Just time on the last morning for one final chance to upset the locals! Of course as soon as we put on our backpacks and stepped out onto the street, one of the urchins was there in my face saying "Guest house". So I gave him the business card of the place we had been staying in and said "Here you are, you can stay at this one". Even after we had crossed the road and looked back he was still studying the card and looking over at me with a puzzled expression on his face. Priceless!
Arrived in Bangkok and made it through customs without coming across any rubber gloves (always a good thing!), then jumped onto a packed bus and headed towards the local backpackers ghetto to find a place to stay. It's only around 15 miles from the airport, but due to the traffic in Bangkok it took almost 2 hours. And all the seats were full so I sat on a large mat at the front of the bus, which had the effect of sending my arse to sleep almost immediately! The bus driver was entertaining though - although the bus was automatic so he didn't have to worry about changing gears, he regularly had to look down at his feet to see where the brake and accelerator pedals were. At this point I was hanging onto anything within my reach, which quite upset the girl next to me! Another quirk of Thai driving is that they use the white lines on the road to tell them where the middle of their vehicle should go, rather than as a lane divider. This may lose Thailand points in the final standings as it's impossible to tell whether they drive on the proper side of the road or not. For about 20 minutes of our trip the bus driver was having a duel with a taxi driver for possession of a lane/white line. Each time the cars in front moved forward an inch, the bus and taxi would lurch forward in unison trying to claim it. So we ended up with the strange sight of two vehicles, each in their own lane, and both trying to get possession of the white line! And another weird thing was that while these confrontations are taking place there is no shouting, swearing, or waving of fists and/or fingers, which I always thought was the best part of driving!
Found a place to stay and then went to a poncey place for food ('poncey'
meaning that meals and drinks for two cost 3 dollars instead of 2!), happy
in the knowledge that not a single David Beckham poster had been spotted since
entering the country. Nice!
Day Nineteen - Bangkok
Spent the day strolling around in the sunshine (head and neck bronzing nicely!), looked at a few more temples, and ignored another million peasants trying to sell stuff by the side of the road. And of course lunch was ruined by spotting a copy of some Thai magazine ('Bad Hair Weekly', probably) with David Beckham on the cover!
A popular con over here is for locals to approach you as you get to temples,
monuments, etc. and tell you that they are very sorry but the place you are
going to is closed. But they can drive you to a place that is still open.
How nice of them to offer! And how fortunate that they just happened to be
waiting there with a taxi running! Of course if you push them out of the way
and carry on walking then the place you're going to isn't closed at all. I
was tempted to go back to
this particular bloke and let him know that it was open after all, and for only $10 I would let him take his picture with me. Especially as he pointed to my head and called me 'Buddha'!
Booked flights on some random airline for the trip to Cambodia leaving in the morning. Not sure what to find there apart from lots of temples and jungle, so the next update may not be for a while!
Stop Press: Most ridiculous quote of the entire trip so far. After our meal
tonight, Sharon has decided that she is "no longer willing to support
my habit", after I had a few drinks. Despite the fact that beer cost
more than the rest of the meal combined, I find this lack of travel cameraderie
Oh,how I yearn for the cool, crisp air of the mountains. Well, no I don't,
but the transition from
sub-zero 'icicles dangling from extremities' temperatures to the hundred degree plus 'sweat until
you can sweat no more, then sweat some more anyway' climate comes as a bit of a shock to the
system. And unwittingly ordering the spiciest Thai curry on the menu for dinner didn't really help
the situation. Didn't do anything particularly interesting today apart from shipping a
ridiculously heavy box full of Nepali tourist tat back home (it might get there before I do, or
it's contents may already be gracing the mantlepieces of the local postal workers), and sending
our passports and a wad of cash off to the Lao embassy so they will let us into the country the
day after tomorrow. Once in Laos we will be doing the same thing to allow us to get into Vietnam
-interesting how these communist countries are quick to pick up on capitalist ideas when it suits
Day Seventy Three - Bangkok
While waiting for our passports to be illegally copied and sold on the streets
of Bangkok, we had
a day to spend on the ultimate Thai tourist filth fantasy - the Royal Palace. Woke up at 6am - not
through choice but because a new hotel is being built directly outside our window, but fortunately
