6 Feb – Khlong Nin beach, Ko Lanta

Nothing much happened today. We went to the beach and by 11.30 it was so hot we had to head to the shade. We did a bit of shopping but had no appetite for lunch despite seeing this inviting restaurant.

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By 2.30 ish we headed back to the beach. After bronzing for a while we went for a swim and I got a jellyfish sting.

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I decided to treat it with Chang beer which had already eased my malaria/avian flu/viles disease symptoms so with the call to prayer blaring from a nearby loudspeaker, we headed for a sunset bar and after watching the glorious show had a chicken massuman curry and a yellow seafood curry that tasted the same.

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5 February – Ko Lanta

We needed a room for the next few days, so again we were playing Mary and Joseph, it was becoming increasingly dull and frustrating. We got a tuk tuk driver, with a black eye and various scars, who was very willing to take us from door to door at each place asking for a room. However either the price was extortionate or the one bungalow that was in budget was a dump, still we kept on trying and in the end we did find somewhere, not beach side, but clean, compact and run by a lovely lass. She also explained why our guy was so keen to make sure we had somewhere to stay as they get 200 Baht (£4.20) as commission, per night of our stay. So we said we were only staying one night. That is on top of the price we negotiated for the ride, so he had made a nice 500Baht out of us.
Now we had a room for the next few nights we had to see what the beach was like……this is what it was like…..

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We also had a mini fridge, that desperately needed filling so we went off to 7/11 to get supplies, ok, mainly beer! And on the way we passed a woman with a BBQ chicken and papaya salad stall, handily she also sold beer! It was delicious, the papaya salad was sour from the lime, sweet from the sugar and fishy from the dried shrimp and fish sauce and just one birds eye chilli made you sweat a little…..

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We saw a few happy hour signs up for sunset, so thought it would be rude not to indulge ourselves……just a few times, it was blissful watching the sun go down, with a slight breeze and a very chilled Chang beer.

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Loads of restaurants had BBQs set up on the beach,and maybe we had had one too many happy hour beers, but we stupidly decided to go for this, as it is all done by weight, he actually weighed out 2 prawns,they were 200 Baht, yes, £4.20 for two slightly large prawns, undeterred by this ridiculous pricing we also ordered chicken, squid and 2 corn on the cob, along with a beer or 2 this meal cost us £20, a whole days budget! We sobered up pretty quick and had a lovely walk back along the beach, seeing all the restaurants lit up and people lighting Chinese lanterns and seeing them float away into the night sky.

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4 Feb – Georgetown, Malaysia to Ko Lanta, Thailand

Up at 7am for our 8.30 bus to Ko Lanta. The company had told us to be in reception at 8am so we grabbed curry and roti for breakfast and checked out. At 8.30 we asked the receptionist to call the number on the bus ticket which she kindly did after charging us. The person on the line said not to worry it was on its way. We had been in this situation before and knew that the buses tour around the hotels picking up passengers and concluded that we were probably the last pickup. We waited and watched Mrs Overall slowly fulfill her duties. At 9.45 the bus arrived. It was empty. We were the first pickup. Thankfully we only had to pick up two Paraguayans and we left. The driver spent no time trying to make up for his lie in and we hurtled towards the Thai border. We changed buses in Hat Yai and again in a car park somewhere for the final leg to our island paradise. We also had two short ferries and we chatted excitedly to our fellow passengers. An Italian couple and an elderly German bloke with a beautiful Thai girl.

The beautiful slim Thai girl in the figure hugging grey dress is and or was a man. I guess its where you drawn the line or where the surgeon draws the knife.

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We were dropped off at the backpacker zone and just like our friends from Nazareth were turned away from many many inns. The sun had dropped and after a slight foot stompy tantrum (me), we got the last room at Dreamy Casa run by a very helpful Italian guy who recommended a restaurant for tea. We headed straight there and shared a seafood green curry and a Tom Ga which was one of the best things we’ve eaten. Sweet and sour coconut fragrant soup. Bloody delicious! We had a beer in a bar far cooler than either of us run by a rasta whose dreads reached his calves and turned in.

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3 Feb – last day in Georgetown, Malaysia

Writing this up with hindsight, today was an odd day. It started well with a free breakfast in the modern cafe underneath the hotel. Noodles for me and curry and roti for Al. We had deluded ourselves that the trip wasn’t just about food so we should do a bit of tourism, so we headed to the bus station to get the number 10 to the botanical gardens.

