Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Pause Menu

Countries Visited: 4
Number of Days Traveling: 175
Malaria Tablets Packed: 191
Malaria Tablets Consumed: 0
Photos Taken (approx): 5000
Books Read: 14
Favourite Books: 'Shantaram', 'Life of Pi' & 'Ghostwritten'.
Films Watched (excluding ones i'd already seen): 33 (approx)
Favourite New* Films: 'Slumdog Millionaire', 'Milk' & 'Up'.
Pairs of Flipflops: 2
Times Sick: 1
Days Ill in Bed: 0
Hospitals Visited: 0
Animals in Room: Ants, spiders, rat (plural), geckos, cockroaches...
Number of Haircuts: 1
Elephants Rescued: 2
Items Lost: 3 (nail clippers, torch & watch).
Best Party: Ko Chang, Thailand / Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Days Camping: 3
Best Food: Thailand (probably).
Worst Food: Vietnam (...probably).
Weirdest Meal: Ants & ant eggs (Cambodia).
Best Noodle Soup: Sukhothai, Thailand.
Best Coffee: Laos.
Favourite Beer: Angkor.
Favourite Beach: Ko Samet, Thailand.
Motorbikes Rented: 4
Best Place to Rent a Motorbike: Sa Pa, Vietnam.
Number of Hitchhikes: 2
Biggest Thunderstorm: Ayutthaya, Thailand.
Toughest Trek: Bokor National Park in Kampot, Cambodia / Luang Nam Tha, Laos.
Tattoos Received: ...
Longest Without Washing: 3 days.
Favourite Language: Khmer (Cambodian).
Guide Book: Rough Guide.
Best Activity: Rock climbing in Krabi, Thailand.
Most Beautiful Island: Ko Phi Phi, Thailand.
Cheapest Country: Cambodia.
Most Expensive Country: Vietnam.
Favourite Country: Whichever one I was in.
Worst Country: N/A
Highlight of Thailand: Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai.
Highlight of Cambodia: Srah Srang Village in Angkor.
Highlight of Vietnam: Easy Riders from Da Lat to Hoi An.
Highlight of Laos: Trekking in Luang Nam Tha.
Dont Leave Home Without: Tiger Balm

Thursday, 9 July 2009

End / Start

This is probably the last post. I cant think to summarize - and I also dont think it's possible or that I indeed need to being that this whole blog has been one big summary - so from now on feel free to find more interesting things to read on the internet in your not so free time.

What I will say is that I will miss the adventure a day that South-East Asia has provided. The careful chaos and arbitrary anarchy that i've enjoyed so much - a health and safety state this is not. I will also miss the people, local and traveling, the ones I knew for hours and ones I knew for days (or weeks). Thanks for being my best mates in minutes and making my trip what it was.

Special applause goes to Elephant Nature Park and the amazing people of Srah Srang village, I wont forget you lot in a hurry. You guys were undoubtedly the highlight of my trip, I know this without even having to think twice about it. I cannot however pick a favourite country because they were all so different and so good in their own way. I was probably more sad to leave Cambodia than any other country so if you want to use that as your answer you may.

I remember day 1, January 12th 2009, looking at my hand scrawled calendar (with Bangkok being all obnoxious in the background) and seriously wondering how I was going to survive the 180 days. But now, I dont think 180 days has ever gone so fast.

Goodbye from here, here, here & here and I will see you in the flesh as of Saturday morning. I am excited and I am not excited, probably more anxious about coming home than I was about leaving, a fear of the routine I suspect. The wonder.

End / Start. X

Monday, 6 July 2009

ENP

As good as it was before. With the added bonus of 2 new baby elephants, one of which was born only 3 months ago. A baby elephant - I say "baby", it's still the size of a sofa - is like a combination of a puppy and a baby, they have a 'im running and I dont think I can stop' quality about them. They're skin is soft in comparison (especially their trunks) and are of the weight (just) to climb over you if you're crouching or sitting. They can also go into 'nap' mode really quickly, stopping and swaying before keeling over for half hour or so - very cute.

Apart from that everything was the same, they'd built or expanded a few things - a river walkway being the biggest addition - and some of the people who were there before have left, but it was still the same amazing place. It was a nice thing to be remembered, surprised some with my return, especially the volunteer coordinators in the office on the first morning. It was nice to see Lek & Pom again, still dedicating every minute to their elephants and because I'd been before, was given more freedom and often helped the vc's in organisation or providing information to volunteers - did feel a little privileged I wont lie.

The group was a lot bigger than the last time I was there by atleast 15 people but we were a good bunch, quieter i'd say than before and we took longer to bond I think, but only because of the size thing. Tasks were same same with the addition of trench digging replacing fire breaking. Corn cutting, food preparation, tree planting, grass cutting, poo shoveling & elephant bathing were still staple chores, but they never feel like it, it's always a laugh. My determination to get a permanent position at the park only increased, although I think people normally aren't so blunt about it so I think they thought I wasn't serious. How wrong they are.

So it's full on wet season now, it rained everyday at the park, normally constant and heavy for the whole day but it was nice to see the contrast between the hot and wet seasons - dust becomes mud and baron becomes grass. It's still warm and people still got burnt in the sun but I really dont mind the rain and mud, although I got told today London is hotter than Bangkok which seems a little alien. I think im going to spend my last days between Chiang Mai and Bangkok but I have no plan, i'll take it easy and see what happens. The thought of coming home isn't exactly a good one (not to sound like a dick) but home is a weird concept right now. I feel the need to warn you in advance, expect a bit of a comedown... :-/

Im off to rainbathe. X

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Chiang Mai

Back in Thailand and it's very weird to be back. An 8 hour (estimated 5) journey from the border and im back where I was 5 months ago. It think it's overly weird because I know it's nearly the end of my trip and the fact i've been here before, somehow wishing it was somewhere new. I am only here for one full day this side of E.N.P - which I definitely am looking forward to - and because it's a Sunday I get to explore the once-a-week Sunday Market for the penultimate time to stock up on carved wooden bowls, cheesy t-shirts, baggy pants and fancy jewellery. You know, stuff I like.

I will be gone for a week so unfortunately will miss Mr. Havell's and Mr. Hornsby's birthdays so hope you have good ones, I know how much my international birthday greetings go down, especially with a personal photograph. Perhaps a carved wooden bowl will make up for it (?).

I will return with a mere 4 days till home time, scary. Goodbye for now. X

Thailand

In regular sized, not so prominent letters. Old country, same map. X

Mekong. You Jane?

My day started with the stealing of a cushion (bad credit at the bank of Karma) because i've heard the slow boats are pretty uncomfortable. Turns out was an unnecessary steal because the boat had some pretty decent ones and the journey was relatively comfortable, all 8 hours of it, twice, over 2 days. It was definitely a nice journey, most folk travel the opposite way from Houayxai (Thai/Laos border) down to Luang Prabang so our boat wasn't even half full - in a good way. The scenery was nice but what you saw in the first hour was what you saw the entire journey, like an old Scooby Doo cartoon where the background would be repeated over and over as Velma & Shaggy were being chased. It was all forested verges (I have never used that word before) and jagged rocks with no real "views", but there was some nice erm, "views" down the river as it flowed from the occasional mountainous horizon - nice at sunset all you sunset fans. I spent the majority of my time a little engrossed in 2 good books which made time flow by, but still never neglecting the fact I was on a nice boat travelling on the Mekong, otherwise I might aswell have just got the bus.

So day one was from Luang Prabang to a small hillside town called Pakbeng, the halfway stop off point for all slow boats going either way along the Mekong. Nothing there, just the usual tourist catering facilities what with them being the only source of daily income. To stay more than one day would be a waste, unless you were some sort of Opium addict, dont think i've been offered it so many times on such a short road in such a remote place before. I later found out whilst sitting with some Irish guys from the boat - because it happened to them in Vang Viang - that it's a $600 fine for having a single puff on a joint. Still, better than life imprisonment I suppose.

So day two was from Pakbeng to Houayxai and dare I say it, "same same but different". It was the first day on repeat on a less comfortable - in terms of seat stability - boat but as before, my head was in a book. I did put 2 benches together though to make a little seating trough so actually turned out alright. Journey was another 8 or so hours and we spent the night in Houayxai, just across the Mekong from Thailand. In the morning (as in yesterday) I bumped into the boat gang - 7 of us - and we passed through the most relaxed, unofficial, rustic border crossing i've crossed in Asia. Stamp, boat over to the otherside, stamp and away. Not forgetting a little temperature reading via my ear on the Thai side for suspected Swine Flu symptoms. I did leave thinking i'd missed something, another booth or whatever but no, that was it.

Hello Baht (again), you confuse me. X

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Vang Viang

Disgustingly touristy, full of English people, all drunk and watching re-run after re-run of 'Friends' in every cafe, bar & restaurant. This town is like Ibiza and is overrun with mouthy 17 year olds on their first holiday without mummy or daddy. Seriously, wtf? And the weird thing is, i've known that all along but felt compelled to see it with my own eyes. Conclusion: Yes, every part is true. Hello the company of annoyance.

The 2 days I was there I rented a motorbike and explored the surrounding countryside - a strange juxtaposition because whilst the town is shit, the surrounding scenery is really great (lots of jagged mountains) - and also did some caving. The caves were really deep (100m+) and with the help of a guide he led me through, except in one cave where you had to wade neck high through water (I was totally unprepared - flips flops, jeans, iPod, non-waterproof bag...) so had to turn back. I think I drove about 100km that day and really enjoyed myself - iPod on shuffle, wind in your face, beautiful landscape... If only I didn't have to return to depressing ville.

Ok now im not saying Vang Viang couldn't have been fun, with the right people it no doubt could have been great (our trekking group dispersed after Luang Prabang), I just wasn't in the mood for an 18-21 package holiday town because that's what it was. "Prude"... "Shhhh".