a quick thunderstorm sent the workers scurrying for cover and managed to get a few more hours
sleep. The Royal Palace and it's grounds is an incredible place, with dozens of huge ornate
buildings, temples, statues, etc. to wander around. There is gold absolutely everywhere, both gold
paint and the real stuff, and anything not golden is mosaicced with mirrored and coloured glass,
tiles, and gemstones. I half expected it to all look tacky, but everything is done so well that it
looks fantastic and is extremely authentic. Only one complaint - next time the king and queen find
out we're in the country and send us an invitation to visit the parts of the palace closed to the
public (as I'm sure they did!), they should send it registered mail because this one appears to
have got lost in the post. The guard with large gun didn't seem that open to me discussing the
The biggest tourist scam in Thailand at the moment involves people standing
attractions and telling punters that the place they are heading for is closed (holiday, special
buddhist holy day, etc. - yesterday was apparently 'buddhist monk haircut day'!). And the scam is
that they just happen to have a tuk-tuk/taxi waiting, so if you pay them cash they will whisk you
to the other side of the city to a similar attraction that is open. Of course the one you're
heading to isn't closed, and every guidebook, tourist information place, guest house, etc. has
large warnings advertising the con. It's still amazing how many people we see who appear to be
taken in with it. On the way to the Royal Palace we were told that one building was off-limits to
us. We thought it was the National Museum, but it turned out to be a high school. Oops! In the
USA, outsiders are kept out of schools and colleges because the fear is that they're about to harm
the students, but over here it's a bit different. Colleges are normally where coup attempts,
revolutions, etc. normally start (several hundred protesters at a university in Bangkok were
killed a while ago), so it looks like outsiders are kept out for their own safety!
Wandered back to the guest house where we picked up our train tickets and
Laos visas (which
arrived on time), then got on the sleeper train from Bangkok station (which left on time). So far,
Thailand is way ahead of everywhere else round here where we have planned/arranged/relied upon
travel plans. As well as being on time, the train was clean, tidy, and a bloke even came along
after a couple of hours to set up our beds - cool! We splurged on the first class compartment so I
don't know if the peasants got the same treatment, but it was very impressive. So far,Thailand
Flew to Bangkok last night (the only country recently to not charge us a
fortune for a visa to get into the place), then took a short flight to the
beach island of Phuket. Not sure exactly what the correct pronounciation is,
but my version doesn't seem to have upset too many of the locals so far! When
we put our backpacks on the scales at check-in for the flight from Bangkok
to Phuket, they were almost twice as heavy as our baggage allowance. The problem
was easily solved by just taking out all the tourist tat bought in Laos and
Vietnam and leaving it in a locker at the airport. It's a fairly safe bet
that after 2 weeks of buying tourist tat down here the bags will be just as
heavy as they were before we left the stuff behind in Bangkok, so another
trip to the post office will be the first thing planned once we get back.
The wait in the airport was made entertaining by the appearance of an obnoxious
old git (no, not me, another one!) in a wheelchair.
He was complaining that the air conditioning was making him too cold, then he was shouting and swearing at the airline representative that was pushing him around. After an impressive tantrum he dragged himself painfully out of the wheelchair and staggered off looking for a warmer part of the airport, shouting "Ow!" with every step he took. He might not be able to get around, wash, eat, drink, or go to the bog by himself any more, but he seemed very happy that he can still get on people's nerves without any assistance!
Spent the day wandering around the town, sitting on the beach, checking out
bars, and watching 'Bridge on the River Kwai'. Most of the bars are small
places with names that don't really describe them very well. The 'Red Hot
Bar' wasn't, and neither was the 'Exciting Bar'. Getting a drink in one of
the bars is only a sideline, the major business seems to be the girls that
hang around there. A couple of places were closed early - looks like they
shut up shop once all the l ivestock has been claimed for the night! Might
pluck up the courage to go to a bar called 'Easy Rider' tomorrow night. I
wonder why they call it that ???
Day One Hundred and Sixteen - Phuket
Beer update: Apart from the imported stuff (Heineken, etc.), the best deal here is for some stuff called 'Chang'. Cheap, big bottles, blah blah blah, and also has the advantage that it is very strong - almost twice as strong as normal beer. Makes getting up in the morning an impossibility, so it's a good job I'm on holiday!
