The plan: Fly to Kuala Lumpur on February 12. Bike to Bangkok by March 6. Beaches, countryside, and lots of spicy food in between. Stuart and I got married in August and this is our honeymoon! Stuart has done two long tours before, in Mexico and Laos, and a handful of shorter ones along the West Coast. We did one trial tour together, around the San Juan islands, and I loved it. Stuart is the gear-meister, and he got together two old mountain bikes for us, plus all the bags and even some adventure hammocks. I got together a secret stash of bars, and a bunch of swimsuits. Off we go.

Kuala Lumpur

We arrived in Kuala Lumpur yesterday after the most civilized travel day ever. We took EVA Air from Seattle: left at 1am late Thursday night (Hartman shuttled us in his giant van) and arrived at the Taiwan airport early Saturday morning. Sat by a sweet lady on the plane who got a real kick out of our crazy trip and called me “the bride” (as in, “Here comes the bride!” When I shuffled back from the bathroom) after we told her it was our honeymoon. Another wackily friendly guy came over midway through the flight and leaned way into our row and started talking to us all—wound up asking Stuart if he could come do the electrical work at his house in south Seattle. I assumed he knew the the lady, but no—just a friendly guy. Sweet lady was clearly kind of embarrassed for him, and kept trying to shoo him away,

Taipei’s airport is such a great airport—we had some time to kill, so we walked around the whole thing, which is full of wacky, huge displays (orchids, Hello Kitty, postal service memorabilia) plus luxury shops and many, many stores selling little (adorable) German wooden mobiles. Had great noodles at the place I like and read and waited for our flight. Again, the flight was incredibly civilized. Paper menus for lunch, in coach! We agreed that 24 hours on an Asian flight was much, much easier than a five hour flight to Texas.

IMG_0001

We finally arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday afternoon, breezed through security, and got our bags and bikes. We found a nice corner and Stuart put together the bikes—all went smoothly and he had lots of amused onlookers. A guy from Borneo chatted with us by the oversized luggage carousel—he’d just got back from Dubai. He said it was very cool there (temperature-wise) and then he got his big luggage and as far as we could tell it was a giant Ikea rug. Puzzling.

Once we were ready, I plotted our route on my phone and bought us train tickets. After eating a croissant filled with chicken curry, we headed down to the train, where a guy excitedly said “Oh! You want to bring your bikes!?”  How nice, I thought! But, no: “Not allowed!!” Shoot. Asked for a refund (of course I’d immediately thrown out the receipt) and after a few minutes of puzzlement, yes. So up to find a giant cab. Easy enough, though the van drivers kept passing us off to the next guy, not wanting to hassle with our bikes. Finally we got the last guy in line, wedged everything in, and off we went. On a terrifying journey. I sat in the front, where I could see our near misses with what felt like every other car, just barely squeaking by as our driver careened from lane to lane. He used the blinker about five times total—each time when there was absolutely no one around. But a pretty drive despite the terror: so green, with tons of flowers and palms growing up on either side of the road. I expected something like Jakarta but KL feels smaller, with the jungle very nearby and barely kept at bay.

IMG_0002

We arrived totally one-million-percent-tuckered to our hotel, the 1000 Miles. Sweet front counter guy checked us in and was very amused by our plan to bike to Bangkok. Simple room but with AC! And TV! We both showered and napped and watched Japanese cartoons. Stuart had a scrape on his foot and it had gotten super agitated on the plane—really swollen, ow. So he put his foot up and I went around the corner to get Indian takeout from “Betel Leaf.”  Wound up with about twenty little containers of delicious spicy stuff, lentils and okra and chicken and super good naan. Plus a couple beers from the booze bodega on the corner.

Woke up fairly refreshed and ready to go wander around a little. Had toast in the lobby to fortify us for a walk to Imbi Market—interesting walk through the sleepy city. Not a lot of hustle bustle here, surprisingly. Walked past quiet mega-malls, hospitals covered in bougainvillea, many many sidewalk restaurants, and lots of construction in between it all. Shoddy sidewalks but super smiley people who are big on eye contact , which I’m loving. Finally made it to the little market. Had rice with pork, shrimp, spicy stuff, and two eggs: one fried and one hard boiled. Plus peanuts and crispy anchovies. Poked around a little and headed off toward Kampung Baru, where we’d read there are some old Malay houses still standing. Another interesting walk—we wound up in a skyway maze but eventually made it. The neighborhood was more like some falling down old-ish houses with sandal shops in front of them, but we joined in a queue for a alley restaurant and had a nice rest with some milky hibiscus tea, surrounded by families and a guy playing guitar. Very chill here—I’m surprised. We both expected a megalopolis, but it feels very mellow. Traffic isn’t crazy and people are moving slow, taking their time, stopping for roti snacks every few blocks. There’s lots of big buildings and fancy shops, but they seems a little deserted—really we’ve just seen some schoolgirls having coffees at the malls. Had an odd experience walking past a huge Sheraton: AC freeze blasting all the way out to the sidewalk, gave me goosebumps despite it being 90 degrees.

