Sunday, July 12, 2009


I packed up my backpack for the last time this morning, a ritual I have repeated every few days for the last ten weeks. It's bursting at the seams by now. Realizing this morning that I would not have to stuff all that crap in there ever again brought a mixed feeling of relief and nostalgia. I fly back to Bangkok this morning and from there switch over to a suitcase to make room for some things I've bought along the way. I fly back home on Tuesday.

While I'm mildly tempted to write some kind of grandiose valedictory post about the trip, words really can't do it justice and I've certainly expended more than enough here already, so suffice it to say it's been pretty epic.

Thanks for reading



Friday, July 10, 2009

Thursday, July 9, 2009

In Chiang Mai

Took the night train in from Bangkok last night. I think I'm just going to take it easy here in Chiang Mai. Trekking into the Northern Thailand hills is a very popular activity around here but I think I'm going to take it easy and skip out on that. Tomorrow I take a Thai cooking class on a farm outside the city, then on Saturday I think I will take a massage class, and then before I know it I'll be home...

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Election Day

As an astute observer of politics, it's exciting for me to be here on Election Day.  Indonesians go to the polls today in the second presidential election since the fall of Suharto's military regime.  The campaign has been civil and peaceful, a welcome development for the world's third-largest democracy.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is widely expected to trounce his opponents and be re-elected to a second term.  Everyone I have spoken to here plans to support Susilo, with one gentleman I spoke to yesterday predicting that Susilo would win 90% of the vote in his village in Lombok.  The people I have spoken with describe Susilo as a smart and capable leader, and CNN this morning tells me that the economy is doing well and Indonesians are happy to see him combating corruption. 

Of course there's really only so much you can understand as a visitor but it is fascinating to me to see this nonetheless.  They seem genuinely excited to have the opportunity to vote and participate in a peaceful election and it's quite remarkable to see.  

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Kuta Lombok wrap-up

Lombok is the next island over from Bali.  I spent the last few days in Kuta, a beach village on Lombok's southern shore.  There's not many visitors here besides some die-hard surfers. It's probably about as far off the beaten path as I've managed to get during this trip, and it was great.  

They've been saying that Lombok is the next Bali for years now but there's never really been more than trickle of tourists here.  Apparently they are constructing a new airport that would be Indonesia's largest, set to open in 2012 (of course this being Indonesia it's anyone's guess when, or if, it will ever be finished).  I can't help but imagine how different everything will be once that airport opens, which makes me especially glad that I was able to visit now.  

On Sunday we rode out to watch a surf competition for young surfers under 16.  The only way to get there was to take a motorbike and so I checked out a motor scooter and rode for the first time.  It was awesome - the scenery was stunning with rolling green hills and volcanic cliffs jutting out over the lush blue sea.  We had to dodge chickens, cattle, goats, and even some children on the road.  I could not have picked a worse possible road to ride a scooter for the first time, though, as much of the steep road was unpaved and full of big rocks and even the paved sections were riddled with potholes.  I managed to break a piece of plastic shielding off the bike, but the parking attendants (paid them 50 cents to watch the bikes) patched it up nicely.  I met a guy who bloodied up his toe pretty badly on that ride, so I was lucky.  Trying new things is fun.  I'm thinking of getting a motor scooter now.  Don't laugh, I'm serious.

We also tried to go out and surf on Monday but there were no waves.  Truly tragic, actually, that I came out to one of the world's best dive areas and the weather was not in my favor.  

I was walking along the beach and a small group of Indonesian girls invited me to  join them at the top of  a big rock and being curious as to how the hell they managed to climb up this big rock, I did.  Then the girls (9-12 years old) proceeded to speak with me in stunningly good English for 10 minutes or so about America and Barack Obama and all that good stuff.  The girls had even give themselves English names - Lucy, Linda, and Claudia.  When I remarked, skeptically, that  "your name is not Lucy..." the girls energetically retorted "it's my business name!"  Then when I was sufficiently buttered up, they ambushed me and tried to sell me their bracelets.  I kinda knew this would happen, so I can't really complain.  At that point a bunch of other kids appeared out of nowhere and climbed up this rock so I was surrounded by like 10 kids trying to sell me finally I bought a few bracelets...

