Cameron Highlands – Tea Country

On our way to the Cameron Highlands in the mountains of central Malaysia, we experienced our first breaths of cool air in some weeks.  Everything was green and full of life as our bus wound its way slowly up and up, honking before the tight turns to warn oncoming traffic that we wouldn’t be slowing down.  The weather was so beautiful with clouds drifting across the mountain tops.  Our destination was Tanah Rata, the main town for adventures in the Cameron Highlands.  We dropped our stuff at Kang Travellers Lodge, a simple guest house with cheap rooms and friendly staff.  Rain clouds started to roll in but we were able to hike to a small waterfall before the downpour.

cameron highlands

 

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Pretty, but unfortunately there was a lot of trash in the water 🙁

The main drag in town was very touristy but there were a few good Indian restaurants that were not expensive.  After dinner we went home and realized there was a bar attached to our guesthouse– Jungle Bar.  It was the first real bar we had been to in Malaysia.  Many of the towns are very Islamic and there are not a lot of parties happening.  Jungle Bar had a pool table and fireplace and a good collection of travelers to talk to.  It was a great dive bar with a fun atmosphere and just what we needed after only talking to each other for the past week or so.

The next morning we got up early as we had scheduled one of the tours from an agency in town.  All the companies sell pretty much the same thing for the same price and take you to different places around the area.  I think it was 45 Ringgit per person ($10) and lasted most of the day.  Our first stop was a butterfly sanctuary.  The first room was full of Birdwings, the national butterfly of Malaysia, a big blue one that didn’t want to fly very much because of the lack of sunshine.

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They also had many other insects and reptiles.  My favorites were the stick insects and other bugs that blended in perfectly with the trees.  It was a challenge to find each one.  There were also toads that looked exactly like the leaves they were resting in.  The flowers were amazing as well; we really enjoyed the place and would never have found it without being on the tour of the Cameron Highlands.

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Butterfly flower
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A beautiful butterfly flower
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These flowers produced a small amount of water that was super sweet!
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This giant stick insect was about 18 inches long!
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Can you spot the leaf insect munching away?

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Our next stop was a tea plantation.  We had never seen tea growing before so it was cool to learn about the process.  Boh (“Best of Highlands”) Tea was still owned by the Scottish family who has owed it since the 1800s.  Many workers were trimming the tops of the bushes with giant hedge saws that deposited the cuttings into large sacks.  The leaves were then taken to be sorted and processed in different ways to make the different tea styles.  They are still using the same labor contract that was created when the plantation opened, with workers working six days a week for very low wages.  Most of the laborers were immigrants from Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Nepal.  Most of the tea produced was consumed domestically, with some being exported but only to Indonesia and other nearby countries.  The landscape was majestic and they had a nice tea shop and cafe to enjoy the view of the nearby hills.

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There were six other people in our group and we ended up making friends with a British couple.  They were on an indefinite trip as well so we shared stories of our adventures.  After the tea plantation we got back into our Jeep and drove up a steep road.  The vegetation got thicker and thicker and our driver stopped along the way to identify different plants and let us smell things like tiger balm, citronella, and eucalyptus.  At the top of the hill was a path leading into the Mossy Forest.  This area was under a misty cloud 95% of the year which created a very surreal environment where moss grows on everything and thousands of types of plants flourished.  It reminded me of FernGully, a great movie from our childhood that was ripped off by stupid Avatar.

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Our guide said that in Borneo there are larger versions of these flowers that eat insects.

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After the Mossy Forest we stopped at an organic strawberry farm where they sold everything from boxes of berries to berry coffees to berry shakes.

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From there they left us at a hiking trail (Trail #3) that lead to another trail (Trail #5) which took us back into town.  It was a cool 1.5 hour trek through the jungle and we had a lot of fun.  Luckily we had our rain gear because it started coming down hard near the end.

We really enjoyed the Cameron Highlands.  It was wonderful to escape the constant heat and humidity of the lower altitudes and we always enjoy some outdoor time.  Stay tuned for some Island time off the eastern coast of Malaysia!

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Kuala Lumpur – The Big City

KL Skyline
KL Skyline

Kuala Lumpur, or KL as everyone calls it, is the capital of Malaysia and one of the biggest economic centers of southeast Asia.  We got off our bus from Malacca at the TBS Station, one of the biggest transit stations we’ve scene, and navigated our way to the metro train which took us downtown to our hostel.  We stayed at the Reggae Mansion, a giant party hostel near Chinatown that seemed to be the most popular place to crash.  It was a little pricey but the bed price included free drinks at their rooftop bar and it was a good opportunity to meet other travelers.

