Fri. Jan. 3, 1992: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The Palace Hotel was an old Chinese hotel, which means the mattress and pillows felt just like sandbags, but overall not too bad. It turns out that Tony Wheeler of L.P. wrote on the back cover of the first edition of the yellow book (their first S.E. Asia book) that all writing, cutting, pasting, editing, etc. was done in room 2 of the Palace Hotel in Sing. Our room!! We even found a sticker on the dresser mirror where he had written "Tony Wheeler 1975"! Not much has changed in that room in the last 17 years, surely not the mattress. Quite an honor to stay in his room after reading so much of his books, although he might think that's funny. Sing. (and KL) is hot and humid and humid and humid. These pages are hard to write on 'cause they're so soft. The glue on the letter from my grandfather had resealed itself. Got a nice long letter from Chuck G.--good to hear from him finally. K. got a box from her mom with homemade choc. chip cookies, banana nut bread, and candy. All was in good condition and very delicious. Had trouble with the battery charger, again. After much confusion, and taking it to a Panasonic repair place, and discovering the batteries are good, and the charger is putting out voltage even though the batt's don't get charged, we finally gave in and bought another charger. It was cheap (US$13) and does 4 at a time instead of 2, even though it takes twice as long (5 1/2 hours)--also bought 4 more batt's, so we have 8 now--probably what we should've done way back in New Zealand. Also bought an AC to DC converter to use the radio from wall power in hostels. Converter and charger have red LEDs, and 100v/220v switches, with round plugs, so they're much easier to use--don't have anything that needs the 220v to 110v converter now--the shaver switches automatically. Had several days of rain--usually lasted only an hour but had a couple where it rained half the day or more. Finally got to use the umbrellas.
I bought 2 shirts, lightweight for this heat. Found them at a dept. store for only $10 each. Spent a few days just seeing Sing.--New Year's Eve was like Xmas Eve. Orchard Rd was blocked off with lots of people out having fun. We splurged a little and went to a semi-nice rest. for dinner, then had 2 bottles of champagne that P & U had bought. Heard the midnight countdown on the radio--it was fun. Not as big as Chinese New Year will be in a couple of months though. Walked through Chinatown and saw several Hindu temples and Muslim mosques--walked through them--had to be barefoot at some. One had huge incense sticks burning everywhere, and everyone was holding even more. The Indian temples (Hindu) were the most interesting looking--outside are lots of little statues on the building, all in bright colors.
The Chinese temples had lots of dragons and incense. Many of the Chinese (like at our hotel) have an "offering" displayed near their front door--5 oranges and 5 tiny cups of tea, and they burn incense twice a month. Kathey mailed home the jewelry boxes I gave her for Christmas, along with some papers and her coin collection--coins from all countries we've seen so far--she's still collecting as we go. Called my parents New Year's Day--it's 14 hrs. ahead here, as it was in HK, so it was still 1991 for them--I told them the new year was going well so far.
Malaysia exchange rate:
Thurs. we all took an "express" train to KL (Kuala Lumpur, as said by anyone who's been there).
7 hours as opposed to 9 1/2 or 10 by slow train. We took the A/C'd car for $31 (US$11.50) each. Non A/C was $19 and very loud, but we'll probably take that next time to save money. Arrived here about 3 pm and took taxis to the "KL Intl. YHA" just south of the center of town. Has normal toilets, new-looking building, laundry service, lockers, and most of all, air conditioning!!! First time in a hostel anywhere! Beds are great, and there's a TV downstairs--but not as useful anymore when you're watching a Japanese show with Malaysian subtitles! Room is $15 for first night, $10 (US$3.70) thereafter, each. We have a room for the 4 of us--2 sets of bunk beds. Still have cold showers though, and it is cold. At first you think it's impossible, and you can hardly breathe, but after a couple of days it's quite bearable. Secret is to rub the water over yourself first to get wet, instead of just jumping in. The other trick we learned was to skip the shower in the morning and wait 'til we got back from wandering around town all day. By then we were so hot it felt great. Malaysian is written with our alphabet, and many of the words look like they were taken from English and spelled like they sound. Ice cream is "ais krim" and taxi is "teksi". First impression is like Sing. but slightly smaller. About a million people--a few tall buildings, and several American fast food places like McDonald's (of course), Shakey's Pizza, Wendy's, KFC, and Baskin Robbins. In Sing., Church's advertised they had "Texas Fried Chicken". Also 7-11's here, with the (almost) familiar sign, "Buka 24 Jam".
