Want to find out the “in between”?
Hello folks and happy holidays. Due to the fact that I only had an Ipad with me during my holiday trek through Malaysia and Thailand I was unable to provide any “real-time” updates. Therefore, in the next few days (or weeks), I will be attempting to recreate the excitement through blog posts and pictures, lots of pictures. So while reading them in mid to late January, put yourself in a “mental time machine” and dial it back to late 2010, when you still had visions of fulfilling all those New Year’s resolutions.
But first, I’ll work backwards by giving you a small taste of our trip, and whet your appetite for more, by presenting you with a brief timeline and the vital statistics that encapsulated our journey.
6:30 p.m.- Leave our apartment for Haneda International Airport in Tokyo
11:45 p.m.- Take off from Haneda on board an Air Asia flight bound for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. After 2 Dramamine and 5 minutes, I’m passed out.
7:30 a.m.- Arrive at KL airport where it is roughly 50 degrees warmer than where we left. Awesome!
Spend the rest of the day waiting to check in to Equator Hostel, walking around the city, eating.
Still in Kuala Lumpur. Visit KL Tower. Eat more food.
3:30 a.m.- Leave Equator Hostel to go back to KL Airport.
6:30 a.m.- Board flight to Chiang Mai, Thailand.
9:00 a.m.- Arrive in Chiang Mai.
Check in to Mojito House. Wander around the side alleys and markets of Chiang Mai. Eat an amazing breakfast for $3. Immediately fall in love with the city.
Morning- Check out of Mojito House after we realize that the accomodations are $10 a night for a reason. No hot water, a mattress from a dumpster, etc. Check in to the much nicer, $20/night MD House down the road.
Spend the rest of the day in Chiang Mai.
Still in Chiang Mai. More adventures that will be told in a coming blog post.
Morning/Afternoon: Chiang Mai.
9:00 p.m.- Board a sleeper bus bound for Bangkok.
5:45 a.m.- Arrive in Bangkok. Nowhere to stay, take a taxi to Rika Inn, pay the $40 to check in when they tell us we can have the room immediately.
Don’t leave Khao San Road. Eat alot, shop alot, drink alot.
Morning/Afternoon- Mill around Khao San Road, swim in the pool of the hotel we already checked out of.
7:30 p.m.- Board an overnight bus to Ko Phi Phi, which we are told will arrive at 10 a.m. the next morning.
In order to not spoil the story, which will appear in its own blog post later this week, I will skip over Christmas.
Spend the day in Phi Phi enjoying the overcrowded, but still stunning, beach.
Morning: Take a longtail boat tour to Maya Bay and surrounding islands. Absolutely awesome!
3:00 p.m.- Board a ferry for Koh Lanta, 1.5 hours away.
7:30 p.m.- Find a place to stay, the Leaf Bungalow. Find that Koh Lanta is the exact opposite of Phi Phi (a good thing).
Koh Lanta. Boat tour of surrounding islands.
7:30 a.m.- Board a minivan destined for Penang. We are told we will arrive at 5 p.m.
9:00 p.m.- Arrive in Penang. Check in to Grand Continental Hotel in downtown George Town.
11:30 a.m.- Check out of Grand Continental, check in to 5 star Traders Hotel (another upcoming blog post).
Spend the day wandering around the old city.
Midnight- Walk to the Esplanade in the rain to see the “big celebration!” Safe to say that Malaysia’s second biggest city won’t be featured on any “2011 Top New Year’s Eve Celebration” lists.
Swim in pool. Eat food.
5:30 a.m.- Leave Traders for Penang Airport.
7:20 a.m.- Flight from Penang to Kuala Lumpur.
8:10 a.m.- Arrive in Kuala Lumpur. Spend 5 hours in a Starbucks.
2:45 p.m.- Board flight from KL to Tokyo.
10:25 p.m.- Arrive at Haneda airport.
10:30 p.m.- Wait for baggage
10:40 p.m.- Wait for baggage
10:50 p.m.- Wait for baggage
11:00 p.m.- Wait for baggage
11:07 p.m.- Baggage arrives. Last train leaves.
11:45 p.m.- Find couch to lay on. Pay $8 for a ginger ale and croissant. Realize I’m back in Japan and get pissed. “Sleep” until 6:30 a.m.
