Monthly Archives: July 2015

Southeast Asia: Malaysia

***To read about the first part of our two-month trip, see Southeast Asia: The Philippines.

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We arrived in Kota Kinabalu after a very frustrating seven-hour plane delay. Curse you Air Asia and your crappy food vouchers and awful customer service. Also, sorry (but not sorry) airline workers whom Beth and I yelled at. Hanger brings out the worst in us apparently…

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We decided to turn our trip through Borneo into a giant road trip, starting in KK and making a giant circle down to Semporna (a scuba diving town), stopping along the way to see the sites, and ending back in KK. We rented a car and named it Termi—short for Termite. It was a tiny thing with skinny little wheels and strange rattling noises. At one point Beth and I had to get out of the car and help push it up a hill because it didn’t have enough power to make it to the top. Watching the boys try to drive stick on the opposite side of the road was pretty dang entertaining.

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(Not the best pic of Termi, but you get the idea…)

Our first stop was Mount Kinabalu National Park. We spent the night there and went on some short hikes the next morning. It was raining the whole time, so we didn’t get to see much of the surrounding mountains. However, we did find an adorable green jellybean at the top… (Sorry Beth, couldn’t resist.)

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Next we went to Poring to visit their “famous” hot springs. Go there if you like swimming in root beer-colored water….

For dessert that night, I ordered a scoop of chocolate ice cream from a little shop and asked them to put peanut butter on it. They looked at me like I was crazy but agreed to do it. They handed me a cup of ice cream with a scoop of peanut butter and a scoop of butter on top! Apparently, in Southeast Asia, peanut butter is just called “peanut.”

Lesson learned.

The next day we met up with a girl named Coral to trek into a jungle camp called Lupa Masa. Coral had a nice aroma of B.O. and mildew…just the classic jungle-living, granola-eating anthropologist. She was very nice though…she led us into the jungle, through the trees, across bridges suspended over waterfalls and through ankle-deep jungle streams. We arrived at the camp and settled in to our 5-star accommodations complete with mosquito nets and bamboo walls.

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We spent that evening and part of the next day swimming in waterfalls, taking night-walks to see insects, reading our books and exploring the jungle. The highlight of Lupa Masa was probably seeing the five-foot snake that slithered its way into camp.

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The worst part of Lupa Masa was THE SQUIRELL. I’ve always disliked squirrels. They pick on me. They’re incredibly unpredictable and those beady little eyes and chirping squeals are just creepy. The squirrel of Lupa Masa only reaffirmed my hatred for those little creatures. While we were out for a hike, a squirrel chewed through my backpack and stole my bag of peanuts—the same peanuts I spent 45 minutes shelling the night before. How inconsiderate. Worst animal award goes to squirrels, no question about it.

Our next stop after Lupa Masa was the Kinabatangan River. We stayed in a little town called Suka and went on a river tour the next morning. Not gonna lie, it wasn’t very impressive. Everyone raves about the crazy wildlife you see along the river. During those two hours, we saw a couple proboscis monkeys and a bird or two. Wa-wa-wa. It was beautiful though…

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After our over-priced flop of a river tour, we decided to move on from the Kinabatangan and head to Semporna, which is a small city at the bottom tip of Borneo famous for scuba diving. We had a few days to kill before our dive, so we took a boat ride out to the island of Mabul. Mabul is a tiny little island off the coast—we walked around the entire thing in 30 minutes…

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It was sad but interesting to see the uneven distribution of wealth on the island…A small portion of the island is dedicated to 5-star resorts with gorgeous stilt houses, clean water and pristine beaches.

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The “real” island, where the locals live, is a trashy mess of burning garbage, shack houses and junk. It’s really sad to see the locals throwing old plastic diapers and cans into the ocean. Even sadder to see five-year-old boys smoking cigarettes under the stairwells…

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Directly in front of our lodge, we found an incredible snorkel spot called Lobster Wall. We saw some amazing wild life and bright-colored coral.

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At night we wandered around the village trying local treats like purple bread and sweet baby bananas.

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That night we slept outside on the deck of our lodge because the rats just weren’t respecting our personal space. Like we’re talking crawling across Beth’s back and running up and down our bedposts. Sometimes backpacking is not a glamorous experience…

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The highlight of our entire time in Borneo was definitely Sipadan, which is a famous dive off the coast of Semporna. The dive costs a fortune, but we decided to splurge and oh baby, it was worth every penny. There were turtles everywhere we looked. They’d let you get pretty close, so you could see the little wrinkles on their necks and stare into their wise, beady eyes.

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TURTULES

We swam through GIANT schools of jack fish, we saw schools of parrot fish (fish that are bigger than me and poop A LOT, as I learned after swimming underneath them…), we saw a whale shark, beautiful coral, colorful fish and tons of white-tipped sharks. Such an amazing experience. In fact, I think it may have ruined scuba diving for us, because any other dive just won’t compare to that. 😉

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On our way back to KK, we spent another night in Poring. Apparently, there was a 6.0 magnitude earthquake near Mount Kinabalu earlier that day. We felt shock waves from it all night, so we kept waking up to miniature earthquakes. I guess a group of Canadian tourists had climbed to the top of Mt. Kinabalu and ran around naked. The Malaysian government blames them for the earthquake because they “angered the gods…” They were being held by the government and not allowed to leave the country. Hilarious.

