Sunday, 20 February 2011

23 -25 October 2001

Set off on the tour at 7 in the morning. The tour guide Shawn was a local aboriginal and the rest of the group a mixture of nationalities. The firs tday was just a short walk, a swim in a natural pool and a visit to a cultural centre. In the evening we camped and I was a little smug being the only person who bought a hamock. The camp site turned out to be a living stereotype complete with singinmg round a campfire, which I didn't think happened in real life.

Visited a waterfall called Twin Falls and swam upstream for about half an hour to reach the second falls, which it was possible to walk under. In the evening Shawn showed us he could speak names through the didgeridoo.

In the morning we visited rock paintings at Ubrir. Shawn started to explain them and then changed his mind saying he had religious reasons not to reveal too much. The  afternoon was a boat trip to see crocodiles followed by finishing the tour with a glass of champagne on the boat before returning to Darwin.

19-22 October 2001

Arrived in Darwin at dawn, checked into a hostel barely conscious and slept till 11. There was a culture shock being back in a place where everyone spoke English, there were pubs and the taxis didn't hunt down customers and I spent three days relaxing and enjoying the pool and free breakfasts while waiting for a tour I booked to Kakadu.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

18 October 2001

I decided that the super modern city didn't appeal much and went to Bukit Timah nature reserve and climbed the hill. It was bizzare to be trekking in rainforest with skyscrapers on the horizon.

The airport turned out to be even more sleek and futuristic than the rest of the city and full of strange water features. Thanks to my experience of aeroflot I was surprised by the plane being clean and modern and after two hours arrived in bali.

Once there I found that nowhere would take the Malaysian or Australian money I had so I changed a 1Ringit note to 2500 Rupiah and then discovered nothing i nthe airport was that cheap so I put 2000 in a charity box and kept the 500 as a souvenier.

17 October 2001

Johor Baru turned out to be full of beggars, which made me wonder if they'd been shipped ouver from Singapore for being too dirty. Took a bus across the causeway, which stopped at both immigration points for people to walk through and finally arrived at a race course outside the main city.

I took the MRT into the city and was impressed by the state of the carriages. It switched from overhead in the suburbs to undergound in the city.

Once in Singapore it took a while walking baking streets to find a place to stay. I ended up in Waffles homestay a rundown collection of rooms above a cafe with a squat toilet (the first since Georgetown) and walls that don't reach the celling. The whole block was so disorganised I walked into the flat next door without realising it.

I explored a bit and got thrown out Raffles hotel for not having a shirt and tie on.

Back in the guesthouse I discovered a worryingly insane old man. First he accused me of knocking down the building and seemed confused when I pointyed out it was in fact still standing. Later around 11pm as I was going to bed he came into the dorm and woke a young Malaysian man "You when you were here before, you ask if I have a problem. I don't do you have a problem"


"While you are here, you are nice, you do laundry, you put the chair back". He stormed out but a while later I heard him arguning with a couple down the corridor and caught a shout of "Tomorrow I move in your room".

16 October 2001

Travelled to Johor Baru by a series of local buses that rattled through pineapple plantations and stopped everytime we passed someone on the roadside. JB turned out to be a collection of high rise buildings looking across the straits to Singapore. Took a room in a slightly decrepit place called Hawasu and realised that due to rising costs ahead it might be the last single I got on the trip.

14-15 October 2001


Failed on the local buses challenge as the city bus system was too confusing for someone who spoke no Malay and ended up on a government run express bus.

The hotel Eastern Heritage was like a slightly run down mansion with all the walls lined with antique tiles and a plunge pool in the lobby.


Tried and failed to see some museums in town but all were closed except the maritime history centre, which was housed in a ship on the river.  To escape the heat I spent part of the evening examining an old church, which was cooler inside.

13 October 2001

Visited the Jamek mosque where was slightly worried by the man shouting at me until it turned out he was warning me to avoid the just cleaned bit of the floor.

