Thursday, 31 October 2013

wednesday 30th october 2013. the 4 t's

4 t's?
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.

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.

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.

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.

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....

Saturday, 26 October 2013

friday 25th october 2013 - cu chi tunnels

This morning we travelled to see the Cu  Chi tunnels which lay about 2 hours drive north west of the city. Before the bus collected us from the travel agent we stocked up on food from the bakery and I got a yoghurt, strawberry and banana smoothie to help start the day. The slight  travel agent joked that I must be drinking elephant milk, he was a little camp so it brings into question just where he was looking or what he was referring to, so there's a 66.6 % chance it was a compliment.

But then there's the other 33.3%.

Our guide for the trip was a colourful chap called Mr Tom. Its quite nice to hear someone here explain to the group of mostly caucasian westerners that we all look "same same" to him. Imagine getting away with that one back home. But there's no offence meant or caused. Sometimes life is life hey, you can choose to be offended if you wish.

En route to the tunnels, just outside Hoc Mon we stop at a factory which is run by the government, which employs people who have suffered from adverse affects from the dispersal of Agent Orange by the US troops during the war. Here works of art are created either by lone individuals or in small groups and the level of care, attention and quality of the final pieces is truly amazing. Finally there is a shop where you can buy these items and send them overseas if required. But as impressive as it is, the cynic inside of me is starting to think that basically the tourist here is seen as a cash cow, to be milked and suckled upon at any given opportunity. Don't get me wrong, it's both impressive and sobering and the world should not be shielded from the reality of the affects of the damage that can be caused by the use of chemical weapons. But if we are to learn from the mistakes of the past to ensure these kind of things are not allowed to happen in the future, maybe it should be the politicians or those studying politics with a view to yielding some sort of influence in the future should make up the crux of the visitors to places like these.

So finally to the tunnels, Mr Tom took us for a whistle stop hour and a half tour of the grounds, showing us fox holes, tunnels and different traps as well as animatedly explaining the tactics of the war. Cu Chi was his home, and he showed us the scars that he received here from a gun ship during the conflict. You could understand this man being tainted, he lost family and friends during the same period, but shows absolutely no signs of resentment or blame. His account and explanation of the war and how it came to be is very matter of fact and balanced, a distinct contrast to the feel of the war remnants museum the day before. He seems to revel in his role of teacher, his goal is just to explain and educate, to put everything in context. As he tells it, Vietnam is a country that wants to catch up with the rest of the economic world and forge relations wherever it can. "Let bygones be bygones" he says, again a sentiment you can't help but agree with when you look at lifes bigger picture. A wise man that Mr Tom.

And then, after assuming that everyone on the trip was wealthy tourists, we were basically asked for a small tip when the trip ended. He would have got one anyway as the insight and education he had provided throughout the day was quite enlightening. Unfortunately though, just like the strong Vietnamese coffee which is served here, it just leaves a slightly bitter taste and reaffirms my feeling that maybe I need to grow more teats.

Friday, 25 October 2013

thursday 24th October - ho chi minh city


Departure day, those of us that were left said our goodbyes and departed the hotel. Rachel, Kirsty and I went in search of suitable accommodation and after inspecting a couple of dud rooms were fortunate to come across a pleasant place that had a single and double rooms available, both en-suite. My single room has a double bed, the girls double is more of a triple so good size rooms and the aircon works pretty well, which is still a must despite it feeling less oppressive here. We have all booked until Sunday which is when Kirsty will depart for home and Rachel and I will travel together up the coast towards our respective destinations. I am holding out now for the beach and to relax, rest and recharge. I feel like I'm going to crossing over the line in sand that marks my forties at a crawl rather than a sprint. Still, best to be safe hey.

Ho Chi Minh itself is definitely still south east asia, but flavoured a little differently. The motorbike is king here and western brands such as starbucks, pizza hut and mercedes benz all gave a presence along with the street sellers, markets and brightly lit night areas that I have Already experienced in Bangkok and Siem Reap. The outskirts of the city is dressed in the now customary narrow 3 or 4 storey buildings above rather downbeat looking stores along with faded red and white markings along the road boundaries, but the further you venture into the centre, the more up together everything becomes, finally reaching areas that would rival London with designer label storefronts, plush hotels and high rise glass office buildings.

Of all the places so far it also seems the easiest to communicate in english. Almost everyone here seems eager to speak or learn the english language, from coffee houses, restaurants, travel agents, shop keepers, market sellers or people just walking through the park. Westerners are greeted and welcomed as a way to further develop their own grasp of the language, and of course use it for monetary gain aswell under certain circumstances.

So, visited a couple of places, today.

the war remnants museum.
4 floors of exhibits from the vietnam war as well as vehicles on display in the outside area.

It doesn't take long before you realise that the first displays on the ground floor are portraying the american involvement in a negative light. No explanation is given to events which led to the conflict, just straight into posters of protests in countries around the world and quotes from world leaders condemning american actions at this time. Its an unfortunate start as it puts in your mind from the off that everything you are seeing here is going to be a biased representation on the actual truths of the war, and whilst horrors and atrocities undoubtedly occurred during these periods of conflict, you can't help but wish that maybe a more balanced representation or or explanation of the war was on offer here. The one exception to this is the fantastic war photographs collection, which contains strong and powerful imagery regardless of national portrayal or political interest.

The reunification palace.
Not really quite sure what to make of this one. This is where a north vietnamese  tank symbolically broke through the gates in 1975, the old political centre and symbol of South Vietnam.

The grounds and building just feel like a large hotel that you have restricted movement through. We missed any tours which I think would have added to the experience. I will have to read more at a later date and see if I can put into context what I have seen here. Truth be told I was still less than top drawer so may not have gleaned the most out of this one as maybe I could have. I think maybe barrellrollman may be worth a watch here, even though he seems like he may be a bit of a douche.

I think that's the thing with coming away to these places, they are full of things that you feel you need to see and experience, if for nothing other than self development and greater understanding of the world.  But sometimes you need to just cut the pace a little or you risk only getting a small flavour of the riches on offer.

Or maybe that's just me.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

wednesday 23rd - wrapping up cambodia. (sat 19th to wed 23rd)

So I'm sat on a bus heading out of Cambodia to Vietnam, this trip should take around 7 hours, I have slept over 2 since leaving this morning.

So let me try to bring this blog up to date and close off Cambodia by recounting and compressing the last few days into to a single short entry.

Saturday, woke up with a slightly sore eye so decided to stay out of the dusty streets for the morning. In the afternoon the group travelled a 4 hour bus trip that took 3 hours, were treated to some traditional dancing by a group of young boys and girls and shared drink and the evening with a local family in a rural village. The grouo all slept(?) In the same room under mosquito nets. Close proximity snoring and dull eye ache prevented me from getting any proper sleep. I don't think they were linked.

Sunday, woke up to a beautiful sunrise before taking a walk to see waterfalls and pools before breakfast. Some of the group swam in the waters but only one, young K. Grylls showed the ingenuity to create a clothes hanger from the resources around her, airing her wet clothes on the way back down the hill on the frame hoisted over her shoulder. Completely at home in her surroundings

We then travelled to the seaside town of Sihanoukville where our guide told us to keep close guard of belongings. The roads and buildings around the area towards where our hotel was located were scruffy or unfinished, or scruffy and unfinished, take your choice. The beach itself was nice but you have to navigate through the small hoarde of persuasive young children selling trinkets and fireworks or be ready for the odd person missing a limb who would appear cap in hand over your shoulder whilst you drank or ate. There are private beaches nearby where this does not occur though if it's not your thing.

In the evening the beach looks stunning with beach lanterns, lights and comfy chairs outside the bars that lie along the coast. Here we drank heartily and someone spiked my tonic with gin. Later young Kirsty would show her resourcefulness again, beating me 2-1 on a wobbly pool table, with wobbly cues in a wobbly bar on a wobbly beach.

