Tuesday, 31 December 2013

2013 - 2014

2013
The year I travelled abroad on my own for the first time, the year I ventured through some stunning areas of south east Asia and turned 40 whilst there, away from the UK. A year that will be 13 hours shorter for me than any of my previous full years spent upon this planet.

I lie here in New Zealand waiting for midnight to come and bring with it 2014 and I wonder where I go from here. This year I did things I never thought I would do, met people I'll never forget (unless I get dementia)  and had experiences that have changed not only the way I see the things around me, but also the way I see myself. But that last bit could just be a dodgy mirror.

But all good things must come to an end I guess. So far my time in New Zealand hasn't been all I wanted it to be and I see some of the negativity that had dogged me in my recent past starting to find it's way back. I guess that's something I will need to address again in 2014, but at least I will have a little more time to. Another 13 hours ontop of the 365 days infact, assuming I end that year in Blighty.

So as I watch my money dwindle and try to focus on how I can top this year with the next, all that is left for me to do for now is wish the old friends I miss, new friends I've met and anyone who has taken time to read any of these poorly written blog entries all the best for the coming year. I hope that's enough for some.

Please feel free to send me a message, if you're really unlucky you might even get a reply.

You have been warned :-)

jraitken@btinternet.com


Friday, 27 December 2013

Singapore to China - New Zealand - 6th - 7th December 2013

At 4am I finished up my coffee, wrapped up my messages and went up for a long shower to wake myself and freshen up ready for the day ahead. By 4:45am I was back downstairs dressed in long comfy jeans running a final check on my bags and re-organising things in my hand luggage, ensuring that I had additional injection pens and needles available to cover any losses or breaks should they occur in transit. a note pad and pen to complete any forms required en route, along with my passport, completed Singapore exit card and details of my flights. At 5am I left the InnCrowd hostel and walked out onto Dunlop Street and immediately managed to flag down a cab to take me to the Airport.

The taxi ride took about 20 minutes and once inside the terminal I joined the short queue for my flight and checked in my luggage which weighed at just over 17kg, well under my flight allowance. "Kelly" the lady who was dealing with my check in also asked me whether I wanted window or aisle seats for my forthcoming flights which was the easiest question of the day. The first flight was only going to be relatively short, the second flight however was going to be more of an endurance test at 11 hours and its on these long ones where its much more beneficial to be able to get out your seat at your pleasure and have a wander, use the toilet or access the overhead locker than any lure of being able to look out the window at a bendy wing at night, so "aisle" it was. Kelly also informed me that she had given me a seat with extra leg room due to me being be being quite "large". I took it she meant tall rather than anything kinky or abusive. As it turns out the promised extra space never materialised anyway. On both flights I was afforded the same space as almost everyone else. I think the pilots may have had more but I wasn't allowed in to check.

Clearing security at Singapore took no time at all and I was soon was sat having a breakfast and coffee waiting for boarding time to arrive, I also took the time to peruse the duty free area and picked up a mobile battery pack for my phone as it had fallen flat a couple of days over the last couple of months, especially when using the GPS.. The packaging was discarded immediately in order for the pack to fit snugly into my hand luggage with the minimum of effort.

The first flight departed on time and at 8am my journey through Asia came to an end. The plane was small and pokey, the seats were hard and the ride was rough but I managed to sleep for a good portion of the first stint, waking briefly for on board refreshments. Seemed my lack of sleep from the previous days was starting to benefit. By the time the plane landed at Guangzhou airport in China however my bum was beaten and sore, my neck felt crooked and my back was far from good. As I made my way to the waiting area for the next flight that was due to depart at 2.30pm I noticed another similar sized China Southern Airline aircraft being loaded up with stock and the thought of another 11 hours on the same kind of plane filled me with dread. I needed to get back to Thailand for a massage or find some strong muscle relaxants ASAP. What I found instead was a cup of extortionately priced lemon tea which i  supped slowly to ensure i got the most taste out of every Singapore Dollar that slipped past.

I took the opportunity at this point to purchase a bottle of water, some chocolate wafferthin biscuits and with thought of forthcoming discomfort over 11 hours playing on my mind, a travel pillow for my crocked neck. After a just couple of hours my time in china was over and I lined up to board crate no cz335 for its scheduled 14:30 departure.

As I embarked it was immediately clear that this was a much bigger plane than I had been fearing. With 3 seats each side of the central row of four, my aisle seat was located a short way  down on the left hand side of the plane and came complete with an old grinning chinese lady sat in it. Alongside to another grinning chinese lady in the middle seat and an empty window seat which they gestured for me to sit in.

Notaneffingchance went through my mind, ran down my arm and out of my finger as I pointed towards my ticket number, and the number above the seat. Each repeated smiling gesture from the chinese people towards the seat in the window was met by my own non smiling gestures. Shake of the head, finger point at ticket, finger point at seat, my seat. Rinse and repeat.

It took a little while but the message finally got through and their smiles dropped away. It turns out that their group numbered around 20 or so and had just been trying to get hold of the my allocated seat for themselves rather than moving amongst around accordingly, thus started their game of musical chairs with no music, plenty of puffing and huffing from the disgruntled onboard chinese community as they all switched around due to being an aisle seat down. I got the feeling at this point that I was now public enemy number wan.

There was no conversation for the next few hours, no witty anecdotes or light banter, just the occasional daggers thrown in my general direction whenever the head of the group in the row in front got out of her chair to organise additional food for the rest her group. The headphones I had picked up in Melaka a few days before had now earned their keep and I couldn't hear a thing over the various films I had buried my head into. Everytime i saw the leader fussing or sorting someone or something else during the flight I smiled at the thought of the boys and girls of New Zealand customs and the fun they were going to have with this lot when the plane landed.

Over the next 10.5 hours the overly firm seats became increasingly more uncomfortable. My weight was shifted from left tock to right, right tock to both tocks and both tocks back to left until the weight trasitions were no longer effective and my travel pillow was deployed to cushion the ride. It had little effect. Every slight shake no matter how brief from air turbulence was met by my inside voice assuring me that it was almost over, I was nearly there. As the morning broke at 6.30 along with my will, the plane finally touched down and  I immediately unclipped my seatbelt, I couldn't wait to get off that bucket.

I cleared customs quicker than I had dared to anticipate. A few "good mornings" were exchanged, Bags were scanned, a few questions were asked and then I was through. I took the opportunity to have a quick wash, change and freshen up, grabbed a coffee and a spot of breakfast. After just under 10 weeks of fantasic travels through some of the beautiful countries of Asia I had finally arrived in New Zealand. It would be interesting to see how it would compare.














Sunday, 22 December 2013

singapore 3rd - 6th December

By 5:30pm I had passed through Singapore immigration, re-boarded the bus and had crossed the causeway that linked to Malaysia en route to the bus drop off which I hoped would not be too far from my accommodation for the evening. I had splashed out a little extra for the last couple of days before my flight, booking a private twin room in the YMCA that was located at 1 Orchard Road. The house that I had previously part owned and lived in Bristol before things had gone to a bit to tits was located in a small cul-de-sac called The Orchards, so it seemed like an apt place for this part of the journey to  come to an end. The privacy and room would allow me to have a final good sort out, discard anything that was worn out or no longer needed and just relax a bit before the 15 hours worth of flights that would be taking me to New Zealand via China in thr coming days.

The "bus station" where I disembarked was just a normal roadside bus stop in the the Little India district of the city. I switched on my phone, loaded up my Mapswithme application and waited for the GPS to lock on and display my position so I could see exactly where I was and work out my proximity and route to my destination that I had "pinned" onto the map when booking my stay from Melaka. Luckily it was well within walking distance so I mounted up, secured my straps and headed off on the 25 minutes walk through the traffic filled streets, stopping just the once en-route to grab a subway to keep me going. No one crosses a road in Singapore until the green man signals, even if the road is completely clear. Quite a contrast compared to the rest of the locations I have visited so far, where any traffic signals have been largely ignored by road traffic and pedestrians alike. Like all the other places I had visited though, I followed the lead of the locals.

The YMCA was a clean and tidy hotel, with just the odd bit of Christian paraphernalia dotted around to make me feel a little uneasy in my surroundings due to being non religious. The bigger disappointment lay in that despite everything I had been told in the past was a lie. No motorcycle cops, Red Indians, workmen, cowboys or leather clad bikers seemed to be staying here. Hell, no one apart from the odd passing female were even sporting moustaches so I hurried off to my room, cleaned up and removed the 0.1 mm worth of facial hair that had taken me 2 months to cultivate. That night my face stuck to the pillow like Velcro.      

In the morning I ripped the pillow back off my face and tried to decide what I was going to do with my day in Singapore. There is no shortage of ways to while the hours there, but I thought I would spend my time checking out the museums that were dotted around the city. A ticket covering entrance to 5 of the museums cost $10, worth the price of admission for the aircon alone and I was happy enough spending the rest of the day wandering the venues, learning about the culture and talking "art" to the friendly staff who were eager to come over and chat to anyone who was showing interest to further understanding the meaning behind the   displays.

