A Travellerspoint blog

A little Krabi/Koh Samui, Samui - whatever will be, will be

Thailand by Kt

So there hasn't been a blog for quite a while now. That's partly because we've been quite boring and have been doing lots of work and stuff.
We stayed in Krabi for almost 2 weeks and really did virtually no exploring. This was largely due to the weather, it being the wet season it would likely at least once a day get pretty stormy. We also took the opportunity of staying somewhere nice to get organised and work and stuff. We were staying at a home stay type arrangement about 20 minutes walk up the hill from the beach in Ao Nang. This suited us perfectly. The guy who ran it, Mr Chang, was lovely, the wifi was good, we had TV, air con, fridge and the place was really homely. It was a real bonus to be so far back from town as the food was better and much cheaper. There was a little cafe 2 doors from Mr Changs which had the best food ever. We have now set this as the bar of food appreciation in Thailand and it's tough to beat. We also had a 7-Eleven round the corner to pick up bits and pieces. It did feel like a little home for a while and has had us yearning for a bit of our own space for a bit.
Krabi, although not much explored by us, is undeniably a beautiful province.

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In season I'm sure we'd venture out more - there are beaches you can only get to by long boat and the rock formations really are a bit special, but we never really liked Ao Nang that much. Down into town/near the beach it was a bit like Kata had been, a bit touristy hassly and overpriced the further you go to the beach. It wasn't hassly in any kind of aggressive way, it's jut boring walking past it everyday, someone trying to get you into their restaurant, to by a suit or have a massage. We ended up spending most of our time up our, less interesting, but much more enjoyable end of town. There was a big mosque not far away and the call to prayers was always a nice sound to here as we sat at our balcony and worked. Actually, Mark mainly sat on the balcony and worked. I sat on the bed in the air con and worked. It tends to work us not working in the same room for many hours.

That really is it - I can't think of anything interesting about our time there. The rickshaw type things there were motorbikes and side-cars - they were hair-raisingly fun. There were some cute little bars, but most of the ones you thought looked appealing, in the bamboo streets were what seems to be disguised as girly bars. They aren't remotely seedy, just a bit boring and sad I think. They always have a pool table, a TV with football on and a scattering of Thai girls hanging about. Suits a lot of blokes I guess. It's not like it's weird or anything if you go in as a couple or as a girl, it's just that they're not much fun. I'm sick of the sight of football on the television. I hate it at home and I hate it here where it's bizarrely more prevalent.
We spent a lot of nights in, living our quiet life, enjoying the limited TV available. There were 3 English channels and they repeated stuff A LOT!!!!!! We did while away many an hour, getting quite addicted to programs like Inpsector Murdoch Mysteries, Intervention and Storage Wars. I even ended up watching Monk which is dreadful but I kind of liked it once I got used to it's awfulness. A bit Murder She Wrote. An episode with Snoop Dog in had be nearly pass out with the joy of the cheesiness!

We tried a new fruit (I've forgotten the name!)
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I also got some bug repellent which protects against mosquitoes and SNAILS! I was slightly concerned there were some killer snails out there waiting to get us.
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And, so we decided not to wimp out and get an easy option of flying or getting a driver to our next destination. Partly because it was really far and that would have been super expensive. We (or rather I) had originally intended on spending some time in South Thailand at the national parks and up the west coast for some diving but the weather was really not going to make that worth it so we decided to go to an island off the east coast, nearing the more central area of Thailand - Ko Samui. This is a well known tourist destination but it's a bit of a pain to get to if you're coming from Europe as you need to change planes at Bangkok. It's worth it though. The island has finally had me fall in love with Thailand. In particular, we lucked out (well, that and I did a fair bit of research) on where we were staying. Bophut, the old french (never worked out why it was french) fishing village was an amazing place to be. It was made up of streets of Chinese shop houses, overlooking a pretty beach with gorgeous restaurants and not any of the 'girly' bars we'd seen everywhere so far. It had a rickety old pier in the middle and lots of places to sit and stare at the gorgeous views. You were barely hassled and as a little bonus, because of it's french history there was a bit of nice french food around too. The only thing we found disappointing food wise was that most places didn't make it very spicy. I guess they just played safe but we did miss a bit of kick a lot of the time.

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The place we were staying was the best by far in Thailand. We got a great last minute deal too and when we wanted to stay on were able to extend that deal so that was happy days - we ended up staying there for 12 days too. The hotel had inherited the previous owner's name - Cocooning (yes made me think of the old folk in the film too) was one road back from the beach, there was a little pool - rooms were really nice and big - tv n air con etc. Little cafe/bar downstairs and best of all was the owners, Andrew (New Zealand born) and Rut(Thai) who we ended up hanging around with/bothering a lot by the time we left. We had a very good and funny time with those guys and the stray kitten that came down from the abandoned construction site next door. I'm not usually a cat lady but Spotty was soo tiny and silly, I did end up being sappy and playing with her and after a while we were joined by her even more tiny sister. They are naturally long legged, the cats on the island, so it makes them seem even more scrawny. The dogs however are often bizarrely shaped - big long bodies, small heads and squat legs. There's one with a stocky body and a chihuahua head that Mark said looked like a pig.
Cocooning ended up being like a home from home. Yummy food courtesy of Rut - the golden bags and squid is beyond to die for and we had some really good old natters and giggles. Best thing about traveling for sure is making friends along the way! We'll definitely catch up with those guys somewhere along the line.

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We hired a car one day to have a drive around the island. It's fairly small. You can get to the furthest opposite point in a couple of hours. We missed our turning and so cut of a big corner of the island and zoomed past one of the places we wanted to stop as it's really difficult to map read. V few streets signs in English and the Thai script is so tricky to recognise. We did get to a Wat on the east coast which was situated near a waterfall which unfortunately was dry. We also got to see the mummified monk which I really wanted to see.
The monk died only 20ish years ago but it was his wish to be mummified and displayed in this position. I guess they carried out his wishes and then thought that his missing eyes looked a bit creepy, so they put (fake of course) Raybans on him. It just adds to his overall coolness. He was clearly a dude, as so many monks are! The gold leaf monk statue in front of him was gorgeous. The Buddhists who were making offerings/blessings there had little squares of gold leaf to add to it which was interesting. They also burned incense, placed flowers and a ton of other stuff- clearly need to make the most of it and get the most luck/blessings possible. It was just a really chilled out, calm place.