With a couple of us still left, with me propping up the wobbly bar, a young scottish lass who was working behind it asked me "does your friend know that one of those girls he's with is a man?". I reassured her with the kind, heartfelt words, "I'm sure he'll find out at some point"

Monday, I was ready for breakfast at 3pm prompt, then spent the rest of the day dipping in and of the the hotel swimming pool.

I nearly got harpooned, twice. Never float with you're blow hole sunny side up, it's an old saying somewhere.....

Tuesday. Early start back and 4 hour public bus journey back to Phnom Phen, this time though it was a luxury double decker with nice reclining seats and enough leg space at the front to stretch my legs out fully. My legs reached the capital 6 minutes before the rest of me caught up.  The afternoon was spent the afternoon walking to, around from the Central Market (an impressive communist style structure) stocking up on t-shirts, new prescription sunglasses and looking for a replacement for my cap which I had left behind at the hotel that morning. I replaced my lost Bambou Indochine cap from Siem Reap with a Bambou Indochine cap from Phnom Phen, only this time I didn't buy 3 shirts in store to get it.

So up to today. Wednesday 23rd October 2013 and we crossed into Vietnam at 1pm after 4 hours travel, ending my Cambodian part of this journey. It's been a hectic period and I have seen and experienced things that I will never forget from both ends of the emotional spectrum. I'm now looking forward to what Vietnam has to offer while I explore things here at a more leisurely pace, my body has let me know that maybe its been pushed a little too hard lately.

Tonight is our final meal as a group before we each go our seperate ways.
It's been hectic fun and I couldn't have wished to spend the time with a nicer group of people, and I hope that they all enjoy wherever life takes them next, some have some intersting journeys ahead I'm sute.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

friday 18th october - phnom phen

Another 4 hour bus trip. Everything here takes 4 hours, even when it doesn't.

This bus trip was much like the last but with less horn and a heavily cracked drivers windscreen that was being held from shattering by big blobs of glue at strategic points where the fracture lines changed direction. As we were sat at the front of the bus and my fresh laundry was rapidly depleteing, I decided to plug in some music, write a little and try to get some sleep.

we arrived in the Cambodian capital Phnom Phen around mid-day. In the afternoon there was an optional excursion to visit the Killing Fields which lay just outside the city, and the ex school turned security office (s21) where prisoners were held, interrogated, tortured and sometimes killed. Everybody took the trip.

Our guide, a young 21 year old showed an impressive recollection of facts and figures and explained graphically the atrocities that went on in these places, which I'm not going to go into here. The killing field area itself is now a memorial type garden, with exposed and unexposed pits, information boards and boxes displaying bones, recovered clothing and tools. When it rains here these reminants are still being uncovered, you are told this to warn you just in case.

It's a thought provoking and emotional place. The emotion I experienced, perhaps surprisingly, was anger about what had happened. I wasn't expecting that.

The S21 security office /detention centre lays back in the city, has pictures of some of the victims on the walls, more bones and tools used to convey the story of what went on. The place still felt like a school though which I found particularly chilling.

During the POLitical POTential regime, the population of Cambodia was nearly halved and whole towns lay emptied as people were forced from their homes. When the regime ended, amnesty was offered to people who had been responsible for the things that had happened during those times. Many of these now hold positions of power in the current corrupt  political system. How can things possibly change?

But changing they definitely are, the capital is a city under construction and the will of the people seems to be forcing things to open up, but these people are still scared to openly criticise their leaders, which is easy to understand given their recent history.

after the tour I took a walk for a few blocks to find a pharmacy as I needed to get some mosquito repellent. The one I found was owned and run by an older couple, probably mid seventies who spoke the same amount of English as I spoke Cambodian, thus began a game of dingbats with me doing my best mosquito impression complete with flying wing arm movements and pointy teeth hand in front of my mouth, how could it not work? It was good fun with laughter and involvement in the game from all 3 of us. This is the sort of experience that I will take with me from Cambodia, a country with an horrific past, but hopefully a bright future in front of it.

Now what do i do with these teeth clippers, fly swatter and nasal spray?

Sunday, 20 October 2013

thursday 17th october - mekong

Thursday I think, early start number something.

Today we were travelling 6 hours by public bus to our destination, Kampong Cham which lay south east of us along dusty, broken edged roads. I'm sure there are rules of the road here but from a outsiders point of view it seems to be a game of real life top trumps, the bigger the vehicle and louder the horn being the 2 most used categories, closely followed by level of drivers derring do. It helped that our driver had won the prestigious Cambodian Horn Blower of the Year award 2006, successfully retaining it every year since through sheer dedication and frequent blowing. He liked the horn. He also liked his mobile phone and selecting which music dvd we were going to watch. Reminiscent of sixties, seventies and early eighties "top of the pops" shows, but with an south eastern Asia flavour, it was a good watch if only because it took your focus away from the road gently weaving from left to right and the ongoing game of chicken that we had inadvertently become involved in.

So we remained folded our seats for around 6 hours with the weak aircon dribbling coolish air above us, bar a couple quick stops to use less brown star toilet facilities, gawp at almost inedible foods (by entitled westerner standards) and top up on pre-sealed packets of crisps and bottled water. You learn to keep your antiviral hand wash in close proximity when you visit the "traps" in those places, but sometimes the call of nature just has to be answered, no matter how much you want to pretend that you're not in.

Our hotel was situated right across the road from the Mekong River and after a quick bit of lunch some of us headed out to cycle around one of the near by islands, making the crossing by traditional wooden ferry boat with engine to avoid getting our bikes and feet wet. Rural and beautiful, this is the second time on this trip I have almost run out of hello's with children and families coming out to stand roadside to greet the crazy tourists on basket fronted lady bikes either verbally or with high five hand slaps as we cycled by. A smile sneakily slipped onto my face, I wiped it clean as soon as I noticed before I scared someone. No one should have to see that.

We made a couple of stops on our trip, one to a school where we were invited to sit and talk with the children and teacher to help them learn English through interaction. The children ranged from ages 10 to 13, their teacher just a child herself, was not much older but had a better basic understanding of the language so was passing on her knowledge. This is how they learn here.

Secondly we stopped and tried a grapefruit like fruit which tasted somewhere between what you would expect it to and orange, almost like breakfast juice in handy pre packaged natural form, Cambodia is a country that continues to delight and surprise with its experiences and warm, friendly and open people. It's not perfect, but you get the impression it wants to be. It's just early days.

As we caught the ferry back, the most beautiful sunset dropped across the river and I felt blessed and honoured to be in that place, at that time, with great people. it just a shame I had to bruise and batter my right butt cheek on that ruddy bus to get there.

wednesday 16th october - floating village

another morning, another early start.
Today we travelled a short distance to see "Kamphong Phluk", one of the floating villages in the region, however with the amount of rain we had experienced the night before I was half expecting more villages to be floating, thankfully this was not the case. As we passed roadside wildlife and "crocodile farm" signs the worst flooding that was apparent was the flooded road on the run up to where we were due to be catching our boat. Abandoning the (by now customary) white toyota van we all took tuk tuks through this final stretch of road, water lapping just under the boards beneath our feet and with wheels struggling to keep their traction and momentum as the water reached it's deepest, it was a relief to reach the other side to gingerly cross the wobbly slats of wood that has been placed down in order for us to make the boat that was waiting on the bloated lake away from the shrunken shore.

Once on board we all took our seats on the wet wooden slats as the craft was pushed around and clear of other similar vessels before making waves across the lake, rain spitting and caressing the right hand side of my body and face as we passed near partly submerged vegetation and occasional building It was here that I christened my poncho, "Poncho".

25 minutes or so later as the rain withdrew we approached the the first stilted buildings of the village and we took to the roof of the boat to get an elevated view of our surroundings. Simple dwellings, a school, children in boats fishing and women hanging clothes to dry, a simple life but maybe not a poor one. Not everything of value should maybe be defined in monetary terms. As we cruised around the self sufficient village, being greeted and waved to by adults and children alike, it was clear that this place had a community spirit that is so often lacking in more financially driven environments. The people seemed happy and content, but then that is the view from a river boat passing meters away from them and not any accurate or in depth study of the people who have found themselves living this way.

