Langkawi – Island of the bored!

A post about being bored and surviving a jellyfish sting

I hate being bored. If you look deep behind the reasons for just leaving my job and travelling around Asia…well…you’ll find boredom. I was bored with my job, with my friends (sorry guys, this is not meant to criticise you boring bunch of f*ckers, I still love you!), even with London as a whole. Note: bored, not tired with. Boredom is a major driver in my life. I hate being bored more than anything else and avoiding being bored is what motivates me most. More so than financial incentives,  a super fast broadband connection, a cozy relationship, even more so than the smoothest, smokiest single malt scotch you’ll ever find…you name it. Yes, those are all nice to have’s and often they help fighting boredom. Even so, I’d take a 5 second rush above any of those. And this 5 second rush can come from various things – say skiing 90kmh down a mountain. Or hearing a certain guitar riff when you least expect it. Reading an extraordinary line in a book. Meeting someone who actually has a story that makes you go ‘wow, that’s impressive’. And you see, minus the skiing, I had all kinds of boredom killers on this trip. No matter whether I was on the busiest street of Bangkok or the loneliest beach in Gili, no matter whether I was getting lost in Kuta or discovering beauty in Ubud, peace and quiet in Lanta or total craziness in Phuket, I was never bored. Ok – sure, there might have been the odd moments here and there. But not chronically bored.

Langkawi – I am sorry to say – was different. Langkawi bored me to pieces. Now I am not even sure I want to explore the reasons why, but I’ll just keep on rambling and maybe they’ll uncover.

Getting here

Just like Phuket or Ko Lanta, Langkawi is a little island (complex) on the Andaman Sea coast of  Malaysia this time. From Phuket, there even is a direct ferry but it only operates in high season. I took a speed boat from George Town at 8 in the morning. To my surprise, for the first time on my trip, the means of transport (in this case the boat) was full with families and young children rather than half-dead half-alive back-packers. That’s not a bad thing in itself, but maybe a sign for what was about to come? I was super tired when I left George Town. I loved the place so much that I wanted to soak up even the last drop of it before leaving – so, obviously, I was out pretty damn late. As soon as I got onto that boat I fell asleep. A crying child woke me up. Luckily, it only took one second to find my earplugs, and, suddenly I had teleported myself to Langkawi. Hey – the harbour looked nice. It was clean and organised – more so than anything in Thailand. Sarah from Gili had said to me I should go to Cenang beach – that is supposed to be the busiest and liveliest one. And so I did. I walked up and down the beach to find some place with a hammock, but I couldn’t. The beach had already struck me as somewhat odd. Not very sure why – maybe the fact that the sand was actually hard. Or because there were no side streets leading into the main road, just little paths going through gardens of resorts. Anyhow – at some point when I was just too tired, I stopped by a little ugly hotel, asked how much a room with aircon was, and moved in. That’s how easy it is and that’s what I both love and hate about backpacking. It was a horribly ugly room which I survived for a few nights and then moved elsewhere. Anyhow. That’s not the point – usually it doesn’t even matter. I had arrived and I was happy. Lock the room and to the beach.

My island routine

By now, I have a certain island routine. On the day I arrive on a new island, I do the following activities, as listed below :

1. Walk up and down the beach just to get a feel for it. Sometimes for kilometres, other times until I hit some form of roadblock like a big rock.

2. Pick a spot that suits my mindset at that particular moment and just ‘camp’ there. Suiting my mindset involves either good music, proximity to pretty girls, the look and feel of the sea/ sand, etc.

3.  Go for a short swim. Maximum 10 minutes, usually shorter.

4. Come back and fall asleep on my red Ikea towel.

5. Wake up and buy a drink – usually a beer or ice tea.

6. Go back to hotel/hostel/homestay and shower.

7. Find a beach bar with live music and talk to people/ band/ staff etc.

On Langkawi, something just didn’t fit. Is this a Stephen King scenario? After walking up and down the beach, there was no spot I liked better than any other. Sure, it’s a nice enough beach, but the sand is hard, there are cars driving there, and jet skis fly from North to South. I still picked a slot that was close enough to a little beach shop. When I went for my swim, the water felt dirty. It felt a lot nicer on following days, but my first impression wasn’t good, so I got out as soon as possible. Step 4 was still very much the same, however, because the sand was so hard, it was just not as comfortable as usually and when I got to Step 5, the shop was not selling alcohol. Langkawi is mostly Muslim so you still find the ‘no beer’ policy occasionally. And because my room was so unappealing, I completely skipped Step 6. Put some hat on, and off I was, in search of a beach bar. Two of them seemed really nice. Rafii’s and Yellow Cafe. Both on the beach, 20m away from the water. No live music though and the crowd looked more like they were there to have dinner. The staff was the unfriendliest bunch of idiots ever, in both places. And then I figured out, that was a general trait of Langkawi. People just weren’t friendly. They were not your usual up for anything folks I met elsewhere. They were people on family holidays and they did not care to interact with the rest of the folks.  Say I’d understand that in most circumstances…but not talk to ME? Of all people?!? you got to be kiddin’…




The second day I did meet two guys from Iran – Ali and Saleh and they were  lot of fun. We had a million beers on the beach and exchanged stories about our countries. They had never travelled to Europe and I had this strange sense that they were afraid people would treat them differently for being Muslim or Iranian and I felt really bad about it. Anyhow, they were leaving the next day so I had a whole 3 more days for myself. I spent them all sleeping on the beach. And I kid you not, that was all that happened. Of course, there all kinds of water sports to do on Langkawi and the island is quite big and could be explored by scooter. There were also boat trips that could be taken to other islands to do snorkelling and scuba. But I decided too leave it all for the last day.


