Into Indonesia

Oh Indonesia…where to begin? Just when every country seems to present something so new and awe-inspiring, you appear out of the big blue bali sea and blow us away. Forgive me if this becomes long-winded but to put this magical, exotic, wild, friendly and loving part of the planet into words may not be feasible but here we go…

Having left Singapore with heavy hearts and a broken tooth, we landed in Jakarta without a clue. As the capital of Indonesia and the 6th largest metropolitan area in the world, Jakarta is a traffic-choked conglomerate of a concrete jungle that attempted to swallow us whole. There are few highlights of which to report, with the exception of Dr. Ruby who seamlessly repaired Megan’s broken tooth for a shockingly budget-friendly cost of $60. As Megan said on our way out ‘Dr Ruby is quite a gem’…heyoooohhh. It took every drop of concentration to navigate the decrepit sidewalks but we made our way to the train station and after waiting in a sweaty line we were booked on a train out of town. Thankfully.

The 7hr train from Jakarta to Yogakarta started off uneventful but slowly climaxed to a fantastic landscape of villages and loveliness, and by the time we arrived in ‘yogja’ we were once again wide-eyed and eager. After checking in to our painfully aged and molded room at the Angela Guesthouse we set to exploring the touristy district in which we were based. Marloboro street is quite the trip – chalk full of horse-drawn a and batik ‘galleries’, this place emanated tourism and we were quite fine with setting our course northward to the hills of Borobodur.

Ok, not to brag, but my birthday is kind of a big deal in this part of the world. The locals have all year to gear up for it, but not to be out done, Megan knocked it out of the park. She took the helm on this leg and I sat back to enjoy the ride…and what a great ride it was!! I have had many a memorable birthday in my time but this ranks right up there with the best of them. My lovely gal had booked us a place in the most serene of settings in a village just outside of the temple area and I’m pretty sure we had the honeymoon suite…unbeknownst to me. My 41st birthday went something like this…baileys n coffee>sunrise over borobodur temple>wandering the largest buddhist structure on the planet>songs and photos with local school groups>nasi campur and biintang for lunch>heavenly nap>sunset>dinner at swanky resort (where I ate a whole duck with my hands)>happy birthday sung by local staff>banana split desert>big time goodnight smooches…what more could a fella possibly ask for?!?! Nothing, if you ask me. Wonderful birthday.

Ok the rest of this update is taken from an email to our families. Sorry to cut corners but our remaining time is now precious and limited and will not be spent using a computer…

