A Travellerspoint blog

February 2010

That nostalgic, looking into the mirror blog....

sunny 33 °C

Here we are captain, back safe and sound to where we left off. In fact right now im sitting in the exact same seat on the exact same computer where I wrote the first blog eeeeshk two months ago EXACT (even down to the right hour). Creepy. Anywho, in order to stop being a downer and generally complain about how over touristed Bali is and how evil all the touts are here compared to the rest of Asia, lets be genuine travel writers for once, go from start to finish, and generally give you all advice for what to do, and what to definitely miss (think of it as the first useful lonely planet/travelfish article):

Ok straight off the bat, as I said back then, dont try and be a hero and attempt a horrific 12 hour bus ride straight after 24 hours on a plane. If death doesnt get you, insanity will. Laos is easily the most easy going country we have been to, and for anyone who has been to Bali and doesn't think they could cope with Laos..just do it, its quite possibly the most amazing country, even though we only spent two weeks there, could have easily spent another month.

Big Ogre Green Ticks:
Kuang Xi Waterfall, I mean I havent seen many waterfalls, but that was truely awe inspiring, and then some.
Luang Prabang in general, its such a nice genuine sleepy place you could easily plan to spend a couple of days here and find yourself a couple of months later wondering what happened.
Minivans as transport bewteen cities, they aren't much more expensive than the bus, and you'll arrive in half the time, and less likely to require surgery to fix that spine of yours.

Big Ugly Red Crosses:
Lao Buses, dont listen to what anyone says there is no such thing as VIP/Express/Air Con buses and if your game enough to try the 24 hour trip to Vietnam, good luck, and happy surgery.
Morning Alms, the monks really dont benefit from it, you get taken for a ride and then guilt tripped, if you really want to see the government imposed tourist 'show' just sit well away from the sidelines and you might be safe from religious touts (I use the term 'might' very loosely.)

Well, to all my Vietnamese friends out there, and I love you all to bits, but your country is a mission and a half. Nowhere have I seen so many motorbikes, and so many people with such little efficiency, I'm sorry, but it had to be said. Possibly if you spend at least a month travelling around it, it might grow on you, but after two weeks for us, we are ready to tick that off the 'done' list, and move on. Exception is Hoi An, but thats only because of insanely good quality accomodation for next to nothing.

Big Ogre Green Ticks:
Having cocktails in skybar at night, overlooking one of Hanoi's many lakes, it takes the spin off things, and you might just get away from the noise of the streets long enough to hear yourself think.
Hoi An clothes, not as much of a rip off as you would think, in fact often they are higher quality than many mid range NZ suits, and at a fraction of the price. One thing though, avoid shoes - they havent quite mastered that yet.
Using a scooter/motorbike to get around the city, if you possibly can. We understand that close to 20 million scooters can be daunting, but they are a lot safer and more fun than you would think (and they beat the hell out of the taxi's crawling along)

Big Ugly Red Crosses:
The pure size of Saigon, its insane and mind-boggling. On top of this it hasnt really been thought out, and has just thrown 20 Auckland size cites together and just tried to make it work. Do your research before coming here.
Vietnam Airlines, we got stuck in Hoi An, flights were always delayed, and just generally failed at any form of efficiency. Better to go with Jetstar for their price, there's no real difference between either of them with regards to actually getting you there on time..

Far and away its quite probably the second most authentic Asian country we came across and is definitely not for the faint hearted. This is one place where 3rd world really doesnt care to hide itself. Having said that, after a month of street-kids blocking your way to your motorbike asking you for money, you probably wont care for the 3rd world factor, and just take the country as is. When you do its an amazing country with amazing sights and really genuine people if you can find an organisation to stay with. Hopefully when you go to Phnom Penh, Central Market will have finished renovation as its a rather painful tuk-tuk/moto ride over the roads around there.

Big Ogre Green Ticks:
If your looking for that isolated, beach front escape that you think is Thailand, go to Sihanoukville, or more specifically Otres beach. If you can keep the ants away you probably have the only place in Southeast Asia where you can get a beachfront bungalow with mosquito nets for under 10 bucks.
Working with kids at an orphanage. Dont take a scary name like orphanage to heart, you'll probably find the coolest people on earth there just desperate to have fun. 3 rules though:
1. If your going, go for a while, nothing disrupts a kids schedule more than a foreigner stumbling their way around for 12 hours playing hop-scotch and duck duck goose, then leaving.
2. Dont think for a moment these kids dont know how to play. Believe it or not they're still kids and they still know how to play games, dont think your showing them the invention of fun, they get it.
3. Try and keep it educational, when you do you earn people's respect a lot more, and the kids like you that much better when they know where you are coming from and what you want from them.

