Left Perth 7th June
We had an early start, up at 2:15 to get a 3am taxi to the airport. This was probably overkill for a 6:50 departure but the last time we cut it fine and had to skip breakfast so we erred on the side of caution. Of course, this meant that we got every green light, breezed through ticketing, immigration and bomb inspections so quickly that we had hours to sit around in departure.
Outside, the rain continues to fall. This is excellent news for our farming friends because May was almost completely dry. From here on in, rain is the enemy. Our first stop is Langkawi and we’re looking forward to some sunshine and swimming.
A day of air travel with more than one leg is certainly a frustrating affair. It would certainly help if international air travel authorities got together and agreed on a uniform set of procedures. The problem is that every place seems to be different. Some places confiscate all bottled water while others don’t care less. Some make you remove laptops from bags and others don’t. Some scanners don’t react to belt buckles or watches while others go of at the slightest sound. You see plenty of men removing their belts but never see a woman removing her underwire bra. Why is that?
Once in Langkawi, we caught a taxi to the AB Motel, where we have stayed before. The crowds on the street seemed well down and traffic was light. We got a terrific room right on the beach front, a bargain at $50 a night. The disappointment was the beach itself. Gone were the beautiful white sands and placid waters of the last two visits. In their place was rubble and rubbish strewn stretch and badly eroded banks. The sea sported a brisk onshore wind and a heavy swell produced a nasty set of breaking dumpers. To seaward, a heavy rain squall looked ominous. The whole beach looked like the aftermath of a cyclone. I guess some nasty weather had been through. The question was, how long would it last?
We found a cheap beer and chicken wings just down the beach then followed it up later with a full meal of duck, cuttlefish, rice and veges before hitting the sack. The all night party right outside, the crashing thunderstorm and the sounds of drunken revelers throwing up didn’t bother us at all.
Langkawi 8 June
We awoke to a sea that had not abated. We are thinking of changing plans and shooting down to our beloved Malacca for a few days. There is no use in a beach resort in poor weather. Not that its unpleasant. The temperature is around 30, there is plenty of cheap food and drink and it’s fun watching jet skis get rolled over in the surf.
The day was spent around Cenang Beach at a leisurely pace. We managed to locate a store that would sell us SIM cards for our iPhones that included data. In the end, we got 1Gb of data for 18Rm ($6) and bought another $10 worth of local and international calls. The phones allowed tethering to our computers so this gave us Internet for our laptops. We also checked out a car hire for Saturday. A day costs around $25 so things look good on that score.
The tide rose to alarming levels in the early afternoon and threatened several structures further down the beach. As it dropped, so did the swell and the beach came alive with swimmers, surfers, para-gliders and jet skis. There is no separation of swimmers and water sports here and I shudder to think of how many people are hurt. We also worried about the number of people without any obvious swimming ability entering surf the size found on Scarborough Beach. What’s more, many are Muslim and so are fully dressed, giving them little chance of survival if they get into trouble.
That night, we went down to “Raffi’s” on the beach front to eat local food, drink beer and watch Geelong hold out against Carlton.
June 9 Langkawi
We picked up our hire car around 10am. It was a tiny little thing called a Viva. Surprisingly, it had four doors, although only the smallest of Asian frames would manage in the back. It was far from luxury motoring but it worked, had air-con, and ran all day on a few litres of fuel.
We explored the North of the island,only getting lost once. Fortunately, good old Google Maps on the iPhone came to the rescue before we’d gone too far out of our way. Crossing the island is quite spectacular, with some wonderful mountain peaks enshrouded in mists. The roads are excellent, despite their serpentine course around mountain peaks and signage is abundant, warning of approaching bends and drop offs. We wound our way up to the Tengkorak Beach area and the Temurun Falls. Both lie within a large area of National Park that contains wonderful stands of virgin rainforest. This is a real rarity in Malaysia, with so much clearing for palm oil plantations having taken place recently. Some of the trees towering over the lower canopy were quite majestic. The falls were flowing, although they will be much better as the monsoon progresses. We marveled at the gorgeous butterflies, including one with brilliant blue wings, that fluttered effortlessly through the lower forest canopy. Monkeys are everywhere, always with many more lurking on the edge of the jungle ready to surround the unwary tourist. The ones with babies sit out in front, inviting camera shots while the big males circle quietly behind, getting ready to grab bags and cameras. Unfortunately, some creatures don’t seem to be headed for extinction.