A boat full of bottles with messages inside them was a piece where the artist had gone to one of the jails and asked the prisoners to write down a promise to themselves. What they hoped for in the future, what they wanted to do and what was important to them. Visitors were then invited to reply back to any of the messages that appealed to them, hoping this would inspire the prisoners and keep to the promise they had made. Another at first glance looked just looked like simple wooden boards with insets of small class beads. When you got closer to each glass though it became apparent that each bead contained a picture. This was the artist trying to say that humility (bowing) is important for you to be able to see a full picture.

The mix of abstract, modern and traditional exhibits throughout the museums were wide and varied and dutifully covered off a diverse range of subjects such as the Asian film industry, the changing fashions and attitudes through the 1900's, photography, wildlife, food and the heritage of the Peranakan's, a name which describes a native born person of both mixed local and foreign ancestry. All in all it was a very cool, educational and enjoyable day and as I left the last museum in the early evening my thoughts were on what to have for dinner and how I was going to humour myself for the rest of the night. Bungee jump perhaps?

Back at the hotel I dug out my paperwork that contained the flight details for the next day and logged onto the website to check everything was still scheduled according to plan. It's amazing sometimes how many times you can re-read the same word thinking that maybe you've read it wrong, or hoping it changes on a page refresh, "Cancelled" for a brief period seemed to be a word I was unable to comprehend or put into any context. I dug around for more information on the agency and airline websites and finally found that the flight had been moved from from 16:50 on the 5th to 08:00 on the 6th. A quick check at reception clarified that there was no room at the YMCA the following evening so I was going to have to find another place to crash for tomorrow evening to take me through to the morning of the 6th. By 5:30am I had managed to settle,  book a room I was happy with and had time to crash out for a few hours before breakfast.

Just before mid day with old clothes, rubbish and broken Bluetooth keyboard cluttering the bin and cowboy hat, spurs and moustache not left on the bed, I checked out, hauled my bag onto my bag for the final time and made my way to the new hostel which lay a ten minute walk away. By now the temperature had hit 30 Celsius and it was around 96% humidity so after dumping my bag I sought out the cool air of the coffee shops and shopping malls between wandering around some of the other sights of Singapore, walking a stretch of the f1 circuit that runs through the city. A slight word of warning to those who don't yet know, the large coffee that is served in the many Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf outlets around the globe is served in a mug which I'm pretty sure is around a pint.

By the end of the day I was pretty wired and spent a bit of time back at the hostel arranging my bag ready for the 5am departure the next day. Everything that was no longer needed was packed away ready for the trip, clothes for the following day were placed separately next to the bag along with my towel and toiletries for a shower in the morning. I then went downstairs, talked to a few other travellers both beginning or ending their travells and drank some more coffee. At around 11pm I took the decision to go without sleep for the rest of the night. I justified this with the following reasoning;

Whenever I have a few hours sleep I always wake up feeling absolutely rotten.
The amount of time I would be spending on a plane in the coming days it would probably benefit me being knackered.

and

once I get a stupid idea in my head, its often hard to shift the bugger.

As I nudged forward into the 6th December I put the kettle ready for another dose of 3 in 1 instant coffee and plugged in my phone in order to have something to keep my mind occupied with music, movies and messages for the next few hours. Time never goes at normal speed when your sat there watching and wanting the time to pass quickly.







.



Tuesday, 17 December 2013

30th November - 3rd December 2013 Melaka.

The next few days in Melaka were thankfully less of an ordeal than the first. The Roof Top guest house in which I stayed was beautifully kept and the owners Mani and Raymond were friendly and accommodating, a natural fit for the profession they were engaged in. I stayed an extra night here as I intended only having a short stay in Singapore before I embarked on my flight to New Zealand on the 5th December.

Melaka itself, or the old heritage area in which I was staying is pleasant. On the weekend there is a bustling market that runs along both sides of the of the long, narrow Jonker Street that cuts centrally through it. The Market has a great slow, busy ambiance where traditional food, refreshments, t-shirts, trinkets and the like are available in plentiful supply. At the top end of the street there is an entertainment stand where some of the the local talent provide entertainment for the crowds that amass there in the evening,  under the souless watchful gaze of a printed Wayne Rooney, Paul Scholes and several other Manchester United Players as they hold out their tubes of  Mr Potato crisps, a brand with whom Man U are global snack partners.

It's maybe worth mentioning here just for the record that Manchester United have by far the largest Premier League presence in South East Asia. Then again maybe it's not worth mentioning at all, but the delete button seems so far away now and I don't want to exert my digits anymore than is necessary. Otherwise I'll never get to the bottom of my ready salted tub of Wayne Rooney crisps.

The one negative of the evening was provided by a cortege of pony tailed hare krishna's armed with microphones and loud speakers who brashly crashed the natural good feel of the town and entertainment area with their overbearing presence that could only be measured in WHATTS? I'm all for tolerance, be that personal, religious or cultural but also honestly believe this has to work both ways. These idiots displayed absolutely no respect or understanding for those whom they were interrupting and disturbing, but I refused to let it get my hare off.

Maybe it was due to the more tourist based feel of the place that I also noticed here for the first time trend for large family gatherings and groups to all be clothed in the same coloured garbs. It's really quite a simple and nifty idea, dress everyone in identical loud t-shirts and no one can ever get lost among the busy crowds, streets and shops. The flip side being if your trying to hide from your kin any reason, they will find you!!

Away from the market area are the local Trishaws. 3 wheel pedal bikes and carriages that are traditionally dressed, in bright coloured lights and fairy wings. These ferry the young and old, couples in love (ollocks) or parents with joy faced kids through the the night time street whilst the distorted booming sounds of dance tracks pumped out from the on board music systems. The hits range from the modern classic "Gangnam Style" right through to "Gangnam Style". It's enough to make you Psy.

(Alternative bad punch line:- It's enough to make a groan man psy.)

During the last couple of days I spent in Malaka, the temperature finally cooled to a point where I was able to comfortably wear jeans whilst ambling around. I even got to take out an umbrella, which when not being used to keep the falling rain off my coiffed bonce, could be tapped on the floor to accompany every other step. Very English but utterly ineffective as a walking aid, especially on the highly polished floors of the local shopping malls where the mere hint of pressure placed upon it would cause this tip to try to get away like an over exuberant puppy on the end of a short leash.

The little bugger almost got away from me twice, but I had a handle on it.

At 2pm on the Tuesday I left Melaka on a bus heading to Singapore. Whilst very spacious and  comfortable on board, the bus groaned and creaked loudly over every bump and every turn as it began it's 3 and a half hour journey towards the border. It humoured and  bothered me slightly for a minute or 2 before my eyes fell and I eased off to sleep.






Tuesday, 3 December 2013

one night in malaka

I arrived at Melaka Sentral late afternoon, took a quick toilet break in the station before getting the number 17 bus to Red Dutch Square in the old part of the city where I was staying. When the bus arrived at a square surrounded by very red buildings, I figured it was time to jump off. Luckily my gps position that was overlaid onto the map on my phone decided that for once, I was right.

My first night was to be at the Tidur Tidur hotel just a short walk away and I followed the rather vague and confusing directions from hostelworld website passing the locations of named buildings that no longer existed before happening across it by complete chance. It was as though they had been scribed by some sort of idiot.

Inside the building said idiot showed me my room the facilities which consisted of a hole in the ground for the toilets and some less than pristine shower cubicles. The whole place had the feel of a disused freight boat about it. Buckets had been placed at strategic points on the concrete floor to capture the drips from the ceiling if it rained and the rooms although clean were wrapped in thin corrugated metal sheets with a single fan above the door to ventilate the room. The dank shower cubicals were similarly clothed with additional rank touch of cheap pink 70s style plastic doors and locking hooks that were barely secure enough to stop an angry/perverted Mosquito access to my wretched white and brown body if it so desired. They have seem to have developed a taste for my blood for some reason. Usually they get me just above the back of the ankle, but on the rare occasion where thy have been denied by a covering of some sort, then it it seems they like a nice choice cut of inside elbow / forearm as an alternative. The drinking water is reputedly safe to drink in Malaysia. I massively doubt that the water here is to be included in this consumption assumption so the brushing of teeth was once again completed using bottled water. The bed in which I sweated the night was a bunk bed that rattled and groaned with every movement I made, her whinging amplified in the darkness by the echoey confines of my ships container pod. At just over 6ft 1, I barely fit.

In the morning I asked the idiot on reception if it was ok to leave my bag there for a couple of hours whilst I got some breakfast.

"You're leaving" he asked?

"Yes" I said and went to get some sustenance for the day.

When I returned a couple of hours later the metal door grate on the front of the building had been drawn across and there was no sign of life inside, so I grabbed a lemon tea in a nearby cafe before I headed around the corner to check into the Rooftop guest house that I was unable to secure the night before, after which I returned again to my previous lodgings where the metal gates were still drawn across.

I peered in, nothing was moving. It was quiet and dark inside so I tried to force the gates open. They were unlocked but stiff and clattered loudly as I inched them apart before trying to enter the building looking normal and unsuspicious. A white western tourist breaking into a shut building in the narrow traditional streets of Malaka, who could possibly get the wrong idea?