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We drove through the islands two main resorts Lamai and Chaweng. Had wanted to stop at Chaweng but once got there realised had no idea of parking rules (we later learned from Andrew that there are none!) so we couldn't find anywhere to stop without fear of getting clamped or ticketed. So we drove on up the coast and accidentally stumbled upon a Wat that I'd wanted to see but hadn't realised the extent of. Wat Plai Leam was amazing. It's fairly new and it's huge and colourful and just all round brilliant. Huge statues sit out into the lake which has big fish and turtles and, I kid you not, swan pedalos!! It was just gorgeous and photography heaven.

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In a search for a bit of wifi and a quick drink we spent an interesting evening in a restaurant run by a crazy french guy. He had a big screen setup where he played live gig dvds. Mark was in heaven - Pink Floyd, Eric Clapton, Dire Straits. The guy has 71 concerts apparently. He has his french regulars and from what I can tell they generally get quite drunk and have a sing song. They were even having Creme de Menthe and Cognac - how 70s Francais. Was quite nice, felt a bit homely, but the music was my worst nightmare and I consoled myself with decent wine.

While sat at the bar we started to hear some really odd noises coming from down the street. People were walking past and looking down the drains. The noise got louder and louder and sounded like cows mooing. Upon investigation, we discovered that there were tons of big old frogs down all the drains on the road. How they had got there and why it was just that one night, I don't know. Perhaps due to the heavy rain we'd had. How they were going to get out was also a mystery. You have never heard anything so odd or so loud. Frogs really are the noisiest things in Asia with all kinds of tones and styles but always making a racket!

Highlights

Night market
Every Friday, the road parallel to the sea along the whole stretch of Bophut becomes a 'walking street'. Not that there's actually much traffic usually to be honest. A night market is setup selling all sorts and best of all some amazing food. The market was setup right outside our hotel and down our end was definitely where all the best food was. We tried all kinds of things, although we didn't brave the big scary bug looking things, which we later discovered were a kind of crab.

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Golden Coconut bar
I don't know what this place was actually called but was a cute little beach bar - all flowers and fairylights, day beds and lounging cushions on the beach, with golden coconuts. Best of all they had a few swinging chairs. Sitting in a couple of those with fairy lights entwined around the edges with a cool drink, looking out over the white sand to the watch the boats as the sun goes down - dreamy!!!
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Scooter dude
The french really old guy with two beaded long hairs as a fringe and not much other hair, quietly zipping along the streets on his electric scooter. This just made me laugh every time I saw him, he was like a Little Britain character - gutted we didn't manage to get a pic of him.

Tropicana restaurant/bar
Run by a British guy Martin and his Thai partner. Super friendly and fun place. Playing music videos instead of football - a nice treat. Martin also kindly let Mark use his mobile to phone his mum, which Mark did for about an hour. Top guy! Also met his cousin and his partner Jo who are just beginning their traveling experience too.
The weather - we had a crazy lunch one day - we'd walked down out of town to a more remote area of the beach. We sat on a little covered wicker table and chowed down on some lovely grub. The sun was shining, there was barely a person about, it was lovely. Then Mark mentioned that right over the bay it looked like the weather had turned bad. 2 minutes later this bad weather had swept across the bay, not taking an hour or so as we'd suspected and we were getting poured on. There was no visibility of anything around us. We had to take shelter pretty quickly but it was raining so hard it was like someone was throwing buckets of water at us. Was quite funny really. Mark wasn't so impressed with his cold noodles though.

Lowlights
Weather and season in Krabi a bit annoying. Nothing you can do but felt missed out a bit there.
More stray dogs.
Power cuts on Ko Samui - barely any but bit of a pain when trying to get stuff done.

All in all our favourtie place in Thailand has definitely been Ko Samui. It's a lovely island, has a gorgeous laid back vibe to it, stunning beaches and interesting things to see and do. Mark would have stayed of course. I am sure we will go back.

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Posted by KtandMark 02:31 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Thailand - Phuket-me-not

by Kt

This was my blog title. I didn't not ask Mark for one, for obvious reasons.

Well, We spent just over a week in Phuket and I have to say that I didn't immediately love Thailand which worried me as we planned to spend so much time here. I knew Phuket was very developed and as we drove from the airport, the hour south to our destination of Kata Beach, you didn't really see much other than business and buildings. I'd picked up a map from the airport and the plastic bag it was in had an advert for a plastic surgeon - I'd known Thailand was a location for holiday plastic surgery but you can certainly see this when you arrive. I've never seen so many dentists, opticians and plastic surgeons. I was secretly delighted at this and when Mark is not looking I will be sloping off down a back alley for some bargain botox... relax, I'm only joking!! (or am I?)

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Kata Beach, which we explored not long after arriving didn't do much to make me feel any more excited - there were lots of europeans walking the streets with slight speedos and no top on. Mmm. Lovely. I realised that we hadn't really been to a holiday destination like this on our travels so far - a town which mainly caters for foreigners. It reminded me of the places I didn't like in Spain or Greece (or rather the holiday makers I didn't like). The beach itself was gorgeous and had the finest white sand which was lovely to walk on. It is out of season and you could see why. The sea was pretty choppy and it's the time when the surfers descend on the area. A few people were in the sea but not very far out and the red flag was up.

