Leaving HOME to go HOME

Global nomads, TCKs, and Expats all know the feeling of leaving your one home to go to your other home.  My family and I just made our annual trip of leaving our home in New Jersey, USA to come home to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It never ceases to amaze me that no matter where I am, I always am missing something.

Things I miss about HOME in the USA:

  • Family and friends
  • Food-   real pizza, hoagies, American beef, Mexican
  • Road rules
  • Shopping in malls, Target, huge grocery stores and good shoe stores
  • The weather- no humidity and cool

Our Family at our beach in Ocean City, NJ

Kayaking in New York


Things I miss about HOME in Malaysia:

  • Friends
  • Food- satay, spicy noodles, curries
  • Not having to obey road rules
  • Shopping in markets and stalls
  • The weather- hot sunny days everyday

Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur

Rain Forest in Malaysia


I guess what is really strange is that the things I miss the most are the things that eventually drive me crazy and make me ready to return to the other home again for a dose of reality!!  I am so lucky to be able to call two amazing places “home!”



Third Culture Kid~ Where Are You From?

When I was younger, there was a four-word phrase that sent panic to my mind… “WHERE ARE YOU FROM?” Hmmmmmm… How to answer that loaded question? Most people can answer with a one-word response. My response is a paragraph:

Well, I am an American of European descent. I was born in Portsmouth, Virginia, but I moved to San Francisco, California. I was raised in Massachusetts as a young child. I moved to Kuwait and then Bahrain with a short stint in Atlanta, Georgia that I would like to forget! I graduated from an international school in Bahrain. My legal address was in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, but I never really lived there. I went to university in Pennsylvania, but I left after two and a half years. I became a flight attendant where I was “based” in London, but I resided in Bahrain. Then I settled in Ocean City, New Jersey. (This was all before I was 25 years old) I got married and then raised my young children in Ocean City, New Jersey. When my children were 8 and 9 years old we moved to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where I have been for 8 years. We return each summer to the USA and go to PA, NJ, and NY. Our legal address is now NJ, but we no longer own property in NJ. My family and my husband’s family are mostly living in that tri-state area. Hmmmmmm… You guess!?! Where am I from?

Now the questions begin to fly… Am I crazy? Do I have attachment issues? Am I an orphan? Do I exaggerate? Was I a military brat? Am I in the military?NO! I was a Third Culture Kid (TCK) who moved for my father’s work and now for my work. According to American sociologist David C. Pollock, “A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of [their] developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.”

TCKs usually answer the “Where are you from?” question with vagueness like, “Home is where the heart is.”  or “Everywhere, but nowhere.” Many of us cannot easily answer the question. I am living abroad again in Malaysia and for the first time in a long time, I feel truly HOME even though I am not Malaysian. For us Third Culture Kids and adults, “home” is not a place. It is a concept. Home to me is where I feel understood, accepted and comfortable with my life choices. Now that I am an adult and I can appreciate all the advantages of being a TCK, the question does not frighten me any more. I embrace it and look forward to hearing other traveler’s answers.

Are you a TCK? How do you answer the question, Where are you from?

My TCK World Map:

These are the flags of the countries that have influenced who I am.

Holidays Away From “Home”

It is holiday time, one of my favorite times of the year.  My family is from the northeast of the USA so I am used to the seasonal changes.  In October, we would have made the trip up to my sister’s house in NY to pick apples and pumpkins, hike in the mountains and admire the fall foliage.  By now, the apple pies and homemade applesauce would be frozen and the corn from my grandparent’s farm put up!  The entire family including, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephew, siblings, and cousins would have headed up to the farm to spend Thanksgiving together.  We would have walked to the creeks, wandered through the plowed fields and quiet woods searching for deer and pheasants to admire, cut holly boughs to bring home, baked and cooked all the family’s favorite dishes, then eaten way too much food.  The air would have been crisp and clear, so sweaters and boots would have warmed us. Perhaps a fire might have been going in the fireplace. AAAHHHHH……


Reality check!  Thanksgiving weekend in Malaysia was 90 degrees F.  It was hot, hazy and humid. The air was not crisp, but laden with so much moisture that breathing was an unpleasant activity. We worked on Thanksgiving Day.  On Saturday, we went to the pool at the club and then hiked in the rainforest. But, on Sunday, we spent the day with thirty friends cooking, laughing and sharing a feast of all the traditional Thanksgiving Day meals.  Even though it was a far cry from a Pennsylvania farm Thanksgiving, it was a wonderful day spent with good company. Many of our friends commented that they look forward to this day all year. 