Once in I made my way quickly through to the cupboard at the back of the building where my bag had been left and retrieved it with all the skill of a pissed up ninja.

"James, is that you" came the idiots tired voice from the shadows before he appeared rubbing his eyes on his face.

"Where have you been? I waited for you, I was supposed to be going out"

"Your doors were shut" I replied. "I've been past 3 times thinking you weren't here".

"I took the lock off and put it on the side here, i thought you might notice"

The lock had been placed on a shelf out of view, i wondered if this guy was managing to breath on his own or whether he has an application on his iphone to do it for him. The plant from the right appeared to look down on him with utter disdain, wondering why he was the one in the pot.

""Well, thankyou" i said as I hoisted my bag onto my shoulder, "but from the outside it just looks closed and empty, but thanks again"

He smiled at me, slightly crooked and chipped teeth playing the backing to the tuneful vacant look on his face"

"Bye idiot" i thought to myself.

At least, i think i only thought it..........






Friday, 29 November 2013

kuala lumpur

Terminal Beresepadu Seletan is the bus station in Kuala Lumpur where the buses that run south of the city depart from and it's where I have just left as I make my way towards Melaka for a few days en-route to Singapore. It is located at the junction of 3 rail links that service the city and is linked directly to the train station via a covered walkway. inside the spacious and clean booking hall the times of the departing buses for the next couple of hours are displayed on giant boards, like the ones found in a modern airport. Booking a seat is as easy as walking up to one of the 18 open counters, choosing your destination, departure time and seat position on the coach, heading to the correct departure gate and boarding when ready. Everything is clean, efficient and straight forward and in less than twenty minutes I had bought my ticket, 2 hours worth of drinks and snacks for the journey, had a nice chat with a malaysian travelling down from the cameron highlands and boarded the bus with time to spare. Why couldn't all travel be this easy.

I had arrived in Kuala Lumpur just 2 nights before. On the bus down from Penang i had been talking to a teacher from Korea who was flying from KL airport the next day but hadn't had anything booked in the city, so we hopped in a taxi and made our way to the hostel I had arranged to stay at hoping that they would have room in a female dorm for her too. En route the taxi driver asked where I was from. "England" I said as this seems to get recognised easier than "UK" or "Great Britain". "And your wife, is she from Japan?“ he asked. I didn't know i had one.

At the hostel there was ample room available so checked in and split off in different directions. I grabbed a shower and a much needed shave to wake myself up after the 5 hours of travel, make my self look a little less worn and to cool off from the heat that the city itself contained . We then headed out to get some food.

Just a block away lay busy street food stalls and tables, as I walked through with my usual "no thanks"or raised "stop" hand it was interesting to see that Miji had a different tactic in play. There was little or no acknowledgement at all from her part from approaches and it worked like a charm, cutting through the usual barracking from the street sellers with hot knife like ease. Once we had chosen a place to eat the same level of control and authority was displayed when ordering food. Hand in the air and waving someone over to take our orders, there was no waiting for eye contact and you could tell that this was an environment she was comfortable in.

Over dinner I asked her about the canon camera she was using and she showed me some of the pictures she had taken over the last couple weeks including some of the art festival in Singapore that I had been told about by another traveller in Penang a couple days previously. I told her about the a77 I was using and she seemed to know a lot about it, so suddenly we had a common ground.

After food was done we walked the 20 minutes or so towards the twin patronas towers that lit the night time clouds brightly above them, stopping just the once for coffee as the rain became too heavy to ignore, ladies of the night passing regularly outside in their short brightly coloured dresses. We wandered around the base trying to get a decent night time shot, she sporting her canon, and me my htc 1x, which to its credit had performed remarkably well for a phone camera the last couple of months, and it kept up the good work capturing a couple of shots which could have almost have been used as promotional stills for Die Hard, if they had been taken 28 years earlier.

In the morning we headed off bright and early to the KL tower which stands higher than the patronas towers by virtue of being placed on a hill. It also has the advantage of having a 360 degree observation deck at the top to observe the city below. I took a few photo's of the landscape around but again found that the best photos I got were from watching my japanese wife interact with the environment and photographing her as she scoured over and captured the life that surrounded her below. I think these may be some of the best photographs that I have ever taken, a couple in particular would not look out of place in any gallery in the world. Its not a bad little camera truth be told and she was thrilled when I showed her the pictures I had captured. They are striking and pin sharp.

We spent the next couple of hours exploring a little of the city,communicating in broken English with exagerated movements and expressions. A completely different experience than i have had at any other point on my travels so far, and one of my favourites also.

After she had gone later that day to catch her plane back home I decided I had seen enough of KL. Its just another westernised city with crowded streets, busy traffic, big brand names on big flashing billboards with women walking passed you trying to meow seductively. It had been a good day but with time running short in Asia i hooked into the internet and booked a room in Melaka the following evening and set about working out how i was going to get there from the hot, sweaty sprawling metropolis that is Kuala Lumpur.




Thursday, 28 November 2013

penang. pt2


It takes me a few days now before I start getting a feel for a place. The pictures I have been taking only interest me after I have been somewhere for a bit of time, cutting beyond the visual markers that you focus on while still finding your bearings to get something deeper. I look at pictures I've taken when I've just arrived somewhere and the the sex pistol's "pretty vacant" comes to mind, they seem to lack depth and soul.

On my third day in Malaysia, I traveled by the 204 public bus to Penang Hill. It costs 2 ringets for the journey, takes about 20 minutes each way on a bus that is modern, clean and air conditioned. Notes are stuffed into a locked fare box next the driver who will issue you the appropriate ticket when boarding. No change is ever available, much like the buses back in Bristol, except that 2 ringetts equates to about 40 pence which I don't think would even see you to a single stop on first bus's finest.

When you arrive at the base of Penang Hill you have a choice of how to ascend to the summit. You can either walk in blazing sun and 30 degree heat, or take a cool modern funicular railway carriage at the cost of 30 ringets. I walked.

To join the queue to get my ticket for the railway, it was a bloody steep hill and I'm not getting any younger. I wouldn't mind getting a little older though. This is now the self preservation society tour 2013 and anyone is free to join me.

At the top the heat was less intense with cool air being carried on a light welcome breeze. I perched myself at a table at the tea rooms which overlooked the bay below and ordered a Devonshire cream tea just 14,000 kilometers from the county itself, then supped in the blend and took in the wonderful view back towards Georgetown and surrounding areas. The photographs I took here did not do the view justice in any way shape or form, but I did get a nice picture of a scone that was smeared in jam and cream, and one of a man who was dangerously close to being devoured by a giant inflatable dinosaur. I guess some days you just make the most of what is presented to you. Today it just happened to be plastic and pastry.

Georgetown itself is a relatively small area packed with the sights, smells and sounds of the rich cultural diversity harboured within. The houses with small ornate fronts can be deceptively large within with the sense of space being enhanced further by the high ceilings inside. One of these houses that lies dormant and in poor condition with roots and branches scaling it's outer shell. I was told that the property extended back nearly 300 feet but its old "crazy" owner refuses to sell it for less than the over generous value that he's placed upon it. The converted cost to buy and restore would be roughly 800,000 pounds, around 4 times the cost of a smaller up together property in the same world heritage area, I asked my local informant if this price included the tree that was spouting out through the roof, exchanged smiles and carried on walkin'.

In the evening of the first day I got talking to Brad from Laandon and the following morning we both headed off to see the camera museum that was located just a few streets away. The vast number of exhibits displayed within included early 3D cameras and displays, box cameras, the short lived and maligned disc film Kodak camera, a rather opulent Russian Leica dressed in snakeskin finery, spy cameras and my favourite, a machine gun that was converted to use film instead of bullets in order to train the Japanese. The company behind the machine gun camera would eventually become Konica.

There is only 1 digital camera contained in the collection, a brightly coloured plastic Lego compact is rotated proudly on its own stand, a stark contrast to the usual muted colours in which cameras are usually adorned. A worthwhile inclusion just for being so, fun and appealing.

Following on from my recent decision to lose at pool in all the countries I visit from now on, we stopped in a bar equipped with necessary table for me to achieve this end, losing 2 nil whilst chatting to the owner of the bar over a few bottles of tiger. The owner "Mike" an ex-aviation engineer had taken over the bar from his brother who had since moved due to work commitments to Jakarta. He had been running it for 2 months and seemed to be enjoying his new direction, with his only gripe being the amount of paperwork that he is required to complete for the running of the bar. My only complaint was the price of beer, which was around the same as the prices paid in the U.K, a steep increase on what I had been paying in Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand. It wasn't enough to stop me though and the rest of the day was spent supping a few, eating and gently ribbing a bunch of English students whilst watching the Irish cruelly lose against the All Blacks at rugby after leading 17-0 earlier in the game.

