October 2016 - Malaysia

1 October 2016   Malacca, Malaysia
We had a tourist day, wandering around Malacca, looking at the architecture - European Churches mixed in with Mosques, Chinese and Hindu temples.  Glenys dragged me onto some of the tourist attractions, like the Skylift - a revolving disk sitting 60 people that rises to 60 metres above the town and gives a nice view of Malacca.  She even persuaded me to go on a River trip - yawn...

There are a large number of trishaws in Malacca who take tourists around the town. Instead of being a discrete, traditional looking form of transport, these are extremely gaudy being decorated with Disney and cartoon character themes.

Gaudy Trishaw

At night they are lit by bright LED lights and some of them have 500W sound systems blaring away as they pedal punters around the streets. I was fascinated by the surly looking men pedalling these garish contraptions around - I managed to avoid the humiliation of a ride.

One of our more interesting stops was at 8 Heeren Street, which is a restored Malaccan shop house.   It’s a small two-storey building built in the mid-late 1700s and these traditional shop houses commonly served as shop, residence, stable and animal yard all at the same time.  They used to be very common within the town, but many have been altered with modern shop fronts.  The restoration project is run by volunteers and one of the guys gave us a great tour of the shop house. 

We had lunch at a café on Heeren Street, which served a nice Laksa and “Top Hats” which are small crunchy pastry cups filled with vegetables.  In the afternoon, it was too hot to wander about the streets, so Glenys went for a haircut and I chilled out in our air-conditioned room.  In the evening, we hit the Jonker Street market again and ate in one of the big restaurants.

2 October 2016   Admiral Marina, Malaysia
We left the hotel at ten o’clock - four buses and four hours later, we were back at the boat.  We spent the rest of the afternoon, chilling out.

3 October 2016   Admiral Marina, Malaysia
I went for run and then had an administration day - it was time to review our finances.   For the past five years, we’ve been steadily eating into our savings and we’ve finally run out of easily available cash.  We’ve still got money invested in ISAs, but they give us tax free income, so we don’t really want to cash those in.  The UK FTSE 100 index has just topped 7,000 points, so after a lot of research, we think that it's a good time to start withdrawing funds from our pensions. 

Fortunately, the UK has gone through a lot of pension reforms and it looks like it’s easy to move some of our pension into a “draw-down” which will release a nice tax-free lump sum and allow us to draw income from our pension, which should put us back in the black.  I’m hoping to be able to do everything online over the next few days.

FTSE100 - a good time to cash in a Pension?

Glenys did more practical things and flushed out our water tanks and pipework with a mild bleach solution.  We were a little concerned that we’ve got some bacteria in our water, which could be a root cause of my on-going ear infection problems.  Our water tanks are now filled with Malaysia town water, which is heavily fluorinated, so we should be okay now.

4 October 2016   Admiral Marina, Malaysia
Glenys dragged out our old main sail and spent the morning stripping off the foot tape which was only put on a year ago and will be handy for any repairs.  We unceremoniously dumped the rest of the sail next to the bins.  No point in carrying a spare mainsail.

I pickled the water maker because we’re not going to be using it until December.  In the afternoon, I removed the old tap from the galley sink.  I’d bought a new one when we were in Singapore back in June and had not got around to fitting it. When I unboxed it, I found that the pipe fittings were the wrong size. I walked to the local hardware shops, but they didn’t have anything to help, so I had to catch a bus into Port Dickson, where I found an Indian hardware shop who had the right stuff.  Four hours to fit a tap...

In the evening, we were invited for drinks by Ian & Alison on “Nereids”.

5 October 2016   Admiral Marina, Malaysia
I spent all day sorting out our pensions.  I managed to do most things on line, but we had to ring up our pension provider in the UK and answer a list of questions, which were a statutory requirement to ensure that we understand the risks associated with drawing down our pensions.  I also had to fill in two paper application forms that I’ll send off by courier tomorrow.  It’s amazing what we can now do on-line - ten years ago, I would have had to involve a personal financial advisor and it would have been lots of hassle.

Glenys had a sewing day mostly repairing the dinghy cover with some of the material that she stripped off our old mainsail.

6 October 2016   Admiral Marina, Malaysia
In the morning, we popped into Port Dickson to run a few errands and send off our pension application forms.  I’ve found a small stainless steel fabrication shop, so they’re making me a simple part allowing me to extend the viewfinder on my underwater camera. 

