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In Summary

So that's it. Our advensha is over. I'm writing this while sat in my mum's living-room back in my hometown of Liverpool. We have been back for exactly one week now and it still doesn't feel entirely real. Every time I pick up my phone to message or call someone I do a little calculation in my head to figure out the time difference and whenever I look at the price of anything I halve it (thanks Australia).
It is taking some time to get a 'normal' sleep pattern back - I'm averaging about 5-6 hours of sleep at the moment but it is increasing every night.
It actually feels like we've only been away for a long weekend - mainly because nothing has changed back in Manchester and Liverpool. Actually that's probably a bit unfair; 3 of our friends have had babies, but aside from that, everything else is just as we left it.

I think it's going to take a little bit of time for us to really appreciate what we've done and where we've been. It's all a bit of a blur at the moment.
I've just re-read my 'The night before' blog post and it feels like I wrote it a lifetime ago. I said I was feeling numb, and to be honest, that's kind of how we feel right now too. We're in limbo - tired, confused, apprehensive and lost. We've been going through boxes of our stuff with a fresh and ruthless eye. After all we've been living out of a bag for 6 months so our definition of NEED has narrowed greatly.

I'm afraid I don't feel able to write a comprehensible 'conclusion' to our advensha, so instead I've done what I do best, formulated a list...

Best and Worst

Favourite country:
Aisha - India
Lauren - India

Favourite place:
Aisha - Bagan, Myanmar or Penang, Malaysia
Lauren - Udaipur, India or Penang, Malaysia

Favourite street food:
Aisha - Poh piah (Malaysian)
Lauren - Gobi manchurian and bread pakora (both Indian)

Favourite restaurant/café food:
Aisha - Annen Hoi in Hội An, Vietnam did the most amazing tomato tofu. Hui Yuan vegetarian buffet in Melaka, Malaysia was by far the tastiest buffet I have ever had. Also Capitol Satay, again in Melaka was both delicious and fascinating.
Lauren - The first place we had Thali in Jaipur, India. Also Millets of Mewar café in Udaipur, India.

Favourite people:
Aisha - Myanmarese
Lauren - Myanmarese

Favourite activity:
Aisha - Being sat in the sand dunes of Pushkar, Rajistan while watching a dance show, magician and the setting sun.
Lauren - Trekking through the rainforest of the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia.

Favourite swimming:
Aisha - In the crystal clear waters of the Andaman sea off Koh Ngai island in South Thailand.
Lauren - In the Arabian sea off Patnem, Goa, India.

Favourite accommodation:
Aisha - Jungle House in Vientiane, Laos followed closely by Tordi palace in Rajistan, India.
Lauren - Luna Villa Homestay in Hội An, Vietnam closely followed by Old Town Guesthouse in Melaka, Malaysia.

Favourite religious/spiritual site:
Aisha - Swedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar or Ta Prohm in Angkor Cambodia.
Lauren - Wat Ounalom in Phnom Penh, Cambodia where one of Buddha's eyebrow hairs lives (ahem).

Favourite journey:
Aisha - I loved the Indian sleeper train from Ahmedabad to Mumbai in India. It was cramped, dirty and public but it was a great experience.
Lauren - The private transfer from Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong (Thailand to Laos) in an air-conditioned, swish people carrier.

Favourite beach:
Aisha - Otres in Sihanoukville, Cambodia.
Lauren - Patnem in Goa, India

Worst experience:
Aisha - The scary stray dogs in Ayutthaya and my camera breaking for a second time in Phnom Penh, Cambodia (it's still not fixed).
Lauren - Our experience in Mali Mali Guesthouse, Langkawi, Malaysia (pervy man).

Worst accommodation:
Aisha - Our hotel in Mumbai, India that had no windows, a toilet that didn't flush, a strong smell of petrol and there were ants everywhere. BTB Battambang hostel was pretty awful too - no security, really dirty and rude incompetent staff.
Lauren - Mali Mali Guesthouse in Langkawi - dirty (fungus growing in between tiles in bathroom) and unsafe (bedrooms were accessible from the main strip).

Worst food:
Aisha - Jaljeera juice in India - which was basically curry flavoured juice and the 'pork satay stick' on Vietnamese train which was covered in wiry hairs and was probably a week old.
Lauren - The poh piah in Kuala Lumpur mall food court that was drenched in sticky tamarind sauce.

Worst journey:
Aisha - The double-decker bus we took from Bangkok to Surathani with the crazy drunk lady and her boyfriend who ended up getting thrown off.
Lauren - The journey from Sihanoukville to Battambang on which poor Lauren was vomiting throughout.

What We've Learned

About ourselves:
One of the main things we've discovered is that we both love animals much more than we thought we did. Wherever we were in the world we always seemed to find a cat, dog or bird to cuddle and coo at.

That we love each other - a lot! We have spent 24/7 with each other for 6 whole months. We've not had to text/call one another for 6 months because we've always been beside each other. We've been together 2 years now so for a quarter of our relationship we've been travelling. And, aside from a handful of very insignificant arguments (usually due to hunger, exhaustion or being lost) we've loved every second with each other. And of course we've grown stronger as a couple as a result of all the experiences we've shared.

That although we do really enjoy architecture, history and art, we mostly love people - talking to them, learning about them and seeing things through their eyes if only for a short time. We definitely enjoy a good balance of high and low culture and there's also no denying that we appreciate our creature comforts and time to ourselves.

About each other:
Aisha - Lauren is far braver than she lets on and although she can be softly spoken and avoid confrontation, when she feels it's right she will stick up for herself and for me.
I already knew that a hungry Lauren was an angry Lauren but this has been cemented during the trip. Excessive heat also doesn't make for a happy Lauren; but to be fair sometimes the temperature was pretty unbearable even for the locals. Thanks a lot El Niño!

Lauren - Aisha was not as fussy or meticulous as I thought she would be. She was quite happy for me to make decisions about what we were doing or where we were going.
Aisha's also the best person in the world (besides my lovely mum Joan) at looking after me - my physical, emotional and mental well being.