1

2

3IMG_0007

We took a taxi over to the Islamic Art museum—went for a little bit of an adventure: wound up at the wrong museum, took a wacky route. Kind of think the guy was running up the meter but it’s hard to get too upset when he’s running it up from 4 to 5 dollars for a 30 minute ride. Museum was really serene and beautiful, lots of white. Had a weird shawarma and amazing iced tea in the deserted fancy restaurant. We were the only ones there—the waiter didn’t even stick around. Museum had cool models of famous mosques on display plus a gajillion fancy daggers and some incredibly beautiful linen tunics with passages from the Quran inked all over them, to be worn under armour for battles.

Walked to the nearby bird park afterward, but decided it was too depressing (saw a sad pelican through the net and we couldn’t face more of that) so we just had some juice (watermelon juice!!) and took a cab home. Watched Big Hero on TV.

Started looking at the details for our planned train trip to Ipoh tomorrow and got a sinking feeling that something wasn’t going to work out. Many phone calls and a visit to the train station and the end of the earth bus station later: cannot. No bikes on train or bus. Many heads were shaken. Many cabs were taken. Oh well. We are rolling with the punches. We will just get on our bikes early tomorrow morning and head out! It will take us about two days to get to Ipoh, but that’s alright. Maybe we’ll take a train at the end, into Bangkok, to make up for the time. I feel a little nervous about biking in KL, but nothing do be done about it other than just roll with it. Plus, it might turn out to be a great stretch of road anyway.

Kuala Lumpur to Batang Kali

Up pretty early and on the road. I was worried about leaving Kuala Lumpur (traffic) but it was actually really really cool to be swift through the city on bikes. Drivers seem to be really good about giving us space—probably because they’re so used to scooters zooming all over the place. Once we got in the swing of things, it was really really incredibly cool riding with traffic, sliding along with the flow of it. We made it out of town pretty quickly, and soon we were out in semi-country with big hills in the distance. Had breakfast at a little strip mall, nasi lemak wrapped up in a banana leaf. Rice, spicy sweet sauce, fried eggs, dried fish. And a sweet coffee. All Indian dudes working at the restaurant, all very interested about where we were headed.

IMG_0012

Then we passed through some neighborhoods—car repair shops and snack shacks all nestled right up against these beautiful limestone hills. Soon we started climbing some of those very hills. Onward and upward to the national park, which turned out the be very jungle-y and beautiful, dramatic high hills and greenery, waterfalls. HILLY. One big final hill in the sun almost did me in. Starting to get the touring thing though: it’s fun to feel truly at your maximum, about to keel over, and then magically recover.

After the nice park, we had to get on the highway, which was hard. Hot. Loud. Quickly pulled over for nasi goreng lunch and decided to stay put. Wound up in Batang Kali, a weird small town with what’s maybe turning out to be a somewhat typical Malaysian layout: big wide main street with strip malls (rows of shops with apartments above—at least one in three shops is a scooter repair joint) on either side. Got a room at the One Home Hotel and napped and watched TV. Headed into town around 5pm and walked around. Town comprised of lots of newish houses, all connected (duplexes or triplexes) and weirdly nice—kind of felt like Corpus.

We wound up at a corner restaurant where we had beers and fried fish cakes. Shortly after we sat down, the evening downpour started, which was pretty exciting. Fun to watch the cars go by in big splashes and people rush around with anything they can grab lofted over their heads. Went to a nearby restaurant for dinner—surprise, the restaurant was right next to a motorbike repair shop. Had some good vegetables (okra, favas, eggplant, sauteed with spicy stuff) and the local specialty which turned out to be kind of gross, an enormous bowl of noodles in goopy soy gravy.

IMG_0013IMG_0014

Dropped by the the huge Econosave store for breakfast items: bananas & noodles. Stu got a hat that says “Function Made Itself” and a yogurt that tasted exactly like Parmesan cheese.

Early to bed, and up at 5:30 to hit the road at 6:30.

Batang Kali to Bidor

Mixed day of icky highway and beautiful highway. We had killer fried chicken with rice and a fried egg for breakfast in a sweet little town. Later on, we passed through an incredible little grove with old houses and fruit trees—it felt like how I imagined Hawaii would feel, really calm and green. But also: HOT.

4

We stopped by a lake and had roti in a little pavilion where everyone was watching TV, switching back and forth between badminton and National Geographic animal shows. The old proprietor chatted with us, told us to be careful in Thailand. Biked more, took a rest in a palm plantation for a couple hours—Stuart brought a foam camping pad and we squeezed onto it and both napped a little. Back on the road, we put wet cloths around our necks and drank lots and lots of water, took lots of breaks. Kind of maybe sort of getting a little bit used to the heat. On the upside, there have been friendly people waving and honking at us all day, which is nice.

IMG_0017

IMG_0018

We got near Bidor, where we’d planned on staying, and we both totally bonked. So dang hot. And hungry—broke into the backup bars. We pushed for a couple last kilometers to the Long Fatt Hotel. Chinese, cheap-fancy. Sparse room with an inexplicable windmill on the bathroom door that looked more than a little bit like a dick. Truly enormous lobby downstairs with overstuffed leather couches and spangly Lunar New Year decorations. Got a king room with AC and TV for $25. Never before has a shower felt like quite such a blessing!

