Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Nha Trang

Umm, why are we stopping the bus. Aaah, because we are about to drive through a lake, which no doubt was once a road. So after bumbling up and down the narrow bus to drag my trusty backpack to my seat at the back of the bus (all the cool kids sit up the back!). At least I had the foresight to put on the raincover. Unfortunately for me, the rain cover managed to do little more than collect the water on the inside to ensure a soaking wet bag. Hmmm, I'll find out later how much stuff is ruined.

Anyway wet bags inside the bus (now why didn't we do that before driving through the other big puddles??) and onwards through the lake. A quick view out the window confirmed my suspicion that I am driving through the sea. A more worrying sight upahead is a torrent of water rushing along beside the road. There lies a half overturned truck, and the remnants of a shack(or house?). We drive on creating waves leaving motorbikes struggling in our wake. On past a small boat, picking people up. Apparently the rains end in November in Viet Nam, unfortunately nobody told the rain gods this year.

Finally we make it! Hurrah, found once of the best value hotels in my travels, only 5$ for a really good room, with cable TV, fridge, bath and no big insects. But the rain continued. I was on the last bus in for the next few days. Not exactly ideal sight seeing weather. The beach was pretty trashed, I'd seen pictures and it looked quite nice. But now it was just covered in crap, mostly driftwood, which was slowly been scavenged off by locals packing it on the back of their ubiquitous motorbikes.

One day (okay part of the day) it did stop raining and after being cooped up I set off for a long walk in this direction (points finger randomly). It's always interesting getting out the centre of the tourist hotspots, as people reactions are quite different. After walking for an hour I stopped off at a small cafe, trying to decided whether the people were suprised, happy or horrified at the sight of a strange foreign guy. I got some pumpkin soup, leafy greens, pork rice, beansprouts, noodles & tea. All for less than a dollar (Although thats still FIFTEEN THOUSAND dong!)

I continued my wandering along, ended up getting stuck in a cul-de-sac. One kid, glanced up at me and looked terrified, like he was about to burst into tears. Memo to self, have a shave. After getting completely and utterly lost I just jumped on a motorbike and get driven home. Nice and easy! Although most motorbike taxi drivers are annoying still thankful when you have no idea where you are.

So after sitting out the rain in Nha Trang it was back on with the road show. Well until the night bus to Hoi An turned round after an hour and came back. Yipee! Try again next night. Obviously a lot of people were unhappy at this turn of events. However I later heard that the night bus the previous day has been stuck for 42 hours, hehe. Not so bad then. Basically the road had subsided down 5m for about 20m in length. The bus had to wait until the road fixers came and sorted it out.

The next day I made it smoothly to Hoi An. The tailor capital of Viet Nam, suit you Sir!


It was planned with military precision, as you will no doubt have assumed. As with all my travel plans, I had throughly researched how to get the 460 odd miles from sunny Saigon to Dalat and pre-purchased the ticket which would guarantee my hassle free journey.

Naturally, the Vietnamese had other plans. Having turned up a good 15 minutes early for my bus as instructed, I am told that it was the main office I was supposed to be at, not the place I bought my ticket. Not a major problem, as the main office was but a mere 2 mins brisk walk down the road, and I arrived there with ample time to spare. Upon handing over my ticket for the 7:30 bus (I knew it was 7:30 for 2 cunning reasons. 1: I was told the bus left at 7:30 when I bought the ticket, and 2: 7:30 was the time printed on the ticket.) So, anyhow, I had over the ticket and after a brief flurry of Vietnamese (not from me I hasten to add) I'm told that the bus doesn't leave till 8:00.

Ahh well, time to chill out on the plastic chairs for 30 minutes. An hour later, just around the time I was debating if beanbags would be a comfy and funky-alternative to uncomfortable plastic chairs, I was led away to be executed. No wait ... led away to another tourist agency and was herded right up the back of the bus with my uber-large, yet essential, backpack. As soon as I sat down I was told this was the wrong bus and dumped back on the pavement for another 30 minutes, before being put squeezed into a shuttle bus, un-squeezed back out of it and re-herded back onto the original bus.

Finally, we were on out way. I peered out of the steamed up windows watching the scenery fly past as we ambled along at walking pace. 5 minutes later I conclude that everywhere in Saigon looks pretty much the same before realising we've gone round in a circle and are back outside the tourist agency again.

"So are you here for the flower festival?" said the Vietnamese guy on the bus.
"Huh?". Apparently there was a big flower festival on in Dalat, as I found out when I arrived with poster and flags everywhere. A few hotels were full. And being notoriously bad at reading maps, I couldn't figure out how to get to a hotel in my guidebook. Of course, by that time it was dark, as the bus journey was chaotic.

More waiting about, then we finally got on our way. For about 10km. Then we sat on the edge of Saigon, while they shuttled more people from the town onto the bus. 3 hours later, we finally left Saigon!

So by the time I got to Dalat it was dark. I got a motorbike to take me to a hotel, he claimed it was very far, I thought it was near, but couldn't work out where I was on the map. He drove down a straight road, down a 180 on the roundabout and back. I assume this was to make it seem far away! Not very convicing. That hotel was full but I found another closeby.

Lots and lots of rain. Everthing is damp and soggy. And quite cold up here. I bought a fleece to keep me warm, then I walked outside just as I realised a fleece is a really stupid thing to wear in the rain, it turns into a sponge! Strangely enough it's got a small NFL logo, not exactly what you expect to pick up in Vietnam.

I went for a walk down to the festival site. Lots of small shops. I had what I thought was a cheese & ham toastie, but it turned out to be odd. It wasn't melted cheese on the gridle, but cake mixture. Odd. More like ham cake.

Another night I went back down to the festival and saw some traditional dancing around. Looked like a hilltribe judging by their clothes. They sang, danced to some music. Shaking their spears at the fire. Unfortunately this was done on a raised platform and you had to stand below on the steps, while the security made sure nobody was getting a good view! I saw a security guy pointed and talking at somebody, at first I thought he was tapping his baton on his boots, because I heard a clicking noise, but he the baton was a stun-gun which he was menancingly zapping. Not to be messed with! Later on I saw a van of more security/army guys pull up, what intrigued me was the letters on the side of the van looked Russian. Acutally when I arrived in Vietnam, I was slightly suprised to discover they use the Latin alphabet, albeit with some diacratics, as Thailand, Laos & Cambodia all use their own squigly scripts.

After that I head to the pub in Dalat. There only seems to be one pub in Dalat, so not much choice. The bar owner is a whizz at connect four! But I managed to beat him a couple of times using the little known Diemer-Duhm gambit. However once he had countered this, I couldn't even beat him by cheating, not so subtlely throwing in two bits at once! Vietnam is a bit like Laos, everybody is either going North or South, stopping along the same points. I chatted to a few people in there, and unsuprisingly bumped into them again the next night. Helped sharpen my pool skills.

I had considered heading through the highlands, but eventually decided to head back down to the coast at Nha Trang hoping to escape the rain. It certainly didn't work out that way though.

Monday, December 12, 2005


I arrived in Saigon and found a cheap place to stay, above an art shop, renting out small rooms for 3$. Complete with a big flying bug zooming about my room. I had managed to swat it outside but now he's back. Staying in the main travellers area, full of the usual travel agents, internet cafes and restaurants. I went for a walk about, getting lost as usual. Saigon is a large, spread out busy city. 95% of the traffic seems to consist of manic motorbike drivers, using their horn incessantly. Some areas of Saigon are quite posh, with fancy restaurants and designer clothe shops. Also prevalent are some large shopping malls, where they have embraced Christmas fever. Christmas tunes, such as Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, tinkled through the sound system, except the singing is in Vietnamese, kinda of like Name that Tune. Outside Santas and Christmas trees adorn the pavements (I almost said sidewalks? Turning American!)
Vietnam acutally had the largest number of Catholics in Asia (excluding the Philippines) with around 10% of the 78 million population.

While wandering around I came across the Ho Chi Minh City Musuem. Saigon had actually been renamed Ho Chi Minh City, after the leader who led the Viet Minh forces to defeat the French after WWII and make Vietnam independent. However the locals still call it Saigon. I went in for a look about, it talks about the history of the country, and exhibits from the American war (or the Vietnam war, depending on your point of view). Also outside a few old aircraft and a helicopter. After a nosy around there, it was time for a spot of lunch. I picked up a roll from a nearby bakery. Seems to be a tendency to throw whatever you can into a sandwich. This one had some not very good pork, a sausage and some salad
with relish, and something approximating pate.

Some of the streets are lined with Vietnam flags, usually alternated with the hammer & sickle flag for a sea of red. In the streets, people wear these point Oriental hats to keep the sun off. Also a lot of people with face masks against the traffic fumes!

The next day I went along to the Emporer of Jade Pagoda. A fancy Chinese temple with large statues of guys with giants moustaches! Outside a few turtles were being released/dropped into the pond. Maybe it was an auspicous day.

Next stop was the zoo/botanical gardens. Not the best zoo, but a welcome escape from the motorbike and their beeping and tooting. After that I took a stroll down the Notre Dam Cathedral, inside a service was going on, so I only had a brief glimpse at the interior, before getting gently shooed away. Come in or get out, no hanging around.

Back closer to the guesthouse, I put my bartering skills to the test for a couple of books. It went like this:
"How much for these two?"
"No, $5"
"Okay, $9"
"No, $5"
"No, no you say $6, when I say $9"
"No, $5"
"Okay, $8"
"No, $5" I walk away.
"Wait, okay 100,000 dong."
Tries to mentally divide by 15,000
"No, $5"
"okay, okay 90,000 dong is $5"
"No it's not, it should be....erm....75,000?"
So I got my two books for around $5, although when I looked at them they have the orignal cover, but are clearly just photocopies!

I went off for some dinner, decide to get away from the tourist cafes. I found a little cafe full of boisterous old men, plastic tables littered with empty beer bottles, stray dogs nervously snatching scraps off the floor before skittering away. I went in and suprisingly they brought out an English menu. First thing was steak and chips, not exactly traditional Vietanamese food! Also everything on the English menu was more expensive. I pointed at something on the Vietnamese menu, costing about a pound. I'll have that I confidently declared. Got some funny looks, and the staff slightly relucantly agreed. I'm sure they would of preferred if I'd spent more money on the steak and chips!

