European Adventures

February 25, 2010

Hey there,

I haven’t updated this for a while, which is why I deserve only 500 views. But things are about to change… there are 3 good reasons to check back here regularly.

1. European Adventures
In just over a month I will be travelling to Europe for an adventure. The itinerary includes snowboarding in Austria, training it to Vienna, Prague, Budapest, Brasov, Bucharest, Curtea de Arges, Amsterdam, Paris and London, visiting Draculas castle, trekking through Romania, going on the Jack the Ripper tour in London and lots of other wierd and wonderful stuff. As usual you can count on funny stories and lots of photos, oh yeah I bought a decent Nikon camera so the photos and video should be slightly better.

2. Past Travels
I have typed up the rest of the South East Asian adventures and have a whole bunch of photos to go with the stories. They will be up before I leave to Europe and added to even after this as I find more stuff or remember anything else.

3. Mt Kilimanjaro Climb.
In just under a years time I will be attempting to summit Mt Kilimanjaro.  7 year olds can do it so I have atleast a 10% chance. This is going to be epic and I’m sure the stories and pictures I will bring back will be better than I imagine.

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Cu Chi Coo Chee Coo

February 12, 2009

Q1 is short for Quan 1 or “District 1”. All inner suburbs of Saigon are named this way from 1 to 12. If you’re familiar with Saigon or sarcasm, it’s right near District 2.  I’m in a Q1 cafe opposite my hotel when I notice busses at a park at the end of the road. Hang on… I remember this park… It’s the one where OUR bus parked when we arrived on Tuesday, where the really friendly and helpful taxi driver helped us into his taxi and drove for 15 mins, on meter, asking if I like Bruce Lee:

“Where you from?”

“Australia”

“Ahhhh, you ly Brut Lee?”

“Pardon?”

“yooooo lyBrut Lee?”

“I love Bruce Lee”

What the hell does Bruce Lee have to do with Vietnam or Australia? Had he been looking at my facebook? Did he see me in that double-feature for half-price cinema four years ago in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong? Has he seen me do that thing where I beat up 30 guys with a toothpick and a pair of flajandaluggongs? Can I even do that? Do Shorty and this taxi guy know I’m having an intense internal monologue full of cognitive misfires?” Then the penny dropped.

Firstly, I was wearing the Bruce Lee t-shirt. I’m an idiot. Secondly, he doesn’t give two flying fornicating bovines whether or not I like Brut Lee, he’s just seeing how far he can drive us before we notice that EVERY SIGN on EVERY SHOP on EVERY STREET has the address written on it. He had driven us in a 15 minute circle through Q1, which is where I asked to be taken. I sit now staring, nay, glaring with bitterness and irreverence at the spot he picked us up from to take us to where I am now sitting, 100 metres down the road. But let us not dwell on the past, but look to the future. That of which in the next few days involves floating down the Mekong Delta and staying overnight with a Vietnamese family, working and playing with the children of Dieu Giac Orphanage, nonsing about doing a lot of nothing, and of course getting drunk. Even better the little fellow crossing the intersection now, waving at me and dodging motos, is the tour guide for today’s adventure; the tunnels at Cu Chi.

Cu Chi is not far to the north-west of Saigon and we were there in no-time, we were with a tour group today but it was small and to be honest, you wouldn’t see a thing without the guide. The Cu Chi Tunnels are some of the most well preserved and most intricate examples of the Viet Cong underground tunnel network and base systems in Vietnam and are quite incredible. Many of these tunnels already existed before the American involvement and for a reason I cannot remember as I was too busy thinking about an episode of Harvey Birdman I saw the night before while the tour guide was explaining it. First stop was the old bunkers where you sit down with a few other groups and watch a mostly ancient, restored and poorly edited history of the “American War” on a large screen at the front. The film is heavily anti-American and it was quite funny when it finished and I woke up to see that every single American tourist had left the room during the film. They might want to consider another edit.

