Now that I’m back in Australia, I feel justified in using that horrifically clichéd greeting. I hope you enjoyed it.
So when I last left you, I was a few hours away from boarding a plane from London back to South East Asia. I absolutely loved virtually everything about my seven weeks there, but the two things I didn’t love – the prices and the rapidly approaching winter – were what ultimately had me taking that flight to Kuala Lumpur. As there seems to currently be at least a foot of snow in most of Western Europe, I don’t think it was such a bad call.
Make yourself comfortable, here’s the highlights of the final six weeks of this round the world adventure.
Week 19: Malaysia
After a couple of fairly forgettable days in Kuala Lumpur recovering from jetlag and getting my fill of oversize shopping malls and even more oversized towers, I boarded a bus to Malacca in the south of the country. The next several days were wonderful – a beautiful old heritage town with great food and friendly people. The friendliest of all were Kent and Monica, the owners of the guesthouse that I randomly stumbled across. I gave a full account of this chance encounter at the time, so feel free to read more about it there.
Beautiful sunsets, historic buildings, fantastic dining and two new people who became friends rather than just passing acquaintances. Another awesome week of travel, plain and simple.
Week 20: Malaysia
After reluctantly getting back on the bus and spending most of the day making my way up to Penang in the north, I quickly found myself in foodie heaven. I had intentions of spending a couple of nights in Langkawi while I was up in that part of Malaysia, but the much cheaper accommodation and mind-blowing hawker (street) food meant that it was always going to be a tough decision to leave Georgetown. Meeting a few other travel bloggers sealed that deal – most of the week was spent talking shop, eating awesome Indian food and drinking expensive (by Asian standards) beer. The handy takeaway hint from my time in Penang – the local Jaz beer tastes pretty decent when served in an ice cold bottle, and surprisingly similar to bat piss when served in a can regardless of the temperature. Just putting it out there.
In between putting on 200 pounds and conducting an unscientific experiment to discover the cheapest place to buy booze in Georgetown (nowhere), I did find time to explore the city and surroundings. There was beach time (sandy and hot), historic buildings time (old and hot) and walking around the botanic gardens in the rain time (green and wet.) Don’t let it ever be said that I don’t provide all the travel insights you’ll ever need on this blog.
Week 21: Malaysia / Palawan
Near the end of my time in Penang a good mate of mine turned up who also happened to be passing through, so we made a concerted effort to empty the guesthouse fridge of cold cans of Tiger on several occasions. I suspect that we may have succeeded on the last night, but oddly I can’t quite remember…
After enduring the subsequent hangover, not to mention an equally unpleasant series of buses, planes and minivans to get from Penang to Coron in the Palawan area of the Philippines, it was very nice to just be able to sit back and chill out for a couple of days. So that’s pretty much what I did, other than booking in for a day’s diving in the area. I was so pleased that I made that choice – despite not actually being formally qualified to dive on wrecks or to 30m, the dive master was happy for me to do both of those things. Strangely enough, so was I. The water was gloriously warm, the wreck diving was totally fascinating and the last dive of the day in Barracuda Lake was out of this world. An added bonus was that it then rained so hard for the rest of the day and night that I felt like my time underwater actually lasted about 24 hours.
The real reason that I was in Coron, however, wasn’t to dive. It was to go on a five day ‘remote island expedition’ with Tao Philippines, a company that had been on my radar since I happened to see a review in the travel section of a Melbourne newspaper a year earlier. Preparation consisted of a very-brief briefing the night before and a few beers with some of the guys who would also be on the trip – perfect. The next morning we all met at the Tao office (well actually, only some of us did – those whose flight arrived late or who got the day wrong joined up with us a bit later…) and then headed off into the clear blue ocean. More about that below…
Week 22: Palawan
I spent an entire blog post raving about how utterly mind-blowing my trip with Tao was. If you have been religiously reading my articles for the last few months (that’s everyone, right? Right?) then you’ll already know all about it. If not, feel free to go and check it out now. I’ll wait.