Even cheaper here than Sing., and it's supposed to get even cheaper as we go north into Thailand. Currency is the Malaysian Ringgit, which is divided into 100 sen. Usually written as $1.00 or maybe M$1.00. First country that doesn't use "dollar", although I think the terms are a bit interchangeable here. Feels like we're getting further and further into Asia, and away from Western life. Still quite a Western influence, but the city feels smaller and less international than Sing.--the people are fairly friendly, except for anyone related to transportation, who are all complete jerks. This includes taxi and bus drivers, and anyone working at train stations, which are the worst. As an important update, beer is a bit cheaper than in Sing.--about $3.30 (US$1.20) for a normal bottle, although everyone drinks the big bottles ($6.50 = US$2.40) as they do in HK, and Sing. Nice having the AC/DC adapter and not having to worry about batteries here. But the Chinese hotel in Sing. didn't have any outlets in the rooms! After 3 1/2 months, we feel very at ease, and that we're "part of the club"--official long-term travelers now. There's a dream I've had a few times that seems to be common among people traveling for this long. In the dream, I go home--but just for a few days, to see everyone--then I fly back and continue the trip where I left off. Sometimes we'll be walking by a travel office and see all the prices for tickets to places all over the world, including the U.S. Just for a second there, we'll both think, "Hmm, that's not so expensive."
Sat. Jan. 4: KL. Fri. we walked around a little, and went to the GPO to mail a letter. Made the obligatory check at Poste Restante, but it was no surprise we didn't have anything--this was not a major stop on the itinerary. Less English here--most signs are in Malaysian, and not as much translation on the signs like in Sing., where most were in English, Hindu, Malaysian, and Chinese. But people speak English much better here. Caucasians are still a minority, as in Sing. and HK, but Kathey & Ulrika are getting a lot of stares (and whistles if they're not standing right next to Per or me), which is a little unnerving--actually it seems to bother me more than the girls. But everyone is much less aggressive here than Sing. and HK. Almost never get harassed by people in shops--very low-key salesmen, which is a nice change. The camera got knocked off a counter and fell to the floor. I took the film out and checked the camera, and it seemed to be ok. My mom gave K. money for her B-day, and K. bought an outfit yesterday including shirt and matching pants, shoes, and earrings. Made her day! Some things feel like Fiji here--It's frustrating dealing with the people. You have to ask for everything twice, and put up with rudeness or no response at all, which is more common. They'd much rather make something up than say they don't know (which is always interesting when asking directions). But we're pretty used to it now--saw it in Sing. & HK also. Walking around is much harder here. Not enough crosswalks on major roads, and the ones they have are constant chaos. The people walk all the time, regardless of traffic, and the cars do not stop for pedestrians, they just honk. So crosswalks are always full of noise and confusion. It's even dangerous to cross when you have the "cross" light on! A lot of temples and mosques here, and a few markets at night and during the day.
We're buying patches from each country to sew onto our packs. An important thing I've noticed: I find myself constantly wanting to save, or record, everything for people at home to see (or hear, or smell). But I have to keep reminding myself that that's one of the reasons I'm doing this trip, and there are a lot of things you just can't save or even describe in a journal. Like buying a waffle-like snack from a street stand, in a small suburb of HK, and then walking down the street, looking at all the completely foreign sites, and enjoying this delicious snack that you weren't sure would be any good when you first saw the guy making them. The food had no name, and I'll probably never have it again, but it was one of the great moments I wish I could save for the people back home.
