Drive Around The World (Australia)

One family, one car, one year, one planet

Singapore – Melacca – Tanah Rata – Georgetown (Malaysia), Day 50-53, 25-28 May 2008

Singapore – Melacca – Tanah Rata – Georgetown (Malaysia)

Day 50-53, 25-28 May 2008

Soundtrack:

‘Drive On’ – Johnny Cash

‘Call Across the Highlands’ – Not Drowning, Waving

DB: We said our goodbyes to Russel, Ezra and Ruby, and headed north with our first trip hitch-hiker, Debbie, and our first leg on foreign shores. It was good to be back in the truck and travelling independently again. We chose to cross over into Malaysia by a second causeway, Tuas, that would bypass Johur Bahru, that frantic border frontiersville that looked so intimidating when we went through on our way to Pulau Sibu.

Customs and immigration were straightforward, with both Singapore and Malaysia customs officials happy to take direction from Sandy about filling out the Carnet.

It was immediately tempting to stay on the expressway all the way to Melacca – three wide lanes each way of smooth blacktop through rolling hills and palm plantations – but we also didn’t want to be secluded from real people and places. While the expressway cut through almost the centre of the peninsula, the next biggest road was along the west coast. We went there.

And didn’t progress very far for the next hour or so. While our maps noted the names of villages and towns dotted along the coast, it was one long unbroken mass of people, shops, stalls and houses all the way (not unlike the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, but a lot classier). The roads were immediately chaotic – cars, trucks, bicycles and, most prevalently, motor scooters and bikes, were literally all over the place, including coming at us on the wrong side of the road. For most of it, there was no discernable line of demarcation between the road and buildings, as almost every bit of space had been used for some sort of construction. Traffic lights were deemed something between a polite suggestion and an annoying impedance. Seating space had no relation to the number of people perched precariously on any given vehicle.

And the names of cars were a particular source of delight; in Australia we have been introduced to the Proton Satria (I had one of these Malaysian belters as a work car in Darwin for a while), but I’m not sure I’d be all that confident driving a Saga. The Toyota Wish has something foreboding about it that’s asking for trouble, while the Emina just makes you want to clench. I’m not sure what to make of the Alphard or the Harrier, and the good old Nissan Cedric maintains a defiant presence. Malaysia’s other car manufacturer, Perouda, provides a beast that inspires no confidence at all – the Kancil.

SK: The roads in Singapore seemed quite chaotic at the time – with motorbikes and cars all weaving around each other, with taxis stopping everywhere and buses and trucks adding to the confusion. Danny, in his remarkably intuitive way, negotiated all this with no trouble. Malaysia was even more chaotic, with the addition of animals, more motorbikes (on both sides of the road) and roads whose width and quality varied constantly. Driving in Asia is like being part of a school of fish: all the vehicles weave in and out, change direction at whim, wheel and dart. Danny manoeuvres our truck (an elegant beast) safely and gracefully through all this without any anxiety, and enjoys the challenges of the road.

DB: Even though I was using our truck’s size for its valuable intimidation properties, as we had been advised that the unofficial rule of the road is generally only give way to bigger vehicles, there was no perceptible flow or rhythm to the traffic. It was a free-for-all. Which was fun for a while, and we got to see a number of interesting and visually appealing places, including mosques and markets, but we only travelled about 30km in about an hour. We needed to pick up our rate of knots if we wanted to get to Melacca before dark.

Our Global Positioning Sandy got us back onto the expressway and we tootled along at the regulation 110km/h, which sounds civilised, except that other vehicles on the expressway chug along at anything between 40 and 160km/h. So, either you misjudge the distance between you and the vehicle up ahead, and you find yourself almost up the backside of a truck, or you pull out into the passing lane, checking your rear-view mirrors for the all-clear, and mid-pass there’s some wanker in a black German car flashing their lights at you wanting you to get out of the way. More often than not, though, it was a great game of slalom, while at the same time hoping that other drivers aren’t complete nutters.

Like on the east side of the island, the scenery was dominated by palm plantations which, though visually attractive, makes you wonder about the fate of indigenous plants and animals.

(Pic: Driving in the old city, Melacca)

We approached Melacca and headed for the old city through the newer developments. The old city is a mass of narrow roads and lanes, most of which are one-way and definitely not designed for automobiles. Buildings open onto the street itself, not a footpath, and again there were vehicles and people everywhere. We had booked the Hotel Puri, a restored Peranakan house (a style that was popular in these parts for the wealthy of the time). We were directed to the secure parking lot, unpacked and headed out into wonderful Melacca.

The old city is at the same time an example of Malay and Chinese influences as well as a tribute to ‘Mother’ England and other colonists. Across the road from the large clock tower that was a tribute to Queen Victoria, resplendent in flowery tributes to she who was not amused, is a replica Dutch windmill. Around the corner is a replica of a Portugese ship, another coloniser who eventually bit the dust. This ship was a museum describing life on the seas and Melacca’s early years, though with visitors yelling at the tops of their voices, taking flash photos of everything and climbing on the exhibits, Sandy’s inner museum curator’s skin was crawling.

(Pic: Raffy at Melacca River)

SK: We browsed in antique stores that seemed to go on forever, packed to the rafters with wonderful furniture and trinkets, ventured into museums, dodged a couple of serious tropical downpours, cruised the river, and ate and drank well. It was a town in which we could imagine spending quite a while. Travelling down the river gave us a back view of a city that from the front contrasted slick high-rises with the allure of the tight, small old city. Shanty communities of corrugated iron held together with string, an intact fishing village with its original timber homes lovingly maintained, and rendered brick homes opening straight onto the water all lay together with newer developments. The river, lifeblood of communities such as this, reflected Melacca as it was over the last 200 hundred years.

