11 January 2009

Week 59: Two days in Singapore. And then that was it. I came back home.

59th-1st in Singapore 10/15

Early in the morning we arrived at the border of Malaysia and Singapore. At the last stop in Malaysia, immigration officials came on board and checked all our passports and visas. However, we did not get stamped out of Malaysia here, and in fact we would never get this stamp. When we reached the actual border with Singapore we had to alight from the train, and go through off board immigration. We submitted our immigration documents and got stamped into the country. Comparing this whole border train crossing to Bangladesh and India, this was incredibly fast.

From the border it was only a short trip to the final train station in the island nation of Singapore. Despite what we hoped, that we’d have an MRT stop right nearby the station, this ended up not being the case. We had to walk several blocks to an MRT station.
She had booked us at the same hostel she had stayed in a few weeks back for three days. We arrived but couldn’t put our stuff in yet, beds not ready. So we left our things and sought out foreign exchange, breakfast and internet in that order.

After finally getting our bunkbeds, and showering, we set out to explore the city. She was gracious to re-see some things she’d seen before, but also was excited to show them to me. We made an okay balance. I first got lunch, she wasn’t hungry. We sat at one of Singapore’s famous outdoor food courts, perfect for the nice year round weather.

She showed me the city’s main library, and got a view from the top. The city itself is super nice. Everything is impeccably clean, not surprising as Singapore is famous for strict rule enforcement. At one point I spit on the street, and instantly I realized that this was finable here. Luckily I wasn’t caught. (pics: myself in front of Singapore's National Library, view from the top of the library over a part of Singapore)

I was excited to see their transportation system, which is a model for all the world. Their inner city congestion pricing is also famous. (pic: the signage and information board for the congestion pricing system in place in Singapore)

She brought me over to Suntech City, which has the Fountain of Wealth, the largest fountain in the world. The whole place was really nice. In the area around, Amy pointed out to me the structures erected for the Formula 1 race held here a few weeks ago. She was here when the race was in town, although she didn’t get to watch. I was jealous. She said you could hear the cars ripping through the city from far away. (pics: myself in front of the Fountain of Wealth at Suntech City, remannts of the stands and track lights for the F1 race in Singapore)

We decided to head to Singapore’s big tourist attraction, a giant Ferris wheel called the Singapore Flyer, similar to the London Eye. We knew it’d be expensive but it was more than we thought. We decided to do it anyway; it was the one thing she’d wanted to do coming back. I had an HSBC credit card, and it ended up giving us a 20% discount. (pics: Amy with the Singapore Flyer in the background which was the one thing she missed on her first visit, myself at the base of one of the support poles for the Singapore Flyer)

The views from the top of the Singapore Flyer were incredible. You could see out all over the island of Singapore as well as the ends of Indonesia and Malaysia. The little map they give you onboard was real helpful in identifying places. (pics: Singapore Flyer's 20+ cars, myself on the Singapore Flyer, Amy with Singapore's central business district behind, boats sitting in the Strait of Malacca with Indonesia in the background)

Singapore is the most expensive place I’ve traveled in this past year. Meals, hotels, and everything else were two to three times more than what I’d expect in other Southeast Asian countries, and much much more than South Asia. You pay the price for clean and orderly.
After lunch we walked out on the F1 race course. The grandstands were right behind the Ferris wheel. The track was smooth, and it was so great to look down the finishing straightaway. We straddled the finish line and took photos, while workers dismantling the temporary stands giggled at us. (pics: finish line and grandstands for Singapore's F1 racetrack, myself standing on the F1 finish line)

We walked through the city some more, passing through the Esplanade Mall, and getting some ice cream on the street. We walked into the financial district and crossed over a small pedestrian bridge over the Singapore River. She brought me to a third mall, this one which had two fountains she really liked, however one was not on and that was disappointing. (pics: Amy on our way to the central business district of Singapore, myself and the Singapore River)

We took a ride on the MRT to Orchard Road, the Rodeo Drive of Singapore, except larger, and not as fancy. We walked down it to the end and made our way, a long walk, to the Botanical Gardens. We passed the US Embassy on the way over. We sat in the botanical gardens for a long time, but less than an hour. We watched the ducks, stared at the water, and talked a bit. The place was huge and we only saw a small part of it.
We headed back to Orchard Road looking to get a drink somewhere. One place we sat down at didn’t serve alcohol but we got some mozzarella sticks instead. The second place we found had drinks, so she got an LIT and I got a beer.

For Amy’s last meal in Asia we ate dumplings at a Chinese restaurant.

By the end of the day, my feet were very sore from walking. We had some beers back at the hostel to end our day. It was our last together in Asia. I would be sad to say goodbye in the morning.

59th-2nd in Singapore 10/16

In the morning Amy got up early, it was her time to head to the airport to leave. I walked her the 10 minutes to the MRT stop, and hugged her goodbye as she left to fly to Australia. We both were sad to see each other go. I walked back in the dark to get an hour or two more of sleep before starting my last day in Asia. (pic: Amy leaving me at the MRT station off to catch a train to take her to her flight to Australia)

I went to an internet café in the morning. Then went to get breakfast and packed up at the hostel. Complimentary eggs you cook yourself. Had to remove my bag from the dorm room and leave it under the stairs until I was ready to leave later.

