Archives for the month of: May, 2012

May 27, 2012

Leo and I head to Kuala Terrengganu for two nights, he’s heading down to Singapore and I want to start heading slowly down the east coast. We spend a day in KT and traipse 8.2kms (I Googled it after) through the city to find the Crystal Mosque. We make a detour along a bridge because I thought that the mosque was on the other side of the river, I was wrong but we are able to get a good view of the mosque and it helped us to figure out which direction to head in, also I got this picture….

Also on the way we find these guys who were able to give us some good directions in exchange for me taking their picture….

It’s my first mosque and turns out to be much prettier on the outside then inside. When we arrive we are made to wear long robes and, for me, a headscarf. I think I look downright portly but the ladies exclaim that NOW I am beautiful, sure, if you think a sack of potatoes is sexy.

We are escorted by a woman who is very friendly and wants to teach us all about her religion, turns out it’s her job, volunteering to educate the “unbelievers”. It’s interesting, she’s not pushy but she certainly has a lot of answers (believe me I don’t agree with most of them) when I question her about women’s rights, female circumcision, jihad and more. She never bats an eye, never gets offended, but her answers often leave a bad taste in my mouth, I try not to let her see it. I’m here to learn, not change anybody’s beliefs, so I zip my mouth. It’s a good thing I did too because Leo and I missed our last chance to take a bus and were looking at another long walk back when she pulled up alongside us and offered a ride back to our guesthouse which we greedily accepted.

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May 19 – 26, 2012.

Pualu Perhentian Kecil, it’s the small island and it’s beautiful. I spend a few days on my own, sun tanning, reading, eating well and I did meet a couple of lovely women from New Zealand but I was trying to keep it low key as those boys have been tiring me out. To restate a fact I keep having to learn, 40 year old people need to pace themselves a wee bit more then 20-somethings.  The boys join me and we get great bungalows on the middle path of the island, between the 2 beaches, long beach and coral beach.

At night we hang out on the beach, sitting around low tables in the sand smoking Shisha (hookas) and drinking “Monkey Juice” and coke. It’s Darraugh’s birthday while we are here and cake is not available so we buy him a deep-fried snickers bar and stick a bunch of candles in it, he was pretty pleased/embarrassed, the entire restaurant sings happy birthday to him.

We shell out for a snorkeling trip which is freaking amazing, the most beautiful coral I have seen so far, many little Nemos (clown fish) hiding out in sea anemones, giant clams, parrot fish and countless other things that I can’t name. We see a giant turtle, she’s probably about 30 years old and it’s one of the most blissful things I’ve ever experienced in the ocean, I could have watched her for hours… gliding along the bottom and then coming up for air, her head poking up out of the water just long enough to catch a glimpse of her without the distortion of water, I loved it.

I also swam with a shark, yup me, and a shark, in the same water not 4 meters from each other, I can’t believe it either. To be fair it was a so called “vegetarian shark” (that’s a joke I think), a black tip shark, over a meter long. I knew there was a chance that we would see sharks in this certain area we went to and quite frankly I almost didn’t make it into the water at all, but those beautiful boys were angels and surrounded me all sides as “bait” while we went looking for the sharks. We didn’t find any at first and the boys were pretty disappointed, I didn’t mind so much honestly. So we started heading back towards the boat, we kind of separated a bit at that point and then Julian came racing up to me, I heard him yelling “shark” through his snorkel and I literally almost jumped on top of him with fear. But he held on to me and showed me where the shark was. I was fascinated and terrified at the same time. My eyes were huge, my heart was racing and my breath was fast, I couldn’t let go of his arm, he let me hang on tight, god bless him, and we followed the shark as it meandered along the ocean floor about 4-5 meters away from us. Julian let me set the pace as we followed, never pushing me to get closer then I felt comfortable with, he was the perfect host and I cannot thank him enough, it was most definitely an experience I will never forget.

The Perhentians were perfect, crystal clear water, white sand, etc…I could have easily stayed longer and probably would have but it was a school holiday, all the guesthouses filled up for the weekend so we got kicked out of our rooms, forced onwards, and we were splitting up, heading in all different directions.

May 15, 2012.

The guys and I decide to take a hike through Penang National Park, our goal is monkey beach. It’s a nice hike, an hour to get there on the bus and about 1-1/2 hours each way once we are in the park it’s a slightly rainy day, so with the sweating we all end up soaked through. Before we left town we stop at a bakery we discovered in Georgetown for some snacks and got lucky with some amazing focaccia bread and cinnamon buns. The hike is good, not too hard, not too easy. About a half hour in I notice that there is always one guy behind me, and I realize they are doing it on purpose. I mention it and they unanimously state that it’s the polite and right thing to do, their mothers wouldn’t have it any other way. Ladies, you’ve raised your sons well, kudos. We do see monkeys, lots of them, but the beach itself is a bit of a disappointment, not so clean and not very good swimming. But the exercise is good so we’re pleased.

