A smattering of pictures from the trip compiled from our Picasaweb albums for a 1 hour photo presentation.
- 163 Days
- 53 Cities (actually spent the night in)
- 23 Countries
- ~ 31,000 Miles
- 1 Marriage proposal (and 1 acceptance)!
A smattering of pictures from the trip compiled from our Picasaweb albums for a 1 hour photo presentation.
Big news (well, at least it's big for us): For those who don't know, Mike asked me to marry him while we were in Thailand. It was perfect, on the beach at sunset (picture below taken about 15 minutes before he asked) and of course, I said yes.
We traveled from Kuala Lumpur to Melaka, Malaysia on the 9th. Melaka is a port town that was taken over by the Portuguese in the 1500's, the Dutch in the 1600's, the British in the 1800's and the Japanese during WWII. Luckily, it's been a part of Malaysia (and unoccupied) since 1948.
We walked around in the blazing heat, looking at some of the remnants of the Portuguese and Dutch occupations, like the gate of a Portuguese fort that was built from the ruins of demolished mosques and sultans' palaces. The old town center featured dark red buildings, a church and a nice fountain, all very Dutch-esque in Malaysia. There were also many cyclos (bicycle taxis), all of them covered with flowers and streamers, and most sporting stereos with speakers under the seats. They cruise around town, blaring all sorts of tunes, blending together into a sort of cyclo-racket. After a brief walk through Chinatown (brief because every shop was closed), we retired for the night.
Back to Chinatown the next day, this time by a different route. We walked by a shop that had chili pepper drying under a fan on the floor. I stopped to take a picture, and we talked a bit with the shop owner who told me to go ahead and take the picture and gave us each a handful of his peppers to smell. This gentleman is one of the many nice Malaysians we'd met, many of them saying "Welcome to Malaysia" and waving as they saw us walking. At a shop down the road a bit, we purchased a few pieces of Chinese art. The artist happened to be biking by the shop as we looked at his work, so he stopped in and introduced himself, telling us a bit about his art. He invited us to his workshop after, where we happily went and looked but didn't purchase any paintings. They were very bright and some quite nice, but we did not want to deal with shipping/carrying a framed piece of art for another week. We finished the day with a bit more shopping, trying to get gifts for some people and a couple of souvenirs for ourselves.
The next day, we took care of some internetting in the morning and then made our way to the Museum of Enduring Beauty. This museum featured exhibits on the lengths and pains (word play of "enduring") that people of different cultures go to to be "beautiful". Some examples were lip plates, brass neck rings, corsets, ear stretching-earrings, tattoos, scarification, and skeleton-shaping. It was an interesting reminder about how absurd and powerful "beauty" can be, even though it means sometimes entirely different things to different people. Dinner that evening was Baba Nyonya, from the early Chinese who inhabited the area and assimilated with the Malaysians long ago. Our chicken, mushrooms, and potatoes in a spicy brown sauce was simple and tasty. I bought what I thought was a cool dessert at the front counter, which turned out to be large chunks of compressed brown sugar. Not so tasty.
The Maritime Museum was up for the next day. Inside of a giant re-creation of a Dutch sail ship, the museums featured a lot of history about the region, the trading that occurred there, many model ships, and even exhibits on famous sailors. We shopped for some more gifts after, finding some interesting coconut cookies that tasted good but had the consistency of Tums.
Photos from Melaka
The next day we boarded a bus for Singapore. As some of you may know, Singapore is known for it's draconian laws forbidding everything from chewing gum to not flushing a public toilet. Immigration was very formal, with guys with machine guns walking around and the immigration officer being the first of our trip to ask us for proof of how and when we'd leave Singapore (our flight confirmation page was at the bottom of my backpack and took a long time to get to). We settled down in the first hotel we came to, which was very expensive and run by a fascist old lady (signs on the door saying "No showing of rooms before renting" and "We are not responsible if we lose your passport"). After dropping our bags, we scouted out 4 other hotels/hostels in hopes of finding something better, and booked a room for the next night.
We took the subway into the city center and walked into the heart of the skyscrapers in the financial district. Singapore is a very clean, very modern city. It looked as though we were downtown in any big US city, with fancy suits and Porsches passing us and we walked along in our backpacker garb. At the waterfront, we saw the Merlion statue. The Merlion was designed by the Singapore Tourism board in the 60's, and features the head of a lion and the body of a mermaid. For some reason, it is still an attraction. On our walk back towards the subway, we passed the Espalada performance center, two giant buildings that look a lot like gold balls from afar. At the Long Bar, birthplace of the Singapore Sling, we sat down amongst a bunch of other tourists. The waiter came up and asked "Two Singapore Slings?" and we said yes, a little wierded out by how touristy this place was. We drank our drinks, turned down another round, and then got the bill. $22 (US) EACH for a drink, the most I've paid in my entire life! Later that night, we walked to the bus station where we were supposed to meet a bus driver who was bringing Emily's phone with him (we'd left it in the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia, and the guesthouse had helped set up this delivery). After an hour of waiting, we checked around and found out the the bus wasn't coming that night, and called the guesthouse to find out that they'd meant TOMORROW evening.
