Friday, 15 May 2009

Heather Nova part two

Three hours from the island of Penang by ferry is the island of Langkawi, the duty free island of Langkawi!

Q: what does that mean Andrew?
A: amongst other things is that a pint of beer only costs 10RM…happy happy drunken nights!!!!

I rocked up at the main island beach place thingy and got me a nice little aircon chalet for only 35RM (which is just under £7 a night) by some bizarre coincidence it’s only 40m from Debbie’s place an “Irish pub”. Honestly I don’t plan these things!!!!!

So I got here on Friday afternoon and the weekend was spent thus

Wake up around 10am
Have breakfast at midday
Spend the afternoon reading a book, or lounging on the bed with the a/c on max
In the evening, sit in the pub, drink lots of beer and watch football

I also went shopping! Next to the underwater world complex (complete with penguins…if I go there I’ll tell you all about it) are a couple of duty free shops selling high end gear. Needing a new pair of sunglasses and not wanting to buy a cheap pair of knock off’s (with zero UV filtering) I went inside. After trying on several pairs I settled on a pair of Bolle, lightweight with rubber grips (so they won’t slide down my nose). I asked the price and I think my brain must have been fried by the sun because I still brought them. I now have a pair of sunglasses that I need to wear everyday for the next decade to justify the purchase

Debbie’s Place:

There are only four things wrong with this pub

1) Staff saying hello


2) Staff saying goodbye


Both said high pitched insincere fashion, you know, like Americans do.

3) Having a meal

The food is great here but just when you’ve taken a mouthful a member of staff looms into view to ask if you are enjoying your meal…wouldn’t it be obvious???

4) Drinking beer

You’ve got an inch of beer left and a member of staff comes over and asks you if you would like another beer. You answer “not just yet”, a minute later another member of staff comes over and asks the same question!

Mind you the boss spends all night sitting by the till. Maybe she’s told the staff that times are hard and maybe she will have to reduce staff numbers. So they are all being super proactive in a customer service kinda way.

As I don’t work 40 hours a week or spend several hours a week commuting to and from work I need something to whinge about, otherwise I wouldn’t be English. Lets face it I can’t whinge about the weather….everyday is the same….hot and sunny!!!!!

On a Tuesday I hired a little scooter and headed towards a cable car some 15kms away. I didn’t bother with a map as it’s impossible to get lost on a small island. I found out later that nothing is impossible!!!
Arriving at the cable car I saw a big sign with the word closed on it. Damn you routine maintenance schedule. Oh well, another time I said to myself as I jumped back on board my two wheeled chariot.

I sped all over the island looking at the low and high points. I got back to my hut in the late afternoon and did what I’ve been doing since I got here.

On Friday it was a case of déjà vu as I rode a scooter (this time with shockingly bad brakes that made cornering interesting) back to the cable car. This time it was open! It took a quiet five minutes to reach the top, 700m above the sea. From the viewing platforms the whole of Langkawi Island could be seen along with many of the other 98 islands that make up this little place. The views were impressive, the cloud base was no higher than 800m and clouds were strung out across the vistas of land and sea, covering peaks and hiding islands in the distance.

From there I rode the long way around the island to Kuah, the capital. I stopped of halfway for a gander and spent several satisfying minutes practising doughnuts in a deserted gravel covered car park. When I finally got to Kuah I went to the office of East Marine diving and booked a days diving for tomorrow.

In the early morning (yes 8:20am is the early morning for me) I got picked up by the courtesy minibus and headed to the royal yacht club in Kuah. As there were only 4 divers and the same amount of snorkelers we used the small boat. Leaving the harbour behind the twin 200 horsepower engines bolted on the back of the boat opened up and within 45 minutes we had arrived at the Pulau Payar marine park some 19kms away from Langkawi Island. Ditching the snorkelers on the beach we headed off to the 1st dive site. Within minutes we were there and shortly after that I plunged into the blue. Being a marine park it has a no fishing policy so this meant that there were a shed load of fish around. Moving with the gentle current I passed healthy coral hard and soft, all swarming with fish. From large groupers to those tiny little incandescent blue fish whose name I’ve forgotten. On several occasions I looked underneath me to see several rainbow wrasse swimming within inches of me. One even came up and head butted my mask….that was a 1st!