Did pretty much the same as yesterday (apart from not watching 'Bridge on the River Kwai' again!), and while Sharon, Ian & Kate went for a Thai massage, I thought it better not to be put through the experience. The way you are pulled, poked and prodded around, you're likely to get a less severe beating if you're an Iraqi in a Baghdad prison where the Americans are in charge! Contrary to their claims, I don't see anything 'relaxing', 'soothing' or 'therapeutic' about being given a good kicking by some sadistic Thai maniac!
Decided that discretion was the better part of valour and didn't go to the
'Easy Rider' bar. Had a look at a couple of other places though, including
the 'Dino Bar', which drew us towards it in two ways. First, there were regular
explosions and a volcano spraying stuff into the air. Second, and even more
intriguing, was seeing people driving to work there on motorbikes, who were
all women scantilly dressed as cavemen (or 'cavewomen', I suppose!). They
also had an elephant outside that you could feed bananas to, and I'm surprised
they didn't put a fur coat and fake tusks on it and claim it was a woolly
mammoth! Almost all of the hotels, bars, restaurants and shops here have a
Scandinavian feel to them, which I never would have imagined in the south
of Thailand. We're staying in a place run by a Danish bloke, with a Danish
bakery on one side of it and a tailors with a large sign saying "Special
offers for Scandinavians" on the other side. Haven't seen many Scandinavian
tourists though - all the people here are fat English blokes in their fifties
walking around with Thai women half their age, and almost certainly paying
by the hour/day/week for the pleasure. Gives me something to look forward
to, I suppose!
Day One Hundred and Seventeen - Phuket
Got up after noon, filled my fat face with Mexican food, then decided it was too hot to do anything so sat around snoozing, reading and watching TV until the sun went down.
Sat in a bar for the evening trying to make the most of their 'Buy 5 beers
get one free' promotion. The objective was achieved successfully, and was
made even better when they left a couple of drinks off the bill at the end
and the binge ended up only costing around $5. Abandoned shopping for tat
- the prices in this poncey seaside town are at least double what they are
in Bangkok so shopping will have to wait until we get back there. And because
the footy doesn't start until tomorrow night, we entertained ourselves by
watching lizards eating moths and poking fun at the police. Now, your police
force has to command a certain level of respect from the general public in
order to function properly. I'm guessing that appearances are judged differently
in Thailand, because if the police in England walked around in uniforms like
these they wouldn't stand a chance. Or maybe crime figures would plummet as
people would be laughing too hard to go out and turn over the local bookies.
They wear black knee-length leather boots to start with, and a pair of jodphurs
with a pretty stripe down the side. The designer must have been a big fan
of either horse racing or show jumping! They all have white helmets that are
too small for them and 'CHIPS' style sunglasses, plus elbow-length white gloves
like the queen wears when she's waving to peasants at an important state occasion.
And the jackets they wear not only have tons of shiny buttons and a dodgy
stripe down the side, but are covered in medals. They've all got them but
they look more like Boy Scout badges - help an old lady across the road and
you get another medal! As soon as you see the police you think"Village
People", but I think they're too camp even for that!
Day One Hundred and Eighteen - Phang Nga
I'm sure they make up these names just so they can get rid of useless letters when they're playing 'Scrabble'. I mean, what is a 'Nga' supposed to be? And how are you supposed to pronounce it? Sounds like the noise I made in Vietnam when the high-pressure jets were unleashed on my nether regions! The bus here dropped us off at a roadside cafe, then a bloke took us into town in his pickup truck. We were expecting all the usual extra charges, hotel commission scams, tour ripoffs, etc., but amazingly he appears to be very genuine and willing to help us. He took us around a few guest houses until we picked the one we liked, sorted out the cheapest price for a tour tomorrow, drove us to see some local sights, recommended restaurants, showed me which bar showing tonight's footy has the biggest screen, ... and all free of charge. Amazing! He wouldn't last five minutes in Vietnam with an attitude like that!