Now some old women came round and tried to sell various little bits of food, peanuts, something wrapped in seaweed. As I didn't know what I was getting I just smiled and said No. But smiling seems to be taken as I really do want to buy something. Just out of interest I continued to smile and say No (maybe the don't understand no) while they go through every item they have to sell, pointing at it. Eventually they exhausted all items and got the idea and left. Then my meal turned up. The trouble with ordering by pointing at random things if your likely to end up with a big plates snails. Which is what I got. You are supposed to suck them out of their shells, but I didn't have much look. Then somebody brought over a paperclip to eek them out, but still not much luck. Then they gave me a bottle opener to smash them open! A few locals tried to show me how to slurp them out. I seemed to spend most of my time sitting there making snail-sucking noises. Not much meat in them anyway. Still the herb butter sauce was actually quite nice, and the beer very cheap (30p, at least half of what the tourist cafes charge). I checked the receipt to see that the item did match what I had picked, it wasn't just the staff having a laugh. I left still rather hungry, but the next day I had a full English breakfast costing more than my room! It's good to try some new food, but also some familar food once in a while is nice.

Up early to catch the bus to Dalat, shouldn't of bothered it took another 3 hours to eventually leave Saigon...

Friday, December 09, 2005

Phnom Penh

At Phnom Penh, I stood on the rooftop of the hotel watching a large jeep trying to reverse over a big mound of rubbish. After a few goes it succeeded and escape it's parking spot on the pavement, where it had been blocked in by another car. At least these people need jeeps for their cities and roads, or should that be dirt tracks. Lots of riverside restaurants and pubs abound along the Tonle Sap river, although the Khmer food served here seems for the most part to be the same as usual Thai food. Of course, you can still get all sort of other food such as burgers, pasta, salads. I even found a cheap Malaysian restuarant for a bit of Tom Yam.

Phnom Penh had a bit of a "wild west" reputation. Seems to attract a few oddballs anyway! I was talking to a guy who had been held up by two gunmen with rifles. They took his phone, while his driver ran away. Not quite sure if the driver was involved. Then he had to go through the hassle with the police who demanded $20 to give him the documents he needed for his insurance claim.

A book I was reading about Cambodia, mentions a few interesting facts like how nobody seems to bother that a policeman on a $16 wage is driving around in a $50,000 car! Another incident that sticks in my mind from the book, was when a vice-deputy high up goverment guy, was annoyed after his plane was delayed. He motioned his driver to go to the boot where he took his AK47 and started shooting the passenger plane. Only minor damage was recorded. Later he said it was dark and couldn't see where he was shooting, but if these people worked for him the would all by dead. A policeman confirmed that it was illegal to bring weapons into an airfield and shoot planes, but no action was to be taken against him!

Flicking through the Phnom Penh post newspaper, I came across the police reports, where arrest are made. Lots of people getting "chopped" on the head with an axe (alway three times!) or being shot with AK47. Although the most unusual one was the report of a Cambodian man who had been taken to hospital with an arrow in his chest. He had been hunting rats with a crossbow at 04:20am when he accidentaly discharged the arrow into himself! Sounds like a Darwin award nominee.

One day I went along to Toul Sleng Musuem. A horrific reminder of the attrocities commited by the Khmer Rouge. In 197 Pol Pot's men took over this school and turned into Security Prison 21 (S-21). For the next three years, this would be used as interogation centre. Afterwards the people were taken to Cheoung Ek (the Killing Fields) and executed, often battered to death to save bullets. The school rooms on the ground floor were divided into individual cells barely big enough to lie down. Other rooms are bare except for a steel bed, with restraints and rusty tools. On the walls old grimy black and white photos depict the people strapped to the beds, black pools of blood lying below their emanicapated bodies.

In other rooms vast galleries consisting of mugshots of all the prisoner. Again the Khmer Rouge had a systematic methodology for execution. All prisoner are photographed with their relevant numbers. Unsuprisingly, you can see the fear in the peoples face. When one person was taken, their entire family was also taken. One wall of pictures shows just kids. Then they must abide by the regulations written on the sign:

1. You must answer accordingly to my question - Don't turn them away.
2. Don't try to hide the facts by making pretexts this and that. You are strictly prohibited to contest me.
3. Don't be a fool for you are a chap who dare to thwart the revolution.
4. You must immediately answer my questions without wasting time to reflect.
5. Don't tell me about your immoralities or the essence of the revolution.
6. While getting lashes or eletrification you must not cry at all.
7. Do nothing, sit still and wait for my orders. If there is not order, keep quiet. When I ask you to do something, you must do it right away without protesting.
8. Don't make pretext about Kampuchea Krom in order to hide your secret or traitor.
9. If you don't follow the above rules, you shall get many lashes of electric wire.
10. If you disobey any point of my regulations you shall get either ten lashes or five shocks of electric discharge.

In another room, paintings depicting more horrors line the wall. People getting their finger snipped off, and soldiers throwing babies throw the air onto their bayonets.
Over three years an estimated 14,000-20,000 people went into S-21. There was 7 survivors.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Seim Reap

Siem Reap

The temples at Angkor were built between the 9th & 13th century. At this time the Angkor empire covered a vast area, north to China and all the way west to the Bay of Bengal. At it's height over a million people are estimated to live in Angkor. However only the Gods were deemed fit to live in stone, so only the temples remain, the wooden houses & buildings long succumbed to the jungle. The temple were "discovered" by Henri Mouhot around 1860. From 1908, a French organisation has made the effort to reclaim the temples from the jungle and preserve them. The trees and plants slowly rip apart the stones, this is most in evidence at Ta Prom.

Ta Prom, a 12th century buddhist temple, has been left in the same state as it was when discovered. So trees sprout from the top of walls and inbetween the stones. Some areas are sectioned off, as they may collapse, bricks lay strewn about. Carvings are everywhere, in particular I liked a face nearly hidden by tree roots, smiling out at you.

Inside the fortified city of Angkor Thom, at the centre lies the Bayon. A temple with more than 200 strangely smiling faces staring down at you. Very odd!

The most famous temple though is Angkor Wat, the nearest temple to town. Surrounded by a huge moat, it sits on an island and is accessible across a long causeway. Then another wall surrounds the edge of the island. Outside the main temple is an 800m long series of baf reliefs. The central temple rises three storeys and 55m, so you get a good view!

Although one thing is, that to get up you have to climb some steep stairs. When you go down they suddenly look very steep! So, you have lots of people slowly crawling down from the top. I cycled around the temple a couple of days. By the third day I was pretty much 'templed out' but took a tuk-tuk out to see Angkor Wat for sunset one final time.

The next day it was off to the captial, Phnom Penh.

Saturday, November 26, 2005



I got the sleeper train back into Bangkok. There was a big festival that night, Loy Krathong. A kraythong consists of flowers and incense that can float in the water, and loy means float. During the day, kraythong sellers lined the streets, but at night the crowds appeared. It seemed like all the residents of Bangkok had come down to the river to launch their krathongs, it was heaving! I couldn't really seem much down at the river pier, although they also had a few shows put on. The occasional kraythong bobbed about, but the boats were making large waves and probably drowned most of them. I decided to head up to one of the bridges spanning the river for a better view. It seemed like everybody else had the same idea, but I managed to find a spot to watch the proceedings. I don't think I've ever seen so many cameras in the one place. Everybody was snapping away as the big boats came down the Chao Praya.

It was like a float parade on the water, with colourfully lit boats drifting along. At one stage the river was covered in boats, both floats and tourist boats, set against the backdrop of the illuminated Thonburi bridge. Some of the roads had been sealed off and crowds of people roamed the streets some singing a traditional song, about Loy Krathong. The long day & night took its toll and I retired for an early night.

The next day on Khao San road I bumped into a guy I had met in Penang. Went for a drink, and I made the mistake of trying the cuttlefish from the street vendor. DONT TRY THE CUTTLEFISH! I didn't feel well the next day. Anyway I survived and felt better later on, I had arranged to meet up for a korean barbecue. It was close to where I stayed before. I had eaten there before but didn't realise it was Korean-style. You get a big plate of raw meat (I recommend the pepper-steak!) and slap it on an upturned metal bowl which rests above hot coals. Then you try and cook it, turning (dropping) it with your chopsticks. A tasty meal and you can eat as much as you want for not much more than a quid. No wonder it is popular with the Thais. When we walked it in was full, but they soon made space and grabbed some chairs from somewhere. On the edge of the main dining area actually outside a BMW garage, next to a big group of rowdy students.

I went along to the Royal Palace, it was very busy with tourists. A huge complex with decorative temples and wats everywhere you turn! I saw the emerald buddha, a holy relic with magical powers and some natty clothes, which get changed three times a year, one for each season. It has been discovered inside a clay buddha. At one point, it was in Laos, I had seen a wat there that had been built to house it, but the Thais nabbed it back, much to the annoyance of the Lao people.

Next stop Siem Reap to see the temple of Angkor!

Sunday, November 20, 2005


I tried to find a room with a window, but they seem in short supply in Vientiane. Not exactly the "Paris of the East" judging by the state of the roads, open sewers and dust!
There seem to be a lot of roads being re-surfaced when I was there, or perhaps just being surfaced. This consists of one truck schlooping tar down, followed immediately by another with guys shovelling stones and then by a road-roller. Instant road!

Although one day, they had flattened the mud road and it rained. The next day I saw a truck halfway inside the road, it had sunk. Vientiane seems more like a small town, rather than a capital city. The local English paper runs to about 10 pages. Apparently the local Vientiane's eat almost a kilo of rice a day. A lot of rice!

I had a look around a few of the temples in town. One had a ridiculous number of buddhas in it!

I went along to see Laos play a friendly against a league team from Thailand, Bangkok Bank. Unfortunately they lost 3-1, but they did score the best goal, a thumping volley into the corner of the goal. The kick-off was a bit late, but after the game I went across the road to the Laos Cultural Centre to see some "Jodaiko" (Japanese for passionate drumming). It was good, as the drummer started off with a giant drum and a log for a drumstick! The crowd was funny as the all clapped wildly when he hits the drum. None of this being quiet during the performance! Then he did a little drumming number starting with a simple rythmn, and repeating with embelishments, until the rhythmn is stuck in your head. Next up, another drummer come on, to beat the other side of the drum. Started off gently, prancing about playful and then BANG! they start beating the crap out of the drum, almost like a martial art.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Vang Vieng

After some faffing about with the buses, I got underway. I had previously bought a ticket for the bus but didn't turn up early enough and now the bus was full. Another 3 people were in the same situation. The overflow gets shoved on a minibus and leaves when it gets enough passengers. Although they put another guy going to Vang Vieng on an empty bus, instead of with us. Confusion reigns. Eventually he got moved onto the minibus and we got underway when one more person arrived. This being Laos we actually arrived before the normal bus, passing it on the way, although we left an hour later.

Vang Vieng primary reson for being on the tourist map is to break up the journey between Luang Prabang and Vietiane, otherwise it's close to a 12 hour journey. I doubt many people live here that are not dependent, if indirectly, on the tourist revinue. Lots of cafes showing Friends. All day. Every day. Odd.

