Goodbye Malaysia

This was another pretty mellow week. I spent the weekdays at Rachel’s house enjoying the last bits of having a double bed with my own space. I was able to complete my research for what I want to do in Indonesia. Interesting fact: The width of the Indonesian islands is the same as the continental United States. Unfortunate fact: It’s not very easy to get from one end to the other. I really wanted to go to the island of Flores to see the natural habitat of the Komodo Dragons but ended up scratching that off the list as it’ll take four days to get to from Bali with buses and ferries.

I spent the weekend back at the hostel sharing stories with other travelers and narrowing down Adam’s highly anticipated second trip out here at the end of April.

Those are honestly the highlights of my week. Oh, wait, I was able to put my South Korea video together! I really wanted to cut it down to 5 minutes but I took so much footage in those two weeks I could only get it down to 8 minutes. Click here to enjoy!

I took a red eye to Bali Sunday night and was giddy with excitement as soon as my plane touched down on the tarmac. I’ve been anxiously waiting to come back to this beautiful island and it’s finally here!!! I’m excited to see my friends from last year and check out other parts of the island I didn’t get to before. I have a feeling my bank account is going to take a hit this month….

Things I learned in Malaysia

  • Driving lanes are just suggestions
  • Women are viewed as half a person, just barely above dogs
  • Indian food is delicious
  • Drivers of scooters wear their jackets backwards because they believe wind can penetrate zippers and wind going through their body will kill them
  • Red dots on Indians mean they are married; black dots mean they are not
  • Kuala Lumpur is a major melting pot with strong influences of Indian and Chinese
  • There are still good people in this world, i.e. whoever turned my laptop in
  • Indians eat food (including rice) with their hands. It’s like an art form to perfect. As the old saying goes, eat with your right hand, wipe with your left hand.
  • Cars don’t stop for pedestrians, no matter who has the right of way
  • Muslim men pray in the front part of the mosque so they aren’t distracted by women
  • All hotel rooms and even some AirBNBs have arrows on their ceilings or in the drawers to let Muslims know which direction to pray towards
  • Muslims cover up head to toe while Hindus cover up from the waist down
  • Like the Philippines, chicken is served with chopped up bones. Gag me.
  • Malaysians work extremely long hours for very little pay
  • Maids are imported from Indonesia or the Philippines and are treated like garbage. They put 6 or more of them in a regular sized bedroom and get searched after every house they clean. They typically get sent back to their country after six months.
  • Grocery stores are located in shopping malls

 

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I found this during my research and thought it was very fitting.

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Langkawi – Barb Edition

Langkawi - Fave Hotel

Our hotel pool

On the morning of New Year’s Eve, Barb and I said goodbye to Carlos and Julian and caught our quick 45 minute flight to the island of Langkawi. After checking in to our hotel, we headed straight to the pool to soak up the last few hours of sun. At one point, we both got in to swim but got out of the pool on different ends. While I was sitting on my chair waiting for my glasses to dry off, I faintly saw two people on either side of someone on the ground, offering their hands. When my glasses dried off, I noticed it was Barb they were offering their help to. I gave her a what happened shrug from across the pool. Apparently while she was getting out of the pool, her foot slipped and she biffed it yet had too much pride to accept the offers of help. She cautiously walked to where I was sitting to show off her Langkawi Owies – bloody and indented knee, scrapped legs and palms, sore shoulder, and bruised ego.

That night before heading off to bed, Barb made the comment about not waking her up with loud noises at the stroke of midnight. That thought honestly wasn’t even in my head until she put it there. So of course, I stayed awake and at exactly 12:00am, I grabbed a party favor and blew it loudly in her face. Barb was so startled I think she levitated over her bed for a few seconds. I should have recorded this! If only you guys could have witnessed the look on her face…. it was priceless.

Needless to say, Barb’s start to Langkawi provided me with uncontrollable giggles to the point of tears streaming down my face.

Monday was a very low-key day as we just laid around the pool improving our tans and resting up Barb’s legs for Tuesday’s adventure I had planned. “If you thought the 262 stairs at Batu Caves were bad, you may die tomorrow. But it’ll be worth it!” Again, Barb was a little reluctant for what I was going to put her through. That night I decided to show her what I had planned so she could mentally prepare… walking up 638 stairs to the top of a waterfall so we could slide on rocks into seven natural wells.

Langkawi - Smiling Buffalo mango pancakes

Mango pancakes. Sooo good!

We woke up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Tuesday morning and started our day by renting scooters and eating a most delicious breakfast – mango pancakes. Holy yum! Regular pancakes topped with fresh mango, coconut milk, and something sugary/cinnamon-y. After getting fueled up for our day, we headed northwest to Seven Wells Waterfall. 6km from our destination, I noticed a police roadblock which only meant one thing… police extortion. I had my International Driving Permit but Barb didn’t so we quickly turned around, left Barb’s scooter outside of a nearby hotel, and she hopped on the back of mine. The police motioned at me to drive around the line of cars. When I got to the front, they just waved me through without checking anything. Did they mistake me for a local because of how tan I am?! Or were they only seeking out cars today? Either way, I’m not complaining!

Langkawi - Seven Wells Waterfall (1)

Oh you know… workers just raking the roof of this building at the entrance of Seven Wells Waterfall

After arriving at the entrance to Seven Wells Waterfall, Barb and I made a plan. We would both go at our own pace. I would get started with the fun and if Barb made it, she’d join in; if she didn’t, I would meet her at the base of the waterfall in 3 hours. To give her hope and motivation, I left a pile of leaves and sticks at every 100th step. I feel like Hansel and Gretel leaving breadcrumbs in the forest. 

Langkawi - Seven Wells Waterfall (5)

The halfway point!

Much to my delight, Barb made it to the top 20 minutes after me. As promised, it was totally worth it!!! We spent the next hour sliding down the rocks and into the natural wells of water. We sat in one well that was at the edge of the waterfall and had the beach and sea view in the distance. We then headed down to the base of the waterfall to enjoy the view from below. As I was getting into the water, I head a THUD. I spun around to find Barb sitting in the water. “Did you fall?!” I asked. Yes, yes she did. Add that to her list of Langkawi Owies. Apparently I shouldn’t leave her side near water.

DCIM100GOPRO

The only thing stopping us from going down the edge of this 90 meter waterfall are these cable cords… which is supposed to be reinforced by the fallen over steel pole. Safety goes out the window in Asia.

Langkawi - Seven Wells Waterfall (3)

View of Seven Wells Waterfall from the bottom

Next on our list of destinations was Black Sand Beach. Scientists are unable to figure out why the sand in this 100 meter area is black as the sand in the water is brown and the sand near the road is brown. Typically black sand is caused by volcanoes but no volcanoes exist on the island or nearby. The locals believe the sand is black due to an old curse “by a mermaid because a fisherman stole her ring.”

Langkawi - Black Sand Beach (4)

The mysterious Black Sand Beach

We ended the day by lounging at the secluded Tanjung Rhu Beach on the north side of the island. While the water wasn’t as clear, the views reminded me of El Nido, Philippines with little tree-filled islands popping up in the distance. Langkawi - Scooters

As with any week in a tropical climate, we had one day of rainy weather which happened to be Wednesday. After remaining optimistic for much of the morning, we accepted fate by lunchtime and headed to the main road to browse the little shops. We ended up at a beach bar indulging in happy hour drinks.

Langkawi - Kalut Beach Bar 1

I’m sure I could have fit a fourth drink in my hands.

Thursday and Friday were again spent by the pool working on our tans. We caught an evening flight back to Kuala Lumpur on Friday and stayed at a nearby AirBNB.  After sending Barb off to her 9am flight on Saturday, I spent the day lounging by the pool (when did I become one of those girls?!) before taking a train to my hostel.

My original plan was to stay one night at the hostel before catching an 8:30am bus Sunday morning to Taman Negara, Malaysia’s national park, where I would spend the next three days hiking. As I checked in to the KL hostel, I told the manager my plan and she notified me she had heard the national park was closed. I researched online, but couldn’t find any information. When I asked the hostel that I had reserved in the national park, they told me that most hikes were closed but there were still some trails open.

For the next several hours, I  had an overwhelmingly bad feeling… like a gut instinct telling me not to go to the park. The more I talked myself into ignoring the feeling, the more stressed I became. You’ll be able to complete a few day hikes to prepare for Annapurna. You’ll be overlooking a river in the hostel and the view is supposed to be amazing. You’ll get to experience hiking in a rainforest. I was so stressed out that I started to get a runny nose and break out into hives. Finally at 3am when I couldn’t sleep, I made the executive decision not to go and immediately my runny nose was cleared up. My hives took about 12 hours to go away. It was a very bizarre 24 hours. Who knows what would have lied ahead for me in that forest, but God or my guardian angel, Sara, must have been looking out for me.

I spent most of the day researching my next moves. I have booked another night at the hostel and will head to Rachel’s on Monday to stay with her and the dogs for a few days. Can’t turn down an opportunity for free lodging and this time without any dog responsibilities! I’ll hang out in Kuala Lumpur or surrounding area for the next week and then hop on a flight to Bali! I plan to spend one week on Bali and then bounce around the other Indonesian islands for the remainder of my 30 day Visa.

