Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Tsunami alert

A day after arriving in Koh Lanta we were browsing the internet and discovered to our suprise that there had been ongoing Tsunami warnings the last two days and we had heard nothing about it (our hotel was right on the beachfront). Apparently the tourism board was getting quite upset about the warnings as they were scaring away tourists - we heard later that the entire island of Phi Phi had been evacuated to higher ground for several hours (with no evidence of any tsunami in the end), but we had heard nothing from our hotel.

The next morning our 7:30am minibus arrived to pick us up at 7:00 so we left in a bit of a rush and then had to wait for an hour while we collected everyone else before leaving the island.

We crossed a couple of rivers on car-ferries and rolled into Trang a few hours later to change to another minibus to take us to the Malaysian border at Hat Yai. There we were able to change our remaining Thai Baht into Ringit at a diamond dealer at a much better rate than the local bank and we squeezed into our final minibus for the ride across the border and on to Penang.

Malaysia was instantly familiar in some ways from my childhood: the mix of English, and the accent, in the local speech; the rythm of the language; food smells; the easy laugh; rubber plantations. This is the first country on my trip I have previously visited (25 years ago).

We arrived after dark (crossing from the mainland on our third car-ferry of the day) and our first two choices of hotel were full and the next one was musty and expensive. We tried another one that was even worse - sagging mattress, no sheets, no outside windows, no mosquito screens and a fan that wasn't even over the bed. It was very hot and humid, and we had been travelling all day and I think Katie had lost faith that we would find anything decent so we decided to take the room.

We had a miserable night, baking in the heat. Katie opted for copious applications of insect repellent and I lay motionless beneath my mosquitoe net and had another shower at 3am to cool off.

The next day we found an air-conditioned room at another hotel, but found the mid-day heat so oppressive that we barely accomplished anything else appart from a little wandering around our neighborhood in the Chinese district of old Georgetown.


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