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Christmas is the time for the family - and after so much time being far away from the relatives, we celebrate this Christmas fully-hearted! The Christmas-tree is bigger than usual, the mountain of presents under it as well ... and after five hours of Christmas-dinner we know for sure: we are back in Paris!
After spending the festive days with the family, we try to continue our travelling a bit. The last days of the year we wander through Paris and discover the city with new eyes: Sacré-Coeur, Notre Dame, ... monuments around every corner!
And finally it is time to celebrate the dawn of the New Year. To the feet of the possibly most famous symbol of France - the Eiffel Tower - we greet the year 2004 and wish that it may be as full of happenings as the last one!
We are quite moved this morning at 5 am, having European ground under our feet for the first time since 20 months. We say "Bonjour" to France - and to the arrival committee that welcomes us: family and friends came to give us a spectacular surprise!
Just like the first hour, we spend the rest of the day meeting friends and family from near and far ... the champagne replaces the tap water! The culture-shock is nearly as big as the temperature-shock, but the joy is even bigger!
Kuala Lumpur welcomes us - for the fourth and last time on this trip and once again we fall under the spell of this magnificent metropole. The end of our visit to Asia comes closer to its end and we spend a week with organising our leaving, the shipment of our car and with dealing with the call of the many shopping centres around us ...
The evenings we spend on the crowded streets and every time we enjoy new tastes of the mouth-watering Malaysian cuisine. But the time passes and we finally take a last picture ... Bye, Bye, KL ! Bye, Bye, Malaysia ! Bye, Bye, Asia!
After more than three month away we return to Malaysia, the country we like so much. Once again we are astonished by the friendliness of the people and their chaotic way of driving!
This time we explore a new region: the north-east of the peninsula, primarily known for its small island Penang. As an important harbour for the trade, the islands was important already before colonial times - just like Singapore and Melaka. Still today we find many traces of the past in this trade- and holiday-paradise: British, Chinese, Indian and Malaysian people call it their home since a long time.
With too little time and a bit nostalgic we cross Thailand from North to South: 2,000 kilometres from Chiang Mai to Hat Yai at the border of Malaysia. Many hours of driving during which we recognise the diversity of Thailand: the coolness of the mountains makes place for the warmth of the central plains. Here the new rice grows already on some fields while on others the rice is just being harvested.
Further down south, we cross the Isthmus of Kra, the narrowest stretch of Thailand. Only 53 kilometres of land part the two oceans on its western and eastern side - and in between is a small river, for the moment the only barrier between us and Myanmar. But we driver on ... heading towards Phuket, the "Holiday Paradise". We avoid the town itself (suddenly there are more "Whites" than "Thai") but enjoy the beaches of the area: coconut palms over turquoise waters and white sand!
The closer we are to Malaysia, the more the culture changes: suddenly there are more mosques than temples, the women wear scarves instead of shorts - and the traffic gets more chaotic!
East of Chiang Mai mountains rise up - the same range that stretches over to China and Tibet. Here they are all covered in dense jungle and rise only up to 2,500 metres, but we are impressed nevertheless by their beauty. Just like our car that carries us up and down one thousand metres in an hourly rhythm ...
One week we spend exploring these mountains which are home to a variety of ethnic groups: the so-called hilltribes Karen, Lahu, Lisu, Lu-Mien, Akha and Hmong try to make a living here by planting rice, vegetables and - most of all - Poppy (in which they are the best). As the Thai government fights against the deforestation as well as against drugs, these tribes might face a serious change of their living in the future. Most of them immigrated within the past two centuries from Laos and Myanmar and live in Thailand their very own way of life. Their own religions, their own languages and - the most visible for us - their own traditional costumes, colourful and richly ornamented.
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