We stopped off at a small bar on our way back to our accommodation and the girls there were lovely but I did cringe when they immediately grabbed the TV remote control to change the channel of what they'd had on - some Thai soap opera I think - which I was watching with fascination - and changed it to the football. The football is on in pretty much EVERY bar or restaurant in the place. When we found a place to eat that evening near our hotel, I groaned at the prospect as their big selling point was their huge, projector style screen with the football projected on. None-the-less, the food was amazing.

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We learned that Kata beach had been a favourite of Scandinavian and German holiday makers in the past but was now most popular with the Russian holiday makers. Indeed, the guys who owned our hotel were Russian. There was lots of signs of the Scandinavian side though, particularly in the food. You could get a smorgasbord style breakfast for instance. We found an amazing German bakery just down the road from us where the bread was to die for and I had a danish style burger in one place with rocking pickled cucumber (I do love a gherkin), we also had a pizza one night which blind-sided me with the goodness of it. I really wasn't expecting that in Thailand, especially in a resort type place.
But those few westernisations aside, we mostly ate Thai food and quite frankly couldn't get enough. It is SO good, it's not true. There was a really small cafe near us which basically had the 'dad' out the front making everything in one wok. There were two tables in the restaurant so you could max seat about 9 people. And he had to make everything in turn, but it was so worth the wait. This was the cheapest food we ate in Kata and it was the best. As I gradually got used to it (and ate my way through) I saw that I was going to like Thailand after all.

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Though I must say, I never warmed to Kata, puzzling at the fact that it had come up as the nicest beach in Phuket in all my research. Mmm - maybe that's it. Maybe it was meant literally. The beach really is amazing but not the resort that goes with it.
One night there was someone with a baby elephant we passed on the way home. That was a touch sad. But I guess if people didn't line up to have their photos taken, they wouldn't be there. I had heard about this so wasn't at least shocked or perturbed to stumble upon an elephant in the dark.

We did find one place that we were rather fond of due to the connect 4 sets available on each table. We got very competitive in fact. I very much loved whipping Marks butt which I very often did. Though staying sober and not getting cocky would have helped considerably when Mark got the better of me.

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In our first few days we did spend a lot of time in our hotel room for a few reasons. Firstly, air-con - it was hot out so it was often a refuge. Secondly, shelter - in rained a lot (May being the beginning of the rainy season in Southern Thailand). This is not just an hours rain and then it gets lovely again kind of rain. It pelts down with lots of thunder and lightening and it goes on for ages and can easily start again not long after finishing. Thirdly, we didn't like to leave because we didn't like coming back. Our hotel was up a hill. I knew this was the case as I'd seen it in the reviews but that didn't bother me. Cheaper places are often a bit more awkward to get to. But OMG and all the other acronyms - this place was up a hill and then up another one which was practically vertical. You could either take the steps (I shudder thinking about those steps) or go the longer way around which was just slightly less painful but you still needed a run up to get up the last slope. This explained why this hotel was such a bargain!! It had a small pool, but other than that there was no communal area. Our balcony/seating area was a chair outside our door in the hallway. So if we wanted to be in the hotel, we'd have to be in the room. But it was fancy smancy to us anyhow. Air con, a TV, a bathroom inside. Get us!!! And quick WiFi in our room. So we hibernated a fair bit those first few days.

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Then our lives livened up dramatically when my friend Elena arrived. Well, didn't we have a whirlwind, stamina breaking weekend when whirlwind Elena blew in! She lives and is from Singapore so Asia is her backyard and with Phuket being a hop skip and a jump she knows the place well. I do always like going to places with people who live there or who know it well, you get to do things/find little gems that you most likely never would if you were on your own. And I have hung-out with Elena in Spain, London, the Cotswolds and Bagshot(!) and laughs are always on the agenda. Of course seeing a mate when you've been traveling so long is a bonus in itself. She had booked us in somewhere for Friday night but we did not know where this was. When we finally met her on Friday, she only managed to alarm us by using phrases such as ' don't worry if the road looks dodgy' and 'don't worry when they shut the doors'. So after a few swigs of champagne in Elena's room (Elena is the champagne queen - but that's a whole other blog), off we went on our magical mystery tour.
We arrived on a dark, nondescript street and as soon as you rounded the corner off the payment it looked lovely. The window facing the street was a water wall. I don't know what these are called, but you know that ones that are windows but have water running through them. Anyhow, that created a nice vibe and the place was full of rich wood and colour and flowers. It felt so lush yet comfy.
We were given menus and it became clear this wasn't your usual restaurant setup. There was an entrance fee which basically covered you for all the food, you just payed for your alcohol on top. Before we could make any kind of decision on food, they descended on us with 3 or 4 dishes of sides - I do love not having to make a decision. These were really nice and in the end we kept ordering various starters as this meant we can share. Then, a couple of people started dancing in the middle of the restaurant. This seemed perfectly natural as there was enough space there and there was a happy vibe in the whole place. Over the next hour or so, all the tables were gradually moved back to the sides of the room and the lights were dimmed, the music turned up and the place became a big, camp, fun disco. They had a couple of amazing drag queens and the drinks flowed and there was lots of dancing and there was... wigs - I don't know where they came from but who doesn't love a good wig eh?? It was incredible how subtly this placed turned from restaurant to party. There was no awkward moments of standing around or eating while people are wanting to move you. I guess they've just honed this down as they've been doing it quite a while, so it all works really naturally. Apparently they don't actually have a license for the cabaret bit, hence the doors closing on you. I must confessed I partied a little too hard and Mark (I know amazing - he was the most sober one) was in charge of getting us two 'vibrant' girls home.

