A Travellerspoint blog

Touts and Temples

The ups and downs of Bangkok

sunny 33 °C

Touts and temples

Bangkok is a real city of contrast, it is a hectic, traffic clogged urban sprawl composed on innumerable shopping malls, hotels and skyscrapers, but in amongst all of this are fantastic buddhist temples, wandering monks, and ancient houses. It has friendly people, but it also people who pose as friendly people in order to entice you into a variety of different scams. It was one the Venice of the East with a large canal network, but they are now mostly too polluted and smelly to bear. It is oppresively hot and sunny, but every other day there is a huge thunderstorm and massive downpour lasting a couple of hours which cools things down.

We have been here for 6 days, which is quite a lot of time in one city, but there are so many aspects to this place that it feels as though we have barely scratched the surface. We have booked a bit of a treat hotel here, our room is nice and even has its own kitchen (as yet unused!), the hotel has a gym and a lovely rooftop pool and jacuzzi. The honeymoon welcome of towels folded in the shape of swans was much improved from the Sheraton in KL, although there was no champagne unfortunately!
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Apart from shopping for bargain clothes etc we have been busy attending May Kaidee’s Thai cookery course, which was fantastic, we learnt how quick and simple it is to prepare Thai food, so now there will be no stopping us; assuming that we can find the right ingredients.
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Our second day here was a bit of a disaster, we planned to see a load of the temples, but it was Buddha day so they were pretty much all closed to the public. We were subsequently approached by a friendly man who recommended a tuk tuk journey to us where we could visit quite a few of the attractions for less than a quid. If this seemed too good to be true, it was. After visiting the lucky buddha statue the driver insisted on taking us to a load of tailors and gem stores, insisting that we look around (apparently so he could get free petrol for doing so), after we got bored of this our tuk tuk driver disappeared after taking us to the second point of our journey, the golden mount; but at least we hadn’t paid him anything!

Of all of the places we have been looking forward to sampling the local food, Thailand was probably the place we have been looking forward to the most, however Bangkok has been pretty disappointing from that point of view. We have been to a couple of expensive-ish hotel restaurants which were recommended in our guidebook, but they were pretty tasteless, the only decent stuff has been what we have made on our cooking course and what we have bought from small streetside cafes, although we have may have picked up a bit of food poisoning from one of these joints! The biggest disappointment was a restaurant called Celadon, which our rough guide book (which up to now has proved infallible) recommended as a treat, it was a nice location but so expensive! We didn’t order wine as the cheapest was 20 quid a bottle, so embarrassingly we ended up ordering the cheapest drink on the menu, a bottle of evian costing 7 pound, the purchase of which still hurts even now!
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Yesterday (Tuesday) I was ill all day so we didn’t do much apart from to have a look around a house owned by Jim Thompson, an American who came over to Thailand to revive a lot of the local handmade crafts; we had a look around his traditional house, which was really good, but I struggled to stand up for most of it. In the evening we went for a curry in a 26th floor restaurant where we had a fantastic view of a thunderstorm raging outside. Then last night Lisa was sick and isn’t feeling great so we are not doing much today, although we are both feeling a little better, good job as we need to be up at 4am for our flight to Singapore tomorrow.

Our highlight of our trip to Bangkok was probably our visit to the grand / golden? Palace and to see the reclining Buddha. The grand palace is incredible, it is a huge site covered in fantastic golden and jewelled buildings, and holding the most reverred statue in Thailand, a buddha carved out of Jade, known as the emerald Buddha. The reclining Buddha was immense and bigger and more amazing than we had expected. Not sure if our pictures do it justice…
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In Singapore we will be going to watch the grand prix, so if you are watching on TV keep an eye out for us!

Posted by philnlisa 01:09 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

Vietnam

sunny 30 °C

We arrived in Vietnam on Friday 11th September (I'm trying hard to remember what we did, should really update this more often!).

We spent most of our time in Ho Chi Minh city (formerly Saigon) which is a really nice city to stay in (this came as a bit of a surprise to us). The first thing we had to endure was crossing the road! The traffic is completely chaotic and busy and basically the rules of the road are that you have to walk out in the busy road and assume that the mopeds and cars stop for you or that you can dodge around them. This is quite simple on small streets but not when you are crossing lots of lanes with lots of traffic! The second thing you have to endure is the touts offering motorbikes, cyclo's, massage, food, marijuana etc, but eventually you get used to it. Phil did some exploring on the first afternoon while I tried to recover from not being very well. Then we headed out to the market which was a bit scary but okay when you got used to it. Lots of Vietnamese women grab you by the arm and try and get you to come into their shop and buy things. They hold your arm so tight that they leave you with a mark! But we survived this okay and bought a few bits and bobs which we got for good prices! We ate at a delicious Indian restaurant (I know but it was recommended and it was close by) before heading back for some much needed sleep after the early start.

