Disney Land and Money Changers: 21 – 23.10.2013

On our final day in Japan, Yuki – our couch surfing host – and I went off to Tokyo Disney Land to be in our element, whilst Jake went off to his version of Disney Land – Tsukiji Market area and the cooking/kitchen streets and of Tokyo… We left each other near Akihabara in the early morning and all three of us had an amazing day.

Disney Land was, to put it simply, incredible.Yuki and I had so much fun and walked around in a daze of pure joy, feeling like  children again as we queued excitedly for rides, squealed through the highs and lows of the roller coasters, pointed excitedly, marveled at the costumes, decorations and the elaborate Halloween parades, ate Mickey Mouse shaped ice creams and burgers, popcorn and onigiri, and generally had an incredible day. Yuki and I walked around with massive smiles permanently on our faces; putting culture aside, the day spent at Disney Land was just so brilliant.

When we met Jake late in the evening at the train station, he’d had a wonderful day too – eating at the very first Yoshinoya in Tsukiji, looking in knife and cooking shops, exploring and generally doing what he loved. Although he’d already eaten 280Y beef bowls twice that day, the three of us went together to Yoshinoya near by for a final meal of gyu don together… I will miss this.

Saying goodbye to Yuki that evening saw us both crying – we’d met a week ago as strangers and were saying goodbye as friends. I know we’ll meet again somewhere in the world…

We then took a train, a monorail, passed through customs and officially left Japan, took an 8 hour plane journey, passed through more customs, took a bus and then a train, finally arriving back at one of our “home away from homes” at our usual hostel in downtown Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
We were home, for now, and needed ‘the usual’ – roti cannai and teh tarik from our local.

We had two days in KL basically as a transit between Japan and Myanmar; the only thing we wanted and needed to do here was get out an amount of crisp, perfect, clean, crinkle and crease free, new-ish (older than 2006) US dollar notes… $100 and $50 notes preferable. We needed enough to last us our entire stay in Myanmar.

We though this would be a reasonably simple task. Pay the Malayisan money to a bank or money exchanger and walk out with sparkling US dollars.
In theory it’s reasonably simple.
In reality, it was not.

Countless banks, money exchangers, dirty/old/stamped/stained/creased/crinkled notes that we had to turn down and cups of teh tarik, and finally, we had our US dollars… Now the challenge is, how do we make sure they stay perfectly flat and beautiful for the next month?

Two days and nights in KL and pretty much all we’ve done is eat, drink teh tarik and visit possibly every bank and money changer in the Chinatown area… and there are a lot!
But, we accomplished what we’d needed to and were pretty content… that was, until the alarm went off at 2:15 am on the morning of the 24th and we had to haul our packs onto our back, walk out into the dark night, empty streets and rain, hail a taxi and take a bus to the airport…

Finally, after much anticipation, we are Myanmar bound.

 

Snippets of Melaka, Malaysia

Uneven and cracked foot paths, crazy drivers, incredible food, friendly people, the smell of petrol, durian and cooking smells, patterned tiles and beautiful buildings…

We fell in love with Malaysia – the place, the diverse culture, the multicultural people and the delicious food almost instantly; and I think it’s a love that will stand the test of time.

Tomorrow we leave Malaysia – which quickly became home – for Sri Lanka, and whilst we’ve loved every moment here, we are so excited for the thrills of something different and new.
I once read somewhere that Sri Lanka is where you should head if South East Asia has become “normal”…  Somehow, I feel that we’re ready for what Sri Lanka has to offer.

Ready for the next adventure

Ready for the next adventure

Although we’ve only had a short time here, it’s been a great time, and we have made some great memories, met some wonderful people, and learned a lot.

Here are some snippets of our time in Malaysia:

Creative Recycled Pots

Creative Recycled Pots, Melaka

Dramatically decorated tri-shaws

Dramatically decorated tri-shaws, Melaka

Dutch Square and Christ Church

Dutch Square and Christ Church, Melaka

Heritage Building, Melaka

Heritage Building, Melaka

A well-deserved break!

A well-deserved break!

The beach! Portuguese Settlement, Melaka

The beach! Portuguese Settlement, Melaka

Delicious deliciousness

Delicious deliciousness

IMG_8373

Isn't he cute?

Isn’t he cute?

Isn't HE cute?

Isn’t HE cute?

