A Travellerspoint blog

India/UK

Delhish (the airport) then home!

sunny

Oh god it’s the end! Well no, not quite. I book myself a late flight up to Delhi. It’s the most expensive extra flight I have to pay for on the entire trip, but I do it last minute so it’s my own fault. I’m in denial about going home. It arrives in Delhi the evening before my BA flight leaves at 3.30am bound for London, Heathrow T5. I’m down to my last rupees. Once I’ve paid for the taxi to the Goan Airport I have no money unless I can pay for stuff on credit card. I finally get to Delhi, it’s dark and cold. Oh my god. I’m freezing? I land at the domestic terminal. So have to schlep get to the international one. Walking isn’t an option and I have no rupees… The taxi's don’t take credit cards. Fuck! I end up bribing a taxi official with $4 in notes I have. He gets me a taxi for the dollars! I love India. At the new terminal I’m annoyed to discover that I can’t actually check in till midnight. It’s 8pm, bollocks. I’m stuck sitting in a café across the way, but with no money to buy anything. They don’t accept cards. Four hours of insane boredom, freaking out about going home. I really miss company now, I can’t be bothered to speak with anyone I don’t know, I want a good mate to natter with. Instead I just sit there on my own, doing this whole thing on my own, I feel so alone. Eventually I can check in. I go though security and find a café that accepts credit cards. I then make myself comfortable on some uncomfortable chairs and wait. I watch a whole flight of Russians flying home to Moscow. What a sight. A queue, of what looks like hookers and pimps?! All in fur or shiny metallic puffa jackets, heals, belted jeans at the waist, polo necks and bottle blond hair with dark roots. Then at least two men in full knee length leather coats. They look like the Russian mafia. I’m bored waiting, there aren’t really any good shops and it feels like time has stopped. In some ways I wish time could stop, and I could rush back to Salt and Pepper and the beach and helmet-less motorbike riding. I’m missing Goa so much, I’m going to miss India so much. Shit I’m going home!

E will be waiting for me at Heathrow with Pet in his new blacked out Range Rover Vogue. I have lost all my capitalist, London bullshit – so it won’t impress me. Finally after what seems an eternity we can finally board. Ok flight with nothing exciting to add. I arrive in London on a crisp December morning. It’s still dark 7am, but not raining! As the sun rises I’m treated to a wonderful red and orange sky and Jack frost has visited, and outlined all the trees and objects into focus.

I’m quite nervous about seeing E when I step out of arrivals. I psyche myself up. My bag appears on the belt, I grab it and head through the nothing to declare channel. I step through the automatic doors and a sea of eyes is directed toward me. I follow them along the line as I push my trolley. Any moment I will see E. I have tears built up waiting to burst out. I don’t find him. I follow the entire long length of the arrivals walkway and no bloody E! By the time I reach the end of the line the tears have snuck back in. I’m completely deflated and all of a sudden feel totally lost. Then I spot a familiar gait, and a familiar crop of strawberry blond hair. Making a bee-line for the coffee stall. I head over, and am spotted. N is here too, and do I want a coffee?! It’s brilliant to see them both, I’m home! We head back to the car where there is an expectant Pet waiting. E opens the door and he jumps out, completely ignoring me. He’s all over N and E. I get a quick sniff. We pile in the Range Rover. It’s so luxi, and the plushest vehicle I’ve been in for a whole year. I sit in the front with Pet on my lap. Then all of a sudden Pet realises who I am! I get totally smothered in licking dog breath. Yes Pet it’s Godmotherfucker Esther back! She, who pulled a red rubber band out of your arse, outside Starbucks on the Fulham Road, in front of all the yummy mummies. I love that dog so much.

I fill E and N in on my latest news. We’re pretty much all up to date by the time we get to Heston services. How ridiculous? It doesn’t feel like I’ve been away at all. Well maybe a month or so, but not eleven months. It’s so strange. We’re all feeling it though.

I will be staying with S in Barnes for the next week, until I head home to Brussels for Christmas. I can’t wait to see her and her baby boy, whom will now be 16 months old. It’s too weird being back. But everything slips back into exactly how it was and it’s as if I’ve never been away. I think I'm glad to be back.

List:

My grand thoughts at the end of my trip:

Has it all been worth it?
Have I lost my want, want, want, capitalist tendencies?
Have I realised what’s important again?
Have I discovered where I might like to live in the world?
Have I found love?
Have I met life long friends?
Have I found peace with myself?
Can I now tackle anything thrown at me?

(Answer is YES to all the above, but still not entirely sure of what it all means, we’ll see, time will tell, I LOVE THE range rover, shit)

Why does it all feel like a dream?
But I can almost remember every single detail.

Loving being back in my flat with my laptop and just chilling. Have BIG decisions to make but they will come naturally. Going to keep up my Blog as a kind of diary, well not really sure how it will work?

Bye for now, but watch this spacebooth xxxx

Posted by spacebooth 10:15 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

India

Goa

sunny 32 °C

I escape Bombay*. After another panic of going to the wrong terminal, what is it with terminals and me? I finally get to the right one, my bumblebee taxi doing all sorts of crazy u-turns (it’s his fault as I told him I needed the international terminal). Check in, faff about trying to find a shop which sells sim cards, no luck, go through security and then realise there is no money exchange this side, so have to go back out through security, find the exchange place, and then repeat the whole procedure. I’m so glad I’m such a relaxed person now. I really have lost that London impatience, which is so apparent in the big smoke (that also might have something to do with not working for eleven months?).

As you can imagine the thought of returning home is on my mind, and I’m scared, very scared. I can't believe the year has gone so fast? I can't believe it's nearly December, and Ill be home in just over three weeks! Part of me is obviously very excited to see family and friends. I’ve missed them so much. But to be back in cold grey London, in the middle of this recession, Yuk.