Now it is only a few days away from my ultimate favorite time of the year, Christmas!  I love everything about it. I have to watch every corny movie and cartoon, see carolers, bake cookies and decorate the house.  The first year we decided that we would be too depressed to spend Christmas away from our extended family so we ran away to Phuket, Thailand, hoping to ignore the Christmas holiday.  It was a horrible idea!  Just like in “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” I realized that Christmas comes any way!  All we needed were a few new traditions and some great new people to share it.  Now my family stays in our house until after Christmas Day now.  If we travel, we leave after the 25th.  We try to keep to some of the traditions we had in the USA, and we have added many new ones that make our holiday season special.  Today, we will hike with the dogs and then take a dip at the pool, finish our baking and sit down to watch some of the old Christmas classics that we bought on DVD and enjoy the day with each other.


How do you spend the holidays when you are away from “home” and family? 

It is a beautiful time of the year regardless of where you are.  Make the most of it and enjoy the festive season!  Merry Christmas and have a wonderful New Year!

Malaysia, Expat Living For Dummies?

I have heard numerous people state that Malaysia is “Asia Living – Lite,”  in reference to how simple it is to live here. Some would argue that it is too easy to live here.  Expats who have had overseas postings in places such as Africa, Indonesia, and Uzbekistan ae shocked to find such modern conveniences in Malaysia.  Malls, which span six city blocks, rise five stories high and take all day to browse, litter every town.  Movie theaters, which play the latest showings from Hollywood to Bollywood, have waiter service and recliner chairs with pillows and blankets.  Expats can conveniently purchase imported foods from all over the world at most grocery stores.  International restaurant chains encourage the foreigners and the locals to try out the latest store opening of Chili’s, T. G. I. Friday’s, and Tony Roma’s.  Mercedes, Fords, BMWs, Chevys, Toyotas and Land Rovers cruise the super highways.  It is true, for those who chose to close their eyes and continue living as they did in their home countries, Malaysia can be Asia Living-Lite!          


I choose to have my eyes wide open because there is an amazing melting pot of culture, religion, language, food and beauty!  “Malaysia, truly Asia!”    Malaysia is alive with three distinct ethnic groups, Malaysian, Indian and Chinese. The Hari Raya and Deepavali festivals have recently ended and the country looks forward to the Christmas and the Chinese New Year celebrations on the horizon. In every shop lot there is a dizzying array of Indian, Malaysian, Chinese and even western products for sale.  Every night we must make dinner choices, which may include chicken tikka with naan bread, nasi lemak, chicken rice, pizza, sweet and sour pork, or curry served on banana leaf.  Once the food choice is finalized, I have to decide if I will eat at a five—star restaurant or simply sit out on the street in a roadside stall.  When driving around Kuala Lumpur, I am in awe of the contrasting beauty between the striking architecture and the lush rainforest.           


Malaysia is not Expat Living for Dummies!  It is a unique country with so many diverse cultural, natural, and gastronomical experiences.  On each side of our house, my female neighbors wear different types of clothing; one wears a sari, one wears jeans and short shorts, and one wears a headscarf.  Each morning when I shuffle downstairs, I can hear at least six different languages through my open kitchen window.  I smell the curries, the sausages, the rice, the fish and the pancakes cooking at 6 am.  When I take my morning walk, the call for prayer sounds from the local mosque as I see my Chinese neighbors doing Tai Chi in the park.  I am constantly immersed in international culture!          