After lunch in town, we headed back to the boat and spent the afternoon tidying up and packing our bags ready to go off on another short holiday - this time to the Cameron Highlands.

7 October 2016   Cameron Highlands, Malaysia
I walked to the car hire office to pick up a car at eight o’clock, but the office was closed.  I rang the company and got through to a help desk guy in Kuala Lumpur, who told me that the office didn’t open until nine o’clock.  I calmly told him that I’d arranged to pick up the car at eight o’clock and that I was very, very angry.  Ten minutes later, a sleepy looking guy turned up and I soon had the car.  I still can’t believe that they told me eight o’clock when the office doesn’t open until nine, but that’s South-East Asia for you…

Ugly looking farms in the Cameron Highlands

By the time, that we’d loaded our luggage into the car, it was well after nine o’clock, which was a bit of a nuisance because we had arranged to call in at the factory manufacturing our new propeller at 12:00 and that was 300 kilometres away.  However, the journey was ok, there’s a toll road that passes to the west of Kuala Lumpur, which is very fast.

We arrived at Finnscrew one hour late, but they were waiting for us and soon measured our old propeller.  They reckoned that the propeller is 19 inches and has a pitch of 16 inches.  Hallberg Rassy have told me that the propeller on our model of boat should be 19” diameter by 17” pitch, so after a bit of discussion, we’ve decided to make the new one 17” pitch - we might go a bit faster.

After a tasty Indian curry in a roti shop, we had a nice drive up to the Cameron Highlands, climbing a very winding road up to 1600 metres above sea level - very alpine.  Unfortunately, the scenery deteriorated as we approached the main village of Brinchang because the farming activity increased and they extensively use huge poly-tunnels, which look horrible.  In addition, Brinchang looks like a European ski resort without the snow – there are very tall 20-story blocks of apartments and the lower levels are full of restaurants.  My first impressions weren’t good, then it started to rain.

Steamboat Dinner

We’re staying in the Hotel Titiwangsa, which is a slightly rundown, 2 star hotel offering half board for two people for only £38/night.  The name of the hotel sounds like some deviant sex act, but is actually named after the mountain range that stretches up the centre of the Malaysian peninsula.  The hotel is Halal, so there’s no bar or alcohol allowed in the restaurant, so we nipped out to the supermarket and smuggled in a six pack of beer.

Our evening meal was included in the hotel price, so we went to the restaurant which specialises in the Steamboat Dinner. This is extremely popular in the Cameron Highlands.  They bring you a large pan of stock, which is placed on small burner in the middle of the table.  Plates of raw sea food, chicken, tofu, fish balls, noodles and vegetables are brought to you and the idea is to cook the food yourself in the stock.  It’s good fun and very tasty, however, being an impatient chap, I now have a burnt mouth.

8 October 2016   Cameron Highlands, Malaysia
After a mediocre Halal breakfast (no bacon), we walked through town and up Jungle Trail Number 1, which was very interesting – 3.5 kilometres initially through farmland and then up a steep muddy path through verdant rain forest. I can see why the Cameron Highlands is a farming area – every scrap of soil is covered with plants.

The path ends at the top of the second highest mountain in Malaysia called Gunung Brinchang (2032 meters).  We were not alone, there’s a tarmac road up to the mountain peak and it’s a popular tourist destination.  After a quick rest and a sandwich, we walked down the road, stopping briefly at the Mossy Forest, which is the number 1 tourist attraction in the area.  It’s a board walk through (errr) a mossy forest.  Having just spent an hour slogging our way up a trail in a mossy forest, we didn’t stay long. 

Walking down through a Tea Plantation

The road continued down through farmland with the inevitable poly tunnels, then opened up into terraced slopes covered in tea plants – very photogenic.  Another kilometre of walking down a private road brought us down to the Boh Tea Plantation, where we indulged in a pot of tea and a couple of strawberry cakes.  It wasn’t a very colonial experience, instead we had our nibbles in a high tech café with about 400 other tourists.

Having already walked 8 kilometres, we didn’t fancy the 6 kilometre walk back to the hotel, so we decided to hitch a lift.  To our amazement, the very first car that we stuck a thumb out to stopped and dropped us back in the centre of Brinchang - a nice young couple from Kuala Lumpur, who spoke very good English.  