My goal today was to see the communities in the suburbs of Singapore which are based around an elevated train system called the LRT. These trains meet with the MRT trunk lines of the city system. It creates communities where one can work, play, learn, and live. The MRT ride out took about 40 minutes. I chose a random station far out at the end of the line where these train based communities were. There, I could transfer to the LRT, or shop at the shopping mall which doubled as a transit hub. (pic: long MRT train)

Very intelligent design. Each stop on the community line served as a hub for the area’s growth. All buildings were centered on it. It was really cool. At the stops there would be a commercial center with shops, and a school nearby, as well as a gym sometimes. This was all centered on transit, enabling everyone to live car-less. (pics: information board on how to connect to the LRT, suburban LRT on its tracks through apartment complexes, clusters of apartments are built around schools and community centers reducing the length of trips people need to take, commercial and residential areas are easily connected to the LRT)

I’m trying to experience a last bit of Asia, and I think this was a good way. To see where the future of development for these cities can go, and how the transportation links it all. I’m excited to see their future projects.
I went back to the mall at the main line transit hub for lunch. Walked around its stores and went to the food court up top. Similar to what I saw in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, lots of Asian options with one tiny western food stall. Got to choose which delicacy I wanted. I sat in the food court after eating and absorbed where I was spending my last few hours in Asia.

I took the MRT back into the city. I had a postcard from the Singapore flyer yesterday and wanted to mail it out. I’d written a letter to the crew team on it. Finding a place to buy a stamp and then a postbox was difficult for some reason. After getting the stamp from a 7-11, I found a postman but he wouldn’t let me give him the postcard directly. Finally after searching for 20 minutes I found a postbox.

I meandered the streets where my hostel was in Little India. Walked through a streetside flea market, not very good or big. Paused to listen to two men speaking Bengali. I went back to the hotel and sat around for a bit. I was done. Nothing else I was wanting to go out and see or do. So I decided to go sit somewhere near a train station and just watch the city go by. So I got my stuff and walked to the MRT stop near us. I sat on a bench and read my book A Good Man in Africa. When it was time to go, I went into the nearby outdoor food court and got one more fresh fruit shake in Asia, my favorite, dragonfruit. I then got on the MRT to take me to the airport. Of course the whole system of getting there was easy and flawless. (pics: the bench and area in which I spent my last time in Singapore reading, the juice stand I got my last dragonfruit juice)

I had tried to buy gum for the airplane before leaving, but they don’t sell gum in Singapore. They don’t want you spitting it out on the streets. I wondered if chewing it is punishable by law.

Amy had talked about the airport a lot to me. Told me how great it was, free internet, amazing shops, a movie theater inside. Well since I was flying Tiger Airways back to Bangkok, I was not in one of the cool three big terminals. I was in the budget terminal, which to get to, you have to take a shuttle bus from there the train stops. Luxuries are lost when you fly budget. The terminal was empty. I was able to get a muffin for a snack and exchange my Singapore dollars for US dollars. And they still had free internet, which I used. (pic: Singapore's budget terminal which appropriately lacks flair and tons of amenities)

I waited for my flight. We all got on line. And then they told us the flight was delayed. I started getting really scared. They said one hour we would have to sit there. I only had a six hour window between flights in Bangkok, and had to use that time to get my stuff from the hostel. Worried. Praying. Worried. And then we left. It ended up being only a half hour delay. Phew. Should still have plenty of time to do what I needed to do in Bangkok.

The flight was fine. Everything went smooth. I arrived in Bangkok and rushed as fast as I could to leave the airport. Honestly, it felt like all the staff was rushing with me, because all necessary steps such as immigration and getting transport went TOO smoothly. No lines anywhere. In my mind I imagined everyone knew I had limited time and was helping me out.
I found the shuttle bus easy to take me to the bus terminal. It was packed. We got to the bus terminal and I got on the bus to take me to the hostel. I had budgeted this out all perfectly. I knew where to get off and paid the bus conductor. Really feel like Bangkok is very familiar now. Getting off at Sukhumvit Road near the hostel and walking there was like walking up my driveway.
I arrived and gladly presented my claim receipts for my stored luggage. Everything was safe, laptop and all. I dragged my now six bags into the dining room, spread it all out on the floor and set to work combining all my possessions into my four travel bags. No problem at all. A New Zealander was watching me do it, and we chatted while I packed. I also overheard an American guy talking about having to pick his wife up from the airport, so I asked him if he’d like to split a taxi when I had to go. We would be heading there around the same time anyway.
I had enough time, budgeted well, and packed so fast, that I could even take a shower at the hostel. Refreshing to spruce up for the long flights.