If my friends and readers have been wondering where I have been lately because of my lack of postings, I have been here trying to make some tough decisions.  My family and I had concluded that we might leave KL after this year. This option did not feel right to any of us.  We are NOT ready to leave this extraordinary country that we have called home for almost four years. We have decided that we will stay right here for another year and continue to explore all of the fantastic sights in and around Malaysia!  A friend of mine laughs at me and says, “Anni, you are still astounded by seeing a coconut on the side of the road!”  This is true!  I guess the day that I cease to be excited by wild coconuts will be the day I leave KL!

Pasar Malam- Night Market Shopping


Sunday night in our neighborhood is the Pasar Malam or the local night market.  Traffic is impossible and people are wandering everywhere with bags, trolleys, small carts, back packs.  A road is closed off and in the middle of the road are stalls with rickety tables, portable awnings, and a massive throng of people.  Smells of fresh fish, flowers, and cooking food waft through the air and your mouth begins to water.  You brace yourself and push headlong into the crowd to begin bargaining. 


Every Sunday I have a rendezvous with the nut man at the Bangsar Pasar Malam!  He and his wife and son run the first nut stall on the street with giant 10 kilogram bags of nuts that are loosely covered with old plates.  Nuts are my favorite snack and these are the best nuts in the world!  I have tried other stalls at this market and all over KL, but nothing compares to these nuts. Once a selection is made the stall keepers will weigh out your nuts and then seal them in a bag with string.  My usual choices include the yummiest dry roasted peanuts, cashews, pistachios and hot and sweet covered peanuts.  YUM!  Sometimes I buy the dried banana chips and the hot spicy noodles with wasabe peas and nuts. 


Next it is on the fruits and vegetables… You have to squeeze through the crowds of people shouting and bargaining as you dodge trolleys and parents with their toddlers on shoulders, and bags hanging everywhere.  You find the stall you want and a dirty old basket is handed to you and you pile all of the types of fruits you want inside the basket.  You will see 15 types of apples from around the globe, 5-6 types of oranges, at least 10 types of bananas and plantains.  Then all of the tropical fruits like mangos, papayas, rambutans (like a lychee) magosteens, longons, durian (YUK!!!), jack fruit, dragon fruit and too many that I cannot name. 


I purchase the normal western vegetables and stare helplessly at most of the other vegetables in the stalls.  What in the world are they and how would I begin to cook them?  Sometimes I just buy some that look good and try them.  Most of the time we are pleasantly surprised, but their names I cannot pronounce or remember!   After the fruits and vegetables, I find one of the best stalls here in the market the flowers and strawberries! The containers of local strawberries that are grown in Cameron Highlands are RM10 for 3 boxes (US$ 2.80).  Beautiful roses, lilies and other flowers are cheap and fresh.   

All this shopping works up an appetite!  Dinnertime!  What to choose tonight?  Fresh hot yummy Satay is cooking over hot grills as the men fan the coals in the hot humid evening.  The next grill contains chicken which is served with rice and vegetables.  At one stall, they are making a very thin pancake and filling it with unknown vegetable and nuts.  It tastes yummy!  Stalls have out fresh home cooked local curries and dishes. 

After purchasing dinner, it is time to meander home past the stalls selling t-shirts, phones, toys, watches, batiks and socks. I like to shop, but it is the whole experience of markets that I love!  I can remember shopping in the souks in Bahrain as a child.  I love the floating markets and Chata Chuck market in Bangkok.  The street shopping in Vietnam and the markets in Cambodia with all the wares laid out on the floors are amazing to see. It is the experience of being in the middle of all the culture with the local language, noise, smells and unfamiliar products that brings my senses to life each week.   


Where are your favorite markets?

The Jungles of Borneo!



