A Travellerspoint blog

This blog is published chronologically. Go straight to the most recent post.

AN INTRODUCTION TO MY TRIP

My Itinery

overcast 12 °C

Mrs Angry from Argyle is exploding in my head-set but I am half the world away. My imagination is taking a one way ticket on a passing aircraft.

My current job is phone monkey in Orwellian call centre hell. I am part of the expendable customer services cannon fodder; facing the battle cry of the disappointed retail customer. Not just any customer but a finely honed raging banshee, hyperventilating in rage over the failure to deliver her lily patterned tea towels on time. The tone of the assault is of an accuser of mass genocide. My only ammunition is to say sorry until my voice is reduced to a hoarse rasp. It is however time to desert my platoon. For I can see my escape plan at Manchester Airport only a mile away.

At 41 I still do not know what to do when I grow up. The economy is loosing the battle. I have no career commitments at the moment. This is the time to embark on the mission that has been fermenting in my mind for so long. Time to enlist in travel! Time to go East!

My itinery:

28th Sept: Fly to Kuala Lumpa Malaysia from Manchester
10th October: Fly Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) to Vientiane (Laos)
24th October: Fly Luang Prabang (Laos) to Hanoi (Vietnam)
21st November: Bus Boat, Donkey etc from Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam) to Phnom Penh (Cambodia)
10th December: Flight Siem Reap (Cambodia) to Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia)
13th December: Flight Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) to Manchester
14th December: Return to Manchester

So please join me on my journey

Posted by gavinbose 00:12 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged preparation Comments (0)

Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word

I can't wait. Counting the Sorrys. Only 3700 before I leave.

overcast 17 °C

Tomorrow will be four weeks until my arrival in Kuala Lumpur and the damp sands of time don't fall through my hour glass of anticipation fast enough.

I've sorted out my finance. I’ve got my travel books. I've got some travel trousers with so many zips and pockets that it will take the best part of a day to locate my change. God knows what will happen when I need the loo! I've been watching Rick Stein's gastronomically odyssey around the far East and can almost taste the sea food. The nurse has kindly advised me on the jabs required for the Cameroon. I pointed out that Cambodia, although sharing the same first three letters is not by default on the same continent.

To my surprise I have been moved at work to the "I demand To Speak To A Manager" team. Some misguided belief that I can calm customers down has meant a transfer to the Russian front of Call Centre's - the escalated calls department. This is where the uncaged rabid beasts of Mrs Livid from Liverpool, Mr Disgusted from Dundee, Mrs Outraged from Oswestry are released into our domain. The standard call centre agent cannot handle them so it is left to us lion tamers.

It will soon however be over. No more fractured, convoluted, totally inept IT systems and processes causing misery to customers/employees alike. No more false empathy. No more "I will feedback your concerns", "or as a gesture of apology". No more people complaining that their duvet is too noisy or that one of the Sunflowers in the bouquet is not symmetrical enough. "Frankly Mr Pedantic from Peterborough you can shove your flowers in an orifice, not any old office but a finely festering orifice where the suns rays can’t reach". NO MORE SORRY.

Lazy trips down the Mekong Delta, golden sandy beaches, lush green paddy fields, remnants of ancient civilisations, reminders of colonial splendour. Soon I will be a free man, escaping before I become institutionalised. On September 28th the steel bird of freedom awaits on terminal 2.

Posted by gavinbose 13:16 Archived in Cameroon Tagged preparation Comments (0)

Penang with a Bang

Aching Feet and Baking Heat

28 °C

Catherine Zeta Jones grabbed my lonely planet guide. "I'm sick of those budget hotels. We're staying at the Eastern and Oriental this time". "But what if Michael finds out..............." This travelling lark was getting to me, so much that the inflight movies were blending in with my subconscious. Well I had spent the first two days (minus the time differences) either flying, trapped in airport lounges or in transit by another vehicle. I left my house at 6.30 am on Monday Morning and arrived at the guest house at 10 pm Tuesday evening. Spare a thought though for the ozzy soldier I had shared a taxi with from Penang airport. He was just returning from one weeks leave having been home to surprise his wife on their 22nd Wedding Anniversary. She then promptly through him out. Not your typical inflight romcom!

What the ozzy needed was a couple of beers at the baracks. Arriving at the guest house was what sufficed for me. It is a beatifully restored, gleaming white former colonial building, graced with two huge pillars at the entrane way. This interia is spotless and the staff faultless. The room is a bit small and cell like, although not a bad place to be incarcerated. It is a bit quiet also although there people to chat to, as well as the staff there are a couple of middle aged sisters from Northern Ireland, a chap from Macau, and the ubiquitous ozzy backpacker.

