Taman Negara (Jan 24-26): Rainforest, Leeches, and a Python

My trip to Taman Negara was longer than what I expected, but it was an experience in itself! I had to pay 65 ringgit ($21.22AUD) for what I thought would just be a shuttle from my hostel in Tanah Rata, Cameron Highlands to the main town of Taman Negara called Kuala Tahan. However, I was in for a surprise… The 13-passenger van picked me up at my hostel at around 8:15 and there were five other people there. We dropped three people off in a small town, stopped for a 15-minute snack/bathroom break (squat toilet, of course!), and arrived in the town of Jerantut at around 11:45am. There, three of us had to fill in our forms to get a permit to enter the park. The park entrance was only 1 ringgit (30 cents), and if we wanted to take pictures, we had to pay 5 ringgit ($1.60). The man said that they’ve kept the park admission fee the same since they opened the park to the public, but it obviously isn’t enough to wholly contribute to the upkeep of the park, so they asked that we keep everything clean. We were then brought to a desk, where a guy spent about ten minutes trying to sell different tours to us at a “discount price,” and if we didn’t make the decision at that very second and get 10% off, we’d have to pay full price when we get there. It was to the point where it was just uncomfortable, where I said no multiple times, and he continued with, “Well, if you’re not taking any tours, then why are you going?” I’ve already spent so much money on tours and I’ve read that hikes could be done in the Taman Negara without a guide, so I figured I would save my money this time. Anyway, he said we had until 12:30pm before the next bus would come pick us up. I decided to get lunch, which was just fried noodles for 5 ringgit ($1.63), and I tried to eat it as fast as I could before the bus came. We then boarded another 13-passenger van (which was full this time) and made our way back the way that we came but this time, stopped about 30-45 minutes later at a ferry pier. We were sat down and talked to about the park, and told how it was the oldest rainforest in the world (more than 130 million years old) because it was untouched by the ice age, and told what to do if we got lost. We had to wait for them to get our permits ready, which we would have to carry with us in the park at all times. At about 1:30pm, we were led to a dock, which was only accessible by literally walking across a wooden board that wasn’t more than a foot in width, and hoping that we (along with any of our stuff) didn’t fall off into the water. Some people brought huge suitcases so it was interesting watching them try to get their stuff across. We had to board an extremely long canoe-like boat and were seated two by two. They stacked all of our luggage in a massive pile in the front and I have to say that I was quite impressed that nothing rolled off during the trip.

The boatride was cool because we were level with the water and it was so relaxing, I kept nearly falling asleep. We saw some water buffalo on the way but other than that, it was just a bunch of green for two and a half hours.

We arrived at Kuala Tahan right before 4pm to a dock on the side of a floating restaurant, and then they wanted us to stand in line and tell them where we were going so that we could get suggestions and/or transport to our accommodation.

I couldn’t be bothered waiting in line so I made my way to my hostel, which was up a huge hill but was literally less than 300 metres from the dock. Kuala Tahan is a pretty small area, which probably has less than ten restaurants and about two convenience stores so you can pretty much cover the entire thing in less than ten minutes. I was staying at Wild Lodge in a 6-person mixed dorm (with a riverside view) for 26 ringgit per night ($8.60) and while I was unpacking my stuff, I was greeted by Thom, a Dutch guy, who basically introduced me to everyone else.

In my room, there was another Canadian girl (finally!) named Alana. She’s from Vancouver but she’s been living in the UK for the past ten years. Another main person who I met was Ros, who’s from the UK, has been travelling for nearly six months, and was planning to move to Melbourne next. I visited with people for a few hours and then we finally decided to go for dinner, which I was extremely happy about since I was starving! Let me just say that the food in Kuala Tahan is known for not being great, so I knew not to have high expectations. We went to a place that I believe was called Julie’s Hostel and I decided to get chicken curry with a coke. Afterwards, we all treated ourselves to ice cream and I tested out a Kit-Kat Drumstick, which was so good! We all went to bed, and I completely passed out since I hadn’t had much sleep during the past two nights.

On Friday morning, I woke up and most of the group had left to Cameron Highlands. The only people remaining were Thom, Ros, Alana, and I. We took advantage of the free coffee and tea from the hostel, and then the four of us went for breakfast at the same place that we had had dinner at the night before. This time, I had a tomato omelette with an iced coffee for 8.50 ringgit ($2.78). We then decided to go on a hike together. We went online and decided to do a 2.1-km hike to a cave called Telinga Cave. We had to pay 1 ringgit each (30 cents) to get a boat across the river to the start of the trail, and then we went on our way at about 12pm.

I’ve been hiking plenty of times before, but this was a proper proper hike. There usually wasn’t a distinct trail and sometimes, we didn’t even know which way to go (thank goodness for the app ‘maps.me’ so that we could make sure we were on the right track!). We had to push aside many (prickly!) branches, step over and under logs, and climb up and down steep hills.

Our first sign to turn back probably should have been the humongous snake that us three girls saw (it went away so fast that Thom missed it). I happened to hear something in the leaves, looked over, and about one metre away from Alana, I saw the body of a snake about 4-5 inches in diameter. I warned everyone else, and Ros and Alana were luckily able to see it before it “ran” off. I’m surprised how calm I was, but the girls seemed more shaken by it (I guess I’ve already had an experience of nearly stepping on a snake before). Our second sign to turn back should have been the leeches that attempted to dine on us three girls. All of a sudden, I heard Alana say that two leeches were on her ankles so Ros checked her ankles and had one, and then I checked my ankles and had one as well! Luckily, the one on me hadn’t latched on (likely due to my super toxic 80% deet that I had on!) and when I touched it, it wiggled onto my sock and I brushed it off. It actually surprises me how many people don’t know NOT to pull leeches off because they release an anti-coagulant that won’t allow your skin to form a scab (and therefore you keep bleeding, and usually bruise and/or scar). Maybe it’s cause I grew up playing in a lake that had leeches so my mom always told me not to pick them off. Unfortunately, Alana didn’t know this information so when she picked off the two leeches, her feet wouldn’t stop bleeding. We all stopped walking and decided whether we wanted to keep going, and for some reason, no one said to stop so on we went. We got to a huge group of (what we thought were) ants and some had huge pinchers!

If we stood quietly, all we could hear was them munching away. This would have been our third sign to turn back. We had to walk all the way around them since nobody wanted to walk through them. Then a few minutes later, Alana got a third leech. When she pulled back her shoe to look at her first bites, the top of her shoe was covered in blood – it wouldn’t stop! Luckily, nearby was the first written sign that we saw so we went to look at it and we found out that we had only done 800 metres during the past hour. We all agreed to turn around. I think we would have been alright if we did the 2.1km and there was a boat to take us back, but we weren’t sure if there would be a boat there and we didn’t want to risk it. Plus the leeches were stressing everyone out. I don’t think anyone was particularly enjoying themselves! Ros pointed out the leeches to me on the way back – they stick their heads out of the dirt and wiggle upwards back and forth, waiting to hop onto someone – it’s so gross! I think all of us were happy to finally get back out.

We paid 1 ringgit each to get back to the other side of the river and then went back to the hostel. I was nervous to take off my socks because I was scared that I’d find a leech underneath but luckily, I left the forest unharmed (and was the only one!). It was crazy watching Alana wipe off the blood and then less than 30 seconds later, her foot would start dripping again. Ros, Thom, and I decided to go for lunch to one of the floating restaurants called Mawar Floating Restaurant. We were the only table there by the time we ordered (just after 2pm) and decided to start by sharing some spring rolls. We each took a bite but they were hot on the outside and cold on the inside so Ros told the server. However, they just reheated the ones that we gave them and so we got them back with bites – they definitely do things differently in Asia! We then sat and talked for quite awhile and all of a sudden, the lady comes with the Tom yum soups that we all ordered and apologised – she had forgotten about us! The whole family had been sitting there watching TV and eating their own meals and then she remembered our main dishes. I didn’t actually think that we had been waiting too long, maybe because we were just so deep in conversation. The soup wasn’t too bad but didn’t really taste like a typical Tom yum. I also got an iced tea to go with my meal, which was probably the best part.

The paying process was a whole other story, which seemed to be way more complicated than it needed to be. My full meal ended up being 12 ringgit ($3.92). That afternoon, I visited with Alana and we did some research about what we saw. We found out that there’s only one type of python in the forest called a reticulated python, which is the longest snake in the world and the third heaviest! Apparently they’re really rare to see so I guess we were…. lucky? We also found out that the ants we saw were actually termites, so that explains why they were so noisy. We went for ice cream, and chatted with some new arrivals, such as Katie who came from London (literally everyone I meet is Dutch or British). That evening, Thom wanted to go on the night hike tour but I think after our day hike experience, none of us girls were too keen to go. The four of us girls went for a late dinner to a restaurant right by the hostel, where Ros and I split a burger (which they covered in sweet chili sauce) and some more springrolls. The meal cost me another 12 ringgit ($3.92). I was having a difficult time trying to decide if I should stay for another day because I wasn’t sure what I would do the following day other than relax (which wouldn’t be so bad). Alana and Ros were planning to head back towards Kuala Lumpur, and Ros was planning to continue to Melaka, which would be my next stop. I finally decided to join them since I didn’t want to figure out the buses on my own and because our bus left at 10am the next morning, we agreed to meet at 9am for breakfast.

On Saturday morning, I got up at 8:30, packed up my stuff, and Ros, Alana, and I had coffee at the hostel and then went for breakfast to the same place that we had went to for dinner the night before. This time, I decided to have a banana pancake, which cost me 5 ringgit ($1.63). We then took all of our stuff and walked to the end of the street to a retro, bright blue bus, which would take us to our next stop. Taman Negara was another beautiful place, which perhaps I preferred to enjoy at a distance, from the deck at our hostel 🙂 Next time, I’ll just have to come fully prepared with leech socks! Love always

Cameron Highlands (Jan 22-24): A Mossy Forest, Tea Plantations, and a Cool Climate

The trip to Cameron Highlands was a tough one for me, mostly due to the fact that I don’t know how to control my liquids before long bus/train trips (you’d think I would learn by now…). Even though the main Cameron Highlands town (Tanah Rata) is just under 90km from Ipoh, it still takes about two hours to get there, and that completely depends on the traffic. Add in the twisty, bumpy roads and you’re in for a problem if you have a full bladder. We left Ipoh at 3pm after I paid 20 ringgit for my ticket ($6.53AUD), didn’t arrive until after 5pm, and I don’t think I’ve ever had to use the bathroom so bad in my life! I ran to the toilet in the bus terminal, only to find that it was chained and locked up! I ran across the street into the nearest shop (a phone store) and asked where the nearest bathroom was. They redirected me across the street and I replied that it was closed. The mom said something to her boy and he took me into the back of the shop and let me use their toilet (thank goodness!). I then walked to my hostel, which was called Father’s Guest House. The reason I chose this hostel was because I really wanted to do a full-day tour of Cameron Highlands (as opposed to a half-day tour), but the majority of the tour companies that I contacted weren’t offering full-day tours at that time. The hostel said that I was the only person to express interest in a full-day tour and told me to ask again once I got there. However, the stress of that was too much for me to handle since I only had one full day in Cameron Highlands, so I kept researching and found a tour with Eco Cameron for a full day (8 hours) and it cost me 90 ringgit ($29.38). Tanah Rata is a cute, little town that reminds me of a mountain resort like Banff or Jasper. I found my hostel, which was more of a huge house (very lovely), and I stayed in a 10-bed mixed dorm for 19.98 ringgit per night ($6.78). The only other person in my room was a guy from New Jersey named Ben (who had been travelling for the past five years). Ben and I went for dinner at an Indian Restaurant called Kumar Restaurant, where I got a massive dish of tandoori chicken.

Afterwards, we went back to the hostel so that he could work on his photography and I could work on my blog.

The next morning (Wednesday), I was meant to be picked up by my tour at 8:15am so I got up at 7 and tried to find a nearby restaurant called Yong Teng Cafe because they’re known for their pancakes. The restaurant is run by an old couple (probably in their 70s) and the lady is mute, so a lot of pointing and hand signals were needed in order to get information across. I got a banana pancake with coffee, and they were both so good! Plus they only cost me 8 ringgit ($2.61)!

I went back to my hostel and waited for the Range Rover to come pick me up. The only other people on my tour were a Dutch couple (likely in their 60s) and a girl from the United States who was teaching in South Korea (and she was only doing the half-day tour). We started by driving to the Mossy Forest, which was all the way up to an altitude of about 2000 metres. I’ve seen moss before, but nothing like this! Plus it was such a foggy morning so it added a mysteriousness to the forest.

The guide pointed out different plants, such as the carnivorous pitcher plants, which fill up with water and then trap insects to consume.

He also showed us berries to eat, citronella leaves, and other medicinal plants for treating wounds or helping with digestion. He took the smallest piece of moss, rolled it up into a ball and then squeezed it, and the amount of water that came out was amazing! He said that the amount of time it takes for plants to grow there is extremely long because of the high altitude. If we looked at a tree in the Mossy Forest and then looked at the same sized tree in the rainforest, it would only take 20 years for it to get to that size in the rainforest whereas in the Mossy Forest, it would take between 200-300 years. The path through the Mossy Forest was only about 20 minutes long but we kept running into other tour groups so it got quite crowded. After that, we walked up another 32 metres to the top of Mount Brinchang, which normally gives a 360 degree view of the entire area but since it was so foggy, we literally couldn’t see anything.

We walked back to the Range Rover and drove to the tea plantations, which Cameron Highlands is known for. One of the most well-known teas is BOH Plantations, which was started by a British man in 1929, and is continued to be run by his Granddaughter. We were given an hour to explore the BOH Plantations – 15 minutes for a tour through the factory and 45 minutes to do as we pleased. I walked around for a bit and then I went to the cafe and I’m not kidding, I had the best iced tea I’ve ever had in my life! I basically grew up on iced tea and even the Lipton iced tea doesn’t do it for me here, but this was amazing! I was so tempted to buy some, but I didn’t want to have to carry it around for the next three months.

After the tea plantation, we dropped off the girl who was only doing the half day tour and then we went to the Butterfly Farm, where we were able to see many different species of butterflies. I saw a massive butterfly and even got to hold it, it was beautiful!

The guide said that they only have a lifespan of two weeks, which is a shame. The Butterfly Farm also had many other insects and lizards, as well as some frogs, hedgehogs, and many flowers.

