Monday, May 31, 2004

As promised a few words on the customs department.
The plane got in on time, my luggage had actually arrived as well and I had oodles of time left to catch my connecting flight to Whangarei. Then just before I made my way out, and as my pack had already gone through the x-ray machine and been given a clean bill of health by the operator, I got stopped by some sour looking peasant working for Her Majesties Department of Customs and Excise and directed towards the baggage search area. There were three people rummaging through people their luggage with the know it all look on their face that says if you have been send here then you must be obviously guilty of something hideous.
This was when I made my big mistake. As I had a connection to make I decided that a civilized request for priority treatment couldn't hurt. WRONG it did. I was told they were going as fast as they could and to wait for my turn. Then they proceeded to process people both in front and behind me until I was the last person left and had duly missed my flight. I am sure there is a special part of hell reserved for these fiends.
The search itself took less then five minutes as I travel light and had nothing more innocuous then a couple of pirated CD's which they missed in their hurry to go for a coffee brake.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Just a quick note to let everyone know I am back home in Whangarei. The flights were uneventful but I will write a little story about Customs control later on.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Wherever I go I have to deal with the curse of the taxi driver. To drive a taxi in most jurisdictions seems to require that you don't speak the language of the country, failed your driving test and keep up an endless barrage of suggestions to take your passengers somewhere else then they want to go. The one that took me to Don Muang airport in Bangkok this afternoon was no exception. He was a card carrying member of the tourist taxi Mafia and I am sure his car did double duty as a dodgem. After agreeing on a way to high fee to take me to the airport he immediately advised me that I what I really wanted was a visit to a massage parlor. He proceeded to hand me a full color brochure of a house of ill repute. I had seen this particular leaflet before as most taxi drivers seem to have it on them, it has a center fold picture of a gentleman flanked by two very good looking Thai ladies in a bubble bath. And although obscured by plenty of bubbles it leaves little doubt as to what the ladies are holding on too. The chap on the picture is smiling and so would I be if this bloody taxi driver would keep his eyes on the road. We swerve from lane to lane and at one stage travel on the wrong side of a median barrier.
"Good overtaking" he says, I am wondering if he's on drugs.
"We stop at my friend shop?"
"No we got to the airport"
"You go jiggy, jiggy, massage parlor?" he points at some girls on the sidewalk. They look about twelve.
"No we got to the airport!"
We get almost side swiped by a truck, veer into another lane and the engine cuts out for about the fifth time. Just as the car behind us is ready to slam into us the engine fires up again and we hurtle onto the motorway. After another ten minutes or so of crazy maneuvers and hair raising overtaking we stop in front of terminal two.
"Have a good flight"
I certainly hope it's less eventful then my taxi ride.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

I finalized my flights back home and will tomorrow fly with Air Asia to Singapore, stay for a night at the Albert Court Hotel and then take an overnight Emirates flight to Auckland and finally an Air New Zealand plane to Whangarei. So all in all about two and a half days of travel although in actual flight time it's only about fifteen hours.
I guess after that I'll have some sleep.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Change of plan
This has been in the air for a while although I haven't mentioned it in this blog. It looks like there will be a job coming up in Papua New Guinea and although the details haven't been finalized yet I will return home next week to arrange my affairs there and get ready to start work.
So this means that in all likelihood the jungles of Asia are changed for the highlands of PNG and quite frankly that could be rather interesting too.
As usual I'll keep you all posted.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Gareth & Gareth
I finally caught up with the two Gareths and we had a good but boozy night catching up on work and travel. So at the moment I am sitting half asleep behind this terminal trying to write something sensible... I don't think that's going to work. I'll go back to bed.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Odds and Ends
Good morning all,
I have swapped hotels over the last few days from a little cubicle with fan "cooling" to a nice clean room with aircon as I expect to be another week or so in Bangkok.
Tomorrow I'm supposed to meet up with Gareth and his friend who have also escaped work to get some hard earned travel in. Should be fun to compare experiences.
As you will have noticed I keep on tinkering with the design of both the blog and the web pages. I wont make an annoucement of the changes every time. Just consider it a work in progress.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Khao San Road
Thai girls with western men, Thai gigoloes with western women, Russian prostitutes with Thai men. Across the road they sell pirated software. A Scandinavian looking women in see through pants and a blue G-string walks past a guy with a mohican and rings in his ears that only the natives of Borneo could like. Yes folks I have landed on Khao San Road.
Khao San Road, pleasure dome and travel center, banking nexus and R&R spot for the modern day nomad. Tuk tuks and taxi's come and go delivering people laden with backpacks, daypacks, camera bags and god knows what else to this the center of the backpacking universe in South East Asia. This whole scene has grown over the last twenty years from two small and crappy Chinese hotels to what has now become a self sustaining system the more people come here the more services are provided and the more services that are present the more people will come down here. Now all this isn't really bad news, after all you have to stay somewhere and a good infrastructure like internet access and good restaurants surely helps to lift a road weary spirit and no one thinks that all of Asia is like this.
So I am going to enjoy it for a while. There is plenty to see and do in Bangkok and at the end of the day I'll sit here on a terrace have beer and enjoy the best show in town.
Now where was the skateboarder with the juggling balls again?

