As the title says, I'm in Kuala Lumpur, known here as KL. The first sight I saw as we drove into town was the amazing Petronas Towers. They look almost too delicate looking to be a pair of huge skyscapers. I'll write in more detail about them when I take some photos of them.
I'm excited to be taking photos again because I don't have to carry around the huge brick of a battery pack anymore. As soon as I rolled into KL, I hit the mall to get a converter so I can recharge my cam battery as well as a few disposable batteries for when the rechargable one is dead.
To digress, there's a weird aspect of travelling in Asia- you run into the same people over and over again. As I was sitting here at this PC, Kathy pointed out two guys we had seen in Starbucks in Georgetown, and again at our hostel in the Cameron Highlands. Now here they are again in KL. There really is only one trail in Malaysia, down the west coast and up the east because the east coast is in monsoon right now. It makes you feel a bit like a lemming after a while... I'll probably wind up seeing them AGAIN in our dump of a hostel, which had come highly recommended by a girl in our dorm room last night. When she rolls in tonight, we can ask her what she was thinking....
I'm still working out my plans for the rest of my trip, which really won't come together until I reach Singapore and check out some airfares from there. I'm still in limbo and seriously considering a side trip to Egypt/Turkey/Jordan to get back the travel tingles. That said, the idea of learning to surf in Bali is beginning to appeal to me again because I am losing what little color I did have. I'll just have to put on SPF 30+ instead of 8 or 15.
Other than that, I'm back in the heat, and sweating like mad again. Toodles!
Since being in the Highlands, I've been a bit of a lazy bum, watching movies, screwing around on the internet, and reading a Wilbur Smith book.
However, I've taken some precious time out of my tough schedule to do some walking in the hills, the main reason people come here. Kathy and I decided to do the most common trail, affectionately known as "9A." A very inspiring name, don't you think?? Anyway, we headed out and found our trailhead.
We knew that the trail lead to a waterfall at some point but when we reached it in 10 minutes, we decided to continue on. Soon after we met some goofy older Japanese guys who made a finger gesture of an X (as in "verboten") and pointed behind him. We ignored them and continued on. We found bright blue leaves, many types of flowers, and dense jungle. After about 25 minutes, we came to a spot where there was no more trail because it had been washed away in a landslide. A 10 minute bactrack to the "treacherously steep" trail 9 was in order. It wasn't steep at all. In fact, it was pretty easy, and we got to wander through a vegetable farm. The problem with this was that we had no idea where the road to Tanah Rata was.
After wandering in the wrong direction for a few minutes, we asked directions of one of the farmers and he set us straight. We made it back to the main road and attempted to catch a local bus, of which there were none. Eventually, a one truck stopped and we hopped in.
The driver's name was Balan, and in the 10 minutes we were in his truck, we got to hear his whole life story. He was born locally and in 1979 he entered the military and he was sent to Borneo to quell communist rebellions there. In 1986, everyone was chilled out, and he spent more time serving in some city. Being he's not a city man, he resigned in 1991 and moved back to his home town. Since he had spent so much time in the jungle, one of the local travel agency's hired him to be a guide. That's what he's been doing since.
The other interesting thing about Balan was that he was so worried we would think Malaysians are terrorists. He kept repeating this over and over, and told us what a diverse country Malaysia is. He told us that Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, and Hindus, all lived right next to each other and intermarried. In fact, his children always wanted to know why his nieces and nephews look different (his fam are Hindu Indians). His sister in law is Chinese and according to Balan, her children look like the color of Nescafe. Another comment he made was that all these religions can live together because all religions are like streams. Each takes there own turns and is individual, but all lead to the sea, and the same god.
Sort of deep for a 10 minute hitched ride to town I thought.
Balan offered us his guiding services and wasn't a pain about it when we didn't take him up on it. He was a cool guy and a great person to meet.
When I returned to normal temperature levels here in the Cameron Highlands, I realized how much I didn't want to go back to scorching weather. This area is just like the Scottish Highlands (and that's where it gets it's name) with alternating misty chilly drizzles and beautiful blue skies. I really love it and it will be a major exercise in motivation to get me back down the hills. It's also excessivly cheap and I've been spending less than $13/day and living well.
My next move was to continue down through Malaysia, into Singapore and then fly to Bali and start exploring Indonesia from there. There is a nearby island that has a volcano and I'm up for seeing that. However, if it's this hot in Malaysia, it's only going to get worse the further south and closer to the equator I go. I've checked out Bali Blog and the weather seems to stay pretty steady around 75-86F but it's the 80% humidity that scares me.