Looked at the nearby National History Museum and the took an underground train. This turned out to be newer and cleaner than those in London complete with glass screens on the platform and doors that matched up with those on the train. Went to the Petronas towers, the worlds tallest building to try and see the view from up high but it was closed for the weekend so I ended up having coffee in the mall next door.

Decided to see if it was possible to get to Melaka by local buses.

12 October 2001

The climate was much cooler in the mountains and I was asleep in a room with no windows so didn't notice how late in the morning it was until I wandered out to see what all the noise was.

Took a local bus to Tapah where I decided to try and find the cheapest bus available going to Kuala Lumpar. the road down was long and winding down an alomsot endless jungle valley but it wasn't until I stepped out of the aircon bus in Tapah I realised the mountain climate was gone and I was back in the tropics.

KL turned out to be a modern city, like London but with more women in headscarves. After the usual hastle from touts I found a hotel several floors up in a modern block and spent the evening watching English language films on TV.

Monday, 14 February 2011

10-11 October 2001

Took a short jungle walk parts of which were like earlier in the trip and others eerily like the woods at home. I was followed by a small dog called Becks who I was told adopts visitors in turn.

Took a local bus to Brintang to try and climb the highest peak but the path was closed so I walked along the road to the tea factory instead. The first bit was all sharp bends and sheer cliffs then I turned off into a narrow lane through the tea planation and a village built entirely for Hindu plantation workers.

The factory and display was nothing special but the scenery was nice, like an Engliah moor but with tea instead of heather.

9 October 2001

The ferrt back to the mainland was free but any saving was cancelled out when I allowed myself to be hustled onto a Super VIP bus to Ipoh. The bus onwards to the Cameroon Highlands wasn't till 6.30 so I looked round the town, which was small and dusty with a museum about forestry and an ornate train station/hotel that was closed for refurbishment.

The second bus headed up into the hill between limestone peaks and again I was struck by the similarity to Kim Hy only with a dual carriageway instead of a dirt track and a luxury bus intstead of an old Russian jeep. Once it was dark the bus turned onto a more winding road and hedache inducing yellow lights came on .

Got to Tanah Ratah about 9 and checked into a friendly guesthouse called Twin Pines.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

7 -8 October 2001

Penang turned out to be much like Hanoi with cyclos noodle stands and signs in Roman script, they even sold banh bao. I moved to a cheaper and more salubrious hotel and swapped my Thailand guidebook for a Malaysia one and based on that went off to see Fort Cornwalis.

The exhibits at the fort were closed so I walked round the walls then paid to go to the top of KOMTAR tower and look out over the straits, which looked very narrow from up there.

Despite the bars and Chinese restaurant serving pork the Muslim influence on the city was clear with the call to prayer from three directions and a notable absence of the Israeli's who are everywhere in Thailand.

Tried and failed to find my way to Penang hill and decided it was time to move on.

6 October 2001

Tried to book a train to Malaysia but all trains were full so I ended up in a private minimbus taking Thai businessmen to Penang. The driver tried to get me to pay the exit fee through him but I checked and the actual cost was only half what he said, though I did have to walk between border posts.

Once in Malaysia there were a lot more palm trees and more rice fields , which surprised me. After several hours the bus boarded a rusty three level ferry to Penang. The island hills loomed up covered in mist and then slowly the city appeared underneath, first tower blocks then smaller buildings. The bus stopped a large modern shopping centre, which gave me a bit of a culture shock.

As it was late I stopped at the first hotel I came to a Chinese run place, quite expensive though it did charge in two hour blocks and have a lot of female staff hanging around reception. I double checked the lock to make sure I'd be sleeping alone and then fell asleep.

4 -5 October 2001

Left the island with three other people from the resort and took a local bus to Surat Thani. The original plan was to go to Khao Sok national park but there was no connection so we split with one girl getting a bus for Bangkok and the rest of us discovering we could get a hotel room with two double beds for the price of a single.

