Island Getaway on Ko Lipe

Well our 5 days on the Thai island of Ko Lipe didn’t get off to the best start.  The only option to get there from Langkawi is by speed boat and the slightly rough weather on our travel day resulted in the worst boat trip of our lives! Life jackets were on and hands were firmly gripping the seat in front.  Not seasick rough but the boat bounces hard over the waves so very uncomfortable. We were glad when our feet hit the sand.

The first 3 nights we spent in a beachside bamboo bungalow. 

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The bungalow was pretty basic, cold shower and manual flushing toilet by way of a bucket of water, but a great location. Couldn’t complain about the view from our door.

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Matt was on housekeeping.

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Before we stayed we had read reviews of the bungalows and heard about creepy crawlies coming inside, ants biting your feet in the bathroom etc because there were gaps everywhere but we didn’t have any problems at all.  It was good to have a mosquito net though.

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All over the island there are lots of stray dogs roaming around.

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They don’t get up to much except for lazing around, although this one did have quite a fond attachment to his frisbee.

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The island is pretty small, about 1.5km across so it’s easy to explore.

Unfortunately the weather on the first 3 days wasn’t great, rain on and off most of the days, but we still got out and about.  The restaurant at the bungalows was really good so we had a few meals there but also had a dinner out along the beach.

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Thought their wine options were funny, normal or good.

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Lots of restaurants around offering the point and cook option, the seafood is on display so you can hand pick what prawn/squid/fish you want.

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The island has previously had a really big rubbish problem.  It builds up on the beaches over the winter and at the beginning of high season each resort cleans up their own beachfront.  They have just started taking the rubbish away on a barge, when the barge is full it leaves, until then it sits on the beach.

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Our final two nights our accommodation was a room with 4 solid walls, a/c and a flush toilet!

Luckily the weather improved so we got some time on the beach, beautiful clear water and nice soft sand underfoot. That’s where the ‘paradise’ island comes in.

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We got over to the other side of the island, sunset beach one evening. Beautiful spot to watch the sun go down.
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Some of the resorts have decided to support the motorbike taxis on the island rather than the long tail boats because the boat owners refuse to use mufflers and without them they are really noisy.  There’s no denying the role of the boats for the island though. Not just for transporting people, we saw this one loaded up with all sorts.

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Given our trip over we were a little concerned about our trip to the mainland but our departure day was fine and calm like a lake.

While we were waiting for the boat we saw several prime examples of why you shouldn’t take roller luggage anywhere, but especially on a beach holiday!

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While the weather wasn’t great at the start, by the end we were having a great time on the island. Next stop some city time in Chiang Mai.

Langkawi

Our final stop in Malaysia was the island of Langkawi and taking just 19min from Penang in the same plane you fly NZ – OZ in, it was the shortest flight we’ve ever had, no time for tea and bikkies on this one.

We stayed a 15min walk from the beach and shops but hired a scooter from our hosts so didn’t walk it once.  We loved the open communal living area and the setting amongst the palm trees.

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We went to check out the beach for a sunset drink, there were lots of people about especially Muslim locals going for a swim fully clothed. This is what you do, don’t hit the beach until 5pm at the earliest. Going during the day is for crazy foreigners.

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It was the opposite during the day, pretty deserted apart from the jet skis and banana rides on the water.

Kuah is the main town on the island and was about a 30min scooter from our accommodation.   This is where most of the ferries come and go from and is home to Eagle Square.

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One of the main must do’ s is the Cable Car, the ‘world’s steepest’ gondola ride up to spectacular views across the whole island.  We were lucky with the weather we had, the only really clear day of our stay. The views were really something and we’ve been seeing a lot over the past few months.

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The gondola starts in the Oriental Village and goes straight up the hill behind the peach coloured building, over the rainforest and waterfalls.

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It was great to have the scooter so we could explore most of the island, and with petrol being NZ 80 cents/litre (We thought we were in Kuwait for a minute), and the scooter holding about 5 litres, it didn’t exactly break the bank.

Unfortunately the weather didn’t play its part on a couple of days, so we didn’t spend much time at the beaches, but they looked good.

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We had a good night out one night at a bar on the main street, we sat there people watching and talking to our neighbours for hours. A classic family turned up and we were certain they were Aussies until we overhead they were from New Plymouth.
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We didn’t believe that though as they were definitely Wolf, Cheryl and Pascal West from Outrageous Fortune. Van was also there but out of shot whilst (successfully) engaging a German backpacker.

