Our 3 month visas for Thailand were due to expire on March 5th and in order to get a one month extension we had to leave the country, so we flew (60 minutes in the air) to Kuala Lumpur (KL) , Malaysia last week for a four day trip (Feb 24- Feb 28) . There is a U.S. embassy in KL, and we needed to go there in order to get new passport pages ( I was down to my last page).
There are so many nice hotels in KL, and at very good prices, that it is hard to pick one, but after lots of time spent on hotels.com we picked the Royale Chulan Kuala Lumpur. It turned out to be a lovely hotel, and they upgraded us to a very large executive suite when we arrived. The room was great, with views of the city, and most importantly views of the beautiful Petronas Towers, the 88 story twin towers that dominate the landscape of the city. These towers were the tallest buildings in the world from 1998 to 2004 and are still the tallest twin towers.
We had a great 4 days – just being tourists. It is an interesting multi-cultural city. One sees a lot of ethnic Malay women wearing their very stylish colorful head-scarves with tight jeans and colorful blouses, side by side with tourists from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries dressed in full black burkas with even their eyes covered by sunglasses. Malaysia is popular with tourists from Arab countries because it is easy to find halal food and they are comfortable in a majority Muslim population. On the other hand, however, there are many Chinese- and Indian-Malaysians so you also see a lot of women in mini-skirts, short shorts and all sorts of outfits. The men, religious or not, all seem to be able to get away with wearing t-shirts and shorts.
We enjoyed the tremendous variety of Malay (including Indian-Malay and Chinese-Malay) food, went to a bird-park and to a movie, gawked at the Petronas Towers and the fantastically extravagant shopping malls, and just wandered around the town enjoying a break from boat life. People were very friendly and it was nice to be able to communicate in English and in Bahasa Malay which is very similar to Indonesian. (Malaysians speak much better English than Thais as they study English in school, whereas most Thais do not).
Now we are back in Thailand with visas good until the end of March and lots of passport pages to get us through the next few years. The freighter that is taking our boat (and 23 other boats) to Turkey is supposed to arrive here on the 15th of March. We are hoping that they won’t be delayed.
We are tied up at the Rebak Marina, part of the five star Rebak Island Resort. We arrived yesterday morning. We spent the night before at the “Fjord anchorage” in southern Langkawi after a hot but fast (due to current, not wind) sail from Penang. It was only 10 more miles to Rebak Island.
This morning (Friday) was the weekly “veggie run” over to the big island of Langkawi. The resort/marina took us yachties over in a small ferry (about 15 – 18 passengers) to meet the veggie man who comes over in his van and lays out boxes of fruits and vegetables on the ground, plus styrofoam containers with frozen meat and fish and chilled yogurt and cheese. It is a mixture of Malaysian produce and Australian products. It was a better assortment of fruits and vegetables than we saw in Penang, the second largest city of Malaysia. I think the nice assortment of food derives from the supply chain for the five star resorts that are a major part of the economic life of Langkawi, the fact that Langkawi is a duty-free archipelago, and the international airport connecting Langkawi to sources of supply. We all came to buy — filling up bags with all kinds of good stuff. The veggie man did a lot of cash business in 30 minutes, and had a grateful bunch of customers,
Langkawi consists of 104 islands of which only four are inhabited. Rebak Island was apparently not inhabited until the Taj Hotel group built the resort and marina. The resort is popular with Saudis. We have seen many young Saudi couples (some on honeymoons) and families strolling around and riding the ferry. The women are dressed head-to-toe in black burkhas and sit by the pool to watch their husbands and children swim.
We will be here for a few weeks working on some boat projects and visiting with some sailing friends from last year and before.
View of Straits Quay Marina complex (Penang) in the morning mist
Yesterday, we ventured into Chinatown, Little India, and then to the Jewish Cemetery. The cemetery is on Zainal Abidin Road, but was called Jahudi Road in the past. The Indian-Malaysian caretaker lives in the cemetery with his family and was happy to open the gates and show us around.
There is only one Jewish-Malaysian passport holder left — Mr. Mordecai’s niece, who lives in Sydney, Australia.
One grave in the cemetery is kept up by the British government. It is that of Eliaho Hayeem Victor Cohen, a Lieutenant in the British Indian Army killed in an accident on 10 October 1941.