Took a bus with the others as far as Krabi where we split and I headed on to Hat Yai for the border crossing. I decided to splash out on the most expensive room I could find at a place called The International. It only cost the equivalent of £5 but apart from air conditioning was no better than any other guesthouse.

2 -3 October 2001

Full Moon Day
Spent the day relaxing in preparation then went to the party with some other guests. We bought a bucket of Thai whisky and redbull and danced till 4am, I then slept for half an hour on the sand and got up to watch the sunrise. it was a beautiful sight but spoiled by the naked men jogging into the sea to piss.

No taxi boats showed up until about 8am and the one I did get took us first to Haad Yuan beach between Haad Tien and Haad Rin, where he stopped off shore and told everyone to swim from there. Only when everyone paid extra did he take us on to Haad Tien where I slept all day and wandered up to a lookout point in the evening.

29 September - 1 October 2001

Checked out of Anan bungalows and caught a taxi boat to Haad Tien. Pulled in by The Sanctuary, a bizzare building set among the rocks with trees growing through the roof and a very new age atmosphere complete with vegetatrian restaurant and dog named Scooy Doo. I got a bed in the dorm which is open at the sides for fantastic views and discovered there was a library.

Discovered the Beach in the library and tried to read it  but not impressed, he seemed to be trying too hard to be clever and make a nervous breakdown on holiday into an epic.

Considered moving to a bungalow but none were as nice as the dorm so I stayed put. I tried to join one of the yoga lessons The Sanctuary ran and ended up falling over and out of breath.

28 September 2001

Took a boat trip called the Cannabis Boat, which was well named since the driver was completely stoned and kept handing out spliffs to try and calm people down as he ignored rocks and currents.

25 -27 September 2001

Nearly missed the boat but got on a 12 o'clock longtail to Haad Rin, which was crowded but a relief to find somewhere I was allowed in the cafes. Spent the afternoon on the beach and the evening wandering the beach bars till 2. Considered getting a bungalow but settled for a room above one of the bars.

Spent a laszy day exploring the beach and town, which were full of tourists. Also discovered the packs of wild dogs living off scraps. Stayed up till 3.

Tried and failed to find a path over to the next bay at Had Tien then lazed about and stayed up till 4, getting steadily later.

23 -24 September 2001

Got the train back to Bangkok, instead of a platform it stopped in the middle of the tracks and I had to walk out across wooden boards and climb up a ladder. The third class seats were wood though I could see through to the padded seats in first class.

Booked a combined train and ferry ticket to Koh Samui, and spent the day hanging out near the station.

On the evening train they put the bunks down early so I lay awake listening to the sound of the wheels on the track. It brought to mind the scene in 'The Sorrow Of War' where the soldiers take the train south to the front and hear it whispering "Going south, going south, going south".

Woke ridiculously early to find the train had somehow changed direction in the night but still made it to Surat Thani. The ferry was comfortable enough with a notable absence of life vests or safety instructions. On Koh Samui I ended up as the only guest in the only place on Mae Nam beach that wasn't an all inclusive resort so decided to move on the next day.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

22nd September 2001

Moved to Tony's place an attractive wooden dorm with warm showers and near other guesthouses and cafes.

In the evening I took a long walk and ended up following the main highway pas packs of wild dogs and gangs of bikers to a night market. I would have turned back but that would have meant going through twice. Got a songathew back from the market, which was the only place in Thailand I wasn't besieged by taxi drivers.

21 September 2001

Spent the morning wandering and looking in bookshops then tooka local bus to the station and a 3rd class train to Ayuthaya all for 55 baht or under £1. I picked a guesthouse with the unbeatable name of New BJ which was spartan concrete but clean enough except for the toilet (of which we will not speak).

In the centre of Ayuthaya is a complex of ruined temples set in a park with a lake. There was a football game in the park but otherwise it seemed pretty much deserted.

