Friday 9 December 2016

House hunting failure in Malaysia and other adventures...

After our amazing trip to Bali and the Gili Islands in Indonesia, which you can read about HERE, we headed back to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.

We stayed two nights at the Intercontinental Hotel in KL city centre, then two days later, we flew with Air Asia over to the Malaysian island of Langkawi.

This was our second visit to this duty-free island. We stayed here for a week exactly one year ago during our Grand Asian Tour of 2015. We decided to come back here because we had been enthusing about Langkawi to our friends Mark and Rebecca, who live on the island of Koh Tao, in Thailand, and whom we met up with on Gili Air.

Mark and Rebecca were looking for a place to relax and unwind for a week after their hectic final F1 destination and we were looking at Langkawi as a possible place to settle down for a couple of months.

I felt the need to stop travelling for a while and to find somewhere conducive to finishing the manuscript of my next romantic adventure novel. After which, in late December, we planned to head to Koh Tao Thailand for the start of high season – which had always been our plan for the end of 2016.

So the four of us arranged to meet up again in Langkawi.

We thought Langkawi might be a good choice for us as a place to settle for a while as it was just the start of the high season there (and still rainy season in Koh Tao) and we had three month visa, which is standard for UK Passport holders arriving in Malaysia. We also expected it to be relatively inexpensive to live there too. So we booked ourselves into a budget hotel for a week to give us enough time to find a small house or apartment to rent.

But even though we took lots of time to look for suitable accommodation in various places on the island, while Mark and Rebecca chilled out in their plush hotel, we discovered a complete lack of affordable availability and we were told over and over again that rental accommodations had been booked out for months in advance. So total house-hunting failure!

The Langkawi trip wasn’t a complete failure however, as we got to enjoy Mark and Rebecca’s company again. We had wall to wall sunshine for a week. And we got to eat the most amazing seafood – tiger shrimp and lobster - at the most incredibly affordable prices.

And we also got to throw away our worn-out clothing and buy new ones from the market on Langkawi, where they have the softest, lightest, coolest, cotton clothing we’ve ever found. I think I replaced my entire wardrobe (and by that I mean suitcase) for the equivalent of £60. We also stocked up on wine (£3 a bottle for good stuff) and bourbon (at £8 per litre).

So what and where next?

Well, to help us out of our house hunting dilemma, Rebecca and Mark generously offered us their place to housesit on Koh Tao, as they were planning to go back to the UK until just before Christmas. But as it was only the start of the rainy (monsoon) season on Koh Tao and we knew the island would be quiet, with most boats to the island on stand-by and many places closed, we weren’t sure it was the right place for us at this time.

So we headed back to Kuala Lumpur (we had a return ticket) and we went house hunting there instead. For five nights we stayed for free at a very nice Holiday Inn Golf and Country Resort just outside the city, using our hotel loyalty points. 

The lovely view from our room at the Holiday Inn Golf and Country Resort KL

The weather in KL was hot and sunny and the (a free stay on loyalty points) hotel was lovely

While in KL I went to the Malaysian version of Specsavers for some new reading glaases

We used public transport and uber taxis to get around and we searched for and viewed several apartments. Some of them were quite luxurious serviced apartments with outside balconies and swimming pool and gym facitities - yet affordable. However, they were all for long term rental only and not just a couple of months.

During this time, although we both love KL, I still wasn’t quite convinced that I actually wanted to live in a busy city and I worried what Trav would do with himself if he couldn’t go diving while I was busy writing? I mean, you can only go to the cinema so many times before it starts getting a bit repetitive, can’t you? 

KL Monorail - just one of the inexpensive and efficient ways to travel around KL

We viewed a rental apartment here in KLCC

Many apartments in KLCC are serviced apartments with a pool and gym

Coming to the conclusion that we were island people rather than city folk, and as we had been planning to go back to Koh Tao in another six weeks anyway, we decided to speak to Mark and Rebecca and take them up on their kind offer of house-sitting their place while they were away.

Except, that very soon after making our new plans, Trav was immediately offered a fantastic diving opportunity on the island of Koh Tao that would help him towards gaining his PADI Master Instructor certification (his goal for 2017) and which also included our accommodation during our stay.

