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  • Time to leave our little cubby-hole in central KL. Our plan was to head north to the city of Ipoh (not really on the tourist trail but still a large city in its own right), explore the city for a day or two and then proceed into the Cameron Highlands. After checking the timetable we decided to aim for the 12pm train, so after a hotel breakfast we jumped in an Uber around 11am.

    Arrived at the Station by 11:15, waited a bit at the ticket counter only to discover that the 12pm train was sold out! And the next train wasn't leaving until 2:45pm. Given that the journey takes about 2 1/2 hours, it wouldn't mean getting there until very late in the day. Disappointed but accepting, we trudged off into the cavernous adjacent shopping mall.

    We'd been bickering a little so decided to kill the next couple of hours separately - we have very different ideas about how to approach a shopping mall! Shandos set off to do some shopping, while I wandered around slowly. Had some sushi for lunch, got myself a haircut and tried unsuccessfully to find some plus-size clothes. I hate having to use that phrase, but unfortunately shirts just don't fit me over here! And it's not a belly thing either (although that doesn't help); my shoulders and arms just don't fit properly in.

    We reconvened at 2pm and walked back to the station where a fairly large crowd had gathered. Finally allowed onto the platform at 2:40pm and the train set off promptly at 2:45. Very nice scenery along the way, as the track proceeded north along the mountainous central spine of Malaysia. Several craggy peaks and sheer limestone cliffs to see which was quite nice.

    Finally arrived at Ipoh Station just after 5pm. It's a huge grand colonial edifice with turrets, arches and white-washed walls. We were keen to check it out but with heavy bags and a very warm evening we decided against it. Easy trip to the hotel - we could see it sticking up in the skyline from the station! It was still 10 minutes walk away, made worse by having to cross several busy-ish roads. And for whatever reason, here they don't have many cross intersections with lights, it's all one-way streets where you can only make 90-degree turns, so there's not much to break up the traffic flow and you can often be waiting a while.

    But we made it! Our room is on the 12th (top) floor, and has a great view north and west across the city. Mountains in the background and a few buildings, as well as overlooking the creek adjacent. After settling in and freshening up we went out to find some dinner, but everything seemed to be closed! Although the Old Town in Ipoh is mostly Chinese, it was a Friday night and Malaysians tend to spend the night in (Islamic holy day and all that).

    Managed to find a highly-regarded Chinese place that did one of the local specialities - bean sprout chicken. It's very similar to Hainan chicken rice, but instead of just steamed chicken it's topped with a sweet-ish soy sauce, and served with bowls of chicken broth and noodles, and of course a bowl of bean sprouts. Very tasty, and very cheap too.

    Since there was very little happening in town, we headed back for the hotel where we watched a movie on demand - Zoolander 2. Very stupid but still funny. Too many repeat jokes from the first movie and too many celebrity cameos spoiled it a bit I thought.
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  • Exploration time! We had a full day here to fully explore the city, and intended to make use of it. Ipoh is Malaysia's fourth-largest city (700k people), and is an old tin mining town. The large mountains that surround it on three sides are full of tin, and for a hundred years or so between 1870 and 1970 tin mining made a lot of people very rich. These days the tin boom has subsided, and only one mine is still in active use. But the city is rebounding with tourism and although fairly unknown to outsiders, Malaysians come here in droves to eat the tasty food. Time to explore!

    We'd read online that there was a 2-3 hour heritage walk that runs every Saturday morning, starting at 8am from the station, so we figured that would make a good first stop. So an early start for me (I even used an alarm!), and we were out the door by 7:45, at the station just before 8am. But no sign of the tour or anyone else there. I asked a couple of staff members and nobody seemed to know anything about it!

    Defeated, we figured we may as well just do the walking tour ourselves following an online guide and map. There were plaques at most of the buildings in the first half of the walk, though they sort of petered out a bit, to the point where most buildings in the latter half didn't have a plaque. Most of the stops were grand old colonial buildings like the station, courthouse (now the town hall), first Anglican church, mosque, a commemorative clock tower named after the first British governor (who was subsequently murdered after some heavy-handed law enforcement; the adjacent street is named after his murderer), and a few other buldings like the post office, some old banks and some shophouses. Most of the old town is very British colonial, like Penang and Melacca, and like the old Chinatown districts in Singapore as well.

