Monday, 30 June 2008

The sun comes out on Lamma Island

The rain stopped today so we caught the ferry over to Lamma Island, the Hong Kongers' favorite commuter haven and an important fishing hub. Gigantic boats carrying all sorts of freight including building materials across the choppy dark blue waters made for an impressive view across the harbour. I never thought I could get this excited about boats and skyscrapers!

The island itself was a welcome change of scene what with its small beaches and numerous sea-view restaurants, including an absolutely fantastic veggie place (which is also a second hand bookshop). We didn't much like the trancy Bob Marley cover CD being played there though. I'll never quite understand why vegetarianism is taken to connote an eco-warrior, make-love-not war kind of ethos too. As is so often the case, the restaurant was adorned with all sorts of (Ric's words) 'hippy propaganda shit'. Ah well, the food was ace. The best hummus and falafel I've eaten in ages.

We planned to go up to the Victoria Peak as well today but the sea air and soporific movement of the boat ride back to Central made us very sleepy. Another time perhaps. I can certainly picture myself coming here again.

We are both getting lots of headaches at the moment. Perhaps it's the humidity or traffic pollution here. There are a lot of cars although it's not nearly as grimy looking or smelly as Bangkok, Manila or Kuala Lumpur. Can't wait to see how Beijing and Shanghai compare!

Tomorrow we really are out of here. We'll get the train to the business town of Shenzhen where an old MA friend of mine lives, and then fly on on Shanghai to meet up with some old friends from London and Durham.

I've nearly filled the Moleskin notebook my brother gave me as a going away present. That's a lot of scribbles. It might make interesting reading in a few years!

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Far from Repulsive Bay

Today we braved the rain and caught a bus to Repulse Bay on the south of Hong Kong Island.

At the Central bus terminal we had to fight our way through literally hundreds of Filipinas who had gathered to eat, play card games and socialise on their day off. No men to be seen any where!

Once used by pirates before being 'repulsed' and developed in to a holiday retreat by the Brits (or so the story goes) the Repulse Bay area is now one of the priciest in Hong Kong. It is pretty despite what its rather unfortunate name suggests and I wouldn't mind living in any one of the numerous grand, if faded, houses nestled in the rocks over-looking the sea.

Funny to think my mother lived here as a baby. I wonder how much it has changed.

Squealing expat teenage girls were flirting with the life-guards and mucking about in the water while the rain trickled down. Meanwhile, another crowd was watching a group being baptised in the waters near the Tin Hau and Kwun Yum statues. It was too wet to stay long.

Elsewhere in town the sales shoppers were out in their masses and queues stretched right out along the streets at some of the most popular clothes stores. I've done enough shopping though, for at least a week.

We are a bit nervous about what awaits us in China but realising that we can't stay here for ever, we attempted to buy a sleeper train ticket all the way to Shanghai but they've sold out of soft cabins until next week. So now we think we'll have to fly. But with who and from where? It could cost quite a bit - it's a long way! Maybe we'll spend just one more day here..

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Heavy Rain in Shopping Heaven, Hong Kong

Hello from wet, windy and multicoloured Hong Kong (Typhoon Grade 3 in fact!) where we've spent the past three days traipsing around looking for computers. These Asus Eee 901s to be precise.

It's almost impossible to find Internet cafes here which is ironical considering how techno crazy the place is but now that we've each got our very own baby Asus we no longer need them!

Hurrah! No more greasy mice, slow downloads and virus riddled desktops.

We must have been to at least 6 major computer centres and even Ric has had enough of them now. We have done other things too of course but the weather has been so erratic that we've yet to venture south of the island or do any of the sky train tours but we have visited the major business, retail and tourist areas including the expat hub of Soho, Victoria Harbour, shopping mecca Nathan Road, Avenue of the Stars and the Museum of Art. The scores of boats moving their way up the river against a backdrop of skyscrapers and mountains covered with mist was something I wont forget in a hurry. Magnificent.

In order to get my daily exercise fix and endorphin boost I've also been running around Victoria Park where they have even built a cute little running track!

All in all we love this place and feel very much at home here, perhaps because in many ways it feels just like London what with its dense population, urban landscape (although the skyscrapers here are far more impressive), anything goes, fast and furious chaotic vibe and of course the noticeable English legacy. It's also easier to blend in. You can even buy chocolate digestives!

Ric is always amazed at how long I can spend poring over the goodies on offer in foreign supermarkets. It's a girl thing(??!!)

I love observing what people wear in different places. The fashions here are smarter, sexier and more original than in Japan or other parts of Asia that I've seen. People clearly have a lot of spending money as I've never seen so many well dressed men and women, and clothes shops!

The girls love their shoes and other accessories. High heeled wellies are abundant and they even put booties on their dogs! There are a lot of beggars with deformities, missing limbs and burns too which is rather upsetting and shocking to see when you step out of the underground.

We're staying in a hostel right in the heart of Hong Kong Island's Causeway Bay area and literally next door to the MTR (metro). Perfect for getting around. Our tiny room is hidden within a warren of apartments, offices, lifts and meandering corridors. It's basic but all we need. I've been spoilt with swimming pools and beaches in previous weeks.

There's Beijing Olympics merchandise on sale everywhere and without doubt a sense of fun and excitement in the air. Perhaps this has nothing to do with the Olympics at all and it's always like this. I'm looking forward to experiencing the anticipation in Beijing itself!

Ric and I are talking about writing something together now. We have so many ideas for each other so should be able to come up with something good. Ha! - should. We both need routine though and dicipline and objectives. We are also concerned that the desire and indeed need to work will hit us as soon as we arrive in Oz. Not long now!

So, another day here tomorrow and then on to China proper where I have friends scattered all over the main cities.

I'm determined, rain or shine, to visit Repulse Bay where my mother lived as a baby and go for a walk around the car-less Lamma Island!

Monday, 23 June 2008

Crazy Buddhas and Pontification

The Buddha Park was marvellous, if a little odd. It's quite a small park, well field, 25km south of Vientiane by the Mekong river, just full of the most unusual statues we've seen in Asia! Plenty of scope for Ric's novelty brand of camera poses. (I've now manged to upload them. Hurrah!)

We didn't stay there long. It's just so incredibly hot here and this isn't even the hot season!

