea level, the Cameron Highlands provided a much-needed escape from the humid and high temperatures of KL The Mossy Forest and the Boh Tea Plantation are part of a half day tour we did. The lush green trees of the plantation, coupled with the cool breeze after the light afternoon shower meant we could take in the view with a sense of calm and serenity that was unmatched. Our tour also included a trip to the museum and the factory at the plantation. Although, we did not get a chance to partake in those activities. Not too far from the Boh plantation is Mt Brinchang, the highest mountain in the Cameron Highlands that is accessible by car. Standing at 2032m above sea-level, we were at a touching distance from the clouds. As we climbed to the top, we began to get a sense of what the Mossy Forest at the summit would be like. The low-level clouds in the sky trap the mist and moisture in the air and keep the sun away. This creates a surreal environment for the evergreen forest. In fact, the damp, low-light and unnatural look to the forest almost makes it seems like something out of a horror film.

The Milkyway from Bala’s Chalet:

 

Bala’s Chalet is an Edwardian style former schoolhouse located just outside the small town of Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands. Located at the top of a small hill, with a view of the mountain range and a lovely garden in the front, Bala’s Chalet was the perfect place to sit down and unwind. If you haven’t been there, I would urge you to check it out.

At night, once the clouds had cleared up and the moon was out of the way, we climbed to the top of the hill. With clear skies and only a little bit of light from the town, we were able to drink in the view of the starry night. The Milkyway was right on top of us, almost smiling down. The only thing I love more than a vibrant sunset is a pitch black night with the stars shining brightly!

Banana Leaf Meal:

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Malaysian food is a mixture of three different cuisine – Malay, Malaysian Chinese and Malaysian Indian. Each with their own authentic dishes. I love South Asian food, and even before we landed in KL, I was looking up places to go to for a good banana leaf meal. My prayers were finally answered in Tanah Rata, where I was served an array of delicious vegetables and curry platter on a vibrant banana leaf. My recommendation would be to skip the meat item and go full vegetarian to truly enjoy this dish. Also, get your hands dirty.

Sunset from Daddy’s Cafe: 

 

Our time at Pangkor was limited, but we made the most of it – drinks by the beach, fresh seafood, and sunset over the horizon. All that was done in the span of 3 hours at Daddy’s Cafe. After a day in the water, it was nice to sip some fresh juice as the sunset over the sea. The perfect way to sit down, relax and unwind. As the sky turned dark, the lights at the cafe came on and together with the candles on the table created a really pleasant ambience. For dinner, I was craving something spicy and ordered the flower crab which was served with a garden salad, rice and some crackers. Had to get my hands dirty once again, but it was worth it.

Street food at Jalan Alor: 

 

Hidden between the skyscrapers of KL is Jalan Alor, a whole street dedicated to street food. Packed with stalls and restaurants from one end to the other, Jalan Alor provided a range of cuisines from Chinese, Thai, Mongolian, South Indian and Malay. Half of the street was covered with a sitting area for restaurants and hawkers and the other half was jam packed with people trying to decide where to go for dinner. We decided to go to the Meng Kee Grill and ordered Chinese seafood – freshly grilled fish, spicy prawn, squid satay, fried rice and assorted vegetables. Everything we had was on point. Complimenting the food was some fresh fruit juice to wash down everything. My only regret with Jalan Alor is I did not find the place sooner.

Buy a book or two from Kinokuniya: 

The Japanese retail bookstore has a store located in the heart of KL inside the Suriya Mall. Kinokuniya came heavily recommended from my cousin and it did not disappoint. It was easily one of the bigger, if not the biggest bookstore that I have been to. We spent close to two hours just browsing through the vast collection of books and manga that were available. My brother and I ended up buying 8 books in total. This place was gold. The average book retails for 45 RM and is significantly cheaper than what I am used to paying in Australia.

 

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The First of Many

I made myself a promise this year. Travel more. There’s so much I don’t know and so many things I haven’t experienced. I wanted to change that. Planning my first solo travel was exciting and scary. There were times when I got anxious but I knew stepping outside my comfort zone was the right thing to do.

I wanted to visit a place I have never been to, somewhere unfamiliar, where I am not used to the culture. I wanted to feel truly lost. Europe sprang to mind. Backpacking across Europe did sound exciting, but I did not have the time, money or the experience to take on the challenge. I kept that dream in my back pocket for later this year. Instead, I opted for something on the opposite end of the spectrum, Indonesia. wasn’t my first choice. It resembled too much of the Asia that I grew up in and didn’t seem to have that wow factor that most of the European countries seemed to have. It was, however, an easy choice though. It was cheap. It was close to Australia. And I have had a lot of friends who went solo travelling there so I knew what to expect. Indonesia seemed to tick all the boxes and after a bit of planning and saving up, I was on-route to Kuta.

