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Singapore25/6/2008

The second breakfast in our hotel is ok, not too early, as we have plenty of time in Singapore, no need to get up too early. We check out at about 9:30, take a taxi to Melaka Sentral, and buy 2 tickets to Singapore.

The bus leaves at 10, so we have perfect timing. We put our backpacks in, take our luxurious seats, and off we go. There is a luch stop just before 12, a huge restaurant/shopping complex, where we have our last malayan food. We still have enough money (well, about 20 euro..), but no idea what to spend it on.

At around 2 we get to the border. first we have to get out at the Malaysion immigration, get our passport stamped, and on we go, across the bridge, and then it's collecting all our luggage, and throug Singapore immigraton. Again it goes very fast, the officer that checks my passport is a big fan of the Dutchnational team, and we have a short chat about the game against Russia. And we're in Singapore.

Actually I expected it to be more.. well.. clean. Not that it's not, but all te stories we heard about no spitting, no chewing gum, prison sentences for littering, and it's not as, well sterile, as I had expected. The is litter on the ground, not much, but still. it's really not so different from malaysia, or from Holland for that matter.

We get dropped at the busstation, which is just a big bus/car park I was hoping for an ATM so I could get ome monwy (and then a taxi), but nothing... So we start walking. But no matter where we walk, no ATM. well, nothing else to do but walk on.

It takes us about half an hour to get to where we think the hotel is. According to the Lying, ehhh Lonely planet that is. But no such place here. Luckily we are approached by a man who just parked his car, who ask us where we are going. When we tell him we want to go to the hangout@Mt. Emily, he tells us it's behind his house, but we have to walk quite a bit to get there. But he will take us by car if we like. Yes please!

It's just a few streets away, but we'd never have found this based on our map. We thank the driver, and check in.

We were already told on the pone that the only available room has no windows, so it's no surprise when the girl at the reception apologises for it. The room is small, but clean, has a nice bathroom, and smells just a bit musty. It'll do for the next 4 nights. It is the most expensive accomodation we've had on this trip, about 60 euro a night, but Singapore is expensive alas, and anything else we checked was sold out for the week.

We drop our stuff, go to the nearest ATM, andfinally get some local money. Then it's off to little India, just around the corner. We wander around, see the mosque, the different sights, just walking without much of a destination in mind. It's really not too different from KL or any major malayan town. Nothing like high rises here. We walk a bit further, and spend some time in the 2 big electronics malls here. Prices are not much better than europe (well maybe 10% on some items), and I'm kinda disappointed about the lack of real gadgets/cool stuff. I guess prices in the Netherlands have really come down since all the internet shops started competing so much, and compared with the US (with the dollar trading at about 65 eurocents), prices here are even on the high side.

After spending some time in the big malls it's back to little India for dinner. We end up eating in a small place that has real authentic Indian food, I have great Aloo Mutter, Katha some mutton curry, it's the real thing.

a few doors further we see a Khulfi (Indian Icecream) shop. We never tried it in india (didn't trust the indian freezers much), so we have to try it now. And it's excellent! I have a mango-lychee combination, Katha has the tradition stuff, both are really excellent.

We walk home to our hotel, have a short look online, and then head to our room to read a bit before we go to sleep.

As our hotel only has breakfast untl 9, we get up in time, have a wonderfull hot shower (the airco keeps our room really nice and cool), and go have breakfast. The breakfast is excellent, nothing fancy, just fresh and good quality.

We decide to have a look at the colonial district today, so we walk to the old fort.

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Melaka25/6/2008

We set the alarm at 2:45 to watch the Holland-Russia game. But even though we have ESPN, no channel has the game :( Back to sleep then.

Our hotel rate includes breakfast, so we head to the restaurant early morning. At the reception we even get a newspaper. The breakfast is quite good, great watermelon.

After breakfast we go for the Lonely Planet walk through town. It takes us through china town, where many of the streets have dutch names. Jonker street, Heeren street, duthc history all around. Chinatown is really beautifull, old shops, beautifull old houses, temples, and most is very much still lived in, or actively used as antique shop, restaurant, or souvenir shop. Ok, it is a bit touristy, but mostly for Malaysian and Chinese tourists. We have some of the local pineapple tarts, really sweet, but exquisite.

We stop at a small shop, and buy a little mask, it is the same model as I have 2 of already, and I finally learn that these masks come from Sabah, on Borneo.

After chinatown we explore the hill behind the Stadthuys, where there are the remains of the old Portuguese fort, and a small church, with dutch, Portuguese and English graves. Wierd to see that most of the people died in their 30s, after becoming Head Merchant already.. fast careers, early death...

We have lunch in a small cafe, I have the local Laksa, noodles in coconut soup, really good.

After lunch we relax a bit, then spend quite some time online looking for a place to stay in Singapore. It's not easy to find a place, somehow all the places we try are already booked. Seems like there is some event or the other in Singapore...

In the end we make a booking at a place that still has some rooms available, but our reservation is "Pending"... so we call after about an hour to find out what the status is, and we are told they will inform us in half an hour. We're both not in the habit of arranging hotels beforehend, but the idea of wandering through a huge city with or big backpacks on, trying to find a hotel when everything is already booked solid doesn't appeal to us. We check our email after about an hour (nobody called us..), and the reservation has been changed to... cancelled.. but no reason why. So we call, and yes, they have a room.. wierd, we confirm on the phone, and 5 minutes later we have an email confirming the booking. It's a relief :)

Before dinner we walk to Bukit Cina, an old burial place for the chinese community. It's quite a big hill in the middle of the city, and under threat from developers.. prime property... It's quiet and relaxing to walk here, far from the noise of the city.

From the burial ground we walk to the "dutch" Chinatown, across the river, and to the nightmarket in Jonker street. Last night it was full of small eateries, now it's more of a gadget/souvenir market. We stop at a small shop that has masks, woodsculptures etc. When I look at a small dragon woodcut, the owner keep dragging all the dragons in the shop to me.. some are really nice, so in the end  buy 2. Both not very big, so I should be able to get them in my backpack. But the owner starts wrapping them in lots of newspapers, and making a big package.. they won't break I'm sure, but the package has become big.. how do I get this in the backpack?

We spend some time talking to the old lady that runs the shop, it's a really funny lady, and we end up spending quite some time in the shop, looking at the items, listening to her stories, enjoying ourselves. Outside we buy some dim sums from the chines goodstalls, and some bao poa, with different fillings. Cheap and good, just no place to sit.

We walk around town a bit, take some pictures of Melaka by night, and head to our hotel, where we spend some tiome watching tv before we sleep.

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Sri Menati22/6/2008

Katha really wants to go to Sri Menati, a smnall village that once was the capital of the Minang Kabau people. It's small, away from everything, but ah well, that's what we're experienced travellers for. So after breakfast we walk to the monorail, take it to KL Sentral, walk to the train, and take the Komuter train to Seremban. Have lunch in Seremban, then walk to the Transnasional busstation, and take a long distance taxi to Sri menanti. Not that hard in the end :)

We get dropped near the only sight in Sri menanti, the palace. We talk to the lady there, and are in for a nasty surprise. Not only is the Palace closed until 2:45 (it's now 1:15), but the only hotel inb town is closed too. Permanently! Our only option is to wait till the museum opens, then take a taxi back to Seremban, or to Kuala Pilah.

So we sit in the shade, read, and wait. When the place finally opens it's not really worth the wait. it's nice.. but not more than that.

The lady at the counter calls us a taxi, and 15 minutes later we're picked up. The driver drops us as the Desa Inn in Kuala Pilah, and we check in. The place is ok, not expensive, and has TV and airco.

We wander through the village, find the busstation (good to know for the next day), look at the nice old shopfronts, and find that it is really a very small town :)

The afternoon is spent reading. reading mail, and seeing the town.

In the evening we have a nice meal at the night market, I can get used to the outdoor satay grills, they are excellent again. We go to bed quite early, and set the alarm clock for 2:45.

When the alarm goes, we switch on the tv, and watch the game, croatia against Turkey. I stay awake for about half the game, and then again wake up to see the 2 goals, and the penalties. Had a wierd dream about football while I was half asleep..

Next morning we sleep till 9, then we walk to the bus stand, get tickets back to Seremban, and off we go. In Seremban we have about an hour before the bus to Meacca leaves, so we have some breakfast first. Then it;s about an hour and a half in the bus, and we're in Melacca. We get dropped at the busstation, and take a local bus into town. We get out near the "Stadthuis", and start looking for a hotel, which turns out to be not so easy. The first 4 places we look at are booked. The guesthouse we check out is kinda shabby, and already too load (a band is rehearsing for tonight... no thanks), so we walk on with the big backpacks. In the end we manage to get a nice room at the Mimosa hotel, the last room they have.

We drop our backpacks, and head out to the stadthuis again. As Melaka was once a dutch colony, it had quite some dutch history left. And a lot of reference to dutch history, like the "dutch harbour cafe", that servers koffie verkeerd (milk coffee with lots of milk), dutch apple pie, and oliebollen (I won't try to translate). We try the koffie bverkeerd and the applepie, the oliebollen are apparently not available :(

The Stadhuis, the former city hall, and residence of the governor, is now a museum. It is very crowded, at it is saturday afternoon, and many Malaysian tourists love to visit melaka, the "historic city". The museum is ok, nothing special, but the displays on the history of Melaka are interesting, much emphasis on the heroic history of the local people who resisted the portuguese, the dutch and the english...

After spending quite some time in and around the city centre, admiring the very colourfull trishaws (you have to see it to believe it), and wandering around the souvenir stands, wer decide to have a drink, and then head back to the hotel for a short break. We decide to have dinner in the small portugues/malayan enclave just out of town, as they have very traditional seafood and other dishes. We take a bus there, walk for about 500 meters, and come to an almost deserted square, where we are greeted by.. country music, of the worst kind. A bit further on there are some foodstalls that are ven busy, but they are playing the same terrible music. Ah well.. nothing we can do except for going back, but that will take us too much time, and we're looking forward to the food. And the food is indeed good, my prawns are excellent, so is the chili chicken (a local speciality) that katha ordered. But the music.. it does get on our nerves...

After dinner we walk back to the bus, wait a while, and see no bus for 15 minutes in either direction. So we decide to walk back home. The weather is ok, we're not tired, and the walk is very nice. We check the internet for a short while, and then get back to our hotel.

 

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KL22/6/2008

We get up quite late on our first full day in KL. As we've read that we should be at the petronas towers ticket counter at about 8:30 to be sure to get in, we decide that the towers will have to wait until tomorrow. We have a quick toast and jam breakfast, then we head off to do the little india / colonial district tour.

It's very hot today, the sky is blue, and the sun is doing it's best to give me a nice sunburn. We walk towards the few remains of the colonial period that look good, all around Merdeka square, then towards to prettiest Mosque in KL. I can go in, but Katha has to wear a headscarf, and a dress to cover her arms. Looks well... interesting...