Thurs. Jan. 9: Penang ("Peh-NANG"), Malaysia. Sat. We didn't do much because it rained a lot. Per and I went out that night in the rain to kill wild animals for the tribe--well, we got hamburgers for the 4 of us. Sun. it rained also, but off and on, and not as hard, so we were able to walk around and do some sightseeing--that might sound funny, like maybe it seems like we do nothing but sightseeing, but since we walk everywhere, a lot of days are filled with eating 3 meals, going to the GPO to get or send mail, going to the bank to get or cash traveler's checks, and other errands to buy things like food or soap, etc. Anyway, Sun. we walked around and saw a big mosque and a big building next to a big square, with a big flagpole. (The Masjid Jame Mosque, and the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, next to the Merdeka Square, with a 100m flagpole--supposedly the tallest in the world.) Mon. we mailed film home--#14-16--with some souvenirs and a letter. Also bought train tickets at the station. Most days in KL didn't start 'til about noon, as we enjoyed sleeping-in with the A/C. Tues. took a train at 7:15 am to Penang. It was a 6 hour ride, and much louder than the last one, even though we still went 1st class. The A/C was too cold also, but since the luggage is stored in the overhead racks, we just took out some warm clothes. (We'd read that you can hang meat in the Malaysian trains and buses, but it wasn't really that bad.) The train arrived in Butterworth, on the mainland, and then we took a 20 min. ferry for 40 cents to Georgetown, which is actually the name of the city on Penang Island--but everyone calls it Penang. Then took a taxi to a hotel, but it was full, as were the next 6 we called, but eventually got a room for the 4 of us for $28 (US$7 each) at the Hang Chow Hotel on Lebuh Chulia, the big street in the center of town.
It's a lot like the Palace Hotel was in Sing., but a little nicer. It's a typical old Chinese hotel, which means a ceiling fan, no screens, sandbag mattress (ha ha), and squat toilets. Also, I'm beginning to think I won't see hot water from a tap (or shower) 'til we get to London. But the cold showers feel nice some mornings, and great in the evenings before bed, after sweating all day--the temp. is about 91 degrees F (33 degrees C). (With a lot of humidity). Bought a "USA Today" paper (a good source of info from home) which said the temp. in Dallas was 50 degrees F (10 degrees C), and 35 degrees F (2 degrees C) for a low. That sounds really strange all the way over here, so close to the equator. Saw a headline on a paper today that said Pres. Bush collapsed while in Korea, during a whirlwind tour of Aust., the orient, and S.E. Asia. Maybe he should've slept in a couple of days like we did. Wed. took a bus outside town to "Kek Lok Si Temple". A huge, tall pagoda surrounded by several buildings with Buddhas, incense, and lanterns. The Pagoda is a tall building (30 meters) that was built from 1890 to 1910, and is the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia.
Top is Burmese, middle is Thai, and bottom is Chinese. Paid $1 to climb the stairs to the top, and took several pix of the great view of Penang. A little touristy, and you have to walk through a 1/4 mile of souvenir shops to get up to it (really), but it makes for great pictures! Very interesting overall. Today (Thurs.) we walked a lot, down some interesting streets filled with strange little shops and food stalls--free entertainment. The sidewalks are usually blocked by parked motorcycles or food carts, so walking becomes "interesting"--half in the street, half on the sidewalks. Sidewalks are always colored tile (small squares), and very old looking. Also, between it and the street is a drainage ditch, that's about 2 feet wide and at least 2 feet deep, with little "bridges" over it. Same as KL and Sing. I've never seen so many people in such a frenzy to get somewhere in the absolute shortest amount of time, and then move so slowly once they got there. The streets are filled with motorcycles and mopeds--it's like being in the middle of a motorcycle street race--no speed limit, no regard for pedestrians at all, and the stripes on the road are absolutely meaningless! They have two modes: maximum throttle, and stopped. N.Y. has nothing on this place.
Sun. Jan. 12: Krabi, Thailand. Phra Nang ("Prah-nong") Beach. Fri. we bought bus tickets to Krabi. P, U, & K went to the Botanical Gardens--said it was ok, but the highlight was the monkeys they fed with peanuts.
Thailand exchange rate:
Sat. morn. we all woke up at 3:30 am and packed the last couple of things before getting on a minibus at 4:30. Had 12 seats and A/C, cost $20 (US$7.40) each. Took 10 hours, we arrived at 2:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m. Thailand time--gained an hour.) At the Thai border we went through a lot of checkpoints. First a police stop, then exiting Malaysia (stand in line to get your passport stamped), then another police stop, then entering Thailand. Stopped a couple of times for food, and to change buses when we got to Thailand. Took a lot of food & water, which was a very good idea. Not as comfortable as the train, but faster and much cheaper. Also, the train doesn't go all the way to Krabi. Arrived at one of many "tourist info. centers" and asked questions. Almost all of us from the bus came here to Phra Nang Beach--boat ride was 1 hour, cost 40B. No way to get here by road. The exchange rate here is about 25 Baht to the dollar, so we convert in our heads by saying, "multiply by 4". So 40B is about $1.60. Well, we've been searching for paradise since we started, and this must be pretty close. The view from the boat was fantastic--took a lot of pictures of huge cliffs dropping right to the water--lots of little islands close by. Arrived at a white sand beach in front of a set of bungalows.
