Penang

Happy Chinese New Year! And hello from Malaysia!

Last time I was in SE Asia, I only flew through Malaysia, but did not stop.

This time, I’m working my way south, from Penang to Singapore (which is not officially part of Malaysia but you know what I mean).

Let’s start with Penang! Known as food heaven, sadly I came at the wrong time to sample more of the delicacies. Chinese New Year was smack at the start of my trip and thus, many of the restaurants were closed.

Chinese New Year is a 10-day celebration, but how long it’s celebrated varies per country. Vietnam can definitely last 10-14 days, and seems like Malaysia does too, due to its large Chinese population. I picked Penang because I was told it was a great spot to visit for it, sadly I think that was poor advice.

The city is still charming and delightful, full of street art and historic buildings but, I do think I missed some additional activities because of CNY. Travel, live and learn.

The main hub of Penang is George Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site that boasts the old world charm and influences of China.

Penang is also hot as fuck. Excuse my language but it is fucking hot here, which I was prepared for but turns out, wasn’t.

It’s tropical. 80-85 degrees during the day with 75-79 dew point so it feels like 105. The sun is relentless and brutal from 11am – 4pm.

While out on my walks, people walk primarily in the shade, chasing shade from one building to another. I did the same.

I have not been this consistently hot and sweaty in a long time. On average, I sweat completely through my clothes two times per day and shower at least twice a day too to hose off.

It’s gross. But my skin is glowing, so I guess you can’t win them all.

Street art is also well known here due to a public art exhibition commissioned in 2017, which lead to a rise of more artists to decorate streets since. I loved seeing the street art around here, and the history and culture of Penang and Malaysia in it.

My journey south continues, sadly with the heat.

Oh, and I got attacked by bugs or bed bugs at a hostel. Total of 21 bites between both legs. In this heat and humidity it is true torture. Not the strongest start to Malaysia 😦

Photos!

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Fix me

On my walk recently, while I was visibly sweating through my clothes for the second time of the day, I had a thought.

When is this trip going to fix me????

No, I wasn’t listening to Coldplay when that thought came to me.

When I traveled in 2015, I was in a bad place. Depressed, scared, self esteem in the crapper. I left because I needed something to change, otherwise I feared what would happen to me.

And after about six weeks, I started to grow, evolve and change (food poisoning actually triggered it). I truly feel like the time away and the experiences I had made me a different person. One more tolerant, focused and compassionate. And realistic about relationships.

I started this trip similarly. I needed a change, felt like this was the only way to rip me out of my rut. And I’m waiting for my evolution moment, where something clicks and I’m “changed.”

The follow up thought hit me like a slap in the face.

What if I don’t need fixing this time.

What if I’m okay as I am but need mostly some time alone and to relax?

It was a crazy thought.

And a little disappointing. If I’m fixed, then whatever was wrong is better or resolved. If there is little or nothing to fix, it’s coming to terms to with that so I can try to go forward. Which feels a little less satisfying. Or anti-climactic.

I don’t know yet what that answer is or what needs fixing or what could even be changed. Only time will tell.

When your hiking backpack becomes your pet

Four years ago Santa bought me a hiking backpack for my three month trip to Asia.

IMG_1287

Now it’s become my pet/baby.

Yes, she has a name. It’s “The Shire,” because she is a horrible color green.

No, I didn’t pick that color, I didn’t have a choice based on timing.

Yes, I shudder every time I see that ugly green color.

Yes, I love her.

After carrying her for three months, getting back to the US and putting her away was difficult. I was so used to having her with me, I felt a little out of place.

But the more time I spend traveling with her, I find more accessories or little things I need for the backpack and me traveling with one:

  • Rain cover
  • Travel cover (to protect her when being handed as baggage on airlines. Not rainproof but in theory the rain cover could do double duty)
  • Locks for the zippers
  • Tape for rips
  • Scrubba hand washing all-in-one package (such a great invention)

Uh okay maybe that list isn’t as long as I thought.

But you get the point. It’s like buying shoes for an outfit you don’t have yet. Then suddenly you’re like, I need new EVERYTHING FOR THIS.

That’s kinda how I feel about my backpack. Recently I had to put some Duct Tape on her because of a rip. And as I stared at her, working on the fix and her dull green color staring back at me, I softened.

“You’re still my girl. Maybe we’ll get you something pretty from REI or Kathmandu soon? How about that?”

I may hate the color, but we are in this together.

The words I love to hear

“I miss you so much, I wish you were here right now.”

Those words are like crack to me.

Why? That’s probably obvious, hearing first-hand you are missed, needed and wanted. That’s a powerful feeling. To feel like you have purpose and that being there with someone could make a real difference.

But, those words are also cruel. And give perhaps a lonely person hope where the reality behind those words may be not as well intentioned.

When I got back from Asia 4 years ago, I had a RUDE awakening.

Friends who said those words to me, and to whom I replied “hey! I’m back, let’s meet up, I missed you,” received a very different response.

“Yay you’re back! I am (out of town/so stressed at work/busy with family stuff, etc.) so maybe we can meet up next month?”

Hard slap across the face.

As I look back at it now, it felt cruel and hurtful but it wasn’t. It was realistic.