I began thinking about other places I could visit and in my stupidity, I thought, yeah, it's January, I'll go to Mongolia because it's cold there. Well, it's also EXTREMELY cold there so maybe that's a bit excessive. Then I thought about Central Asia, like Uzbekistan but that's going to bring huge visa hassles and expensive flights so that's out. Flying back to Europe was also a thought, but my budget would be severely dented by the higher daily expenses.
Flying back to China may be an option, but the most obvious solution seems to be just continuing on with my original plan because it will eventually lead me to cooler weather in Laos and China/Tibet/Nepal. I will also be flying to Australia and arriving in their winter season so there will be plenty of opportunity to feel the chill.
The problem of too many choices of where to travel to can be a real bitch sometimes!!!!
This morning, Kathy and I took a bus from the Komtar Centre (the center of all things in Georgetown) to Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands. We couldn't face another day of boredom and it figured that all the partying started today. Grrrrr.... Ah well.
When we had read our guidebooks on the area, it mentioned that all old Malaysian buses come to die in the Cameron Highlands and the route was filled with hairpin turns and switchbacks. Sounds like a chicken bus ride to me!!! It turned out to be fine, except for one small detail... there were more roaches on the bus than I had ever been in close quarters with before. I didn't notice them until Kathy pointed them out and I couldn't stop itching.
As we stepped off the bus, we realized things were on the ups because we weren't sweating within 1 millisecond of hitting the sunlight. In fact, it was pleasantly cool. This is a welcome chance considering I was starting to feel like the melting face people at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. On the way up the hills, there were many terraces with tea growing on them because tea is the major crop up here. It's actually really beautiful.
After settling in at Father's Guesthouse, we set out for a wander. There isn't much to wander to, which is good for the budget. We had a nice south Indian lunch and I got some biriyani, dahl, yogurt, and other assorted goodies. Further along the main drag, we found a pleasant park and a group of guys playing a sport called takraw. This game is a combination of soccer, hackey sack, and volleyball. We sat for about 20-30 minutes watching the teams of three take turns against each other. The guys playing use graceful bicycle kicks and their heads to send a really lightweight rattan ball back and forth over a net. It's quite a site to see and I got a brief 25 second video with my camera.
To top the evening off, I broke down and watched a movie I had been boycotting for ages, Bridget Jones Diary. It was actually much funnier than I ever expected. Tomorrow I may got for a hike nearby and it will be good to get some exercise.
I have a few photos from when my sister Vanessa and I were lounging around on Ko Yai Noi. There aren't any of both of us IN the water, but well, someone had to take the photo. These are nothing really exciting, but I thought the friends/fam from home might enjoy them. Please excuse my recent issues with things getting pixelated, I'm having issues with reducing the file size...
Here's a black and white of us being goofy.
Here's the reason I will never be ashamed to wear a bikini EVER again. Vanessa's in there for scale....
Proof she went IN the water....
Here's a shot of us after a long day of snorkeling on a weird lunar landscape beach.
Ok, and finally after intense editing, I've come up with the naughty fish purse photos.... if you are easy offended, skip these.
Yao is Vanessa's randy little fishy purse who whispered in her ear that there was something he wanted to "get to know better" in the Sabai Corner lounge area. Here's Yao getting ready for a night on the Sabai Corner town.
Here's Yao checking out how his ass fins look in the mirror.
Yao finally meets up with the tree stump of his dreams and is totally in awe.
DAMN! He gets right to it!!
Ahhh, the lovely afterglow....
I'll let you use your imagination for when he met the "big one."
It's freaking HOT.
I never thought Malaysia would be unbearable in January, but let me tell you, it is blazing. Today, at 5pm it was still so warm I could barely stand it.
I've spent the last few days wandering around Penang trying to explore as much as I can. It's difficult to see any of the sights though because everything is shut down for Chinese New Year. The one thing that wasn't shut was Fort Cornwallis which had an "open house". This meant that different restaurants came and dished out free food to hundreds of people, including me and Kathy (Helga the Viking for you BnA folks). We stuffed our faces and tried to avoid daylight. It was great. There is a large cannon on the grounds of the Fort and according to my Lonely Planet guide, it is where women who are infertile place flowers and pray to "the big one."
