Thursday, 7 December 2006

Ramsbury-itis: it's catching!!

Have you got it?

Not wanting people to get withdrawal symptoms from my lack of posting on here I have suspended my holiday from being on holiday briefly to write this. Aargh, how did it get to be 12 o'clock already and am still in Pj's, yay?! Despite that obvious joy of being at home (this is a picture taken from my bedroom window - awww, isn't it quaint) I think I prefer being on actual holiday to being on holiday from being on holiday; it really is quite chilly here, white fingers all over the shop, and shoes? weird concept not having a sole held to your foot by a single strap but a whole over-the-foot ensemble, laces-'n-all shoe. The days last for about a minute of glorious sunshine (gloomy rays peeking through big fat clouds, and now it's just started to rain) before it's night again and the prices are real, no haggling (ahhhhh) and no dividing by obscene exchange rates (eek, maths) to come out with a bargain price. If anyone's feeling sympathy for me at this point (doubtful) let me leave you just one piece of advice - TIP WAITRESSES (i.e. me), and if you're going to, make it more than 5p. Purrrleease.

But am I complaining, no no no, because look what I got to eat the other day (not a noodle in sight), and I fully intend to have many many more (need an insulating barrier of blubber to keep out the arctic chill, the wind is literally howling now) and am fully updated on the past season of the OC, but don't talk to me about Lost because I'm still only halfway through the first series (though guessing that as there are many more they haven't yet made it off that weird island).

Have done a mini tour of England (mainly of h&m and topshop branches) since my arrival, gracing the handsome shores of Cardiff (I've lived there for 3 YEARS and still, yes you guessed it, I got lost), Oxford (p-osh), Newcastle (sadly didn't bump into Jonny W, maybe next time), London (where I took up my new career as a political correspondent outside the Houses of Parliament or at least photographed myself doing such, gaining me somewhat dirty looks from the actual political correspondents outside the Houses of Parliament) and, my personal high point, Swindon, oh sweet Swindon. Not to forget the illustrious mayoral/Miss UK/random 'Boro footballer/Harry Potter switching on of the Christmas lights and enjoying some of what corporate hospitality had to offer (smoked salmon galore!) whilst greeting my fans amidst mild terror at Professor Snape (lookalike, or was he?) at Stockton.

Well word on the street is that some religious chaps birthday is just 3 weeks around the corner and Father Christmas needs some help buying all those presents for the good boys and girls of the world (and coal for the bad ones) so I've got a visit to Reading ahead of me - must remember to get dressed properly before I go. I'll just leave you with a lovely wintery sunset shot, beat that Johnny!

Thursday, 19 October 2006

Wednesday, 4 October 2006

Asia in my pocket

In the Lion City (Singapore). I ran out of Malaysia to visit after having a 'shenanigan' or two (well just the one at those prices, and I didn't even pay for that) to say farewell to Borneo, whilst being deeply amused by the dance moves of the 'live band' and the cool guy we saw on the telly earlier. By the way, I think Singapore's brilliant, is clean and air-conned and easy to get around and would be cheap if I had just come from somewhere very expensive, like, erm, the moon.

Naturally the first thing I did was get lost, I walked around in a lot of circles and as it turns out covered every stretch of road in the area apart from the corner where my hostel was, duh. It's very warm in Singapore, a very humid kind of dry, cue buckets of sweat, nice. My initial plan was to do 'stuff' whilst here. I did some stuff indeed. Went for a wonder around the colonial district (wasn't even allowed to have a peek in Raffles hotel on account of my 'scruffy attire'), which was, well like every other colonial place I've looked round since I left England, it was like England, only 100 years ago in the 'golden age'. Spent far too long in the Asian Civilisations Museum, astonishingly all about the many varied civilisations of asia - though I wouldn't be able to tell you much about that because I was too busy playing on the interactive games that I suspect were there merely to entertain the kiddies - and entertain they did! I got to do a drumming jam with the coolest muslim hippy in the world and also succeeded in building the Taj Mahal (jigsaw puzzle). Felt a twinge in my neck muscles in anticipation of the eponymous head wobble as I walked through Little India and indulged in one more curry.
Next day I went SHOPPING!!!! Aargh! And spent far too long doing it. On Orchard Rd there's about a million shopping malls the size of, erm, big shopping malls. Yikes! On the way back took a detour to Chinatown, which having not been to China, was erm, perhaps Chinese I wouldn't know... Why is it never Little China and Indiatown - who decides these things?

On that thought I went to the bizarrest museum place in the world, a park devoted to telling many Chinese myths through odd statues and displays. Went through the 10 stages of hell (another bizzare 'exhibit'), which has confirmed a long held belief of mine that hell probably isn't somewhere I'd like to end up. Had enough of that so hopped in a cable car (which was quite high up) over to plastic fantastic land of Sentosa Island - Singapore's 'beach resort'. Being the cheapskate I am I went to all the free places (i.e. the beach), though also popped into Underwater World and went through the tunnel of many sharks and I found Nemo, again! Saw some pink dolphins (apparently a rare asian species, though I suspect they'd just got sunburnt) jumping through hoops and petted a parrot, as you do. Rounded off my visit being entertained by a laser/light show and the most magnificent and fantastic man in the world (I've reserved judgement on that one).

Had one last trip to the fantastic hawkers centre where I ate about 5 times a day and then headed off to the airport, apparently the best airport in the world - though I wouldn't know anything about that because it was 2am and everything was closed, grrrrr. And so I caught my flight to my next destination, here in fact, which is... (drum roll please)....