A popular day trip is to float down the river in a tractor inner tube. I wasn't sure about this, but ended up following the trail when I went out for a walk. I walked down the road, stopping off at the small market for a quick nosy. After a while I reached an organic farm where they 'tubers' get dropped off. I decided to loop back and follow the river back down to town. The path comes and goes mostly along the river bank, through some shaded forest and back inland to farm fields. Dotted along the way are small wooden bars where people can refresh themselves with a BeerLao. At one bar there is a death slide, I stopped for a while to watch people slide along. One girl demonstrated how not to go on the slide. She let go nearly immediately at the top and plummeted into the water. Looked a long way down!

I passed a young boy who had been out fishing. Not of this line fishing for the Lao's! He had a spear and an old scuba mask. Also carried a fishing trap, which maybe left out overnight. One of these one-way traps, full of small fish and other squidgy stuff. At the riverbank there were these bright red dragonflies which posed nicely for my camera. Going back along through the village, I saw a big green praying mantis. And then I came across some strange beastie! At first I thought it was a twig in a spiders web, but I noticed it was alive. It floated about, although it was on a thread, it looked like it was flying through space. Very strange anyway.

After a hard days walk it was down to a riverside restaurant for a cool drink. There I chatted with a Japanese farmer. I had always imagined Japanese farming as a traditonal family thing pass down from generation to generation. But, it turned out he had just bought the farm (literally!). Then went for a game of pool, where the table was rubbish! The next night, some Irish geezer decied to arrange a game of killer, the prize a crate of beer. Needless to say, I didn't win. It was the tables fault!

At night I had walked past a Laos marriage. The band were playing some songs. Electric keyboard, electric guitar and vocals. Not sure how traditional that was! But they all got up and shuffled about. They didn't seemed to into the dancing anyway. The bride wore what from a distance looked like an intricate silk dress, while the groom had a white tuxedo ala Saturday Night Fever, smart.

Now it's on the Vientiane, the Paris of the East!

Friday, November 04, 2005

Luang Prabang

After finding a guesthouse, it was time for dinner. I had a nice roasted fish at the street market. You can buy something from the stalls, and then get a plate of pick and mix from various veg, rice & pasta dishes. As much as you can fit on one plate for 5000kip. The money is a bit crazy here, prices are given in kip or dollars. Usually end up paying in baht and getting kip back, most confusing! After dinner it was off to a Halloween party at Hive. People had been handing out fliers when people got off the boat, so a lot of the people from the boat came along. Probably enticed by the promise of a free shot of lao-lao (local spirit) with the flier. It got pretty busy, the bar had at least put in some effort on the halloween front, with a skeleton halloween DJ and various other bits and bobs. Halloween special drink was pumpkin, whisky and lao-lao, eurgh! I'll stick to the LaoBeer, nice tasting beer which is very reasonably priced :)
The next day a few people were sporting sore heads. In the morning we went up to the small hill in centre of town, where lurked a small temple, but the main attraction is the view across town. Strangely enough there seem to be a lot more palm trees when viewed from above, rather than at street level. Gina & I managed to get a big group of ten people and hire a van to take us to the waterfall. A very scenic spot, where a few souls braved the cold water for a swim in the natural pool. I took a walk up to a higher level. After some stairs, you had to cross over a minor waterfall, but it meant I'd have to take my trainers off anyway. A bit slippy underfoot in places. There was a bamboo hand barrier, but in one place, it had been broken, I wondered what had happened to the person who had broken it? It was a long way down. You can see that Laos is getting into the tourist way, by charging for entrance to the waterfall and the walk up is surrounded by vendors. Some with just enough English to say "Buy something!".
After that it was a quick stop off at the Hmong village, which was a bit like a zoo. I don't think many people were impressed. Also all the children surround the tourists as soon as they get off the bus and start begging for money, obviously must work sometimes.
After a rather bumpy journey back it was time for dinner, back to the night market. I had my eye on a rather tasty looking chicken. I decided half of one would be more than enough, the vendor then set about it with a cleaver quickly chopping it into lumps, straight through all the bones.
The next day it was over to Wat Xieng Thong for a look about. A temple situated close to the delta of the Mekong and erm.. that other river. Inside one of the wats was a large funeral carriage for the king. I hadn't realised what it was at the time, but in the afternoon I went along to the former Royal Palace and they had a model and an explanation of what it was. The Royal Palace, was as you would expect very fancy. Specifically the main hall, the bedrooms were somewhat austere in comparasion.

Later that night I bumped into another person from the boat, who had a group of people going to see a performance of some Laos ballet. Not my usual thing, but I went along to see what it was like. Turned out to be a story from the Ramayana being re-enacted. We got the cheap seat up the back! It was reminiscent of the Indian Kathakali I saw in Kochi, probably because of the similar looking characters, with odd green & white masks and from the same text. Not bad, but I don't think I'll be a regular attendee.

The next day, was fairly lazy, I did however learn (& forget) how to make some Lao food. The dishes were beef laap & steamed fish. The beef was sliced up thinly and vegetables added, some chicken stock and chilli. The beef is cooked very quickly in a hot pan and mixed all together. I think I cut the beef a bit thick in places, so a bit raw in the middle! The fish was nice, with mint & lemon and greens added and then wrapped in a banana leaf package and place in a steamer for 15 mins. Yummy!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


I had asked the guesthouse in Chiang Mai if there were many buses to the border, they said they left every hour, so I headed over to the bus station at 10:00am to find out the only one leaves at 13:00. Oh well, I had wander around getting used to the backpack again. Found a mall nearby and sat in that for a couple of hours waiting for the time to pass. Then the bus took a lot longer than I expected and the upshot was that by the time I got to the border it was shut.
The next day I had to pay 200baht for overstaying my Thai visa for a day, fair enough. Unlike the people in front of me, who had been told that their visa was for 2month when it was only for 1. Ooops!

After a couple of minutes on a longtail boat, it was across the Mekong and into Laos. With the paperwork done, I went for a walk. One travel agent with a huge queue seem to be selling all the tickets, but if you walked another couple of minutes you got up to the main road. I decided to try and just get to the boat pier. So after talking to a driver, I agreed a price to go to the speedboat pier. On the way, we stopped to pick up a couple of locals and a new bicycle crammed into the back of the truck. Transport is a truck with the back roof taken off and a couple of benches placed inside. After a detour we dropped off the locals and then on the wait to the pier. Didn't look like I had saved any money by going direct to the pier, same travel agent ticket sellers there. After a lot of hanging about, I was told I could go now. I went down to the riverside and then there was some more hanging about. Basically you quickly learn that transports doesn't leave to schedule but when full. So we needed eight people to be crammed onto the speedboat. And I do mean crammed, I had my knees stuck under my chin for 3 hours, while an engine roared in my ears, the wind blasted my eyes and then later the rain smacked off my head. I was glad to get off, everybody else was continuing for 3hours down to Luang Prabang. I got off at Pak Beng, roughly half way.
I seemed to be the only foreigner here. I quickly found a cheap guesthouse nearby, and had a nosy about. A quiet little village, a few guesthouses and restaurants with English-written menus, and then it seemed like residential area with small huts. I walked past a pool hall, where some teenagers invited me for a game. They only played with four balls set in a diamond, potted by number. The table was in the worst condition I have ever seen! Still, they seemed to enjoy playing it. Later went for some food, a nice creamy chicken dish, quite mild, no chillies.

The next morning I went down to the pier to see what time the slow boat to Luang Prabang leaves, turns out a lot earlier than me getting out of bed. So another day in Pak Beng. Turned out to be good though. I tried to hire a bike from across the road, but as I wasn't staying in their hotel they wouldn't let me hire the bike. Hmm, interesting usually they just take your money!

As there wasn't much else to do I decided to go for a long walk. The road goes from the pier inland, yes there is only one road with no branches, so not much thought needed as to where I would walk! I continually passed small villages separated by a short distance, the further I went the more people stared at me! I continued on for a few hours, I had seen buses occasionally whizz past so I hoped I could take one back rather than retrace my walk. A few boys on their bikes had been talking to me as I walked down. I asked one if I could get the bus back here, he said I could wait here. So I stopped walking and waited. It seemed like half the village had come out to stare at me. I had a group of around twenty people a few safe metres away just standing looking at the strange foreign guy. The kid then suggested I buy some food from him. As I was a bit peckish, and I had noticed the complete lack of shops outside town I agreed. He ended up inviting me into his house, where I sat down on a tiny stool and they brought out the sticky rice (in a bamboo container) a plate of chilies and a plate of something else. It was dark inside, not helped by the fact that the twenty onlookers had crowd round the door to watch me eat! I dipped the rice into the chilies and found out they were very hot!! Then I turned my attention to the other dish, as they encouraged me to eat. Oooh, some French cuisine, escargot. Oh well, I didn't feel I could refuse, so I picked one up and pulled it out the shell and chewed. Actually not too bad infused with herbs, something similar to mint. But the idea doesn't agree with my stomach so I just had the one, then stuck to plain rice!
After I paid the old woman who had served the dishes 5000kip (25p??). She seemed happy enough, repeatedly thanking me, then back outside into the bright light. The kids then said I could take one of their bikes back to town. So I jumped on the bike and we set off, actually it was quite far. One of the kids made the mistake of trying to show off by going no-handys he wobbled left, right, bam straight into the ground. Unfortunately I was right behind and the bike had no brakes, and I crunched right into his bike, but luckily not him. Still, he had a few cuts, which he covered up quickly chewing some nearby plants and placing it on the grazes to act as a plaster and stop the bleeding.
Another kid tried to outrace me, hah, I'll show him, so we both pedalled furiously going neck in neck (he was a lot lighter than me, it was easy for him!!) much to the amazed looks of passerbys, seeing the crazy foreign guy whizz past on a local bike.
The next day I headed down early to make sure I got the boat, and a mere 8 hours later I arrived in Luang Prabang.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Chiang Mai

After eventually arriving at Chiang Mai, I was beseiged by taxi touts trying to take you to their guesthouse. I decided I was just have a wander about, I had glanced at one of the maps and a guesthouse lay to the right. On reconsideration the map was probably upside down, as the reality is everything is to the left of the train station.

I had picked up a second-hand South East Asia LP at Khao San Road, but after checking it I found all the Chiang Mai pages had been ripped out. Anyway, I stopped one of these taxi-bus-songthaews and got him to take me to a guesthouse near the night bazaar.

Every night in Chiang Mai the pavements become crammed with street vendors selling their various wares. Although a lot of it looks like the same stuff! Then at the weekend there is the BIG night market in the old walled city. I went along to this and was suprised how busy it was. You end up just shuffling along slowly going with the crowds. No way out! Also as well as the usual handicrafts, there are some buskers doing their thing. Some traditional 4 string Thai instruments played with a bow, making strange noises.

