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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Goodbye Cambodia, Hello Himalayas

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Enjoying scallion stuffed rice patties.  This certainly satisfied my undying love for anything in the onion family.

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Rob is considering a new profession as a tuk tuk driver 🤨😆

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Bye Cambodia!

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Flight to Nepal delayed, darn 😕

Today, Friday July 20th, finds us having lunch and “playing office” in Malaysia’s Kuala Lampur airport while we wait for our flight to Nepal.  After spending a really great week at Blue Indigo yoga retreat in Siem Reap, Cambodia we began to ask ourselves, “what next?”   I was beginning to yearn to be immersed in nature again since we had spent so much time in the cities and towns of Cambodia – Phnom Penh to Kep and Kampot and ending in the north in Siem Reap.  During our 3 weeks here we traveled more as tourists as opposed to feeling like locals in Indonesia. Still, we had a really nice time with the different experience as we took buffalo cart rides, endless tuk tuks, enjoyed the influence of the country’s very tasty international cuisine, marveled at the splendor of Angkor Wat and met some incredibly special people along the way.  Rob and I both gained a tremendous amount from our 7 nights and days strengthening our yoga practice spiritually and physically. I really connected with the philosophy and gained a lot of insight in those few days that has made me eager to learn more.  Over a French dinner we rewarded ourselves with the day we checked out of the retreat, Rob even asked me if I may want to pursue a teacher training sometime soon.  As our life unfolds together, anything is possible.  

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We didn’t take many photos during the week of our retreat except for the day we we went to a local pagoda where we practiced yoga and participated in a Buddhist blessing ceremony.

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Before leaving by we spent a marvelous 12 hour day visiting the temples of the Angkor complex. As we visited temple after temple, it became easy to see the unique variations of each. The level of detail that was used to carve the bas reliefs and construct these structures is truly special. Our favorites were Bantey Srei and Bayon. I wanted to find a quiet spot in either to meditate in, but there are just way too many people visiting, even in the low season. Neither of us have any desire to experience how crowded it would be during high season.  

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We woke up at 4:30 to get to Angkor Wat and see the sunrise over it. This picture evidences that our “sunrise luck” isn’t nonexistent. 2 volcanoes and now Angkor Wat means we are 3 for 3 on sunrise fails!

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The rain couldn’t keep us away though 😄

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This temple is where the Tomb Raider was filmed. Trees have overtaken the structure and it is a magnificent example of nature’s strength and will.

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Bayon, happy face temple has over 200 smiling faces watching over you

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Bantey Srei is a much smaller temple and carved with the most intricate detail.  All by women and it is unbelievably stunning.  I could have spent all day looking over the detailed work.

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Kim, our tuk tuk driver for the day shares his touching story with us of how he rose from poverty in the village by learning English as a monk.  Leaving the monastery, he saved his money as a tuk tuk driver and began a school to teach English to over 80 kids from villages.  Big heart, this guy!

We are both very excited to land in Kathmandu, Nepal tonight where we will begin our preparations for a 3 week trek along the Annapurna circuit. This is a dream come true for me. In April, as we sat on the front porch of Kenawa and contemplated what we may do when we left the island at the end of the month, I told Rob I would love to hike the Annapurna, but that monsoon season didn’t end until October and there was no way that we would still be on this part of the world then. Boy, was I wrong on 2 points!  First, we learned that the Annapurna is in a rain shadow and doesn’t experience rain like the rest of the country during monsoon season.  Even better, July is the shoulder season and will have far less people which is a huge plus for us. Traveling Cambodia during the low season turned out be a major benefit for us – cheaper accommodations and far less people to deal with. Second, we are planning to be in this part of the world until at least October now. At the end of August, after completing our Himalayan trek during which Rob will celebrate his birthday and we will enjoy our 3 year wedding anniversary, we will head back to Malaysia and actually leave the airport this time!  Meeting a new friend in Pangkor, we will get an in-depth crash course in his boat and sailing as we embark on a 4-5 week voyage across the sea where we will return to Lombok, Indonesia. Rob has far more experience with sail boats than I do so I will be absorbing a lot very quickly as we help safely bring Chris’s 54ft boat across international waters. It will just be the 3 of us.   

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Feeling in great spirits after our retreat we tuk tuked to our hotel…

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…where we had the cutest surprise on the bed!

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Enjoying the low season rates we scored a hotel with a great pool for less than $20.