The Penang Jewish Community reached its peak numbers around 1900. Today only some Russian refugees are said to remain.
We went to the Hameediya Indian-Malay restaurant for lunch. Physically, it is not much to look at, but the food is great and cheap. We had some rendang beef, Laura’s favorite dish, as well as curry, martabah, and naan.
Tomorrow we will leave the Straits Quay Marina heading for the islands of Langkawi. We will anchor out in southern Langkawi the first night, and then make our way to the Rebak Marina on Rebak Island the next day.
Kek Lok Si is claimed to be the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia. It is quite spectacular even though it was a hot day for walking around. There were shady places in pagodas and gardens.
By one accounting, Penang is one of the 10 places in the world that one has to see in one’s lifetime. In every article about Penang, the excellence and diversity of the cuisine always gets equal billing with the physical attractions. Not wanting to miss out on this facet by narrowly focusing on places and people, Laura and I have devoted substantial effort to sampling all of the foods of Penang, although only to gain more insight into the place. We have had duck in one form or another almost every day, plus chicken-rice, the national dish, dim sum, kangkung (spinach) in oyster sauce, satay in spicy peanut sauce, tandori chicken with naan and dal, ABC (Air Batu Campur – mixed ice) which is shaved ice, palm seed, red beans, sweet corn, grass jelly, peanuts and condensed milk.
We have dined in restaurants and at food stalls and we tend to prefer the food stalls. There are collections of stalls everywhere. For example, there is an outdoor food court that is a 15 minute walk from the marina. In this food court, there are 40 or so stalls, each about 5 feet wide, serving a different food cooked for you at the time you order. A quarter crisply duck with rice and duck soup is Ringgit 9 ($3). In each food court there is only one vendor selling drinks. Laura always orders the carrot susu ais, fresh carrot juice with sweet milk on ice. I tend to get different fruit juices every time. All made fresh. There are plastic tables set up in the center of the food court that not assigned to a stall. We start by walking around the perimeter of the food court looking at whats cooking, ask some questions, order and point to a table. In five minutes, the food arrives.
There is a very nice restaurant 50 meters from the boat inside the Straits Quay Marina Mall called Cheeky Duck. We have had the duck and dim sum there and it has always been great. The bottom line is, Penang is justifiably famous for its food.
This morning we went to the Thai Consulate to apply for 90 visa. We had 5 hours to kill waiting for our passports to be stamped, so we visited two nearby Buddhist Temples, had an early lunch, and visited the Penang Museum.
The Penang Museum traces all of the peoples and religions that shaped Penang. Buddhists from Siam and Burma, Hindus from India, Arabs and Jews (Bagdadi Jews), Indonesians (Acehnese, Javanese, Minangkabau), Chinese, Malays, and Europeans. There are Confucian, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist temples, mosques, Catholic convents, and churches (the synagogue closed in 1976).
We started our sailing season in Pangkor and are now in Penang (in a marina outside of Georgetown). From here we go to Langkawi for a few weeks and then to Phuket, Thailand.
We spent a few hours walking around one section of Georgetown yesterday, taking in the sights and sounds and sampling food. Tomorrow we will try to see the old colonial section of town, plus get our Thai visas.
We left the Pangkor Marina on Wednesday and arrived in Penang Island yesterday (Friday) before noon. The sail was uneventful (except for the failure of our watermaker). There were lots of fishing boats, many of them trailing nets, light morning breezes from the northeast, and nice afternoon winds from the west. We sailed more than I expected. It was sunny and hot, and we had to get used to sleeping in a hot boat while anchored (at Pulau Talang and Pulau Rimau).
Yesterday morning we sailed up the east side of Penang, through the new bridge under construction, then under the old bridge, and around the top to the new marina at the massive and still incomplete complex being built by Eastern and Oriental (E&O). The marina, Straits Quay, was built as eye candy for the luxury condos and shops built on a few square miles of fill. There are 40 restaurants fronting on the marina, including Starbucks and Subway, and twice as many shops including Versace and all the fancy brands. There is a performing arts center, pools, spas, and exhibition space. Seven new highrise towers are being finished just to the west of the marina, and a few more to the north. There is a giant mall centered around a Tesco supermarket. A delightful oceanside walking path follows the coast for a mile in the direction of Georgetown (the main city), all of which is part of the same E&O development. The path fronts one and two story luxury homes, many still under construction. Many have private pools. There is a whole lot of new money floating around southeast Asia and it seems as if a lot of it is getting parked in Penang.