Next stop was a 10 meter, original and untouched tunnel, left as it was the day the war ended. The entrance was about 40cm x 25cm (That’s about 16’ x 10’ for our 17th Century readers). The guide warned everyone that inside is extremely tight and not for the faint hearted. I stepped back, Shorty jumped straight in, along with two other chicks who also had big-girls-blouse-boyfriends. We watched, faces tinged blue, palms sweating with the knowledge of what it would be like explaining to their fathers how we let their little girls die in a tunnel in South East Asia. With a chorus of sighs we saw little hands poking out of the exit 10 metres away, along with girly giggles, obviously a result of discussing the fact their lads are wussies. Then something happened that I’ll never forget and is a constant reminder of how awesomely blunt and literal Vietnamese people are.

One of our more “healthier” comrades decided she wanted some of this exciting tunnel action and jumped feet first down the hole without any guidance or consultation from our guide. She stopped at the waist like Winnie the Pooh with a honey jar full of pork crackle and the guide shouted “No, no sorry you cannot go into this tunnel, you are much too fat! Hahaha!” Everyone was stunned and silent, except me, I did one of those stupid raspberry spits that happens when a laugh escapes like a freight train out of your protesting mouth, making it much more obvious you just thought it was funny than if you had just executed a calm whisper-giggle. She gave me a look as if to say “Like you can talk.” And I returned the glance with a “Wasn’t me that said it” grin.

As we meandered through the forest he pointed out various entrance holes, breathing holes and smoke chimneys that you wouldn’t find if you tried. They are literally under your nose, everywhere. I can imagine how uptight you would feel walking through this area during the war, looking for the “bad guys”, and there is literally hundreds of them 5 metres below you. The feeling you are really there suddenly got more realistic as automatic gunfire began echoing through the trees. It was getting closer. Then we hit the main tunnel entrance. The main tunnel that has been opened for tourists is around 50 metres long and has exits every 5 – 10 metres. The tunnels are extremely tight and have actually been widened 3 times the size of the original size to accommodate Western visitors.

We dived in and started through, a combination of knees and duck waddling, head-first drops, feet-first crawls and watching the group slowly drop off through exits along the way. Only 4 of us made it to the room. The room was simply awesome, when you stand there with the knowledge that the spot you are standing, the exact spot, is where Viet Cong generals devised the Tet Offensive; the turning point, and last straw, in the Vietnam War. Out the other end and dripping with sweat our team of quitters awaited patiently. The gunfire was now really loud and with the same tone as one would offer cups of tea, our guide said “Okie dokie, who want to fire guns?”

BAM

I was at the front of the line that wasn’t even formed yet. I know this bit, we get to fire the shit out of a 1947 Avtomat Kalashnikov, better known as an AK-47. I’ve fired the M-16s and SLR 7.62s before. Fun, yes. But you don’t feel like Snoop Dizzle on a trizzle to kizzle muthafizzles on the rizzle holding an allied shooter. US$1 per bullet, minimum 30 rounds, and a pair of Sony headphones with the chord ripped out for ear protection. They made absolutely squat difference when I pulled the trigger on that bad boy. I squeezed 25 rounds into the (obviously evil) corrugated iron deer 100 metres away, then looked at Shorty.

The 5″1’ ball of guts, mettle and legs stepped up to the gun. She’s cack-handed, a lefty, so the military helper dude kind of had a minor aneurism, attempted to switch her grip around and was met with a look only a tiny cute chick can scare you with. He settled for getting her to hold the magazine and PYOW PYOW, she was off. When she had nailed the screaming corn out of the evil deer she looked at me, eyes wide like a cat that has just murdered a rat and is still in the grips of bloodlust and busted out “We’re joining a gun club when we get home, gimmie another 30 bucks.”

Breathe hole

There One Minute, Saigon the Next

February 11, 2009
We got lost in Saigon today. I imagine it would feel the same if you were on Mars, looking for the kebab shop, made a wrong turn at Olympus Mons and ended up in Naboo; neither where you started from, nor where you ended up at looks alike, and both are completely alien to you. The problem is, the second you pull out a map you get harassed by cyclo drivers, moto taxi drivers, touts and hawkers. It is their job, 7 days a week, to spot dumb tourists from 100 meters away looking at maps and they can hear the sound of your mispronunciation of “Nguyen Thi Minh Khai” from even further. We were looking for the War Remnants Museum. I nearly bought that GPS before we left, too. But there’s no point crying over spilt yak milk.

