Anti-Travel Post #2: Saying Goodbye to Langkawi

Originally posted to The Shorty Method as “Anti-Travel Post #2: Heisenberg In Langkawi”

Thursday, September 05, 2013
W & O Hostel, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

Although Langkawi had some charms, I wasn’t sad to leave it and head for our next stop, the historic city of Georgetown in Penang.

To be fair to Langkawi, it was the first stop on our trip and we arrived there after a grueling 30-plus hours of travel, most of which was in the air (which I hate—more on that later). We were tired and jet-lagged, not to mention that we had yet to adapt to the nomadic way of life (for example, our packs were, and still are, woefully over packed). The whole process of planning (thanks Lucy), packing, tying up loose ends in the U.S. (many still dangling loosely in the breeze), saying goodbyes (“but you just got home!”), and actually doing the traveling was very stressful, which probably clouded my view of the first place we ended up somewhat.

In fact, at least for me, the stress of travel was piled on top of the stress I’d gone through in preparing to leave Taiwan, where I’d been living for over a decade (talk about loose ends!), and the stress of getting married (I’m ecstatic to be married, but the actual process of a wedding is a logistic nightmare. I was lucky in that Lucy handled almost all of the planning and organization. Even so, it was no walk in the park for me). So when I finally crashed into my bed at the Bon Ton Temple Tree Resort in Langkawi, Malaysia, I was on the verge of mental collapse. In fact, it has taken me a couple of weeks to start winding down and to realize that, at least for the next few months, I don’t have to live by a clock—or even by a calendar.

So, I’m sorry Langkawi. As Tyler Durden said to Marla Singer at the end of Fight Club, “You met me at a very strange time in my life.” Still, I have to be honest that as a place you are your own worst enemy, or at least the people that live on you are. I guess the same could be said about the whole planet, for that matter.

I could probably fit this in to my general “anti-travel” theme, but instead of laying it at the feet of the travelers, I’m going to take aim more at the locals. Langkawi is a jewel. If one could visit there before the government turned it into a duty-free zone and began to develop it as a tourist destination, it would be a paradise (aside from the insects, crocodiles, snakes, impossibility of getting from one place to another, and likelihood of contracting water, food, or insect borne disease). It has beautiful beaches with warm, green water from the Andaman Sea. The lush flora covers all but the steepest cliffs of its stunning mountain formations. There are a number of breathtaking waterfalls to see, as well as to swim in. The sunsets are awesome. The fauna is exotic and varied, from birds to fish, reptiles to mammals (who doesn’t love monkeys—I mean, other than people who actually live in proximity to them?). Sure it is a little bit on the warm side, but that is what the beaches and waterfalls are for, right?

All of this natural beauty is still there, but the problem is that no-one can make money from it, or at least not enough people can make enough, and not directly from nature. So what do the local people do? Well, the first thing they do is drop the plow and get behind the wheel of a taxi, or, if they’ve got more capital, open a hotel, restaurant, or mini-mart. Or more likely, they stand there with their mouths open in shock and wonder while other Malaysians flock to their island and start those businesses (then they probably go to work for those off-islanders). Either way, one can’t blame a farmer for preferring driving a cab (or doing whatever other service-based job) to staring at the backside of a water buffalo all day while slogging through the muck. They probably make a lot more money with what is certainly a lot less physical effort. This is all good, and part of the economic development of the place. But the problem is that the pie is only so large, and the slices start to get pretty thin as more and more people try to get their piece.

There is only so much room for drivers to take arriving tourists to their hotels (just as one example, another might be that there are only so many meals that tourists can consume), so locals have to come up with new ways to compete for the tourist dollars. So you end up with those banana boats, jet skis, parachute sailing (or whatever it is called) and various other activities that people will shell out for because sitting on a gorgeous tropical beach thousands of miles from the normal stresses of life is just not enough. There probably isn’t a tourist-destination beach in the world that doesn’t have all of that stuff. I don’t deny that it might be fun, but is it really necessary?