Friday, 29 September 2006

almost human

Yep yep yep: I'm in the Malaysian half of Borneo! It's one of those places that I've always wanted to go without realising where it actually was, if you get me (doubtful). Well it's quite nice, apart from the fact that every hotel/guesthouse kindly locates their reception at least one flight of stairs up - I discovered that the more places I tried that were full, through some freak of gravity my bag became much heavier and more useless, especially after one 'it doesn't look far on the map' tramp across a city towards a promising looking establishment that ecktually turned out to be a hospital. Taxi!

Flew into Sandakan and promptly went to Sepilok orang-utan rehab centre, which was sooooo cute as two babies and one big mama came out to play at feeding time as they tried to work out how to hold bananas in both hands and feet without falling over (impossible), watching them learning how to swing on the ropes and how best to wee on a bunch of camera weilding tourists was great! They're 96.4% genetically identical to humans apparently (yep I was paying attention), though I suspect this figure is closer for some than others, i.e. the annoying americans stood next to me, grrrrr. Then I headed off into the deeps of the Borneon rainforest (well an hours boat ride away anyway) for a bit of a jungle adventure which was awesome, saw loads of cool animals like tarantulas, improbably nosed Probiscis monkeys, colourful birdies, thieving Macaque monkeys and even some more orang-utans swinging the trees by the camp. Went on boat safari's (never did learn that my binoculars were useless in the confines of my bag) and some jungle trekking through muddy swamps (squelch!) whilst trying to avoid touching anything - even trees are poisonous out there. Brilliant. Spent the nights playing cards and learning some classy magic tricks, though probably wise to steer clear of the rice whiskey (pure ethanol), yikes!

Was sad to leave the jungle behind (not as sad as the person who had to sit next to me on the bus for 3 hours - there are no showers in the jungle and boy was I ripe!) but had more to explore at Sipadan - one of the world's permier dive sites. It was really really really good, saw loads of cool stuff though got a bit ridiculous as was wafting around on the currents going 'oh look, there's a shark, and another, and oh look there're seven turtles having a nap, and there's a few more sharks over here, and watch out for the shark, oh and say hello to the turtle just swimming past' - brilliant stuff! Am now in Kota Kinabalu supping on ice-coffees and wondering around with unbearable smugness at the fact that I'm not climbing the huge mountain here (I like to think that I've done my time on that front). Laziness reigns. But I have added some photo's to the posting below for your viewing pleasure should you be so inclined. Oh and I want an orang-utan...

Thursday, 21 September 2006

it was like that when I got there,


So don't go blaming me for the trail of civil unrest that seems to be following in my wake.

And to prove my point (somewhat weakly) here's a picture of me celebrating my independence from British rule (those pesky colonialists) in Merdaka Sq, KL. -------------------------------->


Monday, 18 September 2006

Kuala Kuala but no Bear

So, outta Thailand to Malaysia: it's different. Firstly, there was the hugest police/army presence I have ever seen lining a single and otherwise uneventful road, either that or they were on a mass 'wee in the bushes' training manouvere (hard word to spell) or something. Anyways, moving on from that strange image if I may, spent a night in the lovely (hahahaha) town of Kota Bahru where restuarants have not very encouraging looking dead street cats lying outside. It seems that Malaysia is an odd mix of Indian (curry, lecherous men, more curry), Chinese (i.e. writing I can't even begin to understand) and Western (i.e. more KFC's per square mm than anywere else I've ever encountered - heaven to some) culture, only without the alcohol. Then spent a week or so on the Perhentian Islands (where you last saw me, or my feet anyway), which was marvellous, apart from having the darkest cavern of a beach shack - I never did find the bed (but hey it was the cheapest I could find). Though I did see a TURTLE when diving (he may not have been called Leonardo, mutant or ninja, but I swear he mouthed the immortal words 'cowabunga dude' to me), brilliant.

I eventually dragged my sorry bottom off the beach and hopped on a speedboat back to the mainland and the longest most overrated and boring train journey ever, the so called 'Jungle train' down to well, the middle bit of Malaysia. It lasted for 12 hours (12!!!!!) and the view consisted of lots of tree trunks. Wow. I also discovered the culinary delight of poisoned rice (this isn't the ad line the buffet cart went for, but I find it an appropriate description) and lukewarm coffee, brilliant. All this did make me appreciate all the hours of my life that I have spent not being on a train however, so every cloud and all that.

Fortunately there was a point to all this travelling as I got to the Taman Negara National Park. It has a lot of trees in it. Seeing as the rainy season is fast approaching and it is in fact a rainforest, I doubt you will be surprised to hear that it rained. Lots. Mainly as I was walking between sheltered areas. Hello mud. Hello slippery trail. I think we all know where this story is headed. Splat! Having cleaned myself up a little I made it to the Canopy Walkway, which was brilliant if you like walking on wibbly bridges suspended 45m in the air (which I did actually - despite a minor onset of vertigo, which is only common sense all things considered). The views were excellent progress, I was able to see tree trunks and tree leaves, and if I looked really hard I could also make out the ground far f a r below. On the way back I spotted some monkeys and got very excited when I heard a bush rustling only for a pig to pop out (boring, we have them at home). I arrived back alive only to have the tables turned on me after Cambodia and was absolutely feasted upon by a variety of insect species (30 bites and that's just my left hand). Brilliaaaaaaannt.