Food and not not chatting was on my initial agenda. No sooner had I planted my battered and bruised ruck sack in my room, had I decided to nip across the road for something to eat, negotiatiating a stampede of traffic* It was typical of hundreds of restaurants around the city. The price and the deco were basic but the quality very good. I have been eating non stop, mainly just trying the odd thing from a street hawker. For example buying three round ball things for 40p and not knowing exactly what they were. Covered in a golden mixture (could be breadcrumbs, could be icing). Could be sweet, could be savory. Could be crunchy, could be soft. Could be vegitable, could be animal. Could be beef, could be balls. I have also been sampling the fruit, like jackfruit (yellow flesh - a bit like mango in taste) or dragon fruit (like watermellon but denser and more flavourful). I have developed a penchant also for drinks like crythantumum tea and sour plumb cordial.

The mosquitos and all their tiny critter cousins have developed a penchant for fine vintage A+ from the terrace streets of Stockport. I have the bite marks to show it. At least the mossies though are not venomous, unlike the pit viper, curled up in a branch above my table as I sipped my fruit juice, boots travel size anti venom at hand. My reptile mate was happy to be in the shade while I admired the view from Penang hill. 850 meters up after a 30 minute finicular ride. It was pouring down at first but then the clouds started to shift to reveal a very modern city with a few near sykscrapers. Beyond that were the forrests, home to many thigs that go bite in the night. Today I visited a former World war one defence post that had been turned into a POW camp once the invading Japenese had laid claim to the place. In amongst the fascinating genuine trences and firing squads were signs readings "beware of bats, snakes, scorpions etc".

Deadly bite free, I have been staying in Georgetown, the capital of Penang for 3 nights. Like Singapore it has the same components of commercial district, colonial district, little china and little India. The people are a mixture of Malay, Chinese, Indian and Martian. With such a cultural blend as you can imagine there are plenty of mosques, churches, temples (hindu & Bhudist) to visit. These included Kok Lok Si Temple, the biggest and probably most specatular temple in Malaysia, complete with a giant Bhuda statue and koi pools.

To explore all this history and culture I have just been walking my feet off over the passed few days. I walked around the aformentioned Georgetown districts and also I walked from Penang Hill to and around the botanical gardens. Today it was time then to take my feet in for a full service. I took them to a blind massuer who spent 45 minutes removing every last sensation of tension. By the time I had finished my muscles were so relaxed that I had forgotten how to walk. A great experience and a well run service set up as a charity. I politely delclined the offer of a shave though.

The people are polite and always seem to relish in providing good service. There has been plenty to do, although I did waste a bit of time today visiting a fairly non discript so called fishing village. Well at least it had the war museum and a damn fine restaurant. Pushing the boat out today - the meal came to 5 quid. The weather has not been as oppresive as I expected it to be. The humidity is broken by frequent brief but welcome downpours that really cool the air. I have had a taste of Penang and tomorrow I will mixing my noodles with my tartan by visiting the hills of the Cameron Highlands, a hill station and tea plantation set up by Scottish Colonialists. An AC, apparently very comfortably mini bus will be picking me up from my guest house and whisking me away to my next hotel. Travel around this country is easy. Famous last words. Watch this space.

  • I did find very obliging pedestrian crossings that give you the time in seconds before the lights go green for you to cross and the time you have to cross.

Posted by gavinbose 08:03 Archived in Malaysia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Somthing Stupa

Some Buddha To Love/He Aint Heavy He's My Buddha/Anything by Buddha Holly (that's enough of Bhuddist inspired song titles)

27 °C

Dragon Flies hovered about me, whilst a busker played traditional flute music, the tempting smell of barbecued bananas wafted through the air. The wide expanse of the Mekong Delta lay ahead with Thailand on the other side. I had just been escaping the hustle and bustle of my second day in Lao's capital Vientiane. I was having a serene moment, taking refuge in the marvelous Xieng Khan (Buddha Park), 15 miles from the centre. Although only 50 years old this place is packed with dozens of Buddhist and Hindi statues, ranging from 4 foot Shiva's to reclining Buddhas as long as a double decker bus. I even squeezed into the mouth of one god and survived to tell the tale.