The next couple of days I spent missing some great photo opportunities, drinking coffee and buying more clothes to replace my existing rags. The people I have encountered in and around Georgetown have been amazing, from the man in the queue at the post office who pointed me towards the correct window for stamps when he saw me looking a little lost with postcards in my hand, the lady in the coffee shop who conversed with me about travel plans and culture, the street worker who smiled and stopped to ask if I was enjoying Malaysia and wished me well for future travel, and all the staff at the Kimberley House hotel where I have spent my time switching rooms from dorms to singles, to doubles as I extend my stay there at relatively short notice. Its all been quite good fun.

As I said, it takes me a while to get a feel for a place sometimes. When I first arrived in Georgetown I wasn't convinced. But the more you delve into its scruffy characteristic streets, the more you undoubtedly discover to like about the place.

Barman mike said that its a place that takes a while, but that grows on you the longer you are there and I think he may be right.

I know I will have to return back one day though as I think there may still be more to see and do here. I have also been told that there are places that do really good breakfasts too. It remains to be seen.

Next stop Kuala Lumpur, I wonder if it will be warm there too.


Saturday, 23 November 2013

penang 21st and 22nd nov

Georgetown.

The taxi driver dropped me off a few dimly lit streets from the location of my dimly lit hostel, I walked past it 3 times before I caught it on my final flyby, about to abandon my search. Inside was large and spacious, the receptionist pretty and gracious, I was going to rhyme, but I can't find the time, to write something with wit or salacious.

The beds were comfy enough but the dorm room itself had no widows. This has become my pet hate when staying in shared rooms as its easy to leave something behind when trying to get your things together by torchlight any time as some lazy bastard lies in bed as the day soldiers on regardless. In my experience it's been mostly Americans who harbour this habit, although not exclusively. It is however almost always that it will be American that happens to spout off if you happen to make a little noise when getting dressed in their room, the tendency to shoot from the hip before calculating possible reprisals is a trait I have seen too many times now when travelling. By no means all Americans, just a percentage tarring the rest of the nation with their brain out of gear mentality. This is my observation from my limited travel over the last 8 weeks through 4 different countries and should not be taken as scientific fact.

A single room was booked for my second night.

After dumping everything off time had crept to nearly 11 so I ventured to a busy street food  hall located around the corner, sat at small table and was served tea with a couple of dumplings. One contained spiced pork and the other a traditional sausage, both came from a raised stainless steel cooking contraption and I sat down and ate off the plastic plate they were served on. The flavours were so magnificent that even the rat that ran across he floor did little to dissuade me from finishing up. No one else seemed to care, so I didn't either. The whole meal cost less than a pound.

In the morning I packed my bag by torchlight making as much noise as possible and switched from the dorm to the single room that had been prepared early l by the mad as a hatter cleaner. I then took a stroll around Georgetown, a mix of old 2 story simple houses that are pretty but often run down, adorned with broken shutters and crooked doors, and the modern buildings that include hotels and offices with the spaces in between filled with temples mosques and churches. I stumbled upon a museum dedicated to coffee and chocolate, but the photography one that I tried to find eluded me. Everything here feels more western. The bike is no where near as prominent as the car, vehicles stop at lights and traffic jams occur. Could they possible be linked?

After a few hours as the heat took hold again I retreated back to the shopping mall located near to the hostel and got lost. This has so far happened in every mall I have visited in south east Asia, but its a cool way to spend the afternoon away from the humidity and swelter. Most have great Food places inside and after on 3 hours trying to eat my noodles with chopsticks I picked up some more replacement clothes in preparation of my arrival in New Zealand which is now only a couple of weeks away. My other rags have now become disposaware (tm ja if not used already ;)

I finished the day with a KFC, whilst this felt wrong on many levels, it was nice to eat somewhere that was rat free, at least on the surface.

I Just wish that somewhere would do a drink here that wasn't loaded with sugar, everything bar the water is. It's little wonder really that this region is suffering from an explosion in type 2 diabetes. The question really is how are they going to change the taste buds of an entire continent.

http://www.who.int/diabetes/facts/world_figures/en/index5.html






Thursday, 21 November 2013

Thailand to Malaysia

Tue wed Thursday

After a beautiful spot of breakfast served by the delightfully happy ladies at the good dream 2 hotel and then almost forgetting to collect my clothes from the laundry I'm on the road again, this time to Penang in Malaysia. A journey which started at 11 this morning and should see me at my drop off in Georgetown at around 8pm, depending on how long it takes to cross the border. Travelling by air conditioned minivan is cramped and I somehow find myself wedged between a young teacher from england and a small tower of luggage which topples onto me through every over exuberant left hand turn the one handed driver throws us into. His spare is used to permanently attach his mobile phone to his head for him to chuckle and snort with an unseen on the other end. His wife? is sat in the front passenger seat along with a young child maybe 1 year and 6 months old wrapped snugly in a milkshake green coloured blanket. It has been raining consistently all morning and for once does not show any signs of letting up.

So the last couple of days in Krabi saw me exploring a little at my own pace. I'd seen beaches, temples and the town so decided to head out a little to the nearest settlement of note, Aonang. Scooter rental from the hostel for the day was an extortionate 150 baht and after chucking my passport down, signing away any rights I may have had and a quick demonstration of the vehicle, I was off on my way like the fat one from Chips, Chops. And no clarkes pie in sight.

The roads around Krabi are far quieter and in better condition than those I have encountered throughout most of the rest of my journey so far and I was comfortable enough riding along the wide open roads which ran through and around the rocky cliffs and towns that were seemingly joined together with power cables supported by wooden poles when they could be bothered to attach them. Finding Aonang was easy too. Not sign posted clearly by any official markings, Tesco had taken the time to adorn the sides of the road leading towards the town with plenty of green and white boards advertising their new lotus store due to open in the town  on the 22nd November. Where there were no advertising boards, I knew I must have missed a turning.

Every little helps.

The town outskirts slipped by without much more than a slight raised eyebrow at the Starbucks which seemed to have touched down in an alien land, but the shops that lay along the road adjacent to the beach front sat easy in their surroundings, even the burgerking didn't carry the usual brash American presence, looking more like a high class shack adorned with a counterfeit sign, it was quite refreshing, just like the giant coke zero I consumed while taking refuge from the powerful onslaught of the early afternoon.heat. I stopped for a while and admired the ocean views before jumping back on the scooter and exploring the surrounding roads for the next few hours, enjoying the breeze before returning back to the hostel with the bike tank topped back up at the local shell garage at around 60p per litre, and that was the expensive stuff. I told it to wear a jumper.

That evening I took massage number 2 and what a difference to my first experience that I had endured a few days before. I was shattered before this massage, after I was relaxed to a level I had only experienced at the hands of trained staff at the Bristol Royal Infirmary. I decided then to extend my time in Krabi just for one more day in order to prepare myself for the long bus journey that lay ahead of me. This final day was spent putting a few laundry items to be cleaned, buying some clothes to replace the ones I intend to ditch in Singapore and playing pool against the waitress in a cocktail bar, that much is true.

Well almost, actually the waitress in the Relax Bar just a minute stroll away from the Pak Up hostel, where the owner had made Barry and I feel most welcome when we had ventured in a few days earlier, and each time I had since. The food there was as warm as the welcome and twice as tasty, especially the ckicken with roasted chilli. I narrowly beat the waitress twice after she offered me a game, the owner beat me 2-1, but in truth utterly destroyed me. I should make it my new goal to get beaten at pool in every country I visit from now on, which may rule out any trip to Bermuda in the future. They have have plenty of pool tables there by all accounts, but the balls to play on them keep disappearing.

Something to do with the triangle.

Back to the trip. We were dumped in a taxi office at Hat Yai and then had a 40 minute wait for our connecting van to pick us up. We have mooore space here and the calf muscles my legs no longer feel they are on the verge of cramping every minute or so, like they did in the udder one. Leather seats too. With a beefier engine. The driver is called pat.

After 30 minutes travelling in the second van and still a long way the border, I feel the initial drop off time is going to be wildly inaccurate. Its still raining and now the night is drawing in. Its going to be long few hours yet before I reach my drop off, and I then need to locate my hotel after that. Randomly I can also smell liquorice, at least its not burning.

18.05. exited thailand

18.20. Entered malaysia and used my antibacterial wash for the first time in this new country. Handy stuff.

According to Pat our ETA is around another 2 hours from here. That's time enough for a little Robbie Williams and lilly allen to wind in the hours. They had to be small to both fit into my tablet.

Sweet dreams till sunbeams find you,
sweet dreams that leave your worries behind you,
but in your dreams whatever they be...........
Do not p

By night the freeway to penang from the border could easily be mistaken for a stretch of motorway back in the uk, with similair bridges, roadsigns and flashing yellow lights. Only the sillouettes of the occassional  tropical tree top distinguishing here from blighty.

There's something reassuringly familar about it all.










Wednesday, 20 November 2013

19th novemgrrrr - tiger temple

Monday 19th November

If anybody ever suggests climbing to the top of the tiger temple located near to Krabi town as it sounds like fun, kick them hard. If they are still smiling after you have dished your blow then you can be pretty sure that they may not be of sound enough mind to be making such suggestions, as fun it definitely is not.

