The Strategic Retreat

From Krabi to Kuala Lumpur, the short version

rotted ship and motorboat in krabi

I’ve been sick recently and haven’t been posting. In doing so I lost much of the momentum I had gained over the last few weeks, both in terms of writing on a consistent schedule and in keeping new readers from recent popular articles. No big deal but once I get back to normality I’m going to write up a few articles to tuck away so I won’t have posting gaps in the future.

This is the closest thing I have to a tucked away article; an e-mail I sent to my friend Chris after traveling from Krabi, Thailand to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in August of 2013. At this point in time I had been traveling for 3 weeks, 1 week in Scotland and 2 weeks in Thailand. I had 3 t-shirts, 2 pairs of shorts, 3 pairs of underwear and a camera. I had arrived in Bangkok 2 weeks prior with no plan, no map and no reservations. I had 2 weeks to get to KL to meet a Canadian friend for a Modest Mouse concert that we weren’t positive was actually happening. I had traveled to the North of Thailand and back down again, my journey was over except for the formality of getting myself to KL.

One reason I’m posting this as it was written, an unedited e-mail, is because I want to compare it to the longer description I will be writing up later and to get feedback on the two different writing styles. The e-mail was written after an exhausting journey and left out many details. For example; there was no mention of the man in the first van hitting on me, that the second van was insanely decorated, or that the motorcycle driver was clearly just some random guy with a motorcycle. Those are some big plot points to leave out, and that’s just the first few sentences. Who knows, maybe this is too raw and poorly written to post, but this whole website is an experiment, so I’m doing it anyway.

E-mail:


“I’ve made it to KL! With 100 baht to spare no less. I’m finally at the hotel, and will be able to check in sometime after noon.

I left Krabi at 11am yesterday. A guy in a van came by my hotel. I gave him my receipt, he gave me nothing in return. He drove to a place outside of town where a woman put a sticker on me that said. “KL”. I got into another van. This van drove for 5 hours to Hat Yai. I rode shotgun.

van to hat yai

The van driver seemed lost and late. The van was full and everybody was being dropped off at different places. I’m assuming a fair amount here as nobody spoke English since I left the hotel.
The van driver pulls over, waves down a random motorcycle, says a few words to him. Hands him some cash and motions for me to get on the motorcycle. I do so and motorcycle-stranger drives me to some travel booking place. Speaks a few words to the woman and hands her some money. This woman then walks me to another place and does the same thing. I’m told to come back, 2 hours. When in Rome…

So, I kick it in Hat Yai for a few hours and return. Amazingly enough a bus shows up. Now, this isn’t exactly the VIP bus I was told I was getting but was roughly what I was expecting, as I booked this leg through my hotel purposely to see what this experience was like. Normally I booked everything else through government bus and rail.
Still, no English but I get on the bus. Dingier, no free food, water, movie but larger seats than the lower class Thai buses. Good enough. Make my way over the border, everything is smooth.

About 1am we hit a tree branch, or a tree, or something and the bus no longer has lights. We sit there for a long time, on the side of a highway. It’s raining. A tow truck shows up. Somebody says something in Thai, about 3 people get off the bus, I go to investigate. There’s a bus ahead of the tow-truck. It says Phucket to KL on the side. I grab my stuff and get on it. Find an empty seat in the back row. Seems legit. Take a nap.
Wake up to people getting off the bus, this doesn’t look right. Decide to stay on. 20 minutes later people getting off at a different stop. I know this part of town, I get off.

stripped car on jalang petaling in KL

I walk over to Jalan Petaling, tripping over homeless and cockroaches and stripped cars. It’s 6am and the sun isn’t out yet. I find stall 46. A little cart on the side of the road. My favorite duck in the world. I buy a duck. 2 shirtless homeless men stare at me the entire time. Eyes fixed. I walk to the LRT, take that to KL Sentral and from there Salak Tinggi.

Man with 4 eyes duck

Get to Salak Tinggi, about 8-10km from my hotel. No problem, I’m pretty sure I had found a 4km shortcut. Set off on my shortcut. Apparently, in Malaysia, big patches of green on a map mean dense jungle, not city park. Live and learn. I abandoned shortcut, take “the way”. “The way” doesn’t have sidewalks, becomes a highway. It doesn’t matter, no problem. I walk. a few kilometers and several worried Malays pulling over to offer advice(get a cab) later I find a highway side McDonald’s. I get a set breakfast, sausage egg McMuffin and a tea. 5 ringgit. I haven’t eaten since Trang. It was amazing.

I see some cab drivers outside, changing a tire. I ask if I could get a ride a few kilometers down the road, maybe I can find a sidewalk. They want to charge me 30 ringgits! I’m not made of ringgits. I say no. They ask where I came from. There are no sidewalks, remember, and I couldn’t have just manifested here. There’s no legit way to get where I’m standing other than by motorized vehicle. I say I walked from train station, which they know how far it is and what the road is like. I am now refreshed and have eaten. I don’t need no stinkin cab. Which they now realize. We settle on 10 ringgits. Still, a couple more ringgits than the meter would charge but a fair compromise. I don’t want to overplay my hand. I am on the side of a highway in a foreign country after all.
And that was the one time I took a cab this trip.

Here I am at the YouniQ hotel, waiting for check-in around noon and Rena around 6. The perfect time to take a nap, if not for my plug adapters being stolen in Thailand. It’s always something.
High hopes, mild adventures, a bit of a tan and a lot of walking. That was what my SE asian adventure has been about. I’m one shower and a change of clothes from feeling like a million bucks.”

feet tan thailand

I hope to crank out the long version this week. There will be added characters and insights. But, I wanted to post something today and that’s the closest thing I had on hand to a pre-written story.

About Jeff Penman

Jeff was born in the back of a War Game Store on the day the first Star Trek movie came out, to a computer programmer mother and a father who wrote the story for Dragon's Lair. Jeff has an MBA, a CSM, and a penchant for sticking his nose where it doesn't belong.