The surface interval was spent on the beach. The snorkelers, mostly Japanese, were going crazy with delight from feeding the hundreds of fish

The second dive was around a small outcrop of green, football field in size. The wildlife was pretty much the same as the 1st dive. After a while we left the coral behind and headed out across the sand. Within a few metres of leaving the coral behind a trigger fish came off the bottom to say hello. If you dive, you know what happens next!!! 8 seconds of frantic on my back fining and I was safe, much to the amusement of my dive buddies!!! We continued across the sand until we came to a couple of wrecks. These were two boats that had been caught fishing in the marine park so the authorities sunk them to create an artificial reef…and so people like me would be kept happy.

I’m still not sure when I will be leaving here….

Some of the books I’ve read whilst I’ve been here

The year of living biblically by A.J. Rouke
Devil may care by Stephen Faulkes writing as Ian Fleming
Isle of dogs by Patricia Cornwell
Deception point by Dan brown
Island of the sequinned love nun by Christopher Moore
Who’s the B*****d in the black by Jeff winter
Sniper one by Sergeant Dan Mills
Tourist season and double whammy both by Carl Hiaasen

Monday, 11 May 2009

Heather Nova part one

I arrived on the island of Penang not in George Town as I was told when I brought the ticket the day before but at a bus station some place else. Ignoring the bleating of the various taxi drivers I stood in line and waited for bus 401 to arrive and take me the 8km into the centre of George Town

(The four hour ride from Kuala Lumpur was easy and the coach was the most comfortable one I’ve ever been on. There were only 3 seats across and each one was a cheap knock off of a lazy boy chair!)

George Town was an outpost of the East Indian Company and then even more English people turned up. The guy that 1st arrived and set up camp had a son who in turn went on to found another town, it’s called Adelaide in Australia

The old city centre is now world heritage listed and comprises of a china town, a little India and lots of small terraced shops lining the streets. There is a distinct lack of pavements. Dotted around the town are various “local government” buildings from the 1800’s and of course a fort complete with canons!

I’m staying on the main gringo street in a room that can only really be described as a cubicle. There is a staircase from street level that leads to a large 1st floor landing that doesn’t go anywhere else. So what to do with the space? Install several cubicles for us single travellers to stay in….great?

Later on in the early evening I was enjoying a cold beer when I saw that at the next table was someone who looked just like the paedophile Garry Glitter…maybe it was him, maybe not. If it wasn’t then the guy really should consider changing his “look”!

In the morning I got on a bus to get on a train. The bus dropped me off in the small town of Air Hitam. After a 10 minute walk around I headed to the train station.

Now, in Penang, it’s hot and you know how much the English like their hill stations….

Penang hill is just over 800m above sea level and it used to be the place where the island’s governor lived. In the late 1800’s a vehicular railway was built from the valley to the top. However they got the gradient wrong and the steam engine couldn’t cope. In the early 1900’s they got the Swiss involved and by the 1920’s it was al working.

The ride up was in 2 stages and by the time I got to the top the temperature had dropped by 10 degrees, so it was a cool 29 at the top…lovely!
On the top of the mountain there is a Hindu temple, a mosque, a hotel or two and some tourist tat stands. You can, if you like have a cream tea (yes you can!!!) complete with scones, thick cream and fresh strawberries…and no, I didn’t

Interesting fact number 175: the top of Penang hill was levelled off to enable even more strawberry cultivation back in the 1800’s.

On my last day on the island of Penang I got on a bus to the end of the line. There was a village…I walked around it and then got back on the bus to George Town.

If, unlike me, you don’t have much time in Malaysia give the island of Penang a miss!

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Windsor Davies

Arriving at the international airport for Kuala Lumpur meant a 70km taxi ride into town. It took over an hour and I really should have had a fag before I got into the taxi.