Life goes on without you. And really, while you matter to the people in your life, your presence doesn’t on a day to day basis, especially as you get older and lives evolve.

They mean those words in the moment but now I take a step back and look at the context around what they’re saying.

“I wish you were here right now…

  • To hear me bitch about my job”
  • For me to vent to endlessly because I’m being wronged”
  • To hear me complain about family or spouses”
  • To make me feel like someone is listening to ME”
  • For you to reassure me everything will be okay”
  • To listen to me, while I ask nothing about you”

Sometimes, this reality still hurts. But, I choose now how much space I give it to hurt me.

Because in my own moments I mean what I say, but I know I need to keep moving on after solo.

These lessons aren’t easy to learn, but are important.

Puke happens

I am a magnet for anyone who needs to vomit. There is something about me where people who need to or want to puke, do so only when I’m around.

It’s a gift? Maybe?

Motion sickness is common in Asia. I’ve never seen it more. Roads here aren’t great, buses and shuttle buses are compact and always full and hot inside, and you can take some hairpin turns too depending on the route.

Motion sickness happens. I get it and have gotten it myself.

But the VOLUME of it is horrifying. And how I keep running in to it (not literally.)

On my way to a spice farm in Zanzibar, we are behind a dala for awhile, finally a woman looks at the car I’m in and puked. Not just once, oh no, even I could see she wasn’t done. She pukes more, wipes her mouth and then moves on.

Walking in Hanoi, I am down a random street going to dinner, bus appears out of nowhere, pulls over to let people out, kid staggers out, looks at me and starts puking in a bag.

Sitting on a bus in Myanmar, where puking started at hour 3 of an 8 hour ride and continues for most of that time. This did trigger some other puking around me, while I listen to podcasts and stare out the window.

And worst of all, a few years ago in Macau, the boat back to Hong Kong was in such bad weather that we were bouncing all over the place, the chorus and round of puking around me the entire way back, while my dinner sat untouched in my lap.

Fortunately, hearing it doesn’t trigger me but my god go away. Please don’t let this keep happening.

A little solo travel rant

While I was happily sitting in a coffee shop in HCMC, working on and researching travel plans for mid-Feb through April, a little dark cloud came over me.

No rain, but a little cloudy reminder.

I am a 1 living in a 2 world.

What does that mean?

The reality of being a solo traveler. Single supplements, unable to join tours unless at least one other person signs up, etc. These are realities of traveling solo, much like bearing the brunt of the cost for all tours, cars, tickets, etc.

It’s a reality. And sometimes it sucks.

Look, I choose to travel alone. I have no travel partner or romantic partner to go with me, so the only way I could see the things I wanted is alone.

I get that. And my experiences have been worth it overall.

Sometimes, even when I am alone, I don’t want to be. And sometimes on this journey I get a little lonely, even with a solid support network at home. We’re still 13 hours apart right now, and that gap will be widening shortly.

So looking up travel plans, running the cost, and realizing it will be a little more than I thought and definitely more than I am used to SE Asia, I get resentful that I have to do it alone.

It’s not fair. Such a childish thing to say but sometimes that’s what it boils down to.

I saved for this, ran the numbers and knew things would come up or costs would change. It’s staring at the reality that makes me pause for a moment.

That’s it. No real solution. Just a moment and feeling that hangs over me and then passes.

Tomorrow, I get back to planning and remembering why I’m doing this. This journey will test my confidence, emotions and my issues with money. The last one getting primed to be tested and me, chafing with concern about tackling them head on.

Yayyyyyyy growth.

 

Down in the Mekong Delta

Getting to the Mekong Delta was a key thing I wanted to do in Vietnam.

Flash back to four years ago, during my first trip to Vietnam, I was set to go down to Can Tho on a day trip and I got sick. Really sick. Not food poisoning sick, but sick. Thus, I had to call and cancel my trip and lose the cost of the tour. Bummer.

But now I’m back and was healthy this round so I treated and went for an overnight homestay tour of the Mekong Delta with Innoviet. The Mekong Delta is a popular day trip from HCMC so there are plenty of options to pick from, but I wanted something a little different. This tour boasted that it visited non-touristy parts of the Delta and gave us time on a bike to explore and stay with a family.

That sounded perfect to me.

And it was a great visit. Weather was hot AF and humid and dry. So two out of three isn’t bad.

We started with a drive from HCMC to Ben Tre, one of the regions of the Delta, and walked around to see how residents live and take a trip down one of the rivers in a hand-rowed boat. Honestly, it was so nice and quiet and green and nice to see almost no tourists. I cannot begin to tell you how oversaturated you can get on tours in big tourist destinations like HCMC.

My favorite part of the day was biking around a local island about 30 minutes south of Can Tho, the major city in the Delta. We stayed in a family’s home (and got to watch them prep for Tet (Chinese New Year), one of Vietnam’s biggest holidays).

The big tourist draw in the Delta is the Cai Rang floating market just outside of Can Tho. That’s where most people go to visit. We did and got to have a traditional noodle breakfast on the water too. With boatside coffee service.

Overall, it was a nice overnight from HCMC and I’d recommend the tour to others. It’s a bit more expensive than traditional tours but getting away from the main tourist groups was so worth it.

And, still healthy!

Photos!