A Travellerspoint blog

For Ana

semi-overcast 23 °C
View SE ASIA on J kerouac's travel map.

THE BETA:
Before I get into any stories...My dad has signed me up with SKYPE, an online telephone service that makes calling internationally very cheap (although its only possible when I have high speed interned access). Not only can i make outgoing calls but you can call me and leave a voicemail that I can check when I get to a computer. Id love to hear your voices and an update on how youre doing. The downside is that the combination of the time difference (16 hours) and my infrequent access to internet means I may not be able to call you back right away. That being said, the number is 916-273-9531 and the call will cost as much as dialling any other sacramento number.

THE UPDATE:
I am now in Kuala Lumpur, home of the Petronas towers, the National Mosque, and the best indian and chinese food ive ever had. KL is also
the most western city ive been to yet. My hostel has an elavator, solid albeit thin walls and a roof as well as internet access (which im using gratuitously) and laundry service! The city is actually much like LA. That is, if you imagine LA as humid, dirty (well, dirtier), with a MUCH more confusing infrastructure and populated exclusively by chinese, indians and islamic malaysians. Thats KL. Like LA there are some impressive buildings but no defined downtown, the city basically spralls into the surrounding jungle.

Keeping the LA analogy going, I went to the Santa Monica Bl. of KL a few nights ago. Bangsu Baru is filled with a multiplicity of Starbucks (a cup of coffe and a scone were the same price as in the US...the equavalent to two nights accomodation!) expensive restauraunts, clubs and hip kids. Thats about as far as the comparison goes beacuse the clubs were mostly empty as its almost payday so everyones broke...oh and theres no openly gay population as homosexuality is a crime (punnashible by whipping according to my travel guide). So thats pretty different than santa monica...or is it?

Lest you believe I may as well be back in California, Ive also seen a bit of the fringes of society in the nation's capitol. But first, here is a bit of background info on how I got to the fringe:

10 Days ago I was looking for the trailhead to a day hike in Cameron Highlands. To get there I took a small side street off the main throughfare which wound its way uphill in a generally deteriorating manner so that by the time I reached the end of the road it was less of a road than a crumbling swath of asfault admist an encroaching jungle. Atop the road was a group of small bamboo homes with corrugated tin roofs and people whose teeth made the aforementioned road look like a dentists wet dream. Orthodontics aside, the people were quite friendly and pointed me to the path leading through their village and onto the trail. After my hike I discovered that the location of the trailhead was actually in an Orang Alsi (the indigineous Malaysian people) village.

Fast foreward two days and you will find me poking around a gift shop in the touristy town of Tana Rata when I see some very nice Orang Asli wooden carvings with heafty pricetags (1000 USD and up). Although the carvings were well out of my price range they were rank with the smell of adventure. I decided to do a bit of research.

As it turns out, Orang Alsi is actually the name of all the indigenous people in Malaysia of which there are several subgroups and many tribes. The tribe responcible for the votive figures and masks I saw in Tana Rata were the Mah Meri (a tribe which lives on an island off the coast of Selangor). Additionally, it turns out that several western and Malaysian "middle men" have purchased the figures at extortionist rates and sold them at huge profits online and in big cities. Due to the exploitative work of previous "middle men", Mah Meri artisans are unable to leave jobs as fisherman to focus on carving. The unsustainable nature of the carving has led to fewer and fewer young people who are interested in the work.

So its my idea to find this tribe with the intention of purchasing the figures at a fair price which should still nab me a fair sum. There were just a few problems for this would-be Indiana Jones.

1) The Mah Meri dont speak english or Malaysian, but a Mon-Khymer dialect...my Khymer is a bit rusty.
2) They have had bad experiences with "middle men" before.
3) Althought they are a sedintary tribe, they do not live anywhere near the only road that runs through the island.
4) They hunt monkey with blowdarts (this isnt so much a problem as a great bit of trivia that paints a wonderfull picture of me runing away from angry villagers amidst a hale of poision darts). Indeeee!!!!!!!

So, to solve problems one through three and to try and avoid number four, I got ahold of a graphic design teacher named Ra-tah who specalizes in tribal art. After a bit of a vetting process she has agreed to give me a proper introduction to the Mah Meri and has even arranged for a bit of floor space and a mat for me to use as a bed while Im with the tribe.

