Round the World – SE Asia Days 11 and 12

Round the World – SE Asia Days 11 and 12

I took a “Grab” back to the Langkawi airport, where my handling agent Mr Musa was waiting to meet me. He had filed the flight plan I sent him the night before, so all that was left to do was take a quick walk through security (no immigration needed for this next domestic leg), and walk down to the aircraft. With no need to fuel, it didn’t take long to remove the covers and pre-flight the aircraft. I called for start-up and clearance, and was on my way, taking off away from the hills in the opposite direction to that which I’d arrived from.

The day’s flight was to be a short one, a little over 100 nautical miles to the city of Ipoh. This city, of about 700,000 people, is the third largest in Malaysia. The city is best know for its cuisine, and the many temples built into the caves that thread through the dramatic limestone peaks all around. It’s also known for being one of the cleanest cities in Malaysia, which is nice!

Flight past Penang to Ipoh

The flight was straightforward, down the coast under control of “Butterworth approach”, past the city of Penang, and then heading inland for a dogleg to line up on approach to Ipoh, another “one-way” airport. As usual, I was the only one in General Aviation parking. Most Malaysian airports permit self-handling, so there was nobody there to meet me. This was quite pleasant, as it meant I could take my time to prepare my bag for the overnight stop, and secure the aircraft, without feeling rushed. This done I found my way into the domestic arrivals door and out into the main concourse without seeing a soul.

Before leaving the airport I located the administration office, so that I’d know where to go the following day to pay my fees for departure. They also let me know how to file my flight plan; email it to the control tower’s “” email address! I hopped into a “Grab”, and headed into town, and the centrally located “WEIL” hotel. Room costs were much, much more reasonable than we’re used to in the USA or Europe, and for less than $100 I had a great room on the top floor. A comfortable night helps a lot to rest from the stresses of flying!

A short flight meant that I had plenty of time on arrival, so I took a car south to “Kellie’s Castle”, one of the major local tourist attractions. Construction on this stately-home style castle was begun in 1915 by Scottish businessman William Kellie-Smith, who’d arrived in Malaysia aged 20 in 1890 as a civil engineer. Sadly he died of pneumonia during a trip to Lisbon in 1926, and the unfinished structure fell into disrepair and was swallowed by the jungle. Many years later it was uncovered, and is now opened up to the public.

The castle is certainly impressive, with parts of it furnished to show what it might have looked like. Kellie-Smith also had a love of secret passages, and several of these can be explored around the castle. Had it been finished, it would have been an incredible place to live! The once vast grounds and estate around the castle have now been mostly sold off, and all that’s left are a couple of small lawns surrounding the ruins of the old house, and the unfinished structure.

That evening I walked around the town a little to explore, as well as the vast mall that the hotel was connected to, and took full advantage of the incredibly cheap sushi prices available for some reason in Ipoh! Luckily, cheap inland sushi was a gamble that paid off, digestively speaking.

I had planned my departure from Ipoh for lunch time, giving me some time in the morning to go and visit one of the city’s famous cave temples. The Kek Lok Tong cave temple was not far south of the hotel, reached through small back-roads in a housing area, but well developed and clearly host to many visitors in peak season. Luckily for me, this was not peak season and things were fairly quiet.

An interesting feature of this cave temple, which was opened to visitors in the 1970s, is that it runs all the way through the limestone formation. One enters at the front, and wanders deeper enjoying the beautiful statues and dramatic cave geology, and then rounds a corner to find an exit onto a large area of gardens and lily ponds. I had bought some fish food from a stand at the entrance (and had then wandered through the cave wondering if I’d been stitched up, as there were clearly no fish) so spent a while sitting by the main pond, throwing pellets to the fish and turtles thronging below me.

It was a short drive back to the airport. I went straight to the administration office and paid my landing and parking fees for the 1 day visit. $5! This was much more like it, and really demonstrates how countries such as Laos, India, and others needlessly penalise General Aviation and all but eliminate it. The people making these policies don’t think about the lost tourism, hotel, and other income for the area; only about the money they can skim off, or the bribes they can take.

The airport police escorted me through security, and I prepared the aircraft for departure. Calling for engine start and clearance, I discovered one of the disadvantages of a procedural-based airport with no radar. Two commercial flights were due in the next 30 minutes, and with no radar, ATC couldn’t guarantee separation; so I’d be waiting until they both arrived! I could probably have asked to leave VFR and been responsible for my own separation, but I wasn’t in any real hurry so I was happy to relax and watch the jet and turboprop arrive and disgorge their passengers into the terminal. I was given taxi clearance as the second aircraft pulled in, and was soon on my way.

Today’s flight was another short one, to the city of Malacca. I set out along the continuation of the same airway that I’d followed the day before. To the left, the central mountains of Malaysia, and to my right, the sea. I flew at 7,000ft, and even at that relatively low altitude, the ground was almost invisible in the haze. I flew over Kuala Lumpur without catching more than a glimpse of the city below, although views of the main international airport were rather clearer.

There was quite a lot of traffic into Malacca. Air Traffic Control were very professional, and took each aircraft in turn; in a lot of places they’d have just kept the little Cessna waiting until the end of the line. I kept my speed up to the absolute maximum as I flew the approach to runway 03, touched down, and back-taxied to the apron. Malacca has a small, four-place GA parking apron next to the main apron. I shut down in my assigned space, and secured the cover; time to head in to town!

I was staying at “The Majestic” hotel, which had a very colonial-era theme going on. I was served tea in my room on arrival, before setting out to walk around the city a little before the light faded. My first stop was the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple. This Chinese temple was founded in 1645, and is the oldest functioning temple in Malaysia. From here I continued through China Town, where the main street had been blocked off from vehicles and was filling up with stalls and pedestrians.

At the end, I came to a roundabout where a selection of colourful “trishaws” were parked up. Malacca is known for these pedal-powered rickshaws, which are decorated by the drivers with a selection of toys, souvenirs, and flashing lights. Hello Kitty, Disney Movies, and Spiderman were all popular themes. They were parked near the Stadhuys, thought to be the oldest remaining Dutch building in the Orient, and now the museum of History and Ethnography.

I climbed the stairs past this old, red building and continued up the hill to St Paul’s Church. Continuing the “oldest building” theme of my walk, this church is the oldest church building in Malaysia and southeast Asia, having been built in 1521. These days the church is no longer active as a place of worship given that it has no windows or roof; it does, however, have a commanding view over the city and port of Malacca and was clearly a popular place for people to come and watch the sunset. A group of high-school girls asked to take a picture with me, apparently for a school project on the Arabic language; it was not clear how I fitted in to that, but I was happy to oblige all the same.

I took advantage of Malaysia’s apparently very low sushi prices once again before walking back through the now post-sunset streets to the hotel. The trishaws, colourful before dark, had now blossomed further and were festooned with flashing and dancing lights, and all playing loud upbeat music as they cruised around. I contemplated riding a Hello Kitty cart back to the hotel but eventually decided against it; after as much salmon as I had eaten, I needed the walk.

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