Langkawi - Floatie

So much easier to wear a floatie back from the store than carry it.

Langkawi - Smiling Buffalo

Smiling Buffalo – home to mango pancakes

Langkawi - Coconut Ice Cream

Enjoying coconut ice cream in a coconut after successfully completing more than 1,300 total stairs at Seven Wells Waterall.

 

Barb’s First Southeast Asian Adventure

Barb has arrived! Since we didn’t get back to my dogsitting house until 2am from the airport Sunday night, we took things pretty easy on Monday. We started out with a Christmas meal at a nearby hotel restaurant. The food selection was a good mix of traditional (turkey, cranberry sauce, rolls, Waldorf salad) and international (naan bread, sushi, nasi goreng, etc.) cuisine.

Kuala Lumpur - Christmas buffet

Merry Christmas from the Asian Santa Clause! His beard though…

That evening we ventured into downtown Kuala Lumpur and watched the KLCC Park Lake Symphony Fountains. It’s similar to the Bellagio’s fountain show but with way better colors and fountain features. While on the train ride to KLCC Park, an Indian man sat down next to us. After a lull in Barb’s and my conversation, he leaned over to me and asked where he could find a beer. I explained alcohol is pretty taboo in Kuala Lumpur but gave him some suggestions on bars. He preceded to tell me he had spent quite a few years in Los Angeles and one in Houston. Then he nodded over at two Muslim women and said, “That’s why I like the States so much. Girls don’t cover up there!” I couldn’t help but burst out laughing. He was quite the character.

Kuala Lumpur - KLCC Park Symphony Fountains

KLCC Park Lake Symphony Fountains

We hit the ground running on Tuesday with a jam packed schedule. We visited the following:

  • Thean Hou Temple – Chinese temple paying homage to the Sea Goddess
  • Muzium Istana Negara – Royal museum showcasing a traditional royal Malaysian house
  • Sri Mahamariamman Temple – Hindu temple
  • KL City Gallery
  • Upside Down House – place to take mind-bending pictures
  • KL Forest Eco-Park – natural rainforest situated in the heart of Kuala Lumpur
    Kuala Lumpur - Thean Hou Temple 5

    Thean Hou Temple

    Kuala Lumpur - Sri Mahamariamman Temple 1

    Sri Mahamariamman Temple

    Kuala Lumpur - Upside Down House 5

    KL Upside Down House

    Kuala Lumpur - Upside Down House 6

    Kuala Lumpur - City Gallery

    KL City Gallery

After Barb turned in early for the night, I headed to my gym. Up until now, I had been going to the gym around lunchtime and it was pretty empty. When I arrived at 9pm (gym is open until 11:30pm), a completely different scene emerged. I felt like I was at a club with bouncers. The lights were neon instead of white; electronic dance music was blaring from the speakers; Asian bodybuilders were coming out of the woodwork.

On Wednesday we headed out to Batu Caves which is a massive limestone hill that is home to several Hindu temples within multiple caves. I thought Barb was going to kill me when she saw how many stairs we had to climb to access the most famous one, Cathedral Cave. For the record, there were 262 stairs up to Cathedral Cave and then another 40 within. I was pretty proud of myself for making it all 262 stairs without stopping. Annapurna Circuit, here I come! Barb, on the other hand, rallied 17 stairs, took a break, 17 stairs, took a break, etc. But she did make it, even through complaining and despising me.

Kuala Lumpur - Batu Caves 4

You’re looking at the first 262 steps of Batu Caves

At the top, there were signs asking visitors to carry a bucket of sand further into Cathedral Cave as it would be used to repair one of the Hindu temples. I gladly offered my services while Barb looked like she was going to pass out. After spending about half an hour inside the cave, we successfully made it back down the stairs and headed off to the area of town I had stayed in before.

Kuala Lumpur - Mango Sticky Rice

So happy to come across Mango Sticky Rice!!!

I was originally going to sign us up for a food tour that evening but I had already tried most of the food offered. So instead, I took Barb on a food tour hosted by your’s truly. We went to Jalan Alor street food market as I had eaten there when I was staying at my hostel earlier this month. I had Barb try Thailand apples (a cross between a pear and an apple), fried pineapple, rambutan (Malaysian fruit that looks like a hairy strawberry), some deep-fried and greasy dough thing (tasted like a funnel cake, looked like a churro), banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich), cendol (Malaysian dessert consisting of sticky rice, shaved ice, palm sugar syrup, rice flour jelly, coconut milk and kidney beans), mango sticky rice (my absolute favorite dessert in Thailand), dim sum (Chinese dumpling), naan (Indian flatbread), and roti canai (Malaysian flatbread). We were able to eat all of this for a total of $14 while the food tour I had originally looked at was going to cost $62 per person. Yay for savings and doing things on our own!

I was super excited to stumble upon mango sticky rice as it tasted exactly like what I had in Chiang Mai, Thailand one year ago. The only thing I couldn’t get Barb to try was durian… and I don’t blame her. Durian is a fruit that smells and tastes like expired meat and dirty socks. Its smell is so potent it is banned in most public places. You’ll see the typical signs for no smoking, no pets, no eating/drinking, and right along side that will be the sign for “No Durians”. I had my first and only durian encounter in Thailand when I mistook durian for pre-sliced pineapple.

We ended the night grabbing drinks at Heli Lounge- heli-pad during the day, rooftop bar by night. While waiting for the elevator, I explained to Barb where we were going. She asked, “What are the safety features to keep people from falling off?” I replied, “Well, there’s the equivalent of police tape around the edges.” Welcome to Asia, the land where safety goes out the window. 

Thursday… now Thursday was a fantastic day! I started it out with watching Iowa win their bowl game over Boston College. I had Adam Skype me on his iPad which was placed in front of his TV. So while he was in his kitchen making and eating supper, I was laying in bed watching his TV through my phone screen. Technology is a beautiful thing.

Afterwards, I told Barb the big thing I had been planning all along which also happened to be her Christmas present from us kids…. Bungee Jumping!!!

L: “So… what do you think?!?!”

B: “Well…..” {long pause} … “what safety precautions do they take?”

L: “Uh… you have two cords on you and you jump over water?”

B: “How about I watch you first and then decide?”

During the drive there, I laid in with the peer pressure. “Don’t you want to be a cool grandma?!” “This is your Christmas present. If you don’t jump, you won’t get anything for Christmas.” “2017 is about over, you’ll ruin our once a year big adventure together trend.” “It’ll be such a cool story to tell! You went to Malaysia over your Christmas break and bungee jumped.” “You’ve said before you want to bungee jump at some point in your life. Now’s the perfect time.” “It’s going to be so much fun!!!”

Needless to say, by the time we arrived to the ticket counter, Barb had bought in to the idea. I later found out she had a mental conversation with herself, saying if the cords were to break, at least she’d just fall into water and not smack into the ground and break into 48 pieces. Whatever works!

Watch the video here. P.S. Barb meant to say she broke the record at that location, not in the world. And don’t mind us being total “woo girls”. We were on an adrenaline high.

In case you can’t tell by the video, bungee jumping was awesome!!!! I would totally do it again and now have my sights set on the 134m one in New Zealand. When I asked Barb if she would join me for the NZ one, she replied, “probably” with a big grin on her face. Have you ever met a cooler over 60-year-old? Some day when we’ve thrown her into a nursing home and she reflects back on her life, she’ll thank me for expanding her comfort zone. 

We finished the day off with dinner at Naughty Nuri’s. I first had Naughty Nuri’s in Ubud, Bali as Melissa and Travis had seen it on an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. Naughty Nuri’s is known for their BBQ ribs. It was absolutely delicious in Bali so I was super excited when I saw a location in Kuala Lumpur. To my delight, the KL location was just as good and I was thrilled for Barb to experience it as well. The meat just falls off the bone and their BBQ is sweet like brown sugar and spicy like jalapeños.

After running some errands Friday morning, I took Barb to a fish spa. In case you’re unfamiliar, a fish spa is where you stick your feet into a tank of water and fish eat the dead skin from your legs and feet. While fish spas are illegal in the US due to hygiene and sanitation issues, they are prevalent in Asia and definitely a unique experience. Again, safety features are nonexistent here. Before even sticking our feet in the water, the fish swarmed over to us and began puckering out of the water. At first, it was super ticklish but after about 5 minutes it was rather relaxing. There were so many fish eating our dead skin at a time that it looked like we were wearing booties in the water. After we were done, our skin felt smooth and I still haven’t noticed any dead skin remaining. It was definitely a unique experience and one I would do again!

Kuala Lumpur - Cute Fish Spa 1

The fish clearly enjoying Barb’s legs and feet

Our final agenda item for Friday was checking out the Perdana Botanical Gardens. It was hot and humid at the time so we didn’t stay too long. Before leaving, we checked out their Palm Tree collection which was sweet. I had no idea there were so many varieties of palm trees! Apparently, there are over 2,600 kinds and we saw about 15. My favorite was the Ravenala.

