10 December 2008
Hat Yai, Thailand
7° 0'28.46"N 100°28'13.21"E
29°

 

At last - mind you, no idea when I'll get around to finishing and uploading this. Give me a unlimited internet connection and I'll find on-line newspapers to read in countries you may not have heard of. We got back from Toba in one piece - found that there are 2 bus companies plying the same route from Medan to Parapat. The blue and white bus (very rickety and unpleasant) and the green one (still a bit rickety, but a lot more comfortable) and the same price to boot. On arrival at the bus station in Medan, the blue and white one is the first you come to and from the outside they look the same. They're not. Don't say you haven't been warned.

Peter was making a fuss of me not falling when we got on the ferry back to the mainland to such an extent that he almost went in head first, along with the big bag. Rather amusing. In fact, I haven't had a fall since we were in England, and before that (only) one in Spain so I must be doing something right.

We had one more night back in Medan before heading for Penang - scored a room on the 16th floor of the Citi Inn this time and the views were amazing. Air Asia did us a beauty. o top that, the flight then were almost 2 hours late. At the airport, we found the flight was going to be delayed by another one hour 50 minutes (10 minutes under the time that you get a free flight for your inconvenience (this doesn't apply to the delays that they notify you of, just 2 hours unscheduled late and a freebie). meaning we got into Penang city close to midnight.

We hadn't booked as we should have been there by 6pm, more than enough time to get to the Oriental where we've stayed before. When we got there, they were chock-a-block full, but the manager gave us a few alternatives to try in the same price range and let us leave the bags whilst we checked them out - 10 out of 10 for helpfulness, and we'll definitely give them our business again next time we're in Penang. Experience has proved time and again that you REALLY need to look at the room before committing yourself unless you're going to be arriving after about 10.30pm. And pull back the sheets so you know they're clean. And test the hot water and internet access. The staff won't object if they have nothing to worry about. We had a fairly good week in Penang, except for a minor incident which we're not even going to talk about. Nuff said. We also discovered possibly the best Indian restaurant in the country – even giving my favorite, The Simla Curry Leaf in Seremban a run for it's money. Don't know the name, but you can't miss it. It's on Penang Road (the backpacker end) and is directly across the road from a very low class seemingly by the-hour hotel / knocking shop type place called the Towne Inn. The Indian restaurant is not seedy at all and has the most fantastic food. Not just the cheap prices; high quality and great service. The only thing is I can say about the surrounds is that it's a bit of a difficult area to be in late at night or in the early hours of the morning. Don't say you haven't been warned. our flight then were almost 2 hours late meaning we got into Penang city close to midnight. We hadn't booked as we should have been there by 6pm, more than enough time to get to the Oriental where we've stayed before. When we got there, they were chock-a-block full, but the manager gave us a few alternatives to try in the same price range and let us leave the bags whilst we checked them out - 10 out of 10 for helpfulness.

We ended up in the Mingood where we met some interesting people and had a relatively uneventful 8 days before heading north.

Motorcycle hire was only RM30 per day which was a bit of a relief after Malacca. On Pangkor Island last year we paid RM20, but in Malacca the going price was $75 which was totally outrageous. Perhaps there's more moneyed tourists than backpacker in Malacca than Penang; I can't think of any other reason. When we visited Malacca the first time, I think 8 or 9 years ago motorcycle hire was unheard of, even by tourist information offices. Lots of other stuff in Malacca was a fair bit more expensive too, due in part to the moneyed tourists, and the large number expats, although I think things will be changing shortly. Many are making their way home after losing their jobs, or being relocated to the company's main operation in Europe rather than being based as an expat there. As such, nobody is buying apartments and condo's that are only a few weeks off finishing constructions are reported as being as not even half sold - and that's just in the big cities; there should be cheap rentals bargains galore for people like us.

We got to Hat Yai the day before the boys from the Hash House Harriers arrived, went back to the Golden Crown Plaza where we'd stayed last time we were here and found it cheaper, although the almost worthless Aussie dollar shnuffled up most of the saving. It's hard to believe we were getting US$0.98 a few months ago. We're getting just over US$0.61 at the moment. Ouch.

So, the coach from Seremban arrived with it's motly collection of "runners" which included Roshen which was a lovely surprise. Even better, Alfie, who didn't come as their mum has been ill, phoned Peter when the rest were on the way to say hello.

We went out for dinner last night with Praba and Roshen and had a great night. We got lovely a Christmas card and hats from the boys and Roshen surprised us further when we found out he also speaks Chinese. And Polish. He invited us to his sisters wedding (but I still say his sister has to be the one to invite us). I'm so excited - several people have told me Punjabi weddings go for about 3 days. I don't think he was kidding when he said we will have to dress 'appropriately', but not to worry as he would sort it out for us. So, it looks like we'll be back in Seremban in May.

Woo-hoo!

I didn't get to spend much time with them - they were only here for two nights and the first was for serious drinking and the days were for even more serious recovery, but we both really enjoyed catching up with them.

The airport in Bangkok is still blockaded at the moment, I'm trying to understand why the military aren't going in and arresting them, but then, we were here for the election last Christmas and I remember wondering how long it would be before the army staged another coup - the very party that they had staged the coup to get rid of had been re-elected. In the end, no coup was needed. Inaction is better than action sometimes. There are an awful lot of people stuck at the airport at the moment trying to get out. I started to think yesterday about when I was working, and yes, we always HAD to get home, but sometimes we NEEDED to get home on the day we were scheduled to. End of the financial year. Legal business which had to be completed. Salaries to be calculated AND paid - the knock on effect of our being delayed by a few days in such a time could be horrendous. I can't but feel for those who REALLY need to get home because their business or job or future depends on it, or because they are sick or, as in at least one case, they have relatives who are very sick and literally dying.

We had breakfast with Praba this morning - Roshen was sleeping off the big night with several Kilkenny's and they are about to leave. It seems to me to be a long way to come for a couple of nights, but everybody seems to have enjoyed themselves thoroughly, which is what it's all about really.

Peter's gone to the hotel to wave the coach off I've got an awful lot of serious Photoshopping to do.

We're staying on here for another couple of days before heading up to Bangkok. Not sure how long we'll stay there, suppose it depends on whether the airport re-opens and the protesters disburse with no trouble. We have a 60 day visa and so we'll have to see which way the wind blows us.

Think I might do a year in review piece - bit overdue as we've been out on the road for a bit more than a year now. One day.