We saw monkeys every day, mostly just chilling out on the side of the road, or hanging out on the wires.  We got this pic just before this long tailed lemur took a flying leap into the tree.

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Other wildlife included some cool birds, several monitor lizards and one dead snake.
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Langkawi is a duty free island so many people come to the mainland to do their shopping.  With much of the population being Muslim it’s not only the beer/wine/spirits that are in demand but the Pyrex, Teflon and other homewares that they stock up on. 

Although it would have been nice to have some better weather we still really enjoyed our time here. The island is a great size to explore via scooter or car, roads not busy and infrastructure good. Friendly locals with lots of waves, OK food and beaches, very good value duty free stuff, nice varied landscapes.

Well worth a visit.

Next we’re heading for the Thai island of Ko Lipe.

Food Paradise of Penang

We had heard many great things about the food in Penang (“best food in Malaysia”) so arrived with the thought of trying many different dishes.

Steven who ran our accommodation, The Pedal Inn, was great in recommending places to eat and even dropped us off to a great hawker centre on our first night.

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To follow up we went out to breakfast with him the following morning to a coffee shop (1 step up from hawker centre) Hokkien Mee (noodle soup) and lo bok (fried shrimp and sausage with 2 sauces)  was a great start to the day.

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The Pedal Inn had only been open a year but it was an excellent place to base ourselves.

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Really clean rooms and a friendly manager who goes the extra mile is always appreciated.

The city has such a foodie reputation that there is a list of popular dishes and where best to get them published.  This was a great way for us to see the options and tick them off as we tried them.   Some dishes weren’t to our liking, the traditional way of making Assam Laska was a bit fishy tasting for us but others we loved like the Chow Chee Fun.

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We probably should have tried cendol, a dessert made of shaved ice, creamed corn, red beans, noodles and sauce, but it just didn’t seem that appetising to us.

We did like the Popiah, kind of a fresh spring roll made of a crepe-like outer with savoury fillings.

The city is a real neat mix of cultures, with Chinese Malay and Indian Malay producing the bulk of the culinary delights.

We were told we had to try a banana leaf dish and weren’t disappointed. Hands down the best Indian meal of our lives. Not just 1 curry with rice but 3 curries with a choice of plain or tomato rice, then 3 vegetable sauces and sambal for an extra kick. Delish!

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Penang has a great street art scene too, again there is a list/map of where to find the different pieces. There are alot of pieces explaining some of the history of the city such as this one.

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Others are a great play on props. This was our favourite.

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We ventured out to the popular Air Itam market for lunch one day, where we had the laksa, very busy spot with all sorts of stalls. We also tried freshly squeezed sugar cane juice, unfortunately it was too sweet for us.
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So we may not have had the best food time here in Air Itam but it is close to the Buddhist temple Kek Lok Si, the largest Buddhist temple in South East Asia.

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We had to pass through the gauntlet of stalls to get to the entrance but it was well worth it.

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Beautiful wood carvings and statues, but we did feel a bit sorry for all the turtles, talk about cramped quarters (couldn’t get a pic of them all but it was pretty cramped in the murky water).

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You need to take an incline lift to the top to better see the main statue.
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Matt calls my sensible shirt and hat combo my ‘explorer outfit’ so I’ve told him to just start calling me Dora.
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Monkey see, monkey do.

Georgetown (the town on Penang Island that we were staying) is a very compact area that’s easy to explore on foot. It has a lot of British history which can be seen in some of the buildings.
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Here’s a pic of their fire station just for Mark.
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It also has a big bustling Little India area (closest we’ve ever got to India we think) and along the waterfront are Chinese clan houses, an area where extended family can get together. We walked along one of the clan piers for a look.
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Not much imagination went into this toilet block along the pier, hole to nowhere.
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We had a great time in Georgetown and even after spending 5 nights here we are definitely considering returning on this trip. One of the best places we’ve been full stop, would recommend to all.

The food options are great, we had awesome accommodation that was central to everything and a great host.

We really feel like we only scratched the surface.

