A Travellerspoint blog

Malaysia, Singapore and the Hall of Freaks

55053km travelled so far...

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Two weeks into our stay the empty house next door to ours was moved into. The two houses were almost adjoined and our balconies looked out to one another so friendship could have blossomed but unfortunately our new neighbours were incredibly unsociable and barely mustered the effort to say hello let alone have a conversation with us. Our new neighbours consisted of a morbidly obese upper class English man who insisted he was Scottish, a German man who insisted he was German, their miserable Thai brides and 4 noisy dogs who wouldn’t shut up all night and donated fleas to our bed (even so the dogs were definitely our favourite). After three weeks we were ready to go, and were looking forward to getting back to travelling. We waved goodbye to Braveheart, Fritz, the house, beautiful sunsets, flea ridden dogs and Mama Pooh, and set off for Malaysia.

Bye bye Thai sunsets

Bye bye Thai sunsets

Our favourite restuarant, Mama Poohs did us proud

Our favourite restuarant, Mama Poohs did us proud

On reflection, a major part of travelling seems to be meeting freaks whilst waiting for the next bus or train. Possible favourite in the Hall of Freak was a delightful one eyed drunk man, with no teeth and an open wound on his skull who suggested that we didn’t take the train but let him drive us 1000km through Thailand saving us hours on our journey, but possibly having our eyes stolen and being locked in his boot as compensation. There are so many more oddballs it is hard to choose the best.

We were not let down when we travelled from Thailand to Malaysia, in fact we were really quite lucky and the wait scored highly on the freakotron scale. Our train was 3 hours late, it was 2am and I was having an interesting conversation with the latest local lunatic. After getting the essentials of basic English conversation out of the way, he asked me “do you know what’s wrong with life?”. I replied that I didn’t and didn’t really want to know but asked him “what?” out of courtesy. He stared off into the distance, I presumed he was considering this question and framing his answer eloquently with maybe a reference or two from Freud. Time went by, kingdoms rose and fell and still he stared off into the distance. I thought he’d forgotten his question which was quite a relief when after five minutes he returned to earth and replied “money”. By this time I was half asleep and glad that the conversation was over but it jolted me awake. He continued in this vain for some time, asking a question, dropping into silence and then answering with a word or two after a couple of minutes. After gentle questioning techniques, and many time delays I found that he was high on opium, which explained his vagueness, interest in philosophy and glazed eyes. I was hoping the train would come to save us, but luckily he promptly passed out in front of me and fell asleep on a bench. We moved away to another bench just in case he woke up again and were greeted by a large 60 year old woman with no teeth, who looked like she had learnt how to apply cosmetics from Marilyn Manson and to speak English from Stephen Hawkins’ electronic voice box. Again we fell into the English for retards conversation (I should get it recorded then I could just press play and leave them to it, it’s very tiring at 2:30am). We feared another lengthy conversation but after she asked “where are you staying?” and we replied “on a train” (evidentially, or maybe not so to someone who hangs about during the early hours at train stations for fun), she ran out of questions and went off to shave her tongue with a loaf of bread along with the other local maniacs.

Once we finally got the train we were relatively safe, and it was very late so we went straight to our bunks. When we woke up we were near the Malaysian border. We stopped to get our visa stamped and for the officials to check there weren’t any “hippy types” on board, (or people with sandals or dirty shorts) which apparently was forbidden. They must not have noticed my dirty shorts and sandals because I got through to the other side. The train ride from there on was very interesting, the people were very different to Thailand with lots more Indian and Chinese on board, and with more of a Muslim feel with women wearing burkas or semi-burkas and bikini burkas. Everyone seemed very happy and smiley and it felt really nice to be back on with happy folks who didn’t want to suck money out of you all the time.

Our first stop was an island called Penang, we stayed in a city called Georgetown, which was not surprisingly was built by the English. It was an interesting mix of Malaysian, Chinese and Indian neighbourhoods, set in a colonial English setting. Walking down one street you could hear Indian music and smell joss sticks and vindaloo and then next you would be surrounded by tiger’s penises and chow Mein. We had a great time sampling all of the food, which was fantastic and incredibly cheap. One of the curries we paid £2 for was the best I have had yet, and the crispy pork was delicious too. With such great food, we spent lots of our short time in Penang eating, and the rest in a butterfly park and just wandering around the streets.

Our driver, he was actually quite friendly even though he looks very moody here

Our driver, he was actually quite friendly even though he looks very moody here

Us on rickshaw

Us on rickshaw

Tricky Malay language

Tricky Malay language

A local bike taxi driver having a haircut

A local bike taxi driver having a haircut

Our Chinese meal

Our Chinese meal

The best Chinese restaurant

The best Chinese restaurant

Hawker stall

Hawker stall

After Penang we moved on to the Cameron Highlands. The hostel we stayed at was fantastic and had everything set up well, we went on a hike through the rainforest, saw a snake, a praying mantis, and then got lost. We ended up a few kilometres away at a power station wondering where we were, and then walked back along one of the roads. We heard afterwards that a Malaysian family had gone walking in the forest and got lost for a week and that the founder of the silk trade in Thailand, a man called Jim Thompson, had gone into the forest in 1970 and never come out again. The next day we took a taxi with a few other people for a tour of the area. Our driver was great and had lived in the area since he was born, his parents were moved over from India by the British to set up the roads. He showed us photos of from when he was young and the area had changed so much, when he was young the area was run by nuns, priests and the British army and consisted of a few buildings in the jungle. He remembered not being allowed in white people’s houses (apart from to carry their bags), seeing tigers on a weekly basis when he was a shepherd, and lots of other interesting stories. He took us to the tea plantations, which are still owned by a Scottish family. They were really beautiful and the mist flowing over them was magical.

