Tag Archives: National Park

George Town, Malaysia – Impressions

George Town is a city at the north-eastern corner of the Malaysian island of Penang. Named after the British King George III, the island was leased to a British trade boat captain in exchange for protection from the Burmese and Siamese armies. The captain, however, had no intention of fulfilling the lease and instead set up George Town as a trading port.

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While the island is commonly reached by ferry from the mainland for less than a dollar, it is reachable by road via a pair of bridges. Penang bridge is 13.5km long while the newer Penang 2 bridge is 23.5km. George Town has several long waterfronts adorned with hotels and shipping yards.

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Street Art
Like most other major cities in Malaysia, George Town’s streets are littered with art. In 2012 the city announced a street art project for the annual George Town Festival. Now there are more than 100 pieces on walls across Old City. Some pieces were created by Ernest Zacharevic, the famous Lithuanian artist responsible for other works across Malaysia.

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While some of the art is in the form of murals, often with a cat theme, other pieces use props. One of the more famous pieces includes a bicycle set against a plastered wall with a pair of children painted to look like they’re riding it.

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Since the festival, wrought iron comic designs have also begun appearing around Old City.

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Penang Hill
Penang Hill is the tallest hill on the island and is one of the most popular tourist locations. At 883 metres, it gives amazing views over George Town, the coastline and mainland Malaysia.

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The easiest way to get to the top is by funicular train, a train operated from top and bottom by cable. Near the top the train passes through a brief tunnel, noted as being the steepest train tunnel in the world. While the ascent is fairly sedate with the training chugging up the hill, the descent can be quite exhilarating as it races towards the bottom.

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At the top there is a double story food court, several private restaurants, an owl museum, a mosque and a hindu temple.

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Penang National Park
The smallest national park in Malaysia, Tama Negara Pulau Pínang, is in the very north-west of the island, about 13km by road from George Town. There are several ways to get to the national park, by tour bus, local bus, car or as we did, by scooter. We couldn’t help ourselves, we enjoy riding them.

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While the park is small, it does have several longer trails, the longest being 6km. There are many species of animals in the park, including two different species of monkeys. This cute but cautious girl is a Spectacled Leaf Monkey.

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With rain imminent when we arrived, we decided to only take a short walk to the Canopy Walk, about 20 minutes along the trail. The Canopy Walk stretches for 250m through the tree tops. Unfortunately, when we arrived it was closed. So we walked back through the forest and along the waterfront to the scooters before heading back across the island.

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Fort Cornwallis
As part of the lease for Penang Island, the fort was built to protect the island from pirates, the Siamese and the Burmese, but it never actually saw battle. The grounds of are now used as concert venue.

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The cannon barrels that remain on the walls are sometimes used by locals as a fertility charm. If flowers are left by barrels it’s supposed to help an infertile woman get pregnant. I guess size does matter when it comes to cannons…

Kek Lok Si Temple
On our way to Penang Hill we spied a very large temple at its base. On our final morning in George Town and with a few hours left of our scooter hire, we headed inland to check it out.

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Ken Lok Si, meaning Temple of Supreme Bliss, is said to be the largest buddhist temple in South East Asia. At the temple entrance there are lines of shops, restaurants and a turtle pond, a buddhist tradition. The main Pagoda is built in three distinct architectural styles, the lower third is Chinese, the midsection Thai and the top Burmese.

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On the hill above the temple, up a 100m skylift, is a 30m tall bronze statue of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy.

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Overall, George Town has a modern feel about it and is set up both for locals and tourists alike. The Old Town does have a more closed-in feeling, with thin streets and many hostels and guesthouses.

Next we catch a ferry to Langkawi, the Jewel of Kedah.

The Trail Wanderers

Mapping My Journey So Far

Sixteen months on the road is a long time. During that time I covered quite a distance and did many things. While I’ve been ‘resting’ in the United Kingdom, I’ve put together a step by step rundown of my trip including maps.

