Rena and Wade Around the World

Our first Round the World trip from Jan 2006 - July 2006.

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Location: Regina/Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada

The adventures of living and working abroad. From Cayman to Europe, a break year and side adventure travels, this is our story.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Krabi/ Ao Nang (Thailand)

After Palau Pangkor we needed to start heading towards Thailand in order to meet up with our friends Shari & Eamon in Bangkok. As such, we decided to get ourselves into Thailand and spend another few days at a beach in Thailand before making our way to Bangkok. This involved a few more bus rides and an overnight stay in George Town in the province of Panang, Malaysia.

The first bus ride was all right enough. We went on a coach bus from Lumut to Butterworth for 3 hours and then took a 20 minute ferry to George Town. George Town was a nice place...ended up getting homesick for some western food and ate dinner at an English pub.

The next day was what I imagine hell would be like. Our 7 hour bus ride turned into an 11 hour cramped, roasting hot mini bus ride. There was hardly any leg room, there was no A/C (vent air just doesn't cut it), there were no curtains to keep the sun out and worse yet a stinky inconsiderate monk was sitting beside us. Wade and I had to take turns sitting beside the monk. You know a bus ride is bad when the monk beside you is undressing in the van and pouring water on himself because he cannot bear the heat! Further imagine that he hasn't showered in a while and is sitting spread eagle to get maximum air ventage and pushing his leg into your space! It was a very trying bus ride to say the least and a couple hours in I thought we were going to pass out before ever making it to our destination.

We did make it alive to Krabi, Thailand. I have since found out that women are not supposed to even touch monks as it is very disrespectful. Not sure what I was supposed to do when I was crammed between him and Wade with no where to move and his legs were in the space in front of my seat!

Anyways, Krabi was a nice seaside town. We settled into our hotel for the night which was our cheapest yet, the equivalent of $12.50 and nicer than a lot of other rooms we have stayed in for more. The next day, we moved to the resort area of Ao Nang (20 minutes from Krabi). There were three nice beaches around this area that we could access via long tail boat rides of approximately 15 minutes. Ao Nang was teeming with tourists and tons of Canadians! The days were hot with the occasional short rain shower. We had 3 wonderful days of beaching. Best yet, we had a $10 a night brand new bungalow in the jungle. Very peaceful, although a bit out of the way. Very surprised what $10 can buy you! Here is a picture of our jungle bungalow.

Here is a picture of one of the 3 beaches around Ao Nang that we spent the most time at, West Hat Rai Leh. It was a nice beach, with gorgeous scenery. Massive limestone cliffs surrounded the beach and there were many rock climbers around in addition to beachers. The water clarity was not as good as Cayman, but the scenery around this beach made Cayman seem like a boring flat rock in the middle of no where!

When I say there were 3 beaches around Ao Nang, I am not counting this one which is called East Hat Rai Leh. As you will notice the tide changes quite a bit, as this long tail boat is stuck in the mud until the tide comes back. This was not so much of a swimming beach. The west part of the beach is where we spent most of our time and although the tide changed quite a bit there as never went into mud flats like on the east side.

There were many rock islands jutting out from the ocean around the beaches. One afternoon we rented a kayak and went exploring. Here is a view out of our kayak.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Palau Pangkor (Malaysia)

After a few hectic days in Hong Kong, Singapore & Kuala Lumpur, we decided it was time for some relaxing at a Malaysian beach. So, we caught a 4 hour bus from Kuala Lumpur to Lumut (moving Northwards in Malaysia from Kuala Lumpur) and then took a 30 minute ferry from Lumut to Palau Pangkor.

The adventure started in Kuala Lumpur at the Puda Raya bus station. We were warned that the station would be overwhelming, but the warnings were not adequate. We literally got dropped off in the middle of a busy street by our taxi driver and he yelled at us and pointed at a building that we could not imagine was a bus station. We went inside (loaded down with our enormous backpacks and other bags we have acquired) to find a series of hawker stalls. It looked more like a galleria of mini restaurants than a bus station, although curiously there were staircases all around that we assumed the bus station must be somewhere. Wade left me with all the bags so that he could maneuver through the crowds to try and purchase our tickets. I have never been so stared at in all of my life. A combination of my skin colour and all the bags that were accompanying me, granted me circus freak attention. I started counting and saw 6 other white people the entire time we were at the station. They were like shining beacons in the crowd. Wade struggled getting the tickets, but did return…then the adventure of finding our “platform” began. Buses were everywhere, signs were lacking and people did not speak English. Eventually we ended up walking up and down the bus stalls trying to find our bus. We eventually did and finally were on the bus to Lumut. It was a huge relief by that time and we were exhausted and sweating wet (they don’t believe in A/C in bus stations apparently).