On Saturday we visited the War Remnants Museum and the Reunification Palace. Both were very interesting but hard work as it was so hot! There is quite a bit of propaganda in both places and they are obviously quite biased in their perspective about the war, so you have to take everything they say with a pinch of salt. All the same it was terrible to see so many images of the consequences of the war, especially when it all seemed to be so pointless given that the Americas lost anyway. The defoliant and the use of agent orange have left Vietnam with quite a painful legacy from the war, with lots of pollution and deformities caused by the chemicals used.

On the way to the museums we stopped at a silk shop where I managed to buy a lovely silk dress that was made in the shop. They alter it to fit you in no time! I was very impressed. I now just need to find a nice place and time to where it.....
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Then we went on a two day tour to the Mekong Delta which sounded like a great trip in the brochure. But actually it wasn't that great and I certainly wouldn't recommend it. The best bit was the boat trip there, where you got to see a good glimpse of typical Vietnamese riverside life, but then it kind of went down hill. They basically usher lots of tour groups around different things, you're not really getting to see how the Vietnamese really live, it felt like a bit of a show really, probably the funniest thing was the trip to the honey bee farm; we were given free honey tea and honey to try, all in the surroundings of thousands of bees which are attracted to all the food and drink, which caused quite a bit of panic! We did get to cycle around a village on our own but not for long. The second day was a bit of a nightmare. It started by going to some rubbish floating market (apparently the biggest and best on the Mekong Delta, I hate to think what the others are like!)P1010383.jpg where we got some money nicked! Phil left the wallet on a rowing boat and luckily realised so it was returned to us with all the cash gone. It really annoyed us especially as we had found 230 pound on the street before we left and had handed it in to the police. Unfortunately not everyone has the same attitude... We're not sure how much was in the wallet, proabably around 30 pound and it sounded like it would have been a lot of hassle to report it to the police so that we could claim on our insurance so we left it. After that we visited a rice factory which was a completely pointless and boring trip as all you got to see was a big machine and stacks of rice! Might have been exciting had we never seen any machines before. Then we had a long trip back on the bus after lunch. All in all a trip to be missed in my eyes!

The next day we went on another trip (with the same company so we were a bit worried) to the Cao Dai Temple and Cu Chi Tunnels. Luckily this trip was much better, it was helped along by the rather amusing guide who told pretty funny and weird stories! The temple was beautiful, it was really colourful and peaceful even though there were quite a few tourists in there. We were able to watch the noon time prayers which were well attended and it was all very orderly and reverential. The Cao Dai religion is basically made up of 7 other religions (think someone tried to fit all their favourite bits from other religions together), mainly buddhist, taoism, confucianism and protestantism, with some islam and other bits and bobs thrown in.P1010458.jpg We headed to the tunnels after lunch and luckily packed our rain coats as it poured down! The tunnels were amazing but pretty scary (well I found them scary). They are where the Viet Cong fought the guerilla war against the Americans. They basically lived under the ground and set up loads of traps to kill the enemy. The Americans must have had no chance of ever fitting down any of the tunnels as they have been widened twice since then (for Western tourists!) and they are still pretty narrow!P1010468.jpg We headed back to Ho Chi Minh in the rain after a good trip.

Spent our last day in Vietnam wandering about, swimming, a little bit of shopping (Phil bought a harmonica much to my annoyance!) and people watching. The parks are full of people in the mornings and evenings - they do all sorts like playing badminton, dancing, tai chi, P.E. lessons and play some sort of funny shuttlecock on a spring game using all parts of their bodies and they even do Thai Chi with swords. It was fun to go for a walk through the park and look at what was happening.