Singapore and Kuala Lumpur

Well after 3 flights, Toulouse to Munich to Doha (on a new 787 Dreamliner, nice smooth ride, big windows but 9 across one too many) to Singapore, we got out of the airport and were hit with the hot, humid air that we can expect for the next few months.
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It was great to have friends to stay with our whole time in Singapore, thanks to Barton and Leone, and Ginny and Cam.

The city is not really suited to budget travellers, prices for accommodation and alcohol especially are horrendous. An exception is dining at the hawker food centres where there’s a lot of choice to be had for good value.

We punished ourselves with a long walk around the waterfront one day and were relieved to get into a mall at the end of it.  Thank goodness for air conditioning! 

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The gardens by the bay are really lush and beautiful.   There are lots of different areas and structures to explore.

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Most residents don’t spend much time in non-a/c areas, there are a huge number of malls running underneath the city so there’s no need to get sweaty outside. 

We enjoyed living like expats taking taxis ( best we’ve taken anywhere, good value and so so many of them on the roads ) and swimming in the condo pools of both places we stayed.

The Marina Bay Sands is an amazing building housing a mall, casino, hotel and observation deck.  We had a drink and some spectacular views (camera not up to task of night photos) on the top floor garden bar one night.  

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Chilli crab using a nut cracker seems to be a signature dish of Singapore so we had to give it a try and it seems Jumbos is the place to get it.   Everyone looked very stylish in their plastic bibs enjoying the tasty dinner.
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It’s been nice to enjoy the odd glass of NZ wine in our trip but on this occasion we decided to forgoe buying a bottle.
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We got to explore a few different areas, walking through Chinatown, biking East Coast park, dinner in the Arab Quarter, staying near Geylang and Holland Village so we feel like we saw alot even if we didn’t do some of the tourist things.
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We did go the the Chinese history museum where we think we stumbled on the first jolly jumper.
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Our overall impression of the city is that it’s very tidy and ordered (you still can’t buy chewing gum anywhere) but this structure takes away some of the personality so it doesn’t feel as vibrant as we had thought.

After our week in Singapore we hopped on a bus to Kuala Lumpur 5 hours away. On a bus that could seat 30 there were only 5 people which made for quick stops at immigration. The bus had movies which Matt got into while Rach stuck to the only music option of Kenny G.

KL is a bit more chaotic than Singapore, you probably wouldn’t see cows grazing in a paddock next to a new condo development in Singapore.
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We stayed in an apartment off airb’n’b with Steven and his mini poodle Papi. It was a good location, near to the transport lines as well as some good food stalls.

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We only had a couple of days here so didn’t get into too many tourist activities other than Chinatown and the popular food street.
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We didn’t make it up the Petronas Towers but had a good view of them from the apartment.

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Our next stop is the home of great Malaysian food, Penang.

The end of our European Adventure

We had one last night remaining in The Goo and spent it near Pau, in the South of France en route to Toulouse.  It’s a beautiful area to get a great view of the Pyrenees.  We didn’t have a lot of time but managed a quick look around the town and a coffee with a view.

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As it was our last chance to use all of our cooking gear we decided to cook for ourselves, Matt produced a great meal that used just about all of our last supplies and butane canister, good planning.

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The gas cooker has been invaluable and for the price we bought it for it’s lasted much longer than expected.

The next morning it was time to demolish our bed and dump the bedding / towels etc.   We’re not sure the cleaner understood what we were doing because we’d put things in the rubbish bin then 2 minutes later we’d see her digging them out and taking them to the washing room.  At least she might be able to put them to good use.

We got lucky when it came to disposing of the base of the bed, thick plywood that had been carefully calculated based on load bearing potential.

The French man who lived in the caravan on the pitch next to ours got talking to us and so we told him that he could have it, so he decided he could put it to good use to make a new caravan door. In return he gave us a single bottle of beer and a used pocket knife.

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Thoughtful because he wanted to give us something to remember him by, just not very practical when you’re a carry-on only traveller, it found its way to a bin.

The Goo was back to its original form of a 7 seater people mover, so we headed of for Toulouse our final stop in Europe.

When we were in Lisbon we made friends with our French neighbours and got the name of a French ‘cash converters’ type store. We still had our cooking equipment, table and chairs and various items, so tried our luck to sell them. We managed to get €35 for what they would take, and left the rest at a clothing bin type station.

