Malaysia blog

Langkawi – December 2012. Holidaying here. Retiring here?

One Malay word you should know if you are in Langkawi – “Pantai” = “Beach”.

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Tanjong Rhu beach – in the north of Langkawi

I wrote a blog about Langkawi after my visit in April 2012, and I have just returned from my third holiday in Langkawi in about four years. I will combine my previous blog with this, adding more information. The smaller photos are from April 2012, the larger from December 2012 – so you can tell

GETTING THERE

  • In August 2008 we drove up to Kuala Perlis and caught the ferry over to the main ferry terminal in Langkawi.  All we had to do was phone a contact who ran a parking lot, give an approximate arrival time, and he bought the ferry tickets.  When we arrived we could park undercover and he gave us the tickets, and pointed out where to catch the ferry.
  • In April we flew on Air Asia from Penang to Langkawi, which is about 25 minutes in the air, but from when we left home by taxi to when we were in our hotel room about four hours had elapsed.  Which was about the same amount of time as driving and catching the ferry, although the flight was less strenuous.

http://tropicalexpat.com/retire-in-langkawi/

Speed Camera Kills – drive safely despite speed cameras in Malaysia

“Speed cameras don’t reduce casualties — they are just for revenue generation.”

Chief Inspector Paul Gilroy
Northumbria Police
October 2003
A recent article in The Star states that, “Come September, more than 1,000 cameras will “keep watch” on roads across the country under the Automated Enforcement System (AES). There will be 566 speed cameras, 265 traffic light cameras and 250 mobile cameras (for places with inadequate infrastructure for installing a camera).”

To me this is very bad news, as it adds more danger to the roads than the considerable amount that already exists.

This graph shows how the introduction of speed cameras has resulted in around 5,000 extra deaths in the U.K.

In the UK they have started to remove speed cameras as studies have shown roads are safer without them. One example is Swindon
In the UK and Europe, speed cameras have almost killed me at least twice, where both times I was safely travelling below the posted speed limit, and speed limits have similarly endangered me.  Red light cameras are also dangerous.
So how can one drive safely, now that these extra hazards are being added to the already dangerous state of the roads in Malaysia?  The standard of driving here is appalling, and at least the absence of cameras has meant that you can concentrate on road conditions and other drivers. Once cameras are introduced you have to drive mostly viewing the speedometer  – like everyone does in the UK – and not pay much attention to road conditions and maniac drivers and motorcyclists.
To counteract the increased danger, I would suggest the following:
  • Ensure you know the speed limits where you drive
  • Know where fixed cameras are
  • A GPS unit should tell you about red light cameras, so keep its software up to date – cheaper than a fine, and better than whiplash from getting hit from behind – a common result of red light cameras.
  • Be aware that as the hunger for increased revenue from red light cameras increases, the timing of orange to red may decrease, so they can catch more drivers.  This is what they have done in the USA.
  • As you approach red light camera intersections drive a bit slower so the driver behind can stop – so then you will have the opportunity to either stop or accelerate. The latter may be better if the driver behind is talking on his phone.
  • You can use cruise control on the North South tollway so a camera doesn’t catch you
  • From about Slim River to KL the N-S tollway is three lanes each way – meaning the left lane is often empty as almost all drivers occupy the middle or right lanes.  Perhaps it is safer just to stay in the left lane, including overtaking the cretinous drivers who drive slowly in the middle lane.  If anyone does something stupid, you still have space to swerve onto the verge. This is against the law in Europe, but people don’t drive so stupidly in Europe.
  • As you approach where you know speed cameras are located be very wary of other drivers ‘ sudden braking or erratic driving. Keep as much distance as possible to avoid problems.
  • If these cameras cause you any problem you can consider making your member of parliament responsible .

There should be more ideas – all this is off the top of my head.  I couldn’t find much on the Internet, so I’ll keep on thinking about it.

So, how should road safety be improved in this country?  The usual answer is education of drivers, including by responsible policing where the police advise errant drivers rather than fining them, and by proper engineering of the roads to reduce or eliminate accident blackspots. But this is not actually my area of expertise, either.

For more information on speed cameras read the Association of British Drivers on the topic.

A moving experience. (When I moved to Malaysia I wish I had brought…)

WHAT TO BRING:

Short answer – everything you can.

It is quite cheap moving from the UK to Asia, probably because many goods are being shipped in the other direction, and there is plenty of space on the ships when they return.

Especially, bring kitchen items, oven, dishwasher (very expensive here), mattress and bedclothes, furniture, DIY items. Electronic goods tend to be cheaper here than the UK, but furniture, crockery, glassware, etc. may well cost far more here, if you can even find what you want.  If you have possessions you like, it can make a lot of sense to bring them.

