A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: FlatCapped

Homecoming

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Not clear in these entries is a very important factor to the trip and in fact a very long and well kept secret. After a short while in Melbourne Kyla and I agreed that we had factored an unnecessary amount of time into our trip for Australia. We weighed up various options and chose to return home early, just before Christmas in fact to surprise our families. Shortening the trip from 12 months to about 11, we immediately set about changing our flight dates and re-aligned our plans. This was unknown to anyone back home apart from two trustworthy gentlemen on the inside, Iain and Brian. Over the coming months these two pillars of silence let nothing slip and even managed to deceive (and I use that word in the nicest possible manor) my two sisters to come and pick Kyla and I up from the airport.
The thought of returning home even feels like a part of this adventure, not an end but just another stage. Its hard to comprehend all of the things I’ve seen and done in the past 11 months and their influences on me will perhaps only be fully understood and appreciated in time.

Posted by FlatCapped 04:15 Comments (0)

Not Long In Hong Kong

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I found myself excited about getting to Hong Kong, keen to experience that contrast to the past few months just before returning to England. In anticipation of this we had booked a hotel room on Hong Kong Island itself, about 3 months previous. Upon arrival I arranged, for the final time on this trip, the new currency we would need and then got tickets for the travel we would need over the next 3 or 4 days. We were extremely lucky with the hotel, room prices were triple what we paid due to the holiday season, not only that but we were given a room with a view over Hong Kong harbour. A brief walk around the local area that evening clarified two things. Hong Kong has all your favourite high street shops from home, quite a few western people, living and working here and most importantly as its smell is almost inescapable in areas, the people of Hong Kong dry and eat virtually everything you can imagine as well as many others you couldn’t.
The festive spirit was definitely alive in Hong Kong and a booklet of various Christmas events on around the city was readily available. Near the centre there was, as you’d expect, a massive Christmas tree and every shopping mall was decorated to excess.

Just a note: Hong Kong boasts the longest escalator in the world, which runs along one of the main streets, all of it outside. Due to the small size of the island in contrast to its large population everything is built upward. As such the architectural skyline of Hong Kong is of course powerful with bold skyscrapers dominating your eyes. The island has a peak that is accessed via a cable car and provides excellent views of the urban sprawl bellow.

After dining out the evening before, to toast the end of our long trip, the final day was a full and fun one. Firstly we made the most of the early check in facility from the central train station, checking our luggage for the evening’s flight. As our bags got transported to what we hoped was to be our flight, we caught a bus to Ocean Park, a theme park, small zoo and general multi attraction place to go. As well as taking in some great views from the cable cars used to get around the park, we went on some rides (getting drenched on a flume), watched a terribly cheesy ice show, saw some pandas, heard a carol performance from a school choir, threw snowballs in a special chiller room, and attempted to play chopsticks on the giant piano in Santa’s grotto ala Tom Hanks in Big.

From Ocean Park we went back to the centre and looked around Hong Kong’s boulevard of the stars, Bruce Lee being the most impressive, whilst waiting for the Harbour skyscraper light show to start. Not to say the show wasn’t impressive, the lit skyline alone is, but it just wasn’t as extensive as I expected. None the less I can’t imagine seeing anything like it anywhere else. All that was left was to get the train to the airport buy some duty free and hope our bags had made it onto the same plane we got on.

Posted by FlatCapped 04:14 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

Bangkok Bargains

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It is only at the last minute really, that we find out for sure if we are going to travel to Bangkok to eventually get our flight out of South East Asia. The political problems within Thailand have made things very unpredictable, back up plans were put in place but have luckily been unnecessary after the airport was opened just a couple of days before we were due to travel to Thailand’s capital.

A half day long bus journey took us directly from our SiemReap guesthouse, over the border and dropped us right on Kho San road, Bangkok’s backpacker hotspot. Ordinarily this wouldn’t be an area we would choose to stay however at this stage of our trip, the classic sightseeing and souvenir buying was exactly what we required and Kho San has it all. After bargaining a room for half price we absorbed the general hubbub of the street and its bars, restaurants and vendors. One food vendor in particular soon became a regular haunt of ours, serving up tasty Pad Thai and spring rolls.

