Treasure Island: Nusa Penida

Lacy: After a full day on what we have affectionately begun to refer to as the “club foot” or “clubby” (due to the swelling caused by Rob’s healing broken leg) a relaxing day on Nusa Penida island was in order. Many tourists travel the short distance to this island on a one or two day excursion from Bali, see the highlights and leave. Rob and I prefer to travel differently, to take the time to really soak in a place and not rush through doing the “Chevy Chase” at each major location. Currently, with the limitations of club foot we are alternating days exploring with those spent face down on a massage table or lounging on the beach. Believe me, no one is complaining. After finishing our preferred breakfast of fruit and Balinese coffee seaside at our place we strolled through the sand to another beachfront location where even stronger coffee and dragonfruit smoothies were had.

We haven’t seen any cockfighting in person, but were certainly aware of its prolific presence here last year. This matchbook reminded us.

Several hours of hanging out, enjoying our beverages and playing cards left us wondering what to do next. We decided to check out Avocado massage just a short distance down the road on the Scoopy we are renting for the equivalent of $5.50 per day. What a great decision. For $17 each we had a 2 hour experience on the sea complete with Balinese long stroke massages, body scrubs and avocado body masks. So incredibly relaxing to feel the breeze and hear the waves during it all. I make avocado hair and face masks at home and Rob finally tried one here on Nusa Penida. Probably better that way anyway! It was after 2 by the time we finished our spa at the sea and we were starving. Having eaten at the places on the beach for convenience the past few nights we were dying to eat in the local area and consume spicier and more authentic meals. We noted a Masakan Padang warung earlier and were heading straight there to fill our bellies. Masakan Padang is a style of Indonesian food specific to West Sumatra island, but revered all over.

Zipping along on the Scoopy

Perfection 💙 I have a photo of Rob laying on this massage table covered in an avocado mask, but he didn’t want to share that one 😉

Youn dishing out Sumatran delicacies at the Masakan Padang warung. The food was so good and his conversation so lovely we ate there two nights in a row.

As you all know we have the infamous Giz on all of our travels. He came into our lives almost 5 years ago as a prize at the Texas State Fair and what a prize he is. He entered our hearts and became part of our tiny family. That afternoon, I noticed a couple on the beach in front of our room taking photos with a little bear. When they saw me watching, Lopa was quick to tell me that Chhutkulu is her son. I knew right then and there we needed to talk. Yes, I’m crazy with Gizmo, but if you can’t be a little nuts in life than what fun is living?! Chhutkulu and Giz became instant friends. When I went back into our bungalow Rob said he could hear Lopa and I giggling away like little girls and I excitedly recounted how Giz and I made new friends. Still being pretty full, but not wanting to miss an opportunity to eat another delicious meal we hopped on the Scoopy and shared a plate of Babi Guling for dinner. Babi Guling is a suckling pig dish that you won’t find in most of Indonesia as the country is predominately Muslim. It is very common on Balinese islands and one of Rob’s absolute favorite. Curled up with our books and listening to the waves in bed, we slept peacefully that night stuffed with Indonesian delicacies and knowing we had just extended our stay on the island for another three nights.

Chhutkulu and Gizmo

Having rested yesterday, today was all about seeing a new part of the island. We requested our fruit and coffee early, packed our backpack and set off Southeast. I had already told Rob I wanted to stop at a streetside location for another cup of coffee on the way so we were keeping our eyes peeled. Our first stop didn’t yield coffee, but the result was even better! I watched the woman at the stall grind spices and other items with her mortar and pestal, add a few unknown items and then package it before handing it to someone who rode off on their scooter. I had no idea what she was making, but I wanted it! In Indonesian, I asked what she made and she responded Gado Gado. I knew I had heard of this dish, but couldn’t remember exactly what it is, but nonetheless I said I would take one anyway. I make it my business to not know what I am eating at least half the time. We communicated in Indonesian and when the conversation became too advanced for me we switched to broken English. I love learning the language when we travel and thankfully Bahasa (the common language among the 17,000 islands and thousands of dialects in this country) came back to me quickly from what I had learned last year. I grabbed our freshly prepared package that cost less than $1 with a massive smile and got back on the Scoopy. A few minutes later it started to rain and we ducked under the awning of a shop on the side of the road. Waiting out the rain, we got coffee (.35 cent each) which tasted even better accompanied by the mouthwatering Gado Gado.

