** K this is a massive update and I will have to add the photos to it later because I am just about to dash to catch our flight from Tokyo to LAX, USA!!!! But I wanted to get this last update in here before we leave Asian soil, so here we go! **
We are so overdue on an update it’s ridiculous. I’ve struggled with doing so, both for being so engrossed in the trip, and because…well, how do you follow up a post like the last one from the Killing Fields in November?
But as I sit on the plane from Kuala Lumpur to Tokyo, where TOMORROW (!!!) we’ll catch our flight HOME to the USA for the first time in almost three years, I realize today is the last chance to bring things up to speed about the trip before being on the other end of it. So, better late than too late!
Over the next many months after we get home, as we work on turning this blog into a usable website about backpacking Asia for other travelers or people interested in the region, we will retroactively fill in some of the details which really make the story worth telling. I’ve learned as a writer (perhaps as a person as well) I’m fairly all-or-nothing, which is the other thing that explains the relative dearth of posts on here as compared to the millions of things that were so worth sharing along the way.
To make up for it, I will be working on a book of stories and experiences that Asia has given (sometimes with great force!) at us these past 2 years, 9 months, and 9 days of backpacking through this incredible region. I decided a while back that will be the best forum for really sharing what we have to share in the way I can best share it. If you would like to be put on the list to be notified when the book is going to be available, you can put your email here and I will let you know!
That being said, this will just be a quick run-through of the basics of the past year or so since our last proper (or even semi-proper) catch-up, to at least round off the blog as we finish off the trip instead of leaving it awkwardly hanging back in November.
Ready? Hold on to your seats, a lot has happened! And remember, for the dirty details – of which there are plenty – sign up to buy the book!
Living in Malaysia
After the frantic and tragic days of the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster that struck Japan on March 11, 2011, where we were then doing a snowboarding season along with 12 or so other seasonnaires at our lodge, our plans were just subtly yet drastically changed. We left with our lodge friends Joel and Andy to think things over and evaluate our options (on the beach in Thailand, of course!), which is about where we left off on the last semi-proper catch-up.
We had been meant to finish the last two weeks of the season then re-up our visa with a run to Korea in time to meet my then 13-year-old cousin Sam and travel for a month or so in Japan, which would effectively kill off the rest of our savings from Tucson.
Even in addition to Japan, we still had six countries left to go on the itinerary (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia, and we had decided to add Burma to our original plan), which meant we’d have to figure out something for money. Most likely we were looking at 3-12 months working in South Korea to get our savings back up at the end of the Japan travels.
In fact, just by eliminating that month or so of travels in Japan (and its necessary visa run), that left us with enough money to finish our Southeast Asia itinerary – all six countries. Yes, it’s really that much more affordable than one month and a visa run in Japan.
But the good season to visit most of those places wasn’t until September, three months after our stint in the beach hut and subsequent travels through Malaysia for three weeks with Joel and an Arizonan friend I knew from studying abroad in Italy eight years ago, Hillary. So Ray and I decided to try to keep our current savings – enough to finish the itinerary – in tact for those three months, and try to offset the cost of living and hopefully even earn more in that time, by living somewhere cheap and doing little more than working online during that time.
We chose Malaysia because it had an easy 90-day stay for Americans, as opposed to the hoops you had to jump through for Thailand, Vietnam, or Indonesia. There was really little interest in Malaysia other than that, and it seemed reasonably inexpensive, which we both have felt bad about saying now that we’ve come to love and appreciate it so much!
