Two cabs, two planes and a boat – next stop.

Day 147, Wednesday 30 May 2012, Phuket to Perhentian Kecil

Well, I am sure some of you are wondering where on earth Perhentian Kecil (PK) is, so I may as well deal with it now. PK is the smaller of two inhabited islands in the Perhentians, a small group of islands about ten kilometres off the north eastern coast of Malaysia.

You would think, given its proximity to southern Thailand that I would have dropped down from Koh Tao rather than take twelve hours travelling across Thailand to Phuket and then taken two flights, and an hour long drive to get here. However, the south east of Thailand is deemed too risky for travellers at the moment, due to terror acts by Muslim separatists – so we are advised to avoid it. When I was in Bangkok a couple of weeks ago it was reported that seven people were killed in grenade attacks, so I followed the advice and took a very long way around.

Before I get on to the day, I am going to say I did not enjoy Phuket – OK I was way out of the main area, but that wasn’t the issue, what I did not like was being charged outrageous prices for everything, beer was minimum three times the price of Bangkok – or even Koh Tao, food was expensive and the cab to airport, which was 5km from the hotel was only slightly less than my share of the cab on the 75km journey from Kota Bharu to Kuala Besut later in the day. A bit like Koh Tao, some of the people were just not friendly – for instance, when you pay them they just take the money, no thanks – in either language. For a tourist destination, that is just balls, and don’t even get me started on immigration at the airport !

On to the day !

Slept Ok, more weird dreams and the best bit of sleeping was from 4:10 till the alarm went off at 5:45. I packed and was out at reception for 6:00 and into the daylight robbery cab company cab for the five minute $8.40 NZD to the airport.

Checking in was relatively painless, and then it was a one hour wait in the queue for immigration control, 22 counters -4 open. Ludicrous. This was just the queue to get through the doors into the immigration hall….

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Once through finally brought a coffee and a roll, but through the roll in the bin as the ham tasted off, a good start to the day. I did buy myself a magazine – first paper based reading material I have bought since I left NZ. I found an English photography mag with a section on the RRP for cameras and lenses, a good thing to take with me to Kuala Lumpur to compare prices as I am thinking of buying at least one lens in KL. It also had a good review of the new Canon 5d Mk3, which I drooled over for a while – I have a MK1, which I am looking forward to reuniting with when I get to England – though the MKII’s are now a reasonable price ! The mag entertained me for both flights today, so a good purchase.

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The flight to KL – and a one hour shift in time zone was good for the main, but about twenty minutes from KL we hit the roughest turbulence I think I have experienced – outside of flying to Wellington of course. If it wasn’t for the little calmer I had I would have left nail marks in the upholstery – I have to use my 10 valium sometime, I mean they cost me a whole $4. I am not a great flyer so will pop one when I fly.

[bugger the power has just gone off ] I had Macca’s for brunch at KL airport and then a Starbucks coffee (and free wifi) till boarding for the one hour flight to Kota Bahru – which I will say was smooth as, compared to the first flight anyway. [back on, whew]

The recommended way of getting the 75km from Kota Bahru to Kuala Besut to the ferries is via taxi, public transport is slow and unreliable, apparently. The airport sell tickets for a cab/boat combo to the islands so I took a shared cab with a young German couple for a pretty good price.

It was good to be back in the land of mosques, back to front wearing jacket scooter riders, girls in head scarves and the mighty Proton, Malaysia’s home brand car. Malaysia has been one of my favourite countries.

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We had an hour long wait in Kuala Besut for the high speed boat out to PK, and it was a fast ride ! Not a high speed boat, a fishing boat taken from the high speed boat.

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First view of PK.

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I found my way up to the Tropicana Inn, it is a hundred metres up the hill from the beach and is, um, basic. I do have a shower and loo in my room (D3), but that is about it, white walls, bed – no adornments, and there is internet too, only in the main area, but that is better than I anticipated. The place appears to be going through some renovations. No expense was spared on the room numberings !

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Once checked in I wandered back down to the beach and booked myself a dive for tomorrow with Spice Divers – recommended to me by my friends from Inle Lake in Myanmar, who were here a few weeks ago. And very cool, they are diving a wreck tomorrow !

I had dinner on the beach, so nice to have Malay food again, plus this awesome banana shake.

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By 8.00 I was pretty much bored with the beach, there were not many people around so I drifted back to my room and wrote this blog post.