Everything that you have ever imagined about the famed jungles of Borneo is true!  I have not posted lately as I have been spending time with my parents and two nephews who arrived for a six week visit to Malaysia.  We spent a week in Sarawak, Borneo and it was superb!  We stayed along the Northern coast in Damai Beach which is about 30-45 minutes from the city of Kuching.  While playing in the murky surf where the rainforest rivers empty into the sea, there were many small animals to be seen such as crabs, urchins, sand dollars, anemones, snails, hermits and lots of birds.  The jungle literarily falls into the ocean and it is so dense that you cannot peer into it. 




A day at Bako National Park revealed the wonders of the rainforest.  After a 40 minute boat ride out to the old rainforest, we disembarked on a rickety boardwalk amidst the mangrove trees.  Mud Skipper fish hopped up on the land and skidded across the top of the water!  Halfway to the park head quarters, our guide, Eric, showed us a green Pit Viper coiled up lazily in a tree!  A few feet later and we were shushed again because the Silver Leaf Monkeys were playing in the tree tops above us!  These silver monkeys were so adorable with little Mohawk hairdos and tiny red babies clinging to their mothers’ bellies as they flew from tree to tree.  We registered in the park office and headed out for the trails into the rainforest. 

Our main goal was to see the elusive Proboscis Monkeys (see pic above) with their prominent bulbous noses and Buddha bellies.  About 200 meters up the mountainous trail, our guide told us to stand still and just look up into the trees.  We looked up, but our untrained eyes didn’t see the monkeys sitting right over our heads.  Finally they moved and we were able to see some female Proboscis Monkeys and their babies.  They were shy and slower than the Silver Leafs and Macaque Monkeys we had seen earlier.  Continuing into the jungle and up the mountain, it was dark and extremely humid so when we reached the beach on the other side it was a relief to take a refreshing dip in the sea and rest in the shade.  As we headed back to the headquarters for lunch and a break, we saw many Proboscis Monkeys coming down from the jungle and into the mangrove swamp to swim in the water!



While we ate our lunch, two enormous wild Bearded Boars began to forage in the field outside!  They were about the ugliest animals I have ever seen! Look at this picture and tell me if you agree. After lunch, we hit the trails again straight up to the top of the rocks to search for wild carnivorous Pitcher Plants and wild Orchids.  Eric was able to find four different types of Pitcher Plants and we even saw the ants and bugs inside of them being “eaten.”  It was an amazing day!


male-orangutan.jpg Richie


The next day, we went to Semenggoh Park to see Orangutans in the rainforest.  The Park is a rehabilitation center for Orangutans who were in captivity.  They are taught to live in the wild again and now the park has three generations of Orangutans who have been born in the wild and live in the park.  During non-fruiting season, the wardens put out fruit for the Orangutans to eat.  They come down from the forest to feast on the free meals!  As soon as we arrived, we saw nests up in the tops of the trees and two females and their babies.  Later in the day, Richie, a smaller, 400 pound male came down to eat.  He was amazing!  It was marvelous to see 8 orangutans up close, but out in the wild in their natural habitat.


A river cruise on small boats took us into the mangroves where we saw the rare Irrawaddy River Dolphins, Crocodiles, monkeys and Fireflies that lit up the night.  As for accommodation, we first stayed at the Kuching Santubong Resort, which I would NEVER recommend!!!!!  It was apparent that they cater to conventions and not to tourist. The food was inedible, the staff was rude and the service was unacceptable, the rooms so moldy and rotting and the pool so gross that people had written graffiti in the scum on the sides of the pool!



high-ropes-course.jpg The High Ropes Course!


What I can recommend is the PERMAI RAINFOREST RESORT!  It was amazing! We stayed up in tree houses in the rainforest canopy that overlooked the sea on one side and the jungle on the other. Click on the first picture if you look closely you can see our hut up in the trees!  The “Jungle Pool” was a natural pool fed from a mountain river.  The food was fantastic, the service impeccable and the resort truly unique and a fabulous experience.  We completed the High Ropes Course without anyone falling, we kayaked, hiked, swam, played in the sea and streams and just had a great time.  Check out their website http://www.permairainforest.com/main.html.  If you are ever in Kuching you MUST stay here!  Book early for the resort and the activities though!


iban-heads.jpg Iban heads.



