In Search Of Wallace – Part 7: East Java


Continuing with my In Search Of Wallace series, last week I travelled to Surabaya in Indonesia to try to retrace Alfred Russel Wallace’s footsteps in East Java which he visited in the summer of 1861.


In italics below are extracts from The Malay Archipelago in which he describes the area.

“The Dutch mail steamer brought me from Ternate to Sourabaya, the chief town and port in the eastern part of Java, and after a fortnight spent in packing up and sending off my last collections, I started on a short journey into the interior. Travelling in Java is very luxurious but very expensive, the only way being to hire or borrow a carriage, and then pay half a crown a mile for post-horses…”


Mr Yudha, my driver for this trip. Oddly enough, I found travelling here expensive too. I had to rent a car with driver in order to visit all the places mentioned in Wallace’s book. Instead of half a crown, I paid Rupiah 1,155,000 for six hours rental which sounds a lot (USD 88) but is probably cheaper than Wallace’s cost in today’s equivalent value.

“As this kind of travelling world not suit my means, I determined on making only a short journey to the district at the foot of Mount Arjuna, where I was told there were extensive forests, and where I hoped to be able to make some good collections.”


The extensive forests are mostly no more, replaced with paddy fields, housing and industrial estates. Gunung Arjuna is a dormant volcano (3,339m) connected by a saddle to its active neighbour, Gunung Welirang (3,156m).

“I stopped at Modjokerto, a small town about forty miles south of Sourabaya, and the nearest point on the high road to the district I wished to visit. I had a letter of introduction to Mr. Ball, an Englishman, long resident in Java and married to a Dutch lady; and he kindly invited me to stay with him until I could fix on a place to suit me. A Dutch Assistant Resident as well as a Regent or native Javanese prince lived here. The town was neat, and had a nice open grassy space like a village green, on which stood a magnificent fig-tree (allied to the Banyan of India, but more lofty), under whose shade a kind of market is continually held, and where the inhabitants meet together to lounge and chat.”


Mojokerto today is still fairly neat though its narrow streets are clogged with cars and motorbikes.This colonial era house could perhaps have been home for the Dutch Assistant Resident, though not the same one that Wallace saw, since the date on the gable is 1912.


This is probably the open grassy space that Wallace mentioned, now called Alun-Alun Mojokerto. The magnificent fig-tree has gone and is replaced with a monument bearing the text to Indonesia’s declaration of independence.

“The day after my arrival, Mr. Ball drove me over to the village of Modjo-agong. On our way we stayed to look at a fragment of the ruins of the ancient city of Modjo-pahit, consisting of two lofty brick masses, apparently the sides of a gateway.”


Almost certainly, Wallace was referring to this famous gateway, known as Gapura Wringin Lawang and one of many Majapahit Empire archaeological remains in this area.

“The extreme perfection and beauty of the brickwork astonished me. The bricks are exceedingly fine and hard, with sharp angles and true surfaces. They are laid with great exactness, without visible mortar or cement, yet somehow fastened together so that the joints are hardly perceptible, and sometimes the two surfaces coalesce in a most incomprehensible manner. Such admirable brickwork I have never seen before or since. There was no sculpture here, but an abundance of bold projections and finely-worked mouldings.”


This close up of a restored section of the gateway is an example of the fine brickwork which Wallace admired so much. Earthquakes and 155 years of exposure to the elements have taken their toll on the structure since Wallace’s day.

“Traces of buildings exist for many miles in every direction, and almost every road and pathway shows a foundation of brickwork beneath it–the paved roads of the old city.”


Relief map at the museum with white markers showing the locations of Majapahit remains in the vicinity of Trowulan.

“It is much to be regretted that the Dutch Government does not take vigorous steps for the preservation of these ruins from the destroying agency of tropical vegetation; and for the collection of the fine sculptures which are everywhere scattered over the land.”


There is now a museum (Majapahit Museum, Trowulan) where hundreds of statues, sculptures and other stone works are displayed. The museum was closed for renovation but an accommodating security guard allowed me to view the outdoor exhibits.