My nearest neighbour

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Two ferries, a van and a bus – Koh Tao to Phuket

Day 145, Monday 28 May 2012, Koh Tao – Phuket

I had a much better sleep last night, best one in Koh Tao, maybe it was because I removed my pack from the side of the bed ! I am not sure when this habit started or even why, probably from laziness, definitely not for security and I don’t snuggle up to it – honest. The bed is big and comfortable and sprawling in it maybe allowed for a good sleep. When I get go Phuket tonight I will do the same.

I was packed and ready for breakie at 7.00 and had my last meal with the miserable bastards over the road, I am pretty sure not one of them smiled once. For the first time since Alex’s place in Kuching, way back in week one, I had muesli and fruit for breakfast- yum!

After breakie I checked out of Ananda Villa and on to the ferry that was the start of my journey to Phuket. Since I have been on Koh Tao I have seen a number of people, mainly girls, with injuries – slings, bandages and plastered legs (due to getting plastered ?) and this morning in the boat queue it was no different. Mae Haad main drag, people get up late here.

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I ended up on two fast catamaran ferries, the first took us to Koh Pha Ngan, where we waited for an hour for the second boat to Donsak on the mainland, via Koh Samui. The first leg was the longest and by far the roughest with lots of vomit bags being handed out, not to me of course! On Koh Pha Ngan I bought a roll from one of the street vendors, the lettuce was a bit sad looking and no gloves were used like in the west. Ferry 1 at Koh Tao.

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I spent the hour waiting for the ferry wondering if this was a wise decision or not ! Ferry two.

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The ferry/bus company have this awesome (and yet so simple) system of using coloured stickers on both passenger and large bags to identify where you are going. For Donsak we had yellow stickers with the final destination written on in pen. This means the boat crew can easily point you in the right direction without having any language issues and all the bags can get stacked accordingly. It was pretty cool and I have not seen anywhere else. Well done !

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Donsak

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From the ferry all the passengers were loaded onto vans or busses depending on final destinations, it appears there was myself and a German couple going to Phuket, though we were in a full van that headed into Surat Thani, the main local town.

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After a half hour wait the three of us got onto a bus heading for Phuket, with an estimated travel time of six hours – oh joy. The bus at least was pretty empty, though we spent the first hour driving around the back streets of Surat Thani picking up passengers which was a wee bit frustrating, but it utterly the norm for all of SE Asia.

My Sony MP3 player that I have had for three years started to play up today, it looks like it has been badly impacted by humidity, which has not happened before, as the screen has a lot of moisture inside. All the controls are working really randomly so it is unusable, hopefully it will dry out and work OK, if not I guess KL is a better place than many to replace it. Thankfully I had loaded a couple of gig of music on my phone or I would have gone insane on the bus ride.

We passed through the town of Phang Nga on the way, the karsts are amazing around here, sadly it was quite late in the day so photography was not really that good. If I had more time I would come back here as the scenery is stunning – a Ha Long Bay on land.

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The three of us were dropped off at the highway junction with the airport road, I had booked a cheap room at the Nai Yang Beach Resort (37 NZD a night) and the Germans decided to check it out as well, it is close to the airport which was why I chose it over Phuket town which is 30km away. We were ripped off with the taxi ride, but had no choice as there was only one – and apparently that is the price – things are expensive on Phuket!

I had a very nice masman chicken curry at a beach restaurant, Nai Yang is a bit like Koh Tao except more deserted, lots of restaurants and bars on a beach strip. I was finishing my beer after dinner when the rain came. You can easily tell those who have only just arrived in Asia from those who have been here for at least a few days. As the first one or two drops of rain hit, I grabbed my beer and stuff and moved quickly under the shelter, the experienced people around me did likewise as the staff started rushing out. There was a group of four Spanish guys who were bemusedly wondering why everyone was rushing in side over a couple of drops of rain – when the heavens just opened and dumped a few hundred litres of water on them in a matter of seconds, they were soaked – I was laughing…

After dinner I spent the rest of the night in my room, trying to choose between the eighty five TV channels – most of course in Thai. The internet doesn’t work in my room unfortunately.

There was quite a bit of rain in the night.

A stroll in the hills

Day 144, Sunday 27 May 2012, Koh Tao.

Bloody neighbours, what is it with people and playing loud music at 2.00 am – jeez I am getting old, but I always hated Dark side of the moon.

But…… I had the weirdest dream last night, after I finally managed to get to sleep and Dark side of the moon featured in it. When the dreams weirdness woke and all was silent I wasn’t sure if the whole thing had been a dream. Pretty sure it was both though – a weird dream and bloody neighbours.

As with every other morning, the ferry blasted its horn at 5.00 am, normally I doze for an hour or so, but this morning, even though I was incredibly tired I could not get back to sleep – one of those nights.