I took a deep breath, looked for the closest café/moto-repair/family-home/deli/watch/DVD store (only in Vietnam) and sat down with Shorty in the most tucked in corner I could find out of ear and eye shot of any over-helpers, then pulled out the map and ordered two Vietnamese coffees. As the familiar palpitations and throbbing behind my eyeballs began, I had nailed it. I had successfully located the museum, had pinpointed our location on the map, and was oriented perfectly with our bearings while tucked in the midget chair in the café+. It was across the road. The large building that said “War Remnants Museum”. The one with the huey helicopter blades visible over the boundary wall that I had been staring at while trying to decode the mystery. The worst part about it was Shorty had suggested this before we entered the 7-11ish. Nice work Scotty.

The War Remnants Museum has, in recent years, become much more popular with tourists since it’s opening in 1975 as “The House For Displaying War Crimes Of American Imperialism And The Puppet Government Of South Vietnam”. I can see why. In 1975 I’m not sure they had the little huey helicopter jelly candy, a sure fire winner in my books. The place is quite an eye opener, and still has some anti-American aftertaste detectable, but really it’s just telling it how it is; A fruitless and pointless war that ruined more lives than each side could afford, and understandably there is still a memory of this, albeit a little bitter. On the other hand, it appears to be a bit of a money spinner as well with hundreds of mis-pronounced and misinterpreted phrases engraved into bashed-up and rusted fake GI zippos like “I love the smell of my palms in the morning” or something as ridiculous. I took this with some distaste, as I did with the souvenir store at Choeung Ek Killing Fields. I did, however, buy a compass.

Land Of The Broken Hearts

February 9, 2009

“The question is not whether we can afford to invest in every child, it is whether we can afford not to” – Marion Wright Edelman, President of Children’s Defense Fund

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I’ve been in South East Asia for less than a week, and it’s hit me how immense the problem is. Tonight in Phnom Penh, I was having dinner with a British man and his wife, and a tiny girl came to me begging for money. She wasn’t the first child that night. I played thumb wrestles with a young lad earlier for books he was selling (I let him beat me, gave him what he was asking for a book, didn’t take one, and he asked for more money) and I just wanted to put these kids in our pockets and take them back to Australia to a better home. One of the dinner guests remarked “Where are their parents?”

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Their parents were probably the people down at the markets asking “You like? You buy?” when you walk past shaking your head. The ones, and only some, that after you shake your head and keep walking say, “Please?” They are parents; they have just the same love for these children as a mum baking cookies for the all American dream kids coming home from football practice. These kids are wanted, they are needed, they are the future and pride of their family, but they can’t be supported. I was angry at first, when the 10th tuk-tuk driver would follow Shorty and I down the street yelling “You need tuk-tuk? Where you going? Lady? Mr? Where you want to go?” when we just needed to get away from everything. But then I realised, this guy relentlessly hassling me, this lady yelling “Please?” well after you’ve said no, is probably trying to feed a little kid like that little girl.

It’s fucked, but there’s hope I guess.

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I asked our tuk-tuk driver the other day why the children are not at school, is it because it is too expensive? Not government funded? He replied that school is affordable for all in Cambodia, but the uniforms, pencils and such are not. Here is where our trip has found some depth. The more we learn about what is really the issue in each country, the more we can help. Aside from helping washing dishes and playing soccer with orphans which seem nothing in comparison. The Khmers have gone through so many years of terror, political uncertainty and poverty (not to mention the massive areas still covered by Khmer Rouge land mines), and are just emerging from this. They have a long way to go, and no-one can be accounted for it. But we can help.

