Day 500

Hello from Langkawi! We really didn’t know what to expect from Malaysia, but it’s been such an easy, pleasant introduction to the region. We’ve spent the last month traveling northwards from Singapore, where we stayed with extended family and embarked on a food challenge to eat as much as possible. A big thank you to Chuck and Carol for showing us around and sharing your wonderful, air-conditioned apartment!

[ptcPhoto filename=”ChuckCarol.jpg” title=”Lantern” caption=”Chuck and Carol, and their neighbor Joyce.” position=”center”]

Since leaving the City of the Merlion we’ve been eating still more tasty food and meeting some truly inspiring people along the way. I must shout out to our new friends Caryl and Paul from Vegan Food Quest. We met them on our first day in Malaysia and had some long, thought-provoking conversations about the ethics of food, traveling on a dime, and the adventures of fellow wedded wayfarers.

[ptcPhoto filename=”PaulCaryl.jpg” title=”Paul and Caryl” caption=”Enjoying Tiger Beer (which is vegan!) in Malacca.” position=”center”]

In Kuala Lumpur we visited the Central Market and tried out one of those fish spas you see all over the place. Eric was a champion, throwing his feet in with cavalier nonchalance. I was a little hesitant…these fish! They were so much bigger than I expected! And they must have been absolutely ravenous, because they all gawped at me with these huge gaping fish mouths and steely eyes floating just below the surface. Some of them even launched out of the water at me.

I won’t lie, it super creepy.

I eventually gave in to Eric’s peer pressure and held my feet under while a whole school of them suctioned themselves onto me. It was some mix of a thousand tiny tickles and sheer terror, giggles mingled with the distressed mewling of someone who’s about to lose her toes. I may have caused a scene.

[ptcPhoto filename=”FishAttack.jpg” title=”Fish attack” caption=”They also have full body fish spas. I can’t imagine anything worse.” position=”center”]

Ohy, it’s good to have that off my chest. Moving on…

Lately I’ve been thinking about this conundrum: We’ve been to 17 countries in the last 500 days, and even though we’ve had some of the best experiences of our lives in that time, I still just want so much more. I had planned out an entire Middle East leg for later this year before Eric reminded me we have to SLOW DOWN. Will there ever come a time when I’m really ready to stop traveling? What’s more, will I ever get to the point where I actually feel like a traveler? There are always cities and countries we didn’t see, meals we didn’t have, questions we didn’t answer.

[ptcPhoto filename=”GTStreetArt.jpg” title=”Riding along” caption=”Street art in Georgetown: Going or staying?” position=”center”]

It’s maddening, really, how small the world seems when you’re planning and how big it feels when you arrive. And then I think about all the things we’d be doing if we were home – how we’re missing births, weddings, job opportunities, etc, and I want everything all at once. I don’t know where I’m going with this, just thought I’d put it out there.

[ptcPhoto filename=”KLGarretts.jpg” title=”Kuala Lumpur” caption=”If Eric has his way, at least we’ll hit every Garretts Popcorn in the world.” position=”center”]

Tomorrow we’re finally making our way into Thailand! It seems like we’ve been dancing all around it for some time now, flying through Bangkok several times but never leaving the airport. Our first stop is an island apartment in Koh Lanta – three weeks of beachy bliss and homemade mango smoothies. We’re going in without being completely confident about the political climate there, but they’ve lifted the curfew and the US State Department has scaled back their travel warnings. We’ll just give Bangkok a wide berth until we have a better understanding of the situation.

Hope all is well with you and yours, dear readers, and that you’re loving life, where ever you are!

Spain Costs: $98 a Day

Ah, Spain. When we were there we felt like euros were just seeping out in every direction. Then we went to Australia and realized what an expensive place really is. With some patience and self-control, you can fit quite a lot in to a $100 USD a day budget. Our favorite aspects of Spain – the wine, olives, jamón, and flamenco – don’t have to cost that much at all.

Just want the numbers? Skip to the bottom.