We returned to shore on the roof of the boat, some people now bathing in the emerging sun, others writing their journals to record memories of places they would never see again. I just sat there as it was more comfortable than those bloody wooden slats inside.

That afternoon was time for shopping, a few of us wandered into the town area before going our separate ways. I found one stall selling football shirts in the easy dry material I was after, but not being much of a football fan I was after something a little less tribal, they didn't have anything. I have found in Thailand and Asia that being 6ft plus puts you into gullivers travels territory and clothes of (not) large (enough) and above are often priced higher initially than smaller sizes. I'm just waiting to wake up one morning now and find myself tied down to the bed with little ropes by the little people.

I finally found a store called "Bambou Indochine" where I bought a lovely light material shirt, not quite what I was after originally but nice all the same. I bought the one originally due to concerns about space in my already tight backpack but liked it enough that before I had left the small shopping centre where the shop was located, I went back and picked up another in a different colour. The lady serving me called out in Cambodian to her associate and the returned to softly spoken English to tell me that if I bought 3 shirts I would get a free cap. I was already on 2. The same concern over available space stopped me.

1 hour later my cap fitted perfectly and I had another coloured shirt to fit into my bag.

The evening was spent in a bar and grill style affair where a thin rake of a man sat topless playing guitar and slaughtering his versions of different tunes, including those of simon and garfunkel, tammy wynette and henry manchini whist we attempted to eat sat at swinging tables fixed to the ceiling by giant straps. It wasn't easy, partly due to the motion and partly down to the table not being big enough for the amount of food and drink that was being delivered. After the food the small rake guy was replaced by a trio consisting of one man and 2 of the women from Robert Palmers "addicted to love" video, they still still have the moves too.l

Initially they lined up with the man out of view at the back, leading to the thought of "she's got a deep voice" on the first couple of numbers. One of the ladies actually had a great singing voice nailing the carpenters "top of the world", but when they talked to introduce the next song it was like listening to american DJ. its something that is a little jarring but a big percentage of Cambodian people that speak a lot of English, do so with an unerring american drawl.

karaoke started, we left and split along various routes with different distractions before all reaching the safety of the hotel at different stages through the night. I avoided a foot massage despite a couple from the groups gentle persuasive technique of trying to get me to join them in having one. I'm under no illusion, I know they can bloody hurt.

I think it's probably fair to say that women can be a little masochistic at times.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Tuesday 15th October - wat wat?

The alarm kicked in at around 4.30am and we gathered downstairs at the hotel at around 5 ready to travel by van the 15 minutes or so to Angkor Wat. Entrance ticket price for the day was 20 usd which would cover access to all the temple areas located within this vast site, but that is not why we were here so early.

As we sat on the wall looking into darkness across a wide body of water, it wasn't long before the sillioutes of the famous structures started to distinguish themselves against the brightening sky. Sharper at the front with the towers further back veiled by a light morning haze and light colour pockets through gentle clouds reflecting in the water. It made the obscene bordering early morning rise completely justified.

After 30 minutes or so, Dawn had finished doing her thing and we left her and headed back to the hotel to clean up, have a spot of breakfast and get a few things ready to return for a day around the temples. Breakfast consisted of plant scrambled eggs (we think this meant plain) with a fresh baguette and an iced coffee, for which I think I may have developed an addiction. The closer I get to Vietnam though, the more concerned about the ice I get, so will get my fix whilst I still can.

Back at the temples it was hot and close. I sweated a lot over the next few hours wandering in, out, around and over stone structures, and studying the reliefs carved into many of them. One particular row contained images of what we would recognise as dinosaurs, including a very definite image of a stegosaurus, quite remarkable when you consider that building here was taking place around 1200ad.

One nice tidbit of information garnered from our guide was that the lonely planet and other guide books often describe this area as being "Abandoned", but this was down to a rough literal translation at the time that the site was rediscovered. The amount of people living in and around Ankor Wat during its peak was around 1 million, but rather than simply being "abandoned" as we would put it, the population died over time due to starvation. So we stopped to eat, history should not be repeated.

After a spot of lunch we headed for the iconic structure of Angkor Wat, with dominant pointed tower surrounded by 4 more sightly smaller ones. The moat that surrounds is an engineering marvel at 100 meters across and the wide bridge that crosses it has no barriers or railings that would be forced upon it if it resided in a health and safety conscious country, but no one fell in whilst were there, no one was so daft to go close enough to an edge without railings.

We wandered and sweated again, in around over and though the heavy air and stone structures before heading back across the moat towards the coach. The exiting crowds scrutinised intently from a side wall by a monkey the size of a 4 year old child on anabolic steroids. Suddenly, his gaze fixed and he moved with purpose through the crowd snatching a silver packet from a young girl which she reluctantly released when the monkey threateningly bared its curved dagger like incisors. It was a little sealed packet of sweets and the monkey had recognised the packet. Angkor Wat monkey steals candy from a baby. Tourist gives babies father a dollar to get more candy. Baby grows up with bad teeth. Bad tourist.

We head back to the hotel where everyone heads off in their own direction for a few hours and some of us decide to meet a little while later to go into town and have a bite to eat and maybe visit the night markets for a little shopping.

The shopping never really happened.

As we sat down in the evening to enjoy our meal the rains came and came in heavy leaving us with no option but to sit and try an assortment beverages and soak up the pleasing atmosphere rather than the moisture outside. We drank, we relaxed, we talked and we drank the next new hours away before eventually the rain relinquished its grip and we headed back the short distance back, the girls tuk took tooks, me an roomy strolled it.

On the way we spotted a small little bar with a couple of pool tables sat just inside the front doors. Before we had even made it to get a drink we were jumped on by a couple of young ladies who seemed quite forward, obviously a different culture and I immediately felt uncomfortable. We got a couple of drinks and one of the girls asked if we wanted to play pool, I hadn't played in a while but I'm quite sure the game rules are roughly the same, although I wasn't ready the distraction techniques deployed of legs on tables as you go to take a shot and other similair techniques.

Their tactics seemed to work though, it was the worst I had ever played. I blamed the lack of chalk.

I lost the game but was starting to feel that maybe I was in a bit more trouble than I had first anticipated. "You Very handsome" confirmed my suspicions and I paid for my drink before dusting my heels and making a hasty exit back onto the rain soaked streets, leaving my roommate contently chatting to another mixed group. I think he was more comfortable at losing at pool than I was.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

monday 14th october - off to Cambodia

Adele dutifully woke me up at 6am sharp, by which time Bart was already showered and cleaned. I the took my turn in the shower / wet room area before assimilating all my belongings into my bag again and heading downstairs for a spot of breakfast to try to ready myself for the long trip to cambodia that lay ahead. Cutting it a little fine to the 7am departure time, it turned out to be a rushed affair consisting of eggs, toast, a little fruit juice and black coffee which I finished whilst standing before walking out to join the others, load up the baggage and jumpinto the white toyota people carrier. It took us half an hour to clear bangkok traffic control, with only the one accident infront of us with a car slamming into the side of another before vering across a couple of lanes. With the city behind us we began to slice our way accross Thailand heading for the border town Poipet which lay 5 hours away. This initial part of the journey would be broken up by 3 stops.

The first stop was for us to refuel and fill in the visa forms for Cambodia.
The second was to refuel tbe toyota.
The third was at the cambodian embassy to get the visas, which our guide did whilst we all stayed in the van. We then carried on the rest of the way to Poipet.

Leaving the van behind we all grabbed our bags and cases and wandered through market stalls, past fried insects and scorpions before lining up to get through border control. First of all,we all stood in lines to get passports and departure forms checked. The tapping of the officials finger on my departure card brought attention to my departure form not being signed, but rather than just having a pen available that desk I had to go to the far end of the room again, sign it and then rejoin the queue again. It didn't take long and the next official checked it again before nonchalently throwing it down and letting me past.

