Last weekend was a long one in Malaysia. National Day was on Tuesday, and Kelly took monday off to complete the long weekend. Me? I had to square it with the boss, but it was ok. As a special treat, our good friend Claire was flying down from Cambodia to hang out for the weekend. To make it worth her while (as if my coffees aren’t enough, heh…) Kelly had organised a few days in (on?) Pangkor Island.
The tropics or bust
I’ve never been to a “tropical island” before. And you could argue that Pangkor Island isn’t really a tropical island in the way that tropical island brochures might depict. But as far as I’m concerned it has beaches with no surf, with body-temperature water of the distinct colour bullshit-blue, and with restaurants right on the sand, so it can be called ‘tropical’.
We picked Claire up from the airport and drove straight towards the island, a supposed four hour trip by car. After leaving the airport at 11:45am, stopping for lunch in an open food hall, complete with fish tank and beady-eyed albino fish, and driving through drunk UFO country, we arrived at our destination just before 6pm[1. Total trip time includes finding the proper port to catch the ferry from, the actual ferry ride across to the island, and the pink taxi ride to base camp.].
Once we’d settled in to our accommodation, we went for a few-minute stroll to find our beach under construction. That’s right. We were panicked at first, but couple more minutes up the beach we found ourselves on Coral Bay, and we immediately knew we were going to spend the long weekend here. It had cats, on the beach. On the beach. Have you ever seen that before?! Do the cats clean themselves like regular cats? Do they get sand in their paws, tongues, and fur? So many questions…
Anyway, some friends told us to look out for a restaurant on the beach that did great satay. They couldn’t remember the name but I was sure Daddy’s Café was it. We had the satay for dinner on the first night, and it was good. After some more delicious food and several brews, it was late, and we were tired from the drive (and Claire from the flight) so we headed back to camp.
Storms and scorpions
The next day we woke a little tired, having endured a hardcore storm during the night. By hardcore I mean a few hours of solid rain, thunder, and lightning. I know it was a few hours, because we were sleeping under a tin roof. I was awake for the whole thing, and only fell asleep in the wee hours once the thunder stopped and the rain had died down a little. Claire had slept through it somehow.
Despite the night’s dramatic events, I was up and at ’em first and met a talkative brit going down to the kitchen to get her morning coffee. I noticed she was rushing, and she had her camera. When I caught up to her I found out why: A large Asian forest scorpion had made it’s way inside during the night to escape the rain. This was pretty cool — I’ve never seen a scorpion in the wild before. I grabbed my camera. As it turned out, this was not the only creature I’d see in the wild on this day.
12+ hours and 50+ SPF
I grew up in Australia, so I’m no stranger to beach life. I am however, not a big fan of just lying around on the sand all day. I prefer my beach time to include waves, photography, and plenty of bikini-clad women. A tropical island means no waves to amuse myself in, my camera was left back at camp to save it from being stolen while we were swimming, and the beach was more or less deserted due to Ramadan. Fortunately, that last point was a blessing in disguise. At any one time I’d guess there was no more than 20 individuals on the whole stretch of beach. Awesome!
We spend a considerable amount of time just hanging out in the 20-something degree water, acquiring a nice sunburn. After a couple hours of that stressful activity, the girls returned to our shady spot under a tree to read magazines, and I went for walk along the beach. At the end of the beach I had discovered the weirdest temple I’d ever seen. It was a cross between a buddhist temple and disneyland. I guess you gotta entice the kids somehow, right? By the time I returned it was time for lunch at Daddy’s. Local fish ‘n’ chips, and pineapple juice :)
The crazy Australians
During lunch we talked about snorkelling. Apparently the best snorkelling to be had was across the way at a smaller island. It looked close enough to us that we thought we could swim across. We asked a waiter if he knew the distance to the island. One kilometre, he replied. I wasn’t so sure — it looked closer than that — so we asked the Daddy himself. 750 meters, he told us. That sounded more realistic, however, I thought it was closer to 700 meters. I convinced the girls of this distance, and after lunch we hired some masks, wrapped them around our arms and headed off breast-stroke style towards the opposite shore.
The water was warm and the swim across was relaxing. Relaxing, until we began to be stung by something invisible. A lot. The stings didn’t really hurt — they felt more like getting pinched by microscopic fingernails — but we were a couple hundred meters out and couldn’t see what was stinging us (sea lice, apparently). It was disconcerting at the time but we pressed on. Another hundred meters later we found ourselves being leaped over by little jumping fish. Schools of them jumping out of the water in groups of 100 or more! A few even thwacked Kelly in the side of the head (but at a few centimetres long, they didn’t hurt). I was so excited!