Of course no trip to Borneo would be complete without seeing the Iban headhunters’ longhouses complete with skulls hanging from the ceiling!  A trip to the Sarawak Cultural Museum was well worth it as we saw many indigenous houses and costumes.  The cultural dance show was great.  We had a wonderful trip!  I hope to see Sabah next.

Finding Tsunami Closure?

000035.jpg December 25, 2004- Phuket, Thailand 

Before December 26, 2004, I never realized how a few seconds could change my life.  Our winter break in Phuket, Thailand had been the perfect holiday. Arriving in Phuket on December 19, we put down our bags and headed straight for the beach. We are total beach bums, so we spent every minute of every day on the beach.  We would get out of bed and amble down to breakfast at the hotel and then jump on the first shuttle bus down to the beach by 9:00 each morning.  Down the hill, the ladies at our hotel beach would welcome us, and chuckle at how early we would arrive. We would sit on that white soft sand next to the endless blue ocean until the sun set and we had to grab the shuttle bus back up to the hotel.    


Upon arrival at the hotel on Kata Beach, I had been furious.  I wanted to be right on the beach and I sulked like a two year old! Every hotel room was full because of the Christmas holiday and the fact that I had procrastinated as usual when I booked our rooms.  So for the next few days, I cursed all of those steps and the steep hill up to the hotel. Little did I know that on December 26, procrastination and that dreaded hill would save my family’s life!  That morning we were tired from the Christmas celebrations the day before and we slept late for the first time that holiday.  Brian had woken up early and slipped out of the hotel room in search of a good cup of coffee.  When he woke us up we changed into our swimsuits, packed for the day and ran down to breakfast.  Realization hit that we were going to miss the first shuttle bus to the beach, so we had a second cup of coffee and a second helping of pancakes and fruit.  Now at least we wouldn’t have to leave the beach in search of a light lunch.  


With a few minutes to spare before the next shuttle could take us down to our beach, we strolled at the pool area and tried to gaze out over the ocean.  The large trees on the hill obstructed our view.  Suddenly we heard a strange noise.  Our brains scrambled to find a reference for the sound and we stood peering over the large pool deck to the street below.  At first when we heard the screaming, we thought of a parade, but my body froze and my blood ran cold because after growing up in the Middle East and seeing demonstrations, my mind finally found that reference and it was people in panic, not festive sounds that I heard!  


Water was rushing through the streets and we immediately thought of a water main break.  Never in my wildest dreams did a tsunami enter my thoughts. Muddy, bleeding people scrambled up the hill screaming, “Tidal Wave!”  We were dumbfounded!  How could this be true?  Brian and I hugged our children and rushed to the lobby for information. E-mails were sent immediately to alert our families about our safety.  Over the next few days, waiting at the hotel for our scheduled flight home, we were nervous and anxious to receive any news of friends on Ko Phi Phi.  Sleep did not come easily!    


After returning safely to Kuala Lumpur, we learned that all of our friends who had been in the areas affected by the tsunami were also safe.  We counted our blessings and slowly began to get back to our lives.  Our school raised funds for tsunami relief and after a while I began to get over the shock and relief that my entire family and all of our friends were safe even though thousands of others had perished.  Still, two and a half years later those “What if’s” can plague me.  I do not dwell on them, but they creep in at the oddest times. 


On holiday in Vietnam this past April, we were at the hotel having breakfast and I thought to myself, “Wow, I wonder if I have one more cup of coffee, will that change the outcome of my day or my entire life?”  While at a resort in Pangkor Island this autumn, I watched my children frolic in the sea and I looked over the resort to decide what I would do if the water began to recede.  At times, I feel selfish for having these thoughts when so many other people were not as fortunate as our family!  I guess that is survivor guilt.  Sometimes I wish my mind would stop asking that question, “What if…?”  I have to be thankful and stop thinking of the alternative if we had not slept late and had caught that bus to the beach as we had every other day!  At other times I think about those stricken faces of people who lost loved ones and I remember how lucky we were that day.    


