When I started this trip, I didn’t have a plan or itinerary. I had a one way flight, some ideas and 13.5kg worth of stuff. I had read in numerous travel books and blogs that this is the best way to travel, and I absolutely believe that it is. Of course, there are benefits to planning ahead. It can be quicker, cheaper and if you have a fixed time limit and things you want to do, you can save time by pre-booking. That said, generally speaking, in most places on the Southeast Asia tourist trail it is possible and easy to book as you go. It certainly helps if you are flexible, as things don’t always go to plan, and it also gives you the advantage of being able to adapt as you go. I’ve yet to meet someone on a fixed itinerary who hasn’t wished they had a few more or less days somewhere, so having the ability to change your plans is a big advantage of making it up as you go along.
One of the occasional downsides of such an approach is finding yourself in a place that isn’t really your cup of tea, or occasionally overlooking hidden gems. It’s as much a part of travelling as all the highlights, and it comes with the territory. The good thing is that you can pack up and move on when you’ve had enough, and in most cases the worst that will happen is you have more time to read and drink coffee – which is not a bad position to be in.
This is pretty much how I felt about my last stop in Malaysia. I chose to book three nights on the island of Langkawi, just north of Penang and near the Thai border. I wanted nice beaches, a few days of chilling out, and an easy crossing into Thailand. The weather wasn’t great around the islands on the north and east of Malaysia, and I decided Langkawi would be a good bet as it tends to have good weather year round.
The day before I set off, I was keeping an eye on the forecast. It looked quite cloudy and rainy in the days ahead, but I didn’t pay too much attention, as this could be an hour of rain in an otherwise glorious day – not unusual in Southeast Asia.
I asked a guy who lived in Penang about what there is to do in Langkawi, and he said he goes there for cheap booze and cigarettes – it’s a popular duty free island and lots of people go there to a void the high prices for alcohol in the rest of Malaysia. That didn’t fill me with excitement, but I figured I had the beach anyway.
On my way to Langkawi I met two lovely people, Hannah from Scotland and Matt from Canada, who are teachers in China and were travelling together, making the most of their time off for Chinese New Year. We shared a taxi, as we were all staying near Pentai Cenang, the main beach.
I’d booked a budget guest house which was a 15 minute walk from the beach. When I arrived, I realised the 15 minute walk was a pathway through farmland with no lighting. My room was on a busy main road, with a fairly basic lock. I had felt very safe the whole time I was in Malaysia, and this was the first time I felt a bit uneasy about the location of where I was staying.
I walked to the beach to meet Hannah and Matt. We watched the sunset, which was really beautiful, and had a few beers.
I decided to change to the hostel they were staying at for the next night, and cut any losses from my other accommodation. Thankfully, the place I had booked were really nice and fully refunded my money, except for the 15% booking fee they owed to Booking.com.
The next morning I moved my things to the new hostel, Boxpackers, which is a small, relaxed place near the beach.
Despite the beautiful sunset the night before, the day was a bit overcast so I walked on the beach, had lunch and went for a massage. The heavens opened mid afternoon and I took shelter in shops and went indoors to read.
There are attractions in Langkawi, such as the Sky Bridge , which is supposed to be amazing on a clear day. The problem is that it’s all really spread out so you need to be able to hire a moped or car, or have the budget for taxis if you want to check them out. As I have neither a driver’s licence or much money to spend, this limited my activities to what I could do around the beach area, which isn’t an awful lot when the weather isn’t great.
In the evening, my fortunes took a turn for the better when a friendly Chinese guy named Ken from our hostel gave me a lift on the back of his moped to the night market in the middle of Langkawi.
I had heard about this food market which moves around Langkawi to a different place each night, so we joined Hannah and Matt and headed inland for about 20km in search of some delicious food.
We were not disappointed, and enjoyed some great Malaysian street food. We drank iced tea and ate satay, fried chicken, coconut and shrimp balls and little fish barbecued inside banana leaves. Well fed and happy, we headed back to the beach for some more beers.
I had decided that 2 nights in Langkawi was probably enough for me, and after initially thinking I could take a boat to Thailand, I realised it was actually a bit more complicated than I’d thought, and that flying would be a lot quicker and would work out cheaper. The next day, I had breakfast with my new friends and headed to the airport to fly to Bangkok.
Although Langkawi wasn’t my favourite stop so far, I met some cool people, visited a great night market, and saw my first stunning sunset of my trip. I just felt that it wasn’t the destination most suited to me, and I didn’t really realise that until I got there.
Also, after hearing from other travellers about their time in Malaysia, I felt I may have missed a trick by not visiting the Cameron Highlands. The area is full of tea plantations and numerous hiking trails and I can imagine it would be right up my street. A lesson to spend a bit more time with my Lonely Planet the next time round.