A Travellerspoint blog

Malaysia Truely Asia - TM

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Malaysians are really friendly. Eager and willing to help at every turn and without recompense, from the fruit seller who gives you extra (free!) fruit just because you express an interest, to the family who just gave me a lift.

That was because the really friendly ticket sellers for my bus from Kuala Lumpur to Penang assured me that my bus would arrive into Georgetown at 5.00am (negating the need for a nights rent as I could go straight to the ferry). The bus arrived at 3.00am no where near Georgetown. Step in kind family who have deposited me in a 24hour Indian restaurant. Making the most of the situation I am going to tell you about my Malaysian escapades.

Having gone full circle I am back in Georgetown, my first Malaysian port of call. It is apparently a beautiful cultural hodgepodge, taking the best of all the invading cultures into the architecture and sensibilities of the town. I wouldn’t really know. I arrived with a heavy chest infection and cosied up in ‘Old Penang Guesthouse’, a beautiful colonial building converted. With an immaculately clean dorm room for only 15 Ringgits, I jumped at the chance (free breakfast and Wifi thrown in). If you are ever in Georgetown I highly recommend it, but book early – they are always full (hence the last bus and now sitting in a cafe!). I sampled the delights of little India and made a new friend.

Elisabeth from Sweden, who writes a very amusing blog (http://www.travelpod.com/members/madlittlemover), was coping remarkably well with backpack and crutches. We went to the cinema together and then to Cameron Highlands. My first experience in a dorm also bought my first experience of theft. One of the other two girls (one Swede, one German – you can chose which one) nicked money from both Elisabeth and me, but as we discovered the larceny once many hours away in the Cameron Highlands, we were unable to beat the culprit with one of Elizabeth’s crutches. A better punishment would be to make her carry my backpack for a while.

Cameron Highlands was very beautiful but after the more rugged beauty of the tea plantations in Munnar (India), CH felt a little too manicured for me. We visited a strawberry farm where I drank freshly squeezed strawberry juice, one of the most delicious things I have ever ingested. There was also a rose garden which actually proved to be stunning and soothing; one of my favourite aspects was the inclusion of quirky statues interspersed between the flowerbeds. Inexplicably Snow White and her seven dwarves and The Shoe but not the old woman who lived in it. From there we went to a butterfly farm.

I was fine with the idea of butterflies – no one told me about the mantises, beetles and scorpions that were about to be thrust into my face. Did I want to hold one? No, I bloody well didn’t. The cage to the scorpions was opened and one fell out and even though I was standing about 6 feet away I screamed like a fog-horn and then perfected my most innocent “What?” face when the entire group turned around in one beautifully choreographed movement to stare at me.

That was the highlight of the Cameron Highlands, except for getting to wear a jumper, the enormous bug that managed to sneak in under our door and Messerschmitt its way around the room (also accompanied by my screams) and the tea and scones that we partook on a lawn. Oh yes and we fed a rabbit parsley – actually that was probably my highlight. So we did the decent thing and bought a bottle of rum and got drunk.

Having still not fulfilled my beachy dreams, Elisabeth and I parted ways. She headed towards the promise of shopping beneath the Petronas Towers and I headed for the crystal clear waters of the Perhentian Islands. Paradise Islands (apparently) on the East coast of peninsular Malaysia. I had booked a dorm bed at D’Lagoon but when got there discovered that it was only reached by boat, immediately feeling trapped and after spotting the monkeys on string, tied to the trees decided that this definitely wasn’t the place for me and jumped straight in a taxi boat back to Long beach on Perhentian Kecil. I was told by the disgruntled owner that he didn’t want my sort staying at his guest house anyway (‘my sort’ tuned out to be people who didn’t want to stay there; I couldn’t find a way to argue with that logic), he told me that it was a Malaysian holiday and good-luck getting a room anywhere else.

By now a seasoned traveller I, of course, didn’t believe him. Except that it was true. Having heard stories of people bedding down on the beaches or returning to mainland unable to find a bed, I went pro-active. Marching up a torrent of sweat, I pounded one length of the beach to the other and eventually found a 20ringgit bed in an eight person dorm. It was dirty, stank of mould and was the preferred home of every mozzie on the island – but it was perfect.

