|The bus station at Kota Bharu in the rain|
After no more incidents at the Sabrina Court Hotel in Kota Bharu, we packed up and left in the rain. It had rained heavily in the night and the night before (probably the start of the NE monsoon), but when we left it was not too bad. We elected to go by local bus (local? It was nearly 4 hours away, but that is what they called it) rather than train as the train we could have taken was the regular commuter service, stopping at every station, we couldn’t buy tickets in advance, it left early (07:40) and it involved a 6km, RM20 taxi ride, so the bus was an easier and cheaper solution at RM17.50 each.
|Halfway stop, cold in the bus, hot outside|
It was a bus rather than a coach, it was pretty old, but it was reasonably OK so, dumping our rucksacks on two seats, hoping it wasn’t going to be too full, we settled back to look at the jungle. We weren’t too disappointed as we already knew a lot of jungle had been cleared for palm tree plantations, but it was all pretty depressing to see how much had gone. There were many mature plantations, but a huge quantity of new clearance with newly planted and tiny palm trees. What is going to happen to the wildlife that’s left? The central area of lowland Malaysia was once covered in tropical rainforest, with 195 species of mammals, the second largest in the Indo-Pacific region, but much of it now clings to existence due to habitat loss.
In these jungles exist unique animals such as the Asian Elephant (numbers estimated between 600 and 6,000), the tiger (somewhere between 350 and 600), the Malayan Tapir (the largest living), the two-horned Sumatran rhinoceros (the worlds smallest), plus squirrels, deer, civet, primates, the rare sun bear, the clouded leopard and many species of bats (see: http://www.caaltd.org/Rainforest/Malaysia/PeninsulaRainforests.aspx), but from our bus we could see jungle only on high remote peaks, isolated by cleared land and palm forests.
|Gua Musang High Street, with it's scenery of limestone outcrops|
|The railways running past the limestone cliffs. We walked all along that path at the base of the cliffs today!|
The Malaysian government recognise the problem and are apparently committed to retaining 50% of the land area of the peninsular as jungle, but how successful they are and will be remains to be seen. I suppose it’s likely that the most cleared areas will be closest to roads, so perhaps we saw it at its worst, I hope so! Tomorrow our onward travel is by train, so perhaps we’ll see more forest.
Anyway, we arrived at Gua Musang (translated as Cave of the Fox) around 13:00. Up until 1988 it was only accessible by train and now there are two towns, old and new Gua Musang, separated by about 2km.
|The old railway station. Hey Tim, that's train no. 23108!|
There’s also an old and new railway station, but both situated in the old town (?) and we’re a 15 minute walk from the new station, making it easy tomorrow to walk there with our rucksacks (they don’t appear to have any taxis here, or none that we’ve seen). It was a bit of a problem when we arrived as the bus station is in the new town, 2km from our hotel and, even though he drove right past our hotel he wouldn’t stop. I asked him but he said ‘no, at the bus stop’, so we had a 2km walk in the midday hot sun to our hotel (good job we’d looked on Google Maps the day before to see where we had to go!).
|The hotel offers breakfast. Here's this mornings: blue rice!|
The hotel is pretty good, but the room is quite small. It’s probably the size of the bathroom we had in Kota Bharu, but it has everything we need and is clean! Once again it seems few Europeans stay here, so we are in the minority, our white faces being stared at, particularly by small children. English is also fairly uncommon, a feature of Malaysian schooling, who only teach English only once per week in the schools, so all people under 50 (since independence) have only a slight grasp of the language, only older people having a good knowledge.
|Moustache cat no. 2|
We have the feeling that, as we walk past restaurants owners breathe a sigh of relief that they won’t have to use their limited English (I know what you’re thinking, why should they have to, why don’t we learn Malay? Why indeed, but we can’t!). Last night we went to an outdoor area that is a car park by day and a restaurant by night (parking meters were in amongst the tables and chairs!), with 5 or 6 restaurants serving the tables. You go to each restaurant, order what you want and they bring it to your table. We sat at one and an older lady who could speak reasonable English was sent over to take our order (we think the others pushed her out front to go and talk to those funny white people) and we had a delicious and cheap meal (RM16 = £3.20, including non-alcoholic drinks), but we spied a satay stand so I went over to order some.
|A very rickety bridge that seemed to lead nowhere|
Sitting behind it was a young girl wearing a tee shirt with a UK union flag printed on it, but as I approached I could see a look of dread appear across her face and she tried to shrink away. The elder ladies sat at a table nearby told her that she had to try, so I pointed, held up a number of fingers for the quantity I wanted, but could see her anxiously looking to her elders. ‘Chicken or beef’ one of the ladies asked, so I looked back at the girl to reply ‘Ayam’, which I thought was Malay for chicken. The ladies confirmed ‘chicken’ to me in English (maybe it was my accent!) and the girl set to work, bringing them over without saying a word, but they were delicious!
|Inside a Chinese temple|
We really like the town and surrounding area, it’s got a really nice semi isolated feel about it, the old town is really nice, but the really good thing about it is the scenery, there are quite a number of large limestone outcrops all around, many of them riddled with caves (none that we can go in though, many of them being high on the cliffs). The rock faces look fabulous and we’ve been sizing them up for climbing, most looking fearsomely difficult and very high, but some look sort of do-able, although we’ve seen no signs of either bolts or footpaths to the base and most of the possible do-able bits are severely overgrown. Jackie looked on the internet and found that there are some crags about 6km away that have some routes on, about 30 bolted routes ranging from 5a to 7a, the majority in the 5c to 6c range. Mmm, probably a bit hard even if we had the gear here (which we haven’t, we’ve heard it’s just arrived back at Andantex in the UK after we posted it back from Melbourne on 12th August!).
So instead we’ve been for a couple of walks through the palm plantations, near the crags, just to feel we’re out in the country rather than in city’s looking at museums! Trouble is, in the sun it’s just so hot! We set off at 09:30 this morning and, in the sun, the heat just gnaws away at us until we’re running with sweat even just strolling. Fortunately the crags cast a shadow in the morning sun, so it was a pleasant few hours walk, until the sun cleared the crags, the oppressive heat bore down and we were on a dirt road, probably the best part of an hours walk from our hotel and little idea where we were with no map! We walked back a bit, found a way across the railway line, into a small local village by a river and, eventually back to the main road towards home and, at last, a shop selling iced drinks! Give me one of those ice-blended one’s and let me consume it immediately, whilst holding its icy container to hot arms, hands and face – that’s better! After that, as usual, we retreated back to our air conditioned room. That’s the problem with Malaysia, it’s a great and very cheap country, but we couldn’t live here, it’s just too hot!