A Travellerspoint blog

April 2013

From west to east

Island hopping across the Peninsular

Langkawi had been lovely but hadn't quite hit the mark for us.

Still keen for an island escape we decided to try out the Perhentian Islands. Several of our friends had raved about them, in particular the smaller of the two known as Kecil. The only problem was that the Perhentians are on the east coast and we were on an island on the west coast...and we had said we wouldn't fly again until we left Malaysia. As much as I d like to say that the reason we had chosen not to fly was all to do with worrying about our carbon footprint, the real reason was because we ve discovered that you can get more of a feel for the country and the people when you drive through a country than when you fly over it. This was something missing from our time in Borneo when found ourselves taking several internal flights and feeling disjointed from where we were so we started to plan our journey across the country.

Checking out several other people's travel blogs it looked like some people had had a few difficulties doing this route as you had to change buses at least 4 times along the way. One couple opted for a travel agent to sort out all their tickets and were told the follow on ticket would be waiting for them at each change. This worked to start with but then one of the tickets wasn't there so they had to pay more, then the bus took them to the wrong place despite them checking the destination with the driver so they had to pay more again for a taxi...you get the picture a bit of a nightmare.

After a few hours researching I found that there was actually a night bus from Penang which would take us all the way to the jetty at Kuala Besut, with no changes for £30 each! Result! Bus tickets booked, we organised to get the afternoon ferry from Langkawi to Penang. The plan was coming together. Getting the night bus would also mean we would get to the Jetty around 6.30am in plenty of time to be on some of the first speedboats to head out to the islands which should in turn mean first dibs on the available rooms.

On the ferry back to Penang we got to watch the film "Life of Pi", not necessarily the most reassuring film to watch whilst on a boat!! The special effects in it are amazing and we watched it on a crappy screen so can only imagine what it must have been like to see it on a big screen. Would still say read the book first!

Back in Georgetown in Penang we had about 4 hours to kill before our bus at 10pm so we found a restaurant to park ourselves in just over the road from where the bus was picking us up from. I made sure I had a big meal to keep me going as I didn't know when we d get to have breakfast the next day.

Back waiting for the bus I started to get a bit anxious when we were told to get on the same bus as people from another company. I double checked with the guy at the ticket office and was told that this was the bus to Kuala Besut and it went all the way, no changes. Then I double checked with the driver if the bus went to Kuala Besut, to which he shrugged his shoulders and said he didn't know whilst telling us to just get on the bus! He's the driver how can he not know where the bus is going! With no other choice we got on the bus and found people with tickets for the same seat number as ours, only they were going to Singapore!! As you can imagine its late at night, no one seems to know what's going on and potentially we were heading to Singapore so I was getting in a bit of a flap. What no one thought to tell us despite us asking several times was that this bus was just to take us to the terminal out of the town where we would get our actual bus....so we would need to change buses...sometimes it makes you wanna pull your hair out in frustration!!

So calming down we arrived at the terminal and were just told to get off and wait. I was not content with not knowing what was going on so went on a little mission to find someone who might know what they were talking about. Luckily I did and was given the platform number and the registration number of the bus too which made me feel a bit more confident. Several other people were bemused too as they came over to ask what info we had managed to find out.

Finally we were on our bus and the driver came round asking everyone where they wanted to be dropped off which put me at ease that we would get to our destination but I didn't think I would get a good sleep. I d read how cold the night buses can get and they aren't lying, it was freezing! Dan hadn't had time to get out a jumper whilst we were trying to sort out the bus confusion and so I shared out the layers I had and we huddled together for warmth.

Arriving at Kuala Besut couldn't have come quick enough and we were pleased to be out in the warm morning air and relieved at how simple it was to sort out our speedboat ticket to the island. We were joined by a little cat that wanted to crawl in our bag and come with us but we had to leave it behind as we joined other travellers waiting for the first boats. There were so many more people than we thought there would be but it seemed that most were either going to a different beach than us or to the larger island.