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Great smile 🙂

 

We are both looking forward to being back in Indonesia.  While Cambodia was great we didn’t develope anywhere near the same level of affection and attachment to this country as we did our beloved Indonesia.  One of our amazing yoga teachers had just spent 6 weeks in Indonesia before coming to Cambodia.  The 3 of us shared stories and lamented about what we missed about the country.  Many conversations ended with, “it always comes back to Indonesia.”  Including us this October…even if it is a twisted route across Asia.

Oh, just a few more ☺️

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A hop across the bay for 3 lazy days on Koh Tohnsáy (Rabbit Island)

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En route to the 🐇

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The many ways Rob enjoys a hammock 

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Hammocks throroughly enjoyed by myself as well 😁

Tuesday morning we succeeded in getting our sleepy butts up in time for the early boat to Rabbit Island. This was made slightly more difficult by the “Havana head” we shared from the previous night. Having met Morgan, the Frenchman running the bar by the hotel we stayed in, the previous evening, he was very generous with our Cuba Libre (Havana rum, coke and lime) pours while we got to know Evan and Jessah. Even offered us a shot of tequila while the World Cup game was playing. Clearly, someone we can get along with…and we didn’t realize quite how much we had to drink until we woke up the following morning.  Our game plan before leaving was to check out the island scene, lay in hammocks, listen to the waves, play cards, listen to the new Florence and the Machine album I downloaded!, read and relax.  The accommodations on the island range from $5-$7 so the price point is right on target to stay as long as we like!  If you need constant electricity and luxury, this is not the place for you. The island doesn’t have many people or structures on it so they use a generator for about 4 hours each evening which is plenty of time to charge your phone and and have light to eat by. We brought our headlights and batteries to read by when the power goes out about 10 each evening. Our bungalow is on the water where I enjoyed many afternoons reading and napping in the hammock on the front porch while Rob napped inside.

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Pulling up to Koh Tohnsáy

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Never more than 20 steps from the waves

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As soon as we arrived on the island I changed into this outfit and wore it the entire time…showered once, and threw it right back on. There is no need to overdo it here 😋

There are plenty of hammocks and lounge chairs on the beach that kiss high tide each day.  We have had the perfect mix of sunny, hazy and black skies here. It hasn’t been very warm with the breeze rolling off the ocean as well as the howling winds that accompany the rain each day. I love gray days at the beach. The waves and sounds of the wind are louder. Hearing the constant hum of the waves for three days has been soothing and helped us both sleep better.  Our travels in Asia have not been characterized by good sleep.  Between the heat, sounds of chickens, roosters, calls to prayer, local music at all hours and more it’s often impossible to get a really good nights sleep.  Rob informed me over our second  breakfast of barbecued red snapper, rice and chili sauce (well, maybe afternoon…we didn’t wake up until after 11) that he wants to stay at least another night or 2.  Why would I object?! With good food, cheap beer, and a bungalow that costs the same as a meal for us both (a big snapper that we shared was $6) there didn’t appear any reason to plan our next step too hastily. 

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This is the cutest and most welcome roommate we have had in a while. I just want to snuggle with him! He is easily over a foot head to tail.  At one point we had 3 at once! I love these little guys…💓

 

 

 

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Breakfast and dinner on the beach

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Beachside bungalows!

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We stayed 3 nights in the island before the leaving for Kampot. Arriving back on the mainland I immediately missed the cool breeze constantly blowing off the water on Koh Tohnsáy.  Back to the land of hot and sticky. Kampot is on the river with a backdrop of mountains and palm trees. We decided to stay here 2 nights before heading to Siem Reap where we are going to transition into a different vibe. We both want to soak into a week long meditation and yoga retreat, centering ourselves and learning new skills we can integrate into our daily lives.

This morning I had a strong desire to leave Asia.  I think it’s  a combination of having got sick for 2 days from something I ate recently, experiencing intense neck and shoulder pain for the past 5 days that I can’t get rid of and adjusting to Cambodia. Honestly, it’s weird that my initial thought was that I want to leave Asia because more and more I am losing the desire to go “home.”  Not that we really have a home anymore or place that is ours to return to. My moment of disillusionment passed after a couple of hours and my desire to stay in SE Asia remains. I miss Indonesia – the wild, crazy nature of life there that makes you shake your head in wonder, the taste of sambal, the smell of sate and even the “Hello misters.”  That country feels like home now.  The longer we are gone the more I want to return there. Will we ever come back to the States…?