I have a list from G about where to go to in Goa. It’s already occurred to me that his advice may not be exactly what I’m looking for (it includes boutique hotels and expensive clubs and bars). I’m a backpacker again after a few weeks of ‘flash packing’. I’ve already checked out all the other passengers on my IndiGo flight. It’s a quick 30min flight, instead of the 14-hour train ride, and there is a woman who is colourfully hippyish with nose stud and dreddy hair in a neat mess on the top of her head sitting just up from me. I pluck up courage to ask her advice on Goa. Thank GOD I do. She’s very sweet and invites me to join her in her pre-pay cab towards Arambol, which is where she says I should definitely start my Goan tour. We head off and she tells me of her love affair with Goa for the last six years. She’s Israeli and has been coming back to Goa every year for months on time. She speaks from the heart and while she does, I already know that I’m feeling the same way about India. The cab drops her off at her very own Portuguese villa (want one), we say goodbyes and then I head off to Arambol. I decide to follow the advice of a blog I read in Mumbai on the net, and as we enter Arambol I see a signpost for Gods Gift Guest house. I get shown a simple but comfortable room and decide to stay. It’s minutes from the beach and has a lovely restaurant over looking a palm tree forest. I chill out and then head down for some food. Sweet lassi and Goan fish curry with rice. So good, and so cheap! I’m quite tired after all this activity, so head to bed for a snooze before I go and explore. When I wake it’s dark. I realise that Gods Gift is lovely but also quite far from Arambol centre. Not great to be wandering around on a pitch-black beach on my own? Humm? I head to the nearest bar with fairy lights twinkling and meet two guys who are smoking a gigantic reefer, and looking through photographs on a camera. I’m slightly peckish and order a grilled cheese sandwich and a beer. We spend a hilarious night together, a Brit, an American and a Norwegian. When it’s time for me to go home, the Norwegian offers to escort me. There is a lot of stumbling around in the dark. It is so dark that we both nearly walk straight into a boat pulled up on to the sand. I wish I’d brought my trusty head torch. Gods Gift is too far away so I resolve to move into central Arambol the next day. I pack up in the morning. I check out, the sun is already baking (its only 10am), and head fully backpacked down the beach. I’m halfway when I realise I've left my mobile charging in the bathroom of my room. Back I go, huffing and puffing. Goa is damn hot! I move to Delwin's Ark, which I find accidentally just off the beach behind Relax Inn. It’s right in the hub, but hidden and quiet. I have my very bamboo beach hut with en-suite. Cold water, but I don’t care. Breakfast at Relax Inn, beach, maybe a spot of lunch? a lassi or fresh juice, the sunset, dinner, drinks, a smoke, bed. This is my life for the next three weeks! It’s so perfect. I meet a wonderful lady from Blighty who works the markets in Goa. One evening after far too many drinks, two on the house, a beach dog bites my hand (over zealous petting), and then I get walked home to my hut. But get to the door and have lost the key. So have to call C and she comes to the rescue. I stay at hers. She also has an apartment in Vagator that is a few beaches further south. I resolve to help C with her stall at Saturday’s Night market. Quite interestingly we’re selling Primark Underwear? I head off to the market around 4pm, wanting to hire a moped but chickening out and getting driven. I’ve been to the doctors in the morning with my dog bite, which isn’t bad. But my hand is in a bandage. The Saturday night market is brilliant fun, and goes on till nearly 2am. Marigetty a Greek woman has her kebab stall, so delicious chicken and feta kebabs for tea. There is so much cool stuff to buy at the market. I wish I didn’t have a budget. I do get myself a brown leather pair of Roman style sandals and a funny toilet bag. There is live music, great food, cool stuff to buy; it’s a really good night. I’ve been in Arambol for a week now so decide to move further south. For my next few weeks I move to Vagator (to be near to C too), into a mini house in the garden of Salt and Pepper guesthouse. All is fine until I make the mistake of eating a calamari curry on Baga beach. I get so ill I have to call the doctor to my room. I’m as sick as a dog; in fact I’m as sick as I was possibly in Colombia (at least I don’t have to trek for five hours). I get antibiotics and an avuredic meal plan, plain boiled rice and yogurt. This is my only sickness in India, pretty good going I think? Possibly due to my new found vegetarianism. There are so many power cuts in Goa; sometimes the power can be off for half a day. The restaurants obviously have freezers; these defrost, and then freeze again. That meat curry doesn’t sound so good now does it? Salt and Pepper are great and look after me like I’m part of the family. Vagator beach is very nice. Generally I’m to be found on the sun beds outside Shiva’s Place. After the calamari experience I opt for Shiva’s tuna, bean, tomato and red onion salad. Really good. Quite liking salt lassi’s now too. I do try half a bang lassi which I later regret somewhat. Thank god I only do half. There are plenty of crazies in Goa, but generally I have to say that is quite tame. Gone are the days of all night raves in Disco Valley. There are curfews in force, which mean all beach bars shut at 10pm. I do venture into 9bar, which stays open much later. But the psychedelic trance music means I don’t stay late. I manage a quick pizza and two beers but then am forced to head off (because I’m not off my head). I don’t fancy Baga much after the calamari curry experience. Plus I lack cash and heels. Going out just isn’t me in Goa. I like being tucked up in bed before 11pm every night. Did I mention that I officially smell like curry now too? I finished favourite deodorant (Pink Amplex), way back in South America somewhere. So have since been searching for a replacement that works as well. Difficult in so many different countries. Nivea ones seem to pop up everywhere in various guises. Crap, all of them. Then tried Rexona in Australia, which has been the best substitute so far. But that ran out in Saigon. Replaced with another Rexona. But different one, and crap again. So for a while now I’ve sort of gone sans deodorant?! Yuk? Or well don’t know really; just don’t seem to need one. Obviously I’m showering everyday and being on the beach so this negates the need of any body products apart from sun block. But I have noticed that I now have a distinct (but subtle) BO. This could be attributed to Indian food I fear? I quite like my smell. Is that wrong? It works especially well with my putain des palaces perfume. I meet a fake sunglasses salesman at one Saturday night market and kind of fall in love at first sight with him. He is so beautiful. He drives me around on his motorbike. I love being driven on Goan roads by bike. The wind on my face, my hair blowing free, the world going by in a whiz of colour, and the sun beating down on the dusty roads. I’m taken into Panjim to see Bollywood movies; we visit Old Goa and sneak in on a Catholic festival. I queue to see Saint Francis Xavier, and his non-decaying body. I’m almost not allowed in because I have a sleeveless vest on. It’s on view in an austere Catholic colonial church. I love the minimal interior. It’s very beautiful and somehow I understand this better than the opulence on show in so many church interiors. We sneak out as a large outdoor sermon has just started and squeeze through a gate to the safety of a market. Here there are sellers with trays of wax limbs; arms, legs and heads you can buy as donations to Saint Francis! We go to grab something to nibble, an onion and potato bhaji in a roll with tomatoes and a delicious sauce. Followed by Indian sweets, coloured bright orange and tasting of condensed milk and pistachio nuts. Then home as the sun goes down and we race under the burnt orange and pink sky with black palm tree jungle silhouetted against it, and the stars starting to twinkle in the midnight blue sky. We see a fluke night sky as the moon is full and Venus and Jupiter sit just above it either side. There is s smiley face in the sky looking down at us. I’m sad I don’t have my camera. So this is my life in the last few days of Esther’s Adventure. What and adventure I’ve had. Goa is the perfect place to end my adventure and I don’t really want to leave. In fact I come up with all sorts of hair brained schemes to stay. I’ve met such nice people. I wish I could stay. Shit this can’t be the end? This has been so much fun. It hasn’t been a very well updated blog. Sometimes two months out of date? But I’ve really loved doing it. I’ve much regretted not having my trusty Power book with me. So many crappy Internet cafes, so many dirty keyboards, so many slow connections. But the most annoying thing being, that I couldn’t type when I wanted. I’ve filled two notebooks, irreplaceable. I confer with them to check on content. Anyway I’d really like to know who reads my crap… please?? I seem to get a few hits on the page and have tried to set that Google thing which can apparently tell me who hits my page (i.e. its not just you mum, is it?) Can anyone tell me how to do it? I may continue to do a blog, not really sure how relevant to travel it will be? Although not entirely sure, that this blog was particularly travel concerned anyway? Travel has been the common thread in my blog… but I fear I’ve digressed somewhat on occasion.

OK I’ve dragged it out to one more instalment…

  • In more ways than one, I’m super lucky to have missed the dreadful terrorist attack.

Hair Report: bushy on top from motorbike riding/racing.