Then there are all the tours and attractions that spring up. A good example in Langkawi are the crocodile “farms.” Crocodiles used to live naturally in the mangroves, but the government put a bounty on them and now they only live in captivity, mostly at places that show them off to tourists, and then slaughter them for their hides and meat. Naturally tourists want to see crocodiles. Who doesn’t? But the problem is that it is difficult to observe them in nature, as well as time-consuming and costly. Solution? Round ‘em up and put on a show!

You can still go on a boat tour of the island and the mangroves. It is pretty interesting by itself, but just to make sure the tourists get what they paid for, the boat operators toss food into the water to get the birds to swoop down for dramatic effect. They also toss food to the monkeys to attract them to the shoreline so people can take their pictures. The result is that the monkeys lose their ability (or will) to forage for natural food and instead become pests that are dependent on scraps from humans. Probably the worst thing I saw was a “fish farm” where local fishermen bring not only typical food fish, but more exotic varieties that they catch (barracudas, rays, giant angelfish, sharks, and so on). These fish are kept in tiny underwater pens and are pulled up repeatedly all day to show the tourists. They can’t survive long like that. Finally there was the zoo, or “Wildlife Park” as it is billed. It’s not the worst zoo I’ve seen (that distinction belongs to the Hsinchu Zoo in Taiwan), but it was pretty bad. A lot of the animals there aren’t even native to Langkawi, so it isn’t even really an informative experience to go there, and the conditions are pretty bad for the animals. Still, it is one of the major attractions.

The list could go on, but I think I’ve given enough examples to make my point. Looking at something, particularly a fragile natural system, changes it. This is true even in the least intrusive cases where people actually trek far into the wilderness to observe nature. In the case of tourist destinations, it is really devastating to the natural systems. On one hand you can’t really blame the locals; they are just trying to make a living. Tourists should know better (if you can afford to got to a tourist destination, you should be able to afford an education), but I think what happens is that many people arrive at a place like Langkawi, have a swim, look at a sunset, and then wake up the next morning and say, “What do you want to do today?”

Given a more eco-friendly option, a lot of people would probably take it. Without such options, people will do whatever is available. I don’t know why people feel driven to do anything while on vacation, after all doing nothing is what vacations are for. What seems to happen, though, is that locals see tourists as a source of cash, and so they invent things for them to do, and human nature seems to impel people to do whatever activity there is available to do, even if they never would have thought of doing it on their own.

So what ends up happening is that the very thing that makes a place like Langkawi attractive in the first place, its natural beauty, becomes degraded to the point where it eventually ceases to be a feature of the place and is soon replaced by luxury hotels, theme parks (a major one is under construction in Langkawi at the moment), and banana boats. The locals, in the natural desire to make a good living, try to make nature unnaturally accessible, and try to come up with all kinds of other activities and enticements that have nothing to do with the original character of the place (duty-free shops and theme parks, for example). All of this, coupled with the generally dilapidated condition of much of the Langkawi infrastructure (there are many partially constructed buildings, things that are falling apart, and places in serious need of maintenance) lead to lot of disappointing experiences for anyone who is looking for more than rest and relaxation on a beautiful beach.

Lucky for me, that’s all I really want from a gorgeous tropical island.

Looking back on Langkawi

I told Mike tonight that I prefer websites over blogs. In websites everything has a place for a reason. It has some sort of logical, categorical order, laid out like a table of contents.

Blogs may be searchable by tags and categories, but mostly they are at the mercy of chronology. That’s the point though. I think blogs were intended to be like journals (I was inspired to start blogging when I read of how a writer developed his craft by blogging every day in a personal blog no one else had access to), but have somehow turned into the new newspaper. Newspapers are also subject to the passage of time, sometimes mercifully so. I remember attending a talk given by a journalist that my dad took me to when I was in high school (I was guilty of being on the school newspaper). She seemed wary of an audience member’s suggestion that newspaper works be bound up and saved in the form of a book. Her reply insisted that journalists liked the transience of their own work, how it was all here today and gone tomorrow.

That’s right. A book or a website may be polished. Blogs, no matter how polished each post may be,are rawer. It is only with journalistic integrity that they may be edited (I generally don’t have this fastidiousness).

The truth is, I wasn’t happy with the quality of my posts while in Langkawi, even as I was writing them. I didn’t feel like writing then,but felt somehow obliged to. I could go back and edit,and probably will, but for the most part I will let them stand as they are as testament to how I was back then. I was cranky, due to hormones and jet lag and being new to the wear and tear of travel–frustrated by Langkawi, and very frustrated by the poor Internet connection.