Most places were full (this is the high season) but found the "ya ya Bungalows" at the back, which faces the beach on the east side of the cape. It's a small "point" south-west of Krabi with beaches on 3 sides, and you can walk to all 3. Lots of little huts among the trees. This place has "tree house bungalows"--some six-high, Prices are 100B and up. Ours is 250B--a private bungalow, bottom floor, with 2 beds, a fan, and a connecting private bath. We're trying to change to an even cheaper room to be able to eat a little better and stay within US$10 each for everything, but it looks like US$12.50 is more accurate for now.
Mon. Jan. 13: Phra Nang Beach. All the bungalow places have their own restaurant, and you can eat at any of them. The food is really good--we seem to be spending about 40-50B per meal (US$1.60--US$2.00). They have lots of sandwiches, salads, fresh fruit (a plate of pineapple for US$1.00), breakfast stuff (eggs, pancakes...), seafood, and of course rice and noodles. Beer is always the budget-killer here in Asia. It's 40B for small, 70-80B for large. The beer here is Singha--pretty good, kind of bitter. In Sing. and Malay. it was Tiger, Anchor, Carlsberg, and Guinness, which seems to have quite a following there. Electricity here is from a generator--we have lights in the room and an outlet for the tape player. Elec. runs constant from about 5 pm to 5 am, and then off and on all day, never more than a half hour at a time. But the temp. is nice--warm, but not miserable, even during the day with no fan. I think the trees all around us help too. Some of the other places are unshaded. They sell a Thai liquor from the menu. For 80B you get 375 ml of some kind of liquor (called "Mekong") that tastes like dark rum. Definitely the bargain here. The people are all very friendly here. A wonderful change from the rest of Asia that we've seen so far. English is of course the language spoken anywhere near tourists. Not always fluent, but you can easily get by without speaking a word of Chinese, Hindu, Malaysian, or Thai. This place is filled with long-term travelers, most doing the Asia tour like us. I was sitting on our porch the other day eating crackers and Skippy peanut butter, feeling very self-conscious, when a group of backpackers walked by and a Canadian girl said, "Hey, you're Skippy dipping! Can I have one?", and scooped up some peanut butter with one of my crackers--it's good to be around travelers again. Also nice to be away from big cities for a while. Feels quiet and secluded here, but we have everything we need, unlike in Fiji. The views are truly spectacular here at the beach. We walk a few min. to it, passing giant limestone cliffs and stalactites, and a lot of small caves that are safe to explore. At the beach the view is absolutely incredible. Long, white beach, with gigantic cliffs and caves at one end--must be 20 stories high, and they drop straight down--colors are fantastic. One part has boulders right at the edge of the water, and you can climb around on them, under the cliff overhangs. The water is crystal clear green, with white sand on the bottom.
There's a huge "rock" (island) swimming distance away, and the beach looks out onto several small islands. Per and I are booked to go diving at one of them called Chicken Island--supposed to be good reefs. Will go tomorrow morning. Per got a short haircut, and Kathey and Ulrika spent 400B (US$16) and 4 1/2 hours to get their hair braided "Bo Derek style". K has 56 braids covering her head! Looks really good--has red beads on the ends. They say she can keep it a month or more. In the spirit of haircutting and cooler hairstyles, I had mine cut this morning for 40B. It's cut short all over, spiked on the top. It's great! I may keep it this way. K & U took the 9 am boat back into Krabi town today to run errands like the bank, GPO, store, and to call K's mom. They have a phone here also--a portable. Costs 10B for a call to Krabi, 100B for an overseas collect call. This is definitely a place I could come back to!! I wonder how much tickets from Dallas to Bangkok cost?
