Tuesday, June 10, 2008


After an unventful 9 hour plane ride (uneventful is the best type of plane ride) I reached Melbourne, hopping on the bus, it whizzed into town. I had contrived to lose the booking/directions to the hostel somewhere between the airport and the central bus town. I did however manage to pick up a leaflet for the same place. After getting oriented upon exit I found the place okay.

Back in a dorm room again, 8 creaky bunk beds to the one room. I had two maps of Melbourne, the main city is situated on a grid running roughly North-East. One map had rotated the roads off to face East, while the other used North, somewhat confusing. Just close by the hostel is a park where the possums frolic after dusk. First time I just caught a glimpse I thought it was a giant-cat sized squirrel.

Just round the corner is the Queen Victoria Market, a bit of everything here, most of it junk, kinda like the barrows, but a bit more organised into a grid. Cafes all over the place, the ubiquitous breakfast here is a bacon and egg roll, very healthy :) Seem to be big on being outside, pretty much all cafes/restaurants have outside areas. Maybe this is just for the smokers, seem to be a lot of people smoking here, but maybe that's just because there is a lot of office blocks in the centre and it's more visible with people huddled in doorways.

I've been wandering around the streets trying to get a feel for Melbourne, seems like a nice place. Lots of parks and greenery. The central business district (CBD) in the centre is bound in by Parliament on the North, a park on the East, and the river to the South. Lots of stadiums for the sports mad Aussies. Two big ones in the city, Telstra Dome and the MCG, then a few other dotted around the fringes. Still not quite sure what Aussie Football Rules is all about, but here football is AFL and football is soccer.

There are a few subdistricts such as Port Melbourne, South Yarra and St. Kilda which all make up Melbourne, these are a bit further out from the city and can reach them by tram or bus. Haven't used them much mostly been walking everywhere as you see more. I walked out to St. Kilda have a look at the beach, but being winter doesn't look too inviting! One man and his dog was the only other people there, it's only a small stretch of beach, with a view back to the skyscrapers of the city. Again lots of cafes, and loads of cake shops stacked high with goodies. Then there is Luna Park an old rollercoaster. None of your corkscrews and whirls on this, it was built in 1923 and made of wood.

Back in the city, I went down to the relatively new Federation Square. A collection of various odd shaped buildings, one of which is the ACMI. I went in there tAo see Game On. A history of computer games, through the ages. You can play some old classics. I spent a while playing R-Type and Monkey Island!

Another day I headed over to the Melbourne Museum, I was there for a couple of hours, before they closed, didn't get to see everything though. Some of the aboriginal exhibitions were interesting, about the government taking the kids away to make them civilised. Crazy to think that their civilization is 30,000 years old, kinda puts Western history in a different perspective with a timescale like that!

Anyway not much happening on the job front at the moment, but I'll keep looking and see what I can find. Think I'm spending as much on food as anything else at this point. At least the portion are bigs, and I got a free muffin today from a cafe, because they forget about my egg & bacon foccacia.

Sitting in an internet cafe on Smith Street in Fitzroy typing this up, only $1 for wifi here but it is a fair walk from where I'm staying. Nearby is the busy Brunswick Street full of more cafes and bar, another separate district from the city centre. At least I've managed to avoid being attacked by dropbears

Thursday, March 06, 2008

After an hour delay we were winging our way up to Chiang Mai. Bags arrived quickly and jumped in a taxi. Checked in to the room only 20 mins after touching down.

On Saturday we visited Wulai road for the market. Strolling along encountered some Thais with colourful pointed hats, possibly something to do with the elections. The side effect for tourists at the election is the banning of alcohol for a few days. In the market everything from honey in a beer bottle to a buffalo skull is up for sale. After the market it was a walk down to the Airport Plaza for some Japanese food at Fuji restaurant, great colourful presented food and very popular with the locals.

The next day, again I was stuffing my face at the lunch buffet at Grand View hotel. All you can eat for 2 quid! That night it was back to the Sunday market, a different venue similar but larger than the previous market. Stopped off at a restaurant in the middle for some waterfall pork, a spicy little number. Mum and Dad both had the roasted chicken hacked into chunks. Traipsing around you can only see so much, but you have a good excuse at the end for a foot massage.

On Monday I had to get a new passport as my current one is full, so off to the consulate with a wallet full of cash, only to be informed a) they don't take cash and b) my photos are no good. So back the next morning to rectify that, while the parents had a look around the flower market and the Chinese temple. Also nearby is Warorot market aka Kaat Luang, which has a bit of everything for sale, in a large dimly lit interior. After all that, it was time to relax in one of Chiang Mai's cafe, such as the Siam Celadon Tea House, for a refreshing cool watermelon shake.

