Saturday, January 31, 2015

Thailand: Koh Lanta. The Journey Continued.

The hot, hot, tropical sun makes it difficult to stay occupied during convalescence. Feeling weak and being out in the sun or in salt water just further depletes your energy resources. Therefore, we watched quite a bit of Netflix when we were able to stream and the Bourne movies, which we downloaded, when streaming wasn’t possible. Jared felt well enough to use part of our Christmas gift from his parents to go snorkeling at Koh Haa on the 29th. Koh Haa is a group of 5 small islands which are part of the Ko Mu Lanta National Park. Sidenote: We have seen ‘koh’ spelled both with and without an h. This word means island in Thai. So, whenever there is a Koh ___ that means island. For instance, we were just on Lanta Island. We are now going to Phi Phi Island (pronounced pee pee; yes I giggle inside every time I say it). Here are some of the pictures from our snorkeling adventure. Thanks again David and Jeannie!
The water was so clear; you could see for quite a ways in all directions.
It was around this cliff face that we saw eels hiding and swimming.

Turquoise water. It was nice and cool to swim.
I have a bit of a goggle outline on my forehead..
Overall, Koh Lanta is a nice, peaceful tropical island which has developed a tourist economy centered around European preferences. The influx of Westerners during high season seems to have dampened the Thai culture. As a result, the shops, restaurants, and advertised activities are tailored to Western expectations. In the previous post, when I mentioned the large number of Swedish and other Europeans we saw, that was not an under-exaggeration. During an hour of sitting on the beach, at any point in time, we could look in all directions and see only tourists. There were several restaurants which advertised Swedish food and despite the Thai culture which seems to prefer to start the day around 10 am there were places opening at 8 am to serve ‘Western breakfast’ (I would be lying if I denied that Jared and I were waiting for them to open on a couple occasions- we do love our breakfast). We did not do much exploring and besides our snorkel trip we did not go beyond an 800 m radius of our hostel. However, if there were a place that we had to choose for one of us to be sick, Koh Lanta did not suck. With a pharmacy on every corner and several international health clinics (we did not have to go to one but it was nice knowing they were there), it made the healing easier than it might have been.  

Another note on Koh Lanta, the number one rated activity on Tripadvisor is actually their animal welfare center. We did not go there but we noticed a difference in the apparent attitude of the Koh Lantians towards animals. All the dogs and cats we saw were clean and appeared cared for. Most also had collars and were friendly and well behaved. Here is the little kitty that stayed at our hostel:

Sweet little buddy. 

He would curl up in the shade of the plants during the day and then come out and play in the mornings and evenings. His crazy cat antics put a smile on my face and I will miss looking for him as I come and go. There were also twin boys that lived next door. One day, they were leaving as I was returning and one saw me and smiled real big and started waving. He ran to me and gave me a hug. Melted my heart, little cutie patootie.

Phi Phi, here we come!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Thailand: Koh Lanta. Unexpected turn of events.

We left Malaysia with no regrets. It may even be a place that we visit again. We found that the Malay people were kind and the food was fresh and delicious. But, who could resist this sunset:

Sunset off the beach of Koh Lanta
Our first day in Thailand was pretty much all travel. It took us about 4 hours to get to Hatyai which is a city across the border that kind of acts like a hub to all the other cities in Thailand. You can find a bus to pretty much anywhere and the train to Bangkok stops there as well. From the Hatyai bus terminal we took a tuk tuk to the Minibus terminal... yeah... who knew minibuses get their own terminal? We sure didn't. So, that led to our first tuktuk experience. It was interesting to say the least. We obviously survived and have since survived several more tuktuks. After that tuktuk a minibus took us to Trang were we stayed for the night. There was a little festival going on there and we were able to experience our first Thai street food. IT WAS SO SCRUMPTIOUS. We had fried mussels and some delicious noodles. Actually, after we ate our first helping, we went back for seconds :) Thai food might cause a set back in my goal of losing lbs on this trip. The curry, oh! the curry.
This isn't curry but a baked pineapple with rice, shrimp and of course- pineapple!

