Dengue Fever

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

My arrival in Krabi had three primary objectives. Number one, find a place to stay. Number two, get to the hospital. Number three, meet up with Kristoffer and get my snorkel. I had just arrived off the boat from Phi Phi feeling quite horrible; Fever, headache, dizziness, aching muscles, and no energy or appetite to speak of. I managed to get a free ride into the city to check out a hotel (Bai Fern) which I wound up staying at for 500 baht per night, a definite splurge, but there was no way I was going to be this sick without air conditioning and a hot shower. As soon as I checked in and checked my medical kit for a quick self-diagnosis, I caught a couple motorbikes to the hospital. What a zoo! Everything is numbered, non-sequentially, so when I arrive I get directed to go to “number one”. And pointed vaguely around the hall. Well, ten minutes of trudging sickly around later and I find number one. I talk to the nurse in broken English, fill in some details, and she sends me to number 29. God help me! 15 minutes and a flight of stairs later and I somehow found 29. Another nurse and I saw a westerner – a Spanish girl – who was also in the hospital after her eyes had puffed up huge. She looked fine now, I guess she’d already done the hospital circuits. I answered some questions, had my temperature taken, and discovered it was just over 40 C (104-105 F). No wonder I felt horrible. The Spanish girl sat with me and we talked about getting sick in Thailand and then I was in to see the doctor.

About one minute later, I was back out. You have a sore throat? No. Open wide and say Ahh. Ahh. Dirty looking stainless steel stick on my tongue, flashlight down my throat, “Tonsillitis”. “Tonsillitis?!” I respond. I’m thinking I may have to get them removed, I’m thinking who the hell gets tonsillitis in Thailand, and I ask how I would’ve gotten it. Dirty air, most likely. Well, Phi Phi did stink, and I DID use a public snorkel. Still, shouldn’t I get a blood test? Blood tests are the only way to confirm two of the most dreaded tropical illnesses, malaria and dengue fever. No no, you have tonsillitis. Well, just to make sure? If you don’t better in three days, you come back. You won’t die from malaria in three days. Oh, great! I think it was the shock of this statement that derailed me from demanding a blood test, though retelling the story you’d think it would have the opposite effect. So, I went to number 97, which thankfully, the Spanish girl was familiar with, and got my prescription filled while we talked about the unlikeliness that I had tonsillitis. Some antibiotics and pain killers in my pocket, I left the hospital. How I was supposed to take those antibiotics with food when I couldn’t even think about putting a spoon in my mouth without gagging was beyond me. I soon found out I didn’t need the food that badly after all.

So I spent the next couple days not getting better in my hotel, trying to drink water, occasionally stomach food, and stay cool and out of pain. I had free wireless with which I became fairly convinced that not only did I not have tonsillitis but I also didn’t have malaria. Unfortunately, I had every symptom for dengue fever that there was and I was quite certain that was what I had contracted. Dengue is spread by mosquitos, which are plentiful here and much more stealthy than their Saskatchewan cousins. It is also known as breakbone fever for the muscle and joint pain it causes, comes with extremely high fever, headache, lack of appetite, and, in later stages, a rash, and lasts a solid 10 days. Still, I hoped that somehow I had the first case of tonsillitis without a sore throat, and I staggered dizzily to a nearby restaurant called Joy Corner. I almost threw up waiting for the food, and it was a battle against every urge in my body to swallow the grilled cheese and ham. I managed to convey my illness to the restaurant people and got a card and menu and they agreed very graciously to deliver me meals to my room. This was very very kind and I can’t tell you how much I appreciated that I wouldn’t have to trek down here and sit in the heat trying not to pass out waiting for food.

Back home I laid in bed, my head to sore to read and laid and slept and rested. In the morning I ordered some soup and fruit and yogurt from the restaurant and they brought it over true to their word, along with plates and cutlery. Kristoffer came over that night and brought me some more water, a chocolate bar, and of course my snorkel set. He sat and we chatted a bit though I fear I was horrible company, and he left me to drift off to sleep. I don’t know if I can convey how little energy I had. I would lay shivering because I couldn’t bring myself to sit up and find the remote to shut off the A/C. I would be thirsty, but the water bottle was way over there. I obviously forced myself – eventually – to just do what needed to be done, but it wasn’t always easy. So it was that I couldn’t be bothered to order food the next morning. I didn’t want to find the phone, or the card, or pick and order food that I didn’t really want anyway and then have to choke it down. So I laid in bed that morning and took my pill with no food, but soon enough the woman from the restaurant came over to see if I wanted any food today and if I was doing okay. So I got another fruit salad. The hotel owner also came over and asked if I was doing okay and wanted a ride to the hospital again. These gestures were small but very appreciated.

That day passed, day three arrived, and true to the doctor’s word, I wasn’t dead but neither was I feeling better, despite religiously following the medical schedule. I spent the morning gathering the energy to drag myself to the hospital. I was a bit afraid to ride on the back of motorbikes as dizzy as I was feeling but once we got going and the air was blowing across my face I was okay. More waiting at the hospital and finally I got a doctor that was really helpful, though sitting and waiting this time was a lot longer (it was a busy day to be sick) and I wasn’t sure I’d last in the chair much longer when I finally got to see her. I got my blood test, she checked my ears and did some other tests at my request but concluded that I probably had dengue fever. She arranged for a nurse to wheelchair me to the place where I had to get a blood test, which I would’ve refused except that the thought of stumbling and trying to find that number in my present condition was more than I could handle. And then the wheelchair wound up being a gurney and I was highly embarrassed to crawl onto it but I got my blood test done and then wheeled back to where I could wait for my results for about two hours. I laid there, eventually a victim of the open-air design when the rain really started coming down and a friendly man came and wheeled me elsewhere.

Sure enough, dengue fever. My platelet count was 140,000 and the minimum for staying out of hospital was 100,000, but she suspected my numbers would be dropping as this was only my third day (they did indeed dip to below 60,000). In fact, she was quite insistent that I stay in hospital and even tried to find me a private room. I decided that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. It would be a good experience for someone who is usually healthy, I’d meet some locals, maybe have a few pretty nurses, and on top of that, this way I would – or so I thought – get to keep being monitored by this doctor whom I quite liked. So I got another bike back to the hotel, gathered my bags, and went back to the hospital, where I would spend the next six days withering. My first day I was able to eat and drink and be fairly sociable. The guy beside me had dengue fever as well and he looked a mess. I had heard the worst was to come and looking at him was more than a little demoralizing. He had a little jug to save himself some trips to the toilet and when his family visited, they talked – or tried to - more with me than him because he was so out of it. Or they tried to. Only his brother spoke English, and that includes all the other patients, visitors, and nurses.

