4 days off are nothing. I got home at 1.30 am Saturday morning and was picked up from home at 3.30 am today. I am tired and a little apprehensive, as I haven’t done this tour before. I try to do at least one new destination each year. Then I tell the clients that I have done the tour a few times and rely on my ability to talk intelligently about things I know little about and my charm of course!
So here we go again – a new group and a new tour and of course another long haul flight. I really do not know what time zone my body is on now. The flight was 12 hours and seemed to take forever. My company always request an aisle seat away from the group for me but the airlines just don’t care. I got the aisle seat but was seated with my group. You might think that is not so bad but imagine 12 hours with some client who asks questions the whole way or even worse wakes you up every 5 minutes. I sat with 2 clients who are brothers – both in their fifties and both unmarried. I don’t want to be unkind but they both look like Mr Bean. I chatted a bit with them and they seem nice enough. Then I put my headset on, a clear enough sign that the conversation is over and I want some peace.
Arrived in Kuala Lumpur at 7.25 am local time and I gathered the group together and picked up my local guide and off we go. We headed straight to Malacca, a small town that was once Chinese, then Dutch, then Portuguese, then British and now Malay, so has influences from all of these cultures. The group seem ok. Though I have 2 ladies who are staff and work in sales, an 85-year-old lady, travelling alone, a man on his own who smells and the Mr Bean Brothers. I also have a local guide who will be with us for the whole tour, so I will have to take a back seat sometimes. On most tours I either have no local guide at all or pick up a local guide in each city, so I am the one in control of the tour. I try to avoid taking tours where I have a guide from start to finish as I get bored and don’t get the chance to talk much to the group as the guide does most of the talking. And one thing I like to do is talk – I love telling stories and giving coach commentary. In these cases, I have to remind myself that the tour is not about me but about the clients enjoying the tour, so I have to make sure I work as a team with Paul, my guide, and that the clients get the most out of the trip.
By 11 am I have checked the group into the hotel and we have free time until 5pm. I advise everyone to try and stay awake until after dinner and then in theory after a good night’s sleep we will all be adjusted to local time. I really struggled to keep my eyes open this afternoon and needed a nap before going out with the group for a boat ride in the Dutch quarter.
I went for dinner with Paul – Chinese and a beer – and was on my way back to the hotel looking forward to crawling into bed when the hotel phoned me. The 85-year-old lady on my tour had fallen over and been taken to hospital. I would have to put off sleep and I headed to the hospital.
Thankfully the lady was ok, but she had lost a lot of blood. We got back to the hotel around midnight. It does worry me having clients that age on a tour like this, especially when they are travelling alone. Tomorrow we have a morning tour of Malacca and then a free afternoon and evening.
The nicest part of old Malacca is Harmony Street – a street will a Mosque, a Hindu Temple, a Budhist Temple and a Methodist Church all within 200 yards of eachother, proving that peoples of different religions can live together in HARMONY.
Chen Hoon Temple
Trishaws - Rickshaws Malacca Style
This tour of Malaysia is very different from the rest of the tours I did this year, in that it is much slower paced and we have a lot of free time. Also not so many meals are included so the clients are free for dinner most evenings. Malacca was a great starting point for the group, easy to get around on foot or by trishaw – a kind of rickshaw with 3 wheels. The mix of cultures, races and religions is truly visible. Malays love to eat out and food is very cheap so there is an abundance of eating spots here. Food is cheap but alcohol is very expensive. Tomorrow we head to Kuala Lumpur or KL as the locals say, the capital of Malaysia.
Left Malacca at 10 am for KL, I would rather have set off earlier but by now I realise that while my guide for this tour is very nice, but likes late starts and early finishes. We had a city tour of KL this afternoon which was quite rushed due to the late start. One of my clients served in the army here back in 1961 and it is an emotional return for him. He requested that we visit the war monument so we did and he put his medals on for this stop. Unfortunately the heavens open and we had a real tropical storm during our stop there. Nobody was prepared for this so we all got soaked.