I booked my accommodation in Phuket this morning, as i have no desire to party or shop or doing anything Phuket like I am staying way the hell out of town at a beach near the airport. I only have two nights there – I arrive by bus late tomorrow and leave by plane early two days later, so am not planning on a lot of sight seeing anyway. Hopefully it will be quieter there than here. I am counting down the days now, damnit.

With no diving planned for the day I didn’t do much until late morning when I decided to do a mega walk and go to the two main view points on the island. It was quite sunny and warm when I left and I walked for about an hour, up and down numerous hills, passed a few photo worthy things.

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Warning – it gets steep

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And even steeper : )

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Tanote Rock viewpoint was my first destination and I stopped for a lovely watermelon shake and a bottle of water. It was still hot and sunny.

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The view – look how damn high I walked !

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My next objective was twin view viewpoint, which was even higher, I made it up to the reservoir and was walking down the dirt track towards the next climb when a dog appeared from one of the few huts by the road side and started going nuts in the middle of the track. No one came out to calm it down soI decided on caution as the best option, which basically meant scrapping Twin View and walking back the way I came. This didn’t really bother me too much as I was primarily doing this for the exercise as well as the view and to kill some time.

And then the rain came down – I saw it coming but there was nothing I could do about it, I was a good forty minute walk to town, so I just walked on until I got back to the top of the main climb where I took my shirt off and jogged all the way back to town. At times the rain was incredibly hard, it stung my chest as it hit, I got absolutely soaked and somehow managed to lose my shirt when it fell out of my bag. It was my last remaining NZ shirt, my Asics shirt I seem to be wearing in all photos of me ! I did get my second run in which was good, a faster pace than the other day and no pain at anywhere either – alright !

Once back in town, I had a shower, lunch and about five litres of water.

I didn’t really achieve much else in the day and the evening was beyond uneventful.

My nephews band “Heroes for sale” passed through round one of the Smokefree Rock Quest (a music competition for school bands) last night, very pleased as they are pretty cool.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vzs-6l54r7k

Five months !!

Day 143, Saturday 26 May 2012 – Koh Tao

Wow – five months on the road !

I really cannot believe I have lasted this long, though I am definitely losing enthusiasm for the solo travelling thing. There are many good things about travelling on your own but there are downsides as well . For me the biggest has been the periods of loneliness I have experienced pretty much from the start and as this leg of the trip winds down those periods are becoming more prolonged. Though actually the day today was pretty good.

It was a much quieter night last night and I woke too late to run before the day got too warm Instead I opted for plan B and stayed in bed until 8.00 when I got up for breakie.

The day was a little windier than yesterday and the forecast for the next week is not overly flash either – not inspiring when I have flying (which I hate) and diving (which I love) as the key activities for the next ten days, so I was a little concerned we may not go out today. I was down at Easy Divers for 10:00 and found I was the only fun diver going out, luckily there was a dive class as well or the boat would have been cancelled, along with my dive.

I love being the only fun diver as it means I get the dive master to myself and the dive can be focused around my abilities rather than those of the most inexperienced – which sometimes is me of course !

A mass of dive boats, Koh Tao is a dive school factory !

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Loading up

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The original plan was to dive a site imaginatively named Southwest, but with strong north westerlies blowing in the boat captain changed the plan and we went to Shark Island – not that there are any sharks, but you can guess why it is named that way. It was a bouncy wee ride down to the south side of Koh Tao to Shark Island.

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Dive master Stitch and I. He was a good guy, English – so easy to talk crap with.

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It was a pretty good dive, we followed a pair of decent size grouper for a while, then hit a patch of quite strong current so had to leave the pair and head back towards the boat, visibility at the shallower depths was great, and diving in clear deep blue water with nothing around or below was quite exhilarating ! it was the best dive of the two days.

The second dive was supposed to be at White Rock, but again due to the swell this was changed and we dived at one of the shallow reefs at Hing Gnam.

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It being a shallow dive we managed almost an hour under water and I still had a ton of air left, I really had my buoyancy dialled on this dive, so enjoyed it immensely. Great visibility again and I got to play in a nice school of small barracuda.

The ride back to shore was a bumpy one….

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The afternoon was spent pretty much doing sod all, I had planned to walk back up to Sairee beach for the evening, have a drink or two at one of the bars. However, bad weather set in just before sunset and we had quite a period of heavy rain with some thunder, so I didn’t stray beyond the local cafe, with its bad service – again.

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Once I got sick of that, I picked up an expensive bottle of cheap Aussie shiraz and went to my room to watch TV, type a blog post and celebrate five months of SE Asian solo travel.

