Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Asia Wrap

We finished the first big part of our trip. We spent 137 days in Asia, visiting Japan, China (twice), Nepal, India, Cambodia, Thailand, and Malaysia. If I would be set to collect records I could count 10 countries, adding Tibet, Macau and Hong Kong. We crossed several borders, going through immigration 24 times. A big number, but it pales in comparison to the number of times we had our passports checked in Tibet. We passed through Malaysia three times, but mostly in transit. The last visit was longer, 24 hours in George Town, Penang.

It was a very long trip from Bottle Beach. At times exhausting, I had to remind myself that we payed forward for it. By extending our beach time for a week we had to use ground transportation. Half an hour on a long Thai boat, half an hour in a pickup truck, four hours on a ferry. Then after 90 minutes on a bus, we arrived in the Surat Thani train station. We waited for our train for 10 hours, on some plastic chairs in a restaurant and then on stone benches in the station. The train was late, almost two hours, it arrived at 3 am. We had sleeping beds, but it didn't matter much, at 6.30 am the activity started and by 8 we had to be out of bed. We took our luggage and got down for the immigration at the Thai-Malaysia border, when we came back to the train, I didn't recognize it. There were only two cars left. Then we lost Ileana. I had to hold the train for a minute until we found her in a rest room, it could have been worse. Like most late trains, the delay just kept growing. We had to wait for others but eventually we made it. Overall a 13 hour journey. Then another 45 minutes by taxi and we arrived in Penang. Total time, door to door, almost 30 hours. Initially I planned 6-7 days here because everybody loves it, but learning about it I realized that it wouldn't be much for us. Still, I wouldn't have skipped it. Anyhow, we had to come, we had plane tickets to Kuala Lumpur, a 45 minute flight, paid with $9 per person, much faster and much cheaper than the alternatives.

We didn't like Penang, this was a good thing, considering the trade off. I would like to be contradicted, I would love for someone to tell me why Penang is great, because the only great thing that we found was a 12% beer. That was awesome. This is a Muslim country, they searched our luggage for alcohol at the border, still you can buy beer in stores and the one we got was the best we had in a very long time.
Penang, a small island in the northwestern part of Malaysia is famous for the mixture of Chinese, Indian and Malay civilizations. It was a special tax heaven for a while, so it developed into an industrial and commercial center, but it has a rich history, and supposedly the best food in all of Asia. With the modern high rise buildings taking all over, some people realized that the old historic town it's going to disappear. They started an action to preserve it, were able to get it declared a World Heritage Site and now there are some efforts for conservation and restoration. Those old two level buildings with the covered side walks and the cafes with outside tables might be the attraction; the old governmental buildings, the Indian and the Chinese quarters and supposedly the food "to die for" might be the reason why a lot of Europeans spend very long vacations here. The life is cheap, the transport is very civilized, the people are nice and speak very good English, so it might have all the settings for a great touristic destination. But it's just a city. The old streets are deserted, there are very few people in the touristic areas. The restaurants close at 3 pm (the ones that bother to open). Our guesthouse was busy, they had an internet cafe and restaurant on the ground floor and they still closed at 6 pm. They left the door ajar for tourists to enter until 10, after that, in the back door only. Besides the beer, we liked the sky, the clouds and the shade of blue, but lowering my eyes over the city, there was something that didn't match. There wasn't dirt, but the air didn't seem clean. There were some trees but the feeling I had was that they were missing. We did a quick tour of the center of the city, hitting all the attractions in a couple of hours and then we walked all over once again trying to find a restaurant recommended in Lonely Planet. Any one of about 30. As mentioned, most of them closed at 3 and it was already 7 pm. Eventually, we found Restoran Nasi Padang Minang, considered the "best Padang restaurant" in the city. We were almost the only clients. A young man helped us make some choices from the buffet food available. We couldn't decide on five dishes, we settled for four. It was OK food, nothing that I would have a second time in my life. An old man gave us a bottle of water. It looked like a small family business, I liked the graduation pictures on the wall, but it was hard to imagine this being "the best" in a city voted in New York Times as one of the best places to eat in the world! The total cost was $9! That was weird, and a little later, trying to spoil the kids, we spent $12 on ice-cream in a gelaterria. That was even more weird, it wasn't even good ice-cream. Thank you again for convenience stores and that beer can.

Even Little India is pretty much empty

Commercial street?!
"The best"

Bye Bye Asia...

Next day we got to another restaurant (open at 10 am with lunch buffet) and had some decent food for $12, we walked to the tallest building in the city where we got on the bus for the airport. New constructions, high rise buildings, malls and other commercial centers, occasionally ruins of last centuries apartments. The bus was supposed to take an hour, I was talking with Ileana in the front, the girls were reading in the back of the bus, when Ioan came to tell us that he thinks we are at the airport and we should get down. We couldn't believe it, but we laughed for hours after that, he was right!
Forty five minutes flight to Kuala Lumpur, they still manage to lose our badminton racquets! A few hours at a table at KFC and then we are ready to embark for New Zealand. We are excited but there is a little melancholy. We wrap up a big part of our trip, a very exciting part, we don't mind taking a break from Asia, we are proud of what we managed to do so far, we are surprised a bit that we survived, we are glad that we still have a few weeks in Indonesia and Malaysia later in the year, and so on, a mixture of all the feelings in the world. It is late, past midnight, we are supposed to sleep on the plane but it takes some time to settle down.


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