We cannot believe our eyes as on the evening we want to celebrate our four month travel anniversary with a nice cold beer in the headquarters of the Bako National Park on Borneo, the fridge is filled with the Dutch Oranjeboom beer. But we will talk about Bako and Kuching later, first a small review of four months of traveling.
First things first: the past four months have been amazing! Without trying all too hard, there are some nice experiences every single day. Sometimes bizarre and impressive, sometimes subtle and funny. We live every day in a great and relaxing way while looking ahead to things to come, but not without looking back and realize that we are having a great time.
A never ending story is the food. Lunch and dinner are always little highlights, not only in terms of food, but also in terms of people and places. During our first night bus in Nepal we made a stop for dal baaht in an eatery where we probably would not even have stopped for a bottle of water half a year earlier. We looked around waiting and were – well-meant – more or less forced to order a portion of dal baht, because who does not eat a dal baaht ?! And guess what? The darker, stranger, shabbier and more remote the ‘restaurant’, the better the dal baaht. Everyone in Nepal eats dal baaht, preferably three times a day. A plate with rice (dal), a bowl of lentil soup (baaht), a roti and different kinds of hot and cold vegetables, the luxury version also contains chicken and everywhere we eat dal baht is prepared slightly different.
In Thailand we left the dal baht for pad thai and fresh juice. With food stalls on every street corner and mango, banana, coconut and blenders in abundance, everyone magically produces a cold fruit shake in no time. In Bangkok we shop at the 7-Eleven stores for the first time, of which there are branches in the smallest villages. Handy for a bottle of water and especially the instant noodles, because there is almost always hot water and a microwave available. In Singapore we even have a three-course dinner on the roof of the exclusive Marina Bay Sands department store: soup, noodles and cake from the 7-Eleven!
Kedai Kopi’s (coffee shops) and food courts in all shapes and sizes, that’s food in Malaysia. In Kuala Lumpur we regularly visit some Indian kedai kopi for a banana leaf rice, an Indian version of dal baht or a delicious masala dosai. Just like the population, the food in Malaysia is a colourful mix with mainly Chinese, Indian and Thai influences. In Ipoh we discover the food courts, tables and chairs surrounded by food stalls that prepare the most tasty and unsavoury dishes. It took a while before we had unravelled the system. Finding a free table, remember your table number and make a tour around the stalls and order. Every stall delivers to all the tables and there is one stall that does take your order at the table, cleans tables and distribute cutlery and crockery over the food stalls. The nasi (rice) – and mie (noodle) choice is of course always the largest, but we discover delicious murtabak, satay, dosai, popiah, pau and kuay teow. Food in Malaysia is a little highlight every day, especially in the less touristy places where ordering and delivery is always accompanied by lots of laughter and giggles. It happens more than once that people quickly flee their stalls if we want to order something because they are afraid we will not understand each other!
It is these same people who give colour our trip to a large extent and we can actually be very short on this one: people are friendly, nice and helpful. Always and everywhere. Whole bus stations ensure that we get on the right bus and our luggage is well secured on the roof, a spontaneous interpreter is never far away and so far we did not experience the usual scamming activities for tourists. On a half-hearted attempt by a Thai tuktuk driver who tried to earn some extra money by stopping at seedy travel agency. But that attempt failed and we had a free tuktuk ride.
Traveling with local transport and in the cheaper classes often provide fun conversations with curious locals and useful tips from other travellers. Traveling in itself is becoming increasingly easy. Booking plane tickets is not more exciting than arranging a bus ticket, we calculate travel times with margins of 24 hours and we are always able to find some place to sleep, even though we sometimes have to spend a night at the airport and some guesthouses are very ‘cosy’. Actually, it does not really matter how clean (dirty) the shower is, what is under the bed and how fresh the sheets are. Once we have taken out our sleeping bag liner, of which we at least know why they smell, we are off to sleep in a wink. So far we have been camping four times, we did a long nap in the port of Surat Thani, Ruben slept in a cave on Borneo while we waited for the bats, we spent a night on deck of a ferry, in the train and the bus and counted 55 different sleeping places.
We left the Netherlands with a large budget to a cheap continent, so no real reason make a big deal about money. Yet keeping a tight budget is one of the nicest hobbies we have developed over the past four months. Of course because our money does not necessarily have to be gone within a year, but budget travel is especially fun and gives us a lot of satisfaction. The cheapest eateries are more than once the tastiest and the least luxurious means of transport regularly the most interesting. With a little effort and a nice chat, we did not have to pay the high tourist price for a large number of attractions, but the reasonable local price. And that often saves more than half!
For each country, city or region we set a target budget per day, which we usually adjust after a few days. In Malaysia, for example, we spent an average of € 15 per day per person for food, drinks, accommodation, transport and admission tickets and we did not have to skip anything to keep our budget. Our journey already brought us to places we could not have imagined before and our list of things to see and do gets larger every day.
We don’t have a clue about the things we will be looking back at in four months, but we are certainly going to enjoy them!