A toast to Five Months – cheers !

The “sleeper” train

Days 138/139, Monday/Tuesday 21/22 May 2012, Vientiane to Bangkok

Happy birthday mum !

It was a much quieter night last night thankfully so I managed some sleep ahead of the overnight sleeper train ride tonight, though given my poor record I am sure there will not be a lot of sleep happening. I slept in till 8.00 again and mooched around in the coolness of my room after breakfast for the rest of the morning, but I am up to date on emails, blogs and plans are all done – I even glanced at a few jobs sites. And then the internet died again, before I could actually upload the blog post I completed.

I had to check out of the guesthouse by 12.00 mid-day, but the bus to the Thai border and the train station was not until 3.00. I had planned on visiting the last of the key temples in Vientiane and then moving on to the national museum when it re-opened after lunch at 1.00. However with a massive flash and a loud bang the rain came down so I decided to hang out in a cafe instead – and the wifi didn’t work there either. Oh well.

Once the rain passed I wandered up to Sisaket, which houses the oldest remaining temple in Vientiane, the Siamese sacked all the temples with the exception of Sisaket in the late 1800’s
Sisaket had some quite nice frescoes but in a terrible state of repair, though we were not allowed to take photos.

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What it did have that I really liked was a massive collection of buddhas going back to the 15th century in the cloisters, some recovered from other sites and stupas around Vientiane. The bulk of these are small and contained in small niches around the walls, but there are a large number of bigger Buddha figures, some made of wood and some from stone.

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I took a lot of photos…. possibly the last you will see of Buddha figures for a while, maybe ever – who knows.

After Sisaket I went up to the national museum, I had read was largely disappointing and in that I was not disappointed, as it was – largely disappointing. Not a great museum for non Laos tourists – and not even a huge amount of information for the Laos people either. I will say, given the poverty in Laos, a museum is not their foremost priority.

I hung around the GH for a while waiting for my ride to the bus station, to get the VIP bus to the border. This turned out to be van that arrived forty minutes late and took me and some other confused tourists to Thana Leng train station, just inside the Laos border where we joined a large bunch of other tourists and caught a small train across the Mekong and into Thailand.

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Laos – I liked the way the train tracks were in the middle of a road bridge, and they just stop all the cars.

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Thailand

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The ride arrived in Nong Khai before it officially left Thana Leng, where we had an hour long wait for the train to depart for Bangkok.

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I was in a second class sleeper carriage, car no 3. This comprised of two rows of seats that faced each other, that folded down into a single bed, with another bunk that folded down from the wall above. Fortunately – and selfishly, I did not have to share my two seats with anyone so could sprawl in the air conditioning until the train left, which it did nicely on time as well at 6.20 PM.

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The beds started coming down almost immediately, it was far too early for me to even consider considering going to sleep so I drank the two cans of beer I bought at the station and watched the view until the sunset and it was too dark too see any more. The windows were way too dirty to consider pictures – and to be honest it wasn’t all that exciting !

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Once there was nothing to see out the window I popped my current favourite travelling music on my walkman, Japanese post-rockers – Mono and spent the next hour and a half knocking off the last few pages of Haruki Murakami’s IQ84 trilogy. I really enjoyed the books – though cannot explain why, not my normal reading, it was different !

I then spent the next eight hours not sleeping in a train….

We arrived in the outskirts of Bangkok soon after sun up and I was foolishly thinking we would therefore arrive on time at 6.25 AM, but no, ridiculous thought Phil. We arrived in the station at 7.45, having spent most of the preceding hour stopped at various points in suburban Bangkok. I am going to say it is not like the suburban Auckland I lived in.
I decided to stay one night in Bangkok as two sleeper trains in a row is too much for this old man, so before leaving the station I booked my ticket to Chumphon for tomorrow night and then went in search of lodgings. I couldn’t see anything immediately around the station so ended up jumping on the Metro and going to my old haunt the Hostelling International hostel in Sukhumvit. Sadly they are renovating at the moment so I ended up in a dorm room, one night cannot be too bad and at least it is cheap and easy.

As I am in Bangkok and have some nice cheap shopping handy I have decided to ditch a few of my more ‘used’ possessions. I spent the afternoon in MBK mall looking for bright shiny things to buy. My lovely Keen sandals have pretty much given up the ghost, though I am still tempted to get them repaired, though I did grab a pair of $40 Converse sneakers as my new day shoes – when I am not wearing jandals/flip flops/thongs (for the Aussies). I will decide on the Keens tomorrow – they have been faithful friends and I feel bad even thinking about leaving them in the dorm hallway. I am not going to do any more trekking type walking so the day pack I picked up in Miri (Sarawak, Borneo) is goneburgers , it is pretty stuffed and utterly feral even though I have washed it a few times. I picked up another messenger type camera bag that I can use when I am Europe as well as a new wallet.

