Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Laos - Vientiane

On the flight to Laos I was sat next to a Malay man who asked me where I was going. This seems a strange question to ask when you're sat next to someone on the same plane. I replied 'Laos I hope, why where's the plane going?'. I think it was all a bit that film with Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson because he just smiled and nodded, we both tried doing conversation but the smiling and nodding was our only common ground.

Landing in Vientiane I grouped up with some other Westerners to share a taxi in to town and we all stayed in the same guest house. I was sharing with a friendly but slow English man who has been travelling for 2 years. I later found out that the reason he's slow is because he has taken quite a lot of drugs. Next door were an American girl and an interesting English man called Gavin who had had an impressive life. Gavin left school without qualifications having felt unchallenged. By 18 he was manager of the bakery he worked in having impressed when his boss was off ill and soon after he was head hunted to manage another place. At 20 he realised he was quite good at management and took the audacious step of setting up his own management consultancy firm. His philosophy: Find out what the customer wants you to do then do it. Makes sense to me and though he had some failures I can guess that he has plenty in the bank - because he never mentioned how much he makes. Anyone else I've met who has started businesses or worked with big companies has slipped some big numbers for deals made in to conversations. I took Gavin's details for facebook so that if I decide to start my 'I do like a t-shirt' business I can get some advice, oh and also because I like him.

The four of us took the Lonely Planet's advice and went to the bowling alley. 90p a beer and 90p a game. Good way to spend a night.

Disclaimer: Now that I'm home it has been said that my blog makes me out to be a drunk. I do drink quite a lot but there have also been lots of days whilst travelling when I haven't. Problem is, those days are spent on buses, beaches and in guest houses, reading or watching films. I don't write about that stuff because it's boring. Actually some of the books and films have been good so maybe I should relate the plots to you and pick out their highlights and that way it will dilute the amount of drunken blog content.

To sum up, if this blog makes it sound like I drank 90% of the time I only really drank 60% of the time.

So after the bowling we played some pool and then avoided the 12 o'clock curfew applied to the centre of town by going with a gay local to a club. It was full of gays, cross dressers and prostitutes, or if they weren't prostitutes I was looking seriously hot that night. At around 4am a Nigerian man claiming to be a DJ persuaded us to join him for a party. Had I been on my own my racial stereotyping against the one black in the village would mean there's no way I'd have gone with this man but with 4 of us I figured we'd be okay. When he answered his phone and said there was no party any more I got a bit worried but he dropped us back at our hostel and I felt bad for spending the whole trip on edge. In bed I battled to work out if I was just being rightly cautious or if that was racism. I think it's a question for cleverer people than me.

Full day in Vientiane.
Plan: See the sights, walk to the main temple a couple of hours out of town.
Half an hour in to the day, new plan: Stay within running distance of a toilet.
I managed to visit a couple of centrally located temples one housing over 2000 little buddhas but the day was not much fun. Imodium helped, only having one small beer at these prices proves just how cack I felt.

Next city VangVieng.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

My thoughts while in Kuala Lumpur

After getting my police report I went to Kuala Lumpur to get a new passport. I'd already seen a lot of KL and wasn't looking forward to more days here.

I remember a few weeks previously in Bandung, Indonesia crossing a road, stepping out in to the mad traffic like a local then dismissing several 'hello mister, how are yous' with an easy smile and nod of the head. At that time I thought to myself 'you've got the hang of this travelling lark, you are a good traveller'. On this day in KL, nearly possessionless stuck waiting for a passport, stinking, dripping with sweat, scratching at insect bites I think maybe I was wrong. I am crap at travelling. Good at enjoying it, but crap at doing it.

The passport only took 24 hours to get so I was good to book a flight, 3 days on I would be flying to Laos and I'd be back in business. I celebrated with an unidentified can of drink, it was disgusting - as close as you can come to fizzy cough medicine.

Flight to Laos - At the airport I was in a great mood, excited to get going and then I checked in my bag and then I was in a bad mood. I realised I hadn't gone to the immigration office in KL and got a stamp for my new passport saying I had arrived legally, which isn't my fault because they only told me twice that I needed to do this. I realised this just as my bag disappeared with the police report I'd been told I would need to get said stamp.

My thoughts were now 'my bag is going to be in Laos and I'm going to have to go back to the city to get the stamp and a copy of my police report' I was pleased to notice that my mood was better than a few days ago because I found the thought laughable - a further page in my useless travellers file.