After a rest (We watched TV! We don’t have TV at home so even if we can’t understand most of the shows, still a super treat.) we walked around Bidor a little. New and boxy but somehow really beautiful and pleasing houses. Lots of cement painted white with emerald green plants and cracked roads—vines and flowers growing anywhere they can. Incredible sky above, felt somehow extra expansive. Had a beer at a sidewalk spot on the road our hotel was on, which was at least four lanes wide, with zero markings and total free for all mix of driving/parking/seating. We had a beer and some fried pork on rice, then moved on to sit in a park and take in the scene: cool Indian teenagers hanging out on a cement slide and playing soccer, little kids running around playing frisbee horribly and adorably. A middle-aged couple asked us where we were from and recommended Pang Peng for dinner, so we headed there after a long sit in the lovely park. So nice, calm and easy. Families going by squeezed on mopeds. Went over the the restaurant, where there was just one super harried waitress. After a long wait we got some fishy chicken, bok choy, an omelet-ish thing, and rice. Big boxes of chopped garlic and chilies on the table to make little sauce with soy. Yum! The big sky filled with dramatic dark clouds and lightning just as we were finishing, pretty exciting.

Then off to bed. Tired. Up in the morning and headed to Ipoh.

Bidor to Ipoh

Had spicy instant noodles and sweet instant coffee for breakfast and hit the road. Pretty easy morning: rolling gentle hills, lots of downhill action. The morning light is incredibly beautiful, blues and pinks, so soft compared to afternoon glare. At times the way it falls on things is really, truly divinely gorgeous—it makes run-down gas stations or stands of trees look painterly and just staggeringly pretty. We stopped for roti and spicy curry (just a tiny bowl of incredibly good sauce) and dal. After that we both had another roti with an egg inside. And more sweet coffee! I am quickly developing a major sweet tooth.

6

7

Rode till Kampar (I remembered the name by thinking of “kampai!”) then turned off on Google’s walking directions. Google took us out through a neighborhood with some neat old boxy employee housing by the railway station. Now that we’re not on the train, it seems so sad to have missed all this by riding straight to Ipoh! Google directed us along a river, through more littlr houses, up to a hill where we could look back on Kampar and it’s crazy grand hotel—Grand Budapest Hotel style, in the middle of a middle of nowhere town.

On the map it looked like we would wind through a really swampy area, with tons of little lakes. But a whole bunch of them had been filled in for a wild new development—rows of townhouses and a ridiculously colorful “downtown.” Fake colonial facades with so many different textures—looks like they went to the hardware store and bought a little hunk of everything. There was even a big sign promising a castle by 2016. All desolate and dusty. Totally befuddling—we poked around for a while in awe.

030_30

Then we got back on a real road for a while, passing by lakes full of lily pads—tons of birds flying overhead. Eventually we tucked back into palm forest, where we took a short rest.  We realized that we’d missed our turn, so we went back and found our tiny winding road through the trees. Guy on the side of the road confirmed that the path led to Batu Gajah with an enthusiastic thumbs up. After a little while it became desert-y again, dusty land and fences made with concrete posts and sheet metal. We were running out of water and getting tired, but when we finally got back into the trees, wow, such a miraculous relief! Just shade makes such an enormous difference.

We biked for a few minutes before coming upon a little village, which truly felt like an oasis, so quiet and sweet. Gave me that good, goosebump-y travel feeling of seeing something real. Guy sitting in the shade shirtless mending a fishing net. Clothes strung out in the sun. Three tiny streets meet and work around jankily a stand of palm trees. School kids just getting home and moms out sweeping paths. Passing through took only about a minute or two, but felt so wonderful. And strange, knowing how strange we must seem.

034_34

After we were past the village Stuart and I looked at each other with actual emoji-style jaw-dropped faces of awe.

Kept biking on weird dirt paths and roads, some single track. Saw huge lizards run across the road and tons of cranes and ibis. Biked past a lake and heard a huge WOOSH and saw an enormous black mass move in my peripheral vision—tiny little bit terrifying! But it was dozens of water buffalo pulling themselves out of a lake, all at the same time, as we passed. Wild.

We eventually made it to Batu Gajah and sat down for lunch, nasi goreng and iced teas. After we finished, Google route took us along a river—down a really beautiful path. Blue birds, maybe kingfishers, flitting around as well as butterflies.

IMG_0020

Long ride along the river, some very fun single track. We couldn’t believe Google knew about the route. Saw some chickens and tons of trash.

032_32

Made it into the heart of Ipoh, and while we were waiting to cross a big road an old guy on a moped with a sparkly gold helmet rode up and asked us where we were from and welcomed us. Yelled “Bruce Lee!!” As he rode away.