It was here that I met more Swedes: Sara (I know – what a lovely name) and Joanna. They invited me to join them for dinner and I don’t think we parted ways after that. Bubbly, stimulating and fabulous they had just spent four months in India (all the best people do, don’t you know!). We spent most of our time laughing, lazing on the beach (I think they finally taught me the art of sunbathing) and generally being very relaxed in each others company. We went snorkelling and saw a huge turtle, reef shark, blue-spotted rays, and baby Nemo fish. I finally went swimming, the waters of the Perhentian Islands are as clear as mineral water, the sand is soft and white, it was perfect. We spent the evenings eating lobster, crab and squid and the nights drinking ‘monkey juice’ (Malaysian rum that tastes like banana and delivers a wicked hangover).

In typical backpacker style, and probably because having been on the road for so long now, sitting at a beach bar eating my breakfast I looked straight into a face I thought I recognised....and I did, it was American Dave from Gokarna. Neither of us could quite believe it, and then I realised that anyone who I have seen again: Jono in Havelock, Hrvoje in Varanasi and Anna & Denis in Rishikesh – they are all Gokarna friends. Gokarna is still the place where I was probably the happiest and the most harmonious place that I have been.

However, with yet another goodbye looming Sara, Joanna and I, unable to stay another day on an island (even paradise gets boring sooner or later – there is, after all, bugger all to do) made our way to Kota Bharu. A fairly miserable little place, where we got a really nice room i.e. the bathroom was inside it with three comfortable beds and free towels – bliss. My, how ones standards drop! We met a really annoying French couple, who were walking guidebooks, giving us a rundown of where we could stay and at what price, telling us exactly how we should travel to our next destinations and what the bus schedules were, what we should eat and the best place to get it – they sound helpful – they weren’t, they were just annoying.

After this Malaysia started to really annoy me. I went from one grotty little place to another. Rundown hotels at extortionate prices. Dorm rooms closed down or being renovated. Food apparently served from swill buckets. Ok, that last bit isn’t true but that’s how it was starting to feel because all the restaurants have a buffet-type system, where trays of ready prepared food (at who knows what time) sit waiting to be eaten and are then served cold. Having so far not had one single bout of food poisoning, I really wasn’t going to risk the MSG congealed chicken. It’s amazing how grumpy one gets when there is no decent food about. I spent about three days having temper tantrums.

In a tiny, one monkey town/street called Cherating I went on a Firefly trip. We piled into precarious little dinghies and donned bright orange life-jackets. We polluted the air as the motors coughed and sputtered away until we came to the right place. The guide shone his special torch and as if by magic tiny little lights appeared in the dark shadows of the mangroves, they glided silently towards the light. It was Disney and fairytale and delighted gasps and ooohs and aahhhs filled the air. Everyone else on the boat managed to catch their own firefly and hold it in their hands, but that’s ok, I’m not bitter I couldn’t get a picture so just imagine lots of black with some floaty florescent green blobs.

I headed for Kuala Lumpur. Expecting very little as I am not keen on the big cities, I had one big plan – I was going to the cinema. My luck started to turn on the bus. I called a number from my Rough Guide (a terrible guide book – I really wouldn’t bother) and it miraculously worked, I got through and booked a dorm. 12 ringgits for a bed. Perversely the cheapest bed I had managed to get for weeks and in the city too. I had expected to pay double that at least. It was great fun traversing the eccentric system of over ground trains, underground trains and monorails in order to get to Chinatown. I really felt as though I was channelling London. I decided, though, that I was unable to stay at the guesthouse I had booked. Even though incredibly centrally located it was filthy and the bed looked about one hundred years old and I still have some standards left. Instinct told me to get out and so I did. A man on the street sold me a bed in a single room for 20Ringgits and privacy won out.

My cell, I mean private fan room, was wide enough to fit a single bed and a backpack. I took this to mean that there wasn’t enough room for bedbugs as well and snapped up the room. This was the night that the world cup started. I was having dinner in a food court watching the opening ceremony, I thought it would be more fun to watch it in the common room of the guest house with everyone else. Nicola and Chris (Germany) were desperately channel hopping looking for the right one, but it wasn’t to be, the guest house had forgotten to order the right channel! There was every other conceivable sport showing except the main sporting event in the world at that moment. Sebastian came to join our merry group and the four of us drank many beers and watched the South Africa match (we had the match just not the ceremony – I didn’t care about the match!!!).