20 September 2001

Woken around 3am when the train started stopping at every little station with the guards bellowing out the names. Once back in Bangkok I checked into a dormtory at a place called Smile House and spent the day getting back my passport and sorting out the bureaucracy to get my tourist visa recognised. This involved a visit to an immigration office where I was asked for my boarding card from the plane. when I didn't have this I was sent to a second office located in a metal box underneath a multi storey carpark.

19 September 2001

Went swimming at a big hotel. The pool was on the 4th floor and cost 150 baht. The entire building was air conditioned with its own shops and restaurants and the walls werew decorated with pictures of various kings and presidents who had stayed there. In the end the culture shock was too much and I had a train to catch at 4.25 in the afternoon.

18 September 2001

Took a short easy walk to the road then a songathew to the river where we spent an hour bamboo rafting before returning to Chiang Mai. In the evening I ate at the night market with some people from the tour and watched an obviously staged Muay Thai fight.

17 September 2001

Walked to an elephant camp and rode the elephants to a nearby village, the ride was very uncomfortable.

Once in our sleeping hut at the new village we could hear what sounded like kareoke from outside but this turned out to be some kind of procession with a radio as well as drums, cymbals, gongs and dancers and two women carrying a decorated float. The procession circled a building several times before stopping at the door where more people appeared to join the dancing. This was apparently a Buddhist celebration to mark the end of the rainy season when monks are expected not to leave the temple for three months.

A little later a group of village girls did a formal dance before inviting the tour group to join them.
Then we were invited to go with another group of villagers to what was described as an Animist spirit house. This was a small stilthouse very hot inside where men in masks danced to drumming to celebrate the new moon.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

16 September 2001

Drove out in a songathew, a truck with benches in the back. After a while we turned off the road onto a dirt track lined with stilthouse with children running about shouting, it was like being back in Kim Hy and I got to feel a bit smug because the treking was easier than I was used to.

We walked out to a waterfall and underneat it then back to the village where old women with black teeth tried to sell us jewlery.

Jackie the guide explianed that the Akha houses have two rooms one for the man and one for all his wives, plus a separate hut, which he claimed is called the Happy House for sex.

15 September 2001

Woke several times in the night disorientated before I was finally woken by the staff at 6.20, after breakfast on the train I was taken to the hotel by a tuk tuk organised by the tour company then had the day to myself.

Wandered into a Wat at lunch time and found they were sharing out the surplus food from the donations to the monks and the people around me insisted I stay for the free meal.

14 September 2001

Went into the station to book a ticket to Chiang Mai and got a sleeper berth with no problems even though all the guidebooks said it was impossible to do for the same day.

The tuk-tuk driver on the way wanted to take me to the 'government export centre' for his 'free gasoline' and when I told him I didn't have time dumped me in the middle of the street. When I returned to the station later I took the public bus instead.

Hualampong station is not unlike a UK station except that instead of free Tourist Information there is a tour company of that name, probably intended to confuse visitors. Booked treking at Chiang Mai with them anyway but didn't appreciate the hard sell, which included offering to rent me a backpack when they could see I was carrying one.

The train was more spacious than those at home with few passengers. They played an anthem as we left and everyone on the platforms stood to attention.

The train filled up at several suburban stations around Bangkok before the staff came round to put down the bunks.

13 September 2001

Spent a long time out by the British Embassy, the taxi driver made a mistake and slowed down at the US one first. It was ringed with security and the guns followed us as we slowed down and I tried to explain that not everywhere with United in the name shares the same building.

At the British Embassy I was frisked and then after a wait allowed to pay for a new passport and get a letter from the Embassy explaining my situation.

After some searching I moved from the Japanese place to a guesthouse called Sawadee near a Wat. The room was small but clean and the second cheapest on offer, the cheapest looked as if someone had been very ill in there.