As Ian and Kate have missed out on all the fun and frolics of the past 4
months, we went to see some monkeys, some temples, and some caves, just to
give them an idea of what they could have been doing (almost) every day since
mid-february! The last temple complex that our free guide dropped us off at
was by far the weirdest of the trip so far. When you go in there are two signs
pointing in opposite directions, one saying 'Way to Heaven' and the other
saying 'Way to Hell'. In the 'heaven' area there are models of the various
gods, lots of buddhas, assorted animals, etc.,
making it's appearance more like a theme park than anything religious. The 'hell' section is completely bizarre. Loads of tortured souls, demons, ghouls, maiming, mutilation, etc. It also looks just like a theme park - more a sick and twisted Disneyland without any rides. And some of the exhibits are mechanical, so when you stick money into them you will see people being pushed down into the cauldron where they're being boiled alive, people being savaged by huge dogs, and a demon's spear being pushed even further up the backside of it's unfortunate victim. This is accompanied by tinny loudspeakers broadcasting screaming, wailing and gnashing of teeth. All very entertaining!
Note to self: Although the food in a Muslim restaurant is great, it appears that serving any kind of alcohol is against their religion. I wish I had been a party to that particular nugget of information BEFORE going in there. At least they were showing a badly-dubbed episode of Scooby Doo, and although it was one of the ones with the annoying Scrappy Doo in it (universally recognised amongst connoisseurs as inferior to the originals!), I now know the Thai phrase for "I would have gotten away with it if it hadn't been for those meddling kids", if I ever need to use it!
Footy update: Despite being hopeless at the game (Thailand lost 4-1 to the
Koreans during the week), the Thais are crazy about football. Actually they're
crazy about English football. They sit religiously in front of their TVs each
weekend during the season watching Premiership games, and they're all looking
forward to Euro 2004. All the t-shirt shops also sell knock-off footy shirts,
so I tried to buy a Thailand shirt as a pressie. No chance! Arsenal, Man Ure
and Liverpool shirts everywhere, and I even saw one Middlesborough one, but
buying a Thailand shirt in Thailand is
proving more difficult than I imagined! So, despite the time difference meaning that the 2 matches each day start at 11pm and 1:45am, the Thai hotels, cafes, restaurants and houses all have their big screens set up and all the games are live on the major national TV channels - excellent! First game on was Portugal getting stuffed by that footballing superpower, errrr, Greece! Despite the commentary being in Thai, no words were necessary to describe the Portugese strolling around the pitch shrugging their shoulders and putting agonised expressions on their faces. They either forgot or ignored the fact that there was a game of footy going on, and while the Greeks can't build Olympic venues to save their lives, they managed to take advantage of a team that clearly couldn't give a toss! Ninety minutes of overpaid Dago prima-donnas was plenty for one night so I chose sleep ahead of Spain vs Russia, and it doesn't look like I missed much.
Day One Hundred and Nineteen - Phang Nga
Took a boat trip around the area and saw some more limestone cliffs, caves, etc., and also some mangrove swamps and a couple of decent-sized lizards - these were a few feet long rather than the moth-eating 3-inchers we're used to. Also visited 'James Bond Island', which is where they filmed 'The Man With The Golden Gun' - the one where Roger Moore chases after Scaramanga who is poncing around with his three nipples and the goblin out of 'Fantasy Island'. Luckily I didn't see any megalomaniacs with laser beams bent on world domination, but unfortunately there weren't any Bond Girls wandering along the beaches in Bikinis either. They appear to have been replaced by old crones trying to flog you seashells with 'James Bond Island' written on them! In a sad attempt to attract tourists, they claim that some of the limestone formations look like everyday objects, such as one that 'looks remarkably like a poodle'. Even with my somewhat twisted imagination it looks nothing like a poodle, except maybe one that has just been run over by a car! A lot of these tall thin rock formations did look like 'thingies' though. Either Freud would have a field day with my observation, or maybe the Thai Tourism Association didn't think that advertising trips to 'Thingy Island' would be a crowd-puller!
Hopped onto a bus and went to Krabie, the next major beach town down the coast. Found an excellent cheap, poncey hotel which has a pub, restaurant, internet place and tour office all within 10 yards of the front door, and the beach plus unlimited tourist tat shops a hundred yards away.Cool!