Bollywoood movies.
Panjim.
Old Goa – The un-decayed body of Saint Francis Xavier at the Basilica of Bom Jesus.
All the pilgrims and Catholic girls.
The Delhi belly that renders me bed bound for two days.
Esther usually to be found at Shiva’s Place.
Bicep – Indian brother?
Connect-4 night.
Elephant on then bed means you don’t have bad dreams.
Motorbike crash in front of us. Luckily no one is hurt.
Riding out of Anjuna after the flea market on Wednesday evening.
The Enfield. Justin’s Enfield.
Esta bien/ Justin time.
Justin who reminds me of Nick with a four-month beard.
Shark and chips.
Caroline’s crystals.
Horse Power – Indian Red Bull.
Anklets without fasteners.
Esther in her Ali Baba trousers, anklets, chapels (flip flops), stripy fake Lacoste t-shirts. Esther SO happy it would make you sick.
The hot water bucket.
The Goan kiss I get on my leg – motorbike exhaust burn.
Listening to a Scottish woman sitting next to me on the beach and it taking me about half and hour to realise she’s Scottish. I actually couldn't understand her?!
Goa is an enchanted place.
The slippery water.
The gigantic ant infestation (they are ants, but 125% enlarged) One night they make off with half a Dairy Milk with almonds??
The well polished cockroach patrolling my bathroom shelf a night.
You cannot love without intuition – Graham Greene.

xxxxxx

Posted by spacebooth 12:27 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

India

Bombay

sunny 31 °C

So I’m in Bombay, and I end up staying rather longer than expected. In the week I arrive I have Diwali to contend with, therefore the all night gambling dens. There is an Expat evening playing music scores from Footloose, Dirty Dancing and Grease, where is Peter Kay? Unfortunately I’m nowhere near drunk enough to dance badly (although there are a few who do, whether they’re drunk or not is another question?). Just when we think it can’t get any worse (Jive Bunny!), the music stops and there is a raffle! Business cards are supposed to have been deposited in a vase at door (I don’t have one). Anyway some lucky woman wins, lots of whooping and clapping and a lovely magnum of non-descript champagne. Then we’re all made to stand in a circle and introduce ourselves on a microphone. At this point D and I can’t bear it any more, and fall over our feet trying to escape. P is already outside smoking a cheeky cigarette.
I have booked myself onto a train to Goa, leaving Saturday morning (6.30am), from the Victoria Terminus. It takes me two goes to book the ticket, the first visit, once I find the correct window at the station (round the back and upstairs). I queue for about fifteen minutes only to be told that I need my passport to book the ticket, bollocks. So I have to return the following day. After a monstrous week of partying, we finally reach Friday, which is also Halloween! As per usual, P has a good night in store. We have a concert first. The “Rock On” concert which is based on the Bollywood movie of the same name. I scour the area for ‘the walk of shame’ director I mentioned in my previous extract, but he’s no where to be seen. P has secured us some VIP passes which means we’re standing right at the front, in full view of the stage. We spy lots of Bollywood stars. Saif Ali Khan, Pritti someone… It’s rocking! Then it’s back to the car, which is waiting for us with driver right outside. Now this is the way to do concerts. Off we whiz, to another very cool penthouse in Colaba. The plan is we should be there till the early hours, so I will be delivered straight to the train station. Where I imagine I will collapse into a coma, and therefore sleep though any spectacular scenery I'd hoped to see along the way. At 2am though P and D feel like they need to head home. I'm left in the capable hands of a good friend of P’s called G. “G please look after Esther, and get her to her train on time”, “Yes of course P, it will be my pleasure!”. So then minutes later I’m perched on a stool at the bar (yes I’m in an apartment still, but there is a proper bar), downing tequila shots with new friend G. Then twenty minutes later we’re in the master bedroom en-suite. It is decorated in the most beautiful chocolate marble I’ve ever seen (wish list worthy). Two industrial lines are racked up, more tequila, more excess = I completely miss my train. G promises that he will fly me to Goa, but before he does he would like me to escort him to lots more parties, he invites me to stay another week in Bombay. Who am I to say no?! We have so much fun. He’s invincible. He has an infectious laugh and knows just about everybody in Bombay it would seem. The blond in tow of the Indian always goes down a treat. We’re like the new Liz and Arun. Well we’re not actually, but that’s another story. His flat is beautiful. A penthouse that overlooks the Arabian Sea looking west. It’s in a small hamlet called Banganga, which is a tiny village perched on the rocks down past Malabar Hill and Breach Candy. It’s a holy site. It’s believed to be part of the sacred Ganges. The village fills the area between the road (which the apartment stands on), and the rocks which then turn into the sea. In the mornings, when the tide is out you see the men of the village in their lungis going to defecate in the rock pools left by the tide. I sit cocooned in air con with marble floors and 46inch plasma TV, being waited on hand and foot. What the fuck is going on?!! These are the extremes that Bombay offers you, wide sceen. The sunsets from G’s apartment make me want to cry they’re so beautiful. I’m taken to chill out at ‘the club’, which is called Breach Candy and is up the road from G’s. It’s an old Raj British club, with a seen better days washed out blue salt water outdoor pool (but kind of in keeping with the ambience), indoor pool, sports club, restaurant and bar. Its lawns are manicured in stripes and the deckchairs are stripy too. We order Bloody Mary’s, served by waiters who look like they’ve been doing their jobs since about 1925. I feel like I am in Torquay, but I’m definitely in Bombay… I’ll be having a Mutter Paneer and Aloo Gobi with that G’n’T please… (Bombay Sapphire of course!)

On the final weekend before I leave. We have a lovely Friday where we meet for lunch at Britannia. A very old school restaurant, in the Old Fort area above Colaba. We meet up with a collection of lovely new friends whom I’ve met during my week with G. The restaurant is all peeling paint and creaking ceiling fans. The food is legendary, sublime in fact, Parsi. Lots of fruits and nuts added. My mouth is watering thinking about it. Afterwards a friend of G’s called R, takes us to the US club, which has a very quaint Afghan (Catholic) church in it. It feels like I’m in an English Village, except for the palms, oh and the 30 degree heat. Bit ‘a’ culture though innit?!...Then that evening, a typical G one. We have drinks and dinner first at friends house in Worli Beach. Then another drinks at Indigo. Then a party in Alibaug, which we have to get a ferry to, from outside the Taj Hotel and the Gateway of India. It’s basically an island off the coast of Bombay. A whole gathering wobble onto the boat and about 40mins later we all wobble off to dis-embarque. We’re standing in the dark when three jeeps appear out of the darkness and we pile in to them. There are 8 people in ours?! I cab hardly breath but the journey is only short. We head up a long drive way, either side of us are fountains and statues lit up like Christmas trees. Where on earth are we going? We arrive at what amounts to an Indian Beckingham Palace. We fall out of the jeep and are ushered into a marble lobby from which double sweeping staircases fall and drop down to an expansive lower ground floor where there is a indoor pool, disco, bar, sports rooms which all open up to the garden. It’s amazing and ridiculous. What on earth am I doing here??! It’s so surreal. Hilarious evening and I meet two great English girls who are singers. Eventually and rather to quickly the sun arrives and sheds light on vast landscaped gardens with tacky Venus de Milo statues and Greek columns. It’s way past our bed time, and we need to catch to boat back. We get ourselves together (a bit of a mission). G has been swimming so has lost his bag. The house and grounds are so vast, god only knows where it could be? We jump into another jeep and head back to the pier we arrived last night. G’s bag appears in the back of the jeep, brilliant. Then there is a Bollywood movie being shot on the pier, so we have to saunter past Rambo (?) and his entourage. We fall into the boat and are whisked back to Bombay, before you can say ‘hair looks like it’s been dragged through a bush backwards’. What a crazy night. Sunday is spent under wraps.

