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Archive for the ‘Pangkor’ Category

A long and leisurely travel day. More downpours during the night, but Kirsten’s sixth sense saved us from a soggy pile of clothes when she brought all our washing inside at some early hour. Well, maybe not a sixth sense – she heard a distant rumble of thunder.

Meanwhile, the only memorable feature of my night was a dream in which it was exceedingly important that I learn Morse Code. Don’t know why; there was just this burning necessity for the future. Anyone care to interpret that one?

In the morning we breakfasted on cereal again, in between doing all our packing – no rush to do it last night. There was even time left for doing diaries in the hotel cafe area – lots of table space there.

The owner came over to do his usual chatty thing, though it was obvious from the number of attempts it took him to switch on the correct fans that he doesn’t usually do that himself. (The place is so empty that perhaps he and his wife have given all the staff the day off.)

He noted approvingly that the girls were busy working, and then proceeded to distract them by talking about his expertise in ‘simplification maths’ – “Can you multiply two-digit numbers in your head? What’s 42×48? 2016. What’s 23×27? 621. Do you know simplification maths? You’ll find books about it here. The Rule of 10. Do you know the Rule of 11? The Rule of 9?” Er… maybe (this was directed to me as a Maths teacher rather than to the girls).

Further probing revealed that his amazing mental arithmetic only works if the tens are the same and the units add up to 10; in other words, for about 1% of all possible cases.

He said he used to be a QBA lecturer (I think that’s Quantitative Business Analysis rather than Quite Bloody Annoying) before using the family trust fund to set up this resort “for the children”. “You know what our tag line is? Arrive as a stranger, leave as a friend.” And he hinted that if you didn’t want to be his friend then he had no time for you whatsoever.

We signed the proffered Guest Book. Now is it just an English thing to moan in private but make no public fuss, or is it pure self-interest? For instance, if you complain in a restaurant what unhygienic act of revenge will they perform on your next dish? And here, they are in possession of your credit card details so they have you by the financial genitals, so to speak. Spoil the guest book with negative observations and you might get billed for a phantom breakage… So we just said nice things about the swimming pool and left it at that.

We dropped our bags at reception and went in search of lunch at our favourite street cafe. Closed. Okay, change of plan. Let’s get out of here, take a pink minibus to the jetty, get the ferry to Lumut and walk to the bus terminal.

So that’s what we did. Full credit to the wily taxi driver who responded to my “How much is it?” with “How much did you pay when you arrived?”

We just missed the 11.30 boat but could wait on board the next one in full air-conditioned comfort. In Lumut the walk to the bus station was longer and less obvious than we had expected; we barely made it with our eight bags weighing us down.

Our coach would depart from bay 3 at 2 pm so we had time to sit down and grab a snack. Kirsten bought three bags of fruit pieces for 1 Ringgit each; wonderfully refreshing pineapple and watermelon, and a medley of what we expected to be apple and melon but turned out to be a selection of mystery fruits – all new to us bar two bits of pineapple – which we didn’t like too much. Also a pathetically empty bag of crisps (90% air) and some rather good cashew nuts.

At last it was time to board the coach. We occupied our allocated seats and hoped that there would be space to put our bags somewhere (once again the overhead storage was inadequate for our bulgy rucksacks). Only seven passengers? Great – let’s dump our stuff on the seats in front of us.

A couple of hours later we drew into our half-way stop, Kuala Kangsar. Here the coach really filled up, but we managed to keep two seats for bags. We now zoomed north up the highway towards our destination.

I think it’s remarkably thoughtful of Malaysia to name not just one but two towns after an oft-overlooked English composer who was killed during the First World War at the early age of 31. Thus we disembarked at Butterworth and took our second ferry of the day across to Georgetown on the island of Penang.

We were bamboozled by the ferry ticket system; I walked up to the booth, asked for two adults and two children and received a stack of coins in return for my 10 Ringgit note. Are there any tickets? No.