We walk through little India, have a cold drink, have a nice lunch in one of the modern bars/restaurants on asian heritage row, continue up noth to Chow Kit, the "red light district" apparently, not that you'd notice, at least we didn't. From there we take the monorail ro KL Sentral, all the way on the other side of KL. We walk through the big railway station, then find our way to the lake gardens.

The first place we can get some shade, we sit and have a cold drink. then we walk on, visit the deer park, just to see the mouse deer, then it's on to the bird park.

The bird park ios a huge covered park that has thousands of birds, in an almost natural environment. The birds have quite a lot of space to fly around, find their own food, bathe, and almost live a normal life. Some birds are in cages, especially the birds of prey, which kinda makes sense :)

It takes quite a long time to just wander through the park, it really is big. We watch a bird show, have a few drinks, it's still extremely warm, and watch the birds. In the end we spend close to 3 hours here.

Just opposite the bird park is a big orchid garden. Ofcourde Katha wants to see it, so we wander around for a while. Then we walk back to the city, towards the blue cane tea restaurant. The restaurant only serves tea dishes, every dish is made with tea, cooked in tea, has tealeaves in it, etc. We have some wonderfull cold tea drinks (mine is tea with orange juice, and some sugar.. spectacular! Then we decide on a number of different dishes with tea, we pick the small dishes, but still it's too much to finish, even though we eat as much as we can, since the food is superb.

After dinner we do some tea shopping, and then we take the monorail to the shopping mall close to our guesthouse. We spend some time looking at the different computer stores, I'm still looking for a very small, very light laptop, and especially Sony has some really really nice ones.

As the shops are almost closing already, we walk home, and spend some time reading before it's time to turn in.

 

We are not used to alarm clocks anymore, but we need it today or we won't be at the Petronas Towers in time to get one of the 1640 tickets. Fast breakfast for me (it's included in the roomrate, but it's as cheap as they can make it: just toast with jam and coffee/tea), just coffee for Ferd, and we're on our way. The LP states that you should be there at 8:30am to stand in line to get a ticket. We have to search a bit to find the ticket counter, but we make it at 8:30, and we are not the only ones. There's a queue from the counter to the back of the room, then back to the counter, back to the back, back to the counter and into an hallway - and some security guards make sure that nobody sneaks in at a more "convenient" position of the queue. The aircon makes it a pleasure to stand there, and by 9:15 we get our ticket. By then the first available time is 9:45am - sounds good with us! We wait a bit in the exhibition room before it's time to see a 3D movie about the construction of the towers, with some patriotic flavours to it (Petronas is the state-owned oil company). And then we go up to the skybridge, the 140m high bridge linking both towers. The views are nice, but it starts to geet hazy already, and compared to the CN tower in Toronto, 140 m are not really high. At least we can say that we've been up there. Back down on the ground we head to the shopping centre surrounding the towers to get some breakfast... and end up at the Burger King. We have a look around the park at the rear, which features some nice watergames for the kids and allows great views of the towers. Maybe it's the heat, but the park is nearly deserted. We head through KL's office building area towards the KL tower (one of the highest telecommunication towers of the world, built on a hilltop). Hey, this orange building... are ING headquarters Malaysia. We have to have a look...  

Free shuttle service up the hill to the KL tower...it makes you feel so important not to have to walk these 200 meters... As we are about to buy a ticket to get up to the viewing platform we meet the German guy from Taman Negara again - the world is small indeed! He planned on going to the petronas towers this afternoon... we warn him that the tickets will be all sold out and that he's better off trying it the next morning. KL tower is smaller than the Petronas towers, but the viewing platform is 100 meters higher, so we see much more. The telescopes provided are great - I can even read the roadsigns 250 meters below and some 500 meters away with them... To bad it's getting more and more hazy, which means that visibility isn't great.

We saw the "rabbit hutch" on our way up with the shuttle, so we have to have a look there. There are 4 bunnies, which have a nice big run, and enough shade. There's just something wrong with them - they have a skincondition, several are half-bald, and it looks itchy... is nobody taking them to a vet!?!? But we don't know who is in charge of the animals, so we leave them behind, with pain in our hearts (especially mine). 

From here we want to go to the Islamic Arts Museum, which is close to the birdpark at the other end of town - no way we gonna walk the whole distance. But somehow no taxi seems to be willing to stop even though we wait at a taxi stop. In the end we manage to flag one down. "To the Islamic Arts Museum" - "I was going to the airport" Great.... a city of taxis, but none for us it seems. By now we are close to the monorail station, which takes us "relatively close" to the museum - we are still some broad streets, flyovers and underpasses away... and it starts to rain a bit... and then a bit more... by the time we reach the museum we're nearly soaked.

The museum restaurant offers a lunch buffet, but we aren't that hungry, so a drink will do for the moment. The aircon is working well, chilling me (still wet) to the bone. The exhibits aren't bad, but we have been spoiled by the setup of the Penang Museum which was exceptionally well done.

After a little misunderstanding (I look for Ferd outside of the gates of the lightrail station, he waits for me inside), I walk back all the way to the guesthouse, where Ferd is surfing the internet and waiting for me. 

Close to our guesthouse is a street lined with hawker stalls at night where we head for dinner. 1+1 is supposed to make good dim sum, and they do indeed - and for just a fraction of the price of dim sum at the "roltrap chinees" in The Hague... We stop at other stalls for BBQ chickenwings, a claypot soup, desert (ice shavings with mango syrup) and roll back to the guesthouse...

We decided to stay another day to do some shopping in KL, and so we do: sleep late and spend the whole day in shopping malls. The electronics shopping mall is amazing - computers, computer components, mobile phones,... - and on the second floor they have some boutiques and spas, this way the girlfriends are kept busy while they guys go for the "real stuff" I guess... We buy nothing, well, nearly nothing. There's a shop selling Fantasy Toys - think of plastic models of about everything from Freddy Mercury to Dragonballs - and I walk away with a Tauren Shammy, yet another thing to carry... We are no good consumers - the only other thing we buy is some coffee in the huge supermarket and some drinks/lunch during the day. If everybody spends money at this rate they'll have to close all malls I'm afraid.

Just as we are back at the guesthouse it starts raining, and won't stop for the next hours. This limits our dinner choices to "something really close", which is not much of a problem as there's a Vietnamese restaurant a bit further down the street that looked really good when I walked past the day before, and that gets a good review in the LP. The food is gorgeous indeed - some fresh prawn springrolls and chicken springrolls as starter, a huge Vietnamese pancake for Ferd (just a bit difficult to eat the way the waiter explained us to), and chicken in honey with sticky rice puffs for me. It's the most expensive meal we've had sofar.

I'm nopt yet tired, so I plan on having a look at Merdeka Square by night, which should be lit. Ferd does not feel like walking too much, so I only accompanies me til we get a good view of the KL tower, then I wander on on my own, towards the KLCC shopping centre at the Petronas towers, where should be a lightrail station. It's amazing how many people are still shopping at 9 pm. I go up to the bookstore on the 4th floor - it's HUGE! and stroll around a bit, then out into the park, hope to take good pictures of the lit towers. When we first were here the park was nearly deserted, now it's so crowded... I take some nice pictures, especially with the full moon. By the time I finish and could go searching for the station it's 10 pm, so I rather go back to the guesthouse where we spend some time in the internet before going to bed.

 

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By boat back to civilisation21/6/2008

We booked a boat/minivan/bus combination to Kuala Lumpur (KL) leaving at 9 in the morning. Time enough for a quick breakfast at the floating restaurant before we board the boat. It's a longboat seating 2 people next to eachother, and the luggage is put up front. We packed our backpacks with the flightcovers, but it would not have been necessary - the water is calm. During the first hour the river is lined by jungle and we see some kingfishers, later on (seems we left the national park behind) we also see some fishtraps and buffalos in the water. Weren't it for the hard "cushions" a very relaxing way to get back to civilisation.

At the jetty we board the waiting minivan. The driver's little son is sitting on the front seat, and as we keep waiting he desperately wants to go to his Daddy. The two of us aren't that frightening, are we? It must have been Ferd's reddish hair... 30 minutes later we are back at their office in Jerantut. The bus for KL is leaving over an hour, a good moment to get some lunch. The office doubles as snack bar, but we head out into the street. There are several snack bars along the street, with prepared food waiting to be eaten, and people still eating - but when we ask if we can get food they all say "No!" What kind of city is this?! Everybody has food, but nobody wants to sell it to us... Eventually we find a cafe that seems deserted, but at least they are willing to give us something to eat. I have a look through the picture menu and decide on fried rice "Village Style", Ferd goes for the "Roti Tempur Goreng" (roti with fried egg? fried roti with egg?) It's a bit unexpected... French Toast! This explains the hesitation of the woman taking our orders. My rice is tasty, with fried minute fish - and Ferd orders one for him as well...

 

The bus to KL is nearly empty, and I am happy we sit right behind the driver so that I have a good overview and am less prone to become carsick. We are taking the tollway, which is relaxed driving and less than 3 hours later we get off at the heart of KL's Chinatown. The accomodation that has been recomended to us is at the other end of the city centre, so we plan on taking a taxi. What a pleasant surprise - the first taxi driver we approach speaks English and, more importantly, wants to use his meter. He's a very friendly guy telling us all the way that honesty is the most important thing in life. I hope all cabdrivers are like this, although I could live without his English langugage music tape. My grandma might like the music, but it's not particularly our favourite artists... (actually Abba is very popular in KL we find out, every second 7eleven has Abba playing...)

At the guesthouse it turns out they're full for the night. But there are many more guesthouses in the street. We end up at the green hut, which even has a special "4 for 3" offer, 4 nights for the price of 3. We're not sure whether we want to stay 4 nights, but we decide to book anyway, if we are not there the 4th night, who cares.

As it's just about 4 PM we walk through town to Chinatown, explore the busy tourist streets, the old shops, the central market. We have a tea at a quiet Teashop, and set out to find a nearby veg restaurant. But ofcourse the Lonely Planet proves it's map quality again, and there is no such place. We end up rating at the outdoor foodstalls, excellent satay, quite touristy, but the ambiance is nice.

We walk home, find that our street also serves as the place to be if you're looking for female ompany, and spend some time online. Then it's off to bed for the night.

 

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Taman Negara - the "national garden"20/6/2008

Our guesthouse can arrange everything - they have a cafe, they have laundry service, sell softdrinks and chocolate, show movies, have several daily tours,.... and they also have transfer service to Taman Negara (whih is the oldest National Park in Malaysia and tranlates to "national garden").

 

The minivan wiht us 4 tourists leaves at 10:30 am, back down to the main highway and on to Gua Musang (a conveniently located lunch-stop). We leave the main road at and advertisement for an Inn - stating that they also offer hourly rates?! Indeed, we stop at the Inn's carpark for an hour. There is a meeting going on, with a tasty looking buffet for lunch. We sit down and get presented a disappointing menu... No thanks! So all 4 of us head into town instead. The first snack bar is our point of call. Roti on the menu, but which is which. Ferd and me opt for "Roti Telur" which turns out to be with egg, the other 2 take the cheapest roti, guessing it will be plain (it is). Food is nice, but they didn't get the amounts right - we get 2 instead of 3 rotis, the guys get 2 in total instead of 2 each... what can you do? At least it's dead cheap this way - lunch for 4 including drinks for less than 2 euros (the price of a single dish at the inn).

