Wednesday, December 25, 2019

They say of the Acropolis...

As with several of my adventures so far, this starts with a new friend. While in Georgia I met someone who said “hey, would you like to visit Jordan?” - to which I said yes.

Since there is no direct flight from Georgia to Jordan, I had a slight dilemma - do I go through Kuwait or do I go through Greece? I think the answer is obvious - I booked a ticket to Athens for a “long layover” of four days.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Farewell, Georgia!

Well, it’s been about four months in Georgia and I’ve really enjoyed my time here. This is the longest I’ve been in one spot (runners up: Malaysia with three months and Australia with two). Before I scoot, however, I have a couple more cities to mention, as I finally made it over to the Black Sea.

As you may have noticed from previous entries, I don’t like to spend a long time en route. With this in mind, I split my Tbilisi to Batumi trip in half with a stop in Kutaisi. We’ll tackle that first.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Armenia Adjacent

Having spent far too much time in Tbilisi, I agreed to tag along on an excursion to Armenia.

As one might expect driving through the caucuses, the scenery was gorgeous… though the route was treacherous. We saw an accident where a car careened off a small cliff and our minibus driver and a few other passers-by went to help. The occupants were alive, but beat up - there wasn’t much for anyone to do except wait for the ambulance, so we continued on our own recklessly driven journey.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Georgia on my Mind

I'm not particularly creative. (Bonus - I have a podcast episode of the same name.)

Here's the real question - what's the point of this post? Detailing what I've done in Georgia, I suppose. Perhaps more categories? I've been here for about three months, so I owe you an update of any sort.


Museums immediately come to mind, though not for any specific reason. The National Museum of Georgia has some interesting exhibits - a whole ton of ancient coins, ancient artifacts, and traditional dress spring to mind. The art museum(s) hit me as standard art museum(s) - perhaps a bit too much to take in on any one day, as I was mentally tired after one floor. It was good to see local art though. I have yet to see the book museum, as it's part of the National Library and therefore guarded by very surly people.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Arriving in Georgia - An Overview

I arrived in Tbilisi, Georgia on 21 July 2019. That was a while ago (it's currently 12 October).

First things first: passport control. If you weren't aware, Georgia allows US citizens (and probably EU citizens & al.) a year-long visa exemption. They stamp your passport and you're good to go - no forms, no nothing. This definitely made things easy from the start.

I took the bus into the city and immediately felt at ease. I think I extended my stay at the hostel within twenty four hours of arriving, knowing I'd be in the city long term. As usual, I'm at a bit of a loss as to what to write, so let's break some things down into categories:

Monday, October 14, 2019

Phase III: Westward Bound

A few words before I get into Georgia, specifically, following on this post.

Where Phase I was well-planned and Phase II was go-with-the-flow, I still haven't figured out the characteristic of Phase III. I've obviously not ended up in the Middle East or Africa (yet) as originally planned, so that theme is out. Perhaps I should make Phase III the "final phase" (everyone likes a trilogy, right?) and call it the friendship phase - two friends have visited me in Tbilisi and I've made friends who I plan on meeting all across Europe and the Middle East.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Interphase Gear Update Number Two

As I've traveled, I've gained and lost stuff (not weight, unfortunately - despite what you may see in pictures). To continue in a transparent manner, I wanted to detail a few things that have hopped in and out of my bag.

  • I finally wore out my flip-flops and bought a new pair in the Philippines (~$10 in Coron). This pair is currently falling apart as well, which is annoying, as I'd hoped they'd last longer).
  • RC left a nice gray quick-dry polo shirt with me in Malaysia.
  • My shoes also died and I bought a new pair in Adelaide, Australia. The shop I went into didn't have the exact ones I was wearing, so I bought a waterproof pair of the same brand (Keen). I'm so glad I did - especially with that waterfall hike in Indonesia. I kept the shoelaces.
  • My cargo shorts ripped, which meant I was down to one pair of "outside" clothes. I purchased two additional pairs of shorts (6 AUD) from a thrift shop near Brisbane, Australia. As a note, I'm going "all shorts" as I'm traveling in warm climates - it also saves a bit of weight in my bag, I suppose. I had to get one of the new shorts taylored to add a fly (100,000 IDR).
  • My least favorite pair of socks is dying. I'm debating replacing them, as I think I can make due with four pairs.
  • Aaron left a tote bag that folds to the size of a golf ball, which has proven useful.
  • I sent home three notebooks with Dan. Given that I'm only halfway through one big one after a year of travel, I don't need to carry them around.
  • I have acquired two plastic peanut butter jars which I've cleaned and put odds & ends in to stop them from rattling around. These seem to be working better than plastic bags and I might acquire a couple more.
  • I acquired a second lock - a tiny keyed luggage lock. It was necessary for a hostel that couldn't accomodate a normal lock (i.e. my combo lock). Now it's in my life forever, I suppose.
  • A new box of Pepto chewables! Thank you Dan. I had ran out upon reaching Georgia.
  • An even bigger quick-dry towel. I "stole" this from Dan. My other two were fine, but there were a few situations where a larger towel would have come in handy.
  • I acquired and immediately sent home a t-shirt from a Japanese baseball game.
  • Various pens have come and gone. I now have a red pen.
  • My friend in Brunei gave me a bunch of little souveneirs - some I've kept and some I've given to other hosts and friends.
  • I am in a constant state of having too much soap / shampoo or having too little. There seems to be no in-between.
  • Various medicines have come and gone. I generally keep something for pain and for a cold, just in case. I think I also have some seasickness pills too.
  • A waterproof "diving" bag with a hole in it. It's just the right size to keep toilet paper and a handful of things dry in the case of rain / splashes.
  • Six thin moleskines - one of which I've given away - which I will eventually write in.
  • One purple echidna stamp.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Phase II Wrap Up