Big Ugly Red Crosses:
Petty Crime, it does suck and you really should try to just keep things firmly attached to you whenever you are out, there are people out there who will take an opportunity just like anywhere else in the world.
Phnom Penh lakefront, ok maybe not the biggest cross ever but if your looking for civilised people, you wont find them at night at lakefront thats all we are saying. There are lots of options for accomodation everywhere around the city, and theres no reason not to just go to lakefront for meals (they are really good)

We didnt call it Thailand coz we have only been to this one mega city and so the point are pretty brief, but in general, just like any big city it has its ups and downs. In Bangkok, just avoid the roads whenever possible, learn the skytrain route (soon its being extended to the airport) and stick to that and walking, it should get you everywhere you need to go within the CBD.

Big Ogre Green Ticks:
The skytrain, it is amazing for getting around, is a fraction the price of a taxi and even though its network is rather limited (just try getting to Ko San Road on it) its worth the 120 Baht per day.
Accomodation thats not right in the city - when you get out even just a little bit you do find people far more genuine and you get treated with a tad more respect rather than just another money source...its quite novel really.

Big Ugly Red Crosses:
Daypasses on the river ferry. Its an insane ripoff for 150 Baht, considering you normally pay 25 for a single trip to anywhere on the network.
Illegal taxis, sorta common sense here but is generally impossible to get out of once your in, and at a reasonable price without getting into a fight. Just check the taxi license inside, sit back and enjoy the gridlock.

Possibly the biggest surprise of the trip in just how much fun it was. If your going to Asia, try desperately to throw this into your plans to go there, you really arent supporting the government too much (try staying backpacker in non-govt. places), and by actually going there and buying things off locals you jump start the naturally occuring economy rather than the government one.

Big Ogre Green Ticks:
Middle of nowhere places (like Mawlmyine) its great for experiencing Asia like it used to be/ how it is away from tourists eyes, and what you lose in edible food and quality of accomodation, is made up for by the sheer novelty of it all. The people - most people in Asia who start a conversation, generally want something from you..not Myanmar - talking to a foreigner for the sake of it was commonplace, as was being followed by teenage girls on scooters..
Briyani rice - its probably the closest your going to get to safe 'whole' food in Myanmar, its very lightly spiced rice, and the Burmese know how to do it well.

Big Ugly Red Crosses:
Train and bus timetables - in order to get anywhere lying down, ie on a sleeper train your going through the day, and for a sitting up bus - you're pretty much always going through the night. Not fun.
The quality of accomodation - quite possibly the worst in actual quality around Asia in any price range, but they are all much of a muchness, so you might just have to grin and bear it here unfortunately...except of course in Mawlmyine...avoid the Breeze resthouse like the plague...its prison in baby blue.

Well, that pretty much sums up two months...eeshk. Of course theres heaps we have missed out, but thats mainly so you will actually have to talk to us about the trip and cant just go off what the blog says haha. But in actual fact we havent really over inflated anything we have said, Asia can and is pretty much as raw as it is but its quite possibly one of the most jaw-dropping/life changing/awe-inspiring/insert your own melodramatic terminology.

Have Fun,

and Peace Out.

C :)

Posted by carl.adams 18:44 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Government Intervention and Black-market Shorts..

Well to all of you who say that our blog is rather bland and isnt entirely relevent to 99.8% of our trip, we would just like to give a massive poked out tongue expression and say that the Burmese (oops, sorry..Myanmar) government, respectfully disagrees with you. This all unfolded rather quickly as soon as we posted up the blog and pretty much within the hour our computers spontaneously shut down and we were suddenly no longer able to access any of our email addresses or post anything on the blog, of course had we heeded peoples advice to 'watch your backs' on the internet, we took a carefree note out of the hippy book and did it anyway. So :P to all of you who say its boring!