(Pic: Sandy and Danny enjoying a Jaz break)

Wandering through the old city itself was another historical and cultural journey. Chinatown rolled into Little India which rolled into a Muslim enclave where our hot children demanded, and received, chendol in bowls from a hawker stall we found around a corner near the river, surrounded by a posse of kink-tailed, scrawny cats.

On the second morning we bade farewell to Debbie who caught a bus back to Singapore and we hit the road again, this time inland.

DB: At more than 1,500m above see level, the Cameron Highlands seem like a world away from the rest of Malaysia. With a relatively cool, temperate climate and winding roads through forested hills, it reminded us of the Black Spur in Victoria. Unsurprisingly, the Brits loved it here and brought the requirements of ex-pats with them: tea and strawberry plantations.

We rented a room in an otherwise deserted hotel in the town of Tanah Rata and headed out to explore this strange town. Many buildings seemed unfinished and haphazard. The area is notorious for its inclement weather, so it seemed to have an old eastern bloc feel to it – damp, slightly grimy and struggling, but fascinating and inviting nonetheless. The evening was cool enough for more than two layers of clothing – what a novelty! – and, after walking the length of the main road shops, we took shelter on the veranda of a pub when an enormous tropical downpour rolled in. It rains all the time here, but many people stood under shelters and watched the deluge, almost in quiet reverence. The faces here were very different to the low lands – driving up we passed road side vendors selling fruit and veg, and small communities nestled into the mountains.

(Pic: High tea in the Cameron Highlands)

After a lovely Indian dinner (there is a large Indian population drawn generations ago by the tea plantations) and an early night we headed out early for breakfast at the BOH Tea Plantation. We had earlier been tempted by promises of Devonshire teas along the way, and were looking forward to a spot of the Old Dart to start the day – locally produced tea and jam would make a change from nasi goreng.

The road to BOH was even narrower and more treacherous than the main road through the Highlands, and there were times when cars needed to halt and reverse into small clearings to allow other traffic through. Again, the bigger you were the more right of way you had, and the ominous blasts of air-horns in the distance told us that a truck was on its way.

After making it to BOH we made our way to the tea house that was located on an elevated platform with fantastic views of the plantation. To our amazement and amusement, our scones were served with little packets of Australian strawberry jam, with a registered office in Hawthorn, Victoria! It was a shame that local produce wasn’t used, but nevertheless, the factory tour afterwards was fun and informative.

SK: While we were exploring the plantation, we noticed the increasing number of visitors driving up the one lane road and wondered how we would get back out. The answer was to follow a tractor as our groundbreaker as all the other cars got out of the way.

Maddy elected to visit a pick-your-own strawberry farm (billed as “self-plucking”), and Raffy wanted to explore a honey farm. After battling our way into both venues, we had had enough and headed down the mountains, to Georgetown, Penang. The windy road proved a bit much for poor Raffy, whose green face prompted an emergency stop on the side of the road.

We stopped at a crowded roadhouse for lunch, and returned to our car to see it surrounded by men in army uniforms. To our relief, they were simply posing in front of our AUS and kangaroo stickers, and taking photos! 

We continued up the expressway, and turned off to the Georgetown Bridge, a 13.5km span from the mainland to Penang. We negotiated the traffic into Georgetown and found our accommodation, another historic house in the heart of Chinatown, near the beach. The house was quite pretty, and the room small but functional. And, unfortunately, near a number of nightclubs that played appalling music all night.

(Pic: Sandy and Raffy in a trishaw, Georgetown)

Penang was quite a shock – the city was larger and less intimate than Melacca. It was noisy, full of tourists and touts, and it took us some time to acclimatise (not sleeping well didn’t help). But it had its charms: trishaw rides showed us parts of the old city we hadn’t seen on foot, we ate well, shopped, visited museums and attempted a bollywood movie at the old Odeon Theatre. (Despite the sunny promo posters and some singing and dancing, it proved too violent for the family – we left after the opening sequence, were convinced to return, and left again half an hour later.) We also had a fascinating walk through a shantytown built on, and continually added on to, the ocean shore. Primarily a fishing community, homes would be built on stilts and attached to the dwelling most recently built, meaning the entire town hovered over the water for several hundred metres.

(Pic: Jewish cemetery, Georgetown)

On our last day, as we were leaving town, we drove down Jalan Zainal Abidin, formerly Jalan Yehudiah, and stopped at the Jewish Cemetery. The last burial here took place in 1976, and we found stones with dates in the early 1800s. A family or two (and their dozens of cats) live in the grounds and act as caretakers. They unlocked the gate for us, welcomed us, and pointed out some of the graves. We wondered about the once vibrant Jewish community there, as in many south-east Asian cities, and the motives for those communities to move on.

And so it was time for us to move on, too. This time to Thailand.

 

 

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2 Comments»

  Nene wrote @

Hi kids, love reading the colourful descriptions of your daily excursions! It’s terrific that you’re recording it all here, as I’m sure after a while everything starts to blend together.

How are the children finding everything? What sorts of things do they enjoy most? Are you picking up any of the language of the places you go through?

Keep enjoying and writing! Love you …

  davidltaylor wrote @

Hi Guys,
Yet another fascinating read. I hope this will all be going into a book upon you’re return. Photos are great now, (with the captions). The drive to the tea house sounds a bit hairy, but in the truck, I guess the old saying, “size does matter”, applies.
My family in Sydney, (spoke to them last w/end), are following with great interest. No news this end.
Take care, Luv & peace, David.


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