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Bon Ton Animal Shelter

The Bon Ton animal shelter, located on the Duty-free island of Langkawi originally started in Kuala Lumpur over 20 years ago.  There, a restaurant/hotel owner and animal lover began a shelter and several years later moved the operation to Langkawi.  The shelter consists of several parts.  One is the retirement ward where over 60 dogs spend the remainder of their lives in spacious yards or in the owners home and are tended to carefully and lovingly by full-time staff members.  The second part is located at a different location near the base of the mountains of Langkawi where over 70 dogs are looked after by full-time staff.  The last is also located at the Bon Ton Resort and they are the “regular” shelter dogs.  Over 50 young to middle-aged (or even old dogs who think they are still young such as 16-year old Nemo) dogs call the shelter home and are walked daily by volunteers and have play-time or social time in the afternoons.

The volunteer program is organized by another avid animal lover volunteer of over 10 years, Dorothy, who is a resident of Langkawi and joins in on the morning walks daily.  There are of course other staff members who assist in the cleaning and general caring of the shelter dogs and over 100 cats there as well.  For with so many animals, it would be impossible not to have staff on board!!  While volunteers help with walking dogs, feeding, general cleaning when needed and play time in the afternoons, the staff concentrate on deep cleaning the dog and cat shelters daily and assist in the clinic when a vet is present.

Though I’d only really had one other experience volunteering at an animal shelter, I will say that volunteering at the Bon Ton animal shelter, well it was like the gold standard or 5 star of shelters!  Why do I say this?  Simply because of the standards of care given by the staff to the animals and the way that volunteers are treated.  Accommodations are provided for, daily meals are taken care of, and even one meal weekly from the restaurant is provided!  And let me tell you, the Bon Ton restaurant food is absolutely delicious!!!  To this day I’m still missing their steaks with mashed potatoes in balsamic gravy!!  Accommodations included a bed, private bath with HOT water (almost fainted hearing this), TV (what???) with a DVD player (pinch me now!!).

But of course all this came with actual work.  Six days a week, from 9:45am (sometimes 9am depending on need) until 6pm (lunch break of course provided) we worked with the dogs and cats.  Feeding, walking, cleaning, playing, bathing, constructing new shelter bits, raking yards, putting up new fencing, etc, etc.  The work in my opinion wasn’t difficult, and because I was there for the animals, it didn’t really matter to me how long the work days were.  In fact, there were several times that I or other volunteers worked well past the 6pm mark, but it was all for the animals.  And as animal lovers know, animals know no time!  They are 24/7 responsibilities who in return offer the most amazing and purest of love.

I ended up staying at the Bon Ton Animal Shelter for about 2 months in total.  During my time there I also learned about a horse stable on the island that also allowed volunteers to come help, so I ended up moving there for a couple of weeks, then returned to Bon Ton for the last few days I was on the island.  Then sadly had to say my goodbyes for good and had to head to Kuala Lumpur, then out of the country as my 3 month visa was coming close to expiring.

Volunteering at the Bon Ton animal shelter was an amazing experience.  The loving care provided to the animals by staff and volunteers made the experience so very rich.  I look forward to returning there when time permits and miss the animals (and people of course who I think of as family) daily!!

On to Reunited with Horses

Back to Malaysia

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Duty-Free Langkawi

I finally left Thailand via ferry from the Tammalang Port at Satun and about an hour and a half later was greeted into the Northernmost island in the Andaman sea of Malaysia, called Langkawi.  After clearing customs I grabbed a cab for the T-Star hotel in Cenang.

During the 40 minute cab ride my driver informed me of some interesting facts about the island.  According to him,  Langkawi was barely visible on the map of tourism and tourists until the 70’s when the Prime Minister declared the island Duty Free.  Since then, Langkawi has skyrocketed as a hot spot for tourism (loads of tours from feeding eagles to snorkeling are available) and shopaholics looking for the best deals on booze, makeup, chocolate, perfumes, etc.

