20 Malaysia, Thailand
MALAYSIA January 2001
KL for 3 weeks with a 3 day pack
We flew to Kuala Lumpur from India and waited for our vehicle to arrive by ship from Chennai. It was Chinese New Year and KL’s China town, where we were staying, was decorated with lights and red lanterns. We were thrilled to come upon lion and dragon dances in the streets. The choice of food was Chinese, Indian or Malay and cost only a few ringgit.
It was such a contrast with India to see freeways, clean streets, skyscrapers and large shopping centres. Some incomplete projects, which had been halted during the Asian financial crisis, were literally suspended in mid air. The large new national mosque was completed though, and next door the excellent museum of Islamic Art.
It was hot and humid and we wondered how the Muslim women could wear a headscarf and a long sleeved top over a full-length skirt.
Just north of KL the Thaipusam festival took place, where masochistic Hindu devotees walk a long way up to a holy cave. They have spikes through their cheeks and tongues, and decorated cages hooked onto their bodies. Drum beats and chanting dancers accompany the devotees. No blood from the pierced flesh. We saw it all but could not believe it!
Due to a dock strike in India our motorhome eventually arrived at Port Klang. (five weeks after we had arrived in Chennai). Jan had to instruct and guide the stevedores, to lift Dipli, using our own slings, out of the open top container. We were ready to start off in Malaysia again, but then left Dipli in the care of the very friendly shipping agent in Port Klang, to go back to South Africa for a 6 weeks ‘home visit’.
During the first night back a “druggy” scrambled up onto our roof, aiming to get into the open hatch, where Jan zapped him with Oleocapsicum. He climbed down but as the gas spray seemed to have had little effect on him, in his stupor, we moved away.
A Firefly national park was our next stop. It was magic to go by boat down a river at night and see the flicker of a million lightbugs in the trees.
Penang Island was a reminder of the British colonial past.
We were heading north from KL along a wide tarred road. We pulled of onto a smooth road shoulder. Suddenly both left wheels sank into very soft earth covering a newly dug trench – all the way until the chassis caught on the edge of the tar – Dipli leaning at a precarious angle. Engaging low range first, after digging in front of the wheels, resulted in the front propshaft being twisted off, since the rear wheels had no grip and the full torque went forward. Eventually a large truck towed us out.
THAILAND (MUANG THAI) April 2001
We entered Thailand from Malaysia though a small border post in a far western forest. It was great to be allowed in for three months, with no visa required and at no charge. The Thai date stamp showed that it was the year 2544. As we realised that Dipli did not move fast enough for time-travel, it had to be because we were now on the Bhuddist calendar. (It was still 2001 on the calendar we are conditioned to.)
The first pleasant things we noticed were the wide Thai smiles and the hands-together greetings. Then we saw the pretty spirit houses! Small red decorated “birdcage”- like pagodas which every house and building in Thailand has to have, to divert the evil spirits away from the main dwelling.
By the roadside were stalls selling orchids and strange exotic tropical fruit: spiky rambuthan, fragrant mangosteen, smelly durian and gigantic jackfruit.
Bangkok traffic was horrendous.
We had to buy a new spring blade and have the prop shaft repaired. Dipli had close encounters with opportunistic pushers-in each time we ventured into the chaotic throng. Little Tuk-Tuk 3-wheel taxis and motor bikes had no mufflers. The Traffic Police all wear masks to protect their lungs against the incredible air pollution. In Bangkok we had to obtain visas for Cambodia, Lao and Vietnam. Our vehicle could not fit into any centrally located hotel parkings and there was no Camping; so we parked in the beautiful green Lumphini Park. However, at 5 every morning the ‘jogging din’ awakened us: shrill whistles guiding the hundreds of fancy cars, and loud voices. They ran a circle track in the park. Twice a day these runners froze into statues while the national anthem was played. (Disrespect is a criminal offence).
Good Street food
The restaurant and sidewalk food was so varied and delicious and cost only a few baht; so that we hardly ever prepared our own meals. (It was too hot anyway).
The sky train and riverboat took us to see the Royal palace and temples (called “wats”). They were all we had imagined of exotic Siam: Roofs the shape of flames and the colour of fire; gold chedis, and spires, coloured porcelain mosaic figures, painted sculpture, long exquisite murals and fine buddhas. Young orange clad monks with shaven heads added to the atmosphere..
We saw the famous little “emerald Buddha”(carved from jade). Even cuter, in the museum next door, were the delightful gold clothing outfits for him, changed seasonally by the king himself.
We were keen to see the archaeological sights of the old Kingdoms of Thailand. Each one was spread out over a vast area. We soon learned to explore them in the cooler late afternoon when one could see the silhouettes against the sunset and smell the frangipani.We stayed over in some of the higher (and cooler) National Parks. One day when we had planned to do a bird watching hike, all the lawn mowers came out. Only much later did we see some rare woodpeckers, oriental pied hornbills and the Asian fairy blue bird.
Logging is now banned in Thailand. This has left many elephants and their “mahouts” out of work. At an Elephant Conservation Centre, elephants and their keepers use their skills to entertain tourists; picking up logs and putting them down ever so gently.
In Chaing Mai Leoné enrolled in and enjoyed a Thai cookery course. It was interesting to learn how they use shrimp paste for salt, palm sugar (made from nectar of palm flower) to sweeten and the juice of limes to tenderise meat.
In the north of the country, hill tribes still live and dress in the traditional way. They produce handwoven baskets and cloth. Some have bizarre ceremonies with the offering and also killing of animals.
Near Krabi we found the idyllic beach overlooking the bay with granite hills in the blue sea. A cooling breeze was blissful relief..
With real tears we left the little paradise and Thailand.