Found our hotel after some searching, and a nice girl called the number as there was no one at the desk. Staying at the Sepeking Kong Heng—part of a little complex with restaurants and shops. Old buildings mostly, but we are in a new building, in a big trendy room for $70 a night. Reminds us of the San Jose in Austin— it’s funny how trends travel. We’re curious about who built/owns the place. We were both pretty tuckered out, so we decide to stay here another night and take a rest day tomorrow. Kind of a relief (I was glad Stuart suggested it) and weirdly, I felt more tired after we decided. Almost like my body was holding it together to get through more work, but once there was the chance for a break all the tiredness came on.

Old Town shuts down at night, so we crossed the river toward where the guidebook said there were lots of street stalls. Got sidetracked and wound up at a great place that serves only chicken and bean sprouts. More delicious than expected—steamed chicken served with cucumbers and green onions and red chilies and plump little bean sprouts sautéed and served warm but still super crisp, with soy and white pepper. Alongside: rice and a bowl of rice noodles in great broth. Mix and match and top with vinegar-y chili sauce from the self-serve bucket on the wall. As we were finishing, a big Indian family plopped down next to us and ordered a ton of chicken—seemed like a very Malaysian moment. Indian family (bindis and saris and all) eating Chinese-style chicken on the street. Loved it. Read online that this kind of chicken is ideally very slippery. Slippery chicken. (Indeed it was.) We’re going to open a slippery chicken joint in Seattle.

IMG_0023

IMG_0025IMG_0021

Walked around after dinner looking at all the incredible old buildings. Many falling apart in a very picturesque way. Giant new condo project in the thick of it— the “Octagon.” Walked by a karaoke bar—loud, enthusiastic, bad man singing coming from inside! Wandered for an hour or so back to our neighborhood. Tried to get a beer at the bodega but it was already closed, so we followed lights through the little streets, wound up getting  pointed down a creepy alley. We bravely headed down there and were glad to come upon a super lively little scene. Corner restaurant with plastic tables and chairs (of course) but also tablecloths. Guy laid one down, saw that some shrimp were stuck to it, and just flipped it over, which I loved. Stuart and I split a big beer in tiny glasses and watched the scene. A giant crane pulled by, just barely squeaking though. Teenagers at the table next to us drank tea over ice and smoked. Two ladies shared lots of noodles and beers. Then we headed back home to bed, so tired.

Woke up and went out to get breakfast, wound up at a killer curry noodle spot. Egg noodles and shrimp in super pungent curry broth with little limes. Tried the famous Ipoh “White Coffee” which turns out to be kind of just oily coffee. Poked around Old Town a bit, went and saw a big clock tower erected by the Brits and some of the old colonial city buildings. Pondered a bit about how odd it was that the Brits sort of just took everything in the world. Sat in some bleachers by an enormous and impeccably kept playing field, then decided to go to the movies. I’d stepped in some kind of poisonous plant the day before and woke up with a super swollen foot, itchy and semi-concerning.

We went to a fancy mall to go to the movies and I stopped by a pharmacy, got some goopy ointment and pills, which both seemed to help. Then up to the fifth floor to see “Lost In The Pacific,” a Chinese movie in English. Totally ridiculous. As low budget as a movie theater movie could possible be. Totally great. Set in the future. A giant plane crashes, everyone falls in love. Mutant cats eat half the cast.

8

Napped in the afternoon and went out for dinner. Both of us kind of out of it. Me with my foot and Stuart just tired and a little queasy. I totally faded at dinner, there was a twenty page indecipherable menu and I couldn’t hack it. And we keep getting this incredibly gross tea, tastes exactly like mold. But we (miraculously) made it through dinner—a whole fish—without passing out and went home to bed.

Ipoh to Kuala Kangsar

I was disappointed to wake up with a still-puffy foot. But off we went to Kuala Kangsar anyhow. We backtracked south a little bit to get on a road that went up through a valley, along a river. Stopped for a roti-curry  breakfast in a cute town. The morning hours are so precious, so cool and calm. Bought some cookies and nuts and waters and headed off into the valley. Really pretty, and a great road—hilly but not crazy. We tucked off on a few little roads into villages, rode along the river and stopped under a big thorn tree for a break. Watched fishermen go by in motor boats, looked fun. So lush here, just never ending green. Beautiful flowers, hibiscus and jasmine.

About 15km from Kangsar I got really tired and achy. My butt really hurt. Tired. Hot. Very tough last few kilometers. But we found the Kangsar Hotel, right in the thick of things. 73 ringgit (about $18) for a clean room with the Fox Movie Channel and a bathroom with all purple appliances—our first shower-is-the-whole-room bathroom of the trip.

I’d been worrying about making it north on time, and not wanting to say anything because I didn’t want to stress Stuart out, or rain on the fun. But finally mentioned it, and I  felt bad. It made Stuart unhappy to think of the trip ending—made me sad too. Tough evening of trying to cheer each other up. But we went to the nearby market and had tons of great snacks: fried chicken, satay (in a bag with cucumber and sauce) and samosas. Yummy. Found a neat outdoor restaurant—big seating area with five or six vendors and had a beer before heading home.