After we finished wandering around, the guide took us to a local restaurant (Restoran Yao Yat) for lunch, where I had chicken with mushroom sauce and rice, as well as a strawberry white coffee (I was so intrigued, and it actually wasn’t too bad!), which cost me 11.50 ringgit ($3.75). We then went to Raaju’s Hill Strawberry Farm, where I treated myself to a strawberry milkshake for 8 ringgit ($2.61).

It wasn’t the best strawberry milkshake I’ve had in my life, but it was probably the freshest! After the strawberry farm, we got about a half hour to walk through the local market and then we made a quick stop at Cactus Point, which was (as its name suggests) a shop that sells cacti as well as other plants.

We went to the local museum, which went through the history of Cameron Highlands and had a bunch of antique items throughout the museum.

Our last stop was the Sam Poh Buddhist Temple, which was very quiet and still wasn’t as nice as some of the other temples I’ve seen.

By the time I got to my hostel, I was completely exhausted! There was another guy who had moved into the room named Sam and he was on vacation from the Netherlands. We actually talked for quite awhile – it was another one of those moments where we just clicked so the conversation came naturally. I had the coldest shower in awhile – mind you, all of my showers in Malaysia have been pretty cold but I normally welcome them since I’m coming from 30+ degree weather. However, the Highlands are naturally a lot colder (around 19 degrees) because of the high altitude so it was a lot more difficult to get into a cold shower! When I got back into the room and complained about my shower, Sam asked if I had flipped the switch in the hallway before my shower (which controls the water heater). What?! NO! Why hadn’t anyone told me this before?! Maybe that’s why my showers have always been so cold… Sam and I went to get dinner and stopped at a place to have a couple skewers of satay before having an actual meal. There, we ran into Ben so he joined us for dinner. We went to another Indian Restaurant called Curry House, where I got Chana Masala and naan bread for 19 ringgit ($6.20).

We then went to a bar called Jungle Bar and each had a beer, then played some games before going back to the hostel.

On Thursday morning, I had to catch a bus to Taman Negara at 8am so I got up at 7 again, and Sam, Ben, and I went for breakfast at 7:30 before we all had to part ways. We went to another Indian place, where I just had roti and cheese with a curry sauce for 4.50 ringgit ($1.47). I then went back to the hostel and waited for my bus to come pick me up. Cameron Highlands is another area that is completely different from anything else, and I really enjoyed my time there even if it was short. I met some more great people and saw some more amazing things! Love always

Ipoh (Jan 20-22): Thaipusam Celebrations in a Charming City with Friendly Locals

My transport to Ipoh (pronounced EE-poe) didn’t go as smoothly as I was hoping. In Koh Lipe, I checked into my 11am ferry at 9:45am, had to give them my passport again, and was given a card with a number. Almost immediately after that, they started transferring us into the longtail boats to take us the transport area. There were way more of us this time (about 150 people) and there were only two longtail boats, so they had to keep doing trips back and forth from the beach. Luckily, I got on the second boat so I had to wait at the transport area for the next 45 minutes until the ferry arrived. Once the ferry came, we had to wait for everyone to get off of the ferry and then they called out numbers one by one for people to board the boat – it was so efficient! My number was in the 120’s so I still had to wait a bit to get on. Just after 11, we started the 90-minute journey back to Malaysia. I lost an hour this time, so by the time we all got off the boat in Langkawi, it was about 2pm. I went to the ticket office across the street to find out how I could get to Ipoh, but the next ferry leaving from Langkawi wasn’t until 4pm and they said I would miss the last bus to Ipoh (I think what happens with these ticket counters is they only tell you how to get there from THEIR company, so even if there are buses available with other companies, they don’t tell you about them). I decided to still catch the 4pm ferry anyway, so I bought a ticket to Kuala Kedah for 23 ringgit ($7.51AUD). I went to KFC for lunch since it was next door, and then went back to the ferry terminal at 3:30pm. I couldn’t understand any of the announcements on the intercom so every time people started rushing to a ferry, I’d go up to a security guard and ask if it was my turn. Finally, it was my turn to board so I found my seat for the 1 hour-45 minute ride to Kuala Kedah. I arrived just before 6pm and I knew that there’d be a train leaving for Ipoh at 6:45 so I requested a Grab to take me to the train station in Alor Setar, which cost 14 ringgit ($4.57) and took nearly a half hour. The Grab driver seemed very curious and kept asking me so many questions, to the point where it felt weird. When we got to the train station, the traffic was pretty backed up so I said I’d just get out and walk the rest of the way because I only had about 20 minutes left. I got to the ticket counter, asked for a ticket to Ipoh, and he said that the train was full and I’d have to take a bus. I looked on my map and saw that the bus station was less than a ten-minute walk away so I decided to walk, but as I left the station, I heard someone yell out, “Miss!” and my Grab driver was still there. I told him that I needed to get to the bus station so he told me to get into the car but then drove past the station on my map. “Are you going to the bus station?” “Yes, it’s about five minutes away.” Turns out there was another bus station so I was lucky that I didn’t end up walking all the way to the other one. When we got there, I asked how much I owed him and he said it was fine and then asked if I wanted him to assist me inside, and I said I was okay. Someone was at the entrance of the bus station and asked where I was going, and then he directed me to a counter that he was running. He said that the next bus wasn’t until 8pm and it would take four hours, meaning I wouldn’t arrive in Ipoh until after midnight. There were only four seats left! I asked him to wait and I contacted my hostel to see if it would be okay and they said that they’d give me a code to enter the hostel and then I could pay/check-in the next morning, which was amazing of them! So I went ahead with buying the bus ticket for 28 ringgit ($9.14). Since I had over an hour to kill, I decided to get dinner but there wasn’t much in the station. The bus station actually just had a sketchy/creepy vibe to it, especially as it approached night time. There were a couple of restaurants across the street so I walked over and heard, “Miss!” again. I looked over and the Grab driver was sitting at a table with two other guys. They were all drivers (that day), waiting for their next ride request. I sat with them, but the other two guys didn’t seem to speak English and the whole dinner felt somewhat uncomfortable. They didn’t have a menu so I ended up ordering an iced tea and some fried rice with the help of the Grab driver. He said that him and his friends all work different jobs normally but since it was a public holiday, they decided to be Grab drivers to get extra money. However, he had only gotten five drive requests during the entire day and it was already 7pm (he said he’d wait until 10pm). I think he had said he made less than 60 ringgit that day ($20), which was pretty crazy to me. Anyway, I left at 7:30, paid 6 ringgit for my meal ($1.96), and sat in the bus station to wait for my bus. I waited until 8pm, then 8:30, and then 9pm before the bus finally came. I got to my seat at the very back of the bus and relaxed for the next four hours, as I was exhausted. However at about midnight, the bus started making funny noises so the bus driver pulled over for about 10-15 minutes to fix it. Finally just before 1am, we arrived at the Ipoh bus station. I then had to take a Grab to my hostel, which took about 20 minutes and cost 16 ringgit ($5.22). I was staying in Vloft Backpackers and as soon as you entered, you were already in my bedroom – a 12-bed dorm. However, it only cost 24 ringgit ($8) per night so it was pretty cheap! I used the code to get into the hostel, got ready for bed, found my bed in the dark, and passed out.

On Monday, it was Thaipusam – a Hindu-celebrated holiday to honour Lord Murgan (the god of war) for prayers that had been answered during the past year. The celebration starts early in the morning (sometimes at 5am), when devotees prepare for their long walk to an important temple. There are many people who go through face piercings or hooks pierced into their skin, and some people drag kavadis (burdens) attached to the hooks behind them for the duration of the walk. Apparently, it’s quite a spectacle and it’s not too easy on the stomach for people who aren’t used to seeing it. I decided to forego this part of the day, as I’m not too great with that kind of stuff and I didn’t want to get up at 5 after going to bed past 1:30. I got up at about 9:30, got ready for the day, and started my food tour. I read that Ipoh (along with Penang) has some of the best food in Malaysia and since I wasn’t too wowed by the food in Penang, I did some research to find good food in Ipoh. I was planning to go to a coffee shop for breakfast and then catch the last of the Thaipusam walk before it finished at noon so I started walking towards Nam Heong White Coffee to try their coffee. On my walk, it was too easy to be distracted by all of the buildings around me. Some were extremely colourful, some were so run down, but each one had its own charm and beauty that was easy to appreciate. I walked down a street with gorgeous street art and then I came across a beautiful mosque that had the exact same white and blue colours that you’d see on the buildings in Santorini.

I walked to the gate to get some photos and then the caretaker asked if I’d like to come in. He led me into the office, where there was a man who voluntarily gave tours of the mosque. First, he gave me some clothes to wear because I had to be fully covered (head included) and then he walked me around the mosque. After the quick tour, we went back into the office and he explained more about Islam and the Muslim faith. He even got me to read some scriptures and take some brochures, so I got the sense that I was in some type of conversion situation. He told me why women have to have their heads covered and showed me the scripture (in the bible as well) that says that if a woman shows her hair, it should be shaved off and if it won’t be shaved then it should be covered. It was interesting and I didn’t realise how many similarities there were between the Muslim and Christian faith. Anyway, after about an hour, I said I should get going and he offered me some roti that his daughter had made.

I continued my walk to the coffee shop and it was completely packed! I had to join a table and then go to order what I wanted. I got a sesame ball, an egg tart, some prawn dumplings, and then asked the salesman what his favourite thing was, which was a deep-fried prawn wonton so I got one of those as well. All that with a delicious iced coffee cost me 10.80 ringgit ($3.53)!

I stayed for awhile and was joined by an older couple from Malaysia who were in Ipoh for the weekend. They were shocked that I was travelling alone (as was everyone I talked to there). I walked around for the rest of the afternoon and checked out some of the buildings and walked down Little India. There were tons of stalls set up for Thaipusam, giving food to everyone who had finished their long walk. I was offered juice a few times, which I accepted, and felt somewhat honoured that they included me in their festivities, even if it was in a small way.

Ipoh is filled with such friendly people! I’ve honestly never talked to so many locals in one place than I have in Ipoh. Everyone was so curious about where I was from, why I was there, and whether I liked it. With that being said, there were also some sketchier areas, where it felt uncomfortable walking down a street because I could feel like I was constantly being stared at. However, it was still very easy for me to fall in love with Ipoh’s charm and friendly locals, and I wanted to stay longer. I 100% preferred it over Penang! That afternoon, I needed to exchange money since I still mostly had Thai Baht and needed money to pay for my hostel. It was quite difficult finding anything because since it was a public holiday, pretty much everything was closed. I eventually found a currency exchange place to buy some ringgit and then went back to the hostel so I could officially check in. During mid-afternoon, I decided to get a snack so I went to Funny Mountain Soya Bean, where I tried Tau Foo Fah, which is soft tofu covered in a sugary sauce. The tofu is so smooth, it just glides down your throat. I also got their soy drink – I’m not sure what was in it but it seemed to be similar to tapioca, and it was also quite good.

For those two items, it cost me 5.50 ringgit ($1.80). I then found an electronics store and went to buy a phone cable since mine would only work if I bent it a certain way, so that set me back 8 ringgit ($2.61). I stopped at Sin Eng Heong, which is a bakery, and I tried a Kaya Kok (Kaya puff), which is a pastry with a coconut flavour inside.

It only cost me 1 ringgit (33 cents)! I then decided to walk towards Kallumalai Temple, which was about 40 minutes away but had stalls along most of the street for Thaipusam.

Once I got to the temple, I went into the main area but I didn’t go into the actual temple, as there was a huge lineup of people waiting to pray and I didn’t want to do anything disrespectful. However, I did get lots of smiles from people and nods, which for me translated into a “Thank you for taking part.” A few people came up to me and asked where I was from and if this was my first Indian festival. One man gave me his phone number just in case I needed anything, and then asked if I would take a picture with his daughters, who had some pretty dresses on. Everyone looked so colourful and some of the dresses were absolutely gorgeous!

Many people were carrying plates of coconuts and oranges with incense to offer in the temple. There was also an area that had peacocks and another area that offered head-shaving. One of the guys noticed me watching and asked if I’d like to get my head shaved and I declined while we both laughed.

I made my way back to the hostel because it seemed like it was going to rain, but a proper rainfall never came. That evening, I went to Restoran Tuck Kee, which was on my list of places to go but I was confused when I saw Sun Tuck Kee two doors down from the original. I found a table and ordered what they’re most known for: Wat Tan Hor Fun, which is fried flat noodles served in a thick egg gravy with vegetables, prawns and meat.

It looks very different, but it’s probably one of the best meals that I’ve had in Malaysia! The combination of all the flavours work so well together, and the egg gravy is so smooth and tasty. The meal with a coke cost me 9 ringgit ($2.94). I walked down to the nearby night market, which wasn’t that great, spent some time at a Chinese New Year celebration, and then went back to the hostel.

On Tuesday morning, I got up and packed up my stuff (which I left at the hostel), and I had until 3pm to enjoy my last few hours in Ipoh. I walked to the Old Town and stopped at Thean Chun restaurant to order Kai See Hor Fun, which is kind of like a chicken noodle soup with prawns and vegetables added to it. The lady also said to get bean sprouts, and then I asked for a cold coffee. “Cold coffee not good.” Okay then, hot coffee it was! I also ordered a Caramel Egg Custard, all for 11.10 ringgit ($3.62).

Everything was really tasty, although I don’t think the lady liked my way of eating each thing separately because she came up to my table and told me to eat the beansprouts while I was eating the Kai See Hor Fun. After my breakfast, I walked about ten minutes to the bus station because I wanted to check out one of the temples outside of the city called Sam Poh Tong Temple. I sat and waited for bus #66 and then paid 1.50 ringgit ($0.49) for the bus ride. I got off and walked down a street with two other temples leading to the Sam Poh Tong Temple. The temple was extremely quiet and there were “Do Not Enter” signs on both entrances, along with some beggars sitting in the entrance. I walked through anyway, and the zen garden in front of the temple was absolutely gorgeous!

I had trouble figuring out how the temple worked though, as hardly anyone was there. The temple was poorly maintained and I didn’t really see why it was one of the top attractions in Ipoh. There was a tortoise pond behind the temple with a fountain that was no longer running.

