Thursday, October 30, 2003

The Plain of Jars

Kirsten and I journeyed by local bus from Laung Phabeng through the mountains to Phonsaven. Although the bus was basic it was one of the most enjoyable Asian bus rides so far. Extremely comfortable except for my dire need for a toilet a few hours into the trip. When at last I could no longer stand the pressure in my bladder I tried to convey to the bus driver's assistant my need for a pit stop. Moments later the driver pulled over, waved around and said "okay, toilet!" I ventured just far enough from the road to be hidden from view. Echos of warnings read in guide books about unexploded bombs found in the countryside were running through my head. The other notable aspect of our bus trip was the army escort on the bus carrying a gun. He was there to deter bandits looking to hijack the bus. But it wasn't just the army personnel that were armed but civilians also carryied massive guns. Strangely the presence of all these firearms did not make me nervous in the least.

We weren't long in Phonsaven before realizing were experiencing a different side of Laos. It was not exactly off the "backpacker trail" but there were definitely fewer tourists than Luang Phabeng. The real difference was the grim reminders of the "secret war". The below picture was the "sculpture" in the garden of our guesthouse.

The owner of our guesthouse, Kong Keo, is very anti-government and told us many stories of how corruption has plagued his country. He believes Laos is a classic example of communism not functioning effectively. He warned ominiously that as affluence for a select few increases the Hmong and other disadvantaged mountain people are likely to revolt

Everyone who comes to Phonsaven visits the Plain of Jars, which are massive stone containers that remain a perplexing mystery. The government has not allowed archaeologists to study the sites since the 1930's so little is known about them. Bones found in the jars have been dated at more than five hundred years old. But it is possible the jars are much older than that. The most widely held belief is that the jars were funeral urns where bodies were left to decompose. Later the bones would be removed for a separate burial elsewhere.

In between visiting the jar sites we stopped at some local villages. The basic houses were made using parts of bomb casings.

Back at the guesthouse, Kong prepared a number of traditional Laos dishes. Everything was eaten family style as we sat on cushions at short wicker tables. Each person was given their own lidded wicker basket filled with sticky rice. Portions of rice are rolled into golf ball size mounds and then dipped into the sauce of the dishes. We also "enjoyed" a couple rounds a lao-lao, a strong rice alcohol that is similar to whiskey. Although I did not take to the strong drink it is quite rude to refuse a drink offered to you in Laos.

Kong is one of the best and most intriguing guesthouse owners I have encountered on this trip. He is genuinely welcoming and one doesn't get the feeling he is only putting in the effort to entice you to spend more money (as is so often the case while traveling.) He opened the guesthouse with money he received by selling a rare butterfly to a Japanese bug collector for $10,000 USD.

<< Luang Phabeng | The Route | Vang Vieng >>

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Sleepy and Beautiful Luang Phabeng

We arrived in Luang Phabeng late in the afternoon on our second day in Laos. We were greeted by the standard hordes of guesthouse toutes at the dock but headed out to find our own place. It was relatively easy to stumble upon decent accomodation. For the equivalent of $2.50 USD we stayed in a spacious twin room with a shared bathroom fully equipped with a hot shower. Three of the guys we met on the boat, Paul, Ben and David, were also staying at our guesthouse. We all took our turn enjoying the steamy bathroom while the rest of us relaxed on the veranda drinking Beer Lao. We shared the usual crazy travel stories and discussed musical tastes.

Dinner was on the banks of the Mekong river under plastic patio lanterns. The whole day was filled with "I can't believe where I am" moments. I was feeling very grateful to have the opportunity to experience all of these adventures.

I spent my first full day in Luang Phabeng just wandering the streets. Kirsten was feeling unwell, possibly due to the malaria meds so I was alone and enjoying the solitude. Loung Phabeng is less of a city than a sleepy little town on the banks of two rivers. The buildings are French colonial and made me feel like I had landed in a European town stuck in a time warp.

As I walked past one of the many wats a young monk called out "saybadee". His name was Bounthong and I talked to him about his role as a monk, his plans to study computers and his dreams of one day visiting Canada

The next morning I was awaken at 4:00am by roosters and didn't really get back to sleep. The group of us were hoping to rent scooters to visit the nearby countryside. But this particular week the police had decided it was illegal to rent scooters to foreigners. Instead we hired a tuk-tuk driver to take us to Koung Xi falls with its eleven spectacular tiers. We hiked a trail to about halfway up the falls and then actually climbed the falls themselves to get to a deep swimming pool. We took turns swinging on a vine into the pool and jumping off the rocks.