Leaving behind my tarzan/jane/monkey aspirations I'm in the big city of Kuala Lumpur now. Considering the first I had heard of it was when learning about photochemical smogs in geography classes at school, it's made a good impression on me. This clearly has nothing to do with the fact that when I don't know where I'm going and decide to follow my instinct (always a risky decision) I actually ENDED UP WHERE I INTENDED without having, quite literally, gone round the houses. Brilliant. I went up the much prided 4th highest tower in the world (have found out that the 9th highest tower is in Uzbekistan, you know me, I've cultivated an irrational desire to go there) where there was a pretty good (not too smoggy) view of the city. The excursion was much improved by the presence of a (free) audio and video (!) guide complete with a Malaysian/cockney fella informing me of a variety of pointless yet amusing facts about big buildings. Brilliant. By this time I was getting high off tall towers (get it) so off I went to another tall tower, the Petronas Towers, the 2nd tallest building ---> (it makes a big difference in tall thing classification apparently) in the world. It was, erm, tall. Then I went to a rather posh shopping centre (i.e. I am too poor to be even allowed in the shops) where I got a little confused between doors, mirrors and windows - they were all so clean! - much to the amusement of an entire eating establishment. Cue red face and hasty exit (the doors are the ones with exit signs incidently). Fed myself on a bit of sushi and plodded around a lovely little park wondering if I could really get away with playing in the huge kiddie play area, turns out all the other adults in there had a child with them as a cover story so sadly I didn't qualify and moved on to Chinatown where they have decided to celebrate the Year of the Dog with some quite atrocious lanterns adorned with pictures of pooches (<-----), brilliant, and a veeeeerry genuine market (check out these guys "we sell no fake rolex's" innocent as pie look as the police came round)! ------>

Oh and I quite like the word brilliant today... BRILLIAAAAAAANNT!

Monday, 11 September 2006

can't think of a title

as my brain has rotted.

Am on a beach. In Malaysia. Sand: check! Sea: check! Lots of fishies: check! Nice 'ere innit?

These are my feet (in case you're anatomically challenged and didn't realise) ----------------------->

Ciao (on that continental note - why do all europeans lose their sense of style when they come within a 10 mile radius of a beach? Surely there is some EU treaty-type-thing against flouro swimgear and dodgy tie-dye t-shirts)...

Friday, 1 September 2006

in an octopuses garden

I'm on beach! I'm in Thailand! The sun is shining! Woo wooo! After another stopover in Bangkok (I went to the Grand Palace, again, to fill in time, and certainly did no shopping...) I'm on the lovely island of Ko Tao. Have been here for don't quite know how many days and have been learning to scuba-doo (or self-contained underwater breathing apparatus dive as the tekkies have it) which is absolutely brilliant, love it! I have my Open Water cert, which involved watching lots of very dull videos on decompression whatnots and doing a few dives which were pretty good. Though yesterday things got even better when went down down down to 30m (sadly didn't get nitrogen narcosis) where I played with egg yolks (?) and saw lots of sharks (aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgggghh!!!!!), they were pretty friendly though and apparently well fed as my arms are still intact. Sadly diving has been put on hold for a few days as have delightful infection in my left ear so am just going to laze about on the beach for a while (yayayayayayay - beats sitting on the sofa watching Postman Pat - the video that always came out when I was ill as a child) while gunk pours out my ear and try to remove these slightly dodgy wetsuit tan lines that I have developed and then I'll get back to the important matter of finding wee Nemo, just keep swimming and swimmming...

If any of you are reading this in an office, look away about now:

mwah ha ha haaaaaaaaaaaaaa.

And oh my word, let us take a moment to comprehend the sad news of legend Steve Irwin (not to be confused with Crocodile Dundee, whoops), it's the end of an era of "crikey!" and "streuth!" and his demise is like a sting in the heart to me... Oh and thanks to Mr 'it's a great city' Canberra (you know who you are!) for the on the pulse news bulletin.

Friday, 25 August 2006

err, waiter? there's a fly in my soup...

...and then some. Left Phnom Penh (no I don't know how to pronounce it either) to go to a place called Battambang, was initially disappointed when I realised that this wasn't Battemberg of cake fame, but soon got over that when I discovered a nice cafe selling lots of other much nicer cakes. However this soon faded into utter disgust as I decided to go for an adventure and find somewhere 'local' to eat, oh dear. Much gesturing and pointing ensued and out came a nice noodle dish, yummy yum, but hang on what's that? and that? IT WAS CRAWLING WITH INSECTS. Initially I thought this was some kind of mistake, until I realised that they had been fried: they were there on purpose! Guys I really tried to eat it. Each bite was washed down with a hefty gulp from the enormous jug of beer I accidently ordered. I had a good few mouthfulls until I realised that the food to beer ratio was heftily weighted towards me being very drunk. I did eat about half of it but had to stop when I looked at the chopsticks and there was loads of insect wings stuck on them. Eeeeeeeuuuuww. I stumbled home and heartily brushed my teeth never to think of it again, until now.

