Malaysia 2012

Malaysia - Truly Asia

3 months in Korea and we were ready for our first vacation. It has been a very busy 3 months, so I for one was looking forward to some dive time. Anatoliy and Dawn were double-booked as cat sitters, so Paula felt quite comfortable leaving her - something which does not happen very often!

We flew up to Seoul late Friday 6th as the flight to Kuala Lumpur was too early for us to fly in from Ulsan on the same day. The new bullet train stop in Ulsan has messed up the flight schedules somewhat, and we now only have departures every 3 hours instead for close to every hour before the opening of the station. The bullet train should be a good thing but it isn't. Too far from where we live and the Seoul station is too far from the airport. As an example, we had 4 hours between our flight into and out of Seoul on the way back, making it more than a 14-hour trip to travel from Kuala Lumpur to Ulsan. Need to find better alternatives in the future.

But back to the beginning..... We arrived Saturday afternoon in Kulal Lumpur LCCT - Low Cost Carrier Terminal. And Low Cost it was all the way! Air Asia was pretty good but the airport looked like something from the middle of last century. Hot, humid, crowded and very manual! All embarking and disembarking took place walking through the plane parking area, which must be a security nightmare. Anyway - we navigated through this madness and got our bag checked in for Kota Bahru before sitting down for some good Malay food at the cafeteria. Paula wasn't quite as strong in her faith and elected for a sandwich at the western cafè instead.

In Kota Bahru we had our second sleep-over on our way to Perhentian Islands as the ferry boats had all stopped for the day by the time we arrived. Kota Bahru is located in one of the three provinces with the strongest Muslim representation in Malaysia. This can be seen in the streets where many women are almost completely covered by their Niqab and Abaya - leaving only their eyes exposed. Other than that it looks like any other small provincial Asian town - bleak! The night food market appeared to be the only entertainment this Saturday evening, so we stopped by for some spring rolls and sausage - I had plans for something more substantial but refused to eat rice and curry with my fingers, which limited the selection considerably. Paula once again - sensibly - opted for the safe alternative, so we ended up at Pizza Hut afterwards!

Paula eating a spring roll at the night market in Kota Bahru

But she still ended up at Pizza Hut !!

Next morning we jumped in a taxi for the 1-hour ride to Kuala Besut, from where the speedboats leave to Perhentian Island. The landscape on the route was flat and fertile with all kinds of crops being grown - not least tobacco. There was a reason for the fertile soil ..... lots of rain. And we were not spared. Although only sprinkled upon on our taxi ride, we got it in full on the boat ride. At one point we could only see 20m ahead of us and it is still a mystery to me how the skipper made it through the storm on the right course (not seeing any GPS or Compass on the console). As the boat was only covered partly by a tarpaulin, we ended up soaked to the bone at the end of the 1-hour boat ride. Our bags and everything inside them likewise! Only consolation was that my sister Inge and her kids Miklos and Sofie were waiting for us at the jetty on Perhentian Besar - Perhentian Big Island. They had arrived the day earlier in splendid sun - maybe because they had actually prepared themselves for a wet ride whereas we had been totally naive in our packing ..... Murphy's law.

This is looking aft - ahead of us it was much much darker

The island is really beautiful and the hotel/dive center looked very nice indeed. Nothing fancy - just the necessary for a comfortable Robinson Crusoe-like atmosphere. About 12 wooden cabins with AC and fan were located in a pretty garden in direct connection to the beach and the dive center/restaurant. The weather was a bit of a let-down though. We hadn't really considered thunder storms as part of our vacation package, but they came and went regardless. The white tarpaulin didn't give us much protection from the rain and pretty soon our last remaining dry clothes were soaked. Luckily it was still warm and we could just jump in the ocean or the next door resort pool, which we could use for a small fee. The kids turned out to be water-CRAZY .... they just couldn't get enough of it - pool or ocean.

The view from our cabin. The one we lived in was similar to the one you can see in this picture.

The beach - our hotel was right in the middle of the beach

Checking out the neighborhood

The kids quickly made friends with two Italian boys.

Me me me .... throw it to me !! In the Arwana Pool

UNO !!