Another tidbit he shared with me was that the population on the island was about 85% muslim, 10% Indian and the rest a mix of Chinese, Expats, and Europeans.  After having been in Thailand for so long with diversity in foods only being available in larger cities, Langkawi was a breath of fresh air on that front with a large variety of cuisine choices to choose from.  Of course they also had traditional Malay foods, which consist of rice, fish, chicken and lots of vegetable varieties.  The foods are generally a bit spicy (though not as spicy as Thailand) and their national meal is Nasi Lemak, which is a rice dish cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaf 🙂

I went to Langkawi with one specific goal in mind: to check out the animal shelter on the island and see if they needed volunteers.  T-Star, my chosen hotel for the week was an absolutely delightful place and only about a 45 minute walk to the shelter.  Every day, at least twice a day troops of the macaque monkeys came through the hotel leaping from balcony to balcony in search of any sort of food.  There were signs everywhere to beware of things left on the balcony as they may be snatched and for good reason because those little guys were fast in snatching things!!

The day after I arrived I started my wander toward the animal shelter to check it out.  I was a bit confused about it at first because online they seemed somehow located at a hotel resort, which didn’t make a ton of sense until I got there and learned the story.  The Bon Ton resort, located next to The Temple Tree hotel is owned and operated by an animal lover.  The owner started both hotels and the restaurants attached to them and uses moneys from the hotel and restaurant to fund an animal shelter located just in front of the resorts.  There, over 100 dogs and over 100 cats find shelter and a loving home.

I arrived a little after 10am and chatted with the volunteer coordinator, Dorothy, and began the next day doing half days at first (since I was walking 5 km there and 5 back daily).  Morning activities consisted of taking over 50 dogs for walks around the hotel grounds with fellow volunteers, then picking up after them and finally serving them lunch, which consisted of rice cooked in beef broth with chunks of beef and a variety of vegetables, all prepared FRESH daily by the restaurant chef!!

So for the first week I walked to and from my hotel to help walk the doggies in the morning, then spent my afternoons trying out new restaurants in the area and walking along the Cenang beach.  As my week started to come to an end, it turned out that one of the Nepalese workers for the shelter had to go back home, so I was asked if I wanted to stay in one of the volunteer rooms so I could help with full-day activities along with the other 2 full-time volunteers.  I agreed and moved in to my new accommodations (complete with 2 yard dogs, John and Mummy) and began full day activities.  Of course, though I’d only planned at first for a month there, it quickly turned into two:)

On to Bon Ton Animal Shelter

Back to Malaysia

Ko Muk (Mook)

While getting to Koh Ngai (Hai) was easy and cheap, leaving the island was a very different story!  Since it was low season (therefore very little traffic to and from the island except on tour boats that would take you back to Ko Lanta) the opportunities to leave the island were very limited.  Basically it all came down to “if and when” a local taxi boat operator wanted to take us to the next island .  And the price was not cheap either… Of course they could basically charge whatever they wanted (despite our attempts to negotiate) because hey, it’s an island.  You got here, but if you want to get off you’re gonna have to pay what they say to pay or not leave at all!

So it was one semi-stormy mid-afternoon that we decided to head out for Koh Mook (Muk) at the not so bargain price of 1500 baht.  It was just Anna and I so of course the price was pumped a bit. Had there been more people going it would have been cheaper for the individual, obviously.  Funnily enough however we did spot an older couple with a younger child who had arrived on the island in the morning and wondered whether they were staying or going on to Koh Muk.  Neither myself nor Anna were brave enough to approach them to ask whether they were staying or going, but as it turned out, they were on their way to Koh Muk, so had we asked them we could have possibly gotten a cheaper ride there… In any event…

