This is the blog/travel journal for Chris & Joanne Reilly from Glasgow, Scotland. After quitting our jobs and selling our house, we plan to travel around the globe for the next year.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Bangkok Shot My Brother

Jumped into a taxi and headed out to the airport to meet my brother Andrew who was on his first visit to Thailand, as usual the driver dropped me off at the wrong place at domestic arrivals and not international. After a quick check I found out that I had to catch a small shuttle bus to get to the other terminal, no problems so far as I got to the airport in plenty of time. While waiting for the bus I noticed an ATM machine, so I dived over and stuck in my card. Nothing happened, nothing, no message, no enter pin number, nothing no I’ve just swallowed your card ha-ha message, just nothing. So I stood around staring blankly at the screen for a few seconds and thought maybe there’s an information place nearby. Didn’t find any info place but I went to a bureau de change run by TMB the same company who owned the ATM, the girl behind the desk laughed nervously when I explained my story. I asked if she could open the machine or maybe phone their service department, she said that she couldn’t do either because even though she had on a TMB uniform and that she was working in a glass box emblazoned with TMB Logos she wasn’t a TMB employee. Same Same but different was the response when I pointed to the logo on her blouse, getting quite exasperated I decided to head to the other terminal before I missed Andrew.

The flight had landed but I think I got there before he came through the arrivals door. As I'd flown into Bangkok before I knew that it was a bit of a scrum trying to fight your way through the Limousine & Taxi touts trying to pick off the dazed and confused tourists as they pour through immigration. So, I wore the brightest top I could find and one that Andrew would recognise and a small sign with his name. Well it was the brightest top I had and I’m sure Andrew could spot a Celtic top in any crowd, and if he didn’t see the top he would definitely see the Mr Lyylee sign I held above the heads of the rest of the waiting throng. Andrew ambled through like he had just walked out of a bar in Glasgow’s Merchant City, and soon spotted his older sibling probably insulting half the folk around him with sign of the phonetically challenged way they usually say our surname. It was great seeing Andrew and he didn’t seem too knackered after his 13 hour flight from Glasgow.

We then headed through to the other terminal to see if I could get anybody else to help fish my bank card from the ATM machine. Managed to find a slightly more helpful TMB employee who gave me a few phone numbers to try but as I had no change we headed back to the hotel and phoned some of the numbers to cancel my card. Small Tip: if you’re flying to Bangkok ignore all the hoopla at the entrance and head straight out past all the taxis and limousines and walk out to the main street running parallel to the airport, less than a two minute walk. Usually you will find a taxi waiting here or if not soon as you’re out flag one down and you have just saved yourself 50 Baht as the taxi driver doesn’t have to pay any airport stamp. In the taxi it seemed quite strange as I was talking away to Andrew as if I hadn’t seen him in a week and not the almost twelve months since I last seen him.

After Andrew booked in and grabbed a quick shower we headed out for his first experience of Bangkok. We caught the BTS skytrain to Siam to pick up our tickets for the Bangkok 100 Rock Festival and headed further down on the skytrain to Saphan Taskin where you catch the small ferries that commute people up and down the river which runs through the heart of Bangkok. The last time we visited Bangkok we stayed quite near the river and the small ferries are a great quick way to avoid the polluted rush hour traffic to get up to China Town and Banglamphu. Once on the boat we pointed out some of the landmarks as we whizzed by them with a cool headwind cooling down the mid afternoon heat, it took us about ten minutes to get to Thewit that would have taken well over an hour on the road from Saphan Taskin.

We headed for dinner in a small street restaurant that we had been in a few weeks back, nothing fancy but the food was better than the Lonely Planet trumpeted Hemlock that we were in the previous night. Andrew isn’t much of a spicy eater but he enjoyed his Pad Thai as we tucked into Green and Red Curries. After that we headed to Khao San road for a few beers and a wander around the stalls and trinket merchants, the place was busy for Wednesday night and we were soon back at the most unsafe pub in the world, since the Lord Darnley in Glasgow was closed down for being riddled with TB.

I’m not sure if I mentioned this in our last blog about Bangkok, but after 6pm the local Shell Garage closes down and hundreds of small bright yellow tables appear and a small bar is set up between the petrol pumps. We managed to get one of the last tables available, this not being Glasgow you’re free to smoke and play with the candles that sit precariously on each table. I’m just waiting to see it in the papers some day soon when someone has maybe dropped a match, candle, fag or just shimmied a bit too much with their segged shoes. We escaped without going up in smoke and piled into the back of a Tuk-Tuk and managed to find a driver that took us straight back to our hotel and didn’t even try and rip us off.

It was great seeing Andrew and I think the three of us had a great night catching up. Before we got into the back of the Tuk-Tuk there was also some hi-jinx with a kid selling balloons but to be honest too many beers got in the way of any of us making sense of it… Check the Photos and see if you can figure it out.

Next morning we all made it up for breakfast, not in the best of health but least we all still made it for breakfast. We had to head to the tourist police station so I could report my card being swallowed by the ATM and get a crime reference number. After sitting in a traffic Jam for about twenty minutes we decided to head out on foot and try to find the office. After been pointed in the wrong direction several times we eventually found the office hidden behind a bushel, once inside it didn’t take too long to sort out even though they were translating everything into Thai. The only worrying thing was they had never heard of the bank, but I checked my account later and nothing was amiss before I managed to close down the card.

While we'd been wandering around looking for the police we noticed a massive sign at the University saying Art Gallery and we said we should head there later in the week. We went for a wander back to the hotel and passed the Parliament building and crowds of families celebrating Graduations (we think) in a local park. That night we headed to the Thai boxing known locally as Muay Thai at the Ratchademnoen Stadium, we had been tipped off that Thursday night was the best to see some good fights. The pricing is 1st, 2nd and 3rd class, we opted for the 2nd class which was still a whopping £20 quid each for us poor unemployed & homeless westerners, Andrew’s got a job but he looks poor.

Once inside the stewards tried to hustle us into a section with restricted views but we stood our ground and managed to get a decent view of the ring. We got in just before the first bout (there was to be another 9 afterwards), after the boxers entered the ring they entered a strange ritual that was half warm up half superstitious hokum as they wandered around nodding and bowing at every corner. This seemed to take forever and it got really boring after a few fights and to be honest once the fights started it never got that much better.

After the first fight the three of us turned to each other with a look of befuddlement as we never really understood what was happening and the guy we thought was the best didn’t win. This went on for the next few fights and although it got quite exciting when the crowd started hollering and hooting we still didn’t really get why they suddenly got excited when the opponents grappled and tried to knee each other in the thigh. We spent probably as much time watching the locals betting, tic-tac style with strange hand gestures prompting stranger responses from the bookies runners.

There was also a band who accompanied every fight with a strange rhythmic warbling that after a few hours slowly got caused your brain to turn to porridge and start dripping out your ears. After the seventh fight we decided to cut our losses and sneak out. Strangely it felt a bit like leaving the Barrowlands after a gig as hawkers tried to sell you t-shirts, both Andrew and myself were quite surprised to see a Celtic t-shirt amongst the Thai Boxing and Elephant t-shirts.

Next morning we headed off to Ko Ratanakosin, to wander around the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew. Joanne and I had been here twice before, well once really as the first time we never made it into the grounds as we turned up five minutes after closing time before we were ushered into a Tuk-Tuk heading to a local gem store. This time we managed to slip in before anybody tried to scam us and skipped by all the Japanese who were having countless group photos at every single insignificant fixture in the grounds. Once inside I think Andrew was slightly overwhelmed by the sheer opulence of the many temples and stuppas, the old Kings of Siam certainly liked their bling as your eyes are dazzled by the sun reflecting off the hundred or so jewel and gold covered structures. We had a look at the revered diminutive Emerald Buddha which is a bit of let down considering that the building housing it is one of the most opulent temples we’ve seen on whole trip. The Grand Palace doesn’t see too much action from the present King, but there are still a few decorated guardsmen out front posing for photos for all the tourists.

