Trip Start Jan 13, 2009
70Trip End May 17, 2009
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Where I stayed
I can write about this now because we are alive and you can not worry backwards.
Jan and I I have left Trang and are attempting to find our way to the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. Didn't seem like a difficult task but travel arrangements in areas where there are few tourists and little or no English is problematic, and in this case, downright difficult. I yearned for the resourcefulness of the Vietnamese to grab business or the joy of the Cambodians to have business or even for the Loations who will do business with you as long as long as there is no stress involved.
Janice showed me around Trang, where she lived, where she worked: we went to her old school - It is summer vacation here - the month of April schools are closed for New Year and Songkren - water Festival, and I got a chance to see what living in a real Thai city would be like. Everywhere people remembered her and wanted her to return. Trang seems pretty unique - very rich from the rubber plantations nearby - every vehicle, mostly full sized pickup trucks, are pimped out with every accessory imaginable. It is like I imagined Fort McMurray was like a few years ago - great wealth and pretty happy simple folk. The night market was terrific - every type of food prepared in front of you by people genuinely interested in your dining pleasure.
John, Janice and I met up with the Dive shop owner, Mervin and his wife Bea and the guy who took us snorkeling/diving, Yat and we went out to a night club for a very nice evening. In the morning we headed out early to catch a bus to Hat Yai - ended up sitting behind a very stinky guy, but after many stops we made it to Hat Yai where we spent the night in a great rental apartment. Our own little apartment overlooking the bustling night market.
I say survived because we had wanted to take the train from Trang to Malaysia. Nope. Stopped months ago because of the numerous bombings of the trains on this south leg. The area around Hat Yai is considered very dangerous - both sides of the border - there has been an ongoing tribal dispute between the many factions making up the very diverse area in the south of Thailand and the north of Malaysia. This has resulted with very strict warnings against tourist travel in these parts. I know, I know, but sometimes it is really hard to get there from here without going through. So, we went through and now we are a little bit away from the most recent (two weeks ago) bombings of the market in Georgetown and Penang. It is quite amazing how little we hear of these squirmishes unless a Canadian is killed. A Canadian was killed in 2006 - an English teacher in Hat Yai, after a series of 6 bombs were detonated consecutively throughout the city - three in Department stores and three in Markets, killing a few people, including the Canadian guy. Over 2400 people have been killed over the years in this one particular dispute. Big numbers, little interest.
So, to add to all of that risk, I saw, from our very weird Hotel in Trang (think The Shining), I am sure it was an old mental hospital - only a few rooms functional in a huge multistory aged institution....on BBC that the Malaysian Prime Minister is going to resign on April 2 - the day we are going to travel through the terror zone!!!!!!! Thank God the Calgary Police Service provided me with international terrorism training in New York City and in Britain so I am able to assess risk........hmmmm.........seems like, if we had been victims, there would be a lot of that- "Wouldn't you think she might have known better????" but it gets better, or worse, depending on your perspective. Relax Bro.
So we have very recent local activity - fatal bombings in the zone within the last two weeks, , we have a planned change in the Government because the current guy is under investigation or something and decided to let the last guy - from a different party, take over and we have an undefined plan on how to get through the border because the people here are not so nice. Really not so nice. Had me remembering my Egypt days........
We meet a really great girl on the bus who is on her way to Hat Yai to take University Entrance exams. She is a professional tour guide and is hilarious and warns us of the not-so-niceness of her fellow Thais in this area and how they will try and cheat us if they can on travel/bus prices etc etc. She calls ahead on the bus to have her aunt find us someone reputable to deal with when we get off the bus.......that is another story.......
We can't get straight info on how to get across the border - how to get through to where we want to go, are being jacked around by creepy men and women so we hunker down to stay the night and only travel through the day. OK - I get some points for doing the risk assessment, lose points for not following it.
In Hat Yai we find this great apartment for cheap and it is directly across from 7-11 and a great night market - we head out because we are so excited about the incredible shoes there, spend a couple of hours eating and looking at all the very bizarre stuff that comes with a different culture - not used to the Muslim stuff yet - and when we come out we see the police checking all motorcycles in and around the market. Hmmm? Why, so many police? I have been surprised as how little Police or Military presence I have seen this whole trip so this was quite startling..........then we remember that we are in 'the zone'. Duh!!!
Obviously we made it through. Got up in the morning and took a bus to Ipoh then got off there, had a chance to see our first Malaysian city and boy it sure looked different than Thailand, and for me, yet again, completely different than every other country. Unlike the very subtle differences between Canada and the US at border towns, and for many countries in the EU, here the differences are immediate and dramatic.
Ipoh looked very colonial - like Burma, all those years ago, with an aged patina, or is that moss and stains? The people in the streets seemed every bit as miserable as they had in Hat Yai, so it is either a regional mood or a bad time or something all together different. Same, same, but different.
By this time we were three. We had made a new friend on the bus - Jesse, from Vancouver. An adorable young guy who joined us as he was the only other foreigner and we all hit it off instantly- and Jesse was heading to the Highlands. We figured out how to get our forward bus and headed up into the highlands. As always, we heard from the woman who sold us the ticket the journey would be one hour, others had told us anywhere from 3 to 5 hours. We figured the woman selling the ticket, in the city closest to the place , should know so hoped for the one hour rendition.
Three and one half hours later, after winding through hairpin turns up into the terraced mountains, in the dark through the rain, we arrived and were met at the bus by a guy who said he was from the guesthouse I had booked. I didn't believe him as they all say that and lo and behold - it was true so we found our place super easy and dumped our stuff and headed into town to see something before the town closed up. In town we booked a tour for the next day and had some dinner.