We have decided to return to Phuket in a few weeks and we will stay at the same hillside resort.  I am not sure what we will find or how we will feel, but for some reason it is important for me to go back there and see how the people have rebuilt after losing so much.  I believe that the local business people need to be supported.  They showed so much compassion and strength in the aftermath of the disaster.  My children do not feel any angst in returning to Phuket.  I know that I will continue to feel fortunate that we are all still together and are able to make the trip back there together.  I will let you know how the trip unfolds.

000013.jpg December 26, 2004- Phuket, Thailand

Glamazons in Asia!

Most of the Asian women I know are about 5 foot and weigh about 90 pounds!  Their clothes size has to be a 0!  And they have no qualms about telling you how FAT you are!  Okay, I have been hashing (running, see my previous post) and dieting and trying really hard to get fit.  I have lost about 20 pounds and now fit into a decent size of clothing.  I would no longer have to shop in the “Plus” department in the USA.  I am by no means slim though.  And by Asian standards I am just enormously HUGE!  For the first year here my friends and I called ourselves the giant white ladies.  However that was not very politically correct so one of them coined the phrase that we now like to call ourselves, “Glamazons!” 


I walk every morning as does most of our neighborhood.  You will see the people out in the street walking, running and performing some very strange stretches and exercises.  Huge groups of people do Tai Chi and yoga.  We pass the same people everyday and we nod, smile or say hello.  Most of them we do not know personally, but that does not stop them from making comments about our HUGE size! One older lady in particular usually likes to comment on our sizes on a daily basis.  One day after saying hello for a week or so she passed us and said to me, “Wow, you so plump lady!” Brian and I almost fell over!  When we came back from our USA holiday, the same lady told Brian who is 6 foot and 165 pounds, “Oh, what happened to you, you so fat now!”  Luckily this lady has taken note of my now trimmer figure and told me that now I am getting sexy so Brian should NOW be “a so happy man!” 


One of our local friends was warning us of the dangers of being pick pocketed downtown.  The gentleman turned to the friend who named us the Galmazons and said to her, “You won’t have to worry because you are so enormous they would be afraid of you!” One of my friends was told not to bother to look in one woman’s shop because she was too fat!  And one of our PE coaches who is about 5’6” and a size 4 was told by a shop owner, “OH you so fat lah! You no fit into my shirts! You go now!”  

 It is amazing to walk down the street and have a stranger say to you, “OH what happen to you?  You must be rich lady! You so fat LAH!”  At times I feel the power of Moses as I walk down the street with a few girlfriends who are all tall, beautiful and wear sizes of 10 -14 and be able to part the crowds while people stand with their mouths gaping open!  Now that my shape is changing, my maid feels free to tell me every morning whether I am looking sexy or fat in that outfit!  She usually tells me, “Oh mam, before you so fat, but now you look sexy type!”  I am so pleased that she approves! 


Part of me craves the correctness of manners that I am used to in the USA.  Nobody would dare comment on your size- even if you asked them for an opinion.  I like to think that it is my personal will power that has helped me to get fitter since I moved here.  However,  I am sure the fact that the locals feel free to tell me that I look bad has had a huge impact on my image of myself!  Don’t worry though, I am still the self assured person you all know and love and I am sure that I am in no danger of becoming a 90 pound size 0 wearing woman anytime soon! I love being a GLAMAZON!!!


Hanoi and Ha Long Bay for Spring Break!

vietnam-2007-111.jpg Temple of Literature, Hanoi




The Andrew family had a fantastic Spring Break in Vietnam!  The country was nothing like I expected, but it was spectacular! Vietnam was very different from other countries here in South East Asia.  I guess I pictured it to be like Thailand or Cambodia- it wasn’t! The pace is fast, but the people were very welcoming!  The architecture is very surprising because it is very European compared to surrounding countries here. 


