Our journey from the Perhentians back to Bangkok (and for me, back to New York) was fraught with drama and hilarity, perhaps starting with the fact that Mark had lost the only pair of flip flops that he brought on the trip and therefore spent the 700 mile trip either barefoot or wearing a pair of my size 6 sandals. That pretty much set the tone for things.
It started with a small motorboat ride from the island to Kuala Besut, made difficult by the fact that my return ticket was at the bottom of the sea and I had given a fake passport number on the receipt. In a scuffle of confusion I somehow avoided paying twice, but only after I had envisioned myself rotting in Malaysian prison for falsifying documents.
From the jetty we found a couple to share a sweaty cab ride to the conservatively Muslim state capital of Kota Bharu, and we again lucked out as the other couple uncomplainingly paid the majority of the cab fare when they were dropped at the airport. Arriving at the bus station, we had a few hours to kill and I spotted a Western style mall in the distance.
I think I’ve beat the point to death on this blog, but I am not an adventurous eater. However, options are limited in Malaysia and I choked down many unidentified dishes to stave off starvation. So try to imagine the sound of the angel’s chorus as we stepped into the blissfully air-conditioned mall and were met by the sight of Pizza Hut, McDonald’s and A&W. Mark watched our enormous backpacks as I sprinted between the three, fondly reading the menus and trying to make the ultimate comfort food decision. While mulling over the options, Mark revealed he HAD NEVER TRIED ROOT BEER. I apologize for the excess capitalization, but I’m having a hard time finding any other way to convey the shock of this confession. Obviously the decision was made for me and A&W it was.
Thus begins one of my mother’s favorite stories from my entire time in Asia. In the two months that Mark and I had spent together, he had only seen me pick aloofly at my food. While he knew my little secret about my picky eating habits, he just assumed that in addition I must also be a light and dainty eater. After all, I had been eating like a bird for two months.
That illusion came crashing down the minute the rootbeer float hit the table in front of me. To say that the spoon did not stop moving between the glass and my mouth until I was finished scrapping the sides is an understatement. Mark watched mouth agape before timidly tucking in. My cover was blown.
Once that fun Malaysian-culture soaking opportunity was up we were back on the road for the seven hour bus trip to Penang. Penang is a major metropolis and island on the West coast and also where our flight departed from the next morning. We were jolted out of our bus slumber by a stop and the vast majority of the passengers departing. I scrambled to grab our things while Mark ran to get our backpacks from under the bus. Yet I had a sinking feeling something was off. It was the middle of the night and with no signs, English or otherwise, to alert us of our destination, I wasn’t entirely confident we were where we were supposed to be.
“Excuse me, is this the Penang bus station?” I asked the bus driver. He looked directly at me, smiled and nodded. I paused. “Is the next stop the Penang bust station?” He smiled and nodded again, pleased to have been of help. I looked around at the remaining passengers, all of whom were Malay. “Does anyone speak English?” I called out. I was met by rows of eager smiles, but no response. Meanwhile Mark appeared at the doors, wondering why I wasn’t off the bus yet. I felt my stomach drop as the bus driver started up the engine again. Decision time. “Get back on the bus!” I cried, and Mark threw our bags up the steps and climbed back on and looked at me bewildered. I admitted there was a very good chance we were lost forever in the Malaysian bus system, doomed to travel from one concrete edifice to another, never correctly identifying our location, for the rest of our miserable lives. He told me it probably wasn’t that bad.
Yet again, luck was on our side. After fifteen heart stopping minutes we arrived in a much brighter and larger bus station swarming with cabs competing to take us to our hotel. After a too short night of sleep in a seriously swank $60 hotel room (Penang is the place to splurge) we were en route to the airport.
We woke up in Palau Perhentian and a boat, a cab, a bus, a cab and several heart attacks later we were in Palau Penang. Transportation through Malaysia can be challenging, frustrating, and sometimes even a little fun. The best part is arriving in your destination, looking back at the journey behind you, and knowing you not only survived it, you made it into a memorable part of your trip. Maybe even blog worthy.