I recently returned from my two week adventure in Malaysia and I'm happy to report that it was 100% fun.
The first leg of our trip (flight 1 of 10), took me to Shanghai for a 5 hour layover. That airport had to be the biggest airport I've ever been to. Looking out the window at only one half of the airport, I could barely see some of the planes stationed on the tarmac on the horizon. I'm pretty sure it has to be bigger than some small cities.
The first big activity on the peninsula was Taman Negara national park, which is said to be the oldest rain forest in the world. While we got to walk across the longest rope bridge in the world, it wasn't quite as cool as I expected. I naively imagined a rickety, broken-down, Indiana Jones style bridge. It was quite different than that with netting and several treetop platforms separating segments of the bridge, but fun nonetheless. A cool part I didn't expect was staircase along the way, it was probably the scariest part, but I still felt very safe.
In this park we also got to see one the native tribes of Malaysia (although, this one at least, originated from Papua New Guinea) in their temporary village. This particular tribe is the only one allowed to live in the national park and they are nomadic so they move every few months. They hunt for their food with blow darts, which we learned how to make and got to shoot. My first attempt failed miserably, but on my second try I at least made it to the target.
Unfortunately, due to the large number of loud obnoxious people, we weren't able to see any animals in this park except a huge monitor lizard on a small beach (I was the first in our boat to spot it!)
The lack of animals at the first park was made up for at our next destination. We went to Borneo, which is the third largest island in the world. Ownership of the island is divided between Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. We only went to the Malaysian part. On a 3 day, 2 night jungle tour, we stayed in a really nice lodge with delicious food. But most importantly we saw all kinds of animals. On our boat cruises along the Kinabatangan River, we saw Orang Utan (which I learned is Malaysian: Orang means "man" and Utan means "forest", aka Man of the Forest), Proboscis monkeys (which only live on Borneo), lion tailed macaques, short tailed macaques, pig tailed macaques, red langer and silver langer monkeys.
We also saw 4 kinds of horn bill, kingfishers and some hawks. At first, it was really hard to spot any of the animals that the guides would point out, but after awhile we got the hang of it and could spot the animals in the trees quickly. On a jungle trek we saw several all kinds of bugs including huge millipedes, spiders and leeches. I also saw (or failed to see) my fair share of mosquitoes, at the most I had about 50 bites!
We spent one day hiking around Mt. Kinabalu, which is the highest mountain in Southeast Asia. It would have been fun to hike to the summit, but we had to settle for a 3 or 4 mile hike around the mountain. That night was freezing! At least compared to the mid80s of every other night and day of the trip. Since we were at a pretty high elevation, it was much cooler and I was not expecting it!
With the nature portion of the trip over, we spent a few days in the up and coming Kuala Lumpur. The city was really nice, with awesome architecture. There were new buildings being built everywhere. While it was true pretty much everywhere, it was a nice surprise to learn that about 90% of people in the city spoke English too, as a second or third language at that.
We celebrated the New Year in Kuala Lumpur. There were a few concerts being put on in different parts of the city and at midnight fireworks were lit in the middle of the street. It was a lot of fun.
The final leg of our trip was in Langkawi, a northeastern island of Malaysia. It's pretty much a resort/ tourist island. We spent a couple of days on rented scooters exploring the island and finding beautiful, deserted beaches. The sand was white, the water was warm and the sun was strong. It was pretty perfect. We would occasionally stop at roadside stands and get fresh fruit and coconut milk. Couldn't have asked for a better ending to a great trip. Despite being monsoon season, we only got rained on once or twice. Pretty perfect all around.
The only bad part about the trip was having to come home to cold, snowy weather!
And since I bet you miss my face, here's an oh so flattering picture of me eating Durian, the really smelly, really slimy/sticky tropical fruit.
For more photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/57928534@N07/sets/72157625634752607/