Saturday, April 9, 2011

I'm tired.

I've basically spent the past three days in transit from the Perhentian Islands to here, Chiang Mai. It has been a very long journey.

April 6:
- Get up at 7:15 to pack up and catch the speed boat at 8:00.
- Get splashed on a lot.
- Arrive at the jetty and get picked up by Mr. Kamal (the random stranger who drove me to the jetty three days before).
- Have breakfast. It's a laksa somewhere in between penang laksa and katong laksa, so it's ok, but I wouldn't order it again.
- Mr. Kamal receives a call from some guy at the jetty saying I left my cell phone there.
- Go back to jetty to get my cell phone.
- Drive to the bus stop while talking about religion and premarital sex. Mr. Kamal is a devout Muslim whose face lights up when he talks about the beauty of Allah. He gives me a CD with some shuras on it. It does have a way of making your soul fly, although I think that's more an effect of the music than the content considering I can't understand it at all.
- Arrive at bus stop in Jerteh to find that the bus to Rantau Pajang, where I'm hoping to catch the 2:20PM train leaves at 4:00PM. I can take the bus to Kota Bharu and then to RP, but that would likely be late as well, so I take a taxi to RP (RM80).
- Get to RP, where I catch a moto for RM3 to take me through immigration on both sides and to the train station in Songai Kolok. It is weird to go 1 meter and be an hour earlier.
- Find out there are no trains running from SK because of flooding in southern Thailand. (I had known there was flooding, but my friend in Bangkok said it should be fine. Evidently that is false.)
- Go to the bus station and find out the bus going to Bangkok is full for that day.
- Go to the minivan station to take it to Hat Yai, where presumably there are non-full buses to Bangkok.
- Moto guy tells me he wants RM15 for going to a bunch of places. I give him two RM10 bills. He does not give me change before puttering off. Dick move, but oh well.
- Take three-hour minivan ride to Hat Yai.
- Arrive in Hat Yai, go to ticket counters to buy bus ticket to Bangkok. (Also no trains from Hat Yai.) Lonely Planet says it should be 740-1100 baht. First offer is 990 baht. Go to next counter. They offer 750 baht. They tell me it takes 11 hours. There is a bus leaving at 4:00PM and a bus leaving at 7:30PM. I don't want to arrive at 3:00AM, so I decide to get the 7:30. The person behind the counter is different. She writes me a ticket for 980baht. I say the other guy said 750. She just goes, "Ok," and writes up a new one with no protest or double-checking with the other guy, leading me to believe that if you just say someone else told you a lesser price, this will generally work.
- Use the internet for a while (20baht/hour). My friend tells me there was a bombing in Songai Kolok just last week. So maybe Lonely Planet is right when they tell you to avoid crossing the border there. Good thing I was only there for 15 minutes.
- Go to 7-11 for some tissues. Make discovery. When I took the train to Hat Yai from Bangkok to get to Penang, I bought a cup of Milo from this guy. When I asked him how much it was, he gestured two. I was about to pay him 2 baht when I thought to myself, wait, that can't be right. two baht is five cents. That wouldn't even cover his costs. So I thought he must mean 20 baht, which is 50 cents. But then at the 7-11, I saw that Milo is forty-something baht for 35 packages. So it really was 2 baht. Not really going to feel bad about losing the 45 cents. I'm sure that guy needs it much more than I do.
- Got a crispy "pancake" covered in chocolate sauce and sugar outside 7-11 for 15baht. It was amazing.
- Had some chicken rice (not very good) for dinner.
- Got on bus.

April 7
- Arrive not at 6:30AM but closer to noon, after switching to a minivan because the bus was not actually going to Mo Chit station as it said it would (but the minivan was provided by the company, so no extra expense).
- Mo Chit bus station is evidently not close to Mo Chit BTS (subway), according to the people I asked when I got off the van.
- Some guy who speaks Chinese sent me to the LRT in a taxi and refused to let me pay.
- Took the LRT to Petchaburi the a bus to my host's, who lives near the airport.
- Did nothing but have dinner with host later. Talked with him in Spanish the whole time. My Spanish is not good.

April 8
- Wake up at 5:00AM to get a taxi to the Airport Link.
- Wait for Airport Link to start running (around 5:50).
- Realize I am 3 baht short of the fare, but someone gives it to me. His name is Taipat. He's very nice. He works at the airport.
- Arrive at the airport, check in, etc. Have a donut from Dunkin Donuts for breakfast (cheapest option). It was quite good.
- Fly to Chiang Mai. Evidently there is breakfast on the flight. So used to shitty U.S. flight services that I forgot this was a possibility. (It's only a one-hour flight. When is the last time you were fed on a U.S. domestic flight? They don't even feed you for east to west coast flights.)
- Arrive in Chiang Mai. Take a red car to the hotel where my host told me to meet her. 50 baht.
- Find out that the number she gave me is incorrect. Ask the hotel if there is a net cafe nearby. There is, but when I go there, I find out it doesn't open until noon. It is about 10.
- Go to the hotel to ask if there's anywhere else with internet access (so I can leave her a message that way). They say the next net cafe is very far, but I can use the internet at the hotel for a flat rate of 150baht, no time limit. I only need it for 10 minutes, and the normal rate is much, much less than that per hour, so I'd rather wait for noon than be ripped off.
- Take out my laptop and find out there is unsecured wifi in the hotel lobby. Decide the receptionist is a bitch of epic proportions. (Of course she didn't necessarily know I had a laptop with me. But still.)
- Leave my host a message on CouchSurfing and wait. For three hours. Thank god for watching TV online. About to go to lunch when she calls me and picks me up.
- Do nothing after getting here other than eat lunch and do laundry because I am exhausted from being in transit.

