My mantra has finally come to fruition…
I have made it to my Thailand beach. I will remind you that my mantra while riding on the -40 degree bus in Mongolia was,
Naked Thailand Beaches!
This refrain kept me alive for those 72 hours of nearly frozen fingers and toes.
How did we get to this heavenly place?
The days of Mongolian winters were over but we still had to travel through China. During our travels through China the cold found us again at Huangshan Mountain. Even though my hair was white from snow and Todd’s beard was frozen with frost, the views were well worth it.
An important tip: Take a student ID with you everywhere you go! It is not a problem if it is expired. Mine is from when I attended University of Texas in Austin during Hurricane Katrina. I was at that school for 3 months. The student ID has gotten me into museums for free and in this case gave me a discounted rate for Huangshan Mountain.
Due to the discount, we decided to spend the money to take the cable car half way up the mountain. There was a hostel about a 2 to 3 hour hike from the cable car exit. We planned to spend the night in there on top of the mountain and see the famous sunrise. Did I mention that this place was used in the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?
Up a winding path of innumerable stairs and several Chinese tourists who insisted on taking pictures with us, we found the hostel. In the morning, our roommates woke us up and asserted us to follow them to the lookout point. 5:30AM is an especially difficult time to hike up snow covered stone stairs but we made it. A crowd of people had obviously been waiting at the top of the mountain for quite some time. Their camera equipment was set up in anticipation of the rising sun.
Now I’ve seen several sunrises. I expected this one to be no different than the many I’ve seen rise over mountain peaks. However, my expectations (as usual) were disproved. I looked out over the sea of clouds, with the few mountain peaks peaking out, and all the sudden saw the red crest of the sun. Before I had time to register this beautiful sight, every single Chinese tourist made an OOOHH AHHH sound with hoots and hollers to follow. Todd and I looked at each other and tried to withstand giggling. It was a display of complete curiosity and appreciation that no other culture could reproduce.
This isn’t my video but it is at the same mountaintop of Huangshan. It is a perfect example of what we saw and heard that morning…
After this excursion we returned to Shanghai where we reunited with our AMAZING friends, Heather and Maryann. Don’t know what we would have done without them!
An overnight sleeper bus got us to Guangzhou and in the afternoon another bus to Hong Kong where the saying “bright lights, big city” comes to mind. Hong Kong was chaotic and neon flooded. Two days was certainly enough time to shop for appropriate clothes for our new destination of 27 degrees Celsius; Singapore.
Stepping out of the airport was such an incredible experience. A drop of sweat went down my brow giving me a shudder of complete bliss. Another blissful moment was noticing that I could read ALL the street signs!
Singapore was a dream. Filled with awesome food, amazing people and reunions with old friends.
We took a local bus to the border of Malaysia where we crossed into Johor Baru. From there we took a night bus to Kuala Lumpur and arrived before the sun came up. Luckily, several places were open and we found a nice café where we had our first roti with banana….YUM. An Indian dish that is basically fried bread with banana or other ingredients inside. DELICIOUS.
Kuala Lumpur is an incredible city. Malaysia adequately claims the “melting pot” of the east. Within the same block you will pass Muslim women covering themselves with various colored hijabs, Asian women in short shorts and tank tops, and Indian women in bright saris. Not one giving the other a look of judgment.
We found a decent hostel with the help of Todd’s iPhone and WikiTravel where we dropped our things and quickly went out into the streets to see the city come to life. At the end of our block is the Sri Mahamariamman Temple. Inside they were having some sort of celebration with live musicians who performed the entire day. Golden bowls sat over burning wood and a smoke of incense poured out of them. We took off our shoes and stepped inside. The colors and statues of the temple were so exotic and sundry I was completely overwhelmed with the beauty of it all.
A little down the road sat Chinatown where we relived our numerous nights of eating street food.
Street food really is the best! Now this is dependent on every person. If you have a weak stomach and cannot handle a lot of grease then you might want to look for something different like soup for example. Many stands serve various things. The variety you are presented with at the food stands in China and Malaysia are incomparable to anything I’ve ever seen! And whatever you choose is tasty! Another great thing about street food is the cost. In China, we found places for less than a dollar for a huge plate of noodles and vegetables. As long as you avoid SOME seafood (of course not all!) and watch them prepare it (make sure everything has touched the hot pan) then you should be fine and be able to enjoy an amazing dish.
