Hanging Out Like a Local in Hat Yai

The Kuan Yin shrine overlooking the Hat Yai metropolis
The Kuan Yin shrine overlooks the Hat Yai metropolis

Why Hat Yai? Is Hat Yai in Thailand’s Songkla province near the Malaysian border on anyone’s bucket list?

The 2006, 2007 and 2014 bombings are still evident in the strict security measures as you go into places like the Central Festival shopping centre. A shopping mecca and tourist magnet for Malaysians and Singaporeans, Hat Yai was at the end of our train trip from Bangkok. You can continue on the train south to Butterworth in Malaysia, but we had other plans.

Is Hat Yai in Thailand’s Songkla province on anyone's bucket list? Click To Tweet

Early morning arrival in Hat Yai

After the 16 hour overnight train trip from Bangkok we finally arrived in Hat Yai at 6 am. The tuk tuk drivers outside the train station were vying for our trade, offering ridiculously outrageous prices for the 20 minute ride to our hotel. We walked away after some good natured bargaining.

Then the tuk tuk drivers had a chat among themselves and decided on a designated driver to offer the ride for about a third of their original offer.

Would we be allowed to check in early? We weren’t ready to wander the streets, we were ready for some chill time in our rooms. The Smart Hotel had just opened and the front office people were still trying to figure out how everything worked. The upside was the hotel was almost empty and they were happy for us to move in early.

All the staff were very friendly and accommodating. Especially at first when we had to ask them for the kettle and coffee making stuff. Which I swear they collected from the other just-vacated rooms. I guess they were still deciding how many kettles they needed to buy.

After catching our breath with that welcome chill time in our lovely clean rooms, we were ready to tackle Hat Yai.

How to act like a local in Hat Yai

The Hat Yai Municipal Park is a kind of a playground for the locals. The swimming pools near the entrance were packed. We watched kids cavorting around in the water while we at ate pad thai from the food stalls.

After that we spent quality time at the top of the hill, exploring the two temples and riding the cable car.

Kuan Yin Shrine

There’s a bus to take you from the foot of the hill to the Kuan Yin Shrine with the tallest standing Buddha in southern Thailand overlooking the Hat Yai metropolis and surrounding area.

Lifelike wax monk
He looks real to me

Realistic wax likenesses sit casually in the foyer. At first I mistook the statues for real meditating monks, the wax figures are so lifelike.

 

Small cable car, huge views at the Hat Yai Municipal Park
Small cable car, huge views

 

 

I mistook the statues for real meditating monks, the wax figures are so lifelike. Click To Tweet

Cable car

The itty bitty cable car takes just two and a half minutes to cover the 525 meters from the Kuan Yin Shrine to the Elephant Temple or Four-Faced Brahma Shrine. But the views are spectacular all the way.

Elephants galore at the Four Faced Buddha Shrine, Hat Yai Municipal Park
Elephants galore

Four-Faced Brahma Shrine

There are golden elephants galore around this shrine. The Four-Faced Buddha simultaneously faces north, east, south and west. Surrounded by elephants of course.

We took the bus back down the hill, but kind of regretted we didn’t walk. By then we’d run out of time to check out the Science and Astronomy Centre about halfway down the hill.

Top Tips for Travellers

 

  1. Local buses are cheap saving you long walks and expensive taxi fares. There’s a regular local bus running along the main drag leading to the Municipal Park. Just hang with the locals at the bus stop, get on and off anywhere and pay the driver what the locals are paying. It felt like a donation system, sort of. Once we didn’t have any small notes but the driver smiled happily when we piled out all our pocket change into his hand.
  2. Choose the most recently opened hotels for your stay. You’ll get a clean room with a modern TV, aircon that works and toilets that flush reliably (you hope). For the same price the older hotels can be dirty and smelly, with last century televisions and equipment that doesn’t work as well as it did in the eighties.
  3. The locals are infamous for their habit of hiking prices up for tourists. Take note of what the locals pay for their bowl of tom yum while you’re savouring yours, then simply offer the same amount when you go to pay. This worked for us some of the time. But keep your first world wallet in perspective: the difference is probably petty cash in your currency.

