Monday, 11 April 2011

The Temple of Convenience

The first in the series - Service Stations of South Australia:

Bordertown – 24th December 2010-12-24

Situated some seven hours from Melbourne and at an estimated two – four hours from Adelaide (the ETA will become more apparent if and when we ever reach our final destination), you’ll find a non-descript town that lies on the border of Victoria and South Australia. It goes by the name of Bordertown, apparently. It isn’t too dissimilar to the few and far between towns, if you can call them that, that occupy the main road connecting the two cities on the in-land route, and a bit beyond Ararat.

At a glance, you’ll want to make a run for it and get the fuck out of here ASAP. You’ll be greeted with locusts, flatlands, arid landscape and not a lot else. I decided not to run for shelter from the un-relentless heat to the nearest supermarket (yes, they have a supermarket!) called “Foodland”, and instead decided to inspect the front grill of our wee Niamh, the trusty Mitzubishi from that period of the ‘90s I suspect spawned Haddaway and Boyzone, for the innumerate carcasses of locusts that had made it from the windshield to the grill. The most exciting thing about our drive so far was the swarms of locusts that we kept dodging, both in, and out of the motor. Sure enough, moments after a bird hovered near Niamh’s face and laid out the biggest womp right in my line of vision of this spectacularly bland and arid landscape, we then entered the land of locusts. Death by locusts. And lots of them, dying slowly and frantically right before my eyes. Who would want to live in rural Australia if by foot, or car, you’re having to swat locusts and watch them die, one after another, right before your eyes. I dunno how, but that bird has become synonymous with the beginning of Locust Vision.

So back to Bordertown. The lads were inspecting the contents of Foodland, which, to my surprise was better stocked than our local Supermarket Coles. The queues were pretty grim, mind, but let’s not forget it’s Christmas Eve, which is easy to do when it’s hovering over the 30 degrees mark outside our air conditioned bubble. We managed to come away with a four pack of Flake Cornettos for four bucks, a six pack of mince pies and two litres of water. Still unsure where the queues could come from as it looks like there shouldn’t be many permanent residents kicking about.

Now onto the Dunnies. Oh my god, Vietnam, eat your heart out. I’ve never been in a toilet so clean, so relaxing and so air-conditioned in my life. Really spacious (wheelchair friendly, I guess), no piss or Tom Tits on the floor/wall/handles, pristine bowl/lid, fresh hand soap. All in all, it was a pleasure to have spent my whole minute or two in there. Didn’t once have to worry about hovering or catching STDs from my intimate, albeit brief, time there. The toilets were also situated in the back of a café which had the most amazing smell of caffeine seeping through the air; non of that Nescafe shit. All around there were aald biddies sat blethering over their home-made ice cream or cake and families sat chilling the fuck out. Where they come from, I don’t know, but I guess there really isn’t anywhere else to go in Bordertown and I’m happy for them that they don’t have to put up with the traditional service station amenities of over priced Powerades and Pringles.

Verdict: 5 / 5

Doesn’t look like much, if anything, from the outside, but once you’ve cleaned your grill and stocked your car full of crap food, you’ll be pleased you spent that ten minutes of your xxxx hour, locust filled drive, here. Sure hell beats simultaneously pissing behind a bush and being bitten by mosquitoes. We’re off to a good start an I didn’t even have a chance to sample to coffee or cake. I’m a lady of leisure when it comes to my toilet matters and not easily swayed for the 5/5 mark.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Gone West

Where am I? I’ve forgotten and neglected this thing for over a year now. I’ll fill in the gaps of my life between Asia to Perth, WA, where I’ll be based for at least the next four months, over the coming weeks/months/years, probably. But I may as well start with the most recent, I guess? I'll get some photos up when I get on a decent connection.

After a week of being in Perth we’ve finally found somewhere to live! Perth’s been through an unusual heatwave with highs of a consistent 37 – 39 degrees all week, and through it, we’ve been sweating our body weight through the tent; fighting the most ridiculous amount of mossies in the aforementioned tent; sleeping in fear of being bitten by an infamous Redback spider, which so happened to a young Brazilian girl THREE TIMES on her face in our campsite. So our place? Well thanks to Ciaran’s Irish charm (I reckon) we’re living somewhere with two tennis courts, a gym, a swimming pool and our landlord’s said we’ve got access to the campervan if we wanna go down to Margaret River for a weekend. Oh and the kayaks, yeah we can use them on the river that our patio looks onto, did I forget to mention he’s two bikes we can use? Oh shit, how could I forget there’s a ‘mini’ bar floor to ceiling of beer and we can use the spare car (unfortunately not one of his eleven Jaguars) if we need to nip to the shops in it! I’ve no idea what’s going on. I’m not even sure I’m ready for it. I’m gonna fly the yacht rock yuppie flag high though, ‘cos for $10 LESS than what we’re paying in the campsite, we get to live in an air conditioned dream, fifteen minutes from the city, rather than an hour commute from our sweat fest tent and he’s only asking for one week’s rent as a bond/deposit. Up the punx? The inaugural burning of our tent will take place tomorrow at around 20:00 WST, South Freo.

The other night I heard from two separate Irish backpackers that the Australian government had changed the stipulations for the infamous Working Holiday Visa. At present and prior to our arrival in Strayah, you get a one year Working Holiday Visa for a small cost. The conditions is that it’s to fund your travel through the country, fair enough, but that you can only work for one employer for six months. To get your second year, unlike the Aussies who get two years straight up and given to them back hyem, you have to undertake a glorious and laborious 88 days (3 months if you’re lucky, even less if you’re luckier to pay off a farmer/have a famer sympathise with your disposition and who’ll happily sign off you’ve done 88 days when you’ve only done xxx weeks’ worth…) of regional work. Read as farm work, construction, labour or something else that falls under the rural postcode and the less than glamorous work. Apparently with the new visa rules that are coming into place in July, people who apply after July 2011 get a two year visa straight up. What about the people already here? you still have to do your 3 months of slave labour, no questions. If this is the case, then you've gotta laugh at Team Scatter's abysmal attempt at gaing the second visa.

