Not Doing it Justice: Thailand, Lao and Cambodia
With the combination of James leaving for Colorado to be with family after his Grandmother's passing and the arrival of Rebecca (my girlfriend) and Sarah (Graham's girlfriend) our blog took a backseat. Graham and I figured it'd be better to spend what limited time we had with our girlfriends, with our girlfriends, instead of writing a comprehensive blog. I wouldn't have done this any differently, however it is a tragedy that our time through Thailand, Cambodia and Laos is not documented as thoroughly. Therefore I'll take a little bit of time to update what we did and what we experienced between our last blog post and this one.
We arrived in Chiang Mai and found ourselves at Lita Guesthouse for a few days. We met up with Austin and Greg (two of our buddies from CU) and Sarah returned to us after months of being away. It was an incredible reunion, having our friends from school plus Sarah with us. Effy (the owner of Lita Guesthouse) was incredibly accommodating. She arranged a free cooking class for all of us, which is apparently a great way to spend a hung over day and took us to her elephant camp just outside of Chiang Mai. We spent two days and a night at her elephant camp where we were able to feed the elephants, ride them, bath them and even get kisses from them. We also cooked our own Thai dinner (with the help of Effy), shot an old muzzle loaded rifle, took bamboo rafts down a river and drank our fill of Thai "tequilla". It was an incredible experience and Effy was an incredible host, we could not thank her enough for her hospitality.
I never knew elephants were such majestic and sensitive creatures. They easily could've squished any of us while we bathed them, but they were entirely aware of our presence.
From Chiang Mai we rode to Bangkok. Jackson, one of my best friends from home (Bainbridge Island, WA) has a cousin who has lived in Bangkok for the past 3 years. Alyson and Adrian and their children, Gabe (12 yrs) and Lucy (4 yrs), may be the most welcoming people I've ever met. When Jackson and I were seniors in high school we visited them in Monterrey, Mexico (they lived in Monterrey, then moved to Norway for 2 years, then to Bangkok where they currently reside). James and I had the pleasure of recovering from a bout of food poisoning at Alyson and Adrian's when we were in Bangkok in 2013. James and I knew the treat we were about to exerpience when we arrived at Alyson and Adrian's but Graham and Sarah had not yet experienced the wonderfullness that is their house.
We spent 3 days there, enjoying delicious food, including a visit to the local Mexican Restaurant, working on our motorcycles (removed and cleaned our carbs, checked our valves, changed a battery, replaced our drive chains, and some other minor work), enjoying the AC, and having home massages. It was 3 days of absolute heaven. The only downside (a major downside) was James left for home on the second day of our stay with Alyson and Adrian.
Beer and a foot massage. I don't think there is anything better
On September 26th (I remember this day easily because I'd been looking forward to it so much) Rebecca arrived in Bangkok. My heart was racing and I was getting more and more nervous as Graham, Sarah and I waited for Rebecca to get off the plane. The nervousness vanished and it was incredible to have her on the back of the bike as we rode away from the airport (she also brought a backpack full of motorcycle parts and candy) which was incredible to have.
The next couple days consisted of the 4 of us exploring Bangkok, drinking a little bit too much on the Walking Street of Pattaya and entering Cambodia. For those 3 or 4 days we were constantly talking about our "extreme couples retreat", however it didn't get extreme until we tried to ride from Koh Kong (border town between Thailand and Cambodia) to Battambang. Google Maps told us it was about 300km away and would take 4-5 hours. That was nothing. We spent the morning exploring a waterfall near Koh Kong and didn't start riding until 11 or 12.
Rebecca did her job and got this picture of me struggling to get my bike up before coming to help me out. Despite my obvious frustration...
The next 8 hours were spent riding through mud, falling in the mud, falling in mud puddles and getting incredibly wet. We rode 80 miles in 8 hours. It was the muddiest and possibly the most difficult road of the entire trip and we took our girlfriends on it. It was an absolute blast. We were all in a good mood despite the numerous falls, riding in the dark, limited food and difficult terrain. When we finally reached a small town and pulled into the "hotel" we were exhausted and ready for bed. First we had to have a dinner of chicken pluck (Sarah's all time favorite animal innards) and ginger. Then, while Sarah and Graham somehow enjoyed a good night's sleep, Rebecca and I were haunted by burrowing rats in the mattress, dead cockroach shells that littered the bed and the fear that we were being attacked by bed bugs.
Graham peeing, Sarah checking out the jungle and me looking at my bike. For some reason I love this picture.
Next we found ourselves in luxury as we rode to Battambang, Cambodia. Where we stayed at Here Be Dragons Hostel that gave us free beer when we checked in. We enjoyed a romantic evening of tuk-tuk rides and the Cambodian Circus.
Next stop was Siem Riep, home of Trip Advisor's #1 tourist destination in the world, Angkor Wat. The 12th/13th century temples were absolutely incredible. It was believed that 300,000 people and 6,000 elephants were working at any one time during the construction of the temples. The craftsmen ship and detail were incredible. There was a dark spot however, Sarah left us in Siem Reap and it was incredibly sad to see her go.
The four of us on the steps of Angkor Wat
With Graham 3rd wheeling it, we rode towards Lao. Despite a few grumpy border guards, we crossed into Lao without much difficulty. We met back up with Greg and Austin in Pakse, Lao and spent the next couple days riding around Pakse (with Austin and Greg on rented scooters) moving at a much needed slower pace. It was an absolute highlight being with Austin and Greg, having major political discussions, chasing waterfalls, drinking coffee, watching UP and meeting other travelers.