 

Related

Slow Train from the City of Angels to the Southern Border

Eat, Shop, Play Pool

 

 

 

Slow Train from the City of Angels to the Southern Border

Our train ready to leave Bangkok Train Station
Getting ready to leave Hua Lamphon (Bangkok Train Station)

Bangkok Train Station to Hat Yai

After our stay in HCMC we flew to Bangkok. The other captain and I hadn’t been to Thailand in a while. I’d forgotten how exotic and friendly the Thais are. And how much I love their green curries. The other captain’s brother, an overseas travel virgin, was beginning to get the hang of SE Asian travel.

The plan was to check out the great city then take the overnight train from Bangkok to the southern border town of Hat Yai.

The city of angels

Bangkok is just the name people who don’t come from Thailand call this gritty city. Bangkok translates as “village of wild plums”. Not exactly sexy. Whereas Krung Thep (กรุงเทพ), as the Thais call it, means “city of angels”. The full name translates as:

The city of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city (of Ayutthaya) of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarn.

I didn’t see any angels in the happy city. But I had fun chatting with some beautiful girls on Soi Cowboy when the other captain’s brother asked us to show him the bright lights.

Waterfront homes with gardens floating past
Waterfront homes with gardens floating past

River Cruise

One of the highlights of our stay was a river cruise. With a 150 baht ticket (about six Aussie dollars) you can get off and on Chao Phraya Tourist Boat  as often as you like at the eight piers along the route. You can stop to check out cathedrals, temples, museums, markets and the Grand Palace.

z-bangkok-temple

Along the river five star hotels stand next to falling apart local dwellings. Longtail boats fly past. Barges laden down to their water level lumber by. Islands of plants float past.

Along Bangkok's Chao Phraya River five star hotels stand next to falling apart local dwellings. Click To Tweet

Skytrain

We stayed in Sukhumvit, right on the Skytrain (Bangkok Mass Transit System or BTS) route, making it easy (and cheap) to get around. Our stop was On Nut, which was simple enough to remember. Our first destination was often Asok, which sounds like asshole when announced over the train PA system. Just so you know.

Slow train from Bangkok to Hat Yai

The slow train from Bangkok central to Hat Yai is a 16 hour trip, leaving at around 2pm.  A sleeper ticket is 1300 baht (1100 for the top bunk). It’s no secret I love train travel. We had no trouble getting our ticket at Bangkok Train Station for the next day. In fact our train was about 70% empty. Our party of three had a pair of two-berth cabins with a connecting door, and one empty berth.

The cabins are clean, simple and comfortable. You can have a delicious dinner set for 170 baht. I had the green chicken curry with jasmine rice, tom yum soup, fruit juice and fresh fruit platter. Yum!

I took this trip by myself when we first bought Yana de Lys.  I’d been to Pattaya to meet the previous owners and collect some boat stuff they were storing. I shared my cabin with a mountain of gear, including a brand new sail belonging to Yana.

Before the train even left Bangkok Train Station the steward had asked me if I fancy a beer for the trip. At the time I thought, “Sure a couple of cans of Chang might be nice for sunset”. Next thing I knew my basin was filled with ice and two king browns. Did I look like I was dying of thirst?

Bangkok Train Station encourages you to leave you booze here.
Bangkok Train Station encourages you to leave you booze here. So why are the bottles empty?

Well it’s different now. Technically you’re not supposed to drink on the train, but we were subtle about it and the staff didn’t seem to care anyway. (There are no smoking signs but the conductors have a puff at the end of the train.)

So if you fancy a beer for the journey it’s a good idea to stock up before you leave. And if you like em cold you can buy some ice from the convenience store at the train station.

Hat Yai

Around 6:00 the next morning we arrived in the… er exciting town of Hat Yai. I’ll tell you about it in my next blog. When I get around to it. (Slow travel = slow blog writing.)

Top Tips for Travellers

  1. Taxis can be very exxy in Bangkok, especially if you get stuck in the endless and frequent traffic jams. Take the Skytrain if you can.
  2. You can only buy alcohol in supermarkets and convenience stores from 1100-1400 and 1700-2400. It seems like a weird law, and some smaller shops may not enforce the rules. Try just acting like a dumb farang if you get the times wrong and you might be okay.
  3. If you’re planning on visiting any temples make sure you wear (or bring) clothes that cover your shoulders and knees and ideally your ankles too.