So back to the aforementioned fringes of KL. As part of the vetting process (to make sure that I wont damage her hard won reputation among the village) Ra-tah took me to a squatters settlement of Orang Alsi on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. It was there that I got to meet a few artisans from a village in Perak (the villagers had come to KL to deliver some woven baskets and bangels that Ra-tah will attempt to sell). As the Orang Asli in the squatters setelment had spent more time in cities they were less likely to take offense to any bad behavior I might exhibit. My interaction with them served as a litmus test for Ra-tah to determine if I was worth introducing to the Mah Meri. Naturally, I found out about the test post hock.

I leave for the Mah Meri village by bus on tuesday afternoon, then we will be picked up by some some vilagers on motorcycle for the final leg of the journey. Then ill get introduced and left with the villagers; what happens after that is a bit of a mystery...
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Some random thoughts, anecdotes and bits of mental detritus

I have thrown out my anti-bacterial hand sanitizer and given away a third of the clothes i brought.

Recently I learned that frog legs are quite tasty. They are more savory AND more tender than chicken. The only down side is the leg bones you have to eat around. Those all natural toothpicks have the nagging propensity of reminding me that 10 minuts ago dinner was happily hopping around in an aquarium, quite oblivious to the impending doom. Ribbit.

Ive had "travelers stomach" once on this trip. After eating at street vendors for two weeks, drinking beverages with ice, and totally ignoring the time tested and doctor reccomended addage "peel it, boil it or forget it" I decided that I deserved a meal that cost more than three dollars. Conviently enough I had a lay over in the tourist resort of Ao Nang (this was back in Thailand). So, its steak for dinner with a side of mashed potatoes and the shits for a week. Irony?

So until tuesday i get to take in the sites and indulgie myself with the perks of the big city. And my favorite perk might just be hot water. When you averge one hot shower every 3 weeks those hot showers become really special occasions. So special infact, that the only suitable comparisons for the amount of pleasure they bring would be completly innapropriate to discuss given the mixed company reading this blog. Suffice it to say, hot water is absolutly amazing.

As always theres loads more to tell but its late so it will have to wait until the next chapter.

Hope you all are well!

Love,

M

Posted by J kerouac 09:19 Archived in Malaysia Comments (2)

CNY

sunny 39 °C
View SE ASIA on J kerouac's travel map.

I didnt expect so many Malays to be traveling on Chinese New Year so, since the buses are all full for Cameroon Highlands (my next stop) ill take some time to update you. As you might have guessed im in Malaysia, but getting here was a bit of an adventure.

Four days ago the rapidly approaching expiration date of my Thai visa necisitated a hasty retreat across the Malaysian border but i really didnt want to fly back to bangkok just to fly across the border so against the advise of the US gov. the thais in northern thailand and my father i decided to continue traveling overland through the south (in case you didnt know there have been some bombings and general unrest in the primarially islamic south). But to make the journy quicker I did opt to take a van agganged by a "travel agent" catering primariallly to tourists rather than taking the boat from Ton Sai to Ao Nang then taking the bus to Krabi to buy a ticket for a public bus to the border. (If it takes that long to explain the "local" option imagine how long it would take to actually do it!)

Anyways, i get on the van headed south with 3 thais, one of whom is sweating profusely and 6 tourists. All is well until we are about 20 kilometers from Hat Yai (100 KM from the border and 250 KM from our destination in Malaysia) when 4th gear on the van blows. Our non-english speaking driver makes a quick apprasial of the situation and seems to deem it safe to continue because he hops back in and keeps driving. So its with an engine racing in 3rd gear and the driver on his cell phone that we pull into Hat Yai. There he drops off each of us at different tourist agents around the downtown area for our "connecting transport." I was the last tourist to be dropped off and not a moment to soon as the sweaty thai had started vomiting profusely into a plastic bag (no worries, i dont have any sypmtoms). So the driver pulls up to another travel angent and seems to tell me that this agent will be taking me the rest of the way as the van is broke. He then jumps in the van a speeds off. Well, that sick feeling i got wasnt some south east asian flu as the people at the travel agency hadnt been informed of any of this. Effectively we had been seperated and ditched half way to our destination!