Just another beautiful waterfall in Lao
Greg and Austin both manned up and got some beautifully shaved heads in Lao
While riding from Siem Reap to the Lao border, I unfortunately impalled my rear tire on a 5' nail in the middle of a rain storm. Luckily we pulled off in this families restaraunt who were incredibly friendly.
From Pakse we booked it back to Bangkok where we met James and 3x2 Freefall was reunited.
October 12th - Home away from home
I disembarked from the plane following the stream of people towards baggage claim. I was in a bit of a daze as to where I was and what time it was. Outside the rain that had rocked the plane during landing poured in sheets against the large windows of the Bangkok international airport and a distant voice announced delayed flights due to the weather. It was around 7 am by the time I made my way through passport control and baggage claim. My heavy bag was a reminder of the fact that poor Jolene lay disassembled at Alison and Adrian's house. I had some time to burn before my rendezvous with the other two guys so I took a quick nap as I was exhausted from 24 hours of flying.
Upon awaking I made my way to a taxi stand and caught a taxi to the motorcycle store where I was going to meet up with the boys. I arrived early and decided to get a coffee at a nearby cafe. As I finished up my coffee an odd sight caught my eye outside that made my heart jump. A caucasian man was winding his way through traffic on a massive bike dwarfing all the other little scooters and even towering above the cars. It was Graham. I grabbed my stuff and ran outside barely missing Graham but intercepting Michael and Becca. I embraced them both and let out a whoop. Eventually I let them go as we were blocking traffic and I had yet to say hello to Graham. I followed them to the parking lot and embraced Graham who had disembarked and was running toward me with joy in his heart. We had a joyous reunion in the parking lot and it instantly felt like I was back. The motorcycle store had not charged my battery yet so we decided to leave the bikes and head to the Indonesian embassy by taxi.
The traffic was horrendous and the taxi ride took awhile which was fine as it gave us some time to catch up. We traded stories of our time apart and reconnected on an emotional level. We arrived at the Indonesian embassy 5 minutes before noon which was the deadline for submitting a visa application. After a bit of arguing with the guard and staff at the gate of the embassy we were turned away as the visa was already closed for the day. We did, however, find out that the office sometimes re-opened around 3:00 and we decided to return around then and spend the day shopping around that area.
We made our way along the very hectic street playing to another large street in which we had to cross. After playing a real life game of Frogger we found ourselves in front of a number of small cafeterias. It didn't take long before we were munching a plate of noodles and chicken. The meal was mediocre but hit the spot and provided some much needed energy. We proceeded on to Pantip plaza which was the original technology market in Bangkok. It was filled with all sorts of electronic gizmos and gadgets. Neon lights lined stalls full of Ipods, cameras, electric scooters, computers and more. The market consisted of 5 levels of stalls and almost every conceivable electronic gadget. We wandered the stalls examining selfie-sticks, small fans and pirated movies and programs. Graham who was less then pleased with his computer was keeping a weather eye out for an alternative and was soon rewarded as he learned he could likely sell his computer for a reasonable amount. Time flew by and it was soon time to return to the embassy.
We were in luck and the visa office was open. Unfortunately upon entering we found out that we did not have the necessary documents to submit a visa application. Furthermore we found out that the office was closed the following day and would lengthen the return time to receive a visa. We left the embassy to return to the bikes a bit dejected and brainstorming on the best way to overcome this new problem. Returning to the bikes I hopped on the back of Graham's bike and headed towards the house feeling a bit exposed and vulnerable being on the back. Arriving at Adrian and Alison's was amazing as I was finally reunited with my bike and the hospitality, luxury and friendliness of their home was wonderful. As night fell my eyes began to droop and I could hardly keep them open during a wonderful foot massage by some on-call masseuse's. As I crawled into bed half asleep I felt I had returned to my home away from home.
October 13th: Rebecca's Final Day
As always, waking up in Alyson and Adrian's was phenomenal. One of the most difficult parts of the trip was forcing myself out of their incredibly comfortable guest bed at 7 am. Downstairs we were greeted with coffee, egg burritos and fruit for breakfast, compliments of Adrian. Is there anything better than a comfortable bed and a delicious breakfast?
A delicious fruit platter
Adrian needed to head to work around 9:30 and he offered to give us a ride to his office where we could catch the train and explore parts of the city. Which was perfect because it allowed Rebecca to get some of the shopping she was hoping to get done (I felt terrible about the shopping because I kept telling Rebecca that there would be more stores and that she should wait to buy anything, until it was the last day and we hadn't bought anything… Typical Michael thing to do) and allow us to explore a bit more of Bangkok.
After a 45 minute drive we reached Adrian's office and found ourselves on the Skyrail towards MBK, one of Bangkok's largest shopping "malls". Graham brought his laptop along with us in the hopes that he could sell it and buy a smaller, faster and better tablet. There is another "mall" called Pantip Plaza that is known for electronics so Graham headed that way, while James, Rebecca and I went into MBK. The first thing we noticed was a blast of cold air as we entered the incredibly well air conditioned building. As always, the AC felt fantastic.
MBK consisted of 6 floors full of plastic trinkets, wooden carvings, fake jewelry, clothing, pirated movies, bags, throwing stars, tasers and nearly anything else you can possibly imagine. Rebecca got some gifts for friends and herself, using some solid bargaining skills that she could have only learned from me (bought a pair of elephant pants for 1/3 of the original asking price). I got a pirated version of Rosetta Stone and a bag for Rebecca to take some of my motorcycle gear home, and James bought a throwing star. It was exactly how I like to shop, walk in buy a few things and walk out. We didn't wander around aimlessly, we were efficient in our buying.
