22.04.2016 - 27.04.2016 34 °C
The morning we left Trang for Langkawi, the husband and wife owners Yamawa guesthouse made sure we were fully stocked with coffee and bananas. We were collected by a minivan from Andrew Travel and spent 3 hours snaking around very windy roads which made us both feel quite sick. We got off at Pak Bara port and had our little piece of paper changed for a ferry ticket voucher. We were then put on a songthaew which we thought would be for a short transfer to another minivan as it usually is, but it ended up being a 1.5 hour journey. We didn't mind too much though as the wind was in our hair, keeping us cool and occasionally sampling our noses with the odours of pig skin, manure and fish farms.
We were eventually let off at Satun ferry terminal where we were immediately confronted with a massive queue and plenty of confusion and chaos. Luckily, while I joined the back of the line, Lauren had the instinct to double check our ferry voucher at the ticket office where she discovered that we needed to exchange said voucher for our actual tickets, which she did. We found out that the reason for the congestion was that the earlier ferry had been cancelled and that normally, there isn't a queue at all. We have the best timing.
It took over an hour to get to the little exit Thailand booth but thankfully we made it onto the 13:30 ferry meaning we didn't have to wait until 18:00 for the next one.
Lauren had got chatting to a Moroccan-Australian man who was heading the same way as us and suggested we share a taxi. We agreed but ended up regretting it as he tried to boss up around by shouting for us to hurry up and fight our way to the doors to be the first off the ferry (we had neither the energy or impetus to do so considering we were carrying a combined 30kg on our backs). However we did save 10 ringgits (approx. £2) on the taxi fare so silver linings and all that.
We arrived at Mali Mali beach resort hotel and checked in. We were shown to our room which was a bungalow-come-hut right on the path to the beach. The room was a bit battered and scabby but it was fine. The bathroom was quite manky with plenty of mould, a foul smell, broken and uneven tiles, ants and exposed pipes. We pulled our faces but accepted our fate; at least the water was hot and we were close to the beach.
Relieving our spines from backpack shackles we ventured out onto the 'strip'; a long street of restaurants, shops and a few bars catering to the Malay and foreign holidaymakers visiting Cenang beach. The area did feel a little bit Benidorm-y but that's to be expected of a beach resort.
We chose to have our late lunch at a Syrian cafe (falafel always wins over the greasy Western food that was on offer) which proved to be very tasty if not a little pricey.
We then went back to our room to chill out and watch some crappy videos on the internet. At around 9pm I decided to pop to the minimart around the corner to get some sugary munchies. On my way back (literally a 3 minute walk) I felt like I was being followed. As I approached our door I saw a silhouette of a man standing a couple of metres to the left of me. I turned my head to him and smiled, thinking he must have been another guest at the hotel staying close to us. He then said "hello miss, can you help me?" and walked through the trees over the cobbles to where I was stood. At this point Lauren, upon hearing my voice, opened the door. The man then said "I'm sorry, my English isn't very good. I want to go with you for some fun tonight". I thought that perhaps we were lost in translation and that maybe he was looking for a bar. I asked him to repeat himself and he said "tonight, you and me, we have fun". It did now cross my mind that what he was actually asking could be inappropriate at best and indecent at worst. But, being the benefit-of-the-doubt sorta gal I am, I shook my head and said "I do not understand". He then took a step closer to me, invading my personal space and said "I want to have sex with you. Fucking. Tonight" and then made penetration gesture with his hands. I, mouth agape said no to which he replied "come on baby, I will pay you!" I said no again and went inside our room, Lauren shutting the door behind me.
All in all the exchange probably only lasted a minute but it felt much longer. I was a bit shaken up at first, which in turn made me feel angry. I initially wanted to go back out there and have a go at him; I was annoyed that he'd made me feel scared. Lauren then told me that while I'd been away someone had been knocking on the back window which only had a narrow path with water containers behind it. The knocking had scared her which is why she'd open the door as soon as she'd heard my voice outside. There was no way of knowing if it was the same guy who had done both the accosting and the knocking.