Malaysia was actually a great choice, and I’m so glad we got to experience it the way we did. Now it’s Home to us, not just the quick somewhat obligatory blip on the radar for a few days or a couple of weeks, just for the sake of being part of Asia, that it might have been otherwise. The standard of living vs. cost ratio is quite possibly one of the best on Earth; certainly the best we experienced in our 19 countries we visited on this trip. The people were some of the nicest, the food some of the best, and the culture, especially where we were in Penang where there was a good mix of ethnic Malay, Chinese and southern Indian – plus a fair amount (though not overbearingly so) of expats of other nationalities, was always interesting. Living right next to the state mosque and within earshot of at least 23 others – as I was always reminded of at about 6:30am during the morning call to prayer that would ring out across the landscape ten stories below our condo every day…fortunately I was almost always awake still and it never bothered us in our room even if we weren’t – will always be one of the fondest memories and most memorable experiences of my life, not to mention the trip.
While we loved many aspects of living in Malaysia, probably the highlight for me was the opportunity to individually tutor a few Korean students, which was made possible by our friend James. I absolutely loved those kids and teaching them. They really made my life in Penang feel like home. So much so that instead of leaving in Sept as we planned to go travel Indonesia, we altered it a bit to go in August, when Sjoerd came to visit, then come back for the month of September so I could teach them again before we moved on in our travels.
Indonesia – mostly August
Jakarta – a visit to the awesome Taman Mini architecture park showcasing all the various forms of traditional architecture throughout the massively diverse country, the fantastic national museum, and despite being taken on the most ridiculous rip-off taxi ride of the trip (joke was on him when he ran out of gas trying to run up the meter on us though…!), enjoying the capital much more than we though we would, given all the rants and criticisms, and staying in a new hostel with the nicest proprietor lady ever.
Yogyakarta – all things cultural, most notably the awesome batik and one of the famous Shadow Puppet shows, and purchasing my very first true piece of art: a handcrafted and painted Shadow Puppet of my very own. Expensive, but priceless.
Borobudur – getting to see one of my most prominent magazine clipping photos that had adorned my bedroom wall right by my bed in Tucson for more than a year, and having it turn out to be way better than even expected, taking tons of photos, wearing the required skirt thing and loving the fact that Ray and Sjoerd had to, too
Prambanan – visiting this ancient Hindu site after seeing the ancient Buddhist one at Borobudur and after a delicious buffet dinner in view of the temple, taking in an incredible open-air Ramayana ballet under the full moon, with the ancient temple lit up in the background – amazing! Sjoerd even explained the story as it went on, and taught me to, for the first time, understand this form of performance art (and thus the Shadow Puppets as well!). Very cool. Thanks, Sjoerd!
Gili Air – Sjoerd’s friend getting us an awesome chalet just off the beach, complete with waterfall shower in the open-air bathroom, massive monitor lizards out front, delicious free rooftop breakfast overlooking the beach, great snorkeling right off shore with turtles, my third degree sunburn (unheard of!) thanks to the side effects of our anti-malarial Doxycycline (Whities TAKE NOTE – if it can happen to me, it can KILL you!) and my two wonderful best friends so gently applying 43 necessary layers of aloe to my crispy back while tears and beers worked to soothe the trauma of it all.
5-day, 4-night Perama Boat trip to Komodo and Rinca islands for KOMODO DRAGONS!!! – being scared to death of boat in some truly massive and frightening waves (there were tears – and I’m a water person!), horrible rough 1st night for me and Ray on deck, all of it still somehow made worthwhile by great snorkeling en route and getting to see TONS of wild dragons on BOTH Komodo and Rinca – amazing!!!
Ubud – awesome cultural place from food (the pig place was my favorite! [Warung Ibu Oka is the name] and there was even some AMAZING Mexican food, the best in Asia – much appreciated for us Arizonans) to museums to the little shops to the massive traditional homes turned to guesthouses and art galleries, to the dance and performing arts (the Kecak version of the Ramayana was really a sight to behold!), the incredible arts and crafts, and the awesome, awesome masks…one of which soon became my second-ever real art purchase…
Seminyak – while I was interested in seeing the infamous Kuta Beach, we didn’t get a chance to, or see much of Seminyak either. We basically just had time to meet up with Dan Andrews of the TMBA internship we’d applied for a couple of times for his interesting Pool Party in his great backyard, but that was definitely a fun and worthwhile use of the time to meet him and some other really interesting entrepreneurs.