We went to the Singapore Art Museum the next morning. It was a nice museum with a large exhibit by a Chinese artist Feng Zhengjie. These paintings were huge (some 10 feet tall) and kind of disconcerting with the few bright colors and diverging eyes. At lunch in some locals cafe, I tried "homemade barley drink" which turned out to be something like sweetened soy milk, not what I thought it might be. We went to the Botanic Gardens, a huge park filled with trails, lakes, tens of thousands of plants and flowers. It was a nice place to sit and relax a bit. We learned that due to a landslide, the bus with Em's phone wouldn't be coming that evening either.
To combat jet lag upon return to the states, we decided to get up one hour earlier every day for the last 6 days, ending with us up at 4am for our 7am international flight from Singapore airport. We were up at 5:45, accidentally sleeping-in past our 5am alarm for our second to last day. We went to Chinatown, which wasn't a lot of fun. We were both tired, I was starting to feel sick, and every stall featured the same junk with the same shop-owner hassling you to buy something while following you around their store as if you were going to steal all their over-priced shit. We did walk by a couple of Chinese pharmacies with 100's of glass jars behind the counter featuring everything from horns to herb to flowers. Back in Little India, we had a spicy lunch with Ethiopian-like bread at a sidewalk restaurant, and then walked around a few shops. That evening, the bus carrying Em's phone showed up 2 hours late, and we dragged our tired bodies back to the hotel.
Photos from Singapore
Up at 4am on the 17th. We flew to Tokyo at 7am, had a 3 hour layover there, and then flew to San Francisco. Our anti-jet lag idea seemed to help, as we were out cold around 8pm on the flight and got a decent night's rest. In San Fran, we cleared customs with a little hassling (the customs officer didn't believe me that we'd been gone for 6 months and I only had $50 worth of stuff to declare) and then flew to Salt Lake City. The trip had finally come full circle, we'd made it around the world!
We are headed to Singapore today, our last and final destination. We fly from Singapore to Tokyo, Japan then to San Francisco and finally land in Salt Lake City. Our travels home, with flights and layovers, should take us around 23 hours-yuck. Check back in a couple weeks to see our posts on the rest of Malaysia, Singapore, and some sort of trip summary.
We took the boat from Koh Lipe, Thailand a couple of hours south to Lang Kawi, Malaysia. After clearing immigration, we found a taxi driver who took us to a cheap hotel a little way from the pier. We walked into town after dinner, looking for something to do, but didn't find much else than Duty Free shops. If we had needed to stock up on booze or cigarettes, we would have been in the right place.
The next morning, we walked back to the pier and bought a boat ticket to Kuala Kedah, which we couldn't find on a map but were told was on the mainland and was also the quickest way for us to move south into the Cameron Highlands. A 1.5 hour boat ride, a taxi ride, and a 4 hour bus ride later and we were in Ipoh, Malaysia, a travel crossroads town. We booked a room over the phone and then took a late bus the remaining 2.5 hours into Tanah Rata in the center of the Cameron Highlands. The Highlands are in the center of the Malaysian peninsula and located (not too surprisingly) in the mountains. The bus ride from Ipoh to Tanah Rata was beautiful, creeping our way up a windy road cut in the mist-covered peaks of one of the greenest areas I've ever seen. Surrounding the towns in the Highlands, there were large greenhouses illuminated from within by their grow lights in the black night. The climate is much more temperate than the coast's heat and humidity, something that I was happy about.