Tuesday, 1 February 2011

12 September 2001

Got up at 7 and had pho for breakfast in the rainy street. Heard a rumour about big news at the hotel but nothing more. Mr Hong took me on his motorbike to where the minibuses for the airport left from. The minibus took so long I thought I would miss check in but it was open and very quick.

In the airport they were showing an English language news channel called CNBC, this confirmed that planes had crashed into the Pentagon and World Trade Centre but seemed more interested in the effect on the Singapore stock exchange so I had to wait for the free newspaper on the plane to get the full story.

Managed to get my passport stolen in Bangkok airport so by the time I got to Khao San I was in no mood to search out somewhere to stay and stopped in the first open place, which turned out to be a dormitory for Japanese visitors.

Bangkok seemed mad and much bigger than Hanoi with cars instead of motorbikes and lots neon signs and bars.

11 September 2001

Went out to see Uncle Ho, tried to walk ther but ended up on the wrong side of the causeway at West Lake and got a Xe Om.

Ho 'lives' in a large park but the actual mausoleum is quite small inside. He looks like a waxwork so maybe it is true they cremated him and put a replacement on display. Afterwards I looked at his stilthouse and the museum. There was a heavily ironic "words or Ho" exhibition starting with quotes condeming imperialism and ending with photos of the Vietnamese president meeting the Emperor of Japan and the King of Thailand.

Delicious banh bao for lunch, a steamed dough filled with hard boiled egg, minced pork and crab meat.

My room turned out to be doubling as the access to the laundry facilities on the roof, which were next to the loudspeakers.

Ate early at the bia hoi and was in bed by 9.30.

10 September 2001

Up early for a shitty breakfast. While waiting for the bus I was hastled by a kid selling postcards, first it was "buy a postcard" then " give me your watch, boots, clothes for a postcard" and finally "I pinch you until you give me money". It was good to get the boat and just have the sea and the view of the islands.

Went up on the roof of the boat where most passengers were sleeping and the view of the hundreds of islands was much better.

Back in Hanoi I paid two US dollars to sleep on the roof in a bare concrete cubicle.

9 September 2001

Took the short trek up a mountain which was hot and humid with concrete paths all the way. Will said he saw a Frontier vegetation plot on the way down. Lunch was soup with yellow noodles and potato cakes.

Walked out from the tourist zone into the old fishing village, a collection of concrete shacks on a narrow alley, it was a relief to be away from the salesmen.

Went back to the hotel and slept then wandered along to the beach, 7000d to pay and two Germans tried to make me pay for them. I also paid 14000d to swap my guidebook for a rather bad novel as I'd be leaving Vietnam.

That night the power went out and every bar, cafe and guesthouse except ours seemed to have a back up generator so I lay in the heat listening to the noise until the power finally returned to the fan.

8 September 2001

Up early for the tour to Cat Ba, the pick up at the hotel turned out to be a guide coming to the hotel and walking us a few streets away to where we waited for a bus.

We stopped briefly at a horific place called the Centre for Handicapped Children where kids without legs make souveniers and visitors watch them like zoo animals. On to Ha Long bay for lunch then out on a boat. Breathtaking scenery but a lot of tour boats. Stopped at a cave with lit walkways from the landing stage and for some people to swim in the sea.

Cat Ba Town extends out to sea with floating houses round the harbour where we pulled in. A local bus took us ten minutes into town to the hotel where due to a mixup I got a double ensuite room to myself. In the evening I met up with two Swedish girls and an American bloke who kept telling us he was clinically insane.

7 September 2001

Went to the Temple of Literature, which housed Vietnam's first university. There was a series of shady courtyards, one with a pond, one full of carved stones recording the manadrins who studied there . Then the actual temple with a big statue of Confucius and behind that more courtyards and a wooden building with aircon.

It was the last day all the expedition team were together so we ate a final group meal at the bia hoi we went to on the first night.