Cave exploring, jungle trekking & skewers of seafood as the rainy season begins in the quiet of Kep, Cambodia

32586D19-105C-4676-9EB9-EBE786DB57AB.jpegLacy: One of our favorite things about the way we are traveling SE Asia is the flexibility of our schedule. The only thing we have needed to plan around is our VISAs and that’s not difficult at all. We began with a 1 month commitment to be in Indonesia working on ecological housing on the small island of  Kenawa, but entered the country with a  60 day VISA if we decided to stay longer. 3 months later we actually left Indonesia with a day’s notice and wound up here in Cambodia. We really have very little plan for this country except to travel north from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap and explore the cities, villages, mountains and beaches along the way. Every day is a new one and can change at a moments notice. We thought we would leave for Kep the day before we actually did, but upon waking up late (we are really only good at getting up early when we absolutely have to catch a ferry, bus or boat) we opted to stay a day longer in Phnom Penh. After a four hour morning bus ride we arrived in the hub of Kep, a coastal town known for its shoreline, crab and seafood market.  It’s quiet here this time of year and a few shops have already closed due to the beginning of rainy season. We like it quiet.  Our first afternoon we rented a scooter and checked out the crab market. Being the weekend, the market was the busiest place we have seen in town and Rob wasn’t in the mood to have the vendors hawk their goods at him so we quickly left and found a cold beer and excellent view of the water in a quieter scene.  Rob got a huge bonus at the hotel when we realized that he could watch the World Cup in the room. The channel was a little fuzzy, but he was a happy guy!

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Back on 2 wheels!

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Enjoying the waves below our feet on the deck we are eating lunch on and in front of us with the mountains behind

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Rob eating Amok again!

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A green salad is a very very rare treat on our travels – yum!

Rob: It was so nice to have 2 wheels underneath us again as we headed out into the Cambodian countryside. As soon as we turned off the paved road, we drove right into agrarian village life. The first thing you notice here is that the cows are different. They are all large pure white Brahmas. It’s a sharp contrast to the lush green rice fields. We don’t see a lot of goats here like we have been accustomed to seeing. With rivers and the sea having such a dominant influence in this southern part of the country, there is so much fresh fish that it is the staple in your diet here along with rice, of course. I’ve had at least 1 version of Amok, the coconut fish curry, every day since we have been here. #FishCurryObsession🐟🍚❤

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Our lovely view from La Plantantion while having wine for breakfast

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Beautiful countryside

We arrived at La Plantation after about an hour’s ride. It is a massive Pepper Farm in an idyllic setting tucked in-between small coastal mountains overlooking a lake. It is only a few years old but the all wooden open Plantation house is architecturally stunning and beautifully built in the old local style. It overlooks blocks and blocks of trussed pepper plants that stand about 10’ high each. In between these vineyard looking plots, there are rows and smaller plots of Passionfruit, Dragonfruit, Pomegranate, Mango and Papaya trees. As you look down the hillside toward the lake, you see the rice paddies literally growing up and out of the water’s edge. It was a really stunning movie-set-like feeling.

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Pepper trees. I wanted to buy a little bit of everything, but Rob, being the voice of reason didn’t think it realistic to carry peppercorn and pepper mixes around with us for another 2 1/2 months (at least) while we continue to travel

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Fresh peppercorn tasting…

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…that are all picked by hand

As we looked out over the vista, a moment of cool breeze blew through the front of the building. It ruffled a menu that caught my eye. I saw that there are 2 restaurants on the Plantation and you could have a glass of wine at the main house while you waited for your tour to begin if you liked. In true Romero style we ordered a bottle of French Rose’. It wasn’t expensive and was a nice light variety of the type that Lacy calls “Breakfast Wine”. It was a perfect fit for the moment.

We started our tour with a Water Buffalo Cart ride. It was a quiet slow motion ride behind 2 exceptionally big and strong Buffalo. They bumped and plodded us along through the Plantation and down through the rice fields. Our cart driver picked a fresh ripe papaya and cut it up for us to eat along the way. Soon we had to put our feet up on the seats of the cart as we traversed from one rice field to another going through water about 3-4’ deep. It was a very unique view and experience for sure.

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I love when we have “firsts” together and  buffalo cart ride through the Cambodian countryside certainly had not been done before by either of us

 

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Getting a little wet as the buffalos and cart  passed through a Secret Lake was fun

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Next we headed into the farm with our guide who spoke both English and French. He was very eager to help us understand as much as we wanted to know about pepper farming. What I didn’t know, but soon learned, was that Green, Black, Red and White Peppercorns all come from the same plant but their maturity and processing are what differentiates their taste and color. We tried some the maturing peppercorns right from the plants in the field. We both appreciated the organic manner they ran such a large farm very much.

Kampot Pepper is one of just 2 regions in the world with an Agriculture Standard and Controls just like Wine from Bordeaux or Napa Valley would have. The owners of such a large operation have also invested in the community by building 2 Elementary Schools and providing scholarships to Secondary Schools as well as subsidies for housing and healthcare for their workers. Pretty great for us to see in person knowing what this region has gone through in the last 40 years.