In the morning, we embarked on another journey: car to minibus to ferry to minibus to ferry to minibus to our hotel! Finally, we made it to Koh Lanta, our first Thailand destination and the place to celebrate Jared turning 30!

One of the last pictures of Jared in his 20's
Plans didn't go exactly... as planned. What was going to be a day of yummy food and snorkeling turned into a day of taking it easy and relaxing. Being sick is no fun. Being sick away from home is the least fun. My poor husband came down with cold like symptoms on the way to Koh Lanta and rested the first day and just did enough to see the sunset with some roasted cashews. The next day, his birthday, he felt even worse. He made it to the beach for about 30 minutes and then had to come back inside. All his meals were eaten at the hostel and we were able to stream (luckily!) a movie to watch. In bed by 9:30 and lots of water and some cold medicine. Due to him not feeling well, we decided to prolong our stay here until at least Wednesday (hello, freedom, again!). We will properly celebrate his birthday when he feels better. At one point during the day he apologized to me and when I asked "What for?" he said, "I know you love my birthday more than me." Ha, it is true. I get a kick out of planning fun things and spoiling him. He is a trooper though and I have to admire his spirit. There are lots of different attitudes he could have adopted and he has been positive and continues to put up with me being the bossy wife making him drink lots of water.

While he has been resting, I have been keeping myself occupied (when not tending to him) with beach sitting, reading, eating and I got a manicure. One of the aspects of travel both Jared and I are interested in is the interpersonal opportunities it provides which are not common in our daily working lives back home. During my manicure, I was able to chat for awhile with the lady who did my nails. She is 28 years old and owns her own shop here on Koh Lanta. In which, she not only offers a variety of spa services but also sells her own art. When she is not here working during high season, she is back home in Bangkok where her mother, older brother and younger sister live. She loves shopping in Bangkok and can find really awesome wholesale deals. When she was ten she was able to visit the U.S. and she saw the Grand Canyon. She explained she has not been back since then, partially because it is so difficult to get a visa. When I commented on my slight sunburn she asked, "Does everyone in the U.S. want dark skin too?" (I assumed the 'too' was in reference to the large number of Swedish people who frequent the island.) I said, "yes, some do" and explained tanning beds. She said that Thai men prefer lighter skin and that when she and her friend (who has lighter skin) go to the mall, the men will whistle at her friend and not her. I told her that that was crazy because she is very beautiful. Because she is. Hearing about body sensitivity from a woman in another culture with a different perspective of beauty causes you to reflect on the validity of your own standards of beauty. Also, seeing lots of older Swedish women in bikinis and men in speedos has a similar (although not as potent) effect. Ok, end introspective cultural analysis. But, check out my nails:

My Thai "crackle paint" manicure

So far, Koh Lanta has not been what we planned. But, sometimes nature makes plans seem futile. We will continue with the convalescence as long as is required and then return to our Thailand island adventure. Just another reason we are thankful that we have so much flexibility with our time.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Kuala Lumpur (It's KL, y'all)

Day 1:
We made it into the city by bus around 3:30 pm. The bus we rode was pretty spectacular and the upholstery (?) reminded me of the carpet in bowling alleys or skating rinks when we were kids:

We checked into our hotel, yes, hotel not hostel. We have our own bathroom! And a TV! (There are only 3 channels, but it's better than nothing amiright?) Actually, we haven't utilized the TV but there is something comforting about looking up on the wall and seeing the 20" of Hitec. The Paloma Inn is in a great location and offers quite the free breakfast with coffee, fresh fruit and roti. We walked to the Central Market (not like the ones in Texas :)) and perused the stalls. I got an awesome bag souvenir so I can fill it with more souvenirs. We then followed the advice of the receptionist at the hotel and went to Jalan Alor for dinner. This is one street with food stalls lining both sides. We were wary of possible food contamination and ensured that we were able to see where the cooking was being done before we ordered anything. We had some pineapple chicken fried rice, a grilled corn on the cob and some satay of different meat and vegetables. I had an okra satay! We turned in early because we were planning to get up early the next day.

