Thursday, March 10, 2011

What I was doing two weeks ago today (6)

Drinking in Big Joe's Bar in Langkawi, Malaysia.

Well, no, I wasn't actually. I fantasise, I fib.

I had planned to head out to the island for a day-trip on my last day in Penang before I returned to KL for the weekend.

However.... the imagined romance of a sea journey rapidly dissipated. I found the waters of the Malacca Straits to be disappointingly grey and murky; too deep, I suppose, (and perhaps too polluted?) to give us the vibrant blues and turquoises I've seen elsewhere in the tropics. A perpetual heavy haze shrouded the mainland coastline and the numerous small islands thereabouts, rendering them all but invisible (and the coast doesn't have much appeal, anyway: it's heavily built up, just one huge oil terminal). Friends told me that Langkawi was becoming an increasingly expensive resort, appealing mainly to Malaysian yuppies - which didn't entice me! The two boats operating the daily ferry service to and from Penang are huge and swanky super-cruisers, not the sort of rusty old tramp steamers I'd hoped for. The journey was rather longer than I'd originally been led to believe, meaning that I'd have more time at sea than I would on the island. And the fare had recently been bumped up from 70 or 80 ringgit to a rather offputting 120 (I think; it might have been even more).

So, I gave up on the idea. Something else deferred to a possible future visit.

One of my main reasons for being curious to visit Langkawi (white sand beaches? pffftt!) had been reports of a bar there called Big Joe's. Subsequent researches online seem to indicate that its more formal name is the 1812 Bar, in the town of Cenang on the main island of Pulau Langkawi, and that the genial proprietor Joe is an Englishman. It's been heavily written up online, mostly very positively. I am definitely intrigued. The Lonely Planet Shoestring Guide To South-East Asia (a useful loan from The Choirboy) alleged that beers there were only 2 ringgit!! I was deeply sceptical. In fact, I didn't believe it for an instant: that information was either an egregious typo (they'd meant 12 ringgit, perhaps?), a mischievous practical joke, or.... maybe 20 years out of date!

The cheapest beer I found in a supermarket anywhere (330ml can or bottle) was about 6 or 7 ringgit, and major brands usually rather more. Thus, I would think that the wholesale price must be getting on for 2 ringgit (and that's on the mainland, not a small island - where there are presumably significant additional transport costs involved).  And I doubt if our Joe is enough of a philanthropist to sell his beer at or below cost.

But one day, yes, one day... I shall return to find out what he does sell them for.

Disappointed though I was to miss out on another island, another bar, and a bit of sea travel, the abandonment of this trip did allow me to enjoy a fairly mellow last day in picturesque Penang... and a very pleasant last evening in Restoran Kapitan and the Monaliza Café.

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