Our blog for our trip to the far east. Taking in Singapore, Thailand, Laos and home before and after we leave

Thursday, April 13, 2006

13th April Changi Airport, Singapore

We are at the airport wating for our flight to come home, sad to say. Singapore was great. The Zoo and Night Safari were every bit as good (if not better) than when we first did them 8 years ago. On our fist evening we wandered down Boat Quay and were hugely disappointed that it had changed from a row of diverse restaurants and nice bars selling margaritas by the fruity jugful into a row of neon signed, aggressively tout-fronted seafood restaurants targetting tourists and not a mango or strawberry-rita in sight. The next day we had a boat trip which took us around some of the islands nearby, then the Zoo and Night Sfari in a single epic day, followed by a trip back to Clarke Quay for a drink, though we actually ended up at a place called Bewerkz which brews its own beer just up from Clarke Quay. This does great British-style beer.

Next day we had a trip to Chinatown and general drifting about before dinner at an Italian restaurant at Clarke Quay then some booze at emerald Hill, off Orchard Road (the Number 3 bar had a promotion on martinis, the lychee ones were excellent), then a bus ride to Holland V for a final farwell to the Wala Wala.

Today we shopped and ate and drank then got here at the airport by cab.

My 15 minutes is running out. Next stop England, rain and cold

Monday, April 10, 2006

10th April Lassaiz Faire Cafe, Singapore

We've reached Singapore for the final few days of our trip. Internet access was a bit difficult to come by. One cafe on Phi Phi I could access the blog site, but the icons weren't visible so I couldn't figure out how to navigate to add a new post (probably as much to do with my techno-ability as the computer I was using). We got bored with Phi Phi after a couple of days, once the novelty of the stunning scenery wore off. At the moment the place is in a state of rebuilding post-tsunami, and currently resembles a shanty town, but for the benefit of backpackers. Imagine a slum of somewhere like Sao Paulo, but filled with pretentious middle-class teenagers looking to see the world on as little money as possible. OK, it's not that squalid, but you get the picture. Also, horror of horror, my Swiss Army knife was nicked from our room one night. We had thought I'd left it on the beach one day, or it had slipped out of our backpack we were using that day, but then I remembered that we'd used it when we got back to the chalet. This left a nasty taste in my mouth. We did manage to block the toilet in our chalet before we left (accidentally I might add), so I hope the staff member who pinched it manages to find a toilet unblocking tool on the knife, though I don't recall seeing one.

We left Phi Phi and got a boat to Phuket (steady now, it's pronounced "pooh-ket"). The place we stayed here was incredible with the most amazing pool and grounds, and it made a nice change from our pan of water-flush toilet (or pan of water fill toilet by the time we left), oscillating fan and mosquitoes for air conditioned comfort, western standard sanitation and insecticide-treated gardens. They also had internet access in the lobby, but you could barely get near it, so no luck ading an update there.

The area we stayed in, Kata, was pretty touristy, but seemed quiet when we arrived as it is on the cusp of the end of the peak season. Still there was no shortage of souvenir stalls, T-shirt shops, restaurants, bars and enthusiastic tout-fronted tailors. I was sorely tempted to ask one of then if they could print me a T-shirt saying "No, I don't want a f***ing suit". Alas we only had two nights here, and we had to be up and away before breakfast on the second morning to catch our 8-00 flight to SIN.Our firtst night was a little subdued since I had acquired a parting gift from Phi Phi in the shape of a small dose of diarrhoea, so we didn't eat anything too fancy. Later that night after a couple of singapore Slings, I was feeling better however (the healing power of gin) The second night we ate at a truly stunning restaurant which looked like a palace called Sawasdee Village. The food was as good as the surroundings, and the cocktails were pretty good as well. This was one of our most expensive meals as you migt expect, but what the Hell, you're not on holiday often, so we managed to scrape together the 15 pounds it cost!

This morning was when we missed breakfast, for our Tiger Airways flight to the Lion City. We arrived a few hours ago, and we are staying in another fancy hotel. I was flabbergasted when I asked them about internet access. Their business centre wanted S$10 for 10 minutes, so working out at about 20 quid an hour. Mind you, the mini bar charges $5-50 for a can of Coke, so it's not too surprising. Anyway, we headed to Little India where we found this delightful internet cafe where not only is access S$3 an hour, but they also serve Tiger. Cheers!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

4th April, another internet cafe on Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

Another day, another blog entry. We had a fairly easy day today. Breakfast at our hotel wasn't much to write home about. We sat around after this enjoying the view from our balcony up a hill, the sort of view youd normally pay big bucks to have.

After this we wandered into town to look at the place in the light, and explore the beaches. This involved hopping over rocks, and we found some amazing little coves en route. We ended on The Long Beach which had incredible sand and crystal clear turquoise water. I think its fair to say you know youve had a good holiday if you think you could sell your holiday snaps to Mars for them to use in selling Bounty Bars, and this is one such trip. The snorkelling was pretty good here as well. Better then the supposed snorkeling trip we did on Ao Nang.