I’m sorry it’s been a bit since I last wrote an entry. I arrived in Tbilisi, Georgia on 21 July 2019 and have been having a wonderful time making new friends. My experience so far is summed up as “I have a thousand friends in Tbilisi; I just haven’t met them all yet.” That said, this post is not going to be about Georgia.

The way I see it, I owe you the following posts: a reflection on the past year (i.e. this post), an overview of what has changed in my backpack, a look forward to Phase III, a post about arriving in Georgia (covering the first month or so), and a post about people visiting me in Georgia (covering this past month). Expect them in the coming weeks.

Start: September 14, 2018, by flying to Los Angeles.

End: July 20, 2019, when I flew (overnight) from Denpasar (Bali), Indonesia to Tbilisi, Georgia.

As a reminder, Phase II was meant to be more freeform than Phase I, which rigidly followed train and boat schedules. In this spirit, I’m beginning Phase II in Los Angeles and ending it in Bali - both places I didn’t expect to visit.

My budget as set in my earlier post was $15,000 for the whole thing. I’ve been avoiding doing the exact math (and may continue to avoid it), but I’m somewhere around $3,000 over budget for the whole thing. Part of this is due to making plans in June / July instead of starting the new phase when my money ran out, but a bigger part is not being as thrifty as I could be.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Bali Bali Bali

After a night and a morning in Ubud, I made my way south to Denpasar on the 10th of July. I would say “Kuta”, but every time I said this word to locals, they looked at me like I had two heads - so much for Google truth versus local truth.

My goal in this particular adventure was to meet up with my friend Olta, who was traveling with her friend Chris (both women are English teachers working in China; Olta is originally from Albania and Chris is originally from Crimea). I’d briefly met Olta in Kuala Lumpur, though we hadn’t spoken much to one another as another traveling companion had dominated the conversation. Over the intervening months, however, we’d become close over Instagram and WhatsApp, texting almost daily. When it came up that we were going to be in the same region, I took the opportunity to book a hostel a block away from the pair’s hotel.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Java Java Java

I arrived in Jakarta on June 27 expecting to meet my friend Bevin from Philadelphia there already. Unfortunately, we’d both misread the email - both her flights added a day and we’d only accounted for the one. Nonetheless, we were able to connect on the 28th and set about an eastward adventure.

In Jakarta specifically, we mostly wandered around the national monument, including going to the top of the national library. We did have an excursion to the old city section where we were mobbed by dozens of Indonesians who wanted to take photos with us - a first in either of our travels. It wasn’t a “let’s distract them” style of photo-taking either - this was borne of a genuine desire to have a photo with a foreigner and, in some cases, practice English or have a short video-recorded conversation for a class. The whole thing was surreal. We went to the bank museum, had some street food, and tried to check off a few “must do” items before moving on. A significant portion of our time was spent struggling with planning and buying tickets.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Camp Moogerah

For my last six weeks in Australia I helped out at a “school camp” a couple hours west of Brisbane. I say “school camp” to evoke that general sense - it was open for individuals to come and camp on the grounds, for church groups to have retreats, and that sort of thing, though the whole property was ready to host several hundred kids in cabins should the need arise.

In any case, I helped out around the camp - and with the owner’s personal projects - in exchange for a bed and meals. As with previous hosts where I did some physical labor, it was a nice change from my vagrant routine. Painting, sanding, gardening, and that sort of stuff is good for the soul - when one is done with a task it’s evident. You see it. Unlike a never-ending set of essays to write/edit for a paycheck or making blog posts where the only metric of success is a number next to an illustrated eyeball (“views”), it is clear: I moved that plant from here to there and it looks good.

