A Travellerspoint blog

August 2007

Sleep, eat, swim and repeat

Four days on Koh Samui, Thailand

semi-overcast 26 °C

August 23rd

( Jenn )

Mid-afternoon, we took a taxi from Mingood Hotel to Bayan Lepas (Penang's International Airport). It should have cost us 20 MYR but the driver charged us 35, telling us the hotel charged /him/ a 15 MYR kickback for calling him and that he was just passing that along. We knew this to be true from things we'd read and forgotten so we paid up without question but next time we'll walk a block down and wave one over instead.

The airport was great. Expensive like any other airport but still cheap in our books, we managed to grab muffins and a couple cans of pop to tide us over until dinner, along with a package of Mentos to stop everyone's ears from popping on the plane.

Past security, there were lots of stores and comfortable seats and we spent the remaining hour before our flight watching our small 50 seat Fokker being refueled and playing games on the cellphone. Oh, and Anica played her version of Sumo wrestler - putting her backpack on frontways and slamming into us over and over :)

When it came time to be called for the plane, a man led us down some stairs, out onto the tarmac and waved in the direction of our plane. It was small enough that there were only four steps leading up into it, and as we were sitting right under the wing, we got to watch the wheels being raised and lowered. Anica /loved/ it.

The flight took roughly an hour and fifteen minutes and Anica was terribly disappointed when it was over. Too short, she declared, but the open-air tram waiting to take us to the customs and baggage area more than made up for it.

Customs was simple and quick with only one guy waiting to jump us on the other side. 500 baht, he told us - private taxi. We knew it was supposed to cost 200-300 and we kept insisting 300 but eventually agreed to 400 - anything to get to our hotel, and again, knowing how little we were quibbling over.

The drive around Koh Samui, to Bophut and our resort, was slightly harrowing as usual. Left-sided driving, tons of motorbikes, too many driven by Westerners who have no clue what they're doing, narrow streets, huge trucks and 4x4s unlike Pangkor, etc. But we got there and wow...

The place was heaven. It was a real splurge for us coming in around the 100 CDN mark a night, but when our itinerary shifted we found ourselves there in peak season /and/ on a weekend.

Oh well. For that price we got a huge buffet breakfast every morning (eating well enough to carry ourselves through to dinner) and a 2 bedroom 2 bathroom bungalow with a living room, tv, free drinking water, daily maid service, towels (both beach and bathroom - a huge luxury after barely being given one at some of the hostels).

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Our room at the resort

Anica had her own living quarters and loved it - as did we, finally getting some alone time after almost four weeks on the road.

The beds were hugely comfortable, the air conditioning actually adjustable, and we had a wonderful porch with a table, chairs and a rack for drying all our wet things. There were two swimming pools: a smaller one right outside our door and a larger one at the front of the resort

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gorgeous gardens, a beachfront restaurant, a whole village of shops and restaurants, and a long strip of beautiful sandy beach

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Given that we're looking at four weeks in China followed by two in Vietnam, this was exactly what we needed. And even though it came fairly close on the heels of being in Pangkor, it was a totally different experience and I'm glad we managed to have them both.

The first thing we did upon arrival - after running around our huge bungalow celebrating how clean and large and gorgeous it was - was go swimming in the pool right outside. Then we hunted up dinner at The Frog & Gecko. True to its name, there were dozens of geckos running around inside - up and down the walls, the ceiling, etc. Good thing they're so cute and useful! Anica indulged in a bacon cheeseburger, Rob in a mince and onion pie with mashed potatoes and I had potato skins with cheese and bacon. Yum!

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Anica at the Frog & Gecko

August 25

( Jenn )

So, after several more encounters with cockroaches - one falling from our air-conditioning unit, two in the shower, and another by the bathroom door handle - we can honestly say that your surroundings make all the difference in how you react to the things.

Take a scummy slimy dingy hostel with rats crawling around near the restaurant and one cockroach is enough to make you run (almost literally) from town a day early. But find a couple of them over a few days at a place kept so squeaky clean and you can easily chock them up to the climate and nature of the location.

Oh, gross factor of the day? Being suddenly deterred from using the beach by the underwater sewage spill (burst pipe) just down the way. Ugh. *clings to pools*

Random act of kindess of the day? Committed by the lovely Australian family from Hong Kong who dropped off all their beach toys, mats, insect repellent and electronic mosquito zappers on our front porch before leaving for the airport. Thank you!

