Day 7 Penang to Langkawi 28 Feb 2010
We got up early to pack, ready for the driver who was coming to take us to the ferry terminal. The driver had cost us RM5 more than a regular taxi but we ended up being very glad that we had spent the money. On arrival at the terminal, the driver found that the office we needed to pick up our pre-paid ticket was closed. We waited for half an hour while the driver tried things on his mobile phone. Another couple arrived and appeared more agitated than us. Finally, a man who had some connection with the firm was secured and we were passed into his care, the driver leaving us with a smile, a wave and “good luck”. We were grateful to him for sticking with us this long. The new minder suggested that we would wait until the appointed leaving time of the ferry (8:30) and if no one had arrived at the office by then, he would drive us around to Kuala Kedah on the mainland, a trip of around and hour and a half so we can catch another fast ferry across to Langkawi. Christine made enough strangling noises to make sure that plan was shelved immediately and he went off to talk to other people. On his return, we told us to follow and set off to the terminal, with us in hot pursuit with bags. A strange process followed, whereby he spoke to the woman at the gateway, who handed us a ticket each. We took 10 steps forward and another man took the ticket from us and we were on the ferry. I have no real idea how it worked but it did.
The ferry was 40m long and about 8 metres in beam, a veritable ocean going racehorse. It must have packed some big diesels in because they not only made a racket, they propelled us along at a great rate. Neither did the increasing chop and swell bother us. This was the smoothest boat ride ever encountered. The biggest problem was the air-conditioning.; it was set to just above freezing point, a fact not lost on other passengers who had the foresight to bring a blanket. Along the way, we befriended John, a Mauritian born Canadian holidaying on his own and we compared our iPhone guides to his Lonely Planet info on the best place to stay. A taxi trip across the island to Pantai Cenang was indicated so we agreed to share transportation.
Negotiation an exit from the Langkawi Ferry Terminal was easy and remarkably free of touts hassling us to buy, rent or look at things. We had been handed a couple of free tourist maps along the way and an American couple asked us about them. We offered her one and conscripted the pair into our growing band of taxi users, allowing us to negotiate a small van across the island for RM36. We decamped at the AB Motel, after a recommendation in our iPhone guide. John did likewise, but the Americans continued a little down the road to the Beach Garden Hotel where they had stayed 23 years before. After looking at a cheaper room across the road, we settled on paying a little more for a beach side room and settled down to wait 20 minutes for it to be ready. John decided to keep looking and wandered off with a cheery farewell.
While we waited, I chatted to a travel man, who was selling boat tours to nearby islands, snorkelling trips etc. I asked him about a ferry to Phi Phi Island in Thailand. We had read that it was possible to do this with a side trip to Hat Yai on the mainland to clear immigration. He scurried off and returned with a list of prices that offered us RM315 ($A105) for a transfer to the jetty, a fast speed boat to Koh Lipe (Thailand) for immigration then straight to Koh Phi Phi. This looked good so we gave him a deposit of RM150 and went off to unpack.
The room exceeded our expectations. It was basic enough, with two king sized beds (we don’t really like sharing with another couple though), fridge, good air-con and a basic bathroom. The killer feature was the front porch, facing right onto the beach and not more than 50 metres from the waters’ edge. We could sit watching the action, get up and go for a swim then collapse back into the chairs. All this for RM120 ($A40) a night. Even better than living in a brown paper bag in middle of road.
We unpacked, put the necessaries in the fridge for later and hit the water, which proved to have just enough chill to cool us down but warm enough to stay in for hours if required. Then it was into the main street (really the only street in Pentai Cenang) to search out some money and some food. The only money changer we found was not offering a good rate so we used an ATM for the first time then settled down at the Tomato Nasi Lemak for some spicy Malay tucker and a cooling lime juice. This induced the usual lethargy, cured only by a bit of an afternoon nap, followed by a walk on the beach, another swim etc etc. The going was tough but we toughed it out. As the sunset approached, the beach really filled up with lots of tourists paragliding, locals playing beach soccer and many others (like ourselves) just watching the more active types.
With nightfall, we broke a long standing taboo and had our first ever pizza in Asia. We made the usual mistake in having lots of garlic, which tasted great, but stayed with us for some time onwards.
Day 8 Langkawi 1 March 2010
Today was a long lazy day. We didn’t even get up until 9am, which isn’t as bad as it sounds because sunrise isn’t until 7:45. Even so, the day began as it continued, with breakfast on the porch, a swim, a walk, slow shopping/browsing, etc.
Lunch was a real highlight. The iPhone Guide to Malaysia talked about the delights of Raffi’s Place, a bar and Restoran on the beach. It takes some finding and the brick pathway breaks every known occupation health and safety law ever passed in Australia but once there it is a true discovery. Raffi is ex-Penang who now lives in Langkawi. You can choose between regular tables or low seats set in the beach sand with a coffee table. We had Latana (flat rice noodles, gravy and seafood) and something else with vegetables and chicken. Both dishes were “to die for” and matched with the ambience, produced a meal that stood out amongst the many excellent feeds of late.
We revisited the Tomato Nasi Lemak for tea, sampling the Murtabak and Tonsei (a type of pancake). Both were terrific. We set off in search of Cendol, a local concoction of crushed ice and mashed red bean but the one place we found open that listed it said it was off the menu tonight. We will just have to come back another time. Last stop was Raffi’s Place again for sweet pancake, icecream and chocolate topping. The whole night cost us around $A15.
Overall Impressions of Langkawi
• Definitely a place to return to.
• Relaxed, beautiful and cheap. Stall holders don’t hassle you.
• This is like the descriptions of Bali of old.
• The fact that many places do not sell alcohol probably adds to the charm because it does not attract the yobbo crowd. This is despite the fact that alcohol is duty free on the whole island.