So, as a brief update after India… The pics will have to be in a later post…

The flight into Kuala Lumpur and train ride up into Thailand wasn’t horrible, but wasn’t necessarily worth the 3-4 days. Kuala Lumpur seemed like a pretty cool city in the 8 hours I spent walking around there – Sean, I did enjoy some tasty food, though I’m sure I hardly saw the tip of the iceberg. Malaysia is a very interesting mix of cultures it seems, all wrapped in a somewhat restrictive (at least for women) wrapper. The rest of the trip largely revolved around the border between Malaysia and Thailand. Border towns tend to be somewhat-scuzzy and not necessarily places to relax in and the pair of Khota Bharu (Malaysia) and Sungai Kolok (Thailand) were pretty much as you’d expect. The ‘Jungle Line’ Train I took through eastern Malaysia was quite picturesque, but unfortunately I took it on a Malay National Holiday (I was told akin to Christmas…) so the train was absolutely packed. I bought a ‘standing room only’ ticket, and ended up snagging a spot in the canteen car from which I hardly budged for the 14 or so hours of the trip… I was pretty definitely the only non-Malay on the train, but people were mostly pretty nice. I ended up having a fun little conversation with 3 Malay school kids, who practiced their english on me, taught me Malay for ‘crazy cousins’ and gave me candy and cookies. Kids are great everywhere, they are like the universal ambassadors. Keeping that child-like openness is an important thing to strive for…

Anyhow, that put me at the border, where I crashed in a fairly swanky hotel and tried to recuperate from a few days of minimal sleep and lots of travel. The next day I made a run for the border, which started out pleasantly enough (the Malay side was nicely organized and ran smoothly), but the Thai Passport control area was basically a mob scene, with 5 ‘lines’ that were basically people pushing forward both to get to the desks and also to get under cover and out of the rain (it’s Monsoon season in Malaysia and S. Thailand I found out). I dove in, and probably elbowed a few women in headscarves in the process (I received my share as well, don’t worry) and in an hour or so I progressed the 15 feet necessary to get my passport stamped – and was on my way, onto a motor-cycle taxi in a torrential downpour to get a train ticket to Bangkok. No trains that day…

So, I’m camping out on the other side of the border in Sungai Kolok, in search of a hotel with a hot shower. I end up at ‘The Plaza’ – which I can assure you, is not run by the same management as its sister in NYC… The ‘concierge’ or guy who shows me the room and speaks the most english is actually a ‘pimp’, because after he brings me up to my room (and comments on how strong I am), he starts asking if I have a Thai ‘dahling’ or if I’d like one. Then he starts listing prices, and turns on the ‘adult’ channel on the TV (no hot shower, but a TV with a bonus…) to show me what he’s talking about… Classy joint for sure. Anyhow, I found other ways to while away my time in Sungoi Kolok. I ate some food, read, got a haircut (high and tight, brought me back to my 17 year old look… that’s what you get when the barber doesn’t know what you’re saying and vice versa…).

Anyhow, 24 hours after arriving, my time in SK drew to a close and I hopped an overnight train to Bangkok. Pretty nice overall.

Bangkok was a rapid 7 hour stop which included: getting a train ticket to Chiang Mai, dropping off my computer and extra stuff at a storage place, renting a bike, riding the rental bike to a bike shop to accessorize it (riding bike in bangkok rushhour = crazy…), winning a 25% off coupon for my accessories (sweet!), meeting up with Kiko the spaniard at the bike store and riding over to the train station to have some thai food (Kiko’s first) over Spanish conversation before hopping the overnight train to Chiang Mai. Good stuff.

Chiang Mai has been pretty mellow. Walking around, checking out the multitude of Wats (Buddhist Temples), eating. Yesterday I had a nice long chat with a Buddhist monk and a novice in the courtyard of one of the town’s main Wats, which was fun – they were very appreciative of the chance to practice their english and I shoulda asked to take a photo, but didn’t. I think I dropped one of my guidebooks there, so went back today and had a singularly uninspiring interaction with another monk who seemed to be a haughty, spoiled rich kid (he had a Canon digital SLR camera and kept badly quoting poetry)… I’m mostly over my head cold and tomorrow I head out on the bike trip. I ran into 2 dutch couples at a bike shop today who gave me some pointers to guest houses along the way and told me about what a great time they’ve had on their previous trips, how nice people are and what a great place it is to bike so i’m excited to get out there on the road…

The trip I’m planning is Chiang Mai -> Chiang Rai -> Lao Border ->River boat to Luang Prabang -> Ride to Vientienne -> Ride down the Mekong to somewhere along the Thai border and eventually back to Bangkok. Sound half-baked? Yup. Should be fun though.

I hope to get more pics up soon. And maybe an annotated map at some point…