Footy update: The pub has got Internet inside it, which is a bloody good
job as it allowed me to watch England win another cricket match (blimey!)
on the computer while suffering through Croatia vs Switzerland. Never before
have two worse teams (dis)graced the stage of a major competition. Any local
Sunday afternoon pub team would give either of these two a good game, and
although Croatia might sneak a win on the pitch, if they threw themselves
around trying to cheat penalties out of the referee like they did tonight,
they would definitely suffer a severe beating in the pub
car park after the game. Disgraceful!
Day One Hundred and Twenty - Krabi
Footy update: Woke up at around 4pm and had pizza for 'breakfast' while trying
to come to terms with the events of the previous night. With England 1-0 up
and regulation time expired, the bar was probably the happiest place on Earth.
Everybody was supporting England (except for one loud German who was cheering
for the French, but he mysteriously disappeared at half time!). Them the French
score twice in injury time to reduce the bar to a near-morgue, with only the
sound of grown men weeping into their beer to break the silence. There was
some consolation to be found in buying a load of knock-off CDs for a couple
of dollars each, and by then the day was almost over so it
was back to bed. Maybe I'll wake up tomorrow and the game will have been just a cruel nightmare?
Day One Hundred and Twenty One - Krabi
Nope - it wasn't a dream, it really happened. 36 hours later and the tourists
here (mostly Brits) are still walking around in a daze. You will see the occasional
shake of the head and deep sigh, then they will continue trudging along the
beach, head down. I did nothing of even the remotest interest during the entire
day, although had breakfast in a Swedish restaurant. Well, it almost counted
as a 'restaurant', although they didn't have most of the food we asked for
off their menu, and then they forgot to bring us half the stuff we did order.
Did have the advantage that they were showing last night's footy though, and
although Denmark and the Eye-ties failed to trouble the scorers and Sweden
played 'shots in' against Bulgaria for 90 minutes, watching the games at 10am
is way more civilized than watching them
during the early hours.
For the first meal of the evening I tried red curry with ostrich. I say 'first'
meal of the evening because the portion was so tiny that I went straight round
to the pub and had burger and chips, followed by a raid on the 7-11 snack
counter. I'm not sure which part of the ostrich they used, but if my guess
is correct then this one wouldn't have been swaggering
around the showers with a smile on his face!
You can buy cheap fake copies of everything in Thailand. Clothes, shoes,
sunglasses, CDs, DVDs, watches - anything you could possibly imagine. In fact
it goes further than that because it is impossible to buy anything in Thailand
that ISN'T a fake! But occasionally some local rip-off merchant will try to
convince you that what you're buying is genuine.
There was a prime example of that this afternoon. I was wandering around tailors shops thinking about getting a suit made. Not that I really need one, but I don't have one and maybe it will come in useful some day. Besides, at $70 for a good quality tailored suit, it seemed rude not to get one! I had looked in a few places and was checking the material in the latest establishment. Of course I didn't have a clue what I was looking for because all of the clothes I own at the moment are made of the same t-shirt material, so 'checking the material' just involved me rubbing it between my fingers a few times whilst stroking my chin with the other hand and going "Hmmmmm, let me see that other one...", whilst attempting futilely to appear knowledgeable. This bloke told me that I could get a suit made from this 'special' material for over twice the price I had been quoted anywhere else. "Specially imported from England, not made in Thailand", he told me. All the fabrics you look at have stuff sewn at the edge of them showing the name, type of material, etc. This one had the usual "WOOL", "CASHMERE" and stuff on it, but also (presumably because it was specially
imported from England?) it also had "HUDDERFIELDS" on it. After his stern guarantees that it was imported specially from England, I just cracked up laughing. When I tried to explain to him that if this had been imported from Huddersfield then it would at least say "HUDDERSFIELD" instead of "HUDDERFIELDS", but he wasn't having any of it. He has been in this business a long time, blah blah blah, nobody has mentioned this before, blah blah blah. And
in an attempt to prove that his material was genuine and it was everybody else in the world that had been spelling 'Huddersfield' incorrectly all these years, he got another roll of material out, which also had "HUDDERFIELDS" written on it. Well of course it did, seeing as it came from the same dyslexic-owned fabric chop-shop just outside Bangkok that the other roll did. He still wasn't having any of it though. "One roll may be wrong, but for two rolls
to be wrong is impossible". Whatever you say, chummie! I'm sure that all these years he has spent trying to convince other people that his stuff is genuine have rubbed off on him and he has convinced himself that it's true, and I reckon that he would pass a lie detector test without any problems at all.
