Monday, October 23, 2006

XXXI - This is the end...

The final Chronicle it would seem. (hey, I've only posted it a month late!)
I am now in Brisbane contemplating the joys of work, the daily grind and all that.
Lets see what I can remember of the end of my trip... umm.....
Was an interesting place. The Petronas towers are rather impressive, especially at night. They are the tallest buildings in the world after all... My late night walk to them took me past some cheesy theme bars. There was a Thai bar complete with imported seedy old men with imported young Thai hookers on their laps, all visible from the pavement! Beggars in K.L. are well dressed. "Excuse me sir, my card won't work in the ATM, could you give me some ringgit? Maybe 7 or 8 ringgit", I believe my response being something along the lines of "Bugger, how gutting for you."
I met some people up to no good. This old fulla stopped me in the street and asked from whence I came. I told him and he says his daughter is heading to NZ and could I talk to her about it. I was up for a random experience so we went to KFC and he gets me a Pepsi. I talk to him and this all too worldly looking woman. Then next thing I'm in a taxi heading to the burbs. I think they drugged the drink cos I lent forward and got a head rush and contemplated getting out at the lights but thought nah, I'll ride this out. Curiosity taking the better of me and trust that the Tao wouldn't lead me to misfortune. And, unbeknown to them, I'd just had a massive feed so what ever was in the drink did sh!t all anyway. We went to a nice middle class house in the 'burbs and a met a slightly dodgy looking fulla. They gave me a cup of tea, which of course, I didn't drink. The fulla told me he worked at the casino and could tell me how to win at cards. The woman I was supposed to talk to never turned up, was at the hospital or something apparantly. I think they realised I didn't have loads of cash for them to con me out of and wasn't going to willingly part with my kidneys so gave me a ride back to Chinatown. She wanted some money from me on the way back. "From my heart" Unfortunately for her, my heart gives money to starving cambodian children, not dodgy middleclass hussies. The whole situation was rather strange.
I went to the botans. Well, I think it was, some parkland on a hill. It was wicked. They had a planetarium up there and the heaquarters for the Malaysian Space Agency. They also had an equatorial sun dial that could tell one all sorts of astronomical stuff. There was an ancient observatory park with a large replica of stone henge, a chinese and an indian observatory too. There was a nice park with a lake too. The state mosque was pretty cool. I had to put on a blue robe to go see it cos I'm a heathen, actually, more likely they weren't down with my jandals, camo boardies and black beer singlet. The Muslim Arts museum was awesome. Their calligraphy is quite impressive.
I went to the Islamic Supplies Megastore. They were playing Iron Maiden! I was suitably impressed so I bought some prayer mats cos they looked cool. The head scarf wearing check out chick didn't seem too pleased that some scruffy kiwi in beach gear was buying holy artifacts.
Malaysian food is most worthy. Especially Rojak. Picture a large collection of fried goodies. Spuds, squid, fish, chicken... all sorts of fried goodies. Choose what you like, hand it to the man and he chops it up and pours a sort of sweet satay sauce on it. Really tasty.
Getting a bus was easy as and I made it to Singapore in time for my flight. Basically jumped off the bus and walked to the MRT stop (a nice chinese man showed me the way) checked my baggage in, got a couple of feeds and it was time to go. The flight to Cairns was only about 8 hours but just as I was drifting off to sleep it we landed in Darwin, had to go through security, just to hang out in the transit lounge for an hour before getting on the same plane. I guess they were worried about the explosives we'd been manufacturing mid flight. I was sitting next to a french woman, cheeky thing that she was. Good value for a single serving friend. They stopped her bag after the xray and I said "they've got you now!" then walked into the transit lounge. She didn't come through for quite some time and when I saw her later they had 'got her' and confiscated her scissors. I recall having a craft knife confiscated at Welly airport once...
Security checked my passport in Cairns in between immigration and customs. I must have looked dodgy, that happened last time I was at Welly airport too, although I was wearing combat pants that time. At least they didn't give me a cavity search like this fulla on Border Patrol the other night!
Well, thats it for the Asian adventures. It had its ups and downs but was well worth while. Now for some Australian adventures. I shall put the occasional post up when I'm actually doing something other than sitting in an office or drinking p!ss. Such being the Australian way.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Part XXX - Sure to be blocked by mail marshal

Absolute friggin madness!!

