Month: May 2016

Langkawi – Beautiful Beaches And Incredible Scenery

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By the time I arrived in Langkawi, I was ready for some beach time. I love exploring cities and the countryside, but the heat in South East Asia makes beach life ideal.

Getting to Langkawi

I was travelling from Penang to Langkawi so the easiest option is to get a boat direct from the pier in Georgetown to Langkawi for 70RM, which takes around 2 1/2 hours. Some guys in my hostel said that the cheapest way is to get the ferry to Butterworth, then a bus from Butterworth to Kuala Perlis, and finally a boat from Kuala Perlis to Langkawi. I’m not sure how much this costs or how long it takes, but the guys in my hostel reckoned it would be less than 50RM.

The ferry terminates in Kuah so from there it’s a taxi ride over to Pantai Cenang which is 30RM. If you’re travelling solo it’s best to share with other travellers heading that way.

There’s also an international airport on the island with regular flights to Kuala Lumpur.

Activities in Langkawi

I had already booked Langkawi Dormitorio through HostelWorld, which was the cheapest option at the time but was still 50RM per night! Double the price of accommodation in KL and Penang.

In August 2016 I returned to Langkawi and stayed in Tubotel, an amazing hostel just outside Pantai Cenang. It takes around 20 minutes to walk into town and around 5-10 minutes to walk to the beach. Tubotel has the best sunset views on the island!

Fortunately, I had 4 lovely roommates and we got on really well from the start. We hired a car for 24 hours between 5 of us after our hostel owner recommended that we did. he said that a car would be safer than a scooter and that the weather in Langkawi can change very quickly. This turned out to be very useful advice, as a rainstorm hit less than an hour after we hired the car.

We drove to Tanjung Rhu beach which truly is a stunning beach. There were very few people on the beach which made it even more beautiful.

Tahjung Rhu beach langkawi malaysia

tahjung rhu beach langkawi malaysia

The following day we drove to Panorama Langkawi to experience the steepest cable car in the world. Entry was 45RM and included the cable car plus a visit to the SkyDome. I’ll be honest, the SkyDome looked like a planetarium and I was disappointed when it wasn’t. Instead, it was a rollercoaster simulation on Mars. It actually made a couple of us feel a little motion sick.

We went to the SkyCab and stopped at the first lookout point. The views were impressive and there weren’t too many other tourists.

langkawi malaysia

We got back into the SkyCab and went to the highest lookout. Up here it’s possible to pay extra and go on the SkyBridge, the highest bridge in Langkawi.

langkawi malaysia

There’s also love locks for anyone who’s into that sort of thing

langkawi malaysia

Don’t be fooled by the clouds – it was scorching at the top.

What didn’t I do?

There are many other tours and activities in Langkawi including:

  • Underwater World – I was staying next door to this, it’s an aquarium.
  • Water sports on Cenang Beach – banana boat, jet skis
  • Waterfalls – the waterfalls were barely flowing when I was there due to lack to rainfall
Food in Langkawi

There’s a huge range of eating options in Langkawi to suit all budgets. It’s possible to get Malaysian food such as mee goreng and nasi goreng for around 6-7RM. There’s a lot of fast food options and cuisine from all over the world.

Final thoughts

I had a great time in Langkawi. It is very commercialised but wasn’t overrun with tourists. Some roads on the island weren’t surfaced properly, in particular, the one to Tanjung Rhu beach – something to bear in mind if you’re hiring a scooter.

 

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Penang – Street Art in Georgetown

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I’d wanted to visit Penang for a long time because of Georgetown’s reputation for having great food. I was looking forward to seeing the old colonial buildings and seeing the street art.

Getting to Penang

I was travelling from KL so  decided to get the train to Butterworth, then a ferry across to Penang. The train was quite slow moving but comfortable. The aircon was set to freezing, which seems to be the case on most public transport in South East Asia. My train was supposed to leave at 4pm so I was expecting to arrive in Butterworth around 9pm. The train was delayed so I arrived in Butterworth at 10.30pm, then waited for the ferry for around 30 minutes. It was midnight by the time I got to my hostel.

Getting the train is straightforward from KL because the train leaves from KL Sentral and it’s possible to book online. The train station is Butterworth is situated next to the ferry terminal which makes it very easy to get to Penang. I paid 35RM for the train and something like 1.50RM for the ferry (I can’t remember the exact price, I was pretty tired at this point).

Georgetown

Most people who visit Penang stay in Georgetown, an old British colonial town. Georgetown is easy to get around on foot. On my first day, I visited the Pinang Peranakan Mansion, a typical home of a rich Baba from a century ago. The mansion is painted light green so is easy to spot.