Tea plantation

Tea plantation

Tea men, they used to pick the tea by hand but now they luckily have machines

Tea men, they used to pick the tea by hand but now they luckily have machines

Tea plantation road

Tea plantation road

Next we set off to the countries capital, Kuala Lumpur. It seemed like a nice city, filled with mosques, shopping centres and overpriced alcohol (over £8 a bottle of beer in some places!). I brought my new macro lens there because electronics tax free in Malaysia and spent a couple of days in the butterfly park experimenting with it. Christy checked out the local mosque, wore a burka and was almost, nearly, not at all converted by a local Muslim man who worked there.

The Lime Butterfly

The Lime Butterfly

Dragonfly head

Dragonfly head

Butterfly head x5

Butterfly head x5

Christy with butterfly hairclip

Christy with butterfly hairclip

Poo chart, this wierd chart was in the butterfly park toilets

Poo chart, this wierd chart was in the butterfly park toilets

After a much too short stay in Malaysia we caught the bus down into Singapore. Naturally we were on the watch for mental escapees and were once again not let down. Behind us on the bus was a giant Indian man with an enormous handlebar moustache and limited English skills, who was accompanied by a small boy (with no handlebar moustache but better English skills) who we presumed to be his son. Whilst we were on a break at a service station he looked at me in a devious way, and pretended to have a camera in his hand whilst taking an imaginary photo of us. This was his invitation for a photo shoot outside, declining was not an option. We were ordered outside and rotated through various photo combinations as instructed by Mr Wong Raja; me and him, Christy and him, Christy and the boy, the boy and me, the boy me and a stray dog, and on and on. He obviously wanted some evidence that he had bonded and made best friends with some Westerners on his trip. The shoot went on for some time, without much dialogue, and of course we made best friends. It turned out that he was a karate master and his son was not his son but his apprentice and they were over in Singapore for a Karate competition (evidentially the young boy was the karate contestant; the Mr Raja’s belly was not one of an athletes). He didn’t really understand much English but had a very bolshie manner and pretty much bossed everyone around with sign language, and his timid apprentice translated and tried to keep his head down as much as possible. He insisted that we visit his home in India, next January, to meet his enormous family and to have more photo shoots. Imagine the photo combinations with an extended family of 300. We said we couldn’t which he wouldn’t accept, so to keep the peace we agreed that we would definitely probably maybe visit him then. Now happy, he continued to talk in length in very broken English, and when we did understand and replied he didn’t understand us. This breakdown didn’t seem to put him off one bit. When we got off the bus and transferred to the shuttle bus which moved us over to Singapore we tried to escape, but he followed shouting my name at full volume, and when a small Chinese man sat next to Christy he literally picked him off the seat and placed him elsewhere, then grabbed my heavy camera bag and threw it onto a seat to reserve the space for his apprentice, hitting a lady on the head with it in the process. The locals looks horrified but he didn’t seem to notice, he was a man with a Karate mission. He seemed to spiral further into madness on this journey and his conversation was interspersed with lots of snorting and head rolling. When in Singapore we managed to escape with a promise of a zoo visit the next day, we parted ways with a bear hug in which he picked me up and shook me up and down. We ran around the corner and thankfully so far we haven’t seen him again.

Singapore was really nice and much cheaper than we had expected. Everyone talks about how sterile it is, but it didn’t come across that way to us. We thought it was just a well organised and clean place, which can only be a good thing really. We found lots of hawker stalls to eat at which was about £2 per meal and got to eat with the locals. One evening we got to witness a show in which two of the Chinese owners of the stalls had a massive screaming argument which went on for 20 minutes and culminated in a light slapping match. Unfortunately the dialogue was all in Chinese, which was most inconsiderate for those who could only understand English.
We looked out of place wandering around the Ritz hotel in flip flops checking out the $5,000,000 worth of art work in it, looked at the Singapore eye, went to the amazing zoo and bird park (everything was almost free range!), saw the amazing Christmas lights in the posh area of town whilst wandering amongst Gucci and Versace shops and gawped at the prostitutes in the poor end of town (we didn’t purchase any Gucci products, a Singapore eye ride or a prostitute due to lack of funds).

The legendary Raffles

The legendary Raffles

Singapore flyer

Singapore flyer

Christy tweaking the nipples of an African statue

Christy tweaking the nipples of an African statue

Hamadryas baboon male portrait

Hamadryas baboon male portrait

Hamadryas teenager portrait

Hamadryas teenager portrait

Brown capuchin monkey hanging around on a stick

Brown capuchin monkey hanging around on a stick

A very friendly lemur

A very friendly lemur

Ring tailed lemur

Ring tailed lemur

A sleeping baby orang, the only ones I will see in Indonesia

A sleeping baby orang, the only ones I will see in Indonesia

Orang hand

Orang hand

Baby orang swinging

Baby orang swinging

Egret

Egret

Pelican in the rain

Pelican in the rain

We only had a few days but we really enjoyed Singapore and would love to go back.
After our brief visit we set off to Bali, which is where we are now. I will write another blog soon about our exploits here. If I don’t before have a very merry Christmas, we’ll be on the beach for it and I’m planning on going diving on Christmas Eve which will be somewhat different to normal.

Posted by monkeyboy1 00:15 Archived in Malaysia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Loy Krathong and our new pad

49278 kms travelled so far

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After the Vegetarian festival we spent a few days in an island called Ko Phangan which is famous for its full moon parties. We had missed the full moon party but were there for the half moon party. We went along and had a good time, it was set inside a jungle clearing and was decorated with lots of UV, it reminded me of an illegal rave in England, but without rain or with no police trying to shut it down.