The guy and I got in our taxi around 10:30 pm to head to the airport. On the forty five minute ride there he told me all about his time living in the Phillipines, and that place in general and how he met his wife there.
He helped me bring my bags into the terminal then went downstairs to arrivals to wait for his wife. I went to check in and found out my big bag was too heavy, my small bag still had room to spare. So I sat down in the check-in area and started transferring things to the smaller bag. Walked back over and now everything was in the proper weight range, 24 kg for each bag! They didn’t give me any trouble about what carry-ons I had. Was real happy not to have issues like I did leaving Dhaka. The check-in lady was really helpful and explained everything very clearly too me. Just the opposite of what I had at JFK leaving 13 months ago. At the end, she told me I looked very handsome when I smile. Not a bad way to start a trip home. (pics: repacking my bags so the make weight in the Bangkok airport, my flight to Seoul/Incheon and the start of my trip home)

It’s so weird how you can never really picture your last day somewhere. I never thought I’d be cooking eggs or riding a suburban monorail on my last day. Or sitting and reading by a subway stop. Or walking through a junk fair. But I did. I kind of like that life doesn’t make the important days anything special.

59th-3rd on the flights to Newark 10/17

In the airport I got Burger King for dinner. A wonderful American way to transition back, and also within my budget of the last of my Baht. I then slowly meandered the airport. I had a few more Baht and used it to buy some peanuts for the flight, in case I got hungry beyond what they served.

My flight was on time. Korean Airways flight left at 1:30 AM carrying me from Bangkok to Seoul. My flight schedule was tight, with just an hour in between flights in Seoul, and an hour and half in Atlanta before heading to Newark.

The first flight was fine. Most people were sleeping. I didn’t doze off much, I don’t sleep usually on planes. Before we landed they served us breakfast. I chose the Korean meal over the western one, and I regretted it. What they served me was a bland hot cereal, yet served cold. In order to flavor it they give us dried seaweed flakes to spread on top.

We deplaned in Seoul, and I had 40 minutes until boarding the next flight. We all had to go through security, and it was a bunch of novices handling it. They moved slowly and cautiously beyond what I’d ever seen. They also seemed very confused at times, and kept having to phone out questions. All of us transferring were very nervous. And they only had one line! I’m lucky I had gotten there near the front or I would’ve been a wreck.
Well the one problem of the trip home happened here, I had forgotten to take my pocketknife out of my carry-on luggage when I repacked my bags in Bangkok. So they confiscated it and had to wrap it up and put it in a pouch underneath the airplane. This is the knife my Uncle Frank got me for my Bar Mitzvah 10 years ago. Didn’t want to just say throw it out. It took them 20 minutes until someone came to retrieve the knife. I had to sign some forms.
Finally I was on my way and could go to my gate. Already there was a long line. But there were no issues after that. I checked in, went through two more rounds of security, and finally got to sit on my trans-Pacific flight home.

The man next to me was handicapped. I had wanted an aisle seat but they were all taken when I had checked-in in Bangkok. So I was in the middle. That meant every time I wanted to pee, I had to get past him. I especially don’t like climbing over people when they are sleeping, and that’s what he did the whole time. I had to make sure to use the toilet when he called the stewardess to assist him in getting to the restroom. He was out of his seat enough time to use the toilet myself and stand around stretching for a bit. He got up twice in the whole 12 hour flight. I was proud of myself to stay seated that long.

On the flight I watched four and a half movies: Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Kung-Fu Panda, The Promotion, and Hancock and made it a bit through Get Smart before I turned it off.
The food on this second flight had the same two options, Korean or western. Well clearly one would think that I learned my lesson with my first Korean breakfast, but I hadn’t, I took the Korean lunch. This wasn’t as bad; we got noodle soup, but it was extremely seaweed salty. The not so great part was the bitter/sour side dish, which of the pieces items, I only ate one.
So after those first two experiences with Korean Airways Korean dishes, you think I would take the western dinner. Nope. For dinner I chose Korean again, and I got a rice dish. Again, didn’t like it, and the dessert was hard for me to eat as well. Oh well. I may not have liked these foods much, but I was glad to taste Korean food (apart from the Korean BBQs you find in the US) regardless.

On the whole, since I left Singapore until I landed in Newark; I think I slept maybe a total of 4 hours. But never once did I really feel tired.

We landed in Atlanta and I immigrated. No issues. Was upset not to get a stamp for entering America, but policy is policy. The bag management system was easy. I picked up my bags, and didn’t have to go to any counters to check them back in, just put them on a second carousel after going through customs. I waited for fifteen minutes to get my knife, but it never came out of the baggage claim. Thought it was gone forever. Asked a man if there was any other places it would come out and he advised me to check oversized baggage claim. He was right, there it was. My little knife buried amongst all the big baggage.

Being back in America after one year was not as shocking as people claim it to be. I was happy to walk through the airport and hear southern accents again, and see the clothing. I was excited; nervous only a bit. I was hungry in the airport, and since the flight to Newark didn’t have any special food, I finally ate the peanuts I had picked up in Bangkok; the entire bag in the Atlanta airport. Actually, reflecting on the whole time I was in the airport, I did feel a bit uneasy at first being back in America. It’s been so long, and I felt like I stood out, for no reason at all. Again I was nervous, but not as emotional as I thought I would be. It was petty incredible when we finally flew into American airspace over Washington state. I was beaming then. Later touching down on American soil was pretty cool too.

The flight to Newark seemed short and quick. I was glad to land. To my surprise, when I walked out of the gate, my sister Sandee was standing there. My first thought was, “What is she doing past security?” Then I realized that she should be at the University of Florida. She told me she flew up just for this weekend to see me, first time in 15 months. It was so great ot see her. I had no clue she would be there. Together we walked through the terminal and she told me how she asked security if she could go to the gate to pick up her “little brother”, but my whole family is sure she just got by on good looks. At the other end of the terminal we met our parents. We all hugged, picked up my bags, and walked out of the airport to the car.

