Previously, we’ve only been to the Malaysian border where, depending on the lines, one can check in and out of that country in less than 10 minutes. Even if you have two 60-day Thai visas, it’s still required to leave Thailand and re-enter: a curious requirement no doubt fostered by government officials who, like all country’s officials, are following edicts and directives that made sense at the conference room table, but not necessarily in practicality.  Or it’s simply payback for US requirements at our borders.

We often use this mandatory displacement to visit other countries, albeit not in the fashion that we prefer: long-term stays to suss out more of the culture, customs, the people and feeling toward foreigners, rather than being just tourists, which are tolerated as sources of cash, disdain, and amusement.  This time we took our bikes and an eighty-passenger ferry to the northern-most island of Malaysia, Langkawi.

Four days on an economically-dependent tourist island, replete with hourly international flights, daily cruise ships and high-rise luxury hotels, doesn’t really constitute learning much about the culture and customs of any country.  Nevertheless, it did give us a taste of food (wonderful and spicy), traffic (far greater ratio of cars to scooters), affluence (higher than Thai standards – but skewed by tourism in this case), religious influence (most women veiled and more prominent mosques) and cost of living (food prices in stores apparently 15% cheaper). [A web search validates the comparison of almost all consumer things from rent to beer at 8 to 18% cheaper than in Thailand.]

Thailand offers Roti, but not cheese roti, which is akin to a quesadilla or India’s flat bread, served with 3 flavors of dips. Roti’s are a flour-based tort thrown pizza-style, round and round, to get the circular shape and thickness and then flipped on to a smooth grill top and seared much like a tortilla.  Typically you’d want a sweet (condensed milk and sugar) or a fruit one with banana, but the cheese variety was definitely worth enjoying.  The 16″ diameter “bread” is folded in from four sides, after the filling is laid in the center, to loosely form an eight inch square. “To Go” orders, the most popular serving, are cut into hand-sized chunks, while the whole roti is severed on a plate for diners wanting to tear their own bite-sized morsels to dip. One dip was a delicious curry with some sauteed vegetables and another was a chickpea version that tasted like a flavorful humus.  The third was a stronger soy based mix which was a great contrast to the others. Our second cheese roti was a dinner serving of two each. Good thing there were a few vegetables in the dips.  We can relish a total carb meal when you do an all-day cycle tour of the island.

Our accommodations were definitely in the low-rise, past-it’s-prime version of accommodation now suited for and serving native tourists.  We prefer seeing and experiencing the local version whenever possible, so we ate and slept where Malaysians ventured.  Preferring a pool to the beach, where the beached whales garnered their tomato tans and slept on $200-a-night beach recliners with their novels on their bellies, we enjoyed several hours each afternoon in the pool out our front door, for $22 a night including a sparse breakfast.

Cycling to the high-dollar beach we found the parasailing, jet skiing, banana riding, sun seekers all breaking the fun barrier, and funding the local economy.  The sands are exactly what the brochures boast: long white sands, umbrellas galore, vendors, and foreigners in bikinis. Smart business makes for semi-private beaches, side by side with the next hotel, making free-loading public access difficult, save for entry at the very far ends. We refrained from photographing those lounging Russians in their undisclosed locations.

Eating at local curb-side/cycle-up buffets is how the locals dine and we joined various ones, depending on our route, for every meal. Why worry deciphering a foreign language menu when you can grab a plate and scoop up rice and whatever you fancy from a minimum of 20 or more quarter-steam-table pans lined up, spoons and tongs beckoning, without sneeze guards. A drink server tallies up your choices and lunches are less than $2 for a large variety of meats, fish, vegetables and rices.

Still more to follow….