We found his bungalows, off the main strip of the second most populated beach in Ko Lanta. They were sturdy huts with bamboo concealing the concrete foundations. Our man was nowhere to be seen. The management didn’t in fact know who he was. And they were built fifteen years ago, ten years before he allegedly arrived. We drank cocktails in the bar and watched the sun go down, amazed at the Cool Man‘s fibs. It was a very fine location though.
There were tsunami evacuation signs everywhere in case of future emergencies, and 4 meter high posts indicating the height of the waves. Occasionally you could still make out where everything had been destroyed, but mostly it had all been rebuilt, sturdier, and defiantly painted in bright pastels.
We snorkeled, and found little reefs with eels underneath them. I watched a fight break out between a crayfish and a rock dweller fish. The crayfish won, out of pure sneakiness, and stole the fish’s little burrow, taking an egg with him.
Sadao is a conservative Muslim town with girls in black half-chadors. There are small-town shops, restaurant shacks selling halal food, and various public service buildings. That’s about it.
You drive a kilometer down the road, past the ‘Welcome to Thailand’ signs on the other side and past a closed border shack.
You arrive in a strange old place. It is a two-street strip of casinos, bars and brothels, all the women wear tiny shorts and high heels and the bars are called karaoke bars but have pictures of naked young girls on the front. Stroppy looking young Thai women sit about gossiping in their underwear and playing with their mobiles. All the hotels have blatant prostitutes in the foyer and standing about outside them, trying to entice the Malaysian business men in. Some hotels have ‘by the hour’ rates posted.
Behind the counter of our hotel was rows of condoms and disposable panties.
The streets were neon and wide, city-like, but only for two blocks.
We found a restaurant and ordered fish stew. The thing that arrived in the bowl had never, possibly to its own disappointment, been a fish. It looked to have been a crab-octopus-chicken hybrid, judging by the bits of barely decipherable goo floating about in the murky water. We toyed with the fried tentacles and crab claws with smiles on our faces- we were being furtively but closely examined. Trying to appear full, we watched Home Alone with Malay and Chinese subtitles. Everyone laughed loudly, and the cheesy American Christmas spirit in it lent a comforting atmosphere to a somewhat strange night.
Someone rode an elephant up to outside the restaurant and sat it there to beg at the diners.
The women in our hotel the next morning laughed raucously at me, then tried to pretend otherwise.
At the border a few minute away the Malaysian border guards were very friendly and welcomed us to their country. It was all very fast and very easy and we zoomed off onto enormous motorways cutting through rice paddies and past palm trees.
We got off the main road and ate in a fly-infested roadside shack with lots of Muslim families all covered up. We had giant plates of fried fish and rice for a pound each- no one told anyone here Malaysia was expensive. It wasn’t the best meal, but it certainly was cheap.
Off the motorway we zoomed along- the roads were still perfect, with fewer vehicles on them, and soon we were headed for the Cameron Highlands. It was cold, but great. The roads were swervy and swooping, and we slithered along them, gulping great lungfuls of cold fresh air.
You can tell Malaysia was once incredibly beautiful, but they are using every available natural resource for profit in their new shiny Global Economy. Malaysia’s export industry is impressive- the IMF and World Bank consider it their own development success, it has made so much money for itself. But the huge tracts of razed countryside don’t do much for the imagination. There are many steep areas by the roads where construction companies (ironically apparently foreign) have been drafted in to concrete up the hills- the deforestation presumably having led to soil erosion. There are big karsts jutting up from the flatter areas of the landscape, beautiful, and covered in forest. But whole sections of them are missing, and the ones that remain are covered in the scars of mines. Alongside the road there are businesses selling off the rock.
The palm and rubber plantations go on for miles. Once you reach the Cameron Highlands, the farms start, and they scar the landscape too, oddly, because they are all under enormous poly-tunnels. The rolling hills covered in tea bushes are very pretty, especially with the big storm clouds gathering above them.
We found ourselves a room in an old British tin army barrack in Tanah Rata, where the toilets are still exactly as they were, and you can imagine load of soldiers banging about.
The ride was very very good. We weren’t entirely sure there was a road- there wasn’t one on our map, so we figured we’d just get to the rough area and see how it went. In the end we followed a tourist bus, sneakily.
Malaysia isn’t used to bikers. There aren’t enough of them around, and those that are, are mostly little scooters with not a whole lot of oomph. This means that everyone assumes we, being on a bike, are very overtakable- pretty much regardless of our actual speed. This can be dangerous, as we witnessed on our way back.