We loaded up on our private longtail taxi boat and headed out on the stormy sea.  The two crew men (brothers- one driver, one look-out) were chatty and quite entertaining as we headed into what originally looked like a calm enough sea.  Pah-ah-ti (wrong spelling but phonetically sound and means “sun” in Thai) was the older and more “experienced driving boats” brother.  When we set out he said his younger brother needed more practice in rougher seas, so he let him drive first, but “not to worry, if the sea gets really bad I will take over”…   The closer we got into the open sea, no longer that sheltered from the neighboring islands, the rougher it got.  Anna wasn’t feeling so hot, but I didn’t mind it so much until Pah-ah-ti climbed from the front to the back to take over driving… Not a good sign!!  The waves got larger and more turbulent.  Sea water splashed over the sides and we were often hit with sea spray from the sides and front of the boat as it crashed into the oncoming waves.  A couple of times it was a bit worrisome (especially when the engine noise of the boat suddenly changed to include an ominous clanking noise) but eventually we made it to the north side of the island and banked onshore.

The motor on the boat was killed and Pah-ah-ti hopped out with us to help us ask whether there was any accommodations available there.  Being low season there too however, all the accommodations were closed and we were directed to go to the east side of the island to Coco Lodge.  Back in the boat we went, however when the engine went to start, well, it didn’t… The brothers fussed over it for 10-15 minutes (mostly by simply hitting the side of the motor with a wrench) until deciding there was something very wrong with the engine and that they would need a mechanic.  Thankfully the engine died when on land and not in the middle of the ocean when the odd noises started coming from it!  And thankfully it was low tide at the time, so Pah-ah-ti, Anna and myself were able to walk (with bags in tow) around the edges of the island, through the sea gypsy village and over to Coco’s Lodge.

Pah-ah-ti bid his farewells and headed further into town to get parts for the boat while Anna and I settled into Coco Lodge.  Now, throughout my travels in Thailand I had stayed at many very nice and cozy places that were also very cheap .  But none had even come close to the quaintness, comfort, style and class that we found at Coco’s Lodge.  The owner and his wife were unbelievably accommodating and the individual bamboo huts were immaculate and very comfortable.

I’m going to have to side track for a bit here just to further sing the praises of Coco’s Lodge.  The location (right on the beach and a 5 minute walk to the pier) was superb.  The food in their restaurant was absolutely delicious (from the massaman curry to the fruit pancakes for breakfast).  When it rained (which was quite often during our time there) the owner or his wife would come around to the bungalows and offer us umbrellas.  A cleaning staff cleaned our room EVERY DAY (something I hadn’t encountered anywhere else in Thailand).  All palm trees located above each bungalow were completely bare of coconuts, so none could fall on the roofs!  The beds were the most comfortable I’d ever slept on.  The rooms themselves had touches of personal details (like seashells lovingly placed in the bathrooms as decoration) that made the place feel like home.  The ever-increasing number of dogs that decided to live there during our stay were all friendly and lovable and while none actually belonged to the place, they would still give them food scraps from left over dishes.  Any time Anna and I were chilling for a long period of time in the restaurant after eating (due to adverse weather and not much else to do) board and card games were offered to us for entertainment.  In other words, just about anything and everything one could imagine needing in a place was offered there!  And all of this hospitality came at only 500 baht per night!!  It blew me away!  I 100% recommend Coco’s Lodge for anyone looking to travel to Koh Muk!!

Moving on however, the main reason Anna and I picked Koh Muk as our next island stay was so we could visit the famed Emerald cave.  Though we stayed on the island for the remaining time that Anna was able to visit (then I stayed on myself for another several days after she departed for Scotland) we never actually made it to the Emerald cave.  This was NOT because we were too drunk or hung over to, but rather because the weather never cooperated and none of the tours were running there.  See, to get to the Emerald cave, the tides have to be just right (low) and then you have to swim with a guide 80 meters through a cave until you reach the other end (the Emerald lake).  So with all the stormy weather we had daily, even with the tides being low, it just wasn’t safe to swim through the cave and visit the lake… Or perhaps lagoon would be a better description?  In any event, we did still enjoy our time there walking the island to the various points, enjoying cocktails on the beach (of course!) or just chilling at our bungalow, playing games and hanging with the dogs.

