By Graham K. Rogers
I did not beat the clock on Saturday morning, so the discordant tone on the iPhone, called "Opening", woke me a few minutes before breakfast was due. This time it arrived with coffee, but without fruit juice or fruit. What Continental Breakfast means to the telephone operator is not the same as when ordered using the form that is usually provided.
I see Saturday that the form is not here again, but I did ask the desk clerk, who will ask Housekeeping. This constant passing of messages means that the hall light in the room has needed replacing since I have been here. Perhaps the shorting plug in the kettle was another victim of this "pass the potato."
I asked again and when I came back late afternoon, five forms had been pushed under the door. A couple more arrived a short while later. The bulb in the hallway is still out. . . .
After breakfast I unplugged the charger for the camera battery and connected the Wi-Fi modem. I checked that the Wi-fFi was connected to the right system and noticed that the Wi-fi_free@langkawi was again shown as being open, unlike yesterday when it required a password.The connection in the room is (as the clerk told me when I arrived) not perfect, although the free Wi-Fi in the lounge area does not seem much better.
When I was ready I strolled to the lounge and waited for the transport which arrived more or less on time. My fellow-passengers were a couple from Pakistan who live in Singapore.
As he had studied an Engineering degree in London, we had a lot to talk about, particularly concerning their excellent English. I had also asked the girl who organises travel at the hotel about her education in Malaysia as her English was also excellent. For someone who teaches English in Thailand, their answers were an indictment of high school teaching there, and a confirmation of opinions I had formed.
In Malaysia, for example, the lady told me that Malay is the domestic language, but that everything at the schools is taught in English. Most people talk in Malay, although many friends will also converse in English. Pakistan was similar although with the huge rural and poor population, many do not attend schools. Those who do are taught - especially science subjects - in English.
For people in both these countries, and for those from Singapore, there is no sting in the tail when they use English, which is often a problem in Thailand: teachers want students to produce perfect grammar; and it is considered anti-social for two Thais to speak English with each other: the implication is that Thai is not good enough.
Island 1 - Forest Park
We left the hotel in a large white utility vehicle. Using the same roads as I had the day before, we passed through Cenang and continued on a little further to another bay where there were scores of boats loading up. My travelling companions and I mentioned to each other that we had thought we were the only ones travelling: we were disabused of that idea right away.
The boats, including ours were long and thin, carrying perhaps 15-20 passengers, with a Yamaha outboard motor at the rear, unlike the Thai long-tail boats which carry the engine on-board. The effect was similar however, and we were soon skimming the sea at a fast rate, hitting the wave-crests with a whump, but when we crossed the track of another boat (and there were several) the boat landed with a heavy thump, jarring the passengers, many of whom let out a shout each time. My back was killing me.
There are scores of islands here, most of which are uninhabited, so mostly unspoiled. We stopped first at one that was billed as a Forest Park; and indeed it was heavily forested. The pier area had many boats landing its passengers, while just as many were picking up: it looked disorganised, but each boat was using a specific area of the pier, the jetty, a walkway and steps, so some organisation was imposed.
The island was nice enough for its location and makeup of forested hills, but there were a number of negatives, some inevitable. The local tourism industry has the boat trips well organised, so there were hundreds of people coming and going when I was there.
The pier area has a few pesky monkeys and there were birds in the trees. I heard these, but did not see them. Everyone climbed hundreds of steps up hill, then went down again to the sea level where there were a few pens with baby fish in them and some swimming facilities. As a nature reserve, this fell short for me. It was more of recreation facility with only a few things to do, surrounded by sea, hills and trees.
Had there been only a few people, this might have been quite a pleasant experience, but being a weekend, it was overcrowded. There were more paths leading further into the island, but the one hour time limit was too restricting to allow better exploration.
After some while taking photographs, I went back up the stairs and down the other side to the pier where I tried to cool off in the shade while I waited for the boat and the next leg of the trip.