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Banana Leaf Indian Food, Yum!!!

We didn’t accomplish a whole lot in KL because of how much it rained while we where there.  Mostly I just wanted to look at the towers.  The Petronas Towers were the tallest buildings in the world when I was a child and were an inspiration for a lot of my engineering and architecture dreams.

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Petronas Towers

Although not close to the tallest anything anymore, they were still very impressive especially at nighttime.  There was also another huge tower which lit up with bright color-changing LEDs.  They really know how to put on a light show in Asia (Singapore Supertrees and Malacca trishaws)!  You could view them from the top of the Mansion so it was nice to play a game of pool and imagine the towers being built, the future looking down on the crumbling buildings beneath.  The duality of the rich and poor, old and new is really quite striking especially in the big cities.  People seem so excited to lurch ahead but don’t really stop to think about if they actually even should.  But we’ll get more into this later.

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Stay tuned for tales from Central and Northern Malaysia!

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Malacca, Malaysia – Bring On The Street Food!

Our first stop in Malaysia was Malacca.  Conquered by the Portuguese in 1511, the town was one of the first sultanates and had already been a center of trade for hundreds of years.  After the Portuguese the city had many other rulers including the Dutch, British, and the Japanese during  WWII .  The city is full of different architecture styles melting together the different cultures and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008.

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The city was quiet during the day but Friday-Sunday nights everything went out for the Jonker Walk Night Market.  Everyone piled into the street for amazing food and lots of random stuff to buy.  We tasted so many things and enjoyed ourselves a lot at the market.

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We made it to Malaysia!!!
Jonker Street, Malacca
Jonker Street Night Market – Malacca, Malaysia
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Of course there’s karaoke!
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Anyone need a ride? We’re suckers for bright lights.
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Laksa – It’s the best!  Noddles with a fishy, coconut, lemongrass, and red pepper broth.  Usually there are some fried fish pieces and a hard boiled egg!

Malacca also had a nice river where you could take boat cruises.  It was either too hot or raining whenever we wanted to do it but we can’t do everything.

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Malacca River

There were temples and churches and mosques all on the same streets, everyone living together in harmony.  I know some other people in the world who could learn a think or two from that.

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Malacca, Malaysia temples
There are always tigers and dragons guarding the temple doors.

Malacca, Malaysia

Here is a giant statue dedicated to Mr Malaysia, the pride of Malaysian bodybuilding.

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Mr Malaysia

We really enjoyed the laid back atmosphere of this city.  It felt like a small town really.  The food was fantastic and made us super excited to explore more of the country!  Stay tuned for our trip to the big city, Kuala Lumpur!!!!

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Yim Yam Hostel & Garden in Bangkok, Thailand

yim yam hostel garden

Yim Yam Hostel & Garden in Bangkok, Thailand, epitomizes the new generation of hostel life.  It’s chic design emanates feng shui calmness to chill you out in the midst of your big-city adventure.  The dorms offer big, comfortable bunk beds with privacy curtains and the private rooms provide hotel-level luxury at a hostel price!  The backyard garden is a great space to enjoy the free breakfast, do yoga, or drink beers and play board games with your new hostel friends!

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Yim Yam is more than just a well-designed hostel.  It’s also a community.  “Yim yam” means “Happy smiling” in Thai, and staying here sure will make you smile!  The friendly staff will help you get involved with all the hostel activities, like free yoga classes, game nights, or trips to famous weekend markets.  By hanging out in all the beautiful communal space, you’ll definitely meet some friends who. you can go party it up with on Khao San Road.

Best of all, since Yim Yam has only been open for two months, their rates are still super cheap!  You can get a special 30% off deal for your entire stay just by liking Yim Yam on Facebook.  Just book your stay on Hostelworld and ask the front desk for the Facebook discount when you check in!

Services Included:

Super-fast WiFi

Free continental breakfast with dorm booking

Free hot breakfast with private room booking

Air-conditioning in all rooms

24-hour reception

Cafe and bar serving food and drinks

Games and Books

Daily Activities including FREE YOGA and guided tours.

Address: 503/2 Petchburi Road, Phaya Thai District, Ratchathewi, Bangkok, Thailand 10400.  Only steps away from the Ratchethewi BTS Skytrain station.