We hopped back on the train, bought a pile of Pad Thai from a street venfor and met Adrian at his office. Graham met up with us looking slightly flustered after getting on the train going the wrong way. We got back in Adrian's car and headed back to the house for Rebecca's final dinner in SE Asia.
Tan, Adrian and Alyson's nanny/cook made us another incredible meal of thai noodles in soup (I cannot remember the name but it means, "Face on Noodles"). Most likely because you're supposed to put the soup on top of the noodles? Regardless of the name, it was delicious. A fantastic last Thai meal for Rebecca (I believe she enjoyed it as much as I did).
We spent the rest of the night talking, discussing next steps involving the trip and trying to stay up so that morning wouldn't come. As always, morning did come and just like when I left CO, it was difficult to say bye.
Future Planning: Oct 14
I woke up cold. I was actually cold! The AC said it was 24C which is pretty much standard room temperature. I am not really sure if I am just accustomed to sweating throughout the night now or if the AC was lying to me, but either way I liked the feeling. We had breakfast with Adrian and Allyson before retiring to the living room where we proceeded to spend the rest of the day working out our futures.
I am in a bit of a weird limbo land with my life at the moment. I don’t have any concrete plans for where I will be working/living after the trip, and this has become more apparent as we work on shipping the bikes home. Up to this point the trip has mostly consumed all my energy and efforts. Writing this blog, maintaining our bikes, riding the crappy roads, dealing with legalities etc.. hasn’t left much time to think about the future. Since we have made it into Thailand though everything has slowed down. We have had time to sit back and relax a bit, and all the things that I have been putting off for the past couple months have come rushing in.
This day was consumed by these thoughts and trying to take action on them. We need to figure out where and how we are shipping the bikes back, so we emailed and tried to get in contact with as many freight forwarders as we could in the US, Malaysia and Indonesia. I think we must have emailed over 50 different companies. The plan is most likely going to involve us shipping the bikes out of Malaysia and then buying some sort of 3 wheeled vehicle in Indonesia to ride as far as we can. They don’t seem to have tuk-tuk’s there, but are hopeful that there is some other kind of strange vehicle we can obtain.
The other point of action is figuring out where we will be living and working when we return. My plan has always been to work with the Hawaiian National Guard part time and try and find another full time job as well. The guard couldn’t guarantee me a position, and today I got an email saying that other people were interested in the position. It looks like I’ll have some competition in the application for the guard.
I worked on my resume until my new computer decided to go through 163 updates and take 12 hours to do so. It was pretty frustrating, but all in all it was a productive day. We decided to stay one more night there to get some more work done. It may also have been due to the fact that it felt similar to being home for a while. We had a little home base and place to relax. It felt really good and was a very productive environment. I went to bed feeling like I had taken some steps towards figuring out what we were doing, and felt good falling asleep in the cool AC.
October 15: Trapped by luxury
I took a sip of my delicious espresso, stretched my legs out on the super comfortable couch and took a moment to enjoy the cool crisp air. It was the 5th day at Alison and Adrian's and was supposed to be our last. As was the day before and the day before that. Each day of delicious food, comfortable beds and air conditioning made it harder to leave but today was the day. We were all dragging our feet a bit though and procrastinating our departure. This wasn't all bad though as our main form of procrastination was working on shipping, resume writing and blog stuff. As the day dragged on though we knew it had to happen and around 1 pm we finally made moves. We quickly packed up, finished adjustments on the bikes and headed out into depths of Bangkok.
Before we left Bangkok I had to get my extremely bald tires changed. We returned to the place where we had ordered tires before I left for home and were greeted by the extremely friendly shop owner and her daughter. The shop mechanic was out for the day but they were able to order tires from another shop and would have them in 30 minutes or so. While we waited we decided to change our oil and do a bit of maintenance. As we worked the lady brought us water, fruit and whatever tools we needed. The tires showed up right on schedule so I strapped them on the back of the bike and we finished up our maintenance. We said our goodbyes to the extremely helpful shop owners who outfitted us with some nice white hats!
Our extremely helpful shop owners and us wearing our new hats!
We headed out of the city as night fell winding in and out of the heavy evening traffic. It felt good to be back on the bike and it was surprisingly refreshing to not know where we were going to sleep. The roads were fast and it wasn't long before we were out of the city and eating up miles on the highway. We rode into the small town where we were hoping to find a hotel around 8. We wandered the streets checking prices of hotels and drawing the eyes of passersby's. We finally found one for a decent rate and pulled our motorcycle into the lobby where they would be safe for the night. Putting our stuff up in the room we headed out for some dinner. We found some tasty street food before retiring to the room for a good long nights rest.
16th: 3x2 Freefall back on the road!
The morning consisted of overly large coffees served in plastic cups, deep fried dough (donuts), omelets, sticky rice, meat on a stick, and bottles of water. It was a fairly normal breakfast except we were accompanied by an enormously fat dog. I wish I'd taken a photo of the dogs neck that dangled so low from fat that it nearly covered his face when he laid down.
We hopped on the bikes, they all started well and we were on the road. The goal for the day was to make it to Surat Thani, a city about 4 hours north of the Thai/Malay border. It was ~400 km south of us and we figured we could make it there in 4 or 5 hours. It felt like it'd been too long since we last had a chunk of riding that needed to be accomplished with the 3 of us together. It was fantastic to be back together.
The riding was fairly uneventful, other than the magnificence of the Thai roads, occasionally passing traffic while cutting it a bit close, and the terrible smells of their farms. We haven't seen any proof but I'm fairly confident they use fish fertilizer for their crops. Every time we pass a farm, we get the most disgusting fish smell wafting through our helmets.