After debating going to Muri beach, mainly because there is meant to be a pet otter there to play with, we finally decided to go to the less remote Long beach which has more cafes and a few bars, and I think we definitely made the right decision for us. We dropped a couple off a Muri first but it seemed too small, then we dropped some people at the larger island which didn't appeal to us either but when Long beach came into view it was exactly right. Just realised that last bit was a bit like if Goldilocks was choosing a beach to stay at!


White sandy beach and amazingly clear blue sea, we knew we were going to have a great time here....


Posted by doyledan 03:50 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Don't be square...

Staying in a concrete tube on Langkawi


When we found out that Langkawi Island was only 3 hours away from Penang by ferry we thought "why not?!"

We d sorted our tickets out the day before and were up with the sun to welcome in the day and the boats coming into the harbour.


Our boat was a lot smaller than the large cruise ships we d seen and despite being a bit cramped inside and not really being able to see out the windows either it served its purpose. The journey wasn't without entertainment though as they showed a sequel I never knew existed "Step Up: The Revolution" (how many more of these movies can they make! Dan loved it though :)).


Coming into the harbour we were greeted by a giant statue of an eagle which represents the islands name. Langkawi means Strong Eagle in old Malay (helang - eagle, kawi - strong). We d be seeing more of these majestic birds during our stay.


We had found Tubotel online, which was to be the most random accommodation we had stayed in yet. Our room was literally a concrete tube, the type normally used for sewers, that had been fitted with aircon, kingsize bed, painted in pastel shades and placed with a sea view. When we saw it we knew we had to check it out... Also my inner hobbit really wanted to stay in a tube with a circle doorway!

It was about an hours drive from the harbour to the north end of Chenang Beach and I'm not going to lie we were a bit concerned as we pulled up as it seemed to be a bit of a building site but as we turned the corner and checked in we were more than pleasantly surprised...


Not only were the rooms really random which we loved but the rest of the set up was done really well with a great lounging area with day beds, sea water pools to cool off in, quirky paintings and relaxed music being played... they even had a pirate boat!



It was quite easy to spend the day relaxing here. The food cooked here was great too so there was really no need to leave...(must remember fried egg on chorizo hash when we get home, Yum!) other than to go to the beach or shops if you wanted too which was about 10 mins walk away.

As luck would have it the following day Alex (the owner) and his family and friends were taking the boat out for the day to a smaller island and invited us and some of the other guests to join them. This was a great bonus as it was a free day out and all we had to do in return was to each filled a bin bag full of rubbish to help keep the beach clean, which seemed fair enough.

We boarded the pirate boat and got a great view of the place from the water. They are in the process of adding more Tubes and you can see on the far right what they look like before they are decked out.


We introduced ourselves to some of the other shipmates, two girls from England (Claire and Lisa) and one from Scotland (Gillian). It turns out that Claire and Lisa know Woking well and Claire used to work in WHSmiths when they used to have a DVD/music section downstairs, which was probably around the same time I worked in Young Fashion in Allders so we could have served each other back in the day! It was great to have an instant familiarity and set us up for a great day out.

None of us had any idea where we were going to so we just sat back and relaxed, enjoying taking it all in.


We were in for a surprise treat as we pulled into one of the bays and were suddenly surrounded by at least 30 eagles flying overhead and circling around the boat. I think some of the tourist boats come here to feed them so they were keeping an eye out for any food we might have. It was amazing to see them fly so close and very impressive to see them dive down to the water with their huge wingspan and talons glinting in the sun. I wouldn't want to get in the way of those!


We continued sailing around the small islands which were beautiful, although at one point the water got really shallow so we had to change direction.


