Gathered from the foyer of the G-Hotel on Gurney Drive by Michelle at 1.50 pm, we joined fellow travellers on the 40 seater bus bound for Taiping.
Like most coaches used in Malaysia, it was modern, comfortable and heavily carpeted. The seats, walls, ceiling, everywhere except the floor, is covered in a lush, blue layer of carpet, casually infused with the sticky odour of stale cigarette smoke. Apparently the No Smoking sign is for everyone except the Driver.
Available through Michelle at Spiral Synergy - contact details at the bottom of this post.
Michelle used the bus mic to welcome everyone on board before we sailed across the First Bridge to the Mainland. Two hours later we drove into Taiping and headed for the Lake Gardens. Huge Rain Trees form a shady avenue across the road that winds through the gardens. Formerly ugly open-cut tin mines, the whole area has been transformed into a beautiful series of parks and lakes.
The town of Taiping, which literally means Town of Everlasting Peace, was a 19th century battleground for Chinese factions disputing mining territory. Nowadays it's famous for having the highest rainfall in Peninsula Malaysia. Because of Taiping's location beneath Maxwell Hill, it rains almost every afternoon. The inhabitants are also renowned for being avid gamblers. Several years ago we met an elderly gentleman in Taiping who delighted in offering this little gem - I bet you it will rain by 3 o'clock.
From the gardens it was a short drive to Kuala Sepetang ( formerly Port Weld ) where we parked at the entrance to a boardwalk trail through the Mangrove Forest.
These majestic trees are sustainably farmed for their high grade charcoal by a select group of locals. No tree under 30 years of age can be cut down and any felled trees are naturally replaced. This practice has endured since the 1940s without any reduction in forest, so the local people are adopting a responsible approach to the environment and the longevity of their Industry.
The boardwalk wound it's way for about a kilometre through the dense mangrove forest and it was fascinating to see the elevated root structure around the base of each tree, giving the whole area an eerie feeling.
The walk ended at a river where we chatted with a monkey who demanded some form of consumable remuneration from the human apes and was less than chuffed with our non-compliance. A large monitor lizard snaked its way through the water and disappeared behind some moored boats.
Back on the bus and only a 2 minute drive brought us to one of many huge charcoal kilns in the area. Before coming on this trip, many people had told me how fascinating the kilns were. I didn't doubt them but couldn't really understand how a kiln could be such a drawcard. After spending 45 minutes in the area, everything else that happened that day was a bonus.
Stacked along the edge of the canal that ran the length and more of the factories, were thousands of logs ferried there by the old barges moored to the banks. Workers loaded the heavy mangrove logs into wheelbarrows and then carted them into the kiln sheds.
The kilns were large brick domes with a small opening at the front to allow for the logs to be placed inside and a fire lit. After which the opening is sealed and the logs smoulder for weeks until they become high grade charcoal, mostly for export.
All of that was interesting but the real highlight for me was the surrounding factory area. If you are a photographer, then you simply have to make it down here. The opportunities are endless. The smokey colours, particularly blues. Eclectic still-life studies everywhere you look. Factory walls cluttered with objects spanning generations of workers. Old machinery, tools, buckets, furniture. Dozens of stories layered on walls and floors through the passing of time. No period movie-set could ever come close to reproducing the beauty created by what had never been 'cleaned up or changed'.
It was hard to eventually stop clicking our cameras and get back on the bus but dinner was beckoning.
After a few minutes we arrived at the seafood restaurant in Port Weld and made our way to the outside platform dining area that overlooked the river, jetties and main port. Mangrove forests stretched out before us in every direction. The sun was close to setting. Such a perfect location for dinner.
On the way back to Penang we detoured off the main drag out of Taiping and stopped off at a Hindu Temple ( perched discreetly behind Tescos ) where wild boar come in the evenings to be fed. An obscure sight, watching wild pigs in a temple but hey, this is Malaysia and nothing should surprise.
The star attraction was a large, bad tempered, 3-legged pig who appeared never to have quite recovered from the possibility that his other leg may have turned up in a ham sandwich. He only calmed down when a Hindu priest scratched his belly with a stick.
The drive back to Penang seemed to take no time at all. We reached the Island, via the Second Bridge, around 10.30 pm and made for the various drop off points.
A really great day thanks to Michelle and a group of enthusiastic fellow travellers. Highly recommended.
If you are interested in doing this fun tour, then Spiral Synergy ( the Company operated by Michelle Grimsley ) runs them quite regularly and by demand. If you get in touch with Michelle and voice your interest, then she will let you know the next likely tour date.
If you are staying in Penang, then this is one of the best resources available here. Events, Items to Buy / Sell & regular trips to IKEA in KL to purchase on your behalf.
Contact Michelle : 016 457 0221