I had read that you could climb up to see a nice view of Ipoh, but I couldn’t figure out where it would be because there weren’t any signs around and the only place that might have led to the viewpoint was surrounded by monkeys who had already stolen some peoples’ food. Obviously, there was no way that I’d be going that way, even though I didn’t have any food with me. My new-found fear of monkeys might now deter me from doing many things in Asia, unfortunately. After my short time there, I decided to not go to the other temple, which was further away (Kek Look Tong Temple) and instead requested a Grab to go back into the city, which only cost 8 ringgit ($2.61). I walked around for a bit, decided to buy some more phone cords since they were so cheap and my new one was bound to stop working at some point in the next three months. They had a special “Buy 2 Get 1 Free” deal, so I got three more cords for 16 ringgit ($5.22). I then went to buy some Claritin since I had been using it to lessen the itchiness from my nail polish reaction (see last blog post) and was so impressed to find out that they were 1 ringgit 30 per pill. I bought ten pills for 13 ringgit ($4.24), which is cheaper than anywhere I would find in Canada or Australia. I went to the hostel to get my stuff, took a Grab to the bus station for 13 ringgit ($4.24), and arrived at about 2:20. Then I bought a ticket to Cameron Highlands for 20 ringgit ($6.53), picked up some roti with curry and an iced tea for 7 ringgit ($2.29), and got on my bus for 3pm.

I really loved Ipoh and I don’t understand why it’s usually skipped over by travellers. I only saw about three tourists while I was walking around, but maybe that’s why I felt so welcomed by the friendly locals. The buildings and street art are beautiful, and the food is some of the best that I’ve had in Malaysia! Love always

Koh Lipe (Jan 14-20): Heaven on Earth

My six days in Koh Lipe went by way too fast – I was nearly in tears when I had to leave, and that hardly ever happens! The taxi driver (who must work for the hostel) picked me up at my hostel in Langkawi and we made the 20-30 minute drive to the pier. He said that I was lucky because he was about to wash his car so if the hostel owner had called him ten minutes later, he wouldn’t have been able to drive me. We got to the pier and as we walked into the building, the taxi driver said that Koh Lipe was more expensive than Langkawi, which scared me since Langkawi was already expensive as it is. We walked up to a dark office, where there were a bunch of people filling out forms and waiting. The driver asked me for my passport and told me to sit down, then came back with a number for me to wait in the queue. My number was 75, the most recent number was 53, and the ferry was to depart in about an hour. I FaceTimed with my parents while waiting and surprisingly, I was called after two numbers. The man asked if I was coming back to Langkawi and then asked why I didn’t buy my return ticket. I didn’t know how long to stay and because it was 40 dollars each way, I didn’t want to just stay for 2 or 3 nights. I said I’d stay for a week and got a return ticket for the 20th, which cost 118 ringgit ($38.52AUD). He said to be in the waiting room a half hour early (2pm), so I went downstairs and called my parents back. When I told my mom about cutting my foot, she told me to go buy antiseptic because I still hadn’t properly cleaned it, especially since everywhere in Thailand and Malaysia (even in many convenience or clothing stores) we have to walk barefoot when inside and leave our shoes outside. Just as I hung up with my parents, they made an announcement to line up for the ferry so we could go through customs. I quickly ran to the pharmacy to find antiseptic, came back, and the door was already closed with a gate set up across it! I panicked, walked up to the door (which thankfully opened), and snuck around the belted gate to go to customs (so no one actually took my ticket). After going through customs, there was a man standing there and he asked for my passport before getting onto the ferry. “Why?” I asked, hesitantly. “You’ll get it back when you’re in Koh Lipe.” I reluctantly gave him my passport, which he added to the big stack. I then walked onto the ferry, which was quite dungeon-like – very dark with glazed windows. I found a seat and relaxed for the next 90 minutes until we arrived to the transfer terminal. I had gained an hour so it was only just after 3pm when I arrived. We all got off the ferry and then had to walk across the floating dock, go down a ladder (with all of our luggage), and get into a long-tail boat, which would take us to the Koh Lipe beach (the ferry was too big and would destroy the coral if it got too close). The longtail boatride was less than five minutes and before we knew it, we were on Pattaya Beach.

Koh Lipe is known as the Maldives of Thailand… I’ve never been to the Maldives before but if it’s anything like Koh Lipe, then it’ll be one of the next places on my list. I almost don’t want to share how much I loved Koh Lipe because I don’t want it to lose its charm and become a huge tourist destination, like many of the other Thai Islands are. Its beauty is captivating, with clear waters and corals all around. There aren’t any vehicles (occasionally you’ll see a pick-up truck), but there are many motorbikes with sidecars.

They don’t allow tourists to rent the motorbikes, but you can get one as a taxi for 50 baht per person (which I never did). The island is completely walkable, and you can probably walk from one end to the other in about 45 minutes. It has three main beaches: Pattaya Beach is the most popular so I only went to it a couple of times, and it has bars and restaurants along it. Sunset Beach is a smaller beach which I never actually went to. And Sunrise Beach was the closest one to my hostel, and was much less busy so I spent most of my time there. Anyway, we had to wait in line to go through border control. Luckily, there weren’t many of us so I didn’t have to wait long but I’ve heard that people have had to wait for over an hour. Then, they checked my bag and made me pay the Tarutao National Park fee for 200 baht ($8.73), which protects the coral reef so assuming you’re on the water (which you would have had to in order to get there), you have to have a national park permit with you. I walked less than ten minutes to my hostel, Shanti Backpackers, which is run by a friendly, quiet pregnant lady who often has her 8-year-old daughter (Shanti) with her. Shanti warmed up to me quite quickly and would come give me big hugs when she saw me, and ask me questions. She doesn’t go to school, but her English is so good! The hostel was basically one big room that fit about 16 people, so we had to get used to being one big, happy family. I paid 250 baht per night ($10.91). Outside the hostel, an old man stands on the street corner all day everyday (he closes at midnight) and sells coconut pancakes. He sings the same song over and over again: “Coconut donut, 10 baht, 10 baht, Coco!” and I’m pretty sure all of us could sing it in our sleep just within one hour of being at the hostel. I got changed and made my way to the northern part of Sunrise Beach so I could get one swim in before sunset.

After sunset, I went back to the hostel and there were a bunch of people about to go for dinner, so I joined them. We went to NOT Wangcha-aon, where I got tomyum rice with a coke for 130 baht ($5.67). The food was average but definitely didn’t stand out. After dinner, I went with some of the group (a couple from Chile and a guy from Germany) to get some beer from 7-11 and sit on the beach. At about 11pm, we walked into the water and as we kicked the sand, we were able to see the plankton light up – it was pretty cool!

On Tuesday, I got up to go for breakfast and went to a restaurant that was suggested to me by the hostel owner called Coffee House Lipe. I decided to get a set breakfast for 125 baht ($5.45), which came with eggs, bacon, ham, sausage, toast, and coffee. However, it came out within two minutes of me ordering it and I knew it was because most of the items had just been sitting there, waiting for someone to eat them. The toast even came untoasted. I ate the bacon but left the sausage and ham behind, as I couldn’t bring myself to eat them. I decided to walk to the viewpoint of Koh Lipe, which only took about ten minutes. The view was really nice!

I took a different trail back down, which led to Pattaya Beach, but it was really steep and covered with leaves. There was a rope ‘fence’ along the trail, but it was falling apart so as I made my way down and started slipping on the leaves, the stakes came out of the ground when I held onto the rope. As I kicked a pile of leaves, a huge swarm of mosquitoes came out and I got eaten alive. I started to panic because I couldn’t go down fast enough and I didn’t want to climb back up, and it was really steep so I couldn’t even try to get my mosquito repellent out of my bag. I’ve never seen so many mosquitoes at one time, and I felt like I was in the Hunger Games. I finally decided to turn around and head back up to try to outrun the mosquitoes, and it worked! I got to Sunrise Beach, found a nice spot, and came up with my daily routine: lie for 15 minutes on each side, go for a swim, lie for 20 minutes on each side, go for a snack (usually a chocolate-banana pancake with fruit shake) and work on blog post, repeat steps 1-3, watch sunset, shower, go for dinner with people in the hostel. It was the perfect routine!

That evening, one of the girls suggested an Indian restaurant called Bombay Restaurant, which was a bit more expensive than usual. However, it was really good food! I got Vegetable Korma with naan and a coke for 250 baht ($10.91). We were able to watch one of the ladies make the naan right in front of us, which was neat to see.

On Wednesday morning, I went to a restaurant called Nee Papaya for breakfast. This time, I decided to stick with having Asian breakfast, as I no longer trusted English breakfasts. I had rice with chicken and vegetables, and a coffee for 120 baht ($5.24).

After that, I made my way to the southern part of Sunrise beach, where it seemed like there were private beaches for the resorts so there weren’t as many people around. The hostel owner had lent me her snorkelling gear, so I checked out some of the coral next to the beach and spent the rest of the time on the sand.

That evening, a group of us went out for dinner at Sunrise Beach Restaurant, where I got cashew chicken with rice and an iced tea for 155 baht ($6.76). After dinner, a group of us got some beer from 7-11 and sat on the beach to watch the fire dancers, which was cool to see. I was so itchy from all of the mosquito bites that I had gotten (by the way, Koh Lipe = mosquitos galore!), so I went to buy some Tiger Balm from the pharmacy. Tiger Balm is made for sore muscles and can also help people clear their sinuses if they have a cold, but I’ve met lots of tourists who use it for mosquito bites, and it works!! The heat sensation takes away the itchiness so I’d put it on all of my bites before bed.

On Thursday, I decided I should finally go do something, as I had been lazing around the past few days. I went to Thai Lady Pancake for breakfast, where I got mango sticky rice, a coffee, and a shake for 180 baht ($7.85).

I wanted to go to the larger island next to Koh Lipe so I walked to Sunrise Beach, saw a sign that said “Taxi 100 baht” and I told them I wanted to go to Koh Adang. I got on the boat and the driver asked me what time I was planning to come back. “Oh, I don’t know! How long do you think I’ll need?” But he didn’t understand what I was asking. The ride was only about ten minutes long but was very wavy and I wasn’t too dry by the time I got there.

I got off the boat and the driver went back to Koh Lipe. I found signs directing me to Chado Cliff and made my way up. The hike had three viewpoints, with the last one obviously being the best. However, this hike was one of those hikes where I kept thinking to myself, “Why did I decide to do this? Why do I do this to myself? Is it REALLY going to be worth it?” Most of the hike was in direct sunlight, in ‘feels-like’ 38 degree weather, and usually had a steep ascent. I definitely took a lot of breaks because I was nervous that I was going to get heat stroke if I pushed myself too hard. I think I made it up to the top in about 45 minutes and even though I was sweating through every pore in my body, the view made it totally worth it! I had the perfect view of Koh Lipe, along with all of the surrounding water with different shades of blue.

I sat there for quite awhile, had the place to myself for a bit, and then visited with a couple who joined me at the top before heading back down. The beaches there were pretty much empty, as I only saw about five people on the entire beach. Therefore, most people treated it as a nude beach because if the closest person to you is 300 metres away, then why not? I stayed there until the clouds covered the sky at about 4pm and then walked back towards where I was dropped off. On my way there, I noticed some of the shells moving in front of me but when I got closer, they’d stop. I don’t even know how I noticed them because they were so tiny, and difficult to see if you weren’t looking for them. I sat and watched them for quite awhile, and then continued to the dock.

I was expecting to see some boats waiting to take people back but there weren’t any. Finally, a boat came with two tourists and when I asked if they were going back to Koh Lipe, they said no and told me to keep waiting. Then, another boat came with two locals who were bringing stuff over to the island. As they were unloading the boat, I went and asked if they were going back to Koh Lipe. He asked if I was one person or if there were two people and I said one. He shook his head no. I had 100 baht in my hand and the woman said something to him, so he told me to get in the boat (thank goodness!). He took me back to Koh Lipe and then left again, so I’m not sure if he was actually a taxi but at least I got a ride back. I went to go have my pancake and shake and once I got there, it started pouring rain! I thought it would only last for awhile, but it just kept going and going – everyone outside was absolutely soaked. We went out for dinner to Madame YooHoo, where this old lady stands outside the restaurant yelling “Yoo hoo!” to try to get everyone’s attention. We had a pretty late dinner so I decided to go to bed afterwards – I think I tired myself out after the hike!

On Friday morning, I went back to Thai Lady Pancake for breakfast, where I had Pad Thai, a coffee, and a shake for 150 baht ($6.54).

I had to get laundry done so I went to a place close to the hostel that charged 60 baht per kilo. The thing that I liked about this place was that they pulled out a scale and actually weighed it right in front of me so I knew what the price would be beforehand. Today was going to be my “spa day!” I knew that I still needed to get a Thai massage and I figured what better place to have one than on the beach? I was hesitant to get a massage, as I’ve only gotten one before, which was a foot massage in China. And it was one of the most painful, un-relaxing experiences I’ve ever had so I wasn’t in a rush to get another one. One of the girls at the hostel told me to get an oil massage because it’s less painful, so that’s what I did. I went to JK Blue Beach Massage on Sunrise Beach because it had high ratings, and I knew that the masseuses (weird word…) were all certified and had education in massage. I asked for an oil massage, which would be 400 baht and then I also tipped 40 baht, which cost $19.20 in total. There were about 8 massage beds all in close proximity to each other – I was less than a foot away from the person next to me. In order to have an oil massage, you have to be naked so that was a bit weird for me to undress on a beach with people all around. However, the ladies were really great with keeping you covered and making the process as easy as possible. I have to say that during the first part of the massage, it took quite awhile for me to get comfortable with the actual massage. At one point, the lady was kneeling on my legs and digging her hands in my shoulders – as in all of her body weight was on top of me. I couldn’t ever get my mind to fully relax (obviously, I’m an over thinker – this is why I can’t nap) and I was constantly thinking of what I had to do later that day, what was she doing, how does it feel like there are ten hands on me at once. I honestly didn’t think I’d be able to last an hour. Eventually, I eased up and finally started to relax as every part of my body was massaged, head to toe (and all ten toes). The time then sped right by and all of a sudden, she said I was finished. I was so tempted to buy another hour, but decided against it. Best massage of my life (although I don’t have much to compare it to)!