We chilled out for the rest of the afternoon and then went out for a very tasty Chinese meal in town – Pork Spare Ribs, which is a real treat in a predominantly Muslim country.

9 October 2016   Cameron Highlands, Malaysia
After breakfast, we drove down to the Century Pines Hotel in Tanah Rata, which is only £12 per night more than the Titiwangsa Hotel, but a thousand times better.  We left our car in their car park and went for a hike up Jungle Trail 7.  It was a real mission to find the start of the trail.  We had to walk to the MARDI centre; skirt around the main gate to the left; walk down the private drive of the Camelia Apartment block where we found a yellow sign for the trail hidden behind some bamboo next to a gap in the hedge at the side of the carpark. 

Silver Leaf Monkey

Once we’d found the trail, it was well marked, but the first 500 metres was very overgrown.  The rest of the trail was very pleasant, going up through rain forest heading for the summit of Gunung Beremban.  Just near the summit, the trail split into two – a very obvious path going right and down to a waterfall and a fainter path going left to the summit.

It took us 1½ hours to get to the summit, but it was covered in trees, so there was no nice view.  After a quick sandwich, we headed down the upper section of Path 3, which was a mission being very steep – nobody has told the Malaysians about zigzagging a path up a steep slope, they go straight up.

After an hour, we joined path 6, which was much more pleasant, walking down a ridge at a more acceptable gradient.  We were excited to see a small troop of Silver Leaf Monkeys, which we observed for five minutes before they headed off into the rainforest.

Three and a half hours after we started, we arrived at the Parit Waterfall, which is ½ mile from town and in my humble opinion, very boring.  By half past one, we were checked into the hotel and relaxing in our luxury room.  The room even had a decent sized bath, so I indulged and soaked my tired limbs for half an hour – I haven’t had a bath for years.

In the evening, we stepped out and had a very good Indian curry at one of the local restaurants - £10 for both of us including £5 for the beer.

10 October 2016   Cameron Highlands, Malaysia
After two days of hiking, we had a quiet tourist day, first visiting a strawberry farm (which is the number 2 attraction in the area).  It was a tourist trap selling souvenirs, cream teas and charging a fortune for people to pick their own strawberries, so we didn’t stay long.

While we were still in Brinchang, we called in at the Sam Poh Temple, which was a surprisingly large Chinese Buddhist temple.  It was interesting to look around and compare the differences to the many Buddhist temples that we’ve seen in the past.  There are extensive buildings behind the temples, presumably housing a number of nuns and monks.  We spent a peaceful ten minutes listening to the nuns and monks chanting somewhere away from the public eye.

Nice cup of plantation tea

Of course, no visit to the Cameron Highlands would be complete without a visit to a tea plantation, so we indulged in a pot of tea and a cake at the Cameron Bharat Tea Estate overlooking their very photogenic plantation.

Having seen the highlights of the area and feeling tired from our two days hiking, we had a quiet afternoon in our luxury hotel.  In the evening, we had another Indian curry - we like it here.

11 October 2016   Admiral Marina, Malaysia
It took us four hours to drive back to Port Dickson, where we took advantage of the car and did some serious provisioning at Tesco, replenishing our stocks of canned food and drinks.  We called in at YP Marine, a small boat builder about five miles to the north of town, who have a small chandler shop and are able to do stainless fabrication. 

After we unloaded the car, I returned it, walked back and the day was gone.

12 October 2016   Admiral Marina, Malaysia

We had a quiet day.  I’ve come down with a mediocre case of Man-Flu, so I pottered about doing some admin and research on crossing the Indian Ocean next year.  Glenys did a few chores in the morning and then spent the afternoon doing research on our next land trip, which is to North West Thailand and Cambodia.  We leave in four days - it’s a hard life sometimes.  

13 October 2016   Admiral Marina, Malaysia
We had another quiet day.  Glenys did some washing in the morning and then spent the afternoon on the Internet checking out things to do on our land trip.  I edited the photographs that I’ve taken over the past two weeks and then resumed my research on our Indian Ocean Crossing.

We’ve been following the blogs of some of the boats who are crossing this year and gleaning useful information about the best times to be in certain places.  It looks like our timetable should be:

Jan Andaman Islands
Feb Sri Lanka
Mar - May Maldives
Jun Chagos
Jul Seychelles
Aug Comoros/Mayotte
Sep - Oct Madagascar
Nov - Jan South Africa

We’ll be sailing about 7,000 miles in 12 months, so it’s going to be an interesting year.

