Shoddy sunblock & a 42 hour journey


Our train to KL

It’s just before seven am, and our train is currently shuffling it’s way through the suburbs of Kuala Lumpur. We’ve been travelling for two days without a break now, and we’ll be pleased to finally get there!

Since we last slept in proper beds, we’ve taken four ferries, three minibuses, a coach, and two sleeper trains. Its been quite a journey!

Our final couple of days at Koh Lanta were spent enjoying the sun and dodging the occasional torrential downpour. Running out of the sun lotion we’d brought with us, and keen to save a few pennies, we thought we’d take the chance to try the non-branded sun lotion. Oh how wrong we were!

At half the price of the Nivea, and SPF 25, we went for ‘body moisturising lotion’. It was only while we were on the way out for the day that we realised it wasn’t water resistant, which isn’t exactly ideal when then planned activity is snorkelling. The thick cream was more the consistency of white emulsion paint than what we’re used to, but we went for it and after a day of being a primed canvas for the red of the sun’s rays, and feeling somewhat crisper than intended, we decided we should get something else for the rest of our time on the beach.

Next up, coconut oil lotion, SPF 20, of much better consistency, and with a great tropical smell. We spent a little over an hour lying in the morning sun covered in the stuff, before the distinct smell of something frying. Bacon for breakfast? Oh, hang on… We hastily retreated into the safety of our bungalow to face the reality that we’d effectively basted ourselves in cooking oil and then rotated under the solar heat like a sunday roast. We’d been conned for a second time – there was no SPF in this lotion, despite the claims of the packaging, but at least I can reliably tell you that chicken and coconut go well together.

So it was with some reluctance that we returned for a third time, to buy Nivea sun lotion. Expensive? Yes! Worth it? We’ll let you know once the sunburn has died down enough for us to brave the sun!
Yesterday we left Thailand after a couple of fun but rushed weeks trying to take in as much as we could. The few things we’ve seen make it stand out as a much more developed place than elsewhere we’ve been, with all the trappings of a modern capitalist society along with the wats and pagodas. Seven-Eleven stores are ubiquitous and practically on every street corner; Bangkok even has British chains like Boots and Tesco (branded Tesco Lotus). Thailand also seems to have a surprisingly progressive (or nanny state, depending on whether you’re a smoker) attitude towards cigarettes. Most indoor spaces are non-smoking, a far cry from elsewhere. Cigarette packets are covered in the most off-putting photos imaginable of the consequences of smoking, and in a precursor to the restrictions due to come into place in the UK, then cigarette packets cannot be displayed at the point of sale, instead being hidden behind a screen. Even some city parks are actually smoke free, something I can’t imagine ever taking hold back home!

Curiously, Thailand also seems to have an obsession with pipes. Absolutely everywhere, pipes seem to sprout from the pavement or floor to offer up a meter or a stopcock. I know I risk coming across as an obsessed plumber, but we haven’t seen this elsewhere – at every opportunity, there are pipes and dials and taps. I don’t know why, and I’m going to pass up the opportunity for some elaborate metaphor about control or austerity.


Meters and pipes on the pavement

When Laura came to Thailand a few years ago, she came back with the feeling she hadn’t met a single Thai that wasn’t welcoming and friendly. The same goes for our recent experience. Perhaps we’ve just been lucky, but there’s a rare warmth of character and natural friendliness that we’ve tended to find is sometimes replaced by greed in the other places we’ve been to that are quite so tourist savvy.

This should have been the train to Malaysia...

We were due to take the train all the way into Butterworth, Malaysia before changing onto the KL-bound one we’re now on. Unfortunately, the plan came a cropper early yesterday morning due to either a lack of water on the train (according to the first excuse), or, more likely, a landslide. It meant we ended up being minibussed to the border before being escorted across by railway officials and then onto a luxury coach. The way they handled it matched the exemplary approach we’ve found everywhere here, with a level of organisation that the rail replacement buses of the UK can certainly learn from! The buses were waiting for us, they were quick, and there were plenty of uniformed personnel at each step. It was annoying not to cross the border by train, but great to have our opinions of Thai professionalism reinforced as we were leaving.



The Malaysian border