So now, im back in Luang Prabang (I say whilst kissing the pavement) and will be here for one day before getting a slow boat up the Mekong (takes 2 days) to a place called Houayxai, the Thai/Laos border crossing. By then it will be about the 27th and i'll be on route to Chaing Mai for the 29th. A plan. X

Luang Prabang

Despite my like of Luang Nam Tha, Luang Prabang for me was when Laos revealed itself. It's a really nice little town on the Mekong and is comparable in a lot of ways to Hoi An in Vietnam (another town I liked), a good mix of tourists and locals. Similar small, independent shops and old style architecture make for nice walkings, plus the daily night market is one of the best i've seen for non-tat tat. The people here are equally friendly, helpful & chilled out and serve in abundance baguettes, fruit shakes and great Laos coffee.

I spent my time exploring, visiting the Royal Palace, spending a day at the Kuang Si waterfall (beautiful, cascading, aquamarine - check the descriptive words - water with various levels of swimming and no swimming areas, plus a rope swing) and hanging out with guys who also headed South after trekking; namely Captain Leach, an English guy called Danny and my new travelling companions the Spanish. We have drunk many a Beer Lao, ventured to the local discotheque "Dao Fa" for a bit of a rave, partaken in some after hours bowling (the only place open post mid-night - a weird thing) and generally lounged about the night stalls and bars. I would say a good time has been had.

Luang Prabang, my new favourite place. Coffee anyone? X

Friday, 19 June 2009

Trekking in Luang Nam Tha

Easy to moderate? No. Moderate to hard? Yes.

Up high slopes, across rickety log bridges, slipping up and down mud slicked hills, navigating down a cascading waterfall, all in a torrential downpour beneath a thunderstorm... and all this before lunch. It was more wet than standing in a shower with your clothes on, and also a hell of a lot more fun. It was all about footholds and not slipping - the impossible. Lunch was a series of small piles (comparable to various types of vomit) spread out across banana leaves but it looked worse than it tasted. Thumbs up for sticky rice too.

Then came the leeches. I've never seen them like this, only the odd one before (probably due to the changing of the season), but these were everywhere. Somehow they just appear on you, finding the lace holes of your trainers and disappearing. No blood through socks but still. The worst though was experienced by a guy from Holland called Jaap who found 2 in his boxers, only noticing after they'd fallen off, swollen with his crotch blood. After that you couldn't help but have balls on the mind, the slightest itch or pain provoking an expection. Leeches are pretty harmless but everyone got a little freaked out by them but nobody got it like Jaap did, I just got 'em on the feet :)

The final descent down to the village was a mud slide but by that point nobody cared so we just went down on our arses (great fun) whilst the villagers looked on. At the bottom we crossed a river to many watching eyes, dumped our stuff on the bank and took a bath amongst the flowing current. After the heat of the afternoon and the struggles up and down mountains, it was an amazing reward. The village was very small in a bit of a valley and consisted of about 12 (?) wooden houses with lots of children, chickens, pigs and growling dogs scattered about. Everyone was very helpful & generous and whilst they prepared dinner, they made a camp fire for us and we sat around drying our clothes, wallets and cameras - my camera got another drowning in the rain (waterproof my bag is not) so I actually dont have any pictures pre-thunderstorm. Dinner was a little buffet with an amazing tomato soup, rice and buffalo meat, all eaten in the company of the village chief in his house. Sleeping arrangements were 2 to a house (there was 8 of us) where we slept under the roof with the locals.

Day 2 was nothing compared to the first, a few hills out of the village (hello humidity) and then it was pretty much path walking for 4 hours back to the road to be picked up by a tuk tuk. Along the way a lot of things explained about wildlife and plants, but I think everyone was so tired from day 1 that the easiness was welcomed.

Overall a great trek, almost on par with Bokor in Cambodia, weather and terrain definitely more varied. We had a good group of people (no annoying, hair braided, bracelet wearing, guitar playing, "woah maaan" speaking dickheads - left them at the guesthouse) and everyone had a good laugh. Kudos to the guides aswell because they were enjoying themselves just as much as we were.

Now I am in Luang Prabang after a 10 hour (which felt more like 6) bus ride yesterday. My camera has also been resurrected (again - possibly Holy) and the pictures I missed on the trek have been promised to me by the other guys. Im in Luang Prabang for 3 days before heading further South (by 5 hours or so) to Vang Viang. I will write you (probably). X

Happy Birthday (For Yesterday) Philip Morris


Philip Morris > Praying Mantis. X

Monday, 15 June 2009

Put Your Dong Away And Get Some Kip

So border crossing, not bad at all. Same as anywhere. I did cross at very remote point which all guide books say is closed to tourists so was very quiet and straight forward (no drugs here). The bus from Dien Bien Phu only went as far as a place called Muang Khoa (40km into Laos) so had to cross a river, then get a tuk tuk and finally a bus to town called Muang Xay (where I spent the night). The most annoying thing was I had no Laos money (Kip) and they didn't accept Vietnamese Dong (obviously) so had to rely on the kindness of 2 Spanish ladies and 1 Danish girl for cookies, crackers and a loan of Kip until we got to Muang Xay because due to the remoteness of the border crossing, there was no ATMs till then. Hooray for the kindness of travellers.

So this morning (along with the 2 Spanish ladies - I say "ladies" because they're over 30) came North-East to a place called Luang Nam Tha. The journey was only 4 hours but one thing i've known about Laos is it's a long bus ride between most places (sometimes a day) so 4 hours was nothing. Does take more than a few days out of your itinerary though just in transport, not good when you only have 2 weeks - it's a big country and I dont think i'll make it South. Anyway, Luang Nam Tha, a town in the mountains and a hub for trekking the remote villages - the reason it's become such a popular spot. Tomorrow im doing a 2 day trek to a village called Nam La where you stay overnight with a minority family so should be fun. Luang Nam Tha itself is literally just one road lined with a few guesthouses and shops so if you're not trekking you're not doing anything.

Everyone says (guidebook included - which I dont have) that Laos people are very chilled out - hello my new favourite country - but as of yet I haven't really experienced it. To be honest it still feels like im in Vietnam because of the mountain surroundings (i.e. Sa Pa) but everyone so far has been really friendly. I would say less smiley & wavey than the other 3 countries but im making that judgement with not much evidence.

After Luang Nam Tha im heading South to a place called Luang Prabang, an apparently beautiful town with a very impressive waterfall. Im interested because I have seen a million waterfalls. We post again on... Wednesday? (wtf day is it?) so there you go, something to look forward to. Im off to be given many a strange look but it's all normal to me now. Bye X

Laos

In big-ish prominent letters. New country, no map. X

Friday, 12 June 2009

Sa Pa

Unbelievable. The most impressive place in Vietnam. It's strange how after 5 months of Asia you can still be impressed. It's mountains and valleys, carved with fields of crops like green steps. Every photo is a postcard.

I didn't do any trekking here although it's a big reason people come. Instead, along with 2 guys I met on the Ha Long Bay trip, rented motorbikes and did two days of exploring. Although saying that I did do a three hour trek to Cat Cat village the first day I got here. It was a proper descend through the clouds job along a winding road which slowly revealed the friendly farming community stretched out across the valley. G for Glorious (probably).

Tomorrow im going to a town South called Dien Bien Phu for one night before heading across the border to Laos at some point on Sunday. I hear horror stories about the border crossing to Laos (i.e a million hours) but Valium in hand, it will hopefully be a blur.

This is one of those short posts. I am on the beer. X

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Hello Free Internet

So you're probably wondering what im doing after Vietnam being that my visa ends on the 14th and I dont fly home till July 10th? Well, gather round children for I have a story to tell...

For whatever reason when I planned this trip I didnt really know how I was getting from Vietnam back to Bangkok. I guess I thought I was just going to fly. But if you get out your atlases and globes you'll see there's a big ol' country called Laos inbetween Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. These 4 countries are like the South East Asia "circuit" which travellers navigate one way or the other - why I didnt learn this before hand I dont know. Anyway, after Vietnam im heading to Laos for 2 weeks so you'll have to draw up your own maps (family only) to keep track (if you so wish). What I do know of Laos is it's beautiful, chilled out and less touristy than the other 3. Oh, and something a few people talk about called "tubing"...? (sarcasm). I haven't even picked up a guidebook yet because i've almost accumulated my own through recommendations of others. 2 weeks in Laos and 10 days in Thailand boys and girls.

Also, you know people say everyone has a twin somewhere in the world? I didn't believe this until 2 days ago when I consecutively met Dan (Mumford) and Mark (Pavey) in the guise of a guy called Alex and a guy called Oliver in Hanoi. Seriously weird stuff - mannerisms, faces and personalities all included. Me? Im apparently the spitting image of Doug Buck from Watford. This paragraph does not do the encounter justice. X

Hanoi and Ha Long Bay

If ever a capital city didn't feel like a capital city, it's Hanoi. The bus journey from Hoi An took about 16 hours but it was a sleeper bus so was basically a dormitory of bunk beds on wheels, pretty comfortable (despite the sub-zero temperatures of the air con) and I slept all the way.

Hanoi is a busy, cramped place where one street is hard to differentiate from another due to the old, run down nature of the buildings. It's a pretty big city too being divided (as most Vietnamese cities are) into districts - or Quarters as they're known here. I was staying in whats known as the 'Old Quarter' - it's the backpacking area in the middle of the city - but I think there was definitely more to explore. I say that because I only actually spent one full day in Hanoi because of how comparatively pushed for time I am in the North. Even so, I wouldn't say I fell in love with Hanoi, maybe if i'd spent a few more days exploring my opinion would have changed, but as it was I didnt feel there was much more to see. There was a good energy about Hanoi with lots of travellers and street side 'Bia Hoi' bars (serving 4,000 Dng beer - that's about 15p!) so it was a great city for meeting people. I was staying at the Hanoi Backpackers Hostel where even though the dorm rooms were as much as single rooms elsewhere, you were really paying for the atmosphere and ease of meeting folks.