Eating crises aside, went on a tour of the local area for the day with some dude called Bom (or similar) who took me along lots of muddy tracks that are actually main roads. Saw lots of rice paddies, learnt how much rice costs and that if you hand plant it rather than some other way of planting it you get 4 times as much rice (my rice education continues, I might even be able to cook it one day). Went up a hill to one of those lovely Khmer Rouge type places where Bom's family was killed and on the way down I saw a funky lizard who we called Ernie - see how I'm helping Cambodian's recover from their cruel past. On way back got very splashed by big muddy puddle as road had disappeared (pic), washed most of the mud off in a rice paddy which in all honesty left me just as muddy, but now probably have a happy combination of rice fly diseases. Unfortunately on my way out to dinner (went to a restuarant stuffed with tourists so felt pretty safe) I misjudged the dark patch next to the pavement and was up to me knees in mud again.

Time for a bit of ancient history now folks. The temples of Angkor, the remains of the great civilisation of South East Asia. Thousands of years old. Yada yada yada. Spent a day looking around all these old temples and stuff, Angkor Wat is apparently the largest religious building in the world though I think they cheated on this, look - it's tiny, ha ha haaaaaaa! Played Tomb Raider in Ta Phrom which is where parts of the film was, erm, filmed, if you look real close at the picture below you might be able to find one of the keys or whatever it is that Lara Croft was always looking for. Got a bit embarassing though as I was messing around and got caught by a huge tour group who snuck up behind me and the leader pointed out a sign saying 'DANGER DANGER' as I scrambled and posed all over the ruins, whoops. Climbed a big hill to watch the sunset over Angkor, like everyone else I know who also did this, it was cloudy and a little rainy. And that was that for Cambodia, almost. Journey to Bangkok naturally took about 12 times longer than it's meant to owing to bumpy road, tiny (read collapsing) bridges and lots of dust (got off the bus and was orange with all the dirt - realised however that this is essential make-up for a chav night out in any town near you).

Enough of that, I'm going to the beach.

Thursday, 17 August 2006

merrily down the Mekong

Apparently couldn't spend all my time on the beach so hot-tailed it down to Saigon and Ho Chi Minh City (which turned out to be the same place). Can't actually remember what I did there so must've been great - plus have already accidently deleted this post twice so gradually losing patience with writing it. Hmmm, oh yeh did go somewhere else in between, Nha Trang or something, it was distinctly av. though. So obviously I got lost in Saigon/Ho Chi, and now taking things a step further by not only getting lost on the way to places, but also getting lost in these places. Spent a little longer than intended in the City Museum - granted given that I didn't actually want to go there at all, I thought it was somewhere else. Then found the Reunification Palace, not wanting to play the 'British card' or anything, but it wasn't Buckingham Palace (not that I've ever been there), see picture - it looks rubbish, so I didn't bother going in. If anyone who went in there thought it was simply the best place ever, I don't want to know. A few metres on and I was at my intended destination (woo), the War Remnants Museum (less woo), it had all the remnants of war (though did not have that classic song lyric "war! what is it good for? absolutely nothing! Huh" playing in the background, shame cos I had it stuck in my head) and some lovely pictures of decapitated bodies, etc. Also turns out that Agent Orange was not a fruity spy. Pleasant.

Next stop a 3 day 'tour' of the Mekong Delta. Visited various Mekong Delta related sights that my defective memory has somehow erased. Well let me summarise what I can recall, coconut sweet factory, 'traditional' music (turns out the traditional music is akin to cat wailing/fingernails on blackboard), rice factory, rice noodle factory (oh the education of it all), floating vegetable market, slightly schizophrenic tour guide and lots and lots of river. Turns out the Mekong river is very big, so big that it took about 4 days (11 hours, I exaggerate) to do the 5 hour by bus journey to Phnom Penh.

Guess that's a bit of a giveaway as to where I am now, Phnom Penh the 'resurgent' (Lonely Planet uses this word at least twice to describe it, but have no idea as to what it might mean, any ideas?) capital of Cambodia (yep, another country to add to the list). As a city it's a leeetle messed up in the history department. Schools that are actually used as prisons and classrooms for torture (worse even than AS maths, if you can imagine that). Khmer Rouge killing fields (Choueng Ek) where thousands (possibly more) were not so nicely murdered and unceremoniously buried. Enough said? Nope, cos now there're sweet 11yr old girls selling cocaine on the streets. Fair point it's not all bad - the food's nice - but I think I'm going somewhere less resurgent tomorrow.

Wednesday, 9 August 2006


(Vietnamese for 'thank you' - not quite as much fun as the Laoian (?) one, li li liiiii li li). For now this one's just going to be writing I think as the speed of this computer is comparable to that, of well, something very slow (life's too short slow) and can't actually view website from here anyway - something to do with site being blocked due to my uncouth remarks about Uncie Ho probably...

So anyway, I struggled to tear myself away from Hanoi and went to a wee town called Ninh Binh which was nice, the scenery was similar to Halong Bay but different because lots of rice paddies - not too surprising given that it's known as 'Halong Bay in the rice paddies'. Had a fantastic bus journey down to Hue as there was a distinct inbalance between the number of passengers and the number of seats available - when he realised this problem the driver/conductor dude started shouting into his phone for about 30 mins as if would create seats from thin air in this vain, finally gave up and promptly fell asleep in a hammock (not whilst driving).

