Last day in Langkawi

As planned Simon set the clock and we get up early. We decided to let the kids chose what to do today and they want to go back to The Asiana Hotel where they spent yesterday afternoon. We have some yogurt and fruit for breakfast and make our way up the road. Although it is quite early it is so hot that my sunbed burns me and we have to keep diving in the pool to cool down. Before too much longer Barney appears but unfortunately hasn’t left his sleeping parents and sister a note so Simon walked back to let them know Barney is with us.

Jon, Toby and Lois appear around midday much the worse for wear! Apparently they had a late night last night and their plans of going up the cable car in the afternoon seem to be rapidly evaporating! At lunchtime we walk back to our hotel, we have got a bit of food left in the fridge and we make sandwiches for lunch. I spend sometime explaining the legends of Langkawi to Ali and Maisie but they’re not too interested and want to get back to their swimming!

Simon takes them back and I pack up all our stuff, again we have a parcel of things we have collected in Malaysia and want to post it home but as the postal service here is supposedly very unreliable we will wait until we arrive in Thailand tomorrow. We have planned to catch the ferry at 9.30am to Satun which takes around an hour and then get the bus to Krabi, a four hour journey.

Simon and Ali come back at 4.30 and we walk up to Lylia’s Bar. Ali plays for an hour or so with the guitarists we met last night and we have some Tigers with an Australian mum and daughter who are holidaying here. Eventually everyone else returns and we light a fire on the beach. Jon and Toby have bought some burgers and the kids make us ice cream sundaes. We say our goodbyes and wish them good luck with the rest of their trip; they are heading off to the Cameron Highlands and Taman Negara before their flight to Australia. It has been great spending time with them and I will miss them but can’t wait to get to Thailand tomorrow. We had a fantastic holiday there last year and we’re hoping to explore so much more of the place all the guidebooks call The Land of Smiles.

The SImple Life

The money situation has become quite desperate and the main aim of today is to get to Kuah and get some cash. The nearest ATM is at the airport but there will be more choice of banks in Kuah and Simon, Toby and Jon set off in a taxi and leave me with the kids. I’m so lucky and have definitely pulled the long straw as all I have to do is remind them occasionally to put on sun cream and have a drink – Yeh !

I lie under the coconut trees on the beach reading my book and day dreaming. I have really loved it in Langkawi and seem to have found the answers to some of the things I have been thinking about really easily here. I have met some really amazing people here too. The girl who runs The Submarine Shack is from Nottingham. She came to Langkawi on holiday, met her boyfriend, went home jacked in her job and has been here ever since!
I love hearing about stories like that, people who don’t worry too much about the consequences of stuff and just get on with it. Eventually they return with cash, hurray and we plan what to do for the afternoon.

Simon and I found a lovely bar up the road for sale for 7000. We sat there planning what food we would serve if we owned it etc!! Don’t worry mum we weren’t serious! In the afternoon Jon and Toby offered to take Ali and Maisie to The Asseana Hotel, it has apparently got the largest swimming pool in Malaysia and we jumped at the opportunity to spend a bit of time on our own. When we arrived there a few hours later they had all had a fantastic afternoon. The pool comes complete with waterfalls, slides, a hot pool, (as if you need that!) wave machine and “relaxation river”.

We head back to our hotel and stop on the way for the kids to ring their Dad and Nana Judy and Bob and quickly check a few emails. After a quick shower we walk along the beach. Jon found a bar yesterday where they have an acoustic jammin session at sunset and Ali wants to go and play. The two guitarists there are really great and tell me they have just met and are camping on the beach and busking around the bars for a bit of cash. What a great life! Unfortunately some drunken fella decides he wants to play and when he sits down in front of Ali and tells him “sit there and I will teach you something” I want to laugh. The bar owner soon sorts him out and Ali arranges to meet the buskers tomorrow afternoon.

We have our food and make our way back. Tomorrow we will be leaving Langkawi and we get to sleep fairly easily. I will be setting the alarm in the morning to get us up early to make the most of our last day.