Evidence of the rubbish problem in Langkawai was sad to see and one of the byproducts of the islands success. We passed several large pieces of floating polystyrene which we managed to get on board the boat. Small beaches on the islands were covered in plastic bottles and take away containers that had been left on the shore by the tide, but if not cleared once the water level was up again all this junk would be out to sea. Once you had tuned into it you started to see the rubbish everywhere and by the time we stopped at the beach we were going to chill out on we were all keen to do our bit and start clearing the rubbish... To be fair there would be no part of the beach free to sit on until we did!


Each armed with a bin bag we walked the beach picking up plastic bottles, shoes, plastic bags, wrappers, syringes and Dan even found the a dustpan which helped with clearing up. We had the beach cleared in no time and filled about 8 binbags which we would take back on the boat with us to dispose of. It highlighted how quick and simple it would be to help clear up the rubbish if the tourist boats asked their customers to do some beach cleaning as part of their trip to help preserve this area. However part of the problem is that some of these boats are just chucking rubbish over the side anyway instead of taking the rubbish back to shore so there is a wider need for education on litter and pollution etc and why its important to keep the area clean not only for them to maintain their income... Who wants to sail/swim through a junk yard... but also more importantly the environment.

Feeling pleased with our deed of the day we all enjoyed the warm water and had the second surprise of being provided with hot dogs for lunch! We weren't expecting food to be included as we had not paid for the trip and Alex and his family showed us great hospitality and it was great to hear the story of how Tubotel began, as with all great ideas after a few beers, and inspired by Daspark hotel in Austria. Having looked them up too online I think I prefer the colourful fun of Tubotel.


In talking about our travels we found out that Lisa had been in Borneo about 9 months ago doing what sounded like an epic sporting challenge involving cycling, running and culminating in climbing Kinabalu. I can't imagine how hard that must have been to climb after doing other activities like that in a short period of time! Unfortunately on returning home she kept getting ill and exhausted and none of the docs knew what it was even at the specialist doctors for tropical diseases. She was just at the tail end of recovering 9 months later but had decided to get the docs here to check it out and they immediately put her on doxycycline and were baffled why she had not been given it sooner. As I d been ill on and off recently it was interesting story to hear and I'm glad I'm already taking doxy for malaria... Def something to keep an eye on (don't worry mum & dad I'm writing this 3 weeks later and not been ill again so alls ok :)).

We set sail to head back to Tubotel, not before one of the guys shimmied up the mast to detangle the pirate flag. The kids kept us entertained on the way back chasing each other around the boat with the ice left over in the cooler. It had been a great day.


We met up with the girls again in the evening and they took us to a great seafood restaurant they had found.

Check out the size of these prawns!!


It was more than we would normally spend on a meal (best part of our daily budget) but we we hadn't splashed out in a while and our days fun had been free so why not! We had some great laughs, including hearing the story of the ghost moving Claire's washing which I'm noting here so we don't forget rather than sharing as think you need to hear it how the girls tell it for it to be funny. As we left there was a huge thunder storm and we were all a bit bedraggled when we got in the taxi, mainly because I freaked out about getting hit by lightning so kept telling everyone to put their umbrellas down just in case!

It's Sod's law that just as one of us gets better the other one gets ill. I was now fine but Dan had somehow got a full blown cold despite us being in a climate as far removed from the cold season as you can get. As Dan seeked the coolness in our tube to get some rest, I was more than happy to chill out reading and baking on the day beds and plunging in the seawater pools, checking on Dan every so often too. We extended our stay in Langkawi for Dan to recover but there could def be worse places to recuperate.


On our final day Dan felt up to walking to the beach for a change of scenery and chill out there for the day.



Although it was boiling hot so not really chilling and we spent most of our time under a parasol, having 10 mins in the sun at a time before seeking the relief of the sea or the shade again, even though we ve been out in the sun now for months. I have no idea how some people can literally lie out all day in such fierce sun taking no shade at all! Definitely think this is the strongest sun we ve had all trip!

The beginning of our walk along the beach was absolutely stunning, see photo above, and you could see why it was a honeymoon destination.