May 16, 2012.

Darraugh and Paulo head off to the Cameron Highlands, I’ll meet them there tomorrow. I decide to spend the day visiting a butterfly farm and nobody wants to join me, surprise. That’s fine, having been to one before in Honduras I’m well aware that I can lose hours in these places so it’s better for me to go on my own. I do and it’s amazing and I have about 200 photos to prove it, I’m well satisfied. I meet up with Leo and Julian later in the evening and we head out for yet another Indian feast. Tomorrow Leo leaves for Kuala Lumpur and Julian and I head to the Highlands to meet with the D and P.

May 17 & 18, 2012

Long bus ride up to the Cameron Highlands, Tanah Rata, and we find a hotel. Julian experiences my uncanny knack for falling almost instantaneously asleep on buses and amuses himself by taking this picture….

One in town we meet up with D and P and take a walk up to the next town about 5kms away. It’s not the prettiest walk, a lot of garbage along the trail and the town we end up in is nothing to write home about either. A bus back, dinner and a couple beers, I’ve caught a cold, also I’m freezing and wearing many layers, not the happiest gal. I take an early night and leave the boys to it.

The next day I’m still not feeling great, the boys head off on a big trek that I wouldn’t be able to do anyways because of my bad knee, so I sleep lots and rest up by reading in a café and my one big adventure of the day is a bus ride up to another butterfly farm. This is not as big or as nice as the one I visited on Penang but there is the added perk that I get to hold a giant grasshopper, pretty cool.

I meet the guys after their hike and we all get cleaned up and head out for a steamboat dinner. Steamboat is like Chinese hot-pot, 2 different broths and many vegetables and types of meat that you cook in the broth at your table. It’s messy and fun.

We go out after for a couple beers and some pool at the one local bar. I should mention, beer is comparably expensive here in Malaysia and not always available, you have to go to a Chinese establishment as the Muslims typically won’t sell it. We’re all leaving tomorrow, I’m heading to the Perhentian Islands and the boys are all headed down to KL. Julian has a couchsurfing host there, and Darraugh and Paulo are going to watch some important soccer/football match, sorry I couldn’t possibly tell you anything about that, except that it’s England and therefore a big deal for Darraugh. They’ll all meet up with Leo there and then join me in a few days on the island.

May 14, 2012.

Still in Georgetown. I spent the previous day shopping for a pair of long pants that don’t scream “hippy”, a challenge. That evening I met 3 guys who are going to prove to be some of my favorite traveling companions in quite some time. Julian from Germany, Paulo from Italy and Darraugh from England. We made plans to head out to see Kek Lok Si Temple, and also the snake temple, both on different parts of the island. We also meet up with another lovely soul, Leo, also from Germany and he joins our happy little family. We take local buses which are super new, clean and very air-conditioned (ie: freezing cold). Kek Lok Si is the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia and took 20 years to build. it`s a massive complex which we all happily explore, sometimes together sometimes apart, always managing to merge back together quite seamlessly.

 

The Snake temple is on another part of the island and turns out to be much smaller than we anticipated, however we do get to see some poisonous guys (no touching) and a couple boas that we could touch but if we wanted to hold them (and I did) we had to pay (so I didn’t).

Back to our guesthouses we get cleaned up and head out for some Indian food, eaten straight off a banana leaf with our hands (right hand only of course). It is so tasty and we are all fat after and super happy about it. After eating we walk down the street and I see a guy who is selling Paan, I have always been curious about it and the guys were keen to try it as well so we did. The man built the leaf tight in front of us, adding about 15 different ingredients, spices like cinnamon and clove and a nicotine paste amongst many other things, all wrapped up in a leaf. You are meant to hold it in your cheek taking the odd chew and spitting out the juice. I thought it was tasty though the texture was a bit difficult. Julian bailed first, he thought it was disgusting; mine broke apart too much while I was trying to transfer it from one side of my mouth to the other so I had to spit it out. I can’t remember whether Paulo or Darraugh was next to get rid of it but it made Darraugh throw up (such a shame, all that good food). Leo was the master, holding it for about half an hour. Our tongues were some pretty astonishing shades of orange after.

