Journey Down South: Thailand to Malaysia

Winter vacation in Korea means sunshine and beach time somewhere else in S.E. Asia for us! This time we traveled down Thailand, starting in Bangkok, island hopping all the way down (over the border) to Malaysia, and ending in Kuala Lumpur. We backpacked for 22 days total: 16 days in Thailand, and 6 days in Malaysia.

Our itinerary looked like this: Bangkok – Ko Samui, Railay, Ko Lanta, Ko Lipe (all Thailand), then hopping over to Malaysia, Langkawi, Penang, Kuala Lumpur.

In this post, we’ll add what we did, saw, ate and liked the most. We’ll give some suggestions/tips for future travelers, and also add some prices for budgeting purposes for anyone interested. After every entry for each place we stayed, we’ll give our general impression of the place. To take into consideration: this is OUR opinion and impressions and might (will most probably) deviate from general outlook. We also traveled in January, which is high-tourist season, and Chinese New Year (in Penang).

Bangkok

Houses on Chao Phraya river

Houses on Chao Phraya river

So, I told M we can’t leave Asia without properly visiting Bangkok. It is a city I’ve read/seen so much about, but have not yet had the chance to visit, until now.

Our time in Bangkok (only 3 days) was in general a positive experience, even though we went there in the exact time slot as the planned protests. We just side-stepped the ‘hot-zones’ of protests and did what we wanted/planned to do and see.

Again, like many other places before, my expectations of what Bangkok would be like, was not met. Which is not a bad thing per se. It was, to be honest, refreshing. I had these preconceived ideas about Bangkok as this dirty, madhouse of a place, with streets that were impassable (tuk-tuks, scooters), touts that’ll try to swindle your money at every opportunity, and hawker stalls selling food ALL OVER the place. After having been to places like Phnom Penh, Hanoi, and Saigon, I can openly admit now that Bangkok isn’t at all what I’ve built it up in my head to be! Our experience was actually more low-key and ‘slow-paced’ – the way we prefer to travel anyways.

Wat Benchamabophit

Wat Benchamabophit

Although there was a lot of concern from friends and family about our safety during our stay there (due to the protests), we actually had no problems or felt in danger at any time. One night we actually took a taxi and had to drive through a big group of protesters…

We stayed at River View Guest House for 2 nights. It is in the Yaowarat area, close to Hua Lamphong MRT station right on the river (easy access to river boat taxis). We took the taxi boat, the Chao Praya Express, a few times, and it was a very exciting and convenient way of getting around. It’s so cheap also – only 15 baht (B) to any stop, as far as you want to go!

For our last night we booked in at UDEE hostel, more north, closer to the Don Muang Airport. We had an early flight the next morning and

Night market, Banglamphu

Night market, Banglamphu

wanted to eliminate any possibilities of delays (protests…). We booked a nice a/c double room; very clean and a nice bed with ensuite bathroom. Clerks very friendly and helpful. Organised our taxi for next morning to airport and helped as far as they could.

What we did:

– Took a tuk-tuk to see some sites (40B total!): giant buddha (45m high), lucky buddha & Wat Benchamabophit.

– Chatuchak market. The largest market in the world! Here you can basically find anything your heart desires – even exotic pets, puppies and kittens… Lovely place to walk around, our favorite market yet. Also a nice variety of food and other delicacies; try the coconut ice-cream, amazing! PS only open on weekends.

– Night markets of Banlamphu. Ate some delicious Pad Thai on the street for like 35B. Also walked (read: jogged) through Khao San road; very glad we didn’t stay there…

– Had a quick look around China Town – would’ve liked to explore more, but we were knackered (feet!) by that time…

Bangkok 4

Wat Po

– Wat Po with reclining Buddha. Nice temple complex to explore, with some intricate designs and architecture.

General impression: (3.7/5) didn’t live up to the hype for us, but still had a good time. Enough to see and do to keep you entertained.

Budget: pad thai on street 35B, MRT from Chatuchak to Hua Lamphong 40B, big water 7B, river taxi (as far as you want) 15B, River View Guesthouse double room 1900B (2 nights), UDEE double a/c room 990B.