Kuala Lumpur - National Mosque 1

Covered up at the National Mosque

Saturday was a pretty chill day. I slept in until noon which was glorious as I had only been getting about 4 hours of sleep with taking the dogs for their 5:30am walks and wanting to make the most out of Barb’s time. That afternoon we headed to the National Mosque which can hold 15,000 worshipers at one time. No, that is not a typo. Fifteen thousand people at once! I find other religions and cultures interesting so after getting outfitted in robes I asked one of the volunteers some questions such as when do Muslim girls start to cover up/wear hijabs (answer: once boys start to notice them) and why do some women wear niqab (completed covered except for their eyes) and others wear hijab (answer: it’s more of a cultural difference and what is acceptable in their country’s society). When I asked her why men prayed in the front of the mosque and women prayed in the back, she replied, “Because men wouldn’t be able to concentrate if they were behind the women” and winked.

Kuala Lumpur - Meeples European Boardgame Cafe

Inside Meeples Board game Cafe

On our way back home, we stopped by Meeples European Board Game Cafe. It. Was. Awesome! And I’m calling dibs on opening one up in the US. It’s a cafe (serving snacks and drinks) where you can play boardgames. They easily had 100+ boardgames to choose from. There were some variations from US games, i.e. Operation was known as Doctor Panic, Risk was known as Power, but most were games we hadn’t heard of before. We settled on Word on the Street (strategic word game) and Patchwork (numbers and puzzle game). We paid $4.43 for 2 hours of playing and could have extended to unlimited hours for $1.48 more. The Board Game Cafe serves two purposes. 1 – you can try out new games before you buy them. 2 – it’s located near a university so college kids can still enjoy board games without bringing theirs from home to campus.

If you know anything about my family, you know how excited Barb and I were to stumble upon this!

This week Barb and I will head up north to the Malaysian island of Langkawi to ring in the New Year and to enjoy five days of fun in the sun.

Kuala Lumpur - Train

Ladies only train car on the light rail

One word: Disgusting.

This week started out in a way I can only describe as disgusting. Shortly before 5am, I was woken up to the sound of the dogs barking and going psycho. When I came downstairs, I was greeted with the sight of this….Rat

The dogs were so proud of their kill while I thought I was going to vomit. It. Was. Awful. I didn’t want to deal with it so I took the dogs on their morning walk in hopes the rat would be gone when we returned….. it wasn’t. I called my brother, Adam, and asked him to fly to Malaysia to take care of it for me. Instead he gave me two options: have the dogs drag the rat outside or use a dustpan and dispose of it in the garbage. After envisioning the dogs shredding the rat and blood dripping on the floor, I begrudgingly opted for the dustpan method. Why can’t I just have a normal dogsit for once?

The other disgusting thing that morning occurred during our walk. Because we were up earlier than normal, I ended up walking past the garbage truck making the rounds through the neighborhood. Not only were the garbage men picking up trash with their bare hands, but they were sorting through it with their bare hands. One guy grabbed the bag out of the trash can and threw it into the back of the truck. The other guy ripped open said bag and dug around until he pulled out all the recyclables…. all with their bare hands. It’s truly a miracle I didn’t vomit that morning.

I went to the gym a few times this week to start getting my body in shape for the Annapurna Circuit. I’m not entirely sure how often I’ll have access to hiking or a gym for the next 12 weeks so I figured I should start now while there is a gym close that offers a drop-in fee of $2. When I looked around at the other gym-goers, I noticed something peculiar… The locals were working out in either flip flops or their bare feet. Even while running on the treadmill! I haven’t figured out the reason behind this – do they not own tennis shoes? Is this how they handle the “No Dirty Shoes Allowed” policy? Are they embracing the “feet weren’t designed for shoes” theory? Who knows.

I was able to Skype in for both family Christmases at Barb’s house and at Dad and my stepmom, Gail’s house this week. They just propped me up on either a couch or lamp base and I was able to participate in conversations when I wanted to or when someone sat down in front of the phone. I was even able to join in on a family game of Over Under. It’s like I was there in person! Technology is such a great thing. However, I’m pretty sure my younger niece and nephews think I just live in the phone as that’s the only way they’ve seen me for the last year.

Barb lands tonight which I’m super excited about. I haven’t really explored Kuala Lumpur as everything I wanted to see, Barb does too so I didn’t see a point in going twice. Now that she’s here, it’s time to have some fun! Although, Barb and I have different definitions of fun. While we agree on the general concept, I go on the more extreme/adventuresome side. For example, we both enjoy skiing/snowboarding. Barb sticks to greens, blues, and one black while I prefer blues, blacks, and the terrain park. We both like water. Barb prefers to walk into water whereas I prefer to jump off cliffs into water.

The week after Thanksgiving when I was sick and barely left the house/hostel, I spent most of my awake time researching things to do during my time off from dogsitting as well as during the two weeks Barb is going to be here. One evening, I texted Barb and said, “Are you up for ANYTHING on this trip?!” She replied with a very hesitant answer and for good reason… I took her skydiving with me in 2014, accidentally took her down a double black diamond at Beaver Creek in 2015, and took her on a 14er (Colorado mountain whose summit is over 14,000 feet) in 2016. Clearly, I enjoy pushing her outside of her comfort zone. I told her it’s amazing how deep you can get into researching when you have time on your side. Her response? “I know. That’s what I’m afraid of.”

With her arrival looming ahead, she told me numerous time week, “I know my limits, Laura!” We shall see about that…

Penang

Penang - Tipsy Tiger Hostel

Three tiers of beds

On Monday, I headed north to the island of Penang on another sleeper bus. After getting checked in to my hostel, I was surprised to find the bunk beds were 3 tiers high especially with it being labeled a party hostel. I wonder how many people have fallen off trying to climb to the top bunk after a night out. Especially when you get two free double cocktails to start off each night plus their offer of unlimited drinks for only $10. In the midst of chatting with my new bunk mates, I found out the answer: Just the night before, a guy fell off the top bunk which is about 10 feet high. The bags on the floor broke his fall, but they still sent him to the hospital.

 

I ventured out for some food as Penang, especially the town of Georgetown, is known for their street food. I found a stall serving Wan Tan Mee (noodles and broth dish) that had about 15 people in line which is a good sign. When I got to the front of the line, I ordered one medium dish. The cook gave me a shoo-fly motion of her hand. That’s weird. I didn’t see a fly in my presence. She then preceded to serve customers behind me. None of them were speaking English so I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t being served. I decided to keep walking and found another place serving Wan Tan Mee. This time, I sat down at a table and waited for a server. Again, nobody approached me, yet I saw the cook delivering food out to the other tables of people. Am I doing something wrong?! After about 10 minutes, I gave up on the idea of eating food for the night.

Penang - Chendol

Chendol – cocunut milk, jelly noodles, palm sugar, shaved ice, and sticky rice

On Tuesday before venturing out to see Georgetown’s renowned street art, I told one of the hostel workers my food story from the previous night and asked them what I was doing wrong. Turns out the proper way to order food here is to secure a spot at a table, then stand in line to order food, and tell the cook where you are sitting. So the first food stall cook was probably trying to motion to me to find a table and the second place assumed I had already ordered food since I was sitting at a table. I took this newfound knowledge and was finally able to eat Wan Tan Mee and finished with the dessert called Chendol, two of Penang’s signature dishes.

 

I checked out of my hostel on Wednesday and headed to the northeastern side of the island with two girls I had met at my hostel the night before. McKenzie was from Chicago and Vemeisha was from Kuala Lumpur. They had met at University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire two years ago and the American was showing the Malaysian the joys of backpacking.

We rented scooters and headed off to Penang National Park with the hopes of hiking to Monkey Beach. When we arrived at the entrance, we were told Monkey Beach could only be accessed via boat due to the destruction of the October landslide. It was a flat 80MYR fee ($19.57 USD) for the boat which could hold up to 10 people. We started asking others in the area if they wanted to join our boat so we could all pay a cheaper price. We ended up gathering five other people; two were from Germany traveling together and the other four were all solo travelers hailing from Ireland, USA, and Malaysia.

The eight of us completed the one hour hike to Turtle Beach and it was great having two Malaysians with me as they could read the signs so I didn’t get lost! Turtle Beach, known for rehabbing turtles and releasing them back into the wild, wasn’t very impressive. An hour later our boat picked us up and took us to Monkey Beach. Monkey Beach is known for having wild monkeys all over the beach. We only saw one in our two hours there which again, wasn’t very impressive. However, I did have a blast playing sand volleyball and sand soccer tennis with a local. Afterwards, I sent the American and Malaysian on their merry way back to Georgetown and I checked into my AirBNB for the night.

Penang - Turtle Beach

Turtle Beach

Kuala Lumpur - Bathroom

Can you find the shower in my dogsitting house?!