The trip to the falls was filled with picturesque hills, rice fields and villages. All the children would wave hello as we passed. The smiles and warmth in this country have been overwhelming.

<< The Slow Boat | The Route | Phonsavan >>

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Goodbye to Thailand and onto Laos

Kirsten and I spent our final day in Bangkok hanging around Khao San Road preparing for our trip into Laos. I bought a new digital camera to replace the one I lost on the train. Mostly though we just wasted time as people do on Khao San Road, watched some movies, wrote some postcards and wandered the streets browsing the stalls.

Traveling in Asia has taught me that departure times are merely a suggestion. So we intended to arrive at our meeting spot 30 minutes earlier than scheduled. But when we got there we were informed the time of the bus departure had changed and we were late. Kirsten and I were herded down the back alleys to our minivan with Nadine following along behind us.

I really wish I could have had more time to say goodbye to Nadine. But instead it was rushed and chaotic. She was the only person I have seen from home in six months and I was sad to end our journey together. We've always traveled so well together. She would definitely be my Amazing Race partner

The minivan drive to the bus station was the typically terrifying, but after a few weeks in Asia I have become used to the swerving and running of red lights. Once at the bus station we still ended up waiting over an hour for our bus to depart.

The bus ride was brutal as there was very little room although they did hand out mini bottles of water and snacks possibly as a form of compensation. Thankfully there were blankets because the bus driver was maximizing the air condition setting. As people left the bus Kirsten and I would snag their blankets and shroud ourselves to keep warm. The Arnold Schwarzenegger dubed into Thai held little interest so I mostly without much success to sleep.

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Our route through Thailand

When we arrived in Chang Kong we bought a ticket that included transport in the back of a pickup truck to the pier, a boat ride across the Mekong river to Huay Xai in Laos and then a two day slow boat ride to Loung Phabeng. Much to our relief the border crossing was painless. Admittedly this had much to do with its contrast to our Malaysia/Thailand border crossing.

Kirsten and I had headed to Laos with the perception that we would be venturing into an area not as frequently traveled by backpackers. But instead we found a couple dozen other backpackers all completing the same journey down the river that day.

The slow boat was undeniably basic with its two rows of narrow wooden benches along both sides of the boat with an aisle in between. If you are lucky there might be a thin cushion to sit on. The pace was leisurely and the scenery beautiful.

We stayed overnight in Pakbeng, a tiny village halfway to Lounge Phabeng. The accommodation was simple. Our room cost $2 USD and included two small beds with mozzie nets and a fan. The bathroom out back was my first experience with Asian style bathing. No running water, instead I stood next to a large basin of water and used a bucket to pour cold water over myself.

The second day on the boat was extra cramped. More passengers this time and along the way we stopped to load up the boat with supplies being shipped to Luang Phabeng including strange and smelly varieties of fish. We spent most of the day trying to find a comfortable space to squeeze into and just get into that travel zombie state...not quite asleep and not quite awake

<< Ayutthaya | The Trip Route | Luang Phabeng >>

Friday, October 24, 2003

Ayutthaya - Exploring the Capitol of Ancient Siam

Our morning started slowly as we wanted to spend some extra time with Monkey. He was heading north on a flight to Chang Mai before he returned to New Zealand. At last though we were on the third class train to Ayutthaya.

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We passed small villages, Buddhist wats and flooded rice fields. All very picturesque. So much so that I took out my camera to get a few shots but sadly when I departed the train I left the camera sitting in my seat. By the time I realized my mistake the train was long gone but I still rushed back to the station in order to try to salvage my camera. It wasn't simply the loss of the camera that upset me but rather the more than three weeks worth of pictures still on the memory card. The man at the tourist information was super helpful as was the station conductor but as I suspected my camera was not to be recovered.