Cambodian entry went a little smoother, but I needed to scan the finger prints from both hands, have my picture taken and have lots of forms stamped, but the whole crossing had only taken around 30 minutes before we boarded a public bus to the central depot where another van was waiting to take us the rest of the way to our hotel at Siem Reap. Stopping briefly en-route for our first group meal on cambodian soil we arrived at the Victory Guest House by mid afternoon and would have the rest of the day to relax and settle before the group meal in he evening.

Siem Reap is much smaller and manageable than Bangkok and Cambodia in places had reminded me of video footage I had seen of Cuba, all dusty edged roads and a sleepy manner. The currency used here is primarily the US dollar with change of under a dollar being then delivered in the cambodian reil.

At rougly 4000 of these to the dollar it basically equates to being given your chanhe in cheap toilet paper, which your better off getting rid of as soon as you can.

A brief stoll in the evening into the town for food showed us that this area was quite similair in feel to the Khao San road area of Bangkok, with plenty of life, bars,street food and markets offering clothing, art and massages which could either be performed by either attractive local ladies or not so attractive fish.

I opted for an earlyish night.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

cambodia group meet - 13.10.2013

I woke fairly early snd shifted all my stuff quietly from the dorm into the laundry room, it was here that i decided which of my items were to be culled. Trainers, t-shirts, shorts and bodywash were selected and those, along with a book I had left on the bookshelf in the hostel allowed room in my bag for the new items I had picked up over the last few days.

With bag saddled I left lubD in Silom for the final time and walked the short distance to the pier and hopped on the ferry boat to get near to the hotel where i would be joining the tour to Cambodia. Ten minutes walking after disembarking the appropriate ferry point and I had completed the 5 minute walk to the hotel, only getting lost the once.

The room was basic but comfortable so i went about reorganising some of my stuff and fully charging a few of my electrical items. It wasn't long before my room mate for the trip arrived, 6ft 4 strapping Austrailian Bart. At 3" taller than me when vertical, I hoped that as long as I followed him I hoped I'd get a few days respite from banging my head on everything. He said hello and I said hello back. with the introductions over it wasn't long before we were sat in the bar opposite having a bit of local food and a couple of local drinks. Thai whskey and diet coke for Bart, a large draft lager for me.

it seems that "long" might be Thai for "jug".

After that things were only heading in the one direction.

We met with the rest of the group in the hotel foyer, the guide introduced himself as Ronnie and ran over the itinerary for the next few days, before we all then headed out to get food and drink in the Khao San Road area, the place at night is just alive wth bright neon signs where street traders and drinkers mingle without the slightest hint of unpleasantness.

Its like the UK but without any of the aggrevation, better food and of course, a touch warmer.

After food a couple of the group decided to be sensible and go back to the hotel ready for the early start in the morning. I obviously wasn't one of those. The rest of us carried on drinking until 2.30. Adele would be trying to wake in just 3 and a half hours, luckily I think I was sound asleep before I hit horizontal.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Wat Arun and Kaoh San Road - 12th October 2012

I planned to get to Wat Arun before it was too hot.

By about 8.00 am it was too hot.

I had about a 10 minute walk before i reached the nearest pier (oriental). From here I caught the ferryboat up the river for 15 minutes or so until jumping off opposite Wat Arun and then hopping straight on another to cross over to the temple side. It has to be noted that the ferry boat system here is wonderful. Its regular, cheap and effective so people use it, much like the BTS train system.

Nothing here is run by First Group who run expensive, infrequent and Aaaaaaaand ineffective system in the UK, which people are rarely thrilled by having to use.

Wat Arun itself costs 50 baht to access and when you get to it's base you realise that whilst it may not be the biggest of structures, it looks incredibly steep. It also seems to be constructed from a mishmash of concrete, tiles and plates you often see mounted on walls of people who collect............plates, but it all adds to it's charm.

Climbing the 2 sections wasn't as hard as I had thought it was going go be, but people coming down from the top section in particular seemed to be finding it hard going. By this point I was drinking plenty of fluids as the morning sun was starting to cook all in it's gaze, but the view from the top section was definately worth the small effort and price it takes to get there. You are treated to a good view across the river towards the Grand Palace and can see old and new structures that make up current day Bangkok often in the same line of sight.

At the top of the steps to come down a young Japanese girl with her father looked nervously over the edge working out the best method for her to descend. She looked at my feet in my garish walking trainers, then looked, pointed and laughed at her own. She was in pink flip flops. No wonder she was nervous. Descending in pink was just asking for trouble.

This is the one and only time I have found my height to be beneficial whilst I have been here, I decended those steps looking like big foot wandering off into the trees in that infamous wobbly footage, and just like that I was down and gone.

After having  quick walk around the parameter of the grounds I was back on the ferry boat to cross the river back to the main side again. The young girl in pink flip flops and her father who was not dressed in similair attire, smiled and sat next to me on the boat, I think the smile was more relief to be out of the direct heat and appreciation of the breeze as much as anything.

With my feet and the rest of me safely back across the water, I decided that I would wander around the outside of the grand palace and head towards Khao San Road as this was to be my last day wandering and it was an area I was yet to explore.  The tuk tuk scammers were in full effect here, they seem to work in pairs with an official looking one often drawing sites, prices and destinations on map before it just so happens a tuk tuk driver will pull up to become available. I just tell them I like walking, they hate that.

I wandered up through the market stalls that ran along the road before I reached the next pier, where I caught the boat up the river for another 4 stops. Each trip on the river boat cost 15 baht, be that 1 stop or 10.

The boats are never empty. #firstgroup

After dissembarking, a short walk and I was at the Khao San road area. All cafes, street food, jewlery vendors and tailors. There is also an abundance of tour operators here which makes me think that maybe this would have been a better place to start my journey a couple of weeks ago,  but respectively I think that after a ropey start I've actually done ok here. Apparently at night it gets very loud in three parts, I guess I will find out tomorrow night as my final night in Bangkok is in the New World City Hotel just around the corner. I wasn't aware of this at the time of visiting.

Back at the hostel I had a nervy few hours trying to get information about itinerary  and meeting points for my tour through Cambodia to Vietnam. We should be meeting tomorrow and at a group meeting get more information, then depart from Bangkok Monday for the 12 day tour. Long time coming

I have also ditched several items to make room in my bag for lighter shorts and t-shirts, bulkier tolietary items will be left today also to be replaced by more travel friendly sized items.

shouldn't be an issue getting little things here.

Friday, 11 October 2013

bangkok 10/11th october

Nothing much to write about really so will combine the 2 days into the one entry.

Had a quick chat over breakfast with Anne-Marie, the young german lady whom I had toured the canals with a few days previous. She was getting ready to fly back to China to meet back up with her brother for a few weeks before hopefully coming back to southern Thailand to visit one of the national parks there. I wished her well on her journey but I still owe them all that beer as they successfully climbed Wat Arun after I had left them there. She said it was very hard work but worth the effort so on that recommendation I plan to get up early tommorow and make my way there before it gets TOO hot.

After breakfast I made my way to the shopping malls using the BTS and got lost there for a few hours, managing to pick up 2 pairs of lightweight material shorts and 2 more easy dry fabric t-shirts for around 12 pounds. I will have to sort out some things to ditch tomorrow, heavier items of clothing probably, extra bulk that I can't justify carrying. I also bought bite cream for my munched legs and a mosquito plug in. These things are all going to be taking up room. It would be easy if a quater of my bag space wasn't being taken up with diabetic drugs and equipment, but unfortunately that's kind of essential.

Whereas I was able to save on the shorts and tops, I decided to spend big on the footware as with my knee how it is, cheap or brand imitation trainers just weren't going to be a viable option. I now have a decent pair of walking trainers which should see me through the next couple of months travel with ease. So easily infact I don't even have to do the laces up.

This morning I had a little run in with an american called burt (now pronounced "berk" ) who decided to try to whinge and intimidate from his bed about the amount of noise I was making rustling a few carrier bags at around 9am. "Jeez man, can you make any more noise, enough already.........etc". Think he may have forgotten he was staying in shared room and not his own private suite at the ritz.

