These past two months have gone by so fast, by far the fastest leg of the trip. We come out the other side a little fatter, a little more relaxed, and WAY tanner. I'll probably remember it years from now as two months of bumming around on the beach, but in a short time we really racked up the life experiences. Part of me wishes we could stay on island time forever. There is a lot of world left to see though, so instead I leave this list of MVP's from our 2 months on the beach:
Cafe: VCR, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Per usual, this cafe was already featured in my Roasts Around the World, but I’m not sure anything I write can do this place justice. We came here 3 days in a row, floored by the quality of both the coffee and the food. Wherever we end up once we move back to the US, I hope I can find a cafe I love as much as VCR. It singlehandedly allowed us to get like 6 combined blog posts written and edited. This might be because we spent like 10 hours of our lives here, but I’ll also throw in a few points towards productivity.
Restaurant: Haroo, Langkawi, Malaysia
This category was hotly contested for these past two months and probably the most difficult selection of the list. I decided to exclude any and all street food, mainly because you aren’t exactly dining in a restaurant, even if the food may have been the best food we’ve ever had. I also opted to put a little more weight on ambience, service, and other non-food related facets because the category was so tight. Haroo came out on top, a fantastic Korean restaurant near Tengah beach on Langkawi. We went twice and had classics like Jap Chae and Beef Bokeum as well as some unique dishes like a Kimchi Pancake. Malaysia has ridiculously good food everywhere you go so it takes a lot to stand out - Haroo sticks out strongly in my memory. The owner was incredibly friendly, making great conversation with us throughout the meal and throwing in free dessert and kimchi, part of me thought I had died and gone to Korean heaven. Above all, Haroo got me so hyped for our visit to South Korea, I cannot wait to eat everything in sight!
Bar: The Green Mango, Koh Samui, Thailand
If I were to do a top 10 bar in the world list, Green Mango would be right on top alongside Budapest's Szimpla Kert and Chicago's Hangge Uppe. Situated on Soi Green Mango on Koh Samui's Chaweng Beach, Green Mango is everything you could ever want out of a 5 am bar. Boasting 3 dance floors with separate DJs, famous Thai buckets of rum/redbull/coke and a surprisingly great nightly crowd, this is the place you want to be if you are looking for a wild night out in Samui. I had a blast partying here 5 years ago and I was so happy to see nothing has changed (except the prices, they've gone up and they can totally get away with it). After seeing the firework show over at Ark Bar on New Year's Eve, we rang in 2018 here and I would not have it any other way.
Hostel: Lub’d Silom, Bangkok, Thailand
The last time I stayed in Bangkok we got a dorm bed in a massive, 20 person room that we hardly spent any time in. With trepidation I booked us 4 nights at Lub’d, a party hostel in Silom, but one that was near a Sky Train (unlike the first time, which was by Khao San Road). To my surprise, we were able to get a bunk bed private at a very reasonable rate. Even more surprising, we fell in love with this hostel and plan on coming back for another stay in just a couple months. The facilities are modern and clean, the price for both the room and food/drinks is fantastic, and we loved being near the Sky Train as well as the surrounding area of Silom. I don’t even think I visited Silom the first time I was in Bangkok, but it is totally worth checking out, reminds me a bit of River North in Chicago. There were many other great places we stayed at in December and January - Summer Guest House in Koh Tao I have to give a shout out to because they went above and beyond in mailing some letters that came for us back home. But Lub’d is the first place that came to mind and one I will be recommending to all my friends planning a trip to Bangkok.
Beach: White Beach, Boracay, Philippines
In the last two months we have been to over 15 beaches across Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. No beach even comes close to White Beach. The texture and color of the sand, the crystal clear water, beautiful sunsets, and flurry of life and activity all along the beach. The downside of a beach this perfect is that it can attract a crowd, sometimes overwhelmingly so, but even a crowded White Beach stands alone above the rest. I was also amazed that a beach supporting so many tourists could stay so pristine, something that can not be said for many other beaches around the world. Many new resorts are under construction all over the island and I do worry it will eventually surge past its natural capacity, only time will tell.
Beer: Bintang, Bali, Indonesia
I was really expecting Chang to run away with this category going in, for a cheap, plain lager I've always found it so crisp and refreshing. Bintang, a Heineken product brewed in Surabaya, soundly has it beat. It tastes less like a cheap lager and more like something you'd get at Half Acre. I wasn't 100% sold on it until I had it with a rack of spare ribs - this beer goes so well with food, especially barbeque. It brings out sweet and spicy flavors beautifully, something most cheap beer can't do to save its life. I am dying to see it in a few other places outside Indonesia, but I'm not getting my hopes up. Luckily, we are heading back there in a couple months and I will be sure to get my fill.
Beverage: Mango Smoothie, Hoy Panga, Boracay, Philippines
I'm not sure there is a better hangover cure than a fresh mango smoothie, and trust me when I say that we really put this theory to the test in Boracay. We stumbled upon this place looking for an afternoon snack for Jenny and I was feeling like I had just got hit by a truck. A few sips of this smoothie had me revitalized and finally ready to take on the day. Before this trip I was never a big mango fan, but now it is my go-to fruit for any sort of smoothie, lassi or shake. You can really tell if the fruit is extra fresh like you'll find in the Philippines, too, such a delightful treat.
