Sunday, December 17, 2023

Finally Escaped from Pangkor Marina

A few days ago, after 2 weeks of fairly frantic activity--completing boat projects, provisioning, getting cat annual visits, moving out of the condo, etc etc, we finally left Pangkor Marina.

Finally Underway!

It was bittersweet. While we are REALLY excited about getting out cruising again, we will really miss everyone, both staff and cruisers, at Pangkor Marina. The Pangkor staff is just fantastic. Led by James Khoo, but supported by Akina, Ruz, Adam, (and several others) in the office, and Shah, Fifi, Fikri, Akmal, (and several others) in the marina and yard, we couldn't have had a better place to spend a year. Yes, A YEAR!

James' monthly (and sometimes more often) BBQ's, where beer, soft drinks, and grilled meat are provided free by the marina, is just one of the thoughtful things that give the marina a very nice community feel. The amenities like a pretty well-stocked marine store (and help sourcing parts they don't stock, from anywhere in SE Asia), free wifi in the air conditioned "library", inexpensive housing across the street from the marina, rental cars by the hour, and a lively Whatsapp group, the marina feels like home.

We did, in all fairness, do two 2 1/2 months visits to the USA, 22 days in Vietnam/Laos, and a long weekend in Cameron Highlands. We got LOTS done that needed doing--most significant being stripping 8 years of bottom paint and getting a new "good for 4 years" bottom job.

Other things that I can think of off the top of my head that we accomplished... 2 new alternators, new start battery, many small electrical upgrades, rebalanced our LifePO4 batteries, major saildrive maintenance, new propane hoses, new awnings, sail maintenance, liferaft tested and repacked, fire extinguishers serviced, new electric outboard (ePropulsion), new B&G digital radar, new Nav Computer, new flooring in the main cabin (faux teak), boat polishing, rudders straightened (again). We also purchased and learned how to use a Starlink internet terminal, so now we will have real internet when we go offshore.

After agonizing over what kind of bottom paint to use (Chugoku, Jotun, International, CopperCoat), we settled on a new formulation offered by International Marine... International AP. It is an ablative paint formulated for high fouling areas and for slower boats that tend to sit in one place for weeks at a time (ie cruising sailboats). International says we should get 4 years out of it. James arranged for a professional team from International Marine in Singapore to come to Pangkor to apply it, and teach the Pangkor crew how to do it next time. Because we are a test boat, we've agreed to send back periodic updates on how it is doing--they wanted to make sure the paint was applied per International specs.
Beautiful International AP Bottom Paint!

We purchased but have not installed yet, new catamaran nets from MultihullNets (aka Sunrise Yacht Products in St. Pete, FL). Pictured in this link are the nets that came installed on our boat when we bought it. But we have now upgraded to full "offshore" nets, with a strong open weave, more suitable to surviving the open ocean. Pics of those once installed (soon!)

Sherry had fun hanging out with the ladies--morning walks and "water dancing" in the pool for exercise. Dave had fun exchanging technical information with all the guys in the marina. We each took the time to give at least one "class" in the marina "library" to share some of our knowledge and experiences. Sherry on OpenCPN, Dave on LifePO4 batteries. (These presentations can be found at

We enjoyed having a car for most of the time. One downside of Pangkor is its distance from the main part of town, with, astonishingly, no regular bus system. Grab (the "Uber" of SE Asia) cars are scarce at peak times from the marina. The marina will rent a "beater" for a cheap price by the hour, so you aren't completely stuck. But we opted to rent a car by the month. A nearly new air conditioned small car is only about $250/mo.

The weather since we left 5 days ago has been stinky... low overcast and drizzly with wind out of the north (on our nose, of course). Yesterday it finally cleared up, and we had the tide with us, for once. We were making 8 knots under sail (and current) for 4-5 hours.

We are now in Kuah, Langkawi, Malaysia, getting ready to check out for Thailand. We made a quick stop in Penang to try to get Thai Visas, but the timing didn't work out. We are on a schedule to get checked into Phuket Thailand before Christmas, because some of our friends from last years' rally have organized a big Christmas Day lunch that we want to attend. So waiting over the weekend in Penang wouldn't have worked. We did spend half a day sightseeing (taking the local 50-cent bus into town). Could easily have spent several weeks in Penang exploring.

Likewise, we will only stay a day in Langkawi. Another place worthy of a month or two to explore and savor. But, alas, "You can't see everything."