But anyway, we made it to Taman Negara in one piece. It was very wet; so were we. The town at the edge of the rainforest is backed by more deforested area- this time even more gutting, as we rode past a loggers, with 1000 year old trees being cut into pieces and loaded onto trucks.
It is also still flanked with bits of forest though, and we stopped for a wilderness pee, only to be threateningly squawked at by a very large and surprised monkey, who had possibly never seen people before, so enormous was his reaction.
We wombled off to find the rainforest. It was amazing, and we definitely found it. We also found two small bats in a hide, a whole family of wild boar at dusk, some deer, a few squirrel, and last but sadly not least, a tarantula.
We didn’t get to go on our two day trek, because the guides said it was too dangerous in rainy season, and refused to take us. Instead we went off on our own for a ‘trail walk‘. Ha ha. Trail walk. Sounds so innocuous, so innocent. But no. This was a ferocious killer of a trail hike, a monster scramble of enormous proportions, up and down the other side of a huge hill (344 metres. HUGE! Ahem). Some might suggest I am not the best to determine the scale of this trek, having never before really seen a proper jungle, much less scrambled through one, (no doubt perilously close to tarantula attack at all times). They would be wrong.
(Before we went in we saw a guy who had just come back out, with blood pouring out of holes in his feet. He had been leached. Whilst wearing boots, and socks, and trousers, all tucked into each other. We were forewarned and took ridiculous precautions, even on the frankly daft ‘Jungle Night Walk’, when we didn’t even get to veer off the slatted walkway…)
We reached the top of the 344 metre hillock, and did little victory dances in front of the view.
Eventually we had our feed of jungle wetness, and started out on the great road back. It was proving to be a good day’s ride, and we got all the way to Gua Musang without a hitch, stopping to peer at the palm plantations in case of occasional slow loris...
We flagged down some passers-by, who seemed oddly reluctant to stop, but a couple did and called the emergency services and stayed with us. It was a horrible feeling of helplessness. Neither of us has First Aid training, and we couldn’t even speak to the man to try and reassure him.
He was still unconscious, with a bad head injury and what looked like a broken arm, and a lot of blood around his mouth and nose, with big patches of it congealing beneath him. He was lying approximately in recovery position, with his helmet on, so we didn’t want to move him in case of back trauma etc, but he was in a bad way. The police took half an hour to arrive. In that time his breathing normalized slightly- he must have swallowed the blood in the way- and he regained consciousness and tried to sit up, struggling to take his helmet off. The Malay guy who’d stopped to help talked to him and tried to get him to stay still- we still couldn’t see what was wrong with him or how bad it was.
Eventually the police arrived, but did very little, mainly standing far back and not helping the victim at all. They called the ambulance though, who were a lot better, and quickly got him into a neck brace and stretcher and whisked him off.
And that was that. I was seriously shaken, and irritatingly faint from the sight of all the blood, which didn‘t help anyone. I’ve resolved to take a Red Cross First Aid course as soon as I can- not knowing what to do to help was horrible, and I am sure there are many ways we could improved that half an hour for the poor guy. It didn’t help that we couldn’t speak Malay, and had we spoken to him in English we would no doubt have confused him further. But we also couldn’t get across our meanings to the guy who was speaking to him either.
While we were stood there, people milled about trying to make sense of what happened. His bike had taken an obvious impact to its front wheel, and there was a road sign a short way away that seemed to have been hit, but the only skids were his own. We have no way of knowing, but it was horrendous to think that someone may have driven him off the road, only to leave him there. It was pretty horrific that the cars in front of us had driven straight past as well. It is possible they thought he was dead, and didn’t know what to do, but then neither did we, we just hoped to fetch someone who did.
We are hoping to find out whether he was OK from the hospital today, we have asked the hotel lady if she will call them, so hopefully we will know how it went. By the end it looked as though he hadn’t broken any limbs, or sustained spinal injury or neck injury, and he was becoming more coherent, but for a while there we all thought he was a goner.
I wish First Aid at school had been mandatory.
We will be driving a bit slower from now on. If it had been us we would probably have fared a lot better with all our protective gear, but there’s only so much the stuff can do, and at speed it’s a hell of a lot harder for it to do that. The roads here were built for fun motorbike riding, but maybe that’s not always a good thing.
We are back at Cameron Highlands in the same old barracks now. We got our dates completely wrong though. We thought it was Christmas Eve the day we got back. It really wasn't, we were out by three days. Not sure what happened there. It messes up our plans for Christmas, which we will now probably be heading down to Kuala Lumpur for.