Sunday, 29 March 2015

Roadtrippin' Langkawi

Langkawi is an archipelago of 104 islands right at the north of Malaysia, near the Thai border. (I only now found out it is officially 104 and not one island, but we spent most of the time on the mainlandy island.) It means island of the reddish-brown eagle and it was traditionally thought to be cursed. It has a population of 99,000 and the total land mass is nearly 48,000 hectares and there you have enough of them tedious wikipedia facts. (No, they're not actually tedious.)

A taster
Our first full day in Langkawi, we teamed up with G from the Philippines and DK from the US to go roadtripping around the island. The main attractions were a) the cable car (for me), b) the beach (for Patricia), c) waterfalls and d) the night market.

Patricia and I had looked into renting motorbikes the previous night, but when we came back in the morning the motorbike renter did not have any bikes left. I found another place to rent while Patricia decided she'd rather passenger it, and rode with DK. I got my bike (a Honda automatic), rode it to the guesthouse and soon we were ready to go.

But my bike wouldn't start. I swear the renter lady showed me how to start it – press the button and accelerate/brake at the same time. No. Patricia, who has an automatic back in Ho Chi Minh City, tried. No. Then DK. Then two random girls who rode up on their bike. No. By this time they were attempting to kickstart my bike – something that seemed purely ridiculous since the renter lady had started my motorbike so easily five minutes previous. And still, no.

Our guesthouse owner rocked up. I'm still not completely sure how I felt about him and his sarcastic, dry and very blunt ways – highly entertaining or annoying? Anyways, he joined the six of us around my bike, with an amused smirk on his face.

“Can you help?” we asked.

He didn't even bother replying. He got on my bike, turned to us and said it starts only if you sing a song. Yeah, ha ha, whatever, just wait till you see it_doesn't_actually_start, I thought bitterly.

DK, however, obliged with a short burst of song, and suddenly my motorbike's engine was on. I was dumbfounded.

I had him show me how you do it – ridiculously simple. You press the button, press the brake. Though, obviously, I had to sing before each time I turned it on. I didn't mind now – my bike worked :D So off we went...

I LOVED biking. It was an interesting mix between the unreal obstacle-filled computer gameish reality of biking around the streets of Vietnam, and the 'real' roads of Europe with well-behaved cars that actually kept to their lanes and drove at a vaguely sensible speed. It was quite cute actually.

The BEST moment of maybe even the whole holiday (and I think I did say it had joined the top 10 moments of MY LIFE) was biking down this long, emptyish wide road, sun blazing on us, and next to us, or at least only very slightly behind us, was the airport runway. So, we were riding onwards, and suddenly there was this aeroplane flying basically straight towards us, low-flying aeroplane SO COOL I really must add low-flying aircraft to my list of interests on my blog description...
Some minutes after the aeroplane moment
First stop was the Cable Car. DK and Patricia left us for the beach, and G and I went to queue for the Cable Car queue. A long, long, long queue like Malaysia specialises in. After a few minutes of non-moving queue, and precious time ticking away (we had arranged to meet the others in about two hours, and since none of us had internet or Malaysian numbers, we could not miss the meeting time), we both got tempted a bit more by the offer of the 'Express Lane' – 50 extra Ringgits (I think) and you can skip all queues... It seemed a ridiculous amount of money (well, like 10-15 euros, but that is A LOT) but after some umming and arring we switched to the Express Lane queue – I mean, there was also a queue for the queueless option, that's how bad it was.
Qs Qs Qs
While G stood waiting in queue I decided that my need for a selfie stick was imminent and so I went to rush around the mini tourist village they had in the proximity of the Cable Car, finally finding a cool purple selfiestick for 14 Ringgits. 

Practising the selfie stick's usage. Still not mastered it.
And then we were off, in a 'Glass Bottom Gondola', up into the skies.

At the first landing

One of the things Langkawi is most famous for is its Sky Bridge. Which, according to wikipedia “remains closed in December 2014”. And when I googled it a few days beforehand, there was no information on it being open, so I was not hopeful.

