Thai New Year's....Songkran
19 May 2018
Back to Bangkok, one of our all time favorite cities. Many don't like it, crowded, busy, sometimes dirty. We find the city vibrant, funky, full of little surprises and friendly people. Hookers, hawkers, ladyboys, red light districts and luxury shopping centers next to each other. If you want it you can find it here. We generally don't like being in big cities for long but this place has a certain draw we don't quite understand.
We partly went for a visit with our dentist but mainly to join Songkran, the world's biggest water fight, celebrating Thai New Years mid April. Three days of getting soaked with water or doing the soaking. Great fun for young and old alike. About the only way to avoid getting wet is never leave your hotel or don't go the Thailand, especially Bangkok. In principal you are not supposed to aim for Buddhist monks, toddlers, or the old. Guess I'm not old because I was always a target.
Chinese New Years in Penang
19 May 2018
We left Phuket, Thailand early Feb in order to reach Penang, Malaysia in time for Chinese New Years. The Year of the Dog, 4716. For any of you still around from Sumner ICU last year was "my year" Year of the Rooster. Rumor has it that Penang has one of the best celebrations in the area. The celebrations last 9 days. The first day is spent with family and close friends with special foods and small gifts. New brooms sweep out the old bad luck from houses and dragons scare away evil and bad luck.
We rented a room in the historic section to avoid daily traffic jams. As big a deal as the holiday is we could find almost no information on the internet about activities except the main street party. So we were a little disappointed but still had a good time in Penang, a great city to visit. We took a cooking class, discovered a huge water and adventure park, hiked another part of the national park, and saw our old friend Fauzi, head of the tourism association for the park.
A Short Visit to Sabang, Indonesia
25 December 2017
We were sitting in Phuket, Thailand wondering where to go for the next month before going back to Langkawi, Malaysia for Christmas. We spotted a small flyer about a sail rally to Sabang, Indonesia, someplace we never heard of. Turns out it is only a 2 day sail from where we were and a great way to get back offshore and out to sea. We had not been out in the ocean for 2 years and we wanted to test out our boat and equipment for our upcoming sail to Australia next Spring. Things on boats tend to break down, freeze up, or gremlins invade the electrics when a boat is not used much. Good thing we did because I spent 3 days fixing a long list of small but worrisome problems.
Sabang is the main town on the island of Pulau Weh, this is a lovely island and Northern most inhabited area of Sumatra. The island is approximately 60 sq miles in area and over 20 sq miles have been set aside as conservation zones. Once considered a premier dive area the reefs suffered major damage from the 2004 tidal wave and bleaching due to warmer than normal water. The reefs are recovering slowly but it could be a decade or more before they approach their former splendor. Population is about 40,000, the people extremely friendly, and the water very clear. Coastal Malaysia and Thailand water has about 2-6 feet visibility. Not from pollution, but sediment from runoff. Visibility in Sabang was 20-60 feet and we were looking forward to snorkeling again.
The Indonesian government is heavily promoting tourism and want Sabang to be a cruiser's destination of choice in the area. In order to entice us to come they offered the following incentives.
Free mooring balls to secure your boat to, three meals a day for five days, daily guided tours, each boat was assigned a local resource person to handle questions and provide any assistance needed. We received at least 10 hats and a dozen nice shirts between us, plus other gifts such as tote bags, Sumatra coffee, woven table clothes, various nik naks, 50 gallons of free diesel fuel, and hundreds of smiles and several new friends.
We would definitely go back again if we had the time. It would be an easy place to spend a few lazy months exploring by motor scooter and boat.
A brief look at Viet Nam and China
28 December 2016
With monsoon season still hampering sailing conditions in Sept and Oct we took the opportunity to visit China and Viet Nam. China had long been on my list of places to see and we had heard that Viet Nam was beautiful, so off we went.
We had heard from friends that travelling China can be a challenge due to restrictions on which hotels could take foreign visitors and the rarity of English being spoken outside of major cities. Even in the largest cities few spoke any English. For that reason we opted for a personally guided tour which worked out perfectly for us. Although expensive we were able to choose our itinerary and make minor modifications along the way if we chose. In the 3 weeks we were there we visited 7 different regions, took three local flights, two trains, and had an English speaking guide at each destination. They met us on arrival, made all arrangements, and made sure we got on the right plane-train for our next stop. The company was called China Highlights and we highly recommend them.
We were not sure what to expect in our first Communist country but found the people very friendly and welcoming despite the language barrier. The country is much too big for only a 3 week visit. We would love to go back but I think time will not allow it.
Vietnam was definitely a good choice to visit. The people are much poorer than in China, and the Communist government more restrictive. It was interesting to see how their government portrayed the evil war monger US vs the peaceful Vietnam government during the war. In a former pow prison we visited, the infamous "Hanoi Hilton", we saw two photo's of Sen. John McCain in prison along with photo's of other pow's enjoying volleyball, gardening, chess, and healthy meals. At the same time condemning the US for targeting schools and hospitals of the cities and towns. We did not get into any discussions about the reliability of these reports. I was told that most citizens were not happy with their government ( sound familiar? ) but were afraid of retribution if they spoke out against it.
Despite the political climate the countryside is beautiful and you can travel on a small budget. Most of our hotel rooms were less than $20 per night including breakfast. Rooms were basic, comfortable, with hot showers, tv, wifi, ac, and centrally located. We would enjoy returning for another visit.
Roaming Around South East Asia
21 June 2016
It has been 6 months since our last update and though we have not travelled far we have not been idle. While most of our time has been in Malaysia we have also visited Thailand twice and once to Cambodia. Later this fall we anticipate a visit to China as well as more time in Thailand. We have now sailed half way around the world, 180 degrees of longitude from where we started.