Jalan Alor at night

Pineapple Fried Rice, Omm nom nom nom

Day 2:
We did, indeed, wake up early and exercised some before enjoying the free breakfast. The hotel is just down the way from a more Western style coffee shop where we fed our caffeine dependency with a follow-up latte after breakfast. Then we navigated the public transport system (we had to first get on a commuter train then take the monorail) to get to the Batu Caves (Batu means rock or stone in Malay). These are ancient caves set into a hillside where Hindus have built temples and shrines. Admission is by donation only and unfortunately it seemed as though tourists do not donate sufficiently to maintain cleanliness inside the caves. This is an instance that I wouldn't mind if there were two admission standards: 1. Free for Hindus 2. At least 10 RM per tourist entry (this is about $3 USD). This might also allow for some sort of audio tour or something that we tourists could use to further our knowledge of Hindu. Although I studied the religion and associated history in college, there is very little I can now recall. I would have LOVED some more information to give the shrines and statues some context (I guess I have some homework before we get to India).

Entrance to the Batu Caves- 271 steps- that's a lot

Hindu shrine inside the caves

Skylight in the Dark Cave (It is actually called the Dark Cave, that's not just me being clever)

There were lots of these lovely guys 'monkeying' around the caves (now, that is me being clever)

After the caves, we hopped back on the monorail to visit the National Mosque of Malaysia. We were lucky to arrive at a quarter to 4 as the Mosque is only open to tourists for an hour or so in the morning and then again for an hour in the afternoon. It was a beautiful Mosque and one of the volunteers explained some of the architecture to us:
These pillars are meant to look like palm trees.

The main prayer room is designed to look like an umbrella

In front of the Minaret

We had about an hour of downtime before we ventured out again towards Jalan Alor for dinner. Before dinner, we decided to semi-splurge for a foot massage at Chaang which was highly reviewed and on the way to the food. The place lived up to the hype on trip advisor. After all those stairs today and the miles we had logged, our feet and legs were thankful. We actually ate at the same places we ate last night (sans corn) since it was so delicious.

Fat Brothers Satay was yummy and fun!

Tomorrow the KLLC towers are on the agenda, we also decided to extend our stay in Malaysia by (at least) an extra day. Hello, freedom.

Day 3:
We made it to the top (almost):

View from the viewing floor of the PETRONAS Towers which is on the 87th floor and the highest a tourist can go. It was supa high.
Here we are on the skybridge:

Selfie on the skybridge! (selfie sticks were not allowed!)
We had a great morning tour. Shout out and thanks to Mark and Jo for gifting us the admission fee! We really appreciate the gift and all the support you've given us as we pursue this dream- y'all are awesome! 
Kuala Lumpur/ Malaysia Summary
We really enjoyed Malaysia, especially all of the delicious and affordable food. Our 4th day here we spent mostly in a bus (it was not a fun one and smelled and was gross) and then stopped in Penang (Georgetown) for the night. We saw some of the remains from the British colonization, ate more yummy food and saw where Jimmy Choo started as an intern making shoes! It was a cool area but we were on a mission to get to Thailand for someone's 30th birthday so, we didn't spend much time here. I think we are both ready for the beach!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Messin' with Malacca

I can’t think of Malaysia without thinking of this:

I'm thinking that my mental image will change after we finish our visit to something a little less insensitive and more reflective of the country and culture. I don't know about Jared though, he might always see blue steel and hear "Relax, Don't Do It."
Our first day in Malaysia was spent traveling across the border, then settling into our hostel and beginning a leisurely exploration of Malacca (or Melaka). We started our expedition with chicken rice balls.  Based on the name, we were expecting chicken and rice rolled into a ball. Sounds fun! Alas, it was chicken bits separate from balls of rice.  It is a local staple and it was tasty but not something I think we will be craving after we return to the US. We then proceeded to our historic walking tour:
Map of Malacca

We visited the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple, which is the oldest Buddhist temple (with inscriptions from the 15th century) in Malaysia. It was unlike some of the other Buddhist temples we visited; we didn't have to take off our shoes. Jared thinks it became too difficult to enforce the rule with all the tourists visiting. Who knows, either way it is a beautiful building and we were honored to be observers as some of the monks performed a prayer ritual.
Main entrance to the Temple

