Saturday, 17 March 2012

The End of the Road, Singapore - 29 June - 1 July 2011

I see trees of green, red roses too,
I see them bloom for me and you,
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.

I see skies of blue and clouds of white,
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night,
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.

The colours of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky,
Are also on the faces of people going by,
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do,
They’re really saying I love you.

I hear babies cry, I watch them grow,
They’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know,
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.
Yes, I think to myself, what a wonderful world.

Just over seven months ago I picked up my bags off my nice comfortable bedroom in my family home in Norwich.  The house was warm but outside it was a typical wet Sunday in November.  My nerves were awkward.  Was I really about to do this?  Am I really going to be travelling around this world of ours?  It didn’t seem real.  I felt as though I was just going on a weekend away and would be back in a couple of days.  Now I’m sitting on Singapore’s Esplanade staring across the water at the city scape.  The day was quickly turning into night and lights over the city were flicking on creating bright reflections across the marina.  My heart was beating strangely and I breathed deeply with a variety of emotions running through my veins.  I did it.  I travelled overland from Estonia to Singapore.  An epic 24,000 kilometre journey which took me through the vast Siberian plain on the iconic Trans-Siberian Railway, taking a right onto the Trans-Mongolian line which was built by the Russians to create a trade route between Russia and China where I experienced the -40 degree Mongolian wilderness.  I finished my first stint of rail journeys in China where I sampled dog in weird and wonderful China as I made my way to survive many Vietnamese motorcycle journeys and agonising bus experiences through Cambodia and Laos.  I found relief in Thailand and went elephant trekking in the northern mountains of Thailand and marvelled at the marine life of Malaysia.

Marina Sands
Over the last seven and a half months I have met so many people and seen some unbelievable things.  Now my mind is jumping into the future with more than an ounce of apprehension.  The road and rail have become my friends.  Although sometimes agonising, I have become addicted to the constant onward movement onto new places with new people, an addiction I can only relate to Stockholm Syndrome.  There’s nothing like the feeling of arriving in a completely new city not knowing who you will meet, what you will be doing and where the next destination will be.  People often ask me whether travelling alone is hard.  The short answer is no as you are never alone if you don’t want to be.  Admittedly there were a couple of times where I was ready to pack it in and go home but instead of dwelling on that depressive feeling, I picked my bags up and simply moved onto the next town.  I can count on my hands the amount of days I was completely alone.  Travelling alone truly gives you the freedom to explore the world.  I met and travelled with many wonderful people who I can now call friends. 

Memories flash through my mind and I feel my facial expression change as I laugh, smile and nostalgically frown as I remember those companions I had met, got to know well and bid farewell.  Such a torrent of memories sometimes becomes incomprehensible to distinguish without exceptional concentration as one memory leads onto another and another and another.  All my memories of the past seven months are valuable and will always comfort me in my most desperate moments.  Standing upon a snow capped mountain in the middle of the Terelj National Park in Outer Mongolia was where I felt most freedom.  Silence and miles of nothing spread out before me.  The road has literally come to an end at the southernmost point of the Eurasian land mass just 85 miles north of the equator.  There was nowhere else to go as I unfortunately had no money to continue through Indonesia so the day after tomorrow I will make my way to Singapore Airport where I will board an aircraft bound for Perth, Australia. 

My thoughts turn to the future.  Following months of travelling through Asia, I was soon going to be thrust back into the Western world.  Apprehension flooded my mind with so many questions.  How will it feel?  Will I find a job before my money completely dries up?  There were no answers to these questions and I am sure I will find out soon enough. 

What a wonderful world. 

My sentiment and self-congratulatory mood subsides a little as darkness finally engulfs Singapore and the sound / light / fire show begins in the bay.  This is a magnificent show which is performed in an intriguing way.  Jets of water spray up into the air creating a fluid canvas for the projected film to appear.  Music blasts into life with an apt version of What a Wonderful World whilst the images depict a human’s life from birth to magnificence.  This nightly show certainly beats that of Hong Kong’s comparatively meaningless light and music show.  The rain began to fall shortly after the show finished and people took cover in the astounding Marina Sands complex which hosts a shopping centre, casino, theatre and hotel which stands prominently opposite Singapore’s central business district and become an iconic piece of architecture.  The shopping centre beneath is, as I can only compare, an indoor Venice complete with canals, bridges and waterfalls.