On the way home we got Subway.

27 December 2008

Week 58: If you gave me the paddle, I'd probably kayak us all the way from Angkor Wat to Kuala Lumpur

58th-1st in Siem Reap 10/8

We were up early to see Angkor Wat. Our driver showed up late, and I almost had found us another guy to take us. We got breakfast on the way, myself some noodles, Amy an egg sandwich. The tickets were expensive, but they take your photo and put in on your pass. The whole system was incredibly well done. (pic: myself with my Angkor ticket)

Angkor Wat was stunning. Too bad part of it was under repair. It still was impressive. Although, I thought it was supposed to be taller. I need to look back at my architectural history books to see the images they showed of these places, and recall how I had imagined things looking back then. (pics: Angkor Wat, myself in front of the backside of Angkor Wat, inside the second gallery with the third up above, Amy/myself in front of Angkor Wat)

My first camera battery only had 24 minutes left, and my second was still at the hotel, so I had to play conservation all day. It was tough. I kept the screen turned off, and only turned the camera on quickly to take a photo using the viewfinder, and then quickly turned it off. I also was careful in the pictures I chose.

At our second stop of the day at Angkor Thom It started to pour. We had just finished seeing two temples in this area when it really started coming down. At that time we ran underneath to a restaurant our guide was at and ordered lunch. We explored two more temples in this area after it had stopped raining. (pics: myself at the gate of Angkor Thom, the faces made of stone of Angkor Thom, myself inside Angkor Thom, Amy in the Phlmeanakas temple)

The Angkor site is immense. I didn’t realize how big it was. You have to drive from temple to temple and it takes several minutes. Taking the tuk-tuk around was necessary, and actually added a bit to the experience. (pic: Amy and our tuk-tuk driver pulling up)

All the places we stopped at were of a good variety. Two were Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, but the others were either overgrown or not completely finished. Although you can get multiple day passes to Angkor, I think one day is fine for me. The temple Ta Prohm, overgrown by trees, was a neat spot. Angkor Wat itself though was definitely my favorite though. (pics: myself inside Ta Prohm and one of its overgrown trees, an tree growing on top of Ta Prohm)

At each place we went, there were lots of hawkers. More than I’d seen anywhere else in Asia, and asking for outrageous prices. The high prices for things are a result of them selling only for American dollars, meaning the lowest price you might get is $0.33 when you buy 3 for $1.00. I wasn’t interested in buying as usual. Amy enjoys souvenirs more, and had purchased a few items by the time we had left the many sites. Kids were the primary sellers of the souvenirs and snacks. I actually ended up buying one small item, but even then I told the girl I claimed I only had Cambodia Riel, and we carried out the purchase in that currency instead. (pic: Amy buying nick-nacks from a kid)

The tuk-tuk took us back around 4pm. We spent our last bit of time sitting by a lake near a temple and reading. We had dinner at a barbecue-it-yourself place. It was a buffet of items, and you took what you wanted and brought it back to cook it. We had some trouble at first, but the staff was super helpful. We had a lot of fun preparing the food. (pics: myself grilling a variety of foods, Amy at dinner)

58th-2nd on bus to Bangkok 10/9

Our bus picked us up for the ride to Bangkok on time. It was a packed bus with air conditioning, but it didn’t work. The road to Thailand is the worst you’ll ever see. It’s dirt almost all the way to the Thai border. Granted, it’s under construction, but it’s infamous for being slow and dusty. I’m sure in two years it’ll be fine. There is some rumor that some airline company is paying to keep it in bad shape to force people to fly, and it got annoying to hear people repeat the same thing repeatedly. (pic: Amy and the rough road from Siem Reap to the Thai border)

I ended up sitting next to a UNC student! Incredible, I travel all over the world to get as far as I can from Tar Heels, and here is one next to me. Seriously, I was pleasantly surprised. Granted, I had seen a Tar Heel in July when Emily visited. Anyway, him and I talked a lot about the state of North Carolina, football, basketball, and sports in general. He had just finished covering the Olympics in Beijing

The border was actually surprisingly easy, after all the build up that we’d face difficulties. It was nicer than any border I saw in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh. I guess it was a bit sketchier than the others we’ve crossed in Southeast Asia, but it was clean and quick.

Our bus was split up into two minibuses, and these zoomed us to Bangkok super fast. It was fun for me to finally approach the city by car, and see the highways start to widen and more overpasses pop up, and then see the start of the skyline. (pics: approaching Bangkok on massive superhighways, slipping past Bangkok on the highway)

They dropped us off at the train station where we could easily catch the subway back to our hostel. From the subway we transferred to the BTS. It was neat to come back to the place we had started it all.
At the BTS stop we had boarded from, a song started playing over the station’s loudspeakers. Amy and I didn’t know what it was but everyone instantly froze. They remained standing where they were until the song finished. When the song ended, everyone started moving again. I’d never seen anything like it.

My bags were safe, including my laptop. Felt great to see it again and know things were okay. Coming back to this hostel was like returning to a sort of home. It felt very relaxing and calming.