Four of us from the hostel, Laura, Kat, Barry and myself decided to go up and after breakfast crammed ourselves into the back of a taxi for the short journey out to its location. Another, Taru who had ventured up previously decided that bed was her preferred option.

The climb started easy enough with small shallow steps leading us in before steeper steps of varying angles and gradient took over,escalating us past tetchy monkeys who really took a dislike to me and people descending from the peak. Our rest breaks became longer and more frequent as we made our way the 800 meters to the summit and for 1236 of those steps I was fine. Then came step number 1237, literally the final step and I suddenly came over very Ill, a feeling which took a good half hour, plenty of water and half a packet of menthos to finally shake off.

Sure enough, the view from the top was outstanding, but my thoughts were more preoccupied with thinking what sort of sadistic bastard would decide to build a temple in such a location. I suppose therefor its to its testament that there are no shortage of people, locals and tourists who were taking the path to head lightenment every single day.

Descending was easier on the lungs, but tough on the knees and quads. Barry and I decided to have a little fun on the way down, making up little conversations between ourselves designed to be over heard by the passers by ascending. Topics ranged from the ludicrous cost of admission at the summit taking advantage of the fact you have walked so far up you have to pay (there is no charge) to being the weirdest place to have put a McDonalds (it's a Burgerking). One couple searching misguidedly for motivation asked if the climb it was worth it, I said "no", smiled and carried on walking.

Perhaps the monkeys could see that I was trouble which is why I they gave me such attention on the way up. All I know is that understand fully Taru's decision to stay in bed a little longer that day.


We didn't even get a free bowl of frosties.



Grrreat view.






Monday, 18 November 2013

a little krabi

The flight from Bangkok to Krabi was delayed 30 minutes, I'm guessing the reason was that the storm clouds were gathered and the lightening that flash with them was happening with unerring regularity, I witnessed this from my window seat on the thai airways plane as we finally circled and climbed into the night time sky. Beautiful to watch but I would be lying if I was to say it hadn't put me on edge a little
.
My co pilot for the flight was a young Vietnamese lady. Conversation opened with her asking where I was from, and as I had found through my previous trip through Vietnam, as soon as I said England, the conversation then flowed very easily.

We talked happily for around half an hour whilst eating our in flight sandwiches that had been prepared and wrapped in cling film for a true low budget feel. She asked about my children, I showed her the cat which got a smile as she also loved cats. She was the proud mummy of a 18 month old boy and showed me a few pictures on her phone of the little fella. I decided to use some of my learned Vietnamese charm and said "he's very handsome" and she proudly beamed back, "Yes, very handsome". Looks like after 40 odd years I may finally be getting the hang of this conversation malarky.

It was just after this conversation that the plane started to bump and shake violently before deciding to plunge us suddenly from the sky. With engines speeding up to try and force flight, my coffee cup ran off and hid off to my right and the lady instinctively grasped onto the top of my hand that was already clasped firm to the seat rest between us. I believe that everyone on that flight, at that moment in time thought our time was up and it was a bloody long five or so seconds before you could feel the plane propelling forward again in, the way you want them too not just most of the time.

After normal altitude was regained the tannoy stayed silent doing nothing to reassure anyone that all was now ok and my heart beat stayed at drug fuelled rave tent level for a couple of hours after. Kind of makes you realise how precarious life can be sometimes and landing when it came shortly after was met by a collective gasp of relief from all within , but I'm not sure that I will ever get over Mucho Grande".

The shuttle bus from the airport to Krabi town cost 90baht and took around 25minutes to get into town. I then had another 5 minute walk along dimly lit streets before arriving at the Pak Up hostel where I was booked for the evening. After checking the room and bed were all clean I went downstairs and booked in for another 2 nights before heading back up to organise some of my clothes in the ample sized under bed storage locker. I then went in search of some food. It was gone eleven by the time I felt settled enough after the flight to eat anything.

The next day I took a little time for reflection, and the reflection it was clear that I needed a haircut. I asked the lady on reception of a good place to go and after offering to cut it for me she pointed me in the direction of the nearest hairdresser and after a little stroll I went to be sheered. I used a photo from just before I left the U.K to help explain what I was after and as she dressed in operating gown and face mask, I wondered if I had asked for a different kind of snip. No need to worry though, she took care to make sure that by the time she was finished I looked sharp as a pin, which considering the subject was a case of a modern day miracle. Price was 100 baht, I gave her 200, I consider 4 pound something of a bargain, 2 just would have been unacceptable to me.

I wandered around Krabi for a while after, watching boats on the river, wondering why there were statues of apemen holding up traffic lights, looking in shops and drinking a little coffee before I went out to the Big C supermarket located just outside town via taxi, a journey which took about 20 minutes and 20 baht without haggling. Here I picked up a new set of headphones to replace my trusty old pair that I had managed to break the night before. I have found headphones to be one of the most useful bits of kit whilst staying in hostels. I then used the on site food court to get a little late lunch before returning back to the hostel via taxi once again.

The taxi's in Krabi tend to be medium sized pick ups with a padded seat running along the inside on each side and a plastic or canvas cover to protect the passengers in the back. The top end ones also have a tail flap to prevent belongings or small people falling out the back. There are a lot of small people here that need protecting.

By the evening it was clear that the last 7 weeks or so of travel had taken its toll, with my legs in particular in a state of constant dull ache, I decided that now may be the time to endure my first massage at the spa that was joined to the hostel. I spoke to the owner about which one to have being new to it all and she recommended the oil massage rather than the thai, a recommendation I was happy enough with as I had heard from many sources during my time in asia that the thai massages were a little brutal. As it happens the oil massage was brutal also.
I was pushed, prodded, clicked, elbowed and kneaded for the next hour from legs, torso, arms and head, swearwords frequently damned from rushing out by my bitten bottom lip. I wondered exactly what it was that this lady had hated so much about me, however by the time the lady had finished on my shoulders and scalp, I could have just fallen asleep on the spot. absolutely amazing. As I limped off back to my room she said I should be able to walk again properly in 2 days, the next day I was fresh as a 40 year old daisy.

The next couple of days were spent at some of the many glorious beaches, swimming the warm seas and snorkeling over coral reefs in the crystal clear waters. I saw Sid from "finding nemo" amongst many others as I drifted slavishly  back on forth on the ocean current, with a few of them raisin up to swim around me. I have now been snorkeling 3 times including my first experience on my fortieth birthday nearly 3 weeks ago, with each experience being better than the previous I'm starting to wonder what I do from here.




Thursday, 14 November 2013

bangkok - the return

The queue to get through immigration at Bangkok was a mass of people, it took a while to snake through and clear. After working out which belt my luggage would be orbiting around I decided to quickly check an ATM on the way through and was thoroughly surprised that it didn't want to give me any cash using my debit card. No option again but to make my second cash advance in as many days off my credit card as I also couldnt change up the Vietnamese dong I had flown in with anywhere in the airport. It felt like HSBC were really doing their up most to dick me over onthis one. My mood was less than stellar and was further darkened when my checked luggage was not on the belt it should have been on. I was sent from one end of the baggage hall to the other and to places inbetween, finally locating my bag in front of a luggage desk, it could have easily walked. So after just the 3 hours at Bangkok International, I exited and boarded the train to the city, with an emergency subway roll stuffed into my large baggy side pocket on my safari -esque shorts.

The trains run from the airport runs every 30 minutes or so and cost around a pound for the 20 odd minute journey to the end of the line, where it's possible to join the BTS system to take you to the different points around Bangkok, I had about a 15 minute walk after my train journey had completed before I arrived at my hostel that I had left the month before, but the warm welcome Ireceived when I arrived made the hassles of the day quickly forgotten. I went upstairs, started a load of washing off in the machine then grabbed a couple of beers in the communal area and wound down.

The next couple of days were spent trying to sort out the bank card which had been blocked when I was in Vietnam. I had informed the bank in the Cardiff branch before I travelled that I was travelling south east asia, they had only recorded Thailand as my destination. I had travelled through Cambodia and a couple of weeks in Vietnam without concern, but only when urgent cash-flow had become a real neccessity as I escaped the wrath of the incoming typhoon had the wise folks at HSBC seen fit to put the brakes on ATM withdrawls using my debit, which has led to additional charges on my credit card as I have had to use that for cash advances.

It would seem that the "worlds local bank'" doesn't seem to understand that in Vietnam, cash is essential as there are few places that have the capability to accept chip and pin. The majority of the shops in Hanoi in the area I stayed were small shop fronts, cash only of which I had little. I had been told on my previous call to the HSBC centre whilst in Hoi An that the card was ok and that the ATM's were probably at fault, When I contacted them from Thailand, this was no longer the story and after a disjointed call I managed to get my card unblocked. Pretty annoying as the cash advances on the credit card came after this first call to the bank. Basically I received either bullshit or lies whilst in Han Oi, at at 1.49 a minute, that's pretty useless and costly.