After a short stroll to Wat Pho which has the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand, as well as the largest reclining Buddha we decided to head for some lunch. This turned out to be a bit harder than we expected and I was on the end of a few harsh words from Joanne and Andrew as I led them down numerous winding lanes and dead ends in China town in the hope of finding that illusive cheap noodle shop. Eventually after grabbing something to quell Joanne and Andrews rumbling innards we hustled and bustled with what felt like the rest of Bangkok in the narrow streets that held the thieves market in China town. After a few hours in the increasing heat we decided to give up and head back to the hotel and chill out for an hour or so before heading out for the night.

Friday night we headed down to Patpong for dinner and a few drinks, after been told that there was no chicken we went for the neck of pork....bad choice. I think we would have rather had some H5N1 flavoured noodles than the fatty tasteless pork that arrived on our plates, alongside some of the most outrageously spicy dipping sauce. We then had a quick wander around the night market and passed by some of the notorious ping pong bars and clubs. We decided to head for our first beer of the night when Andrew pointed out some actress from Neighbours (supposedly an Australian Soap) standing just in front of us, walking quickly on we turned into a street full of bars when I noticed someone vaguely familiar. When your travel about South East Asia on the backpacking route you crisscross paths with many fellow backpackers, so I didn’t really pay much heed to the very recognisable face getting closer and closer. It was just as this chap passed by that I realised that it King Monkey himself, Ian Brown, ex-lead singer of the Stone Roses and one time monosyllabic spokesman of a generation. I didn’t say anything to him even though he and the rest of his band took up quite a bit of my wall space in the late eighties when Manchester was centre of my musical universe. We had a few more beers in Patpong before deciding to head to some more bars nearer to our hotel as it was going to be long day tomorrow.

We got up early and headed out to the weekend market so Andrew could scout out some presents, and to get his first shipment of Bathing Ape t-shirts. The market wasn’t too busy at this time and we managed to tick quite a few things of our respective lists. We grabbed a few excellent smoothies, had one last wander around the market then headed back to the hotel just before the place got too busy. Andrew had luckily came to Bangkok the same week as it was having its first major rock festival and some of our favourite bands had signed up to play. We headed out early as we didn’t really know what to expect nor did we know how far out of town it was. Once inside we soon realised that it was going to be slightly different from T in the Park there was only one beer tap for the festival, but we still managed to get a few free whisky’s as the event was being sponsored by 100 Pipers Whisky (one of the biggest brand names in the country). 100 Pipers also had a small area set up with fairground type booths to test your skills with the chance to win some logo emblazoned merchandise, we came away with a t-shirt, CD case and a key ring between us.

After a few local bands and a boring Belgian band we had our first real highlight of the day as Ian Brown, entered the stage wearing a horrendous pink shell suit not seen since Jimmy Saville was hanging weirding out Louis Theroux. Ian Brown was never the best of singers but he always known how to master the stage and he soon had the crowd going with his combination of Thai pleasantries, goofy shoulder shuffling and all round showmanship…. Top Man. Joanne has never been a fan but was well won over with his infectious friendliness, the quality of his backing band and the highlights from his back catalogue which now has some serious gems to sit alongside the seminal Stone Roses songs.

Next up was Franz Ferdinand all the way from Glasgow, having taken the world by storm over the last few years it was great to see them on the big stage in Bangkok. Alex the lead singer used to run the Kazoo club in the 13th Note back in the day when I was in a band called Limehouse, there was also talk of us doing a split single with Alex’s band at the time the Blisters, but you will have to ask Davie Whyte more about that if you know him. Franz didn’t disappoint and the place was rocking to some of the best songs released in the last few years with a band who are obviously still loving being the most talked about British band in the world. This made the Oasis set even more disappointing as in the early nineties Oasis had the same verve and passion as Franz Ferdinand before they disappeared up their backsides in a storm of white powder. Liam was his usual self and Noel even came across like a spoiled brat anytime he ventured near the microphone.

Why not check out Andrew’s reviews of the festival here…. Ian Brown, Franz Ferdinand, Oasis, 100 Rock Festival

We luckily managed to get a taxi outside the venue and were soon speeding back to our hotel, since it was after midnight we decided to grab a few beers and snacks from a local 7 eleven and finish off the night in one of our rooms. Joanne headed up to the room as Andrew and I headed for the refreshments. On the way round we noticed a small urchin throwing stones at a teenager while laughing menacingly at him. As we passed the same kid on the way back he approached us and pulled out a gun, suddenly he flipped open the barrel and spun it a few times before putting in a bullet he had just waved in our face. At this point we didn’t know what to think, things started getting a more unsettling as he raised the gun to Andrew’s face and pulled the trigger a few times before the kid burst into laughter as we scarpered across the road. I just turned to Andrew and said that it was a great story for the blogger before the shock really set in and both of us could see the colour drain from our faces. We enjoyed the beers as we talked over what had just happened still not sure if it was really funny or just very dangerous.

Next morning we had a bit of a later start after all the exertions the previous day, but it wasn’t long before we were hitting the shops and markets as Andrew tried to finish off his shopping orders from back home. That night we headed to the Bar 22 in Sukhumit to watch the Celtic v Dunfermline game, the bar was run by ex-Glasgow bus driver who entertained us with his stories of On the Buses Glasgow style. The game turned out to be the a bit of a cracker as Celtic ran out 8-1 winners and a certain Mr Lennon managed to get his first goal in about four years. After the game we also had another game of killer pool with the bar staff and the air stewards from Quantas who were dragged in by one of their Scottish colleagues. We eventually left the bar a little worse for wear and Andrew thought he really had too much to drink when he saw a few elephants walking up the street in front of him. With a little closer inspection there were two elephants been led along the road with their owner trying to sell bananas to unsuspecting tourists to feed the animals, not what you expect to see when you stagger out the pub at two in the morning.

Next we consulted the guidebook and decided to head to the University’s Modern Art Gallery which was highly recommended in the Lonely Planet. We had seen the gallery a few days earlier when we looking for the tourist police. When we arrived at the University we couldn’t find the gallery and soon realised that we were not at the right University and that the book was talking about another one at the other end of the city, so we decided as it had started to pour that we would leave it until the next day. As the rain was bouncing off the street we headed down to Siam with all its indoor shopping centres and markets.

On Andrew’s last full night in Bangkok we headed to Khao San Road for our final blow out or at least that was the plan. After eating too much pizza we headed round to one of the bars on the main strip, and soon realised that the place was deserted and that none of the stalls or performers were out that night. We found out later that there's no street markets on Monday nights in this area, and the pubs can’t put tables and seats out on the street. So after a few drinks we headed round to a small CD shop which also had a bar and picked up loads of CD’s while sipping Leo & Chang beers. We headed home slightly disappointed as we were looking forward to sending Andrew home with a bang, but a mixture of bad timing and the exertions of the last few days had finally caught up with us.

Andrew’s Last day saw us heading to Modern Art Gallery, this time we did find the correct university but the Gallery was closed and looked if it had been for some time. So we headed to the Robot Building to take some snaps, the robot building is as you would imagine a large building that surprise, suprise looks like a robot. Once again we luckily avoided a massive downpour just as we jumped on the skytrain. After dinner Andrew went back to the hotel to pick up his bags and jumped a taxi back to the airport. I hope he had a great time, and I know Joanne myself really enjoyed having him over and giving him a quick run round some of Bangkok’s many highlights.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Fake Tales of Bangkok City

For once both of us managed to get a little bit of a sleep on the bus. We were supposed to arrive in Bangkok at 6.30 am but despite the numerous lengthy stops the bus driver hammered us to Bangkok and we were dropped off at Khao San road at 4.30 in the morning. We had printed the address for the hotel but the print was pretty poor and wandered down the street trying to find an internet. This place reminds me of Glasgow city centre at 2am picking up a rather merry Mr Reilly, sticky smelly streets and loads of people either falling over or holding each other up!! We managed to get onto the internet and arrived early at our hotel The Bangkok City Suite at 5.30am.

After some discussions the staff let us have our room from 6.15am which was rather nice of them and we both tried to get a little sleep. We then managed to get reception to give us a room later in the day which had a wireless connection and thankfully I hadn’t unpacked that much. So it was back to reception and after what seemed a lifetime they eventually agreed to provide us with another room after 1pm. We had a quick shower and headed out as we wanted to scout out the weekend market.