After that, I decided to go for a manicure/pedicure. I was just going to do a pedicure, which costs 200 baht, but a mani/pedi costs 300 baht, so why not? Well, I’ll tell you why not in awhile… I found a place that looked nice (called Sabye Sabye) and walked in. The plus side was it’s the first place I had been to on Koh Lipe with air conditioning, so I got to enjoy that. Now, I have only had one pedicure before that I can compare this to, but this one definitely wasn’t the same. There was no soaking of the feet or hands, no scrubbing, no washing, etc. All it included was cutting the nails (which I had already done the day before) and painting the nails (which started coming off the day after). Regardless, I still tipped 30 baht so in total, it only cost me $14.40 so it wasn’t a huge amount of money wasted. I haven’t painted my fingernails in about five years because the last two times that I painted them, I woke up the next morning with huge, swollen eyes (almost swollen shut – I couldn’t even put my contacts in) and a rash all over my face and down my neck. I was hoping that since it’s been so long, maybe it won’t happen again. I woke up the next morning and I was fine! I was so happy because ever since I’ve come to Asia, I’ve had less skin problems and my skin hasn’t been as sensitive. I wasn’t even reacting to my sunscreen! (I had forgotten to knock on wood…) The day after that, my bottom lip felt a bit puffier when I was eating breakfast. I peeled off as much of the nail polish as I could that day, but I don’t have nail polish remover so there is still some that has stayed on. The next day, my eyes were a tad puffy (not as bad as usual, but if I looked up, I could feel my eyelids touch my eyebrow) my skin was soooo itchy, and I started to get spots all over my neck and chest. The problem was I kept scratching, but I’d obviously scratch with my fingernails, which would just add more chemicals to my skin, which would in turn make it even more itchy. I took a Claritin, which temporarily would make me less itchy. Today, I’m less puffy and less itchy, haven’t taken a Claritin, but the spots of my skin are starting to break into rash so it’ll probably take a few more days to clear my system (plus having a bit of nail polish still on my fingers probably doesn’t help but I couldn’t find nail polish remover so I might just have to sit through it). Anyway, I’ve always wanted to try fingernail polish again to see if I’d react, so now I know to stay away from it! After my mani/pedi, I went for my pancake and shake and then went back to visit with people at the hostel. We went for another late dinner at Thai Lady Pancake Shop, where I got Pad See-Ew and a shake for 130 baht ($5.67), and then we once again got drinks at 7-11 and sat on the beach to watch the fire dancers.

Saturday was my last full day on Koh Lipe. I had booked a full-day snorkel tour for 700 baht ($30.54) with Star Travel, and they would be picking me up at 9:15. I went to Thai Lady Pancake for a quick breakfast and coffee before going back to the hostel.

There were 8 of us in the group, but all of the tour groups went out together since we were in the middle of the ocean so if anything happened, one of the surrounding boats could help out. We rode the longtail boat for about an hour to go to the furthest point, stopped at Ko Hin Sorn to take a picture of the rocks, and went to Ko Bulo, where we got to go snorkelling for about 20 minutes.

I thought my snorkelling trip in Koh Lanta was nice but now that I’ve done this trip, it can’t even compare! There was so much coral everywhere with so many different types of fish, and the water was so clear. I kept seeing clownfish in the anemones, and the guide would pull me by the hand and dive down to point out other fish and animals. It was so cool! It really is like another world down there. We then went to another area, where we got to snorkel for another 30 minutes. Here, there were even more organisms – so many starfish, sea cucumbers, urchins, and many different types of fish. Then when I was about to get back into the boat, the guide took me away from the reef and pointed out a little stingray on top of the sand. I definitely wouldn’t have noticed it if he didn’t show it to me (along with many other fish)! We stopped at a beach called Ro Khloi Island, where we took some pictures and then we got to go for lunch.

They took us to another beach on Ko Butang and of course, this island had to have monkeys. I sat with a Dutch couple, and we enjoyed a pretty spicy curry chicken with rice meal while watching the monkeys steal other peoples’ food. After lunch, we went to a little inlet across from the beach to enjoy another 20 minutes of snorkelling.

We travelled to Ko Hin Ngam Gravel Beach, which was filled with perfectly polished rocks (meaning it was extremely slippery and dangerous walking from the boat to the island). As tempting as it were to stack the rocks, there were signs all around telling us not to, as well as a scary warning telling us about the Curse of Tarutao Island, and what would happen if we took a rock.

After our stop at the island, we had one last snorkel stop somewhat in the middle of the ocean. We just had to get out of the boat and pull ourselves along a rope to the other side and back, but the waves were so strong, it was a lot more difficult to see anything. We headed back to Koh Lipe, and the guide said that we could come to pick up our picture at 8pm (they took a picture of each of us underwater). I just stayed on the beach to enjoy the last of the sun and then watched the sunset before heading back to the hostel to shower.

I went to pick up my picture at 8 and they sent me a file which had about 100 pictures on it, which was a bonus! I’ve attached a few of them, but keep in mind that I didn’t take these pictures.

That night, we went to Thai Lady Pancake Shop for one last dinner.

On Sunday morning, I had to catch my ferry at 11am and had to check in between 9 and 10am. I packed up my stuff, went to Thai Lady Pancake Shop for one last breakfast and one last shake, and then walked to the beach to check in at 9:45am. The walk was long (even though it was only 8 minutes), and I felt so sad to leave. It was nice to feel so at home on this beautiful island! I’ll definitely be back one day… Love always

Langkawi (Jan 11-14): Beaches, a Waterfall, and a Night Market

My trip to Langkawi was quite long, mostly due to the fact that I once again chose the cheaper option rather than the direct route. Every time I do this, I can always hear my dad’s voice in my head saying, “Why do you make things more difficult than they need to be?” Apparently, I’ve been doing this my whole life so something tells me that it won’t change now. However, this motivation and discipline has led me to build my budgeting skills and frugalness. I had breakfast at the hostel before catching a Grab to the ferry pier for 5 ringgit ($1.63). My credit card isn’t letting me buy tickets online due to the “Verified by Visa” check, because it sends a code to my phone number, which I don’t have anymore. Therefore, I just had to show up and hope that there would be space available. The quicker option that I could have done is a direct 3-hour ferry from Georgetown to Langkawi, which I heard costs 70 ringgit ($23.64). The route that I decided to take instead included three steps. The first step was to take a 20-minute ferry from Penang Island to the mainland in order to get to the bus station. I read that a ferry leaves every 20-30 minutes so I got there at 9:45 to make sure I could get to the station by 10:45. I also read that the ferry would cost 1.20 ringgit but I was never asked for money or for a ticket.

I got to the other side at around 10:20, found the Penang Sentral Station right beside the pier, and went to the ticket counter to buy a ticket. The ticket costs 19 ringgit ($6.20) for a 3-hour journey to Kuala Perlis. The lady told me to head down to the bus at 10:45, which gave me some time to buy snacks for the ride. The bus journey was fine, and we arrived in Kuala Perlis at 2pm. I had looked on my phone and saw that there was a ferry at 2pm (which I would have just missed) and another one at 4pm. I slowly walked towards the ferry terminal, where people were yelling from all directions, trying to get me to get a taxi or get ferry tickets. I was surprised to find out that a ferry would be leaving at 2:30pm so I bought my ticket for 18 ringgit ($5.88), quickly ran over to KFC to buy a burger, and got back just as they were boarding the ferry. We had assigned seating so I found my spot and relaxed for the 1 hour and 15-minute journey. They had a movie playing but I couldn’t understand it, so I mostly just tried to tune out the noise of crying children around me. We arrived in Langkawi at about 4pm and as soon as I got there, I was awed by its beauty.

I felt like I could stay there forever. However, I soon realised that it was a resort island and was therefore quite pricey compared to the rest of Malaysia. Also, it was quite a large island so I was quite isolated without being able to ride a motorbike. With Malaysia, you’re constantly being asked for things: massage, watersports, going into a restaurant, if you want a taxi.. it never ends. And that’s something that takes away from my ability to relax, as I just end up feeling uncomfortable. Langkawi was definitely like this wherever I went. Anyway, I got a Grab to my hostel, which took about 20-30 minutes and cost me 26 ringgit ($8.49). I was getting concerned when arriving because the taxi driver took me down a small street that seemed to lead to nowhere. However, it turns out that my hostel was actually in the middle of nowhere, which was kind of nice!

I stayed at Crowded House in a 4-bed dorm with an en-suite and it cost me $9.50 per night. The thing that I instantly noticed about this hostel was that pretty much everyone seemed to be above the age of 25 (some were in their 40s), whereas everywhere else I go to, I tend to be one of the oldest people there. While it was a cool place, there wasn’t any phone service in the rooms – only in the common room, so it caused people to be more antisocial because they were sitting on their phones most of the time. Also, the hostel seemed to have a lot of volunteers – people who would work at the hostel for free accommodation, so many people seemed to be staying long-term. Nearly everyone was vegetarian or vegan, nearly everyone smoked, and the amount of times that people spoke about getting and doing drugs was more than what I’m used to. I knew I wasn’t going to click with anyone there, so I spent most of my first couple of days on my own. I spent that evening at the beach to watch the sunset and then I went to a restaurant called Cactus Restaurant and got Singapore noodles for 10 ringgit ($3.26).

The hostel owner had asked if anyone would be interested in doing a half-day boat tour the next day for 40 ringgit ($13.06) and said that if he got 5 or 6 people to go, we could get a private tour. I figured it would be a good idea so I signed myself up.

We would be picked up at 9:30am on Saturday morning so I decided to get some breakfast first. The hostel doesn’t offer free breakfast and their kitchen was closed on Saturdays, so I walked down the street to see what I could find. However, pretty much all of the restaurants didn’t open until 9am. Luckily, one restaurant (Yam Yam) allowed me to come in 10 minutes early. I found the cheapest thing on the menu (2 eggs with toast) for 10 ringgit and then when they asked me what I wanted to drink, I said a latte, not realising that it would cost more than the eggs (11 ringgit). So with tax, I paid 23.10 ringgit ($7.54), ate my food as fast as I could, and got back to the hostel RIGHT at 9:30. The taxi driver came late and took five of us to the pier. We were given coloured stickers to put on our shirts and then had to wait for our boat to arrive. We soon realised that we wouldn’t be getting a private tour, as they squished us into a group with about 8 other people.

Once we got on the boat, we were given life jackets, which most of us were just going to hold, but once we got going, we quickly put them on. The boat ride was so intense! We were airborne multiple times and sometimes we’d land on a tilt, which made everyone nervous! It was funny at first but it got to the point where some of the guys on the boat were getting mad at the driver and telling him he needed to slow down. I was mostly concerned for all of the stuff that I had brought with me (my camera and phone), as I knew they’d be finished if we ended up flipping the boat. We finally made it to Tasik Dayang Bunting, the Lake of the Pregnant Maiden. There are many legends about this lake and apparently it will help women with infertility issues if they drink from the lake. We were given an hour here and we had to pay to get into the park, which cost 3 ringgit for Malaysians and 6 ringgit ($2) for foreigners. They also wouldn’t let plastic bags go into the park (due to monkeys), so I had to transfer everything into my bag. We had to walk through a huge group of monkeys in order to get to the lake, so I sped through as fast as I could, trying not to make eye contact, and making sure I stayed close to one of the three guys at all times. It definitely wasn’t the relaxing morning that I thought I’d be getting! We got to the lake but it was so crowded, as many other tour groups were there as well.

In order to swim, you needed to rent a life jacket for 2 ringgit, or you could rent a paddle boat to go around the lake. A couple of us decided to just go sit at a cafe outside of the park for the next hour because at least we could get some shade there. After that, we got back into the scary boat (which funnily enough, I preferred over being around the monkeys) and we stopped at a little cove where there must have been about 50 eagles flying around; it was pretty spectacular! That is.. until the boat driver started throwing meat into the water right beside me and some of the eagles swooped down a little too close for comfort.

I’ve never seen anything like it, it was pretty cool! The boat driver then took us to Pulau Beras Basah, an island with a long beach, where we got another hour to enjoy.

The beach was pretty shallow and the water wasn’t clean – I walked quite far out and the water never made it up to my waist. The guys spent their entire hour picking up garbage off the beach and filled up a large box. We then headed back to Langkawi and I decided to sit in the front of the boat. I could definitely feel the bumps a lot more up there, so my back was feeling it that evening and the next day. So in conclusion, I wouldn’t recommend this tour – we went from stress to stress to stress, and no one in the group seemed to enjoy it. We got back to the hostel at about 1:30 and by that point, I was starving so I walked to a restaurant called Tomato Nasi Kandar which is an Indian restaurant. I had to go up to the front to order so I got curry chicken with rice, an iced coffee (which was sooo sweet), and a coke for 9.80 ringgit ($3.20).

The other people from the hostel showed up at around 3pm, so I visited with them and then we all walked back to the hostel. I spent the next hour or so trying to figure out what else I should do and where I should go in Malaysia. My original plan was to go to the Perhentian Islands (which are apparently absolutely gorgeous), as well as some other islands on the east side of mainland Malaysia, but what I didn’t realise was that it’s monsoon season on that side of Malaysia so pretty much everything closes down. The monsoon season on that side lasts for 6 months and then apparently the monsoon season goes to the other side of Malaysia for the next six months, which makes travelling a bit more difficult. I was even trying to decide if I should just move to another hostel on Langkawi. I visited with some people in the hostel for a couple hours and then went to a restaurant called Boat Restaurant and had a vermicelli noodle dish, some vegetables in oyster sauce, and an iced tea for 19 ringgit ($6.20).

The food at this restaurant was so good, and the hospitality was very friendly!

On Sunday morning, I ordered breakfast at the hostel and got French Toast for 12 ringgit ($3.92).

I’m pretty picky about my French toast so I was quite hesitant upon ordering it, but it was made perfectly. During breakfast, I got talking to a girl who had just arrived the night before (Jade) from London. She asked what I was planning to do and I said I wanted to check out Oriental Village, and hike up to the Seven Wells Waterfall. She asked if it would be okay if she joined and I happily obliged since it would cut my Grab transportation in half. Instantly, I knew that Jade was the type of person that I’d click with – it was like we’d been friends for years, and we chatted away about anything and everything. Honestly, I was kind of relieved since I hadn’t met anyone like that for a few days. She felt the same way that I did about our hostel and she was planning to move hostels the next day, so I started getting the idea that maybe I should as well. Anyway, we took a Grab to Oriental Village for 12 ringgit each ($3.92), arrived at about 11:30, and walked around for a bit.

The main attraction in Langkawi is the cable car, but it’s also overpriced so I wasn’t too keen on trying it. However now, I’ve only heard amazing things about it so I’m wondering if I made a mistake by skipping out on it. We found a bunny farm in Oriental Village and went to check it out but a lot of the bunnies looked a bit rough, so I didn’t go around petting them.

