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KL to KT via Cherating: Roads travelled and untravelled

MALAYSIA | Tuesday, 20 June 2006 | Views [4851]

I was originally going to write about turtles in Cherating. There's a turtle sanctuary there, with a small museum with models of turtles, diagrams of their breeding cycle, some turtles in a pond, and two tubs of baby green turtles waiting to be released into the wild. At night you can go to the museum, watch turtles come up the beach to lay eggs, watch a documentary, and then participate in the releasing of the baby turtles at a time suitable to minimise the casualty rate from birds, sharks, etc.

Pantai Cherating is a small seaside village consisting of a crescent-moon beach on a forested bay, lots of accommodation of various degrees of quality, souvenir shops, and a few cafes, bars and restaurants. There are more beaches, hotels, motels, and resorts all up and down this stretch of coast. The first Club Med in Malaysia was opened in Cherating though on the next beach up - it's just next to the Turtle Sanctuary. Lonely Planet makes it sound busy, but it's quietish and not just because it's low season - apparently it's been about the same for the last few years. Pantai Cherating is a little run down and will probably continue to run down further. Still, it's cheapish, and not a bad place to spend a couple of nights.

Pantai Cherating is about 45km north of Kuantan on the the coast road. Kuantan, the capital of Pangkor state, is a couple of hundred km from KL, and Kuala Terengganu, my intended destination, is a couple of hundred km from Kuantan. You can do KL to KT in about seven hours. As I hate long journeys (yeah, I probably chose the wrong way to spend my vacation) it seemed a good idea to break the trip into two legs, and Ting (originally from Kuantan) recommended Cherating as being more interesting than Kuantan.

So Ray and Jo drove me to Puduraya bus terminal - we started about 11:30, and arrived a bit after midday. There were no coaches to Cherating - you need to catch another bus from Kuantan - and the next available bus to Kuantan was at 3:30, so we had lunch until it was time to catch the bus. 3 hours or so later and I arrived at the express bus terminal Kuantan ready to catch another bus to Cherating, a bus which left from the _local_ bus terminal, which for some reason was a kilometer away. At the local bus terminal I found the Cherating bus closed and driverless. No more services were running up there for the day (I arrived before nightfall but it was almost dark by the time the non-driver turned up) and the option was either to stay in Kuantan for the night or go up to Cherating via taxi.

I had a small wander and thought about it. Staying in Kuantan round the bus terminal was unappealing and if I'd stayed the night I would have just left for KT the next day, so taxi (ouch my budget!) and turtles it was. By about 9pm I stood in Pantai Cherating. The next day I hired a bike, rode up to the Turtle Museum, rode south on the coast road to the fishing village of Sungai Ular (Snake River), where I had keropok lekor - fish sausage - for lunch, watched a monkey picking coconuts, looked at the beach and distant islands, and rode its backroads to try and find the river further up from the coast road. I then returned to Pantai Cherating to have dinner before going to the Turtle Sanctuary again.

It's meant to be the dry season in Malaysia. KL has flooded a couple of times since I've been there, and Pantai Cherating was no different in its unseasonality. I can cope with a little water, but being on a metal bike in an electrical storm is perhaps not such a good idea. So: no ride to the sanctuary, no eggs, no documentary, no release of baby turtles to the uncertainty of life in the ocean, and definitely no happy tidy end to a blog post. Instead I got to watch some football.

My coach the next day was listed as 2pm on my receipt so I turned up to the busstop at about 1:30 to be safe, and watched as a Transnational to KT sailed past just before 2pm without picking me up. I waited about 20 minutes just in case there was a second coach, then walked back to the beachfront to complain to the agent, with a couple of backpackers from Holland who'd just spent six months in Australia. Anyway, what "2pm" meant, it seems, was that my bus was the 1:30 from Kuantan, but that I should have gotten to the busstop there at about 2 to be safe. And that I should get back to the busstop very quickly. Naturally I missed the 1:30 from Kuantan. I could however catch the 6:30 from Kuantan (turn up at 7 for a 7:30 departure...). By about 11:30pm I had a room in KT.

So what's it all about? Turtles? Why I hate long distance travel? How I made some bad choices? Or, how you can't always tell that a choice is bad or not when you make it?

If I hadn't caught the night bus to KT, I wouldn't have woken to find myself in a sci-fi dystopia after dozing off. Terengganu is an oil state, and while there are probably few things more hideous than the full extent of a refinery by day, at night, with its complex of asymmetrical pipework festooned with orange halogen lights, fire-topped emissions towers, and sheer scale, it's really very impressive; ugly but beautiful; definitely something worth seeing. You should go find one quickly, though; they're more endangered than the turtles are, and noone is going to build a sanctuary for them.

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