“In the house of the Waidono or district chief at Modjo- agong, I saw a beautiful figure carved in high relief out of a block of lava, and which had been found buried in the ground near the village. On my expressing a wish to obtain some such specimen, Mr. B. asked the chief for it, and much to my surprise he immediately gave it me. It represented the Hindu goddess Durga, called in Java, Lora Jonggrang (the exalted virgin).”


According to The Alfred Russel Wallace Website this carving found its way into the Charterhouse School Museum in Godalming, Surrey, probably donated to the school by Wallace who live nearby. The carving was subsequently auctioned off by Charterhouse and somebody paid £2629 for it at Sotheby’s in 2002. Presumably it is now in private hands somewhere. If you would like your own deity sculpture there are a number of roadside studios close to Wringin Lawang where skilled craftsmen could probably knock you up a copy for a reasonable cost.

“The road to Wonosalem led through a magnificent forest in the depths of which we passed a fine ruin of what appeared to have been a royal tomb or mausoleum. It is formed entirely of stone, and elaborately carved. Near the base is a course of boldly projecting blocks, sculptured in high relief, with a series of scenes which are probably incidents in the life of the defunct. These are all beautifully executed, some of the figures of animals in particular, being easily recognisable and very accurate. The general design, as far as the ruined state of the upper part will permit of its being seen, is very good, effect being given by an immense number and variety of projecting or retreating courses of squared stones in place of mouldings. The size of this structure is about thirty feet square by twenty high, and as the traveller comes suddenly upon it on a small elevation by the roadside, overshadowed by gigantic trees, overrun with plants and creepers, and closely backed by the gloomy forest, he is struck by the solemnity and picturesque beauty of the scene, and is led to ponder on the strange law of progress, which looks so like retrogression, and which in so many distant parts of the world has exterminated or driven out a highly artistic and constructive race, to make room for one which, as far as we can judge, is very far its inferior.”

Here are some other historic sites which I visited in this area which Wallace may also have seen:


Pendopo Agung (a recent construction but on an ancient sacred site).


Bajang Ratu Temple.


Candi Tikus.

“Wonosalem is situated about a thousand feet above the sea, but unfortunately it is at a distance from the forest, and is surrounded by coffee plantations, thickets of bamboo, and coarse grasses. It was too far to walk back daily to the forest, and in other directions I could find no collecting ground for insects. The place was, however, famous for peacocks, and my boy soon shot several of these magnificent birds, whose flesh we found to be tender, white, and delicate, and similar to that of a turkey.”


“The Java peacock is a different species from that of India, the neck being covered with scale-like green feathers, and the crest of a different form; but the eyed train is equally large and equally beautiful.”

This is a view of modern day Wonosalem. Not likely to find many wild peacocks here these days.

“After a week at Wonosalem, I returned to the foot of the mountain, to a village named Djapannan, which was surrounded by several patches of forest, and seemed altogether pretty well spited to my pursuits. The chief of the village had prepared two small bamboo rooms on one side of his own courtyard to accommodate me, and seemed inclined to assist me as much as he could.”

This is how Japanan looks today. Wallace might well have stayed right here, in the Village Head’s Office, though of course the compound has been modernised since.

“The weather was exceedingly hot and dry, no rain having fallen for several months, and there was, in consequence, a great scarcity of insects, and especially of beetles. I therefore devoted myself chiefly to obtaining a good set of the birds, and succeeded in making a tolerable collection. I also obtained here a specimen of the rare green jungle-fowl (Gallus furcatus), whose back and neck are beautifully scaled with bronzy feathers, and whose smooth-edged oval comb is of a violet purple colour, changing to green at the base. It is also remarkable in possessing a single large wattle beneath its throat, brightly coloured in three patches of red, yellow, and blue.”


Gallus Furcatus

“The common jungle-cock (Gallus bankiva) was also obtained here. It is almost exactly like a common game-cock, but the voice is different, being much shorter and more abrupt; hence its native name is Bekeko.”


Gallus Bankiva

Six different kinds of woodpeckers and four kingfishers were found here, the fine hornbill, Buceros lunatus, more than four feet long, and the pretty little lorikeet, Loriculus pusillus, scarcely more than as many inches.


