Tag - safe

Types of Transport in Malaysia

Types of Transport in Malaysia
Types of Transport in Malaysia
Types of Transport in Malaysia

Transport in Malaysia tends to be safe and reliable and there aren’t really any no-go areas of the country. This usually means that getting around Malaysia is pleasant and hassle free.

However, most people return to their home town or village a day or two before public holidays, and public transport is usually very crowded during this time. Try to avoid travelling during public holidays and especially major festivals such as Deepavali, Chinese New Year and Christmas.

Plane
Travelling across Malaysia by aeroplane is generally quite cheap and certainly the easiest way to get around. The main airline is Malaysia Airlines and booking in advance online can save quite a bit of cash. Cheap flights are also provided by AirAsia.

Boat
There are regular ferries running between the mainland and the numerous islands located just off the east and west coasts of Malaysia. Tickets are usually bought in advance from booths on the mainland. In a few states, such as Sarawak, express boats are the most common form of public transport, carrying passengers down the rivers and streams that run through the areas.

Train
Malaysia’s railway network is fast and efficient, consisting of three types of service: express, limited express and local trains. Express trains are reserved for 1st and 2nd class passengers, limited express trains usually just 2nd and 3rd coaches, while local trains are usually limited to 3rd class. There are overnight sleeper births available on Express and limited express trains. Tourist rail passes are a good way to save money if you planning on travelling by train a lot and last for five days, ten days and fifteen days.

The Jungle Railway runs across Malaysia, stopping at every station between Tumpat and Gemas. This service is 3rd class only and there is no air-conditioning or reservations, meaning that the trains tend to be rather hot and crowded. However, the stunning jungle views more than make up for the discomfort.

Bus
Buses are the cheapest way to get around Malaysia and the best place to catch the bus and guarantee a seat is at the town’s bus terminal. There are luxury buses available for long-distance travel and these can be booked a couple of days in advance. The air-conditioned buses can be rather chilly, so take a blanket with you. Although they tend to be rather slow, local buses are regular and reliable.

Car and motorcycle
Driving in Malaysia is safe and convenient as the roads are good and there are plenty of new cars available to hire. Road rules are basically the same as in Britain and Australia, with right-hand drive cars that stick to the left side of the road. Petrol is generally cheap and motorbikes can also be hired from guesthouses in tourist towns and cities. Although Malaysian drivers are generally good, drivers still need to be careful, especially in large towns and cities as animals often roam freely across the roads.

Taxis
Taxis can be found in all cities and larger towns and usually drive around looking for customers. You will usually need to negotiate the fare in advance and it is a good idea to ask the staff at you guesthouse for an estimate of the going rate.

Trishaws
These bicycle rickshaws seat two people and can be a romantic way to see the sights.

Cycling in Laos

cycling_in_laos_1
Cycling in Laos
Cycling in Laos
cycling_in_laos_4

Cycling is fun in Southeast Asia; it has become a way of life for me. I can’t even imagine a trip without my bike. I have had many adventures and lots of great experiences. There are so many new things to see and learn from. This story is just a glimpse of what I have done, how I have felt and where I have gone.

A couple of years ago, I was lying in a bed. It was cold, the kind of cold you get on crisp English mornings in winter time. I was wrapped in my guest house blanket, a blanket of dubious history. These are the kind of things you must deal with when you are cycle touring, or backpacking, around Southeast Asia. Blankets and sheets in guest houses often give you a strong indication of the economics of the guest house you are staying in. If the bed linins are old, dirty or smelly then it doesn’t bode well for your stay. If the blankets or sheets are crisp, clean and new (ish) then your stay may be full of care and attention. I have found that the blanket rule often supersedes the pricing rule, prices do not necessarily reflect the quality of your stay.
 
My journey to this blanket had begun on khao San Road in Bangkok. I had battled through the Bangkok heat, pollution and traffic on my bicycle. This is never a safe or healthy thing to do, but it is a necessary journey. I boarded my train to Nong Khai at Hualompong Station as I was heading for the Plain of Jars in central Laos, close to the town of Phonasavan. My cycling would start in earnest in the northeastern Thai town of Nong Khai. The journey had been planned for months; my goal was to see the mysterious jars of central Laos.
 