The evening before, on Chinese New Year's Eve, Kathy and I caught the bus to Kek Lok Si Temple. We figured out the right bus but got off a bit prematurely, so a little Chinese girl showed us this ass backwards way through dark alleys and past pools filled with turtles. We came out to see a huge temple complex decked out in more Christmas lights than the big tree Rockefeller Center. Unreal. It was like Las Vegas meets Chinatown. Red and yellow seemed to be the colors of New Year so there were lanterns hanging all over. The most unusual part of the temple was the blinking and flashing swastika, which has a completely different meaning in the east. Westerners all think of Nazis while it's a symbol of good luck here. Another recurring symbol is the dragon, which appears everywhere!!!
One part of the temple is called the "Temple of the 10,000 Buddhas" and let me tell you, there really are that many. The walls are lined with the little guys. They almost take on a cute quality. Right outside, people leave offerings to the spirits and the gods. Right down the hall was this buddha inferno.
In another section of the temple, I noticed a guy painting Chinese characters onto tiles. They are 10 ringgit donations for the new roofing and you get your name put on the roof. Pretty cool I thought for about $2.80. Here's a photo of my nameand Liem, who wrote it out. I wonder if it says my name or "silly white girl who gave me 10 ringgits."
Finally, we needed to get back to our hostel. We tried to walk to the main road where the bus dropped us off, but it began to piss down rain on us and I got worried about my camera in my backpack. Kathy and I hid in some random carport until someone came out of the house across the street. The rain was so bad that I asked the guy if he could just drop us at the bus stop. He said no problem and off we went.
When we got to the bus stop, Chong asked if we just wanted a lift to our hostel because it might be a long time until another bus comes along. I couldn't believe how generous he was because it was at least a fifteen minute drive. On the way we chatted about how he thought that Thailand is better than Malaysia because the beer is cheaper. I don't know if I agree with him because already I'm liking Malaysia more.
Since not much else was going on today than yesterday, Kathy and I headed out to the Komtar Centre, which is a massive mall complex, to escape the heat. I found a few things to buy, such as a tank top, a hat, some new funky shades (just lost my cheapies from Bangkok), and finally, my find of the day, two new pairs of real glasses frames for $42.10. They are really cute too. One pair is black and red, and the other is blue. I'll send them home in the next shipment and get some lenses made for them.
If nothing is open again tomorrow, I think I am going to head out to the Cameron Highlands for a break form the heat and humidity.
As for my feelings about Malaysia, it's been really surprising so far. I can't believe what a diverse place it is. There are loads of Malays, Chinese, Indians, and even westerners. At the Chinese New Year free lunch in the fort, you saw Indians eating spring rolls and Chinese eating curries. I have a feeling that Malaysia is going to be just my kind of country.
Happy Chinese New Year!!!!!
I've been hanging in Penang the last few days trying to make the most of my time here even though EVERYTHING is closed for the Chinese New Year. As soon as I can find an open shop to burn pics to a cd, I will put them up on the blog.
Keep checking back.
Well, I'm here.
Crossing into Malaysia was a really easy thing to do. Yesterday I broke down and decided to take a travel agency minivan from Hat Yai to Georgetown, Penang. Usually, I avoid these things like the plague, but I was tired and decided to give it a whirl. My guidebook said that the place I booked was reputable and they turned out to be great. I walked up, met Boy, one of the travel agents, paid my $5, and acquired a ticket over the border.
There was one catch, and it was by no means the travel agent's fault. This crazy Chinese Malaysian guy was on board and he was getting out of hand. He was in the back seat with a poor German guy and all he wanted to complain about was "the Jews." I tallied his using this phrase at about 20+ times. He was obviously a man with conspiracy theory issues and had a problem understanding that Bill Gates isn't jewish. Or at least I don't think he is. It doesn't matter either way, the guy was nuts. He would yell things out in Thai or Mandarin randomly and he freaked out when the driver got gas and put in diesel (because it's a diesel van). I must give the driver credit for not belting him.
So, I arrived, found a bed in a hostel, and headed out to get some money changed. I found some Muslim moneychangers just down the block who were giving a decent rate. When I said "salaam malakum" they guy smiled and laughed. We swapped coin and I asked his advice on finding a good cheap Indian meal. He pointed down the road and I asked if it was Tamil food because Punjabi makes my stomach hurt (it's heavier and creamier). I checked the place out and it did look pretty good. Biriyani (or pulau, I can't keep those two straight), curried fish, some veggies, and a Vanilla Coke all for less than $2. I nearly kissed the guy when I saw Vanilla Coke too because I am a complete junkie for the stuff ever since working in the mall at The Museum Company and Williams Sonoma.