An example of the many gorgeous, intricate tiles in Melaka

An example of the many gorgeous, intricate tiles in Melaka

Morning Market

Morning Market, Melaka

More delicious deliciousness

More delicious deliciousness

Architectural Beauty

Architectural Beauty

Malaysia: Ribena, Roti and Papping

Well we’ve made it; we’re finally here! The count down is over, and instead of shivering through the rest of Melbourne’s Winter, we’re now sweating in Asia’s endless Summer.

We arrived into KL and navigated our way through the city to down-town Chinatown; the backpacker haunt. Wading through the night markets with bulging backpacks on both our fronts and backs, we were hit with the sounds, smells and heat of Kuala Lumpur. And it felt – and feels – so good to be back in Asia.

Honking horns and wild traffic, market stalls and enticing foods, the smell of durian mixed with car fumes, people everywhere and touters touting – it feels so normal – like we never left; and we are back into the ‘swing’ of things already.

On our first night in Malaysia we sat back in our chairs at a little local restaurant, ordered roti and dahl, and toasted to the next seven months; to our Asian trip of a life time.

Today we were on the move before we could even begin to settle in Kuala Lumpur. We took a bus – actually, three – to Melaka: a quaint historic UNESCO heritage town, 3 hours drive south of KL.

We wandered every main and back street, up alleyways and lane ways, through art galleries and eclectic shops. We stepped through Chinatown and Little India, and were exposed to the many different cultures and nationalities that make up this township.

IMG_8183It’s a beautiful place here; its gorgeous old buildings and incredible architecture make for little surprises at each turn. Paint peels from every wall and patterned tiles are cracked and loose; not every building is beautiful but the charm of the place is alive and unmistakable.

IMG_8196
Rickshaw drivers with overly decorated vehicles relax in the town centre, chatting to their friends or snoozing in their empty seats.
The evening lights dance on the river, locals and foreigners are out and about: the people are warm and friendly and the place has a genuinely relaxed vibe.

IMG_8197After hours of walking and exploring, we found ourselves back in the town centre square, where we sat down in front of the iconic Red Christ Church, sipping Ribena Juice, people watching and sheltering from the heat momentarily.
People watching is so easy to do in Asia; it’s intruiging and fascinating and interesting and entertaining.

Whilst sitting in the shade, a girl came up to us and asked “I take you photo?”
Accepting her request was a rookie error.

She paved the way for a group of Indonesian tourists to then bombard us with photo after photo, each one for which they happily posed around us, boxing us in with their arms around us. They laughed and squealed as each one took turns in being the “photographer” for everyone else in the group, whilst Jake and I gave uneasy, uncertain and confused smiles. As soon as it seemed the papping would stop, another iPhone or camera appeared and another stepped forward happily to pap us.

It made us wonder: firstly, what do they want and what will they do with a hundred photographs of two complete strangers, and secondly, is this a taste of what’s to come?…

Oh, Asia. We had to laugh.

IMG_8194Continuing the search for lunch, which at 8pm, had instead become a quest for dinner, we finally stumbled upon a corner shack/restaurant. The man out the front was cooking with two large woks and sending oil, egg and grains of rice flying high into the air with each toss.

Deeming the food safe and the vendor trustworthy, we ordered  a basic meal and sat down to enjoy the delicious ending to our first full day in Asia.

And it was amazing.

Asia here we come, right back where we started from…

One month from today will be our “last day in Australia for a while.”

4 and a half weeks. 
31 days.
744 hours.
44,640 minutes.

Who’s counting?

It’s a strange feeling to know that in in just a few short weeks, everything we know – our comfort zones and safety nets – will be stripped from us. We’ve had so long to prepare, yet it still hasn’t sunk in.
What will we miss? What won’t we miss?…

It’s a big bag of mixed emotions when we think about how we feel about departing Australia,  and “going home” [in a sense] to Asia.
There is this extreme excitement that is, some days, simply uncontrollable. We frolic about, skipping rather than walking, with this joy that I can not explain. 
Other days, we feel filled with a worry, or a fear of the unknown; For our health, for our safety… 
We’re nervous too. It’s hard to pin-point exactly what that’s about.
And, we’re a little stressed: We’ve got 4 VERY busy weeks left of work, a house to move out of, our lives to pack up into boxes and backpacks, and a heap of loose ends to tie-up.

I look forward to soon being able to write non-mundane, rather; exciting and interesting blog posts about fascinating places.

Even more so, I simply look forward to experiencing Asia.