Had a 'DMZ day' which was rather educating I must say, I now know (I think so at least) that the Viet Cong were the northern Vietnamese army who were fighting the US of A in the south with the aid of the Ho Chi Minh trail (lots of tunnels to transport stuff from China (I think) to the south to take out the evil americans). Have a lovely picture of the DMZ as it is now (this is of the 'border' on the north side, apparently they kept fighting to have the tallest flagpole and stuff - the things that count in war...), though apparently it wasn't as 'demilitarised' as intended back then with people living in tunnels for 5 years (!). Consider that a history lesson, didn't stop me pretending to be Forrest Gump or generally being silly with weaponry (see right) though. Oh, and for lunch we ended up gatecrashing a wedding, no-one seemed to mind a whole bus load of tourists there, in fact I think they quite liked it. Bizarre. And then a very weird 'small world' moment as pretty much literally ran into someone from RAMSBURY!!!! Yikes!

Am now in Hoi An, it's really nice here. And I haven't got lost here. A significant achievement given my past record. Loads of good food too, yum yum. There was a full moon/Japan-Vietnam 'cultural exchange' festival on the other night which involved boat races, the requisite b.a.d. music and lots of pretty twinkly candles out on the river, very nice. Hoi An is famous (well amongst travellers in Vietnam anyway) for it's tailor shops (over 200), somehow a trip to buy a pair of shorts has resulted in me buying 2 shorts, 2 shirts, 1 suit, 1 dress and 1 jacket (whoops), but for the record I look hot (with a capital T) in a suit - shame it's not soo practical whilst travelling... Hired out a motorbike yesterday (don't panic assorted aged rellies, I securely wrapped myself up in cottonwool before embarking on such an exercise - actually it wasn't for the first time either, eeek) and drove up to the 'marble mountains' near Danang, which are probably as far from being mountains as possible (thankfully as all the pagodas and caves and stuff were kindly located at the top) and then spent the rest of the day chilling on China Beach, and I'm going back there again today. It's such a hard life.

Tuesday, 1 August 2006

and the capital of Vietnam is...

...Hanoi! So no more arguments about that one. 36 hours later and a decidedly non-VIP bus ride and I made it to the city of moto's. Found a lovely place to stay and went for an explore around the place. That's a big lie. I went out to get a fruit shake and didn't return for about 5 hours, I got very lost (not much of a surprise there), though I don't think I'm the only one to have done so, I reckon the reason that there are so many people on the streets on their motorbikes and eating and stuff is because 5 years ago they left their homes, maybe to get a pint of milk or a goat or something and just haven't found their way back yet. I'm sure the streets move every hour or so just to keep things 'interesting'. Anyways, I've seen a lot of the Old Quarter (see right, or is it left, completely lost all sense of direction...). Went to the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum though unfortunately he was having his afternoon nap and was not to be disturbed (apparently he doesn't get much rest these days) so had to make do with the attached museum which if I was studying symbolism for an art GCSE would have been great, alas I was left standing incredulously at a giant plate of fruit which portrayed 'Vietnams hope for the future generation to learn from their history', uh-huh. Took in a few more sights - I probably should have realised that when the bible (Lonely Planet) said the history museum was 'in a nice building' it would mean the contents were less than exciting. It was breathtakingly dull and didn't even have air-con (sacrilege). Went to a few temples (as per usual) and the prison, don't know why but since been travelling seem to keep on paying to go to jail, biz-arre.

Alas, left the befuddling streets of Hanoi behind to go to Sapa via the equally befuddling (it's a cool word, why not use it twice) train station from where the train was leaving from at least 6 different platforms, turns out the different carriages all go to different platforms and then the train gets built together and leaves seconds later, keeps things really simple. Sapa's a french hill station famous for it's Saturday market, which was, well, a four letter word beginning with 's' (and I don't mean Sapa). Oh and it started to rain. Non-stop. Went to the Sunday market in Bac Ha which was AWEsome (see above), all the people from nearby hill-tribes came here in their best colourful costumes (no-one told me it was fancy dress) and sold horses, food, tobacco, little piggies, wellies and pretty much anything else you'd need in the Vietnamese hills - I just about managed not to accidently buy a chicken. Back to Hanoi on the overnight (tch) train in something less than luxury and then (yay) to Halong Bay (see right) for a cruise, cave (see left), kayak and swim. You'd probably not believe this but, oh yes, it was still raining (I realise i'm becoming a little obsessed by this, especially as it is the rainy season and to be expected, but I'm on holiday). Just in case I'd forgotten what irony is (ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife), the sun came out the second we stepped off the boat, ha ha haaaaaaaa. However we did go through a tunnel as featured in Tomorrow Never Dies so that brings the number of Bond film sets visited up to 2, I'm practically a Bond girl now, just call me Halle Berry(hmmm).

Am currently back in Hanoi (I think, could be more lost than I thought). Managed to lose 2 pairs of sunglasses in the space of 3 hours which strikes me as a little stupid, however not to worry as there are streets dedicated to selling gen-u-ine Roy Bans. I'm sorted for entertainment tonight, there's a place here doing all you can eat on ice cream, I fully intend to try every flavour they have (about 30) so could be rolling home - good job I'm not on the top bunk. On that note I'm going - have to leave early to allow for very high probability of not finding my way there within the next hour. Au revoir!

Sunday, 23 July 2006

water water everywhere

Got a bit of time to kill at the moment (understatement) so thought I'd fill you blogfans in on my most recent adventures, all naturally, are fascinating.