Since I wasnt sure that the second travel agent wasnt in on the scheme i refuesd to buy a connecting ticket there and went looking for another agent. The cops walking around checking the bottoms of cars with mirrors on sticks convinced me not to do too much shopping around and I bought the first ticket south I could find. Again I was on a van which got us safely across the border, through customs (my visa for malaysia reminds me in bold red letters that drug trafficing is punishable by death...quite a change from Ton Sai where hash was abundant albeit illegal)and 100 km south of the border when we hit something in the road and a giant cloud of smoke errupts from the hood of the van. We pull over and a 5 min check of the van by the driver (in the dark) seems to suggest that its safe to drive becase pretty soon were driving again, 40 min later we arrive in Penang 3 hours late and trailing a plume of burnt motor oil. So who wants to come visit me?

Although geting here was a bit of a hasstle, Malaysia has been great! Really, it has. The people generally speak much more english than Thais and are very friendly. Penang (my current location) is an island on the west coast of malaysia and east of sumatra and is the 2nd largest city in Malaysia with a diverse population of chinese, indians, and ethnic malays.

Since being here ive rented a scooter (Paul, these things rock but get a bit loose at around 110 kmh and tend to fish tail in the rain...yeah, we got caught at night in a thunderstorm while we were lost) and have been crusin around the island and sidestreets of Georgetown while trying to bob and weave through traffic like the locals (i think im gettin pretty good and am absolutly amazed at their off road capabilities; the shoulder and median become extra lanes when traffic gets heavy while the "lanes" themselves are meerly suggestions).

Tomorrow were off the tea fields of Cameroon Highlands to unwind from exploring the city for 4 days. Hoping you all are well,

M

Posted by J kerouac 21:04 Archived in Malaysia Comments (1)

Ton Sai is

sunny 32 °C
View SE ASIA on J kerouac's travel map.

Ton Sai is a penisula on the south east coast of Thailand that is seperated from the city of Ao Nang by the dramatic limestone cliffs that make this a climbers mecca and is only accessable by longtail boat. For better or worse Ton Sai is populated almost exclusively by climbers from around the world creating an interesting cultural, albeit not a thai cultural, experience.

ive settled into an enviable routine that makes it hard to leave. i wake up around 7 as the sun comes streaming in through the windows of my dusty little bungalo and watch the mosquito net dancing in the breeze for an hour or so as i wonder why all the Thais are clearing their throats and spitting in the mornings. yeah, the bungalos arent so much houses as 4 woven bamboo walls with a lean-to roof perched on stilts to keep the floor (wooden planks) dry in the rainy season so you can hear everything that happens in the adjacent bungalos and the surrounding jungle. at 7:55 i jump out of bed (bed is just a matress that despite being 2.8 inches thick manages to be extrodornarilly lumpy...yes i measured) telling myself that tomorrow i will leave more time to pack my gear before meeting for a bit of b-fast at 8.

some eggs or fresh fruit, a bit of BBC news and a conversation about where to climb takes an hour or so, then its off to the crag. ive worked my way up to being able to climb 3 days on with one rest day and have bagged two multi-pitch climbs even leading some of the pitches("humanality" and "big wave" for those who want to see if Google has anything to say about 'em). after a few climbs its lunch and then maybe one or two more routes. after climbing comes the much needed cold shower where the soap reminds me of every single cut, scrape, and laceration...(with the sharp limestone there are many) then mabe a massage (6 bucks for 60 min.) and dinner on the beach and in bed by 11.

thoughts and anecdotes:

deep water soloing is scarry as hell...at on point I had a great kneebar on a stalagtite 10m over the water and was shaking out when an orange jelly with a two foot bell floated under my fall line...suddenly the knee bar didnt feel so solid.

one of my climbing partners is a bit nuts...i got a video of him free soloing a 25 meter 6a...luckilly hes a pretty good climber and has been teaching me some of the finer points of multi-pitch climbing.

i think im headed south to Malaysia on the 14th (my visa ends the 16th) which will be a sea change from Ton Sai. it will be the first muslim cuntry i travel to...should be interesting.

until next time...

