November 23, 2013 @ 11:00 am - posted by Dominic Brendell

Penang Here I am in KL after 2 days with very little sleep after travelling on the Jungle train from Penang on what was supposed to be a relaxing sabbatical. Not all travel lives up to the dream but I’ll try and make some sense. From Langkawi I flew down to the island of Penang (a 30 minute flight) and quickly landed into a hustling bustling town. Quite a shock to the system after island life but great to be out of the grotty place I was staying in. I met up with the Australian guy (Simon) at the airport, who was on a different flight to me. We then got the bus into town and found that our hotels were on the same street, which was a bit of luck as navigating the streets was super hard, as there are no pavements and loads of traffic. When I got to my hotel it was such a relief to be back in nice surroundings with a pool. Next to the hotel there were a load of hawkers (food stands) with local dishes and I finally got my first taste of Malayan food at a fantastic price. After only getting very few vegetables for the last few days I dug into some rice covered with loads of lovely cooked vegetables and the whole meal came in at under £1.

career break and sabbatical travel in Penang, Malasia

I then freshened up and met up with Simon and headed into town. We grabbed some more cheap food and then went to see a film at the cinema – we then passed a cinema with great AC and watched The Tourist, which was great and only cost £2; we got to sit in a nice air con cinema with a sofa as a seat. We then went downstairs and found a bar with a local band playing covers. We became good friends with the band and would hang out there most nights. After my first night in Penang I really was on a mission to get out of hotels and into the cheaper guest houses. So I packed up my stuff (having a small light bag is great when it comes to walking) and headed over to the guest houses that were recommended by my Lonely Planet guide, only to find they were all fully booked – a mild wave of panic crossed my mind as the thought of having to stay in expensive hotels in Malaysia was not a great thought. Anyway I wandered around and saw a hotel down a side street, which turned out to be only 25RM a night, which is about £5 (much better) so I viewed the room and it had a rustic but nice feel to it.

Penang Bay Trishaw Ricshaw

I stayed there for 2 nights. It was basic and had no air con but was very peaceful and great for my first cheap stay. I then moved to another hotel which was the same price but had air con and was spotless and new but the rooms were tiny. Oh well, you only sleep in them after a long day of walking around – the only real downside was loads of noise as the walls were very thin, but I had earplugs so that was fine. Penang was such a change. Full of action as it has both the Chinese district and the Indian District so it’s full of colour, incense and music. The day we arrived there was a massive Indian celebration and that night I wandered into a huge street party that was moving through the town until 6am! Then on top of that the build up to Chinese New Year has started; celebrations were going on all around the town. I met up with a few more people who were all heading in different directions to me but it was great to hear about where they had been and what they had experienced.

Camaron Highlands I then said goodbye to Simon and left Penang on a minibus to the Camaron Highlands, where I met a Canadian couple and a Dutch guy. We arrived at the Highlands after a pleasant journey and because we are now 2000m above sea level it’s a much cooler climate and there’s loads of rain. It felt just like a day in England with all the rain. The Dutch guy (Chief) was also travelling alone. We met up and went on the jungle trail in the rain and then explored the local strawberry farms after the jungle! We walked for a good 3 hours and then went back to the guest house for tea and scones; the guest house had a real retreat style feel to it as was situated on the side of a hill in the mist. We soon met up with the Canadian couple and went to the only bar in town (which was empty) and caught up over a few beers. It turned out that the Canadian couple (Omar & Sherri) were planning to leave Asia and go to India as flights were so cheap (under $200US) and also it’s very cheap once you are out there. Sounds exciting, so after Vietnam and Thailand I may head over to India for a month or so but will have to see how the next couple of months go. I’m looking forward to leaving Malaysia as it’s been a great country and full of friendly locals but compared to the rest of SE Asia it’s very expensive. Deals can be found but accommodation is expensive apart from the places I found in Penang – as for beer, because it’s a Muslin country, beer is heavily taxed, making it more expensive than the UK – gutted! The following day we all got a taxi over to the local Boh tea plantation, which really made the trip. Mist covered hills covered with tea plants; we went round the factory and then sipped tea on the viewing deck overlooking the plantation. AMAZING!!!!!