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Thoughts

February 9, 2009
Bite off more than you can chew, and chew like hell.
I’ll start this chapter by answering a question a fellow work mate asked when I emailed my colleagues about the trip and our cause and if they would like to help. Needless to say it was the only reply I got back. The question was “Why don’t you help Laos, or places in Africa, they need help much more than Vietnam and Cambodia??” My answer to this is firstly, I was travelling through Vietnam and Cambodia, which makes helping Laos and Africa a little difficult, if not a tad stupid in the practicality department. Secondly, if I was Superman recently elected President of the United States of America and Chief Executive Officer of the World Bank on a 70 year holiday with an open air ticket and the Earth’s entire gold, oil and diamond reserves at my disposal and in full control of its distribution, then sure, great point. Thirdly, why don’t you?
So, back to business.
One reason for this blog is to help by inspiring you with stories, bringing issues to light, telling you where and how you can help through other NPO contacts, and making it fun. So let’s start with Cambodia. I won’t bore you to death with a history lecture but I will force some basics down your throat, a little bitter pill if you will, so shush and swallow it. Here is a country that has, until as recent as 1999, had the Khmer Rouge terrorizing the entire nation in the name of nothing, for reasons of who knows what, like someone had opened the very gates of hell up in Phnom Penh and evil went for a field trip. If you don’t know about it, the only event in human history to surpass its atrocities would be, maybe, the Holocaust. Out of 8 million Cambodians at the time the Khmer Rouge took control, more than 1 million people died through violence, malnutrition and disease. And it wasn’t just death that ruined a nation, the entire intellectual, cultural and spiritual infrastructure was decimated. In its wake it has left a people with little education and removed from their proud history and culture. Here endeth the lesson.
In my opinion and I’m sure many would agree, the very source of helping underprivileged children live a better life lies directly with the children themselves. Empowering them to break the cycle and help themselves out of their respective situations is the key, rather than giving toys and candy which gives them a smile that fades shortly after you leave, along with their teeth. The vehicle for this empowerment is education and whether you are Johno the garbologist or Sir Packer Oprah Trump-Gates-Al Fayed III, Esq. there is something you can do to help. There is no way to illustrate the immensity of poverty in the World of the year 2009 and Cambodia although fighting it’s way out of it slowly, is still in it’s grip.
Here’s 3 ways to help if you’re:
Disgustingly Rich:
Buy a School; you can do this for US$13,000. I’m sure that Patek Phillipe Wristwatch will still be at Christie’s tomorrow. No, seriously, you really can buy one here: http://www.cambodiaschools.com/
Not sure which color BMW to buy?
Equip a school for a year, kit them out with the lot, here: http://www.schools4cambodia.org/donate.aspx
A person who loves shopping, occasionally:
Shop for a way you can afford to help here: Cambodian Children’s Fund 20 Sponsorship Choices
A parent, with a mortgage and husband to look after:
Get the kids interested in the world they will soon be in control of, and tell your husband he can buy half a carton of beer instead of a full one this Friday after work, the rest of the money he can donate as a one-off here: Cambodian Children’s Fund One-off Donations
A hard-core, fully inspired, backpacking adventure freak soon to be travelling through Cambodia:
Got some time? Google “Volunteer in Cambodia”, click all the links, and then close every window that wants to charge you money to do it. Email choicecambodia@live.com or call (within Cambodia) Tony on 017670396, or Robin on 092745100. They are Aussie ex-pats living in Phnom Penh that go every Tuesday to the city dump to feed and clothe hundreds of children living in the dumpsite.

No One Gets To Heaven If They Don’t Go Through Hell .

February 6, 2009

The reason most people never reach their goals is that they don’t define them, or ever seriously consider them as believable or achievable. Winners can tell you where they are going, what they plan to do along the way, and who will be sharing the adventure with them. – Dennis Watley

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As someone once said, the best thing about Poipet on the Cambodian side of the Thai – Cambodian border, is leaving it. Besides my mother’s “don’t touch that hotplate” advice that I subsequently didn’t take when I was 7, this is possibly the best I have ever been given. Poipet in its own special way whispers silent encouragement “get out”, almost like the ghost in those stupid haunted house movies where we all know what happens when they don’t listen. There are a few ways to use this encouragement. The first is to get a bus that takes approximately 5 years to get to Siam Reap via Egypt, Sydney and The Moon. The next is to jump onto the back of a pick-up and tie yourself to any fixed point possible, introduce yourself to the other 30 people and swallow some panadeine forte. The last, and only realistic one, sub-divides into two more choices. There are lots and lots of Toyota Camrys scattered about the side of the “road” in Poipet. They are all Toyota Camrys and there is no exception to this rule. They are taxis. Some of them are independently owned and some are what is left of the slowly dying out, but still a strong force all the same, Association taxis.