I am now back in Malaysia. The teaming metropolis of KL no less. 3 nights ago I was right up near the top of Thailand in a seedy hotel, just across the river in Laos making up my razzudock how I was going to get to Singapore before the 30th. I knew it was doable but wanted a couple of spare days to chill out and sightsee / relax near my destination. I am now a 5.5 hour bus ride away from Singapore leaving 2 whole days to leisurely explore this insane monument to capitalism and no need to stay in Singapore which I don't like anyway. Excellent!

The 2 day slow boat ride up the Mekong was rather laid back. I was really hungover the first day, well, probably still drunk when I got on! I stumbled on late, yelled out 'Hello fellow travellers!' then curled up under the seats and went to sleep for a couple of hours. It was surprisingly comfortable down there. My fellow travellers were a diverse but good bunch. Swiss fulla, English fulla, a Japanese chick and too uninteresting Danish girls. Took bloody ages though. 10 hrs the first day followed by a stop off in a small village perched on the side of a mountain range, then another 9 hours to the border town. I could have done the whole trip in 7 hours by speed boat but it looked pretty damn unpleasant. They're sleek little boats, taking about 6-8 people and apparantly chew through 250L of fuel for the return trip. Saw quite a few of these fanging past, 4 cylinder car engine going full noise the whole way making a hur of a racket. Fun for a couple of hours I thought but not 7! Especially when it rained for a few hours on the first day. We convieniently got into town half an hour after the border post closed. As a daily route, this is obviously no accident. Was running low on kip too and there aren't a lot of ATMs in Laos, certainly not in small towns but got across to Thailand with 100baht to spare $4 NZ. Woo hoo.

I got my self on an over night bus to Bangkok which was reasonably comfortable and no crap karaoke videos, just the thai language version of U571. It was still entertaining except it was hard to tell the germans from the americans due to the fact they all spoke Thai! Got into Bangkok at 5am but the local buses we already running so headed straight off to Khaosan Rd, everything running smooth. I decided to once again walk to the railway station. Mainly for the excercise after 10 hours attempting to sleep on a bus. I didn't take the scenic route through Chinatown but have concluded that yes, it is still a long way. Sorted a ticket for a train all the way to Butterworth (right beside my beloved Penang) in Malaysia on a train with sleeper, sweet. Just a few hours to kill in Bangkok. I then walked to Siam Square, a major shopping district which, unconveniently didn't open for another 2 hours. No biggie, cos its actually on one of the 2 bus routes I know so got back to Khaosan for a whole 7baht (40c).

I went to this awesome exhibition at the Bangkok gallery. (This is why the Tao led me back to the Khaosan area and not shopping!) I nearly forgot it was on but I saw a poster for it. A contemporary chinese painter called Xi Shang. This dude rocks! Works on a similar vein to what I'm up to at the present which was really inspiratational. The woman at the gallery told me he'd be there in person after 2. Alas, my train was at 2:45. I tried in vain to get there first but events conspired and I missed out.

The train ride was pleasant. All 22 hours of it! I was sitting next to a fulla from New York and a guy from Gambia. Great conversation was had the whole way, well, other than night time where I was in blissfull slumber in my bunk. Probably more comfortable than most of the beds in Laos. Kapoc affairs they are, that are as compacted as a dirt floor!

The transfer in Butterworth was sweet too. Got to the gate of the station and a guy says "taxi?", I said "no, bus" so another guy took me to a bus. Which left almost straight away and rapidly headed off along the toll way, only one stop and 6 hours later I'm in the middle of KL with time on my hands. Went for a walk through the night market before and the shopping looks pretty good, its going to be an interesting couple of days.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

XXIX - A dire warning.