Anyway, so after one day I booked (through the hostel) to go on a 3 days/2 nights trip to Ha Long Bay, 3 hours West on the coast - was apparently in that Top Gear special. We spent the first day and night on a really nice boat cruising between the 2000 islands of the bay and also did some canoeing through some of the bays caves. There was about 24 of us and everyone got on well, we were somewhere between being a crazy 'jumping off the boat' party crowd and chilled out 'I wanna relax' crowd which everyone decided was a good thing. I was one of 2 people who spent the night sleeping on deck (even though the cabins were really nice) under the full moon and stars, surrounded by the silhouettes of pointy peninsulas because it seemed silly not to considering the location. The 5am sunrise got a thumbs up.

On the second day we went to an island called Cat Ba where we did a small trek up to a seriously rickety view point over the jungle, an easy task if not for the 37 degree heat and lack of shade. It was also not the best trek (if you can call it that) because half the climb was concrete stairs and the amount of people + the lack of any wildlife made it feel like a tourist trap. The view, not to sound dismissive, was one I felt I'd seen many times before, but I dont think they ever really get boring. The rest of the day was free time to either relax, chillout on the beach (with a million Vietnamese people) or to explore the island by bike. In the evening everyone rendezvoused for dinner and before sitting curbside at a few local bars. Was an ok day but a good night :)

The 3rd day was spent back on the boat travelling back to Ha Long City before getting the bus back to Hanoi which wasn't exactly activity overload, but cruising on the boat was always the best bit anyway. The only downside to a trip like this was how organised and planned everything was, sometimes feeling like a lazy package holiday which is something im totally not used to. Luckily the people I met made up for it so it turned out to be a pretty good trip, Ha Long Bay is indeed a very nice place. You should go.

So this is where i've been up until yesterday when I got a night bus North-West to Sa Pa (where I write this) right in the heart of the mountains. I dont have much to say about it yet except it seems really nice. It's a hub of minority villages so everywhere are colourful outfits and happy people, but it's also mixed with a good percentage of travellers and bars. Tomorrow 2 of the people I met on the Ha Long Bay trip are coming here so we're going to explore the mountains and villages on motorbikes for a few days.

Da Lat, Hoi An, Ha Long Bay & Sa Pa. Yes. X

Friday, 5 June 2009

Hoi An

Along with Da Lat, Hoi An is one of my favourite places i've visited in Vietnam (so far). It's little town on the river which basically comprises of just 3 main streets (with lanes branching off) but has character and charm aplenty, no modern, highrise or office buildings here. It's an historical and very rustic place where all the architecture is heavily influenced by Chinese and Japanese designs (16th century so says my guidebook) and in a lot of ways it feels like an old European city such as Venice (not that i've been). All the shops - and there are many - are all independent retailers specialising in tailoring, silks, shoes and art - all of which can be custom fitted and made to your specifications. There's also the usual souvenir shops but the stuff here isn't half as tacky as i've seen previous places. Believe me you could spend ALOT of money here, but only alot in a Vietnamese way, it's all still much cheaper than the UK.

The people here are also very friendly & helpful and i've enjoyed eating by the river in the very social surroundings of the market. I've also indulged in some of the local specialities such as Cau Lau (flavoursome noodles with pork) and Wonton (crackers with shrimp and vegetables in a tangy sauce) -both of which come recommended. Also yesterday for something they call "The Heritage Journey" festival, Miss Universe (I kid you not - she's apparently Vietnamese) was paraded through the streets of Hoi An followed by an army of classic VW Beetles, campervans and Vespas'. T'was pretty cool, wouldn't have been out of place in somewhere like Brighton - give or take Miss Universe.

So I say if you ever come to Vietnam and you're short on time, the only places you need visit are Da Lat and Hoi An, with a possibly a few days in Ho Chi Minh and Can Tho. The North I have yet to see but im leaving on a bus today to Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam so we shall see.

Tom Havell, suited and booted. X

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Easy Riders

You cannot leave (or infact 'see') Vietnam without doing the Easy Rider tour, it was capital A awesome.

The journey: Da Lat > Lak Lake > Buon Ma Thout > Plei Ku > Dak To > Kham Duc > P'rao > Hoi An.

I have seen waterfalls like Niagra.
I have seen breathtaking valleys and fields.
I have seen green.
I have travelled on winding roads through lush mountains.
I have visited tiny minority villages where white people dont venture.
I have seen proper rural life with communities living off the land.
I have seen the scarred landscape of the war.
I have seen remnants of ex-American military bases and weapons.
I have visited silk, wine, coffee, pepper, latex and tea plantations.
I have visited and seen places not even listed in my guidebook.
I have enjoyed sunshine, mist and epic thunderstorms.
I have been propositioned with offers of daughters and sisters.
I have become addicted to coffee.
I have broken down in the middle of nowhere.
I have seen a thousand smiles and waving hands.
I have welcomed Vietnam's hot showers after 5 months of cold ones.
I have enjoyed breakfast, lunch & dinner with the locals.
I have seen the real Vietnam.

I will however say this: The trip is good because it's 7 days with a guide but the trip is also bad because it's 7 days with a guide. Stefan was a little difficult and was a bit of a headache sometimes (especially because I couldnt communicate with anyone else) but as the days went on we gained more of an understanding and by day 5 we had become pretty good friends - the riding inbetween stops was always king though despite any annoyances, my driver could have been Kerry Katona (ha) and it still wouldn't have mattered. Stefan is a war veteran who has had a very difficult life so I always respected him but I guess it's just natural to get annoyed by people you spend 15 hours a day with. Like I said, now we are good friends and even now in Hoi An I still meet him for a drink. He's on the lookout for a client to travel back down to Da Lat with so is also staying here a few days.

Cant believe it's June 3rd! Got so much to see in Vietnam before my visa runs out on the 14th, in hindsight I regret spending so much time in the Mekong. Nevertheless, onewards and upwards. X

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Da Lat

As of yesterday, after 4 days in Ho Chi Minh, I am in Da Lat. It's a nice little town up in the mountains (the scenery was great on the bus until it was absorbed by darkness - 7 hours to get here) and it's alot like Pai in Thailand, except replace the hippies with bikers. There's a bustling market, a lake, lots of bars & cafes and it's generally very chilled out - Ho Chi Minh this is not. There's also lots to see around Da Lat (treks, bike rides, waterfalls) but sadly im only here for 2 nights because as of tomorrow im off with the "Easy Riders" on a 7 day, 1000km motorbike ride to Hoi An. The Easy Riders are like a Vietnamese biker gang who ride big old bikes, taking tourists on excursions to various places in the central highlands to see what they claim is "the real Vietnam". I've been excited about this since I arrived in the country as i've heard alot of praise for them from travellers i've met who say dont leave Vietnam without doing it. The only draw back (although I knew the costs before I even asked) is their non-negotiable price - $70 a day - which over a week will cost me an arm & a leg (I think i've said that before, that means im pretty much just a torso now then) but I know i'll regret it if I miss out. Oh, and although it pains me to say so I wont actually be driving (boo!), my guide's called Stefan. He's a bit of a dude and speaks really good English (aswell as French) so it's me and him on a 'Long Way Up' style adventure where im Ewan McGregor and he's that annoying one.

You might hear from me inbetween here and Hoi An but I dont know how frequently, I dont think they have Broadband in the minority villages yet... We shall see. I know im going via Buon Ma Thuot, Plei Ku and Kon Tum, but the inbetweens I dont know. I shall see you on the otherside... of the next 7 days... not like 'otherside' as in the land of the spirits. Gnarly X

Monday, 25 May 2009

Ho Chi Minh / Saigon

The hustle and the bustle welcomely returns and on a grander scale than even Bangkok. They say 8 million people live in Ho Chi Minh City with an estimated 4 million motorbikes, and boy does it show. It's crazy and amazing. How there are not accidents around every corner every 30 seconds I dont know, but in a world of Health & Safety this city (and the whole of Asia infact) is so liberating. The trick to crossing a 6 lane road with no traffic lights is weirdly just to walk out at a moderate pace looking in the direction of the traffic, leaving the motorcyclists to weave around you. Probably not for the faint hearted or whatever, but i've been around this for so long it's just normal for me now.

Ho Chi Minh is a great city, it's almost New York with Asians - very commercial, lots of shops, huge billboards & lights, markets, boulevards of expensive hotels and designer clothes, loads of museums etc etc. Like I said, New York. I haven't been to Japan or China but Im sure it has alot in common with them too. It's a welcome headache but should be avoided if you're a migraine sufferer (probably) - the horn honking never gets any less jarring.

Whilst I was there I visited the Fine Art Museum, the Reunification Palace, the War Remnants Museum, Notre Dame Cathedral (yeah what?) and also went on a day trip to the Cu Chi tunnels.

Fine Art Museum: Didn't hold my attention if im honest but the modern gallery spaces out the back were good.
Reunification Palace: They were 'on lunch' so didn't get to go in, apparently it's like a time capsule of the 80's, though but im uncertain as to the purpose of the building.
War Remnants Museum: The big tourist draw apparently and you understand why, it's very shock & awe though, doesn't hold any punches with it's depictions of how Vietnam suffered under America (mutilated bodies, decapitated heads etc). Definitely seemed (maybe understandably?) very one-sided but I dont feel I know enough to comment, which is something the museum lacked in teaching me, it's main aim being to just outright shock. The worst part was the section on chemical warfare used by America (Agent Orange) and how even now it's causing horrific mutations in the sons and daughters of soldiers who fought in the war. This part was an eye-opener and maybe something people do need to see, but the babies in bottles was unecessary. So overall worth a look but you will come away feeling a little uneasy about the presentation.
Notre Dame Cathedral: It's erm, what it says on the tin. Bizarre, but a nice juxtapostion compared to its surroundings.
Cu Chi Tunnels: 20km out of the city, Cu Chi is an area which was used by Vietnamese soldiers to defend Ho Chi Minh from the Americans - or should that be ambush? It's an incredible technological achievement where by a whole host of villages lived connected underground by over 250kms of tunnels, ready and waiting for the unaware Americans to approach. Crazy stuff, and the tunnels themselves were no more than 90cm in height with tiny A4 paper sized entrances. Halfway through the visit, tourists were able to explore a section of the tunnels and it was baffling to believe people lived down there for months, if not years. I could only manage a 20 metre crawl before claustrophobia set in - very hot, cramped and disorientating. You simply must. Oh, and there was a shooting range too where you could fire AK47's and M16 machine guns at a charge of $1 a bullet. I opted out for money reasons but have you ever heard an AK47? Fucking terrifying (pardon the french).