The Delta Motel

Today I even surprised myself by jumping out of bed and making the decision to go for a run on the beach. It’s early and I leave Simon and the kids asleep and set off along the water edge. There aren’t many people about, some of the locals are having an early morning swim (all fully dressed, laughing and splashing around) and I stop and watch the fishermen emptying their nets. I have my MP3 player with me and listen to Jack Johnson along the way. It’s a bit of a half hearted attempt at running though but I console myself with the thought that although it might not being doing my body much good it’s certainly good for the soul.

When I get back they are all up and we sit having coffee and chatting with Jon and Toby for a couple of hours. I have decided to stay out of the sun today as my lips are still sore and burnt and Simon doesn’t like to lie around too much anyway. Toby does some schoolwork with the kids, she gives them a topic each and Maisie and Lois share theirs. They are told to plan a presentation explaining why they feel cats are better than dogs. Ali has to present his thoughts on why the guitar is the best musical instrument and Barney tells us why skateboarding is the best form of exercise. They all seem to enjoy doing this and talking to her has given me some more ideas on how to structure literacy lessons.

We consider the financial situation, by now we are down to our last few hundred ringitt and decide the best option for lunch is to buy some supplies and make sandwiches for everyone. We have crisps and fruit also and enjoy having a simple homemade lunch.

I spend the afternoon reading and we start to consider where and when we might move on. We had originally planned to stay in Malaysia for 3 weeks and have been here 3 weeks today so need to plan how we are going to spend the next 2  months in South East Asia. We want to travel around much of Thailand, but have heard conflicting reports about Cambodia. The consensus about Vietnam is unanimously good and everyone we have spoken to seems to love it there. We have also been considering going to Laos as we have heard such excellent reports but will have to see if we can fit it all in.

After a quick shower we head off up the road to phone home, get some dinner and watch the rugby. Mum has been looking on the internet at pictures of Langkawi and tells me she is really jealous as it looks so lovely! Simon has found a bar where the England / Italy game is showing and we order some food and settle down to watch. 15 minutes later there is a sad realisation that it was actually shown at 9am this morning not 9pm as we thought and we have missed it by 12 hours!

We head back and have an early night; it amazes me that doing nothing has the ability to tire you out completely. Tomorrow’s job for the day is to get some money; else we will have to resort to sending the kids out fishing for our dinner.

Sunburn and inpiration

Simon and I went for an early morning walk along the beach today. We left the kids asleep in bed and crept out. There are a handful of people out walking and it’s a tranquil and romantic stroll along. We stop to examine some of the beach kill along the way. There are 5 or 6 jellyfish washed up and they vary from the size of a dinner plate to about 4 times bigger. We also see a baby shark and some starfish. The shark and some of the jellyfish are still alive and I want Simon to put them back into the sea but he wouldn’t touch the jellyfish and the shark was apparently some fisherman’s catch and had disappeared by the time we came back.

I swap my book for a new one, Between a Rock and a Hard Place. This is Aron Ralston’s true life account of how he became trapped by a falling boulder whilst hiking in Utah and subsequently amputated his own arm in order to free himself and save his life. I read really quickly and soon get into the story, it is a compelling read and I admire his strength of character that enabled him to do that.

Someone told me I was inspirational and amazing for following my dreams with this trip. I’m not sure whether I agree with that, to be honest in some ways I feel like it’s almost a cop out, running away on a huge adventure for a year. One thing I think I have learnt from the trip already though is that most things are possible if you want them enough and are prepared to be brave and work at it.

In his book Aron Ralston talks about a fella whose book he read who dropped out of mainstream society to travel around the US. He wrote that “Many people live within unhappy circumstances but won’t take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity and conservatism, all of which might appear to give you peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the spirit than a secure future.”

I’m hardly going to become that type of mountain climbing adventurer myself so perhaps shouldn’t comment too much! But one thing I hope is that I have become a bit braver and have the balls to take a few risks. I think that’s important and a fantastic quality that not everyone has.

