Road Trip Malaysia!!
I arrived home at 2am yesterday morning, after travelling 16 hours with food poisoning, a migraine, and three kids in the back seat. Why?!! Operation Road Trip Malaysia. That's why. Was it a holiday? Was it an adventure? Was it a chance to test out my new label? Who can say, but either way, we survived.
And I figure, if we can survive this, we can survive anything....
Ok, so it wasn't supposed to be a 16 hour drive, and the purpose of the trip wasn't solely to test out my new fashion label, (although of course it WAS a great opportunity to do exactly that.... Scroll for pics of my new pieces. All of course, painted, patterned, printed, cut and stitched by yours truly.)
The trip was mainly devised as a method to distract my three sons from killing each other over the Christmas holidays. We planned a cruisy drive up through Melaka, Ipoh, Penang, and back down to Singapore via the Cameron Highlands and KL, with a lot of adventuring along the way. It was around 1800km we had to cover in a week. But I'm Australian. I can drive 1800 kilometres in my sleep. How was I to know that we would blow two tyres, get stuck in two traffic jams, be held up by a couple of car accidents (not mine), be attacked by leeches, end up with everyone covered in mud trying to bathe in a roadside drain, get hit by a storm, and then have to drive home in six lanes of swerving 150 km/hr traffic with zero visibility, broken windscreen wipers and food poisoning... All in one day? No, I couldn't have predicted any of that, or that my husband would lose his license (just the card, not the actual, you know, license) but that all the same, I would have to do all the driving, all 1800km, by myself. AND get my period AND a migraine all at the same time, all in one glorious day.
Oh well. Life, as usual, happens. As for the trip, well, WHAT an adventure. Read on....
We began our journey in Melaka. What a funky little place. Crumbling old European terraces, delicious coffee and Melaka Pandan Pancakes. Rambling antique shops and alleyways full of history. We explored the surrounding Kampungs by bicycle, and on our way, learned how to harvest rubber, how to turn rubber tree seed pods into spinning pinwheels, how to heat up rubber seeds on the roadside (and give your brothers second degree skin burns). We learned how to identify the tropical plants growing around the countryside, and got to experience first hand the joy of riding in a Hello Kitty Rickshaw accompanied by gangster rap music. What more could you possibly want from a Christmas holiday in Malaysia? I could have died happy at this point. But all the same, we kept driving.
In Kuala Lumpur, I managed to find an amazing last minute, SG$80 a night apartment for the five of us, with our very own rooftop pool overlooking the Twin Towers of KL. Yep, not bad for $80 bucks. Middle child did not cope very well with being stuck in a big loud city however. He made himself a 'DO NOT TALK TO ME, I DO NOT CARE' sign, and sticky-taped it to his face for half a day. So we took the kids for a run up and down the Batu Caves, and kept driving.
After KL, we meandered our way up to Penang. I love Penang. What's not to love? The fantastic street art for starters. The history and beauty of the crumbling terraces. The delicious Armenian curries, iridescent blue butterfly pea rice, sweet sago puddings and sticky mango, good coffee, fresh eggs, and wood fired pizza made fresh across the road from my cozy loft hotel room. It astounds me that you can stay in a family loft in central Georgetown, with breakfast at the downstairs hipster cafe INCLUDED for $100 bucks a night. For five of us! Three cheers for Malaysia and the Spice Hotel.
While we were in Penang, we also took the opportunity to do some exploring in Taman Negara National Park. We hiked up through the steep jungle, climbing over huge roots and eroded dirt pathways, to discover a beautiful cool waterfall up at the top of the mountain. The kids and I had great fun swimming and showering under the falls. And then the boys got to throw rocks. It's a thing. I don't entirely understand it, but it's something that boys like to do and they can't do it in Singapore. So we get very excited when we are in the jungle in Malaysia, and we can throw stuff. I of course, don't throw any rocks, mainly because the last time I did it, I hit one of the kids in the head and we had to take him to hospital to get his head stitched back together. Luckily I had my phone on me at the time, because nobody at the local Thai hospital spoke a word of English. Thank God for Google Translate. But anyway. We don't really talk about THAT anymore. Shit, did I just put that on the internet??? If anyone asks, the scar is from when he fell off his bike.
Next stop on the trail, Ipoh. Now, I'll be honest. Prior to this trip, I didn't know that Ipoh even existed, and it certainly wasn't on my to-visit list. But I will say this. Wow, what an INTERESTING place. Ipoh, for those who are clueless - well Ipoh is basically like a Malay-Chinese version of Georgetown, but smaller, with a bigger local Muslim community, and minus the hoards of western tourists. It has a similar street-art culture, and very similar Peranakan Colonial history. The food definitely has a more Chinese flavour, and the place feels a lot more rural and localised than Georgetown. But all the same, lots of beautiful street art, funky cafes and gorgeous interior design.