So Ho Chi Minh, yes, I like. Accomodation's a bit expensive but the city has a great atmosphere and there's a lot to do. Oh and if you want to chill out in the park, expect to have a crowd of Vietnamese students around you wanting to practice their English, they're like language cruising zones. Ha. X

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

The Mekong Delta

Chau Doc: A long, tiring, uncomfortable and above all noisy (so much horn honking!) journey by bus from Ha Tien to Chau Doc, let alone the amount of people and pungent bags of fruit piled infront of me. But, I wouldn't have had it any other way, this is traveling Vietnam style and it's an experience all on its own. Chau Doc is a small place and most Westerners just pass through on their way to Ho Chi Minh or Phnom Penh. The big draw (or atleast the 2 nights I was there) was Sam Mountain, it seems half of Vietnam descended here to gather, climb and pay respect to the pagodas on the mount. Sam was about 5km out of town so I walked it and then it was a further 2km (?) climb - easy for a pro-trekker like myself - to the summit. Truth be told it was more of a steep hill than a mountain and it was paved all the way, but the views out over Chau Doc and the delta were very nice. Again though, I swear Vietnam has never seen a white person before ("...jaws all on the floor" - Eminem) so the now customary & always humorous 'photo with the tall white man' took place - maybe I am just too handsome? *shrugs* :)

Can Tho: A minibus brought me from Chau Doc to Can Tho, not by choice, was less of an experience but also less of a headache. Can Tho is the deltas' biggest city (5th biggest in the country fact fans) and you definitely see it become more commercial, all on route to Ho Chi Minh I suppose. It was a little hive of big activity, but still no tourists, except the million who stopped off on route to Saigon. On my second day I booked a trip on a boat to go to see the floating markets with a tour around Tho River and the delta canals - a 5:30am start is not good for my eyes or brain though. The trip lasted 8 hours and I took some pretty & good pictures - including when we got stuck amongst plantation, but it was one of those 'is that really the time?!' days because by 2:00pm, I was exhausted and craved sleep.

Vinh Long: Im staying at a hotel called Phung Hoang and it seems the more stairs you climb, the cheaper the room. So im paying a reasonable 100,000 dng for the penthouse suite on the roof. I say penthouse but it's just a normal room, but the views from outside are pretty cool in the mornings and evenings (I wished for a thunderstorm but it didn't happen - the irony). The town itself is tiny and everything happens in a single corner by the river - restaurant, bar, guesthouse (note the singular) and if Chau Doc & Can Tho were lacking in tourists, Vinh Long is void of 'em. I am the only, not even in passing coaches, it is just me. The reason I came here was to see An Binh island - a boat trip away with lots of tiny linked islands that you can meander through. The trip was ok, not fun but also not not fun, I thought the boat trip on Can Tho was alot more scenic. Also did an hour or so bicycle exploring but without a map or route, I had to backtrack so not to get lost - was nice to see the villages though. There was a doubly expensive all day tour where you got to visit lots of local workshops and plantations which im sure was a better excursion, but the 4 hour trip was sufficient for me.


Im Mekong'ed out I think, crave more busy surroundings and more travellers. Im really glad I experienced the Mekong Delta properly (a bus tour wouldn't have done it justice) but tomorrow when I arrive in Ho Chi Minh, i'll be all smiles for civilisation and Westerners. I hear it's a crazy chaotic place - im intrigued by the free-for-all traffic system i've read about, with lots to do and see, but all the better for it in my opinion! Saigoing... Saigoing... Saigon. X

Friday, 15 May 2009

Ha Tien

The drive from Kampot to here was fun, on the back of a motorcycle with my backpack, navigating the muddy tracks (or roads as I think they're known) with 3 changes of driver; definitely the best way to travel - wind in your face and 360 views. The temptation to motorcycle from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi becomes ever more tempting...

So Ha Tien, it's a relatively busy little town on the coast and alot of people use it as a port to get to Phu Quoc Island, but in researching I realised I visited alot of places like that already (chilled out, beach with a book etc) so to go seems silly. The town has one tourist information centre and the lady who works there, Phoo-Wong (pronounced, not spelt) has been teaching my Vietnamese and lets me use the internet for free (thus another post). Today she also rented me a bicycle and I explored the local scenery; went to Mui Nai beach (pretty poor) and on to Thach Dong cave (a favourite amongst the Vietnamese it seems) but I wasn't so impressed, not much there really. At one point they were more interested in having their photo taken with me than paying any attention to the cave - I am the only tourist in Ha Tien I think. The best part of the day though was just cycling through the Delta & villages, lush landscape and an abundance of waves & smiles at every turn. "Hello" times a hundred.

The currency here is the Dong and the quantities are quite amusing. For instance I withdrew 2,000,000 Dong from the cash machine - which seems absurd, but you get 27,025 Dong to just 1 Sterling (no pound symbol on keyboard) so today I am a millionaire. And just to give it some sort of context im paying 120,000 for my room, a bottle of water costs 4,000 and a meal is about 50,000.

Tomorrow im leaving for Chau Doc (not actually on the maps I made but it's North-West of Cao Linh, on the border) and apparently it's owned by Vietnam but is actually part of Cambodia, minus all the border hassle. I'll probably spend a few days there, there's a few villages and fish farms to explore and also a mountain by the name of Sam. From Chau Doc im heading to Can Tho and then to Vinh Long.

I Havell, the time, in the world. X

Thursday, 14 May 2009

On Route to...

Im writing this from Kampot, but im on my way to Ha Tien (the Southern most border crossing). I decided against going to Vietnam via Phnom Penh because it made more sense to enter as low as I could and then work my way up, as opposed to having to backtrack. The very South (everything below Ho Chi Minh) is the Mekong Delta, it's all very rural and is known as Vietnam's 'rice bowl', producing 38% of the countrys' annual food crop - an agricultural miracle according to me' guide book - so should be very scenic. It is sad to leave Cambodia, just as it was sad to leave Thailand, you just feel you know so much about the language & culture and to move on puts you back at square one. Nethertheless, I am very excited about Vietnam. Will let you know... :)

Paddy fields, here we come. X

Vietnam

In big prominent letters. New Country, new map.

Kampot, Kep & Bokor National Park

Arrived in Kampot on the 8th of May and my plan was to spend my time between here, Kep and Bokor before my Vietnam visa began on the 14th. And thus, this "plan" succeeded.

Kampot is a very small town with which sits on the river (forget it's name) and despite what maps show you proximity wise, it's not actually a seaside town, the sea is about 6km away. Despite this though it's very nice here; there's a bustling market, lots of riverside resturants with views of the mountains (beautiful at sunset), a few bars and a good book shop, but you can walk around the town in half a day. Most people visiting Kampot though use it as a stopping off point before heading up to Bokor National Park as more tours are organized here and it's cheaper than say in Sikanoukville.

I stayed here 2 nights in a nice guesthouse called Long Villa ($4) before taking the bus for a 2 day/1 night trip to Kep - 45 minutes along the coast. Kep is a quaint little town (even smaller than Kampot) and it's three main attractions are the fresh crab, Kep Mountain and an island off the coast called Rabbit Island. I didn't feel the need to see the island because the weather wasn't so good and it would have taken up a whole day, so I did a trek around Kep Mountain during the day and spent the evening at the crab market. I want to say that whilst exploring Kep Mountain I didn't get lost but unfortunately I did, except not on the actual mountain just on my way back to town. I walked for about 10km in the wrong direction (and in hindsight explained all the bewildered looks from locals) but luckily a motorbike driver stopped and eventually understood I wanted to go to Kep so he brought me back for a small fee. He was a nice guy and seemed quite proud to have a Westerner on the back of his bike, he enjoyed the attention of the villagers as he drove but I was just happy to be heading in the right direction (I still think I had to go left but evidently not...).

After Kep I travelled back to Kampot on the 11th and booked a 2 day trek to Bokor which turned out to be a bushwhack through the jungle going off the beaten track, across rivers and up near vertical slopes (climbing skills at one point were needed) for 6 hours. The road (which they're rebuilding so the park is essentially closed) is a 30km climb and the summit is 1079m above sea level. It was definitely the most challenging trek i've done and for this reason the most fun, but at the end my legs burned with the epicness. The biggest reward is when you reach the abandoned, battle scarred ghost town at the top - sorry, forgot to say, there's a deserted town with a casino, hotel, hospital, post office, church... It's eerily beautiful, like something from a post-apocalyptic movie and the mist which drifts across from the sea multiplies that by a 100. You can explore everything and the view from the casino out over the town and the ocean was staggering, made even more so because looking down, you couldn't believe how high you'd climbed. The town though, despite its nuclear disaster-esc feel, felt in no way scary, even when we ventured out at night with only our flashlights illuminating just 5 metres ahead of us due to the the dense fog, the buildings were just like modern relics and harboured no ill-feelings like the way S-21 did. Oh, and the sunset, followed by the lightening storms which lit up the horizon in all directions, were also incredible.
On the second day, after spending the night in the Rangers Station (the converted hospital) we set off back down the mountain and hitched a ride in a pick-up truck, then there was epic rain and because the road was blocked we did a 2 hour smaller trek back down to the bottom... Followed by a beer (or 5) beside the river. Thumbs up for Bokor National Park. X

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Sihanoukville

Beaches: Dirty
Weather: Raining
Travellers: Few

If I was ignorant, this would be my summing up. But, none the less, this was the case. It's apparently low season now in Cambodia which on one hand is good (things are less expensive - my $8 room cast $4 for instance) but on the other is bad (it's rained every day except yesterday and there aren't that many tourists).