My initial impression of the AirBNB was, “Holy cow. This is so nice!” I had rented a room in a condo occupied by a Japanese couple. The living room looked out over the ocean. The bed was queen-sized and so comfortable. The shower had a rainfall waterfall head, great water pressure, hot water, and was separate from the toilet. Side note: my shower in the dogsitting house is just to the left of the toilet but counter is in the way with the weak water pressure so I have about a one foot area to shower in without detaching the nozzle. The hostel shower was located directly over the toilet so I had to straddle the toilet to shower as the water pressure wasn’t quiet there either. Needless to say, I was relishing in the space and amenities of this homestay/AirBNB.

Penang - AirBNB (3)

View from my AirBNB balacony

In the morning while the wife was cooking me breakfast, the husband was showed me music videos of his daughter’s band. While the words were in Japanese, the tunes were pretty catchy. The band is well-known in Japan and China and they just completed a 25-city tour. The husband then told me he’s going to put on his favorite song. I thought he meant his favorite song from his daughter’s band…. Nope. On comes Mambo #5 by Lou Bega. What a way to start my morning!

Mariko, the wife, cooked me a delicious breakfast. It consisted of potatoes, dumplings in a light gravy sauce, lettuce salad with Italian herbs, and miso soup. Just when I thought I couldn’t eat anymore, Mariko brought out dessert: chocolate cake layered with vanilla yogurt and fruit. It was so good that I extended my stay for another day. It’s not very often you come across 5 star quality at $19/night.

Penang - AirBNB (1)

Breakfast

Penang - AirBNB (2)

That afternoon I laid out at the pool, took a nap, and met up with Kuzac and his brother, Kuzain, for dinner. Kuzac was one of my interns during my employment with Kick It 3v3 Soccer. Kuzain just signed a contract to play professional soccer in the USL, the second tier of MLS at only 19 years old! Their parents are from Malaysia so the brothers took a trip here to get Kuzain sponsorship deals as he’s the first Malaysian-American to play in the MLS.

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First time I’ve seen Uber offer specific language speaking drivers

Friday morning I checked out of the wonderful AirBNB and met up again with Kuzac and Kuzain. Our plan for the day was to see the hidden gem called Frog Hill. I tried to talk the boys into renting scooters to access Frog Hill as it was rather remote, but they were too terrified of driving in Penang’s traffic. Instead, we took an Uber to the entrance of Frog Hill which was an hour away from the boys’ hotel. I suggested we should pay the Uber driver to wait for us because I wasn’t confident there would be any drivers when we were done. “Oh, we’ll be fine. We’ll figure it when we’re done,” was their reply.

After walking for thirty minutes, we came upon Frog Hill and it was so pretty! Frog Hill is an abandoned mine area that has created numerous pools of turquoise and aqua-colored water. Very, very cool to see. After spending about an hour in awe of the views, we began our journey back. When we arrived at the main road, there weren’t any drivers available on Uber or Grab (Asia’s version of Uber). I wasn’t surprised one bit as it would be like expecting there to be an Uber in Mineola for my Southwest Iowa readers. We walked 1km to the nearest gas station in hopes of finding a taxi or a bus. When we arrived, the gas station attendant said taxis didn’t come to this village of Tasek Gelugor but there was a bus coming in an hour. However, she didn’t know where the bus went after it stopped in their village. That doesn’t help much. “Bet you wish we would have rented scooters, huh?” I said to the boys. They gave an annoyed look in response.

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Frog Hill

While waiting for the bus, we came up with a better idea…. hitchhiking. Friday Prayer was just getting over at the mosque so we were banking on two ideas. 1 – maybe someone would be heading into town that we could hitch a ride with. 2 – maybe someone would be feeling generous after spending two hours in their Friday Prayer service. We began asking around for a ride but most people only had a scooter. After feeling defeated, we sat back down at the bus stop. About five minutes later, a man approached us and asked if we were waiting for someone. The boys explained our situation and he offered us a ride. Wahoo!!!!! During the 30 minute ride into the nearest large town, he only spoke to Kuzain. I didn’t think much of it as Muslim men are only supposed to talk to females if it’s a necessity. Since I had two males with me, there was no need to interact with me. I was essentially non-existent. We found out he lived by Frog Hill and was just giving us a ride into town because he wanted to. I knew someone would be feeling generous! After dropping us off, Kuzac said, “I think he recognized you Kuzain! That’s why he offered us a ride and only talked to you.” I should mention Kuzain is a pretty big deal here; they call him the Malaysian Messi. Whatever the reason was, I’m glad the man brought us to town and I survived my first hitchhiking experience! It was touch and go for half of the ride as once we hit the highway, the driver floored it. He got the car up to 140km/hour which is just shy of 90mph and was whipping in and out and traffic like he was playing Grand Theft Auto. It was slightly terrifying and the boys and I exchanged numerous looks of “What the heck did we just get ourselves into?!”

Kuala Lumpur - Julian LeStrange

Julian LeStrange

That night I caught a bus back to Kuala Lumpur and slept for most of Saturday. Sunday was spent running errands, working out (day 1 of getting in hiking shape for the Anapurna Circuit!), and with the dogs. The girlfriends/guard dogs are back so they must have went out on an adventure for the last two weeks. They joined our morning walks and kept the other street dogs at bay.

This week I plan to research and decide where I should go next. After Barb leaves, I will have two months and 3 days before I meet up with Flynn in Cambodia. I’ve narrowed it down to four countries, but realistically need to cut it down to two, one per month.

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Sunset on Batu Ferringhi Beach

Scouting Trip to Langkawi

My plan for this week was to spend Monday – Thursday on the Malaysian island of Langkawi. I could have flown there but it was cheaper to take a bus and it allowed me to see Malaysia’s countryside. On Monday, I caught the 10am bus north to the port town of Kuala Perlis. My online research informed me it would take 7 hours. The last ferry to Langkawi leaves at 7pm each night. That’ll give me two hours to play around with time in case something comes up during the bus ride. Oh, how I was wrong! 9 hours and 47 minutes later (the bus had a visible stopwatch), I arrived in Kuala Perlis. Almost an hour after the last ferry arrived. I’ve already paid for my hostel for the night in Langkawi. Guess I’ll just sleep at the bus terminal. Nope… the bus terminal was a large scale open-air hut… not the safest choice. Ok… how about sleeping in the jetty/ferry terminal? Nope… that was locked for the night. Ugh. Looks like I’ll be paying double for accommodation tonight. Let’s see what’s on Expedia. Nope… “No properties located in your area.” How about Agoda (Asia’s version of Expedia)Nope… “All properties are sold out during your dates.”  Well this is going to be an interesting night. The next ferry doesn’t leave until 7am. Where the heck am I going to post up for the night? After walking around the small town that is really just there to transport passengers to/from Langkawi, I found a hotel with an available room. The downside? They charged per hour. I feel like such a prostitute… these sheets are probably filled with diseases… Is this really a safer option than the bus terminal? The door does have a lock… not sure how secure it is. After deciding the per hour hotel was the lesser of two evils, I filled out the paperwork. The desk clerk asked me if I was just arriving. I replied, “Yep. My bus from KL took almost three hours longer than expected.” He smiled and said, “Happens every day.”

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My only food option Monday night after checking into my per hour hotel was KFC. I chose the regular-sized mashed potatoes as my side. It was gone after three bites! No wonder Asians are tiny.

As you can imagine, I got very little sleep that night but was able to catch the first ferry out in the morning. One hour later, I had arrived on the island of Langkawi! For the next few days, when I wasn’t soaking up the sun, I was being a travel agent… scoping out lodging, meals, and activities which I can’t go into detail about. Barb knows that I’m taking her to Langkawi for part of her 2 week trip here over Christmas but she is unaware of all the details. For whatever reason, I really love planning out trips when Barb visits me but leaving her in the dark until it’s too late to turn back.  🙂 As with when she visited me in Australia, all I’ve given her is a packing list and the expectation of hopping on the plane.

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These are the signs posted around when you are in a Muslim country. No alcohol and no kissing??? No touching of the opposite sex??

The one meal I will share details about is the Mexican restaurant I went to. I was really craving Mexican food and was stoked when I saw they had one there. I ordered a beef and been burrito and a mango margarita. I’m on a tropical island. The sun is out. This mango margarita is going to hit the spot! It. Was. Awful. They must have used the tequila equivalent of Hawkeye or Karkov vodka in the drink. I can throw back some cheap tequila, but this was on a whole new level. That was disappointing, but can you really blame them for poor cocktails? Alcohol is pretty taboo in Malaysia as they are a Muslim country.  Up next was the burrito…. which should have been labeled enchiladas. The beef was chewy and probably a Grade E. The guacamole was chopped up onions and tomatoes with watered down avocado drizzled on top. The worst part? My bill was $14! I’ve been spending about $3/meal in Malaysia. The one day I splurge on Western food and it wasn’t even worth it. Definitely won’t be taking Barb here! Southeast Asian fail for sure.

Langkawi - Mango Margarita

The mango margarita that looked so much better than it tasted.