Related

35 Hours on a Train

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Seven (More) Days in Saigon

Vietnam veterans

I fell in love with the Nam the first time I was there.

For our second visit to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam we’d been given the use of our friend Mr Lee’s apartment and driver. As it turned out, our driver didn’t speak English but came with an interpreter, the delightful sales manager from our generous friend’s business.

We were travelling with the other captain’s brother, a veteran of the war (sort of, I’ll explain later).

The splendid roof top garden at our borrowed apartment, Saigon Vietnam
The splendid roof top garden at our borrowed apartment

The apartment

Waiting for our driver, Saigon Vietnam
Waiting for our driver

The apartment was a mansion. Twenty rooms, four storeys, a lift. Designed to be a hotel originally. Complete with a live in houseman to open the Fort Knox gates.

We only spent a few hours in our splendid apartment before we were whisked off on an adventure. Our driver and intrepid interpreter took us to a meeting at Long An  University, where we met up with Mr Lee’s brother and friends for a road trip.

Road trip Day 1

Heading for Ban Tre we had a few stops. For food and drink of course.

First, a feast of lẩu nấm (I think), the Viet version of steamboat, by the side of the road. It’s no secret local food ordered by locals is better.

Is too much coconut water bad for you in Saigon Vietnam
Is too much coconut water bad for you?

Next a leisurely stop over at one of our road trip team’s family coconut farm. As I was offered and guzzled freshly opened coconut after freshly opened coconut to drink, I wondered if too much can be bad for you?

On Day 2 we set off for a day of exploring. Well we were actually just visiting one of our road trip team’s parents.

Three fat pigs, two lively goats

We trundled down the skinniest road with lush jungle on either side. Occasionally having to pull over so motorbikes could get past. One guy had three fat pigs in a basket, another had two lively looking black and white goats on board. The biggest load I saw was a motorbike towing a trailer carrying enough reinforced steel to build a small house.

One guy had three fat pigs in a basket, another had two lively looking black and white goats on… Click To Tweet

End of the road

Ferry barge, Saigon Vietnam
Ferry barge

The road ended at a Mekong river tributary.  A small barge ferry, big enough for motorbikes, people and small livestock, arrived shortly after we’d parked at the impasse.

We walked through tiny local markets, and tall shady trees on streets only wide enough for motos and pedestrians. To our friend’s parents place deep in the jungle.

Jungle hideout deep in the burbs

Cooking lesson Saigon Vietnam
Cooking lesson

Over the long lazy afternoon we had a karaoke session (I watched), drank more fresh coconut water (I had stopped worrying about the dangers of overdosing), cooked (mum let me cook two banh xeo pancakes), and ate the most delicious spread of local dishes. Over fascinating conversations.

Stories of the war

The locals call it the American War. The other captain’s brother was in despatch in the Australian army as a teenager, flying over Vietnam but never landing. (So not technically a vet.)

The more I learn about the Vietnam War (the one going on when I was growing up in Australia), the more I feel it was such a tragic waste of lives and everything else that got blown up. Yet I have never felt Vietnamese people I’ve encountered to be resentful.

The Vietnam War was such a tragic waste of lives and everything else that got blown up Click To Tweet

One of my road trip friends told us how he fled his village with seven on the moto, including his mum and dad, sister and kids. Ten years later when interviewing locals with an American journalist, the journo remarked he was surprised the people who’d been locked up in prison in appalling conditions were so happy. The reason: they were simply happy to be free.

HCMC take 3?

Backstreets pho, Saigon Vietnam
Backstreets pho. Yum

At the end of Day 2 we were deposited safely back at our borrowed apartment in Saigon Vietnam.  We spent a week wandering around dodging the legendary motorbike traffic and taste testing the backstreets Pho.

I wonder if I’ll get a third chance to visit HCMC? I’d love to sail there one day…

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35 Hours on a Train

Taken for a Ride by a Taxi Driver in Hanoi

A Lament for Vietnam

Eat, Shop, Play Pool

Shopping frenzy on Batam Island
Shopping frenzy on Batam Island

Big day out on Batam

Batam Island, Indonesia, is a quick ferry ride from Johor Bahru, Malaysia (or Singapore, Singapore. I’ve done it both ways. Read on and I’ll explain).