Javan Rhinoceros Hornbill


Javan Parakeet

“In a month’s collecting at Wonosalem and Djapannan I accumulated ninety-eight species of birds, but a most miserable lot of insects. I then determined to leave East Java and try the more moist and luxuriant districts at the western extremity of the island. “


I don’t know if it was there during Wallace’s time, but, if it was, he could have saved himself a lot of trouble if he had travelled on further to Malang where there is an extensive bird market selling many beautiful species such as rainbow lorikeets, oriental bay owls, canaries, Indonesian songbirds and this kingfisher.

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We all know about scarecrows but what do you call this effigy, suspended high amid the trees in a neighbourhood garden here in Malaysia?

Perhaps it is a scaremonkey, intended to discourage our local macaques from stealing the homeowner’s ripening coconuts. But monkeys are pretty clever creatures. Will they be fooled by some empty clothing? They seem to have very good eyesight and are alert to the slightest movement. Maybe a scaremonkey flapping in the breeze will be enough to deter them.

Or perhaps it is just a decoration to provide atmosphere for halloween later this month.

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Guinea Fowl Farm – Semenyih, Selangor


Guinea Fowl

Ever tried to eat Guinea Fowl? Guess what, they taste just like chicken, only better. More flavourful and more nutritious. At least, that’s what I’m told.


Casey Teh, owner of Ostrich Wonderland and The Guinea Fowl Farm.

Yesterday I was invited by Mr. Caseh Teh, the owner of Ostrich Wonderland in Semenyih, Selangor, to revisit his farm and take a look at his guinea fowl and poultry business, which operates on the same site, under the official name of Mutiara Chicken.


It was nice to see the ostriches again, who were looking contented and well looked after in their spacious enclosures.


Chickaboo and friends sheltering from the hot sun.

Since my last visit in 2013 (read blog here), one of the ostriches has become a celebrity. She’s named Chickaboo, the runaway pet ostrich who became a YouTube sensation when filmed jogging down Kuala Lumpur’s Federal Highway after escaping from a moving vehicle. It must have been a scary experience for poor Chickaboo but she is now enjoying her film star status at Ostrich Wonderland.


Newly hatched ostrich chicks, just a couple of days old. They cannot stand up yet.

While ostriches are popular as a tourist attraction, Mr. Teh says they are not so profitable to farm commercially and in particular they do not like Malaysia’s rainy weather, being originally more accustomed to the arid regions of Africa. For this reason, Mr. Teh has diversified into farming guinea fowl, various popular and exotic chicken breeds, goats and other animals.

He currently has around 5,000 guinea fowls. They are mostly of the grey, helmeted variety.  They are gentle and timid and you have to move slowly around them to avoid disturbing and agitating the whole flock.


A confusion of keets.

Did you know?

The correct collective for a group of guinea fowl is a confusion which sounds rather silly but is quite apt given their skittish behaviour. The cute baby guinea fowl are called keets.

Guinea fowl originate from African tropical forests. They are hardy and disease resistant which makes them easy to raise. They are an active avian producing tender, nutritious meat which is more tasty than regular chicken. The meat contains more amino acids and less fat and cholesterol.

Mr. Teh told me that an ambassador from a West African country is a good customer of his for guinea fowl meat saying that the gamey flavour is more popular with Africans than white meat chicken.


Silky Chickens – Used for soup.

Mutiara Chicken stocks a wide variety of free-range chickens including:

  • Kampung Chicken
  • San Huang Chicken
  • Mini Cochin Chicken
  • Curly Feather Chicken
  • Onagadori (Yokohama)
  • China Black Chicken
  • Wen Chang Chicken
  • Batik Chicken
  • Castrated Chicken – Ayam Sunat
  • White Silky Chicken
  • White Polish Chicken
  • Black Polish Chicken

The castrated chickens are said to be sought after for their flavour while the ingredients for Hainan Chicken and black chicken soup can be obtained here. All the birds are slaughtered onsite under hygienic conditions and frozen meat is on sale in the shop.

Ring Necked Pheasant can also be seen here as well as turkey (Ayam Belanda).  Ayam Belanda translates as Dutch chicken. Malaysians like to name animals after the Dutch  – the Malay word for proboscis monkey is Orang Belanda meaning Dutch Man!)


Gaggles of geese and ducks wander around the farm, giving a very tranquil, pastoral atmosphere to the place.