IMG_0030IMG_0029

Kuala Kangsar to Parit Buntar

Up early and back on the highway toward George Town. Talked about going to Kuala Kurau, a fishing town, but kept it simple and stayed on the main road. Stopped for a drink at a little shack in front of a house—had a “Revive” and a bar from the stash. Seats were set on wooden slats over a little moat—the family’s kids were fishing in the moat, giggling and having a super cute good time. While we sat there they caught a catfish—I couldn’t believe it! They seemed equally surprised to pull something up on their line, and kind of unsure what to do with it as it wriggled around.

We rode a little further and took a long long lunch break at at Indian restaurant. Buffet kind of thing, we just pointed at what we wanted. Stuart wound up with intestines, which truly looked exactly like catfish. I had chicken and green beans and cabbage, all pretty good. There was Wifi in the restaurant, so we looked at our options and came up with a better plan. We decided to take the train from Trang, in Thailand, north to Chumphon, bike along the beach for a while, and then train from Hua Hin into Bangkok.

IMG_0032IMG_0031

Biked a little further to Parit Buntar, where we got a room at the Hotel Damia. Somewhat charmless, but it had a restaurant. We took an afternoon walk through town and I got some batteries for my camera (lucky find!) and Stuart got an enormous (bucket-sized) delicious coffee drink. We also got a little crispy crepe snack filled with creamed corn and condensed milk—was surprisingly killer. Had dinner back at the hotel, and watched a fun family party unfold at the Chinese restaurant across the street.

Parit Buntar to Georgetown

Short ride (40k) into the city. Stopped for a great Indian breakfast, had roti and some kind of enormous slightly fermented batter pancake with tons of little dips. Stopped again at a Starbucks in “Icon City,” a strange fake modern town, for coffee and a bathroom.

Some intense highway riding into town and to the ferry. Passed by a monkey on a bridge eating a bag of spicy peanuts. Snack monkey! We saw some other bikers in the ferry line and chatted with them on the boat. A couple, Chris and Nick from New Zealand. They’re at the tail end of a seven month tour—started in Europe then a month each in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Malaysia. They fly out of Singapore in a few days. Fun to talk to them and hear about their trip, sounded both fun and strange to be gone for seven months. They were crazy tan.

Said goodbye and rode off the ferry, short trip through town to our hotel, the Noordin Street House. Really lovely place. Our room wasn’t ready yet, so we sat in the cafe and had a long lunch. Then upstairs, past a gorgeous sitting room and a sun room and a rooftop deck to our sweet room. We napped for a bit and then went down to their pool, sort of tucked inside the building. Covered but still felt outside. They brought us afternoon tea! Great tea and super weird sandwiches with half a jar of mayo.

12

IMG_0034

Then back up to the room to shower and rest, and look for a place in Langkawi. Hard to find a spot: all of the cheap places look kind of grim and all of the nice places are crazy expensive. Went back and forth for a while, Stuart being very patient. Me kind of going into an anxiety spiral. The way that thinking about going home makes Stuart uncomfortable, thinking about money makes me uncomfortable. We are fine financially for this trip, thanks to generous honeymoon gifts, but it still feels weird to just blow money.

Finally got out of the hotel and walked toward dinner in the old part of town. Passed by a big market in front of a mall (called the Cosmic Leisure Cafe!) and stopped for a bowl of laksa. Funky and sweet and spicy—kind of good and kind of weird, had a sweet/funky combo that was  little too close to barf for me, really. Then on through pretty old streets, past neat old buildings, to the China House, which was recommended by the New York Times. They  made it sound like a big warehouse with tons of shops and restaurants—really not that big, but still neat. Lovely garden in the center of it all with a long pool and lots of trees with far-reaching branches, all spangles with little red strips of fabric for the New Year. We walked back into the restaurant and they were playing “Baby,” the song we danced to at our wedding! Couldn’t believe it. Love that song. Written by two lovesick teenage boys in the Washington woods, and getting played at a bar in Malaysia. Made us both happy. We had Tiger beers then walked toward a street a gal at the hotel had recommended for street food. Found it, but it was kind of mayhem so instead we went to another NYT pick, Tek Sen. Big and old but nicely updated. Sat on little stools at a metal table under the awning and had wing beans with little prawns and spicy sweet roasted pork belly—at first seemed too sweet but turned out to be so good. One of the best meals of the trip. Malaysian food is good, but heavy. Looking forward to vegetables and fruit in Thailand!

1413

Walked back to the hotel and back to bed. So tired. Slept in a little. Had breakfast downstairs, great smoothie and fresh fruit: watermelon, papaya, honeydew. Walked to the Choeng Tze Fatt mansion for a tour. Now it’s a hotel, but it was was a rich Chinese guy’s house in the 1800s. So beautiful and lushly detailed. Interesting combo of East and West—Chinese screens and then fancy cast iron work. Really neat tour, and we didn’t want to leave so we had lunch there. Set lunch: 35 ringgit for salad with prawns, then crispy rice with seafood soup, which turned out to be rice crispies and some fish in broth (actually good), and dessert. Stuart had mango cream and ice cream, delicious, I had some “sea coconut” thing—odd dried fruit and lychee jelly. Strange. Stuart said it was dolphin balls. Heee.