We reached the other side after about 20 minutes of swimming and were greeted by a couple of awestruck Indian men, completely blown away by the fact we had swum across the gap (they had been across on a boat). One guy in particular was shouting and shaking our hands, and even thanking us, telling us how amazed he was and how he couldn’t go out past his chest . His friend was a little more matter-of-fact, explaining that “we were from Australia, and this was nothing for us”. They took photos of us while we walked around the beach, LOL.
After a little rest and some failed snorkelling around some nearby rocks, a young lady told us the best snorkelling was around the other side of the island. Unfortunately we couldn’t walk to the spot because this island seemed to be made of rocky boulders except for a few patches of shore, like the one we landed on. If we wanted the best snorkelling, ee’d have to swim around to the other side. I was a little hesitant, as swimming around rocky boulders, in unknown waters, late in the afternoon is not my idea of the world’s safest activity, But Claire being a true blue Aussie, and maybe even to show off to the admiring Indians, decided we should do it. And I’m glad we did. The Indian guy was really glad we did :)
Around the other side was a small rocky bay, home to plenty of colourful fish and clearer water. There were others snorkelling in this spot — the boat-comers — but only a handful of them. We more or less had the bay and the tropical fish to ourselves. I wish we could’ve taken some pictures, it was truly beautiful[2. I’ve since decided to purchase a digital underwater snappy camera before our next beachy adventure].
When the fish were bored of us, we left the marine park and headed back to Coral Bay. The wind had picked up a little making the sea a bit choppy, and we could see a current that would pull us across the beach. “No worries” I said, “we’ll just head more in that direction, and we’ll be fine”. Luckily, we were. Except for the bloody sea lice. Grrr. But we encountered the jumping fish again. Squee.
A fight with a monkey
Once we landed back on home soi… err… sand, it was dinner time at you-know-where. We grabbed a good table on the beach and settled in with a few beers. As the sun set, more hungry people arrived, as did the monkeys. Well, when we saw the monkeys there were only two. One was over there, on the roof of the next beach hut. The other was right behind Kelly’s seat reaching for her handbag! It was a lightning reaction — I leaped from my chair and grabbed the bag. Right at this moment, the bastard monkey and I, both had our hands on the bag. I think this officially constitutes a game of tug o’ war. That’s right! I had a game of tug o’ war with a bastard monkey. Something I never thought I’d be doing on my long weekend. The other diners had cameras out and were snapping away. I scared it enough that it ran up and perched itself in the tree and started hissing at me. Bastard. Eventually it buggered off handbag-less.
On a happier note dinner was, once again, awesome. The food is great at Daddy’s, but the scenery was better: the sun was setting, the sea breeze was gently blowing, and the beer and wine was flowing. The night was finished off perfectly with a some banana fritters and ice cream.
The last day (with bonus wildlife)
The next day I got up early to the disappointment of the girls[3. Claire had set down the rule the night before that whoever wakes first is responsible for waking the others so we wouldn’t miss out on the morning.], and went out to take some photos (some pics at the bottom of this post, or see the full set on mine and Kelly’s Flickr page). The beach was quite cool at 8:30am. The sun was just peeking over the mountains and starting to hit the sand. I sat on the beach and contemplated the day. Then I saw crabs.
Sand crabs, about 10cm long. There were quite a few of them rummaging across the beach and building their little houses in the sand. One little guy was even surfing the shore break! I followed him pretty closely, and shot some video of him building his house.
Pretty incredible. I felt I was David Attenborough for a little while.
I returned to camp to find the girls having breakfast in a nearby brekky place, and a couple of Oriental Pied Hornbills in a tree. Pleasant surprise after pleasant surprise.
After brekkie we swam and sunburned some more before it was time to pack up and leave. I wish we could’ve stayed an extra day. I was starting to see the appeal of having nothing to do on a beach all day long.
The drive home
Another thing I didn’t expect to be doing on my long weekend was having a car accident. It wasn’t big, in fact is was quite minor. A woman had slowly run into the back of our CRV, resulting in a busted headlight and dented bonnet on her car and only a couple of scratches on our spare wheel cover. After inspecting the ‘damage’ and asking what happened (she was looking at the GPS unit in her lap), we parted ways. Not worth the hassle of any official business. Peter Fong agreed[4. Peter Fong is the guy we bought our cars from. He told us to contact him if we needed anything while staying in Malaysia, and to call him first if we had any accident or trouble in the cars.].
Once we got closer to the city, the traffic ground to a halt. I’m not sure of the exact time we got home, but I know it was more than an hour and a half longer than the GPS unit had predicted. We’ve been told by locals not to come home too late at the end of a weekend or holiday, and now we know why. Lucky we had 3G reception on our iPhones to catch up on a few days of email and tweets.
We returned home to hot showers, couches, and Italian food at a nearby restaurant. All things considered, it was a pretty awesome few days. Living in a tropical country does have it’s benefits, not the least of which are interesting, stingy, and colourful creatures. I hope to get back to Pangkor Island again. Probably next Ramadan.