Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur   18th to 28th February

Landing in KL International in the early morning, we are distinctly aware that we are not in India anymore.  Everything seems new and modern, shops lined up in neat rows alongside an array of eateries, and we haven’t even left the airport yet!

There is a coach leaving soon for Chinatown, which our hotel is near and at £2 each, decide to hop on for the one hour journey, rather than spend 60-80 ringgit for a taxi.  From there, it is a short taxi ride to our hotel.  It feels hot and very humid.

Arriving at our hotel and in keeping with the KL vibe, it’s pretty new and welcoming.  We look forward to a few days of R&R whilst we wait for the car to make its way over the Indian Ocean to Port Klang.

We meet up with our friend Ed, who has been living in Australia for the last few years.  He suggests that while waiting for the car we should get out of the city and fly to Langkawi Island for a few days.

The next few days are spent exploring KL’s super malls and experimenting some authentic south-east Asian culinary delights, along with a small amount of sight-seeing, including the Batu caves a few miles north of KL.  At the foot of the steps leading up to the cave, there’s an impressive huge golden statue of a Hindu deity and a temple at the top, within the caves.

Batu Caves - KL

One of our first dishes in the country is the unofficial national dish of Malaysia, ‘Nasi Lemak’-rice steamed with coconut water and topped with sambal , a chilli based sauce, often served with chicken curry, which is delicious, and quickly becomes one of our staples.

KL as a city seems perfect, large clean streets, a new and efficient transport system consisting of monorails and underground trains.  Everywhere seems new and clean, and I guess everything we have not experienced for the last few months.

Most of the malls are filled with designer brands from the bottom level to the 6th!  We find Western brands are more expensive here in the local currency than they would be paying in pounds, so stick to the local brands which are more reasonably priced.  One of the best we had been to for this was the Pavilion mall in the city centre.

Langkawi  25th – 28th February

We fly out to Langkawi in the early morning, an island off north-west Malaysia.

Once we arrive, the hunt for accommodation in one of the most popular parts of the island, Pantai Cenang begins.  Martin & Edward leave me relaxing with some breakfast while they try and find something.  Surprisingly, everything seems full or too expensive and it’s not until a few hours later that we find a place that suits all of our budgets (which is not much).

We decide the best way to get around the island and see as much as possible is to hire some motorbikes.  Heading north up the west coast of the island, we reach the Langkawi cable car.  It is a 42 degree incline to the top, one of the steepest in the world, above Jurassic Park-esque scenery below with the shoreline, harbour and tiny islands behind us.  The views from the top are awesome, 700m above sea level.   The horizon is filled with small green lush tropical islands.

Langkawi Cable Car

Just by the cable car is the Oriental Village complex where we grab a bite to eat, before heading to the Temurun waterfalls.  The walk to the falls is only 10minutes, but very steep.  Since its dry season the falls are not fully flowing, but luckily there are still some pools we could splash around in, and the main falls, when you’re right under, are still quite powerful.

After the falls we head to the crocodile farm but get there just as a show has finished so decide to come back the next day.

We stop at Pantai Cenang beach, a stretch of white sands, where the boys top up their tans and relax for a couple of hours.

The roads around the island are smooth and relatively car free, passing pretty sandy beaches and green countryside.  We come across a second waterfall but it seems to be just a trickle today.

In the early evening we head into town, where we find that at one of the pricier restaurants, they have a happy hour; it’s 10 ringgit for a jug of beer.  Of course Martin and Ed cannot help themselves, taking full advantage of the islands duty-free status, so I treat myself to a few Singapore slings.  The restaurant staff are friendly and allow us to have happy hour prices after it has finished-it’s normally 20 ringgit a jug!  Before we know it we are on Monkey Island for the full moon party! Polishing off the last of our duty free spirits, we all have a good night and hangovers the next morning.

The next day we decide to head round to the other side of the island to check out some of the beaches.  We also intended on seeing the northern caves, however to see them you must take a full tour of the coast line which was a bit too pricy.  But we were content with some food and coconuts to drink, and carried on with our joyride around the island, before returning to our favourite restaurant for happy hour once again…

28th Feb – 1st March

We leave Langkawi for Port Klang to organise the release of our container, going firstly to Wan Hai, the shipping company, to collect the necessary Bill of Landing, then head to customs. Unfortunately no-one at the dock speaks any English, and we find it hard to communicate in any way with them.  We decide to get quotes for an agent, which comes in very expensive. We have little choice but to go with it. In the end we go with Assir, (Aseantex Marine Services) who’s a friendly 4x4er and biker.

