Tuesday, January 14, 2014

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Kerri and Shane's Wedding Website

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Thailand Two-Week Shuffle, Northern Malaysia

After we made our decision to leave Laos and head south, we woke up eager the next morning to bicycle across the Thailand-Laos friendship bridge and start heading south. Unfortunately for me, I woke up with an eyelid the was crusted shut and a case of the runs (not related). Apparently, one of my long, beautiful, eyelashes got caught in my eye while I was sleeping (long eyelashes and drooling are common Gillispie problems). I said, "don't worry Kerri, I am WFR certified, I know how to handle this one", so I ran in to the bathroom and stuck my head under the faucet.

Kerri's patience ran out after an hour and she suggested we go to a doctor. A doctor? Are you serious? That sounded a little crazy to me, after all we were in Laos, how good could their health care system be? Since I was desperate, I let her convince me that we could just go there and check it out and if it was as bad as we suspected, we could just run away.

I made the five minute walk to the hospital with one eye and we walked up to the first person we saw there, a security guard, and I pointed to my red, irritated eye. He nodded and ushered us over to another, beautiful, old, French-colonial building that said "Ophthalmology". Good sign. We entered the building looking for a reception desk, which we never found, so we just decided to walk around until somebody helped us or kicked us out. We finally made it to the second floor and stumbled in to a room with a doctor and a nurse. We all stood silently blinking at each other (me, with my one eye) for a few moments before they sat me down in front of some nice, new looking equipment for examining eyeballs. The doctor deftly flipped my eyelid inside out and searched for the foreign object. She didn't find it, I think I got it with my hour of flushing, but she was concerned by the irritation and misdiagnosed it as conjunctivitis. Fair enough, I couldn't explain to her that I had been poking at it all morning. Once she put my eyelid back where it belonged they sent us on our way. No questions, no bills, no hassles, definitely the best hospital visit I have experienced.

The next day, we managed to wake up and leave Laos, ride the 30 kilometers to the bridge to Thailand and ride our bikes across the border. Once we arrived in Thailand, we were granted a fifteen-day visa, and since we had seen a lot of the north already, we decided to catch a bust to Bangkok and continue south from there. The twelve hour bus ride reminded us all over again why we like traveling by bikes, so we were excited when we finally got out of Bangkok the next day and continued cycling to the south. On our short bus ride to get out of Bangkok, we struck up conversation with two American girls. After a few minutes of conversing, we figured out we were both from the bay area and finally after another ten minutes, one of the girls heard us talking about our friend named Ramsey and asked if it was the same Ramsey that was friends with their friend Chris Geist. In fact, it is the same Ramsey and we are also friends with Chris as well. We figured out eventually that the girls had heard of Chris' two friends (us) traveling through Thailand and he was going to get them in touch with us. Small world.

After getting out of Bangkok, we jumped off the bus with our bikes and started riding. The main road south from Thailand, however, was an unwelcome surprise after we had adjusted to riding the quiet, nearly deserted roads of northern Laos, so we alternated riding and taking buses until we made it to the town of Surat Thani in southern Thailand.

We found Surat Thani to be a very underrated town in a country full of overrated tourist ghettos. We stayed one night there and found a very lively night market where we ate local specialties such as muslim curried chicken with rice, sweet sticky rice cooked in bamboo, seafood pad thai, and various bite-size rice pancakes with different sweet and savoury fillings.

The next day we woke up early to tackle the 130 kilometers out to Khao Sok National Park. The first ten kilometers weren't exceptional, but after that, we found ourselves riding on one of the most beautiful, memorable rides of our trip. The landscape was completely different from northern Thailand and Laos, with large, limestone karst formations sticking out of lush, jungle vegetation. The ride had the perfect amount of rolling hills to keep you interested and the air was sticky and hot. Very different from anything we had experienced up to this point.

We arrived in Khao Sok in the evening and settled in to a quiet bamboo bungalow in a jungle setting. Our first order of business was to sit on our candle-lit patio for cocktail hour, while listening to sounds of the jungle at night. Always a great way to end a ride.

We stayed in Khao Sok for two days hiking in the rain forest, where Kerri made me go in front and scare all the snakes off the trail. We only had a few close calls, and I'm not sure that the old saying about the snake being more afraid than you is true, you should have heard Kerri's yelps. We celebrated my birthday by playing in a waterfall that we had completely to ourselves in the middle of one of the oldest rain forests in the world. Jealous?