So bring as much as you can, and as long it is used, if you have an MM2H visa, it should be free of duty. Don’t leave any unused space in your container.

Of course, it makes a lot of sense to come here with the minimum, and not ship your goods until you have  decided both you do want to live here, and where you want to live.  This will take at least six months, and perhaps a year or two.

SHIPPING AND DELIVERY OF YOUR POSSESSIONS:

If you ship your goods before you settle here, be aware that if you use a reputable  international company, and have paid for a door to door packing, delivery, and unpacking service, it should go quite smoothly, although you will still need to supervise the packing, and especially the delivery and unpacking on the Malaysian side.

Pick up for Malaysian delivery, in London

Pick up in London for storage in the UK

They take care of the paperwork, so there is nothing you need do about that, and once the delivery date is set, be at home, with at least two of you – one to watch the unloading from the lorry, and one to watch the delivery into your house or apartment.

On delivery in Malaysia, I watched in shock as six delivery men formed a line spaced about six feet from each other, and started to throw boxes marked “fragile” from the truck along the line to the last man, who was to load the trolley with them. I soon put a stop to that. So these men need supervising.

If you decide to ship your goods before you have chosen your home, you will find that there are no storage facilities here.  So you will either have to keep your goods where you are living – fine if you have the space – or rent an apartment for your goods.

Moving locally is a whole other matter.  It seems impossible to rent a lorry so that you can do it yourself.  But finding good local removalists is very difficult, at least for a reasonable price. You can book a lorry and the number of men you think you need for the job, but you do need to supervise closely.

moving locally

This will cost upwards of a few hundred ringgit. But for many of my things I didn’t trust anyone else, so I made multiple trips by car, in addition to using the lorry.  As I have moved around a bit I have also found that the lorry drivers seem to have very little idea of the roads in Penang, despite them living here, so I have had to have them follow me.

Some lorries have no roof, so if there is any possibility of rain on your moving day, ensure the one you hire does.

hope it doesn’t rain

Your estate agent can help with organising the utilities, post etc. If you are using TM for your phone and or Internet, they can take weeks to transfer the connection, and they will still charge you even though you had no connection.  When you complain you’ll get a refund. So, go into their office and stress it is urgent. When we did this in their main, Burma Road, office,  it took two days – and they gave us a free new phone, even.

If you live in a condo you’ll need to inform management, and security, about your moving, and probably the number plate of the lorry.

So, there are a few tips.  If I recall others I will add them, but it has been a while now since we last moved.

A nice daytrip from Penang – Kulim Canopy Walk and Penang Bird Park

On a sunny day, this is a pleasant day trip.  Pack a picnic lunch, or BBQ if you are ambitious, swimming costume, towels water, hats etc. You don’t need hiking boots, as flip flops will do – although shoes would be better. No liability accepted etc. etc.

The general idea is to visit the recreation area and take the canopy walk, then optionally swim (?) or splash around in the nearby river, and after picnic next to the river.  Later, head back into Penang State and visit the Bird Park in Butterworth.  It’s a short drive back across the bridge to the island, thereafter.

And check the site for current information: Tree Top walk. There are plenty of sites with information, so I won’t bother repeating it.  And besides, I was there twice in 2010, so my information could be a little out of date. Another site about tree top walk.  And check the route, too – I don’t entirely trust this map.

Another site gives the coordinates of Sungai Sedim Recreational Forest as 5°24′49″N 100°46′49″E

map

And check the latest on the bird park, while you are about it.

Kedah map

In light traffic it takes about an hour and a half to two hours to reach to the canopy walk. Park near the river where you’d like to picnic later.  There are toilets, and you can change into or from a swimming costume when you wish.  Then walk through the arch and up the road for a few minutes to the actual entrance, where you pay the admission fee.

entrance arch

You can see a map of the walk.

canopy walk diagram

Just don’t get shot.

A few photos of the walk

Entrance

a river runs by

the forest you are walking through

quite high

If you are lucky you might spot hornbills

sometimes you see wild hornbills

one of a pair of hornbills

After doing the canopy walk you can return to the car park, and then swim in the river.

the river near the car park

Well, soak, or play in the river would be more accurate.

it’s quite shallow, but quite a strong current in places

butterflies on the rocks near the river

a lot of butterflies

After your swim, a picnic by the river is nice.

Then drive back to Butterworth for the Bird park. Check what time the shows are so you can see one if you are interested.

bird show

http://www.penangbirdpark.com.my/

Bird Park (Penang) Sdn. Bhd. Jalan Todak, Seberang Jaya, 13700 Perai, Penang, Malaysia.