A lovely bus journey took me to Tadlo, and this time the 'real asia experience' because joy of joys there was not only a CD player, but also a DVD player so endured 6 hours of Lao kareoke (sp?) videos played at top volume. Lao pop music? It's not good. In fact one hour long video consisted purely of one bloke and four dancers doing exactly the same thing in every song, though knew it was a different song because man was wearing a different shirt. Aaaiiioooww jaaaa hmmmaaa dddaaaahhhj is how I think the words went. That was a particularly slow hour. Got off the bus in pitch darkness to discover that had to walk between 1 and 2km (depending on how old your Lonely Planet is) to get to the place we were staying. Shock horror there was a waterfall here, tell a lie, there were 3 waterfalls here. I finally got to ride an elephant here (yay), and don't knock my photographic skills, it isn't all that easy to incorporate self and elephant in a picture when balancing precariously atop said elephant. Needless to say I decided to leave my high fashion silver poncho behind and oh yes, it rained.

Decided to leave this debarcle behind and headed off on another 'asia experience' bus - this time had loads of chickens flapping maniacally all the way to go to Si Pha Don or Four Thousand Islands where the Mekong spreads out a bit down at the bottom corner of Laos. Here I became as one with a hammock and did absolutely nothing for a day or so, with the company of my new best friend Billy (who followed me everywhere I went, though in fairness he was a dog and I did keep feeding him). Very rural, lots of mud (not that I fell over in it at all, damnit), piglets and rice paddies here, and surprise surprise there was also a WATERFALL (!) on the mighty Mekong. Again, I left aforementioned poncho behind, it rained, again. Think there could be a lesson to learn here...

Enough of all that laziness malarky. Back on the road again (just about - see piccie, if only we had this woman with us in Africa it would have saved us a fair bit of time tearing apart the truck and standing about with hands on hips in traditional 'hmmm, there's something mechanically wrong here and by standing here like this I'm helping out' pose) and now just waiting waiting waiting for my 'VIP' (I'll believe it when I see it) bus back to Vientiane (made a bit of a bodge up of my route planning into Vietnam so now have about 2 days and nights of bus travel largely over same bit of road in different directions ahead of me).

Apparently scientists discovered a new species of rat previously unknown to man when doing a test of a 'meat stick' kebab sold in Laos. So it's back on the viggies (with Argentinian accent) for me. Oh and a guide to the pictures should you really need one: (1) me on elephant, (2) girl washing up bamboo hut style, (3) sunset as seen from my hammock, (4) whooshing waterfall and (5) mechanics on the go.

Monday, 17 July 2006

Va va vieng voom

Sabaai dii sabaai dii (the call of Lao children)! Finally left Luang Prabang, which is a place 'you just have to go to' - was really nice and chilled with monks lining the streets (apparently this is the time of year when they all go into hiding with freshly shaven heads into the monastries, which goes some way to explain the otherwise inexplicable bell ringing and drum banging that went on at about 4am everyday), the home of Hive (again, you just have to go there) and a good spot for a bike ride (yes I got lost, very lost, again).

Hit the shores of the Mekong River again in Vang Vieng where hopped onto a (very temperamental) tuk-tuk 3km up the road and floated downstream on a inner-tyre of a tractor: the tubing phenomena is born! Brilliant fun! If you ignore the indignity of getting stuck in a tree/weeds or bumping into bridges. Seems these Lao dudes know what people want from a lazy river trip so there were plenty of riverside bars to stop off in and best of all some wicked but scary swings that launched you flying into the river (or in my case unceremoniously splatted you into it, whoops). Can't get much better than blobbing down a river with a Beer Lao in one hand and some amazing scenery in the background (which I would share with you but no way was I taking my camera near water) so you'll have to make do with these land-shots of Vang Vieng at night.

Enough of that enjoying oneself malarky it's back to travelling again, so landed up in Vientiane, capital city, and surprise surprise, it rained, a lot, just as we were getting off the bus. Laos - it's wet (see piccie, if it ever uploads, slow slow sloooooww computer, well anyways you've all seen rain before, it's wet cos I've just given up waiting - oh no, finally it's appeared, there you go, rain). Had a couple of yummy foods (did however skip frog and 'little piggy intestines' advertised on the menu) on the banks of (yes you guessed it) the Mekong River and made a swift exit down to here, Savannakhet. I say swift, delete that. 8 hours on a bus, the main 'highway' in Lao really is just a country lane-type-road. Though I did get a tofu sandwich, promise you it was nicer than it sounds... This place is a bit like Luang Prabang but more french (bizarre) and much quieter, which is good seeing as I have a wee bit of sleep to catch up on! That's pretty much me up to date now, oh and I caved in to that meat craving (nothing to do with the tofu sandwich surely) and had a pork kebab, and then another, and one more for the road and I'm making no promises that I wont have another...

Sunday, 9 July 2006

La La Laos Land

G'day folks. New day new country. I say new day, I mean new few days because it took that long just to get anywhere. Day 1 left Chiang Mai to go to border (Thai/Laos) on bus, Day 2 crossed border in POURING RAIN (absolutely soaked, took about whole journey for my trousers to move from wet to damp in the drying out process) and hopped onto the 'slow boat' up the Mekong river. It was slow. Stopped over at some little village that seemed to exist for the pure purpose of housing us boaties for the night. Pretty dire nights sleep on mattress that turned out to be made of wood. Day 3 on the slow boat again, this time was upgraded so some people had seats that had clearly been half-inched from a bus, though we had to sit on more wooden seats. Laos - comfy it aint. Piccie (slightly blurry, still not got hang of this modern tech) is of some of us 'slow boaters' (l-r: UK Harry, Argi Dolo and Ozzi Jane) powering on through the journey with the aid of dipping pineapple in our teacups of Beer Lao, classy we are. Scenery pretty nice on way (despite rain rain rain) and then finally arrived at destination Luang Prabang.

