We went to bed last night not having decided which of the many tourist attractions we want to see today. There are just too many choices and all seem either exciting or interesting. We could go white water rafting or caving or to the many temples or to the Old Town. We decide to wait and see what the morning brings.
With the sun shining and a map spread out on the wooden platform at the mushroom farm pond we decide to do none of the typical touristy things. Instead, we decide to take a drive out to Pantai Remis (Remis Beach) and then south to Lumut. It’s a random choice of destination selected based on the lines on the map showing roads, rivers and sea frontage. The rivers and sea frontage mean there might be fishing boats. The word ‘pantai’ being in the location name means there might be some sort of beach. And Lumut is the departure point for the ferry to Pulau Pangkor (Pangkor Island), which is said to be a fantastic place for scuba diving so perhaps Lumut has something to see too.
The drive takes us through dense palm tree plantations. Palm tree oil is one of Malaysia’s biggest exports. It’s a controversial commodity in the West where we have the luxury of pointing the finger at the developing world’s destruction of natural habitat without actually looking at the way we are destroying our own natural environments. That’s not to say that I support the destruction of natural forest and orang utang’s natural habitat. But my travels are helping me see that things aren’t always as simple or black & white as they seem from the comfort of the couch in a dry safe home when using a laptop or the latest tablet technology to surf the web using a fast broadband connection knowing that you will sleep in a warm bed and wake to food in the fridge for breakfast.
We reach Pantai Remis. It’s a busy mid-sized fishing village. Some old painted shutters catch my eye as we wait at a set of traffic lights. This style of architecture is typical here in Malaysia.
We search for the beach by following every road that leads to the sea. The first one takes us through the town’s main industrial area where fishing boats are repaired and catches sorted for transport. The area smelled of the sea and stank like fish. The roads were just narrow gravel lanes that jogged their way around the haphazardly placed buildings and over a steep narrow concrete bridge intended for pedestrians that cars are now using.
On our first attempt at finding the beach we came to a muddy mangrove swamp at the mouth of the creek on which the fishing industry sat. Long tail fishing boats zipped in and out of the creek at breakneck speed as a giant hulking trawler squatted on the distant horizon.
After retracing our steps back to the main road we made another attempt at finding the beach after which the township was named. This time we left the highway to follow a creek out to the sea. The road took us past often colourful fishing boats sitting up on the creek’s banks. Small shacks lined the creek. Some looked like places where boats and nets were repaired while others were clearly being used as homes. The contrast here between rich and poor is striking. On one side of the road are normal Western-style houses and on the other are shanty huts. I don’t know what to do with this knowledge yet except to share it in my stories and to reflect on what it means for us all as humans.
Again we were unsuccessful in our mission, ending up at another mangrove swamp. But this time it was beautiful because the clouds were reflecting on the thin layer of water that sat atop the mud.
Fishing boats maneuvered carefully in and out of the shallow creek, their engines churning up mud. I wonder what it would be like to grow up and live with the sea as your home knowing the way every tidal change affects the catch.
And then there it is. On our third attempt at finding the beach we succeed. We follow a road west quite a few kilometers south of Pantai Remis. The road leads to a power station but a turn off takes us to some white sand. The beach is beautiful. But you have to look beyond the wide line of litter at the high tide mark. Interestingly, among the coconuts and plastic water bottles, the two most common items of rubbish are light bulbs and glass hip flask-shaped alcohol bottles. I wonder where these come from. Are they from locals or do they all come from far flung places in the world and get brought here by the currents? Back to the beach though – it’s absolutely lovely to see white sand and blue water. People sit fishing further to the north under umbrellas to shield them from the blazing sun. We don’t stay long because we don’t have an umbrella and it’s hot even for us Brisbanites.
Having succeeded in our mission to find a beach, we drive to Lumut for lunch. There’s a delightful waterfront area here where you can walk and enjoy the seascape. It’s far too hot to enjoy it today so we take shelter in the shade at a local food stall.
After a rest we brave the blazing sun and sticky humidity to walk along the waterfront again. We find some trees that provide some shade but the heat of the day chases us back to the car to shelter in the air conditioning. It’s not that we’re soft; it’s just that we’re not accustomed to this level of heat and humidity. Back home it gets hot and humid but there’s almost always some relief through sea breezes or shade.
And then it’s time to head back to Ipoh. We want to catch a movie on our way home and it’s already about 4pm. Paul falls asleep almost immediately on the way home. This is normal for him in the car; he just can’t seem to be able to keep his eyes open. It’s peak hour on the roads and small packs of scooter riders form. They take up the whole left lane chatting to each other until one of their group takes off, usually on his rear wheel, and the others give chase. They then all stop to regroup and the display repeats itself. There are a few groups who I pass doing this. It’s kind of fun to watch because they are all over in the left lane together anyway.
What’s less enjoyable is the battle for car parks at the Ipoh Parade shopping centre where we go to see a movie. It seems that carpark chaos must be an international phenomena. We are lucky and find a park by parallel parking over a speed bump. It’s a marked spot and I don’t know why so many cars drove past it but I was not complaining. The movie cinema is packed with young guys going to see The Fast and Furious 7. It’s showing in five theaters and each is close to sold out. I’m not surprised because custom cars are common here on the roads and many of the custom cars are driven racing style at high speeds (the right lane of the expressway has many cars traveling well over 150kph; not all young racers). Paul suggests that we see Cinderella given that neither of us has seen any of the Fast and Furious franchise movies. So we join a theater full of woman and children. It’s a fabulous movie and once again South East Asia’s movie cinemas prove themselves to be superior in quality and comfort to those we have at home in Brisbane. The seats are wider, the screens clearer and the surround sound more realistic. And so we ended a thought-provoking and interesting day of sight seeing here in Malaysia.