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Well I made it to the hot and sweaty capital of Thailand. The bus ride was one of the more uncomfortable once I've had in a long time but I guess part of that is my own fault. The seats in the bus are made for people that are on average about 5 feet tall and half my weight so I could only just squeeze in. Then I had forgotten to put my sleeping tabs in my daypack so I couldn't get to them during the ride as my backpack was in the hold under the bus. All in all a long thirteen hours, I think I'll fly that stretch next time.
One of the things I got to see while staring out of the window during the night was an accident between a motorcycle taxi and a pickup truck. The motorcycle rider and his passenger were definitely dead but for some reason nobody had covered up the bodies and no ambulance or medical personnel seemed present. I am quite honestly not at all sure if they have an emergency service as such in Thailand.
At six in the morning we arrived in Bangkok and I found a room in the "Green house" a dump of a hotel near Koh Sang road. At least it has a fan and is quiet, I slept most of the morning and didn't exactly do much during the rest of the day.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

In this part of the world transport takes a form that perhaps not everyone is used to. So the ubiquitous motorbike is a 100 cc machine that normally seats three people but I have seen them with five on quite a few occasions. Mum three kids and Dad. Of course only Dad wears a helmet. The preferred model here is a plastic job that would not get certified anywhere else in the world as a crash helmet, my baseball cap gives better protection.
The motorbike comes in a few variations though. For example you can mount a side car on them, really a platform with a railing and then use it as a taxi for six or seven people or to have your own motorized sales outlet, especially popular with food vendors.
Next up the transport scale is a Daihatsu minivan with the sides cut out and two upholstered benches in the back they will quite uncomfortably sit eight and are normally referred to as taxi's. Another rung up the ladder is the Isusu truck, a flatbed with a meter high canvas sides and a canopy. They will easily fit fifty people and are used as local busses. As they have no windows they are actually quite comfortable in a climate like this. Unless it rains. So now you know how to get around.
Happy traveling.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Island hopping
On my tour from Krabi to Ko Lanta, Phi Phi and Phuket a few impressions stand out. Firstly the ferries from one place to the next are probably the best value for money cruise you can do as long as you don't mind the less then first class accommodation. Then on Ko Lanta the accommodation was reasonably priced but the beach wasn't much to speak of however most hotels have swimming pools to compensate for this. I personally thought it was boring but I am sure other people would love it. Ko Phi Phi is the opposite very commercial and expensive but certainly a happening place with great beaches and a humming night life. As a matter of fact it was so hot during the days that the night were the only time I felled like living at all. For those heading that way I can recommend the Apache bar. The average age of those visiting is about twenty,if that, so you better go now before you're to old. (Just like me)
Well this should be the final island on my tour. I think.
I arrived around lunch time out here and am currently housed in the On On Hotel, the sort of place that gives budget accommodation a bad name, but it'll do for a night or two.
The plan is to go from here to Ranong and then Kanachaburi in the next few days we'll see how this pans out.
Well this should be the final island on my tour. I think.
I arrived around lunch time out here and am currently housed in the On On Hotel, the sort of place that gives budget accommodation a bad name, but it'll do for a night or two.
The plan is to go from here to Ranong and then Kanachaburi in the next few days we'll see how this pans out.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Wharf collapse
About five minutes ago the timber wharf here in Phi Phi collapsed. I was just having a walk on the adjacent concrete wharf when with an almighty noise the structure collapsed in the briny, people, goods and all. In spite of the two meter plunge nobody seemed to be seriously injured. The cause of the collapse appears to be rotting bearers and overloading. They were loading cement bags onto a boat.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Ko Phi Phi
This place looks like a beach site version of Thamel in Kathmandu. Wall to wall tourist shops restaurants and hotels. Luckily it doesn't have the sewerage smell of Kathmandu. I only got here an hour or so ago so not much to report as such other then that they have a bakery here that does nice breakfasts.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Ko Lanta
Just a quick note to let everybody know where I am. Ko Lanta is about one and a half hours by boat from Krabi and I expect to be here for two days before moving on to Ko Phi Phi and then Phuket.
The trip went quite smoothly until I made a misstep while disembarking from the ferry and almost broke both my legs. As it was my backpack broke my fall and apart from a slightly sore ankle I am ok.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