ok hopefully this works…severe lack of internet access which means we are in a remote and beautiful place but i know this update is overdue so we found a bit of connection and will give it a try. indonesia just keeps getting better and we are now on the island of sumbawa and based in the southwest on rantung beach. the island is comprised of volcanic ridges and deserted beaches with more goats and cows on the road than people. as we’ve been heading east from java things have become more wild and the hardest part has been choosing where to go. we feel really good about our decisions thus far and just wish we had more time and rupiah. after the mega-city of jakarta and my birthday in borobudur temple we took a train across java to the volcano region of bromo. this was a wild and lunar looking place high in the caldera of an active volcano. we got up at 3am for a steep climb to watch sunrise over the crater rim and were rewarded with outstanding views of the primal landscape. on our way up we met another couple who happened to be from mpls and live near megan in uptown! crazy because we have met very few americans at all so to meet some from our neighborhood was a nice sense of familiarity. they are on a 9 month stint around asia and we quickly became good friends and travelled together for the next week or so. after bromo we took another train to the eastern tip of java and ferried accross to the island of bali. we had intentions of staying on bali for a while because of the visions it has always stirred in our minds, but after a few days on the north coast we began to realize how touristy and populated it is. we had a nice time with the mpls couple (will and sarah) snorkeling and chatting, but when it came time for benny to arrive from colorado we decided to change plans. we crossed the interior of bali (which is gorgeous) in the early morning and arrived to meet benny in a little town just east of the airport. all of our coordinating worked out well and after a joyous reunion (and a morning beer) the 3 of us boarded another ferry east to the island of nusa lembongan. we had done some research and it proved fruitful because when we disembarked on the white sands and blue waters, the hassles and hecticness of bali were nowhere to be found. the bulngalows we had booked in advance sent a truck to pick us up and rolled us across the island to our new home on dream beach. benny had his own bungalow next to ours and we enjoyed quite luxurious accommodations for the next 4 days (at only $24 per night). the island turned out to be quiet and beautiful and easily explored by motorbike…and dream beach is appropriately named. after that we took another ferry northeast to the gili islands just off the coast of lombok. they are 3 tiny islands completely surrounded by beaches and reefs and we chose to stay on gili meno which is the smallest and quietest of the 3. will and sarah met us here as well and the 5 of us spent the next 4 days taking in the natural beauty of the island and just as much time underwater snorkeling with sea turtles and countless other marine species. the water was bathtub warm, crystal clear and marvelous…exactly as advertised. the only drawback came from neighboring gili trembowngan which has taken a page from bali and blasts techno music until dawn while twenty-something australians disregard all respect for culture and serenity – our earplugs proved useful. from gili meno we took a ferry across to lombok and chartered a car to reach some unspoiled islands off the southern coast. we arrived at sunset on gili gede and checked into our dilapidated little house at secret island resort. this place may have been nice 10 years ago but is now in a crumbling state of disrepair. we decided to at least make the most of the beautiful area and rented kayaks to explore the calm waters. after rounding the northern tip of our tropical isle we spotted another island off in the distance and decided to have a closer look. upon further inspection we found a tiny little resort on an otherwise deserted beach and it was a paradise. we spoke with a worker there and learned that they had just opened for business after 2 years of construction but surely it was out of our price range. wrong. for $35 a night we could have our own swanky bungalow, on our own spectacular beach, on our own private island…done. benny had to be back in bali the following day for his return flight so megan and i made arrangements to be picked up in the morning by boat for our impromptu stay on gili layar. it was sad to see benny leave after such a nice time together, but we quickly readjusted to some heavenly solitude and quality time. it turned out that we were the very first guests on the island and were subsequently treated like royalty – almost too much so. every meal was specially prepared with fresh seafood and the local spices and flavor we’d come to love, and we were waited on hand and foot. the staff were wonderful and after 3 days it was very hard to leave our new friends and the most beautiful place we had been as of yet. but alas, our visas were expiring and we feared growing accustomed to the pampering so it was time to move on. they boated us back to lombok and we took local transport (painfully slow and uncomfortable) to the provincial capitol of mataram. we headed straight for the immigration office to drop off our passports and applications for permission to stay in this wonderful country beyond our current 30day visas. everything was in order and they told us to come back in 4 days for a decision…ugh. mataram does not hold anything even remotely interesting to us so we travelled south to the beaches of kuta lombok while we waited for our visas. this turned out to be a wonderful surprise and we thoroughly enjoyed our time there. kuta is comprised of several world-class beaches separated by soaring volcanic headlands and every time we thought we’d found the most gorgeous beach on earth, the next one would up the wow factor even higher. we rented a motorbike and explored a different direction each day, returning at night to our cozy and welcoming guesthouse on a hill overlooking the bays. on our last day there megan got to try surfing for the first time and i may have created a monster because she instantly loved it and it quickly became a priority when deciding where to head next…just fine with me. back in mataram, all went smooth with immigration and we were granted the coveted 30day extension on our tourist visas – good thing because our original ones were set to expire on the following day. updated passports in hand, we resumed our easterly course and set off for the harbor in libuhaun to catch another ferry across to the island of sumbawa. in attempting to do some prior research on sumbawa we found shockingly few details regarding transport and lodging, just a lot of blog posts regarding great surf and deserted beaches – perfect. we managed to contact the proprietor of some beach bungalows on the southwest coast and she arranged a car which was there to meet us when we got off the boat. soon it became apparent why there is so little info on this place – there is nothing here but miners, surfers and mosques. jungle covers the jagged volcanic ridges in a lush green that is indescribable and the beaches run for miles without a human in sight. truly wild. we arrived at our beachfront bungalow ‘resort’ with no idea what to expect or how long we would stay but the fact that we are still here, 7 days later, should tell you all you need to know. we are the only ones staying here and have once again found our own little paradise. there are a couple other little surfer shacks scattered around but other than that we are alone and loving it. breakfast is served on our front porch looking at the waves and life moves by at a wonderfully slow pace – including this hopeful Internet connection. we rented a cheap motorbike for the length of our stay and use it every day to explore this part of the island and to access surf spots. we have been waking for sunrise to have coffee and then going surfing, or at least attempting to surf. i have always said it is the most difficult sport i’ve ever attempted and now megan is realizing why. it takes so much work and strength just to paddle out and be in position to catch a wave that after an hour our bodies are exhausted. there are some monster waves around here but they are for experts only so we have found a nice little section of friendly waves to learn on – though they still manage to leave us weak and humbled on a daily basis. we took today off to let our bodies recover and hiked a trail through the dense jungle to a raging waterfall where megan had to come to terms with her fear of snakes but she did exactly that. so there you go, a nice lengthy update to bring you up to speed. tomorrow is our last day here before some lengthy travel back to bali for our flight to mexico next week. we are in a state of shock and denial that this incredible adventure is drawing to a close, but the sadness of it ending is accompanied by a real feeling of accomplishment and enlightenment. it has been fantastic expanding our horizons together and has given our relationship a foundation of stone on which to build and build and build. we have absolutely nothing negative to report and will return an even happier couple than when we left – if such a thing is possible. we hope everyone there is in good spirits and that you had a nice easter with family – we celebrated with a total eclipse of the full moon which was pretty spiritual in itself but could never trump family. give big hugs and kisses all the way around from us and we will see you soon. much much love!