Monday morning I finally have a flight to Goa! I make it, well by the skin of my teeth, wrong terminal again… Goa here I come!

Hair Report – (just for Louise) Indian Jennifer Aniston but blond (in fact very blond) and mini fringe has finally grown out.

G’s house boy Shadoo, sleeps on the floor of the back room.
Pickled ginger in lime juice and sugar.
Cristal the dog – she eats my lonely planet (entire index), my memory card (entire Vietnam photos not backed up), bitch.
Indigo dinner – first steak since Argentina? Amazing Oysters.
R's menu: tbc

I am flavour of the month.
The pasta bar: you go to the bar and decide what shape pasta you want and with what sauce, then it’s cooked for you in front of your eyes (this is someone’s private dinner party).
Sleeping in the sauna for an hour to hide from crazies (it was dark and off).
The Dhobi Ghats.
My lunch at veggie restaurant in Bandra. Dosa yum!
The Bollywood movie I act in, end up with the casting agent till rather late.
The very very drunk man at the party who tells us: ‘its grotesquely inappropriate, and a scandalous travesty of justice that we’re not in bikinis!’. He should have been a character in the Fast Show.
The rudest girls I’ve ever met, who I kick out of G’s apartment.
The Bollywood Eastender, Dalip Tahil who keep flirting with me because he thinks I’ll recognise him, I don’t. Only find out after who he was.
Chor Bazaar – too much cool stuff. But I visit at dusk and get quite scared being on my own. What is that I’m walking on in flip flopped feet in the dark?
80’s ski suite fest. OMG – fancy dress heaven, it has to be seen to be believed.
Crawford Market – buy spices and given a pocketful of cashews.
Give pocketful of cashews to taxi driver, he’s so grateful we stop off en route to give some to his mate.
Gateway to India – I end up in lots of different peoples holiday snaps.
The milk and rice scam – I’m taken by a barefoot Indian woman to buy her some baby milk and rice, she says she can’t get in the shop with no shoes. So we walk for about 15 mins. To a store on a corner. I buy her milk and rice for 400 rupees. It only occurs to me later that she didn’t actually need to go in the shop, so the bare foot thing was a lie. And then I realise it will have been her friends shop and she probably wont buy milk and rice, or if she does not at that price. Truly had, truly BLOND see above hair report.
Terrible fashion disasters – where are the Indian fashion police when you need them?
WWKMD? – what would Kate Moss do? Girls take this to heart please.
The White Tiger – interesting insight into the darkness of India.
The text message: Abyss in the liver – should have read abscess!
BOMBAY SUNSET – Cafe del Mar eat your shorts.

Oh dear I truly LOVE Bombay with all my heart.

Home will be here soon, how did that happen? Afraid, very afraid.

xxxxxxxx

Posted by spacebooth 01:28 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

India

Bangkok to Mumbai

sunny 30 °C

I'm finally in a cab heading to the airport in Saigon. I have an Air France flight to Bangkok. Check in is fine, and then I sit with Ipod waiting for boarding, and watching all the French people. I can spot a Frenchie quite easily. They just have 'a look'. A Longchamp or Herve Chapelier bag is usually not far off. The flight is painless and I arrive for the second time in Bangkok. For this stay I've decided that I will do the old Khao San Road, which was last visited in 1994. The taxi crawls through Bangkok's clotted streets, I have no idea of the route but finally we get there. OMG!!? What has happened to Khao San Rd? It looks like Disneyland. I've booked myself into a sweet sounding hotel just around the corner. I deposit my bags, a quick shower and change, it's already 9pm and I only have one thing on my mind: Phad Thai noodles. At 9.05 I'm sitting in a restaurant down the street, which is the only one playing decent-ish house music, I have just ordered a Tiger beer and some Phad Thai with chicken and prawns! One beer leads to another and to a table of a Spanish boy from Pamplona. We discuss all the craziness of bull running and sangria, sangria stained white clothing and strange battery operated musical disco balls. I reminisce about the good old days on the Khao San Road. Claire big eyes falling in a hole in the middle of the road. Being sick after too much Mekong whiskey into the open mouth of a starving street dog (I didn't actually do this, can't remember who did?). I have until 1pm the following day to do a little shopping and then get to the airport. The next morning with a fuzzy head I manage a little shopping, a massage and another Phad Thai noodles, all before I get a minicab to the airport. I jump in next to an English girl who has blond hair with corn rows. Now I have a rule about that, and I'm sorry but it ain't good. What possesses fair haired Caucasians to get corn rows?? It looks shit. Anyway she's pretty funny (I know I shouldn't judge)...and she tells me all about her trip. In fact I can't get a word in edge ways, and that's coming from me, 'Esther the champion interrupter'. We get the the airport and both go to check in . I'm off to Mumbai, she's off to Sydney. We pop out after, for a quick smoke before we go through to departures. Whilst outside two Indian men (look like extras from the Munsters) with a trolley laden so full you can hardly see the driver, approach us and ask for a light. It's just one of those moments...I comment that I bet I end up sitting next to them on my flight, seeing as they're Indian they're probably headed to Mumbai. We go through customs. Sophie's been on a boat trip into Malaysia with some new found friends (I had the whole story told to me in the cab, it was "amazing"!?). Somehow in her passport she has been stamped out of Thailand, but not back in again! They drag her off for questioning. Well not really, but the do detain her. Anyway I'm running a bit late, so we say good byes. I hope she's OK? (I see her later and she's fine). I stop off in Boots for some essentials and then head to the gate. The flight seems pretty full. Right I'm squeezed on the window seat of a British Airways flight to Mumbai. Its chokka. The hand luggage situation is ridiculous. I thought they had rules? More and more passengers get on, but no one sits next to me. Cool maybe I'll get the three section to myself? It's been about 15 mins since I boarded and there don't seem to be any more people getting on, I move my bag to the seat next to me. Just as I do it, the extras from the Munsters show up, they are sitting next to me (don't say I didn't warn you). Life = sadistic sense of humor. They're actually very sweet (possibly too many sweets, v bad teeth) and want to know all about my trip to India. Unfortunately I have to go to the loo once during the flight, and they have to move their 'four' items of hand luggage which are crammed around our feet. Is it just me or does everyone look exceptionally good (or better) in airplane toilets? It must be the lighting? Indian Jones new flick (well hardly new), pants. Turn off half way through and a bit of a snooze.

We land in Mumbai its 8pmish, I'm in India wow! We have to taxi for about 20 mins. Although the captain has told us to remain seated with our seat belts fastened. There is an immediate rising of bodies out of the seats and running to the over head lockers. The stewardess tries to calm us down, but its all rather futile, people are already queuing in the aisles. I can't actually move in my seat, so stay put. Security is fine, although the Indian customs lady scrutinises me from my now eight year old passport photo. Have I changed that much? Then on to the baggage reclaim. I will reword that the 'pantomime of the baggage reclaim'. A busy pretty crappy (run down, being renovated, piles of building stuff lying around dangerously) baggage hall. Trolleys are grabbed then pushed with great speed and no particular regard for safety or human or anything, to the conveyor belt. This is done by everyone it seems. This results in all the trolleys crammed around the belt so no one can actually reach the belt. Unfortunately our luggage doesn't appear for ages, so the pack gets tighter and tighter. There is an initial load which creates mild hysteria, but then nothing. The same bags just seem to go round and round. People are edgy and bickering about the trolley jam. Finally the bags appear, but it's a farce because those who can get their bags off the belt, can't actually move their trolleys away. I just sit back and watch. I keep thinking of Meera Syal and her book 'Life Isn't All Ha Ha He He', it certainly isn't. My bag goes round three times before I decide to brave the riot. I'm in India, I'm not in a hurry, it's making me laugh = I love it!