Had another great month tutoring the kids almost primarily in the month of September, and we capped it off with a really fun day all of us together (and Ray finally got to meet them) visiting an amazing temple, playing soccer, water basketpolo in their swimming pool, and video games. One more lesson, and then I said goodbye to Max, Tony, Rick, Alex, Nexon and James, and Mrs. Kim. I was sad to leave them but so glad they were all on Facebook and easy enough to stay in touch with. I’m really glad to have grown up in this internet generation. There are tradeoffs, but these benefits sure make those ok!
Vietnam Oct 6
Hanoi – We left from Penang and met up with our old lodge and travel friend Joel in Hanoi, after he’d spent a little time at home in Australia and another snowboard season in my old “snowboarding alma mater”: Queenstown, New Zealand. We really enjoyed Hanoi and our awesome accommodations for dirt cheap. We visited the great museums and other sights, including the “Hanoi Hilton”, the POW prison where John McCain was held – and wow was the (completely false) propaganda AMAZING there. I’m curious now to read his and other POWs takes on their time there, but somehow I doubt they actually threw Christmas parties for them and had so much fun doing crafts and playing basketball with their friends. The food – both Vietnamese and Western alike – was amazing in Hanoi and we had so much fun seeking it out, and the water puppet show was absolutely fantastic.
Halong Bay – a fun and memorable 3-day, 2-night cruise aboard the lovely Imperial Junk (that’s a special type of boat, not a social commentary!). Islands, caves, bike rides in the countryside, water buffalo, karaoke with the nice Chinese people, sneaking our rum and Coke in the boat’s beer cans (Ray and G, keepin it classy) and my favorite…sitting at the hull of the boat with my legs dangling above the water, just enjoying the scenery and just living the good life and hanging out with my awesome travel friends Ray and Joel, as life in our 20s, out exploring the world, enveloped us.
Sapa – an amazing, muddy, slogging rice paddy trek, assisted by 25 cent bamboo poles and a troupe of the smallest, surest-footed little hilltribe ladies you ever did see (Hmong people will forever hold a special place in our heart!). And let me tell you about the 25 cent rice whiskey….
Sapa-Hoi An – a train journey especially worth mention because we were stuck on there for 12 long hours more than the 12 hours we already expected the journey to take. When the tracks got flooded along with a good portion of that part of the country, rumor was circulating we could be stuck on there for days.
Hoi An – some of the most delicious food in the entire world, great lanterns, nice UNESCO World Heritage town, and a nice hotel stay, marred, sadly, only by what we suspect was the only theft of the entire trip
Saigon – My 29th birthday party at the Buddhist Theme Park and a dinner meet-up with a few other fellow bloggers; visiting the incredible Cu Chi tunnels and the war museums and sites; learning about a new religion we’d never heard of and seeing it at the source; sending Joel off for his (random?) trip to India for two weeks (SOLO!) to see the F1 and Metallica and do a little India exploring, including the Pushkar Camel Fair, at our insistence! “Joel, you leave us a boy. When you return, you shall be a man…”
Mekong Delta trip – We decided to take the adventurous route of a 3-day, 2-night bus, boat, boat, horse cart, boat, bus, homestay, etc. journey through the Mekong Delta to get to Cambodia, rather than just the much more straightforward, much more easy, and much more boring 6-hour some bus journey across the border to Phnom Penh. It was a pretty full-on tour with having to constantly climb into these boats with all our bags, especially Ray’s 450-pound backpack of electronics/our lives, and trying to step from one floating, wobbly boat onto another that is hell-bent on floating away from you right as you are straddled perfectly between the two. But it was definitely cool to be able to visit all these floating markets, island weaving villages, tropical fruit orchards, coconut candy making places, and rice noodle-making factories, drinking rice wine, riding horse carts and bicycles, waving at the kids along the backwaters, staying at a homestay and walking out among the fields first thing in the morning to catch that quintessential bright red rising sun view through the palm trees that you see in the Vietnam War movies. An adventurous, and sometimes somewhat inconvenient way to transit to Cambodia…but well worth it, in the end. And SO CHEAP!!!