We were about 100 km away from Surat Thani when James mentioned that we should try to camp. I'm not sure why we hadn't thought of that sooner and it bummed me out that we weren't already assuming that we would be camping, but Graham and I immediately agreed that we should camp. We found a small town just north of Surat Thani called Tha Chana. Our map (Maps.Me) showed us a few small roads that followed the coast. Maps.Me showed no resorts or restaurants so we figured there'd be a good chance to find a campsite.
Came across a strange place for lunch. This pile of meat looked delicious, except it's all chicken pluck...
We turned off the highway and drove by a motorcycle shop almost immediately. James still needed to get his new tires put on so we decided to stop and see how much it'd cost to have them replaced. It was 200 Baht for both tires (~$6). Totally worth it to have them replace it. While James's tires were being replaced, I started to work on my faulty muffler. For the last 3 weeks, my muffler has been slipping off the manifold due to a seized bolt that cannot be tightened and it has really started to frustrate me. I have tried numerous times to put the muffler back on the bike in a secure way but it always manages to slip back off. I decided I'd see what the mechanics could do, they said it'd cost me 100 Baht. I said of course. Within 30 minutes, James had new tires and my muffler felt sturdier than it had in the last 3 weeks.
While we were waiting, we smoked our last and final Indian Beedy, the small cigars we bought while in India. We purchased two packs of 24 for 12 Rupees each ($0.20) and they lasted us throughout India and into Thailand. We'd been saving our last one for when James returned and now was the time to smoke it. It was sad seeing our last Beedy, a major part of our time in India, disappear.
As always, the Beedy made me feel slightly nauseous and made me realize I was incredibly hungry. We rode into the town and found ourselves at a noodle stand where we had a Beer Lao each and two bowls of noodle soup each. By the time dinner was over, the sun had sat and it was starting to get dark. it was prime time for camp spot searching. Not too dark that we couldn't see anything, but dark enough that once our bikes were turned off, others couldn't see us.
The road along the coast was exactly what we were hoping for; open beach free of major restaurants and resorts. There were coconut trees lining the beach and we could easily set up our hammocks between them. I realized I hadn't slept in my hammock since Kyrgyzstan (end of July) and consequently almost forgot my technique for setting up my rain tarp and hammock.
The night was spent sitting on the beach, tending to a coconut husk fire, and discussing the final 2 months of our trip. It was a weird feeling discussing the potential of shipping our motorcycle home and what we would do once they were gone. It was the first time that I truly realized our trip is well past the half way point and in some ways is almost at an end (the motorcycling portion). It upset me. However, we still have 2 months of traveling and I am incredibly excited for the next steps, even if it's without the motorcycles.
Stayed up late talking about our trip and what would happen when it was all over
Last border crossing on the bikes: Oct 17th
I woke up pretty comfortable in my hammock. I was surprisingly not soaked in sweat, and when I peered out of the hammock a pretty spectacular sunrise wished me good morning. I was a little groggy from the beer and late night conversation, so I laid back and listened to the squirrels rustling through the palm fronds above. When I finally got the energy to pull myself out of my hammock I saw Michael looking confused and trying to setup his tarp. One of the squirrels had chewed a hole through a coconut and drained it perfectly into Michaels hammock. He was confused and still half asleep so he started setting up his tarp from the rain. It was a pretty funny way to start the day.
Not a bad place to wake up
We packed up and headed south towards Malaysia. We figured we might as well try and cross the border today since we were on the road so early. The road south is under a lot of construction and the going was a little slower than we expected. We stopped at a light and found that Michael’s muffler had popped off again and his bike sounded pretty strange so we pulled off to check it out. It turned out that his muffler had slipped up and burned a hole through the airbox. This was a potentially really crappy situation. The airbox cleans the air that is combusted before entering your carburetor and then the engine. Not having clean air for combustion can gunk up the carb pretty quick and get dirt particles into your engine which is less than ideal. At this point there wasn’t anything we could do to fix the airbox so we spent an hour trying to bang the muffler back into place. Once we got it in place we wrapped a snapped clutch cable around it and tied it off to the frame in an attempt to keep the muffler from burning a bigger hole through the airbox.
Working in the shade and charging our stuff in the sun
We continued south and the weather started to turn more overcast. Near the border mosques started popping up along the side of the road, and the women were covered in shawls. We stopped off for some food when it started to rain and had some mee goreng (a Malaysian dish). In a short distance the people and culture seemed to have changed as we got closer to the border. This area is a contested part of Thailand as the people more assimilate with the Islamic country of Malaysia than they do the Buddhist nation of Thailand. There have been uprisings of terror organizations in the region and several bombings have occurred in the area. We had been advised to scoot right through so we headed straight to the border.
Pretty nice stop for gas
The border was simple enough, and after getting the proper stamps in both countries we headed into Malaysia! We were pretty tired and it was getting late so we decided to crash in the border town at a simple guesthouse. It was one of the tinier rooms we have stayed in, but it had AC so no complaints. We were exhausted and I wasn’t feeling well so after grabbing some oreo’s we retired to watch ‘The Interview’ before passing out.
October 18: Family time
We wandered out of the room wearing our riding clothes (the dirtiest clothes we owned) and headed down the strip next to the hotel in search of breakfast. It was our first morning in Malaysia and a faint haze had spread over the town. We quickly found breakfast at a KFC and were stoked to pay less than 2 dollars for a coffee, large piece of chicken, helping of rice and a hashbrown. After breakfast we packed up the room and hit the road. Our goal was to make it to Pinang where we were to pick up Michael's Dad, Greg. As we headed south the faint haze turned become thicker and thicker and it soon felt like we were making our way through a dense fog. The far edge of the rice fields faded away and only the outline of the palm tree forests and the occasional large hill were present. We stopped for gas at a shell and were blown away by the quality of the gas and how cheap it was! I paid less than 8 dollars to fill my tank! We got even more excited when we got large ice coffees at the nearby coffee shop for around 25 cents each. Caffeinated and happy with our latest purchases we set out again. The scenery had changed and now consisted primarily of large unnatural forests of palm trees planted in perfect lines and stretching for hundreds of yards. The haze had become a constant and we were told that it was smoke from fires on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia more than 1000 km to the south west. It created an eerie scene when combined with forests full of dead palm trees that stuck up naked and alone among their shorter leafed friends.