Getting off the sleeper train in the cool morning haze of northern Thailand, I collected my bicycle from the front luggage compartment and assembled the various parts (panniers, bungee cords etc.). The ride to the border point was a gentle 4 Km. The Laos border crossing was as user friendly as any good border crossing in the region. Everything is detailed for you with clear instructions and the wait for the slow bureaucratic clogs of the immigration police is minimal.
 
The ride into Vientiane was excellent. The welcome from the people is always good. You pass the Beer Laos factory on your right after about 10Km. This, after my first visit to Laos 10 years ago, was to become a place of worship and awe. I stopped and took some photos, I already have plenty of photos from previous trips, I just can’t help myself. This time I went on the tour of the brewery. The free samples went down well and provided an excellent break for my ride into Vientiane. Beer Laos truly is one of the worlds great largers.
 
The ride into Vientiane is a relaxed affair; you pass the old communist work slogans on advertising boards on the way into the sleepy capital city. These act as a reminder that you have entered a ‘workers’ paradise’, although I doubt Marx would agree with the 21st century version of his dream.
 
The local folk are very unobtrusive in the interest in a
western cyclist riding through their neighborhood. Vientiane is one of my favorite capitals in the world, primarily because you feel the lack of bustle and hustle of the place; you get the sense that the tumbleweed will float passed at any second. The place is small, there are no high rise developments (bar that huge new Chinese hotel) and the place has a sleepy, relaxed feel to it.
 
Leaving Vientiane the next day, the ride to Phonasavan took me north to Vang Vieng in a 2 day ride through the central plains of Laos. The ride to Vang Vieng is flat and one of those great little stretches where you can take a gentle pace, stop and chat with the locals over a meal of rice and fruit and feel good on a bike. There are no difficult mountain stretches and the scenery is beautiful.
 
Vang Vieng itself nestles in between a few mountains and is an idealic spot to stop and recharge for the coming ride to Phonasavan. I stayed for 2 days as there is plenty to do, not least the fun day out tubing down the river or taking in the nearby caves and wonderful swimming in clear, fresh lagoons.
 
I set off early on the next leg of the trip, the most difficult part of this tour. This is a monster stage, much like the Alp D’huez in the Tour de France. There is a 130Km ride to Phu Khun in the mountains. The wind was blowing fiercely; I was battling the head wind until the town of Kasi. At Kasi the challenge began in earnest. Here each assent to a higher plateau left me exhausted. At each peak there was a Hmong village waiting to welcome me, invariably selling the same lukewarm cola refreshments. The refreshments were lacking, but the locals’ reception definitely made up for the lack of cool coca-cola.
 
The day climaxed in a stunning uphill section that really took my breath away. About 10Km from my destination of Phu Khun I began the final assent. I did run out of energy and water at some point and had to stop by a mountain stream to fill my water bottle. In the process I managed to scare some Laotian ladies who were taking a wash in the stream, naked. I don’t know who was more embarrassed, the naked Laos ladies or the sweaty, sun burnt, limping semi-naked white boy. After both parties covered their dignities we managed to have a chuckle and communicate together, they even offered me some of their food.
 
I have christened this style of riding ‘whirlwind riding’ as you just have to go at it as quickly as you can come-what-may. I was definitely on my last reserves of strength, but still I needed to get to the village and a bed. I had to get on with the ride, there was no other option. Everything was hurting me, but between the fresh water and the stunning views across central Laos I was revitalized enough to push on.
 
Eventually I found the down slope in the road and headed into Phu Khun and I ventured into the first guest house that I found. I took a look at the room, and the all important blanket, and did the (not so) complex equation of cost vs comfort vs tiredness. My legs made the decision for me, virtually screaming at me that they couldn’t go on to the other guest house 100 meters down the road.
 