The bed and pillow were anything but comfortable, the rooms had nothing but fans to keep things somewhat cool, and there were all manner of phlegm being produced all around me. Seriously. One guy at the end, whose wife was quite nice and would offer me anything she thought I might want including jasper-scented washcloths, would make noise that probably exceeded health and safety regulations for hearing protection before letting out a nice quiet “pttoie”. I swear he probably woke up the entire hospital on more than one occasion. Except for the guy across from me. He could sleep through anything, provided, of course, that everybody was awake but him. I felt bad at first because I came in and he was on oxygen and his poor wife and daughter stood by his side the whole time. Especially the daughter got me, probably nine years old or so, sometimes I’d look over and she’d be holding his hand. I tried to smile encouragingly or reassuringly at her and received only dirty looks back. Still, as soon as he was off the oxygen, he’d be wide awake all night and talking – no, yelling, really, but not angrily, just talking as loud as possible – even when there was nobody to listen. Except of course for the entire ward, who was trying to sleep. He didn’t need to sleep because he’d get his in the day, and after several days of this I really considered standing beside his bed and screaming (calmly) random gibberish at the top of my lungs. Hey, I was sick and irritable, and lacking sleep, food, and any company whatsoever. Sue me.

Aside from the brother, who visited only occasionally and was quite nice, I met only three other people who spoke any English. Two were doctors (they would spend about 2-3 minutes per day with me) and one was a random visitor that passed through whom I never saw again. My only other company, now that the pain killers were starting to work, was my books. I finally finished The River at the Centre of the Earth, a story about the Yangtze and more specifically a journey back in time in China, and while in the hospital I was gratified to lose a day and a half reading Raymond E. Feist’s Magician. The escape into that world of fantasy mid-way through my hospital stay is, I dare say, all that kept me sane. And while I’m mentioning it, might I add that this is probably the best fantasy book I’ve read by anyone other than Tolkien.

Enough can’t be said for how important ‘comfortable’ food is to the healing process. Dengue fever takes away any and all appetite, so it’s doubly important that you really WANT to eat whatever it is you are trying to force down your gullet. Well, I enjoy Thai food, but it’s nothing to eat when you’re sick. And even if it were, the hospital adaptation of it most certainly is not. Even the smell, that sickly salty bland smell, made me gag when people on either side of me would try to eat it. I tried, once. I vowed I would go find my own food, dizzy and IV in hand before I would try it again. The mornings were a rice-based gruel. Seriously. After a few days not eating that, they tried a cold egg and soggy bread with yogurt and juice. I ate half the yogurt, that was all I could take. And when one of the nurses was particularly worried about my lack of intake, she asked what I wanted. Oh, how to tell her? My grandma’s chicken noodle soup. Greens. Roast pork. Of course, they had none of those things, but she did offer ‘spaghetti’. Yes, I thought. Good old plain spaghetti with meat sauce. No weird sweet and salty taste, they can’t mess it up. I nodded that I’d have that, but never did see it or any food that evening. I asked again the next day and the nurse was so embarrassed that she went and got me some from a restaurant. It was pineapple and sour something and nothing like I wanted, but I choked down what I could of it to be polite.

As day bled into day, and my estimated time of departure was always “a few more days”, I developed something exciting: a rash. That may smirk of sarcasm, but I was indeed excited. When you have been laying around the last week and nothing has changed at all – still a 40 degree fever, still on IV, still dizzy when you get up and dead tired/in need of a nap by the time you get back from the washroom – any change is a good thing. I thought of it as the dead virus from the internal battles floating to the surface. This excitement didn’t last long however, before the redness added a new irritant. Pain. Now my entire body felt and looked like it had been completely sunburned. Worse than ever, not only because it literally covered every square inch of leg, knee, body, underarm, neck, and scalp, but it felt like the needles and pins you feel when your leg, for example, falls asleep. Anytime something touched it even faintly.

By the end, it was a combination of food, IV, and heat that drove me mad. Hauling the IV with me to the washroom or anywhere made me feel tied down. Trying to sleep with it (I generally sleep on my arm) was not a successful venture. The food, as I detailed, was not encouraging consumption or giving me the energy I needed to fight this virus. And the heat, well, all there was to combat IT were a couple fans. The man beside me had one mounted over his bed, which he always wanted off. There was another fan opposite which I couldn’t feel but was always on. And there was a fan on the far wall that rotated. When it briefly pointed in my direction, the air took 3.5 seconds to reach me. Which, with my rash, was accompanied by a bit of pain in my scalp as my hair was tussled ever so slightly. The morning that was to be my last in hospital, or so I thought, my fever was down to a normal 37. I was told 24 hours of no fever and I could finally go home. But by midday it was at least that hot in the hospital anyway. I lay there sweating as other patients had their guests fanning them – these are locals, remember – and trying to keep cool all the while getting more and more irritated. It was no surprise when my fever spiked back up as they took a reading that afternoon, but it meant another day of this. I prayed for rain, I really did. I cursed that they had nothing better to keep the patients cool. I lay with a wet towel on my head and did everything I could think of but kept sweating and feeling worse and worse.

The food that night was not edible. It simply was not. It appeared to be the sandwich I’d not been able to eat from lunch, the same one as the day before, and the mayo didn’t look healthy anymore. There was leftover spaghetti. Anything I’d remotely tried to put down, it was on my plate. And a Coke, for some reason. At least I’d got them to take my IV out. Breakfast the next morning, after a mercifully quiet night (night-talker had gone home the previous day) more gruel. And while I’m on the subject, watching people you think are on their deathbed get better and go home while you’re still in the hospital is, at best, discouraging. Staying beside someone with the same virus as you who leaves two days earlier, likewise. New patients who stare, literally pass their day staring at you, also discouraging. So when the doctor came to see me that morning and clucked his tongue that my fever had resurged briefly last afternoon, I told him I was leaving. No, you stay until no fever for 24 hours. NO, I’m leaving. Today. How can I not have a fever when it’s so hot in here?! I’m going back to the hotel, to air conditioning, and to normal food.