The island itself I will say was quite a conundrum.  It too had been hit by a tsunami years ago and while some parts of the island had recovered nicely, other more inland parts were very shabby and trashy.  One sea village a bit inland in particular had feet upon feet of trash piled under the homes (luckily on stilts) with seemingly no efforts or cares to clean up.  I will admit when we first arrived on the island, neither myself nor Anna were really sure we liked the place.  But alas, it grew on us.  And while we still marveled as to why no efforts were put (in some areas) into cleaning the place up, I guess it just became part of the character of the island that eventually you just overlook.  Last point, about Koh Muk: the beaches weren’t really all that to write home about.  This may have been due to the bad weather stirring up the ocean waters so they didn’t look clear, but also there were some areas where there were warnings about strong currents.  So needless to say not much swimming was really enjoyed while there.  Oh yea, and while there aren’t ANY ATMs on the island, there is one coffee shop that will allow you to withdraw money for a 7% (or maybe it was 10…) fee.  So just be sure you bring enough cash for your stay there!!

Sadly, it was time for Anna to get back on to mainland Thailand and head to Bangkok to get home, while I stayed on several more days catching up on blogging about our trip so far.  My next destination: Ko Lipe!

P.S. As some may notice, most all pictures were taken on one of the ONLY sunny days there, lol!

On to The Beauty of Koh Lipe

Back to Thailand

Loch Lomond (Conic Hill)

Though there was lots of drinking throughout my trip to Scotland (and Glasgow was no exception) I was at least countering some of the calories I was ingesting via beer in the form of hikes!  As Anna is also a big fan of hiking, we set off for Loch Lomond to take on Conic Hill!!!  Markie also joined us for the day of fun!! 🙂

Now, while we are fans of hiking and walking in general, we aren’t necessarily the most organized of people… Real hard-core hikers are prepared in advance.  They pack the necessities, make sure they have the right shoes, get up at the rear of dawn to make it to their destination so they can get in a good hike before lunch.  Yea…. this was not us at all!!  We woke around 10, made our way out of the house maybe around noon?? Left in jeans and random everyday-use sneakers. Then went to get Markie, headed to Conic Hill to climb the “mountain” (it’s really just a hill!!) got some candy bars and some water at the little store at the base of the hill, then headed on up!  Actually, had it been completely up to Markie, we would have just stayed at the base where there was a little restaurant and had some whiskey and beer instead of climbing at all (he was like “you were serious about hiking??” lol!!).  So after convincing him that yes, we really were going for a hike, we headed off!

Though again we kept calling our hike “a hike up a mountain” it literally was just a hill.  The climb was not tough or really that steep, just cold and quite windy at the top!!  The more movement we made though the warmer I felt (of course from circulating the blood) but the second we would stop, I would freeze!!  It only took about 45 minutes to get to the top at a very leisurely and relaxed pace.  The view from the top was splendid as you could see all across the Loch and each of the little islands in the Loch.  Sadly, that particular Loch is quite popular for parties in the summer and such… I say sadly because apparently there are a lot of deaths that occur in that Loch due to people getting too drunk, then getting on their boats or trying to swim or what have you… And because of the currents/depth/clarity/size of the Loch, it’s more like people just go missing… The bodies aren’t always found:(  In fact, not that long before we were there, a news report had come out that a foot had washed ashore on one of the beaches on the Loch… Joy!!  It was thought to be from a case years before of a child that had apparently drown, but the body was never found…

Another interesting thing to note about Loch Lomond for those seriously into hiking and camping out during hikes… It is the start of the West Highlandway which is a 4-5 day walking camp route!!  It is quite a popular route and in fact even as we were coming down off the Hill, we passed several younger people with their backpacks, yoga mats and wee tents strapped to them.  Obviously they were off to tackle the West Highlandway!