All the plants growing on the farm seem to have their purpose and uses. This clump of bamboo for example provides shade to the pony and chickens while dried bamboo leaves make comfortable bedding material for the hatchling enclosures.


Mulberry Bush. The fruit is sharp and tasty, like a blackberry.

Mr. Teh used to grow organic vegetables but he found that they require too much attention to prevent insect attack and, once ripe, they have a short shelf life. So instead he has given over the space to grow mulberry bushes which bear edible fruit while the leaves are used to make healthy mulberry tea.


Prize billy goat with his own collar. The farm has a thriving herd of goats producing fresh goats’ milk daily.


The shop at Ostrich Wonderland sells decorative ostrich eggs, chicken eggs, meats from their various birds, essence of ostrich with ginseng and cordyceps, mulberry leaves for tea and mulberry seedlings.

Visitors are welcome to tour the farm as part of their Ostrich Wonderland admission. School excursions are also welcome by prior arrangement.

You can find details of location, opening hours and admission fee on my Malaysia Traveller website.

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Dubai Golden Investment Advice

While in Dubai this week I spotted some unusual graffiti.


This educated vandal is seemingly torn between becoming a graffiti artist or a financial consultant. Perhaps he/she should stick to the latter as this investment advice could turn out to be a good tip in the current economic environment, at least as far as gold, the most famous of the heavy metals, is concerned.

Gold prices are determined mainly by sentiment and prices tend to rise when there are concerns about global financial stability, wars or political turbulence and when the returns on other investments are declining. Currently, warning lights are flashing on a number of indicators. Many people are commenting that ‘the world has gone bonkers’.

With bank deposits and bonds earning nothing and stock markets looking toppy, investors are searching for safe havens for their savings. Hoarding some gold as part of a balanced portfolio might be the way to go.


If so, Dubai remains a good place to buy some. The Gold Souk never fails to impress with everything on sale from gold wedding jewellery to solid gold bars.


Or, for the person who has everything and likes to flaunt, plated 24K gold limited edition i-Pads, i-Phones and other show-off accessories can be purchased from a shop in the arcade of the Radisson Blu Hotel in Deira, Dubai. They don’t contain much precious metal but may have rarity value in the future.

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Malaysia’s Route 66


When we hear the words ‘Route 66’ we naturally think of the famous highway in USA, the one where you ‘get your kicks’ according to the 1946 song. That road originally ran for 2500 miles heading west from Chicago through the heart of America all the way to Santa Monica, California.

It is less well known that Malaysia has its own Route 66, in Kelantan, a much more modest affair only 96 km long, running from Jeli to Dabong and on to Kampung Bukit Tebok where it merges with the Central Spine Road.

Malaysia’s Route 66 might be less famous that its American namesake but it does boast some fine scenery and a couple of natural attractions along the way.

Here is the map (click top right corner to enlarge):


Jeli to Dabong is 51km. Route 66 continues for a further 45km after Dabong before joining up with the Central Spine Road.

The route begins at the small town of Jeli, not far from the Thai border.


Heading south you soon approach the mountainous landscape of Gunung Stong State Park. I think these are the twin peaks of Gunung Stong (1433m) and Gunung Ayam (1504m).


The State Park comprises 21,950 hectares of virgin jungle reserve and is intended to serve as a conservation area for rare creatures such as wild elephant, tiger, hornbills, serow and tapir.


Despite the State Park’s protected status, I noticed some logging activity going on in various places.


This is the Sungai Balah, a tributary of the Sungai Galas and Kelantan River which eventually flows into the sea near Kota Bharu.

The Jelawang Waterfall (or Stong Waterfall) is estimated to be 300 m high, one of Malaysia’s tallest, and easily visible from the main road at Dabong.

It is a short drive to the Gunung Stong State Park HQ where there is a ticket office, guides for hire, a cafeteria, toilets and accommodation. The resort, known as Stong Hill Resort, has seen better days but appears to offer basic accommodation for adventurous types.


Termites seem to have eaten this chalet and all that remains are the concrete stilts and a toilet.

I paid RM 2 to enter the park as far as the waterfall. If you want to climb Gunung Stong you need to pay more and hire a guide.


The waterfall is certainly spectacular although difficult to photograph in its entirety from this vantage point.

A party of local school boys had fun making the rickety suspension bridge wobble while I was walking across it.


