Wednesday, September 19, 2007

On the trail of Jim Thompson ...

When our VIP bus to the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia was an hour late, we shuddered at the thought we may have another thai-style bus journey on our hands ...

Thankfully this wasn't the case and we found coach travel in Malaysia to be a suprisingly comfortable affair - business class width seats, and carpet covering every concievable surface. Except for the floor. Naturally. Even the bus names had an air of charm to them, some of the logo's I spotted while we waited at the bus station included Mega Luxurious and Super Nice. It's kind of difficult to imagine where you go next from there - The Dogs Bollocks? I suspect not.

After climbing up endless hairpin bends we arrived in Tanah Rata - and for the first time in months it was cold. Not like proper UK cold, but in the evening it dipped to 10 degrees celcius - which after months of baking heat was enough to make us shiver. We liked it a lot.

Those of you who've been following my blog in the past few weeks may recall that this is where the legendary Jim Thompson went missing on the 26th March 1967 - so we couldn't miss the opportunity to hike his favourite trail. It took us on a 3 hour jungle adventure zig-zagging up and down the mountains behind Tanah Rata.

We didn't find him. Hardly suprising really, as the Malaysian Army and teams of local trackers didn't find a trace of him 40 years ago, in the largest manhunt the area has ever seen.

The day before our trek we'd taken a day trip where we visited the local tea plantations for a fine cuppa and made a visit to the otherworldly Mossy Forest - a place where you can walk on metre thick moss ledges high up the tree canopy. In the afternoon we visited an indigenous Orang Asli village, where, among other things we tried out blowpipes and nose flutes. It would be pretty hard to decide which we were worst at.

Our guide had just spent a few days escorting an Australian writer around the highlands, compiling background material for a new book on the life of Jim Thompson. He revealed that the last person to see him alive (now a middle aged tour guide) had last seen him taking photos outisde some tennis courts. Just 3 hours later the army helicopters we're circling overhead as the search got underway.

When you take into account Jim's history as a CIA spy in the second world war, the rapid search response for someone who at that stage was just a couple of hours late for his dinner seems to open up a whole host of conspiracy theories around his dissapearance.

But I guess we'll just have to wait for the book to find out more ...