Japan: The sprawling metropolis that is more like 23 individual cities within one that is integrated through a vast and efficient network of trains and busses. Aestheticly one of the most pleasant places on my travels. Everything is in order and is clean and presentable, almost to a godly level as even the wild plants are groomed better than I am. The people are polite and helpful but I have also noticed that English is not as commonly spoken as anticipated when arriving in such an international city, but managing is not difficult. The food is of another world. Sushi (and im talking about REAL authentic sushi) and ramen noodles have been my staple for the week spent venturing the area and have exceeded all expectations. Leaving will not be easy but my wallet will rejoice as it is one of the most expensive places in the world to be a tourist in. But through couch surfing I have budgeted well and have an amazing host who opens up his house and community to me with tons of information on how to have frugal fun. It has been amazing to say the least.
Singapore was an amazing three days. The couch surfing network has yielded some of its finest members that became my guides, photographers, benefactors, but most of all dear friends. After arriving from Malaysia by bus I spent my first day wandering the streets of little India, Chinatown, and Arab street: visiting local mosques and temples, as well as the thieves markets in between that have their blankets spread out with a diverse array of random goods.
My host Jacky, a well to do cardiac nurse, opened up his family home to me as a brother and truly enlivened my Singapore stay. For my first full day after a long due mattress sleep I attended my first Chinese wedding, a good friend of Jacky’s which like most wedding drags on longer than planned, but made up for it with some delicious catered reception food.
Afterwards I toured the city with Janel, another cs friend, visiting marina bay sands, the Singapore flyer and esplanade, as well as the helix bridge and Merlin park. To top off the day we went to the southernmost point in continental Asia on Sentosa island and lounged on the beach while enjoying the best, and I mean best chocolate ice cream ever, made by a chain called Absolutely Chocolate. After being a beach bum for the past month I was finally able to explore the nightlife, heading to a popular club and dancing the night away.
My final day I was joined by my two new friends to the botanical garden which provided us with the perfect atmosphere for a picnic in the park. I was then blessed to have the opportunity to join Jacky to his weekly family dinner at his grandmothers house attended by all his aunties, uncles and cousins. On the menu: chicken curry with a mango desert. His Punjab heritage brought me all the way back to north India, my first home on this grand adventure. After a last goodbye beer with Janel, and some more chocolate ice cream, I had to say adios to the busy and bustling city/country of Singapore, a place where memories were made and friendships created.
Melaka, my last stop in Malaysia was quite the delight. A fellow couch surfer Jerry put me up for the night, and acted as a personal tour and gastronomic guide to the culturally diverse port city. Melaka was colonized by just about everyone so their heritage sites and food diversity is off the charts, too much to see and taste for just one day but we tried our best.
We ventured around trying everything from chicken rice balls and gula Melaka to steamed stingray and squid spoiled upon us by a nice couple descendant of the Portuguese. We finished the night along the canals where giant lizards bob their heads as they swim around looking for fish. The next day my bus took me all the way to Singapore, still full from my food tour from the night before.
My move to Port Dickson has been wonderful. The train to Seremban was quite painless and only a short bus ride away from Port Dickson. The local police just south at Batu 4 have allowed me to camp out in front of their station that happens to be just across the street from the beach where I have been bathing each morning, catching the day’s first rays. The fruit here is fresh and always available. My favorite being dragonfruit, the oversized, deep pink, kiwi-like fruit that is sliced open and eaten easily with a spoon, or travel spork ;-) I feel the need now to keep moving after these three days of relaxation so tomorrow I’m hitch hiking further south to Melacca Town, a sought after travel destination and beach town.
Kuala Lupur, the capital of Malaysia is a sprawling metropolis that continues to grow. New buildings are constantly being added to the skyline with the Peteonas Twin Towers being at the center. At around 1,500ft they are the largest twin towers in history and up until 2004 were the tallest building in the world. It is here where jake said goodbye as he had to shoot down to Singapore and fly back to the states carried on the wings of love to awaiting arms. He will be dearly missed but my journey continues. I spent the rest of my time in KL partying with local and foreign couch surfers on a rooftop over looking the pristine skyline at sunset and once more in the jungle at a hot springs chalet where we BBQ’ed into the night with a full sound system and bar. After a relaxed day at the pool and ice cream on the rooftop at sunset with newly acquired friends I had to say goodbye to the lively city. I find myself now about 2 hrs south in Port Dickson where I am camped out in front of the police station across the street from the beach. Yes life is good.