“Well, it’s safer for you to stay here” at which point I told him that I would lose it, literally lose it, if I had to stay another hot and sweaty afternoon in this ridiculous bed. I’m not asking permission, I’m telling you, I’m leaving. If you have any advice, I’m happy to hear it, but my fever’s pretty much gone and I’m not on any medicine or IV anyway. By now, something in the desperation of my voice had attracted all the patients in the ward and all stared at me wondering what was going on. But I had won. The doctor said I could go if I signed a release (which I never did see). So it was that I paid my bill – 8600 baht – and was back in my hotel that very afternoon, basking in the air conditioning. I did strike out from the hotel to get pizza, which was almost a doomed trip in the heat of the day, but man that pizza was great. A couple days laying around the hotel and doing nothing but resting and recuperating, and I still had no energy, but also no fever. I had to get my butt into gear, so I booked a flight to Bangkok. After all, my visa was expiring, and the only border I was near was Myanmar, and they were expecting a cyclone near where I would have to cross in the next few days. A cyclone which, it would turn out, killed over 300 people. Can you imagine just getting better from dengue fever only to die or be injured and hospitalized? So, still feeling sub-par, I jetted off to Bangkok, leaving untouched Ko Tao and Ko Samui, two islands I’d really wanted to visit, in favour of making tracks. Thailand, it appeared, would require a subsequent visit sometime in the future.


Sunday, April 20, 2008

I crossed the border to Thailand on foot in the baking sun with an Irish couple and a Dutch guy I’d shared a cab with. We had about 15 mins to catch a train at the station 1km away, so all of us hopped on motorbikes and got to the station and jumped on just in time. My destination for the night was to be somewhere in the Tarutao National Park, so I had 4 hours to Hat Yai where I would move from train to bus. During that time the train filled up and I definitely was not in my seat. A local girl, probably around 16, appeared to have the seat beside me, but she just put her bag down and went, ostensibly, to sit with her friends. She didn’t say anything to me, but the Thai sitting across with whom we’d been chatting said that. Still, I’ve lived in western society long enough to be paranoid of unattended baggage, even if I’m aware that it is indeed paranoia. Whatsmore, with it placed beside me I was doubly worried that there may be something in it that I wouldn’t want someone to think was mine. The girl was nowhere to be seen, and the Irish couple was getting quite worried indeed and it was adding to my own concern. At our next stop we were evicted from our spots and all separated to our assigned seats, and the girl still hadn’t collected her bag. I was happy not to have it sitting beside me, and I kept my eye open for her as I worked my way backwards but I probably wouldn’t have recognized her anyway. The Irish girl did, however, and she did get up as I walked past and walk forward. So I made it to Hat Yai with only fear of an incident to show for it. Silly, no?

By the time I got to Hat Yai I decided to just stay there the night. Progress in Asia is slow, you take steps as far as you can and be prepared to make due however far you get. This seemed a lively enough place and it had already been a long day of travel. I ran into a couple while I was looking for a hotel and made a dinner date with them and then found a hotel. Next on the agenda was a phone card and money changing, then figuring out exactly where in this National Park I was to go. Everyone seemed to be headed to Ko Lipe, and the name rung a bell somewhere in the recesses of my mind, so I booked a trip there the next day and went for dinner. At last, Thai food. We ate at a small stall, some very nice and spicy Tom Yam soup. It was, well, nice and spicy and full of tasty ingredients. I talked with the couple about Malaysia and things to see and do, and they told me of Ko Lipe, and we went our separate ways. I ran into a Calgarian a little later and we sat chatting for a couple more hours until I couldn’t hold my head up anymore. I’d still wanted to use the night to catch up on my blog, but I didn’t have enough energy left to turn my lock. Sleep came quickly and was terminated in a similar manner.

8:30 that morning I was on a mini-bus for the port of Pok Bar just outside Satun, in the southwestern corner of Thailand. 200 baht national park fee, 650 baht ferry ticket, 30 baht minibus ride, and 50 baht island transfer and I was there (cost in dollars about $30). I’d traveled with some people from the same hotel I’d stayed at, a couple Irish women and an English chap, and we met two Dutch girls on the ferry over. The group of us was dropped unceremoniously at the opposite end of the island from everything and trekked for 15 minutes across towards the Porn Resort. Yes, you read that correctly; I’m not sure of the Thai meaning, but rest assured it’s not the same as in English. I checked. However, there were some similarities. The hotel was seedy, the rooms Spartan and dilapidated, and for 300 baht per night, I was going to take my chances looking for something better. I convinced the Dutch girls to come with me and we made our way through the jungle to the south side of Ko Lipe, Pattaya Beach. Here, we stumbled on Daya Resort, with much, much nicer rooms for 200 baht. Sold. The girls wanted to continue looking for something nicer, but by my standards, it was great. Tiled floors, clean, decent washroom, fans, mosquito nets intact, and 100 baht cheaper than that wreck they’re calling Porn Resort.

I did walk with them for a way after checking in, and we went for dinner whilst they were still undecided somehow. I’d had enough and they continued to look around while I returned to Craig’s place in Porn to grab my bags I’d left there. Leaving with my stuff, I took a wrong path and ended up in the middle of the jungle, coming across this remote temple and having to ask two monks for directions, which were most definitely not in English. I did, eventually, make it back just in time for sunset, but with all my bags loading me down and half an hour of walking. This meant it was time for a beer and I ran into the two Irish ladies and sat with them for the evening. After two days of exhausting travel, I was unable to even think about diving like I’d wanted to, so I went to sleep with no plans for the following day. That meant I was free to wake up whenever (which was beautiful), go for lunch, and run into the Dutch girls who had stayed, after all, in Porn resort that night. They were traumatized by rats scurrying all over their room, however, and had promptly joined me that morning in Daya along with Craig. I discovered I’d left my snorkel behind in Malaysia (Kristoffer is now taking care of it), but Craig let me borrow his and I snorkeled around for just over an hour seeing little but clown fish.

Craig and I had dinner, fresh BBQ fish, having given up waiting for the Dutch girls to join us. It was delicious though expensive. The Dutch girls did come by later having likewise given up on us and, as a result of being up all night with the rats, were getting some much needed sleep tonight. Craig and I had a couple drinks at the bar then and had a good chat before calling it a night relatively early. The next day, April 13, was Thai New Year and a festival they call Songkran. Essentially, they bathe all their Buddha statues in water to cleanse the evils of the prior year and this has extended into what is essentially the world’s largest waterfight. Everywhere you go, people are armed with buckets, gallons, supersoakers, all waiting to ‘purify’ you. Trucks have their decks filled with younguns splashing other vehicles and pedestrians. Motorcycles are driven in pairs, one to man the watergun, the other to drive. Roadblocks are set up where you are not likely to pass without slowing considerably and getting soaked by the 15-20 people there. And sometimes, it’s not just water. It’s food colouring and flour as well, making a sticky, colourful paste. I wanted to be on the mainland to see this festival. So I was leaving as quickly as I’d come, zipping back on the speedboat. Tickets for this, by the way, I was able to get for 450 baht. Prices aren’t so fixed as they appear.