Monday, September 11, 2023

Our Trip to Laos and Vietnam

August 15 - September 6, 2023

Just about the time we were finishing boat work in the yard in Pangkor Marina, Malaysia, we realized our 60-day tourist visa was running out. The plan HAD been to cruise in Soggy Paws up to Thailand, spend a few weeks, and cruise back to the marina to put the boat up for a couple of months' trip back to the USA. But as projects dragged out, the time we would have to spend in Thailand got smaller and smaller. We eventually decided to skip Thailand for now and fly to Vietnam instead.

We didn't spend a lot of time planning this trip. At first, we looked at a "G-Adventures" 10-day tour. I had done a G-Adventures tour to India with my daughter Nicki a few years back--it was fun, well organized, and not too expensive. Best: I didn't have to do any planning! But after letting Dave browse through a Lonely Planet, he decided that a tour like that would skip too much. So we expanded our timeline from 12 days to 23 days and started laying out a rough plan. "It will be easy," he said. "We'll plan and book the first few days, and then wing it from there."

We looked at what the G-Adventures tour offered, and gathered up all the cruiser-generated info we could find (mainly trip reports from friends). (Our resulting "Compendium" of Vietnam travel information is linked as a PDF at the bottom of our Vietnam/Laos Travel Page).

One of the first things we did was decide to include a quick stop in Laos, just to see a little of that country, and add another country to our "countries visited" list. (This is after we read the Laos trip report from our friends on s/v Ocelot.)

Though it IS possible to get to Vietnam from Malaysia without flying (friends have done it overland and down the Mekong River), we were short on time, so several major hops were done by airplane. It turns out that Vietnam is quite a LONG country. We ended up also scheduling a few jumps on overnight trains. And buses and "Limo-vans" filled in the rest of the transportation.

Here is the overview of the trip:

- Bus from Pangkor to Kuala Lumpur Airport
- Air Asia flight (thru Bangkok) to Luang Prabang, Laos
- A few days in Laos
- Laos Airlines flight to Hanoi
- 3 days in Hanoi and surrounding areas
- Sapa (mountains to NW of Hanoi)
- Halong Bay (cruise destination east of Hanoi)
- Start working our way south through the central area
- Stops at a couple of national parks
- DMZ, Hue, Danang, and Hoi An
- Fly to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City and spend a few days there
- Fly back thru Singapore to Ipoh (a 2 hour drive from Pangkor)

Our day-by-day schedule and some tips and links to where we stayed are included on our Vietnam and Laos Travel Page. We couldn't have done nearly as much without the help of Tung at Hanoi Old Quarter Travel

When I get time I hope to add some more pictures here.

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

(sorry, I've wanted to catch up by back-posting blogs from our trip through Indonesia from last year, but just haven't gotten to it).

We've been talking about wanting to go see the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia for awhile. But boat work just seemed to be taking up all our time. Dave finally figured out a way to work in a trip. He found out from another cruiser that there was a place in Kuala Lumpur (capital of Malaysia) that does hydrostatic testing on dive tanks really cheaply. And, in testing our ham radio, he found low power output, and there's a guy someone knows that repairs ham radios, also in KL.

So, he decided we just HAD to go to KL and take our stuff there, and while we were waiting for the stuff to be finished, we could take a short side-trip to Cameron Highlands. When he decided that, he hadn't looked at a map--he thought KL would be a shortcut to the highlands. But (see the map), Cameron Highlands is not very far inland from where we are at Pangkor Marina. Google says we can drive there in 3 1/2 hours (on a weekday). But going via Kuala Lumpur extended the trip to 7 hours!
The "Short Cut" to Cameron Highlands via Kuala Lumpur

So we decided to stay overnight. I found a great deal at a Hilton Garden Hotel near our first stop on Monday morning (SK Cryogenics, the hydro test people) for only $50 per night. With a car, in a big city, "free parking" is one of the first amenities you check when booking a place. This was a nice hotel with a buffet breakfast (extra cost), a VERY comfy bed, and a decent view of the city. Highly recommend the Hilton Garden Inn Pahong if you're spending a night in that part of the city.
Our Room at the Hilton Garden Inn
Bed Decorations!

One thing we didn't realize before we took off was that the roads in Malaysia are pretty darned 1st world, which also includes tolls. But they don't have the ticket system that they have in the USA, and of course, having never been out of the immediate area of the marina, no electronic toll device. And there's no "toss some coins at the machine" booths either. You have to go through the truck lane, and the person in the booth looks at you like you have 2 heads. "You don't have a Touch n Go card?" And of course the cars behind you are backing up while the toll person writes out a receipt... After doing that a few times on our way into KL, we vowed to get our own Touch n Go card. One of the ladies in a toll booth said "get them at any gas station or 7-11". Someone else told us, "get them at the toll booth admin building" (just after most toll booths). Well, we stopped everywhere, and everyone has "top up" (add credit to a card you have). Nobody is selling the cards.
First World Driving!