I have a feeling this trip is going to open up doors that right now, neither of us can imagine.
We’re off to Asia again, which in a way, feels like where we started from.

 

Reality: The Count-down is On!

It’s official. In exactly two months from today, we will be on our way to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Two months from today marks the true ‘beginning’ of our journey; we are so excited and, not gonna lie – a little bit nervous about what we will experience… but at the same time, we couldn’t be happier.
Our to do list is growing, but at the same time, we’re starting to tick more and more off as the “important tasks” like applying for visas, booking remaining flight paths, organising travel insurance and enduring those all important travel injections, start getting done.
Em started a packing list yesterday, and quickly felt overwhelmed by the amount of stuff we’re going to have to carry around. “Seriously, do we even need that?!” is becoming a familiar question…
Jake’s baby – aka his car, is up for sale. Anyone looking for an amazing, almost new, well looked after car?
We stored a lot of our goods already at our parents homes, and our wardrobes are looking bare due to the large amount of clothing we culled recently.
Yet, we are still (well, Em is – Jake might have some slight hoarding tendencies), overwhelmed by the amount of stuff we still actually own! Again – “Seriously, do we even need that?!”
It starts becoming real, doesn’t it, when the count down is on. With just a few more shifts at work, resignation letters start getting written, our life starts getting packed into boxes and the car is up for sale. And fuck! – we bought daggy travel sandals! You don’t get much more real than that in our opinion! (We kid, we kid…)
The next two months are going to go so quickly, and there feels like so much to still organise. And then we start thinking about how much we are going to miss our family, friends, our annual trip to Wangaratta Jazz Festival we love so much and Melbourne in general.
Bittersweet though – we’re about to embark on a journey of a lifetime: and without a reminder of home, what would travel be? We know to, and are reminded to appreciate everything even more so.
We can’t wait for this trip – it’s been our main topic of conversation and, for the last 6 months our lifestyles have been adjusted to scrimp and save, and work towards and for this trip.
We want this.
We know it’s going to be so amazing, so challenging, so life changing in so many ways – we’re just not sure yet how. There in lies the beauty of travel, and we are so excited, and feel so privileged to be able to do this.
2 months.
8.5 weeks.
59 days.
59 sleeps.
1416 hours.
…and counting down.
Malaysia, Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Borneo… Here we come.

Daggy Sandals, Baggy Pants… and Nepal thrown in for good measure!

Jake and I spent 6 weeks wondering about Cambodia, Laos and Thailand in a pair of black Havianas, that by the end of the trip, were pretty well worn, filthy and on their last legs. Not to mention; our feet were in poor form after hiking, biking, waterfalls, dirty backroads, 12-hour walking sessions and god-knows what else we stepped in, with only little pieces of rubber to protect our feet…

In the last part of our trip, Jake broke one of his thongs (flip-flops/slippers – we call them ‘thongs’ in Australia) and we spent a good few hours wondering about the little market bazaars trying to find him a new pair. Normally, this would’ve been an easy task, but when you have size 16 feet, even more so, when you have size 16 feet in Asia, this task was impossible, and he spent a week or so walking around with his heels hanging off the back of the (tiny in comparison) thongs. Em found it funny, Jake probably just found it uncomfortable.

So yesterday, we made an exectutive decision to buy those daggy heavy-duty travel sandals. Yes, we know, we know… We know we’re not the only farangs to be wandering about in these bad boys around Asia town, but it didn’t stop us from feeling like we’d aged about 30 plus years in a matter of minutes… Em’s refusal to try them on without socks didn’t help to make the fashion statement any more stylish.

The boy at the shop laughed and kindly said “you know, you are welcome to try them without the socks on…”
Em’s face was priceless; a look of horror, as was her response “…I’m sorry, I just can’t…” Em hates feet with a passion, and the suggestion of taking her socks off was akin to that of being asked to get naked infront of everyone in the shop.

Still, after winging, moaning, deliberating over ‘should we, shouldn’t we…’, Em laughing/dry reaching at the sight of Jake in a pair of sandals, and complaining that ‘I never thought I’d do this, I never thought I’d ever wear these…’, yes, we bought them. Em claims she heard her wallet crying as she handed over her VISA.

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Sandas in hand, we walked silently amongst the busy shoppers. No doubt, we were in shock. We know, we know – slight over-exaggeration, but true. With that, it was on to our next stop – to buy some travel pants. Em got a pair that ticked every box.