There's about 7 beaches here spread across about 8km and i've visited 6 of them in my time here. They're all pretty much the same except for the amount of bars, number of touts and general busyness. The best however was a beach called Otres about a 6km walk away - empty, clean(er) and more importantly, it was the only day it didn't rain. My guesthouse is just off a beach called Serendipity which is always busy (even if it is low season) and full of people trying to sell you stuff so I try to avoid this one, instead walking or cycling along the coast to where it can literally be deserted. And strangely, walking along a deserted beach in a thunderstorm was actually pretty amazing, two fingers up at Mr. Sun.

The town is a bit of a non-event, a few decent book shops and a supermarket but nothing else really, I just venture in and venture out again with no reason to hang around. There's a market, a few resturants and internet cafes but most seem orientated at locals more than me, either that or I can do better along the beach or from mz guesthouse.

On the 4th I booked a ticket to Ream National Park (one of the reasons I came here) which is small cluster of islands and mainland 18km from Sihanoukville. We took a boat for about an hour and a half through the mangroves swamps to a completely isolated - and clean - beach where we spent the best part of an hour, before going on a 2 hour trek through the jungle, passing a local village and rendezvousing back with our boat via a lunch of Barracuda. Luckily the weather also was half decent so had a good day out, although to find out it wasn't the right season for the supposed Irwaddy dolphins was a bit of a let down.

Now I dont want to sound like a Negative Nora about Sihanoukville, I do like it here, I just think on this occasion the tourist season is against me. I have met some nice people here and enjoyed myself but ultimately the weather let me down on most occasions. Who planned this trip anyway?

The days i've had here where the weather has been good (all erm, 2 of 'em) have been fun, but I think im ready to move on... I think I have stayed here a tad longer than expected but that's mainly because I was holding out on the weather, I haven't seen a beach in over a month! Definitely indulged in too much T.V here though which is never a good thing. Anyway, tomorrow im off to the seaside town of Kampot (and Bokor National Park) for a few days before heading along the coast again to the smaller seaside town of Kep - good crab apparently! From there im heading back via Phnom Penh to cross the border into Ho Chi Minh city,Vietnam on April 14th.

X

P.s. My Y button is infact my Z button and visa versa, thus explaining anz mistakes :)

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Phnom Penh

I like it here. Yeah you get asked 100 times a day (literally) if you need a tuk tuk but there's nothing the ol' iPod cant drown out. They seem to not know the concept of walking, I mean Phnom Penh is fairly big, but nothing compared to Western cities so I spent my time wandering from place to place. I also think it's a much better way to see somewhere - backstreets, markets, shops, people... Stuff a ride in a tuk tuk generally misses. Plus I was in no rush, you could probably do most of Phnom Penh in a day but again, I like my feet to touch the ground.

I dont think PP is like any other city i've been to, sure it has the traffic and hecticness of a city but there are no buildings higher than 3 or 4 storeys, apart from a brand new bank (or something) they're constructing. It's a little strange a first, it's just like a big, crowded village really under the label 'Capital'. Im sure in 10 years it will have changed - it seems like the whole of Cambodia is expanding and for a city, or atleast a city im used to, they just need to expand upwards... Or, maybe they... dont (?)

So I did like a 3 day 'excursion' and did the usual tourist places including -

Wat Phnom: Where the city originated and grew from. Now it's nothing more than a glorified roundabout with a $1 entry fee (ha) so I just loitered around the road taking pictures. Did however have some entertaining monkeys though beating eachother up which is always funny.

National Museum: Was ok, a bit small and also a little redundant after seeing Angkor - lots of relics from there and numerous buddhas - but taking into account how much was stolen and how badly the museum itself was damaged during the Khmer Rouge era, it was a good collection. Was housed in an impressive dark-red sandstone building too (thankyou Rough Guide).

Royal Palace & Silver Pagoda: Overpriced and very erm, 'prohibited'. Only 2 buildings out of 10 were open and even then you were restricted to small sections cornered off with velvet rope. Thumbs up for the Silver Pagoda and jade buddha though.

Central and Russian Markets: Same same, but different. Everything i've seen before just being sold by different people. The Central Market ( Psar Thmei) though was amazingly OTT with stalls almost forming organic corals of fruit, shoes, scarves, flowers, watches and t-shirts amongst others - crazy and good.

Olympic Staduim: Yeah, WTF. Just Googled it but I dont think Cambodia's ever held the Olympics. It had a simple charm and was still in use for football, but wouldn't have been out of place in somewhere like Bethnal Green.

Then came "Sombre Sunday"... Learning of the disturbingly recent past of the Khmer Rouge and Democratic Kampuchea (Cambodia's former name under their regime). Now nothing I write here can do it justice so apologies.

The Khmer Rouge era was from 1975 - 1979 and still so much is not understood. They basically arrived in Phnom Penh with the intention to achieve their ideal; to turn Cambodia into a nation of peasants all working in an agricultural society where family, wealth & status were irrelevant. Almost immediately they began a programme of mass execution which resulted in 2 million people being 'destroyed' as they wrote it. Everyone from military commanders through to monks, the educated, those who spoke a foriegn language and even to those who wore glasses were slaughtered. Men, women and children all perished under them and the twisted logic behind it is still unclear.

I visited a place called Toul Sleng (or S.21), a former primary school turned detention, interrogation and torture centre; it was the last place thousands of Cambodians saw before being taken to be killed. Now i've never been to Auschwitz but I imagine you feel the same visiting there as you do here. It was like hell, a mini hell. It felt very wrong to just be walking on the floors, climbing the stairs and touching the walls, all tainted with death. There were hundreds of photos of victims and the many tools of torture displayed and I couldn't help but think this is too close. I felt the same about Choeung Ek (or the Killing Fields) - which comes as part of the day trip - where people from the camps were brought to be killed and buried in mass graves. You could just walk around these big ditches in the ground and it was undoubtedly too much of an attraction. Skulls were on display like in an Indiana Jones movie, trees were labeled with signs saying "tree against which executioners killed children" and even more disturbingly the clothes of victims were still woven into the mud underfoot. Now im all for learning but this was a little too unsettling you know? I think they should learn a lesson from the Royal Palace and get some of those "prohibited" signs, perhaps starting with one at the front gate.

Now, not to bum you all out (wasn't a very fun post huh?), this morning I woke up with a small dog in room. And by small dog I mean huge rat. Yeah im not just hearing them in the walls anymore. And my room smells like a swamp (it's above a lake with nothing but floorboards and vinyl seperating us) and its the size of a cupboard. So im staying in a swamp cupboard basically. But somehow the urge to move every morning subsides as im drawn back by the dvd collection. But alas, tomorrow im off to Sihanoukville to get me some beach, Cambodian style.

Lear Haowee/Goodbye. X

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Battambang

A 9 hour boat trip across the Tonle Sap and I arrived in Battambang (pronounced as i've found out 'Battam-bong') . The journey was pretty impressive, we passed - be it on the outskirts - the Floating Village and made our way on a pretty big boat through what seemed like very narrow, shallow river (called the Sangker) towards Battambang. The scenery was very beautiful, the Floating Village especially. They literally have everything a normal villages has - homes, businesses, a school, farms (!) - except it all just floats. Amazingly abstract and no doubt hard work, definitely something you have to be born into. Moving on we passed through very remote villages on the water, farming communities and lots of families & children in boats and playing in the river. For 6 of the 9 hours (the boat left at 7:30am) I sat on the roof and although the sun was very hot and I went a tad red, the experience was worth it. It's like one of those stereotypical things you expect of travelling, on the roof of a bus, train or boat cruising through lives and landscapes far removed from our own and I must admit, at some points it didn't seem real.

Battambang itself reminded me of Chiang Mai in North Thailand, similar layout with a river running through it and things being divided into East or West of it. It's a comparatively quiet city and aparently not so touristy - it was hard to tell because the height of tourist season in Dec - Feb in Cambodia so most places seem to be quieter. It was a nice place though and I planned to only stay for 2 nights (the highlight was the journey there for me) so did a day on the back of a bike going round the tourist spots. My guide was guy called Tin Tin (pronounced but not spelt) and he was a bit of a petrol head going amusingly fast over roads disturbingly uneven. He was a very good driver though so I just enjoyed the ride through dusty tracks and across lush farmland. We spent the day visiting a temple on a mountain (Phnom Sampeu), visiting the Killing Caves, trekking up to what's known as 'mini Angkor Wat' (Wat Banan), locating a swarm (?) of Fruitbats - dogs was wings - and ending the day with a trip on the Bamboo Railway. It was a pretty good excursion and I think atleast I took some good pictures.

I've now moved onto the capital Phnom Penh (where I write this) and i'll probably end up staying here for maybe 4 days, there's a few things of interest I want to see. It's pretty much the opposite of Battambang and resembles Bangkok more than anything else in terms of hecticness, noise and traffic, but nether the less, it seems good. I haven't explored today because the bus was slow getting here and there was a mega thunderstorm, the water on the corrugated roof was a relentless noise - like natures static - for over half an hour. Tomorrow i'll do some exploring but tonight i'll reside in my guesthouse infront of their abundance of pirate movies.

Oh and before I forget, a lot of Cambodia's recent history revolves around the Khymer Rouge - a violent regime that wiped out 20% of the population of a 3 year reign of terror. It's a pretty disturbing read (especially how recent and widely unreported it was) and I need to brush up on it myself but alot of the stuff i'll be seeing in Phnom Penh (and what I saw in Battambang, eg The Killing Caves) revolves around them. Google: Khymer Rouge.

I will be in touch. X

Monday, 20 April 2009

Happy New Year

Buddhist New Year that is, if I remember right it's now the year 2136.