But what is this!!

Therefore I was pretty overjoyed when it turned out you could get onto the Sky Bridge. Not most of it, granted, but we got a good 200m stretch of, well, walking down a bridge in the skies. At the end of the bridge there was a big sign basically saying closed, with a few workmen in orange security vests hanging about on the other side. 

They were all smiley at us, so I felt comfortable seeing if I could get a photo of them – sure thing I could, except they put on their definite miseriousable (see which two words I mixed there, see, see) faces on for the photo.

Life on the Sky Bridge is hard
Getting to and from the Sky Bridge was the main adventure – millions and millions of steps, it seemed there were many on the way there and ten times the amount on the way back. Not for the vaguely unfit/old...

"Survival" I think describes the steps to and fro, not the sky bridge itself...
Then we headed back down and I had a very refreshing sun-strikken nap on a few chairs at a café while waiting for DK and Patricia to return. Then it was off to the next stop.

Waterfalls. As I said, I really enjoyed biking, so I was in no way annoyed, quite the contrary actually, when it took us a while to a) find waterfalls and b) find a set of waterfalls with water actually in them. (Since it wasn't the rainy season.)

The set we found were called the Durian waterfalls (Durian being the smelly fruit notorious for its stench. I still, however, haven't discovered the stench of the Durian.) and they were not stinky at all.
The surroundings

The swimmy bit
Apparently Waterfalls are the Mytäjäinen-equivalent of Langkawi/Malaysia/South-East Asia. Mytäjäinen is a tiny lake near my house back in Finland, which has a diving area and a three-levelled diving board thing – one metre, three metres or five metres. As a teenager, my brother would spend all his summers there with the fellow teens, playing various water games, involving throwing a ball at each other and, most importantly, doing crazy jumps. So, Durian Waterfall seemed like the kind of place my brother would've hung out if he'd spent his teen years in Langkawi – not that there was a diving area, but I think you'd get the equivalent thrill from trying to balance on the rock directly beneath the waterfall. Let me tell you, it looks FAR easier than it is.

Unfortunately, I don't actually have pics of standing underneath it. But this is one of my fave photos there are.
A fun time in any case :)
Next we managed to find the evening market, where we sampled various foods for tea. 

Many colourful foods

Something sweet

Something squiddy

Something coconutty

Then we headed back to the guesthouse, trying to beat darkness, failing at it but only just.

An epic day, discovering my very first paradise island :D

Waterfall swimming, tick.
Skybridge, tick.
Selfie stick, tick.




Thursday, 19 March 2015

KL monkeys and KL towers


So, Kuala Lumpur, or as DA LOCALS say, KL, was definitely an amazing city and a very cool experience. But so what must one do? Well, if one has only two days, as we did, I will tell you...

  • - Visit the Batu Caves. A quick twenty-minute train ride from our local train station (finding that train station is another story then... and trying to find our way back to the hotel when getting back, after taking a different exit, is an even further other story...).

Around the train station thingy
Anyways, didn't know much about the Batu Caves beforehand except that apparently they are visitworthy if in KL. Now my good friend wikipedia is informing me that it is one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside of India, and is dedicated to Lord Murugan, the Hindu god of war. 

Upon arrival
The Batu Caves are a set of caves (surprisingly) at the top of about a million steps, which I think was the best part. The steps were numerous and monkeyful, and them monkeys were definitely some posers! They were also nicer than the Thai monkeys, though I got my water bottle stolen off these Malay monkeys as well - I was videoing a (friendly) monkey fight when suddenly, out of the blue, another monkey had jumped up on me and stolen my bottle. This time luckily I was with a Water Bottle Saviour aka D who managed to get it off the monkeys. Thai Monkeys 1 - o Malaysian Monkeys hehe.
The golden guardian of The Steps
The monkey version of a coconut commercial 
This monkey moved with the tourists, just so he could maximise his photo posing opportunities
They were also generally friendlier (or at least less intimidating) than Thai monkeys 
The caves at the top were not the most magnificent, but on the other hand if we had had time to do the caves that required money payment and a tour, maybe my impression would be different. Completely worth it for the stairs and monkeys though. 
Caves (the less cool ones)
Just in case you felt tempted...
The probably awesome caves we unfortunately didn't have the time to visit
I am a statue
  • Find the Petronas Towers. We took the metro to the Petronas Towers, got out, and spent probably about twenty minutes following sign posts towards the Towers, it took ages. Then, when we finally found an exit, we didn't see the Towers anywhere. Strange! Until we suddenly realised we had just exited the towers...
And a bit later
Cool photos were taken and happy moments experienced. 
  • - Climb the KL Tower. 

