Well I've made it to Malaysia with no problems this time. Funny, Malaysian customs didn't even ask about an onward ticket or how long I was staying or anything. These new "security measures" are such a joke. It's a placebo for the masses, trying to make people think they're more secure when actually all they're doing is creating enormous hassles for legitimate travellers. Any terrorist that has two brain cells to rub together can easily get around the so-called security measures as I did. Oh well, life in the modern world.
About Malaysia. Arriving at the airport was one of the easiest, most efficient international arrivals I have ever experienced. The airport is super high tech and the model of efficiency. I was off the plane, collected my bags, and through customs within half an hour. I took a skytrain thing to the baggage collection area and my bags made it there before I did.
Then comes the tricky part, I have no Malaysian cash. Fine, I'll just go to the ATM and withdraw money from my bank card, except all of the ATMs seemed to be out of order. Fine, I decided to grab the train into town and try my luck with the ATMs there. I go to buy my train ticket with a credit card and they told me that they don't take credit cards after midnight. It's 12:05 and the guy tries my card anyway and fortunately it goes through. Great. Once again, the train into town is high tech with video screens showing slick news, stock, and weather updates. I get into town and try to use the ATMs there. No joy. Seems that all of the ATMs "close" at midnight as well. How fucked up is that? Anyway, I finally just go to the taxi drivers and manage to exchange some of my emergency greenbacks that I have for just such occasions. The rates they gave me were highway robbery but I wasn't in much of a position to negotiate. Anyway, I made it to my hotel and had a very good night's sleep.
After wandering around a bit, I am very happy to be here. They have fresh squeezed fruit juice for next to nothing, food stalls with scrumptious looking asian dishes and all of the hustle and bustle of a third world big city. Plus, I'm walking around in shorts and t-shirt again and still hot! It's good to be back in the developing world.
New pictures in the gallery.
So I've been in Sydney just over a week now, staying on Bondi Beach at a place called Tama House. It's a bit of a backpacker flophouse but at $100 AUS a week, it's way more affordable than most backpacker hostels in Sydney. Not to mention, it's right on the ocean with some incredible views of the turquoise waters of Bronte Beach. It reminds me a bit of Santa Monica here, a beach community on the outskirts of a big city. It's winter right now, so it gets pretty chilly relatively speaking. It's still nice and sunny but it's not quite the shorts and t-shirt weather that I've grown accustomed to farther up north and it gets downright cold in the evenings. Nothing to complain about by most standards, but I must say I'm looking forward to returning to the tropics.
I've got a flight on Sunday going to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I was planning on flying to Bali, but it seemed easier and cheaper to fly to Malaysia and I can always catch a ferry from there to Indonesia. One of the issues that's reared its ugly head once again is a requirement for an onward ticket. According to most travel agents I've dealt with, every country you fly into requires you to have a flight ticket to leave the country as well. I've had travel agents say that they cannot sell me a one way ticket without a visa in hand. Yet I find that when I call the consulate of the country in question, they generally tell me that it's not an absolute requirement and that as long as I can be convincing that I do intend on leaving the country, then generally there's no hassle. Indonesia is one of the countries, however, that I've seen firsthand reports of people getting hassled about this so I thought I wouldn't chance it there. So far it seems as long as I can find one country in the region that I can safely fly into, then it's usually not a problem to travel over land or by boat to all the countries in the region. Hopefully this strategy will continue to work for me.
So I'm off to SouthEast Asia. Although I've been travelling for six months so far, in many ways this seems like just the beginning of the journey for me. These will be the first countries that have a radically different culture, language, and lifestyle than that of my own. Also, to my relief, they will be generally less developed countries, which means that prices will be much more affordable and there will be much less paranoia of lawsuits, meaning you can actually take responsibility for your own safety and not have some tour guide constantly holding your hand. I've gotta say, the money issue is one thing that's probably holding me back from enjoying Australia and especially Sydney to it's fullest. There's heaps of things that I'd love to do and restaurants I'd like to try and activities to do, but when I compare the costs to what I know the costs will be like in places down the line, it's hard to justify - which is why it will be a big relief finally getting to some of those places that I've been holding out for.
It looks like I might have a couple months of solid work lined up for next month. So I'm thinking I might try and find somewhere nice near the beach, rent a house, and settle down for a bit. Sounds like bliss to me. I've really enjoyed my travels so far but they've been almost non-stop, staying in any one place for a week or two tops. It would be really nice to have a place to call my own and develop a bit of a routine, get to know some of the locals perhaps, and at the same time be able to go off and explore at my leisure. I've been travelling with a British guy that has been to Thailand numerous times and he reckons that Krabi in Thailand might be the perfect place to do that, so I think I might go check it out there.
Before I've had a chance to post this entry, the shit hit the fan in terms of the whole onward flight thang. My last night in Australia was quite a big one, partying it up with friends, as you do. So I wasn't in the best of shape heading to the airport but somehow or another I made it. After waiting in the checkin line for about an hour, I finally get to the checkin agent. He asks about my onward ticket and I told him that I had phoned the consulate and they had told me it's not absolutely necessary as long as I had sufficient funds. Unfortunately, the agent's computer told him otherwise. He told me that they can't let me on the plane without an onward ticket. After frantically running around and speaking to various lackeys, I determined that there was indeed no way they were going to let me on without an onward ticket. I briefly investigated buying a ticket there at the airport but they told me that the only people that could sell me one was Qantas and I knew that I would get reamed for it, not to mention that time was ticking for my plane's departure. So I decided to regroup, head back to Sydney, and try and find a cheap ticket online. Fortunately, everything seems to have worked out OK. My ticket to Malaysia includes one free date change, they have flights almost every day, and I was able to find a ticket from Kuala Lumpur to Hatyai in Thailand for US $40 on Air Asia. I had booked another flight on the same airline for US $10 because it said Singapore next to the name of the city (some crazy Asian name which I can't recall). After paying for the ticket I decided to verify that the city was indeed in Singapore and of course it turned out that the city is right next to Singapore but still within Malaysia. Oh well, there goes another $10 down the drain. At least I did decide to check into that. All in all, this little hiccup cost me another $100 or so but it could have been a lot worse. It's funny, though, the only proof I have of my onward flight is a printout of my itinerary and the flight lasts all of 15 minutes. I briefly flirted with the idea of getting creative and inventing my own itinerary but for $40 it's really not worth it. I'd rather not get on the wrong side of Malaysian customs and immigration people. So anyway, I head back to the airport tomorrow and with any luck I will be in Asia by tomorrow night. Cross your fingers for me.