From the madness I'm rescued by Lalal, P's trusty driver. A private car to whisk me into Mumbai, thank f*ck! I'm taken to a hotel (Sea View Hotel) by the beach in Juhu. The most expensive place I've stayed and possiblt the most rubbish. I'm checked in by a man with the hairiest ears ever, and then shown to a room which is filthy and has dirty sheets. I ask them to change the sheets. They bring fresh ones which are still stained (dirty). Yuk (my OCD about stains). Anyway I resolve to be OK about it for one night, Ill use my sleep sheet. P and his beautiful girlfriend are very sweet and invite me to stay with them on the following days. I do wake up though and have a lovely stroll on Juhu beach, get a henna stamp on my palm and chatter with a cricket playing girl whose whole family are playing on the beach. I have managed to accidentally arrive in Mumbai for Diwali. Which is the Hindi New Year. The whole place is lit up like Christmas. It's so pretty, fairy lights in all colours and big lanterns and fireworks. I spend the next two weeks in Mumbai or Bombay as everyone still calls it, on a bit of a bender. Thanks to wonderful P, I'm invited to the most incredible parties and meet so really cool people who work in Bollywood or do very well for themselves. It's a far cry from Shantaram's Bombay. In fact weirdly I stand at one party in a penthouse apartment in an expensive enclave of Colaba over-looking the slum in which Lin Baba lived. The Indian girls at the parties are breath-takingly beautiful, with waterfalls of diamonds falling from their ears. All the parties have bars layed on, and waiters and large bowls full off cashew nuts the size of boomerangs. This is uber bling. I've never seem anything like it. Indians love to gamble and this is what they do during Diwali. They all sit round youngsters, middlers and oldies, all playing poker and betting wads of rupees. I end up snogging a Bollywood director!...

Waterstones is a wonderful spa which P takes me to chill after the crazy all night gambling etc. So nice and relaxing an oasis of calm from the whirlwind. I'm also invited to P's parents, where I do the Diwali ceremony, thank you very much. During the days I head off from the flat in Juhu, via rickshaw to the train, which then takes about 30 mins to get into Churchgate, and from there I can walk down into Colaba and the Old Fort area. I do my usual, which is just wandering round stopping at various refreshment stalls along the way. It's definitely a crazy city, but I meet some lovely people, get ripped off in a rickshaw, eat amazing food, drink a beer at Leopold's, buy a plastic Ganesha. I take loads of photos of dirt and bumble bee taxis and shit and crap (not actually). There's never a dull moment in Bombay. It's a freshly cut out throbbing heart.


Is it just me or is water quite difficult to drink? I just don't like it.

Indian rules on the flight: no remote controlled cars

The herd of cows going to Diwali.

Bobby Deol in Speedos.

Expat party where we have to introduce ourselves on the mike.

Loving curry.

I make the mistake of getting the public train at rush hour (not first class).

Ben Stiller moment.

Indian men = friendly and chatty

Indian women (NB not all) = unfriendly and catty.

Beautiful gorgeous D, P's girly.

Gold, diamonds, watches, cars, massive TVs.

Johnny Walker black label.

More to come on the perils of excess in Mumbai and notes on a country where all sorts of crazy shit happens, like the whole time.


xxxxxxx

Posted by spacebooth 17:00 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Vietnam

Saigon and Muine thoughts...

all seasons in one day 29 °C

This has become a verbal memory of my photos, which I have just lost because a dog chewed my memory card. I'm devastated.

Cockerel in Paddy field.
The beautiful fat cows (unlike the skinny Cambodian ones)
Trang/Puong.
The Quiet American.
Crouching Vietnamese.
The small steel topped tables.
The tiny furniture which sits with the tables.
The street food.
No houses on stilts.
Pyjamas worn outside.
Banana plantations.
Cactus plantations.
Piles of sea oysters and other shell fish.
Woven coracle fishing boats with oars like cricket bats.
Mini Ha Long bay sculptures you can by for your garden or drive way.
Grey mist above the mountains.
Young Buddhist monk flame throwing.
Boys lying on the warm tarmac at night under their trucks.
Motorbikes.
Sleeping on motorbikes.
Crazy motorbike helmets.
Smell of tarmac in the rain.
Truck stops by the side of the road with hammocks and tables.
Skinny jeans and mullets.
The heavy red setting sun like a lazy eye.
Things in plastic bags hanging outside shops.
Old crooners like bar flies drinking beer and scotch, with wizened smokers skin, accompanied by beautiful young Vietnamese girls.
Vietnam War memorabilia.
No copyright laws, photocopied books, check that the cover of the book matches the interior.
Crafty cyclo guys, agree a price first.
Cacophony of noise.
Trying to cross the road in Saigon, you ain't crossed a street until you have here.
Great food, clean, simple easy.
Filthy feet (mine again).
Ka da (ice tea).
Mango shake.
Pho Bien (beef noodle soup with rare and well done beef)
Bun Cha Gio Chay (cold rice noodles, with coriander, mint, lettuce, beansprouts, carrot, cucumber, chives and deep fired pork spring rolls which you pour a sweet fish sauce over).
Cholon market.
Fresh spring rolls (the best).
Bags of weird red root stuff.
Sharks fin.
Burping shop assistant.
Amazing french bread and croissants.
Balls of tar on the road.
Motorbike drivers getting your attention.
Army officers drinking iced coffee smoking cigarettes.
Rubber band deck chairs outside cafes.
Cafes with TV's everyone goes in to watch the news or soaps or films.
Open hair dresses, cutthroat razors.
Billiard halls.
Markets.
Smelly meat stall.
Tofu lady.
Egg lady.
Trays of cat fish and shrimp, still alive.
Pomelo lady.
Pancake lady.
Dried squid man.
Lemon peel drying in the sun.
Crabs in trays.
Baguette trolleys.
Blocks of pate covered in glossy mayonnaise which is curdling slightly in the heat.
Waffle woman.
Sweet dried banana woman.
Bike repair man.
Recyclers, they crush the cans by driving the truck over then a few times.
Sun beds with sleeping Vietnamese.
The Vietnamese love their sleep, I'd say Olympic standard sleepers.
Bowls of steaming Pho.
Bags of Bun Cha.
Continuous honking of horns.
No fat Vietnamese at all.
Shuttlecock foot badminton.
Peanut lady.
Chestnut man.
Conical Vietnamese hats.
Fake bags, sunglasses, books, everything.
Zoom bar.

Bangkok for 24 hours next xxx

Posted by spacebooth 06:26 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Vietnam

Saigon

all seasons in one day 28 °C

My time in Vietnam is a bit of a disaster. I'll get to it in a minute. Firstly I thought I'd take a bit of time thinking about stuff and about me. Ive been on the road now for nine months. Quite unbelievable, I'm so lucky to be doing this!