I’m staying in the “Golden Triangle” part of the city which is the main nightlife and entertainment area. I found out later on in the evening that beer is more expensive than London. I never thought that would be possible but it is!

Kuala Lumpur is a busy city and it ain’t half hot!!! So my sight seeing was almost zero. I mean it has a couple of large office blocks and some shops, which as they are mostly in malls means they are air conditioned, so that’s nice

After a few exchanges of emails I was fortunately able to arrange a life to the local paragliding site. Early on Saturday morning I met up with Azhar at his place for the two hour ride to the site near the town of Bahau. Along the way we picked up 2 other members of the KLFF (Kuala Lumpur free flyers) one of whom was actually in Nepal when I was there but strangely we never bumped into each other.

It was my 1st experience of “parawaiting” but after 5 hours and one aborted take off which resulted in me almost being impaled by a piece of wood sticking up out of the ground I finally got into the air. It was my 1st real time ridge soaring and I liked it. Small thermals occasionally popped up and gave lift but most of the time it was smooth flowing air keeping you up as I went along the ridge. After about 30 minutes I hit sink and bombed out…BOO!!! The landing site for when this happens in at the bottom of the ridge and is right next to the electrical pylons…mmm. The landing was up and down on the approach but thanks too lots of practise when I was in Nepal I landed safely…yippee!!

The guys from KLFF are a great bunch of guys and they are keen to develop the area (when the government gives them the money) into “the site” for paragliding in Malaysia.

I got back to the hostel at 21:30, which gave me just enough time to have a shower and a change of clothes before making the short walk to the green man pub, the barstool and the football on the wide screen television.

For the rest of my time here I did something that I haven’t done for a while…absolutely nothing at all!

Saturday, 2 May 2009

brass monkey

Before I gave the scooter back I decided to have one last blast on the road.

But where to go?

The answer, for once, came from the guide book. About 100km away was Doi Inthanon, the highest point in Thailand shooting up to just over 2500 metres above sea level.

For 60kms I was on a busy dual carriage way, weaving past pick ups, trucks and the usual badly steered bikes and scooters that appeared suicidal out of the side streets. The last 40k, after I had paid 120 baht to enter the national park, was relaxingly green and quiet.

As the road climbed upwards towards the summit, the hot air of the valley was replaced by ever increasing cooler air. Riding through the mist that slowly swirled amongst the tree canopy I arrived at the top. There was a car park, a sign proclaiming where I was and lots of cloud. So, the views were non existent but it really didn’t matter.

A while later I decided to head back down the mountain. I got about 1000 metres before it started to rain. I sought shelter under a tree on the roadside and waited. The raindrops slowly dripped down through the leaves and branches and then onto me. I was wet and I was actually starting to feel a little bit chilly!! Twenty minutes later the rain stopped so I got back on board, shuddered as my arse got wet from the seat and pressed the start button.

Going slow (the tyres weren’t what you would call “full wets”) and keeping upright around the corners I descended. A couple of miles down the road was a small café. By the time I got there I was soaked!!!! It was after all only a short gap between the downpours.

Hot coffee was being held in my cold wet hands and as small drops of water ran off the top of my bald head I was shocked to find myself with a sniffle. The café was having a BBQ outside, complete with umbrella, how very English I thought to myself. An hour later, blue sky came and said hello in a small portion of the sky. I took this as a sign it was time to leave.

Back on the bike and after 5 minutes I was having trouble keeping it under control. It wasn’t due to the tyres but due to the fact that I was shivering uncontrollably. My legs and arms weren’t under my authority. The flesh not covered by my damp t shirt and shorts were covered in goose bumps and if I went over 25kms the wind chill factor increased the shivering spasms in my arms to a point where I thought I would lose control and steer myself into the ditch. As I slowly progressed down the steep road it gradually became well not warm but definitely less cold until eons later the road became dry and the temperature was on the right side of 30!

I completely warmed up next to a pretty waterfall with another cup of Joe. Then it was an hour’s ride back to Chiang Mai, in the heat of the valley…happy days!