August, 2010

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Langkawi’s beaches – Pantai Cenang and Pantai Tengah

Friday, August 27th, 2010

© 2010 Frank P. Schneidewind

 

 

The ferries from Kuala Kedah, Kuala Perlis or Satun in Thailand have a competition only from Penang directly. Other than boat transport, Langkawi is accessible via their international airport directly. Countless trips there since 2002 have given us some insight on the pros and cons of this holiday destination in beautiful Malaysia, our home during the years 2007 through 2008. Malaysia's islands have a tendency to remind oneself, how Thailand must have been like in the past. We scooted around much and have had the privilege to check out all given options for a tourist or traveler here, especially the beaches. Boat rides from the mainland are done by efficient high speed ferries, the transit times depend much on your starting point, but one can be here as quick as in 45 minutes. Our previous escapades also resulted in some SIAMPEDIA reports, Tanjung Rhu (one of our Top 10 beaches in SE Asia!) was one and the interior mountains with their nifty cable car rides, deserve a fully featured future report.

There is much to see from the ferries sun deck or upper deck already, over the years we even saw dolphins and flying fish during transit to Kuah pier. I always enjoy the stiff breeze and we both love to keep our noses in the wind anyhow. Closed compartments give us the creeps. See the island scenery during the approach to Langkawi's outer islands in this short video from the passing ferry:

A real windjammer signals to us, we're there soon. It is anchored close to Kuah and does entertain a higher budget clientele on tours and charters.

From Kuah pier it is a half hour drive to either Pantai Tengah or Pantai Cenang. A neat restaurant with a small light house dominates Pantai Tengah, the southern neighbor of Pantai Cenang. Tourist developments over the years have brought medium to upper class accommodations here. The backpackers have long resorted to other islands, although this was their domain too, up to the Millennium. Langkawi has resisted over-developments nicely, unlike a lot of their Thai counterparts (Phuket, Koh Samui). It has a generally relaxed atmosphere, but avoid the biennial airplane sales show LIMA at all cost, it wreaks havoc on the fun here. LIMA is a predominantly military airplane sales event, with airshows daily and several heads of state and ministers from around the globe in attendance.

During the 23 3/4 months between LIMA shows, Langkawi retains its island charm and status as a duty free zone. The entire island is duty free, which may result in beers being cheaper than Coca-Cola and a global wine selection being at Asia's lowest possible price level. Beach side restaurants invite nightly for the dinner sunset spectacle, which is quite nice. While the few jet skiers stop activities before dusk, the para-sailers offer rides into the sunset!

The food served here is plentiful, there are many beach side options plus a lot of eateries along the beach road. Accommodations are sometimes on the beach itself, the cheap huts of the past have been replaced by solid structures with A/C and amenities. Many hotels to choose from to suit most tourists budget. Parasailing for example, remains popular with the holiday crowd. It is more expensive here, than in Batu Ferringhi, but cheaper than in most Thai holiday destinations. The beaches are well kept year round and probably daily, a perfect environment for families with small children.

Restaurants by the sea begin firing up their BBQs in the late afternoons. There are plenty to select from.

A drink with an old expat friend after a lengthy beach walk, this place was run by an Irish lady.

The taller mountain in the background (peak is cloud covered) will be a future feature story here. It is called Gunung Macincang and is Langkawi's second highest Peak, it tops out with a great viewing platform 712 m above the sea and has a splendid suspension bridge over the rain forest there with the best views on the island.

Sunsets are to be had almost daily with different colored undertones at Pantai Tengah and Pantai Cenang:

Cambodia’s Pailin Borderdistrict – Visatrip Ban Pakkad

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

© 2010 Frank P. Schneidewind

 

Just about in the middle of August, we had to refresh our Thailand Visa and did choose a service company for this visa run. Choices are limited and we picked one, that was able to drop us at Chantaburi on the return trip, so we were a lot closer to Koh Chang and saved 3 hours of travel time. The meeting point for this service was at Sukhumvit Soi 77 (Onnut) in the middle of the night at some parking lot. We went this way and with this visa-run-establishment for the first time, not knowing what to expect. The owner was present at the parking lot and checked our documents (passports etc.) to verify a smooth visa processing, coupons as meal tickets were handed out also.