Our first morning in the Highlands, we left on our "Countryside Tour" booked the evening before. First stop was a large, Chinese Buddhist temple. Nice, but been there done that. Next, a rose garden that featured more types of flowers than I've ever seen, including much more than just roses (Em shocked me by knowing many of the names of the flowers, I had no idea she was such a plant nerd). A strawberry farm was our third stop, where we were allowed to walk amongst some plants (and NO PICKING signs) before being led to a site to buy jam, fresh berries, drinks, etc. We settled on some fresh strawberry-covered ice-cream. The next stop (the one I was most excited to see) was the Sungei Palas Tea plantation, one of the plantations of the BOH tea company, the largest in Malaysia. The company is owned by a Scottish family that planted the first tea plants there in 1929, and is still harvesting them. Tea plants live for about 120 years, producing leaves to harvest only 2 years after sprouting, and the leaves are harvested every 3 weeks! Growing up on a wheat farm, I thought that this sounded like a money in the bank crop. I'm just not sure if North Dakota's climate is suitable. We took a short tour of the tea factory, and then stepped out onto a viewing platform/tea cafe where one could look out over the lush green tea plant-covered hills, and take a photo or 5. A butterfly farm was next on the tour. Having many different insects/snakes/lizards/birds/beetles in addition to butterflies, it was interesting. We saw insects that look exactly like thin tree branches and others that look exactly like dead tree leaves. The last stop was a bee farm, which was kind of lame but a chance of extra revenue (in honey bought) for the local economy. With the tour now ended, we went into town and looked around for a bit. I decided (okay, Emily recommended and then I decided) that I should get a hair cut. The older gentleman sat me down, put the towel and cape around me, picked up his clippers and, without asking me a thing, started clipping the sides! I was a little disconcerted, as I like to talk to my barber for a bit beforehand (get the game-plan established, if you will) and this guy didn't work that way. But I just let him go with it. He grabbed his scissors for cutting the top and started clipping them constantly and aggressively (like Edward Scissorhands), slowing down the clipping as he brought them to my head to actually remove hair. Five minutes after he'd started, he set down the scissors and started taking off the cape. I asked him to cut the top a bit shorter, which he did, then straight-razored my neck, and we were done. It looked pretty good and only cost about $2.50, so I was pleased.
The next day we decided to go for a jungle/mountain hike. We suited up (okay, just grabbed a jacket and some water) and walked to the edge of town. Another 0.5 km down a paved trail, and we were standing at Robinson Falls, a nice jungle waterfall. Then we reached the trailhead for our real hike. About 2 km of (sometimes) near vertical, scrambling with all fours over vine, tree, and root hiking followed with the end result being the top of Gunung Beremban (at 1812, 1840, or 1850 meters above sea level, depending on which source you are reading). That afternoon, we booked a bus to Kuala Lumpur for the following morning and occupied ourselves around town.
Photos from Tanah Rata
After a 4 hour bus ride, we arrived in Kuala Lumpur (KL, as the locals call it). We quickly found a cheap and okay guesthouse (with the help of a tout who also works there) and got settled in. Since we were in the old section of town, we walked to Merdeka square, a park-like site of diplomatic importance to the British (from when they colonized Malaysia) and to the Malaysians, when they lowered the Union Jack from the flag pole in 1957 and replaced it with their own flag to symbolize their independence. Around the square are many old buildings, reflecting the architecture of the various groups controlling Malaysia throughout the years. We walked south to the National Mosque, a large grounds with interesting Muslim architecture, fountains and a nice courtyard. Islam is the official religion of Malaysia, but "limited" religious freedom for the people is called out in the constitution. Continuing on, we found the historic train station (also nice and Muslim-influenced) and made our way to Chinatown. We passed the oldest Hindu temple in KL and then went into Petaling Street, a crowded mess of booths and salespeople trying to hawk fake handbags, watches and t-shirts. A bit of walking around and an iced-coffee later (have I mentioned how hot and humid it is here?), and the day was over.
Our morning the next day was spent trying to cancel my checkcard over the internet. I'd found out that someone had found the emergency $100 cash and card I'd hidden in a "secret" pocket of my backpack. The checkcard was still there, but the cash had been swiped, so I figured they had the cc number as well. It took some time, but luckily the bank cancelled it. For those who haven't tried to do any banking purely online (no phone), I'll tell you that it can be a real pain in the ass. You can't usually do ANYTHING without "calling a representative during normal business hours", an option that is both incredibly difficult and incredibly expensive for us. Anyway, we then found a used bookstore and spent some time finding literature to keep us occupied for the next 2 weeks. After, we jumped on the subway and went to the Petronas Towers, the tallest twin towers in the world. Pretty fancy, and with a nice sittin' pond/park behind them. The next thing to see was Little India, which I'd personally compare to KL's Chinatown but with less people, less junk (fake Louis Vuitton bags, etc.), less pushy salespeople and lot more bright-colored cloth. We took the Light Rail to the north end of town for something to do, snapped a few pictures, and then took it back to the guesthouse. Dinner that evening was at a Muslim Indian restaurant that was listed in the guidebook as a good bet. Surprisingly, they didn't have an English menu (surprisingly because most restaurants listed in the book are filled with English-speaking tourists, and our book is at least a year if not 2 or 3 old) so we picked a couple of slightly-familiar sounding dishes (written in Malaysian) and ate. It turned out to be pretty tasty.
The next day we jumped on a bus to Melaka, Malaysia.