Determined not to let my stupid mistake ruin my time in Ayutthaya we headed out to explore the "archeological sites." There were many signs requesting that we not call the site ruins. Admittedly the remnants of ancient Siam were different than any ruins I had ever visited. The structures are more than 700 years old but they still feel very much alive. Buddhism is an ancient but still actively practiced religion. Thai people still visit the sites to pray and honour Buddha. As a part of this, every few months the Buddha statues are dressed in robes appropriate to the season. Since we were visiting in the rainy season the robes were large to provide maximum warmth.

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Nadine amongst the warmly clothed Buddhas

Around the sites were signs asking people not to stand behind the headless statues and in order to have their picture taken. We found these endlessly amusing since it triggered the question how many tourists before us had forgotten for a moment they were not at Disney Land.

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That day in Ayutthaya went from one of my worst travelling moments (losing my camera) to one that I will always remember. It was getting close to sunset when we decided to get some dinner. The sun was a giant red orb set behind the stupas. The entire sky was glowing pink and orange. Then as we walked along the road, out of seemingly nowhere, appeared a parade of elephants. In that moment I remembered that it is the small random occurrences that make travelling so worthwhile.

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Our accommodation in Ayutthaya was a lovely teak house. All of the rooms were decorated with antiques collected by the owner. On the ground floor, the restaurant was set on the bank of the river and on the second floor a balcony made for a nice spot to read and enjoy views of the river.

The next morning we visited several more sites and I had then decided that I had seen enough ancient statues for the moment and we headed back to Bangkok in the mid-afternoon. Before departing I gave the staff at the train station's tourist information some Canada pins to thank them for their kindness the day before.

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The bizarre head in the tree that is Ayutthaya's most famous photo op

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<< Ayutthaya | The Route | Slow Boat >>

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

And the Award for Nastiest Backpacker Goes To....

Warning: Random Ramblings....feel free to skip ahead if you wish to continue reading about my time in Thailand

The travelers I have met during my times abroad have been an eclectic mix of people. But generally the trend I have encountered is that the more difficult the travel the more open-minded and easy-going the travelers tend to be. For example, in Peru, where I found the combination of altitude and treacherous roads particularly taxing, I met many agreeable individuals. They impressed me with their interest in local culture and their efforts to communicate with the locals in Spanish. At this point, I will mention that many of these people were American and they completely destroyed any stereo typical conceptions I may have had about Canada’s domineering southern neighbour.

Thailand, while not a first world country in terms of development, has an extensive infrastructure for travelers. Nearly everywhere I went I was met with Thai people eager to help me find accommodation, obtain tickets for transportation or provide some type of service to make my travels more enjoyable. As a result of its interesting culture, ease of travel and affordability Thailand attracts travelers of many sorts and unfortunately not all of them the humble laid back sort.

The nastiest backpacker I have ever encountered was staying at our guesthouse in Ayutthaya. From the second I overheard her loudly recounting stories of her five month stint in Thailand I was unimpressed. By bragging about her extended length of stay she meant to infer that she had developed a profound and deep connection with the people of this country. I certainly agree that the longer a person spends in a particular area the more enriching the experience. However, I do not think anyone would debate the fact that a person’s attitude also greatly shapes their experience. Within a few seconds of hearing this woman speak I could tell that humility was not a characteristic often displayed. I found it hard to believe that her patronizing and dismissive behavior towards the guesthouse staff indicated that she could have a profound connection with any person in any country.

Up to this point however, her attitude was not too much different than dozens of other backpackers I had encountered. Travellers upholding a belief that because their country has one of the highest GDP's in the world they are bestowed with a privilege to treat others with rudeness and disrespect. Until the next morning when I awoke to her screams in the courtyard. In Southeast Asia there are no laundromats. Instead one "sends their laundry out". While it doesn’t always come back Tide Fresh the results are generally acceptable. Except in the case of our American friend. She had included a new yellow shirt with her laundry and the dye ended up running all over the rest of her clothes.

This psychotic woman (To simplify I am just going to call her Psycho Lady) was screaming at the guesthouse staff demanding that the laundry lady pay her the money it would take to buy replace all the ruined articles. She claimed that her clothes were valued at a few hundred dollars. In a country where the average daily wage is about $8 USD this of course was ridiculous. So Psycho Lady began threatening to call the police.

