Saturday February 4th, 2:10pm ICT, 6:10pm AEDST
We’re in (on?) Koh Lipe now; we’re officially in Thailand! Time to change from Ringgits to Baht… AU $1 ~ 3 Ringgits ~ 30 Baht. And at least Bahasa uses the same alphabet! We’re totally lost without English translations now. It’s indescribably beautiful here; it’s like a postcard, but about fourteen times more attractive. It basically consists of two beaches on either side of the island, and everything’s built on the beach; brilliant, pale blue water fringed with palm trees and resorts and bars, dotted with small boats and people in hammocks. I’m sitting on the deck of our current resort’s restaurant adjoining the beach, accompanied by an icy glass of mango juice.
My updates have missed the entirety of Penang and Langkawi… We arrived by train at Butterworth on the 30th of January, dodged all the people hawking taxis, and got onto the ferry. We met two American guys on their first Asian travels (despite having been to practically everywhere else on Earth) from whom I scored a copy of The Hunger Games. We walked with them almost to their hotel in George Town, and having made no prior plans (as usual) we ended up checking in to a hotel nearby. Our third-floor vantage point was an excellent choice, thanks to Penang being at the high point of its New Year celebrations; we hung out our window and watched multiple displays of crackers and fireworks all across the city.
Lacking any plans, our first evening in Penang was spent following the coast line to see what was open. Chew Jetty was overflowing with celebrations of the birthday of the Jade Emperor; feasts, markets, music, dancing, everything. After a short wander we headed to the bus terminal, on the advice of an elderly Australian couple — but only after receiving a lecture about young travellers and why doesn’t anyone make plans these days! and you know what, we had you pegged for Americans, because the young people these days all speak like Americans and it never used to be such, it’s the influence of all the American televison, teenagers! I-don’t-know! We caught a bus up to the north coast of Penang, got off at a random stop (the bus was disturbingly full of staring men, so we got off with the two elderly European couples sitting nearby) and chose from a selection delicious-looking restaurants. Apart from delivering unreasonably good Indian food, our waiter, Sunny, asked about our travel plans. We had none, of course, but we asked him the best way to Phuket — he said fly, which we decided was both too expensive at short notice and not very interesting. His advice for the second-best (which we would definitely hold as the greatest) was to travel from island to island up the coast, and then get a boat to Phuket. Thus, Koh Lipe!
The next day we visted the Penang state museum — there are 1.5 million people in Penang! But it’s tiny! It’s also the most densely-populated state in Malaysia, unsurprisingly. The island part has approx. 2300 people per square kilometre, although you wouldn’t think so from just wandering around. I spent the afternoon finishing an essay (the best thing to do on an overseas holiday), and then went out into the thunderstorm with Jas after dinner in search of a cup of tea. We found it — still unsure of what it actually tasted like — and got sucked into eating dessert as well. Brownies and a cup of tea. On the way back to the hotel we came across a spice shop, which we immediately explored. I’ve never seen anything like it. Huge barrels of cinnamon, cardamom, star anise… Chai heaven :D
I don’t even know where the days went in Penang. I think the next day we went to the beach, but didn’t end up swimming; we just drank more juice and ate more food. It was almost as good. Anyway, on the Thursday morning a boat took us to the island of Langkawi, our first stop on our way to Phuket. We spent about an hour looking for somewhere to stay that wasn’t booked out (apparently school holidays were the next day, or something), and finally found one place in Kuah that was available for just the one night. Immediately after checking in we discovered a cheaper hotel just down the road… We booked there for the following night, where they even booked our boat to Koh Lipe for us. That day we spent some time just cooling down in the air conditioned hotel. Luckily everywhere we’ve stayed until now has been deliciously climate-controlled — this weather is absolutely, appallingly, disgustingly hot. It’s okay when it’s overcast, or if you’re at the beach where there’s a sea breeze, but otherwise it’s rather torturous. We had roti for dinner, window-shopped in Kuah’s unreasonable abundance of duty free shops, and had an early night.
The second Langkawi day was almost entirely spent at the beach, as soon as we’d switched hotels. Unfortunately this also meant sunburn, some worse than others… My face is pink, but I think I’m comparatively very well-off. I’m planning to stay out of the sun today, which I’m okay with; we’ll probably be in Koh Lipe for a few days at least, and today is of the rare cloudless variety and the sun is scorching. I’ve never loved my sunglasses more, it’s blinding on the beach.
At 8am this morning, a bus picked us up from right outside our hotel (service, anyone?) and took us to the customs building to check in. Arriving at the marina, we spent half an hour or so drinking cold things (I feel like that’s my number one activity — if it’s icy, I’m in) and waiting for the boat. Where our ride from Penang to Langkawi was a large, enclosed ferry, this was a 20-person speed boat. By far a more enjoyable ride.
We watched Langkawi disappear behind us, looking forward to Koh Lipe, which is much smaller. Like, a few kilometres in length kind of small. We arrived, waited foreeeever to be cleared through customs, had Thai lunch and went in search of a place to stay — a difficult task, upon reflection. We ended up staying at what is, as far as we can tell, the only place that had space for tonight. We’ll probably do what we usually do and find somewhere new for tomorrow night, depending on what’s around.
I’m waiting out this afternoon until the sun starts going down and I can go for a walk without melting…