Overall, I like Georgetown much better. It’s still unrelentingly touristy, but not vacations, as Mike said. It’s walkable. The hostels are cleaner and the Internet works (obviously). I am also reading better literature. (For some reason I decided to slough through The Dragonriders of Pern while on Langkawi. While preparing to leave the island, I started Howard’s End instead. Come to think of it, the first few good days on Langkawi, I was reading The Fault in Our Stars.) Good literature makes me thoughtfully inspired. Rather, my criteria for what good literature is, is that it makes me thoughtfully inspired.

Anyway, I still intend to document life on Langkawi, but it will be chronologically dis-synchronous.

Anti-Travel Post #1: Communication Breakdown

This is only the first of my “anti-travel” posts in which I will attempt to explain what I consider to be one of the biggest marketing schemes to have been foisted on the developed world since the automobile and commercial television. I realize that many people, and especially young people, think of world travel as almost a religion, and no one likes for his or her religious beliefs to be called into question. I expect some negative responses (if indeed anyone ever actually reads these posts). However, I hope that anyone who does read them will stop for a moment before condemning me and ask themselves why they really “like” to travel, or feel that “travel is SO broadening.”

After living in Taiwan for a decade (as well as after suffering some hearing loss from playing in a band for ten years), I’m used to not catching what people say, but I also developed a sort-of Taiwan-specific sense of peoples’ meanings even when I don’t actually understand the words they used. This does not carry over well to other places, particularly ones where the speech patterns are completely different from Mandarin Chinese. I also developed the habit of avoiding the necessity of communicating with people as much as possible. This works okay when you live in a place for an extended period of time. Just think about your daily life and how you can get through most things with simple pointing and grunts—for example going to the grocery store: you put your stuff on the little conveyor belt, the cashier rings you up, tells you the total, you pay, say thank you, and that’s it. On a weekend day that might be the extent of your interaction with other people if you live alone (as I have done for much of my adult life). This habit doesn’t work well while traveling, however, as you are continuously having to make reservations, arrange transportation, check in and out of lodgings, order meals, and so on.

While staying in Langkawi, communication has been a problem in general, which is to be expected when visiting a foreign country. Some examples: we were eating at a nice and fairly expensive restaurant (Sunset Boulevard) the other night. After ordering, I realized that I was short on cash, so I went up to the counter and asked the fellow if they accepted Visa. He said yes, and then gestured toward our table and said something I didn’t quite catch.

After we had a nice meal, I went to pay, but when I took out my credit card the same fellow I’d asked about the Visa earlier apologetically said that they only took cash. It turns out that he thought I had said something about a pizza, rather than Visa. He was very embarrassed, and I was rather annoyed but remained gracious and told him that it was at least as much my fault as his, and I suppose it was since I didn’t ask for clarification. I then had to scurry out and down to the nearest bank (luckily not too far away) and withdraw money, then scurry back to the restaurant.

Another example was when Lucy and I stopped at the place next to the defunct internet café (with all of its “open” signs still in place) and asked if they had WiFi. The young man who greeted us said yes, so we decided to eat there. No sooner had we sat down and Lucy opened her iPad than we found out that, no, they didn’t have WiFi. We were tired and hot, so we decided to stay anyway. We ordered some beverages and I ordered fried noodles, but the noodles never came, so apparently the young man didn’t understand when I pointed to the noodles in the menu and said I wanted them, even though he repeated my order and nodded his head in understanding.