The staff then offered her a free breakfast which actually happened to my breakfast that I was eagerly awaiting. Psycho Lady proceeded to throw the plate of food on the ground in a manner befitting a two year old.

Admittedly I sympathized with the situation. When you live out of a backpack, wearing the same clothing for weeks at a time, one can grow quite attached to their belongings. However, I was absolutely disgusted with the method Psycho Lady decided to confront the situation.

When you decide to travel you also choose to leave the comfort and control of home life behind. This naturally includes the Maytag washer and dryer. I fully believe if an individual can afford to live in Thailand for more than five months without working they most certainly can afford the money it would cost to replace a few hundred dollars worth of clothes. Especially in a country that is renowned for its name brand knockoffs.

In retrospect I wish I had set this lady straight...

"Suck it up, buy some new clothes and continue on with your travels. This lady you insist on degrading will likely never see places a few hours away let alone countries on the other side of the globe. So be thankful for your experiences and respect the people of a country that allow you to reside for five months without having to work a single day. Accept that crap happens when you travel and if you can't deal with it then go back to your safe suburbian life and stop complaining"

...but instead I sat on the verandah overlooking the river listening to my grumbling stomach and wishing my breakfast was not scattered all over the floor

<< Bangkok | The Route | Ayutthaya >>

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

One night in Bangkok (well two actually!)

I have been too Bangkok more times than I wish to recall. Somehow it is impossible for me to travel in Southeast Asia without multiple pitstops in Bangkok. But I do have to admit that I love the guilty pleasures that Khao San Road has to offer.

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Pancakes with bananas and chocolate are one of Khao San's indulgences

For those who haven't been to Bangkok, Khao San Road is a strange place to describe. In the middle of this hot, bustling, sweaty (did I mention hot) Asian city is this spot where backpackers from all around the world congregate. The main street is a series of ultra cheap and undeniably basic guesthouses, travel agents, internet cafes and restaurants airing the latest in pirated Hollywood blockbusters. Then outside the shops are stalls selling souvenirs and "backpacker clothing" They are the type of articles that all backpackers succumb to purchasing but would never dream of wearing at home. At night the street is closed to vehicles and makeshift bars are setup along the curbside. You can spend the evening sitting on plastic stools consuming a variety of mix drinks and watching your fellow backpackers decorate their bodies with henna tattoos.

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Kirsten gets "tattooed"

Within a day on Khao San Road we were able to arrange our visas for Cambodia & Laos, buy bus tickets and even have some new minidiscs created from illegally copied cds. I was ever so happy that this was all done within a one block radius of our guesthouse because after drinking at the above mentioned curbside bars I was feeling pretty average.

In the afternoon I was feeling better so Nadine, Monkey, Kirsten and I hired a tuk-tuk to visit Wat Po. The four of us crammed into the tiny tuk-tuk swerving the streets of Bangkok was quite amusing. Wat Po is my favourite spot in Bangkok as it is the home to the giant reclining Buddha. The Buddha is massive at 46 metres long. I love wandering the grounds of the Wat as it feels so tranquil and secluded with the craziness of the city.

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Nadine, Kirsten and Monkey on the Wat Po grounds

While we wandered the grounds this lady pulled us into an area and offered us incense to burn in front of the Buddha. She then insisted that we take pictures of her. The strangeness continued when she proceeded to grab Nadine's Lonely Planet and write her mother's address inside front cover. Nadine was particularily horrified since she absolutely never writes in books of any type. She considers it some sort of sacriledge. When we attempted to escape from this bizarre situation the lady claimed we owed her money for the experience. By this point we were all expecting that the entire escapade was a scam but we gave her a few baht so that we could leave relatively unscathed.

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The ubiquitous Bangkok billboards near Wat Po

<< Koh Tao | The Route | Ayutthaya >>

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Well it isn't called the wet season for nothing

We left Koh Sok National Park and headed to Surat Thani on the east coast. From here we caught the overnight ferry to Koh Tao. Two rows of people sleeping side by side on thin mattresses. And that was considered a first class ticket.

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We met the assistant manager of Baan Khun Daeng Resort on the boat, decided he was a trustworthy guy and took him up on the suggestion to stay at his bungalows. I loved our little bungalow set up high on the hill with glimpses of the ocean all for only 150 baht/night (about $6) shared between two people.

