This week we learn that when you’re ill you just want to be left alone, it’s great to have a night out with friends from your home town when you’re over 6000 miles away, you can fly with a rope and a boat and there are strange things you can do with a doughnut in the sea. Oh, and we meet a tarantula and a huntsman spider in the rainforest at night.
We arrive at Cox’s airport in good time and there are several aircraft sitting on the tarmac ready to go. Frank’s driver has got us here in good time although being the usual two hours before a flight is unnecessary as the terminal is little more than a shed in the corner of the field. It’s all filled with modern technology though and we’re scanned and checked as we would be in the most modern of international airports. We only have an hour to wait and the departure lounge is emptying as the flight before us embarks, it’s a simple process with no fuss, it’s a bit like our local Teesside Airport was many years ago.
Within a few minutes we’re boarding; it’s a turboprop so we’re unlikely to get to a height that we can’t see the detail on the ground and the flight time is less than an hour so we’re planning a meal on the outskirts of Dhaka to fill some of the time between our landing and the take-off of our Kuala Lumpur flight which is some six hours or so.
Back in Dhaka
In Dhaka our luggage is not booked through so we need to pick it up and lug it with us to the hotel which is just too far to walk so we take a tuktuk; however, they’re true to form. If the destination isn’t in their tiny sphere then they’re lost but more concerning than that, rather than lose the deal, they’ll make it up – finishing your sentence when you’re at the point of giving the destination. e.g. “We’d like to go to hotel…”. We didn’t get beyond that when they started the game of ending the sentence with all manner of hotels that sounded like, looked like, had a syllable that might have been like or had once been managed by someone that looked like… anyway, I’m making minor exaggerations. Eventually, a guy with a tuktuk pointing in the wrong direction comes across for a slice of the action and he claims to know where the hotel is so in we jump. That’s three adults complete with luggage that would sink a ship sitting between, on and under us with one on the driver’s seat and he’s sitting on the case. The journey is about five minutes which is rather longer than any of us can hold our breath but we manage. The hotel sign perks us up no end and with a little help from the bellboys and a fork-lift we’re out and ready to present ourselves for feeding in the rooftop restaurant recommended to us by Frank.
In fairness, it’s an excellent meal and not badly priced. The beer costs three times as much as the food but that’s what we expect, this is a largely ‘dry’ country so any beer is a bit of a bonus. We complement the chef and he appears from his kitchen to tell us about his life in Britain including spells in the North Of England. Wonderful coincidences keep happening.
As our flight time approaches we present ourselves at reception with a view to a swift return to the departure lounge in a large shuttle that’s held up by traffic on the ramp and there’s a tense moment as we approach the terminal.
Vacating the shuttle we’re confronted with a queue stretching the length of the airport (no embellishment!) and we join it with trepidation and crossed fingers. It is moving at a steady rate and we are offered ‘help’ to bypass the queue by people that have an official label thingy around their neck, they ask for a fee, we decline.
In the terminal, we join more queues for the check-in desk and eventually get rid of the rucksacks leaving us free to go through security which is tight. It’s a flight of about 5 hours with a two hour shift in time zones so we’re now 8 hours ahead of UK. It’s over the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, it would have been nice to gaze down on them but we’re overnight and don’t see anything except the beginning of sunrise just before we land.
We clear customs in KL and just have enough time for a coffee before boarding our Penang flight which is barely in the air before we’re told to buckle up to land about 40 minutes later.
I buy a Malaysian sim for my spare phone. It’s been acting as a router very successfully with a Bangladesh sim. At one time it had as many as 4 ‘phones tethered to it without any evidence of slowing down although it did get a bit warm.
I arrive at the bus stop just as the city shuttle bus to George Town makes an appearance. The hotel for the first night is Le Dream located ‘downtown’. The intention is to have a night in the island capital with a view to returning with the girls on an excursion from Batu Ferringhi after they recover from the jet-lag.
Finding the hotel is a mix of utilising a very basic street map and bursts of Google Maps. We may have stepped off the bus a stop or two early but it is worth it for the walk through some of the old town. Traffic is well mannered and less frenetic here and road manners impeccable. There is rarely the beep of a horn and to cross the road I find all I have to do is look at the driver and start to walk and they immediately moderate their speed and or trajectory, after Dhaka, I’m impressed.
A quick change later and we’re out walking this time to the Eastern and Oriental Hotel which C has described as a bit like Raffles, posh and a must for a gin and tonic looking out over the bay – so we do!
We walk back towards the hotel looking for some street food or a bar that has a menu similar and find ourselves on Love Lane. It’s a busy little street that has no connotations to its name but there are a few lively bars at one end and we indulge; however, I’ve become a little cavalier with my diet of late and tonight will live to regret it.
