You are currently browsing the monthly archive for April 2009.

Getting to grips with a country takes time I understand. The smells, the tastes, the sights, the foreign habits, unfamiliar customs and the currency! I am doing my best. With an inquiring mind I have tried to decipher the Bangkok bus system (impossible), attempted to work out how much I should be paying for items such as bottled water, accommodation and taxis, getting better at bargaining despite getting ripped off just about every time and of course working out the why’s of the Thai national psyche – not an easy thing!

Bangkok: It’s a madhouse of over 8 million people but also an interesting one when you get past all the smells and noise. Khao Sarn Rd is of course the same-same – backpacker central and where we based ourselves. Scams galore (further post to come on this topic) and also police every few dozens metres unobtrusively on the upper floors of the buildings overlooking the road.

Mongoose: We took a day trip south west of Bangkok to the floating markets, kind of naff in the touristy bits but then we went by longtail boat out in the canals where we saw houses of people living by/in/above the river. Certainly an eye-opening experience. Then onto the Cobra Show where we saw guys cheating death by dodging jumping snakes, striking cobras and coiling pythons. Also a one-on-one match between a mongoose and a snake. The mongoose won! Ripped a fang out of the snakes mouth (which it does to then be able to bite it with no risk to itself) before the match was called off, the snake off to the snake hospital or something. Finally saw some cultural show which including some Muay Thai (Thai boxing).

Politics: Thailand is undergoing significant political unrest. If you are interested in it in more detail please research it before making a decision to come or not based on media headlines. Basically there are two movements opposed to one another (the red party representing former Prime Minster Thaksin and made up mostly of rural voters, and the yellow party which represents the Bangkok elite and middle class). We saw buses with bullet-holes and police stations with smashed windows from the protests 2 1/2 weeks ago. When we were in Bangkok every little shop was tuned to the all-day, two day political debate in parliament which was debating the lifting of the emergency laws currently in effect. Now the debate has finished it is possible the Reds will again start to protest. This is all of course means little to us in the touristy places because no-one wants tourists targeted which really would destroy the tourism industry which employs more Thais than any other and would devastate the economy at a time when it is already suffering from lower tourist numbers due to the economic downturn. That said we have already noticed heavy police and military presences with road checks on the way south out of Bangkok and many around Bangkok. There were even some on Koh Samui with younger guys wearing red kerchiefs around their necks to show their political affiliation. Many Thais we spoke to that worked in the tourism sector simply wish it to be resolved.

Koh Samui: At the moment I am on Koh Samui, a large island on the South-east coast of Thailand where the party is supposed to last all year! Took us about 12 hrs by bus with another 2-3 hours to get to the island from the mainland. Suffice it to say I was somewhat surprised to discover than in actual fact, the place is just about empty of tourists. The resorts are supposed to be pretty full because the Thai new year was last week but it seems people have left pretty soon and the only people left are honeymooning couples, older couples and single men from Russia, Israel and Britain (accompanied by nice Thai girls). Sadly no large groups of Swedish lasses…

So that’s it for now. Still alive and still drinking large Chang!

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Dear readers,

I have passed an eventful few days in Sydney kindly being hosted by my friend Erik near Darling Harbour and am now in Bangkok sweltering in 35 deg heat.

Goodbyes. Twas a great farewell for me I think – quick like a band aid from Mum, Dad and sis’. I often think that long, drawn out affairs don’t really add anything to the parting. You will no doubt be emailing and phoning the instant you touch down anyway (unless you are a degenerate son like me). If you wait until the hour before you leave to say all the things you meant to say over the preceding week you’re only letting yourself in for waterworks 🙂

Sydney.What can I say but had a blast – Erik and the international crew squatting at his swank inner-city executive apartment kick ass! Had some bizarre moments with Tristan and his mate Peter – drunkenly inquiring of some girls from Ireland whether they knew how to make Molotov cocktails not my finest hour to be sure, to be sure, diddly, diddly. Went swimming on Bondi Beach as can by proven by the below photo. Tristan made the most of it by spewing out both rings for a night. Not something to inspire confidence when flying into Bangkok…

Bangkok. Dirty old Bangkok. A great place to work out whether you are ready to get chug down that cup of hard and buckle down as a traveller or are in fact a sheep ready to be shorn by sharp-eyed touts.

Julian and Tristan’s Guide to Bangkok:

Accommodation: Get shafted and pay a little too much in order to feel safe and protected amongst similar backpacking fish. Peter’s suggestion was great however for our midnight arrival – just too tired to care really. Rooftop pool with scantily clad Scandanavians and a comp breakfast. Alternatively sort it out via recommendations from experienced travellers and book ahead.

Locals: Every guide book you read, and associate you speak to, has horror stories of getting ripped off, how everyone who speaks to you is in for a buck and how the best thing about Bangkok is leaving it. Despite appearances to the contrary, in one day we encountered two random Thais (a professional and a teacher) who offered unprompted advice on what to see, warned us of dangers and generally enjoyed practicing their English on us. Closing your mind to the possibility of positive experiences will always reduce the likelihood of those experiences occurring. That said, the one thing I am not enjoying so much is the need to constantly be on your guard to prevent getting taken advantage of. Oh NZ is a sheltered place! 

Food. No bad experiences as yet. Had a faux ‘western’ breakfast which was interesting and a chicken and egg Pad Thai from a street vendor for 40 baht ($2). Thai green curry for dinner. Many western options with food but I am attempting to eat only hot Thai food with meat and drinks with ice to maximise my chances of acquiring stomachs cramps and unstoppable waves of diarrhoea. I will keep you informed as to progress.