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On our first day on Koh Tao the rain had stopped for awhile so we took advantage and jumped in a long tail boat to Nangyuan Island, which is actually three islands separated by thin sand bars. I spent most of the day snorkelling and ended up with quite a funny "mask" burn. Though how my face got burnt while I was looking down into the water still remains a mystery.

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We awoke the next two mornings to heavy rains, but luckily our dive trips went out anyway. Koh Tao is renowned for its diving and with 20 dive shops on a relatively small island there is unbelievable competition in prices. We bought a package of 4 dives including all our equipment for $100 CDN. Sadly though I didn't really see anything of note, except my first moray eel. I also found the staff to be lacking compared to the wonderful service we received in Koh Phi Phi.

When we weren't diving there really wasn't much to do on account of all the rains. We spent our time in the pubs watching World Cup rugby and wandering around the shops. Unfortunately Nadine was not a diver and after a couple of days had exhausted any form of amusement on the island. She decided to head up to Bangkok a day earlier than us. We would have liked to go with her, but by the time we made a decision all spots on the boat off the island were booked.

<< Koh Sok National Park | The Route | Bangkok >>

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Treehouses and Creepy Leeches

The morning after meeting up with Nadine we held a "breakfast meeting" to determine a plan for the next few days. Travelling with three other people is so much more difficult politically and logistically than travelling with just one other person. We had hoped to get a later bus out of Krabi since the others wanted to explore the area around Karbi. But after much running around including a songthaew ride to the local bus station it became apparent the most sensible route was the 11:30 minibus to Koh Sok National Park.

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We ended up staying at the Smiley Bungalows not entirely by was just where the minibus dropped us but it worked out extremely well. We stayed in cute and very cheap treehouses run by the friendliest people.

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The guesthouse owners took us on a brief tour of the area just before dusk. We visited some waterfalls but the real highlight was the cave temple. At dusk every evening the monkeys that live nearby all come out to be fed. It was fun watching them play and even fight. The best were the adorable baby monkeys climbing all around.

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The next day we were blessed with very little rain and we set out to hike through the national park. The first 3 km were easy going and we saw heaps of butterflies and other interesting insects. After that the trail became more challenging and unfortunately all of the signs had fallen to the ground and shattered. Resultantly, with only our hand drawn map it was difficult to tell how far we had come.

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Then we wandered into leech territory, an experience I hope never to repeat. These tiny things would crawl up over our shoes and attach themselves to your ankles all without us realizing a thing. In a way it was almost better not knowing they were there because once we became aware of them we became obsessed. We were constantly checking our legs and feeling like they were crawling all over us. We decided to head back and went for a refreshing swim at a little stream near the beginning of the trail.

Other than hiking in the jungle there was not much else to do in the area and the constant rain sucked away most of our motivation to explore. We spent much of our time hanging out in the restaurant at our guesthouse. The children of the owners were unbelievably cute. I have been so impressed by how patient Thai people are with their children and perhaps as a result how well adjusted and behaved the children are.

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<< Koh Phi Phi | The Route | Koh Tao >>

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Seahorses and Rolling Stone Covers

We headed out for three dives near Koh Phi Phi. One of them was my very first wreck dive but the visibility was about a metre so we didn't see much of anything. On the third dive I did see my very first seahorse. Or at least I think I did. Our divemaster was pointing into a little crevice and making the sign for seahorse. I could have sworn I saw something moving about in there but looking back I am not so sure.

We spent the next couple of days lounging on the beach and restoring our tans that have much faded since our last beach days back on Fraser Island in Australia. We also watched a couple of World Cup Rugby Games including the Canada vs. New Zealand game. Monkey was especially please when his All Blacks utterly humiliated the Canadians.

On our last evening we headed to the Rolling Stoned bar where we enjoyed the performance of a very entertaining Thai coverband. Their interpretation of the lyrics was often a little suspect, but the guitarist was especially brilliant.

On Monday just before we were to leave for the ferry the rains started pelting down. The pathways on the island were flooded up above our ankles in mere minutes. Once again I was thankfully for my backs raincover and the three dollar poncho I had purchased in the Cameron Highlands.

Kirsten drugged herself up on gravol for the trip back to the mainland and her motion sick stomach was grateful. The trip was not enjoyable but it was quickly forgotten when we arrived in Krabi and I met up with Nadine, my first friendly face from home in six months.