Monks performing a ritual
We continued walking and passed a mosque, the old Dutch graveyard (Malacca was colonized by the  Dutch), and then climbed the hill to St. Paul's Church where we were treated to a view of the city and saw some more cool old ruins.
I made Jared stand in the corner

View of the sea and some of the tiled rooftops
While we were away meandering through the city, the streets near our hostel transformed. The neighborhood turns into a street market at night when all the shop owners move their wares and food into the street. It seemed like a completely different city by the time we got back. We also found a fun sign that proves Texas influence has no borders.
Panorama of Malacca City Center
The beginnings of the street market on Jonker

Messin' with Melaka since 1985
(*Grammar note: we have seen Malacca and Melaka)
We finished our evening with a lovely, large bowl of laksa. I'm not a real foodie so I don't really know how to describe laksa. But here is a picture and it was as delicious as it looks:
A lot o' laksa in Malacca
We finished the evening by trying to watch Dr. Who on Netflix (I know, I know) but something with our VPN was messed up so we weren't able to watch an episode without buffering. Gah, #firstworldproblems in a not first world. Anyway, we leave today for Kuala Lumpur, or just KL as the Malaysians say.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

I Heart SG

Day One:
We made it! We made it! I don't know how many times we looked at each other and said "What are we doing?," but we are here and safe and ready to explore. We decided to try and beat the jet lag by going to bed when we arrived at our hostel at 3AM Singapore time (1 PM back home) and sleeping until it was a normal time to wake up. We woke around 9 and enjoyed a free breakfast before heading out for the day. First, we walked to Little India:

There we saw some festivities related to the Pongal festival, a Hindu harvest celebration. These cows were sittin' pretty and appeared to enjoy being the center of attention. We also visited a Hindu temple and saw several different shops with beautiful wares. After that, we walked to a 'hawker center', which is an area with several different food stalls serving all types of different food. One of the suggestions we both read about was to go to the food stall that the locals were going to. So, that's what we did.

We both got big ole bowls of noodle soup. Mine had fresh fish and Jared's was fried. The noodles in my Bai Mian bowl were more like egg noodles and the ones in his Bee Hoon were rice noodles. After eating we epitomized the tourist experience by hopping on a 'Hop On Hop Off' bus and rode around the city. We didn't do much hopping though and only got off at the Marina Bay Sands mall/casino/hotel. Holy consumerism, batman. It was insane. I realize I am not a very fancy person but I have never seen so many high end stores. Check out the Louis Vuitton:

And I'm pretty sure it has two levels... I didn't even realize Louis Vuitton made enough items to fill two floors. Of course we couldn't buy anything because, you know, shipping would be unbelievable.

We rode around some more on the sightseeing bus ( and the next place we visited was Fort Canning, which was used as a fort during Japanese occupation during World War II. Apparently there are underground bunkers (the battle box) and other cool underground tunnels, but unfortunately that part was under construction. However, we were able to see what was formerly the Governor's mansion (but is now a hotel), a spice garden, the supposed tomb of the first Malay king, and a small archaeological dig.
Some of the items from the dig date back to the 12th century, but the area they excavated was so small that Jared and I were wondering why they stopped excavation. Maybe it is because of whatever is behind this:

Just kidding. Behind that is just a reservoir. If you ask me, that sign is a little intense for 'just a reservoir' I mean, "If our electric fence doesn't get you then someone will shoot you in the head" should be reserved for something a little more important, you know, like a dam. Day one ended with dinner in Little India and back to the hostel.
Total miles walked: 12

Day 2 Singapore

We started the day by going to Marina Bay Sands to nail down the truth about a rumor. We had heard that with a passport admission to the viewing deck of Marina Bay Sands was free. This, was not true. Because as the lady at the sugar cane juice stall says, “Nothing is free.” However, we did determine that we could access the restaurant bar area at the top of the viewing deck if we purchased food or a beverage. The cocktails were an extraordinarily expensive S$25, but only slightly more than a ticket to the top sans beverage, so we opted to come back in the evening and have a drink and see the view.


Singapore sling, anyone?

