We left futuristic Singapore bound for another big city: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We opted to take an eight hour night train that left around 11 pm, our first overnight transport on this trip (later we will try out a night boat and night bus). The train was surprisingly comfortable! Dan was a little too tall (long) for his, but the beds were soft and included sheets and pillows.
We arrived in Kuala Lumpur (or simply called KL by locals) at around 8 am and headed to our hotel in Chinatown to relax. The next morning we paid about $1 round trip for a train ride out to Batu Caves. Batu Caves is a series of limestone caves that hosts several ornate Hindu shrines. A climb of 272 steps past the 140 ft tall golden statue of Lord Murugan brings you to the entrance of Cathedral Cave, the largest cave in the complex.
Later that night, we discovered the best place to eat dinner was along Alor Road in the Bukit Bintang district in KL. At night, the street is lined with cheap hawker stands as far as the eye can see. My favorite was a satay stand offering grilled veggies, meats, fish, and even frog (I opted not to try the latter).
Tired of the heat, we escaped KL and headed for the cool climate of the Cameron Highlands. The mean annual temperature here is around 64 degrees fahrenheit, which was a pleasant and welcome change from 90+ degrees. The Cameron Highlands are well-known for their numerous tea plantations that date back about 100 years. We also discovered that due to its elevation, it is host to a variety of rare upland rainforest plant species not normally found in the tropics.
Like the rest of peninsular Malaysia, the area has a diverse population that includes not only Malays, but also a large percentage of Chinese and Indians. The small town of Tanan Rata where we stayed had the most delicious Indian food that we had ever tasted.
We left the Cameron Highlands feeling refreshed, but we were soon shocked by the dense humidity and heat of the jungle in Taman Negara (Literal translation: National Park), our next destination. After a 5 hour bus ride, we took a 2 hour river boat ride up the Tembeling River to the village of Kuala Tahan. The river ride and arrival at the village was particularly interesting since the area had been ravaged by a record flood in December, 2014. Landslides and stripped vegetation still lined the river banks and several houses and structures lay collapsed and abandoned. The river rose up to 75.76m and surpassed the previous high water line created by a flood in 1971.
As we were settling in at our guesthouse, our neighbors across the hall, two girls from the Netherlands, approached us and asked if we wanted to go on a 2 day jungle trekking tour with them. The tour included a canopy walk through the jungle, a river boat ride through rapids, and a 16 km trek over two days, and a night sleeping in a giant limestone cave. Without much hesitation, we agreed and set off for our adventure the next day.
One of the first things our guide, DJ, told us was that the recent rains would make the land leeches very active and hungry. First, I had never heard of a land leech before and second…..gross! As we began our trek, we soon discovered what DJ meant. When we looked down at the path, we saw leeches swaying back and forth looking to grab onto anything moving by or crawling like hungry, determined caterpillars. We thought we would be safe with socks and shoes, but we soon discovered this was a false hope. The leeches crawl into any opening in your shoes and actually burrow through your socks to attach to your skin. The only way to get them off is by burning them with a lighter.
The path we followed through the jungle appeared to be frequented by Asian elephants. We walked by trees they used as scratching posts, saw giants holes left by their heavy footsteps, and of course lots of elephant dung along the trail.
After the hottest, sweatiest hike we had ever been on, we arrived at our home for the night: a giant limestone cave filled with hundreds of bats (and most likely rats and other creepy crawlers). One of visitors that night was a curious Malayan porcupine. DJ said that they like the smell of curry, which was our dinner for the night.
Our hike back to the river the next day included a visit to an Orang Asli village. The Orang Asli, or “original people,” are the indigenous people of Malaysia. They live a nomadic, hunter-gatherer lifestyle. The Orang Asli move their temporary villages if a food source becomes exhausted or if a member of the tribe dies.
At the village, the village leader taught us how use one of their traditional hunting weapons, a bamboo blowpipe that is used to shoot poisonous darts that have been dipped in the sap of an Ipoh tree. They use the blowpipe to hunt monkeys, squirrels, and birds. The village leader placed a flip flop as a target and we each got a shot. I hit mine on the first shot!
While Dan wasn’t necessarily the best blow dart shooter, he was the best at starting a fire. Looks like we may be able to survive in the jungle with Kate as the hunter and Dan as the cook 🙂 – Just like you can hear DJ say at the end of the video below, “you can light the fire, she can hunting!”
Our two day jungle adventure concluded with a 30 minute boat ride through rapids. We were all pretty hot and smelly by this point, so getting doused in river water actually felt quite nice. After three days in the hot jungle we were ready for a little R&R at the beach so we booked a ticket to paradise, also known as the Perhentian Islands, our next stop in Malaysia.