8th February
written by Hope

While we were in Ton Sai, we had a couple of really delicious dishes (Penang and Mussaman curries) that we learned were of Malaysian origin. Southern Thailand borders Peninsular Malaysia, so there is a lot of Malay food in Thailand and vice versa. Since Ko Lipe is so close to Malaysia already, we decided to head over…our first stop would be Pulau Langkawi (a resort island) en route to Penang, which is famous throughout SE Asia for its food. From there we would head to Kuala Lumpur. Jeremy really wanted to check out KL because he likes the name. Also, it is a major airline hub, allowing us to fly back to mainland SE Asia for cheap. So there you have it: we went to Malaysia for (1) the food, and (2) because its capital city sounds like “Lumpy Koala.” We are very picky and discerning travelers over here at 12FOOT3.

All over Pattaya beach, there are signs advertising a “45 minute speedboat” to Pulau Langkawi, an island on the very northern tip of Peninsular Malaysia. We paid about 1200 baht (approx. US$35) each for the ride over, and we were looking forward to the quick and easy hop over to Malaysia.

on the boat from ko lipe to langkawi
Bye bye Ko Lipe: Pattaya beach as the Langkawi boat speeds away.

OK, not so fast: first of all, the trip actually took more like an hour and a half (and the boat left late). We have found that in SE Asia, time estimates can be quite off…what is advertised as a 5-hour bus ride really takes only three; a 45-minute boat ride means you get there an hour and a half later. This wouldn’t be so bad except that this speedboat ride was The. Bumpiest. Boat. Ride. EVER. There were about 10 of us on the boat and we all sat around looking at each other nervously as the boat crashed repeatedly against the waves. At times, it really seemed like the boat could break apart from the turbulence. And, they probably should have warned us, like they do at Sea World, that if you sit in the first 6 rows, you may get very wet. Well, we all had front-row seats and were completely drenched several times throughout the trip. I consider it a minor miracle that no one got sick on the ride.

We finally got on land in Langkawi (where they actually have a pier! No wading through the surf to get to shore here) and happily jumped ashore…and waited. And waited. It took about 2 hours for them to process our visas…so, our 45-minute speedboat ride had turned into a 4 hour trip. So much for the quick and easy hop over to Malaysia. :)

We don’t really have much to say about Langkawi because we only stayed there for one night. The Malaysian government has put a lot of resources into advertising Langkawi, and it worked…there seem to be a lot of Asian and European tourists on this island. Accommodation and food can be expensive here (compared to other parts of Malaysia)…we paid about 70 Malaysian ringgit for our room (approx US$20) and probably about 40 ringgit (US$11 or so) for food. In fact, the only thing that is not expensive is the beer. It is the one area in Malaysia where alcohol is duty-free, so a beer can cost as little as 3.50 ringgit (US$1).

We spent the afternoon on the beach. Malaysia is a very Muslim country, and it was interesting watching teenagers jump in the water in full clothing and head scarves.

pantai cenai
On Pantai Cenang in Langkawi.

The water here is murkier than it is on the Ko Lipe side, and the beach more crowded with people and vendors trying to sell tourists silly “adventure” experiences like parasailing or riding on something called a “big banana” (a giant inflatable tube that you ride like a horse) being pulled by a speedboat. We preferred Ko Lipe to Langkawi. :)

The next day, we took a ferry from Langkawi to Penang. This boat was thankfully much calmer than the speedboat we took from Ko Lipe. And they showed the Lindsay Lohan version of “Herbie the Love Bug,” which Jeremy was totally entranced by. There were also really helpful signs instructing us on how to put on a life vest in case of emergency.

all right
All right.

The food of Penang deserves its own post (coming up next), but we did do stuff besides eat in Penang (though not much more). We found a great old colonial guesthouse on Love Lane in Penang called Old Penang Guest House. At 50 ringgit (US$14), it was on the more expensive side, but we loved it so much and the people running the place were so nice that we didn’t mind the extra cost. Plus they had free wi-fi, our room had A/C, and there was electricity around the clock. Luxury!

inside old penang guest house
The common area at Old Penang Guest House.

We just happened to come into town at the end of the Chinese New Year celebration…there are lots of Chinese in Malaysia and the festival here is huge, lasting 7 days. The streets were filled with people watching lion dance performances and generally celebrating the new year.

chinese new year celebration

The really wonderful thing about Penang is the clash of cultures that exists here—Chinese, Indian, Malay; Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, and Christian—it’s all here and everyone seems to get along. It’s quite amazing. There is a city walk that you can do called the Street of Harmony walk because it takes you from a Catholic Church to a Chinese and then Hindu temple, on to a Muslim mosque—all in about 3 city blocks. We wandered into Han Jiang Temple one day, where Chinese people were paying their respects to their ancestors at the start of the new year. We decided to take part, so I asked the lady selling incense how to do it, and she taught me (Mandarin comes in really handy in Malaysia) how to burn the incense and paper money at each of the temple urns.

chinese temple

chinese temple

We also took a day trip up Penang Hill one day, where you can ride a trolley up to see views of the city below.

rail up penang hill

From Penang Hill, you can walk to Kek Lok Si Temple, and absolutely enormous, colorful, and elaborately detailed (some might even say gaudy) Chinese Buddhist temple.

kek lok si temple

kek lok si temple

kek lok si temple

Despite the grandeur of Penang’s temples and its old colonial charm, the real star of the show here is the food. Stay tuned… :)


  1. eddo

    Those train tracks are soooooo cool! Signed, your nerdy rail-loving brother.

  2. Derek

    “All Right” seems very instructive! Circa 1987? Looking back at some previous posts.. amazing that the Dirty Sanchez crossed the pacific to Australia… or…did it originate down under?

    If you guys have some downtime after your fill of rambutans and Nasi Goreng: Interested in your travel gear and how you managed to pack for a long trip. What gear worked and what needs to be returned to be re-sold at the used gear sale.

    Have fun!


  3. 12/02/2009

    Rm3.50 is expensive in Langkawi, is normally around RM2.00-2.50…. Cheers!

  4. lucas lim

    I’ve been travelling around mostly in Asian countries and I really envy how you too discovered so in-depth. Just a note that the “snail” that you thought in penang curry mee is actually a kind of clam called “bloddy clam”. I’m not much into that clam but found out that this is very costly in Japan. Glad that you like some of the foods there. fr penang, cheers

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