Our time in Penang was a bit strange. We never planned on stopping there, but we weren’t able to book train tickets from Thailand to Kuala Lumpur. Rather than take an extremely long bus trip all the way, it made sense to break up the journey with a stop in Penang. At this point in our trip, we were getting kind of burnt out so we probably didn’t put as much effort into things as we should have. It didn’t help that our hotel room had no windows, and the hotel played annoying elevator music in the hallways loud enough that we could hear it in our room.
I’ve been living in Freiburg for almost three years now, so it’s rare that I encounter culture shock anymore. All the little things that stressed me out when I first got here seem normal now, or at least I’ve come to terms with them. I’m not sure I’ll ever adjust to the cold winters, though luckily we’ve come up with an escape plan. But the one thing I’ve missed most about the US (other than people) is Mexican food. If there’s a salsa god out there, I think he may have finally heard me.
Thailand is the first country that comes to mind for many people when they think of Southeast Asia. It’s definitely the most popular country in that region of the world due to the tasty food, gorgeous islands, friendly locals, and of course, the low prices. When Andy and I started our winter escape to Southeast Asia, we didn’t really think about going to Thailand. We thought we would end up in Malaysia or maybe Vietnam after Cambodia, but our plans changed and we found ourselves with three weeks in southern Thailand. Here’s how much we spent traveling in Thailand, enjoying the beaches and the food.
I started thinking about this issue in Koh Samui while we were staying at a resort. Andy and I went to dinner one night, ordered satay and asked if it came with rice. Our waitress was a little confused at first, but after a couple of tries, she said yes. Of course, when our food arrived, there was no rice. She didn’t understand us at all when we asked about it, so Andy spoke to the manager, explained the situation, and eventually we got our steamed rice.
Everyone always raves about the food in Thailand. We had some pretty good Thai food while we were living in Berlin, but I was curious so see how the real thing compared. Unfortunately we learned that in the Thai islands, it’s much harder to get away from the touristy food. Our first two weeks were spent eating boring chicken fried rice, not-quite-spicy red curry, and Pad Thai that left me wondering why so many people love the dish so much. Finally our luck changed towards the end of our time in Thailand when we were back in Ao Nang.
After our time on Koh Phangan, Andy and I hoped to get to Koh Yao Noi, but things didn’t work out that way. Since we wanted to see the Hong Islands and didn’t have time while we were in Krabi Town, we decided to go to Ao Nang. The Hong Islands Tour is similar to the 4 Islands Tour but a different set of islands. Not only did we end up with the same tour company, but we even had the same guide for another day of gorgeous island hopping.
Last year when Andy and I traveled through Europe for two months, one of our big regrets was planning out the whole trip. We had each destination plotted, nearly every hotel or apartment booked, and almost every single train ticket purchased ahead of time. We had our reasons, but by the end of the trip we were itching for flexibility and spontaneity. So this time around,we decided to do things differently. We knew our first few destinations but after that we didn’t have a set plan. The majority of the trip was left open for us to figure out along the way.
Despite what most people think when I mention that Andy and I were in Southeast Asia for seven weeks, we were not on vacation. We kept calling it a working trip because our main goals were to write and work on other projects while enjoying some warm weather instead of the cold German winter. Sure, we went on a couple of day tours, did a little sightseeing and hopped in the pool a few times. But overall we tried to be productive. So what did a typical day for us look like while we were on the road?
On an island most famous for crazy full moon parties, Andy and I found tranquility and one of our best work routines on Koh Phangan. We originally thought we’d go to Koh Tao after our resort stay on Koh Samui, but we couldn’t find any decent guesthouses that looked like they were near restaurants. But then our friend Gillian suggested a beach on Koh Phangan on the opposite side of the island from the full moon parties, and we were sold.
We should have known better really. We like simple, not fancy. We like exploring new places, trying the local food, and having the freedom to move about as we wish. We are not resort people. But after a stressful few weeks of travel, a guesthouse in Siem Reap with such a bad bathroom we each only took two showers in six days, and each of us battling minor ailments, we decided three nights in a resort on Koh Samui, Thailand was just what we needed following our time in Krabi.