Tamas had booked a scuba review the same day we arrived, but this was delayed due to the poor weather. I decided to sign up for a couple of dives at the same time as his review, so we were set for 9am next morning. In an unusual case of total disorganization, the dive center managed to delay our schedule (more or less without letting us know) until very late afternoon. Only later did we realize that all the instructors and dive masters were newly arrived on the island and had no clue about how the dive center, boats dive sites etc. worked ! The owner was away on a medical trip, so they were running around like headless chickens!!

Getting the gear ready

It appears that Tamas' review instructor was just told that some odd diver was going to hang around in the outskirts of his scuba review, and he almost fainted when he heard the answer he got when he asked me for my experience just prior to jumping into the water. After all, this wasn't the kind of diving you would expose any experienced (paying) diver to.

Waiting for my buddies

The dive was - to be honest - really bad and the only thing that saved it from terrible was a nice turtle at the end of the dive. But still poor visibility and dead coral - not what we had travelled so far for and I decided to call it a day after just one dive (it was after 5pm by then, so that was an easy decision).

Tamas and Sergio in the middle of the scuba review. The viz really was this bad !

These shrimp are so cool, but they are really difficult to see close-up. Almost invisible and quite skittish

Some kind of sea cucumber, I guess. These are quite normal to see although pretty unusual looking with their many "tentacles". Don't know the right name. The beach in front of our hotel was full of sea cucumbers and according to Miklos they are DISGUSTING !

Hello Mr. Hardshell

There are quite a few turtles in the waters around Perhentian Islands and they are all very relaxed, almost swimming into us where other turtles would take off by the sight of divers

We were not let down by this poor first show, so we booked two more dives for the next day. Beautiful weather greeted us in the morning but so did the previous day's disorganization. Late departure with three boats and then - incredibly - our boat ended up at the wrong dive site and we had to shift dive site halfway into suiting up ! But - on the positive side we had an excellent dive when we finally arrived. Except for two of the divers who were stung by underwater creatures - one by an anemone and another by invisible singing cells/plankton. For some reason the anemone sting was quite severe and left a large red rash. Later in the day I also noticed that I had been stung and this only augmented in the next days and left my neck, back and arms full of red itching spots. Still have them now, almost one week later.

Puffer fish and moray eel

Blue-spotted stingray. Saw quite a few of these

Also saw a number of morays

Second dive was at a 12-year old wreck - in the location where we first had moored up before the instructor realized that we were in the wrong location. The visibility was quite bad here - at least at the bottom 2/3's of the wreck, where we could only see 2m ahead of us. On the top of the wreck it was much better, but I didn't actually mind the poor viz, as - for me - a wreck only gets better when shrouded in mystery!

The visibility at top of the wreck was good but just a few metres further down it was like diving in Denmark - i.e. we could see 2m ahead of us. The last few day's storm had stirred things up.

Tamas among the fish on the wreck

Next day brought more diving with a new experience for me .... we saw a small shark lay it's eggs! This is a highly unusual sight and I was stoked that I had brought my camera. The least experienced diver in our group pointed the seemingly dead or dying shark out to us and it was only upon closer examination that I saw that it was indeed alive and breathing heavily. What I had initially taken as a wound was in fact placenta like body fluid surrounding the two laid eggs. It was a huge surprise to me - I had taken these tiny sharks (up to 50cm) to be babies or at least very young sharks. Not the fully mature sharks which they obviously were.

I struggled in the strong current to take a video and a few photos - unfortunately the camera wasn't set for continuous auto-focus, so parts of the video is out of focus (see video below).

This little shark is actually fully mature and laying it's eggs. It can be seen as a furry green ball on the lower left hand side. Another one is lying next to her tail, but that egg can hardly be seen here on this photo.

Tamas and I had ended up doing 5 dives on three days. The dive masters eventually picked up their game a little when the owner returned (and they had less guests), but by that time we had already gotten used to the take-it-as-it-comes atmosphere. Diving wasn't as good as I had hoped for, but there were those few unforgettable moments which made it all worthwhile !

Showing the kids the shark in labour

Clownfish and their anemone home

Humphead parrotfish - also quite inquisitive.

While Tamas and I were diving, the girls and Miklos went pool crazy! The beach in front of our cottages was really nice and at high tide it was perfect for swimming, but low tide was an invitation to bruised feet and broken toe nails ... too many rocks. But the resort at the end of the beach would let us use their pool for a small fee, so we could manage to stay wet all day! The kids had brought a freesbee and a deck of waterproof Uno cards, which was more than enough to keep the kids entertained. Actually - I think I have seen enough card tricks to last me a looong time - Miklos just couldn't stop!