The surrounding area is incredible as well, and I'll definitely be coming back to go kayaking and jungle trekking, especially as you can fly there in under an hour from Singapore for $50 bucks. Whilst there, we stayed at a really cute little Kampung Hut owned by the operators of the Hipster Cafe-Guesthouse in town called 'The Happy 8'. The owner is a local Chinese designer and has built much of the interiors and furniture in the guesthouse himself. And the walls are covered in the most beautiful artworks, all hand-painted by one of the employees at the guesthouse, a very talented Nepalese artist.
On our final night in Ipoh, actually our final night of 2016, we took the kids for a New Years Eve treat to 'The Lost World' - a huge and slightly wacky jungle theme-park nestled into the base of the Cameron Highlands just outside of Ipoh. Hot Springs. Rock Climbing. Rollercoasters. Waterslides. Zoo. Cafes. Giant Prosthetic Dinosaurs that roam around eating people. Fireworks. It's all there. It's totally weird. There are no white people. You should totally go. But leave your weapons behind ok? As the signs kept telling us everywhere, NO GUNS ALLOWED IN THE WATER PARK!
Ok, good plan.
Final stop along Operation Road trip: The Famous Cameron Highlands. So..... What did we think? Well, let's just say the place is interesting. And by interesting I mean overpriced, mouldy, dusty and tacky. Sorry. I didn't love it. Elements are GREAT though, if you're happy to pay a lot of money for a very average hotel........Or maybe it's just that I booked last minute over the Christmas holidays..... Maybe outside of tourist season it would feel different.
Here's what's great. The jungle is amazing, even if you can hear the traffic nearby. The tea plantations are beautiful. The fact that you can buy a FOR REAL lettuce milkshake, is just, in my option TOO excellent. The cold weather is also a novelty if you live in the tropics and never get to wear jumpers. The effects of tourism are however, depressing. Driving around, I felt like I was witnessing first hand the wreck of human civilisation, and our innate ability to come into a beautiful place and bloody well destroy it. The rubbish and tacky commercialism. The insane traffic. The terrible high rise hotels.
Overall, there are a lot of amazing things about the Highlands, and I do understand why it has become so popular. All this got me thinking however, about how important it is for us as humans to make the right decisions when it comes to industry, rather than making decisions based on popular (but not necessarily intelligent or sustainable) trends. In the same way, I had to remind myself how important it is for me in my OWN journey, to create my label in a way that doesn't just reflect easy trends, but that sets its own standard for sustainable manufacturing and ethical practice. When you live in Asia, you get to see first hand the effects of modern culture and our manufacturing choices, and I don't think, as a manufacturer, I can afford to be preachy about the issues with that, unless I'm prepared to do things differently myself. Recycled fabrics, or fabrics that don't cause massive amounts of pollution and waste. Practices that allow workers a good quality of life, and don't exploit poor people living in difficult situations. (Which by the way, is the easy route when it comes to manufacturing and particularly making fashion.) And we all need to do that. We all need to see the impact of our choices, and figure out how we can do things differently. Or nothing changes. Asia just keeps getting trashed at the expense of a disposable culture.
But getting back onto the good parts of the Highlands.
There are some beautiful hikes in the surrounding Mossy Forest, and we managed to find ourselves on one such trail on the last day of our trip. The trail led up behind the Sam Poh Temple, and signs for the loop figured the whole walk at around 3-4 hours for a 4km walk, the slowest section being rated at 1.5 hours per kilometre. We thought, HA RUBBISH. We're Australian, we can do four kays in our sleep. We'll bust this out in twenty minutes. You'd think I would learn by now, but no, I do not.
The kids set off in flip flops and I had my nice leather jacket on (it was cold, so I wanted to make the most of this rare opportunity to wear a jacket ok.) Several hours later, we emerged from the jungle in the dark, shoeless, shirtless, covered head to toe in mud, leather jacket now a nice shade of mud brown, with leeches stuck to our toes and three days later, my legs still don't work. I've climbed some serious mountains in my time, but let me tell you, this hike was not a hike, it was a crawl. We were climbing, hands and feet, on a gloriously ridiculous vertical, up and down ascent/descent for two kilometres straight, and in retrospect, the suggested 2.5 hours for that section was probably very generous.
On that note, time to rest up. Next week, I'm off to Bali to start manufacturing my label. Stay tuned for updates and thanks for sharing the journey with me!