As nice as it was to find a routine, however, it’s not a riveting tale to retell. On a typical day I’d wake up, do a task, then spend the evening trying to put something on paper. The stories are in the cracks - the days where something didn’t go according to routine. Here are a few.

Friday, July 19, 2019

On Hats

This is the smallest of small travel tips, but I find myself repeating it to new travelers all the time: wear a hat - preferably something distinct. This serves two purposes in addition to the obvious ones related to sun and fashion:

  • When in a crowd, especially when on a tour with a new group of people, a hat helps one stick out more than a shirt or something similar. I know that people have found me (and thereby the rest of a tour group) by looking for my hat from above. I know that I've used this trick to distinguish a driver or guide in a crowd of similarly attired folks.
  • When dealing with officials, the act of removing a hat makes a good first impression and shows a little respect. For example, when passing through customs or talking to a ticketing agent, I wait until I've made eye contact with the person to conspicuously remove my hat. While this is anecdotal, this act of overt submission (as opposed to not wearing a hat or keeping a hat on one's head) seems to smooth whatever interaction enough that, while others in line may have issues, I'm waved through.

As a bonus, when flipped over, a hat keeps keys, coins, and all that junk from your pockets in one place when going through an x-ray machine or on a bedside table.

I will, eventually, write up posts for my final six weeks in Australia and this past month in Indonesia, I promise!

Thursday, June 27, 2019

My Perfect Hostel

After eight or so months of travel, I have some opinions regarding what makes a good hostel. These opinions range from obvious to minute, but I hope, maybe, this reaches someone in a position to make my or a future guest's stay a little more comfortable.


Money - It can be a pain for me to figure out what the most efficient and effective way for me to book a room is. I've had places that offered the same price online as in-person, I've had places (like where I'm staying) that offer discounts when I book online, and I've had places that offer a discount if I pay in cash (most of the Philippines). As such, I've resorted to only booking two days at any new place online and then inevitably extending using whatever method makes most sense for me. As it stands, if I were to open a hostel, I would make sure to accept online bookings, then empower my employees to negotiate cash/in-person prices, especially for extended stays.

Listings - I'm looking for three photos when I book online: what the bed looks like (see BED section), what the bathroom looks like (see BATHROOM section), and a view from the street so I can find the place. I have declined to book places with fifty photos of every single bed offered because I couldn't figure out if the bathrooms were clean. I've specifically booked places with a handful of photos because they were clear and concise. I really don't care to see big group photos of people playing beer pong - I understand that's code for "this is a party hostel", but please tell me you have something else to offer (e.g. a decent bed).

Sunday, June 16, 2019

What does Brisbane rhyme with?

I set up a few days in the city to do a little sight-seeing before my Workaway started. As with the previous few posts, I don't know what to tell you.
City Hall was great - beautiful building, cool information, nifty museum inside. The museum tour kind-of sucked (Here's this painting, look at it later. Here's this exhibit, you can read the wall plaque at the end.) but it was free. The area around City Hall was pedestrian friendly and it was easy to get over to the city library, which was also beautiful.

Unrelated - I'm not sure why Brisbane has a "City" Hall but other cities have "Town" Halls.
I crossed the bridge(s) and checked out the museum area (including a cool ANZAC exhibit) and the State Library. The State Library had a very cool "maker space" / creative space area that seemed very pro-citizen. I saw more exhibits and all that good stuff.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Stylish Sydney

Will this be a long entry? Probably not. Sydney was great, though I spent a LOT of time in the State Library.

As mentioned, I made the right choice for once and took a daytime bus to Sydney. I finished a book (which book - Heart of Darkness, maybe?) and arrived in the evening. For the first time in the trip I had someone I'd previously met come through and offer to host - in this case it was Rebecca, who I'd met in Vancouver after the train trip across Canada.

There was a fair bit of relaxing, as I was feeling worn out.

Generally speaking, there was some ferry riding, some tour taking, and some pub visiting while staying with my friend. We won a pub quiz quite handily, then lost a different one quite badly. I'm not sure what all to write - I suppose I'll say the free walking tour in Sydney (and the one in Melbourne) were well worth going on.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Adoring Adelaide

Chances are, if you run in the same nerd circles as I do, the only reason you know about Adelaide is because one Brady Haran, of Hello Internet (HI) podcast and several YouTube channels (Numberphile, Objectivity, &c.), is from there. On HI there are several running jokes, two of which overlap for this story: there exist branded "hotstoppers" (small plastic plugs one can put in to-go coffee containers to prevent hot coffee from escaping) that the HI hosts give out and that one of the places you can always get a hotstopper is in the cafe at the base of an Adelaide skyscraper nicknamed the "Black Stump" (the future home to the HI museum!) despite both hosts now living in England. I've done more for less of a reason (see: "hey, it'd be cool to go around the world, I suppose"), so I got off the tour bus (Great Ocean Road & Grampians) and found myself in Adelaide.