Palau Pangkor was a well deserved vacation from our “adventure” earlier in the day. It is an 8 sq. km tropical island oasis. This is a picture of the nicest public beach on the island, which is called Coral Bay Beach. Coral Bay Beach is known for its emerald green water, which is due to the limestone sediment from the nearby cliffs. Although the backdrop scenery was more fantastic than Cayman, the beach and water did not quite compare. I guess we are a little spoiled having lived on one of the nicest beaches in the world for 4 years! Although, I would have to say the prices in Palau Pangkor are much better. Our hotel was across the road from the beach and had a very nice pool for US$25. Doubt Cayman could beat that!

Here is a look at the aftermath still evident on the beach at Coral Bay from last year’s Tsunami.

Another picture of the aftermath of the Tsunami.

We are not entirely sure what type of bird this is…maybe a Toucan. Anyways, there was a bit of a bird convention on the power wires above our hotel’s swimming pool. We couldn’t resist taking a picture of one of these guys due to their unique beaks.

The last day on the island we rented a motorbike (the main mode of transportation on the island apart from the pink taxi vans) and toured the island. It didn’t take long, but was an interesting tour. We went to the other side of the island which is mainly a fishing village and the island’s main business apart from tourism is fish products sold to other parts of Malaysia. As such, some of the places we drove by didn’t smell like a flower garden. We also were able to see many Malaysian Navy ships as the Navy’s main hub is on the mainland near Palau Pangkor. Here is a picture of some of the local fishing boats.

Wade also earned his keep by teaching me how to ride a motorbike (once we hit a more open, quiet stretch of road). Now I am all prepared for when we get to Vietnam. Luckily I am still in once piece with a clean “riding” record to date.

We had some of the best meals yet in Malaysia on this island. Hard to believe that corn on the cob sold by a guy on a street corner over an open flame could be the best you have ever tasted and that a whole fish (literally…head and tail) covered in peanut satay sauce could be the tastiest fish you have ever had. We now believe why the Lonely Planet guidebook provides a travel itinerary based solely on gastronomy in Malaysia!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia)

After a 6 ½ hour train ride from Singapore, we arrived in Kuala Lumpur. Again, a very modern city with all the amenities and influx of cultural influences. The best part was that we treated ourselves to a 5 star hotel for US$50!!!! It was fabulous…the only bad part is that we once again got used to luxury. Our lodging after this was a bit disappointing.

Again we were only in Kuala Lumpur for 2 ½ days and as such only got to see some of the highlights. The first morning we went to Petronas Towers (currently the tallest buildings in the world). Only 800 visitors are allowed to the viewing deck each day so we had to line up for an hour at 8 in the morning to secure our spot. The best part is that it was free. The bad part is that the viewing deck is the bridge between the two buildings and is only half way up. It was still an amazing view though. We learned that the buildings are in the shape of an important Islamic symbol, the octagonal star. There is also a full size acoustically fit concert hall at the bottom and a six storey shopping mall (with all the amenities…many of which are out of our price range!). Here is a picture of the Petronas Towers.

We submitted to all of the great shopping in Malaysia and purchased a laptop…because that is what all backpackers need. We must be the worst backpackers ever having stayed in a 5 star hotel and purchased a laptop in the same day. I think we exceeded our budget! As such, we felt guilty and tried to make up for it by taking the local bus (instead of a taxi) to Batu Caves. The bus system in Kuala Lumpur leaves much to be desired and is very chaotic in comparison to our experiences in other countries so far. We did eventually make it there though. Unfortunately the 30 minute ride that took us an 1 ½ hours set us back so far that we had to take a taxi back to the hotel anyways!

Batu Caves are ancient Hindu Caves high up in the limestone cliffs that were discovered by an American naturalist in the last 100 years. They have once again become an important place of worship and it’s hard to say if there are more worshippers or tourists there on a daily basis. Here is a picture from the bottom. We climbed the many steps to enter the series of 3 caves which contained various shrines to the Hindu gods. It was very foul smelling inside and we were a bit surprised that such an important place of worship was not better maintained.

Perhaps the most interesting part was the multitude of monkeys that were hanging from the cliffs and would come down to the staircase to interact with the visitors. Many of the worshippers would give the monkeys bananas or coconuts. I made the mistake of looking too closely and taking this one’s picture. Once I was past him and walking down the staircase he threw his coconut at me and nearly hit me in the head! Wade defended the beast by saying that he was just finished with his coconut, but I know better. Wade probably encouraged the monkey’s bad behaviour for his own amusement.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


On the 13th of February we flew to Singapore from Hong Kong (a 4 hour flight). We arrived in the afternoon and soon discovered that Singapore is the cleanest and most manicured city/country we have ever been to. It was a beautiful place with thick green shrubbery and flowers everywhere (even on the sides of the highways!) We only had 2 ½ days in Singapore which was not enough to see everything, however, we did manage to see the highlights.

