Alor Setar, Penang & Kuala Lumpur - Wednesday 25 February – Thursday 5 March 2009
It really is all comparative - after the roads in Cambodia and Laos Thailand felt very easy - great roads etc - but entering Malay again felt incredibly state of the art. The roads are up there (if not better) than Aussie roads. As at various times we had harboured hopes of crossing through a) China - too expensive- and b) Myanmar - too impossible!- we had sent all our maps and our guide book for Malaysia back to Australia. This means we are going to be running blind a bit for the 3 weeks we spend here. We'll have to wing it with local maps - mercifully in English here!
We passed through the border with no dramas. As diesel in Thailand is more pricey than Malay ( around 20 baht per litre at the time of writing or approx 86 Aussie cents vs 1.70 rm or 70 cents ) we were waiting to buy it and so running on empty by the time we crossed over and had to full up straight away. The fuel prices in Malay are the same everywhere so you don't have the hassle of shopping around - but it has gone up a fair bit (20 cents per litre Malaysian ringgits) since we were here 10 months ago.
Malaysia felt strangely like coming home and we kept pointing out familiar things to each other "remember that advert" - "look at that hotel chain" which was nice. The extreme friendliness of the Malay people and their incredibly good English was also welcoming.
We headed straight to Alor Setar the largest town in the area and did some necessary chores i.e.) sorted out insurance (managed to get it for just a week to tide us over until we ship the car) took out money etc It is a pleasant enough City - there is a huge tower in the middle - 168 metres- which looked beautiful by night when it was lit up in technicolour but not so impressive by daylight! We had a meal of Chicken Rice - a real Malay staple!
It was very busy in the centre so we drove out to the coast and managed to find a camping spot. This was in a pile of shells! It was very strange - the shells are a by -product of deep sea fishing - as we were at the edge of a fishing village and they are dumped in huge piles - not quite sure what for. It was weird to wake up in them though as they glowed white in the sun- a bit like our oyster pathway back in Marlow. Nearby we could see the ferries coming and going from the nearby tourist island of Langkawi which we visited last year.
We had a quick look at Alor Setar's famous Zahir Mosque. This is a lovely building the core of which is several hundred years old but the main part was built in 1912. This is my opinion only and it isn't a religious comment just an aesthetics one but I think of all the temples/churches we have seen the mosques are the most beautiful. Something about the lack of clutter and all that marble is really pleasing . Anyway we had a look around - I had to don a sort of graduation cape and cover my head first which was not pleasant in the intense heat - a fore runner for Pakistan and Iran.
The next day we drove straight down to good old George town in Penang from where we are shipping the car. We crossed over on the ferry - probably the last time this trip -and drove out to our old camp spot near Batu Ferringi on the coast where we had a final reunion with our Belgian friends Jeff & Juliet. Due to my bad memories - this is where my jelly fish attack happened - no one wanted to swim though Andrew braved a quick dip! Juliet and Jeff are now shipping to Indonesia and we to India so finally we really are going our separate ways!
Mr. Haniff the Indian proprietor of the George Town Guest House - a slightly chaotic affair which should prepare us for India!- also has a shipping company and he came up trumps getting us a quote far cheaper than any other. Hopefully no good reason for this will later come to light! We also resampled the culinary delights of Penang - back to Kapitans for a tandoori chicken. Still the best ever!
We did a quick dash to Kuala Lumpur where we lodged our India visas - it takes 5 working days and next week there are a couple of holidays - and visited Mr. Harun from the Malaysian AA once more. Mr. Harun has been a big help to us in many ways and it was great to meet up for a chat. We had assumed the visas would take a couple of days only so just as well we got down when we did. Every time we go to get visas we are unlucky with holidays - something you've never heard of - (Mohammed's birthday in this case) - shuts everything down for a couple of days and throws plans off track. We also had problems actually finding the visa centre which is separate from the commission. We finally located it around the corner from where we were staying - thankfully before we drove way out of town to the High Commission!! The India visa is quite involved as they don't keep your passport but only a copy. Once you are cleared for entry you have to re-submit your passport for 2 working days to get the visa. This gives us a bit of a logistics juggling act sorting out shipping and the documentation for that alongside visas, but we should cope!
Anyway so far so good-as I type- Thursday 5 March - the car should be going on board the ship. We got up at 6am this morning and were still frantically packing and re-jigging when Mark our shipping man turned up at 9am. Fingers crossed with the car safely loaded the ship sails on Saturday. We then take a bus back down to Kuala Lumpur - do the visa thing - and fly out to Chennai on tiger airways (total cost for both of us $550.00 Aus…… bargain!) on Tuesday 17 March. Everything crossed this all goes smoothly!
We've loved SE Asia and had a ball despite a couple of setbacks Andrew's illness and hassle with customs in Indonesia in particular. Hopefully the latter will see us that bit better prepared for when battle commences with Indian customs on the docks at Chennai. We're heard all the horror stories but are really hoping it can't be that bad …can it? Wish us luck!!
Please see next page for our final update on Malaysia!