All that said I have done nothing braver or more adventurous today than brave the fierce sun. I asked the sunbed fella to pull my bed down by the waters edge and lay reading and listening to Duran Duran and The Scissor Sisters on my MP3. The sun is too hot to go out in for long and I stayed under my umbrella all day. Despite this I have still got burnt and my lips and cheeks are really sore. Simon said I look as though I have been skiing as I have got panda eyes where my sunglasses have been. I also have the perfect Angelina Jolie pout.

Everyone including us is short of money, the visa system on the island has collapsed and no one has been able to access any cash for 5 days. We decide therefore to eat at The Delta Motels Restaurant, the food is pretty basic and cheap and chicken fried rice is probably the best they have to offer but it will do and goes down ok with a few Tigers. Usually a lack of money would completely freak me out but I am more relaxed about it than I would have thought possible. Maybe finally I am listening to the words of The Serenity Prayer that I know so well.

Its 11.15 and I’m sitting on the bed. There is so little to do here that I feel very lazy. I have decided Langkawi is a place for reading, listening to music and thinking and not much else. Today has been one of those perfect days that nothing could spoil and I can’t wait for tomorrow.

Catching some rays

Despite our relatively late night we all woke up early except Maisie (of course) and when I opened the door and looked out at the gorgeous beach I couldn’t go back to bed even though I still felt tired. Ali and Simon went off to get some fruit for breakfast and a squid for the days fishing and I cleaned the place up which basically consisted of sweeping the sand out. Toby and I were chatting last night and both agreed we would be making some lifestyle changes when we get back. ie less housework, more fun at the weekends!

I have 2 jobs to do today, firstly I want to go and swap my book for a new one and I want to answer a few emails also. Internet access here is easy to find but it has been easier to sit on my arse for the last few days and not check them. There are some good attractions here such as Underwater World but I think we will just spend our time on the beach for the next few days anyway.

Its 6pm and we have had a great day. I spent an hour teaching science to 4 kids this morning who responded to my teaching methods with varying degrees of enthusiasm. (Not much from Maisie!) Still we seemed to get through it quickly which is good as I have hoped that each section won’t take as long as the human body took.

I then went and checked all our emails and wrote some back, this took ages as I had quite a few to catch up with but it has been too hot to sit out today and even scorching in the shade so I didn’t mind catching up a bit. We had some lunch at a beach shack, mixed satay, Greek salad and tiger prawns .. yum! It feels like being on holiday here and for the moment I am loving it!

There is a huge yacht moored just out to sea, I have been talking to the girl who runs The Submarine Shack who tells me it has been there for 2 weeks. I’m not surprised as it is so pretty here and really quiet. There are a few English couples here, older people and honeymooners but not many other tourists and we couldn’t wish for a nicer resort to be in.
Along the main road it’s busy with loads of shops and restaurants but we’re in a good place at the end of the beach and nothing has disturbed us.

Ali and Simon went out on Jet Ski’s this afternoon for half an hour, it is the first time Ali has been on one on his own and it felt scary watching him flying across the water on it. Still there is hardly any sea traffic around and I guess it is good to practice in open, calm and empty water. I curse him though when I see him standing up on the thing, but keep my mouth shut as he is so proud when the Jet Ski fella says he can tell he’s been on them before and looks confident.

I sit sunning myself and talk to Toby and the kids, its nice talking to other people, although I really love Simon and the kids for company and we certainly haven’t got bored of each other at all. It seems amazing that the days go so quickly but there are always things to do and plans to make about the trip and our future when we get home. Although we try not to talk about going home too much I have a few things in mind lined up for us!

The kids and I are all exhausted and we just nip across the road for dinner. We have pizza’s and pasta and although it’s relatively expensive its good food and worth the cost. By 9.30 we are in bed, all knackered which sounds like a bit of a joke as we have done jack shit all day and actually to my shame I have only managed to accomplish one of my 2 simple jobs. But hey it’s a tough life and someone has to do it.