The chap from the Fraud prevention unit was pretty ballsy too, Basically making out that they needed to know exact dates for each country, not sure he's really grasped the idea of travelling without access to phones or secure internet. The delay on the line meant I'm not sure he got the full force of my angst, and thats probably a good thing. but at the moment my feeling toward HSBC are probably the lowest they have ever been. They have profited nicely from bending me over and my diabetes control during this period has taken a hammering, which may prove costly in other ways.

on the plus side in Bangkok I have shared a few drinks and time with an old work colleague who is in Bangkok for a stag do, experienced the delights of the views from the skybar's 64th and live music shows. Ihave met loads of great people here again and felt confident enough this time to plug in a set of headphones and wander with the my own soundtrack drowning out the constant verbal barrages of "Tuk Tuk Sir?", "Lady?" and "something extra?" that are hollared almost consistently from all directions. This allows you to just see Bangkok at your own pace, without distraction and improved the experience no end,

So, it's maybe a testiment to Bangkok then that despite being hot, sometimes smelly and unclean on the streets with shizers trying to relieve you of your money left right and centre, I'm going to miss a lot of elements of it when I leave later today. The people I've had a chance to engage with have mostly been amazing, the foods delicious and the sense of life that pulses through the veins of the city has to be experieced.

When I arrived here in Bangkok on the 30th September, I couldn't wait to leave. A bit has changed in that period of time and I'm glad I've had to chance to experience some of the things Bangkok has had to offer.

It's quite a cool, sweat box of a city at times.


Tuesday, 12 November 2013

escape from ha noi. sunday

Hanoi to bangkok.

The Backpackers Hostel Downtown in Hanoi is alive with life, travellers, drink in the bar downstairs while football from leagues around the globe is televised on screens above the bar, it has a great feel. Of course there is always a drunk westerner propping up the bar with his baseball cap, good looks and charm, questioning whatever you order, but these types are easily ignored. I think doing so may even shine them on a little, and I'm all for that.
By the time I arrived in the evening I had gone for a prolonged period without food or drink and my cash levels were virtually exhausted as the HSBC debit card I have been using had been refused cash from every ATM I had tried for the last 3 days, including the HSBC machine that lay just up from the hostel. HSBC the worlds local bank, can bugger you up locally, wherever local is. I had contacted the bank the night before from Hoi An and they assured me that there was no block on the card, and sure enough I was able to book the hostel on Hanoi using it, but in a country where cash is virtually essential, having none was crippling. My sugar levels were running high as I was worried about taking an injection which would cause them to plummet, make a concerning situation suddenly more critical.
I explained the situation to Matt, an English manager working and living there who was as helpful as anyone could be, but in the end I decided to just bite the bullet and use my credit card for a cash advance, something I really didn't want to do due to higher costs and the pain in the ass its now going to be to keep track of everything, but needs must.
The evening was spent drinking beer, watching football and arranging my flight from Hanoi to Bangkok the following day. The typhoon was heading up from hue where it had made land and all tours and excursions for Ha Long bay had been cancelled while the area braced itself,so there seemed little point hanging around, there is still much to see before I leave Singapore next month. In the morning I joined a walking tour in the rain just to see a little of the city before I left, then ate some noodles from a street stall before catching the taxi to the airport to catch Quantas flight QR829 which departed bang on time at 16:55. The powerful thrust that pushes you back into the seat again brings an uncontrollable smile. Maybe i should have been a pilot, but I doubt I could have faked the high IQ long enough to manage that one. I can't even fake a smile for more than 3 seconds without it going bad. I'll keep on looking for a job that suits, its out there somewhere.
When I land I intend to travel by train to central bangkok, then switch to the skytrain to silom before walking the relatively short distance to the accommodation I booked last night online. Its hard to imagine I would have been so confident in my approach on my first visit just over a month ago. Something has definitely changed, and it's not just the size of my waist.

Of course, HSBC could still make this tougher than it should be.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

hoi an to ha noi

Best laid plans of mice and men......

I left the hotel just after 2 this afternoon to travel to Da nang airport for the 4.30 flight to Hanoi, this should take an hour and a quater if the thing stays in the air. The plane is an airbus 320 and looks to be similar in size and construct to the cargo plane at the start of Indiana Jones and the temple of doom. They guy sat next to me looks like a full grown "shortround" from the same movie. No signs of any chickens or goats on board....yet.  When I checked in at the airport the lady asked me if I would like to upgrade my seat for 60,000 dong (3 dollars) so of course I said yes. I'm now sat right next to the emergency exit but have plenty of leg space and room to inflate my bright yellow emergency dingy should the need arise.
Hoi An is braced, Hue just up the coast is where the typhoon is due to to hit land, its a place I leave with a heavy heart and hope that the town and everyone in it remains safe. As I walked it streets this morning the buzzing activity was all about preparation, things were being fixed or strengthened, trees were being lopped. But leave I did, escaping in an act of inadvertent self preservation to Hanoi, also in the path of the typhoon, but a day further north. Hopefully it will have lost a bit of its venom by the time it catches up with me but I think I may need to accept that ha long bay may be for another time, maybe with someone else to share the experience.

I've also decided that Laos, as beautiful a destination that it apparently is according to the numerous people I have met whilst travelling, may be a little too under-developed for somebody travelling alone with a slight medical condition and yet to adjust fully to their environment. So that makes 2 places in this part of the world that I could possibly visit in the future should I decide when I get to Hanoi that Ha long bay is a no go.

Travelling through Da Nang en route to the airport was an eerie experience. The streets were mostly empty anyway with many people already evacuated to shelters for the storm, but there was a district on the outskirts which lay abandoned and deserted, a shell of once bustling life. Its location is next to an old American airbase which housed chemicals such as agent orange during the Vietnam conflict which over time contaminated the whole area.. the ground is still massively polluted, no one can live there. Its another stark reminder of the legacy of a war that ended over 37 years ago.
As the plane hurtled down the runway as wondered at my wisdom of sitting at a window seat. Taking flight, watching the wing flex then being absorbed by the marshmallow dense clouds caused nervous exhilaration. After though, cushioned on the same confectionery bed in the setting glow of the late afternoon sun. I accepted that that was a pretty good use of 3 dollars.

31,000ft is never going to get old.



Would just like to take this moment to thank hsbc for causing me no end of stress the last few days.

Friday, 8 November 2013

hoi an

Hoi An.
I initially planned to stay in Hoi An for 2 nights, but when I leave tomorrow I will have been here six, its fair to say that while undoubtedly fallen for its charms, an underlying cold has also made me reluctant to push on unnecessarily. This has been recovery time

Hoi An is the very embodiment of shabby chic, scruffy and classy, distressed and beautiful.
It's central attraction is the old town with a busy yet lazy feel. Its tired looking 200 year old 2 and 3 storey buildings clothed in English mustard yellow are largely the vessels of top quality cafe's, restaurants offering cooking classes, and tailors ready to suit you out in top quality rags in a matter of hours, before sending them directly to your home if you happen to find yourself limited on space. I have them stumped with the notion that I no longer have a home.

Alongside and between you will also find the usual smattering of sumptuous temples, a busy food hall and bustling fish market at the edge of the river. There are also a large number of easy rider motorbikes here although it's a relief to only be offered trips to actual places nearby rather than mental trips or other vices. On the oft flooded river front, cruises are available for a few dollars navigating the islands and waterways around this old town. I have opted to walk and stay on land, I have a past record of accident injuries that I'm not looking to add to at this current time.

Along the quieter streets during the day and early evening speakers mounted on telegraph poles play elevator style music of hits past and present interspersed with public service tannoy announcements. Occasionally you get the awful feeling that you are in a nuclear bomb test area with the 5 minute warning bellowing the air over shopfront mannequins instead of the usual plastic American dream test dummies portrayed in many pictures and videos. I now know the location of every man size metal fridge located ln each of the main streets.

Dib dib dib.

It sometimes takes a little while to absorb the feel of a place, and to be absorbed by it also. The first few days here I wandered its narrow, lantern dressed streets and drank ginger tea, taking the time to people watch, locals, staff, tourists and the many street sellers trying to coax money from them. During that time i started to feel relaxed, even at home here and was able to get some photos i was happy with. I have taken a lot of dirge so far, so a few good pics wouldn't go amiss now. Focusing more on what makes a place tick over, its soul, people and driving heart seems to be what I find more engrossing, and I hope the pictures here start to better represent the feel and charm of this old town.

You get called handsome a lot in Hoi An, be you male, female, young or old. It comes just before "you want to buy a suit?", although "suit" can and will be substitued for any number of wares on offer, the conversation will still start with the same flattery. The difference here though is that even after its been made clear that you are not going to buy anything, the majority still want to carry on talking tto you about anything and everything, happy that you have taken the time to visit their town and I guess, hoping that when you see them next time, you may be more open to buying from them and not run off in the opposite direction. Everything is also done with a smile, again saying no with a courtious bow is often met and appeciated with a recipricated response. That smile sometimes takes a while to drop, a bit like when you get wind.