In Toulouse it really nice to have a few days to relax without doing too much sightseeing. We went to a couple of typical french markets and out for dinners but really just stuck around our neighbourhood, not even going to the city or a single tourist attraction.

Matt made the use of some ‘alone time’. Not sure you can really call it that when you’re in the same room.

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After almost 5 months it was time for the door to close on our Europe adventure and another one to open to South East Asia.

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We’ve had a great time, there are places that we would return to and some we definitely would not. Favourite big cities would be Paris, Lisbon, Tallin. Favourite rural area is Italy – Tuscany and Umbria. Best beaches we found in Portugal, Corsica and Estonia. People were friendly pretty much everywhere.

The food had its ups and downs. Favourites would be the German beer, italian and spanish wine, bread in France and Italy (and croissants and brioche mmmmmm), Italy wins hands down for coffee, cheese in Pag (Croatia) and you can count on every country for open markets and great fresh produce.

We’re so glad we had the car, it gave us the chance to see much more and the flexibility to alter plans easily.

Now it’s time for Asia, first stop Singapore.

San Sebastian

After considering doing the 900+km drive from Seville to San Sebastian in one day, we decided on the sensible option of stopping off for a night along the way. 

Being a Sunday not many shops/cafes were open so we opted for the reliability of McDonald’s for lunch on the way.   We were taken by surprise to see tap beer amongst the drinks menu, in fact the outside area was full of people enjoying a post-church beer while their children ran around in the playground.

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Tordesillas was our stopover point, a beautiful place beside the river.   We had a look around the town , it was pretty quiet.

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We managed to catch a pretty sunset on the way back to the campsite.

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Unfortunately because the restaurants weren’t starting dinner until 8.30pm and we wanted to get an early night we had to resort to pizza from the campground restaurant.  No culinary delight but better than we were expecting.

We had come quite far north and from this point on we realised we weren’t in the European summer any longer, the mornings were much cooler, it’s been a very long time since we’ve seen our breath in the air. 

San Sebastian is apparently often quite rainy and it lived up to this image during our short stay.  The sea was very rough, due to the tail end of a big storm that had hit the UK, but it was fun to watch the waves crashing over the breakwater and the swell going up the river.

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We managed to get a couple of fine spells which made it nicer to wander around the city.  The beaches were deserted, although we did see a couple of hardy people swimming.

The buildings are pretty and a lot of the apartment buildings reminded us more of those we’d seen in Paris than the rest of Spain.

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San Sebastian has a reputation as one of the world’s foodie cities. We were really looking forward to eating here and weren’t disappointed.  The pinxto culture is alive and well, and once we got the hang of the process we enjoyed sampling lots of different types. 

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We had fun in Spain but next time would definitely spend more time out of the cities in the smaller areas.We feel that it would be much more of a fun, relaxed and authentic experience.

Sassy Seville

Well it was goodbye Portugal and hello again to Espana as we headed to Seville to spend a few days in the South of Spain.  We decided to get an apartment close to town to make it easy to get around, also was good as there was a bit of rain while we visited. The city seems reasonably compact and easy to find your way around. 

Seville, and the greater Andalusian region, is home to tapas so we thought we’d better get out and sample some.   We had a great tapas bar in walking distance to where we were staying and ended up there twice in 2 days.  It was interesting trying to decipher the menu. 

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‘Caballitos’ translates into horse so we were a bit cagey to try it but we had a few others which were great.

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We did have the ‘racing canary’ , still not sure exactly what it was.

It seems that the siesta in the middle of the day isn’t for having a nap but for getting together to have a beer and some tapas. 2-4pm seemed to be the busiest part of the day for restaurants.

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It works well having lunch at this time when you’re not having dinner till at least 9.30pm.

The palace in the centre of town was great to wander around, beautiful mosaic work through all the buildings.

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The gardens surrounding it are beautiful too.

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We also visited the Cathedral, the largest cathedral by volume in the world. 

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Also home to the tomb of Christopher Columbus.

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We had seen ads for a Queen Tribute concert when we were in Barcelona and managed to get tickets for the Seville show.

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Great show, there was a Dire Straits Tribute band as a warm up then 2 hours of Queen hits, full re-creation of ‘1986 Live at Wembley’ concert.

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On our way home we were really surprised by the number of people parked up having boot parties, obviously the usual start to the night for many.

Had a fun night out which was a great end to our time in Seville.

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