<< Koh Phi Phi | The Route | Koh Sok National Park >>

Friday, October 10, 2003

Four years of change on Koh Phi Phi

I first visited Koh Phi Phi in 2000 fresh from university and enjoying my first backpacking trip. I absolutely loved my time there and everyday kept telling myself "just one more day...and then I'll move on"

When Kirsten told me her friend Jason (aka Monkey) from New Zealand would be heading to Koh Phi Phi I jumped at the chance to revisit this little piece of paradise.

The island certainly has not grown but the development on the island has increased rapidly making space a valuable commodity. My first stay had been in a lovely beach bungalow on Loh Dalum Bay. The resorts along the beach there have now been upgraded and were well outside of our budgets. Where small restaurants dotted the beach fancy upscale eateries now stand. There was even a "wet bar", a massive waterfall pool where you could sit and sip cocktails while watching the sunset. A nice concept but with one drink being twice my nightly accomodation I decided to pass.

The one thing that hasn't changed is the amazing geography of the island. Imposing limestone krast cliffs covered with vegetation rise out of turqoise waters. Other things that I am thankful that have not changed.

• No paved roads and no cars
• Delicious Mossman curries
• Amazing fiery red sunsets
• Bucket drinks made for sharing (a bucket, alcohol & mixer of choice, ice and multiple straws)

<< Koh Phi Phi | The Route | Koh Phi Phi >>

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Island Relaxation on Koh Phi Phi

Our first morning in Koh Phi Phi was spent lounging and recovering from our travels. We headed to the beach and soon hooked up with Monkey. He decided to charter a boat for a trip to Phi Phi Ley, the neighbouring island. The weather wasn't spectacular so it was a good day to meander around on a boat with the occasional swim and snorkel.

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One particular bay that we docked at was aptly called Monkey Bay with dozens of the little guys running around the beach. Larger tour boats would stop there and throw bananas onto the beach. At first the monkeys were actively running around fighting over the food. However, in a short time they were all lazily lounging in the sand, bellies distended from their greedy feed.

The beach at Maya Bay was the setting for the idyllic beach in that terrible Leonardo di Caprio movie The Beach (Though Alex Garland's book is a recommended read) The beach itself is unbelievably amazing though sadly suffering drastic erosion from damage inflicted during the movie's filming. But floating on your back staring up at the majestic cliffs it is easy to believe you have found paradise.

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That evening we took a long tail boat over to Monkey's resort. His trip to Thailand had included a few nights at the Holiday Inn Resort . Definitely not your typical Holiday Inn. At 10x the price of our basic bungalow it was on a different scale altogether than we had become accustomed to. We enjoyed a relaxing evening of excellent food and beer on the beach.

<< Koh Phi Phi | The Route | Koh Phi Phi >>

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Did we actually make it to Thailand?

For those in search of brevity this is not the post for you. So feel free to skip ahead. I'll start with the abridged version. We left the Camerson Highlands and nearly 24 gruelling in-transit hours later we were on the beautiful island of Koh Phi Phi

The longer version goes a little something like this. Before catching our 4:30 bus we decided to grab some delicious chicken satay skewers at the road side stand near our guesthouse. Then in the pouring rain we proceeded to board the local bus which was already full seating wise. We were forced to sit on our packs on the floor. The bus was of similar standard to our journey up into the highlands. Since it felt like the bottom of the bus could drop out at any moment it proved an interesting experience

Two hours later we were in Tapah with about a half an hour before our bus connection. So I wandered off in search of snacks while Kirsten waited with our packs. I was gone less than 10 minutes but when I returned I was horrified to learn that the bus had arrived early and left without us. The shop owner/bus ticket attendant assured us another bus was on its way and would be there at 11:00 PM. He proceeded to close up shop and left us waiting on a dark and utterly deserted street. The 11:00 bus also failed to arrive and at this point we were seriously panicking over what to do. Everything else in the town was long shut for the evening. The idea of spending a night on the dodgy streets of nowhere town Malaysia was simply not appealing.

