Singapore to Tioman
The day started at 6.30am when we left our house-sit in Singapore hoping to reach the Malaysian city of Johor Bahru in time for an 8.30 am bus to Mersing. The journey got off to a bad start when the SBS bus no 170 from Kranji would not take cash and we couldn’t find anywhere to buy a ticket. We found out that the Causeway Link bus took cash and got on that instead.
The border crossing was quick and smooth on both sides. The friendly border official on the Malaysian side was delighted to point out how expensive Tioman is when I mentioned where we were headed. He obviously hasn’t been to ABC!
We reached Larkin bus terminal in plenty time for the 8.30 bus but for some reason decided to take the 9am one and have breakfast in MacDonald’s instead. This wasn’t the cleverest of decisions as it resulted in us missing the ferry from Mersing by about 2 minutes and having to wait at the ferry terminal for the next one 2.5 hours later.
We chose South Pacific Chalets on ABC beach as our accommodation on Tioman for two main reasons 1. Proximity to the jetty for our 7.30am departure and 2. The price of 40 Ringit per night. You get what you pay for and 40RM (£8) gets you a basic place to sleep with a toilet and cold shower. We’ve stayed in a lot worse but nowadays we prefer a bit more comfort. We would happily have paid more but after a long day travelling we just couldn’t be bothered shopping around for something better.
Tioman has been described as one of the most beautiful islands in the world. Maybe we’ve seen too many beautiful islands but certainly our opinion is that Tioman, the bit we saw, is a bit tired round the edges. That said it does have a certain charm, especially with a cold beer at Happy Hour in either of the two bars we tried, Sunset Bar and Allo Bar.
If the sun doesn’t appear for you to watch it set, there’s always a chance of a spectacular lightning show after dark.
Read more about Tioman and see the pictures on Tartanbeat’s travel blog.
Visiting The Smiths in KL
After roughing it on Tioman it was a lovely treat to spend time with friends at their new house in KL. Lots of drinking, good food and a day by the pool set us up for another round of budget travelling.
And so we are back in our favourite haunt of Georgetown, Penang, our last stop in Malaysia. A conversation with a (young, Australian) backpacker about the disappointing beach at Batu Ferringhi prompted me to consider why we like this island so much. When I told her that we had been to Penang many times and knew the beaches were bad she asked “Why do you come here then?”
Here’s a selection of some of our likes and a few dislikes.
- Georgetown – a multicultural city with some brilliant architecture – huge colonial buildings, Chinese shop houses and temples, mosques, churches, Buddhist and Hindu temples – we love it.
- The Noble Hotel (Lorong Pasar). Rooms are usually snapped up early. You might be lucky if you arrive around check out time but its safer to book ahead. It’s still a bargain, clean, friendly and in a great location.
- Kapitan is our new top for Indian food – it does Malaysian too. Less than 8RM for roti canai breakfast with coffee for two, very tasty curries and good nan.
- On the other hand our old favourite Hainan chicken over rice spot, Kedai Kopi Pak Hock Nasi Ayam on the corner of Chulia and Jalan Pintal Tali (Rope Street) stays in top position for Chinese food. It has kept prices low but if anything the food has got better. The man still remembers us too, which is nice.
- Bhaji man in Little India – samosas, bhajis and other fried Indian snacks.
- Improved bus service – the Rapid Penang buses are modern and air-conditioned Some even have WiFi for those sad souls who can’t bear to be parted from their laptops even for the duration of a bus journey. Do I know anyone like that?
- Clan Jetties – traditional houses built in the 19th century on wooden jetties on stilts over the water at Weld Quay. Occupied by Chinese clans such as Chew and Tan. There are also shops, a home-stay and a restaurant.
- Upper Penang Road street market – nice for a browse – it’s only on once a month on the last Sunday. On the day we were there the shoppers were being entertained by a woman singing war time classics – surreal! Then again, didn’t Vera Lynn get back in the charts recently?
- Red Garden and other hawker food centres. A few of these seem to have had a face-lift as has a lot of Georgetown including the grotty old ladyboy hangout on Chulia where we used to watch footie (now a boutique hotel!)
- Heat and humidity – we like sweating!
- Shopping – we don’t shop much (dedicated as we are to wearing every item of clothing till it falls apart) but you can always find something you want or need here at a good price. The Indian shops have great clothes and household stuff. One day I’ll get that lovely sharp cleaver and the spice tray, thali dishes and tiffin containers.
- There’s always something new to discover. This visit it was the National Park and the Botanic Gardens.
- Beaches – actually the beaches are not that bad, some are really nice with clean white sand, but the sea water is murky, dirty and strewn with litter – wouldn’t touch it! If you want a swim, and in this climate you WILL want a swim, shell out a small fortune to stay in a hotel with a pool or find one that will let you use the pool for the day.
- Price of beer (and other alcoholic beverages) – this is a Muslim country and beer is expensive, on a par with the UK at times. The exception is what we affectionately call Alcies Bar (see below) where a can of Skol is a reasonable 3.5 RM.
- Offensive patterns – there are some bad outfits going around. I’m not going to get into the debate about the rights and wrongs of banning the burka. Personally I feel there are other more offensive items (speedos for example) that should be banned. But what I find really offensive here in Malaysia is the dreadful fabrics they choose to create the outfits from. Most of them look like someone’s granny’s auld curtains! Where do they get them? And why?
A late night in Alcies Bar puts paid to Wesak day celebrations
We had been looking forward to the parade to celebrate Buddha’s birthday (Wesak Day). We had studied the parade route and worked out how to get there. Then disaster struck. A couple of cold beers the night before were followed by a couple more……………and before we knew it a full-blown sesh was under way.
We did make it to the Burmese temple the following day in time for the parade and even managed to spot a couple of the floats. But, with Iain starting to wilt in the heat, we sensibly hailed a taxi back to the hotel.
Some Useful Information on Batu Ferringhi
To find budget guest houses, make sure you stay on the bus till you pass The Holiday Inn and The Park Royal. Get off at the post office – if you get to Hard Rock Hotel you’ve gone too far. Facing west with the Yahong Gallery on your left take the signposted road to the right towards the beach. Turn right at the bottom and you’ll find most of the budget places. We checked out a few and ET was the cheapest, cleanest and most appealing of the rock bottom budget ones. We paid 45RM per night.
We ate excellent roti canai (5RM for 3 roti and 2 coffees) in the Malaysian place on the corner of the main road and the road to the guest house. Lunch was good there too. Hawker food centre in the middle of the night market had great sati 12 sticks for 8RM and a wide selection of reasonably priced Asian food.
For more on our latest trip through SE Asia and a selection of photographs see Iain’s travel blog.