Phnom Penh – Phnom Penh surprisingly ended up being one of, if not THE, singularly most memorable and touching experiences of the entire trip. I didn’t expect much from it as I knew nothing, but the day we spent visiting the S21 Prison and the Killing Fields, in conjunction with meeting not just one but quite serendipitously BOTH of the two remaining survivors of that most terrible prison (only 7 out of the 14,000+ people who went there survived), was absolutely gripping, mind-blowing and completely unforgettable.
Phnom Penh was actually quite nice in itself as well, at least the small corner we visited. They’ve done up the riverside very nicely and we even, rather oddly, saw a man walking his unrestrained elephant down the main drag full of traffic. We’d not seen elephants walking in the streets like that since India (and I’m not sure that it was exactly commonplace there either), so that was fun to see.
Angkor Wat/Siem Reap – We had a great couple of days exploring the Angkor Wat area and its multitude of temples. Even being very well “templed out” by that point, we really enjoyed our explorations because they were all so different and just the spirit of adventure in driving around to each of them in our rickshaw, knowing we were encompassed by so much history and marvel, was so much fun. The food and lodging there was great too.
Thailand – BKK-CR nov 11
Chiang Rai – a quick stop in Bangkok which was experiencing some terrible flooding, though not in the area we usually stay in, then up to Chiang Rai to meet up with our boys again: Joel, back from India; Andy rejoining us after getting settled in his new life in Sydney; and Andy’s Welsh friend from Sydney, Simon, who would be joining us for a couple weeks of our travels.
The next day, the five of us headed out to see the beautiful, unique, and interesting contemporary White Temple. Ray and I had visited it back in April 2010 when we were in Thailand the first time, but our photos from that and the rest of our Laos/Burma border trip were some of the casualties of our tragic hard drive crash of 2010. So it was good to get to go back and get pics again, especially with our new camera that we’d upgraded to since then, our beloved Canon S95.
Sadly they don’t allow photos inside so we don’t have any from either then or now of the interior, which is painted in a most curious fashion with depictions of current pop culture: events and characters ranging from 9/11 and conflicts for oil to Avatar, Osama bin Laden, Neo from the Matrix, Spiderman, Doraeman, and more. Osama bin Laden USED to be there, anyway. Interestingly, despite having a notoriously terrible memory, I definitely remembered bin Laden’s picture being painted on the wall there before. But it wasn’t there this time. I was surprised on two counts, that they weren’t just continuously adding to the mural (it’s very clearly still being painted, some of it still blank on the side walls, with scaffolding and paint buckets), but also that they removed such an evocative persona from this mural of modern times. I wonder why they took it off, and if/when/how they’ll replace it. I’m pretty sure the burning Twin Towers were different as well. We bought a book this time that does have pics of the inside so I’ll scan those and post them when we get home and you can at least see what it looked like at the time of the book’s publication, anyway.
2-day Slowboat Trip to Laos – From Chiang Rai, we headed to the border and caught the long anticipated two-day slow boat to Laos. When I was planning this trip back from Tucson, I’d never even heard of Laos, but in researching it, I read about this journey being beautiful so I’d been looking forward to doing it ever since then. If you’ll recall from our original itinerary, this leg was supposed to be done some two years ago or so! But better late than never, and even better that now we got to do it with our friends. It was indeed a beautiful journey, and considerably more comfortable than the stories I’d read about online, now that the boats are equipped with cushioned car/van seats. I can’t imagine doing it on the old wooden benches, which is what I think we’d have been doing had we gone on it two years ago as planned.