The next morning I grabbed a longtail boat to catch the speed boat. I was supposed to do so at 8:15 and was there at 8:20, but I wasn’t too worried – yet – because the speed boat left at 9:00. Then, we pushed off and I saw him tinkering with the motor. He appeared to be changing the fuel filter and five minutes later, as the tension was growing, he replaced it. We might just make it to the other side of the island to catch the boat, I thought. Then he tried to start it. And tried again. And again. Nothing. It kept stalling. Precious time was diminishing. He called to land – as we’d drifted slightly – for help but nothing seemed to come of it. Another boat was anchored near where we were floating and he managed to get us alongside it, and we jumped ship and were off. It turned out that, unlike the ferry, the boat was right off our own beach, so the trip was a short 5 minutes and I was there with plenty of time to spare. We sped off on the speed boat and I was thankful for the big engines as I was trying to catch the 11:00 bus to Krabi. I decided to go here as it would have a lot of activity for the festival. We made one stop at Ko Tarutao to pick up a group, and they wound up being 30 minutes late which meant, I was annoyed to discover, I wouldn’t be catching the 11:00 bus - but I did get the photo you see on the right. We made landfall at 11:10 and I was told there was also an 11:30 bus and then after that the next was at 1:00, so I grabbed a taxi of sorts and made it to where the bus picks up at 11:35. It didn’t matter anyway, there was no 11:30 bus, so I waited around until 1:00.

There was no real urgency other than I wanted to get there and participate. It was perhaps foolish to travel with all my belongings on a day when people were soaking each other, but I was confident my bag’s rain fly could fend off most of the attack. But when I did finally board the bus, at 1:30 as it turns out, I soon discovered that the aforementioned roadblocks were everywhere and the four hour trip would take somewhat longer. I made it to Krabi, eventually, and decided since I was this far, I might as well get to Ton Sai, a beach in Krabi that could only be reached by boat or hike. I grabbed a taxi for 250 baht to the pier and had to wait as the sun sank in the sky until we had 8 people before the boat would go. I began to despair that no 8 people would come at this hour, that I would be good and stuck here, and that I should’ve just stayed in Krabi town. But a family did come and we were off, and all the patience and delays paid off big time. For, as it turned out, we were sailing out amongst the massive limestone pillars in what would be one of the most beautiful sunsets I’d ever seen. We made it to Railay West, and I had to walk across to the east and catch another boat before I’d be in Ton Sai. This boat again was waiting for 8 people though there was another boat going right by that was full. They just didn’t want to take me or the other guy.

He was exhausted and yelling, and it got him nowhere. He stormed back onto the beach and I asked the guy why he wouldn’t drop us there when it would mean more money for him? I never did get a good answer, but he just said, “Okay, come” and we were off. At last I was in Ton Sai, I eventually found a place up the path some ways for 300 baht. It’s expensive traveling along, I’m reminded. And then I went to the beach bar after a so-so dinner for the New Year Party. This was good fun, they’d brought in a band from Bangkok that was pretty good for being reggae, and I met a bunch of Canadians there. I took the next day off, that is April 14, to decide what exactly I was going to do here (and when) and just have a look around. Climbing, it seemed, was everywhere, and I booked myself a day of climbing for the 15th and continued looking around. Kayaking, snorkels and dives, all sorts of things to do. I had a relaxing day and met two sisters from Victoria that night. I had a very nice chat with Mel in particular and we agreed to go kayaking the day after my climb.

The day of climbing was excellent. It started a little slow, I have to say, but before midday I and the other English girl who were students had both climbed 30m to a small cave for some nice shots of West Railay. We had lunch, she being finished her half day and me joining Mike, an Irish guy I could hardly understand, for the second half of the day. We did some really challenging climbs and I ‘fell’ for the first time on one of them. Then we clambered through the dark into a cave and climbed up and up in the cave to a beautiful view looking over East Railay and Ton Sai, then abseiled down to the forest floor. From here we did a couple more climbs. One was really challenging but in the end I made it to the top and got treated to a beautiful view, high enough up to see both sides of the peninsula, and it was all worth it. We were back in time for sunset but it seemed like a night when I wasn’t going to meet anybody and indeed it was. I sat watching a guy at One More Bar doing a pretty nice job playing acoustic guitar and harmonica with just a few locals, but that was about it. And I had, for dinner, my first Pad Thai in Thailand, but it wasn’t anything special, not surprising given the last time I’d eaten at that restaurant it was poor as well. I would try again.

On the topic of foods, I had had some beautiful green curry in Ko Lipe, and become somewhat addicted to Mango Sticky Rice (with coconut milk) here in Ton Sai. And I had a warm banana coconut milk almost-soup as a delectable dessert. I’d been recommended by an Israeli guy I’d met here in Ton Sai while having a BBQ chicken leg to try the papaya salad and I did so on the morning of April 16. That, however, wasn’t really anything to write home about. I ran into Mel and her brother Nate eating breakfast and they sat with me and we all had Thai pancakes as well. We were to go kayaking today but Nate wasn’t feeling great so we put it off another day. Instead, I thought I’d take the afternoon snorkel trip to the nearby islands (Chicken Island, etc). I went back to my bungalow to get my stuff and as I was walking back to the snorkel place I heard, “Hello, stranger!” from my left and turning, there were Carrie and Lori, friends from Saskatoon. I’d actually been expecting to run into them somewhere in the next few days, but as far as I knew they were still in Bangkok; I’d just emailed Carrie the night before with information on flying from Bangkok to Krabi.

So it was, you might say, a big surprise to have them walking down the pathway in the ‘resort’ I was staying at. I dropped the snorkel trip and instead we went down to the beach. The beach at Ton Sai isn’t anything special – in fact at low tide it’s pretty much a long shallow rock pool – so we went over to East Railay and then continued on to Phranang. We’d run into Mel and Nate again and they were doing the same thing, so the four of us set up shop on the beach together. It was a hot one, alright, and the water was hardly what you’d call refreshing at 30 degrees, but it was still nice to relax and hang around. We made our way back and split from Mel then went for BBQ fish at the Dream Valley restaurant, not worth the money, and then had drinks up at the Kasbah. Ismail, a guy I’d met when I was hanging out with Mel a few nights back, came up and said hello again and seemed quite enamoured with Lori. We hung out with him for the evening and tried our hand at tightrope walking before going home.