About travelling:
We always managed to form some semblance of a base or 'home' for ourselves. I reckon this is part of our human survival instinct - to feel safe and secure. I (Aisha) was a little concerned that on days when I might be feeling down that I would struggle because I couldn't go 'home' to lock myself away, but thankfully this was never an issue. Our hostel/guesthouse/homestay always became our temporary 'home' wherever we were and, as such, we always felt snug.

Packing

Things we would have been lost without:

  • Keen sandals - Even though they gave us the most ridiculous Croc-style tan lines, these comfortable, waterproof and durable sandals were amazing and I must say, after a while we even grew to quite like their appearance too,
  • Stolen shampoo - If we were ever in a hostel that had shampoos in a dispenser in the bathroom we were straight in there with one of our empty tubs filling them up. I count it as a small victory that we didn't buy shampoo once in 6 months.
  • Pens - I found two mini biros before we left and put them in our passport wallets and they were invaluable.
  • Oats - Most of the breakfasts we had while we were away consisted of porridge oats with some local fruit and/or seeds and nuts that we made ourselves. Of course when free toast / pastries / yogurt was available we made the most of that too but we always made sure we had some oats and soya milk with us (neither of which were hard to find).
  • CEX laundry bag - The large drawstring plastic bag I got when I bought my mini laptop from CEX in India served as our dirty washing bag throughout the 6 months and, whenever we handed it over to launderers we always made sure we got it back.
  • Bench dress - Lauren brought a light cotton dress by Bench with her and it served as a brilliant nightie for when we were in private rooms without an en suite and needed to go to the toilet in the middle of the night. As it was so hot whenever we had the opportunity we slept naked which posed a bit of a problem when we were sharing a bathroom. This dress was the perfect throw-on item.
  • Tiger Balm - This wonderful potion (which was invented in Singapore) was an amazing for a whole host of skin ailments - insect bites, rashes, itchy bits, spots, blisters and even worked as a decongestant when we were bunged up.
  • Google Maps - As much as I hate to admit it, the internet, specifically Google Maps, saved us many times. Every traveller will tell you that getting lost is an inevitable and accepted eventuality and, without the help of Google Maps I'm positive we would have ended up stranded on more than one occasion.

Things we didn't end up using/needing:

  • The majority of the first aid kit - To be honest, this isn't exactly a bad thing, it just means we didn't have any major health issues. It's now going to live in my car.
  • Cable ties - I do think we used one or two of these along the way but, for the most part, they weren't that useful for us.
  • Pliable camera tripod - We should have realised that we weren't going to be attaching one of our expensive cameras to a random wall or pole away from us - we would have been asking for it to get stolen.
  • Travel notes - In the run up to the trip Lauren had handwritten some notes on places of interest and transit information for various countries we were visiting. Unfortunately these notes ended up packed deeply away in Lauren's backpack only to be found after we'd already visited the countries that the notes were on.

Things we wish we would have brought:

  • Sudocrem - The wonder-cream. Luckily we had Tiger Balm as a backup but I would have loved some Sudocrem too.
  • Dental floss - I did actually bring some of this but it ran out quite quickly. A lot of the foods we were eating had lots of 'bitty bits' in them - herbs, spices, veggies, fruit, meat etc so dental floss was a bit of a necessity to avoid tooth decay. I ended up buying a packet of toothpicks as dental floss was ridiculously expensive in Asia.
  • A proper hairbrush - We'd bought a small travel hairbrush that unfortunately broke after a few months leaving us with crap plastic combs we'd gotten free in a hotel. Thank god I'd had my hair cut short.

What We'd Do Differently
We wouldn't beat ourselves up as much about feeling fed up and bored sometimes. Losing momentum periodically is inevitable and not the end of the world. We've learned that it didn't make us ungrateful or dull - just human.
I (Aisha) do wish I'd have bothered to do some diving. We were in some of the most well-known diving spots and with hindsight I should have splurged on doing my PADI. The upside is that I'd now realised I'm interested in it and so can pursue it back at home and when I next go away.
There are also quite a few things I wish we could have done in Australia. We weren't really tourists in the country as we were mostly visiting people not places. If we'd have had more money (our budget only allowed $80 per day which is approx. £40) we'd have definitely visited the North of the country and seen the Great Barrier Reef. But this has at least given me a thirst to return and this time, in their summer!
Lauren wanted to add that if she could have, she would have gone around Southeast Asia when it was slightly cooler - but I do think it was a fluke that we were there while El Niño was throwing its weight around.

Stats

Have a look at our travel stats here: https://www.travellerspoint.com/stats/advensha/

Final Thoughts

As a final thought I want to express my thanks for everyone that had joined us on this journey by reading this blog and/or watching our videos on YouTube and looking at our photos on Facebook. I'm really proud of myself for starting and finishing this blog project. It has helped to build my confidence in pursuing a creative/media career in the near future.

I also hope that we have inspired one or more people to at least think about taking the leap to quit the job you hate and go see some of the world. We haven't regretted our decision for a second and as much as being unemployed for the first time in my adult life is fucking terrifying (especially for an overly sensible gal like me), I know in my gut that I've done the right thing - whatever happens.

For now we're going to give Bristol a try and see how it suits us. Thank you so much for reading and I hope you go on to have your own advensha!

Posted by advensha 03:06 Tagged adventure best travellers scary backpacking backpackers worst favourites final_thoughts list summary unemployed its_over Comments (0)

Singapore

overcast 30 °C
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First visit - 18th May - 19th May

The morning we were leaving Old Town Guesthouse in Melaka we were treated to some homemade fruit cake baked by Chua's girlfriend for breakfast. We got a taxi to the central bus station and soon found out that the next bus to Singapore wasn't leaving for 2 hours. Marvellous. AT least the station had chairs and a few shops to pass the time. The one thing it didn't have were spare plugs for us to charge our Kindles for the coach journey ahead.
We did eventually get on the bus and, it was an impressive one. The chairs reclined very generously and had in-built massagers as well as plug sockets! For first few hours I played Monopoly on Lauren's Kindle as the view outside was a little miserable because of the rain. We arrived at the Malaysian exit border and got through quickly and easily but, a few minutes later at the Singapore border we were faced with long queues full of people with less than content facial expressions and body language. We hedged our bets and chose one of 10 queues hoping we wouldn't be hanging around too long. After only a few minutes we noticed a few people and families queue-jumping which understandably was driving the Singaporean security guard absolutely crazy. One particular women was moving and climbing over barriers in the hopes of getting closer to immigration. Once she thought she'd secured herself a better position she would then gesture for her elderly parents and other family members to run over. I am not exaggerating when I say she tried this 4 or 5 times, often when the guard's back was turned. She eventually got a loud telling off and was forced to stay separated from her family - who actually ended up worse off in the queue stakes.