Fri. Jan. 17: Koh Phi Phi. ("Pee Pee Island"). Per and I went diving--just us and the dive master. Cost 600B (US$24) for one dive and all equip., which was in very good condition. Dive was ok, but not great visibility or stuff to look at. Good but not great. They say Phi Phi is much better. Made the mistake of keeping food in the room. I had a (closed) bag of peanuts in my (closed) day pack, and mice ate right through my day pack to get to them. The owner took it to town and had it patched, and we changed rooms (and got rid of all food not in cans.) The people are still hard to deal with, but not too bad. Per & I climbed one of the huge "mountains" (or "rocks") to get to the lagoon we read about. It's a steep climb up and then down, to get to 3 sets of ropes to climb down which takes you to the edge of the lagoon. It's saltwater, and is empty during low tide. The climb and the lagoon are both incredible. The lagoon is surrounded by a round "cylinder" of sheer rock wall that extends to the top of the mountain. The wall is a big circle around the lagoon, or actually it creates the lagoon. More stalagtites here too, on the outside, not just in the caves. Thurs. I went into town alone to get money, call home (better phone lines), and to send a telegram to the Bangkok GPO to have all of our mail sent to Krabi. I'm hoping they understand to send the existing mail, and hold all future mail. We'll see. This is the kind of simple task in the States that is a miracle if it works here in Asia. Accidentally met Robert and Åsa ("OH-sa") again last night! P & U met them in Fiji, and we accidentally met them in Sydney also! They're from Malmö in S.W. Sweden, and have offered to let us stay a night when we get there. Spent most of the week doing nothing and having fun doing it. Today we took the express (one hour) boat to get here. Cost 150B. (US$6). The water is even clearer, greener, and more beautiful here. Immediately took a "long tail" boat taxi for 20B to the "Phi Phi Paradise Pearl Bungalows" at Long Beach.
Paying 250B (US$10) for about the same as at Krabi, except not as nice, no fan, and no electrical outlets--but they'll charge batteries for you. Elec. is on from 6pm to Midnight. Good restaurant with music and prices are a little cheaper. It's right on the beach, and we're right behind it, so only a 50 yard walk to the water, which looks perfect for snorkeling. Great beach too. As in Krabi, they rent snorkeling equip. Lots of palm trees and sheer mountains again. This too is very close to paradise. I always thought this kind of place would be too isolated--but since we carry everything we need on our backs, we can just enjoy everything. Did I mention that all the beaches in Thailand are topless?
Sun. Jan. 19: Koh Phi Phi. First night was bad--lots of roaches, and mice in the walls--also since no elec. after midnight, it's dark in the bathroom, and even in the morning when taking a shower. Moved to a 500B room for all 4 of us, so we're paying the same, but it's much nicer. Normal toilet, fan, 24 hr. elec., sink, tile floor, and 2 twin beds, which are larger than normal, so plenty of room for a couple. The "official" 4-person rooms are 700B, but we just didn't tell them we had 4 in this one.
Went into the village yesterday for dinner. Could take a 20B boat, but it's easy to walk at low tide. High tide is harder, 'cause of the rocks. The village is just lots of tourist shops, dive shops, and restaurants, plus a few small grocery stores. Interesting though, and we took some pictures of all the boats tied up after fishing all day. Had some laundry done by the bungalow office--cost 5B per piece, and came back very clean. Showers and sink have half-salt, half-fresh water, so it tastes salty, but doesn't burn your eyes or leave you feeling sticky like saltwater. Went snorkeling a couple of times--the reef is not quite as pretty right next to the beach, but gets much better a little further out. Lots of bright colored fish everywhere, and saw a manta ray once. It's really nice being this close to the restaurant, the beach, and the reef. And it's great not having to take buses & taxis everywhere. Back in Penang, I bought my brother Michael's Xmas present, and K. mailed it home a few days ago from Krabi town. Got him a Chinese calligraphy set with ink, brushes, ink well, and other stuff, plus a soap-stone stamp with his name carved in it in Chinese. I was really happy with it. Also, as a souvenir to remind us of the Chinese, we bought a metal sign that says "DO NOT SPIT" in 4 languages, the 3rd of which is English. Maybe we'll put it up in our dining room. They make really pretty silk cloths here and in K.L. called "Batik" art. They stretch silk material (or cotton here) over a frame, like a table, (a piece about 3' x 4') and then draw a picture of flowers, fish, fruit, or whatever, on it by brushing on hot wax. This makes the outline. Then they brush on different colored paints (watercolor type) which absorb right up to the wax line, but not over it. The lines are about 1/8"-1/4" wide. They use a brush with water to blend the colors together in some places. And some of them have black backgrounds, or other colors, which were also done the same way. When it's done, they boil the silk to pull off the wax, which leaves a white line where the wax was. They write words too with the wax, like the island name or their signature. Really pretty. Eating here is easy--feels like we're cheating. At the bungalows there's only the one restaurant for each set. At the village there are more, but the cheapest are about the same as at the beach, and of course there are more expensive ones, most of which have fresh lobsters prawns, crabs, fish, and shark on display. Usual meals are western type, like sandwiches, pasta, etc.