On Valentines Day we went to the Botanical Gardens and specifically the Orchid Garden. It was absolutely beautiful and the pictures do not do it justice, but here is a picture of some of the orchids.

We then made our way to Little India. Singapore is really a fusion of cultures (Indian, Chinese & Arabic influences) and as such there is a fantastic array of food choices. We ate lunch at a restaurant that served traditional Indian food on banana leaves…it was such an amazing meal. We then wandered around Little India for a few hours and visited a couple of Hindu Temples. Here is a picture of one of them. We also visited a couple of mosques. The most disappointing thing about Little India is that we wanted to have our fortunes told by a parrot, however, the famous lady and her parrot were no where to be found. I don’t know if that is a good omen or not.

Here is a picture of the Fountain of Wealth in downtown Singapore. It is the largest fountain in the world and is said to bring you good luck if you walk around it 3 times…counterclockwise I think.

Beautiful skyscrapers light up Singapore’s skyline at night with the Merlion (Singapore’s mascot which is half lion and half mermaid) watching over the harbour. We walked around the harbour and the riverside. The riverside was full of nice outdoor restaurants and many tourists walking about. Unfortunately we were so tuckered out from trying to fit in so many sights that we didn’t even have the energy left to enjoy a Singapore Sling. Oh well, maybe next time. Here is a picture of the Merlion.

The next and final day in Singapore, we spent 8 hours at the zoo and then the night safari. This may seem strange; however, this really is a zoo to be seen. Hardly any of the animals are caged….even the White Tigers in this picture are not caged! Only natural barriers are used to keep the animals in…well that and they are well fed so perhaps that is why they don’t want to escape. We still haven’t entirely figured it out. In some areas of the zoo the animals are even free to roam around and they end up in each other’s areas. At one point we saw a reindeer lying amongst the camels! The animals seemed quite at home with each other and no one was fighting so I guess it’s okay! At night there is a safari adjacent to the zoo where you can walk on trails and take a tram through the jungle, where again none of the animals are caged. At one point our tram went by a tapir (kind of looked like a big Ant Eater) walking down the road…not too bothered by the tram.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Hong Kong

We arrived in Hong Kong on February 9, 2006 after a 13 hour plane ride from Buenos Aires to Los Angeles, a 3 hour wait in the Los Angeles airport and then a 15 hour plane ride from Los Angeles to Hong Kong. We thought we would be severely jet lagged by the time we reached Hong Kong, but surprisingly were only a few hours out of wack. After we got ourselves situated….we started hitting the tourist venues.

Here’s the world famous view of Victoria Harbour and Kowloon from Victoria Peak. Absolutely amazing. As always the pictures don’t do it justice. Seemed to be a never ending stream of skyscrapers. Has to be one of the most impressive sky lines in the world.

And this is what the streets are like around Soho on Hong Kong Island. There are stores, signs and people everywhere. All of the mom & pop stores that we walked by were very interesting. We would have loved to know what they were selling in the rows of jars with unidentified objects. The smells indicated that there was a lot of fish product involved! It was so interesting to walk around and see markets like this in some of the side streets with massive skyscrapers in the backdrop. Hong Kong is an interesting mixture of new and old world. It is a world of its own.

The second day we made our way to the Big Buddha on Lantau Island (a two hour combination subway and bus ride from Kowloon). Apparently it’s the largest outdoor Buddha in the world. I guess that means there is one massive Buddha inside somewhere. One of the weird things we noticed is that the Big Buddha has a Swastika on his chest. Seems a little strange and we need to research the background on this.

Nearby the Big Buddha we paid a visit to a monument to the Heart Sutra. It’s in the shape of a figure eight which is supposed to represent the perfection of wisdom. The Heart Sutra articulates the doctrine of emptiness to attain perfect harmony and bliss. It was all very mystical apart from the monk sitting on a stone to the side talking on his cell phone! I thought he would be reflecting on the Heart Sutra.

The last day in Hong Kong we made our way to Ocean Park. We rode a roller coaster, watched a dolphin and sea lion show, saw some sharks and stared at the laziest panda bears on the planet. The frustrating thing is that the main reason we went to Ocean Park was to see the panda bears and they just did not co-operate. Oh well, at least we got to experience population density at its worst. Imagine Disney World in the summer when the kids are out of school times 10 and then you will come close to understanding the crowds we battled.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Buenos Aires (Argentina)

Nearly trampled to an untimely death on our way to dinner the last night in Buenos Aires. As luck would have it we were rescued by Dr. Armstrong (Tanis's dad) who quite easily wrestled the beast into submission. We dined on its offspring shortly thereafter. Very tasty family. Actually, it was a very interesting restaurant with no menu, thus making the decision of what to eat much easier. Once seated you help yourself to salad and breads and are given a disc like metal object - one side red, the other green. When you're ready for the meat turn it to green, when you've had enough display the red side. About every three minutes a waiter brings a new meat to the table which he carves and places on your plate. Probably 4 or 5 cuts of beef, together with pork, chicken and sausage. When do they stop coming, you ask? When you turn that little disc to red. Big mistake for them. We hit them and we hit them HARD!