Lombok is very rural...

View of Gunung Agung, the highest volcano in Bali, from the Lombok Strait 

Leaving Indonesia to fly to Bangkok tomorrow and then night train to Chiang Mai.  I've loved every minute of Indonesia and I'm pretty sure I want to come back here and spend more time exploring the country.  With 17,000 islands and 200 million people, there's a lot to see...

[I have only a week left in my trip and I'm beginning to find blogging a bit laborious so updates from here on out may be brief if I post them at all, sorry...]

Sunday, July 5, 2009

I have found my paradise

I got to Kuta (Lombok) yesterday and it's amazing. A secluded
white-sand beach dotted with little more than a few inns and some
shops. It's totally relaxed - and quiet - here. Met up with a good
group yesterday - 2 English girls and a Danish guy - in the van ride
over and we went out to the only bar in town last night and had a good

Kuta has some of the world's best surfing and there's a big surf
competition at the next beach over so we're gonna roll over there
after I shower and eat.

Kuta's a good place. I'm likin it.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Chillin on the Beach

Gili Trawangan is alright but a few too many tourists here for me. It's supposed to be this little unspoiled beautiful white-sand island but of course once the word got out everyone mobbed it and now there's a bunch of resorts and so it's a bit ruined.

The nice thing about traveling for an extended period of time is the flexibility to change your plans. So I've decided tomorrow morning I'm going to hop over to Kuta, Lombok, which is supposed to have some amazing beaches and scenery but be quieter and friendlier than Gili Trawangan.

Also I've been in a bit of a mentally-winding-down mode for a little while now that I know my trip is coming to an end but I don't think that's a good idea, seeing as how I still have 11 days (which is longer than most regular vacations!). So I also changed my plan next week - instead of lounging in Bangkok for 5 days (which I've already done), I'm going to take the night train up to Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand and explore a bit. It'll get me back in backpacking mode a little bit and by the time I'm done with that my trip will actually be over...

Yesterday's sunset. Amazing.

There are little geckoes everywhere. Sometimes big geckoes. This guy was crawling around my wall last night. But the geckoes are good because they eat the mosquitoes.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Gili Trawangan

Arrived at Gili Trawangan, off the coast of Lombok, this morning. It's a small little island, about 2km from end-to-end, and very nice, with white sand beaches and blue-green waters. I rode around the island on a bicycle today and stopped to watch a gorgeous sunset.

Tomorrow I'm going to snorkel and relax a bit.

Ever since I've come to Bali, it feels like I've left the backpacker trail and ended up in the middle of a resort. It's actually not all that great - instead of being around other interesting young people, it's a bunch of fat old Aussies and trashy party-seekers from Europe and Australia. Not exactly my crowd. And things are more expensive too. Oh well, I'm still enjoying the scenery.

I'm looking forward to going home though.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


Not too much new to add here. In Padangbai, in Bali. Went on a great dive yesterday to the Liberty Wreck, a WWII shipwreck. It was great - the wreck was awesome, totally encrusted in coral and brimming with schools of fish.

Tomorrow I'm off to the Gili Islands, some small remote islands off the coast of Lombok (the next big island to the East). Will do some snorkeling and mainly just relax.

It's hard to believe my trip is slowly coming to an end. Already I'm starting to sort out some of the many things I will be doing upon my return...

More later

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Volcano Monkey Mountain

Woke up before 2 AM this morning to hike to the top of Gulung Batur, an active volcano, to watch the sunrise. It was pretty spectacular.

Almost as if on cue, as soon as the sun rose, a pack of monkeys came to greet us. Yes, more monkeys.After the sunrise, we walked around the crater of the volcano. All around there were vents of steam, some large, some smaller.

Back to the beach tomorrow.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Ubud Day 1 - Monkeys and More

I arrived in Ubud this morning. Ubud is Bali's cultural center, and though just an hour down the road from noisy Kuta, it feels a world removed. It is serene and spiritual here.