I originally wanted to climb the Petronas, but further research changed my mind – firstly, Petronas are obviously the most popular and it appeared they needed proper booking in advance. And secondly, it's as they say with the Eiffel Tower, the main con is that you can't see the Eiffel Tower whilst on the Eiffel Tower! So, cool to see the Petronas from some other cool view point...

And I very much recommend the KL Tower. I followed our guesthouse's instructions to get there by metro/train/whatever it is there, followed walking signposts from there and finally got to the top of the mini hill upon which rested the KL Tower. My guesthouse people had neglected to tell me of the free shuttle bus that picks people up from the bottom of the hill, so I was nice and sweaty and dying to start off with.
The station to get off at

KL Tower was EMPTY. The staff were dressed in lovely colourful traditional suits, and they expertly and easily brainwashed me to choose the costly skydeck instead of 'only' the inside viewing point. I was in the lift heading upwards within five minutes of arriving. (Also had to sign that compulsory I-shall-not-drop-objects-or-myself-from-the-top-of-the-tower form.)

The views were cool though quite hazy as it was morning. What I enjoyed most though was just the relaxed ambiance. (Yes, posh.) I was one of the very few people wandering about this suitably windy view point, taking way too many selfies (according to my newly-appointed Algerian photographer, who kept finding me taking selfies and insisted on taking non-selfies of me. At the end I also got to pose in a picture with his wife. Not quite sure what caption my picture'll get in their holiday album. “The sad selfier”.) And I finally admitted to myself the need for a selfie stick... Had I had one, SUCH EPIC PICTURES would have been taken. Alas, no. Not yet. ;)


My new Algerian friend
But selfies are cool too........ right??
  • Visit Central Market and Chinatown. For cheap souvenirs and funky clothes – my fave are my baggy trousers (what are they called, anyways? Them Asian baggy backpacker trousers) I got from the market.

Chinatown, where stall keepers make special efforts to attract customers

  • Visit H&M. Because Malaysia has H&M. (As do many Asian capitals, though, to be fair. Just not Saigon...)
Prepared to shop...

  • Eat Malaysian Indian food. Malaysia is an interesting mix of many different cultures, and it definitely had far more Indian vibes than I expected. The food was scrumptious, and we ate many of our meals at these street-foody Indiany restaurants – curries and rice and rotis. 

This is a banana roti onto which I, with a brainwave of a lifetime, poured some chocolate milk onto. YES PLEASE
Malaysian eating culture is cute, in any case. Often people (who all happen to be men, btw) eat by themselves, not multi-tasking or anything, just enjoying their meal and their, ALWAYS, iced Milo (iced chocolate milk). 

And talking of scrumptious drinks: I also had the biggest coconut I have ever had.

  • Be on your best behaviour in the trains. 

Also, Malaysia has its very own female-only carriages. A bit of an awkwardness as we were sightseeing with D, a non-female, and our train was about to leave but we didn't dare board a female-only carriage with him... 

And that was KL in a nutshell. :) 

All in all, an epic city. I still prefer Saigon to live in, more because I generally feel safer in Saigon when it comes to being alone or out late at night. But KL is green, is cool, has amazing food, has sites, has H&M... 

Next: LANGKAWI. If KL was awesome, Langkawi was...... more than awesome.

Toodle-pip my marshmallows <3