Ric sat on his sunglasses earlier and popped a lens out but has managed (after 4 hours) to fix them. One less expense. While doing this however, he caught a glimpse of the top of his head in the mirror which he can now see thanks to his short hair cut, and after careful inspection and some debate we've concluded that his hair is definitely thinning on top. He's mortified! Another three years maybe before he goes really bald.

We've also had to send another package off to Oz after our shopping frenzy in Luang Prabang. You wouldn't believe how expensive a couple of rugs ( a few other things) are to post! I checked out the Australian Government's rules on what you can send and bring in to the country...not an awful lot it seems! I hope my wooden elephants don't get destroyed.

As our arrival in Australia beckons, we have been talking about the future. Where will we live? What will our set up be? Should we try a house-share so we speed up the making new friends process? Should we even have a mini-break from each other after this fairly intense time together? Should we travel around first and then settle or get straight back in to work of some sort? And then of course there's the question of what exactly we'll do career wise. I don't think we can decide anything until we get there.

I'm a bit frustrated that I'm still clinging to so many the habits and hang ups I had in London. I never expected them to evaporate but I hoped they'd dissipate a bit. If anything I have clung to them in order to implant routine in to a hectic schedule of moving around constantly. That's been a bit of a shock especially since I thought I knew my strengths and weaknesses so well before.

In some ways though I think we've both grown a lot calmer and we're not phased by what's thrown at us or what we've got ourselves in to! Neither of us can believe how many little things we've lost or forgotten along the way. Travelling forces one to be patient that's for sure and not just with your companion.

I certainly never thought I could sit on a bus in sweltering heat for 14 hours and haven't once panicked about losing or missing something. I've even been eating things with meat in them, all be it reluctantly.

It has been obvious how calm Asians are in general. It's rare to hear raised voices or see confrontation. When we have on occasion expressed our exasperation to somebody, we've received only stoney faces or simply disinterest in response. I admire that in a way although I miss a bit of passion at times!

We'll be out of here tomorrow and have a long day ahead including two flights and a long wait in between. What to do in Kuala Lumpur for 8 hours apart from browsing a mall?!

Fortunately, a kindly Irish girl we met yesterday (who's a trainee solicitor in Singapore) has offered us a bed to crash in when we get there late tomorrow. We really didn't fancy an airport hotel or its prices!

Sunday, 22 June 2008

It's oh so Vientiane

'Never again!' we said after the last long sleepless coach journey but we've done it again and have arrived bleary-eyed in to baking Vientiane, our last destination in South East Asia. It's by far the quietest city we've been to on the trip, let alone capital. It seems almost empty! Here's the view across the Mekong river to Thailand...

Poor Ric was unlucky enough to have some one leaning heavily on him for most of the journey as they didn't have enough seats for the tickets issued. The poor passenger in question was perched on a foot stool for almost 10 hours! Ric was livid. I swapped seats with him in the end.

Hoping for at least a cheesy blockbuster (we've watched Speed and The Day After Tomorrow at least 3 times so far) with English subtitles, instead the driver stuck on the most atrocious selection of DVDs, comprising it seems of the very worst of Asian entertainment.

The first was a violent but absurdist Thai cowboy/martial art flick with Laos subtitles. An interesting blend of genres you might think. Yes in theory but in reality, a two hour torture. Strangely though I found it an interesting backdrop to Steely Dan and Ben Folds which I cranked up to the max in order to block out the movie's din.

Then someone put on a very strange and equally dire cabaret/pantomime show, which had been filmed live in a stadium somewhere here in Laos. Think Dame Edna Everage come Charlie Chaplin come Pat Butcher, on a stage, shrieking at each other, all wearing garish face paint and shocking pink clothes and you get the idea. Who can seriously enjoy this rubbish? Baffling.

Then as if that wasn't enough (usually the lights go out at midnight) the best was yet to come at 3am when they stirred us from our groggy half-sleep with a ridiculously loud karaoke video! Arghhhhhh!

Ironically the locals on the bus, ie. the vast majority, showed little interest in the television and seemed able to pass out almost immediately thus sleeping right through it all, except that is for the mandatory vommitters at the back. Well the roads did twist and turn rather relentlessly.

Aside from the above and the fact the the 'Air Con' was actually just a partially opened roof window which they had to shut when it started to rain, I was content as I always am when I have biscuits, Diet Coke and have the opportunity to listen continuously to my favorite music (mixed in with some new stuff including MGMT, Magic Bullets, Vampire Weekend who are all pretty good. Perhaps I'm not out of the new music scene just yet).

I am thinking about the future in a more rational, logical manner as well now. Mercifully, the madness of Thailand seems to have passed. It's hard to get stressed in easy going Laos.
We're horrified to read news of the typhoon that's hit The Philippines. To think we were there just a few weeks ago. I hope our friends in Manila and Coron are ok.

It's a pity it was too dark and misty to see the impressive rolling landscape we passed through last night. I caught glimpses of it when the lightening struck though and watched clouds swirling spookily around the nearly full moon. We went through dozens of tiny villages made entirely of bamboo. I even saw a few people, hill workers I imagine, curled up asleep on the road side. What a way to live.

So today, aided by the coffee and French baguettes which they do so well here, we've enjoyed wandering around this capital in a bit of a fug. It's not nearly as charming as Luang Prabang on the surface but there is a great range of food here, it's quiet and thus perfect for cycling and the Mekong river is spectacular! There were, as we've seen in many places, children laughing hysterically as they bathed and splashed around in it earlier.

Ric's had his hair shaved off revealing a plethora of mosquito bites on his head. I resisted the temptation to get a manicure while I waited.

Tonight we're going French as Ric has demanded steak. To be honest, we're both in need of a break from the usual stir fries and curries. I can't look at another spring roll. Plus we need to get our energy levels back up for our visit to the intriguing looking Buddha Park tomorrow.

Thanks to my lovely sis who's been saying nice things to her friends about my blog.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Elephants and Kayaking in Laos

The clock ticks on and soon we must leave this delightful town. I don't feel nearly ready enough to go!

Today we did the tourist thang and went to a local elephant camp where we were able to trek in to the jungle on them for a couple of hours. I'd never appreciated how big they are in the flesh, not to mention tall!