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Singapore Photos

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Singapore Sling

Well…our three week binge in Malaysia sadly had to come to a close (thank goodness because our bellies and wallets would never be able to stretch as far as we could expand them in that country), so with our sweat rags in tow and our bags strapped on our backs we were en route to Singapore. Ahhhh…the excitement of a new city to explore – it never gets old. Fortunately for us, we had Andy’s friend to stay with which definitely saved us from the city swallowing us whole. Singapore is a tiny island, really just a blip on the map but it is packed so tightly that you would never believe that this ‘country’ is as a small as it really is. Not to mention, fairly new – only about 50 years old. This ultra-modern epicenter is chalk full of futuristic buildings, clean as a whistle and operates like a well oiled machine…almost too much so. There are no homeless wandering the streets, garbage actually goes into the garbage cans, the streets are so clean you could literally eat off them and if by chance you do see a rat, it is most likely exiting an air-conditioned mall and carrying a Gucci bag while sipping a Starbucks iced mocha. You get the point, it’s clean. Did I mention its also illegal to eat or drink on the trains or even chew gum? This was a total 180 from what we’d encountered thus far. I never thought I’d say this but I was actually missing the grime and rawness that we’d grown accustomed to over the past few months. It’s funny how that changes….

After clearing immigration, we boarded a bus to meet Andy’s friend Johnny who was picking us up. By picking us up, I mean meeting up with us. Cars aren’t exactly cheap to own in Singapore so most people use public transport. To own a simple car such as a mazd it would cost you upwards of $100,000 – more for the permit on the car than the actual car itself. This is to eliminate traffic and the amount of parking space needed to accommodate massive amounts of vehicles. Even though this seems somewhat outrageous, it does make sense. Most people either bike or use public transport which is good for the people and one of the main reasons Singapore holds the reputation of extreme cleanliness. It is expensive to live and visit, so we were beyond lucky to have Andy’s friend to show us around and give us a place to rest our heads at night. We were off to a good ol’ start when Johnny showed up with a delicious IPA and three plastic cups. What a treat! Johnny owns one of three craft beer shops in Singapore which was a wonderful change after choking down cheap pilsners for the past few months. We graduated to the big leagues and it felt like Christmas morning. There is no way we could have afforded that beer or the others we procured over that weekend had we not had a friend who owned the shop. A beer that would cost $3-5 in the states was around $30 in Singapore. Most of the people who drink the stuff, excuse me, this ‘delicacy’ are the expats who have trickled in, usually for a job transfer. After chugging down our tasty brew we headed to Johnny’s shop to sample a few more beers before heading back to the homestead to meet Johnny’s wife, Christina. We were greeted with open arms and a lovely home-cooked meal which was a nice change of pace after endless nights of street eats. We laughed and ate the night away before crawling into bed for a much needed rest.

