Typical Paddy, really. I had to go to Malaysia for a Thai 'visa run' and was completely oblivious to the fact that my seven day visit would tie in with a ten day Malaysian school holiday. Hence, accommodation was almost impossible to come by, and it reminded me of the scorn on the faces of the Germans I met in January who were only too aware that they needed to climb over 1,200 steps to reach the Tiger Cave Temple in Krabi.
Sometimes it pays to be a little German, as in to do some research in advance! But us Irish never learn. I once went to the famous cave in Koh Lanta wearing flip-flops, with Keith Carty, during a motorbike tour of the island. Needless to say, my flip-flops disintegrated within the cave and I had to drive home barefoot, to the bemusement to the two Germans who were doing the tour with us impeccably dressed for the adventure. But I digress!
Following an overnight stay at the Sri Trang Hotel in Trang City (population over 60,000), I was on my way by minibus to Satun and the ferry to Langkawi. Trang was bliss, it has little to attract the traveller, but the night market boasts extremely cheap eats and you can count the number of foreigners on one hand. My hotel room had wi-fi, satellite TV, and aircon, none of which I'd had for two months at Koh Lanta.
I had been recommended a B&B in Langkawi by a lovely couple, Ryan (London) and Oonagh (Tyrone), who had been my neighbours on Koh Lanta. Unfortunately, it was booked out, so I opted for an expensive 'boutique style' place called The Cabin, which was only three months old. It was good to have booked a place in advance, but a charge of 150 ringit per night (about 33 euros) seemed extortionate in comparison to Thai prices.
But that's the thing about Langkawi, it's so near to Thailand you can't help compare the two ... and I definitely don't claim to know much about Malaysia after spending a week on what is essentially a holiday island. But it's big, and I was able to hire a motorbike for about five euros a day to take in all the sights.
The views from the newish cable car, which climbs to 750 metres, were stunning and I relished a sunset swim at Seven Wells after a sweltering day on the bike. A trip to Kuah, the island's capital, proved pretty uneventful . . . it reminded me of one of those nondescript small towns you tend to come across when touring Queensland, Australia, although it boasts a host of duty free shops in accordance with the island's special status.
Pantai Cenang (the main beach, where I stayed) and Tengah were excellent beaches for swimming, although the former has been ruined a bit by all the jet-skis, banana boats, etc, even if the parasailers looked sublime at dush. And the sunsets were spectacular.
I had planned to go to Penang, and the city of Georgetown, but the ferries were full due to the school holidays. Thinking that the Cabin, for all its comfort, was too expensive, I decided to move out on the fourth day. I checked eight different places on Pantai Cenang (all full) before opting to move into the Delta Motel at the top of the beach. What a mistake that was ... along with the musty smell, my room looked filthy, and it was right beside a building site where the cement mixers commenced action at 9 a.m. each morning. Definitely not enjoyable after watching Ireland beat Wales, along with three other Irish, in Debbie's Place, where they had Guinness on tap (I stuck to the Tiger) and even the RTE commentary. George Hook still sounded like a tosser, even 9,000 miles from home!
My nightly bill for the Delta was 80 ringit, compared to 150 for the first three nights, but it just didn't feel like home and I'm even blaming the aircon in the room for an eye infection which ensured I was bloodshot (appearing almost in tears!) for my return to Thailand this morning. God knows what the Thai customs woman made of the big Irishman with blood red eyes!
Datai, one of the island's most famous beaches, proved to be an 'exclusive' private resort and I was politely asked to leave when I turned up, alone, on my motoribke one morning. Made me wonder why they include it in the maps and brochures, although I enjoyed the winding road up to Gunung Raya (800 metres) and the absolutely idyllic beach at Tanjung Rhu in the north-east of the island, which leads to a river, caves, and mangroves.
One of the most amazing things about Langkawi is the amount of wild monkeys on the roads and beaches. One of them even robbed some tablets from an English girl beside me on the beach when I was lounging in the sun, reading Hemmingway's 'Fiesta... The Sun Also Rises', at Pantai Pasir Tengkorak, where a host of Muslim children got great value out of truck tyre tubes, using them as floating devices. The English girl and I watched in amusement as the monkey opened the wrappers and devoured her medicines ... and she wouldn't tell me what the pills were for!
Langkawi is definitely a lot more expensive than Thailand, but there is also a huge contrast in prices, as I found a delightful burger bar and dined almost daily on the legendary omlettes at the Breakfast Bar, which is something of an institution around these parts. The bill barely came to two euros.
The dirty room, the builiding site, and the dodgy eyes put a bit of a downer on the trip, but I had seen enough of Langkawi over three days on the motorbike to realise what a stunning island it is and why people return there year after year. It's probably not as 'crazy' as Thailand, but there was as much of a 'party' vibe at the Sunkarma retro bar on Saturday night as you'd find in Ibiza or Phi Phi. The sounds were excellent and the scenery was pretty phenomenal too!
So, lessons learned. Make sure the whole country isn't on holidays when you go to a place (!), don't trade in a nice place for a cheaper one if it's too grotty to feel like home, and shop around for bargains in Malaysia because there are gems to be had. After a week it was time to get back on the road, though, and head back up to Lanta to have a right go at finishing the Divemaster course . . . Well, once I've got through the Paddy's Day celebrations with the boys at the Irish Embassy of course!
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