Announcing my intention to go to the cinema the next day Sebastian said he would join me. We made the showing of Shrek 3D by the skin of our teeth, but it was amazing. It was everything I needed it to be. It hasn’t jumped the shark, not a bit and you should all go and see it. With nothing else to do afterwards we decided to go to the exhibition halls by the Petronas Towers (v. Impressive BTW – the towers not the halls). We were expecting art or something similar but found ourselves at dental exhibition. We registered and went around the stalls showcasing the latest technology in teeth. Watched gruesome videos of implants and gums being sliced open and tried to talk intelligently about bone erosion after extraction.

We were given free teeth whitening kits and Colgate’s newest sensitive toothpaste, by that I mean to help sensitive teeth; the toothpaste didn’t gently encourage us to talk about our childhoods or anything, although if it did, I think Colgate would really be on to something there. Then came the best bit. That fabled thing that all backpackers everywhere seek....free food! Out of the exhibition hall we walked straight into a lobby with tea and coffee stands and a centre isle of white table clothed tables with heated silver buffet stands. Inside there were chicken wings and salmon and leek tartlets (salmon – I almost wet myself). There were tables of coconut sweets and Malaysian jelly sweets...needless to say we gorged ourselves, stuffing our faces between guffaws of delighted laughter. Afterwards I felt sick.

The next day we decided to go to see Mahler’s 1st symphony in D, Titan (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QApV1Bf-0VA). How very cultured. We would, however, have to be appropriately attired with shoes and everything. I had a white cotton dress and Sebastian managed to find linen trousers and a shirt. We were good to go, apart from the shoes...I discovered that there was an M & S where we could buy and then return the shoes that we needed, but in the end were actually able to borrow them from the theatre. Mine were brown and strappy and his were black and clunky – perfect. Our cheap seats were four rows from the front and the auditorium was beautiful. I felt like a real human sitting there in proper shoes listening to the wonderful orchestra play.

In the interval we needed a coffee, but were not going to pay the extortionate theatre prices for one measly cup of coffee...why didn’t we sneak back to the conference centre and grab some more free coffee? It was right next door, we were sure we could make it. We zoomed off through the crowds “excuse me”ing continuously. We successfully made our way back to the lushly carpeted lobby and grinned smugly when we saw that today’s delights included prawns on sticks and cinnamon rolls. With only a twenty minute interval we had to hurry and were soon wending our way back in the other direction. We ran up the steps to the theatre to find an empty lobby – the show had started! Well not to worry, we would sneak in during the next break between movements or whatever the correct word is for the bit where they stop playing and turn the pages over.

Thwarted. There are no breaks during the second half of this concert. Our free coffee (and cinnamon roll) greed meant that we missed the second half of our wonderful concert. The usher commiserated with us “What a shame for you. You are missing the best half. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity” rubbing serious salt into our already smarting wounds. So we did the decent thing, bought two bottles of beer and got drunk!

The next day I left for Melaka, two hours south of KL. Melaka was declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 2008. Again its charming mix of British, Dutch, Portuguese, Chinese and Indian influences make it an exciting place to be. I did the tourist well trodden path. I even took a river boat ride! I had another food-related temper tantrum, when a whole bus of Singaporean tourists jumped the queue in front of me at the enormously popular ‘Capitol Satay’, where you cook your own food, fondue-style but in a bubbling vat of satay sauce.

Then in a moment of madness decided that on my way back to Penang (for the ferry to Sumatra) I would dive back into the crazy throng of KL and race back to M & S in the vain hope of getting a bikini, one that fitted – top and bottom! Long, silly story about the one from Koh Tao...and do you know - I found one. OK given all the choice in the world it wouldn’t be my first or even my eighth, but given no choice at all I am thrilled and because my credit card was declined I had my first opportunity to use a traveller’s cheque – exciting stuff.

Fast forward several hours and I am sitting in the cafe I told you about earlier. Whilst writing this post I have been experiencing the unmistakable first throws of food-poisoning. Stomach cramps, skin strobing hot and cold like some weird octopus creature. oh did I speak too soon? I have had a lassie and an antibiotic and some grapefruit seed extract. I figure if I throw every school of medicine at it one of them will surely work. So keep your fingers crossed that my ferry crossing isn’t all about chucking up over board!

