Singapore, Malaysia and first steps into Thailand by Baz
We were pleased to be leaving Bali and heading for the final leg of our journey.Singapore was the first stop.We only had 3 days there and it was a bit of a non-event really.We stayed in a simple hostel run by a lovely couple.They took us out one evening to see the Chinese New Year lights.However, the one thing that I will remember from Singapore is being woken up waking by rustling within a plastic bag at the end of our bed.I shook myself and turned on the light.The rustling continued sporadically, and I suspected it was a small mouse.Much to my horror it was the biggest cockroach I have ever seen, with big cockroach tentacles.I was disgusted, but eventually plucked up the courage to remove it.
On we went into Malaysia, on a mission to reach the beautiful Islands of Perhentian and Rendang on the East coast.We had heard they were unspoiled pieces of paradise.The journey up would have taken around 11 hours by bus and ordinarily we would have travelled all the way in a day, but Seonaid was feeling a bit poorly so we stopped half way in a town called Mersing.Mersing was described in our book as a sleepy fishing village.I pictured Carnlough with palm trees and a beach, it was more like a section of central Dublin; cars, bikes, fumes, dirt.The next day we discovered we were trapped there as the day buses were booked up.We decided to book for a night bus.Later that day we were hit with the news that there was a monsoon further up the coast and the Islands had been closed.No need to panic - I discussed things with the Tour Manager (Seonaid) and we decided to Head to Kuala Lumpar a week early, spend 2 nights there, then fly to Thailand.
We didn't expect much from Kuala Lumpar.In my mind it was really just a stop-over on route to Thailand.Fake goods and rats, I thought.I was right, however, the timing of our arrival couldnt have been better.Our visit coincided with the Hindu Festival of Thaipusam.Thousands go to it.If they have received a blessing during the year they go to give thanks by hurting themselves in some way.Some carry heavy weights in the sweltering sun 8 miles out to the sacred sight of the Batu Caves, then up 272 steps to the temple.They were exhausted at the end, but were given great encouragement by friends and family who beat drums and chant songs to them.Some pierced themselves in the most excruciating ways.Tens of hooks through the back, pierced through the cheeks and tongue.Even lifted up by hooks through their back.It was gruesome.Take a look at the photos and video clip Seonaid has put up on the site.
What really struck me about the whole event though was how warm and friendly people were towards outsiders.Everyone was smiling at Seonaid and I, offering help and advice, and they didn't seem to feel we were intruding by being there or taking photos.As we were walking away from the temple we noticed a big line of people outside a large tent.Someone stopped and told us that they were waiting for food."Its free food," he said "Go and get some".So we did.We joined the queue and one old woman in particular took on the role of looking after us.She made sure we were right behind her and shouted at anyone who tried to cut in front of us.They were all so friendly.We eventually sat down and were presented with a banana leaf for a plate.We would have to eat with our hands.The guy in charge came round and laughed as he said to us "Now you have to eat with no knife and fork".We were served some rice, then 4 vegetable based Indian dishes.They were delicious.Along with the fresh trout we had in Bolivia it was the best meal we have had on the trip.I asked the guy in charge who pays for all of this and he told me that collect donations during the year.They serve 100,000 meals during 36 hours of the festival.Incredible!The last time I crashed a religious event I was 15 and went to Mass.It wasn't half as exciting as this and all they gave you to eat was a little wafer.This whole day was an unexpected treat.
We then flew to Thailand.When we landed in Krabi I felt that we had arrived somewhere special.Thailand had a nice pace about it.The people seemed relaxed and friendly and the place was beautiful.The owner of our hostel was welcoming if a little pushy.She saw my guitar and said "You play guitar, you must play at my bar".
"No thanks" I replied, "Im just learning"
"You must play.Everyone plays at my bar"
"You come to my bar tonight, you play one song"
"I havnt been able to play in public since a fan was crushed to death at one of my concerts in Ireland"
"Ok. Here is your room key"
There was a food market in Krabi that had terrific food.It was great to walk around it and smell the barbecued fish and soak up the atmosphere.
We took a boat the next day to Hat Ton Sai, a beautiful beach near Krabi.This place is a Mecca for Rock Climbers and you can immediately see why.Large cliffs shoot up from the water and along the clear golden beach.It was here I saw out my 33rd birthday.
I had been keen to do something special for my big day and I enjoyed Rock Climbing in New Zealand so much I decided to do a half day in Hat Ton Sai.So at 9.00 am I set off to do some climbing.I was with a very friendly group made up of Australians, Canadians and English.I was quick to tell them it was my birthday and get some sort of a commitment that they would join me for a drink later.We started our climbing amongst the most beautiful backdrop of palm trees and beach.I got to the top of about a 30 meter climb and paused for a bit looking around and wishing myself a very happy birthday.Afterwards I got a Thai Massage and enjoyed it immensely.They really work you.It's a deep tissue massage and they bend and manipulate you quite vigorously, cracking your back and joints.
When I got back Seonaid had a treat of a couple of beers and a homemade birthday card for me.We drank the beers and went out to meet my rent-a-party.I had a great nights craic at a beach bar, getting a few beers in and trying to walk on a tightrope.
We relaxed for a day before heading to Phi Phi.This is where the Leo Di Caprio film "The Beach" was filmed.The guide book said you will cry when you see it.The guide book should be thrown in the bin.Its certainly beautiful, but neither Seonaid nor I are beach people and the atmosphere here is like Ibiza.Its 24 hour party time and we arn't really here for that - Im 33 now for gods sake! We are getting the boat back to Krabi in about an hour and from there we will head across to the East Coast.