We arrived in Hanoi, met up with our friend, Tammy and began shopping and sight seeing.  We saw Ho Chi Minh’s house, mausoleum, and museum.  For the first time we experienced a water puppet show where the puppeteers stand in the water behind screens and maneuver the puppets on long poles and strings.  The puppets splash and glide through the water.  Very cool!  We visited museums and temples and had massages.  Shopping was amazing too.  Every item has its own block or blocks.  There are streets that have vendors selling only shoes or bags.  There was even a baseball cap street and a Buddha stature street.  It was a strange way to shop, but we had no trouble spending money!  Hanoi is very cheap compared to KL!


 vietnam-2007-159.jpg    vietnam-2007-191.jpg







The traffic was insane there!  You had to just step into the street and not look.  All of the cars, buses and motorcycles just went around you!  Terrifying at first, but we got used to it quickly!  WE were almost hit when we tried to go around the cycles… You learn quickly to not look and just keep moving! 


vietnam-2007-048.jpg   vietnam-2007-060.jpg 

We headed down to the coast to Ha Long Bay, a World Heritage Site, for my favorite part of the journey.  Breathtaking!  We thought it was cold there since it is always so hot in KL, but we had so much fun!  We started out by taking junks boats around the limestone islands for two days and sleeping on Cat Ba Island, one of the bigger islands out of the 2,000 in the bay. There were three beaches on Cat Ba that you had to access by walking along a “Cliff Walk.” Each cliff walk was a boardwalk suspended from the cliff going around the limestone rocks for about 1-2 Kilometers until they ended up at these amazing beaches! During the days, we took junk boats around to venues where we kayaked around the islands, went into amazing caves, mountain biked and hiked.   We only saw two Langurs, small monkeys from this area, from afar.  Every time we went to Monkey Island, which they inhabit, they were far up in the jungle. 

030103033836.jpg  vietnam-2007-047.jpg


On our final days on Ha Long Bay, we spent the night on a Junk boat.  We had been friendly with the group we were traveling with and our friend Tammy was with us from KL.  We ate dinner and stayed up late talking and playing cards.  We had small berths down below with private bathrooms.  When the sun set and all of the boats had their lights on it was an amazing sight!  It was so peaceful to watch the twinkling lights and hear the water lapping at the side of the boat.  We were sad to head back to Hanoi, but more shopping was calling us!


I would recommend this trip to anyone. We booked a small hotel in the Old Quarter, which was fun and cheap, but nice and clean!  We booked the trip to Ha Long Bay when we arrived in Hanoi through Kangaroo Café and we had no trouble getting the days we wanted and a good price!  Note- we left for Ha Long Bay on a Monday morning because we discovered that most museums and tourist places are closed on Mondays! 


Village in the Heart of the Jungle

050211044000.jpg The village-3 hours into the jungle

In the spring when we first arrived in Malaysia, our family had the most fantastic trip into the rain forest to visit an Orang Asli Kampong. Orang Asli are the native people of Malaysia. Our friend, Bridget, and some of her local friends had been to a small Orang Asli Tribe, in the middle of the jungle many times over the years. She wanted to take her two friends who were visiting from China there. Ineke and her two girls, Mirthe and Annijme came on the trip as well. Ineke has lived in KL for 12 years and had been to the village many times with Bridget.

We set out early in the morning in Bridget’s and Ineke’s Land Rovers and our local made little four-wheel drive SUV Kembara. We drove up through the winding mountains on a major highway that rivals any highway in the US. After an hour northeast of the city, we exited the highway and got onto a paved local road. We passed through small villages and bustling towns filled with street hawkers, shops, cafes, gas stations, schools and plantations growing rubber trees and palm oil nuts. Once, cows were crossing the road and we had to wait for them to amble by. We witnessed beautiful landscapes of rain forest, plantations, temples, mosques, water buffalo, children playing, motor scooters in the fields, and workers resting in the shade.


(leaving the main roads and heading into the jungle)

After about a half an hour, the town life slipped away and we saw very few cars or scooters. The roads wound up to the denser rain forest and we exited the road where it ended and crossed over a river with a tiny one-lane cement bridge. We drove onto hard packed dirt roads passing small villages with bamboo huts up on stilts or government huts made of cement. We met a guide for the Orang Asli Department.