We dodged the local wiseman who was shouting at the pigeons and found our bus stop. Patiently waiting, we watched a woman chain smoke and twitch her head round every 10 seconds. A slo-mo exorcist. Buses came and went but not the number 10. After an hour we gave up and decided to refocus on food, but first we needed to do a bit of admin. Tomorrow we intended to catch the ferry to the island of Langkawi so we thought we’d get prepared and check the port and buy a ticket. The office informed us that both the ferries were full. “Very unusual, because of Chinese New Year” Oh dear. Plans need to change.

Next to our hotel we had noticed a chinese restaurant serving suckling pig and having failed to get it in Hong Kong and Macau we decided to head there and over a feast of roast pig discuss what we should do next. The restaurant had a table which was a good start as the night before we had been turned away. We were seated and given hot towels, jasmine tea and nuts. We perused the menu and chose suckling pig and roast duck, nothing else appealed. The waiter informed us there was no roast meat. We paid for the towels,tea and nuts and left.

Next door was the cafe where we’d had breakfast and on their menu was a charcoal burger, not cooked over charcoal, but where the bun contained charcoal and was black. As this was unique and close we thought it would be a quick interesting option. Our waiter from breakfast greeted us with a big smile but when we ordered he told us they had no bread at all. “Delivery in two days.” We thanked him and left.

By now we realised things weren’t quite flowing smoothly so it was time to book a bus ticket out. A travel agent told us it wasn’t an auspicious day. We agreed.

We bought a bus ticket for 8.30am the next day to Ko Lanta, an east coast Thai island and finally headed for lunch. Char Kway Teow for me and Mee Goreng for Al.

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We found a street sign for salvation too, but we haven’t tried it yet.

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After a siesta, my sore throat called for honey and lemon tea which was accompanied by a soothing cappuccino cake.

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This raised the appetite so for our last Penang meal we headed for a guardian recommendation of a hawker stall of Char Kway Teow (fried noodles) and also wanton noodle soup. Both were delicious.

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As we were passing and as we are both hopelessly nostalgic, we couldn’t help but have a cold tiger in an iced glass back at Hong Chow, the hotel we had stayed in 15 years ago. The menu and the decoration hasn’t changed and it felt comforting.

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2 February – More Penang food…..

We made the most of our posh hotel room and checked out at 11, and walked 50m in sweltering hot heat to our next hotel, we were both sweaty after that!

A day of food awaited us, so to walk off some calories we wandered down the esplanade, which in usual towns is something lovely, however the part we stared at was not that scenic, overlooking the container ships, we had to dodge the unsecured, uneven concrete pavement, deep smelly drains, and general rubbish that was in our way.  Thankfully we got to the nice bit without any injuries, and saw some tourist sites, see below!

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Obviously, after that short stroll, it was time for more food, and what better than tandoori chicken and naan from Restaurant Kapitan ….oooooh, it was delicious. It was full of locals, some of whom looked a little worse for wear after a heavy Saturday night, which was comforting!

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Today was the day for all the Chinese new year celebrations in Penang, loads of roads had been blocked off, several stages set up for folk stories, dancing and other Chinese NY celebrations.

We did see some massages going on, using meat cleavers!
*please don’t try this at home*

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There wasn’t much else happening so we wandered back to our hotel, stopping at the Chinese hotel we stayed at 15 years ago for an ice cold beer and a reminisce. And watched a couple of pretty feral travellers request a room there , they went to view it, came down and walked out! Our standards must have been pretty low last time!

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We thought we would go and see what was happening for the celebrations, so made it to the closed off area and found it absolutely rammed with Chinese, and other revellers. When you went past the stages they were screaming Chinese into the microphones which was enough to send you deaf! It was so congested, and there were no beer stalls, that we decided to decamp to a bar and take time out!

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Had a couple of beers talking to a New Zealand traveller, who is off to South America next month. 

Guy wasn’t feeling 100%, we are not sure if it is malaria, avian flu,  viles disease or just a slight cough, so we decided to call it a day and walked down the road to our hotel. It must have been about 8pm, and there were some very ‘made up ladies’, obviously feeling the heat as they were scantily dressed, waiting around for a lift or a friend to pick them up for the night, I assume to go home, who knows! They didn’t hassle Guy, so that was good! (Some of them had very masculine features.)

We went for another Indian restaurant for another tandoori chicken for Guy and vegetable murtabak for me!

Guy felt up to watching Liverpool vs baggies, then we had a restless nights sleep due to the karaoke bar across the street which went on til 3am!

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1 February – Happy Lunar New Year of the wooden Horse!