    Also marked on several spots were street art murals, many done by the same renowned artist who'd done them in George Town (Penang). We wandered around checking these out, then stopped in a nice cafe for a coffee and a rest. Batteries recharged, we headed back out and checked out the area known as Concubine Lane, where all the tin mining magnates used to keep their mistresses. Now it's full of knick-knack shops and Chinese tour groups, so we wandered through fairly hastily before stopping at a museum dedicated to Yasmine Abdul, a Malaysian director of several films and many ads. Quite an oddball character, so the museum was very interesting.

    By now it was lunch time so we grabbed a table in a Chinese hawker hall and had several dishes. Highlight was definitely the popiah, a large steamed spring roll filled with vegetables and crushed peanuts, topped with a mild chilli sauce. Delicious! Also had some egg custard tarts, satay sticks and some pastries (char siew pork, kaya, and an awful one with pork, chilli and anchovies which went straight in the bin!).

    After lunch we did some more wandering, checking out various shops and more street art. Eventually we retreated to another cafe where I tried another local delicacy - white coffee. The beans are roasted with palm-oil margarine and coconut, meaning that the coffee is white without adding milk, and is very sweet. Just the way I like it.

    We also met up with a travel blogger friend of Shandos's who is working for a few days at a hostel in Ipoh, albeit on the other side of town. He had a couple of hours to spare so came and visited us, where we went to another cafe but this time I decided on juice rather than coffee. After parting from Jub we headed back for the hotel, just in time to miss a huge downpour which started right as we arrived back.

    Relaxed and freshened up for a bit, before heading back out around 6pm. We'd heard that Market Street was having a Chinese festival tonight (Mooncake festival apparently) starting at 6pm, so we wandered over there. Absolutely nothing was happening, but the people nearby said it was starting at 7:30. Not wanting to wait 90 minutes in the drizzle, we headed off to find some dinner - salted chicken. This is another local dish where they wrap a chicken in butcher's paper and then cook it in a wok full of heated salt.

    The place was just closing up (the entire town apparently runs on bus trip tourists making a long day trip up from KL, so the place is empty outside of 11am-4pm), but we grabbed some takeaway and ate in a nearby Muslim food court. Not my favourite dish I have to say - aside from being very greasy and salty, it just didn't have that great a flavour. After washing up we we both still a bit peckish, so went to an Indian cafe around the corner. A misunderstanding of the menu meant that when we thought we ordered two garlic naans, we actually ordered two garlic naans and two tandoori chicken platters! So two half-chickens turned up with curry dips along with our naans. We sent one back, but the tandoori chicken was just so much better than the salted chicken I probably could have eaten both plates!

    By now it was dark and 7:30pm - perfect time to visit the sports bar we'd seen the night before where I could watch the Man United game. Shandos retreated to the hotel, so I watched the game entirely on my own in a cavernous bar, surrounded by 3 bar staff and nobody else. Until a Malaysian guy came in, sat right next to me and started smoking - what a jerk! And it was the only "sports bar" I've ever been in where they have a game on TV but no sound; they insisted on playing god-awful EDM remixes of pop songs, making my ears bleed. Alas. At least United won, a stonking 4-1 victory over champions Leicester City. Back to the hotel ahead of check-out tomorrow, and another first for our trip - we're hiring a car tomorrow!
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  • Time for some more exploring! Had a hotel breakfast before our rental arrived at 10:30am, personally chauffeured in by the owner of the company, Mr Leeong. I think it's a small company. The car itself is a Proton Saga, a small four-door sedan that's probably about 10 years old. Protons are sold in Australia, and are actually Malaysia's national car! The government set up the company to provide manufacturing jobs in the 1970s, and they're still around today and reasonably successful! The car itself isn't anything flash, but it goes OK and has air conditioning which is enough for us.

    First things for today: there were a few sights around the edges of Ipoh that we were keen to see, but weren't really able to access without our own car. So off we went! First stop was the Lang Mountain Recreation Area, which had some nice rugged limestone hills, a large man-made waterfall, and a huge lake with parklands and stuff on the other side. Lots of people queuing up for the shuttle boat to spend their day picnicking and relaxing across the lake, but since we were on fairly limited time we opted not to join them. Beautiful little spot though!

