Month: February 2012

Driving from Penang to Kuala Lumpur (KL)

See October 2018 update.

The older version follows.

You could catch the bus or train, or even fly cheaper. It’s not so interesting to drive, so why would you want to do it?

If you catch the bus you must of course get to the bus terminal.  In Penang that is either Sungai Nibong, five minutes drive from Queensbay Mall on Penang Island, or Butterworth, near the ferry terminal on  the mainland.  If you catch a taxi there it adds considerably to the expense, unless you live nearby.  If you drive your car there you have the expense of parking, and worries about security.  Or you could catch a Rapid Penang Bus there, which may involve changing buses, and would involve carrying your luggage.  In which case, perhaps consider catching a bus or taxi to the ferry terminal and then the ferry across to the bus terminal at Butterworth.  Still, you must carry your luggage for the distance.    Also note which terminal the bus arrives at in KL – you may have again to catch public transport or a taxi to get to your destination, and that could be pricey if it involves a taxi.  The actual time on the bus is only marginally more than driving – but as you must get from home to the bus terminal, wait for departure, and after arrival, get to your destination, the point to point time becomes considerably more. And if you value your safety use one of the more expensive bus companies, and catch a bus that departs and arrives during daylight hours.

The train is very slow, although that may not be a disadvantage, and it is quite relaxing.  But, again, it involves many of the same problems getting to the station in Butterworth as getting to one of the bus terminals.  One useful ploy could be to catch the first class sleeper to KL, shower before arrival, spend the day in KL, and catch the sleeper back.  An efficient use of time and a saving on a hotel.  If you want a shower during the day there is one in the station at KL.  Ensure you take any food or drink you may want to consume on the train. For more details on the train see my earlier article on catching the train to Singapore.

As for flying, it involves advantages and disadvantages that almost any international traveller is already aware of.  It can be quite cheap as well.

So again, why drive?

Leaving Penang (Island) – crossing the bridge to the mainland.  No toll in this direction.

You want to do it at least once
A lot of shopping to bring back
Stopping along the way to see / do something
You’re going past KL to elsewhere
There are several people going, so it’s cheaper (at least if you ignore the car running costs)
You can set your own schedule
You need the car in KL
You hate public transport

Heading south – typical landscape

So, some statistics:

Driving at around the (very low) speed limit of mostly 110 kph and with a couple of short stops it takes about 4 1/2 hours, if not caught in traffic
Distance is about 175 miles or 281.58 Kilometers as the crow flies
Road distance is about 370 kilometres

Typical landscape

The occasional car, lorry or motorbike has no functioning rear light – you may want to reconsider driving at night, especially as the traffic seems no lighter at night.
It is mostly an uninteresting drive – however, a few kilometres before Ipoh, and after Ipoh, the landscape is more interesting.

approaching Ipoh the landscape is more interesting

getting closer to Ipoh

Toll charges are about RM45 one way.
It is useful to have a Touch and Go card to pay the tolls.  The queues are smaller than the cash payment booths.  Buy a Touch and Go card before you leave – the web site tells you where.

a “toll plaza”

There are almost no electronic sign boards to warn of any problems ahead.

There are a lot of these hills

unfortunately they are mining these hills and leaving them bare

After Ipoh

There are rest areas along the way.
There are petrol stations at some of the rest stops.
Petrol prices are set by the government, so it costs no more buying on the motorway.
Toilets vary in cleanliness at the rest stops, but none are very good.
There is absolutely no good coffee to be found at rest stops.
You can buy fruit, different kinds of Malaysian food, soft drinks, souvenirs, icecream at some of the rest stops – but some rest stops have only toilets.

a small rest area

For about two-thirds of the journey there are two lanes, and thereafter three lanes. From about Slim River, south, from memory.

A huge percentage of drivers drive in the middle lane, leaving the left lane almost empty on the three lane section. No point having three lanes, really.

three lanes now

Road signage is very poor in KL so a GPS is very handy- as long as you have the maps up to date.

KL ahead!!

Journey’s end

Alternative Media this week

Argentine Advice for Greece: ‘Default Now!’  where Adrian Salbuchi, having experienced a similar experience to Greece’s present economic catastrophe in Argentina a decade ago, gives his advice.

The US & UK etc. are supporting the rebels Al Qaeda in Libya and Syria.  The rebels are Al Qaeda.  So now Al Qaeda are the good guys?   Bob Chapman on the 22/02/2012  “USA PREPARES.COM W/ VINCENT FINELLI”  You may have to subscribe to download this podcast.

How we are moving from the 3rd dimension into the 4th. The earth has a wobble, which has a cycle of approximately 26,000 years. Every 13,000 years there is a change of consciousness, alternatively a raising of, or decreasing of. Bob mentions the type of consciousness we’ve been immersed in for the last 13,000 years and discusses the rise of a new type of consciousness.  December 21st, 2012 marks the end of a 13,000 year cycle, after which we start to have a raising of consciousness.

Interesting thoughts or articles I noticed from the alternative media this week. I don’t endorse or dismiss the ideas – and in many cases I have been aware of these ideas for years, but perhaps there is additional information or there is something new.