Fresh made Gado Gado

Second breakfast of Kopi and Gado Gado

The perfect balance of peanut sauce, spice, rice and vegetables that made Rob’s eyes sparkle. We looked it up and the dish is vegetarian with rice or potatoes and cabbage, beans or other vegetables in a spicy peanut sauce. Our impromptu second breakfast ended just as the rain ceased and we continued our journey to Angel’s Billabong and Broken Beach. We were warned that the road to these two side by side destinations was bad, but you never know just how bad until you’re experiencing it yourself. There was a bit of paved road until the turn off where you could choose to go to Crystal Bay or Billabong and then it was 40+ minutes of rough riding on an unpaved path that was sometimes gravel. Other times sand. All the time bumpy. Rob said his nuts were black and blue from the road. There were several times he asked me to get off the bike so he could make a certain stretch without the extra weight and I walked up to meet him. There were even more times that I voluntarily got off because I was nervous. We have had a few incidents on motorcycles and while I love being on the bike I also love being unharmed. We finally made it to the billabong and could not have been happier to get off the bike.

Even with the state of the roads we were all smiles

Rob is covering a portion of the road without me

As we walked towards the Billabong from the parking area there weren’t many people, but within 15 minutes the crowds started pouring in. This is, after all, one of the islands highlights. We hate scenes like this where people pile in and all try to take a photo of the same thing. Thankfully, we had a bit of privacy in the beginning because we had never seen anything like this billabong before. It’s a natural infinity pool that fills up at high tide and overlooks the Bali Sea. You climb down a few rocks at low tide and can swim in it. Nature’s beauty can astound you. This was no exception. The rocks were too uneven for Rob to tackle at this stage so he stayed above and tried to take some photos of me as I enjoyed a swim. The water was so warm. I swam as I watched other tourists pile in, none of which enjoyed a swim and all were concerned with the perfect photo. It killed me that Rob couldn’t climb down because he absolutely loves tide pools and the idea of him swimming in a massive one was all too perfect. Maybe next time.

Standing above Angel’s Billabong, a massive tide pool that forms a natural infinity pool over the Bali Sea

A five minute walk from the Billabong is Broken Beach which is a gorgeous scenic view, but not a place to swim since there is no access point. Looking down you see clear green and blue water lapping against a white sand beach. A natural land bridge with a hole in it allows the sea to access this strip of coast. Again, a very unique view. Nusa Penida island began receiving a greater number of tourists about 3 years ago and as of now the natural beauty seems to be intact. I desperately hope that the influx of people does not harm its natural treasures.

Broken Beach

The coastline where Angel’s Billabong and Broken Beach are located is well known for manta rays. Many snorkeling tours come by here in the morning to swim with them.

Leaving Broken Beach and the Billabong we had to retrace our bumpy steps and then some. We wanted to spend the afternoon back at Crystal Bay. The route there was nearly an hour of terrible roads. Rob is amazing on the bike. The only other person I could trust on a bike like this is my dad and I don’t know if he would be crazy enough to try these roads. Especially not in shorts and sandals! By the time we got to Crystal Beach we had earned a beer! Snorkeling, swimming, lunch and lounging helped us pass the rest of the day. Between the sun, water and roads we slept hard that night.

As of this post we have extended our stay on Nusa Penida yet another night with plans to leave on Friday. Sleeping on the sea and jetting around on the Scoopy from one mesmerizing waterfront view to another is hard to walk away from.

A holy place tucked away by Broken Beach

Picking up where we left off in Indonesia

Rob (Daddie Gizmo):

To Indonesia

On our first flight. At the beginning of my second movie. It hit me. Our travels have begun again. After a longer Winter season than we anticipated due to my broken leg, we return again to our Modern Gypsy life that we love so dearly. There is another 10 hour plane after this 12 hour flight, a car taxi to a hotel near the port to rest, then a fast boat and finally a second taxi to our beach bungalow on Nusa Penida, an island in a group of 3 off the SE coast of Bali. We will start this year on a sandy beach before we continue back into snowy Himalayan mountains.

Lacy is asleep beside me on our Qatar Airways flight. She has carried both our backpacks and daypack (aka Gizmo’s chariot) all along the way so far. We hoped I’d be further along in my recovery when we booked our flights, but we will make it. Perhaps a little slower than normal at first while I’m still getting my legs under me, but there is so much to come. We finally bought a GoPro. It will film Lacy’s snorkels in Indonesia then get strapped to the handlebars of a Royal Enfield Motorcycle to journey through the highest roads in the Indian Himalayas and Kashmir. This is what we have sketched out thus far. Much appreciation to Hunter Mountain, Scribner’s Catskill Resort and the Glaser Family for making our white winter an amazing experience. Stay tuned. What comes next is guaranteed to be one hell-of-a-ride!

Lacy: Exiting the airport after 20+ hours on two flights, we were wrapped in the familiar balmy weather that is akin to South Bali nights. Midnight struck, ushering in my birthday, as we drove to our hotel for the evening. Hopping out of the cab and gathering our unusually light backpacks, the stars and moon seemed to shine exceptionally bright above us as they welcomed us back to Indonesia. The aromas of incense and flowers surrounding us made us feel as if we had come home. After a Bintang beer toast to a long voyage well done and a second birthday celebrated in Indonesia we were all too happy to lay flat in a bed to sleep.

