Filed under: Culture, Outside Thailand, Travel | Tags: AB Motel, Asian travel, Bangkok, Batu Ferringhi, beach bar, beaches, Beer, British, Broadway Budget Hotel, Brunei, cable car, car hire, Cenang, Cenang nightlife, Chinese, Chinese food, colonial Malaysia, coral, coral reefs, ferry, fish, fish feeding, fort, Fort Cornwallis, Georgetown, grouper, guesthouses, hiking, Indians, Jalan Penang, Kuah, Langkawi, Langkawi nightlife, live band, live music, luxury resorts, luxury tourism, Malays, Malaysia, Malaysian people, mangroves, marine park, military, Miri, monkeys, mountain, Muslims, Nightlife, octopus, Pantai Kok, Penang, Penang nightlife, Pulau Payar, Pulau Payar marine park, reggae, reggae band, reggae music, resorts, river, Rough Guide, scuba diving, seabass, seafood, seaport, Seven Wells, sharks, snorkelling, South East Asia, South East Asian travel, stingray, swimming, taxis, Thailand, Thais, tourism, tourist attractions, tourists, tropical islands, waterfall
I spent last week in Malaysia wth my girlfriend, Waew. It was our first proper holiday together and my first proper trip to Malaysia (I did a brief border hop from Brunei in 2005 but that was essentially just to tick another country off the list). It was also my first proper holiday in South East Asia since moving to Thailand last year, having so far failed to live up to my promise to myself to see as much of the region as possible while living here.We flew in and out of Penang, where we spent half of the week. The other half we spent in Langkawi. It proved a decent mix of city and countryside, culture and relaxation, with stays in three locations.
The morning ferry from Penang to Langkawi necessitated a pre-dawn wakening in order to drive from Batu Ferringhi to Georgetown, drop off the hire car and walk to the port (no taxis being available at that time) in time for check-in 45 minutes before departure. Consequently we got to drive through a pretty sunrise and negotiate a sleepy Georgetown before the city and its inhabitants fully woke.
The boat ride was smooth and I soon fell asleep and caught up a little on the hours missed with the early start. Sleeping a portion of the 2.5-hour journey meant it passed very quickly.
We got a taxi from the Langkawi port in Kuah to Pantai Kok, reportedly the best beach on the island, but on arrival found that the guesthouse we were looking for had closed in the couple of years or so since the Rough Guide I was consulting was published. Since Pantai Kok is otherwise populated by high-end resorts (above our budget), the driver recommended we go to Cenang instead. Fair enough – it was said to be the second-best beach on the island, and not as developed as Kuah, the island capital.
We checked in to the AB Motel, which at RM100 (20 pounds) per night was an absolute steal – just 20 metres from the white-sand beach, boasting a large en-suite room, two double beds, air con, fridge, TV and verandah, and in walking distance of anything of significance in Cenang. We couldn’t have asked for more.
As we had already seen a decent stretch of the coast and countryside thanks to the aborted attempt to stay in Pantai Kok – further from Kuah than Cenang, at the western end of the island – we decided to simply spend our first day hanging around Cenang and relaxing. An excellent Chinese lunch was followed by a stroll along the beach and a swim.
As is my habit, when I saw a broken beer bottle on the sea floor, I picked it up and intended to return it to shore. It was only when a white tentacle started to wriggle out of it that I realised an octopus had made its home inside the green glass! Ingenious, I thought, as the sides of the glass offered both armour and a smooth, firm anchoring point for its suckers. Not knowing – or wishing to find out – what would happen if one of the tentacles was to attach to my skin, I dropped the bottle back where I’d found it.
Cenang was light on nightlife options, although there was a decent beach bar with a live reggae band which looked the part but vocally would never be confused with the icons they covered. Still, I find reggae music of any kind always suits an evening on a tropical island beach.
We returned to Pantai Kok the next day – not in search of luxury resorts or defunct guesthouses, but to visit the Seven Wells – a river leading to a dramatic waterfall and featuring seven pools connected by slippery rocks which are safe and fun to slide down.
It’s a hot and humid hike up the mountain – and any rustling of bags will attract the attentions of naughty, snack-hunting monkeys – but that just makes the eventual dip in the river all the more welcome.
The Seven Wells lead to what would literally be a deadly drop off the waterfall, so thankfully a couple of flimsy wires stretch across the penultimate pool. It’s a half-hearted effort as far as death-prevention goes, but really, no harm will come to anyone who displays a bit of common sense and doesn’t go too near the edge.
A walk back down to the base of the waterfall provides further swimming opportunities and the scene for some dramatic photos. After that, we considered a ride on the Langkawi cable car to the summit of the mountain, but rain was threatening so we retreated to the hotel.
The rain did indeed descend with some force that evening, ruling out a return to the beach bar, but an excellent dinner of grilled cockles and stingray sufficed.
Our final full day in Langkawi saw us take a tour to Pulau Payar Marine Park. It is one of the most heavily-advertised tourist attractions in the region, with videos and documentation showing delightful images of snorkelling and diving amid coral and hand-feeding colourful fish and even sharks. It looked irresistible, so we plumped for that over other excursions, including a three-island boat trip or a mangrove tour.
The island was indeed delightful – pristine sea water brimming with fish, uninhabited land and stunning views from the hilltop – but in hindsight, there was no reason to take an organised tour there rather than the normal, scheduled ferry service.
The tour staff were, of course, friendly and knowledgeable, but aside from that the only things they provided besides the transport was a snorkel set and a packed lunch – both of which you could buy in Cenang anyway.
So the “tour” amounted to a bus and boat ride to a single desination, a talk, a basic lunch and the provision of equipment. Besides that, we were left to our own devices for a half-day. Don’t get me wrong, Pulau Payar itself is well worth visiting, and it is quite charming to be surrounded by schools of fish – tiny, bright ones up to seabass, non-aggressive sharks and even one enormous grouper – attracted by scraps of bread. It’s just that the organised tour to the island did not offer value for money at RM100 per person.
Rain curtailed another trip to the beach bar, so we spent our final night out in Langkawi at the only other watering hole we could find in Cenang, which I can’t remember the name of but was run by a British guy who was celebrating his birthday that night, so the place was busy and boasting a party atmosphere. We stayed until 3am, and with beers starting at just RM3 (60p), and our return ferry to Penang not until 2.30pm, there was no reason not to!
The return to Penang was simply for convenience, as we would fly back to Bangkok one day later. We stayed again at the Broadway Budget Hotel, had a low-key Friday night out on Jalan Penang (the hangover from the previous night in Langkawi was still in the memory) and then killed a few hours before the afternoon flight on Saturday by visiting Fort Cornwallis, a British colonial military defence fort which was never actually used in battle.
In all, the holiday offered a good mix of culture, fun and relaxation, which is just right for a one-week vacation. I found Malaysian people – whether indigenous, Chinese or Indian – to be very friendly and for the most part fair and honest – something that is unfortunately sometimes missing from the tourist’s experience in other parts of South East Asia. The food was good and costs were comparable with Thailand, and in some cases certain things were even cheaper. It is officially a Muslim country but there no restrictions on dress, drink or other standard pursuits of a Western or Thai tourist. Waew proclaimed it the “best trip ever”, and while she is far from as well-travelled as me, it was certainly among my more enjoyable holidays, too.
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