Tag Archives: Caves

Truly Asia

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Get any Malaysia Air flight and you’ll be treated to this a little gem, or something of a similar ilk.

 

 

OK, so the video might be a bit cringe and there is a rather high white-foreigner to Malaysian ration, but after having it on repeat during a 10-hour flight, you get the idea; Malaysia IS truly Asia.

This is quite a big claim to fame, and they’re obviously very proud of it. But what the hair oil are they on about? What is a true representation of Asia?

 

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Frankly, I haven’t a clue. But if the slogan is correct and if Kuala Lumpur is anything to go by, then I guess it’s all about sheer contrasts and diversity; an exhausting mix of bustling street stalls and new-age high-risers, samosas on the roadside and a Starbucks on every corner, temples and mosques and the occasional church thrown in for good measure.

Let’s put this into context. So we arrived sleepy and smelly into Kuala Lumpur late in the evening not really knowing what to expect, hop onto the train to the city centre and notice that this is probably the smartest train that either of us have ever caught. All the other passengers are well-dressed and smothered in electronics, there are flat-screen TVs at the end of each carriage with yet more advertisements proclaiming Malaysia’s Asian-ness, each stop is announced and clearly marked on an LED board with every station, the train is more refrigerated than air-conditioned, the stations have glass doors between the train and the platform so suicidal passengers don’t upset the timetable. In short, this is high-quality stuff. Yet, alighting in Chinatown, the area where we were staying, we walk straight into a night market. It’s similar to stumbling upon five different children’s parties happening simultaneously while someone slaps your face with a damp towel and shines a light in your eyes. The stalls are so close to one another that there is hardly room to pass between them, and glorious smells of cooked meat drift between the racks of fake sunglasses and Abercrombie T-shirts.  Hawkers beckon us into their stalls with promises of ‘good price’ and ‘gifts for lady’. Obviously we are awestruck, we never know quite which way to turn, we keep bumping into one another. Hectic, yes, but hilarious.

This contrast wasn’t a one off. Take the following day, for example. Suffering from mild jetlag, we spent the first morning sweltering our way up the 272 steps to the Batu Cave Indian Temple – a Hindu shrine in the cavernous interior of a limestone outcrop, frequented by bona fide Hindus, hoards of tourists, and a bunch of extraordinarily bold monkeys who are surprisingly adept at nicking your lunch. At the top, we were casually asking a bystander about the meanings of the various marks being painted on the worshippers heads, and we suddenly found ourselves ushered to the front of the temple to receive a blessing. Pretty moving stuff.

The 40-something metre high statue of Lord Murugan at the Batu Caves

The 40-something metre high statue of Lord Murugan at the Batu Caves

 

Starting the climb...

Starting the climb…

Inside the caves

Inside the caves

Monkey plus stolen goods

Monkey plus stolen goods

Compare this with the afternoon, where we found ourselves in hedonist heaven Bukit Bintang. This is an area of the city devoted to shopping malls, as in a WHOLE AREA THAT IS JUST MALL AFTER MALL AFTER MALL. No joke, this makes Oxford Street look like the ‘Reduced to Clear’ section of Tescos. For anyone that knows Celyn and I, we were TOTALLY lost. We’re not really that accustomed to shopping, even window shopping, and now we were being faced with square miles of brightly lit consumer culture. Sorry guys, but we were a little overwhelmed. We got lost in one mall, the Sungei Wang centre, which was actually TERRIFYING. It was like one of those scenes from a horror film where no matter which way they turn, they always end up at the same place. In a horror film, they are trying to escape from some sort of mad axe murderer, in our case we were trying to escape from the crazy ladies who wanted us to buy some sort of skin-lightening moisturizer. They KEPT RUBBING OUR HANDS. Weird.

In all seriousness, this area is phenomenal. There is just so much evident wealth. One shopping centre, the Starhill Gallery was more like a hotel, or a museum showcasing how millionaires spend their time. There was a jazz band in the foyer playing to no-one, the escalators were red a la red-carpets and the lifts had no numbers for the floors, just enigmatic labels such as ‘Relish’ and ‘Adorn’. What the..?!

Starhill Gallery Shopping Mall / Museum / Playground for the rich

Starhill Gallery Shopping Mall / Museum / Playground for the rich

Developing expensive tastes...

Developing expensive tastes…

Chef in a lift

Chef in a lift

 

??

?? 

Anyway shopping-mall-stress aside, we’ve come to see that this is what Kuala Lumpur is all about; contrast. And despite being a truly modern cyber-city, it is clear that it’s still managed to retain every ounce of the integrity and tradition from which it was originally built.

 

And we’ll leave you with a few more pics…

 

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Early morning at the Petronas Towers.