Louang Prabang is a nice little village situated on a peninsular at the confluence of the Mekong and some other river. A world heritage city apparently. The french must have hated giving the place up. No scummy alleyways here. Just quaint little paved lanes and tidy villas. Except the villas are now inhabited by Lao families and have ducks n chickens n stuff in the yard. The locals race their dragon boats up and down the Mekong. They get a good speed up too considering the impressive flow of one of the worlds great rivers. The Lao people don't seem to work a lot, I dunno if its a holiday or whether they always sit around drinking beers and playing that game with steel balls that you thow in the sand. The game the 'Whare' tried to sell to the nation. Phousie mountain is cool. Its a small hill with temples on right in town. Nice little rocky out crops and little shrines. They've got a buddha footprint. Seems to be a fixation over here. Every country must have their own buddha foot print! Except the Buddha would have to be about 30 feet tall to make such a print.

Vang Vieng was pleasing enough that I stayed for almost a week. I checked out one of the caves and got a dire warning from some german girls walking out. "You should take a guide or you'll die!" Pah, We Kiwis don't need no damn guide. The caves were ok, a cave is a cave. I had a bit of a look around. The problem with caves is they're so quiet I realise how bad my ears ring. Makes the outdoors all that much better though. There was a nice little out crop in front of the cave, partway up the mountain so I did some really excellent Qigong while admiring the scenery. One could procure themself poppy tea and and other organic substances, direct from the bar. If one was so inclined. We tried to watch the rugby... saw 5 mins of the second half before it got scrambled. Neil at the guesthouse reckoned it does this all the time. Lao TV company probably didnt pay the bill.

The trip to Louang Prabang took about 6 hours and wound itself through some impressive scenery. Enough to rival NZ actually. Massive mountains enshrouded in clouds. Huge cliffs. There was one I really wanted to climb. It had 'climb me' written all over it. Some fulla crashed his hilux off the road and we all stood around looking, as you do. Could see an indicator and a bumper a bit further down. The vehicle was probably a hundred meters down in the jungle.

We stopped in a small village for refreshments. There was a dude casually wandering around with an AK slung over his shoulder. Didn't look army either. I wanted to take his photo but figured if I asked he'd probably just take my camera and if I took a photo surreptitious like, he'd shoot me. It took all the restraint I could muster not to ask though. Two tourists got killed on that road back in 2003 apparently, got robbed. tried to run... Saw an army check point along a bit further with a machine gun pointing up the road.

Laos is choice. I could write lots about it but can't be bothered. Too busy enjoying the place. Got a 2 day slow boat ride up the Mekong starting tomorrow to get to the Thai border. The great race is on, must get to Singapore before the 30th!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Part XXVIII - Welcome to the jungle

Laos. Most bombed nation on the planet!

Vang Vieng is a nice little laid back town up in the mountains. I'm liking it a lot. I have a nice guesthouse called Pans Place which the Tao led me to. Quite literally actually, they had a yin yang on the gate which kind of pulled me in. Run by a kiwi guy and his Lao partner. They have the Osho tarot deck in the lounge for all to use and its a really nice deck. The place has an excellent homely atmosphere. I had an immensely satisfying game of chess, despite the fact that I lost. Neils bombardment at the start was intense and unrelenting, but my men's morale was high and it took him a long time to mop up the insurgency.

Over looking the town are some impressive limestone karst formations, a bit more solid and mountain like that the Krabi variety. There are some cool caves in there too. It gets really hot here during the day but cools off nicely in the evening. There are activities here like drunken pub crawl down the river by inner tube. It is nice being back in an area with topographic variation. Being on the flats just doesn't do it for me. Especially flats full of muddy water! By day there are bird calls everywhere, by night, the sound of crickets and other strange insects. They have something in places like Laos and Sumatra that Thailand has lost in its rampant development. The land is stronger here, has a stronger influence. Well, being mountainous its a lot harder to tame. Can't really argue with a mountain. Has a vibe not unlike New Zealand really, a certain closeness to the land. I think of Welly, surrounded by the green belt. Walk 5 mins from most parts and you can be in the bush.

The ride here by local bus was interesting. It was a patu old bus that could barely climb the hills. I was sitting next to a one eyed old man. We passed an army truck towing what looked like a world war 2 era artillery piece. There's a write up about a US attack in the Vietnam war in the area. 300 odd peasants were sheltering from the relentless bombing in a large cave. A US jet fighter fired 4 missiles at it and killed them all. The people are seemingly chilled out here though. The US has done this kind of thing to so many nations, it makes me wonder the percentage of the worlds population secretly harbouring anti-US sentiment. Well, they're starting to find that out now I guess... Hopefully they're not on my flight!

