Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Another new experience...

Hello again,
Well, I've done a fair few interesting things in my times on the road, but this would have to be the first time I've ever been in a country when it has experienced a coup d'etat. All a bit weird seeing the news from Bangkok last night, especially as, in true backpacker style, most of the farangs here were far more interested in dancing and getting drunk than what was going on (a lot of them didn't realise until today that anything had happened, and some of them still seem rather confused at the concept that the military's taken over the government).
This all made for rather a strange end to an awesome day, in which I gave in once again to my growing fondness for SCUBA. This was helped by absolutely perfect weather (bright sunshine, little to no swell, and great underwater visibility), and led to two of my more memorable dives, largely due to the fantastic marine life. We saw a couple of turtles, a leopard shark, three octopi, a moray eel, at least 3 reef sharks and, of course, shedloads of tropical fish and coral. What's more I didn't come close to panicking once, which is a healthy development.
I then had dinner at the remarkably cheesey "007" restaurant in town (no prizes for guessing the theme), where I watched the unbelievably cheesey film Stealth (this makes Top Gun look like an ultra-realistic docudrama) - as so often in Thailand, many of the cafes and restaurants show DVDs in the afternoon/evening as a way of drawing in the punters. The bars tend to have things like fire-shows (people swinging poi balls or staves with the ends set on fire) or muay thai boxing for the same purpose.
And that's pretty much the way life is here on Ko Phi Phi. People lounge on the beach by day, or dive, or do snorkelling trips (or cliff-jumping, for the clinically insane), then go out and party at night, and ignore most of what goes on back in the real world (apart from the sports). At any rate, it looks like I won't be going up to Bangkok this weekend as I'd planned - everything seems pretty close to under control at the moment, but I'm gonna give it a few more days before I run the gauntlet through the capital.
Hope all's well with all of you! Take care and have fun,

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Which bit of "Monsoon" was I unsure about...?

Hey guys,

Just a quick note, as I'm having all kinds of fun looking up Visa requirements and the like.

I've now swapped coasts of Thailand, and gone from that facing the Gulf of Thailand to that looking out on the Andaman Sea. Specifically, I'm now in the port of Krabi, ready to go and explore the beautiful islands which lie offshore here. The only slight fly in the ointment is the weather - we're still in the tail-end of the SW Monsoon, and there's apparently a pesky typhoon hanging off the Philippines or something, so it swings from "hazy and quite pleasant" to "vertical torrential downpour" in a matter of minutes, on a semi-regular basis. Which makes planning things a little interesting, but I've decided just to bite the bullet, and head out to some of the smaller, close-in islands tomorrow on a daytrip. I'll probably head on to Ko Phi Phi the day after that (I toyed with the idea of going to Lanta, but there doesn't seem to be a huge heap to do there other than lie on the beach, which my normal inclinations and the climatic conditions render not ideal without a fall-back option).

In the meantime, I continue to struggle along, stumbling through a few (very basic) phrases of Thai and reverting to pidgin English at need. And smiling a lot. Smiling definitely earns brownie points over here. Any kind of signs of grumpiness doesn't. So I'm trying to work to my "If you can't affect it, then don't stress over it" ideal, and not get annoyed by any of the demonstrations of what I now instinctively think of as "Fiji-time". You never know, the UK might just get back a slightly more serene version of me in December. Or I might be a raving maniac by then...

Take care and have fun,


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Saturday, September 09, 2006

Lunar Lunacy

Sawat-dee, my friends, relatives and other random correspondees!

No mail for a few days, but I am now firmly ensconced in Thailand. Had a bit of a 'mare with the trip up here but all rather more chilled now.

I'm currently on Ko Pha Ngan, having spent a few nights staying on Ko Samui (although the middle night was actually over here, in the lunacy that was the Full Moon Party). Before that, I had a few nights in Penang (Georgetown, to be specific), which were actually pretty quiet.

The night I got there it was midnight before I could check in, after a hellish trip up from the Cameron Highlands which lasted at least 2 hours longer than I'd been told it would, and left me wishing for the usual ridiculous air-con, as the bus I was on was rather too warm and sticky for my liking (and the gentleman sitting next to me was somewhat pungent). The next day I slept in a bit in the morning, then went for a wander around town, before looking around the Cheong Fatt Tse mansion in the afternoon, which was fascinating if a little lengthy at times (the lady showing us around was a bit of an enthusiast, and I had a lot of sympathy for the non-native English speakers, as she chatted away at a hell of a pace!).

That evening, I met up again with Lies, who'd been on my bus up to the Highlands, and went for a really nice Indian meal. I'd been thinking I might go out for a bit after that, but the atmosphere in a lot of the places I looked at just wasn't that lively (and in a few it was a bit TOO lively), so I headed back to my hostel, dodging the beckoning ladies of the night who infest Chinatown on my way home.

My last day in Penang, I wandered around the old centre of town and then tried to go up Penang Hill, only to be informed on my arrival at the foot of the funicular railway going up there that the track had to be closed for unscheduled maintenance, and would not be open until the next day. "Bugger" quoth I. So that day didn't really accomplish much, but I at least had a fun evening, ending up having a few beers in the "Soho" pub in town, the downstairs of which is your usual pseudo-British pub, but the upstairs looks like it's been lifted from some mad faux-Edwardian gentleman's club or something, with elaborate wallpaper, chandeliers and the like. Tres bizarre. And I ended up chatting and drinking away (slightly longer than I'd planned) with a trio of Irish lasses and a whole posse of RAAF boys, who were on exercises with the Malaysians over in Butterworth (other side of the strait from Georgetown).

