Thursday, January 26, 2006

Bangok Pt II

Oh yeah, another new thing in Bangkok the Siam Paragon. A big giant new shopping mall. It's kinda of more on the posh sides, with a gourmet supermarket and the like. But the most interesting thing was the 3D TV, no stupid glasses needed. It works suprisingly well, but not sure you wouldn't get a sore head after watching a lot of it. The packets of M&M's just burst out of the screen!

Joined onto the mall was the latest tourist attraction the Oceanarium. Comparatively expensive at 450bt, but didn't seem to detract the visitors as it got pretty busy. Lots of weird sea creatures swimming about, I liked the rays with the massive long tails. They were supposed to be doing a feeding show, but they didn't seem very hungry and ignored the food. There was a couple of seals there that weren't supposed to be there, but they had an empty display case due to the penguins being banned because of the dangers of bird flu!

They had a walkthrough tunnel and giant 6m depth tank, so the amount of water must be huge, just hope there isn't any cracks. They plonked a diver into the deep tank and they were talking away in Thai via a underwater microphone.

A small photo gallery finished the Oceanarium off, where you went to the "Exit", this being the entrance to the obligatory gift shop.

One last thing, whats with the strange drinks in the fridges of the 7-11 nowadays? There is Hello Kitty Collagen drink and Pepsi Latte, had the world gone mad??

Monday, January 23, 2006

Back in Bangkok

So I had a flight with AirAsia back from Hanoi to Bangkok. Get to the airport with plenty of time. That's the thing about planes, lots of hanging about. Circled the airport like a bored tiger in a cage. The most interesting thing was watching these guys clamber about the roof with no safety harness moving among the beams to fix the lights. Rather them than me! After paying taxes on the ticket, you then have to pay the $14 departure tax, presumably it's one of these don't pay don't leave thingies.

Anyway, we defy gravity and pull away into the stratosphere (or wherever planes fly) and all is going well, it's only a 90 minute flight in theory....

Yep, some geezer in Bangkok decided to stage an airshow for Childrens Day tomorrow. Today happen to be the rehersal. Nobody seemed to realise that flying fighter jets and the like in and out Asia's busiest commercial airport, would cause a few problems, havoc in fact!

We ran out of fuel and had to parachute into Bangkok. Not really, we got diverted to Udon Thani airport, where we sat on the runaway for an hour or so. Eventually the captain said we would be taking off shortly now that they had refuelled. The guy behind me excitedly exclaimed "I knew it! I knew we were refuelling!". I didn't think much of his deduction powers, given that the large refuelling truck outside the window was attached to us via a large refuelling hose.

So off back up into the sky, where we circled Bangkok for another hour or so, burning up all this pesky fuel we had on board. We landed without incident (thankfully!) Then we get one of the shuttle buses to the immigration as we appeared to have landed nowhere near it. Typically I was stopped from going on the first bus, but was the first person on the second bus. Meaning that a busload of slow people were in immigration before me, I didn't even have any hand luggage, no fair!!

There is a separate queue for Thai Nationals and foreigners. In the foreigners queue was a Thai family, so one of the officals waved them to the empty Thai queue, this caused a lot of foreigners to assume that a quicker queue was possible and jumped behind this Thai family. The offical then pointed out the sign, much to the digruntlement of the tourists. To the back of the queue with the lot of ya!

After getting through immigration it was back in another queue this time for taxis, not going anywhere quick. At all. Chatted with a guy, going to the same place Khao San Road, got another couple of people and flagged down one of the taxis for a fixed fare (600bt). Only trouble was he was completely blocked in, made it out eventually somehow and into the traffic jam that is primetime Bangkok. Got into a room about 19:00. My flight was supposed to arrive at 14:30. Enough time to grab a bite to eat and meet up with Steve for a beer or few down at Soi Rambutri. Friday night and the place was heaving. Remembered how strong Chang is the next day...

Saturday, just had a stroll around Banglamphu. I thought I was heading straight South but then I turned up to the North of where I was staying, very odd. A quiet day, then when I tried to get to sleep I got munched on my bed bugs or some other horrible nocturnal insect, the previous night I had just crashed out so didn't noticed them. Spend half the night swotting the little buggers.