When my friends Helen, Tiya and Tina suggested a ladies only day trip to Batam Island I said yes in less than a nanosecond, cashed a few ringgits in for rupiah and slipped my passport into my backpack.

Eat, shop, spa

Of course the first thing we did when the ferry landed was eat scrumptious Indonesian food. As you do.

Tina, a native Indonesian, and Helen who comes from Sarawak, Malaysia were our expert menu guides, vastly expanding Tyia’s and my EQ (Eating Intelligence).

Then we jumped into a taxi and hightailed our way to a spa for a tough love $20 two hour massage. As my masseur settled me in to my cubicle she made a point of showing me the sign saying turn your phone off and keep quiet. Yep I was ready to relax.

Another customer arrived with a young kid who spent the whole time sharing the sound of cartoons in Mandarin at peak volume. Maybe her mum’s masseur forgot to point the silence rules out to her.

Feeling suitably relaxed and rejuvenated we began the real business of the day: shopping.

Designer handbags cost about $20 on Batam Island but you're encouraged to bargain
Designer handbags cost about $20 on Batam but that’s the starting price. You’re encouraged to bargain.

Shopping lessons

Shopping is the number one most popular activity on Batam Island. Designer handbags are the number one most popular shopping item. I learned a lot about the arcane art of buying fake designer goods.

I learned a lot about the arcane art of buying fake designer goods on Batam. Click To Tweet

Did you know there are different grades of elite brand ripoffs? By holding up their real deal designer purses next to the fakes, my friends taught me how to look for dodgy stitching and recognise the special texture of quality leather. An enlightening show and tell.

Have you seen my horn?

Batam’s got traffic.

The motorbikes carrying families with newborns, kids with (designer?) sunglasses but no helmets, chickens and televisions compete with the speeding cars to get to just go crazy fast. At times I needed to close my eyes there were so many near misses.

One of our taxi drivers had a secret weapon – a police siren. Whenever we seemed to be slowing down because of the traffic ahead he’d press the button and whelp whelp the cars all round would make way for us. Our taxi was filled with constant laughter.

Our driver explained he’d borrowed the horn from his brother, a policemen.  When his bro asked if he’d seen his horn, he just feigned innocence. More rounds of mirth.

We saw cops riding two to a motorbike, impeccably groomed in their flak jackets with huge guns visible.

Three countries in one day

After shopping until almost dropping we headed back to the ferry terminal to catch the last ferry back to JB. Which had just left the harbour. Oopsie. The ticket seller at Stulang Laut, JB had given us a bum steer.

So we took the next ferry to Singapore and a taxi from there to JB, Malaysia, arriving home in Senibong Cove close to midnight, just before our carriage turned into a pumpkin.  I’d never been to three countries in one day before.

I'd never been to three countries in one day before. Click To Tweet

Stay a little bit longer

When the other captain returned from a three and a half month sentence working in Australia he was little bit jealous of the new stamp in my passport. Easily fixed. We headed off to Batam Island for a few days together with me as the newly ordained expert tour guide.

The first thing we did after eating delicious Indo street food, watching a few cooking shows and slothing around in our room for a bit was head out in search of the famous raucous Batam Island night life in the Nagoya Entertainment District (NED) .

How to have more fun on Batam Island

Foreplay Bar, Batam Island. Batam's Got Talent?
Foreplay Bar. Batam’s Got Talent?

Living in Permas Jaya, in JB Malaysia is all good but you don’t get to see live bands too often. Having fun in Permas Jaya means staying up late and going to karaoke bars for the buckets of beer specials after 11pm. Pass.

Of course we got lost on the way to the NED. I swear we walked past hundreds of fake designer handbag shops. I guess there are only dozens and we were walking in circles.

Eventually we stumbled on the NED. Working girls on the streets and bars called Lusy’s Oarhouse, Chillis, Secrets and Foreplay were dead giveaways.

I admit I am perennially cynical about SE Asian cover bands. My long held belief they all play bad Rolling Stones covers wasn’t shattered.