For our second visa we intended to head east and north. Northeast, you know. Drive from Melbourne all the way through NSW, QLD, stop at some mates in the Gold Coast and then head to the Sunshine Coast, see more mates, and then find some fruit picking work. We were well read, ill educated and off in vain to get our second visa. I’d hummed and harred it since we arrived; could I really see myself standing in a field for 3 months, living in a tent, and getting up at 4am to begin work all for a second visa? Nope. Well I gave it a go, and I lasted three fucking days at it!

We never made it east, never mind northeast due to the floodings. The farms, crops and anything like that were screwed from the insane floods and torrential rain Queensland was having for the months prior to us leaving our homely comforts of Melbourne. Instead, we went west; the lads from Melbourne, myself from Adelaide via Indonesia, and then we scuttled through some incredible coastline just where The Great Australian Bight starts, drove across The Nullabor (pure outback and also home to the longest, flattest road in OZ), hit Albany, WA where we encountered phone signal for the first time since we left Adelaide and then hung around the incredible Margaret River for just under two weeks.

We thought we’d got lucky. We’d arrived just in time for the grape picking season and sure enough, the agencies were hiring. Vineyards, from what we heard, were nowhere near as bad as the tales of avocado picking we’d hear (for which I’d probably eat the profits, anyway!). Mates had warned us against banana picking, READ: rats and snakes around the trees; and we were also told that mangoes were the absolute shittiest of the lot, ‘cos the juice from the mangoes burns your skin. You could say we were pretty stoked to be living in such an amazing town. The Indian Ocean a five minute drive away; white beaches; crystal clear water that you can even swim in, which is unheard of in Melbourne’s icy waters; vineyards; surfers; a consistent 30 degrees temp plus added breeze. Bingo!

As it stood. It was a fucking disaster! Working within three days didn’t prove enough. Despite what they tell you, the agencies over hire, and as a result, we only ended up getting two days of work. Vineyards only go through agencies in WA and that means you get paid by the bucket load and where you work varies from day to day. A typical day would be getting up at 04:00; meeting the rest at 05:00; driving for 45mins to Dunsborough to the vineyard; work for seven hours battling the desire to pass out in the 34 degree heat, which, for the record, apparently gets up to 45 degrees in the vineyards ‘cos there’s no shelter from the relentless sun beating down on you. Aside from that, we got paid $2 a bucket, which, is fucking pitiful. All the new starters averaged $50 - $60 a day for seven hours work, and bearing in mind that after 11am it’s so fucking hot you spend most your time drinking water and trying not to pass out, the work gets harder and the heat gets hotter. To put it bluntly, we ended up making a loss being there. What we earned, if we were to get five days work, wouldn’t have covered the cost of camping or petrol. During our time in Margaret River (and also over the whole road trip), between the three of us we’d bought only one 12 pack of beer that was on offer and were living frugally on tuna pasta and the like and we were STILL making a loss!!! If we hadn’t left when we did, we wouldn’t have been able to afford petrol to Perth, never mind a flight to NZ which is our next stop after Australia. I had planned out the route home, I was facing fruit picking til my visa expired in Sept, still unable to save, potentially overstaying my visa and facing deportation. This romantic image of a slow, slow cargo ship that took months to reach Europe still lingers in my mind. Me having to clean and cook or hiding in the vessel ‘til I got back to the Motherland, broke!

I wish I could say, “Yeah! We drove across Australia with a boot full of booze and narcotics, Fear and Loathing in Australia, style! Carnage, we got to Maggie R and had blown all our cash on acid, booze and the best MDMA money could find”. But instead, we were up at 4am every day, in bed by 9pm, living off the very basic. The biggest hit I got was an avocado early on in SA and the only salvation was going to the beach after sweating our body weight on vineyards in WA all for a megre $50 that made us broke and extremely stressed. The words of our supervisor telling us all to acclimatise and boasting that he only needs ½ a litre of water a day still rings in my head. All our savings (and quite a bit of it) blown on basic living and then we were faced with a very quick and stealthy move to Perth to get back in the air conditioned world of temping, to save up and to be able to afford some conditioner and a new razor, never mind a meal out, a visit home, or a flight to New Zealand.

So that was it. All three days of fruit picking. Bang.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

whims and limbs

the tatmadaw is the burmese military. this was taken in mandalay.

i don't really know where time goes. i used to freak out big time about time; always worrying that my life and time was unfolding in front of my eyes and slipping between my fingers without me realising. queue my "it's all about having a good story" rant and you'll have a slight insight into my mind and one of the things i wanna achieve most of all in life. it's all about hearing good stories over ten changs too many and i don't wanna get to that age and then think "oh, shit!". yeah, i have perpetually itchy feet and like to work on whims and limbs, but until this summer i never really put it into practice. i was slipping into the comfort zones of my south manchester lifestyle and if i didn't get out then, i probably would've been there for the next ten years. i miss my friends like you wouldn't believe, but it'd been two years since i moved back from madrid and i fancied a challenge and a change.

over summer time was irrelevant. i only knew the rough date or time by when i arrived in a country or when my visa or stamp was due up. time plays no purpose or holds no significance when you're on the road. as long as you make whatever bus or flight you're booked on, then it's all good and even at that, it's not the end of the world. until i flew back to bangkok from yangon and the final seven days was looming, i hadn't even thought about the post-asia times until i left burma. i think it was all made easier because i knew i wasn't spending any significant time in the UK. a two day turnaround, hello to family, wash some clothes, grab some knitwear and off i went on a plane to vancouver. ha!

