Week 18: Cameron Highlands & Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

This post is titled Cameron Highlands and Kuala Lumpur, which I will definitely get to, but the real story here is how we got to the former of those two places. The journey to Malaysia from Koh Phangan was the longest and most frustrating (though I’ll admit, hilarious) bit of travelling I’ve done here in Asia. Totaling in at two days, 24 hours of actual travelling, and 10 modes of transportation, it was a doozy.

The trip started well enough when Court and I caught a taxi from our beloved Rainbow Bungalows to Thong Sala Pier to catch a ferry back to the mainland. A 5:30 wakeup call meant that we slept on the ferry, and we got off two hours later feeling somewhat refreshed and ready for our day of travel. But alas, we immediately ran into the first of many hitches. It seems that the bus company we were scheduled to get a lift with into Suratthani had overbooked their services and there was much confusion in which bags were repeatedly loaded on and off various buses until finally being placed on a bus with two lone seats left. Court got a seat near the front and had a great view from which to enjoy our drivers terrifying style of speeding by, weaving through, and dodging both directions of traffic. I ended up stuffed in the last row, crammed behind a washroom (which, unsurprisingly was out of order) with my knees pressed into the wall in front of me. Given this seating position and the way the bus was being driven, I was extremely happy when we reached our destination and realized that wasn’t going to be my last bus ride. Once we arrived in Suratthani we were quickly transferred via school bus to the travel office where we would get our tickets for the next portion of our trip. Grabbed our tickets, some street food, snacks and water, and even a quick bathroom break before we were once again shuttled into a vehicle. This time it was a minibus, my preferred mode of transportation in Asia because of the better temperature, comfortable seats, and seemingly more competent drivers. A major contributing factor to my increased feeling of safety is that when these guys take corners, the whole bus doesn’t feel like it’s in danger of tipping on its side. Our itinerary stated that this bus would take us to Hadyai, where we would transfer yet again to another minibus to take us across the border to Butterworth (a jumping off point for much of Malaysia, and yes, that’s really what it’s called.) We had then planned to stay the night (if we were on schedule, we were supposed to arrive around 7:30, 13 hours after we had started travelling), and then take off in the morning to Ipoh before catching our final bus to Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands.

Oh, if things had gone to plan. The last thing that went according to schedule was that we made it to Hadyai, and transferred to a minibus that we thought would take us into Malaysia. After around three hours of driving Court and I were the only ones left in the van, everyone else having gotten dropped off at various stops in the town we thought we were passing through. It was at the point when the driver asked us ‘which hotel?’ that we knew something had gone awry. We were in Satun, Thailand, hours away from where we wanted to be, with the sun going down and two now useless tickets to Butterworth. Now before you start thinking that we were dummies for getting on the bus in Hadyai without even questioning its destination, I would like to assure you we did ask. Three different people. Multiple times. Each. We thought that since we had a sticker saying Butterworth on our shirts, had showed them our Butterworth tickets, and had asked our previous driver, the current driver, and someone else at the bus station to confirm that this minibus was indeed going to Butterworth, that we would end up in Butterworth. Call me crazy! But here we were, stuck in Satun with a driver who barely spoke English (but was oh so friendly.) He quickly picked up his friend, another bus driver (who also barely spoke English) and called our travel company to see what happened. He then put me on the phone just in time to get screamed at by a women at the travel agency in Suratthani, asking me why I got on the wrong bus. After trying to explain that we did ask and were told to get on this bus she yelled some more before abruptly hanging up. Confused, angry, and not sure of what the hell we we’re supposed to do, we looked to our driver for help. He then called his own bus company and handed the phone back. This conversation was much more civilized, but frustrating all the same because of the information that we got out of it. There was no way to get from Satun to Butterworth, our only option was to go back to Hadyai and try and figure out transportation in the morning. Which is how we ended up in our seventh vehicle of the day. Our drivers friend drove us back, but not before stopping so we could get food and have a bathroom break. He even bought us water! Seriously, he was the best driver ever, taking us right to a cheap guesthouse in Hadyai by the train station. We felt a little bad when he stopped on the way to say goodnight to his family, which besides being beyond adorable, made it clear that he wasn’t supposed to be driving tonight, and would be staying in Hadyai instead of spending the night with them.