Fishing and beach BBQ

We set our alarm today and got up around 9am. It was really amazing to lie in bed looking out of the door at the waves gently breaking at the edge of this beautiful beach. What a gorgeous place, it really is wow, and I can’t believe we’re actually staying here. Although we’ve only booked 3 nights I’m sure we will stay longer.

We walk up the road to The Red Tomato Garden Restaurant and have a lovely breakfast Maisie and I have fresh mixed fruits and homemade yogurt which makes a nice change.
We walk back to The Delta Motel where we are staying and get the schoolbooks out. Jon and Toby haven’t been teaching Barney and Lois quite as much since they started their trip and this has caused a bit of dissent amongst the ranks with our kids as they think it is wholly unfair but I stick to my guns and we have a couple of hours science. We have completed the human body and today moved onto classification and variation of species, this is interesting and the time flies.

Simon goes to update our website; we have had a problem uploading pictures but it seems to be sorted out now with the help of Gary who set it all up for us. What a star! I get settled on a sunbed on the beach although lying in the sun without an umbrella for even a minute is completely out of the question. A fella at the beach shack bar tells me it is 39 degrees and when I check Ali’s watch it says 38.5 in the shade. We bought factor 20 sun cream and plaster the kids in it although by now they are now really brown and I’m glad to see at the end of the day they haven’t burnt at all.

The sea is perfect for swimming, very calm and shallow but there are some big jellyfish which are quite scary. I ask the fella at the bar if they are dangerous and he tells me they are quite dangerous but not to worry as they are fairly easy to see and avoid. This isn’t particularly reassuring, as I have already walked into one in the water and we have seen a dead one at the waters edge, but there are a few people swimming and I decide to let the kids in but tell them to be vigilant. In the end they don’t spend much time in the sea but this is actually due to tiny fish that nibble them and draw blood occasionally.

We bump into Jon, Toby, Barney and Lois later and the boys go out fishing again. They are more successful than yesterday and catch 3 small fish. Jon goes shopping and comes back with rice parcels wrapped in banana leaves and a bunch of bananas. We light a fire on the beach and cook the fish with limes, the rice parcels, and the bananas in their skins with slices of Toblerone. Simon gets the Tiger beers in and we all agree it makes a fantastic and cheap meal. The kids of course just love it and are all running around barefooted like 4 little wild creatures .They look so happy and healthy and we have a great night, Ali plays a few songs on his guitar and Toby and I sing along, not too tunefully!

We head for bed around midnight, before we go I ask Barney and Lois if they want to do a bit of schoolwork with us tomorrow and they say they will. Toby says she will do it with them the next day in that case – hurray that will be great! She is a classroom assistant as well as a nurse and it will be brilliant to have someone else teaching them a bit and I’m sure for Ali and Maisie a welcome change too.

Langkawi

Our taxi driver arrived on time at 7.30am and we caught the ferry to Langkawi as planned. The ferry ride took 2 and a half hours but it went quite quickly and Ali enjoyed watching the Jackie Chan film showing on the way.

My first impressions of Langkawi from the ferry are good and it looks beautiful. I’m sure we will have a good time here. We get in a taxi which costs 20 ringitt to Pantai Cenang, this is the main tourist area and we decide as it is early we will check out a few beach bungalows to make sure we get somewhere really nice.

Eventually we settle on a bungalow which is right at the end of the beach, it’s a really good room with air con, 2 double beds, hot water, a TV, a fridge and a kettle. It will cost us 110 ringitts which is just over 15 pounds a night. As we are checking in an English family arrive and we get chatting to them. They are from Essex and have a 14 year old son and a 10 year old daughter, Barney and Lois and are also travelling for a year. It’s a great coincidence to meet them and they tell us we are also the first travelling family they have met since they started in September.

