Slowest express train to Monsoon Island

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May 20th 2010
Published: May 20th 2010
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Ipoh - Langkawi

Train station in IpohTrain station in IpohTrain station in Ipoh

People came and left
Oh the luck we’ve been having. After being in the hospital for 4 days we thought the best thing would be somewhere warm and quiet to recover fully from being sick. Palau Langkawi seemed the perfect spot, on the west coast of Malaysia, practically on the Malay-Thai border. It was apparently a beach-town island, but still had resources in case the bronchitis wasn’t fully out of my system.

We decided to catch the train to Butterworth, the mainland jumping off point to Penang, then go to Georgetown for one night before catching the ferry to Langkawi. We’d been reading in our Lonely planet and thought this would be the best way to go. This brings us to the train station in Ipoh at the drabbest hotel I have ever seen. It was above the train station which was an amazing and large colonial station from when the town probably came under British rule. After checking into the hotel we decided to check the train schedules, this was our first bad move, as we thought we would have to wait until the next day to catch the train to Butterworth, apparently there was one leaving that day at 6. That was perfect as it put us in Butterworth at about 10pm, leaving us enough time to get to a guesthouse in Georgetown for the night. We booked ourselves on that and went for lunch in town.

We got back about an hour and a half later to discover that our train was delayed for 2 and a half hours, pushing our departure time back to 8:30, meaning we wouldn’t be getting into Butterworth until after midnight, leaving us no time to get to Georgetown for the night. We contemplated our options for awhile before deciding to take our chances and catch the train, hoping that we could find something in Butterworth, with our worst case scenario being that we would taxi into Georgetown and go back to Banana, who we knew would let us in after closing time.

So began the wait. We found a nice family owned cafe in the terminal where we had some dinner and warm tea. After a few hours of waiting, and the train being pushed back 3 hours, Scott decided to ask the cafe owner for some advice on our dilemma, and found out there was a

This penguin was hilarious, it followed Kristy all around
train called the Langkawi express, it originated (we think) in Singapore, and went all the way up the coast to Arau, which was a short half hour boat ride to Langkawi, and was an overnight train. Meaning we wouldn’t have to go to Georgetown and figure out accommodations for a night, before catching the ferry to Langkawi (it left twice a day, 8:15 am and 8:30 am from Penang). The train was scheduled to leave at 1:00am, which was about 10 minutes after our train to Butterworth was now scheduled to leave (how can a train be delayed from 6pm to 1am?) . Scott went and exchanged our tickets for a first class sleeping berth on the Langkawi Express and we hunkered down for the rest of the wait (it was only 10pm at this point). After many hours of watching house playing mind-numbing hours of patchwork from (it still works when the computers offline) and taking random pictures of the trains from different angles our train arrived (20 minutes late I might add) and we loaded into our berth.

The first class sleeper was quite nice, we had a bunk bed, small sink, table a chair and a mirror (this was my second time on a train, first in a sleeping berth, it was pretty cool). Scott fell asleep quite quickly, it took me a bit longer but we both got a bit of shut-eye on the trains 9 hour journey to Arau. It stopped a couple of times on the way and the driver would announce in Malay where we were (which scared the crap out of me and kept me from getting a proper sleep as I lost sense of time and thought every stop was ours). Finally, after sunrise, the train stopped and I quite clearly heard Arau (one of the train workers also came and banged on our door to let us know it was our stop).

A 20 minute taxi ride brought us to the ferry terminal 2 minutes before it was scheduled to take off, we hurriedly bought our tickets and loaded on right before the boat left, and I passed right back out again for almost the entire journey. (ahhh sleep)

Arriving in Langkawi was an experience. The boat docks in a duty free shopping mall, you go through the mall and catch a taxi to wherever it is you want to go. The island was absolutely massive and it took us about 45 minutes to get to Cenang beach, which was where we were planning on staying for the next week. When we got to the beach we quickly found out that almost every single place was either full or reserved and had a room for only one night. We found a place down a dirt road called Rainbow where we spent one night before moving to a ‘Lonely Plant Suggested’ pick called ‘The Palms’. The guesthouse was very simple with 8 rooms surrounding a rocky palm garden run by an English couple. Very tidy and clean with a nice little courtyard in the middle of the rooms. The town wasn’t as impressive as I was hoping (I need to stop getting my hopes up for places I know nothing about). It was a long strip of shops and restaurants that smelled slightly of sewage. The beach defiantly wasn’t Thailand standard (hopes dashed), but it was quite large, not the best time for swimming as jellyfish become a problem during monsoon season, but there were a lot of different activities to keep you busy during the day. Our evening was quite slow, dinner on the beach and an update from home that the HABS (Montreal Canadiens) had won and were moving on to the next round (hockey talk), which is awesome, and my dad was at the game which is super exciting as it’s his home team (go habs go!!) ok enough hockey talk.