It was a dark and stormy night....Well not really, it's more like four in the afternoon. Everyday it now starts to rain around this time. The sky darkens, thunder rumbles and lightning can be seen out over the sea. This build up quite often continues for an hour or so and then all of a sudden the first drops sizzle onto the pavement. Restaurateurs bring their tables in and stall holders cover their wares with large plastic sheets. People and animals alike look for cover. An eerie quiet descends. Then the frogs, who have been quiet all day start their chorus to welcome the impending deluge...kneedeep, kneedeep. An egret, perfectly white, against the black sky flies across the river.
And then it rains.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Changes and improvements?
As you have probably noticed I have made some changes to the web site. I think this makes it a bit cleaner and easier to navigate. There is more to come but this is all I feel like doing today.
Katoeys and Sang Som

Katoeys or Lady boys are basically pre-operative trans-sexuals and Thailand seems to have more of them then anywhere else that I have been.
Sang Som is locally distilled firewater, on the bottle it says Thai Whiskey but it's sweet and to me tastes more like rum. The best way to make it palatable is to mix it with Coca Cola.

This is one of those stories where the end is best told first. In this case if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck but quacks like a drake you better steer clear.
It all started innocently enough with a pleasant dinner at the local Italian restaurant where the conversation eventually centered, as it always seems to do when you get a group of single men together, on wine, women and song. Dan said he had spotted a few bars around town and why not check them out. This decision was confirmed by acclamation and we headed for a place with garish signs in Thai and very loud music that looked like they would be able to serve a drink to a thirsty stranger. Well they did that, they also had a stage with a firemens pole, so a polite enquiry was shouted over the noise of the infernal sound system as to when we could expect scantily clad women to entertain us. The reply was "around midnight", so we drunk up and left. It was at least ten minutes before my ears stopped ringing. By that time we had arrived at a place that was diametrically the opposite, sleek, sophisticated and music in the background where it belongs. This is where the Sang Som makes it's appearance, a liter of it to be exact. The reason to buy a whole bottle at once is because it's cheaper then by the glass, we are budget travelers after all. As the evening progresses a band comes on and does some very capable covers of Santana amongst others. We talk, listen to the band and polish of the bottle of Sang Som. At this point we have to decide, should we be sensible and go home, should we get another bottle of plonk or should we see what else is on in town on a Monday night. Of course we resolve to try our luck elsewhere. Having observed yesterday how to arrange transport we flag down the traffic in the street and within minutes someone stops and gives the five of us a ride to a club. Music even louder then in the first place we visited tonight greets us and the place is packed with Thais rocking the night away to the latest dance tunes and two DJ's working the decks. We decide it's party time and order another bottle of whiskey, some coke and a bucket of ice. I am starting to feel comfortably numb. Next to me is a gorgeous girl bumping and grinding the night away and really playing up to us, she surely knows how to twirl and shake booty at one stage even flashing her breasts at us. This is better then a strip show. Dan figures nothing ventured nothing gained and joins her for some cool and intimate dance moves of his own and the two really hit it off. At that point a Thai gentlemen comes over and says "Does your friend know he is dancing with a katoey?" Talk about being stung by a bee.