I snapped back. Partly through tiredness, partly due to having the onset of a sugar low but mainly because he's a dick. They quaratine cleaner animals with higher IQ's than Berk, hell they even put less offensive animals down, but he can get away with it, being the centre of the known universe and all that.

I don't want that to be anyway misconstrued as anti american sentiment by the way, on this journey alone I have been fortunate enough to meet and share time with some great ones already, but Berk isn't one of those. Berk's can be found from every nation in every corner of this ever shrinking planet I'm sure, it's just american berk just happened to find his way into the same shared dorm as me this morning, and I hope that's the last time I encounter his kind again on this trip.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

trek day 2

Breakfast was to be served at 8.30am, I set adele for 7.40.

She was not needed.

It was hard to sleep on the bamboo floor. I had shifted sleeping positions multiple times in the night to try and move the lumps on the bamboo to parts of my body that hadn't been depressed by them yet. By the time Adele woke up, I was sat outside watching the morning rise serenely.

Breakfast consisted of a black coffee, an omlette and a soup that contained rice and egg, after which it was time to get going back to civilisation. I put my medium rare  trainers on and we squelched single file up through the field until we joined the dirt track which we would then follow for the majority of the trip down the hill.

We had only walked for a couple of minutes when our guide stopped and starting prodding the overgrowth on the bank with a stick, which he carried on doing for a couple of minutes. Either he was getting a weird sense of gratification from doing this or that bank had said something bad about his mother that no one else had heard. It turns out it was neither (well, not the mother part anyway).

When he finally he lifted the stick out the undergrowth there was a turantula clinging onto the end. this was then placed on the floor by our feet and pissed off no end as the guide tapped his stick next to it, finally it raised 4 of it's legs in an attack stance, I stepped back. Very Nice said "very nice" and proceeded to take some pictures before our guide picked it up and started to put it into his mouth before a collective "naooo" from the four of us saved the little bugger. Sarah was persuaded to then stroke the spider where as Clara and I were having none of it. To great relief, mine and it's, the spider was then placed safely back into to foliage from whence it came.

We carried on down the trail slipping and sliding as we went,  sometimes over and sometimes into ankle deep mud which ensured that by the time that we arrived at the bridge where we departed the 4 wheel drive the day before, our trainers were indeed ready to be laid to rest. Later I would try to save mine, but alas all my attempts were in vain. After a beautiful and legstanding relationship, my trainers and I have now gone our seperate ways. Tongues may wag.

Butt I digress....

As we crossed the bridge 2 elephants were waiting for us to continue our journey,  2 of us were to travel upon each platform.

Very Nice carried on clicking away on his camera, I was too busy holding onto the wooden frame as it sloped from side to side in keeping with the slow definitive strides of our mount. The elephant carrying the girls was soon not in sight due to it wanting to stop and eat all the time. When it eventually caught up we carried on through the luscious countryside along the mudded trail and through rivers for the next half hour, admiring the amazing views and lumbering power of these magnificent animals.

We disembarked onto a raised wooden platform, akin to disembarking a ferry or a plane but without 10 members of staff saying their goodbyes and cluttering the exits. We were then afforded the time to have a photo or 2 taken with the elephants before we moved onto our final leg of our journey, navigating a short way down stream on bamboo rafts with me stood at the helm of ours, steering the craft by pushing a pole into the river bed to alter direction. We made our destination with soaking wet feet, but incident free. Shortly after the girls arrived too, for some reason Sarah was surprised that I hadn't fallen into the river en-route.

She wasn't half as surprised as I was.

Around the dinner table we ate vegetarian chicken and all agreed that today had been a more enjoyable adventure than that of the day before. "Yes, very nice" said Very Nice.

Perhaps "yes" was his middle name?

The rest of the day involved us being picked up and carted around to different spots in our dirty clothes, riding a train over the last remaining wooden section of the railway that runs over the Kwai before finally departing in our van back to the hostel in Bangkok. It took over an hour and a half to get back and we all arrived tired after what had been a long couple of days.

I'm glad I experienced it, although I have no desire to ever repeat it again.

Tomorrow I have to buy new trainers......

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

thailand 8th October

Adele woke me up this morning at exactly 6.30 to make sure that I was having breakfast at 7 ready for the off at 8am prompt.  Breakfast here consisted of bacon, egg, pineapple and watermelon with juice and coffee to wash it down. Egg is served a lot here.

We left the hotel just after 8am and picked up a young italian called Daniel Very Nice who would be spending the next couple of days with us, followed by an austrailian couple who were along to mainly see the hellfire pass memorial and a young lady from London who was over here teaching and was just having a short break away from Bangkok. The last 3 would not be joining us on the trek later.

Our first stop was a waterfall. My hopefully not long lasting memory here will be looking up towards the falls and seeing a mans behind in lime green trunks that were far too small smiling at me sideways. Nice waterfall but nothing out of the ordinary. I was happy to leave.

We then moved onto the Hellfire Pass war museum, which tells the story of that section of the railway nicknamed because of the hellish imagary that could be seen on the rocks as prisoners and labourers worked by flame lit torches. The museum itself houses a good selection of artifacts, articles and displays but it's when you make your way down to the area where the track was constructed that you are aware that what is not conveyed in any photo's is the complete lack of air. Apparently the first workers on this stretch of the railway started during the hot dry season which would have been tough, but later when the wet season came, conditions worsened and death rates rose thanks in no small part to the outbreak of diseases such as dysentery, maleria and cholera. The walk we took here was relatively short, but it was interesting to see first hand just where and how this railway was built.

After this we stopped for lunch, Very Nice declared the food was very nice so we moved onto our next stop, the hot springs which I was happy enougn to leave.

Clara, Sarah, Very Nice and I were then abandoned into the hands of our guide who would be leading us on a 3 hour trek through the jungle to a stay in a bamboo hut for the evening.

The first part of the trip was a bit bruising, the four of us were driven along bumpy mud trails for 10 minutes folded up in the back of a toyota 4 wheel drive. Things weren't going to get easier. As we started walking our guide informed us that we could take photo's of our shoes if we wanted, as tomorrow they will be only good for the rubbish.

We walked for an hour througn the undergrowth, along and off of light trails, the guide occassionally showing us spiders, plants to avoid and telling us that we would maybe see pig, but not tigers or monkeys. During this first hour I gained a few small cuts from a light fall which the guide applied dissinfectant to and covered to stop infection. He needand of bothered. Within another couple of minutes I had niceley grazed my right shin and carried on picking up damage for the duration of our journey. I was also swatting bugs like King Kong swatting biplanes. We walked through rivers and mud, sweated hard and dripped blood over the next couple of hours.

Just before sun down we arrived at our electricity free village.  Here there were small hillside bamboo huts on stilts in which light cloths covered the floors where we would later bed down,  an open sided communal hut used for eating and a shower hut with a pipe fed directly from the river which you had to cross thigh deep each way to reach. By dark we were all showered and sat round the table and we were treated to a banquet cooked for us made by our guide from completely fresh ingredients while a villager played and sang thailands number 1 tradional hit.

Sometimes you only need the 3 notes.

After I had spilled a load of food over myself we decided it was time for bed. Me and Very Nice shared a hut and I walked barefoot by torch light through the wet grass up to the cabin accompanied by the overpowering music of the nightlife that surrounded us.

My shoes cooked slowly on sticks by the fire.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Kwai? because I got to.

Today I got out of Bangkok, just for a few days, travelling to Kanchanaburi an hour west of the city, which is the area in which the infamous Bridge over the river Kwai was built.

I was collected by the van at 8am and after picking up a further 2 passengers from a seperate hostel followed by a short break in a back alley while we switched vans, we finally broke free of the city and headed to greener pastures. 

One thing I noticed as we escaped Bangkoks clutches is how flat the surrounding areas are. There were no hills to be seen no matter which direction you looked in and  I guess that's due to the city being built on swampland. 