The next day we decided that we wanted to go and see the new Iron Man movie at the local theatre and possibly get some shopping done at the duty free stores near the jetty. We rented a motorbike for the day and zoomed off to the main town of Kuah. The movie theatre was deserted and it turned out they wouldn’t play the movie unless they sold 4 tickets... so we bought 4 tickets (11 Rm each, just over $10 cnd). Luckily enough for us, two more people showed up and bought tickets so the manager gave us money back for two of them (how nice) and we were able to see the movie in a theatre from the 1980’s.

The shopping at the duty free mall wasn’t worthwhile. The mall was much smaller then we had previously thought, and the only thing we really liked was a small bracelet for 4 RM ($1ish cnd). So we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon checking out the island and planning our next day, and seeing what sights we could. We found a cable car that went up to the tallest peak on the mountain, a horseback riding stable and an aquarium, and decided that would be our last day on Langkawi, and after that we would head back into Thailand and get back on course with our original plan of heading into Cambodia and onwards.

We woke up to the heaviest rainstorm I have ever seen in my life. It was literally dumping buckets of water over us for most of the morning so we took our time getting up and ready, slightly disappointed as it meant the cable car wouldn’t be as pleasant, and we decided not to go horseback riding as it was way too expensive (120RM each for an hour, $60 cnd, $120 cnd for both of us for one hour). We went for breakfast and checked out the underwater world which was cool because of the penguins, but not worth the 38 RM entrance fee ($12 cnd).

By the time we finished at the aquarium the weather had taken a turn for the better and we decided to check out the cable car. It was on the north-western part of the island, and took about 45 min to get to on motorbike. At the bottom of the lift was a small town called the ‘Chinese village’, which reminded me a lot of whistler in the summertime, only much warmer, and not so many Kiwi and Aussie’s. We had lunch at the bottom and then paid 30 RM ($9 cnd) and caught the gondola to the top.

There were two stations, the first one was something like 650m above sea level, and had quite an impressive view of the island, the beach we were staying on as well as the mass of jungle in between us and Kuah (the main town on the island). We then caught the gondola up to the top most station where there was a viewpoint at 705m above sea level as well as a scary suspension bridge that lead to a platform
Train station in IpohTrain station in IpohTrain station in Ipoh

Sewing was a great time passer
where you could see the entire island under you. It was breathtaking. We spent about an 45 min checking out the different viewpoints and hiking in between them before heading back down and into town for some dinner and to pack up.

We decided that Langkawi wasn’t quite what we were looking for and that we would move on to Ko Lanta, in Thailand the next day in search of a simple bungalow on the beach with a nice balcony and somewhere to rest for a few days before carrying on to Cambodia. After checking the news that day we learned that things in Bangkok were going from bad to worse very fast. There had been numerous more deaths, and most of the city had been declared a live-fire zone. Many companies were shutting down, and even the safer areas of the city were now being considered dangerous. By entering the country via land we are only given a 15 day visa, so we’re going to spend a week on the beaches of Ko Lanta relaxing, soaking up some sun, and figuring out our game plan for the next few weeks. We want to head into Cambodia, and know it’s possible to fly from Phuket but we have stuff in storage on the Khao san road that we wanted to deal with before leaving Thailand as we’re not sure when we will be back in the country.

Other than that I think we’re both looking forward to returning to Thailand. We seem to have been having not the best of luck in Malaysia so far, it’s been interesting to say the least! Thailand feels like a comfort zone though, despite the ongoing political turmoil in the capital, the south is an easy place to relax and forget about your worries for awhile. Onwards we go!!

Additional photos below
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22nd May 2010

blog fame
Looks like you two are starting a career in travel journalism. Indian newspapers...what's next?
22nd May 2010

Great photos! :)
24th May 2010

great pics and great writing
7th November 2010
Train station in Ipoh

Another awesome picture!
11th February 2011

Blog of the year, 2010
Congratulations! :) This blog was nominated one of the best of 2010, in the Asia/photography category.
8th June 2011

A beautifully composed photograph - especially love the depth to the picture.
11th June 2011

Thank you, I had to drag Kristy of the road down a cliff over a long sandbank running from vicious crabs to take the shot i wanted :)

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