Email: info@yimyambkk.com

Website: www.yimyambkk.com

Facebook: @yimyambkk

Instagram: @yimyambkk

Prices:

12-bed dorm: 420 ฿

8-bed dorm: 483

Female-only 12-bed dorm: 448 ฿

Private for 2: 1113 ฿

Family room for 4: 2450 ฿

Twin room: 1323 ฿

Double room: 1323 ฿

Deluxe double room: 1533 ฿

 

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Crater Lake National Park – Clean, Clear, Deep, and Blue.

 

Entering Oregon was something we were super excited for.  Carrie hadn’t been there yet, so it was her 44th state.  Headed towards Crater Lake National Park, we found a free campsite in a quiet spot on the shores of Klamath Lake and set about relaxing for the afternoon.  We had been using a site called FreeCampsites.net which was hit or miss.  Make sure to read the reviews and find recent ones.  The sky was again smoky from distant forest fires which created a cool haze.  After dark we had to escape into our tent because the mosquitoes were intense.

the way to crater lakeIt the morning we got an early start and made our way north, passing through beautiful empty spaces.  Getting close to Crater Lake National Park we passed many cyclists racing up to the lake.  It looked like a fun ride, but grueling.   Our first view of the lake was very impressive.  I had been here before as a child and enjoyed it then just as much.  My family tells me stories of how I talked about it for weeks.

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Crater Lake with Wizard Island in the middle

crater lakeCrater Lake was created almost 8,000 years ago by the collapsing of a volcano.  It is the deepest lake in the United States, at 1,949 feet deep.  There are a couple of beautiful islands, Wizard Island being the most prominent.  We drove around to the north side, which took a lot longer than expected but was a stunningly beautiful drive.

Crater Lake
Carrie at Crater Lack National Park, Oregon

We parked at the top of the Cleetwood Trail, the easiest way to the bottom.  I had also heard from my father many times about how he had to carry my brother and I back up this trail after the whole family went to the base.  It was much easier now with full-sized legs.  There trail was just over a mile one way and we were quickly at the bottom.  The water was icy cold still even though it was August, but Carrie just had to get in so she cliff jumped off an awesome rock.  You’ll see it in the awesome trip highlights video we are making!  You can never complain about blue blue water and rocks, no matter how cold.

On the way out we joined the traffic headed north for the big event.  It was eclipsing time and we were pumped.  Stay tuned for stories from Solar Town

 

 

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Bishop Bouldering and L.A.’s Reservoir

The eastern Sierras offer an abundance of outdoor activities and climbing was our main goal for this leg of the trip. Bishop bouldering and climbing is some of the best in the world, and the town was a great home base for exploring the area.  We Couchsurfed with a very nice guy named Doug who showed us around town then left for work for four days.  It was very generous of him to let us take over his house for that time.  Gotta love Couchsurfing!  Having just climbed Mt. Whitney, Doug’s house was a perfect place for us to rest our tired bones.  I set up my solar panel out back and we made nice meals.  Life was grand.

Before leaving on his work adventure hauling oil from the Nevada desert to Long Beach in southern California, Doug drove us around the small town telling us interesting facts.  He told us about the Lone Pine earthquake around the turn of the 19th century that left the whole valley to the south 30 feet lower.  He also told us about how Bishop could never expand because of the fact that all the land around the town is owned by Los Angeles County.  Great amounts of water flow in from the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the spring and summer, accumulating in the lakes and rivers around Bishop.  This water is collected and diverted into aqueducts that carry it more than 250 miles to the dry metropolis of L.A.  It seemed wrong to us, but what do we know.

After Doug left for work we drove north towards Mammoth and checked out a few hot springs near the Mammoth Airport.  First we found Wild Willy’s, which was awesome at first but then a van full of adolescent French kids interrupted our scenic soak.  But there were more springs down the road and we found a cool group of people at Hilltop Hotsprings, a small pool with an amazing view.  Everyone soon left except a guy who owned a ski shop in Mammoth Lakes.  We talked about forest fires, as one had ignited nearby.  He explained his idea to drop giant fireproof tarps over the fires to extinguish them.  Sure, dude.

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Wild Willy’s Hot Spring near Mammoth Lakes, California

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Wild Willy's Hot Spring mammoth lakes
Gorgeous, gorgeous eastern Sierras!

Wild Willy's Hot Spring mammoth lakes

On our second day in Bishop we headed back towards the north looking for a recommended climbing crag called Clark Canyon.  We got off road for a long time then realized we went the wrong way in.  Around the other side of the hills the road got bad and we took our rock-crawling Prius to its offroading limits.  The area was remote and probably a lot prettier before recent wildfires had blackened most of the trees.  Just when I though we could go no further, about six miles and an hour through dirt, we came to the parking spot and geared up.  The rock was fun volcanic tuff and we climbed a few routes.  Several ways up I found some sketchy bolts and had to downclimb, but in general the area was great and we soon found ourselves worn out and headed home.

