Penang Malaysia to Bukit Merah – Part 11

Today we learn that some hotels are dry for a reason, orangutang’s deserve a break too and things can get a little tense when trying to deal with a creepy crawly… We’re talking “Really Tense”.

Frank and Bridie have gone back yesterday so we’re feeling a little flat, the time spent with them has been astonishingly good and we’ll miss them.

We’ve checked out the cost of buses, trains and taxis to the Cameron Highlands. Trains have deselected themselves as they don’t complete the journey and the cost of a taxi is becoming more of an option when Emma spots an orangutang rehabilitation centre that’s more or less on our way.

There’s also a hotel that looks very promising at 50 ringets per room per night (about £10) so double and triple check on different host sites at about the same price. The reviews seem Ok so we book it.

The taxi driver’s on the ball with regard to where we want to go and his knowledge of George Town is impressive as he takes us through although he does try the hard sell with regard to taking us the rest of the journey to Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands. We’re already committed to a night at Bukit Merah Laketown Resort following the visit to the orangutang sanctuary so we promise him first refusal the following day.

It’s another blue sky day as we pass through the outskirts of George Town and it’s hard to imagine the devastation caused when the tsunami hit on Boxing Day 2004. The taxi driver is telling us all the details about the depth of water where we’re actually driving right now and it brings the whole horrifying scene to life. We’d been down here at a night market in Tanjung Bunga a couple of nights ago and if it had happened then we too would have been history. 52 lives were lost that day and the taxi driver is telling us how much aid came to the area, not just money but also how the Malaysians helped each other no matter what race or religion; the response, he says, was fantastic.

Once through George Town, we’re heading towards the bridge. It cuts an impressive ark through the bay and stood out well when I made the photographs from the top of Penang Hill a couple of nights ago. Before 1985 the island was solely dependent on the ferry service which was state-owned so prices were realistic but at peak times transportation could be challenging.

The bridge is the second longest in Malaysia at a total length of 13.5km (8.4 miles) with 8.4km (5.2 miles) over water. It has an emergency lay-bye in the middle and when our driver sees me taking photos he stops in it and with a mischievous grin says, “Please hurry, we haven’t long before the patrol arrives” so I’m delighted to present you with some contraband photos taken from that refuge!

Bukit Merah Lakeland Resort is a bit of a ghost town. It feels like a jaded seaside resort although there are a few people playing with bikes and large toys with youngsters who seem to be having a good time. They do look Indian in origin and although an educated guess based on dresses and scarves it looks like it is run for and behalf of the Islamic folks here. We sign in and ask about a cafe or restaurant with a bar. There are several restaurants but no alcohol on the premises. In fairness, we’ve pushed the boat out a bit over the last week so we agree it’ll do us some good.

The ferry to the Orangutang island runs every 45 minutes so we only have time for a quick snack and a drink then we’re on it.

The lake is man-made by the British in 1906 and is over 40 square kilometres. The orangutang island is a short boat ride away and is highly effective at keeping them in as they don’t swim. The landing stage is looking a bit dilapidated and we later learn that it was partly destroyed by fire around Christmas time and they’re currently working with the insurers and loss adjusters to agree on a way forward. The medical facilities are still intact but some of their education rooms were the victim and a swift solution is obviously needed.

The operation is quite slick as a lovely Malaysian lady singles us out and she becomes our guide. She tells us a little bit about the Sanctuary and why orangutangs end up here. She also tells us a little bit about herself and it’s fascinating.  She left her job in “The City” to be here and has never looked back as she enjoys every day. She does tell us of some hard times when maybe a long term inhabitant dies or ones that can be re-released are taken to freedom. They try not to become too attached but with some of the ones that are poorly or incapable of looking after themselves in the wild and become long term then it’s impossible not to develop an affection for these lovely creatures.

As we walk around she explains that the animals are all in the open and the only people on the island in a cage is us and it’s at this point that the penny drops, we are in cages, long windy ones that twist across the island and the people looking in are the orangutans, it’s wonderful and just how it should be.