I think they were well looked after there (well they seemed happy) and we stopped plenty of times for water on the ride but I didn't like the look of the spiked prodder the guide was using on our elephant's head. They don't seem to talk much to each other these creatures. Not like horses. They are fascinating to watch.

Then we went kayaking for three hours and passed some spectacular landscape. Ric and I lost the other groups as we went ahead and didn't realise everyone else was waiting for the two older French women who really didn't have a clue. In the end the poor guide had to paddle for them and pull their kayak behind his! I think they felt a bit stupid. Ric was fuming!

I've just finished wandering around the night market here in town, again. Well you see I'd seen a few bits and pieces which I couldn't resist, including a fabulous bed throw, a purse and yet more jewellery! I've got to stop this frivolous spending, especially since our flight back to Singapore to catch the one to Hong Kong is costing a bomb. STA Travel says we can't reschedule our itinerary unfortunately.

So another day here tomorrow before we catch a long night bus to Laos' capital Vientiane which gets us there at 5am. Can't wait!

Although I didn't enjoy the mud at Glastonbury last year, I am rather jealous of friends back home who are getting excited about going next week. I miss my live music!

Friday, 20 June 2008

Blood, sweat and sore bums in Laos

Well we've been busy today. We cycled over 60km across bumpy beautiful Laos countryside. It was fantastic! Our bottoms and unprotected hands are paying for it now though.

There were just the three of us including our guide who enjoyed listening to randomly selected tunes on my mp3 player. In fact, so much so, that as soon as we got back in to town I burnt off a DVD of my entire collection for him. He was ecstatic. He'd never heard of Led Zep and The Rolling Stones let alone The Guillemots and Arcade Fire!

We got caught in the rain, roasted by the sun, covered (and in Ric's case stuck) in thick red mud and laughed at by kindly villagers along the way, well we were pretty funny looking.

We even had a quick dip in a river once we were all covered in thick mud and couldn't keep our shoes on the pedals. Bliss!

Things I'll never forget aside from the magnificent rolling landscape:

tiny children riding motorbikes,
black butterflies as big as babies' fists
a massive snake I nearly squished,
oh and some dogs in a van on the way to market!

Such a nice guy our guide. While breaking for drinks, we chatted for ages about this and that; him and Lao mainly. He comes from one of the hill tribes in Northern Laos and used to be a Buddhist monk. He has never even left this province. He tried to go to university and did for a while but it's shockingly expensive for them here and the fees increase every year that they study. He now earns a measly US$60 per month working as a guide and yet typically for the people of this part of the world he seems very content with life and in fact told us how fortunate he was.

Again I feel so lucky to have what I have, education included, and I'm humbled by the grace and generosity of spirit shown by someone with so much less material wealth than me.

Thinking that I was safe from hard sellers here in Luang Prabang, I was ambushed by a group of wee children as I ate my dinner earlier. I'd felt so mean for not buying anything off them in Angkor that I relented. I ended up buying a little something from all four off them! See picture...

Tomorrow we will be kayaking and riding around on elephants at the sanctuary, if we can move in the morning.

I really think I could live here.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Loving Luang Prabang

We flew to Luang Prabang today. I feel guilty about all this flying but we're running out of time!

I'd read that this place would be pleasant and the most laid back of our destinations in Indochina. Friends have said as much and that we'd end up staying longer if we could. Even fellow travellers have urged us to come and see how different this place is from the rest. They are not wrong.

This place is a haven, just the right size to wander round and gorgeous to look at with it's wide river, lush mountainous backdrop and red roofed houses. There are notable French influences including cute red roofed houses with plant pots out the front, delicate street lamps, restaurants, cafes, cake and bread shops. The shops and even the banks have wooden plaques above their doors as opposed to bright bill boards or glossy branding, thus enhancing the town's older, more subtle and rustic appearance. The Laos food is great too of course. Lots of fish and meat for Ric and mushrooms galore for me! They are especially fond of buffalo, goat and dog here.

Judging by what I've experienced so far, the Laos people are truly delightful. I've tried hard not to over use expressions such as this (so many do when they rave about new places including the Lonely Planet at times so everywhere begins to sound the same!) as here it really is true.

They are gentle folk with a cheeky sense of humour. No one hassles you here. Even the market vendors who started laying out their craft wares at 5pm this evening don't push too hard for a sale. Ric and I have already spotted rugs, throws, jewellery, salad bowls, boxes and even slippers we want for our place in Sydney. Unlike Thailand, it's stuff we actually want and would be proud to show off to friends! We might have to get two of everything however in the event of us ever breaking up!

We've already booked a day of hard-core mountain biking tomorrow and a visit to an elephant sanctuary. Then we might try some kayaking.

It's amazing how quickly time seems to be going suddenly. We're trying to change our flights around a bit to save money and time.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Siem Reap and loads of temples in Angkor

Boy it's good to be on a computer again! The web ain't great here in Cambodia to say the least. Typical when I've so much to tell!

Ric and I are coming to the end of three excellent, if exhausting, days of cycling around Angkor and the delightful Siem Reap. Again we've found that we are happiest when we're busy or being physically active. My irrational fears dissipate too.

We randomly bumped in to some of Ric's old university friends who have sort of done the same trip as us and have been living in New Zealand for a year but are now on their way back to the UK, with mixed feelings I think. It's great to have the chance converse with like minded people, indeed friends, after more than two months of mostly being a unit of two and not really 'socialising. The temptation to talk at a hundred miles an hour and about everything from travelling to careers to relationships and everything in between, and at a tangent, is hard to resist though. It's also made us feel a bit more sane!

Ric, fatigued by Thailand's touristy nature and thinking about making films, didn't read up on this place, wasn't that fussed about coming and had not a clue about what to expect as it was me who led us here but we've both been in our element clambering all over these incredibly impressive temples.

We've seen a lot of them! Crumbling ones, intricately carved ones, huge ones, small ones, terrifyingly steep ones, ones which have elephants all over them, ones which are being slowly destroyed by the massive tress growing up in and around them (in fact they filmed Tomb Raider in this one). And then some!

