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Sunday, June 28, 2015

A Taste of Heaven- Penang Malaysia

Georgetown- Penang
20 June 2015


  • Hawker food stalls
  • Murals around the city
  • Cheap beer!

Penang, Malaysia is the food capital of Asia. With a melting pot of cultures made up of Malay, Chinese, and Indian, you can find just about any type of food here. And not just your average, run of the mill food, this food will leave you yearning for more than you can possible fit in your stomach.

Brandon and I weren't sure what to expect upon arriving to Malaysia, however it was a connecting point for Indonesia. We had heard of a few places to visit and thought we should give it a try. We quickly fell in love with the bustling city of Penang. On the surface, Penang seems like just another city full of exhaust from cars and dilapidated buildings, however when you look closely the streets are filled with old pre war houses, giant murals hidden in alleyways, and interesting food -- delicious and mouth watering, and the best food you can imagine! Penang is known for it's diverse choices of food, and during our two short days here we ate as much as we could; sampling our way through Chinatown up to Little India and down the side streets filled with Malay hawker stalls. The food is cheap and portions are not so big that you are able to try a variety of plates for every meal.

First on our list was Penang Laksa, the famous dish that launched Malaysia into stardom in the world of food. Ranked 7th in CNN's "World's 50 Most Delicious Foods" list, a visit to Penang is not complete without trying a bowl of this fishy, heavenly goodness. We stopped by a street cart, ordered up a bowl, and paid a whopping 3 RM, which is equivalent to about 90 cents. The dish, which is made up of noodles, fish broth, a few varieties of vegetables, and peppers, is a favorite among the locals and tourists alike.

Brandon and I decided early on in our travels that we were going to try as many local foods as we could. We wanted to be adventurous with our food choices, and try things that we were a bit obscure. This has so far worked out well for us and for the most part we have enjoyed almost everything we've tried (although the dried bugs in Ayutthaya are not something I'll eat again any time soon). Part of the fun in learning about a new culture is doing as the locals do. That means avoiding restaurants and eating on the streets.

In addition to many other dishes we had during our visit in Penang, one of our favorite desserts was ice kacang. This sweet refreshing dessert is made with shave ice, and a generous dollop of homemade durian ice cream topped with sweetened red beans, creamed sweet corn, palm fruit, strips of dried nutmeg, colorful jellies, then drenched in sweet flavored syrup. Something that is so completely different than anything we've ever had in the US and oh so delicious.

As I mentioned before Penang's streets are filled with imaginative murals and steel sculptures. The murals, which typically include outside objects such as bicycles and motorcycles create such a crowd that you can barely get a close up glimpse of these beautiful works of art during the day time. Oddly enough, the crowd around the murals seem to add to its appeal.

Other highlights of Penang included staying in a newly renovated guest house complete with air conditioning, walking around the botanical gardens with a fellow traveler we met earlier that day and drinking beer with some locals.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Very Short Visit- Koh Phi Phi

Phi Phi Islands
14th-16th June 2015

Continuing our way through the Southern Part of Thailand our next stop (prior to Khao Sok) was Koh Phi Phi, a very popular tourist destination particularly for young 20 somethings looking to party. Not knowing this Brandon and I picked a centrally located guest house smack dab in party central. We explored the island by foot and scheduled a dive for the next day. Unfortunately, this time of year is the rainy season on the Andaman Sea side (Thailand's West coast) and our dive was cancelled. Instead we spent the morning writing and looking a pictures, and enjoying our down time. That evening when the rain subsided we hiked to a nice view point overlooking the island. This short hike through a quietly secluded jungle was the best part of our visit. Along the way we came across a beautiful snorkeling beach with an array of sea life and finally got away from the droves of people.

Back near the guesthouse we strolled around a bit, ate subpar Westernized food, and went to sleep as the thump thump of the loud base next door streamed through every single vein in our bodies. This is probably the most crowded destination we had been to thus far which ultimatly made us change our itinerary (for the better) to avoid other touristy areas including Pucket and the southern island of Phi Phi with the famous Maya Beach on it. There's nothing like an overcrowed beach of tourists to ruin an experience, and in my opinion, no reason to waste the money.

We didn't take many pictures of our few days on Phi Phi, and I think the loud music playing 100% of the time made me go a bit crazy. It's a very small island and because of the influx of tourism, there is trash nearly everywhere and few prestine beaches. Needless to say we are not fond of the tourist destinations and headed out shortly after we arrived.