Saturday - the next day, we had our half day tour and it was excellent. The Camerons are a popular holiday location. It is made up of a few little towns perched on the mountainsides, huge Tudor resorts that look like they belong in Salzburg or at a German ski resort, mega souvenir shops selling everything strawberry logoÚd and acres and acres of white tents growing vegetables and flowers hydroponically. Interspersed between all of this are huge miles of private tea plantations. This area produces a lot of the world's cut flowers and tea and it seems enough strawberries to also meet all of the world's demand.
Our tour took us on a jungle walk through the world's oldest jungle and into the world's oldest mountains. Our guide skillfully identified wild orchids and lots of interesting things. It was so cold I was, again, wearing my down jacket and was thankful for having it. See Val???? It rains everyday in the highlands and everywhere you look is lush and dense and very very green.
From the jungle we went to the BOH tea plantation - one of the worlds largest and had a great tour. Factory tours and farm tours are one of my favorite things in the whole world, and Jesse's too so we were in our glory asking annoying questions and figuring out how things work. We toured the plantation by Landrover and learned how the 200 pickers from all over the world, live and work in the housing supplied by the company. They get paid by weight and it looks like a nice job. I asked about opportunities, I do have olive harvesting on Crete on my resume, albeit a very long time ago, but this trip has reminded me of those days so often that I was half serious. Our guide told me in was nearly 100% single men but....... so have most of the jobs I have had this far in my life started out that way.
From the tea mountains we went to an insect/butterfly/rose combo where I witnessed the Pol Pot of butterflies unleashed in the enclosed garden. Three fully burka clad women - right up to the eye shields, brought their 5 year old kid into the butterfly room and the kid went wild grabbing the slow moving beautiful butterflies, squishing them and continuing to the next handful. The three women were freaking out that butterflies were touching their black yards and yards of fabric that they didn't even notice/care what their evil little kid was doing. It was only after I made a grab for the kid and gave her the very EVIL EYE!!! and yelled at her and them, did they feign interest and move on to the next area. The kid killed so many butterflies and injured so many that once Janice and Jessie and the rest of our group came through, they just thought it was a sad part of Butterfly World to see partial wings and dying beauties. I wanted to toss the kid and her guardians around cactus world for a while but held back because I am such a disciplined moderate now....
From bug central we went on to the Strawberry fields and back. All very nice, except - you know what.
I am now writing this on the bus to Kuala Lumpur, left Janice and Jesse this morning. Janice was headed to the Perenthian Islands and Jesse was headed there after the National Park, so given that it is the opposite direction I am headed, they teamed up and with great difficulty, think they have found a way to get to the National Park tonite before midnight....and I am on my way to the City and beyond. Janice is going to do more diving in the islands were she lived for 2 months after her job in Trang. She became a dive master there, and Jesse is a diver as well. The Malaysian National Park is renowned for their night safaris - head out in jeeps with big lights to search for giant lizards, leopards, tigers and other jungle creatures. Sounded OK to me until I heard of the leeches......every where and they seep through cotton and cause issues. These same suckers.....haha......apparently are all over Borneo, so Borneo is a noeo for me now because this babe does not do leeches.
Yesterday a huge group of Japanese tourists came by us on our jungle walk. In true Japanese tourist fashion they had on every possible weird hi-tech gear and to me looked like triathaletes in thin wet suits, special booties, walking sticks....on and on.......then I hear of the leeches and I guess those jumpsuits are the newest in leech-off fashion so I take back my jokes and know they had a leech free trek yesterday. I didn't know all of this leech stuff til later, so another tidbit for my head full of trivia.
Sorry to see Janice go - we had fun and lots of laughs. She is easy to travel with and I think she might be looking forward to a quieter night sleep because apparently I do snore sometimes.....Nina....jackie......Gwynn.....enough. We share an intense hatred for roosters and together we probably could do like the butterfly Pol Pot and work our way through a few towns here and there focusing on roosters. We might hook up again before or after she heads for Borneo...or depending on her leech experience, instead of Borneo.
Back to the bus.....we just came down through the Highlands - see pics and I didn't think there could be a road more windy than the one from Luang Prabang to Van Vieng, or one Bob and I took through the Scottish Highlands but.......Bingo.....the people around me were puking and it was not so nice. No opportunity to hand out Gravol as we are on an uppity bus with unfun people. We are now back to the straight freeway so I could degrip my hands and get out the old keyboard and my inhaler.........no Asian goes anywhere without one - like Vicks Nasal stick, but with tiger balm in it. Addictive and necessary to get you through stinky squat toilets, free flowing sewage streams, Eastern European fat guys in 10 day old polyester shirts mid day on the un air-conditioned 45 degree bus, and Durian. Durian is a large fruit that smells exactly like diarrhea and is everywhere. Last night our guesthouse had a big sign saying...No Durian....people love that stuff or hate it. It seems to be a badge of honor to get past the smell and choke it down. Janice, Jesse who has been travelling 5.5 months and I were recounting how many times we have seen people walking around with two inhalers sticking out of their noses. It is usually an inhaler or a finger here. Loads of nose picking. No normal sense of decorum here - we had our inhalers out last night and we looked local as we passed the Durian stand.
Speaking of Guest house signs - I forgot to write about the one on Ton Sai that included all the regular: no drugs, power only from 5 pm to 5 am, 12 pm check out and "Beware of Naughty Monkey".
Yikes. the bus is now showing the movie ─naconda"and as grateful I am it is not Thai or Cambodian Karaoke or comedy routines at full volume like normal...............the pukers around me have stopped puking, now are having stinky lunches of pork buns and are yelling in fear of the big snake. I think it must come from living so close to each other - I have looked into houses and often the whole family sleeps in the same room.....we have defined expectations of public life vs private life. Here.....not so much. Asian life is loud and uninhibited......and all very interesting.