Anyway, I like the feel of this town. It's Malaysian, Chinese, and Indian. The weather is scorching, but I guess I'll just have to deal. Tomorrow I will explore the city through a self guided walking tour. Watch out Malaysia.
I'm spending the night in Hat Yai, a city not far from the Malaysian border. Tomorrow I cross over and head to Georgetown in Penang Province. I'm excited to see a new country and new people, ya know how it is. Just a change.
When I got to the bus station, there were hoards of tuk-tuks around and even more motorbike taxis. Usually, when I get into a new town I head straight for the nearest shared tuk-tuk but there were none today. I decided to try a motorbike taxi, with all my crap. The guy held my pack between his legs while I hopped on the back side-saddle (I'm wearing a skirt) and held on for dear life.
After a few hairy turns (and me feeling like I was going to slip off) we arrived at my guesthouse. Now I feel like I have truly experienced transportation the Thai way. Wait, no. There needed to be a third person on the bike or a little kid in the basket. Either way, it was fun and I may use the motorbike taxis more often.
Ahhh tropical islands and the weirdos that hang out on them.....
Vanessa and I travelled to an island paradise in between the two biggest beach areas on the west coast of Thailand. Little did she know she would leave Long Island, NY to arrive in Long Island, THailand. THe real name of the island was Ko Yao Noi (Little Long Island), but it's close enough. Yao is Thai for "long."
On such a small and somewhat remote island, you get some interesting ex-pat people. At the beautiful and cheap Sabai Corner Bungalows, we met Colin, a 40s-ish Englishman. Colin had just returned from Laos, and admitted he was drawn by Viang Vang's cheap supply of opium. However, he is employed at Sabai, and his girlfriend Noi is nearby. On our first morning, we found Colin drunk on the floor. He's quite the funny character and he took quite a liking to "the two sisters."
Other characters included Peter, Colin's German friend who was way more together, an Italian guy who refused to speak English, but laughed when we caught him singing along to music in English, Christian, a large German guy with a pirate earring, and others.
Our neighbors, Eduardo and Tamsen from San Francisco, were really cool. They invited us to join them on their chartered long tail boat one the first day but V and I were so beat, it was pointless. On the second day they asked again and we decided to join them. It turned out to be quite the adventure.
We spent 1.5 hours getting to this random remote little island and when we arrived there was a pirate cruise ship with green and yellow jollyroger!! Even worse were the pirate tourists who came off the ship. The Asian tourist acted like five year olds at kindergarten. They were generally tolerable until they started abusing the sealife. THey kept standing on the coral (big no-no), breaking off parts as trinkets for home, and one guy actually dragged a sea urchin to shore!!!!
The idiot pirate-tourists decided it was a play thing and rolled it around and tried to feed it bread. Just what the little thing needs. After they bored of it, they left the little dude to die!!!! Eduardo was the hero of the day. He went over, rescued it from the evil pirates, put it on a plate and carried it out to another group of sea urchins. When it was back in the water, it puffed back up and Eduardo said it nearly smiled. It got to move 'hoods..... we hope there isn't a Bloods and Crypts thing going on between the blue mouths and the red mouths.
Originally, we thought the pirates were Japanese and Eduardo was going to go over and say "kinjiru", the Japanese word for "forbidden". But then we realized that the Japanese guy would go and tell all his buddies that a gaijin came over to him, and all he could say was "forbidden", and walked away, which is sort of weird.
After our little sea urchin buddy was safely back home, I people watched for a while. I will NEVER be embarrassed about wearing a bikini again. THere are some NASTY hogs out there with no modesty at all. This area of THailand has a large Muslim population so a bit of modesty is polite. Of course there are the idiots who run around with no tops on and there was one lady, in her late 50s, who had no top on at all. She looked like the sunbaked roomate from There's Something About Mary. It was SOOO nasty to have to look at her wrinkly boobs and nips. Bleh. Also, there was a woman who was huge and was wearing a tiny leopard print bikini and she looked like a beast. It's making me queasy to even remember it...
All said, we did have some really beautiful snorkelling. The water was the clearest I have ever been in, and I felt like I was swimming in a huge tropical fish tank. The coral was like a forest and schools of fish would swim all around us. One little fish (who was pink and yellow) would charge me and then swim away at the last minute. Unbelievable stuff really.
