We came back to mainland a day before the Gusties, who were still camping at Mak Kepit on the west side of Pulau Redang. We needed accommodations and since this happened to be the national Labor Day holiday weekend, lots of places were booked. I finally found a homestay near Merang, which seemed to be reasonably near the jetty where we were to meet up with the students the next day.
The place is called Millbrook Farm Homestay, and it was fantastic. I wish we could have stayed for longer. We were met by Ella, whose family (parents, brother, uncle) all own and manage the facility. It has just six rooms now but they are building six more. The farm in the name is not what you think, but actually an aquaculture facility, a fish farm. Needless to say, Joel and I were delighted to take the tour with Ella’s brother. Did I mention the whole place is also right on the ocean? With views like this?
In addition to tilapia, which are a major food fish, this family is trying to raise fish for the aquarium trade. They have one large tank of brightly-colored koi. And the bulk of their tanks were devoted to raising different types of arowana. These large freshwater fish are considered a lucky species to a lot of Chinese because they resemble Chinese dragons. They can grow quite big and an individual fish can sell for hundreds of dollars (US).
Ella’s daughter, Bella, is five years old. She loves horses and unicorns and My Little Pony. So Ella drove us all to the nearby stables, where horses are kept for polo. For 5 ringgit, Simon got to ride a horse around the ring. An ever-so-slightly older boy accompanied him.
Bella was shy when we first met her but soon she and Simon were running around the hotel, playing and laughing. It’s not often that I see Simon actively trying to impress other kids and if I didn’t know better, I’d say he was flirting. “Bella! Listen to me sing this song!” “Bella! Look at this drawing I made for you!” It was adorable.
Ella and her Uncle Denny were incredibly accommodating. They took us out to dinner at a delicious Chinese restaurant and to the only ATM in the region. And the next day, they offered to drive us to the jetty to meet up with the students and catch the bus home.
That’s when we discovered that I’d made a little mistake, you see.
It turns out that Merang and Marang are two different cities, both on the coast in Terengganu State, about an hour’s drive apart. The jetty is at Merang. I inadvertently booked our room at Millhouse Farm Homestay outside of Marang. In my defense, Malaysians seem to be fast and free in their spelling. Take for instance, the popular noodle dish, char koay teow. Otherwise known as char kuey teow. Or char koay tiao. Or char kway teow. Or chow kuey tiao. I mean, come ON. If Merang and Marang are both going to be cities in the same state, along the same coastline, and reasonably close to one another, you’d think someone would make a big deal out of that on the travel sites, no?
Now, I don’t regret it at all, because Ella, Bella, and Denny were delightful company and I only wish we’d had more time to spend together. But our hosts truly went out of their way to take us all the way from Marang to Merang, an hour-plus of driving. We ate breakfast together before my family boarded the Gustie bus to Penang. Simon and Bella hugged goodbye and we invited them for a stay in Penang. I don’t know if it’s likely, but it would be fun.