9:00 a.m. After catching three different trains, finally arrive home to 45 degree apartment, 27.5 hours after leaving Penang.
Total Spent: $3622
Miles Traveled: 9,647
Hamamatsu to Tokyo- 158 miles
Tokyo to Kuala Lumpur- 3301 miles
Kuala Lumpur to Chiang Mai- 1090 miles
Chiang Mai to Bangkok- 361 miles
Bangkok to Phi Phi- 814 miles
Koh Phi Phi to Koh Lanta- 22 miles
Koh Lanta to Trang- 35 miles
Trang to Penang- 225 miles
Penang to Kuala Lumpur- 182 miles
Kuala Lumpur to Tokyo- 3301 miles
Tokyo to Hamamatsu- 158 miles
Flights taken: 4. Tokyo-Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Lumpur-Chiang Mai, Penang-Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Lumpur-Tokyo
Buses taken: 3. Chiang Mai-Bangkok, Bangkok-Koh Phi Phi (2)
Mini buses taken: 4. Koh Lanta-Penang (3), Chiang Mai Trek
Ferries taken: 4. Krabi-Phi Phi, Phi Phi-Koh Lanta, Koh Lanta-Trang (2)
Monorails taken: 1. Kuala Lumpur
Shinkansen rides: 2. Hamamatsu-Tokyo, Tokyo-Hamamatsu
Trains (not counting Shink): 4. Kuala Lumpur (2), Hamamatsu Akaden line (2)
Songthaews taken: 3. Chiang Mai, Surat Thani, Krabi
Tuk-Tuks taken: 6. Chiang Mai (5), Koh Lanta
Elephants: 1. Chiang Mai
Bamboo longrafts: 1. Chiang Mai.
Longtail boats: 2. Phi Phi, Koh Lanta
Places Stayed: 8
Equator Hostel, Kuala Lumpur: 2 nights. $20/night (each price is per room, not per person)
Mojito House, Chiang Mai: 1 night. $10/night
MD House, Chiang Mai: 2 nights. $22/night
Rika Inn, Bangkok: 1 night. $41/night
Harmony House, Koh Phi Phi. 2 nights. $22/night
Leafhouse Bungalows, Koh Lanta. 3 nights. $17/night
Hotel Grand Continental, Penang. 1 night. $40/night
Traders Hotel, Penang. 2 nights. $100/night
Best Value: MD House. For 22 bucks a night we got a pool, hot shower, clean and big rooms, free wifi (that worked pretty well) and amazing service.
Worst Value: Hotel Grand Continental. For $40 in Malaysia you should be getting a pretty nice hotel. I can personally vouch that this is not “a pretty nice hotel.” 3 stars? Wrong! Crumbling roof, mold on the walls, smells like smoke everywhere; most of the cheaper hostels were nicer than this place. With plenty of options in a similar price range in Penang, there is no reason anyone should stay here. Now, I don’t necessarily condone shelling out $100 a night for Traders, but sometimes keeping a wife happy is priceless.
Best Wifi: Leafhouse Bungalows. Somehow, 8 little cheap bungalows on a fairly deserted beach on an island off of Thailand got infinitely better wireless internet than a 5 star hotel in the middle of Penang.
Best Bed: Traders Hotel. While I blanched at spending $100/night in a place where $3 can get you a large dinner, I will admit that the bed and the pillows were first rate. Nice treat after spending the trip in mostly budget places.
Worst Bed: Mojito House. I can deal with a lot of things, but this bed was terrible. You could actually see the springs sticking out of the mattress.
Best Pool: MD House. No, it didn’t have the rooftop views of Bangkok like the Rika Inn nor was it the length of the near Olympic-sized pool at Traders, but two qualities make it tops:
1. It was open 24 hours a day, meaning I could take a dip late at night, early in the morning, or any time in between.
2. It’s “unique” shape left little to the imagination!
Best Service: MD House. Both the workers (whose names I can’t remember), as well as their children, who were omnipresent, were super friendly and accomodating, always willing to help us plan our trips or find our lost I-phone. Honorable mention to Toby at the Equator Hostel, who was also an amazing host who gave us anything we wanted and gave us a great run down of things to see in KL.