Another thing I noticed was that whilst we stopped briefly in traffic, our driver opened his door and was sick onto the road beside him. No tip for that guy today, except don't be sick out the side of your door when driving and carrying passengers.

We arrived at the Good Times hotel at 11.30 and were informed that our rooms were not ready yet so we sat and chatted for a little while by the river, had a spot of dinner and waited a little longer for the rooms to become available. I joked that when they had said that our rooms were not ready yet, perhaps they meant not built. 

They finally finished building them around 2. This meant we could quickly get changed before our organised bike tour with Tom, our guide for the day and the only guy who was fully lycra'd up for the coming cycle. I suddenly felt less self concious. 

Tom led the way, followed by the 2 german girls on the trip, Clara unt Sarah, then me. He wasn't hanging about either and in just a couple of minutes we reached the bridge, left the bikes and climbed up onto the track to walk across it.

There is nothing on the bridge itself to allude to the bridges history, except that in the middle, the part that was destroyed and then rebuilt, uses square rather than curved design along the top. Apart from that, and the number of people walking it by foot, it could just be any other bridge. A large group of Thai school children walked past me whilst I was there and nearly every single one of them said hello as they went past, that was a lot of hello's back but it's a nice memory of this place that I wasn't expecting.

We re-mounted our metal steeds and headed off behind speedy tom towards Wat Tham khao Pun limestone caves, home of 9 small caverns and a giant reclining buddha. As I first saw the mist covered hills towards where we were headed it was clear what a beautiful part of the world this is. What was also clear shortly after was that those caves were not really ideal for anyone of average european height.

Sarah at around 165cms found it mostly easy, for Clara at around 175cms, things were a little more complex but she still did ok. Me at 185 has a headache that still hasn't shifted. Today I learn't how to use the word "Shizer" correctly.

I should have suspected that things weren't going to be easy when Tom opted to wait outside. Still it was mostly downhill and flat on the bikes from now on.

On the way back we stopped briefly at a small war grave cemetary situated at the site of the huts where the prisoners were housed during the construction of the railway. The graves here are of those that died in the hospitals and reading some of the memorial plaques containing inscriptions from those that were closest to those that remain here, you can get a small sense of the pain, but also the bravery of those they left behind.

Tom mounted up, it was time to get back, helmets on heads, stomaches in mouths weaving us through the high street traffic like a man possesed by the god of spandex we arrived safely back at the hotel right before the heavens opened and I made my way to my room and ran a deep, hot bath and soaked off the days.

With aircon blasting out nice cool air, you can just about get away with it here.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Chatuchak weekend market - sunday 6th october 2013.

After dropping my bags bag to the Lub D hostel where i was set to stay again this evening, I decided to make my way to Chatuchak weekend market in the north of the city to experience Thailands largest market.

Getting there was easy. First navigate your way past the tuk tuk drivers asking the usual;
A. Where you from?
B. What football team you support?

Then get the BTS sky train by purchashing an all day ticket for 130 baht, then enjoy the smooth air conditioned ride until the annoucement is made in both Thai and English that your stop is approaching.

When the train stops, get off.

The entire trip including walking from the hostel to the destination station took about 30 minutes.

At the other end, the road from the station to the market is lined with stalls selling food, trinkets and nonsensical items, however the market proper is a different proposition altogether.

I wandered around the first section quite happily, artist booths with very high quality pieces,  great smelling foods, jewlery, and much more, I finished off with a coconut shake for 20 baht. It.......tasted......amazing.

With shake in hand I started to wander down past more stalls, and it was at this point the size of this place started to become apparent. I mean, the perimeter was big, but inside were rows and rows of goods being offered for sale at rediculous and often negotiable prices as well of all manner of food and drinks for me to stop and try along the way.

What the hell are those bubbles in bubble tea?

I negotiated and wandered, tasted and toured the nooks and crannies of this market for over 3 hours before leaving but there is no way I saw all there was, at over 15,000 stalls that's probably not that surprising.

Maybe what is though is that after 6 days in Bangkok and having a plethora of experiences and emotions to draw upon, this was the place which I found the most enjoyable.

The life, the atmosphere, the sights, smells, sounds and tastes made this a truer representation of Bangkok and Thailand than anything else I had experienced in the last 6 days. And for that reason alone it's hard not to recommend Chatuchak market as a destination for any person who travels to this part of the world.

Just make sure you are here on a weekend to experience it.

hostel change - 5th October

With the hostel that I had been staying in the last couple of nights full, I checked into a hostel the next street along, the silom art hostel.
Nicely decorated throughout and comfortable enough, this was to be my home for the evening. The room was occupied when I arrived by a bubbly few from indoniesia who were here for one night only on their way for a break in Phuket.  They arrived with empty cases and were off to market tonight to buy things en-route, when they returned I'm not sure how much of a market remained.

In the mean time I got talking to a nice chap from Israel names Eitan who had just come to the end of his travels, doing much of the same trip I was going to do just the other way around. He told me about his journey into thailand, and flight back home. "We can't stop there, they don't like us much" was in response to Dubai, another destination was met with "they don't like us much either", all in good humour of course but it just makes you think of the nonsense that is politics. If you met Eitan not knowing anything about his origins, you would be hard pushed to find anything to fault him on. He was just an ordinary guy from Israel who had gone travelling.

We talked for a little while, he gave me plenty of really helpful tips about where he had travelled as far as giving me the card of a guest house in Ho Chi Min city which is in the street where there are lots of similair accomodation and therefore loads of backpackers frequenting, so I at least knew there was somewhere I could head when I finally arrive in Vietnam to not be completely lost.

Unfortunately,  the lasting memory of Eitan apart from the fact that he had got himself a kindle fire, will be the words "They don't like us much either".

Perhaps "They" need to strap on a backpack and go travelling for a while.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

bangkok backwaters

I set my alarm for 7.10 this morning to ensure that I was awake with plenty of time to allow for cleansing, a spot of breakfast and reach the New Road Guest House which was close to the hostel by 8.45, this where a small group was meeting before heading off at 9 for a tour of the backwaters of Bangkok.

I didn't sleep.

At 6.30 I switched off my alarm and listened to a little music before getting up and running through my pretour checklist and then made my way to the meeting point where I arrived at 8.55. Bit of a close call.

To say it was a small group would be pretty accurate, but the other 3 already knew each other so I was the outsider. They went out of their way to ensure I didn't feel that way though. There was Christian and Anne-Marie, a brother and sister from Germany and their friend from China who's name eluded me at the time, and still does now.

After a small walk we reached the pier where our narrow boat was waiting to take us along the angry looking Chao Phraya River. These boats were not built with 6ft plus people in mind and as I clambered onboard clumsily and strapped on my life jacket, i wondered if it was only me who was doubting their decision to book up.

After a relatively short and choppy ride up river we waited and cooked briefly in the still air as the lock gates that contol the level of the backwaters were manipulated to let us through. After which we were into canal territory and the life jackets were no longer required. This meant that I could breath again and enjoy the rest of the tour which took in religious temples, riverside art centres and flower farms before finally leaving us at Wat Arun to make whatever we chose of the rest of our (by now bloody hot) day.  The others chose to climb the temple, I chose not to. So I wished them well and told them if they survived the climb in that heat, I would buy them a beer if I saw them again. I hope I do.

So leaving them behind I caught the ferry back across the river before trying to get hold of a map, I had left mine at the hostel. I was offered a ride in a Tuk Tuk to the shopping area in Siam Square where the driver would wait for me, then take me to  an other temple which, luckily for me was only open Saturdays (joy) before then delivering me to my base of operations in Silom for 60 baht. Explaining that I wasn't a gullible twit I insisted that I didn't want to do all the other running around so the price then jumped to 400 baht for what was a shorter and more direct trip. Nothing fishy there then I thought and explained that in my own way for them by getting out of the tuk tuk and walking off. I had seen they guys map that he had been writing prices down on, and that's all I needed.