Tengkorak Beach is favoured by locals and with good reason. It is small but delightful and quite a few families were arriving and setting up all kinds of wonderful looking barbecues. We availed ourselves of a stall selling a variety of things on sticks, all brimming with cholesterol and all delicious. We ate our purchases with care, ever mindful of the circling monkeys.
Along the North coast there is a series of small beaches, villages and jetties. At one spot, there is a large cement works, the only real sign of secondary industry on Langkawi. This sits right on the edge of the limestone horst country, which features large pinnacles of limestone rearing out of the land and sea. These then extend North through the Andaman Sea to Krabi in Thailand. Langkawi then, gets the best of two geologies, with the granite of the interior mountains providing building stone and the limestone of the Northern coast providing cement.
We drove down through the centre of the island across excellent roads and used the car to visit a few spots up and down Pantai Cenang before returning to the AB Motel. Christine had her nails done (as you do), while I put my head down.
We returned the car in the early evening, followed by a swim and dinner at Raffi’s. It was around 10pm when we crashed, but were rudely awakened by lots of Russian singing and table banging from the mob next door. Christine thumped on the interconnecting door around midnight, producing a good 30 seconds of quiet. She tried some quick verbal abuse at 1am, which made them leave their balcony and head for the beach about 25m away. The fun continued until 2am, when someone did something to one of the women that caused screaming and lots of crying and complaining. The party seemed to break up then but we were still kept awake by the men, who seemed to gather outside the girls bungalow and insist that that say nothing about what happened. It was hard to feel sympathetic.
In the morning, the area was a sea of vodka and beer bottles. I turned our TV onto a Malaysian children’s program and put the volume up very high. One Russian girl offered an apology later, justifying everything with “Sorry, we were drunk last night”, but we didn’t really accept the apology.
10 June Langkawi
We spent a lazy day, with a bit of swimming, some reading, walking and even a touch of video watching. The passing parade on the beach certainly soaks up time and a whole day of doing nothing is seductive. On one walk to the far point, we checked out another beach front stay called the Delta Motel that offered slightly cheaper rates than the AB and seemed to be comfortable. We might try it on another visit. We are still keen to come back, although not at this time of year. We were hoping to use Langkawi as a jump off point to Koh Lipe and some other Thai Islands to the North but with the monsoon set in, these have all shut down. October may be better.
We watched an amazing tropical storm form and sweep in around sunset, clearing the beach and dumping a lot of rain in a short burst. It was very reminiscent of a Kimberley “wet”. Once the rain eased, it was of to a local Nasi Kandar stall for some roti canai and murtabak.
As we got home, we rejoiced in the fact that our Russian neighbours had left and a quiet night was in store. Not to be, with another group of Eastern Europeans setting up on the beach almost outside our door and drinking themselves stupid until 2am. Beach front chalets are great during the day but a curse at night.
11 June – Langkawi to Malacca
Today we flew from Langkawi to Kuala Lumpur on Air Asia. We were unable to change our already booked flight for next Thursday because we had completed a “web check in” and this meant the flight ticket was closed. It seems it is best to hold off any web activity until the day before flying to avoid this. It didn’t matter too much because the flight was so cheap we were still prepared to pay for another one.
From KL, we caught a Transnasional Bus to Malacca, a drive of only 90 minutes along good roads. Our stay in Malacca was at the Hallmark Hotel Leisure, close to both the river and the famed “Jonker Walk” area. The surrounding streets are a heritage area although the hotel itslef is a 70s style box. The room was comfortable enough but tired. We complained about the cigarette smell and were shown an alternative. After finding it no different, the management suggested we get some air freshener. Still, at $30 a night with breakfast it’s hard to be too choosy.
After settling in, we headed off to find some food and drink. The area is really exciting and promises much exciting exploration. On our last visit here, we really didn’t discover the delights of the Jonker Walk area until our last day and promised to explore it fully.
It is easy to write Malacca off as a very touristy place, and it is. But dig only a little beneath the veneer of lights and signs and the old world is still very visible. Walk the back streets (with care) and the hustle and bustle of the old warehouse and trader’s life is still very apparent. The people seem intensely proud of their city, and delight in receiving praise for the restoration works and presentation of the place. At present, the streets are quiet and movement around is much easier than our previous visit (March 2011). It seems that most tourism is restricted to weekends at this time of year due to the monsoon season. Also, the Malaysian school holidays have just finished so things have eased off a little.
