Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Found Summer Part II

...Continuing the photo-blog of our spring break trip to Singapore & Malaysia...

On Monday afternoon, after a full day of sightseeing in Singapore, we collected our backpacks from the hostel and took the MRT to the north side of the island. Actually we stopped at Orchard Road first to buy beach towels, since we had neglected to pack ours. They were harder to find than you'd think...none of the department stores we tried stocked them. We ended up finding a RipCurl store that had a few in stock, for S$60. Ouch...I'll not forget to pack that next time!

After that we took the MRT to Kranji and a bus to the Causeway, where we cleared Singaporean and Malaysian customs. From the Malaysian side of the causeway we walked the half mile to Johor Bahru's rail station.

The great beach towel search delayed us enough that by the time we got to the station, the sleeping berths were all sold out and all that was left were 2nd class seats for the 13 hour overnight journey. Total cost for the trip from Johor Bahru to Kota Bharu - from the southern-most city in Malaysia to the northern-most - was RM 78 for both of us, or $25 USD.

The train was delayed for about an hour so we bought "dinner" (potato chips and hoho-like snacks) at the station's mini-mart and people-watched. The train arrived around 8pm. The 2nd class seats actually proved to be pretty comfy; they reclined pretty far. That, plus the long day and the rocking of the train, put us to sleep almost instantly. I love traveling by train, even though it's slower than other modes of transport in Southeast Asia.

The late train was actually a good thing because it meant we were still in the mountainous jungles of southern Kelantan when daylight arrived. We'd originally planned to ride the Jungle Line during the day, but our one day delay in Portland made it necessary to take the night train. The last four hours that we saw in daylight took us from the sparsely populated highlands on the Pahang border to the fields and villages surrounding Kota Bharu. The air conditioning in the rail car was downright chilly so I walked to the end of the car where the doors were open to let in the warm morning breeze. I chatted with some Malaysian guys having their morning cigarette; most were from around Kota Bharu or Tanah Merah.

From Kota Bharu's train station we took a taxi 80 km southeast to Kuala Besut, where we got in a speedboat to the Perhentian Islands, 25 km offshore in the South China Sea. With two 250 hp outboards on a 26' boat, it was a quick trip!

Pulau Perhentian is actually two islands: Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil (the Malay words for big and small, respectively). They're both rather small islands; Besar is no more than 10 sq km. Both islands have a mountainous interior with thick vegetation but are ringed by gorgeous white sand beaches. There are no roads and only a few scant footpaths around the islands, so transport is mostly by water taxi. There's an extensive healthy coral reef system surrounding the island, with abundant marine life including sea turtles and reef sharks, making for excellent snorkeling and diving.

There's one fishing village Kecil; otherwise all the development on the islands is made up of chalet operators, cafes, and dive shops. The swankier digs are on Besar's west side, while most of the budget places catering to backpackers are either on Long Beach on Kecil's east side or Coral Bay on the west side. Dawn and I stayed at Moonlight Chalets on the north side of Long Beach. A chalet with air-con and a private bathroom was RM50 per night (US $16).

There's not much to do on the island but sunbathe and snorkel or dive...which is how we got fried to a crisp our second day there. The full extent of Dawn's burn didn't become apparent until we were on our way home so we were still able to enjoy our remaining time on the island, albeit while seeking out shady places.

We stayed on the island from tuesday until friday, when we took the speedboat back to the mainland.

From Kuala Besut, we took a taxi to the Kota Bharu airport, where we non-revved on Malaysia Airlines to Kuala Lumpur and then on to Tokyo. The first flight was wide open but the 2nd was pretty iffy. Fortunately we got seats about 50 minutes before departure. Actually, we got seats together on all six flights we took during the trip (MSP-PDX-NRT-SIN and KBR-KUL-NRT-MSP). Our non-rev luck held out quite well, with the exception of the screwup that kept us from getting on the PDX-NRT flight the first day we tried it.

When Dawn got off the plane in Tokyo her feet had swelled up and blistered so bad she could barely walk. I was a little sore but otherwise no worse for the wear. It's weird, I'm usually the one who burns instantly, and I did a lot more snorkeling than she did the day we got burned.

Sunburns aside, it was a really nice trip, and a much-needed vacation from the Minnesota winter. Minneapolis got 9 inches of snow while we were gone, and another several inches of snow, rain, ice pellets, and slush last week. I was flying when that storm hit, but that's a story for another post.


Paradise Driver said...

Does it feel strange riding in the passenger compartment? I would think it would be like a taxi driver riding in the back seat of a cab in a different city.

Does your mind check off the various markers on the runway?

just curious. :-)

Anonymous said...

Not quite like a taxi driver but close... at least for me. And yes, I "follow along" as the flight progresses, including watching the runway markers.

Josh Barsch said...

Hi, Sam. I just went looking for airline/pilot blogs because I just wrote a humor column on my own blog about pilot pay. I wanted to email you directly and ask if you were interested in linking to it, but couldn't find a place to email you. In any case, here it is. Thanks!

Best regards,
Josh Barsch

Robo said...

Enjoy reading your travel blog. And nice photos taken from Perhentian Island. I will come back often!
Thanks from

Pilot said...

What I want to know is how you planned all this? I would assume it would get confusing fast ... being in a foreign country and all.

Sam said...


You know, I really don't mind riding in the back of an airplane, especially in the states. For the most part I know the qualifications and training of the crew involved, and that puts me at ease. There are a few regional carriers I avoid, though.

As far as foreign carriers, I guess I wonder a little more given that they do have a worse safety record than the US airlines (Europe excepted). I'd probably worry a lot more if we were taking off or landing in the middle of a monsoon, all my foreign carrier experiences have been in decent weather.

I do look for runway distance remaining markers, though!


You know, a lot of people ask me this, and I don't quite get it. Why does being in a foreign country automatically mean I'm gonna get confused? What's more confusing about it than, say, being in an unfamiliar city in the US? Lack of English? Seriously, most Europeans speak English better than in most of LA, and in the rest of the world you really have to get out in the sticks before you can't find anybody who speaks English. Logistics? Transport? You know, I do use guidebooks (Lonely Planet & Rough Guides are my favs) to do planning, as well as internet research, but in many cases I could've figured it out on the go just as easily, even in so-called "third world" countries.

Think of it this way. As a US citizen, you likely make a whole lot more than the average citizen just about everywhere but a handful of countries in Europe (take a look at
this map
. They want your dollar. OK, OK, these days they want euros more. Either way, for those countries in which tourism plays a major role, it is in their best interests to make doing things and getting around easy for the westerner. I think there's a perception among Americans that overseas travel is "hard" or requires a ton of money and planning, but I haven't found that to be the case at all. We took this trip to Singapore & Malaysia with less than a week of notice. Non-reving almost made us go to Thailand with 10 minutes notice. Ain't that hard, people. America is pretty cool but there's a whole lot else out there, get out and enjoy it.