A Travellerspoint blog

Kicking in Koh Samui

I no longer feel ill. I'm not suffering the effects of any burns. I had a chocolate milkshake with lunch yesterday. Things are looking up!

Chiang Mai was fairly low key from my point of view. We were staying in what was quite possibly the cheapest hostel in the world, and it was actually fine aside from the lack of air con. So the room had a tendency to overheat... This wasn't ideal. The others went on a day trek with elephants and white water rafting which sounded amazing but I simply wasn't up to it! So I wandered around, found a Starbucks (which definitely had air con) and sat there for some time...

We soon moved on to Koh Samui, and I was definitely starting to feel better! We were staying in a very chilled area, complete with a swimming pool and only minutes from the beach. I liked it. Also the hotel restaurant was amazing. Not least because they did choc chip ice cream shakes (as mentioned above). I had been craving chocolate milkshake for some time. They also did excellent Thai curries. Part of me even reckons that they're better than the Sainsbury's Thai red curry ready meals, even with extra spring rolls. I'm still not entirely decided on this as the Sainsbury's rice has more character than the steamed rice I was being served but, nevertheless, the curry itself was outstanding. I even tried a shark curry at another restaurant - and although this was enjoyable their method of serving drinks was questionable. I ordered a bottle of Fanta, half of it was poured into a small glass the other half thrown in the bin. I didn't really know what to say...

The nature of our location meant that relaxing was top of the agenda and things weren't overly eventful. We did however play a round of 'football golf' which was a great idea but my memory of it is tarnished by JC producing an astonishing one shot victory over me (Rob was way behind!) despite the fact that JC's football skills have never exactly been revered worldwide. Frankly I'm still a little embarrassed.

I think that this particular hotel was the nicest we've stayed in, although we did have some problems - one afternoon JC and I attempted to join Rob for a swim, but found that our door had inexplicably and irreversibly locked itself. Despite each of us having considerable 'Prison Break' knowledge we could find no way out, and our calls to Rob fell on deaf ears as he thought we were playing some kind of mind games on him and stayed well away. We attempted, Jonny English style, to whistle at the exact frequency of a metal lock, but to no avail. Eventually a man arrived with power tools and set us free!

On our last night we even saw some friendly faces from home in the shape of Sarah Elson and co which was nice! And then prepared for the 1.45am kick off of what was ultimately a disappointing Champions League final, although I was very excited when Rooney scored :). Arrived back around 4 to find that JC, who had gone home early, had also managed to lock the bathroom from the outside. Fantastic. Following a fairly uncomfortable ferry/bus journey we are back in Bangkok, prior to our onward flights.

Sadly, these are likely to be JC's last meaningful blog mentions, as he flies back to England tomorrow! JC has provided much entertainment over the trip. His constant 'business ideas' are interesting to say the least, with the latest brainwave being a letter to the king of Thailand suggesting that more cookie ice cream be made available in his country as this is a definite money spinner with tourists. I feel that the king may have other things to do. Who knows. There have been numerous other moments of unintentional and occasionally even intentional comedy that JC has provided, and JC your presence on this trip will certainly be missed as we move on!

Hope that you people aren't too distracted by exams and dissertations to read this! Anyone disheartened by early morning revision sessions should note that tomorrow will be my second consecutive 4am wake up. This isn't something I'm pleased about.


Posted by tom_christmas 04:29 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Buying in Bangkok

So there's a whole week of fun in Thailand to catch up on! Could this be a long entry? Probably not. About half way through the first day in Bangkok I got a temperature. The situation has yet to reverse itself.

During the four days in Bangkok I left the hostel pretty rarely... We managed to get a ridiculously cheap tuk-tuk (a strange blend between a motorbike and a taxi) from the station for only 5 baht (10p) each. The only catch was a five minute stop at a tailors while the driver 'refuelled'. We weren't going to buy anything. JC spent 200 quid on suits. Rob bought a shirt. I ended up with a cheap t-shirt.. I did see the Grand Palace and a massive reclining buddha - they seem to have a ridiculous amount of things built entirely out of gold from what I saw. Aside from this there isn't much to note. Rob ate a scorpion. I completed an 18 hour stint in bed (was forced after this as they turn the air con off for 6 hours a day at which point it becomes unbearable). I had a steak for lunch one day - asked for it to be medium, this was seemingly mis-translated as mediocre. But yeah most of the time I was lying in the room feeling grumpy.

We got a cheap but horrible train to Ayutthaya - unhelpful. The others toured the city while I stayed in the room. The lady running the hostel was a little scary - probably around 60 and with approximately 4 teeth, she delighted in screaming my name and singing a very strange song every time I came into view. Again, unhelpful. The next day was spent, as per usual, in the room. Although in the evening we were dragged out by the people running the hostel to a bar, where JC most definitely rocked the mike. There was some initial confusion after people thought he had written 'Don't Look Back in Anger' himself, but we soon clarified that it was Oasis... A Canadian woman (also feeling ill) offered me the rest of her drink, I joked that I was alraedy feeling a bit light headed after my two orange juices. She seemed to think I was being serious. An awkward silence ensued...