They were pretty cute though! We had a lot of difficulty figuring out where the beginning of the hike started and had to ask around. We realised it wasn’t actually IN Oriental Village – we had to leave the village, walk through the parking lot, and walk about 600 metres down the highway to get to another small village-like area, which had two restaurants and an information centre. We were both getting hungry by that point and weren’t sure when we’d get to have food again since we were expecting to hike for the next couple of hours, so we stopped at one of the two restaurants called Kahuna Kitchen. The owners were so friendly, and we both ordered a curry noodle soup dish, which was really tasty. With a coke, it cost us 11 ringgit each ($3.59).

I was sitting there enjoying my soup and all of a sudden, I looked up and saw a monkey heading towards us. I wasn’t too sure what to do, as I knew it was going for our food. Luckily, the owner saw it too and ran out of the restaurant with a brick and pretended to throw it at the monkey so it would run off. It did, and we were able to enjoy the rest of our lunch monkey-free. We were finally ready to start our hike (I’m pretty sure we were both trying to hold it off for as long as we possibly could). We climbed an extremely steep street for about five minutes, used the bathroom at the top, and then saw that we could either go left to the waterfall, or straight to the seven wells. We decided to start by going left, literally walked 100 metres, and the waterfall was right there! It turns out that we didn’t have as big of a walk as we were expecting! The waterfall was one of the nicer ones I’ve seen – not humongous, but still better than some of the little trickles I’ve seen in the past. When we got there, there were only four other people there so we basically got the entire thing to ourselves.

I think what happens is most people take the cable car, and you can see the waterfall from there so most people don’t bother going to see it up close. And anyone who goes to do the “hike” probably walks to the seven wells since they’re more well-known. We took advantage of having a waterfall to ourselves, climbed up near the top, and found a flat surface right beside the falls. It was pretty slippery getting there and Jade dropped her phone, which slid all the way down until a guy ran after it and caught it right before it slipped off the edge into the water. Anyway, we went back and forth between lying in the sun and going down to the bottom of the falls to have a swim. It was quiet for the first one or two hours, but at around 3pm, more and more people started to come. We realised that we should have taken our pictures when we had the place to ourselves because we struggled getting pictures without other people coming into the shot. We stayed there for about four hours and all of a sudden just after 5pm, someone whistled at us. I sat up and he waved us over and said that we couldn’t sit where we were sitting – we had to come to the other side of the falls. Confused, we packed up our stuff and climbed back over the falls to the other side. The guy said that he was safety staff and that someone had died that day from slipping. He said he had to take two people to the hospital. It kind of made sense as to why he wasn’t there the entire day though. We were planning to leave anyway, since the sun was nearly behind the hills and he asked if we had went up to Seven Wells yet. We said no and he said that he could take us there. I asked if we could wear flip flops or if we should change back into our running shoes, and he said the flip flops would be fine. Turns out Seven Wells was only a 250 metre walk away, but it was up 350 steps. The guy ran up, and Jade and I quickly fell behind. We finally made it to the top but he took us past the viewpoint and said he had something better to show us. He walked us to his friend who was in one of the seven pools and he got out, introduced himself, and said he’d be showing us one of the nicest places to swim with the clearest water. They suddenly led us into a forest and said that it was just a five-minute walk down the path. We were trekking through and it was obvious that the path was hardly walked on, as there were leaves covering the entire way. It definitely wasn’t the type of walk to do in flip flops because we had to climb over rocks and bend under trees. At one point, my flip flop got caught so I tripped, and my flip flop got tangled in my foot. The guys were saying how lucky we were because hardly anyone gets to see this pool of water, no one knows about it, not even the government. It was then that warning signs started going into overdrive in my head and I kept turning to try to make eye contact with Jade, but she was on her phone (she was actually trying to find our location to send out in case something happened, so we were obviously both feeling the same way). After about ten minutes of walking, we got to the bottom of a big hill and they said that we just had to go up and then back down and we would be there, “12 minutes!” 12 minutes?! I looked at Jade and said I felt iffy about this and she agreed. So I just said that we were okay and we wanted to go back. “But we’re almost there, we’re already halfway!” “No, it’s okay, we’re fine.” “But it’s the nicest waters, you won’t be able to swim in clean waters back at Seven Wells.” “We don’t want to swim, we just wanted to look at the view.” We started walking back and as we got to the end, the one guy said that when we had come, he was just about to start cleaning out one of the wells and get all of the rocks and leaves out, and now he won’t have time. We apologised for wasting his time and as soon as we got to the end of the trail, both of the guys wandered off. Jade and I went to the viewpoint and then made our way back down so that we could change out of our swimsuits.

We changed and then went to find a place to sit so we could talk about what had just happened. All of a sudden, Jade looks shocked and says, “Your foot is bleeding!” I looked down and half of my foot and my flip flop were covered in blood. “Oh… it is…” “You don’t feel anything?!” It wasn’t until I poured water on it that I started to feel a bit of pain (thank goodness for my high pain threshold!). Jade kept wondering how long it would have taken me to notice if she hadn’t of said anything. I kept pouring water on it but the blood just kept coming out between my big toe and the next toe. I must have cut it when I tripped. I decided to just wrap my toe in a tissue, put my sock over it, and put my runners back on. For the rest of the night, I was fine as long as I was walking and putting pressure on it, but anytime I sat down, it would start to hurt. We headed back down to Oriental Village but nearly everything was closed by that time (it was only just after 6). Langkawi has a night market that moves around every night so conveniently, it was actually on the way back to our hostel. We got a Grab to the night market, which cost us 9 ringgit each ($2.94). The night market was so incredibly cool! Just seeing how the food was packaged in bags or in newspaper, and being able to try different foods was a really neat experience.

We started by getting some little cake-like things called dorayaki, which were 3 for 1 ringgit (30 cents)! I decided to try a coconut one, a corn one, and a red bean one, and all of them were so delicious!

The next thing I wanted to do was get a drink in a bag. We found a place and I decided to get a coconut one for 3 ringgit ($1). The guy grabbed a cup and I quickly said, “No, no, can I please get it in a bag?” So I finally got my juice in a bag, which they fill RIGHT up to the top.

You had to stop and chug a bunch, just so it wouldn’t go everywhere. After that, I decided to try a couple of chicken satay skewers, which were .60 ringgit each, so I got two for 1.20 ringgit (41 cents).

Since there wasn’t really anywhere that we could sit, we decided to just buy our dinners to take back to the hostel so that we could eat there. I decided to get a chicken po-boy-type of sandwich, which cost me 5 ringgit ($1.69) and we also decided to get 3 more of the dorayaki cakes each because they were so good!

So in total, I only spent 10.20 ringgit ($3.33) and I got so much food out of it – we were both stuffed! We went back to the hostel in a Grab for 8 ringgit each ($2.61), ate our meals, and then looked up different hostels that we could move into the following day. I figured I might as well stay a couple more days so that I could see the cable car and check out the nicest beach on the island. After staying up and visiting with everyone, we all went to bed.

The next morning, I packed up all of my stuff so that I could check out of the hostel. I ran into one of the guys in my room when I was walking out and said I was struggling to decide what I wanted to do. “Why don’t you go to Koh Lipe in Thailand?” It was something that I didn’t consider, but it was only a 90-minute boatride away and suddenly I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I talked to my sister on FaceTime for awhile, ordered breakfast from the hostel kitchen, which was a tempeh burger and was absolutely amazing, especially for someone who doesn’t like tofu and soy (I didn’t know what tempeh was when I ordered it).

Anyway, after talking to my sister, I went and sat down with Jade and told her my thoughts. I figured that if I went to Koh Lipe, I’d be coming back to Langkawi anyway so it would make sense to do all of the touristy things when I came back. I asked if she’d be interested in joining and she said that since she was only in Langkawi for 6 days and was only on a short holiday before going back to London, she figured she should stay. I asked the hostel owner what the chances were that he could get me on the last ferry to Koh Lipe at 2:30 (it was already 12). “Tomorrow?” “No… today.” His eyes widened and he didn’t seem too convinced, but he said he’d make a call. It would cost me 135 ringgit ($44.07) to take the ferry and get a ride to the ferry pier, and he said the taxi driver could pick me up in a half hour. So it was decided – I’d be going back to Thailand! Normally, I’m a planner so this was completely out of the ordinary for me, but it gave a sense of thrill that I now understand other people must get when making decisions on the go (or maybe I only got that thrill because it never happens). Anyway, Koh Lipe will be for another post. Love always

Penang/Georgetown (Jan 8-11): A Topsy-Turvy Museum, a Thief, and Tons of Turtles

Ben and I had bought bus tickets from Kuala Lumpur to Penang late on Monday night. The tickets only cost 38 ringgit each ($12.41AUD) so it was a pretty good deal for a 5-hour ride! We got up at 8 so that we could check out of the hostel by 8:45 and make our way to the bus station. By the time we bought metro tickets and figured out HOW to get to the bus station, we realised we were cutting it close so we decided to just book a Grab in order to make it to the bus station by 9:30. The bus arrived late (which seems to be normal in Asia) and with all of the extremely long stops on the way, we arrived about an hour later than expected. However, the time went by fast so it wasn’t a huge deal. Georgetown is the main part of Penang – it’s a UNESCO historic site and I had heard nothing but great things about it. Maybe my expectations were too high but to be honest, I didn’t see what the big deal was about this city, and most travellers who I’ve met afterwards completely agreed. Ben only had one night in Georgetown before he had to go back to Kuala Lumpur the next afternoon to catch his flight back to Sydney, so we tried to fit as much in as we could. We checked into Ryokan Muntri Boutique Hostel, which cost $10 per night, and then we walked around to look at all of the “attractions.” We walked to Chinatown and Little India, and then it started to rain. We decided to keep walking, despite neither of us having a rain jacket or umbrella, and walked past town hall, along the pier, and looked at the clock tower (sorry, but I didn’t take any pictures because of the rain). Maybe it was the time that we came, but the town seemed almost eerily quiet. After walking around for a couple of hours, we went to a food court near our hostel called Red Garden Food Paradise & Night Market. It was kind of like an outdoor, covered area with multiple food stalls around the outside, a stage in the middle, and tons of tables everywhere else. We decided to order from Kimpo Famous Roasted Crispy Duck, Chicken & Pork, where I got roast duck with rice for 7 ringgit ($2.37) and a watermelon juice for 3.30 ringgit ($1.12).

We didn’t realise that you had to find a table first and then go up to the stall to order food, so Ben had to run to find a table so that he could give them a table number. Then, we sat at the table and paid them as soon as the food arrived. It’s quite difficult getting used to how ordering and paying works in each place! After eating dinner, we decided to treat ourselves to dessert. Ben decided on a waffle with peanut butter and bananas, and I decided on an Oreo ice cream sandwich.

Both of them were so good! By that time, the entertainment had started so we had a couple of beers and watched the singers perform before heading back to the hostel.

The next morning (Wednesday), we got up and had breakfast at the hostel (which was one of the better hostel breakfasts), which had not only toast but naan and curry, boiled eggs, mashed potatoes with gravy (interesting breakfast choice?), and hotdogs. Ben had to catch his bus at 2 so we started the day off by going to the upside-down museum. It cost 25 ringgit each with a hostel discount ($8.16). The museum is basically a house but everything is glued to the ceiling, which was pretty cool! However, we got through the entire museum in ten minutes because the staff completely rushed everyone through. We walked into the kitchen and one staff member would say, “Sir, you pose like this” and the other would say, “Miss, you pose like this.” We’d pose, they’d snap a picture, and then they’d push us into the next room. At the end, we asked if we could walk through again backwards just so we could actually look at everything, so they let us.

After that, we decided to go to the funicular, as it’s supposed to be the longest cable car in Asia. I requested a Grab to take us to the cable car for 12 ringgit ($3.92), which would take about a half hour. On the way there, I went on the website and saw that they were closing the funicular from January 7-12 to do their bi-annual safety check. I broke the news to Ben but since we were already halfway there, we decided to keep going to see if there’d be anything else in the area. Then by some happy coincidence, the Grab driver actually ended up taking us to a completely different cable car because I chose the wrong destination (oops.. I didn’t know there’d be more than one cable car in Penang). He dropped us off at the top of a beautiful temple called Kek Lok Si Temple. I didn’t bring my sarong that day but luckily, this temple wasn’t strict about covering up. On the top level, there was a giant statue, the Quan Yin Statue, which was undergoing renovations, as well as a beautiful view of the city.

We took a cable car down to the next level (there were four levels total), where we got to walk through the actual temple. It was much different from all of the other temples we went to, as it seemed like something you’d normally find in China.

We decided to walk the rest of the way down, where we found a Tortoise Pond on the next level.

We watched them for quite awhile and then walked down to the next level, where there was the Air Itam food market. I looked up the best places to eat and the top pick was Penang Air Itam Laksa, which was a street food vendor whose tables were completely full. Two ladies waved us over to their table so we joined them and found out they were from Singapore. The restaurant only serves one dish (laksa) so we decided to give it a try since it’s one of the main dishes in Malaysia. However, the broth was very fishy tasting and there was a lot of mint added to it, which just seemed like too much. After trying it for awhile, Ben and I both agreed to find another place. Luckily, we didn’t lose much money as it was only 9 ringgit for the two of us ($3.05)! The two ladies at our table suggested that we go to Sister’s Curry Mee, which is another street food vendor with only one dish (a kind of curry noodle soup), which would be closing at 1 so we only had 20 minutes to get there and eat.

The food was alright, however with every bite, it got spicier and spicier. It got to the point where I tried adding soy sauce just to make it a little less spicy. When neither of us could eat anymore, we took a Grab back to our hostel so that Ben could get his stuff, and then we took another Grab to the bus station. We got there with ten minutes to spare, the shuttle van arrived late (of course), and then we had to wait for the bus driver to fix the lightbulb in the waiting room before everyone could board the bus, which was quite comical considering they were already late to begin with. Finally, everyone was able to get on the bus so Ben and I said our goodbyes, and once again, I was a lone traveller. I’ve found that I travel in patterns.. I’ll meet people who I really get along with in one place, we’ll say goodbye, and then I’ll be completely antisocial in the next place because I’ll be too sad to try to make friends. Then I’ll try to make friends again in the place after that. It’s a vicious cycle! Anyway, since the bus station was at the bottom of a shopping mall, I decided to check out some of the stores and then walk towards my hostel. There’s a Mexican restaurant next to the hostel called Holy Guacamole (one of my main phrases) so I just HAD to try it out. It was happy hour so I got a margarita and some tortilla chips with salsa for 19 ringgit ($6.20). My plan was to go to the beach to watch the sunset and check out the night market, so I went to the hostel to change. However, as soon as I got back, it started pouring rain for the next few hours. When the rain finally slowed down, I went back to the Red Garden Night Market to get some dinner. This time, I got a Vietnamese vermicelli noodle bowl with spring rolls and a watermelon shake for 15.50 ringgit ($5.06). It was really good!