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Association taxis are remnants of not so long ago (before the Cambodian government noticed tourists had money) where a large racket between hotels and taxis were controlled by a handful of gun toting ex-Khmer Rouge thugs that would drive you to Siam Reap via 4 mafia controlled shops, 2 bandit ambushes and finally to the mafia controlled, bed bug infested hotel just far enough outside of Siam Reap that you had to use the taxi each day to see anything. Although these days the government keeps a close eye on these activities, they still manage to threaten the independent drivers and anyone who tries to use them. For this reason the independent operators will not drive you all the way to Siam Reap and stop short a town or two before. Therefore Association Taxis are the only real choice you have. For US$40 we agreed with the tout that the taxi a) would take us to our hotel in Siam Reap, b) take the quickest route there for no more than US$40, and c) that there was no chance in hell he was getting in the taxi with us. He agreed and took our money, yelled at the driver, and off we drove. It took a little under 4 hours to get to Siam Reap via a mostly unsealed dirt road that appears to be in the middle of a major facelift, and rightly so. The road is becoming a major tourist route to reach the Angkor Temples at Siam Reap, forcing the government to pull its socks up and come to the party with a road that can handle the growing bus and taxi traffic.

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The taxi driver pulled up next to a bunch of tuk-tuk drivers who pounced on us with all the fantastic $1 per night bed bug hostels they knew about. I pulled out the All Knowing Holy Commanded Law of Crossing bit of paper and looked at the final point, Peace of Angkor Guest House. I showed it to the tuk-tuk driver who looked at it as if I were presenting a worm wearing a clown nose singing Sweet Child O’ Mine dressed in a tutu. I pulled the Lonely Planet almost-map of Siam Reap out of my pocket and pointed. “Ahhh, Peace of Angkor Guest House!” he said in almost perfect English. We arrived to smiling faces and helpful hands where we were shown to our room. One of the young lads that works at the guest house asked “Where are you from?” Here we go again, I thought, “Australia” I said. “Oh, I come from near there” he replied. “Really?” I said, “where?”

“Cambodia” he said back with a cheeky grin. Touché, I was going to like this place.

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Wild Wild East.

February 6, 2009

Q: How many people can you fit in a Cambodian car?

A: Shut up and get in

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If there is a place in the world you have ever been, where you wish you never had, and would never go again, but god damn it you were so high on adrenalin that it was worth every second, then crossing the border from Aranya Prathet, Thailand through to Poipet, Cambodia would be it. It started with Shorty’s mobile phone playing Justin Timberlake’s “Sexy Back” in my ear at 4am on Friday. I had drunk a little the night before, as you do in Bangkok, and JT’s jingle wasn’t on my list of things to experience at that time, nor was being awake. I switched it off, kissed Shorty good morning and hit the shower. We had a tuk-tuk to grab to Morchit Bus Station by 5:30am. Today we were going to Siam Reap, Cambodia. The planning that went into this leg of the trip was immense, no detail was left out. We researched, re-researched, and re-re-researched the crossing until we had it in point form on a piece of paper and in our heads. If you are ever feeling stupid, lucky and craving a rush then decide to ever do this, your first stop should be Travelfish. Yes, I’m giving you real advice here. Don’t try it without reading it.

The bus to Aranya Prathet on the Thai border was pretty uneventful and we slept most of it. It cost around 207 baht each, which is about $8, for a first class coach with no stops and a plastic wrapped piece of bread with sugar and butter on it. Bargain. In 4 and a bit hours we made it. This is where the fun started. There are a few scams you have to get past when going from Thailand to Cambodia via this route. The first one is when you get off the bus and 70 people want to carry your backpack to the tuk-tuk 5 meters away. Then the tuk-tuk driver takes you not to the border, but to his mates who are waiting near the Cambodian Consulate which is about 4 clicks from the actual border crossing. They tell you they can organize your visa from the Consulate and after a few hours hanging out with them while one runs to the consulate to get it, and a few thousand baht later, you have a visa. If you’re lucky.