We arrived at the market at lunchtime and it was rather busy, hot and sweaty walking or dodging people, stalls and trolleys laden with goods. Chris bought a tee-shirt (surprise, surprise) and I managed to get some other pressies and after a couple of hours we had had enough and decided to head back. We are about a 15 minute walk from the Sky Train and as we left the rain started to come down, well within 2 minutes we were drenched. The traffic came to a complete standstill so the only option was to walk in the heavy thunder storm, it was like having a shower with your clothes on. The water was hot, we were soaked to the skin and had such a laugh walking down the street. You would have thought that we were crazy with the looks that some people gave us although many folks just smiled and laughed at us as we danced our way back to the hotel. The staff at reception looked at us in disbelief as we soaked the reception area to collect our key for our new room.

It was the Rangers v Celtic game that night and yes that is one of the main reasons why we left the beach early to allow a certain person to watch the game on the TV. We managed to find a bar in the Sukhumvit area that was supposed to be showing the game so we jumped in a taxi as it was still raining and managed to find Hilarys Bar. Unlike a lot of the bars this place had slightly older girls playing pool with Western men and too be honest it wasn’t too sleazy. So we settled down with some great burgers and chips although unlike Glasgow the girl kept trying to take my plate away as I was still eating she was nearly forked a couple of times as I tried to stab a chip. We had a couple of jugs of beer and then another couple as we watched Rangers lose 1-0. Our bar maid was rather tipsy as one of her customers had been buying her a few drinks and she kept on topping Chris’s drink up and telling me to look after him – I think she was after him with all the looks she kept on giving him.

The following day we made it up for breakfast which was slightly better than anticipated but cold fried eggs is not something that we relish eating with a hangover, but we managed to eat some anyway. We went to the MBK shopping mall and spent some time wandering around there and then into the Siam Discovery, Siam Centre and the Paragon Shopping Mall. We had pizza for lunch/dinner as we needed some sustenance to keep us going. We managed to find a Tesco shopping centre and spent about an hour wandering around buying some things for the fridge and then some other stuff as well. It’s probably one of the best supermarkets we have been in since leaving Oz.

As it was valentine’s night we decided to treat ourselves and went to ‘Hemlock’ a restaurant we had been in several times on previous visits. The place was busy and we waited to be seated. It was a really romantic table with less than a foot between us and the next one and it took a while to order food and drink. Our food was placed on the table next to us and the guy asked us was this what we ordered so we ended up spending the rest of the meal chatting to them. We wandered up Khao San road and then headed home.

On Tuesday it was the arrival of Mr Reilly junior (Andrew, Chris’s brother, to those who know him) and after having breakfast Chris left to meet him at the airport. Chris was a bit worried when he realised that Andrew's flight refernce was HN51 and the avian bird flu was on the march again

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Busy Doing Nothing

We managed to get to the ferry and on it without any great hardship and found ourselves a good seat on the deck so that Joanne could see the horizon, in Joanne’s mind this helps her avoid being seasick. For someone who’s just spent the last year travelling round the world she ain’t much of a traveller; she doesn’t like flying, she can’t read on buses, she’s sick on 90% of boats and she usually fights with taxi drivers. Five minutes after we sat down the heavens opened and we had to retreat under the canopy for a few minutes as the shower passed, so much for our plans to sit in the sun all week.

On arrival at Thongsala we had to run the gauntlet of taxi and hotel touts thrusting flyers into your hands and squealing into our ears about cheap accommodation and fast cars. As usual we tried to pick out the least annoying and quietest person of the crowd and were soon in the back of a pickup with another few couples as we sped along the coast road. John & Vanessa had recommended Chills a small resort that they had been to a few weeks earlier, I’m not sure having a pool table and a small rock pool justifies calling it a resort but we headed there anyway. The place sat right on the beach and all the rooms and chalets faced onto the water, so after having quick look at our room we decided to book in for the week and try and do as little as possible over the following seven days.

The owners were away on a visa run and Steve a friendly English guy gave us the lowdown on the place and the rest of the island. We were told to help ourselves to the fridge full of beer and juice and just to mark what we drink on the tab. The place also had three resident Thai’s (Daa, Ball & Mo) who made the food, cleaned the rooms and joined in with the fun. All the amenities were right on our balcony and we didn’t really have to leave the place so we didn’t for the next two days. That afternoon we took some books from the large library and sat and read while sitting on the beach.

The place was really peaceful and there were only five other guests staying on the day we arrived, one of them was the owner’s friend John who had been here for quite a few weeks. The other four were some teenagers from Ireland, yes even more Irish. I’m not sure why but we have only met a handful of Scots over the last year, but we have met at least thirty or forty Irish people. I find it quite sad that two countries that have a similar population have a real different attitude to travelling, most young Scottish people you meet are quite happy for week in Ibiza but everywhere we've been this year there’s been crowds of Irish out there doing it and living it to the full. Sorry for the crass generalisation but that’s just the way I’ve seen it, and I doff my cap to all the Irish we’ve met on the trip who’ve been full of fun and adventure.

The resort had a small lounge area with a few low tables and cushioned mats to spread out on, I’m sure this was just a rouse to get you so comfortable that you wouldn’t leave and just drink more beer from the too handy fridge. That night we all watched Walk the Line the new movie based on the relationship between Johnny Cash & June Carter. Although the storyline takes a few liberties with the truth the music is the real star of the show. Joaquin Phoenix looks uncannily like Johnny Cash at times and the director of photography does a great job in replicating some of the famous still photos from the Folsom & San Quentin Prison gigs.

The days started to merge into one another as we lazed, ate and drank all within 30 meters of our bed. Joanne was up to reading two trashy novels per day and I got a head start on a few websites that I planned to work on while back in Scotland. Now time for an advertisement for Dubcentral: One hardworking, enthusiastic web designer, application programmer, photographer, blogger, graphic designer, musician, collagist looking for an interesting job in Glasgow and the surrounding areas.

After a few days we had enough of sitting in the one place and we decided to head down to Thongsala to maybe use the internet or find out the best way to get back to Bangkok the following weekend. We asked a few people the best way to walk into town and they all looked incredulous that we would even think of walking. We worked out that it was just over 6 Km’s and that it wouldn’t take us much over the hour in the heat. We soon realise that one of the reasons that no one walks is because of the really bad driving on the island and the packs of skanky dogs that congregate at almost every corner. I’m not really much of a dog lover, as well as being allergic to them I think they smell the fear and always seem to snarl and snap anytime I’m near.

Thongsala was a bit of a disappointing place with loads of shops selling fake Ministry of Sound CD’s, juggling balls and head torches to the crowds who pour in for the Full Moon Parties. As usual we were going to just miss the big party but I don’t think either of us was too bothered and chilling out for a week was more than enough consolation. We got all our business done and popped into a busy café for lunch, we had loved the Thai food so far but we decided to get a burger for a change. The burger was fine but the highlight for me was the bottle of HP Sauce that materialised on our table, I can’t remember the last time I saw a bottle never mind covered my chips in it.

On the way back to Chills we noticed a sign for accommodation that would be ideal for Joanne when she trying to blow off some steam.

On the Wednesday night the owner Karl and his girlfriend Becks returned from their visa run to Penang in Malaysia and suddenly the place became a whole lot louder as the Ben Elton lookalike told us how much he hated Penang and how he was so glad to be home. Pretty soon a game of Killer pool was organised and everyone was in the pool room knocking back beers and cranking up the music, I didn’t play too badly that night but the following nights I could hardly hit a ball. The last time I had played Killer pool was on my stag weekend when Gary (The Shark) said he had a great game for a crowd and by the time he had explained the rules he had just lightened everybody else’s wallets and made his a whole lot heavier. Here's some of the rules I remember from Killer pool.

• Everybody starts with five lives
• You must pot a ball or you lose a life
• You can pot any ball
• Everybody has one shot

We were still playing at three in the morning when I realised that Celtic were playing, I didn’t think the game would be on TV as it was midweek. So as I sat in the deserted lounge flicking through the satellite channels I got a great surprise to see rainy Glasgow appear on the screen and Celtic v Falkirk already kicked off. So for the first thirty minutes of the game I ran back and forward from the pool room to the lounge trying in vain to get myself knocked out the pool tournament so that I could watch the rest of the game. Usually I never have a problem getting knocked at pool but tonight it just wasn’t happening quick enough, luckily I was in the lounge when Roy Keane got his first goal for Celtic since signing from Manchester United in November.

