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24.08.2011, 17:45   ---   From one postcard paradise to the next one

After a long day on buses, a quiet border crossing and 2 nights in Kota Bharu it was time for another island again – Pulau Perhentian Kecil. That’s the smaller one of the two Perhentian Islands , overgrown by a lush green jungle and surrounded by crystal clear blue water. I settled down at the only resort of that little beach at the island’s northern tip with a laid-back atmosphere, nice people, no cars, no roads and a reef for snorkelling right off the beach. Just for swimming it wasn’t very suitable unfortunately due to that mentioned reef, which was very shallow in some parts… but some other sandy beaches were in easy walking distance. Meanwhile I finally managed to organise some necessary things, luckily got a dive permit for Sipadan in Borneo approved, booked the respective flights and even arranged my flight to Australia , on November 14th the time has finally come! :-) Only diving at the Perhentians had to be skipped as I still didn’t get rid of that bloody cold… but there are loads of other things to pass the time!
Yesterday there was a big excitement in the resort all of a sudden – a huge monitor lizard had crawled out of the bush to the beach and everybody was standing around it with the camera ready while keeping a safe distance. I don’t think monitor lizards are dangerous, but that one was indeed huge with its length of 1,5m and somewhat scary! Afterwards we rented 2 kayaks with a few people to paddle to the neighbouring island of Pulau Perhentian Besar , but almost sank half way! At some point, Mark and I noticed that the water level inside our kayak was constantly rising… what to do? We thought to be at about half way already (of course we weren’t at that point, as we realised later) and decided to keep going instead of turning back as it wouldn’t make a difference. But the water level was raising more and more until we were almost about to flip over due to loss of balance. By chance I had brought my diving mask for snorkelling, which one of us could use to scope out the water while the other one kept paddling. Meanwhile the girls in the other kayak struggled with their right-left-coordination, but after what felt like an eternity we finally arrived at the beach and were rewarded with a perfect postcard panorama! White powder sand, the clearest water I’ve ever seen, not a single resort or restaurant and only a few people – Welcome to paradise! We passed the time there for quite a while until we had to make our way back with the sinking kayak… Mark found two paper cups on the beach, which made it a bit easier to scope out the water, but we also had to cope with a choppy sea and quite a strong current towards the open ocean – under these circumstances 5km (we looked it up on a map later on) can really turn your arms into rubber. ;-)

This morning it was time to head off and Mark and I went straight to the next island paradise – Pulau Kapas. That’s quite a small island a bit further south, white sand and clear water of course, we found a brilliant accommodation and while I was chilling out in the water earlier I was surrounded by a school of colourful fishes all of a sudden, fantastic! :-)
Here we are facing another session of hammocking, relaxing and sunbathing while figuring out where to go next.

30.08.2011, 13:30   ---   Snorkeling paradise Kapas

I planned to spend about 2 days on Kapas… I’m already here for a week now and still don’t feel like leaving. Everything’s perfectly relaxed, people are great and I never played as many board and card games!
The island is surrounded by beautiful coral reefs, an incredible variety of hard and soft corals, loads of fish, rays, moray eels, reefsharks… I think I’ve never been to such an amazing snorkel reef and I never saw as many anemones and clownfish in all imainable sizes and colourful variations. One day we swam all the way to the little neighbouring island, unsuccessfully watching out for sharks, checked out the cute baby turtles at the turtle conservation centre and eventually made our way back. Instead of going back the long way along all the coral gardens we decided to do the short cut right across. The sea was very deep for quite a while, there was nothing to see anywhere around and I was getting a bit bored… and all of a sudden a huge school of colourful fish came up from the darkness underneath me, I was surrounded by hundreds of fishes and a few metres further I was back at the reef, just amazing!
Two days ago in the late afternoon I felt like snorkelling again, another girl from my room joined me and we were only about to snorkel for a bit right at our beach. When I looked up after a while we had already made it to the next beach, the reef was getting more beautiful in that direction and so we decided to carry on. Plus it was the time of the day when the sharks tend to hang out around that area according to the locals. And indeed: After quite a few rays, boxfish, Nemos and the like we came across a blacktip reefshark about nearly 2m in length –WOW! We’d been told that mainly juvenile sharks live there, but that one was definitely too big for a juvenile! And only a moment later we saw another one, this time much smaller, and we were completely stoked! By that time it was already getting dark, we’d been swimming for about 2km and it was urgently time to head back. On our way back all of a sudden something was tickling on my belly and glancing down I noticed a cleaner fish. They usually stick to rays and sharks to clean their skin or simply seek shelter. This little fella had obviously taken me for a shark and sticked to my belly now, he wouldn’t let go by any means and so I had to fight the current along with my tickling new friend, so funny! Due to the darkness we decided to get off at the first beach that is accessible by land, I finally had to leave my little passenger behind, we walked back and it was already pitch-black dark by the time we arrived. At our accommodation people were already seriously worried about us, because our towels were still on the beach with no sight of us anywhere. They had already taken the boat to search for us, but apparently at that time we were already back on land, so they couldn’t find us and when we finally got back they were already about to call the dive centre for assistance… oops!
Yesterday I actually had the plan to travel on, but in the end I decided to stay just another day and now I’m stuck here on the island. It’s Hari Raya for 3 days, the most important Muslim holiday (comparable to Christmas in Christianity) when they celebrate the end of Ramadan (fasting time). During these days there are apparently no boats to the mainland and I can’t leave… too bad! ;-) Well, it could be worse than being stuck at a beautiful island and so I’ll eventually leave on Thursday.

