Malaysia – 2

Well that’s different. From KL the 9-hour coach journey (should have been 6, but it took us 2 to get out of the city) saw everything change a bit. The pointy, tree-covered rocks became a coastal plain. Light industry appeared alongside paddy fields. There were housing developments and shopping areas. It was more southern Italy than northern Malaysia. The coach was fine. We had, again, plenty of room and were able to spread ourselves out. We had a lunch stop, which was the Malaysian equivalent of Moto services and we didn’t feel the nine hours.
We were destined for Kuala Perlis, an unknown to us, save it was a one-hour ferry to Langkawi, an island resort we had chosen off the map because it was the closest to the Thai border and the station that would allow us to take a second-class sleeper to Bangkok (yes, you read that right) on Friday night to meet Bex and Steven. We’d booked into the Putra Brasmana hotel, which is by the beach road and a 3-minute walk from the ferry terminal. The hotel was – and we were just getting used to this now – run by, and possibly for, the Muslim community. It was a reasonably tasteful high-rise that had seen better days (the heat always making things look and feel worse than they are). Inside was functional, if Spartan. There was no TV and no WiFi, but breakfast could be bought on the terrace (leading to a total of £23 all in) the next morning. We ate supper on the beach … Again all clearly Muslim locals or holiday makers. And then collapsed into bed.
Now I’d like to make a point about religion. Those that know me, know that I have a problem with organised faith. I guess it’s having seen a bit of the world where all of the Gods have forsaken everyone. I have no problem with people having faith, if that helps them. What I cannot support is organised religion, of all colours. Where (mostly) men build temples, elicit money, subjugate the weak and the poor with tales of impending disaster, and then live in luxury with many wives … Or, in the case of the Catholics, the odd choir boy. [OK, I know this doesn’t apply to all clerics across the spectrum, but it is, trust me, the basis of all religions.] If I believed in a God, She would preach in the slums, bring down the temples to money and greed, and distribute the ensuing wealth accordingly. And She certainly wouldn’t let good people die unnecessarily, hiding behind the fact that ‘it was Her will’ working in a mysterious way. And, not to worry, they’re safely in heaven now (with, in some religions, 1000 virgins … Although I’m not sure that works for the recently departed women?). No, She would give the bad people a hard time, getting them to trip over chairs and chose the wrong shares to buy; they’d be the ones who bought houses in flood areas and buy second hand cars that were made up of two broke ones from previous crashes. Good people would get good interest rates, find lovely people to marry and discover bargains in the sales no one else had. That would be my God.
What has been surprising here is that, among the predominantly conservatively clothed and head scarfed-wearing women, there are many in complete purdah. Now, call me a scientist, but black is not a great colour in the sun. And a full-faced veil is not great for eating chips. I couldn’t not glance at the poor woman next to me having to lift her veil with one hand, whilst shovelling in chips with the other. BTW, her ‘man’ was in shorts and t-shirt (as are they all), and had no problem filling his face. This may be considered anti-Islamic and I can hear the fatwa being offered from where I’m typing, but all of the other Muslim ladies that we have met – and we’ve met a few – have all been smiling and happy. They seem to be enjoying their time whilst upholding their faith. And they are waitresses and probably doctors. And mothers, of course. No, sorry, I’m struggling with the burqa/yashmak combination. I guess having experienced it in far-away places, like Kabul, it seemed more natural there – or maybe I was preoccupied with other things. Here, on holiday, it seems anachronistic at the very least.
Anyhow. On, on.
We caught the ferry along with 300 identically dressed ‘Mr-DIY’ employees off for their 13th anniversary trip, picked up a taxi (£6.40) which took us to our hotel/villa. We’d provisionally booked for 2/4 nights as we had no idea if we would like it. In the end we’ve stayed for the duration. At £35 for a sea-view villa, which could be transported to the Maldives and cost you £350 a night, it’s perfect. There is no breakfast, but good WiFi, the beach is beautiful, but ‘boggy’, if that makes sense. The views of the sunsets and the sea eagles (yes, true) are magnificent. It’s secluded and isolated … Which we count as a good thing. The staff are lovely and the restaurant will knock you up a decent supper and soft drinks (no alcohol, sorry) for about a tenner. We’d got wind of the no alcohol rule and raided the ferry terminal’s duty-free shop. And, that was an unexpected bonus. Langkawi is a duty free island and, like across all Malaysia, you can buy alcohol, you just can’t seem to get it in hotels and restaurants. But here you can pick up a bottle of wine for £6 and a small can of beer for 60p. (£12 and £3 in a KL shop.) Result.
We booked a moped for three days (£8 a day, cash, no paperwork and no insurance – about £1 a day for fuel. There are no markings but I’m pretty certain it’s a 125cc so you can get around the island easily) and the place is fab. Think Menorca, but hotter. It’s hilly and green. There are some good beaches, but there are also a lot of resorts, many exclusive. There’s an airport – indeed, our villa (Coconut Villa Resort) is right next to the airport, but you don’t notice. You can eat anywhere for next to nothing, if you’re happy to eat local, and there are supermarkets to get the essentials. The buildings are all a bit tired, but there are plenty of neon bars. In fact I’d say it was more like a Caribbean island – with it’s relaxed atmosphere and colourful paintwork … And calls to prayer …
On day one we did the cable car to the top of the main mountain (the steepest in the world, let me tell you – built by the Austrians, so we felt safe enough – £24 for both of us). On top there’s a canopy-height walkway with views over the Straits of Malacca and the Andaman Sea … Exquisite. If it weren’t for the loud Chinese tourists with selfie-sticks and bad-mannered children, you could touch the tree tops and hear the animals and insects talk to you.
Next we drove to an unexpected gem: a waterfall up a short trail. The water fell over 100 metres straight down into a pool … Which you couldn’t not swim in. And then we found a lovely beach with a few people on it, bathed again and remarked at how lucky we were. Supper was a short cycle down to ‘the strip’, which could be any beach resort anywhere and ate our now staple chicken and rice for £8.
And that brings me onto ‘budget’. Leaving aside flights (£1800 all told) we have budgeted for £80 a day including travel and hotels. Those of you who read this drivel and remember some of it, will know that we have always (even now with the house) budgeted for £50 a day – that’s everything, less mortgages and insurances Currently on this trip we are in credit, but we have been lucky with staying with people and some v generous benefactors putting us up in hotels. But, having now forked off on our own and working strictly to the budget, I think we will do just fine. I’ll keep you abreast as we go.
Today was going to be a visit to the ‘best beach in Malaysia’. Well, we did that at the same time as a tropical squall. Wind and rain – and more wind and rain. It stayed ‘wet’ all day, but we managed another waterfall, another beach and a long trip around the island on the bike … Where we were reminded of how dangerous the roads can be. On one particularly windy, downhill bit we came across two accidents due to the slippery roads. Note to self …
I think that’s enough from me for now. Next post will be after the sleeper train to Bangkok experience. Mmm, looking forward to that.
I suppose I could finish on British politics. That about 87 people are choosing the next prime minister (come on, how does that work?), and they’re likely to chose someone who will not admit to how many children he has fathered from his three wives. I wasn’t serving when Mr Johnson was Foreign Secretary (I will not call him Boris, he is no friend of mine), so I can’t tell you what rumours there were about his competence. But if you believe just 10% of what’s out there we are getting a man who cares more about himself than he does the people. Sorry, my mistake, he does care about the Tory party which, apparently, will be scuppered if Brexit doesn’t go ahead. Really? Do we, the rest of us, really care about saving a political party for the sake of saving the nation?
I keep apologising about Brexit to anyone I meet over here. Ho hum.
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