The next day Joanne headed off with Daa & Ball to go crab hunting, what they never told Joanne before she headed off was that they would be going on a motorbike. Joanne hates motorbikes as much as I dislike dogs, so you can imagine her face as they whizzed along the bumpy roads. They came back with a large bucketful of crabs, Joanne said she caught about a dozen but she was no match to the locals who caught bundles. That night we all had some crab for dinner, but to be honest I found it all a bit too much like hard work biting through the shell and sucking out the meat. Daa & Ball had also made a small raft from some old plastic barrels and polystyrene that had washed up on the beach, they had tied it all together with tyre tubing’s and had planned to sail out over the reef and get to some of the bigger fish.

The rest of the week we spent doing more of the same and when it was time to leave on Saturday the idea of travelling overnight to Bangkok was not nearly that appealing as lying about watching the sun set from our balcony or from the lounge sipping Changs and wondering whose turn it was to head up for the next beer. AAAAaaaaaa the Life of Reilly!!!!!

Friday, February 03, 2006

Check Your Bucket

We were dropped off in a bus station somewhere in the North of Bangkok and quickly realised that the taxi and tuk-tuk drivers hadn’t changed and were up to their usual tricks of trying to get you to pay more. We eventually managed to get a tuk-tuk to take us to the nearest sky train station and made our way across the city to our hostel without any problems. We arrived about 7am and for the first time we were unable to get our room and had to go and find something to do!!

Well the shopping malls opened at 10am so we had 3 hours to kill and spent them wandering around the city, through Lumphini park watching all the oldies doing their Tai Chi and having some coffee. We then hit the MBK mall although we don’t remember this having as many floors and then the posh stores where we managed to spot the “Garnier girls” in strange outfits promoting their “white skin” range. Around one we were both shattered and went back to the hostel.

We were shown to our “twin” room which had squeaky bunk beds, a window that didn’t lock and scaffolding across half of the window as the building next door was being worked upon. We both fell asleep to the drilling and banging of the workmen through our wall and later I got locked in the bathroom as the door handle/lock wouldn’t open some place!

At night we took the sky train to the river and then the boat up towards Khao San road which is the main backpacking area. We stopped off in a little lane with lots of restaurants and had Pad Thai and a Red curry which turned out more spicy than anticipated. We strolled along past the many stalls which had set up for the evening trade of drunken farangs (westerners) and had decided to go and get a beer when we heard 2 rather distinctive voices. “Isn’t that John and Vanessa” said Chris and we looked around but couldn’t see them. Two minutes later we realised that it was definitely them (we spent Christmas in Saigon with them) the only difference being that John now had dreadlocks and Vanessa had dyed her hair blonde!! So we stood chatting with them and another couple and arranged to meet up the following night. Chris & I then sat in one of the bars on Khao San and watched the hordes of tourists stream up and down.

The following day we found a rather nice coffee place and spent some time catching up on the internet. We had decided to head out early and try and find the Southern bus terminal to book our next destination. So we took the boat and started to walk thinking that it looked about 30 minutes or so on the map. An hour and a half later we were still walking and eventually found the bus station at 8.40. This was such a waste of time since only immediate departure tickets were available and we couldn’t even get the price for our destination so we jumped into a taxi tired, hot and sticky. We met up with the other guys in Gulliver’s Traveller’s Tavern at the top of Khao San road. We quickly downed a few beers before heading to one of the strangest bars ever.

We went into a place which is a petrol station by day and is decked out with table and chairs at night. Being ever so safety conscious the tables are lit by candle light by melting the wax and sticking the candle in it. In addition to this smoking is allowed and later on you watch many people wave their ciggies in the air, all of this being carried out right next to the petrol pumps! Despite this the bar was fairly busy and the six of us all managed to get a table. The other couple Stu and Vanessa were from Oz and were a really good laugh.

Well we had several drinks and Chris and I even managed to get some rather uninspiring food and we were constantly interrupted by the hill tribe ladies in their usual garb, croaking frogs at us for the best part of the evening. Then a boy about 14 (selling sweets) came up to us and asked John and Vanessa where they from Ireland and said “Pogue Mahone” amongst various other Irish phrases, both of them were fairly impressed!! They also insisted that everyone bought some sweets of off him and being the kind souls that we are we did. Chris also managed to invite an 18 year old Swedish boy to our table after chatting to him about a certain Mr Larsson, the young guy actually said “Hello, I’m from Sweeeeeeden!” with the strangest accent I kid you not!!

As it was Stu and Tash’s last night John and Vanessa insisted that we all go and get some buckets to wash down our evening so we headed down one of the lanes and sat on some mats whilst they ordered some rum and coke. By this point I had had enough of the beer and really couldn’t manage anything else but Mr Reilly had a few sips and then another bucket was had. So we eventually staggered to a taxi at around 4’ish. The driver didn’t have a clue which BTS station we wanted to go to so he took us to a deserted one and tried to insist that we get out on this dark road with no other shops opened. He eventually took us to where we wanted to go after asking someone else where our BTS station was.

We both had a bit of a hangover the next day but Chris’s was much worse than mine and I had to do all the packing as we had to be out of the hostel (thank goodness) for 11am. After chatting to John and Vanessa the previous night we decided to do our visa run to Myanmar (Burma) and then head to Ko Pha-Ngan an island off the east coast of Thailand. So we went back to Khao San road to book the tickets, then back to the hostel and back again around 5.30pm. We spent most of our day in and out of taxi’s with nowhere to rest our weary heads.

After a quick bite of dinner we met outside the travel shop at 6.30 to be taken to 2 places, the second of which was the bus station and the bus wasn’t leaving until 9pm. So we had to wait another hour before moving. Again the bus trip was not that great sitting underneath the air conditioning unit with the driver just belting down the road and several times I went at least 2 feet in the air as he decided not to slow down going over the ramps.

We arrived at 6.30am in the border town of Ranong and even at this time the whole town stank of rotten fish. We started to walk on the instructions of Victor a Danish bar owner who remembered 10 mins later that we had to go back and check out of Thailand first. Chris and I were the only two carrying our backpacks and had to walk back but at least it wasn’t 12 o’clock and absolutely scorching. We got stamped out and were promised a taxi to and from a boat by one of the boat owners. No taxi and after 15 minutes of hearing “It’s just here” after about 10 times we decided to see if there was any other boats, nothing to be had so we had to walk for around another 5 minutes before heading onto one of those wooden boats which looks as though any more than 2 Farangs and it would sink. Fortunately it didn’t, we went to another Thai border check and then waited for 30 minutes for the tide to come in.

This had caused a traffic jam of boats as they all jostled for the best position in the middle of the river and rather than lining up all the boats were pointing towards the middle we saw one boat being moved by two English guys helping to sway it from side to side so John and Victor gave it a bash and we managed to get out of the jam. We then landed in Burma with our entrance being stamped and then it was off to the next place to have them stamped as exiting with many young men trying to get you to go with them to buy something cheap from them. We all declined and headed back to the Thai border this time managing to get the boatman to get us a taxi.

After we got our visa’s we were dumped back at the bus station only to find that our bus didn’t leave until 2pm, whereas Vanessa and John managed to get theirs right away. So Victor, Chris and I went to have breakfast/lunch in a little café and tried to wish the time away. It was a long 3 hours wait for us; having been hung-over the day before and having very little sleep on the bus.

