6th September 2017 to 12th September 2017
Penang, Langkawi & Singapore
I kick started the second week of our trip, by hitting my second language learning goal. I completed the Spanish language tree on Duolingo! My first goal had been to have my first conversation in Spanish with a native Spanish speaker, which I achieved back in July in a pub in London Bridge. Achieving this goal had introduced me to the core of the Spanish language. I was still hopeless at speaking and listening, but getting used to recognising at least moderately complicated sentence structures. It was a start.
Language learning aside, the start of the second week looked a lot like the end of the first week. Our days continued to be filled with swimming and delicious street food on the streets of Penang. Subaidah Nasi Kandar Restaurant and the Old Market Food Court continued to serve us well, particularly on the evening that we discovered the delights of adding fried chicken to the Nasi Kandar mix. I also developed a habit of singing Nasi Kandar to the tune of “Rock the Kasbah” every time we walked past a Nasi Kandar joint. I should imagine Kim may tire of this should it continue into week 3!
Over the course of the second week of our trip, we have stepped up our interactions with local wildlife, ahead of the almost 100% wildlife focus ahead of us in Borneo later in the trip.
First, in Penang, we unexpectedly came into contact with a giant monitor lizard that crawled across our path on our way to dinner in the middle of a built up area. The local cats were completely oblivious to the threat, but I imagine it could have done some serious damage!
Secondly, a trip to the snake temple near Bayan Lepas ended with me with a python round my neck and a viper draped over my head as I was far too easily coerced into the standard posed set of photos. The legend surrounding the Snake Temple suggests that the snakes arrived at the temple of their own accord in the past, but the temple now backs on to a snake breeding centre, that is the current source of the snakes that adorn the temples altars. Though naturally venemous, the pit-vipers have been de-venomed and are rendered virtually immobile by the heavy incense smoke that fills the temple.
After Penang, our next destination was Langkawi, a well travelled Malaysian island situated near the Thai border. The journey was about two and half hours by ferry and was considerably less sea-sickness inducing than we had expected. The journey itself was largely uninteresting due to the lack of windows on the ferry, but the wait at the ferry terminal in Penang was considerably more entertaining. Whilst Kim was in the bathroom, I was sitting on the floor waiting with our bags. I was invited by a couple from Saudi Arabia to join them at their table. Not content with simply offering me a chair, I was then plied with Arabic coffee (heavily spiced with cinnamon) and biscuits. “No thank you” simply wasn’t an option!
We were greeted in Langkawi on our first night by a thunder storm of biblical proportions. The prospect of days exploring the beaches of the island seemed far from appealing as we drifted of to sleep on the first night to the rain hammering on the metal roof. As luck would have it, despite it being Monsoon season, the weather was good enough (in patches at least) to do everything that we wanted whilst we were there.
The town where we stayed, Pantai Cenang, was a fairly unremarkable touristy beach strip with an impressive but heavily developed beach. Seafood is the food of choice in the town and we had some decent butf not spectacular meals at prices far above what we had been paying in Penang, but still considerably less than one would pay at home.
The whole of the island of Langkawi is a designated Geopark and it is in this natural beauty that the island had most to offer. On our first full day in Langkawi, after a breakfast of Roti Arab (a fluffy counterpart to the flaky roti Canai), we went on a tour of the Mangroves in the North East of the island. The tour had very kindly been bought for us by Kim’s colleagues at school as a leaving gift (thanks everyone!).
The tour started from the geopark discovery centre in the spectacular four seasons resort (which was not where we stayed incidentally!). Kim and I waded through the frothy waves to a small boat that would take us deep into the Mangrove forest. Limestone karsts lined our route into the mangroves as our knowledgeable guide told us about the area, whilst the boat chugged along through the waves.