I walked back to the riverside and caught one of the river boats back down river to an area where I could jump on the BTS sky train, Bangkoks direct rail system which would take me close to where I would be staying this evening. Total price of ferry and train, 43 baht. Tuk tat unt party.

Walking back things went a little "hangover 2" with a little guy offering me "ladies", "something else maybe" whilst imaginarily sniffing something off the back of his hand, and "weeeeed?"

Why the hell would I want to sniff something inaginary off the back of a weird little guys hand?

That's just pushing it, even for here....

Friday, 4 October 2013

Lumphini Park - Here Be Dragons

Today I saw a man stroking his pussy in public. After all the warnings of how crazy and perverse Bangkok was,  I wasn't ready for that.

I awoke late, there are no windows in the new dorm so the realisation it was past 11am was somewhat of a shock, but I presume I needed the sleep.

Showered and prepped with a spot of blood on my chin from a nick whilst shaving,  I wandered down stairs and ordered the full continental breakfast which consisted of croissant, 2 slices of toast and jam, coffee, juice and a banana. The price was stupidly cheap as usual but that bears no relation to quality here, it was a good size, tasty and nutritional start to the day.

After that began today's stroll. I left right then righted left, wandering along the main road for 20 minutes or so past shopping stalls, malls and a guy drumming the sound of the city on everyday rubbish until I reached Lumphini Park, Bangkok's version of New York's Central Park where cyclists cycle, runners run, marshal arts are practiced along with dance moves and performances, and as previously alluded to, a man sat stroking his pussy.

To be fair it might not have been his. There are lots of cats here, just lazing the days away, along with a few stray dogs, fish and monitor lizards.

The first one shocked me and each one I saw after as I walked around the park was progressively larger than the last. Apparently they have been known to attack people, No mention of those in my rough guide.

I used the 135 focal length on my camera lens to good effect and stayed right out of the way. Nasty looking buggers. They are related to Komodo Dragons apparently, who are also nasty looking buggers.

I remember seeing a documentary once where Steve Irwin was chased through the wilderness before finally scrambling up a tree to escape a Komodo Dragon who had tasted the blood in the air of a small cut that Steve had managed to pick up on his leg whist stalking it through the bracken.

I thought about the nick on my chin. Could that thing taste it? He was kind of looking at me funny.

Perhaps he had read my blog.

After I arrived back at the hostel I decided to blow a chunk of  my budget on booking a couple of tours that would see me through to the 13th, which is when I depart Bangkok on a tour which should sees me through Cambodia and into Vietnam by the 23rd.

The first one, tomorrow takes me through the backwaters of Bangkok and ends close to the grand palace. I will need to take my jeans as apparently ankles must be covered.

Then on Monday I am taking a 3 day tour to Kanchanaburi and it's surrounding areas to hopefully see amazing waterfalls, exotic wildlife and the harrowing site of the bridge over the River Kwai. It  should be a tour to push emotions in opposing directions. I think it will change me.

After that I'll be back in Bangkok for four days until the 13th.
I'm sure Bangkok has enough to keep me occupied for those days.
It is, as I'm slowly discovering, quite a exciting and diverse place to be, albeit a little bloody hot.

Additional Entry.
I wandered up the street this evening away from the hustle and bustle of Pat Pong which lays a few blocks down from where I'm residing this evening. In one of the classier bars there was a lady performing a beautiful rendition of Lenka's "The Show" complete with missing letters, which just added to its charm.

Just seems quite apt at this moment in time, I urge anyone who is wondering about where I am at the moment to give it a listen.

Plus it's a great lil' tune.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Bangkok day 3 - still no feedback from Palin, but I guess he's busy

Last night I woke with low sugars, its not a nice feeling and it took about an hour, several glucose tablets and half a tub of cheap imitation Pringles before it was safe to sleep again. The climate is causing havoc and I need to gain control of it quickly or. Else I will have no option but to abandon the S.S South East Asia and all that sail in her. This isn't my intention, but sometimes reality bites and I have to acknowledge that.

Then again, occasionally I bite back so let's not write it off yet.

The latest I could leave the hostel was 12, I ran it damn close. I'm pretty sure my bag has shrunk in the heat as the same stuff I had checked in with no longer fitted. I jettisoned a few of the small items I had picked up for the flight in to make room and finally I was ready to roll.I had several days clothing I had failed to get cleaned and dried properly so that made up the bulk of the contents of my smaller 10 litre bag that piggy backed off the larger one just in case someone else wanted to steal my bag and do my laundry for me.

I was due at the embassy at 4 to collect my visa so decided to spend the time wandering up through the cooler malls stopping on the way for food and drinks. After the sugar low the previous night I decided that I had better try to get my food and liquid intake up to try and avoid the same thing happening again. I also needed some alternative footwear as these trainers were starting to feel a little uncomfortable.

Upon leaving one of the malls a smartly dressed man approached me and told me I was a strong man, a great man and he could this see by the 3 strong lines on my forehead. I wondered if he thought I was Gorden Ramsey.

He also told me I had 2 weaknesses and for 2 baht he would tell me everything. I didn't pay him, I already knew what they were. Bad eyesight and forgetfulness.

I had left my glasses in the shoe shop.

I walked the rest of the way to the embassy, picked up my visa then embarked on finding a taxi to get me to the next hostel I was staying in. I ended up in a tuktuk.

The thing weaved quickly through the traffic and the accompanying breeze was welcomed. The traffic in Bangkok is busy, there are taxis in the form of cars, tuktuks and on the back of motorcycles which weave through the traffic with buttered like ease. It should be chaos but it isn't, it works because no one gets angry or frustrated defending their lanes, someone undertakes, overtakes, whatever, the traffic carries on regardless.

I arrive at the new hostel and the staff are very welcoming. The lady said that the staff from the other hostel had phoned though that I was coming and that I was a nice a polite man. I told them that maybe someone else was due.

The rooms in this hostel are 8 bed rather than 4 but are nicer for it. The whole place has a lovely communal feel and I was welcomed into the dorm by a warm couple who were busy planning their onward travel. Downstairs the lobby has more in keeping with a well run hotel than most peoples preconceived idea of what a hostel looks like. there is also has a laundry room here so as I write this my other clothes are currently being thoroughly  cleansed

I've never been so happy to see a laundry room in all my life.

I have booked here for 2 nights whilst I decide whether to dip out to a beach for a week before my tour begins next Sunday, or remain here to explore Bangkok more thoroughly, I feel I haven't done so yet.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Day 2 - Bangcock? (2nd October 2013)

Saw my first ladyboy, or at least I think it was, it was so glaringly obvious it could have been a red herring but I didn't ask if that's what it was, just in case it wasn't.

The Vietnamese embassy  was located just past where I had been walking yesterday, so I sorted out a bag for the day and started walking in that direction. I like to walk, it allows me plenty of time to absorb the sights, smells and sounds of where I am. Today the smell I found so repulsive yesterday is not apparent.

As I walk I feel I'm starting to feel more at home here. What took me 30 minutes to walk yesterday takes me considerably less today and I feel I no longer give off the impression of a lost tourist. A tourist sure, I still have a map after all. but not a tourist who is being consumed by his surroundings. Rather one that is starting to control it.

to a degree.

Grabbing a spot of breakfast after telling myself I have to eat, I emerge from the shopping area to confronted by the monsoon like rains. No way I'm walking any further in that. I have my poncho on me of course, but just the one pair of trainers which have to last as long as I can make them. I take shelter on the skywalk which runs above the road I'm following and watch the rains with perverse admiration.

You know in England how when it rains it clears the air so everything feels fresh again, here it is the opposite. When the rains give way the sodden ground heats and the moisture starts to evaporate almost instantaneously, the humidity is insane. Mosquito's like still water apparently. I should be fine, I'm like a bloody river.