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I woke up the next morning feeling like death and realising that I am sorely out of practice. We had no food and we didn't have the energy to so much as make a cup of tea. We dragged ourselves over to Elena's at about 1 or 2 and she assured us that champagne hair of the dog was the order of the day and boy was she right!!! So off we went to Patong to feed our hangovers. We had a bit of a wander around. There were a lot of shops in Patong but it didn't seem to be the crazy, party town I had found it described. It was a tourist haven but had a nice vibe. We settled on an Irish bar to get some stodge. While we were there we saw the most impressive thing. The guys doing the beer deliveries were carrying the beer boxes behind them. So there arms were either side of them but behind and they had 3 or 4 boxes, each with umpteen beer bottles in. Wow - that is using muscles I think I don't have. I couldn't see how there was anyway they could put them down without intervention from another person. What if they sneezed?
Anyway, after that we had our first tuk tuk ride from Patong, up the coast to the Catch Beach Club. We stopped outside the hotel where Elena usually stays when she is in Phuket and tottered down to the beach to the beach club. Now, I don't have a lot to compare it to having only ever been to one beach club, in Spain (with Elena of course!) but this was really nice. All white sofas and firepits and a gorgeous beach. Mark had a little paddle and of course got wet shorts. We drunk champagne, cocktails and wine while watching a sunset and watched fireworks being set off on the beach. Meanwhile we had the most ambient music possible going on - it was someone with bongos and an electronic drum pad - I was so shocked when realised it was live. All in all it was a most relaxing, luxurious treat. Having said that, apart from the champagne which has some bizarre, expensive, luxury tax put on it, the cocktails and the wine at this amazing place were actually same price, if not cheaper than in one of our Brighton locals. Mark did, to our shock, order himself a Cosmo. He has never heard of them apparently and thought it was a manly cocktail - or so he says - rather than the Sex and the City fan staple.
And to top it all off - their toilets smelt like lemongrass *sighs happily*.

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After chilling out here for a while and after it had gotten dark, we headed up the beach to find some food. We didn't find the place we were aiming for but we did find this to-die-for restaurant on the beach. We sat at a table, feet away from the sea which was lit up with some seriously strong coloured lighting of some kind. The food was incredible. I had a slight choking incident on the Beef salad Elena had ordered as Thai hot. I thought I was toughening up - but I swear all my organs stopped working for a moment with the heat of that.

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Another tuk tuk back to Patong. It started pouring on the way but they just have plastic sheeting that you ping on. We arrived in Patong and headed for the main night life road. I then saw how different it was at night. This was crazy nightlife. There was this immense bar complex with huge tiger statues above it. It was like Time Square with all the lights and colour and craziness. There were some gorgeous lady boys, lots of drunk westerners and lots of people offering 'shows' to you on a menu. We walked down most of the length of the street, taking it in before deciding to go for it and went in to see a 'show'. It's totally anti-feminist and wrong on many levels, but frankly, it's life and we're in Thailand it has to be experienced. I won't go into any detail on here for obvious reasons but lets just say it was one of the most expensive round of drinks I've ever known, it was a mixture of interesting, impressive, amusing and after a while actually a bit boring. We left when the place livened up a bit and it didn't seem so rude and went to find transport home. Well we had the best transport home - the other tuk tuk drivers where trying to get us to go with them, but Elena made sure we got our dream carriage. This was the most bling tuk tuck you ever did see. It was the hip hop tuk tuk and the bass shook the whole thing as the neon lights blazed bright. It was a fair way back to Kata beach and we basically had our own little club in the back. It was frankly the coolest thing ever. I became very gangsta and insisted on wearing my sunglasses most of the way home. Who cares if I couldn't see anything!

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We were dropped at Elena's and hung out at hers for a little. More champagne anyone? Mark was very brave and removed a big spider. Then he swam in the pool in just his pants. Then Mark and I walked back to our hotel room. Down a hill, up a hill then up the steep steps. This, I can tell you is no fun at 4 in the morning after a 'lively' day. It's a wonder neither of us fell down the blinkin' mountain.

Posted by KtandMark 02:13 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Malaysia - In Summary

by Kt

We actually did very little of Malaysia in the end. Way less than planned. This is partly because it costs a bit more than expected and partly because I couldn't quite decide on where to go. We had planned to go to western Malaysia, their part of the island of Borneo - for the obvious wildlife wonders and also for the diving. Sipidan is supposed to have the best diving in the world. We had learned about a dive platform where you can stay for a few nights, near there, from our new friends Michelle and Steve and so wanted to go. But the usual put the kibosh on that - money. To get over to the island and in particular to stay on the dive platform or the best dive places, was pretty pricey and we just couldn't justify it at this point. It's a bit gutting but it is definitely on our list of things to do one day. We may even return on this trip, once we are a bit more Asia travelling savvy and if we find a cheap flight/good deal. Otherwise it will be on the list of 'one day' things.

We didn't really like KL at all. It wasn't awful (well Mark thought it was), it was just a busy city which was very humid with heavy rain and it would need something very special to redeem itself from the bad points I guess.
Georgetown, in Penang, however was a slow burner for Mark but I liked it the minute we arrived. Bags of character, laid back, nice food.

Highlights/oddities

Mopeds/backwards coats
We noticed this in KL the most but also see it in Penang. People on mopeds wear their coats on back to front, not done up. I don't know why. It is peculiar.

Politeness
It is a very polite place which is lovely. People are incredibly well mannered, although personal space is not always respected but that's something that a couple of newbie traveller brits need to get to grips with I'm sure. There was just an air of gentle good manners and friendliness without being in your face.

Dry clothes in unusual places
Nothing to say about this really. We just came across people using interesting and unusual places to dry their clothes. Why not?
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Clan houses
The area we stayed in Penang had a lot of chinese clan houses and associations and things like that. I never fully understand what they all were but some of them were still going and some were being restored and if you peeked in there would be walls full of photos of people who'd ever been members. These rooms seemed just full of interesting things - old furniture and books - I'd loved to have gone in and had a good delve around. In retrospect, I'm annoyed at myself for chickening out asking. The one across the road, I think they were working on restoring/cataloging in some way - it was their passion to do that project so they probably would have welcomed someone showing interest.

Quirkiness
Georgetown had lots of oddities and quirkiness which I liked. Both in modern and old fashioned ways. You'd hear bizarre singing coming from upstairs rooms or from somewhere far off, doing goodness knows what.
This was a sign outside one of the guesthouse/cafes - no idea why but I liked it.