After settling in, I went to the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, just a short walk down the road from my homestay/guesthouse. There are a few temples here and like a gazillion monkeys. I tried to feed some of them bananas, which was fun. But then some of them got rowdy and chased after me and my bananas so I threw the bananas at the monkeys and ran. It was fun.

Later in the evening I watched the Kecak and Fire Dance. The owner of my guesthouse was performing tonight, so I went and watched his group. It is prominently featured in the movie Baraka, which you must see if you havent already. The coolest thing about the kecak is the chanting, but this computer is not cooperating with me in uploading my videos so you should google/youtube it and see for yourself.

I had mentioned briefly before the little flower boat incense things that are outside every doorstep here in Bali, one of those little touches that makes it feel so unique and magical. Well I stumbled upon a little boy making them today:
Everywhere I have traveled, there is great excitement and affection for President Obama, which reassures me that slowly but surely our standing in the world is being rebuilt. In my conversations, I often use it as a springboard to talk about America's diversity and how Obama's election signals the rise of a new generation - my generation - that is ever more multicultural and cosmopolitan. Maybe I overplay it a bit but I feel like it's my duty to share this with foreigners after the dark Bush era. In Indonesia, they are definitely more excited about Obama than anywhere else I've been - everybody here knows that he grew up in Jakarta and understands Indonesia and they have great affection for him. I found this painting in an art shop walking down the street today:

Alright that's it for now. I'm touring some temples around Ubud tomorrow and then at 2:00 AM I'm going to hike up to the top of Mt. Batur for the sunrise. Should be awesome.

Michael Jackson

So sad about his death.  He is truly a world star.  Over breakfast with CNN on everyone was gripped by the news, and saddened.  

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Surfing in Magical Bali

Had a great surf lesson today and was riding waves pretty quickly.  It's not as hard as I thought it'd be - which is not to say I'm any good but I can get up and ride the wave at least.  I'm leaving Kuta tomorrow but will probably dabble a little more with the surfboard when I come back here in 2 weeks.  It is really tiring though!  It certainly requires a lot of strength and stamina.  Now I know why all those surfer boys have such nice bodies...

I'm loving Bali.  Over dinner tonight I was chatting with Marina, one of the young girls who works at the reasturant/food stall.  She is from Jakarta and came to Bali on a whim two weeks ago to do something new.  We had a nice conversation for about an hour or so and I told her many things about America.  Her English was great and it turns out that she's a college graduate (business major) who quit her boring office job in search of something new.  I can relate to that.  I think one of the great joys of independent travel is the many conversations you have with various people.   Traveling alone, and being an Asian American, is something of a confusing oddity to the locals and tends to invite the countless interesting conversations I've had along the way.  It's these conversations that enrich the trip, making it more an immersive cultural experience rather than a mere vacation.  Last night I was talking over kreteks (Indonesian clove cigarette) with the guy working the front desk at the inn I'm staying at.  That smell brought back memories - I haven't had a kretek since college!  He kept trying to sell me one of the many prostitutes his boss has, and did seem notably less talkative once I signaled I wasn't particularly interested...

I have a pretty unreal itinerary here in Bali.  Tomorrow I'm going to Ubud for the Sacred Monkey Forest and Kecak Fire Dance and then touring some of the ancient Hindu temples.  Then hiking a volcano to watch the sunrise over lava flows, scuba diving a shipwreck encrusted in coral and packed with schools of fish, and then chillin out on the Gili Islands...

But then the trip winds down and I will be sad to go.  I saved the best for last.  Can't be sad yet though!  

alright im off.  goodnight folks.  