Kuala Lumpur means confluence of 2 muddy rivers, but KL is anything but that now. It is a relatively new city, founded in the 1850’s and full of modern tower blocks, the most famous being the Petronas Towers or just known locally as the Twin Towers.
We walked through Chinatown and the Central Market and then checked into the hotel. The clients had a free evening (again) and tomorrow is a free day, something I am not used to but I could really do with a bit of chill out time.
I went on the local transport, the Monorail, to an area known as Brickfields Little India this evening and 4 clients came along with me. Because Deepwali the Hindu festival of light is approaching, the area was very busy with stalls, lights, music and Indians out shopping and eating. It could be compared to going down Oxford Street on the last Friday before Christmas. It was very colourful and exciting.
A free day on tour is very unusual, but it was quite welcome today, as I have had a heavy workload recently and could do with some time just for myself. Some people (even my friends) do think I am on a permanent holiday but as a tour guide with the responsibility of a group thousands of miles away from home, life can be tough, the work is hard, hours long and it can be very lonely. Sometimes when I wake up, I don’t even know where I am – most hotel rooms look the same. I chilled out today, spending the morning in Starbucks making use of the free WIFI and the afternoon by the hotel pool.
I met the group at 7.15 pm to go to an included Malaysian dinner and show. It was quite nice though one of my clients didn’t show up, so I was a bit worried about what had happened to him.
Tomorrow we head north to the Cameron Highlands and the tea plantations, 5000 feet above sea level.
First stop today were the Batu Caves, made of limestone and home to Malysia’s most sacred Hindu Temple. 272 steps lead up to the caves and the temple so some of my group couldn’t even attempt it, as they can’t walk very well. The steps are full of Maccau monkeys, aggressive horrible monkeys. I advised the clients not to make any eye contact with the monkeys or attempt to touch them as they have been known to attack humans.
Statue of Lord Krishna and Steps to the Batu Caves
The climb was worth it and the caves and temples fascinating. A priest in the temple said blessed me and gave me a flower.
Hindu Temple inside the Batu Caves
Lunch was included in an old colonial tudor house. Alcohol in Malaysia is very expensive, especially in the hotels. Out next hotel is really in the middle of nowhere, so I made a stop in the small town of Tanu Ratta, so the clients could pick up some supplies for their rooms at a reasonable price.
The weather wasn’t good today, with rain and low cloud so we really missed out on some beautiful scenery as we drove up to a height of 5000 feet.
We checked in at 4 pm and the hotel is strange – 8 blocks with noisy building work everywhere. The rooms are really cold and there is nothing to do here. I don’t drink on tour but I could do with a drink now.
We have 2 nights here and Paul, my guide, says we will be back at the hotel around 2.30 pm tomorrow but I have told him we need to stretch the day out as, there is absolutley nothing to do here and it is very cold in the rooms.I had dinner with Paul and he had picked up a bottle of wine in town. Nobody at the hotel seemed bothered that we had brought our own booze and we got a free meal so that was ok. I felt a bit ba, as I had emailed my company about the building work without telling Paul and now his company were on to him about it. It’s all good fun!
I was worried about today as the programme was too empty, the weather was horrible and I really didn’t want to return too early to the hotel because there is absolutely nothing to do here and the builders are very noisy. We ended up having a really good day, partly because I gave Paul a push in the right direction, to include more stops and sightseeing and because I managed to get our local agent to treat ny clients to high tea at “Ye Olde Smoke House”, a colonial tea house nearby, because of the bulding work.
We started off at the butterfly farm, where a guy from Bangladesh, called Baba showed us around. We actually saw more insects, snakes and lizards than butterflies and Baba took real delight in unlocking cages and taking these strange creatures out and letting the clients hold them. I wouldn’t touch or hold any of those creatures. I was surprised by how willing my clients were to hold the insects, snakes, lizards etc. Baba even put a huge Chameleon Lizard on one lady’s head and she didn’t seem to mind. I would have really freaked out at that.
Weird Green Insect
The sun came out for our visit to the tea plantations and the visit to the local town – our last chance to shop for alcohol and change money before heading to the rain forest tomorrow, which is in a Muslim area and dry.