And while on the subject of fish, Vanessa and I are in the process of editing our little series of still photos of her fish pocketbook doing naughty things to penis carvings in the lounge area of the Sabai Corner. Keep checking back for updates on that one!!!
Vanessa and I decided that today was going to be a day of shade, and not one bit too soon.
As I was getting dressed this morning, I noticed an odd brownish blemish on my back, and hastily concluded I was dying of skin cancer. I've been pretty good about putting on the sun screen and wearing tshirts, but this really bugged me out. It may very well be just a sun spot that got a bit charred while I was snorkelling, but still, when I get down to Kuala Lumpur or Singapore, I will hit the doctor's and get it checked out.
To keep my mind off my new phobia (and I have many) Vanessa and I took care of a few small errands (her flight to Bangkok from Krabi and moving to a cheaper place) and then headed off the the main town of Krabi. I have been looking for a Lonely Planet Malaysia and Singapore book. I found one, but it pained me to pay the $23.50 for it... I was hoping to find one at the used book shops, but no luck.
Vanessa found a necklace in a shop that was really nice, but I wouldn't let her buy it until we sat and had lunch and she could think about it. Even though it was really pretty, she admits now that it was best to not buy it because she is somewhat lacking funds.
On the way home, we hailed down a sawngthew, one of the share taxis that cruise around picking up passengers. We asked the price, he responded with 20 baht, which is what we paid to get to Krabi. We hopped in, and as he was driving us back, I noticed that he wasn't picking up other passengers. I asked Vanessa if she heard the price, and she also heard him say 20 baht each. When we reached our destination, we handed him the 40 baht (total) and he started writing 200 on a piece of paper. Yeah RIGHT!!! Buzz off buddy!! I took the 40 baht, laid it on his seat, and we walked away. We wandered a bit to make sure he didn't follow us and then headed back to our new place. I guess we were in the right, because he didn't make a big stink. Yet another scammer sent on his way.....
Just a few pics from Bangkok.
We visited Wat Po, which is a major temple in Bangkok. ALl around the complex they have these little Chinese dudes guarding everything. Each is different and they can be really humorous. I really liked this guy who is tweaking his beard.
This guy looks like he's about to teach a school lesson.
And finally, here's a random photo of Vanessa and I looking like goofballs.
Today was a busy day of doing basically nothing.
We decided to go visit the Diamond Cave around the corner from our beach. On the way, we decided to detour over to another beach area to see if we could find cheaper accom. Little did I know what we were getting into. We had to slip and slide over razor sharp corals and rocks. It seemed that everyone was going way faster than us and I was so afraid to drop my new snazzy digital cam into the water. It was so easy to fall in. As we came around the corner, we realized why everyone was so easily skipping across the rock faces... they were ALL rock climbers (not just a few as I expected) and they were hanging from the rock cliff walls like bats. We jetted out of there as fast as our slow pace allowed us because the vibe was very snotty.
We walked around the peninsula to find the cave. After a confusing walk through a really swanky resort area (for me this means anything costing more than $25/nt) and got to our destination. It wasn't what I expected, but we did get to see these rock formations that look just like a pipe organ in a church.
On the way back, Vanessa got herself a massage as I sipped on a pineapple shake. It was VERY stressful. To make matters even "worse" this was the view we got from our boat ride back. Hellish isn't it?? :) Here's a second shot from the boat.
Tomorrow we go snorkeling on several of the nearby islands. We'll try not to stress out too hard.
So, I've finally figured out how to get these pics onto a PC.
Ayuthaya 1 This was something I walked right by the last time I was there, so I had to get a picture this time.
We also met a few really friendly monks who wanted out picture but only if I was able to get one of them as well. Monks
This buddha had seen better days and he looks like a head shrinker got ahold of him. Shrunken Head Doesn't he look like Terrace and Phillip from South Park??
This is a garuda that was on the top of one of the chedis. He's pretty fierce looking. Go optical zoom!!! Ayuthaya 2
Here is Vanessa meditating among fellow buddhas... View image
And here's another one of her. Vanessa 2
Here is a buddha.
And finally, here is a shot of some of the chedis.
Yes, it has happened. Two vampire Mayers on the beach IN BIKINIS at once, and we have tan lines. :)
After a long LONG ride from Ayutthaya to Bangkok to Surat Thani to Ao Nang, we have arrived at the beach. The bus ride wasn't too bad, especially since the first movie they played was The Two Towers. I know, such losers. To entertain myself the rest of the way I read the companion to Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles.