The Vietnam embassy opens after lunch at 1:30, I'm there at 1:35, fill in the forms and wait at the desk with my form filled in, 2500 baht and passport ready. The guy behind the counter is wearing glasses and a straight face, I put mine on too. He tells me to stick my photo onto the form using insect killer. I'm confused until I realise it just looks like insect killer, its actually insect killer with Pritt Stick like qualities. No insect will escape if they land on Pritt Stick. It's a well know fact in these parts of the world. I need to pick up the visa and my passport tomorrow at 4 which throws me a little spanner as I only have my hostel booked for one more night and they are fully booked from then.

Back at the hostel I ask whether the other one in the same chain has rooms available the following evening. The chap on the phone calls through and confirms they have so I reserve for tomorrow night there as i won't now be leaving Bangkok until Friday at the earliest, the only downside is that I need my passport to check in, which I will not have access to until after I can collect it from the embassy, so tomorrow I lug my big ass bag around Bangkok for a few hours. I'm thinking Lumphine park which is on the road that the embassy resides, find some shade and chill out for a few hours.

I wander out briefly this evening and explore the indoor market that is situated opposite the hostel I'm staying at. It has a great feel and t-shirts that would have the PC Bridage in the UK reaching for the white flag. You actually have to admire it in a funny kind of way. Life is life here, and no one is telling anyone else how to live theirs.

The rains come again and I return just in time to my current base of operations, get duck noodles and a bottle of Chang beer for 180 baht, about 3.50 of those UK pound thingies and settle down to wrap up the day here.

Bangkok grows on you, I'm actually starting to like it here, which is a little surprising considering how I was feeling less than 48 hours ago.


1st October - first morning in Bangkok.

I regained consciousness at around 9.30 am, I didn't notice what time I fell asleep the night before so information is useless for trying to work out how much sleep i had grabbed, I just know it didn't feel enough.

My initial plan today was to head off to try to sort out a visa for Vietnam but nearly an hour later and I was still trying to get it together. I hadn't seen my blood glucose testing kit since the flight from Dubai and this feeling combined with the tiredness was leading my mind down the route of doubting whether I was doing the right thing. Had I left the bloody thing on board? Can I get a new machine that takes the same strips as the machine I had lost? In an act of desperation I shook my mini backpack that I had used on the Plane journey so all it's contents spilled onto the bed, including the missing testing kit. So not lost it this time, but am I cut out for this? For only the the second act of desperation in 3 sentences I sent an email to STA, whom I had organised my flights with and explained how I was feeling and wondering if there was any tours I could jump onto to get me away from here and get me moving. At that time I was ready to give up on the whole thing.

 With that in mind I decided that the visa idea wasn't worth going ahead with. I could always come back to South East Asia  another time and see Vietnam.

The chap on reception pointed out on my map where the nearest shopping centre was located so i headed off to see if there was any travel shops that could get me away from here for a bit.

Shopping centre doesn't really do what i came across justice. It was ludicrous. Whole floors dedicated to eating / beauty / name anything. Lambourghini showroom sat next to H&M with a RollS Royce sat in a foyer along from an ice skating rink. It was also cool, a welcome respite from the wall of heat and humidity that existed outside.

I hadn't eaten properly since i had arrived and was feeling a little queasy. I went for the safe option to give myself a chance. Ronald McDonald statues over here are really creepy.

There's a smell in Bangkok, it's sweet, sickly and takes your breath away when it wafts by. I haven't pegged what it is yet, but it's not uncommon. It gets everywhere. In your clothes, your hair and in your nostrils. In a Boots store I found my favourite FCUK was and body spray and bought it in the hope it would make me feel better when scrubbing down when I returned to the Hostel. It had the desired affect. I was in the shower for around 20 minutes just washing, and washing and washing.

Checking my e-mails later i had received a welcome answer to my e-mail I sent to STA earlier with a few suitable tours that the young lady there had found which I may be able to get on. A couple of quick phone calls later it looks like I may have been booked onto a tour which should take me out of Thailand, through Cambodia then into Vietnam. Amazing Result.

So tomorrow I get up, have another long shower then go hunting the lesser spotted Vietnam visa.


Tuesday, 1 October 2013

one night in Bangkok...

The plane landing is a little less than perfect, I don't mind at this point, I'm shattered. Thankfully the rest of the procedure through the airport is relatively straightforward, bar a couple of misdirections and the chap with my name board at a different exit than I came out of, nothing to worry about.

The journey to the hostel is quiet and non eventful. My eyes close a couple of times but I force them to open again. few words are exchanged between the driver and I. You can see there is money here. It's in the movie like billboards, the sky scrapers, the cars. You can see there is a lack of money here too, it's in the people gathering at the sides of the roads, the unfinished buildings and the other vehicles clogging the roads.

The hostel is clean, basic but it has aircon and the shared wash room and showers are kept to an impeccable standard. I have a shower then wander out to try and find a bite to eat. There are plenty of street stalls but I just look for something basic, which i eventually find in a 7-11, although the sandwiches are very sweet to western tastes the cashew nuts taste like cashew nuts and the black bottle which bears all the colours of Coke Zero tastes like Coke Zero,

It's probably Coke Zero.

I wander back to the hostel through the dimly lit streets and head back to the nice cool room, put a little music on my tablet and drift off to sleep, stirring occasionally at the thought of a mosquito having his own late night snack my leg.

There isn't one..

getting to Bangkok

I wake with 2 hours left before we land at Dubai, the brightest natural light that I have ever encountered forces its way under some of the blinds. It's 4:26 UK time, my eyes are a little sore.

I get up from my upright bed go to freshen up as much as I can in the confined space afforded. I swear brushing my teeth has never felt so damn refreshing and the warm water on my eyes somehow wakes and soothes at the same time. No room to stretch though.

Breakfast is a light affair. Coffee with a warm carrot, apple and oat muffin. Breakfast is almost a very light affair as my early morning brain is almost defeated by the box in which the muffin is housed. I will not fail. The box is destroyed in my neanderthal like show of virility, am I the muffin man?

The rubbish is cleared, belts are fastened and we start our descent. It's mostly smooth but one particular drop causes a collective groan to reverberate around the cabin. I grip the arm rests tightly as I watch the runway come into view through the swathes of sand that lie before. The landing is the best I've ever encountered. The whole descent from beginning to end is almost exactly 1 sugar free mint humbug. My grip finally loosens.

After we disembark I am greeted in Dubai and ushered towards gate B30 where my connecting flight is getting ready to board. The airport is vast and has an abundance of glass, metal and highly polished floors but I don't have time to admire it fully. I'm straight onto the airport subway and checking into my next flight in a matter of minutes. Quick toilet break then I'm boarding. Seasoned pro now.

The second flight isn't as smooth as the first, at times feeling more like a juddering railway carriage than one that's carving through the air at 34,996ft. If this had been the first flight I would have come off it a blubbering mess, however this all seems completely normal now. Amazing how we can, as a species just adapt like that. Extraordinary can become ordinary in no time at all, but I'm yet undecided as to whether this is a good or a bad thing. I can see both sides. From an evolutionary point of view, adapt and survive, it has to be a good thing right? But is the negative that we tire too easily of things or people that we should hold dear, that once made us happy, or inspired us to drive things forward in our own personal ways, those things or people that for however short it was before we tired of them, were the most awe inspiring or wonderful things in our lives.

I may have gone a little long without sleep, think someone just mentioned Mucho Grande. At least I didn't have the chicken.

I've been sat next to a kindly fellow from Durban, South Africa for the cokey part of this trip. He's asleep most the time but now and then he wakes up, mutters something mostly in-cohesive with a smile then falls back asleep again. He's going off to see his son who lives just outside Bangkok and he's taking him 2 pieces of in flight cheese, one of which I donated.

Our estimated time of arrival is around 6.58 this evening local time, 11:58 UK time meaning that I will then have been on the go for about 29 hours barring a couple of hours snatched over Eastern Europe last night. After I clear the airport I will then have a 45 minute journey by coach to the area where my hostel is located. I just hope that when I finally get stopped for the evening i can switch off enough to get some proper sleep. Much to do tomorrow so need to be fully functional to get the most out of what is bound to be a tough and exciting experience.