My feeling of relief when the shop owner unexpectedly returned is indescribable. A few phone calls later he determined the bus company had forgotten about us, but not to worry another bus was on its way (Haven't I heard this before) Finally, at nearly 1:00am we boarded a bus to Ipoh which continued on to the Thai/Malay border. The air condition on the bus was set to the maximum level and it turned the bus into an absolute ice box. For five hours we shivered and attempted to sleep.

At 6:00 am we had arrived at Malaysia immigration where huge queues awaited us. We chose the slowest queue and grew concerned as we watched everyone else for our bus get through before us. We, of course, were the only Westerners on the entire bus and even in all the queues.

When we finally got through the line we fruitlessly searched through the sea of parked buses for ours. Eventually we did find another man from our bus who with some rudimentary english and gesturing communicated that the bus was on the other side of the Thai border. We would have to travel through the one kilometre "no mans land" on our own. Being that we were still relatively inexperienced at the whole land border crossing thing we believed him. So we hopped in a taxi with the guy, another female and rushed over to Thai immigration. After some serious confusion we soon realized the bus wasn't on this was still waiting for us on the malaysian side. Eventually things were straightened out and the bus was on its way to Haddyai, but not before the bus driver gave us a proper tongue lashing with his minimal english (which somehow seemed to contain more swear words than anything else) It was impossible to explain that we were not the ones to blame so we accepted his wrath with minimal tears.

It should be noted that the gentleman who had led us astray did bring us packages of Doublemint gum as peace offerings

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Our route through Malaysia

The remainder of the journey which included a five hour very cramped ride in a minivan and a ninety minute ferry ride passed with relatively few incidents. At this point I was so exhausted that I just endured the trip in a foggy daze.

We didn't have much time and energy to explore the island that first night. The only thing we were interested in was a cold beer and a spicy Thai curry

<< Malaysia | The Route | Koh Phi Phi >>

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Whirlwind blitz through Malaysia

From Singapore we crossed the border and headed to Melaka, a city which has been at different times colonized by the Portugese, Dutch and British. So heaps of different influences on the architecture of the city. We wandered around adjusting to really being in an Asian city. The sites and smells were overwhelming after pristinely clean Singapore. We dressed modestly but still were often stared at by the men. One group even insisted on taking a picture with us. The women in Malaysia were Western style clothing but everything is covered including their heads.

Next it was onto Tepeh. The LP insinuated the ride to be about three hours. Six hours later we were still driving along with no idea where we were. Noone on the bus spoke English so we just held onto hope that we were getting close. Finally arrived and jumped on a rickety bus up into the hills to get to Tanah Rata. We arrived in the pouring rain but the drop in temperature was amazing. We slept that night under thick heavy blankets. Hiked around the tea plantations in the rain for a couple of days, watched pirated movies which made J. Lo's butt look enormous and gorged ourselves on stellar Indian food and mango laisses.

It is of course a vast understatement to say three nights in Malaysia was insufficient to truly appreciate the country. But we had people to meet in Thailand.

<< Singapore | The Route | Into Thailand >>

Friday, October 03, 2003

Homesickness in Singapore

I flew to Singapore a couple of days before Kirsten. In terms of Asian cities it was on the far side of intimidating. But I was hot and I was homesick. Although I never quite figured out which home I was sick for....Canada or my new home in Australia.

I wandered from one airconditioned facility to the next. I found the heat overbearing. I tried to buy a memory card at the Electronics mall and the rude sales men made me cry. I fled back to my airconditioned hostel where I met Minaki. Making new friends does wonders to ease homesickness. He accompanied me the next day to the mall and made sure I didn't get ripped off.

When Kirsten arrived we walked and walked and walked around. There are all these great neighbourhoods. Little India was the best. It was the first day of Diwali and all the Hindu temples were packed with people offering beads & incense and even bathing in this milk like substance. So cool though still not convinced I want to go to India proper.

We went to the Night Safari at the zoo. Unbelievable animal sightings including some elusive tigers and leopards. The city bus had televisions. They were playing Survivor.

We ate breakfast at a traditional roadside cafe complete with mini plastic stools. We ordered eggs and they came to our table in a covered bucket of hot water. The waitress instructed us to wait 10 minutes. So we did but when we cracked them open they were raw. Waited another 10 minutes and they were still raw. We just ate our toast. The locals found our confusion very amusing.

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