The kids all get on well after an initial bit of shyness and all go and play in the sea. Maisie and Lois play cards and Ali and Barney and buy a squid to use as bait and then go fishing. Its really great to swap stories, they also started in India but ended up staying for 4 months as Jon became very ill and needed 2 major operations. They then spent a few days in Singapore and have just spent a month in Thailand. We sit having a few beers and chatting all afternoon and I really enjoy it.

We have a toast to travelling with kids and all agree we’re having a fantastic time. As Jon put it “Why wait until your kids have left home and go travelling, it’s nice to look out of your window and admire the beautiful mountain but much better to get out there with the kids and climb it” I admire his sentiments and although I don’t think mountain climbing is on my agenda quite yet it might be sometime and I never thought I would say that in a million years!

This must be the loveliest beach place I’ve stayed in; the beach is fine powder white sand and stretches for about a mile. There are beach shacks, A frame huts and bungalows along the back but it isn’t crowded and although there are very small clusters of sunbeds it is quiet and peaceful. There are small uninhabited islands in the bay and the water is clear and blue. What a perfect place! It was my choice to come to Langkawi as I had heard good reports from friends Nicky and Amanda and I’m so glad we didn’t head straight up to Thailand as I think we would have missed out on somewhere really great.

We have a quick shower and head off out for some food, unsurprisingly its expensive to eat here as Langkawi is deservedly one of Malaysia’s finest tourist destinations and we wander along for a while before settling on a Pakistani restaurant where we have a cheap enough curry, rice mixed vegetables and naan bread meal. We visit the 7- 11 on the way back and get a few supplies and then have a drink at a The Submarine Beach Bar. We make our way back and are all asleep by 10.30 have a busy day on the beach ahead tomorrow.

Penang Museum and Snake Temple

Similarly to Singapore, Penang Island has a long and interesting history .In1786 Captain Francis Light (Thomas Raffles’s brother in law) first set foot on Penang. It was almost completely uninhabited and the story goes that he loaded his ships cannons with silver dollars and fired them into the jungle to encourage the workers to clear it faster.
A trading port was established here and Light hoped to lure trade from the British East India Trading Companies rivals the Dutch.

By the mid 1800′s Penang was home to a large Chinese population. Its main economies included opium growing, gambling and prostitution and it had become a dangerous and violent place. In 1867 10 days of rioting by rival Chinese societies left 100′s of people dead. When British administrators finally took control they fined the societies heavily and used the proceeds to build police stations which subsequently kept the peace.

We are going to Penang Museum today. Although the kids have learnt the history of Penang we have found that visiting museums helps them to retain the knowledge and often use visual aids to reinforce information.

We have learnt the majority of facts about present day Malay politics, issues and culture by talking to taxi drivers. Although many of them seem quite surly and unfriendly when you first get in they will often start chattering away. The biggest bone of contention is the preferential treatment afforded to the Malay people. The Chinese and Indian people although they may be 3rd or 4th generation Malaysian born still have to pay many extra taxes including when buying a house, getting a business licence etc. ( around 10%)

Until the early 1980′s there weren’t any high rise hotels on Penang Island, now there are hundreds. I’m glad that we have visited now, as it continues to be promoted as one of Malaysia’s top tourist destinations. I can see that it was probably once very pretty but for me it seems a shame that the trees have all been chopped down to make way for concrete.

It is really hot today probably I would guess around 35 degrees and the temperature seems to have shot up since yesterday. We catch a trishaw which is a type of bike powered rickshaw to the museum. Unfortunately the air con has been switched off on the top floor so we spend about 5 minutes flat there. The ground floor level is very interesting though and as well as explaining Penang’s history there is a gallery with Chinese wedding outfits and beautiful antique Chinese furniture including mahogany opium beds.
Opium smoking was legal until just before WW11 when the British outlawed it on moral grounds. There were also pictures showing men lying on the beds, with the opium pipes in hand getting off their faces.

From the museum we walked to The Eastern and Oriental Hotel, this fantastic old hotel was built by the Sarkie brothers who also built Raffles in Singapore and we have read that a visit to Penang isn’t complete until you have had tiffin on the lawn. As we hadn’t long eaten we had a ginger beer instead but it was a pleasant enough break from the burning sun sat under the umbrellas.