This evening Amy got sick. She was feeling sick on the BTS, and walking from the station to the hostel made it worse. After checking in, she threw up in the bathroom.
We went out to dinner but Amy wasn’t too hungry. We ate at an outdoor restaurant in a parking lot. The menu they handed us was all in Thai. We tried describing what we wanted, but that didn’t work. Then two guys who had been chuckling at us decided to help. One came over and asked in English what we wanted. We got some soup and a rice and curry dish. Despite having just thrown up, it looked to me that Amy ate normally.

She went back to the hostel for some rest, so I went out and explored alone. I headed to the mall near our BTS station. I was thinking about getting a McDonalds hamburger, but the cheap part of me decided against it and I just admired the menu instead. Earlier, anyway, I had bought a milkshake on the streetside.

58th-3rd in Bangkok 10/10

I woke up early, showered, shaved, and checked in my bag again with the laptop. I then sat around for Amy to get up.
Amy was still feeling sick this morning; she had thrown up again last night. I didn’t even hear her get up. So today she was tired and still sick. Didn’t know what to do to help her, so I just tried to keep her relaxed.

We had considered going around Bangkok today after buying our bus ticket. We weren’t exactly sure what time the bus would leave so we’d have to go there first. This was a real problem in SE Asia. Everywhere we went, we got conflicting information on bus schedules, and we didn’t know what to trust.
I hadn’t realized how far out the bus station was. In fact, it was a real good thing we took a taxi, because no mass transit service, besides buses, went there. We found the ticket counter for Phuket upstairs. The whole building, called the Southern Bus Terminal, has lots of shopping and restaurants. It’s exactly what terminals in the US should be trying to do. With Amy sick, and the bus terminal being unconnected to the transit system, we decided to scrap exploring Bangkok.

All day we sat in the bus terminal. We were there for about 7 hours. She was back and forth to the bathroom. I sat there and in the spurts of time she was able to sit at the bench, I went and got food to eat. There was a cool Thai food court upstairs with all different types of Thai entrees. They had pictures, making it very easy to order. I also got some doughnuts from Mister Donut. And I had dinner at a fast food place unique to Thailand. For me it was a fun culinary day. (pics: inside Bangkok's Southern Bus Terminal where we spent the day, the food court upstairs in the bus terminal with a wonderful array of options)

All day I worked on reading a new book that Amy had picked up called “The Void”, a true story about two mountain climbers who go through an unimaginable ordeal. Its good, I fly through it, despite the pages of slightly technical climbing talk which I had to reason out what they were talking about.

Luckily, after the stressful sick day, Amy was feeling better for the bus ride. Since there was a bathroom on board and it was clean, we only had to stop once the whole time. It was 7 hours into the 12 hour trip, and we could get dinner as well. I bought some snacks and fruit, but was not going to eat a big meal.

58th-4th in Phuket 10/11

We arrived in Phuket at 5:30 AM. My suggestion was to sit at the open air bus station until it was light enough to find a hotel. But Amy asked if I could go and find one right away. So I set out and started walking around the area near the bus station for a cheap place to stay. I was unsuccessful. The bad part was getting barked at and followed by a wild pack of dogs. I came back with my negative report, and that wasn’t really what she’d been hoping for.
So I went and asked a taxi driver if he knew a cheap place in our price range. He did, but was going to charge us an arm and a leg to get there. So I asked a motorcycle taxi driver the same thing. He knew a place for 300 Baht a night, and wouldn’t charge much to take us. So we got another motorcycle taxi guy and retrieved Amy. We boarded, and arrived at our shabby hotel. It was bare minimum, but just fine for us. We got in, and she laid down in the bed and went to sleep. I tried as well, but wasn’t tired. I got up and decided to go for a walk.

I walked down the road of our hotel. This part of Phuket, the town itself is not beachy. It is a decently sized city but had no major buildings. I saw a place that was serving a Chinese breakfast and sat down to eat dumplings, soup, and some sweet patties.

I roamed in the direction of the bus station again to check to see when we could catch the bus to the airport two mornings from now. While I was there, I figured I’d see when I could get a sea kayak tour booked for us tomorrow. I stopped into an office and the guy there informed we could go today, but only if we let him know in the next half hour. The prices were expensive as I expected, but he said he could discount them, almost 30% off! He handed me one brochure, said there were spots left on this tour and another company’s same tour.
So I ran back to our hotel, literally ran. Woke Amy up, and asked her if she’d want to go. She’d wanted to, but it was really the one thing I’d really been pushing. Once she heard the price, and in her post-sick state, we came to the agreement that it was better I just go alone today, letting her rest, and tomorrow we could spend at the beach together. She was happy for me because she knew I’d really wanted to do this.

I’d been looking forward to sea kayaking in Thailand since my friend Farabi had told me all about his time kayaking back in July. It sounded awesome. They got to go alone out on the water and explore as they pleased. They’d been out for hours. I was really looking forward to doing this, especially amongst the limestone cliffs that are found in this area.