Footy update: Latvia. Anybody know where it is? Anybody ever heard of it
before? I believe that they did knock the filthy Turks out of the playoffs
though, so there work is already done. And well done to the Dutch for scoring
late on and denying the Bosch three points!
Day One Hundred and Twenty Two - Krabi
Spent the day doing the boat trip / deserted beaches type of thing, then
went to a seafood restaurant in the evening. Well, the sign said that it was
a seafood restaurant, but we soon got the feeling that we were taking part
in an impromptu performance of the Monty Python 'cheese shop' sketch. Started
off ordering a beer, and after a couple of rounds of the waiter coming back
saying he was sorry but they had run out of that kind of beer I finally managed
to pick one off the menu they did have. Would have been easier for him to
just tell me the one brand of beer they did have rather than letting me guess,
but ... On to the food. "How much is lobster?". "Sorry sir,
no lobster". "Okay, how about the fish?". "Yes, we have
lots of fish", and he goes through a long list of exotic fish before
we plump for barraccuda. A few minutes later he is back again. "Sorry,
no fish". We had seen it laid out on ice when we walked in ,
and after some interrogation we found out that what he really meant to say was "Sorry, no chef". Well, there was a chef there, he just didn't know how to cook fish. A fit of giggling prevented me from inquiring as to how he got a job in a seafood restaurant in the first place! So on to the next choice - squid and mango salad. Yes, they definitely had that. Hurrah! So if they did have it, then why on earth did they serve up the vile offering that we were presented with? It appears that the chef who couldn't prepare fish was missing a few other strings to his bow, including squid, mango and salad! There was something marine in the festering plateful thrust in front of us, but only he knows what it was. If you pick up shells from the beach and take them home to dry out, sometimes you get one that stinks to high heaven because it still has an inhabitant, which after a few days if dead and rotting away nicely. That is exactly what this 'salad' smelled like, and because of the dry retching going on I can't vouch for it's taste!
Day One Hundred and Twenty Three - Krabi
Footy update: No surprise to see the Spaniards bottle it against the Greeks,
and despite Portugal deciding to turn up this time for their match, at least
one of the Dago teams is on their way out as long as the Greeks don't capitulate
against the hopeless, already eliminated Russians. Spain vs Portugal could
set a new record for fouling, bookings,
sendings off and acting - who cares if there are any goals or not ???
Went Kayaking along the coastline for a couple of hours, before realising it was hard work and going back to the hotel to rest in time for the big match tonight!
Day One Hundred and Twenty Four - Krabi
Footy update: What a difference a few days makes. Playing against a team whose national pastime is declaring themselves neutral definitelt helps, but bulldozering the Swiss certainly cheered everyone up around here, as did Croatia getting a point meaning that the French can still be eliminated. The only black mark against the evening came when the pub told me they had stopped serving food and I couldn't have my burger and chips. Pathetic! What kind of reputable establishment closes it's kitchen at midnight, I ask you? Luckily, Ian and Sharon sped off to the local 7-11 and brought back a load of snacks. Not that they were watching the game though - they seemed far more interested in (and amused by) my antics jumping up and down and gesturing towards the TV screen and didn't want me passing out through malnutrition!
Got up feeling a bit delicate - must have been a dodgy pint last night (probably the twelfth!) - and caught a minibus back to Phuket. According to our hotel, the minibus went direct and would take three hours. Five hours and three minibuses later we finally arrived in Phuket! The first minibus went along for a mere half an hour before dumping us at a tour shop where they tried to sell us food, drinks and excursions. We had seen all this before though and sat there in silence ignoring the hawkers until they finally gave in and pointed us towards another minibus. This one drove around for almost an hour looking for additional passengers before setting off, finally arriving at yet another tour company a couple of hours later. We had been to this place before when the airport bus dropped us off here a week ago. That time they also tried to sell us tours and hotels and failed, and this time we just stood in the street until they also gave in and put us onto a third minubus. The surly and sulking driver, upset at not getting any commission by taking us to a place he is associated with, ignored our requests as to where we wanted dropping off and took us to his hotel anyway. This final shameless attempt at pressganging also failed miserably and we marched off down the road to find a place to stay by ourselves.