We spent the next couple of days exploring on mopeds, snorkelling, relaxing and winding down to island time. During this time we realised that we’d be travelling almost non-stop for over six months and that we felt a bit tired of all the buses, trains, planes and waiting rooms and wanted to settle down for a while, kick back and take in the atmosphere of somewhere for more than a few days. Ko Phangan seemed like a good place to do this. Unfortunately before we made this decision we had already booked tickets up to the other end of Thailand to go to a festival called Loy Krathong, we decided that as we had paid we should go so undertook a massive journey to go to the festival and then travelled back to Ko Phangan where we are now. I don’t think we fully realised how much travelling we would need to do, we travelled for 35 hours each way, covering a total distance of over 2,200km to spend a couple of days at the festival!

Two 15 hour train journeys and a boat ride later and we arrived at the festival, in Thai Loy Krathong means “to float” and Krathong is a small decorated raft which the locals add incense sticks , candles, decorations and a small amount of money. The act of releasing this raft acts to pay respect to Buddha and is also symbolic of letting go of all of your grudges and anger. Millions of them are released down the main rivers and onto lakes and it seemed like everyone was involved.

Along with the krathongs, paper lanterns are released and the whole of the sky was filled with hundreds of these during the evenings creating a new floating orange cosmos.

It all sounds very idyllic and it definitely was, but naturally an element of Thai chaos was injected to make it a little more interesting. The lanterns were lit and people waited for them to fill with hot air before releasing them, lots of people weren’t patient enough so they slowly took off and then came back down to earth on fire setting fire to people’s heads, telegraph wires, trees, market stalls and motorbikes. Some of the more adventurous Thai’s took to attaching pyrotechnics to the lanterns so that as they took off they shot off fireworks and firecrackers at unsuspecting bystanders. This was a health a safety workers worst nightmare but the Thai’s loved it and had a great time! Only 14,598 people were maimed so no real damage was done.

Setting_off_lantern.jpgBuddha_in_..rathong.jpgA lantern crashing down into some wires

A lantern crashing down into some wires

On the main evening of the event we went down to the river to watch the fireworks and people release their krathongs. As we sat peacefully a really wrecked Thai man wobbled over and asked for money, I gave him 10 baht to get rid of him as he had a funny look in his one remaining eye. He wobbled a little further and then jumped into the river where he proceeded to rip apart as many krathongs as possible to get out the money. People were symbolically releasing all of their grudges and anger only to have some drunk idiot pull it all apart 10 seconds later, which no doubt didn’t help with their grudges and anger. In true Asian style no one confronted him about this and even when people saw their krathongs destroyed in front of them they just looked a bit sad and then left. Christy and I were about the only people there who seemed to be annoyed, I wished that an English mentality lynch mob would come and dispose of him but they never came. Where’s The Sun when you need it?!

Whilst this was taking place a thousand fireworks were being let off all around us. Think of all the fireworks that have been banned in England since the 1800’s and then give those to under 7’s to set off as they please! “Grenade” fireworks were being thrown into the river which exploded throwing the water up into the air, fireworks on string were being spun around and then released to shoot off in a random direction and firecrackers were being thrown all over the place. It was quite a scene, and the noise was deafening. After a couple of hours of being in this war scene we retreated, thankfully with all limbs and major organs intact, but with mild post traumatic stress. We spent a couple of days in Chiang Mai, looking around and enjoying the incredible cheapness of everything in Northern Thailand.

We then had the monster journey back to Ko Phangan to undertake, we decided to mix it up and got 2 buses back instead of the train. We arrived at the port exhausted only to find there had been a storm for the last few days and that the water was rough. The 3 hour ride over to Ko Phangan was choppy, but sitting on the front of the boat as it rocked around seemed to help with sea sickness. Finally we arrived on the island, happy in the knowledge that we were here for a bit and there would be no more travelling!

Our choppy journey

Our choppy journey

We searched around for houses later on that day and what we found wasn’t encouraging, we were beginning to think we would be stuck with a Korean style one bedroom, one kitchen place when we found Lakeside House, which is where we have been for the last 3 weeks, we only have another week left, it’s gone so quickly! It’s a really nice house, with two bedrooms, a kitchen which opens on one side to look over the lake. It has a nice area outside which we can relax. As the name suggests it sits on the edge of a lake, which backs onto mangroves, followed by the sea, perfect!

The kitchen

The kitchen

The bedroom

The bedroom

The bathroom

The bathroom

Outside

Outside

Our view

Our view

View from our bedroom

View from our bedroom

The highstreet!

The highstreet!

Most evenings we go down to “our beach” and watch the sunset and the fishing boats head out to sea for the night.

Our beach

Our beach

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We have hired brand new super mopeds, 100cc of pure power (£2 a day!) so we can scoot around the island.

The beast

The beast

The island has pretty much everything we need, including the plague-like Tescos (bad, although good for cheap rum!) and an even an English pub, which looks a bit odd sitting amongst palm trees but serves a mean proper English sausage sandwich and gammon and chips!!

An English pub, stage 2 of colonisation

An English pub, stage 2 of colonisation

We even have a major branch of HSBC bank on the island, which is great for our banking needs....

HSBC, the worlds local bank

HSBC, the worlds local bank

We can get about nearly everywhere on the island, apart from where the roads give way to mad paths or have fallen into the mountain!