Kuta Beach

Made it to Kuta yesterday, the beach hub resort of Bali.  Think Santa Monica full of foreigners in Indonesia but everything is about 10 times cheaper and more charming, with little Hindu flower incense sacrifice things outside every doorstep.  It is overly commercial though, with more McDonald's than I can count, Starbucks, Hard Rock Cafe, etc.  It's a little much for my taste, actually, so I'll probably leave for quieter more splendid places in Bali tomorrow but not before I take my surf lesson today (Kuta being a world-famous surf mecca).  I've always thought it quite a tragedy that as a native Southern Californian I never learned to surf.  I'm not sure one can really learn to surf in two hours but I'll give it a try.  I'm a quick learner, though that's tempered by the fact that I'm physically clumsy.  

Bali is nice.  It is refreshing to be back in a humid sticky vibrant interesting place again after my detour into modernity (boring) in Malaysia and Singapore.  And of course, it is most refreshing to be paying dirt-cheap prices again for everything (though that seems to have the effect of making me buy more things...).  Bali seems to be the cheapest of all the places I've visited, even at marked-up tourist prices here in Kuta.  But the people are fun and nice and it has none of the roughness of other poorer places I've been to.  Even after just a day, I can see the magical appeal of this place, and that's before I've gone on to see the cultural wonders, natural beauty, and amazing diving on offer elsewhere in the island.  

After seven weeks on the go, I think it's a sign of how much I've adapted that, upon landing in Bali, I found the touts refreshingly familiar and haggling for cheap things a fun exercise, rather than a tortured hassle.  Yesterday when I was checking out some fake Ray-Bans from a vendor we broke into a laughing fit haggling with each other, all in good fun (I didn't buy them and I told him I was just looking but that apparently only made him bargain harder).  

I have more pictures but they seem to load slowly so I'll try again later.  

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

In Bali

More later

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Hello from Singapore. That's me at the base of the Singapore skyline by the merlion (half-lion, half-fish mermaid) that is Singapore's mascot. My hair is a little out of control, but I got a haircut at the mall last night so that's taken care of now.

Singapore is a rich gleaming futuristic clean little orderly metropolis and while I was skeptical of how I would feel about what some have described as its sterility, I must say that I am quite enjoying myself here. Singapore is probably the cleanest nicest little place on Earth.

There's really not much to do in Singapore besides eating and shopping, but there's enough amazingly delicious cheap food and shopping malls seemingly on every street to keep you occupied with that for quite a while. [Above, one of Singapore's many malls]
Singaporeans love their food and they have a rich tradition of street food just like the rest of Asia but having actual street vendors would ruin the orderly clean streets that the government has worked so hard to create. The solution has been to corral all the food vendors into hawker centers, which are basically food courts spread all over the city. But to call them food courts in the way that we might understand them would be a gross understatement. Each hawker center has over 50 or 60 different vendors selling all kinds of delicious food. I've been eating way too much here, but it's so delicious... [Above, a hawker center near the central business district. I was there right after the lunchtime rush but there were still a few business people hanging around, eating their food]

Today for lunch I went to Chinatown and at the hawker center, had duck rice, shanghai soup dumplings, and almond paste for lunch. I also chatted in Chinese with some of the vendor ladies for a good hour or so, including this nice Taiwanese-Singaporean woman below who runs one of the drink stalls.

Cutting up little pieces of fruit for shaved ice desserts. She was fun to talk to.

Shanghai Soup Dumplings

Hand-made noodles

Chopping up duck

Singapore is an interesting social experiment. It is, like Malaysia (with which it shares a common history), a multiethnic society but one in which the sense of Singaporean nationhood is strong. The government is notorious for being overbearing (with strict rules and fines for minor infractions and the highest per capita death penalty rate in the world!). Signs of Singapore's continuing experiment in social engineering abound everywhere. On the MRT (subway), which is probably the nicest mass transit system I've ever ridden on, they play a corny video about what to do if you see a suspected terrorist . It is so over-the-top cheesy that I burst out laughing but it seems to be common fare here. Some more pictorial examples of this "social guidance" below:

Not sure what kind of animal this is supposed to be, but as part of the "Singapore kindness movement" it is reminding you to apologize...

Amazingly, Singapore does seem to be actually litter-free...

These corny pictures are posted on the subway doors to remind you to let others out first...