We did finally get through immigration after about 1.5 hours but then had to wait a further half an hour for the rest of our coach's passengers to get through and get back on. By the time we got to Singapore's city centre it was 8pm and we'd been travelling for over 7 hours, even though it was only supposed to take 4-5. Upon stepping off the bus and getting our bags we frantically ran to the first money-change shop we could see in order to pay for a taxi to our hostel.
It luckily wasn't too long of a drive to Green Kiwi hotel and we were promptly shown to our 12-bed female dorm. The hostel was very basic with very small bunk-beds, no proper lighting and a cramped and untidy bathroom. It certainly wasn't the worst hostel we'd stayed in but it was the most expensive - that's Singapore for you. At least we were getting warmed up for our next country - expensive Australia!

We only technically had one day in Singapore as our flight to Sydney was at 1am so we wanted to do something that was free or cheap but not too intense. After having a look through our guide book we decided to visit Haw Par Villa - an old 'theme park' set up by the Tiger Balm brothers. We figured out how to get there on the wonderful MRT system and off we went. The park (previously known as Tiger Balm Gardens) is an outside park covered in thousands of statues and dioramas depicting stories and legends from Chinese mythology. As per usual it was boiling outside and pretty humid too so we couldn't stay out in it for very long but we did spent a good hour wandering around marvelling and the weirdness. The most interesting area was the 'Ten Courts of Hell' cave where you could see just that - plenty of small figurines being tortured in various ways for various crimes (one of which was failing to pay your rent).
We had a late lunch at a little Chinese buffet just up the road from our hostel and not long after packed our bags to go to the airport. Again we made the most of the well-connected MRT system to get to Changi airport. Unfortunately the tube was packed so we were packed in like sardines - stood up with our massive backpacks on and sweating profusely. We arrived at the airport 7 hours before our flight was due to leave - only because our hostel didn't have a good communal area where we could hang out and the airport has loads of things to entertain us.
After watching Peanuts the Movie in the 'Entertainment Lounge' we tried and failed to find the snoozing area where there are apparently reclining seats where you can sleep for a while. We were deliriously tired and bored and so did the thing we love best - eat. Soon enough we boarded our Scoot Air flight to Sydney knowing we'd be back in Singapore in 7 weeks.

Second visit - 3rd July - 5th July

After a month and a half in Sydney we were back at good old Changi airport. The flight was fine but we did get a bit of turbulence. At one point I asked Lauren if she'd managed to sleep to which she replied "I'm not sure, I did have a moment when sleep came all over me". This resulted in me crying with laughter for a few minutes.

We got in a taxi and made it to my cousin Katherine's apartment block where we would be staying for the next two days. We did have a small issue in that I somehow had managed to not get Katherine's FULL address - I had the name of her apartment complex but not the actual block or apartment number. We spent 10 minutes or so chatting with the security staff at the front gate trying to determine where Katherine lived and how we could get in touch with her despite having no working phones or any WiFi internet. Luckily, anticipating our arrival, Katherine did come down to the front and meet us. We made our way up to her sixth floor condominium and plonked our scruffy bags down. The apartment was, as expected, lovely - very modern and roomy with a big balcony and great open-plan kitchen/dining room. Katherine very kindly prepared a delicious vegetarian homemade meal for us and her partner Sam and we sat on the balcony chatting about Brexit, food and our trip.

The next day we were more than happy to chill out while Katherine and Sam were in work. We first went to one of the two available pools on the complex for a swim and brief sunbathe (bearing in mind we'd been in an Australian winter for 7 weeks and therefore lost our tans). It was bloody glorious in Singapore (as it always is) - very hot but not too humid. The pool is ginormous and spans across 5 of the towers. One part of it has jets for massaging and another part has a white sand floor. There are also picnic and BBQ areas - all for the jammy residents (and even jammier visitors like us). There are also tennis courts and a gym on site but we obviously gave those areas a wide berth.
Our skin and bones were certainly happy to see the sun again (even if only for an hour). After a decent swim that left my legs sore for the next 2 days, we spent the rest of the day watching Netflix (the new season of Orange is the New Black to be precise). It was quite wonderful.

Then, as evening approached, we got the number 10 bus into the CBD and walked around the Marine Bay Sands shopping mall where everything was far too expensive and small-sized for us. At 7pm we met Katherine at the bottom of tower 3 and squashed into the lift with a load of Chinese tourists. Lauren and I had dressed as smartly as we could - which was difficult considering we only had the crappy clothes we'd been carrying round for 6 months. The Marina Bay Sands hotel is a rather fancy establishment that has a dress code so we were a little nervous about getting turned away in our flip flops and with our hairy pits. We were fine though - I think women always fair better in these situations than men.
We found ourselves a table at the end of the tower overlooking a truly magnificent view of Singapore. Katherine bought us all delicious cocktails as we watched the sun set over the Asian metropolis. We could also see the sky-pool on tower 1 which had lots of people positioned shoulders-over the edge looking out.

We finished our cocktails and made our way to Keong Saik road - an area full of restaurants, coffee-shops, bars, hawker stalls and cafés. We chose to eat at a Japanese restaurant called Neon Pigeon which has apparently won lots of awards. I started with a painappuru cocktail in an amazing samurai cup/flask thing. We ordered lots of sharing plates and all tucked in to a bit of everything. At the end of our meal the lovely bar-manager came over and did a 3-second-saké challenge whereby she poured the rice wine into our mouths for 3 seconds. I've had saké before and really disliked it but this one was actually very tasty.