Night swimming and the Jellyfish from hell

When I only had two more nights to go until my flight to KL, I just was not able to sleep. All this doing nothing had got to me quite severely. So at 3 AM I got out of bed and decided to go for a full moon night swim. The sea is super warm and calm at night so it felt like a wonderful idea at first. Until out of a sudden something touched the back of my leg. It was soft and I thought it was some kind of plastic bag or something. Then – once of a sudden, it felt like being stung with a 1000 needles at once and I must have screamed from the shock. I swam out as soon as I could. The pain was crazy intense at first but became bareable within a few minutes. I realised that something had bit me, but as the pain was vanishing, I felt a great sense of relief.

Wait a minute. I am struggling to breath. And what is this sting in my toes? My fingers? My forehead? Why is my belly itching, why is my heart pumping, why are my lungs burning…and guess what? Not all of a sudden. One by one, within milliseconds. This-that-that-this again that again that this…etc. It was insane. Like someone was playing some voodoo magic on me, using one of those little voodoo poppet effigies thingies. I panicked for a bit.  Went into my room and, because I had left the door open when I left, it had filled with a 1000 mosquitos. I hate mosquitos so by now it was panic and utter anger. I grabbed my laptop and went to the reception of the resort googling like crazy what it could have been (as Bill Murray put it – don’t worry kids. Growing up is just about googling stuff). A jellyfish was not on my radar. They are famous for killing people randomly, yet, since it never happened to me before – being killed by a jellyfish that is – I just didn’t consider it. And then I found it – Red Alert – jellyfish bite. Some are deadly. DO NOT pee on the sting. If symptoms severe – go see a doctor. Right. It’s 4 AM. Go see a god damn doctor?  On Langkawi? Where the fuck do I find a doctor? I don’t even know if there is a doctor in this place? Is there a doctor in this place? What do I do? Gili islands all over – but now I was properly concerned. Some jellyfish kill you within an hour if there was no treatment. And an hour hadn’t passed yet. The symptomps were sever and not getting any better I tell you. Cigarettes? Don’t help. Painkillers painkillers. Not helping. Has an hour passed already?

Steve and Sara / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

And it had passed. I was still alive. Not Wanted Dead or Alive. Just alive. I couldn’t sleep all night. The crazy voodoo stuff went on and on and on…around 7 AM I dragged myself to a small mall closeby where they had a Starbucks. They were closed like everything else. I walked up and down the empty streets…when at 8 someone arrived at the Starbucks.
‘Can I have a coffee?’ Cofee usually helps with everything. ‘Where is the closest doctor?’. ‘Oh – you need to go to the hospital. The clinic is closed on Fridays’. Closed on god dam Fridays?!? And while drinking my coffee I stumbled upon a different article – describing my voodoo symptoms in more details. They could last up to TWO weeks. Can you believe it. And what helps are tranquillisers such as ‘Diazepam’  or ‘ Xanax’. All prescription pills. But wait a minute – in Ubud, when I couldn’t sleep because if my sinus infection, the pharmacist gave me something. What was it again? I ran home…and found two Xanax pills in my bag. I took one…nothing. No help. I didn’t risk taking the second one, so I got out of the hotel to look for a cab to take me to the hospital. And guess what – before long, it got better. Other than some stings in the tips of my fingers, all other symptoms were gone. I checked out as soon as possible and checked into a really nice proper expensive hotel. I fell asleep in the bathtub and woke up with all the craziness all over. Took the second pill and it got better again. The next day they were milder and over the next 3-4 days all symptoms disappeared.

That was the most exciting thing that happened to me on Langkawi.  And that’s it. Writing this was more traumatic than I had anticipated.

Ok. Let me actually write some tips of what you should do if a jellyfish sting actually happens to you (will make it a separate post too, but just in case).
Note – most jellyfish stings are harmless. Even if it hurst like crazy, that will be it. Some jellyfish types can be deadly though. However, just like every deadly little creature, most of them are around Australia. So…what you need to do is: before you go swimming or diving in any water, check what type of jellyfish there may be in the area. If there may be deadly ones, don’t push your luck.

Ok – now assuming you don’t get bit by a deadly one do the following in this order.

0. At night, especially full moon or when there’s a lot of moonlight, there WILL be more jellyfish than usual. Fact.

1. Stay calm and get out of the water as calmly as you can. Nervous movements may scare them and get you more bites.

2. DO NOT PEE on the sting. Popular myths say peeing helps neutralise. That is utter bollocks. Put SALT water on it. That is water straight from the SEA.

3. Take some shaving cream/ gel and spread it over the area. Shaving cream is scientifically proven to help – I forgot which ingredient but it will neutralise.

4. Take a credit card or even a razor and with a downward movement, try to ‘shave’ the area where the sting was. I prefer AMEX but any plastic card will do really (just kiddin’). This will remove any stings that may be there and continue to spread venom.

5. Disinfect the area with proper disinfectant if you have any.

6. Take some ibuprofen or paracetamol if the pain is still severe.

7. If you have symptoms like the one I described, try to get to the hospital as soon as possible. Doctors will know what to do. If you can’t but have some Xanax or something like that (in South East asia you don’t need prescription – it did help me).

If you are in an area with the deadly type reported – try to make sure you slow down the spread of the venom just like it were a snake bit and get ASAP to the hospital.

Right. And now this is it. So long Langkawi.

Categories: Places, Stories

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