Our “air conditioned” bus arrived and we groaned as we watched them load up the bus with huge baskets of fish!! The bus did have air in it although it stank a little of the fish but it was ancient and again the seats were more suited for 8 year old children than 2 big westerners, but I even managed to get some well deserved sleep. We then arrived in Surat Thani at 7pm and we had an offer to go with Victor to Ko Samui and stay with him before heading off the following day but this involved waiting until 11pm for the overnight ferry which took at least 5 hours so we decided to call it quits for the night and booked into the nearest hotel. We both had a good nights sleep before getting up the next morning for the bus/ferry combination to Ko Pha-Ngan.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

It's not all walking

We were picked up about 9:30 for our eco-trek into the Thai highlands north of Chiang Mai, as seems to be the norm in Thailand we were then driven about 2 Km’s and then shifted into another van. We had a short journey to a market to get supplies before we got going; well to be honest we never really got going. After driving for another hour we stopped off at a small hill village where we wandered about for five minutes, but there was nothing to see except some people trying to fix a pipe and snotty kids chasing chickens. It was then back into the van for another short drive to our lunch stop for fried rice and veg. By this point we were all wondering if we were going to do any walking at all today and the rest of the people we were with were starting to get a bit anxious.

Joanne and I had signed up for the three day trek, but everybody else apart from a Swedish father and daughter who were only here for two days. The group consisted of two Irish sisters, three women called Maria from Valencia, a sailor from Switzerland and Christophe and Charlotte from Sweden (but who now live in Provence, in the south of France). We eventually started walking just before two o’clock and we had a nice walk through some rice fields and small woods, but the walk was far from strenuous and our guide was as informative as the internet in a power cut. Don’t think for a second that we were trudging knee deep through rice paddies as its slap bang in the middle of the dry season and the ground was parched and barren. The most exciting it got on the first days trek was crossing logs over some small streams, one of the Maria’s suffered from Vertigo and had to hold on to my shoulder as we crossed a few of brooks. I decided about half way across to do a wee hop, skip and jump which didn’t go down to well as she hit me once she got off the log.

We arrived at another small village and were directed to the group’s hut, large mosquito nets hung from the roof covering our mattresses. You could almost hear the mosquitoes salivating as we piled in to pick our spot for the long night ahead, as the local flying vampire’s booked in for their European buffet. A small crowd of women and kids had congregated around the hut door selling bracelets and necklaces, if it looked like they weren’t going to get a sale they put some wares in one of the youngest kid’s hands and tried to embarrass you into buying something. We came away with two bracelets and a few smiles from the women and kids. During the time we had arrived a frail old woman was struggling to climb onto a long axle foot press to separate rice from its husk, she looked as if she was about to keel over at any moment but she had probably be doing the same thing every day since she could remember.

After dinner we sat around a camp fire for awhile and drank some beers, but most people decided to hit the bed early as we expected a heavy day of trekking the next morning. Nobody got a good night sleep as the cockerels doodle doodled doo all night and one of the Marias snored like an asthmatic water buffalo, much to the annoyance of Christophe and Charlotte who were sleeping next to her. We were woken at 7:30 for our breakfast before we started at 9:00 for our first short walk of the day, yeah the walks never really did get that difficult on the second day.

We arrived at a clearing in the forest and caught sight of the elephants that were going to be our transport for the next hour. Joanne bought some bananas to feed the elephants, and suddenly the five elephants made a beeline towards her with their trunks aimed for her hand. This gave Joanne a bit of a fright and she was off her mark pretty sharpish, luckily a few others bought some bananas so Joanne narrowly avoided being mauled by the hungry beasts. After the elephants had their fill of bananas we climbed on and set off for our slow procession through the forest. After horse riding in Bolivia and Camel riding in Australia this was by the far most leisurely of the three and apart from a few hairy moments going down an embankment also the safest.

Soon after the Elephant rides the group split with the two day trekkers heading one way and Joanne, Christophe, Charlotte and myself heading the other. We arrived a good hour early for lunch and our guide didn’t seem too happy that we were walking too fast, whilst we were all getting a bit frustrated at the lack of real walking. We then set off and had a nice leisurely walk across some more rice fields and pass many herds of water buffalos and cows. We arrived at our camp for the second night just before four and we decided to have a dip in the pool at the bottom of the fall. Big mistake as the water was absolutely freezing but after a few minutes it was almost bearable, there were no showers for miles so it was the only way that we were getting a wash that night.

Before dinner we whiled away an hour knocking cans off a fence with catapults, when I was a kid I always wanted a toy called Tin Can Alley but I was obviously a toe rag as Santa never did come up with the goods. I really enjoyed using the catapult and don’t remember ever trying one before, but I’ve said things like this only to be shot down a few seconds later by some knowing party. After a few shots I thought I was doing really well and was hitting the cans quite regularly but I was then challenged by the rather worse for wear cook who hammered me every time and I had to sing a song as a forfeit. After dinner we asked the guide if we could start earlier the next morning than the planned 10am start to do quite a bit more walking, but he threw a bit of a strop and got a bit snappy with Christophe while playing cards.

Next morning we set off 30 minutes earlier than the guide had wanted and he said he would try and find a longer, harder route but kept saying that he hadn’t been this way in eight months and that we might get lost. We didn’t get lost, and it was a bit more taxing than the previous two days but we still felt that we had been short changed. We arrived at a nice spot with a waterfall so we decided to have a dip in the water and chill for a bit as we realised we weren’t too far from our lunch spot. After lunch it was into the back of a truck and a short drive to the river for some bamboo rafting.

I hadn’t really thought too much about the rafting before arriving at the river, and I suddenly realised that we were going to be floating down a fast flowing river on five bamboo poles tied together. My fears weren’t allayed when I was nominated to stand at the back of the raft to punt us down the river as the other three sat in the middle. We managed to set off ok and it wasn’t too bad at first, a raft with four Germans in front was having quite a few problems and it looked like they were going to sink at any moment as they were sitting well below the water line. At one point I had to dive on my front as I was about to smash my head on a low trunk of a tree, but luckily I managed to stay on the raft even though now I was totally soaked. After about 50 minutes we arrived safe and sound at the finishing point where the bamboo poles back are sent to the start via a van. We were then packed off into a small van and taken back to our hostel, even though we weren’t too chuffed with the guide and the lack of walking we had a good time and would maybe do a bit more research in to what company we would use in the future.

Saturday morning we wandered into Chiang Mai and had lunch at the Cinnamon House which sold fantastic baguettes and iced coffees to die for. We had wished we had found this place on our first day and not near the end of our time here, but we did make three trips to it over the next day or two. It was such a nice day we headed to the park and found a nice spot to sit and read. The place was full of local families sitting under the shade of the trees, eating ice cream and enjoying the lovely setting with ornamental ponds and gardens.

Sunday morning after a slight detour to the Cinnamon House for breakfast we headed to the railway and bus station to try and find the best and cheapest way to Bangkok the following day. We decided to get the bus again as it was almost half the price and the times suited us better. Well we misjudged the scale of the map slightly and we were walking for over a good five hours there and back. We stumbled across a cool street market selling loads of interesting knick knacks for a lot less than the tourist orientated markets. We also found a sports shop selling football strips at ridiculously low prices, I’m not sure if they were sourcing them straight from the back door of the factory as they were 90% cheaper than the exactly same strip available in the adidas shop in the centre of Chiang Mai.

The bus turned into another saga, but you must all be fed up hearing about our nightmare bus trips. This time the air conditioning was on full blast and we almost froze to death sitting on the most uncomfortable seats with our legs straight out right at the front of the Double Decker supposedly VIP bus. But nevertheless we arrived safe and sound in Bangkok at 5:30am slightly cold and without any sleep.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Ready Steady Puke

We were picked up at the airport and threw our things in the back of a truck which stopped more times than it started, but it was a free lift so we couldn’t complain. We were staying at the Chiang Mai International Youth Hostel and on arrival were given the full run down of all the tours that they can provide (there were quite a few).

So we dumped our bags and walked into town which was a 45 minute walk from the hostel. We managed to find one of the luxury shops called “Boots” you might remember them, pharmacy come smelly goods shop and I had to have a browse (well I did buy some things). I only wish that they would have accepted my Advantage Card to get me some extra points. At night we wandered through the night market full of copy CD’s, t-shirts and plenty of other touristy knick-knacks to keep our attention in between the ear piercing shrieks of “MASAAAAAGE you want foot MASAAAAAAGE”. We ate in the Phon Non Café that night and Chris ate the classic Pad Thai (noodles) and I had an excellent bowl of Red Thai Curry.

We then went in search of some bars but found it difficult to find one that wasn’t either empty, full of Thai girls waiting for old western guys or full of old western guys with a really young Thai girls. So we opted for the Rock ’n’ Pizza to have a drink and watch the end of a Premiership game, it was nice to be able to afford another drink apart from beer after the prices in Malaysia.