Road followed by, no road

Road followed by, no road

We’re just a few km’s away from the best snorkelling spots on the island so we’ve spent lots of time on the beach. Our favourite beach in called Coral Bay, it’s in a cove and has a perfect sandy beach. The water is clean and clear and if you swim out a bit there’s a reef with lots of fish and according to Christy a few great white sharks, although we haven’t seen any of them quite yet. This beach also has a resident pig that snuffles around and occasionally attacks women for no reason which I find quite funny, and the women do not. The owner of the pig told us a bit about this; the pig was brought up with an old dog, so it thinks that it’s a dog and behaves in many ways like a dog. When the old dog died they got a new puppy, who now thinks he is a pig and snuffles around the beach digging up the sand with his nose like a pig does. So there’s a dog who thinks he’s a pig and a pig who thinks he’s a dog. To add to the confusion they’ve now got another dog, which looks very much like a wolf – I wonder what effect that will have on the trio, maybe a killer pig!

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Apart from the beach we’ve been to a Muay Thai (Thai boxing) match, where we saw 7 fights. It’s not much like normal boxing, they can kick and punch, and they are much more agile and they had music playing when they were fighting which they almost danced to. It was like Swan Lake apart, apart from the fact that they beat the crap out of each other. Fighters start young here, at 13 days old they take their first steps in the ring, by the time they are 2 they can disable a man from 15 metres away, and when other children are just starting first school they are killing buffaloes for fun with their bare hands. The first fight we saw was very young fighters, they were actually pretty rubbish and one of them fell over in the 2nd round, I think even I could have beat him. The fights progressively got better and better until the last one was a frantic full 5 rounds of pounding and I definitely wouldn’t even consider looking directly at the fighters let alone sparring with them.

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This morning we went and had an archery lesson which was fun. I hit the target quite a few times (although not as many times as I missed it), as did Christy - there is Robin Hood potential yet. I’m going to hunt down the shooting school and have a go there sometime this week too. I will be combat ready! We are also hoping to go fishing one day with some local fishermen, spend some time with our friends the elephants and get lots more beach action in over our final week.

Asian_elephant.jpgAsian_elep..ortrait.jpg

Once we leave here we head down through Malaysia and Singapore to spend the next month in Indonesia. We’ve just booked our Christmas and NYE accommodation in a tiny island called Gili Trawangan, which has no cars or motorbike, excellent snorkelling (apparently there’s thousands of turtles there) and possibly most importantly, suckling pig!

Posted by monkeyboy1 00:10 Archived in Thailand Tagged armchair_travel Comments (0)

Phuket Vegetarian Festival

Warning: Some of the photos are a bit gruesome, but I've added them to the bottom. Scroll down below the text at your own risk!!!

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One of the things I’m enjoying most about Thailand is the chaos. Take for example the traffic, it seems to be out of control - cars don’t stop at traffic lights, mopeds ride on the wrong side and weave around moving cars piled high with children, pets and furniture and pedestrians stroll out in front of speeding buses – but still it all seems to work itself out and as of yet I haven’t seen anyone hurt or flattened. Most areas of Thai life seem to work in this way and I’m definitely warming to it! :)

A few weeks ago we went to Phuket vegetarian festival. Those who didn’t do their homework and travelled to Phuket with hopes of tofu stalls, kindness to animals and a peaceful hippy vibe would have been disappointed as vegetarianism took back shelf to the locals impaling themselves through their faces with any available item, varying from a machine gun to a child’s tricycle. As gruesome as this seems it does have some kind of background and they do have a reason for doing this to themselves, I will explain now (caveat: some information is correct where as other bits may be incorrect or just plain lies). It all begin in 1825 when the governor moved Phuket’s principle town to its current location because he envisioned it would one day make a better city to host many Tesco stores and 7/11’s. At the time the area was covered in dense jungle and a fatal fever struck down many of the locals. By co-incidence a travelling Chinese opera was visiting and they all came down with the fever, thankfully the Daily Mail wasn’t in circulation at the time or else there would have been mass hysteria around the world about the next swine/ bird or crab flu about to strike. To combat the fever the opera company ignored their doctor’s instruction of a lemsip, and lots of sleep and instead kept to a strict vegetarian diet for 10 days to honour two of their Gods; Kung Fu Panda and Mr Myagi. At the end of the 10 days their fever reduced and they packed up and went back to China. The locals saw that the vegetarianism stunt worked, so for ten days a year they abstained from meat in honour of Myagi and Panda, and also observed other rules such as not having sex, not eating chocolate biscuits and ordering their children to set off as many crackers humanly possible, preferably at tourist’s feet. This is where I get confused of the link between this and the sticking the rods through your face, but it seems that the Thai people have pimped up the Chinese version with the appearance of Ma Songs, or entranced horses. These are the devotees who the Chinese Gods ‘enter’ during the festival. Whilst possessed they manifest supernatural powers such as being able to stick machine guns through their heads, walk on hot coals, pour boiling oil on their heads, walk along razor ladders and endure endless hours of Enya on loop, all without feeling any pain. Now, I don’t want to be a non believer, but I did see quite a few of them look like they were in pain, but I guess it’s a little too late to bring that up once the pole has been stuck through your cheek and you’re claiming some kind of link with God, so they just had to put on a brave face and look a bit mental/ possessed for the crowd. It’s interesting and backs up the theory that certain elements of religion can be seen as a mental illness. If one person claims that an invisible person who lives in the sky talks to him (Jesus excluded, he definitely wasnt crazy and could really, honestly, definitely (maybe) walk on water too...) and also sticks poles through his head to ensure that people won’t get the flu then he would be locked up in a Mental Home, but if several people do the same then its religion and OK.

Either way it was an interesting insight into human behaviour, we certainly are an odd lot. Crowds were out in the city wearing white to pay their respects to the devotees and everyone from toddlers to old ladies stood patiently at the edge of the road praying to them as they lurched by with umbrellas and other items hanging from their faces. It would have been pretty awful if it had of appeared to be faked for the tourists, but in fact it was quite the opposite, the locals seemed to thoroughly believe it, the participants believed it (evidently because they were the ones piercing themselves) and the atmosphere of the festival was one of serious worship, apart from some of the odd items they chose for the processions.

