Thursday, October 19, 2006

Blog 7 - A Hostel to (save a) Fortune

Being on a fixed budget for the trip I am trying to save money on accommodation to be able to spend it on fun stuff. Like trips to see the sights, surfing, skiing, bungee jumping (still thinking about that one) and all the stuff that you are supposed to see and do on a once in a lifetime trip. So this means having to stay in backpacker hostels whenever I can. Those of you of a certain age will remember the good old Youth Hostels, with spartan, creaky bunks, having to take your turn at sweeping up and keeping the place tidy all followed up by a welcome mug of Horlicks and a rousing chorus of Ging Gang Goolie (I think you can catch that in Thailand). Well, backpacker places are nothing like that. Think more Salvation Army meets The Big Brother house, sprinkle liberally with dirty socks, knickers, empty beer bottles and fag ash and you are getting close.

Space is naturally limited in most of these establishments. So you would think that being reasonably tidy and keeping all your gear together would be a basic minimum. Most of the youngsters however believe that traveling light involves stuffing the contents of two wardrobes and a bathroom cabinet into a pack that most probably couldn't lift without a small crane. The consequence is that said bags, governed by an irresistible force of nature, routinely erupt Krakatoa like, spewing crusted undergarments and once white flip flops over a wide area. Thus causing hardship and suffering to any middle aged refugee in the vicinity.

Hostels are a bit of a paradox. They can be noisy and uncomfortable as opposed to the clinical cleanliness and order of a budget hotel. But they offer the potential to make friends and avert the loneliness that often haunts hotels. The trouble is that most of the 'making friends' is between the twenty somethings who are the vast majority of your average hostel population. There is a definite generation gap at work here and probably quite justifiably. The only thing I have in common with these guys is the fact that we are sharing a bedroom.

There is a significant agenda difference between the lager louts and the saga louts. The kids just want to party, party, party. When I ask them if they have seen much of the country the answer is usually that its something they are going to get round to... when they are not either working, pissed or sleeping... the three states of entropy of the average juvenile backpacker.

I feel quite sorry for them in a way. Most are on a severe budget. If they don't work they don't eat. When they are not working they are busy looking for work. So it becomes a big effort to have to divert any spare cash (beer money) towards excursions or experiences other than the mundane. But they are quite happy. They are just enjoying being away from home, making up their own rules and having the best possible time. If that means getting off your head every night, watching TV, sleeping and working to get the money to do it all again; then I'm really not one to criticize.

Last night I managed to get a single room. It cost three times the dorm price, but is still well worth it to be able to sleep without being invaded by drunken youths at 3am. Although it was still all going on in the room next door at some ungodly hour. I get my own back by banging a few doors at 7.30am. Wasted effort, they are probably too much in a coma to notice.

It will be all change for the next two weeks as I'm going bush. Off to the wilds of north western WA to see dolphins, whales, stromatolites - , Ningaloo Reef - and Karijini National Park - Then down south for three days to see Albany, the giant Tingle trees and Margeret River.

After all that camping out I'll probably be made up to crash on a hostel bunk. Its all part of the experience!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Blog 6 - Crash Landing in Oz

Thailand was great, really different. But probably just a bit tooo different. I don't think I was really ready for it. I had intended to travel to the southern islands but after one hair-raising (even when you havn't got any) bus trip to Pattya I decided I didn't fancy the full 12 hour version. Distances are big here and bus seats are hard and sweaty.

So decided to forgo the brave traveller thing and head off to Oz. Ellie had just moved to Perth and I fancied joining up with her sooner rather than later. I had originally booked to go to Darwin then do an overlander to Cairns, taking in some desert and rainforest stuff. But Darwin is even hotter and sweatier than Bangkok. Perth is a lovely 25C with lively cool breezes and the prospect of comfy nights sleep.

The breezes turned out to be a bit too lively as the plane was coming in to land at Perth. There was a howling gale and the plane was dipping and bucking big time on the approach. White knuckles were much in evidence as we got to lamp post levels. I couldnt see how we would get down it was moving so violently. I must have passed that thought to the pilot as he decided to abort. It was full throttle and back into the sky like a space shuttle. Round again and this time the rosary beads were out, the guardian angels, any divine intervention you could think of. The German lad next to me had turned albino, there were lunches hitting paper bags all round. Don't you just love that smell. It was still like being at Alton Towers but somehow he got it down with just a few swerves and bumps. Big round of applause and pass the wet wipes.

Aussie Immigration were nice as pie, you don't often get these guys smiling and asking you how you are. It was an interesting introduction to the local lingo as the Aussie family in front of me in the queue for Quaranteen were belly aching about having to wait. They jumped the queue and got knocked back and you should have heard the expletives, 'facking little short man, fackin jobsworth' the tirade went on an on, and that was just the mother. It was almost like being back in Birkenhead (no shell suits seen though). They are really strict on bringing stuff in. You can't even have shit on your shoes ;-) I fully expected to be plunged into a sheep dip.

The taxi driver left off where the family finished. Fack this, fack that, fack the other... Seems everyone swears like a trooper down under, even on TV. I feel quite at home really.