It's the big "tourist reshuffle stop", where minivans from the Cameron Highlands, the jetty to the Perenthian Islands and Taman Negara meet. We are 6 in the Taman Negara bound mini van, which makes a stop at their office in Jerantut. There we have to fill out forms to obtain our park permit, and get offered a whole range of activities we can do in the park (what else?), before we move on to Kuala Taman, the main entry point to the jungle.

Lily recomended a small guesthouse to us, and somehow all 6 passengers end up there. It's really small, with just 2 double rooms and a 6-bed dorm, and it's nearly "full house" today. The owner offers free tea in the evening, which is a nice invitation to talk to the other guests: a couple from Australia in the other room, us, 2 Welsh girls and 2 German guys that arrived with us and a German girl in the dorm. I'm so used to switch between English and Dutch, that it's hard for me to speak German... Ferd seems to have less difficutlties than me.

We have a look around "town" - not much more than some hostels along the river that forms the park boundary and some floating restaurants, all of which are affiliated to a travel organisation/jungle activities operator. We eat at "our" restaurant, where they show a movie about the jungle in the evening (surprisingly well made), and we can pick up our park permits. Some chatting at our guesthouse, and then off to bed.

 

Ferd set the alarm clock at 7, but we don't hear any alarm and wake up at 9 am. Turns out that the alarm was set to 7 pm instead of am... A quick breakfast at one of the floating place, buying 2 big bottles of water, taking the crossing boat to the other side and there we are in the jungle - or rather in the "jungle resort". Well maintained lawns, a minimarket, a restaurant, a park information counter and a big "resort guests only" area. We pick up a map at the information counter and head for the canopy walk (guessing from the width of the trail a "must"). A sign to the left says something about "entrance", I assume it's the entrance of the canopy walk. No, it's not - it's the entrance of the swamp loop trail. Who cares... the trail is much smaller, and we only meet 2 more people on the loop - nice and quiet and not swampy at all. Back on the big trail we stumble onto a group of monkeys that are not afraid of humans anymore and allow us (especially Ferd with his much better camera) to take some awsome pictures.

The distance to the canopy walkway is stated on several signposts, which are not compatible with each other, or the distance stated on our map... as long as we reach the start of the walkway in the end... Informative boards line the way, each explaining a plant of animal of the jungle. For plants these boards include the traditional uses by the aboriginal people - do they try to convince Malaysian people to protect their jungle with this?

We climb up to the start of the canopy walkway, pay the entrance fee, and there we are - some 50 meters above ground, on 30 cm wide metal planks supported by ropes attached to the trees. At least it looks sturdy and the sides are secured by a net. Still, I rather keep the advised 5-10 meters distance between people... otherwise the walkway starts swinging too much. All wildlife that might have been close to the walkway in the past has long been scared away by busloads of people passing by every day, but the trees are impressive.

It's lunchtime when we leave the walkway, so we have some cookies and decide to walk on - hoping to leave the crowds that only make it to the canopy walkway behind. Indeed, it's much more quiet here. But the place we wanted to go to magically disappears from the signposts, and the distances are again measured very creatively (How else can you explain that we made 50 negative meters in 15 minutes?) - so we turn back after an hour. There's another path leading up a hill that should eventually take us back to the "jungle resort", so off we go. Walking uphill is no fun - it's hot and humid, we are sweating, the path has been replaced by very irregular steps (good idea to save the soil and keep the trail from getting wider every day, bad idea for walking), we are slowly running out of water,... Views from the top of the hill are nice - undisturbed jungle all around. There is just a slight drawback... the onward trail is closed, we thus have to walk back the way we came and we already know that there's no water along the way...

We get off this main path towards Lubok Simson (apparently the deserted "swimming hole" Lily told us about), and cross a small stream in the end. Yes! I take our waterfilter and have a seat at the shore (if my trousers hadn't been dirty already they would be now...). The water is even reasonably cool and so tasty! I fill both bottles (just in case...) before we move on. Lubok Simson is deserted indeed, we will come back the next day, with more appropriate clothes.

We have been walking for 7 hours total, of which the last 4.5 hours without seeing another human being, seeing 2 monitor lizards and a wild boar on our way, when we eventually return to the "jungle resort". The icecream I am having is delicious - coconut with sticky rice. It's Langnese/Ola/Wall's, too bad they adapt their products to the local market as I would love to be able to buy it back home...

Initially we planned to go on a night walk, but we are more than happy with just a shower, dinner, off to bed - maybe another day.

There's just one not so little surprise when Ferd goes to have a shower. We had seen some big cockroaches the day before, so I think "yet another one?!" when he calls me to have a look. It's no cockroach, but a huge frog hiding between the shower gel and the shampoo. He can't have sneaked in through the door, can he? Nope, I see where froggy came from - through the sewage system, and then pushing the lid of the "shower sink" open (who knows a more appropriate word for it?)... Froggy is still there when we come back from dinner. First I want to wait til the next day to give him a chance to get out by himself. But in the end I decide he has to go out now, as there is no frog-food to be found in our bathroom. I grab the plastic "saucepan" (meant as an alternative to flush the toilet? or to take a bucket-shower Indian style?) and manage to get the frog to sit on the edge of it. No time to think, froggy tries to get out of there, so I head outside onto the grass to release him. On my way I tell the owner of the guesthouse where we found the frog - and only then realise that I wear my pyjama. "Save the frog!" was the only thing on my mind I guess...

 

We have another day to spend in the jungle. There is a cave closeby that you can visit on a guided tour, so we have a talk with a "tour operator" after breakfast. Minimum 4 people, there was nobody for the morning tour (scheduled to leave in about 5 minutes), but the guide is sitting there anyways, so we can as well go on a tour over half an hour. Private tour sounds good, as we can also decide when we want to leave. We go back to our room to brush our teeth (yes, we are decent people, we do it more than once a week) and think on what to wear/take (obviously flashlights). A short boattrip downriver, then it's "45 minutes walk to reach the cave if we continue like this, 30 minutes if we are really fast, and an hour if we slow down". Quite precise information by our guide... We pass an Orang Asli village on our way (they live even more primitive than the ones we've visited in the Cameron Highlands) to the cave. As we left after the usual time (groups from all tour agents are leaving at the same time, just to make sure you never feel lonely in the jungle), we are the last group to pass through the cave. Nice and quiet... There are some narrow passages on our way, so better leave the backpacks behind. I have nothing important in mine, so I don't mind to hide it behind a tree, but Ferd carries his good camera in his - no way he's leaving his backpack unattended behind some treetrunk. We'll have to find a way to drag it along...

It's slippery, and the cave is not impressive (it's more of a very small underground stream, with the roof collapsed at places). There is a huge number of bats staying in the cave though, hanging up on the roof sleeping - they are quite big (and do shit in the stream below where we are wading/crawling through...). At the most narrow passage, we have to squeeze through one by one, but we manage to get Ferd's backpack through unharmed... My backpack is still waiting patiently behind the tree when we get back. Back at the guesthouse we change clothes (they are wet from sweat and the little stream - and they stink like guano!) and head to the restaurant of the "jungle resort". Food is much more expensive than at the floating restaurants - but it's really tasty and the servings are much bigger, so it turns out to be not that expensive after all, and sitting in the shadow with a fan overhead is refreshing. We stay some time, reading, listening to audiobooks, doing nothing, enjoying a drink... before we walk to the swimming hole.

The swimming hole is not as deserted as yesterday - there are already 2 women taking a bath, and it seems to be rushhour for boatswith tourists passing by (what have they been doing down in the jungle?!). The water is refreshingly cool when we join the 2. One of them is the Dutch that has been on the Orang Asli tour with us in the Cameron Highlands (the world of "obvious" tourist destinations in Malaysia is small), the other one is from New Zealand but living in Rotterdam with her Dutch boyfriend (the world is small as well). After some time the boats stop (another tour scheduled precisely the same for all tour operators?) and it gets really quiet in the jungle.

Most of the people in the guesthouse have left, so we take the only one sleeping in the hostel (the German guy that did the Orang Asli tour as well) with us for dinner. There we meet the girl from New Zealand again (okey, there's only 3 restaurants to choose from, but still...) and play cards with a group of 5 til it's time to head back to the guesthouse and pack our stuff.

 

 

 

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Orang Asli - the "Wild People"19/6/2008

After yesterdays hiking we are allowed to be lazy today, so we sleep in a bit, then go into town for breakfast. The place recommended in the LP is not open yet (10 am) - when do they expect people to eat breakfast?! So we have a cup of coffee at a busy Malay place instead, and bring our laundry to "Dobi Highlands Laundry Service". Somehow "Dobi" connects in my mind with the houself Dobby from Harry Potter, and an image forms of  them doing the laundry... but it's just a washing mashine and tumble dryer that do the work...

Lunch in town, a "Banana Leaf" for me and a Tandoori Chicken Set for Ferd. The food is quite Indian (as are the grandparents of the people preparing it). When we head out for lunch we pass the breakfast-place again, by now they are open, and they indeed have some set breakfasts they are advertising - but who wants breakfast at 11am or later?! 

Time for our organized Orang Asli tour. The Orang Asli are the native people, a total of 120.000 are still living in Malaysia today. We get the last 2 seats in the back of the jeep and off we go. We left without water, it's much less important in the cold of the highlands. Too bad the trip takes us from 1400m to 600m elevation... First 20 minutes on the main highway (with enough switchbacks), then another hour over gravelroads down into a valley to reach the village we are heading to. On our way we stop to marvel at some huge spiders (they are really huge, feet included larger than my hand) and have a look at some local plants. I am grateful for that, as switchbacks down the hill in the back of a jeep facing sideways are not my preferred means of transportation to say the least. Our guide assures us that the village we will be visiting is the last one in the Cameron Highlands that sticks to the traditional lifestyle. 

When we arrive at the village, a motorbike passes us by, with the village chief and another guy on it. So much for "traditional lifestyle"... Our guide vanishes in the jungle, only to come back with some fruits that the orang asli supposedly use to paint their faces for celebrations. He mashes the stuff and smears it into our faces (only Ferd stays "paint-free") - will they be happy to see us painted (as our guide tells us), or will they laugh about the stupid tourists with orange stripes in their faces?   

We walk into the village, just as we are almost there we are passed by a motorcycle, on which the headman is riding.. so much for traditional all the way. The village itself is very traditional though. beautifull houses made of bamboo, on stilts, roofs made of leaves, very much like it was for hundreds of years. The only changes are the use of nails, and some roof that are made of metal sheets.

