31 December 2012

Happy 2013!

So it seems to be 2013. We spent the new year's eve mostly sitting inside and listening at the rain. Luckily the evening turned out a bit nicer, and we got to have excellent dinner at one of our favourite restaurants and to down to the beach to see people set off wish lanterns (we sent out two ourselves) and shoot firework. It was a nice and relaxed evening, but we were thinking fondly of the awesome party we had last year with our friends in Berlin. Next year we'll do it again, for sure!

But yes, 2013. Where did the old year go? It seems like we came to Thailand only a short while ago and we're already more than halfway through our trip. Wow, time really does fly. On the other hand we're getting more homesick by the day and find ourselves fantasizing about homey, Berlin-ey things. Oh well,  once we actually return home, I'm pretty sure we'll miss everything that we have here on our island: the hammock, the sea, the warm weather, wearing flip flops every day. But the bugs and sleeping with a mosquito net, that will not be missed!

A good remedy for home sickness is constant movement, and we're going to get busy with that starting next Saturday. First we'll have to empty out our little house and pack up everything. No, we're not being kicked out, but as we weren't quick enough to tell our landlady that we'd like to stay longer, she had already rented out our cottage to someone else 10.1-2.2... Bummer!

But then it's off to Bali for a vacation/visa run and Kuala Lumpur a couple of days in transit (and staying and working in the same hotel as last time). Then we're changing houses and staying in a new cottage close to the main village Thong Sala for three weeks. After that we're coming back to the cottage for a month 2.2-2.3 and then we have a month to go, which we will probably spend on Koh Samui as we'll need to extend our visas anyway. And then... back home! Ooh I really hope that the weather will already be nice and springy when we return.

But for now, happy new year to everyone, next post will probably be from Bali! Yay for Ubud :)


Edit: Oh, I almost forgot to mention: I have a new knitting/baking/misc project blog called Wonky but with love. Check it out! :)

11 December 2012

A day in the life

...also known as some photos of quite normal things from our little tropical paradise. Some with stories, some without.


It's always good to start with a cat. This little sweetie decided that our balcony was a nice location for a nap and she stayed with us for a couple of days. We didn't feed her a lot so that she wouldn't get used to getting food from us and then starve when we left, but she did enjoy an occasional dog treat (which we bought to try to make peace with the not-overly-friendly guard dogs around here but haven't been able to get close enough to give them the treats yet). But then S got too allergic and we had to say bye bye to Maukka the cat. Boo for allergies!

Then onto a somewhat more humid business: the monsoon. It has treated us pretty well so far and we've only had one cold and rainy week so far (touch wood...). When it rains, it rains so hard that you have to wear headphones to listen to music while working. It rains so hard, that the long eaves aren't nearly enough to keep our balcony dry. Luckily we have the curtains to block off some of the balcony from the downpour.




Oh look, a sneak peek of our christmas deco!


Can you spot another piece of deco here? Also note the grandma-styled pillow case. Totally Thai!

As the local tap water isn't potable, our drinking water comes from these big fellows. 30 baht a pop (less than an euro), each 30 l tank lasts us about a week. The appreciation for potable tap water has again risen hundredfold... 


I'm a bit ashamed to admit that we really don't cook that much, as the lovely Thai ladies do so much better a job with it and eating out is really cheap. There is still of course some food for breakfast and lunch in the house. Just took some photos just for the fun of it :)



Lovely fresh fruit are of course always available. Yum!


We do love our little summer cottage but we've been thinking that it might be nice to upgrade to something air conditioned and a bit spacier for the last two months of our trip. We've gone to see a couple of options but as it is high season, everything is ridiculously expensive, and as we told in the earlier house hunting post, there seems to be a gap between the normal houses and the super luxurious villas that cost a fortune. So, it might be that we'll stay here and maybe go to Samui for the last month. We'll see...