16

15IMG_0033

Georgetown to Langkawi

We felt sad that we were only staying one day in Georgetown. I almost tried to extend stay, but didn’t. Seemed like there was lots to do and see. I felt bad, felt like I was rushing us. Anxiety spiral again. Trying to manage it and calm down and just roll with where we are.

We taxied back to the hotel and  hopped onto our bikes to ride to the ferry terminal. Weirdly the hottest I’ve felt all trip, was just wildly, shockingly hot. Felt like my skull was straining against my helmet and I was sweating in every possible place. But we made it to the terminal and got coconut waters and sat in the shade and I made a full recovery.

Got on the the ferry, which was much more of a ramshackle deal than expected. Lots of people getting off: sunburnt icky white tourists with elephant pants and backpacks, older guys in weird old guy capris, and some Muslim couples with the women in full burkas, which I haven’t seen much of yet. I wonder if they are tourists from the Middle East, coming to a Muslim vacation spot. Bonkers Bollywood movie played on loop for the entire journey.

IMG_0036

We arrived on Langkawi around 6pm and had some fried rice at the port and headed toward our hotel. Icky ride thorough Kuah, a little like Denpasar in Bali. But once we got out of town it got so beautiful, rolling hills and palms and rocky treed hills in the distance. Golden light and friendly people—I felt giddy. Made it Temple Tree (I went with the expensive option) which was situated down a pretty white gravel driveway. Greeted with a pineapple drink, and told we got upgraded! (I’d told them it was our honeymoon.) The resort is eight old houses from Malaysia, moved there and restored. We stayed in the Penang house, originally from Southern Malaysia, near Singapore. You enter into a little hallway, all wood slat floors and white walls with blue shutters. To the left, a big bathroom with shower that drains right through the floor and a giant wooden bathtub, and to the right, a bedroom with a low bed and AC. First place we’d stayed that wasn’t all AC throughout. Actually super pleasant. Some bugs and heat coming in, but it almost seems weirder to totally block it out in such an intense climate.

Took quick showers and went and jumped in the pool, which was really lovely. Soft light and tons of stars—I floated on my back and looked at the sky. Got dressed (wore my one “fancy” outfit) and had dinner at the hotel restaurant. Had a gin and tonic and it went right to my head.

Woke up the next morning and had breakfast in the room—they leave you a little continental breakfast to put together in the morning. Toast, fruit, yogurt, cake—and real coffee!! Then we called a cab to hire for the day. First stop was the gondola that the bike tourers had heartily recommended. It was in a super tacky “Oriental Village” with go-carts and the fish foot thing and knick knack shops. We bought tickets and headed up. Total cluster of complication and VIP lines. I got really irritated. Finally we got in a dumb pod and started heading up. Amazing view, super steep jungle-y mountain. Neat vantage. Rode with two gay Asian dudes in matching polo shirts and and Aussie dad-daughter duo, who debated whether Mum would have ridden the gondola for the whole trip. (She would have, with her eyes closed.) They make you get off at midway and walk through more crap to buy. Wound up bailing on the sky bridge at the top—and got lucky with our very own car down. Big decal of a guy on a jet ski on the side of the gondola, and it’s the worst white guy in the world, all hulky with stupid hair. Needless to say, I did not love the gondola experience.

IMG_0038

Back to our cheery cab driver and on to Tanjung Rhu, a beach in the northeast corner of the island. Long and interesting drive. Pretty beach, little islands near the shore and big ones in the distance. Mangroves tucked back in an inlet. Found a shady spot and read and swam. I sure do love knowing how to swim and feeling more comfortable in the water after a winter of swimming classes.

17

Cabbed back to the hotel and a took a big nap. Feeling really lucky and delighted and in love with Stuart. I think we’re both really enjoying having a break both from biking (short term), and regular life (long-er term). Swam in the pool in the afternoon and read in the shade. I’m reading “Boys of My Youth” by Jo Ann Beard and laughing a lot. Great stories about the weird feelings you have as a little kid. And sad adult stories. Funny story about restoring a house with a perfectionist husband and sucking at the little tasks he gives you and his insane sweetness about it. (Something I know a little about.)

IMG_0039

Biked into the nearby beach-y area for dinner. Drinks at a fancy hotel—turned out to be free beer and bubbles night for guests so it was totally nuts. Sat behind some rich Aussies/Brits—one lady with Dior sunglasses was taking a hit off a pink sparkly vape every three minutes and blowing the tropical-flavored cloud way, way out. Made me laugh.

Wound up chatting with Dev, a super nice gay tour guide for a nature company (he really did not seem like an outdoorsy dude at all, in his super tight tropical print shirt) and he recommended some dinner spots. Headed to Sugar, down at the next beach. Kind of tacky and slammed busy but got a great spot to watch the end of the sunset—lots of para-gliders taking off. We had a white girl with mouth piercing giving her a crazy lisp as our waitress—turns out she’s from Tyler, TX and has lived on Langkawi 8 yrs, married to a Malay guy and has a kid! Got a little drunk, ate lobster, biked back. Fun biking a little buzzed in the warm night. Had coconut sorbet and lemongrass ice cream at our hotel and went to bed.