Rob says I should continue to mention the restaurants. Last night we went to the Happy Elephant. Anica had a lovely huge cheese sandwich which came on a submarine bun with fries and coleslaw. She also had her first "mocktail" - mango, orange and pineapple juices mixed with strawberry syrup. Rob and I shared pork satay with peanut sauce, prawns with thai chili paste and beef with basil. All was delicious and made even more so by our table overlooking the water.

Tonight we checked out Starfish and Coffee. Again ushered to a table overlooking the water (something you could have every night for two weeks here and never have to repeat a restaurant), Anica ordered a cheeseburger with fries and we had more seafood! which made for a happy Rob. Prawns with basil and onion, crab with sweet chili paste, more pork satay with peanut sauce and springs rolls with chili sauce. Mm mm good. And all meals that, while not cheap by non-resort Thai standards, set us back for a third of what they would cost us at home.

Aug 26

( Jenn )

Our last night we ate at the Frog & Gecko again. We were craving comfort food and it was the only place that really had its kitchen going before 7 pm. I had the potato skins again while Anica had a back bacon sandwich and Rob had chili. Yum again.

It's been a gorgeous three days (well, three and a half) and we're going to be sorry to leave. I could've used a day or two more I think :P

Posted by jennrob 21:32 Archived in Thailand Comments (5)

Sweating It Out in Georgetown

Pulau Penang, Malaysia

sunny 32 °C

August 21-23

(Rob)

Getting from Pangkor Island to Georgetown, on Penang Island, was a simple 20 minute taxi-40 minute ferry-3 hour bus-20 minute ferry-10 minute taxi ride. Actually, it did seem fairly simple and fairly pleasant. We all snoozed on the (apparently) bug-free bus. We enjoyed the views on the ferry, particularly the large one that took us from Butterworth to Georgetown. Both are mid-size cities. It also afforded us a view of the 13.5 km causeway linking mainland Butterworth to Pulau (island) Penang. Our cabbie in Georgetown pointed out both colonial architecture and many, many hotels that would be better than the Hotel Mingood, where we'd asked him to take us. This seemed suspicious. Sure enough, the Mingood was just fine, our first actual hotel on the trip, and a bargain at about $30 Canadian per night, including a nice breakfast in their rooftop garden room.

That evening, however, we didn't notice much for dinner walking down Jalan Penang, and ended up at the mall beside the big communications tower. It was early for dinner, but our travelling had meant we'd missed lunch. We ended up at a pretty bland restaurant where the staff was ridiculously eager to please.

The next day, fortified by the complimentary breakfast, we were ready to see Georgetown in our only full day there. We had a brochure of a historical walking tour, and off we went. It was early, but already getting hot.

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The distinctive blue wash of Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion

We examined the blue mansion (remember Indochine with Catherine Deneuve?), and paid our respects at a Hainan Temple (Chinese). Very elaborate and colourful. Anica said we should stroke the lion's paws for good luck. Was she making this up, or had she read it somewhere? We stroked the paws anyway.

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Soon, the heat was getting to everyone. Walking for hours maybe wasn't the best idea for the day. The mantra became: get to the Fort.

Georgetown is as colonial in architecture as its name suggests. What's impressive, then, is not the originality or scope of the town hall, court, museum buildings, etc., but that they are found here on this island in Malaysia, which was very sparsely populated before the British claimed it. What was most impressive in the entire morning was the huge lizard (iguana? monitor?) we saw sunning itself on the rocks by the seashore. Think komodo dragon in size! Then it waddled off to - where else - a sewage culvert...

By high noon we'd reached Fort Cornwallis. We paid the nominal entrance fee and cooled down before exploring this legacy of Francis Light, where it all began for the Europeans on Penang. Mostly, it was fun stuff, like locking Anica in one of the cells, posing with the musket, strolling past the "wild" horses, hunkering down in the gunpowder magazine. But we did learn a lot about Light, including the matter-of-fact details about his slaves, and the interesting life of his Siamese wife. The first wedding in the fort's chapel was the wedding of Light's widow.