The next day we were up early, I had some more mango sticky rice, and the girls had Thai pancakes. The three of us rented a couple kayaks and snorkel gear for 1000 baht altogether and kayaked out to the islands. 8km, I’d heard, was supposed to take about an hour. Well, we reached the first island, a little clump in the sea thinking we were right around the corner from the others. Coming around the corner – and looking for somewhere to do some cliff jumping – we saw that wasn’t the case. The next island was quite some distance again. An hour later, we were pulling our kayaks onto the sands of Poda Island. Here is where some of the best snorkeling is meant to be and we set out to explore the underwater world. Unfortunately, even with five masks (I’d told him I didn’t think his masks were very watertight) most of the masks leaked at least somewhat, as did the snorkels. I had to breathe out sharply every breath to expel the water. Also, the mask I ended up with had a solid nose, so I couldn’t equalize properly, and it had a ‘nose vent’ for some reason which was letting in a bit of water too. The girls had similar problems or worse, though I’d tried to take the worst equipment for myself.

That done, we sailed around Poda island to Chicken Island, which was a much better experience. It is so named because there is a large vertical karst that looks like a long neck with a head atop it. We arrived at low tide to find a long thin strand of beach connecting it with Tum Island, which was beautiful. And, at last, we grabbed some lunch and energy from a restaurant there. The food was good if overpriced. We didn’t see the chicken head immediately, but after a short walk it came into view watching over the island like a hungry dinosaur. And then it was time to go back. The girls were sunburned and without adequate protection from the sun, it was a daunting 2 hours back to look at, we were all tired, and, well, it occurred to me that we might not have enough in us to get back. Of course we would make it happen, but that the thought crossed my mind at all was worrying. It was a tough slough back, complicated by some larger waves which, though pushing us along (thank goodness) were making the girls seasick. Slowly the beach receded behind us and even more slowly did Ton Sai grow in front of us. The last kilometre was the worst, it felt like we were getting nowhere and breaking every two to three minutes. Finally, we could see huts on the island, then boats, and now, at last, people. I think we burst into absurd laughter when we finally jumped out of the kayak onto land. We wouldn’t do that again anytime soon.

The next day we were meant to do some climbing, but we were all too tired – everywhere – to consider anything of the sort. The girls being sunburned limited options, too, and so we split. Sort of. We both wound up on the beach relaxing a couple hundred meters from each other though we didn’t discover this until the end of the day. I split with them to climb to the lagoon just before sunset (I was hoping to catch the tide up somewhat) and then met up with them for dinner back in Ton Sai at Mambo’s. Afterwards, of course, we went up to the Kasbah and had a great send off before we headed off to the island of Phi Phi the next morning. And we did indeed set off for Ko Phi Phi in what was to be an ill-fated journey. First of all, the weather deteriorated – not badly, but it was gray and overcast which was in stark contrast to the weather of the previous, well, month. The island was also really developed and this wasn’t exactly desirable compared with a place like Ton Sai. Finally, everyone talks about this being the most beautiful place on earth, and it is beautiful, but it’s really not all that much different than where we already were.

We found a place to stay the night and booked ourselves into a sunset snorkel cruise. Two snorkel stops turned into one. A stop along Monkey Beach turned into, well, no stop along a beach that had no monkeys on it. We didn’t cruise down a few canals because of the low tide, but we did finally stop and do a bit of snorkeling and it was pretty nice. Lion fish and everything just below the surface, and lots of needlenose fish too (they look like small swordfish). Then we got off and trekked across the smaller, uninhabited Phi Phi island to Maya Bay, THE Beach beach. The trek there was without camera but plenty of mosquitoes to make up for it. And our arrival at Maya Beach was cluttered with boats in the bay and it had none of the magical look we’d been expecting. I felt especially bad for Lori – whom I’d warned – because her expectations had been so high going into it. I mean, it’s not a horrible place, if you use your imagination to wipe the boats and ropes and signs of tourism gone mad from the scene. It was taxing on my imagination though, and I think mine is still pretty powerful. It did get a bit better as the day waned, but really, how was it going to top the beaches of Phranang and Railay near our home-base of Ton Sai. We sailed home in what was a remarkable sunset only because there was no sign whatsoever that the sun was up, down, or anywhere near a transition. It just slowly got darker. The land that orange forgot. We went to go out that night as well and, at 11 PM, everything was closed. We stopped for a smoothie and I was attacked by a cockroach looking to nest in my hair. Thus ended our stay in Phi Phi.

The next morning, I woke up feeling really sore all over, but I wanted to get up to the viewpoint before leaving the island that morning. I also checked the internet and discovered that Kristoffer was in Krabi so that made the decision for me between Krabi and Phuket. Hiking up to the top was arduous to say the least, though I couldn’t help feeling that I was sweating more than I should be. At the top, I just couldn’t cool down, however much I drank, but I did get a few nice photos from up there. Back down I went, and I tried to have a bagel for breakfast but it took all my energy and focus to stomach the entire thing, nevermind holding my head up. It was then that I realized I was still burning up and had a headache. Great. I was sick and I had a fever, pretty much the one sign that you’re in deep trouble in the tropics. Malaria, dengue, name a tropical disease and they all have one thing in common: fever. The boat ride back to Krabi (I missed the girls and didn’t get to say a proper ‘bye’) only served to confirm that I was sicker than a dog, and hauling my backpack off the boat and negotiating a ride into the city and a hotel was almost more than I could stand. But I did get myself into an air conditioned hotel, and I did get myself to a hospital, and, well, my friends, that story will have to continue next time. But rest assured I’m alive and, so far as I can tell, well, though I can (and will) tell you it was a miserable two weeks…