Next we got a taxi to The Snake Temple; apparently home too many poisonous snakes who laze around doped by the constant burning of incense and only venture down later in the day when it is cooler. We did see a few snakes coiled around candlesticks and Ali had his photo taken with one round his neck and one on his head but for me I thought it was a bit of a crap attraction lacking in both snakes and spirituality.

After a quick shower we decide to go out in search of some hawker food for dinner and don’t have to walk far before we find a really good place. We have chicken satay, crispy duck, fried rice and dim sum. I can’t remember when the kids last ate with a knife and fork and are expert chopstick users now.

Tomorrow we are moving on to Langkawi, originally we planned to skip it but we are very close and have heard lots of good reports so plan to go get a bit of beach for a few days. We booked our ferry tickets this morning which cost 170 ringitt (around 27 quid) and have arranged some beachside accommodation so I am looking forward to moving on and catching a few rays.

Batu Ferringhi

We set our alarm today and woke up feeling quite bright and breezy. There were a few drunken characters around last night when we came back from dinner asking if they could jam with Ali but we insisted he was too tired and all headed off to bed.

Georgetown is described as a real Chinatown and everywhere we go you can hear the clattering of tools, smell a mixture of spices and drains and see old people either playing cards or Maarjong. It is a lively, smelly, rat infested place with crumbled down buildings that look as if they are about to collapse.

We wander up the road for breakfast and when we get back sit down to do some schoolwork. Wherever we have been our attempts at educating the kids have been noted and taken very seriously. It seems education is more valued here in South East Asia than in the UK. We do over an hour of literacy where they rewrite the endings to the books they have been reading. I realise Maisie needs to concentrate on spellings when she writes” igsotick” (Exotic)

Despite the hotels run down appearance I really like it here, everyone knows our names and are so kind and can’t do enough for us. They all seem to laugh and joke around a lot and it is endearing and funny watching Uncle Lake cuddling a chicken like it’s his best friend. I feel like everyone around us is slightly mad but really lovely with it!

We catch the bus to The Toy Museum, really it should have been called The Action Figure Museum and although it was hardly educational the kids loved it and we spent an hour or so wandering around reminiscing over Barbie, Batman, Snoopy, Garfield, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Pokemon, The Fantastic Four and Biker Mice from Mars to name a few!

We catch another bus to Batu Ferringhi, this is the main tourist area of Penang Island and where most of the large hotels are based. We make our way to the beach and crash out at a beach shack. Although the beach isn’t very wide it’s quite pretty with white sand and a few palm trees and will certainly be a decent enough place to spend the afternoon topping up my tan. We all hungry by now and order some food. Like an idiot I ask for Tom Yam soup. Simon ate loads of it when we holidayed in Thailand but it is an extremely hot and spicy concoction of chilli, lemongrass, green leafy vegetables and seafood and although I do eat it my mouth is on fire afterwards and takes about an hour to recover.

We have a bit of a swim which is very relaxing and I read my book, a novel by James Patterson, it is a bit of a trashy read but I have been swapping books along the way and so far have only had to buy one book. We also swapped our old Lonely Planet Thailand for a 2005 edition which is more up to date following the tsunami.

Its 11.30 now and I’ve given up and come to bed. We went out for Chinese food and found an excellent restaurant. We were fairly conservative with our order and had some tasty beef and prawn dishes but should have left it at that instead of ordering some local puddings. The hot peanut soup was ok but the Chinese pancake was a horrible crispy, greasy thing that we felt obliged to eat despite being stuffed.

When we came back Ali played his guitar, with Uncle Lake and one of his mad friends. The bar was really busy and I was really proud as he played confidently and jammed along to some Malay songs. Two Dutch guys came along and shook his hand which made his night and although I’m used to people praising his guitar playing and singing it was really cool to see him doing his thing so well.