Definitely not a festival to miss if you're not too squeamish!

Guns.jpg7Boat.jpgExhausts.jpgSilhouette.jpgGuitar.jpgLong_spiral_poles.jpgMachine_guns.jpg3_swords.jpgPiercing_portrait.jpgTricycle.jpgWithdrawal.jpg

Posted by monkeyboy1 00:37 Archived in Thailand Tagged events Comments (0)

Yet another special day for a tuk tuk ride!

46980 kms travelled so far

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Sawwatdee crap, or hello to those who don’t speak Thai. We’re here in Thailand and having a great time.

Arriving in Bangkok after the home comforts of Oz and NZ could be likened to being hit in the face with a brick. It was a real shock. Bangkok is non-stop madness in full swing; millions of people, smog, traffic jams, honking horns, beggars next to Ferraris and monks next to millionaires. It’s the kind of place you want to get out of as soon as you arrive because of the total overload, but also a place that grows on you and when you return it doesn’t seem half as bad.

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Within 30 minutes of the first day there we closely avoided two scams, first we got chatting to a man on the street who asked us if we needed any help with directions. He chatted to us, seemed very genuine and said we should get a tuk tuk as today was a special day and that the King of Thailand was discounting petrol for all drivers to encourage tourism and that we could get around for 40p to as many temples in the city as we wanted. It sounded interesting, but we wanted to get breakfast (food rules, ok) and decided to give it a miss. After breakfast a tout comes to chat to us, he tells us again “it’s a special day, get to the temples for 20 baht”, sounds good but no thanks, we’re ok for the moment. We go to another street and meet yet another man, he again seems very friendly and chats to us about Bangkok life, shows us a photo of his children and his pet dog Scrappy, what a nice man we think, little did we know he’d probably kidnapped the children and dog for a photo session. He said once again it was a special day and that today was the only day of the year when women are allowed into the Black Buddha Temple. We buckle and agree to take the tuk tuk to this one special temple and also ask him to take us to the main tourist information office so we can get some more information. He drops us off at what we think is the official tourism place, it’s full of farangs (foreign ATMs as I think we are known in Bangkok) and we sit down to ask for a price to get to the nearby island. After long negotiations as she attempts to plan our next 4 months schedule down to the day we finally convince her we just want one bus journey and she quotes us 1300 baht to get there, we had seen it for 250 baht on the street near ours so question this and she got angry and started shouting about how this is impossible and that we have obviously been looking at un-reputable companies, and that of course we must book with her right now or all the tickets in the whole of South East Asia will be booked up. We politely get up and leave much to her disgust and the driver, all full of smiles and chat, takes us to the black Buddha temple and we have a look around. After we get back in the tuk tuk and he starts his spiel, to get the 40p ride all day we have to stop off at various tailors and jewellers along the way. We said we didn’t want to and offered him more money just to take us where we wanted to go, but he was insistent. After some time debating he exploded and told us to get out of his tuk tuk and left us in the middle of nowhere. Charming. We spoke to another couple later and they went to these tailors etc and got hassled and were shouted at when they refused to buy anything so I’m glad we left then! So, my first impressions of Bangkok and of Thai people that day weren’t that good. The problem in Bangkok seems to be this, if you are nice to people then there’s a big chance that they’ll take you for a ride, but at the same time you don’t want to be rude to people and it would be nice to be able to chat to locals and find out stuff without being suspicious. Being in Bangkok seems to have a hardening effect on you within hours though and the thought of engaging in conversation with random “friendly” people doesn’t even occur to me now! Luckily we’ve found the countryside much more genuine and we can have good chats to people without them trying to extract our livers, make us a silk suit or sell us into slavery.

The city was stiflingly hot and we spent the afternoon in a local mall and watching a film in an ice cold cinema, not very cultural but we needed to escape the madness. Armed with the knowledge that my £20 budget would now buy me more than a beer and a sandwich (hurrah!) we went on a mini shopping spree. This is what I got for my budget, awesome!

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The following day we visited one of the main temples in the city, Wat Pho. We were propositioned by several tuk tuk drivers with “I’ll take you for 20 baht, today is a special day sir”, but wisely decided to avoid them and get a ride with one who charged a normal price and actually took us where we wanted to go. The temple was amazing and massive, it dates back to the 16th century and houses a lazy Buddha (not sure that’s the official name) which is 15 metres high and 46 metres long. It was stunning to walk around and we made our way around admiring the spires, statues and buildings all adorned in diamonds and coloured glass. Compared to the Korean temples it was very Las Vegas and not at all down to earth, but both are appealing in their own different ways.

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Afterward we visited an enormous market with far too many stalls, including rabbits in dresses and dogs in dungarees. This market is visited by 200,000 people a day and was way too hot so we escaped before we imploded on the spot.