So we started to go through the barrier gates, only to be stopped by another man telling us to insert the correct fare into the machines; one for children (anak-anak or sometimes kanak-kanak – don’t know why it varies) and one for adults (dewasa). So we had to dig those coins out again, sort them into two lots of 60 sen and two lots of RM1.20, send the girls through their channel and then heave our 15kg rucksacks over the top as we went through ourselves (my poor ribs…)

We could then board the ferry and relax for a bit. Views behind us of ugly, industrial Butterworth and ahead to Georgetown’s skyscrapers rising through the evening haze. (No, there’s no musical connection really, and no banks of green willow.)
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To our left, the 13 kilometre long road bridge connecting Penang to the mainland; it’s one of the longest in Asia.
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On the other side, another arm-achingly long trek with our luggage to get to the taxi rank, then a short drive to bring us to the Hotel Mingood. We checked in with no fuss and found our family room on the first floor; it’s huge!

By now we were in need of a good meal, but the recommended restaurant directly opposite our hotel is closed on Tuesdays. So we were directed to the Red Garden Food Court off Penang Road where we tried a Japanese eatery; Salmon Kani for the girls to share and Salmon/Beef Teriyaki for Kirsten and me. As we sat at our plastic table, an arrangement of Monti’s Czardas blared out from overhead speakers (the violinist chickened out of the harmonics section, though).

As we walked back to the hotel, we noticed that all the taxis here have registration plates beginning ‘HP’. Standing for Hannah Price, obviously – so she was delighted to have her photo taken next to HP 2404, her birth date.

Kirsten’s Birkenstocks bought two weeks ago are starting to fall apart. Perhaps we should take them back to Germany and complain…

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Tropical paradise?

Sometimes life disappoints you by giving you exactly what you wish for. Ellen’s trek to see her Rafflesia flower ended in tears and not even wanting to have a photo taken of her next to it. And four nights at a plush resort on a sunny island off the west coast of Malaysia sounds idyllic but has turned out to be an extended exercise in tedium.

Yes, it’s safe and peaceful here and we’ve had our best nights’ sleep in ages. Yes, the pool has been ideal for the girls to develop their swimming skills (when the sun isn’t dangerously strong). But beyond that we’ve been rattling around in our room wondering what to do with ourselves; there’s not much to see on the island, the beach is a bit of a tip and we exhausted the shopping possibilities on our first afternoon here. The TV has two channels, neither of them particularly inspiring or suitable for children. (Well, actually there was a half-decent film on this afternoon until someone else’s remote started spookily changing our channels as we watched; we were unable to get back to see the end of our film after this.)

And the resort itself isn’t quite all it’s cracked up to be. The access walkway to our room flooded during the overnight thunderstorm so we have to paddle through stagnant water every time we go out or come back. Our room has not been serviced in all the time we’ve been here (no fresh towels, no bin-emptying, no cleaning, nothing) and the on-site food and service is nothing special. There also seems to be a policy of placing the few guests staying here in immediate proximity to one another, leaving most of the accommodation blocks empty; we now have our third set of neighbours despite there being a good forty other rooms available.

To escape the boredom of tropical bliss, the girls have done some numeracy this afternoon (Hannah is now multiplying two-digit numbers successfully using a grid; our latest tables trick is that there were three people at her eighth birthday party which was on the 24th) and they are now sitting quietly doing some reading. Kirsten is working her way through a Sudoku book and I am writing about how there’s nothing to do… Ellen in particular is getting a bit fed up with waiting around, and even tomorrow there’ll be no immediate let-up; our bus leaves at 2pm so we have a long, long morning to pack up, check out and take the ferry to the mainland.

Some people do this for two, three weeks, soaking up the sun by the pool. It sounded an excellent idea for recharging our batteries, but instead after only three days we’re stir crazy with cabin fever and we can’t wait to go somewhere with things to do and see… Georgetown should fit the bill, and after that there will be plenty to occupy us in Sarawak.

Many stalls along the road don’t bother to open on weekdays, and our favourite eatery was closed today; a shame because we wanted to try the fried rice again. So we settled for another place; plain rice on a paper plate then help yourself to meat and veg dishes. Not nearly as tasty, and twice the price. Breakfast was a bowl of cereal in our room. We’ll try Daddy’s again for supper to make up for our unexciting eating so far, then take a farewell dip in the pool.