For our last day we went for a swim at the other pool on the sixth floor which wasn't as dramatic but still pretty damn great. We got the bus into town again and met Katherine for a Lebanese lunch where we discovered the middle-eastern version of a yogurt lassi - Ayran. We then walked around a bit and ended up in a big Chinese shopping centre called the People's Plaza. There we decided to have full body massages which I enjoyed immensely but Lauren didn't. Basically I came out feeling like I'd been carried off to a wonderfully relaxing dreamworld where my body was voided of all knots and stress and Lauren came out feeling like she'd been in a prisoner of war camp for an hour.
We got back to the apartment, packed our bags, said our goodbyes and jumped into our cab heading to the airport.

Even though we didn't see or do much in Singapore we both liked it much more than we thought we would. Not only were we happy to be back in the sunshine but we were also delighted to get a feel for Asia again - even if it was really brief. The cuisine, the people, the streets and the shops - it was all nostalgic.

We definitely weren't so eager to kiss goodbye to the sunshine and we also weren't looking forward to the 15 hour journey we had ahead. But the silver lining was that we were going to gain a day back. Manchester awaits...

Posted by advensha 03:25 Archived in Singapore Tagged rain singapore bus clouds hostel border backpacking travelling dorm grey little_india coach stormy green_kiwi lesbian_couple Comments (0)

Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur

storm 35 °C
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Our last sleep at Everything English Homestay was another good one; I reckon the 6 hour hike helped. Lauren, Yassin and I all had a synchronised lie-in and woke to the sounds of birds singing outside. After breakfast we said bye to the other guests (and even got a hug off 2yr old Ashran) and made our way to our coach stop.

Our bus to Kuala Lumpur arrived on time and we saddled up for the 4 hour journey. Deviating from our normal bus routine of watching American Horror Story on my Kindle we decided to listen to my rarely-utilised music player on random. We'd forgotten how much we'd missed music and how much it can add to your experience of a new environment. We made the rule that we weren't allowed to skip any songs and I was doing quite well for the first few; a bit of Bob Dylan, Rick James, James Buckley and The Kinks but my credibility was never going to last and soon enough Right Said Fred, Jason Derulo and Kanye West turned up. Lauren pulled her headphones out soon after.

The 4hrs went by without a hitch; it's amazing how our tolerance for bus travel has grown. Nowadays when we see that a journey is less than 8hrs we're thrilled and see it as a short trip up the road. This should stand us in good stead for our next beast of a country; Australia.
We were dropped at Kuala Lumpur Sentral which is a massive station that houses a million and one different public transport networks as well as a huge airport-style mall. Oh and it's surrounded by a construction site - which made it a little difficult to get into.

We eventually found our way to the Monorail section (which isn't signposted) and got on our way to Bukit Bintang station. I don't think I've ever been on a monorail before and I couldn't stop singing the monorail song from an old Simpsons episode. While aboard a heavy rainstorm hit and we watched as the sky went from piercing blue to dark grey in a matter of seconds. Thankfully, the storm only lasted 10 minutes and it was dry again by the time we got off.
The area we were staying in, like KL Sentral, has a lot of construction work going on, meaning to get to Sunshine Bedz hostel we had to around the world following the trail laid out by a corrugated iron walkway. At the hostel we were greeted by a topless tattooed Malay gentleman who we soon discovered was called Patrick Jones. We're not sure whether it was our astonishing beauty or matching surnames that made Patrick upgrade us from a dorm to a private room but either way, we were pleased.

Our room was very basic and the walls were made of cardboard but at least we had a double bed to ourselves and some privacy. We also had a great view of digital billboards and the monorail tracks from our window.
We soon realised that we were flanked by no less than 6 malls; Kuala Lumpur is the city to visit if you're into shopping. Our first venture out was to Sungai Wang mall where we went straight up to the food court. There was very little choice for Lauren so she settled on a really crap plate of Maggi noodles and veg. I fared much better with a claypot Nasi Mee soup; thick udon-style noodles in a delicious broth with plenty of mystery meat and spicy flavours.
We found another food court 3 floors up where Loz got her second tea; a vegetarian murtabak (a sort of omelette/roti/pancake thing). We also finally got to try cendol; a traditional south-east Asia desert that consists of jelly stretched green noodles, sweetcorn, aduki beans, condensed milk, chipped ice, coconut milk and plenty of sugar. We didn't like it.

The moment we stepped out of the mall the heavens decided to open and loud cracks of thunder followed by bright flashes of lightening took over. This encouraged us to venture to the posher mall next door; Lot 10. After a bit of window shopping and dawdling around the gourmet Hutong food court (our 3rd food court of the evening) we got bored waiting for the storm to stop and sprinted back to our hostel, getting soaked on the way,

For our first full day in the capital city of Malaysia we had planned to visit the Islamic Arts Centre but we found out it wasn't open on the weekends. There wasn't really much else we wanted to do or see; KL's sights mostly consist of tall buildings with the odd mosque and church. We did walk into the centre via the KLCC pedestrian walkway (apparently an activity in itself according to Trip Advisor) and looked up at the Petronas twin towers for all of 3 seconds. I'm sure the view from the top is pretty impressive but we just weren't interested.
Not having much luck with met-free food in Malaysia so far, we managed to find an amazing vegetarian buffet for lunch called Blue Boy that was around the back of a small car park. We got chatting to one of the vendors who was a huge football fan and loved the fact that we were from Liverpool and Manchester.
It soon became apparent that late afternoon storms were the norm in KL and so we walked back to our hostel in the rain. One sad but not so surprising observation is that there are a lot of homeless people - men and women - on Kuala Lumpur's streets, many of whom have addiction issues. It must be hard enough dealing with the heat and humidity but the sudden and extreme downpours are another matter.

On day 2 we went back to Sentral station to visit a commercial building just beside it where a free Japanese film was being shown as part of an arts festival. I won't bore you with the details but we spent over an hour wandering around in the blistering heat trying to navigate busy 4-lane roads with no pavements in order to get across to the Pitching Centre that was only a few hundred metres from Sentral station. A combination of inaccurate Google Maps and building work that's closed off almost all pedestrian walkways meant for a frustrated Aisha and an infuriated Lauren.