    Next up was a group of Chinese Buddhist temples built into hill caves. Each of the three temples had a distinct facade over the cave entrance, and different decorations inside. It's interesting to note how different Chinese Buddhist iconography is from its Thai counterpart: Chinese Buddha is usually very fat, laughing and looking joyful, while Thai Buddha is usually very skinny and very serene in appearance.

    One temple had a staircase hewn into the rock of 550 stairs, climbing to the of the limestone mountain where the temple was located. The sign promised a great view of the Ipoh Industrial Area, so we thought we'd give it a shot. 20-30 minutes and many gasps of breath later, we discovered they were right! Factories and warehouses as far as the eye could see. Lovely! Back down we went.

    The final temple we visited had a large pond out the front, heavily decorated with rocks and arched bridges, in that very distinctive Chinese Garden way. Beautiful stuff. This cave actually went entirely through the mountain, and on the other side was a large pool of tortoises as well as a large temple-style building that was entirely fenced off and with large drifts of leaves on the stairs. It looked it like hadn't been used in years - very mysterious!

    Temples done, we headed off towards the Cameron Highlands, with one final stop along the way. This stop was a large "castle" built by a wealthy Scottish immigrant in the 1890s and 1900s named William Kellie Smith. He moved to northern Malaya in the 1870s and made a lot of money in the commodities of the time (tin, rubber, oil and some foodstuffs), and started using his money to build an enormous castle. Unfortunately for him he died unexpectedly in 1905 and his castle was never finished - his wife and children moved back to Scotland and the house was left to decay. It's since been tidied up and made into an interesting tourist attraction.

    We spent an hour or so wandering around the castle - it's not enormous, basically an oversized 5 bedroom manor house with rooms off a central corridor, but it was cool to see the little hidden staircases and escape routes built in for some reason. Apparently there are also tunnels branching out from the house that emerge hundreds of metres away - very paranoid guy I guess!

    Back in the car and it was finally time to head for the Highlands. They actually aren't that far from Ipoh, only about 80km, but the road was very steep and windy in a lot of places. A few holdups when we got stuck behind trucks, but I started overtaking them Malaysian style (across double-lines, around corners etc). Not dangerously, but with a fair disregard for whatever the rules might be.

    Eventually we arrived in the highlands and we were both dismayed - there were ugly buildings everywhere, industrial plants like concrete factories, terraced farms that were entirely covered in awful grey tarpaulins, crowding and cars everywhere, and a general sense of grime and neglect. For probably the first time since we left Australia I was completely and utterly disappointed with a new place. But we pressed on through the first village, to our hotel in the second village.

    We'd booked somewhere about 5 minutes out of town, so we arrived, parked and settled in to the room briefly before heading in for a little wander and some dinner. This town was a little better than the first, but still very heavy on construction sites and dirty shops. It's also quite a bit colder up here, which wasn't helping my mood! We looked at a few menus before eventually settling on a cheap Indian restaurant and heading back to the room early. Hopefully tomorrow will be a better day!
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  • Hoping for a better day than yesterday, we crossed our fingers that the Highlands would look nicer under a fresh dawn, piled into the car and headed off. Stopped at the same Indian restaurant for breakfast (roti canai is just as good for dinner as for breakfast!), then drove southwards towards our first stop: the Cameron Valley Tea Plantation.

    This was more like it! The company had set up a store, cafe and outlook point not far from the town, on the edge of a sharp drop into the valley overlooking their entire tea plantation. It stretched out for miles and miles, across to the other side of the valley and almost out of sight in both directions. Great view, very vivid green colours, and far more in line with what we'd expected from the area! We wandered around a little bit, but you couldn't venture that far down into the plantation as it was very steep in places. After a little walk around we retreated to the cafe and had a cup of tea - unusual for me as I'm not much for a tea drinker! We also bought some tea bags from the store as they were quite cheap and hopefully very tasty.

    The Highlands are known as Malaysia's breadbasket, and it's easy to see why. The tropical latitude means they don't have distinct seasons, while the cooler climate in the hills allows for consistent growing. And the young volcanic soil makes it very fertile - basically everything grows here and they don't have to worry about seasons spoiling crops like in other parts of the world! As we drove we saw various fruits and vegetables being farmed, including strawberries, tomatoes, lettuce, corn, lavender, beans, cabbages, grapes, watercress, potatoes and other root vegetables, and many more besides.

