After a relaxed week on the Thai islands, our marathon adventure turns into a sprint towards the final days of our time together as a group. Racing for taxis and tuk tuks to the piers where we catch our boat back to the mainland we then jump into in to mini vans towards the Thai – Malaysia border.
First stop in Malaysia is Georgetown, Penang. It was also Jo’s birthday and even though we managed to arrange a birthday cake for our arrival at the hotel everyone was tired, particularly Jo who we had to con out of bed in order to blow out her candles, so plans were made to celebrate the next evening.
|Jo and some of her birthday cake|
While crew arrange onward travel to the Perhentian Islands, the rest of the group have a full day to explore this old colonial town and the Penang Heritage trail. The clan jetties where old Chinese clans settled in waterfront houses were a must see as well as a trip to KOMTAR tower for a great 360 view of the city. Armenian Street for colonial architecture and modern street art and Fort Cornwallis, the site where the founder of Penang, Captain Francis Light first landed as well as great markets and shopping malls for those less interested in history.
|Jubilee Clock Tower|
|View from KOMTAR tower|
|Lim Jetty - the way it used to be|
|Jo, Anna, Jim, Mahala & Mary on the Lim Jetties|
|Mahala, Mary, Jim & Anna enjoying public transport in Penang|
We celebrate Jo’s birthday with drinks bought from the 7-11 on the rooftop of the hotel. We were restrained in our consumption for a couple of reasons, alcohol is expensive in Malaysia, and with an estimated drive of anywhere between 4 – 10 hours, according to various people we had spoke to, we have a very early start the next morning.
|Jo's birthday drinks on the hotel rooftop terrace|
A comfortable bus with armchair-like seats, a great driver and a magnificent destination at the end make this journey quite pleasant, but it was about to get more interesting once we arrived in Kuala Besut. This is where we leave our beautiful bus and wait for our next mode of transport, speedboat. Our chilled out journey was about to turn in to a thrilling ride not that any of us were really prepared for it as we piled in to the boats. As soon as they hit the open water both yamaha engines were opened up and we bounced our way at high speed toward the tranquil island and our Reef Chalets.
|Speeding to the Perhentian Islands|
Snorkelling and diving are two of the best things to do while here if all the relaxing on your own private beach gets too much for you. Taking a boat out to the best reefs for seeing fish and turtles were arranged through the chalets, or you could walk down the beach with a hired mask and find your own sea life hiding in the grass and near the rocks. It was also a great opportunity for diving, which Andy, Spike and Phil - who got his PADI certificate during Beach Week, spent most of their time doing.
|Large finned Spike fish|
|Lou chilling out after snorkelling|
|Back on dry land|
|Phil going up|
|Snorkel crew - Simon, Lou, Fi, Becs, Al, Yvonne, Dav & Jim|
|Sugar wreck mast|
|Becs and her new lizard friend|
|Jules, Spike & Jim|
|This little fella!|
Our days on the island are long, hot and sunny, the nights are dramatic. As soon as the sun starts to set the wind picks up, the low loud rumble of thunder is heard and before long, monsoonal rain hammers down, making our choice of restaurant easy, going for the only one on the island that has shutters to stop the wind blowing away your dinner.
|Breakfast on the beach - Jo, Becs, Pernille & Mary|
Three nights in paradise and we are back on speedboats and onwards to Kuala Lumpur, our penultimate destination. A bustling, sprawling city where you can buy cheap electronics from the ubiquitous malls, visit the Petronus Towers, buy cheap watches from China Town and get a little taste for India in Little India. It is also where we say goodbye to Louise, Rebecca, Fiona and Al as they leave the group here to continue their travels to Borneo, Sumatra and the Philippines.
|Odyssey at the Petronas Towers|
|Julie, Andy & Jo|
We all rendez-vous in the Reggae Bar where the ladies got to drink cheap spirits and mixers and in turn had to visit the bar to buy the cheap drinks for the boys.
|Pernille, Yvonne, Becs, Mary, Fi & Al|
|Julie, Fi, Lou, Jo, Teresa, Becs, Simon, Pernille, Al, Mahala, Jim, Yvonne & Dav|
|Lou, Becs, Andy, Teresa, Yvonne, Phil, Simon, Dav & Al|
|Teresa, Lou, Mahala, Jim & Jo|
Nursing sore heads the next day we leave for Singapore! Our final border crossing goes incredibly smooth, until one of the bottles of wine that was given as a gift to crew stalled the process. Being taken away to one side and waiting as sheets of paper were written on and photocopied, customs officials whispering to each other was quite unnerving, and incredibly frustrating as it was the final crossing! It was only after what felt like forever that the final custom official realized that the bottle had been opened and was therefore classed as consumed and didn’t require any tax to be paid on it, phew!
Getting through to the other side and I see that our bus has not arrived. It was another classic three-way miscommunication between crew, the guy we arranged the bus through and the bus driver. Many phone calls are made and our original driver who thought he was leaving us at the border and not taking us all the way to our hotel turns around and drives back to pick us up and take us to our Singapore hotel.
Arriving at our hotel and taking orders from our militant hotel receptionist we get checked in and plan to meet at 7 for our final group activity, a Singapore Sling at Raffles.
|Andy & Julie|
|Pernille, Jim, Phil, Mahala, Anna, Dav, Mary, Julie, Simon, Jo, Andy, Bruce, Spike, Teresa & Yvonne|
|Pernille, Dav & Yvonne|
|Anyone for a Singapore Sling?|
|Cheers - Spike & Phil|
|Pineapple - our code word for trouble|
It is here that we get to reflect on the amazing journey we have embarked on. 17 countries, 26,000+ km and 26 weeks all leading to this moment and the last time we are in the same room together as a group. We are soon to go our separate ways, either on to Australia, New Zealand, Borneo, and for crew, back home.
Signing up for a trip like this is the easy part, going the distance is the challenge. I’d like to raise a toast to everyone who was brave enough for the challenge and courageous enough to embark on a trip of a lifetime. You are incredible people who I am grateful to have had the pleasure of meeting and calling my friends and for making being on the road feel like home. Cheers!
|Teresa & Simon with their t-shirt gifts|