We made it in the end though and the film, Osaka Hamlet, was brilliant; funny, intriguing and weird, as Japanese films should be. I did leave my amazing cat-sunglasses in the auditorium though which made me sad.
On our way back to the hostel we made a detour to 'Food Street' but everything was very meaty (dim sum, fish-head soup, steak) so we found a Pakistani place nearby and loaded up on dahl, rice and gobi and a freshly made naan.

On our final day in Kuala Lumpur we spent the morning planning and faffing around with an incorrect hotel booking. We walked to Central Market and Kasturi Walk where we picked up some fried Indian snacks and wandered around the stalls. The one product that did catch my eye was a name-on-a-grain-of-rice necklace. Some of you may remember the little see-through magnifying lockets from the 90s. Nostalgia wasn't enough for me to part with my cash though. Lauren had a peek at what she would call 'snide' shoes and clothes but the quality is so crap that it really is a false economy.

We walked back and packed to leave, feeling positively underwhelmed and unimpressed with Kuala Lumpur. If you like shopping, exploring skyscrapers and seeing familiar brands then it's the place for you. It's just not the place for us. Luckily our next stop is the island of Malaysian Borneo; which we're hoping will be the perfect remedy to the vacuous bore-fest we've just experienced.

Posted by advensha 22:23 Archived in Malaysia Tagged rain kuala malaysia hostel mall backpacking travelling lumpur storms kl monorail southeast_asia food_court thunder_lightening heavy_rain capital_city hawker_stalls sunshine_bedz_hostel sentral_station lot_10 Comments (0)

Malaysia: Penang


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On our last morning we discovered that the sky-walk that had been closed while we were in Langkawi for maintenance had actually been open for a few days as they'd finished their work a little early but just decided not to tell anyone. So we could have spent our last day absorbing panoramic views of the island and beyond from a cable-car and cloud-touching 2300ft high bridge. Instead we spent the day walking looking for better beaches that apparently don't exist. Oh well, it obviously wasn't meant to be.

We had a touching morning chatting with and saying goodbye to Elleaty who we'd really connected with before we head over to Kuah pier to catch our ferry to Penang. The ferry terminal was actually very modern and well-organised, despite lots of construction work. The ferry itself was pretty good and it was showing Bollywood movies that kept us entertained for the 3hr journey.
On arrival at Sweetenham pier in Penang we got in the first cab that touted in which the driver fancied himself as a bit of a tour guide and gave us a mini-history of all the sights and streets that we passed. We were dropped at Time Capsule Hotel and we were giddy at being handed a bag each with slippers, headphones and a towel in them - it felt like Christmas. We were shown to our 'pods' and I took the top and Lauren the bottom. The capsules were quite roomy with different mood lighting, a funky circular beauty mirror (with lights), an inbuilt LED smart-TV (that we couldn't get working), a safe and of course a mattress. It even had two pillows; one hard and one soft.
Now a normal person may not get excited by the idea of sleeping in a hi-tech cocoon but I have always been well into it. Since watching 2001: A Space Odyssey as a child I've wanted to be encased in my very own sleep-bubble. Perhaps I have some sort of subconscious longing to go back into the womb. Or maybe I was a vampire in a past life. But, it being my birthday I thought it was a good excuse to give it a go - and thankfully I have a laid back girlfriend.
I regularly flouted the no nudity rule by walking from the bathroom to my pod in my towel 'cos I'm a fuckin' anarchist.

For dinner we found a little place called Yeap noodles that was well-priced and had lots of tasty options. We were really impressed with the choice of noodles; plain, turmeric, spinach, oat, charcoal, carrot and even peppermint. I also tried a cup of barley 'juice' (because it was the cheapest on the menu) which came as a cloudy, icy liquid that was very sweet but rather refreshing.

I should really give you an image of Penang for your mind's eye. George Town is the capital and 'main bit' of the island and was under British rule for 75 years (until 1957). So as you'd expect, it is laden with English relics and architecture like clock towers, red post-boxes, Anglican and Catholic churches and century-old townhouses.
As well, Penang, like Hồ Chí Minh and and others before it, doesn't have any pavements or pedestrian walkways at all. This means you're constantly stepping up and down, on and off curbs and shop fronts and over gulleys and breeze blocks and parked motorcycles. It makes for quite a decent cardiovascular workout.
George Town just vibrates diversity; there's Little India, Chinatown, legions of unique independent coffee shops and cafés as well as galleries, art spaces, music, boutiques and surprising gardens. And then there's the street art; fun, interactive, introspective and all over the town.
It is diversity personified; in it's history, multiculturalism, multi-faith and blending of the contemporary and the antiquated.

On our first night in Penang we stepped out onto Lebuh Chulia; the street we were staying on and the place where most backpackers and cool-folks hang out. We naughtily chowed down on a hot dog (me) and some crinkle fries from a fast food stall called 'Old Trafford Burgers'. We then bought ourselves two cans to sip on; a beer and a cheapo Guinness. Sometimes it's nice to be in a city.

On our second day we embarked on a self-guided street art walking tour. Amazingly the tour was quite easy to follow and we didn't get lost. Along the way we stopped in an intriguing looking coffee shop called Easy Brew that appeared to be semi-burnt down. A lovely young girl called Rene gave us a free demo of how different coffee beans are roasted and then showed us around the deceptively palatial grounds of the shop which beyond the café/restaurant itself stretched into a large and beautiful garden with old artefacts and twee wrought-iron tables and chairs. A gorgeous place for a party or wedding I thought. They'd even converted the old outhouse toilet into a cute little fountain and plant display. We were told that the building had suffered a lot of fire damage only a few months before but that the owner had decided to keep everything as it was; black charring and all.

After our coffee experience we walked to Chew jetty; one of the six clan jetties in George Town. They are wonderful floating communities with loads of character. We even interrupted a wedding photo-shoot overlooking the straits of Malacca.