Pinang Peranakan Mansion Penang Malaysia Alex Explores the World

The mansion is laid out in the same way a traditional Baba house would have looked. The decor and furnishings were beautiful. There are tour guides who will give you a tour of the mansion, however, the tour I was put on had a lot of people so I walked around alone. (I should probably mention that I was in Penang over Labor Day weekend so everything was busy.)

Pinang Peranakan Mansion Penang georgetown malaysia Alex Explores the World

Next to the main living quarters was a temple:

Pinang Peranakan Mansion Penang Georgetown Malaysia Alex Explores the World

Street Art

One of the main attractions of Penang is the street art which is dotted around Georgetown. The hostel I stayed in had maps of where to find different pieces.

 

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There are wrought-iron caricatures on many streets in Penang, which provide a sort of description of the street they’re placed on. Here’s a couple of examples:

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Each of the caricatures is different and will often give an insight into the history of the area.

Food in Penang

Penang is famous for it’s currys – and rightly so! I was staying just outside Little India which is the perfect location to get a curry. 2 minutes away were a couple of street food vendors selling the most delicious curry. For less than 10RM, it was possible to get curry, rice and roti. Bargain!  One night I went to a place called Kapitan, which was slightly more expensive but had a variety of options and was delicious.

Another local food I tried was ice balls. It’s literally a large ball of ice with flavouring on it. They can be found on Armenian Street for 2.50RM – ideal for the hot weather.

Where to Stay

I stayed in Couzi Couji, a hostel just outside of Little India. It was clean and comfortable and the aircon in the rooms was good. There’s limited toilets and showers which I didn’t really find to be a problem.

There are a lot of hostels around Love Lane to stay in and guesthouses are dotted around the city.

Leaving Penang

My next stop was Langkawi which can be easily reached by boat from Penang. A ticket costs 70RM. It’s possible to get the night train from Butterworth to Bangkok although you have to go to a ticket office as it’s not possible to book online.

Have you been to a town/city with great street art? I’d love to hear about it, let me know in the comments!

Reasons tolive in themountains

 

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Bukit Lawang – A Trek With Orangutans

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I loved seeing the orangutans in Borneo, and I’d heard that orangutan sightings in Bukit Lawang were far more common. It was for this reason that I booked a flight to Medan.

Getting to Bukit Lawang

Had I known that Medan has virtually nothing to offer tourists, I would’ve arranged transport directly from the airport to Bukit Lawang. However, my flight arrived at 9pm so there wasn’t much time for that. I got a taxi to a hotel in Medan for 120,000Rp and stayed there for one night. The next morning, I had intended to find a tourist bus heading to Bukit Lawang. I’d heard that they should cost around 100,000Rp. I asked about the tourist buses at my hotel but they had no idea what I was talking about and only knew about the public buses.

I ended up going to the public bus terminal where I found myself immediately surrounded by men asking where I was going and pointing me towards the bus. I knew that a public bus should only cost 20,000Rp, but these men insisted that the price was 120,000Rp. I got off the bus and walked away from them – no chance I’d pay 6x more! I walked down the road and the bus eventually pulled up next to me and told me to get on for 20,000Rp. By this point, all of the touts had gone, presumably staying at the bus station.

Sumatran Public Buses

The bus wasn’t particularly nice, but for the equivalent of £1 for the journey, I wasn’t complaining. Passengers are allowed to smoke on the bus (fortunately, the windows were open) and the road was not well surfaced. Eventually, I arrived at the bus terminal in Bukit Lawang. It’s possible to walk from the terminal into the village, but it’s definitely not ideal given the heat and the backpack I was carrying. I was travelling alone, so I got a motorbike into the village, although it’s possible to get a becak. I hadn’t pre-booked any accommodation but there are loads of guest houses to choose from.

The Tour

One of the main reasons tourists flock to Bukit Lawang is to see the orangutans in the nearby jungle. It’s possible to book at many guest houses or at the guides association building. The tour prices are fixed so a tour should cost the same regardless of where you book it. A 2-day 1night jungle tour cost €60, plus an additional €10 to tube back to Bukit Lawang. This includes all meals and camping.

The tour begins at 9am. I’d booked through Bugis Inn so I had breakfast there before going to the jungle. In total, there were 5 guests on my tour and 3 guides. The trek starts with a steep ascent into the jungle. There are lots of tree roots to grab onto. It’s very humid in the jungle so prepare to sweat!

