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Kuantan (Malaysia) to Patong (Thailand), May 2011

It wasn’t easy to find a hotel in Kuantan. We arrived in the weekend of a local fair. We were amazed to see how this commercial fair attracted loads of people, all in search of free samples and interesting discounts. On a field in the centre of town, around fifty to sixty commercial companies, like Telecom providers, yoghurt firms and suppliers of cosmetic creams, had stands from where they tried to market their products to the hundreds and hundreds of Malay people from all around the area. We were bored after a couple of minutes, but the locals seemed to have a great day, despite the fact that the area was terrorised by huge loudspeakers that spew up high volume local songs.

We eventually found a little hostel near the fair grounds. This was also the hotel where we were woken up one morning by the sharia police (see also the column: our encounter with the sharia police). Kuantan was also the city were we noticed again the difference in the experience of good education for their kids. In the west, parents tend to complain when their kids get too much homework, when the exams are too difficult or when the teacher asks too much from the children. But not here in Asia. Parents motivate the teachers to get the most out of their kids and on a free Saturday, the children do not go to the shopping mall to shop, but to join a science contest (see also the column: mighty minds). And they don’t do it to win an iPod or Nintendo, but just for the honour to be the best. And the wish to be the best is something that we do not appreciate anymore in the west. People who strive for being the best are seen as nerds, show-offs or boasters. We in the west are masters to keep the kids under the thumb. As we say it in The Netherlands: the heads of the people, who tower above the mowing field, are chopped off (meaning: to stand above the crowds is not appreciated).

A beer of Bangla street in Patong
After Kuantan we took the bus to Kuala Terengganu. Like Kuantan, Kuala Terengganu is also a conservative city on the east coast of the Malaysian Peninsular where Islam is still practiced very seriously. We spent some days extra in this friendly city because we were in the middle of the purchase process of our 1984 Toyota Landcruiser BJ45. The father and brother-in-law of Edwin were on their way to a small village in the south of France where a Landcruiser was for sale. We kept contact with them through the internet. The Landcruiser was not in the ‘right’ condition, but on their way back to The Netherlands, they found another one at a farmer, also in south of France (see also the article: in search of a Toyota Landcruiser). This is the one we bought and we are very happy with it. We can’t wait to start our journey with the car.

After these exciting days, we travelled to the Perhentian Islands, seen by many as one of the most exotic island groups in Malaysia. The islands are indeed beautiful and relatively less visited, but we were still a little bit disappointed. Our expectations were set too high. This probably has to do with the fact that we saw already many beautiful and tropical islands in for example Indonesia, The Philippines and Sri Lanka. The Perhentian Islands are also nice, but like we said, we expected more. We still had great days. The beach is beautiful, the resort was ok and the food was nice. We spend the days with relaxing and reading. We also met two Malaysian-Chinese girls who gave us insight in the way the Malaysian multicultural society works. Many people in the west see Malaysia as one of the best examples of how successful a multicultural society can be. But if you realise that the balance in the society is based on discrimination of some of the ethnic groups, this can hardly been seen as a success story.

Two winners or eventually two losers?

After the Perhentian Islands we travelled to the city of Kota Bharu were we spent some days before we took the bus to Alor Setar. Alor Setar is on the western coast of the Malaysian Peninsular and was for us the last stop in Malaysia, before crossing the border to Thailand. Alor Setar is a very Malay city where most inhabitants are ethnic Malays and where you see relatively few Chinese-Malays and Indian-Malays. With pain in our heart we said goodbye to Malaysia, because we still find it a very pleasant destination. This was our tenth visit in the last four years and we enjoyed it every time. The people are extremely friendly, the facilities are world class, the food is varied and tasty and the country offer great value for money. We definitely hope to come back again.

Thailand is a very different country. The religion is different (Thai are in general Buddhist in stead of Muslims) and that gives the country a very different feeling. The conservatism of the Malays is gone as soon as you cross the border. The Thai are much more outgoing and that gives the country a very pleasant atmosphere. Many people spent a lot of time on the streets which means that you will find food stalls and cosy night markets everywhere. Also Thai people are friendly, however not as friendly and hospitable as their Malay neighbours. Thai people speak less English and are not ashamed to rip you off once in a while; something that won’t happen to you in Malaysia. It probably also has to do with the fact that Thailand is much more touristy than Malaysia.

We travel slowly to the north, with Bangkok as our final destination before we fly home for a family visit. We stayed five days in both HatYai and Trang. These cities are great places to experience the real Thailand, in comparison to the more touristy cities to the north. After Trang we spent some time in Krabi where we shared the tourist trail with coarsely speaking tattooed youngsters in beer t-shirts and old men with their catalogue Thai girls. After Krabi we went to the Island of Phuket; number one holiday destination in Thailand. We decided to base ourselves in Patong, the hedonistic capital of Phuket Island. This is the place to go for sun, sand, beer and sex. And when you walk through the city, you immediately notice the biggest difference with Malaysia; the cheap women and the men they attract. Hundreds of beautiful girls roam the streets and bars in search of mainly western and Arabic men willing to exchange money for sex. Money is the only reason to hook up with an often old and flabby man who could be her grandfather. And he? He thinks he is in paradise. He is walking hand in hand with his exiguously dressed girl, showing the rest of the world that he was still able to conquer the heart of a pretty Thai chick, despite his old age and cheap appearance (he in a Hawaiian shirt, not matching shorts, white socks and sneakers who are made for youngsters and not for 70+ men, and she in a designer dress, perfectly styled and with the attitude of Victoria Beckham). And we? We ask ourselves when he hits the ground again, of course with an empty wallet.


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