Thaisland Photos

East Coast Malays

Saturday, April 05, 2008

It was April Fool’s Day when we left Taman Negara, the dark beating heart of Malaysia and one of the world’s oldest rainforests. Coincidentally, it was the name of the book I was reading at the time, a book by Bryce Courtenay (authour of The Power of One, which I’d thoroughly enjoyed). This was not a work of fiction however, it was the story of Courtenay’s youngest son, Damon, and his life growing up with hemophilia. Hemophilia occurs in different degrees; Damon’s cases was ‘classic’ or full-blown, meaning he had no blood-clotting Factor VIII whatsoever and required on average three transfusions per week. It was an enlightening book, I’d always assumed it meant that cuts and scratches were the problem here. Really, it’s the fact that small capillaries burst all the time, especially in joints, almost randomly – and of course bruises, which are essentially internal bleeds, are no picnic either. As a result of one of these many, many life-saving transfusions containing HIV, his life is forever changed and, ultimately, ended. It sounds gloomy, and certainly it doesn’t conjure images of hand-holding and skipping in the park, but there is, in spite of it all, hope, love, and the struggle for life, however tragic a life it may have been, which all conspire to produce a life-affirming and heart-warming read. I don’t expect this blog to have any such affect, dear reader, but nevertheless, let’s get out of the dark brooding forest to the sunny, warm, east Malaysian coast.

Kristoffer and I grabbed the 9:30 AM bus out of the jungle to the town of Jerantut. Thus we’d escaped the jungle. Not very epic, now, is it? In Jerantut, we discovered there was no bus out to the east coast, or Kuantan, our next transfer point, until 1:00 that afternoon. See, while my original plan and most itineraries travel up through the rainforest on the jungle rail, the fact was that I had done the best section of that already and also wanted to get off the tourist trail a bit to, hopefully, some hidden east coast gems. So we waited, or rather, Kris did while I spent a bunch of time on the internet getting FrankBlack.Net up to date. A new podcast, a new album, some singles, a news release, and my battery was soon depleted. We grabbed lunch, which was pretty good actually (I had a chicken noodle soup and the broth was terrific) and hopped back on the bus for Kuantan. We were trying to make it to Marang, up the east coast halfway to the back-on-the-trail destination of the Perhentian islands. It looked nice on the map and was nearby to an island a local had recommended to us, Pulau (Island) Kapas.

Unfortunately our arrival in Kuantan was just a little too late to catch the last bus up to Marang. We might have made it, but I had a craving for substantial quantities of beef and, for some reason, a root beer float, and there was an A&W laying in wait for us on arrival. By the time we walked to the bus station it was 20 minutes after the last bus had left. We quite liked Kuantan in its way, and weren’t too upset to stay here. We’d passed a pretty mosque on the way from the national to the local bus station, we’d found the people friendly and, for a big city especially, surprisingly excited to chat with westerners. Our excitement dipped somewhat when we found our Lonely Planet recommended hotel, a not-really-so-cheap dive that smelled faintly of urine and could’ve used a Lucille Ball style washing machine in every room. Maybe two. Still, it was the only place around for miles so we took our room and got exploring anywhere else.

We had a beer at a Chinese restaurant, found out where a disco was, and, heading in that general direction, stumbled across a bar. Here, we were hustled pretty quickly. A couple girls outside, certainly of no interest, were flagging us in and we were looking for another place to have a drink more lively than a Chinese restaurant. We thought that one beer here couldn’t hurt and soon we had a bucket in front of us. Fine. A few beers wouldn’t hurt either. The waitress poured our beer and then hers. Fine. A small glass of beer won’t hurt. They stood by us and pretended to be interested, for which I was both uncomfortable and grateful. First of all, we weren’t remotely interested. They were basically prostitutes in dress and action. Uncomfortable. Secondly, it was all an act calculated to make some other demographic, such as the guy sitting at a table near ours, continue to drink and patronize. For this I was grateful as it eased the discomfort.

We found our way out of there very quickly and found the disco which had a pricey cover and was dead. We also checked out the nearby swing club, equally dull. Our filthy bed awaited. First thing the next morning, we were out of Kuantan. I found an entry about Cherating that struck my interest and we made our way there. It was a quiet town, almost looking deserted perhaps because of the time of year. The beach was pretty nice though, and I had some fantastic roti canai (flat bread and curry sauce). We’d thought to stay but, while quiet and devoid of tourists, the town had nothing more to offer than solitude. I felt sure we could do better. We had lunch and read on the beach for a spell then headed up on the 2:00 bus to Marang. It took just about three hours and we stopped in the market for some delicious satay crab and fish. There were no boats left going to the island of Kapas that evening so we tried to catch a ride on a laundry skiff to no avail. It did, however, net us a ride from a local heading up in that direction though we paid full price (15 RM) for it.

And suddenly, we were in paradise. Pulau Kapas, stretching out before us as we left the Malaysian coast was exciting before we made landfall. On arrival we negotiated a dorm bed for 15 RM per night at the Captain’s Longhouse, right on the beach. Dinner with the captain and his crew was around 9:00 and cost 10 RM. Our beds were equipped with mosquito nets (which we’d discover to be essential), the place was clean, and our host was very hospitable. And, did I mention, we were his only guests? The island is very very quiet at this time of year, as they’ve only been out of monsoon season for 2 weeks. And both Kristoffer and I love it. We explored the island a bit before it got dark and had a drink on the beach as the stars came out. We joined the captain and some other locals for a delicious dinner and it felt very much like being a guest at his home, dining with family friends such as the dive shop crew, the chef, and some helpers, more than going to a restaurant. Dinner was fried whole fish, rice, curry, veggies, and is probably the most home-cooked thing I’ve eaten since I don’t know when. The whole fish in particular, which I’m not usually a fan of, was amazing and I went through a half-ocean worth.

We were up early the next morning, had breakfast (more roti canai, disappointing compared with my last exposure to this dish) and sat on the beach reading and waiting for the tide to come in to do some snorkeling. The captain took me for a tour and to meet the others on the island and I discovered another bar on the island with some great board games, particularly Settlers, which I’ve always wanted to try. Kris and I snorkeled part of the north side of the island though the sun was very strong and we cut it a bit short, then went back and played some Settlers until around 6 when the mosquitoes came out. He won every time, but I quite like the game. We went back and had dinner with the captain again, then returned hoping to find some company.