5am sunrise near mui ne.

kenny our zealous ha long bay tour guide.

the tee was worth the $50 for ha long bay tour, alone. fucking genius.

my nine week long jaunt felt like it was gonna go on forever, in the best possible way. i'm gonna put that down to the fact i went with no plan or clue where i was going except with the loose idea of meeting up with becky and scott and travelling north to south, going armed with a multiple entry visa for vietnam, a return flight in september and malaria pills. as it turns out, i went to thailand for three days and ended up stayed for two weeks, went to burma for two weeks (too short!) where i met some of the most legendary people in one of the most fascinating and fucked up lands ever. scuttled through cambodia on a whistlestop tour, said hello to the angkor watt, fended off even more tuk tuks, made it back to saigon for one last bowl of pho bo and then boarded the singapore airlines airbus on sat 12th september destined for london which i ended up having a 13hr transit in singapore. in that time i managed hooked up with tasha an thomas, drank an unhealthy amount of rum, caught two hours sleep and spoon with tasha then boarded my flight pissed as a fart. didn't sleep a wink on the flight, arrived into london on one of the greyest and coldest september day imaginable and then sat waiting and waiting and waiting for my coach to newcastle. my coach left london victoria at 23:30 which was roughly 05/06:30 se asian time. Bearing in mind i'd had two hours sleep in more than two days, i was starting to royally crash and burn. my solution to me not missing my coach was speaking to one of the greats, robert clayton, and asking him to just chat shit to me to keep me awake. that's what friends are for, eh?

the wonderful hoi an, vietnam.

i’m now in canada where i’ll be stationed for the next year. i turned twenty-four somewhere over the atlantic where i managed to have a 36hr birthday with time differences et all. now am trying to slowly regain to normality, whatever the fuck that means. jetlag finally caught up and defeated me; it hit me like a wall of impending doom but i'm over that and the brief stress of unemployment. banff is rad and am off to work for round II of my split shift in a few hours and it's snowing heavily outside. it all suits me to a total tee. around five weeks ago i was on my way back to bangkok from burma and hanging out with new and old friends in a city i never once had any connection with or desire to visit. here i've succeeded in finding a bar which sells gin and tonics at $2.50 and plays decent music. it's also a stone's throw from work and in four weeks the slopes open and i'll be fleeshing down the mountains wild as a boghillian on crack (maybe not).

so my wanderlust took me to se asia where i managed to party with people i didn’t know four months months ago, hooked up with old pals from ten years ago, an impromptu arrangement of hanging out in singapore with old pals from mancatraz and new pals from travels, was attacked by a vietnamese pineapple seller on a beach who was armed with a ketamine sized meat cleaver, dodged minors in burma, corrupted many a mind, managed to caress a few souls along the way, got embroiled in some ridiculous (yet fun!) situations, heard way too much UB40 for my liking, went to some parties that revolve around the moon, in-jokes, gaped at temples, shared cigars with monks, grew an unadultered love for uncle ho and somehow came out standing despite the amount of changs I consumed in two weeks alone in thailand.

home from home. where i was propped for two weeks.

home from home again. jack, a cockrel and a singapore sling.

in total, the last four months has seen me:

-touch down on three different continents

-seven countries

-15 different coaches which clocked in at roughly 150 hours of me sat on my arse questioning my life, sexuality and why the fuck the vietnamese bus drivers have to keep their hand on the fucking horn for the duration of the ride through the night.

one break down amongst many. near thazi, burma.

-six boats and eight flights. flew approx 8, 000 miles to and from vietnam via singapore. boshed christ knows how many valiums, drank an inexcusable amount of changs and pretty much hurt my cheeks from laughing so much. along the way we saw a lot of celebrity deaths. for me to notice or remember means there must have been a fair few. i don't normally clock any celebrity related business. bobby robson passed away and john hughes died sometime in the middle of me drinking buckets and laughing at all the g-bronis on haad rin at the full moon. i didn't pick up a news paper once except to check the news and happenings in burma. all in all, i was and still am living in an isolated bubble fuelled only by the radge people i meet along the way. christ, a plane destined for koh samui crashed the same day i was heading for koh phagnan, the next island along. i didn't know about this 'til i switched on my phone and went online three days after arriving and received an abundance of messages hoping i wasn't on the aforementioned flight.

connect four in a very drunken nha trang, vietnam.

as quite rightly pointed out, the temples of bagan (burma) look like gold, perky boobs.

here is nathalie and i on u bein bridge, burma. supposedly the world's longest teak bridge. as taken by ellen

wey, i would trade big mountains or rooms full of gold for the places i’ve seen and the faces i’ve met. since leaving the UK my life's become a whirlwind and hive of fun, sunsets, debauchery and culture shocks. i don’t care how cliché I sound, this holiday’s been full of them. clichés fucking rule. life is absolutely rad.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

holiday in cambodia

more insight into asian bus rides!

okay, so you're planning a visit to cambodia, you've survived the scam bus without too much disdain, now what next?

after listening to the dead kennedys' "holiday in cambodia" on your mp3 player and you've arrived at your guesthouse, you're gonna need a cold beer and some quick tutoring. we opted to stay at the garden village, which numerous backpackers had recommended to us. i headed there with two mancs; although one's supposedly welsh, though her accent and "eeeeyy yarrr!" makes me think otherwise! we were also supported by a dutch guy, an austrian and one of the most irritating pricks i've ever met in my life, who goes by the name of tinglish (more on him later).

garden village was ace. it had everything from $1 mattress in an open space kinda dorm to your $15 aircon, ensuite, double bed luxury. i'd've probs opted for the matress in an open space kinda setting if it weren't for the torrential rain we had. another thing, getting to the garden village involved wading through puddles of red mud. roads are non-existant, rain's a pouring, does this fucking guesthouse exist?! well yeah, it does, and aside from the moodiest staff ever, myself, tammy and kim got a room that clocked in at roughly $1.3333333333333333333 each and we had the privilege of a door and the bathroom next to us. i call that en suite, like, in the loosest sense of the word.