Quick Drying? Tick.
Light Weight? Tick.
Non Crease? Tick.
Suitable for travel/hiking? Tick.
Daggy? Tick.
Ugly? Tick.
Baggy and Un-flattering? Tick.
Unattractive? Tick.

Jake bought some new underwear; his friend’s wise words echoing in his mind. “You’re going to India, man. Sometimes, underwear means the difference between getting to the toilet in time, or feeling the shit trickle down your leg.” – Charming, yes. True, yes, probably. We better stock up… sigh.

With the shopping done, feeling defeated and happy with our purchases at the same time (read: Hideous shoes to make us look even more like rich farangs, baggy pants for India to hide Em’s legs from unwanted attention, and underwear to help control things just that little bit more when we are shitting ourselves…), we went home.

Whist strutting about in our sandals, Jake in his new underwear and Em in her baggy pants […what!? You don’t do that…?] Em had a sudden thought.

Why aren’t we going to Nepal? What reason do we have not to? We’re there, near the border, why not just skip accross for a week or so?

So with a little more strutting about in our sandals and baggy pants/underwear, a little research and then dinner out at ‘Old Faithful’ with our friends who have been to India and Nepal in the past, it was decided what we should do.

So, cheers guys! Jake and Em are proud to announce the following:

We own daggy sandals that scream ‘rich farang’…
Em owns a pair of quick-dry, non-crease, light-weight, hideous baggy pants…
We’re well stocked-up on underwear for our trip…

And were off to Nepal! Fuck yeah! Country number 8 – Welcome to our list…

Travel Planning: Spectacular, spectacular Sri Lanka

Okay, so our trip is getting nearer – 68 days, to be exact! If the count down wasn’t enough, our sore arms – quite reminiscent of pin-cushions after our latest travel immunisations, are another reminder that our big trip is inching closer and closer.
Along with our growing excitement and also some nerves here and there, our ‘to-do’ list is also getting bigger and bulkier by the day. Sure, we just ticked off tetanus and the flu vaccine off our list, but we also added another 100 odd things to it, too!
As per usual, Em’s been scouring through forum after forum, blog after blog, websites, travel magazines, guide books, travel literatures and anything else even slightly related to get ideas, information, and be inspired.
We decided that, although we’re quite laid back travellers; backpackers who want to meet lots of people, go where ever we so choose, follow advice of others, find our own way etc. etc. … we need to have a rough plan.
Planning is something we’re both good at by trade; it’s a big part of our daily work and lives, so – isn’t it funny that we’re actually pretty lazy when it comes to travel. Really, we can’t work out if we’re shit at planning travel in general, or that we just hate to do it becuase we like to leave things to chance, and pre-booked accommodation gets in the way of that.
When it comes to places like mainland Malaysia, Thailand, India (to an extent), Vietnam and Singapore, we have no plans. We will probably at some stage before arrival organise the first night or two of accommodation and leave the rest to chance… However, places like Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Malaysia Borneo, we’ve read and heard over and over from various sources – you need to have a plan.
So. We might as well start with our first major destination – Sri Lanka. Spectacular, spectacular Sri Lanka. It’s a country that we didn’t really know too much about – instead it lured us in with its beautiful scenery, walking trails, tea plantations, lucious beaches, tantalising food and friendly looking faces.
After reading and hearing from a number of people, it seems as though (and correct us, if we’re wrong) budget accommodation can book up reasonably well in advance in certain areas, leaving the more pricey guesthouses/hotels as the only options. As long-term travellers, we need to be living on the cheap whenever possible, which means we can’t really risk, nor do we want to, have to stay at the Hilton or the likes of, night after night. We’ve read this is also the same sort of situation for Myanmar, and Malaysia Borneo…
Another reason we want to plan some of the places we’re going to, is becuase we have a limited time there and want to make sure we get the most out of it; to get to the places we want to go. This of course can also be done without prior planning, and we fully intend to work this way in some of the other countries we are heading to, but again – we want to book accommodation in advance, and that requires planning the places you’ll go and where, in turn, we will stay.
Sri Lanka, if we wern’t already excited, and didn’t already love it before we started really planning; well, we sure do love it now and we haven’t even touched down! In less than three months we’ll be travelling through Sri Lanka, and we simply can not wipe the smiles off our faces every time we think about it.
Spectacular, spectacular Sri Lanka; we can’t wait to meet you!
What is your travel style? Do you like to plan ahead or see where your journey takes you?