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After a couple of days in Bangkok we’d had enough and decided to escape for a paradise beach island to do some snorkelling, lying around on beaches and drinking cool beers whilst the sun beat down on us. Unfortunately it didn’t quite work out like that. Koh Chang, or Elephant Island was being hit with the aftermath of the Philippines monsoon and it rained, and rained and rained a little more to make sure that we had noticed. We spent our days peeking out of beach hut, drinking with other travellers and playing cards, not very beach like activities but fun all the same.
So back we retreated from Rain Island to the insane asylum of Bangkok once again. We decided to go and visit a museum of forensics which sounded interesting. We dodged the persistent tuk tuk drivers and caught a bus as advised, it stopped near a bridge and the driver told us to get off. We had no idea where we were and attempted to ask a few people, who couldn’t speak any English. We knew it was near a railway station so tried making choo choo noises whilst moving our arms in the old fashioned locomotive train movement. As they have electric trains in Thailand this was totally lost on them and they directed us in any direction away from them discounting us as mentally ill. Maybe they pointed towards the nearest mental hospital, we will never know. We walked in the suggested direction for ages and didn’t see anything, we asked another man who looked worried and pointed back in the direction we had just come from and said in broken English to get the 146 bus. For confirmation we then attempted to ask another lady who pointed in another direction and told us to get the number 20 bus. We gave up after ages of wandering around and got a taxi, which drove us for 30 minutes to the right location over the other side of Bangkok! It’s good to be back in a country where even doing the simplest of things is a challenge! The museum was located inside a hospital and quite hard to find, but after making a few enquiries surrounded by old women in pushchairs and drips we found it. We entered and were greeted by a charming set of photos of people who had died in various horrendous ways, including light aeroplane crash, suicide by chopping off a hand (who does that?!), smashed bottle to the neck, shotgun, and many more, the finale was a man who had been blown up by a hand grenade. I say a man but I couldn’t be sure, there wasn’t all that much left. By this time I was feeling more than a little queasy but ventured around a corner to see photos of the tsunami victims and a real life toddler in a jar who had drowned (he didnt drown in the jar, he was just pickled in it). On seeing this I left before I puked on the floor and looked around the parasitology museum next door, which to be honest wasn’t much better. You should have seen the size of the testicle of a man infected with elephantitus, it was bigger than my torso. Christy joined me later and regaled tales of a small boy who had unintentionally cooked himself inside a clay pot. I decided not to ever join the fire brigade, police or do any job where I see dead people, and also not to play with grenades or ever put myself into a clay pot in an oven, even if it is the only hide and seek location available. Brutally aware of all the horrible ways we could die or be infected by parasites which would change our genitals into concrete we stepped out into the real world making sure to look left and right before crossing the road. We found out there was a ferry literally seconds away which took us back to opposite our hotel in under 5 minutes. It seems we really did take the scenic route on the way there!

We then left Bangkok and headed to Kanchanaburi, which is the home of the bridge over the river Kwai. It’s a nice town surrounded by mountains and lush green vegetation. We went to several war museums to read about the POW’s, the bridge and the railway and then went to see the bridge itself. Although it wasn’t the original bridge, which was bombed by the Americans months after it was built, it was still moving to see it and to think how much work and how many lives had been lost spanning the river.

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The next day we hired a couple of mopeds and set off on a mini adventure to explore the surrounding countryside. We were both given helmets (one with fetching union jack design and mine like an American police man) which were about as effective as balancing a piece of cardboard on our heads and we set off. Thai people seem to think wearing helmets is an activity for the paranoid and looked at us with astonishment as we drove down the road looking a bit like retards. When they drove past us you could see the people in the back of trucks laughing out loud in amusements at our outrageous and unnecessary safety precautions (and of course the ridiculous designs on them!). Little did they know about the man at the forensics museum who had forfeited wearing his helmet and consequently died when he was hit by a duck on the head (ok, I made that bit up but these things are possible and our cardboard helmets were a neccessary precaution).

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We rode about 75km to a place called hellfire pass, which was where the POW’s had to dig out a pass by hand through the rock, it was meant to one of the worst places along the death railway and hundreds of people had died there due to maltreatment from the Korean and Japanese guards. We walked along its length and it definitely had an atmosphere about it, and it was not too hard to begin to imagine what it must have been like. One of the surprises I got was that many of the POW’s described the area as beautiful and vowed they would come back later on after the war ended, I thought that they would have hated the area but it seems that many did not even though their time there was terrible. I was also shocked to see how many Asian workers died on the railway, far far more Asian than Western workers died (around 90,000 I think) and none of their details were recorded so their families never knew where they were buried or what had happened to them. After this moving site, we rode on to a waterfall and then had a drive around the countryside where I was rewarded with the amusing site of Christy wobbling down the road looking petrified with a one eyed dog nipping at her heals, whilst Thai children looked on smiling and laughing at how odd us Whiteys are.

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The next day we took the death railway train along a section of its route which whizzed through the Thai countryside filled with paddy fields, cows, egrets and herons, climaxing at a rickety old bridge which creaked dangerously as we passed over it. We stopped in a small town for lunch where I unsuccessfully tried to persuade a shop keeper to let her songbird free from its stupidly small cage (I got as far as “No speaky English”, but at the same time she seemed to have no problem saying she wanted 5000 baht to let the bird free, talk about selective English knowledge!). I love birds but I’m not paying £100 for her to set it free and go out and catch another one the next day so it had to stay captive :(

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After our time in Kanchanaburi we set off to Khao Yai National Park, which claims to be the 5th best national park in the world, and is a UNESCO protected area and home to tigers (although at last count there was only 7 which is not an encouraging sign in over 2000km of park), elephants, bears and gibbons. I wanted to arrange a personal guide rather than a tour and we did so after much bartering. To get a knowledgeable guide who also speaks English is no easy task! Our guide was a man called Djib who had such immense enthusiasm for all things living he would have made pre-stingray Steve Irwin look like an unmotivated slouch. After a couple of minutes driving down the road he skidded to a halt, jumped out of the car and started screaming at a car coming the other way. We thought we were on for a tiger spotting or maybe an elephant wrestling with a bear with an eagle on its back, but in fact he had spotted a beetle on the road and wanted to save it. Djib was, in my limited knowledge, what I would call a real Buddhist and a genuinely nice person and it was great to chat to him about his views on life. We visited a bat cave at sunset and saw 3,000,000 bats leave for a night of hunting, which was fantastic to see but hard to photograph. As the bats left the cave they were swooped down upon by kestrels’ and barn owls who grabbed the odd one for dinner. The next day we set off for a full day’s photography bright and early and we weren’t disappointed. Our first spotting was an Asian elephant, we crept through the woods and saw its trunk metres away, before it moved on further into the undergrowth and we couldn’t see it anymore. A good start to the day. Luckily we were given leech socks as they were attacking in mass as soon as we got out of the jeep, one managed to get into Christy’s trousers and sucked blood from her bum, which she wasn’t that amused with. We then walked back into the jungle to find some white handed gibbons, we located them after a while and spent an hour or so watching them swing around whilst trying to throw poo and wee at us. As they were so high up my lens couldn’t really get any decent shots but I have a few for memory at least. We continued on seeing pig tailed macaques, muntjak deer, sambar deer, a monitor lizard swimming in a river and a beautiful white lipped pit viper resting on a branch. We finished the day by walking up into some woods at the top of a mountain, we stood in the twilight and thousands of bats (the same bats from our cave the day before) poured through the forest skimming our heads by millimetres, a great experience.