I called the guy up, and said I’d be coming. I changed, then literally ran to find an ATM to get the money, then ran back to the tour office. I was sweating by the time I arrived. The guy told me the first tour got booked up while I was gone, so he had put me on a tour with the second company running the same thing with the same price. He had me get on a bike with his coworker who would speed me across town to the pickup spot.
The ride was crazy. I’m now more used to taking motorcycles in Southeast Asia, but this was ridiculous. I’d never seen a guy zip and zoom so quick. Felt like a video game and I was strapped on back. We arrived at the pickup spot for vans. He searched out which company was mine. He found it, and I got in. had to sit in back, and two very nice Australians on their honeymoon were next to me. I asked if this was the sea kayaking tour, and they said yes we are doing that, but the tour also going to James Bond Island, and elephant rides, and goes to a Muslim sea village. I wondered why I was put on this tour, but as we sped quickly down the road, I realized there was nothing I could do. I decided that this tour wouldn’t be so horrible, although I had really wanted to go sea kayaking all day as the program had said.

A few hours later I was not as passive about having to take a tour I hadn’t really wanted. We only got to go kayaking for 45 minutes, and even then, we were paddled around by someone else. The James bond island was cool and the Muslim sea village was just a lunch stop. When we arrived at the elephant riding, I was denied a ride by the tour’s leader. He said I had only paid for the morning’s activities. He showed me his typed up list of tourists where my name was scribbled in pencil and next to which it was written that I’d only paid 1200 Baht. I told him I paid 2000 Baht that morning to the booking agency, but he had his records though, and told me I couldn’t, they had only gotten 1200 of that 2000. It meant the tour office pocketed 800, and I recalled when I got dropped off with the tour van seeing the biker take some money, but at the time I figured that all tour agents got their cut. Didn’t realize it had left me with nothing to do while the rest of the group went elephant riding.
The tour leader himself felt badly for me after I told him the whole situation. He went ahead and called the government tourism board and asked to be connected with my booking guy. They talked for awhile and then he handed the phone to me. I explain to the guy who had booked me what was up, and he said he was not aware that I had wanted to go kayaking all day, only that I had wanted to go kayaking. He claimed he assumed anything with kayaking, even just 45 minutes of it, would be satisfactory to me. He said I could come back to his office so we can talk. Meanwhile I sat at the elephant riding place doing nothing except steaming. I had paid all that money, more than everyone else on that tour it turned out, and was the one sitting out wasting part of my two days in Phuket.
The tour leader who was compassionate gave me a free copy of the photo they had taken of us when we were kayaking. It was an expensive gift, and it was really nice of them to do it.

They took us back, and I was dropped off at the booking office. I was really angry. The booker insisted again that he didn’t know I wanted to go kayaking all day. He said he would refund me 200 Baht, the price difference between what he said I had done and what I had paid him. That was baloney, because the tour leader showed me how it had cost only 1200 Baht. He showed me a pamphlet which he claimed was the tour I went on (note, a different tour than the agency running the “same” tour he told I’d be with this morning) to defend his argument. It was not even the tour I’d been on. I sat there, shocked and thinking of what to do for about 20 minutes. They wouldn’t budge for whatever I said. So I took the 200 baht, angry, and left. I walked back to the hotel and told Amy what happened. She felt so bad for me, knowing this was supposed to have been my trip’s highlight, but was now my trip’s disaster.

Although a bummer of a day, the kayaking itself was good. I was glad I got to do it, even for those 45 minutes. We went in and out of limestone caves, through waterways passing below the cliffs. We each had someone paddling us around, but I was the only one form the tour who who paddled myself for a bit. I had asked my guide if I could, and he had no problem with it, and laid back and lit a cigarette. Really glad I got the chance and made the most of my time. It made the 45 minutes extra special, maneuvering the kayak myself in and out of places was really awesome. (pics: winding along the limestone cliffs in sea kayaks, passing through caves, the limestone cliffs that we paddled through, myself getting the chance to paddle, my guide taking that opportunity for a cigarette)

The James Bond island thing was neat too. Was the setting for James Bond: The Man With the Golden Gun. We stayed there for about 25 minutes and got to roam around. (pic: myself at James Bond Island)

The lunch at the village was delicious, but even cooler was the whole village was built on stilts over the water. (pic: Muslim sea village where we had lunch)

And the way we went about between these places was cool too. A longtail boat that powered over the flat waters of the bay. If I hadn’t been scammed, this would’ve been a fine tour. (pics: longtail boats parked at James Bond Island, the limestone formations on the sea)

Of course the elephant riding part was a lowpoint. (pic: everyone else having fun on their elephant rides)

This was one of the worse days of my travels. I had never felt so cheated. The worst part is that I didn’t even really get to do what I wanted to do for very long. I wouldn’t have minded if I had overpaid for an all day trip, as opposed to overpaying for the wrong one.

58th-5th in Phuket 10/12

Today was a lot better, a recovery after yesterday. Amy and I spent our entire day at Kata Beach, one of the most famous in Thailand. During the day it rained a bit, but still we stayed out there and played in the water.