On Thursday before I caught the 5:30pm ferry back to Kuala Perlis, I laid out at a pool near the beach. A Malay man struck up a conversation with me and eventually offered me one of his beers. “Yes please!” Free beer is my favorite, even if it’s a Heineken.  After I finished the can, he asked if I wanted another one. “Sure!” After he grabbed his wallet, he said, “You watch my kid? I go buy more beer.” What?! You’re going to leave your kid with a stranger.. in a pool?! “Uhh… okay…” Thankfully the kid stayed within my eye sight and where he could touch (he was maybe 5) and the man brought me another beer within 10 minutes. A short while later, his wife came to the pool and did not look pleased. Needless to say, that was the last he interacted with me.

That evening I took the night bus back to Kuala Lumpur. Did I mention earlier that these buses are double deckers and sleepers?! When I first bought these roundtrip tickets, I had mentally prepared to sit on a cramped charter style bus for multiple hours. I was pleasantly surprised when I boarded Monday’s bus. There are only about 30 seats on the upper deck and are arranged in a 1-2 order. I selected a single seat both times so had some of my own space. The seats reclined back around 80% and came with an attached foot rest. Basically a recliner you’d find in your average living room, just on a bus and not as cushiony.

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The upright position of the sleeper bus seats

About an hour into the ride back that evening, we stopped to pick up more passengers. I noticed they had parked their scooters oddly close to the bus. Then I saw the driver pull out a ramp and walk the scooter onto the lower level. Turns out, the upper level is for passengers and the lower level is for scooters and baggage! I had heard about people putting scooters on buses in Vietnam, but had just assumed it was similar to where bicycles are placed on the front of public transportation buses in the US. Mind. Blown.

Friday I picked up groceries at a nearby grocery store. What I loved… Honeycrisp apples being the second cheapest kind. What I didn’t love… 1 cup of shredded cheese costing $5. Keep in mind, I purchased 24 items and my total was only $20. That one bag of cheese was 1/4 of my bill!

Saturday and Sunday were spent at the house with the dogs and planning out this week’s trip to the island of Penang. Rachel will get home tomorrow (Monday) morning and I’ll catch another sleeper bus up north to Penang. This time, I’m prepared for a longer bus ride than advertised and since this island is located a few hundred yards away from the peninsula, I don’t have to worry about catching a ferry as they built a bridge to connect it. I will spend the week on Penang (Aunt Nancy, you’ll be getting another magnet to add to your collection!) and then come back to KL for my last stint of dogsitting for Rachel.

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This is Carlos Broccoli. He has a skin-condition that makes him rather scraggly looking.

Lazy Week

I spent Monday and Tuesday laying in my hostel bed, watching Netflix and sleeping so I could get over this 2 week long cold. I did venture out at night to grab some dinner but that’s really all that was accomplished the first two days.

Wednesday morning I awoke to three new bunk mates. As with everyone I met in the hostel except staff, these three were supposed to go to Bali but got rerouted to Kuala Lumpur due to Bali’s volcano situation. I may be the only person selfishly happy it’s erupting because that means I can go back! I’ve been tracking the volcano activity since summer. At the time, scientists said it would erupt but could between 2 weeks and 7 years. That’s as far as you could narrow it down? A time frame up to 7 years?! Because of that, I put my return to Bali on hold so yay that I’ll be able to head back there! The area of Bali that I plan to spend my time at is 70km from the volcano and hypothetically shouldn’t be impacted.

While we were having the same beginning conversation all traveler’s have with each other (What’s your name? Where are you from? How long are you traveling for?), one of the girls put her glasses. Oh my gosh. I’ve seen her before on my travels. This is going to sound really mean/judgmental, but this blog is all about sharing my honest thoughts and experiences so here we go. Back in the Philippines, you might remember I took a ferry from Cebu and Bohol. After arriving in Bohol, I waited about 20 minutes to claim my backpack. Three girls were standing in front of me and one stood out because her glasses gave her bug eyes. Of all the styles of glasses and lenses out there, those are the ones you choose?! I’m blind as a bat but strategically choose a combination where you can’t exactly tell just how blind I am. Also, all three were wearing fanny packs which is humorous to most Americans. My mother, Barb, thinks I should rally a fanny pack while traveling. “You can keep all your valuables in front of you. You’ll be able to see if someone tries to pickpocket you.” I would rather wear my backpack on the front of my body than a fanny pack. This isn’t the 80s. Plus it’ll be pretty obvious if someones tries to get into my drawstring bag while I’m wearing it. Back to my hostel room in Kuala Lumpur….

L: “This is going to sound really creepy but did you guys take a ferry from Cebu to Bohol two and a half weeks ago?”

Girl: “Yes…”

L: “You guys were totally on my ferry.”

Girl: “What a small world! How did you know it was us?”

L: “Because you…” (you can’t say she has bug eyes!)”… were all wearing fanny packs.”  Phew! Good save. 

That evening, I took the train out to the suburbs to start my dogsitting gig. I planned to walk the 2km from the train station to Rachel’s house (dog owner). When I told Rachel, she immediately said she would pay for my taxi because the streets are not pedestrian friendly. 1) There aren’t sidewalks. 2) Cars don’t stop for you in the cross walk, even when you have the green walking man. I hopped in my Uber and the first commercial that came on was how the announcer felt totally safe using zebra walks (their phrase for cross walks) in Australia but has a lack of confidence in Malaysian drivers while he’s crossing the street. Wow. She wasn’t joking.

Thursday morning, I woke up to my 5:30am alarm to walk the dogs. There are two reasons why I have to walk them under the cover of night (sunrise is at 7am). 1) The roads get hot during the day which burns the dogs’ feet. 2) Dogs are considered haram (forbidden) in Islam and Malaysia is a Muslim country. Therefore, I have to walk the dogs before others are up for their morning prayer. Muslims pray 5 times a day. A call to prayer sound comes on the neighborhood loud speaker when it’s time. Upon some research, I learned dogs are haram because the Muslim prophet Muhammad said, “Whoever keeps a dog, except a dog for herding, hunting or farming, his reward will decrease by one qiraat every day.” He also said, “If a dog licks the vessel of any one of you, let him throw away whatever was in it and wash it seven times.” As with most religions, it’s up to the individual for how they interpret this. For example, Rachel’s vet is a Muslim but she takes extra precaution when cleaning herself after tending to a dog.

Thursday morning’s walk was good. I was greeted by Julian and Carlos’s girlfriends. Rachel rescued both Julian in 2015 and Carlos in 2016 from the streets. On one walk this past June, two female dogs followed Rachel, Julian, and Carlos and they haven’t left since. Rachel, along with two other families in the neighborhood, all take care of Honey and Badger. They walk with Julian and Carlos in the mornings and eat breakfast at Rachel’s. Yes, I have the unfortunate responsibility of welcoming two street dogs into the house every morning for breakfast. During the day and in the evening, Honey and Badger stay at the next door lady’s house. A Chinese Muslim paid for them to get neutered and pays for their shots. While she doesn’t interact with the dogs, she does care for them deeply. Again, all in the interpretation.

Friday morning, I woke up at 4am for no reason so I decided to Facetime Eleanor. Colleen, the nanny I trained, had told me Eleanor was on the verge of tears one day, talking about how she missed me. The parents had also mentioned they think Eleanor is realizing I’m actually gone because she’s been mentioning me frequently. Eleanor and I had sent birthday videos to each other as she turned 5 the day after my birthday. So when I Facetimed her, she thought I was a video at first and wouldn’t respond back to me besides a smile. After Colleen explained I was in real-time and she could talk back and forth with me, then Eleanor just went wild. She chatted my ear off for 45 minutes (“Look at my rock pile. Isn’t this rock beautiful, Laura?!” “Look Laura! I’m balancing on the ledge while I talk to you.” “Here’s my scarf. It has pink which is my favorite color and blue which is your favorite color.”) and I loved every bit of it. I feel very fortunate that between the parents and Colleen, I get daily pictures or videos of the kids.

After Facetiming, I got the dogs ready for their morning walk. For whatever reason, Honey and Badger weren’t there in the morning. So the three of us took off on our walk. About 10 minutes in, we were approached by a pact of street dogs whose barking scared the life out of me. Maybe because we were alone on the street in the dark. Maybe because most street dogs are aggressive and known to bite. Either way, I was terrified and immediately turned around, wishing Honey and Badger were with us as they acted as our guard dogs on the previous morning’s walk. Plus, they have a lot more street cred than Julian (Miniature Pinscher) or Carlos (only barks at people and not other dogs).

Saturday and Sunday’s walks were uneventful as I found a route that didn’t involve encounters with street dogs, knock on wood. Honey and Badger didn’t show up again so I’m wondering if A) they were picked up by Animal Control or B) went off on an adventure.

I’m happy to report that my week of doing nothing and barely leaving the hostel/house has paid off as my cold is gone! Rachel comes homes tonight and I leave for the Malaysian island of Langkawi tomorrow morning. I will be back at Rachel’s house on Friday to dogsit over another weekend.

Facetiming with Eleanor

Facetiming with this awesome little girl. I don’t know who was more excited.