Goodbye mixed-bag Malaysia and hello Indonesia.

That was the blog – finished and ready to be delivered. Except NOT. I will later post the ensuing horrible few hours that I was made to endure. There will be tears and shouting and I might even get arrested!!!!

Posted by saraintrep 03:32 Archived in Malaysia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Swimming in Thailand

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East-Side

East-Side


Why does no-one tell you that you cannot swim in Thailand? Go to the Islands, they said. The beaches are beautiful, they said. Thailand is so cheap, they said. Well they omitted one prescient piece of information – you can’t swim in Thailand. I am here to right this wrong, I am telling the world (or the 55 of you that read my blog – but you know how word spreads), you CAN’T swim in Thailand.

flotilla-sunset

flotilla-sunset

If you were being a pedant you might say that it was my fault, that I chose the wrong beaches, but I don’t hold truck with that. I went to the same beaches as everyone else, Baan Tai on Phangan, Sairee on Koh Tao etc. These beaches were perfect, if what you were looking for, in the searing 36° heat, was a very hot, shallow bath, accompanied by a sea cucumber or two. I (clearly) misguidedly thought that the sea was supposed to be a refreshing respite from Hadean heat. Also for main tourist beaches, I thought they better resembled marinas. Flotillas of longtail boats moored just off shore, pumping their delightful effluent into the water. Have I mentioned yet - you can’t swim in Thailand.

railay-lump

railay-lump

Luckily, an inspired recommendation came in the form of Railay Beach. Surrounded by beautiful limestone cliffs that effectively isolate it from the mainland, Railay is accessible only by boat. One of the main attractions here is rock-climbing and I figured, even though I had no intention of participating, rock-climbers might prove to be a more interesting bunch than divers (who are interminably boring), gap-yahs and ardent bucket-drinkers (“I was so drunk last night, I lost a toe”(or some such nonsense, I don’t really think I was paying attention!)).

railay-cabanas-2

railay-cabanas-2

I found a lovely wooden hut on stilts in the hills behind East Beach and even though I had about ten days until I left Thailand, I couldn’t be bothered to move again. I strung up my trusty hammock once more and ensconced myself. My first day in Railay I met a German/French couple and another German boy. “Did I want to go with them to the Lagoon?” Arriving at the foot of the climb, I was horrified. “There is no way I can do that. I don’t really see myself as a rock-climby sort of person. What if I break a nail?” They, however, ignored my heartfelt entreaties and soon enough I was actually climbing up the scary, steep hill thing.

the-climb

the-climb

At the top and feeling suitably proud we posed for photographs, categorical proof of my triumph. Now the conspiracy theorists amongst you will love this, for subsequently they all lost their cameras - any evidence of my story gone forever, my first thought was ‘Quai d’Orsay’ (perhaps I have been reading too many bad spy novels; I have definitely been reading too many bad spy novels). I suppose I could have gone up there again with my own camera, but the silty, red mud was a bitch to wash out, so I didn’t. Go up there again I mean. I did wash the mud out.

umbrella,-ella

umbrella,-ella

The next day they promised to teach me rock-climbing proper. Marian was an instructor and they were hiring the gear anyway and I just had to hire shoes. ‘Hire’ and ‘shoes’ are two words that never should be said together, like bowling, its just gross and against shoe-nature. Rock-climbing shoes are supposed to pinch your toes so they almost curl under and for some reason mine also had hard rubber back bits that dug into my heels. I can’t think of anything more distracting when you are half way up a sheer rock face than feet in agony, but mine is not to reason why.....

railay

railay

Apart from the shoes, and I am sure the girls out there have already considered this, is of course the harness. Did I really ever want my bottom viewed from that angle, strung up in a harness? Well no I didn’t, but I figured that it is smaller now than it has been in a long time and I was never going to see these people again anyway...In the actuality I managed to get about 3 meters off the ground. Then Marian told me that I had chosen the hard bit to climb up. As I was still up the rock and had yet to get down, I didn’t like to mention that she was the teacher and should have told me to climb up the not-hard bit. “Let go” was my instruction on descent, which I did. I, of course, spun around, through no fault of my own, but physics’. Then I was told never to turn my back to the rock – that is the kind of information I could have done with before I had spun round and turned my back on the rock.

