In my continuing pursuit of sunshine and nice weather I decided to leave Thailand a day early and enter Malaysia through Langkawi island. At 7am I ran out into the torrential Krabi rain to join a minivan that was heading south to Hat Yai full of like-minded backpackers who thought it would be best to leave town. I got to talking with some of the Europeans on the bus before myself and the others managed a few minutes of sleep, only to be woken by the cold, wet splash of rain water from the leaking van. As the van arrived at the ferry terminal, half of the travelers got out whilst the rest continued on, to the land border to get new visa stamps. I had some lunch, used up the last of my phone credit and proceeded to hop onto the ferry, just as the black storm clouds were rolling in, signifying the start of a very rough hour and a half trip to Langkawi.
That first day in Langkawi I felt land locked by heavy rain and spent most of the afternoon hanging around the common areas of the hostel I was staying at. The only person nearby who seemed to venture into the rain was a local who had taken to some nearby flooded paddocks with a bamboo spear and a flashlight to hunt fish. How the fish had found themselves in the paddock I have no idea, yet some of the backpackers had pictures to testify that the man had caught some fish! That evening I took advantage of the duty free status given to the island and had some cheap drinks with the other travelers, knowing that alcohol prices will double once I get to the mainland.
My body clock still used to being at 301 I woke at 6.30 to the sound of heavy rain and decided to go back to sleep for a few hours hoping it would improve. Fortune came, and by midday I decided to venture out into the light drizzle and wander around for a while to see what I could see. The landscape was beautiful with tree covered hills in all directions set amongst rice paddocks slowly breaking free of the clouds that had engulfed the island for days. I wandered past schools and a group of young primary school boys who after coming up and saying hello cheekily stuck their hands out asking for 2 Ringgits. I also walked past a very popular local cafe/restaurant which had a huge buffet of curries and other Malay dishes which I was too full from breakfast to try, so I settled on my first iced tea, which was incredibly sweet from what I assume is condensed milk. After that I just kept wandering around through side streets, farmland and eventually a main road which would ultimately lead me home – after 4.5hrs. Having no sense/care for time or orientation felt somewhat liberating, as when traveling in a group decisions have to be made diplomatically and with purpose. Traveling by yourself offers no constraints on anything other than your budget, so it was an interesting experience.
Arising the next day to sunshine I decided to hire a motorbike for the day and explore some of the waterfalls and beaches that the island had to offer. I was able to get the old bike up to 110km/hr as I zipped around the nearly deserted roads out to the north western corner of the island which operates as a trekking starting point, and also houses a cable car system to a lookout at the top of the mountain. Deciding against going up the cable car I climbed the 300 steps at the trekking point, considered part of training for Kinabalu to the top of a waterfall. The waterfall offered great views of two mountains on the left and right making a V shape through which the beautiful light blue ocean can be seen. Not having any plans for where I was off to next I decided to just sit and soak in the view and tranquility for half an hour as I had the whole park area to myself. Following that, I took to the scooter again, passing an incredible amount of monkeys that were happily sitting on the side of the road (and often on the road) watching bikes and cars go by as I went looking for a beach. In one corner of road I saw more monkeys than I did on ‘Monkey Beach’ on Koh Phi Phi!
I found success in the form of a powdery white sandy beach which looked out to small nearby islands. Unfortunately, it took only about 10 minutes until I was escorted away as apparently the beach was private. Returning to the main tourist beach in the evening I went for a quick swim and was able to take a quick photo of the sun setting behind a nearby island. A final postcard moment from the beautiful Langkawi island.
I got to Georgetown (Penang) late the following day where I did little more than dine on the amazing food on offer for three days. Breakfasts of roti and egg were followed by lunches of mee goreng, then back to the Indian restaurants for a tandoori dinner. In the three days I was there I don’t think I spent more than $4 on a meal, almost all of which were fantastic. Wandering the streets of little India and Chinatown I also stumbled across ‘cendol’ and ‘ice kacang’ – sweetened, shaved ice based deserts.
Georgetown being the old trading port for the British that it is, the town is filled with contrasts of Victorian buildings along side modern Chinese-Malay architecture. Half a day was easily spent roaming the streets seeing the well maintained town hall and various other landmarks around the city such as Fort Cornwallis, where a free concert was being held. In a final act of training before climbing Kinabalu I decided to hike the 5km up to Penang Hill to try and see sunset over the city.
Beginning in the botanic gardens where hordes of locals were jogging the gardens, practicing Tai Chi, or watching the monkeys play is a road in which jeeps charter visitors to the top of the hill. Or, in my case, start the hike to the top. Simply put, the first 1.5km of the hike was hell. The incline would have been at least 35 – 40% and my legs, only used to running on flat levels began burning after a few minutes. Wanting to keep a good pace I overtook many of the locals, becoming drenched in sweat in the process causing me to stop at the 1.5km rest area and find my focus (and breath). I removed the long legs from my pants to turn them into shorts, removed my sweat-soaked t-shirt, tied the straps of my pack to myself and finally pulled out my iPod to crank some motivational Fat Boy Slim to power me through the rest of the hike. It seemed to do the job because from there on, with a newly empowered mindset I stopped only to take quick photos of monkeys or signage before reaching the top after just over an hour. Well before the 2 – 3 hrs the guidebook suggested. I was also lucky enough to witness dusk over the city and the sun set behind the mountains, illuminating the sky in beautiful hues. As darkness came, I began to wander how I was going to make it back to the bottom and I was fortunate enough to meet a nice group of Indian visitors who offered me a spot in their jeep. Relief, however was short lived as the base of the hill was completely deserted and I had no idea if the bus service was still running. In another stroke of luck though I quickly met a group of German tourists who had a hire car and were nice enough to offer me a lift back into town where I would shower, feast, sleep and be ready to take the 5.5hr bus to Kuala Lumpur the following morning.