For lunch we stopped at a vegan Japanese restaurant called Sushi Kitchen. We actually didn't get sushi but massive noodle soup bowls with delicious light flavours and tofu.
In keeping with our nutritious afternoon we then found a pharmacy/health-food shop where we found some much sought-after chia seeds. Sourcing these little bastards made me feel very accomplished - which give you a good idea of how pitiful my life is.
After an enjoyable wander around Little India, salivating at the various fried yummies on offer we retired to our pods to watch the John Waters' classic Female Trouble.

On our third day we ticked off some menial chores including printing our by-proxy voting forms at an internet cafe and putting our laundry into the shop opposite. These are the essential but unexciting little tasks along with booking and keeping track of hostels, flights, buses and tours etc. that sometimes take up hours and hours of time and often make us want to rip our own, or each other's', hair out.

Trusting some information we'd found online we walked to a nearby bus stop that was supposed to be on the 'Hop-on-hop-off' tour route. After 20 minutes standing in the blazing sun I suggested we walk around the corner where it looked busier to see if there was another bus stop. Of course as we walked away, a bus drove past us. Lauren's internal thermometer/angermeter rose a few degrees but she managed to stay calm-ish as we walked back to our original stop. After another 15 minutes of waiting a suave looking gentleman in a pink polo-shirt and aviators came over. He asked us how long we'd been waiting and told us he knew of another bus stop around the corner that was frequented more regularly by buses. We somewhat reluctantly followed him back to the place we'd just been clinging onto the hope that he knew what he was talking about. Once again, we couldn't find a bus stop and guess what, we watched in horror as ANOTHER bus drove by, completely ignoring our frantic arm flailing. By now Lauren's face had turned a nice shade of crimson and smoke was bellowing out of her ears. She stomped back round to our original point AGAIN and I sheepishly followed, waving off the man's embarrassed apologies. Never trust an American.
Eventually we jumped on a free shuttle bus in order to get to the city's main bus terminal where we were more confident the Hop-on-hop-off would stop. After some fumbling around asking uninterested people for help we finally got on the tour bus.

We rode a long way listening to the crap computer-generated commentary and got off at Penang's Botanical Gardens. By now it was pretty damn hot so we were glad to get under the shade of some trees. The gardens are HUGE with loads of different sections. Surrounded by massive limestone rocks and mountains and impossibly tall jungle trees it really is a sight to behold. Apparently a lot of locals come to the gardens for their daily jogs and what a beautiful motivation it must be.
We walked around for an hour taking as much as we could in. We were lucky enough to see plenty of wildlife too including long-tailed macaques, cranes and a large monitor lizard.

We waited at the garden's bus stop for a good half an hour directly under the afternoon sun, watching the monkeys begging at cars for food and listening to the loud scary gun shots that sounded too close for comfort. Back on the bus we sat for a long while peering out at the city and all within it. We got off at Penang Hill and jumped aboard the famous colonial leftover that is the funicular railway. Apparently the steepest one in the world at an incline of 29°.
Even though it was low season and Malaysia's Labour Day wasn't for 2 days, there were plenty of tourists about, although we were the only white ones. The ascension was quite fun and when you looked back down at the tracks it really was quite scary.
At the top we enjoyed the panoramic views of Penang while munching on a some delicious Chana Masala from an Indian stall. On the way back down we met some adorable Indian children who politely jumped up to let me sit down.

Back on the tour bus and coming to the end of the day we got off at a stop near 'home' - Chowrasta market and picked some street food for tea where we also enjoyed a PINT of sweet sweet masala chai. After a quick freshen up we walked to Prangin mall where we foolishly bought some promotional Frappuccinos from Starbucks (at my request) which were pretty horrid. Lauren's 'summer berries panna cotta' one was like drinking a cheap trifle through a straw. We then finished our evening by visiting the manky cinema and watching the new Jungle Book which was actually very good.

The day after (a Saturday) was my 28th birthday. Woe is me. As a treat to myself I woke up early and did a high intensity cardio workout in the communal area. I'm fucking weird I know. As we had a few hours left on our Hop-on-hop-off tickets we thought it would be resourceful to use them up and so we sat on the bus for 2 hours as it did a loop of both the city and the beach-heavy outskirts of the island. Penang really does have it all; interesting and accessible urban and rural spaces. We unfortunately didn't have enough time to have a look round the National Park which is apparently wonderful. Here's some of our windy experience;

We eventually got off at Komtar to go to Hin Bus Depot art space where there was a great exhibition showing the artwork of learning-disabled people in the community. The space was great and included a large open garden covered in contemporary art. There were also free tea and biscuits.
We found our way to the main bus station and managed to get on a bus heading to the celebrated Gurney hawker centre; home to all the street food you could ever wish for.
Loz found a veggie Chinese stall and had a bowl of some nondescript soup and I had some Po Piah that I'd been desperate to try since I set foot in Langkawi. It's basically a very thin skinned spring roll but full of fresh vegetables and a delicious chilli sauce. We then found an amazing milkshake stall which made me a birthday-special peanut butter and Toblerone shake. I was knock knock knockin' on Heaven's doors.

Our post-binge high didn't last long however as we could not for the life of us find the bus stop heading back to George Town. It's not as simple as crossing over to the opposite side of the road that you got off at. No, what you have to do is walk for 45 minutes in the dark around the back of a huge mall and down some dodgy streets to join a small group of people and hope they too are waiting for a bus and not just congregating with the intention of mugging you.
Thankfully, we did get on a bus in the end and only had to endure a few drug-addled weirdos (ahhh nostalgic). As we approached our hotel we remembered that we were an hour late for collecting our laundry. I've never seen Lauren run so fast and amazingly she made it to the shop just as she was locking the doors. The next day was a bank holiday and the day after that we were leaving early in the morning so we would've had no chance at getting our clothes back.

Our last day in Penang was boringly spent planning for what was to come next. We of course intermittently broke the boredom by eating.
Penang has been my favourite city overall so far and the perfect place to spend my birthday. It's actually the first place we've been that I could realistically see myself living in. But we'll give Bristol a go first eh...