Some misunderstandings seem more intentional, such as when we hired a taxi to take us to the Langkawi Wildlife Park (actually just a sad zoo—sadder than most zoos I’ve been to, but not the saddest). The posted price was thirty Ringits (all destinations have posted prices to prevent drivers from gouging tourists). However, it is always a good idea to confirm with the driver before you leave. Our driver said “Thirty-five,” to which we replied in unison, “Thirty.” He repeated thirty-five, and I told him that we checked the posted price and it was supposed to be thirty. He said, “Okay,” but didn’t actually confirm that he agreed to that price. I wanted to hear him say “thirty,” but he wouldn’t do it. Then he offered to take us there and back for seventy, which (if I’m doing the math correctly) is twice thirty-five. He said that there were no taxis there to take us back, but there were actually a half dozen cabs sitting right there in the driveway of the zoo. We said that wouldn’t be necessary and as we bailed out of the cab I jabbed thirty Ringits at him and quickly scampered into the zoo. When we came out, there he was waiting for us and all the other drivers gave him first shot at us as we were clearly “his” passengers. He then proceeded to overcharge us to take us to the main town, Kuah. Unfortunately there were no taxi prices posted at the zoo, so we couldn’t check. In the end, he got his extra and I felt cheap and foolish for troubling over about four U.S. dollars.

I hate to complain about people not understanding me when I’m the one that is the foreigner (except when the misunderstanding is intentional, in which case I feel fully justified), but this is a one hundred percent tourist location, so I don’t think it is too much to expect the people in restaurants and shops to understand very basic questions and requests. Or if they’re not sure they understand, to follow up and confirm meaning. On the other hand, this is just one more inconvenience that goes along with travel. It could just as easily happen if I was visiting some place in Mississippi or Maine instead of Malaysia, as the accents of people in those places, as well as the subtleties of their cultures, are different enough from mine to obscure meaning.

In my way of thinking, this is just one more of the unnecessary inconveniences that people put themselves through in the pursuit of what is really just a marketing scheme called “world travel.”

The moral of the story? Stay home and misunderstand the people in your own hometown.

Rumah Holistic: A Whole-Hearted Welcome to Langkawi

Mike and I went on our Rumah Holistic Serenity Tour after a week on Langkawi, but I would suggest that you do this first, before anything else. Rumah Holistic is promoted mainly as a massage service, but Eric’s retreats are the way to go. It includes a spa treatment, and Eric takes you around all day as a chaffeur/tour guide/photographer. He differs from a normal tour guide in that he is informative, but is not trying to sell you anything else. This was very different from the other day, when we hired a taxi to take us around for 8 hours.

Eric picked us up from our Motel at 8am, and took us to a nice sandy beach nearby for Tai Chi Qi Gong. He obviously practices himself, but the video he had on his laptop to keep time for our breathing was a bit distracting. He did, however, have some information about the history of Tai Chi Qi Gong and the list of exercises we had gone through. There was time for pictures afterwards.

Then we went to the Red Tomato for breakfast. We both had the Eggs Benedict. Very tasty. Then it was back to his place. Eric gave a tour of his home. It’s out in the jungle, so be sure to apply bugspray beforehand! Eric introduced us to his cats, Lada (paper) and Halia (ginger) and his dogs, Shushi and Muchi. All four were adopted from Lassie, near Bon Ton. The cats were only 3 months old. Lada did crazy things like climb up a pole he couldn’t get down and allow the dogs to drag him around by the head. Halia, Eric said, was more adventurous and liked to go off by himself. Eric had just come back from a 7 week tour of Europe, so his pets were very happy to see him, following him everywhere. This may also be normal behavior. Eric is a pesca vegetarian, but at the end of the day he bought chicken feet for his dogs and fish balls for his cats.

One of the reasons Eric is a great guide is that he can give you insights into Malaysian culture and current events in Langkawi. He also has a great appreciation for plants and nature, which is the reason he moved to Langkawi in the first place. He can point out different native plants to you inside and outside his house, and tell you if they have any medicinal or culinary uses. He will also take you to the stream behind his property for fish feet cleaning. It’s not really long enough for a proper fish cleaning, but it’s nice to see the stream and get a photo taken.

You’ll then get real foot pampering from Eric’s assistants while he explains the massage process. The setting is in Eric’s home, so it’s nothing fancy, but it’s nice to have the explanation of the spa in English. Mike opted for a Thai massage, and Eric suggested that a two hour session might be too much it he wasn’t used to it. Mike ended up getting an herb massage. I opted for Tropical Paradise, which included a facial.