There were some other Danes and Dutch around, but they were, for want of another word, complete rejects. When we cracked open Settlers while they ate they made fun of us for playing it as a two-player game as though we were deaf or spoke no English. When I interrupted to explain that they were having dinner and we’d be quite happy to have them join us afterwards, they were dumbfounded and one of them recovered enough to say they’d played the game to death. Too bad, we’d been looking forward to playing the game properly, as it’s meant to be played with at least three players. We did invite them another time and still no. Eventually, as we played our fourth game, one of the girls came up and quite abruptly asked how many more games we were going to play, as though we’d been hogging it all night. Again, would you like to join us was a swing and a miss. Three strikes and we were out. They would not, they’d just been waiting all night (approximately one hour) for us to finish. OK, I understood. They wanted to play amongst themselves and didn’t want us in the game. Sure, we had it first, sure, we’d invited them to join, but now she was coming up and demanding that we stop so they can play and no, we weren’t invited. And how dare we be so rude as to play their game!? The last person this bitchy I’d met was a Swedish girl named Hannah that I worked with in Perth. But at least she had the excuse of being the only short, dumpy brunette in a country of beautiful tall blondes (who were mostly nice, I might add). Kristoffer still didn’t quite get it and asked if we could join them. Of course not. We could play chess. And we did; yet again I lost.

April 4 and our third day on Pulau Kapas brought the rain. Not torrential, just enough to discourage heavy exploration. Snorkeling would still be no problem, after all the water temperature is 30 on the surface and 28 not far below. It’s almost too warm. The sun came out soon anyway, and we made our way to the southern side of the island, hoping for some shark and turtle sightings. The visibility was pretty poor but it was a nice walk and we did spot some eels and the usual plentitude of fish. Back to the lodge, back for a game of Settlers which - finally - I won, and back for our goodbye dinner. Captain Sharrif Abbas and his staff went all out. We had sweet and sour and fried fish (both great), chap chai veggies, steamed veggies, rice, two different curries, and it was easily the best meal I've had in a long time. We stayed up late chatting with the captain before finally going to sleep.

The next morning we caught the 9:30 boat back to civilization, specifically Marang. We were hoping to catch a boat up river to a small fishing village, but with only two of us the cost was 100 RM to get there. Nope, we'll pass, thanks. So up to Kuala Terengganu we went on a public bus, packed like sardines, where we were greeted by a friendly local who 'loves tourists'. What he loves is getting money for giving them rides, it only took a couple minutes to get there, but that said he was happy enough to point us in the right direction and admit it was too close to worry about a car. One McDonalds sundae later (I said before, it's hot!) and we checked into our hostel. This town is famed for its cultural wares, arts, and foods. Kristoffer and I split up as my internet requirements were much steeper than his after several days in isolation. But I did get a bit of exploring done before we reunited and trekked to the south end of town for the food markets. It was a little late by the time we got there and somethings weren't available and others quite quiet. When there's nobody eating it can be hard to guess which places are good. We took a chance and failed. Horrible food. We didn't come all that way to have horrible food, though, so we found another place and tried again. Bingo! The food was great (though I was stuffed) and the waiter sat with us and taught us a bunch of Bahasa. Way to salvage the night!

Another day, another island. The following morning we boarded the bus to Kuala Besut and from there grabbed a ferry to Pulau Perhentian Kecil (literally, small Perhentian Island). We didn’t quite literally get a ferry to the island, however, much to our anger. Instead, after an unannounced park fee, a departure that was 30 minutes late, and a trip time that took 1.5 hours instead of the 30 minutes it was supposed to (meaning that we would’ve made it there faster with the cheaper slow boat) we arrived in the middle of the sea. From here, again completely unannounced, we had to pay for a water taxi to take us to the mainland. Now, when you buy a ticket for any other form of transport, you get taken to the place you paid to go. Otherwise, what did I pay for? In Malaysia, and I’d soon discover Thailand as well, they take you most of the way and somewhere that could only in the vaguest sense be described as your destination. Imagine boarding a plane and flying over the destination city and being told you had to pay $2 million for a parachute to actually GET to the city. Quite what you would otherwise do is beyond anyone. Jump? Sit stubbornly on the plane as it returned to where you started? Thankfully for Malaysian air travelers, it is impossible to pick up new passengers without landing.

I should mention I almost didn’t pay except that it occurred to me that my departure would require the water taxi all over again. Heaven forbid I get trapped in paradise! And it was a paradise. We had to walk the whole of Long Beach to find accommodation of a budget-nature but our last stop was a success. We stayed at a place called Rock Garden (known to locals as Rock Bottom for its price and probably the shanty hut accommodation as well) for 10 Ringgit per night each. It was a shanty hut, but it had a view to more than offset that, perched as it was up the hill. This also afforded a nice breeze, all too important in a room with limited hours of electricity and even then only to turn on a small light. Not by switch, mind, not in this establishment. To activate the light in Rock Garden, you got on the bed and screwed in the bulb. Or you got your quite-tall friend to do so. Still, the view! The view! Sitting on our balcony and reading was a thing of beauty.

We had dinner at a café called Daniel’s, which is sandwiched between two other lesser cafés, and wondered where everybody was. The Perhentians were hard and fast on the Malaysian backpacker circuit and there should be plenty of people here to hang out with. A couple girls did sit at a nearby table and after their dinner and ours, we asked to join them. So there was some other company to be had on the island, just not the amount we expected. We sat around the fire at a nearby bar and drank a few brew before retiring. I’d booked a dive for first thing in the morning, even before Kristoffer started his classes for his diving cert. It was to be my first wreck dive, called the Vietnamese Wreck, which went down when ferrying Vietnamese refugees. The visibility was poor but the dive was pretty cool in spite of the fact that I decided to join another group by accident going into the cavernous hull.

That afternoon I dove another wreck, one much more famous. It is a wrecked sugar ship, and while the circumstances surrounding its sinking are foggy at best, the water surrounding the ship was anything but. We had great visibility and saw schools of barracudas and all manner of creature. You could see the wreck from the surface and we descended the 24m to the large screw sitting idly since that fateful day in 2000. Coming down on the wreck I felt as though I was watching a documentary or something. The wreck sat there, rust red on a dark blue backdrop and as we descended we cleared the ridge created where the hull meets the deck in a largely intact railing and looked straight down the deck into the deeper blue below, as though doing a flyby. This dive, as you probably guessed, was excellent.

When we returned to land, I met up with Kristoffer who’d just done his first day learning to dive. He was pretty excited already and I suppose I was reminded of how lucky we were to be able to do what we were doing. I waited at Daniel’s where I met the owner, Amin, and chatted with him for some time before Kristoffer returned. Amin was telling me about his younger days bartending in Kuala Lumpur and how he still makes the best Long Island Iced Tea. Unfortunately, he can’t sell alcohol at his restaurant as the land is owned by the government, so I never did get to verify this. He also told me that even if he wanted to open a bar, because he’s a muslim, he would not be allowed ownership by the government. Nevermind that his interpretation of things are different from the official muslim stance of the nation, nevermind that he is supposed to be able to practice any religion freely, if he’s muslim, the laws for him are the old ones. Were he to have been born any other religion, however, no problem at all. An interesting double standard to say the least.