An adventure to the Botanic Gardens was well worth the effort, as admission to the gardens themselves was free (the orchid garden cost S$5 to get in). These gardens do not even compare to the botanic gardens we have seen back in the States. It was a huge park with great foliage variety. Singapore is also the only city besides Rio de Janeiro to have a rainforest within the city limits.

After another hawker center lunch, we ventured to the Bugis market, which is a ginormous complex of vendors selling everything from fruit juice to a flying, twirling Princess Elsa. We walked around for a bit, but then my old lady back had had enough and we went back to the hostel. After a short rest, we went back to the Marina Bay Sands for a cocktail and a view (see above), and then dinner at a Turkish/Mexican fusion stall. Jared got mashed potatoes on his burrito. Just kidding, but it was an option and I did chastise him for not fully embracing the culture. We did pass on the KFC “Original Recipe” curry bucket though.

Total miles walked: 9

Day 3 Singapore

This was slated to be our ‘easy’ day. We woke up, did laundry (we did not plan on having to stay with the laundry for the whole 1.5 hours but it turned out to be a welcomed break), ate breakfast and walked around our little hostel neighborhood for a while. We left around 11 and went to Clarke Quay (pronounced "key"), where we sat with a cider and people watched for an hour or so. We then had our first spontaneous adventure and walked down the road a bit to a Cat Café. Yes, a cat café. We ordered a latte and sat in a room with 13 cats and some other cat loving patrons. There was a little library, board games, and some relaxing music. I could see myself frequenting such an establishment if I didn’t own a cat and had access to one. And, yes, I realize how this affects my cool status.


After chillin’ with the cats for a bit we hopped on the metro and headed to the Southernmost point of Continental Asia. This was part of an area called Sentosa, which is where Universal Studios Singapore is located along with manicured beaches and a pirate ship for the kiddos. It was a bit overwhelming and reminiscent of Disneyland. We saw the sites, snapped some pics and headed on to the Gardens by the Bay. We didn’t have enough time to go through the Cloud Forest or the other observatory, so we paid the S$5 each to get access to an elevated walkway among the giant steel trees. Again we were treated to some stunning views but the height totally wigged me out. I think in my old age I am realizing how terrifying it is to be suspended in the air without either a. a personal parachute or b. a whole lot of something fluffy below me. The trees lit up and there was a light show coordinated to music. Jared enjoyed it from the suspended walkway and I watched from below J

Southernmost point of continental Asia!

Elevated walkway with a Gardens by the Bay 'tree' and Marina Bay Sands

We then headed back to the hostel, exhausted after our planned ‘easy’ day turned into another 9 miles of walking.

Singapore Summary:

We both really enjoyed Singapore City and agree that it would be a great place to return. We feel as though, as a friend of the family indicated, it was a great place to start our Asian adventure since it is a more ‘western’ city. We visited, either intentionally or by happenstance, six different malls. All of equally large size. We walked for miles underground and commuted via efficient, clean underground transportation. Our jam-packed three days here still felt insufficient to fully experience Singapore. One full day could easily be spent at each Gardens by the Bay, Sentosa and Marina Bay Sands. Similarly, we feel as though we could have spent more time at the Botanic Gardens and Bugis Market.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Gratitude Overdue

This post is long overdue as we long ago were the recipients of the overwhelming kindness and thoughtfulness of our families. This year, instead of requesting gifts for Christmas (since we were purging anyway) our list was comprised of places and activities that we would like to see or do during our journey. We were touched at the support and encouragement reflected in the gifts we received. From a tour of the Great Wall to the Petronas towers tour to a bike ride in the Netherlands and kayaking in Denmark, we could not have been more overwhelmed by the monetary support gifted us by our family. This support goes above and beyond the kind words, encouragement, prayers and promises to "kick ass" if anyone messes with us. We are especially in debt to my mom and step-dad who are caring for, feeding, loving, walking, and playing with our dog and cat while we pursue this dream. Also, Jared's parents for storing some of our stuff and helping with the storage unit if needed (not to mention Jared's friends and all their moving help). AND, people who are not obligated to us by blood but are so kind and generous in offering us a place to keep our car- Nancy and Marc Nagele, we owe you a great debt and it is impossible to repay you in words alone.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Oh, and thank you.