OK things Ive been thinking about: Tarot cards which were read to me before I left, said that there is a knight in shining armour waiting for me, and its someone I already know?! Well Ive been thinking and I don't bloody know who that could be...? Then Ive just finished reading 100 years of Solitude. Which got me thinking all about South America again. God I miss it and love it. This is all happening while I sit on a bus bound for Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon which I prefer. All sorts of things fly past my window as we travel. Blocks of ice being cut with saws. Bicycles parked outside cafes. Houses on stilts. Families sitting on their outside beds. Gateways to nowhere seem to be quite common here. Large bits of land all unkempt and jungle-like with big rusty gates keeping people out. A remnant of Pol Pot I wonder? Land which was promised, but with no money only gates were ever put up? Gates of deceit. The bus attendant looks like an Asian Yousif. Want a new tattoo. Loved Max's tattoos. I think I want a tiger? Would that be strange? There a whole gang of Germans on the bus and one of them is drinking his water in a most repellent way, I feel sick. I'm missing Sarah so much already, wish she was here to giggle with me. I just left her standing on the street outside our hotel in Phenom Penh. Surreal. Her cashpoint card wasn't working so I lent her some money. Its been quite hard keeping tabs on my spending but again, but there is more to come on this. I'm leaving Cambodia bound for Saigon. The trip wont be that long, six hours. I will be in Saigon later tonight. Not really sure where I'm staying, we'll see what happens. Something smelly is seeping from a carrier bag at the front of the bus right up the aisle, I move my backpack. The air con has started dripping on someone opposite. The bus attendant simply takes the curtain, pulls it over the offending air con nozzles and tucks it into the overhead rack. Genius! We stop to get a boat on the bus, the queue for the crossing is full of minibuses. They are jammed full of people, at least four people sit on each roof too. The road is swarming with hawkers selling green mango with lime and salt, there are baskets on heads full of baguettes and plenty of other snacks which I can't distinguish. We get to the border where we all have to disembark and file though customs. Our passports are given to the bus attendant who goes though each one and checks that we're all accounted for. A bus of about thirtyish persons and would you believe I'm last in the pile. I get to the back of the queue and wait. We all stand in the customs office and wait for our turn. There seems a hierarchy in who gets to go first. Vietnamese men first, then Vietnamese women, then Cambodian men, Cambodian women etc. Europeans are last and I'm the only female European. I'm therefore last again, the lowest of the low. Finally we're in Viet Nam man. Back to roman script. I will miss Cambodian crazy writing. It seems a little more built up and western than Cambodia, which it obviously is. Its dark as we arrive in HCMC. We pass countless street restaurants with people hungrily tucking into steaming bowls of Pho (beef noodle soup). We arrive in the dark on Pham Ngu Lao, which is the centre of the backpacker district. Street hawkers accost us as soon as we step off the bus, offering accommodation. Not really sure where I'm going, but fend off any advances and head down the street. 15 minutes later I'm approached by a young woman who offers me a room for $7 per night; she promises cable TV and hot water. I feel safe and follow her down a tiny alley off the main street. I'm shown to a little home down this lane, and into a room which is the master bedroom of a family house! The family seem really sweet, the room is spotless and has a lovely en-suite, TV and a balcony. Its just started to rain so I say yes. I'm pretty tired so sort myself out and pop out for some food. I find I little restaurant on the main street and sit myself down, order fresh spring rolls and some noodles and watch the world go by. I'm in Sai Gon, Viet Nam.

Back to the room, it's about 11pm and so I have to step over the whole family and a dog who sleep on the floor in the lounge? Interesting?! Once in the room which is up a tiny staircase at the back of the house I lock the door, and then worry for about ten minutes that someone will break into the room during the night. Will I be safe? I settle back on the comfy bed with terry toweling sheets which say 'I love you' all over them, and watch TV, I think I'll be fine. The fan whirs above my head and the bedside light glows red. Its hot and sweaty, I feel like Martin Sheen in the beginning of Apocalypse Now.

There is a huge poster of a Vietnamese bride and her Russian husband on the wall opposite the bed. She's the eldest daughter of the family. The picture is brilliantly photo-shopped and they look flawless. Its totally kitsch and I think I would now do the same, airbrushed wedding shots. The next morning I head out. Oh my god I love the family! They're really sweet. They speak no English so we communicate with sign language and writing things down. I head off to see the War Museum and a few other tourist sites. Outside the Ben Thah market I'm approached by a cyclo driver (tuk tuk cyclist). He shows me his well fingered scrapbook of his tourist trail. I ask how much he charges and hes super friendly and says that I can give him what I want. Hes all smiles and very persuasive. Its bloody hot, I'm not really sure where I'm going, so I decide to take him up on his offer. He cycles me about, and then an hour later delivers me to the War Remnants museum. I agree to meet him outside afterwards. I'm only in the museum for about 45 minutes but when I get out he's buggered off, with annoyingly, my Lonely Planet... I find my own way back to the right bit of town and am annoyed with myself for trusting my book with him. Luckily though I find out from a Canadian girl a week later that part of their scam is that they're all super friendly and cycle you all over. Then they tell you they charge 200.000 Dong an hour and get really nasty if you don't pay them. So in all fairness I escaped with just a missing book. I go to an ATM and withdraw $40, unbeknownst to me my last ATM withdrawal in Vietnam. I accidentally leave my card in the machine. What an idiot. I don't realise until the next day, which is Sunday, so the bank is shut. I have to cancel the card, because I'm not sure where it is. Monday morning I head to the bank and sure enough the card had been swallowed by the machine, drat. Double drat in fact. Now I'm screwed for money. What to do? They'll have to send me a new card from the UK, and then get it sent here. I head to the British Consulate and get coordinates for the card to be sent to. Then I mail home and find out it will take a week for a new card to be issued. I decide that I will go to the beach and just chill there until I have to be back in Saigon to get the card. I jump on a bus to Muine, four hours up the coast. Here I find a hotel which will accepts my credit card and spend a week doing nothing, eating on credit or as cheaply as I can, and work on my tan. There is a little restaurant by the beach which does grilled squid in lemongrass and sweet chili sauce with steamed rice ($2). This is lunch everyday and I still dream of it now. The following weekend I head back into town to wait for my card. When I get back to Saigon I decide to try and find a hotel which accept credit cards. I find one at $10 per night and head to bed. The worst night of my life, dreaded bed bugs again!! I cant sleep. I managed them in Colombia but I was in the jungle. As soon as I can I check out and go and find my nice family from before. Unfortunately their room is let, but friends across the road also have a room above a laundry. Another lovely room and again only $7 per night. I also explain my situation, through their daughter who's about 11, but speaks the best English. They are happy for me to pay then when I get my card. They all rally round and I feel safe looked after. So I'm waiting, stuck in Saigon waiting for this blasted card, with credit card but no cash.