Posted by advensha 21:09 Archived in Malaysia Tagged malaysia adventure penang backpacking ferry langkawi travelling colonial southeast_asia time_capsule_hotel yeap_noodles Comments (1)

Thailand: Ko Lanta and Trang

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On the morning of Friday 15th April we left Khao Lak heading to Ko Lanta. Our first leg of the journey was a cramped minibus where we got talking to a lovely retired British couple from London who had done a hell of a lot of travelling over their lives, especially around Thailand. We swapped stories and shared Britishisms (as you do) and they told us all about their very eccentric gay son and his husband.
Thankfully the cramped bus only lasted for 3 hours and we got off at Krabi to then change to a different (less cramped) minibus driven by an awfully cool Thai fella who's driving was as untamed as his long hair. On this second leg of the journey we had to get on two big, industrial, open-air car ferries to get to Ko Lanta island; which was an experience.

After another 2 hours we arrived at Ko Lanta where we were dropped right outside of our hostel; Lemonade Boutique. The hostel was really nice; our dorm room was quite unusual as it had 4 single beds along with hospital-style privacy curtains - we'd gotten used to bunks. Everything was in order and we plopped our bags down and hungrily threw ourselves in the next door to 'Salad House' restaurant, which proclaimed to be an organic health food establishment. We quickly found out that it was like every other Thai restaurant; massive menu, most things deep-fried and not many veggie options and overpriced. We ordered some basic rice and tofu dishes and quietly noted to each other that we wouldn't return.

Our tummies full, we went to check out our beach; Khlong Dao, which was only 100m behind our hostel. The beach looked amazing set against a pink sunset. It was quiet, with only a few murmurs of children playing and a slight breeze whistling through the tall trees. There were a a sprinkling of bars and restaurants set back from the white sand with some brightly coloured lanterns hanging from their decks.

Back at our hostel we heard a cat crying outside our door and naturally, being lesbians, we couldn't help but let it in for a cuddle. We named this cat Gryger as he looked like a grey tiger and he became a regular feature of our Ko Lanta trip. We cuddled with Gryger for a few hours until our dorm-mates turned up; a young guy from Amsterdam and a British girl. To Lauren's disdain these two liked to listen to crap pop music and talk loudly about clothes and diets and selfies and other young people things. It always amuses me to see Lauren angrily gurning in a corner like a bitter old woman who's confused, scared and annoyed by the modern world.
At 11pm they shut up, just in time to save Lauren from an aneurysm.

The next day we rented bicycles and rode to Ko Lanta Animal Welfare centre approx. 3km away. The centre has been going for about 5 years and is a non-for-profit organisation that treats and houses ill and/or stray cats and dogs in Ko Lanta, as well as doing mass sterilisation programmes and re-homing animals that aren't safe on the streets. The centre runs entirely on volunteers so we thought we'd get involved and take one of their dogs for a walk. We were given Lady, who had been adopted by a Dutch family and was just waiting for a flight-buddy. She was young and placid and looked a bit like a collie. We were given 45 minutes to wander around the nearby rubber-tree fields.
For the first 5 minutes everything was good, we wandered amongst the woods and kept an eye out for other dogs or anything more sinister like hungry dog-eating snakes. Soon though, Lady decided she'd had enough and just stopped still; refusing to walk any further. We had to coax and tug her for the remainder of the walk. At first we thought she might have seen or smelled something that scared her but it quickly became apparent that she just wasn't in the mood to move. To be fair to her it was incredibly hot outside, but we weren't very well equipped to deal with a pretty big dog playing dead. We managed to drag her to the road leading back to the centre and we were only 200m away when she lay down in the dirt. Luckily for us a Geordie guy who works at the centre was driving past and saw us struggling, after he had a go at energising Lady he picked her up and carried her to his van to take her 30 seconds up the road. After speaking to the girls at the centre they laughed and apologised and said that Lady could be, at times, a lazy so and so.

We got a tour of the facility and met some of the cute dogs and cats with often pretty horrific back stories. The centre really is an amazing place and if we'd have known about it sooner we would have signed up to volunteer for a month.

By now we were peckish and so biked up to a veggie restaurant called Kunda, run by a lovely Polish couple. We had an amazing smoothie and some zapiekanka (an open sandwich with cheese and other delicious toppings). While enjoying the outdoor hippie-haven garden we got talking to a British-Morocco girl called Issan who has been travelling for a number of years and had just adopted a gorgeous little dog called Teddy from the Animal Welfare centre we'd just been to. She was really lovely and praised us for the big step we'd taken to come away. She also told us about her experience working on elite yachts for the super-rich for years and how it had opened her eyes to how wasteful, cruel and vapid the industry is and how it had 'broken' her and a lot of her colleagues over the years.

We cycled back to our dorm and got a little burned by the afternoon sun and met one of our new roomies; Brad from Canada. He had long greasy hair and was wearing an Iron maiden T shirt. We chatted about music and Thailand and our respective travel experiences and plans; it was refreshing to meet a backpacker who wasn't conventionally 'sceney' or 'hip'.

That evening we cycled to Sala Dan market approx. 3km up the road from where we were staying. Lauren ingeniously put her torch on flashing mode and hung it from her front basket in order to reduce our chances of being run down (especially considering we had no helmets or high visibility items).
The market was pretty sprawling with loads of snide clothes on offer along with the usual souvenirs. On our way out of the market Lauren spotted a funky little vintage shop in the corner called Neems where we both bought some retro shorts from the bargain bin.

On the ride home we stopped at a street food market for dinner. While there we saw a big ginger cat roaming around getting strokes. Beckoning it over we soon noticed that it had a massive gaping wound on it's neck. We took a snap and later emailed it to the Animal Welfare centre we'd just visited who replied the following day to say they'd found the cat and were treating it. We like to think of ourselves as modest heroes.

We woke up very early the next day having not slept very well due to the direct hit of the AC unit. We toddled to the beach where there were no sunbeds so we used some towels we'd borrowed from the hostel. Neither of us cope very well with the proliferation of sand and so after a bit of swimming in the warm Andaman sea we pulled ourselves away to the shade of another hippie restaurant called Irie. It being low season, wherever we went felt almost empty which was both nice and sometimes a little isolating. It was interesting to see the local people packing away to head to their other off-season jobs. In keeping with the sleepy atmosphere we didn't do much else for the rest of the day besides eating our new found favourite things; chocolate bon-bon sweets from the 7/11.

