Sunday, November 23, 2008

fine all week

I wrote this entry in my journal while I was sitting in the Singapore airport 5 days ago. I'm glad I did, because now, I wouldn't have any idea what to write or what I've even done the past week or so. 

Malaysia was an interesting place...I'm glad to have gone, but don't feel the need to go back anytime soon.  It's fascinating how 3 different cultures co-exist almost seamlessly...or so it would seem when looking in from the outside. 

After going to the tea plantation, we headed for Kuala Lumpur for a couple days. I think I had in my mind that it would be a much more glamourous city than it really is. It's pretty much the same as any other large city.  We stayed in Chinatown right were the night markets are held.  The market stalls all sold essentially the same things- designer impostor goods, pirated dvds, fake rolexes, etc.  I find shopping in that environment (i.e. bartering for everything) very  exhausting, so I really didn't do too much shopping.

The next day, one of the girls, Andrea, and I went to the Petronas Towers to get tickets to go to the sky-bridge.  We then stopped in Little India, then got epically lost trying to find our way back to the hostel.  Eventually we gave up and took the train 1 stop because we simply could not figure out which way to go. The towers were impressive, but there was this cheesy video when you go in, boasting how these towers are Malaysia's symbol of success to the world, and how great the Petronas c ompany is, and blah blah blah. It felt like brainwashing. 

We spent the following day heading to Melaka, which was extremely hot.  It was the kind of heat that makes you not want to do anything except sit in front of a fan or in a swimming pool. We attempted to sneak into a hotel pool, but lost the courage when threatened with being kicked out and/or fined. So we spent the afternoon at the guest house until it was time to be picked up by the trishaws...which are like bikes with sidecars decorated in an outrageously tacky manner with fake flowers, twinkle lights, and assorted plastic toys (ours had crabs).  Our guide, Kamal, was lovely and took us to a couple temples, taught us about Malay history, and gave us plant spices to sample. 

Finally, the next day, we headed to Singapore, the final destination. We had a nice dinner and attempted to have a big night out, as it was our last all together, but Singapore is extremely expensive, and when drinks cost as much as they do, we all lost the motivation to be out rather quickly. The following day we went to the Singapore Zoo, which is world renowned, and with good reason. It was probably one of the nicest zoos I've ever been to. 

We collected our bags from the hotel and relocated to different hostels, as some people were staying in Singapore for a few extra days. I had to say my goodbyes from there, as I was heading to the airport to spend the night there. I think I'm becoming desensitized to saying goodbye, maybe because I do it so much, or maybe because I get so excited about the next chapter of life that I'm eager to get to whatever will take me there. It was interesting to be around a bunch of people whose journeys are, really, only just beginning.  All the girls in the group are heading to Australia within the next couple months and plan to stay there a while.  I find myself feeling almost jealous. On one hand, I wish I could just stay in Sydney (it's the best time of the year...summer is coming!), but, on the other hand, I just spent the past 6 months before heading overseas ready to get out. 

Now I'm back in Australia and just had the nicest few days I have ever had here.  The weather cleared up for some beach time, a few of my really good friends happened to be in town, and a bunch of my family came down to see me off.  It was such a lovely weekend, I find myself feeling apprehensive about going home. But, I know myself well enough to recognize that I always feel anxious and apprehensive when my life is about to change. My body shuts down (I have a fever right now), I get very moody and emotional, and I try to make excuses why I shouldn't leave. I never thought I would feel so strange about going home...I've been so excited about it for months...but it's that great unknown (how will I feel, what will I do, where will I live, how will I be different) that makes me nervous, but I know I'll be just fine. I always am. 

Thursday, November 13, 2008

get on the boat.

It's come to that stage in the travel game where I have absolutely no idea what day it is, what the date is, or what a real shower feels like. To be fair, I have loved it all.

