Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Malaysian Vacation

First, I want to start off by saying that Southeast Asia is a cool place. I love it there. I look around and I feel I'm somewhere completely and totally exotic. I also have yet to discover what I feel are the two best ones, Cambodia and Vietnam. Someday.

Our trip started out well enough. I actually had off a full week of work whereas Al only had Tuesday to Friday (lame) so I really had a nice Saturday, Sunday and Monday worth of vacation before we even left to go anywhere. Al usually finishes at 10pm but they made an exception for him on Monday and let him leave when he finished his last class at 8:40. I made sure we were packed and ready to leave and he took his backpack to work with him. (I hate travelling with luggage. I swear, once you travel with only a backpack you'll never want to check suitcases again). I met him outside his school and we ran to the subway station to get the train to the KTX station. We arrived with 15 minutes to spare and, out of breath from running from station to station, we boarded our 9:30pm bullet train to Seoul.
Our original plan was to stay the night close to the airport as we didn't arrive until after midnight and since Seoul is HUGE we didn't want to travel far the next morning. I booked a love motel in Incheon with the thought that we would take the hour subway ride from the KTX station to the hotel. Well about an hour into our 2 1/2 hour ride we realized that the subways close at midnight and there's no way that would be able to happen. So with the prospect of taking a $50+ taxi ride an hour or more to Incheon (arriving at like 2:30am) we decided to just eat the money spent on that hotel and get a room right by the KTX station. Easily done, there are love motels everywhere.
Urban Dictionary "love motel" definition: A budget hotel (especially in Asian counties) where couples or adulterous spouses can have discreet sexual encounters.

In other words, a cheap place with free condoms and lots of porn on the television. The fancy ones have playstations and karaoke! Ours did not.
The next morning we flew out at 9:30 so we crawled off that concrete bed and groggily made our way to the airport after only about 4 hours of sleep. After checking into the Air Asia desk (THE cheapest way to fly around Asia) we passed by the regulars in the international terminals: Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, YSL, Bottega Veneta...I mean who is in the airport and decides they need to buy a $3,000 purse? I need to buy a $3,000 purse most of the time but in airports? I don't get it.
 Once on board, we settle in to those tiny, not-far-reclining seats and the stewardess (who are all smoking hot, btw) brings us our pre-paid for iPad ($12) and PSP ($4) to play with for 7 hours. As far as uncomfortable 7 hour flights go, it was relatively smooth and short. Al was a tired guy.

After landing in Kuala Lumpur we breezed through customs and skipped over to the domestic terminal where we had another short one hour flight to Kota Bharu. Before going, I had read that Kota Bharu and the state that it is in, Kelantan, is an Islamic state and to just respect the customs by not walking around in a belly shirt or anything. Easy enough. Once arriving, Al soon discovered that not only is it an Islamic state but you can't buy alcohol anywhere. Needless to say he was pretty bummed. We had a few hours in the evening so we checked into our little hotel for the night and walked to the shopping center across the street.
 I didn't realize how Islamic of a place I was in until I got out of the airports and started taking in my first sights of Malaysia. I felt as if I was in the middle east. 95% of the woman have their heads covered in a scarf. I felt extremely uncomfortable, not because of my surroundings but because I was in a tank top and shorts. I saw very few other women without head scarves and I don't believe I saw any others in shorts. I really felt horrible and hoped I wasn't offending anyone or disrespecting their culture. Apart from my feeling ridiculous in my shorts, the Malaysian people are beyond nice and hospitable.
While we walked around the shopping center I soon found out that, apparently, Korea is the ONLY PLACE ON EARTH whose McDonald's doesn't have a Filet-O-Fish. I love me some Filet-O-Fish and Malasyia has it. No satay chicken for me tonight, I'm getting McD's! Malaysia also still has Vanilla Coke, which once again gives it a leg up over Korea. I wasn't too concerned about taking in any Malaysian culture this particular night because we would have plenty of time the following Saturday after checking out of our resort and heading back in this direction. 

We went to bed early and got a very good rest on a much, much softer bed than the slabs of cement the Koreans call mattresses. We decided we wanted to get to the island first thing the next morning so we woke up at 7:30 to catch the 9:00 bus to Kuala Besut, the coast town with the boats to our island, Perhentian Besar. The bus only costs like $1.50 for the hour ride and a taxi is about $15 so we chose the cheapest option. After finding a cab (the driver was the jolliest Malaysian man ever) he told us he'd drive us to Kuala Besut for 40 Ringgit (about $10) and we were already in there and comfy so we just let him. I really wasn't sure the car was going to make it, the state of their taxis is remarkable, I don't know how they run let alone haul people back and forth from Kota Bharu to Kuala Besut all the time. They surely wouldn't pass even the least stringent of inspections. Since there was no air con, I rolled (with a crank) down my window and settled in to watch the sights for an hour.

