Ko Samui (Thailand) ? Alor Star (Malaysia) ? Penang ? Kuala Lumpur!
20th March 2005 - 5th April 2005
The Full Moon falls once a month and is a cult celebration on the island of Ko Phangnan just north of Ko Samui. Our journey to the full moon party interrupted our relaxed life in Ko Samui and commenced with a boat ride to the island of Ko Phangnan, a mere 30km away. We decided to opt for the ferry to the islands because a few weeks previously there had been a speed boat accident which killed 15 people. We arrived on the island to a sea of naked bodies sunbaking on the beach preparing themselves for the onslaught of the evening. Ladies were setting up their alcohol stalls with enormous cool boxes crammed full of cans, bottles and ice. Christmas lights were strung along the front awaiting illuminating the inebriated people?s path to their next beverage.
Adriano had gone over to the island to meet up with Matt, a friend from Japan and his mates from the UK, who were staying in Ko Phangnan for the week. At 10pm, we all walked down to the beach where the party was already getting underway. The Full Moon Party was started by a group of revellers in 1992/1993 who decided that they would have a rave on the beach outside of the Paradise Bungalows. They then decided that they would meet up again one month later and so it has progressed to a monthly exploit with smaller events like the half moon and the black moon party that ocur either side of the full moon. The party was glorified in the film The Beach and now attracts 8,000 people in low season and up to 35,000 people in the high season.
We approached the beach front armed with the statutory bucket of rum, red bull and coke brimming with straws and ice, to be confronted with every bar housing stereo systems 3 metres high by 4 metres wide pumping out tunes from happy to hard house to seventies and eighties music. We painted ourselves in fluorescent glow in the dark paint and patrolled (or staggered after a few buckets) the beach front in search of the optimum music and ambience. There is no better location to be in than dancing under the stars with the sea lapping at your feet and a bucket in your hand. The party progressed until 10am with us few resilient still ones staggering around (Greg and Alexis didn?t actually have a place to stay!). We met people from all over the world but Alexis met some of her old school colleagues ? it really is a small world.
Our drive south started with a ferry crossing across back to the mainland. Adriano had a thai foot massage on the boat and it was very difficult to unweld him from the seat afterwards to start driving to Malaysia, a mere 500km away Unfortunately the signs on the mainland seemed to drive us around in circles for an hour or two before we got set off in the right direction.
We arrived at the Thai/Malay border after passing quickly through the territory that there are problems with the Islamic separatists blowing up public buildings and railways. We were stamped out of Thailand as the Beast was swamped by the Penang 4x4 club. They were highly inquisitive about our trip and offered all the help that we would need should we have any problems in Malaysia.
As soon as we crossed over into Malaysia we had to pay a toll to get into Malaysia but we had no Rimbitt, so we had to illegally cross into Thailand to get some money exchanged to pay the toll and then get our insurance. The insurance guys were dragged back to the office to give us our insurance. They then called the travel department to come and sort us out with our passes. Malaysia is the first country that required us to use our Carnet de Passage (a travel pass for your vehicle to allow you to travel into the country without having to pay import tax) but we were told that we didn?t need it and were presented with an International Circulation Permit (ICP) instead. We were a bit worried as if you don?t have a stamp in you can have a lot of problems on the way out. We were assured that we would have no problems!
We ploughed on down the road in the darkness to the predominantly muslim city of Alor Star, arriving at 1am (the clocks went forwards another hour!). We found a hotel with air conditioning and a magnificent view over the city to the limestone mounts that were raised up on the horizon. A relaxing sleep and a swim in the pool set us up for the drive to Penang.
Penang is an island situated off the coast of Malaysia. It was discovered as a wild rampant island with rainforest from coast to coast. When the British discovered it, in order to convince the workers to clear the greenery as fast as possible they loaded their canons with silver coins and fired them into the trees. It worked and now the whole island is a fading memory of colonial splendour with tiny winding roads with white hotels and shops with plants sprouting from every ledge. There are two ways to get out to the island, by ferry or by the third largest bridge in the world that span the 13.5km gap of the straits and is the longest bridge in South East Asia. We caught a car ferry across to the island and got a fantastic view of the enormous bridge.