Ok, so now you know. It was some of the most amazing few days of my life. If you’re happy roughing it a bit in order to see a part of the world that is about as unspoiled as it gets and experience a way of life that most people barely know exists, just go and book your ticket now. It’s that good. And sadly I don’t even get a commission for saying so.
Once the trip was over – much to my disappointment – I spent the next few days in El Nido. It was a much prettier town than Coron, with limestone cliffs rising up at the edge of town and beachfront accommodation for about twenty bucks. There wasn’t a great deal to do there, mind you – most of the attractions in Palawan centre around the water rather than the land – but that was just fine with me.
Week 23: Palawan / Chiang Mai
My last few days in the Philippines were spent in Puerto Princesa, the main town of the Palawan region. It felt much more like a city than anywhere else in the area and wasn’t particularly exciting to be honest – the inclement weather probably didn’t help much, and neither did the ragingly infected knee that I’d picked up from one of the numerous cuts and scrapes I’d received on the boat trip. At least it was easy to get hold of the medication I needed – no pesky ‘prescription only’ requirements in this part of the world! Ten minutes and twenty bucks later I had all of the necessary supplies and after a week or two it had cleared up nicely. Kinda pleased about that – I’ve heard one too many stories about amputations after nasty tropical infections for my liking.
The highlight of my time there was a day trip to Sabang for some boating along an underground river, reputedly the longest such navigable stretch of water in the world. Although the tour out there was over-priced (I’d go it alone next time and spend a couple of nights in Sabang), the river and cave system were pretty amazing and well worth going to. The huge monitor lizard that sauntered across the path on my way back to the boat was rather awesome as well, as was the drunken night that I had with my hostel-mates when we all got rained in that evening.
And so onwards to the final destination on this amazing six month adventure – Chiang Mai. After the chilled out time that I’d had and great people that I’d met last time, going back there was always on the cards – when I found out that so many more awesome bloggers and other ex-pats had joined in the fun since then, there wasn’t really a decision to be made.
Week 24: Chiang Mai
The last week of this trip was wonderful – the perfect way to finish things off despite my trepidations about it coming to an end. There was an impromptu blogger’s road trip to Chiang Rai and Mae Sot. There was Loy Krathong, an incredible lantern festival that I was sad to only see the first day of, but happy that I’d even seen that at all. I ate fried crickets, and silkworm larvae, and a mountain of incredible street food that cost less than a dollar night after night. I even did a cooking course in the vain hope of being able to recreate dishes half as good for ten times the cost.
More important than any of that, though, was just spending quality time with a bunch of wonderful like-minded people. I listed many of them in my last post so won’t do it again here, but I really can’t begin to describe just how awesome it was to surround myself with people that inspire me by what they are doing every day. Being around people that think the same way that I do about the things that matter the most to me in the world is one hell of a motivator.
Sadly though, my time in Chiang Mai came to an end all too soon, and with it this particular round the world trip. I flew back into Melbourne after a long day and night in transit, and have spent the last couple of weeks starting to put into action several of the plans that I’d come up with over the last six months. The transition hasn’t been too bad yet, but that’s mostly because I’ve been hanging out in the sunshine drinking with friends. The location has changed, but that’s about it. Post-Xmas when I have to start thinking more seriously about a job – well, that’s a different story.
So what does this mean for this site? To be honest, not much will change. I have such a backlog of stories to tell that they should just about last me until my next big trip, whenever that may be, and with better internet connections and more time to focus things should only get better over the next few months. That’s certainly my plan, anyway – be sure to chime in in the comments if you disagree! Also just because I’m now based back in one country for a while doesn’t mean that I’m going to stop travelling – in fact I’m off on a road trip to South Australia in a couple of days, and there’ll be more where that comes from.
Thanks for the memories everyone. Now it’s time to start planning what that next trip is going to look like. I’ve got a few ideas already…