 

Didn’t stop me having fun though, not even slightly.

Freeball Rules

I hadn’t played pool in years. I was rusty as hell. And the working girls spend a lot of time polishing their skills. The bar girls I played against were incredibly generous players, coaching me on my tactics and shots and only winning half the games.

Freeball rules were new to me. If your opponent sinks the white ball, you get to place it (strategically) wherever you want. That kind of behaviour in an Australian pub would lead to an instant brawl.

Meanwhile another of the scantily dressed ladies in high heels was chatting the other captain up, offering to buy him a beer and trying to race him off. It didn’t phase her when the other captain told her was out with his wife of 29 years.

Olfactory tourist attractions

Stinky drains on Batam Island.
We crossed this stinky open drain walking to breakfast. I almost lost my appetite.

We spent lots of time just wandering. The smells were occasionally overwhelming, from the fantastic outdoor food market wok fry ups to the award winningly stinky drains snaking through the backstreets.

When we stopped for a bite to eat with some friendly locals,  I found I was the tourist attraction. Our new friend said he wished he had a big nose like mine. I have always thought my snozz was was normal sized. And my blue eyes. My eyes are brown. He said he’d only ever seen people like me on TV, never actually spoken with one. Is this real life Reality TV or what?

Is my nose really big? Selfie from the Formosa Hotel, Batam Island with the window open. It was less smelly but more noisy.
Is my nose really big? Selfie from the Formosa Hotel. It was less smelly inside with the window open but the construction noise was deafening.
View from my room at the Formosa Hotel, Batam Island.
View from my room at the Formosa Hotel. I imagine the joint was pretty swank in it’s glory days. Now it’s ponky and noisy. But comfortable.

One hotel where we stayed had a choking mouldy smell, especially when we turned on the air con. It was stinking hot. And our room overlooked a construction site so if the window was open we couldn’t hear ourselves think with the overpowering sounds of construction. Great location though, right in the NED.

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Oh BTW. In case it’s not obvious my content isn’t sponsored. You can sponsor my post yourself by clicking as many of those Share Buttons as you like though!

 

 

Road Trip to Malacca: Flat Tyres, Food and Fun.

Our first delay on the way to the city of Malacca, Malaysia
Our first delay on the way to the city of Malacca, Malaysia

 

Malacca, Malaysia is charming, fun and delicious.

When we sailed past last year, we didn’t stop because there were no good anchorages.  It’s been burning a hole in our bucket list since then.

So we decided to ride the Yarley there.

Flat tyres

I guess 125cc Yamaha scooters aren’t made for 300+ km road trips for driver, pillion passenger, two wine bottles of spare fuel and two backpacks.

Why?  Because we had our first flat tyre about 50km down the road.   We had to roll our bike 5km, hot and sweaty and constantly asking myself “are we nearly there yet?” to have the tyre replaced.

(It was trashed.)  Later we learnt you can use the help phones on the side of the motorway.  Don’t you love hindsight?

We had the second flat tyre on our way home.  Apparently the new tyre was made in Malaysia, not destined to last.

I tried using the motorway help phone.  I was wondering what to do next after five minutes of listening to “Please hold the line” when a kind truck driver stopped.  He offered to take us and our moto to the next town to have the tyre replaced.  With a tyre made in Vietnam.  RM5 cheaper but better quality, so we’re told.

Eat, drink, pray and visit museums in Malacca, Malaysia

Tandoori ovens in Malacca Malaysia
The tandoori ovens running hot

Naan makers in Malacca Malaysia
Naan makers are kept busy

The food in Malacca is fabulous.  The tandoori chicken and naan bread at Pak Putra is sensational.

The Portuguese chicken dish at Eleven Bistro was delicious.

Also I discovered why everyone raves about Malacca’s famous chicken rice balls and steamed chicken. Yum.

Buying wine was a bit tricky, but we managed.  On the first night we found a supermarket selling reasonably priced red wine as we headed out to dinner.  It was okay so on our way back to our hotel we decided to get a second bottle.  The checkout chick in headscarf, asked me if I had finished the first bottle already.  “No no this one is for tomorrow” I said.  Headscarf smiled.