Mentioning Ao Nang reminds me of a couple of things I'd neglected to mention previously. One was the sefood restaurant we stopped at for dinner one night, called Wang Sai. Normally they have an array of various fish to coose from: tuna, kingfish, snapper which they had here. They also listed grouper which we chose. This meant we were taken to a tank and chose our own still swimming fish for dinner. One minute he was swimming around, probably wondering what to do tomorrow, the next he was steamed in chilli and garlic and quite delicious. Ain't life a bitch?
Also, that very night we wanted to find a bar afterwards, but most of them were shut. we found one doing a great happy hour of cocktails for 85B until 11. however, after just one they shut up at 10, all because of the damned election. This was the 2nd, the day of the vote, though the polls had closed at 3pm, seven hours earlier. Out of four nights two were impaired by some stupid law just because they were having a snap election three years early. Thank you Mr Shinawatra!

One last thing I forgot to mention was the street of seedy bars in the town which we wandered down on the last night. It was like a mini Patpong (the heart of the Bangkok sex tourism street) complete with armies of Thai girls, and chrome poles for the to gyrate around. This was all well and good (actually, we didnt see any of the poles in use), but the thing that made the place unbearable was the fact that every bar had a huge soumd system each playing a different tune at top volume, so you couldn't concentrate on any one tune. I now know what Hell will sound like.

Anyway, we are going to try to book a snorkelling trip tonight, and have dinner. Not sure what we'll have tonight. There is a nice looking all you can eat buffet for 199B (less than 3 quid) which might be an option if we feel really hungry.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Tuesday, 4th April. Another inernet cafe without a name, Koh Phi Phi, S. Thailand

It's been another few days since we last published. We tried the day before last, but the screen on blogspot didn't work properly for some bizarre reason. Sunset the night we last signed off was stunning, as has every other one since. It's worth pointing out that the sun sets incredibly fast in the tropics. It's glowing orb falls from the sky faster than an epileptic pigeon.

The day of the last post we went to a local beach which was OK, It also happens to be the place of a seriously exclusive resort (ie, several hundred pounds a night). Needless to say the great unwashed (and by this I mean us as well as the French...running joke, see earlier posts) would have been beaten with sticks if we encroached on this haven of the overprivileged. Having said this there were food sellers on the beach, so we could eat (BBQ chicken portion: fantastic), and drink (Singha: same old same old). It was a pretty good place wo while away a few hours.That evening we went to a cracking little restaurant in a hotel which was set as if in the jungle. The tom yam goong was incredible. after this we went to an amazing bar called hte Last Fisherman, on the beach surrounded by cliffs. Truly a lotus-eating haunt if ever there was one

Next day we did some unremarkabe trip, but had a shock that evening as the Last Fisherman had to close at 6pm due to the general election. Not that we had too muchtrouble finding another place to drink as bars were allowed to open if they served food. We ended up in an Irish pub (the shame: drinking in an Irish pub in Thailand!) to watch Newcastle mark their first win whilst we've been away, 3-1 against Spurs. In here we chatted to a guy in a Liverpool top who was from the Lakes adn had a Thai wife sat next to him.

Monday we had a trip on sea kayaks. Funny how an Inuit word like "kayak", first inotonated in the Arctic Cricle has made its way to tropical Thailand. This was great fun, going through mangroves, dodging monkeys, gaining both a film of sweat and an insect-borne disease (not really we hope).

Today we island hopped from the mainland to Phi Phi, an island devastated by the tsunami. Incredibly beautiful, surrounded by limestone cliffs. Our accomodation is up on a hill and we see incredible views. Sunset was unbelievable. You don't believe me? Look at the image I tried to upload:
It doesn't appear to have worked and the cafe is closing imminently. Hey ho

Upshot: we're having an incredible time

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Saturday 1st April,
A shop with inernet access at Ao Nang, near Krabi, Thailand

It' been a hectic few days. We returned from Vientiane to Nong Khai on Wednesday. The trip back over the border is a lot quicker than going the other way. The rest of the day we didn't do much (OK, that wasn't one of the hectic few). At about 4am the next morning the area was hit by an incredible storm, and sounded like the whole guesthouse was being blown away, or drowned. We had horizontal spray coming in our room due to the wind blowing through the fly screen, at least until the shutters blew shut. Next morning I was expecting to see a Katrina-like scene of devastation, but all the mess had been cleared up by the staff by the time we'd got up. And by mess I mean merely a load of loose leaves. Apparently it was very unusual.

The next day was the coolest we've seen all trip, so made a good climate for visiting temples, and the nearby sculpture park. The temples were farily impressive, but once you've seen more than four you become a bit blase about them. The sculpture park, however, was incredible. They were created by some Lao bloke after he stumbled onto a hermit or something, and depict various Buddhist and Hindu-related images and deities. They vary from the gargantuan: Buddha sheltered by the Naga god at 100ft high; the profound: the walk-through wheel of life with varous aspects of life and death displayed in life-size proportions; to the downright surreal: a lifesize elephant being harassed by a crowd of anthropomorphic dogs, most of which in an alarming state of priapism.