Vientiane is a noisy capital, with the sound of motorbike engines revving up constantly. The scruffy streets (including the occasional tree lined boulevard) are interspersed with a bakery selling French Sticks, a reminder of the French reign over Indochina. I initially took a dislike to the city, at first site nondescript dusty streets, bursting with traffic. Not that much to do for a capital. After two days a half I did get to enjoy the laid back feel of it all. Well I suppose I found plenty to do, as well as Buddha Park- I visited the cities own Arc De Triumphe; a national a national landmark of a temple (Wat Sok Pa Luang). I even managed to squeeze in a couple of visits to the gym and swimming pool.

Vientiane is a stark contrast to Melaka in Malaysia, my previous stop. Asia doesn't usually do quaint but this is the place where 400 year old Chinese merchant houses, Chinese and Hindu temples, mosques, portuguese and dutch houses all head but for space on the compact streets. I know it is touristy but there is no tawdry tackiness to it. You can spend all day browsing around the antique shops and art galleries. There is also a canal going through the city that gives it a bit of a Venice theme. If you want a concentrated example of a a historical and cultural melting pot this certainly ticks the boxes and is only 2 yours out of Kuala Lumpur.

Prior to Melaka I spent 4 days in the Cameron Highlands (1800 metres above sea level) in Malaysia, yet again contrasting starkly with my other stops. Where most of this holiday I have had air con or fan, I needed 4 blankets one night. I stayed at a former colonial bungalow called Father's guest house perched on a hill and overlooking the village. I shared the mini bus to the Cameron highlands from Penang with a a young British couple who seemed to share everything other than a selfish consonant: Fran and Frank. They also joined me on the following days day tour covering: a self picking strawberry farm (a GM experiment gone wrong perhaps); tea plantation; tribal village; waterfall (swimming included); Landrover off roading through the jungle (great fun) and trekking. We got to see one of the biggest flowers in the world. The Rafflesia blooms within 7 days and becomes a brilliant red colour. It then dies. But before that, to lure the insects its cunning scheme for pollination, it gives off an aromour of rotten flesh.

By the 12th October and I have been out of the UK for 2 weeks. So far it has been one adventure after another. After a 4 hour trip I am now at Vang Vieng, north of Vientianne. The road is relatively new, which cannot be said for the so called VIP bus that took us here. I am sure the converted Scooby Mobile look does not equate to luxary travel. Anyway the journey was a real pleasure. The long straight flat roads gradually gave way to sharp bends and inclines. The brick houses became wooden shacks as we wound are way towards the heart of the real rural Laos. Locals were ploughing the fields with their conical straw hats instead of the baseball hats I saw in the city. I started to see more cycles than motorcycles. Ahead of me were endless views of limestone karsts and paddy fields.. This was the Indochina that Imagined.

Then I arrived at Vang Vieng, very artificial, a full on backpacker near resort. Every other bar for some inexplicable reason was showing reruns of Friends. I can't stand that programme, with all those smug characters. Had it been Blackadder then then would be a different story though. I may sound a bit hypocritical however as it was a place to be a bit of a grown up kid. To be continued..........

Posted by gavinbose 17:41 Archived in Laos Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Pong Song

Not So Smelly River

My watch is not working properly. It is not displaying the digits properly. It is hard to tell if its 8pm or 9pm, 6 am or 5 am. It's a cheap watch that got damaged when it got wet. I don't care though as the ticking of time is not cracking the whip at me. I have no fixed agenda and I like it like that.

I left Vientiane, Laos on 12th October and headed for river sports capital of Vang Vieng. Nestled on a bend of the river Nam Song, it is an hour or so from the romantic sounding village of Huay Pong Song. OK there is no pretending that this is the real Loa, as the place is homogenized backpackerville with the usual collection of bars and travel shops providing American TV programmes in every bar for the homesick and conversationally challenged. It is surrounded by stunning scenery though, including the dramatic jungle topped limestone-karst terrain. The main reason to go here is for the fun though and I had plenty of that. I took a day trip that included a couple of cave trips, together with watersports. We Kayaked down the river for 17km, hitting the odd gentle set of rapids. We also did a bit of tubing. This entailed sitting on a truck intertube and either being taken by the rivers current inside the cave,or pulling yourself along on over hanging ropes. We also got to play trapeze artists, by swinging around on a high up rope swing above the river. I really was a kid again. I did however decline on the tube crawl. This involves tubing down the river, stopping off at a bar for a beer or two and then floating off to the next bar. All to Ibiza for me! The next day I hired a cycle, touring some more caves, hiking up one oft the karske's. The caves were not lit or manned. Although I had a torch I did hire the services of the local guides (often kids). Many of the backpackers were not forking out the 75p but for me it was a small investment compared with getting lost in a cave.