In the vilage we get expalanations on the way of life of the Orang Asli, how they hunt, how they farm, etc. We also get to try the blowpipe.. Katha is very good, she hits the target twice, a 100% score! The we go into the hut of the headman, we get tea and some food, and the guide explains more, about the marriage veremonies, the music at parties, etc. We get to try to play on the noseflute, which is not easy... then the guide ezplains about the "game", apparently (and let's say we took this with a grain of salt), it's an Orang Asli tradition that when you're stuck with a problem, you try to solve the game/puzzle, and if/when you do, your problem will be solved to. We try the game, katha manages to solve it, just doesn't recall how. But we learn the solution later on, and ofcourse, when we leave we can buy both the game and the flute.

Back at the hostel we talk a bit with Lily, then we decide to go out for dinner, tonite it's steamboat time! It's a bit like the meal we had in Pokhara, a big bowl of soup, in 2 varieties, mild and spicy, and lots of meat/fish/noodles/vegies to put in and cook. We spend about 2 hours cooking away, and leave satisfied. It was realy good!

We spend the remainder of the evening talking, and head to bed at around 11:30. It was a fun day, tomorrow it's to Taman Negara, back to the heat!

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cold!18/6/2008

After 2 days in Penang it's time to move on. We biught a ticket to the Cameron Highlands yesterday, the bus leaves from the long distance bus station some distance from town, so after breakfast we take a taxi, and head to the busstation. Inside we go the the counter of our company to have our reservation slip exchanged for a "real ticket", and then we wait for about half an hour before the bus arrives. The bus turns out to be quite an old worn down contraption, many seats don't really work, some others look more like permanently stuck in the sleeping position. We find some reasonable seats, and off we go.

The bus strops at some other places nearbny to pick up more people, so after a while all the crappy seats are taken as well. Then it's on to the highalands. On the way we have a short stop, but mostly it's a long sit to get to our destination. Slowly the bus clims up the hills, and at around 4 we arrive in Tanah Rata, the biggest town in the highlands. Just as we arrive it start to rain.. seriously.. LOTS of rain.. and it's COLD.. freezing, must be like 15C, but after months in the heat itr feels like much colder.

At the busstation some touts are wauting, but they want to take us to the place we want to go anyway, for free, with this rain I'm not gonna walk if I can avoid it. At the father's guesthouse we  heck out some rooms, and decide to take the one with private bathroom. An airco is really not needed here.

As it's raining we sit in the comfy communal area, and I strike up a conversation with a girl that is working on an Asus EEE laptop, wonderfully small, She shows a bit how she gets on with it, and we start talking about travel;ling, etc. After the rains subsides the rthree of us decide to head into town, and find a place to eat. We end up at one of the small eateries on the main street, which turns out to be excellent. After dinner it's back to the communal sitting room, where we end up talking until quite late with Rachel and Lily. The great thing about guesthouses like this is that you meet with fellow travellers, and can really get to know other people and exchange stories, information, etc.

Next moring we get up quite early, have a breakfast at the guesthouse, and then we're off hiking. Lily went to see the tea plantations the day before, and we plan on ending there as well. But first we are off to the jungle. Where does trail Nr.5 start?! It takes us some searching around, being stopped by the security guard of a private property, asking people,... to find the beginning of the trail. It's actually behind the staff quarters of the Agricultural Research Institute... and we feel like having lost the trail again after the first 20 meters through their fields, but we are on the right track, and soon head into the forest. Walking with 20-25 degrees is so much nicer than walking with 30-35 degrees and >85% humidity... Once in the forest, the trail is easy to follow. So many mosses, ferns, lichen...

Shortly before we head out into the civilisation again, a dog joins us. He's friendly, but a bit afraid of fast arm-movements (bad experiences?). After a while he understands that we won't harm him, which makes him walk much closer to us, and eventually running right in front of our feet (and thus nearly harming us instead).

When we have to cross a campground, the dog stays behind. Not sure if he has a home - he does not look like a stray, but he behaves like one. A big group of Malaysian Youth camps here, on some kind of (training?) camp. The girls are gathered to learn some knots. And we hear the instructor of the boys before we see them - doing some exercises on the ground. When we pass them by I have difficulties not to laugh. The instructor told them to get up and greet, and so they do - some 30 boys saluting us and shouting "Good morning Sir!.... and Madam."

Along the well-maintained golf course we reach the next town. Somehow walking along a street is more dangerous than hiking in the jungle for me - I don't watch my step for a second, and the next moment I find myself on the ground, knee open (not bad though), pants muddy and wet. We stop for lunch at a Chinese place. No menu, just a bunch of dishes to choose from - and self-service to put them onto your plate with rice... We chose this place as it was the most crowded one, and a bunch of locals can't lie - food is excellent!

 

From here onwards we follow the main road to the turn-off to the tea plantation - luckily there's not too much traffic and some 5 kilometers later we leave the road. It's still a long walk to the tea plantations, and an even longer walk to the visitors centre (supposedly 2km, but it takes us nearly an hour, so it rather sounds like "creative distance determination", maybe it's 2km as the crow flies...). Tea processing is more automated here than in Darjeeling, leaves aren't hand-picked any more. The tea factory can be visited on a "guided tour" which takes about 5 minutes. Machines are from he 1930's, but they are still going strong - BOH is the largest tea producer of Malaysia, with a total of 4 plantations. We sit down for a cup of tea at their cafe. While we are sitting there, looking out over the tea shrubs, enjoying a piece of cake and our tea, it starts to rain. There had been grey clouds around for the last hours, but they were decent enough to wait til we sit somewhere dry. And when we get out of the tea shop (no tea-plantation-visitors-centre without tea shop, right? And I wouldn't be me if I could pass it by...) it's dry again!

So we head back to the main road, to the Butterfly Gardens. Ferd is a bit reluctant to get in there, but eventually he is happy to have done so - as it rains again while we are there, and is dry before we head out. The butterflies are nice, but few.

Along the road are several strawberry farms, where strawberries are grown in special constructions off the ground. 20 RM (= 4 euros) to pluck a pound on your own, or 1 RM for 3 strawberries on a stick. Sounds as if we rather wait til we are back in the Netherlands to indulge in strawberries...

We have been gone for 9 hours when we arrive back at the guesthouse, and must have covered more than 25km. We are too tired to get down the stairs into town to have dinner there. Instead we stay at the guesthouse, chat with Lily and Rachel, decide to stay one more day, have mediocre food,...

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Hiking in the heat15/6/2008
We have dinner at one of Georgetowns "nightmarkets", a collection of food stalls around a courtyard with tables, where you can mix dishes from all the different stalls. The beers to go with it set us back more than the food - alcohol is expensive in Malaysia! Not many more beers for us in the following weeks I guess...
Along the "tourist road" (where all the backpacker cafe's and hostels are) is a bookshop cum "rent a bicycle" opening at 10 am. We sleep long, have breakfast (they have fresh fruit and cornflakes and soup as well, we missed half of the fun the morning before...) and go to get a bike. Aehm... it's 10:15 but nobody opens this shop. A look through the bars confirms that there are bikes waiting to be hired, but the accumulation of letters and other paperwork on the ground is not very promising, this shop has not been open in days, or maybe weeks, or even worse... So we head along the "tourist road" in search for bicycles. There should be some according to the LP, and indeed there are several advertising boards saying "bicycle and motorbike for rent". Nobody knows when they have seen a bicycle for the last time, but NONE of them has bicycles for hire. That's why we stayed a day longer, to cycle around the island. Damn it!
As we are here anyway, we might as well do something with our day... so we head to the bus station and take a bus that goes all along the North coast of the island to a small village right next to a national park. The ride takes more than an hour, mostly through the city, then we are in Batu Ferringhi, with all its expensive beachside hotels - and in the end we are "out in the open", no buildings block our view of the ocean anymore.
As we arrive in the village at the end of the island it's raining, but it's nearly lunchtime so we head for the first restaurant we see. A whole array of fish and crab dishes on the counter, you get a plate with rice and then it's up to you to get some food. The fish are delicious, and the resident cats love us for the skin that miraculously "drops" from the table. It's dry again and we head for the national park, 2 big bottles of water with us.
The hike along the shore should take us to a beach, then to another beach and eventually to a lighthouse. The trail is easy to follow, but it's HOT, and we are sweating a lot. When we stop in the shade at the first beach, Ferd is sweating so much that he's dripping - from his forehead, from his nose, from his chin. The drops accumulate on the stones below, slowly forming a puddle. From this puddle a little stream forms... good that the average waterbottles in Malaysia are 1.5 liters compared to the 1 liter in Thailand. We head on to the next beach, climbing up some rocks, climbing down again,... Monkey beach, a privately owned enclave in the National Park - this means there is some guy having a "fresh cold coconut business" and he is doing good business indeed. It's so refreshing to drink, and just nice to scratch the flesh out of the coconut afterwards. There are monkeys abound. When we throw them the remains of our coconuts, they fight about it, and the winner heads up into the trees where he starts to bite the coconut into scraps to reach the last bit of flesh. heading on to the lighthouse would be too much in the heat, so we watch the monkeys for a while before hiking back to the village.

Back into town we have dinner at a restaurant specialised in "Straits chinese" cuisine, which is (surprised?) not at the location indicated in the LP but a block further. We are happy to have found it, as the people are really nice, and the food is amazing, probably one of the best on our journey. We have a "mixed menu" of small servings, and it's impossible to say what's the best. The whole street has been recently renovated, with many small restaurants serving anything from ice cream to chinese "steamboat" (more about that in a later blog).
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Penang12/6/2008
We wake up when the alarm goes, but decide to stay in just a bit more. Malaysia has one hour time difference with Thailand, so it feels like 6 am, not 7. When we get up at around 8, we head to the restaurant for breakfast, which is not too bad.
Today is sunday, and we can see that in the streets. many shops are closed, and the city is not nearly as lively as last night. We walk to the tourist office, which is closed as well, and decide to take the Lonely Planet walking tour instead. The tour starts at the old fort, which, you guessed it, is sclosed on sundays, past the old city hall, and all the old colonial buildings that are still standing. We stop for quite a while at the Penang Museum. It is rteally very well made, with nice exhibitions on the history and cultures of Penang. The island has a rich history of Cginese, Indiand and European immigration, which lead to some very disticht cultures, like the Nonya, or straits-Chinese.
We have chicken-rice for lunch, at a very popular place, and then decide to take a local bus towards air-Itam, where we can visit the big chinese temple, and the railway up penang hill. After some asking we find the right bus, and then it's trying to figure out where to get off. In the end we just get off some place, and as if by magic, we're actually near the temple. It does take some interesting detours via people back yard, but then we're in between the souvenir stands.
The temple is actually a big conglomerate of different temples, shops, a turtle pons, really crazy. But it's un to watch and explore. Afterwards we take a taxi to the "trainstation", which turns out to be real close, but as it is weekend, the next 7 or 8 trains are sold out, and the first available trains leaves at 5. As it's only 3 now, we decide to skip the train, waiting for 2 hours doesn't see a lot of fun. We walk back towards Georgetown, and in the end take a bus back to the city centre.