Wat Montien was another stop, but first opposite we entered another Wat. This one had a new silver outside, also it was decorated outside with some rather cartoony animal sculptures, one of which, a dog, somebody had slipped on a pair of sandals. As we were leaving a pair of guardian statues were being craned into places, as a couple of workers used long sticks to push the pesky power cables out of the way.

We sprinted across the road to Wat Montien, a golden Lanna style temple. The monk seem to be staring at me, then he spoke. He was from Laos and had noticed my "Sabai Dii" t-shirt I had picked up in Luang Prabang. He told us the temple held the only Lanna Buddha in Chiang Mai city, but here they couldn't ordain monks until something similar to cannonballs were placed in the correct auspicious locations.

Walking south, we visited a few more wats, before arrive at Wat Phra Singh. A large golden Buddha resides inside the peaceful hall. At this time though a small group of schoolgirls were chanting/singing inside. Now weren't far from Huen Phen a popular local restaurant. Here we had the Khao Soy, a mild (by Thai standards!) chicken curry soup served up with pickled cabbage, onions, cripsy fried noodles and soft egg noodles. Sounds strange, but a tasty dish. Back round the corner we entered Wat Chedi Luang, with a large 60m pagoda, surrounded by stone elephants. Even got a big fat red buddha in the temple grounds. We found the same small shop from a few years ago, still selling their wares. Another skin carving was purchased.

That night it was off to the rather trendy, but strangely named Mo'c Mo'l (Short for Monkey Club Moon Lover, obviously). Entering into a restaurant set round a pond with fountains and lily leaves. The portions were a bit on the small side here, but it left space for some banana fritters, although these turned out to be more like bread-crumbed and battered!

Next day was a hot walk along to Wat Jet Yod, an older style temple. A newish addition however had a beautifully jewel encrusted Buddha as the centrepiece. Around the ground older chedis contain the ashes of past Kings, but nowadays provide shade for stray dogs. A quick coffee and we continued on out way. This time we decided to head out to a plant market, but by chance came across another market nearby. The perfect place to browse for specific amulets, as evidenced by Thai collectors sporting eyepieces. An intriguing place, with rows upon rows of vendors selling their trinkets. Leaving there a local fish shop was spotted and we were dragged in there to have a look round!

Finally we made it to the intended plant market, where some seeds for Thai veg were bought, wonder if they will grow in the snow? :)
A fair collection of gaudy sculptures are on sale here, which would enhance any garden, but round the corner some plants and piles of orchids. Surprisingly big place, how many different plants can you sell. The answer seems to be LOTS.

Next day we visited Wat Suan Dok, which has a huge empty hall and back to back budhhas, outside the whitewashed chedis bliding in the midday sun. A short walk brings us to the Art Museum not much on at this point, a few strange modern art exhibits but mostly empty. A small cafe in the corner of the grounds provides a welcome refreshment drink. I opted for makhiang juice, whatever that is.

Heading up the hard-to-pronounce Nimmanhaemin road, we stopped of for some lunch at Kopitiam another cafe, serving Asian food. I had the Malaysian Nasi Lemak while Dad had some spicy seafood salad, in which he insisted that the pasta was some sort of unidentified pasta-shaped seafood. After lunch back for a read of the book, then later than night down to the Ping river for a more eating! The Riverside restaurant is a popular dining spot with a huge menu with some unusual items. This is place to be to sample "Fried chinless cabbage with chinless mushroom" or if your feeling really brave why not try the "veget arsine fried rice"

On the Saturday I met up with Barry who I went trekking with in Nepal, we headed off to the women's prison in the city where we got a massage from a couple of the soon-to-be released inmates! After a haircut, we met up with my folks for a look round the Saturday market on Wualai road. Similar to the Sunday not quite as busy though. After some browing and shopping, we headed back to Hillside 4 and to the large, very large restaurant next door. A massive football-pitched size Moo Kata style place. We sat a table number 342 or something! It's certainly a dining experience with troughs of raw meat and people running around with buckets of hot coals, while a curious Thai comedy troupe entertain on stage. Also purple donuts!