Yesterday was funny. It started off blisteringly hot. We lost the key to our bike lock so had to saw through that for half an hour and then get a new one. Then we set off to the temples and when in Angkor, somehow managed to visit the same one three times via different entrances. In our defense these things are massive, but still! Then we got caught in a torrential downpour and had to shelter for an hour or so inside a temple (they are far more porous than we hoped!). Got chatting, as you do, to a US sailor who has just finished a month-long post near Burma, trying to get supplies across to the poor people there. They couldn't do anything despite asking the Burmese government 17 times for permission to enter! Apparently more bodies are beginning to appear, implying that people are starving now. The onset of the wet season will only make matters worse. It's so awful.

The rain didn't let up but things improved slightly so we got back on our bikes and cycled for roughly two hours to get home and dry!!!

Personally, I've now seen enough temples here. Ric could have stayed for another week I think such is his boyish enthusiasm for them. Suddenly he's the one taking all the photos!

The people here are delightful as I'd been told by friends they would be. This is all the more touching when one considers how much the nation has suffered in fairly recent years and indeed now with their extreme poverty.

The children at the temples who are made by their families to hassle tourists (sorry - there is no better word for it) to buy their goods are quite relentless though. I feel guilty for getting even the slightest bit pissed off with them considering how poor they are. They are part of the culture, part of the temple experience whether we want to accept it or not. I'd love to support them and I have bought the odd drink, postcard, bracelet etc. but I wonder whether this is the best thing to do. I wonder how many go to school. It pains me to be repeatedly saying no these tiny shoeless children.

I am delighted to see a huge amount of charitable work going on around town though. More so than anywhere else we've been so far. Land-mine awareness foundations, local craft markets, child protection schemes and charities; things like that. I'm more than happy to give towards those.

We've decided we simply don't have time to visit both Vietnam and Laos before we have to catch a fight from Singapore to Hong Kong on the 25th June so have opted for Laos where we're going tomorrow. Luang Prabang to be exact. It's a shame to miss one of our destinations but we wouldn't do it justice in this short time and can always go back another year anyway!

We wish we'd come here to Cambodia sooner and spent less time in the touristy areas of Thailand. Ah well. It's nice to leave a place wanting more.

I've got to go. I'm being chomped to death by bugs and have an early start.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

It's bonkers is Bangkok, bonkers

Forgive me if I write breathlessly, I'm recovering after enduring a far-too long taxi ride with a driver who stank of body odour and worse, had Tourets syndrome or something like it, and was scribbling on the windows with a marker pen. To top it all he insisted on playing and singing along to a Thai Country record (yes there is apparently such a music genre!), which was on repeat, very very loudly all the way! Ric and I didn't know where to look or what to do! Only in Bangkok could such a crazy character get a license!

I'm also hugely excited by the news that my clever little brother has just got a First with distinction for his architecture degree! He got the highest mark in his year and also won first prize from the Glasgow Institute of Architects! I've never felt so proud!

Aside from all this excitement we've had quite an interesting day. Not willing to hand our passports and cash over to a local travel centre offering express visa services (I've been reading all about the various scams and hidden costs) we decided to head off to the Vietnamese Embassy to get our visas in person. However, we were told we'd have to wait until next Thursday before we could collect them! This would mean we'd have to stay in Bangkok until then. No way!

So we've booked a flight to Siem Reap tomorrow instead. Time to see some big temples!

We'll try and get a Vietnamese visa in Cambodia instead. I do feel guilty about flying, I really do, and it's more expensive but neither of us could face another 16 hour plus coach ride at this stage.

On our way back to the hotel from the embassy we found another mall called the Siam Centre. Not sure how we missed it the first time we were here as it's massive. The Asians just lurve their sparkling, spacious shopping centres and they are so much nicer than ours! Ric and I are a little unnerved by how much we are drawn to them.

This one was especially classy and impressive with Chanel, Gucci, Cartier and every other leading label and high street brand you can think of, loads of cute designer boutiques, plus a massive food court which put Harrods and Selfridges to shame. There was an extravaganza going on the 'M' floor. A huge flower show devoted entirely to Orchids.

Ric was shocked by the crowds it pulled and couldn't understand why people, young and old, would flock to see and take pictures of some flowers in a shopping mall. I can. I've been to many a Royal Horticultural Society Show in my time so I know just how passionate the green-fingered are about their plants! Most people here in Bangkok probably don't have gardens either so it's all the more exciting for them.

We also watched Kung Fu Panda today. I wasn't that keen on seeing a long cartoon about an anthropomorphous bear but it was very entertaining. Didn't feel the urge to cry in this one, well maybe a bit at the end.

Off to eat some cake...

Friday, 13 June 2008

A whistlestop in Bangkok

Hello from Bangkok, again, where Ric and I are going to sort out some visas for the next few weeks of the trip. We left London two months ago today. We've packed in a lot in that time and it certainly feels like it's been a lot longer in some ways. We've both had the opportunity to think a lot about our lives and what we want to do next in that time.

My mind has been ticking over dozens of supportive emails I've received and sent in the past week. I'm thinking about writing, my career, this funny business of travelling, loved ones back home, my dog, myself. I feel confused but energetic, healthy, full of ideas which I am determined to make something of. Bangkok seems to have a good effect on me too. I can't quite understand why. It's not exactly relaxing and there are only so many massages and T-shirts you can want. Ric would leave here tomorrow if he could.

We seem to be meeting a lot of people in the oil industry who work for two weeks on a rig somewhere and then have two to four weeks off in which they travel. An interesting way to live. I'd never want to work in that field but it makes me think. Perhaps that's the best way to travel. It breaks it up a bit and makes one appreciate being away more. It's easy to become complacent about the beautiful things one sees day after day. I don't think I could ever tire of the magnificent sunsets in this part of the world though.

The weather here has changed since we left a few weeks ago. Monsoon season is definitely beginning. It tends to rain in the morning or evening though so doesn't affect the days but it does clean the streets and clear the air.

As we were driving in to town from the airport earlier, we came across a sit-down protest. The entire road was cordoned off and reporters and police were out in force. The taxi driver didn't hold back with his abuse of the 'buffaloes' who blocked our way. I don't know what they were protesting about but it was the dinkiest rally I've ever witnessed! See picture.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Thoughts on travel and last day in wet Phuket

As the weeks pass, more and more friends, family and forthcoming strangers are telling me about their experiences of travelling and the psychological difficulties which can ensue as a result of going away for such long stints. It's both surprising and reassuring to hear things such as
"I'm not surprised that you are you are 'Sick to death of being tormented by my demons'...that is part of never leave the past and in fact going abroad only magnifies life before"


"It is not paradise. It is hard work and even harder when you travel with your partner."

