For my first attempt at a ‘Day in the Life of’ blog post I chose a day spent travelling between one place and another, Pangkor Island and Taiping City in Malaysia. If I had written this the day before there would have been very little to report as I spent so many hours reading a book, lying half in and half out of the swimming pool below that the skin on my the bottom of my feet started to remove itself from the flesh in disgusting little bubbles. Anyway, here we go.
8.05am – I wake up and check the time. Knowing that Shaun’s alarm is set for 8.15am I get up quickly and get into the bathroom to wash and dress before he or my brother have a chance. I need to finish packing my bag which is my least favourite thing in the world but miraculously everything fits in quite easily this time with space to spare. This disconcerts me because I pack the exact same things into my bag in the exact same way every time but sometimes they fit and sometimes they don’t. Are even the laws of matter treacherous and changeable?
9.00am – Anwar, the owner of the guesthouse we’re staying in on Pangkor Island has called a taxi to take us to the jetty. His family are adorable and as we drive away he and his five year old daughter wave us off and I actually feel sort of sad that I’ll never see them again, especially the baby who I’ve wanted to pick up and hug for the last five days but didn’t dare in case I came off as a lunatic. I miss my niece and nephews.
9.30am-10.00am – The ferry ride back to the mainland is uneventful. I watch a huge family board with an insane amount of luggage and fishing equipment and ice boxes full of fish, presumably caught on this holiday, and I think how nice it would be if my family could take a holiday like that together but it would never happen because work/money/ family politics. A group of six or seven Indian kids take an interest in my brother, shaking his hand and asking him questions. I think it’s the tattoos that does it and I’m jealous the kids don’t want to talk to me but also relieved because I feel sleepy and seasick.
10.15 – We arrive at the ferry port where my brother’s bus is already waiting to take him to Penang. Without a backwards glance he disappears off and we go to the ticket office to find out what time the next bus to Taiping arrives. There’s only one bus to Taiping, the nice lady says, it left at 9.30am. Bollocks.
10.30am – More enquiries reveal that the only way to get to Taiping now is to take a bus to the city of Ipoh then find a connecting bus to Taiping but the next bus to Ipoh doesn’t leave until 12pm. We thank the lady and put our backpacks in her tiny office so we can walk around and find somewhere to get a cold drink. It’s hot as hell.
10.50am – We find a cendol dessert café that has no aircon but does, in theory, have iced drinks. I order some kind of green tea smoothie thing and when it arrives it is the exact colour and texture of cat vomit and tastes like, I don’t even know what, dry rot and cigarette ash maybe, so I sit for a while looking at it before asking for it in a takeout cup so I can throw it away outside without hurting the man’s feelings.
11.20am – I feel kind of sick and am not relishing the prospect of a 3+ hour bus ride followed by another 3+ hour bus ride so I walk to the seven-eleven and buy a strawberry milkshake because milk settles your stomach, right?
12.00pm – After a twenty minute wait in the bus stop, most of which is spent looking for whatever had died in the vicinity to make that kind of smell, the bus arrives and we board. It’s really filthy. So filthy I’m cursing myself for having worn shorts because I’m going to have to put my bare legs on the dusty, shiny-with-ingrained-filth seat for the next few hours. I get over it and listen to The Moth podcasts back to back to pass the time. The driver stops the bus for ten minutes to eat his lunch at a street stall. A man across the aisle from us flamboyantly vomits up the entire packet of bourbon biscuits he inexplicably just consumed in one go. Given the bus driver’s approach to crossing lanes (violently and without any indication of his intention to do so) I wonder if we’ll make it to Ipoh alive. The bourbon biscuit vomit begins to seep towards the feet of the person sitting behind.
2.20pm – We arrive in Ipoh bus station only it’s not the bus station we’re supposed to be at to connect to Taiping. ‘Taiping’? I say into the little ticket office window. ‘Other station’ she says. A twinge of despair. She points up the street and I follow with my eyes where I can see tons of buses parked up only a five minute walk away. Thank god.