The overnight stop in Pakbeng was far less frontier than I imagined as well, and we easily got nice walk-in accommodation, and ended up having an unexpected big night on the town together, which made the next day’s 8-some hour journey to Luang Prabang in Laos go by in a bit of a blur…
Luang Prabang – we had some awesome times in Luang Prabang, the five of us. We did some lounging and relaxed sightseeing around town. We also rented motorbikes and drove them out to the waterfalls for a frolic, which was great fun, both for the ride there and back and for the falls themselves. Ray and I were glad for our previous experience on the scooters in Goa (India) and Ko Tao (Thailand), as while the other guys were a little nervous sorting them out for the first time themselves, we felt quite confident. I was even able to give Joel a ride back on mine going back to town, which was cool. We also did a bike trip, which was meant to be a “beginner’s” trip but I think they meant “evil” instead. More long and steep hills the entire day than I ever thought even existed. Few things truly suck but that bike ride really did. Fortunately the whole trip wasn’t awful as we did make a nice trip to the elephant park and I got to see an elephant walking through the river giving a couple ladies a ride, and we had a nice frolic in the other waterfalls which were pretty cool, very Havasupai-esque, for those familiar with the falls in the Grand Canyon.
Vang Vieng – few towns in the world will draw as much ire and debate from travelers (or people who just read the articles about another traveler who died or got hurt there) as Vang Vieng, but the truth is, we fell in the camp that loved it. And in truth after reading all the debate, I was expecting much, much, much worse and was almost kind of disappointed it wasn’t nearly the raucous spring break Girls Gone Wild crazy bar scene I had in my mind (almost – except I still cringe when that scene is present in other countries). The main draw here is the tubing, similar to the Salt River tube float in AZ, but with a number of bars along the banks that throw ropes to you and drag you in for drinks, free shots, even…special…items to imbibe (though personally we think booze + water with current can be enough to try to regulate safely) and generally feature any number of insane features to entertain you – and every year kills one or a handful of people. But still, even with the bars and towers, air cushions, rope swings, slides and zip lines of doom, it was a pretty cool place if you know what to expect and take it for what it is and are VERY careful (Ray and I were careful but still both managed some nice injuries on an air cushion and rope swing, respectively – but then again I ride park on a snowboard and nearly kill myself on a daily basis, plus we both play hockey, so nothing new there). I do see how travelers, even careful ones, could get hurt or worse. But if done responsibly, and knowing that regulations are NOT in place and you do everything at your own risk (like for real, not like the U.S.’s bullshit “at your own risk” with drinking a cup of McDonald’s coffee), it’s fun and also a good chance to check and hone your limits, and calibrate them with your sense of adventure and lack of almost insulting regulation that is so present in the States and other Western countries. There is certainly plenty of controversy and things to consider with a place like Vang Vieng, and we’ll examine those more later on…but if done tastefully and responsibly, a good time can definitely be had in Vang Vieng, and our group definitely did.
Vientiane – our time in Vientiane was short but sweet; having just enough time to enjoy some delicious ribs and have a beer together on the steps overlooking a would-be river, if it weren’t pretty much dried up, but still a nice promenade with lots of people out and about, exercising, line dancing, sitting and chilling. We also got to see the beautiful Pha That Luang, the most important monument in Laos, a golden Buddhist stupa which also features on the country’s currency (always fun to see those things). We were also able to do a quick scoot out to the very interesting and slightly eclectic “Buddha Park” full of interesting and odd statues, some of them absolutely massive, before catching our bus for our Laos Stray Tour, a suggestion made (rather emphatically) by Joel, who had done the trip after he left us in Malaysia in April. It was one of the only organized tours we’ve done of the trip, but definitely a worthwhile one.
