An unexpected trip to Thailand

What do you do when the country you are visiting is unexpectedly clothed in a thick cloud of smog? Before visiting Malaysia, “haze” was not a common word in my vocabulary, but it has become one I have had to use far too often in the past couple of weeks, as most conversations with Malaysians – when not discussing the corruption of Najib – have revolved around this horrible, horrible haze. I have been to cities before with bad air pollution (cough, cough Beijing) but had never experienced this quantity of smog ever before. In KL, we bought tickets to go up the tall Menara tower, for views over the city – but could not see past the nearest skyscraper: everything else just blended into a brown dusty mist. When we went out into the countryside to the Cameron Highlands, the haze followed: walks through the mossy forest were interrupted by coughing fits and shortness of breath, while the vistas over the rolling hills of tea plantations were ruined by the fact you couldn’t see further than a few metres. It wasn’t until we reached Georgetown in Penang that our patience finally ran out: the news was filled with stories of how many Malaysian schools had been closed because of the haze, and citizens were advised to stay indoors as much as possible. Nice as our heritage-style guesthouse was, having to stay inside for the remainder of our Malaysian trip did not much appeal. Alex had been away for a week and a half and had yet to see the sun – when we looked up, there was no blue, no cloud, just an unending expanse of grey – and I was getting tired of constantly feeling like we were walking behind a car exhaust.  (more…)

Elephant No. 17: Batu Caves, Malaysia

After my two solo weeks in Indonesia, I met up with Alex in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Though we enjoyed visiting the sites of the city, especially the stunning Islamic Arts Museum, we found the city hard to get around on foot, with a distinct lack of pavements and crossings, and there frequently wasn’t a public transport option for where we were trying to get to. Also, the city was smothered in a thick smog, so we were keen to try and get out a bit to some greenery and fresh air. With this in mind, we made a trip to the Batu Caves on the outskirts of the city.  (more…)