Singapore has come a long way since Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles landed on the sparsely populated island in 1819.  It now has 5 million inhabitants and has the fourth biggest economy in the world.  Singapore is an excellent city which provides a diverse cultural experience that no other country has.  The mixture of Chinese, Malay, Indian, English and other nationalities has surely placed strong influences in art, architecture and food.  Raffles certainly started something magnificent.  The highlight of the city for me is the stunning Esplanade Theatres on the Bay whose architect was influenced by the Durian fruit.  Inside it’s just as awesome and most of my time in Singapore was spent there enjoying the free concerts in the foyer out of the rain.

BEEP-BEEP-BEEP… BEEP-BEEP-BEEP…  The day had arrived.  At 7:10 this evening the pilot will push the throttles to full and the aircraft will leave the ground.  It feels strange knowing that this was my last day in Asia.  When I booked the flight back in Phuket, it seemed trivial as though it was never going to happen.  But reality was staring me directly in the eyes as the lady behind the reception at Footprints Hostel handed me my boarding passes she had just printed off for me.  There was nothing for it but to enjoy my last meal and grab the MTR to the airport.  I spent a couple of hours in the hostel foyer writing and watching some Big Bang Theory which I had only recently discovered thanks to Jay in Langkawi. 

I stepped out of the hostel’s front door and as usual was hit by the humidity.  I have learnt it’s not worth complaining about the climate as it doesn’t change anything.  I embrace the humidity as my thoughts are focused on flying into the Australian winter.  I received an email from my Auntie Marilyn just yesterday telling me that the parcel I sent from Saigon had finally arrived.  This was good news as it’s all of my warm clothes which I will need.  It will be brilliant!  As the hostel is in Little India, I feel it’s only right to enjoy a freshly made curry from the local restaurant before I make my way to the airport.

With the curry sitting heavy in my stomach and a tingling tongue from the spices, I grab my bag from the hostel reception and make the walk to the MTR station.  This will be my last open air walk until I reach Australia.  The metro system in Singapore is one of the best in the world; fast, efficient and clean.  I step onto the train with a smile.  The apprehension I was feeling has given way to excitement.  The first leg of Andy’s Epic Voyage is coming to a close and a whole new chapter is about to begin. 

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Marvellous Malacca... enough said - 26-29 June 2011

The late afternoon heat was relenting as our bus to Malacca opened its doors and invited us in.  Jackpot, I thought to myself as I saw wide reclining chairs.  I excitedly found my seat and got comfortable for the relatively short journey ahead.  As the bus was moving out through the suburbs of Kuala Lumpur my mind was running with the thought that in only a few days I would be on a plane flying towards Perth.  Everytime I think of the flight, I get a little anxious and remorseful as I feel my journey by land and sea failed and I missed out Indonesia.  I did not have any money to continue on my journey through Indonesia as I was already in debt on my credit card, so I had no choice but to give in and fly to Perth where I would hopefully get a job and pay off my debts.

We arrived in Malacca just before sunset.  I retrieved my handwritten notes from my bag which I had copied from the Old Town Guesthouse website.  The directions told us to get the number 97 from stand 13.  Unfortunately when we asked the bus driver at stand 13 whether he was going anywhere nearby, he said no and told us to go to another stand who in turn told us no and proposed a completely different stand.  A local lady watched us running from stand to stand in utter confusion and offered to help us find the right bus.  She asked a few drivers and also got no conclusive answers so took me to the bus station office where they discussed and finally gave us an answer.

It was dark by the time we reached the guesthouse.  We entered through the doorway on street level and climbed the stairs that led to the guesthouse which was spread out on the first level above an Indian restaurant and a Malaysian café.  The gueshouse was run by a Frenchman and his wife who were very welcoming.  They showed us to our room which was a simple twin with a tall window and importantly two fans.  We were lucky that the night market was on in China town so we took a walk, ate some delicious food at a small Chinese café and wondered aimlessly through the market browsing at the vast merchandise on sale.  The highlight to the market was the karaoke in the centre where people took turns on the big stage singing their songs.

