Tuesday, October 28, 2014


"Trishaw lah?"          "very hot lah!"           "raining lah!"           "OK lah!"           "yes lah"          "no lah"     etc etc.
What the heck is all this lah-lah-lah business?

Chat with a Malaysian and you'll be fascinated to hear their conversation sprinkled with the pleasant sounding "lah".    Somewhat baffling you quickly realise this unique expression is regularly used by locals to conclude a sentence.  Definitely unusual lah, but just go with the flow and you'll soon be prattling on and adding the appealing "lah" to your vocabulary.

Dilemma: "to lah or not to lah?".
Robyn & Chris
Ahh it's good to be back in Malaysia.  We've been fortunate to visit this part of the world on numerous occasions and are always very excited for an opportunity to return.  The street food, the smells, the hustle and bustle, the climate, the people, the "lah".  Malaysia - truly Asia.

Of course some skeptical friends will comment that I have coerced the lovely Robyn into yet another of my “3rd world crap hole holidays”.   Rat temples in India, trudging the Himalayas in Nepal, cave accommodation in Turkey to mention a few, but let's not dwell on the facts.

Clearly I'm not renowned for lavishing the long suffering Robyn with 5 star luxury but she's proven to be very tolerant and deep down I'm sure she appreciates these foreign country challenges.  Not that there is too much hardship planned on this Malaysia trip.
Malaysian flag
If fact the broad brush proposal is for a fairly soft and comfortable 3 week itinerary that has us negotiating both west and east coasts of Malaysia visiting destinations that include: Penang, Ipoh, Pangkor  Island, Kota Bharu, Cherating, Taman Negara National Park and Kuala Lumpur. 

Brisbane to Malaysia route

Malaysia route map.


Where have the last 35 years gone!  Fair to say I'm feeling a little nostalgic as we land in Penang today and I recall my initial impressions on first arriving into this foreign land back in 1979.  Then I was an unpolished 21 year old airman with the Royal Australia Air Force about to begin a 3 year posting to Butterworth/Penang.  Little did I know living overseas amongst the diverse cultures and in the tropics, working in a busy fighter squadron, surrounded by great mates and characters, indulging in a hectic social and sporting life would lead to one of the most exciting periods of my life.

3 Squadron RAAF Malaysia 1979 (Chris far left).
But that was a lifetime ago and gone are the days when I could confidently carry off the macho shirtless look or groom my golden locks to a stylish military hair-part.  Alas, more than 3½ decades later and now my bald pate requires no comb, and neglect, self abuse and gravity continues its evil process on my sagging physique.  So in 2014 I suspect Penang will have undergone some significant and less than flattering changes.

Some obvious changes are the condominiums and high rise apartments that have sprouted up all over the island.  Even the temperature of 36°C+ and 95% humidity as we disembark the aircraft seems hotter than I remember.

Where once the only way we could travel between Penang and Butterworth was by passenger and car ferry, today two of Asia's largest and most impressive bridges (14km and 24km respectively) span the straits between mainland and island to compliment the much reduced ferry operations.

Ferry ride and Penangs congested highrise skyline 
Penang ferry terminal
Back in the 1970's-80's the arriving ferries would be queued up for a berth at the terminals with departures moving off every few minutes.  Now with most cars utilising the bridge options the ferry timetable is only about 4 per hour.

The ferry is still a pleasant and relaxing way to move between Penang and Butterworth so we do the trip a couple of times during our stay here.  Fortunately I have Robyn acting as the responsible person to ensure I get off the ferry at the end of the journey.
Back in the day, and after a night full of refreshments, apparently one could be known to become "tired and emotional" and had the tendency to fall asleep on the ferry.  Hours, and dozens of return ferry trips later, the said "tired and emotional person" would wake, groggy and disorientated and eventually stagger to the taxi rank and get home.
From Penang Hill looking across the straits to mainland Butterworth
Historical Georgetown
About 10 years ago the wise old men of Penang had Georgetown listed as a UNESCO world heritage site and have moved to save much of the remaining historical centre of the city.  Many of the old chinese shop houses and colonial buildings remain much as they did 100 years ago.

Typical Georgetown lane

Trishaws still prowl the streets for business

Caught this bugger trying to pinch my bike
In recent years Georgetown has encouraged modern art into the streets providing an interesting contrast to blend daily activities into the more historical scene.

No place for the innocent.......beware the Old Dragon Lady
An old haunt from my era- Hong Kong Bar, Chulia Street, Georgetown and Jenny still serves Penangs coldest beer as she's done for well over 40 years 
37th floor Gurney Drive looking north to Tanjong Bungah
Gurney Drive was once known as millionaires row.  Today a few old chinese mansions still remain.
Sunset, Northam Beach Road
Ummm Roti Canai, fish curry and dahl - breakfast of champions.

Hazy sunset on Batu Ferringhi.


Three hours by  bus south of Penang  is the old tin mining and rubber producing town of Ipoh.  During the boom time of the early 1900's many an enterprising chinaman and colonial gentleman made his fortune in Ipoh as this was one of the worlds largest tin mining regions.

Historic 1900's Ipoh railway station
 Not so much hustle and bustle here these days but you don't have to travel very far to see there was once a lot of money in this town.

Classic Ipoh Padang
Ipoh shophouses
Quirky and appropriate malaysian art: plastic bags are still the standard way locals carry their drinks.

You couldn't possibly be hungry.....again.
After a feast the madame knows how to relax
Obscure entrance leads to a 3 hour cave trek

Turns out Ipoh has much more to offer than colonial buildings, tasty food, foot massages and plastic bag art.  We chance upon impressive caves, Orang Utans and white water rafting.

Orang Utan Island
 We discovered there is an Orang Utan conservation island one hour from Ipoh, so naturally Robyn included this on the to-do list.

Who can resist the lovable Ranga?
Lull before the storm
Beware the double drop Gopeng River

The local Ipoh travel agent informs us the recent monsoon rains have the rivers raging.  Sounds like a good reason to don the life jackets and helmets and hit the Gopeng River for some rafting fun.  You guessed it....we weren't disappointed.

Perhentian Islands

20 kilometres off Kota Bharu on Malaysias north east coast are the relatively unspoilt Perhentian Islands.  With bad weather imminent many resorts and bungalows have closed for the annual four month monsoon season.  Our gamble on the weather pays off and our 4 night stay at a bargain $35 per night resort turns into the highlight of our Malaysia trip.
Sunny days, cool nights, clear waters and wonderful snorkeling encounters.

Coral Bay, Perhentian Islands.
This is monsoon season.......apparently!

Beach bumming can be such thirsty work!

Surrounded by hundreds of inquisitive reef fish

We thought it couldn't possibly get any better after we had a 20 minute encounter with this turtle.  Little did we know at the next snorkeling cove we would mingle with black tip reef sharks and witness a 50kg Grouper being fed fish carcasses.  Truly a memorable experience.

Just another day in paradise!!
Kuala Lumpur

KL's Petronas twin towers, once the worlds tallest buildings
All good things eventually come to an end, so we pack away the boardies and return to KL for a few more days of feasting in Chinatown, Little India and the Bukit Bintang areas then home.

Links to some of our more recent travels:
Sri Lanka

                                                                    -To be continued-