Wed. Jan. 22: Koh Phi Phi. Robert and Åsa came here as planned, and have a bungalow next to us--usually all six of us eat together. Our restaurant also charcoals fish, prawn, chicken, and shark for dinner, along with the normal menu. I had shark a couple of times--it's good--doesn't taste that much different from normal fish. We've spent the last few days doing stuff like laying on the beach, playing Scrabble, and listening to music, etc. Since there's not much to buy, we've managed to spend quite a bit less here. And that's good because we constantly wonder if we'll have enough money. I guess there's no way to know until we're back home. I said before that the toilets were normal. They don't flush though--we have to pour water in with a scoop from a little reservoir in the bathroom. Same as in Phra Nang. Also, the shower starts and stops a lot in the afternoons. (Not that any of this is very important, but I thought I'd try to paint an accurate picture of what it's like here.) We're hoping our mail has been sent to Krabi by now--all of us are pretty sure we had a few things in Bangkok.
Sat. Jan. 25: Koh Phi Phi. Per went diving a few days ago--I stayed to save money--he said it was much better here--damn!
I went to Krabi yesterday to get our mail, but of course, none of us had any. At least 10 different things could have happened, but it's really no surprise here in Asia. So we're all disappointed, and wondering now where our mail is. Most likely it's still in Bangkok. Probably, the telegram went to the wrong post office, or the person there did nothing with it. The worst would be if it arrives in Krabi after we leave here. What a mess! We should have known better than to try something like that here. Even the most simple conversations are next to impossible if a thousand tourists haven't tried it before you. I suppose that's the price for paradise. Per, Ulrika, Robert, and Åsa are all thinking a lot about going home now--they have about 3 1/2 weeks left. It's really strange to think about seeing everything at home. Relatives, friends, pets, home-cooked food, driving, working, picture parties... But all of that's a long way off for us... hopefully. We're really looking forward to all the mail in Bangkok--we've heard from home that we have a lot there, and I've sent postcards to a few people to inspire them to write there. Kathey got some kind of bug bite a while back, and it got infected even with her being careful. They say it's very common here. She went to the clinic here (I was surprised there was one) and there happened to be an Australian doctor volunteering here. He cleaned it up and said she has to keep it completely dry, clean it daily, and cover it with gauze. It seems to be healing now. He told us about a girl who got malaria in Koh Samui ("Ko Sah-MOO-ee"), which was surprising--it usually is only in N. Thailand. We're taking the pills every other week now, and still use the nets everywhere. The nets are great. You never worry about mosquitoes, flies, roaches, rats, or anything else--like having a wall around you. Very comforting (some places more than others). I guess we could live without a fan and bathroom, but those 2 things seem to be the most important luxuries we have, with 24 hr. elec. near the top of the list also. When you're going to stay for a week or more, you at least don't want to be uncomfortable. All the bungalow groups here have VCRs playing movies in the evenings, so we sometimes eat dinner just before, and stay to watch. Another nice luxury sometimes. They also have Bangkok papers here--in English. People at home had said how little English they thought we would find, especially in Asia. It is true in some of the less traveled cities, but all the ones worth seeing are easy. English is the common world language! If a sign is to be written in more than one language, English is almost always one of them, and sometimes the first. If a Thai, a Chinese, a German, and a Swede are all trying to talk to each other, they always use English, regardless of the fact that none of them speak it as their first language. The Swedish are required to take at least 7 years of English in school, and often take more, even if they never go to an English-speaking country.