There’s a mum who has her own baby and a surrogate one that’s little older and their antics are just like small humans with the exception that a two-year-old human wouldn’t be able to swing about in the top of a palm and fall from the topmost branches snatching at individual fronds all the way down so he hits the floor at no more than that of an athlete rolling off a pommel horse. Their sense of fear is similarly absent except the mother seems to have an opinion that he has to learn and she’s busy being given ripe bananas by Emma for her to squeeze the inside out. We’re still not sure which bit she ate or indeed maybe the skin for main course and the inside for pudding, she is certainly very subtle.

We stay for an hour and a half and it’s a wonderful experience, again recommended if you see one like it wherever you go visiting.

We’re on a high as we’re taken back across the lake and begin to think about our evening meal. A quick shower later and we’re investigating the options one of which is a Steamboat. It’s a kind of Malaysian fondue where they bring you a device that has boiling broth around the outside and hot griddle thingy in the middle. You’re supplied with raw fish, some squid, king prawns and a selection depending on your religion of beef, pork, chicken and bean curd (tofu). You’re also given some broccoli, excellent cauliflower, string beans and other stuff that I wasn’t sure of… then, you cook it yourself.

It takes about an hour to prepare it for your table so we go for a look around the lake and on return, there it is. It’s a bit like an elaborate wok and we’re completely taken aback as we’re clueless. We saw the picture of what it was but it seemed to imply that it was already cooked and my description of it above is delivered only after we’re confronted with it so we smile nicely and ask what we should do.

The waiter is a little surprised but smiles his way through the undignified foreigners who he’d moved to a quiet section of the restaurant to mitigate their embarrassment and protect the other customers from any major gaffs.

First, he smothered the griddle in butter, hmmm, not good, I remind him of my dairy intolerance and he immediately swaps it out for a new griddle thingy and he gets some oil – he’s a good man and very tolerant too. I introduce the fish to the griddle and throw some cauliflower, broccoli and ‘stuff’ in the semi-clear broth around the outside. Looking good and the waiter is smiling so we must be OK. Emma’s sorting out some veggie stuff from all of the offerings and doing well at it too. C is throwing a scare into some chicken and asking me what the soft white stuff is that I’d thrown into the broth. I wasn’t entirely sure but I took a stab at tofu and that seemed to satisfy all.

Let’s just say it wasn’t a complete disaster and as such must have been a success. The food was tolerable to magnificent and the broth and supplementary sauces just divine.

We finish up with a bit of tidying to do but I find that’s par for the course with anything remotely like Asian cuisine and this was remotely like that.

Anyway, we leave with a smile and I think the waiter and the other staff are pleased too, maybe that we’d gone, but I don’t think so, we enjoyed it and I think they’d enjoyed the entertainment.

Back at the room, I’d been at the toilet when I saw some movement out of the corner of my eye. I quickly look around but there’s nothing there. Then it moves again, it’s the metal cover over the drainage channel that runs around the bath and also the room. I can’t take my eyes off it but I also don’t want to look. What if it’s big and nasty, or worse still, what if it’s little and bites or stings or, even worse than that, what if it’s long, thin, wriggly and has poisonous bites? By now I’m checking all clothing to make sure none of it is touching the floor. Underwear and pants are up but not before being checked for creepy crawlies. I’m not keen on creepy things although I will tolerate them on my hands but not in my underwear, that, believe me, is an emphatic no!

It moves again and this time the metal grid lifts slightly, I’m holding my breath and my pants up as outcomes a cockroach about the size of a small horse. I think it’s surprised to see me and I have to admit the feeling is mutual. I have; however, the added bonus of emotions i.e. anxiety, horror, blind terror, nausea and not a little discomfort. They’re not pretty but at least I’ve never heard of them biting. They can; however, cover some ground at a pace that defies description. I’m now back in control of my emotions and quite possibly my bowels. I’m also back in the bedroom and had restored my decorum.

“Errr, have you ever seen a cockroach?”, I ask.

She’s tucked up in bed so a bit vulnerable, “Errr, no, why?”, she’s cautious with her response although both of us knew the question was rhetorical.

“There’s one in the bathroom”, I say as I look for one of my boots.  I’m trying to look cool, no sense in sharing my anxiety.