Assir has a wealth of knowledge about SE Asia, and we are surprised to hear he has actually travelled to over 90 countries himself, mainly in his own Land Cruiser (his contact details can be found here). He is also able to arrange shipping to pretty much anywhere, Indonesia, Africa, South America etc.

Martin spends the morning sorting out various documents, insurance, International Circulation Permit (ICP) which is valid for 3 months- all of which can all be obtained from the Malaysian Automobile association.  The MAA would not sell us insurance for less than one year, but we had heard that other companies would.

2nd March  Port Klang to Penang

We are finally given the call that the car has cleared customs, learning it had actually not even been checked.  We drive to Assir’s yard where the completely sealed container is waiting for us. We open the container to find our car is just as we had left it in India, and as you would expect with a Toyota it started first time!

We plan to spend the evening in Klang.  However Edward is already in Penang; given it’s about 3pm, we think we can make the 220miles journey in good time.

On route we fill up the car and the spare jerry cans, taking advantage of Malaysia being the cheapest out of the SE Asian countries for diesel, at a price of 1.8 ringgit or 36p a litre.

The roads are fantastic, fast and little traffic all the way.   The drive takes us past waterfalls, tropical green forests and limestone cliff faces.

Once we make it to Penang, we find a cheap room in Batu Ferringhi on the far north of the island and head out for a bite to eat.

3rd – 7th March Penang

Famous for its local food, a result of the culinary melting pot of Chinese, Malay and Indian cultures, the food here is definitely a highlight and amazingly cheap too.

In the morning we move closer to Georgetown, the state’s capital, meet back up with Ed, and go for a drive around Penang.  On route we stop at Cakra Shipping to find out about shipping to Indonesia.  Unfortunately they say they will not ship via onion boat anymore and it has got to be a container, with little further explanation. We are given a ‘Mr Wong’s’ telephone number to call.

We head back to our place where there is a night food market just opposite from the hotel.  It’s filled with about 30 stalls selling a range of different foods, from dim sum, sushi, Thai, Malaysian, even western, pretty much everything you can think of, its packed with locals.  Of course Ed has had this before and is not surprised.  However for us it, it’s a great experience.  You just wander around and if you like the look of something, you order it, give your table number, and wait in anticipation.

The next day we get our camera fixed in the Pangin mall and try out some food, but it is nowhere near as nice as the food from the night market.

We spend the next day relaxing day in the hotel, and pop into Georgetown in the afternoon for some shopping, and arrange to meet Ed later.  The Gurney mall is huge with at least six floors, and clothes also seem half the price they were in KL.   It’s amazing how big it actually is compared to the malls you get back home.  On the first floor, we notice there is a crowd of people gathering and lots of flashes.  Suddenly it doesn’t seem so Muslim with semi-clad girls parading in front of cameras amongst sports cars and music blasting throughout the mall!  Still waiting for Ed, we think if we could find him, he’d be here!

6th March

We go across the road to the Chinese hawker food market for a breakfast of dim sum- rolls of steaming hot pork dipped in a spicy chilli sauce are delicious, followed by prawns wrapped in a wonton basket, chicken rolls with a fiery sauce on top and sweet pork pastry parcels along with lemon tea.  We meet Ed later along with an American guy staying at the same place.  We have a few drinks and play some cards.  Later we try some street food fresh from the steaming streets of Penang, then head over to the Reggae Bar.

7th March

The hawkers food court gets our vote again tonight, with satay chicken, pineapple fried rice, laksa-fish noodle soup, and the famous char kway teow-rice noodles stir-fried with prawns, egg and bean sprouts, all on the menu.

In the evening, a thunderstorm is brewing.  The wind begins to pick up and starts shaking our balcony door; lashing rain is hitting the window, bright sparks are streaking into the sea and then we hear the roar of the thunder.

The following day we leave Malaysia for Thailand; we plan to complete a loop of south-east Asia, travelling north crossing into Laos then Cambodia, before returning to Thailand and Malaysia in late April.

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Martin & Nicole