Phuket town itself is fairly old and run-down. The vast majority of visitors to the island stay at the beach resorts, but we were only there for one night before flying back to Bangkok tomorrow. Managed to find a crappy hotel and ate in a restaurant with a couple of joyboys singing and playing guitar throughout the meal, then got hardly any sleep in a stifling hot room. Moan, moan, moan!
Footy update: You think anywhere in this place had a TV? Pah!
Day One Hundred and Twenty Five - Bangkok
Got up for breakfast before getting a taxi to the airport and the flight back to Bangkok. Normally I'm far too lazy to get up for breakfast, but seenig as Hotel Fleapit had included it in the price of the room I felt obliged to get my money's worth. Twenty minutes into sitting around the hotel lobby waiting for a member of staff to turn up and feed us, the taxi driver appeared to take us to the airport. We explained the lack of breakfast and staff, so he disappeared for a couple of minutes and came back with some toast and drinks. I decided that breakfast wasn't really up to scratch, so got my money's worth by nicking some of their paperbacks on the way out!
New rip-off record at Phuket airport. Internet here is usually either half a baht for one minute, or one baht per minute at it's most expensive. The airport were charging 100 baht for 1-15 minutes. So if you were on there for one minute you would be paying 200 times the going rate. Somewhere is going to have to try pretty hard to beat that! Got back to Bangkok and grabbed the ton of tourist tat from left luggage. There was a huge thunderstorm as we left the airport, which is fine if you're inside a bus, but not so good if you're if you're inside a bus that leaks. Water was pouring in through the air vents, and at one point a local woman put her umbrella up inside to keep out of the wet!
Footy update: No TV for the second night in a row, so it might be a busy
morning tomorrow looking
for a place showing the football.
Day One Hundred and Twenty Six - Bangkok
Moved to a place that is showing the football!
Footy update: Woke up to the glorious news that Spain are out, made even better by the fact that they had the same points and goal difference as the Greeks but scored less goals. Have Spain ever won anything major, ever?
Did nothing all day, conserving energy in preparation for the big match tonight.
Footy update: Glory! Despite an early hiccup, strolling to victory over Croatia
(and especially their gormless goalkeeper!) made it worth staying up until
4am. Couldn't be bothered battering my way through the seething masses in
the local bars, but discovered that our poncey TV in the hotel room has a
second audio channel with English commentary. Now THAT is what I call civilized!
I'm not sure Sergeant Sharon would agree that 90 minutes of me
shouting "Ooooh", "Aaaaahhhh", and "[expletive deleted] GET IN THERE YOU [expletive deleted]" is 'civilized' though! Shame that the French managed to get through, but I think it's important that every Englishman gets to cheer for Greece at least once in their lifetime!
Day One Hundred and Twenty Eight - Bangkok
Woke up nice and late with a post-match grin still emblazoned across my face! Again did absolutely nothing during the day except wander around a few tat shops.
Footy update: Second best result of the tournament so far (behind lat night's
Croatian Clobbering). I wouldn't have thought that a 2-2 draw between those
close friends Sweden and Denmark would normally deserve such an accolade,
but this result puts both teams through and (more importantly) sends the Eye-ties
home. Most people seem to think that the match was fixed, especially the Italian
media. Well, I don't really think that a Christian in a loincloth against
a savage, hungry, man-eating lion is really playing by the rules either, so
they can just bugger off home to cry into their pasta and look forward to
underachieving at the next tournament. If the next World Cup contains a group
with Italy, Spain, Wales and New Zealand in it, my money will be on the 2
sets of sheep-worriers progressing to the knockout stage!
Day One Hundred and Twenty Nine - Bangkok
Woke up at the crack of dawn and got a bus to see the 'Death Railway' and the 'Bridge on the River Kwai'. Sat in the street for 30 minutes waiting for the bus to turn up ("Never late, never", accordng to the bloke selling the tours!) then snoozed all the way out into the jungle.