Posted by philnlisa 02:48 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Sara-whacked

sunny 35 °C

So here we are in Sarawak, a state on the Island of Borneo. This wasn't somewhere we planned or ever intended to come to, but we are so glad that we came. We are staying the capital, Kuching, at the moment, which is a really nice place and a lot more developed than we thought it would be. We have a nice hostel (the "Nomad") near the river which cuts through the centre of what is quite a laid back, relaxing village. The weather here varies between very warm and hot, but the humidity is a real killer, we have really struggled just to walk around the town some days (hence the title of our blog!).

After spending a day settling into the city and having a look around the shops we went to visit a traditional tribal village community in the hills of Sarawak, close to the border of Kalimantan (the Indonesia part of Borneo). It was really picturesque and just we thought the jungles of Borneo would look like. In the village we stayed in the home of Mr Edward, a villager who began offering a "homestay" experience to tourists after he broke his back a few years ago. We stayed in his home, which is part of a Bidayuh tribal longhouse, which is basically an extended house made of bamboo and wood, which is split into different sections for different families. P1010170.jpgWe were welcomed like part of the family and everyone was really friendly. After arriving on the first day we quickly changed and get ready for our jungle trek, this was possibly the hottest and sweatiest experience of our lives to date! The trek was mainly uphill in the sweltering jungle for about 2 and a half hours, but we finally reached a beautiful waterfall, which we cooled off in whilst the guides, Mr Edwards nephews, made us Bamboo chicken (we tried some of the juice, which was lovely!), bamboo rice (rice cooked and served in a Bamboo) which was lovely, sardines and some veggie stuff. It was a really nice spot and we spent an hour or so watching the butterflies, relaxing in the waterfall and drying our sweat soaked clothes for the journey back. Lisa got her first ever leech bite (can you see it? the leech was fortunately very small, but quite painful!) and Phil jost got eaten by Mozzies. P1010112.jpgP1010123.jpgWe trekked back to the homestay for a well earned rest, a bath in the river and a lovely dinner which included some of the jungle ferns which the locals cook and which are lovely. The bath in the river was really nice as there were a lot of villagers there too, we met a Man Utd fan who invited me to play football later that evening, but unfortunately this coincided with dinnertime.

In the evening we tried on the local tribal costumes, had a display of traditional Bidayuh music, learned about the history of the Bidayuh tribe and had a blowpipe competition. P1010147.jpg

The Bidayuh people are traditionally farmers in the highlands of Borneo, who historically had tribal wars with the Iban tribe of river dwellers who, according to our potentially biased host, were intent on attacking the Bidayuh and taking thier land, however both tribes have a tradition of "headhunting", which basically involves killing members of the other tribe and taking their heads back to your villages to increase your, and your villages, prestige as a warrior. We were shown a number of skulls from the headhunting times together with machetes and most bizzarely of all a purpose made head carrying box, which had all apparently been used for their intended purpose in the past. P1010077.jpgP1010141.jpgWe were plied with the local brew, tuak, or rice wine, which was surprisingly nice given that it was 30% alcohol. After a long night of storytelling we were challenged to a blow pipe competition by Mr Edward's nephews, but mercifully the electric went off just after we had started very poorly.

The next day offered little respite with a trek to the hot springs (which were far too hot, apparently you can cook eggs in there), and to a nice river where we swam and had tiny carp fish nibble the dead skin from our feet, which was quite a bizarre experience. Today there was just the two of us with the guide so we had bamboo fish, which is basically fish, water and herbs bunged into a Bamboo and cooked over a fire, it was lovely!P1010173.jpg In the evening we had more fantastic food (and quite possibly some of the fish which had been eating our dead skin earlier, I am not sure if this counts as cannibalism?!) and then went for a wander around the longhouse, where we were invited in by some of the villagers we met the day before, we shared rice whisky (a more distilled version of rice whine) with them and chatted about their lives in the village, they were really nice and friendly. The young kids are all quite westernised and a lot work in the city, they love football, and now that they have satellite TV they seem to spend most of their time watching EPL (or the Premiership) and the Champions League, which they get up for especially at 2.45 in the morning!P1010187.jpg

The day after we left the longhouse after receiving gifts of rice wine, bark tea (made of the bark of a tree and cures all sorts of ailments apparently) and a bamboo cup, none of which we will probably be allowed to take into NZ unfortunately! We then went straight to Bako National Park, quite a small area of mainly unspoilt jungle rainforest near the city of Kuching.