That evening we were on the night train, which we originally planned to catch to Bangkok before flying down to Krabi, but decided to get off at Ayutthaya, the former capital of Siam with a huge number of ruins from that period. The train meant we had to be in bed by 8 since this was when the steward assembled everyone's beds, and to our horror we discovered it didn't have food on board so it was a long and hungry night. Sleep was quite fitful on board as is the case with sleepers, and we were awake at 5am to be ready for our stop at 5-45. It arrived about 30 mins late. The town was buzzing even at the time we arrived, and we wnet up to a guesthouse to leave our stuff while we did some sightseeing. It was a good way to pass the few hours before we needed to be at the airport (which, incidentally, would have taken exactly the same lenght of time to reach from central Bangkok as from Ayutthaya by bus).

One bus, one three quarters of an hour late plane (it's those Air Asia people again), and one extortionately expensive taxi later and we were in Ao Nang Beach where the first thing we wanted was a nice shower having been travelling for over 24 hours. Our hotel is pretty good, with a big roomd, air/con and a fantastic pool, and a great shower. Actually the shower is nothing special, but after a night train and an Air Asia flight it is probably one of the best things on Earth. The next thing we wanted was BBQ fish on the beach: one of the greatest things on Earth. We found an amazing bar at the far end of the beach in the shadow of awesome limestone cliffs (which are everywhere around here it has to be said) where we saw out the rest of the night.

The sun is about to set and we are facing west. Sunsets is another of the best things on earth, so I'll continue about today later. I feel a Singha coming on

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

28th March, a different generic internet cafe, Vientiane, Laos

We've just enjoyed dinner at some place by the river called something like "Sunset View Hut". Food was probably the best we've had in the city. Beer was the same. And it was the most grubby place you could probably imagine. Kids running around, dogs running around, no tourists with the runs though. At least not immediately. Most of the places we've been to eat so far have been restaurant-type places, but the food was unremarkable. This had real flavour for once. I love the smell of salmonella in the morning....

Otherwise, today we took in the main town stupa, or monument from the 16th Century. This was pretty impressive in scale, and gilded so would look amazing in the setting sun, but we saw it early afternoon so it had less of an impact. It was still pretty good, though the temples we saw yesterday were more interesting. We followed this by lunch at a place called the Full Moon Cafe. It used to be bad, but it's alright now-ooooo (sorry, it's emblem is a howling wolf)! It was a quite nice place, and air conditioned, so a good place to get away from the hot season sun. The interesting thing about it was that its main clientelle was apparently expats, rather than tourists. Mainly ladies-who-lunch by appearances, maybe off to knock back gin and abuse their domestic staff after a meal in town. Following this we went to the National Museum (formerly the Museum of the Revolution). This had some interesting stuff about Lao culture and the various peoples who make up the general populace, and a lot about the struggle of the locals against the French, then the Americans, the latter largely operating covertly. Not that I was brainwashed, but damn those imperialistic dogs for oppressing our Lao comrades. Still, they accept US$ as easy as their own currency, so hey hey, off back to Thailand tomorrow.

Monday, March 27, 2006

27th March, Generic internet cafe, Vientiane, Laos

We didn't do much in Nong Khai: lazed around at the guesthouse, went on a river cruise, visited some temples and Iain went jogging and went to get the train tickets by bike.

We are now in Vientiane, arriving yesterday. It is smaller than I expected and easy to get around. We went on a nice walk along the river and had a few beer Lao. Today we went to the market and visted some more temples.

Laos, the country more bombed per head of population than any other in history, thanks mainly to the lacksadaisical approach of B52 pilots in the Vietnam War dumping their payload in the wrong place. It's a lovely country. The people are more unassuming than the Thais, shy even, but quite friendly. The language is quite similar, or so it sounds from the few words we've picked up so far. The food hasn't been much to write home about so far, so I won't. Temples are pretty good. Our guesthouse, the Mali Nam Phu is quite charming. The room looks out onto a courtyard in the colonial French style (albeit of concrete, rather than real stone), but it's also where we eat breakfast, and makes a nice place to start the day.

Nong Khai was incredibly sleepy. I have never been anywhere where the traffic goes so slowly. Most of the river on the Thai side is undergoing some construction work so isn't that aesthetically pleasing. Getting over to Laos was quite easy. pricey at US$31 (it's $30 normally, but at weekends they put on another $1, presumably because people are payed an extra 3% for working at such an unsocial time. Big deal!). Over the border, it becomes quite clear that Laos is a little less devloped than Thailand, the roads are less well metalled, and don't have curbs until you reach the city centre. The French influence is fairly apparent as well, though not to the extent of personal hygiene customs, which is obviously a good thing.

Tomorrow we are off to see the main temple of the city, and the Arc de Triomphe type thing they have here as well (which we've seen down a long boulevard, not too disimilar to Paris).
One other thing.

The whole of the area we are in at the moment is SO HOT. Walking around during the day is quite taxing, and we need to stop for regular drinks. In Nong Khai, our guesthouse room never dipped below 30deg all night. Here we have the luxury of air conditioning so it's not so bad. Still, any excuse for more Beer-Lao.