The next few days exploring Singapore were a whirlwind of adventure. We spent a day on foot exploring the harbor which was surrounded by massive buildings and tiny neighborhoods tucked between. Ever-so-often we had to duck into a shopping mall to cool off. It was just as hot as Malaysia, if not hotter, but the cool air from the shopping centers did the trick. I had to walk into these malls blindfolded to avoid the temptation of maxing out our credit card but like a kid, Andy just had to bribe me with some ice cream and all was well in my world. One of the most massive buildings was the Marnia Bay Sands. From a distance, it looks somewhat like a cruise ship that is balanced on top of three skyscrapers. It is so awkward looking but quite fasinating at the same time. You cant help but stare at the futuristic-like structure in complete awe. The three skyscrapers hold a boutique hotel, movie theater, museum, and chic shopping center. You can go up to the rooftop of the building which holds a bar and infinity pool, if you want to drop $30 for a beer. We did end up going up there on our second day with Johnny and Christina just to take a peek. That’s pretty much all we could afford to do. But what a view!! Unreal views from the top that spanned over the whole city and a definite treat for the eyes to see. Our last day in Singapore was spent tying up loose ends and preparing for our two months in Indonesia. We were sent off with one of the most delicious dim sum meals in a shopping mall of all places. It was definetly a wonderful close to our short three days witth our friends in a new city. Unfortnatly, the morning we were leaving to catch our flight to Indonesia, we got an email about my Grandma’s passing. I was somewhat aware this was coming but it happened sooner than I had thought. It was hard to pick up and move on knowing that so much greif and sadness was taking place back home but my Grandma wanted nothing more than for me to be on this journey with Andy and I felt that she would have wanted me to continue on. Looking back, I definitely made the right decision. Being away has given me the chance to heal in a whole new way and celebrate her life by doing something she always loved to do, travel. She also loved Andy so her passing, knowing that I am as happy as I am, must have been all she needed. She will be missed but Andy and I have been carrying on her mmemory with each step. Thats all you can do. Oh, then I chipped my tooth on a piece of candy while at the Singapore airport. Yes, when it rains it pours…..

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Snapshots of Malaysia

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Edible Malaysia

I cannot and will not begin this post on Malaysia without using the word food in the opening sentence. Neither of us had much in the way of expectations when it came to what Malaysia had to offer but as I reflect back on our time there, all thoughts are of the delicious nibble we encountered every step of the way. In fact, typing this could prove difficult because I am already drooling on the keypad, but Megan will wipe my mouth and I will persevere.

After being stamped out of Thailand at one of the world’s great immigration posts on the beach of Koh Lipe, we boarded a ferry for the island of Langkawi off the northwest coast of Malaysia. Previous such trips via fast boat had left a foul taste in our mouth (probably remnants of the vomit we had to choke down), so needless to say we were a bit gun-shy. Thankfully, this time around couldn’t have been smoother and our beast of a boat was smooth and dreamy for the 2hour crossing and as we disembarked in Langkawi all was well in our world. After breezing through Malaysian customs we flagged a taxi and crossed the island for the tourist-friendly west coast. Turns out Langkawi is a major tourist draw for Malaysians because of their duty-free approach to alcohol prices and in hindsight we probably should have taken more advantage of that. Malaysia is an extremely Muslim country and one of the ways drinking and other ‘sins’ are discouraged is by imposing a ridiculous tax upwards of 300%. Good thing their beers are not very good anyways and we did find a nice price on a bottle of Baileys. Our stay there was unremarkable with the exception of a great day and the freedom of a motorbike. With Megan on back and me at the helm, we toured a wonderfully remote part of the island with little traffic and plenty of scenery. We hiked up to some natural water slides for a break from the searing heat and sipped cold coconuts in the shade. All in all it was an appropriate ending to our time on the islands so we prepared ourselves for cities and culture.

Next stop, Penang (which is actually also an island but feels like anything but). We arrived via ferry to Georgetown and checked into a place in the heart of Chinatown. We timed our arrival and picked our lodging strategically to coincide with the Chinese New Year, and we did well to do so. This is when the food theme really grabbed hold. Penang is a province renowned for their street vendors and we took full advantage of what proved to be culinary ecstasy on every corner. We drifted from stall to stall like cartoon characters being floated along by drifting smells of grilled this and frying that. As a connoisseur of street food, I can honestly say that during a decade of travel I have never encountered the likes of what Penang has to offer. There is an exotic mix of Malay, Chinese and Thai all coming together in wonderful edible unison. Every vendor specializes in their specific dishes, and for 2 weeks we ate at least 4 times a day without repeating a single meal. Amazing and delicious. One of our best purchases turned out to be a couple of small towels which proved essential for wiping sweat from our brows and curries from our faces. Between meals we wandered the colonial streets amongst mosques, temples and churches, with interesting markets and architecture down every alley. As the new year celebrations culminated we watched fireworks over the bay and gave many shouts of ‘gong xi fa chai’ with the locals. All in all, Georgetown was simply delicious.