Off to the Night Safari at the zoo tonight and then tomorrow flying to Bali. My 2 weeks in Bali are to be the captone of my trip and I plan to spend them learning to surf, diving some more, chilling out on the beach, and exploring Bali's magical culture.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

In Singapore

More later

Malaysia Recap

[This post is a little long to make up for lack of posting this week.]

It's my last night in Malaysia. I'm off to Singapore tomorrow. I haven't posted much recently so I have a lot of little updates and thoughts pent up. I've been on the road for over 7 weeks now (out of a 10 week trip) and I can definitely sense the change in how I behave and perceive my environment. I remember on the first week of my trip I met a Canadian girl who was finishing a long trip (I think 8 months or something, don't really remember) and when I told her it was my first week she said, somewhat condescendingly, "oh you must still be taking pictures of everything!" I remember being annoyed at the time but it's true - I now take far fewer pictures than I did before, usually only bringing my camera along if I know I'm going somewhere noteworthy and even then I don't take as many shots as I used to. I try to still take enough, though, as I know a lot of you enjoy seeing the pictures and it's really the only way to see what the heck it is I'm talking about in these posts.

I've become increasingly alarmed at the fact that my trip is slowly coming to an end. I still have three and a half weeks left but I'm more than two-thirds done! I'm really not ready to leave yet so that makes me sad. Now that I've been here for a while, I've become much more sensitive to the myriad differences between vacationers who come for one or two weeks and travelers who are here for an extended period of time. At Taman Negara for part of my time there I was on a package tour with some older Europeans on vacation and I was amused (if slightly annnoyed) at how they took so many pictures, were easily tired, carried big old suitcases, and were so pampered and needed everything laid out for them by the tour guide. It's interesting to me the perspective I've gained as a seasoned backpacker (if I do say so myself).

I've changed too as the trip has gone on. I've definitely slowed my pace down a bit and I confess that in Malaysia I have spent a lot more time kind of vegging out and have begun to indulge my cravings for reminders of home. Just this week I've watched two movies at the theater (State of Play and Drag me to Hell, both very good) and tonight I had Carl's Jr at the mall. For my East Coast readers who may be unfamiliar with Carl's Jr, it's pretty awesome as far as fast food goes. I ate a lot of Carl's Jr growing up (in fact I've even met Carl Karcher! he is a conservative prick though) and I've missed it being in DC so I was stoked when I saw a Carl's at the mall tonight. I ordered my usual, a Western Bacon Cheeseburger meal with crisscut fries. Upon receiving my meal, I noticed that there was no bacon in my cheeseburger. The Western Bacon Cheeseburger. I brought my burger up to the counter to point this out and the clerk very casually and dismissively explained that they were out of bacon so they had substituted an extra slice of cheese instead. There are so many things wrong with this - first, adding an extra slice of cheese simply makes the problem worse. I certainly do not like, nor do I think most cheeseburger consumers would enjoy, two slices of (unmelted) cheese with one meat patty. A one to one meat:cheese ratio is a pretty basic rule of burger construction. Second, despite knowing that there was no bacon when I ordered my meal, they didn't bother telling me (and of course they didn't bother asking me if I wanted another slice of cheese to make up for said lack of bacon). I was not at all angry, though; rather, I was quite amused that I had once again stumbled into one of these strange and ultimately quite memorable cultural experiences. One can only imagine how absurd this would be if it happened in the US but happening here it was just funny. They had a suggestion card (just like in the US) that I was tempted to fill out but I was running late for my movie and I had the nagging suspicion that it wouldn't get the attention it required anyway...

So with those general what's-been-going-on-with-me updates out of the way, I'll try to recap the past week and then finish off with some broader thoughts on Malaysia in general.

Today I got back from Taman Negara rainforest, which was a lot of fun. I did some jungle hikes, a night walk, walked along a canopy bridge suspended above the trees, and explored a dark cave full of bats, which was definitely the highlight. I also met some cool Britons at the hostel, so that made for some good times too. It's hard to get beer at the park because most everyone is Muslim and this being a small place instead of the big city most shops don't carry beer. We ended up finding some Dutch, who had trekked out an hour to buy cases of beer to bring back, and bummed/bought half a case off of them. Good times. I'll let the pictures do the rest of the talking on this one:

Bat in the cave. There were hundreds just flying around so I kept snapping pictures and lucked out getting this great shot.