We took a songthaew from the town of Phuket 30 minutes to the western coast, the Andaman Sea. It started raining when we crossed the hills along the coast, but down below on the water’s edge it was still beautiful. Before we even touched the sand, we got breakfast.
On the beach we rented two beach chairs and an umbrella. The sun was out so I went down and played in the water. Water wasn’t choppy, and I went swimming down the beach. Amy took her chance after me. Soon the rain came in heavy, so we went back to the beachside shops and got lunch. (pics: looking south on Kata Beach, looking north on Kata Beach, our beach chairs and umbrella)

Back at the beach after the rain stopped I started playing in the sand. She came over and together we made a sand sculpture; it ended up being a gigantic face. The water was warm, and nice to play in. There were some beach hawkers who came by ever few minutes selling a wide variety of items, some even tempting. (pics: Amy and our sand creation next to her, the gigantic face sculpture we created)

We tried to catch the last songthaew for the day back to the town. Seemed liked they ended earlier than what the guide book said. We walked down the main road looking for one, and watching if it passed. At one point, we stopped and asked a tuk-tuk stand how much it’d be back to town. It was much more expensive, but while we were asking, a songthaew passed by. Such irony. It ended up being the last of the day. We waited and hoped for 40 minutes for another, but we were out of luck.
We finally decided that we would just take out some money for a tuk-tuk, and just eat dinner here at the beach. Might as well since we were stuck. We went and watched the sunset on the water, and then went back to the strip of stores. Despite there being a cool dinosaur themed restaurant, we chose a place that delicious yet a lot cheaper. They also gave us a free appetizer, and a discounted dessert. They had a complimentary pool to swim in too, that was attached to a hotel. We stuck our feet in, but didn’t want to be wet for the half hour ride back. (pics: sunset over the Andaman Sea from Kata Beach, Amy at sunset at Kata Beach)

For that we got a tuk-tuk and headed home. When we got back we checked email one last time. She printed our plane tickets for tomorrow. We went to bed.

58th-6th in Kuala Lumpur 10/13

We walked to the bus stand in the morning, and caught the shuttle bus to the Phuket airport, a one hour ride from the town. The airport is one the coastline, so when you taxi to the runway, you are along the sea. (pic: able to see the sea from the taxiway)

We were flying AirAsia to Kuala Lumpur. First time for both of us, and definitely won’t be our last; it was exceptionally nice. The plane ride was a lot shorter than both of us thought it would be. Neither of us had realized we crossed time zones! (pics: AirAsia plane parked at Kuala Lumpur's budget terminal)

We landed at Kuala Lumpur’s airport at the budget terminal. It was my first time in one, and it was cool how well they’d minimalized to keep prices low.
We took a bus into the city. Before getting on, I grabbed lunch for us at McDonalds. First time having that in a long while. On the drive we could see the sprawl of Kuala Lumpur. We entered the city emerging from rolling hills. When I first saw the Petronas Towers I became very excited. They were incredible, towering over the whole city. Couldn’t wait to see them up close. (pics: myself with my first McDonald's since I ate it in Delhi in July, suburban sprawl on Kuala Lumpur's exurb fringe, my first view of the Petronas Towers)

We arrived in the city and immediately after getting off a bus a hotel tout found us. But he seemed very credible and was offering great deals at places. We went with him and really liked the second hotel he showed us and we decided to stay there.

We had lunch at a Chinatown restaurant and then set off to walk around the city. roaming here and there. We made our way to the Times Square Mall. We had been told that there was a roller coaster inside. The mall was huge, and incredibly decorated. We couldn’t find the roller coaster immediately, but after checking a map, we saw it was on the 6th floor. Took an elevator up and we finally got to see it. It stretched from floors 4 to 10, and even had loops. We really wanted to ride, but the park admission was for entry, not per ride, and was much too high to warrant the only ride we wanted to go on. (pics: Times Square Mall and their display for Eid-ul-Fitr, myself inside the Times Square Mall and the giant rollercoaster inside)

What was most excellent was that this place had an IMAX, and they were showing “Dark Knight”. I had wanted to see this in Bangkok on our one day there, because Naira had told me it was playing and it was supposed to be incredible on IMAX. That had gotten my hopes up, but it wasn’t in theaters anymore in Bangkok. But in Kuala Lumpur it was still out. Noon tomorrow. We decided we’d come back for it.
We meandered to another mall. We were currently in the Golden Triangle of Kuala Lumpur. which is super nice with lots of shopping. This mall was all electronics. But we sat downstairs, and I got a muffin and she got a cinnamon bun. We then walked some more in the shopping area and went in another mall. We shopped around a book store and then wound our ways through the floors of stores; this place was very much like Bashundara City in Dhaka. (pic: an entire mall Kuala Lumpur dedicated to electronics)

It was nice to be able to be amongst these luxuries, and it was exactly what we had come to Kuala Lumpur for. I know Malaysia has more to offer, but Kuala Lumpur was our prime destination with our time limits, and we soaked up what we could. It felt magical being in Kuala Lumpur, like we’d entered the future. It was the exact feeling we’d hoped for. (pic: myself with the KL tower in the background, Kuala Lumpur's monorail sweeps past the Times Square Mall)

We got Subway for another lunch; we just kept eating. It had started to rain for a bit too, so we stayed inside and talked.
We decided to go to the Petronas Towers in the evening, to see them all lit up. We finally had our chance to ride on the mass transit system. Kuala Lumpur’s subways, monorail, and commuter rail system was pretty seamless. It connected everything very well and was accessible. Sometimes it was a bit confusing on how to find a particular station, but that was our only frustration.