I walked up to passport control biting my nails and rubbing the back of my neck definitely looking shifty also being the only passenger without hand luggage. I told the man straight off that my passport was a replacement and had no entry stamp.
'You didn't go to the immigration department in KL to get a stamp'
'But you phoned them and told them you lost it?'
He called over the boss who escorted me to a back office where I was treated well but with a heavy dose of suspicion'
'So you had your passport stolen, can I see the police report?'
'It's in my bag that's checked in'
Luckily this was one of the occasions when I'd arrived early for a flight and so a lady was able to check that my previous passport had arrived in the country on the flight I said it had. On the agreement that I wouldn't come back to Malaysia for a few years I was given a special stamp that specified I must get on my named flight and I wa good to go, hot to trot and on my way. The winds were a changing, I was back in the 'these things just work themselves out' crowd and I could enjoy my last few weeks exploring South East Asia. Touch Wood.

Perhentian Islands

Other than having most of my valuable possession nicked I absolutely loved the Perhentian islands. Quite surprising because I'm rubbish at sunbathing so a little island shouldn't agree with me. The snorkelling around the islands is fantastic, on one day I hired a canoe and paddled from bay to bay adding lots of ticks to my eye-spy fishies book. On another day I went on an organised trip and saw black tip reef sharks, turtles and clown fish.

As with anywhere the people can make or break a place and I was lucky enough to make some new friends and bump in to some old ones - a couple called Adam and Jen who I knew I recognised and they knew they recognised me but we couldn't work out why. After much deliberation Jen worked out that we'd stayed in the same hostel in Queenstown three months earlier and had chatted over dinner one night. There are a lot of these coincidences in travellerville, one of the strangest was two seperate people, both of whom I had met in Indonesia who had met each other in Malaysia and were now together! Another happy and welcome coincidence was seeing two of my favourite people who I had spent a few nights in Borneo with step off a boat. The reason I like them so much is that a) we can talk in Partridge, Peep show and Baseketball quotes and b) they dislike the same people I do for the same reasons. I've come to the conclusion that it is often more important to have dislikes in common than likes. Their names are Will and Carmel but their surnames are better; together they sound like a bad T.V detective series: Garlick and Digweed.

So lots of good nights had, one dressed as a lady, shaving my beard in to a handlebar moustache. And lots of good food, including the best steak I have ever eaten cooked by a chef who has worked in some of the top London restaurants who now travels the world setting up small places for a few months, making them hugely successful then moving on.

I've got a lot of time for the Perhentian islands.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Let's skip to Malaysia and what happens when you take your bag to the pub

Quick update on the last two months: I went to the West coast of Australia for 10 days with Katy, spectacular scenery and thousands of kilometres of quiet highways. After that I spent two weeks running up the East coast partying on Fraser Island and the Whitsundays, all jolly good fun. Then it was 3 nights in Singapore where I booked a flight to Indonesia on a whim.

My two weeks in Indonesia were mental but a great experience, climbing up volcanoes and becoming a celebrity, playing football with some kids in a cliched comic relief styley even pulling my shirt over my head after my hat-trick and high fiving the players from both teams. Surreal.

Then I went to Borneo for a week and saw lots of cool animals including the Orang-utans and via Kuala Lumpur I got to the Perhentian islands where I had my bag nicked. I'll fill in some details of those other places soon but for now we'll fast forward to the Perhentian islands.
Inside my bag were my passport, my camera and worst of all my journals. I had also started writing a play called 'Why can't real life be more like Championship Manager' I suspect the theft was God's way of telling me the play was a terrible idea and he was saving me the hassle of finishing it.