One day I headed up the hill to Doi Suthep, a temple perched high above Chiang Mai. A series of steps leads you up to the temple itself. And there is a lot of gold used there! Golden pillars, golden statues, golden buddhas. Also a nice view back down to Chiang Mai itself. Quite a few cyclist stuggling up the big hill. Saw more cyclist in one day here than on my entire bike trip.

Tomorrow I head to the Thai border, where I should cross over the Mekong into Laos!

Friday, October 21, 2005



In 2548, after cycling over 3 million metres I arrived in Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit. Which translates to 'The city of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city (of Ayutthaya) of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarn.' or more commonly known as Bangkok. In Thailand they use the Buddhist calendar which starts 543 years before the Christian calendar, so 2005 is 2548. The final distance from Singapore to Bangkok on a roundabout route, and skipping a few bits by boat came to 3020km (1877 miles). Anyway, after all that cycling I decided it would be good to spend some time in one place, so I went flat-hunting. There are some places advertised in the Bangkok post, so I phoned them up, but most of them were full. I went to have a look at one place, and on my way I saw another apartment for rent, so I went and had a look. I decided to take this one and I was up in the 13th floor. Just a studio room, bigger than the other ones I had seen. And it had a fridge to store my cheese slices in!

I was staying close-ish to the Victory Monument skytrain station. A ten minute walk or so, and then I could jump on the train elsewhere. The skytrain and metro work well, which is a lot better than can be said for the roads which are pretty much constantly snarled up with traffic all day. Plenty of taxis, but all they do is sit in traffic jams, creating a haze of pollution! And don't even think about trying to cross the road as a pedestrian. Best to use a bridge. While the cars might all be still, the motorbikes will be weaving their way through the chaos.

I hadn't heard much music on my travels, so it was nice to be somewhere with a music scene. So I saw some good bands. Whilst I was staying in my guesthouse in Banglamphu I went to see a blues band play in the stangely names Ad the 13th. Geogia's Blues Band or something they were called. They played 5 nights a week, so plenty of practice. I chatted to a guy who had seen them quite a few times before, he'd been coming back to Thailand for a few years now. After the gig, the band were heading off to another music place, Saxophone, and invited us along. So we jumped in a taxi and arrived at Saxaphone, where another band was pumping out the tunes. It took me a while to realise, but the Saxaphone pub, was besides my flat, so I was in there a few times. Jazz-tastic!

Also went along to the Rock Pub, (great name, that must of taken a long time to think of) complete with large neon sign that says "School of Rock!". The first band up, weren't taking themselves to seriously, playing "I will survive"! I think they had a new line-up, a bit hesitant. Mind you better than I expected for a Tuesday night. Then the next band up were old school Classic Rock. With a long haired frontman, who looked like he should be in a shampoo advert, the thumb-plucking fat bassist (why are most bass players fat?) , the nonchalant guitar maestro and a Spinal Tap-esque rotation of drummers! They used up three drummers! The singer asked for any requests, and someone shouted out Foo Fighters and then they ended up playing Come As You Are, by Nirvana. I don't think I've ever seen a guitarist so bored, as he plodded through the song. He had previously just outplayed Jimmy Page on an old Led Zep number.

Also popped along to see a Thai Folk Band. Well one drunk guy in the corner liked the songs as he sang along and clapped (out of time), but somehow having lyrics in an unknown language doesn't work for me. Another night I went along to Tokyo Joes, where a guy, Ryan Adam was playing eclectic accoustic songs. Kinda strange, but quite good. Also saw a band called Live after Nine, who had a slightly crazy electric fiddle playing front man. Played some old Irish songs (Aah, ooh, me-daddio there's whisky at the bar), as they were Canadian. The frontman had a wireless thingy so he could run about the pub as he played "the world's fastest fiddle song". Done a good version of the ants go marching in one-by-one!

Nearby at Victory Point there was a food court, one time I got some nice pork, rice, bbq sauce and some noodle soup. They also give you another clear soup to go with the pork. I made the mistake of finishing it before I had eaten all the rest of my meal, and the guy whipped it away and replaced it full again. Oh, I've only had 2 bowls of soup. Please, Sir, can I have some more? Also popular here is the English Premier league, due to the time difference it airs on Saturday night. When you see Thai guys slagging off each other teams.

I managed to catch the flu in Bangkok, so I slept a lot! (Yes, even more than usual) At least it wasn't bird flu! Somehow a month whizzed by and it was time to move on. I bought a sleeper train ticket to Chiang Mai, and then lost the ticket! I didn't know the number so I couldn't get it re-issued. Ended up with a normal seat for 14 hours. Numb bum!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Chaam & North

I hopped on my bike for an hour and zoomed up the coast from Hua Hin to Chaam. I decided to grab some lunch and as I was walking along I saw some roast chickens looking all tasty. Then the guy came across and asked if I wanted pork and pointed at the large splayed pig on a spit above a charcoal burner. Looked good as well, so I had some of that. The guy asked whether I wanted 1 kilo or 1/2kilo, I chose the smaller. I kinda assumed that I most be getting ribs as 1/2kilo of just meat sounded a lot. He soon had the pig of the spit and quickly hacked off the leg. That was pretty much mine, no bones just a big piled plate of meat. After a lengthy time I gave up with a good portion eaten. The next two days I didn't feel so good! Spending my time in close vacinity to the bathroom.

After that I headed on North to Petchaburi. I was looking for a guesthouse when I went down a lane and the dogs started barking, and then a woman came out and told me it was a hotel. Even the one I was looking for, good stuff. After shoving bike & bags away I went for a butchers to see a few of the thirty odd temples that cover the town. There was a nice old teak building and also lots of buddha statues inside the main bot. I was taking a few photos (the monk said I could take photos inside) when some people come in and start praying, so I just wander off out their way.

The next temple had some nice stone carvings outside with scary faces and then one face looked strangley out of place, looked like Harry Potter! Not sure how that got there, one of life's little mysteries.

The next day continued on towards the town of Samut Songkhran. I was unable to find much info about here as the only hotel mentioned in my guide book was pricey. I stopped for lunch and asked somebody about accommodation and they just shook their head and said no hotel until Bangkok. Hmmm, that's not good! Another 80km and it would be very dark and very tiring! Still not too worry, they didn't know of what they spoke. Samut Songkhran turned out to be a busy little town with at least a couple of hotels, maybe more. I shacked up at one for the night, getting some rest before the big ride tommorrow -- Bangkok!

Hua Hin

As I cycled into Hua Hin there seemed to be a lot of police and miltary lurking about. Turned out it was the opening day of the Kings Elephant Polo Cup, and some bigwigs were out hobnobbing. I had missed the opening ceremonies on that day, but I went along later to catch a bit of the play.

I just jumped on a motorbike taxi as I didn't recall seeing any signs on the way down. I must of cycled straight past it previously. Anyway, there were 32 teams playing in the tournament. First up were the All Blacks who started off with the Haka to frighten the opposition, who responded by signing some French ditty. Then everybody was up on there elephant with their mahouts(drivers) and polo sticks. And then the referees drops the ball and Action. The elephants lumber about while the players weild their sticks with abandon, all the time the commentator is trying to make it seem fast and furious. And then some poor guys get the jobs of pooper-scooper, gives you muscles hefting all that dung! The people and the players seemed a bit hoighty-toighty. I was almost expecting to get asked whether I went to Cambridge or Eton, haha.

The commentator mentioned that Chivas Regal team is apparently the best team in the world. They started against the Australian team at 0-3. However at least one of the Australians had only ever been on an elephant for 30 seconds. By half time it was 4-3 to Chivas Regal. Not much of a match, though.

Saturday, September 10, 2005


I woke up in the morning to find my tyre flat. I pumped it up again, but after a few km (in the wrong direction) it was flat again. Grrr! So I got the tyre off and put in a spare inner tube. However, getting the final bit of the tyre onto the rim was proving a whole lot more difficult. After much stretching and groaning, still no further. Then a guy with a pickup truck drove past, reversed and offered me a lift back into town to the "bicycle shop". I didn't expect to find a bicycle shop out here in the middle of nowhere, and I was correct. Turned out to be a mechanics. Still, helpfull mechanics though! I just about managed to stop them from tearing off the tyre again, miming that I wanted it back on. Within a few minutes, with four pairs of hands and a couple of feet. The tyre was fixed. Huzzah!

So I continued on my way, after asking directions this time. After about another three kilometres, it started raining. Heavily. Shortly followed by a psssss noise, eerily similar to that of a tyre deflating. Yep, another puncture! I saw a sign for a hotel a short distance away, so I trudged along through the puddles pushing my bike. But when I arrived it was full of trimmed lawns and posh little buildings and they wanted 1200baht for the cheapest room, eek! As I contemplated walking all the way back to the mechanics, the manageress, Na, asked if she could help. Then she mentioned she had a pickup truck and could give me a lift. So back to the mechanics (who all snickered at seeing me again so soon) and the inner tube was patched, and my second spare inner tube used (who would of thought I had two spares!). And the price, for me, was free!

I had mentioned earlier to Na that I was planning to go to Bang Saphan, and she offered me a lift across there. Cool, I was kinda fed up with the bike by now. So I got a lift to the next town, and found a hotel with a reasonable price. A bad day into a good day, thanks to the friendly folk of Thailand!

Although, the guesthouse was literally in the middle of nowhere. I looked down the road to the right, nothing as far as the eye could see, and on the left a small shop, and then nothing! I tried to get some food at the guesthouse, I seemed to be the only person there. Lots of pointing involved. In retrospect I think, I must of gave them the idea that I didn't want Thai food, saying "No Thai" when they talked to me, meaning I didn't speak Thai. I ended up with a plate of rice and a deep fried omelette, then off to the shop for some donuts!