Next I stopped briefly in the quiet town of Dabong. Looking back from Dabong you can see the waterfall with Gunung Stong above.

There is a railway station (Jungle Railway) at Dabong and most tourists wishing to visit Stong arrive by train.


A short distance outside Dabong is the Gua Ikan Recreational Park. This 150 million year old cave complex includes three caves, Gua Keris, Gua Batu Susun and Gua Pagar.


I couldn’t find a way into the caves which did not involve getting very wet. The recreational park itself was badly overgrown. If I ever go back to this area I would hire a guide to take me up Gunung Stong and show me around the caves.

Malaysia’s Route 66 is a scenic drive. Let’s hope the logging companies do not spoil the scenery. It seems the forests are losing their battle with loggers but sometimes the trees find a way of striking back!


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High Road Across Malaysia – Conclusion


This post records the final section of my coast to coast journey across Malaysia via Cameron Highlands, Gua Musang & Lake Kenyir.


After a Thrifty Traveller breakfast of roti canai and kopi kosong for just RM2, I left Gua Musang for the nearby village of Pulai.

Kampung Pulai is famed for its Guan Yin temple, known as the Water and Moon Temple, thought to be over 400 years old, making it perhaps the oldest in Malaysia. Hakka Chinese settled here more than 600 years ago in search of gold and they maintained their traditional Hakka culture, largely undisturbed by the outside world until the first tarmac road to the village was built in 1988.

The village has a lovely setting, alongside a small river and a lake, surrounded by rubber plantations and overlooked by spectacular limestone hills. On the opposite side of the lake, facing the village is one such outcrop called Princess Hill which contains a cave with a Guan Yin statue. To reach the cave I crossed the suspension bridge over the river and walked around the lake.

The rubber trees appeared to be well looked after with tapping still going on. There was a large buzzing hive of wild bees on one of the trees which I was careful not to disturb.

I arrived just as the elderly caretaker was unlocking the steps up to the cave.

From the top of the steps there was a good view looking back over the village in the early morning mist.

Inside the cave were a couple of large stalagmite formations, one of which has been transformed into a Guan Yin statue.


After this slight detour I returned to my trans Malaysia route, leaving Gua Musang on the Central Spine Road (highway 8) for some distance before turning onto Jalan Felda Aring (1744), a minor road serving the Federal Land Development Authority (FELDA) plantations and settlements in this part of Kelantan. This was the section of the journey that I was most worried about because I was unsure what condition the road would be in and whether it would be passable. It would have been a long way back if I had to turn around. In the end my concerns were unwarranted because it was in excellent condition and with very light traffic it was a pleasure to drive.

Throughout this trip I encountered a lot of logging lorries, far more than I remember seeing on previous travels. There are newspaper reports of rampant illegal logging going on in parts of Malaysia. I don’t know where these particular trucks obtained their logs. Most of the surrounding area looked like it was deforested some time ago to make way for palm oil plantations.


Crossing over from Kelantan into Terengganu brought more lush vegetation as I approached Lake Kenyir. This massive man-made lake was created between 1978 and 1985 by damming the Kenyir River. It is the largest artificial lake in Malaysia with an area of 260,000 hectares. 


A new attraction near Lake Kenyir is the Kenyir Elephant Conservation Village. I didn’t go in but I gather it is somewhat similar to Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary.


At the lakeside itself, activities include the Kenyir Water Park, boating and fishing. They have some rather ugly houseboats for rent here but I feel Malaysia Tourism could do a lot more to bring in tourists. Some Kerala style houseboats for example would be a good addition. The Lake Kenyir Resort Hotel was closed for renovation.


Penarik Beach – A nice place to relax after a long drive.

From Lake Kenyir, the East Coast of Malaysia is within easy striking distance. I would have chosen to end my coast to coast journey at Penarik which has one of best stretches of beach in the area. In the end I didn’t go to Penarik this time but continued my travels up to Kota Bharu as I had other places to visit which I’ll write about in future posts.

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High Road Across Malaysia – Part 2


In this post I continue my coast to coast journey across Malaysia via Cameron Highlands, Gua Musang & Lake Kenyir. See Part 1 for the map.

After a 6am breakfast at Kampar I set out for the Cameron Highlands via the old Tapah road (Route 59).