Others have told me how they got home sick, depressed, disorientated or just plain sick and had to go home. Then there are those who fell out with their companions, boyfriends of 8 years even and went their separate ways. One girl I've met even bought her ex a plane ticket home she couldn't bear to be with him any longer! There are even some who went crackers, like I think I'm doing at times. The fact is that travelling for long periods doesn't suit everyone and even those who love it and love talking about it for years afterwards, have their blacker moments. At times one can rise to the challenges faced each day and see them as character building, part of the adventure, the fun, something else to tell the grandchildren. At times, it is fantastic and I feel so lucky to be able to do this. Every day I learn something new about myself and Ric and the places we are visiting and I think that going away for more than just a short holiday is something everyone should try and do at least once. That said, there are times when it all gets a bit much.

It's seems it's as easy to lose momentum as it is to gain it, which we might well do in just a day or so. Just now though, Ric and I are feeling unmotivated by Asia, tired of being waited on and ferried about and if we're really honest a bit apathetic about this trip. We've also lost quite a few miscellaneous things recently in suspicious circumstances (that's why a lock my bag!) and spent a lot of money despite our penurious tendencies.

We don't so much argue as get in to the same conversations or niggles every day. We know each other's body language so well that usually sentences don't even need to be half said. We pre-empt the other's anxieties, frustrations, wants and needs. Ric knows only too well now when I'm lost in my own world of OCD nonsense. That's not to say we don't wind each other up at times. It's shocking how easy and natural it is to take things out on each other. Is this what marriage is like I wonder?

Our day of diving today wasn't great. In fact, it was our worst yet. The visibility was about three metres in places, which in normal speak means we hardly saw a thing, it rained, I nearly got pulled under the boat because of the current at the surface and both of us were sea-sick for most of the seven or so hours we spent on the boat as it ploughed through the choppy waters.

Enough of this moaning. Ric found a Burger King so he's happy and I have found yet another animal to adopt temporarily (see kitten pictured) and tomorrow we're outta here. I didn't want to see a Go-Go Show anyway. We're going back to Bangkok where we can purchase our visas for Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Indonesia is also on the cards.
I took some good photos of Lion fish today too in spite of the conditions!

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Perpetual culture shock!

Ric and I have trawled a mall in search of shorts today. We were surprised to find shops which sold authentic brands as opposed to the fakes we've seen everywhere else in Thailand!

We've also booked a day of diving tomorrow off the south tip of Phuket. They even threw in a T-shirt. I can't wait to get back in the sea and the visibility should be good.

I have to say, this Patong area we're staying in makes the Khao San Road in Bangkok look positively refined! It's as seedy as it gets. Just now whilst walking back to our hotel I was offered an array of sex shows by numerous girls and lady boys. Ric looked quite bewildered.

If I was to summarise and thus stereo-type the tourist crowd here, and I'm afraid I can't resist, I'd say it was predominantly white, middle-aged, over-weight, unclassy Brits. It ain't pretty. One chap we spoke to today bragged about how he never has to speak Thai or touch 'their' food, there being a Waitrose round the corner and burger and chip shops on every street. It's amusing at first to go to a restaurant where they serve 'Indian Cuisine, Pub Grub and Euro-Thai Classics'. Something for everyone you might think whereas in fact it's all rather sub-standard, samey and over-priced.

It makes Ric and I want to get out of here as soon as possible! Then again, we are here so there must be others like us too. I'm sure we'll meet some more tomorrow on the dive boat.

Goodness, what awful snobs we've become!

For some escapism from both the madness of the streets and my crazily spinning head we went to see the new Sex And The City film today too. The reels weren't quite in order (grrr - very confusing) but it was still highly entertaining. Even Ric laughed. I cried as I always do in cheesy films.

The Thais seem to be enormously devoted to their aging King. There are pictures or him literally everywhere you go and apparently it's disrespectful to lick stamps which have his head on them.

We couldn't believe it that even in the cinema they play a three minute video montage of him which is backed by mournful singing (not even the national anthem) to which the audience is expected to stand and pay their respects. We felt a bit naughty for not doing so!

Speaking of song, I write this to the background noise of terrible karaoke wailing outside. Luckily our room is double glazed so we'll still get sleep, in our separate beds, before our 7am start tomorrow. Ric and I find we generally sleep and therefore get on better when we have a twin room. This confuses hotel staff no end but we've had enough of sharing one puny sheet between us!

We haven't written much yet in the way of novels or screenplays but fear not, there are many more long journeys ahead of us for that.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Hello Phuket

We've arrived in downtown Phuket after another marathon yesterday in minibuses, a ferry, coaches and a jeep.

This place is lively to say the least which comes as a bit of a shock to the system after spending a few weeks on comparatively quieter islands. There are lots of 'Sexy Lady Bars' here and those offering Ping Pong shows (don't ask)! I've never seen so many lady boys either, in shops, hotels, bars - everywhere! No one seems to bat an eyelid, except them of course.

It's expensive round here and everywhere you look there are English-run bars, pubs and restaurants. There are a lot of expats in the south of Thailand I'm told. I wonder what the appeal is in the long-term and how happy are they? Are they running away from something back home? Are their Thai partners happy too? Who am I to presume anything?!

The weather is a bit more temperate here which is something of a relief.

Today our mission is to find Ric a new pair of swimming shorts and book up some diving around the idyllic Koh Phi Phi.

We're itching to get back in the sea.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Tired of hanging around

With the aid of sleeping pills and painkillers the pain in our mouths had subsided. What a relief! Never ever again will I put my vanity ahead of comfort!

We've enjoyed pottering about Koh Samui for a few days but today the rain is falling hard and we're getting a boat and bus to Phuket.

Yesterday, in an effort to do something that didn't involve shops or tourist beaches, we went to the island's 'Snake Farm'. I'm not quite sure what we expected but it wasn't to see a dark room full of pickled snakes, other reptiles in jars and a few unhappy half-dead creatures in tiny, shabby vivariums. The contraption I made out of a bedside cabinet when I was 14 for my pet lizards was far more adequate than those we saw! I think we're done with visiting animals in Asian zoos!