As you may remember, I had some difficulty making friends and meeting people in Melbourne. I was, as I texted a friend, the angriest I have ever been for several days in a row. The tour was a delightful break from that - but was it a fluke? Was I just making friends with other tourists? A very slow check-in at my hostel had me fearing the worst.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Delays, Delays

alt: Hurry up and Wait

[I shouldn't have written all this here - this is a rambling journal entry I thought was going to be about waiting in airports. Sorry if that's not what you're into.]

I'm not a patient person by nature. If I'm not vigilent, I get very grumpy very quickly about things not moving fast enough (and, of course, complain about not getting anything done in the times that I could have completed some task or other). While I try to slow things down, there is some addiction to new information that I possess and must constantly struggle against.

When traveling, delays happen. Things take time. Whether it's a train being hours late to pull into a station while only a mere mile or two away or sitting in a Thai bus station without a ticket, nervously sipping coffee hoping that the connecting bus, whenever it shows up, will let you on despite the driver of the first bus having the ticket, there are times one has to take deep breaths, relax, and maybe open a book.

Bigger delays happen too. Waiting for friends to start their own travels. Waiting for the weather to get warmer before changing countries. Waiting for Bitcoin to climb back up to a price where you don't mind selling a little. Waiting for one of your strategically bought CDs to mature so you have a bit more liquidity. Waiting to physically and mentally recover from spending so little time in so many cities.

I'm constantly fighting (and often failing) to be more patient. In small things, it's picking up the phone and texting friends or listening to podcasts. In big things it's feeling like nothing's ever going to come together in my favor and I must go, do, and GET OUT NOW. In the latter case, thankfully, I generally look out for my future self and trust my past self, so if it's a day, week, month, or five years (my past plan to buy a house), I just need to remember to trust myself. In small things, however, I'm less successful.

To focus on the small: well, my phone's a problem. Podcasts are probably my biggest problem at the moment as they tie my brain up in distraction. If my goal is to publish some fiction, well, I need to write some fiction. To that end, I should institute some new rule. Perhaps no podcast if there's a possibility of me writing in the next two hours? More? No podcasts before I've written my page for the day? What about texts? What about the infinite scrolling of social media? What about any of the stupid things I do to distract myself from being patient?

What is a reasonable strategy to be more patient? To suck in more of the world (and, indeed, spit some of it back out on paper)? If I'm to look out for my future self, what rule should I follow?

How about this: music when my hands aren't free, writing when they are. After I've finished a page - even if it takes all day - I can have my treat and listen to a podcast or check reddit or answer a text. I think that's fair. I'll give it a go tomorrow (May 30, 2019) and see if it helps.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Great Ocean Road and Grampians

Over a period of an hour and a half, we loaded a small bus full of passengers from around the world. I use "we" liberally - I was the first pick-up and, as such, I sat near the front and conversed with the driver / guide. After everyone was aboard, we set out on an absolutely delightful drive from Melbourne to Adelaide.

I'll be honest: I'm not sure what to include in this entry. The trip deserves its own entry for the sights we saw, the friends I made, and the general whole of the trip, but I'm struggling to write more than "we went to a sight, we were amazed, then we went to another sight and were amazed again" for a dozen or so stops.

Friday, May 24, 2019

More on Melbourne

Complaints about the people aside, I suspect I should give a proper account of my stay in Melbourne.

I arrived early-for-me in the morning after an overnight flight from Tokyo. I will never learn my lesson and avoid overnight travel - I was thoroughly lucky that my hostel let me in early so I could waste a day taking a long nap (then tossing and turning all night).

Monday, May 20, 2019

Moron Mansion, Melbourne

I love Melbourne. I hate the people.

Every moment of every interaction with every person here is an argument for the extinction of the human race.

Seagulls biding their time

In no particular order:

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Tokyo is an anagram of Kyoto

The bullet train was fast and uneventful (though I finished reading The Color Purple). I arrived in the afternoon and checked into a hostel that had the most hoops I’ve ever had to jump through - talk to the front desk person to get the WiFi password to download an app to take a photo of my passport to get a QR code to scan at a kiosk to get a printout ticket for my room number and keycard which then the front desk person checked and directed me to my room. Also, this hostel was so afraid of shoe goblins that one was not allowed to leave the front mat until shoes were off and ill-fitting slippers were on. On that last point, once I realized the workers popped out of their hole infrequently, I just started going barefoot.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

More Osaka! Solo this time.