TIPS: Hitting the islands after your stop in BKK? Then stock up on sunscreen – WAY cheaper than on the islands. While you’re at it get that mosquito repellent also (get highest DEET %). Goes without saying, but streetfood is delicious, cheap and is an experience in itself! The subway and also the Chao Phraya Express river boat are very convenient ways of getting around.

Koh Samui

Koh Samui

Bo Phut area

How we got here: 5am taxi from UDEE hostel (250B) to Don Muang (domestic) airport. Fly Air Asia to Surat Thani, get on big double-decker bus to Donsak Pier (1h15min), and then a 15min ferry over to Na Thon Pier (everything included in the flight ticket). On arrival, you’re bombarded by people advertising their transportation services – we chose a song taew (bakkie with 2 benches on either side) and struck a deal to drop us at our guesthouse on Chaweng beach area (250 B for 2 people).

We went to Ko Samui with high expectations – with everything we’ve read, and heard from other people. Although we had a good time in general, for us, it did not exactly live up to the hype… Firstly, we knew it was going to be busy, so we were mentally prepared for that. But what we did not expect was the feeling of ‘not being on an island holiday’ at all. It just felt like we were in a city, with some nice beaches, a lot of restaurants, a lot of shopping choices, multitudes of people, and hectic traffic! It was crazy noisy the whole time. Oh, and did I mention the omnipresent Russians? Yeah, they’re everywhere – you’ll even see posters and other signs with Russian translations…

 We naively booked at a ‘quieter area’ on Chaweng Beach – not the case at all. I would not describe ANY part of Chaweng as being even calm. There are always cars and motorbikes screaming past (dangerous much?), even in the rather narrow ‘coastal road’. We checked into AKWA Guesthouse, and after quite some admin, heated talks and 2 room changes, we got an acceptable room (although we booked…).

Night market, Chaweng

Night market, Chaweng

 We always try to make the best of our situation, and all in all, we still found great things to do, and had a great time! With a little ingenuity and planning, you can ‘get away from it all’…

We hired a scooter for 24 hours (do so at own risk!). In retrospect, this was the most daunting thing we did on our whole trip. Why, you ask. Because there are hell drivers on Samui. They don’t have much respect for safety in general, IMHO… Imagine a lot of honking, cars overtaking each other on the narrow streets, throw in the zig-zagging motorcyclists, pedestrians walking on the side of the roads (no real pavements/road shoulders), trucks thundering past towards/from the construction sites everywhere, and then other cars trying to enter this crazy traffic stream from other (many times) obscure smaller road entrances! Luckily I’ve had some scooter experience in SE Asia prior to getting on one in Samui – not the place to start for sure!

Koh Samui 2

Na Muang Falls #2

With the scooter we explored the northern part of the island first. We visited the Big Buddha on its little island in Bo Phut. We also just drove around to see what the area is like – very nice I must say, much more peaceful with a more laid-back feel. The next day we took the scooter on a longer road trip. We drove all the way to the south west coast. Along the way we stopped at the Na Muang Waterfalls (#2). Parking is at an elephant park, where people like to go on elephant back rides. You can also ride ATVs, and also take adventure rides on 4X4’s. You have the option of taking the raised 4×4’s (extra charge obviously) to the waterfall. It is a little trek over a quite steep hill, but nothing life threatening! So we opted to just take the 15-20min walk there. Then you enter the ‘jungle’ area where it’s another leisurely hike to the falls. After the sweaty hike in the humid conditions, you can take a ‘shower in nature’ under the falls.

We also put out one day to do the Ang Thong Marine Park tour. We did some kayaking, sightseeing (hiked up to the very photogenic saltwater lagoon), and also some hiking up to several platforms providing uninterrupted views of the surrounding smaller islands. Hands down, this counts as one of my all time best “Best View Ever’s”! Again, we might sound like spoiled children, but the whole tour wasn’t

Ang Thong National Park

Ang Thong National Park

ALL THAT (I think we, and the brochures, hyped it up too much). But still, it is a good memory.

We didn’t imagine that organizing local transport on the go would be as easy as it actually was. This statement holds true all the way down the islands (check tips below). Our ticket to get to Krabi Town was a ferry and bus combo (pick- up from your hotel to pier inclusive). The ferry takes you to Donsak Pier on the mainland. You walk to ‘bus terminal’ for your ‘aircon’ bus – rude awakening, picture little, dusty wire fans gyrating around from the roof, a.k.a. natural aircon (bus was old-schoolish unique though – interesting colour themes, blaring music, little wire fans gyrating to the beats – we had a good laugh). Wait, what picture was I shown in the brochure?. Bus trip takes you 3 hours, where you’re dropped

Ang Thong National Park

Ang Thong National Park

(basically in middle of nowhere) at a stop in Krabi town. Then you’re on your own.