14 October 2016   Admiral Marina, Malaysia
I changed the oil on the engine and the generator.  It’s a messy job, but it mostly went ok.  I checked the exhaust elbow on the generator and noticed some salt crystals on the flange, so I scraped them away and found three small holes in the aluminium casting.  This is a bit annoying because I replaced this part five years ago for exactly the same problem.

It took me an hour to clean up the area surrounding the holes, hanging upside down, lying across the engine and the generator (which I’d heated up to do the oil change).  The area was so inaccessible that I had to use a small mirror to do most of the work which is why it took so long – nasty job.  Once the metal of the casting was cleaned up, I slapped on some Marine-tex epoxy, which should seal the holes well enough until I get a replacement elbow.

15 October 2016   Admiral Marina, Malaysia
Our nice new teak deck is starting to show signs of mildew with the wood darkening in the grain and a few dark grey patches, so Glenys volunteered to wash it down.  She made up a mixture of 2/3 cup of bleach; a squirt of washing up liquid and 3-4 tablespoons of Trisodium Phospate (TSP) in a bucket of fresh water.  The TSP is a cleaner that is particularly effective against mildew.

Glenys swabbed the mixture onto the deck using a soft sponge and rubbing across the grain – rubbing with the grain scours out the softer wood in the grain, wearing the deck away more quickly.  The idea is to leave the mixture to soak for ten minutes and then rinse it off with fresh water.   It turned into a mission because the deck was very dirty and it took longer than expected to get it clean.  She was a tired, grumpy bear by the end of the two hour job.

We spent the afternoon  packing and preparing the boat to leave on a 16 day land trip to Thailand and Cambodia.

16 Oct to 1 Nov 2016   Trip to Thailand and Cambodia
We had a fabulous 17 day land trip to Thailand and Cambodian.  Although we’ve already been to Phuket and will be returning there, Phuket is not really Thailand (it’s more like Blackpool), so we decided to include a trip to Bangkok and the Kanchanaburi region of Thailand. 

Our time in Bangkok was dominated by the recent death of King Bhumibol of Thailand who died three days before we arrived, ending a 70 year reign.  He was much loved by the people of Thailand and the nation had gone into mourning.  Everyone was wearing black or sombre clothes; people were flocking to the Grand Palace to grieve; and entertainment was being restricted. On the drive from the airport, we saw numerous pictures and tributes to the king and the streets were lined with black and white bands of cloth.  

Golden Buddha, Bangkok

As a consequence, the party hot spots around Khao San Road were subdued with bars unable to sell alcohol some nights and no loud music.  The King’s body was interred at the Grand Palace, so that was closed to tourists and the roads around the palace were choked with grieving subjects. 

Nevertheless, we were able to visit a few temples, seeing the Golden Buddha at Wat Traimit and the huge reclining Buddha at Wat Po.  We also visited the fascinating Chinese market, the flower market and took a river trip on one of the long-tails.  Bangkok is an interesting, bustling city.

After two nights in Bangkok, we caught a bus and headed to the west of Thailand to Kanchanaburi, which is on the River Quai close to the Myanmar border.  We spent a day immersed in Second War history and particularly in the building of the infamous Thailand to Burma railway.  Following the invasion of the Malay peninsula, the Japanese built a 415-kilometre railway to support its forces in the Burma campaign of World War II.

The Japanese used forced labour including 200,000 Southeast Asian civilian labourers (“Romusha”) and 60,000 Allied prisoners of war (POWs).  During the 14 month long construction, 12,621 Allied POWs and 100,000 Romusha died of malnutrition, illness and torture.  We visited the Bridge Over The River Quai; the Hellfire Pass Museum and rode the train along the Death Railway line back to Kanchanaburi - very sobering.

Washing Elephants

We then spent two fabulous days at Elephant World, which is a sanctuary for old, disabled, and abused elephants.  The refuge started with 3 elephants eight years ago and now has 25.  The non-profit organisation has a tourist program that doesn’t impact on the elephants; having no rides or shows, just an opportunity to observe and interact with the animals.  It’s a nice place.  