the jukebox, much to my absolute joy, was absolutely mind blowingly brilliant! the general consensus is plug in and play; a lot of people just moved their music onto the computer. i walked to the rooftop bar to hear sonic youth's sister belting out. i was like "guys, are we listening to sonic youth?!". tumbleweed may have blown passed. it had everything from explosions in the sky to aphex twin, to neil young, to creedence, to godspeed, to ritchie hawtin and a lot of stuff i've no idea about in between. my first night i decided to stay up late reading and generally having a ponder over the next few week's movements. ultimately this was the holy stress of blind panic that your travels were coming to an end, trying to formulate some kind of loose plan for canada and figuring out how the hell i was gonna cope with two days back in the hyem land. aka northumberland.

whilst i was sat scratching my head, darting emails to people about aforementioned stress and trying to prepare myself for any culture shock that might slam me in the face, i decided to drink 50c beer. at this point it was just myself and some other radge, aging irish guy sat. we had neil young on inexcusably loud and i suddenly had another one of those "holy shit what the fuck's going on in this world" moments.

i opted to leave seeing the angkor wat a day. i was still dog tired from literally being on the road for three days on the trot. from inle lake - yangon - bangkok - siem reap. all in three days. so i spent the day after scoping out what siem reap had to offer. which honestly isn't much aside the temples, which are way outta town, and a street cunningly named "bar / pub street". it's basically like freshers week on a street. you could be on any road, in any student bar in any part of the world. i almost definitely didn't feel like i was in cambodia. there's another cunningly named place, this time called the angkor wat? bar. it was good craik, played shit indie akin to fifth avenues (looking at those manchester heads, there!). you won't find it difficult to find the place, it's pretty recognisable. once you've spent more than a week in se asia, if that, you'll notice that everyone plus their mothers own the t-shirt from this bar. it's not quite as noticeable as the laos - vangvieng tubing vest absolutely fucking everyone has (i'd say the amount of tees i saw with this on has definitely put me off going tubing. but not laos, that'll be for next time). other highlights are saigon beer vests and on khao san road you'll be inundated with 7-11 shirts. ker-ching! you'll start noticing them and dodging them like the plague. cynical? me?

so once i scoped out the depths of siem reap, i had to then get my head round the amount of valium they'd willingly sell you over the counter without ANY questions being asked. i had my spiel all ready, something about long journeys, not being able to sleep, fear of flying... nada. "so lady, how many strips do you realllllllllllly want? you can have the whole box" i laughed, parted with $8 and walked away 30 10mg of special Vs richer.

my week running up to the big fly home made me check itineraries and i then realised i had 13hrs in singapore. shit the bed, i'm running low on cash and not heard much in favour of singapore for the budget conscious mind. fuck fuck fuck, do i sleep in changi airport which has it all from free net, to cinemas, to outdoor pools, or do i go for a midnight cruise round the metropolis or not? not a chuff of a clue. the following day out of sheer luck, fate and my absolute bafflement at how things now keep falling into place with little effort and huge whimsical mechanics on my part; i get an email from our very own tasha whittle of manchester heights saying that for various reasons she was in town with the family and wanted to know if i wanted to meet her. what the fuck! not only that, but one of the salad day entourage, thomas, was also in town. how did this happen? old and new pals from far and wide happen to be in a strange and alien city to me that only the day before i knew absolutely no-one and was a bit skeptical about wandering aimlessly around a massive, expensive city whilst my savings were dwindling. suddenly i was getting excited for my trip to end. well to see good pals.

not many people irritate me. some how over the last three months my patience got better and better. i'm really mild mannered and non-confrontational, although can be ridiculously hyper active when the time comes. i absolutely adore people. queue katie's "it's all about having a good story" rant... "if you've got a good story to tell, i'll sit with you all day and night drinking and listening... i don't wanna grow old and not have a good story to tell". people fucking rule and the number of ace people i've met and know totally outweigh the bad. it's just a shame when you can't seem to rid that one irritable presence that seems to bring down everyone. let's cut to the fucking chase. the guy in question goes by the name of tinglish. we first met tinglish on the scam bus at service station # 33.777777777777777. so as "subway boy" ran off to find his bait (see previous post!) we were all chatting. there was a guy who'd been teaching in s korea, two japanese guys, an austrian, a dutch guy... and tinglish. we all ask what everyone else has been up to, you know, the usual travelling questions of where have you been, what are you doing etc etc. tinglish retorts by saying he's thai, been educated in london for last few years for uni and was back in asia for a bit to see family and then do a spot of travelling. fair enough like. the two mancs were skeptical from the start. they kept quizzing him saying that his english was just too good for such a short time. i figured that it was more than do-able. sure, his english was at BBC standard, but i figured boarding school educated and shipped off over here to go to uni. whatever, when you meet people, you don't presume they're bullshitting you, do you? well tinglish started having a go at one of the others for being "such a fucking fool" for booking his journey through some agent in the south islands. i don't know the intricacies, but he was basically laying into him for being so dumb for falling for the scam bus. err, excuse me, look around you and see where we are. prick. so we all, literally five of us, turn around and say "hang on dude, YOU'RE the one who's supposedly local, what the fuck are YOU doing on the scam bus?!". later in the evening he found out the dutch guy's name was pronounced "coon" and couldn't stop laughing. he ran over to the bunch of oxford graduates who were there and he somehow knew (lovely guys, for the record!) and was like "guys, GUESS WHAT HIS NAME IS!" really, dude. it's not fucking funny. despite you bragging about how amazing your I.Q level is, you come across as 16 years old and having never met anyone outside your own social niche before.