Giz also loves the local beer, Bintang.

Having our internal clocks thrown off after crossing at least 12 different time zones from NY to Bali, we didn’t sleep more than 6 hours. By 7am we were showering and all too eager to feel the sunshine. We booked a hotel on the beach in Sanur as we planned to take a fast boat this morning to the neighboring island of Nusa Penida. As we walked from our room through the courtyard gardens of our hotel towards the restaurant on the beach our smiles became wider. Bali is just as lush and beautiful as we remembered. It feels remarkably comforting to be back here, surrounded by cempaka and hibiscus flowers, altars at every turn and the never ending smiles of locals. The continuous sound of the Bali Sea that would become the background to our lives for the upcoming days began as we exited the floral courtyard and approached the buffet on the beach. Piling our plates with Mie Goreng (fried noodles with vegetables) we were deeply satisfied as this is a favorite dish of ours that we have reflected on for the last 7 months since we left Asia. We requested the local sambal (spicy sauce that is added to nearly every dish here) since the one offered on buffet was the “tourist version.” We learned last year that in a touristy place or hotel the local sambal isn’t usually offered since most visitors don’t enjoy spicy food. We love the spice and this is why we typically eat at local joints and not the western restaurants. This morning, however, was divine. With Balinese sambal on the table we enjoyed breakfast and took in the local Sanur scene while discussing how good it feels to back here.

Nusa Penida is a 40 minute fast boat ride from South Bali. We wanted to visit here last year, but simply ran out of time with our Visa and decided to move on to Cambodia. Having spent 7 months in the Catskill Mountains I was itching to be back on the beach and the accommodation we booked does not disappoint. A simple wooden bungalow, one of 3 on the property, 25 feet from the beach at high tide. It sounds like the waves are in bed with us. This is exactly what we wanted – crystal clear water and sunrise views. We easily and naturally adjusted back to sun time when we arrived. Our neighboring rooster wakes up with us as the sun rises. You simply wouldn’t be experiencing Indonesia properly if you didn’t have a rooster nearby. We have named him Rocky. In the late afternoon, when the tide is low, the local kids swim in the sea in front of our room and we both enjoy hearing their laughter as we rest our sun tired bodies before dinner.

The view from our bungalow

We have taken it easy these first few days as Rob is still not up to long walks and hikes as of yet. The day we arrived on Nusa we lounged on the beach in front of our bungalow enjoying cold beers, the magnificent view and the sound of the waves. We didn’t hesitate to walk across the street to the conveniently located spa for our first of what I’m sure will be many $10 60 minute massages. It was the perfect way to end my birthday. Between the jet lag and the massage I was asleep within 30 minutes of returning “home.” The following day we hired a car and driver to take us to Crystal Beach 30 minutes away. It was a no brainer to have a driver for 5 hours for $20. The four hours we spent on the beach passed quickly as the scenery was stunning, the lounge chairs comfortable and the beer cold.

Feels amazing to be back in Indonesian waters again

I snorkeled and saw some good fish, but the coral was really bleached. We were so spoiled by the unbelievably colorful coral and fish on Kenawa island last year and that will forever be our benchmark for snorkeling. On day 3, after another breakfast of Balinese coffee, papaya, watermelon and other assorted fruits enjoyed on our patio overlooking the Sea, Rob was feeling confident and ready to ride a scooter. I was thrilled as I love riding on the back and taking in the scenery as the sun and breeze kiss my skin. I grew up always riding with full gear and it wasn’t until riding in tropical Sumbawa last year that I dared get on the bike in sandals, shorts and a tank top. And on somewhat sketchy roads at that. Sorry dad – but it sure does feel good when you’re riding along the beach. With the GoPro strapped to the Scoopy we took off east. Wow, the ride was so beautiful along the coast and through the bright green hills. Last year when we rode a 250cc Versys across 4 islands we often stopped for fresh juices at the stalls along the road. Dragonfruit is always my favorite. In our typical style, we stopped at a magnificent Warung (Indonesian eatery) with pondoks overlooking the sea where the papaya juice hit the spot on a sunny day.

Rob is in the last pondok in the row overlooking the sea

We were beaming. It feels so good to be on another adventure together exploring what the island has to offer. Our destination for the day was Atuh and Diamond Beaches. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. I have been on many breathtaking beaches and Diamond Beach is in my top 3.