Tel : 604-399 1899 Fax : 604-3991899

Growing stuff on hot concrete – gardening in tropical Penang – quick update in early May

It’s the rainy season now, and cooler, too.

In March Passion fruit were flowering, then flowers closed and stayed, and finally dropped off – but in April no flowers. Passion fruit were flowering again in late April, and one or two  grew into fruit but dropped off when very small. The vines themselves are still growing at a reasonable rate.

The cherry tomatoes seem to be happier in April, but still the yield is very small.

The cabbages are growing slowly, and hearts are starting to form on some, but the best one was attacked in the heart by a bird it seems, so I had to put netting over to protect them.  Now I am afraid the best cabbage will become infected or attacked by something else.

As previously mentioned I grow mung beans with passion fruit as a companion plant.  Then I harvest the mung beans – some to replant, and some I sprout and eat.  Now birds have discovered them and eat them, leaving the empty pods on the plants.  I don’t think the birds are really doing anything useful in the garden – perhaps eating bugs, but I can’t tell. So I need more netting to protect the mung beans, and maybe I should buy a hanging cat face from Daiso to scare the birds away.

Road Trip – Route 8 from North-East to South-West Malaysia

We’d just got back to the mainland town of Kuala Besut on the east coast of Malaysia from the Perhentian Islands. We jumped into our car. It’s 460 kilometres to Kuala Lumpur, we got half a tank of gas, a big bottle of water, it’s almost dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses. We hit the road.

the route

One thing we didn’t have was a map.  It was a sudden change of plan to go back to Penang via KL, in order to save a trip there later to pick up something.  We just had the GPS. Which of course I ignored – which I often do –  when it told us to go north-west when I wanted to go south-west.  However, I unignored it soon after because I had a feeling that perhaps I had better obey the lady this time, as we hadn’t any idea of the roads at all, not having consulted a map.  A wise decision, as it turned out. Google maps later showed me that the GPS was right.

We were heading back down the route we’d come from Penang.  It didn’t feel right, but what did I know?  However, you do read about people who follow their GPS and end up driving into lakes, and so on. We’d left a bit after 5PM, and the traffic was very light, so it wasn’t all bad. The general plan was to drive until a little before dark (i.e. 7PM) and then use the GPS to locate nearby hotels, and find an acceptable one.

To my relief we turned off Route 4 (the one to Penang) after a while, and on to roads leading to Route 8. Then it started raining, visibility was poor, and the roads poorer. I found a small truck to follow to make it safer and easier.  The rain stopped, visibility improved, and the truck turned off. We were on our own again.  Well, not really, there was a steady stream of traffic.  But apart from the towns, the scenery was quite nice.

Due to the poor light, and lack of opportunity, we took no photos until the next morning, and even then we didn’t take many.

There was no further rain, but we hit roadworks a couple of times, leading to quite lengthy delays.  As it was getting darker I kept on checking the GPS for nearby hotels, but there was nothing, really.  We just had to keep on going. It was quite hilly, and the scenery was lovely.  Some hills resembled those around Ipoh.

For safety I drive with my headlights on, and do my best to follow another vehicle so as to make a head-on collision very unlikely.  However, this was difficult to do in this case.  On the open road, with a speed limit of around 90KPH, I couldn’t really follow the local cars which tend to drive around 50KPH, the lorries which may drive as slow as 30 or 40 KPH up or down hills – and there were a lot of lorries – or the other drivers in mostly ordinary cars which drive at 140KPH plus through very hilly, windy roads, with which I am not familiar.  We were on our own. There were so many lorries that everyone else got stuck for long periods behind them going slowly. But many maniac drivers just overtook the line of cars and lorries around blind corners, and many rude drivers overtook those who were waiting to safely overtake, thus jumping the queue.  The idiots were lucky that evening, and no one died.

It got dark, the driver (me) was tired, but no hotels seemed to be in the vicinity. All we could do was continue. We’d beeen driving three hours.  I kept on checking the GPS for hotels – and then suddenly a lot of hotels started to appear in the town Gua Musang, which we were approaching.  We turned off at this town and started looking at the hotels as we drove by. Most seemed best avoided, but we stopped at one, checked the room, and initially it seemed OK – not great, but OK, – seeing as it was now dark, we’d eat out, sleep, and leave at first light.  There were no double rooms, or delux doubles, so we had to take a more expensive room. I think the charge was RM116.