this shit went on 'til he left for phnom penh. he had a bandaged hand which he told us he'd guffed up whilst playing a game of "killer" in thailand. apparently he was about to hit the winning pot and did the victory dance before he'd even hit the ball. so he shoved his hand high in the air and it got caught in the over-head fan! ha ha ha ha a ha ha. i later heard, from different guys, that this story changed somewhat. ryan, seattle born, lived in norway for five years and with one of the most incredible facial adornment on record, said tinglish had told him he'd done it at the garden village. only flaw to that story / lie was that the fan was on the complete opposite side of the room to the pool table. i dunno, he kept on going on about how no-one "got" his humour, but it was basically his cover up for getting himself into the most awkward of situations you could cut with a knife. like some "joke" about how tammy would rather spend 5 days in bangCOCK than in london. no-one got it and no-one laughed. the thing that annoyed me the most was his constant jokes about how he was in cambodia to bosh some child prostitutes. shit man, dry sense of humour is fuckin rad, but you're in a country where child prostitution is imminent, rife and an absolute despairing situation, you really shouldn't be there. just get the fuck out.

we found out about three days in that he wasn't from thailand at all (it was plausible, no-one could just get their head around the amount of bullshit he spieled off). he was born and raised in hackney and HE made the digs at US for being so "gullible" to fall for it. i'm sorry, but just cock off. no-one's ever gonna question your race, birth place whatever. he looked like he could be thai and am never, ever gonna turn around to anyone and tell them they're bullshitting me.

i haven't even mentioned the bloody angkor watt yet! my hands are growing numb in this canadian temperature and my eyes are getting bleary! the angkor watt was so unreal. like nothing i've ever seen. the weather was shit and rainy but i reckon we got to see it in a completely different light. i literally spent the day marvellin in it. it was ridiculous, it's like stepping back in time. oh, and en route to the temples we got mugged by some fucking monkeys! our tuk tuk driver got excited and was like "GUYS LOOK AT THE MONKEYS!" he stopped the tuk tuk, we looked over shouting "AWWWW!" like stupid tourists we were and next thing i know about ten monkeys ransacked our tuk tuk and did one with our fucking breakfast of champs which included my splurge on kettle chips, sprite, grapefruit and another tin of pop. the thieving little bastards. i kept sayin to the guy that they were paying him commission. i don't think he found that too funny!

some essential phrases to learn before heading to cambodia, once you've nailed them, you'll be ready for anything

so repeat after me:

[in a shrill voice]

"hello ladyeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. buy somethiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing. one dolaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaar. special priiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiice"

[in this case, make sure the stress from low to high is placed on every second word.]

now for the tuk tuk drivers:

"hello! lady! where you go? i wait long time for you! cheap cheap, happy hour! i make special price for you"

[keep your intonation short, sharp and prompt. not messing around, cut to the chase]

"cheap cheap" is always a winner. you know you;ve been in se asia too long when you hear a car or motorbike beeo their horn twice and you hear the words "CHEAP CHEAP!"

and for the children:

now begging is something that's more prevalent in cambodia than any other third world country i visited in the two months. in general, as you can imagine, it's pretty depressing. in cambodia it's fucked. cambodia is fucked. there's a massive gap between the rich and the poor. you shouldn't compare countries as every country is different, but for instance in burma, the kids are poor. poverty like you've never seen. there's very little hassle and they'd rather you just chat to them and listen. in cambodia it's really different. the kids are wearing the smartest clothes with the neat trimmed hair, you can't walk down the street without having four children swarm around you. they're sharp, cheeky and have an answer for everything (normally in five different languages!).

i'm normally quite good (or bad!?) at giving banter or ignoring it. well not wholly, but once you've made eye contact, that's it, there's no getting away til you part with some dinero. i was walking down bar street in siem reap in broad daylight and i had one girl hanging off my arm, a boy pulling at the back of my shirt and another literally tugging at my skirt all at once. it's so depressing, the begging got too much. one boy came up to me and simply said "buy me?"

one night we all went out and at 3am the lads wanted some food. we opted for street food. i wasn't actually eating but next thing i knew there was some girl who couldn't be no older than 7 yrs old - although it's hard to tell - crawling all over me, putting her face in my boobs and in a sinister squawk screaming "NO MONEY NO HONEY, NO LADY NO BOOM BOOM!" in my face. she kept pulling at my chunky necklace and screaming into my eyes. fuck about, what went wrong. in the last two weeks of se asia i seemed to spend it dodging bloody minors in varying forms!

so the final few days, shit, i had to get to phnom penh, then to saigon, to singapore and then to london in the course of four days! time was running out and my whistlestop tour of cambodia was drawing to a close. met some bloody amazing people and we had a good group going with ryan, patrick, the mancs and kyle, who i'd formally met in burma. i found out just the other day that he's only just left there. three weeks on! legendary work. notable highlight was us all getting high in his room til 5/6am and me trying to do one with his dinosaur blanket that i'd managed to wrap around, under, over and tucked to perfection. in my head i know what am going on about. poor kyle, nearly without a duvet or cover! ryan and i decided to leave him be. en route back to the paupers' living accomm (kyle was in the $15 aircon and ensuite rooms of joy) we pressed our ears up to the sky and listened to the frogs and crickets going berserk at an ear piercing level. we must've woke everyone up. the insects in se asia are like nothing else. you get used to a constant din and i found it somewhat comforting.

Sunday, 20 September 2009


the dubious thai - cambodian scam bus, eh?

the border in question, for the record, is aranyaprathet/poipet, the most travelled crossing from bangkok to siem reap.

i knew before i alighted the bus on sunday 6th sept that it was the scam bus i was boarding. i didn't really care, to be honest. i had to get out of bangkok ASAP especially as i had seven days to get to saigon for my return flight back to europe. at 400baht and a time frame of doom it had to be done. have to say, it was made a lot easier given the fact i'd done some forward reading and been de-briefed by others.

the scam bus is famous. probably as famous as the laos - vietnam scam bus. anyone who's been to se asia has either been or one or the other or spoken to someone who'd been on it. let's just say it's pretty fucking entertaining from start to finish.

i don't really use travel guides much. i'd never used one before coming to asia. one thing the lonely planet is good for is the following: border crossings, maps and... wait for it... the sections highlighted as DANGERS AND ANNOYANCES. in the mekon delta and i soon found out the guide to cambodia, there's a massive section, in a frame, titled SCAM BUS!