    Since we were down the southern end of the populated area, we dropped in at the Lakehouse Hotel which we'd heard did excellent high teas, but unfortunately they didn't start service until 3pm - doh! Though we half expected that to be the case, so not disappointed. We drove back northwards and randomly turned in at a signposted bee farm, which also had many other small crops (though mostly strawberries). Lots of honey for sale and several bee hives to check out which were quite interesting.

    By now it was lunchtime so we returned to town and had a quick sandwich at a cafe, along with a fruit juice. We also dropped by the hotel to pick up our rain jackets as the weather up here is quite changeable, though we hadn't been rained on just yet!

    Our afternoon task was to drive up Gunung Brinchang, the tallest mountain in the highlands at 2032 metres tall. Although we'd considered hiking, we eventually decided on driving to the top instead! Partway up the steep and winding road, some western guys flagged us down and asked for a lift - they had been dropped off at the bottom by a taxi driver and had no real idea of how far it was or where they were going! Since there were three of them (two Germans and a Scot), they piled into the back seat and off we went.

    Our poor car had been pretty gutless most of the time, and with five people on board it was really struggling up the hill! There were a couple of points where I considered asking them to push, but we made it up okay. It's a fun drive too, lots of switchbacks, hairpins and blind corners for you to blast your horn (hoping that anyone coming the opposite way will hear you and stop in time!).

    At the top there was an observation tower and several large communication towers. We climbed the observation tower and had a look - the view was excellent although the cloud ceiling was very low above us meaning our photos don't look that great. The tower was a bit of an adventure as well - probably four stories high and very rusty! Sturdy enough though.

    We spoke to some hikers who'd finished the climb via the walking track (not the road), and they strongly recommended to our new friends that climbing down was a bad idea - apparently some parts basically required abseiling! They were all very muddy too, so it looked pretty miserable all round.

    Near the summit is an area known as the Mossy Forest which we headed over to: it's basically a forest that faces into the prevailing winds, and so it's constantly damp and, well, mossy, owing to fairly constant rain. Thankfully it wasn't raining when we were there, but it was definitely high up in the clouds and we couldn't see much. The walking trail through the forest was quite nice though, lots of trees and moss to check out.

    We had a good time just chilling out and chatting with our new friends about various places in Asia we'd all been to. The Scot was travelling for a year and soon to head to Melbourne and hopefully pick up some work, while the Germans were spending six weeks in Malaysia and Thailand over their uni holidays. Eventually decided to head back down and the guys piled in too, which didn't bother us at all.

    By the end of the 25 minute descent the brakes were a bit smelly, but not on fire or anything. Felt very sorry for a pair of Italian girls we'd seen hiking in the Mossy Forest - they were muddy and tired looking, having evidently walked up to the summit and were now descending via the road. They flagged us down to ask for a lift as well, and looked absolutely crushed when they saw we already had five in the car!! Almost considered going back for them once the guys had bailed out of the car back at the main road, but they were a bit too high up. Sorry girls!

    After a quick stop back at the hotel to change a bird-poo-splattered shirt, we headed south again to the Lakehouse Hotel as it was now approaching 4pm. We ordered the high tea special and took a seat overlooking the very brown lake (and the main road, doh). Happy to confirm that the High Tea was excellent: various sandwiches, scones with jam and cream, grapes and strawberries, carrot cake, banana cake, and lemon tarts. And of course unlimited tea! I've had more tea today than in the past year I think.

    Had to move inside during our high tea as a downpour moved through, but we rather enjoyed the interior of the hotel as it was done up classic mountain chalet style. Very old school furniture and decor with big fireplaces, and for all we know the items may well be genuine antiques! It certainly didn't feel fake.

    After a good long relax and unwind, we headed back to the hotel around 6pm resolved to have a very small dinner. After a snooze and a Skype with the Cleavers (where we discovered Schnitzel was in big trouble for digging up and eating some expensive tulip bulbs!!), I headed out and grabbed us some takeaway naan for dinner. I guess that counts as a light meal?