However for us it felt too resorty if that makes sense, and as we got further along the beach there were loads of jet skis and banana boats. Now Chenang is one of the busiest beaches so I'm sure there are others that are nicer but it did not have the charm of some of the smaller quieter beaches we have been on.


I think our last few days in Langkawai was when I have had my worst travel flump yet, probably brought on by spending too much time thinking whilst Dan was sleeping, missing home and being still tired from when I was ill. A joking conversation one night about popping home for a couple of weeks for a 'break from travelling' and making the mistake of seeing that it could be a feasible due to a really cheap return flight being available, turned into a bit of an emotional mess when it gradually dawned on me throughout the following day that really I wasn't going home yet and it would be another 11 months till I would! Dan suddenly found himself sitting next to a girl weeping into her beer as the sun went down, which he coped with really well and as always had the right things to say and made me feel a lot better (also swapping the beer for Long Island iced tea helped too).


What really shook me out of feeling sorry for myself though was overhearing a couple telling a lady at a nearby stall that they were on their honeymoon. I mean I'm in a gorgeous paradise that other people choose as their honeymoon destination...pull yourself together girl!! A few well timed Facebook chats with some of my girlies at home sorted me out too... everyone's been there with the travel blues and you know as soon as you get back you ll want to be travelling again so just enjoy it.... You re staying in an exotic hobbit hole!!



Posted by doyledan 02:27 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Time to rediscover.....

On the streets of Georgetown, Penang

We decided that in order to rediscover a little bit more of our own adventure we needed to see more of the Penisular of Malaysia and try to find out more about it as a country. We decided we had to go to Georgetown in Penang not only because its inner city is a World Heritage site but also because it is a regular stop for backpackers and travellers alike wanting to get a bit of the Chinese and Indian influences that have shaped Malaysia.

I've found that although being spontaneous with turning up at places and finding a place to stay is fun and adventurous you have to play it smart as well and plan ahead to make the transition in a new place easier and less stressful, and by god we needed stress levels to be minimum after dealing with Sarah's illness. I have been using Agoda.com for booking accommodation and it has rarely steered me in the wrong direction. I knew from researching that to get the feel of Georgetown we needed to stay in a place within the Heritage site. A lot of reviews were giving Munturi House a good score so I booked it and was pleased with my choice. The building itself was used as reading club to promote revolutionary ideas back in 1911 and its decor had a very distinct Chinese feel to it.


Now it has to be noted that Penang is uber humid and the sun when we went was incredibly fierce, this unfortunately meant the comfort of our room was not as pleasing however it was always nice to be able to chill in the reception area and be able to walk out onto the streets and feel in the thick of it. If you go to Georgetown make sure you explore on your feet, most of time wherever you go this is always the best way to get a feel for the place you are in but this is totally true when it comes to this World Heritage site. As I mentioned before the Chinese and Indian influences are particularly present in Georgetown and you notice this as you walk through the streets because at one minute you are looking at a Chinese temple with dragons and bright red colours and then the next street a Indian temple with elephants. This is all set to a backdrop of colonial buildings which stems from the British East India trading company staking its claim to the area, more on this in a bit.


Bags unpacked and supplies ready we set off on foot to take in the scenes, it was quite early in the day and there wasn't much going on but we decided that the best plan would be to take a walking tour of our own supported by tour book and tripadvisor city guide. (I tried to act as the guide ). Before we set off we did venture around to find some food and came upon a small restaurant claiming to have 'Famous Penang Chicken'. Intrigued we took a seat as the friendly Chinese gentleman who was cooking announced his famous chicken as an option and beckoned us in. To call the dish famous was a bit of a stretch because it was half decent chicken with soy sauce and a bit of rice, not quite the razzmatazz dish I thought we might be getting based on the slogan. But a good meal nonetheless.