Stupas. The Thai word for temple. Lots of them. See one and you’ve seen them all according to some. We were even invited to a funeral for a local CEO when entering one today! In any case, see a couple early.

Tailors. Got ferried to one by our local Tuk-tuk driver. He was a delightful fellow who informed us he got a fuel voucher for 5 litres of petrol to deliver us to one. Once inside I did my best to appear informed as to cut of cloth, the drape, pleats, cuffs, cashmere, 180s fine, thread and most importantly the cost. In the end (three complimentary beers down) I demurred and said I wanted to compare prices. His offer: 1 suit, 2 trousers, 3 shirts for 15,000 baht. In any case, now doing internet research and I may be better off getting something made in Shanghai. 

More adventures will be forthcoming – only been here for one day and I’m already feeling the vibe! 6am start tomorrow…

Travel doesn’t just happen overnight you know. It stews …  like an overripe avocado … ok I’ve run out of analogies. In any case, preparation is the key to success. A good friend recommended I treat this as an adventure not a “trip” or an “OE”. The word adventure stirs emotions and inspiration and anticipation and potential!

Reading books expands the mind, offering the mind food to chew on while you prepare. I recommend reading some classics as well as novels about the area you are going, it doesn’t matter if they’re old books – the essence of the culture is still there. Some great options:

  • On The Road – Jack Kerouac
  • The Art of Travel – Alain de Botton
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert M. Pirsig
  • Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Travel – Rolf Potts
  • Experimental Travel – Lonely Planet
  • The Snow Leopard – Peter Matthiessen
  • The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho
  • The Prophet – Khalil Gibran
  • The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  • The Great Railway Bazaar – Paul Theroux

Some of these are deep-coated in philosophical creaminess and well worth spending the time over. Of course, you’ll have to start early! Also thanks to Google, for those of you with a yen for more: www.bravenewtraveler.com/2008/01/03/the-50-greatest-travel-books-of-all-time and www.worldhum.com/explore/tags/tag/Top+30+Travel+Books. For some more in-depth thoughts: a description of travel writing.

Packing is also essential. Take things that will aid you in your adventure!

Things not to take:

  • Expensive stuff that you will miss if/when it gets nicked by ruthless gangs of orphans in the backstreets of Ulaanbaatar
  • Too much crap. Keep it simple if you are travelling in warm countries. You can always buy stuff
  • Hard cover biography of Warren Buffet (1kg)- Tristan’s light travel reading
  • Long hippy hair – get the buzz cut and comb out those lice easier
  • Sleeping bag. Too damn hot most of the time!

Things to take:

  • An unbridled sense of adventure
  • Pack. I bought a Macpac Genesis – hybrid travel backpack with detachable day pack
  • Sleeping bag if going to cold places (like Nepal) with silk liner so it stays cleaner longer and you can sleep in the liner if the sleeping bag is too hot
  • Medical pack – spent $125 getting one from the travel doctor in Queen St – expensive but its the last thing I’ll worry about if I’m sitting on a long drop somewhere desperate for something to make it all go away!
  • Camera – no real advice to give here but something digital with good optical zoom, large screen, decent megapixals, point and click size (rather than SLR unless you are a keen photographer and want to lug it around) and plenty of SD cards (I think 2 GB at the largest so you go and get them burnt/upload then to Flickr often instead of losing them
  • Multiple passports (if able) thereby offering an easy way to raise cash by selling one.
  • Good footwear. I went for running shoes that I have had for awhile and also some Keen sandals that fit super well
  • Zip-off pants for hot climates and temples
  • International Drivers License. $20 from AA.
  • Debit Visa card (many versions) – thereby able to pay for stuff via the Visa network using the $ in your account
  • Membership of www.couchsurfing.com – great for travel on the edge and meeting new people
  • A blog. People who share are so much cooler!
  • Diary. I have really enjoyed recording my day to day doings and its easy once you get into a routine of writing with breakfast

Itineraries are useful but not essential. Leave it to the vagaries of wind and train schedules! Alternatively, work out which seasons you enjoy (spring and summer?) and plan a country schedule around it. Orgainsed tours are for those not willing to expand their comfort zones! Go somewhere weird where you can marvel at the strangeness i.e. Tajikistan or Bhutan.

Visas are greatly underrated. Useful to understand the requirements before you go. Most of Southeast Asia offers them at the door but some require proof of onward travel , e.g. train or air tickets. I have discovered that it is a real pain for places like Central Asia, some of which require a huge amount of planning (i.e. your visa starts from the date specified which effectively means that if you are travelling through many countries you need to plan your itinerary in advance which is somewhat annoying for those of you who want to keep it loose. Russia, Turkmenistan and Iran are especially complicated.

That’s all for now. I might add to this post progressively as I go to provide a resource for those you interested in getting the good oil.

Welcome to my blog. I will endeavour to write of things that will resonate with the greater number of you. I will attempt to be pithy rather than describe every little thing. Human stories are always more interesting than those about the various fern varietals I will no doubt come across.

Further, I will do my best to commit to a semi-regular schedule of updates. At least once a month. Think about subscribing to my RSS feed – much easier I think. For those of you not familiar with RSS feeds, this allows you to receive my blog posts in the form of emails once I post them so you don’t have to check the web page every few days for updates. Outlook and Gmail both have this feature.

per·i·pa·tet·ic

adj.

1. Walking about or from place to place; traveling on foot.

n.
1. One who walks from place to place; an itinerant.
Welcome aboard!