We had a three day stopover in Singapore on our way to Sydney in 2,000 and had a arranged for a trip to Malaysia and a fishing village. We head out to the north of the island and have to go through customs (so more form filling, stamps in passports exit forms, re-entry forms . . ) and then over the straits causeway to Johore Baru.
“SELAMAT DATANG KE MALAYSIA Welcome to Malaysia” is written on an arch over the road. We head out along the coast road where there are several cricket pitches. We change guides when we get into Malaysia, our new guide is very well spoken and informative and clearly Malaysian not Singaporean. As well as talking about where we are going he also tells us of the impact of the forest fires in Indonesia a few years before, and of the agreement between Singapore and Malaysia on the supply of fresh water which was up for re-negotiation.
Now we feel that we are in a real tropical environment. Tin shacks next to mansions among the oil palms which are the key crop – replacing rubber. Every part of the tree is used (for cosmetics, fuel oil, fertiliser, . . .) but watch out for nesting cobras (which were introduced to keep the rat population down – they now use barn owls).
Our first stop is at a pewter works, Kilang Membuat Piuter (Eastern Pewter Sdn Bhd). It is on a small industrial estate and has a workshop downstairs and a showroom upstairs. We are given an explanation of how Malaysia is trying to make pewter one of its key industries and are shown how pewter objects were made. The pewter is ladled from a hot wok into a rubber mould. When it has set it is then fettled and polished on a lathe (it looks like a traditional British lathe but they are all made in China). Very labour intensive and reminiscent of factories in the UK fifty or more years ago.
We then move on to an orchid farm. Rather different from the Orchid Gardens in Singapore, much more open and less formal. It is very peaceful with views across to the mountains and plenty of jungle surrounding the fields of orchids. At one point there is a pond with lilies, surrounded by orchids and other plants and with a small summerhouse, which is so relaxing. We spend a bit of time on a viewing platform at the top of a slight hill hearing about how the farm is run and admiring the views.
There are traditional Malaysian wooden huts for us to look round at the entrance and a small shop. We were the only people there. The wooden huts are set off the ground with polished wooden floors and look very light and airy. I get into trouble because I am videoing a cat peeping round the corner on the veranda of one of the huts when I should have been helping buy something in the shop.
Then on to the main destination – Kukup. We drive through forest after forest of date palms, some learning at crazy angles because they are growing in rather soft soil. Some houses are really ramshackle and run down while the one next door was in pristine condition. Many of the wooden and tin huts had roadside stalls in front of them selling fruit.
Kukup is an island covered in mangroves and home to snakes and other nasties – it is rarely visited! The village named after it on the mainland has perhaps a few hundred houses many of them built on stilts over the water. It is 80km from Johore Baru. It had been a smuggling centre but was now a fish farming community and place to buy $10 Rolex’s. Smuggling had attracted pirates (who usually disguised themselves as customs officials). This in turn led to the formation of the triads.
We have a tour of the village by boat. We pass a temple perched over the edge of the water. There is a funeral urn on the deck at the front where the dead of the village are cremated. We then head for a fish farm close by Kukup Island where we see archer fish demonstrating their prowess and other fish being grown for food. There is also a Hawksbill Turtle, which had been caught “by accident” and was “too small to release back into the wild”. It seems that it was more likely destined for the pot although this is vigorously denied. There are a couple of dogs on this floating farm, but we are told that it would be guarded by rather more vicious ones at night.
Fish crabs and rice
We complete our tour and the islands in the distance are pointed out as being part of Indonesia. There is certainly a feeling that wild things could go on here and while we are on this trip a group of tourists are kidnapped from the east coast of Malaysia. Back on dry land we sit at what seems like the end of a short pier and are served a feast which included crabs, fish and rice. A pretty good meal in a very different setting – miles from Singapore in all senses. After a short while wandering around the land side of the village and avoiding purchasing anything from the stalls of glistening watches we head back towards Johore Bahru. In Kukup the jungle is never very far away. I doze on the bus.
Our final stop in Malaysia is a batik centre. We watch a young man carefully drawing designs on silk and then look at the various finished products they had on sale. I give the Visa card some exercise. One of the batik pictures (of a village) is now framed in bamboo and hanging in our hall. We are treated to a drink and melon and soy sauce which is surprisingly tasty. One of the Sultan of Johore’s palaces is on the hill overlooking the batik centre – we drive past but don’t get invited in. So we head across the causeway and through customs again and it is back to Singapore and our hotel.