I loved these shoes in a shop in Siam Centre, reminded me of my days in London in the 80’s.

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I snapped some sticker art as I went.

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I got back to the dorm to find it fairly full, so had a feed and chatted to a young English guy for a while and then went to bed. In the dorm room there is this really weird older (I think) Japanese guy. He was asleep most of the afternoon and kept coming and going for most of the night, when he leaves the room he turns his video camera on – i kept covering it with a flannel. I am not sure what the hell he is doing – but he is one weird dude.

Goodby old friends, hopefully someone will find you useful.

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What Wat is What – 2

Day 88, Sunday 01 April 2012, Ayutthaya.

Pinch and punch for the first of the month, no returns.

Not a bad sleep was had in my luxury pad in Ayutthaya, I have been going through one of those sleeping badly phases again and once I am in one I just have to ride it out. Breakfast here was great, eggs on toast, fruit, yoghurt, fruit juice and coffee (instant was free, which suits me fine). I also woke up to some nice wordy emails this morning, so yay thanks family and friends ! I do love them.

Today was bike day and I was going to ride and see the western sites today with a plan to do the east tomorrow. My butt is still a bit raw from the riding around in Inle so no point in doing a long and uncomfortable day when I can do it slowly. I also want to avoid being out in the worst of the days heat as I am still a bit dehydrated and well there is no point in heat stroke either. My wheels were Ok, seat a bit low and the chain rattled like mad, so at least people knew I was coming !

The first stop was Wat Suwan Awas, it was not particularly exciting with the exception of this stunning Buddha, I just love this image.

Wat Cherng Tha. I liked this site as I was the only person here !

I particularly liked this pile of old broken plastic Buddhas, old photos and things that people had left on the various ruins.

I then cycles a couple of KM’s out of town to Wat Phu Khao Thong, though there was only this massive pagoda there it was well worth a visit. The building, like a lot around here is not exactly straight…. there was a group of photogs here, reminded me of some of the great Flickr meet-ups we had in Auckland – and the fact I just missed one at wonderful Muriwai beach : (

I rode back around the road on the outside of the river and found this bizarre park/temple thing, not sure what it was, it was like a small theme park, lots of statues, games amid the small temples. Weird… I had an awesome lunch there and later discovered I had again knocked the camera on to manual focus so most of the pictures here had to be deleted.

Wat Chaiwattanaram is one of the big guns at Ayutthaya but sadly was closed due to damage from the floods late last year. I took a photo tomorrow (which was yesterday as I type) that shows the water line on the temples.

St Jospehs Church – not often I get to take photos of churches ! The Portugese had a settlement here in the 1800’s

Wat Phutthaisawan. All around Thailand, and in every Thai restaurant in NZ are photos of the King, this one is on top of piles of sand bags used to keep water out of the temples during the floods. I am not sure how successful that was sorry!

There is always one who refuses to conform.

A ride on ride off ferry across the river.

Wat Worachetha Ram. The Thai used to put valuables, gold, rubies, jewels etc into the heads of the buddhas, when the Burmese sacked Ayutthaya they cut all the heads of the buddhas looking for the valuables.

My last Wat for the day – Wat Lokaya Suttha, i was not the only one. Loads of buses filled with Chinese tourists came here to see the reclining Buddha.

I was the only one walked around… the wats are all very clean, there are hoards of people sweeping leaves and rubbish off the ruins and if you poke around, like I do, you are sure to find a broom or two.

I then rode back to a cafe near the guest house and watched the sunset over the ruins while eating dinner. Dinner was had at the same place I had lunch, spring rolls and Thai basil rice with vege and tofu – they had run out of chicken !. It was damn good and very hot !. I am a wee bit skinnier than normal and in a semi-state of hunger all the time so have vowed to eat more and more often.

Well after nineteen days I finally took some concrete pills, some deep breaths and marched into the bathroom with the trusty Gillette in hand and had a shave. It was a real mission I can tell you, and my face is hardly smooth as a babies bum now, but good to get it done.

This was followed by a repeat of last night, music, RTD’s and blogging.

What wat is what ?

Day 87, Saturday 31 March 31 2012, Ayutthaya.

I didn’t really sleep that much last night, though it was unfair to call the place a flea pit as I woke this morning with no bites on me anywhere ! I got up and had the first cold shower in weeks. One of the benefits of travelling with Mike was we generally stayed in slightly more up market guest houses (yet still cheap) than I normally did on my own and most had at least lukewarm showers.