Inge at our return

Paula and Sofie had waited patiently on us

Tropical fruit - no idea what kind and I don't think it is edible

Korean Heart-pose

Another beach walk

Ready for a freshly squeezed fruit juice!

Stinky was a privileged cat who lived the sweet life of a beach bum!

This is a large Mango Smoothie

Apart from a large mango smoothie, you here see a jealous Sofie (!) and the work barge which obstructed our view for 3 days. Not a big bother though as the view to the other side still was spectacular.

Another juice for the juice queen !

Juice king !

Now THIS is what we came for .... sun, sea and sand !

Keep it coming ... !


Modelling ...

Tamas at Flora bay (or Fauna Bay - they were right next to each other and I never learned which was which)

Miklos was the star of the island when the other guests realized that he was reading Roald Dahl all by himself !!

Sofie the flower girl

Another day in paradise

Our cabins - Inge lived in the one on the right. Ours had garden view

The restaurant and dive center - Alu Alu Dive Center and Bayu Dive Lodge

In the evenings we tried out the local cuisine. This means walking 5m down the beach to the next door restaurant. The unstable weather made the close-by restaurants look very attractive ! The food was OK I guess. It looked nice with fresh red snappers, king prawns and squids, but I must say that I was a bit disappointed by the result. Within long I had settled on the local Malay dishes which I found much better than the barbecue. The setting was nice though - right on the beach under the (overcast) sky.

Tamas being silly ... again !

Our Seafood Barbeque restaurant

Our dinner on the grid

Ready for bed

After-dinner snack

Another UNO game before bedtime

In Malaysia they write as the speak - this is a Root Beer Classic !

If it stayed dry after the dinner, we would fire up the torches and go down to the small jetty to look for fish. Unfortunately the beach wasn't perfect for snorkelling, but at the end of the beach we found a nice snorkelling area marked with buoys and rope in order to keep boat traffic out of the area. So one afternoon we took advantage of a two-hour break in the rain regime and headed over there in two sit-on kayaks. With most of us not having much paddling experience, this turned (?!) out to be a bit longer than the bird flies ! I especially remember Inge, Tamas and Sofie making a few detours (I have quickly forgotten our own less-than-straight sail pattern). But we reached the small beach by the snorkelling area safely (but with sore backs and shoulders) - and even managed to get out of the kayaks and on to the beach without incident. Tamas and I immediately headed back out again - equipped with masks and snorkels. The kids on the other hand appeared to like the kayaking more than the stranded-on-a-deserted-beach-with-mom-and-auntie-Paula, so they soon suggested that we turned back home again. But by that time both Tamas and I were out of range !

Now you may have picked up that the weather was far from what you'd hope for in a beach vacation, but it wasn't all bad. For one, we avoided the usual painful sunburns and the peeling skin. But this only goes for the first half of the vacation. After a couple of days the weather changed and we got some nice days. We even dined under a bright starry evening sky a couple of times. The Carcassonne (a board game treasured by my sister) was even brought out of the cabaña - that's how dry it was !

Rain was not the only environmental factor we had to deal with during our 5 days at Perhentian. During one of our sessions at the Arwana pool, the water all of a sudden started to flow over edge on one side of the pool. I immediately thought of the possibility of an earthquake, but as we hadn't felt anything, I didn't think more of it. The wave moved across the pool 3-4 times during which we discussed several (implausible) explanations for the phenomena. In the end we just forgot it though. Until we got back to the hotel. Here we were told of an 8.6 earthquake off the coast of Indonesia and a tsunami warning up along the coast of Indonesia and Thailand. Paula immediately wanted to leave the island and climb the highest mountain in Malaysia, but after a few more geographical details we were assured that we would be unaffected where we were.

I don't know why we are always hit by earthquakes when we vacation. Chile, Taiwan, Vanuatu and now Malaysia (although none have been very strong) ....