On a different note, we also are having some interesting health "issues." Vanessa is bunged up while I have the opposite problem. After she's been chugging coffee, eating prunes, and munching on fruit, no action. I've been nibbling on the fruit and got the reverse effect. So, basically, Vanessa eats and I shit out the food. It's really a bonding sister event. Poop osmosis.
Finally today, being the 7th day after she last "rumbled" we went to the pharmacy where the clerk giggled when she heard the dilemma. RIght as she was ringing up the order, some weird long haired guy stops Vanessa to get a photo of her spider tattoo. I bet she never thought she'd be in a Thai resort town pharmacy, buying laxatives, and some dude would want to photograph her. Go figure.
Now that that pesky Anthony is no longer allowed to post, the blog is ALL MINE again. :) It's mine, my PRECIOUS. We loves it.
It's Sunday here and Vanessa and I are in Ayuthaya, the ancient capital of Thailand, or Siam as it was formerly known. We visited the big ol' ruins of all the wats and chedis. We also ran across a few youngish monks. My experience with monks had been that they are pretty quiet and standoff-ish but these guys wanted their pictures taken and wanted to chat with us. Very strange....
We left Bangkok this morning but not without having had a busy few days there. Vanessa shopped like a champ and I shopped vicariously through her. I hate not being able to buy stuff, but I also hate carrying 30 kilos in my pack. We drank Long Island vino and watched a pirated Return of the King. We're such LOSERS but at least Vanessa has sunken to my level. She quotes the movies as well now. In fact, she noticed that Thai writing looks like "some form of Elvish." Errr.... um.....
I've been practicing with the new camera and some stuff is cool about it, and some stuff confuses the shit out of me. As soon as I can download, I will post some pics.
Tomorrow we head out to Pretchburi to visit a few temples, and then on to southern Thailand and the beaches. Shocking for the Mayer sisters, I know.
"Well," Sam said, "I'm back."
The Return of the King
There were some snags, interrogations, and a huge breakfast buffet, but I'm back home in Eugene now. It's 2:45pm; I woke up an hour ago. I'm still a bit tired, but mainly just shocked to have gone from a sunny tropical island to 40°F weather accompanied by clouds and drizzle. Ah, that Oregon winter sunshine...
It's been a dramatic past couple of days. I've been grilled by Thais about my passport: "It looks very worn. Do you have other ID?" I show my driver's license and 2 bank cards with photos. "These are all the same picture!" "No, that shirt has a collar. This one doesn't." "Oh, I see."
U.S. Customs searched my bags, no biggie in and of itself, but I do wonder why it was necessary to try to ascertain if I had employment. I erred on the side of nice, but inside I kept thinking, "I'm an American citizen. If I want to temp, save my money and then bugger off for 3 months to Asia with my sweetie, that's my damn right. Do you have a problem with that?" Perhaps it would've lead to a latex-glove encounter that I'd prefer not to have, or perhaps it would've been a good point to make.
Once through that, the line for Alaska Airlines customer service would've wrapped around a city block. Portland airport was closed due to some ice and crazy winter storms. I went straight to the payphones, and my travel insurance was a bunch of stars. They sorted out a flight to Eugene for the next afternoon (no charge), and I stayed the night at the airport Marriott, being as lazy as could be. I watched HBO, raided the breakfast buffet, and gorged on hot showers.
I also marveled at being able to drink the tap water again, and to be able to flush the TP down the toilet. It's the little things that amaze you most when you get back.
My friends Jon and Doug met me at Eugene airport, and promptly dragged me into the bar, kicking, screaming and drooling for Deschutes Jubilale. I'm drinking microbrew again. At last.
I'm also shivering. Granted, 40°F isn't that cold, but it is when not even a week ago you were on a tropical island!
It's weird being back, but it's also good. I've got things to do. Like see about going to Tibet in April with Claudia. We'll see what happens. This'll probably be my last post till then. Hope you enjoyed my odd ramblings; it's been an awesome 3 months. But for now, back to you, Claudia.
Sorry Mom, had to write it. Vanessa is here safe and sound. She rolled in last night around 12:30, right on time. We stayed up whispering in the dark for hours.
We both seem to have the same draw for mosquitos and they feasted on us big time. I slathered myself in DEET, but they got the 1 cm on my foot that I missed and bit 6 times, the bastards.
Today, we spent the day today seeing Wat Po and also revisiting Jim Thompson's house. I will upload pictures from my new snazzy dig cam soon.