Then came one of the longer days of my travelling life, as I headed up into Thailand. Looking around Penang, I was unable to find anywhere willing to sell a "normal" coach ticket, everyone was flogging Minibus ones, so in the end I had bitten the bullet and got myself a minibus ticket to Surat Thani in Thailand. Approximately 8 hours away from Penang. Leaving at 5am. Yuk. Yuk yuk yuk. My mood upon rising at that hour of the day is never exactly cheerful, and it deteriorated rapidly once I was shown into the back seat of the minibus, next to a German-Hungarian couple. My head was resting against the roof, and I had to either tilt sideways or try and lean back to avoid it bumping the whole time, the latter complicated by the absence of anything remotely resembling legroom. NOT a happy bunny.

By the time I got to hop out of said vehicle for a break, just before the border, I had a noticeable crick in my neck and had failed dismally to get much sleep. This after around 2.5 hours. The torture continued through to Hat Yai, the main transit town on the Thai side of the border, where I discovered that I was to be swapped into another, different minibus for the leg up to Surat Thani. This time I wasn't in the back. Hurrah! My neck got some relief. Unfortunately, I think there was actually even less leg-room in the middle row of seats, which didn't help my legs or my attempts to sleep one bit (neither did the Thai girl who kept dozing off, falling against my shoulder, waking up again, and then dozing off again).

On arrival in Surat, I found that I gave up on my original plan to try and sort myself out a decent boat ticket independently of the damned minibus company and just bought a ticket through them. Which then resulted in more "hurry up and wait" sitting around, before a quick trip in a sawngthaew (a pickup or minivan with bench seats in the back) and a further transfer to a coach, all of which confused the hell out of me and meant I only realised too late that I had left my shoes on the second minibus. Aaaargh!

After a dozy car-ferry ride over to Samui, and another of what are becoming increasingly frequent sawngthaew rides, I finally made it to my accommodation, on Bo Phut beach in the north of Samui. There I had some good food, a couple of cocktails and beers, and promptly crashed out. The next day I lounged a bit on the beach, swam in the sea for a bit (until getting put off by some of the stuff floating in it), legged it back under cover just in time to dodge a rainstorm, and headed off in the evening on the first speedboat over to Ko Pha Ngan.

The moon was bright, the water was like a millpond, and the speedboat had power to burn, so I had a great time on the way over. On arrival, the sun was already down, the neon and flourescent paints were out in force (along with the ever-present flower-garland- and glow-stick-sellers), and the night was just getting started. And it turned into a fun night, albeit a long one. I spent much of the early part of it hanging around with a bunch of South Africans, before eventually bumping into some of the people I'd met on the Perhentians - Ricky was pissed as a fart, and already at the "I love you guys" stage, which was quite amusing, but I was disappointed when the girls who'd originally persuaded me to shift things around and come to the Party just completely blanked me when I went over to say Hi. Ah well, never mind. After that, I hung around with various random people until the sun rose, when I finished off my bottle of water (yes Mum, I was actually moderately sensible, and didn't drink to excess) and headed down to brave the surf and get onto the next speedboat back to Samui. Where I crashed out and slept for most of the day.

Today I was back on the move again, bringing my stuff with me back over to Pha Ngan, where I'm about to do the logical thing for a Saturday night and go find a bar showing the football from back home. Ah, bliss!

And that's where I'll leave this, as it's turned into a bit of a monster e-mail and everywhere here in Had Rin (the main backpacker enclave on Pha Ngan) seems to be in a cartel that keeps the internet prices fixed (at quite a bit more expensive than Malaysia!).

Hope you're all well, wherever you are and whatever you're doing. Take care and have fun,


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Sunday, September 03, 2006

Highland Haunts

Selamat Tengahari!

Just a quick note today, as I haven't been up to that much in the last couple of days. I'm now up in the Cameron Highlands (at least for a few more hours, before I head on to Penang), which means I've had to accustom myself to the idea that Malaysia can actually be cold. It was also exceedingly damp yesterday, but luckily today has been much more pleasant. The trip up here was somewhat eventful, though, taking in an unscheduled stop at the coach company's depot where the driver and a couple of friends proceeded to get out various tools (most notably an angle-grinder) and forcibly remove one of the panels from the side of the bus - from what I could gather, something had gone wrong with the hinging on it, and they were worried it might fall off, so they decided to rip it off themselves. Whilst this was going on, we were "entertained" by what appeared to be a Chinese youth choir - in truth, they weren't that bad, but the combination of their singing, the whine of the angle-grinder and the rumbles of the thunderstorm going on in the background were rather disconcerting.

Last night I then had the pleasure of some rather nice Indian food at dinner (complete with Naan bread cooked right in front of us), and then the fun of finding somewhere in a Malaysian highland town that would show the England game. Astonishingly, one self-proclaimed "sports cafe" was doing so, allowing me my first look at post-Sven England (I missed the Greece friendly) as they cruised past Andorra. However, by 2am (when it finished) I was well and truly knackered, so glad to retire to my bed in one of the converted Nissen huts (WWII corrugated iron shelters). And very glad of the blankets, which was something I wasn't expecting to need for a while (apart, of course, from on the coach/refrigerator-on-wheels trips).

Today, I've been wandering around on a trip up to the tallest peak in the Highlands (Mt Brinchang), yomping about in the rainforest on its slopes, and looking around a tea plantation and factory. Dav, you'd have been in hog heaven.

And that's it for the mo - just a few days left in Malaysia, and then the madness that is Thailand awaits me.

Take care and have fun,


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