Thursday, April 19, 2012
Three bedrooms, four pomeranians
We left many things behind at home when we departed on our trip more than four months ago: Family, friends, our home, jobs, school, consistently reliable internet service, Skyline Chili, Graeter’s Ice Cream and our pets: six cats, one dog. Fortunately, we have someone renting our house who has four kids and one of them, his 7-year old daughter, just loves cats. Our dog, after an initial period of difficult adjustment, has settled into what seems like a comfortable existence with Annie’s sister. Still we miss them and have been pleased when we’ve come across animals during our travels.
In our very first stop in Fiji, a stray orange tabby cat helped us ease into our year-long life without pets. He loved to hang out with us on the porch of the house we rented there for two weeks, and we enjoyed feeding him as much as he enjoyed devouring whatever sort of treat we would put down for him. Rafael would disappear for a day or so but then make a biblical return which was always met with smiles.
Our next encounter with a dog or cat came when we stopped for the night in Lake Hokitika on New Zealand’s South Island. We had been looking through a guidebook for possible places to stay and a place called the Jade Garden Hotel boasted of having a couple of cats on the property. Sure enough, when we pulled in, found the place to our liking and got to our room, Puddy-Cat, (it’s given name from hotel management, not us!) pranced into our room. We all enjoyed having a tabby kitty around, even if it was only for one night.
After that, we were pretty much pet-free for the rest of our 27 day stay in New Zealand and our 35 days in Australia. We had plenty of animal encounters along the way. We enjoyed our well-documented obsessions with koalas, kangaroos and kookaburras in Australia, plus the occasional street encounter with someone else's pet like this Great Dane we saw in Sydney.
Our animalless streak continued through the rest of Vietnam and Cambodia and into Thailand. Although, at times some of the meat dishes we ordered raised questions about the origin of the “beef’ in our stir fry.
The window for our stay in Southeast and southern Asia was starting to close as April 10th drew closer. All the way back in July or August of last summer we had booked our tour in China with a departure from Penang. That location was chosen strictly because it was the most affordable way for us to get from Malaysia or Thailand or Vietnam into China.
Our search for a stopping point for a few days on the way to Penang from Bangkok resulted in us finding Krabi. When we were in Ha Long Bay, we talked to Paul from Australia who had done a lot of traveling in Thailand and he recommended Krabi as a good location for a family. The desire for at least two-bedrooms, a good price and free wi-fi led us to the Baan Sawan resort near the beach town of Ao Nang.
The only drawback to Krabi is that it’s not on the rail line that stretches through southern Thailand. In my previous blog entry, Staying Grounded in Thailand, I described our journey from Bangkok to Krabi. It involved a nine-hour train ride, followed by a pick up truck ride to a travel office where we got a car for a two and a half hour ride to Ao Nang.
It was almost ten pm when we finally pulled in to Baan Sawan. The property features 9 bungalows, plus a pool area where there is a bar which serves up drinks and where food can be ordered. We were warmly greeted by the man overseeing the property, a friendly Norwegian named Svein. As he showed us into our bungalow, we were welcomed by some unexpected additions.
Four Pomeranian dogs came scurrying into the room, and ran around us like we had known them forever. That became a pattern for our entire stay in Krabi. At least three of the dogs, and sometimes all four, would spend the night in our bungalow. Ben usually had two with him, while Marley would have another and sometimes another one would sleep with Annie and me.
It was great fun to have these little bundles of fur hanging out with us, and helped fill the hole left in our hearts by the absence of our herd back home.
If you’ve spent any time in the coastal areas of the Southeastern U.S., you’ve no doubt seen the signs that say Hurricane Evacuation Route. In this part of the world tsunamis are the concern along the coast.
Malaysia didn’t suffer as badly as Indonesia from the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004. But still, there are frequent reminders of where to go and what to do should there be a tsunami warning sounded. We saw the sign shown above when we took a half-day longtail boat ride to Chicken Island from Ao Nang Beach.
Another enjoyable aspect of our stay in Krabi was the fact that the bungalow had strong wi-fi. Knowing we had a long travel day on our way to Penang, I downloaded some podcasts of the two-hour radio show that Tony Kornheiser of PTI fame does on ESPN 980 in Washington, D.C. It's great radio with a great supporting cast that makes the two hours of each show just fly by.
As we got on the van that would take us to Hat Yai, I got my ear buds in and fired up the first of about eight Tony podcasts I had downloaded on my iPhone. I knew that would help take my mind off the news that I had learned from Svein, the proprietor at the bungalows we were leaving.
I was talking to him about the next leg of our journey, saying that we were taking a mini-van to Penang, stopping in the town of Hat Yai in Southern Thailand. He then informed me that there had just been a bombing there that had killed a few people. He said it happened every few years and that since it had just occurred we should be fine, that there probably wouldn't be another one anytime soon.
I didn't share this information with Annie and the kids until after we were safely on our way out of Hat Yai. I figured it didn't do any good to have them be worried about it, especially Marley. There was no sense of impending peril as we drove through Hat Yai and I saw no sign of the violence that had happened just about a week earlier.
The ride to Penang was uneventful, as was our stay there for the most part. It was brutally hot, and the apartment we rented was at the top of a fairly large hill that was close enough to town to make it not worth while to get a taxi, but also meant a climb up an asphalt driveway that invariably would leave me sweating like Robert Hays in Airplane when he's fighting his demons trying to safely land the airliner. The positive about where we stayed in Penang was that the position of the apartment complex gave us nice ocean views that we enjoyed when we were able to wipe the sweat out of our eyes.
We also frequented a local hawker stand down in the village that featured a variety of food to keep everyone, including Marley (if it ain't pizza or pasta it ain't food!), happily fed.