Still in Bangkok, have turned into something of a nocturnal character for the time being so not getting too much organised. I’ve found a place to get my Vietnam visa done though, and am considering going straight there or I might go to Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand first. Decisions, decisions, to be made over a Starbucks coffee in a minute (ugh!)
The Sukhumvit girlie bar scene is more gross than I remember it being, with numerous old, fat ugly blokes, mostly English or German it seems, with young Thai girls hanging off them, or young Thai boys in a lot of cases. I decided to quickly retreat to the hotel and watch HBO instead. Today I’ve come up to Khao San Road by boat in a filthy black canal, driven by a nutter of course. They zig zag through the narrow waterway trying to avoid countless obstacles as well as other boats coming the other way, at one point the whole roof collapses down on you when they have to go under a low bridge. There’s a tarpaulin on each side which you’re meant to hold up as you go along to try and stop the black water splashing on you, but it doesn’t really work and it’s funny to see the commuters getting off in their business shirts with specks of black shit all over them. Anyway, Khao San Road is the heart of the backpacker zone, and I dropped by for a nostalgic visit to a bar I used to frequent when I was here before. I was horrified to find the price of a beer has doubled, and of food tripled in just two years, but this is the price of increased tourism I suppose. Conversely fierce competition between travel agents, internet caffs and phone offices has brought prices of their services right down.
Only one more day of junky pills to take for my ear which is slowly improving, thank God for that!
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Ang Thong NP was a truly beautiful location, with white sand beaches and thick jungle and all the stuff you come to expect from a tropical island really. We hiked up through very rough terrain to a view point about 220 metres of tough elevation but well worth it. Halfway up was a family of monkeys within arms length in the trees virtually, some youngsters playing about and kicking each other out of the trees, some mothers holding little babies (which for some reason are yellow) round their necks, but jumping from tree to tree none the less. On the way back down we nearly stepped on a snake which was busy with a frog it had in it’s mouth, all shrivelled up, presumably from the venom and surely must have been dead, although it really did look like it was still moving. Then without warning it made a bolt down the hill towards these two Japanese blokes – you’ve never seen anyone run so fast down a steep rocky slope! We were blessed without rain all day which helped with the jungle hiking in particular though.
Caught a ferry straight back from Samui after this to Surat Thani on the mainland, and took a night train to Bangkok, very nice in a private cabin so you can actually control the temperature and the lighting. Am staying in Sukhumvit, a region a little to the east of Bangkok’s centre, but a very lively little area. Around the corner from where I am now is Soi Cowboy, a strip of girlie bars so we’ll be going to check those out in a minute! In fact, why the hell am I in here when I could be over there?? See ya!
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We decided on Ko Samui in the end, and hopped on a ferry to get us there in an hour and forty minutes, which in true Thai style took about 2 and a half. Hired another deathtrap bike and explored around the island a bit to find somewhere to stay, and settled for a place called Matlang north of Hat Chaweng beach, another pleasant thatched hut in a leafy setting. This was after a good hour’s driving the bike in a full monsoon shower, that was fun…
Have lazed about mostly so far, but tomorrow are taking a full day’s cruise to the Ao Thong Marine Park a little way off Samui, then taking a late ferry back to Surat Thani on the mainland and a night train to Bangkok. The slight drag I am having is that my ear has exploded again after diving a few days ago, to the point where I had to go to a clinic in Ko Tao to get it looked at. It turns out I have a blister on the inside of my ear which has burst and got infected, so no more going in the water for me for the time being. I also cannot hear a thing through that ear, but I am loaded up with pills of all kinds so let’s hope for the best.
Now for some shopping! (or maybe a beer)
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Remarkably the bus got me to the Chumphon that I wanted an hour ahead of schedule as it had a massively powerful engine and the driver didn’t mind using it. The only downside to the journey was having to sit through some extremely bad Thai soap operas and then a load of Thai karaoke videos for the entire journey.