For dinner, we dropped in at an Indian/Malay spot we had been to previously. The language barrier prevented us being too specific with our order so we just asked for food. It came in abundance, all laid out on large banana leaves direct on the table. A local diner advised against using cutlery, saying that we would enjoy our food more if eaten with the hands. She showed us how to pinch together little clumps of rice, dahl and spinach before feeding it somehow into our mouths. She instructed us to not be embarrassed, just do it. And we did! The food was amazing. We could hardly move in the end and waddled away, full of praise and poorer by less than $10.
12 June Malacca
After breakfast, we searched out a laundary. This took some doing because the usual Asian abundance of street laundries is strangely absent. Eventually, we tracked down a self-serve within reasonable walking distance of the hotel and decided to make this a venture for tomorrow.
We did some serious walking today, through the Jonker Walk and over the river into old Central Malacca. Once the heat got too much, we sought sanctuary in the huge shopping malls in the more modern areas of the city. We were presented with the usual array of clothing, cheap jewelery and footwear. I bought a pair of light sandals but we otherwise resisted parting with our money. The thought of dragging purchases all around Europe is a definite disincentive.
Since we covered most historic displays on our last visit, we were free to just wander and watch the world go by. We did stop in for a Cendol at a famous cendol outlet on the Jonker Walk. Cendol is a uniquely Malaysian creation (although we have encountered it in Singapore and Hanoi). Basically, a mountain of shaved ice is heaped over small green jellies, covered in coconut milk, sweet red bean sauce and a layer of fruit (banana or mango are both popular) mixed in a yellow bean sauce. The use of red and yellow beans puts many people off but the whole thing is both delicious and very refreshing. Whereas stopping for a dairy based dessert on a hot day soon leaves you feeling dis-satisfied, a cendol refreshment is more lasting and doesn’t leave a bloated feeling. What’s even better, is that a cendol typically costs around 3.50Rm (about $1.20).
Later, we headed out for an amazing meal at a Chinese outdoor restaurant just down the road for sweet and sour fish, fried mee and mixed vegetables.
13 June Malacca
After breakfast, it was off to the laundry, only to find two problems. Not only did we lack the correct notes for the change machine, we did not have any washing powder. We set off again to find a grocery to buy some washing powder with a 50Rm note. The poor shopkeeper was not overjoyed to find his first customers of the day wanted all his change but he succumbed to Christine’s charm and gave us the notes we needed. By the time we got back to the laundromat, the owner had arrived and he told us all about his new venture. He was a young man from KL who had just taken a lease on the whole building, converting this lower section into a laundromat while renovating the top two storeys into a guest house. This is quite a task in Malacca as many older areas are under heritage orders and renovations must follow strict guidelines. The young man was well travelled, having been to Europe several times.
While the washing was in the dryer, we ducked around the corner to the Ocean Cafe for a lime juice. One wall was covered with testimonials from travellers from every corner of the globe, most extolling the virtues of the laksa. We determined to return for dinner and try it for ourselves.
After a mid-morning relax, we headed off again to find the fabric shops Christine had spied on our last trip. She spent a happy half hour choosing lots of different children’s materials and various types to have lots of stuff in case our grandchildren ever ran out of clothing. To avoid carting this all around Europe, we tracked down a Post Office to mail the material back to Perth. There we bought a packing box, filled out all the paper work, including a customs declaration, and then discovered that the material purchases had taken all our cash. So it was off to find an ATM before returning to the Post Office. All sealed, signed and stamped, the girl smiled and said that it would be between 2 and 3 months, depending on what ships became available. I think we’ll beat the parcel home.
In the evening, we headed back to the place with the great laksa, only to discover that Wednesday night is almost universal “closed” night in the Malaccan dining world. Every good looking place was shut, so we finally headed back to our Indian spot for a feed of murtabak (a delicious mutton filled roti with curry sauce). A big serve set us back $1.20 each.
14 June Malacca
We awoke to the realization that “Today we fly to Paris!” We had nothing planned but then anything would be just a waiting game, a little like Christmas Eve when we were kids.
We spent the day doing very little, with only a little walking around to find a bite to eat. Most establishments still seem to be closed, which is a bit of a mystery because there are plenty of tourists on the streets. We were happy to stay in a lot because the day is clear and the sun has a real bite to it, making walking a little uncomfortable. I’ll post this effort now, happy in the knowledge that the next posting will be from half way around the World.