Wednesday, August 30, 2006

More Malaysian Madness

Hello again,

Having returned from the island paradise of Pulau Perhentian to the joys of the big city (eg cheap internet), it's time for me to drop out another quick update.

Basically, I spent about 4 days on the beach.

For most people, that would seem a natural way to spend the holidays, but those of you who know me well will know that it's nigh-on unprecedented for me. The difference here would have to be the truly gorgeous nature of Long Beach, on Perhentian Kecil (small island), combined with meeting a fun crowd (or two) of people.

Only downside of my time there was that I basically wasted about a day and a half feeling rough as a wombat's bum after an ill-advised encounter with an omelette, but I was sensible (yes Mum, I know, it can happen sometimes) and kept myself out of trouble for a day or so and got through that. It did mean that I didn't get around to any of the snorkelling, kayaking and the like I'd planned to do, but I had a wonderful time there anyway.

I'm now in Kuala Lumpur (KL), ahead of National Day tomorrow, which should be a bit of an eye-opener. After that, the plan is to hit the Cameron Highlands and then Penang before heading into Thailand, where I may actually be in time for the Full Moon party at Ko Pha-Ngan. I know it's cheesey, touristy and everyone does it (and I don't even particularly like dance music...), but I figure if the schedule just about lines up then I'd be mad not to, and I'd been planning to spend some time on the island anyway.

I may have to get accommodation on Ko Samui and go over by boat for the festivities, though, as I'd be arriving too late to have any real chance of finding accommodation on the island itself for the party. I'm also under orders to try and catch up with a bunch of English girls I met on the Perhentians, who semi-adopted me as a kind of "elder brother" figure - they reckon it should be easy to find them, as they'll apparently have bright orange elephant hats on (complete with trunks). The mind boggles...

Anyways, that'll do for the moment. Hope all's well with all of you! Take care and have fun,


PS Zaz, I totally see what you mean about occasionally wanting a duvet on Malaysian coaches now! Overnight trip on one was an interesting experience.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

I'm melting, I'm meeeeelting....

Hallo once more!

Well, my travels continue, through thick and thin, and I'm now in Malaysia. In absolutely no change from Singapore, the weather remains hazy, hot and stickier than a spillage in a glue factory. Hence, given my well-known discomfort in any remotely hot and humid weather, I spend the whole time feeling like I'm about to melt, apart from when I'm in Air-Con.

I'm also feeling utterly stuffed at the moment, having been out eating lots and lots of Satay - there's a place in Melaka (where I'm currently set up) which does a cross between satay (muchos peanut sauce) and Chinese steamboat cooking - you get a big bubbling pot of peanut sauce in the middle of the table, and various skewers of stuff that get stuck in it and cooked. Given that said skewers cost 50 sen each (half a Ringgit, or about 7p), it's oh so easy to get carried away and end up with a big pile of skewers on your tray. Not that I did that. Errrr....

Singapore ended up being quite good fun, I spent a good deal of Sunday afternoon in a microbrewery, then went to the Asian Civilisations Museum and the Night Safari on Monday, and did a walking tour around Little India on Tuesday (yesterday). The evening then turned into an impromptu game of Ring of Fire with a bunch of the other backpackers in the hostel, which all got a bit messy, and I apparently did my usual trick of falling asleep in my chair after I'd had a fair few beers. Only, on this occasion, some smart-alec decided to cover my hair in shaving foam, which then went everywhere when I woke up and scratched my head.

Today was spent largely on the buses, going from Singapore over the Causeway to Johore Bahru (JB), then on to Melaka, travelling with an American lad called John. After not meeting that many American backpackers (as opposed to tourists) before, I've now met quite a few in just the last couple of months. The poor boy's going to be a lawyer when he gets home, but I won't hold that against him...

At any rate, that's where I'm at now, and tomorrow night I will be taking the sleeper train up to Kota Bharu (right up in the northeast corner of peninsular Malaysia) from where I plan to go on to the Perhentian islands. So in less than two days' time I should be back in tropical island paradise country. Hurrah!

Hope you're all well! Take care and have fun,


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Monday, August 21, 2006

Singapore Slings and Arrows...

Hi guys,

Just a quick note for the moment, but I arrived in Singapore. Had a bit of an "interesting" couple of days, what with the ultimately fruitless attempt to get my camera bag (complete with charger and spare batteries) back before I left Fiji, being stuck in "Screaming Small Child Land" for 4.5 hours of joyous flight from Nadi-Brisbane, my usual near-total inability to sleep on aircraft, having to repack my bags in Darwin airport's check-in area due to not having noticed that Tiger Airways' baggage restriction is only 15kg, arriving at 6am to find Singapore just as hot and sticky as remembered, being unable to get a bed in my hostel until noon, and (with the air-con turned off in the dorm during the middle of the day) unable to sleep during the afternoon, heading out with an Irishman, an Aussie and a Kiwi to watch the first football matches of the season, and ending up (to top it all off) losing my mobile on Saturday night.

