27.2.2017 Ko Mok to Ko Lipe, Koh Lipi, Koh Lipeh… whatever…. To Langkawi 

The problem with reality is it just isn’t as good as fantasy.

We had paid a small fortune (£120) to travel by speed boat from Koh Mok to Langkawi, this involved 2 speed boats with a 3 hour break in between boats which gave us time for the international border crossing and for that we gain an extra hour in our lives. As we had paid a lot we had visions of James Bond type boats quickly and efficiently getting us to where we wanted and arriving in Malaysia after a days travelling with flashpacker freshness. 

We ordered breakfast (which was also going to be lunch) of one last Pad Thai and iced coffee. There were no noodles in the kitchen so we had stir fried rice, bland until we doused it in chilli, which had the unfortunate effect of reminding our stomachs of last night’s spicy yellow curry. Still we had a couple of hours to clear our stomachs before speed boat relay started.

We waited near the beach for the boat to arrive. It was supposed to arrive at 11.20. 11.20 came and went, 11.45 too, by 12.00 we were concerned. A few phone calls later and it was confirmed it would be here at 12.20. It arrived at 12.30. We still had a 2 hour turnaround so were unpurturbed at this slight delay.

Getting on the boat everyone seemed quite quiet and sober. Wierd, but then I though they are probably all on their way home so I could understand that. Not many backpackers would pay this price for the journey.

We had 30 mins to go to the next island to pick up more passengers, the speed boat bounced along the waves, lurching in that irregular fashion they do. Hummmm……I remembered the afternoon rains the past couple of days, that were accompanied by a slight breeze, which had been cooling on the beach. Maybe we would avoid them?

Pick up done and we were settled in seats across the aisle near the back of the boat. Bags piled up at the back of the boat. Plenty more tourists at the back of the boat.

The speedboat bounced along the waves, still juddering in its usual fashion. Clouds were gathering, blue skies were replaced by plump, grey clouds. People were looking around nervously, the boat started to bounce more, we were both thinking this is ok, nothing is as bad as the ferry to Taiwan. No Chinese are on board so we should avoid copious vomiting and over flowing sick bags.

Then the wind picked up and the waves started to lash through the back half of the boat, within 10 mins we were drenched right through our skimpy outfits, having dressed for 35 degree heat, not a water park ride. Salt water stung our eyes, hands and feet wrinkled like we had been in a hot bath for an hour. 

Our fellow passengers in the front half, or shall we call it the dry half of the boat, all looked on amused and took photos whilst we at the back end of the boat, got a through brining. It was funny, you put on a brave face and laughed, we only had another hour and we should be there.

Looking to the back of the boat, the bags were drenched in sea water, which if you have a fancy Dry Sac like Guy is fine. If you have a 18 year old canvas bag with everything in plastic bags you begin to wonder if the bags are big enough to ensure nothing gets wet. Nothing you can do about it now though. Just soak up the spray and keep smiling at the cameras.

The boat bounced along, buffered by the increasing winds, the crew had the look of Thai drug runners, all about 18 years old and laughing at the farang getting scared and soaked. 

About 2 hours into the journey it was clear we were no where near our destination. We did a mid sea transfer of more farang on and off the boat, the clean, dry Russian and Chinese tourist came on and sat at the back of the boat.

Just when you think it can’t get any worse, the heavens opened, the rain intensified and the thunder and lightning began. The temperature dropped, I was shaking, and just a fleeting thought of a warm, centrally heated office in Redditch passed through my head. 

Chinese tourists filled sick bags, Russians braved it and laughed along, even the lasses false eyelashes didn’t bat an eyelid. Stereotypes are created for a reason.

Another hour of this and we eventually arrive in Koh Lipi a full 10 mins before we our next ferry leaves. The Thai drug runners shout ‘Langkawi, Langkawi’ and us and another couple are bundled off the boat, through the thigh high warm waters (bliss) dragging my salt water drenched rucksack and hand luggage up the sandy beach to immigration. My passport is drenched, I am drenched, I have never been through passport control looking like a drowned rat, but we get through, only partially able to fill out the departure cards as we are shaking from the cold so much.  

Next boat takes us and our passports, separately, to the ferry, which has waited for us to arrive. We have a brief bit of heat before getting shepherded into a cold, air conditioned cabin. Just what I needed when soaked to the skin.

Immigration is the oddest yet, an elderly Malaysian is clutching about 30 passports. He shouts out the nationality of the passport and somehow this matches the owner, usually. We get ours near the end of this lottery, the last one isn’t even announced, it is given to the person remaining. He does check ‘Has everyone got a passport?’. I am not sure if it matters if it is the right one…… he has done his job and retires.

My teeth are chattering, body shaking, Guy lends me his shirt, I pull it on, it is soaking in seconds. We watch a Steven Siegal movie. It is a long trip, not bouncy, just long and air conditioned.

Finally, at 18.45 Malaysian time, we are in Langkawi, the sun is still out, just and we emerge into the sun shine. Bliss. Then onto the air conditioned immigration hall. Cold. The customs woman is bemused at both my passport and my appearance. I explain it was soaked on the ferry. 

The customs guy is checking everyone’s rucksacks, I put mine on the desk with a loud squelch. He touches it, prods it, says it wet, I concur. He says he doesn’t want to check it. Result!

Guys Dry Sac is checked. Ha ha!

We finally get to the outside warmth of the ferry terminal and an ATM. We have been offered 40 Ringitt for our taxi to Cenang Tengang (£8), seems steep. Move on and the next guy says 38 Ringitt (50p) saving, not quite what I was expecting. Once he realises we are not going to hire a car or scooter from him (why would we, do we have a death wish???) he lets us go to the taxi queue and get a taxi for 30 Ringitt. Odd procedure, but we get the price we wanted.

Taxi driver asks if we want air con, we shiver and gasp No, and he opens the windows to the warm, evening breeze and we try not to drip or soak our salt water into his spotless upholstery. 

We have an enthusiastic welcome from our French host at The Crowded House guesthouse, get our room, I unceremoniously dump everything out of my back onto the clean, new white tiled floor. Each corner of each plastic bag failed to prevent sogginess. I get some soggy trousers and a matching soggy top out of the bag, hope they dry as we step out for something to eat.

Just as we step out the heavens opened, again!!! I am thinking, if I get wet, at least it is rain that can wash off the sea water. Guy who is dry, is not keen on a rain shower. 

Our host waves 2 umbrellas at us, bless him, and we trudge off to Fat Mums for a huge bowl of delicous, soothing laksa, and a less exciting beef rendang.

Obviously this is all my view of the day, to report back from Guy the best part of today was realising Malaysia had same plugs as UK….. English colonialistion has its advantages. He was so thrilled he made the comment ‘it is just as Phil Collins nearly sang, No Adapter Required’ …..(one for Di there xx)

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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