Storyteller in the Bay of Bengal

Thu 11 Nov 2010 02:10

Position,  06.17N   99.41E

I'm writing this blog as I pack for the flight home from Langkawi in northern Malaysia. Since it seems that Storyteller will be in Equatorial waters for the forseeable future a huge amount of warm clothing and bedding is going back to Melbourne.
We did a couple of overnight passages up the Straits of Malacca so that we could spend a few days in Penang, one of the great destinations in Asia with surprisingly few tourists. The trip up the Straits, not so long ago a notorious pirate lair, was not for the faint hearted, with enormous amounts of shipping, some of it crossing our path en route to major ports. More worrying than the commercial ships were the myriad of fishing boats and fish traps, not to mention the odd barge. After a very close encounter with a large fishing boat we've decided to avoid night passages along coastal routes in future. the only good thing about travelling in these congested waters is that there is no temptation whatsoever to nod off to sleep at two or three in the morning. The adrenalin keeps you wide awake.

Georgetown, the historic old town of Penang, is a World Heritage site and has also  been named  by the New York Times as one of the world's top food destinations. It's all there--Malaysian, Indian, Chinese and Nyonya, which is a delicious combination of Malay and Chinese. As you walk around the city, you see mosques, Buddhist temples and colonial Christian churches in the very same street. Penang looks the way Singapore did 40 years ago, although it is also a thriving high tech city. Fortunately the historical centre has been preserved, with many significant buildings restored and used as boutique hotels. My favourite is the Blue Mansion (photo below), which was built by a wealthy Chinese who went to Indonesia as a penniless young man and worked as a water carrier. He married the boss's daughter and worked to become 'the Rockefeller' of Asia. This was only one of six mansions he owned through Asia, and the home of his 7th wife. When he died, he believed he had left enough wealth for nine generations, but it was the usual 'clogs to clogs' in three generations. The house was delapidated and inhabited by squatters when it was rescued and restored by some local architects. Although the mansion it a perfect example of the application of feng shui principles, it has many European features, including beautiful art deco windows and Scottish ironwork staircases. The author, Peter Carey, describes it as the best hotel he has ever stayed at. It's only about $100 a night, and would be a great place to go with a group of friends. One of the other highlights of Penang is the glorious Eastern and Oriental Hotel, similar to Raffles in Singapore, but much less touristy. We found ourselves drawn there on several occasions for drinks and wonderful buffet lunches. I could go on and on about the wonderful meals we had in Georgetown--such as the best Indian meal we've ever had, and at a fraction of what you would pay in Australia. We'll certainly be going back, but not with the boat. The decrepit marina is falling to bits in currents of up to 3 knots. We left our departure a bit late and ploughed through the mud to get out. It was not a great experience.

We are now in Rebak Marina, Langkawi, part of a very attractive resort complex with a lovely swimming pool with a swim up bar. It's also beautifully protected from anything but a tsunami. (It was badly damaged in the 2004 tsunami.) There's plenty of wildlife around--monkeys, monitor lizards, otters, and the exotic looking hornbill birds.This is a great place to be--as long as you have airconditioning.

 There are hundreds of yachts here waiting for their owners to reappear from Europe, Australia or the States, ready for the sailing season. Most of them will go up to the Phuket area in Thailand for the 3-month dry season. Many would have planned to go to Europe via the Red Sea, but we are reading dire warnings from the British Navy about the folly of doing so. Don't expect any help from us they say, and there are still yachtspeople held captive by Somali pirates who  were kidnapped over a year ago.

Another of the great attractions of Langkawi is that is a duty free port where a litre bottle of Bombay Sapphire sets you back about A$12. Heaven!

So it's goodbye from us until late December when we'll return to Langkawi and take Storyteller up to the west coast of Thailand for a few months. After that we'll go south to Singapore to pick up our 'born again' auxillary motor and cruise the East coast of Malaysia. 


One of the many hawker style restaurants where you can
 have a decent meal for less than $5. 


Joss sticks being burned at one of the many shrines and
temples in the middle of Georgetown.


The Blue Mansion, a brilliant combination of feng shui
and European architecture