After getting off the rickety bus we then had to catch a boat as there are no roads into the park. At the jetty we were greeted by a reassuring sign warning us to beware of crocodiles, before we climbed into the rickety old boat. After about 20 minutes we reached the park, and as it was low tide we had to wade in through the sea and up the beach to check-in. We had heard a number of very negative comments about the accomodation here and the brashness of the thieving macaque monkeys, but we were happy to find that the accomodation was no worse, but no better, than we had expected and that the monkeys were not around. Our room was pretty smelly, there were a few holes in the walls and the windows wouldn't close, but apart from that it wasn't too bad, but certainly not the Sheraton!P1010195.jpg

After settling in we decided it was best to spend as little time as possible in our room, so we headed straight out on a 3 hour trek to a small beach called Telok Pandan Kecil. It was another incredibly hot and humid trek, but we were rewarded with access to a beatiful and almost deserted beach. We had a fantastic time messing about in the surf and enjoying the surroundings. P1010198.jpgOn the journey back we spotted some Proboscis monkeys in the trees, they are really human-like in their actions, although their potbellies may have something to do with this familiarity. In the evening we went on a night trek, where we encountered some spiders, frogs, a scorpion, glow in the dark fungus and a 2m python.P1010260.jpgP1010249.jpg

The next day was another hard day of trekking through the jungle, before returning back to Kuching for a shower, aircon and some half-decent food. We are now back in the land of civilisation! We are staying in the city for the next few days before we head to Ho Chi Minh on Friday.

Posted by philnlisa 22:25 Archived in Malaysia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

The Cameron Highlands (sounds a bit Scottish!)

semi-overcast 20 °C

We were quite glad to be getting the bus to the Cameron Highlands as we'd had enough of Kuala Lumpur, 3 days is definitely plenty of time. The bus station was a whole experience in itself, completely mad and busy with lots of touts running the place. Our bus was late in leaving as the traffic in KL is so bad that the buses queue for ages to simply get into the station. The long, hot and polluted wait was worth it when we got on the coach, it was like traveling first class! The seats were big, comfy and they reclined much better than normal ones. It was surprising to see that they don't try and fit as many people on a possible – there are only 3 seats in each row cos they are so big! The journey was quite pleasant, spent some time on a motorway which was bizarre after all the small windy roads in Indonesia. Then we started on the mountain road to the Cameron Highlands which was very windy and quite steep in places. There were lots of beautiful views all the way up, I can see why Malaysian people make the trip here. Lots of greenery and hills. We could feel the temperature drop as we climber further up.
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We finally arrived in Tanah Rata around 6.30pm where we were greeted by someone from our hostel to take us there which was a nice change. Checked into our room which seemed clean and fine. Our Father's Guest House seemed like a nice place to stay – it certainly has a nice atmosphere and places to chill out. We quickly freshened up and then headed into town for some dinner which was an experience. Our dinner was served onto our banana leaf which I (Lisa) didn't cope with too well as I ended up spilling some dahl on my clothes! Not really an experience I want to repeat as it wasn't that brilliant. Went back to our hostel to have a nice cup of tea (it's grown locally) with some dairy milk cashew, (why can you not buy that one in England?!).
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Got up quite early the following day as we were going on an Experience Tour of the area. Had a lovely breakfast (nice to have some choice for a change) then headed off in a 4x4 quite promptly. We stopped on the way to pick up some local villagers who knew where we would be able to find the flower we were going in search of. Our driver put a very wide rope on top of the 4x4 just in case we'd need it later. When the German guy in the front (Henning) asked what for he replied “wait and see”!. We all looked at each other slightly worryingly. It turned out that we did actually need the rope. We climbed up a steep, dirt road and the 4x4 behind us got stuck and we had to pull it out. It was quite an experience to say the least. The people in the 4x4 in front of us certainly enjoyed the experience as they looked on and took some photos! We managed a few photos and Phil took a video of it. Basically the wheels kept spinning as the road (if you can call it that) was really muddy and wet as it had been raining badly. We had to give up (after pulling the other 4x4 out twice) and walk as the 4x4s were struggling. It was a struggle to walk as it was very slippery and muddy. Luckily the locals cut some sticks for us to use. Only 6 of the group (there was 20 of us altogether) wanted one when asked at the start but then everyone decided to have one after trying to walk!
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The walk through the jungle was certainly worth it. It was quite hard work at times (we decided to go with the group on the longer trek) mostly because the local villager walked at a very fast pace up hill. When Phil and I were at the front we did our best to keep up but it was a struggle at times. This would have been okay except the guy was at least 60! He clearly does the walk a lot and puts the rest of us to shame. The French people who were then in front did the sensible thing of not trying to keep up with him which helped to ease the pace slightly. We finally made it to see some Rafflesia – one of the biggest flowers in the world. P1010023.jpg They are certainly big but I wouldn't describe them as beautiful or the highlight of the trek. They were worth seeing and it was quite interesting to hear about them. It takes two years for them to germinate and when they eventually flower, they only stay in flower for a few days. After seeing a few a different stages we headed back across the river and down to the waterfall to meet the other group who seemed surprised to see us so quickly as they had only just made it back. Phil had a quick swim in the cold water along with a couple of other guys before we headed back to the 4x4s. We chatted to an English girl from Wiltshire for a while who was nice and friendly.