After a whirlwind of a time traveling with Mikey (and given some running around with my host in Kobe before that) it was time to chill out for a bit. I didn’t do a whole ton of stuff over the next few days in Osaka other than hunting down tasty, cheap, or otherwise interesting restaurants. I went to a Couchsurfing meetup one night that turned out to be an English language learning class in disguise, though I made a few friends. I did some writing and some reading (oh, I need to update my BOOK LIST at some point) and a whole lot of snoozing. It didn’t help that the weather was a little less nice than I’d hoped, which meant a lot of time lounging in the hostel kitchen.

One of my friends from the Couchsurfing meetup helped me buy a ticket for the bullet train to Tokyo though, had I to plan this all over again, I probably would have made arrangements in a few cities along the way (Nagoya, somewhere around Mt. Fuji, Yokohama, etc.) and taken local trains. It wouldn’t have been about the money, but rather the adventure and getting outside of the big cities.

Overall I had an absolute blast in Osaka and would go back in an instant. I really felt cozy and it was easy to make friends and do interesting things - and there was just enough chaos to make it fun.

Pics for Japan can be found via this link.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Osaka & Kyoto: the Mikey Chronicles

If I did this the way I hope, Mikey’s account has already been posted on this blog. I should probably reread that before I type this up… (I won’t)

Months earlier, I passed some of my travel planning fatigue off on Mikey and asked him to do what booking and planning was necessary - I trusted his judgement (and I needed a break from trying to research places on my phone). We met up in a bookstore (how appropriate for two introverts) on the first of April and I almost didn’t recognize him, as his hair was the longest I’d seen it. It was a nice reunion and we started exploring the area shortly thereafter.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Japan: Mikey's Take

[Authored, as you may have guessed, by Mikey]

Hi, I'm Special American Guest #3. For several months, Simon the Stalwart had been gently trying to persuade me to meet him somewhere in SE Asia. Where? I chose Japan. And eventually I capitulated, and we decided on the week the cherry blossoms were supposed to blossom.

So I was set for the longest trip I'd traveled with anyone except family - 5 full days in Osaka and Kyoto. The day before leaving, for the first time, I fasted 16 hours to reset my internal clock. And, for the first time, I successfully adjusted to Japan Standard Time.


Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Dear Basketball (2017) - no, wait, wrong Kobe

Related only to the title - I actually watched that as part of a screening of Academy Award Nominated Animated Shorts with Dan (yes, Dan from a bunch of other entries on this blog).

Before I could meet up with Mikey I had a few days to kill. Directionless, I went to Kobe (of Kobe Beef fame), as that’s where I was able to find a couchsurfing host.

What a fuckin’ fantastic time!

Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Thrilla in Manila (an unavoidable title)

I finally made it to Manila for a stay that could be counted in more than mere hours. “Avoid Manila, it’s ugly.” “Get out of Manila, it’s dangerous!” Phooey! I fuckin’ loved Manila.

Under the advice of a Philly friend, I stopped by a spot known for its flavored beer and waited for my next Couchsurfing host to get done with his work. It was a nice spot, if a bit pricey, and I made some friends (and wrote a poem).

My host was a decent dude who was, I think it’s fair to say, ‘enthusiastic’ about Japan. He was located a bit south of Manila, in Muntinlupa, a place I’d specifically searched in the hopes that I would be able to meet up with a couple people from Vietnam who wanted to hike up the volcano. Alas, after a late rendezvous, I was in no shape to hike a volcano, and had to call off that particular expedition.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Spanish Fly

Please excuse the chronological hiccup.

Waiting in line to check my bag for the flight from Manila to El Nido (technically Puerto Princesa), an older woman (60s or 70s) kept standing much too close to me. I would inch forward and, when she noticed, she would inch forward as well. While this invasion of personal space was annoying, it wasn’t the end of the world - what really made the whole thing truly annoying for me was that she, oblivious to her surroundings, would turn to talk to her husband and, in the process, hit me in the back with her bag. I stayed silent and did my best to rearrange my position in line without making a fuss, but it was a constant struggle of dodging her unwitting attacks.

I, being who I am, never brought it up and wouldn’t be making this post had the incident been limited to the hour or so we stood in line.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Angeles City! Angeles City!

(Title to be read with "Spatula City" from UHF in mind.)

A city! Hallelujah! Someplace I could pound some pavement and see buildings with more than one room. Someplace that had a library! Call me an angel, 'cause I was in heaven.