We checked in and lugged our luggage to the room – no bellboy here. For the first time ever, we found ants in the bed. Ants? And the air-con didn’t work.  So, we got upgraded – to what they call a chalet – although it is like a semi detached house (?). It didn’t mean much – a flat screen TV we didn’t watch, a refrigerator we didn’t use, but at least an air-con that worked, and an absence of ants – although no absence of huge cockroach – which we dispatched with some spray we’d brought with us.

The next morning I took a few photos.

Kesedar Inn

"Chalet", Kesedar Inn, Gua Musang

the room

We hit the road again around 7.20AM – otherwise known as dawn. The whole trip was supposed to take about 7 1/2 hours, so we should only have 4 1/2 to go, meaning we’d arrive around 11.30AM.

fog & Ipohesque hills

Lots of fog, not so much traffic.  The maniacs are either still in bed or they’ve died a horrible death, taking innocents with them. Driving was OK.  Still, there were plenty of lorries to overtake. The scenery was nice, but there was no where inviting to stop for coffee.

more hills

We did eventually find a nice enough looking hawker centre to stop at.  A coffee later, and we were on our way again. No time to dawdle, as we want to be back in Penang tonight, after shopping in KL. Later the landscape became flatter, we started to encounter towns, which were quite congested, and then we approached the motorway into KL, and arrived in our destination a little after 11AM. The trip took about seven hours.

Honestly, I don’t know if I will do this trip again.  I’d like to see the scenery in full daylight, but some drivers are just so dangerous I don’t know that I want to take the risk. Closer to KL the road is being improved, but not the middle part through the mountains, where the crazy drivers took the most risks.

Perhentian Islands – Malaysian tropical paradise

The Perhentian Islands are lovely. From Penang you can drive to Kuala Besut and take a 40 minute ride on a speedboat; or take a bus to Kuala Besut; or fly to Kota Baru on Firefly and make your way to Kuala Besut by bus or taxi.

Location of Perhentian Islands

Perhentian Islands

We chose to drive, as detailed in my previous blog – “Road Trip – Penang to the east coast of Malaysia by car” There is a secure parking lot to the left of the Samudera Hotel, and this costs RM7 per day (not per 24 hours or night) – so RM 20 for Monday – Wednesday for us – with RM1 discount.

The story starts on our first morning in Kuala Besut, having endured the night at a local hotel. We had booked a three-day / two-night all-inclusive package at the Bubu Resort. This includes the boat ride to and from the island. Bubu has many packages, which can include a bus from the airport, then the boat, too. Another resort is Shari-la, which we walked past but didn’t enter. However friends of ours stay there and like it. There are many boat companies at the new jetty – which you can’t miss because it is all sparkling new and very orange.

very orange jetty

If you want to go to the islands and have no booking, it is easy enough to book a ride as there are so many agents at the jetty – but you may have to wait until the boat is full until it departs. Bubu has an office at the jetty, and we left our luggage there and it was taken care of until they delivered it to our room at the resort. A few minutes before departure we were ushered to the tax window where we had to pay an “environmental” tax of RM5 per person for up to three days – RM2 for pensioners – which we didn’t bother asking for.

tax details

Then we boarded the boat…

speed boat to island

There were only eight people on our boat, and we were asked to wear life jackets. It wasn’t scary, but the boat ride can be bumpy as they drive quickly,

a bit bumpy

and takes about 35 – 40 minutes to the jetty near the resort.

Bubu Resort from the boat, just before arrival

At the jetty a hotel representative greets you…

view of resort from jetty

and accompanies you to the hotel cafe/restaurant where you are immediately served a welcome drink – non-alcoholic, but nice and not sickly sweet as you often receive in Malaysia and Thailand.

you are presented with a welcome drink

welcome drink and view from cafe / restaurant

The representative then explains about the resort and the activity schedule, and lets you know when your room is ready.

Itinerary for 3 days / 2 nights

As it was about 12:00 noon, we had to wait about an hour before we could take our room, but we just wandered down to the beach.

beach

And then a little later were invited to take possession of our room.

The accommodation block

we were on the third (top) floor

We had requested the top floor as mosquitoes would likely be less of a problem.

room view

The room had a nice view of the resort and beach…

view from room

And what do you know? Lunch was being served, so we wandered down for that.

buffet dinner

You may notice from the time stamp that this photo is actually dinner, and this is because the buffet lunch and buffet dinner on the first day were more or less the same. This is simply what I chose, but of course it is all you wish to eat.  Thereafter we spent some time under the beach umbrellas, and swimming.

beach view

Then it was time for our snorkelling practice near the hotel.  We rented a life jacket, snorkel and mask for RM40 per person (for the duration of our stay), and just wandered down near the jetty to water about neck-deep, and snorkelled with the guide watching over us.

snorkelling near the resort

I found it was not necessary to wear the life jacket – if you just lay in the water you floated anyway, and you could watch the lovely tropical fish on the coral to your heart’s content, just peacefully breathing through the snorkel – you not the fish.  After about 45 minutes we wandered back for afternoon tea – although I was still full from lunch.