The last few rice fields we saw before it changed to forest of palm
As we entered the town of Butterworth we fell in beside a small man riding a massive BMW motorcycle. After a bit of small talk with him during a red light we inquired about motorcycle shops and he said they would have them on Penang. He then motioned us to follow him to the ferry which was the cheapest way to get onto the island. Upon arriving at the ferry he generously paid for all three of us to board (50 cents each) and it wasn't long before we were squeezing onto the ferry. We took up twice as much room as every other bike but no one seemed to mind and we were soon chugging across the river. While talking to our new friend another man nearby overheard us discussing motorcycle parts and asked what we needed. We showed him the sprocket we were looking for and he immediately began making calls in search of it. He had no luck finding the part but offered to show us to shop where they would be able to help us. The ferry arrived at the dock and we exited amidst a gang of scooters and motorcycles. We parted ways with our original friend and followed our new guide off into Georgetown in search of parts.
Motorcycles, bicycles and scooters crammed into every possible
nook and cranny on this short ferry ride
We arrived at a tiny little shop that had some large motorcycles parked out front. Our guide got to work searching for a sprocket while Michael prepared to work on repairing his melted air box and the disconnected muffler that had caused the melting. Graham and I hung out and helped where we could. At the end of the work session they had repaired the air box using a strip cut out of a metal can and had hammered and tied the muffler to the frame. Unfortunately they had not been able to locate a sprocket but said to return the following day as most of the part stores were closed as it was a Sunday. Having done all we could on the bikes for the day and being famished we crossed the street to a small cafeteria. The chicken and fried rice was delicious and cheap and we were soon happily satisfied and ready to begin the search for a place to stay.
Our friend working on Michael's exhaust while Michael takes a break
We headed out of the city and began circling the island looking for a cheap place to stay. The original quotes for a room were very discouraging but we finally found a super friendly lady who pointed us towards a cheap hostel. The hostel was called Lazy Boys and was run by two extremely friendly brothers, one of which was an ex-rocker. They had a 6 bed dorm that was completely empty and reasonably priced so we booked our beds and immediately began taking over the room. While Graham and I showered and shopped around for some beer, Michael headed to the airport to pick up his Dad. Graham and I sipped beers and met some of the other patrons at the hostel while waiting for Michael and Greg. They soon returned and we got caught up over some beers and met some more of the hostel stayers. The hostel had a fun range of people including an American family with two young girls, a young Spanish man, a man from Saudi Arabia and a younger woman from Siberia. When the beers were drank we headed out for some much over due dinner. We found a cheap cafe that offered some tasty noodles and some not so cheap beers. Regardless we enjoyed a few beers and did some more catching up. We headed back to the hotel to catch up on some much needed sleep. Adding a fourth person felt completely comfortable and we were all excited to have Greg, who's essentially a Michael just a tad older, along for a bit!
October 19th: Getting our Golf on
It was the first day I'd spent with my dad in a long time and it was exactly what I was hoping for. We woke up and asked our incredibly hospitable hosts at Lazy Boy hostel for a breakfast recommendation. 10 minutes later we found ourselves unwrapping newspaper parcels full of rice with sardines. It wasn't very good… However, a coffee and a newspaper full of rice cost us less than $1 each. We weren't complaining at all.
James wasn't overly excited about the fish in the rice
Graham and I were in need of new rear sprockets (the ones we had machined for us in Thailand were worn out and had the potential to break their teeth at any moment). Luckily we kept a spare rear sprocket so we only needed one more.
James, Graham and myself were going to head into Georgetown to look for a spare rear sprocket while my dad searched around the hostel for a scooter to rent. Right before we left I realized it didn't make much sense for all 3 of us to go look for the sprocket while my dad hung around the hostel (scooter rentals are incredibly easy to find and would only take 10 or 15 minutes). So, I stayed at the hostel while Graham and James headed to Georgetown in search of a rear sprocket.
My dad and I hung around the hostel and discussed my options for what life (job prospects, etc) would look like after the trip was over. I have some decisions to make and it was incredibly helpful being able to hear his opinion to help make my own decisions. We walked around the beach and eventually found ourselves at a scooter rental store. Exactly where we wanted to be. My dad rented an automatic 150 cc Honda scooter. I watched proudly as he hopped on the bike and burned out into traffic, leaving all other motor vehicles behind.
James and Graham returned successful with a new rear sprocket. Graham and I each replaced our worn out old ones and our bikes were ready to go. All 4 of us hopped on our respective bikes and headed towards the Penang Turf Club Golf Course. My dad is an avid golfer and after we had been rejected from the golf course in Shymla, we had been fiending to play a little bit of golf, so this seemed like the perfect time to get our golf fix.
Rebecca let my dad borrow her bluetooth speaker so he could join us in our conversation while riding.
After a fairly standard ride into Georgetown (I'm sure it was hectic for my dad, but it felt standard to us), we found ourselves at the security gate of Penang Turf Club. Graham, James and myself were wearing our standard; incredibly dirty and grungy riding clothes, we did not look like we belonged at the club. My dad on the other hand was wearing a collared shirt and khaki shorts and looked like he might belong. He spoke to the security guard and charmed him into letting us in. I'm convinced if he hadn't been there, the 3 of us wouldn't have gotten past the first security gate.