St Paul's
Malacca was an important Portuguese trading town whose port linked the Malay Peninsula with India, Indonesia, Thailand and China.  Due to its past, Malacca has an extremely diverse culture and architecture which is apparent through every turn.  Churches and temples stand side by side and the area around the 18th century Christ Church is magnificent and truly a remnant of Portuguese architecture and colours.  Upon a hill overlooking Christ Church and the rest of Malacca are the enchanting ruins of the St Paul’s, which was originally built in the early 16th century.  This poor church has gone from small beginnings, enlargement whilst the Dutch were around and finally being used as an armoury for the British army.  The views from above were fantastic and stretched all the way to the coast where you can clearly see the container ships steaming through the Straits of Malacca which were once notorious for pirates. 

Following our walk around town and up the hill to St Pauls, we decided to take the weight off our feet and enjoy a boat tour down the river through the heart of Malacca.  It was pleasant but not relaxing or informative at all as we were surrounded by an extremely large Indian tour group who decided they needed to converse as loud as possible.  I’m sure they were in a competition who could make the most annoying noises at the loudest possible volume which completely outdone the recorded tour guide.  Even though we couldn’t hear the information being provided, we could see that there wasn’t actually much of interest to see on the way apart from the extraordinary painted building stretching up one side of the river and a rather depressing looking fairground. 

This was my last day in Malaysia and my onward travel was yet to be decided.  I knew that I was going to head to Singapore but how I was getting there was the issue.  I really wanted to take the train as I love trains and it would have been nice to finish my overland journey off with a train journey.  Not only that, but it would have be a historic journey as the Malaysian and Singaporean rail networks have decided to cease the journey from Malaysia into the central Singapore Railway Station and stop trains at Woodlands station at the Northern frontier.  They hope that this change will speed up the immigration process and from Woodlands you can hop on the MTR which will take you anywhere in Singapore.  The last journey into the centre was planned to take place on 1 July 2012.  Getting the train from Malacca isn’t that simple as you have to get a bus to Tampin which is 38km north of the city.  It was either the train or the bus.  My mind was torn between the two but was eventually settled when I looked inside my wallet and saw only enough to get the bus, no more.

The day had come to move on after a fantastic few weeks travelling through beautiful Malaysia, seeing some pretty awesome places and meeting some wonderful people.  It was also time to say goodbye to my Malaysian travel partner, Barbara, whom I had met on the ferry between the islands of Langkawi and Penang and had travelled with throughout Malaysia.  She had been a fantastic travel partner but it was time to go solo once again as she had a couple more months of travelling South East Asia and was heading back up north to Ipoh.  Our last journey together was the bus journey to the bus station.  As we arrived at the station we headed to the relevant ticket offices which were actually next to each other and were lucky enough that our busses were both leaving within minutes.  Our goodbye was quick as we both had to rush to catch our onward buses. 

I was on my own again.  Travelling is a fantastic experience however, travelling alone means you have to often say goodbye to people whom you have become good friends with.  I knew that this was the last time I was going to say goodbye to anyone as I was only spending one and a half days in Singapore which meant it was unlikely for me to make any decent friends.  I sat in a seat towards the back of the bus with my bag behind me, fished out my MP3 player, reclined my seat and relaxed whilst watching Malaysia fade away behind me.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

KL, Back to the Big City, 23-26 June 2011

The brakes screeched and my body jolted slightly off the chair as the bus stopped in a rather unwelcoming bus station on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.  It was a strange feeling to be in the midst of a big city again as the last big metropolis I was in was Bangkok.  Kuala Lumpur felt different to the other Asian capitals I had been to, it was modern, westernised and with it a mixture of ethnicities.  Mark, my friend from Norwich whom I had worked with on the Maddermarket stage in the production of Arsenic and Old Lace during August 2010 had very kindly put me in contact with his brother Darren who lives in Kuala Lumpur and hand generously offered to accommodate Barbara and I during our time in the city.

Merdeka Square
We got off the bus not knowing where we were or where we were going.  Our only plan was to head into the centre where we could find an internet café to call Darren who would be able to give us directions.  The bus station was conveniently placed beside metro stop where we found a map of the transport network.  The only problem is we had no idea where we were but a passing man saw us studying the map with confusing and helped us out telling us where we were and where we should go.  So we headed for Little India.