I’m lactose intolerant and the condition can prove challenging if I fail to observe or discuss the contents of any foods that are unfamiliar to me. No milk products whatsoever, no cheese, yoghurt, cream and no butter and nothing derived from them unless they’re marked as lactose-free. Tonight I think I have something with lactose in it and/or some food poisoning. Now consider I’ve been on the road over two weeks in a country where hygiene standards are variable but getting better and had no issues and now in a country where ostensibly, they’re much better so maybe I dropped my guard or maybe I was on borrowed time anyway.
I wake at 2 am., then every twenty minutes for the next six hours. A Saturn V rocket blasting off at Cape Canaveral could not have been more spectacular. I’m shaking with stomach contractions and associated pain and frowning with the headache probably associated with dehydration through loss of fluid with the diarrhoea. The bottom line, if you’ll pardon the pun, is that I feel like crap and we’re moving hotels today. Granted, the new one is only about thirty to forty minutes away but I haven’t been able to go that long without recourse to the toilet.
C has left me some water and is keeping out of the way, the last thing you need is ‘being fussed’ if you’re off colour. The transfer to the Holiday Inn at Batu Ferringhi is meant to happen at mid-day and I’m bracing myself. I don’t want to stay here as I’ll still need to transfer at some point so we may as well get on with it and then I’m good for a week. It also means that the others can get on with the holiday and leave me to get over it with the help of lots of fluids and some Dioralite to replace the salt and other minerals that have vacated my body. Leaving me to recover is the most important thing. In my head, the thought of them doing things is critical and it means that I’m not on guilt trip on top of feeling crap so it’s all win.
C and F take my rucksack and everything else to the lobby and I make a few more trips to the toilet. I have to say that it helps that it has a water squirting thing for cleaning your bum so you don’t have to use paper and by now it’s so tender as to remind me of the plight of babies when they have a bad case of nappy rash, they have my renewed sympathy.
In the lobby, they’re waiting patiently and I take a seat hoping so much that there are no ‘accidents’ in the taxi that’s standing expectantly outside. C speaks to the driver and explains the situation making the point that it may be necessary to stop fairly rapidly at toilets due to my ‘condition’. He smiles and nods.
There are traffic lights, road works and traffic jams that combine to make the journey challenging but we make it and C checks us in whilst I find the gents and prepare for the trek to the second tower where our rooms are (it’s actually not a trek but it just looks like it when you’re devoid of energy and shivering with dehydration).
Once ensconced in the room I’m left with Dioralite, a glass of full-fat Coke with the fizz shaken out of it, and a bottle of water. I then retire to bed and wait for my body to sort itself out. I would like to say that full-fat coke flattened is a real pick-me-up when you have or had ‘the runs’, it was recommended to me by Dr Smith forty years ago and I’ve used it ever since, it doesn’t stop the diarrhoea but it does give you a boost with the sugar that you’ve lost and it doesn’t taste too bad either.
I’ll not dwell on it as I recover in a couple of days but the reason that I mention it here is to thank Cecilia and Frank for leaving me to recover but also being there if I needed them. Any major changes would have left me consumed with guilt and not helped my recovery anyway, thank you all.
So, I’ve had two days out, the second of which was lying on a sun-bed in the shade of a coconut palm, if you’re going to be ill, well what’s not to like about this type of recovery plan?
Frank, Cecilia, Emma and Bridie have been to Georgetown to do the Graffiti Art Trail. I’m, not a big lover of graffiti but this stuff is on all kinds of otherwise dilapidated walls and the quality is in the same league as Banksy and often with the same humour or subtle message. You’re also encouraged to join in adopting poses that blend with the art, this is great stuff and I love their photographs.
We’re taking a slow approach to this week to let the girls get over the 24 hour travel time and also adjust for the 8 hour time difference between here and the UK, in fairness, it doesn’t do me any harm either.
`We’d been settled on the sun-beds the following day when someone said, “Paragliding, who’d like to go paragliding?” So Frank and Bridie promptly step forward as volunteers. There’s a shaded tent area on the beach just behind where we’re sun-worshipping and they can do a deal that includes us riding on the boat and taking photographs if we’d like! Well, we do like so off we go.
F and B are looking slightly anxious as lifejackets and harnesses are fitted. F quips that if the rope snaps then they’ll just fall into the sea. My thoughts are, “From what height?”
We’re taken for quite a pleasant little excursion to another beach where we pick up another family then head back to sea and without any further hesitation, they’re up on the take-off pad at the back, clipped to the rope and the parachute fills with air and begins to tug at the riders. As soon as the ropes are tight and the silk dome uncreased and full the two launch-men run off the pad and one of them begins the process of letting out the line. It’s all very professional and extremely quick. It reminds me of a programme I once saw on TV about Albert Pierpoint, the last British Hangman, he had the victim cuffed, hooded and on a taut rope in seconds and this is in the same league, very swift but the result is rather more pleasing.