Despite going back to the area where we had disembarked, I thought I might have missed the boat as many others were leaving from a different section. However, nearer to the time, some people I recognised appeared, so I relaxed a little more.
Sea Eagles Feeding
The next stop was to see feeding sea eagles. I was initially dubious as the idea of this as performance, like in Sea World, or crocodile farms, is repugnant to me. Hawking is the only blood sport I like, although I did like bull fighting for a while, having attended a Corrida back in the 1960s when it was all explained to me by the first English matador, Vincent Hitchcock (try a Google search).
I was pleased to see, however, that the eagles were apparently free and resident in the location. That meant abundant food for the 15-20 birds I saw, so whether the sea is particularly fertile here (or there is a delivery of food to keep the eagles there) the effect is that plentiful fish equals eagles feeding and breeding.
The boat stopped only for about 5 minutes but I kept shooting all the while, using the Tamron 70-300mm lens I have. Autofocus is slow, so I switched to manual and obviously missed a few shots.
I downloaded the shots to the Mac when I returned to the hotel and of some 95 photographs of the eagles I outright rejected 46 and then cut the number of good ones down (and I was surprised how many were quite good) to the 25 I exported for use here. As a note, during the day, I took just under 240 photographs. Many of these, of course, were rejected for composition, focus or other problems.
On the short trip to the the next and final island, my hat blew off. I had only bought it the day before, so was a bit annoyed, but one of the passengers at the back of the boat caught it and I was saved. The island itself was nothing special at all.
Again, being the weekend, the beaches were full of people and there was little spare room. It was beautiful, as many of these islands appear to be, but people do make a difference.
There were some nice shells on the beach
While the forest reserve had had a pier and steps, here we disembarked onto the beach. My back was already hurting a bit from the pounding of the boat over the waves, and the drop to the sand was not comfortable for me.
While wandering about taking photographs, three young guys from Kuala Lumpur struck up a conversation and asked me what I thought about Langkawi. One had a movie camera and wanted to record my impressions for a project. He was not a student, but "between courses", but the idea was sound and I gave it a shot.
I later found a seat and wrote some notes while waiting for the boat. The temperatures were lower than the first island and there was a cool breeze. Hundreds of children and their parents were swimming - some of the Malaysian women fully clothed - and having a great time.
When the boat arrived, I clambered in, timing my approach perfectly to keep my shoes and socks dry; but when we arrived back at the base, I was not so lucky: I hurt my leg and got a wet sock. Despite the large numbers of people, the island views and the feeding sea eagles, the trip seemed good value to me and I would do it again.
Planning for Tomorrow
Back at the hotel I sat in the lounge for a while relaxing and then arranged a rental car with the travel service. I had been told R210 a day, but when I said I wanted the car for 2 days the price went down to R180 a day. I handed over my UK driving licence to some amusement.
This has been in a wallet for about 25 years and has never come out as for a long time I had a Thai driving licence. The result is that the UK licence is slightly tattered, but the service took a xerox copy and accepted it just the same. I was to collect the car at 16:00.
After completing paperwork for the car, a Vaio, and agreeing that the dents and scratches were there before I took delivery, I decided on a short run before night fell. I have not driven a car in years and knew I was out of practice, but sitting behind the wheel, things started to come back to me. I familiarised myself with the controls, selected Drive, removed the brakes and slid slowly out into the hotel driveway.
At the gate, I turned right onto a familiar road initially but went further than I had before to a village where I bought some food at the roadside. Coming back, things were smooth, but I went past the hotel (deliberately) and over the hills to a marina area where there was a clean-looking Petronas gas station. I put R20 of petrol in the tank, but I am sure I will need some more.
At the Petronas shop, I bought some snacks and a couple of other items, then headed back to the hotel with no incident, parking the car on a slope. I shall make some plans for tomorrow, load some film into the camera, charge the battery for the Nikon and have a shower before finishing up some work.
Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life.