The train pulled into Little India’s metro station and we walked down onto street level where we found a Burger King with free wi-fi.  Excellent.  In we went and onto the internet we go.  I open up Skype, which has been invaluable during my trip, and dial Darren’s number.  What the hell, we had to choose the precise time they decided to put up a flat screen television upon the wall.  The noise of the drills drowned out Darren’s directions and coupled with the bad connection made it very difficult to hear.  We managed to get his address and directions to get there.  We had to get the metro to KLCC and grab a taxi to his house.

The Petronas Towers
The taxi driver was an idiot, we gave him the address and he continuously enquired where it was and how he should get there.  We had to keep reminding him that we didn’t know, which you should never say to a taxi driver I know, but what else can you say if you have no idea where he should be going.  We eventually pulled up outside Daren’s house where we were greeted by his wife, Gina and their young child, Dana.  They had also just recently been blessed with their second child, Tristan.  As soon as we crossed the threshold their generosity and hospitality was astonishing.  It was hard to come to terms with though, after months being on the road and stopping in crappy to mediocre hostels/guesthouses it was strange being in a family home with a comfortable bed and home cooked meals.

Waking up in a comfortable bed is unbelievable and to follow that with a beautiful breakfast laid out for us was awesome and set us up nicely for the day.  No visit to Kuala Lumpur is complete without a visit to the Petronas Towers and a walk along the skybridge that links the two towers on the 41st floor.  To be able to visit the towers, you must get there early and secure one of the limited tickets available for the day.  Barbara and I got there a little late, but with some convincing the lady on the ticket desk found two tickets for the last trip of the day.
KLCC, Kuala Lumpur City Centre sits below and around the Petronas Towers and hosts numerous high end shops and more importantly a concert hall where we were lucky enough to attend an open concert of the Malaysian Symphony Orchestra.  This was one of my most treasured highlights of my visit to Kuala Lumpur as it’s one thing watching and listening to a concert but it’s amazing to watch the magic being created and the conductor fine tuning ever little tone, rhythm and dynamic.  We couldn’t have gone to a real concert anyway as we didn’t have the right attire to adhere to the strict dress code.  The only issue was that my eyes were feeling quite heavy so during the interval, I headed to the shop outside and bought a bottle of Coca Cola, a Mars Bar and some flavoured Mentos which seemed to keep my eyes wide open. 

There were a few hours following the concert until we were allowed up the towers, so we went for a wonder around the city from Little India, Merdeka Square to Chinatown.  Merdeka square is at the centre of Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia as this is where on August 31 1957, Malaysia first celebrated their independence from British colonialism by raising the Malaysian flag up the, apparently, tallest freestanding flagpole in the world which stands at 100 metres tall.  The walk around this section of the city proved my initial feeling of multiculturalism, with architectural influences from around the world merging to form something beautiful. 

On the skybridge
The 451 metre high Petronas Towers are at the epicentre of the Malaysia, an icon of the country’s economic success and houses Petronas, the nation’s oil and gas company.  Before heading up the lifts you are invited into a room where there is a lot of background information on the towers, how they were built, the architect’s vision and general information on the future for the towers and Kuala Lumpur.  It was very interesting to see how they designed the building and how the architect and the engineers built the skybridge.  Interestingly, the skybridge couldn’t be firmly fixed in place due to natural movement of the two towers.  “Blue tickets.”  A lady announced and requested that we check our bags and coats into the cloakroom and then congregate by the lifts for our vertical journey up 170 metres.  The skybridge gave some impressive views of the city however, I’m sure they would have been even more stunning should it be a clear day but as it’s wet season it tends to reliably rain at 4pm each and every day.

Later that evening we went for a meal with Daren, Gina, the kids and their maid at a local restaurant.  The restaurant seemed to pride itself on having no frills but was highly thought of by the looks of the expensive cars in the car park.  It was a delicious way to end our short time in Kuala Lumpur and to say goodbye to such fantastic hosts.  Daren and Gina are an excellent example of the generosity of human nature and I couldn’t thank them enough for putting us up for a couple of nights.  Such a wonderful family. 