Unsuprisingly decided to move guesthouse the next day. I went into another nearby guesthouse where a customer was asking when they would get rid of the begbugs, about turn, quick march! I decided I would try and get a guesthouse near the BTS stations. Had a flick through my guidebook and found a place, but the taxi driver went elsewhere, so I tried somewhere else and as I walking towards a taxi pulled up and two people jumped out and checked in before me. No more rooms. I wandered around couldn't find anywhere so back to the guidebook, tried a different area of town the strangely named Soi Ngam Duphli. Got a place there, but wasn't sure where it was in relation to the Sky Train, not very near as it happens, but at least if was close(ish) to the Lumphini metro.

Met up with Steve again for a few quiet beers on Sukhumvit this time. Bit pricier round this area, seems like the Costa Del Sol of Bangkok sometimes!
I had booked my train ticket, nice and easy 2 minutes, not like India! This time I would be sure not to lose it. I had a look around about my new guesthouse and stumbled across a few small restaurant shacks. Didn't think there was much here but when I turned the corner there was about 50 buses parked there, this was the Suan Lum night bazzar. Loads of shops and a giant food court, just the place to devour a chicken! Like a lot of food courts, there is a coupon counter where you exchange your bits of paper for other bits of paper. Pretty tasty! They had some bad band playing way down at the front of the stage, thankfully far enough away to ignore :)

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


Into Hanoi, I booked into a nice hotel for Christmas. It had wood furniture! Good to stay in somewhere a bit classier for a few days. Hanoi is one of these places where I find it incredibly easy to get lost. I now walk about with a LP map in my back pocket, it makes no difference. I had a small map with the hotel card, shoved in my back pocket. After walking around I tried to head back to the hotel, I was standing on the street corner looking at the map and the street names. Confused as to where my hotel was, of course when I looked over my shoulder I realised I was standing outside it, doh!

The hotel staff gave me a sheet of paper announcing their Christmas party starting at 20:00. So I went down to see what was happening. The entrance had been transformed with tables covered in food & drink. I was suprised they had gone to so much effort. Well, until I looked closer. The drink was mostly coke, wiith a few bottles of beer that wouldn't last long. The food seemed a little strange, plates of fruit, strange little sausages in wrappers cut in half, slices of bread and Laughing Cow cheese triangles. They fired off some glitter rockets outside. Five minutes later some old woman was screaming at the manger's kid for some reason. He was sulking at the argument continued. Then he grabbed another gliter rocket from beside the Christmas tree and ran towards the woman, but was restrained in time. He looked like a little spolit brat. Six year old with a red mohican, what's that all about? That was the most interesting thing at the party, anyway I had tickets for the water puppets, only a ten minute walk away.

I went outside on Christmas Eve to make my way to the puppet theatre. However I hadn't counted on the million or so people out on the streets milling around. Still I managed to get there just on time, as I moved through the crowds like a hot knife through butter. Darting left and right, up and down the pavement kerb along the road, dodging the gutters, motorbike, accumulated debris and of course the old people that stop for no explicable reason. At least you don't have people with prams in Asia (yet), just sling the kid over the shoulder and be done with it.

Taking my seat, the show started, James Bond himself couldn't of timed it better. The band on the left playing traditional instruments. One looked like the Vietnamese version of the spoons. Another plucked a single string unfretted instrument, with a vertical whammy bar. The stage was set out with the water at the front and the puppeteers hidden behind the backdrop. Apparently the art form orginated in the rice paddies. I must admitted I was struggling to work out how the done some of the stuff. At first I imagined it was just a puppet on a long horizontal pole as it walked across the stage, but then the characted turned round and walked back. I was sitting there puzzling for a while, but I guess they must be on a rotating disc. Quite clever. Then they puzzled me with the next one. A puppet fishing with a fish swimming around. The puppet is throwing his fishing line in an catches the fish bringin it out the water. I was going for the magic of magnets for this one, but just a guess.

After the performance, time for a quick drink. Popped into the groovily named Funky Munky, after eventually retrieving my change from the barstaff who seemed reluctant to give me my money back, I headed upstairs. Strangely enough bumping into Chris whom had thrashed me at pool in Hue. He was chatting with another London geezer. The drink flowed freely, helped by a few shots of vodka. Then off to the Titanic, for some late night drinks. Upon arriving we realised it was an actual ship. As long as it didn't undock a safe place to drink. They covered the pool table with a few planks of wood, hey presto, the worlds smallest dance floor. A good night, but not so good on Christmas day...