The bus stop area (not IN town per se) was overflowing with people – some arriving, some leaving, and the little ‘help’ / ‘ticket’ desk was overwhelmed. There were no taxis or tuk-tuks or anything around to take us to the pier to catch a longtail to Railay. After asking around a bit, we surmised that that ‘bus stop’ had a kind of monopoly where they use their own minibuses to move the people around. I didn’t like the price, we had enough of waiting around, so we ploughed our own way ahead. We walked out of the little stop in the ‘bush’ (it’s really a strange little stop) walked down the main road a bit, where we eventually flagged a songthaew. Five minutes drive, 40B later, he drops us at the pier, we pay the local transport price, boom, finished, here we come Railay.

What we did:

– Hired a scooter to explore the rest of island.

– Swim at waterfalls.

– Tan & swim on secluded beaches of south-west and south coast of island.

– Ang Thong Marine Park Tour (includes kayaking, hiking up to blue lagoon, hiking up to awesome viewpoints).

– Eat at local night market of Chaweng (seafood).

– Foot reflexology (relaxing!).

South-West coast of Samui

South-West coast of Samui

General impression: (3/5) way overrated. Too many people, too commercialised, too much traffic and noise.

Budget: scooter hire 200B (24 hours – standard going rate), local market dinner: squid, prawns, a fish, salad and two beers for 460B, ferry and bus combo (Samui to Krabi town) for 500B (for 2 pax), Ang Thong Marine Park Tour 1400B per person.

TIPS: When you arrive, chill out and get your bearings. Before sunset, rent a scooter (rental is 24 hours); then you still have time to go and get a nice spot to take in the sunset. The next morning, go to a supermarket, load up on some padkos (‘snack food’), set off on your road trip, and then take a nice breakfast somewhere with a nice view… Buy fruits and others at local markets along the way, and do lunch on the beach!

Eat at the local market – loved the atmosphere, and the freshness of the food (seafoooood!) (also cheaper than restaurants).

There are so many companies advertising transportation services, which do you choose? Walk around and collect a few brochures, and ask the price.  Also, do some research maybe on the vessel used, read some reviews online, and ask everything you want to know from the agents. It’s usually a smart idea to book your tickets 2 days before departure, to ensure a seat (popular islands are busy…).

 Railay

View from our balcony, Garden View Resort

View from our balcony, Garden View Resort

One thing to note – the longtails only leave for Railay when the boat is full. This is apparently so that they can cover the cost of fuel. Meaning: we had to wait here ANYWAY to fill up the boat before leaving. The boatman and his cronies tried their best to lure potential customers on their boat… After the best part of an hour’s waiting on the pier, we could leave – but this only after everybody decided to chip in more to cover the ‘cost’. Here we go people.

This longtail was an enjoyable 15 minute ride. On the horizon you see the rugged karst formations, on the left some fisherman’s fish corral, and on your right the docked fishing boats and jetties flitting past. The anticipation was the best part though. Expectations of what we’ll find in Railay was high, and it did NOT disappoint…

We arrived in the bay, and I caught my slack jaw, which turned into a stupid grin as I looked at my wife. THIS is what we came for, THIS is it. Mangroves, palm trees, other longtails,

Rock climbers, Tonsai

Rock climbers, Tonsai

and then the massive limestone karst formations! As we coasted into the bay towards our

stop, we saw things crawling on the vertical cliff face of the huge karst – blink, blink, indeed it was people. Many of them around halfway up that imposing vertical face. Note to self: gotta try that.