    Overall a much better day today than last night's entrance had promised. We'd also realised that Sunday night probably meant traffic jams of Malaysians on weekends away (or even just day trips), and that during the week things were likely to be a bit quieter. Again the tourists here are mostly Malaysians and Europeans; no Australians or Americans to be found, and the Chinese tour buses just seem to stick to the same handful of places. There's hundreds of strawberry farms to look at, so we can easily avoid them! Perfect.
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  • Second day exploring the Highlands. Back to our favourite food haunt again because why not - the food's cheap and quite tasty! First stop on the agenda today was a waterfall just north of the main town.

    We parked the car and hiked the 500m or so out to the waterfall but it was a bit depressing: lots of rubbish floating in the plunge pool, and plenty more garbage in the rapids, so we didn't stick around. Back to the car where we headed further north to another tea plantation, this one just near the mountain road we'd driven up the day before. Very similar set up, with a cafe, a viewpoint and a store, but this one also had the processing factory and a decent museum about the company and the tea-making process. Quite interesting, though the view definitely wasn't as good as the previous day.

    Stopped in the cafe for an early-ish lunch of tea and savoury pastries - Shandos liked her spicy sausage roll, but my chicken pie was a bit average. We drove further north to a Lavender farm, where obviously huge tracts of lavender are grown. They also had a lot of other crops like strawberries, grapes, and a few types of flowers like petunias and gerberas. We hung around here for a while and enjoyed a lavender ice cream, which was nice but a little like eating one of those fancy soap stores!

    On our way back south to Tanah Rata we stopped at a marketplace designed almost entirely for locals. Lots of fruit and vegetables for sale, and hardly any tourist crap which was nice. We bought a punnet of strawberries for 3 ringgit, and then headed back to the hotel for an afternoon rest, enjoying a cup of tea with our strawberries.

    By now it was around 3:30, and we were realising that we'd explored most of what the Highlands had to offer; at least in terms of what we were interested in! So we chilled out in the room for a couple of hours, before heading out to dinner. For a change we decided to have Chinese steamboat, which is basically a large pot of broth on a small gas burner in your table. You get raw ingredients (meat, noodles etc) and put them in the boiling broth, fishing them out once they're cooked. Then you eat the ingredients with the soup - delicious. And just what we needed to warm up on a cold, blustery evening.

    Back to the room fairly early for bed - it's our last night here and we're not sure where we'll be sleeping tomorrow night!
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  • By late yesterday we'd realised that although the Cameron Highlands were very pretty in places, not doing any serious trekking meant that we'd rather over-estimated the amount of things to do. So instead of just hanging around at a loose end, we decided to head back to Ipoh.

    Had breakfast in our usual Indian spot, then hopped in the car and started driving back in no particular hurry. The drive wasn't as bad as I remembered it being, but it still took quite a while. We arrived back in Ipoh at lunchtime, and decided we'd head back to the same Chinese restaurant as the other day for more popiah, but tragically it was closed.

    We mournfully had a Hainan chicken rice dish instead, which was still fairly good. Rather than heading straight for the hotel, there was one last spot on the outskirts of Ipoh we wanted to see - some cave paintings up to 4000 years old. We drove out to the spot, parked in a nearby petrol station and headed off on the walk. Although the paintings themselves are on public land, there's no way to access them without trespassing across the polo club's fields. I think there's a dispute between the government and the club about how much the access rights are worth, so of course nothing gets done.

    We scaled a couple of fences, wandered across the fields past grazing horses, climbed a very steep 200+ set of stairs, and finally arrived at the rock art. It was very nice, similar in style to the Aboriginal art from up in Kakadu and similar places. Depictions of animals, people, hunters and so on. And very well preserved, despite being very close to a major city. It seems like not many people come through here (though of course those who do seem to scratch out a mark of some sort). Thankfully the paintings were higher up the cliff face and couldn't be reached by vandals - at least not dedicated vandals without ladders and so on.

    Once we'd had our fill we drove back to the hotel - we'd decided to book in to the same place as we were quite happy with it on our earlier stay. This room is on the 9th floor and not quite as big, but still a good size. Spent the rest of the afternoon Skyping and doing internet stuff.

    Headed out for dinner that night to a restaurant called Plan B which was quite modern and fancy by Malaysian standards. I had a fried chicken burger and Shandos had a salad. Back to the hotel fairly early where we took advantage of the free movies on demand, and watched the 2016 Jungle Book remake. Reasonable entertainment for 90 minutes!
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  • Time to leave Ipoh and the north of Malaysia. Our train to KL was at 1pm, and we'd arranged to meet the car hire man at the station around 12pm. After a hotel breakfast we were a little lost for ideas, but decided to re-visit the park we'd been to a few days earlier (with the man-made waterfall and so on).