Sunday, it was off to The Pub for fry-up brunch. Then a trip to the nicely air-conditioned shopping mall. A lazy Sunday. Next day it was back to the markets, this time Kaat Muang or City Market. A large busy market selling cheap vegetables and assorted other unknowns :) Buy a carrier bag full of tomatoes for 25 baht. Or maybe some pig trotters, or a kilo of chillis, or some pla ra
if you've got a strong stomach. Then is back to Warorot Market to pick up some tea for posting home, along with some incense sticks. Of course that meant going past the material shop which gave Mum a chance to buy lots more stuff.

On the Friday we headed to Airport Plaza where Dad and I went to watch 10,000 BC while Mum went round the shopping mall. Then an iced coffee at Doi Chaang Coffe. Back sitting on the balcony when Dad spotted a fire, one of the billboards had burst into flames and now belching out black smoke. A fire engine came along and sorted it out, but by that time the fire had probably burnt itself out anyway.

That night a very nice meal at the fancy new Nimman Bar and Grill. Mmmm, a tasty steak with soup for started and ice-cream desert. Staff were over-eager though whipping away one dish and replacing the next instantly! Very nice setting in the new hotel in Chiang Mai.

The nexy day Dad and I hired a songtaew and headed up to Mae Sa Elephant Camp we missed the show (I caught when I went again with Neil, it was good, they rocked out playing the harmonica!) but Dad got his hat placed on his head by an elephant and we were lucky to come at the right time as a new baby elephant had just been born, only 5 days old. Looked a bit wobbly on it's legs, hiding in between mummy's legs most of the time. On the way back we quickly popped into the Orchid farm. Loads of different orchids very colourful.

The next day my parents headed back to Scotland and the day after Neil arrived, so back to doing the tour guide all over again!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Big Mango

I flew down from Chiang Mai to Bangkok and met my parents coming in from Glasgow. After a short wait we managed to meet up and get a taxi to the hotel in the midst of Bangkok spaghetti junction. Situated between roads, flyover, tolls and trains.

The first night we headed out for a stroll around the hotel, lurking underneath a bridge stood the dark mass of an elephant. In Thailand they are sometimes taken round pubs where patrons can purchase bananas to feed them. Headed along Petchburi road we stopped at a restaurant having some Thai food server up by an...erm flamboyant waiter.

With only 2 full days in Bangkok it was full speed ahead. Flagging down a taxi, the first stop had to be the Royal Palace. We headed inside to be confronted by the splendid grandeur of the temples. Very exotic and glitzy! Next, it was over to Wat Pho to see the giant lying Buddha, which barely fits inside the building. Round the back we dropped some 25 satang coins into the bowls, we all ran out of coins before the end of bowls.

Back outside we waited for a boat back into town, having to wait a while for the next free boat as the first boat was crammed full with people. After arriving back Taksin Bridge a nicely timed Sky Train arrived to take it back to Central Bangkok. On the skywalk we walked past the Erawan shrine, where a few dancers did a short performance. Continuing along the walk we headed out the heat into the air-con comfort of Central World. Up 6 or 7 levels, we found a Japanese restaurant for a late lunch. The rest of the afternoon was spent browsing around the huge shopping mall. A quick taxi ride took us over to backpacker central, Khao San road. Strolling down the road for a nosy, we ventured onwards to Soi Rambuttri and found a busy seafood restaurant where Dad ate more fish, Red Snapper, I opted for a tasty Chicken Matasaman curry while Mum had a spice Red Chicken Curry. All washed down with some Chang Beer, a very busy first day in Bangkok.

Next day we headed to the Marble Temple, a beautiful temple made from (yep you guessed it) marble. And a lot of gilding. The outer courtyard holding different Buddha statues from near and far.

Then a walk through the leafy Dusit area, past the European styled Ananta Samakorn Throne Hall, and eventually round to Vimanek Mansion. However as this was Makha Bucha day the mansion was closed. Not to worry another taxi ride brought us to Jim Thompsons House, where we had the guided tour round the house and gardens. And just enough time for Mum to do some shopping. Crossing over the road we headed into MBK and up to Fifth Avenue for lunch.

Diving through the maze of interconnected walkways and shopping malls we arrived at Siam Paragon. Here Dad and I went and watch Jumper on the IMAX while mum continued shopping.
Later after some navigational difficulties we made it down to the basement. Located here is Ocean World. Heading in we walked past many large tanks, the main one 6m deep. We even took a glass bottomed boat to ride on the giant fishtank (definitely weird being in a boat, inside the basement of a shopping mall!) Saw some sharks and stingray and wonderful fish, all the water and glass really clean. Enough watching fish, now for some eating. We walked over to a seafood restaurant where I tried the sea bass.