On Sunday we went back to the shopping mall where we had been in the day before and Chris bought some computer software. We went to a couple of the temples firstly Wat Phra Singh which has Lanna architecture and murals and then Wat Chedi Luang which suffered a huge earthquake 1545 and was partially restored to stop it crumpling any further.

In the evening went to a bar which was showing an old Rangers game. Chris was hoping for the Celtic game to be shown, but as the bar only had one Swedish guy (who was married but wasn’t here for the ladies) and the rest were Thai girls patiently waiting. So we went back to the pizza place and Chris managed to get them to put the same channel on and guess what the Celtic v Motherwell game was on. He was one happy chappie but I’m not sure if was due to the drinks or the Celtic score.

We decided that we would watch the first half of the Man U v Liverpool game further down towards the hostel and went into a small bar. We sat for a bit and then a group of guys sat near us and one of them started to talk to us. He worked for a furniture company and was on a works night out at the ten pin bowling. His boss was telling him to tell us about his store and gave us his phone number so that we might go and buy some furniture. We tried to explain several times that we didn’t have house to put anything in but it was going in one ear and out the other. He continued to ply us with beer and ice, which is how the Thai’s drink their beer and we felt that we ought to buy them a beer or two back. We watched the game to full time 1-0 to Man U before heading drunkenly back to the hostel.

I was up early the next day as I had booked a Thai cookery class, but I only wished that I had stopped drinking about 10pm. I had some breakfast and was picked up and met every one in the group who were really nice. We stopped off at the market where we were shown the different types of veg/herbs that we would be using that day and for other Thai recipes.

We were then driven out to the school for our lessons. Our teacher was ‘Perm’ and was hilarious which made the class fly by. We made the Thai soup which was sweet/sour and absolutely delicious (even if I say so myself). We then made a stir fry dish with the option of having an “adventure” throwing water into the oil with the flames coming out of the top, the guy taking my picture didn’t manage to get the camera to work at that point but I did managed to take a cracking picture for an Aussie with the flames hiding the two people standing next to her.

We then made a Pad Thai (noodles), Penang curry and green curry. We were shown how to make sticky rice with it going into a salad and also a mango pudding which I could have eaten all day. Then we got to sit down and eat. By this point I was full but then I started to have pains in my stomach….I’d eaten something with prawns in it and spent the next half hour throwing up!! We packed what we hadn’t eaten into bags – well all of mine went in and I spent the next 45 minutes trying unsuccessfully not to throw up in the back of the truck.

Back at the ranch Chris couldn’t understand why I ran in and immediately went to the loo. He had spent the day using the laptop and on the internet. Later on we managed to get the hostel to heat up the food and Chris ate all that I had cooked – he said it tasted quite nice but I’m not sure if he was worried that I might have poisoned him also. We had a quiet night in.

On the Tuesday we visited the oldest Wat within the city walls aptly named Wat Chiang Man which contain the Crystal Buddha believed to have the power to bring seasonal rains and Buddha Sila. We wandered again through the night bazaar before buying some last minute supplies from Boots for our 3 day trek the following day.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Day I Read A Book

Another one of the bounus's of our trip is the chance to catch up with some books especially when your stuck on a bus or a train for over 24 hours. Thanks to everybody who have given us or swapped books along the way, it has been well apreciated.

Here's some of the book, click the titles for a small synopsis.

The Idea of India - Sunil Khilnani
Absoulute Altitude - Martin Buckley
D.I.Y. The Rise of Lo fi Culture - Amy Spencer
ChickenHawk - Robert Mason
What Should I Do with My Life? - Po Bronson

The Celestine Prophecy - James Redfield
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - James Joyce
The Brethern - John Grisham
The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
1984 - George Orwell

One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest - Ken Kessey
Deception Point - Dan Brown
Shame - Salmon Rushdie
Clough The Autobiography - Brian Clough
Porno - Irvine Welsh

The Sorrow of War - Bao Ninh
The Third Man & The Fallen Idol - Graham Greene
Down Under - Bill Bryson
Mary Barton - Elizabeth Gaskell
Homage to Catalonia - George Orwell

Digital Fortress - Dan Brown
Red Zone - Mark Frankland
Hitler's Peace - Philip Kerr
Notes from a Small Island - Bill Bryson
What do I want to do with my life? - - Tom Clancy & Martin Greenberg

We've probably read about another dozen or so that we can't remember at the moment. If anybody has read any good books lately, stick it in the comments box.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Malaysian Return

When we arrived back in Georgetown we headed straight to 75 Travellers Lodge only to be told that there was no room at the inn, so we spent the next twenty minutes plodding round Chinatown with our full rucksacks trying to find a room for the night. Luckily we got one which wasn’t too bad, it was massive with the only problem being that it overlooked a busy junction and there wasn’t much sound proofing. It was quite late but we managed to get some food in a busy restaurant which was showing the Manchester derby. As you would expect most of the locals were supporting Man United but there was a sizable crowd of backpackers in and they seemed to be supporting Man City. The game finished 3-1 to City and to make matters worse for the United fans, the last minute goal was scored by Robbie Fowler.

Next morning we moved back into Travellers 75 lodge and set out to explore the rest of the town as it was a glorious day. As usually happens when we’re out wandering aimlessly we managed to stumble on to something strange or bizarre. As we turned one corner we came upon a crowd milling about a non-descript building, but as we got closer we noticed that quite a few of the crowd were dressed in elaborate Chinese costumes and masks. When they saw us coming down the street they ushered us over and posed for our photographs and they couldn’t have been any more friendly. We didn’t really find out why they were dressed up but we think it might have been a dress rehearsal for some Chinese New Year celebration.

We then went to the large shopping centre to pick up some supplies and to have a look about, being a Sunday the place was mobbed so after a short while we escaped back out to the sunshine. We then headed back up through Chinatown to the esplanade hoping to take some photos of the old buildings that dot the town. As we cut across Padang Park, we could hear a band and what looked like from a distance a game where instead of a ball they used a large pole. On closer inspection it turned out to be some sort of display team who would flick a 20 ft pole up with their feet which had a massive trailing flag and the next guy tried to catch the base of the pole on his forehead and then try to balance it there. Once it was balanced he then tossed the pole up by his head for the next guy to catch on his head which was an extremely difficult feat and during the time we were there we only saw this happen once. This was all done to the accompaniment of a small band who tapped out a steady rhythm with drums and bells.

The promenade was mobbed with families taking in the late afternoon sun and the cool breeze from the sea, and where there’s a crowd you find the hawkers and food stalls. The best sellers seemed to be the bubble blowing guns for kids and the dried squids which seemed to be selling faster than the proverbial hit cakes. We made our way through the streets taking loads of photos of the Mosques, Churches and all the great buildings that are dotted about this part of town.

Monday morning we were up early to try and find some sun cream so that we could head back to the beach at Batu Ferringhi. When we left the shopping centre we noticed that half the street in the area had been closed off, and being the nosey types we wandered over to where a small crowd of photographers and onlookers had gathered. We could see a chalk outline of a body on the opposite kerb, and a forensic team gathering evidence. I asked one of the photographers what happened and he said that there was an electrical accident the previous night in the café bar across the road. A few days later the newspapers were reporting that it was a small bomb loaded with nails that had killed the customer and was not an accident.

The last time we went to the beach it was mobbed as it was a national holiday, so we were quite surprised when we got there to find only a handful of people on the miles of sand. It must have been quite a bit rougher out at sea as the beach was covered in debris and wasn’t that nice to swim in. It was a shame because the previous week the beach was spotless and the water although not crystal clear was not as murky as it was now. Nevertheless we had a nice afternoon reading our books and listening to some music on the quiet beach.

That evening Laura & Louise who we met the previous week in the hostel were also back for a night on their route back south after a few days on Langkawi. We chatted to the girls for awhile and arranged to meet up with Laura in Kuala Lumpur. We had booked the same bus company we used on the way up from the capital so we had no problems as the luxurious bus glided the five hours back to Kuala Lumpur.