Then we got a sleeper train to Chiang Mai. All the main lights on the train were kept on. There was no way of turning them off. In addition each bed was provided with two personal lights. Why?? Can Thai people only sleep when its light? Or do they feel that sleeper trains are generally too comfortable to provide a properly challenging experience? Inexplicable. Hoping to fight off this illness soon!


Posted by tom_christmas 05:35 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Hopping in Ha Long Bay

I couldn't think of a good word beginning with 'h'. There isn't actually any hopping included in the extract below.

So we had another afternoon in Hanoi after the water puppet show and wanted to make it count - but we were kinda tired and we realised that both Harry Potter 6 and the Hangover were on TV. So we watched them. Don't pretend like you wouldn't have done the same. And it was certainly an improvement on the fishing programme we'd watched a couple of days before. Then we had dinner, two other English guys on the table behind us were discussing how awkward it would be if they were engaged to a girl SO religious that she wanted to get married in a church. Then they started talking about how high their IQs were. Fairly confident they were lying. Sometimes it's hard not to take an instant dislike to people...

Got an early bus to Ha Long bay - apparently everyone but us had lunch included in their ticket - I had to make do with some Strawberry Oreos - I don't recommend them. The ferry to Cat Ba island (where we were staying) was insanely slow - although it included a couple of excursions into some caves. The islands are seriously cool, there are almost two thousand of them in Ha Long bay! Of all different shapes and sizes! Crazy! Then the bus to the hotel was also very slow, particularly up hills where I genuinely felt I could have outpaced it on foot. And I'm no Usain Bolt. Dinner time loomed, but due to ATM trouble it took us around two hours to get cash - and we foolishly went for some large pizzas which were a large disappointment. I don't think Vietnam is famous for it's pizzas. Try Italy.

The next day I stayed in to nurse my burn and generally attempt to become less worn out - the others rented bikes which wasn't really an option for my leg anyway. It would seem from the state if his knee and elbow on his return that JC had the occasional biking mishap. Now I have to share the first aid stuff. We were faced with a 6.30 wake up so didn't want to go to bed too late. But we had to stay out for the cup final in some bar - was momentarily distracted by a what seemed to be a large lizard darting behind the TV - when it re-emerged it was definitely a rat. Lovely. Anyway, JC and I tried to sleep once we'd packed but, despite our protests, Rob was intent on singing songs, largely to his Malarone (malaria medication). It took a good ten minutes of us ignoring him for Rob to finally keep quiet! Another long journey back to Hanoi - and we were initially standing up on the bus (with concerns that this might be a permanent situation for the four hour ride) but we got rid of some people... One last night in Hanoi with the prospect of a 5.45 awakening (I HATE MORNINGS). Still, despite issues with card payments and a hurried dash to the ATM, we left our hostel sort of on time. Rule one of traveling - look after your passport. All of the hotels/hostels tend to hold on to your passport when you arrive. Sometimes they forget to give them back. Sometimes we forget to ask for them back. You guessed it - we had forgotten. Fortunately it wasn't long before I realised and we were soon back on track.

Now in a nice hostel in Bangkok - and probably time for the beard to go. It has been trimmed - gone for a chin-strap type look - not sure its a keeper.

Good luck to everyone doing exams!! :)


Posted by tom_christmas 05:55 Archived in Vietnam Comments (2)

Speeding in Sa Pa

So when you're driving a minibus of people along winding mountain roads with poor visibility, you drive slowly and certainly keep overtaking to a minimum, right? Wrong. This may be the closest thing you'll get to being a Formula One Driver. Put your foot down.

Let's rewind a couple of days. Spent our remaining time in Hoi An wondering what might have been if we'd have been more thorough with our suncream application on the beach. Instead it was likely that some time inside would be necessary. We were concerned that further exposure to direct sunlight might finish JC off, so our first day in Hanoi was spent in the hotel room, with Oreos and Red Bull forming a makeshift lunch. By evening it was safe to venture outside and an enjoyable meal was had at a local restaurant. The next day we explored some of the city (although JC had grown to love the hotel room so much that he stayed in again...) Third day in Hanoi - we all went outside! Mega excitement :). It doesn't feel all that different to Ho Chi Minh really, although we did visit a lake where, allegedly, a giant gold turtle had once brought a powerful sword to someone - but sadly the turtle didn't show up for us. Lame.

It was almost time for the night train to Sa Pa, our first real venture into the countryside! I really liked the night train at first, the little sleeper cabins are quite cute and cosy - although after a few hours it became clear that the name 'sleeper' train was totally undeserved. There was so much clanking, clattering and swaying that motion sickness seemed a more likely outcome than sleep. We arrived in Lao Cai station at 5am and were faced with a manic minibus ride through the mountains. Overtaking around blind corners when there is an obscene sheer drop by the side of the ride doesn't seem to be frowned upon round here. Fortunately we did bail on one overtake round a hairpin which would have reduced the number of motorbikes in Vietnam by one if we'd have gone through with it.