The half way marker of our trip has come and gone and I feel it's time to reflect on what we miss from back home. It would be wrong to say we don't feel homesick. We do, but not because we don't like it here, but because now, after being away for a while, we realize what truly is important for us and what makes our life in Berlin so lovely. Our bug-free apartment, kitchen with its utensils and appliances, friends, the possibility to bake and do crafts (knitting! decorating!), fast internet... there's more, but these seem the most important ones. And Christmas... Don't even get me started. I'm such a huge fan of Christmas and all that goes along with it that it has been quite hard to just read of all the lovely things and preparations for the holidays people are doing. Christmas markets! Making gifts! Decorating the house! Well, there's always next year to catch up on all the Christmassy things that have been lacking this year. I still didn't think it would be this much of an issue. Live and learn, I guess.

In order to catch at least some Christmas cheer I have been able to pull off some meager Christmas decorations. Thank you Tesco for your bright-coloured baubles and lights. Not quite in my taste but hey, beggars can't be choosers, and we're doing it in colourful Thai style this year :)



Oh and we also have this lovely Christmas orchid. Well, technically it's just a normal orchid but as it's blooming in December I have given it a new name.





With these photos I'd like to wish everyone who's followed us with our journey a lovely, peaceful and joyful Christmastime (and a stressfree preparation for it ;)). 

Waterfalls

Last weekend we took advantage of the rainfall we'd been having and decided to go see, if the Phaeng waterfall would have turned from a trickle to a stream. It had indeed, and so had the numerous other waterfalls along the path. S was still recovering from his cold so we didn't trek the whole route, but decided to take the easy (debatable...) way straight up to the viewpoint. Needless to say, the tight skirt and flip flops weren't the correct attire for such a climb, but we made it nevertheless. The views were cool but the waterfalls even cooler. And it was great to see some locals enjoying the newly formed pool. Here's some fotos from the day:













16 November 2012

Penang and Kuala Lumpur

After Cameron highlands we continued our way to the coast and the island of Penang. Let's just make it clear, that when I say "island", I'm expecting not to see sky scrapers or constant traffic jams. I'm expecting not to choke on exhaust fumes all the time. I'm expecting that there will be a decent possibility to go and soak your toes in the sea, if you're so inclined. Well, sadly Penang managed to fill all the no-no's and not to deliver on the good aspects.

Not my idea of an "island"

We'd booked a room in Georgetown, at Moon tree 47. The place was somehow very Berlinesque, cozy and small. The room was tiny and we shared the toilet and shower with other guests, but that wasn't a huge bother, as there were 3 rooms in the hostel and we rarely saw anyone else. As it would turn out, the guesthouse was the only thing that we didn't have that many complaints about.

Chinatown... no, wait, it was Georgetown

Oh Penang, what should I say? You were hugely underwhelming. Noisy streets with constant traffic jams, not a lot to see or do (if you're not into shopping in huge malls or buying saris and other Indian clothing) and just all in all somehow very unappealing. Getting around was difficult as the buses (that ran seemingly without any schedule) and taxis were constantly stuck in the traffic jam.

As all the reviews seem to be raving about the food in Penang, we though that at least we could sit somewhere and stuff ourselves with excellent dishes. Well, naah. Don't take me wrong, we did eat good food, but I wouldn't say there was anything special about it: all the same things could be found in other, nicer locations as well.

Too much of everything and traffic jam pt. 1

So what's there to do in Penang? Apart from shopping at huge malls, not much. There's an authentic hawker stall food market on Gurney Drive which is supposedly the place to be in the evening, and we did manage to get there on our last evening after giving up on the idea of getting up on Penang hill (couldn't get there, too much traffic). Yeah, the food was good, but again, would I recommend Penang just for that? No way.

Hawker food

To be fair, we did manage to find one nice cafe/restaurant on the same street as our guesthouse, and there were two nice buildings along the seaside. But we still just had to leave for Kuala Lumpur a day ahead of schedule as I couldn't take trying to dodge cars and breathing exhaust fumes anymore. Yes yes, I knew that it would be even worse in KL, but at least there it was expected as it's such a huge city.