I am the type of person who tends to relate memories with music. My bus journey to Sydney saw me listening to a lot of movie soundtracks – Star Wars, Gladiator, and Lord of The Rings whilst reading to the most cliche travel book, The Alchemist. Now every time I feel nostalgic I listen to those soundtracks and they speak to me on so many levels.

One of my biggest fears of travelling by myself was that I would be alone. Oh boy did I get proven wrong! From the moment I boarded the flight to Denpasar to the time I got off the bus in Canberra two weeks later, not once did I feel alone! I reached my hostel at 11:00 pm and was immediately introduced to a fellow backpacker named Alberto. Together we hired a car the following day and explored most of South Kuta – Tanah Lot Temple, Jimbaran, Pandawa and Padang Padang Beach, and finally Uluwatu Temple. Over the next few days, I met up with other backpackers including one of my friends from Canberra. Together we went to Ubud. Ubud was a nice change of pace from Kuta. Everything was more relaxed and calm. On one of the nights, we went out to a lounge to celebrate Maddie’s birthday. After a few rounds of drinks and rainbow shots, we decided to call it a night. Except for Yann, a French backpacker we met in Ubud. Yann was persistent on going to a pool; mind you, it was three in the morning and the streets of Ubud were deserted. Yann with his French charm convinced us to sneak into a random house and have a quick dive in their pool. We all obliged. Out on the street, Jonas was on the ground passed out from all the rainbow shots. It was a pretty memorable night.

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Over the next few days, I had accomplished a lot. I faced my fear of being in close proximity with monkeys, hiked a volcano at night to see the sunrise, crashed a scooter and got hit on by the tour guide at white water rafting. Ubud was exceptional. I had a lot of new experiences and came through largely unscathed (except for my knee).

Ubud left me exhausted. I needed a day to relax. We returned to Kuta to have a night out and go to Sky Garden. During the day, I was in full holiday mood. I was in the pool with my trusty book on one hand and a glass of ice cold watermelon juice on the other. With 90s rock playing in the background, I was in my elements.  At night we decided to go Sky Garden, one of the premier nightclubs of Kuta. With $10 entry, we got a buffet and unlimited drinks for the night. Good music, gorgeous people and some on point shisha summed up Sky Garden for me. This was quite different from Ubud. I finally got to experience the party side of Bali, and it did not disappoint!

Nusa Lembongan was next on the list. We only had two and a bit days in Lembongan to soak in the sun and try out some water activities. To our disappointment, we were welcomed by the rain gods. We made the best of a rainy day and rented some dodgy bicycles that broke at least 5 times while we attempted to explore the island. Despite conventional wisdom, we decided to ride up a hill in the hopes of grabbing a view from the cliffside and to enjoy the sunset on the other side. After riding for a couple of hours we reached the top, where we sat on a swing at the edge of the cliff taking in the gorgeous view. On the way down, we went through rural villages with lush green trees on either side and the refreshing breeze blowing. The road finally opened up to a secluded beach with clear waters and the Nusa Penida as a backdrop. We left the beach to watch the sunset. The colours changed from golden to an array of shades between red and purple disappearing completely. The trip back to our homestay was pretty exciting too. It was pitch dark. Visibility couldn’t have been more than a couple of meters and we went up the wrong hill. We were lost. No reception and no-one in sight. For about 90 minutes we were aimlessly riding our bikes and at one point even got chased by wild dogs. When we finally entered the streets of Lembongan, we were able to catch the last bit of the Nyepi (Balinese religious festival)  before we headed back to our home in preparation for Silent Day.

We were stuck in our homestay for the whole day, the next day. No electricity. No internet. No phone network and the town in complete shutdown. It gave me time to reflect on my trip. Little did I know I would have the highlight of my trip not long after. At night, the clouds cleared up we were blessed with an amazing display of the dazzling stars in the night sky. I spent hours just taking it all in and trying to find constellations. It was magical. The rest of time in Lembongan was spent snorkelling and mucking about on the beach trying to find lobster. Soon afterward, we went back to Kuta, where we sorted out some work. And not long afterward,  I was on a plane back to Canberra.

Overall, Bali was all that I hoped it would be. I got outside my comfort zone, experienced that things I wanted to, met with some of the most amazing people and got to know their stories and now I am left wanting more.

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