So it's been a long few days. Went hunting for my phone yesterday, but no luck, so looks like it's gone for good. Phone itself isn't that big a loss, but obviously lost all my mobile numbers etc, which is an arse. No point in replacing it out here, though, so I am now officially mobile-less until I get home. Yes, those of you used to getting occasional random text messages from me at odd hours due to the time difference, you are now safe.

Beyond that, not done much in Singapore so far except laundry, shopping (replacing camera stuff, and getting more shorts - my jeans are likely to be little or no use for the next couple of months) and spending much of yesterday arvo at Brewerkz, a Singaporean microbrewery. Yes, some things just don't change. Can heartily recommend their Hopback Ale, but that may partly have just been me swooning at having an actual hand-pumped cask-conditioned real ale for the first time in over a year.

So, that's where I am now. Planning to go to the Asian Civilisations Museum during the day today, and then maybe to the Night Safari (up by the zoo) this evening. And want to go see the "Battle Box" (British HQ during WWII) tomorrow, so I'm keeping myself busy. Probably head on over into Malaysia on Wednesday.

Hope you're all well! Take care and have fun,


PS Nobody mention the Blackburn result, okay...?

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Monday, August 14, 2006

Manta Magic

[This section has been written sometime after I left Fiji, but it covers what I was up to, and has been shoehorned into the right place in the narrative - P]

Aah, Fiji. Land of sunkissed beaches, coconut trees waving in the breeze and turquoise blue waters. Hard to imagine it without the good weather, eh? Well, it happens. Especially when a tropical storm blows through the region of the Pacific north of the islands. This left us with overcast, fairly grey weather for several days, without even the comfort of something pretty like a storm. This might have led to a less-fun time being had, were it not for the fact that I had arrived at the most fun place I stayed in my time in the erstwhile Cannibal Islands: Manta Ray Island resort.

Well, I say I had arrived. First I had had the joy of negotiating my way onto the bus to the marina, and then from the bus to the boat, whilst juggling my day-pack (overburdened with supplies for a week), another bag with snacks and my duty-free (part of the attempt to minimise my vulnerability to scalping by the island resort operators) and a bin-bag with my water supplies in. Yes, I had acquired 8 large bottles of water to take with me, as those returning from the islands had warned me that drinking water tends to be the big expense nobody budgets for properly. Unfortunately, the weight of these and the flimsy nature of the bin-bag meant much juggling and cursing, but I made it in the end.

The actual boat trip up, on the massive canary-yellow Yasawa Flyer catamaran, was pretty easy, and I transferred at the far end, along with a few others, to a small metal dinghy for the transfer to the beach. This was accomplished in the company of the ever-ebullient "Captain Nemo", one of the Fijian staff who ran the resort. Most Fijians are pretty outgoing, especially those working in the tourist trade, but Nemo was a walking bundle of enthusiasm. That first day, I got my stuff stowed in the resort's dorm and settled down on the beach for a bit of coconut-carving. Yes, the morning's activity was making bracelets from coconut shells. Sounds naff? I loved it. Hadn't got involved in actually making anything for ages, and the strength of coconut shell meant I was messing about with saws and the like, which generally cheers me up. Probably something worrying in my sense of glee when let loose with sharp objects, but it's all good fun.

And then the island's drum rang out for lunch. The lunch was my first introduction to Manta's food, and what bliss it was. The chef there had made some fantastic fish-burgers (and veggie-burgers for the rabbits amongst us), with fresh salads and the like as well. That was largely the pattern for the food there - good food, nothing too pretentious, really tasty and plenty of it. Never any problems with there being enough food to go around, and it was always worth going back for seconds. As you can imagine, I was in hog-heaven.

On top of blissful food and maniacally cheerful staff, there was a great atmosphere amongst the other guests there. Manta Ray is certainly not the cheapest place in the islands, but at 75FJD per night (all meals included), which is about 25 quid, it was still within the budgets of many in the backpacking crowd. This and a decent dorm setup have helped make it one of the most popular places to stay in the Yasawas - I'd had to book the day I arrived in Fiji to secure the nights there I had wanted, and that was over a week in advance - which meant there was usually something going on. While it's perfectly possible to lounge around in hammocks, reading books in between the odd dip in the water, there are also activities most days.

The best of these, and the one for which the resort is named, is the trip to go snorkelling with Manta Rays in one of the nearby bays. Doing this was incredible. I'd seen a Manta once before whilst snorkelling, off Exmouth, but that was only a brief glimpse of a single creature. On the trip I did here I saw something like 6 of the graceful beasts, winging their way through the water like graceful underwater starships. And in the evenings, there's usually a few souls to be found in the bar, indulging in the odd beverage. I had some great nights there with various friends old and new (Helen from my FJX trip was there when I arrived, and a few more familiar faces showed themselves, and I had a good laugh with two Americans, Megan and Mike, who were doing a SCUBA course there), egged on throughout by the mad Fijian head barmaid, who gloried in the name of "Tequila!". Enthusiastic bar-staff and a tab system are a dangerous combination, but a fun one.