South East Australia

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In a van called the Pointy Brick I…

Antarctica, Chile and Argentina

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From Brisbane, I flew to Auckland and spent 3 weeks with family before flying to South America where I…

Brazil, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador

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From Buenos Aires I…

Colombia, Central America and Mexico

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From Ecuador I…

The Full Map. May take some time to load.

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The World Wanderer

Hoover Dam and The Grand Canyon, Arizona – Impressions

Las Vegas, in the state of Nevada, is an intense place even if you’re only staying a couple of days. But if you’re planning to stay a week or more, getting out of the city should be a high priority. We did just that, hiring a car and driving to two features of the region:

Hoover Dam
Hoover Dan is situated on the U.S. state border of Nevada and Arizona, 50 kilometres from Las Vegas. The dam was built in Black Canyon on the Colorado River to prevent flooding, provide irrigation and generate power for the states of Nevada, Arizona and California. At the time of construction it was the largest concrete structure in the world.

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Completed in 1936, the dam was also used as a major highway, but due to increasing traffic concerns the Dam Bypass Bridge opened in 2010.

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The dam created Lake Mead, the largest reservoir of water in the United States by volume. The dam took only 5 years to build and during that time took the lives of 112 people. Sixteen people died in the first year of construction when temperatures in the area clocked in at close to 50ºC. Another forty-two died from pneumonia, although in later years this listing was seen as a cover-up of deaths caused by carbon-monoxide poisoning.

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The Grand Canyon
Nearly 200 kilometres from Las Vegas by car is the site of the Grand Canyon Skywalk. The Skywalk is near the western end of the canyon at a site ingeniously called Grand Canyon West. There are several sections tourists can visit at Grand Canyon West; one is  Eagle Point, named after the impression of an Eagle in the ridge opposite…

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Eagle Point is also the location of the Skybridge itself, a metal framed ‘bridge’ with a glass bottom. Unfortunately use of personal cameras on the bridge is not permitted, meaning the cost of entry onto the walk plus purchase the photographs is quite expensive. Taking the Skywalk is not required as fearless tourists can walk to the edge of the canyon beside the structure.

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Another point of interest is Guano Point, literally ‘Bat Shit Point’. Bat caves were discovered in the canyon, the guano being a good source of phosphates used in farming. The mining lift building still stands at the end of the point.

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Guano Point is at the end of a thin section of a ridge line stacked high with boulders, giving great views along three separate sections of the canyon.

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The Colorado River formed the Grand Canyon over the course of two billion years. It is 446 kilometres long, 29 kilometres at its widest and is 1,800 metres deep. It is in the top five largest canyons in the world, although the term ‘largest’ can have several meanings relating to depth, width and length.

While many simply bus to the sections of the canyon, boat, helicopter and small plane tours are available for those who wish an even closer look.

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Other Places
These are not the only getaways near Las Vegas, only the two we visited. Other sites of interest are:

  • Red Rock Canyon
  • Death Valley
  • Valley of Fire
  • Hidden Valley
  • El Dorado Canyon

The World Wanderer

Cancún and Playa del Carmen, Mexico – Impressions

The ultra touristy Cancún at the tip of the Yucatán Peninsula is the final destination of my three-month whirlwind tour of Central America and southern Mexico.

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Cancun’s main tourist area is Isla Cancún and was created in the mid 1970s by the Mexican government. The island is actually part of the second largest barrier reef in the world, stretching 1000km from the tip of the peninsula along the entire length of Belize to Honduras. Cancún is renown for being one of Mexico’s two most famous resort cities, the other being Acapulco on the Pacific Coast.

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As Cancún was my final destination, I didn’t spend a lot of time exploring the city, instead preparing for my imminent departure. But I did take a day out to travel an hour along the coast to the popular tourist beach, Playa del Carmen.

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It’s easy to see why the beach town is so popular, the golden sandy beaches and clear blue waters are beautiful. And while the beachfront restaurants and resorts are numerous, they’re not as all-encompassing as those in Tulum, and hour further south.

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It’s been a long adventure through Latin America these past thirteen months but I’m ready for a well-earned rest. While the constant traveling has been both amazing and stressful at the same time, I’ll miss the diverse cultures and the beautiful places I’ve visited, not to mention the challenges of constant change that travel evokes. I do look forward to six months of stability before beginning my next set of travels.

