Friday, May 30, 2014

Ipoh Rocks

31 May 2014

We're back in KL, after three or so days in Ipoh.  (That's pronounced EE-poe - not EYE-poe.  EE-poe.)  

Ipoh was interesting - and MOST definitely off the beaten path.  I don't think we saw any other people of European descent the entire time we were there.
The train was fully booked from Butterworth south - Butterworth being the mainland town closest to George Town.  So we hired the driver from our hotel, and had a very comfortable drive to Ipoh.  It's about a 2 hour trip, since it takes nearly 45 minutes to go from George Town to the mainland, heading out of town and across the 13.5 km (8.4 mile) long bridge.  Yes, LOOOONG bridge!  And then a drive south through the green plains and greener hills.  (But no monkeys.)

So Ipoh is set among hills, but is in the flat valley created by the Kinta River.  In fact, the town was built at the highest navigable point along the river.   (The Kinta River is a branch of the Perak River, which is the largest river in Malaysia.)

The hills around Ipoh sort of rise up suddenly, similar to the way sea stacks rise up out of the sea.  They look like blemishes on the plains, just so unexpectedly soaring straight up.  Many of the hills are marble, so they shine brightly white in the sunshine.  The marble also is stained in stripes from the minerals leaching out of the soil and trees on top of the hills, so the face of the rock looks like zebra rock.  If such a thing exists.


Just in case all of that wasn't interesting enough, there are caves as the base of the hills, most likely
 carved out by the river at some point in time eons ago.  People have taken advantage of this other-worldly landscape by building temples at the base of the hills and in the caves.  Yes, this Buddhist temple actually is INSIDE the cave!  There are several hills with cave temples - this particular hill has a Buddhist temple, a Hindu temple, and around the other side is a mosque.  (I couldn't get a decent photo of this.)

It was pretty amazing!

We couldn't visit the temples - the Hindu one was undergoing renovations, as was the mosque.  The Buddhist temple was all locked up.  I'm not sure if there's a tourist season in Ipoh, but that was definitely not it.

Of course, Dad's hat was fascinated by all of this, and spent a lot of time looking around.  Unfortunately, the hat doesn't talk and couldn't explain all of the geomorphology to us.  But we had a good time anyway.

The tradition, after looking at beaches or rock formations, is then to have pastry.  Seriously.  My dad's graduate seminar on coastal processes was dubbed "The Doughnut Seminar" by his grad students.  They'd have weekly field trips to a series of beaches, studying how the beaches were formed, erosion, accretion, off-shore drift, all that stuff.  Then, because the Pacific Northwest is often damp and cold and drizzly and misty and foggy and yes, rainy, especially along the coast, my dad would usually say "And over here is a great little coffee shop, with very good [insert pie, cake, doughnut, whatever was the specialty of the house]." 
Hence the Doughnut Seminar was born.

So of course, to carry on the tradition, Richard and I found a café named BreadEspressoDessert.  How bad could it be?  Turned out to be great!  I shared my strawberry tart with the hat.  Richard had French toast.  We both had coffee.  Not because Ipoh was cold, but because the afternoon rain started and we both were a little damp.  It's a lovely tradition, coffee and pastry after rock viewing.

 So - our other full day in Ipoh was, unfortunately, the day of the funeral for the former Sultan of Perak, the state in which Ipoh is located.  The Sultan passed away the day before, so suddenly the government declared this a state holiday and half the places were closed.  People attended the funeral.  Bus schedules were iffy, what was open or closed was unknown, and so we ended up with a day to relax and hang out.  Which was probably a good thing since the afternoon rains came early and stayed late - it turned into a very wet afternoon.  We didn't mind, our hotel room was fairly comfortable, and we both are okay with the slow day, especially since we got in so much walking the previous day.

I finally found Tigerplast bandaids (sticking plasters to the British English speakers) that make sense.  Really.  I commented a few months ago that Tigerplast bandages should have tiger stripes.  These do.  The Safari series.  Tiger stripes, zebra stripes, pinto horse spots, and leopard spots.  (I'm not sure how the pinto got in there - but it's either pinto spots or cow spots, there aren't any African animals with black spots on white.  Well, nor are tigers in Africa, but oh well.)  I think the leopard spots are my favourite.

On Friday, we headed to the Ipoh train station, a lovely building from the mid 1800s, and caught the fast train to KL.  Turns out the "express" train from KL to Butterworth, or the return train, are really the slow trains.  That route takes some 6 hours.  The other train, Ipoh to KL, was only 2.5 hours.  However, this speedy train doesn't go to Butterworth, so the slow "express" is the only option.

Oh, excitement on the train (not) - when booking train tickets online, we can select seats using a little map of the train.  Of course, the map doesn't show which way the seats face.  Nor which way is the front of the train.  So it's anyone's guess whether the seats one books face forward or backwards.  We took our chances, booked row 3 coach D, ended up facing backwards.  I can't ride backwards.  It triggers my vertigo and I get, well, mal du mer.  Motion sick.  (I actually ended up on a very full train in France, with a seat facing backwards.  No other seats available.  I spent the 2 hour trip sitting on the drop-down table so I could face forward.)

I moved to another seat, but a few stops down the track the real owners of the seat showed up.  I moved back by Richard and just stood, facing forward.  Eventually the very nice conductor (on this train all women conductors) came by and found a seat facing forward for me, and I moved to coach E.  And had a lovely trip the rest of the way.

We're back at the Ancasa Hotel at Pudu Sentral, the major bus station - and have been welcomed back by staff, since we've been here several times previously.  Everyone is sad we're only here for a week and then heading out - but our visas expire in a week, and we need to migrate north for the summer.  It's the only time we're willing to face northern Asia, which can get quite cold and snowy.

We'll see what our next week in KL brings!

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