Day 187: Zen and the art of public transport

I was pleased that the day felt slightly cooler when I woke up than it had o the previous morning.

The day before was spent in an air conditioned car. Today I was going to ride the buses to a couple of temples.

I was very relieved when I found someone else waiting at the bus stop when I arrived. It’s usually a good indication that there will be a service.

In theory.

After 30 minutes waiting, I gave up and decided that going to the bus station would be a better idea.

Of course, the number 35 bus, the one I had been waiting for sailed past me as I reached the half way point.

Google isn’t reliable for transport information outside Kuala Lumpur. At all.

Once every fifteen minutes it said.

Once every hour before ten and every half hour afterwards said the man at the information counter in the bus station. Taxi does appear to be the most reliable and frequent mode of transport here.

Lesson learned. Check with the bus stations first.

I settled down to wait on one of the benches between the two platforms I needed.

I would see which bus arrived first and that would determine my plan.

It was the one that would take me to a complex of at least three temples.

Perak Cave Temple was one that a friend had recommended and it looked stunning as I had seen it from the car on the tour the day before… though it had come with a warning about disappointing views from the top of the cliff.

I was heading in the opposite direction with a vague intention to come back to visit Perak later.

Google, it emerged, was also wrong on the ticket price as I paid 1.5MYR rather than 6MYR.

As I was waiting to board the bus, the man from the information counter came out to tell me how long it should take me to reach the destination and what to look out for.

The kindness of people going above and beyond the requirements of their role never fails to impress and further lift my day.

I also liked the fact that there was no problem when passengers carrying heavy bags found a seat first to place their belongings and then went back to the driver to buy their ticket.

As with Vietnam buses, Malaysian vehicles also carry parcels.

When I arrived at my destination I, as always, thanked the driver. “Not at all, not at all,” he said.

Ipoh, as I may have mentioned, is surrounded by mountains. They’re limestone and on the Southern edge of town, there is a street lined with temples built at the foot and into one of the rock formations.

This is Gunung Rapat, which boasts the highest concentration of cave temples in the region

The temples are all nextdoor to each other and you can walk from one to the other – in some cases through the gardens of each.

Lin Seng Tong Temple, which is the first one you find, was quiet. I appeared to be the only visitor.

It is a Taoist cave temple and its name literally translates to ‘Rock of Heavenly Spirits’. The temple’s colourful facade features curving yellow roofs, red pillars and blue walls and is notably different from other cave temples in the area, mostly because it is so colourful.

The spacious compound is also home to statues featuring the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac.

I found it one of the more surreal temples that I’ve visited on this trip.

By contrast Nam Tian Tong Temple, also a Taoist place of worship, was busy and possibly setting up for a festival with marquees in front of the temple.

Nam Thean Tong translates as Cave of the Southern Sky, ‘southern sky’ referring to heaven.

It was inside the temple and therefore in the caves where the views were most impressive.

The inscriptions on both of these temples say that they were discovered by monks passing by who recognised these as holy places and founded temples here.

Sam Poh Tong Temple (also known as the Three Buddhas Cave) is a Chinese temple built within a limestone cave and is the oldest and the main cave temple in Ipoh.

Its garden was very similar to the water gardens I saw in Suzhou – ponds and lakes filled with twisted karst limestone rocks.

The temples linking the road make this a very beautiful spot.

After lunch, I felt energised for heading up to the Perak Cave Temple and walked along the road to the bus stop to catch the 66 back to the bus station.

Eric had already been waiting for 20 minutes and we waited together for another 45.

He told me that buses in Malaysia don’t work like anywhere else. Journeys seem to dependent on the whim of the driver.

While there may be a timetable – and there was – would-be passengers will find that the theory has little impact on reality.

I began to wonder if I should have prayed for divine intervention while I was at the temples.

Eric told me that he is 80 years old. He studied for 33 years at the Universities of Malaysia, Oxford and Columbia.

We covered politics, people, how to live a happy life, corruption and extortion – especially from taxi drivers, who view the unreliability of the local buses as an opportunity.

Remember, the bus ticket to this part of town cost 1.50MYR. Taxi drivers will charge 20MYR to cover the same distance.

“I always turn them down,” said Eric, “unless they promise that they will tell their children that I paid for their food”.

He told me that I should write a book about my travels, fill it with pictures and sell it in the West to encourage people to visit Asia. I promised that if I do, I would include him in it.

Eric told me that he’d lived a happy life – he’d studied nine different subjects that had interested and fascinated him. He said the problem with politicians is that they don’t really study, or if they do, they don’t learn.

He had a PhD from Columbia and he had “never chased the big house, the big car or the big money: that way leads to misery.”

I was almost disappointed when the bus back to town finally did arrive.

Did I go to Perak?

No chance. I wasn’t sure that I’d ever get back.

This proved a prudent decision as a three hour long thunderstorm brought the first rain that the area had seen in around a month.

Where was I? Having cake and coffee. I wasn’t leaving until the cafe closed.

Categories: Cake, Malaysia, Public Transport, TravelTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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