Posted by J kerouac 05:12 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

2 weeks

sunny 31 °C
View SE ASIA on J kerouac's travel map.

wow...seems like way too much has happend for it all to have fit into two weeks. after the last update i spent the next couple of nites at Sa's grandmothers place with Sa and her mom. It was an awesome way to get off the backpacker circuit in BK and see a bit of real thai life. I was definatly the only farang in the neighboorhood and was pretty quickly welcomed by a few of the neighbors after a Wai (bow) and my poor approximation of hello (Sa Wa Di Krap)...damn tonal languages.

Sa and her mom both seem to have an overactive thyroid gland and couldent stop moving so the next few days were pretty long. That being said they were also awesome...I got to participate in a few Budhist Rituals that Sa's mom insisted Sa attend (its the year of the Pig this year...Sa's a pig), checked out the nightclub scene in Patpong (both the red light district and location of the best nightclubs in town. I only partook of the nightclubs...honestly Dad, only the night clubs) and went bowling in a mall thats nicer than any in LA or SF.

After BK Sa and I headed to Khao Sok (there are a few pictures up) for 3 days of hiking to waterfalls in the national park (jungle) and hunting for elephants (i was on their trail but alas, they elluded me)

After Khao Sok we headed for Krabi and Ton Sai beach. Talk about a climbing mecca. The beach is on a peninsula and is only accessable by longtail boat and there are 400+ single and multi pitch sport routes on limestone cliffs overlooking the ocean. The beach is also peopled by the most chill croud of travelers ive encountered so far. Not a place to go for real thai culture but an awesome mix of thai and climber attitudes.

The sweet smell of fried rice and local hashish float down the beach in the evening on the off shore breese. There are campus boards strapped to palm trees which are connected by the occasional slackline or hammock and a permanent mix or house, reggae, or thai music playing from the bars.

My bungalo has woven bamboo walls, a corregated alluminum roof, and electricity from 5 pm to 8 am (besides the position of the sun and the tide, whether the lights are on is currently my only indication of the time). Sadly this is the last truly hippy/budget/vagabond season at Ton Sai as they will be starting to replace the old school bungalows with fancy new ones next year. This in turn is likely to bring tourists with rolling luggage rather than backpacks/rope bags which in turn will bring the pushy hawkers and drive out the local small businesses. So if u wanna come out, now is the time.

Today Sa heads back to BK and then on to Singapore and im on my own again. Ive already booked my next two weeks here (87 dollars) after which time ill either need to make a border run to get a new visa or move on to another country.

Whats new with you all?

Posted by J kerouac 00:59 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

One night in bangkok

33 °C

ok so its been a couple nights...whatever. my flight arrived late and by the time i got through customs it was 1245 am Bangkok time (1045 am the day before in ca). i discovered that my hotel was close to the old airport which was a hell of a long way from the new airport and the rest of the city so i took a cab into Kho San, the infamous backpacker ghetto. as i arrived around 130 the streets were naturally filled with farang (whites) hookers, stray dogs and make shift bars. After a little asking around I found a nice and seedy guest house for 260 bhat (6 dollars and change) where i got a cleanish room, bare lightbulb, and a shared bathroom that is flushed by pouring water down the drain from a bucket next to the toilet...and no, the tp dosent go down the drain (thats wat the garbage is for)

since then i moved to a less seedy neighborhood that is also a wee bit cheaper but still riddled with farang (lots of farang = lots of obnoxious hawkers and tuk-tuk drivers. a tuk tuk is a colorfull motor-trike with a bench in the back)

well ive seen my fill of wats (temples) for the first few days and ive also been to a couple of bazars wich are really cool and a great place to get anything from stolen diesel jeans and addidas knockoffs to pet flying squirrls (they didnt look very happy to be tied up) and roosters to electronics. hopefully i didnt catch avian flu...i tried to eat lunch at least 100 feet from any live animals...i guess we'll see.

hmm what else...the food is great and my stomach seems to be a steel trap as ive been testing it with increasingly questionable yet paradoxically increasingly tasty foods. ive had ice, unpeeled fruit, and street vendor food...so far the only thing i havent been willing to try is the local H20 (usually serverd out of a dirty bucket by the street vendors for free).

as for tonite ill be staying at Sa's grandmas house which will be a welcome change from Banlangphu. PS robert: Sa is great...thanks for the intro.

well theres tons more to say but it will have to wait,

love you all

m

Posted by J kerouac 01:32 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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