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Lowlights
It is bloody hot!!! Most of the time. The fan in our georgetown place didn't really cool you down enough for a good nights sleep. It's just hot and humid and uncomfortable. Might be where a mossie net might come in handy as we had to shut up the windows tightly, restricting air flow, but we did have very high ceilings so it wasn't as stifling as it could have been. Going out in the day is tough. You have to stagger every 15 minutes of walking with stopping and having a drink I find. The humidity is very dehydrating. I eventually realised that a lot goes on at night so we adjusted our body clocks. In Bali, most things were shut by 10 and so we tended to be up fairly early and early to bed, but in Malaysia it's too hot to do anything in the day so you may as well stay in bed late then stay up late. This is my natural state at home so it's easy to slip into that kind of routine but it always feels like we were slacking.
It's apparently this hot, pretty much all the time. Not sure I could last long with this kind of climate. Will be interesting to see what Thailand is like. I know it is big and has different areas with different climates and is very season dependant. I am hoping for somewhere cooler or at the very least a dry heat.
As well as being god damn hot and sweaty it also, of course, means I am mad professor, frizzy hair head. It is not a good look!

Posted by KtandMark 01:44 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Malaysia look, Malaysia stare, Malaysia lose your underwear

by Kt

Oh yeah - we think we may have reached the pinnacle with Mark's blog title this time. He has quite possibly crossed over that line from juvenile idiot to creative genius!!

Anyhow, we are still in Malaysia. In Georgetown to be precise. This is situated in the far north west of the country not that far from the Thai border. Penang is a small island, accessible by a large bridge or by ferry. We caught a coach up from KL which took 4-5 hours. It was super cheap and all ran smoothly apart from it turning up an hour late and us not really having a clue what was going on. When we did get on though it was pleasant enough. Good air con - big seats as they'd ripped out the standard 4 berth and put in 3 larger ones on each row. I was audio-booked up, which was a treat and when the journey finally ended I didn't actually want to get off. Mark, unfortunately was not feeling particularly well. It had been touch and go if he could even travel that day but tabletted up and sat in fairly smooth, air conditioned comfort it worked out ok. The hot walk from the bus station onto the ferry was a touch challenging when we eventually arrived in Butterworth (hang over from British rule that one I should imagine). Within a few hours of being in Georgetown, I knew I was gonna like the place. It was everything KL wasn't. Kind of spacious and full of character. It was even a little cooler, as being on the coast there was a bit of a breeze (still sweltering though!) There was old, colonial buildings, a lot of the old style chinese shop houses, colour, vibrancy but also a quiet charm.
I'd been put off of coming as the prices are a little higher than other locations but I really wanted to go and once I read that you could sort out your Thai visas here, it seemed to make sense.

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The place we were staying, 'Moon Tree 47', looked interesting when I booked it but it far out weighed my expectations and we ended up extending there, eventually for 10 days. It was an old chinese shophouse from the 20s which had recently been restored. Georgetown got UNESCO world heritage status a few years ago which is such a good thing because it means that all these beaten up old places are being restored, as they work as a great tourist attraction and therefore money maker. What better incentive to keep historical things from being knocked down/left to disrepair than make it a money spinner. The standard shophouse, as was ours, are fairly narrow but really, really long.
There was a main front area which had seating and a bunch of vintage stuff on display and for sale. There was a little reception desk in the middle, underneath the stairs, then a narrow coffee bar, then a partially outdoor courtyard area with fish and greenery (shop houses were built to feng shui guidelines), then another bit undercover, then another outside bit, a tiny kitchen and finally at the back stretched out a few of the rooms. We never really saw these but I believe they were air conditioned but fairly small. We had one of the 3 upstairs rooms which are massive. It only has a fan, which has been tough in this kind of heat, but an aircon unit just wouldn't work. Our room has a high ceiling and wooden panelling. It, like the downstairs areas, has furniture in fitting with the heritage theme with simple deco type styling and a big glassless window with shutters. The bathroom is actually semi outdoors out on the roof terrace. Bricked around the sides with just a corrugated plastic roof, it's nice to be showering outside again.

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The whole vibe of the guesthouse is vintage, eclectic, quirky and nostalgic. It achieves a style, that many try hard places never will.
I couldn't be happier than when am sat in one of the beautifully shaped vintage leather and wood chairs, supping earl grey, reading a magazine
They also have (generally) great music playing - a really eclectic mix but even the cheesey stuff (some Whitney, instrumental 'Heart will go on' or Julio Inglesias) sound classy here. Lots of it is early to mid 20th century - Louis Armstrong's 'The Saints Go Marching in', jazz (and I normally hate jazz but this is cool), even opera and cinema paradiso style, tango-esque instrumentals.
There are old photos of Malaysian people, getting married, in school photos and stuff like that. Piles of books and nicknacks, bakerlite switches, a huge collection of baby food crockery which looks to be post war - possible 40s/50s which I'm now obsessed with wanting. Beaten up old mirrors, old luggage.
Vintage and retro loving folk will get what I'm on about here. It is a haven or the likes of us!!

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As the many shop houses are being restored, there are some interesting cafes. One we went to, was in an old tailors so was done out accordingly with vintage sewing machines and the like. Another, called Edelweis, although I'm not sure why, was a little grander and was a very sophisticated environment for an afternoon cuppa.