After packing up my gear Giovanni and I went and met R and B for another  final breakfast together. After saying goodbye to the three of them for the second time I headed off to the river for the boat down to the train. I enjoyed the few days I spent with G and R n B and hope to maybe see them in their home towns one day.

I had originally planned to go to Kanchanaburi, the home of the Bridge over the River Kwai, but was told there was not a lot to do there for the four days I have to kill before heading back to Bangkok for my early flight to Da Nang in Vietnam on the 4th. So I ended up deciding on Ayutthaya instead. Both towns are within a couple of hours of central Bangkok so no drama getting to either. I chose Ayutthaya as it was once the capital of Thailand and has a number of old temples to check out, and yes I still love old temples. Plus I have hardly used my camera in days and you must all be sick of blog posts that are not full of pictures. I may have to do some tests and see how many people actually read the words!

I caught a couple of trains to Victory Monument and then walked around in the brutal heat of 9.30 am looking for a mini-van that went to Ayutthaya, the vans are supposed to be only slightly more expensive than the bus, but get you there a whole lot quicker. As it turned out the mini-van was less than the guide book said at only 60baht for the ride, and it was new, air conned and we all had our own seats, it also only took 1 half hours to get there too – bonus start to the day. From the bus station I got seriously ripped off by a tuk-tuk driver in getting a lift to the hostel I chose off the internet – Prom Tong mansion. The tuk-tuks here are totally different to anyway else – still three wheels but that is about the only thing they have in common with others, this is a typical design, but an extravagant paint job.

I am going to have to say it lives up to its mansion name ! about $4 a more than the good hostel I use in Bangkok, but wow a world of difference, big room, the most comfortable bed I have slept on in weeks (if not months) , great breakie etc etc. My only complaint is the channels on the TV are rubbish – and no football ! I got used to nights in watching the beautiful game. The other thing I liked about it was the manageress took time to explain to me all the key sites in town, gave me a map and a guide book and recommendations on the best way to see them – without any suggestions of tours. I really appreciate it when hostels do this, and it was only the second time in three months.

It was mid-day, roasting hot – but not as humid as BKK, when i set off for a walk to the wats close to the guest house.

Ayutthaya is an island town built where three rivers – Mae Nam Lomburi, Chao Phraya (the main river in BKK) and Pa Sak, meet. Building of the capital city commenced in 1350 by King U-Thong and it was the centre of Thailand until being sacked and burnt by the Burmese in 1767. The current town has  been built around the ruins. There are numerous sites all around and I have decided to break things up into 3-4 hour days and see the place over a few days, I like the hostel so no need to rush and it is damn hot outside !

At the first wat I had my first banana pancake of my travels, I have not consciously avoided them but banana pancake is also the name given to a type of traveller who follow a reasonably fixed route of party towns around SE Asia, anyway it was nice…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana_Pancake_Trail

First stop was Wat Maha That – which features the wonderful Buddha head in a tree.

The wats here are not in the same condition as either Angkor or Bagan, and sadly due to the flooding last year close access to a number of the sites is not allowed. There is also minimal carvings or murals to be seen. Part of me agrees that these sites are ‘as found’ and not overly renovated, but I do really miss the carvings.

What I did love with all the things I have seen here is the unrepaired Buddha figures, though many parts have been put together to form vaguely recognisable figures, i found them exquisite and have many photos.

Wat Ratchaburana

Inside the central pagoda in this temple was a stairway leading down to a small grotto with some lovely mural work. This apparently has also been recently discovered.

Wat Tummickurat

Like a number of the temples in town this temple had a working monastery attached. These monks were doing laps of the old monastery.

Wat Phra Si Sanphet

And the final Wat for the day

Wat Phra Ram

Tourists can take an elephant tour around the outside of the grand palace area, I didn’t do one as I do not agree with them in principle but I guess the elephants are probably better looked after than some working elephants in SE Asia.

I was pretty wrecked after almost four hours of walking, I foolishly decided to walk in jandals (flip flops to you readers not from NZ), instead of  my usual sandals – my feet really did not appreciate the lack of padding and were quite sore by the time I got to lie down later in the day.  After a shower I wandered down to the local market and had a meal and a beer and then stopped to buy an ice cream and some Smirnoff Ice RTD’s to take back to the room – a huge Saturday night in…

you will be pleased to know that there will be more temples tomorrow : )

My nephew Fraser is a great young musician and is the drummer in a two piece band, Heroes for Sale. He has an awesome record collection (mine) and a very good taste in music (just stay away from the dance music Frase, OK). His band played one of their first gigs a few days ago as part of the Titirangi Festival of Music and I so wished I could have been there to see them. Awesome stuff Fraser.