Rock-climbing – Tick.

In my desire to swim I made my way to Phra Nang Beach, where the only teeny-tiny bit of Thai culture in all Railay can be found. A beautiful cave cum shrine to an Indian Princess, shipwrecked here. Hundreds of lingam offerings, garlanded in flowers, in the hope of increased potency, prosperity and good-fortune are left here by the fishermen.

princess-cave

princess-cave

I was able to find a deserted stretch of beach where I managed to sunbathe for all of an hour – and swim, in deep water, beautiful, blue, cool-ish, water. Beautiful, blue, jellyfish infested water. After being stung twice on the leg, three times on my arm and finally and most painfully across my neck, I marched out of the water and returned to the relative safety of my hammock.

rain

rain

And so it was. Poor Thailand, the first mistake Thailand made was that it categorically wasn’t India, and to be honest I don’t think I ever quite recovered from the shock or forgave her. There were many wonderful aspects to my trip, i.e. two amazing friendships made. Also many firsts: like my first bikini, that I bought in Koh Tao and have proudly worn just once. I walked the length of Sairee Beach (Koh Tao) until I found a secluded spot, next to a girl much fatter than I, and surreptitiously took off my dress and quickly lay down. The world did not stop spinning, no-one threw up and I was not arrested for putting the human form into disrepute. Who knows, after that auspicious start I may even try wearing it again!

sign

sign

So what an adventure Thailand proved to be. I spent way too much money, knocked cockroaches out of my bed all by myself, learnt the art of Thai cooking, nearly learnt how to do fire spinning, stopped a flood in my hut, screamed at coconut beetles and slept sardined like refugees on a night-boat.

And one more thing, I cannot leave Thailand without mentioning the Spectacled Langurs. These adorable and shy creatures could sometimes be seen swinging through the trees without me even having to leave my hammock.

langur3

langur3

Langurs – Tick.

langur

langur

Sadly though, you can’t swim in Thailand.

cooking-cat

cooking-cat

Posted by saraintrep 17:42 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Koh Phangan and Full Moon Fun

sunny 36 °C
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Boat-to-samui

Boat-to-samui

Having consigned another battle of ‘should’ into my past, and having been allowed to stay at Kate’s house for my short stop-off in BKK, I set about procuring a ticket to the beach. I found a company that would get me a bus ride to Surat Thani and from there a boat to Samui. The red-shirts tried to thwart me, as their demonstrations started to heat up with the introduction of hand-grenades and therefore greater police presence, shut roads and swollen traffic. The tuk-tuk took almost 2 hours to get me to the Khao San road where I was meeting my bus at 6.00pm. Arriving there at 5.58 and having to lumber be-laden down the road, I made it by a Siamese cat’s whisker.

Boat-to-samui-2

Boat-to-samui-2

The bus journey a blur and only a short, hours wait for the boat and I was heading for my quarry – the beach. Watching the mainland slip away and the boat heading straight out towards the island I felt enormous satisfaction. Soon, really, really soon, I would be swimming in azure waters and walking on white sandy beach once again. I stood on deck watching the water spin and foam around the boat, in my smug contentment (and the relaxing ease of one beer) I managed to get sunburnt arms; suntan and sun-damage whether I wanted them or not.

view-to-samui

view-to-samui

I had been given a recommendation by Lydia of where to go once on Samui, but that is as far as I had taken in – get to Samui, was all I remembered. Having achieved this I suddenly realised I needed to tell the taxi where to go. Dashing to the nearest internet I soon had all the information I needed. The island looked beautiful from the Songthaew (a bus, taxi, tuk-tuk hybrid), jungley and not unlike Havelock Island in the Andamans. The driver, clearly hating the Falang (foreigners), pretended not to understand where I had wanted to go, meaning I had to walk down the street about half a kilometre in the baking sun. No problem for me, I managed to find the guesthouse and get a room at a knocked down rate.

water-tree

water-tree

For me that was as good as Koh Samui got. Full of resorts and restaurants showing football games, I found it very tacky and made my mind to leave the next day for Koh Phangan and the promised delights of the Full-Moon Party. Meeting a lovely Irish couple in the taxi to the boat was my first stroke of luck, the second was meeting a Spanish boy and two Italians on the boat. They rented bikes and transported me and my stuff all over the Island until we found the perfect spot. “Two Rocks” guest house on Baan Tai Beach. I took the hut right on the sea and strung up the hammock that I have been carrying since Gokarna and haven’t used since Havelock.