Monday, September 05, 2005


I set off from Chumpon a bit later than planned, but I never did like getting out of bed. After circling round a bit, I found a road heading out (somewhere!). I thought this would be the road on my map which follows the coast, but eventually I got pushed back onto the main highway. After a bit more cycling, I went past a sign saying shortcut to Chumpon. I most of taken the long road. I headed back towards the coast and onto the minor roads. The surface isn't as good as the highway, but a lot less traffic. I bounced along through orchards and fruit fields and rubber plantations. Then tried to continue north. It was getting a bit late, so I stopped at the next place to see if I could find somewhere to stay, but no look. They pointed me off to the mysterious Bangburd resort. I saw a sign where it said KM but no number! After more cycling down minor roads, I asked some people, ah only 5km. After 5km I asked more people, 10km further on. After about 15km and getting dark I finally came into town. But not before all the dogs intown realised a stranger had entered. Now, I used to like dogs, but put me on a bike and dogs HATE me. Turning from Andrex puppies into huge crazed, rabid, slabbering hounds of hell intent on ripping off your leg at the armpit. I usually tried and whizz pass them before they realise. One time going up a slight hill I came across a placid looking beast, and thought I would try and amble past peacefully. It almost worked and then it went crazy and I was right beside it. Strangely, some music started blasting out from somewhere at the same time and it ran away. I'll stick to whizzing past in the future, god help me if I encounter a deranged whippet. Well, I finally found the hotel, and quite nice and quite pricey it was too. I got them down from 900baht to 600baht. I wasn't going to be going anywhere else at 19.00 and I was knackered. So much for a gentle re-introduction to the bike, after all the detours and hotel hunting, I'd done over 100km.

Friday, September 02, 2005


I got the boat across from Ko Tao to Chumphon. Had to wait till everybody was off the boat until I could take my bike off. Another couple of German touring cyclist had ridden from Chang Mai in the north down to Chumpon, but now flying home. After eventually getting off the boat, I followed the bus to the main road into Chumpon about 7km away. It was starting to get dark. By the time I found a place to stay it was dinner time, off to a resturant for some Rad Naa. The next day, I tried to find a bike shop and after a while I found two, unfortunately neither could replace my spokes. Oh well, I found a travel agency and arrange to go over to Mynamar the next day. This will allow me a bit more time in Thailand, as my visa is a double entry, 2 month one. I need to exit and re-enter after the first sixty days, and then I get another sixty days. You need to pay $5 to get the visa for Mynamar. I dug around and came up with $4, so close! Still, I gave them some extra baht and I got rid of my $4. After a couple of hours on the mini-bus across to the other side of Thailand, we arrived at Ranong, where a car picked me up and took me along to the immigration office to get a Thailand exit stamp, and then onto the boat. The tour guy takes all the passports, and we trundle across to Mynamar, when we arrive, the guy hops out to the paperwork place and stamps all the passports and then after ten minutes jumps back on the boat. So I didn't even step foot on Mynamar soil. In that ten minutes Mynamar guys jump on the boat and try and sell cheap cigarettes and booze. Then back to the Thai Immigration office, then a car to the busstop and the minibus to Chumpon. Well, at least I got my visa extended.

Ko Tao

I bumped into Dan, Marko & Nako at the boat departure, they were also going to Ko Tao, so we joined up. They were going diving, I was planning on some hectic reading under a palm tree. I did borrow Daniel's snorkel once, to go out and have a look. At first it was really sandy, but once you got out a bit further it was clearer and saw some fish. I think the times I went in Malayasia were better, but maybe if you jumped on a boat to once of the dive sites and snorkelled there it would be good. Still I saw some strange fish and corals. I was going to only stay for a few days, but a pleasant place, so I ended up lounging about for five days. All this sitting about doing not a lot but eating, drinking, chatting and reading is going to make getting back on the bike a lot harder!

There was good book shop, run by the slightly crazy Mr J. who has signs all over the island. "Mr J. buy anything!", "To be good tourist tip Mr J. Everyone happy!" etc. I bought The Curious Incident of the dog at night-time (or whatever it's called) and Mr J. deemed the purchase worthy of a couple of free rambutans. Another time some free bananas. I read "Rule of Four" also. Another hard day at the office :)

Ko Pha Nga

After jumping on the boat from Ko Samui, I headed to Ko Pha Nga. From there I struggled my bike the 10km to Hat Rin. It was really tough going. I never seen roads that go straight up like that before! They go from flat to what felt like 45degrees. Needless to say, I spent most of my time pushing it up, and rolling down. I got to another big dusty hill, over the other side was the place I wanted to stay. But this was too steep, combined with the dust meant that when I tried to push my bike up I just slipped straight back down! As I was struggling with this a pickup from the guesthouse came along and gave my a lift the final 200m, good timing. I settled into my small bungalow towards the top of the hill, a scramble up and down. I went down to the restaurant for a beer and met Daniel, Marko and Nako. Dan and Marko were both French chefs, while Nako was Marko's Japanese girlfriend. Daniel had spent some time working in a restuarant on the west coast of Scotland, so he could understand my accent well! This is the kind of place where days are for sleeping and nights are for drinking. A week here was long enough. I watched the Old Firm game here, in a pub full of Celtic supporters, and none of them bought me a drink at the final whistle! I probably should of written this blog more recently as I can't remembered much about what happened a few weeks ago. Must be my age...

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Surat Thani

I grabbed some lunch in a cafe, with the intention of trying to find a bike shop to fix another broken spoke. However the owner started talking about being a film extra, so after a chat with her and a couple of other foreigners who were being ropped in as well, I decided to go along. I grabbed my bags and bike and threw it in the back of the pickup.

After a while of going round in circles, sign were spotted that pointed towards the "Location". Once there we signed disclaimer forms about being filmed, something along the lines of them having the rights for "eternity" throughout the "universe". Guess the lawyers are taking any chances given the wording. The film is called BlackBeard, so you can guess it's a pirate thing. Actually I think it is a mini-series rather than a film. It stars Angus MacFadyen, who played Robert the Bruce in Braveheart. Haha, guess his career has gone down the tubes! He's seems to have bulked up for the role, he was pretty podgy.

Then grabbed a bit of food, noticing that everybody else had their plates piled high and was wolfing it down. The food was better than I expected with a buffet of various meat, veg & fruit. After food we were off to costume to get changed. I was handed the role of customer, a bit disappointing I wanted to be a pirate. Oh well, maybe they would see my latent talent. After the costume change we were pointed off to the set. Actually the set was quite impressive, with a large clock tower and a few streets, as well as a pier with ships.

Being an extra larged consists of sitting around doing nothing, until you get collared by some staff. I was grabbed for a bar scene, and made to walk from A to B to C. You do one take, then hang about some more. "Back to one, everybody!" They fiddle with the lights and cameras and then you go again. Except this time a lighting rig is in the path where you were walking! After an hour or so, I was dismissed to go back to sitting around out of shot. We arrived at 14.30 and filmed/sat about through the night, breaking for "lunch" at 10.30, some cold hotdogs and sandwiches done the rounds later. It finished about 06.00 and about 07.30 by the time we were back at the hotel. Then back on the bus at 15.30 for the next days shoot. The camp seemed to split into two groups, people like me who are nosy and then the people who actually want to be actors. Some of the latter are the kind of people who suddenly break into song while walking along. Unfortunately no cameras were allowed on set, so I don't have photos of me in my costume. (Phew!)

Same thing, walk about the background while they shoot the scene. Walking back and forward for a few hours. Then another few hours while the set up the next scene and change the lights. Then we were in the distant, distant background. Basically moving shadows. Finished up around 03.00 I think, the bus was going to the pier to Ko Samui, so I joined them. As the bus was about to leave, a huge guy stepped on the bus and walked up to a German geezer and says, "I think you have something belonging to me. Can I have your bag?" The German guy, walks up the back of the bus and takes his bag off, while another guy spots a bag under the seat and drags that off as well. Turns out he nicked a couple of pistols from the set. Stealing a firearm is probably not a charge you want in Thailand! Eventually the bus was off, stopping at a 7/11 in the middle of nowhere. But they are obviously wise to this, as they had 3 or 4 staff on during the dead hours. As the bus was about to leave, an Irish guy notices his bag is missing. The German guy must of grabbed his bag! He stays at the hotel to get it sorted out. Later at the pier one of the staff turns up with the missing bag, but it turns out to belong to a middle age woman, which the German thief had taken. The Irish guys bag must of being on another bus or something. All very complicated. Oh well, I untied my bike from the back of the bus and got on the car ferry to Ko Samui, I wasn't really planning on going here, but nevermind. I got a hotel close to the pier and slept, a lot. 09.00 till 19.00, got up had some dinner and then back to bed and woke up at 13.00. I'm losing days! I was going to get the 11.00 ferry to Ko Phan Nga but I missed that so another day here.

More about BlackBeard

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Thai Muang

I continued heading North, as I edged near the end of Phuket I passed sombre signs "Death Body Container", "Thai Victims Identification Centre". Still a lot of rebuilding be done on the coasts. The more popular resorts are up and running but place like Ao Bang Tan still look like a building site. I think most of the places in my guide book, were washed away.

Over the bridge and back on to the mainland, I rode into Thai Muang. As I was idling through the streets looking for a hotel, a motorbike pulled along beside me. He said there was rooms on the beach at a restaurant if I wanted, so he gave me directions. I continued along and the guy, Santos, was at the restaurant. So I checked in and had a chat with Santos. He is a teacher here, and offered to show me about. I had a quick tour on his motorbike of the start of another National Park, passing a destroyed shrimp farm. He said that even if it was repaired the problem would be that nobody would want to stay here. Then along past some forested white ground, salt residue, killing any undergrowth between the trees.
He showed me the school where he was teaching. He is planning to build a catamaran, I had a look at the plans, very futuristic looking! A group of students were boat-building apply goopy lucking molten plastic to the boat, and smoothing other areas down. Japan had donated a couple of small motors for the longtails, certainly looked tidier than the boats I saw on Ko Phi Phi, I think those used discarded bus engines!

Santos dropped me back off at the room, and then later I went out for some food. As I was walking along I bumped into him again. There only is 2 other foreigners in Thai Muang, so you stand out. I had dinner with Santos. Interesting guy, he had cycled from Italy to Spain. He is a Sicilian. One of these annoyng people. who speaks this language and that. I asked him how may languages does he speak. Seven! Oh and a good bit of Thai. Also does a good human beatbox on the karoke!