IMG_0040

IMG_0041

Woke up, headed back to the nearby beach. Read and swam, had lunch (good cheap chicken soup with celery leaves and peanuts), and headed back to our hotel. Had a little rest and packed up, sad to leave—we are headed to Satun, Thailand. Had one last watermelon juice on the porch and headed out into the heat. Sizzlingly hot ride to the ferry in the middle of the day. Had some good Indian food at the terminal and waited in a puzzling maze for our boat. Fast ferry, easy ride. I got so excited when we got nearby—so excited to see a new place! This is turning out to be the magical part of touring, for me at least: going somewhere new, being somewhere new so frequently.

Offloaded in Satun, had an easy entry into Thailand. Biked past a big road riding group resting by the water. Very different landscape—no palms, lots of trees. Very nice road. Quick ride into town to “The Gleam,” a place we booked on Agoda. Turns out to be incredibly pretty, little Garden of Eden with pools and ponds and blooming fragrant plants. We have our own little cement house for $27. TV, AC, big bed. Asked for a restaurant recommendation and got pointed down the street—immediately saw the sweet place. Little individual roofed palapa things, with a speakers inside playing bouncy Thai pop. Stuart noticed that we barely heard music in Malaysia. English issues at the restaurant—we gotta learn a little Thai. Wound up with some sautéed beef with herbs and rice and an egg, super good. Plus beer and ice—little pucks of ice frozen in the bottoms of the glasses! So many amazing smells coming from the kitchen—thought we’d ordered more but it never came. Had a hard time flagging anyone down, eventually just paid and left, then everyone came to say goodnight to us, which was very sweet.

18

Satun to Thung Wa

Woke up and had instant noodles in the room. Set off around 7, with the sun already up because Thailand is (or isn’t? It’s confusing to me) on daylight savings time. Neat ride through town, tons of school kids heading off to class after street snacks and people toodling around on scooters. We stopped for a more real breakfast at a very shack-y place with Muslim ladies making huge huge huge vats of soup and curries. The pharmacist from next door came over to help with the English-Thai barrier, and after lots of pointing we both wound up with plates of rice and curry and fermented mustard greens and scrambled eggs. I also got soup somehow—a bowl full of big hunks of potato-y melon and bony meat that was surprisingly great. I thought the curry I had was pork, but realized later it couldn’t have been (headscarves) so I’ve got no clue what I really had for breakfast. Very different flavors than Malaysia: more herbs, more oomph—and less fish funk, surprisingly.

Stopped at our first magical Thai 711 on the way out of town for water and snacks and off we went. We biked along the highway for a while, but went with Google walking maps again for a longer but less busy route. Definitely paid off with a nice road through little towns and dry paddies. I can’t imagine how different it must look here in the wet season—huge swaths of rice growing land are totally barren, even burnt—must be a very different scene when they are watery and lush and green. Everyone waves at us and we get lots of Hello!s and Sawadee!s.

IMG_0054

19

Started off feeling strong but by noon or so I was getting really tired. My butt is truly so insanely sore. So I was insanely glad to come across a good lunch spot at a turn in the road. Sat down—must have looked totally toasted. Sweaty, red and pale at the same time, floppy, exhausted noodle girl. Gal having lunch there sweetly hopped right up and brought us glasses of ice for water. Stuart did some good pointing and got us a great lunch of fried rice with chicken, shrimp, and delicious greens. Lime to squeeze over the the top. We both barely made it through our lunches, both feeling pretty weird. “Gerbils doing Muay Thai in my guts,” as Stuart put it. Managed to just chill out and sat there for a long time. I got so tired, I nodded off and woke up maybe 10 times. Haven’t had that feeling since being dead bored in high school. So tired that there’s no thinking about it, just head dropping back and totally OUT. Then coming to,  not sure if it’s been a ten second or twenty minute nap. The guy owner of the restaurant (who was wearing safety glasses to drive his scooter around and hack at meat) sweetly offered for me to lay down in their house, which was incredibly nice. I felt a bit better after the break and carried on to Thung Wa, a place we’d picked as a good halfway point.

010_10009_9

I’d searched for hotels on Google Maps and seen Thung Wa, which seemed like a good stopping point. There was only one hotel in town, so I Googled the name, The Green Hotel, and it brought up these totally charming Scots’ bike blog. Funny, endearing couple who do big trips around the world. They’d stayed there and seemed to like it, so we shot for the same place. Showed up to a strange situation, but got a room for under $10, the cheapest so far. Big room, with a TV at one end and a bed at the other. Fluorescent light over the TV and a weird colonial, garage-style sconce over the bed. Pink bathroom with a squat toilet and no shower. Old shower head that emitted at sad trickle, showers to be taken with a bowl and a trash can full of water. Worked pretty well and felt pretty great after being so sweaty. We wrapped ourselves up in our bug bags and watched Thai TV.