Wed. Jan. 29: Phuket (town), Thailand. Robert has been taking a 5-day scuba class--on Sunday he got his PADI open water certification, so we had a small celebration (a six-pack). He and Per went diving and saw a leopard shark and a large moray eel, both of which were very tame. Heard that the dive shops in Phuket go to Phi Phi's reefs, so Phi Phi seems to be the best in this area. Not much exciting happened lately--went to the village one night to eat. They have a great dessert here at a food stand in the village--called "Banana chocolate". Take a ball of dough, flatten it like a very thin crepe into a circle about 10" diameter. Put it in a hot frying pan with butter. Slice a banana into thirds lengthwise, and put into the middle of the circle, cook a little, fold the sides up to cover the banana (make a square). Turn over, cook more 'til a little brown. Put on a plate, and spread Nutella on top, then pour sweetened condensed milk on top while still hot. Delicious! They use condensed milk (Carnation even!) a lot here for syrup, etc. Tues. we all 6 came here by boat. It was a long, terrible ride on rough water. 2 1/4 hours--cost 180B. I think K. never wants to see a boat again--but we all made it through somehow without getting sick. It was tough even with Dramamine pills. Took a taxi for 30B each to the "Thavorn Hotel" at the center of town. It's spelled "Thawan" in the book. All got rooms for 300B (US$12) per couple. This is wonderful! After 2 1/2 weeks on beaches, we all needed a return to civilization. The sand on everything and the salt water showers were really getting old. Towels are filthy, along with our clothes, and our soap doesn't rinse very well at all in salt water. We're trying to find salt water soap here in case we have that problem again. Here we have clean water, clean carpet, (not tile), elec. outlets, lots of lighting, a pool, clean bathroom, 2 nice twin beds, and air conditioning!! Nothing special about the town though--this place could easily be KL, Penang, or a larger version of Krabi. Typical old streets lined with little shops, and sidewalks that are blocked every 20 yards. Lots of motorcycles, but not quite as crazy as Penang. Two big department stores, and we restocked on toiletries. Kathey bought a bikini and is trying topless sunbathing, which is definitely the norm in S. Thailand. Got a letter from Dan (my cousin) yesterday. A nice, long letter telling places to stay and things to do in Thailand. (He and Trish just got back from a trip here.) Planning to go to Karon ("Ka-RAHN") or Kata ("Kah-tah") beach tomorrow--should stay for a few days. Today has a sad note. Heard from home that Kathey's grandfather died last Friday. My mom sent flowers in Kathey's name. It was expected, but still pretty tough. We knew we might have to deal with something like this during the trip, but I'd hoped we wouldn't.
Fri. Jan. 31: Karon Beach, Phuket ("Poo-KET"). It's hard to believe Jan. is gone already--the month started in Singapore, and it feels like we were just there. Time is going really fast since we're doing nothing and having fun with the other 4.
Took a taxi Thurs. (pickup truck with seats and a cover) to the Karon Sea View Bungalows for 10B each. K & I have a not-so-nice room for 200B, the others have much nicer 300B rooms. Much more developed here than Krabi or Phi Phi. Some shops, restaurants, and lots of umbrellas for rent on the beach. Water is clear, but it's more difficult to get to good snorkeling. The sand extends a long way out (into the water), and it gets deep very fast. Went to Patong ("Pah-TONG") last night--it's a beach and some streets with tons of shops and restaurants. All high priced. But it was fun walking around after dark. Of course, "high priced" is only true if you have our budget, otherwise it's still cheap. As the other 4 get closer to leaving, they're spending more and more, which is natural. But it's starting to cause problems, or at least a little tension, since we're trying to spend less here in Thailand. We all talked about it and agreed we still wanted to travel together. We don't want them to feel bad for spending a lot on rooms, food, and shopping, and they don't want to make it harder for us. I think just talking about it helped a lot. Don't know if we'll have to split up or not--I hope not. Another problem has been languages. They naturally would prefer to speak Swedish among the four of them, but we feel excluded from the conversation. They try hard to speak English around us, and it's usually ok. But it's a lot like the money problem. They don't want to be rude, and we don't want to demand they speak our language. Phuket is probably a good starting point for S. Thailand--still a lot of civilization, but not as pretty or as quiet and secluded. Went to the other popular beaches today. Kata is the first one going south.
It's nicer, but crowded since Club Med is there. Not all that bad, but not as secluded. Lots of umbrellas and things like jet skis and parasailing. Next is Kata Noi ("Kah-tah Noy"). A little smaller and nicer, a few places to stay on and off the beach that looked more reasonably priced than Kata. The last popular one is Nai Han ("Nye Hahn"), but we didn't see it... Supposed to be quieter and less developed. Had to pay for 3 nights here. We'll be leaving for Koh Samui after that. This is ok, but we're not that impressed after Krabi & Phi Phi.