Obviously the first thing we did was get a pizza, then head off down to get some mojitos (yayayay), and later onto a loverrrly spot called the Vietnam Bar (I really hope Vietnam is nothing like this place), which was nice. Currently living in a kind of bizarre 'slow boat world' where everywhere we go it seems that everyone we met on the boat is there too, or they are people met millions of years ago in different places (couple of guys who also did Challenger in Isle of Wight are here too - bizarre). Went to see this waterfall yesterday (see los picturos on rightos) so spent time avoiding leaches splashing about there for the day - awesome.

Today is cultural day and are going to hire some bikes to go around, though so far only managed breakfast (brunch) and to come on internet, hmmmm. But true to form I did get lost this morning so already had a walk around more of the 'city' than intended. Happy days.

Saturday, 1 July 2006

wat's that?

Yes yes, I know 'what' isn't spelt like that, but 'Wat' is. Chiang Mai: here a Wat, there a Wat, everywhere a Wat Wat. Hired out a cycle yesterday and went wonder-about, there's a big temple on top of a hill where an elephant left it (apparently many many years ago an elephant was carrying whole temple on its back, decided to walk all way up hill only to die on spot leaving temple behind, as you do) that I thought would make a nice bike ride. Lasted for about 5 minutes (exaggeration) until realised getting a lift to the top with some dudes from New Yoirrrrrk with fun New Yoirrrk accents (don't know how to express them in writing) and just zippy zip zipping back down would be much more fun (it was). Got lost on way back to guesthouse, accidently stumbled upon some more Wats and monks being monkey-ish (is that what you call the work of a monk I don't know). Found another 12 million Wats. Cycled round and round and round (swear these streets keep on moving) and eventually made it back to my guesthouse only to be attacked by a giant butterfly (scary). Foolishly went out on bike again for dinner, got lost, again. Found another Wat, or 5. Seems not a lot else to do in Chiang Mai other than getting lost and finding Wats. What's a Wat I hear you ask, erm, temple type thing where the more gold the better I think (see picture above).

Actually that was a big lie, there is something else to do in Chiang Mai as did a Thai cookery course today which was quite fun, am well and truly stuffed with food. Bought all the ingredients from market (see piccie: oi piggy - you lookin' at me?!) in the morning and spent afternoon pounding and chopping and pounding some more; apparently with a little more work I will make 'good Thai wife' (not sure I actually want to be good Thai wife, but that's by-the-by). Thinking of learning how to be a mahout (elephant trainer) tomorrow because I know that's the kind of skill employers are looking for on a CV, hope I don't get trampled on.

Oh, and the geographically challenged amongst you may find help in knowing where I am by looking right (or is it left, erm) and following the link "is Baghdad near Iraq" (ex-Talybronx residents of M8 will know where that came from) and you will find yourself looking at a map of my rough location about this world.

Alas, must toddle off now, apparently there are some Wats around here that I "really must" see...

P.S. oh and at the request of some of the more aged readers out there (Johnny) you will be happy to discover that a mojito is in fact a delicious beverage containing rum, soda, mint and lemon - it remained elusive but managed to find a substitute (in the many roguely titled cocktails such as Foo Girl and Blue Hawath - still have no idea what they were, but they came in pretty colours).

Monday, 26 June 2006

whistle that tune...

Currently in town called Kanchanaburi on the river Kwai and I'm revelling in my new digital camera at the moment, everything and anything is being photographed - hopefully some of the more boring shots (brick wall, etc) will be shortly deleted (once I've found out how to, instruction manual largely in Japanese, eek) but here are some highlights for your viewing pleasure:

(1) "death railway" bridge over the river Kwai - lots of fun WWII relics and stuff, plus bizarre museum that on one floor had remains of loadsa soldiers and other such delightful exhibits, then on next a 'directory of Miss Thailand' and a 'spot the elephant game' (still one elephant elludes me after 30 mins of searching)

(2) thought I'd include this one of me for anyone who's forgotten how fantabulous I look (gotta say that in absence of mirror in room the digi camera is working well so I can check appearance, etc - me? vain? never) .

The more astute amongst you may notice that today is a very v.e.r.y. important day in the history of mankind, or indeed Jo-kind so am treating myself. Just had a Thai massage, which considering the stories of pain and cripplement that I've heard was actually pretty nice (will just re-attach my arm now). Going out to (hopefully) nice dinner tonight (maybe even ice cream and strawberries if lucky) with a bunch of people on the search of an elusive mojito (can't have beer and footie every night - on that subject I'd like to have an 'I told you so moment' in that I kept the faith and knew ole Davey B would come of use eventually) which should be good.

And finally, (3) general shot of lovely Thailand, all green and exotic and nice, though admittedly a wee bit cloudy - wouldn't believe the thunderstorm the other night, was a little bit scary and got very wet (must buy umbrella). Ah well, must skiddoo, have an unhealthy addiction to Tiger Balm (that incidently, does not contain any actual tiger derivative) which is demanding I smear it all over my mozzy bites immediately. Ciao mes amigos.

Wednesday, 21 June 2006


I'm in THAILAND BABY!!!!!! I made it at loooonng long last!

Ended up spending the remainder of my time in Delhi doing nothing of touristic value, I rode the subway though - it was surprisingly nice; no spit or wee or rubbish (or any other traditional trace of India) to be seen anywhere! Randomly met one of the girls who was also volunteering in Sri Lanka on last night, which was a happy coincidence (of all the people and all of the places in India, small small world).