From what I’ve read in the past these ancient beasties have been around for millennia and can survive atomic explosions so I need something of substance to ensure a quick kill. Apart from that, if it does start scooting about at a rate of knots and I lose it then sweet dreams would be history.

There’s not a lot of enthusiasm for my offer to show her the vile beastie so I go back with the boot. It’s not moving but it does have twitching bits on its front illustrate it’s still got a contract with life.

There’re a few seconds whilst I assess its options and it’s clearly doing a similar mental exercise then, without warning, it makes a run for it and shoots along the channel like a bullet.

“I told you they could move”, I said, but it was to myself; if there had been anyone else in the room now they’d have been long gone.

It stops and twitches its thingies on its face, WHACK, I hit it with the heel of my boot and one bit runs off in one direction then stops and the other shoots further along the channel. Rather than a four-inch hideous creature, I now have a brace of two-inch wriggling bits.

I’m now ready for a tranquilliser and counselling but at least the two bits are not scurrying any more but they’re still twitching so there’s still a job to be done. I note that I’m dripping with sweat.

I hit both of them several times more as a coup-de-grace but it’s more for my benefit than any desire to put it out of its misery, I really don’t want bits of cockroach scurrying about the room even if they are on their way to the long sleep.

There are several marks along the channel now and none of them is twitching, I think I am though; however, they’re not, and that’s what matters, the deed is done.

I report the demise to my chum and retire to bed; however, the lack of alcohol and raised adrenaline means a more lingering approach to sleep and the pee in the night is preceded with more lights than the Blitz before I venture into the bathroom.

There’s a bit of a hiccup in the morning as we contact our taxi driver who was so enthusiastic to take us to Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands, he’s got a run to the airport! C talks to the reception and we’re fixed up with a new driver but it does take a little time for him to reach us so the early start is scuppered, but hey, we’re on holiday.

More to come…

Enjoy the snaps. Love…G..x

2 thoughts on “Penang Malaysia to Bukit Merah – Part 11”

  1. This takes me back a long way George, and the change in Malaysia since I was there (March 1965 to September 1967 with a 6 month break in Borneo/Brunei) is remarkable. There was not an International airport in KL in 1965, though I flew back in 67 in an RAF Comet from the then new KL airport, the Cameron Highlands was a change of air station for families who had spent 2 years in the country and consisted of a rough road of shacks, a 9 hole golf course, and little else but more temperate weather than down the hill. The military had a leave centre in Penang (long before the causeway was built) and my wife, a 2 year old daughter, and I had what was then the most fabulous holiday we could have imagined. 1st class rail travel on Malaysian railways was an eye opener, meals were cooked on an open fire on a carriage next to a Victorian masterpiece of a dining car, and KL railway station was a perfect example of Victorian design. I do so hope it is still standing, although it will no longer be a station, as Malaysia seemed determined to throw off the British Raj yoke, and why not I ask?.
    My family and I lived in Malacca, a lifestyle never again to be experienced. I was but a lowly corporal, we had a large, detached villa (no air conditioning though, only for officers!!!), had a live in Amah who did everything including washing my Y Fronts in starch, and a gardener. We found the master/servant thing difficult to deal with and my wife found idle living not to her taste and returned to the UK 6 months before I did, after which we moved to Germany – they were the days.
    I did not see any orangutangs on mainland Malaysia, but was lucky enough to see them in Kuching, Borneo, but sadly have long lost the slides taken at the time. Your photos brought back happy memories.
    Other memories include Tiger and Anchor Beer, never loosing a golf ball (if lost, 50cents were deducted from the caddy fee) – 8 Straight Dollars to the pound, Rocco Tiga Lima (3 fives State Express fags), Chinese funerals, happy faces, sunshine, monsoons, giant jelly fish which resided in the Malacca Straights and made swimming from gorgeous beaches impossible for some 6 month every year rickshaws, and many, many, more. Thank you for bringing them to mind.

    • Thank you for this wonderful response David. My trips to Malaysia were either working or holiday and I enjoyed them all. You clearly had a wonderful time too and your memories shine through.

      I’m looking forward to being able to have a beer or two with you in the not-too-distant future.

      Thanks again for your response.

      Kind regards,



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