On the night we arrived in KL we walked and also took a subway / LRT train to the Petronas Towers. They were quite a sight at night.
Next morning, a few hours in a minivan with local guide Stevie took us around a few sights of KL. We first saw the National Mosque of Malaysia, having to dress up in appropriate gear before we could enter.
The National Monument was very interesting, good recognition of all involved in wartime efforts. we stopped by the Royal Palace, not allowed in but could pose with the guards and Stevie had plenty of advice on good photo ops. Further on, Batu Caves was reached by lots of stairs, which were ruled by monkeys (Stevies advice: don’t touch the handrails, they are covered in monkey shit).
Tin was an early resource used here, we visited a long standing pewter factory. There were dozens of crafts people working on the various steps, and a showroom full of beautiful items.
Finally we went to KL Tower, had lunch, then zipped up to the observation deck to see far horizons of KL.
With only one full day in Penang we had a local guide Steven giving us a quick city tour, with stops at temples, the Chew Jetty, and Fort Cornwallis. It was interesting to see Buddhist, Hindu, Chinese, Catholic and Anglican churches / temples all coexisting. Quite a perky fusion of Asian and Colonial buildings.
On our trip south to cross the border in to Malaysia the traffic seemed busy. We realised it was a special day, the end of Buddhist Lent. It happens on the full moon day of the 11th lunar month, October. It’s a day of celebration as monks come out of a 3 month retreat in their own monasteries and are allowed to travel again.
Each village seemed to have their own parade, pulling elaborate floats with monk on board. They were often preceded by music / dance. We saw only one not under people power, it was pulled by a ‘Japanese horse’ (a wee Kubota tractor).
Eventually we crossed in to Malaysia, arriving in Penang early evening.
We stayed at Ao Nang for 2 nights. One full day was spent hopping around different islands via speedboat, fitting in two stops for snorkeling. This was the most ‘touristy’ day we’ve had, there were boats and people competing for landing spots on all the beaches. We had a nice lunch on Phi Phi Don, this area still showed signs of damage from the 2004 tsunami.
We had a night with a Muslim family in a village near Krabi. The family’s main income was from rubber trees, producing pure latex. On average each day he would get 30 – 40 kg from 300 or so trees, and he could harvest about 150 days per year. If it was raining, there is no tapping as the latex would get washed away. The rubber trees take 7 years to mature but can but tapped for 20 years or more.
That evening we had a very nice meal prepared by the family, then divided in to boys and girls rooms to sleep on mats. Mosquito nets are essential here too.
We stayed 2 nights at Khao Sok. On the day we arrived we checked out the markets at the nearby town, and went on a canoe (inflatable) river cruise, the guide managed to find interesting things to point out like a huge snake coiled up on a tree branch right above our heads!
Next day was out on the lake. Khao Sok National Park contains a huge lake formed by a dam as part of a hydroelectric scheme. The dam has created lakes within lakes as different valleys were filled. We took a longtail boat across one lake, had a 30 minutes hike up and down a hill then ended up at another lake within the first. A raft ride across to the other side of this lake led to a cave.
After our week in northern Thailand we ended up back in Bangkok for a couple of nights, ready to catch up with our new group to start the trip south through Thailand and in to Malaysia. We took the chance for another night out in downtown Bangkok, then met up with Katie and Katrina for a nice dinner at a vegetarian restaurant – Cher had done a cooking class here earlier in the day.
After we met our new Intrepid group, we were off on a boat trip through Bangkok’s canal system. Many people use it to commute, houses even had mail boxes for postal boaties.
Wat Pho temple was also visiting, it has a massive reclining Buddha as well as much content centred around traditional healing methods – accupuncture charts, statues showing yoga positions etc.
After the countryside it was a bit of a let down to be back in the city, but Chiang Mai is a nice, friendly city to be in, much less harried than Bangkok. We went to the totally over the top Doi Suthep temple, had a day visiting various craft factories (silk, silver, lacquer work, paper, leather). Noi also organised a guy in a tuk tuk to give us a city tour, more temples of course.
We were supposed to take an overnight train back down to Bangkok, but the trains weren’t working so rather than a 12 hour bus ride we grabbed a 90 minute flight and checked back into the Viengtai Hotel.
This has been the highlight of the trip so far for me. We stayed in a little village near Chiangmai with Aoi who runs a homestay ( more like a backpackers, shared accommodation & facilities but with home cooking). This is also the area our guide Noi came from. Between Noi and Aoi we felt part of the local community and learnt about all sorts including what is involved with daily life as a Buddhist, rice growing, mushroom farming, and general life in rural Thailand. We visited a local school and had fun with the kids. We had the best food ever, cooked by Aoi and family. I could have spent more time here, but soon we were on the road to Chiangmai.
GPS track of today’s loop through the countryside:
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