April 9
- Wake up at 11:00.
- And here we are.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Island life is amazing.

Ok, so internet is actually more available here than I previously thought or was told by Lonely Planet. Here's the 411 on the Little Island of the Perhentian Islands.

There are two main beaches - Coral Bay and Long Beach.

Coral Bay:
Very calm water (no waves) with lots of coral
Watch your step - in the water beware of coral, on the beach beware of ropes tied to boats
Shorter of the two beaches
Faces the west, so better sunsets
Chalets are a bit more expensive, but they also seem to be much closer to the water
No alcohol

Long Beach:
Much wavier, good for boogie-boarding (don't know about surfing)
No coral and no boats, so no need to watch your step
Bars and fire shows at night
Can see more stars
Obviously, the longer of the two
Cheaper housing (rooms with double bed and attached bathroom from RM30, dorm beds from RM15)
More backpacker-y feel (more people, slightly younger crowd)
Beach umbrellas for rent

Really, either beach is gorgeous, and there's a 15-minute trail in between the two, so it doesn't really matter where you stay unless you plan to party at night. (I would not recommend this trail on drunk legs.)

There are a lot of internet connections. Senja's is all day, and they'll give you the password if you order something. They also have outlets to charge here. (I just found this out yesterday, hence blogging today.) Other places will give you the password if you're staying there or are a student (diving). Some of the chalets only have internet for part of the day, because they only have electricity for part of the day (typically from 12-3pm and then from 6:30pm-8am).

Getting here:
Ok, so getting here is a bitch if you're not flying. I took the Singapore-Johore Express from Singapore to Johor Bahru, Malaysia. (Tickets are about half as much from Johor Bahru than from Singapore, and the ride to the Larkin bus terminal in JB only costs S$2.40. The line for the Singapore-Johore Express is much shorter than the line for the Causeway Link, but the Causeway Link is more frequent and cheaper by a few dimes. Give yourself an hour for waiting in line if you're taking the Causeway Link on a weekend. I didn't know this and very nearly missed the last departure from JB for my destination.) From there, I got a bus ticket for RM60 to Kota Bharu, which is the closest big town. The bus had entertainment, too. They played the Green Hornet, which I realized when through my earplugs, I thought to myself, "That sounds an awful lot like Seth Rogen's voice." Your bus driver may stop in the morning to pray. You can ask the driver to stop at Jerteh, which is closer to the jetty in Kuala Besut than Kota Bharu. From here, my trip gets possibly inadvisable. So I was at the ATM (because there are no banks/cars/civilization other than chalets and dive shops on the islands) asking for directions to Kuala Besut, and this guy told me I could either take a bus there or get a taxi for about RM15-20. After chatting for a bit, he offered to drive me to the jetty. So I went. So obviously, this is really depends on your judgement call - you're either comfortable with hitchhiking or you're not. Just err on the side of caution when evaluating the person who's driving you. So anyway, we stopped for some nasi lemak for breakfast on the way to the jetty. He made some calls on the way to arrange for my housing and the speedboat trip over here.

The speedboat trip (RM70 round trip) is AMAZING. It is better than a roller coaster.

After getting here, I was all set up to stay at Maya (RM50/night) but I later got a message from the sole CouchSurfer here saying that since she was gone, her roommate (an instructor at Angel Divers) was looking for someone to share the room with, and it would only come to RM15/person/night. So when a French couple came along asking for a room and the owner told them they had no vacancy, I offered them mine, which they gladly took.

There is pretty much nothing to do here other than snorkeling or diving, but that's kind of the point. You just sit on the beach and relax and do absolutely nothing.

So I was sitting at a cafe and this guy starts chatting with me. He is Chinese-Malaysian and is an instructor at Quiver (a dive shop). He offered to take me over to Long Beach to see how it is at night, because it's quite different from during the day. His friends joined us one by one as the evening went along. In terms of him though, in short his behavior evolved from innocent chatter to somewhat inappropriate contact, at least for a stranger (not like molesting, but like putting his arm around my shoulders/waist), and then he insisted on walking me back to where I was staying, where he tried to kiss me, so I had to do the head-turn, so I think all he got was ear and/or hair. This is after several mentions of me having a boyfriend, very not "hey, please hit on me" body language, and no other signal whatsoever of being interested in him in any way. It should have been extremely clear that I was genuinely not interested and not just playing hard to get. Seriously guys. Not attractive. Totally making me lose my faith in strangers.