Vanessa is really jetlagged so we'll have a laid back night of drooling at Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn) while we watch a pirated Return of the King and drink Long Island wine.
Another record moment in Mayer history... Vanessa and I will BOTH don bikinis and go swimming. I know, insanity. Wait till we get to the beach.
Mom, call Joey and tell him to email V.
Yes, I'm in Bangkok, AGAIN.
It's been a nice quiet few days though. With Ant leaving, things got hectic to make sure he had everything I wanted to send back, and then some. Poor guy will kill me to know that the day after he left, DHL began a special to ship 10 kilos to the States for less than $95. If I just hung on to my stuff he'd have a much less sore back....
Anyway, after he left I was sad and quiet for a while, but also renewed because I had a greater travel challenge again. I had no one to nag me about drinking water. If I dehydrate, there's no one to mix me a horrid mixture of 6 teaspoons sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt. I also have to keep my own books, which is going to pain me. I hate writing down everytime I buy a water or hop on the Skytrain. I have to be super independent again. Rock on.
To assert my new independence, I decided to go do a chore I had been dreading, changing my flights. After Ant's ordeals in India to change his flights, I figured there were going to be consultations (calling of main offices to check "info"), fees, and fare increases because I was moving my flight back to almost 1 year from when the ticket was issued, June 25.
I walked into China Airlines with a knot in my stomach and my credit card in my pocket. A very well spoken woman offered me a seat and asked what I needed. I explained I had a flight for May 4th, but could I move it back?
"How much do you want to push it back?" she replied.
"Errr... as much as I can?"
"Well, the ticket was issued on June 25, 2003. Does June 23, 2004 work? That way if something goes wrong, you have a 2 day buffer."
Wow, this woman is on the ball. She checks the availability and I wait for the scary fare change (from a May ticket to a June, which is usually more expensive) but when she saw my disbelief she used the term you hear all over Asia, "same same." I wanted to kiss her. Now I only had to worry about a change fee from United Airlines and those pesky buggers LOVE to charge you for picking your nose onboard. After conferring with her manager the woman told me because I am changing my flight through China Airlines, there was no fee for the United flight either!!!
My day was made. Within 15 minutes I was in possession of a June 23, 2004 ticket from Bangkok to Portland, Oregon. Woo-hoo!!
My second chore of the day was to drop off the last of my slide film. I have converted to the digital devil and my new camera arrives tonight with my sister, Vanessa. When I got the film back a few hours later, I doubted my choice because some of my Chiang Mai photos are outstanding. I can't imagine the colors I got out of Kodak Ektachrome 100VS film being duplicated by digital, but we shall see. I'll definately need to acquire a polarizer though, because it does wonders on the Thai clouds. They look like massive cottonballs. I'm nervous yet excited to see how my new camera does.
My third goal for the day was to find a pirated "Return of the King" DVD for my brother. No such luck. None of the vendors seemed to want to trust me because I'm sure they all had it. Ahh well.
With so much accomplished yesterday, I decided to attempt a "tourist" day. I dropped by the Jim Thompson House on Ant's recommendation. It was so freakin' cool and I should have waited for Vanessa. It's the epitome of what I think of when I think of traditional Thai art; teak wood, sensual statues, subtle architecture. They have ponds with huge fish and manta rays mixed into a small little jungle-like garden. You really do forget that crazy Bangkok is right outside the gates!
My plan for the rest of the day is to lounge around, find something to read, and get some street food, such as things on sticks and yummy buns/ dumplings. Mmmmmmmmm.........
Soon Ant leaves, to be promptly replaced by my sister, Vanessa.
It should be interesting to see the difference in travel with each one of them. Ant is a generally laid back person, while Vanessa is hyper-ish. I suspect things will be much faster paced, and fair enough as V only has 2 weeks.
Even more strange will be the return to solo travel when I hit Malaysia on Jan 21st. I think it will be a good mix though.
These last few days are chill days, time for me and Claudia to relax. We aren't up for long bus rides to other parts of Thailand, and there's not much else around this region that we're really gung ho about seeing. We also don't want to head back to Bangkok sooner than necessary, especially since Claudia will be there for a while once her sister arrives. So we're staying put in Trat.
We've wandered the streets and markets, relaxed in cafes and geeked out a lot. Claudia found a new pair of flip-flops, as her Tevas have been annoying her more and more. At the night market we also found the best fried chicken I've ever had. Crispy, moist, with a hint of garlic in the batter... and 50 cents for a breast large enough for me and Claudia to chow down on.
