Malaysia is wonderful. I fell in love instantly, and every passing day proves further that this country is great.
Getting here, however, was not so great. What should have been a few hours' trip turned into a whole day of headaches. We took a minibus from Ao Nang to Hat Yai, a southern Thai jumping-off point into Malaysia. We made fairly good time to Hat Yai, but spent another hour literally driving around in circles before finally getting dropped off at the bus station. Catching the bus to the border town of Pedang Besar was easy enough, except that bus too then spent another hour driving around the city, picking up dozens of people and blasting horrific karaoke music videos at max volume (actually that part was awesome). Finally, we got dropped off at the border, which turned out to be this weird toll-booth looking thing. We got stamped out by Thai immigration, but poor Charley didn't realize he overstayed his Thai visa by a day, so he had to pay a hefty fee. But no matter. After marching through the Thai border, we walked about a half mile down the road (no sidewalks... apparently no one actually walks through this border), got stamped through by the Malaysia dudes (as they blasted Michael Jackson's "Rock With You"... what?) and had to walk another half mile to the actual town. At this point it was about 9pm. After considering hitchhiking, we finally sucked it up and paid to take a cab to the nearest city with accomodation available, the state capital of Kangar.
As luck would have it, there was no accomodation available anywhere in Kangar. We sat at a nearby Chinese restaurant sulking and weighing our options, and by some miracle met a fellow foreigner who directed us to a homestay down the road. The room had a decidedly skanky bathroom and cockroaches the size of my hand crawling up the wall, but it was still a blessing in rather hefty disguise. The next day we moved to a nice, clean hotel down the road and everything has been great since.
Kangar, as it turns out, is completely off the tourist track, which has made it an absolutely lovely place to visit. Malaysian people have been unbelievably friendly and gracious, stopping to wave and smile and honk at us, the only white folks in town. It's gotten to the point where we can't walk down the street without someone that we've met in the last few days stopping to laugh and smile and wish us well. Like elsewhere in Malaysia, Kangar is home to an eclectic mix of Chinese Buddhists, Thai and Malaysian Muslims, some Indian Hindus, and even a few Christians, all living together in one big happy coexistence. It also makes for some out-of-this-world food choices. We've been welcomed with wide open arms, and everyone expresses a genuine interest in where we're from, how we like Malaysia (we love it!), what we think of Bush (we hate him!, and not just in our mouths but in our hearts, as one Muslim asked), and where we're off to next (Indonesia!).
And, of course, the rock climbing has continued. We've been going to a crag that's about 8km away from here, confounding the cab drivers with our assortment of beaners, slings, and other strange looking gear of all shapes and sizes. At the crag, we met yet another group of intensely friendly and fun Malaysians, who were kind enough to give us all a ride back to town 2 days in a row. But after two days, we're done here, and later this afternoon are headed to the island of Penang before jumping off the Indonesia.