The Beach and Bangkok

Ok, we've been in Laos for ten days and I am finally getting around to posting about our time in Thailand! Here's a bit about the first half of our 20 day trip…

After a quick overnight stop in Krabi Town, we set off for a relaxing few days on the Andaman Sea. Though not an island, Railay Beach is still only accessible by boat. The iconic karst cliffs that cut off Railay from the mainland are formed through the erosion of limestone and can be found throughout the region. We waited around the dock until another backpacker joined us to share a longtail boat to Railay.

We came just after the high season, so while we had more rainy afternoons, there were also smaller crowds and cheaper accommodations. The coast was probably the most expensive part of our Thailand trip. We splurged and stayed at the Avatar Railay Resort. A splurge for our budget was $45/night. In real vacation terms it was a total steal and the pool alone was well worth it. Railay is tiny (the walk from East Railay to West took 4 minutes) but there is still a lot to do. Beside relaxing by the pool or on the beach we rented kayaks and spent two nights hanging out at Kamar Bar where the wildly entertaining owner Ning had us laughing all night.

On our last full day, we went on a Phi Phi Islands Tour. We snorkeled, swam in an absolutely stunning lagoon and stopped for a photo op at Maya Bay where the movie The Beach was filmed.

From the beach we took a night bus from Krabi to Bangkok. On our first day we hit up some of the quintessential sightseeing spots like the famous temples Wat Pho and Wat Arun. These temples are across the river from one another so there is a ferry that runs between them every couple of minutes.

Our first night in Bangkok we walked around the famous backpacker area Khoasan Road. Right next to Khoasan Road is the street Soi Rambuttri. Soi Rambuttri is basically a older, tamer version of Khoasan Road. For example, Khoasan Road is where you go to see young drunk people get stupid tattoos on the street. On Soi Rambuttri, the 30s crowd is still knocking back Chang beers, but they at least get their tattoos inside actual parlors.

We also explored several Bangkok markets and night markets, visited the Jim Thompson house, and even went to a free Sunday taping of Muy Thai boxing at the Chanel 7 Stadium. My favorite meal in Bangkok was seafood barbecue at the Ratchada Night Market. It was basically a Thai-style Louisiana boil. They dumped a pile of saucey seafood on our table and handed us each a pair of plastic gloves. No utensils required.

Next up… we take a Thai cooking class, play with elephants and learn to ride motorbikes in Northern Thailand! Stay tuned…

Malaysia, Food Paradise

I need to get a lot better at posting on the blog! At this point I’m one country and about twenty days behind updating what we’re up to in real-time.

On June 13th we headed north from Singapore for a 12 day stint in Malaysia. We went from the concrete jungle of Kuala Lumpur to the actual jungle of Taman Negara. We also visited Melaka and Georgetown, two of Malaysia’s UNESCO world heritage cities. All in all I’d say Malaysia was a culinary delight.

Melaka. Melaka/Malacca fell under Portuguese, Dutch and British rule and so is a hodge podge of colonial influence that is visible in the architecture and historical sites around town. We walked around the historic downtown, saw the iconic Christ Church, Jonker Walk and fort ruins. Our guesthouse, Cafe 1511, was just a block from Jonker Walk within the world heritage area and was actually part of the Baba and Nonya Peranakan Museum. Peranakan people are of mixed Chinese/Malay decent and have distinct food and culture. The Baba and Nonya house tour, a highlight from our trip, was through the old house of a wealthy Peranakan family. The third house connected to the complex (what was the servants house) is now Cafe 1511 and where we stayed. We ate chicken & rice balls at Chung Wah Chicken Rice and Laksa, a traditional peranakan dish, at Calanthe Art Cafe two nights in a row.

Kuala Lumpur. Our food journey continued in Kuala Lumpur. We spent 3 of our 5 nights in KL at the Jalon Aloor night market. We had everything from noodle dishes and stir fried veggies to dim sum and chinese chicken wings. Desert was just as good too. I had pandan layer cake and Ryan got his favorite SE Asian treat called cendol. Cendol is a mix of little worm-like green rice flour things with red beans, syrup and coconut milk over shaved ice. We explored Petaling Street and the 1920s Art Deco Central Market. On the museum front, the only one I recommend is the Museum of Islamic Art. This gorgeous building overlooks the dome of the National Mosque and is absolutely stunning. My favorite sections was all about mosque architecture around the world and the museum paid special attention to Malay, Chinese and Indian Islamic art as these are the three main ethnic groups in the country.

Taman Negara. On to the jungle! We took a 3 night, 2 day trip to Taman Negara and learned that the words “taman negara” literally mean “national park” in Malay. After a 3 hour van ride and a 3 hour boat ride we got to the park. We stayed at a place called Han Rainforest Resort. All the accommodations, apart from one fancy resort, are across the river from the park itself in a small town called Kuala Tahan. Whenever we wanted to get into the park itself we had to take a little boat ferry across the river. We went on a night walk in the jungle. This was pretty tame (lots of tour groups and lights and we walked only on the boardwalk section of the park within the resorts boundaries) but we still got to see some creepy crawlies like centipedes and scorpions out at night. We did the Canopy Walk and hiked around the jungle. You may be wondering, are there leeches in the jungle? The answer is yes and I felt like I had to stop every 5 minutes to freak out about it. That afternoon we also went on the much advertised “rapid shooting” tour. This amounted to our tour company taking us on a 45 minute ride up and down the river and rocking the river boat to make sure we all got soaked. In all sincerity it was a ton a fun.

Penang. Georgetown, Penang is another UNESCO heritage old town, a foodie destination and the street art capital of Malaysia. We originally wanted to take the train to Penang from KL, but because our travel coincided with the last days of Ramadan, all the trains were booked with people traveling for the holidays. Sightseeing on the island included a little self guided walking tour of Georgetown’s historic landmarks and a trip up to Penang Hill. Penang Hill sort of has the vibe of a roadside tourist trap. You can buy heart shaped balloons from a scary clown and visit an “owl museum” that is targeted at little kids. As far as I could tell was basically a room full of owl images and stuffed animals. We didn’t do either of these things, however, I always find a funicular ride enjoyable, and the views from the top were beautiful. Our food journey continued with more satay, Char Kway Teow, and Wan Tan Mee. We also had breakfast two days in a row at Zim Sum Restaurant. Dim Sum for breakfast? That’s right! The place was absolutely packed, the food was delicious and we got to try loads of new stuff from the self service area.