Don and Vik are an Australian couple in their mid 50’s enjoying their travelling adventures. As Aussie Don says “Living the Dream”
Prior to retiring they would take 3 or 4, two week, trips per year. In May 2019 they rented their house out and packed their bags, just 16.5kgs each, and headed off on an Asian adventure. 2020 was to provide an additional challenge that none of us coulde foresee, Covid-19 and the world lockdown.
We have been chatting to them and here is their story. You can follow their adventures through their Instagram account @cassidyholidays
Where were you when the pandemic first started to become an issue?
We arrived in Langkawi in Malaysia from Kuala Lumpur on 6th February planning to spend 4 weeks in Kuah [the main town on Langkawi], 3 weeks in Cenang Beach [the busiest beach town on Langkawi] followed by a flight to Penang for 5 weeks.
The first four weeks at the Greenish Hotel in Kuah, were completely normal but two weeks into our Cenang stay at the Shell Out Beach Resort, Malaysia went into lockdown. We were told that there would be no extensions on hotel bookings so we quickly moved our flight to Penang forward by 6 days. Word filtered down from fellow travellers that the last ferry before complete shutdown was going to leave in 90 minutes.
We made an instant decision to head to Penang. We contacted the owner of the apartment by Whatsapp and arranged to arrive 6 nights early, luckily we had stayed there last year so had contacts with the owner. We had a 5-week Air BnB booking which would give us time for the world to settle down and the virus to disappear. We would then be able to head off to our next destination, Bali on the 1st of May.
108 days later we finally left Penang.
Where did you stay in Penang?
We stayed in an apartment in Batu Ferringhi [a beach town on Penang]. The apartment was a good size and had a self-contained kitchen, 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and a lounge and importantly a washing machine.
Was it easy to extend your stay?
Yes, internal travel was banned so no-one else could travel so we took two monthly extensions as lockdown continued. During our stay we had to keep cancelling future bookings we had.
How did you keep yourself occupied during the lockdown?
Lots of reading and keeping in touch with our iPads and through Whatsapp.
We kept up to date with what is happening through the BBC website and sharing information from a number of other people we have met on our travels and who are in a similar situation to ourselves.
What did you do after that?
Internal tourism and travel was encouraged from 1st July.
We took a 3-night package at the Golden Sands Resort in Batu Ferringhi as a little reward for our 102 nights living in an apartment. Then we took 3 nights, which became 4, at the Bayview Beach Resort Georgetown so that we could see something new and prepare to return to Langkawi which has the added benefit of being a duty-free island.
We took 6 nights at the Bayview Kuah and then returned to our old favourite, the Greenish with a bonus of a 30% reduction in price, since February, initially for 15 nights which we extended by another 10.
We then moved back to Cenang and the Langkawi Chantique Resort which we have taken for a month. We met an expat in Penang who is also staying there.
There has been some talk that bigger hotels are closing down so that they can re-open in the future with cheaper staff. I think that most accommodation have reduced prices to encourage local travel and to take into account the lack of new foreign tourists.
Were there any opportunities to return to Australia?
There were rare flights back to Oz but they were always at huge prices so we decided to sit it out.
How have the locals been? Have there been any problems?
Cannot say enough nice things about the locals, which is partly why we were happy to stay so long.
We would occasionally get calls from the owner of a local restaurant that was shut offering us dinners to pick up that he had been cooking for his family.
We received offers of free rides in cars and free use of pushbikes. I was given a discount on beer as long as I had the older stock to help them turnover stock.
There were mini marts and Tesco open as well as a few cafes for takeaway food.
Locals were really good at letting us know of any cheap accommodation if we needed any.
We were welcomed and accepted as locals, it was only foreign illegal workers who were not welcomed. We were told that as long as we followed social distancing we would be left alone by the police patrols.
How did the Malaysians react to the pandemic and lockdown?
The people seem to go about their business as normally as possible almost always with a smile on their faces. There has been no panic and they seem to trust those in charge as I have not seen any negative comments about the lockdown.
Many countries around the world had problems with people hording and items disappearing from shelves in shops, often for extended periods of time. Did you have any issues?
No problems at all. My wife even found Vegemite which made her happy. Prices never changed either.
Even now shops restrict numbers inside and everyone has to pass a temperature check before being allowed in, and you need to log in to a book or use the qr app as part of the track and trace programme.
During the early days of the lockdown we were on a bus when an army roadblock stopped the bus we were on. They boarded the bus and we were told only one person goes shopping, so I walked home. Any workers had to produce a letter from their employer stating why they had to go to work.
Did you talk to many other tourists in country to share tips and experiences?
Lots of expats bonded and asked questions in the hope of getting answers to help them relax about the situation. Everything was new and unknown and we couldn’t just pick up a travel guide and learn how to exist.
For the first time ever I joined a group of expats, which was good for a time but not what we needed long-term. We found that the solo travellers were the most stressed possibly because of their increased isolation and having no-one to discuss options with.
We do still keep in touch with two lots of couples and three solo travellers who are still in Asia.
You had a lot of future travel already planned that you have now had to cancel or postpone. What has happened financially?
We have had to cancel 1st May to 9th February next year.
As a rough estimate we have received 75% as credits, 20% as refunds and lost about 5%. We are very happy with credits as it helps them and we get to return there one day. It is a trust thing but hopefully it will foster good dealings in the long-term.
We feel you must keep faith
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How have your family and friends reacted to you being in Malaysia during the pandemic?
One of Viks siblings handles our mail and I think they all look forward to our updates, one has even said that my “outlook” is entertaining and helping them through the lockdown. My brother has never really understood my travelling even before Covid, but we keep in regular touch.
Most of my Aussie buds’ say stay where you are and that they wished they could join me. Some have even said that they will come and visit as soon as that is possible.
Are you glad that you were able to stay in Malaysia?
Malaysia is recording much lower Covid-19 figure than other countries, especially Australia so we are pleased that we bunkered down in Malaysia. The tropical weather and cheaper lifestyle also help. We have to be somewhere so why not here?
Two of the couples who had tipped us off about the ferry headed off to Kuala Lumpur to try and get back to the Netherlands. We still keep in touch and one of the couples have said they wished that they had stopped with us in Malaysia.
When are you hoping to leave Malaysia?
We are happy to stay in Malaysia until international borders start to open up and we get options to travel.
Lockdown was extended several times and despite our visa’s expiring in early June, we learned that they would be extended without penalty until lockdown was extended. No-one is sure what will happen at the end of the month.
At the moment it looks as if we will be ok in Malaysia until 14th September, lockdown due to end on 31st August plus an additional 14 days. Ideally visas will be waived again or we can get a letter from the Australian Embassy stating there are no flights and plead our case at immigration.
Is there anywhere that you would think twice about visiting once restrictions are lifted?
Australia is the one that worries me the most especially Victoria which was my home for 55 years. The latest from Vietnam is not looking promising either.
Personally I think we are only at the beginning of this and it could extend for another 12 to 18 months. At least for now we will only be booking month by month rather than 7 months ahead as all certainty has gone.
Don’t forget to check out our Covid-19 Travel Insurance Guide if you are planning to travel or book your next trip.
What would you like to do or where would you like to go to in the future?
We would love to do a meet and greet type service at airports.
No fee, just go for a couple of beers and introduce the countries that have been so good to us, to new people.
There is nothing like a smiley face on foreign soil after a 12-hour flight.
We have a genuine passion for South East Asia which is why we decided to travel, stay and, hopefully, promote it. These are the best years of our life and we intend for there to be many more to come.
Tell us your story
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