Before moving to Japan, my knowledge of Asian geography consisted solely of facts gleaned from watching 20 seasons of Survivor (and that Bangkok was the capital of Thailand due to the infamous, and awesome, middle school joke). Weren’t all nations in Asia made of white sand beaches, huge spiders, and men wearing boars tusks in their hair? For all I knew, Kuala Lumpur was Atlantis, some mystical city that only exists in the minds of dreamers. Ko Phi Phi, Ko Phagnan, Chiang Mai…weren’t these all MSG-laden dishes I could order at my local Wicked Wok?
Now, after spending 4 months on the other side of the world (and a few more months learning about the geography) I have extended my knowledge base far enough to know that unlike previous misconceptions, not ALL nations in Asia have people wearing boar tusks as hair pieces. I have also decided to venture out into the wilderness of South East Asia to see some of the sights for myself and will be spending the most cherished season of the year (fantasy football playoffs) in Malaysia and Thailand.
The rough plan: Heather and I will fly from Tokyo to Kuala Lumpur (not some underwater city, but actually the capital of Malaysia) overnight via Air Asia (our first go around with a truly budget airline) and arrive in KL the morning of December 17th. We will spend three days and two nights in KL shopping (Heather) and eating as much “street meat” (me) as possible before heading back to Kuala Lumpur International Airports to fly to Chiang Mai (2 hours and $90).
In Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second biggest and most northern city, we will partake in a bevy of activities, most of them involving a tamed version of what should be wild animals (elephant rides, tiger petting zoos, etc.). After getting our fill of playing Jack Hanna, we will take an overnight sleeper train (I’ll be needing a bottom bunk with a wider berth, especially after all the street meat) to Thailand’s capital, Bangkok.
Bangkok is one of the most popular areas in the world for backpackers due to its cheap food, beer, and lodging and even cheaper ladies of the night. After sampling most of these (lodging optional) for about 3 days, we will be taking whatever means necessary (train, bus, tuk-tuk) southwest to Ko Phi Phi, a beautiful island below Phuket, and much less touristy.
When living in wooden bungalows on the beach and snorkeling in some of the world’s clearest water has lost its luster, we will push on down to Penang, an island off the coast of Malaysia whose capital, Georgetown, is a UNESCO world heritage site. Penang is known for its amazing food and was picked as one of the “44 Places to Go in 2009” by the New York Times (read here and here). During our three days there, we will be staying in the Old Penang Guesthouse, a beautifully restored pre-war building, for less than $9 each a night. With such cheap lodging, we’ll have even more money to blow on the culinary delicacies that have made Penang famous (more street meat, anyone?). After Penang comes the hard part; a 6 hour train ride followed by a 6.5 hour flight and a return to cold and dreary Tokyo, as well as reality.
While it has been tough at times during the holiday season to be away from friends and family that we hold dear, our spirits are buoyed by the opportunity to do things that we never imagined, or in my case, never even knew existed. With the Ipad as a trusty travel companion I am hoping to be able to update this space fairly frequently during the trip (at least with pictures) so continue to check back.
Remember, you can also subscribe by email on the right hand side of the blog. That way, you will get notified each time there is a new post. Also, please feel free to comment. Does anyone have suggestions of things to do or places to see in the areas we will be traveling to? What are your plans for this holiday season?