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After a few days of our park experience we headed back down on a night bus to an island called Koh Lanta, which is down the South of Thailand. We spent a couple of days relaxing and basking in the sun, which was a nice change after our Ko Chang experience!

Next up is Phuket where I will be hopefully getting some good photos of the vegetarian festival, where the locals pierce themselves through the face with various sharp objects, walk up razor ladders and step on hot coals. Mental stuff!

I hope you’re all well, apologies that this blog has once again turned into a bit of a novel (again)!!!

Posted by monkeyboy1 02:15 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Oz, axe murderers and the epic GOW

37657 kms travelled so far

all seasons in one day 25 °C
View Around the world in 365 days... & Where we're going! on monkeyboy1's travel map.

First of all, I have learnt an important lesson here in Australia; never let your relatives cut your hair, especially with a clipper brought for a "bargain". There's a reason why it cost under $30.

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I had to bail out half way through the cut as my hair was being so badly mauled. I went to the hairdresser yesterday who commented "that's a bloody mess isn't it" and then thankfully sorted it out :)

We've been having a great time in Australia. When we first arrived we went to a few beaches, caught up with Rachel, Dave and Rich and checked out the local areas. We have been made to feel completely at home, it has been great having a sofa, internet, good company and cold beer!

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After a few days in Sydney we set off on an adventure down to Melbourne to do the Great Ocean Walk, a 104km jaunt along the coastline of South Australia. As with the Salkantay Trek i'm going to write out what we did by day so I dont forget!

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Day 1 - Sydney to Melbourne

The day started off well but rapidly went downhill. We were at the airport about to check in, as I was going to take my camera equipment as hand luggage I looked into my backpack to find it, it wasnt there. AGH! I'd left it back at Rachels when I was packing which was REALLY annoying, especially as it was my only real chance to get photos of Australian wildlife. Bummer. As we went through security checks they stopped Christy and told her she had a knife in her bag, she protested that there must be a mistake but they asked her to check, and in a small sidepocket which has rusted shut there was indeed a knife. Bin Christy, the new face of terrorism. We got onto the plane and it took off ok, which was great, all went to plan until the airhostess spilt milk all over my t-shirt making it smell gross. When we arrived in Geelong the hotel we had called and spoken to about a room said they didnt actually have any spare rooms. We eventually found somewhere and hoped that the walk would go smoother than things had panned out so far.......

Day 2 - Geelong to Apollo Bay (bus), Apollo bay to Elliot Ridge (walking)

We arrived at the bus station well in time and were informed that the bus we thought we were catching back the following Thursday wasnt actually running and that the only bus we could catch would be a day earlier! We took the bus to Apollo Bay, which was the start of the walk and set off with rain and strong winds against us, which was a shame as Christy only had a giant bright yellow condom to protect her from the elements. Our bags felt incredibly heavy and our shoulders were aching within minutes. We got lost within about 15 metres of the visitor centre and luckily a man directed us the right way! As we walked along the first path cockateels flew around our heads in noisy flocks and superb fairy wrens hopped around the bushes - even though the weather wasnt great at least we were seeing some good stuff.

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We got lost again and ended up slipping and sliding over some rocks on the beach, as the rain pounded down on us. Thoughts of deserting came into our minds but we decided to keep on it in the hope things would get better. We found the right path and headed up into a forest filled with enormous eukalyptus trees which gave us some protection from the wind and rain. After a massive hill we finally arrived at the campsite, which was in the middle of the forest, miles away from civilisation. We were the only people at the campsite and the visitor book was last signed a month earlier - we didnt see another person doing the walk at any point of the trip, although not treated as real wilderness by Australians this was as remote as we'd been before and felt like a real adventure. As we settled into our sleeping bags we realised the importance of roll mats, which we had forgotten to bring. The floor was absolutely freezing and it penetrated straight through to us and into our bones. We spent an uncomfortable night shivering, whilst Christy freaked out at a potential axe murderer outside.

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Day 3 - Elliot Ridge to Blanket Bay

We woke up like zombies, but arose to sunny weather which was a definite improvement. We put our heavy backpacks on our achy shoulders and set off through the forest again and bumped into several black wallabies. Most of the jumped away when we disturbed them, but one of them, the Fonz of wallabies, wasnt fazed at all by us and sat a couple of metres away ignoring us. Later on as we walked along Christy spotted our first wild koala, which was asleep in a tree, looking exactly like a teddy bear! As we continued on the forest changed and we were greeted by black cockatoos which swooped around us chattering noisily. We saw lots of brightly coloured birds which look almost out of place in the wild as i'm so used to seeing them in cages - it was a shame I didnt have my camera to get photos of them. We arrived at our campsite in Blanket Bay and settled down to another cold night. This time we used our backpacks as roll mats and curled up into a fetal position to try to fit onto them - comfy stuff!