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Moonlight swim

We didn’t feel like having another breakfast at our hotel as we weren’t too impressed with it yesterday, so instead we strolled down the main street and sat down at our favourite cafe (where we have had two lunches already). We shared a table with Veronika and Jan, the young couple from the Czech Republic, who were also staying at Anjungan Resort. They are leaving today for the Cameron Highlands before returning home via Kuala Lumpur.

Pink taxis!
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The girls had already had cereal back at our hotel, so Tim ordered one lot of toast and jam and I chose french toast with honey. We offered the girls some but they were both feeling pretty full.

When we returned to our hotel we noticed that the pool was slightly shaded and let the girls have a good splash before the sun got too hot. Hannah was a brilliant big sister encouraging Ellen to put on my goggles and put her face in the water. She turned it into a fun game when she arranged some sort of obstacle course including Ellen’s hat and slippers which Ellen had to collect on the way.

At around 11am we got out, dried up, got dressed and returned to the covered eating and reception area where the girls wrote yesterday’s diary and Tim booked our flights from Kuching (Sarawak) to Kota Kinabalu (Sabah). The flights are extremely cheap, but then come all the little extras like hold luggage, meals and choice of seats.

For lunch we shared two plates of sandwiches (cheese/tuna) and a plate of Chinese style fried rice. Very tasty and not at all spicy.

By now it was very hot and once at the hotel we sought refuge in our air-conditioned room. We finally watched the girls’ Cinderella show which went on for a good hour! They had worked hard on materials and props (limited selection of clothes and cuddly toys), made up a song and added a few jokes. Afterwards Tim suggested they ought to write down the script and make each character more recognisable.

For the next hour or so we just flopped on the big bed and watched television. We very briefly popped down the road for a bottle of water and four ice creams and dashed back in a rush before the ice creams turned into a puddle.

I know it’s very boring, but we had yet another rest! Shortly after 5.30pm we went in search of a slightly earlier supper so that we could have another swim afterwards. We walked down the road hoping to find a burger or a triangular banana leaf parcel (we wanted to find out what was inside it), but almost all the road stalls were closed. We thought we were just early, but when there was still no sign of life around 6pm we gave up and walked back to Daddy’s Cafe.
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There the girls chose to share another portion of fish and chips, Tim had spicy Malaysian chicken curry with star anise and cinnamon sticks and I tried pita bread stuffed with vegetables and chicken in a chili and tomato ketchup sauce. A little spicy, but still manageable.
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The sunset was absolutely amazing with the sun turning a very warm yellow/orange before turning into tomato red.
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At last we were ready for our moonlight swim. It was dark, the underwater lights were on and the water was lovely and warm. The girls picked up where they left this morning. Both girls have improved immensely. Hannah is gliding beautifully when swimming breaststroke and her breathing whilst swimming front crawl is coming along nicely. She has also started to learn to dive, but needs a little more confidence. Ellen just can’t stop putting her face in the water, for longer and longer periods of time. She has a funny swim style where her arms swim breaststroke and her legs pedal. The interesting thing is that she is actually moving forwards and by the end of the evening she managed to swim a whole width without stopping or breathing. This was pure determination, she is just so keen to improve on herself and won’t give up easily!

Needless to say that both girls were disappointed when it was time to come out. It was 9pm and well past their bedtime. Diaries will have to be updated tomorrow morning, but no rest for the grown ups with blogs to write and batteries to be charged.

We have one more day here and we’ll probably make the most of the swimming pool as there won’t be one in our next accommodation. We might also have to return to Daddy’s Cafe for supper and yet another sunset on the beach – it’s such a tough life!

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Cool in the pool

This is probably what some people think we’ve done all year, by extrapolation from their own holiday experiences; spend most of the day lazing in the pool to cool off from the relentless sunshine, occasionally popping out to get a snack and a drink, then down to the beachfront in the evening.

And yet this is probably the first such day that we’ve had, and even then the girls had two days of diary to catch up with this morning while we booked up the next segment of our travels; six nights in Georgetown followed by an AirAsia flight to Kuching in Sarawak (Borneo). But we passed much of the afternoon in the ship-shaped pool, Hannah making excellent progress with her front crawl (she fairly zooms along until she runs out of breath) and Ellen getting more confident about jumping in and putting her face in the water.
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Food? We were disappointed with the in-house breakfast (fortunately an extra rather than being part of the package); we ordered two set menus – one sausage, beans and egg and one toast and jam – but the (supposedly) included fresh orange juices were horribly bitter (we suspect they simply blended an entire orange, skin and all), and then we were even charged extra for the privilege – when we ordered, they never even mentioned that the included juice only means squash. The coffee pot came ready sugared, too – ugh! And one of the two waitresses was clearly not loving her job, scuffing around in flip-flops with a sullen expression on her face.