The official 3 day celebrations are over and over the course of that time (plus an extra day) everybody in Srah Srang set up food stalls - as well as their usual shops - to sell food to Cambodian families who came to the lake for a day out or were on their way to the mountain - popular during holidays - which is about 30km away. Everybody spent the 4 days selling at what seemed like all hours, not closing their shops and sleeping in hammocks awaiting the next morning rush of punters. This festival is one of the busiest and most profitable parts of the year for the village so alot of effort goes into it. Me? I spent it being fed meals of BBQ chicken, pork, fish and lots of fresh fruit whilst helping back at the shops sell t-shirts to the foreign tourists.

Once the Tuesday to Friday rush was over, the weekend was spent relaxing and having fun. It's tradition to get new clothes after the new year so alot of people were dressed up showing them off. On the Saturday we decided to go to Melong Lake, a big lake West of Angkor Wat for an afternoon of chilling out on the "beach" - it's the closest most people here get but there was atleast some sand - and we had lunch and played games. Then the 12 of us (over 4 motorbikes) went East for 20km to a Pagoda (they pronounce it Pag-or-da) where everybody gathered to dance, drink, play massive games of tug-of-war and unusally, throw talcum powder at eachother... Dont know why but it was fun, they only do it once a year so lots of people came to enjoy themselves. Sticking out like a sore thumb is normal for me now, but I did spot one other Westerner there and we exchanged amused bewilderment, was very much off the beaten tourist track.

Then on the Sunday Saly had a big party at her house in the village to bring the New Year festivities to an end, it also doubled as a goodbye party for me. Everybody I'd met came and we spent the night doing karaoke - they LOVE it here, drinking, playing cards and dancing. Drinking alcohol is bit taboo with mixed opinions about it but they always comment on it in a joking way - bad husband etc - but tonight everyone was drinking and having a good time. They taught me Khymer dancing and I taught them bad dancing, it was alot of fun and the first time in over 2 weeks i'd had a drink :)

You can call me Mr. Big. X

P.s. Phil Morris, i've arranged a marriage for you. Next time I come back, i've been instructed to bring you. You're like a god here with your nutmeg complexion.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Tribe

Smiling, laughing, joking: This is Srah Srang. And so far this is Cambodia. Nothing touches them, even despite the neverending task and routine of selling to tourists, day in, day out.

Day 13 of rural Cambodian life and I find it hard to write 2 weeks worth of information so i'll have to revert back to the old random bullet points - or snippets - of life.

- Tom in Khymer (Cambodian language) means "big" so am known as "Mr. Big" in the village - endless amusement to my newly adopted brothers and sisters of Srah Srang.

- The shower and toilet were greeted with nervous laughter; the shower being a big pot with buckets and the toilet being a "well covered" hole in the middle of the village. I adapted to the shower routine after a day, it just became normal with the only thing standing out being the colour of my skin - but this soon faded as I became more and more known. The toilet however, upon my delivering of Livia's money, was rebuilt over the 2 weeks with bricks & cement and now stands tall with only the roof and a substansial door missing.

- I spend my days in the row of shops outside the temple by Srah Srang lake hanging out with the many people who own them - the family owns about 5 - and I've attempted selling, learnt the language - writing and speaking, played frisbie with the kids, taught some English, made bracelets and generally helped out where I can.

- Evenings are spent back at the house in the village, with dinner by lamp light and numerous games being played outside and downstairs. They only have electricity for 3 hours each night and they normally gather around the tv in the company of obscure (yet amazing) programmes.

- Food has been good. Every meal is a surprise but there's lots of meat, soups, rice, fresh fish and vegetables in one meal - like a mini buffet. I think the craziest thing i've eaten is ants and ant eggs - the big red kind. They fry them up and serve them in a soup which is a bit sour but I came to like them as a few foods were sour in taste. I only found out after (of course) that the first time people eat the ants - even Cambodians - they can have a "disagreement" with your stomach. Lets just say I spent to next day near a toilet... The first and last time I munch on ants.

- Everyone in the village are up by 5:00am (or before) and I think I can say they are the hardest working people - everyday, 7 days a week and 13 hour days, puts Western life in some sort of perspective. Moan we shall not.

- Common phrases you'll hear after my name: "you eat already?", "you want some water?", "more rice?", "you take shower?". The caring nag of a family, amplifide when it's someone elses.

- It's the Buddist new year over the course of 3 days (14th, 15th & 16th of April) - today being day number 2. It means it's much busier with all Cambodians returning to their home provinces for basically a 3 day bank holiday so Srah Srang has turned from selling to tourists, to selling to Cambodians aswell - a highlight in the year for the village. After the 3 days the family plan to have a party with lots of fun and games planned.

This is a rushed post and I know i've missed out so much. Just know that i've been in the company of an amazingly generous and happy family who have made the last 2 weeks fly by. Im staying here till the 19th and then im off to the Tonle Sap and onto Battambang, before heading South to the capital Phnom Penh (nom-pen). When the time comes, I will greatly miss Lan, Mang, Saly, Mao, Sarein, Lon, Lay, Bin and EVERYONE else who has made my stay so good. I feel they're a family I will have a lot of contact with when I return home and definitely follow their progress. X

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Srah Srang: 01/04/09

This is home for the next 2 weeks.
P.s. It took 20 minutes to upload this 1 photo.

Srah Srang Village

For those of you who dont know: 7 years ago Livia Smiesna (from university) spent 6 months in Cambodia teaching English in a village called Srah Srang. When I told Livia that I was going to Cambodia she immediately told me this story and said I have to visit this village because apart from the occasional email, she hadn't seen or spoken to the them since. So of course I said I would, being how close it was to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. Livia then gave me a package containing a letter, photos, money and clothes to deliever when (or if) I found them. This present have been in my bag, wrapped for the whole 11 weeks prior, every opening of my bag reminding me of my task.

Well yesterday, on the last day of my Angkor ticket, at the last place I visited - Srah Srang Lake... I found them.

I took out the photos outside Banteay Kdei temple to ask if anyone recognised the Cambodians in the pictures and within minutes I was surrounded by about 20 people all shouting Livia's name and telling me how they were taught by her. Then as the afternoon when on I was shown to the village and met the people in the photos, who had all aged or grown up and they invited me to stay for dinner. So as the evening progressed the family - of more than 30 people it seemed, everyone being someone elses cousin or aunt - said a friend of Livia was a friend of theirs and asked me to stay until the Buddist New Year (2 weeks away - April 14th). So alas, as of tomorrow Thomas Havell from England is moving into a Cambodian village to live as they do. They live right next to the lake where amazing sunsets seem to happen every night and i'll be sleeping in the same spot as Livia did 7 years ago. They are an amazingly happy, helpful & generous family and I honestly dont think i've met nicer people than them - and this is after 1 day.

Because of all these happenings, I obviously wont be in contact for the 2 weeks im there - unless I come back to Siem Reap for a few days which is a possibility, but im kinda looking forward to being emersed in Cambodian living and culture. But we shall see. This then, is a goodbye for now but know that I am in very good hands. Expect to see me outside Ankor Wat selling water alongside the Cambodian children, "you wanna buy some war-der?" X

Happy Birthday Amy Nockles.

Again, I want to apologise that I cant upload a birthday photo but im working on a PC from 1995 with an internet speed not much faster than a 56K modem. Anyway, enjoy your day and knowing the Nockles family, there'll be a party the size of a small town in your garden. Have a good one (get lots of good presents) and I hope there's atleast a bit of sunshine back home - I feel I must share the sun-wealth. X

P.s. How you enjoying LittleBigPlanet?

Angkor.

Roluos: Located 12km East of Siem Reap and all out on their own, this group of ruins known as Roluos encompasses 3 main temples with others scattered around. These ruins were pretty similar to the ones i'd seen in Sukhothai and Ayutthaya, pretty small with some of the towers intact and others not. I wanted to start here because it's some of the earliest from the Angkor period and I thought best to start small and build up to the best. I think of the ones I saw, Bakong was the most impressive built within a moat with the remains of 8 or so towers and a pyramid structure at the centre.

Ankor Wat: We arrived here at about 6:45am so the sun was very low but it wasn't quite a sunrise. The light wasn't the best (quite overcast) but it didn't detract from how awesome - literal meaning - it was. Definitely as epic as I expected and it is in very good condition, with a sculptured mural that runs round the entire outside wall and its towers pretty much intact. My first 7th wonder.

Angkor Thom: A more fantastical temple than Angkor Wat, if lacking in the scale, Bayon - the central ruin - has much more character with the many stone faces looking out from the towers, all in various stages of ruin. There was also lots of winding passageways which made exploring them more fun, felt alot like a movie set i'd seen in 20 different movies.

Ta Prohm: The best temple in Angkor - yet the lesser known by name. If Bayon felt like a movie set then this is something else, it almost seems fake - like the queue to a ride in Disneyland. Alien trees sprout like nerves as big as buildings from the walls and the ruin is a mixture of stone and jade-coloured moss. Totally awestruck. It was also the temple featured in Tomb Raider so it kinda reinforces the Hollywood movieset theme - so amazing it must be fake.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Happy Birthday Malcolm Luckhurst

Internet was down here yesterday so apologiese for delay. Hope you have a nice day with nothing too strenuous on the cards (i.e. selling houses). I enjoy reading your (and Christine's) comments on the blog and im glad someone out there is enjoying my waffle about the world.

Today im off to a group of Wats called the Roluos group, about 12km from Siem Reap. Tomorrow I get to see the majesty of the Ankor Wat and Ankor Thom with (hopefully) some sort of sunset - last night was very overcast.

Ok well goodbye for now and if I knew happy birthday in Cambodian i'd be ending this post with it. See yall later. X

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Siem Reap

Arrived here 2 days ago and im staying at a $1 a night guesthouse called Garden Village. It's weird that aswell as their own currency - the Riel - they've adopted the American dollar so buying things is in both. Very confusing to work out what you're paying, especially after 10 weeks of the Thai Baht, but never a hassle. Cambodians' speak amazing English, much better than Thailand and they're amazingly friendly and helpful - seems what people said is true.