Traffic jam, pt. 2

The miracle of an empty street


Georgetown

Nice building #1

Nice building #2

To sum up Penang: Was it all bad? Well, no. Would I go again? No. Would I recommend it? No. That's that.

So we took the (surprisingly not ice-cold) bus and drove to KL. As we arrived one day ahead of schedule, we of course didn't yet have a booking at our hotel of choice, Furama Bukit Bintang. A bit travel weary, running a light fever and anxious to just go get a decent shower (the idea of changing clothes would've been nice as well, but as the laundry place in Penang decided that our laundry wasn't worth doing, we didn't really have that much clean to wear). So after hearing that there was only an executive suite available and the hotel was otherwise fully booked (it was Saturday evening...) I decided to splurge for the night and took the room. It wasn't huge or very luxurious, but it had a separate bedroom and a decent desk which came in handy as then plan was to work the whole week, and it turned out that the hotel people were kind enough to let us stay in the same room although we only paid for a normal deluxe room for the rest of our stay. And it had the *best shower in the world*. I kid you not, I've never experienced a nicer shower. Seriously!

Our digs

Our digs #2


Lovely, wide bed and even lovelier pillows <3

Posh toilet and the most awesome shower ever

So as we were now treated like important, wealthy people for the one night, we went to take advantage of the complimentary cocktail and snacks lounge up in the 25th floor. The food was really good, drinks and wine tasty and the view was extremely nice. It sure would be cool to be rich all the time ;).

Executive nibblies



Spot the Cameron highlands strawberries in the background

Weird Petronas/restaurant reflection combo

Dinner with a view

The KL week for us was slotted for work, so we didn't really do much. I went and saw a dentist as I thought it'd be wiser to get my cavity fixed there than on Koh Phangan, and was treated very well indeed on a clinic in Petaling Jaya. I also drove somewhere quite far with a taxi to go and shop at this tiny crafts store that I'd found in the internet. Of course I then randomly stumbled upon a similar shop at a nearby shopping mall two days after... We didn't do clothes shopping here either, although that seemed to be the thing most people did, as it was raining most of the time. We didn't even get to go see the Petronas towers up close as it was raining heavily on all the nights that we had plans to go there...

The highlight of my KL experience were Body Combat and Body Balance classes at a Fitness First studio. God, I'd missed that! Even though it was the loudest Combat class ever (small, echoing room, shouting instructor, bad mike and low-quality speakers), it was the most awesome thing in a short while, sportswise. And there was a sauna! Bliss.

This it what residential KL mostly looks like

Petaling Jaya looked quite nice

Testing the new wide-angle lens

To top it all, I nearly missed my flight back home as I idiotically didn't check if there was a different terminal/airport for the low cost airlines like Air Asia that I was flying. Needless to say there was, and after a frustrating taxi ride to the KLIA airport (the driver took a wrong turn twice. On a motorway with clear signs. How is that even possible?) I of course found out that I was at a wrong place. I was supposed to be at LCCT (low cost carrier terminal). I only had 20 ringit left and I was sure that I'd not be able to afford a taxi, so I found a bus, sat down and bit my nails and prayed fervently for it to take off. It did eventually, just to bump into a car in a roundabout close to my terminal. As I was almost sure that the check-in had already closed and I had literally no time to spare, I left the driver to sort things out with the car owner, jumped out of the bus in the middle of the roundabout and hitchiked into a taxi where this lovely lady graciously agreed to let me accompany her to the terminal (and didn't even take any money for it!). Of course the check-in was already closed, but there were luckily kind people coming my way from left and right that day, and the check-in lady took my bag and delayed the flight for my sake. It was supposed to be delayed only for 30 minutes but in the end it left 3 hours late... But I did manage to get back to the island and didn't even get eaten by our vicious guard dogs on my way up our hill. Pheew!

The favourite Malaysian past time: shopping

So all in all, KL didn't become our favourite city, and although we didn't dislike it as much as Penang, I don't think we'll go back unless we need to stay overnight in transit. The people in Malaysia were really nice and  friendly though, so maybe some more rural areas would be worth checking out.