We prepared food for elephants, fed them, bathed them in the river and escorted one elephant into the forest where it spent the night.  The following morning, we escorted the elephants back to the camp and followed two mahouts who led their two elephants through some bush to the river. We then had a magical two hours feeding the elephants and washing them in the river.  It was a lovely spot, isolated from the rest of the activity in the sanctuary and we could imagine that we were alone in the jungle with our own elephants – amazing.

After heading back to Bangkok for a couple of nights, we jumped on a plane to Siem Reap in Cambodia, where we spent two interesting days wandering around a dozen of the 12th Century Hindu and Buddhist temples.  The temples in this area were abandoned in the 14th or  15th Century and because the jungle grew over and around the buildings, they were lost for 300 years.  Some temples have been restored, but others still have trees growing over and out of them.  The film Tomb Raider was shot in this area at a temple called Ta Prohm.

Ta Phrom Temple

After two days, we’d had enough of temples, so we went on a three hour horse ride through the rice fields, which was great fun.  The horses were well trained and happily plodded through drainage ditches between the paddy fields.  We had a brief view of Cambodian country life.

Catching another bus, we arrived in Battambang, where we rode on a Bamboo Train; saw the Killing Caves where the Khmer Rouge slaughtered 10,000 people;  saw millions of Asian Wrinkle-lipped Bats streaming out of a cave and took a cooking lesson.  One of the dishes that we prepared was a traditional Khmer dish called Fish Amok which was easy to make and very tasty.  Battambang is a small provincial town, so two nights was enough and we pressed onto Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Phen, which is manic. 

On our first day, we focussed on the genocide carried out by the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979. We visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, which is also called Security Prison S21, where about 20,000 people were imprisoned, tortured and, after they had confessed, were taken to an execution centre and murdered.   We also learned that the Khmer Rouge killed over 2 million people during their four year reign - half died of malnutrition and disease, while the other one million people were killed by the regime.

The Khmer Rouge emptied the cities and forced people into labour camps in the countryside.  The people were forced to work long hours, with barely subsistence rations.  Anyone deemed to be against the regime was sent off to one of the 20,000 prison camps, tortured and killed.  Intellectuals, previous government workers and various ethnic races (Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese) were targeted and imprisoned.  

Killing Fields Memorial

We also visited the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, one of the better known Killing Fields.  This place has 129 mass graves, 86 of which were excavated and 8,985 corpses were exhumed. The largest mass grave was a grave containing 450 corpses.  The government has built a large stupa containing the skulls and other bones of the 8,985 victims, which are displayed behind glass panels - it’s a very sobering place.

Once again we used an audio guide, which was excellent, guiding us around the site passing mass graves and even a patch of ground which has been partially excavated revealing human remains.  One of the worst spots is a tree where, in order to save bullets, the soldiers killed children by bashing them against the tree and then throwing their bodies into a pit at the side of the tree.  It’s very hard to understand the evil brutality of the Khmer Rouge regime.

Despite spending the last 18 months in Asia, we both found Cambodian an unsettling country.  Every time we showed our faces on the streets, we were bombarded by Tuk-tuk drivers trying to extract dollars from us - it’s irritating. 

The final straw was when we went for a stroll down to the river where it’s very touristy with lots of budget hotels, bar and restaurants.  As we strolled along the riverside, we were approached by a bald man in saffron robes, who put bead bracelets on our wrists and blessed us.  He asked for a $2 donation, which seemed a bit odd, but by this time I was off balance and didn’t want to annoy a Buddhist Monk.  I gave him $2US, then as he walked away, I realised that he wasn't a monk and I’d been conned – I sulked for a couple of hours - it’s the principle of the thing...

There's a detailed diary of our trip to Thailand and Cambodia with more photographs in the Activities section of this website.

2 November 2016   Phnom Phen to Admiral Marina, Malaysia
We caught a Tuk-tuk to the airport, battling through the chaotic traffic.  I found being in Phnom Pehn very frenetic and I’d become weary of being hassled every time we stepped onto the streets, so it was great to walk into the calm, air-conditioned, blandness of the airport.

The two hour flight was on time and pleasant. We grabbed a cab and were back at the marina by 15:00.  Thankfully, the boat hasn’t sunk; or been overrun by ants; or been hit by lightning; or spontaneously burst into flames.  We plugged in the air-conditioning, had a few beers, a sandwich and had an early night.