    So into the car we got, and headed off. The park was a ghost town today, a sharp contrast to the busyness of our previous visit which was on a weekend. There were only a few people in the place as far as we could tell! Decided to spring the 6 ringgit for the boat fare to the far shore, where there was a large park with several attractions, sort of like a mini version of Sydney Park.

    We had a nice slow stroll around, enjoying the gardens, the flowers, and the look-outs. Discovered that there was a feeding zoo with deer, who looked very non-plussed by us, as well as a pair of emus (or maybe ostrich, I can't tell) who didn't look very healthy or happy. It looked like both of them had completely picked all the feathers off their hides around near their bums, and it looked awful. We didn't stick around long as it was depressing.

    Lots of garden staff around as well cleaning up, since it looked like a storm had blown through the previous night. We'd noticed some wind and rain, but this was something larger - branches down, leaves blown everywhere etc. We left them to it, and after an hour or so of wandering the park we headed for the exit. Back to town by 11am where we had an early lunch, ensuring that the popiah staff hadn't sold out yet - it hadn't!

    We shared three plates between us - maybe a little greedy but they aren't that big either. We made the station by 11:45 where we parked, found our rental car man (who didn't even look at the car or petrol levels, just grabbed the keys, shook my hand and left!), then settled in at the station to wait. Lots of people waiting for a different train including a usual group of shoving Chinese grannies, but when our train arrived hardly anyone got on! In a carriage that probably seated 50, I think it was just us and another couple nearby.

    Nothing really to report from the journey, just reading this time - up to 60% of War & Peace! Didn't really do much looking at the scenery, since this is the second time we've done this route by rail, and the nearby highway is one we've done a few times as well (we got a bus from KL to Penang via Ipoh in our 2015 Malaysia trip).

    Arriving at KL, it was quite easy to find our apartment as it's right near the station. Something different for us this time - we've booked an AirBnB, which is a sort of Uber for hotels. People use it to rent out spare rooms/units, meaning that you aren't staying in a hotel with all that that entails. We were staying in a moderately fancy 2-bedroom apartment, in an enormous complex of buildings. We're on level 22 of 38, and there's an identical building next door. Reading room and entertaining area on the roof, enormous pool, gym and sauna on level 7, plus a convenience store and a small cafe too. Not bad!

    Our hosts are a young French couple who have lived in Malaysia for six months - the apartment is enormous and has two bathrooms, so it shouldn't be a problem to share with them. After heading upstairs and having a brief chat, we headed out to explore the area while she went back to work. We're staying in Little India which has a few interesting shops and stuff, so we had a look around. But there was less to see than we expected, so we went back to the apartment building and jumped in the pool instead.

    After a nice long relaxing swim we went out for dinner. Right next door to us is the Nu Sentral mall, an enormous 10-level shopping centre that's connected to the KL Sentral station (which is where we'll be getting Grand Prix trains from too). We headed in and perused the fancier food options on the upper floors, eventually going with the Manhattan Fish Market where Shandos had a salmon & mash dish while I had fish & chips of course.
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  • The main reason for coming back to KL was of course, the Grand Prix! I haven't been to a Formula 1 Grand Prix since 2005 (and 1999 before that), and Shandos had never been, so we decided it would be something different to try! Today was the first day of a three day race weekend, and would involve some support races and a couple of F1 practice sessions.

    We'd looked at the schedule and decided that since there were a few gaps here and there, we'd skip the first F1 practice at 10am, and arrive in time for the second practice at 2pm. So we had a leisurely morning in our apartment (our hosts were both out at work), then set off for the track around 12pm. We weren't sure how long it would take to get out there, although we knew the circuit was next door to the airport which is about 50km from the city centre.

    First stop though, was lunch, and we went to a small cafe on the edge of the Nu Sentral shopping centre. The food was decent (I had a chicken & avocado wrap and Shandos had salad), but it took quite a while to arrive as apparently the kitchen was short staffed. So it wasn't until after 1pm that we arrived in the station, bought our 3-day transport ticket and ran downstairs to jump on a train just in time.