We knew it was high season, and that Railay is a particularly popular spot, so we took no chances by winging it. We booked (after much research) at Garden View Resort, on the ‘mangrovey’ east beach area (no actual beach). The steps up to the resort can be taxing for older (and, uhm, you know, larger than average) people, but totally worth it when you get there. The resort name is quite ironic, because most of the bungalows allows unimpeded views of the bay and if you’re lucky the impressive karst formation which is home to the brilliant Phra Nang Beach are. Each bungalow also has a nice balcony where you can just sit back and reflect on life whilst taking in the awesome view…

West beach, a.k.a. Sunset beach

West beach, a.k.a. Sunset beach

We spent most of our time just lazing around – isn’t that what vacation is about anyways!? We just enjoyed our surroundings, and wandered around. On the first day we walked over to Tonsai beach (rock-climbing mecca), which you can only access at low tide when walking along the beach (there’s another way through the jungle, but did not try this route). This place is also known as hippy central – definitely a more chill vibe hanging around there… We quite liked the feel and would’ve liked to spend more time there. We watched the sunset from the beach, and gaped at the rock climbers scrambling up the seemingly impossible climbing routes. While doing this, we heard a loud explosive noise higher up, and to our astonishment, a guy did a base jump from the top, landing on the beach – must be an awesome view from up there, and even more awesome rush doing it. Note to self: make a note, base jumping…

Again we booked our ferry ticket to Ko Lanta a few days in advance to ensure seats on the

Sunset @ west beach

Sunset @ west beach

busy route. The ticket (500B per person) included the following: pick-up with local longtail from sunset beach which ferries you to a bigger (overcrowded… but no escaping this eventuality!) ferry. The ferry ride was 2 hours, and we met some awesome Aussies along the way.

People always say ‘be careful of getting food poisoning’ from eating streetfood in Bangkok. Let me tell you this – we had a buffet dinner at a nice restaurant one night, and chose to have some fish. Short of the long: that night M and I were like a tag team for the loo, it wasn’t pretty. Man (& woman) down for half a day (our last one!). Moral of the story; you never know when/where you’ll pick up the bug…

Railay, Krabi 4

Phra Nang Beach

What we did:

– Relax!

– Beach time. There are mainly 2 beaches on Railay (and then also the one at Tonsai): Phra Nang beach, and then West Beach (aka sunset beach). Phra Nang beach is one of the most beautiful beaches we’ve ever seen (this says a lot), mainly due to the awesome surroundings; karsts, forest, monkeys (not that awesome), a cave.

– Rock climbing. I tried my hand at rock climbing, and now I’ve got something else that I wanna do more of! Stunning vistas from ‘up there’ (if you make it up…), and great sense of accomplishment.

General impression: (5/5) the perfect spot. Best place of our whole trip. Beautiful scenery, beautiful clean beaches, perfect sunsets – what’s not to like.

Budget: transportation 200B (for 2) to Railay on longtail boat, awesome fruit smoothies for 50B, half-day rock climbing 500B, ferry ticket from Railay to Ko Lanta 500B (p/p), buffet dinner at restaurant 250B, big beers from cafe 40-50B.

TIPS: Stay on the East beach area, it’s cheaper, many choices for all budgets, close to shops and restaurants, and just a few minutes walk to either of the other beaches. This is the place for trying rock-climbing if it has ever tickled your fancy. Shop around for tours/transport/activities – there are many shops around, but go with an outfit you feel comfortable with (prices are standardized mostly everywhere). In the ‘walking street’ between east and west beach you’ll find vendors selling fruit smoothies for 50B, they’re so good!

Sunset from Tonsai

Sunset from Tonsai

 Ko Lanta

Sunset from Long Beach

Sunset from Long Beach

Some of the best beaches in the world, that’s what you’ll encounter here. Ko Lanta is a long, ‘narrow’ island, best explored on motorcycle or car. Arrivals and departures are from Ban Saladan, the furthest northerly point of Ko Lanta. Ban Saladan is the main town area on the island, and most shops, restaurants, ATMs, dive shops and other amenities you’ll find here.

We arrived on the pier from Railay (2 hour journey), and were bombarded by taxi drivers, all vying for our attention. Oh, you also have to pay a kind of ‘clean-up tax’ on arrival at the pier (B50 or something), which goes towards keeping Ko Lanta clean… I hope the money actually gets allocated for this cause. We always fish around a bit, and shrugged off quite a few exorbitant prices quoted, until we found a guy with a fair price, and asked him to take us to Long Beach (a.k.a Phra Ae Beach) (for 200B total).

Now, we knew Ko Lanta had quite a few accommodation options, and therefore we hadn’t booked beforehand… We tried our luck at our first option – unluckily it was fully booked.