We had booked a room at the Green Hut hostel this time in Kuala Lumpur and after a bit of a mix up with the rooms we eventually got our bags unpacked. The room had a small balcony but once again the walls were nothing more than Gyproc and we could hear everybody shuffling along the wooden floors in the corridor. We had a late lunch in a small Indian restaurant we visited the previous week for some mutton curry and rice and again we ate too much and didn’t bother having dinner that night.

We headed to the Petronas towers so that we could get some night photographs of the twin towers. We mistimed the sunset slightly so we had a wander around the manicured lawns and ponds of the small park at the foot of the towers and headed in for another look around the shopping centre. There was an interesting photographic exhibition about a Petronas sponsored Trans Himalayas mission in 23 four wheeled jeeps. The route of their journey passed through quite a few towns and cites we had visited in the last few months and it was interesting to see the photographs from Laos and the Chinese city of Kunming. Once it got dark outside we went out and watched the choreographed fountains dance in the ponds, and took some photos of the towers lit at night.

Next morning we had the unfortunate experience of being drawn into a conversation with an aggressive lowlife from Scarborough, who reminded me of the character Begbie from Irvine Welsh’s “Trainspotting” and “Porno” novels. I had just finished reading “Porno” on the bus down from Penang so that might be the other reason why I readily associated this character with the antagonistic thug portrayed with great menace by Robert Carlyle in the film “Trainspotting”. The guy from Scarborough didn’t say anything that was offensive or even antagonistic, but you could sense that just below the surface he was about to explode and I didn’t really want to be around when it happened.

We once again followed our familiar path to the Petronas Towers but this time we hoped to get tickets to the 44th floor and walk across the sky bridge that links the towers. The tickets were free but only so many are allocated per day, but luckily we managed to get two and after a short film we were hurtling up to the 44th floor. The lift took 43 seconds to reach the 44th floor and we then had about 10 minutes to wander about taking photos. Members of the public don’t have access to the higher parts of the impressive building, which at the moment are the second & third tallest buildings in the world 452 meters.

On the way back to the hostel we decided again to go for an early dinner and ended up in the Banana Leaf restaurant which always looked busy when we passed. No plates in this restaurant as the food is served onto a large banana leaf, we had this before in Hong Kong a few years back. Joanne went for a veg rice combo along with tandoori chicken which she managed to cancel when she realised how big her veg order was. I stuck to my new favourite, Lamb Biryani and once again I wasn’t disappointed and we both left the place suitably sated.

We had arranged to meet Laura at the hostel at seven and whilst waiting I observed a small incident with the character from Scarborough. A few young guys were watching a DVD of Benny Hill which was put on by guess who, after a few sketches I heard some of the young Scandinavian guys laugh at how dated and unfunny it was. After a few more comments, Scarborough man jumped up and snarled into one of the young guy’s faces, “Do you know what’s no funny?? Eh Do you know what’s no funny?? You saying this is no Funny….. now shut it or beat it”. Luckily Laura turned up shortly after this and we didn’t see much more of our new friend over the next few days, he is by far the most aggressive person we have met on this whole trip away.

Laura had brought along her friend Jenny (from the borders) and since we were all hungry we headed round to the next street which had hundreds of Chinese restaurants with tables on the street. After a quite a bland meal we headed down to Chinatown for a quick look about and ended up in another crap reggae bar which once again was playing awfully stuff like Maxi Priest and my bête-noir UB40, they had also ran out of Vodka which limited the girls choices of drinks. After wandering about trying to find a better bar we decided to cut our losses and head back to the Green Hut and have a few beers on the front terrace.

Friday morning and after a lengthy search for the bus stop, we found ourselves heading 15 Km out of the city to the Batu Caves. A Hindu shrine was built in a vast open space known as Temple Cave which can only be reached by climbing 272 steps. Once inside we wandered about looking at the small temples, trying to imagine how the place would look with the million or so pilgrims who flock here during the Hindu festival Thaipusam. During this festival some devotees take part in spectacularly masochistic acts like piercing themselves with swords and knives. At the temple I got talking to a Greek guy called Manos from Kos who wanted to have his photograph taken with me as he has so many Scottish friends, strange guy. After a while we jumped back on the bus and returned slightly disappointedly back into the city.

For our last night we headed back to the Banana Leaf restaurant with Laura and Jenny and the pressure was on as we'd been raving about it the previous night. Luckily they didn’t let us down and we all left very full, for what was an extraordinary cheap meal. After a short de-tour so that the girls could pick up bus tickets for their trip to Singapore the next day, we headed to the Ceylon bar back in the Golden Triangle near our hostels. Beers and cocktails all round for the next few hours before we called it a night as we were all on the move early the next morning.

We had a taxi booked to take us to the airport at 5:45am and when it arrived he told us there would be a 35 Ringgit (about £5) surcharge as it was before 6am, if only we'd checked the small print we could have saved a bit of cash. We'd booked the taxi extra early as I wasn’t sure how bad the traffic would be in the morning, but we sailed up the motorway and arrived well before we had to. We were also ready for Air Asia’s 15 kg baggage allowance as we had transferred most of the heavy stuff to our hand luggage and jettisoned all non-essentials. Both our bags were under the 15 Kg and we'd a hassle free trip to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Life's a Beach

After reaching Krabi we still had several hours before we would eventually reach our beach destination of Hat Ton Sai and we headed to the pier to get a boat. We were told that we would have to wait until we had at least 8 people or pay the full boat price and after an hour only one other person turned up so we decided to cut our losses and head for the “local bus”. It was in fact a converted truck with benches in the back and a luggage rack on the top so after dumping our bags we were off on a harem scarem ride for 45 minutes to Ao Nang. Once there we jumped straight on a long tail boat and were taken to our final destination. It was now about 5 o’clock and we still had to find accommodation.

We started to look from the beach upwards, but everything was full as we slowly worked our way up the steep hill. One place had a room but the price was extortionate, supply and demand market dictating the price obviously. A kind woman offered for us to dump our bags whilst we looked so I stayed with the bags as Chris went on a quick tour of the resort trying to find us accommodation. We eventually found somewhere which was a bit more expensive than we anticipated, but it was a nice bungalow with en-suite and we put up our mosquito net since we were in the middle of the rainforest.

We then headed down to the beach to catch the last few rays of sun and watch the sunset. We were also both rather hungry as we’d eaten very little during our travelling that day. We managed to find a table right at the beach in the restaurant, saw the sun slowly go behind the hill and a nice hazy glow settled around us. Our Thai food was great although the waiters didn’t have a clue and gave our food to other tables and brought us food that we hadn’t ordered so we weren’t really surprised that when we came to pay that the bill it was more than double what it should have been. We had expected the resort to be fairly busy but at 8pm it seemed fairly quiet so we headed back to chill in our bungalow.

The following morning after our breakfast we headed to the far side of the beach which took us all of about 5 minutes to stroll across and we settled ourselves down on the sand in between 2 rock climbing schools. Most of the people doing this were fit and fairly supple and we enviously sat and watched them scaling the face of the rocks and dangling by one hand or foot. We did feel a bit guilty of all the strenuous effort going on around us as we lay back and dozed on the beach.

As the sun lit up the beach I decided it was time for a dip in the sea, but unlike the beach in Penang this beach had lots of rocks and plenty of other fishy creatures there. There were sea cucumbers (huge long black things which do look like a cucumber), plenty of holes from which we saw a lobster like creature pushing the sand out of (Chris almost sat on one) and several fish floating around looking for some toes to nibble. Needless to say I didn’t spend that long in the water. We played with the straw ball that we bought some time ago in Laos and after 2 minutes trying to play keepy up we decided a volleyball type game might be more in store for me.

It was rather hot work in the sun and around 2 o’clock we decided to head to the shade and have some lunch. On our way back up to the hotel through the rainforest we saw several huge spiders with enormous webs between two trees sitting patiently waiting for their next victim. We also saw a huge family of wild monkeys which were being fed by the ladies from an “authentic” massage parlour. The monkeys roam around this part of Krabi and come here every couple of weeks, the parents were obviously taking the children out for a weekend jaunt. After watching their antics for a bit we headed back.