Monday, May 03, 2004

The trouble with busses
I should have known there would be trouble when the van to take me to Krabi arrived right on time. Transport never goes on time in this part of the world. Anyway the van arrived I threw in my pack and clambered aboard where already four other travelers and some locals were sitting and then we continued the ride around town until the van licensed for nine passengers was crammed with twelve people and all their luggage most of it on a roof rack.
So far so good. About half an hour out of town we pulled into a petrol station for a fill up and continued on our way. After another thirty minutes or so the engine started stuttering while we were getting to the first hills on our journey and we were loosing power rapidly until just short of the crest of the first hill the engine died completely. So out we get put a big rock behind the rear wheel and asses the situation. The driver tries to ring hiss boss on a cellphone but we are well outside a reception area. OK plan B, after the engine has cooled down a little we push the van to the top of the hill jump in and coast down. Miraciously the engine starts again but not well enough to get us over the next hill so halfway up we come to a stop once more. Right this van is obviously not going to get us to Krabi in a hurry, if at all, so what to do next?
Well the driver flags down another van and a few of the people with destinations other then krabi pile in. There are about eight of us left on the roadside. Not a problem. The driver flags down a pickup truck and the remaining eight of climb in the back. Now eight people most of them with large backpacks makes for a very packed pickup truck. At this time it's midday so I can feel some sunburn coming on while we are careening up and down the hills, nothing much I can do about it at this point in time though. In a sign that things are probably not going to improve a sudden surge of air while we are going down hill lifts my glasses clean of my face luckily they bounce of one of my fellow travelers and he manages to grab them before they go overboard.
Half an hour later and still hundred and forty kilometers short of our destination the pickup truck drops us off at a restaurant and tells us to wait for the van. We can't quite make out from the Thai to English translations for how long or what this is going to achieve. So we sit and wait and then sit and wait some more and some more and after about an hour and a half the van turns up the engine still stuttering and grumbling. The driver talks to one of the Thai passengers gets in his van and drives of again. I find somebody in the restaurant who speaks both Thai and some English and finally find out what's going on. Apparently when fuelling up this morning they put diesel rather then petrol in the tank hence the engine slowly dying on us when the petrol and diesel started mixing together. The driver has now gone off to get the tank emptied and then put the right fuel in.
Another forty five minutes passes before a triumphant driver returns with a van that runs as smooth as when it left the factory. Apart from seeing a cow aboard a regular bus being transported to the market nothing much happened in the remainder of the trip and eight hours after our departure from Hat Yai we rode into Krabi and sat down for a well deserved beer or two.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Well I wasn't kidding when I wrote in my previous message that the weather looked threatening. I had just gone for a walk through the market when the sky opened up. Now I have traveled and lived in monsoonal areas for a large part of the last twenty years but this was something else. Within minutes of the rain starting the stormwater system gave up and the streets started flooding which brought swarms of cockroaches from the gutters onto the pavement and while everybody including myself was busy stomping on roaches and stopping them from running up our legs the second wave of refugees hit. The rats had obviously decided that life in the sewer was not all that pleasant anymore and before they could be swept out to sea or wherever it is that Hat Yai flushes it's waste too they decided to flee to higher ground as well so amongst loud shrieks I now had kick rats in the head as well. Needles to say I was also soaked to the bone, still it makes a change from hanging out on the beach.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

War in the south
Ok the good news first. I am currently save and well in Hat Yai where the only thing threatening me at the moment is the weather. It looks like a tropical down pour is imminent.
The first hint of heightened tension this morning was that there were road blocks in Malaysia checking people coming and going from the border. The border crossing itself was quiet and uneventful but as soon as I got on the back of a motorbike at the Thai side of the fence there was military everywhere. Jeeps with machine guns on them and trucks with soldiers in full battle dress, complete with body armor and M16 rifles were cruising the streets and at various places in town and in most towns and villages I traveled through today people were filling sandbags to build gun emplacements.
Pretty unreal. Later in the day we drove past the mosque where the army killed 34 of the protesters (rebels, guerrillas). All there was to see now was a damaged building partly covered in a green tarpaulin and lots of people around it. The south definitely ain't quiet and tomorrow I hope to leave for the presumably safer pastures of Krabi.