Best Meal: (Preface: I hate when people write “best” lists and then cop out and name 3 or 4 things, so as tempting as it was to do that with all the awesome food we ate, I refuse.) Therefore, the gun-to-my-head-I-can-only-pick-one choice for best food goes to the meal pictured to below. My dish was the char kway teow, or at least something similar to it, which is a meal made with noodles, bean sprouts, whole prawns, and anything else the cook has available and decides to dump in. I don’t exactly remember the name of Heather’s dish, but like most things in that area of the world, it is stir-fried rice with all manner of goodies thrown in it. To top it off, we also got chicken satay (chicken skewers) that came with an amazing peanut sauce.
We got this meal on KL’s “food street”, literally a quarter mile long road with food stalls of every kind lining both sides, usually with even more restuarants hidden behind them. Most restaurants don’t have names or really any distinguishing features and it is hard to tell where they stop and another starts. To best find this place, ask anyone in Kuala Lumpur to point you to “food street.” Trust me, they all know what you are talking about. Start at the top of food street and walk down the left side on the sidewalk, in between the food stalls on the road and the restaurants that are set back. Go about half a block down and you will see a huge open place that looks pretty new and really clean and has gigantic pictures of food all over the walls. Take a seat in there and they will bring you a menu with pretty much any type of food you want. Order up anything, as I’m sure its all delicious!
Nasi Lemak, BBQ Chicken Restuarant (that is the actual name), Kuala Lumpur. Our first meal in Malaysia and it most certainly did not disappoint. Everyone said to try the nasi lemak, so that is the first thing we ordered, and man, everyone is right! It is a rice dish that comes with small, dried anchovies (better than it sounds), spicy sauce, roasted peanuts, and a fried egg. This one came with chicken as well (some come with no meat) and they gave us a ton of the roasted peanuts, so we really lucked out with our first nasi lemak experience. Find the streets between Jalan Imbi and Jalan Bukit Bintang and you will find this place. It is in the mesh of restuarants and craziness just southwest of the Bukit Bintang monorail station. It has a huge neon chicken on the sign and it is directly across the street from the Turkish ice cream vendor, who is always a crowd favorite, and the Egyptian cafe where everyone is smoking hookahs. The bbq chicken, in case you are wondering, is also very good.
Fried Oysters and Egg, Red Garden Cafe, Penang. Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow! I know, fried oysters with stir fried rice and egg might not sound like everyone’s cup of tea, but I guarantee you will love this. It was absolutely fantastic, and was almost almost almost my favorite of the trip. To get there, just ask anyone in Penang for the Red Garden Cafe. More than a cafe, this is an outdoor food court with stalls selling any type of local food you can imagine. Pick an empty table and remember the number on the table. Then walk around to the stalls, figure out what you want to eat, order it and tell them the table number. They will bring it over to you when it is ready and you’ll pay them then. It is open from early evening until late at night. They’ll also bring you beer and usually have some sort of entertainment happening. A great place to really get a feel for the local flavor.
Duck Curry, Thai Cat Beach Bar, Koh Lanta. Our last meal in Thailand and it couldn’t have been better. The portion was a fair size and it was prepared just right, not too spicy but certainly with a little kick. And to eat this while sitting on the beach, listening to the waves roll in and the tiki torches lighting the beach? Perfect. This is on Long Beach in Koh Lanta, and there are two beach bars called “Thai Cat” within about 200 yards of each other. Not sure if they are run or owned by the same person, but this is the one that is more southernly, further down the beach from the start of Long Beach. Also, a crazy Indian-looking fellow probably wearing a turban may run out and ask you to eat at his place. If he does, feel honored and quickly agree! I also got a vanilla milkshake, which is highly recommended.
Chicken curry, Chili Chill’s, Bangkok. For a while during the trip, I thought this might be my favorite thing I had eaten, but in the end, I realized that the Malaysian food was just so unique from what I have normally eaten that I had to rank it #1. However, this was EASILY the best Indian curry I have ever tasted, which in the past two years has been a lot. So good, in fact, that we were only in Bangkok for 36 hours total and we ate there twice, and both times, ordered the chicken curry. It is super easy to find, as it is directly across the street from the entrance of Khao San Road and has a huge sign that says “Indian Food” in the 2nd floor window. The naan is small, so if you are really hungry, or there is two people, certainly order 2. At $1, it’s certainly affordable.