Next stop was Phonosavan. This is just a little insignificant town, 3 1/2 hours on the comfortable mini bus (actually a Korean People Carrier) North East of Vieng Vien. By this time I had become friends with an international bunch: a French lady from Britanny, a Taiwanese guy and a Polish chap who is living and working in Glasgow. We all dined together the night we arrived. Myself, the Pole and the chap from Taiwan did fancy going for a drink somewhere after the meal. Our curiosity was lured by some music on the main street. A party was clearly taking place, judging by the music, dancing and joviality. We hovered outside the out door venue. Just being nosey though. Someone however clocked us and got us to join the party. We were forced to drink, eat and dance. People kept taking turn to introduce themselves in limited English. The chap who had invited us over informed us that the party was to celebrate 20 years of the new bus station (please don't snigger). It turns out that he worked at the bus station during the day and in the evening did a voluntary teaching job in the evening at a local English Language school. He invited us to come round and meet the kids at the school the following evening. It is these moments of spontaneity that make a back packing holiday.

The main intention of coming to Phonosavan was the Plain of Jars. These are groupings of 2000 year old jars of varying size, many big enough to sit in, scattered over the landscape. The is still a mystery as to why they are there. They are clustered around the landscape in about 20 different locations. This is a tourist attrac tion that has only opened up due to the Mines Advisory Group. This is a Manchester based organisation charged with mine clearance around the world. Bear in mind that Laos is the most bombed country in the world per capita thanks to Uncle Sam's bombing campaign to flush out those pesky Commies. Of all the bombs dropped it is estimated that 30% have not yet been detonated, making it an occupational hazard for farmers and a huge danger for curious kids. The trade in scrap bomb metal is a very real and very also a very sinister trade. Every year many lives and limbs are still being lost.

Anyway - I have got the serious bit out of the way. Remember that we were invited to the school?. Well the part time teacher did keep his promise, picked us up and took us to the school. The French lady (Anne) and a Japanese guy whose name is pronounced 'Shoe' joined us. It thought that this would be just a quick introduction to the kids although it entailed much, much more. We were allocated to a class each of 14-16 year olds (looking 4 years younger than UK kids). For 2 hours we were asked if we could teach them. Initially this seemed daunting but they really were a good bunch of kids who where there because they wanted to learn. I was asked to team my class an English song and all I could thing of was Jingle Bells. One of the highlights of my trip so far.

The next journey, 7 hours on a Mini Van with no air con and windows that didn't open much, had me gasping for air like a suffocating goldfish. It was all worth it though when we arrived at Luang Prabang, former royal capital. It is on a bendy confluence of the Mekong on the West and Nam Khan on the East. Surrounding the town are endless densely forested rolling hills. Perched on a hill overlooking the town is a popular temple for sunset view. The town has World Heritage status. Immaculately preserved French colonial buildings, complete with balconies shutters line the street. What a classy place. The place really comes alive with the evening market. This is where I ate wmy new found friends every night. No fancy restaurants, just eating the amazing street food that included great grilled chicken and fish. This was accompanied by an vegetarian buffet for a staggering 45p. The morning marked was also a real experience. One morning I strolled around the stalls with the intention of picking up a bit of breakfast. Plenty to chose from including deep fried sparrow and grilled intestines. Much of the produce however was alive: frogs, eels, maggots even some kind of cute furry thing chained up. I settled for a sausage sandwich. But what was in the sausage?

On the 20th we all went our separate ways. I took a 7 hour boat ride down the Mekong The small boat could fit 10 although there was only three of us on this occasion. The seats were comfortable and the journey was a joy. We then arrived at our destination the village of Nong Kiaw. The village is cut in two by a 250 m long bridge. This is where I stayed for 2 nights, one of the most impossibly stunning places I have ever stayed. My bamboo hut/bungalow faced the fairly fast moving river and the dramatic limestone cliffs. Me and my fellow passengers: Jen American) and Palo (Italian) met up for a meal that evening and a little walk the following day. Really it was too hot to do much though other than sit around and be mesmerised by the view. Last night me and Paulo did however tackle the Lao rice Whiskey/paint stripper. Even that did not knock me out though as I couldn't go to sleep. I was kept awake by nature's orchestra - the constant sound of the river and the jungle surrounding us. Crickets, frogs, screeching beetles and various other creatures of unknown origin. I jumped out of bed last night, alerted by the snake that had slithered next to me. Then I realised that it was just a dream, a hallucination brought on by the Whiskey.

Here I am now (22nd of October) - back in Laban Prabang. Signing out.
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Posted by gavinbose 05:36 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

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