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On to Malaysia12/6/2008
After 3 days in Raileh, and 10 days in total "beachbumming", it's time to move on. Even though we have a ticket to fly back from Delhi at the end of June, and initially we intended to spend the last weeks in the northeast of India (Ladakh), we decided to go to Malaysia instead. Both of us don't really feel like going to Delhi right now, as it's more than 40C, and the monsoon has set in.
We booked a ticket yesterday to get to Penang, so this morning it's an early breakfast, and then on to the east beach. After waiting a short while we get escorted to our boat, and off we go. This time it's a short trip by boat, to a small pier where we have to wait. After some confusion we get picked up by a small bus that takes us to another stopover, this time in downtown Krabi. Here we wait for about 45 minutes, after which we are told to get into the bus. Off we go, towards Hat Yai.
The trip is rather uneventfull, it takes several hours to get to hat yai, we stop once on the way to buy some food and drink, and a toilet stop for those who need it. Eventually we get to Hat Yai around half past 3. We are dropped somewhere in the city, told to wait at a small travle agency, where noone can really tell us when our bus to Penang leaves.. so we wait.. in the end for a bit more than an hour. Then, just as katha finally decided to go the 7-eleven, our bus arrives. I manage to convince the driver to wait for Katha, and when she gets back we head off.
This part of the trip really is no fun. The driver is terrible, he keeps on accelerating and decelerating, all the time, never a steady speed. And when we stop at the border, where he has to read someting, he takes out a magnifying glass to read... that's our driver???
The border crossing is quite fast. The only hickup is the the guy from Botswana that is in our bus, and is taken out of the queue, probably he needs a visa, but doesn's have one. But after a while they let him in, so we can be on our way.
We were supposed to be in penang at 8, but it's way after 9:30 before we get to butterworth, on the mainland across from penang. Our driver seems to head into butterworth, not Penang, but it turns out it's just to drop somebody off. Then it's across the big bridge, and to georgetown. In the end we get dropped in the middle of backpacker central in Georgetown.
Katha wants to go to a small hotel, which luckily is just about half a km away from where we got dropped, so we walk there. But when we get there it turns out to be closed. A local guy tells us that maybe someone will show up in a while, but we're both tired, so we decide to head to one of the "business" hotels across the street. The room is ok, not really cheap, but it will do. We drop our stuff, and head out, it's saturday night, and there is still a lot of life on the streets. We find a place to have a nasi, and manage to get quite a good idea of the different dishes, as the words are much the same as the indonesian words. And unlike the Thai language, in malaysian they use latin script, wich makes reading a lot easier. After dinner we go for a short walk, and then off to bed, it's close to midnight, and we're tired.
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Raileh9/6/2008

Our boat leaves at 9, so we get up early, pack our stuff, check out, and head towards the pier. As last time we had to go through the water from the pier to get ton "land", I decide to wear shorts and flipflops. On the way to the boat we stop at a bakery for breakfast. When we get to the waterfront, we find that this time the boat has docked at the real pier, so we can walk there without getting wet feat, much to the enjoyment of katha, who was still walking on her big walkingshoes.

The boattrip is fast, about an hour, and we're at the big pier near krabi. The pier is really well made, almost melts into the mangroves, and doesn't look out of place.

At the pier we're approached by a guy who we saw at the boat already. Dow we want to go to Raileh? how much? 200 each? sure, that is a fair price. We join a small group already waiting, and after a few minutes we get loaded on a jeep, and off we go, to the small pier for the longtailboats.

At the other pier we load our bags in the longtail boats, get in ourselves, and we're off, high speed towards Raileh. The water is not to wild, but we still get quite wet, as the boat moves very fast. We're glad we've got the covers over our bags.

After about an hour, we get to Raileh. on our way we passed the big pier again.. why couldn't we get on board there? ah well... The boat docks, and we have to move through the water to get to the beach. katha changes shoes in the boat, I'm already equipped with the right shoes:)

As we're not yet sure which place to take, we look around a bit. Backpacking? luxury? We decide on luxury, and head for the west beach, the most beautifull beach in thailand according to many, and home to a number of resorts. We check out 2, and decide to go for the Railay bay resort, which has a 3 nights for 2 offer, including beakfast. We do go for the most 'basic" bungalows, the top ones have a small private courtyard, private swimming pool, jacuzzi... ours just has a big bed, tv, and all the amenities you'd expect from a posh resort. In the end we're paying about 25 euro a night, that is cheaper than a youth hostel in many european cities.

We decide to hang out at the pool for the afternoon. and enjoy the beautifull setting. We swim a bit, both in the ocean and the pool, have lunch at our resort, which turns out to be very reasonably priced, and have some drinks at the pool. And ofcourse we watch the sun set over the ocean, which is really stunning, one of the most beautifull sunsets I've ever seen.

After sunset we go to the bungalow, change out of the swimstuff, and go to find a place to have dinner. We decide to check out the smaller places at the east beach, and in the end we decide on a quite big complex of bars/restaurant/pool hall, that serves up an excellent dinner. My tuna steak is exquisite, and katha's steamed snapper melts on the tongue. A nice beer to wash it down, and we're in dining heaven.

After dinner we wander round a bit, Raileh is quite small, a few roads, not too much to see. We head home, watch some tv, and turn in. Finally we have a nice aircon room again, I didn't sleep that well in 30C+ with just a fan.

Breakfast next morning is excellent. It's everything that the breakfast at the Woraburi wasn't. It's fresh, tasty, warm, and not rotten. Katha enjoys it enough to eat 3 plates. I have a wonderfull omelet, and lot's of fresh fruit. After breakfast we head to the pool, swim, read, and enjoy the good life. We go get lunch at the only bar/restaurant at this side of the island, which turns out to be quite ok, but a bit overpriced. After luch we walk a bit towards the "backpacker" beach, that can be reached over the mountain, but we don't easily find it, and as we're both in shorts, and my legs are still very sensitive to the sun, we decide to head back.

We enjoy the sunset again at the pool, and head back for dinner to the same place as yesterday. As they are expecting a huge group (looks like 50-60 people), we get relegated to the bar. This time my fish isn't as good as yesterday, it feels a bit undercooked. Katha's food is wonderfull again. Maybe the pressure of cooking for the large group is upsetting the kitchen.
Day 3 in Raileh starts out early. I get up at 7, and head out to the beach to swim. But alas, the tide is so low that I'm waling over dead coral before I can start swimming, and my feet are none too happy. I guess it'll be the pool then. When I'm in the pool for maybe 10 minutes, I'm being "requested" rather firmly to leave the pool, as it only opens at 8:30. So much for an early morning swim.

back to the room I change, and we're off to have breakfast. Same excellent quality as yesterday. after dinner we walk across the peninsula to the southern beach, past caves and rock, untill we come to a beautifull piece of beach that is otherwise only available to the guests of Raileh's top resort, which bungalows can can cost up to 2000 euro a night, but include your own staff.

We relax on the beach, read a bit, have a drink, and after quite some time walk back. As we learned from yesterday's experience, my legs don't appreciate the sun so much, so we decided on long pants and big shoes today, but walking back to raileh east, we find that there is no longer a beach there, instead it's walking through about 50 cm of water.... so it's shoes off, pants rolled up, and back to out bungalow to change.

We have lunch at the resort next door, the other one we checked out, and find that not only their prices are very reasonable, the food is excellent. We don't have to think where we will have dinner tonight!

In the afternoon we hire a sea kayak, and go kayaking. There is now quite some wind, and the sea is a bit wild. Katha is not so happy we didn't take life vests, and it's not easy to steer the kayak, when wind and sea have a mind of their own. We explore the different beaches, go around the big limestone rocks, and get nice and tired. After kayaking we go for a drink, change, and have dinner at the "neighbours". I have crab, which turns out to be excellent, but a real challenge to eat. In the end we're the last to leave the restaurant, as it takes time to eat crab :)

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Ko Phi-Phi9/6/2008

The boat to Ko Phi-Phi leaves at 8.30, but the jetty is out of town, so we have to catch our minibus at 7.30, which means breakfast at 7 and getting up even earlier.. yeah...

We thought it was a good idea to buy the boat tickets at the jetty - nope, it costs nearly twice of the price we would have paid in town. There's no competion between different companies, but only one boat leaving and prices fixed - damn it!

We arrive at a makeshift pier on Phi-Phi, half of the people stay on board because they booked a daycruise around Phi-Phi islands, the others get off. What is that? It's high tide, and somehow the makeshift pier doesn't make it to shore but in the water. Time to take off our heavy walking boots, remove the socks, get the trousers up and wade through the water - nice for Ferd's sunburned legs...

We had a look at the LP before and want to head to a place just outside of "tourist village" (the flat area in the middle of the island, filled with restaurants, clothes shops, diving and climbing companies, guesthouses, resorts, even more shops,...). It's drizzling, it's hot, and we fail to find our way based on the map of the LP. After wandering through town for much too long with big backpacks we have a look at one of the cheap guesthouses. No bad choice - the room and bathroom are clean, the manager turns out to be a German living on the island for 10 years already, the beach is just 50 meters away, and they even come to clean the room every day! I would expect that in a 3 star hotel, but in a simple guesthouse for 7 euros a night?

Time for a cool drink at the 2nd hand bookstore cum coffeeshop cum sandwichshop.

We are on an island, at the beach, everybody is walking around in beach-wear and we are totally unprepared: jeans or trekking trousers, heavy walking boots... time to change that... so we have a stroll through "tourist village" trying to find flipflops and trousers that are more suitable for strolling along the beach for me. Back to the guesthouse to change - I feel much more "beachy" now and don't look totally displaced anymore.

 

The next day is our "we are sooo lazy"-day, we don't do much except sitting at the bookstore with a tasty brunch, read, stroll through town for even more beachwear, sit at the beach and read. I go for a "swim", but the water is very shallow at low-tide, making swimming within 500m from shore nearly impossible.

Dinner at a small locally owned place nearly next-door, with a friendly cat trying to get her share of our fish, and food to good to share with her.