Although we didn’t spend a long time in Kuala Lumpur, I feel that we managed to get a feel of the city and see most of what there is to see.  It was time to move on to our next destination, Malacca, and my final stop within Malaysia.  The bus station was the other side of the city to where we were and Daren very kindly drove us there. 

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

What do Football, Trains and Jungles have in common? Kota Bharu and Taman Negara, 19-22 June 2011

Kota Bharu
Following an incredibly violent boat journey back to the mainland and getting smacked squarely on the face with the lid of a cool box which got blown off in the wind, Barbara and I were on a bus heading north to Kota Bharu for a quick visit and to embark on the Jungle Railway to Tama Negara.  The weather was appalling, raining from the moment we arrived in the northern border city.  The only other thing that drew me to the town was the cultural centre which regularly performs shadow puppet shows.  Of course, when I looked at the programme I discovered that I had just missed the performance by one day.  Typically my luck, but there was another performance on which I wouldn’t mind seeing.  First of all, we needed food and were recommended an Indian restaurant called Meena Curry House the other side of the city.  My god it was worth the walk as it had absolutely wonderful food with excellent service. 

What are those westerners doing here Mummy?
An hour or so later we were making our way to the cultural centre to see the performance however half way there we were suddenly confronted with a crowd of people dressed with football shirts on and heavily decorated with flags, face paints and ribbons.  It turned out to be a friendly football match between Malaysia and Myanmar.  We decided that instead of going to the cultural centre we bought tickets to watch this international friendly.  The crowds were directed in through multiple gates and with no fixed seating, you could choose where you wanted to go.  The rain had thankfully stopped, but the pitch was waterlogged and the concrete steps that we were to sit on were completely soaked.  Most of the locals had thought ahead and brought plastic bags to sit on, but we just had to grit our teeth and get our butts wet.

The match was interesting to see, with the waterlogged pitch seeing the players slip and slide all over the place.  Fireworks and flares were being set off at the opposite side of the pitch to us and the smoke filled the stadium.  Looking around we were the only white people around and people stared and smiled as they passed us by.  Sometimes you think whether going to events such as this is a safe activity but I was in no way threatened and felt quite the opposite.  Malaysia won the match with two goals against none.  I couldn’t help but wonder who plays for Myanmar?  Are they all military personnel?  Surely a civilian in the oppressive state couldn’t possible play for their country.  As they lost, will they lose their lives for disgracing their country?  Who knows….

Magnificent gates in the centre of KB
Kota Bharu is a completely Muslim town and does not have much to see other than a few museums which we didn’t go into.  There are only so many museums you can go to.  I needed to have a haircut so found a barbershop and proceeded to be told about my receding hairline.  The barber quizzed me about my life and what was causing me stress to cause this ‘no hair’ problem…  I never thought about it before but can now see it… Thanks for that Mr Barber!!

Our final night in the city saw us eating at the night market where you shared your space with several rats running around your feet.  The night market is supposed to be one of the best in Malaysia but I didn’t really see why.

It was 6.20am and following a restless night in the KB Backpackers due to noisy traffic outside we were in a taxi heading to the railway station where we were to get the Jungle Train through the jungle to Taman Negara.  We arrived at the station with plenty of time and bought a coffee and some snacks for the journey.  7.16 on the dot, the train’s engine fired into life and pulled slowly away from the station.   

Fantastic view from within the canopy
This was the first time I had been on a train since my journey from Hanoi to Sapa in northwest Vietnam and it felt like home.  Train travel is in my opinion the most enjoyable form of travel, you usually get a comfortable seat, the world passes you by through the window and you can get up and have a walk if you become restless.  This journey is aptly named the Jungle Railway as it weaves its way slowly through the jungle from the North Eastern frontier with Thailand and finishes in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur.  Barbara and I were travelling half way to Jerantut where we were going to catch a bus to centre of the Taman Negara national park that is nearly 4,500 square kilometres.  The vast jungle is said to be the oldest jungle in the world at 130 million years old and hasn’t been affected by any dramatic climate changes.  We were going to be staying in Kampung Kuala Tahan, a small village on the opposite side of the river to the park’s headquarters which meant that once we got off the train at Jerantut we had to get a connecting bus or something the rest of the way.