Not sure if the linky will work…

A day of travelling – Bangkok to Siem Reap

Day 57, Thursday 01 March 2012, Bangkok – Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Well it was an interesting day, and I wasn’t expecting that –  it was also a looooong day and I wasn’t expecting that either. However, it is South East Asia so I guess really I should have expected both.

I went to bed last night feeling a wee bit average but was Ok by morning, up at 6.45 and had coffee and cereal in the hostel before packing up and heading out on the next leg of the journey, another new adventure and another new country – and a day closer to seeing some of the awesome sights around Siem Reap, I just need to get there first. We walked up to the train station about 7.30, hoping for, but not expecting to have a fairly empty train ride. As we got to the platform a train arrived but it was so packed there was no way we could have made it through the door with our packs and day bags, so waited for the next train, which arrived very soon after and was not so bad –  though we went into different doors to fit in ! we took the train to the end of the line at Mo Chit.

At Mo Chit we spent five minutes trying to find a taxi driver who understood where we wanted to go, we weren’t sure if they had no comprehension of “north bus station” or if the fare was too small so they faked a lack of comprehension! Eventually we did find one and the ride to the station cost exactly what the hostel suggested it would, even if he is meter was ‘broken’.

We had a forty five minute wait at the bus station for our ride to Aranya Pathet, which is the border point with Poi Pet in Cambodia.  I had my first ever Dunken Donuts – I only had it for the coffee, honest !

The four hour bus ride took five and half hours and the bus seemed to be smaller than the ones in Malaysia so I was a bit more cramped, we stopped at a charmless gas station for a break. I always thought “Metal Mulisha” was a New Zealand thing, obviously not.

Just out of Aranya was passed a police checkpoint, the guy sitting in front of me did not have ID and was ordered off the bus, by the time the cop had got to the front of the bus (which had picked up ten or so standing passengers) the guy in front of me had been missed and was all smiles as the bus left again with him still on. Then we got to the army checkpoint, where he was not so lucky…

At the border town the bus was swamped with tuk tuk drivers offering to take us to the border, not knowing how far we selected one at random and he appeared to be charging the same price as the others at 80baht.

We piled on board and off we went. Sadly our tuk tuk driver, and the others carrying western tourists, took us the fake Cambodian visa office, I had read about the scam a while back so was semi-expecting it. It is basically an office a hundred metres from the border where you need to get your Cambodian visa, it is a total scam. If it was a visa office the guys would be uniform and it would be at the border, not a hundred metres away. I walked off with Mike behind me and we headed down to the border where we got our visa’s in Cambodia rather than in Thailand. We could have walked from the bus, it was only a few hundred metres, but ignorance is preyed upon as it is everywhere.

The border…

 

The boarder crossing for us tourists was a bit more normal, with passport stamps and customs checks.

Once in Cambodia we caught a free bus with about 20 other backpackers t to the main bus/van/taxi terminal. It was our intent to get a taxi the two hours to Siem Reap rather than the four hour bus trip, but there were so many touts and confused tourists it was pretty chaotic.  I think most of us wanted to get into groups of four to make the taxi only a couple of dollars more than the bus, of course the taxi drivers want to split the herd into smaller groups, which is what they did so well most of us ended up on the bus, so they lost in the end. The bus ride was slooooooow, at least it was airconned.

It is towards the end of dry season here and it is very obvious, it is very dusty and dry and the fields are fairly barren.  It is obviously not a wealthy area and there is an intresting mix of vehicles on the road.

We stopped for an hour for dinner, and to let the engine cool down, at least that is what I hope they were doing : )

It was dark after dinner and the remaining hour to town was pretty quiet, most people, like us just wanted to end their day of travelling. Once into town we were mobbed of the bus by tuk tuk drivers and just got one who knew where our guesthouse (Siep Reap Holiday Garden villa). It was a ten minute ride in, and I must say I enjoyed the tuk tuk experience – at least there is air.

Siem Reap is a lot different to what I imagined, on the edge of town there are a lot of big (huge in some cases) hotels, the roads are good and it is pretty clean. The centre of town is a bit more like your average SE Asian town centre, crowded with cafes and bikes and people in all directions. Our guesthouse it a ten minute walk from the main tourist area of Pub Street, which suits us fine.

So the journey took almost thirteen hours and went – walk, Sky train, taxi, bus, tuk tuk, walk, bus, bus, tuk tuk .