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Our driver pulled over and I knew what was up thanks to our heavy research. A little guy came over and asked for our passports and said we won’t get through otherwise. I said no, we’ll walk from here as I’ve crossed the border 6 times before (calling his bluff and lying through my teeth). The dumbarse then said “Well if you have crossed 6 times then you know that isn’t the border, it is consulate.” Zing, he knew he fucked up. I looked at the tuk-tuk driver and he knew exactly what to do; drive us to the border like we asked or don’t get paid. At the real border we were swarmed by people, we put our heads down and walked into the Thai departure office. I had planned also for this swarming. The swarm mostly consists of extremely cute kids who are highly trained experts at parting you with the contents of your pocket. My pocket contained three pieces of paper about the size of a US dollar note, each with the word “naughty” written on it. When we reached the departure office they were all missing. Bless. We joined the “Foreigners” line like the sign told us and were through in no time. There is a funny little no-man’s land between both borders. An expanse of Wild Western style dusty streets with wilder and dustier people walking around in it, with two massive casinos on each side. This is where Thais come to squander all the hard earned baht away.

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On the other side we walked up to the Cambodian immigration window, to the left were about 50 seats all full of people with disgruntled looks on their faces. Shorty was told to stand outside as she, obviously being a woman, was incapable of handing a passport to a man who is incapable of fathoming Shorty being capable of handling his incapabilities. So I stepped forward with hers and my own passports in hand. A Cambodian Police officer on the outside of the window said to me “2000 baht” which translates roughly to US$40. Above him in English that is easier to read than a Dick & Jane book is a sign saying “Tourist Visa = US$20, Business Visa = US$30”. I looked at the sign, then back at the officer and with my brain trying to tell my mouth he had a Glock 17 pistol holstered to his waist said in a (completely fake) confident and clear voice “It says US$20 up there, not 2000 baht.” He replied, a little more firmly “No, no accept US dollar here, only baht, 2000 baht.” This was absolute rubbish. The Cambodian Riel has dived so deeply into invaluability that the Cambodians have literally adopted the US dollar as a currency and use the Riel for change when something (rarely) drops under US$1. They have contempt for Thailand and do not accept baht anywhere in the country. I pulled out the single US$50 note I had stashed in my Pacsafe bumpack, (yes more real advice, don’t travel without one) held it up and said “Well that’s unfortunate as all I have is this and I need 2 visas.” He waved me through to the window.

At the window the high ranking officer sat with a coffee, a cigarette burning away in an ashtray, and a pile of passports sitting next to his gun on a table. He leaned close and took our passports then said “100 baht and I will make fast for you.” I had pushed things far enough at this point, so I handed him 100 baht with a look on my face that explained quite clearly to him how much distaste I have for the current situation and his actions within it. He put my passports on the pile and waved me off. I stood back, lit a cigarette and watched. He finished his smoke and coffee in a relaxed way, laughing with the other officers in the small dinky little office. They occasionally looked outside, then continued their humorous banter. After about 5 minutes he turned to the passports, opened Shorty and mine, licked a stamp and stuck them in. He waived me back and passed them to me, then waived me off, all while continuing his fantastically funny recountings to his comrades. We walked past the disgruntled non-100 baht-paying 50 and jumped into an association (nice word for taxi mafia) taxi.

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Purchasing the Dragon.

February 5, 2009

Beer and Clothing in South Asia

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Shopping in Bangkok is the closest any shopaholic will come to the feeling of having an orgasm on heroin in a Golden Fleece cloud held by care bears while sipping bubble tea and singing “kumbayah” in an air-conditioned room made from marshmallows and pixy burps on a long weekend in summer. A man tells you the price of a t-shirt you fancy, you quickly pull out your calculator and convert the sheep-noise currency to your native shrapnel and come up with 20 cents. “Half that” you say, “20c is ridiculous for this Versace shirt made of cotton more durable than the genuine article!” “No, no!” he says, “You pay my price that good price see nice shirt” Then you tell him he’s dreaming and walk off. “OK, OK, no problem!” and you have yourself a new 10 cent Versace shirt. Then you walk past a pad thai cart and the smell pulls you back like a dog leash tied to a tree, it smells like two coconuts had a baby with a spice factory and in the process got tangled in a web of noodles while having a fight with a cooked chicken. It is, to put it into one word, divine. Whoever invented this dish was a saucy individual in more ways than one.