Departing the resturant we made our way to the museum which gives a good description of Penang and Georgetown's beginnings. Named after King George III and was founded by Francis Light who worked for the British East India trading company. Being a strategic hub for shipping between India and the East from the likes of Chinese, Francis Light with the help of the British government offered help to the Sultan of Kudah (the province that encapsulated Penang) to fight against the Thai's who were looking to invade. As part of the deal Penang was given to the British and trading was later moved from the port of Melaka on the mainland to Georgetown.

Because the Chinese were trading constantly some would end up staying on the island and today at least 60% of the population are Chinese and the other 40% is made up of Indians and Malaysians. Making our way onwards to Fort Cornwalis, the strong hold for Francis Light's military presence on the island we passed the Catholic Church, the Town Hall and a government building. The Fort itself wasn't particularly interesting and we didn't stay very long as the heat was becoming unbearable. We did manage to grab some silly photos though. After leaving the Fort we decided we needed to find some aircon so with a little perseverance we made it to the local bus stop much has a hop on bus that goes around town for free and went to the last stop which was the Komtar shopping mall.


We passed this memorial clock tower in memory of Queen Victoria on route to the bus stop. It was a gift from a Chinese businessman and one of the attractions to see whilst on Georgetown.


After a bit of shopping and a chill out we made out way back to our digs and decided we should try out Little India in the evening for a curry. At night the Little India area comes alive with music blaring out of DVD shops. We found a busy place which served some decent South Indian curry and afterwards we strolled back to our place but noticed that things had quieten down. We were ready to head back to our place and decided that tomorrow we would venture out of town to Penang Hill to get an aerial view of the island and also get some rest bite from the heat.

The next morning we asked around a bit to find the right bus stop to get to Penang Hill. It was a little confusing because we were told by the 7/11 but in Malaysia, much like Thailand, there are more than one of them in close proximity. I ended up asking the local backpacker lodgings for directions and when we knew we were in the right place for the bus it was just a waiting game.

Sarah managed to get a photo of this rather overtly decorated trishaw which had cycled past us a few times looking for business.


The bus arrived soon enough and we were fortunate that all the buses have air-con! (I've said it a couple of times, but honestly it was incredibly hot).
Driving along we got to see more of the life outside of the centre and even passed a restaurant which was preparing dumplings which reminded us of our time in China and the fun we had making them in Beijing and Xi'an.


Before we reached Penang Hill we passed Kek Lok Si temple on the hillside which had a large buddha statue. It was tricky to photo it on the move so you can't quite grasp the size but it was massive!


The Penang Hill tram has an almost identical set up to the Hong Kong tram and as we waited we were able to see how steep we would need to go.
The journey up to the top offered some excellent views of the island and Georgetown and as we reached the top we were able to see that we were 712 metres above sea level. You could instantly feel the drop in temperature which was a welcomed bonus but the sun was still beaming which made the short walk around the hill station enjoyable. We walked past a restaurant which Sarah noticed was twinned with the Olde Smokehouse in the Cameron Highlands....the prospect of tea and scones was almost unbearable for Sarah to wait for!


We walked up to the central area and there was a bizarre stall which allowed you to hang a python over your neck should that be your cup of tea. There was an old tram cart to look at and an Owl Muesum which was decided wasn't worth going into. We did however take a short walk higher up to the Indian Temple, and also took upon ourselves to walk around the small road that continued around the hill to another look out post and we watched the eagles swoop of the landscape looking for prey. There was an option to go further and see some British tourist attractions much like the ones that we found at the Cameron Highlands but we decided that tea and scones was the better option.


It was a good decision. An afternoon spent taking in the views. We even managed to message my mum a happy bday!


Earlier in the day we had bought our ferry tickets to Langkawi thinking that we had seen enough of Georgetown and it would be good to get some more beach time. It definitely felt better shaping the days as they came rather than having to plan it all ahead like we did in Borneo but we still were searching for a little bit more!

Stay tuned for more tales.


Posted by doyledan 17:02 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

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