There’s lunch, which featured both local and western salad. Eric explained the different types of Malay herbs to us. Then there was delicious, if overcooked chicken curry. This is somewhat understandable as Eric doesn’t eat chicken himself. The fish in my fish stew was very tender. At this point, Eric puts the cat into a room and ties up his dogs so they can’t get to your food. I felt bad for the dogs, but I consider it impolite to feed other people’s dogs. I’m pretty sure they got our leftovers though. The lunch was very filling, probably because he hadn’t had much activity between breakfast and lunch.

After lunch, we were going to visit a nice beach and waterfall located in the remote Northwest. However, Mike and I had just visited them the day prior (this is why I suggest taking the retreat first). Eric instead took us to the more famous 7 wells waterfall, then a beach in the north part of the island, an easy distance from the mangrove tour we were going to go on.

The tour was beautiful, and Eric was able to be our English guide and point out/take pictures for us. The tour guide did feed the macaques we saw. He didn’t feed the burmyni kites, but we benefited from another boat who did. Eric explained to us that Langkawi meant “Eagle Rock,” and that there were so many eagles around before, the government had trouble building their airport. Someone had the idea of feeding the eagles in the mangrove swamp, and the eagles have tended to congregate there ever since. Luckily, the area is also a Geopark and is protected from development.

I have mixed feelings about feeding the animals. I know it’s not good for them and that they will lose their instincts to search for food, but it seems a bit fruitless when everyone else is doing it. I can abstain myself, but just by being a tourist I’m somehow implicated.

The mangrove tour is two hours, and features a visit to a bat cave, where we disturb the bats with flashlights, and a fish farm. We then go to the nearby beach to meditate and take pictures of the sunset. At this point, our bellies were a bit empty. Luckily, Eric asked us if we wanted to stop by the Cenang night market, which happened to be going on that night (Thursday). He recommended some glutinous rice triangles with dry curry, and we also bought egg rolls and samosas for cheaper than we could find them in any restaurant in Cenang. We also got chicken roti, which unfortunately did not travel well, besides being too sweet for our tastes.

The great thing about Eric is, though he has a lot of information about what to do in Cenang, such as go to Privilege restaurant, not to eat the curry at open 24 hours Nasi Tomato, the cable car and cooking classes with Shuk, he doesn’t press any of it. Even though I got the feeling he was talking up his homestay over AB Motel, it didn’t feel invasive. He genuinely enjoys sharing his experiences on Langkawi with others.

Not that the experience couldn’t be improved. Eric is not a commercial professional, so he doesn’t have ads, only his WordPress website and Tripadvisor reviews. He doesn’t take credit card, just cash or Paypal. His spa could be a bit fancier, and I think the timing of some things could be different. The mangrove tour has to be in the late afternoon due to that being the low tides, but I feel like the more adventurous activities, visiting the beach and waterfall, for example, should take place in the morning so that you can get hungry. This might be difficult since he has to cook it himself though. Also, it would be nice if the tour included some kind of snack, if not dinner, since between 12 and 8 pm you can get pretty hungry. Overall, he’s informative, flexible, and enthusiastic.

Letters Home: First Days in Langkawi, Malaysia

This is the first in a series of posts that will be based on email message that I’ve sent to friends and family while on sabbatical in South East Asia. Posts will be edited slightly, but will keep the general form of a letter.

August 25, 2013

Hi Mom,

It has been a couple of days, so I thought I’d drop you a note.

We arrived safely in Langkawi about 31 hours after leaving your house. It was about ten o’clock at night when we arrived at our “hotel,” and all we could do was drag ourselves to bed and crash. The crashing continued for the whole next day. Luckily our hotel, Temple Tree, is a kind of resort, so there was enough to do and see just outside our door. Here’s a link to the website for the place: http://www.templetree.com.my/. It is very interesting to look at if you get the chance. The place is named after a sacred tree and temple that is on the compound where people still come to pray.

By the way, Langkawi is a small resort island off the northwest coast of peninsular Malaysia. In fact, we’re closer to Thailand now than to the mainland of Malaysia. Here’s some info from Wikipedia: Langkawi, officially known as Langkawi, the Jewel of Kedah (Malay: Langkawi Permata Kedah) is an archipelago of 104 islands in the Andaman Sea, some 30 km off the mainland coast of northwestern Malaysia. The islands are a part of the state of Kedah, which is adjacent to the Thai border. I’ve been told that there are far fewer islands at low tide, as some smaller islands become connected when the sea level is lower.