The novelty of my travels has worn off. I hate doing status updates on Facebook. I want to be home. Ive spoken to Ed and he also agrees. Esther get your arse home asap. I still have a little cash left (I exchange 20GBP which Id forgotten I had). So enjoy street food which is super cheap and delicious. Well I regret dinner on two nights which leaves my running to the loo, but it doesn't put me off. I find a little bakery up the road which they sell cheap sandwiches and the best Mango shakes ever. I have a shake for breakfast everyday (50p). There are loads of Russians here and loads of Nigerians too. Unbelievably one evening I'm sitting in an Internet cafe and cant help seeing a Nigerian guy sending one of those dodgy emails about helping to gain access to funds in foreign accounts because of political situations and needing your bank account number etc. He's there for the whole hour I'm there, sending hundreds of emails to databases of people...well I never?! So it's just some guy in an Internet cafe in Saigon doing that? Weird. OK I'm weird, Ive now watched the Bourne Ultimatum five times. I stay in to watch films in HBO or Star films. I have my mango shake, my pho noodles ($2), my bit of time on the Internet, then back to room to either watch TV or read. Sometimes I go and sit in the park and read. Ive walked everywhere too, and tasted nearly all weird and wonderful street foods. My favorite being the food in a plastic bag. Take a small plastic bag and fill it with cut up rice paper, lime juice, chili oil, ground peanuts, sweetened watered-down fish sauce, basil, coriander, chives, deep fried quails eggs, beansprouts. All these ingredients which are in neat little jars on a wooden tray are mixed up in this bag with wooden chopsticks by a woman crouching on the street. Vietnamese knees are incredible. Anyway this food is incredible, I love it. You then head off and munch straight out of the plastic bag with chopsticks, brilliant! Officially 6 or 7 million people live in Saigon. Half of them own a motorbike. During rush hours, streets and avenues in the center of Saigon are flooded with these small motorbikes. Possessing a motorbike is a symbol of status. Many youngsters recognize it would be impossible for them to find a girlfriend without a scooter. The more expensive the bike, the easier it is for them to find a beautiful girl apparently. A typical teenager will pick up his girlfriend a weekend afternoon, take her for a ride, and sit in a park's bench to talk. Public kissing is un polite. The parks around where I stay are full of courting couples sitting on their bikes canoodling. I spend nearly three weeks in Saigon in this mode, still no sign of this card. Mum then decides to send me so cash via Western Union, which saves my life. Lisa puts me in touch with a brilliant friend of a friend, Suzy who takes me out and spoils me. Kareoke night, I do the worst ever rendition of "here I go again on my own", I really can't sing. Strangely though when I do a duet with Suzy we win, with our take on "hungry like a wolf". I do a great day trip out to see the Mekong Delta and meet a cool Canadian girl called Vanessa (of cyclo story earlier). Boris whom I meet at Zoom bar looks after me and takes me out for a wonderful German feast of Wiener schnitzel, spaezle and red cabbage. The Vietnamese waitresses have red checked Dirndl's on! My departure date is looming and still no sign of this card. I give up. I'm going to have to do India with cash. I think I can just about cope with that! Honestly what a polava.

'Is it just me?': or do I spend an inordinate amount of time locking all my valuables into my backpack with a combination lock, only to realise that in fact I need, my passport, or card, or something. Or that Ive forgotten to lock something away. So I have to un lock it and then re lock it, this process can happen up to four times before I can leave. Hopeless. Is this a form of OCD?

Miss everyone like hell xxxx

I love my friends sooooo much x

Posted by spacebooth 01:45 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Cambodia

Phenom Penh

all seasons in one day 29 °C

We've tried two mornings in a row to see the sunrise at Utopia. We keep oversleeping. On our last day Max wakes us up like a dad and we emerge bleary eyed to a magnificant sunrise, it's beautiful. We've booked ourselves onto a morning bus to take us back to Phenom Penh. A tuk tuk collects us and drops us at into town, and from there we jump on the bus. Its a bumpy ride back to Phenom Penh. When we reach town we get in another tuk tuk and head towards the lake, which is where most of the back packer accommodation is. It is revolting. A dirty back street labyrinth of lanes with seedy hostels, restaurants and bars. We check out three hostels all of which are sub standard. Onto another tuk tuk to try near the river. Eventually we find a hotel, which although more expensive, the room is clean and we have cable TV and air con.We head out for some lunch and walk through a street market just up the road. Its a cacophony of smells, noise, people, baskets of skinned frogs still moving, catfish in baskets still flapping. The dirt of the street mingles with the strange and gruesome fare on offer. Mayhem, and not a bit like Tesco. We find a rather plush french bistro and treat ourselves to a good lunch. After a bit more of a wander, some markets and booking ourselves on the 'Killing Fields' tour for tomorrow, we slowly head back to the room for some chillage. We pop out for Happy Pizza in the evening, first pizza in ages and very good (we don't do extra happy which includes sprinkles of ganja!). Back at the room we end up watching Lord Longford and share a pack of chewy stale maltesers, weirdly quite good.

The following day we head off in a mini bus to the Killing Fields. Tragic and quite unbelievable what the human race is capable of. Sarah has read the book 'First they killed my Father' which is a young girls account of how the Khmer Rouge destroyed everything she held dear including loosing her parents and sister. It makes us think about how different Cambodia would be today if this regime hadn't destroyed everything it did? They destroyed the infrastructure, the cities, the temples, and exterminated anyone they thought intellectual, they destroyed millions of lives. Back in town we also visit S-21 an old school, which was turned into a detention centre where through barbaric torture and torment, countless people were sentenced to death. Its heart breaking.

Sarah leaves the next day flying back to Bangkok and then back to Brussels. I don't want to think about her leaving. We go out for a nice dinner of Vietnamese Pho beef noodle soup. We've had such a nice time. Its the first time we've spent so much time together since we both lived at home. Its been a much needed bonding session and long overdue. There are not many people you can 'just be' with.

Sarah I love you for being: honest, kind, gentle, sensitive, humble, trustworthy, a listener, vulnerable, analytical, caring, loving, understanding, a dreamer, quirky, reflective, un-complicated in the most complicated way, reliable, persuasive, conscientious, feminine, glamorous without trying, tidy and eccentric, offbeat and completely unique. I'm the luckiest girl in the world to have you as my sister.

Our last day is spent with a bit of shopping in the morning, I find a really cool antique shop and have to buy a few trinkets and what not. Back to the hotel and checkout. Then I have to go, I hate goodbyes especially this one. I get in my mini bus bound for Saigon. Leaving Sarah standing on the street outside the hotel in Phenom Penh, Cambodia. Its like a strange dream. I miss her terribly. Were we really there?!

Wet sodden Cambodia, the earth soaked in rain and blood. The soil is so rich in human emotion it has a soul. It nurtures a people who deserve this Earth maybe more so than you or I.

Sarah thank you for our spiritual journey.

xxxx

Posted by spacebooth 01:25 Archived in Cambodia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Cambodia

Sihnoukville and Kampot

all seasons in one day 28 °C
View Esther's Adventure on spacebooth's travel map.

Up at dawns crack again and off to get a bus to Sihanoukville via Phnom Penh. You have to choose your path wisely, Cambodia's 'pave'- ments aren't. Pot holes, mud holes, and rubbish and general dirty obstacles. My flip flopped feet are mucky within minutes. The bus is there, but we can't get on yet. Sarah zips off to get some coffees. She comes back with two little plastic cups containing something brown and rather too viscous. The coffee is disgusting, gone off condensed milk maybe? They get left on the bus office desk for a bemused Cambodian. Onto the bus and off toward Phnom Penh, first another stop to collect more passengers. Hunger calls and I spy that our neighbors have wonderfully scented rice and grilled beef in neat polystyrene boxes. Sarah goes on a quick hunt and brings us back a box each. Fragrant steamed Basmati rice, chili seared beef fillet and sliced pickled green onion. Such a good breakfast, I'm so over muesli. Non eventful bus ride apart from the wooden sculpture panels which are placed flat on the overhead rack, bounce out because of the crap road, and nearly decapitate me. Everyone laughs, until they realise what hit my head. They all look at me with worried expressions, I'm OK though. Miraculously they sort of skimmed me; otherwise I'd be in trouble. We arrive in Phnom Penh around lunch time and have to organize a bus to Sihnoukville. The bus is in two hours, perfect for some quick Internet action. Phnom Penh is a super busy, with sights, smells and non stop action to rival any South East Asian city, it's bonkers. As we leave a rain storm engulfs the bus and the windows steam up. Rainy season, drat. The rain doesn't leave us all they way to Snook (Sihanoukville). It's dark when we arrive and onto a tuk tuk. The driver sort of demands that we go with him. It's quite tiresome the continual 'me', 'me', 'me', but I suppose they're only doing their jobs. We head towards the beach, down a road which is basically a river bed. Then a walk through some buildings and onto the beach. We find a sweet guest house on the beach front, and go to our room. A massive room, with a balcony overlooking the sea! A quick change and off down the beach for some grilled squid, fresh coconuts and cocktails.

