Newsletter from Langkawi, Malaysia…
It has been a very long time since my last newsletter. I apologize – but I’m not lazy. Once the train of adventure starts gaining momentum it – as you’ll all know – carries you away and it’s so hard to get off. Thailand did its best to seriously carry me away, to get me off course and make me settle down. More than once I had to struggle to get out of those mesmerizing and tantalizing octopus arms that Thailand has – a country that simply grabbed me, raped my senses and gave me an amazing time, to cut it short.
Vietnam was a sweet-and-sour experience for me. I was particularly fond of the 7 day scooter ride in the northwestern corner, the sweet treat and it really made all the cycling in Vietnam worth it. Going 2000 km up from Saigon to Hanoi along the National Highway #1, mainly in headwind and with hardly any proper conversation in 4 weeks (apart from the sofisticated monologues with myself, of course!), and with only a few semi-spectacular sights along the way, well, that was the sour part of my Vietnamese dish.
Laos was enjoyable from the start. Cycling was adventurous, hard, hothothot, super-hilly, rustic, and had a very local feel to it. From the Vietnamese border post of Nameo (thanks Bill W. for recommending) I went to Xam Noua, Phonsavan and Luang Prabang which truly is a lovely place right on the banks of the mighty Mekong River. I spend most of two weeks there, chilled out, ate French style stuffed baguettes, explored temples and met up with my good ol’ fella Chris from Maine, US.
I then took the slow boat from Luang Prabang up the Mekong River to the Thai border at Chiang Khong, a nice 2 day trip. Entering Thailand I had absolutely no idea that I would end up spending 3 months there. I passed the famous Golden Triangle, went temple hunting in the northern bits of the country, and cruised around the hill tribe villages near Chiang Rai on a scooter before I entered Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai, I could write a goddam book about the wonders of that city that I really fell in love with.
Suffice to say that I ended up staying more than one month there, rented my “own” apartment (with A/C, cable-TV, en suite , a fridge, and other comfort creature things), and basically just tried to settle down for a while, away from the constant moving of the bicycle wheels. I went to the gym, the movies, hung out in shopping malls, celebrated the water festival Songkran, the Thai New Year, which was a pure madness with thousands of people participating in the biggest water fight on Earth. I met some wonderful people (Will, Cecilia, Ben and many more – you all know who you are, right?), chilled out, got drunk, and thereby explored the strange effects of the strong, beloved Beer Chang. I went on several scooter trips in the region, to Hmong and Akha minority hill tribes, and went on a self-organized 3 day solo trip to the far northeastern part of Thailand around Nan on the Lao border. Chiang Mai is such a vibrant place with a cultural, gastronomical, and nocturnal life that is second to none. The city left me – or was it the other way around? – fully revitalised and so ready for the unforeseen adventures of the roads.
The Monkey Bite
Up next was a string of places down the center of the country, mostly interesting but the full-on sensory overload of Chiang Mai made some of the places seem very modest in comparison: Lampang, Si Satchanalai, Sukhothai, Phitsanoluk, Nakhon Sawan, Lopburi. In the latter I got bitten by a bloody monkey. One of the beasts that inhabit some of the temples in Lopburi suddenly jumped my back, fumbled around my neck and then bit me hard and quick. Out of the blue. Would you believe it? I screamed in pain & surprise and soon the bugger had run away along with the huge horde of monkeys around. The bite through my T-shirt left a bloody mark and was quite painful for the rest of the day. It slightly freaked me out because of the risk of rabies and after a few days of considering I decided to get the rabies shot.
Island hopping in the Gulf of Thailand
My visa was running out, so I went to the Lao capital of Vientiane to get a 2 month tourist visa, enough to get me to Malaysia, I reckoned. Back in Thailand, Ayutthaya was a neat place. As the former capital of the Kingdom it has a bunch of interesting temples and old structures to keep you busy for a few days. I didn’t feel like Bangkok this time, so I went west of the metropolis, through Samut Sakhon, Phetchaburi, Hua Hin where I met Patrick and Sophie, a great Dutch cycling couple that I had a splendid week with, cycling and chilling out. We camped wild (along with the mossies), went through Prachuap Khiri Khan and on to Chumphon along some wonderful Thai backroads. Took a night ferry to Koh Tao, then Koh Pha-Ngan and Koh Samui. I seriously enjoyed the 17 days on the tropical islands, watched a lot of French Open tennis, went island exploring by foot, running and on a scooter, turned a lot of novel pages on the beach under the blistering sun, and again I met up with some great international people. Thailand should be really proud of these islands…
Libido & Lycra.
As always I had mixed feelings about leaving the islands and the comforting web of sociality there, not knowing when the next proper conversation would occur. At the same time I was extremely excited about continuing down the peninsula towards Malaysia. So I turned up the volume in my iPod, turned down the libido and then, life wasn’t bad at all I never thought I’d get there but it felt great to be back in the Lycra tights! It was all happy cycling from Don Sak on the mainland down south though Nakhon Si Thammarat, Tha Sala, Hua Sai, Songkhla, and then straight towards the Malaysian border at Pedang Besar, the quick-and-dirty way out of Thailand thus avoiding the troubled (politically, culturally, religiously) southern provinces of the far southeast of Thailand. Even before I started getting all sentimental about leaving fantastic Thailand I had the Malaysian stamp in my passport. ” 3 months for free”, the muslim woman behind the scarf and counter proudly told me at the border post. Yihaa!
Malaysia and the next months
After 500 km and 4 days of cycling from Koh Samui I reached the Malaysian tourist island of Langkawi in the far northwestern corner, in the Straits of Melacca. The island seems nice, but the weather here is a bit shitty on this side of the peninsula so I’d better go back to the western, sunny side soon. After all, that’s where I feel I belong After Pulau Perhentian (east coast Peninsula) I plan to head more or less directly towards Singapore, probably with a detour to Pulau Tioman (another paradise island, so thay say). I’m still having a lot of logistical considerations as to where I’ll go from Singapore. One option is to fly to Darwin or Perth (Australia) and then continue cycling. Another is to go to Sarawak and Sabah – the Malaysian part of Borneo – then on to Kalimantan – the Indonesian side of Borneo – and Sulawesi and do some island hopping to either Bali in the west or to Timor in the eastern Indonesia. Then fly or catch a yacht to Darwin. Feel free to give your 2P here, folks!
Well, it’s now been 14 months (434 days to be exact) and 17.250 km since I left Denmark in April last year. I feel great, enlightened, and miss all of you madly. Travelling is a very strange and addictive fruit.
Thanks to all of you who keep following me, supporting me through encouraging words and congenial minds. I deeply appreciate it. Keep it all coming, it keeps me going, as we all say.
Worldtravellers.dk has now had more than a whopping 500.000 hits!
Now how’s that!
Summer, thoughts and positive vibes to all of you…