We arrived at the Petronas Towers, and it was still drizzling a bit. But they looked gorgeous lit up. I couldn’t believe my eyes, I had not been in awe like this my whole trip. Around their midsection some clouds were passing through, and this heightened the sensation of how tall they were. We took tons of photos and tried to see the buildings from a variety of angles. We were there about a half hour, and then took the subway back to our hotel area. (pics: Petronas Towers with fog sweeping in, myself in front of the Petronas Towers, tree branches and the Petronas Towers, Amy/myself at the base of the towers, the Malaysian flag hung vertically on the Petronas Towers, front shot of the Petronas Towers)

58th-7th in Kuala Lumpur 10/14

Cannot believe I’m leaving Asia in a few days.

We got up early to see the Petronas Towers again, this time to actually go up inside. We were advised to arrive early to wait in line, as it gets long quickly. We took the subway over, and when we got there, the line already had about 40 people in it. We took our place. We took turns holding it while the other went and found and ate a breakfast. The mall below the Petronas Towers is immense, and although not the biggest, had the nicest array of stores; an interna Rodeo Drive.

We got the first batch of tickets to go up to the tower’s famous skybridge. What’s really cool is that going up is totally free.
From the skybridge, 40 something stories up, the view was good, although not spectacular. Because of the placement of the buildings, from the skybridge you cannot see the main parts of the city. For us it was neat to just be inside these iconic towers. After you come back down, there was a neat science museum about the towers. I read everything and tried all the exhibits. Amy got through a lot faster than I did. (pics: myself on the Petronas Towers' skybridge, the support poles for the skybridge braced on the tower itself, Amy and looking down the length of the skybridge, Amy/myself on the skybridge with Kuala Lumpur in the background)

We headed to the back of the towers into the KLCC gardens. From there we took the photos she was trying to take for her dad, a civil engineer. She had made a sign that said “HI DAD” and posed with it in front of the buildings, a favorite of civil engineers worldwide. (pics: myself in the backside of the towers in the KLCC gardens, kids and couples dating by the wading pool in the KLCC gardens)

We then walked back to the Times Square Mall. It really didn’t take that long to walk across basically 2/3 of the city. The city isn’t as big as I thought it’d be from looking at the map. We passed through parts of the Golden Triangle again, and I liked seeing how the monorail swept through this fancy part of the city.

We arrived at the mall for the movie. We were early so we killed some time in Border’s. When it was time, we bought movie snacks. They only had caramel popcorn, no regular popcorn. I’d never seen that before, and I don't believe caramel popcorn can replace movie popcorn.
The movie was incredible, and I was blown away by the IMAX. It met all my expectations. When we initially walked in we were the only ones inside. By the time it “filled up” there were about 15 people there. Assigned seating. (pics: myself in front of the Dark Knight signs and you can see the joy in my eyes, caramel popcorn BLEH for a movie, Amy in our assigned seats in the empty IMAX theater)

After the movie we had lunch in the food court. It had all varieties of Malaysian, Thai, Indian, and Chinese food, with one western and Italian store. I got some seafood noodles, I’m soaking up every chance I have to eat the cuisine. It was a bit fancy food court, but still cheap, and reminded me of the setup I saw in the Bangkok bus terminal.

We took the monorail back to our hotel’s part of the city and walked to the National Mosque. It was prayer time when we arrived, so non-Muslim tourists were not allowed inside. Either way, neither of us was dressed appropriately, so we sat out front for a bit and rested and took pictures. (pics: inside Kuala Lumpur's monorail, Malaysia's national mosque, myself sitting in the front of the national mosque)

I had wanted to check out the Islamic art museum, and since we were nearby, we checked to see if it was open. It was, for 50 minutes more. Amy had no desire to pay to see it for such a short time, but I was real excited to check it out. She said she didn’t mind waiting in the courtyard to journal and read.
I rushed through as many exhibits as I could trying to read as much as possible. My focus was on the section about Islamic architecture which had models of the world’s most popular mosques. They were very well done. I took photos of all of them. Another neat thing was a live map of the world’s prayer times. It was cool to see how “lines” of prayer times crossed the earth. The rest of the museum was great too, with artifacts of Arabic texts and Islamic crafts. Could’ve stayed longer to read but didn’t have time. (pics: model of mosques in the Islamic Art musuem (this one of longtime favorite mosques the Masjed-e-Emam in Iran), lines depicting prayer times cross the globe, display on the different scripts of Arabic, Amy kindly patiently waiting for me in the courtyard of the museum)

After heading back in the rain, some dinner, and checking our email, we headed for the city’s main train station. We sat and waited, I finished the book The Void. I had picked up a new book at the Malaysian hostel, in exchange for A Brief History of Time, entitled was A Good Man in Africa. Wasn’t sure if it’d be good or not, but it was the only English book on the shelf, all the rest were German.

The train was a little late, but nothing bad. Inside it was super nice, and our beds were great. Little curtains to close us off from the train car. Was excited to be on my way to Singapore. Train wasn’t full, but it was still a good thing we had booked our train tickets online when we were in Vietnam. (pic: Amy in her bed pod on the train to Singapore)