May 12, 2012

I cross the border from Thailand to Malaysia, I don’t have any problems but as I’m in line to get my stamp I see a guy try to run across the border at full speed, a cop chasing after him, I don’t see the take down but, after getting my stamp, I see him on the ground with 4 officers around him, hands tied behind and a knee in his back. Later I see him, hands now free, being escorted back to the Thai side. His hands in prayer and bowing to the guards, I think they may have actually let him go.

I arrive in Georgetown on the island of Penang, I had no expectations or ideas about this place and was in fact only planning a quick visit as I wanted beach time and was planning on hoofing over to the east coast Perhentian Islands as fast as possible, but I unexpectedly fell in love. It’s a fantastic town, I stayed in Little India at the helpful and clean Civilian’s Inn on Love Lane. Penang is an old city with a great mix of Chinese, Malay and Indian cultures. And the FOOD, ohmygod so good! After I’ve gotten myself settled in I go for a wander through town, photo happy. I have a map for a walking tour kindly provided by the good folks at the guesthouse and I try to see as much as I can. Chinatown pharmacies, an historic fort, the waterfront, shopping, and more. I feast on an Indian dinner and have an early night.

May 9 to 11 (or so), 2012.

We’re making our way towards Malaysia now, first stop Trang. Bus ride in the morning and we arrive in the early afternoon. We search out a guesthouse, find one and I’m hit by another straw in my basket. There is initially some discussion about the price and whether we want to pay that much so I go back inside and start trying to negotiate a better price when one of our group comes in and walks right in front of me, interrupting, and says to the clerk that they’ll take a room, the “best one please”. I’m literally shocked speechless by this, I was trying to get us all a better deal and these actions have basically just killed any chance of that. However I don’t want to raise a fuss so I try to ignore it and we all go to our rooms. We walk around the town later. I want away from them now so I plan to head to the train station to find out about options and to my surprise everyone wants to come with me, fine. I figure out my options (it turns out a bus is my best bet) and we spend the afternoon wandering around town. It’s not very touristed which is a nice change in Thailand. We find a market and everyone disperses without a word of warning, one minute we are all together and then we’re not. The market is a warren of small shops and stalls, once you lose someone you never know if you’ll run into them again. Surprisingly we do and actually all manage to go for coffee together. We also manage to keep it together somewhat when we decide to go for dinner at a street food stall area, to me this feels like luck more than planning, but at this point I really don’t care too much, I’m over it. I take an early night as I plan on leaving early the next morning, I’m headed off on my own to Hat Yai, my last stop in Thailand.

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I arrive in Hat Yai and find a place to spend a night, it’s kind of dismal but super cheap so it’ll do. I spend the rest of my day wandering the town, I find a massive night market and take obvious pictures of food and other pictures less obviously – of Muslim women selling all sorts of food and Nurses in full starched white regalia buying food on their dinner break from a nearby hospital. It’s twilight and I take a wrong turn, I end up on a street that feels a little too empty and male mechanic dominated for comfort, it’s quite a long street and thankfully I make it to the corner without any incident. I arrive back to the area around my guesthouse and find something to eat just as the rain comes again. Monsoon season is on in full in Thailand, I’m so ready for some unadulterated sunshine again. Malaysia here I come!

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May 1 – 9 (or so), 2012

So, bidding a fond see ya later to Ko Phanghan (because I’ll never be able to say goodbye forever to bottle beach) we headed down to Krabi, an early morning ferry and then a bus ride which I slept through most of (typical for me). Arrived in Krabi in the early afternoon, had some lunch and then I headed off to find a Doctor as those bites were not looking good. I found the clinic right next to a small Buddhist temple so I signed up for an appointment and then wandered through the temple area while I waited.

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Got in to see the Doctor and he promptly informed me that I’d probably had an allergic reaction and that the bites were infected but “don’t worry, don‘t worry” he’d seen it before (probably sand flies/fleas) and I’d be fixed up in no time. He prescribed me a cream to help with the itchiness and a  course of antibiotics (five (five!) pills twice a day for five days). God knows what they were but it did actually work and I am fine now with only a very small scar where the worst bite was which I am sure will fade fairly quickly. I spent the rest of that day wandering around the town (central food market, big park etc.) and then met up with the others back at our hotel in time to head out for dinner.