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We took refuge from the heat at a hawker centre of food stalls beside the Fort. Just then we ran into a Belgian family from our hotel whom we recognized from breakfast. We got a nice big table and ate lunch together. Anica played with their little 3 year old girl. She only spoke Flemish, but their parents spoke very good English, and we traded travel tips and email addresses.

The afternoon couldn't possibly involve more walking in the heat, so I suggested a trip up Penang Hill on the funicular railway. This, too, turned out to be a hot and sweaty ride, and quite a lengthy process.

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I forgot about Jenn's low-key fear of heights, but she managed admirably. The views of the island were magnificent. This "hill station" is at about a thousand metres above sea-level. It's a whole village at the top, starring the Macaque monkeys, but also including a Hindu temple, a Mosque, and some great lookout spots, of course.

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And, it was cooler up there. The railway and many of the buildings date from the 1920s, when Penang Hill was a fashionable escape for Malaysia's F. Scott and Zelda set.

For dinner, we actually ate at a sit-down Indian restaurant that was entirely indoors. In other words, a touristry sort of place. Anica kept pointing out how many of the diners were white people. It was good food, though, and we did get to eat on banana leaves instead of plates, which was a nice nod to Indo-Malaysian authenticity.

Our final morning at the Hotel Mingood was spent taking advantage of the free wireless, reading, and waiting for our flight time. The employees were very nice, even giving Anica a piece of their Domino's pizza.

Posted by jennrob 07:08 Archived in Malaysia Comments (5)

A Holiday from The Holiday

Our lovely stay at Nipah Bay Villa

sunny 28 °C

To our regular readers: we've added some photos to older blog entries for you to enjoy

( Jenn )

Aug 19

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Anica announces her arrival in this (believe-it-or-not) candid shot

We moved to Pangkor Island a day early and it was the best decision we could have made. Our resort here, Nipah Bay Villa, is simple but clean and lovely, like our place in Melaka. For 37 CDN a night, we have our own bungalow, air-conditioned, with a king-size bed, a single and attached bath, where the shower is an actual stall "area" of its own. We have toilet paper (whee!), blankets and coverlets and actual television even if we only get two channels. Our bungalow fronts on a courtyard area with a beautiful tree that blankets the rooftops with its branches and our paths with its flowers.

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There are assorted frogs, cats and geckos to keep us company and a rather large black and white bird with a double bill. Two minutes walk away is the main beach and hawkers stalls. Five minutes gets us to Coral Cove with its stretch of virtually deserted white sand and almost clear water where we can lie under the shade of the trees and watch the crabs scuttle from one hole to another and the monkeys swing through the trees. And the food, the glorious food - did I mention our room rate includes breakfast? And not any old continental breakfast but the type of full breakfast which would blot out that price in an instant at home. Eggs, toast, fresh juice (whatever's been squeezed that morning - watermelon, pineapple, orange, mango...), coffee or milo. Some mornings pancakes, others french toast. And the other meals are delicious, safe and cheap. Last night we had steamboat. A burner placed on our table followed by a pot divided into two sections of boiling broth - spicy and non-spicy. We were given 3 plates of raw food to cook in the broth - one with noodles (two kinds) and eggs, one with vegetables (various greens, carrots, baby corns), and the last with meat (tofu, beef, chicken, squid, prawn). It was delicious!

(Rob)

Aug 21

We left Nipah Bay Villa today, and we were all a bit sad. Our waitress (for every meal for five days) made a special point of coming to our taxi (actually pink minibus, they all are) to say goodbye. She loved watching and listening to Anica's animated talk, and we'd had many good laughs together these past days. It just seems like a happy little community. The beach and its stores were used mostly by locals, with the occasional Westerner. Nobody was touting or scamming. The people at our resort were mostly other Malaysians, although we had a good chat with a Canadian couple last night. We all loved the beach, even when the waves knocked us over and embedded salt and sand in our hair. We loved watching the hornbills (a large bird) and the monkeys. We didn't try to sightsee, but that wasn't the point here. Beach. Eat. Sleep. Repeat...

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Posted by jennrob 06:16 Archived in Malaysia Comments (5)

TKO in KL

overcast 32 °C

(Rob)

What a difference a change of scene has made! We're loving it on Pangkor Island, especially Jenn! It's rustic in a good way, not rustic in a Dickensian way. I felt exactly the way Jenn did about the KL hostel, but I wasn't sick already. The bus ride out of KL grossed me out even more. But now, beautiful beach! We'll write more on that later, but this entry is about what we did see and do in Kuala Lampur.

