Sa bai dee everyone!! Chris and I have just returned from our week long trip to Malaysia and are coming to terms with our last few days in Vientiane - we leave next Tuesday. We have a few farewells planned for the next few days, plus getting rid of as much junk as we can so we can still pack our suitcases, and preparations for the boat racing festival are getting into gear, so we should be pretty busy!!
My last week of work seemed full of farewells. First of all to AJ, who has been working on the water purification project with me for the last few months - we did some karoake and bowling :-) Then on Tuesday night, we farewelled our bible study group with dinner at our favourite Italian restaurant, La Gondola. Wednesday was my last day at work, so Chris and I paid for a Lao feast for lunch for everyone in the office, just like we used to have every week when we first started. However there are now so many people working for Sunlabob we could hardly fit around the table!!! And the tables were absolutely covered with food....As a farewell present Andy gave me a German beer glass which were used for German National Day on October 3, which I thought was nice. I will really miss my work and the people at Sunlabob - its been by far one of the best professional and personal experiences I have ever had :-) However I was pretty excited about four weeks of holidays!!! Wednesday night was another farewell, as we went out for dinner with some of our Sunlabob colleagues, including Mariano and Simon (Andy's son) and Kate (who was an AYAD and is now Mariano's girlfriend).
Thursday morning we left on our AirAsia flight to Kuala Lumpur - I was really surprised about how long it took, about 2.5 hours from Vientiane to KL and then an hour just from the terminal to the city. After getting confused at both the airport and the train stations, we didn't get to our hotel until 5...but were greeted with a lovely view over KL Tower and the Petronas Towers, which was alright considering how cheap our room was! For some more information, KL Tower is the fourth highest tower in the world, and the Petronas Towers are the tallest twin buildings in the world. We set off to the revolving restaurant at KL Tower for dinner - the buffet was really yummy, and the views were great! Especially as the monsoon storm rolled in...KL Tower was beautifully lit at night, and twinkled every 15 minutes (reminscent of the Eiffel Tower!)
We got up early on Friday morning to go to the Petronas Tower to get a ticket to go on the Skybridge. However, true to Malaysia's amazing cultural diversity, it was the last day of the Hari Raya Aidilfitri (end of Ramadan) so it was a public holiday and thus not open. We instead went to the central market where we did some shopping (I felt like I was in about 5 countries at once! The bizarrest thing I saw was the fish spa - where you pay to have fish nibble your dead skin off your feet. Yuck...) and then to the Bird Park in the Lake Gardens, the largest covered bird park in the world. We then caught a tourist coach around town, stopping briefly at Merdaka Square where Malaysia declared independence, before heading back to our hotel for a sleep. The evening was spent eating and walking around the massive night market in Chinatown, not far from our hotel.
Friday morning we headed back over to the Petronas Towers, and joined the massive line to get tickets. We eventually secured tickets to go on the Skybridge at 2.45pm. We got back on the tourist coach to take us to the Aquarium, only to find out when we got there that we were literally 2 minutes walk from the towers - we had basically paid for the driver to take for an elaborate trip around the block. We had a good laugh about that :-) The aquarium was cool, with an underwater tunnel where stingrays and sharks swum above our heads. After laksa for lunch (yay!!) we headed onto the Skybridge - even though the Skybridge is on the 41st floor, its still less than halfway up the building. They're pretty huge!!!! We spent the evening in Jalan Bintang, one of KL's shopping districts, where I bought myself a very cool souvenir Paul Frank t-shirt!!
The next day we headed for the East Coast. Not an easy endeavour at all - we caught a taxi to the bus station at 4.30am, then the bus to the terminal which arrived at 5.45am, then a plane to Kota Bharu on the east coast at 7.30, then a taxi from Kota Bharu to the jetty at 8.30, then a boat to our island (the Perhentian Islands) at 10am. However, as soon as we got there I knew it was worth it.....soft white sand beaches, crystal clear blue water, cloudless skies and bright sunshine (we were worried about the monsoon, so this was a blessing!), and hardly any development - no roads on the island, just beaches and walking paths. By the end of the first day I could already feel myself becoming comatose :-) Aside from swimming, reading and eating, the only thing we did all day was take a short walk to the other side of the island - while there was not much to see there, we did encounter some huge monitor lizards and black monkeys who threw stuff at us from the treetops. Thanks to our early wake up, we were in bed early :-)
The next day we went on a snorkelling trip in the morning. Usually I love snorkelling, but I was put off by warnings of a triggerfish that would take a bite of me if I went anywhere near its home, so I spent most of the snorkelling looking for it so I could avoid it. The first stop was Shark Point, where some reef sharks were spotted - completely herbivorous, but another thing to arouse fear :-) The end of the trip was highlighted by sighting a giant turtle near our resort, which must have been more than a metre long.
In the afternoon Chris and I went to the resort spa and had a scrub - when we had asked for a massage. It hurt a bit on our already sunburnt skin, but at least I smelt nice!
Tuesday was quite similar - a snorkelling trip in the afternoon, where we saw the turtle again and I tried to avoid the biting fish. Dinner in the evening was lovely - fresh fish and prawns cooked over the BBQ, washed down with an almost comically big pineapple juice (1L!) that Chris and I shared (having learnt from our first day that no, we couldn't drink an entire one each!!)
The next day we left at 12pm - we had hoped to leave at 4, but the boat wasn't running. Thus we had to kill about 5 hours in Kota Bharu before our flight back to KL. We went to the cultural centre, where there were demonstrations of martial arts, drumming and batik (painting on silk). However, other than this it was a pretty boring town, and we were happy to get to KL and collapse into bed at our hotel at 11pm. We went straight from bed to the airport at 6.30 am this morning :-)
I will probably post again a few more times with some thoughts about my time in Laos, but I doubt I will post any more about my activities. I hope you have enjoyed my stories from Laos - I know that this experience will stay with me for a long time to come.
Home sweet home in just five days!!