As we sat there, the owner introduced himself and heartily told us stories of his time working and travelling in the UK, buying ships for the Malaysian government in Cowes; there was some connection with Al Fayed, too. We didn’t get much of a word in, but apparently he regales all guests thus, judging by the reviews we’ve read.

Our main street.
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We returned to yesterday’s lunch spot for more of the same (toasted tuna sandwiches and fried noodles with ice teas all round) while come suppertime we grazed from the street stalls; barbecued sweet corn (blackened and salty) followed by disappointingly tepid and chewy fried fish sticks and banana balls, rounded off with a banana and coconut pancake prepared in a banana leaf. (Banana leaves make an excellent alternative to aluminium foil for cooking food in parcels.) These we ate down on the beach while watching the inflatable banana boat attempt to dump its payload of passengers into the bay.
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This is no tropical paradise; the beach is a bit of a dump, actually. The strip of land between the road and the shore is littered with food rubbish, metal sheets, piles of building materials – not pretty at all – and the shore itself has washed-up plastic bottles and other bits and pieces. Not surprising that the resorts have their own pools although they are just metres from the sea.

The beach – looks okay…
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but this is just behind it.
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We had a peek at several other accommodation options as we wandered the streets choosing our supper, and they all looked scruffy, cramped, noisy and down at heel. No doubt they’re cheap, but we’ve done the cheap thing in Singapore… Thank you yet again, TripAdvisor – and incidentally, every place but one that we’ve picked has escaped the curse of being listed in Lonely Planet.

As we walked along the main street, a teenage Muslim girl pointed to the ground just to our right and somewhat self-consciously called “Snake! Snake!”. Sure enough, there was a little green sinusoidal snake not doing very much, a bit like the lizard-eating one we saw near Mini Malaysia, so we nodded and carried on. I expect she wanted us to run away in great panic, but she went over and picked up the toy snake ready to trick the next Westerner.

After supper it was getting dark and the pool lights were on, so the girls enjoyed a late-night dip in their knickers. We’ve suggested a proper evening swim for tomorrow, and they seem to be looking forward to this novelty.

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Yet another broken night with a couple arguing a floor below. Someone (the owner’s wife?) eventually shouted at them to be quiet. I could still hear them in the far distance though, but managed to get a little more sleep. Tim’s still struggling to get comfortable due to his bruised ribs.

Before we booked our room at the Hillview Inn we read up on reviews on TripAdvisor and several people had commented on the noisy dogs at Jurina, the hotel behind ours. As it turned out, only one of the four nights was disrupted by barking dogs, the other nights were broken due to thoughtless guests.

Shortly before 7am Tim and I crawled out of bed and gave the girls an extra 10 minutes to wake up before getting dressed and finish our packing. Just after 7.30am we carried our bags downstairs and had something to eat and drink in the garden. The temperature was lovely and I really enjoyed our stay in the Cameron Highlands. It was so nice and comfortable not to feel damp and sweaty!

Our mini van should have collected us at 8am, but when it still hadn’t arrived 10 minutes later Tim decided to walk down to their office. He returned with the message that the driver was rearranging the seats and shortly after he finally turned up.

Waiting in the garden.
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We said goodbye to the landlady and off we went… as far as the office just around the corner! What’s going on? They swapped drivers and we ended up with a really kind and quiet gentleman who was called “your driver of the day”.

We knew from our journey to Tanah Rata that the road is pretty windy but in the very slow coach we hadn’t really noticed. Now in the mini van we were going a lot faster and I was relieved that I hadn’t had a big breakfast.

When at last we reached the bottom of the windy road even our driver let out a sigh of relief. He informed that this road had only opened three years ago and that the previous road was even worse! He drove on a couple more minutes and then stopped at a restaurant so that we could have a bathroom break and he a quick breakfast.