Even the first night, we were so tired that we just headed for "Times Square," the biggest shopping centre in Asia. It's 10 floors, atrium-style. We soon realized it was the one with the indoor theme park, "Cosmo's World." No way we were getting out of this one, after what Anica had already cheerfully dealt with that day (bus breakdown, grungy hostel, smoggy streets, walking in the rain, not being able to hail a cab, slipping on the sidewalk tiles...). So we just said, "Anica, do you want to go the 'Cosmo's World' theme park?" She said it had suddenly turned into the best day of her life! There were a few really good rides, and some kiddie rides, and all three of us joined in. We stayed until the place was closing down at almost ten o'clock.

We made a point of going to get the free tickets to go up the Petronas Towers first thing on Wednesday morning. It's a good thing too, because, after waiting in a nearly two-hour lineup, they ran out of tickets JUST after we got ours. Good for us, except by then it was only ten in the morning and our visiting time was going to be 4:45. We enjoyed several hours (taking refuge from the rain) in yet another huge, posh shopping
mall. I had great Indian food for lunch, while the girls went with Western favourites - easy on the tummy.

When it cleared, there was still plenty of time for Anica to enjoy the splashpark and playground at the foot of the Petronas Towers. She stood under the horseshoe waterfalls and splashed around merrily.

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The playground is also huge, but not at all coherent. What they seem to have done is bought around 30 separate playground sets and stuck them all next to each other.

The twin towers are quite pretty, mostly in shape and colour (due to their silver steel banding). They don't seem that tall, especially since the skywalk is "only" at the 44th floor. We had precisely seven minutes to spend on it when our allotted hour finally arrived.

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So, not quite towered out, we headed for the KL tower. It's actually taller, but not free. It's not as tall as the CN Tower, of course, but it's in the world's top 10. Anica enjoyed the observation deck there, particularly the free telescopes every few feet.

Getting a cab back was typical KL, in our brief experience. First we couldn't get one at all, then only someone who would take us for 20RM. We knew that was a ripoff, and so we held out for a cabbie who would go on the meter. We got back to the hostel for just 5 RM, which shows our instincts were right. Unfortunately, the night was just beginning...(see last blog entry)!

Posted by jennrob 05:15 Archived in Malaysia Comments (3)

"See? You're getting to see all sorts of wildlife..."

-17 °C

Aug 15th

( Jenn )

I'm really miserable right now. I know things will get better but gah. There was a rat in the hallway of our hostel tonight and another cockroach in our room. I wanted to move to another hotel at any cost but /everything/ is booked up. We must have called 30 hotels. *cries*

It wouldn't be so bad if I wasn't still sick - in fact, I'd probably continue to find it semi-funny, including the night manager's explanation that the rat "just" came from the sewer drain down the hall (thankfully not on our floor) - but I am, and it's just wrecking me.

HATE KL.

It's been one big yuck with some very minor moments of nice. Thank god we're moving on on Friday.

I knew there would be things and places I'd hate on the trip, I just didn't expect it to happen so soon :(

The one good thing this place has done is to set the bar for Rob and I in terms of what we're willing to deal with and what we need in a place. We'll be seeing some pretty rough cities (well, starting with Melaka, but it was much closer in flavour to Singapore) and where you stay is almost a refuge at night, especially when you have young kids and need to return to your hostel/hotel earlier than average. Sometimes cheap is just too cheap, particularly when it comes at the expense of peace of mind.

p.s. The night manager did make up the room beside ours for us and move us there. He said this one has never had a problem. Uh huh. Well, either way, it doesn't have a cockroach in it /now/ and that's good enough for tonight.

p.p.s. The guys running this place are great. So helpful. Wonderful, wonderful guys. But the place is a pit and KL (in my estimation) is not much better. Maybe if you're staying in one of the 5-star hotels and spending most of your time being bused around the city, it's different but I wouldn't know and the majority of our experiences here have been less than stellar. Maybe when I'm feeling better, I'll try and write something more positive about what we have enjoyed.

Posted by jennrob 10:10 Archived in Malaysia Comments (3)

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