That $100 budget may preclude a some sights, restaurant meals, and all-nighters out at the discotheques, but overall we found it pretty affordable by European standards. As you can see from my handy-dandy pie chart at the bottom of this post, our transportation costs took up an inordinate amount of our daily budget – if we had it to do over again we’d probably spend even less. (Incidentally, we found that renting a car in Europe might not be the best idea…more on that later.)

To save money on food, try sticking with the menú del día (the menu of the day, normally around €10/$14) and tapas. The bread and olives that come with the meal are almost always free in Spain, which is a nice added bonus. Wine and beer aren’t badly priced either – you can buy bottles of good Spanish wine for only €1-2 ($2-3) at the market. With regard to jamón…if you plan to eat as much as we did, you might want to stick to the southern state of Andalusia (it’s much cheaper there!).

[ptcPhoto filename=”BudgetPaella.jpg” title=”Paella” caption=”Paella in Barcelona. If it doesn’t take them at least 30 minutes to make it, you aren’t getting the real thing!” position=”center”]

If you’re into flamenco, there are usually free shows at flamenco bars later in the evenings. You may have to ask your hotel or locals to find out where they are. You can pay €35 ($48) to go to a fully choreographed performance but we were really happy with the free shows.

As far as daytime entertainment goes, Spanish cities are full of stunning architecture, quirky street performers and public art installments – all of which are free to enjoy. Museums do tend to be on the expensive side, so keep an eye out for free days (unfortunately you won’t be the only one, though – the queues on these days are dreadful).

[ptcPhoto filename=”DaliAbeBudget.jpg” title=”Abe” caption=”From the Dali Museum. What do you see?” position=”center”]

In terms of lodging, we were limited to a lot of dorms – one of which was probably the worst we’ve ever stayed in (ask me about Bronchitis Boy sometime). The upside to dorms is that they usually have kitchens so you can forego a few restaurant meals.

Back to transportation costs: For the two of us, renting a car just wasn’t cost effective. I didn’t conduct a thorough cost analysis on car rental until after we’d already rented one, having just assumed that since we found a great deal at only €13 ($19) per day, a car would be a better deal than taking public transportation.

[ptcPhoto filename=”SpainCarBudget.jpg” title=”Car” caption=”Our trusty rental car in Spain.” position=”center”]

The problem with a rental is that while it might seem like a great value compared to the train or bus, you still have to pay for it on the days you aren’t driving it. If you travel really quickly you might find that it’s a better value, except for the fact that fuel is extremely expensive. Plus, parking can cost up to €10 a day in the cities, and Spanish drivers…well, they can be terrifying. For a while there it looked like the cost analysis would be a close call. Besides, we were going to out-of-the-way places that we wouldn’t visit otherwise – there’s an added value, in kind, for the freedom having a vehicle can provide.

[ptcPhoto filename=”CadizBudget.jpg” title=”Side Trip” caption=”A side trip to Cadiz, which may be the oldest European city.” position=”center”]

So how did we do? Based on my research, going to all the major places (cities and sights) via public transport would have cost us around $550 USD. The total cost of the rental (including the daily fee, fuel, parking costs, and tolls) came to $893 USD. This figure even incorporates some offsets that we received by offering rides to other people. Have you heard of blablacar.com? It’s a website where you can pay to carpool, and it’s extremely popular in Spain and Portugal. It’s a good way to save money, meet people, and cut back on your carbon footprint.

[ptcPhoto filename=”SpainBarbie.jpg” title=”Shopping” caption=”Shopping in Granada…Flamenco Barbies.” position=”center”]

A final word: Be careful with money and valuables in Spain, especially in Barcelona. We sat and watched a drunk guy try to unzip someone’s backpack on the metro (we yelled at him and he slinked away). This is also the second time in three trips to Barcelona that Eric’s had his wallet stolen there! Thankfully I carry the cash and passports, so this just cost us a lot of headaches in getting the fraudulent charges reversed and new cards ordered.