And so it came to pass that I awoke wrapped in the dubious blanket on the cold, crisp Laotian mountain morning at the end of December. I was being welcomed to the hills of Laos at Christmas time by a smelly blanket and guest house which didn’t have a shower. The bed bugs had been kept at bay by my sarong; my legs felt better but were still aching a little. I stumbled out of my room, threw some water over me from the bucket in the ‘bath’room and repacked my bike.
 
The reason for putting myself through the previous days’ pain and the ache in my legs really hit me when I cycled away from the guest house; the air was fresh, the mountains surrounding me looked like they had been taken from a movie set and the roads were empty. I will never forget me exit from Phu Khun, it was made even more special by the locals who all waved and shouted ‘sabaii dee’ as I past. It really does make you feel special and alive.
 
I set off for my destination, the town of Phonasavan nearly 140Km away. The first assent of the day left me delirious with joy, so much so I was laughing and sweating at the top of the first peak. The views across the valley which unfolded before me were spectacular. Any soreness in my legs was replaced by adrenalin. The climbs continued, punctuated, thankfully, by a few great descents. At one point I descended 19Km in one long downward free wheel. This is truly and exhilarating experience. These kinds of days are what you start (and seemingly I can never stop) cycling for; upward challenges, downward enjoyment, stunning scenery and friendly local villages.
 
The 140Km stretch is punctuated by villages, both Hmong and central Laos villages. I stopped at one point at a village which seemed to be full of AK47 toting Laos army cadre. I decided to have my morning tea (you can take the man out of England but you can’t take England out of the man) in the middle of the village. I was immediately surrounded by Laotian soldiers carrying guns. However, the threat level did descend a few notches when I looked down and most of them had dispensed with the customary army uniform boots and instead were wearing flip flops. These guys certainly didn’t look menacing but there was a threat in the air as they were all carrying guns, albeit in a relaxed fashion, slung over their shoulders.
 
Now, the situation may seem to be a worrying to some as I was miles from any main town, alone and surrounded by soldiers. However, my survival skills were not required as, to a man, the soldiers were laughing and goofing around. They were obviously curious about my presence, but they soon settled down, sat on their haunches and watched me brew my tea from a polite distance.
 
At one point I opened my map and asked the guys where we were. The most senior officer was pushed forward to answer my question. Apparently the village wasn’t on any map, presumably for military reasons, but I am only speculating about that as my Laos conversation skills are not what they should be.
 
After my tea I packed up and handed my rubbish to a young lad who took it and held it with a confused look on his face and I rode off with the bemused military men staring at me.
 
My cycling was becoming better; I was becoming used to the merciless hills. I eventually stormed up the last hill. Getting onto the plains of central Laos was a joy I have felt only a few times in my life. I cycled into Phonasavan at dusk, a tired, sweaty, aching cyclist nut with a warm glint of joy in my eyes. I had battled with some big mountain stages and I had won.
 
My hotel was luxurious in comparison to my previous night’s encounter with the blanket. I collapsed in my large bed and slept the sleep of the dead.
 
Early the next morning I awoke and got out of bed with a bounce in my step. This was the final leg of my tour, the finish of my tour was within grasp. I asked at the reception for directions, never underestimating my knack for geographical embarrassment, and headed out. I soon found the road and cycled the short distance in under an hour. I found myself at the reception hut for the Jars and paid the small entrance fee. Walking up the small slop and arriving at the crest of the hill I caught my first glimpse of a stone jar. The round, skewed, moss covered jar was a sight that gave me a euphoric high. I enjoyed the sight, but not as much as I had enjoyed the journey to it. This trip was, as most are, about the journey, not the destination.
 
The jars are impressive for their mystery, they are strange and intriguing. The recent history of them is as interesting as the speculation about the origins. There are hundreds of these large man size stone jars strewn across the Laos plains. No-one knows why they are there, and therein lays the intrigue.
 
Cycle touring has become a way of life for me. I enjoy the sedate pace of the bike; you get to see so much more of the places you are traveling in. You also interact with the locals more, often seeing a friendlier, and more helpful side to a country or culture. Cycle touring can be tiring, it can make your body ache, but cycling is fun, healthy and a great way to see a country.
 
About the author: Simon Stewart is a cycling evangelist who has made it his mission to spread the gospel through the excellent tours he organizes.