At 2 AM the run for the border started, the minivan was not completely full (Thank Buddha!) and we had plenty of space inside, sharing the ride with a handful of other people. The driver did drive very civilized, he never exceeded a speed of 100 km/h along the way on those pitch dark roads eastbound.

 

We arrived with this very experienced and safe driver around 6:30 AM at the border post. The sun was barely above the horizon over there in the East, but we had to wait until the immigration office opened at 7 o'clock. Thai merchants with pushcarts arrived with their cargoes of coconuts, vegetables and other merchandise, mainly food items.

Not very impressive, the actual border and gate to Cambodia. Over there was Pailin province, the last stronghold of the infamous Khmer Rouge leaders of Cambodia's bloody past. This border crossing opportunity is fairly recent, the main reason obviously the Thai gamblers, heading for the casino here. Ethnic Chinese are their clientele and gambling facilities along Cambodia's border with Thailand are plentiful. Gambling is unlawful in Thailand .

Note the car waiting, with a lot of cargo taped to its trunk!

The ill-positioned sign about some useless warning was facing pedestrians, not the ethnic Chinese gamblers in their SUVs, which park here on a large parking lot to avoid import paperwork bringing their vehicles from one kingdom to the other. Casino vans ferry gamblers free of charge up the hill. The tarmac ends sharply in Thailand. I was in Pailin often before, but never approached from here. I still remember the dirt bike off-road trip with my friend a while ago, when we approached Pailin from Battambang in the northeast of here. You can read that story here:

Siampedia – Khmertrip Stage 3: Battambang, Pailin to Pnom Penh

7 AM passed on the clock-face, but nothing happened. Thai officials probably still were seriously held up with their early morning coffees or else.

The only person wide awake was our son Teddy, he had slept fine during the trip. Melona and myself were eager for a shower and some sleep. She had reversed his baby carrier into the facing-out position and Teddy was socializing with all females in line there. His very first border crossing was only minutes away, once the immigration dudes figured out, how to open their counters, after another half hour lapsed.

This was the new building of our hotel, but we were put up in the two-storey wing across, which was probably originally the old Diamond Crown Hotel. The Diamond Crown shuttle also ferried us up the hill on the gravel road a bit further inside Cambodian territory.

 

The recent structures here were indeed mostly gambling related. The casinos and support buildings appeared to be solid built and just recently made. Our room in the old wing of the casino hotel here had a surprisingly good WiFi connection, A/C and a bathroom with bathtub and hot water. The free food coupons were valid in the casino lounge, but the meager rice dishes here would not justify a price to be paid for them anyhow. Casino staff ate here , due to the lack of facilities. We did choose to take a walk instead, after a few hours of sleep.

The village, like most Cambodian villages, appeared to be a bit impoverished. Shops without refrigeration for meats sold beer and food. Their Coke Zero was way past the shelf life and the cans content tasted yacky. We did not feel brave enough to sample the local cusine here. The food vendors were preparing some chow on the side of the dirt road without tickling our appetite at all. I had a meeting coming up with friends, so we backtracked to the hotel and fed ourselves on some snacks, that we hauled with us.

Most basic stores here sold basic provisions and ultra cheap whiskys and beer. Cigarettes run only about $2,50 or 2€ a carton (not pack!) for imported brands, local ones were even cheaper than that.

The organizer had our passports traveling all the way to the Thai consulate or embassy in Phnom Penh to renew the required visa for us. All we had to do is wait it out and waste the time. Luckily I had a little side job in this vicinity, otherwise boredom would have ruled this neck of the woods. Gambling isn't really our thing, should I gamble again a bit, I surely would choose another place with better odds and games that I am familiar with. The Chinese type of casinos on this planet have never been considered attractive by myself. I guess Las Vegas spoilt me far too much years ago, their odds were visibly fairer than here in the former Khmer Rouge stronghold.