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Oh, this sky!

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Anyone know what this is?

After spending 4 hours at the Plantation including an amazing lunch, we went about 30 minutes deeper into the countryside. Our destination was a series of ancient caves including a small Temple within them that has been in use for 1200 years. Our 7 and 8 year old guides showed us the landmarks in the main cave that lead to the hidden Temple. It was made of carved stone, ancient brick and definitely showed building, rebuilding and restoring processes spread out over a very long span of time. It made me wonder if it’s natural survival was due to its location and constant use only by generations of local people who maintained it. Our guides showed us one cave trek we could take that would be about an hour through the caverns. We opted for the “easy” route out that still took us 15 minutes of very careful climbing from handhold to foothold through dark bat filled chambers and finally out an unmarked exit. It was a great side trip that let my imagination run wide open thinking about who would have known and kept the secret of the little Temple in their family or village for so many hundreds of years before making it public only recently for people like us to see and appreciate.

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Complete blind faith in kids taking us through caves. It was really cool to be deep in a cave with bats flying all around us

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A lovely sunset to end the day 💜

Lacy: Monday morning we planned to get up early (always a pipe dream for us), hike the National Park and make the 1pm boat to Rabbit Island nearby where we planned to stay a few nights. The 6:30 alarm came and went and when we finally started to walk out the door for our hike at 8:30 it began to rain. Luckily, it passed quickly and we were still able to make our “hiking date” happen. Since we move with the wind, and adapt easily, we quickly decided to take the boat the following day to be able to take advantage of a longer hike and the World Cup game that evening.  Rob had read up on the trail and out hiking options in the park. With an elevated view that overlooked Kep and Kampot we began the ring road of the park. Surrounded by lush foliage, tangles of tree root vines and serenaded by passing birds we settled into our happy place together. The ring road itself is a flat easy trail, but naturally we craved a little more. Rob took us on a traverse trail that cut though the middle of the parks jungle. This part of the trail was very obviously rarely used as it was overgrown and reclaimed by the jungle. We forded through the trees and plants until we reached a very steep rock scramble that would bring us up the final bit of the 200 meter ascent to the summit. Using knotted ropes that hung down to assist in climbing this narrow the gorge, we were both dripping sweat. In area without the rope I lay on my belly in the dirt planning each handhold and foot placement ahead of me so as not to slip down from where I just came. Some of it was slippery and my bun kept getting tangled in the the low lying vines, but our adrenaline was pumping and we were so in our element. There was no one else around us and when we stopped to listen to the jungle around us we could hear monkeys in the trees above. I had hoped to see one, but no such luck. Rob was beaming when we reached the top and his healing foot didn’t seem to be bothering him much. The trail back down the other side was a piece of cake in comparison.  Five miles later and covered in sweat, we hit the outdoor seafood market next for lunch.

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This was about the time I asked Rob if  he was certain that we were on the right trail

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Captured after our windy ascent to the summit

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Dripping sweat as we climb down from the summit

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That’s me in there scrambling up those rocks and probably trying to free my hair from the vines on the ground.

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Rob makes it look easy with those long legs

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Great view from the park

Fortunately, being a weekday, it wasn’t crowded at all and Rob was able to stuff himself with shrimp, octopus, squid, rice and chilis until he felt about to flop over. I loved hearing him say what a great day he was having as we cleaned up our table and paid the lovely lady who fed us. After a nap back at our hotel we found ourselves back at the restaurant down the street. Walking in, we recognized a motorcycle we saw in town the day before that has a luggage rack on the back. Any bike that seems likely to hold us and our backpacks catches our eye. We spent the next few hours inside making friends  with a Canadian couple, Evan & Jessa, who bought the bike in Vietnam and just entered Cambodia after riding for 3 months there.  The four of us shared travel stories and it was readily apparent that we all have a similiar sensibility when it comes to travel. We have said it before, but the people you meet when traveling are really amazing and help make your trip so special. We all plan to meet again here in Cambodia as we are traveling in the same general direction and enjoyed our evening together. 

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The first step at the market is to choose your skewer of delight.  We opted for one squid, an octopus, and 4 shrimp skewers with 5 each on them for a grand total of $8.75

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Heaven for my hubby

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Lunch was followed the perfunctory cocktail at the same place we stopped at our first day in Kep.  We really like the guy who runs it, Kim, and wanted to see him again.  Sitting directly over the same waves you are watching and catching a little spray at high tide is a nice way to enjoy the afternoon