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Takin it easy is SE Asia Fluffing around in Asia but soon need to get to work to continue this life.

Serene but soggy Langkawi

MALAYSIA | Monday, 12 September 2011 | Views [512]

It is funny that when you are peeved about aspects of your journey, you can actually miss what are the good parts. I caught an overnight train from KL north up to Arau to get to Langkawi as this was a cheaper option than a flight, and I imagined a more comfortable trip than a bus.

When I was checking it out online it was around $93 ringgit for a first class sleeper, with two bunks only, which equated to less than $30 Aus. So I thought this would be the way to go but when I went to purchase the ticket, asking for a first class sleeper (obviously without enough emphasis to get through the language barrier) I got sold a ticket for Superior Night Class, which is the carriages lined with double decker bunks either side of the aisle with a curtain for privacy. It worked out at about $18 Aus and I thought ‘no worries’, this will be a new experience as have not travelled this way before (though a part of me was thinking I should change it for the double cabin). The train left at 9.20pm so I had to kill about three hours at the KL Sentral train station which at least had a few dining options.

In hindsight I should have followed my gut feeling and gone for the cabin as I did not really get much sleep on that trip. Before boarding I kept asking about checking in my baggage, and got plenty of head nods but the go was that you just placed your bags in the aisle. I had paid extra for a bottom bunk but above me and in the top bunk across the aisle was a family with two young girls. They liked to chat, use mobile phones and the parents went to the end of the carriage for a cigarette at all hours. The next couple of top bunks down were taken by two young men who talked all night, texted and phoned people until I gave them a dirty look in the early hours and they moved down to a sitting carriage. At the other end of the carriage were a group of young people who stood in the aisle and talked until midnight. The carriage lights were not turned off, or down at all and the cleaner stomped up and down, rustling plastic bags and banging rubbish until daylight.  

At 5.45am I gave up trying to sleep as we were starting to come into stations that people were getting off so there was movement. The chatty family that I had given the look to before were friendly and polite, asking me where I was going which made me feel bad about being such a grumpy traveller. By the time I was fully awake many of the people at my end of the carriage had got off so I snavelled an extra pillow as a back rest and opened the curtains to look at the scenery. Everything was covered in mist I thought but as the sun rose I realised it was the same sort of haze that had been blanketing KL.

My train pulled into the station at just after 8am, I jumped into a taxi that sped (tried to get him to slow down but language an issue) into Kuala Perlis, bought a ticket for the ferry leaving at 8.15 and was on the water before I had chance to even think of breakfast. On the train they had come around at about 7am with a trolley with chips, biscuits, chocolate and some local coagulated rice looking dish in plastic containers so nothing enticing there. The ferry was packed so I found an aisle seat and put my head in a book for the 1.15hr trip. It was not until near the end that I strove for a view of all the enticing islands, beaches and blue water we were chugging through. I think if I was on a boat with some outdoor deck area, was less tired and grumpy and did not have as much luggage this would have been a very picturesque trip. Let’s see what the return journey to the mainland is like as I will be taking the slightly longer boat to Kuala Kedah.

On landing in Langkawi I purchased some food at the first place I could which was a local café. I still do not have my head around how they serve things up as I got them to put on my plate some rice, spiced and fried calamari, cucumber salad and a roti (which I realised afterwards you chop with a cleaver first to break it up into smaller pieces). I asked for an iced tea to drink and was given a huge mug with heaps of local ice so I thought ‘what the heck, if I am going to get diarrhoea from the water I may as well get it now’. The old man on the till gave me a funny look that said ‘strange foreigner eating strange mix of food’ and charged me $10 ringgit.

Though I was hot and looking forward to a shower I lugged my gear around the strip of travel shops to make arrangements for getting back off Langkawi. I had to be at the jetty on Banding Island in Lake Temengor by 3pm on Tuesday and as the transport options were limited it took a little bit of working out how I was going to do it.

After the necessary bus was booked I jumped into a taxi heading off to my beachside resort but unfortunately I could not check into my room until 1pm so I had over two hours to kill. I left my bags at reception and wandered along the beach and up the sleepy street in the steaming mid-day heat (probably around 32° and over 85% humidity which was hotter than it was in KL). I had noticed that Malaysians were not early starters but the Islanders are even more relaxed with many of the shops not even looking like opening until after 11am. As you only had access to wi-fi internet in the resort foyer I ended up sitting there for an hour under the fan.

Once I could check in and be shown my hut I felt a lot better about paying the $140 ringgit per night. The little self contained timber cabin with deck was one row back from the beach and had a great ocean view. A warm shower and nap under the fan during the afternoon heat was luxury, as was the dip in calm salt water after.