Once we got to the top of the first hill, we were lucky enough to see an orangutan almost immediately. A mother was eating and swinging from a tree whilst her baby played overhead.

baby orangutan bukit lawang sumatra - Alex Explores the World
Most of the trekking involved going up and downhill. My fitness level is pretty poor so this was actually a difficult trek, especially given the humidity of the jungle.

orangutan bukit lawang sumatra - Alex Explores the World
Throughout the course of the day we saw 9 orangutans, which was more than I expected to see. The majority of orangutans we saw were females with babies.

orangutan bukit lawang sumatra - Alex Explores the World
However, we did see some males too.

orangutan beard bukit lawang sumatra - Alex Explores the World
We also saw Thomas Leaf Monkeys, a monkey endemic to Sumatra. They were more than willing to pose for the camera.

Thomas Leaf Monkey bukit lawang sumatra - Alex Explores the World
Thomas leaf monkey bukit lawang sumatra - Alex Explores the World

“Quick, Mina’s coming!”

One of the last orangutans we saw was the infamous Mina. The guides told us to back off when they saw her coming because she can be quite aggressive. From what I understand, Mina didn’t have the best start in life and she ended up at the local orangutan sanctuary. She was one of the first orangutans to be released into the jungle. I’m not whether it was her infamous reputation, or that Mina was on the ground, but she seemed to be enormous in comparison to the other orangutans we had seen.

mina orangutan baby bukit lawang sumatra - Alex Explores the World
Just as we were on our final descent to the camp, a thunder storm hit and we got drenched. Not ideal conditions to be walking in!

The camp is very basic but does have a toilet (squatty potty), although you’ll need to bring your own toilet paper.

The guide prepared dinner for us, which was a buffet of currys, rice, potato cakes and chicken. It was delicious and well needed after trekking all day. For dessert we had a fruit platter.

We spent the rest of the evening playing card games, before getting an early night.

The following morning, we had breakfast and another delicious fruit platter. We had the chance to go to a waterfall then it was time to tube back to the village. The tubing was fun and a great way to return to Bukit Lawang.

Tips for Bukit Lawang

  • Organise transport to collect you from Kuala Namu airport. This means you’ll avoid Medan.
  • Take plenty of insect repellent. There’s loads of mosquitoes in the jungle!
  • Make sure your guide is registered! Check with the guides office if you’re unsure!
  • I stayed at Bugis Inn – the owner Amar and his family are lovely so I recommend staying there.

Thanks for reading! All pictures are my own

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5 Philippines Travel Tips – What I Wish I’d Known Before I Travelled

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I had a great time travelling the Philippines, but there are a few things I wish I’d known before I travelled there. Here’s my top 5 Philippines travel tips…

  1. It takes ages to get between destinations in the Philippines

Even using a combination of plane, boat and land, it takes a long time to travel between places. Many roads are poor quality making road travel take much longer than usual. Public buses will often stop anywhere and everywhere which adds a considerable amount of time onto journeys.

2. Taxi/tricycle drivers rarely know where they’re going

My first experience of this was my first ever taxi ride in the Manila. Fresh off 24 hours of travelling, I hopped into a fixed rate taxi. The driver seemed to know where he was going, but he tried to drop me off at the wrong accommodation. I had the full address saved on my phone and he still couldn’t figure out where to go. 2 hours later and I finally made it to my hostel. Since then, I got myself a Filipino SIM card with 3G so I can check that drivers are taking us to the correct place.

3. Filipino’s aren’t great at catering for vegetarians or vegans

Filipino’s often think that vegetarians eat fish so may still cook food using fish paste. Vegans will have a particularly difficult time as there’s barely any legumes or pulses in the Philippines. Baguio and Sagada are two places I visited where they have reasonable options for vegetarians.

4. ATM’s are few and far between

There are a lot of towns and cities in the Philippines that don’t have ATM’s. Make sure you carry enough cash, especially if you’re going off the beaten track, as most places won’t accept credit card. Even El Nido only has a couple of cash machines which will often run out of cash by the afternoon.

5. Be wary of the bangkas

 

Bangkas are the local boats that you’ll see everywhere. On my second ride on one, the steering wheel broke and we were left violently swaying from side to side wondering whether we were going to capsize. There was nothing the crew could do except hope for the best. Fortunately the boat turned around and we were able to make it to shore. The safety standards are simply not the same as those in the UK. Make sure you have a life jacket when you get on a bangka. Most will give one to you when you board. Lonely Planet advises against boat travel at night and I would second that advice.

Ensure you follow general travel advice – make sure the activities you have planned are covered by your travel insurance and that you keep up to date with the foreign office travel advice, as there can be problems with typhoons in the Philippines. Most of all… have fun! Filipino’s are amongst the friendliest people in the world and helped me out heaps of times.

Anything you think I’ve missed? Or any Philippines travel tips you’d like to add? Comment below…

 

 

 

 

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