My-hut

My-hut

We managed find the only party on the Island that night, and dragging an American brother and sister (Thomas and Tess) with us, went to a dreadful trance party on the beach. This was great as I now had people to go to Full-Moon with, because my boat-friends were leaving the next day.

Fullmoon

Fullmoon

No-one else came to the guesthouse, so for days I had the place to myself. Lying in my hammock, looking out to sea, reading, going for walks along the beach. The only hitch being the inability to swim; the sea just doesn’t get deep enough and the sand is slimy underfoot which makes me feel queasy.

trees-in-sea

trees-in-sea

Finally the 28th came – Full-Moon party, Koh Phangan. It has been going since the late 80’s and now attracts around 10,000 people each time. Locking up my hut, and ensuring that I had enough money to get home should I need to, I made my way to meet Tess and Thomas. I was being so careful not to get drunk too quickly, having only two vodkas before I got there but I think all my previous partying had caught up with me.

sunset-2-rocks

sunset-2-rocks

The thump of the music always arrives first, building excitement of the impending evening, of course in Asia, more often than not, that music is heavy trance. We wended our way down to the beach, paying our 100Bhat entrance and receiving a rubber bracelet thing (which I then lost within 2 hours). The entire stretch of beach was heaving with people. Different bars had set up huge platforms at intervals for partiers to dance on, between the bars, stands had been set up selling buckets of alcohol, their patrons calling at you trying to get you to buy from them. On arrival we bought a bucket of vodka/redbull to share, and I think that was my downfall.

mecubed

mecubed

I went to the loo, and emerging had absolutely no idea where I was or where the Americans were. This didn’t bother me one iota. I was actually secretly pleased, I was now free to do exactly as I chose (I am getting intolerant of how long it takes groups to organise anything looking like a plan). Solo travel=solo Full-Moon. I spent the next six or seven hours walking the beach, stopping here and there for a dance, or talking to people. I even met up with the lovely Irish couple from the taxi and we spent ages together until I went in the pursuit of food and consequently lost them too. I spent a fortune on water that night, not needing anything else alcoholic, about 300Bhat, the price of one bucket – bonus for the budget!

kids-on-beach

kids-on-beach

The crowd was unsurprisingly a lot younger and had all daubed themselves in neon paint. Among the revellers, those who had got too drunk and injured were being tended by the many medical stations set up or those who had fallen asleep in the sleeping area like innocent babies, curled up on mats. Then, of course the drunk and uninhibited who had stripped and ran about splashing in the waves or worse (much worse….).

shells-from-hut

shells-from-hut

As the sun rose, the emptying beach looked like the set of a disaster movie. Rubbish strewn everywhere, bodies prone on the sand – lifeless, and zombies wandering the beach looking for the last of the hardcore partiers. I, however, was only looking for one thing – western junk food. I found it, in the shape of a bacon and cheese toasted baguette, it was delicious. I jumped in the songthaew with a heap of other partied out girls and slumped in my seat to watch the island flash by.

my-lovely-noodle-soup

my-lovely-noodle-soup

So with yet another thing I swore I would never do under my belt (tubing is looking more and more like a distinct possibility – if I ever go that way), I am ready for something else. I now want do do something more with my day than recover from amphetamine-laced-Redbull hangovers. And that something will be snorkelling, I don’t know if I an push the extremely fragile budget to actually going diving, but in my experience it can be very hit and miss – snorkelling on the other hand, is free.

wet-dog

wet-dog


Oh yes, one more thing. I have made a very big decision… I am going to, for the first time since forever, I am going to get a suntan! I will actually do sunbathing and everything – I am very excited and hope you are too (especially my sun worshiping friends Jenny and Karen – I will dedicate my tan to you xx).

Posted by saraintrep 04:52 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Bangkok - A culture Shock

Bangkok, Thailand – the land of smiles.

sunny 36 °C
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Buddha

Buddha

No-one warned me about the culture shock that I was about to go through. Bangkok airport is a gleaming edifice, organised and beautiful. The roads have street lights and the traffic is orderly and consists only of motorised vehicles. The only place I knew of in Bangkok was the Khao San Road, so that’s where I headed.

