79105km travelled so far...
I said goodbye to Bali and Indonesia and I flew to Kuala Lumpur where I started a 40 hour trip back to Bangkok.
Before the monster trip I stayed in Kuala Lumpur for a night and a day. I met a few other backpackers and did some sightseeing around the city including getting a great city view from one of the main towers, holding a snake which tried to squeeze me to death (luckily my Amazon skills kicked in and I pulled its head off before it did so, much to the owners disgust) and caught a taxi ride from a very generous and funny old Indian taxi man who insisted on giving me a free tour of the city, buying me a tasty local drink, asking for advice on how to decide a career for his son (for this one I said “what does he enjoy doing and what does he want to do for a job?” to which he answered “that is a very good question sir, I will ask him”. That question seemed to have eluded him for the last and first 15 years of his son’s life) and trying to convince me to get him a visa for England which I assured him I most definitely couldn’t do.
I travelled overnight on the train from KL to Northern Malaysia. It arrived in Penang at about 4am where I had 12 hours to kill before taking the next train. It was pitch black and I was laden down with all of my backpack and camera equipment. I wandered to the sea front and sat in the dark watching the sun rise and old Chinese men throw some shapes in the form of Tai Chi. I was thinking how very peaceful it all was when a shifty middle aged Muslim man sporting a dyed red moustache stopped next to me and started making conversation. Not wanting to be rude I went through the motions of polite chit chat at which point I hoped he would go away, jump into the sea or by swallowed by a whale, but unfortunately none of those things happened. He directed the conversation towards liberal attitudes towards sex in England, sensing where he was going I tried to sidetrack him by pointing out a splendid sea gull gliding past but he was having none of it, he had evidently done this before. He continued and the conversation started spiralling out of control and before he got too out of hand I swiftly terminated the conversation by telling him to bugger off. Thankfully he slunk off into the dark and back to his wife and children and I departed in the other direction as fast as my 30kg load would allow me to. It was good to see I was making friends and influencing people so early in the morning. With another 9 hours to burn I headed towards the nearest shopping mall only to find out that nothing opens until 11am on Sundays in Malaysia, fantastic! The only thing I could find in the city was evil Starbucks and begrudgingly I brought a coffee from them and spent the next 4 hours nursing it hoping they wouldn’t notice. Finally my time was nearly up and I caught a tuk tuk ride back to the ferry port. The driver was an interesting and kind man, his beard was enormous but thankfully he didn’t have a red moustache and didn’t seem interested in trying to hook up - it was good that my second Penang encounter was more positive. He educated me about certain aspects of being a Muslim and proudly told me that Muslim men can have up to four wives “assuming they are rich and have enough energy”. He himself was in the process of procuring a second wife for his personal collection so I thought I would be nosy and asked him whether his first wife minded sharing. He confessed that she may well do, but didn’t seem overly concerned. He suggested that I too become a Muslim and that I should divide my year spending 6 months in Thailand and 6 months in Malaysia with a full quota of 4 beautiful Muslim wives. I said farewell, promised to be back soon to claim my concubines and jumped on the train at last and set off for another overnight journey to Bangkok.
I arrived I met with Christy and we caught a taxi away from the smog and grime to a homestay called Hidden Holiday House which although only an hour from Bangkok feels like a million miles away from the chaos. It was exactly what we were looking for and restored my faith in Thailand which was great. The homestay was owned by a Polish Canadian man and his Thai wife, they were both very friendly and made us feel right at home. Aria cooked the most amazing Thai food for us every evening and I was most pleased that quality can be combined with quantity.
We went on a trip to a traditional Thai floating market and wandered around genuinely happy that no other tourists or the accompanying touts were in sight. We met a 78 year old woman who had been selling vegetables there all her life, ate many weird and wonderful local foods, fed the sacred fish and took a boat ride down the river to a temple.