For those few who’ve been following my travels, I hope you’ve enjoyed my posts and photos as much as I’ve enjoyed providing them.

Until my next trip,

The World Wanderer.

Tulum, Mexico – Impressions

Just a short handful of years ago Tulum Pueblo was a quiet little town near the ancient cliff top Maya fortress of Tulum. Few visitors came to the town itself, most busing in directly to the ruins from Playa del Carmen, an hour to the north, or Cancún, a further thirty minutes beyond that.

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Over the past few years that quiet little town has begun to grow as a tourist destination with restaurants and resorts growing along the waterfront. The Caribbean coastline is beautiful to behold with its golden sands and clear waters.

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Unfortunately because of the growing number of resorts, which charge you to get access to the beach, finding a long stretch of beach to enjoy is difficult if you don’t have your own vehicle. And while bicycles are rentable everywhere in the town it’s still a long ride to a good beach.

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With the growing popularity of the area, the food and accommodation is of high quality and makes it worth staying a night or two. The area also has plentiful cenotes, with several hidden and smaller ones near the beach.

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But beyond the beach, the cenotes and the town, the ruins are the number one attraction in the area. The fortress was once called Zama meaning ‘City of Dawn’ as it faces the sunrise on the Caribbean Sea. It has since been renamed Tulum meaning ‘wall’ in the language of the Maya because of the great wall around the fortress city.

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Tulum was one of the last Maya cities built and unlike many in the region, it’s very compact and small. A tour of the complex will take only an hour if you dawdle. And because it’s the third most visited historical site in Mexico, after Chichén Itzá and Teotohuacan, the site is often swarming with tourists.

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There is access to the sea from the ruins and many tourists come to swim in the pristine waters beneath the 12 metre cliffs on which the ruins are situated.

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Templo del Dios Viendo – Temple of the Wind God.

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Next I travel north to Cancún, my final destination in Latin America.

The World Wanderer.

Palenque, Mexico – Impressions

Palenque is a small city in the Chiapas region of southern Mexico on the border of Guatemala. There’s not much going on in the city itself with the city’s recognised monuments all being covered for restoration while I was there. But it’s not the city that draws people to this region, it’s the nearby ruins of the same name only 20 minutes away.

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The Palenque ruins aren’t the only ones in this area though, there’s also Yaxchilán nestled on the Guatemalan border and Bonampak a further 40km south. It’s not difficult to get to any of the sites, with regular collectivos – taxi buses – going to the Palenque ruins every few minutes and daily tours leaving to the other two sites.

I began with a tour to Yaxchilán, a two and a half tour bus ride south of Palenque. The tour picked me up from my hostel at 6am and delivering me home at 7.30pm, so I prepared for a long day. The roads in Mexico are no better than anywhere else in Central America, but because of the early start I slept through the bumps and regular speed humps. There was even a stop for breakfast along the way, all included in the tour. We eventually arrived at Rio Usumacinta, the river that separates Mexico from Guatemala, and boarded a river boat for a 45 minutes trip.

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The river is wide and deep and is said to contain five metre crocodiles, but we only spied two small ones that were shy at our approach.

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After another nap, we eventually arrived at the Yaxchilán ruins. To get into the site you need to walk through some dark tunnels made by the Mayans around 700AD. The tunnels are said to travel 30-40km to Bonampak to the south, but most are closed. There’s also an ancient ritual associated with the tunnels which involved the ingestion of magic mushrooms and walking through the tunnels in the dark being casted depending on which exit you emerge from.

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On the other side of the tunnels is the Grand Plaza stretching 750 metres in length with temples and buildings along each side. It was originally an open plaza, the trees have grown in the 14 centuries since the city was built.

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The Mayans had a fascination with ball games, where inevitably one of the players gets his head cut off. If it’s the captured leader of another city and he loses, chop chop and his head becomes the ball, if he wins he’s set free. If the match is between people from the same city then it’s the winner that faces the chop, that’s right, the winner. It’s an honour for him to be beheaded, as he goes forth into the underworld in style.