Chumphon itself is not such a bad town, much more pleasant than Hat Yai, but just spent the evening on the beer, basically. Got the catamaran the next day to Ko Tao, having now joined up with Maxine for a week, and hit the first stumbling block on arrival, i.e. finding any accomodation! We eventually found a place in one of the more exclusive bungalow resorts, a very nice room on a hillside setting with lovely sea views, then set about hiring a motorbike which is hilarious fun to drive around on the dirt roads, especially as I have no idea how to control one of these things safely. But it’s the only way to get about really. We found a super cheap place to stay for last night, a hut right on the beach in a spectacular setting which we’re thoroughly enjoying.
Took a dive boat out yesterday, which was a usual Matt-style cock up. I somehow managed to go on the first dive without enough weights on me, which makes it extremely hard to stay submerged. Halfway through I’m exhausted and can’t keep under so end up bobbing up to the surface with the dive master, who was only 2 days into his course and lost, as it turns out. Our diveboat was nowhere to be seen, in fact the only craft of any kind in the vicinity was a fishing boat. I made for this as he went back down to regroup with the 3 other divers in our party. The fishermen looked at me rather oddly and don’t speak English of course. They help me on board and give me water whilst I wait to be rescued, which didn’t take long as Carlos (dive master) surfaced with the others after about 10 minutes and also came to the boat. No we’re stuck as the fishing boat didn’t have a radio, they had a phone but we had no numbers to call. We were about to call the police emergency number to get help, but instead the fishing boat weighs it’s anchors and cruises round the headland to meet our boat, much to the amazement of all the other diveboats in the area to say nothing of the team on ours. So yes, it’s an all time first for the dive company – they send out some divers on a routine dive site and they come back an hour and a half later on a fishing boat!
We are technically in a mini monsoon out here so are having about 2 bursts of heavy rain a day for about 20 minutes at a time, but it really isn’t making any difference to anything. Today so far is glorious sunshine, we’ll probably stay here another day or so before heading for Ko Phangan or Samui.
Right, back to the beach!
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The town was fairly quiet really, in terms of people out and about. Several bars had live music, mostly doing covers of Western tracks and they were making a pretty decent job of it by all accounts. Anyway I bailed out about midnight and staggered back to the hotel, where the doorman checked whether or not I needed a girl for the night! God knows what kind of place that was…
At the bus station this morning I learned that my 09:30 bus for Chumphon has crashed, so now I have to wait for the noon service instead. I hope I’m going to the right place anyway, it seems to be variously spelt as Chumphon, Chumpon, Chumporn and Chumpom. Nobody seems to be able to assure me that these are all the same place, but by resorting to comparing the Thai script on the notice board in the bus station with that in my Lonely Planet I believe I’ve got a ticket to the right place!
Think I’ll drown my sorrows with a Singha or two.
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Staggeringly I got out of my hotel by 7am to start the jungle trek, and off I disappeared into the foliage. After a relatively short time I realised that bog roll would have been far more useful than the map I had, as the map turned out to be not very absorbent, and I was totally lost in the jungle with nothing but a load of monkeys around to laugh at me. They were something else, most of them were too far away to really see properly, but I did manage to creep up for a close look at one. Now, I’ve seen some monkeys in my time (especially at some of the places I’ve worked :)) but this thing was huge, a massive grey thing which would probably stand about 4 feet tall I’d say.
After a mild half hour of panic I came across the most ridiculous set of about 20 signposts beside a few picnic tables in the middle of the dense jungle, one of which pointed me in the right direction to get out! This was good as it meant I got my bus back to KL in time, however the driver had different plans – after leaving about 45 minutes late for no clear reason, we had to stop halfway down the hill whilst he did his weekly shopping, including a bunch of roses for which we had to stop every half an hour for him to reposition in the dash so they didn’t get squashed. We also had to spend another half hour at the most disgusting roadside cafe in history, which the drivers for sure get kick backs from as noone in their right minds eats the food, apart from the driver of course who gets a nice meal cooked for him to one side. We got to KL about 90 minutes late, giving me mild heart failure legging it across town to the train station for my train, but I made it, just.