After leaving Singapore in late December it was a short sail to Port Dickson/Malacca in Malaysia. The cruising along the coast of Malaysia is not very good. The water is murky with sediment and hordes of fishing boats and fish traps make sailing at night hazardous.
Predominantly a Muslim country that tolerates religious diversity we found the people friendly and outgoing. While the annual income of most is very modest by US standards there are obviously many wealthy Malaysians as seen in the capital of Kuala Lumpur. The skyline is pierced with modern office buildings, upscale shopping malls, and luxury hotels.
Further up the coast is the island of Panang. We expected a typical small island with a few small resorts and stores. The island is small but a tourist mecca. 1.5 million people live here and the economy is as vibrant as the capital's.
We seem to have settled in on the small island of Rebak, a few miles off Langkawi, itself an island and tourist destination for locals. Privately owned there is an inexpensive boat yard and marina to leave your boat for inland touring. Several cruisers we have met have also made it their home base.
Our first visit to Thailand was by air to the city of Bangkok. We both need dental work done and Bangkok the place to go. We have received care up to US standards by highly trained staff for a fraction of the cost back home. For example, replacing a crown runs about $350 vs $1000 in the states. Bangkok is huge, has traffic jams 24 hrs a day, and the fastest way to get around a short distance is by motorcycle taxi. It's also the most intimidating. These guys weave in and around traffic jams, ride on the side walk, missing cars and people by an inch, literally. The people are extraordinarily friendly and conflict goes against their nature.
Street food vendors are everywhere and you can get a tasty, and very spicy hot, meal for under $3. Buddhism is the primary religion and they do not tolerate using his name or image for any commercial or decorative purpose. People have been refused entry into the country for having a Buddha tattoo.
Governed by elected officials the country still has King and Royal family that everyone loves. He is now in his early 90's and is the longest reigning monarch in the world, 70 years on the throne. Last year a journalist was arrested for saying something derogatory about the king's favorite dog.
While in Bangkok we visited many temples, all ornate, beautiful, and still used for worship. One of the provinces a few hours N of Bangkok has over 7000 temples alone. We plan to see more of inland Thailand later this year.
We flew to Siem Reap, Cambodia, primarily to visit Angkor Wat, the largest religious complex in the world. Covering almost 250 acres it was built around the 12th century, originally as a Hindu temple but eventually turned into a Buddhist temple. The country side surrounding Siem Reap is strewn with many more temples that had been gobbled up by the jungle over the centuries. Most of those discovered have been at least partially restored. We visited during dry season so the vegetation was not as lush as you would expect.
In the early 70's a brutal despot named Pol Pot led the Khmer Rouge army to over throw the government and take control. The US secretly supported them because they were enemies of Vietnam. When his army invaded Phnom Penn, the capital, they ordered everyone to leave the city and take only what they could carry. In 3 days the population went from millions to 10,000 army troops. The educated ones, teachers, doctors, artists, etc, where killed outright. Of the 14,000 people imprisoned in a former school only 7 left alive. Those herded from the city were put into forced labor growing rice, digging new irrigation channels, fishing, etc. For most the only possession they were allowed was a cup and a bowl for food. Hundreds a day were clubbed to death in the killing fields once they were too weak to work ( bullets were expensive) . In the 3 years Pol Pot was in power an estimated 25% of the population died, as many as 2 million people.
The land along the border between Cambodia and Thailand is considered one of the most hazardous in the world. Tens of thousands of land mines were planted with no maps to show locations. Even today people still are maimed and killed if they wander off the main trails. There are international efforts to remove the dangers but the challenge is finding them.
A Brief Look at Singapore
12 January 2016
We stopped in Singapore for some needed boat supplies and shopping in a 'real' city. We had planned on flying to Bangkok for 2 weeks so booked a month in a marina. It was very upscale and turns out we cancelled Bangkok and could have left after 2 weeks except for the non refundable month's slip fees. Oh well, it's all good anyway. We were with friends from other boats and the marina was top notch. The island it is on had free bus service around the island, and the marina had a free shuttle to the mainland about 6 minutes away, dropping you off at the central train station. It ran every 30 minutes 6am until 10:30pm so very convenient.
Singapore is rated as the most expensive country in the world to live in and we believe it. The country is only about 23x16 miles in size and like a giant shopping mall. There is one store, Mustafa's that is 2 blocks long, 70 yards wide, 6 stories high, and makes a Super Wal Mart look like a 7-11.
The country has no agricultural or ranching enterprises and almost no manufacturing, so everything is imported and taxed. It is one of the busiest shipping ports in the world and much of the revenue comes from cargo trans shipment to other parts of SE Asia. It has also become a central hub for telecommunications and international banking in this region.
Most people speak at least some English, crime is uncommon and the streets are safe to walk at night. Mostly of Chinese descent, there is also a large Indian, Malaysian, and expat population from NZ, Australia, Britain, and the US. The various cultural and religious back rounds all seem to mix together well, live and let live, respect your neighbor, be kind to strangers. At least that is how we perceived. They have the most modern and well organized public transportation system we have ever seen. Within a few days and a smart phone app we were moving around the country like locals with no fear of getting lost. You can get almost anywhere quickly, cheaply, and never wait more than 10-15 minutes for a bus or train. The government seems to spend a lot of money keeping roads in good repair and providing numerous free parks and nature preserves for the citizens.
Every one me met seemed content so it's probably a nice place to live, but I think people work long hours and many days per week to afford it.