The waterfront in Kampung Kuala Tahan
We arrived in Jerantut by lunchtime where we sat down to enjoy a meal in a little restaurant whilst we waited for our minibus to take us to Kampung Kuala Tahan. In some ways I wish I hadn’t eaten anything as the bus journey turned out to be quite exhilarating and akin to a rollercoaster ride without the safety.  The absolutely psychopathic driver made me consider whether we were going to make it to our destination.  I thought about quickly writing a will, but at this point in time I was in debt to the bank so it would have been a short one.  Even as we passed a minibus which had been recently been rolled several times and was resting on the side of the road I expected the driver to reconsider the lives he was carrying in the back of the rickety old minibus but there was no slowing him down from delivering us  down or anything.  As I’m writing this and you’re reading this, it’s obvious that I survived the journey.  Once we arrived in Kampung Kuala Tahan safely, we found a guesthouse and headed down to the river bank where a couple of restaurants sit, or rather stand above the water, to have a meal in celebration of our fragile lives.

One of the biggest treats of the area is the canopy walk which stretches out high through the trees.  It is actually marked as the highest canopy walk in the world.  Some of the sections looked as though somebody had been down the local B & Q bought some ladders, wooden board and wrapped it up in some rope netting in the trees.  It was an awesome walk through the trees though which provided some fantastic views of the jungle from above. 

After finishing the canopy walk we rushed back through the jungle to the park headquarters and boarded a boat to take us back to the other side of the river where we were going rapid shooting.  Rapid shooting is where you go on a motorised boat up stream through the rapids.  It was fun and got incredibly wet, which was helped by the two boats engaging in a fierce water fight.  Our first destination was an Orang Asli village, Orang Asli are the native people of this area who still live off the land and out of the modern society.  Once we climbed up the embankment, we were greeted by the men of the settlement.  The women hid in a tent away from us.  I wasn’t sure whether they were scared of us, embarrassed or were ordered to stay out of sight.  The men gave us another lesson in how to use a blow pipe and then took us through how to make a fire.  The people were incredibly friendly and welcoming.  On the way back to Kampung Kuala Tahan, we stopped off for a swim and have some fun on a Tarzan swing.  The river is full of those tiny little fish that munch the dead skin off you which I’m not so keen on.  The journey back to town was wonderful as I sat back and watched the jungle go past either side without hindrance from man.
It was time for us to leave and as I grabbed my shoes to place them in my bag I grabbed the backs of each and banged the, together to get as much dirt off them as possible.  After a couple of bangs, something fell onto my left hand and in shock I threw the shoe and frog across the path.  Poor little frog, just found a nice place to sleep and I gave it one of the biggest headaches in history.  There is a boat trip which takes you from Kuala Tahan to Jerrantut, but this is a long journey and we were advised that as we already did a boat trip through the jungle that it’s a bit like Scooby Doo and repeats itself over and over.  Instead, we got the morning local bus which cost 7RM to our next destination, Kuala Lumpur.

Stop for a refreshing dip...

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Surely this is Paradise? - Perhentian Islands, 15 - 18 June 2011

Welcome to D'Lagoon
SLAM, my head hit the side window of the minibus for the fifteenth time as the maniac of a driver stormed around the winding mountainous roads at an obscene speed.  Thankfully the roads were superbly sealed unlike their South East Asian neighbours, but this does give them more of an excuse to thump their right foot hard upon the accelerator.  We’re heading for the Perhentian Islands just off the east coast.  Our bus journey was actually very comfortable despite the speed, although the comfort ended, for me anyway as half way down the road we had to swap minibuses and the ‘seat’ provided to me sat at a 20 degree angle and the back did not lock in place.  So the remaining three hours was not comfortable at all. 

Me and Raja
Above our heads the clouds encroached, darkened and within five minutes rain began to fall, hitting hard against the roof of the minibus.  The rain was relentless and roads began mimicking rivers with large sections of road becoming submerged under water.  Lightning electrocuted the skies and were dramatically followed by excruciatingly loud cracks of thunder.  As we approached Kuala Besut, the rain had stopped and we managed to board the open top boat in the dry.  The bags were thrown aboard and the driver steamed away from the jetty only to be stopped by a French man who had stupidly left his iPhone behind.  I would have personally taken great delight in telling him it’s his own fault, but the skipper was a friendly chat and turned around.  With the French man and his iPhone back aboard, we tried to depart again only to stop a further 300 metres out.  The driver and his assistant were chatting, obviously discussing something important.  Turned out that one of the engines had failed and we returned back to the jetty once again to change boats.