We've been watching the news about the divers off Indonesia who got dragged off course by the currents and turned up two days later on a remote island. We were in fact planning a trip there in a few weeks as it's known for its excellent dive sites. It's still on the cards once Ric arm is healed.

I wouldn't say either of us is bored of our travels but we can't help ourselves from constantly thinking ahead, about ideas we have for books and films, and increasingly about our wallets. This has been an expensive week and we keep losing or forgetting things (Ric's swimming trunks, our passports, my bracelet etc. etc.). Ouch!

It is great to get away, it really is, but after only two months on the road, Ric and I are eager to be productive and creative in our different ways. We're as restless as each other. So I have bought some notepads for us. He wants to get going with his screenplay and I want to start writing. More than just this blog.
We're not very good beach bums are we?!

I especially find it hard to allow myself to stop and switch off for even just a moment. I've come away with a lot of 'I shoulds' and 'I wants' and other expectations, putting a lot of pressure on myself. I think when one goes travelling one assumes or hopes certain things will happen, patterns will be broken, shifts will occur in one's head, and I for one try so hard to seize every moment and enjoy myself that I think I prevent myself from rolling with it. And then there are my crazy thoughts. I'm presently contemplating the possibility that I've been zapped in to a parallel universe. Ric says I should turn my nutty ideas in to novel.

Some people seem to know with such certainty what they want in life or at least they are content with what they have, with compromises perhaps. I don't know what to do for a job when I get to Australia. All I really want to do is write. Maybe academia is my calling. I feel too old to be deliberating about a career still but I do know with some certainty that I will always be a restless spirit to some degree. Perhaps my main problem isn't my lack of ability but this sense that I want everything and now!

Perhaps it really doesn't matter what I do. Some times, trite though it sounds, when I know I am loved and find a kernel of self-love within, I think that's all I need.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Paying through the teeth!

Things here are much improved. We got our passports back today although we went to the wrong port at first and panicked about where the hell they were! This island is HUGE and we've drove for miles all the way round the coast to the other harbour. I'm getting better at not digging my fingers in to Ric and crushing him with my thighs but he does like to go fast.

We thought we'd go and look at one of the many waterfalls here as well today. We pulled up at one (the name of which I need to check!) and started walking. Little did we realise it was a 1km trek through jungle to get to the source, and I was wearing flip-flops. My poor battered feet! I must admit though it was an impressive waterfall. Some creature in the trees was making the strangest noises, a bit like a chain-saw.

We've decided not to do the colonic programme at the Spa next door. I've spotted quite a few people in the dining room look a bit pasty, tired and frankly pissed off - that's what happens when you are only allowed to drink carrot and grass juice for 7 days I suppose! We like our food too much.

Instead, we're off to get our teeth whitened. I've heard good things about the dental clinics in Thailand and they are literally everywhere on this island! Oh yes, we're going to look like the Bee Gees. Teeth to match the white sandy beaches. But horror - we can't eat chocolate or drink coffee or coke for two days! What am I going to do? Those are my staples!

Since I wrote the above Ric and I have endured our teeth whitening procedure and oh my Lord I have never been in so much mouth pain in my life! It's excruciating and feels a bit like all my teeth are having their nerves poked and pulled simultaneously. They didn't tell us it would feel like this! No wonder.

What masochists we are. We're not sure whether to eat, sleep, read or go for a dip in the pool. What to do for distraction? Right now I don't think anything will alleviate us!

On the plus side we look like film-stars, only poorer and wearing anguished expressions, for the next day at least.

I want my mummy!

Hello to my new readers too by the way. It's just great to know there are people reading my waffle from time to time!

Attached is a nice shot of the waterall and a less pleasant one of Ric's scuffed arm!

Friday, 6 June 2008

Koh Samui, make us happy!

In spite of the fact that we're presently touring some of the most exquisitely beautiful islands we've ever seen, we're not having a great few days! Even Ric's beginning to think there's something to my OCD beliefs and thinks I'm cursing the trip! Today, as our boat to Koh Samui pulled out of Koh Phangan we realised we'd left our sodding passports at the hotel. The folk there took them when we hired the bikes and forgot to give them back to us, whilst we, so pained by the huge cost of our stay there, what with the bike accidents, forgot to ask.


Poor Ric is also in a lot of pain with his wounds and the news that he owes the tax man several hundred pounds didn't improve his mood (well it's actually his dad he owes now as he kindly paid it off in his absence). Yes, today was expensive!

However, after a funny convoluted phone call I've managed to persuade the people at Dream Hill to send the passports over so we can collect them from the port tomorrow morning. That's a relief.

The fancy spa hotel we wanted to stay at on Koh Samui was booked up when we got here (a first for us!) so we've got a room in some adequate bungalows right next door, close enough to utilise all the spa's facilities including facials, massages, saunas and even colonics if we want.

We're not sure about the 7 day fasting program this involves though. Ric wants some scientific evidence before he enters in to any such regime and besides he's spotted a couple of MacDonalds on the island!

Hopefully, things will start to improve soon, ie. NOW.
I have already had a massage, and a facial. Yes, that makes three so far on this trip. I reckon I deserve it after the recent bad luck we've had, and they are dirt cheap!

We're wondering what to do now and how to get around tomorrow. Bikes have suddenly lost their appeal although it really is a very efficient mode of transport, when you stay on them!
Ric understandably wants to let his cuts heal before we dive again too.

Hmmm. There are a lot of safari parks and waterfalls on the island we could visit and I spotted a Starbucks...

Falling of bikes: part two!

What a day! I'm ashamed to say the OCD got the better of me and I spent most of today on a boat to Koh Tao and back just so I could right the 'wrong' I did the other day. Ric, in the meantime, had fun biking round the island.

I felt so pathetic and stupid and even more so for telling the readers of this blog now! After all these years I should know that pandering to the thoughts only makes the OCD worse in the short and indeed long term. It's boring too. I'm an intelligent, educated, otherwise perfectly rational woman who shouldn't be doing this! As Ric says and it's absolutely true, I am my own worst enemy and it's exhausting!