Photos from Kuala Lumpur
It took a longtail boat ride, two mini bus rides, a tuk tuk, a 2 hour speed boat, and then another long tail and more than 24 hours later, we were finally on the island of Lipe. Lipe is a tiny island of about 500 people in the Andaman Sea recommended to us by a friend we met in Laos named Kathrin. She found Lipe and ended up unintentionally spending the rest of her trip here. We found a little bungalow about 5 minutes from the beach and immediatly went for a swim in the shallow, blue waters. We found some really good BBQ that night where we sat on mats in the sand with little tables and lanterns above our heads and the waves crashing as background music. After this, we enjoyed a couple beers at another beachside place. On this little island, almost everything is beachside (and a bit more expensive than some of the rest of Thailand).
The next morning, we were back on the beach, playing in the water and enjoying the sun. After a couple hours of this, Mike was completly bored and sought out some snorkeling gear. Tossing masks and snorkels on, we went exploring. It was amazing! There was so much to see just a few feet from the beach. There were many kinds of fish, sea anemones, sea urchins, all of varying sizes and colors. The only downside was our defective snorkeling equipment. Our masks and snorkels leaked. For a while, we thought we were just slow to learn how to snorkel, because we could not keep the snorkels clear for more than a couple minutes at a time. After an hour and a half of this, we decided to call it quits. It was really more work than it was worth. We ate delicious seafood for dinner, fried fish and squid soup and then stopped at another beachside bar for a drink.
After breakfast the next morning, we hiked through a bit of the jungle to get to another beach where we rented snorkeling equipment from a dive shop. It was a huge difference! The equipment worked and it worked well! We swam out to an island (we also rented fins this time) and snorkelled round. Again, the views were spectacular. It was cheaper than diving and no risk of ear infections! The only downside was the "stings" or "bites" that we felt every few minutes. Something off this island caused a biting sensation but left no marks. It was very strange. We swam back in and had lunch and then it was a long walk down the beach in order to get to another island. The scenery here was also really great with no biting animals in the water. On the water side of the little island, where we couldn't see Lipe island, the ocean floor really veered downward so you could not see the bottom. It was a black abyss and for some unreasonable reason, very creepy. Complete nothingness... Other than this, snorkeling was a great experience. We swam back, grabbed our stuff, and found an easier path back to the beach we were staying on. Along the way, we passed a local girl selling homemade ice cream out of a little cart. There were other locals in line and they all suggested we get some ice cream. We did and it was really good. She shapes it in rectangles and covers the rectangle with paper. When it is ready to be served, she cuts a slice off, puts a stick in it, and unwraps the paper. Pretty nifty and only 35 cents a piece. Mike had banana flavor (even though this ice cream was green) and mine was mango (purple ice cream). Back at the room, we showered and took a bit of a nap. I woke up first and decided that I was going to try and name all 50 states just for fun. 15 minutes into my game, Mike woke up, wondering what I was doing. It took another 5 or 10 minutes before he was curious enough to give it a whirl. And so we spent the next 20 or so minutes trying to write out the state names. By some miracle, I was able to come up with 50 names and Mike gave up with 6 left to go. You know, just a fun way to kill some time :) Everyone should try. We had dinner and drinks on the beach and managed to catch a couple guys twirling fire sticks. Mike got some really great pictures of this.
After breakfast, we rented a kayak to do some more exploring of this little island. We got the kayak in the water and took off. It was a little skittish and uncooperative, as far as kayaks go, but we thought we would get it figured out. We found a little secluded beach that was cool but sad because it was filled with garbage. We did see some lizards and hermit crabs doing their thing here. We kayaked on and found another beach with a small bar on it and enjoyed a coke before kayaking back. On our way back, the kayak was worse than ever. It refused to go in a straight line, it seemed to only want to go in circles. So we spent the entire time "fixing" it from wanting to spin in one direction and then another. On more than one occasion, we were so frustrated with it, we just let the damn thing spin. And it nearly spun in a complete circle. There were also several times where one or the other of us beat the kayak with a paddle and swore at it a bit, just to encourage it along. I seriously considered getting out and swimming and then towing the kayak behind me. That is how big a piece of crap this thing was. It would have been better to fill it with water and let it sink. I wouldn't have rented that kayak again if the company paid me! There was some more beach time after this and then the dinner and banana crepes for dessert. We also bought a boat ticke to LangKawi, Malaysia, where we headed the afternoon of the next day.
Photos from Ko Lipe, Thailand HERE.
We finally uploaded some photos from Emily's camera taken in Phuket and Hat Ton Sai, Thailand. Take a look HERE.
I realized that I haven't posted anything about my father and his recovery from heart surgery. From the news I get through email, Dad is doing well. He is a bit sick of sitting around the house, so he started going to work for a half-day to keep his sanity. Once again, thanks for your well wishes to him during his surgery and keep him in mind as he recuperates from it. Dad, if I've got anything wrong or you want to say anything, comment on this.
We are in Malaysia for the next 1.5 weeks, then in Singapore for a few days. Then, the U.S.