The Nhi Nhi hotel I am in is located just a short walk from the old centre, its beautiful staff are all curtious, helpful to the extreme and have made it an easy decision to stay on each time that I have been pondering whether its time to move on, although I do seem to be able to frustrate them a little with my insistance on walking everywhere rather than cycling. Its good to see I haven't lost my touch. The staff also make sure that they also use my name and whenever i return to the hotel I am always greeted by a cooling towel and glass of cold water, the one exception being on my first day where on my return I was invited to sit with all the staff around the table and join with them in a little birthday gathering the were having for one of the young ladies. They have done everything to make me feel welcome there. Its been a great place to rest up and recover before I eventually move on tomorrow. A stroke of luck really as I kind of picked the hotel based on the fact that it brought to mind the "knights who say Ni" that featured in monty pythons holy grail movie.

During my time here I have met some lovely people. Paddy and Bernadette from near Dublin just happen to eat in the same restaurants I did for 2 nights running, the first night was a brief encounter where as the second night they invited me to sit with them for a while and talk the night away. I have written in my book that I now owe Paddy and Bernadette a large tiger. I need to remember thats a beer, or things could get messy.
Michael and Claire, also from ireland are a young couple who I started talking to in a effort to divert the attention from a street seller who wouldn't loosen her sales patter whilst they were trying to eat. Unfortunately for them they then had to continue talking to me whilst they ate and I drank a beer. A nice young couple though who I think are having a great time over here
And then there was kurt from Germany.

So tomorrow I switch a few letters around and leave Hoi An, take a taxi to the airport 45 minutes away and get a plane to Hanoi which should take 1.15 hours. The equivalent train journey takes 15 - 17 hours and costs are not disimilair so it was an easy decision. When in Hanoi I have a couple of ideas on how to then move forward to Halong Bay, one of the reasons that Vietnam made it as a destination for me in the first place.

Kidding about kurt.
He was actually a top man, travelling on his own who I drank a couple of beers with whilst sheltering away from a particularly prolonged heavy downpour. He asked about my travel, how long I was travelling etc and then just blurted out "what was here name". It was a beautiful and funny moment that he couldn't apologise enough for. He then spent the next half hour praising what I was doing and how I was doing it, before paying for his beer and running off down the street in order to go and catch his train.



Sunday, 3 November 2013

nov 2nd. nha trang to hoi an

Saturday 2nd November.
This entry is being composed on a night bus which should hopefully take me from Nha Trang to Hoi an, although whether I will be able to walk without a stoop when I get there is yet unknown, there is not enough room to lie flat, to lie flat you must not be over 3ft 2 inches in heels. I marginally exceed this. If I margarinely exceeded it, I might be able to sandwich myself in accordingly.

So Nha Trang, a pleasant enough haunt. It has a big bhudda overlooking the town just above a pagoda and churches, I'd almost forgotten what one of those looked like. Photographer "Long Thanh" is based here who shoots stark images of Vietnam life shot solely in black and white, his gallery is located down a small side street away from the hustle and bustle but is worth tracking down as the captured images on display are if a very high quality including one of a young boy running over the heads of cattle navigating a river.

http://www.longthanhart.com/section34_07.htm

There is a heavy contingent of Russian holiday makers in Nha Trang, possibly more noticeable because of the lack of them I have encountered through the rest of my journey so far. Apparently its mainly here they come, for months at a time to escape mothers hard winters, delivered by the daily flights that come in directly from Moscow.

The resident population are, on the whole genuinely warm and welcoming with the exception of easyrider tour operators (blokes on bikes), drug dealers (blokes on bikes) and pimps (blokes on bikes). They exhibit the falseness exhibited the world over by those trying to sell, exploit or fleece.

"Where you from?"
"That way"

"Where are you going?"
"That way"

It becomes a game after a while, a minor irritation to be dealt with and played.

Nha Trang can also boast some great places to eat and drink. I received great service and food on the waterfront at a little place called "Veranda". Here was the first place I ate when I arrived in town and I swear it was the best eggs benedict I have ever been served. "Lanterns" was another where I ate a few times, the food was delicious, the service impeccable, but the friendliness of the staff and their natural willingness to just talk to you about all manner of subjects set this place apart. Every week this restaurant takes time to cook and serve up food for the poorest in the community, as well as providing basic essentials for those in need. It was for this reason I initially  searched it out, but the quality of the food and level of service was why I returned, twice.

I also found that the staff in the shops were incredibly helpful. One young lady at the convenience store located close to my hotel would bring me a basket each time I was in the shop, I always politely declined. After a couple of visits I opened the fridge and a load of small pre packed cheeses fell out onto the floor. The next time I went in I walked straight up and asked for a basket and she just laughed and then escorted me around the shop helping me pick out drinks and food that weren't completely loaded with sugar, and also no doubt make sure the the clumsy oaf in her midst wasn't going to knock any more stuff over.

Before I travelled this evening I found a small coffee shop and entered to get a latte. The girl there explained that the shop was quite quiet and I voiced my opinion to her that I thought that the  shop itself was too easy to miss, located on a busy street, but just a door with a neon sign next to it nestled above an art gallery, it needed something more visible, like an actual sign on the pavement to draw peoples attention to its existence, she agreed. She then started asking about the book I was reading and flicked through some of the pages after asking permission to do so. Its the sort of interaction and service that you just don't seem to get back in england. Hell, the owner of the cafe gusto coffee shop which lies opposite the S.S Great Britain on  Bristol harbourside often acts like he's doing you a favour taking your money off you in return for a cup of begrudgingly prep'd coffee and a grunt (if he's feeling generous). Its a world away from the way your custom is treated here, plus the coffee was pretty darned good too.

In fact every bar, shop or restaurant I went into, the level of service was universally exceptional, the lady at the hotel (St Peters) who seemed to work all hours under the sun couldn't do enough for me, helping me with booking excursions, laundry services, information and finally booking the night bus for my trip this evening and arranging for me to be collected from the hotel.

But sometimes, although rare, the language barrier can still prove to be problematic.
After getting a juice drink freshly made for me tonight to set me on my travels the lady taking my money smiled and said "uhansum"

"No..........orange smoothie" I replied to her pointing to my drink and checking the menu. There was no "uhansum"on there. The price was the same though, so no great shakes.

6am, the bus is having running repairs on a faulty tyre. The driver says it will be twenty minutes but we have been stopped for 30 already. I suspect that he only knows how to say "twenty minutes" in English, it's the default answer to "how long?"


How long to fix?
How long is my foot?
How long, has this been going on?
Ha long bay?

Twenty minutes.

All I know is that after 11 hours trying to find a non obtuse angle on this thing, we're still much more than the 20 minutes that we should be from reaching our destination.

looking at the map I would chuck down a loose estimate of 2 hours, but as long as we get there in one piece, I'll take that.

8.30, arrived battered but still mano et uno.
As I departed the bus I had all manner of offers from taxi drivers and hoteliers looking for fair fares or rooms to rent out, but as I had booked my room on hotel.com the night before I clipped my bags together, saddled up and started walking.

"Where you going?" asked one taxi driver
"Nhi Nhi" I replied, "I walk".
"Too far to walk" he persisted.
Lying shit, I had passed it in on the bus on the way into town. I walked.

10 minutes later I had arrived at a beautiful little hotel, explained that I was early but asked if it was possible to leave my big bag somewhere. The receptionist then brought me a cooling towel and glass of cold lemon tea and told me to leave my bags, sit down and have some breakfast.

Who was I to argue. Welcome to Hoi An.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

wednesday 30th october 2013. the 4 t's

4 t's?
Tired.
I woke about 6, It then took me over an hour to force myself from my bed and manage a shower. The lift here goes all the way to the 7th floor, but in almost true spinal tap fashion, "this one goes up to..." 8, so i trundled up the last flight to the restaurant area and commenced my 41st year on this planet with a banana pancake and a lemon juice. Breakfast of champions.

Transport.
I was collected from the hotel reception area just after 9 covered from head to toe in factor 50, which enabled me to slide easily to the back of the minibus for the short journey to the local docks where a couple of herds were loaded onto the boat for the trip to some bays and coves off the local islands for a little snorkeling. This was to be my first time (again)

It took a short while to get there, so plenty of time for our guide for the day to run through some tour speil, memorise peoples names and generally enjoy himself. He was good, almost everyone's names were committed, the only problematic one being "Sergio" which he struggled with. Easily overcome though. Sergio became "john wayne" for the day.

Training
We arrived at our first drop, towels, flippers, and masks with snorkles attached were handed out and with my size 30's on I duck waddled up to the side of the boat and plunged overboard into the warm, salty waters. The level of the south china sea dropped about 2 inches as I decided to take in whatever I could through every orifice before surfacing again, coughing and spluttering away.

It took me a little while to get the hang of snorkeling too, its just not instinctive first of all to only breath through your mouth and it's easy to panic when you initially run short of breath. But soon enough you become accustomed to the new way of filling your lungs, your breathing becomes more definite and controlled and you start to focus on the marvels that lay beneath you in the clear shallow waters, rather than the fact that your nose, your buddy for the last 40 years of your life, no longer functions.

Then you notice a few small jelly fish around you and mild panic sets in again. I worked the flippers hard and I was soon clear to go back looking at the purple and blues of the corals and plants drifted over by all manner of tropical fish, none too bothered by the white whale floating above them. I will avoid using the term "moby dick" for obvious reasons. After 30 minutes or so I returned to the boat, drank some fresh water and waited while my body drips sea back out of my nose.