For our third day we headed to the famous Happy Boulders near Bishop.  Bishop bouldering is extremely hot in the summer, so we got out there around 8 to avoid the heat and quickly found lots of fun rocks.  There were hundreds, if not thousands of problems and we hung out for a few hours sending a few popular routes such as Heavenly Path, a great rock with a scary 20+ foot top out.   We wore ourselves out early again and relaxed through the hot afternoon, making dinner and catching up on some TV shows.  It sure was great having our own house.

Bouldering Bishop Heavenly Path
Yay Happy Boulders! The is Heavenly Path Boulder
Heavenly Path Boulder
On Top of Heavenly Path Boulder, Happy Boulders, Bishop, California

Our last day in town we wanted to do some more climbing but all the spots around Bishop had some kind of issues, so we got up in the dark and drove south to try to tackle more routes in the Alabama Hills area near Lone Pine.  We wanted to send the Shark Fin rock around sunrise to capture the classic picture of the climb with Mt. Whitney in the background.  It was a fun climb and we got the perfect shot.  Afterwards we went to the Tall Wall near the Meat Loaf Campsite.  This was my first 100+ foot lead climb– super nerve racking but the adrenaline was well worth it.  We climbed a little more nearby then went and found a fun chimney but it was nearing 100 degrees and we were tired so we hit up the Pizza Factory lunch buffet in Lone Pine and drove home to nap.  We were finally feeling safer climbing and it was great.  If only we had a few more months to bum around the States we might actually be good!  But this would not be the trip that we became climbing pros, Alex Honnold your title is safe for now.

Climbing Shark Fin Rock in Lone Pine, Californai
Carrie on the Shark Fin, Mt. Whitney in the distance!
Climbing Shark Fin Rock in Alabama Hills, California
Zach up on the edge of Shark Fin Rock
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We love rocks!

Enjoy reading about bouldering Bishop? Stay tuned for tales of our adventures in Yosemite, Northern California, Oregon for the eclipse, and back to Black Rock City for the infamous Burning Man!

 

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Trinidad, Cuba: Tropical Buildings and Beaches

Trinidad, Cuba is a small colonial city on the south coast of the island, about a four hour drive from Havana.  Nestled on a hillside overlooking the Caribbean, Trinidad offers pristine examples of colonial architecture.  The buildings were painted in all different bright colors and the streets where cobblestone.  This was our favorite city for live music as you could literally hear three or four bands from any spot you stood at in the touristic area.

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Plaza Mayor

Our second day in Trinidad, Cuba we rented bikes from our casa particular (15 CUC for two mountain bikes for the day) and set off on another adventure.  We were headed to Playa Ancón located about 15km from the city.  It was an easy, flat ride so in no time we rolled through the small fishing village of La Boca and along the coast towards the beaches.  We passed trees of tamarind and swarms of dragonflies and the weather was perfect.  The asphalt road was potholed and sandy the whole way, so bikes were perfect for the journey.  Playa Ancón is the most idyllic beach on Cuba’s southern shore, though it’s popularity pales in comparison to the northern Veradero-area beaches. The beach had beautiful white sand and the water was the exact postcard-perfect blue that we all idealize.  This was our only beach day of the trip because well, we live at the beach in San Diego, California.

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Fishing beach at the Rio Guarabo river mouth in La Boca
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Playa Ancón

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Our last day in Trinidad, Cuba we hiked up behind our Casa Particular for the sunset.  We went us a street with lots of begging children then passed the Disco Ayala (Club in a Cave) which was famous for shady people and jineteras (hookers).  From here the path was nicer and took us up the hill behind town.  There were super cool tunnels here, think Iwo Jima.   I went into the caves a few times, building up more and more courage to go deeper.  They led to ladders up to what I assume were gun torrents.  At one time I almost got lost and I’m not sure my heart has ever pumped so hard.  I had amazing adrenaline rushing through me as I got out, and not I’m excited to do more cave exploration in the future!  At the top of the hill there was a guy charging to get to the lookout point over the back of the mountain.  We said we didn’t have any money and walked away.  The guy then yelled for us to just go in anyhow.  There was a ladder to a rooftop and some more Gingos up there (ha they probably paid, suckers).  We hung out for a bit enjoying the view of the valley then headed back down for our sunset pictures.  I had to resist the urge to go in the caves again as I’m super addicted to adrenaline.

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