Moving south by bus we arrived in the mega-city of Kuala Lumpur and the culture shock was nothing short of shockingly cultural. It had been many moons since we last experienced the hustle and bustle of a concrete jungle but the horns and hawkers had a familiar feel and we eased right in – luckily our traffic-dodging skills and tolerance for chaos also followed suit. We based ourselves in Chinatown once again and had a 7th floor ‘suite’ with a nice view of the cityscape and craziness below. The heat and humidity were relentless but all it took to help us appreciate the sultriness was a look at the weather forecast in frigid Minnesota. Sorry y’all. The city itself was actually quite enjoyable and we slept each night with sore necks from looking up at the impressive and seemingly endless sky-scrapers. The famous Petronas towers dominate the skyline and certainly live up to their reputation as the world’s highest connected buildings. Megan had to turn many a blind eye to the glitter of high end shopping malls but luckily there was no shortage of knock-off goods that were within our budget. I’m pretty sure most of them are real but her trained eye is not easily fooled. One thing for sure, the food stalls were definitely authentic and our sweat mopping towels continued to be abused at a mouth-watering pace. After 4 days we tired of the mosques and modern madness so again we packed up and continued south.

Our final stop in Malaysia was the historical town of Melacca and we thoroughly enjoyed our 4 short days there. Being a former Dutch colony, Melacca is filled with churches and architecture not usually associated with this part of the world and makes for some interesting sight-seeing. For us however, the interesting part of our stint there was getting to know some of the local population (and dining on their outstanding cuisine of course). While there we rented a room in a small house near the historical district and spent our evenings at the riverside watering holes. We quickly became friends with the owner of the local reggae bar, Ryan, and his friend Xiam who owns a coffee shop nearby. Spending time with these characters and their friends was a real treat and gave us quality insight to their culture and way of life. We are seemingly so different from them in so many ways but it turned out that we are remarkably similar. Their hospitality and kindness struck a chord in both of us and once again it was difficult to say goodbye to our new friends. So difficult, in fact, that we extended our stay for one last evening with them and Malaysia.

Sooooo…another country under the belt and a couple more stamps in the ol’ passports. It seems a shame not having been able to have spent more time in such a surprisingly wonderful country but one can never have enough time when it comes to exploring the world. Malaysia left our bellies full, our hearts warm, and our sense of adventurism longing for more…good thing because Singapore lies on the horizon.

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Southern Thailand at a glance

Tastes horrible but helps you sleep on the train

It tastes horrible but helps you sleep on the train

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Sunrise and coffee on the tracks.

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Local boat to Koh Kradan

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Slippers in the sand

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Sizing up our potential captain

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The perfect beach bungalow on Koh Kradan

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Sunset in paradise

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Relaxing in Koh Lipe

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Heaven on earth

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Spectacular views in Koh Lipe

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‘Toe’ boat

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Last night on Lipe with our new friends

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Immigration beach style

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Harrrrgloooooo

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Kayaking on Lipe

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Southern Thailand

After yet another grueling 8 hour minibus ride to the Thai border, we left behind 28 days of adventure in Burma for the next chapter in our journey. Crossing the border was a bittersweeet feeling and we immediately felt like we were snapped back into reality. After a month of not having the modern day conveniences that most of SE Asia has to offer, it felt foreign to be back in a land full of paved roads, shopping malls and 7-11s. Decades of mass tourism seem to have left parts of Thailand feeling a bit jaded and made us realize how underdeveloped Burma is and how much catching up they have to do – which is inevitable.