Malaysian houses

If there's one thing I'm a sucker for, it's palm trees. The coconut producing kind. Southeast Asia definitely has no shortage of them. It's all I can do to keep myself from snapping a million pictures just of the palms. It's like looking at them is reassurance that I'm somewhere tropical...which is really where I'd like to be at all times.
Along the road there are chickens and vegetable stands and barefoot kids...and a Durian stand! Durian is native to Southeast Asia and is regarded as the world's worst-smelling fruit. It's even banned from a lot of hotels (there was a sign in ours staying not to bring any in). People either love it or hate it. I was dying to try some but I never got the chance, I'm really disappointed about that.
We finally arrived in Kuala Besut starving. We got our boat tickets and wondered around the cute little town to find a restaurant to grab some breakfast.

There is a rooster in the road! I didn't even realize until after I took the picture.
We found a place that had foreigners eating at some tables so we beelined for that place. Since I'm not a breakfasty person I just got a Malaysian style pancake. OMG. I want to learn how to make them. It's thin, flat and not sweet. I ordered a "lime and sugar" one and they brought me a slice of lime and some sugar to sprinkle all over it. I rolled it up and I was in heaven. Al got some chicken curry something or other.

At 10:30 we boarded our little boat ("The LITTLE boat!?! - Tom Hanks) and set out on the South China Sea towards the Perhentian Islands. There are two of them and we stayed on the big one, Besar. It's more quiet than the smaller island, but the beaches are significantly better, which is what I was after...pristine beach. We scrambled off the boat and walked to our resort, which was the only one located on this particular beach. The resort itself is very run down and needs some serious TLC but it's located on the best beach on either island so I didn't care about the condition of the resort. I mean does this bare bones room matter...

...When you have THIS outside your door?

Didn't think so.

Since these islands are still semi underdeveloped there are no roads or scooters or any nonsense like that. A few resorts you can walk to and from across a path and there is one path through the jungle (and I mean, literally, a jungle) to get from one side of the island to the other. We decided to take that trek one day and it was beautiful!


...Until we ran into this millipede.

The rest of the days were full of relaxing and snorkeling and really just marveling in the beauty of the island. I will say that as beautiful as it was, the water itself really was no different than when we were in Turks and Caicos. And, remarkably, Grace Bay in T&C where we honeymooned was voted #1 best beach in the world this year. So now that I've truly seen the best beach in the world, what could compare? The water in each place (also in Phi Phi in Thailand) was perfectly turquoise and clear as a pool but the surroundings give the Perhentians a leg up in terms of just the beach. I like a palm fringed beach and that's what I got. There's nothing like laying on soft white sand and looking straight up and seeing giant swaying palms. NOTHING.

On Saturday, our last day, I woke up very sad to leave. We had breakfast, lounged on the beach and had one last swim in that beautiful ocean before getting the boat back to Kuala Besut at noon. We had some lunch at the same place we had breakfast just a few short days previously, found some souveniers at a little shop and then got a taxi back to Kota Bharu. We didn't fly out until 7 so we wandered around the town for a few hours.

Our flight from Kota Bharu to Kuala Lumpur was uneventful. Once back in KL we had a five hour wait until our 1am flight back to Korea. Air Asia might be cheap, but it's ridiculous that 1am is the only time it flies from KL to Seoul. Since we were stuck in economy on a low-cost carrier, it means that comfort is minimal and it was the longest flight of my life. I didn't sleep. I can't remember the last time I stayed up all night...and this time it wasn't for a fun reason.

Once back in Seoul we quickly got through customs and immigration (More stamps! Yay!) and headed back to Seoul Station and then on to Myeong-dong so I could go to Forever 21. I found a few things but was rushed from being short on time. Hopped the train back to Busan and here I sit, in my stifling hot apartment wishing I was back in the Perhentians watching those waves roll in. Now, all I have is Gwangalli beach in all it's filth.

Here's to a good rest of the summer!


  1. That was an AWSOME read Sam!!!!! I loved it. you are such an adventurist

  2. OMG! Those beaches are to die for!!!!