Since Rob couldn’t climb down to the beach with me I brought Gizmo, who loved the view

Lovely jungle view with temple directly behind Atuh Beach

We learned last year that Indonesians LOVE a photo op. This swing over Crystal Beach was one of many such occasions

Rob couldn’t make the steep climb down so he enjoyed the view from above as I swam in the inviting waters below. Back at our place we looked through our photos from the day before Rob took off to have another massage while I relaxed on the beach and read. Once the sun went down we walked barefoot down the beach for the second night in a row to dinner. No shoes, no problem. What time is it? Why ask?! We have been constantly surrounded by sand and waves, living in sandals and sunglasses. My whole demeanor has slowed down since we stepped onto the plane in NY and being a beach bum is just right for us both after working all winter.

Our trip is off to a great start. We are already both a couple shades darker after only a few days. We only booked a place for the first 4 nights in Nusa Penida before heading to India on May 10th. We want to give ourselves the opportunity to discover things along the way that will shape our journey. This method was so successful last year, going with the flow and living in the moment, that there was never a desire to stray from it as we planned this year’s travels. The sensation of being in Indonesia is different than last year as we are familiar with the language, “rules” of the road (basically a free for all), food and customs. The initial shock has been replaced by a sense of belonging. It only took until the first day for me to begin throwing out the idea of moving here again, as I did last year. This country is intoxicating.

Eating our way through Penang; Malaysia’s Culinary Epicenter

We have been back in the USA almost 4 weeks now, but it took us a little time to get this last blog post out.  Currently, we are enjoying the fall colors in Upstate New York as we prepare to be in America while we snowboard and ski Hunter Mountain for the winter.  Who knows what the spring and summer will hold, but the word “India” is being thrown around a lot 🙂

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Lacy: The flight to Penang was short and sweet as we flew from Perhentian Island’s sparkling beaches on the West coast to Malaysia’s foodie central on the East coast.  When we mentioned our upcoming travels to Penang to anyone while staying on Perhentian Kecil, locals and tourists alike all agreed that this city is one of the best places to visit in the country & has a reputation for serving up some of the best Indian, Chinese and traditional food due to the blending of cultures.  By 10am we were stepping out of a cab in Little India.  Standing with our our backpacks in front of accommodation we took in nostrils full of spicy and sweet aromas drifting down the street spice being accompanied by local music played loudly on speakers that stood on the sidewalk.  Oh, Asia how I love thee.  Being in this region is a constant playground for your senses no matter where you are.  For $12 we had a great private room with shared bath on the top floor of a simple hotel in the middle of all the Little India action.  Fresh samosas, fried onion balls, mango lassis, roti canai, fresh hot butter naan & paneer are now all things we can procure within a couple block radius.  Dropping our bags off quickly, we immediately sat down to our first of many outstanding meals for the next week.  Even though Chinatown is a couple blocks from us and local Malaysian food abounds, Indian food had to be first!

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The first Penang feast of veg Thali, butter naan and Saag Paneer (paneer in a spinach curry)

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Rob loves the Hokkien Mee

 

Often times when we first arrive to a new city we like to walk out the front door, turn down different streets and get a little lost as we explore our new surroundings.  That is exactly how we began our week long stay in Penang.  We spent the first afternoon wandering through Little India, Chinatown, down to the jetties where each is specific to a particular Chinese clan that adopted it when they first arrived to the area and finally to a much needed haircut.  Rob hadn’t trimmed his hair since beginning to grow it out before we hiked the Pacific Crest Trail – 18 months ago! At my gentle insistence, he had an inch trimmed off and is looking better than ever.

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Giz enjoys the beach, random street art and the self proclaimed most “unorganized book collection ever” (but I did find something I liked)

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As usual, the surrounding religious architecture and influence is always pleasing to the eye

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Rob: Penang was a feast. Yes, the city of Georgetown has beautiful Colonial period architecture and public street art set on a coastal island and is made for walking and taking pictures, but the food is what we will always remember. Penang is an island of immigrants. Malaysians, Europeans, Indians and Chinese have kept their individual cultures alive and well by sharing their traditions and food side-by-side-by-side-by-side here. It was refreshing to see Local and Foreign tourists from any group in an ethic area other than their own, eating, shopping, visiting the temples and enjoying eating some more. We did our very best to try so many of the specialties from every group. There were a few favorites that we will bring back home with us. Hokkien Mee is rice noodles in a thick broth made from dried shrimp and pork bones. Nasi Kandar is a chicken curry with rice that is all about the thickest, heaviest, darkest and richest sauce ever. Roti Canai is a fresh flat bread served steaming with a few sides of dipping sauce typically made that morning. These are 3 of about a dozen new favorites destined to be our new comfort foods.

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Enjoying the sunset at one of Penang’s many beaches

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We took a funicular up to the highest point in the city, Penang Hill, where we were able to watch the lights come on in Georgetown below…

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…and the local selfie culture surrounding us while tourists snapped away in a “selfie park.”