2.30pm – There’s a bus to Taiping at 3pm. We dump our bags in the waiting area and Shaun looks after them as I wander off to find us some food. Few tourists pass though this bus station. I know this because almost everyone eating or working at this short row of food vendors is looking at me. Someone says ‘Welcome to Malaysia’ and it’s so heartbreakingly sweet I’m not sure what to say so I just say ‘thanks’, forgetting to use the only Malay I’ve learned which is ‘terima kasih’. I stop when I reach three very round Indian ladies presiding over a cabinet of deep-fried oddities. I point to two different samosa looking things and ask for two each. She gives me five little heart-attacks and asks for 2 Ringitts which is about 40p. Once I’ve eaten them I want more but there’s no time because the next bus is here.
2.40pm – We board the second bus of the day to Taiping. There’s sufficient legroom but only if you’re less than 4ft tall. A Malay girl sits next to me and asks me where I’m from. I tell her and ask her the same question. She says ‘Taiping’. ‘Great’, I think. I ask her what I should do in Taiping and she says ‘I don’t know’. I ask her where to eat and she says ‘I don’t know’. I ask her if she knows any cafes and she says ‘I don’t drink coffee’, then she asks me how old I am. I tell her and put my headphones in.
4.30pm – We step off the bus in Taiping and it’s not quite what I was expecting but then, nowhere ever is. I see similarities with George Town in Penang, the historic shophouses, the wide streets, the markets, but it’s George Town without the major restoration and the tourists. The godawful grey haze that had descended on Pangkor the week before has found its way to Taiping and its making everything look sort of decrepit and sad, until we see a busy Chinese food court, a bakery and 24-hour KFC and our spirits soar.
4.45pm – We find our hostel which is adorable and only £12 a night and collapse onto our clean, cool double bed. I know I need to deal with the fact that I’m wearing my last pair of clean knickers but the thought of finding a laundrette overwhelms me so I fall asleep.
5.30pm – I’m in a 24-hour laundrette waiting for a 23 minute wash cycle to end so I can begin a 23 minute dry cycle. I give Shaun a neck massage while we argue about whether or not we can just leave the laundry and come back for it later. Who on earth would want his holey tshirts and my ancient jean shorts?
6.20pm – We take our bag of laundry with us when we go to dinner because that’s how we roll. I decide I need Hainan Chicken and Rice and Shaun sets about making this demand a reality.
6.40pm – We find a food court and we’re both kind of grumpy because we’re tired and hungry until we manage to order a table full of food, no mean feat because we can’t find anybody who speaks English here. We get Hainan chicken rice, barbeque pork, fried wantons and beer and devour the lot.
8.00pm – We take a slow walk back to the guesthouse in the drizzling rain that somehow makes us feel even sweatier than when it was dry and look for a place to buy drinking water and shower gel.
9.00pm – I’m in bed, showered and exhausted by 9pm, thrilled to rest my aching feet and finally do a little bit of online research about how we’re going to spend our time here. It occurs to me that it’s Saturday and I have a copywriting job for which I owe almost 3,000 words which is due on Sunday. I feel like crying. Shaun makes me a cup of tea. I don’t cry and open up my laptop.
11.50pm – I drop my laptop on the floor, write most of what you’ve just read in my notebook and within minutes, I imagine, I am fast asleep.
- The guesthouse we stayed in on Pangkor Island was called the Nipah Guesthouse and was one of the most welcoming, relaxing, cutest places I’ve ever been. Small but perfectly formed. A three-person cottage cost around 160 Ringitt (£24.00) per night.
- The guesthouse we stayed in in Taiping was called the Sojourn Beds and Cafe and, again, I couldn’t fault it. The rooms were beautiful and the staff were great. A nice man named Keith even went to the trouble of posting a forgotten camera on to a hotel in KL for me to collect. A double room cost around 75 Ringitt (£12.00) per night.
The bus journey from Pangkor to Taiping was as follows.
- Ferry from Pangkor Ferry Port to Lumut Ferry Port. Around every 30-45 minutes and costs 5 ringitts (£1).
- Bus from Lumut bus station to Ipoh bus station. A few companies cover this route so there are a few buses a day. I can’t be much more specific than that and considering I couldn’t even plan my own trip effectively did you really expect me to be?
- Bus from Ipoh Amanjaya bus station to Taiping bus station. As above. It was cheap, I remember that.