We drove behind the guide in the thick dark jungle and soon we approached a river with its bridge washed away. In its place was a bundle of bamboo sticks lashed together! Our Kembara had guzzled a half a tank of gas going through these dirt hills so we decided to abandon it by the river, as we could not risk being stuck in the middle of the rain forest without any gas! We decided that we had come too far to turn back now. Bridget and Ineke drove their Land Rovers across the river without incident. The children and the rest of us walked across the rickety makeshift bamboo bridge and climbed into their vehicles.

050211024826.jpg“WHERE’S THE BRIDGE?!”

The roads deteriorated and we started to get very unnerved. We slipped and slided, bottomed out, ran off the road and got stuck, but we were determined to carry on. For forty minutes, we watched the incredible beauty of the rain forest slip by as we passed bamboo arches, banana trees, streams, and birds that protested loudly that we were interrupting their peace. Ineke and I alternated between chatting about how lucky we were to experience this adventure and clutching on with white knuckles and sitting in silence as she maneuvered through the tricky terrain.

We came upon two motor scooters with three men on each. They were carrying blowpipes, knives and spears. They were surprised to see us but they were friendly and told us that the kampong was only ten minutes away. Finally, the guide pulled over and we could hear the river below us. We grabbed our backpacks and bags full of gifts and hiked down the steep path to the river. It was so clean and clear. The children swimming in the river were startled as we came down the path. They ran up the bank of the river toward the kampong shouting. We waded across the river and went up a muddy path on the opposite side. A man and several children greeted us on the path. Mirthe and our children were startled and a little frightened of the man because his mouth and teeth were bright red! We explained that it was not blood, but the juice from beetle nuts. They chew nicotine-like leaves that turn their mouths red.

050211051104.jpg The Kampong children coming to greet us.

The kampong children took our bags and disappeared up the path ahead of us. We entered the kampong and it appeared to be deserted. However, looking closely we could see everyone was inside peeking out at us through their bamboo huts. The chief and his wife hurried out and greeted us. They remembered Bridget and Ineke from previous visits and asked about their friends. We were invited into the chief’s house, which was constructed of bamboo poles and lined with bamboo mats. Every hut was up on stilts and there was a set of bamboo steps to get up. I was sure I was going to fall right through the steps and then the floors.

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050211044648.jpg 050211050520.jpg

Three hundred people lived in this particular village. They hunted in the forest, caught fish, and grew rice and vegetables. The atmosphere was peaceful, slow and happy. The children came out to watch us and most of them warmed up to us. Our children passed out cookies, noodles and toys. The kampong children were thrilled. Bridget and Ineke presented the chief with medicine and clothing. Tea was served, cigarettes passed out and smoked and talk was initiated with broken Bahasa and our guide translating. We wandered through the kampong and pondered what life would be like out here so far from civilization. There was not any running water, plumbing or electricity. After we said goodbye and thank you to the chief, we headed back down to the river with the children for a swim.

050211052502.jpg Swimming!

The kampong children enticed our children into the water and soon they all were performing and showing off for each other. The jungle around us moved and breathed with a life of its own. Our guide was anxious to get us back down the mountain because the wind was shifting and the clouds were moving in. It rains most afternoons so we left before it was too late. The kampong children were disappointed that we were leaving and Devon, Max, Annijme and Mirthe were upset to be leaving so soon. We made it down without any more troubles and found our Kembara just as we had left it. We switched back to our own vehicle and headed down the rest of the mountain.


I  still dream about those kampong children’s faces and remember the warm welcome we received!  Next weekend we will travel to another Orang Asli village that is not as far into the rain forest.  We will travel on a bus on paved roads with bridges!  We are going with the schools helping hands after school charity group.  I am looking forward to seeing another village. We have also planned another adventure this summer. We will spend a night at an Iban tribe in Sarawak, Malaysia on Borneo. Stay tuned for these new adventures!

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