Once again we rented a 125cc motorcycle for a few days to explore and enjoy more of the island than we could reach on foot. A waterfall and a beach later, we had a great ride around Penang, but much like our travels in total, the journey itself was the best part of the ride.

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We had fun at the butterfly museum where we saw a couple cute lizards as well

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This was a hidden bar in Georgetown that I struggled to find the entry to, but once we were inside it had a very unique vibe.

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Our favorite watering hole in Georgetown was Junk.  The space used to be an antique store and the owner decided to display much of the goods that came with the store purchase.  Great cheap cocktails in a funky space.

We made the big decision to head home from here. We would finish our 6 months of adventures with a lifetime of memories. The only souvenirs we would be bringing home were knit hats and gloves from trekking in Nepal, a bracelet and ring for Lacy from Bali and spices from Little India in Penang, Malaysia to go along with so many new friends made along the way. Lots of photos, this blog and 100+ stories couldn’t describe our experiences fully. The best part was doing all of this with my beautiful wife, partner and friend.

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We rode past a Durian farm and thought that it was the perfect time to finally try this smelly fruit departing from Asia.  Unfortunately, it’s not durian season, but there were some lovely orchids to be seen.

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Bringing home a lot of Indian spices was a MUST.

Relaxing by the Emerald Clear South China Sea of the Perehentian Islands

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This island is taking my breath away!

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The water is this clear!

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Rob knows he can find me, day or night, in one of the many hammocks on the beach if I’m not in the water

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Lounging in the hammock

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It took us nearly a full day to travel by bus and boat from the Cameron Highlands to Perhentian Kecil, the smaller of the 2 Perhentian Islands on the east coast of Malaysia’s mainland, but oh, was it worth it!  This place is absolutely beautiful with it’s crsytal clear emerald waters that you can see through as you stand on the shore or ride a water taxi between isolated beaches.  Sheltered from the sun by a palm tree as I lay in the hammock and listen to the waves lapping against the shore I can only think, “Ah, it feels so good to do nothing on the beach.”  We have had a great mix of doing just that – nothing – and snorkeling nearly every day, taking jungle walks across the island, sampling the beach bars, watching sunsets over the water and laying in the hammock.  The beauty of this island is reminding me so much of Kenawa and I find myself reminiscing about that special month where we enjoyed the unique once in a lifetime opportunity of living on a near private island.  Snorkeling out our front door, cooking on the front porch and watching the sunrise from bed. Man, we had it good.  And it’s not too shabby now either, I must admit.

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The beach in front of D’Lagoon

We arrived on the island Friday, Malaysia’s Independence Day, and were really fortunate that a place we wanted to stay ad a last minute cancellation because everything else was booked.  Our plan was to just show up on the island and go to the backpacker hotels and hope to find a room, but thankfully, with our booking secured the night before, the boat  from the ferry on the mainland dropped us right off at the beautiful beachfront of our accommodation.  By 5pm we were sitting in the shallow water of the warm sea with a cold beer in our hands and marveling at our surroundings.  We chose this hotel specifically because it has great snorkeling directly off the beach.  No need to take a boat anywhere.  Already we have seen schools of black tipped sharks, half a dozen stingray, the largest parrotfish we have ever laid eyes on and big beautiful clams with iridescent colors. With the bright sun, clear water and lively underwater world here we are very content.  Before we leave we will take a boat trip to nearby islands for more snorkeling and I hope we can see a turtle. Some friends of ours, that we met in Ipoh and again here on the island, were able to see a turtle on an excursion they did over the weekend.  Fingers crossed!

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Wild orchids

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This monitor – all 6 feet of him – visited the beach one afternoon. Look at that tongue!

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Turtle beach is a ten minute walk through the jungle and puts you on the west of the island where you can catch a great sunset on a deserted beach

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Our accommodation at D’Lagoon is simple, basic, very quiet (other than the loud group of 16 young, drunk European travelers returning from the party area of Long Beach at 3am one evening) and cheap.  Just the way we like it.  With our own room with a fan (more than adequate in the evenings) and a shared bathroom we paid the peak season rate of $80RM over the weekend and $70RM every night after.  Very affordable at $20 or less a night for a slice of heaven.  Most of the accommodations on the smaller of the 2 islands are pretty basic, catering to backpackers and people more interested in partying and laying low.  The larger island is known to have more resorts, families and higher prices.  The 2 islands are a 5 minutes water taxi ride from one another and very easy to go between.  It’s very common to stay on one island and travel to the other or even between different area of the same island by water taxi.  We never traveled anywhere where you take a quick $10RM ($2.50 USD) boat ride down the island to have dinner and return later.  One evening though, when enjoying dinner and drinks with our UK friends, Dan & Hanna, we lost track of time.  Between it being late – past midnight – and some rain we weren’t able to get back to our hotel by taxi and it is an hour walk through the jungle which was not an option at the hour.  But, it’s the island, and life is easy.  We took a bed in a room above the bar that “helped” us lose track of time and when we woke up at 8:30 the next morning we got on a taxi and were back in our bed by 8:45.  These are the worst of problems here – having to stay on another beach because we were having too much fun!