Kantiang Bay

Kantiang Bay

Next choice, a little ways down the road, awesome bungalow open, check it out, like it, like the beach, liked the vibe, deal! We checked in at Sanctuary, opting for the bigger bungalows closer to the beach. They’re already a little bit dated, and you shower and sh, I mean relieve yourself, under the stars. Each bungalow also features its own little hammock on the porch, to which we just added one of our own – tandem hammocking like pro’s I tell you!

A short walk from our bungalow we walk onto the beautiful beach. If you look to the right, the beach almost seem never-ending, it is very long, guess that’s why it’s named Long Beach hey ;). Kick back on the beach with a beer every day for some spectacular sunsets!

We hired a scooter for 24H. We only got the bike at 16:45, so we went into town to fish for ferry prices, and a scuba dive shop to go diving with. The next morning we firstly went into town to throw down a solid breakfast before setting off on our road trip down south. We booked our onwards ferry tickets to Ko Lipe, booked our dive trip for the next day, got snacks and drinks for the road, and then we were off.

Lanta Old Town

Lanta Old Town

As we drove down, we stopped if we saw an attractive beach, went for a swim, lazed around a bit, snacked, take a few pictures, and move on again. We did this a few times. We stopped for lunch at a local restaurant atop quite a steep hill, which had the most breathtaking view over Kantiang Bay and beach. One of the best lunch spots ever! We scootered to Klong Jark waterfall, which unfortunately had just a trickle of water. We also crossed the island to get to Lanta Old Town, which is a quaint old fisherman’s village. We walked the streets here a little bit, got some fruit shakes from a friendly lady, and walked through some shops. The old wooden buildings are unique, and very photogenic.

The next day we were picked up at 7:25am to go scuba diving. We went with the friendly people of Lanta Divers, on their big boat, and had breakfast along the way. The scuba diving we did at Ko Haa was some of the best we’ve ever done. The marine life is so abundant and the coral ecosystem so healthy. We had excellent visibility on all 3 our dives. We even dived

Koh Haa, scuba spot

Koh Haa, scuba spot

into a huge cavern like structure (locally called ‘The Cathedral’), where we surface inside the ‘cave’, and had a look around before submerging again and continuing the dive. That was quite unique for us!

We initially planned on staying on Ko Phi Phi, but changed our plan due to various reasons. We still felt we needed to see it, so we organised a day tour there. We got on a speedboat, stopped by Maya Bay, did some snorkeling, had lunch at a nice beach, and then stopped over on Ko Phi Phi Don to explore a bit. We walked up to the viewpoint (quite a climb!), and took some phodies. I can say one thing for sure: I’m glad we didn’t stay there…

What we did:

– Hired a scooter to explore the beaches and Old Town Lanta.

– Hiked to a ‘waterfall’

– Shopping and walking around Ban Saladan market.

– Scuba diving with Lanta Divers.

– Day trip to Ko Phi Phi.

– Beach side massage.

– Hammocking!

Maya Bay, Ko Phi Phi

Maya Bay, Ko Phi Phi

Viewpoint Ko Phi Phi

Viewpoint Ko Phi Phi

General impression: (4/5) Awesome island that I’ll surely come back to. It’s really peaceful, with arguably some of the most beautiful beaches in Thailand!

Budget: scooter hire 200B for 24H, seaview bungalow @ Sanctuary 1500B (per night), American breakfast (@ Sincere House in Ban Saladan) 150B p/p, ferry ticket to Ko Lipe 1760B p/p, scuba diving (Lanta divers) for 3 dives 4700B (park fees incl),

TIPS: Hiring a scooter is a necessity if you want to explore more of the island (saw families hire tricycles too!). When considering which dive shop to go with, fish around for prices, ask about the boat, how long the journey is, if lunch is included, how many people per instructor, and just choose one that you get the best vibe from. Want to stretch your bucks – eat in locally owned restaurants next to main road (food is just as great, drinks just as cold, but at half the price).

Ko Lipe

Sunrise Beach

Sunrise Beach

We took a speedboat for the 3 hour long bumpy ride all the way down to Ko Lipe. There’s no getting around this; it’s a matter of gritting your teeth and pushing through – eyes on the ‘prize’ (luckily the sea was somewhat calm). Along the way we stopped at 2 islands (Ko Mook and Ko Ngai) to drop off and pick-up some people. Both looked amazing, and are on the list for future possible visits.