We managed to get tickets to a Bocca Juniors game in Buenos Aires. Having never been to a professional soccer match before we weren't sure what to expect. We were told that this wasn't a very important match so it would be relatively calm. With the exception of the half time break there seemed to be non stop chanting and dancing. The atmosphere was wild. Can't imagine what an important match must be like. Have to admit that songs degrading the other teams and their fans is definitely something hockey should incorporate.

...something else hockey should incorporate! (Wade obviously wrote this)

Some tango dancing on Avenida Florida in Buenos Aires.

After the Boca Juniors soccer game, we went to visit La Boca (a district in Buenos Aires). Although this area is highly touristy, it was interesting to walk around and look a the brightly coloured buildings (they were mixed colours of blues, greens, yellows, reds & oranges) and many murals painted on the sides of buildings. Here is one of the murals we saw.

Unfortunately all good things must come to an end....the morning of the 7th we parted ways with Casey and Tanis. Very sad. The last 4 weeks has been the best ever and we will miss them very much.
Next Stop...Hong Kong!

Friday, February 03, 2006

Around Santiago (Chile)

On January 30, 2006 we took a flight from Bariloche (Argentina) back to Santiago (Chile). As luck would have it our friends Chris & Audrey from Cayman were in Chile for a wedding and were going through the Santiago airport the same time as us. Thus we were able to have a Cayman reunion in the Santiago airport for an hour. Here is a picture of the reunion.

Mainly headed back to Santiago to spend a few days in the vineyards close by and to have a couple of days of catch up before heading to Buenos Aires. Thus, Casey, Tanis, Wade and I rented a car and headed out to wine country. We went to two vineyards and chose them on the basis that we have enjoyed their wine in Cayman and therefore thought it would be neat to see the vineyards themselves.

The first vineyard we went to was Concha Y Toro. It was a very picturesque vineyard. It's most recognizable wine is the Casillero del Diablo. Yes the name means Cellar of the Devil and we found out why. Apparently in the early 1900's the family was finding that thieves were breaking into their cellar and stealing bottles of wine. Knowing that the people in the area are superstitious, the owners started a rumour that the devil lived in the cellar. A few people claimed to have seen him there and as one dared to steal from the cellar again. Now they have named on of their wines Cellar of the Devil. Here is Wade at the beginning of the cellar. If you are interested in checking out the winery, click on Concha Y Toro

After Concha Y Toro we tried to go to another vineyard, Santa Rita, to stay in their hotel right on the vineyard. However, without a reservation we were turned away. So having no plan, we hit the road and found ourselves at a micro winery. The tour was short and sweet given the owner did not speak English and our Spanish was limited. Nevertheless, he kindly pointed us in the direction of Rancagua, an industrial town where we hoped to spend the night. Of course, trying to follow directions given to us in Spanish in a Country which, by all accounts, is trying to save money by not creating street signs, turned out to be a bit of a challenge. We thought we had exited onto the PanAmerican Highway until we came across a sign that we could not read but basically seemed to indicate that this highway had come to an end! After a little off-roading and a trip through the ditch, we eventually got ourselves onto the PanAmerican…but of course the wrong way. We eventually got ourselves turned around and made it to Rancagua.

Much to our surprise we went for dinner in Rancagua and the owner of the restaurant had just moved back to Chile from Canada. He had been living in Alberta for the past 35 years as a wine sommelier at Lake Louise. What a small world.

Here is a picture of the Miguel Torres vineyard. Our favourite wine to drink is Cordillera. If you are interested in checking out the winery, click on Miguel Torres

After the vineyard tours, we returned to Santiago for a few days on our own. Casey & Tanis flew to Buenos Aires to meet up with Tanis's parents who are traveling with them for about 3 weeks in Argentina. Wade and I spent the next 3 days in Santiago catching up on our housekeeping (yes you would be surprised how many chores you have even when you are a nomad).

One of the days we visited Metropolitan Park in Santiago which is a massive outdoor park built on a hill/mini mountain in the city of Santiago. We took the funicular up to the top of the hill where a massive statue of the Virgin Mary looks down over the city and there is actually a church built at the top. We then took two gondola rides over to other areas of the park. The park is so large that it hosts a zoo, two pools and numerous little green areas. Here is a picture of the Virgin Mary statue.

This picture is taken outside the World Trade Centre in Santiago where the Canadian Embassy is. We thought it was an interesting work of art, although we are not entirely sure what it supposed to symbolize.