Both flustered and concerned that this weirdo knew exactly where we were staying and that he had easy access from the main strip we went to reception and told them what had happened. The girl was very sympathetic and immediately arranged for us to move to a different room on the opposite side where she said there were cameras.
We calmed each other down and managed to get some sleep, hoping that by tomorrow we'd be over all the weirdness.
The next day we got up and went for a walk to get some water and other bits. Whether it was my mind working overtime or whether it was factual observation I felt eyes on me, men's eyes. I felt that every time I walked past a guy, he looked at my body. I tried to shake it off but I couldn't help noticing it happening more and more. By the time we got to the point of wanting to go to the beach I just couldn't bring myself to get in a bikini. I didn't want to me looked at even more. Clearly the previous night’s events had bothered me more than I thought they would.
After a discussion we both decided that we weren't comfortable at Mali Mali and wanted to stay somewhere else. This was particularly disappointing because Lauren had spent extra for us to stay in a supposedly nice hotel as a birthday treat for me.
We spent the rest of the day on and off the phone with hotels.com trying to figure out if we could get a refund for the remainder of our stay (we'd paid upfront), searching online for an alternative accommodation nearby and packing our bags. Unfortunately the hotel refused to give us a refund but in spite of this, we checked out and moved to Melati's Hostel; an all-female dorm just up the road. It was basic but very clean with a lovely host and much more security, not to mention a quarter of the price of Mali Mali.
We felt safe and comfortable and quickly forgot about losing a bit of money. I even managed to joke about being mistaken for a sex-worker and the pervy gentleman at least being polite.
The following morning we awoke refreshed and ready to see Langkawi; the eagle island. We got chatting to Eleatty; the manager of the dorm who had had a very interesting life to say the least. Her dad is Danish and her mum is Malay and she was raised by her grandmother in Kuala Lumpur. She had 4 children of her own; 3 as a result of an arranged marriage at 18 years old and 1 a friends' child that she had adopted. She told us she was a lesbian and that her grandmother had caught her with a woman as a teenager which led to the arrangement of her marriage. She didn't say much about her husband but we got the gist that she was divorced and pretty happy these days with her kids all doing well and studying hard.
We eventually got our bums to Cenang beach which was undeniably beautiful and a 5 minute walk from our hostel. We found some sunbeds (£4 for the day) and settled down for a relaxing few hours. Because it was low season, the beach wasn't overly populated, but unfortunately there were loads of jet skis in the sea with no real area for swimming. We did get in and have a bit of a doggy-paddle but the jet skis got a little too close for comfort so we retreated pretty quickly. The other spoiler was the constant backing and forthing of 4x4s driving across the beach a few yards away from us along with the sightseeing helicopter doing loops above. Not quite the peaceful paradise we'd hoped for. We did get some fresh sea air though and also managed to get through a few book chapters before the thunder started. We'd been told it was quite common for there to be afternoon storms in Malaysia in April.
That evening we found a cheap restaurant just at the end of our dorm called Bella and after filling our faces we had a night-time walk up the strip. Weirdly, the further we got the more familiar logos started appear. Starbucks, McDonalds, KFC (which is ubiquitous in SE Asia) and Subway. Langkawi is a duty free island so there were also plenty of tax-free alcohol and food shops. We had a mosey hoping to find a bottle of Asti or perhaps some Vermouth but it wasn't all that cheap so we refrained.
In the morning we travelled by minivan to the beautiful Tanjung Rhu beach where we met our charming tour guide for the day; Wan. It was a pleasant shock for us both when Wan gave a very professional introduction and brief to our group. He even covered some health and safety! This is the first time we've experienced even a hint of a syllabus for any tour.
