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Tokomaru2

Website of sailing yacht Tokomaru2's circumnavigation of the world

Crew: Nick Thomas and Liz Vernon
 
Inland to Malaysia and Cambodia (May/June 2005)

The south west monsoon is now established in South East Asia bringing wet and windy weather.  It’s still very hot, so there’s much opening and closing of hatches and port holes as the tropical rains start and stop. We are tied up for the duration in Langkawi marina (Malaysia) with no inclination to go sailing in these rough and sudden storms. Instead, we’ve been travelling inland; first to the Cameron Highlands in central Malaysia. The climate, at 1500 metres, is extremely pleasant and we relished fresh mornings and cool evenings after months of humid heat.  It’s ideal for growing tea and strawberries, so everywhere offers afternoon tea (with real fresh milk) and scones and strawberry jam.  Heaven.  Tea estates cover the rolling hills with bright green like a carpet in all directions, and you can watch how the leaves are dried and crushed and fermented and dried again, using the original 1930s machinery.  It was during the 30s that the Highlands became a  hill station for homesick, overheated Brits, and mock Tudor buildings dot the landscape.  Hotels of this ilk are very classy indeed, - low beams, creaky floors, deep armchairs, real log fires,  roast lamb with mint sauce;  all impeccably British and deeply nostalgic.  Background music is ‘The Road to Mandalay’, and there are roses in the garden.  We dined at Ye Olde Smokehouse and felt as though we were acting in a play.        


                            Smaokehouse Inn                          and Tea estates Camroon highlands Malaysia

Inevitably, tourism has resulted in massive development in these hills with hotels, apartments and resorts everywhere to accommodate the crowds from KL and Singapore who come, like us, to cool off. To get away from all this, there are plenty of trails up and down the mountains and through the ‘mossy forest’ which covers them.  Ferns and lichens and mosses thrive in the cool damp and the stumpy trees have tough little leaves, like the tea bushes.  500 metres lower down it gets all jungly again and is one of the few places in the world where the climate suits the rafflesia, a rare and extraordinary flower, up to a metre across, which blooms only once a year for five days. So when a tour guide told us there was a flower in bloom we signed up straight away, the only people to do so, though it turned out he was also transporting a camera crew from RTV (Radio Television Malaysia).  To reach our goal involved an alarming drive in a 4x4 and then an hour’s hike through the jungle, guided by one of Malaysia’s aboriginal people, a member of the Orang Asli who have lived on the Malay peninsular for thousands of years.  He strolled ahead while we clambered along behind, clinging to roots and branches, the guys from RTV cheerfully lugging their heavy equipment up and down the muddy slopes and across rivers.  And finally, there it was, in a dark corner of the forest floor, this huge, stiff orange flower, 3 feet across.  It had been raining steadily since we set off which added to the gloom, so we were glad of the professional lighting for our photos, (coming soon to www. Tokomaru2.co.uk).  Back at the Orang Asli village, in the pouring rain, the TV crew interviewed the local guide, the tourist guide, and us!
         
                           Rafflesia                                                                             A butterfly the size of a bird


                     Interview for Malaysian television                                   Pagoda Kek Lok Si

After experiencing the wonders of nature in the Cameron Highlands, we flew to Siem Reap in northern Cambodia to take in the marvels of the ancient Khmer civilisation.  The Khmer empire flourished from the 9th to 13th centuries when ambitious kings built temple complexes on the scale of European cathedrals.  These great monuments were inspired by the Hindu faith and later, Buddhism.  Today, Buddhist monks decorate the ancient stones in bright orange robes as they wander amongst the tourists.  Around the temples are moats and causeways and walls which once protected whole cities.  Over an area of 100 square miles there are more than 50 temples, some of them romantic ruins, some still standing in architectural splendour.  And the setting is beautiful:  fields with grazing cattle, massive trees, quiet lakes and rice paddies.  In the evenings, local people outnumber tourists as they spread their mats beside the moat at Angkor Wat, and enjoy the view of their famous monument glowing in the sunset at the far end of its causeway. 


                       Angkor Wat                                                         Angkor Thom

                                                                           Asparas


                                     Angkor Wat                                          talking to a monk


                                                                                                         Nun

Our visit was out of season so we often had a temple all to ourselves. The best thing is the galleries of bas-reliefs, (the longest in the world)  -metre upon metre of battle scenes and epic narratives, scenes from daily life and every deity of the Hindu pantheon. The intricate detail is irresistibly photogenic in the strong light and deep shadow of early morning.  Most memorable are the ‘apsaras’, -dancing celestial maidens carved in stone, serenely poised in the morning sun, unchanged for a thousand years. 

   Royal palace Phnom Penn
                  Foreign correspondents club                                     Royal palace Phnom Penn

From Siem Reap we flew to Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s charming capital. The town is spread along the banks of the Tonle Sap River at the confluence with the Bassac and Mekong Rivers, a lot of water, slowly meandering south across the plains to the Mekong delta in Vietnam.  The main feature of Phnom Penh is the king’s palace of graceful pavilions, and the pagodas.  There’s a French colonial feel to the place, with its pavement cafes, art deco apartments and leafy boulevards.  But no one speaks French any more.  Some say that during the years of the ‘killing fields’ anyone who spoke French was considered an ‘intellectual’ and consequently executed.  A grim thought. The legacy of the Pol Pot regime is all around.  You can be strolling down a clean, wide street, shaded by lofty tamarind trees and suddenly, around the corner is an unpaved area of mud and squalor and poverty.  Everywhere amputees, victims of land mines, beg in the streets. Then there are the various tourist ‘sights’ such as a museum of torture and the site of executions in the killing fields.  We gave those a miss.  Instead, we immersed ourselves in the wonderful café culture, sinking into deep rattan chairs at the roadside to watch the stream of  scooters, bicycles, cyclos and their occupants. The stream divides and merges, slows down or speeds up but never falters. Whole families ride together, children and babies pressed between their parents, sometimes six people on one scooter. Baskets of sugar cane teeter on the back, even a couple of live pigs can find room on a scooter. People look entirely relaxed, peaceful even, as they calmly negotiate the stream, joining it or leaving it like leaves in a river.  Absolutely mesmerizing.
 
                                          
                                                                      Mekong river

On our last evening we hired a boatman to take us down the Mekong River and saw the floating communities of people who live on rafts in the river, trading fish for the rice grown by villagers on the plains; possibly the most basic, simple life style we’ve seen anywhere. 

                                           

                                                  Petronas Twin towers Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

At the end of June we returned to Langkawi, made Tokomaru as water-tight as possible against the rains, and set off for England.  We plan to wait out the remaining months of the monsoon, July, August and September in England (first summer in Europe for 4 years).  Then in October we return to Malaysia to make Tokomaru ready to cross the Indian Ocean in December.     All the best from Liz and Nick


Website © Nick Thomas and Liz Vernon 2008