    The ride out is about 30 minutes, but we then had to get a connecting shuttle bus from the airport to the course (about 20 minutes, even though it's literally 2km away as the crow flies), and then from the carpark drop off point we had to get the circuit shuttle up to the main gate which was about 200 metres or so, and honestly not really worth bothering with.

    Straight through security and nobody even glanced at our tickets which seemed odd, until we discovered later that Friday was free entry for everyone, since the practice sessions aren't usually that exciting. All the rigmarole with connecting shuttle buses and so on meant that we didn't arrive at the track until about 2:15pm, when practice had already started.

    We headed over to the nearest stand and had a look; Shandos's mouth nearly hit the floor when the first car came flying out of a turn and accelerated! The noise definitely isn't what it used to be, but holy shit those cars move quickly. Accelerating, braking and turning so sharply, it's really something out of this world and has to be seen to be believed.

    After watching for a few minutes we decided to find our proper grandstand, as we'd bought tickets for the Tower. Unfortunately for us, we soon discovered that it was at the far end of the main straight, so we had to walk 1300m or so to get there! At least there was interesting stuff along the way, tents with games, promotions, the usual marketing guff and so on. We also stopped a few times to watch the action.

    Finally arrived at our "seats" (the stand we're in has unreserved seating), and nearly 90 minutes from leaving lunch to sitting down. At least we'd done a dry run and definitely wouldn't miss anything important!

    Enjoyed watching the rest of the session as the cars zoomed around, trying out a few different seating positions as well. It's a unique view, since you're essentially on the apex of a hairpin turn, so cars approach from behind you on the right, slow down from 350kmh to 120, go around the hairpin in front of you, then accelerate off down the main straight. You can also see various other bits of the circuit too, since it's in a natural amphitheatre type thing.

    F1 practice finished at 3:30pm, and we relaxed and wandered while they turned the track over for the next support event - a GP2 qualifying session. GP2 is very similar to Formula 1, just less powerful cars and less experienced drivers. The cars don't have the latest F1 eco requirements either, meaning that they're naturally aspirated (not turbo-charged), and rev unbelievably high - up to 18,000 RPM in some cases. As a result, they were much much louder than the F1 cars, and our ears were soon taking a beating as we had no earplugs.

    With no particular dog in the fight we decided to call it a day, and started the long trip back to KL. After checking out a few of the displays and stuff at the circuit, we didn't hop on a shuttle until nearly 5pm. And we didn't realise that the circuit shuttle is only one direction, meaning we had to do 90% of a circle to get back to the carpark where our shuttle to the airport train station was waiting. Something to skip for tomorrow.

    Not much else to report - we got home without incident and had a quick cheap dinner in the food court inside KL Sentral mall. Arrived back at the apartment just in time to farewell our hosts who are having a weekend away on Malaysia's east coast. They'll be back on Monday night, since it's a long weekend here - start of Islamic New Year celebrations. So in the meantime we've got someone else's large apartment to ourselves!!
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  • Another day out at the track. Decided to arrive earlier than yesterday to catch the third Formula 1 practice session, ahead of the qualifying session late in the day. On the train by 10am and arrived at our seats around 11:30, just in time for the session. Great fun watching the cars again, though nothing of any particular note happened during the session.

    Had a chicken roll for lunch which was OK, but decided to skip on the beers. Watched a GP2 race with some good action happening, followed by a touring car race featuring race versions of large-ish hatchback cars (Volkswagen Golf, Honda Civic etc). Really good racing action here since the margins for error are a lot wider, meaning that cars trade positions much more frequently. Also one of them had an engine explosion on the starting grid which was pretty funny.

    It was a long hot afternoon, though not quite as warm as the previous day. Finally at 5pm it was time for Formula 1 qualifying, and the cars absolutely flew around the track. Australia's Daniel Ricciardo set the early pace with a quick time, but ultimately ended up fourth on the grid behind the Mercedes of Hamilton and Rosberg, and Vettel's Ferrari.

    Left the track around 6:15 on the long journey back to Kuala Lumpur, and stopped in again at the food court for dinner.
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  • After the island I spent my time again in Georgetown, because it's one of my favourite places I've been whilst travelling. And as it happens to be the first international reggae festival was held in that area, so obviously I had to go!