In Coron, I remembered that Couchsurfing existed. I had gotten used to meeting up with people in hostels or staying with friends and hadn't really been traveling "solo" since, well, Thailand. My host in (well, near) Angeles City was fantastic and really helped point me in some good directions and had me try some great food. Oh, and he had a pool, which was a great way to cool off.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Hittin' the Dusty Trail (Manila 2 and the Islands)

As is my usual, I'm a few weeks removed from the events contained herein, so expect that type of post. That said, I wrote up a piece for a contest that's a little more timely. Also, of course, my poems (on the other blog) usually capture my feelings a bit more "in the moment" than these posts.

Getting back to the rumble of Manila made my heart swell. I found a nice little capsule hotel on a block where I ended up spending $4 - $1 for a shave, $1 for dinner, and $2 for beer. I would have stayed there for a few nights, but I was in a rush - I was meeting a girl I had met in Georgetown (Penang), Malaysia in El Nido.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Big City Livin' (Manila and Hong Kong)

You ever walk into a place and go "oh, this is a brothel?"

I arrived in Manila with enough time to explore for a couple days before heading to Hong Kong, due to some scheduling issues (my hosts would be unable to host me in March). Manila is alive. Pulsing, pounding, grinding, and gritty - I loved it the minute my shoes hit the streets. It's a book whose stories are written on the walls of the buildings - and I mean the latter literally as the decorative aesthetic of any alleyway is painted text on every square inch.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Bored in Brunei (with bonus Borneo)

The rumors are true! Brunei is a sleepy little kingdom on Borneo. My whole purpose in visiting was to meet up with a penpal friend of mine and, well, get that passport stamp,

On Brunei itself, well, it's very car focused (public transit is sparse) and the main "city" (Bandar Seri Begawan) is a collection of streets (some without sidewalks) and modest buildings. The Royal Regalia Museum was the most talked-up spot, which was just a collection of stuff given to the Sultan plus clothes he's worn. The library was great, but it closed at 6pm. Really, all there was to do in the country was eat (which I did) and go see the jungles (which I didn't). Oh, the water village was pretty nifty, though I wish I could have found a cafe with air conditioning.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Kuala Lumpur: final thoughts

After Langkawi I flew back to Kuala Lumpur to center myself and figure out my next steps, travel-wise. I ended up staying in Reggae Mansion thanks to a tip from my host from Winnipeg (Misty) . As it was a party hostel, I ended up making my usual mistakes and spending too much money, but it was fun enough.

There are no exciting stories of new and adventurous places - just stories of small adventures with friends. Whether it was eating stingray or dancing the night away, I had a fun time in the city while I counted down my days toward departure. I even got some writing done - mostly for Steemit though.

In an unusual turn of events, I was given a quest, which I will try to turn into a fun fictional tale.

Overall I had a great time in Malaysia in general and Kuala Lumpur specifically. Loads of new friends and adventures. I know it's half a world away, but I'd recommend a visit by my American (and Canadian) friends - as I've mentioned dozens of times, it's a cheap place to come and relax and nearly everyone speaks English.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Landing in Langkawi

Photo Link (Again):
After a three-hour boat ride where we all sat in the bottom of a boat that had the windows tinted so you couldn’t see outside, I emerged unscathed into the town of Kuah on the “duty free” island of Langkawi (having avoided seasickness, unlike a quarter of my fellow passengers). The first night was spent getting oriented and finding food (also taking a picture of the back side of a giant eagle statue). After the first night, I moved to the hotel where I’m typing these words, which is a little off the beaten path (Motel Seri Mutiara). It suits me just fine though - I’m actually writing things. In a most un-Simonlike twist, I’ve lost my usual unquenchable thirst since being sick in Georgetown. This is good for my health, but annoying for the miser in me - unlike the rest of Malaysia, the beer here is super cheap (I just checked a receipt - I bought a tall can of Tiger that would cost 16rm in KL for 4rm here and I didn’t even enjoy it). Aside from sleeping and vowing to write more (and listening to podcasts instead), so far I’ve wandered around looking for food, wandered around a disappointing nature park, visited the library (wrote a poem!), visited an unspecified government building, and, like a good Malaysian, went to the mall. So far the highlight has been gambling on “Nasi Goreng USA” - I wondered what the USA part would herald (ketchup? mayo? french fries?). Turns out it was delicious: veggies and fried rice (nasi goreng) with a mix of proteins (squid, prawn, chicken) and a fried egg on top (that’s what made it “USA”). I might go get something else from that same shop in a few minutes. Until I do, today’s consisted of writing up all the “Catching Up” series, a million cups of coffee, and a lot of stress as I try to figure out what I’m doing in the next three months. I have one firm date - Osaka on April 1 - and I need to stick Brunei and Hong Kong in between, perhaps with stays in the Philippines, Taiwan, and who knows where else. I still have no idea when I’m getting to Australia or New Zealand and that’s not taking into account a hopeful return to Thailand (Chiang Mai) and even a short visit to Indonesia. Oh, and what about South Korea? And Cambodia? And Vietnam? It’s almost as if there’s just too much to do over here! Until I do it, my immediate plan is to book a spot on Cenang Beach, soak up some sun, and read some books. (I’ve been updating my book list, for the record. Since getting Kindle Unlimited, I’ve read the Harry Potter series, the Hunger Games series, the Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Silent Spring, the Little Prince, the Hobbit, and the Handmaid’s Tale. A turn toward YA Fiction, but that’s what’s available for pay - I’ll go back to classics when I cancel my subscription in February.)