The Cameron Highlands, Malaysia are great if you love strawberry farms, exotic teas, and highland jungle trekking. The tens of thousands of acres of tea plantations are hard not to notice because they are inexplicably beautiful and everywhere.
We took the 9am train from Bangkok to Hua Hin, which lies at the northern most part of the long peninsula that thailand splits with Burma, connects with Malaysia, and stops abruptly with Singapore. Which is where I’ll be ending my spring travels, Travis flies out a week later with a brief and friendly stop in Japan before he returns to a summer pool management job at a Seattle club— and it wasn’t even his major in college which goes to show how versatile a liberal arts degree can be. Bangkok was a beautiful city, and a good place to recuperate from Cambodian illnesses which tought us lessons such as; never trust a fart and don’t push too hard, also, next time I watch the exorcism, I know there is nothing supernatural about projectile vomit.
In departing Bangkok, we were in search for a more “real” thailand, because if you have not already noticed, we are realist, nostalgic for a pre-globalized world, but we will settle for simply anything that feels “Authentic”. Once off the train in Hua Hin, we found the main road that shoots down the skinny western leg of Thailand. With our thumbs in the road, we were reconnected with our travel mojo, we could feel the life of the open road, as if it were an IV dripping dirrectly into our blood stream. Once in the back of a truck, our method proved much quicker than the lethargic train, and with 120 kph air conditioning, the hot sun couldn’t keep up. whizzing past giant tour busses, and a full 360 view of the beautiful landscape, we couldn’t have been much happier as we snacked on snickers bars. We camped our first night at an emergency roadside highway center where we needed to change roads (41 to the 44) to head due west for Krabi, and our much anticipated Thai island chill-out. We arrived early the next day, where we took a ferry to Koh Yao Yai island, a place we heard was quiet and “beachy”, a great place to pitch a tent and lose track of the days. We arrived when the sun was high in the sky and with our spirits on par. We hitched down to the lower section of the island to Loh Pared Bay. We then walked south along the beach till we found our spot. We called this spot home for four days.
In that time, we cooked our own meals, hunted crab and minnows (ate crab and minnows), watch thai fishing boats off in the distance make their rounds, enjoyed many hours of reading and writing as we lounged in our homemade hammocks watching the sun set over the Andaman sea. And had many nights with a good beach fire, saying not a word, but just staring out at the far off storm clouds that stood inverted, nearly vertical in the sky, mirroring the many islands that surround us with their cliffs that rise vertical out of the sea. Soon a light drizzle would warn us, giving us a precise leeway before a monsoon took over for the majority of the night with thundering claps and much too close for comfort lightening strikes. We were living in a primal state, and at this time in our lives, it couldn’t be more apropos.
We found the “real” Thailand we were searching for, and we will forever cherish the memories and culture. From our Thai momma and sister at the restaurant down the road, that cooked our food at no charge one night and supplied us with drinking water every day - to the friendly fishermen we waved to every morning as we walked around in our birthday suits. When we parted ways with this beach, we said goodbye to Thai momma, she promptly gave us cold fresh pineapple and watermelon and two bottles of water all with a smile— the most beautiful smile with the sincerity of Thai hospitality. We hitched down and caught the ferry from Loh Chak Pier to Phuket for Sangkran festival. A festival of water, and lots of it, that celebrates the new year, it lasts three days, and we found ourselves getting buckets of water dumped on us in our full travel gear once we arrived. A refreshing reality check for a couple of realists.
Bangkok round two was a bit more enjoyable. We were able to meet up with our friends Tom and Lalita from Varanasi for a day in Chinatown and Siam square which was a delight. On Saturday, aside from having to endure a flash monsoon at the Taling Chan floating market, we spent most of our first day back wandering the massive Chatuchak market to the north and relaxing in the park observing the fully lit crematorium that has been built for the late Princess Galyani, the only daughter of King Rama VI, who passed away last year and who’s ceremony is tomorrow.
Today after climbing the Golden Mount, a Buddhist temple and centerpiece in the heart of Bangkok with a 360 degree panoramic view, we visited the Wat Ratchanatdaram Worawihan Temple next door. Actually a replica of one in India, the temple was built during the reign of Rama III and it’s architecture is so that it represents the 37 virtues leading to enlightenment. We think that it must have rubbed off on us a little ;-)
After a quick stroll through the knick-nacky Khlong Thom market, a rest in the park, and a pass through the Giant Swing we called it a day. Tomorrow our adventure will take us down the peninsula to even balmier weather and beautiful beaches. Bye bye Bangkok!