Laos Stray Tour – so many things, but the main highlights were camping and beering at the beautiful Tad Leuk waterfall, the crazy 7-km long cave at Kong lor, one of the most memorable experiences ever – an overnight village stay in a tiny village where we were only like the 4th or 5th group of White people they’d ever seen and we had a cool ceremony (we’re still wearing our bracelets, 6 mos later!) drank with the village chiefs and had an awesome riverside view of the stars; temple visits and a stop at Mr. Coffee and helped him pick coffee beans from his trees which he then showed us how they are made into coffee; an overnight at Tad Lo waterfall where we communed with an elephant and frolicked in the river above the falls; karaoke with the locals in Pakse where in a nice twist of social fate the women were all over the boys and showering them with affection and liquor; and finally ending the trip in Don Det where we saw river dolphins and massive waterfalls and drank shakes by the river before heading back to Thailand on the overnight train.
Yangon – Man, Burma was something else. It didn’t feature on our original itinerary because of the turmoil of the country; I wasn’t sure if we should contribute to the military junta by going there and I also wasn’t sure if it would be safe so we just left it off. But I’m glad some travelers we met along the way (including a Burmese who had lived many years in America) convinced us to go. After a quick stop in Bangkok to try to get visas, we were successful and booked our flights to Yangon. It was like stepping into another world; in league, in that regard, with only India. The massive, golden Shwedagon Pagoda was simply mind-blowing, and our first meal there together was definitely a fun and memorable dining experience.
Mandalay – you can’t think of Mandalay without thinking of the Moustache Brothers, and I’m so glad we made the trip out to see this strange, unique, and politically incredible show. That’ll deserve an entry of its own.
Mandalay-Bagan – a really awesome boat ride (aside from me falling down the slippery metal stairs and cutting myself all up), fun for hanging out with the guys and playing chess or iPad games together, and absolutely unreal to come upon ancient Bagan and its literally thousands of spired temples rising out of the landscape as the sun set. That the taxis from the hotel which met us were two horse-drawn carts with the driver holding a sign with our names was just fantastic. Such was life in Bagan, as we were about to discover.
Bagan – best days ever, exploring by horse cart soooo many different temples. Again, even having seen so many temples by this point, this experience was still special, memorable, fun, and wonderful. It was fun to do with our friends, and it was really unique for how many there were and how untouristed they were. We generally had the whole thousands-of-years-old structures to ourselves. The sunset views over the landscape were absolutely unworldly.
Inle lake – one of the worst bus rides of the trip to cross from Bagan to Inle (Andy left us from Bagan by prop-plane to go to Bangkok and back to Sydney), but again well worth the trouble – and believe me, I was pretty sure that wasn’t going to be possible after that ride. But it was great fun and gorgeous and interesting scenery, touring the lake, getting to know the people in the small town, and seeing the boatmen’s extremely unique method of rowing their boats with their legs.
Ko Chang – As we were about to end our long tenure in Asia, what better way to end it but then at a beach hut on the beach!? The three of us headed to Ko Chang for its proximity to Bangkok and reasonably awesome strands of sand with at least possibilities for huts on that sand. The first night had us in basically a shack (though a nice enough one!) off a rocky area – close but not quite, but the next few nights put us right by the sand. Joel, Ray and I did have to share a double bed to get it but, you know…sacrifices. It’s surprising the things you can get used to and not really even think twice about while backpacking. There’s a reason you bond so much and so quickly with travel friends – three people in a double bed in a beach hut on a beautiful beach in Thailand is one of them!
Japan (Sam Visit) – Dec 20
Tokyo – and so, a few months later than originally planned, young cousin Sam (now 14) was able to come and join us to travel Japan after all! We started him out in Tokyo and he had his first experience in a hostel and we also got to experience a capsule hotel for a night – a first me and Ray as well! We took him to see the Tsukiji fish market and a very strange experience, a Maid Cafe – both also firsts for us – and stroll around to see some of the cool sights of Tokyo.
Kyoto – we spent Christmas and several days in Kyoto and saw so much awesome stuff: the excellent Manga museum and Geisha district again, the Golden Temple, the Zen Rock garden, the bamboo forest, the incredible orange shrines of Fushimi Inari, and more. It was made all the better by our great little guesthouse at Peace House Sakura, in which we were pretty much the only Westerners and we got to celebrate Christmas with Japanese, Taiwanese, and Korean folks over a delicious meal of homemade sukiyaki – a really special experience for all of us!