When we arrived back in Bangkok, we met up with the new people for our journey...all girls. 3 girls from North Ireland (which means they're technically British...I never knew!), and one girl from England, another girl from Scotland..leaving me to be the only non British person. Sometimes in places we've been where people ask where we're all from, I tell them in my blatantly American accent that I'm from Ireland. I just feel kind of left out. We also met our new tour leader, Rachel, who's from Sydney, so at least she and I have some common ground.

From Bangkok we traveled south to Khao Sok National Park on a night train that wasn't nearly as nice as the previous two. It was essentially the same setup, but with no air conditioning and lots of bugs. We all woke up sweating. Cute. At the national park we stayed in little bungalows and went tubing down the river in big black tubes, which had some funny moments with people getting hit by tree branches and getting stuck between various rocks. After that we fed monkeys at a temple, which was funny and scary at the same time...I remembered in India when my friend Erin had a bag of chips, and a monkey came up to her making scary noises. She wound up just throwing the chips on the ground and running...which seemed like the logical choice at the time.

From the park we traveled across to Krabi province for some beach time. Our hotel was right next to the beach, which was beautiful, but we couldn't go in the water...apparently there's jellyfish. The boxed kind. We did go swimming in a different area...we saw other people in the water not getting stung, and the water was so inviting, we decided to take our chances. It was well worth it. The following day, myself and a few of the other girls headed for Kho Phi Phi (pronounced "Pee Pee") on a ferry to spend a day and a night on the main island. The day we arrived, the weather was beautiful, we spent the whole day at the beach. We stayed in the cheapest hotel possible, which, appeared passable at a glance, if you didn't look too closely at the sheets. And I'm pretty sure they bought the beds at a prison garage sale...solid as rocks. We all went out to a bar called Hippie Bar that night and watched a fire show, did some one point I decided it was a good idea to go swimming with my clothes on (I blame the rum). The next day it rained and rained until our ferry at 3, then rained some more. That was disappointing, but at least we got some beach time in. The thing about beach hotels, though, it most of them only have cold showers. Which wasn't very nice when you're cold from having been rained on all day.

After returning to Krabi, we had dinner with the rest of the girls, and the next day headed off to Penang, Malaysia. It was a long travel day consisting of being in vans for 10 hours, but they were very nice, and the day went very quickly. Crossing the border was kind of funny...we got our passports stamped as we departed Thailand...then had to walk about 100 metres before getting stamped as having arrived in for those 100 metres, where were we? Malaysia is an interesting's a fusion of Indian, Chinese, and Malay cultures, and is predominantly Muslim, so we have to have our shoulders and knees covered. Except at the beach. We were excited to be able to wear bikinis at the beach the next day...we spent most of the day there, a few of us went on a banana boat, jetskiing, parasailing...I'm a bit sore today! In the morning we had taken a tour of the city, our guide Steven was very informative and took us to the city's larger temples. Next to our hotel was a Muslim mosque, which means that every morning at 5:30, they ring bells and play a recording of a prayer...very loudly. We left Penang this morning and got on the dirtiest bus I've ever been was a coach bus, but it was old, outdated, had a crazy driver, and little cockroaches everywhere. Apparently that's the worst of it, according to Rachel. For here on, the buses are much nicer. Now we're in the Cameron Highlands, it's raining (surprise!), cool (yippie!), and tomorrow we're going to a tea plantation. Tomorrow afternoon we're off to Kuala Lumpur, then Melaka, then it's over! Then I'm off to Sydney, which I'm really looking forward to! A bunch of my family is coming from the Gold Coast to see me off, so I'm very grateful that I'm getting such a big send off.

Monday, November 3, 2008

"never try, never know"

We had a guide in the hills, Sangsung, that would always use that phrase. It sounded so funny in his broken English, but, when you really think about it, there's a lot of value to those four words.

Thailand is incredible...which I don't really think is enough to describe it, really, but it'll have to do for now. I've just spent the past 12 hours on a train, and am feeling neither fully conscious nor creative. So this entry will probably be pretty bland.