Free for dinner again but the only possibility is to eat at the hotel. I went on my own for dinner, which is fine, but my coach driver, Sham, was waiting for me. There was a buffet and barbeque on and I think Paul must have told Sham to keep an eye on me. He escorted me to a table full of Chinese drivers and guides, sat me down and came back with a plate full of satay, roast duck and fried rice – not really what I would have chosen from the buffet, but I didn’t want to offend Sham so tried my best to eat it all. Before I had finished Sham went off and returned with a big plate of spaghetti. I was full and really didn’t want it. Then he appeared with one of the chefs who explained he had cooked that spaghetti sauce just for me. I tried to eat it but it was a struggle and I really didn’t want to offend Sham or the chef. Then Sham appeared with a plate full of cakes and fruit. Honestly, I was really full and had to leave it. I made my excuses and got out of there befre Sham could bring me more food.
I was happy to leave the Cameron Highlands, as it was cold and rainy up there and the hotel was not very welcoming. I could tell my clients did not feel comfortable there and nor did I. We travelled to the Muslim state of Perek and had lunch in a government house – it was hot as the fans didn’t work and the food was a bit dodgy. Before lunch we had a walk through a small settlement and saw typical Malay houses on stilts with a very grand mosque in the background.
Malay Village and Mosque
Our destination was the Belum Rain Forest. I have visited the Borneo Rain Forest several times and always found it very exciting – the density of the forest, the sheer size of the trees and the noises are incredible. The lodge in the Borneo Rain Forest is 3 hours by jeep from civilisation and a great experience. I was expecting something similar today and was disappointed. Luckily, none of the clients have experienced another Rain Forest so have nothing to compare it with. Our hotel is right next to a main road. The rooms are nice enough and the restaurant is kind of open plan and there are all sorts of weird and wonderful bugs and insects flying around. A couple of years ago this would have really bothered me and I would have been very jumpy, but after all my travels, I am getting over my fear of insects and even spiders. I could tell that some of the clients did not feel comfortable in this environment – luckily we are not in the Borneo rain forest, where the insects are bigger and even more numerous.
I am worried about tomorrow’s programme, which involves a boat trip on the lake, a visit to see the Orang Astli tribes and some trekking in the jungle. Most of my clients are quite old and not too good at walking even on normal terrain. Paul and I have been trying all day to put them off doing the full programme but so far only 3 clients have opted to skip the trekking.
Today was a tedious infuriating day for me. I could tell that the trekking was unsuitable for most of my clients and I tried to put them off but to no avail. We travelled around by boat, making several stops. First stop was for a trek to see the world’s biggest flower, the Rafflesia, and the walk was more like a climb, up a steep, muddy hill. Coming down was the most difficult and the boatman, our trekking guide and our local guide all tried to help. Just 2 clients fell and fortunately did not injure themselves.
Next stop was for a slightly easier trek.
We then had a picnic lunch – chicken, sandwiches and water. I had bought seaweed flavour crisps and prawn crackers at the supermarket yesterday and some lychee liqueur (£1 for a bottle). The clients seemed to enjoy these extras.
We visited the Orang Astli tribes, who live a simple life. Even there, we had an uphill, steep, muddy slope to contend.
Orang Astli Village
Orang astli Houses
Our last stop was a treacherous trek to a waterfall. Some clients fell and some were attacked by leeches.
I was happy to get back to the hotel with all of my clients intact and in one piece. The whole day was really unsuitable for my group and an accident waiting to happen.
Left the rain forest with all the clients, still alive and in one piece. They were grateful that I had made stops at convenience stores to stock up on alcohol before our stay at the ‘dry’ rain forest lodge. I think most of them needed a drink last night after all that trekking. Arrived in Penang in time for dinner. Our hotel is right in the thick of it and next to the night market. The hotel rooms are noisy and I have already changed 5 rooms for clients who have complained. Today is the Hindu festival of Deepwali so there are a lot of festivities and fireworks. I went with there girls from the office for dinner – we went to the food court which is a great place. Lots of small stands selling various types of food, all freshly cooked and served on plastic plates and VERY cheap.