After getting past the gate we decided we should put on our fancy clothes. Graham and James put on their "golfing" shirts they got in Shymla while I put on a collared shirt I borrowed from my dad. With a new confidence, brought on by our fancy clothes, we asked the reception desk if we could play a round of golf. She asked if we had golfing shoes. Unfortunately none of us brought our golfing shoes on the trip. However we did convince her that the Chaco Sandals, Graham, James and my dad were wearing were "special golfing sandals" that were highly popular in the US. She said they could wear them as long as they wore long socks below them. Somehow, she approved my giant boots for the golf course as long as I kept my long socks pulled up.
We walked back to the motorcycles, put on our spare pairs of socks, pulled them as high up our legs as we could and walked back to the office. We were ready to go. We each rented a set of golf clubs and were required to have a caddy. As we were walking to the first tee, we were stopped by a fellow golfer. He looked us up and down and demanded to know how we had managed to get on the golf course looking like we did. He said, "Don't be surprised if you get some calls from the front office voicing complaints." We laughed it off and started our round of golf.
I think Graham looks the best. Also notice the pulled up sock/chaco combo
It was one of my most enjoyable golf outings. Not only did we look incredibly goofy, but we all played decently well. Despite it being one of James's first golf outings, he sunk a 20+ foot putt and had a fantastic chip, Graham was told by the caddy's that he had an incredible swing, and my dad and I each had some solid shots. We were also the last ones on the course so we didn't have to worry about holding anyone up.
By the end of the round, we were all happy with how we'd played and we didn't get any complaints from the front office. We hopped back on our bikes and rode (this time a bit slower) back to our hostel. We got dinner, had a beer or two and were asleep by 10.
Penang National Park: October 20th
We woke up slow with our eyes crusted with sleep. The smoke made your eyes pretty sore throughout the day, and after a full night’s sleep you would wake up a little crusty. We grabbed some breakfast and went for a ride to the national park that was only a few km’s away. We hiked through the jungle for a little over an hour stopping to admire the different sounds and sights along the way. There were an impressive amount of ants roaming through the jungle almost everywhere we looked. Thick streams of them or individual ones that were bigger than a quarter. The national park used to be a logging area, and there were still ditches where the logs were carried out of the jungle using ox. The cicadas rang everywhere, and you never got out of earshot of at least one.
We were headed to turtle beach to see the turtle restoration stuff they had going on there, and when we were within sight of the beach we suddenly spotted a Langur. These are elusive monkeys that are almost entirely black with little white accents around their eyes. We had to stop and admire how graceful they were in the trees, and how shy they were. A baby played peekaboo with us for a bit from behind a branch. His little face poking through the brush was enough to melt your heart. They were such incredible little creatures and I was excited to see some monkeys that differed from the popular macaques.
Cooling off on the beach after the jungle hike
When we finally emerged from the jungle drenched in sweat the refreshing ocean breeze was heavenly. The smell of a salt in the air brought back all the good feelings of being on the beach and surfing. My mind instantly started daydreaming about waves, but unfortunately there are no waves on the strait of Malacca. I looked out on the completely flat ocean and got pretty excited about being in Indonesia soon where there are reefs and waves. For now, getting my toes in the sand and dipping my feet in some salt water was enough to keep me happy. We haven’t seen much of the ocean in a while and I have been longing for it.
Some baby turtles in the hatchery
We checked out the turtle sanctuary, which wasn’t much other than a tank of baby turtles. They looked so vulnerable, and it was pretty funny watching them swim awkwardly. We started walking back along the beach, but noticed a boat drop some people at a pier. Greg had a brilliant idea of catching it back to entrance of the park and we didn’t complain. So we hopped on a nice fiber glassed boat that shot straight back to the park entrance. Along the way my mind drifted to Indonesia again, and I wondered what it would be like if we got a boat in Indonesia, and sailed it as far east as we could go. This thought must have been muttered aloud and we all started to scheme up different routes and ways of obtaining a boat. We decided the boat we were on would be perfect, but unfortunately the captain said they run about $25,000. That was a little more that we can go for, but the idea has been planted.
For the rest of the afternoon we worked on resumes, the blog, organizing shipping out of KL, and meeting up with GIVI for the MotoGP. We have a lot of different things to keep us busy currently, and we try to take advantage of a good WIFI connection if we have one. During this time our friend Aslan who worked at the guesthouse was busy obtaining fishing poles, worms, and firewood for a fishing adventure later.
Smokey boat ride along the coast
We headed down to the beach with all of the necessities to have a successful fire and fishing session including a few Cuban cigars Greg had picked up. Everyone from the guesthouse joined us and we all had fun casting off beach. Unfortunately, a fishing boat went by right in front of us and laid down a net almost immediately after we cast. Aslan seemed pretty upset about it, and our chances of catching a fish were greatly diminished until they picked up their net. We took this time to go grab some more beer, and dig a pit for the fire. Aslan cheered in “dig the hole, be a turtle!” He greatly enjoyed being the organizer and regularly chimed in on the lack of fish anyone was catching saying that he would have caught ten by now. I believed him after he showed James how to cast the handline and sent it soaring through the air farther than anyone with a rod.
I thought this picture was hilarious with everyone stringing up the pole and the guy from Texas looking on
We caught a few fish no longer than 3 or 4 inches and most of us retired to the fire where Aslan started strumming his guitar. He was really talented and a girl from Borneo started singing shyly. It was pretty relaxing and awesome little vibe on the beach. Before we knew it the time was 1 in the morning and we retired to bed after burying the fire and finishing off the beer.