I'd arranged to met up again with Chris for some lunch. Somebody had recommended The Vine, saying it was an English pub. Turned out to be a very posh restaurant. Chris & I sat at the bar rather queasy, shaky and pale. We decided to go somewhere rather less stuffy. Try to drink the hangover away, really didn't work. So a quiet Christmas really, watched a movie on TV and an early night.

Changed over to a cheaper hotel, and went for a few more walks around town. Passed by Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum. It was closed. Situated it a massive square with a large patch of grass intersected with a grid of small path, and lined with grandstands. I caught the changing of the guards where the white uniformed, medalled and armed guards frogmarch from way down the road. Either that or they were doing John Cleese Ministry of Funny Walk impressions. Typical though I didn't have my camera. Maybe not such a bad thing, as other tourists got shooed off from taking photos. Eventually I made it back to the Old Quarter, by this time my shoes were soaked and trashed. The next day some new shoes, and what the hell some new socks for me, it's Christmas! I think my new shoes have rubbed off my pinky toes, ouch!

New Year was fairly quiet. I had located an Irish pub, most of been the only Irish pub in the world that was empty on New Years Eve. Strange, considering it even had a talking leprechaun, what more could you ask for? Oh well, headed back into the tourist centre. Not much happening here either. Chatted with a few Aussies, they were off early the next day, so were having a quiet one. Somebody else had been working here as English Teacher for the past seven months. Midnight came and went with a small cheer, seemed to be more excitement when Chelsea scored.

I decided to head back to Thailand for a few months, China is very cold and it would be nice to unpack somewhere for a bit. I bought a ticket from the asian equivalent of EasyJet. Cost about $50 once taxes are added, not so bad. Maybe it was cheap because its flying on Friday 13th! I'll just cross my fingers and wiggle my thumbs, that should see me sorted. As I plan to stay a while I tried to get the same Thai visa I had got in Malaysia via the hotel, big mistake, if you want something done right do it yourself.

I decide another purchase was in order, some dairy delights, some cheese! Now you wouldn't think it would be a difficult taks to buy some cheese & biscuits, would you? However in a place where you don't speak the lingo the simplest thing can turn into an ordeal. It actually went smoothly enough, just point to the cheese (some New Zealand Cheddar) and some Ritz biscuits. All was well until I returned home. I cut a slice of the cheese off and popped it in my mouth, hmm softer than I would of imagined, yeeurgh, this aint no cheese!! Turned out to be New Zealand butter, but refrigerated at a low temperature so it cuts like cheese. But all was not lost, my plain biscuits turned out to be oxymoronic "Kraft Cheese" biscuits, saved!

Another recent Christmas purchase was a small MP3 player. Takes 1 AAA batteries, I had bought some for 4000dong, I wanted some more but everywhere else seemed to inflate the price to 15000dong, strange. Well until I found out the batteries last about 5 minutes, hmmm. Makes those bus trips go just that little bit quicker though, if the batteries last. Now I have some groovy music to listen to! Your opinion may not necessarily agree...

Another night I had looked at my LP guide, some seafood restuarants were marked next to West Lake, tonights destination. I'm sure I forgot to take a turn and ended up walking in a massive circle. Still suprisingly after an hour or so I arrived. I guess they don't have many tourists. Not any English spoken. Not to worry I had come prepared with my one word of Vietnamese "Ca" which means fish. If pronounced right. I ended up with most of the staff around me trying to work out what the crazy foreigner wants. Eventually I pointed at a receipt which was lying about with "Ca". Aaaah, then the pointed my to come and pick the fish from a water cage. They brought out a whopper (not a BurgerKing product!), no way I could eat that. After some more gestures and writing it turned out they didn't have any fish less than 1.5kg. Not exactly a one person meal, or two for that! Oh well, back to restaraunts with English menus.