Black Friday

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Cabagnow Cave

Monday started off bright and early with a 6am alarm. Curl (Filipina) and I rented a scooter and drove two hours to the north side of island. Our first adventure was cliff jumping into Cabagnow Cave. The opening in the ground was no more than 10 feet wide with the drop being about 12 feet. Our early arrival paid off as we had the place to ourselves for the first 45 minutes. After we jumped to our hearts’ content, we made our way to Anda White Beach so Curl could snorkel and I could soak up the sun. After lunch near the beach, we drove to Combento Cave which, like most of the Philippines, had crystal clear water. The rocks you can see towards the back of the picture below are actually 5 and a half feet under water. Our final destination was Can-umantad Falls. Unfortunately, the road leading to these waterfalls was less than ideal and we chose to turn around with 3km left. What is it with all these waterfalls having the worst roads?

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Combento Cave

We arrived back to the hostel around 5pm and after grabbing some dinner, I boarded my 8pm ferry bound for the island of Siquijor. For this ferry, I was given a seat on a bench while most others had reserved a bed. After setting sail and having tickets checked, I moved to an unoccupied bed. As I was drifting in and out of sleep, I heard the words “white girl”, “alone”, and “Laura”. Am I dreaming or is somebody talking about me? Again, I heard the same words – “white girl”, “Laura”, “alone”. Come on, Laura. Wake up! You need to find out if that’s in your dream or reality. You don’t want to be caught in a real-life Taken situation. After I sat up, I head the phrases for a third time, coming from one Asian and two European girls. Usually in a fight or flight situation, I am flight, 100%. Get me out, run as fast and as far away as I can, etc. Although there is only so far to run on a ferry. For whatever reason, my brain chose fight for this one. “Why are you looking for a white girl by herself?” I asked. Mind you, I hadn’t spoken a word to these girls before. “Oh”, the Asian replied, “because apparently there is a girl on here who is also staying at my resort. The hotel owner just emailed me saying we should share the cost of transportation and his description of her is a white girl named Laura who is alone.” Phew! That turned out much better than I anticipated. “Well in that case, I’m your girl!”.

Tuesday was a lazy day for me… as in the only time I left my room was at 5pm to walk into town for some food. I had developed a cold and figured a day off would be good for my body.

I was back at it again on Wednesday as I headed to Salagdoong Beach for another bout of cliff jumping. This is addicting and might just be my new sport! The jump was another 10m (30 feet) and similar to the other ones, I could see the bottom. It really messes with your psych when you can see the bottom but know you’re not going to come close to touching it. To be certain, I had  a Canadian be my guinea pig. After he successfully completed the jump without touching the bottom, I then had a hey day for the next hour and a half.

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Salagdoon Beach cliff jump

That evening, I drove 45 minutes to the other side of the island to meet up with Adam (UK dude from my Bohol Birthday Entourage) and two Irish girls he met earlier in his trip. After dinner on the beach, we made our way back to their hostel for an evening of cards and laughs. Who knew rummy in the UK is different than rummy in the US? 

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Wednesday’s sunset on Siquijor Island

Thursday (Thanksgiving) was my travel day back to Cebu. When a bottle of rum is $1, the mornings after tend to be a bit rough. One motorbike, two ferries and an Uber ride later, I made it to my hostel near the Cebu airport for the night. Friday morning I headed to the airport at 5am to catch my flight to Kuala Lumpur. The day went all downhill from there.

When I got to the ticket counter, the agent asked how long I was planning on staying in Malaysia. “I’m not sure yet…. at least 44 days, but maybe the full 90?” He asked for my onward ticket (flight out of the country) and I explained to him I hadn’t bought one yet as US citizens don’t need a flight out before entering Malaysia. I showed him the US Department of State’s website as well as the Malaysia website, trying to explain the rules are different for citizens of each country. With no progress being made, my flight leaving in 30 minutes, and him saying he would not allow me on the flight without an onward ticket, I booked a random flight through Expedia with a free 24 hour cancellation policy. I made it onto the flight, tired and less than happy.

Upon arrival in the KL airport, I stopped by the Hotlinks counter within the terminal to purchase a SIM card and data package. Their smallest data package was 35GB! I barely go through 1GB in a month. With a price of $12, I merrily went on my way to baggage claim and customs. As expected, the Malaysian customs didn’t ask for an onward ticket. They didn’t even ask where I was staying or how long I was planning to stay in their country for. The customs agent literally took my passport, stamped it, and said thanks.

After grabbing my baggage and heading for the scanning/x-ray part of customs, I realized the weight on my back was lighter than usual. No… no… no, no, no, no. I couldn’t have. Did I?! When I was buying my SIM card, I had set my stuff, including my laptop, down by my feet. I had also set my stuff down when waiting at baggage claim. So sometime between the SIM card and then, my laptop was gone. After explaining to a customs agent my situation, they allowed me to go back through customs and check at the Hotlinks counter. No sign of my laptop. I went back to baggage claim and again, no sign of my laptop. I checked with the airlines lost and found. Nothing. I made my way to the airport lost and found. Nothing. I filed a claim with them – wrote what happened and my contact information down in a notebook. Disheartened and frustrated with myself for being so careless, I abandoned the hour and a half train ride and instead called an Uber to take me to my hostel.

After getting checked in, it all hit me. If my laptop wasn’t turned in within an hour, the chances of getting it ever being turned in were slim to none. My pictures and videos weren’t backed up as I was planning on Barb bringing out my external hard drive. I had just bought the laptop one year ago to the day. All my travel notes and charts were gone. Purchasing a new laptop would be a big unexpected expense out of my travel fund. My cold was getting worse as it had turned into a deep, scratchy cough. I laid in bed and replayed that morning over and over in my head. Sometime that evening, I noticed one of the bites on my body was swelling and hot to touch (Back story – I got 17 bites on my body during my two and a half days in Siquijor). When I looked in the mirror, the bite area had swollen to the size of a softball. I can’t catch a break. Today is just not my day! I went to the pharmacy and was prescribed Clariton. I headed back to my hostel and was so mad at myself that I literally cried myself to sleep that night. Just an awful day.

While still disappointed in myself but starting to come to terms with the situation, I headed back to the airport for one more check before buying a laptop online while it was still Black Friday in the States. After checking on her computer for ten minutes, the elderly lady working the airport Lost and Found admitted she didn’t really know what she was looking for. “You can look through these pictures of things we found yesterday though.” After scrolling through pictures of purses, watches, and clothing, out popped a picture of my laptop!!!!!!! “This! This is my mine! This is my laptop!!!! This is what I’m looking for! It’s here?! Oh my gosh!” The lady smiled politely and went into the back to find it. When she brought it out to me, my smile was bigger than any time I was on a scooter, and again I shed some tears. When did I turn so emotional?! I don’t even care. My laptop is back!!!!! God is good! I wanted to hug the elderly lady, but I wasn’t sure if that was acceptable in their culture. I have no idea who turned it in or where they found it, but I hope the person wins the lottery or a new car or something because they have loads of good karma coming their way.

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Pure joy getting my laptop back!

After locking up my computer in my hostel locker, I headed to the mall to buy an external hard drive. That afternoon, I gleefully backed up all of my files. I chalked the day up to a win even with the bite swollen to more than half my bicep and began researching things to do while in Malaysia. Saturday evening, I met the owner of the dogs for happy hour on a functional heli-pad in the day and converted to a lounge with fantastic views of the city at night .

Sunday was spent in bed at the hostel all day as I fight to get over this cold and regain my energy level. But I don’t even care because my laptop is back!!!!!!

Things I learned in the Philippines

  • Different license plate numbers are restricted on certain days due to massive amounts of traffic in Manila. For example, on Mondays license plates ending in 1 or 2 are not allowed to operate. This is enforced for cars, taxis, and jeepneys.
  • Filipinos are very hospitable. They want to tell you all about their country and give recommendations on where to go.
  • People sit on banana leaves on scooters when the scooter is wet.
  • It is confirmed… Filipinos eat dog… if you have a good chef, you don’t know if it’s dog or goat. I think I’ll refrain from ever ordering goat.
  • Brand new motorbikes cost $1,000.
  • Electricity is a luxury here. Port Barton only gets electricity from 6pm-midnight. El Nido was promoted to 24 hours of electricity within the last year, but still experiences black outs. Boracay experiences black outs nearly every day around 5pm.
  • Kids go to school Monday – Saturday.
  • Frank Sinatra’s My Way song is believed to have a curse associated with it when sung in a karaoke bar.
  • An eagle is their national bird.
  • Seaweed tastes good. Squid tastes delicious. Bitter melon tastes disgusting.
  • When a bottle of rum cost the same as a bottle of Coke ($1), life gets a bit out of hand.
  • 29 days in the Philippines was not nearly enough. I will definitely return one day.

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    Sunset in the Philippine Sea during my ferry ride back to Cebu

 

Birthday Week in Bohol

On Monday, I caught a two-hour ferry to the island of Bohol. I had read about the unique ice cream flavors from Bohol Bee Farm so I decided to check them out. I had fourteen options, five of which were local flavors that to me didn’t really have a taste. I settled on one scoop of avocado (where else serves avocado ice cream??) and one scoop of salted honey. While the flavor of the avocado ice cream was spot on to the real thing, avocado is just not an ice cream flavor. The salted honey, on the other hand, was excellent! It was the perfect mix of sweet and salty. So much so, that I ended up indulging on it three more times this week.