We decided to go out and get some food and enjoy the Penang lifestyle with a few beers. We were sitting enjoying a few quite beers in the Shamrock bar (a bar that bans terrorists!) when we all looked at each other with a slight question. What was going on? The bench we were sitting on was moving uncontrollably from side to side. Suddenly everyone in the bar streamed out onto the street and we realised that we were in the middle of an earthquake. We ran as far as we could away from the 25 storey building that we were sitting at the base of and ran towards the lower colonial buildings. The earthquake continued for 5 minutes. Greg then spent the next 10 minutes trying to work out if the building was still swaying by leaning against every straight surface and lining it up before we could go back and sit down. A really strange experience but also a terrifying one when you realise that the locals had never experienced an earthquake before. According to local television it was measured as 8.6 on the richter scale. Since the Tsunami, the plates have shifted so that Malaysia receives the full brunt of any tectonic movements.
Alexis went back to the seventh floor bedroom with slight trepidation, making an emergency plan with Greg and Adriano in the case of any further rumbles. She left Greg and Adriano to have a few more beers but on the way back to the way back they were stopped by two ?ladies?, both of whom stopped them by putting their hands on their crotches ? always a bit difficult to move away from that! They were offered sex which started at 100RM (#13) and then dropped rapidly in price to 20RM (#3). According to the rickshaw driver that Greg and Adriano took to escape from these young ?ladies?, you can always tell a ladyboy by their tightness! They didn?t want to ask how he knew!
We set off down the road to Kuala Lumpur with a stop off in Ipoh to meet Adrian?s auntie and uncle and visit the burial site of his relatives. Alexis and Greg went to visit the Buddhist temple that had the tortoises and turtles that are considered reincarnations of the deceased souls.
We eventually arrived in Kuala Lumpur in the evening and were introduced to China Town by Adriano?s cousin, Margaret and her husband Alan. The thriving area of Kuala Lumpur is a den of fake watch sellers, perfume, rip off t-shirts, shoes and DVDs with stallholders all offering you the best price. Whilst Adrian toured around visiting uncles, aunts and grandparents, Alexis and Greg went to visit the Petronas Twin Towers () that towers 88 storeys over the city creating an impressive skyline. We were lucky enough to get on a tour (you need to prebook tickets normally) to the sky bridge that spans the two towers at the 42nd floor. We climbed into one of the 76 lifts which climbed at the rate of a floor a second and made your ears pop as you flew up to the skybridge. The foundations are 4.5m thick with piles that go down 115m. The floor pattern of the tower is designed on geometric patterns based on Islamic heritage. There are opera houses, shopping centres, restaurants, offices and petrochemical companies based at the towers. The Bintang area of the city is sea of electrical shops and clothes shops and giant shopping malls.
As we left KL, our windscreen wipers decided to stop working which in the torrential downpours of Malaysia is not an enjoyable experience. We stopped every few miles to clear the windscreen and headed south on the excellent but toll ridden roads and completed the 350km to be confronted with the problems and bureaucracy of Singapore?
Notes about Malaysia:
- The population of Malaysia is an integrated culture of Muslim, Chinese and Malay.
- It is a Muslim state with Sharia Law implemented, which means that if you are Muslim you can be arrested for drinking and carrying out non religious acts.
- Malaysia is one of the greenest countries in south east asia with thousands of kilometres of rainforest.
- Penang bridge is the third largest bridge in the world.
- Motorcyclist riders put shirts on backwards to prevent being covered in rain and insects.
- There are motorcycle stopping points on the motorways for cyclists to stop in the event of heavy rain.
- The Petronas tower is 452m high and there were two construction companies building a tower each.
- Durian, the pungent spiky fruit is banned from public transport and from being eaten in public building and hotels.