More fun in the sun before returning home

Trip Start Feb 26, 2006
Trip End Nov 28, 2006

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Flag of Malaysia  , Wilayah Persekutuan,
Monday, November 27, 2006

We enjoyed Thailand so much on our first visit in July that we decided to squeeze in another trip to Thailand before going home. We had already been to the islands on the Gulf coast, so this time we were going to see the west coast. Ed was really looking forward to diving the Similan Islands in the Andaman Sea, which is the best dive spot in Thailand and supposedly one of the top 5 in the world. I was just looking forward to the beach! Although we had been to a couple of beaches in the last few months, we hadn't actually relaxed on the beach since our first trip to Thailand 4 months ago. Some R&R was much needed, especially after more than 8 months of running around and hectic schedules - backpacking is NOT a vacation! We spent a few days in Phuket before heading out on a 3-day, 2-night live-aboard trip in the Similan Islands. The water was clear and the snorkeling was great, but the diving was better. Ed did 11 dives in 3 days, and one of the highlights was seeing a brown spotted Leopard Shark that wasn't the typical looking shark - it was beautiful and graceful and not at all scary. The snorkelers got to hang out on the main island where the King of Thailand has a cottage. The beach was insanely gorgeous and perfect - the water was so blue and the sand so white and soft, my feet seemed to melt in it!

Besides the Similan Islands, the other reason why we decided to make a second trip to Thailand was to see Phi Phi Island which is supposed to be very beautiful. Unfortunately, I would have to say I was a little disappointed with the island overall. Because of the tsunami, everyone is trying to rebuild and make up for lost profit, which means everything is overpriced. Phi Phi Island may have been a budget destination before the tsunami, but it isn't anymore. All the hotels/guesthouses have been rebuilt really nicely, so they are charging a lot more. We paid the most here for 'budget' accommodation than anywhere else in Thailand - all the air-conditioned rooms were going for at least 1200 Baht (almost $40) and fan rooms for 1000 Baht. On such a small island we didn't have any choice, so we stayed in a nice hotel with a view of the bay, but next year the view from that hotel will be blocked by another hotel. There is an unbelievable amount of construction going on. Phi Phi Island is almost unaffordable for backpackers on a really tight budget. Oh, how we wished we could go back to $7 rooms (and $1 noodle soups) in Vietnam!

We decided that there wasn't much to do or see on Phi Phi, and the beaches weren't as amazing as we expected, so after a few days we moved on to the beach town of Ao Nang, Krabi on the mainland. We came to realize that Thailand's west coast is more upmarket than the Gulf islands. We really missed the low-key, laid-back atmosphere of Koh Tao and Koh Phangan. It turned out that in Ao Nang it was actually a good thing to look/sound like Singaporeans. We went to exchange some Hong Kong dollars into Thai Baht and ended up getting back a lot more than we expected. After we left, we realized that it wasn't a mistake on our part - we looked at the exchange rates and figured out that they used the exchange rate for the Singaporean Dollar rather than the Hong Kong Dollar, giving us a profit of $100! I never thought it would pay off to be mistaken for a Singaporean! Well, we took our profit and upgraded to an air-conditioned room and Ed booked a rock-climbing trip. Ed hadn't been climbing in 15 years so he was a bit rusty, but he was able to keep up with the others in his group. The funny thing was that all the people in his group were Canadians (oddly enough, of all the Canadians we've met during our travels, we haven't met one from Toronto - the largest city in Canada!).

At this point in our long journey, we were glad to be going home soon. We were just so tired of living out of a backpack, and of every few days gathering up all our stuff and cramming it into the bag and trying desperately to zip it up. What made things easier though is the simplicity of traveling around Thailand. They've thought of everything and anything that a tourist would need or want. After Thailand, we had to make our way to Malaysia for a brief visit before flying out of Kuala Lumpur for home. We had everything planned out in terms of transportation, but when we arrived in Thailand we found that there were pre-arranged transfers to Langkawi Island, Malaysia. Who would've thought that they would have a transfer outside the country? Just brilliant!

As our last beach destination, we booked a resort stay at the ultra luxurious Westin Perdana Resort and Spa on Langkawi Island, off Malaysia's west coast. We used reward miles to book the vacation so we didn't feel guilty at all about the expense. Lucky for us, when we arrived we were told that because of some construction that was going on, all guests would receive a free daily buffet breakfast and dinner. Normally, we're not into buffets because the food isn't great, but that was not the case this time. The food was fantastic. They had everything that you could want, and more. Ed came up with the ingenious idea of splitting dinner into 2 sittings - we'd have an early dinner and then go back a couple of hours later for dessert! Ed's favourite was the chocolate fountain. I don't have a sweet tooth, but this time I had more than my fair share of desserts....which I paid for afterwards as I put on some weight! Our room was awesome had a 42" plasma tv with dvd player, and a kicka*s view of the pool and ocean too. We spent 5 glorious days there, and we loved it so much that we only left the resort once. We spent the rest of the time lounging by the beautiful pool, watching movies, and stuffing our faces. We were so sad to leave.

In Malaysia, we also visited the culturally rich Penang and the quaint, historically rich town of Melacca. Our friend Lisa, who moved to Kuala Lumpur several years ago, took us to the tea plantation area of Cameron Highlands for a couple of days. Back in Kuala Lumpur, the time had come to end our amazing journey through Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. We celebrated with a 'tower' of beer!

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