Being meticulous planners for this trip…ahem…..we had decided on going to Penang for Chinese new year on purpose, so we could see all the celebrations and experience it in a fairly Chinese place. However, we soon realised it was a little bit like Christmas day back home (albeit it without the champagne conga ala Si and Gez) whereby everyone is at home with their family, no Chinese businesses are open, meaning all the Chinese – Malay food we had been looking forward to would have to be on hold for a few days.

On the plus side there is a Little India for us to explore, so curry inbound!

Due to having curtains with linings we actually slept in, it also helped that there was a time difference here that we belatedly found out about!

Breakfast was Roti Canai, they had already sold out of Murtabak, it was about 11am so possibly not surprising!

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After a quick look around the shopping malls which were mostly closed we had some lunch at a hawker stall, Guy had Laksa – Penang style with lots of shrimp paste, beef stock, mint and liver balls.

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I had Char Koay Teow, basically noodles, prawns and Chinese liver sausage, the stall was heaving and it took ages to get our food,  but a family from Singapore had a quick chat with us to pass the time of day.

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After this, I went to explore the pool and sauna in the hotel, steam room was mouldy so gave that a miss, was enjoying a sauna until 3 burly northern europeaners turned up, I left soon after!

It was now snack time, so we had a murtabak each from the stall down the road, and chatted to a 76year old who had been here 50 years ago, he now lives in Almeria!

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Next door to the snack place was an English pub we had been in 15 years ago, and after being away for two months, laminated menus, vinegar and pints of ale had made us well up a bit. So for a bit of nostalgia we went in again, this time we had tears of pain when we realised we had just paid £3.50 a pint!

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After a wander around and a few more beers to cool down, and a notice in the gentlemans loo which made me wet myself………( see middle image below)

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…..we ended up in a veggie indian restaurant for lush spinach and cheese curry, jeera rice.

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Then it was back home to watch Iron Man 3. So quite a typical Saturday night, beers, curry and movie!

31 Jan – train then ferry to Georgetown

Woke up a couple of times in the night as the train lurched around on the tracks but overall slept very well in the berth. Watched the Thai countryside roll by and felt great. It was only a few hours later the deserved hangover kicked in. Breakfast was dried fruit and nuts with half a packet of biscuits. We didn’t think about it at the time but we wouldn’t eat again until 4pm which was bad planning.

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We arrived at the Thai/Malaysia border and passed uneventfully through immigration and customs before getting back on the train. The only thing of note was a huge sign that described hippies and explained they are not welcome in Malaysia. Apparently they wear singlets and no undergarments.

Finally after 22 & 1/2 hours we pulled into Butterworth and headed into the station to withdraw money from a cashpoint. Amazingly, no cashpoint, but huge red signs for a moneychanger. Got to the moneychanger and he was shut. Well its obvious, one of the only trains that comes to the station daily and the only international one per day, why would you want to open your currency exchange service as dozens of tourists carrying Thai Baht and needing Malaysian Ringgit are around? I was told he was on his way. Eventually the shop keeper from Mr Ben strolled up and grinned through his sparse teeth at the queue of us westerners, slowly melting into a huge puddle under the searing Asian midday sun. The heat, after a more temperate Hong Kong, lack of food and last night finally catching up with me put me in a tired grumpy mood.

We boarded the ferry and slowly watched Penang come into view.

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A free shuttle bus dropped us off in the backpacker area and our strategy was to wander from place to place in the heat, with our rucsacks, trying to find a room. After five nights in HK we were fully aware that it was Chinese New year as we had enjoyed seeing the preparations there. Like Joseph and Mary we were turned away time and time again with no room at the inn. Just as they couldn’t get a room as it was Xmas, we couldn’t get a room as it was Chinese New Year. (Instead of the baby Jesus, Al was carrying a dim sum belly)

Best of all was a middle aged american who looked like a cross between the comic shop owner in The Simpsons and Jabba the Hut explaining to us in a patronising tone that it was Chinese New Year. “Oh really? Is it? I screamed as I shoved his bag of donuts into his face. I imagined.

Well, just as our favourite pregnant virgin and carpenter eventually got room in a stable, we got a plush three star hotel. We wanted to pay less but beggars can’t be choosers.

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As we gazed across the crystal waters of the bay from our 18th floor room we noticed the firm king size bed and realised it would would be the first night for a week that I could sleep with my legs straight. Relieved to have a king size bed in a three star hotel, I headed out for a haircut, my first since Xmas day. I got no discount for my bald patch and no smile for my crap gag.

We came to Penang 15 years ago and loved the food. As an ex British colony there are generations of Chinese and Indian immigrants alongside the native Malays which adds up to culinary heaven. We headed straight for little India and had tandoori chicken and naan fresh from the tandoor. Delicious. After some fruit juice we crashed early.

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