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Catching Up: Georgetown 3 (almost caught up!)

Photo Link (Again):
The nice thing about coming back to a spot you know is you know what you *don’t* have to see again. It’s good that this was the case, as I came down with a crummy illness almost immediately after arriving in town. Myself and a small group of friends from the Highlands did a few things together - the “natural pools” being one such thing - but I was quickly out of order. I ended up resting and trying to recover from some respiratory illness that everyone in the Rope Walk Hostel came down with. I ended up staying several days in a private room at the Moon Tree Hotel which was fantastic (if pricier than I’d prefer, but, hey, health). My friends (both from Koh Lanta and the Cameron Highlands) all went their separate ways and I saw two new things before quitting the island: the jetty at the end of Armenian Street and the Blue Mansion (which I’d walked by dozens of times but never went in for whatever reason). On the 25th of January I got on a ferry (speed boat) to the island of Langkawi.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Catching Up: Cameron Highlands

Photo Link (Again):

Oh man, we’re almost caught up to where I am writing this now!

With very little breakfast, I boarded a bus on the 13th(?) of January, destined for the tea plantations of the Cameron Highlands. As I wasn’t sure how I’d hold up on the windy roads, I hoped for the best (and arrived quite hungry!).

On my friend’s recommendation, I booked a spot at the Travel Bunker / Map Hostel, which was a nice, friendly spot. By the time I left a few days later, I suspect most of the staff knew me by name! Over the next few days, we hiked down to one tea plantation and split a taxi to another. There was also much merry-making and, of course, delicious food.

There’s not a ton to do in Cameron Highlands and my friend was eager to get back on the road (as opposed to stay and relax in the nice, cool weather), so we hopped on a bus to Georgetown (my third visit!) on the… 16th?

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Catching Up: Rendezvous in Kuala Lumpur (again?)

Photo Link (Again):
Getting back to Kuala Lumpur, I decided to try my luck with the “Space Hostel” and rendezvous with a friend from Koh Lanta (oh so many years… no, just months? ago). It was a downgrade from fancy hotels, but I had high hopes for capsule living. Unfortunately the capsules were all linked and not insulated, so a noise at one end of the room reverberated the whole way down (and everything made noise). I ended up spending more nights in the Explorer’s Hostel. Housing aside, I was able to meet up with my friend and we did a few fun things in the city, including having a drink on a building’s helipad. She left to go south, so I mostly relaxed, having seen what Chinatown had to offer, but I did make excursions down to a mall to try to get my watch fixed (unfortunately no luck there). After making several new friends, I got on a bus to Cameron Highlands to start exploring once again.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Catching Up: Georgetown (take two!)

Photo Link (Again):

I was glad to be back in Georgetown and, to hear RC tell it, it’s his favorite city we hit as well. I hesitate to repeat what I said last time (without looking it up), but there’s a ton to do, everything is walkable, and the local “expensive” things to do are still dirt cheap. We stayed at Le Dream Boutique Hotel and ended up watching the New Year’s fireworks from the rooftop, looking up at KOMTAR Tower.

As one does, we wandered around the streets of Georgetown (I found a delicious Thai place that I’ve since been back to!) and generally were tourists. We went to the actual top of KOMTAR (I had previously only gone to the cheaper *almost* top level) and we took the cable car up Penang Hill (oh, I should upload those videos).

Traveler’s Hiccup: I forgot to set aside independent days, so by this point RC and I were a little on edge, having spent nearly two weeks within fifty feet of one another. I was also feeling generally stressed, for whatever reason. One of our days we split up and just didn’t see one another for almost a full day - something we should have done after the first week.

RC changed his flight and left from Georgetown (he had accidentally scheduled a 2am flight from KL, so it made sense to change it and skip the bus ride back to KL) and I got on a bus back to Kuala Lumpur.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Catching Up: Malacca

Photo Link (Again):

The bus ride this time around was a cinch - not even a second glance at the border. We arrived in town and got settled in pretty quickly. When in Malacca as a tourist, there’s basically one priority: go to Jonker walk.