October 21: Island hopping
It was already 9:30 by the time we pulled ourselves out of bed and turned on the lights in our very dark and cool room. We were all pretty tired from the fishing the night before but were ready to pack up and head to Pangkor. We decided we needed a good banana pancake and milky tea from the previous days breakfast spot before we did anything though. After breakfast we were all feeling a bit more chipper and Graham and I began packing up and showering while Greg and Michael looked into getting a rental car. The car had to be brought from the airport and the rental agency agreed to drop it off right near our hostel. When the car arrived we were all packed and ready to go. We said our goodbyes and headed off into the haze.
A view of the haze as seen right after a toll collection point. Its looking
relatively clear in this picture.
We decided to take the extremely long bridge from Penang to the mainland. The crossing was a bit creepy as only the immediately surrounding ocean could be seen and we were some of the only vehicles. Eventually the incredibly long bridge ended and we returned to the familiar fields of palm trees. The drive went quickly but the banana pancakes quickly wore off and we were all getting hungry. A impulse decision to stop at a small stand along the road in a tiny town yielded some delicious fried goodies. We had fried bananas, fried sweet potatoes and all manner of fried pastries filled with both. When we were satisfied or even a bit over-satisfied we continued to the port to catch the ferry.
Greg and Michael purchasing some delicious fried food on the
side of the road
The ferry to Pangkor would take motorcycles but when they saw ours they quoted us at 10 times the cost of the other bikes due to our size. Not looking to pay that much we found a secure spot to park them and stored some of the more valuable items in the rental car which also had to be left at the dock. We boarded the ferry which had rows of comfortable seats and some extremely good air conditioning. The ride went quickly and we soon arrived at the port. A short taxi ride up some steep windy roads brought us to the hostel that had been recommended by our last hosts. We were greeted by an extremely friendly, shirtless man who check us in and got our rooms situated. A tall skinny Finnish guy greeted us as well and offered to pick us up some alcohol from a neighboring town as he was going to get some for himself. We agreed and gave him some money.
We got ourselves situated in the rooms before heading down to check out the food situation. We found a friendly restaurant on the somewhat deserted main strip of the town and made ourselves at home. A delicious fried rice and some beers from the nearby grocery store (they didn't sell beer at the restaurant) and I was feeling very satisfied. We returned to the hostel where we found the Finnish guy and some of his friends grilling burgers and hanging out. We settled in and broke into the bottle of whiskey for some surprisingly tasty mixed drinks. The rest of the night was spent with our new friends discussing life, politics and our travels over some drinks. The fan room that Graham and I were staying in was surprisingly cool and comfortable and it didn't take long for me to pass out once I hit the bed.
October 22nd: Working for our food
Teluk Nipah on Pangkor is an incredibly lazy town. I woke feeling slightly hung over. Although I couldn't tell if it was a hangover or I'd been inhaling too much smoke. The smoke from the fires in Sumatra seemed to be much worse in Pangkor and it was starting to wear on me.
We slowly walked down the street and found a breakfast spot where we all got toast with eggs and a coffee. My dad had been planning on treating us to a day of fishing for a while and we decided today would be the day. We talked to a couple different fishing stands and they all pointed us to the same person, Addam. We spoke to Addam and were told that we should come back to his stand at 4:30 when we'd leave to go fishing for a couple hours. That meant we had the hole day to do whatever we wanted.
What we wanted to do was very little. We spent the majority of the day soaking up the AC in my dad and my room, working on the blog (briefly), and hanging out. It was great to spend time with my dad, Graham and James talking about all the topics we've discussed at length during the trip. Getting a fresh/different perspective on some of the political issues from my dad was fantastic.
Bought some giant coffees from a scientist who made them with love and precision
As we were enjoying the AC, my dad noticed an overly large millipede walk right by him. He wasn't phased at all.
At 4:30 we headed to the fishing booth and found Addam. He had bad news for us. He told he couldn't find any anchovies and we wouldn't be able to go fishing unless we wanted to fish for tiny bait fish. We said thanks but no thanks to the idea of paying him money to catch fish he would use as bait. It was a major bummer, especially because we'd spent the day anticipating an evening of fishing. There weren't any other fishing boats on this side of the island so we decided to try a different town.
We hopped in a taxi and drove to a beach south of us. We met a fisherman who said he'd be able to take us out for 2 hours. The only problem was he didn't have any fishing poles so we'd have to use hand reels (essentially a fishing line wrapped around a plastic cylinder). We thought the hand reels would be fun and jumped at the idea without hesitation.
That's not rain or a cloud in the background, but smoke from the slashing and burning in Sumatra
30 minutes later all 4 of us were dangling lines with squid for bait over the boat, hoping and praying for a bite. Nothing. The driver moved spots and we fished for another 30 minutes. Nothing. We moved again and found a spot where the fish were biting. We spent the next hour yelling with excitement, cursing, and triumphantly reeling in all kinds of fish. We each caught at least one fish, some ranging in size from a couple inches to a 3 or 4 pound grouper to a Moray eel that the driver was visibly terrified of.
Catch of the day
I don't know if I've ever enjoyed fishing as much as I did then. After reeling in a total of 3 keepers, we were all bummed to head back to shore. However it was getting dark and we were ready to cook up the fish we'd caught.
Part of the delicious sea food dinner we had. My mouth is salivating just thinking about this meal
We went back to Teluk Nipah and found a restaurant to cook up our fish. We gave them the 3 fish and asked them to do whatever they thought would be best for it. Holy moly they made the best of it. I don't know if I've ever had such an incredible seafood dinner. I've never seen James enjoy any seafood, but he was eating and enjoying it just as much as the rest of us. They also gave us a crab/shrimp soup, a plate of fried rice, an omelet and allowed us to buy beer from the grocery store and drink it there. It was incredible, and made better by the fact that we'd caught the fish.