That aside though, Long Beach actually is pretty awesome at night. The stars are super clear, there are fire shows, and the atmosphere is just very relaxed and beach bum-like.

This is the way to drink here. You pour the bottle of (relatively weak) whiskey and coke into the ice bucket and drink directly from the bucket. It's very sweet after being mixed.


So yeah, on the first day, inadvisable things I did included:
Talking to strangers
Getting into a car with a stranger
Accepting an alcoholic drink from a stranger (although he was drinking from the same bucket)

Inadvisable things I did not do:
Get into a car with a super sketchy looking person with a pedosmile
Get drunk with a sexually harass-y stranger

There are a lot of animals here. Small snakes, lizards, geckos, you name it. They're everywhere. It really reminds you that housing was most originally for shelter so you don't have random animals ransacking your stuff, and not for comfort to lounge around all day. But yeah, don't come here if you're deathly afraid of these little guys. There are also a lot of wild cats, but that's true for the entirety of Southeast Asia. (Even Singapore, and that's saying something.)

My second day, I was going to go snorkeling, but I ran into a problem because I wear glasses, am blind without them, and did not bring contacts. So the issue is I can't wear a snorkeling mask with my glasses, because a) they don't fit, and b) it makes the mask not airtight, so water will leak in, which defeats the purpose. So I passed on it for the day and decided I would figure it out and go the next day.

Tip: Bring contact lenses!

One guy at the cafe said he likes me, only he was really adorable about it and he looks like a tropical Santa Claus and not creepy. (As in, I'm pretty sure this is something they do with a lot of customers to drum up business by making people feel good.) So whenever I pass by he says, "Hi Angela!" or if I eat there, he says, "I'll miss you, Angela!" when I leave. It's cute. (By the way, half the people here will know your name within 12 hours of arrival, so you will constantly have people greeting you and stuff. It's kind of cool.)

A few random notes:
- I had purchased a keyboard cover earlier (no, there was no transition there), mostly because I'm of the generation that is often using the computer and eating at the same time (I suppose a few generations back was the first to eat and watch TV at the same time), but it was actually a really good purchase for this island, because there are ants everywhere, and I don't want ant bodies in my keyboard. That's gross.
- My extra camera battery has also served me infinitely well. Do not leave on a trip without one.
- If there is a really loud noise at night and you're wondering what the hell it is, it is a gecko. I didn't even realize geckos made noises. But they do. And they are quite loud.
- There's a random military jet that flies around really low (and thus really loudly) in the early afternoon.
- I fell asleep on the beach in the afternoon. It was kind of amazing.
- Had a homemade dinner with the Angel Divers (cooked by the local guys)

So my roommate at Angel Divers said they had a prescription snorkel mask that I could use, and even though it's not quite up to my prescription (which is reasonable - mine would have to be custom-made), it's a significant improvement over blindness, so I was able to go snorkeling this morning. Coincidentally, the French couple I left my room to also went this morning, and it was just the three of us. They're on their honeymoon here, which I must say is a really good location for it. We saw two turtles, quite a few reef sharks, and lots and lots of tropical fish. The turtles sort of stick to the bottom except when they occasionally surface (which we saw, which was pretty awesome). The sharks swim quite close - not so close that you can touch them, but close enough that your survival instinct kicks in and you get a little wary in spite of yourself, even though you know they only feed on really tiny fish. And the tropical fish swim REALLY close. As in, they nibble on you a little bit. So you're just smack in the middle of a school of zebra-looking little fish. It's pretty unforgettable. Jeffrey at Mama's will let you use his underwater camera and give you the pictures for free, which does not seem to be the case anywhere else. The short trip (Shark Point, Turtle Bay, and Coral Gardens) is RM30, and the long trip (which goes to 2-3 additional points) is RM35. Since there were only three of us, we took the short trip, but I think you see everything you'd really want to see anyway. Plus snorkeling means you are swimming the whole time (unlike diving where you don't need to exert that much effort), so you really don't want to be out there that long anyway. Of course, this is coming from someone who has never been in great physical shape ever. I'm small, but I'm not fit.

So yeah, now I have somewhere to stay in Paris. Yay strangers. ...I should probably rethink that message. Also, I should not write public service announcements. Unless there is a need for some sort of "Strangers are your awesome friends in disguise" campaign.

Now Jeffrey and Santa Claus are jokingly arguing over which one of them I'm going to Thailand with. Santa is sad that I am leaving him tomorrow. These guys are adorable. (I'm also pretty sure they're both married, and at least Jeffrey has kids. So it's not even slightly creepy.)

Tomorrow, I'm taking the 8:00AM speedboat back to Kuala Besut, where Mr. Kamal (the stranger from before) is going to drive me to the bus stop in Jerteh to catch a bus to Rantau Panjang, where I can walk across the border to Sungai Kolok in Thailand, where I can catch a train or bus to Bangkok. So I will definitely not have internet access since I'll be in transit until the afternoon of the 7th. And then my flight to Chiang Mai is in the morning on the 8th.