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It was a good thing we liked where we were staying as we didn't spend a lot of time out for the first few days. Mark was still not feeling very well. Unfortunately as he was feeling so dodgy he couldn't face the idea of anything asian, not even plain rice. He could barely handle being in any food establishment but we ventured out to find places that did mainly plain, western food. A bit gutting being in the foodie capital of Malaysia, which is in itself a foodie destination. The food we had for those first few days was decidedly unispiring, as were the establishments. Turkey ham seems big here, I guess due to the muslim population. Have come across this a lot in the States and I really just don't get it. It's just hideously processed turkey. Yuck. I spent an uncomfortable 45 minutes picking turkey ham out of an omlette in a decidedly odd hostel cafe, with a guy who clearly had OCD, lining up the cutlery, salt and pepper, napkins etc on our table. Another guy was singing the same song over and over even though there was 2 lots of music being plaid simultaneously already and the lady just descended on our table at some point to stare. Just to STARE!
I did feel sorry for Marky. Poor thing. It's not nice when you're ill away from home let alone abroad and especially when having to deal with things like shared bathrooms and hot, humid days and nights. On the whole though, in all honestly, I mainly found it annoying. You do though don't you? Other people being sick is tedious and gets in the way with what YOU want to do and worst of all you can't complain (much) about it, as you seem like a right cow. Those few days did drag on to say the least! When I reached out a comforting hand what I was really thinking in my head was I'd like to slap him with that hand and tell him to get over it. It's not just me who's florence nightingale side is not fully developed. I know it's not just me. You know who you are the rest of you. And to be fair, Mark is worse than useless when I'm ill. I was really sick once and he'd been out all day and evening and still came back and didn't bring me anything - I'd had no food or medicine for 24 hours - nada. I have a bad back and he'll do something odd like pull my leg! No, not metaphorically - literally. Or jokingly punch me in the stomach when I have a stomach ache. He is terrible to be around when you have anything wrong, so we are as bad as each other then I'd say. Although at least I mostly pretend to be caring and don't bizarrely attack him when ill. Anyhow, it took a fair few days for him to get back on track and we could get out and about and eat in more interesting places.

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Malaysia is a mix of Malay muslim (predominantly), Indian and Chinese cultures. Georgetown is a happy mixture of all these if ever you did see one. In the centre of town you can be stood metres away from a mosque, hindu and buddhist temples. The call to prayer rains out at the relevant intervals, the incense burns outside the buddhist temples (they have cool, big incense sticks!!). It really is a great example of cultures working alongside each other and not segregated into different quarters. I'd say that the Chinese are definitely more prominent in Georgetown.

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There are lots of different types of buildings - some from 1800s, much from the 20s and 30s and some very identifiable with the 40s and 50s too.
Even the largest building in Penang, a hideous 70s tower kind of is okay - it's it's own thing.
It's a pretty quiet place. The traffic mainly circles the centre of town but it's not that crazy or fumey. They have kind of pavements - it's part of the front of the shophouses and you can walk on it most of the time but sometimes need to go off into the (probably quite empty) street to get out of the way of a moped or some boxes from a business. It has an old fashioned feel to it that I like. You go past these places and people are running proper businesses. The guy with the printing press down the road is always there, late at night, churning out the paper. Lots of wholesalers and old fashioned trades. I have likened the place to France. Mark doesn't really get what I mean. But you know those, quiet, middle of france towns - where it functions as a town - the businesses generally support the town, with a sprinkling of tourism mainly. Even the 70s bits reminded me of the purpose built areas on the outskirts of Paris. Or in someways it's like Valetta, in Malta, which is almost like an abandoned city of old. It's the old fashioned-ness but with it an every day practicality. I don't even know what I mean really, but all in all, I jolly well like Georgetown.

The further out of the centre you go, of course, the more modern it gets. That's when the maccy d's and the furniture outlets appear. Not in a bad way though - nowhere is garish. Most of it retains an air of character and interest. We went out of town to a massive mall, by the sea. It was full of large modern buildings but along the street by the sea, and at the night market slap bang next to the 8 storey mall, were cheap food places and hawker stalls. It just works here. No-where really feels contrived. The mall was pretty impressive - my mall hating ways have been changed in Malaysia. I think it's because, again, there was very few people there so it felt like I had most shops to myself, or the odd other person.
Mark had gone to the cinema complex on the top floor to watch Titanic 3D. Yes, Mark had. Not me. I do not like the schmaltzy rubbish that is Titanic. Mark, however, rates it as one of his favourite films. Uh huh - yep that's right. So he was very excited to spent 3 and a half hours watching the whole commotion in 3D. Meanwhile I walked every inch of that massive plaza - that place was big so at the very least I had some major exercise. Picked up some much needed bargain togs. Mark, although having enjoyed his Titanic experience, had found the 3d effects a little lacking and was also a little distraught that a certain 'scene' had been cut out of the film, presumably to give it his U rating.

Trickshaws
The trickshaws here are the little seats with a bicyclist in the back. Most of the drivers look pretty old and we were most worried the weight of us pair, may give someone a heart attack. Most have flowers intertwined around the structure and some are really souped up with flashing lights, windmills and banging music. They are undeniably cool.

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Toy museum
I had read about a toy museum in Penang and wandering the streets one day we spotted it and decided to go back again later, only to lose it.
When I looked it up I realised this wasn't the one in all the tourist literature anyhow. The toy museum everyone goes on about is outside of Georgetown and is not toys as such but figurines - mainly from movies and anime. It is pegged as the largest toy museum in Asia - but that's not toys in my book. I don't like action movies and neither does Mark really so that was definitely not our cup of tea, but when we found the small shop in town 'Ben's Vintage Toy Museum', that was definitely our kind of place. They had only recently opened and had a great collection of proper vintage toys.

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This was definitely the best collection I've seen and this is the kind of thing I do like to go to. I was particularly obsessed with a set of french musical dolls.

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We ended up chatting to the guy about what he had and where he'd gotten it and he showed us some of the rare wind-up toys going.
Ben's vintage toys facebook page. We took his ebay shop details for future reference but lost it somehow but have the facebook page at least. It was a funny reminder of some of the things we have left behind as we flicked through some of his collectors books - our yellow plastic pacman game and donkey kong for instance managed to sail through the 'sell what you don't need' period of our trip organisations. Well you have to have pacman and donkey kong, don't you?