The main reason I came to Langkawi at this time was to attend and do some networking at the Malaysian Nature Society Annual General Meeting (AGM) and on the Saturday I walked down to the Frangipani Resort where this was to be held. Along the way I checked out some of the duty free shops. I made note of the bargain price of a litre bottle of Gordons gin being $30 ringgit (less than Aus $10) for stocking up on before I left. Once I had an ocean dip to cool off after the walk I weaselled my way into joining a buffet lunch provided for the society group members that had met on other matters earlier. The people at my table were an interesting group of environmentalists.

The AGM was like any other and many of the issues raised by members the exact same as experienced by natural resource management groups back in Australia – lack of funding, aging and retainment of members, challenge of attracting young, new members, importance of making projects locally relevant etc. But politics and legislation are even bigger issues here as the country is not truly democratic, there is little enforcement of environmental laws and State politicians often override good work for commercial or vocal minority group votes. Also if any environmental group wants to stay in operation in Malaysia they cannot say much about the ‘important economic pillars’ of logging and oil palm plantations.

By afternoon tea the storm clouds were threatening and the updates from the many sub-branches were starting to drag so I left. Just in time for the heavens to open up and as there were no taxies about I walked all the way back in the tropical rain. Wading through the puddles of water and avoiding the holes in the footpath reminded me of Fiji so good thing I had my umbrella and trusty reef sandals.

The rain really thundered down that night and the wind rattled the timbers of my cottage. It sounded like a mini cyclone. I could not leave to go get my Aus $2 eggs and bread breakfast until after 10am the next morning. The street showed the storm impact with leaves and branches everywhere. It rained all afternoon so I sat under cover on my little cabin deck, drinking duty free vodka mixed with a local sports drink and playing with my new camera. The ocean became increasingly wild and I watched some silly Asian tourists try to have a swim while all sorts of debris were deposited on the beach.

My main concern was that if the bad weather was going to stick around my ferry the next day would either be cancelled due to the massive swell or I would have a horror trip back to the mainland. But the weather calmed late in the afternoon and Monday predictions were for clear skies by the afternoon (when I would travel). I finished off the book I had and stocked up with a couple of more novels from a street stall and had a quiet evening reading and listening to the showers.

On the Monday morning the weather was clear and after packing my bags and checking out by 10am I convinced myself to take the time to go and see at least one of the island sights which was the cable car and sky walk. I left my bags at the resort and caught a taxi for the drive around the airport, through little townships, past scattered half built hotels and new facilities such as a big flash police training compound. The clouds in the sky made it a good day to do this as they kept the temperature down slightly.

The cable car was definitely worth the effort. It is one of the most spectacular I have been on and rises at an incredibly steep angle for over 500 m. You would not want to be scared of heights. The recent rain had cleared most of the haze from the air and the view from the top was amazing and would only be better on totally clear days with no cloud. As I hiked down the steps to the sky bridge I thought to myself that I really need to avoid doing this sort of activity in the middle of the day. Once out on the slightly swaying sky bridge though there was a wonderful cooling breeze.

I had decided that another site I was going to experience before leaving was to have lunch at the Royal Langkawi Yacht Club. For a change I had a slow taxi from the cable car to the beach to pick up my luggage then down to the main town with harbour and yacht club. By my watch it was 1.30pm when we got there and I was starting to get a headache from lack of food. The sightseeing had taken me longer than I thought as I had hoped to be on an early afternoon boat. Once I got to the yacht club and ordered a beef burger for lunch I wondered why their clock said it was nearly 3pm which I thought was the wrong time.

After lunch I walked to the jetty next door and purchased a ticket for the next ferry which was at 4pm. My watch said 2.30pm and I was annoyed to have to sit around for an hour and a half as I could have caught an earlier boat if better organised. Luckily the duty free shopping area was air-conditioned so I read my book for a while before heading out to the jetty just before 4pm. The real time though was just before 5pm and I had missed my boat! God knows how my watch ended up one hour out of whack as it seems to have been keeping the right time since?

Luckily the crew let me onto the 5pm boat and I had a ride with a few bumps over to Kuala Kedah. The boat had no outdoor viewing area and with the clouds there was not much to see anyway. Kuala Kedah is a fishing port and many of the traditional boats were heading out as we came in. I caught a taxi to the nearby town of Alor Setar and booked into a motel across the road from the bus station where the next leg of my journey would commence in the morning. I was totally knackered and happy to crash out early with no dinner on the single bed in my tiny room.


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