So, it seems that whether it was still the rainy season or not, we were destined to be heading back to Koh Tao and suddenly I couldn’t wait!

We had a wonderful welcome back to the island and I was so delighted to find that our new home on Koh Tao was a modern studio villa with a lovely big covered porch that would be great for sitting outside whatever the weather. 

Our accommodation is on a huge diving resort here on Koh Tao - so we'll have access to all the resorts facilities including the shops, bars, restaurants and swimming pools - they have three pools and are in the process of building a fourth. The beach is just a ten minute walk away. Things really have turned out really well for us - we simply couldn't have planned it better.

Our beautiful villa on Koh Tao

When we settle anywhere for more than a week then the Trav and Janice's Hoose sign goes up!

This fabulous swimming pool is just a few minutes walk from our new home.

A lovely welcome back to the island from our lovely island friends

First week back on Koh Tao and Trav was diving with whale sharks again

It all sounds so blissful, right? It is EXCEPT for one wee glitch - and that was that at this time we only had 30 day arrival visa for Thailand.

SO, we knew that after just three weeks or thereabouts, we would have to leave Thailand again on a visa run. We decided to 'run' back to KL as it was the most affordable option to get a 60 day visa. You may wonder why we didn't get one to start with but at that time the Thai Consulate was closed for a few days and getting a 60 day visa is a two day process - meaning we would have had to stay in KL for almost another week. So before our 30 day visa expired, we took a three hour boat from Koh Tao to Surat Thani on the mainland. Then a bus for a hour or so to the airport. Then an Air Asia flight back to KL.

While we were in KL this time around we would also be celebrating Trav's birthday. His treats included birthday cake, chocolates and champagne and wine and cheese (ooops, okay, the last three items were for me - and you'll know how much I miss cheese when we are travelling and living on tiny cheese-free islands!) and of course there was lots of bourbon drinking for Trav - plus a trip to the cinema - to watch the new Magnificent Seven Movie.

Trav's Birthday Cake

My wine, champagne and cheese!

The trip to the Thai Consulate in KL to secure our new 60 day visas got a bit stressful because it is a two day exercise and the first day we arrived very early and before opening time to find there was already a huge queue around the building block. We waited in line and then we waited some more once inside and, after almost three hours, when we eventually get to see an immigration officer, he asked for additional documents to be produced, above and beyond what was stipulated - but of course it is at their discretion to do so - which had us running back to our hotel to get online and to print stuff out and to race back to the consulate again in an exhausted and overheated stress before they closed for the day. We made it with only ten mins to spare!

The following day, we did manage to collect our 60 day visas for entry back into Thailand. BUT it was pointed out to us that we don't have any space left in our passports for any more entry/exit stamps or visas.

Our passports are still valid but we have travelled so much we have now run out of empty pages - and this is something we need to address before our current visas expire OR our fabulous travel adventures will come to a grinding halt and we will have to leave our beautiful new home on Koh Tao and Trav's diving ambitions will all be on hold!

Don't panic though - we are dealing with the situation right now - and we have found that we are able to apply for new passports (the ones with extra pages!) as overseas UK Citizens through Her Majesty's Passport office in Bangkok and we should in fact have our new passports in our hands in the next week or so. *Fingers crossed*.

So now we are back on Koh Tao and we are finally able to settle down to the slower pace of island life after the excitement of all our recent travels and adventures and our visa/passport stresses. 

I have been able to focus on getting some writing done and to finish my novel Island in the Sun, which is now with my editor, and also meet my looming deadlines for travel magazine features. Meanwhile, Trav has been busy and happy in equal measures doing lots of new and amazing stuff to develop his diving career while we are here on Koh Tao.

Next time here on the blog – I'll be taking a look back at the highlights of 2016 month by month to recap on all the countries we have visited, the adventures we have had, and the lovely people we have met over what has been a truly amazing and fantastic year.

In early January, just after New Year, Trav and I hope to have our new passports with which to do yet another visa run. We plan to go to the Malaysian island of Penang next time around as we haven't been there before - so that will be another new adventure to tell you about.

Until next time, Happy Christmas to you all and all best wishes for 2017.
Love, Janice xx