We also found a certain something I'd been on the lookout for. Trat is famous for a yellow herbal oil that's made by a local woman. I'd been curious to try it, especially to see if it might help the dry skin problem that I often have with my arms. We found a pharmacy that sold it for 80 baht ($2) a bottle. It works for damn near anything, from rashes to bug bites to joint pain. And it's doing wonders on my arms. I think I may have to buy more. Claudia and I have nicknamed it "tingle juice" for the sensation it gives when you put it on.
Otherwise, we're just enjoying each other's company, eating yummy food and drinking delicious coffee. It's a good way to spend my last few days, just hanging out, talking about the now and the later, and just being together for a little while longer.
Reluctantly, mind you, since Ko Chang was beautiful, chill, and had enough activities, chill-out time and excellent seafood to just about make me an expat.
Now we are going to relax for a while. Catch up on email, check flights (well, I am, anyway), and enjoy our last few days together. I'm also going to try to snag a few souvenirs, not all of which, believe it or not, will be alcoholic.
It'll be good to head back to Oregon, but hard to leave Asia and Claudia.
I'm just glad to have taken this trip it's been 3 of the most incredible months of my life, and here's to making a good last few days.
We haven't written in ages. We've been too busy enjoying our stay on the island of Ko Chang, in Trat Province, Thailand.
We decided on Ko Chang randomly after I was uninterested in our original destination of Kanchanaburi. We caught a 5 hour bus to Trat (or Trad depending on who's doing the spelling) and wound up in a great little guesthouse, The Windy Guesthouse. For $3 a night (that's for both of us) we were able to hang around and bump into some Scots we met back in Sukhothai, Caroline and Neil. They had just come from Ko Chang and raised our expectations of the island.
We were initially going to start with Ko Maak, because well, I went to school at Commack Schools and I thought it would be funny. However, because it was so close to New Years, many places were booked up. Fair enough. So we went back to the idea of Ko Chang, the main island. We caught the ferry and then caught a share taxi down to the south of the island. Ant had read about a few bungalow/hut places in the Bang Bao region. That didn't quite work out, but we did get a basic place at Jungle Hut down the road a bit. It wasn't really how I wanted to spend my New Years but we decided to go exploring. And were we glad we did....
About .5k down the super windy road we found a resort called The Mangrove. It's a brand new place owned by a Thai woman and managed by a French girl. We asked to see a room, and were told the price was 700B/night. That's about $17.50. It's more than we spent anywhere, but the place was SOOOOOOO worth it. In fact, we were quoted the wrong price, it was actually 900B ($22.50) but the owner stuck to the original price, which was honorable of her.
For the rest of the day we went to an herbal sauna. You basically hang out, get sweaty in sweet smelling herbal steam, then run into the cool mountain water shower. After a few times of doing this, we got some milk and tamarind which we mushed into a paste and painted our bodies with. Very relaxing for $2!!
Anywho, the next day we moved into our palace. The whole place was built with natural materials, all wood and stone. We spent a few days lazing around doing pretty much nothing except playing in the water. And then Ant made my life hell.
Kayaking seemed like a harmless idea. It really does. Unless that is you are going with some experienced Thais and a farang who sticks you in the back to do all the grunt work while going against the tide!!! On the way to this remote beach, I felt like my arms were on fire after 15 minutes. I just kept reminding Anthony how much I hated him. Finally, after an hour plus of paddling my ASS off, we get to a pretty private beach. I just wanted to die, I was so tired. After a rest we headed off again, back to the small village we came from. Ant kept saying how fun all the kayaking was, but I'm still not convinced.
What I am convinced of though is the fact that I do now enjoy a beach experience. There are several key factors though.
1. The beach needs to be sparsely populated.
2. A short walk to the water (as in not too much sand).
3. Warm water with stuff to look at while snorkelling.
Hence when we overheard a group of Seattlites planning to rent a boat to go out to some more remote islands, we asked if we could tag along. With that, we met up with Bill, Matt, Christine, Elizabeth, Erica, and Alison. Unfortunately, Alison and Erica had had a motorbike accident which ended up with them having 3rd degree burns on their calves and I felt bad when we all jumped in the water with snorkelling gear and they were stuck on the boat. They were troopers about it though.
So, we swam and snorkelled. I got to see rainbow fish, sea cucumbers, sea spikey things, and all things Finding Nemo-like. Brain corals and shimmery fish were all over and I could have spent hours floating around. It was great.
I even acquired a bit of color. Yes, it's true.