The locals were really friendly, a far cry from the tourist areas, and we felt like we were finally seeing some of the real Thailand rather than a day-tripper circus. We went on a couple of bike rides with Chris who took us along dusty mud paths where the locals (and their wild dogs) lived, and around the beautiful countryside which was filled with rice paddies and their many feathered inhabitants. The house was set next to a river so we also set off one morning and kayaked to the nearest market. We wandered around whilst the locals stared at us like we were on fire, had three heads or were Pitt and Jolie. Later that day I went to the local hairdresser who reported to me (well, she reported to Chris who translated it to me) that I had been at the market earlier and that many people had been talking about it and speculating and discussing our age and good looks. News travels fast in rural Thailand. I wonder how many other funny stories I have missed through not being able to understand a language, a translator certainly helps. After a week we left feeling quite sad to say goodbye. We spent a couple of days in Bangkok buying a few last supplies for Africa, saw Avatar at the IMAX and then set off for our flight to Hong Kong.
We arrived at Bangkok airport a few hours early and were told by a very uninterested Cathay Pacific staff member that we didn’t exist. We pointed out that obviously we did because we were in fact standing in front of her. As much as she would have liked to argue this she couldn’t and much to her annoyance was forced to stop combing her hair and do some work. Time ticked by and our plane left before anything was sorted out. After annoying her many times we finally got a response that One World (the “alliance” between all of the around the world trips) had cancelled all of our flights because we had missed one of the legs of the journey and that we had to purchase them all again! Of course we hadn’t missed any of the flights but she wasn’t really interested in that and we argued with her for some time. We called One World who instead of computers use an abacus and have lobotomised apes as customer service staff who grunted, scratched their fat arses and said that we really didn’t exist and that they couldn’t do anymore – a perfect example of “computer says no” if ever there was one. By this point we were doubting whether we did actually exist and thinking we were stuck in some kind of Matrix existence. We were literally stuck and no one would help, a bit like Tom Hanks in that film, but less talented and a bit more bored. We waited all day until 9am UK time and called our travel agent who thankfully was great and sorted it all out and arranged the flight for the next day. We took advantage of the whole thing and booked ourselves into an posh hotel for the evening, which we will charge to One World. Let’s hope the staff member who receives our complaint letter can read; we aren’t holding our breath. Maybe we should have sent it in picture form.
Troubles behind us we finally left Thailand and arrived in Hong Kong the next day. Due to the cock up we had missed the Chinese New Year fireworks display but decided to have a look around the city. As we’ve been in hot countries for so long now it didn’t even cross our minds that it could be anything but boiling. We were wrong. It was 5 degrees; everyone was wrapped in thick coats, scarves and hats. I was wearing flip flops, shorts and a t-shirt and Christy similar, we looked as though we had been transported by some Star Trek type machine from a beach and dropped into the freezing city. We decided to set off out into the cold getting very strange looks and a few laughs from the well dressed and warm locals. Luckily I found a stall selling very cheap clothes and brought a sweatshirt for a pound so at least I was a little warmer and didn’t look quite so out of place. We looked around HK for a few hours, travelled up the longest escalator in the world (it really was as exciting as it sounds), looked around a zoo with very unhappy and cold looking animals, gawped at the greyness of everything and decided that the airport would be warmer, more colourful and possibly more fun. I’m sure that HK has lots to offer but unfortunately we didn’t find any of it during our short stay.
Later that day we caught our flight to Africa where we are now, the sky is blue, the sun is hot and it feels exciting to be here and to travel where the tourist trail isn’t set up, I’m sure we’ll have lots of adventures. We’re currently at a private game reserve where I’m going out every day with a primatologist and photographing baboons; an interesting lot who divide their time wisely between fighting, having sex, eating and sleeping. I will tell you about that next time! Here are a few of the shots, I'll add more when I write about it all.
To finish here are some shots I got in Bali of an incredible ecosystem on the stalk of a plant in a vase. The ants are farming the mealy bugs and in return for honeydew they get protection, and the jumping spider is hunting the ants. It was amazing to watch, a bit like a David Attenborough programme (again the Indonesians didnt share my enthusiasm!)