It's A Jungle Out There- Khao Sok National Park

Floating Lake Bungalows
16th-18th June 2015

Where to begin. Brandon of course loves fishing and has been dragging his fly rod around from country to country just waiting to get the line wet. There really hasn't been much opportunity, but he takes his rod everywhere he goes, just in case.

Through some work connections Brandon was introduced to Tatrawee via email. They exchanged a few messages and worked out a trip chasing Thailand's Mahseer, a beautiful golden fish with light blue iridescent fins. Something Brandon has been wanting to fish for since we arrived in Thailand. Finally, just before our Thai visa ran out we were able to go, and the trip was... interesting, to say the least.

Day 1:

We arrived at the pier and met up with Tatrawee and friends, the group we'd be fishing with for the next few days. We loaded our bags into a longtail boat and took off on the hour long journey up the lake to where we would be staying. Winding through huge limestone islands covered in thick lush jungle, we sped along to our secluded cabana, hoping to stay dry as the clouds rolled in and sprinkles were inevitable. The ride alone was beautiful enough to justify the trip. Tatrawee explained to us that the rivers we would be fishing are so difficult to get to that they rarely get fished. I wasn't sure if that meant the fishing would be easier or more difficult as a result.

Eventually we made it to our "lodge" which at first glance is very similar to a rustic fishing cabin half way falling apart. We walk along the broken floating planks in the lake to our bamboo bungalow paying close attention to keep our balance with our giant backpacks. It wouldn't be a great way to start off the trip by sinking to the bottom of the lake with my bag strapped to me. I have found through multiple instances that I am not as graceful as I once was.

The host lead us to one of the far end floating bungalow. This one was lovely. It was newly built with two open air windows on either side propped open by a bamboo twig, a simple mattress on the floor with a mosquito net around it, although a mosquito was few and far between, and just enough room on the porch to secure our hammock and enjoy the scenery.

The first afternoon of fishing was amazing. We walked along the river bank, wet wading in my Chacos and fishing up the river. The temperature outside was perfect and the water we were walking through was warm and flowing slowly. The fishing was great for the few hours we had to fish and one by one Brandon and I reeled in colorful Mahseers that put up a strong fight. We were told the best fishing was further in, and the next day we would hike in for about 30 minutes before fishing. Both of us excited to catch "the big one" of course we couldn't wait.

Day 2:
Back in the longtail we go around 8am with all our gear and travel about 20 minutes to the river where to begin hiking in. It all seemed easy enough. I envisioned a well-worn trail and a mildly strenuous hike to get to our spot, the usual. We were doing a full day of fishing in the jungle so I knew it wouldn’t be a cake walk, but I didn’t anticipate that the trek alone would be much of a challenge, especially since the focus was on fishing.

I was wrong.

Very wrong.

This hike was stressful, challenging, leech-infested, and exhilarating all at the same time.
Tripping over tree roots, and slipping on wet mud we trek through the wild dense jungle as our guides chop down small bamboo trees and thick vines to clear somewhat of a path for us. We see fresh elephant tracks by the dozens, and even a king cobra, which hold the rank as the largest venomous snake in the world. Further and further into the jungle we go, crossing the river multiple times as I sink into mud up to my thighs and water up to my chest. It hadn't started raining yet, but I was already soaked.

We finally make it to our fishing spot and get maybe an hour or two of fishing in before the monsoon came. We continue to fish hoping the rain will subside and fish will start eating again. Harder it poured and soon the river was muddied up. The once fishable river became so murky it was now nearly impossible. We break for lunch and I scarf down my warm fried rice in the rain.

River crossing
The rain never did stop and we ended heading back the way we came through the forest where the blood sucking leeches waited on the low jungle leaves for me to pass by and hitch a ride for a free meal. All in all Brandon and I had about 15 leeches each that we continually pulled off of us throughout the day, many of them leaving an open wound that left blood streaming down our legs.  Thankfully these little guys are harmless and somewhat easy to pull off, but what I did learn is high pitch screaming doesn't seem to affect them much.

Back at the lodge I soaped up from head to toe and jumped in the warm lake for a bath.

Day 3:

The last day of fishing I decided to stay back at the bungalow, lay in my hammock and write. While I may have made the trip sound miserable, I did actually have a lot of fun. Though tiring, this fishing excursion left me with a sense of accomplishment and rawness. The lack of people and nonexistent trail made me feel as though I had discovered a hidden gem that had been untouched by man. It left me to wonder what else is out there. It is because of this that Brandon and I travel. We travel for the sense of wonderment, adventure, and exploration.

