Cameron Highlands · Malaysia · Penang · Perhentian

Malaysia – Penang to Perhentians

After coming off the high of Koh Lipe we weren’t sure how we were going to cope with being back in Malaysia. The beaches along Malaysia’s west coast (from what we had seen so far) just didn’t compare. We made our way back to Langkawi and over to Penang ( on bargain flights costing $3 per person – thanks to Air Asia Mega Sale!). We spent 5 days in a 3 bed apartment in Batu Ferringhi enjoying more space and a pool. We also hit the local Tesco and stocked up on some groceries. Having done most of our food shopping in a 7/11 so far , Tesco was like a food wonderland. Murray headed straight to the ‘non halal’ section to get his bacon fix and I was finally able to buy fruit, vegetables, pasta and other staples to cook a meal at home. Our apartment in Batu Ferringhi was also right opposite one of the nicest Shangri-La hotels I have ever seen. The Shangri-La is a bit out of our price range this trip but it didn’t stop us from wandering in there each day, swimming in their pool, drinking glasses of wine ( wine is ridiculously expensive in Malaysia, but happy hour at the Shangri-La was $4/glass) and using the kids adventure zone. I’m pretty sure the staff there thought we were guests of the hotel. Naturally we were staying in room ‘250’ if asked.

Batu Ferringhi is also near Georgetown, a small town full of British heritage architecture as well as Chinese shop fronts. We strolled around the streets admiring the famous street art work and stumbled across China House which had the most impressive display of cakes I have ever seen. We ordered tea, scones and jam and were in heaven.

Moving on from Batu Ferringhi we headed inland and up into the mountains. After hours of winding roads and several vomit bags later ( Maya again) we arrived in the Cameron Highlands. The temperature was cool ( around 20 degrees) and the scenery was spectacular. We spent the next few days wandering around tea plantations ,strawberry farms, bee farms, butterfly farms and lavender gardens. It was well worth the visit ( despite the vomit) just to soak up the beauty of the place and to enjoy some cooler temperatures.

Unfortunately for us we picked the busiest weekend of the year to visit Cameron Highlands after a national election and change of government. The new-old (he’s 92 and a former PM of the party he just toppled) Prime Minister, Mahathir, had announced a 2 day public holiday and a 4 day long weekend. It seemed that Cameron Highlands was the place to be. Strangely we did not come across many Western tourists, and none with blond hair and freckles ( yes, photos galore).

After a brief stopover in KL , which was starting to feel a bit like home, we boarded a plane for Kota Bharu; a very Muslim part of Malaysia and a place most tourists bypass. We were staying the night solely so we could stock up on food before we headed across to the Perhentian Islands. I knew we were going to be spending a week in a place without shops and limited food options, so it seemed sensible to hit Kota Bharu mall for biscuits, fruit, chips, nuts and anything else we could possibly carry. Once again we were the token foreigners.

The following day we took a car to Kuala Besut and boarded a small boat out to Perhentian Besar. Life jackets were randomly handed out. Everybody received one except Murray, myself, Maya and Brooke. Did we look like we were all strong swimmers, except Sienna? Why were adults given life jackets over kids? The mind boggled but fortunately we arrived safely on the island.

A quick fuel stop at ‘Belinda’s Cafe’ ( how could we not) and we were shown to our bungalow. We were lucky in that we chose a great spot for us – plenty of space for the kids to play while we sat on the veranda, a couple of cafes within 50m and the most amazing beach to swim/ snorkel nearby. In all honesty Perhentian Besar has been my favourite place so far. It is much more low-key compared to Koh Lipe. There are no shops, no massages, no loud music and very few people. Instead there is white sand, coral you can snorkel to off the beach, giant sea turtles you can also swim to off the beach, kayaks to hire and the most amazing crystal clear blue water you have ever seen.

Life is very simple on the Perhentians, but very satisfying. It also helped that we had AC and hot water. The kids all got to see loads of sea life, swim and snorkel every day, feed squirrels and play with other kids. Maya did her school work by the sea sipping fresh mango juices.

Perhentians are a little tricky to reach , hence why they are so pristine and quiet , but we are very glad we put this amazing spot on our agenda. My advice, give Langkawi a wide berth and head to Koh Lipe or Perhentian Islands if you are looking for an ideal island experience. I hope to come back here again one day – it is nothing short of paradise.