Let's start with the policeman, because he was funny. Painfully frustrating, but funny. I needed a police report so that I could get a new passport and make an insurance claim so I got a water taxi around the island to the Fishing Village where the surprisingly well built police station is.
My water taxi man (Rico) was very helpful and when there was no-one at the station he found the copper for me, sat in a nearby cafe. The policeman wore a dirty brown polo shirt, glasses round a string on his neck and he had teeth that could sell a thousand toothbrushes - by scaring kids. The few teeth still attached to his gums were frightening and one in the middle seemed to be pointing at me wherever I was in the room. Thankfully he was friendly and with his limited English got me to fill in the blanks on the police report. I bottled claiming for a laptop, ipod and money, I think it was the all seeing tooth that made me feel guilty.
The policeman promised he would send my report to be processed on the mainland and bring me a copy the next day.
The next day came and went, then the day after that did the same. On Monday I got another water taxi to the village with Rico and found the police station locked and empty. Rico phoned some of the numbers on the door and told me someone would bring me the report at 1pm.
Back on the island I felt my first twinges of annoyance, I had planned to leave 3 days earlier but hadn't minded being stuck in paradise. Now I was ready to move on and wondered how long a new passport was going to take if a photocopy took 3 days.
At 1pm I was told I would get the report at 2.30 and at 2.30 I was told I had to go back to the station.
I've always believed that the friendlier you are the better the service you'll get but when the station was locked again my smile buggered off and went snorkeling. Luckily we bumped in to the policeman walking past and he showed me in to the station. Inside things went from frustrating to so unbearable my smile came back to have a laugh at my predicament.
Mr Policeman had apparently never seen me before, I suspect he had Alzheimer's because his ability to forget instantly what either of us had said was amazing.
After some awkward conversation I got over that I had made a report and he went to his reports folder to find mine.
'What's your name?' he asked
'Glyn Richards'
Some slow reading through the reports 'Ah here it is'
'No, that's not me that's a Swiss man called Eric'
'And you Swiss'
'No, English, from England, U.K.'
'Ah here it is'
'No this is a girl called Emily'
He pointed at the report 'England'
'Yes I see that but it's not my report, I'm not called Emily'
He read through some of Emily's report then went back to Eric's
'What's your name?'
'Gl-yn Ri-chards'
'Write it down please'
'good idea'
The folder only had 6 reports in it and I'd already seen that mine wasn't one of them. Deputy Dawg checked through the folder again and offered me the Swiss man's again. I wished I was the Swiss man.
'Where you stay?'
'Tropicana, where you said you'd bring the report on Saturday. Tropicana'
His face looked puzzled then lit up
'Oh yes Tropicana' He whacked his forehead with his palm 'Oh no, sorry I forget'
Finally we're getting somewhere
He went back and looked through the same folder
Okay, maybe not
Looking confused again he looked up and said 'And you stay in Bubu?'
I chose to laugh instead of cry 'Oh christ. No Tropicana'
I could go on.

The whole farce took about an hour. He eventually phoned the mainland who found their copy and faxed it through in a few minutes.
'See you soon' he said as I left
'I bloody well hope not'

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Things I lost in New Zealand

shaving Foam
sleeping bag liner
shower gel x 3
towels x 2
socks x 3 pairs (discarded cos they stank)
caps x 2
one trouser leg
travel pillow
rough guide to New Zealand
hitch hiking virginity
the habit of taking my phone out and checking for texts when I'm sat on the bog
hatred of Americans

Bugger it

I've had my bag nicked with my journals in it. My memory is crap so the last two months of travels will not be blogged in very much detail I fear. I'm devastated, I loved those books. The sun is shining and I'm in paradise currently so things could be worse.

Anyways, I got to Sydney and checked in to a hostel, then ran down to the harbour to take my pictures of the bridge and opera house as I was only staying the one night before flying down to Melbourne. The hostel had organised a trip to a pub with a free beer. I think you can all guess how the rest of the evening pans out, among the people I met was Katy, a lovely girl with a softly spoken Welsh accent that made me weak at the knees. Katy was planning to go to the West coast of Australia for two weeks and from what I'd heard about the place I was half tempted to change my plans and stalk her. Having just forked out for the flights to Sydney and Melbourne however, meant that this was just a nice daydream.

Melbourne. What luck I was there at the time of the comedy festival.
I impressed myself by not missing the plane and went straight from my dorm to watch Tim Vine who, as always, made me piss myself. I love that man and he had yet another new set of one liners and daft songs. I followed that up with Arj Barker, based on an Aussies recommendation. Arj plays Dave the shop owner in Flight of the conchords, unfortunately his stand up was very average. Criminally he had a 2000 seat venue and Tim Vine only entertained 200 lucky punters each night.

Day two. In a couple of hours of walking I passed the MCG (100,000 seater cricket ground), the Rod Laver arena (home of the Australian Open), the Hisense Arena (Netball, yes thay actually get crowds you sexists), the Olympic park, another big stadium for Aussie rules football, a golf course and the F1 track. The people of Melbourne like their sport and for this I like the people of Melbourne.
My comedian o choice for the evening was Tim Key, sort of poetry with a running commentary, sounds shit but it was brilliant, up there with Vine.
Comparing Melbourne to Edinburgh, Edinburgh wins hands down, there are no late shows and the the listings fit on to one whiteboard where Edinburgh has a gert fat book for a programme. The real clincher came when I bought a beer and had to part with $8.50, nearly six quid. Perhaps that's why they all like their sports, you'd need to sell your car to have a night out.
Day three. Walked to St. Kilda, the beach part of Melbourne and coffee shop hang out for all the cool kids. The G-dawg did not fit in, I am rubbish at being cool. Whenever I pick a cafe I look out of place by trying to order at a counter when it's table service, then I fidget, scratch any insect bites and write in my journal*. If it ain't Wetherspoons I don't know how to act, but I do like a people watch.
The evening was the superb Pajama men, a silly double act, voted best of the festival 2009 who I would highly recommend.

*Every time I hear journal it brings a tear to my eye.