Bohol Bee Farm Ice Cream

Bohol Fee Farm ice cream flavors

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Chocolate Hills

On Tuesday I rented a scooter and explored half of the island. First stop was Chocolate Hills. I wasn’t really expecting much because it was just a lookout over hills. I only went because it’s what Bohol is known for. I was pleasantly surprised with just how cool it was to look at these giant mounds for as far as the eye can see. Next I headed up to Anda Beach. The beach was white and pretty empty which was great. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to spend much time there because it was already 4pm and I had a little under a 2 hour drive back to my hostel.  The sun sets around 5:30pm and I had been warned it wasn’t exactly safe to drive a scooter at night (no street lights, animals and humans frequently crossing the road, poor road conditions, etc.). I turned my iPod on, found a road that hugged the coast for the whole return trip, and sang my little heart out. About 20 minutes into the trip, I caught myself unable to wipe the smile off my face. The immaculate views, fantastic tunes, and the wind in my hair – it was all so great! While I wasn’t able to make it back before dark (they were right, driving at night is awful), I was able to catch the whole sunset and it was so gorgeous!

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Tuesday night’s sunset

Wednesday was my chill out day. While researching some things I wanted to see during my time in Bohol, I started to chat with a lady from Chicago. She quit her marketing job two and a half years ago, rented out her apartment in Wrigleyville, and has been traveling the world ever since, solely on the money she makes from her apartment. It came up in conversation that she had hiked the Anapurna Circuit so I spent the next two hours dissecting her experience. It was nice to hear first-hand accounts of the trek as well as confirm some of my thoughts and research on what Flynn and I are about to get into.

My plan for Thursday was to chase waterfalls around the island. First stop was Mag-aso Falls. I knew the last part of the route was going to be on some back roads. While driving, the road started to get dicey…. As in sharp rocks practically cemented into the ground. Should I keep going? Maybe I’ll ask the next person I see if I’m on the right path. Just when I was about to turn around, I made it to the entrance gate! After descending 197 slippery concrete stairs, I made it to Mag-aso Falls! While it was nice to only have to share the destination with a family of four, the waterfalls weren’t as majestic as I was expecting.

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Mag-aso Falls

20171116_135515Next up was Ingkumhan Falls. Again, I was prepared for the last bit to be on back roads. And just like before, the road started to get dicey. Just keep going. All roads to waterfalls must be this way. Then, five cows emerged from the country-side and started walking on the road I was trying to drive on. Well that’s interesting. I wonder how they react to scooters. I’m either going to spook them or they are immune to these things. As I started to approach their backsides, a man emerged from the same spot as the cows. I honestly couldn’t tell if he was their owner or a homeless man. After coming to the conclusion that he didn’t speak English, and him giving me a blank stare when I tried to motion if it was ok for me to drive around the cows, I forged ahead. Turns out, the cows are desensitized to scooters.

As I continued along, the road turned really dicey. Sharper rocks, part of the road eroded away, a hefty drop off over the edge…. Do I keep going? I really don’t like where this is headed. Should I turn around? That man back there clearly won’t be able to help me if something happens. I think I’ve reached my stress level for the day. Yep, chalk this one up to a failure. After reaching defeat, I turned around, drove past the cows and the odd man, and then noticed my scooter wasn’t driving the same. After a quick inspection, I saw that my back tire was flat. With the exception of that weird dude, I haven’t seen another human being in quite some time. Looks like I’m going to have to walk the 8km back into town. After walking maybe 20m, two guys on a motorbike came around the bend. I frantically waved at them. “Help me?!”  They asked how long my tire had been flat for and then said one would drive it into town while I rode with the other one. Staying true to Filipino hospitality, they stopped their day to help me, waited until my tire was fixed and I was safely back on the road (even after I insisted I was ok and they could get back to their day), refused the money I offered them as a token of my gratitude, and offered to take me to the waterfalls on Saturday.

I was a beach bum during the day on Friday. That evening, I met some really awesome people at my hostel during the meet-and-greet activity. There was nine of us – two guys from the UK who were traveling together and then seven of us solo travelers who all just clicked. We went out on the town that night and my birthday was kicked off by a shot at the bar when the clock struck midnight.

Bohol (2)

My Bohol Birthday Entourage

Saturday… my birthday!!! I was up and on the road by 7am to meet Ago, the local who helped me with my flat tire. He took me to both Ingkumhan Falls and Twin Falls. Again, Ingkumhan Falls wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be thanks to over-edited photos online. Twin Falls was much better than expected and we had both places to ourselves since it was so early in the morning. That afternoon, I met up with my Bohol Entourage (our hostel group of 9 people). We went cliff jumping into the Philippine Sea and swam in Hinagdanan Cave. Yay for other thrill-seeking travelers! We caught the tail-end of the best sunset I’ve ever seen. Colors of orange and red light up the horizon and then turned into deep shades of ruby and purple. My birthday ended with another night on the town with my Bohol Entourage.

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Saturday night’s sunset.

By Sunday afternoon, everyone except Curl and I, had left to continue on with their individual Philippine journeys. It was crazy how much we all connected over the 48 hours together… you would have thought we had all been friends for 10 years. It was mix of nationalities spanning the whole world – UK, Germany, Brazil, Nicaragua, Philippines, Spain, and the US. Thank God, everyone (besides the UK boys and myself) were bilingual with English!

After saying the goodbyes, I sat down to write my blog. I was really struggling to put words on the page. It hurt my head to think… my thoughts were confusing and didn’t make sense. Something is not right…. Am I lethargic? That’s when I realized I was lacking sleep (I had slept a total of 6 hours the last two nights), fluids, and nutrients (I hadn’t eaten for 36 hours)…. you know… the basic necessities to life. I was having so much fun that taking care of these three life necessities never crossed my mind. I inhaled a pizza (yay for a nearby Italian restaurant!), slept from 5-9pm, made plans for the next morning with Curl (Filipina from my Bohol Entourage), and went back to bed from 9:30pm-6am.

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Jumping my way into the Philippine Sea and 29th year of life!

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Our little photo shoot inside Hinagdanan Cave

Adam’s First Southeast Asian Experience

Adam arrived late Sunday night. Prior to his arrival, we had decided I would meet him in the airport, near where drivers hold signs to pick up their passengers. When I got to the airport, I was told I couldn’t go inside because I didn’t have a visitors pass, which I was supposed to get three days earlier. That’s weird. People were allowed to walk freely into and out of Terminal 3 when I arrived. Guess things are different in Terminal 1. I wasn’t even allowed to be right next to the building. For those of your familiar with the Eppley Airport, it would be like having the security guards make you wait on the island between the parking garage and the airport. After explaining my brother had no phone access and he only knew to wait inside for me, I was able to sweet talk my way past barrier #1 (Eppley Airport island equivalent), but was shut down when I tried to get past barrier #2 (actually going inside the airport). There were two exits coming out of the airport so I had a 50/50 chance of getting it right. Fast forward an hour later, Adam comes strolling out! In that hour, he waited for me in our designated meeting spot, went out of the exit that I wasn’t standing at, back to our designated meeting spot, and then found me at the other exit. Later we realized all the delegates for the ASEAN conference were arriving in town that night so security was on high alert and a visitors pass is not a normal necessity. I should probably pay more attention to big events that are going on in each city that I’m in. 

Manila (3)

Our Manila AirBNB

While giving Adam the tour of our AirBNB, we got to the bathroom. I explained to him toilet paper cannot be flushed down the toilet and that he needs to use the sprayer to clean himself. “Are you kidding? That is just disgusting!” Fast forward to the next morning…

L: So how was your first bathroom experience?

A: That was pretty nice! It was like using a kitchen sprayer to clean dishes.

L: I must have spent too much time in Asia because that is a perfect description of the amenity, but it has never crossed my mind!

Monday was pretty relaxing as the only goal for the day was for Adam to beat jetlag. He hadn’t slept in 36 hours, but managed to go to bed and wake up at his usual time. How do you do this?! Jet lag hits me hard about 3-4 days in when I sleep for right about 24 hours and you knocked it the first night.

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Our redemption dinner

For dinner, Adam requested a Filipino restaurant. We found one 100 meters from our AirBNB and ordered pineapple chicken with rice. This should be a good intro meal to the Filipino cuisine. It. Was. Awful. The chicken was shaped like meatballs, but had about 25% meat and 75% bone shards. This was my second time ordering chicken in the Philippines and both times there were bone shards in it. Safe to say, I will not be ordering chicken while in this country. After giving up on the chicken and lack of pineapple, we gobbled down the rice but were obviously still hungry. On the walk back to our place, we stopped by a Hong Kong restaurant where I had eaten lunch the day before. We ordered Shanghai Rolls with rice and served with an orange duck sauce. Holy delicious! Yes, we both had two dinners and it cost us $12 total for the four meals.