As you approach Pattaya beach (main beach) of Ko Lipe, you know that the grueling ride there was totally worth it. Azure waters, palm fringed, white sparkling beach – paradise found. But seriously, we’ve never seen water as blue as there (closest rival might be Gili Trawangan).

Next mission: finding accommodation for 3 nights. This was not as easy as we thought it would be. After literally walking around the island trying all our researched places on our list, and them all being fully booked, we found a good deal at the place we would also do our diving with – Davy Jones Locker. We got a nice big room with a large double bed and clean bathroom, for 500B per night (because we’ll dive with them every day), which was a steal compared to other places charging 2-3 times as much…

Boom Boom Bar!

Boom Boom Bar!

Ko Lipe has seen a lot of expansion and commercialisation over the last few years, and people like to compare it to Ko Phi Phi (and also the route it’s taking, following in the footsteps of Phi Phi). It’s true that Lipe isn’t the best kept secret anymore, where it gets whispered from backpacker to backpacker or those worthy of knowing about it. When you see Asian package tourists somewhere, you know the word is out. It’s perfectly understandable though, Lipe is an awesome place with cool bars (beach & inland) and restaurants, good diving and a few spectacular beaches to choose from. Even though the island was decked out with people (high season!), we still had a great time – there’s just something about it that makes you not not care, kick back and relax.

Until a while back, there wasn’t any scooters or cars on the island. Many websites still state this fact – not true anymore. There are scooters and a few cars – scooters taxi people from arrival point to their resorts (if they’re too lazy to walk) and ferry supplies around, and the cars are also used by a few upscale resort to move their customers around. I’ll be first to admit, the scooters buzzing past at times are annoying and compromises the peaceful, laid-back atmosphere that might’ve once existed on the island. Once you’re on the beaches though, nothing in the world matters anymore! We loved sunrise beach (east coast), and also the beaches found at the north end of the island (can sit and watch the sunset – Boom Boom Bar, sunset beach). Pattaya beach is too busy, and full of anchored longtails anyway.

There are some nice eateries, our favorites: Cafe Lipe (Pattaya beach) for awesome baguettes, Papaya Mama for local Thai food, Thai Pancake Lady (big yellow boards displaying rotis and shakes and others) for fruit shakes and baguettes (there are two, at each end of walking street), also the one shop with the guy pouring the cold tea and coffee from above his head into another jug and the other guy preparing the rotis (Thai pancake) with skilled moves (you’ll know it when you see it, very popular…) – try the cold tea and ice coffee, obviously the rotis too, Pee Pee bakery for for nice croissants, full breakfasts and shakes and also try the VERY delicious coconut rolls.

Our diving wasn’t anything to write home about though. Due to the sandy bottom, the visibility can be real bad from time to time, and this was the case for us. Our best diving was done at Ko Yang and Adang beach (next to the big Ko Adang). Something to note: DJL uses a local longtail boat, and when the sea is too choppy, the nicer dive sites can’t be reached…

Even though we booked two days before, the speedboats going down to Langkawi was fully booked, so we could only get on the 4:30pm one. Which wasn’t a train smash – more time to spend on Ko Lipe! The speedboat took 1 hour (very bumpy ride) to Awana port on Langkawi. With our 850B ticket, they moved us in minibuses (inclusive) to the immigration offices (very quick, get stamp, there you go), from where you have to pay your own taxi fare onwards. We payed 100B/10MYR to Pantai Cenang. Note: there is another ticket for 1200B, which drops you at another port with (I think) its own immigration, and closer to Pantai Cenang area.

Sunset @ Sunset beach

Sunset @ Sunset beach

What we did:

– Scuba diving with Davy Jones Locker (small and personal).

– Explore the beaches, tan, read, beers at beach bars, hammocking.

– Snorkeling off of sunrise beach.

– Indulged on the iced coffee and cold tea and rotis (tried various combos).

General impression: (4.5/5) Awesome little island that I’ll go back to. Beautiful beaches and nice restaurants and bars. Can easily hop over from Langkawi (Malaysia) island.