After the scary ride back down the 'road' we quickly visited the traditional village which is dying out in Malaysia due to the fact that the younger generation don't want to stay there when they grow up. Having seen the village I don't really blame them. Phil had a go with a traditional blow pipe, he did quite well.P1010027.jpg After taking a few pictures we headed on to a place for a late lunch which was cheap and okay. Then we headed to a tea plantation to see the tea leaves growing. Unfortunately the factory is closed at the moment so we didn't get to see the whole thing being process but our guide, Francis, was able to tell us about it. Worst thing was we didn't get to have a cup and I really wanted one! P1010035.jpg

We then headed to the Mossy Forest which was definitely worthwhile. It really was like being in a Narnia or Lord of the Rings film! It was really cool and it felt like we were on an adventure. Francis showed us quite a few plants along the way and told us what they could be used for. He also told us how we could survive in the jungle, something which is useful but something that I hope we don't need to put into practice! The trip finished here (they did take us back to our hostel), it was a long day but a very worthwhile tour and experience and one that we both really enjoyed.

Posted by philnlisa 20:14 Archived in Malaysia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Hot & Sticky in Kuala Lumpur

semi-overcast 35 °C

Well we arrived in a very humid Kuala Lumpur, or “KL”as everyone here calls it. After taking a bus and monorail we arrived at our hotel, which is none other than the 5* Sheraton! It is very nice but we were a little underwhelmed by the honeymon surprise of one rose and a few petals, but I guess you can’t complain. We have spent our time here settling back into some of the comforts of modern western life, such as TV, high speed internet, bath, shopping malls and we have even been to Marks and Spencer!

As you can see we have a great view from our room on the 29th floor, the hotel is really nice although we do feel a bit out of place dressed in our travelling gear!
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Kuala Lumpur is a really strange city, it is incredibly hot and humid, even walking is a bit of a struggle sometimes, it has mainly been overcast but still extremely warm. It is absolutely full of shopping malls, which are expensive and westernised (i.e. Armani, Gucci, Louis Vuitton etc) and street markets which sell the same stuff, only fake and a lot cheaper! It is quite a small city and we have mainly been exploring by foot, most of explorations have ended in failure as the promised attractions were either closed, too expensive or we got there too late to get a ticket (i.e. the Petronas towers)! The place is full of skyscrapers, it does have some nice gardens and forest within the city but you have to pay to get in all of these places so it is a bit of a pain from that point of view. There is very little here from a cultural point of view, and in some areas it is a bit like being in any westernised city in the world, although there are other areas such as Chinatown and Little India which do at least make you feel that you are somewhere a bit different.

On our first day we went down the famous Petaling Street, which sells fake designer goods, Lisa bought a fake Baby-G watch for 1 pound 60, which seems like quite a good deal, apart from that it broke on the first day and we subsequently discovered that it wasn’t actually waterproof. We did get some good bargains though – a quid each for a massive vegetarian and rice chinese feast which was good and 3 quid each for a lovely Indian meal last night. Being a Muslim country it is quite difficult to come across alcohol here, ashamadly we actually did an Internet search to find somewhere that sold wine; we had our first glass of wine since our wedding last night whilst watching the city below us. The wine is at least double the price of the UK so we won’t be making a habit of it!
Tomorrow we move on the Cameron Highliands which will mercifully be a bit cooler and will have more in the way of the kind of activities which we enjoy.

By the way, we have also uploaded a video we took of the Komodo Dragons in action, you can view it here: http://philnlisa.travellerspoint.com/6/

Posted by philnlisa 00:57 Archived in Malaysia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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