We went out to one of local eating houses for dinner, I had a very nice Khmer curry and rice and a beer for about  $5 NZ. The curry tasted quite similar to the Balinese curry that I make, though slightly different ingredients.

At night, our part of Siem Reap seems OK, we have a karaoke bar at the end of the street, but apart from that it all seems quite quiet here. The guesthouse appears to be almost empty. We have a big room with two king size beds, air con, TV with 100 channels (I just watched England lose to Holland in a football friendly) and a decent hot shower. All for $10 a night.

The Music bit

Ah, The Mint chicks, sadly defunct, but I must admit I wasn’t excited about the last album and their new direction. But in their heyday in the mid 2000’s they were awesome. The album “F**k the golden youth” is a great great album and live the Mint Chicks were fantastic, one of the most entertaining live bands Auckland has produced. This track “take it, I don’t want it” is from that album and captures some of the live manicness.

Wat Arun and a Myanmar visa

Day 56, Wednesday 29 Feb 2012, Bangkok

Leap year this year, huh – Wahoo, 0ne more day of travelling!

Today we go back to the Myanmar consulate to (hopefully) get our visas. We have booked flights to Yangon from Bangkok on the 12th March, with me returning to Bangkok on the 27th and Mike flying to Kuala Lumpur to head to Europe.  In the meantime we will do a quick tour of Cambodia and head off by bus to Siem Reap tomorrow morning.  The consulate opens at 3.30 so a slow start to the day.

I spent some time on the internet this morning, updated the blog “The Plan” page with the new details and caught up with a mass upload of photos to Flickr, as I was way behind, all this interneting is time consuming, and I still owe a few people some emails – so sorry!

We left the hostel around mid-day and stopped at a hawker stall on the street for an absolutely delicious banana and chocolate crepe, for the massive sum of about 40 cents. Auckland really needs to have this sort of street food – of course it would be against some food or health regulation ! We took a couple of trains back out to the Chao Phraya river and caught the ferry again up to the Wat Pho stop like the other day. This time we jumped on another ferry that just went back and forth across the river to Wat Arun.  Not sure if I would eat this guys catch to be honest.

Skippering a ferry across the river is not that exciting obviously, when we set sail and were aimed in the general direction of the far bank, he continued his knotting and steered with his knees.

Obviously nothing sexist about the dress code! Personall,y I think shorty shorts should be encouraged, with conditions attached of course.

Wat Arun translates to temple of the dawn, and it would be fabulous to be there at sunset, though I think I would really struggle to get there at the moment, cannot get enough sleep and feel really groggy in the mornings. The Prangs (the large towers) were built in the early 1820’s and are decorated with shells and bits of porcelain. We spent an hour or so wandering around the site. There is info  on it here.

http://www.watarun.org/index_en.html

In the cloisters, under the encircled buddha figures are hundreds of photos, I am assuming of people whose ashes may be in the cloisters, I could not find any information about it, the site itself has very little information available in English sadly.

Climbed the very steep staircases, it was great to be to get close to the detail.

For some great views over Bangkok.

I took a lot of photos of stone heads again; they had quite a few different ones to Wat Pho and the Grand Palace. I have posted these in a prior post as there were a few : ) but I do think they are cool.

We then caught the ferry back to the other side, had a quick lunch and caught the ferry back to the  train and the train back to the Myanmar Consulate where we got our visas – Yes !!! mission accomplished, a day later than planned, but at least we have visas and can now fly to Yangoon in 12 days knowing we wont get kicked out at the border.

After the consulate it was a train back to the hostel and some lying down, very tired tonight, we had an early dinner. We were planning on going back to the place we ate at last night as it was so good, however it was closed. I really wanted rice as I had a noodle dish for lunch, but none of the rice options appealed so we went to the cafe we had dinner at a couple of days ago. Sadly it was not great, very greasy pad thai. I left feeling bloated and blah – hope it is not something coming on, as tomorrow morning we leave for Angkor !!  Early night.

The music bit…

As promised – The Subliminals.  I first got into The Subliminals through Michael and Chantal, two of my bestest friends.  Jared, the bass player was a friend of theirs and after hearing their EP and seeing them live I was hooked.  The music speaks for itself, just fabbo!, lots of droney post rock, with the odd vocal track thrown in.

This clip is from the recent Flying Nun 30th anniversary gig and I am still kicking myself for not going to this show.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MiCEU0vlrNw&feature=autoplay&list=AVGxdCwVVULXeE02xMfqJG3Z-xzf_DvPIa&lf=list_related&playnext=1