The crew soaking up the last of it. (Rangers with proper weapons on the ends)


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Krabi, Thailand

Tonsai Beach, Railey Island, Krabi
12th-14th June 2015

  • Deep water solo climbing
  • Kayaking to the National Park
  • Playing with jellyfish
  • White sand beaches and turquoise water

Brandon and I have found a new love for kayaking and as you can see from our pictures we spend a lot of time exploring via kayak. It's a cheap and easy way to get around the surrounding areas, we can set our own pace, and it's nice being able to get to some secluded islands that tours don't go to. Our time on Krabi was spent entirely in a kayak. The day we arrived we headed out for a few hours, paddled around some easily accessible islands, and got some tips from the locals on where to head the next day. We saw a ton of jellyfish, the biggest I've ever seen, bright pink and blue, some white, and for the most part harmless. We swam a little and paddled to a beach that had just appeared because the tide was low, and relaxed. One of these days we're going to take our hammock with us and camp out on the beach.

Jungle Bungalows, Tonsai beach, Krabi

The next day we woke up early and headed out to the national park that was about 8 kilometers away. It took us an hour to get to the first island. Arms exhausted, we arrive at the most beautiful beach either of us had ever seen.

Poda Island

More Island exploring.....

Soft, white sand, the bluest water you could imagine, and not a soul in sight, this was heaven. We spent a good while soaking up the views before we got back in our kayak to explore some more. We paddled around the islands poking one jellyfish after another, and stumbled across a huge overhang with a rope ladder attached to it. Of course we each tried our hand at climbing the vertical limestone as high as we could until we lost grip or just couldn't go any higher falling into the water below. We found three other sights like this, all varying with difficulty. Brandon and I love to climb, but neither of us are very good. Knowing the water is below adds an element of confidence that makes it fun to lunge for a hand hold that's just barely out of reach. The adrenaline streams through your body as you stretch to get the hold but wet fingers makes it hard to grip sending you 25 feet down.

Amazing, free climbing off Poda

Railey is famous for its deep water solo climbing, and a mecca for climbing in general. Tonsai, the least developed beach on Railey and the area with the best climbing, includes three or four "resorts" that all have open air cabanas for climbers and/ or visitors to stay at. Gear can be rented on the island to accommodate a safe climb or you can head out to the deep water climbing where gear is not required. If you're a climber or an adventurist in general, this is a destination you don't want to miss! At the end of the day relax at the bar and enjoy a beer while fellow climbers solo the limestone in front of you.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Day I Paid for Torture

13th June, 2015

Mostly everything is cheap here in Thailand, but Brandon and I haven't indulged too much in any extras. We eat cheaply, stay in simple accommodations, and spend our days snorkeling, swimming, hiking and just exploring. We typically get up around 6:00, make our Nescafe, and walk around the beach until the town starts stirring and everyone begins waking up. We find a nice, simple place for breakfast where we typically choose rice soup, or porridge - both traditional Thai breakfasts - and I write for a bit, while Brandon works on pictures.

Morning is my favorite part of the day - everything smells so fresh and I love having the village to ourselves, even if it is just for a bit. Life is simple, we don't pay much attention to the time anymore, we listen to our bodies and eat when we're hungry, go to bed when we're tired. Our entire day is typically consumed with exploring. I remember thinking before we left to travel, what will we do all day.. but there is so much to do and see we are never bored. In fact it's just the opposite, we have to force ourselves to rest every once in a while because our bodies are so soar and tired from running around all the time.

One thing that Brandon and I finally indulged in was a Thai massage. You can't hardly walk 5 minutes in any town without getting asked if you would like a massage. The Thais are famous for their pressure point massage and relaxation techniques and we needed to see what all the hype was about. After a long day kayaking we stopped into a massage parlor where we asked for a Thai massage. One full hour for $5. I knew that the massage may not be completely enjoyable during parts, as I've heard a Thai massage is more like a deep tissue, but it's something that has to be done when in Thailand.

My masseuse, who speaks little to no English, tells me through hand gestures to lay face down on a mat. I oblige and Brandon does the same, anxiously awaiting our massage. The instant my masseuse put her hands on me I knew I was in for it. One full hour of pain, torture actually. She stretched me, bent me, pulled me and popped me. The pressure, which sometimes included her entire body weight was for the most part unbearable. I said "ouch" about 15 minutes in which I think made her massage me harder. The entire hour I actually tried as hard as I could to fall asleep or at least think about something else, anything else other than the present. She rolled me over on my back and the pain continued as my body was stretched in ways only a small child should bend. At one point she was under me with her feet pressed against my back holding me up towards the sky as my body fell into a painful backbend. Exactly one hour later, it was over. I waddled outside to a sitting area and was given hot tea and biscuits, I guess my consolation prize for enduring the massage.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