the scams are exactly as outlined in the travel guide, exactly how other people explained to me and yet people fall for these scams time and time again. we tried explaining to the others "DON'T DO IT!", but think at first they thought we were just being stingey and awkward, 'til reality sunk in!

if you're ever planning on travelling overland from bangkok to siem reap then take heed of the following!

scam #1: so i'm sat outside the travel agent on kao san road chatting with a japanese guy who was waiting for the same dubious bus. some over zealous and cheery thai agent comes along with all the paperwork for the cambodian visa. i start filling it out then once done, he's like "that's $36". erm, hang on, the cambodian visa only costs $20. so i basically tell him, in a more eloquent manner, to cock right off. he then starts to say i'll hold the bus up, i may have to wait at the border for three days (!!!!!!), he can offer an express service... i look at him and tell him firmly, there's no fucking way i'm paying $36 for him to slip almost double the visa's worth into his back pocket. he walks off, rather pissed off and infuriated at me. do i care? do i fuck.

scam #2: so you get to the bus and they make you wait at the border for ages. this i don't mind. when you're eventually into cambodia you stop at some gash awful service station for another hour or so. that i don't mind either. just get me to siem reap and that's all i care about. the reason why they do this is so you arrive into siem reap around 7/8pm (this whole journey should take approx. seven hours, it took us 12. no sweat, like i said, i knew what i was in for). my friend nathalie did this journey in reverse and it she was in bangkok by 4pm. another reason why they draw this out is so that when you arrive into siem reap you'll stay at one of their overpriced guesthouses in the shadiest suburbs of town. whilst you're enduring scam #2 the aforementioned gibroni will constantly mither you to fill out the forms and insist that there's no way you can get through without him doing so. bite your tongue and don't give in.

now let's look at scam #1 and #2. as it was around the time of the full moon party in thailand the bus was a lot quieter than normal, apparently. i'd say there was about thirty people on it. so looking at scam #1 only three people refused to give some bawbag an extra $16 to do something that basically involves yourself walking up to the counter and handing over your dollar dollar bill, y'all. $16 split between him and whichever cambodian offical/mafia/police officer, times by 27 people equates to roughly $432. not fucking bad for a quiet day's work!!!!! myself and coincidentally two other mancunians were the only ones who point blank refused. it's utter, utter bollocks that you slow the queue down. my japanese friend arrived onto the bus on the cambodian side approx. 45mins after we did. call that an express service?

one thing that i did give into, but not for want of trying, was forking out 100baht/$3 extra for the visa. picture the scene:

you go up to the counter, there's a MASSIVE sign hung on the wall saying "TOURIST VISA $20". the cambodian offical says it'll be $23. i laugh, point and ask why. he then gets irate, starts screaming in my face that i'm fucking deaf, stupid and can't i listen (his words, not mine). so i retaliate by shouting and pointing as he himself did, saying "can't you read, the sign says $20!". he gives some lame excuse about the fact we're not at the embassy -no shit, sherlock- and them's the rules. i suddenly thought, what's 3 bucks to a guy who's gonna determine whether or not i get into his kingdom when the rest of the bus have paid $16 more.

scam #3: okay, i'd been made fully aware of this one by the lads i went to koh phagnan with, they'd been stung by it and to be honest, who wouldn't if you'd never visted cambodia before or knew any better?

so you're in no-man's land, well you've just made it through the border and waiting for the dregs of the bus to get through. our enthusiastic tour guide points to the money exchange and suggests you change your dollars there as they don't accept $ in cambodia. the exchange rate there is pitiful. again, i reiterate, bull. shit. so you get to cambodia, withdraw cash and alas! the ATMs churn out freshly printed US dollars, bars accept dollars, as does the night market and tuk tuks! my mates got ripped off by about £15 each. it sounds plausible if you've never been to the country before, who's to know? again, if you think about the number of people doing this crossing, then again, it's not half bad for a day's work. i'm not frugal, nor am i a tight arse, but one thing i'm almost definitely not is wanting to be taken for a fucking mug or fool. it's the principle of the whole ordeal that both riled and entertained me immensely.

so when we're at the second stop waiting and wondering when we were actually gonna leave for siem reap myself and a guy we'd met decide to go ask the driver if he could show us on a map where in town he was gonna be dropping us off. suddenly he doesn't speak any english. a girl who was on our bus runs to our mercy and hark! she can speak cambodian. BINGO! all he'd tell her was that we'd be dropped at a "gas station". bloody hell!

some fun happened on the scam bus, met some legends. one guy at the service station was sat eating a subway sandwich he'd bought in bangkok. some guy walks up to him, looking pretty hungover and rough dog, and was like "holy shit! did you buy that here?!". the guy who was enjoying his meat feast of a sarnie was like "yeah man, just round the corner!". the rest of us look at each other then as "subway boy" runs off to find is fodder, we ask him if that's his pal. "nah, never seen him before in my life!!!". god knows what happened to subway boy, he certainly didn't get back on our bus, hopefully he was on the other scam bus. oh, and for the record, i didn't see one subway the whole time i was in cambodia.

the latter part of the journey was spent with the whole bus yelling in unison "SCAM BUS!" at the driver and also chatting to a (different) and cute japanese boy. romance beckons (ha, as if!), although the major problem was, as always, the inevitable language barrier. he spoke barely any english, me even less japanese. so we're sat shaking hands trying to teach each of our native tongues, smiling at each other. i wrote it all down phonetically in my book, "kinkydescar" means how are you, i think, and i was trying to explain what the word kinky meant in english and to be careful when to say it! tumble weed blew past... well, he asked me what my name was and he wrote it in japanese in my book with his name underneath. it was like being 14 again. ahhh!

so we made it to siem reap after 8/9ish. myself, the mancs and three other guys comandeer some tuk tuks and make way to the garden village which we'd all been recommended. devoid of casa del crack and three of us $16 richer than the others...

more bus journeys of woe and heartbreak

it started with a kiss...