First stop was a quick look around the Kuala Woh Recreational Forest. It is tucked away in a hidden valley at the foot of the Titiwangsa mountain range. The early morning air was refreshingly cool but the camping, chalet and toilet facilities looked rather run down and there were too many mosquitos around. The river looked clean enough and the whole place smelt of tasty durians since August is the peak season for this pungent fruit.


Next stop was Lata Iskandar, one of Malaysia’s most accessible waterfalls being located right next the busy road. This place can get busy at weekends and holidays but since it was still early I had it to myself. I climbed the steps to get a good view of the upper cascade. Everywhere was clean with no litter so somebody had been doing a good job.


From here up until the Cameron Highlands there were numerous roadside stalls selling handicraft items, fresh fruit and vegetables. Most of the vendors appeared to be from the Orang Asli community.


Ringlet, Cameron Highlands

Where Perak borders Pahang the Cameron Highlands begins with the town of Ringlet, probably the least developed of the three Cameron Highlands settlements (Ringlet, Tanah Rata and Brinchang) at an altitude of around 1100 metres above sea level. My car thermometer displayed a very comfortable reading of 20°C, which is about the average daytime temperature for this high altitude district, cooling to a chilly 14°C at night.


The Lakehouse Cameron Highlands. Hotel, Restaurant, Bar & Spa

It has been a few years since I’ve been to the Cameron Highlands. The towns themselves have not changed much. For some years they have been rather ugly, sprawling places with too much traffic. Anyone expecting a quaint colonial hill station would be disappointed although there are still some nice parts such as The Lakehouse  Hotel and the manicured tea estates. What has changed in recent years however is the explosion of land clearance for agricultural purposes, some of it illegal, which has resulted in vast swathes of the Highlands being covered in polytunnels (see this close up satellite view as an example).

Screen Shot 2016-08-27 at 6.58.17 PM

The Cameron Highlands are covered with plastic greenhouses and shade netting to protect fruits and vegetables from the elements and insects.

While it is generally a good thing that Malaysia should grow more of its own flowers, vegetables and fruit, the forest clearing and hillside levelling has been done in an uncontrolled way resulting in serious flooding and landslide problems in recent years.

While in Brinchang I took the opportunity to visit the Time Tunnel, an interesting museum crammed with photographs, memorabilia collections and artefacts from days gone by.


Beware of the tapirs. An endangered species, the chances of meeting a tapir in the wild are close to zero.

At Blue Valley I turned onto the Gua Musang road (185) and soon found myself in Kelantan state. ‘Polytunnel-land’ continued for several more kilometres before finally turning into a more natural landscape as the road began its slow descent from the uplands. It was a good road, partly dual carriageway and elsewhere with frequent overtaking lanes, not that they were needed as there was hardly any traffic. A great road for trying out your new motorbike.

The town of Gua Musang is the administrative hub for the district of the same name which covers a large chunk of southern Kelantan. Until the Central Spine Road (Federal Route 8) was built, Gua Musang was a very isolated place and could only be reached via the Jungle Railway.

During the Emergency, its isolation made it a target for the Communist bandits who attacked the township with a 300 strong force and seized control on 17th July 1948, killing one policeman and capturing another 15. Their aim was to establish a liberated zone from which to extend their grip on the country. A relief force of army and police, supported by the RAF, successfully recaptured the town five days later.


Gua Musang means Cave of the Civet Cats (or foxes). The limestone hills here are honeycombed with holes and the main cave behind the old railway station was believed to be home to a pack of mysterious civet cats, spawning various ghostly legends such as that portrayed in the 1960s comedy thriller film Pontianak Gua Musang.


Being one of Malaysia’s more conservative states, alcohol is not so readily available in much of Kelantan. This traditional Chinese liquor shop in Gua Musang however had a surprisingly wide selection of spirits and potions.

I stayed overnight in Gua Musang at MyHome Hotel which was perfectly adequate apart from having no window. You can’t expect too much for RM 70 per night. On my receipt I noticed they had written my address as British Indian Ocean Territory. That should confuse Tourism Malaysia’s visitor statistics if they monitor such things.

I’ll continue Part 3 of my High Road Across Malaysia journey in the next blog post.

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