09.03.2012 – 12.03.2012 Sunny 15°C – 20°C
Next morning we were up bright and early at 7am for our bus back to KL, where we were planning to catch another to the Cameron Highlands. We bought our tickets from the Queen Street car park (expensive at $28 each (£14), with our bus waiting behind us. All of a sudden it pulled off! The Singaporean bird in the portacabin came running out shouting after it and I gave it a big finger whistle. Luckily it stopped as there is only one bus a day. Three-hours later and a walk through immigration for a passport stamp, we arrived back in KL, dropped off at Bukit Bintang. A twenty-minute walk to the end of the road and right led us to Puduraya, KL’s newest bus station and the one we left from for Penang back in July last year. It had gone rapidly downhill in eight months. Everything was dirty, marked, scratched or scuffed. The toilets stank and had no soap and they were digging and building again where the buses pulled up underground. Not the station I remember. A bus leaving in ten minutes for the Cameron Highlands was available (I’ve experienced that ‘ten minutes’ before), we bought tickets regardless, and low and behold an hour later we finally left on the worst bus I’ve used in Malaysia. It was dirty, the air con flaps were smashed so you had it blasting at you the whole time, the seats were worn and the journey was long, five-hours long. Roll on clock.
We arrived at 9pm in the pissing rain, and it really was pissing. Dropped off at the bus station on a main road, a guy asked us where we were going to which we told him we needed a hostel. He kindly directed us back along the road and left and told us Twin Pines was located there. This we did but by the time we got there, me especially, we looked like we’d bathed fully clothed due to the rain and car splash combo I had suffered on the main road. The Indian bloke behind the counter said he had 1 room for 65RM which was too expensive for us so we ummed and ared. Noticing our indecisiveness, he said ‘I do have a 25RM room in the attic’. ‘We’ll take it’ I said. I didn’t care at this point, and for a fiver, I was drenched and cold and just wanted to go to bed. ‘5RM for twenty-four hours access to Wi-Fi too, you want it?’ he said. We agreed. It was, a 25RM room. It really was in the attic too, a long corridor up some a windy metal staircase led to rooms left and right, all with the head height cut off because of the roof arch. A mattress on the floor and a mirror were the only furniture within. I had a steaming hot shower though, which was great and collapsed into bed, sent an email, and passed out.
Tour. Next day we got up and headed out in search of the sights to see when we came across a tour operator offering afternoon trips out to see a temple (boring), a rose garden, a butterfly garden, the BOH tea factory and tea plantations, a strawberry farm, the time tunnel and a night market for 25RM each (£5). I was only really interested in the tea factory but an excellent way to blitz the sights. Here we met Lee and Nicola, a scouse couple traveling for a few months in Asia, then heading to Aus and on to New Zealand to work for a year. The temple was our first stop, and eager as I could be I went to walk in and have a look around when I was hit in the face with that disgusting incense smell. Our guide also told us it was built in 1946, yes sixty-six years ago, my interest had gone from none to waiting outside. Next up the rose garden, this was set on a big hill and had various roses lined up in flower beds. A brief climb to the top resulted in a good view over some tea plantations but the pictures weren’t great. Many of the flowers were dying and the place looked a bit run down. Our third place was the butterfly garden, a 5RM entrance and you walk into a small but densely populated butterfly enclosure which was unexpectedly, quite good. Until we walked out the back and saw animals in cages so small and cleaned so infrequently that the smell was atrocious, a few of them were even sitting in their own excrement. Poor sods. The white goose was the worse, he looked thoroughly depressed. After this we drove on until we hit the tea plantations, our driver dropping us off for photographs and parking up the road. They were brilliant. Workers were cutting and snipping with sheer type contraptions and throwing the leaves into a huge weaved basket on their backs. They cut them every three weeks our guide told us. The factory was good in that you get to see the leaf to tea leaves process but they are then bagged and shipped to KL for tea-bagging and packing. The restaurant was well overpriced. The strawberry farm turned out to be a strawberry restaurant, selling anything you can think of to do with strawberries. B and I had a strawberry juice and a strawberry cake. Onwards to the time tunnel, the Cameron Highlands version of a museum with a sign that proudly displays ‘Over 25,000 visitors’. I bet they were all from pre-booked tours. The time tunnel is basically a collection of some guy’s crap over the last fifty years. Imagine walking into a 90-year-old horder’s garage, taking the shit and putting it all on display with no meaning, relevance, thought or story. You have just been to the time tunnel. Back in the jeep we drove to the night market where we had half an hour to get round it. B and I sampled many of the markets food offerings, including steamed sweet potato, barbecued corn and chicken satay, had a quick walk about and got back in the motor for the drive home. Verdict: All in all it was a good day out and well worth it for a fiver each.
Strawberry Picking and Bee Farm. After discussing various tactics we decided the best way to go strawberry picking was simply to taxi it to the best one. The Big Red Strawberry Farm was recommended to us by two cab drivers, must be good. TBRSF offers anything you like to do with strawberries in their café, you name it, it’s there, seriously. The picking’s charged at 25RM per 500g, they give you a punnet and a pair of scissors and away you go. There weren’t many strawberries to pick in the first patch we went to so after a moan we were moved a few patches down, where there were slightly more but nothing to shout about. We grabbed our approximate minimum half kilo and went to pay, this was when the argument started. Is it possible to buy anything in Asia without having a row? We’d picked slightly over at 620g so he wanted 32RM. There’s only two of us and we didn’t really want the ones we picked anyway, we were only picking them for something to do. So I told him to make it 500g by taking some out, something that he routinely does for the Malaysians as I had watched him do this twice while we were queueing for our punnet. He refused so I walked off. This happened three times before he eventually admitted defeat and took some out, charging the correct price. Lesson learnt, stand your ground.
Scone, jam and strawberry juice consumed, we headed up the road looking for a bee farm. There were 3 around somewhere and the taxi driver told us there was one just up from the strawberry farm. Hmmm… What must have been 5km later we reached blah bee farm only to be completely disappointed by it. B was not keen anyway, she kept moaning about the remote possibility of being stung or something similar but the place was crap. A few old wooden hive type things in an overgrown garden that was in a state of disrepair. The shelves in the store were half bare too. Really glad we did that.
Trying to get a taxi back to Twin Pines at 6:30 on a Sunday evening from around there proved a feat. We first waited for an hour for a bus that never came although I was assured by another bus driver it was coming. Pissed off with waiting we went to a hotel to see if someone could phone us a cab. Natasha Hotel were most helpful in arranging a taxi for us and even offering us tea and coffee, although we did have to wait another hour for the cab to turn up. Verdict: Strawberry picking was OK. It was strawberry picking and not as fun as I remember it being when I was a kid but B seemed to enjoy it. The scone and fresh jam made up for the lack of excitement but the Bee Farm was a joke. Dont bother with that.
The following morning we had another mammoth bus ride on a shitty bus to Penang where we hoped to catch a ferry to Langkawi… We didn’t hope enough.