we made it to inle lake after recharging our batteries in the wonderful $4 guesthouse in kalaw. hot water was much appreciated as we were high up in trekking-ville and i was suddenly coming down with a bloody cold.

inle lake was one of the most superbly relaxed settings ever. we stayed in the cheap end of town that most travellers end up resting in, aka nyaungshwe and were fortunate, thanks to the heads up from a swiss girl we met for one night in mandalay, to stay at the aquarius inn, an absolute gem of a find and without a doubt the friendliest staff in the world (bar the motherland inn II in yangon!) and hands down the best breakfast ever. i commended the guys on their spanish tortilla, i mean, it was as if i'd bought it from a high brow restaurant in madrid. the guy chuckled when i asked how he learned it and he said a spanish traveller taught him it! i am a total dairy fiend and in burma most, if not all, accommodation comes with free breakfast (HURRAH!) which is fucking A as it was the one meal a day where i got runny egg sunny side up and a bloody good black coffee. at the aquarius one day you got unlimited amounts of pancakes, tortilla the next and then came egg day! poached, i'll have you know. as much coffee you can drink and job's a good'un.

we didn't much at inle lake. the weather flittered between monsoon and searing heat. i managed to read stephen fry's autobiography and nathalie indulged in some murakami. we met and chatted with some interesting folk and we basically recharged our batteries after the battering from the bus ride. i sneezed my way through the three days thanks to the blasted cold and we were lucky that the day we decided to go out on inle lake, was beautiful weather. spent the day on a long boat taking in the immense surroundings.

so time was starting to close in on us. pretty gutting to know we were on our last leg of burma's days. two weeks really isn't enough time. but two weeks is better than none, that's for sure.

our taxi broke down en route to the bus. this is the petrol station we broke down in front of!

so my last encounter on burmese buses was from inle lake back down to yangon. we asked around for advice and our thoughts were confirmed. it's not a bad ride, most of it is on a good, newly built motorway, if you can call it that, but the first four hours involved going back on ourselves toward thazi aka the land of breakdowns, windy roads, misery and torment! oh, we also met a dutch guy in inle lake who arrived a day after us. apparently the bus i mentioned that decided to take a detour was still sat in the river when he passed it almost 24hrs later. christ knows how long we'd've been stuck there if we didn't charter that bus.

for some reason when locals board buses in asia they seem to take their life's possessions with them. boxes and boxes of shit. everywhere. animals, bags, food, you name it.

so we set off destination yangon on our last epic journey in burma. paid an extra $5 for an air con recliner, baby. the woman in front of me was sat with her son and husband, on two seats, yeah. unfortunately the local roads were too much for her and she got a bout of the old travel sickness. unfortunately for myself, this woman decided to relocate away from her seat her and her family were on and station herself next to me, in the aisle, along with a cool box filled with fuck knows what. her travel sickness worsens as the roads get bumpier. the woman moans, groans and whenever the bus is hurled round another corner she kept grabbing onto my knee for support! one thing i forgot to mention that is the woman decided to stow her four poly bags full of yom next to my feet. seriously, are you for fucking real?

i don't remember much of the journey apart from it being ridiculously cold, me trying not to let my feet touch the bags of sick that were well within my perimeter of personal space,more air con blasting out in full glory and me wrapped in my minnie mouse jumper and two longis! we got into yangon in the early early hours, got in a taxi and headed straight to home from home. we arrived at the motherland inn II before the air asia flight and were surprised and honoured that the israeli guy we met two nights prior had actually forewarned them of our arrival and booked us in! we arrived to zaw zaw, ei tuh and the crew running out and giving us hugs. more cries of "beautiful teacher/sister/friend" and i spent the last 24hrs in burma sat with them, went to a tea shop with zaw zaw, chatted incessantly over our experiences and promising i'll be back with more time so i can go round with zaw zaw and get to see more of the wonderfully screwed up and generous land. we then spent the last evening sat outside meeting a mad mixture of (friendly and fun!) esl teachers who'd somehow ended up in burma teaching. seemingly teaching the rich and elite in a private school on the outskirts of town. i pried into it, tried to gauge their opinion on where they were working and what their opinions of it was when there's bludgeoning poverty and lack of education everywhere. all i could make of it was that it was evidently the government and political elite's whippersnappers they were teaching and they didn't seem to have much of an opinion on it except that it was cheaper to stay in a guesthouse for six months than rent an apartment where the government wanted something like a six month's rent up front in one go...

Friday, 18 September 2009

bus journeys of love and doom

i've decided i should make a bloody zine on bus journeys in asia.

you'll find that the main hub of ridiculous experiences and patter when travelling around asia tends to revolve around bus journeys. they are the absolute pandemonium of carnage and seeing the amount of time you spend sat on your arse, the idiots, legends and total eye openers you meet and see, it's no wonder long distance buses are home to the more obscure and often ridiculous story.

in vietnam, on my first asian bus between hanoi and hue, there was that guy who decided that he should take up a seat and a half and being the true brit i am, feeling too awkward and polite to ask him to close his fucking legs (really, though) , he then decided to take me on the guided tour of hue via is mobile phone and showing me pictures of fish, fish, more fish and a temple. trying to look as interested as possible, whilst slyly slipping a diazepam in my mouth, he then proclaims, upon seeing i have a mobile with a local network (we call this roaming back home, innit) "oh you have a vietnamese phone! give me your number!". i turn and say "not a chance!", asking why all i could muster up was that i "don't like giving my mobile out to men i don't know"... while all this was going on i could hear two people pissing themselves laughing behind me. these two people i'd never met until this journey, one of which became our travelling companion right down to mui ne, a total legend and good friend now!