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We went down to the waterfront for a street food extravaganza. Massive selection of yummy things to eat and we all pigged out. The highlight for me was a crepe made fresh in front of me and sprinkled with lime and sugar, so delicate and delicious I wanted 10 more but keep myself under control and savored just the one. I liked Krabi, it was the furthest south I had been so far in Thailand and I started to see the first signs of Muslim culture, some women in headscarves, and a few mosques. This is the land of fantastic limestone karsts and cliffs, some rising straight up out of the water, stalagmites and stalactites, really stunning scenery which for some reason I neglected to photograph. 😦

The guys were getting itchy to climb so the next morning we left Krabi for the short longtail boat ride to Railay and then on to neighboring Ton Sai Beach. The boys found a way to climb a (treacherous) path over the headland between the beaches but I wasn’t even going to attempt it with my pack on and bad knees so I decided to pay for a longtail to take me around, Brit and Kyla decided to join me. We hummed and hawed about the price for a bit and then made the decision to go just as a downpour hit. For the 10 minutes it took us to get around the headland in wave tossed seas it continued to dump down, we arrived on the beach pretty wet and ran for shelter, only to have the rain stop about 2 minutes later. We found accommodation (pretty slim choices) and then headed onto the beach for some bouldering in an overhanging area that had remained dry. I went along to watch and was fascinated by a Thai guy who climbed in his bare feet! He was really good, and offered good beta (advice) to the boys. I wasn’t feeling super keen about the area, there was lots of rain in the forecast, tons of mosquitoes, I couldn’t have drinks because of the antibiotics and I didn’t really have much that I could do there as it was so climbing focused, so the next day I headed off to a nearby town, Ao Nang. Turned out to be VERY touristy so I didn’t do too much there except wander around, internet and read. No mosquitoes though and a lovely clean bathroom. It’s good to have a little “luxury” down time now and again, especially when traveling with a bunch of other people.

The next day everyone turned up again and we decided to head up to Khao Sok National Park the day after. It was kind of a backwards step in geography going north but an opportunity to potentially do some trekking and see some rivers and waterfalls. In my honest opinion I think it was a waste of time and money. The river was somewhat pretty but the waterfalls were mere bumps in the river, more like rapids really, and the hike itself was leech infested. My first experience with leeches and not something I would care to repeat without proper boots and pants on. We walked about a kilometer before we noticed them, from then on it was constant vigilance and I could no longer enjoy the hike. We got about 2-1/2 kms in and turned off towards a river, I didn’t want to sit and rest as I could see the ground literally crawling with leeches, I couldn’t even stand still and decided I’d had enough, I wasn’t enjoying this at all. I left everyone there and headed back. Honestly I went as fast as I could, running at points, on tip toe up hills, basically doing my best to never let my feet touch the ground for more than a split second. I imagined my shoes to be full of leeches, and constantly checked my legs, so miserable. I finally made it off the trail, in very speedy time I might add, and back at the park headquarters I stripped of my shoes and socks and was surprised to discover….nothing. It was all in my head, I felt kind of stupid then but at the same time so very relived! I scooted home for a very thorough shower and my involuntary shivers of disgust finally stopped.

On a personal note, I’m finding traveling with this group a little difficult as there’s not a lot of communication going on about what’s planned next, we don’t seem to work as a team very well. In the past when I have traveled in groups everyone is very courteous of the others, if someone needs to stop for a pee everyone waits or attempts to find a bathroom for the person in need, everyone tries to eat at the same time so they can be together and at the same place usually by mutual agreements. Basically we keep track of each other and pace ourselves as one unit, there is an effort made to keep the others in sight in a crowded area, if ones person stops to look at something the others notice and either stop or slow their pace to keep the others included. When finding a hotel everyone works together to get the best price and then makes the decision together about whether they think it’s a good place to stay. Maybe it’s because they are 2 couples but I’m feeling really left out much of the time. Often it’s as if I don’t really even exist as part of the planning and decision making process, and quite frankly it’s becoming hurtful. I know from past experience I am not difficult to travel with, I can go with the flow very easily but in this case I feel uncomfortable, uneasy and unheard. I’m not really sure how to go about addressing this issue except that it’s likely I will head off on my own soon. I’m saddened by this as I had thought it would be great traveling with these guys, with people from home, but it hasn’t really been so great for me I am sorry to say. We’re all headed in the same direction so I’m sure we’ll run into each other again, I hope that when that happens a little more consideration for others will be shown.

Headed back in a southerly direction next, the plan is to move onwards to Trang the next morning……

April 14, 2012.

Arrived in Bangkok in the middle of Songkran, Thailand’s New Years celebrations. This entails much throwing of water on everybody, buckets, water pistols, bottles, hoses, and balloons, anything that could possibly hold water enabling you to throw it at another is used. In addition you might be smeared with a liquidy-paste (sort of the consistency of a chunky milkshake) made of clay and water, or in some cases, talcum powder and water. When it’s the real clay it’s almost like a facial mud, you feel a tingling and imagine your pores tightening nicely. However to arrive on Khao San road in the midst of this, at high noon, carrying everything you own on your back, well it’s a surprise to say the least, especially when you thought Songkran was next weekend.