Malacca’s long history is visible in the variety of places of worship from a Catholic church to a temple sponsored by Guinness and Tiger beer.  Well that’s what it looked like anyway.  The columns featured advertising for both beverages.

Maritime Museum, Malacca Malaysia
Maritime Museum

There are more museums than you can poke a stick at.  Wikipedia lists 38.  We visited two.  The Maritime Museum, housed in a replica of the Portugues Flor de la Mar, a 400 ton nau or carrack (sailing vessel) from the 16th century.

And St Paul’s Hill.  A ruined church with a spectacular view.  Famous for being the temporary resting place for St Francis Xavier’s body enroute to India.

There are churches, mosques and temples everywhere.

A trifecta of temples

Jalan Tokong, AKA Harmony Street, features three temples and a mosque.  You can get your multicultural spiritual fix in one short walk.

The Cheng Hoon Teng Temple, Malacca Malaysia
The Cheng Hoon Teng Temple,

The Cheng Hoon Teng Temple is the oldest functioning temple in Malaysia. Another trifecta here: It’s for devotees of the Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism.
Sri Poyyatha Vinayagar Moorthi Temple is the oldest Hindu temple in Malaysia.

The architecture of the Kampung Kling Mosque is a combination of Sumatran, Chinese, Hindu and Malay styles.

I lit incense in the Xiang Lin Si Temple which is run by Buddhist nuns.

The river at night, Malacca Malaysia
The river at night. Guess what? There’s a church in the background.

On the Sunday I had planned to go to mass at the historic St. Francis Xavier Church.  I have very catholic spiritual tastes and admit I am more lapsed than Catholic.

 

Wet wet wet: flooding in Malacca Malaysia
Wet wet wet
 It was bucketing rain.  The streets were flooded.  So I borrowed an umbrella from the hotel and had a cappuccino and croissant just round the corner instead.  Divine.  So good it was almost a religious  experience.

 

It was lucky the deluge ended before we headed home.  Another flat tyre in the pouring rain might not have been much fun.

Related

Have you visited Malacca Malaysia?  What were your impressions?  Or maybe you have suggestions for other places worth visiting?  And BTW if you enjoy reading my travel stories I would love you to share my blog!

Johor Who? Three Things I love About This Dirty Old Town

Johor Bahru, the capital city of the state of Johor Malaysia isn’t exactly a popular tourist mecca.  Most travelers pass through on their way from Singapore, just over the causeway (more on that later), to Kuala Lumpur and beyond.

Tourist attractions in Johor Malaysia?

There aren’t many tourist attractions.  In fact sometimes I feel like the tourist attraction, riding around three on my motorbike with my sister and eight year old niece.

A lot of money changes hands on horse racing nights in Jalan Meldrum in Johor Malaysia
A lot of money changes hands

Three things I love about Johor Bahru

Here are just three things I love about JB in the state of Johor Malaysia:

  1. Race nights in Jalan Meldrum.  We refer to this street fondly as Jalan Molly Meldrum.  If you are mystified by this reference do yourself a favour and Google this much loved Aussie icon.

When the horse races are on in KL and Singapore the street is alive with bookies, gamblers, runners and onlookers.  No-one gets to see the races but a lot of money changes hands.

The locals are incredibly welcoming and friendly. When one of the punters was talking to me I mentioned the other captain used to be a jockey.  Somehow this has become legend and he is known as a world famous jockey there.

Better still, since he won a couple of bets one evening they figure he’s an internationally successful gambler and ask him for his tips.

The bling is almost blinding in the glass temple, in Johor Malaysia
The bling is almost blinding in the glass temple

2. The Arulmigu Sri Rajakaliamman Glass Temple.  All Bollywood bling.

One evening I attended a puja (prayer ritual) involving countless trays of chopped vegetables and stuff being thrown into a ceremonial fire, interspersed with bundles of wood and oil poured onto the fire to the soundtrack of chanting and drum beating.

At one point the priest’s pyromaniac skills slipped and the whole temple was engulfed in smoke.  I could hardly breathe but it was incredibly atmospheric.

We call this restaurant in Little India in Johor Malaysia the Giant Duck.
We call this restaurant in Little India the Giant Duck.