29 October 2012

Cameron Highlands

Time flies by when you're enjoying yourself, they say. This was certainly true for us – the first two months of island bliss had come and gone, and it was time to start packing for the first visa run. Destination: Malaysia. So we said bye to our lovely home and the scooter, arranged the plants so that they'd hopefully get some water and still be alive when we return, took a taxi to Thong Sala and soon we were watching Koh Phangan get smaller and smaller behind the Raja ferry. Even though the idea of a short holiday in a new place was nice, it was still comforting to know that in two weeks I'd be back (S a bit later), swinging in the hammock and waging war against ants.

The first pit stop in our Malaysian journey was still in Thailand, as we had to spend a night in Surat Thani. We reached the mainland after an uneventful 2,5 h ferry journey and rode another hour on the bus from Don Sak, where the big Raja ferry docks, before reaching our destination. There isn't much to say about the town – tourists go there in order to go somewhere else. There was a nice night market, though, where we enjoyed a very delicious Pad Thai, some very Asian-tasting super sweet lime drink and a couple of pretty interesting coconut cakes, one of which decided to spill its piping hot innards right on my shirt. Nice.

A random tempel in a transit city

So the following day there was more travelling to do: first a bus ride to Surat Thani airport, then a short flight to Kuala Lumpur followed by more sitting on the bus. First we made our way to KL center and managed to find the Puduraya bus station after some head-scratching. Until now I've never undestood why some people find the subway confusing, but after the signage, or lack of them, in KL, I now know why. Then the task was to find the correct counter on the bus station, which was also more baffling than any building I'd ever been before. Luckily there was a helpful dude to take us to the ticket counter floor. So hey Kuala Lumpur, you'd better improve your game before we return, as the first impression really wasn't all that awesome.

But we managed to get our tickets, got on the bus and were on our way to Tanah Rata in Cameron highlands. The trip took about 4,5 freezing hours (the temperature in any public transport in Asia never ceases to amaze me. Word of advice: you can't pack too many warm clothes/scarves in your carry-on luggage) and we stepped off the bus to a surprisingly busy Tanah Rata main street. We had unknowingly stumbled upon a super high peak weekend as a muslim holiday of some kind was taking place, but we were lucky enough to still find a room (although a more expensive family room) in 8 Mentigi guest house that I'd found in P├Ąde's blog

Our digs

So what's there to do in Cameron highlands? Well, first off, you can puzzle over the weirdness of the place. The temperature is like Finnish summer (the two weeks when it's actually warm ;)) and there are conifers growing peacefully beside the palmtrees:


 The buildings look like you could be somewhere in the Alps:


There's scones and tea to be had in the cafes, so now you'd think you were in England:



But you're still on Malaysian soil. When you get over the strangeness of it all, you can for example go see the views on Gunung Brinchang, the second-highest mountain in Malaysia (2000 m), taste the local strawberries (there're a gazillion farms everywhere), drink the local Boh tea and go see the tea plantations, or hike on some jungle trails. Or gorge yourself on some superbly excellent Indian food (go to a place called Kumar's. You won't regret it and neither will your wallet)

... or have some herb brew and dessert in Dynasty Tang house of dessert.

We decided to do a couple of tours with Cameron Eco Tours, which really paid off, as the tour guide was a biologist and told us loads about the jungle plants. We went to see the views from Gunung Brinchang, visited the mossy forest and took photos of butterflies on a butterfly farm on the first day. Tomorrow there's going to be a visit to the tea and strawberry farms as well as some other activities. Then it's bye bye Cameron highlands, as we're off to Penang (to eat even more ;)).





Hobbit hills or tea plantations?


Kunung Brinchang


Mossy forest




So, to sum up the Camerons: it's nice to breathe some cool mountain air for a change, and the sights are worth seeing. There's enough things to do and stuff to see for a few days, but I wouldn't spend a week here. And I'll be super happy to change my sneakers and long pants to flip flops and a dress again as we reach Penang and the tropical climate again :)