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Day 4 - Elliot ridge to Aire River, by Cape Otway

As our return bus times had changed we had to fit two days walking into one. We walked through woodlands again and then out into heathlands, spotting another koala and wallabies on the way. We stopped off at cape otway lighthouse, which should have been our campground, brought some more chocolate bars to keep our energy up, and then continued onto Aire river. We walked for what seemed like an eternity through rolling heathland, at the top of every hill all we could see was the winding path and more and more hills off into the distance. Finally and with VERY sore and achy feet and shoulders we arrived at Aire River. We put our tent up next to where another man was set up, he started talking to us and offered us some water. Christy instantly assuming he was a serial killer whispered to me to only fill one bottle with his water just in case it was poisoned. He was very friendly and lent us a couple of roll matts, which luckily werent poisoned and also gave us some baked beans for the morning breakfast - excellent. As I chatted to him I noticed he had a full sized crossbow in his car which made me wonder whether Christy was actually right and that he would hunt us down in our tent! We went to sleep early and slept much better because of the roll mats.

Day 5 - Aire River to Johanna Beach

We woke up relieved that we hadnt been shot through the face, or poisoned during the night. We hobbled out of the tent and had our beans, which were accompanied by some toast he cooked us too. As we were about to set off he came and offered us one of his roll mats to take with us, along with some more food, what a nice man he was! All axe murders should take lessons off him and the world would be a much nicer place. We set off and walked through yet more heathland which meandered down onto the beach, stopping off at a viewpoint near to the great ocean road where people spritely hopped from their cars and walked over without hobbling to look at the nice views. When we got down to the beach the wind was blowing full force in our faces, it took ages to walk along it, half way along we had to wade across a creek, and as I finally thought I was at the end my hat blew off and I had to take chase back down the beach in the wrong way. After the beach we entered farmland with beautiful rolling farmland, similar to what we had seen in NZ. We finally reached the campsite which once again was in a wood in the middle of nowhere and settled down for another nights rainy rest.

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Day 6 - Johanna Beach to Ryans Den

As we packed our tent up 2 grey kangaroos came bouncing past our tent, without even seeming to notice us. The sun was shining again and we started the day by cooking our socks to try to try them off! When we set off we walked across fields and saw loads of kangaroos bouncing all around us, it was an amazing scene. We continued walking and it rained on and off, finally we started heading down towards the beach but the paths were slippy and I slid over and very elegantly landed on my butt and backpack, broken noodles were now on the menu for lunch. We reached the beach, with very muddy trousers, and had to decide whether to risk dashing along the shore with the tide coming in or whether to wait for another few hours until it was heading out again. In Indiana Jones style we decided to risk it and made a run for it along the 500 metres of shore. Christy slipped on the rocks and ended up with her bum in a rockpool and cut her knees up in the process. When we reached the other end we could see how quickly the tide was coming in, as where we has been was being smashed by waves, phew! We set off up a steep slope and then sat down for a moment on a grassy verge for a rest; everything was very peaceful, the sun was shining, and the mars bar tasted extra good. It was only then I noticed an army of leeches crawling over to suck our blood, we jumped up and noticed they were attached to our trouser legs, Christy screamed and asked me, The Leech professional, to remove them, instantly, I didnt really know how so I tried flicking them off but they held on tight as Christy danced around. We then realised that our bags were on the grass too, and saw there was leeches attached to them, so we were trying to remove the leeches on our trousers, whilst holding heavy bags in the air, whilst dancing and trying to avoid more leeches joining in the party. We finally got rid of them by grabbing them with paper and ripping them off. We ran away once all were removed, and checked ourselves many many more times to see there was no more hiding. After the leech attack we thankfully only had a couple of hours more walking until we reached our campste which was again in a forest, high above the sea. As we went to sleep again that night Christy heard some cracking noises, and again we thought an axe murderer had returned to finally finish us of, thankfully he couldnt find our tent in the dark so he gave up and went home for a cup of tea instead.

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Day 7 - Ryans Den to Princetown

By this point of the walk it would be safe to say we smelt and looked very much like full time tramps. We set off early and walked through the forest, and onto tracks through dunes and heathland. Along the way we saw an Echidna, which is like a hedgehog mixed with a porcupine, we tricked him into thinking we had walked away and then papped him. We drew on our energy resourses and decided we could do another double day, in return for going a bit further to a town along the way where we could hire a bed in a hotel and go to a pub. We walked and walked and finally reached the town, where we spent the afternoon watching a DVD in a hostel, followed by an evening in the pub with beer and steak. Definitely a good reward for our hard work!

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Day 8 - Princetown to 12 Apostles

We finished off with what the lady in the hostel said was a 3km trek to the 12 apostles. Whether she had never walked to the apostles, was very bad with distances or was mentally ill, we will never know, but it was much further. We had to rush as we had a bus to catch and did 6km in about an hour, not bad with heavy bags and weary feet! We arrived and briefly visited the 12 apostles before falling happily on the bus knowing we didnt have to walk again for a long time! We got to the nearest city and ate lots of non-noodle food and drank lots of wine, then fell asleep on a proper bed, with no fear of axe murderers!

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Now we're back in Sydney it seems like it was a ages ago we were on the walk. It was a fantastic walk and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who likes hiking, apparently most people get a local company to transport their backpacks between campsites which would have made it alot easier!! This weekend we went down with Rachel, Dave and Rich to see the Blue Mountains which were very beautiful, even with gale force winds and freezing cold temperatures!

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We have just 2 more days left now until we set off for Thailand, and SE Asia. Hope everyone is well :) Adios!

Posted by monkeyboy1 22:09 Archived in Australia Tagged foot Comments (1)

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