After paying 30 Versace shirts worth of sheep cash for your mouthgasm you saunter toward a bar while your forehead drips like a leaky faucet made of sponge in heat that only ozone can defy. You sit, light a Marlborough light, and order a big Tiger. Tiger beer, as we discovered in Singapore later, was created by some thirsty gentlemen in South East Asia, one hundred thousand years ago, who convinced Heineken and F&N soft drinks to create a beer that not only got you drunk, but refreshed you, like water can for example. To this day the logo retains the “e” in the Heineken font as a tribute to its heritage, and the “i” is printed as a “1” to, well, say they are #1 I guess. I believe the “g” is also made to look like the lucky number 8 as well, but I could go on about beer all day, and I’m digressing. 1 Tiger, 2 ciggies and 3 touts later the guy across the street who I gave $100 baht deposit has returned with the copy of Windows XP Plus that I am currently using to write this to you, as we all know Windows Vista sucks badly, especially when your laptop sucks badly which makes Vista suck even more badly because the two implode on each other fighting over the resources neither of them have to offer.

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Today was much like this, exactly like this to be more precise. The t-shirt selection in Bangkok is like someone went through all the t-shirts in the world, threw out the popped-collar salmon coloured ones first then all the other rubbish ones, then put the rest in Khao San Road, Bangkok. You pretty much laugh from one end of the street to the other. There is a really funny guy sitting in a dungeon somewhere in Thailand being fed fairy bread and marijuana cookies, alco-pop drinks and Vietnamese coffee (don’t get me started) with a pencil and five 4 foot tall men with fake Gucci underwear and AK-47s surrounding him, creating these diamonds. I’m positive of this. I have bought my friend one of Bruce Lee doing the thing he does before he is all over you like a spider monkey, with the caption “Fuck you round eyes”. It’s comically perfect. I’m also surprised my new copy of Microsoft Word has spelling-underlined “round eyes”, considering its source.

Tomorrow morning, Shorty and I leave for Siam Reap, Cambodia. We have not booked any tour busses or flights, we have decided to do it Pepsi Max style, and attempt one of the world’s trickiest (yet less violent of late) border crossings. Tonight will be packing, and planning.

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Wat?

February 4, 2009

You herd.

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I’ve always loved the concept of Buddha. Big chubby fella with a huge grin on his face and a bald head you can rub when you are feeling down. Even if it isn’t magic, the thought you are rubbing his bald head and that silly grin on his face is highly infectious on a scale somewhere between chicken pox and Japanese cartoon franchises, and you can’t help but feel silly too, the fallout of which is an upside-down frown on your face. Wat Pho and the Reclining Buddha are different. He seems happy, and he’s lazing about like a proper Buddha should, and does with the utmost efficiency.

Considering he’s been almost 200 years in the same spot, and has the oldest Thai massage university at his feet, I would say he has mastered the art of lazing about. But he’s not fat, or silly, or bald, and if you touched his head… Well, let’s say he would be the lesser holy one of the two of you. You would not even get a chance to savour the bitter-sweet taste of wisdom from retrospect. For the perspicaciously absent, it means you would be shot on the spot, if the locals don’t get you first.

But what he lacks in lumpy stature and silly baldy luckiness, he makes up with pure superlative-inducing majesty. If one were asked to describe it in one word that word would be “don’t ask me such a stupid question”. And the Big Fella isn’t the only thing oozing visual supremacy, either. The entire complex of Wat Pho (or for the Thai-savvy and correct-o-wankers among us; Wat Phra Chetuphon) is astonishing, and quite rightly a UNESCO listed site.

As we walked into the complex, we removed our flip-flops/jandals/thongs/pluggers depending on where you come from, let’s call them “flajandaluggongs” to keep everyone happy… As we removed our flajandaluggongs and placed them in the “Thais Only” section of the flajandaluggong storage area, along with a wink and a thumbs up to the suspicious securiwat Buddha guard, I had a thought; What would happen if I just ran past this guy with my flajandaluggongs still attached firmly and flailing, flailing flajandaluggongs that is to say, all the way to the other end while singing “Karma Chameleon” and around the building as fast as I could back to the spot where you take off your flajandaluggongs and give the securiwat Buddha guard your ticket stub where I would be waiting, flajandaluggongless, ticket afore?

No, I didn’t do it, and no I don’t want tuk-tuk.