 

 

 

 

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Birthday on Ko Phi-Phi9/6/2008
It's Ferd's birthday today, a good reason to get a bit more active than we have been over the last few days.
Rosti for breakfast, a Thai island close to the beach as backdrop. We arrange a tour of the islands with our guesthouse manager for the afternoon, then we set out to hike up to the viewpoint. It's hot, hot, hot, hot... but with a break on our way we get up there. The first viewpoint is at a (closed) cafe, where a cat-family is enjoying themselves in the sun. The kittens are still small, and it's fun watching them trying to catch the straps of my backpack or  "fight" their brothers and sisters.
If we thought we were nearly up, we were mistaken... but at least the cafe at the second viewpoint is open and we have a cold drink. The view is stunning - looking down on the "tourist village" which occupies the only flat part of the island, beaches on both sides of it, framed by turquoise waters dotted with wooden boats. In the cafe hangs a photograph taken 2 days after the tsunami struck - so much devastation, and now, only 2.5 years later, you can hardly see it anymore.
Back down in town we have time for lunch before the boat tour leaves. Ferd isn't hungry, I take a prawn-sandwich with mayonnaise. It's really tasty, but the mayonnaise dripping out of the baguette makes it really messy too.
We change into beach-wear and wait at the guesthouse for somebody to pick us up. True, we opted for the tour on the big boat, but the group of people walking with us towards the pier is quite big, and there is already another group at the boat, for a total of about 40 passengers.
We transfer with a small boat to the big boat, and off we go to Monkey Beach. Stop the big boat a short distance off shore, transfer into the small boat, get ashore to see the monkeys, at least if everything would have gone according to plan. Low tide messes the plans up, as there is not enough water to cross the corals even with the smaller boat. The captain tries it once, twice, and yet another time - damaging the corals with every try... In the end they decide to transfer people from the small boat to the shore by kayak, which takes a while, but is at least a bit more coral-friendly. In the end they managed to transfer everybody onto the beach... to see the monkeys... about 10 of them... they seem to be the same kind as at the temple in Kathmandu... and that's what we ruined the corals for!
On we go to a place to snorkel, at least if the tide would be a bit higher... so we just pass it by for now, see a cave where they collect swallow-nests to sell to China for huge amounts of money, and head to Maya Beach. Maya Beach, the beach where they filmed "The Beach"... yes, it's beautiful, the sand is white, the water turquoise, the limestone cliffs impressive - but to say that it's so special, I don't know... The way we took to get there and away was more special - swimming from the boat to the shore, stumbling over coral-remains, passing through a tunnel that is only accessible at low tide, seeing some fish in the pools formed by the low tide,... The rock is quite slippery, and I slip on our way back, cutting my hand open (not badly, but still). I'm positively surprised about the amount of first-aid-stuff they have on the boat - alcohol, betadine, but also all different types of tablets, only thing they ran out of are... band aids!
On the way back we stop for snorkeling and kayaking - the fish and corals are nice, and I manage to swallow water only once. Kayaking is fun, but getting back to the boat with tide and wind working against us is hard work...
The tour includes dinner, so they have to come up with some food - as cheap food as possible. We get veg. fried rice, which is actually quite tasty, and you are always more hungry being out on the water for a while.
On the way back to the pier we see the sunset, and it's 7:30 before we are back on land. The fried rice was tasty, but to say that I am not hungry anymore would be a lie. So we change into dry clothes, and head out again. "all you can eat bbq" might be too much, but the way they determine the price of it is fun: Boys pay more than Ladyboys pay more than Lady. And what are all the Ladyboys actually doing in town, we haven't seen them the previous days? They are giving a sing and dance show in one of the bars tonight. After dinner (a plate of pasta for me) I am too tired to stay for the show, so Ferd has to go on his own and I head back to the guesthouse to sleep.
The show is supposed to start at 10:30, but even though the room is full, the dj manages to stretch it out intill after 11:30. In the audience there are mainly groups of girls, and the atmosphere is quite party-like.
The show itself is hilarious, especially the one "girl" that doesn't look anything like a girl gets the biggest cheers. The ones that do look kinda like girls are cheered on a lot less. The girls in the audience seem to prefer the drag queens to the ladyboys. I'm talking to one english girl who just can't believe that some of the performers arte not girls, and it watching with her mouth open.
After the show I head home to our hotel. 39 now.. damn that big 4 is getting close...
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Phuket6/6/2008

Next moring my ribs feel better, the acute pain has subsided. We go to have breakfast at our resort, and get really dissappointed. The menu looks good, from afar, but the tomatoes are rotten, the fruit has swarms of fruitflies hanging around, the eggs for the omelet look like they've been in the bowl since hours (which is probably the case since the resort has hardly any guests), eggs, sausages and baked potatoes are old and cold, and the thai food looks old too. I'm disappointed and upset enough to complain to the reception about this, which leads to the whole kitchen staff looking at all the things I wrote down, discussing, then taking rotten tomatoes out of the bowl, and looking less than friendly at me. I never ever complained at any place avbout the food, but this is not what I expect from a 4 star resort. I can understand that they have only few guests, and I wouldn't have minded a limited selection, but rotten food is not what I'd like for breakfast.

 

Ah well... what can you do... after a disappointing breakfast we head off to the beach for a while. The ocean is too rough for swimming (high waves, strong undercurrent), so we only get in to the waist, and claim 2 chairs under a parasol (yes, we had to pay for them, it may be a 4 star resort, but they have no parasols for their guests... Ferd had put on sunscreen before we left the room, stayed in the water for like 5 minutes and under the parasol for another 20 minutes before putting his jeans back on - and still, his legs are burnt the next day, ouch! 

Around lunchtime we wander off towards the "non-resort-part" of town, with some shops, some bars, some travel agents, some cheaper hotels,... and have food at a rather basic foodstall. The prices are according to environment rather than according to quality - I doubt my shrimps were fresh, but I am lucky and have no problems whatsoever. A place next door has relatively reasonable priced internet, we spent an hour there, head back to our resort, and hang out a bit at the pool. Why did they collect all the chairs that were still standing around the pool the day before?! We find out the next morning, when there is only 10 cm water left in the pool *snif* - they are going to renovate it (which is absolutely necessary, tiles are missing in some places).

When I walked back to the resort the night before, I had a look at some seafood restaurants and the seafood they were presenting. it looked good enough to make us walk all along Karon Beach to head there for dinner - and we are not disappointed! It's always a good sign if a restaurant is full in low season. I planned on getting some of Ferd's fish and only took a small serving of mussels... but... he eats it all!

 

Breakfast the next morning is a bit better - they removed the rotten tomatoes, the fruitflies disappeared, and somewhere they found some eggs. It's not good yet, but at least not too bad either. The thai food is different from yesterday, so I hope it's at least reasonably fresh...

Afterwards we grab our stuff and order a taxi to Phuket Town. The lady at the reception is trying to figure out where the hotel is where we wanna stay (too budget for them to know about) and tell the driver. His driving is bad, and it smells of old cigarette smoke in the car, so I am more than happy when we arrive.

The guesthouse is an old shophouse, too bad the rooms to the front with big balconies are still taken. The room we get will do as well - no 08/15 standard furniture, but an old cupboard, wooden floors, and the room is huge. They even added an artistic touch by putting a vase with plastic flowers in one corner of the room and some pebbles in another corner...

We stroll around the old town, most of the shops and restaurants are closed - even here "low season" is very well visible. Phuket used to be a trading port, and some old shophouses are remaining - most of them dilapidated, or using the shop-interior for different means (backdrop for a cafe, place to live in,...). It's drizzling and Ferd's burnt legs are hurting, so we don't go too far. finding a place to have lunch is a difficult task - restaurants are either closed or deserted, except a chinese upmarket seafood restaurant. It's not cheap, but we get a tablecloth and napkins, and the food is tasty. I will rather remember the fish and prawns than the food though - bassins with a bunch of tigerprawns, at least 20 types of fish, the biggest one more than 50 cm long (who can afford to buy that one?!),...

The local market is nothing special, and we (well, mostly Ferd) are fed up with this town, so we spent most of the afternoon searching for a flight back home (bye-bye Delhi and 45degrees celsius at the end of June, Singapore it is instead) and browsing the internet.

According to the LP, there must be a nice Indian restaurant not too far from our guesthouse. maybe it's nice, but prices are quite high and we would be the only guests, which is never an inviting sign. So we wander a bit further, towards the municipal market where there is supposed to be a night market with food stalls. On our way we pass a local seafood restaurant, the food on display looks good, and several tables are occupied. No way we will walk any longer if we can eat here. I go to have a look at the fish. 600 grams, that's 240 bhat. I gonna take that fish, but let Ferd have a look himself first, to make sure he finds something to eat as well. What is taking him so long to come back to the table? Seems he had some trouble communicating with the waiter, he's not sure if he will get what he wanted. Why is nobody asking me how I want my fish prepared? I tell them anyways. By the time we get our fish nearly all tables are occupied. Ferd's fish is first. "That's not my fish, my fish was much bigger." I start to sense a misunderstanding... My fish is much smaller than expected as well, and both are cut into pieces... Ferd got half a head, I got the other half...

I had not yet confirmed that I wanted to eat THAT fish, because I wanted to check with Ferd first, so Ferd went to choose a fish, MY fish. And the poor waiter was trying to tell him "cut, small, half" and Ferd wanted "no, no, I want a whole fish" - in the end they nicely cut the fish in pieces, prepared each half in a different way, and didn't charge us any extra for the extra work.We weren't that hungry and have a good laugh before we head back to our guesthouse, stopping for a drink on the way. The cafe has a pool table, and we first watch others play, then I join in - which is a huge disaster... I could have spent the whole evening on jsut one game, so much difficulties did I have with putting the balls into the holes...

 

 

 

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Due South6/6/2008

I had already typed this part, but it didn't update, and the last week we've not been online, just beachbumming, 10 days behind schedule now, ah well.

The day after Katha's birthday we finally decide to leave our "home", the lodge. As 2 other guys leave as well, we chater John's jeep to take us to the busstop. When we get there we find a minibus for Chiang mai waiting, perfect! The road is as bad as we expect from the trip there, but both of us survive, although katha got close to being carsick.

In Chiang mai we get dropped at the main busstation, ignore the overpriced tuk tuks, and head out to the main road nearby. There we find a taxi to take us to our hotel for a good price. We decided to stay the night in a small simple hotel in china town, clean, cheap, convenient.

We have some lunch, I go for a massage, katha goes to find the mosquito museum (which she doesn't find, even after looking for 2 hours). On our way back we both get drenched, the monsoon is back again :)

In the evening we take a taxi to a restaurant that was recommended by David, katha's ex english teacher. Getting to the address we were told (and that's also in the LP), it's not there. Sombody tells us it's 4 km down the road, but we're to tired to go look for it. So we eat at a local place, that is so incredibly hot that I can't stop drinking cold drinks just to live through the ordeal. When we walk back, my stomach is very unhappy with either the food, the cold drinks, or the heat (or the combination), and I throw up everything. After I feel better, and even manage to eat a small yoghurt before we go to bed.

 

The next morning we have a good chinese breakfast, do some small updating on the internet (mail), and then take a taxi to the airport. Have a great iced capucino, and wait for our flight.

The flight with Thai is great again, excellent salad, comfortable flight, and on time.

In phuket, we take a minibus to drop us in Karon, the beach/town we want to go to. We get dropped at our resort (we decide to splash out for once, a nice resort with 5 star service according to the Lonely planet), check in after we get a reduced rate since it's low season. The room, pool, everything is great. We even have free breakfast included in the rate.

We enjoy the afternoon at the pool, which is really beautifull. After we walk the 4 km to Kara beach, to eat at big seafood place. The food is good, sevice is lacking though. My fries take forever to arrive, half an hour after I finished my prawns, and even then only after asking twice.

We walk back, and I decide to get a nice massage to end the day. When I lie down, and the woman presses down on my back, I feel pain in the palce where I fell on my ribs about 5 days ago. I fell when we were climbing the big knob, but sofar apart from some scratches and minor pain in the ribs it didn't bother me. But now it does! I have to ask the lady to go real soft on my back, and really am in pain even just lying down. Somehow the massage triggered something in my ribs, no idea what.