As with vintage toys there was, of course, some delightfully sinister characters.
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Food
So, as I mentioned, Penang is known for it's food and when Marks health finally returned (sounds very Jane Austen doesn't it?) we got about trying some nice stuff.
There is posh cafe up the road from us that we went to when Mark still wasn't great and he had a chicken pie (yuck at any time) and I tried a Curry Mee which is a local soup like curry which I had a gorgeous version of with fried soya skin (to make it muslim friendly as it often comes with fried pig skin). It had fishballs and prawns and squid and came with chill paste on the side to heat up to your liking. My heat tolerance has definitely increased in the last few months so I got quite brave with that.

Not far from us was the 'Red Garden Cafe' This is an outdoor but undercover place with tons of tables and tons of different eateries which is an absolute gem. It's for tourists you could say, but having, say 20-30, different styles of food to choose from, meaning you don't have to have the same thing was fantastic and it was cheap too.

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They had the most amazing Dim sum, we had some fried soft shell crab, mark had lots of pork and we we finally had some amazing Malaysian Indian food that was definitely worthy of the reputation.
On one of our first days we took a photo of the frog porridge claypot and put in on facebook to have a laugh.
On one of our last days, we took the plunge and ordered chilli frog and porridge. How brave of us, don't you think? Well the frog looked very frogish. Had to mind over matter it and get the flesh off old hop along. The flesh was nice. Very soft. Somewhere between chicken and fish Mark said, which I guess kind of sums up a frog to some degree too. The chilli sauce was blow your head off strong whilst the porridge was do your head in bland. It is rice based and has a consistence like that in cheap work canteens where they use some crappy flour to create a gloopy sauce. It didn't taste terrible but I'm not quite sure what you could do to it to jazz it up. It must come under the category peasant food, surely?

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Later in the evenings there is entertainment on which generally consists of some enthusiastic singers. Some of them sure could sing and there was indeed some interesting covers, lots of glitter and swooshing.
An interesting 'feature' of the red garden cafe was it's advertising etiquette was perhaps lacking...
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One night we ate at a chinese recommended to us by the guy who runs our guesthouse. This place only had chinese people in which of course is a good sign and we were a little baffled by some of the menu (Judas's ear wax anyone?) and weren't wildly experimental by opting for squid for me (I LOVE squid) and (you guessed it) pork for Mark. My squid was to die for and I don't really do pork but having tasted his it was darned fine. The accompanying fried rice was also divine and actually reminded me of my mums more so than the rice you get in take-aways restaurants at home. It was more moist and fluffy than that and had lots of egg and tit bits in it. It worked out a fair bit pricier than the red garden cafe and many other places but it is tempting to go back as it was sooo good.

In the early, Mark is sickly, days we ate at westernish places. We chipped up at one indian run pizza and pasta place and tucked in to some surprisingly tasty pasta only for me to choke on my spaghetti half way through the meal when I remembered we didn't have enough cash to pay for the pasta I was currently inhaling. We had about 3 quarters of it but that was it. There are no ATMs in this central area for some reason - the nearest one's were pretty far away considering it was quite late and dark by this time and Mark couldn't go far because he was ill. Cards were a no-no, as were US dollars. The young waiter pretty quickly re-assured us, to our shock and horror, that we could bring the money in on Tuesday night. This was sunday night. They were trusting us to bring in the money owed to them in a couple of days time. Can you believe it? How trusting is that? I felt terrible and thanked them profusely as we left. As we got up the road we spotted a currency exchanger still open and so luckily managed to change up the US dollars and go back and pay them. With a healthy tip for their generosity of course! What an untrusting world I live in that this totally freaks me out!!!

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Posted by KtandMark 21:19 Archived in Malaysia Tagged georgetown_penang_toy_vintage Comments (0)

Malaysia - Lumpy Koala

by Kt

Yes, Malaysia and Kuala Lumpur are tainted by Marks hilarious insistance on calling it that. I want to leave KL as soon as possible for that reason alone!

Well, actually I am happy to be leaving KL after just a few days as have found it a bit of a struggle. Quite probably the culture shock from laid back Bali to a big old city was going to get us anyhow, but the mixture of it being very hot, humid and fumey from all the cars makes it not the most fun to walk around. Add to that the most immense down pours that occur most days and the fact that there's not that much of interest to do and that's us done really.

We're staying in a hostel right next to what is definitely the most interesting part of town. We are practically in China Town and have the old central market building just up the road and up the hill is what seems to be the main restaurant district. Malaysia is known for being a happy hybrid of mainly 3 groups - Muslims, Hindu and Chinese. It is also known for it's amazing food. This was what I was most looking forward to. But we struggled to find this amazing food that is so hailed. We found decent food, but not amazing. We ate at a street sellers one night and had satay and fish and it was good but wasn't blown away.
In the end I got a bit fed up and turned to my usual city bible (everyone should use it) Time Out. We went to a restaurant called Palate Palette which was described as being quirky and arty with good food. The food was indeed very good and it was nice to go somewhere that wasn't super fancy but kind of independent and nice. I had taken to calling the place Palate's Palette, in a Timmy Mallet tribute, which amused Mark greatly. For those of you who didn't watch UK children's saturday morning TV in the early 90s - don't worry about it. It cannot be explained.

The hostel is small, as you would expect in town, the lady who runs it, Joy, is delightful. The place is quite quirky and our room, although without windows has aircon, and thank god for that. Makes it very difficult to leave to head out into the heat. The toilet/shower situation in the hostel is rather interesting. The rest of the place is done out nicely but these cubicles in which the shower is in with the toilet are in basic concrete, floor and walls. I did know this to be the case having read it on a review and thought they were being a bit fussy, but the problem wasn't that they looked shoddy but more that the plumbing was shoddy. The toilet permanently leaked (clean water at least) so the flush never worked properly. Yes - you imagine right. It was often not a pleasant place to visit. The sink also leaked so the floor was just permanently sodden - although it was at least clean but still - yuk!!!