Our group was 15-strong and we were in a smallish speed boat with a driver that looked impossibly young to be captaining any vessel. Our first stop was a floating fish farm where we saw and fed an array of underwater species including stingrays (barbs still in place), leopard sharks and the huge barramundi. The fish were squashed into very small little man-made pools, all desperately jumping up like dogs to get a bit of food. It was like a fish prison and a bit sad but we took it for what it was and tried to learn about the aquatic creatures.
We next ventured into Kilim Geoforest proper; skipping over the line between the strait of Malacca and the Kilim river. We sailed along the dense mangroves and watched the surprisingly friendly long-tailed macaque monkeys swimming over to the boats (including ours) to be fed watermelon. Two young Chinese girls in our group made the oddest squealing noises when the monkeys came near which only added to our entertainment.
As if choreographed by Mother Nature herself, we quickly nipped over to another area of the river where the eagles hang out. In the mangroves of Langkawi there are white-bellied and brown sea eagles and they were both in abundance, circling overhead. Some of the boats that travel around the mangroves are authorised to throw a few grams of chicken-skin into the river to feed the majestic birds of prey; and ours was one of them. From afar, the birds are astounding in both aesthetic and ability. When they swooped down for their poultry snack we got to see them up close and their sheer size left us mouths agape (they have wingspans of over 2m).
We were soon navigating through the tributaries of Kilim river and thankfully our prepubescent driver was more than adept at snaking through the narrow channels; not crashing into trees or disturbing any scary poisonous creatures.
Speaking of creatures, we managed to spot a huge monitor lizard as well as a venomous green viper snake, chilling on a low branch.
Our guide Wan told us that there used to be crocodiles in the river too but that they’d moved out many years ago due to the advancement in tourism. Can’t say I blame them.
It really was breath taking to be within the mangroves; the scenery and clean air was one thing but you couldn’t escape the intense feeing of foreignness. Especially for a city-dweller like myself. This ancient natural environment was so alien and so full of wisdom and balance it made me feel incredibly insignificant. But also full of awe.
We had a generic fried rice lunch back at the floating fish farm. We declined the option to pick our own crab or fish to eat, both for vegetarianism and stingey-ism.
Round the corner we stopped at a bat cave (Gua Kelawar) where ironically we saw more monkeys than resident fruit bats. We walked along the wooden walkways up, down and around the cave, at one point stomping through smelly knee-deep water.
We returned to Tanjung Rhu to finish our tour and were given a bit of time to swim in the perfectly still, warm water of the Malacca strait, with ancient limestone formations as our backdrop. We felt pretty lucky.
That evening I finally got the chance to try the quintessentially Malay dish; Nasi Lemak. For those of you that don’t know it is a meal, usually eaten at breakfast, that consists of fried rice, anchovies, a fried egg, lamb/chicken/beef, cucumber and a chilli paste. It’s all cooked in a pandan leaf and usually served wrapped in a banana leaf. It was bloody delicious and had everything you’d want in one perfect portion. And for 30p, I felt like I’d found my soulmate.
We also devoured various Indian fried goods; sweetcorn bhajis, curried potatoes and soft yummy dough stuff. Calories galore.
Our last day in Langkawi was spent trying to find a more peaceful and less jet ski predominant beach. We walked for an hour and got to a beach we thought was pentai Tangah (the next main beach from Cenang). Although much quieter and incredibly beautiful, we didn’t hang around for long as there were plenty of BEWARE JELLYFISH signs and the sunbeds cost 10 quid each to use as they were attached to a posh resort.
We gave up and walked back, stopping to share a yoghurt smoothie on the way (romantic I know) and giggling at the funny shop and restaurant names (BS food court anyone?).
The day was redeemed a little as I managed to catch up with my Dad for almost 2 hours while Lauren perused the local bookshop (geek). We then finished off our last night in Langkawi by eating street food at dusk on the beach. We watched families burying each other in the sand and young hot hunks playing shirtless football in an effort to impress the ladies. The sun set and we tried to absorb the last little bits of an island that had somewhat underwhelmed but also surprised us. My excitement was steadily building for the next destination; Penang.