The Japanese occupied much of this area during WWII, and the Emperor decided
they needed a railway line running all the way from Malaysia through Burma
so they culd transport troops, supplies, sushi, etc., and eventually conquer
India an then the rest of the world. Prisoners of War and local peasants were
used as slaves to build the railway and around 120,000 died during the couple
of years it took to build. Malnutrition, cholera, exhaustion, malaria,
ritual beatings by the guards - none of them very glamorous ways to expire, and all because those naughty Japanese didn't enroll in a reputable private healthcare scheme!
The most famous part of the railway, due to the 1957 film, is the Bridge
over the River Kwai. Built, bombed, rebuilt, rebombed, then rebuilt again
after the war, it is cool to visit not for what it is now, but more as a symbol
of what the people who worked on the entire railway had to go through. Took
a bamboo raft trip up the river and underneath the
bridge, walked along it, took a train ride along it, and visited a small museum with a few interesting pictures but mainly containing full-sized papier mache models of POWs wearing loincloths and looking unhapy. Also saw another waterfall and went on another elephant ride (getting very blase about these now!) and got the bus back to Bangkok to cheer on whoever was playing against the Germans!
Day One Hundred and Thirty - Bangkok
Footy Update: "Kr-out you go!", "Two world wars and one world
cup, doo-dah, doo-dah", etc.
Not a good day to be German (but hey - when IS it a good day to be German???) as they are sent tumbling out of the tournament by the Czech Republic's reserve team. A bit disappointing that England weren't directly responsible for their elimination, but I will still be scouring today's tour group for anyone speaking with even a hint of a German
Up ridiculously early again for another day trip, this time to see the temples
in the ancient city of Ayutthaya. After complaining to our travel chappie
that yesterday's bus was 30 minutes late, today's bus was 45 minutes late
after the driver allegedly 'forgot about' us. Next time the bus is late it's
probably best just to not mention it! Saw a bunch of 500
-year old temples simlar to Angkor (but nowhere near as grand), and probably something like the My Son monuments in Vietnam were like before the war there.
Lunch was delayed because the Japanese tourists in our group were 20 mniutes
late meeting up after the morning temple viewing session. So let me get this
right. We have to make sure that their bridge over the River Kwai is completed
on time, but they think they can waltz back from the temples whenever they
feel like it, eh? Pah! Still - forgive and forget (
although I can't think of a single reason why - see previous rants aout Germans!). When we finally got to lunch they spent another 10 minutes faffing around and were late getting to the table. Unfortunately for them, time and tide (and hungry Budgies!) wait for no man, and three quarters of the food had already been devoured before they had sat down. The order for me to spend the afternoon laying railway sleepers in a swamp in the jungle fortunately never came!
Got back to Bangkok early enough to complain to the tour company about the
late bus (old habits die hard!), and settled into a bar 9 hours before kickoff.
Day One Hundred and Thirty One - Bangkok
Footy update: The England vs France game a couple of weeks ago has been relegated to the second most dramatic game ever after last night's England v Portugal penalty shootout nailbiter. And somehow we managed to lose both of them. Bugger!
Rest of the day spent in mourning.
Day One Hundred and Thirty Two - Bangkok to Delhi
Another day of mourning. Oh, and flew from Thailand to India as well.
On to the final score for Thailand...
Beer - 7/10. Good stuff, although not as cheap as some places.
Getting around: 8/10. Buses, trains, planes, walking, even tuk-tuks - all great.
Weather: 6/10. Stinking hot and sunny, just like everywhere else out here!
Food: 8/10. I'm not normally bothered about food, but Thai is probably my favourite. Loses a couple of points for it's occasional ability to 'burn at both ends'!
Peasants: 5/10. Lots of hassle, but not too many scams.
Girls in boots and short skirts: 5/10. 10 points for them being all over the place, but minus 5 points as at least half these 'girls' turn out to be 'boys'!
Cool stuff: 7/10. Temples, elephants, beaches, etc.
Sport: 8/10. Only interested in English football, and are at least as passionate about it as the English. Everything is available on TV for free as well.
Shopping: 8/10. Pirated stuff everywhere for a tenth of the price it costs back home. $2 DVDs, $5 football shirts - just shows how much the 'official' merchandise is overpriced.
Robbery: 6/10. Spent almost a month here without being ripped off (despite a few attempts!) which I class as a victory!
Thailand offers the perfect blend of third-world culture, price and
relaxed atmosphere, along with
modern-day home comforts and infrastructure. Highly recommended!