At night in bed I have trouble sleeping, since all movement hurts like hell. lying still on my back does the trick in the end.

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Happy Birthday31/5/2008

As we're kinda behind on updating for some time, I will be a bit less detailed, or we'll never catch up :)

The next moring I'm rather unhappy to feel my knee protesting, it feels stiffer than it has been in weeks, I probably overdid it the last 2 days. A good reason to trelax today. We talk about where to go, and when, and katha decides she doesn't want to travel on her birthday (tomorrow), so we decide to stay for another 2 days. We enjoy it here, the people are nice, and it is a nice place to celebrate katha's 30th.

We don't do much all day, we read, hang out, talk with the new guests, and with Nung, and in the afternoon go for a walk, over the cace, along the river to the dam, then to the karst formations, and in the end back over the road. About 2 to 3 hours walking, taking it slow not to overdo it (again). back to the lodge for a drink, and then at 5:30 we head to the cave exit downstream to watch the birdshow. There are some 300.000 swifts living in the cave, building nests agains the roof, and flying in and out in the thousands. We join the other 3 guests already there, but don't see a spectacular change as the sky slowly goes dark. The birds may be a bit more gitated, but we don't see a massive flow of birds. It's still nice to watch though.

We walk back "home", spend the evening chating with the other guests, and go to bed quite late.

The next morning it's time to congratulate katha on her 30th Birthday! Being on the road I don't really have lot's of presents, ut I did arrange for a birtday cake for tonight, and I'm quite sure that katha has no idea.

We decide to finally explore the cave fully today, so we hire a guide, and go see the big cave. It is really impressive, the cave has a number of 'side' caves, column cave (named after the huge column that is really incredibly big), doll cave (beats me), and coffin cave, which contains 5 coffins made of teak, about 2000 years old. It takes clinbing up to go to some of them, our guide is not too hapy about it, but in the end is happy with the tip she gets.

At the lodge we order the big T-bone steak for dinner, and we get to see a wonderfull film about northern thailand made in the late 1920s. It's called "Chang" (Elephant), and it's wonderfull to watch, the 1920s silent movie is really wonderfull, the comments in between are funny, but the quality is amazing. So is the big steak we get after the movie, at least a full garlic on each, very nice.

After dinner when katha s looking for desert, i manage to totally take her by surprise with the birthday cake. You should have seen her face :) Then it's beers for everyone, a "Happy Birthday" from all, and ofcourse everbody sings. It's a very nice group that is staying tonight 9same guys from yesterday), so we have a good time till quite late.

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walking in the north30/5/2008

After another good breakfast we have a talk with the lady of the house, and discuss the various options to walk around the lodge. She suggests a few options, and after some discussing we decide to climb up the "big knob", a big karts formation, where you have great views over the countryside. Should be easy to find from the handdrawn map we get.. we hope..

We walk through the village, it's incredibly hot already, blue sky, sun is almost above is, and I'm sweating like crazy. past the village we have to turn right, then kinda find our way up, go behind the real rock, and just climb up. Ehm.. well, we turn left, and up in some banana palantation, kinda try to find our way. has to be in this direction, we can hardly miss the damn thing. Climbing over a fence, they have these constructions to climb over the bamboo, then finding whet somewhat may have resembled a path one time up the hill. Well up is the right direction at least. There seem to be several "paths", more or less trodden areas where we think people walked, or animals. They all go up, so do we. Looking at the real rocky part to our left, we decide to move that way, again seeing some "path", so we must be going in the right direction. Then we come to the foot of the rocky outcrop, from here it's rockclimbing for real. Yhere are some 12, 15 places where we really have to climb, using hands and feet, sometimes we have to help eachother up. But finally we come to the top. The view from here is wonderfull indeed, we can see over the valley, see quite a bit into the distance, siome samall patha, or roads winding through the karts mountains, little houses, fields, really beautifull.

As we don't have lots of water with us, we decide not to stay too long, and climb down again, bck to the lodge. On the way we buy some juice from the first place we can, and drink it down in a few seconds. We repeat the procedure at the lodge, this time with a cold beer.

In the afternoon we make another long walk, we visit a silversmith, but don't really like his work much, and find our way along a small path through the karst formations, acros field where people burnt down parts of the jungle to make fields. We see some people working in the fields, toiling at building small huts, or clearing the land. It's still very much a jungle out here at most places, but if thing progress like this, it won't be for long.

Before sundown we're back at the lodge. An excellent dinner again, tonight we're the only guests, so we spend quite some time talking to John, the australian owner, and his wife Nung. We read a bit in John's book, and head to bed at around 10.

 

Ferd's knee had no trouble climbing yesterday, so we decide to go for a longer walk the next day after breakfast. I talk to Nung how to get to the Karen village. She advises to go straight over the hilltop on the other side of the river. Hope we will find that... John advises us to stick to the road on our way there, and head back along a stream and the river. Sounds more feasible than somehow cross the river without bridge and not get lost on the hill... We take 2 liters of water with us and head off. Finding the start of the road to the Karen village is not that difficult, and some people sitting at a shop in "our" village even try to help us find the way, but they have difficulties understanding our pronounciation of "Muang Haem" (or whatever it was called). The "big bridge" on John's map of the surrounding is a very small bridge at the moment - they are building a new big bridge, and made a small makeshift wooden bridge for the meanwhile. Hope it won't rain hard soon, this wooden bridge does not look like it will survive a much higher water level in the river.

Up, up, up we go. According to the map its "up and down", and I hoped it would be only short stretches of climbing, but it's a long ascent followed by a long descent. We only have 2 liters of water... should we have taken more?! Probably, as we are sweating a lot, there is not much shade to be found along the road, and climbing is tireing. We try to drink as little as possible. The countryside is stunning - blue sky, a lot of forest, think I saw this road from the Big Knob. There is extremely little traffic on the road, only 3-4 motorcycles pass us by during the 7km walk. The last one passes us close to the village, down at the stream we will have to follow on our way back. But what is the driver doing?! He stops a bit past us, gets off his bike, takes the big gun he was carrying, loads it, and... Actually he was unloading it, to put it into the gun-carrying-bag he had with him, but we felt a bit uneasy for a moment, especially as there was a big knife tucked behind his belt as well. John writes in his book that the hilltribes are friendly people, but... Actually they are - we wander around the village, happy to see a shop that has something to drink. When we approached the village we saw the group of French Canadians that had slept the night there, and a group of 6 tourists coming on a day-trip from Pai is just boarding there 4WD at the shop - not a remote hilltribe village anymore, that's for sure! The shopkeeper even has some icecold coke, he must be an angel! While we sit there, an old lady approaches us with her weavings, and an old man with handcarved spoons, but even though the weaving is nice we don't need anything. It's positively surprising how fast they understand that - I wish all tuk tuk drivers and shopkeepers of the world would behave like that! We get a new bottle of water and go to explore the village. Some people, especially the older ones, still wear traditional dresses, but comparing it to pictures we saw in the lodge it's a huge difference. Too bad a lot of old tradition is going to disappear, but who can blame them when the choice is between clinging to a traditional way of life and barely having enough, or abandoning some of their traditions and being much better off.

We walk back along the stream, according to the map we have to cross it 3 times, we took the "waterproof" shoes with us, don't want to get the good walking boots soaking wet, takes too long to dry. The first streamcrossing we take the big shoes off, and put on the cheap plastic flipflops. walking on them is no fun, but just for the 3 crossings will do. After the third crossing we put on the big shoes again, just to find that 50 meters on we have to cross again... it was 3.. according to the map.. I manage to get across by putting some rocks in the river, changing shoes is no fun. A bit further on we have to cross again, and I can see where this is going. Back to the flipflops it is.

We cross the stream at leat 20 times in the next few kilometers, walking on the flipflops is really killing my feet, I have wet feet, the sand that gets between my feet and the flipflops is really hurting, I try to wash it off now and then, but a bit further on the sand gets back in.

After about an hour of continuous crossings it looks like the path is going a bit away from the stream, I decide to put on the big shoes again. Luckily we find a path stat does indeed not cross the river for a while (the stream now merged into the river that we earlier kayaked on). But in the end we have to cross the river, so I have to change shoes again.. this will be the last time I hope.

We find a sort of path away from the river, but as we continue on, it ends at barbed wire, with no option to get over it. I can see the path a bit further on, but how to get there? In the end we move back to the river, walk along the bank, and find a way to get across the fence, walk through a field that is just being cleared, and sprayed with poison, and get to the path towards the village. At the first shop we buy some juice, that turns out to be so sweet it makes us more thirsty than before. So we buy another juice 50 meters on at the next little shop. Back in the lodge we have a litere of water each, we were almost dehydrated, walking for 5 hours in the heat.

The rest of the day we relax, read, talk, and have another excellent meal. Eating here is a real pleasure, the cooks are excellent. When we talk to John about the 3 crossings, he insists that there is a path that only crosses 3 times. I'm pretty sure that we looked pretty much everywhere, but I could be wrong.. ah well, we got there in the end.

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Cave lodge29/5/2008

We get an early rise, off to have breakfast in the place where we had a shake/smoothie yesterday. Both of us can't resist the cinnamon/raisin french toast. A bit small, but 6 pieces, and some fruit. Excellent breakfast. Back to the hut, packing the last belongings, and we check out. At the busstation it turns out that the bus at 10 oesn't stop in Soppong.. hmmm so we have to wait an hour and a half for the 11 o'clock slow bus to mae Hong Son that will stop there. Off to the nearest internet place, reading up a bit on world events (and email). Then back to the busstand, where the bus finally shows up at 20 past 11. Unlike the nepali and indian busses, here the thai fellow travellers don't behave all too polite. They rush in, push and shove, and bfore we even have the backpacks on, the bus is full.. Damn! I'm a bit pissed, but in the end, we just push in, move stuff to the side, whether the Thai travellers like it or not, put our big backpacks on top of eachother, and sit in the middle path. I'm not moving, no matter who complains.

The ride to Soppong is through beautifull countryside, but up and down, through hairpin curves, I'm holding on for. dear life. Some fellow travellers get sick (we've seen this so often), we manage to come trough ok :) After a bit more than an hour we get to Soppong. The money guy in the bus finally realises we're not going all the way to Mae Hong Song, so we ave to pay now. Couldn't make him understand before.

It takes a bit of a search to find the motorcycle taxis in Soppong that can take us to the cave lodge, but when we do, they quote the correct price, so we put the big backs in front of the driver, and the small backpack on, other bags in the left hand, holding on with the right hand. And the holding on is required, as we race though the hills, sometimes my driver accelerates, then he hits the brakes full on. But we get there quite fast.

We walk the last 80 metres to the lodge. It's a huge building, or better collection of buildings, overlooking the river, small huts artound for the guests, looks very cosy in spite of the size. Big communal space, cushions, places to "hang", a swing, a hammock, very nice. Katha goes to inspect the huts. We can have the big one with 2 huge beds for the reduces price of 450 baht, why not, one bed to dump all the stuff is always welcome, and it has a nice balcony, big bathroom as well.

