Monday, 30 December 2013

A draft of a post I wrote in Malaysia, now posted (though 18 months late)

Well, I have no good reason for delaying this post by 10 days. I'll try and go for heat stroke in Kolkata, exhaustion from the flight, surprise from Kuala Lumpur and more tiredness from an all night stay up dash to Penang, followed by a cramped cross border journey into Thailand, and then utterly mesmerised by sun, sand and beer.

Wow. Now I really feel bad leaving it so long. Time to cast my mind back to 10 days ago, as we sped back down the mountains to rejoin a sensible air temperature. We climbed aboard the Toy Train for the journey, which had foot wide tracks and a twisting journey along the side of the road. Gorgeous views from the carriages that my camera miserably failed to capture. If you blow the pictures up big, you may see some of the details of the far reaching view, but not much. A shame really.

Kolkata was a shock. We had gone from 15 degrees to 40 in a day. Sweat dripped in places it has not gathered for many a month and by the time we reached a hotel, it was like I had just had a shower. We stayed in Hotel Timestar, a better option of the unattractive budget hotels in Sudder Street, the 'budget' area of Kolkata. Still cost us 525 rupees a night, but had cheerful receptionists and was clean, and we were tired.

Sooner than we thought, it was time to board the taxi (250 rupees, don't let 'em screw you over) to the airport, and all of a sudden we realised we were leaving India. For 2 months we had crossed this great country, and we had seen so much, done so many things, experienced a country that takes no prisoners. For two weeks, we had flitted through Nepal, though I spent half of it in bed, and the other half recovering. We had been from the beaches of Goa to the Himalayan mountainside, drinking tea. It had been quite a journey, but knowing it wasn't over, just moving to another country, made it bearable.

Malaysia was like falling from the fire into a blissful caress of water. Civilisation, air con buses, tarmac covered roads and traffic lights were a welcome sight, and all of a sudden we relaxed just a little, knowing that nothing would be as stressful and tough as India had been for that time!

Kuala Lumpur was like most cities. Busy, noisy and full of shops. But the night life was spectacular, and munching on fresh barbequed meat and seafood as we soaked in the atmosphere of the people continuing after the sun went down was amazing. It was the kind of scene I was looking for when I left all those months ago. We wandered back to our overpriced hotel (I stick to my rule of having a hotel booked after an international flight) and tried to sleep off the time change. Both of us had ended up staying awake all night after the flight, the time difference taking me to 6AM before I was tired, and then the smell of coffee called me forth.

Still, the bus up to Thailand was worse. We still hadn't adjusted to the time difference (there was no window in the room, which didn't help), so when we had to get up at 5AM for it, we didn't bother sleeping. Still, I'm getting ahead of myself. Penang first.

Our Lonely Planet was singularly unhelpful when it came to Malaysia. We have the 'South East Asia on a Shoestring' version, which in order to stay within its set pages, needs to only write a very small amount of info on each place. Better to buy one book for each country, or exchange them along the way. We decided to visit Penang, but after that had no idea what we wanted to do, so decided to head to Thailand. We both knew we wanted to hit up the islands on the coast; so that's what we did.

An early wake up, a cramped mini van (think extended people carrier for 9) and a very speedy journey along the highway. Just before the border we pulled into a transfer station of sorts and paid a ringgit each to have entrance cards printed. The border was surprisingly painless. The mini van drivers use your bags to cover up a large amount of produce they smuggle across the border from Malaysia, so expect to have your bag squished in with half the room it really deserves. As you reach the Malaysia border for your stamp out, you just jump out, join the queue, they stamp you and you clamber back into the van again for the short drive to the Thai border. Here is a slightly longer wait, but just as simple and then you're through and back into the van once more. From here, it's onto the transport hub of Hat Yai, inconveniently placed in the 'DO NOT TRAVEL' section of Thailand. Still, we weren't there long. Just enough time to pick up some more people (taking us to -1 seats) and then we were off again to Krabi.

On the bus, we met a guy named Grant, who happened to be working on Kho Phi Phi (our destination) as a diving instructor. Armed with someone who knew the route to the ferry, we bought our tickets and boarded our boat out into the lilac blue sea.

Phi Phi is your standard resort. Drunk tourists and expensive hotels. Not really a place I would recommend, too noisy and package holiday for me. Still, a good jump off place to visit 'The Beach' and have a few cocktails next to the sea.

For now, we've decided to head for Koh Phangan, which is on the opposite side of Thailand. Hoping to pass my scuba diving test there, as a birthday present for me. Will try and update from there.

Thanks for reading!

Andy

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