Monday, 20 February 2012

Welcome to Malaysia and the Golden Island of Langkawi, 5-8 June 2011

BANG… BANG….  “Welcome to Malaysia”  the immigration officer said as she stamped my passport and exit card.  On the back was a strict warning that any drug smuggling will result in death.  OK, thanks for telling me that!!  As I entered the arrivals hall to the port, I was struck by the westernised feeling of Langkawi.  I stepped outside the building where a barrage of taxis wait to take the new arrivals anywhere on the island as there is no public transport.  “Oh great!”   I thought as I pictured the taxi driver taking me for a ride and taking all the money from me.  However, they had got it sorted.  You had to go to the taxi desk first where they would give you a slip telling you how much the journey will take and allocate you a taxi driver.  This certainly limits the chance of being ripped off and I liked Malaysia already.

Sunset on Cenang Beach
I was heading to Cenang, the main tourist beach town where most people head.  I had no idea where I was going to stay as per usual and I was dropped off in the centre of the strip to begin my search.  I checked a few overpriced places first and finally came across the Shirin Guesthouse run by Ebrahim, an ex-Iranian soldier and his Japanese wife Hiroko.  My room was a small single hut with air conditioning and an ensuite bathroom.  That evening I met Jay, an English man who was heading back to Australia to work.  His first bit of advice was, “at no time should you mention politics in this guesthouse.”  Later on I saw why as Ebrahim got incredibly irate with the news.  As a retired Iranian army officer, his views are extremely strong and unwavering and any story with regards to the recent uprising in Libya and other North African / Middle Eastern countries made him extremely irate.  He wasn’t ashamed to tell us that he was a Col. Gaddafi supporter.  Also I have no idea how or why the couple are still together as they bicker all the time! 

Langkawi is a lush island with plenty of green jungle and beautiful beaches.  I took a stroll down the beach on my first evening to watch the sunset and experienced my first sight of Muslim ladies in the sea dressed in their burkas.  It is an interesting alternative view as many in the west believe ladies wearing burkas are not allowed to enjoy themselves and are completely supressed.  Jay came to join me as the sun was setting over the horizon.  A beautiful sunset reflecting of the sea as the last jet skiers and para-sailors were enjoying their trips.  Later that evening I devoured a delicious kebab and had a couple of beers back at the guesthouse.  The island is also a tax-free haven which makes beer incredibly cheap.

The highlight to my time in Langkawi must have been my motorcycle journey of discovery.  I set off on my little scooter which I hired from the guesthouse and stormed out of town.  Up ahead, I noticed there was a police checkpoint and I had actually no idea what the rules were here.  In the other South East Asian countries anyone can ride a motorcycle without a licence.  I’m now in Malaysia and stupidly didn’t check before I hired the bike.  The police officer flagged me down.  Crap, I thought as a million ‘what if…’ questions raced through my head.  “Turn you lights on.”  The officer said to me.  That was it.  He didn’t want documentation or anything which relieved enormously. 

My rescuers...cheers guys
STUTTER… SPLUTTER….  NOTHING…!  The engine stopped and I rolled to the side of the road.  I attempted to restart the motor to no avail.  I was now around 10km out of Cenang in the middle of nowhere.  I didn’t have a telephone to call help and despite many attempts at starting the bike failed.  Thankfully I had come to a stop outside a warehouse called FAMA.  I pushed my bike into their compound and was greeted by a man who turned out to be the manager of the centre.  He had a quick look at my bike and invited me inside.  The warehouse is actually home to the weekly farmers market where traders across the island come to sell their goods.  The manager took the business card to Shirin Guesthouse and phoned Hiroko.  He explained what had happened and she said she would come and get me.  I sat down at a table with three other guys, all in their early twenties and spoke with them for an hour or so waiting for Hiroko to come and get me.

Langkawi from the top...
An hour went past and there was no sign of Hiroko.  The guys got fed up and decided they’d take me and my dead bike back to Cenang.  We walked outside and one of the men got onto my bike whilst the other two got onto theirs.  I was asked to climb on the back with one of the men.  Within a minute we were heading back towards Cenang in a convoy, two of the working bikes behind with my lifeless one in front being pushed along by the other two men’s feet.  When we arrived back at the gueshouse, Hiroko was surprised to see us and was saying that she couldn’t find us.  We sat down and I treated them all to a drink before they headed back to work.  This was another example of human generosity I had received during my trip.

A long way up...
I said goodbye to my new friends, quickly got back onto another bike and hit the road again for take two.  I had lost almost two hours of my day because of the breakdown so there was absolutely no time to waste.  My first destination was the cable car that led up towards a sky bridge high above the jungle below.  The cable car has one of the world’s longest and steepest spans.  The cable car journey was incredible with such beautiful scenery of the island and being suspended high above the jungle below was awesome.  At the top was the bridge which was suspended high above the ground below giving you a spectacular panoramic view. 

The bridge.
Back down on earth it was time for me to shoot off and do a quick tour of the island.  First stop was the Seven Wells Waterfall which I stupidly walked all the way to the top whilst being terrorised by the monkeys which loitered on either side of the path.  At the top I got the chance at bathing in the cooling waters flowing down the mountain.  I then took off further to the north coast where I met Irish Mark whom I had met on the sky bridge and had exchanged each other our photography skills.  He was on his way back to Ireland following some time in New Zealand.  We decided that we should continue along the road together as we were going the same way.  We really wanted to go to a beach on the North of the island but the majority of the coastline is owned by private resorts.  We tried getting into one but were caught by a couple of hotel staff driving around in their golf buggy.  They asked us to go to reception as Mark quickly said that we were here to meet a friend, Bill Emerson, who was staying in this hotel.  The hotel was very up market and we obviously looked out of place.  The lady returned after checking their database to tell us that surprisingly there was no Bill Emerson checked in.  We gave our excuses and left.

Sunset from the opposite side of the island.
We travelled further on and ended up on a beach on the north-east of the island where we watched the sun set.  This was great but we didn’t think about the forty five minute journey back to Cenang in the dark.  It was all worth it though as we came across a night market at a small town just outside of Cenang.  A fantastic discovery, especially as we were pretty hungry by this point.  Having narrowly escaped a collision with a reversing vehicle and enjoying some delicious street food, we finished the loop of the island and celebrated with a couple of drinks at the reggae bar on the beach.

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