There were lots of bats in that cave. They would just fly around almost hitting me in the head.

Me in the cave. Don't be fooled by how bright this looks; that's only due to the camera flash. It was pitch-black and we had to use flashlights to crawl around. It was also narrow at times and the rocks were slippery with bat shit. Yum.

Me and friendly Chinese girl from Penang.

Cruisin on the river in the jungle.

There were lots of bugs around. Really big bugs.

Jungle Trekking.

Canopy Walk


I have been quite impressed by Malaysia. It differs quite a bit from the other countries that I've visited so far. For one, it's a Muslim country, so it's quite common to see women wearing the hijab and stumble upon mosques while walking around. I think the most important and visible difference is that Malaysia is a multi-racial nation, with a majority of Malays but a sizable population of Chinese and Indians. This is a consequence of the fact that Malaysia is a constructed political entity, with disparate groups lumped together by the British (most of the Indians arrived in Malaysia as migrant workers when both India and Malaysia were colonies) and united by the struggle for independence in the 1940s and 50s.

It appears to be quite racially harmonious to the outsider and at the national museum (which was quite good) there was a spirited if somewhat cheesy video about how Malaysia is a peaceful and harmonious multi-racial society. It is impossible for a visitor in my position to really scratch much beneath the surface but I do remember meeting a Malay in Vietnam who told me about how many people are bitter at the (legally codified) preferential treatment Malays receive from the government and also talked to some expats when I went out to the bars last week who noted that different groups hang out in different places and tend not to mix (there are Chinese bars, Malay bars, etc.)

The currency here is the Malaysian Ringgit (RM). For lack of better words, money seems more real here because things are priced in numbers that seem rational to the Western visitor. A cheap filling meal on the street costs anywhere between 4 and 8 RM. A movie ticket costs 12 RM. A ride on the monorail or rapid rail train costs 1.60-2.00 RM. A long-distance bus ride costs 30-35 RM. My hostel room costs 35 RM. You get my drift - at face value, these numbers make sense and are comparable to pricing in dollars, euros, or pounds. The exchange rate is 3.5 RM to $1 so everything is still a great deal and I am paying about what I was paying in dollar terms in Thailand. But in Thailand the exchange rate was 35 baht to the dollar, so numbers would become absurdly high. In Vietnam it was even worse, with the exchange rate at 17,700 dong to the dollar (I would have to withdraw 1 million dong at a time from the ATM). What happens when you are dealing with numbers like that on a daily basis is that the money begins to seem like "monopoly money" as the backpackers say. Seeing things priced in "normal" numbers has the effect of making me feel like I am in a much more modern and developed country.

I've read that the Malaysian government has the goal of making all of Malaysia a fully developed country by 2020 but KL is already there, without a doubt. KL is completely different from all of the other major Southeast Asian cities I've been to so far (Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Saigon, Hanoi), mainly because it is so modern, clean and efficient. It reminds me more of Hong Kong than anything else (the obvious common factor being that both cities were designed and initially built by the British) Instead of crazy traffic jams and motorbikes everywhere, people here drive cars in an orderly manner, staying in their lanes, rarely honking (what a relief), and generally following the traffic rules. The city is crisscrossed by several rapid rail (elevated/subway) lines and a monorail line which are smooth, quick, and efficient. The lines converge in a gleaming new train station. There are tons of shopping malls ranging from family-oriented entertainment centers to upscale boutique malls, complete with every major American and western brand (from McDonalds and Krispy Kreme to Coach, Armani, Burberry, Zegna, and Prada, they have it all) and several movie theaters (with Terminator: Salvation currently playing on IMAX for only 9 RM!) And even though I am staying in the backpacker area of town, there are comparatively few of the hawkers and vendors that you normally see set up catering specifically to tourists at the other backpacker hubs in Southeast Asia. For the most part, the locals just go on with their daily lives, totally used to the presence of foreigners everywhere and not staring or trying to sell them things like everywhere else I've been.