On our last full day on the island we walked across to the other side where Perhentian Island Resort was located. Paula and I had previously been following the road at the back of the beach but without finding the road to the other side. Instead we found abandoned resorts, noisy generators and garbage fires! Inge and Tamas had been to Perhentian Kecil (the small island) and walked around in Coral Bay and Long Beach - although the beach at Long Beach had been really pretty, they said that it had mostly felt like a garbage dump! Anyway - we had a nice 30min walk through the jungle to PIR, where we found a very nice and clean beach. After a drink and a dip, we continued to the pier where we took the kids (incl. Inge) for a snorkel. Sofie was the most keen but got scared when she saw the bigger fish. Miklos on the other hand was more apprehensive in the beginning, but when he finally got in, there was no stopping him. He held on to me and later Tamas and made it out to the deep where the coral was alive and the fish plenty. Well done !

Inge hadn't done much snorkelling before this for two reasons - she hates the snorkelling mask and she is blind as a bat ! But she started to swim around in the shallow water and soon caught a glimpse of her first fish ! From there on she was hooked - I even got her out to the deeper water but I am not sure exactly what her experience was like .... she asked me if the purple thing just below her was garbage or what ? ... it wasn't - it was a beautiful clam. Prescription goggles, Inge - you don't know what you are missing!

Starting on the jungle trail

Monkey monkey ...

Safely (and sweaty) on the other side

After the first swim ... a fruit juice !

The beach with the jetty in the background

Beautiful snorkelling water for the kids

.... but Miklos was having none of that. in the beginning at least. Later it wasn't possible to get him out of the water. Claimed he had seen a shark and an octopus squirting ink !

The next day he definitely did see a shark - at least that time it was then confirmed by Tamas.

After the snorkel we went for a nice lunch at one of the many resorts in the area. This part of the island was a lot more crowded than where we stayed. Nice for selection of restaurants, but we still preferred "our" beach as it felt a lot less crowded.

Friday was our last day on the island and by then I was bestis friendis with Miklos and Sofie. There was no getting between us - not even auntie Paula had a chance, which is saying quite a lot, because Sofie just loooves auntie Paula! We got on a (dry) speed boat to Kuala Besut, had a forgettable lunch at the pier and then drove off to the airport. Tamas had hoped to see a bit of the local sights, but everything is closed on Fridays in this part of the country and even if it hadn't been ... I am not sure we would have lasted long in the heat anyway. In the fantastic (not) LCC Airport Terminal in Kuala Lumpur we said our goodbyes and Paula and I headed in to town while Inge + family were to stay at a hotel close to the airport and leave for Taiwan early next day.

Family photo

Small family photo

Uncle/auntie photo

Best friends !

I will have to work out harder in the gym if I am to keep this up !

Beach panorama

We had heard many good things about KL as most of our friends find the city quite agreeable. Our impression is somewhat mixed. There are many huge shopping malls, so Paula reckons that it resembles Singapore in some ways. it is definitely nice to be able to buy whatever your heart desires (especially because there are many things which are unavailable in Korea), but it feels very plastic. On the other hand, right next to the shopping malls you can find old Kuala Lumpur. It may just be a couple of houses where the owners have refused to sell out or it may be something like Chinatown. Charming ... not really, as it is quite dirty. I am not much for Asian cities (or cities full stop) and Paula couldn't really get to grips with the city either. We found a few nice places which we enjoyed - especially one street were the local restaurants invaded the tarmac at night to serve delicious food and drinks - but the city didn't get under our skin!

Mall galore in KL

Just plain madness !

It even had a huge indoor entertainment park

Petronas Towers

Didn't go up the towers. Apparently there's a limit to how many people they let up there and we weren't that keen.

Mmmm - durian ;-)

Night food frenzy !

We visited the Islamic museum and the national mosque on the Sunday before going to Central Market and Chinatown. Difficult to find bigger contrasts, I think! Compared to Chinatown, where we lived in Bukit Bintang was heaven (we lived on an old karaoke/nightclub street - just behind a huge mall). The central market was nice but basically just a tourist market. In the end we found ourselves doing the mall-thing for most of the weekend before heading back out to the LCC Terminal Sunday evening for our flight back to Korea.

From the Islamic Arts Museum - one of the better such museums due to the large amount of English information boards.

Paula the nun at the National Mosque

She looks funny, eh ?!?!?

Oh, and yes - heavy rain again !

So the summary is: A very good vacation with our family, beach, diving and Uno ! You can check Inge's blog for her take on the week - link in the menu to the left.