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Enjoying a few beers at a great beach bar on Long Beach, a 5 minute water taxi ride from D’Lagoon.  Long Beach is the busiest area of the island with more hotels, dive shops, restaurants and bars than anywhere else…and a pretty thriving night life…

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…Complete with fire shows.  As Rob says, “it’s all in the name of selling more booze.”

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On the fast boat to Perhentian Kecil from the harbor

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Giz likes his Thai beer, Chang

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Sunset from Coral Bay

We did get some disappointing news from the  captain of the boat we were expecting to sail to Indonesia this month.  Due to some maintenance issues he is having with the boat we are not going to be able to sail with him this year.  It’s a real bummer because we had been planning this for months and possibly may have even gone home earlier had we not been waiting to sail.  Not to say we didn’t have great experiences hiking the Annapurna Circuit and exploring Malaysia along the way. I wouldn’t change a thing because I loved all of those adventures. It all worked out for a reason.  And since we bought our airline tickets with frequent flyer miles we have the luxury of changing our return flight home without any fees.  We have taken full advantage of this perk multiple times already.  As we finish up this blog post we are eating calamari while lounging in our respective hammocks and deciding whether to keep traveling Asia since we are already halfway around the world and have no idea when we will be back…or come back to the States.  Even if we come back we will still travel a bit.  Definitely not the worst decision we have ever had to make…and we still have 3 more days on this island!

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From coffee…

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…To cocktails we are loving the Perhentian islands

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Late night fun with Dan and Hannah, new friends from Malaysia. We had a great night out and all we have is this crummy photo and good memories!

Malaysia: Cameron Highlands

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It’s beautiful here!

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Mainland Malaysia on the left.  The right shows our journey from Kuala Lumpur in north to Ipoh (A) and east to Cameron Highlands (B)

The Cameron Highlands are a short 2-3 hour bus ride east from Ipoh and into very welcome cooler temperatures.  So cool in fact, that the feeling of the cool breeze while hiking in the area made me long for my unbelievably comfortable sleeping bag and tent. One of my favorite things in the world is to sleep outside and feel the wind. Sometimes in Hunter, with a perfectly good bed inside, I’ll sleep on the porch. I used to try to convince Rob to sleep with me on the porch of our 19th floors high rise in Dallas so we could feel the wind, but I never quite succeeded on that one. 

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When the bus approached the area, Rob and I both thought that the town seemed larger and more touristy than we expected.  Fortunately, we booked a place a street back from the main thoroughfare in Tanah Rata.  The French family that rafted with us a couple of days before recommended a hotel they stayed in and we were glad they did!  It was very reasonably priced, clean, quiet and comfortable.  Trying to keep our accommodation expenses low, we opted for a room with a shared bathroom. Before traveling this summer, taking a hotel room with a common bathroom was a foreign idea to me, but it’s a common option in Asia and if the facilities are well kept it’s an excellent way to minimize your costs.  Traveling in Nepal, nearly all the teahouses have common bathrooms so almost any bathroom after that seems clean!  I took a hike up to the summit of one the mountains that evening to try and see the sunset, but it was too cloudy to get much color.  We were rewarded with great views the following day when we rented a 125cc scooter and explored the area, having a fun touristy day.  We both love having the freedom of a bike and it’s an almost instant recipe for a fantastic day.  Helmets on, Gizmo in the pack and a beautiful sun shining day we were ready to experience the beauty of the Cameron Highlands.

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Clouds hanging low in the morning at Mossy Forest

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Beginning the day with fresh strawberries, waffles and strawberry white coffee

After stopping for fresh strawberry waffles at one of many local Strawberry Farms we went to the Mossy Forest. Here, you are guided through the beautiful mossy, lichen jungle landscape on a boardwalk so as to preserve the natural surroundings. After climbing a lookout tower for 360 views we continued the journey by hiking a path that was technically closed. It’s being closed seemed more like a suggestion to us so we climbed over roots and stepped in mud for an hour to further be saturated in the beauty of the area.  The entrance to the forest is near a tea plantation and seemed to be the next natural stop for us. The surrounding plantations are absolutely gorgeous. Very different from the rice paddies we have been accustomed to viewing this summer.  We enjoyed a nice little break after hiking over a pot of BOH Gold Tea and a slice of strawberry tea cheesecake.

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Taking the boardwalk through the Mossy Forest to the jungle trail at the end

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In the Mossy Forest

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This hike was the first time either of us saw a pitcher plant. Very cool!