El Nido (7)

Trike from El Nido airport

Tuesday morning we caught an Air Swift flight to El Nido on a 48-person prop plane. Air Swift is the only airline that flies into El Nido and the experience was great! We were given a goody bag in the Manila airport which consisted of ice cold water, ice cold orange juice, peanut butter bar, ube croissant (ube is a local root whose flavor is used in sweet recipes), and mixed nuts. The seats on the plane were spacious and comfortable. Our luggage was hand delivered to us.

After catching a trike from the airport to our hostel in El Nido, we left our bags with the receptionist and rented scooters to check out Nacpan Beach for the day. Adam was a bit nervous as he hadn’t driven one before. “Don’t go too fast until I figure this thing out.” That lasted all of 1km when we stopped to fill up our gas tanks. “This isn’t too bad. I’m ready now!”

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Adam rocking his pink scooter

We were warned ahead of time the last part of the road to Nacpan Beach was dirt and with the recent rains, pretty muddy but not impassable. We definitely underestimated the road. It was like a Class B dirt road in Iowa after three days of nonstop rain. Unfortunately, I did not get any pictures of it so my descriptions and your imaginations will just have to suffice. The road started out with just some muddy holes which were avoidable. That turned into the entire road being underwater but only for a few feet. Next up was a 50 degree downhill straight into a 60 degree uphill which was rutted out but still managed to have giant rocks in it. With 2km left to the beach, we encountered the worst part. The road was completely underwater for 40 yards. Um… should we just turn back now? This is getting ridiculous. We encountered two English girls who were walking back to their abandoned bike after spending the night on the beach. They gave us pointers on the best way through the water and assured us the beach was worth it. We successfully made it through the water and to Nacpan Beach… and it was so not worth it. While the beach was secluded, the waves were too strong for swimming, the sand was nothing to write home about, and the views weren’t spectacular. Maybe my expectations were too high because I just came from Boracay? After a quick lunch, we headed back to El Nido, checked into our hostel, and went out for dinner on El Nido Beach.

I ordered pancit which is a Filipino noodle dish and Adam ordered seafood pasta. He asked the waitress what kind of seafood was in it. She said “shrimp and squid” to which he replied, “I’ll take it.” Then he turned to me. “Last time I had squid was over 10 years ago and I got food poisoning. It’s probably safe to eat it again.” After dinner, we participated in the hostel’s beer pong tournament (aka shot pong with rum and coke) and went to bed early as we had a full day island hopping tour the next morning.

During breakfast, Adam said, “So let me tell you about my night…” Oh this should be good. I thought it was a pretty quiet night but maybe I slept through something??? Turns out, Adam is allergic to squid. He spent three hours in the communal bathroom, purging the squid out of his body. The communal bathroom which has both showers and toilet stalls. The communal bathroom which both guys and girls use. The communal bathroom where other hostel guests were brushing their teeth and getting ready for bed. It’s safe to say, he will never consume squid again.

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Small Lagoon

Our excursion Wednesday was island hopping around El Nido via boat. The scenery was phenomal. We went to three lagoons and two islands. Our first stop was at Small Lagoon. We were given the options to either kayak or snorkel/swim the lagoon. It’s been 11 years since I tried snorkeling. Let’s see if it still freaks me out. I snorkeled about 20 meters from our boat before confirming snorkeling is not for me. I’ll just swim the rest of the way. Wow, this is beautiful here. Ow! What did I just run into? Ow!! That hurts! While looking above the water, instead of down into the water, I managed to swim into a massive rock that had some coral on it. After swimming around Small Lagoon, we boarded our boat and I checked out my body. I cut up the inside of my ankle and had small abrasions on my upper thighs, wrist, and hand.

El Nido - Shimizu Island 5

Shimizu Island

Next up was Secret Lagoon. While helping one of our new friends over the rocks and towards the lagoon, Adam scraped up his shin. After boarding the ship and checking out his battle wound, one of our captains rushed over and gave him the 5-star First Aid treatment. They dried, cleaned, and put iodine over his wound. Where was this treatment 30 minutes ago?! Don’t worry, I only attempted to clean my wounds by rubbing on them in salt water. We ate lunch on Shimizu Island, boated through Big Lagoon, and grabbed some drinks on 7 Commandos Beach before heading back to El Nido.

Port Barton (2)On Thursday, we took a 12 passenger van to Port Barton. We turned off the main road and onto another dirt, more like mud, road for the last 23km. The road had short patches of pavement dispersed throughout. It had a hefty dropoff on one side for most of it. Some parts had eroded away to just a single lane. There was a lot of mud due to the recent rains. Something bad is about to happen. I can feel it. We’re either going to go over that dropoff and die or we’re going to get stuck. Sure enough, I heard a CLUNK and then we were stuck, high-centered in the mud. After 20 minutes of the boys rocking the van, putting rocks and pieces of wood near the tires to gain traction, our knight in shining armor arrived…. a Coca-Cola truck coming from Port Barton. The truck hooked their tow rope to our van and pulled us out.

Port Barton (3)

Coca-Cola truck to the rescue!

We all piled back into the van and that’s when it hit me… Adam and I just exposed our open wounds to standing muddy water that had who knows what in it. Bacteria…sewage runoff… whatever diseases the stray dogs carry….

While checking in to our beach cottage, I asked the front desk to use their First Aid kit. After showers, I played nurse to both of our wounds. I used their isopropyl alcohol in place of our hydrogen peroxide and iodine in place of our neosporin.

A: Who knew we needed to pack a First Aid kit while backpacking?

L: First aid kit….hmm…  Wait…. I did pack one!

A: Are you kidding me? We’ve been needing one for the last 24 hours and you just now remember you have one?!

To be fair… I had only packed it with the intent of needing it while Flynn and I hike the Anapurna Circle in April. More on these future plans later.

In the morning, we asked the front desk what we should do for a few hours before we were headed out that afternoon. They recommended Papawyan Falls and to arrange for a guide by talking to the man in the bamboo hut on the main road. Uh… every structure in town is a bamboo hut. We walked into a random bamboo hut and secured transportation. While waiting for our driver, we chatted with the man. He was the most hilarious Filipino I’ve met. The best part of our conversation was this:

Man: If you need entertainment while you wait, I can get my mother for you.

Adam: (laughs nervously)

Man: Haha. I’m olding you, I’m olding you! You know, like kidding, but you’re old.

Unfortunately, the road to the waterfall was impassable due to the previous night’s rainfall. Instead, we spent the morning being beach bums. There wasn’t much else to report on Port Barton as we only spent 21 hours there. We used it as a halfway point from El Nido to the Puerto Princesa Airport. It’s not a top tourist destination and the town only gets power from 6pm-midnight. No, that was not a typo. They only receive power for six hours a day. Our accommodation had a generator that provided electricity from 7am-6pm.

That afternoon, we took a 16 passenger van from Port Barton to Puerto Princesa where we caught an evening flight to Cebu which, aside from Manila, is the major hub of getting in and out of the Philippines. We checked into our AirBNB and headed to bed as we were getting picked up at 5am for our canyoneering excursion.

Saturday. Canyoneering excursion near Moalboal. Best. Excursion. Ever! Adam and I were fully prepared for another cramped 12 passenger van for the two hour drive from Cebu City to Moalboal and then a big group excursion. So we were blown away when we were picked up in a private SUV and had a private tour guide. After getting outfitted in our helmets, lifejackets, and aqua shoes, we hopped on the back of motorbikes and were driven about 10km into the countryside. From there, we had to hike 2km to the jump off point and then down into the canyon. There were other groups here, but we skipped ahead of them as they were moving slower. This made the experience even better because no one was hindering our speed and the water wasn’t kicked up. Over the next two hours, we swam, jumped off 10 cliffs, and hiked through the canyon. The tallest jump was 10 meters (30 feet). The scenery was remarkable; the jumps were a thrill; our guide was great and basically our personal photographer.

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Our final jump at 10 meters

That night, Adam boarded his plane back to reality and I started research on where to head to next. In reflecting on this last week, I would say Adam had a successful first backpacking experience. He claimed he would stay in a hostel again. He now realizes backpackers go out in t-shirts and shorts so there was no reason for him to pack polos and dress sandals. I think he may even convert all his toilets to sprayers, he enjoyed it that much. He became an expert at strategically packing his backpack for easy access on our one night accommodations. He quickly learned the lingo of meeting other backpackers – what’s your name, where are you from, how long are you traveling? Similiar to AIM’s a/s/l days (age, sex, location), I like to view this as the modern day traveler’s n/l/t (name, location, time).

So what are my future plans? Tomorrow (Monday), I am taking a ferry down to Bohol and Siquijor islands where I will spend my remaining 12 days in the Philippines. I will take a ferry back to Cebu City and catch my flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on November 24. I secured my first international dogsit in KL and will be watching two dogs from November 27 – December 4 and then again from December 14-January 2. Barb will visit me in Malaysia over her Christmas break from December 23 – January 6. My January and February are unplanned. If I like Malaysia, then I will stay for the full extent of my 90 day visa. If I’m over Malaysia in those 44 days, then I’ll head someplace else. On March 8, I will meet up with my friend, Flynn, in Cambodia. We will spend two weeks in Phenom Penh and Siem Reap before heading to Nepal to trek the 140km Anapurna Circle for three weeks.