Somehow managed to take 3 days to get from Delhi to Bangkok, despite total flying time of only 4 hours... Turns out I had a stopover in Bangladesh where everything was as close to being water as possible without actually being water and lots of cockroaches scurrying about. I'd like to thank the hoteliers for waking me at 5am to inform me that breakfast (dry bread and water - well worth getting up for I'm sure) would be ready an hour later, only to not leave for the airport for a further 3 hours. But all made up for by fact that was flying business class (posh-o) so got to use the 'executive lounges' and generally lower the polite businessman-type-newspaper-reading-vibe by stuffing my face with all the free foody nibbles available. Such joy.

Topical comment of moment: has anyone else noticed that Sven Gargle-Eriksson looks astonishingly like Mr Burns from the Simpsons? Especially with Steve "Smithers" McClaren in tow everywhere he goes. Obviously my mind isn't wandering at all when I'm watching the footie in the early hours.

Oh and Khao San Rd (see piccie) veterans will be happy to know that the kid who challenges people to thumb wars is still doing a good trade - although he's more of dude too old to get away with playing thumb war than the child he once was. Happy days. Bring on the Beer Chang!

P.S. 5 days to go...

Monday, 12 June 2006

smelly, belly, errr, telly...

...Delhi (prize being offered to you blogfans who can come up with any more rhyming adjectives). Finally hauled myself out of my Rishikesh 'it's very easy to do nothing all day' stupour (but did go wild one day and dipped toe in Ganges) and via a lengthy bus journey sandwiched between smelly fat man with no concept of personal space (or in fact trouser drawstrings - v. unpleasant yellow Y-fronts moment as discovered this) and strange singing boy I arrived back in the buzzing supermetropolis of Delhi yesterday afternoon. Found myself a hotel with a TV, and not only a TV, but ESPN on it so can watch football matches to my hearts content: GO Serbia and Montenegro!!! Also discovered that due to some hefty censorship can fit about 3 episodes of Sex and the City into 1 hour, v. efficient viewing (although no idea what each episode was about as entire storylines missing).

Oh and some GOOD NEWS, after a brief but painful hiatus as a refugee I now have a passport again - yippeee! I can leave the country at last!!! Oh no no no noooooo. Turns out I need a visa just to leave the country, which obviously carries with it days of requisite paper pushing and stuff so they can be absolutely sure that I am in fact in India at the moment (hmmmm, apparently my presence is not quite enough evidence). Oh and my airline are very keen to give me an opportunity to tour seemingly the entire of Delhi in search of nonexistant but apparently essential bits of paper from random offices that prove that I didn't fly to Bangkok 2 weeks ago (again my presence in their office proved inconclusive).

Here would probably be the space to write a lengthy prose on the sights and 'attractions' of Delhi, but alas not possible, is a Monday so naturally everything is closed and at 40+ degrees if it doesn't have air-con then I'm quite frankly not interested (nice cooling breeze as scoot about in rickshaw akin to opening an oven door); I have however managed to see Delhi Fort (astonishingly very similar to Agra Fort), parliament buildings (suspiciously the only nice and new buildings in Delhi, wonder how the government decides to spend its money) and the spot where the Memorial Gate is (a dust haze has restricted visibility to about 100m) - have a picture of it in my Delhi Guide so guess that counts.

Have taken up playing chess (well have done since I beat a Canadian, Australian and a Kiwi - and what British sporting team can boast that achievement? will ignore embarassing defeat at hands of ruthless Indians). Think high point of week was seeing some monkeys running away from a cow. It's been a slow few days.

Monday, 5 June 2006

HELP!!! My leg's stuck!

Hello there, to those of you who don't know I'm busy waiting time out whilst I get myself a new passport (long boring story, entirely as a result of me falling asleep on a bus rather than being happened upon by bandits which admittedly would make a much more interesting tale to tell). So am currently to be found in Rishikesh, self proclaimed 'Yoga Capital of the World', so obviously (when in Rome and all that) had to try it out for myself to see what all the fuss was about (*hippy alert hippy alert*), hmmmm. Lesson started off innocuously enough sitting on mat with legs crossed and inexplicable chanting - not a problem I can do that, this is going to be easy - though my optimism was soon vanquished as progressed on through different poses until reached nadir as teacher was balancing perfectly somehow with legs and seemingly entire body in air whilst I lay on my back with legs waving helplessly about, non too impressive.

So that was yoga, second thing Rishikesh is famous for (see piccie) would be the Beatles, however I have managed to find absolutely no trace of their being (not even a singing-wallah) so have to make do with singing songs to self, 'we all live in a yellow submarine' indeedy.

Thought I was being a bit boring seeing as I have absolutely nothing to do but kill time and read books, well actually book as there is nowhere to trade my literary classic (Bridget Jones II) for anything other than a Guide to Tantric Yoga or whatever, so to keep things interesting I moved hotels this morning. My new room is ever so slightly larger if you're interested.

Have finally managed to convince the good (hmmm) people of American Express that I really did lose my travellers cheques and didn't just report them stolen for my own amusement so am one step closer to returning to pre-bag loss state (yay). One week to go til World Cup, have made it my aim to be able to watch England playing whilst in Thailand (just hope it is in earlier stages of competition as can't stay here forever). Fingers crossed...