We walked toward town to get dinner, through some pretty little streets. Folowed signs for some kind of vista and wound up at the top of a rise looking out over the water and islands—super, super pretty. We got some dinner from stands in town (after waking around waiting to get to the heart of town, it turned out we were already there.) Picked up fried chicken with sticky rice and a generous scoop of fried shallots and a bag of papaya salad. A weird big guy had rode by us on his scooter a couple times, saying hi in a strange way, and while I was waiting for chicken (with a bunch of ladies, all of whom I stood about 1.5 feet above) he kind of accosted Stuart at a table and kept asking him where we were staying. Creepy. Icky. So we hustled back to the hotel, a long, dark walk along the highway. Got back and realized that the front of our hotel was a nightclub—rope lights and a projector shooting giant photos of naked Asian babes on the wall. Turns out we may have been staying in a brothel.

22

Ate dinner in the room with the crazy loud and totally uncontrollable AC on. Stuart tried to secure the door a little better and put a bike against it. I unwisely ate the papaya salad—atomic-level spicy. Whole head felt hollowed out by spice. Near-religious experience. Then back in bug bags to try and sleep. AC kept turning on and off, and was incredibly loud and ineffective when on. Tried to turn the fan on but it sounded like a rattly old truck trying to start right above the bed. Long long night of sweat and dogs barking and loud pop music from the bar. And fear.

Thung Wa to Trang

I woke up hoping it was near morning: it was midnight. Finally (finally!) dawn came and we packed up quick and headed out. Stopped for a breakfast snack on the edge of town and the second I got off my bike my stomach started turning. Truly thought I was going to hurl over my handlebars. Stuart bought some little rice batter pancakes and chicken and I ate a little. Felt totally awful. Wound up going across the street to the hospital to use their bathroom. A Thai emergency room is very, very chill compared to an American one. (Nobody even batted an eye when I came in. It’d cost you $100 to even wash your hands in an ER at home.) We rode all day on the highway, but there some very pretty stretches: limestone cliffs and deep jungle.

005_5

23

Long day to Trang, 80+ kilometers. Incredibly windy, and it felt like it was a headwind or sideways gusts about 90% of the time. We stopped for a watermelon and we ate the whole thing! Watermelon guy was kind of chatting with us, 99% in Thai. We just nodded a lot. Kept asking where we were from (I think) but USA, U.S., United States were all really just not getting across. Finally he said “Oh, France!” so we just rolled with that. Last 20km to Trang were SO hard for me. Tired. Surprisingly, so far I’ve just been body tired, hot and tuckered by the end of each day. It was the first day my legs really hurt. But we made it to the hotel: nice and friendly, hallelujah. Showers and TV. Got some beers and chips and had a nice rest on the little rooftop deck included in our $25 penthouse room. We sorted out a plan for the next day: we’ll take the train to Ban Krut, a beach town, and have some rest days. Booked a place.

We went down to the weekend market for dinner—totally nuts when we arrived at 6:30 and just got progressively more packed, loud, and bonkers. Stalls selling hair extensions and baby clothes and seashells with your name on them, plus tons of food. Had little half-orb batter things with spicy bits and mussels in them, and then crazily fishy pomelo salad. Pomelo plus big fried anchovies and dried shrimp and fish sauce. And peanuts. A little much. Walked around and got some more snacks: highlight was these crazy fried nests of herbs and whole tiny shrimp. Stuart loved them—perfect Stu snacks.

IMG_0047

Got a papaya salad (one chili, please! We’ve learned our lesson) and some beers and headed back. Sat on the deck again and listened to the market from above. Watched a little TV: state broadcast on every channel talking about the plans to improve rural Thailand. Been thinking lots about where we live—often when traveling I feel like other places have it better: cheaper, more flexibility, better food, easier. But this trip, seeing lots of very rural, developing world living up close, I’m feeling thankful and glad for my nice warm (or cool) house, clean water, and good smells. Life is so easy in the U.S.

IMG_0046

Woke up the next day and headed to the train station to get tickets. Turns out the train doesn’t stop in Ban Krut. Oy. I’m tired of hassling with things. After lots of back and forth, we decided to stop in the nearest town. We’ll arrive late, around 10pm, so we’ll stay there and go to Ban Krut in the morning. Found some cute bungalows to stay in but no one answers the phone and you can’t book online, so I wound up booking some dumb hotel on Agoda. Called to let them know we’d be in late, but we couldn’t really hear each other. Eventually turned to static so I hung up and sent an email and hoped for the best. We went down to get situated at the train station. Hot and hungry, agitated after looking at an iPhone and trying to make decisions and figure things out based on wacky Thai websites for a couple hours. I was just exhausted and tired of things not going as planned. Turns out I am indeed a planner, and I’m really able to have much more of a good time within a structure. I like to think that I’m easy breezy but sometimes not so much.

Stuart watched the luggage and I went back to the restaurant we’d been to for breakfast and a snack the night before. I had the same weird herbal mushroom soup I’d inadvertently ordered the last time—cinnamon and goji berries and bony beef bits and lots of greens. Really delicious somehow. Watched Thai soaps and read my book and calmed down. It was surprisingly super nice to be alone for a little bit. Got Stuart some takeout and headed back, much revived.