As I say, the city itself is quite hard work but at the same time easy. Does that make any sense? Public transport is easy to work out, cheap and available not far off from most places. They also often join up one station, with another station where you might change lines, with a sheltered walk way so you don't get drenched in the afternoon downpours. And they can be quite far away. I guess they also provide welcome shade when the sun is out also.

The central market, which is just up the road from us is a cute little art deco building which used to be the food market, back in the day. A wet market I believe it is called. Now it is full of 'stuff'. It's very civilised, not a hustle and bussle market at all, more of a sophisticated arcade. The food in there is pretty good and it's air conditioned (happy days). But it's fairly boring after the first wander around if you're not much of a shopper. They had an odd mix of tat, really nice quality stuff and then some fascinating antique things from thousands of years ago!! There was some contraption involving bells that Mark was most fascinated by. Some olden day musical instrument of enormous scale.

China town was ok, but they do tend to be much of a muchness in most cities and I was rather gobsmacked that opposite us there was a Kenny Rogers Roasters restaurant. I had never heard of such a thing. I love Kenny, but in Malaysia? Really? But I did discover that they love their chicken in KL, so maybe that explains it. It felt like the whole city was sponsored by KFC. Certainly, lots of the stations were. That creepy kernel was staring down at me from every corner. Sinister!

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We did go to the famous Petronas towers and in our usual style, after finding out it wasn't free to go up anymore and more importantly that you had to book a slot and then come back at the allotted time which was generally hours later - we couldn't be bothered. We did, bizarrely for us, enjoy a good couple of hours in the mall beneath the towers. This is testament mainly to the stifling heat outside, god that air con was lovely, but also that it was actually very quiet there. Not the crowds you would expect. Very few people about and we felt a bit retail-y for a change. We both went crazy and bought t-shirts. You may think this is insignificant, but let me tell you we were excited. New clothes!! New CLEANER THAN CLEAN clothes. I'm even going to save it for a special occasion. Get me!

One of the places I really wanted to go was Little India. We'd come through there briefly on the way in on the bus (didn't I mention the bus - bus from the airport for the 45 minute journey to the city - about 3 quid each - bargain or what?). It was beautifully air conditioned and had swagged gold curtains - glamourous!! Anyhow, we headed off to Little India and I got us off a station which required us walking through a slightly ropey neighbourhood and was more of a walk than anticipated. Let me also explain that we had ended our soberness and had a few drinks the first two days we were here so were feeling a bit worse for wear in the intense heat. When we eventually reached our destination, exhaustion and dehydration dampened our enthusiasm to say the least, but it was also a bit of an odd place. It was cool looking - they'd recently moved the official little india to this site and paid a fair bit to deck it out. I reckon it's because they realise the tourist attractions are a little bit thin on the ground. As I say, it looks great. Very colourful but it was, as Mark pointed out, a bit theme-parky. There was bangra music blaring out, really, really loud and there were lights and big shops selling souvenirs. Not the kind of 'this is where the indians actually come to shop and eat' kind of place I was expecting. I was expecting many, many restaurants too but there weren't that many and in our hungover state we really wanted something easy and air conditioned. We were to have neither and went into a Northern Indian place where I recognised very little (understandable considering most UK Indian food is known to be very un-Indian) but it was a buffet and everything looked a bit ropey. In the end it wasn't half bad. I always choose well in such ventures - always best to be vegetarian, and I did add in a chicken drumstick for good measure - to help fill out the plate so it looked like i had loads when in fact i didn't. I had piled on tons of coloured pilau when the women explaining the buffet to us had for some reason piled Marks plate up with some wet looking steamed rice. It was not a meal of note and I was a it disheartened as I'd been looking forward to having Indian food in Malaysia as we hadn't had any since leaving home.

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On our second night, having had way too much to drink the previous night in an irish bar (long story - involving pouring rain, being dropped off in the wrong place by a useless taxi driver and stopping in the place for a quick one), we ended the afternoon with a hair of the dog at a hostel around the corner with a reggae bar. I don't know why it was a reggae bar but it was a massive place and we could hide happily in the corner. The brick walls all over the place had been written on by visitors, as is often the way in travellers bars and hostels.
I was sitting next to one scribbling which I found most peculiar/intriguing.
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Down and dirty with club 18-30. Malia 4/1/12 - for those of you who don't know, Malia is a town on Crete frequented by young folk 'larging it'. Fond 'shout outs' to lads on tour type holidays in the greek islands or the costas is not unfamiliar to me. But this is someone in Kualar Lumpur - not usually a destination in it's own right so was likely a stop of before or after a far off destination such as Thailand or Australia. So it seemed odd, in this far flung place, that this was all that young traveller could come up with. That was the only words that sprang to his mind? Um??!

We had an absolute treat one day on our way back from the central market area. There was a guy being filmed miming to what was clearly his song. He must have been at least a bit famous as people looked marginally excited. He looked older than he probably was because of his grown up clothes. He had someone holding up some polystyrene beneath his face for the reflection - clearly the budget wouldn't run to the proper reflectors. It felt a bit mean - but it was hilarious. We weren't impolite to laugh outright there of course, we are better brought up than that!

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My strongest memory from KL, will be something that we saw that we just didn't expect to see. We were staring down from our local train station at the graffiti style murals that were done on boards all along the river. After a couple of hours downpour, the day before, the water had been up a foot or so, up the murals and we had wondered how on earth they painted them. However, the next day the water was so much lower and showed it had actually been up and over the walk way the day before. As we were looking at this I spotted something and said something along the lines of 'what the *?>!@* is that?'
A huge lizard thing walked out from under an area of scaffolding and had a bit of a potter around before going back under. This thing was big, really big. Not like an iguana, big, like a freakin dog big!! It was such a strange site to see in such an urban environment. I know we are in an exotic country but surely this thing didn't live there. Maybe it had been swept in with all that water. Maybe it lived there all the time. The photo's zoom was rubbish and you can't really tell the scale but that is certainly a sight that will stay with me!!
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Posted by KtandMark 07:52 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

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