We then went to another bay, launched ourselves in again into deeper waters and paddled our way to the shallower depths for more snorkeling. I felt something sting my arm but the pain was short lived and didn't affect the enjoyment of the swim, turns out others got stung too but none were serious. Must have been a vodka jelly.

Terrified.
After this second dive the table was set and we all sat around to a dinner of noodles, chicken, egg, tiger prawns, seaweed and other dishes before making waves to our way to our 3rd and final coral reef where we would have to swim through deeper, choppier waters to reach the warmer shallow corals. The plants and coral here were brighter and more colourful than the previous ones we visited, and the types of fish more diverse. I swam through schools teaching maths and over little urchins who had been left outside before something a little bigger caught my eye.

Long, thin and silver, and within touching distance, it just floated there, trying to work me out. I in turn floated there, giving him my best eye back in a game of fish v man. Who would flinch first. I can only vouch for the way I was feeling at the time and I think the south china sea rose back it's 2 inches I had stolen earlier at that point. Disgusted the barracuda moved on, and I decided that was enough, i used my size 30 flippers to run back over the water to the boat and dried myself down.

Shortly after the guide produced an amazing array of fruit for us all to enjoy, but before tucking in he also led the entire boat in a chorus of "happy birthday to jim". A couple of people on the boat had known but one had let the guy in charge know too. So Germans, Austrians, Dutch, Portuguese, Americans, Mexicans and more all sang in chorus to wish me a happy fortieth, god only knows how I'm going to top that one in the future.

So another amazing experience on my travels, and I'm only half way through the asian part of this bloody thing.

Sub note.
On the way back in the evening to the hotel, a walk that lasts about 2 minutes I had the now expected approaches from old men riding Honda Love's offering girls or drugs. It's the major blot on the page of an otherwise enjoyable location and one that Vietnam would maybe do well to address if it wants to further itself as a family friendly holiday destination. I'm starting to run out of polite ways to say "piss off" in a friendly, non confrontational manner.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

tuesday 29th october t = 40 -1

We arrived at Ho Chi Min station at 10:30 to catch the 11:00 overnight train to Nha Trang which was waiting at the platform when we wearily arrived. The room was basic and contained 4 bunk beds on metal frames, with a single step on the base of each to hoist yourself on to the top bunk if required, which I did with the grace and poise expected of me by now on this trip. Still, no bones broken.

There's a lesson to be learned about using the toilets on these things, and that is get in early for as the journey lingers on, so does the stench that builds from the misuse of the facilities. Even with the window open wide enough to air a small chlorine fumed leisure complex, later visits become excercises in purple faced breath holding.

The train started rolling on time with our carriage consisting of a mental french lady, a vietnamese traveller with smelly feet, rachel and myself. Mental french lady sparked up a conversation with Rachel about how it was her dream to travel on the overnight train all the way to hanoi and that afterwards she was travelling to a very important festival in Thailand. I think the marijuana sellers must have found a buyer.


The journey started fresh, I put on a pair of jeans and a jumper and looked forward to a night of being snug in relative cool conditions, by the time the train rocked in at 5.40, I was back in shorts and damp t shirt, desperate for a shower and a proper clean up.

From the train station we got a taxi into town. Rachel, dead on her feet had got the name of a hotel from the lady in the place we had stayed in Ho Chi Min. I was wide awake and with it due to a sugar low requirement of a packet of sweets on the train upon waking. So using the last of the battery on my phone I located the hotel and tried to get Rachel to her destination before she tumbled, and from there I had the name of a couple of hostels to try to find after. By the time we reached the hotel, my battery was about to die, I wasn't going to be locating anything until that had recharged.

The lady on reception showed me a room, it was small but it was clean and tidy with a double bed, aircon, tv, a fridge for my insulin and powerful shower. 10 dollars a night or 12 with breakfast, I booked five nights with breakfast and set about cleaning up, by 7 am I was walking barefoot with waves licking my toes along the shore of one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever encountered, pipping even weston super mud during the rainy season. I walked for a while taking in the view and breaths of cool air.

"I could stay here" I mused.

Those feelings lasted nearly a whole day before wandering back to where I go to next, by what means and for ha long (titter)

After a late breakfast, I went back to the hotel, grabbed a book and headed for the loungers in the beach, picked a shadey one, read 2 pages then crashed. Everything had finally caught up it seemed and the sea air was only too keen to deliver the knockout punch. I woke, dosed and read the next few hours away, whilst watching the small wild birds combing the beach and burying themselves up to their heads in the sand, bathing in the shade.  I returned to the hotel, showered, ate then slept soundly until morning.

After breakfast I wandered along the beach again for a couple of hours before returning back the hotel for more sleep until early afternoon when I rose again, stuck a book in one pocket and a bottle of water in the other and ambled along the road that ran concurrent with the beach, visiting shopping areas, cafes and, as the evening fell the vietnamese life that was now present. Small huddles of men betting on something, families out walking and groups playing all manner of sports on the beach, I used my new photobombing skills effectively before sitting down to read some more from the wethered pages of my slowly digested paperback.

When I walked along the beach on the first morning here, a young american lady approached me thinking I was someone else. I knew she was american, who else would use "doppleganger" comfortably in open conversation. "He was a brit too" she said.

Walking the beach today a german chap started speaking to me, again thinking I was someone else with whom he had been speaking at the day before. I wasn't him.

Tomorrow I hit the big 4 oh and whilst I wanted to use this time away as a period to reflect and maybe find myself, I really hope that I actually don't. Another me? That would just be far too disturbing.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

sunday 27th october - hot coffee

Vietnamese coffee is potent stuff, and at the moment it is this factor that I am relying on to keep myself from sleeping on this lazy Sunday afternoon in Ho Chi Minh city, well as lazy as this place gets. Sunday's just like any other day, just without the crush hour. Tonight I catch the over night train from here to Nha Trang, leaving at 11pm, I need to keep myself going until then.
I have spent the last couple of days in recovery mode. It doesn't take long of being off your food and drink for just a general feeling of unwell to take hold, so yesterday I set about trying to get control of everything again.

I wandered around the bars and shops, looking for a familiar type breakfast, options included continental, Irish, Vietnamese but no English. The closest I got to that was an American breakfast and a coffee, which I dutifully took my time and finished. it wasn't easy, but I had to start getting some food back into my body.

As I left the music being played in the bar was "yellow" by cold play, a tune that invoked memories that although I don't wish forgotten, could do with maybe staying suppressed for a little while longer.

Making my way through the park toward the market area with the intention of getting a couple more easydri t-shirts for the rest of my trip, I was approached in the park by a young girl and her mother who asked if it was ok if the young girl practiced her English on me, to which I replied "of course". She was shy at first, but soon was rattling off the abc song and other questions for me. Her mother said she likes to speak English and I think that showed. Some English words that other Vietnamese would find tricky ( I.e sauce" is usually pronounced back as "shaw" ) the young girl would pronounce back clearly and without fault almost every time.

Soon what had started out as a conversation between 3 had turned into small sermon as more young students came over, keen to ask questions and further their understanding of the foreigner sat amongst them. I answered their questions the best I could, showed them pictures on my camera that I had taken so far on my travels and tried to repeat their names back to them. It was great to be engaged on a personal level and we sat there in conversation for a good hour or so before I made my excuses and left them. Cheap t-shirts don't buy themselves you know, although I wish they did. Trying to navigate through the narrow ailes in the market place soon turns into something resembling a scene from an apocalyptic zombie movie, with arms reaching out to grab you while voices mumble from the sides to try and draw your attention. I think my leg may have got infected. I'll stay quarantined for now. Don't want to have to be subjected to the double tap if I can get away with it.

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=LDJedaxA2eU&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DLDJedaxA2eU

So back to today, and after seeing the splendour of the central post office in action, and being slightly confused over all the posed for wedding photo's outside the notre dame church that lay opposite and was closed, Kirsty departed to begin her journey back home and rachel and I visited the local botanical gardens and zoo. Think Bristol zoo, but bigger, with a nicer feel and plenty of animals and space to enjoy. People go there for picnics and to relax the day away, but then it costs 12000 dong to gain entry, which is just over half a dollar.

We got asked for signatures and photographs which is really quite a bizarre experience. Not sure why exactly but again, I was happy to go along with it, slightly mimicking the peace sign that seems to be par for the course in photos being taken in this part of the world. If you see me on an advertising board selling diet coke you know that my image and signature have been obtained using questionable tactics.

Tenuous link to coke.
I have come to the conclusion that I must look like some sort or sleazy drug fiend. Its not right to be offered so many massages, followed by someone asking, "taxi, marijuana" barely pausing between forcing the 2 words past their lips. It took me a while to work out what was on offer here. Somethings are just random combinations that don't quite work.

Taxis and marijuana
Sunglasses and zippos
James and blogging.
Vietnamese Coffee and coconut smoothies.

Actually, that last one works pretty well, but you may just have to take my word on that one.

smooth and bitter....