The waves were short lived as we soon entered the bay, sheltered by a variety of mangrove trees that our guide introduced us to. Further into the forest, we stopped and watched mudskippers and a variety of different crabs in a feeding frenzy before the tide rose. Further into the forest still, our progress up river was tracked by a troop of macaques, presumably keen to see if we would feed them as many of the boats do. We did not, but the Macaques didn’t have to wait long as another boat arrived and threw fish sticks in to the river for them, trying to encourage them to swim.
It wouldn’t be our last encounter with Macaques on the tour, as troops would pop out of the trees to patrol the river every so often along the way, much to Kim’s delight. The other wildlife highlight was seeing both White Bellied Sea Eagles and Brahminy Kites diving for food in the estuary. Watching these birds of pray diving up close was a real privilege, but one that was tempered slightly as they were diving for chicken skin scraps thrown from the other boats rather than their natural prey of fish.
After our tour, we were dropped on the magnificent white sand beach of Tanjung Rhu with views of the karsts and beyond to the coast of Thailand. It was probably my personal favourite of the beaches that we visited on the island.
The day after our mangrove tour, we hired a car to explore the island some more. Whilst trying to hire a car, there were a pair of Swiss girls looking to do the same, so we ended up sharing a car for the day. The weather was a bit hit and miss to begin with and we had a fairly weather dependent itinerary, so there was some trepidation about how the day would work out. Bizarrely, the best activity whilst the weather was poor was a trip to the beach, Skull Beach to be exact. It was still warm and as we would mostly be swimming a bit of rain wasn’t the end of the world. It was another beautiful secluded beach with white sand and decent views and it was a lovely place to spend what was left of the morning.
After lunch, we took the skycab (the worlds steepest cable car) up Gunung Mat Chinchang, the tallest peak in Langkawi. The vistas of the island and the bright blue sea surrounding it from the cable car were breathtaking and too much thought about quite what was holding the car up and stopping us plummeting into the rainforest canopy below was quite frankly rather terrifying. At the top, we took a walk along the sky bridge, a pedestrian bridge joining two peaks and offering views of the untouched rainforest below.
After another spectacular cable car ride on the way down, we made our way over to the seven wells waterfall. The pools carved out of the rock at the base of the waterfall made for a wonderful spot for a swim in the cool water that was coming off the mountain. The rain earlier that morning, whilst slightly frustrating on the beach was a real plus now as it meant we got to see the waterfall in its full glory.
We completed our self guided tour of the island with another trip to the beach, now that the weather had improved. It is fair to say though after an action packed day, there was considerably less swimming done and a whole lot more laying down!
The final day of our second week was spent in Singapore. It had been our final destination on our overland epic last time, so it feels like a special place to us even though we were actually only there for 2 days. I was eager to return and experience some more of the city, particular the hawker centres.
As soon as we arrived, we went in search of some lunch at the nearest hawker centre to our hostel, the Chinatown hawker centre. We quickly surveyed the scene and picked the place that we most liked the look of. As we approached the counter, we realised there was a queue, which is normally a good sign. It didn’t look too long, so we joined it. It was in this queue that I realised that we had inadvertently joined the queue for the famous Hawker chan stall, awarded a Michelin star in 2016. Before arriving in Singapore I had looked into going, but had decided against it after hearing stories of 2 hour queues. However, we got very lucky, waited 15 minutes and the stall closed 2 or 3 customers after me. We had through sheer luck, timed it perfectly to eat at the most famous hawker stall in Singapore! The food itself was great, we each had chicken rice and shared a portion of the pork rib. Both the chicken and the pork were top notch and a steal at S$7 (£4) for 3 dishes. As much as I enjoyed the food, I couldn’t tell you why this stall in particular was singled out for recognition by Michelin. All of the food that we have eaten in hawker stalls has been stunningly good quality.
In the evening, we met up with a friend from home who lives out here. After dinner at a dumpling restaurant, we found ourselves back in the Chinatown hawker centre sampling some big hitting IPAs from the Smith street tap stall over a plate of satay. It was a tasty way to sign off on our second week. Next week, Indonesia…