A good 10 minutes later he returned to the van with a friend and we carried on to Lumut. We arrived shortly after 11am and he kindly stopped at the bus station so that Tim could purchase our bus tickets to Butterworth (across from Georgetown) for next Tuesday. He even recommended using Transnasional as they are very reliable and walked Tim to the ticket counter. Afterwards Tim asked if there was an ATM nearby and again it was no trouble for this kind man to drive us up to the cash machine.

Once at the jetty terminal he guided us to the ticket counter and told us which boat to get on. He also explained we should get off at the second stop and that a taxi (pink mini vans) from the terminal to our hotel should cost no more than RM10-15. All very useful and helpful information. We said goodbye, shook hands and boarded the ferry.

The ferry was absolutely packed with mainly Malaysian weekend tourists, school children and a handful of westerners. The crossing was very smooth and half an hour later we arrived at the first stop at Pulau Pangkor. We, together with a few more people, remained seated as we were told to get off at the second stop. Except a man came on board and told us there was no second stop. Oh well, better get off here then.

We walked about 50 metres and could easily spot the carpark with loads of pink mini vans. We waited our turn and were allocated a van all to ourselves. After 5 minutes the driver pulled up outside a school to pick up his young son and then carried on to Anjungan Resort.

It looked great, albeit a little smaller than I imagined from the photographs on the hotel’s website. After we booked this family room we read two recent reviews about the owner being very rude to some guests. We had none of this at all, we were greeted by a very kind young man who took our details and handed us our key, remote controls for television and air condition. When the credit card machine didn’t work, he simply asked Tim to come back later and try again.

We walked past the boat shaped swimming pool, which looked very tempting and headed up the stairs to apartment 212. The apartment has a small bathroom, double bed, small fridge and tv downstairs, and two single beds upstairs. There is also ample storage and a lovely view from our balcony of the swimming pool down below.
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We dropped our stuff off and headed out again in search of lunch. We found a nice little eating place where the girls chose toasted sandwiches (tuna and cheese), Tim had spicy Tomyam and I played it safe with fried noodles. As often here in Malaysia, the food was really tasty, although the noodles were a little spicy.

We were surrounded by clothes shops and after we had finished our lunch we had a look around for sarongs. Hannah chose a beautiful fuchsia one and when I asked for the price, the answer was RM25. Then the lady said 80. Oh, RM25.80. No, she said, 80. I thought that’s quite a lot, until I realised she meant 18! The lady then kindly showed me how to put it on. We carried on down the road where I spotted a beautiful blue and fuchsia sarong which was also RM18 (that’s about £3.50). Ellen didn’t really want a sarong, so she opted for a beautiful white(!) dress with blue flowers on – very cool and pretty.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a couple of convenience stores to buy water (we’re back in hot, sticky country now), milk and crisps. Once back we changed quickly into our swimming gear and headed straight for the pool. The water was a little warmer than we would have liked, but it also meant that it was comfortable for the girls. Hannah, using my goggles as they were bigger, swam a whole length of crawl without stopping, and Ellen just loved splashing around with Tim.

I met a lady from Exeter who was here with a friend and some family members. This group of people suggested a game of waterpolo – men vs women, and would we like to join in. Tim politely declined due to his sore ribs and he offered to look after the girls.

Another couple from the Czech republic joined in as well. We all had a fantastic time and a good laugh and it was great that we all got on so well. I even managed to score at least four goals – not that we were keeping score, it was just for fun.

After one and a half hours we all needed a rest and we returned to our rooms to have a drink and some crisps. Later the girls and I donned our latest outfits and we went in search of Daddy’s Cafe down the road.

It was such a lovely place. When we arrived the waiter led us through the open restaurant (no walls or doors, just a roof) to the back, which was actually the beach with a view of the sea and the sunset. Having supper on the beach was a first for all of us, and what better way to celebrate this than with fish and chips! We ordered three lots to share between us, and as Hannah noticed these were the first lot of chips in Malaysia that were not crinkle cut. Four empty plates meant room for dessert. The girls shared a banana split and Tim & I chose banana fritters which came with vanilla and chocolate ice cream.

The beautiful view, pleasant temperature and lovely sea breeze meant that this was one of my favourite suppers of our trip. We’ll definitely have supper there again before moving on.

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