As I write this, I am at Tokyo Narita Airport. Two words. Admiral's Club. This place is like a wee bit of amazing. Want some sushi? Want a quiche? How about some red wine? Well, you are in luck because they have it all, no matter how random the combination:


Jared and I might be a little skewed in our current opinions as we are going on about 22 hours of travel right now, but we love this place. Did I mention that the food and drink are free? It will be hard for us to justify not traveling with this luxury in the future. Oh and we showered.... in a spa....

At least it felt like a spa. It was amazing. We might just arrange it so we fly back home through Tokyo (actually, no, that would be silly).
The flight here was not that bad. No screaming babies, no snoring men, no other types of unpleasantness. We watched three movies, took some snoozes and played on our electronic devices. Overall, we have been VERY lucky and are grateful for our travel experiences thus far. With the exception of being the last ones on the plane to leave DFW (we had a misunderstanding and were distracted by the Admiral's Club provisions) we have had an absolutely perfect start to this adventure.
 UPDATE: We made it to Singapore and the rest of our travels were equally easy and enjoyable. Singapore post will be up once we are finished exploring this impressive city. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Be Prepared

So, preparing to leave for 10 months and moving states, storing stuff, getting rid of stuff and saying “see ya laters” and “goodbyes” requires quite a bit of preparation. Whenever I think about what our theme song would be for these last few weeks, I think about the song   Be Prepared from the Lion King.

There have definitely been some hyena like moments. Including when the lovely internet person came to pick up our beloved bed on our last day in Texas and I attacked him with offers of free stuff i.e. “Don’t you like this table?” “How about this bag of random stuff?” He kindly acquiesced and relieved us of several of our items designated for donation. He also quite kindly offered to help Jared move some of the stuff onto the truck, unfortunately for me, we were not at that point in our moving marathon.

After leaving Texas, we started our family spree with a visit to OKC where I got to spend the afternoon with my cousin, we had dinner with our good friends and spent the day hanging out with our nephew. From there we picked up my brother and sister in law from the airport and headed to Enid, OK. In Enid we are fortunate enough to have both sets of our grandparents living. They are four pretty cool people who enjoy fudge, westerns and farkle (a dice game that my family DID NOT invent). We had an absolutely wonderful three days of Christmas celebrations and also got to see my Aunt, Uncle and cousins! Overall, an excellent Enid escapade.

From there we went to hang out with his side of the family. We were able to skype with his brother and his family in Arizona and met our new great niece! The next day we were lucky enough to partake in a special celebration of sixty years of marriage for Jared’s Mom’s parents. It was lovely seeing his family and celebrating not only Christmas but the obvious love his grandparents have for one another. We now have 3 sets of grandparents with 60+ years of marriage. How lucky we are to have such great examples in our lives!

Then, Jared had to work a couple days and I hung out in Bartlesville. We met again in Little Rock where we got to see my step-sister and brother in law and niece and nephew and we rang in 2015 with great friends in great style. It was an excellent Arkansas visit. We had a few days in Broken Arrow and Bartlesville and as I write this we are separated as Jared is in Arizona to see his brother and his brother’s family (including the great niece!) and I am again in Enid to have some one-on-two awesome time with my grandparents.

Phew. It’s been a busy few weeks but I can’t come close to complaining. I have loved getting to see everyone. As far as trip preparations go, we have made some last minute Amazon purchases (rehydration tablets, quick drying towel…etc.) and made some copies of passports, printed itineraries etc. I think the most stressful part of it all has been figuring out what exactly to do with all our stuff. There is nothing like going through your belongings and trying to make everything fit in a storage unit to make you feel like, “Ohemgee, so much stuff. How do I have so much stuff? Why did it all seem so important at some point?”

Oh! And speaking of stuff, I sold my car! Yay! Little Hyundai, you were awesome but trip or not it was about time for us to part. Thank you for all the independence and happiness you brought me, I know you will give the new owner similar, unforgettable moments.


Who knows, I might come home with a Ferrari ;)