Hiroshima – this was a special stop for me, as it sort of made for a full circle for me, as ten years ago I had lived for a summer in Los Alamos, New Mexico, where the atomic bomb was built. I had visited the museum there at the time and was fascinated by some of the compelling comments left by visitors to the museum, especially the Japanese. I read the book Hiroshima by John Hersey before we got to Hiroshima (and had Sam and Ray read it as well) and was really glad I had; it really gave a lot of context to this terrible event in history. We got a personal tour of the hypocenter and the melted marble gravestones by an “in-utero survivor” which was pretty incredible, and visited the museum, which was reasonably well done. It’s a nice, vibrant city now, and holds no ill-will against Americans, which I found almost mind-boggling and has given me much to think about. We also took a nice day trip out to see the floating shrine a day trip away.
Nagasaki – Nagasaki wasn’t quite as compelling as Hiroshima, which is perhaps a testament to its somewhat understated but also devastating place in history. I was still glad to get to go see it in person as well.
Tokyo – finally, we ended 2011 and the trip with Sam by – oddly, again – ringing in the new year just as we had from 2010-2011, standing (or rather, getting shoved around by the masses) at the Shibuya crossing for New Year’s celebrations. We took Sam to see the emperor on the 3rd as we had previously as well, and then sent him on his way back home, with lots of adventures and great memories shared by all.
Winter – Jan 4
G: Hakuba, Japan – I went back to the lodge in Hakuba for a second snowboarding season, as did Joel, and my park buddy from last year, Rich, came back and joined us for 3.5 weeks in February, as well as another friend from last year who came for a couple of weeks in there too. I stayed out of the park this year, preferring the mountain riding (and, specifically, the not being injured the entire season) and had a great time hanging out with my travel buddy and getting to know him better now as a close friend, a roommate and a boarding partner too.
Ray: Bangkok/Penang/Singapore – meanwhile, Ray opted to spend his funds and time on a new computer and setting up his new software company, and he caught a flight from Tokyo back to Bangkok for a few days then the train down to Penang. He got our room back at the apt with Zac and worked there til I got back at the end of the season, and also took up teaching English with the kids which he enjoyed a lot and was great experience for him.
Malaysia – March 19
Penang – we reunited in Malaysia at the end of March and had a good month and a half there living together, catching up, charting out the course of our future together and individually now and after the trip, and having a good time together, enjoying all our favorite things about life in Penang.
Perhentian Islands – to round off the whole trip together, Ray and I took off from Penang for one more getaway and adventure with each other. We splurged (SPLURGED, by our standards!) and got a gorgeous beach chalet with the works – AC, hot water in the bathroom, a fridge, even satellite TV. We actually didn’t want all the extras, but it was the only place we could make a reservation to be sure we got the beachfront porch, view, and awesome-snorkeling-right-off-the-beach combo we wanted for this last beach hut stint. The only thing it was missing, being Muslim country of course, was cheap tropical drinks. But we made do with our 14% strong beers one night and general sobriety the rest of the time. We spent our time snorkeling, eating lobster, crab and beef, drinking banana-chocolate and Snickers shakes, and playing our newly-bought Pokemon card game (long story). It was a total blast, absolutely gorgeous, and a perfect way to end the trip.
And so now we’re on this very last leg of the journey, flying Tokyo-LAX, where we’ll meet up with my cousin Gwen till our evening train to Albuquerque (gotta keep the adventurous spirit – never really traveled by train in the States before!), get Ray’s car, and finally drive back to Arizona, where this all began. More adventures to follow, but that will mark the end of this one.
We’ll catch you on the flipside. Thanks for joining us for this journey – it’s been every bit the amazing, incredible ride we hoped and dreamed it would be when we started planning, saving, and putting it together 5 years ago.