That night we ate in a rather bizarre place which took forever to bring food and met up with two guys from Sunderland (well Chris was certainly put straight by them after he called them “Newccastle United Supporters” – they were deeply offended). It was another quiet night on the beach and we headed to a reggae bar afterwards for our final beer of the night – unfortunately the music was the same 80’s/90’s crap reggae by the likes of Aswad and UB40 that we have come to associate with most of these bars in SE Asia.

Our plan the following day was to head over to Hat Rai Leh beach (pronounce Hat Reilly) which seemed to be a short walk over the hill from where we were and apparently there was a beautiful sandy beach there. So we headed up through the rainforest forgetting about the pesky mosquitoes, when we stopped to decide which track to take I suddenly had about 4 huge things sitting on my leg with a couple of them managing to draw blood. So we quickly brushed of the nasty things before running up the hill to get as far away from them as possible. These mosquitoes were huge and are probably the biggest I’ve seen on our trip. It was also quite an effort to get up over the hill and definitely not as easy as the boatmen had said the day before, when he was going to drop us off at the neighbouring beach.

When we arrived at the beach it was just as everyone had promised with the blonde sand and perfect clear water. We were scorched after about an hour and decided to head round to another beach which was also recommended called Perang. When we got there, we saw (we think) the same troupe of monkeys who entertained all the beach goers with their antics. They were being given plenty of food and seemed to live in the rocks above the beach.

This was another gorgeous beach and we headed for some shade in amongst many others by the huge rock caves. I bought some Pad Thai noodles off of a beach vendor which were delicious and later we walked across the beach before heading back to Rai Leh. We decided to see whether the tide was out rather than walk back through the forest and fortunately it was. This meant we could walk across the sand and rocks from Rai Leh to our beach avoiding the pools of sea cucumbers and crabs as we went.

Since we had caught a bit of sun we decided that we’d head back to Penang the next day to break up our trip to Kuala Lumpur. That night we ate in the same restaurant as the first night and I got a rather spicy Green curry with prawns, beef and chicken whilst Chris had the same only with a Red Curry. Afterwards we chilled on deckchairs in a bar with a beer and a cocktail staring at the stars and watching the guys doing their fire dancing. We’d seen a girl practising this with tennis balls on strings (the balls being the flames) but she kept on hitting herself and managed to whack her face with them. Fortunately, for her, she wasn’t practising with the real thing!

That night I was up most of the night due to the food being dodgy and Chris suffered briefly the next morning so we decided to make a dash for Malaysia. We started off at 9am in the morning for another boat/bus ride. It took us about almost 13 hours with two long uncomfortable minibuses and one rather rude driver to eventually arrive back in Penang.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Crash Penang Wallop

After checking the weather reports we escaped the grey skies of Kuala Lumpur and headed north east to the island of Penang in the Andaman Sea. As Joanne mentioned in the last update we had a great bus and it wasn’t too long before we were crossing the colossal 13.5 Km Penang Bridge (currently the third longest bridge in the world) that joins the island to the mainland a few miles south of the town of Butterworth.

After crossing the bridge I spotted a large Tesco supermarket and I was suddenly transported back to my troubled youth when dodgy nights in even dodgier bars & social clubs of Pollok seemed to be an all too regular occurrence. Worse still was the soundtrack to all these rubbish nights out seemed to be supplied by the awful Rick Astley, Sinitta and the rest of the Stock, Aitken & Watertorture clones. While still at school I packed shelves at Presto’s while my friend Gerry worked on the cheese counter at the local rivals Tesco. For some reason I was always invited along to their nights out, he probably thought if he had to endure them he might as well share the pain with someone else. Luckily I was saved from a life of dubious perms, leather ties and caterpillar moustaches by Stuart Murdoch (lead singer with Belle & Sebastian) when he handed me a flyer at the Barrowlands whilst watching The Fall. The flyer proclaimed that the Wasp Factory Club would be playing all of my favourites at the time; The Pixies, My Bloody Valentine, House of Love, The Wedding Present and countless other exotic names. Naively up to this point I had never associated socialising in night clubs and bars with good music so this revelation changed my life and most weekends for years after I haunted the Indie clubs of Glasgow. Luckily soon after Gerry got a free transfer to City Bakeries the upmarket eating establishment in the heart of Glasgow and I escaped Prestos when it was closed down after shoplifters outnumbered consumers.

Anyway back to Penang and we pulled into a large bus station only to find that we were still forty minutes away from Georgetown the main settlement on the island. So with our full rucksacks we struggled onto a local bus where I nearly concussed a small lady as I tried to swing my pack into an empty seat. We arrived in Georgetown and we made our way to Chinatown and the 75 Traveller’s lodge which had been given a good write up in the Lonely Planet. They didn’t have a en-suite room so we were ushered into a small room that seemed very familiar, I’m not sure if it was from Cool Hand Luke, The Great Escape or maybe The Shawshank Redemption but it did seem dreadfully recognizable. I’m not saying that the walls were thin but we could hear the person in the next room breathing and I could almost make out the colour of his shirt through the gyproc.

We headed out for something to eat with the notion of maybe looking for somewhere else to stay the following day. We ended up in the Blue Diamond Café which sold tasteless Mexican fayre and I’m sure the chef would have great difficulty in telling the difference between Aston Villa and Pancho Villa. After scouting out a few more hotels and guesthouses we soon realised that for the money 75 Travellers lodge was probably as good as Georgetown got.

We had a good walk around the town and found many interesting but slightly rundown buildings from the town’s colonial past. Penang is the oldest British settlement in Malaysia predating Singapore and Melaka and was acquired by Captain Francis Light on behalf of the East India Company in 1786. One of the most notable differences in Malaysia from other places we have visited in South East Asia is the social mix; there are large Indian, Chinese & Muslim communities living seemingly quite peacefully alongside the Malays. Sitting alongside Georgetown’s colonial buildings and churches are numerous Mosques, Hindu Temples, Buddhist Temples and Chinese slop houses.

After our initial misgivings about the 75 Travellers Lodge we soon found out why it sits so favourably in the Lonely Planet guidebook, the owner Mr Low is one of the friendliest owners we have came across on our travels. Not only is he very funny, he also is a mine of information and is very helpful and honest about Penang’s attractions and the easiest way to travel around and off of the island.

The hostel also has a few tables at the front entrance for sipping teas and beers and is a great place to meet other backpackers to exchange stories and advice. On the first night we met two young Aussie guys who are on a whirlwind trip of SE Asia before they move to London. We also met a few girls from various parts of England who all support Manchester United and had travelled down from Thailand. The weather still wasn’t the best so we were thinking of maybe moving on in a few days, and after talking to Laura (one of the girls) we decided to maybe head to Krabi after she recommended some good beaches. One slightly disturbing thing about sitting out the front was the numerous rats that seemed to congregate nearby. We also saw quite a few in Kuala Lumpur and have now seen more rats in Malaysia than we’ve seen in the rest of the trip put together.

Next morning we went for Breakfast in the café next door and met Louise one of the girls from the previous night along with a German guy called Alex. After breakfast we caught the local bus to the beach at Batu Ferringhi about 45 minutes from Georgetown. As we got off the bus we also met Andrew and Guy the two Aussies from the previous night who were also looking for the beach. Luckily the sun had come out and we spent a nice afternoon on the beach chilling out and soaking in the balmy sea. That night a group of us headed to an Indian for dinner, which although was very nice was a bit expensive in comparison to most places in Penang.

We headed back to the hostel for a few more drinks; where we got talking to an American guy called Barrett who works in Bangkok. Barrett was down in Penang on a visa run as without having a proper working visa you have to leave the country every 30 to 90 days. Barrett also lives quite close to and is also going to the Bangkok Music Festival. After being tipped off by my brother about the festival and with him being able to book online we are now the lucky owners of tickets to see Franz Ferdinand, Oasis & Ian Brown on the 18th February in Bangkok.

On Wednesday we had another early start and were supposed to be picked up at 5am at the hostel, also waiting outside were Guy and Andrew who were on their way to Phuket and would be sharing a minivan with ourselves and another half a dozen people travelling north to Thailand. The van eventually turned up at 5:30 and we arrived in Hat Yai on the Thai side of the border at ten o’clock. We then transferred to another van and had another five hour trip to Krabi.