I got back to the hostel and went to grab my bag off of my bed so that I could get ready for bed. However, I noticed that all of my makeup was on top, which I was confused about since I haven’t used my makeup during my entire trip. Then I noticed that my medication was in the bag, but I usually keep it in one of my packing cubes which is normally kept on the shelf beside my bed. When I looked at my shelf, everything had been cleared off of it. It was then that everything started going in slow motion, when I came to realise that someone had gone through my stuff. I had that exact feeling when I realised that I had my money stolen in London three years ago. Someone had taken the shaving kit packing cube, emptied everything inside of it into the bag on my bed, and literally just took the packing cube. I sat there for the longest time, totally confused, and tried to figure out if there was anything of value that the person may have taken, but I couldn’t think of anything. My universal adaptor was still there, my memory cards were still there, my glasses, medications (thank goodness), everything was still there. I only realised later that the person didn’t empty the inside pocket, which had tweezers, nail clippers, band-aids, and possibly other things that I can’t remember. There had only been one other person in our room, so I’m thinking that he must have went through everything before he left (luckily I had my main bag with everything else securely locked in a locker). Why does he need a packing cube so badly? We’ll never know..

On Thursday morning, I went down for breakfast and there were four people from the Kuala Lumpur hostel there, and one of them was Mike! I sat with them and we exchanged info so that we could meet up for dinner later that day. I decided to go to the National Park so I walked to the bus stop, paid 4 ringgit ($1.31), and took the hour-long bus ride to the park. By the time I got there, it was noon so I decided to get lunch since I didn’t know how long I’d be hiking for. I stopped at a restaurant right outside the park entrance and got a noodle dish with my first Penang iced white coffee (which was so good!) and a coke for 13.50 ringgit ($4.51).

By the way, I realise that I’m drinking a lot of coke on this trip.. I don’t normally drink it but in weather like this, nothing is more satisfying than having a cold coke. It literally loses its cold within 1 or 2 minutes after being taken out of the fridge, which is why I can’t get the same satisfaction from the always-warm water that I carry around with me. Anyway, after lunch I made my way to the national park. There are two trails that you can do – one is more hilly and goes to Turtle Beach, and one goes along the coast and goes to Monkey Beach. I had already decided that I was going to do the Monkey Beach trail, but soon found out that you could only do half of it (to a lighthouse) and the rest was closed because of a mudslide. However, there was a stall outside of the park that was offering boat rides to monkey beach from the lighthouse or from turtle beach. I asked how much it would cost to take a boat and the prices varied from 100-300 ringgit ($30-90)! I politely declined and decided I’d just do the turtle beach hike. It’s free to get into the national park but you still have to sign up at the front, say where you’re going, and give contact information in case you get lost (which I’m not sure how this would help as there wasn’t any service for the majority of the hike). Then, they gave you a permit to enter the park. Within the first ten minutes, I already encountered my first set of monkeys and I quickly realised that I’ve developed a fear of them because of my last monkey attack. I calmly talked to them to say that I didn’t have any food (I know better now) as they watched me put my mosquito repellent on.

They soon lost interest and left me alone. The information wasn’t wrong when it said that the turtle beach path was hilly – I was constantly sweating during the duration of the hike.

I’m hoping that I’m losing weight just by sweating out my body weight in water everyday. The hike was still so nice – it’s amazing being completely alone in the middle of the forest and being able to hear all of the sounds around you. You realise that you’re actually not so alone. I got to turtle beach in just over an hour, but I think I enjoyed the scenery of the actual hike over the endpoint. It was a beach that you weren’t allowed to swim in, and then there was also a turtle sanctuary that just had some turtles in big plastic containers of water.

Apparently they give free tours, but no one was around so I didn’t spend much time there. I made my way back and got back in about 45 minutes.

I waited for the bus and decided to stop at Ferringhi Beach on the way back to Georgetown. I treated myself to McDonald’s and got some fries, a sundae, and tried a taro pie (which was delicious!) for 10.85 ringgit ($3.54). I walked down to the beach but I kept getting approached by people asking if I wanted to JetSki or do watersports. The beach wasn’t that nice so I just walked back to the bus stop and waited for the next bus. I got off at the mall, bought myself everything that had been stolen since it would be the last time I’d be in a city for awhile (a new bag, tweezers and nail clippers), and went back to the hostel where I ran into everyone else. The five of us went to Red Garden Night Market again and this time, I got some pork and chive dumplings for 9 ringgit ($2.94). After listening to the performers for awhile, I headed back to the hostel to get my bag packed and go to bed to leave for Langkawi the next morning. And that’s Penang! Love always

Kuala Lumpur (Jan 5-8): Temples, Amazing Views, and Tons of Food

At 5:30am on Saturday morning, I got a taxi from my hostel to the Krabi airport. My first flight was to Bangkok and I had already checked in online so I was able to skip onto security and get through quite quickly. I had a coffee and waited for my 7:30 flight. The flight was a short 1 hour and 10 minutes so I landed in Bangkok at around 8:45, and then had to make my way to the other terminal since I would be flying internationally to Kuala Lumpur. This time, I flew with Malindo Air. Usually when I check in online, there’s a separate desk for document checks, but this airline didn’t have one. Therefore, I still had to wait in the long line to get my boarding pass printed out. The agent asked me for proof that I’d be leaving Malaysia so I showed her my return ticket to Taipei. However, when she saw that I’d be coming back to Kuala Lumpur after Taipei in February, she asked for proof that I’d be leaving Malaysia after that. I had to go through my phone and find the information to show that I’d be flying back to Bangkok, otherwise I’m not sure they would have given me my boarding pass. Finally, I got my boarding pass, went through security, and got something to eat before my flight at 11:50am. I also needed to take out some cash before I left since my travel card only allows USD and Thai Baht withdrawals – any other currency, I’ll be charged a percentage of whatever I take out. However, when I asked the information booth where the ATM was, they said they didn’t have any ATM’s – what?! So I’d be forced to take out Malaysian Ringgit when I arrive in Kuala Lumpur… The flight was only 2 hours and 15 minutes but it was the first flight since I’ve started my trip where I got in-flight entertainment. Not only that, but it’s the first flight since I’ve started my trip where they’ve given free food and drinks! I got some pizza with a red velvet-type brownie, along with grape juice and water. So I have to say that I was quite impressed with this airline.

We arrived just after 3 so I was only able to get through half of my movie and then I had to figure out how to get to my hostel. As usual, I decided to skip the faster, more expensive option of the rapid bus and instead take the slower, cheaper bus to KL Sentral, the main station, for 12 ringgit ($3.92AUD). The bus left at 4pm and took exactly an hour so I got to KL Sentral by 5. Then, I had to figure out how to take the metro to where my hostel was. I bought my ticket for 3 ringgit ($1) but then I couldn’t figure out where I had to catch the metro. I went through one turnstile, went up to the platform, realised I was in the wrong place, and lost my token when I exited. So I had to buy another token for 3 ringgit and this time I went to the information booth to find out how to get to Bukit Bintang station. He told me to follow the signs that said MRT so I did, and it was at least a 5-10 minute walk to another station, so I’m glad I asked. Finally, I got there, scanned my token, and got on the metro. My hostel, Sunshine Bedz KL was right next to the station, and it cost 28 ringgit per night ($9.49). Kuala Lumpur is a lot more humid than it was in Thailand so even though it was 33 degrees everyday that I was there, it was “feels like” 38 or 39. Meaning I was sweating and desperately hoping for A/C everywhere I went. By the time I arrived, it was just after 6pm so I was pretty hungry. I got myself organised, sat in the hostel for awhile, and then decided to check out the street market right next to the hostel, called Jalan Alor.

There were tons of street stalls and restaurants there, with people constantly approaching you, trying to get you to come into their restaurant. I was quite taken aback that first night, as I wasn’t used to being approached because it hardly ever happened when I was in Thailand. I decided to go to a restaurant called Wong Ah Wah, where I decided to try their famous chicken wings, and also had a noodle dish. The chicken wings were actually really good, although they were a bit different than what I’m used to. My meal with a coke cost me 21.50 ringgit ($7.02) so it was a pretty good deal!

I walked around for quite awhile afterwards and checked out some of the shops in the area, as well as listened to some of the buskers on the street. You’re immediately able to tell that it’s a poorer country, not only because everything is so cheap, but also because there are people sitting down the length of the sidewalks, asking for money – it’s quite sad to see. I went back to the hostel at about 10, chatted with some other travellers, and then got ready for bed.

On Sunday morning, I got up and went to get breakfast in the hostel, which is where I met the people who I spent the next few days with. It all started the night before when I spotted someone on the sidewalk wearing a t-shirt that belongs to my university sport team. I went up and asked if he was from Saskatchewan but he was British and said he had gotten the t-shirt at a vintage shop in London. The next morning, that same guy was having breakfast at my hostel so I went and sat with him, found out his name is Ben, and I also met an Irish guy named Mike and another Canadian girl (from Toronto) named Daina. When we all realised that we had the same plan of going to Batu Temple, we decided we might as well go together. We took a Grab (which is basically Uber in Southeast Asia), which ended up costing us about 4 ringgit each ($1.30) and drove for quite awhile to get to the area. Batu Temple is a Hindu temple and it’s one of the most colourful places I’ve ever seen – it was so cool!

We had to climb up 272 colourful steps to get to the top but on the way up, we saw an educational tour of the Dark Caves. It cost 35 ringgit each ($11.43), but it was so worth it! We had to wait about 20 minutes until the next tour, were given helmets and flashlights, and then started the tour, which was about 45 minutes long. Our tour guide knew a lot of information and was also pretty funny, so it was a really good tour to take.

After our tour finished, we continued up to the top of the stairs to take a look at the temple (and the monkeys, which weren’t AS aggressive as the ones at Tiger Cave, just as long as you didn’t have food).

By the time we got back to the bottom, we were all starving so we took a Grab back to our hostel and found a food court on the bottom level of a mall nearby, which literally had every type of food that you can imagine. I decided to go for a crunchy chicken and rice dish, which was delicious and only 12.60 ringgit ($4.11). We then all got some cheese tarts, which were actually better than I was expecting. Once you bit into the tart, the cheese (or whatever filling you got) would ooze out.

After our very late lunch (we finished at 3:30pm), we went back to the hostel to change so that we could go to one of the rooftop bars to watch the sunset. We walked to Skybar, which is one of the coolest bars I’ve seen. It’s on the 33rd floor and right in the middle of the bar, it has a swimming pool with no roof. Around the pool, there are plenty of seating areas, with tables and chairs on one side, and lounge-type areas on the other side with a beautiful view of the Petronas Towers.

The cheapest (alcoholic) drink on the menu was a beer for 22 ringgit ($7.18), but it was worth it for the view (and being able to avoid having to pay the expensive fee to get to the top of the Petronas Towers for the same type of view). We stayed for a few hours and got to experience the heavy rainfall that occurred into the pool beside us, which was pretty neat.

After we finished our drinks, we walked down to the Petronas Towers, where there are a bunch of musical fountains. As soon as we got there, the music stopped so we sat and waited for about a half hour and nothing happened. Then as soon as we got up and walked away, the music started again! Bad timing on our parts I guess…

We decided to have dinner back at Jalan Alor and this time, we went to a restaurant called Meng Kee Grill Fish, where I had another noodle dish and a Pepsi for 13 ringgit ($4.24).

Afterwards, I even tried durian for the first time! It actually wasn’t too bad – it was deep-fried and it tasted sweet with a hint of onion 🙂

On Monday morning, I woke up a bit later, had breakfast, and no one was around. I hadn’t exchanged any contact information with Ben, Mike, and Daina so I figured that maybe they had already left. Luckily, just as I was putting on my shoes to leave, I ran into Ben so I said I’d go get a SIM card while they were eating breakfast. I picked up a SIM card at 7-Eleven and it was 30 ringgit for 30 days of unlimited data plus 25 ringgit for the actual SIM card, which totalled to $14.69. I went back to the hostel to meet up with everyone, and then we walked towards Chinatown. We found a cool market called Petaling Street Market, walked through it, and then stopped at the Sri Mahamariamman Temple, another Hindu temple. We had to pay .20 ringgit to store our shoes and then we spent awhile walking around the temple.

After that, we went to Central Market to check out some of the artwork and souvenirs. By that time, we were feeling pretty hungry since it was nearly 1pm so we took a metro to Little India, which is a cute and colourful little neighbourhood.

We found a restaurant called Seetharam Family Curry House, where I had a chicken curry set meal with 3-layer tea. It was so much food and all of it only cost 24 ringgit ($7.84)!

We took a Grab to Taman Eko Rimba, an ecopark that’s completely free. I’ve actually been shocked as to how many attractions are offered for free! We started with a canopy walk, which gave some nice views of the park. Then, we lathered on mosquito repellent and started walking through the forest.

It closed at 5pm so we got out just in time and walked back to the hostel. We all showered, changed, and decided to just have a KFC dinner, where I got a 3-piece chicken tender set with fries, mashed potatoes, and a root beer float, all for 14 ringgit ($4.57)! We headed back to the hostel because we signed up to take part in pub trivia so we had to be at the hostel for 8:30. At about 9, we all (a group of about 30-40 people) walked to an Irish pub, where the trivia was taking place. Due to technical difficulties, a lot of our time was just spent sitting around and chatting because they couldn’t get the tv’s connected (the rain kept making the power go out). However, our team won the first round (which I didn’t contribute any knowledge for whatsoever) and got a pitcher of beer to share. Overall (after 3 rounds), our table got second place so we won a bottle of vodka. Pretty much everyone else continued partying afterwards but Ben and I were catching a bus to Penang the next morning so since I had to get up by 8, I decided to go back to the hostel and go to bed. Kuala Lumpur is such a beautiful city and I feel like I spent just the right amount of time there to see everything, plus I met some pretty cool people. Will definitely be back again! Love always

Krabi Town (Jan 2-5): Monkey Attacks and Tropical Storms

My trip back to Krabi was pretty simple – my hostel owner booked a shared taxi for me, which cost 300 baht ($13AUD). Once I arrived, it was about 5:30pm. The hostel I stayed at was called Pak-Up hostel, and it used to be a primary school before it became a hostel so they stuck to the school theme, which was kind of neat.