Next stop was at Khao Lak. Seemed to be pretty deserted. Rained a bit. Ate pizza. Lots of diving shops here, just a quick stop and then continue North to Takua Pa. I was wondering if was good to find a hotel here, but after asking around, there was one behind the petrol station. I was glad I stopped here, if only because the next days ride was hard! It was one of those roads thats just seems to keep on climbing, around each corner you hope it will finallyfall away downhill, but no! Will okay eventually the downhill came about 7km from Khao Sok National Park. I barely had to pedal from the summit of the hill to the guesthouse.
Khao Sok

I got there about mid afternoon, and it barely stopped raining when I left. Okay it's a rainforest, what should I expect? I got some food at the guesthouse, and went for a look about not too busy here either. I stopped off at a bar and chatted with Lex, he used to work in England, so at least we could undertand each other, a couple of Austrians who were on holiday joined us later on.
The next day more rain, it abated after lunch and I decided to head into the park proper and put in a quick trek. The rain soon started again. The trail was wide, road-lik and muddy. After accepting the fact I wasn't going to stay dry, I happily trudged through the puddles. A couple of the routes were closed due to the weather, so I stuck to the easy ones. No fjording rivers, for me! The two treks follow the main path for the first 3km and then split up, supposedly to two waterfalls. The falls were really more like just tumbling over rocks, rather than anything majestic. Quite slippy near and on the rocks. I traipsed back, as my shoes were squelchy and being dry was appealing. I stopped off at the shop where two other trekkers were mildly dripping blood from there legs. I guess the rocks were slippy, maybe they tried the hard trails. Inside my room, all my clothes seem damp. My bags got a soaking from a thundershower on the way over. Not some much from the downpour as I managed to duck into a shelter, but from the surface water sprayed from my wheels onto the underside of the bags. After climbing over that big mountain, I had plan to go back the way I came and continue up the West coast, but a quick change of plan sees me continuing over to the East coast before heading north. Now I somewhere close to Phanom. The middle of nowhere basically! A nice ride flat ride through the limestone karts, I stopped at the top of a hill for a vaguely refreshing swig from my water bottle. I glance back over my shoulder, very dark and grey. I quickly zipped into a roadside shelter, and sure enough within five minutes it was puring down, again.Tomorrow I should hit the East coast and hopefully get my smelly clothes washed!

Monday, August 08, 2005



Phuket Town

After cycling round in circles I decided to ask somebody where I was. I'd skirted past where I wanted to be and had ended up a few kilometres away. So heading back I finally homed in on my guesthouse after circling in ever decreasing circles through some one-way streets.

Not too much to see in Phuket Town itself. Although there seemed to be a lot of artists close to the guesthouse, sitting outside on the pavement painting away. Mostly reprodution from photographs. I managed to eventually find a bike shop to get my wheels trued and broken spokes fixed. After fixing the front wheel, the guy replaced the wheel. Then while working on the rear wheel, there was a POP and a PSSSSSssssss as the front wheel mysteriously exploded whilst sitting unattended on the upside down bike. Strange, but if your gonna get a flat tyre, the best place is a bike shop!

That night I happened upon a nice little cafe, with only a few tables. There was a small stage where a guitarist was playing music so I popped in to listen. He was pretty good, and started on some accoustic blues. Nice change from the squeaky Thai pop that you hear and definitely better than the noises coming out the karoke bars! After a while a guy who looked like an Asian Jimmy Page joined him, playing flurries of jazz runs. After a few songs Jimmy Page left and another guitarist started playing more bluesy accompaniments. He was supposed to finish at 12 o'clock by law, but ended up playing till 1. Turns out the guitarist owned the cafe and was from Singapore. Me and an American, who was calling out requests half the night, chatted away with him for a while afterwards.

Ao Bang Tao

I then headed across the island to the West coast to a beach called Ao Bang Tao. Nice enough but nothing special. A bit cheaper than the beaches to the south, although when I asked the hotel staff how much a room was I got the reply "One Million Baht!!", hmmm.

As luck would have it there was a Halal food festival event on when I was there. Usually I find out info like this the day after I leave! I headed along at night and ate strange food. First up was something akin to a burger, but in a deep fried crispy roll, very healthy! Not sure what the meat was. Washed down with some apple juices from small apples, tasted not as sweet. Also some mangosteen on a stick, a strange pancake with what looked like a quail egg and ketchup and some fried chicken. I had a go at a game where you get 12 darts and you have to burst six balloons in a row to win a prize. Sounds easy, right, well two of my "darts" bounced off the "balloons". Very suspect!! Darts don't bounce off balloons, they go pop.

Hat Nai Yang

After going up and down a some big hills I got to the next beach. Supposed to be a national park around here, but there are a few private guesthouses and hotels. Quite pricey here, so I only stayed one night. I found a room, which seemed to be the cheapest I was going to get, although actually a nice room and a bit cheaper than the crummy room at the hotel on the beach and for a bit less.

As I walked out to have a look around I felt a jabbing pain in the bottom of my foot I keeled over and picked a big nail out of my shoe. Somehow it had gone straight in perpendicular to the the ground. Any longer and I would of had a real sore foot, as it was it just pierced the skin and no more. Then I managed to whack my ankle off the wooden bed, ouch ouch ouch! After that I hobbled off for some dinner.

Down at the beach lots of people appeared at the tables. The place had looked empty during the day. I opted for sweet & sour fish. I got a bit of a suprise when it turned up. A huge plate, with a giant fish appeared on my table after a rather lengthy wait. They charge by weight, 35bt/100g, so I think they ran around till they found the biggest fish to give to the tourist!
I valiantly battled to eat the whole fish (well except the head, eugh) but I couldn't quite polish him off. Still it certainly filled me up. Then again a kilo of fish will do that to you. Yep, the fish actually weighed in at a kilo!
I staggered back to the hotel to sleep it off.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Ko Phi Phi

I lugged my bike and luggage off the boat from Krabi. I had to chase after the bus in Krabi to find the right port. Not fair, the bus was a lot quicker than me, but at least I caught up enough to see where it went round the corners.

After getting alternately cooked and soaked on the boat over, I started looking for a bed. I trundled around on my bike, and somebody called me over, their room was a bit pricy, but pointed me across the room to a cheaper room. As I walked through the building site of the bottom floor I was a bit dubious but the room was okay. Later I realised that the top half of the building was missing. Tsunami damage, a lot still visible and evident in Ko Phi Phi.

I had a look around the beach, nice white sand, aquamarine water. I read my lengthy book for a while. Apparently there was a tsunami alert that day, but I didn't hear it, not very re-assuring.

That night I went along to a reggae bar to watch the Muay Thai (Thai Boxing), after all where else would you see the sport except a reggae bar. They had a full boxing ring up and after a long time with a guy outside ringing a bell trying to bring in customers, they combatants entered.

After some more premilinaries, such as bowing/praying in the 4 corners, and then more stretching/praying/warming up routines they were ready. The referee did a big sweeping hand movement like a chequered flag waver and they were off.

Standing pretty much toe to toe they traded a few hooks, mostly blocked. Then one thump pushed the received off balance and then a kick on the head knocked him down. Soon he dusted himself off and got back to business. The fight mostly continued on this route of punching, kicking trading blows. Then one would lost a bit of balance and the other attack. One attacker got the other guy to retreat and charged after him, but he deftly dodged to the side and the attacked ended up flying over the ropes out of the ring. Another time they were blocking blows, as one guy blocked a kick to his head he ready himself to send a kick, but the attacked continued with a roundhouse and flattened him, before he had a chance to react. He got back up but soon the fight was stopped as he got bashed again. It was quite interesting to watch though.

Another night I was walking past a restaurant and an Old Firm game was on the TV so I went in and watched it, 2-0 to Rangers! I then started talking to a guy, turns out he was from Clydebank. Had spent a year in Brisbane studying and now heading back to Scotland to fininsh his studies. He too was wondering why there was an Old Firm game on the TV! After some beer and some pool headed off and had a lie in the next day as the ferry to Phuket wasn't till 14.30.

Friday, July 22, 2005


I spent a couple of days in Trang and then headed on North. Nice enough town, but really seems to be a transit point. I headed off to the night market and picked out some food. I got some chicken rice/salad thing, because I knew what it was! And then a kinda of sweet rice pizza/pancake munchie. It was quite nice, only with your eyes did you know it was rice, it tasted sweet with a crunchy exterior where it had been fried. Suprisingly filling, it had been cut up into six slices like a pizza.

I then moved onto to Pak Meng down at the beach, not much of a beach to be honest kinda dull looking sand. I had a wander around, not many tourists around these bits, certainly not just now anyway. The next day I set off for Khlong Thom, somewhere thats not even mentioned in my guide book. Luckily they had a hotel, well one hotel, so that's where I stayed. Get people kinda staring at you more when your out in the sticks, not exactly a tourist destination, but a stop 40km before Krabi.

The weather is a bit mixed, quite grey somedays, heavy rain appears and disappears, some ducking in and out of shelter. But othertimes just light rain, which makes it hard to decided whether to continue, hoping it will go away, or hide somewhere in a shelter.

Next day headed over to Krabi, the landscape started jutting out from the ground more and more forming these strange sheer sided limestone sculptures. After taking a rest day, it rained most of the day anyway, I headed off 8km to a buddhist wat situated at the top of ones of these pinacles. Lots of steps! No, really lots of steps! 1273 said the sign, I didn't count them. So I started off slowly and got slower, but although overcast still warm and humid and soon dripping in sweat. I guzzled my bottle of water. Eventually with quite a few stops I got to the top and it was at least a great view back over the landscape. After taking in the view and have a nosy round the various buddha statues I had to go back down. By the time I reached the bottom, for the second time time in Krabi, I could barely control my legs (The other time was Chang-related!)

Ouch, spent the past few days hobbling about, the back of my calfs are sore when I move my feet, like when I try and walk. I was supposed to be off to Ko Phi Phi today, I was ready to head off on the 10.30am ferry, till I found it is the 9.30am ferry. Oh well, another day in Krabi. Try again tomorrow.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Into Thailand

Sawat Dii!

I'm now in a small town called Trang. I got the boat back over from Langkawi and cycled into the small state captial of Perlis, Kangar. After a bit of search round for a place to stay I had to settle for a overpriced dump! Nothing much in Kangar but a necessary stop, as the next stop was close to the border. The next day I headed off in the searing sun to get to the Perlis State Park. After pushing my bike up a really steep hill with far too many hairpin bends, it got a bit cloudy. Typical, here I am trundling up the hill getting cooked and when I reach the top the sun disappears. After coasting down the other side I finally got to Wang Kelian, a border town. I found the park easy enough as it's on the main road, only about 1km from Thailand. I turned out to be the only person staying there in the whole park, the accommodation is pushed inwards 1.2km from the road, so you feel you are in really in the middle of a rainforest. But rainforests being rainforests, it rained. Later on it dried up and I went for a quick trek along on of the trails till I reached a cave, but I didn't bother exploring any further and took the trail back up and down many stairs. I shouldn't of watched that bad horror film in Langkawi, Wrong Turn, about people who go into the woods only to be murdered by crazed inbreds (Yes, it was a poor Deliverance rip-off!) There was eight bed dorms, each housing eight people, and nine chalets, but just me there, spooky!!

Still nobody came charging through the door with an axe and the next morning I set off across the border. I passed through the Malaysian Deperatures with a small hiccup I had lost my disembarkation card. The stern man behind the counter groaned. I had to fill out another one. I asked for a pen, and he rolled his eyes. Then that pen stopped working. He slammed down another pen. The sign beside said "Service with a smile!". Yeah, right. Anyway after that was done, I saw a restaurant somewhat bizarrely situated after Malaysian Departures but before Thailand Immigration. So, I settled down to my last Mee Goreng in No Mans Land.