As my time in Vietnam draws to a close I only feel that it is proper that I should distill my hard earned knowledge, so here are the rules of the road in descending order:

5) Use of horn is mandatory at all times, even on empty streets.
4) The biggest vehicle has right of way at all times.
3) Traffic lights, one way roads and traffic signs only apply to other people.
2) Never look behind you before pulling out into traffic.
1) Conserve petrol, drive without lights.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


Arrived in Hue, and the usual clamour of touts waiting to take you off to their hotel. I went along with one which was a long two minutes away. Yet more rain! A larger place to get lost in than Hoi An. I took a quick motor bike tour round a few bits and pieces. I just went for lunch but got talked into visiting a few place. Banh Mi Bo Kho for lunch. Banh Mi is basically bread (baguette), Bo is beef which means Kho must be soup/stew. One of the nicer dishes I tasted in Vietnamese.

An old pagoda on a hill, where the monks were pruning the leaves of the trees to make them bare. Isn't that what Winter is for? A quick look at the citadel, not really much to see. Stopped off at a place where the machines of war, were on display. Well just really lying on the street. Giant artillery guns, tanks and other reminders of the war. One square armoured vechicle on display looking total impenetrable. Captured by the Vietnamese it said, and you can't just imagine how you could ever capture something like that. The moto driver said he had moved to Hong Kong for five years and then came back. As far as I could work out he fought alongside the US army. He talked about his brother maybe being allowed entry to the US, they were meeting with the embassy next year. His brother fought as lieutant, then the US pulled out.

Popped into the Demilatrized Zone pub, cause I liked the name. Met Chris an English geezer over here for three months, had a few games of pool with him. Actually five and lost every one. Pfff! I wasn't playing bad but just couldn't win a game. Potted all my balls except the black on my first shot, then potted the white and black on my next, grrr. That's not suppose to happen! Chris had picked up a motorbike in Saigon and riding up to Hanoi. Good luck, mate! As I mentioned before the traffic is pretty crazy, but it makes crossing the road an adventure, getting the adrenalin pumping. I fell like I'm playing Frogger. Have to move into an Asian mindset, of letting the motorbikes avoid you. Just walk out on the road and ignore them. The worst think you can do is stop, and give your rabbit caught in the headlight impression, as they invariably will drive behind you if you keep walking. But when you stop dead, problems occur, being whacked by a fast moving vehicle the primary problem. So go with the flow, cross your fingers and start walking!

Hoi An

Hoi An is the next stop on the tourist route. Most backpackers buy open tickets from Saigon to Hanoi, where you can stop off at certain points. A bit insular, but cheap at around $20 for the whole bus ticket. Lots of shops offering suits and silks for various prices, probably depending on how rich they think you are. The central river had risen to the point of flooding. A bit more rain and I would be hailing boats to get about. Just a couple of nights here as I wanted to head to Hanoi for Chistmas. But being a small places not so much to do anyway. After a walk about town, I grabbed some of the local grub. Hoi An seems to have it's own special food. I popped into a restaurant with an empty stomach and looked at the menu. Six items on the whole menu, they most be specialists. I chose four from the six. Not really fond of prawns, but three from the six are prawn. The best one was Cau Lac, another noodle dish but a bit different from the omnipresent Pho Bo (Beef Noodles) which is eaten all day and night, all over Viet Nam.

After tucking that lot away, I went in search of the local brew. Again the beer is quite varied with different brands in different towns (well at least different labels!) After sampling a beer, I spotted a dart board in the corner. Time to test out the old throwing skills. Yep, as I suspected I was awful. But at least I mostly hit the dart board. I thought that a bit of practice I would get better, but after ten minutes that theory was disproved. I could hit the dart board, but that was about my overall control of these little flying javelins. Back to pool, at least I can play that! I met an Aussie, who fancied a game. After a while a few others joined in a little tournament. With the clear winner some Vietnamese pool wizard. I think he played a lot of billiards, which is popular here. I've seen a few tables without pockets. So either billiards, or Irish pool :) He was irratingly good, potting the black of four cushions. Must of been cheating somehow!

The next day I met up again with the Aussie (I'm awful rembering names, so I call him Bruce). Chatted with him about being in India, he was saying about staying in villages learning five languages. A bit different from my experience, but interesting to chat with. In Hoi An everything closes at 23:00, I was going to head off and get some kip as up early for the bus the next day. But everybody was heading off to an out of town bar which kept late hours (and variable locations!) so I was somewhat easily persuaded to come along. Late night drinking and early morning buses is the not the best mixture it most be admitted, but a good night nonetheless. Only four hours to Hue, so I just zoned out on the bus the next day.