I watched the Da Vinci Code last night. It was rather amusing, cheesy as. The doco "the hidden history of Christ (I think)" I saw on Sky years ago that the book was based on was far more interesting. The movie was basically retelling it with 'intense' music and bad dialogue. Any righteous defenders of the movie out there?

I had every intention of going exploring today but this hasn't happened as yet. I'm sure there was something other than caffeine in my breakfast coffee which sort of trapped me in the cafe on the cushions out back. Was interesting though. Had a good chat with this Israeli chick who comes from the north where the Hezbollah rockets are falling. A good time to not be there. Its quite a luxury to come from a country with no borders to defend. No compulsory military training.

Hmm.. its raining now. No exploring for me today. At least its not so damn hot! I add some pics to this when I get better internet facilities.

Monday, August 14, 2006


Sunset over the Mekong - Nong Khai

I am now in Vientiane, the capital of Laos. A communist state apparently. I not sure what is actually communist here, seems all very capitalist to me although with very few beggers for a tourist area. There are lots of tourists but they seem to be a respectful bunch. A different breed than the bulk of the back packers in Thailand. More late 20s and 30s people here with a few old hippies too. I met my first ever Danish person although his accent is very London. He told me this is because Danes don't tend to travel. Vientiane is not unlike Phnom Penh, french colonial style but a bit neater with more European restaurants. French, Italian and a plethora of bakeries. There is an impressive arc d'triomphe style monument which provides an excellent view of a very green city. Along the Mekong there are tables set up on the grass for a pleasant evening meal.

I hired a decrepit old scooter which I was only prepared to do about 50kph on cos any more and the gearbox would emit the sound of imminent destruction. I headed out to the Buddha Park (Xieng Khuan) yesterday. This require my Sumatran style direction finding. "Sabai dee, Xieng Khuan?" [point]. Got there though, no worries. Not that diffcult seeing I had to drive down the Mekong until I found it. Xieng Khuan is the original location of the cult the mystic dude set up. The place is incredible, better than the new place on the Thai side. The statues at Sala Kaeu Ku are taller but Xieng Khuan has a better atmosphere. There is a lot more grass and it generally has a more park like atmosphere. Its right beside the Mekong so I enjoyed a beer lao there, looking out past a heard of cows, the river and Nong Khai on the other side. The cows all had bells around their necks which added to the atmosphere. There were quite a few monks hanging out in the grounds so I had a chat to them and a bunch of school kids working on their English.

The place was excellent for a bit of Qiqong although just as it was getting really intence some ants decided to attack my foot. This is an ongoing problem over here, it happens everytime I try to do some gongs on the grass. They gave up pretty quick due to sudden death however. After half an hour or so of gongs the sun was getting low and the whole place took on a surreal quality.

There is a strange umm, temple I suppose, there. There are steps up to the top affording an excellent view of the park. There is a hatch down into the 3 middle levels of the building with heaps of statues in there. It seems to represent heaven, earth and the underworld or what ever three levels of existence the dude is preaching. In the lower two levels there are no lights and very little light gets in the tiny windows. It is very creepy in there, especially the lowest level. Most of the statues are barely visible at all, although I saw a skull on one of the figures.

I'm off to Vang Vieng today by local bus. That'll be an interesting mission.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

XXVI - A mystic, shamanic fushion of Buddhist and Hindu symbolism

Sala Kaew Ku is a must see!

I jumped astride a bicycle and headed out to Sala Kaew Ku which is an impressive sculpture garden about 6 k from Nong Khai. It was set up by a Lao born fulla who merged buddhism and hinduism which have the same roots anyway and added a bit of mysticism and shamanism. I take it this means he ate lots of mushrooms. The place is huge with massive concrete scuptures of buddhas sheltered by the naga. Of multi-armed deities and dancing girls. 4 faced brahmins, skeletons, animals, the place is incredible. The most inspiring place I've found since reaching Thailand. I thought maybe I was just getting tired and hard to impress but I met my fellow cancerian Marianne and she agreed.