It took a few days to acquire the last souvenirs I wanted in between exploring the city, but all were purchased at bargain prices and plenty of fun to barter for. That just left a final night out with Lou Lou, a German girl we met in Vietnam, before finishing our packing for the flight to Hong Kong where I hope Christmas will be embraced in its full glory to help get in the mood for our return home.

Posted by FlatCapped 04:09 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Holiday in Cambodia

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After visiting the bus station in Phnom Penh it became clear that tigers were off the menu in Cambodia for us. A trip to Bokor National Park would have been a real head sore so we decided to spread out our time in Phnom Penh as well as definitely use all 3 days on our planned ticket around Angkor.

Phnom Penh was hectic and the crossroads that our guesthouse was situated didn't help it seem any quieter. Everywhere you walked we were harassed by people, mostly tuk tuk drivers but often beggars or just street sellers. Sights such as the museum and the palace, although magnets to all of these people due to their tourist orientation, once inside were real welcome breaks. And both of the sights were well presented and really interesting to walk around.

The Killing Fields is one of the main attractions for visitors to the Cambodian capital however the term attraction seems wrongly applied as the killing fields display the genocidal activities of the Khmer Rouge. The small area is very peaceful and thought provoking but didnt hold any of the eeriness I felt when visiting Auschwtz.

A bus arranged from a different bus pick up point transported us to SiemReap where upon arrival we were mobbed by more people than I have experienced on this whole trip. Pushing our way through the masses we got to a free mini bus that would take us into the centre of the town and took us to a really nice guesthouse with free breakfast. In the actual town of SiemReap the streets are much more relaxed than Phnom Penh and our guesthouse was in an ideal position to make our own way to Angkor on bicycle. To ensure we had our bearings of the temple complex we first arranged a tuk tuk for one day and driving through the main area, went out to the further afield ruins. On our way out to the first temple stop, we visited the Landmine Museum which illustrates the extent of land mine usage around the world and its effects on innocent people. The museum was incredibly interested and founded by an amazing Cambodian man.

The temples we visited on that first day were highly detailed in carvings but did not hold the adventurous atmosphere of the one I was to visit on the second day. Having hired bikes we took on the big loop saving the smaller loop for the last day. It was a 2 hour ride before we made it to our first temple but its tumble down, over grown appearance was straight out of Indiana Jones. Going off on my own away from the other visitors I really got a feel for exploration and the discovery of somewhere hidden by the trees. The day continued to provide interesting and very different structures to explore but none impressed on me in the same way that this first one did.

For a large part of the mornings bike ride I had been talking to a local lad and hadn't really noticed the length of the journey however on the way back, even though I was riding through beautiful countryside with water buffalo and rice fields, the journey seemed to go forever and the cheap bikes that they have here had blocked all blood flow to my limbs. So the next day it was with relief that i remembered we had saved the small loop for the last day. We attacked the longest part of the ride first allowing ourselves the rest of the day to enjoy at a steady pace.

On the small circuit there are more temples and they all appear to be more popular than the ones we had previously been to. Some were harder to enjoy because of this, but they were all interesting in their own way. The terraces in Angkor Thom for example, Elephant terrace and Leper King terrace, both had corridors and carvings or reliefs to find that weren't obvious without exploration. The main attraction, the Angkor Wot itself, we had deliberately saved until last and walking around this very large, beautifully symmetrical, in tact temple, it didnt matter about the people. In fact as the sun set on Angkor it felt like being at a music festival and we were all sharing something.

Posted by FlatCapped 13:04 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

The rain in Spain stays mainly... in Vietnam apparently

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Even with pre-paid Visas the border cross into Vietnam is the longest I have had to suffer through. The majority of this tedium was spent standing waiting for the bus to be checked, presumably thoroughly, as it took nearly 2 hours. As soon as we hit the road in Vietnam 2 things stood out, firstly how wet the landscape is with flooded paddy fields as far as the eye can see, and secondly, the amount of push bikes. These appeared to be up at similar numbers to the endless amount of scooters I had encountered but the problem is they move a lot slower, clogging the roads as they ride in gangs of large numbers at least 3 or 4 abreast.