The marina is quite small but it is the nicest one we have seen since we left the US, and probably the nicest we have ever stayed. The cost — $17 day plus power (perhaps $5 day, metered). We booked 12 days here (reserved two months ago) and later today we will explore Georgetown. Penang is a UNESCO World Heritage site with many urban and physical attractions, and is considered to offer some of the finest food in the world. Duck is a famous specialty. We will report more on all this later.
We will leave the Pangkor Marina in about an hour (at 1100 local time) heading for the island of Penang. Today we will only go 16 nm and anchor behind Pulau Talang (Talang Island). Tomorrow we will anchor behind Pulau Rimau just to the southeast of Penang. Friday we will pass under the new bridge under construction that connects Penang to the mainland, and enter the Straits Marina on the north side of the island. It is hot and sunny and the wind seems to be right on the nose, although it is light . I think we may need to motor some of the way.
We were gently eased into the water by the Sealift at the end of the day on Monday. The engine started up right away, the bow thruster deployed, and water did not leak into the boat. All in all a good start. This morning we got the air conditioning working, which is a good thing considering the heat, and started putting away the pile of stuff we brought aboard. We hope to start heading north in 8 to 10 days. Since we are not going far to start, we do not have to get every issue on the boat resolved before setting out. The aft cabin is full of sails, a life raft, abandon ship bags, and assorted other stuff that needs to be put into their right places. It is good to be living aboard again. We were getting to like living ashore in the Best Western Hotel too much.
We did not get launched as planned today. Yesterday, I went to put anti-fouling paint on the inside of the bow thruster and found a small amount of gear oil pooled at the bottom. For a minute, I tried to tell myself that this was just thick water but then had to admit that there is no such thing as thick water. It was definitely oil and that meant I had to find the leak and fix it. Not that big a job actually but it meant delaying our launch until Monday since I would need to drop the whole bow thruster assembly out of the bottom of the boat.
Only one boat can be launched on Saturday (because of tides and the need to paint the bottom of the scheduled boat’s keel while in the lift), so we had to book a late Monday launch appointment. I replaced the bow thruster prop seal today, which I hope will cure the problem,
Our hotel now has a bar and just put up this poster to advertise it. I think that they mean “tid bits” with beer as this is a pretty conservative small town.
Hi there! We are back in Malaysia, after a long, but relatively easy series of flights . The money spent for extra leg-room on the 15 hour flight between N.Y. and Hong Kong was well worth it. We even managed to sleep for a big part of the trip. You know the kind of sleep I am talking about if you have flown long distances. Sitting up-right, with your head nodding and drool coming out of your mouth, and then jerking awake because your head is about to fall off your shoulders. Your hands and arms numb from having them crossed in front of you. Your buttocks aching from sitting upright. Your mouth dry and your breath bad from eating airline food. Not exactly your idea of a great night sleep – but still a great way to pass the time as quickly as possible. The Chinese man sitting next to me put his blanket over him as we took off, closed his eyes, and except for snapping to attention during the two meals that were served, he seemed to sleep the entire 15 hours.
All our luggage arrived in Malaysia in good shape. This is always a big relief for us as our bags are stuffed with various spare parts for the boat – things which would be hard and expensive to replace. Our bags must have looked suspicious to the TSA staff as a few of them had obviously been opened for inspection. (They leave you a note inside when they do that).
We had a good nights’ sleep at the airport hotel before proceeding by bus to Setiawan – a small town that is close to our marina. One of our old sailing friends, Jim (from the boat Cardea), picked us up in a rental car we will share with him. Our boat is out of the water and in no shape for habitation for at least a few days, so we checked into the Best Western Hotel that is right at the marina. It is clean and comfortable, with a few oddities, but it has free internet.