Nice train ride, I was in a car of 40 bunks, you have curtains to close your berth off to some extent which was great apart from the fact that they don’t dim the floodlights that they use in the corridor, making it so bright that is was difficult to sleep. Also the berth was designed with Malaysians in mind so was somewhat short for me. All was going well until someone decided to fart, at which point half the blokes in the carriage entered into a farting competition which I think I won quite comfortably. You’ve never seen so many people run so fast for immigration at the border stop…
Now I’m in Hat Yai in the south of Thailand, literally as I had just walked through my hotel room door there was a knock, an old trout supposedly from room service who was asking me whether I wanted a sexy young girl for the evening as she was strutting her funky stuff around my backpack. Suddenly I realised I was DEFINITELY in Thailand. Tomorrow morning I am tentatively hoping to get a bus to Chumporn on the east coast, the gateway for the island of Ko Tao to get some diving in. Meanwhile, Hat Yai nightlife awaits!
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Here I am in Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands, a marked contrast from KL, that’s for sure! Came up by bus which took around 5 hours, the first 2 of which were up the highway from KL to the town of Tapah, about 3/4 of the distance, the last 3 hours being up the twisty steep road making up the final 1/4 of the distance which was clerly not designed for coaches, of which there seem to be plenty going up and down and somehow passing each other.
It’s relatively cool up here at 5,000 feet elevation, and is like taking a journey back to England in some ways. I’m staying in Bala’s Chalets, an old colonial building which looks it as well, and has a sign at the front saying “Devenshire cream teas sold here” so I had to sample one in the gardens today. Took a tour of a tea plantation, they still use the same English tea press machine brought in from England in 1937 which processes 820,000 cups of tea a day. I accidentally ordered what appeared to be a cup of PG Tips made from a teabag whereas everyone else was on the plantation’s finest. Never mind…. We also stopped at an amazing cactus farm and butterfly place amongst others, a pretty decent outing by all accounts.
Tomorrow I’m planning a sunrise start to attempt a solo jungle trek, I was trying to get a guide but failed so am going it alone with a map which is basically one step up from bog roll, and has instructions such as “steep path, tough going, easy to get lost” with an arrow pointing into the middle of nowhere. Theoretically I need to get back by midday to catch the bus back to KL, which takes an hour less than the trip up (presumably because the driver just lets the brakes off down the hill) to catch the train up to Thailand. This is a total backtrack but not much I can do about it now. Besides, sleeping on the train is cheaper than sleeping in a hotel, not sure what that says about the quality of the berths but that’s tomorrow night’s adventure!
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The last 2 days seem to have whizzed by without much happening, although I did plenty of sleeping yesterday morning I suppose. Took a ride up the Menara tower which is their idea of the BT Tower, but much bigger. Pretty impressive view from the top across the city, perhaps the highlight being when a storm moved in and we went from nice sunshine and plenty of visibility to crashing rain and a superb lightning show, in which we seemed to be right in the middle of course as we were so high up. Within 20 minutes it had passed and we were back to sunshine again! I also took a hike to the Petronas Towers which are also in a nice setting, you can go to the viewing gallery on these as well but this has been fully booked this weekend so was not to be.
I’ve booked myself on an overnight train for Weds night taking me to Hat Yai in the south of Thailand, for a change. It’s a 15 hour journey but I have a bed, I’m quite curious to find out what that’ll be like! Tomorrow I think I’m going to have a stab at getting to the Cameron Highlands for a couple of nights, it should also be something quite different as it’s an high elevation area of tea plantations and the like. I think I’m KL’ed out, it’s rather a curious city, full of Western influences and modern stuff all in amongst a load of ramshackle old crap. That said it was odd revisiting Sentral station today to buy my train ticket, which was where I spent the early hours of yesterday morning. How different things seem from when you have no money, are soaking wet, not having anywhere to stay and being hassled by taxi drivers to how things are in the sunshine with the luxury of a few ringgits in your pocket and a comfy hotel waiting down the road!
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