F and B are gently moving away from the boat with big smiles, all apprehension appears to have gone and they rise into the sky with hand gestures and exaggerated waves that confirm their pleasure.
They’re in the air for about ten minutes then gently drawn back towards the boat both of them still smiling and waving. There’s one launch-man on the control that’s pulling in the rope and the other is back on the pad ready to help with the removal of the harness. Within a minute the two adventurers are back in the boat and both of them chatting at the same time clearly expressing how good it is.
A cocktail on the beach is called for – so we do!
C and B have a belated Christmas present thoughtfully provided by Emma. It’s a cookery course at the Spice Gardens just a few minutes away so we lose them for a half day but on their return, they’re extremely enthusiastic not just about the course but also about the venue and we’re encouraged to visit.
Spice Gardens is a beautiful area of lush tropical forest that’s interspersed with plants the root, stem or leaf of which delivers what were valuable spices that were transported around the world. If you go to Penang I would urge you to visit this lovely facility but I’d also suggest you go in the morning when it’s a little less hot, humid and oppressive,
After the heat of the afternoon, another cocktail on the beach is called for – so we do!
As the week progresses it also seems to speed up. We met our lovely Northallerton friends, Tony and Sue Wright, whilst walking on the beach and made tentative arrangements to go for a meal with them. Ferringhi Gardens is quite an expensive restaurant by Malaysian standards but about the same cost as the UK so not eye-watering. When we walk in we can see why Tony and Sue had chosen it, they’re surrounded by exotic vegetation. They’ve been here in Batu Ferringhi for about a month so we’re looking forward to catching up and learning where to go for the best experiences. The meal is first-rate and well up to its reputation and we leave with some good advice regarding what the other two families had done over their stay including a trip up Penang Hill.
If you come to Penang and do nothing else you must go up Penang Hill. It was already on my list and I’d compared it to when I was last here twenty years ago and there’s been a lot of development and it’s all to the good.
We hire a taxi between us, it’s a forty to fifty-minute ride but less than £3 each. The start point is the funicular railway which was modernised only a decade or so ago and now goes from bottom to top in one go. The last time I used it you had to go half-way and cross the platform to complete the journey in another car. It’s also very rapid and only takes five minutes so be warned and have your camera ready. Also, don’t be fooled by the fast tickets as opposed to the standard, it only applies to the queuing. The fast ticket holders get priority and that’s where it ends, everyone gets in the same vehicle and it takes the same amount of time to get to the top so if there’re very few people around, as tonight, then it’s not worth the extra.
The railway is rope hauled and fascinating. It’s like a modern Saltburn beach lift but holds about 90 people and has a driver. The views on the way up are well worth preparing for so don’t turn your camera off. As we reach a crest or if there’s a gap in the palms and ferns then there are views to be had and I manage to snatch some great memories.
At the top, don’t rush headlong with the fray, take it slowly and look out for vantage points as you follow the route around and over the funicular, no matter what time of day you choose, the view across George Town is spectacular.
At the top, we’re not at the top! We walk around the shops and pass some electric golf type trolleys that you can hire to where we’re going but we decide to walk as we want to catch the views as the sun declines.
Penang Hill was first established as a retreat for the British as its climate is on average 5 degrees cooler than George Town. It’s over 820 metres (near enough 3000 feet) above sea level and it’s the last patch of natural rain forest on the island having been protected in 1960.
We’re heading for a point further around the hill which has jungle paths and treetop walkways. It costs a little more but we get the added bonus of a night walk back through the forests with three guides, more of that in a mo.
The walk through the trees is concrete and easy whilst the suspended walkway in the trees is also easy underfoot and whilst it is in the air there’s no anxiety regarding height. There are plenty of birds to see but one of the eludes us right through the late afternoon, we hear it’s strange throaty call but each time we home in on it we hear the call from somewhere else.
We’re told “Not to dally” by one of the ranger’s to make our way back for this truly wonderful part of the day. It sounds a little strange from a Malaysian but also wonderfully descriptive and we respond with a smile and ensure our ‘dallying’ is definitely kept to a minimum.
We think this part of the day is going to be the best but it is outperformed by something that happens after-dark although, in terms of enjoyment, there’s very little that will separate them.
What becomes our penultimate experience is on a walkway that’s marginally above the treetops on the highest part of the hill so we’re at three thousand feet – and a bit. It doesn’t feel like it, of course, we’re about forty feet above the ground and just above the trees looking around the rainforest and beyond. Apparently, on a clear day you can see Langkawi, it’s not that clear today but still not bad and we can see right down to the coast and more importantly, other hills that sun will drift behind over the next twenty minutes. The colours change as we watch and the clouds light up as the rest of the forest loses definition. The sounds that are coming from the new dark and mysterious world are different, the creature with the hoarse voice is quiet now but there’s an owl and lots of what sound like mammal type creatures rather than birds.