 3. Food glorious food.  There is endless variety, and the local food is not expensive. My absolute favourites include roast duck, and crispy pork and Sup Kambing (conveniently supplied with straws to suck out the marrow).

Bone sucking. The food in Johor Malaysia is sensational.
Bone sucking

Since the Danga Bay Marina was closing we have moved our yacht Yana de Lys to the Senibong Cove Marina near Permas Jaya.

A causeway is a road not a bridge

I’d done a quick Navionics electronic navigation calculation on my phone while I was eating lunch one day.

Despite not having signed up to be a solo sailor, I figured I could sail the ten or twelve miles on my own.  I know I’m not the first and certainly won’t be the last person to make this dumb mistake.  I wondered why there was no Air Height shown on the chart for the bridge to Singapore.  Doh!  That’s why its called a causeway – it’s basically a road not a bridge.

I called the other captain back from Australia for the 90 mile circumnavigation of Singapore. Meanwhile I get to enjoy eating and exploring this dirty old town of Johor Malaysia.

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I Heart Georgetown

Visit Penang to discover the funky art and beer joints.
Georgetown is full of funky art and beer joints.

Who needs a reason to visit Penang?

Living in Phuket, we often heard the expats talking about visa runs. Because typically you only get a 30 day visa on arrival in Thailand. We stayed two years (mainly fixing Yana de Lys). Which meant we decided to visit Penang in Malaysia a few times so we could sort out extended visas with the embassy there.
I fell in love with Georgetown, the main city. I’d never miss an opportunity to go back. Click To Tweet

Two days in Georgetown

Our last visit to Penang was just a two day visa run.  But it was sublime, totally reaffirming my love of Georgetown.  We stayed at the Chulia Heritage on (duh!) Chulia Street.  And yes we ate at the Red Garden Food Paradise.  But shock horror tears we found the Famous Crispy Duck stall closed!  For Ramadan?  No doubt it was the quietest we had ever seen Georgetown.  It was kinda weird the way the chaos level of the traffic was so subdued…

Tickets to the Blue Mansion

I decided we would take a look at the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion  after walking past it so many times on our visits to the Red Garden.   I’d heard you have to book in advance so headed off on our first morning to organise tickets while the other captain did some serious TV time in the room.  As it happened we didn’t need to book ahead.  I ended up with some time up my sleeve before our lunch date so wandered around Muntri Street and Love Lane checking out some of the cool art galleries and old buildings.

Check out the Hainan Temple when you visit Penang.
Are they dragons on the roof ? Or is it the patron saint of sailors at the Hainan Temple?

Spiritual leanings

I also snuck in a temple visit, spending some velvet devotional time in the Hainan Temple.  (The other captain runs a mile when I mention temples.) The building just looked so exquisite from the outside I had to go in.

The Hainan Temple looked so exquisite from the outside I had to go inside. Click To Tweet

I lit a candle for my beautiful lost wild child – a Catholic ritual in a Chinese temple.  (I definitely have catholic tastes when it comes to spirituality and religion.)  Later I read in the Lonely Planet the temple’s patron saint is the patron saint of seafarers.  No wonder I felt drawn.

Our first guided tour. Ever.

Anyway for the first time in our travelling careers, we took a guided tour.  Well, it is the only way to see inside the Cheong Fatt Tze AKA the Blue Mansion.

Our tour guide was excellent, an expert at engaging her audience of some 37 people.  She told great stories about the family who built and lived in the mansion, including the original owner’s (favourite) wife number seven.  Our guide’s depth of understanding of Chinese culture as well as the architecture, intrinsically linked with Feng Shui, was fascinating.

Visit Penang to see how the Kongsi Clan Temple is as georgeous on the inside as out.
More dragons. Maybe the next Game of Thrones will be filmed here? The Kongsi Clan Temple is as georgeous on the inside as out.

Kongsi Clan Temple

The next morning I felt inspired to continue the theme with a visit to the Cheah Kongsi Clan Temple. The other captain was out buying electrical wire for Yana de Lys God bless him.
I was amazed at how the stuff I learnt in the Blue Mansion tour helped me understand and interpret what was going on with the design and history of this gorgeous building.   Without a tour guide heh heh.