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A bit a workout with all the roots taking over the trail

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View from the tower

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BOH Tea Plantation

Since I can never get enough fresh flowers in my life Rose Valley was our next destination.  It’s not so much a valley as a massive ongoing greenhouse with more flowers than I imagined. Certainly exceeded expectations with an abundance of orchids, roses, lilies, bleeding hearts, giant hibiscus and other flowers we had never seen before! We covered every inch of this massive flower heaven and left smiling. I was talking about how great the experience was all day!

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Stingray flower – new to us

As we sat down to Indian food for dinner, I looked across the tables sitting along the sidewalk and there was Christoph, the Frenchman we hiked with towards the end of the Annapurna Circuit.  Small world!  He joined us and we all recounted what we have been up to since we last saw one another.

The following day we relaxed, played cards and didn’t do a whole lot of anything except laundry, pack to leave the next morning for the Perhentian Islands and eat more Indian food.  I am obsessed with it lately and can’t get enough naan, paneer, roti canai, curry…you name it. There will certainly be Indian aromas emanating from our kitchen when we return home.

 

Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur & Ipoh

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Celebrating our 3 year wedding anniversary on 8/23/18.  We have now been traveling together almost half of our marriage ❤️

Lacy: In our typical style, we purchased our flights to Malaysia a couple days prior to leaving Nepal. We need to be in Pangkor, a tiny island on the west coast, to set sail to Indonesia on the 10th. We didn’t do much research on our next destination or even book a flight for the night we arrived before boarding our 5 hour, 80% empty flight from Kathmandu.  It felt like a private plane there were so few passengers. We have traveled through Kuala Lumpur (KL) airport for long layovers twice this summer, but never left the airport so imagine our excitement when we grabbed a taxi and realized that KL is a rather large and modern city! Highways that are paved and don’t have potholes! Speed limits?! High rises and skyscrapers, no cow shit on the street to avoid while walking, real laundromats! We are officially NOT in a third world country anymore after five months of traveling through Indonesia, Cambodia and Nepal.  Admittedly, we both experienced a bit of culture shock for the first 24 hours.  Rob will tell you that I am drawn to the lack of polish and rawness that are inherent in the other countries we have visited, but it’s still nice to experience what Malaysia has to offer us!

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Arriving at the airport in Malaysia…excited for our 4th country this summer!

At the last minute, (meaning in the airport before getting into a cab) we booked 3 nights in the Bukit Bintang district of KL near the night market area. This was intentional since we didn’t check in until midnight and having not eaten a real meal since breakfast in Nepal, we were starving!  Throwing our backpacks down in our teensy tiny room we set out to explore what late night delicacies Malaysia could serve up for us. The best bites, by far, were the spicy chicken wings. So good, in fact, we had them again the next evening. Overall, we found the night market to be disappointing with bland food and massages being hawked as you walk down the street until the wee hours of the morning. All we wanted was some good spicy authentic Malaysian grub.  We went to sleep near 3am which we later realized set the tone for our first week in this country. Late nights! We are no longer rising and setting with the sun as on the Annapurna Circuit.  An entirely different scene emerges in the city as the sun sets. Tables and chairs are set up on the street as food stalls open, doors along the sidewalk that your didn’t even realize were closed before now reveal either a speakeasy or local bar. Sure, there has been a very prevalent street food scene at night throughout the countries we have traveled, but in Malaysia it seems to be working on a higher level here.  The food here has many similarities to Indonesia – rice, sambal, chicken, fried noodles.  We can lean on some of our comfort foods and explore new ones.  It’s easy to read the local signs because Malaysian and Indonesian are very very similar languages.  We have that prior knowledge of the language working to our advantage, but almost everyone speaks English so you don’t even need to speak the local language.  Honestly, that’s a bit of a bummer for me because the new languages are one of the things I enjoy most when traveling. You can feel the lingering British colonial influence here from the prevalence of English spoken, the architecture and existence of traditional high tea throughout the country.

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Meat, seafood, vegetables and just about anything that fits on a stick is available for your choice at the night market.  Make your selection and they will cook it up for you on the spot (photo bottom right).

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This is the best 😳photo we have from the late night food scene the evening we arrived – me stuffing my face with a delicious spicy chicken wing.  Well, it tells the story like it was 🙂  During the day all these tables and chairs on the sidewalk are gone, the small grill on the sidewalk closed up and you would never know this place existed in the evening if you hadn’t seen it before.

We enjoyed walking many many miles the next 2 days throughout the city exploring the various parts from Little India to Chinatown and viewing the Petronas towers.  It’s very hot in KL right now and I wished I had brought my bathing suit in my bag when we stopped for a drink at The W pool overlooking the Petronas towers. Management was very kind to help us celebrate our 3 year wedding anniversary that day with free chili and kefir leaf infused tequila shots.  Yum!