04.09.2011, 13:30   ---   Away from the coast  

The last days on Kapas were fantastic and didn’t make it any easier to leave the island. Kayan, the owner of the KBC where I was staying, took us to some other snorkelling spots with his boat a few times and also showed us the entire island. At its back side is a small cave, just big enough to get inside by boat, and the walls were completely covered with bats, thousands of them! Obviously bothered by the noise and smell of the engine they flew outside, circling around the cave’s entrance and the sea eagles took their chance to feed from this huge lunch buffet. ;-)
But the end of the public holidays came closer and after beating the self-claimed island-champion at “The settlers of Catan” (he wasn’t all too amused about it) it was finally time to leave.

My next destination was Taman Negara National Park in the centre of the Malaysian peninsula, for the first time I took local buses (so far I always ended up sharing a taxi with other travellers) and was very positively surprised – on time, clean, modern! The last distance to the national park I covered by boat. A wonderful 3-hour trip in a small wooden boat, during the whole ride the water level inside kept rising steadily and in the end we still made it without sinking. The jungle of Taman Negara is said to be 130 million years old, which makes it the world’s oldest jungle and also a home for tigers, panthers, elephants and the like (which one most likely won’t ever get to see though). It looks very pretty, especially from the boat, when cruising past those incredibly dense, green walls of trees and bushes.
In Kuala Tahan, a village by the National Park, I caught up with Maria and Florian, who I’d met on Pulau Kapas, and the next day we went hiking together in those totally stylish anti-leeches-outfit (long pants stuffed into long socks). Well, we didn’t really hike all that much, but at least we saw some monkeys and a whole lot of big insects and did the Canopy Walk. That’s a suspension-bridge-construction leading through the tree tops on shaking wooden planks – definitely not made for anybody scared of heights, but I enjoyed t!
Now I’m back on the bus again and looking forward to another big city after quite a while – Kuala Lumpur !

09.09.2011, 10:00   ---   City life  

After spending quite some time nearly permanently on islands it was finally time to go back to a city. And not just any city, but Kuala Lumpur , Malaysia ’s sparkling capital! It was fantastic to stroll around skyscrapers again, taking a monorail and having a hot shower! :-)
KL is impressive and also extremely multi-cultural unlike any other place I know. It’s crowded with people of many different origins and cultures, Hindu temples, Tao temples and mosques are right next to each other and the entire city is shrouded in gigantic Malaysian flags. There are heaps of huge shopping malls and a Starbucks at every corner. And right in the middle of this whole peaceful hustle and bustle the Petronas Towers jut out towards the sky, the city’s distinctive landmark of steel and glass. First I was even a little bit disappointed as they didn’t seem that big from the distance (might still be the impact of Burj Khalifa in Dubai ), but once right in front of them, they are indeed jaw-dropping!
For a couple of days I enjoyed living the city life, caught up with Ana and Sarah (two of the French girls from the Perhentians) and Hannah (she travelled with Stuart, Jean-Marie and me in Cambodia for a few days) and then I left from the most modern bus station I've ever seen (I almost though I arrived at the airport by mistake ;-) ) for Melaka.

The colonial city of Melaka is protected as a World Heritage Site. Sure, loads of tourists head there and get taken around the streets in those cheesy colourful trishaws with loud music, but anyway it’s a beautiful place and very chilled out. I would’ve loved to stay longer, but unfortunately I’m a bit in a rush at the moment as I need to reach my Borneo-flight from Jakarta, so I had to leave.

After 3 weeks in Malaysia it’s for now time to say goodbye to these amazingly friendly, open, beamingly smiling people! First I was a bit sceptic due to the strong Islamic orientation and probably expected some sort of Egypt , but I was totally positively surprised. Although many people take their belief very serious, it just doesn’t seem to be as strict and compulsive as in Egypt . Women do usually wear a head scarf, but if they don’t feel like it they just go without and nobody bothers, women wearing burkas are a very rare exception, the intercourse among people (especially concerning women) is a lot more relaxed and even during Ramadan non-Moslems don’t have to starve during the day.


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