Khao-San

Khao-San

Every tacky, seedy tourist area in the world crammed into one street, Khao San is a monument to backpacker-power. Hundreds of restaurants, guesthouses, fortune-tellers, cybercafés, food stands, hair-braiders, tattoo parlours, tailors, bars, clubs and of course Thai massage parlours all jostle for space and business under neon-lights and a million cables.

Khao-san-veg-seller

Khao-san-veg-seller

The streets are spotless, no spit or trash here, just one of the seediest atmospheres I think I have ever encountered. My Indian trained eyes were shocked by the amount of flesh on show; mini-skirts and strappy-tops, bra straps and butt-cracks.

Wat-Arun-Dress-code

Wat-Arun-Dress-code

The roaming cows and goats have been replaced by hookers and bar-touts. Western music blares from every outlet. The onslaught on my senses was overwhelming. Revolting, sordid and an enormous amount of fun.

Dried-fish

Dried-fish

Humid is not the word, by the time I had a guesthouse I was drenched. 300Baht got me a box room only marginally bigger than the bed, a small wall-fan to move the oven-temperature air about and a shared bathroom (for the very first-time on my trip I didn’t have my own loo!). I changed out of my redundant salwar kameez and put on western clothes and emerged, hot and sticky, out into the chaos.

Dragon-Fruit

Dragon-Fruit

It has been amazing to have a few (!) drinks, listen to some music, dance and let my hair down. And there is definitely no shortage of people to talk to. In India bed-time is 10.30pm, so far in Bangkok I haven’t been to bed before 3.00am.

Fishy

Fishy

I had a ‘fish massage’. This is where you put your feet in a tank of fish who then gnaw away at the dead skin and bacteria, leaving them feeling…. well, exactly the same as when you started, but it was an interesting experience. Not brave enough to eat a whole grasshopper, I just tentatively nibbled at a leg – it tasted like fake-prawn flavoured straw (plastic-drinking rather than hay). Then enjoyed the new wonders of my first ever drink out of a plastic bucket and I ate beef for the first-time in six months.

my-fish-feet

my-fish-feet

On my second evening we (me and seven 19-21 year olds) bargained hard and got great deal on a ‘ping-pong’ show. The menu (there actually is a menu) of delights on offer included, among many others, “pussy shoot banana, pussy smoking and of course, pussy ping-pong”. What had started out as a jolly jaunt to see a strange, quirky cultural oddity turned into perhaps one of the most depressing evenings of my life. I felt very guilty for haggling SO hard.

Cats

Cats

The girls would arrive on stage, jiggle their hips perfunctorily for two minutes and then perform their speciality: drawing pictures, blowing whistles and producing 5 meters of flowers on a string. The evening climaxed (literally, no pun intended) with a live sex show. At this point I was wondering if it’s possible to start a sanctuary for ping-pong girls. I am an open-minded kind of girl, I will defend a woman’s right to be a stripper, hooker or a porn star and Bangkok is full of savvy, money-making girls who are exploiting the men just as much as the other way around, but after India where most women would never show their shoulders or knees, or talk to a man that wasn’t a member of her family, it becomes hard to stay objective.

Wat-Arun-river

Wat-Arun-river

Quite sure I needed to get out of Bangkok and fast; I arranged to meet up with the lovely Lydia, an English girl who I’d spoken to for two hours on Varanasi train station. Her friend Kate, a fabulous powerhouse of a freelance journalist, has recently moved to Bangkok and had promised to show Lydia all of BKK’s best kept secrets and all the other stuff too. I was invited to tag along.

Red-shirts

Red-shirts

We met up with Kate (who had had to rush off to the airport to cover the story of a grounded Quantas flight) in downtown Bangkok (Siam Square). The jushiest area had been taken siege by the protesting “Red-Shirts” who are demanding democratic elections. We wondered through the sea of red, the atmosphere more carnival than riot. Then hopping on the Sky-Train we returned to Kate’s flat and another huge culture shock. I had forgotten what the inside of a real home looked and felt like, or how to behave in one!