Budget: big water 30B, Pad Thai 70-90B, beers 70-80B (small), baguettes @ Cafe Lipe (150B), Thai food at local restaurants +/- 100B, in walking street baguettes for 90B, fruit shakes for 70B, roti (thai pancake) for 40-70B, iced coffee or cold tea drink 50B, room at DJL for 500B (special deal for us though), diving at DJL 2800B for 2x boat dives and 700B for the 3rd dive (on request), speedboat to Langkawi 850B p/p.

TIPS: Might be a good idea to book ahead in high season… Bring enough sunscreen – very expensive on these secluded islands. Book speedboat ticket ahead of time to get desired departure time.

Langkawi

View from Langkawi Cable Car platform

View from Langkawi Cable Car platform

Very hyped up, highly spoken of, but still, I don’t get it. We tried really hard to like it here, but alas, it did not happen. The word ‘artificial’ comes up when I think back on it. It all seems  a bit contrived. Sure, the beach is nice, and the sunset beautiful, but that’s it. The water feels muddy underfoot and its not very clear, and 30m in, you’re still only knee deep. I know it’s unfair to compare it like this, but maybe we were spoilt by the awesome beaches in Thailand. There’s also a lack of some cool beach bars, or cafes which would’ve created a better vibe. Unfortunately at no time during our stay did we go ‘oooo’ or ‘ahhhh’ for anything. What I (and with that I mean M) liked most was the duty free shopping (and maybe this one awesome local Indian restaurant that’s open 24/7…).

We stayed at Rainbow Lodge on the Pantai Cenang beach area. There are quite a few accommodation options, all very budget orientated. Our room (we did not book ahead) had the basics, with nothing special to write about (does the mosquitoes count?).

7 Wells Waterfall

7 Wells Waterfall

What we did:

– Sunset hammocking.

– Spent time on the beach.

– Wandered around, did some duty free shopping.

– Hired a scooter. Rode to Kuah town, bought ferry ticket to mainland (Kuala Kedah), from which we took a bus (Alor Star Bus) down to Penang (all the ferries going straight to Penang from Langkawi were basically sold out – Chinese New Year).

– Visit Langkawi cable car, nice views of the area. (the ‘Skybridge’ is still closed…)

Langkawi beach

Langkawi beach

– Go to 7 Wells Waterfall (no waterfall, few pools…). Refreshing swim in pools after sweaty hike to get up there.

– Sunset with some beer and Bundabergs that we discovered at a shop!

– Eat at local restaurant; Restoran Almaz – absolutely brilliant food. Nasi Goreng, Mutton Masala, Chapati, Naan, cold tea – all the good stuff for cheap.

General impression: (2.7/5) A place we most likely won’t go back to. Maybe the secret is out there, and we just did not get it. Again, this

was how we experienced it. The people next to us might (most probably will) tell you a totally different story.

Sunset from beach

Sunset from beach

Budget: Scooter hire 35 MYR (24h), Rainbow lodge double room 50 MYR (per night), ferry ticket to Kuala Kedah 23 MYR p/p, taxi to Alor

Star Bus terminal 20 MYR, bus ticket to Butterworth 10,80 MYR, Langkawi cable car 30 MYR p/p, Restoran Almaz breakfast for 2:Nasi Goreng, Banana Pancakes (x2), x2 ice coffees for 11,50 MYR, taxi to jetty in Kuah 30 MYR,

TIPS: Eat shwarma’s at the food stall next to 7 Eleven on the beach road. Also, buy some beers at 7 Eleven for sunset (be respectful though, mostly Muslim community…). Buy some booze at the duty free shops, dirt cheap! Eat local if you’re on a budget and want to stretch your money (most restaurants hit you with the annoying 10% service charge; the service aint that great either).

Penang

Old colonial architecture

Old colonial architecture

After our 1,5 hour bus ride from Kuala Kedah to Butterworth, we got on the ferry that takes you to Georgetown (25min, 1,60 MYR – return is

free). We knew all the main bus routes were busy, so we opted to buy our onwards bus tickets to Kuala Lumpur at the bus station before we got on the ferry, just to be sure we have seats and a bus that leaves at our desired time (things that need careful careful consideration during Chinese New Year!).