Not a bad place to stay!
Looking behind us we could see the storm cloud catching up.  We were now in open water and the waves were erratic bouncing the boat’s hull high above the water.  The clouds were getting thicker, darker and people all around had a rather concerned look on their faces.  These boats were amazing service as you tell them where you were staying and they drop you off right outside.  We stopped a couple of times on the near side of the island before heading round the other side to D’Lagoon, where Barbara and I were staying.  We approached the bay as it began to spit with rain, just in time.  The boat slowed and came to a stop.  On shore, a small man ran from the restaurant area, climbed into a boat and navigated his way to collect us.  The small man actually turned out to be a child, which was a slight shock.  He grabbed our bags, we transferred vessels and headed to shore just as the rain began pelting down again.

Really blue water
D’Lagoon was an isolated resort, an hour’s hike through the jungle from the main section of guesthouses on the island.  The beach was made from sand, shingle and shell led down into the clear blue water full of coral reefs.  As it was raining, we sat in the restaurant which was reasonably priced watching the storm move in as darkness fell.  Thunder and lightning lit up the sky for the most part of the evening.  That’s where we met Kate, an English newly qualified doctor on a break before commencing practicing.  We spent the evening eating and as the island is completely T-Total, drinking fruit juices. 

Our vessel
The next morning we were sitting in the restaurant eating breakfast when the daily snorkelling trip was leaving.  Suddenly, even before we knew it, Barbara, Kate and I were on the boat heading out into the open water with snorkels in our hands.  What a fantastic surprise trip, such beautiful and colourful underwater life swimming around coral reef.  On the boat with us was Raja, an Indian from Mumbai who had a slight American accent.  The trip was entertaining as we shared stories and how he was going to set up a motorcycle touring business in India following a fantastic trip he had made up in Northern India.  The snorkelling trip had us leaping overboard following turtles, sharks and Nemo like clown fish.  The day unfortunately finished off with a slightly burnt back despite the overcast skies above….  Oops… must have forgotten a section of sun screen.

Wonderful people
That night we met another addition, Sofie, a 17 year old girl from the Netherlands travelling by herself.  Raja took a liking to her and pulled out his best lines to woo her whilst the D’Lagoon staff serenaded us with traditional Music and singing.  We joined the circle with my new friend Saiful and his children whom we had met earlier in the day on the beach.  Saiful was a public servant living in Kuala Lumpur and was on a holiday with his wife and two children.   Once in the circle, we were invited to sing a song each with them playing the accompanying music.  I sang a rather poor version of Hotel California which went well until I forgot all the lyrics. 

We all made sure that we got up early the following day so we could take a small walk to the neighbouring bay to see the early morning sharks coming to the shore.  Then we spent most of the day snorkelling around D’Lagoon’s coral reefs watching which was amazing.  The staff at D’Lagoon had also rigged a zip line which goes right across the beach.  They pride them on supposedly having Malaysia’s longest zip line, but I’m not sure on the credibility with that.  Whilst sitting on the beach at the end of the day a boat from the mainland pulled up and on board were no other than Nikolai, Reut and Rudie.  The rest of the evening was spent having a drink, as a small box of beer was delivered to the island and playing a few games.  The staff sang and played again with Reut and I doing a better rendition of Let it Be which was, hopefully well received. 

Sofie and I during the name game...
The end to our last evening was spent on the beach playing guitar with Rudie, the guys from the hotel, Sofie and a Spanish guy.  I hadn’t played guitar for such a long while and it was really good fun and a fantastic end to my stay in the Perhentians.  D’Lagoon was a fantastic place to stay, with absolutely fantastic staff that were incredibly welcoming and made sure we got to see the best of the island.  Unfortunately this also marked the last evening we were spending with Reut, Nikolai, Rudie and Sofie too as we wouldn't see them again during our trip through Malaysia.  Excellent people who traversed Malaysia in our shadow and meeting every now and again.

Me, Sofie and Barbara