I stayed in a 10-person female dorm for 300 baht per night ($13.58), and the hostel offered a free barbecue every night of your stay (which was just two skewers with chicken and vegetables, so I only took advantage of it once cause we ended up having to stand in line for over a half hour to get them). I showered and got all of my stuff organised, and then I was starving since I didn’t really eat a proper lunch. I went to a restaurant nearby called Chalita, which served both Thai and western food. My stomach still felt a bit off so I decided to just get a spicy chicken burger with fries. After dinner, I walked around one of the night markets before heading back to the hostel and going to bed.

In my last blog, I forgot to mention that when I went for lunch with Karin in Koh Lanta, she had found a news article about a tropical storm heading towards southern Thailand. She was worried that she should leave Koh Lanta because it was supposed to get worse by Friday and Saturday. On Thursday morning in Krabi, I got up earlier because I wanted to catch the ferry to Railay Beach, which is one of the really nice beaches in the Krabi area. The hostel said that as long as I show up a half hour early to book, I’d be okay. The ferry I wanted to catch would be at 10 so I went down at about 8:30, booked my ticket, and went to a cafe nearby for breakfast. I decided to just get chicken fried rice with a latte at a place called Coconuts Cafe, and then I went back to the hostel at 9:30 to catch my ferry.

However, once I got there, the hostel workers said that the government wasn’t letting any boats leave the pier so I wouldn’t be able to go to Railay Beach.

All of the other tours that I would have wanted to take would have already done their pick-ups between 9 and 9:20, so I couldn’t even choose one of those as another option. Krabi Town doesn’t really have much to do for tourists – most of the stuff to see is outside of the city so you either need to pay for public transportation, or rent a motorbike. I decided I might as well check out the Tiger Cave Temple, so I asked the hostel workers how I could get there. They said I’d have to take a taxi for 500 baht, which seemed a bit steep. After doing some research online, I realised I could just catch a songthaew, which is basically just a truck.

For me to get to Tiger Cave Temple, it would only cost 50 baht each way ($2.18)!! I don’t know why the hostel workers didn’t bother telling me this information because it was a much cheaper alternative, at 10% of the price. However, now I think it’s because they have a taxi that belongs to the hostel so they’re able to make more money this way. I walked about five minutes to where all of the songthaews were parked, found a red one that specifically said Tiger Cave on it, paid the driver 50 baht, and got in the back of the truck with two other locals. It was a pretty cool way of being able to see the city, as the entire back is open. I got to the entrance at about 10:30am and by that time, it was already so hot!

In order to get up to the temple, you had to climb 1260 stairs while passing multiple hungry and agressive monkeys. I had brought some snacks cause I figured I would get hungry, but I could fit them into my day bag, so my only other option was to tie the plastic bag of snacks onto the back of my backpack. I started the trek up to the temple and I’m not even kidding that after 100 steps, my legs were already hurting. These steps all had different sizes, so some would only be a few inches high, while others would be over a foot. It definitely tired me out a lot faster, and the heat didn’t help!

After about 250-300 steps, I finally ran into my first group of monkeys. There were plastic bottles and food wrappers everywhere, and I was trying to face the monkeys at all times in hopes that they wouldn’t notice the plastic bag on my back. I suddenly felt a tug on the water bottle under my arm, and pulled it back from the greedy monkey trying to take it. It was then that a smaller monkey noticed the plastic bag on my back so it jumped on my bag and was hanging off of it. Luckily, it couldn’t figure out how to open the bag so eventually it jumped off and I quickly ran up the stairs to escape the rest of the group.

I continued slowly making my way up the stairs while taking multiple breaks along the way. I kept getting “Good lucks” from the people coming back down, and they’d point to my bag of treats. I’d reply that I’ve already been jumped on and it was fine. However, I definitely wasn’t prepared for what was to come… I’ve found that on many stair climbs that I’ve done, the monkeys get more and more aggressive as you make your way to the top. And these ones got much larger. A few hundred steps later, I ran into my second group of monkeys. They noticed my plastic bag within a matter of seconds, and before I knew it, two large monkeys jumped on my back, ripped open the plastic bag and all of the snacks inside it, and had a feast of food at my feet. Everyone around me was shocked, including myself. I should have taken a picture but I think I was more stunned than anything, and wanted to get myself as far away from those monkeys as possible. I FINALLY made it to the top after about 45 minutes and I looked and felt like a hot, sweaty mess. When I did the CN Tower climb a few years ago, it was 500 steps higher, I did it almost ten minutes faster, and I felt like I was going to die THEN. However at least during that time, the steps were all the same height and I was in a cool stairwell. This time felt way worse! I sat down for quite awhile to try to cool myself down and then I finally got up to enjoy the views. It was a pretty overcast day, so I’m assuming it would have been even more spectacular with a blue sky, but at least it wasn’t foggy so I was still able to see everything around. At the top, I had to make sure my knees and shoulders were covered, so I covered up with a sarong and a cardigan (which was the last thing I wanted to do in the state that I was in). However, the climb was definitely worth it and the views were still pretty nice!

I stayed at the top for quite awhile and then made my way back down. The way back was obviously a lot easier, so I just kept it at a steady pace, but I also had to be careful with each step as it was still a pretty sharp decline. With about 100 steps to go, my shoe got untied so I stopped to lift up my foot and it suddenly started shaking uncontrollably – I couldn’t stop it! My calves were killing me and my thighs felt like jelly so when I got to the bottom, I got a cool taro drink and sat down for as long as I possibly could. My calves didn’t stop hurting for nearly three days! My shirt looked like I had went under a shower with it on, and my hair was also soaking wet. It was then that I realised how thankful I was that I decided to do the trek alone, as I’m sure I didn’t look like the most attractive person on the planet. Apparently the songthaews don’t pick people up from the temple gates so I decided to walk towards the main road in hopes that one would eventually pass me.

I read that they would honk and then you could wave them down, but when I saw one just pass me without honking (and I didn’t notice that they were there until it was too late), I started to panic. Multiple taxis and motorbikes would stop and ask if I wanted a ride, but I didn’t want to risk it because I knew they’d end up charging me too much. All of a sudden, I heard a honk, looked over, and saw a songthaew heading in the opposite direction (back towards the temple). I somehow crossed the extremely busy freeway and hopped in the back. The songthaew dropped off some people at the temple and then he started driving even FURTHER away from Krabi town. He was determined to get as many passengers as he could so even when we thought we couldn’t fit any more people in the back of the truck, he still continued to honk. He then stopped at what seemed like a house, said he would be back in about five minutes, and walked away. Me and the other foreign passengers looked at each other, unsure of what was going on. The driver eventually came back and seemed to take as much time possible in getting us back to town. I went back to the hostel to have a cold shower and change and by that time, I was starving since it was 2:30. I walked around, got lost in a really cool street market, but eventually decided to eat at an Italian restaurant, as I think my stomach was still having difficulty with eating non-western food. I think the Italian restaurant (called Uno) was pretty authentic, as the owner definitely didn’t look like he was Thai. I decided on penne arrabbiata, which was so good! I got that with a coke for 175 baht ($7.64). After my late lunch/early dinner, I walked around for a bit and then went back to the hostel to decide what to do the next day. The rain had started from the storm and would be continuing for the next couple of days, so my options were pretty limited. The ferry to Railay beach still wouldn’t be working, so I decided that I should just take a tour to see the hot springs and the emerald pool. It was a half-day tour so I’d get back to the hostel by 2:30, and the hostel worker said that the storm wasn’t supposed to start until about 4. I went to the free bbq at about 8:30, visited with some of the other people for awhile, and then went to bed.

On Friday morning, I woke up to a bunch of rain. I double-checked to make sure my tour would still be happening and then I went back to Coconuts Cafe to have a quick breakfast. This time, I had a yogurt and fruit bowl, which was also very good. The presentation on their food and drinks are so nice!

I then went to 7-11 to pick up some snacks for the trip since I wasn’t sure I’d be able to buy a lunch anywhere. My tour was booked through Cattery Tours and they were very organised! It cost 800 baht for the tour ($34.90), which was a bit pricey but was still a good way to spend the day. They had 16 different groups going, so they gave each of us a coloured bracelet in order to keep track of our vehicles. We drove for about an hour to get to the hot springs and when we got there, they were absolutely packed! I’m glad that I was just one person cause it was easy for me to be able to squeeze in between random families, but it seemed to be more difficult for people who came in groups.

We were given just under an hour at the hot springs, but they say that you should only stay for a maximum of 15-20 minutes, as the temperatures get too high. It was pretty relaxing though, and I may have extended my time by at least 5-10 minutes 🙂 After the hot springs, we drove another 15 minutes to emerald pool and blue pool. There, we had the option to walk 800 metres through the wet path, or 1400 metres on a heightened path. I opted for the longer option, covering my backpack with my rain jacket, and trekked through the rain to the pools.

I saw emerald pool but decided to keep walking another 600 metres to blue pool, hoping to beat most of the people behind me. The path started heightened but about halfway there, it dropped back down to ground level, where there were puddles of mud everywhere – with a lot of it being unavoidable to walk through. I had to slow down quite a bit, being careful not to lose my footing and slip into the mud. I finally got to blue pool, which is exactly as its name suggests : a blue pool. You’re not allowed to swim in this pool, as it’s protected, so most people just got a picture in front of the pool and then left (including myself).

I made my way back to emerald pool and had about a half hour to enjoy myself before having to walk back to the van.

I took the 800 metre walk back and I was completely worn out. I think the hot springs actually made my already-sore calf muscles even more sore! However, I made it back with five minutes to spare and then we drove back to the hostel. I showered, changed, and went to Arun Restaurant for dinner, where I had some more Tom Yum soup (since it was cold, rainy, and my last dinner in Thailand) with a coconut shake (to go with the heat of the soup) for 140 baht ($6.11). After dinner, I asked my hostel the best way to get to the airport for my 7:30 flight the next morning and they said I should leave at 5:30 in a taxi for 400 baht ($17.45). However, considering they said the same thing for me to get to Tiger Cave Temple, I wasn’t convinced. I walked to where the songthaews were to ask, but the driver didn’t understand what I was asking and just kept telling me to “get in, get in!” Luckily, there was a travel stand next to me so I asked him when the songthaews started running and he said 6am. When I asked him how much a taxi would be and he said 400 baht, I realised it would be my only option so I went back to the hostel, booked the taxi, got my bags packed up, and called it an early night. To be perfectly honest, Krabi Town wasn’t my favourite place – it’s extremely touristy and there wasn’t a lot to do. However, the weather and constant rain probably contributed to my impressions of it. I think Krabi province would probably be more worthwhile to explore so maybe I’ll have to check it out next time! Love always

Ko(h) Lanta (Dec 30-Jan 2): Kitties, New Year’s Eve, and 4 Islands

Thankfully, I had asked the Smiley owner about taking the bus to Koh Lanta before I went to bed the night before. I assumed that I could just show up at the bus stop at 8:30am, but now I’m not too sure I would have gotten a spot had I done that. I had to go to the local travel agent next to a pharmacy in Khao Sok to buy a ticket ahead of time. She gave me three options to leave: 6:30am, 8:30am, or 9:30am. I went with 8:30am, she called to make sure that there was space available, and then wrote me a ticket. It cost me 650 baht total ($28.36AUD) – 250 back to Krabi and 400 with the ferry to Koh Lanta. This service was great in that it picked me up from my accommodation and also dropped me off at my hostel in Koh Lanta, so I didn’t have to worry about paying extra from the ferry. From the time I left Khao Sok until the time I arrived in Koh Lanta, it took about 7.5 hours. On Sunday morning, I got up and ready, picked up the best “breakfast” I could find at a nearby shop (a pack of donuts and some bananas), and waited for my taxi. The ticket said that the taxi would arrive between 8:30 and 8:50, and it came shortly after 9. We then started the 4-hour trip to Krabi. This time, the 13-passenger van was full for the majority of the trip, and the driver had to turn down some passengers on the way (so I’m very happy I ended up buying the ticket beforehand). I actually didn’t end up arriving at the bus station in Krabi until just after 1:30 pm, as the driver had to make some stops along the way. Then, I waited for about a half hour until the next taxi came. I thought it was going to be just me but then we stopped at the airport and filled up the van again. We arrived at the ferry terminal around 3:30 and were on the next ferry within a half hour. A little boat had to push the ferry in the right direction, as I guess the ferry couldn’t turn on it’s own.

The ride across only took 15 minutes and then it was about a 20 minute drive to my hostel, Wayla hostel, so I arrived just before 5pm. This hostel was such a great place to stay – the owner was so friendly and hospitable, and kept the place absolutely spotless. Breakfast was also included, which was toast and bananas, as well as unlimited coffee, tea, and water all day (the water is a plus, as you usually have to buy it everywhere you go). Plus, the hostel has a friendly cat!

I stayed in a 4-person mixed dorm for 300baht/night ($13.65), and my roommates were all solo travellers – a guy from Israel, a girl from Holland, and a guy from England but living in Mongolia. As soon as I got there, I was starving since I hadn’t eaten a proper breakfast or lunch, so I went for dinner with Joe, the guy living in Mongolia. We ate at a restaurant called Three Sisters, where I had green curry with rice, and a shake for 170 baht ($7.42). I was so hungry, I forgot to take a picture! We then walked to the beach to catch the last of the sunset, and then got some drinks at one of the bars on the beach, Freedom Bar.

Koh Lanta is a very chill island, where reggae music is playing in almost every bar, and you can order a mushroom shake at most places. The bar we were at also had a tattoo parlour in the back room so if anyone wanted to make some late-night drunken decisions, they could get a permanent tattoo. There was a guy getting a half-arm tattoo of a pineapple when we were there, and the girl that he was with didn’t look too happy about it. It was definitely a good place to do some people watching!

On Monday, I decided to have a beach day so I walked about 15 minutes to a nice, quiet beach, which also had two cows hanging around!

At about 1:30pm, I started getting hungry so I walked to a restaurant called Yawee Restaurant, where I had some amazing massaman curry and a passion fruit shake, for 187 baht ($8.16).