Siem Reap is the hub for seeing all the famous Ankor temples so im off tomorrow to see one of the nine wonders. Im buying a 3 day pass and hiring a bicycle to explore the ruins (which in it's entirity is over 300 square Km) with guys I met on my bus here. It was funny because of the 9 people on my bus, only I had any idea about where to stay (through recommendation of other travellers) so they all just came with me. We now have a sort of gang and I think 6 of us are doing the tour on bikes. Tres excitement.

And, just to say - family this is for you - that this is Cambodia, a very poor (yet growing) country so internet access might not be too frequent. My guesthouse here does have it but that might not case at every stop, so a short pause in posts is in no way a sign of my death (despite what the subtitle of the blog says). Panic alarms at zero yes? No news is good news.

A fascinating country awaits and I think i've fallen in love in 2 days. I spoke alot (ha) about spirit in Thailand - some places with less, some places with more. Well here it is very different, a very honest spirit. One which visually (so far), hasn't shown it's head above water but im sure tomorrow i'll have a different story after Ankor. Whatever happens, I think the best way to describe Cambodia at the moment is in it's people; happy, friendly, helpful and full of respect. X

P.s. As hard as I tried in Bangkok to upload pictures for Ko Tao, Ko Pha Ngan, Ko Samui, Krabi, Phi Phi, Phuket and Khao Sok - it just wouldn't happen. And they're good pictures too. Now unfortunately you might have to wait till my return - worth it though, promise :)

Cambodia

(In big prominent letters). New country, new map.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

A Pickle.

So, it seems my camera is indestructable - they dont make 'em like they did 6 years ago. Either that or I have good camera karma. Yesterday, I switched it on and it's working like it always did, no moisture or nothing, pictures like they should be. Guess it just needed a few extra days to dry. Good news yes? Well... this is 2 days after buying a new one for an amount (although cheaper than in the UK) I didn't really want to spend. So return it I hear you say (?), well they only offer exchanges, upgrades or repairs - no cash refunds (!). So alas, I now have 2 working cameras. But I do actually quite like my new one (once i've charged it anyway), it's got 10 million pixels, 5x zoom... plus a hundred other features my old one doesn't have - including a massive screen - so ultimately I think it was time for a replacement, I just hate replacing things that already work.

And an amusing note, on Khao San Road, if you sit and wait long enough (Pad Thai in hand usually), someone you've met on your travels will eventually wander by. It is the way of the street. X

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Phuket, Khao Sok & Back to Bangkok

Apologies for the delay (I dont know if I need to apologise), even with free internet you can still find more appealing things to do. So Phuket, what to say, I think to describe it as 'the comedown' island would be appropriate - but that might be because I'd just come from Phi Phi. It was in no way Thailand, it seemed to have been engulfed by fat, middle-aged white men parading around with their Thai brides - very seedy, especially on Pa Thong beach which is the hotspot for these people to flock to. I however just passed through on my motorbike. Apart from that everything was just meh - the beaches (major parosols), the shops, the markets, the scenery... Same same but different.

Luckily I met some really nice people so we formed a "Slaughterhouse 3" biking gang (kudos goes to Katheryn for that) and did a tour of the island. Phuket doesn't have like "a thing" which the island is famous for - well, apart from the aformentioned seediness. So a self-navigated tour was our only option. So yeah, it was me, Katheryn (an Aussie who'd been in England for 6 years) and Jeff (a pilot from America) that were our gang, and apart from the on/off rain, we had a good day (and by rain I mean storm).

And on the subject, rain. It's been thunderstorming everyday for over a week here. Mostly in the evenings or late afternoon, but weird things are going on with the climate here. It's still really nice and hot, but when the clouds start a-forming, you start a-moving (or pulling over if you're on a bike) because the drops are the size of your hands and face. I however avoided it all during the stuff I did so I dont mind if it rains now, I was spared when it mattered :)

So on the 21st of March I went from Phuket to Khao Sok National Park, back to the huts im so fond of but this time in the jungle, surrounded by greens I have only seen on a HD t.v, the trees brought alive by the rain I suspect. The day after I arrived I went on a trip to the Rajjaphapa Dam which envolved a boat tour, 3 hour jungle trek and 1 hour cave exploration. The path was relatively straight forward, it winded up through the jungle going in and out of rivers and mud towards the highlight of Namtaloo Cave. Inside it was pitch black, and a river (probably the same river we'd been traversing) ran throughout the cave - which basically formed our path. The entrance was something straight out of Lord of The Rings and inside were hundreds of bats clinging to the ceiling and huge 'Hunter Spiders' lurking on the rocks, all of which you'd find by torchlight. Our group of 7 or so people had to paddle, wade and swim through with obvious attention needed when navigating the slippery rocks and plunges. But it was f***ing-great(parental guidance, I know I have many young fans).

BUT, and it's a big but. After navigating the cave, and managing to keep my camera dry throughout the whole thing - all that frickin' water! I exited and decided to take a picture of the 'exit hole' and somehow dropped my fucking camera in a fucking pool of water. Seriously, I value my camera over my passport or money, if it got stolen or lost, I think i'd spontaneously vomit. So the camera spazzed out for a minute and I removed the battery and memory card (the important bit) and once back at basecamp I let it dry in the sun. Then when I got back to my hut I put everything back and it seemed to work - the occasional blip but that's it. Now however, although it's back to normal, there still seems to be moisture in the lense?... so there's a clouded mist over any pictures I take. I divided now about what to do, im back in Bangkok so a camera would be easy (and relatively cheap compared to home) to pick up. But I have feeling if my camera could just de-moisturise (?) then it would be ok (?). I might investigate borrowing a hairdryer... Does anyone have any ideas? A guy also recommended a rice streamer but I dont want to cook it :-/

Apart from that I sent another package home today, also put in my order for my Cambodian Visa and booked a bus from Bangkok to Siam Reap for Friday. Im also about to go to a district in Bangkok called "Pantip" which is like the electronics heart of the city, just to have a look at the cameras. If mine hasn't sorted itself out by Thursday then I'll know where to go to get another.

This post has been epic. I hope it makes up for the promised photos which never turned up. I'll post again before Friday and then it's off to Cambodia for me! - camera or no camera. X

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Ko Phi Phi

The most beautiful place in Thailand and not because Hollywood says so either. Did a boat tour around the islands and beaches for a day, which also included snorkeling. The water and scenery was unreal, something like "super paradise" would probably suffice. The snorkeling was in water that was crystal clear with so many tropical fish and coral and marine life, literally swimming past your face not bothered by your pressence. Some guys also saw sharks - Black Tip I think they're called - but I didn't unfortunately, they're quite small and not aggressive or anything. The best part for was coming into a school of fish that morphed and changed direction when I reached out to touch them. The tour culminated in a visit to "The Beach" beach - see film mum & dad because you own it - and it was nice. I say nice because the actualy beach is same same, but the view out is incredibly, it's completely incased in cliffs with a sinlge opening looking out over the open ocean (basically a big letter C). It's also stupidly busy most of the time due to the movie but we got there just before sunset so was less so. I say again, Thailand is awesome.

Ko Phi Phi though, for the record, was badly hit by the tsunami in 2004 so most of the main town is still a construction site with building work everywhere - lots of concrete understandibly so feels very touristy. You dont see or hear it but over 2000 people died there, yet you can walk the island in a day probably so that's an incedible amount of people on such a small piece of land. Despite it all though Phi Phi has some of the nicest people and a great spirit, St. Patrick's day & the Half Moon Party were a blast.

So I arrived via ferry in Phuket today (poo-ket, not phuck-it) and Im staying at Phuket Backpackers Hostel which I think is the cleanest place I have ever seen, with 4 bed 'cubicles', a great cinema room and more free internet to abuse. I think im gonna relax for my time here, the early mornings and late nights and Half-Moon parties and extreme sports leave ol' Havell tired. I will however upload some pictures at some point today. X

Monday, 16 March 2009

Krabi

Firstly, these daily posts are purley because the place where im staying; KR Mansion - a really good guesthouse - offers free internet to guests. Thailand, the land of contrasts.

So i've had two amazing days, the kayaking in Ang Thong National Marine Park off the coast of Ko Samui was a blast, met some nice people on the boat and spent most of the day paddling through caves and around picture perfect islands. It seems this sort of thing still amazes despite how many "picture perfect" visuals i've seen. I didn't explore much of Samui so I dont really know what it had to offer, I settled in a place called Na Thon, near the pier from where all the ferries left. Decent food market but post 8:00, it went dead. I didn't mind, had a few good books and there was a nice resturant. My 200B room even had a TV (which I haven't seen in a while) so settled down to watch The Devil Wears Prada :-/ plus BBC Worldnews. How i've missed the economic downturn.

Sea kayaking was my new favourite sport.... until today. Rock climbing in Krabi was Awe-some. Very challenging, with adrenalin pumping like I cant remember, like your life was on a knife edge - and this was only 5 metres up. I had a great tutor (I say "I" because it seems nobody books climbing on a Monday morning so had me some 1 on 1 tuition for 4 hours) called Ip and he taught me all about handling the rope, specifically knots and how to supervise whilst he climbed up to set the route via pegs. After lunch we were joined by 4 other guys and we moved to another location which culminated in a 20m climb that was super intense, but I made it, the shakes in your heart running through your arms & legs. And you never look down, eyes always on the rock for your next hand hold and next foot hold. I did 7 climbs and conquered 5. Feeling this alive never felt so close to death.

Krabi itself seems a humble sort of town, but all the good places are spread out over lots of bays which are only accessible via longtail boats (the climbing was in Laem Phra Nang surrounded by huge cliffs) but because of the whole 2 day stay policy I haven't seen it all. I think climbing and snorkeling are the 2 big draws but other than that it's just expensive resorts on so-so beaches. Tomorrow I leave for Ko Phi Phi which I understand is crazy expensive but im willing and able because it's too good to miss. Think I need to rest a few days though. Oh my arms. X

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Happy (Belated) Birthday Chris Elphick.