Found in translation

By the end of our Penang visit I had almost been able to dredge up and appropriately use the Malaysian language I’d learned in my on and off two years in Langkawi.  It’s all about the menus.  Roti Canai.  Yes! Mango Lassi.  Yes!  (I hadn’t found my Malaysian breakfast favourites in Phuket.  Well not in the English alphabet or picture menus anyway.)
Then we were back in Phuket International Airport with our three month- convertible into six-month visas. (I know it’s complicated. Let’s not go there.) I had to switch back to my basic basic basic Thai.

How do people know how to speak multiple languages without getting confused?

Related

Road Trip to Malacca

Travelling backwards in time to Myanmar

Georgetown Attractions

 

Farangs in Phuket

 

Farang is what the locals call foreigners.  I think it’s a neutral term, unless it’s being applied to foreigners behaving badly. (Heaven forbid – we’re their guests here!)
It sure is strange and challenging living in a country where they not only speak a different language but use a completely different alphabet. Where the statues at the Buddhist temples carry machine guns.  Where road rules are merely guidelines. (I swear a red light means “proceed with caution”).  Where false advertising is as common as noodles and rice.
Speaking of rice and noodles I love the food here, despite the process of ordering being an entirely hit and miss affair.  The non farang menus are simply indecipherable – sometimes it’s just a case of pointing at what someone else is eating and saying I’ll have one of those.
At our favourite barbeque place over the road here from Boat Lagoon, the waiter very proudly showed me their new “English language” menu the other night. I reckon Google Translate has a lot to answer for. Here are a couple of examples of dishes on offer:

·         Pork falls a morter
·         Papaya penetrate the free and crab
·         Grilled the cow’s milk

I assume they’re machine translations, but I guess I’ll just have to get the guts to order them to find out what they really are.  For now I’m just going to stick with pointing at the delicious looking food they have displayed.

Meanwhile the Yana de Lys deck replacement is going ahead at a rapid pace.  We have stripped the old teak off, and have a small team of locals sanding the old surface ready for the new paint and non slip.

 

 

Boat Lagoon is a fantastic place to get work done.  I still can’t get over the lack of water in the marina though.   Before we moved Yana onto the hard stand we spent at least half of our time with 0.0 meters reading on the depth sounder.  We were literally parked in the mud.  And then the hard stand and the board walks flood at spring high tides.  Bizarre.

 

 

Floating my boat

We left Australia in March after replenishing the anorexic bank accounts and returned to Langwaki where we lived in a room above our favourite lunch spot, the Watergarden Hawkers Centre and finished some work on Yana de Lys on the hard stand.

And finally relaunched with brand new standing rigging, clear see through windows, freshly painted topsides, a lot less leaks, new engine mounts, LED light tricolour and anchor light and a myriad more improvements.  Still a lot to do, but at least she’s floating again.

 

 

The plan is to sail to Phuket and finish Yana so we can focus on cruising after that.

It’s been fun living in Kuah. Our room came with one TV station – A National Geographic channel which seemed to have The Dog Whisperer on a continual loop.  I saw a Bollywood movie shoot, and one car crash out the window .  No one was hurt in the crash, just a bit of mangled metal and lot of walking around in circles by both parties.  And occasionally I heard all the taxi drivers over the road shouting.  That meant another tourist was driving the wrong way up the one way street.

I treated myself to an Ayurvedic massage in Pentai Cenang  at one point.  The Njaravkizhi treatment was described as a relaxing massage in the brochure, but I did find it a bit hard to relax while I was being bashed by bags of hot rice.

We took the ferry to Penang for three days so we could get our extended Thai visas.  I love Penang.  The food at the Red Garden is sensational.  We ate there every night, even though we tried to talk ourselves into trying somewhere else.

We lost track of how many times we got lost shopping for items for Yana de Lys which weren’t available in Langkawi.  On the third day we decided to play tourists and hire a scooter to check out the Funicular rail at Penang Hill.  It feels like you’re going up vertically. And when you get to the top the views are sensational.  I felt like I could see all of Malaysia, while we drank the most expensive beer of our whole trip.

Meanwhile back in Langkawi we loaded Yana with provisions in readiness for our our trip to Phuket.