If anything, some might complain that it's a little sterile. I met an expat last week at a bar who remarked that it's almost like living in Britain and that he misses the character and flavor that accompanied living in Thailand. And indeed I've found that there is little in the way of "charm" in this city in the exotic sense but it is still mind-blowing to see such a fully developed multi-ethnic gleaming developed city after everywhere else I've been. I guess I just wasn't quite expecting it. In fact, KL is like what I expected Singapore to be like (they say that KL is what Singapore used to be like before it became the "tomorrowland of Asia"). I'll see for myself.

Goodbye Malaysia.

If you got this far, thanks for reading!

Monday, June 15, 2009

KL Pictures; Off to the Rainforest

I'm off to Taman Negara National Park tomorrow morning for 4 days in the rainforest. Not sure if I'll have internet or not (one would think no, being in the rainforest and all, but I've been surprised by how ubiquitous the internet seems to be so I won't say no for certain).

I have lots of thoughts about Kuala Lumpur (or KL, in the same way that LA is just LA). It's a very dynamic, modern city and feels very different than anywhere else I've been on the trip so far. I will save these reflections for a later post, though, and just leave you with some pictures for now.

At the very bottom of the picture is me, at the base of the Petronas Towers (formerly the world's tallest buildings)
They have a huge mall inside that has a Toys-R-Us with a model of the Petronas Towers made of Legos

In KL the backpacker hub is in Chinatown so I have had some very delicious Chinese food. Above is roast pork and chicken with chicken rice. The chicken rice is basically rice cooked in chicken stock, which is amazingly yummy.

Brief update from Kuala Lumpur

Just checking in to make sure you all know I'm alive. I've been exploring KL a bit these past few days and it's pretty interesting. It has this ultra-modern kinda thing going.

One of my favorite parts of traveling is seeing how ordinary people live and the eccentric differences of modern life. I like to go to the mall here, even though I rarely buy anything (besides food) and I hate going to the mall in the US. You see all sorts of interesting things.

Right now I'm writing from an internet cafe inside the Berjaya Times Square Mall, which is this gi-normous 10-story mall with a theme park and roller coaster inside and an IMAX screen, among other things. They also have McDonald's, Wendy's, Baskin Robbins, Borders, several Starbucks, and Krispy Kreme. They even have Auntie Anne's pretzels and along with the usual flavors like Cinnamon Sugar they have seaweed flavor. See it's these little things that I enjoy stumbling upon.

Anyway I'm gonna go explore some more but I'll try to post more later. Haven't done much actual sightseeing yet but I plan to do that tomorrow and to write a longer post about my observations on Malaysia, which is refreshingly very different from the other countries I've visited so far (multi-racial, clean, uber-modern or at least modernizing).

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Penang Pictures

Spent yesterday wandering around Penang and eating. Penang was the first British settlement in Malaysia and has a rich mix of Chinese, Indian, and Malay people with lots of delicious food.

Just got to Kuala Lumpur, where I'm off to eat and hit the town.

Amazing sunset off of Penang Hill

Fresh buttery garlic naan with curry-like dipping sauce (2 RM or $0.60)

View of Old Georgetown from the 60th floor of the KOMTAR Tower

Me in front of Sunset at Penang Hill

Claypot Chicken Rice. Yum. (3-5 RM, can't remember - that's $1-$1.50)

Friday, June 12, 2009

In Penang

I had a decent trip over here from Thailand. I expected to be bored as hell, drying up my iPod battery and getting sick of my book but I found some interesting people to talk to along the way so that really helped to pass the time. I met a girl from LA who was on her way back to the US after 9 weeks in Thailand and Laos and we wandered around Chumphon (the town the train station is in) for a few hours before parting ways. There was an interesting Thai man who talked to both of us at the train station about Our Creator and the afterlife and the meaning of life. Deep stuff. Slept well on the train and then, after being woken up to clear immigration at the Malaysia border, I found the company of a young Pakistani journalist who was all too eager to chat with me. He especially enjoyed listening to American music on my iPod. He kept listening to Cher for some reason and was rockin out...

