It seems absolutely incredible that less than a month ago, we were waking up before the sun, dressing in too many layers to count, becoming more psychotic with each passing minute, pulling beard after beard, as we toiled away in our respective mussel factories. And now what are we doing? Sometimes waking up before the sun, simply to enjoy the spectacular sunrise. Slathering on sunscreen and donning our swim suits. The hardest decisions we are faced with are if we are going to take our leisurely stroll before or after breakfast. And perhaps the best of all, there is no chance to inadvertently fill any company car with petrol instead of diesel.
We spent two weeks in Indonesia. By any other standard, two weeks in a given country on vacation seems like plenty of time. But there is just so much to do, numerous places to go, and almost too many experiences to be had. We spent a week in Sanur, lounging on the beach, eating as much local food as we could stomach, and making every excuse for a massage. Yes, of course the "exertion" of an hour-long meandering stroll definitely deserves a 90-minute traditional Balinese massage.
But after a week at Keke Homestay, we dragged ourselves away to Ubud where we stayed in the equally charming Jati Homestay. Ubud, for those of you who aren't exactly privy to Indonesian geography, is about an hour inland, and one of the three destinations for Elizabeth Gilbert/Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love. Beyond this, it is home to the Sacred Monkey Forest, banana pancakes, yoga studios, numerous traditional Balinese dance performances, and many, many artists -- both expatriates and locals. In fact our very own Jati Homestay is owned by Jati himself and it part homestay, part art gallery. In our time here, we happened upon the funeral/cremation of a young man from the royal family in Ubud. This was a spectacular event, and I can only hope that my own funeral is half as spectacular. I fully expect to have a giant horse in which I am placed and set on fire...please keep that in mind for future reference.
Between the scenery, the monkeys, and the surplus of avocado shakes, it is easy to see why so many artists find inspiration here and settle down in a long-term fashion. Although Dennis has more experience and perhaps more credibility on the matter, Ubud seems to be the most San Francisco place I have seen abroad. Every other store front offers raw, vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, carb-free, sugar-free, (delicious-free?) food, yoga, art galleries, or organic linens. All in all, it was a beautiful place, and the monkeys just made it even better.
From Bali, we flew to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where we spent two nights near Petaling Road in Chinatown and perused through knockoffs of everything you could imagine. Nikes, Ray-Bans, PSPs, iPods, Chanel purses. Need a drone-like helicopter that also takes photos? Well, they've got that too. Kuala Lumpur is a huge city with construction sites in every direction as far as the eye can see. In a scavenger hunt for a yellow fever inoculation that Dennis needed for the next big leg of our trip, we visited three different clinics/hospitals before we were directed to the Petronas towers, what were previously the tallest buildings in the world until 2004. With the shot in his arm and the paperwork we needed in our moneybelts, we grabbed our backpacks and made our way to Sentral train station where we hopped on an overnight train to Butterworth.
The thing about traveling on the cheap as a backpacker is that transportation can be (is usually) uncomfortable, long, and happens at inconvenient times. Our train left at 9:30 pm and didn't arrive until 5:30 am. Ugh. Then a short ferry across the sea, arriving in Georgetown, the supposed reputable "food capital" of Southeast Asia, at 6:30ish in the morning. One thing to take note of is that it is HOT in Malaysia. I mean, not just hot. But like, real friggin' humid. To walk around in the heat is a struggle, but to do it with your bags full of everything you have needed and will need for this extended trip is somewhat miserable. It is on this trip from Kuala Lumpur to Georgetown that we made our firm decision to:
1. Travel between places as infrequently as possible
2. Never own so much stuff again in our lives
3. Be rich someday (soon) (like maybe tomorrow) so that we can hire sherpas to carry our bags for us
I think these are very reasonable and attainable future goals. Please don't argue with me otherwise.
Georgetown is a small little island, and although it is smack dab in the middle of Southeast Asia, visually it is so very different from any of the surrounding areas. Of course there are temples, courtyards, and generally very Asian looking architecture, but because of her past of being an influential post for the British East India Trading company, many of the buildings in Georgetown are colonial in appearance. If you were to mysteriously wake up in Georgetown, the only clues to help you figure out you weren't in Europe would be the humidity and the obvious presence of the lady-boys.
The supposed big draw to Georgetown is the food. There are street carts on top of street carts, a much cheaper version of any American carnival, but instead of fried oreos and foot-long hot dogs, there is pad thai, mini octopus skewers, pineapple fried rice, and juices from all sorts of alien-looking fruits. On the Travel Channel, Anthony Bourdain even does an entire episode on Georgetown, eating much more dried smelly fish than I would ever let pass my lips. Everything considered, there is some superb cart food here, but there is great cart food everywhere else we've been in Southeast Asia. I personally don't understand what all the hype is about, and wouldn't necessarily recommend Georgetown as a must-do. If you're in the area, of course you should see it, but it's nothing to go out of your way for.
After three nights in Georgetown, we hopped back on the ferry and boarded our partially overnight train at 2:30pm, stopped for an hour or so at the Thailand boarder for our visas, and arrived in Chumphon at the lovely hour of 2:30am. Twelve hours you say? That's easy! THEN, we waited around for the ticket offices to open and purchased our bus and ferry tickets to Koh Tao. This was not so difficult, but included a lot of waiting around and being herded like cattle on and off different modes of transportation, finally arriving on the island of Koh Tao around 11:00am, and about 24 hours after we had last had a room to call our own. Like I said about traveling on the cheap as backpackers... We purposefully scheduled an extra day on Koh Tao to recover from our long and exhausting journey before we started our OPEN WATER SCUBA DIVING COURSE.
To be continued...