The guy at SK Cryogenics, when we dropped off the tanks, took pity on us and loaned us his spare card. We vowed to find our own card and return his when we came back to pick up the tanks in a few days. We probably stopped at 10 places before we gave up. No one is selling the cards (but you can buy them online), not even the toll booth admin buildings.
SK Cryogenics - Bauer Dealer and Tank Hydro

I knew we were in trouble as we started out of KL after dropping off both the tanks and the radios (of course, on the other end of the big city). I zoomed in on the route and saw that though the first 3/4 of the trip was all freeway, the last 1/4 was very a winding mountain road. It's only 60 km, that last bit, but it took us over 2 hours of fairly stressful driving.
The Wiggly Road to Cameron Highlands
A Quick Stop at a Waterfall on the Way
Local Handicrafts at the Waterfall

We finally arrived in Cameron Highlands around 5pm. Fortunately we had no trouble getting into our (privately-owned AirBNB-type) room that we had booked on Agoda. It was mostly as described and OK for a couple of nights. The price was right and the location was pretty good--near town but not IN town. However, after staying there for a couple of days, we wouldn't recommend it. Though that apartment was decent, the condo building it's in (Barrington Square) is not being maintained, the stairways are full of trash, and the last night in a different unit in the same condo (because we wanted to extend and had to move to a different one), we killed about 20 roaches (mostly new hatchlings). Also if you came by bus and didn't have a car, it's a bit far into town for walking.

We spent 3 full days there. We booked one half-day tour to see the highlights of the tea farms, the butterfly sanctuary, etc. And we did some exploring on our own the other 2 days.

Cameron Highlands is a popular weekend spot for Malaysians, and we had been specifically warned to visit mid-week vs on the weekend. But it was still very busy and the traffic on the 2-lane road was pretty solid all the time. I can't imagine what it's like on summer weekends when the kids are out of school.

There is some historic value in the Highlands, as the Brits in the 1800's who could afford to, would retire to the Highlands during the hot months. It is definitely more pleasant in the Highlands during the summar. We enjoyed visiting the museum showing some of that history. We did enjoy a couple of walks in the forests, one with the tour and one on our own. But it was sort of a "meh" experience for us.
Historical Stuff at the Museum

We did discover "hot pot" (also called "steamboat" there at Casa Osiana. This is where they put a cooker on your table, with a pot with 2 compartments, and some broth, and several plates of meats and raw vergetables. And you cook your food yourself right on the table. We requested a Thai Tom Yam base without any spice, and it was really delicious. The nice restaurant was empty except for us.
Nice Restaurant-Casa Osiana
Our Hotpot Before Cooking
Look at all that Seafood!

On our last night, we had dinner at The Smokehouse Hotel and Restaurant. That was also very good. And I'd recommend either of these places as a place to stay in a historic location. There are a ton of hotels and eateries in Tana Rata town proper.
The Old Smokehouse Hotel and Restaurant
A Properly British Garden for Afternoon Tea
And a Cozy Place for Cool Nights in the Highlands

The most recommended tour company (in an older Lonely Planet as well as online) apparently went bust during the Covid Pandemic. We walked to the location that was listed for it and nothing was there but a hotel. But that hotel booked us the tour we were looking for from a different operator. They all seem to go to the same places.
The Tour Company We Used

Sights from our Tour Below
A Short Hike to the Famed Mossy Forest
Butterfly Farm
Butterfly Farm
Butterfly Farm
More than Just Butterflies at the Butterfly Farm!
And we Visit a Strawberry Farm
Strawberry Farm
U-Pick Strawberries

And of course, no visit to Cameron Highlands would be complete without a visit to a Tea Plantation.
Acres and Acres (Hectares) of Tea
Acres and Acres (Hectares) of Tea
Acres and Acres (Hectares) of Tea
Acres and Acres (Hectares) of Tea
Harvesting the Tea
Tea Tour and Tea Tasting
Final Stop on the Tour - A Hindu Temple

And we did do a little hiking and exploring on our own...
We captured the hiking map on our cell phone
A Sunset Drive and Short Hike to See the Far Valley
Robinson Falls - A Nice Easy Hike