A good friend has just pointed out to me that 'demons can stick around for a long time but sometimes they get bored'. How true. In any case, there are much more tangible 'threats' to one's well being than phantom voices and fears about the future as subsequent events today proved. That's it. No more silly mind games.

After Ric picked me up from the port we decided to go and look for my bracelet around the place I came off my bike the other day. No joy. It's lost for good. As he was restarting the bike (in exactly the same spot I fell) some idiot came speeding round the bend towards him and in an effort to avoid collision Ric swerved and fell skinning his arms and leg and incurring about 200 pounds worth of damage! He's fine but pretty rattled. The spray-on plaster he used was actually more painful than the cuts! These bikes have turned out to be very costly and I never want to go on one again!!!

We think it's time to move on and tomorrow we'll get the boat to Koh Samui, another island just south off here. They have a Snake farm and lots of waterfalls and a Tesco of all things!

On another note, Ric's getting a bit tired of the food in Thailand and we both miss having a kitchen and cooking for ourselves. These huge menus which promise so much are seldom satisfying. When ordering straight Thai the food is usually good and excellently presented but several times Ric has ordered a western dish such as macaroni cheese, a sandwich, lasagna or steak in order to satiate an English craving and he's be sorely disappointed! They just can't do it right! Who can blame them I suppose?!

We're also wondering whether we will last the full 4 months of travelling we had planned. I'm eager to launch in to a new career path or academic pursuit if only to distract me from my strange thoughts. We both enjoy a more settled existence, with friends around us and Ric is keen to get back to work and develop his recent ideas. Hmmmm. There are a lot of places we want to explore a bit first though. Perhaps this quieter spell we're having in Thailand (though eventful!) is making us realise what we want and what suits us most.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Stung in the sun when I should be having fun

Today I abandoned my bike and rode on the back of Ric's. I've rather gone off biking after yesterday, but it's really the only way to get around Koh Phangan. I don't fancy those hills on a push bike, though I've seen people try!

The damage I did yesterday has cost me 125 squid and I lost my new silver bracelet in the fall!! Seems steep for a few superficial scratches. I am not amused.

In an effort to banish my sense of annoyance I made a point of getting a Thai massage today and it was great! It was quite intense what with the lady pulling my limbs half out of their sockets. I was twisted, squeezed, pummelled, knelt on and rubbed with a gel that looked and smelt like Tiger Balm. Fabulous.

Ric being less than enthusiastic about massages, opted for a 'Herbal Sauna' but it stung his eyes and he had to keep coming out for a shower. It completely wiped him out too and he was in bed by 8!

We played around for hours in the hotel pool this morning with my camera. It's so hot here that it didn't matter that the rain was falling hard. It's the first we've experienced in Thailand and is something of a relief occasionally. Soothing almost. How very English I am!

I need to be soothed at the moment. You'd think after nearly two months on holiday I'd be nice and relaxed. Alas no. Not always anyway. Gosh, I wonder if I should write about this kind of thing:

I'm not a religious person any more but I'm afraid I do believe my Obsessive Compulsive voice that pops out of nowhere telling me that I must do this and that or bad things will happen. I suppose you could call it a kind of superstition. It's irrational but utterly compelling. Usually when I don't do the said activity (be it walking round a lamp post, retracing my steps, touching things a certain number of times etc.) the worry passes and nothing comes of it. None of the bad things ever happen.

Back home, I felt more or less on top of it. I could conceal it better too. Since leaving London however, I have felt more and more possessed, for want of a better word. I can see it's bonkers and yet it's almost impossible to shake off. After a couple of days of relatively bad luck here in Phangan I'm seriously contemplating the feasibility of going all the way back to Koh Tao just so I can walk down the road next to the pier and back, as that is where I believe the problem lies. At least that's what the OCD tells me. Crazy or what??!!

It fills me with horror and frustration this problem. I'm thinking about hypnotherapy quite seriously now. After all, what haven't I tried over the years? It's hilarious in a way that I am still doing the things I feel I really should have grown out of a long time ago, say, about the time I stopped sucking my thumb.

Poor Ric. What an awful burden I am at times. At least I'm not moaning about my bites...
He reckons the cure is to eat chicken, as always.

In spite of the damn mosquitoes, Ric's on a roll here, creatively. I think it's good for him to have a bit of downtime and a relief for us both to do nothing but eat, watch sunsets and play around in the pool. Watching the telly seems to inspire him and he's come up with loads of ideas for his own. His friend back in Manila has also rekindled his once fervent passion for film-making. Who knows where he may take in in Australia? I just wish I was more of a buff so I could talk about it with him more knowledgeably.


Before I left London I promised myself and my cycling group that I would endeavour to cycle in as many places as possible, such is my passion for peddle power and 'green' transportation. I admit I haven't really kept to this (except in Japan) and today, in the absence of push bikes on Koh Phangan I resigned myself to a motorised one and right now I am just thankful top be alive!

The day started off well. The weather was glorious and my Honda seemed easy enough to use with its automatic gears and good brakes. Everyone else makes it look so easy but I must note that this was the first time in about 15 years that I'd ridden one and I was absolutely terrified!

We set off from our Dream Hill (the clue is in the name) resort down the steep and winding roads in search of Hat Rin, the party end of the island. I must have been clenching every single muscle in my stomach and could hear myself emitting a quiet whimper all the way and I kept imagining what would happen if I twisted the handle even just a little too vigorously the wrong way.

Ric delighted in speeding off at 60 miles an hour on some stretches while I chugged behind at what I think was a perfectly adequate 40. To cut a long story short and without wishing to alarm any parents reading this, I came off the bike. Would never have happened on my trusty bicycle.

I was going up a steep road which had a very sharp bend in it and a truck coming at me from the other way. I panicked and turned left too hard and the bike just rolled in to the ditch. I somehow managed to avoid injury except for an impressive leg bruise. The bike was badly scuffed though and my powers of b***sh** proved rather useless when I showed the damage to the owner later. I don't think he believed my sorry tale: 'Gosh! Was that me?! Someone must have pushed it over when I went to the shop for a drink'. Yeah, right. I should have just come clean.

With Ric nowhere to be seen (grrr) I was aided by two gallant, yes gallant, Australians who scooped me and the bike out of the ditch and helped me back down the hill so I could start all over again. All I wanted to do now was go back to the hotel and jump in the pool.