We go to have the local food for lunch (Shan Special), a mix of local veggies, rice, and fermented soya beans (a nothern thai speciality). Quite good, but not great. The Soya beans kinda taste like shrimp paste (Trassi).

After lunch we hang out a bit, ask to have the Sauna heated (steambath with specal local herbs), and to have a Shan massage after.

The Sauna is nice, it smells really good, it gets nice and hot up high, but because there are too many holes for the steam to escape, my legs don't get very hot. There is a cold shower next door to cool down, a nice experience. The massage after is great. A Shan massage focusses fully on the legs, the girl does it very well, even my knee doesn't complain. I feel totally relaxed after.

Dinner is great. I have an excellent fish dish, katha has a green curry, both taste divine. In the evening we hang out in the communal room. talk a bit with other travellers, read a bit, totally relaxing place to stay at. We talk to the owner about what to do in the morning, and decide to go for the kayaking and caving combination. First Kayaking over the river, through the big cave, then some cave exploring. Sounds like fun :)

The next morning we get up after 8, have a nice breakfast. At about 9:30 our guide arrives, and we go get the Kayaks. Both of us have never tried to Kayak, but as the water is low, we're told it will be no problem, Katha will get in a double kayak with the guide, I will have my own. And we will have inflatable kayaks, very safe.

We carry the stuff to the river, and off we go. It is indeed great fun, very easy on this flat water. The only problem is not getting stuck on the bottom, as the water is really low, and my kayak is not very big, and not full of air, so my weight is not exacly evenly distributed. Katha's kayak is much bigger, about 50% wider, they have less problems (and ofcouse the guide knows better where to go, and is better at steering). I get through the first few rapids with no problems, but at the first bigger one, I get stuck behind the other kayak, and get pushed to the side, almost fully stuck. ah well, takes a bit of pushing and paddling, but I get through. The we go through the cave. It's huge, birds and bats everywhere, and a few bamboo rafts carrying some of the other guests at the lodge. We have a light on the helmet, but the cave is enourmous, impossible to see the roof, the side, or the exit. We paddle on slowly, it's difficult to follow the other kayak here, so I almost run aground a few times.

Just outside the cave we stop, put our kayaks aground, and climb up the hill. Then the guide points down a small hole in the ground, apparently that's where we're going. Climbing down is not easy, it's s;ippery, we're both bigger than the guide, and less used to this caving, but we manage. Then it is climbing up, down, under and over stuff through the cave. Very beautifull cave, many big stalagtites, stalagmites, columbs, different formations. I have my camera out, and find that caving with a big dslr is not ideal. The camera is in the way, I need one hand to hold it, and it means I have only one hand to help vlimbing. The camera gets dirty, and condens gets on the lens. Not ideal at all.

After we climb out we move on by kayak. Some nice rapids, then we come to a dam. I see the kyak with katha and the guide go down, and I try to do the same. but I get stuck on the ground.. again... tales me a while to paddle and rock loose, but then it's down over 2 meters.. the kayak fills up with water, but it's fun. Some 2 km further another cave. meditation cave this time. A monk apparently meditates here.. didn't see him though. Same procedure as the previous cave, climbing on all fours, trying to let me camera survive..

After the cave some 3 km down river, and we come to the end of our trip. I was enjoying the kayaking, but I'm also glad tro get out f the sun, was slowly starting to go red on my arms and face. We drag the kayaks out of the water, load them on the car that is there to pick us up, and back to the lodge.

The rest of the day (it's 3 before we get back) we relax, read, talk to some guests, and have another excellent dinner in the evening. A good way to spend a day. We're discusing whether to join some canadians on a multiple day trek, but as I hurt my knee a bit today I'm not sure I'm up to it, so we decide not to. We'll just go for a walk ourselves tomorrow.

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Pai28/5/2008

Packing our stuff, then off to breakfast (yes, at the same place again, french toast with cinnamon and fruit salad).

Back to our guesthouse again, to get our stuff and check out, then back to the place where Ferd bought the tickets yesterday, by now we really know this neighbourhood... 9am, there the minivan is. But if we thought we would go immediately, we are wrong - first we cruise all over the city, gathering tourists everywhere....

The road out of Chiang Mai is big, like a 6-lane highway, but it soon gets smaller as we turn onto another highway. Quality of roads in Thailand is amazing, probably better than in many parts of Europe or the US... Before we even realize we are in the mountains, turn left, right, right, left, right, left,... My poor stomach... But the views are superb. We stop halfway for a short while, then we (and our cookies) are off again. This road is too much for me... I know I get carsick a bit when it gets too windy... So I keep counting kilometers, wishing us to be in Pai already...

The last few kilometers are through a valley, and I am grateful of that. Pai, several people told us that it is a good place to be, laid back and nice. Our first choice of accomodation is close by to where the minivan stopped, teak cottages set in a garden. But - nobody shows even the slightest interest in us, nobody wants to show us a bungalow, so we go on. Our second choice is a bit further down the road, much more approachable, with good prices. We have a look at the range of cottages they offer, then settle for the biggest one - the bed must be 2x2 meters, and the mosquito nets are inviting. We go to a nice place near the river to have lunch. Food and smoothies are excellent, as is the service. The resident kitten (8 weeks old) comes up to us, I invite him onto my lap (terrible mistake...), and there he is to stay for the next 2 hours. It's soooooo good to be petted, good enough to fall asleep on my lap. Believe me - eating without disturbing little Jonathan was a challenge. I don't want to wake him up, so Ferd goes to get a massage while I sit there, in the shade, reading, ordering another smoothie - Life could be worse... When the little guy eventually wakes up, he plays with my hand, ruins my jeans with his paws, snuggles up to my neck for more comfort - and is terribly disappointed when I leave.

It's just displacing ourselves back to our hut, hanging out on the terrace and reading a bit more... According to the LP, the most authentic thai restaurant is at the other side of town, so we head there. Well... it seems to be the lying planet again... no restaurant to be found... Instead we settle for a local place, one of our cheapest meals, and quite good as well. They offer a type of bbq as well, for 90 baht a person, maybe we are back tomorrow... While we are sitting there, the electricity is gone. Only then do I realize what was missing during the last week - no power cuts, no load shedding, nothing, we had electricity 24/7.... But before we make it to our hut electricity is back already, nothing compared to India or Nepal...

Outside of the net mosquitos are annoying, but inside it's too dark to read, so I rather face the annoying beasts...

 

Next morning we have breakfast at our place, which is quite disappointing (nope, we won't be back here!). There are hot springs some kilometers further on (the ones Brenda mentioned in her comment), and we want to go there. But... no way we gonna walk 8 kilometers one way, and we aren't sure if Ferd's knee will like bicycling already. So we try to find another means of transport. The only taxi in town asks 200 baht or something - bit much! We will give the cycling a go. Ferd tries a bike out, not only to check the gears and brakes, but also to test his knee. As everything goes well we head off to the springs.

 

8km in the sun, over small hills can turn out to be quite a long ride. We are happy to arrive in the end. But... no swimming! We can put our feet into the water, but swimming is not possible. And that's what we pay the entrance fee for... Ah well... we are here already, so we might as well have a look at the hot springs. Even quite a distance from the source the water is much warmer than the surrounding air - a strange sensation. Approaching the spring you can smell the sulfur in the water, and feel the warmth radiating from the water (80 degrees celsius). Even without "no swimming" sign I would not have attempted this, but the "no boil egg"?! At the ticket counter they state that the water is hot enough to boil an egg, at the snackbar they have an "amyzing egg" sign, and here it's "no boil egg" - life is unfair!  

And life gets even more unfair when I want to get some food at the snackbar - it has been a while since anybody sold food there... all that is left is the board advertising ice cream... snif...

Instead we head a short distance towards Pai, stop at the "elephant camp", where local people keep some elephants to do walks through the surrounding jungle, and have a small "shop cum restaurant". We order some Pad Thai, "the" thai food, but it takes some thinking if they can make it for us... in the end the older man decides that it's possible to cook it. Hmmm? As long as we get our food (yes, we are hungry!), we don't care. It's definetely family business - grandpa making our food, while grandchild tries to walk his first steps (and spread all bags with chips on the floor, "help" weaving a fishing net, eat sand, laugh with us,...). On the tree next to our table is a beautiful big gecko. I try to take pictures of him/her, but am to slow to get a good one. Geckos are amazing animals, and whenever I have a mosquito bite I wish for a gecko-pet sitting on my shoulder all the time...

 

Soon after we leave for Pai my trousers get caught in the chain. I am lucky to get them free again without crashing with the bike, but it slows me down. And it's not meant to be my cycling-day. Soon after I catch up with Ferd again I hear a hissing sound. No, that can't be true, can it? I won't rent a bike on this holiday anymore - first my front tire in Nepal, now my back tire - flat, completely flat...There is not much we can do - Ferd leaves our waterbottles with me and cycles back while I will have to walk in the sun. *grumble*

The tyre is so flat I don't even dare to just push the bike, but half carry it - up the little hills, down the little hills... It's further than I hoped... Suddenly a (probably) japanese guy on his motor cycle stops to ask me what's wrong and offering me a ride back to Pai. I am reluctant, don't know how I will manage, if i can hold the bike up, if I won't fall off myself,... but on the other hand - walking on in the heat, with dwindling water supplies is not a thing to look forward to either. So I decide to go with him, holding the bicycle with one hand, and making sure I don't fall of with the other. He drives very carefully, but I am happy when I get off in Pai. Back to our place, where Ferd is waiting for me. Is he? Not at the restaurant at least... Maybe at our hut? But I don't have the key for the lock, and don't want to leave the bike alone, so I hurry to our hut and back - no Ferd there either. Maybe he went to the bike rental already?! I go there, no Ferd, but at least I can change my bike for one without flat tyre. Back to our place, getting something to drink. But WHERE is Ferd!?!?!?!

And there he is, surprised to see me. He went to the place near the water, watching the bridge I had to cross. Too bad he was looking for somebody walking, not for somebody sitting on a motorbike... We don't do much that late afternoon - get another drink at a restaurant in town (wow, these smoothies are huge, why did we order something else to drink as well?!), read a bit, get back to our place to read even more, then head out for dinner.

We go for dinner at the same place as the day before, going to try the bbq. Up close the bbq looks even more interesting - a convex surface with a piece of pork fat on top, slowly dissolving. Surrounding this a ring of "broth" covered with a layer of fat, a pot of water to supplement the broth when necessary. Adventure for sure ;) We go get some greens to put into the broth, and some meat and fishcakes to put on top of the bbq. The fish I took is much too old, already smelly - I won't eat that! Hope the other food is okey.. (a week later I can say: yes, it was). The heat of the coals adds to the heat of the evening, so we consume vast amounts of water and beer. Not a bad idea to come here - some 20 people eating there this evening, we were the only farang (western people).

Althoug Pai is nice it feels like something trapped in between - neither city nor countryside. We will be moving on tomorrow...

 

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