Instead of immediately hopping on yet another bus further south, we decided to spend a couple of nights in Katchanaburi to finalize our plan of attack for the south of Thailand. If you know anything about the south of Thailand, you know there are a lot of islands to choose from and deciding on which island to hang your hammock can be a tough task. After a few days in Katchanaburi (home to the bridge over the River Kwai but not much else) we decided on the Trang Islands, just north of Malaysia. They are surrounded by karst formations, fine white sand beaches and you guessed it – emerald green water as far as the eye can see. Getting to Trang from Katchanaburi takes about 17 hours so our decision to take a sleeper train was a no-brainier. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from overnight travel, it’s that avoiding a night bus is crucial if you want a few hours of shut eye and trains are almost always a better option.

Upon arrival in Trang, we were immediately pulled aside by a tour agent who was eager to help us pick which island to begin our stay. Usually we would not choose this route but being as tired as we were we decided to let her take the helm and give us a hand. Sometimes it’s just easier that way and we were lucky to have her help because we soon discovered that most of the surrounding islands were booked solid. Go figure! We did find one spot on the island of Koh Kradan so we booked without much hesitation, but the only thing we had to go by was a few blurry pictures of bamboo bungalows and a guy grilling skewers of meat. The beaches won me over but for Andy I think it was the meat skewers. Luckily, no matter which island you choose you can’t go wrong. After a wave goodbye and a good chunk of commission in the travel agent’s pocket, we were whisked away in a minivan and transferred onto a small boat bound for Koh Kradan. I will always remember the boat trip to Koh Kradan because it was the first time I had ever experienced water that clear – it was like glass and simply takes your breath away. Needless to say we were both awestruck and within an hour we were checked into our bungalow and dying to get into the water. The next four days on Kradan were spent walking the beach, swimming and eating fresh seafood. We wanted to hammock camp on the nearby island of Koh Rok but the boat trip there and back would have blown our budget so we opted out. Due to the intense waves most boats weren’t willing to make the trip and hence the high prices. Speaking of intense waves….

I’ll move on to our speed boat trip from Koh Kradan to Koh Lipe, the next beach destination. There are really no words that would do the experience justice and looking back I am surprised nothing happened to the boat or the 10+ passengers along for the ‘joy’ ride. We decided to sit in the open front of the boat because it had the best views. Bad idea! The first hour of the 2 hour trip felt like being inside a clothes dryer on tumble dry and within 5 minutes we were bouncing all over the place like a bunch of fish on a dock. The waves were very intense and the captain and his crew got some laughs watching us all struggle to keep our breakfasts down. I don’t think I have ever gripped Andy so tightly and it was so bad that when the boat stopped to pick up more passengers on a nearby island, we highly debated getting off and staying. Instead we moved towards the back of the boat where there was some relief from the insanity. Never again.

Alive and well we made it to Koh Lipe with no real plan or guesthouse in mind. Andy decided the best idea would be to split up and he would track down a place while I wait with the bags. The island is split up into 4 beaches and we had some idea where to go but nothing set in stone. It’s so hard to tell what you’re getting into until you arrive, and much easier to do some exploring without lugging around a heavy pack. I left that to Andy and found him a partner to tag along – just as he left for the search I ran into a couple from Poland who were on the ferry ride with us. They didn’t have a place to stay either so I suggested that us girls stay with the bags (at the bar), and the boys head up the search. It took some time but Andy nailed it and found us a great place to stay. We ended up with the most beautiful bungalow and set on the most pristine end of the island. The beach was the most magnificent that I’ve ever laid eyes on and we both couldn’t wait to spend four nights there. Although our new Polish friends chose another hotel, we still managed to spend 3 of the four days/nights with them relaxing on the beach, snorkeling, kayaking and eating massive amounts of seafood. And there may have been some whiskey consumption but it was so cheap we couldn’t afford not to drink it (in the words of Andy). Unfortunately, after 4 days we had to dust off the sand and move on. It was sad to leave our new Polish chums but Malaysia was calling and we had to answer. It never gets any easier to say goodbye to friends but we have no doubt we will be seeing them again in the future. If not In paradise, then somewhere in between.

Our final mission in Thailand was to visit immigration to get stamped out of the country and they made it pretty easy on us. Their office is located right on the main beach oh Koh Lipe and we took care of all formalities with feet in the sand – how it should be. We said goodbye to Thailand for the 3rd and final time of this trip and boarded a ferry south for our next port of call – Langkawi, Malaysia, where the adventure continues.

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