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My son was a bit unwell last night and I was gripped by fear of mosquito borne diseases as I listened to his fast breathing and the sound of a mosquito buzzing around my head last night. He was almost back to normal this morning but we decided that he needed a rest so my husband and he had a gentle day while I took my daughter for an adventure.
Breakfast was at the amazing Happy 8 café which is a true oasis with gorgeous architecture, plants, bamboo poles, funky decor and the kind of pricing that you would expect for such salubrious surroundings!
Rather than accept the exorbitant hourly rate of the cab driver that was sitting in our basic hotel lobby (like a spider waiting for prey), I decided to try the local buses. The staff, a shopkeeper in Batu Gajah and other travellers were very helpful and kind towards us and helped us to reach Kelly’s Castle for only 3.5 MYR compared to an hourly rate of 35 MYR for a driver. After a challenging experience in Patagonia involving a local bus, a missed town and the end of the line on the last bus of the day and in winter, I was particularly keen to make sure that we didn’t miss our stop in Batu Gajah. I enlisted the help of a presumably Tamil family to tell us when to disembark, which was the stop after theirs so they told the driver where to let us out. The shopkeeper in Batu Gajah told us which bus to catch next and told the driver and inspector where we were going, then the inspector rang the bell for us at our stop. Such kindnesses!
We enjoyed exploring the unfinished mansion and imagining the lives of the Scottish Kelly family that built it using imported Indian skilled labourers and they also built a Tamil temple. On the small bus to there we sat near a few probably Tamil families and I wondered if they may descend from those skilled artisans.
Kelly was very concerned with safety and built secret staircases from each bedroom to the grounds, a secret hiding spot underground and a secret tunnel for escaping attack, although I’m unsure of who he feared may attack them. The estate was 1500 acres in size and must have generated considerable income from the plantations. The mansion was never finished, his wife returned to England, he died young of pneumonia and the site was damaged in WWII.
We narrowly missed one bus and waited in the sun by the roadside for over an hour as two more buses ignored us and passed by. It was very hot but we despaired of how to get back into town other than by walking. As we started I saw a taxi being repaired and asked the driver if he could call us a taxi. He said that actually if we waited for 10 minutes he would take us himself and the rate that he offered to take us to Kek Lok Tong then Gunung Lang Recreation Park was reasonable even though he could have asked much more and I would have paid it to avoid our predicament!
Kek Lok Tong is a huge cave that has some nice formations that reminded me of our recent camping trip to Wombeyan Caves (see post). Inside the caves are some representations of the Buddha and small presumably ancestor worship shrines. Outside the main entrance we were thrilled to see a troupe of monkeys.
Our next stop was Gunung Lang Recreational Park where our driver left us and we caught a boat across the lake amongst amazing forested limestone mountains.
The other side of the lake in the late afternoon was tranquil and we loved being so close to the forest. It looks either unfinished or a bit poorly managed because many of the cages for animals were empty. It also had 3 traditional houses that are empty but have electric lights and fans and I’m unsure of what is intended. There are two observation towers that give good views and an excellent playground. The main attraction for us though were the monkeys eating rambutans in the trees. While my daughter played several different women chatted with me and I was struck first by the friendliness, warmth and accepting nature of the Muslim Malay women who love to catch my eye and smile and the difference between the Chinese Malay women who were obviously struggling with the heat and the Muslim Malay women in their hijabs and long clothes who showed no signs of heat distress.
After missing lunch due to our transportation issues I was delighted to join the rest of our family to eat an exquisite meal at Plan B. We finished our long day with a walk through some night markets and enjoyed watching locals go about their business in a festive setting and chat playfully with stall holders.