Best value in Penang

Most things in Penang are quite reasonable value.

Street parking in Butterworth near the Megamall is 40 sen an hour (8 pence).  On  the island it can be up to double that for street parking, and on weekdays in mall parking areas perhaps RM1 (20 pence) for three hours.  Of course, some parking is free, and some banks and supermarkets have free parking.

Rapid Penang bus tickets are priced according to distance, but are cheap.

Theatre and concert tickets are far cheaper than we’re used to, and the cinema is from RM7 (around £1.40).  The cinemas can be very, very cold, so take something to wear.

Coffee at Mc Donalds is good value – the other famous coffee chains charge pretty much the same as London.  Old Town coffee’s price is not too bad – the new Old Town on Beach Street also has a nice atmosphere. Best value though, is coffee (black coffee is Kopi-O), at a hawker centre – depending on the hawker centre it is about 80 sen (16 pence).

Song River on Gurney Drive, corner Jalan Birch

Eating at hawker centres is quite cheap – cheaper than buying food at the supermarket and eating at home – but when you consider the hygiene levels, the unavoidable MSG, and the preponderance of carbohydrate based dishes, many expats soon tire of them and prefer to eat at home mostly.  Song River on Gurney Drive, does have some nice dishes during the day, and although small, is good and therefore very popular. (Daytimes, about 7AM – 3PM.)  At night, instead, are several stalls selling different ranges of dishes, my favourite being the BBQ chicken stall.

Sarkies, E&O Hotel

But one deal stands out – become a member of the Eastern & Oriental Hotel (E & O), and two people can eat a lunchtime buffet for the price of one, on weekdays.  You may have to eat there about five times for the savings you make to recover the cost of the membership. It depends on the day how good it is – sometimes the variety and quality of the food is good, and sometimes excellent.  You also receive some useful, and not so useful, vouchers.  Useful ones are, for example, free afternoon tea vouchers for 1885 – the upmarket restaurant at the E & O, member for a day vouchers you can use when you go with friends – or can give to friends, some good birthday deals at 1885 etc. E & O membership  – 04 222 2000 & ask for Helen

Sarkies, E&O Hotel, buffet

Dim Sum, as in most countries, can be very good value.  There are numerous good Dim Sum restaurants.

And there are a couple of useful free magazines for expats:

The Expat mag –
Expatriate Lifestyle –

Of course, there are free daily newspapers, such as the Sun, Monday to Friday.

Is there anything else I should be aware of? I am sure there is.

Growing stuff on hot concrete – gardening in tropical Penang – episode 1

It’s the tropics – everything grows like weeds, right?  Couldn’t be easier growing things?!  Er, no.

The easy way is to see what your neighbours are growing in pots, and just grow the same.  But with the exception of bougainvillea and a couple more, I had more interesting plants in mind. And I want mostly things I can eat. Oh, and everything should be organic. I want to be able to grow food – and I know it would be much cheaper and easier just to buy it at an organic shop. Following is my experience from May 2011.

I have no ground as everywhere is paved, so apart from a 30 square foot raised brick bed I had made on a concrete slab, everything else I have to grow in pots.  And I move the pots around if I think the plants will be happier with more / less shade, cover, etc. I painted the concrete floor, walls and planter box with a special white paint that reflects the heat – it is manufactured in Ipoh and they deliver.  This means I can walk on the floor and not burn my feet, the plants are cooler, and the house is cooler.

30 square foot planter box, shade cloth and lattice

I’d buy local seeds, sow them, and absolutely nothing would germinate.  Even in my raised bed, nothing would germinate.  I would compost the fruit and vegetable remains, and then put the compost in my raised bed.  And from this little seedlings appeared.  I would nurture them, and they’d grow to about 1″ or 2″ tall, and then they’d wilt and die.

LESSON 1. It’s too hot.  I put up a pergola with lattice, and put shade cloth over the top of the garden bed.  Pots could also be shaded.  I put another layer of shade cloth directly over the raised bed for the hottest part of the day.  And then I watered frequently to keep it all cooler.  Doing the same kind of thing with seeds in seed pots brought some success – carrots, cabbages,  cherry tomatoes…  Shade cloth, watering to keep cool.

So now I had some plants growing up from my compost.  I often did not know what they were, and neither did the nursery man.

LESSON 2.  People tell you there are no seasons and you can sow seeds / plant plants anytime. I don’t believe it.  Passionfruit I grew from seed became about 9″ high and then stopped growing for months – then suddenly around October they took off and grew rapidly all over the lattice.  Now, mid-February, I have had one flower, and a fruit is now growing.  I have 20 plants, so I hope many more will follow. Similar experience with other plants – the time of year makes a difference.

Alternative Media this week

Vitamin C proven to help protect Fukushima victims from radiation poisoning, cancer

My thought: So perhaps if you really have to fly out of an airport that forces you to go through a full body scanning machine, you can protect yourself from the DNA damage and from the cancer they cause by a two month Vitamin C regime.

Interesting thoughts or articles I noticed from the alternative media this week. I don’t endorse or dismiss the ideas – and in many cases I have been aware of these ideas for years, but perhaps there is additional information or there is something new.