The “hotel” is really a compound made up of buildings from various Malaysian traditions. The buildings were all moved from other parts of Malaysia to the site and re-constructed (many buildings in this part of the world are intentionally built to be taken apart and put back together). The first two nights we stayed in a room that is part of a former plantation workers’ quarters. It was a great room–very big and nicely furnished (much better than what the original occupants had, I’m sure). Now I’m writing from a different room that was also on a plantation, but this one is two-story.

One interesting thing is that the buildings are designed for maximum natural ventilation (traditional homes apparently didn’t have air conditioning). So the walls are all made up of jalousied wooden slats, and around the roof line are ornate wooden latices to allow the air to flow through. The ceilings are peaked and about fifteen to twenty feet high at the highest point. Luckily we also have actual electric A/C, and so are often cold in the room despite the outside heat (about ninety degrees and humid).

Another interesting thing is the proliferation of birds. As dawn approaches the birds start to “sing,” and soon it sounds like we’re in the middle of a jungle (which isn’t far off). Most of the birds are species of myna, and they are really noisy. They make a really wide range of sounds, from tweets and whistles to grunts and caws. They are interesting to watch, as they are really active and curious. We’ve also seen black-naped oriels (sorry about the spelling) which are mostly bright yellow, and some very large wading birds like cranes or something, as well as a few others that I haven’t identified yet. One of the most interesting sights of birds we’ve seen so far was a flock of some kind of white wading birds circling over some rice paddies. They were far in the distance, but the sun hit them just right so that they looked like shining silver flakes swirling around the sky. It was kind of a “National Geographic” moment.

We’ve also seen a LOT of geckos. They are everywhere, inside and out, and for that I’m thankful as they eat a lot of insects.

We saw some squirrels that look pretty much like the ones in Seattle, except for being smaller and thinner. We also saw a Malaysian black giant squirrel, which is basically the same shape as a regular squirrel but is black with a light brown face and underside, and a tail with longer hair than a gray squirrel. Also, it was about as long as my arm from nose to tip of tail (the squirrel’s nose and tail, not mine).

Other animals we’ve seen are mostly water buffalo, which seem to be pretty common. We’ve seen a lot of them along the roadside, wallowing in mud or just standing around. I’m not sure what they are used for, as tractors seem to be doing most of the work in the fields.

The last animal I’ll mention for now is the common house cat. It seems the proprietors of the resort have some relationship with a local animal shelter, so the whole compound is overrun with cats of all sizes, shapes, colors, and dispositions. I’m not sure how this is a “shelter,” since the cats run around loose all over the place, but apparently many have been rescued from abusive situations (some have deformities–especially truncated tails). The cats are not annoying other than that they constantly try to get into our room when we open the door, but they are generally either friendly or aloof, and mostly look well fed and clean.

Oh! I forgot to mention the dogs, and am now reminded of them because they all just started barking and howling. I’ve only seen one or two, but obviously there are many more just out of sight because every once in a while they erupt in fits of howling or barking or both. Malaysia is mostly muslim, and apparently dogs are one of the animals that muslim people do not like very much. For this reason there are relatively few stray or pet dogs (compared to either Taiwan in the former, or the U.S. in the latter).

As far as the people go, so far it is hard to tell who is a tourist and who is a local, but in either case it is an eclectic mix. Indian, Chinese, and European are blended in, and as I said before many people are Muslim (a lot of women wear head scarves, although they are not required by law as they are in some more conservative countries). It is much more heterogeneous than Taiwan, although not quite as mixed as what you’d see visiting the Pike Place Market during the busy tourist season (I’ve seen very few African-looking people, for example). One good thing is that Malaysians are fairly well-known for being laid back and friendly, and so far that has been what we have experienced, particularly at the resort. In fact, when we first arrived a man took us into the lobby of the main building, sat us down, and before anything else gave us cold drinks (I had a beer). He then went over all the amenities as well as some of the history of the place. They even carried our bags to our room, a service that I have not even seen in five-star hotels and that I thought had gone the way of the dodo.

