Six days, five states, two public holidays. 2+1+1 in the car, and an impressive kelidoscope of diversity to be seen.  Here’s the rundown:

We started Sunday morning in Penang, a predominantly Chinese city where the major spoken language is a dialect of Mandarin called Hokkien.  Miles woke up late (7am??!?) and hungry.  He had finished most of our breakfast snacks before we even crossed the bridge.  Little did we know that he would decide to start eating again on this trip – it had been 6 weeks of travel & teething which are not conducive to chowing.

Good news for him, our first stop was for dimsum in Ipoh, Perak.  This is a predominantly Chinese city where the spoken language is Cantonese – same as Hong Kong, which explains the famous dimsum!  We had a tip from a local and headed to a pretty popular spot.  I stood around for a while with Miles resting on my belly while Tim parked the car, all the dimsum delivery ladies dodging me.  This place was so tiny and so packed there was no room for carts; all the dimsum was hand delivered on trays.  Luckily for us, Tim turned down the 6-pack of durian buns…”but you can take the rest on the road!”

Stuffed (except for Miles, who immediately started begging snacks after downing a couple BBQ pork buns at the restaurant) we headed up, up, up into Pahang to the Cameron Highlands Valley.  This hill station is full of colonial architecture, British charm (think scones & tea), fresh produce and tourists!  We stayed at a very charming chalet, enjoyed the cool temps that had me sleeping in socks, and ate a lot of strawberries.  We visited a farm, where I saw where my lettuce is grown, hydroponically.  We went for a hike and got wet from rain, not sweat (not even a little tiny bit by sweat).  We ate hotpot (without sweating) and even snuggled up next to a real wood burning fire at the bar of a restored chalet.  It was a marvelous break from the heat.

The next day was Hari Raya, the celebration of the last day of Ramadhan.  We were headed to Kota Bharu, Kelantan, a predominantly Malay (Muslim) city where the spoken language is a localized dialect of Bahasa.  We weren’t the only ones on the move, this holiday is like Thanksgiving in the US, and the streets out of the Cameron Valley were lined with mostly young men with pillbox hats and traditional dress.  They loaded into truck beds and rode standing up along the windy roads, presumably headed home.  Around lunchtime, we were hours away when we saw another exodus to the mosque for prayers, this time scores of motor bikes with young men in pastel pyjama prayer suits.  I wish I had a picture of the 3 bikes with 2 riders each that made up the rainbow with their outfits as we passed them.  We arrived in KB to a ghost town.  No people, everything was closed (creepy, especially given that the city is full of loudspeakers that project the recording of birds in an abandoned house all over the city).  Think if you went into anytown, USA on Christmas day, and that is what we faced.  And we handled it just as you would have to – lunch at McDonald’s and dinner at a Chinese restaurant with a movie in our room for entertainment.

Figuring the next day (another holiday, Independence Day this time) would offer more of the same, we headed out the next morning a day early to our next destination, the Perhentian Islands of Terangganu.  A short drive and a short ferry deposited us on a white sand beach with the most gorgeous water I have ever seen.  Turquiose blue, with 30 feet (at least) of visibility, straight down to the bottom.  Gorgeous.  We spent the next three days on the beach, or steps from it in our beach front bungalow.  A major highlight was the snorkeling trip we took one morning.  We missed out on the resort’s trip (it was full), but took a tip to hire a private taxi.  Without any roads, that meant a small boat with an outboard motor!  We linked up with a couple from Barcelona (impressive that Miles didn’t scare them 0ff) and saw some interesting fish, corals and even a turtle at a tiny nearby island.

Friday it was back in the car and across Terangganu, Kelantan, Perak, Kedah and finally Penang to get home.  Holiday traffic made for a long, long ride.  As we pulled into Penang around 9pm, having driven 8 hours without a serious refueling stop, we pulled over to a hawker stand and ordered some wanton noodles “da bao” (to go).  As I walked back to the car, I noticed anew the peasant-ness of Penang – the weather, the food, the people, even the traffic – and realized I was glad to be home.

I have to hand it to Miles on this trip.  It was a lot of hours in the car, and we only had to listen to the XX – Intro on max volume five times the whole way.  We watched a movie in the KB hotel (not a very good one) called Knight and Day.  There is a scene where Cameron Diaz is drugged and keeps seeing flashes of action-adventure (on a boat, in a torture chamber, skydiving) as she drifts in and out of consciousness with Tom Cruise taking care of her the whole time.  It got me thinking if this is what these trips are like for Miles.  He gets into his carseat, then he’s at a dimsum restaurant, then its 20 degrees colder, then he’s at a road-side rest-stop playground, then he’s on a water taxi, next thing you know he wakes up on a gorgeous desert island (this happened to Cameron Diaz, too), swaddled in a life jacket.  He’s a trooper, and a great traveler!

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