After lunch I rolled into Thailand. I hadn't been able to find a moneychanger in Kangar and the one at the border seemed permantely shut, so I decided I would almost loop back to Satun, which can be reached from Langkawi. I saw a sign in Thai and English for Satun, so I jotted down the Thai symbols, just in case. I was glad I had despite not getting lost the only indication I was heading towards Satun was the roadside markers ticking down the kilometres, but only in Thai. Not too far from Satun I ducked under a shopfront as the rain came on for a short while. I got a grilled lobster snack (crisps!) with my Malaysian Ringgot. Then I continue onto Satun. I found the hotel I was looking for with a good dose of luck, I looked up and I was outside it! I headed out to change my money, so set off for a bank. The teller told me that as they were a bank their rates weren't that good and I should go to the hotel round the corner and gave my the thumbs up! Okay, nice way of getting rid of customers!

The next day it was heading North to Pak Bara on the coast. I planned to stay in the inland town of Langu? as the detour to the coast added a roundtrip of another 20km on, but I couldn't find a hotel there. I headed off to the Pak Bara and found a nice guesthouse. I had a look into the travel agents to see what the deal with travelling to the islands is. After a bit of miscommunication, I found out the boat goes "sometimes", hmmm. Pretty much most of Pak Bara seemed closed. Most of the travel shops and such that lined the streets are shut for the low season. So not many boats during the monsoon season either. Yes, the monsoon has certainly arrived!
The next day I sure found that out! I ducked into a convient roadside shelter, as I looked ahead and saw the upcoming hill shiny with water. Just in time too, it pelted down for 30 minutes. I set on my way again, and after about ten minutes, the storm seemed to swirl round and the wind changed direction and caught up with me! This time it really unleashed. I ducked under another shopfront and watched as the roads become red rivers, the dust addding the colour. After another long time sitting watching, the rain eased. And I cycled off again, I was soon soaked from the surface water spray as much as from the remnants of the rain. I had hoped to find a hotel another 8km at the town of Palian. Turns out it not quite on the main road, 3km off to the side. I didn't see any hotels which was pretty disappointing as I was knackered and wet! Still as I cycled past a building site, I got the usual "Hello" ring out, followed by a "Where are you from?", so I stopped and found a guy that spoke English (he was a guide in Phuket during high season). He pointed me along to Tong Star Cape Resort. Said it was a bit more than I was wanting to pay but at this point I was really caring. After a rather bumpy road ride I got there and it was like the Mary Celeste! I had a look around, it was recently deserted, food in the fridge etc. I shouted out "Hello!" as loud as I could a few time, but the stillness was unbroken and the silence gave no token. I thought I would just hang about till somebody came along, half an hour later I was still waiting. It was going to get dark soon, so I went down to the nearest person and asked about the hotel, they jumped on their bike and motioned me to follow back to the hotel. More miscommunication, but they were off. They showed my the hotel, and then they started shouting "Hello" I explained I'd done this, and then he zoomed off again and brought back somebody with keys. So I managed to get a bed for the night. I nipped down to a restaurant and got some halting English questions asked from a "Learn English" type book. "What is your name, how old are you?" I had a look at the book and it contained useful phrases such as "Waiter, there is a fly in my soup!". Later on I switched on the TV and they had some sort of English lesson thing. The outcome seemed to be this sentence - People always believe the authorities have skeletons in their closets. So there you have it!

Next day I set off to Trang for a fairly uneventfull ride. The amount of people shouting out Hello is definitely greater than Malaysia. I stopped off at a restaurant and pointed at some food to see what I get. Not exactly mastered the language (That's Thai I'm talking about, not English cheeky!)

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


After KL I grabbed a guide book & map for Thailand and jump on the first bus back up to Penang. After about six hours I arrived and stayed the night, getting a ticket for the early morning ferry to Langkawi. With not much sleep I arrived at Langkawi and had to cycle across the island to get to the budget accomodation, thankfully only 20km. Lately my sleep pattern has been a bit crazy, not helped by watching the Confederations Cup in the middle of the night. However when I arrived in Langkawi I made up for some sleep. I dozed off at 5pm woke up a couple of hours later considering dinner, but couldn't be bothered so went back to sleep and woke up the next day at noon, feeling much refreshed!

Langkawi is a curious mixture of fancy posh hotels and cheap duty free. There is only a handful of budget accomodations on the island, the majority is geared towards the high-end. Like the food, instead of fried rice, there is lobster thermidore on the menu, fresh from the dinnerside tank. A bit different from normal anwyay. I had some nice tomato soup with a hunk of fresh brown bread. Tasted very exotic!

I took a stroll down to Underwater World, a comparatively pricey aquarium, still I'll left them off as they had some penguins as well. After trying to take some photos of their fish and seahorses, I went back to the hostel and had a beer. The beer is only 3rm here! In fact in the shops a can of coke and a can of beer is the same price.

Another day I went for a cycle round the island, stopping off at a nice square for a spot to drink and then onto the crocodile farm. Luckily my timing was good and there was a small show starting in 5 minutes. This involved three guys dragging crocodiles about, sitting on them and sticking an arm in his mouth. Then there was somebody feeding the crocodiles. A big bucket of fish didn't last long, the trainer would throw 6 tied together and it would go straight down. A big fat one beside him pestered him for some more, and he got it as he was less than a couple of metres away.

The beaches and water aren't as nice as the islands on the east coast of Malaysia. Bit better after some heavy rain cleared the beach of stuff though. Strangely enough some of the Malaysian guys were watching Bo Selecta back at the hostel. I had a tuna salad makes a nice change from rice or noodles, I even found the olives edible!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Kuala Lumpur

Groan, PC crashed while I was typing this, so once again...

I arrived in KL via the sleeper train, thought it was going to be quiet but, a group of guys arrived after a few stops celbrating one of their birthdays. Actually they piped down around midnight but still didn't get much sleep. Arrived in KL and headed out the train station on to the monorail and jumped off at Bukit Bintang, close to the city centre. Stopped off for some breakfast at a roadside restaurant, travelling with just one bag is a breeze, with another bag and the bike left at the hotel in Penang. Found a hostel and asked about the ticketing situation for the Petronas twin towers, turned out I better get a move on if I wanted a ticket. I arrived around 9am, behind a couple of hundred other tourists. After 45 minutes I got a ticket for the 10.15 viewing so I hung around for a hald an hour first. Once up there you get ten minutes to wander around the sky bridge, which is about half away up to the top, tourists aren't allowed any higher. Good views off into the distance, at that height people and cars are just dots. Well the view was worth the price, it cost nothing! (except time)

Next stop was the Batu Caves, lucky a bus passed by me with the sign for the caves on the front, so I jumped aboard. A few hundred steps later, I reached the huge mouth of the caves. I entered and then more stairs up and down before coming to a shaft which reaches right up to the top of the cave, letting in light. Here stands a few temples, the caves are pakced on certain religious dates by Hindu devotees, but just the tourists and the monkeys today. When I had my fill of the main cave, I was walking down and noticed the dark cave, so I went for a quick nosy. I ended up talking to a Swiss-Malay fellow who was working there, turned out he's starting his own company. Started talking about how his 4 ton tensile strength harness is great value at only 1ringot/metre, he'd been in the caves since 82, never mentioned if he got let out at all. After that I headed back to the hostel and starting chatting with some aussies, Tim & Nathan, and then went for a beer. We couldn't find the pub recommended by the hostel staff, but eneded up in the Cruise Club, full of crazy dancing Indian guys.

Next night we went along to the Hard Rock Cafe and watched a band play, quite good, but just cover songs. And the beer was pricy at 18rm/mug. Wandered back to the hostel and chatted to Jane & Simon till the early hours, Simon wandered off to get some food, one of the advantages of being in a big city, 24hr food.

Next day went to the bird park and took lots of photos of weird and colorful birds.
Interesting, I like the small black birds with the bright red eyes. Look like something out of a horror flick. Went for dinner with Jane & Simon, had some crispy noodle fishy soup with a few bits of beef. It was okay, nothing special. Simon bought some durian fruit to taste. I had another taste, and it still taste horrible. Simon brilliantly described it as tasting "of hate & regret". I guess he wasn't a fan.

After a few more beers that night, I rose the next day early (well before lunch, ahem) and headed off to pickup and guide book and map for Thailand, something I hadn't managed to get round to in the previous three days. Then I jumped on the bus to Penang. I asked the driver if I needed a ticket beforehand and he says no, then the conductor comes round and asks for my ticket, he rolls his eyes and shakes his head when I say I have none. He takes 27rm, five of which is slipped in the pocket.
But I think that is the smae price for a booking at the travel agent. Get back in Penang late, grab some 'Famous Hainanese Chicken Rice' and try and get some sleep, because I need to get up at 7am for the ferry to Langkawi.

Sunday, June 26, 2005


A bit of sightseeing

Once I arrived I went for a walk around Georgetown to try and orientate myself. I walked along past a church, with a man praying in front of the altar. Around and around, I passed the clock tower, Fort Cornwallis and along the esplanade, with people fishing in the sea. Through a bit of Chinatown and down to Little India, where sari shops mix with corner stalls selling necklaces of flowers and fruit.
Old shops mingle with the new, never quite sure if the shops that are shut will ever open again. In the reflection of a new glass building stands the Komtar building with 60+ floors, the tallest building in Penang. Nearby the chicken vendors are serving up their meals, not far from the pavements which consists of covered walkways usually with obstructing motorbikes. A man passes with an overladen bicycle, and I thought I had a lot of luggage! In Campbell street the shops are posher, full of gold and jewellery, even the lamposts are fancy! Here is a photo of something shiny!

On past shops full of mysterious jars of unknowns. Sometimes the walls are brightly coloured and for some reason I end up taking a photo! Passing rickshaw drivers lounging about in the sun, and some vacant rickshaws. Maybe the driver has went for a coffee, like me. The coffee here is apparently fried beans rather than roasted, tasty pretty good anyway.

By some sort of miracle, I woke early. Actually, maybe it was because my room was above the main street, where motorbikes revved up and down all day and all night. I changed hotel. Anyway, as I was up early I took a walk down Carnarvon St. which in the morning is transformed into a market. I whipped out my camera and strolled down the street snapping away as I walked past many stalls. Stalls selling durian fruit, spiky fruit (like lychee), fish, vegetables, meat, chicken, coconuts, some shrimps,
sweets, mushrooms, strange meals in polystrene containers, huge jackfruit, eggs, crabs, dried fish?, more chicken, greens, white things!, fresh colourful fruit, more veg, and mee goreng.
In a corner of the meatshed a cat gets a scrap, next door chickens in the cage get their throats slit and thrown into a large barrel and then a machine defeathers them and they are packaged up ready to eat (that chicken in the bag above)
Along the streets stall holders descale and cut the fish and generally hack them apart till they are ready to buy.
Meanwhile people weigh their prospective purchases (and wonder why people are taking pictures of them!). But mostly they ignore tourist with their cameras and get on with their daily life of chopping things up!