Next stop…. Sri Lanka

KL · Malacca · Malaysia

Malaysia ( East Coast) – say cheese!

Malaysia is probably one of the easiest Asian countries to travel as a tourist. The roads are good, the tourist buses are luxurious, the food options are great and nothing is too far to get to. The Malaysians also take pride in ‘the biggest and the best’ -meaning a lot of the tourist attractions are world class ( often with a hefty entrance fee). Whilst in KL we visited the Aquarium, Petrosains museum, Petronas towers, a butterfly park and of course KLCC Park. I had read about KLCC Park being something you wouldn’t want to miss if you had little kids and I could see why. The grounds were immaculate and the kids area was something else. Slippery dips, swings and climbing equipment as far as the eye could see. In addition there was a huge fountain-pool to cool off in.

The only down side ( which actually turned out to be quite a laugh) was what I refer to as ‘the b with the whistle’. I made the mistake of wandering over to the fountain area while the kids were still playing in the play ground. Big mistake. Whistle-lady started blowing her whistle loudly, glaring and pointing at me. What the heck had I done wrong? Surely this was a mistake? Was I wearing the wrong clothes? Was I meant to pay a fee? No. I was simply an adult without an accompanying child in the fountain area. Whistle-lady chose to communicate only through her whistle, gestures and pointing at a sign I hadn’t bothered to read. I went back and retrieved the children just to prove I was ‘legitimate’ and explained my faux pas to Murray ( who thought it was hilarious). We then proceeded to get the whistle treatment twice more ( once for venturing too close to the water with our thongs on and once again as Murray got blasted for sitting on a see-saw with Maya- yep no adults allowed on the equipment). The rest of the afternoon was spent laughing as every other tourist who came into the park got a whistle blast and walked away a bit puzzled as to what they had done wrong. It was a bit like watching magpies swoop. Fun times.

Our week in KL flew by super quick before we hopped on a bus to the port city of Malacca. Our apartment had an uninterrupted view of the Malacca Straights and was only a few minutes car ride into Jonker Street. Jonker street is full of Chinese colonial shop fronts selling antiques, handicrafts, Chinese medicines and weird-wonderful selection of local delicacies . It almost takes you back in time with its merchant-town charm. That is except for the lit-up becaks ( Hello Kitty, Frozen etc) blasting cheesy music and the arrival of the Korean and Japanese $2 shops. These are found everywhere throughout Malaysia.

We also visited a local museum which claimed to be an upside-down house. We entered the house and were whisked from room to room and told to pose as our photo was snapped. The kids loved it of course. Murray and I chalked it up to being another ‘Malaysian cheese factor’.

After Malacca we flew straight to Langkawi ( island on the western tip of Malaysia). Langkawi is spruiked to be an island paradise and in parts it is very beautiful, but at the same time it is a bit grotty, overdeveloped and smelly. Our accommodation was a little below the standard we had got used to so far in Malaysia (Maya was not impressed) but it was cheap. The main tourist attraction is the Cable Car/ Skybridge sitting atop a mountain and for those scared of heights (aka Murray), it is a fear conquering experience. In the cable car noone was allowed to touch the bolted-closed door ( Murray’s orders) in case it flung open mid air and we all toppled out. Maya was instructed to hold his hand as he walked the Skybridge ( looked like he was walking a tightrope) and noone was allowed to go near the edge of the bridge ( which we ignored). All in all it was very impressive and a memorable experience. I even bought the ‘family snap’ , which we don’t normally do, to immortalise the moment when we are back home! We also visited a crocodile adventure land where we got to ‘fish crocodiles’ which involved dangling bits of chicken at juvenile crocs from a fishing pole , and we won’t forget the croc show where the crocodile handler kissed and put his head inside the crocs mouth ( accompanying dramatic music playing in the background).We were told the croc was 42 years old which the kids made sure everyone in the park knew was the same as mum. Other highlights of Langkawi were parasailing, cheap beer and dinner by the beach. I probably wouldn’t choose Langkawi if I were planning a 2 week luxury holiday, but it’s been an easy stop over for us and nice to be back by the beach. We look forward to returning to Malaysia and seeking out more cheesy experiences, although can’t say I am tempted to try the ‘oreo cheese cake’…hmmm, is there such thing as too much cheese? Why yes there is.