The view from the Skybridge of the Petronas Towers - 170m up

The view from the Skybridge of the Petronas Towers – 170m up

Building on fire?? View of a high-rise bank taken from floor 88 of the Petronas Towers

Building on fire?? View of a high-rise bank taken from floor 88 of the Petronas Towers

Some of the flower garlands sold on the streets which can be bought as temple offerings

Some of the flower garlands sold on the streets which can be bought as temple offerings

 

Lord M again

Lord M again

One of the malls even had a HARRODS!

One of the malls even had a HARRODS! (Quite enjoying the ‘Please do not touch me’ sign)

PTs again.

PTs again.

 

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Grim up north, is it?

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It’s grim up north, right?

Well, no.

In fact, this statement couldn’t actually be more wrong. For a start, north, as it is commonly known to us northern hemisphere-ers, is equated with cold. Not so much here. Go a couple of hundred kilometers north and you’re closer to the equator. Which means sun. WIN. Add to that mile upon mile of dramatic volcanic scenery; mountains which go right up to the sparkling Pacific Ocean and suddenly fall away to reveal golden sandy coves and hidden bays. You get my drift?

So after a fair bit of life admin (yes that still exists on the other side of the world) and catching up with old friends in Auckland, we put Rosie through her paces and drove the 200 odd (some very odd) km to the northern town of Whangerei (pronunced ‘Fan-gerr-aay). Thankfully, she was great, aside from a few ‘surface’ hiccups. (Such as the heating being stuck on full blast, so every time we make a journey, we emerge looking as though we had just hiked in gale force winds to the South Pole and back. Meh.)

The town itself is a little bit nondescript, it is described in the guide-book as ‘somewhere in the middle of the pretty to ugly spectrum’. Nice. However, the beauty of the area lies in what you find around it. We shacked up in a cute wee hostel a couple of km out of the town (**Little Earth Lodge – run by a guy from Birmingham with a NZ accent and his Japanese wife. Clean rooms, Balinese furniture, loads of hippy outdoors-y types. We definitely recommend it!**) and first things first, we CELEBRATED CELYN’S BIRTHDAY! Massive thank you to everyone who was super-duper organised and sent a card, there was quite a collection (and we BOTH got emotional. Oh you guys).

In not-so-typical birthday fashion, on the morning of his birthday, we went caving. The hostel is right next to the ‘Abbey Caves‘ which, despite their slightly uninspiring name, are incredible. We were advised to borrow sexy croc-esqe shoes and helmets, much to our amusement, but we soon found out that they were more than necessary. The 3 caves (Organ, Middle and Ivy) were PROPER DARK CAVES LIKE! The caverns didn’t look much from the outside but as soon as you climbed in, they opened up into enormous rooms. Not only did we have to clamber over rocks and scale enormous walls (no word of hyperbole), but also we had to wade through icy cave water up to our brea-/che-sts (and for the vertically challenged amongst us, necks). There were stalactites and stalagmites everywhere which had formed in crazy, almost sculpture-like poses. However, the most magical aspect was that if we turned our torches off, instead of plunging ourselves into ‘The Descent’-esque darkness, the ceilings and walls were lit up by hundreds of tiny glowworms. It was beautiful.

Emerging semi-scathed from the caves, we hopped back into Rosie and with a minor detour into town (Cel wanted a birthday perforation…or 2) we headed to the world-renowned Whangerei Falls. Word on the street is that they are photogenic but overhyped and there are many more in NZ that top this one. However, when you can hear them and feel the spray before you even see them, we thought that this was one sight that was well worth the trip, even on a dull day. Add to this the enchanting Kauri forest – made up of enormous Kauri trees, native to New Zealand, revered in Maori legend and some up to 500 years old – and you’ve got a winner.

As if this weren’t enough, on a whim we drove up the coast past Tutukaka and onto Matapouri and Whale Bay. If these are just names to you, google them.

No seriously, set on the coast, these are some of those ‘hidden bays’ that we were telling you about. As we arrived, the sun miraculously made an appearance, and we were treated to spectacular views over the ocean. Now I know we’ve been working hard on trying to get to grips with Celyn’s camera, but even with a smart SLR, the colour of the photos just doesn’t do it justice. So it’s up to you to imagine the turquoise-blue sea; a medley of greens and purples on the mountains; grey sand transforming into a bright, almost unnatural yellow sand; and the most ridiculous pink and orange sky, starting on the horizon and gradually spreading as far as you can see, so that even the roads seem to turn the most delightful shade of magenta.  Red sky at night and all that, we decided this was a good omen for the weather!

So that was Cel’s birthday, fairly standard? For the time being we’re heading further north still, towards the seaside town of Russell (described by Dickens in the 19th-century as full of ‘the refuse of society’. We’ll fit right in!). And then on to visit the Bay of Islands and (fingers crossed) to catch a ride and camp on one.

A bientot!

Listening to:

Natty, Man Like I

Jack Johnson, In Between Dreams

(Surf music in the car to pretend that it was sunny. So far, it seems to have worked!)