I didn't though. Ric finally came back for me and I bravely re-mounted and eventually made it to our destination where we wandered around for a while hoping to get a sense of this so-called party town but where we actually found the season to be well and truly over - it's dead! That's a pity in a way even though neither of us are particularly crazy about raving at all-night parties these days. Koh Phangan is a funny place. I've heard that it's a wonderful place to live and it's true that the locals seem very laid back and friendly and the beaches and hill views are beautiful but the touristy bits we've seen and stayed in feel just like Ibiza! We've observed dozens of almost identical beach resorts, similarly samey sunbathers (Ric noticed the topless ones), restaurants serving typical Thai-Euro fare and even British style pubs. Thank you for offering but I don't want Western food and beer! I shouldn't grumble. This is what we expected and it's obviously what most people come here for.

To continue with my biking story...

After haggling for fake Billabong swimming trunks and bikinis (something we seem to have done on numerous occasions in Thailand!) we set off again. This time to find the elephants.

Ric disappeared yet again and I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere because I soon found myself horribly lost and spending the next two hours trying to find my way back to the hotel. I must have stopped at least 15 times. I even cried at some woman in a petrol station who laughed at first, then brought her sons out to confer, then walked off and then took pity on me and gave me a map. This didn't help much though as she couldn't tell me where we were on it!

I carried on a bit further. Tears welling. Sweat pouring. Skin reddening in the unforgiving sun.
Eventually, another motorcyclist took pity on me and told me to follow her as it wasn't far now.
She put me to shame as she whizzed along in spite of her friend on the back seat and huge shopping load on the back. I arrived back at Dream Hills to find Ric with his feet up watching a film in our lovely air-conditioned room. How he has laughed at my feebleness. I'll never hear the end of this one. I did find the elephant centre though and I've seen a side of the island Ric hasn't!
I think I'll ride on the back of his tomorrow though.

What an...erm...adventure!

We've just watched the most incredible sunset and no, we didn't go to the half moon party which was actually a black moon party (any excuse for a party ey?). Maybe tomorrow.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Sleeping like babies in Koh Phangan, or partying like rock stars

We've arrived in Koh Phangan. It's bigger than I imagined and quieter, at least the Mae Haad area we're staying in which is on the west coast of the island. 'Good for families and couples' says the book (incidentally, we've rapidly gone off the Lonely Planet - makes everywhere sound the same and they have such an annoying turn of phrase! Overtly jolly and simplistic!). We chose this region because there's a good dive spot just north of here and the woman in the tourist office we stumbled in to when we stumbled off the pier this morning suggested it!

We're happy. Still only paying a tenner per night here, yet the difference is enormous. No building site next door, incredibly beautiful views across the beach, which is just a stone's throw away and a private pool. Our room is very, very nice indeed although I do yearn for a loo which flushes and some paper! I hate to think that everything one sends down there goes straight out to the sea too!

Anyhow, this place is a great relief after the last one which was noisy, sweaty and smelly and where Ric was savaged by mosquitoes constantly, poor thing. He is covered in bites and has can't stop scratching. It's rather spoiling his fun, except he has a telly so is occupied for the evening. They don't find me as attractive the mozzies. Must be all the veg I consume.

The Thais do like their Dido, James Blunt and bland boy-band pop music as well as their fluffy dogs; not the scrawny strays we saw in the Philippines and Malaysia. They've got poodle parlours, pet shops, even TV programmes about them here and I've even seen a few with diamonte collars! Is it a sign of a more developed country when animals are kept as pets instead of being feral, kept as guard dogs or even eaten?! Perhaps it's got something to do with the Thais devotion to beauty and pampering. I've never seen so many massage parlours and salons and for that matter, creams to whiten one's face!

It really is sleepy-ville here. The shops are open but the sales assistance are asleep on rugs when you go in! I imagine it gets much busier here in October. I hope we don't get bored. If only I was more of a beach lover - I'd be in my element! All this is very postcard friendly (I've never sent so many!) and relaxing but I still can't escape my too often mentioned demons, ghosts, anxieties or whatever I chose to call them, and at times I think I'm going stir-crazy. Feeling confused, flat, old, bulimic, irrational, obsessive and somewhat depressed. How ridiculous when I am in what can only be described as paradise! Ric's mind is ticking over business ideas and game designs. News trickles through from back home, good and bad. It seems so very far away and long ago and it would be a shock to the system to go back now.

It's definitely good for us to keep active and get to know other people. I think it's interesting, if not surprising that most of those we've spent time with so far have been fellow divers and often quite a bit older than us. They tend to be more affluent, friendly and well rounded characters as opposed to the cheepskate gap yearers I'm afraid to say.

If we don't have an accident on the motorbikes we're hiring tomorrow to explore the island properly we might be brave and check out the 'Half Moon Party' (of all things!) tomorrow night. Well, when in Koh Phangan...

I do wish I had my own laptop here. Would save me a small fortune and stop me pulling my hair out! And I still haven't had a massage.

Pictures now on Picasa!

Sunday, 1 June 2008

It's my birthday...

and I couldn't resist writing a little blog as the sun goes down.

It's been lovely here today. I couldn't hope for better weather or scenery. We did two dives this morning and I got a cheer on the boat. I've just had a manicure and pedicure at one of the numerous salons here. We're heading off for some food on the beach in a bit, or possibly the Irish pub round the corner where some of the dive masters and staff are having a roast dinner! Well, it is a Sunday.

I've received so many lovely birthday messages via email and on facebook. Makes me feel quite emotional! I always feel a bit teary on my birthday anyway. This year I'm trying not to make ultimatums or too many promises to myself about where I am going in life. It's just another day after all and right now I am here on a tropical island with my best friend and doing things I enjoy.
What more could I want?

We're jumping on a boat to Koh Phangan in the morning. It's only an hour or so away. We're not sure what we're going to do there (aside from lounge about on pristine white beaches and hang around for the next full moon party - which let's face it isn't really our thing!) but we reckon it's worth a visit. No dive centres there unfortunately but plenty of these so-called holistic retreat lodges and cooking schools. We'd go to western Thailand if we could but the wet season is kicking in so most of the islands are closed!

Frustrated that the internet is so slow here. Oh the demands of an 80s baby!