The following morning we were chucked in the back of a pick-up and driven to Lanta old town pier for our '4 islands' boat trip. Our boat was a long tail and our group was 20 strong Europeans including two very cute, very well-behaved German children. The tour guides were rough round the edges and very funny but certainly not polished (we did pick the cheapest trip). We had an exhilarating 1 hour ride on the sea to get to the first 'islands' - Ko Chuek and Ko Ma where we snorkelled with the many cute and colourful fish. Here's some of what we saw;

The next mooring point was at Marakot cave (aka emerald cave) which we we swam underneath for 80m in pitch black with hundreds of other tourists. It's certainly something we've both never experienced before; it was a unique combination of unbridled terror coupled with childlike exhilaration. The sight upon exiting the cave was worth the panic as we gazed upon what could have been the Garden of Eden. There were a little too many tourists for our liking but we consoled ourselves in the fact that in high season we would have felt like caged chickens. One guy floated in wearing a trilby... now that's commitment to fashion.
After admiring the natural beauty of the bay we swam back to the boat and head to our last stop; Ko Ngai island. The island is incredibly beautiful and very secluded with only a few signs of ramshackled civilisation. We ate a delicious Thai lunch with Coca Cola included to Lauren's delight and spent the rest of our 1 hour slot snorkelling in the translucent turquoise water. We got particularly fixated on a little dotted white fish who appeared to be digging around and guarding a den most probably full of babies. I'm sure our two white arses bobbing up and down in shallow water served as interesting amusement for the Muslim natives of the island.

The breezy ride back to Ko Lanta in the back of the pick-up truck was wondrous after a day of skin-cooking. After a short recuperation we head out for a street food tea and then onto the Irish Embassy; an Irish pub up by the popular Long beach. If you know me at all you'll know that I wouldn't just spontaneously go to a pub unless there's a motive, and in this instance, the motivation was a quiz. We settled down to our table and eyed around for any other couples or loners that we may want to join our duo. Unfortunately after some careful judging we decided that everyone else looked too thick to be worthy of joining our team and so continued as a twosome.

We titled ourselves Fannypackers as homage to Lauren's love of a bum bag (and owing to us both possessing fannies) and got stuck in to the questions. In all fairness, the quiz was written and mastered by a British guy so anyone from Blightly had an unfair advantage. Like good ex-colonists we of course embraced this advantage and, despite our diminutive team size we managed to come 3rd! The teams in 2nd and 1st had 4 and 5 people in them and we definitely saw some unauthorised usage of phones too... I can only assume they were cheating Southern bastards. We even won an extra point for having a funny name. The only issue was that our prize was a 750 baht token for the nearby paint-balling centre. Neither of us fancied putting on heavy protective gear in the 40° heat nevermind shooting people so instead we were given two Sambuca shots - perhaps not a fair trade but they were free nonetheless and they washed down my earlier Guinness and black nicely.

The next day was our last and we decided to laze about, cuddle our best friend Gryger and do some planning. We unfortunately weren't sleeping very well because of the air-conditioning, so on our last night after our dorm-mates checked out we swapped beds to be further away from the unit. This helped a lot and we wish we'd done it sooner.
Ko Lanta turned out to be a heavenly home-from-home with plenty of opportunity for animal-loving; a place that fed our weary travelling souls.

Our last little detour before heading to Malaysia was the province of Trang in Southern Thailand. The journey was only 4hrs on a minibus and involved getting on 2 car ferries to first pass the Lat Bo Nae river and then the Andaman sea to mainland Thailand. We suspected that the minibus driver thought he was playing GTA as he seemed to speed up when approaching sharp bends and also enjoyed overtaking vehicles that were already overtaking someone else.
We were dropped at Trang bus station and for the first time during this whole trip we weren't mobbed by taxi and/or tuk tuk drivers touting for our custom. In fact we couldn't see any other tourists, any English information or any taxis or tuk tuks. We stood around for a while and eventually a tuk tuk or more accurately a songthaew arrived. We got on along with a few other Thai passengers and hoped the driver knew where our guesthouse was. Thankfully, he did.

One thing that immediately struck us about Trang was the tuk tuks; they weren't like any we'd seen before. They are essentially little 3-wheeler cars with a partially open 'truck' in the back.

We made it to Yamawa guesthouse and were greeted by a very sweet smiley lady who runs the place with her husband and children. After freshening up we got in an actual and headed to the retail park with plans to see a film at the cinema. We arrived early for the film and so had a peep in the supermarket where we marvelled at the unusual wares like mushroom juice and green tea yogurt as well as buying plenty of calorific snacks. At the cinema's box office we were told that all of the films are dubbed in Thai with no English subtitles. We felt rather hard done by considering in every other cinema English was kept at the speaking language. Where's my Western privilege I felt like shouting! We hung our heads and got a ride to the one of the local night markets for yet more food. The market was a hive of activity and we were the only whiteys around. Families were there buying their tea and sweet treats for their kids. Young girls were shimmying around looking at ridiculously tiny polyester dresses with lemons printed on them.
We got plenty of double-takes but even more smiles and waves which filled us both with glee. We walked back to Yamawa rather glad our film-expedition had failed and spent the evening eating our munchies in bed. Poor us.

The next day we walked around the town a little checking out the local businesses and layout of the streets. At one point an elderly lady stopped me to stroke my arm and give me a big smile. Who doesn't find bingo wings comforting!? We didn't do much else except go to the other night market where I managed to find a freshly put-together pot fruit and berries; what a revelation, I haven't had berries for a lifetime.

Trang was a welcome reprieve from the 'touristy' hotspots we'd been frequenting for a while and the perfect little precursor to our country-hop over to Malaysia.

Posted by advensha 06:22 Archived in Thailand Tagged beaches landscape beach thailand adventure beautiful cats ko_lanta sunny backpacking ferry travelling minibus trang andaman_sea Comments (0)

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