Still, all good things must come to an end and, after 3 nights chilling with the Mantas it was time to head on to my next island. My stuff was squeezed back into bags and I headed off to the Flyer, serenaded from the shore by the locals singing Isa Lei, the Fijian song of farewell. Up through the islands we swept, as far north as the Flyer goes, to the island of Nacula (na-THOO-la), where the Oarsman's Bay Resort awaited me. But that'll keep to the next entry.

Until then, take care and have fun!



Thursday, August 10, 2006

Sega na Lenqa!

Bula again, my friends, from the beautiful Fiji Islands!

I'm still alive and well, still having an awesome time. Since my last mass mail, I have:

- spent a sleepy couple of days on Ovalau, checking out the old capital at Levuka. This included the shortest flight for which I have had to have an airline ticket (I think we were in the air for 12 minutes...). It also involved getting very used to the smell of fish, as the chief employer on the island is a tuna-processing plant. And I got to at least glimpse the spectacle of pretty much the entire population of the island turning up for the Ovalau vs Suva rugby game on the day I left.

- had a mildly crazy (and exceedingly damp) Saturday night out in Suva, Fiji's capital (watching the Tri-Nations rugby and then drinking with some Fijians). They have this crazy drinking custom that beer is bought for the whole group, with a single small glass. This glass is then filled, the first individual in turn shouts "Bula!" and necks it, then passes on to the next person. This is repeated until collapse...

- visited a Fijian school and village, going through a formal ceremony (involving the consumption of
sevusevuyanqona or kava, a mild narcotic which looks and tastes somewhat like muddy water) at the latter. Kava is definitely an acquired taste. I think you only properly get to acquire it once the mild numbing sensation it causes in your mouth spreads to the tastebuds. The ceremony is quite impressive, though, even if you do have to wear a sulu/sarong for it.

- went
bilibili rafting (a bit like punting, but with a vessel made of lashed together bamboo poles that moves around under your feet a lot). My years of punting in Cambridge came in handy at this, but the level of balance required is significantly higher! I nearly ended up in the drink several times.

- did the best SCUBA dive of my life so far (okay, there's only been 3, but this one was fantastic - big canyons of coral, at a site where National Geographic went for coral pics), which was cheaper thanks to my single-handedly winning the pub quiz at a hostel. Yes, the Quiz Geek is alive and well.

- and drunk enough Fiji Bitter and Fiji Gold to float a small warship. There's not much difference in taste between them, but Fiji Gold is a trifle smoother. In the course of doing this, I've partaken in several bouts of organised drinking games, featuring the usual crab-racing, limbo-dancing and various other antics that aren't perhaps quite as wholesome.

So it's all good fun. I'm off up into the Yasawa Islands tomorrow morning, for another week lounging around under coconut trees in hammocks, snorkelling and generally enjoying the beach life.

Hope all's well with all of you! Always good to hear tales from home or from your own travels.

Take care and have fun,



Thursday, August 03, 2006


Hi guys,

Well, I'm now in Fiji, so the first new country for me in over a year. All rather warm and sticky and tropical, all rather good fun.

On arrival, I had a chilled out first afternoon just getting used to the place and lounging at my hostel/hotel. The next morning, I linked up with the Feejee Experience bus, and we drove down to Natadola beach (reputedly the best on Viti Levu, the main island) before popping into a local village to be shown the layout and have a bit of traditional Fijian life explained (for which everyone had to wear sarongs/sulus, causing mild consternation to a few of the lads), and ending up sand-boarding on the Sigatoka sand-dunes. I was my usual graceful self doing this (ie I stacked quite spectacularly on my first run, then rolled on the floor alternately groaning and giggling), and a good time was had by all.

The place we were staying at that night wasn't FJX's usual haunt, because that's been taken over by the ITV show Celebrity Love Island. No, I'm not kidding. We actually drove past the place, and the amount of TV equipment set up outside that place is staggering. From what I'm hearing back home, the program's shite anyway, but the Fijians are mildly fascinated by all the goings on at the site.

Then yesterday we went for about a 2.5 hour hike up in the highlands of the south coast (preceded by a trip in a "carrier" - a lorry with bench seating in the back and a blue-tarp cover over it), during which I managed to add to my collection of mud-stains on clothing of mine, and then tubed down the river at the end for a little way (ie floated down in a tractor inner-tube) before swimming at the base of a waterfall and then getting a ride in a Fijian long-boat back down to the coast. The latter was definitely more fun for those of us at the front, where an innocent hand in the wash from the bow could instantly soak most of those behind us... We then had a really nice meal and a few drinks out in Suva, the capital of Fiji. Which is where I am now.

This arvo I'm flying over to the small island of Ovalau, just east of here, where the old capital, Levuka, is. Got a couple of nights there before coming back to Suva and heading up to the north coast, to a beatiful little island called Nananu-i-Ra. But that can wait for another time.

Take care and have fun,