I got settled in a Backpacker hostel in Fremantle (which is like Chester is to Birkenhead, distance wise) called The Old Firestation... more later

Blog 5 - Pics 4 - Perth / Fremantle First Week

Blog 4 - Pics 3 - All Thailand Pics

All Thailand pics... still getting the hang of this ;-)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Blog 3 - Pics 2 - Perth/Fremantle

Perth/Fremantle 8th Oct - 12 Oct 2006

Dad and daughter reunited, in Ellie's hostel. Can you see the bed bugs???

Ellie lookin good for her 8 months in Oz

This is the life.. coffee and cake by the beach with Ellie

Chez moi.. well its cheap!

Where's Wally.. spot the parrot. In a bush next to the Hostel.

Indian Ocean sunset on little beach just round the corner from the hostel.

You never know when you might need to .....

Blog 2 - Pics 1 - Thailand

Thailand 29th Sep - 7th Oct 2006

Long boats on the river.. now thats what I call an outboard. Does Jeremy Clarkson know about these.

Canal bus.. a wild ride

Creative face cloth folding (not by me!) - Asia Hotel... posh

Pattya.. I bet this bed could tell a few tales.

The new Bangkok airport.. looking really happy to be going!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Blog 1 - Bangkok Blues

Well as this is my first ever blog on my first ever round the world trip, I suppose its a bit of a special occasion. Well for me anyway. So here goes...

This is the end of my first week in Thailand. I flew from London to Bangkok last friday 29th Sept. First challenge was to find the airport bus into town. Suvarnabhumi (pronounced su-wan-na-poom) Airport was shiny new having only been opened two days before I landed, how nice of them to lay on a new airport for me. Despite rumours of baggage going to the old airport there were no hassles.

Sometimes when you travel, especially on package holidays, getting about at your destination is a no-brainer, with coaches laid-on and tour guides etc. When you are just winging it you kind of have to make it up as you go along. Normally its not a problem but it doesnt stop you fretting about details. Like where does the bus into town stop, what number is it, how much will it be, who do I pay, how will I know when its my stop. You can just become a bag of shite in no time worrying about all this stuff. But things usually work out and they did.

I ended up in Big John's Aussie Guest House for the first three days. The first thing I saw when checking in was Liverpool kicking off against Bolton on the TV in reception. Soft landing or what. It felt like a regular home from home. What with pie and mash on the menu. Was I in Bangkok or Birmingham?

South East Asian reality set in with the first night. Trying to sleep in an oven of a room with only token air con. It really is steamy here and I don't mean the lady boys (more on that later). You get a sweat on just sitting still. So I was glad to escape on tuesday to go to the beach. I was off to Pattya to visit Andrea's brother Steve, who has a bar there.

You hear all this stuff about Bangkok being a sex capital but Pattaya is where it seems to be at for all that stuff. Its got a really nice beach with palm trees the lot. But you can't go for a walk along the prom without being bombarded every few yards by girls (and I suspect a few boys) on the game. 'Helooo big boy, you wan nice time'... weell yea but I was thinking of putting my feet up on the beach with a cold beer and my book actually. It was just a nightmare. But lots of seedy looking, ugly old blokes think they have died and gone to heaven... whatever. So I only stayed one night, with my door locked and my nighty tucked in. Needless to say I didnt sleep a wink.

So am back in Bangkok chilling for a few days. This time I checked into a walter softy hotel with decent air con and two swimming pools. One of the big differences between the hostel and the hotel is that the hotel bedroom door isn't frosted glass, so now the other guests are deprived of a fuzzy view of my hairy ass.

The weather here, apart from being an almost constant 30 degrees is really wet at the moment. Got caught out in a big thunderstorm yesterday. But I had my trusty big orange plastic cape and it was good fun splashing through the warm puddles in Lumphini park. That was until I came across this five foot long lizard hauling itself out of the park lake. I thought I had seen something bobbing in the water. In park lakes back home its usually the remains of a fishermans butties. For a moment I was transfixed, they hadn't mentioned this in the Lonely Planet. That scenario from Jurassic Park where the fat guy (thats me if you are reading this Ross ;-) is confronted in a tropical storm by a seemingly cute lizard like dinosaur, and we all know what happened next.

You can never be too sure just how fast these things can move. It may appear to be taking things easy but just how quickly can it cover that 12 feet or so between us. I wasn't expecting a Steve Irwin encounter this early on the trip. So I backed off while working out if I could still get a picture without it appearing as a green dot in the distance. You start getting a bit paranoid when this sort of thing happens. I was sitting on a park bench a bit farther on enjoying the thunder when you begin to think things like, it could be sneaking up on me right now and I wouldnt know. This bench could be where all the lizard boys hang out when they are looking for a little action. Spoiled the moment. So sploshed back to the Sky Train and civilisation.

Well thats probably too much chatter for one blog. I think you are supposed to keep them brief and to the point to stop peoples heads nodding into their keyboards.

If I'm going to do 80 blogs in a year thats about one every four days. I'm not sure if I can keep that up or not yet. Odd days you might just get the weather, what I had for breakfast and and the current state of my bowels. This is supposed to be fun, I don't want it to turn into the blog wagging the dog.

I leave you with a piece of local ancient asian wisdom.. Confucious he say.. Man walking sideways through airport door going to Bangkok!