We walked the Jonker walk, we talked the Jonker talk. Had some chicken rice and plenty of beer while waving to boats going up and down the river. Hit a small library where I wrote a couple poems and saw a few museums. In no order, we visited the three-for-one seafaring museums (mediocre), the cultural museum (the one with a kite exhibit and an exhibit about beauty around the world - very neat), and the architectural museum (RC’s favorite from the whole trip). We also climbed the hill to St. Paul’s church and did all the wandering around the ruins of the fortifications.

There exists a photo of me with the obligatory “muscle flex” in front of a statue of a famous body builder. I’m not sure we got any photos of the… rickshaws? that were the most annoying thing I’ve ever encountered - when hired, they had pulsing lights and blaring music that corresponded to whichever children’s cartoon theme they had chosen for their decor. I’m sure there’s more to do in Malacca, but we didn’t do it (though we took advantage of the hotel’s infinity pool) - on the 29th (I think) we took the only outbound flight from Malacca’s airport and headed to Penang.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Catching Up: Singapore

Photo Link (Again):

The bus ride from Kuala Lumpur was mostly uneventful - saw some gigantic catfish at a rest stop, but that’s about it. Crossing the border was a little weird for me though - leaving Malaysia I got grilled about “staying so long” (seven weeks?) which threw me for a bit, but amounted to nothing. The customs agent coming into Singapore was odd in the opposite direction - a bit too happy and excited to give me recommendations, which I thought was a test or something. In any case, we arrived safe & sound!

Travel hiccup: [preface: talking with another traveler, we discussed how disingenuous it was of travel bloggers and insta-travelers to only highlight all the good stuff that happens. Hiccups exist and their inclusion in stories might help future travelers.] When we got to Singapore, RC thought he’d lost his wallet, which caused some consternation. Then, when we found it (he had put it in his bag when we went through a metal detector), his ATM card didn’t work. Luckily we had my ATM card and USD on hand, so we were okay for the few days in Singapore (which is surprisingly cash-oriented).

Our hotel was pretty great and we spent several days just lounging at the pool, so that’s a big vacation win for me. On our first excursion, we explored the Arab section briefly (if I had time & money I’d go explore again), then wandered down to the library (I wrote a poem and we saw an exhibit on early advertising), and just walked the streets for a bit, half lost and half exploring.

The second excursion took us down to Chinatown and on a free tour around Marina Bay. The latter was beautiful, but expensive - typical of Singapore (and, indeed, Malaysia), the culture is centered around shopping and being inside malls! As a bonus, the crowds were pretty heavy due to the Christmas rush, so the whole thing felt overdone. We did have some delicious food at Satay on the Bay though!

Another excursion took us down to Orchard Road to see the decorations there, which existed. I’m sure I’m forgetting half of what else we did, but there was significant hotel pool time involved.

Eventually, we made our way back to the Golden Mile Complex and got on a bus to Malacca on the 26th.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Catching Up: Kuala Lumpur (good stuff this time)

It’s only been a few months since I first arrived in Kuala Lumpur, but it’s a bit tough to remember what all I’ve done. The big stories (the workaways) are detailed in my last post, but I certainly did more than just that. Perhaps we should start from when I finished the workaways.

Before we do that - pictures. There are too many to go through until I have a real computer, so you’re just getting this album that covers the next half-dozen posts:

December 17 (the 115th anniversary of heavier-than-air flight? Why do I remember these things?) I bid adieu to my workaway host and made my way to Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur, where I spent a couple days relaxing in the Explorer’s Guest House while I waited for RC to arrive (on the 19th). There’s not much to report from this period except a very strange run in with a guy from Algeria who was convinced the Earth was flat. The dude was nice enough - even showing me a couple cool spots to eat - but after a proselytizing conversation, I ended up avoiding him. Not that it mattered too much - RC soon arrived.

There was quite the jump from dingy shared dorm room to a room at the Majestic in store for me when I met with RC on the 19th! It was wonderful to see someone from Philadelphia - and especially someone as close as RC. The first night he was in we went to dinner with my first workaway host (Joanne) and two others, which was quite pleasant. On the 20th, we had a personal tour guided by the daughter of my second workaway host, which was also delightful - it was a religion themed tour, so we saw Batu Caves, the National Mosque, and a Buddhist temple I’m forgetting the name of at the top of a hill (plus lots of delicious food, as one is apt to do in Malaysia).

My scheduling was a bit off, as I had it in my head RC was *arriving* on the 17th, not *departing Philadelphia* on the 17th, so that’s all the time he had in KL. On the 21st we navigated the holiday traffic and got a bus to Singapore.