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In the Mayan world the royal family and priests had to be the fittest people, as they were the only ones allowed to climb the many steps to the temples or to the Grand Acropolis.

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Dotted around the Grand Plaza are several Esteli – carved stone blocks. Most depict members of the royal family in different poses, often giving blood sacrifices such as the queen piercing her tongue and running a two metre rope through it, or the king having his penis pierced. Lovely.

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After a couple of hours at the site, we travelled back along the river to the bus then set off to Bonampak, which also has a grand plaza, although smaller than Yixchilán.

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Bonampak was a ceremonial site important to the Yixchilán kings. Bonampak means ‘painted walls’ in the ancient Mayan language as on the inner walls of one acropolis are several full colour paintings.

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We only had an hour at Bonampak before it was time to head back to the city. We were thankful for the air-conditioned tour bus as the last couple of hours of the day became quite humid.

The following day, a couple of us caught a collectivo to the Palenque Ruins.

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But since we arrived an hour before closing, entry was free but meant we had to rush around the complex. Still it was a wondrous place to visit and thankfully quieter near closing time. Similar to Yixchilán they have a grand acropolis, several temples and a palace boasting a tall watch tower.

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Next, I head north to the city of the Merida on the Yucatán to explore the ruins of Uxmal.

The World Wanderer

Caye Caulker, Belize – Impressions

Belize is a small country on the edge of the Yucatan peninsula. Unlike the countries that surround it, where they speak spanish, Belize’s primary language is english. After a year in spanish speaking countries where I couldn’t fully understand the everyday conversations around me, on arriving in an english speaking country it was a little overwhelming. It was like suddenly being able to read the thoughts of everyone around you.

As I’m nearing the end of my Latin American journey, I’ve chosen to spend only three days in Belize and all of that time on the island of Caye Caulker. Thirty kilometres from Belize City by water taxi, Caye Caulker was made popular by hippies travelling through the area in the 1970s. Since then the tourism industry along the coast has blossomed.

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On first impressions, arriving in Caye Caulker feels like arriving in Jamaica. There’s a strong reggae groove, plenty of locals with dreadlocks wearing rastafarian style clothing and that familiar accent: ‘yeh mon,’ and ‘want some gunga mon.’

One end of the eight kilometre long island is criss-crossed with white sand roads while the other is still claimed by mangroves. There is an estimated 40 hotels, hostels and boarding houses on the island, with fresh fish on the menu of the many waterfront restaurants.

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One of the more popular activities in the region is diving with divers hoping to swim in the infamous Great Blue Hole, an underwater sinkhole 300 metres across and 124 metres deep.

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But as I don’t dive, I chose to snorkel along the Great Barrier Reef and in Shark Alley. So, booking a tour, I set out with a group of fellow snorkelers for a day in the sun on a boat. And what a day it was… We began in Hol Chan marine reserve where the fish knew our arrival meant feeding time. Schools of large fish swum around the boat as our guide took us on a swim around the reef, spying a lone barracuda, sea turtles and even managing to lure a Moray Eel out from its hole in the rocks.

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Along shark alley the Nurse sharks came looking for food. There were probably a dozen of them, some more than three metres long. We were able to ‘pet’ one of them although their scales felt hard to the touch. Then came the Eagle Rays, allowing us to write our names upon their back.

A german girl in a bikini, I mean, a friendly three metre Nurse shark swimming past.

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Back on the island, there are several ways to get around. Most people hire cycles and ride around the unsealed, potholed sandy roads but I chose to hire a golf cart, the only powered land vehicle on the island.

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With my ‘wheels’, I toured the quieter end of the island where there were only a few secluded homes and hotels among the plentiful mangroves.

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Overall, Caye Caulker is a great place to spend a few days if you like water activities, seafood, partying or just hanging around with well-tanned beach clad people.

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Next I head into Mexico, my final Latin American country as I follow the trail of the Mayan Ruins.

The World Wanderer