It’s been eight weeks, seven destinations and a whole country since you last heard from us and people are beginning to wonder if we are ok, or if maybe we’ve thrown in the towel on this whole blog thing. First of all, we are doing great and have just recently settled into a lovely little apartment in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where we plan to live for the next 3 months.
Secondly, we have many things we want to share with you, we are in no way quitting our blog, however, we have this overriding commitment that for the next year we live free of shoulds. You know, you should write about that for the blog, you should send your mom a postcard, you should take a shower todayand all other variations of that theme. We’ve given ourselves permission to do whatever we want, and well, we didn’t want to work on a post, so we didn’t. But, now I feel like there is so much we haven’t told you, I’m not even sure where to start. We were completely charmed by Indonesia and when we left, we did so reluctantly, only after research revealed that it would be impossible to renew our visas for an additional 30 days. With no choice but to go, we exchanged a vow to return someday, and boarded a plane for Malaysia.
When we landed in Kuala Lumpur, Adrian was recovering from a bronchial infection, the result of various volcano treks and the city smog of Yogyakarta, so we spent the first week eating takeout from nearby cafes and editing through the truckloads of photos we’ve taken (we live a very documented life!). We ventured out a time or two to visit the ‘must see’ twin towers and Chinatown, but mostly, we relaxed and we ate – and then we ate some more.
I’d be lying if I said that I loved KL, I didn’t. I found the city to have an edginess to it, the people, like in many large cities, on guard and ready to score an extra Ringgit off of you at the drop of a hat. We were overcharged, tricked and misled on several occasions and I felt myself putting up walls and going into defense mode. After two weeks, healthy and somewhat irritable, it was time to go.
We took my first (and maybe my last) overnight, so-called ‘sleeper train’ to the east coast hoping to catch some sun before monsoon season claimed the islands. Perhentian Kecil offered a lovely, relaxing beach with perfect, playful waves, one of the most amazing snorkeling experiences I’ve ever had and an unforgettably nasty bout of bacteria that had me projectile vomiting at 3am, the night before we were meant to leave on the 8am transfer boat. I literally couldn’t stomach the thought of getting on a fast boat so we extended our stay and moved from our simple bungalow to a hotel with an air conditioner so I could recover (be miserable) in comfort. So much for the money we’d saved on budget bungalowing. Two days later, once again healthy and ready to escape the downpours that had become a daily norm, we headed west.
Our next stop, Cameron Highlands, was stunning. Sprawling hills of vibrant green tea plantations, topped with crisp, cloudy blue skies, rolled on and on across the expansive horizon. Despite my many attempts, I found it impossible to capture a photo that really does the beauty justice.
Our arrival coincided with the Chinese festival of “Jiu Wang Ye” or Nine Emperor Gods Festival celebrated by the Chinese community all throughout SE Asia. I won’t try to explain it because even after personally witnessing it (and googling it many times), I still don’t understand it. But oh, was it interesting?! We witnessed young men gyrating around in trance-induced states, striking themselves with knives and scratching their heads like monkeys. One man had his face pierced with a pitchfork and practically the whole community walked across fiery coals, some with toddlers in tow. The festivities ended with “Gangham Style” blasting through loudspeakers as a man fired off several huge boxes of fireworks near the edge of the crowd. The whole thing was rather bizarre and a little creepy, but absolutely fascinating.
Georgetown, Penang was our next move and we were there for one delicious week. We strolled through Little India, toured the Blue Mansion, enjoyed street food with new friends, watched local singers perform choppy renditions of Adele while drinking celebratory beers at the Red Garden, and had a chance meeting with a couple from Texas who extended a kind offer to let us stay on their boat, in Langkawi, our final Malaysian destination.
I’ve never slept on a boat before (aside from a huge cruise ship), I was unprepared for the effect it would have on me. At some point during the night, I climbed out of the cabin to sleep on the deck, where the cool breeze numbed my nausea. I rocked and swayed through breakfast the following morning, despite the fact that we were on solid land. Needless to say, it was our last night on the boat.
We rented a car to explore the whole island and I read the map and gave directions while Adrian remembered to drive the car on the left side of the road. Our brilliant plan to visit the islands’ most expensive resorts, and consequently their beaches, proved to be a good one. We passed quietly and inconspicuously through the lobby of the Four Seasons and marveled at the pristine, combed beach we had all to ourselves.
Stunning beaches and panoramic views from the top of Mount Mat Cinchang aside, the highlight of Langkawi, was the music festival. We happened to be in town for the second annual Langkawi Live, a music festival promoting environmental education. For two consecutive nights we lay beneath the stars and relished in the talent of some of Malaysia’s finest musicians. When a song would end and the clapping would still, the gently crashing waves would fill the silence; it was heaven.
Upon arrival in Malaysia we were given a free 90-day visa, generous compared to the 30-day given by Thailand and Indonesia. We were happy to have the flexibility it offered, you never know when you’ll fall in love with a place and want to stay, right? Well, we didn’t. Not to say we didn’t have a good time or enjoy our visit, we did, but six weeks was enough and I was eager to hit the islands of Thailand.
Koh Lipe is incredibly beautiful and a week went by in no time. We found a bar showing Monday Night Football (at 9am) and Adrian cursed violently as he cheered on his Fantasy Football players, I ate my weight in delicious green curry, Adrian befriended every dog between our place and our preferred beach spot, I received Thai counting lessons from an adorable nine year old, we drank entirely too much rum with our British friends, had the best club sandwich we’ve eaten since we left home and, last but not least, we celebrated the re-election of our president. It was fabulous.
After six months of being together all. the. time, we left Koh Lipe, headed in different directions. Adrian flew to Bangkok to spend time with one of his buddies that was passing through Thailand, and he hadn’t seen in years. I accompanied our British friends on the ferry to Koh Lanta, our next beach destination. Here’s what I learned from our week apart: it’s really nice to miss him. That’s not something I experience very often since we do most everything together. And when I say ‘most everything’ I really mean everything, except bathroom business and, even that line gets blurry on occasion, and while he is my favorite person to spend time with, I know there are times that I take him for granted. So, it was nice to cross the busy road alone, knowing that if Adrian were with me he would grab my hand, say ‘c’mon’ and protectively lead me across. Of course, I don’t need him to do that, I can cross the street on my own, thankyouverymuch. But, I love this gesture. I love the way he takes it upon himself to look out for me, the way he reaches his hand over to find me without ever taking his eyes off the road and grabs on to me tightly until he knows we’re safely on the other side. Crossing the street, like everything else, is just not the same without him.
We spent another five days in Koh Lanta after Adrian joined me. We lounged on a lazy beach, drank cold Singha as the fire throwers entertained and witnessed some of the most remarkable sunsets I’ve ever seen. To be honest, by this time, we really wanted to share some things with you but it’s very difficult to be productive at the beach. Maybe it’s just me but I go into complete ‘vacation mode’: overeating, over drinking, oversleeping and mentally checking out. I knew we would soon be in Chiang Mai and we’d get you all caught up then.
So here we are, in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where after a week of frustrating searches we found the perfect apartment, located in a small neighborhood mostly devoid of ‘farangs’ (Thai word for foreigners) and just a short walk from the city center. We have our own little kitchen, a rooftop patio and a wall full of windows through which you can view our neighborhood against the backdrop of Doi Suthep Mountain.
It’s beautiful and I feel at home here. There is something about knowing we will be here for the next three months that sets my mind free. No strategic thoughts about where to go next, where we will stay or how we will get there. I feel settled, and after several months on the go, it’s a welcome change.