Man who walk sideway out of plane…

February 3, 2009
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” – Mark Twain
Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand. 10:30am. Ten hours of planes, two temazepam, one stop over, two taxis, three beers and thirty four degrees. Welcome to sleep deprivation hell. The first tout to approach us never knew how close to being punched in the liver he got as we stood like a poster ad for stupid foreigners that radiate cash; backpacks on, Lonely Planet open, scratching our heads and expressions on our faces like the one you have when you get hit in the temple by a flying bottle at a rock concert.
Somehow, some way, I managed to check my steaming cow-pat of a mood and spoke to the tout. He asked where we were from, a question we would learn to embrace with the utmost patience for the next month, and I replied “Australia”. The man replied with yet another gem we would now need to accept with a smile and faux-chuckle in generous quantities, “Ah, Australia! GEDAY METE!” “Yes, g’day mate” we said. “HA HA HA HA YES! GEDAY METE!” I guess it’s better than “Ah, Australia! A DINGOW ATE CHYA BAYBEY!”
Then the tout did something that still perplexes me to this day… he helped us. He told us that the police station was just to our right and if we go in there, they will show us the better places to stay. We did, expecting “the catch” to severely violate our pockets at any second. The police lady inside the station could see the Watership Down-esque expressions on our faces and took pity upon us; she politely walked us outside, pointed across the road and 30 meters down from the entrance to Khao San Road to a little alley.
She was right; the Sawasdee Guest House was an oasis in a cesspool of smelly Pepsi Max adventurers with ZZ Top beards and dreads, touts, hawkers, pickpockets, drunk 17 year old Australians wearing SAME SAME shirts, drunk 50 year old Poms wearing polo’s, drunk 60 year old Frenchmen wearing 17 year old Thai girls, all trying to talk to you or push past you at the same time.  We checked in, ordered a large tiger, Redbull bucket and a hookah full of apple shisha and started planning our month-long adventure.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” – Mark Twain

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Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand. 10:30am. Ten hours of planes, two temazepam, one stop over, two taxis, three beers and thirty four degrees. Welcome to sleep deprivation hell. The first tout to approach us never knew how close to being punched in the liver he got as we stood like a poster ad for stupid foreigners that radiate cash; backpacks on, Lonely Planet open, scratching our heads and expressions on our faces like the one you have when you get hit in the temple by a flying bottle at a rock concert.

Somehow, some way, I managed to check my steaming cow-pat of a mood and spoke to the tout. He asked where we were from, a question we would learn to embrace with the utmost patience for the next month, and I replied “Australia”. The man replied with yet another gem we would now need to accept with a smile and faux-chuckle in generous quantities, “Ah, Australia! GEDAY METE!” “Yes, g’day mate” we said. “HA HA HA HA YES! GEDAY METE!” I guess it’s better than “Ah, Australia! A DINGOW ATE CHYA BAYBEY!”

Then the tout did something that still perplexes me to this day… he helped us. He told us that the police station was just to our right and if we go in there, they will show us the better places to stay. We did, expecting “the catch” to severely violate our pockets at any second. The police lady inside the station could see the Watership Down-esque expressions on our faces and took pity upon us; she politely walked us outside, pointed across the road and 30 meters down from the entrance to Khao San Road to a little alley.

indysheesha

She was right; the Sawasdee Guest House was an oasis in a cesspool of smelly Pepsi Max adventurers with ZZ Top beards and dreads, touts, hawkers, pickpockets, drunk 17 year old Australians wearing SAME SAME shirts, drunk 50 year old Poms wearing polo’s, drunk 60 year old Frenchmen wearing 17 year old Thai girls, all trying to talk to you or push past you at the same time.  We checked in, ordered a large tiger, Redbull bucket and a hookah full of apple shisha and started planning our month-long adventure.

Sawasdee House gave us a double room with own bathroom for 800 THB per night (about $24). Yeah you heard me, TWENTY FOUR DOLLARS. The website advertises even lower if you ask for the “special price”. Unless you don’t mind hematophagy which I know is the in thing these days, what with all these teen vampire movies and such, I wouldn’t pay much less for a room.

The rooms are awesome, the chillout lounge downstairs with couches and cushions is just stupendously good, I mean really you just turn into the Cheshire Cat for the rest of the day. Do yourself a favour and go there. Here’s the bathroom, open air which was kinda cool, you can pee and watch the party outside like a secret peeing ninja that no-one can see.

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