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Petronas Towers behind us as we celebrate our anniversary…

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….Into the wee hours of the night

KL, and Malaysia in general, may be a good soft transition from traveling in poorer countries to heading back home after sailing. While it is a big modern island it still has a lot of decent inexpensive options for food and accommodation that you wouldn’t find back home. There, you can hardly get a campsite for less than $20/night much less a hotel room.  Granted, $20 doesn’t go near as far as it did in Indonesia, which still remains my favorite country this summer. I haven’t been the biggest fan of traveling to larger cities on this 5 month adventure, but I quite like what Malaysia has to offer. It offers a lot of diversity for food, is clean, easy to get around and the people have been kind.

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View from rooftop in Ipoh

The third largest city in Malaysia is Ipoh and where we spent the following 4 nights.   After an easy 2 1/2 hour train ride we checked into a really cute hotel in Old Town Ipoh, The Happy 8. The town is split between “old and “new” by the river.  It’s also very hot in Ipoh, but we were excited to have our white coffee where it originated so we took a short hot walk to a local coffee shop right away. White coffee are beans that have been ground with palm butter and palm sugar giving it a nutty taste.  This began due to the lesser quality beans that the locals were using and they masked the strong flavor by adding condensed milk – hence, the “white”. Now, however, when you order a white coffee here it means you get a black coffee mixed with the condensed milk and sugar. Personally, it’s too heavy and sweet for me this way, but Rob loves it.  This is not a surprise since he eats cake for breakfast. Ipoh is known to have a great food scene. Locals travel here just to eat. Our first meal was so good and set the tone for a few days filled with good eating.  My veg curry was layered with flavor and spice and probably the best I have ever had.  Walking off our heavy bellies, we checked out Ipoh’s many murals and famous Concubine Lane.

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The best veg curry I have ever had (top right) and Giz gets into some Chilly Mee

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This mural is called, “Old man drinking coffee”, but Rob thinks it looks like a Malaysian version President

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The 3D murals make me smile

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Rob intrudes on a private moment on Concubine Lane 🤣

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This area is known for Buddhist cave temples that were discovered in the last 100 years.  Having visited so many temples this summer and enjoying seeing the differences between various parts of Buddhism and countries, we visited a few more.  It was a hot day, but we continued on to what we thought was a local village. When we arrived we realized that we were at a village replica!  It is set around a tiny body of water and looks like a movie set.  Most likely, you would take your kids to a place like this to show them what a typical Malaysian village would look like.  This wasn’t at all what we had in mind, but they had 2 seater bicycles and traditional hats and we thought, what the heck?! We are here, let’s be silly!  So we rode around the “village” a couple times laughing and taking photos before deciding we needed more food!  We had a great meal at the local food stalls the night before and there had been a fruit and ice cream dish I hadn’t had the space in my stomach for then, but after a hot day walking around I could think of nothing better!

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Inside a cave temple

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Sam Poh Temple

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Goofing off at the mock village

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A fantastic bowl of fresh mango, lychee, melons and more topped with ice cream is a great way to end a hot day running around; we stumbled upon a Malaysian speakeasy with great drinks; a truly delicious half of a roasted duck for $7.50.  Ipoh definitely delivered on food!

Rob: While in Ipoh, Lacy found a White Water Rafting outing we could do to take a break from the heat that wasn’t very far away. We could actually take a Grab (Uber here) all the way there, 40 minutes, for just 29MR (about $7). I’ve actually never been and neither had she. The water was a bit low and calm that day so we can both still say that we still haven’t been White Water Rafting, but we had a nice ride in a raft on a lazy river that had a few spots where we picked up a little speed and got a little wet. It was also up in the low mountains on a clear day, clean clear water and we were with a nice group of people.  Lunch at a local Warung was also great so overall it was a very nice outing in the Malaysian countryside.  The 1/2 day trip turned into a 2/3 day trip and threatened to have us miss our 3:30 Museum reservation.  We caught a ride back into town from one of the guys from the Rafting place just in time.  The little Museum in Ipoh told the story of how the Hakka people from China came to build and grow the town. It is a young town as far as Asia is concerned – really just a few hundred years old and only coming to worldwide prominence when Tin was discovered in large quantities right at the beginning of WWI and the need for packing and shipping canned food became a necessity. The Museum was fun and intriguing because even though it was Tin and not Gold & Asia, not the American West, the story of a mining boomtown with opium dens instead of saloons, prostitution and gambling was exactly the same.  It was also housed in the same building that had been the actual Hakka Miners Club with original interior and furniture which made the stories, excellently described by our guide, come to life.  A little Tin Mining Museum really is one of the “must do” things in Ipoh.

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