Seeing Kanchanaburi through the Eye of the Tiger

Tiger Temple Kanchanaburi
Tiger Temple Kanchanaburi
Tiger Temple Kanchanaburi

Animal-lovers, take note. If you’re looking to see exotic wildlife on your Thailand trip, there are no shortage of opportunities on the tourist circuit. But if zoos seem to simulated and the odds of a jungle-trek encounter seem uncertain (and dangerous!), a new middle ground exists. In the growing trend of tourist-friendly wildlife sanctuaries, visitors can witness Thailand’s most exotic creatures in a safe, unexploitative manner. Even the tiger, the most dangerous and regal of Thailand’s wildlife, can be observed and admired in this setting. Kanchanaburi’s Wat Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yannasampanno, widely known as the “tiger temple,” allow tourists to act out their childhood Jungle Book fantasies by getting up-close and huggy with a tame pack of Indo-Chinese tigers.

This temple was converted into a tiger sanctuary in 1999, as a home for tigers who have been rescued from poachers in the jungles west of Kanchanaburi. Around the Thai-Burmese borders, these beautiful animals are coveted by hunters, which can leave orphaned cubs fending for themselves in the jungle. Managed by a team of monks and volunteers (both Thai and western), the Tiger temple provides a protected habitat for these coveted animals. The Abbot Pra Acharn Phusit Khantitharo, who founded the sanctuary, is in constant interaction with the tigers.

The grounds themselves are a dusty 30-minute drive from downtown Kanchanaburi. With the admission fee of 300 baht (and a waiver to be signed at the gate; a standard procedure when tiger-touching is involved) visitors are led through the wide, sparse grounds. While visitors may be stumped in a search for a real temple (the word seems to be synonymous with “sanctuary” in this case), there’s no shortage of awe-inducing tigers.

The tigers are taken to a quarry each day to enjoy the sun, stretch their legs, and bathe in the small pool. It is here that tourists can watch the tigers interact with each other. Separated only by a thin rope, volunteer will guide visitors close to the tigers and invite them to pet the animals and pose for photos. The presence of the volunteers is valuable, as tourists can get nervous in such proximity to the tigers. The temple staff with explain that the tigers are raised from infancy by the monks, and so they adapt to the presence of humans and the daily routine of being approached by temple visitors. It is true that in this unique environment, the tigers seem genuinely unfazed by human company. These nocturnal animals are restful in the quarry, often sleepy or sleeping, while the head monk sits with them. The tigers will often be slow to acknowledge the people around them, even as they’re being approached and touched.

Tourists are forever in dispute about the tigers’ tame demeanor, which seems so contrary to their natural instincts. The temple staff will assure visitors over and over that the tigers are pacified by the calming influence of the Buddhist monks, instilled in them since they were cubs. Still, animal-conscious visitors will argue that the tigers must be sedated by more than just meditative power, and are in fact fed drugs which render them sluggish and passive.

Despite these speculations, it is clear from the temple environment that the animals are well-fed and healthy. Visitors to the temple receive a souvenir booklet which profiles each of the 17 tigers and cubs in the tiger temple family, explaining the animal’s birthday, the origins of its name, and a lovingly-written description of its personality. The temple staff maintain the ultimate goal of expanding the temple grounds and facilities into a 12-acre area where tigers can live in a safe version of their own habitat, free from cages. Details of the “New Home for Tigers” project can be found on the temple’s website, http://www.tigertemple.org/Eng/index.php, a site which also cites quotations from the Abbot on his compassion and respect for animals.

In addition to tigers, this temple hosts a family of boars, goats, birds and other creatures. The monks exercise a policy to feed all hungry beings who approach them, animal or human. Volunteering opportunities are available for English-speakers with a background in biology or animal care and a respect for the Buddhist ethics exercised at the temple. Please contact the temple for more information.

Anne Merritt is Canadian and has an English Literature degree. She has worked as a journalist for a university newspaper. She is currently living in Ayutthaya as an ESL teacher and is sharing her experience of Thailand with KhaoSanRoad.com.