Christopher Alexandra Eleanor Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio Elphick. Im sorry this is late. Im sorry there is no picture. This is either because im in the 3rd world and the internet is sparse, or it is because I dont actually care. I hope your "party" - i.e. you and Kate - was really good. I'll bring you back a wife as my gift to you. What would you prefer; Thai, Cambody or Vietnamese?

I cant believe you're nearly 30. X

Friday, 13 March 2009

Ko Samui

So the Visa run just seemed to keep on running. And running and running and running. Left here at 4:30am and arrived at the Malaysian border at 11:00am. Then arrived back in Samui at 6:00pm. Yeah, definitely one of those write home moments :-/ I did however go 80 metres into Malaysia so can I now say "i've been there"? Meh.

I have however got an extra 15 days on my Visa to do a million things, namely Krabi, Ko Phi Phi, Phucket, Khao Sok and Phetchaburi. I've decided to try and do something good on each, spending a bit more than I normally would because i'll only be staying a few days (make sense?). So starting tomorrow in Ko Samui im doing sea kyaking to the Angthong National Marine Park which my guide book describes as something like "scarily beautiful". Then in Krabi I hope to do a days rock climbing, Phi Phi a boat tour of the islands with a visit to THE Beach etc etc.

So im sorted for the next 15 days and I leave for Cambodia on Friday 27th of March. This is my life right now. X

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Ko Pha Ngan

So firstly that last post was supposed to say how the internet was very expensive on Ko Pha Ngan and thusly (that's a word?) was not using it. Unfortunately when I did cough up & post something it came out all Thai so that explains that.

Ko Pha Ngan was ok, but ok is all. There was a lot of price fixing and it was generally very expensive in every area (except maybe accommodation weirdly) and it felt a bit Wickerman, like they're all out to get ya. The beach and the island were what i've come to expect - same same - but in the build up to the Full Moon Party it got very busy, and not the good busy either. I dont know, there's people on holiday and there's people travelling, I think there's a big difference. Ko Pha Ngan was full of people on holiday - think Ibiza, Spain, Turkey... so it felt a bit soulless with a lot of dickheads (trilbys' and the common crop of shit tattoos). But I did meet a few nice people, 2 English guys (from Croydon) and 3 Swedes who I spent most of my evenings with. Also ran into some boys - I say boys becase they were like 18 - from Cambridge and they were also cool.

So the main reason anyone goes to Ko Pha Ngan is for the Full Moon Party (10th of every month) and I got there 5 days prior so got to enjoy the nightly build up of parties. The actual Full Moon Party when it arrived was just ok, been to better parties. It was cool to see a whole beach of people having a party and the atmosphere was great, but music wise it wasn't so diverse. Just Google 'Full Moon Party Ko Pha Ngan' for all other info. I will say I dont remember how I got home, I know I walked but I have no memory. And I had no shoes. When I woke up the next day (more evening) I was a bit bemused that I was in my bed because I always remember things (right Kate?).

I also managed to meet a friend who insisted on sleeping in my bathroom under the sink, he didn't talk much but I named him Sidney. I didn't see him that much either but was ALWAYS checking and when I did he made me run for the hills. Yeah... Imagine a spider the size of a hand. This was my room mate. It was like sleeping next door to a murderer. And dont even ask about using the toilet... Too many nightmare scenarios going on.

So right now i've just arrived in Ko Samui, internet is back to a non-ridiculous price and i've just booked a Visa run to Malaysia because mine ends tomorrow. Erm sorry have you seen the last 60 days because I seemed to have misplaced them.

Oh, and how good is Kung-Fu Panda? I love that movie. X

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Kם Pיש Nעשמ

Mט לקטנםשרג ןד 'ןרןאמע ןמ Tישןץ

I גם מםא למם' 'ישא אם גםץ

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Ko Tao

Killing 3 hours at 4:00am waiting for the 7:00am ferry from Chumphon wasn't the best start. Why they make you leave Bangkok so early I do not know. Although I now know how to Play Uno.

Anyway, Ko Tao (or Turtle Island), it's back to yee ol' "postcard paradise" seen some months ago. It would be a diving hotspot if I knew how to swim but I just get to settle for the sun and the beach. Everyone's been telling me the South is more expensive but here it's pretty much the same as Ko Samet/Ko Chang - except im paying 200 Baht less a night. So... cheaper then (?). Unbelievably though, after 2 & a half hours of laying on the beach, I was burnt. Kinda forgot how strong the sun was South of Bangkok, will not be leaving my legs uncoated again, and will also definitely not be falling asleep. See, this is what happens when you're waiting for a ferry at ridiculous o'clock. Meh. Today was all about the shadeshine for me.

Ko Tao is pretty small, you could walk most of it, the roads are not great but I dont expect them to be. I've been going to the same beach for the 2 days i've been here, but tomorrow im doing some exploring. Been told to head South for some nice secluded beaches and great viewing spot over the island. I know it's a viewing spot because it says so on my map - it even has a little telescope icon. There aren't many folk during the day, most do the whole 9-5 diving thing so i've been occupying myself with a book, my iPod and food (some pretty good resaurants here). Will probably leave for Ko Pha Ngan on Thursday depending on if I meet any stay-worthy travellers.

Im now off to eliminate the nest of ants having some sort of parade through my room, must be Ant Pride. Adios X

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Down is The New Up

Bangkok to Ko Tao.

P.s. I was in the process of uploading more photo's but my camera ran out of battery. Will try and find somewhere to charge it and be back to upload them, this internet cafe doesn't seem to have spare plugs :-/

Kanchanaburi.

So I had an epic day travelling (see below) to Kanchanaburi and along The Death Railway over the River Kwai and onto Hellfire Pass. It was pretty emotive, on one hand you had these amazing views from halfway up a cliff, perched on the most rustic bridges over-looking the river, but on the other hand you just think about how many prisoners of war died building it. It was very contradictory in terms of whether you should be "enjoying" it. They say it's one man for every sleeper - so nearly 100,000.

Hellfire Pass also, this is where they've terminated the line before it heads into Burma and the last stop of the train - give or take a 20 minute bus ride. I mean in photos it doesn't look very impressive - a dirt/stone path leading through a gap in the cliff, but this thing was made with nothing more than a hammer and a chisel in conditions you cant really imagine. Made me a little somber, especially because I was the only person there. If rocks and trees had eyes, to think what they had seen before my casual swagger. Complete awe.

The journey: Taxi to South Bus Terminal, bus to Kanchanaburi, train from Kanchanaburi to Nam Tok (Death Railway), bus from Nam Tok to Thong Pha Phum (Hellfire Pass), hitchhike from Thong Pha Phum to Kanchanaburi (courtesy of 'Add'), bus from Kanchanaburi to Bangkok, taxi to Khao San Road. This took place between 7:00AM and 10:00PM and was totally worth it. X

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Khao Yai

Beautiful park (60 km in total), all green with rainforests and waterfalls. Also lots of wildlife, the leaflet says elephants, gibbons, deers, tigers, snakes (to name a few) and lots of birds & insects. And no you didn't read that wrong, tigers, just roaming about in the park... They dont give you any health & safety lecture at the entrance either. Welcome to Thailand. But, on one of my treks, I did bump into a tour group who had a guide that spoke very good English so he was able to tell me that the tigers were kept far away from the road or trekking areas. You need like safari trucks to go see them apparently - which they dont offer as tour.

Anyway, saw some awesome waterfalls - probably the highlight of the park. You know the film The Beach (of course you do), well you know the waterfall Leonardo DiCaprio "jumps" off? I went there. It's called Haew Suwat Falls and it's about 20m high (made to look bigger in the film I think) but definitely the best i've seen so far in Thailand, so picturesque it needed a frame (ha). We'll see if the South can top the North...

The train journey was fun, had to go from Ayutthaya to a place called Pak Chong and from there get a taxi (or Songthaew as their known) to the park entrance - so overall took about 4 hours? Like I said, the park is 60km so walking is very much out of the question if you want to see anything, but I hired a motorbike from the main entrance for the 3 days I spent there so got to see a fair bit. The roads were really good and everywhere was mostly signposted so never got lost, thumbs up for exploration.

Spent 2 nights at the park camping, man, I love camping. Made my tent (which you can rent) all by myself - pay attention Hannah Baxter, the whole time I was thinking "What would she do?". The campsite was again very nice, had a small lake and lots of grass, along with numerous huts and a resturant - no shrimps on the barbie here. The only downer was the fact it was so quiet, I met a couple from Australia on the day they were leaving and that was about it. Spent my evenings hanging out with the warden watching Thai television and although I tried not to look at the time, was probably in bed by like 9:00? Meh. The night sky was amazing though, no light pollution so many many stars. The mornings also, peaceful apart from the odd gibbon arguement in the trees - who you'd often see (along with deer) visit the bins thoughout the day. How very... erm, natural.

I did see a wild elephant though from one of the watchtowers which was pretty cool, he was just wandering the lands on his own. Also on a walk back from Haew Suwat I had to walk along the road back to where i'd left my bike and came across a family of gibbons sitting in the road (about 20 of them visible), they weren't the 'jump in your bag and steal your camera' type either - not that I gave them the chance. They weren't friendly or anything but they watched me and I watched them and just let me wander by. After this I hitched a ride (actually recommended in the brochure) because I was beginning to think my map wasn't in proportion and that i'd be walking for days. Oh and crocodiles too, saw them. They're not actually advertised as being in the park but saw one on the day I bumped into the English speaking guide on a trek - they were freshwater incase you were wondering, about 1.5m long. Didn't see an snakes (although enjoyed driving by the "Cobra Crossing" along the road) but did see a few exotic spiders. Oh and butterflies, lots and lots of them. They are the size of small birds.

Im back in Bangkok right now, will be here for the next 4 days with a one day trip to Kanchahaburi probably on Friday. Another weekend market in Bangkok - Alllllll-riiight.

P.s. Trains, just so you know, they're very late here too - over an hour today. The station master looks at his watch and gives you a rough estimate at best, then an hour later it arrives. Oh the wonder. X