Again we didn’t have a booking anywhere, but we had a list of possible places (did some research on the way), and an idea of the area where we’d like to stay. The criteria for this was mostly to be central. We took a bus that dropped us in the vicinity of where we planned to stay (just ask around for the right bus nr., see tips below about shuttle). We got a room at Star Lodge Guesthouse (on the list…). Very nice and helpful staff, with perfect English. We got a clean and spacious double room – wifi even works now and again in room. It’s also easy walking distance everywhere.

Unfortunately most local eateries and mostly all shops were closed during our stay there – damn you Chinese New Year! Little India was still bustling though, and we had a great time walking around there, and feasting on Indian food for most of our meals! Most nights the streets were alive with people (many foreigners), the street bars busy and those restaurants that were open bursting out of their seams. It was quite a sight walking around Little India with the lanterns and other decorations for New Year, and every now and then the surprise of a string of crackers going off somewhere.

Victoria Memorial clock tower

Victoria Memorial clock tower

What we did:

– Walked around and took in the architecture.

– Did kind of a scavenger hunt for all the street art…

– We ate our fill at Little India!

– Penang Hill. Take bus #204 from KOMTAR building (2 MYR). Nice views of surrounding areas from there.

Georgetown lanterns for Chinese New Year

Georgetown lanterns for Chinese New Year

– Walked around the Clan Jetties (close to the ferry port) – the people that live over the water, with their houses built on stilts.

General impression: (4/5) Really liked the atmosphere and the general vibe there. The food (even though most local places were closed) was brilliant. Enjoyed the architecture and colonial feel of the place. Will surely go back someday (not during Chinese New Year!).

Budget: bus ticket Butterworth to KL 36 MYR p/p, bus fare around Georgetown varies according to destination  2-5 MYR, room at Star Lodge Guesthouse 60 MYR/night, meal at Ros Mutiara (Indian food): garlic naan, tandoori set, mutton murtabak, mee goreng, and of course the cold teas with ice (Teh Tarik) – everything for 22 MYR! Penang Hill monorail ‘train’ ride return for 30 MYR p/p, bus from KOMTAR building to Penang Hill 2 MYR.

TIPS: There is a free shuttle bus service that leaves from the drop-off point at the ferry port. It goes in a set circular route, so just get off at a point closest to where you’re staying and foot it from there…

Eat at Ros Mutiara (corner of Chulia & King str) – great food, friendly service. Don’t forget to drink Teh Tarik (pulled tea), it is soooo good!

Street Art

Street Art

Kuala Lumpur

We got on an early bus leaving for KL, because the trip takes about 4,5 hours, and we still had to meet up with our friends, Dewald and Lauren, to spend the day, hang out and exchange travel stories. We got there a little too early though, and had sufficient time for a nice local breakfast at the bus stop. We got quite a few stares – don’t think they’re used to foreigners eating there, especially that early in the morning. Marené had a nasi lamak with vegies (4 MYR) and I had a chicken nasi goreng (5 MYR), and we washed this down with some nice and sweet warm teas.

The bus ride was nice and comfy (aircon also), and we drove past some very scenic areas, especially Ipoh. We arrived at KL around lunch time, met up with our friends and checked in at Rainforest bed and breakfast. We spent some time at Merdeka Square (under construction when we were there!), strolled around Central Market and the bustling Chinatown, and did some shopping at the Pavillion Mall. Later that night our other friends, Tom and Elicia, also met up with us after getting to KL from their trip. It just so worked out that we all were on the same next morning flight to Busan, South Korea! We spent the night going out a bit, and caught up after all our trips. We had a lot to share seeing as though between us we went to Indonesia (Sumatra and Bali), Thailand and Malaysia…

So here we are again at the end of still another amazing journey! This was yet another amazing experience we wouldn’t exchange for anything in the world. That time we travelled all the way down from Bangkok, island hopping all the way down, over the border, and down again to Kuala Lumpur.

This is where I sign off now. Keep safe and keep traveling!

Railay, Krabi 3

Spectacular Phra Nang Beach!

Sunset from Phra Nang Cave

Sunset from Phra Nang Cave

Hermit crab...

Hermit crab…

Deserted streets of Georgetown...

Deserted streets of Georgetown…

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One thought on “Journey Down South: Thailand to Malaysia

  1. Ek is baie trots op die skoonseun van my vir ‘n baie baie lekker leesstofblog en met die mooiste fotos. Sien ek gaan n lekker leermeester he. A very good memory of all your journeys!!

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