Sa Pa itself was pretty spectacular. Had a balcony breakfast overlooking the mountains, then put some Buble on the ipod. Yes! Then a rainbow appeared. It was all happening. Mental. Then our tour guide took us trekking for a while. It was cooler than D of E. And we were flanked by an entourage of women from the local villages who seemed to think we might buy something from them. They were rewarded by getting to watch JC fall over in some mud. And then we bought a bracelet each. They'd earned it. Quite frankly after all of this I wanted to sleep, and aside from the sampling of an excellent chocolate baguette shop the rest of the day was uneventful. The next day in Sa Pa involved more trekking, a trip to Cat Cat village (there were no cats, Rob was very upset.) Then a motorbike trip back, landed me with a pretty significant burn on my leg. It's a nasty one, but we're used to burns by now! Then I bought some more bracelets from local people - once the first lady convinced me, I was roped in by several other younger children who wanted to know why I 'buy from she but not from me?' I caved. Anyone want a bracelet? They're lovely.

Another 'sleeper' train back to Hanoi. Hooray. (Hanoi should probably have got a blog to itself but I'm struggling to think of other words beginning with 'h' and with Ha Long Bay still to come I thought it would be unwise..) Just saw a quality water puppet show - struggled to follow the storyline in Vietnamese but it was still cool! Off to Ha Long Bay tomorrow, hopefully will be picturesque! My beard has been growing for nearly two weeks - it would seem that I can't grow a great beard. But at least I tried. The man who never risks going too far will never find out how far he can go...


Posted by tom_christmas 09:01 Archived in Vietnam Comments (6)

Humbled in Ho Chi Minh

We didn't actually have a McDonalds for our last meal in Malaysia - instead went out with some others from the hostel for some chicken/rice combo and a very questionable Malaysian dessert. Then played UNO and Happy Families with the same crowd late into the night! Because we're cool. Actually, although I usually dislike UNO it was quite fun to play with a big crowd. But it meant we only had three hours sleep again.

I'm gonna give a shout out to the man who drove our taxi to the airport - really nice guy, really bad driver. Kept indicating and putting his hazard lights on at strange times, was often rummaging around for things he'd dropped or answering his phone while on the motorway... A great time to be in the middle seat with no belt... Oh well, I made it! Returned to Dunkin' Donuts at the airport for breakfast :). Arrived in Ho Chi Minh, hotel was actually pretty nice given the deteriorating quality of its surroundings. Wandered around the city, nothing spectacular to report - although the traffic is mental! They say there are 9 million bicycles in Beijing - well apparently there are 5 million motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh. And there doesn't seem to be any rules on the road. People will often chill on the wrong side of the road, 'right of way' clearly hasn't been invented yet, and the strategy for pedestrians seems to be to just walk out there and hope for the best. When taxi drivers use the horn more than the brake you know something isn't quite right. Great fun though! Also people try to sell you stuff. Every few metres. Good banter at first, can get annoying...

The next day, Vietnam got interesting. Not at first - more old buildings and museums... Then we went to the War Remnants Museum. I won't go on about it too much here - hopefully will get an article up on Political Promise where I properly let loose - but it was really shocking. The Vietnam war completely destroyed the country - innocent civilians were massacred, (over two million of them), chemical weapons devastated the landscape, and the aftermath of these weapons meant that millions of children were born with disabilities (often really severe). It was horrible. There were also some really beautiful stories - a girl with no arms who had developed such skill with her feet that she had become an amazing painter! Another guy with just one limb who was training to be a doctor and had written to Barack Obama so that he might help the children of Vietnam. And a display of paintings by young children depicting a peaceful world and community betweeen nations. Amazing considering what the USA did to their country! Really heartwarming. The whole museum was just really emotional! Then the next day we continued on a similar theme with a visit to the Cu Chi tunnels! They were so dark and narrow it was quite an experience - and our legendary guide 'Mr Bin' (who fought in the war) had all sorts of crazy stories for us and was such a general hero! Also stopped at a factory called 'Handicapped Handicrafts' - a factory set up by the government and partially funded by the USA I think (credit to them for that I guess) where people who were born with disabilities as a result of chemical warfare (or were seriously injured in the war) can work. And they make some really amazing stuff :). It's great that they have this place but I didn't like that it was a tourist destination where westerners could stare and take photos.

We have since moved on to a lovely seaside town called Hoi An. Had a fairly relaxed time so far, brilliant karaoke session last night. However we were unaware that we were being charged for the privilege - they should have paid us for our beautiful performances! The set list was a bit outdated but we performed classics such as 'Black or White', 'Livin' On A Prayer' and 'Can You Feel the Love Tonight'. Stunning. Particularly enjoyed the rap section of 'Black or White'! Today we went in the sea. Remember how I took my phone and wallet in the sea last time? JC certainly does - he was mocking me for it as we walked across the beach - right before he ran into the sea with his money in pocket. Oh how I laughed. We may have ended up being a little burnt, it was flipping hot! JC is genuinely glowing. I've also finished reading my first book - Love Wins. I loved it!

Despite the fact that I'm having a great time I keep dreaming that I'm back in Guildford for the weekend! Ha! I guess I must be missing people...


Posted by tom_christmas 06:44 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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