The streets of Hanoi bring back memories of an old John Smiths advert, maybe I'm just missing proper beer other than lager, but there are distinct similarities between the old Jack Dee advert with the Rallycars careering past him, and the gauntlet that is crossing a Hanoi street. You have to just walk out and keep going trusting them to miss you. Luckily I can verify that it does work. The lake in the old quarter of Hanoi has a pagoda in the middle which you can visit, as well as the standard Buddha, temple parts, there is a display of a turtle which lives in the lake and is part of a Vietnamese legend. In fact that evening we saw the legend played out along with other stories at the water puppet theatre which was really good. Anyway this turtle is very rarely seen but noticing a small crowd gathering on our last day in the city, Kyla and I went up to the side of the lake and out of the water rose the turtle, to the gasps and cheers of the onlookers. I can confirm it did not have the sword in its mouth however.

Possibly the most affordable way to travel Vietnam and most comfortable, I left Hanoi laying on the top bunk of a bed in a bus. The sleeper bus is a hop on- hop off ticket that can transport us to all the places we wish to stop. A surreal thing at first but definitely the easiest bus to sleep on in my experience.

The rain is on and off all the time now and so fitting most sight seeing in between showers we visit the citadel of Hue as well as the tombs of the kings. The kings who were respected have modest tombs set in large beautiful grounds however Khai Dinh's tomb is different as apparently he was little respected when alive so he built a very high and lavishly decorated temple (all paid for by taxing the people) so that he could force visiters to show him respect once dead. During the drive to Hoi An the weather was seen whipping up some huge waves as we skirted along the coast, the skys are heavy and gray and so ponchos were swiftly bought upon a rain drenched arrival. The streets of Hoi An are flooded and so walking around the town as much as possible we took in the interesting architecture such as the old Japanese bridge guarded by a monkey statue at one end and a dog at the other. Thanks to the jungle setting of the My Son ruins the visit here was possibly enhanced by the on off rain, sadly however the numbers of tourists at the place were not complementary to the ruins. It was hard to get a proper perspective to the place you were walking around.

Another sleeper bus ride later and we arrive in Nha Trang where I hoped to teach for a few days however I have to say that Crazy Kims bar, contrary to the guide books suggestion was poorly organised and couldn't even tell me when and where to go. Frustratingly this meant the opportunity was missed. Even the T-shirts to raise money for the schooling were questionable, with slogans such as "Hands off the kids". Nha Trang did offer the best buddha I think I've seen so far, much more understated even though it sits looking over the town, it is painted white not decorated in gold leaf and looks much better when glimpsed against blue sky. Blue sky is a rarity at the moment.

The people in Vietnam have presented themselves to me in a very bi-polar manor, there are some truly nice people such as a guide we had around one of the pagodas who sang to us all to demonstrate a song of worship, you could tell he was just a truly nice man. The other side of the coin, and I'm tempted to say the more commonly seen, is the person out to trick you out of money or mislead you in an endless list of ways. I have felt less relaxed or trusting here with the people than anywhere in South East Asia.

Saigon, or the now Ho Chi Minh City is very much your typical large city, ridiculous amounts of traffic on dirty streets however a couple of days here allows enough time for me to catch a tour to visit an important temple which amalgamates all the religions in Vietnam allowing them all to worship side by side as we watch on quietly. From there we traveled back the way we came, to the Chu Chi Tunnels, a guerrilla stronghold defending the American bombardment of the villages. The tunnels are an ingenious complex with many clever techniques used to baffle or trap the enemy. For 60 meters or so you can walk through the tunnels and trust me, people who are claustrophobic need not apply. Back in Saigon there are sights to visit, mostly illustrating various things from the war. They're not particularly up beat most of the time, however the stories we herd when visiting the palace were like something straight out of Catch 22 with people flying off in American planes to bomb the Vietnam resistance but then turning around and bombing the Americans with their own planes.

I feel I must apologise for the length of this rambling however that's all of my time in Vietnam covered and now I shall move over into Cambodia where I might see tigers and will definitely see more temples.

Posted by FlatCapped 16:42 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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