From Khoa Sok, we followed to road west and then turned south towards Phan Nga. The ride was beautiful rolling jungle landscape again and the weather was even hotter. We had to take cover around three in the afternoon as it poured rain for about 20 minutes. This is the first rain we had seen in two months, and it has rained every day since then.

From Phan Nga, we made the 95 kilometers to Krabi town and we had to ride the last 20 kilometers in the rain. On top of that, my front derailer cable broke and we threw away Kerri's annoying front mud flap the day before, which it turns out is very essential to keeping muddy water out of your face while you ride. Oh yeah, I also had a loose bottom bracket. Boo hoo. Still jealous? After working on the bikes the next day (surprise bonus insert for those reading this far: the first person who can tell me from the pictures how I fixed Kerri's front mudflap wins a very special prize), we rode out of the city to explore a wat (temple) with a Buddha statue 600 meters (1200 stairs) on top of one of the limestone spires. We managed to make it to the top just after sunset and were rewarded with breathtaking views over Krabi province and the ocean beyond.

The next day, we decided to take our chances and visit one of the more touristy locations in Thailand. Tourist locations are touristy for a reason, but this location also has world class rock climbing, which happens to be right over some of the most beautiful beaches and warm emerald water. We rode from Krabi to Ao Nang, where we threw the bikes in a long tail boat and caught a ride out to Ton Sai, a rock climber haven near the world famous Railay beach.

Before arriving in Ton Sai, we had our expectations beat down by various reviews, so we were thrilled when we found the agreeable atmosphere, cheap bungalows, BBQ chicken with sticky rice, and beautiful scenery, not to mention the constant climbing show visible from the beach. After one of our yoga sessions, led by our new Austrian best friends Susie and Charley, I stood on the beach for a half hour with my neck craned watching six separate climbers leading various routes up cliffs right over the beach.

Kerri and I stayed for three days, climbing, relaxing, looking at other people's six packs (you would understand if you had been there), and getting our asses kicked by Thai masseuses (thanks for the birthday present, Kerri). We managed to climb for two full days and Kerri even led one of the routes while I was on belay! It was awesome. There's nothing quite as exciting looking down while swinging from a top rope 100 feet above your 110 pound girlfriend who is belaying you. I think I'm hooked.

We managed finally to leave Ton Sai on the morning of the day our visas expired so we caught a bus to Hat Yai in southern Thailand and then a tuk tuk to the border. We read some travel warnings about southern Thailand separatist movements, but after talking to a few locals and other tourists, we decided we were okay passing through, and we actually felt very safe while we were there. The people couldn't have been friendlier. Tourism in the area has taken a big hit, and it seems the locals are trying to revive it.

Once we crossed out of Thailand for the last time, we hopped on the bikes and rode to the Malaysian side, where the border guard proceeded to laugh at us as we pulled into the scooter lane and handed him our documents. We were shuffled through in about 3 minutes and just when we thought we were in the clear, a border guard waved us down. As soon as we pulled up, the biggest smile erupted on his face and he asked us questions about our bikes and our bike trip in excellent English before sending us on our way with a few hotel recommendations.

We were welcomed to Malaysia by a huge, post-thunderstorm, rainbow across the sky as we rode the 10 kilometers down the highway to our hotel. After two more days of riding, and one night in Alor Star, we made it the 150 kilometers to George Town, AKA Penang. This is a beautiful city with one of the more unique histories and mixtures of cultures we have seen. Originally taken as a British outpost for the East India Company back in the 1700's, it become a commercial center and attracted a wide variety of entrepreneurs, mainly from southern India, China, Thailand, as well as the Europeans. The city has a rich history that is still evident in the people on the streets. We have also been enjoying the delicious, cheap, Indian food! A welcome change from bowl after bowl of noodle soup for the last few months.

The Malaysian people have been incredibly nice and welcoming and we have been really impressed by how well they speak English. We have had several people take it upon themselves to personally welcome us to their country.

We put in our application today for a two month visa for Indonesia, since we keep hearing such amazing things about it. It has over 17,000 islands and we just didn't think a one month visa would do.

After 189 days on this trip (and 3,000 kilometers on bikes) we are still loving life and enjoying ourselves. We are trying hard to realize now how unique this experience is and take advantage of it now, especially since we only have 43 days left on this side of the world.

Here are the latest pictures:
Thailand and Malaysia