Worst Meal: (luckily, this list is much smaller) Hamburger at the Cowboy Bar, Chiang Mai. I know what you’re thinking: “You idiot, it is your own fault for getting Western food in Thailand. You’re in Thailand, you should be eating your weight in pad thai and fried rice!” But please keep in mind that the options for Western foods are few and far between in Japan and that the quality of Western food is actually much higher in Thailand than in Japan. That being said, this burger sucked. It had absolutely no flavor at all and was fairly pricey for Chiang Mai. The New Yorker sitting next to us swears that “the wings are top-notch” but I’m pretty sure he would have said anything in his pathetic and ultimately fruitless attempt to get in the hostess cowgirl’s pants.
Honorable Mention: Burrito and chimichanga at Miguel’s, Chiang Mai. Ok, so you see a recurring theme here? The two worst meals we ate were both Thai attempts in Chiang Mai to recreate a North American meal. It wasn’t downright awful, but at $8 a meal, it was way too pricey to even be considered worth it. Remember, in Chiang Mai you can get a meal of Pad Thai for around $1.50. There is now way I’m paying four times that for a worse than Taco Bell quality burrito.
Weirdest Thing Eaten: Amazingly, it is not the cricket you see me eating in the video but instead is the silkworm that I ate moments prior. The cricket had crunch and some a flavor,that although it is hard to describe, wasn’t half bad. The silkworm was mealy and the taste was not nearly as enjoyable as the cricket. So the lesson here folks: when faced with the decision to eat a cricket or silkworm, always choose the cricket.
Food I’ll Miss The Most: Fruit smoothies. These can be found anywhere in Thailand, literally anywhere, and come in a variety of flavors. From the original breakfast meal in Chiang Mai, when I first tasted the passion fruit smoothie, all the way through our last meal in Koh Lanta, when I sucked down a strawberry one, I was in heaven. So refreshing, so smooth, so tasty, so big, and soooo cheap (usually about $1-$1.25). Now that I’m stuck in Japan, I can only dream about waking up in the morning, getting one for breakfast, walking 10 feet, and ordering a second. Man, those were the days.
Biggest rip-off: $30 “complimentary” breakfast at Traders Hotel. I’m still steamed about this one. We check in to the 5 star Traders Hotel the night before and they mention that there is breakfast in the lobby in the morning. Ok, cool. We wake up around 10:00 a.m. the next morning and I remember that they said breakfast was served until 10:30. At 10:20, we walk into the dining room and the lady informs us that “the buffet will be closing in 10 minutes” but we assure her it is ok, we will eat fast. The buffet spread is first class, with tons of Western food such as eggs, donuts, sausage, etc. as well as Malaysian food like nasi lemak and the like. We fill our plates, giddy with excitement, and I think “well, at least we are getting something out of paying $100 a night.”
When we approach the table, I see a receipt sticking out of the holder in the middle of the table and immediately my stomach drops. Ok, well what’s the worst that can happen? Breakfast costs us $5 a piece? Wrong! $15 a person for 10 minutes of a breakfast buffet! This would be highway robbery in America, let alone a country where you can order enough Indian food for under $6 to eat lunch, throw up because of how much you ate, and then still eat the remaining amounts for dinner. And for them to never once mention that it costs money, when every single other place that has had breakfast for us provided it complimentary, including the $10 a night hostels? Underhanded, tricky, and despicable on their part.
Honorable Mention: Taxi rides, Penang. Penang, yet again. So, in Malaysia, there is a law that says that all taxis must use their meters, a law that is made abundantly clear by the stickers on both sides of the taxis and the back window that read “This is a metered taxi. No haggling.” In Kuala Lumpur, this was no problem, as we got a taxi ride from one end of the city to the other for a little over $3 and a ride from our hostel to KL Sentral in the early morning for about $5. However, in Penang, the taxi drivers refused to use their meters, even when I called them out on it, stomped away, slammed the door of three taxis, and walked five blocks in the rain. They just continued to say “no meter, no meter” and then try to screw you by asking for exorbitant prices.