I finally got round to having a shave, after much thoughtful pondering. I had to get a new razor before the job was finished, and with just the moustache I looked like a crazed ringmaster escaped from the circus! Now smooth-chinned, I took a long walk down to the toy museum. Stopping off at many points for a drink, it was warm day and not much in the way of shade. Eventually I got to my destination, passing a giant painted flag on the motorway wall. It was advertised as "Malayasia's Largest and Only Toy Museum!". By that logic, it is also the smallest... Anyway, I had a nosy about, not really much different from a toy shop with crammed shelves, except it cost you 10rm to get in! Wandered past Hellraiser, Golem, the Alien, Spiderman, a Gremlin thing and that bad geezer out of Star Wars.

I went along to the Penang museum for a quick nosy at the exhibitions about the history and the culture behind Penang, quite interesting and only cost a ringgot. I had picked up a walking tour leaflet from the tourist centre, so one day I followed this around having a look at the different heritage buildings. There seems to be a lot of Chinese clan houses (Khongsi) around Penang. Some are very decorative and come complete with colourful dragons on the roof. I went for a look at Yap Kongsi close to the mosque. Stone carvings on the pillars outside, and inside the main hall was a large bowl full of ash, from previous burnings of incense sticks. Ornate golden covered walls and wax candles were dotted around, but strangest was the array of tea cups spread on a table. Drinks for the Gods?? Some old dusty flags in the corner, seemed to represent days goneby. Historical there was a lot of rivalry between the clans, with some clans joining one side against the others. Eventually there was a riot, but the police/army sorted it out. Back outside I looked up at a chinese lantern, looks different from down here.

Continuing on the heritage trail I walked past a nice blue house, which apparently was Syed Atlas Mansion, a rich Achehnese merchant, which has been restorated. It was closed, as the guy was going off on a prayer break. I headed on round to the Khoo Khongsi another fancy house/temple. Walking past a lampost, which the entrace stickers had covered. It had burned down in the early part of the twentieth century but been rebuilt. I think this must the clan sign, lets rock! After passing the entrance with expensive looking intricacies, you come across painted stone carvings and pearl chairs. Round the back there was some detailed large drawings, lots more gold and black chinese letters sculpted eagles , flowing curtains and stone lions! I final look back as I left.

Walking down Chulia street in Georgetown you see many different shops bunched together, sometime a road leading off has decorations. Walked past a welder, looked like he was attacking the pavement!

Another day I took a bus trip outside Georgetown to see Kek Lok Si, which I had heard described as a Buddhist Disneyland. They seem to be continuing to build on every spare piece of land here. More fancy temples, pagodas and decorated roofs. As you enter you walk past the liberation pond where many turtles are released. After many years, there are a lot of turtles, so not quite sure how the turtles feel about being liberated into an overcrowded pond, but I guess it beats getting flushed down the loo! Along the way an army of statues are found with a view back across Penang. But the highlight is the giant buddha. Standing mighty high and looking quite serene. Here a guy in a blue t-shirt approaches the petal base you can see just how high the buddha is here.
Reading a sign they have plans to cover the giant budha with a roof supported on octaganol pillars and flanked by a thousand six foot warriors! Nearby there was a quiet pond with lively fish.

I came across some strangely sculpted animals on a temple wall, but looking at my photos they didn't show the depth, so I've taken them from another angle as well. First the lion and from a different angle then the spitting head and from a different angle.

I also popped down to the south of the island to take in the War Musuem. It was interesting as it was a former British fort, which they abandoned when the Japanese invaded. So the museum is housed in what used to be the barracks, cooks quarters and such buildings. Also still present are the compounds used for firing cannons, explosive storage. The explosive storage bunker is housed underground in very thick walls to minimise any damage should an explosion occur. There is a small chimney-shaft type corridor with a ladder which I climbed up, the escape route. Quite claustrophobic! Outside there was a giant swivel gun. Later on there is a another tunnel which you have to crouch to get through, it leads off into complete darkness. I cheated and used my camera LCD to guide me through as I couldn't see my hand in front of me. In any event it loops round and you come back out on the other side, directly opposite the entrance.
Some of the exhibitions were pretty grim. I headed off out the museum and one of the guys gave me a lift along to the bus stop, and I got back to the hotel eventually after nipping in to an Indian restaurant for a Masala Thosia (Dosa?). I had left at 13.30 and didn't get back till after 21.00, yet I only spent a couple of hours in the musuem. Very mysterious! Though I did spend ages waiting for the bus, I found the right number parked at the bus station, but no driver, so I hung around waiting some more, eventually the driver turned up and told me I needed to get another bus. Waited some more, then the bus turned up and I jumped on. The bus went nowhere. Waited some more. The bus went about 2km, then stopped at another bus station. Waited some more. Eventually I got to the museum, I should of taken my bike, it would of been a lot quicker!

I went along to a restored house, it had been bought cheaply but the owners had spent millions doing it up in the correct fashion. Inside the had painted iron pillars apparently from MacFarlanes of Glasgow. Then I got told you're not allowed to take photos inside so that's all my readers get to see, one pillar. You'll just have to go to Penang yourselves. Back outside, a wall! And the exterior of the house looked like this, blue.
Later on at night I walked past a lit up mosque

I also popped down to the snake temple. A few snakes lazing about on the branches, looking like they had been placed there. They did have a good breakfast of eggs and fruit for them though. Continuing on, there is a garden where snakes are rumoured to be, but with continued development in the surrounding areas, the snakes have pretty much up and went somewhere quiter. However there is a guy who will place the (posinous!) snakes on your head and snap your photo. Oh, okay then!

Back at another swanky house, with what must be called purple drapes. They were set up for a wedding tonight. Big high ceiling and chandielers. In another room there was a display of traditional clothes and the ornate bed and table. Also the chairs had inlaid designs. The centre of the house was an open balcony with rooms leading off. More ornemental art was found around the house, such as the birds and the red designs. Also present was a small altar with various pictures and things. As I headed back to the hotel I passed a chinese temple. More fancy 3D artwork as well as this guy with the big tache

Football Frenzy

I went along to the City Stadium to see Penang play against Perak. The previous week Penang had been tanked by Perak 6-0 in the cup. They lost their home game 2-1 in the 2nd leg, I was going to go and see this game, but kinda pointless trying to overturn a six goal deficit! They then played each other again in the league with Penang in 3rd place a point ahead.

I arrived bought a ticket for 10rm and took a seat. Note to self, find out what colours the home team wears before entering the stadium. There seemed to be a lot of yellow shirts about, but that turned out to be the away team. I took a seat in the mixed crowd on the steps running alongside the pitch, opposite the posh seated area.
Turns out that like all the best teams, Penang play in blue. However it didn't help them much tonight. The kick-off wasn't until 20:45. Before the match started some nut dressed in a sequenced tassled outfits was running around the crowd shouting and joking in Malaysian. I guessed he was the equivalent of a cheerleader trying to rouse the crowd. The footy seemed to attract another couple of headcases. One with a scarf wrapped round his face like a desert tribesman, persisted through the whole match to shake the fence and shout, but I think he was just drunk. Meanwhile another big fat guy was dancing about, alongside the pitch to the drums, drenched in sweat.

But back to the action. Overall the standard was good, playing possesion football, a lot less scrappy than some of the SPL games! Penang probed in the first five minutes, generally holding on to the ball, while not causing any problems for the Perak defence. Then Perak ran up the park and scored in the first attack, shredding the Penang defence with some sharp passing and powerful running ending with a move, slotting the ball past the keeper. The crowd erupted, but then the Penang supporters noted the offside flag, and howls of derisions began.

Still that was just a taster of things to come. Perak looking much more dangerous on the counter attack, and so they scored around the 35 minute mark. Shortly after the break, they scored again. Penang looked toothless up front, with a lone Russian striker (not Shevchenko) being ineffective. Around the 70min mark, the game was sealed as the lively strikers of Perak combined and then 25yards out thumped in a shot which left the goalie stranded as it ruffled the net. Oh well, I don't think I'll get an invite back, I didn't prove very lucky.

I headed back into Georgetown and noticed a sign up, for the Confederation cup semi-final Brazil vs. Germany, so I watched that as well. Didn't kick off till midnight though. Brazil won 3-2, to set up the final against Argentina (which I also watched play Mexico, not much of a game). Now I can't get up in the mornings! The Argentina-Mexico matched went on to about 03.00 in the morning. Still a coupe of places on Lebuh Chulia selling food though. Off to watch the 3rd place match and final tonight. Final doesn't start till 03.00 though. Don't envisage an early morning tomorrow.

Cuisine Munch

Back on the main street at night a good selection of food is available in Penang, pretty much everything really. I had some of this and some of that, and some roasted chicken! Erm, lets see... What did I have? Barbecued ribs, although it tasted like stew. It came with iced green tea and undeciperable herbal black soup. Tasted of something I couldn't quite place, somewhere close to liquorice, very odd. Today I had some Taiwan beef noodle soup, quite nice. Noodles I can handle, chopsticks I can just about handle, but putting them together is just a recipe for disaster. Also splurged out on a steak (3quid!) but it wasn't that great, quite fatty. I had some dragonfruit from a stall, its kind of like the cucumber of fruits, not much taste. Some curry noodles, which was pretty tasty, though not that keen on the things from clams that looked like mushrooms but tasted like seafood. Also had some laksa which is just a bundle of different tastes. First time asam laksa at a stall, another time nonya laksa in a restaurant. No chilis the second time, but not much other difference. First pizza in eight months, I opted for tuna & pineapple with a hint of lime. Fans of the Fast Show will also be delighted to know that Cheesy Peas are alive and well in Malaysia, having purchased a packet of the "Cheese flavoured pea snack" I'm not sure the international audience is ready for such audicity. Anyway, the food is good! You even get strange drinks, like Flash Fruitade in the shops, or fresh carrot juice & milk from a stall if your feeling particularly healthy.
I bought some soup off this old couple, looked like they had been with their stall for some years. The whole stall is on a bike which can be cycled away, the bicycle pump doubles as bellows for the stove below. A great selection of cheap food on sticks in available. Simple take what you want and dip inside the boiling water, pay at the end with the colour of the sticks. Onto Chinatown where my camera is a bit shaky. Many of the streets had lights strung across like a celebration. Finally past the art gallery before heading off to bed.