I successfully navigate the way to the hotel I want to stay in, successfully meaning I make it, albeit soaking wet with a facefull of mud. I can’t help but laugh and hope my electronics make it through ok, what else could one do? People are having a great time, I may be jet-lagged and overheating but the fun is contagious and I’m laughing out loud at the antics. Everyone is in on it, kids, teens and young people especially but there are some grannies playing as well with playful glints in their eyes, super-soakers pumped and primed, and terrific aim.

I shower the mud off and take a short nap and then venture out for some dinner, not too far from the hotel, I want to attempt to stay dry(ish). The place I choose has a table of Thai girls up in the front, right on the street, one of them has the most piercing scream that I have heard and uses it a lot as she and her friends take part in the water wars with their young male counterparts who are across the narrow street. It makes for a noisy meal, but entertaining. I’m beat, and head back to my hotel where I make a valiant effort to stay awake reading but catch myself nodding off by 9:30, I give in to sleep around 10 and woke up the next day at 8am, guess I needed it.

April 15, 2012

Woke up and finally made up my mind, I’m not staying in Bangkok to meet up with Alex and Brit, I need some time on the beach. I book my escape for early in the evening, a bus to Champhon and a slow boat to Ko Phangan, its back to Bottle Beach for me. I spend the rest of my day getting a massage and a pedicure and emailing. I hope A and B will meet up with me on KP but for now I’m recognizing that every fiber of my body and mind is calling out for rest and relaxation and the opportunity to get into a schedule of exercise and eating well, Bottle Beach is the place to do that, and get my tan back as well.

May 1, 2012.

I spent some wonderful time on Bottle Beach, hanging out with my friend Geoff among others, and started getting the tan back. I started to feel normal again after about 3 or 4 days. Alex, Brit, Josh and Kyla showed up after I had been there about a week and we stayed on for 3 more days. Our first night together was Geoff’s last as he headed home to England after 3 months at BB, we sent him off in style though he has since written me and cursed me out for the late night and multiple buckets. What I do know is that I woke up on the floor of my bungalow, just inside the door, at some point in the middle of the night and I really didn’t understand why my bed felt so hard.

On our last night Alex and sprinkled some of my mom’s ashes into the ocean and sent off a fire lantern into the night sky. It was lovely, I think mom would have liked it and it was good to share that with Alex.

The next morning we headed off by longtail boat to another part of the island that I have never been to before, Thong Nai Pan Yai, we spent 2 nights there and on the second day rented scooters to go check out some of the nearby spots. We visited a waterfall and cruised into the town where the ferry docks, Thong Sala. The roads were a bit treacherous at points, dirt road with a scattering of gravel, it’s doable until you get to the downhill parts. Alex was doubling Brit, Josh was doubling Kyla , and I had my own bike. I was nervous at first as it had been a while since I had driven one but I pulled it off. Josh and Kyla weren’t so lucky and took a spill coming downhill on the way back, Josh was fine but Kyla got pretty scraped up, nothing broken though for which we are all thankful. I think the most damage was to their wallets for the cost of repairs to the bike.

We moved to Hat Yao and spent a night at a place that I may designate one of the worst I have ever been to (and that is saying a lot), surly staff and filthy rooms, with many massive cockroaches. I hung out on the beach that afternoon and ended up covered in multiple bites from an unknown bug that have proven to be incredibly itchy. The next morning these bites had swollen up to look like half a golf ball was buried under my skin, attractive AND itchy, not my favorite moment. Got some cream and some antihistamine to take the swelling and itchy down and am doing better now though still not a pretty sight. We also promptly moved the next morning to a much nicer place, which is where we are now. Having a “chill” day, reading, computing etc.

Tomorrow we move onwards to Krabi so they can all do some rock climbing. I’m going with them but will likely wander off on my own for a few days to explore some nearby areas as I cannot climb anymore (bad knees). We’ll meet up again somewhere in there and work our way down to Malaysia around the same time. I have to be out of Thailand by the 13th but Alex and Brit have until the 16th, so we’ll see how that plays out.

I’m doing well, I feel pretty good and it’s nice to be traveling with these guys, makes a change for me as I am so used to doing it all on my own so letting go of the reins is a pleasure. The only drawback would be feeling slightly out of it sometimes as they are 2 couples and I am just me, but it is a rare feeling and to be expected.