We find out from the rangers that these sounds are transient and by dark, with the exception of the owl, they’ll disappear.
After a forty minute unforgettable experience, we retrace our steps to the area beneath the walkway and the rangers split us into two tiny groups of six or seven. We’re the last group so we have three rangers two of whom are behind us to make sure no-one gets lost or left behind. All the rangers have a torch and two of us are given lanterns and shown how to turn them down so we can see our footing but don’t disturb the animals and insects to whom we’re about to be introduced.
The first group is on its way and there’s a pause as we’re briefed leaving a good sized gap between us so neither group is going to bump into the other even if the others stop for a while to look at something.
It’s completely black-dark now, it does this in the tropics, there is little or no twilight so when the sun goes down darkness follows in a matter of minutes. We’re walking like a bunch of dwarfs and it’s not gone without notice that our group minus the rangers numbers 7. The lead ranger takes us down some steps that merge onto one of the tracks that we’d taken on the way in but it looks so different now. He’s sweeping the trees with his torch and telling us that he’s looking for monkeys and if we’re lucky we’ll see some crashing through the tops if he picks them out.
Then his sweeping stops and he’s pointing at what seems to be some leaves stuck under a root but as we look closer they disguise hole with a hairy looking leg sticking out. Then, as we look closer, it becomes clearer and there are actually three or even four of the hairy limbs. It’s only when he tells us that it’s a tarantula that the limbs become recognisable. Then it moves and we jump back en-mass and giggle nervously. Then, with the exception of one, we crane forward again just in time to see it withdraw back into the hole that has been its home since last year. The ranger hadn’t just stumbled across it, he knew exactly where it was but it is wild and has established itself here, there are no zoo type tricks, this is wild forest and he reminds us by telling us not to walk too close to rocks or foliage but the warning isn’t needed we still have the image of a wild tarantula still in our heads.
He stops again to point out a huntsman spider and explains that they’re very fast and can get to be quite big with a leg span of 10 inches but this one is only three or four inches across and, he’s telling us, ‘…they don’t tend to bite humans unless you’re bugging them!”
Hmmm, I just wonder what you need to do to ‘bug’ one and I’ll sure as hell avoid doing that!
…and so he continues with an occasional shout from the rangers doing the sweeping at the back. It’s fascinating and safe, there’s no doubt that these guys know their stuff and we’re well looked after at both front and back.
We arrive at the entrance – now exit – and say our goodbyes and here’s the bonus. The electric carts that were to pay for when we arrived are now free and we get a lift back with a stop for photographs overlooking the now beautifully lit up George Town, the coast, the bridge and beyond – what a night!
“Who wants to go on a doughnut?”, C wants a bit of excitement and the sight of people bouncing along behind a speedboat screaming with laughter has obviously appealed to her. There’s a bit of a pause then some degree of ascent and she disappears looking for ‘a deal’.
After a degree of discussion about the new price, everyone’s on board and we’re walking down the beach when we’re approached by a guy who is intent on beating any price at virtually any cost and undercuts ‘the deal’. So we’re off in the other direction ploughing through the sand to the people who did the parascending only this time the ‘sweeper’, who’s employed to comb the beach for victims, is now in discussion with the owner and after a short shouting affair (they always sound like they’re having a row but I think it’s more of a language nuance) we’re walking down the beach adorned, yet again, in life-jackets.
We climb on board the doughnut which matches our number by being conveniently equipped with five cockpits within which we could be bounced, jiggled and bruised by some expert swerving of the speed boat coupled with split-second timing and clipping of the tops of the bow-waves. All of this is enhanced by his knowledge of the rip-currents in the cove. I can declare that we spend more than 90% of our time in the air, limbs flailing in all directions, it is noticeable when we return to the doughnut, I recognise the point of contact with my eyes shut, the language is quite disturbing to a man of innocent upbringing, I learn new words followed by new meanings for old words and even some things that the driver could do with his boat but not without significant lubrication and then I don’t think it will fit. It is wonderful fun and I think we all have some physical reminders for several days afterwards. Excellent.
Next time – we’re all moving on. Bridie and Frank return and we three move on to mainland Malaysia and the Cameron Highlands but not before Emma spots an Urang Utan rescue centre so we call there first. We also have the added excitement of one of us being potentially ‘proper ill’ not a puffy stomach bug – this one is potentially serious and she takes it in her stride…
Enjoy the snaps. Love..G..x
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