Headed to the big city: October 23rd
When the sun finally rose I couldn’t wait to get out of bed. Somehow the mosquitoes managed to make it into the room in the night, and I spent most of the night trying to cover myself from the bugs and then uncovering myself to let out the oppressive heat buildup. It was a painfully long night, and it seemed everyone suffered through a similar experience. We were all up early so we grabbed some grub, and headed back to the ferry. Stepping onto the cool air conditioned ferry felt incredible and we were all instantly in a better mood. I read some more about Malaysia in the Lonely Planet and tried to refresh my Bahasa a little bit on the way back to mainland Malaysia.
We made it back to the port on the mainland and packed everything up for our ride to KL. Greg clipped the extra Bluetooth to his shirt and we strapped all our stuff on the bikes. The bikes led the way and Greg followed in the car. We would squeeze through all the tight spots and then let him know when it was clear for a pass. It was pretty efficient system and we cruised along pretty quickly. Greg had to drop the car off at the airport so we planned to meet at the Airbnb. After Greg had split off to head to the airport we pulled off at a McDonalds, and I supersized a bigmac for possibly the first time in my life. It was worth it considering it cost a whole ringgit more (25 cents).
Once we arrived in KL we ended up doing the standard process of not being able to find the exact location of the Airbnb and then trying to find a way to contact the host without a phone. It was hot as hell and the smoke was starting to get to us. I borrowed a construction worker’s phone and we agreed to meet in the lobby. Unfortunately, we each waited in the lobby of different building. I ended up finding the same construction worker who was incredibly confused. Gloria (the Airbnb host) had called him and taken him up to the room thinking that he was the guest. When she realized he wasn’t it was a little startling and she thought he might have ill intentions. He explained this to me and then said “I’m just trying to help bro.” I felt bad for the guy especially after he had helped us out. He showed me to Gloria who was still wary of him and confused about what was going on. It was a pretty awkward introduction, but it finally got worked out.
We parked our bikes and were pretty stoked on the place. The apartment was on the 18th floor and had everything from a sauna to a movie theater; for the price it couldn’t be beat. Gloria was very nice and we instantly relaxed in the AC. I am not sure if the AC cleans the air much, but it sure feels like it. We dropped off our stuff and headed to Chinatown to grab some grab and checkout the cheap markets of KL. Everywhere we have been has their own unique cheap stuff that they sell, and KL was no different. The stuff seemed like it was slightly higher quality though and the power banks caught Greg’s eye. We spent an hour scoping out the prices and letting everyone talk themselves down to establish what the right price probably is before committing to anything. This is a trick we have learned and so far it works pretty well. If you end up paying a dollar more than you should it isn’t about the dollar, it’s about being good at bartering. It’s more about the competition between yourself and the seller than the small amount you save. We all left satisfied with a couple new shirts and some power banks. It was a long day so we inflated our pads and squeezed all 4 of us into the small little room, and then passed right out.
October 24: Little India and Big Goodbyes
Michael and Greg carefully stepped over Graham and me as they made their way out of our crowded room to go and get some coffee. Today was Greg's last day with us and we had very little planned. When they returned we sat down and made some plans over the bags of coffee they had returned with. We decided to go visit a part of the city called "Little India." The taxi dropped us off and we immediately set out looking for some good Indian food. We weren't disappointed and found a small cafe with cheap and very authentic Indian food. We all ordered some Aloo Parathas (like a potato pancake) and chose some various curries and veggies to accompany it. The food was tasty and brought back a number of stories about India which we shared with Greg.
When breakfast was finished we began wandering the Bazaar and doing a bit of shopping. We were tempted by a lot of the goods such as the very cheap Rolex's and the phones. Unsure of what the quality would be though we ended up avoiding any big purchases. We did, however, end up with some small gizmos including some usb powered fans, battery packs and thumb drives. We wandered the streets and were surprised at how accurate the name little India really was. When we were tired of shopping and wandering we returned to the hotel.
Along the way we had picked up a pad of paper to make some paper airplanes. We had previously discovered that the windows to our 18th floor apartment opened up and had created a game of seeing who could make the most successful airplane. We spent the next hour or two reaching new heights in paper airplane technologies. Despite some very impressive flights however, we never managed to cross the road which stretched below us. As I write this we are still attempting the record breaking flight and we promise we will not stop until we have succeeded... or run out of paper.
Some of our advanced concepts ready to be tested
The time had come for Greg to leave to catch his flight and we were all sad to say our goodbyes. The fun filled week had flown by and we were all sad to see our 4th partner in crime depart. After the tearful goodbyes we were a bit lost but eventually found purpose in getting our clothes washed and finding some food. We found food in the form of a delicious burger at a nearby pub. We enjoyed the burgers while watching the rugby world cup while "American Pie" played in the background. We unfortunately had a minor failure in getting our clothes washed as we weren't prepared to pay the 5 dollars for a very large jug of detergent.
Michael trying to figure out the rules of rugby
We returned to the room and waited for our hostess to come show us to the movie theatre. The theatre, which we had reserved it earlier in the day, was a very nice private theatre offered by the building. The theatre was a small room with a very nice sound system, a large projector and some comfortable movie theatre style seats. Surprisingly the theatre was extremely easy to set up and we got a movie set up off my hard-drive in no time. We sat back and enjoyed the rest of the night watching "Children of Men."
Graham kicking it right before our private showing of "Children of Men"