We also got fish “massages”–not your typical massage. You get in a river and let giant fish bite your dead skin off. The boys got out of the river with tiny blood blisters all over their bodies. Beth and I opted for the foot massage only but we let them suck fish food out of our hands. One got my whole pinky finger in its mouth before I managed to pull it out…

ANDREW

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We flew out of Borneo and spent the last few days in West Malaysia, where we went to the Cameron Highlands. It reminded me of a European Park City that’s not quite as nice. We took some beautiful jungle hikes, ate some incredible Indian food (hello MINT curry with warm and chewy N’aan bread…) and explored some gorgeous tea tree plantations.

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Our last stop in Malaysia was Penang, which is famous for it’s food. We had so much fun walking the street markets and trying all the delicious fruits, seafood and Malaysian specialties (like chicken foot soup–mmmm).

I love fruit to the point of obsession.

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Only in Asia….

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And now, off to Thailand. (Coming soon!)

P.S. Thank you Andrew and Patrick who contributed some of these photos!

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Southeast Asia: The Philippines

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For months before we left, I anticipated May 9th with both hesitation and excitement. Backpacking for two months through Southeast Asia is a serious commitment…at least it was to me. Leading up to our trip I heard a lot of doubtful remarks from people: “It’s going to be sooo hot and uncomfortable.” “You’re going to get sick from the food.” “It’s going to cost way more than you think…” It’s easy to let those opinions start sinking into your own head.

But now that we’re home from our two-month adventure, I can say with satisfaction that we proved those people wrong.

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Our crew: me, my husband Patrick, my brother Andrew and his wife Beth. The four amigos. While in Asia, we traveled to four different countries and spent about two weeks in each.

Our first stop was the Philippines. From Salt Lake, we flew to Manila and took a 10-hour night bus to Banaue—a small village in northern Philippines.

After my miserable experience in Peru with the night buses, I’d promised myself I wouldn’t take one again. Little did I know that night buses would become a regular treat during our two months in Asia.

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From Banaue we hiked about an hour to Batad, which is a gorgeous valley of rice terraces surrounded by steep mountains. The view from our hotel deck “blew my socks off,” as Papa D. would say…

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We spent the next few days exploring Batad. When I say exploring, I mean getting lost from the trails and teetering our way along the narrow pathways between the terraces. Andrew was a trooper with his recently broken femur. He hobbled behind us with his cane “suga” and handled it like a champ.

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Highlights of Batad: hiking to a waterfall, getting $6 massages, (is it weird that we were all stripped naked in a room together? Andrew, don’t look…) enjoying the views, trying new food and meeting the most humble and hardworking people we’ve ever met.

After we’d had our fill of Batad, we took a Jeepni back to Banaue. Pat and I rode on the top, which got a little sketchy trying to hang on while the maniac driver sped around curvy corners.

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(I hope you appreciate this photo bomb as much as I do…)

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Turns out shoving 25 Asians in and on top of an old jeepni isn’t the greatest idea. When the tire popped, the Asians shot out of that thing like rocket ships. I truly don’t know how they got out of there so fast…

Our next stop was El Nido, which is a cute little beach town that has blown up with tourists in the past few years. To escape the crowds we rented a private boat to take us around the islands for a three-day, two-night trip. We quickly learned that camping in the Philippines is not for the faint of heart. It means hot, sandy and uncomfortable nights with man-eating rats scurrying around your tent and malaria-filled mosquitos swarming your head. But heck, we loved every second of it.

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Our crew consisted of three guys—Marc, Jonathan and Cheeto—who looked like they were 14 years old. Turns out those boys know how to throw a mean beach party. They took us to some of the best snorkeling spots I’ve ever seen…crystal blue water with incredible wild life and crazy rock formations to swim through.

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(We swam through that hole and popped up on the other side into a gorgeous, completely secluded lagoon that had amazing fish and underwater tunnels to swim through…)

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They cooked us FEASTS of fresh fish, fried pork, fruits and exotic vegetables—who woulda thought Cheeto would be such a good cook? At night we’d set up camp on a deserted island and watch the sun set below the horizon.

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It was an incredible few days, but by the end of day three, we were definitely ready for a shower and some pants. Wait what? ***Note to self: never wear a fanny pack with only a swimsuit bottom.

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From El Nido, we took another night bus to Puerto Princessa to catch a plane to Cebu. The night bus got to PP around 3 a.m.—the airport didn’t open until 5. Hello asphalt, you are a way comfy bed. Not. I actually fell asleep for awhile but was woken up by a stray dog licking my foot. I’d put some anti-itch cream on a mosquito bite and I guess it was a tempting snack for that mangy little pup.

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From Cebu we headed to a charming little town called Moal Boal. That’s were we found the 40 cent mango shakes that we got twice a day every day while we were there…

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While in Moal Boal we snorkeled, went canyoneering and swam with whale sharks. Unfortunately we couldn’t bring our camera for the canyoneering so I have no pics to prove it, but it was definitely a highlight for all of us. We got to jump off a 40-foot waterfall into a natural pool, which was a first for me.

Swimming with the whale sharks was both terrifying and exhilarating. Those things are HUGE. One little flap of their tail in your face and your mom would be planning your funeral. Just ask Beth…she had a one-on-one battle with one of them when it tried to eat her. 😉

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Looking back, the Philippines is a tippity-top contender for our favorite country in Southeast Asia. If you ever travel to Southeast Asia, you HAVE to put it on your must-visit list…

Thank you Philippines for your mango shakes, crazy bus rides and never ending adventures.

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Next stop? Malaysia. (Coming soon!)