Some thoughts on Malaysia after my first 24 hours here:
Malaysia is a very interesting place. In addition to the Malays, Chinese and Indians and have been settling here for hundreds of years, so there is a great mixture of people and food and different languages. Penang is known as the food capital of Malaysia so I am mainly here to eat. One can only eat so much, though, so I am trying to explore as much as I can before leaving, probably tomorrow, for Kuala Lumpur.

Will post pics later

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

On the Road Again

I'm leaving Koh Tao in a few hours for a 24-hour journey to Malaysia.  3-hour boat, followed by 5-hour "layover" at the train station, followed by 15-16 hour night train ride.  Also the trains typically run hours late, so the trip will probably be longer...

Anyway, I realized that I've just passed the halfway point of my trip - entering the 5th week of my 10 week trip, and it has gone by fast!  Too fast, maybe.  I've actually spent more time here in Koh Tao than in any other single place so far on my trip so I'm itching to get back on the road again.

Koh Tao has been great - I've really enjoyed scuba diving and just relaxing on the island but there is something a little bizarre to me about the place.  Up until about 10 or 15 years ago, this island was little more than a remote fishing outpost.  Then as word got out about the amazing coral just off the coast and the island's natural beauty, the place exploded on to the scene and is today the largest center of diving instruction in Southeast Asia and a firm fixture on the backpacker trail.  It remains the quietest of the three famous Gulf of Thailand islands (Koh Samui is the most commercialized, with hotels and 5-star resorts, Koh Phan Ngan is something of a backpacker party paradise, while Koh Tao remains relatively laid-back, with most people here to dive and chill out).  Yet it is still a place that to my eye is overrun by visitors.  There are certainly more foreigners than there are Thais here and this kind of experience (vacation vs. travel) begins to feel a little tiring after a while.  The foreigners I've encountered in Koh Tao, unlike in Vietnam and Cambodia, seem to be more interested in partying and more abusive of the locals (I feel terrible for the poor clerks at 7-11 who deal with drunken English partyers all night) and less polite, engaging, and interested (or interesting for that matter) than the foreigners I encountered before.  So I'm definitely eager to get back to real traveling off the backpacker trail a little bit, exploring new places, mingling with locals, and navigating my way around.  

A note on the English language - It is ubiquitous, maybe too much so.  As an English speaker I've never had any real trouble communicating so far on the trip, and it will be even easier as I move on to Malaysia and Singapore where English is an official language and universally spoken.  It's actually been a little too easy, for my taste, and I feel like I've learned nothing of the local languages because I haven't needed to.  English is also how you communicate with other travelers, be they Swiss, Spanish, French, or Japanese.  I feel a little guilty about that - they defer to the rest of us by speaking English while I know little of their languages - but when I have shared this concern with them they brush it aside, noting that when they come to travel they end up speaking English the whole way to communicate anyway so for them they are already used to it.  

Ok off to travel for a long while now.  Will be reading, listening to my iPod, staring out the window, and sleeping a lot.  24 hours of travel.  fun.  

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

I'm a Diver Now!

Today I was certified as an Advanced Open Water Diver.  I really like scuba diving.  I've always had a thing for water - ever since I almost drowned in 1st grade and my parents put me in swim class and then on the swim team, I've felt very comfortable in the water.  Being underwater - isolated from noise and consciously controlling every breath - is a good way to clear your head. I've met tons of folks here who are on diving vacations - here in Koh Tao for several weeks and then off to Indonesia or elsewhere, just to dive.  I can see the appeal - I've logged 10 dives in the last 5 days!  

Anyway, enjoy these pictures from today's dive for now.  Have a long travel day to Malaysia starting tomorrow afternoon but will try to post a more comprehensive update before then.