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Returning to Southeast Asia

For 11 years, P.A.E.'s Brian Saunders lived and sold boats in Southeast Asia. It was a wonderful time for him where he grew to love the land, the people and the customs of the area. Now for the first time in two decades - as a crewmember of Leg 2 - he finds himself back in familiar territory. Unfortunately, because of the nature of the ATW trip, Saunders will only get a taste of his past experiences in the Malay Peninsula and the Gulf of Thailand. Here are some of his thoughts.

"Nordhavn's" brief stopover in Phuket on February 4 and subsequent departure toward the Indian Ocean has been a thrill and has stirred so many memories for me. After all, my reason for coming here in the first place - back in the 1980s - was the boat business…plus I am a fan of Somerset Maughan and a great adventurer at heart. I wanted to see the rubber plantations, feel the life they had on the Malay Peninsula, ride elephants, smell the cooking fires, taste the curries and their other wonderful foods.

Cruising up the Malay coast is exciting. The area is full of history, with lots of terrific places to stop. You can safely anchor at a small yacht club - the Perak in Lumut - and enjoy the company of other yachties or locals. I would jump off the boat, take a bus and then a taxi to the Cameron Highlands. It's a three-hour trip to the tea-growing area in this cooler highland part of Malaysia. Decades ago, this is where the English summered to avoid the heat and humidity, prior to air conditioning. There's wonderful walking and hiking with very large Tudor-style homes surrounding each hill. They are now owned and maintained by large banks and corporations for their employees to use.

Other times I would go to watch laborers harvest latex from rubber tree plantations. They cut the tree on a 45-degree angle, letting it's sap drip into a ceramic cup or half a coconut and then come back by 6 or 7 p.m. to collect and process.

Awakening at dawn to go see how they harvest tea and rubber - to really experience this culture - is what cruising is all about. Sunsets are early. You have a half-hour of twilight and then night is upon you with its beautiful smells of Asian foods being prepared. Dine on board or at a different place each night, drink a cold beer, then sit back and listen to the Malay jungle with all its great sounds before retiring to bed.

The romance of it all…oh, for the time to be able to enjoy all this again.

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