Amin whipped us up a BBQ that was delicious and really looked after us now that we knew each other a bit. I had squid and king fish, Kris had shark, and it was all delicious. The cost was basically $5 and we got drink, rice, veggies, and fresh catch from that day. You can’t beat that! I took a break from diving the next morning and went on a snorkel trip instead. 40 RM ($12) for an all day boat trip to six sites and a stop in a fishermans’ village for lunch. We had a good crew going out and saw some sharks, barracuda, blowfish, clown fish, and turtles. One poor turtle was unfortunately chased around the sea by 9 snorkellers for 10 minutes, a scene that must have looked hilarious from the air but decidedly less so from below. I made friends with two English girls on the boat, Sophie and Sara, and Kristoffer and I met them for dinner along with a rather aloof and unusual San Francisco native named Noah. And again, we stuck with our choice of Amin. Apparently Kristoffer had shown up in the morning with only 10 minutes to eat and asked for something quick. 2 minutes later, Amin was back with some rice and chicken that must have been for someone else, wrapped in foil and ready to go. And again, the food was excellent – in honour of all the barracuda around, I decided to try it and I must report it is quite a beautiful fish.

The five of us sat around at the nearby beach bar until Noah finally disappeared and then the four of us got along famously and had a great night chatting and watching fire dancing and looking up at the stars. They’re quite clear here, incidentally, and finally, finally, I saw the Big Dipper. It has been a while. It really was a special feeling when I looked opposite and saw the southern cross at the same time. What a feeling, to see both at once. I truly am at the equator, at the centre of the world, and for some reason I felt larger than life when I should have felt very small and insignificant. Orion was hunting around between the two constellations, ever hunting, and perhaps I felt something like that. We watched the sunrise (it was a late night, I told you) and I definitely slept in until about noon. I did nothing today but relax around the beach. And eat. I had lunch at Amin’s and he brought me what he considers his favourite shake, something he asked me not to divulge, essentially chocolate-banana with a secret twist or two, without my even asking. I should also mention that every newcomer to this island inevitably argues the merits of the various shakes and their superiorities. Mars, Snickers, or M&Ms? It turned out to be Mars, but Amin’s is a close second.

We did have dinner elsewhere my final night, a restaurant up on the hill with a nice view. We were stuck in the middle and a movie was on (300 – it still amazes me that such a small number of men could change the course of the world forever), so no view but for some Brits masquerading as Greeks. On top of that, the food was expensive and not especially great. We went down to the beach bar afterwards and had a couple drinks, Kristoffer and I, and swung by the English girls to say bye to them too. I had been traveling a long time with Kristoffer, and now again I was traveling solo. I had one more dive booked before I caught the noon ferry back to shore to do first, however. The kind people at Matahari dives had actually rearranged their dive schedule to accommodate me since I’d been trying to get to the most famous dive in the area, Temple of the Sea. That’s how people are here, very helpful and friendly. Although the girl that made it happen, really, was a Canadian I’m proud to say.

So it was that I was on a boat at 9AM racing for Temple. We saw any number of things there, more barracuda, sea pillows, fish feeding on other fish, nudi branches, and we had great visibility. I was also impressed with my air supply. There were two of us with Hugo, our dive master, and the other guy went up pretty early while I waited at the bottom. Hugo and I spent another 20 minutes down there. I signalled that I was down to 50 bar as we were nearing about 8m, so we swam around at 5m for our safety stop and then just kept swimming. I was fine with it. At 5m, even if I ran out of air, I could do a straight ascent without a problem, assuming I didn’t want to grab Hugo’s octopus. 40 bar, Hugo asked if I wanted to go up. I waved him off and he laughed, or bubbled I guess, underwater, and we continued to watch big fish devour small until 30 bar when finally I thought, okay, we should ascend. We were the first two in the water and the last out, which is definitely a first for me, and I was smiling ear to ear at this and also all the things we’d seen underwater.

I got back to land and ran to Daniel’s for a quick brunch and to say bye and thanks to Amin. I had some Mee Goreng (fried noodles and veggies) and ran back, as it was ten minutes to 12. I quickly packed up my sleeping bag, which was laying in the sun to kill off any bed bugs that may have made it a home and other things, said bye to everyone at the dive shop, and ran to the beach to find I’d missed the boat. Amin came down from his restaurant next door seeing me all laden up and convinced the guy to speed me over to the big island to catch it before it went for the mainland. So it was that me and a Frenchman who, in a hurry though we were and with a much greater distance to go, was insisting he should still only pay the regular price. I told him we had further to go, no time to do it in, and to get in or catch the 4 o’clock, so he jumped in. I think he didn’t understand the situation at the time. The driver was asking us to pay him so I grabbed my wallet and out flew my ferry ticket. We circled back quickly, time eating away, and I managed to pluck it from the surface just in time. Back around again and towards the big island. The ferry was there and other boats were just finishing dropping off their passengers, but they must’ve seen us and waited.

Whew. We made it to the mainland. Talk about a busy morning. From there, I shared a taxi with a Dutch guy and two Irish backpackers to the border of Thailand. Our cabbie was pretty funny and interesting and the trip went really quickly. Share taxis are great in that they cost the same as a bus but get you there in 1/3 of the time. We crossed the very hot border without issue and grabbed four motorbikes to take us to the train station. With 10 minutes to spare, we boarded the train north to Hat Yai. Every step of the way, it was like the trip was pre-ordained to maximize efficiency and reduce waiting. We were now in Thailand, speeding north. At some point, a young girl, whom I thought was meant to be where I was sitting put her bag beside me. Then she walked down the aisle behind me. The Thai man across explained she was going to sit with her friends. Meanwhile, I had a bag that wasn’t mine beside me and when I looked back, she was nowhere in sight. This made me nervous, and with good reason. The Thai border is where most of the country’s muslims live, many of whom want independence, and already a few bombs have gone off. She seemed innocent enough, but who knows. It could be drugs or something else I wouldn’t want to have look to be mine. Drug dealers, by the way, are shot on sight in this country. But this story will continue next time. Take care until then!

East Coast Malaysia Photos