I then walked to the Lanta Animal Welfare centre, which takes in stray cats and dogs who are sick or injured, gets them back to good health, and tries to find a home for them. Some of the stories were quite sad, especially about one of the dogs (called Tomato) who had been shot so was very scared around humans. They got her better again and got her used to humans and found a new home for her at a local’s house. Unfortunately, Tomato was too slow to feel comfortable at her new home and the new owner lost patience so the owner tied the leash to the back of a motorbike and pulled Tomato behind. When Tomato came back to the Welfare centre, she was completely skinned 🙁 Now, they are working to get Tomato to feel comfortable around humans again.

The centre is over capacity – they have 55 dogs (with a maximum of 45) and 53 cats (with a maximum of 50), so they are desperately trying to find new homes for as many animals as they can. It’s neat cause they have pictures of all of the animals, and you can see if they’ve been adopted and where they’re going, so there were a few going to Denmark and Canada as well. The centre relies on volunteers (mainly tourists) to come and walk the dogs, in the morning or late afternoon – they don’t allow the dogs to be walked in the middle of the day. Every night, one of the workers (who is also a volunteer) has to sleep in the dog area to make sure they stay calm. They also have a cat cafe, so people can go and cuddle with the cats. After my tour, I stayed in the cat cafe and it started pouring rain, which meant that all of the cats were forced to sit around the edge since the middle part didn’t have a roof over it. Therefore, I had more cats to sit with!

Once the rain died down, I walked back to the hostel. That night was New Year’s Eve so I went to a nearby restaurant called Ohana with Joe and Karin (the girl from Holland). We each got a pizza, and we played dominos until around 10pm. The restaurant also had the cutest cat, so I got even more cat cuddles!

We then went back to the hostel to drop off our leftover pizzas, and got the hostel owner to join us for a drink. We went to a bar on the beach called Moonwalk Bar and waited for the countdown. Many people were releasing lanterns into the air, and then after the countdown, they lit a “Happy New Year” sign on fire, and fireworks went off along the beach (some too close for comfort). After we finished our drinks, we headed back to the hostel, as I had a tour the next morning.

On Tuesday morning, I was picked up from the hostel at 8:15 to go on the Four Islands tour. I read about this tour before coming to Koh Lanta, but I also read reviews about it being too crowded. Maybe going on New Year’s Day was a smart thing for me to do because there only ended up being 10 people on my longtail boat (I think normally, there’s about 25 people), and we ended up getting a lot of the areas to ourselves. There are tons of companies that do the Four Islands tour and the cheapest I could find online was for 1300 baht. Luckily, I asked my hostel owner and he booked my tour through a company called Lanta Longtail, and it only cost me 800 baht. I also gave a 100 baht tip so overall, it was $39.27.

We drove to the south of Koh Lanta, got on our boat and travelled for quite awhile to Koh Chueak, where we were given a half hour for snorkelling. I have had difficulties snorkelling when I was in Cuba because as soon as I put my face in the water, it started burning and I was forced to get out and pour my water bottle on my face. I was quite hesitant to try it again, but surprisingly, I didn’t have that problem here! The tour guide was great and pointed out where to go, and even dove down into the water to point out some clownfish for me to see. Apparently the boat belonged to the main guide, the driver was his dad, and his mom had cooked the lunch.

After that, we went to Koh Waen to snorkel for another 30 minutes. This place had quite a few more fish but I kept feeling slight stings on my legs so I’m pretty sure there were mini jellyfish around.

We then went to Ko Muk. There, we had to swim through Morakot Cave (where there were tons of bats!) to get to Emerald Lagoon. All of the tours have to arrive around the same time, as you can only swim through the cave at low tide. However, when we got to the lagoon we had the place to ourselves for a few minutes. It was such a nice area to go to, and seemed like a little piece of paradise.

Once all of the other tour groups showed up, we left and went to the last island called Ko Ngai. This was the biggest island and it had a long strip of sand, where we enjoyed our lunch. Afterwards, we had an hour to hang around before we headed back to Koh Lanta.

I arrived back to my hostel shortly after 4pm so I showered and relaxed for a bit – I was completely exhausted! It started pouring so we decided to skip watching the sunset. However, the rain stopped 6 minutes before sunset so Joe decided to run to the beach. Karin and I were just going to watch from our patio but we couldn’t get a good view, so we decided to hurry to the beach as well but on the way, it started to pour! Her and I were trapped at a bar on the beach, we missed the sun setting, and we didn’t have any money to buy anything.

We decided to run back to the hostel after our stomachs took over, and were completely soaked when we arrived. We got our money and met Joe back at Ohana, and all of us were completely worn out. After dinner and a quick game of dominos, we headed back to the hostel and went to bed.

On Wednesday, I took my time getting up, getting ready, having breakfast, and packing up my things. Karin and I were going to go to the beach but we stopped for lunch at a place called Nong Pheat kitchen. I got a glass noodle spicy salad with shrimp but by the time we got our food, I think the heat started getting to me and I felt too sick to eat.

We stayed there for so long that we didn’t have time to go to the beach so we headed to the hostel and I waited for my taxi, which was scheduled to pick me up at 2:20pm. I was seriously contemplating skipping my time in Krabi because I didn’t want to leave Koh Lanta, but I decided I should continue with my plans. I hope to make it back there again someday!

I’d probably recommend renting a motorbike, as there’s so much to see and I was quite limited with only being able to walk. My hostel owner rents out motorbikes for 200 baht/day ($8.93) so it’s extremely cheap but since I didn’t have an international drivers license (which isn’t a huge deal here unless you need to be covered by insurance), and I don’t have any past experiences riding a motorbike, I decided not to risk it. Maybe next time though!

*Please note that all dollar conversions are Australian dollars (AUD)

Khao Sok (Dec 27-30): A Slice of Paradise

My trip to Khao Sok wasn’t horrible… I had been nervous about making the bus on time, as I read that there would only be one bus per day from Krabi to Khao Sok, which was at 11:30am. My original plan was to fly to Krabi from Bangkok the night of December 26, spend the night in Krabi, and take the bus to Khao Sok on the 27th. I found my flight on Skyscanner (as I always do) but I booked the tickets through an agency called Travelgenio, which is a TERRIBLE agency – I would avoid it at all costs (you can see that it has many negative reviews). Anyway, the airline had cancelled my flight on the 26th so the agency changed my flight to 5:30am on the 27th. I hate morning flights and I also knew that I’d be cutting it close to catch the bus at 11:30, plus I had already booked my accommodation in Krabi the night of the 26th. Therefore, I emailed and asked if I could still get a flight on the 26th (this was back at the beginning of November). They wrote back two weeks later and gave me two options on the 26th. I immediately wrote back and chose one option, but said I could do the other option as well (I just wanted to get a flight on the 26th). They wrote back a week later and said that they’ve seen my confirmation and would send me the new itinerary shortly. Then the next day, they wrote and said the airline would only allow 5:30am on the 26th or 5:30am on the 27th. I immediately wrote back and said I’d prefer the option on the 26th. Another week later, they wrote back and said that they’ve seen my confirmation and would send me a new itinerary. Then a week after that, they said that the airline would only allow December 27th at 5:30am, which was the original flight! It took nearly a month and a half to arrive to this conclusion, so I wasn’t too impressed. I finally agreed with the flight change and the next day (December 12), they said they’ve seen my confirmation and would send me a new itinerary shortly. However, five days before my flight, I still hadn’t received confirmation so I emailed them. No reply… The day before my flight, I STILL hadn’t received anything so I emailed them again. I was so angry that I wrote a review on Trustpilot about how horrible the company was, and I got a reply within a few hours. They told me to send an email to their advanced support department about my booking, so I did, and they FINALLY sent me my itinerary. The person who I had been emailing since November wrote me TEN HOURS AFTER my flight with a reservation confirmation and electronic ticket… absolutely terrible service. Again, avoid at all costs! Anyway, I wanted to be sure I had a spot on the plane since I wasn’t able to check-in online so I got to the Bangkok airport at 10pm, kept myself occupied until 3:30am, and went to check-in. I gave the travel agent my passport and she kept asking me questions and then was taking an awfully long time to check me in. She asked if I could wait a minute, took a screenshot of her computer, and got up to show her phone to someone at the back. That’s when panic started to set in – I wasn’t sure if I’d be getting onto that plane. After about 5-10 minutes, she came back and thankfully printed out my boarding pass. I went through security, didn’t even bother trying to sleep, and boarded the plane.

The flight was only an hour and ten minutes so I arrived in Krabi at 7am. I went to the information desk to ask about getting to Khao Sok, but he basically only suggested taking a taxi, which I’m sure would have cost at least 2000 baht. His only other suggestion was to go to the Krabi bus station and see if there was a bus there. My ticket to the bus station was 80 baht ($3.49) and when I got on the bus, the bus driver asked where I was going so I told him. Then when we arrived at the bus station and I was about to get off, he asked “Khao Sok?” I nodded and he yelled over to someone at the station who walked me to the correct till to buy my ticket. It was 7:30 when I got to the station and she said the bus wouldn’t be until 10am. I paid 250 baht for my ticket ($10.91) and went to the only restaurant there to get some food. I got fried rice with chicken but upon taking a bite of a big chunk of chicken, I noticed it was still raw on the inside so I quickly spat it out and pushed all the chicken to the side. I went to the bathroom right before having to leave, had to pay 3 baht to use the toilet, and then realised I’d be forced to use my first squat toilet on this trip (also, there’s never any toilet paper so luckily I came prepared when I bought a 6-pack of tissues!). Finally at 10, I got on the bus, which was actually a 13-passenger van. It was just me and another girl until she got off after about two hours. Khao Sok is only 100km away from Krabi and the schedule makes it look like you arrive an hour later but the driver went along the length of the coast so it ended up taking four hours total. After the girl got off, I got the van to myself for an hour, and then we picked up a mom with her two boys and all got off at Khao Sok. The taxi driver asked where I was staying and dropped me off right at Smiley Bungalows, so I gave him a tip. The place was completely deserted when I arrived but eventually the daughter showed up and showed me to my room. The bungalows were like treehouses, and I got a room with a queen-sized bed and my own bathroom; it was so nice! I had a much-needed shower and even though I was exhausted, I walked around town until 5 and then had dinner at a place called Lab Roi-Et, where I had Pad Thai and a Thai coffee. My night at Smiley Bungalow was only 300 baht ($13), which was amazing!

I had booked a 2-day/1-night tour to go to Smiley Lakehouse the next day so I had to get up and ready for breakfast at 8am the next morning. I had breakfast with a couple from the Netherlands (both teachers) and a girl from Hawaii (also a teacher). Everyone who I’ve met up until this point and on this tour is only in Asia for 2 or 3 weeks for the Christmas holidays, and many were couples (one was on their honeymoon!). There were about 25 people on our tour, so it was a good amount of people. We left Smiley Bungalows in two 13-passenger vans and drove towards the pier at about 9:30am. After an hour, we stopped in a small town to pick up food for 20 minutes and then drove another 20 minutes to the pier. We then got on two longtail boats and drove for another hour across Chiao Lan lake to Smiley Lakehouse. The boat ride there was absolutely gorgeous, and the scenery was like nothing I’ve seen before.

I was absolutely amazed and couldn’t believe I was in a place that was so beautiful! We arrived at the Lakehouse around 12:30, were told our room numbers to settle in, and were served lunch at 1. We each got our own room with our own bathroom, and each room came with two queen-sized mattresses, plus our door opened right up onto the lake – it was amazing!

The thing I loved about this tour was that it was 2500 baht plus a 300 baht national park entry fee ($122.16) per person no matter what – they didn’t charge a single supplement fee to make up for the fact that there was only one person in a 2+ person room (which solo travellers like myself often get cheated with). The tour also included five meals – two breakfasts, two lunches, and one supper. After lunch, we were given free time until 5pm. There was only one other solo traveller on this trip, so her and I took a kayak out for a couple hours. However, with neither of us having much experience with kayaks, we continued just spinning around in circles. Once we got far enough, we gave up and just sat on the kayak in the middle of the lake.

We still had an hour of free time when we got back, so I decided to go for a swim. The company said that we had to wear life jackets if we went swimming or kayaking because there was a 20-35 metre drop from our deck but since I had enough experience swimming, and other people weren’t wearing life jackets, I decided not to either. However, AFTER our free time was finished, the tour guide said that there were cobras in the lake and one time, someone was swimming and was either bitten or pulled down by a cobra and drowned. I likely wouldn’t have went into the lake knowing this information so I’m glad they told us this after the fact. At 5pm, we went on a night safari, but only saw one monkey in the far distance. However, we got a nice view of the sunset!

We got back around 7pm, had dinner, and then I visited with two girls from South Africa who were also teachers (one is teaching in Thailand, which started giving me ideas of moving to Thailand to teach). We had to be ready for 6:40am the next morning, so we didn’t stay up too late.

On Saturday morning, we met at 6:40 to go on a morning safari. It was so foggy, it felt like we were in a scene from Jurassic Park. We were waiting for dinosaurs to jump out at any given moment! This time, we were a bit more successful in finding monkeys.

We went back at 8am to have breakfast and then we were given half an hour to pack up all of our stuff before our cave trek. We got in the boat to make our way to the Nam Taloo hiking trail and were warned that we’d be going through water up to our shoulders, so I decided to rent some shoes (for 50 baht – $2), as I didn’t want to ruin my new ones.

We hiked for quite awhile – walking through lots of mud and some streams and then we finally made it to the cave entrance. Apparently, leeches are abundant throughout the park, so we had to keep doing “leech checks” every once in awhile.

We basically spent the entire time in the cave walking through water, and having to scale some of the walls – I felt like Spider-Man! We each had a head lamp, but many times, it was still too dark to see where you were stepping in the water.

Along the hiking trail and in the cave, the guides pointed out numerous plants, spiders, and centipedes that were poisonous, so that was comforting… After about 45 minutes, we made it to the bat cave, where we just saw a couple of bats. Then, we had to turn around and make our way back. I had never done anything like it before and it was such a fun experience; I had a great time!

We got back to the Lakehouse at about 1pm, had a quick lunch, changed clothes, and then we had to travel back to Khao Sok.

Again, we had to take a one-hour boat ride, and then drove back to the bungalows. We got back just before 5pm so I showered, went out for dinner, and bought my bus ticket for the next day, and went to bed. Khao Sok is one of those places that still hasn’t caught on in popularity, which adds to its charm. It’s an absolute gem of a place – I was so sad to leave! Until next time…