A Taste of Paradise

6th-9th of June, 2015

Mo Ko Ang Thong National Marine Park
Live aboard boat tour

  • Seeing the Southern Cross (Check that one off the bucketlist!)
  • Home cooked Thai food for every meal
  • Kayaking through sea caves with black tip sharks
  • Sleeping under the stars and being rocked to sleep by the boat
  • Swimming to a nearby beach and hiking up to a spectacular view
  • Being away from the hustle and bustle 

There's a national park about 4 hours off the coast of Koh Tao that is a must see if you're ever in the vicinity. We heard about this from our dive instructor but didn't want to just zip around on a speed boat with hoards of other tourists. The best way to explore this 42 island national park is to live on a boat for a few days. This will allow you to see things at a much slower pace and avoid tourist areas during the peak times. We went on a trip with Unseen Tours that lasted for 3 days and two nights. It was an experience we'll never forget; taking kayaks around secluded islands, hiking through jungles, reading and relaxing in a hammock. We made new friends from all over the world, and it seemed effortless to connect with everyone as we all had one thing in common- the passion for adventure.

Entering paradise

As I sit here trying to recount the days on the boat, it seems nearly impossible for me to explain. On the surface our days were very much the same. We spent our free time kayaking around and exploring. We would get up early and watch the sunrise on the roof of the boat with a cup of coffee in hand, play in the water until meals were ready, talk all day or just sit together and enjoy the beauty around us, until the day came to a close and we would watch the sun drop back into the ocean. It doesn't seem like much but there is something special about being around such beauty with the person you care about most.

Thankfully Brandon has become extremely talented with a lense these past few months. I've decided to let his pictures do the talking for this post.

Kayaks in tow

Swim and hike to viewpoint. Our boat towing kayaks in the distance

Saltwater lagoon, in the center of the island

One experience, however was unable to be captured on camera but should be noted. There is a natural phenomenon that occurs in certain parts of the world when conditions are just right called bioluminescent phytoplankton, or glowing plankton. I had heard of this before but never really thought twice about it.

As night fell on our last day we had enjoyed our final sunset on the boat and maybe two or three rum and pineapple drinks. I headed to the bathroom, (I know but it's an important part of the story) went #1 and flushed. Now, a boat toilet is a bit different than your state of the art Western toilet. Once you're done there is a bucket of sea water next to you that you scoop up and pour down to expel the waste (I assume this goes straight into the ocean, but that's not important). This is when the "magic" happened. As I poured the water, the toilet lit up as if pixie dust was swirling around cleaning it. I poured more down, I'm not that drunk am I..? It happened again! Green pixies furiously cleaning away. I was so confused and excited, I ran to Brandon to show him this magical toilet. Who knew "flushing" a toilet could be so great! Once we finally realized what was going on (or asked the captain), we jumped in a kayak and paddled around for nearly an hour watching the microscopic plankton sparkle like stars dancing in the water with every move of the oars. Completely silent, we embraced the moment together. A perfect way to end our excursion. If you're ever in the right place at the right time to see this natural phenomenon consider yourself lucky.  

Dive Certified!

  • Swimming with Triggerfish (watch out they charge!)
  • Crystal clear water
  • Watching sea annonemies sway with the water

It was our mission in Koh Tao to find the perfect diving school to get certified. With over 60 schools on the island we wanted to do some research and find the best one for us. We spent the morning scoping out the competition before we decided on New Way Diving.

I didn't know I would love diving as much as I do. It opens up so much more opportunity for exploring and the underwater world is just as diverse as the earth above it. I love the adrenaline rush I get when a giant fish swims by, and the excitement I feel when I see something new for the first time. Diving is like going into the unknown, you see the blue ocean beneath you, but until you suit up and jump, you'll never know what's down there.

Colorful clams

Sea urchans

It took us a mere three days to get certified. We watched a few videos, took a test (which we never actually got our results back), geared up and got in the water. It's a very strange concept just assuming that you'll be able to figure it out once in the water, but everyone does, I guess. After a few skill drills, we were diving. We had a total of 5 dives for our certification, but of course continued diving after that. People are crazy about diving here and after talking to fellow travelers we have unfortunately (or fortunately!) just added so many places to the bucket list. Lucky for us some of the best diving in the world is in Malaysia and Indonesia, and we're headed that way!

Bucket List Dive Sights
  • Sipadan Island, Malaysia
  • Komoto National Park, Indonesia
  • Great Barrier Reef (Australia)
  • Diving with whale sharks
Have you ever been diving? Comment below and help us grow our bucket list!