Travel

A Slow Boat Ride to Langkawi

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Boats have always fascinated me. I spent much my childhood on ocean liners (once crossing the Pacifi c Ocean from Japan to South America, spending twenty six days without sight of land). I prefer to travel by boat if possible. While it is true that sometimes you have to share the space with noisy livestock or pungent vegetables and it’s often slower than fl ying, if you’re looking for an interesting journey, take a ferry if you possibly can.

You get the vibe of a country during a boat trip more than you do from an airport, which tend, quite understandably, to be rather standardised. Plus you rarely meet anyone interesting on a plane, as a friend of mine once said; perhaps it’s something to do with the noise of the engines drowning out intelligent conversation. By contrast, travelling by sea is gritty and grainy, and you’re forced to be aware of wind, weather, and tides. It’s a sort of reminder that we’re all part of an eco-system and not in control of, yet have to respond to, the forces of nature.Talking of which, sea travel probably leaves a lighter carbon footprint than going by air.Thus, when my brother Austen announced he was going to have a weekend off from his intense studies at the Langkawi Sailing School, I started to research the travel options.

There are two ferry choices for travelling to Langkawi, the faster crossing from Kuala Perlis (which involves a good hour and half’s drive) or the slower boat from Penang which goes from George Town straight into Kuah, the capital town of Langkawi. Sometimes, the latter can take longer than the stated three hours, but I was lucky with the weather and the ferry fairly zipped along, skimming the waves. Unfortunately passengers aren’t allowed on deck, and I met with some pretty incredulous glances when I innocently asked why.Why would I prefer the heat and salty spray to the air conditioning and piped videos inside? Must be another mad Englishwoman!

On the outgoing passage I met a delightful person. Eva is an Austrian Australian who introduced herself as “batty about bats,” which instantly got my attention. People with passions are rare and people who can be simultaneously self-deprecating and witty about themselves, rarer still. It turned out that it was not your common or garden bat that Eva was passionate about, though she liked those well enough. She is interested in the princes of the bat world, flying foxes, who have a wingspan of six feet; they’re as wide as a man is tall. When these massive bats fl y in formation, the sky grows dark.They are as intelligent as dogs, with appealingly large round eyes, and would make good pets if it were not for their rather overpowering body odour.They perform an important function for those of us who value jungles; they pollinate the rainforest.Thanks to their huge wingspan, they can fl y 40-km distances easily and cruise comfortably above the canopy, carrying the seeds of rare trees from one location to another, thus ensuring the pollination of arboreal species.The survival of the great rainforests of the world depends in large part on the survival of the fl ying foxes. Eva was heading to one of the islands in the Langkawi archipelago, Pulau Dayan Buntng, that has a colony of these megabats.

Eva wasn’t just interested in bats, though. She has had a career in waste management, working to fi nd ways that rubbish can be creatively re-cycled. I was also interested to learn she has just applied for the MM2H programme because she wants to live in Asia, and regards this residence visa as a straightforward way to get a safe and interesting country to live in. (N.B.You can read many other stories of people who are here on the MM2H programme in this magazine, which gives a good idea of the wide range of people who are attracted to come and live in Malaysia under the scheme, and will give you a flavour of how it might be if you applied for the programme.)

I enjoyed my brief stay in Langkawi. As the larger, less developed sister to Penang, it has some spectacular scenery and is a great place for a short break or a more leisurely visit. It’s really a holiday island, and a wonderful place for yachting and water sports. My brother and I took a short spin around the island and had wonderful swim on a sandy beach with a view of Thailand. Later, we found out that it’s called the Beach of Skulls, because there was a ferocious battle there between the islanders and some invading Thais. How different things are now!

Currently, Langkawi is a duty-free island – which of course Penang was for 200 years until the early 1970s – which has given a lift to its tourism industry.You can read more about it (and some of the other 99 islands in the archipelago) in our section on Langkawi. On the ferry back to Penang, we ran into a tropical storm. Our captain skilfully steered the boat amidst white-topped waves as lightning fl ashed and thunder rumbled not far away.To my great relief, nobody was seasick, but it was nevertheless good to arrive back in the welcoming harbour of Penang on time, clutching my duty-free goods to my chest.

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Source: Penang International December 2012 -January 2013

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