penang in malaysia - career break and sabbatical travel

Pahang The Canadians then decided to head back to KL as they had to arrange visas for India, so we arranged to meet up with them after a trip to the East coast. What a trip that was and one I’m still on, no planning and boy did that show. The plan was for Chief and I to go to the east coast to a place called Koto Bharu and then return to KL by the jungle train. We set off to the connecting town of Ipoh (2 hours by bus) where we then had a 5 hour wait before getting a night bus. We got our tickets and got on the bus to Koto Bharu, which was the most amazing bus, better than any plane I’ve been on; big reclining armchairs, super comfortable; you could easily sleep in them for the 7 hour journey. Only problem was we were on the wrong bus and when our tickets were checked we were told to go to the back of the bus station where our bus was waiting and yes you’ve guessed it, it was a rough bus with a screaming baby included. Needless to say the journey was bad and we arrived at Koto Bharu at 6am. Bumped into a German couple who were looking for somewhere to stay, so they tagged along to where we had a reservation. After an hour we found the place and luckily we were allowed to check in at 7am. Had a shower and went straight to sleep. Got up around midday and started looking into the jungle train – it turned out that it was a no go as the local train (the jungle train) only went 5 hours down the track, leaving at 4am. Then there would be a 12 hour wait for a connecting train to KL and then another 12 hours on that connecting train. We decided to get an express sleeper back to KL that night to make it in plenty of time for the Chinese New Year celebrations. Very excited to be leaving Koto Bharu, as it was a heavy Muslim town and I wasn’t ready for the culture change to happen so quickly. Women would cover their faces when you walked into a shop; there really wasn’t anything to do and absolutely no beer anywhere.

Now we thought we were in business, the sleeper train left at 7pm and arrived in KL at 7am so finally we would get a good night’s sleep? – Not a chance! The train arrives, we get to our cabins and watch the jungle hurtle past thinking this is the life. The ticket conductor then came and told us that we have to get a bus from Kuala Limpus, which is about 3 hours from KL so the whole train was escorted off to the buses at midnight, where we sat on a bus for an hour before even moving off and then drove the 3 hours to KL, arriving at the closed and empty train station at around 4.30 am this morning – again very little sleep. We later found out that we were all put on buses as the track had flooded and the train could not pass. We hung around until 6am and then found an internet cafe and booked a hotel, hoping we could check in early. Sadly no early check in, so now we’re just waiting for midday when we can; then it’ll be time to finally get some rest and a shower. As you can probably tell by my writing style I’m so tired. It’s been an interesting adventure but definitely not my cup of tea. Back to tight planning tomorrow and looking forward to a shower. It’s good to be back in KL and looking forward to exploring the city more this time as I’m feeling a lot more confident with getting out and about; although the monsoons are going on right across Malaysia so it’s very wet – lucky I have a pack-a-mac (well done mumsie). It was definitely worth taking it slowly in the transition from the UK to Asia but now I’m really excited to hit the backpacker trails in Vietnam, which are super busy compared to sleepy Malaysia.

You can follow Dominic’s travel adventures in Malaysia:

Part 1.

Part 2.

Dominic also hosts his own Saturday morning radio show (10am-Noon GMT): Click here to listen

For more great career break and sabbatical travellers tales in South Africa, click here

About Dominic Brendell

Dominic Brendell has just returned from 3 years of travelling around Asia, he left with a budget and a plan to be away from the UK for a very long time. It only took 6 months to exhaust his funds and left him in the choice of either becoming a drug dealer or an English teacher to avoid returning back to the UK. Having seen the same old story over and over again on Channel 5's “Banged Up Abroad” it was an easy decision to go with teaching English. This helped him fund another 2 years of travelling in Asia and also to develop himself as a DJ. Please feel free to message any questions regarding travelling or teaching abroad at

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Break out of your routine and do something sensational

Register and get exclusive content, from interviews with REAL career breakers and experts in HR, TEFL, volunteering and other career break advice.

* indicates required