We don’t really need to leave the resort for anything. The food is very good and they do everything for us. There are three pools, two bars, two restaurants, a “library,” wifi everywhere on the compound (a bit weak and spotty, but better than nothing), a tiny pool table, laundry service, massages, yoga classes, etc. There’s even a classica guitar that is listed as one of the ammenities, but it cannot be tuned because the knobs on several tuners are missing or broken. However, it is expensive. The room is more than we can afford, and the food is about four times as expensive as it is in restaurants outside the place. We really only planned to stay two nights, but we (okay, I) was so tired that we decided to stay an extra night.

Now it is about 8:30 a.m. and we are eating breakfast in our room (cake, toast, fruit, yogurt, coffee/tea provided each day). We need to check out by noon, and move somewhere else more affordable. We plan to go about a thirty minutes walk from here to stay in a small cabin by the beach (beautiful beaches here) for a couple days. This will cost us about one sixth of what it costs to stay at the Temple Tree where we are now, and will mark the beginning of our real shoestring travels.

Well, I’d better go, but we’ll be in touch and send some pictures (or a link to somewhere you can see our pictures) soon.

Love,

Mike and Lucy

Langkawi the Touristy, the Internetless

It’s hard to believe that Mike and I have been in Langkawi for more than a week. We’ve done a lot, haven’t even seen half the island, and are ready to leave. The main reason is the lack of the reliable internet.

It started at Temple Tree. The internet was spotty. At one point it was reset, but my computer still wasn’t able to connect. I was content though, because I figured our vacation was more vacation-y without internet, and because I figured once we moved into the “city” of Cenang there would be plentiful free wifi.

Indeed, there was, but none of it reliable. At least one cafe we went to shared a router with its neighbors. Our hotel lobby wifi was slow and spotty. I couldn’t connect to a restaurant’s wifi with my ipad. Finally, I went to Starbucks one day and ordered a drink that turned out to be 16 ringits. In U.S. dollars, that’s only about $5.30, which is standard for a designer coffee, but a modest meal even in Langkawi costs 5 ringits. That, plus the difficulty I had getting past Starbucks’ starter web page made me resolve to go to McDonalds instead next.

There are times that I crave McDonalds. Now is not one of those times. I’m still sampling Malaysian food–a mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and Thai. At least McDonalds sold ice cream for 1 ringit. I got choco dipped soft serve for 1.80 ringit just to try it. McDonalds wifi was even worse. It even said in the terms and agreement that it could only support 14 people at a time, but in my opinion, it can’t even support 4. After a complicated registration process, it proceeds to give you slow internet and kick you off every 15 minutes. Mike and I spent 3 hours there accomplishing nothing.

I have no patience with slow internet. I refuse to do anything important on it. Instead, I browse Pinterest, which requires little internet strength, while waiting for more important pages to load. I even gave up on making a payment through Paypal, and instead handed a lot of cash over to one vendor. In the meantime, blog posts went unwritten, hotels and vendors went unreviewed, and pictures went unposted. None of this is particularly vital, but not having internet upset the fragile routine I had planned on having. I didn’t even bother to look up Malay vocabulary or whether or not tipping was expected in Malaysia (it’s not, but it’s appreciated).

The best internet I’ve experienced on this island is at the restaurant Privilege. Internet use was encouraged, as the password was printed on the paper tablecloth overlay, but it was a bit odd to be on the internet at such a nice restaurant. That didn’t stop the table behind us from all being on their ipads and iphones though.

One other reason we will be happy to leave Langkawi is that it is a bit too touristy. In some ways it’s sad. It was deliberately developed as a tourist spot starting in the ’90s, but unevenly so. There’s a lot of construction and unfinished buildings. There have been more tourists than usual in August due to Ramadan (you don’t have to fast if you’re traveling) and Merdeka (Malaysian Independence Day), but the high time for tourism is December, so the island is operating at low capacity. The cheapest places to eat are those that serve Malaysian food, but they’re actually a bit difficult to find among the many fancy seafood restaurants. Langkawi is not a bad place to go for a honeymoon, as there are plenty of nice beaches, restaurants, and spas, but besides having a lot of English speakers and permissive views on alcohol and dress, I don’t think it’s a good place to go backpacking.