Malaysia in particular has the most incredible food. We HAD heard about that. This time my expectations were met! One night in Penang, Malaysia we ate at a group of food stalls that sat on the edge of a soccer field. I ordered curry mee that is a noodle dish with coconut milk, vegetables, various seafood, and spices. It was absolutely mouthwatering. While I was enjoying this an Indian man passed by with a basket of some sort of fried pastries. Todd and I, curious as to what it was, bought one and after one bite called the man back for 2 more. The pie was filled with potatoes, peas, and Indian spices and resembled some sort of samosa. This was another absolutely mouthwatering item.
While we were in Penang we stayed with Todd’s friend’s dad. I cannot express the amount of generous things Mr. Yeap did for us. Not only did he let us in his home but he also lent us his motorbike and took us out for several scrumptious meals. He was exceptionally hospitable and really took good care of us. How do we get so lucky with all these compassionate people? Oh and did I mention I was able to swim in the OCEAN?!
Mr. Yeap dropped us at our bus where we rode for 3 hours to the Malaysia and Thailand border.
If you come to Thailand, remember that if you enter the airport (from a flight) you are given a 30 day tourist VISA. If you enter from the ground, you are given a 15 day tourist VISA. If you want to extend your time in Thailand you can pay for an extension within the country. If you have more time and want to save some money you can cross the border into Malaysia, Myanmar, Cambodia, or Laos and instantly reenter to receive another 15 day tourist VISA. You can also go to any Thai consulate in those surrounding countries to apply for a 30 day or 60 day tourist VISA.
Another 6-7 hours later we arrived in Surat Thani where we went immediately to Bandon pier where ferries depart for the nearby islands of Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, and Koh Tao.
The bus from Penang (55 Malaysian Riggets) and ferry to Koh Tao (550 Thai Baht) cost together around 30 USD.
The ferry truly reminded me of some sort of ride found in Disneyland. It was painted with bright colors and elaborate styled writing of the ferry’s destination. Once inside, you climb up to the main room where there is a circle of small, slim mattresses lining the walls. Even out bed numbers had a Disney-like style with thick curves.
As everyone set up their beds, I looked around and noticed that this was the first time in several months I had been around this many tourists and backpackers. There were French, Italians, British, Australians, and Germans. Todd and I looked at each other with a small sense of worry. Koh Tao is the smallest of the 3 islands and supposed to not attract as many tourists. Koh Tao is known for its scuba diving. It certifies 10% of the world’s divers and so I accepted that our bunkmates were not just tourists or backpackers but divers and other travelers wanting to see the less populated island.
I awoke to the ferry swaying and rain pouring down the windows. No lights were visible outside and the storm seemed violent but somehow the ferry was not too disturbed. I fell asleep again and awoke to a red sunrise and the green palm trees along the island’s shore. Voluptuous clouds sat in the sky and were defined by the rays of the sun. We disembarked the ferry and sat on the pier looking at the double rainbow in the sky (I was almost as enthusiastic as that double rainbow guy).
So now here we are in paradise. Todd is getting his Advanced Open Water certification and I am diving along for fun. I was certified almost 9 years ago, so I was happy to have a quick refresher course in the pool.
Since we have decided never to leave this place….ah, just kidding…I mean stay here for a week (longest we’ve been in one place in a LONG time) I have decided to not only lay on the beach all day, scuba dive, and swim but I also joined a Muay Thai boxing class. HOW GOOD IT FEELS TO EXERCISE! China and Malaysia totally won over with the food and it is time to get back in shape!
Kickboxing has always been my favorite sport and my instructors here are young, vivacious, and encouraging. Ta Ta (guilty spelling attempt), my instructor, already taught me how to count to ten in Thai as well as, more importantly, the ways of Thai boxing defense.
So all in all I am happy. No, elated. No! Ecstatic! Life is amazing. Even with the trials and tribulations that come along with being on the road for long periods of time, things always have a way of working out.
I will say that I have had hopeless moments. Not just on this adventure but many times in my life. However, being here now reminds me that things always work out the way they are supposed to. And if you dream of something and have the will (even more effective; stubbornness) to make it happen (Ahem…ie; remember my mantra?) anything is possible.