there was that other bus ride of doom which after something like three hours rattling up the road without stopping, we finally get to a service station. oh, yeah. toilets are locked on buses in vietnam. speculations rose as to why. i reckon the WC is rammed full of drugs. i've heard other stories of people doing the laos - vietnam bus ride. holy fucking shit now there's a journey i haven't done and haven't heard one good thing about. one pal nearly got scammed by the woman who pretty much stole her bus money from her, then came back five minutes later nonplussed and asking for her money. i then heard that the said woman lay down next to my pal as she was trying to sleep, put her hands round her head as if to yawn or stretch out, and then she found the woman unzipping her bag that was under her head! the guys i went to thailand with told me they had to spend 24 hours in a bus sat on top of fertiliser. the list could go on.

well we made it to the service station and a group of us start heading to the loos. now i am known to be for leisurely toilet time, but these things you've gotta let pass when travelling round s.e asia. that's fine! well as i walk towards the toilets, which i can only stress that that word is used in the loosest term possible, i can smell the carnage before i witnessed the horror! i get there to find a concrete wall with a gutter running underneath it. there're no squats nor cubicles. instead, there's the aforementioned concrete wall, lit up like blackpool tower and four vietnamese women having a slash against the wall, FACING ME! that was that, no way was i getting involved in that sordid escapades! give me a bush, truck or dark corner any day! so myself, with the help of becky and two israelis we met and travelled with, combine forces, find a spot behind a massive truck and take turns to keep look-out, wee and once i'm done i run back to warn the driver that there was three girls en route! i had an inkling he was ready to do one before the others were finished.

the other thing about vietnamese buses is the sleeper bus. our first ride wasn't on the infamous "sleeper" but we had it from hue right the way down to saigon. it's really odd, you get on and it's like bunk beds, but like hospital beds, lined up right to the back. your feet goes in what i can only describe as hamster cages and sometimes the bed is half your body size length wise.

so back to burma. i have to say, my first real and proper experience of asian bus torture hadn't really started until our ride from bagan to inle lake. i always sympathised with others who had to go through with the laos to vietnam bus ride of hell and i felt my only ride that came close was the fucking horrific ride from the arse end of space in saigon down to phu quoc island.

well the night before we were to leave for inle lake we met an alaskan called kyle, who i later met in cambodia, who had done the journey in reverse. his words were that it was "horrific". we all laugh at him saying it really couldn't be that bad, others had been in the chicken buses in india, yadda yadda. i think we were kidding ourselves on, to be honest.

we got on the bus at around 03.30am. i must stress it was a mini bus in the loosest terms. the six of us were the only foreigners on the bus. let's just we'd boarded the most local bus and looked like aliens had been dropped. none of us could actually get our asses to fit on the seat. i'm serious. our entourage included people of all shapes and sizes, none of us petite enough to squeeze into the miniature seats we were slumped on. we'd only had about three hours sleep and we got onto this mini bus with the sudden panic of what we were gonna have to go through over the next 16 hours. first off, there was the most mind blowingly irritating music blasting out of the front. secondly, there wasn't enough room on the bus for everyone. where were they all to go? well some sat on the smallest plastic stools imaginable and the rest had to sit on the roof. the road between bagan and inle lake is without a doubt one of the bumpiest and windiest roads i've seen. now it was a struggle to sleep, i won't lie. i opted for 3 valium and apparently was quite entertaining and chatting shit for a good few hours after sleeping, probably managed an hour or two kip time, but spent the rest of the time bobbing up and down trying to get some feeling back into my arse and legs. downside to not having a big bum and it being bony is that these long journeys can be irritating as hell.

look at all the happy faces!

breakdown #1 happened round near a place called thazi. now am not good at mechanics and have never fixed anything on my car except when i managed to knock the wing mirror off when driving from newcastle to my home town when ridiculously hungover, but i know that if the rear suspension of a bus has gone that the solution to fixing it ISN'T by hammering a plank of fucking wood over it. uh-oh.

well we plough on and come along comes breakdown #2. now at least it wasn't ourselves that were involved in the breakdown, strictly speaking. like tim, a graduate in engineering and also, from what i heard, a guy who fears very little. i could tell that their methods of fixing the suspension wasn't too hot and i even heard him mention that the bus could topple at any opportunity... well, thankfully it didn't, but our second breakdown happened somewhere between thazi and kalaw, up the windiest, steepest road. let;s say we're heading up towards jungle territory and down in the valley there's a lake, or ditch. well this massive truck broke down. no-one could move it as it was laden down with bricks, bricks and more bricks. now here rolls in the entertainment. nose to tail of traffic and the trucks waiting for a part to be brought from thazi, we're still two hours from where tim, sarah and ellen were headed and three to four hours from inle lake, which is where nathalie and i were destined. i decided to climb on top of our bus to witness the carnage that was about to unfold. so instead of waiting patiently, like every other bleeder on the road, a mini bus, not too dissimilar from our own decides to make a "detour" and go down a dirt track to dodge the truck that was blocking the road. guess what? he ended up in the fucking valley. now another van decided not to learn from the predecessors mistake and to run to its aid. seriously, i don't think you're gonna be able to tow the other knacker out the river. oh, and as this was all happening, i must add that the monsoons decided to open and the weather quickly shifted from 40 degrees plus to torrential rain.

we were saved by some gibroni who we thought we'd bartered and chartered his bus with. well, we should thank him for his noble gestures. considering we were getting soaked, we were crabby and my enthusiasm was officially starting to wain, we paid him $3 each to get us the hell out of there as his bus was on the other side of the broken down truck. we get on, there's about ten people on board and we thought we'd chartered it to get us to kalaw asap. oh now, this is where the guy started touting for more business and the driver couldn't speak any english. so time passes, we're all starting to get a bit fucked off that the $30 wasn't enough to get us out of there and to make it even worse, the locals that clambered on with their worldly possessions only paid 1000 kyat each ($1).

nathalie and myself opted to get off at kalaw and rest, eat and not endure the final two hour ordeal to inle lake until the following day. when we got off at kalaw we found that when our chartered bus set off all our bags got completely caked in mud and rain as the back door wasn't shut properly. thank fucking god my camera and valuables were in my day bag!