We awoke the next morning just before 6am so we could run over to the train station just as it opened to check out the schedule. Ended up grabbing two bus tickets to Ipoh instead, which is one stop closer to the highlands than Butterworth. After another couple hours of sleep we wandered to 7-eleven to stock up on snacks and grab breakfast before jumping on the bus. I’ll also make a note here that this glorious day of travelling fell on my 23rd birthday! How else was I supposed to celebrate, but with a Sev toastie for breakfast? Fueled up and filled with renewed hope that we would actually make it to Malaysia today, we caught the first VIP bus to the border and crossed without a hitch. This story is getting a bit drawn out, so I’m going to hurry up the last couple bits. Made it to Ipoh, but with the hour time difference and hour travel delay we were in danger of missing any further transport to Tanah Rata. A lovely women at the travel agency called us a cab to get to the bus station and we headed off with wishful thinking that something would finally happen in our favour. As we walked into the bus station a man asked us where we were going and when we said Cameron Highlands he beckoned us over to the bus and said it was leaving right away. After hastily paying the driver we asked the only other passenger where she was going to confirm the destination. We didn’t want a repeat of Satun. I’m pretty sure the travel agent had called the station and did something, the fact that we made the last bus was ridiculously lucky. And with that, we finally arrived in the Highlands, a mere 34.5 hours after we had left Koh Phangan.

What I didn’t know at the time was that Derek and his friend Christof were waiting at our hostel to surprise me for my birthday, and has been waiting in the room for three hours when they finally decided to venture out and grab some food. Naturally, just as they were heading back to the hostel to resume their camp out, Court and I drive by in the car shuttle we had grabbed. Seeing Derek and not knowing all he had put in to surprise me, I yelled out to window to him. The surprise of him being there was busted, but don’t fret, they had much more up their sleeves for me. Bringing us around to the room, I was greeted with a banana loaf birthday cake, a bottle of my favourite beer, a favourite snack, and some cookies. So overwhelmed with relief that we were finally there, and happiness in how awesome my friends were (and still are, obvs), I didn’t immediately notice that Derek had emptied the Pringles container and places a Malaysian-style Ice inside. My getting ‘iced’ completed the birthday package, and with that done we headed out for a delicious Indian dinner before crashing around the campfire and talking into the wee hours of the morning. One of the best birthdays I’ve had, it certainly topped the last couple of years. Huge shout out and thanks to Derek and Court for putting the whole thing together!

Now that we had finally gotten to the Cameron Highlands, I was time to see the sights. With a higher elevation than the rest of Malaysia, the highlands are distinctly cooler and I found that I was often cold despite wearing long sleeves and pants. Perhaps a taste of what I’ll feel when I come home? Recovering from my late birthday night with a good sleep in, we then decided to explore trail 1- a 1.8k hike that would take us through the jungle. Not feeling great before we started made the hike somewhat challenging, but as expected it was gorgeous and totally worth it at the end. Once we reached the top we found that there was a road to follow down the other side and we decided to follow it home. We walked something like 14k in total including the hike and were very relieved to finally make it home and into a hot shower. A casual day followed before heading to KL as Court and I weren’t super keen to start travelling only one day after our previous bus debacle.

Made it to KL the next day around noon and grabbed the metro to Fernloft KL, a dope little hostel right beside Chinatown. Despite being in a 24 bed dorm, I loved the place. Cheap, clean, quiet, good wifi, free breakfast, and a sick rooftop patio for chilling out. Once we had checked in we decided to walk around Chinatown and try and find some cheap eats. Stumbled across a food court with all kinds of stalls and settled in with an amazing meal of fried rice, stir fried chicken, and some green vegetables similar to boy choy… All for under $3! Stuffed to the brim, we decided that a matinee show at the Petronas Towers would be the perfect way to spend our first afternoon and we immediately grabbed the metro there. Hearing all the hype, we had to check out The Dark Knight Rises, and hoo man, it did not disappoint. Also, that mall is epic. Every store I would ever want to spend money in and the best snacks ever- Auntie Annes Pretzels was my personal fave. Had a quick stop after the show to check out the towers at night, something Court and I didn’t get to see during our brief layover here in July. They were all the more breathtaking lit up against the dark sky, I’m really glad I had the chance to see them in all their glory. Back at the hostel we met up with our German friends from Koh Tao for a night of debauchery and happily ended the evening with a trip to McDonalds. Spent the next day recovering from our fun night by heading to another impressive mall, Pavillion, and catching Ice Age 4. Animated movies are the perfect hangover cure, especially when watching them with greasy snacks in an air conditioned theatre. Took the scenic route home and chilled out for the rest of the evening. All set to fly out the next night, we decided to make a quick trip out to the Batu Caves, a place of Hindu worship. They were pretty impressive, if not very touristy. The monkeys, and especially the tourists interacting with the monkeys were particularly enjoyable. Another excellent meal at our favourite Chinese food court stall and it was time to say goodbye to Malaysia.

Next stop, Indonesia!

Ps. Again with the slow wifi, please check out Facebook here for pictures!

Pps. My apologies for the never ending travel story/rant at the beginning. I’m starting to think its not as entertaining as I thought and that maybe you had to be there to understand the ridiculousness of it.

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7 thoughts on “Week 18: Cameron Highlands & Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

  1. Awesome writeup…epic journey! :)

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  4. Thanks for your great and amazingly detailed post about your trip and thank you for letting us be a part of this experience. =)

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