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 as it apparently is according to the numerous people I have met whilst travelling, me be a little undeveloped for somebody travelling alone with a small medical condition. So that would make 2 places in this part of the world that I could visit in the future should I decide in 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.