The daily average cost for our visit was $98.27 (or $49.14 per person per day).

Here’s a breakdown of all our costs during our stay. This table does not reflect costs to enter the country (we flew into Portugal and drove over).

Type of Expense Total Cost
(for 28 days)
Daily Average Notes
Lodging $768.64 $27.45 Our lodging choices ranged in price from $17 at a dorm in Barcelona to $42 at a hotel in Burgos.
Food $689.40 $24.62 We ate a lot of meals in, although you can find great deals on tapas.
Transportation (within country) $932.21 $33.29 Our rental car was $19 a day.
Entertainment $90.15 $3.22 Includes the Baelo Claudia (Roman ruins), Jerez Alcazar, Mezquita, Alhambra, and Dali Museum.
Alcohol $204.27 $7.30 1 liter bottles of beer usually cost about $1.
Incidentals $66.97 $2.39 Includes the costs for items like sunblock, internet, clothes and donations.
Grand Total* $2,751.64 $98.27 *Total reflects expenses for two people. It does not reflect costs to enter the country (i.e., visas or airfare).

[ptcPhoto filename=”SpainPie.jpg” title=”Pie chart” caption=”” position=”center”]

Some Examples:

Average cost of a sit-down dinner for two – €30 ($41)
Entry ticket for the Alhambra in Granada – €13 ($18)
A metro ride to any station in Barcelona – €1 ($1.40), if you buy a 10-ride pass.
A 1GB SIM card for your phone – €15 ($20)

Snapshot Sunday: Getting Sweet on Malaysian Deserts

[ptcPhoto filename=”ABC.jpg” title=”ABC” caption=”Ais Kacang (ABC) in Georgetown, Penang – Malaysia” position=”center”]

Better known as ABC, ais kacang is a desert commonly served in Brunei, Singapore, and Malaysia. Most versions include shaved ice, red beans, palm seeds, sweet corn, and rose syrup. Ours also had grass jelly (which tasted exactly like root beer flavored gummy spaghetti) and was topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Click here to view a larger, detailed image.

A Voyage to Cast Away Island

Did you know that you can visit the island where Cast Away was filmed? Remember, the Tom Hanks movie where he gets marooned on an island for four years? That’s Monuriki Island, as the locals call it. It’s uninhabited apart from a large iguana population and has a land area of only .4 square kilometers. Our snorkel tour there ended up being our favorite activity in Fiji (aside from the doing nothing part – we quite enjoyed that too).

Here are photos!

[ptcPhoto filename=”CAIsland.jpg” title=”The Island” caption=”Sailing up to the island.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”CACliff.jpg” title=”Cliff” caption=”You might recognize the cliff up top as the place Chuck tries to commit suicide.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”CABeach.jpg” title=”White” caption=”The beach on Monuriki…they had to film selectively since there are other islands around.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”CACoconut.jpg” title=”Coconut” caption=”Our guide Mini shows us the rock where Chuck smashes coconuts.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”CASnorkel.jpg” title=”Snorkel” caption=”There are a million microscopic jellyfish in the water here, which impart a million tiny stings.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”CAPalm.jpg” title=”Palm” caption=”This is the beach where he washes up in the beginning of the film.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”CAUs.jpg” title=”Us” caption=”Two of only ten people on the island that day.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”CAEric.jpg” title=”Waves” caption=”‘No no, don’t hurry with the rescue operation. We’ll stay a while…'” position=”center”]

Snapshot Sunday: Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Towers

[ptcPhoto filename=”PetronasSS.jpg” title=”Petronas Towers” caption=”The Petronas Twin Towers – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia” position=”center”]

Once the tallest buildings in the world, the Petronas Twin Towers add postmodern flair to the Kuala Lumpur skyline. The glass facade was built to resemble Islamic art and reflects the country’s predominantly Muslim population. The two-story skybridge that connects the towers weighs a massive 750 tons.

Happy Father’s Day to the dads in our lives!

Click here to view a larger, detailed image.