I met the girls with the tour group (yes, all girls) at the hotel 2 days after I had been in Bangkok. All are really sweet, mostly from the UK, and one from New Zealand. We had a nice dinner all together, then went out on Khao San Road (it's like the Strip of Bangkok...all bars and clubs, neon lights, sea of tourists) for some buckets of cocktails...but that's a bit of an exaggeration. They were more like sand pails. The next day we went to the markets to check out the local produce with our tour leader, Dong. I had sudden flashbacks from the time I was in Chinatown when I was 8, and became traumatized by the dead animals hanging in the windows. If I wasn't already vegetarian, I would be now. There was just hoards of raw meat everywhere, chicken feet, ribs, and parts of animals I didn't even want to hazard a guess. Although, the nice thing about Thai cooking is they use all the parts of the chicken, so it's not as wasteful...although I couldn't get too excited about eating chicken feet, even if I did still eat chicken.

That day we also went to the Grand Palace, which was beautiful, I took about a million pictures. Because of the strict dress code, I had to wear a wrap skirt to cover my calves, and a shirt to cover my shoulders. Come to find out later, they don't wash those shirts after each wash. It was hot...and I was sweaty. And I assume the person before me was sweaty. Gross. But, I'll post pictures of the Grand Palace, and you can see how grand it really is. Later that day we boarded an overnight train up to Chiang Mai. For some reason, I had this idea in my head that the train would be really dodgy, but, actually, it was the nicest overnight train I had ever been on.

In Chiang Mai we dropped off our things and went on a bike tour of the city with a special guide, David. He took us to a temple, a 'rehabilitation center' for people with leprosy (sounds glamorous, doesn't it?? apparently it was used more back in the day when leprosy was more prominent), had lunch, then stopped at the Thai version of a crematorium...which was essentially two cement blocks with a gap between them large enough to fit a coffin, which was outdoors.

The next morning we packed 3 days worth of clothing into our small backpacks and headed for the hills for the hill tribe trek. This is where we met Sangsung, our guide. He had the most infectious laughter, and had all kinds of funny catch phrases like 'oh my buddha!', and 'no money, no honey'. We spent the day hiking, and arrived at a hill tribe village later in the evening. We got to enjoy some COLD showers, followed by some amazing food cooked for us by one of the village men. We stayed in a one room hut with mats on the floor and mosquito nets overhead. Very basic, but good enough for sleeping. The village was really quite adorable...all the livestock lives under the raised houses, so there were lots of pigs, buffalo, chickens, and, where there's chickens, there are usually roosters. So, we were woken at 5, 6, and 7 in the morning. But, it's all part of the experience!

The next day we packed up and headed for the next village. We hiked up 'mama hill', and some other hills for about 4 hours, until we arrived at an elephant camp. We got to feed the elephants, and then took a ride for about an hour. The elephant we rode on was quite listless, but the other girls had some very naughty elephants, that would throw leaves and dirt onto their legs. I hadn't laughed that hard in a while. It felt good. After the elephant ride, we walked another 20 minutes (even though Sansung told us it was a 5 minute walk...a common occurance) in the pouring rain to the next camp. We put on the bikinis and bathed in the river, which didn't really do much for a felling of cleanliness, but was good enough. We made spring rolls, which tasted AMAZING...I'm not sure whether it was because we were so exhausted and hungry, or if they actually were that good. Probably a little bit of both. We sat around talking for a long while, talking about Thai culture, and travelling in general. I think I've learned quite a bit about it.

Early the next morning we packed up yet again and boarded a bamboo raft, which looked a bit dodgy, but was surprisingly sturdy. It was raining again, so it was quite a chilly ride, through some pretty calm rapids, but was enjoyable none the less. After that and a bumpy 2 hour truck ride later (we rode in a truck that had benches in the bed...novel, but not the most comfortable transportation option), we were back in Chiang Mai for our last night with Dong and a couple of our tour mates. Yesterday I did a Thai cooking class, where we made Pad Thai, Tom Yum Soup, Green Curry, and a sticky rice dessert. My mother is very excited for my return home so she won't have to cook every night. Now we're back in Bangkok, and tomorrow it's another overnight train to Khao Sok National Park. I need a good night's sleep now.