After finally having my fill of the Australian TV channel I headed out for a midnight cycle under the intense full moon. Actually, I wasn't really watching Blue Healers, I had the TV on to drown out the nauseating pop rock from upstairs... honest. Its a nice run along the river front. There are bars and restaurants all along the Mekong but no one in most of them or maybe 2 farang here, another there. Sometimes a small group of Thais. There are obviously a fair amount of farang here. The usual shameful old men with their young thai partners. It surprises me the lack of tourist development here seeing this is the main land route into Laos. It would seem most travellers head straight to the border. They are seriously missing out. Nong Khai is a quiet sleepy place but very pleasant. The locals are pleasant too, not being over exposed to tourism and the associated w_ankers that ruin it for everybody. The rapid flowing Mekong River gives a sence of doing when one is actually sitting at a restaurant doing absolutely nothing.

My muse is returning! All it needed was something truly inspirational.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

XXV - A provincial Thai Experience.

Buriram is like the Thai equivalent of Palmerston North. I had this pull to go there for some reason. On the map it was the closest centre to the khmer ruins of Phnom Rung but this wasn't particularly why I chose it, there was just a strong pull to go there and not the nearby larger centre of Khorat which I actually had a map for.

The train ride up from Bangkok was rather pleasant. A couple of beers as the train wound its way up a mountain range with the occasional Buddha statue poking out through the trees. Upon scaling the mountains the top plateau was just more of the same rice paddy landscape all over SE Asia.

I got to Buriram and roamed the streets for about 10 mins in search of a cheap hotel. My shizer guidebook said there was but didnt deem it necessary to give locations. I met this thai fulla who gave me a hand. He dubbed me on the back of his bicycle to a restaurant in a slightly farang area. There isn't really any form of tourist area in Buriram, no back packers go there. There is around 500 farang living in the area though on retirement visas. I talked to this English guy Peter and managed to sus out a motorbike and Wanita at the restaurant let me stay at her place. This is a nice place in a middle class neighbourhood that used to be owned by her 'boss' a Farang who died recently. Aek the dude I met first came over and we had some beers, then cruised around to his house and met his wife, mother in law, sister inlaw and young baby who live in a two bedroom flat next to a Wat. We drank beers and sat in the car listening to Scorpions.

The next day I cruised out to see the ruins of Phnom rung. Aek tagged along on the back and we visited Wanitas family in a small village near the ruins. Phnom Rung is set on top of a hill in a nice park with shady trees about. We checked out some other ruins in the area too and a bird resort. I stayed at Aeks place the next 2 nights and night we got on the p1ss big time over a tasty meal and some of the locals came around to say gidday.

Aek designs gardens, interiors and swimming pools so on Monday he took me on his rounds looking at a pool that was being built and another house being built. All over the place he would point out these houses, farang here, farang there and it would always be some massive house. Lots of european guys come over here for their retirement and get Thai wives or partners. I suppose they come over so they can live like kings on their retirement savings. We went to the university and a local government admin office. We went to visit a monk too.

The last night we had a tasty feast of Vietnamese, Thai and western food.

Getting to Nong Khai by bus wasn't straight forward but was no problem. I had to change buses at Khon Kaen and then again at Udon Thani. Easy enough, people show you where to go at each bus station. I was never aware of which town I was passing through the whole way as there was no english script anywhere except brand names I went to a restaurant in Ubon Thani. The woman there spoke no english but she understood my heavily accented thai and served up some delicious pad thai.

Dragon fruit is tasty. Its pink and sort of looks like and artichoke (I think) but inside its white and not unlike kiwifruit.

I am now in Nong Khai on the mighty Mekong River. There is a nice view from the restaurant at my guesthouse across the Mekong at Laos, where I shall be tomorrow. If all goes to plan. Got a really nice guesthouse called Mekong Guesthouse and its cheap. Its actually a really expenisve place but they have a dorm with TV and warm shower! As I'm the only person staying in the dorm its not really an inconvenience.

Getting medication in Thailand is really easy. Dr Aaron prescribes himself anti-malarial medication. Goes to chinese run chemist and buys it. No expensive beaurocrat in the middle.