Sky-train

Sky-train

Kate had planned the best night out. Starting with dinner at the night market, about 40 food stands offering a bewildering variety of food (I had crispy pork and duck – yum). Then jumping in a taxi we made our way to the very posh Banyan Tree for cocktails and “the best view in Bangkok”, neither disappointed. The spectacular panoramic view is something that I will never forget. We finished our night in Patpong, the red-light district, where we danced for several hours before making our way to a gay (boys) show – here we were hugely popular, especially as most of the boys are not actually gay, but alas, we had arrived too late to see anything so I cannot comment on the parallels between the male and female variety.

Buddha-Chillaxing

Buddha-Chillaxing

The next day a more militant faction of the red-shirts drove a lorry (or something) into the parliament buildings, so Kate had to dash off again. Lydia and I went sightseeing. Taking in the sights from the river-taxi and then visiting the famous and enormous, gold reclining Buddha (I have since discovered that there was a whole complex of wonderful sights that we managed to miss entirely – oops).

Wat-Arun

Wat-Arun

Culture-vultures that we are, we managed to drag ourselves across the river to Wat Arun before declaring boredom and returning into town to meet Kate at the Foreign Correspondents Club, which is where we were when the State of Emergency was declared (all very intrepid and exciting).

Lydia-n-Sara

Lydia-n-Sara

Throughout my trip I have met the most wonderful, interesting, intelligent and dynamic women travelling alone (Ok, kudos to Kate who has actually moved – but still…). They have influenced and enhanced me and my trip. These two fantastic girls were no exception, completely changing my stay in Bangkok, a city that I now have no reservations about returning to.

Posted by saraintrep 05:30 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Return to Mumbai

Or One Full Intrepid Circle

sunny 37 °C
View Unnamed Trip on saraintrep's travel map.

fly-to-thailand

fly-to-thailand

I am flying to Thailand. No longer in India, but in the air with two delicious glasses of wine inside me and having eaten my last curry. I have no reservation for tonight and no Lonely Planet. I am going solo, turning-up the intrepid, because lets face it – it has all become a little too easy. I came for adventure and I truly hope to find it in SEA (South East Asia folks, keep up).

mumbai-skyline

mumbai-skyline

My last night in India was a journey back to the beginning. I stayed at the Y. WCA that is and from there, took a taxi, metered of course, and I returned to the start. To Kemps Corner. The only way to know how far I have come was to go back. The area felt like it had had a million dollars worth of redevelopment. I noticed all these really posh shops that I just hadn’t seen before, because the first time, six months ago, what stood out were the ladies selling carrots and bananas by the edge of the road, the posh bathroom shops faded into insignificance. The dirty, scary, residential area I now realise was actually a really nice neighbourhood with an important hospital and up-market hotels and shops. No-one stared at me, noticed me. Or maybe I wasn’t looking at or noticing them. Kemps Corner is actually a fairly quiet (by Indian standards) quarter of the city.

I had three objectives:

1. Buy new flip flops.

New-flip-flips

New-flip-flips

I had bought these cheap flip-flops when I was there before for wearing in the shower, except they turned out to be more comfortable and easier to walk in than my TEVAs which cost £60. I knew that the shop would still stock my spongy, not-flat, good-for-walking-up-rocky-mountain shoes and I was right. Mission accomplished. Rs95.

2. Return to Shiv Sagar.

Last-supper

Last-supper

This was where I ate my first meal in India, I had Dhal Tadka and it was delicious and cheap. Except it wasn’t. Well it was still delicious but Dhal Tadka for Rs90? Are you kidding me?

3. Cross a certain road.

THE-road

THE-road

I was not going to leave India without knowing if I could do it (http://saratheintrepid.travellerspoint.com/2/). I returned to that crazy five way roundabout and intersection. It was still crazy and the traffic was noisy and still sudden-appearing but I want you to know that not only did I do it, but I crossed all five roads, all by my intrepid self.

mumbaikers

mumbaikers

So I have come full circle. In the last few days about six people have commented on how brave I am to have travelled India alone. When I first arrived, I didn’t feel brave – I didn’t think that what I was doing was particularly brave. But now as I fly away from India and the last six months is flashing before me like a corny movie with terrible sound bites echoing through the distance – I accept. Perhaps it was brave.

Posted by saraintrep 10:00 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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