Archive for Malaysia
First impressions are very important and our first impression of Ipoh on the west coast of Malaysia was one of open friendliness. Our taxi driver chatted happily as he took us to the wrong hotel. He had been a sergeant in an infantry regiment in the Malaysian army. Having studied Allan’s map we drove through fairly light traffic along wide roads toward the right hotel, directed by Allan. We reached the hotel at the point he was reminiscing about patrols in the steamy Malaysian jungle. The fare did not increase despite the tour of Ipoh and his early life.
Our driver handed us on to the smiling hotel desk clerks who explained pleasantly that the hotel had no dining facilities. There were however several cafés near by that could rustle up pork noodles or cheese on toast for breakfast.
The town was full of history, conveniently laid out in walking routes described in detail in excellent leaflets published by the Ipoh Heritage Group. Almost fifty historical buildings were described including the shop where Chinese tin miner Eu Yan Sang set up his medical shop in 1879. His son later expanded this into a major pharmaceutical business. He also expanded his interests to eleven wives and palatial mansions in Hong Kong, Singapore, Penang and Kuala Lumpur. Smiling people wandered toward us to chat about the historical buildings and suggest others that might be of interest.
The rich mixture of Mogul and classical architecture is evident in the pleasant Mosque built by the local chief in 1898 in memory of his principle wife who died that year. Here, passers by stopped to chat, motorcyclists on footpaths politely apologised for any inconvenience caused and the occasional car driver paused to welcome us to Ipoh. We certainly felt welcomed.
The British influence seemed to be everywhere from the Indian inspired Neo Classical railway station to the grand Town Hall, Law Courts and Post Office. The old town architecture was decidedly British. In their day the copulas of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank dominated this affluent town, built on the riches from rubber and tin.
Ipoh bean sprouts are rightly famous throughout Malaysia. In a busy street restaurant we watched baskets full being snatched from an old blue 40 gallon drum, plunged for five seconds into a vat of boiling stock and deposited onto our plates. They were delicious and an excellent accompaniment to flat Ipoh noodles in pork soup.
On a small hill outside Ipoh a big mansion was once built by a successful Scottish rubber planter called Kellie almost a hundred years ago. Apparently he brought seventy craftsmen from Madras, in India, to build the two storey mansion which, certainly has strong Indian architectural influences. This was to have been the culmination of his spectacular career. Unfortunately just at the height of his success he died of pneumonia, aged 56. The almost completed mansion now called ‘Kellie’s castle’ has been refurbished and opened to visitors. Some say the ghost of Kellie still drifts through the empty rooms.
Ipoh’s restaurants, large and small have a deservedly high reputation for good food. Some like the Foh San Restaurant attract diners from all over Malaysia. We’d heard that people travel up from Kuala Lumpur to sample the Hong Kong style Dim Sum. Even at lunch time this fine restaurant was packed with the good and the great of Ipoh’s Chinese community whom we easily merged in with to nods and smiles from our fellow diners.
Ipoh is surrounded by large and impressive limestone karst mountains. Millions of years of rushing water from torrential tropical rainfall has sculpted vast and beautiful caves. In some, Buddhist temples have been dedicated, with connecting cathedral like galleries housing exquisite bronze and brass religious sculptures.
We left Ipoh with fond memories of friendly people eating good food in a pleasant leisurely town which has managed to retain much of its heritage.
It could have been the driving horizontal rain that swept in over the river or our small boat jostling against the bank but the big orang utan fairly raced up the tree. We’d seen these marvellous creatures at relatively close quarters at orang Utan sanctuaries. It is always a special thrill though to see such a big animal living in the wild.
Although we love these big orange apes the highlight of our trip on the Kinabatangan River in Sabah, Malaysia was the Borneo pigmy elephant. It’s not that they are particularly elusive it’s just that so few of them are left. Actually they are not that much smaller than Asian elephants so we were quite surprised by its size when we came eye to eye with one browsing by the bank of the river. We somehow expected to see dinky little elephants but we were inspected by a beast that would have been respectable in India. With a trumpet and swish of the trunk it launched off back into the forest, startling hornbills that swooped across the river.
Once the excitement of the elephant settled down we drifted along the wide chocolate brown river. Ridiculous looking proboscis monkeys stared at us very openly and rudely. The fawn coloured males have enormous bulbous noses and it’s difficult not to smile or even laugh uproariously as they peer at you inquisitively.
Gliding beneath overhanging tree branches sobered us up a bit when we realised there was a huge blue and yellow mangrove snake coiled on a branch only a couple of meters above us. Our sigh of relief as we left the trees was short lived as a big crocodile surfaced next to our boat. But like the snake it was not in the least bit interested in us and just wanted to be left alone. That was OK with us.
Luxuriating in a magnificent sunset we said goodnight to a troop of macaque monkeys settling down for the night in their roost in a tall tree.
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Pictures of animals in Sabah, Borneo, part of Malaysia
There is a wealth of wildlife along the Kinabatangan River. Large areas of forest have been designated as nature reserves to protect habitats from the encroachment of agriculture and logging. We travelled up the river in a small boat with an outboard motor.
We were lucky to catch a glimpse of this rare Borneo Pygmy Elephant browsing on the banks of the river. Although there are called pygmy elephants they are only slightly smaller than the Asian elephants we met throughout India.
It was wonderful to watch Hornbills flying over the river. These birds mate for life so they are usually seen in pairs near the tops of the trees. Occasionally a flash of bright colour would appear near the banks as kingfishers darted past. The one above is a Heron Billed Kingfisher.
The Orang Utans in Sabah are a different species to the Sumatran Orang Utans we saw in Indonesia.
These fascinating animals are always a delight to watch. This female swung through the trees with her infant whilst clutching a bunch of wild bananas with her feet.
Whilst Orang Utans are shy, elusive and endangered the Macaque Monkeys are bold, successful and ubiquitous. They are frequently seen around human habitation thriving from the food they collect there. Whilst coming close into the bank of the river to see a monitor lizard we looked up and found we had moored under a huge banded mangrove snake coiled in a tree only a couple of metres from our heads.
It’s difficult to watch Proboscis Monkeys without smiling. The stare very rudely when you drift past. Seeing them in a group they look just like people sitting gossiping.
The male Proboscis Monkeys have big bulbous noses.
These charming Silver Leaf Eating Monkeys were inquisitive, yet shy. They would stare from tree tops but move away quickly if approached.
Inquisitive Otter which darted quickly away
On our last day on the Kinabatanga River this Estuarine Crocodile was basking near the jetty.