For sure had it been actually warm weather I could see being interested in doing something like that… But you all already know how much of a complete wimp I am in the cold!!  Good times!  In any event, once we made it back down, to reward ourselves we just had to stop in for a pint and some whiskey to warm up!!  Since Anna was driving though, she could only have coffee… poor thing!!  Don’t worry though, she caught up to us later that evening once we ditched the car! 🙂  We hung out for a couple of hours enjoying our beverages then headed back to town for the evening festivities!

Almost forgot!  On the way back we actually stopped in to visit with Anna’s dad for a few moments where we were scoffed at each time we called “Conic Hill” a “mountain” 😉  Obviously we were trying to sound tougher than we actually were and her dad knew better!!  Lol!!!

On to Lochgoilhead

Back to Glasgow

Back to United Kingdom

Necropolis & Heelers

While there are lots of place to wander around and sight see in Glasgow (Buchanan Street for shopping, the Royal Exchange Square where the statue of the Duke of Wellington somehow always has a street traffic cone on his head, George Square which is the principal civic square and is named after King George III, the Clydesdale Amateur Rowing Club where we met Anna’s friends then went for drinks at West nearby, and the People’s Palace and Winter Garden which boasts the World’s largest terra-cotta fountain out back!) perhaps my favorite was the Necropolis…

I’ve always enjoyed a good cemetery, and this one was not disappointing!  It literally went on forever!!  One could seriously spend the entire day trying to see all the tombs and plots!!  I’m just kicking myself for not having brought my camera though!!  While not every tombstone was hugely impressive, there was one of a person who was obviously involved in theater that still sticks in my mind… His tombstone was so well decorated and huge!!  It literally looked like you were in the audience of a theater ready to watch a show!  The curtains were drawn, you could see the side balcony areas where the seats for the wealthy were located.  There were the classic faces of comedy and tragedy adorning the top, and a lovely and lively poem written across the curtain… Like I said, it was really impressive because even though I didn’t have my camera, I still remember those details today!

I was joined at the Necropolis by two of Anna’s friends, Davie and Markie.  Anna had to work that day so she gave me her phone and I ended up making plans with Markie to meet in town and go to the Necropolis.  Davie just happened to be joining, but it was just as well because though he has lived in Glasgow for a long while (he may actually have been born there) and he had been to the very lovely church nearby the Necropolis, he had never actually been to the Necropolis!!  Funny how we never take advantage of our surroundings where we live…  It’s the same with me too though, I’m not any better for when I was living in Costa Rica, even though I was literally across the street from the beach, I actually went to the beach maybe a dozen times a month!!  Terrible, I know!  But you all know what I’m talking about!!

Anyway, the rest of that particular day was spent wandering around Glasgow on foot.  We ended up walking past Davie’s house so he was dropped off there and Markie and I continued our tour.  We came across a little park where there was an older gentlemen and three blue heelers (aka Australian cattle dogs).  It was obviously a training session and it was by far one of the coolest things I’ve seen!!  You could tell immediately which of the three dogs was the most experienced and which was the least… They were all in a large field, the older man standing on one end, the three dogs laying side by side down a way from the old man.  Suddenly the man would shout out a command and a name and one of the dogs would shoot up on all fours, race around in a large circle, then come to a resting crouch in front of the man.  The same command was called with another of the dog’s name and off he/she went!  Finally the last would be called (the least experienced) and often times during his/her turn the command would have to be called several times or she would have to do it again, lol!!  It was just so amazing!!  With no leashes, lines, treats, gimmicks, etc, these three dogs were at absolute attention and focus!  It was obvious they enjoyed their tasks and I believe that the more experienced dogs were really the ones helping to train the less experienced dog!  It was just such a treat for me to watch these dogs in action!  I was in complete awe!!!  Needless to say those dogs and their training session were gaining quite the audience from people walking by!!

On to Loch Lomond (Conic Hill)

Back to Glasgow

Back to United Kingdom