The worst part: When we had a taxi called for us by the hotel to go to the airport in the early morning (the only way to get there at 5:30) we were told to expect to pay 53 ringgit ($17). I had already chalked this up to being inevitable, so as angry as I was about it, there was nothing I could do. However, when we get in the taxi, the guy starts the meter. When we arrive at the airport it reads 16 ringgit ($5). However, we had already agreed to pay the 53 to the bellhop, who in turn had told the driver, and he refused to give me the meter price, saying that he had been told he would be payed a flat rate. Seeing that 16 simply added insult to injury, and I was ready to get out of that town of thieves.
Japan in general: After having been in Thailand and Malaysia you come to realize just how expensive Japan really is. In order for me to get from my house to Haneda Airport I pay $100 ONE WAY for an hour and a half train ride. To put that in perspective, I payed less to travel from Chiang Mai to Bangkok ($12), Bangkok to Koh Phi Phi ($22), Ko Phi Phi to Koh Lanta ($8), Koh Lanta to Penang ($30) and Penang to Kuala Lumpur ($25) COMBINED, which included 3 buses, 3 ferries, 2 minibuses, and 1 plane ticket.
The second “kick in the balls” upon arriving in Japan? Ordering a small apple croissant and a ginger ale at the cafe in Haneda Airport and being charged $8. I’m not a baseball game for crying out loud! Every meal, with the exception of Miguel’s in Chiang Mai, cost me less than $8, and now I’m paying that for a day old croissant and glass of ginger ale?
Quick Impressions of Each Place Visited:
Kuala Lumpur: Great food, cheap prices, tons of shopping. Seemed a little too go-go-go and crowded for me but we only had two days and no one show us around, so that could be part of it Definitely worth a look, and I wouldn’t hesitate to go back and explore more.
Chiang Mai: Hands down my favorite place of the vacation. Really laid back and chill, plenty of expats to talk but not so many that it was in your face. It was the cheapest place for food or lodging on our trip, has great things to do in the area (elephant trekking, cooking classes, night markets, etc.), super friendly people who aren’t looking to rip you off and is very easy to navigate and get around due to the fact that the old wall is surrounded by a wall and a moat. Tuk-tuks, taxis, and songthaews are available at all times of the day and night to get you around and also incredibly cheap. Seems far away from the rest of Thailand but is easily accessible due to the international airport that is only 10 minutes away from the city center and has flights to Bangkok, China, Laos, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore among others.
Bangkok: Crazy. You can get pretty much anything you want at any time you want. When we pulled in the first morning at 6:30 a.m. there were still people out eating and drinking from the night before, the food stalls were all open and the people were hawking t-shirts, trinkets and a bunch of other junk. AT 6:30 A.M.! I think that about sums up Bangkok.
Ko Phi Phi: Overwhelmingly beautiful but overwhelmingly overrun. Of course, coming at the busiest time of the year doesn’t help. During the day, the place is nice, as most people are out scuba diving or snorkeling and there are plenty of great places to eat, drink, and relax. However, we quickly got sick of the sea of drunk 25 year old Swedes that were stumbling around every corner at night. Too many people in too small of an area if you are staying on Ton Sai Beach. When we go back, we will definitely be staying on the other side of the island, which is only a short boat ride away from all the craziness but if you wish, miles removed. Still, it is certainly a place to see, and the boat excursions out to Maya Bay and the other islands can not be recommended enough. They are a must, must do.
Koh Lanta: Pretty much the opposite of Ko Phi Phi. Much, much bigger and spread out and mostly filled with families who are on vacation and want to relax. Most of the entertainment during the day revolves around laying on the beach, renting a scooter and touring the island, or going on a day snorkeling excursion. At night, the festivities are pretty much confined to chilling on the beach in a cabana, drinking a beer or two, and watching the fire shows. Very low key and relaxing, a perfect place to go if you are sick of the crowds.
Penang: Unfortunately, the biggest disappointment of the trip. We were expecting a quaint little colonial town but instead found a much bigger metropolis that was fairly run down and a little boring. Sure, it was neat enough to see the center of George Town, with its old colonial buildings, but I’ve seen much better versions of the same thing in other areas. The food was good, but not as good as KL’s, and after hearing everyone call it “the food capital of the world”, I was a little let down. I wouldn’t tell someone not to visit, but I wouldn’t tell someone to go out of their way to see Penang, as we had done. There are better places to spend your time.