I had to laugh when the first song I heard on the radio coming to the marina was “Call Me Maybe” – the number one hit in the U.S. There is such a mix of cultures in Malaysia that it is quite an interesting place just for people watching. We will try to post some pictures to illustrate some of this. The most telling are the women… and how they dress. You see everything from very conservative full burkhas to girls in t-shirts and short-shorts and no-one seems to bat an eye. At least half the women have a head-scarf.
We found the boat in good shape, except that one of the wires on the solar-panel had apparently corroded while we were gone and the batteries, which we had expected to remain fully charged through solar power while we were gone, were nearly drained. Mark was able to repair this quickly and we hope that the batteries will be ok. The boat hull is getting painted this week (between deluges of rain) and we plan to get her back in the water by Friday.
At the end of November, Sabbatical III was hauled out of the water and placed on a hardstand at Pangkor Marina, Malaysia. We are now back in the US and regular blog posts will resume once we return to the boat. In the coming weeks, we will prepare and post some video and additional photos of the last sailing season.
We are now at Admiral Marina in Port Dickson – about ¼ of the way up the west side of Malaysia. We left Singapore several days ago – October 27th . Even though we are currently only about a 3 hour drive from Singapore, it took us a few days of sailing to arrive at our destination.We only want to sail during daylight hours here because of the large amount of shipping traffic moving up with us through the Malacca Straits (one of the world’s busiest shipping channels), and there are also lots of smaller boats with long strings of fishing nets strung out behind them, much as we have seen elsewhere on our trip this year.It is a bit too risky to sail at night, so we had to do day sails to arrive at this first marina.We stopped for a night each in two anchorages – Pulau Pisang and Pulau Besar – on the way. Each afternoon at around 3:00 p.m. there are heavy rainshowers and a lot of thunder and lightning so we have tried our best to be at anchor by that time. We arrived in Port Dickson on the 29th and were thrilled to find it an extremely comfortable and rather elegant place.The marina is attached to some very luxurious condominiums and we are enjoying the uniformed Gurkha guards saluting us as we go up the dock to shore each day.There is a beautiful swimming pool, a couple of restaurants and a lovely, colonial style building that houses the complex.Malaysia is a very interesting county – a mix of Malays, Chinese and Indians – with many of the women dressed in very colorful head-scarves and conservative Muslim dress, but many others dressed in short skirts and high heels.It clearly seems to be a thriving economy.
We took a couple of days off the boat and went down to the city of Melaka. It is just about 75 kilometers from here.We took local buses (clean, modern, air-conditioned and very comfortable) down there to meet our friends Karin and Jean-Francois from the boat Intiaq who stopped there with their boat rather than at Port Dickson. The buses were clean and comfortable, but it took about 4 hours to go there as we had to switch buses at a town that was actually out of the way.Melaka used to be one of the greatest trading ports in Asia, but it is now considered a tourist town. The city is clean and attractive and very trendy, with a great Chinatown area, some old forts from previous Portuguese colonizers (they were also colonized by the British and the Dutch, not to mention being occupied by the Japanese during WWII).There are lots of very trendy and fashionable clothing shops and art studios, but most importantly an abundance of delicious and inexpensive restaurants.Once again, as in Singapore, we are finding the highlight of our day to be the food we are eating.It is wonderful and you can’t go a block without finding several wonderful restaurants or food stalls.Melaka is apparently a very popular week-end spot for people from Singapore who also are keen on the food.
We stayed at an adorable hotel in Melaka- the Hotel Puri- – which was right in the middle of Chinatown and had beautiful décor in the lobby (old Chinese cane and inlaid furniture) and cool(ish), quiet, gardens to relax in. The rooms were simple, but air-conditioned and quiet so we were quite happy. They served a wonderful breakfast in one of the inner courtyard gardens – complete with steamed buns, egg custard tarts, curried noodles,fresh fruit, and lots of more European style breakfast foods.Had our first pieces of toast in several months, so even that felt like a treat. We really enjoyed our two days there.We decided to take a taxi back to Port Dickson which turned out to be a great idea – cutting the time involved in half and we had a lovely view of the countryside – stopping on the way back to buy local mangoes and about 10 kilos of other fruit.
We plan to leave here tomorrow and continue heading north – hoping to be at our final destination – Pangkor Marina – in just a few days.