So to round off a rather whirlwind trip to Myanmar we tried a few more Indian places, ate full meals for around 40 cents US (consisting of Biryani - spiced rice, and something else that looked like slush). Now for once we really went local with the meals in this city, admittedly not by choice but my the fact that there was really only one western place in town..and the food there was even more average. So these 'hole in the wall' restauraunts, they call them.. sorta think of Aladdins cave, but with really bad lighting, all the gold replaced with plastic stools rated to carry the weight of a 5-7 year old, throw up some collapsable tables, pin to the wall a nice decorative flower and ta-da, you have an Indian restaurant. In fact, Lonely Planet regarded this as the best Indian place in town (watch as lonely planet flies out of train window). But we survived and made it to yet another train which is where we will pick the story back up.

Hallucinagenic berries, basically what Korean's are to rice, what Kiwi's are to rugby, and what Chinese are to bad driving, Burmese are to hallucinagenic berries. What this means in practice is that if you really want to interact, or use the locals to get anywhere you really need to get it done by 10am or the locals will be chirpy, talkative, but in the end completely useless with their berry jucie covere teeth (picture dracula after eating oprah..thats how red their teeth were), which in actual fact probably assists the government in doing their evils, but while no one seems the wiser..cest la vie. Of course that's just a small part of the 'Burma experience' another part is the pick-up trucks that are now buses, and were most likely left behind after the British left and drive along like the streamrollers they are (WWII Chevvy's for the nerdier among you)..

Now remember how we talked about the train coming down with the whole 1901 constructed, same train blah blah blah? Well, we aren't entirely sure how they constructed it but the journey back was 5x rougher on the tracks (the Burmese lady who was sitting next to us had her eyes just about pop out of her head every 2 minutes as she grasped the side of the train (think she must've had some lower back problem) fortunately, not being her, but being able to watch, made the next 9 hours pass rather seemlessly. Except for one small attempt at an armed roadblock, but after a few people throwing some notes out the windows the train was back on its merry way (they were shouting things in Burmese and waving buddhist flags - ahh the great buddha would be proud). Not that we were the least bit concerned either that or the litre of sprite we each consumed on the journey sent us on a caffeine high and almost in hysterics over it (more berries please, but then it was back to Yangon, and back to Beautyland II, where we changed from room 302 to the 'pearl room' (you can say ooh la la, we thought it at check in, even though it was $6 cheaper than room 302)...but then we encountered the stairs. So in order to get to this 'pearl room' you hike up 5 flights of stairs that a slinky would have had to parachute down, get onto the roof, and then climb up another set of rather questionable stairs. Needless to say we have now realised we need to get to a gym asap back in New Zealand. More indian food and powercuts in Yangon sorted out our afternoon and evening (as we now had rather limited access to the internet, and the powercuts were delightfully timed for when we were mid-meal plunging us into darkness, but thats just part of the fun that is Myanmar).

So it was off to bed nice and early for a 4am get up for our flight...which lucky for us just happened to be mid powercut, and if you have ever tried to wake up, in the dark, then stumble around a pitch black room for 30 minutes getting ready, you'll know what I mean when I say it sucks...and then we had those stairs with our 20kg packs again (on an off topic note, how cool would it be to have a slinky that could take bags up stairs. Pure Genious.), and then we got our breakfast with umm dried bread (the toaster obviously wasnt working) with mashed banana on it which was actually suprisingly good. Yet another flight and then we are back in Bangkok (supposedly called the City of Angels).

Now Bangkok is big...really big and aside from the fact that it has anywhere between 20 and 35 million people depending on who you talk to, its almost impossible to get across. As in I think Auckland possibly has a better public transport system....i know...that bad. As in it took over 90 minutes to get to Ko San Road, the backpacker mother-ship of south east asia but in actual fact was rather underwhelming, lots of hippies drinking, oldies photographing, backpackers buying "I survived Ko San Road" t-shirts. But for us, the more experienced backpackers *cough*, we actually felt the whole thing was rather overpriced and left within the hour back to the safety of Huamark...Back to being the only foreigners and back to being stared at. Phew..

Today, another flight and another country. Indonesia was nice enough to put up the visa on arrival fee a whopping 250% to $25 USD, which put a bit of a sting on things.. And then we were in an area known as Australia's 8th State, or pretty much Asia lite. Here, things have a bit more sting in their tail with just generally insanely over-priced clothes (you get ushered into a store and then get talked to in hushed tones about black-market clothes and $5 prices...we paid less than half that in Cambodia, and pretty much everywhere else.) Along with most other things...but hey, I guess that just goes with the Australian territory.

(Had to finish on an Australian insult..haha)

Tune in for the next..and LAST (yippeee, yeeeeehahahahahahaha) blog!

C :)

Posted by carl.adams 00:31 Comments (0)

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