Hangout: Blue Water, Koh Tao, Thailand
On our second visit to Koh Tao, the island was so full we weren’t able to secure a motorbike rental the first couple days. Since Jenny was scuba diving most of the week, I really needed one to get around to the various beaches, cafes, and restaurants on the island. Thankfully, I discovered Blue Water not far from our hostel and proceeded to forget about needing a motorbike at all. Right on Sairee Beach, Blue Water is the perfect lazy day hangout spot. Boasting two floors, a huge drink menu featuring pretty much anything you could want, and a nice sliver of beach to sunbathe on, I easily spent 10 hours here over the course of three days. My only regret is that we didn’t find this place during our first visit to Tao or I would have gotten to try more of their huge selection of iced coffee beverages.
Activity: Eating in Malaysia
We did a lot of cool things over the past two months. Really, we did. Many of them you can check out on the blog or see on social media. But best activity? Eating food, specifically in Malaysia, but also everywhere else, hands down. After our trek in Nepal and basically being a vegetarian in India for 6 weeks, I was ready to eat. I’ve lost well over 20 lbs, none of my clothes fit right anymore, and I need some protein. Malaysia gave us exactly what I have been craving for so long. Meat skewers out the wazoo, dim sum, nasi lemak, char kway teow, roti canai, thai food, chinese food, the country is overflowing with incredible food. If we had stayed for a few more weeks maybe I’d be back at my starting weight!
Photography: Bali, Indonesia
Even though we spent most of our week in Bali at a 5 star resort, mooching off of Hilton Diamond member freebies, we did manage to book a van (Bali Fixer, @balifixer on Instagram) to take us around Ubud for a full day. What we got was a photographer’s dream, filled with picturesque temples, waterfalls and even the famous Bali rope swing. In a weird way Bali seems engineered for Instagram, which I suppose makes sense given the huge influx of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ tourists and Instagram models that flock here from all over the world. As a backpacker I am turned off by this, but as the person behind the camera I could not be more enthusiastic. In just an afternoon we got most of the shots that I had really wanted to get in Bali, which meant we could spend the rest of the week doing nothing at the resort. I would love to be able to check out some other, less touristy places of Bali someday, but I was so impressed by what we were able to capture in Ubud in just a day.
Dessert: Juicy Buns, Red Garden, Penang, Malaysia
We have had fairly little in the way of desserts lately, mainly because the savory foods have been so good that there was no point. We did try quite a few dim sum desserts, though, and none more delicious than the juicy buns at Red Garden food court in Penang. The Red Garden is a wonderful place, a food court where you pick a table, order at any food stall, provide them your table number and within minutes they will be table side with your food. We’d regularly order from 5 or 6 stalls at once and wait at our table with glee as each order came rolling in. We always made sure to order some dim sum and the juicy buns we would save for last, usually against our stomachs’ best wishes. Filled with a warm, runny egg custard, these things are as addictive as they are sweet. Luckily we are about to fly out to Hong Kong where I’m sure we can find even better custard buns, but these here were the highlight of months 7 and 8.
City: Bangkok, Thailand
My first trip to Bangkok was very underwhelming, albeit with a few bright spots. Despite having a sky train, it was a hassle to reach popular tourist destinations. Many streets had trash everywhere, with touts hassling you, almost akin to India. And maybe because it was my first experience in a place with an established sex trade, but the city had a bit of a slimy aura about it. This trip to Bangkok could not have been more different. The city was clean, beautiful and vibrant. We got a hostel right by a skytrain stop for easy transit, and if we couldn’t use the train to get to our destination we could just order an Uber. The dining and the shopping were both outstanding, perhaps only Malaysia can top Thailand in terms of gorgeous, enormous shopping malls. I think finding the right hostel and having sim cards were crucial to really getting the most out of our time here and I would recommend it to anyone planning to stay for more than a couple days. We plan to head back to Bangkok in a couple months to check out all the stuff we missed the first time and I fully expect to have an even better time now that we have a good level of familiarity with the city. Don’t let the things you hear put you off of visiting, Bangkok will give you an awesome time.
Going into these past two months, Malaysia was the country we knew the least about. We knew it had great street food, we knew Kuala Lumpur was a large, modern city, and we knew we'd probably want to spend some time on islands like Penang. That was about it. And now, reflecting on our two weeks there, all I can think about is where else in Malaysia I want to visit, what other incredible food I want to try, and when we can go back again. The thing that separates Malaysia against the rest of Southeast Asia is just how easy it is to be a backpacker there. Everything is affordable, facilities are clean and well maintained, it is simple to get around, the list goes on and on. And maybe it is because of the time of year that we went, but there are far less tourists than places like Thailand or Indonesia. This allowed us to go and do pretty much anything we wanted, and at a reasonable price. I don't think we will be able to come back on this trip, but Malaysia will surely be at the top of my list for next time.