Afternoon tea – chocolate pastry, butter biscuits, and some strange fish thing you eat with chilli sauce.

view from restaurant to beach

Then it was back to the deck chairs.  And before you know it is happy hour – cocktails 20% off.  They were pretty popular with the guests.

happy hour cocktails

Some time after this we were escorted to the other side of the island to view the sunset. This was about a 15 minute walk.

walkway across the island

And we viewed the sunset from in front of the Shari-la resort.

sunset walk

almost sunset

The path there is very simple – you’d have to try really hard to get lost. So we walked back before it got dark as there was no lighting.  It was almost dinner time – not that we were really hungry.  As I mentioned, it was pretty much the same as lunch, so see the lunch photo. In case you didn’t buy an all-inclusive deal, there are plenty of eating places in shacks along the beach, and also near Shari-la.  But Bubu was the most upmarket (although Shari-la is similar), and the rest various stages of down-market.  If you eat a-la-carte at Bubu, here is one page of the menu as an idea.

One page of Bubu’s a la carte menu – there are more pages

And this is the restaurant and bar on the beach.

Same place we had welcome drinks, so you can see that photo for the beach view.

Speaking of the bar, the price of drinks  at Bubu was very similar to any other place along the beach, but the atmosphere at Bubu is much nicer.  I saw one kiosk selling beer for RM7, but it had no seating – just the beach. Here is Bubu’s drinks menu…

drinks menu page 1

drinks menu page 2

There is no refrigerator in the room, by the way.

So, that was Day One. Pretty busy, but still plenty of time on the beach and  in the water.

Day Two, I was up before dawn to greet the sun as I usually do anyway.  And to grab the best deck chairs.

sunrise from Bubu’s beach

And then a nice swim.  I discovered that breakfast is probably the best meal – if you like western breakfasts.

my breakfast choice to start – then I went back for more

There were really nice croissants freshly baked, chicken, sausages, bread, jam, fruit and others.  This is the restaurant where all-inclusive patrons eat their meals.

Part of the breakfast buffet, with the egg chef to the left.

Next came the highlight of the holiday – and I have no photos because I was afraid of getting my camera wet, and because I couldn’t photograph underwater anyway. This was a three-hour boat trip to three different points to snorkel and see the sea life. First we were taken near the shore of the other island and snorkelled, and saw many tropical fish – but much of the coral had died.  No currents here, so no life jacket really necessary if you can swim OK, unless you want to play it safe.  Then we were taken to another spot on the coast of the same island, where again we saw fish, and also a shark about four or five feet long. Again no life jacket really necessary for swimmers.  Finally we were taken to a spot between the two islands to see turtles.  Here the current was strong, so wearing a life jacket was advisable. Those turtles sure move fast, but I saw one for a little while.

Back on land, and I was tired, but satisfied. And, it was lunch time.  Lunch was similar to the day before – watermelon, pineapple, chicken, rice, cooked vegetables, salad…  Then back to the deck chairs to relax.

deck chairs and beach umbrellas

Then afternoon tea.

afternoon tea – today cake, samosa and sausage roll

There was another walk to a high spot on the island, but we skipped it in favour of lying on the deck chairs, a bit more snorkelling nearby, and going for a slow walk along the beach and back. Dinner this night was a BBQ, and it was delicious. Fish, prawns, clams, lamb, potato, corn, and skewered vegetables.

delicious BBQ dinner

We opted for a 4PM boat back to the mainland, so as to get an almost full day on the beach, and spent the day swimming, lying on the deck chairs and doing some more snorkelling.

last chance to snorkel

The boat trip back was part of the package, but was a shared boat – which meant the captain picked up people from other places – and involved doing one circuit of the island – which was a bonus. And then back to Kuala Besut and the final adventure – we decided to drive to Kuala Lumpur from there – so took a route we’d never done before from north-east to south-west.

Bubu was great, and the minor complaints patrons had made in the past, such as no soap provided, had been addressed, so management is doing its best to satisfy customers, it seems. Mosquitoes were not much of a problem. The staff were helpful and very friendly. Some of the food was really good. Some was between OK and good. Drink prices were reasonable for Malaysia. Activities were relaxed and fun. We really enjoyed ourselves.