Cambodians are ultra cool. They're all skinny jeans, winkle-pickers, smock tops and Hoxton mullets. But with their café au lait skin, almond eyes and their beautiful faces, they carry off heroin chic far better than us. We spend three days in Snook waiting for a clear day. It never arrives and rains torrentially from morning till evening. No beach, damn it! We conclude that beach and rain is just miserable, wrong in fact. On day three we head on to Kampot, which is a two hour mini bus ride away. Orchid Guest house becomes our home. A small hut in an orchid garden, with our very own porch with two uncomfortable bamboo chairs on it. The interior is superior tat. Neat pink frilly mossie nets, multi coloured reed matting on the floor, and flowery tasseled light shades. Kampot is a small sleepy town on a big river, which is actually an estuary. I'm looking forward to relaxing, reading, sleeping, drinks, food and hanging out with Sarah. There is a photocopied local travel guide available in Kampot, called the 'Kampot Survival Guide'. It describes a guest house located a way out of town, called Utopia. It sounds wonderful. So the next afternoon we jump on the back of a motorbike and visit. Utopia commands an idyllic spot right on the river surrounded by bright green jungle. It is made out of bamboo and has a number of nice decks to hang out and relax on, including comfortable bamboo chairs. It's run by a Romany German called Max. A tall handsome man, with a fit athletic body in his late 40's. He greets us warmly and makes us drinks from his bar. He is never seen without a ubiquitous spliff cantilevering from his lips. He is married to a beautiful Cambodian woman and has a young daughter and a baby son. All enchanting. Sarah and I resolve to move there the next day after a day out to Kep. Max insists I make a spliff for myself, which I happily do. I only manage to smoke half. The motorbike which delivered us, returns at 5pm to take us back into town. Up the dirt track, past orchards full of bananas, jack fruit, mangoes, limes and durian. Straight into a gaggle of guarding geese. Then onto the main road back to Kampot which is also dirt in a deep rust colour.
The sky is darkening and there are ominous clouds looming above. Parts of the road are worse than others, one section is so muddy its like fording through a chocolate river. Our driver expertly controls the motorbike so that we don't wobble off. We overtake a man on motor bike carrying what look like an RSJ (reinforced steel joist), the joist is perpendicular to the bike so he's as wide as a lorry. We drive into the curtain of rain head on. The road is better now so we drive faster. My soaked hair is plastered across my face, I cant do anything because I'm hanging on so tight, I whisper to Sarah 'does my hair look OK?!'. Then like a ghostly apparition five beautiful girls all in different coloured translucent rain ponchos cycle towards us. I don't care about being wet, I love riding on motor bikes, I love Cambodia and I feel alive! That evening once the rain has passed I sit on the porch of our hut and ponder things. The noises are fascinating. Frogs croaking, cicadas buzzing, tigers growling in the distant jungle (apparently!). I fancy some music and get my ipod. Can I just say that I really cant live without my ipod. I find Bugge Wesseltoft (not sure from where it came?). Anyway its perfect stoner music, eerie electronic noises which captivate the imagination. I feel totally at one with everything as I sit on the porch with Pascal our resident lizard who's above me stuck to the wall, motionless, maybe he's stoned too?.

The next day we head off on a tuk tuk ride to Kep (fresh crab by the sea!) and a pepper plantation. Kampot is famous for it's pepper, souvenirs are bought. Back to Orchid, which we liked apart from the mouse attacking the soap on the bedside table in the middle of the night. Check out and off to Utopia! We spend five days with chez Max et famile. They make us feel right at home. It's so chilled. All our stresses melt away with lots of lemon and mint shakes and good books being read lying horizontal. One night I go to bed and there seems to be what looks like tiny animal droppings in neat piles over my white sheets. I decide its woodworm poo. It happens again the next day, but the piles are in different places?! We have trouble going to sleep that night, for fear of whatever it is, falling on our faces while we sleep. Lying in the darkness we listen to the usual orchestra of wildlife and it seems, no so distant very noisy chanting? Then strange pop music and what has to be karaoke? It's a funny old world. Sarah falls in love with the dogs, and Max offers her Cleopatra to take back to Brussels, she's very tempted. We don't want to leave. Sarah and I really do find Utopia in Cambodia.

Starting a new bit of my blog:

'Is it just me?' - my feet get filthy wearing flip flops, no one else seems affected.

Hair report - nothing unusual.

The strange cult of ten Americans in a restaurant, who inform us that the food is really good. So we order a Cambodian specialities. The Americans then get their food, which is sandwiches and burgers.
We tell Max about Pascal, our lizard, Max introduces us the Adolf and Gertrude, his resident lizards.
The bar lady in her Audrey Hepburn dress and pearls, her feet precariously balanced on high healed leather mules, two sizes to small for her.
Sarah's drinking beer.
Cambodian pyjamas.
Going fishing, trying to pull out a fish and it nearly yanking my arm off, how big was the fish?!
Max's amazing tattoos.
His five years in a Japanese prison, what for we wonder?
The old fashioned ring pull.
Sarah's banana pancake addiction.
Sell Count of Monte Cristo for $2.50.

Posted by spacebooth 02:38 Archived in Cambodia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Cambodia

Siem Reap and Angkor Wat

all seasons in one day 29 °C
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Sarah and I pull ourselves out of bed to get a taxi to the Western bus terminal. We get there, book the bus ticket and head to the bus. It's Sarah's first bus journey! It’s also far too early. We get comfortable, we each have two seats, and Sarah arranges herself in her area. Everything neatly stacked and ordered. She attaches a plastic bag to the back of her chair and says “rubbish bag” with a raised eyebrow. She is so organized, I love it. She doesn’t however have a neck pillow, so it’s nodding dog head for her. I do give her my spare eye mask, always useful. I try to stare out the window to watch Bangkok come alive in the hazy dawn. But I’m quite comfortable and soon I fall asleep. There is a loo on board the bus, so I don’t think there are any stops on route, very convenient. We both get some more sleep. The rubbish bag comes in handy for the tasty looking white bread and possibly cheese sandwiches we’ve been given (plastic fantastic). Then all of a sudden we arrive somewhere and stop. I assume it is a refreshment break, but we’re actually there earlier than expected. We grab all our bits, which because off sudden arrival aren’t neatly stored away yet, and fall into the bus station office to get organized. We’re all bags.

We need to get to the border and decide on a tuk tuk driver, after some persistent (Sarah won’t be broken), haggling over the price. Fifteen minutes later we’re at the border. It feels like we're in the Thai Wild West. The tarmac has disappeared and the road is reddish brown dirt. There are makeshift huts and covered stalls along the road. We are approached by countless hawkers trying to entice us on taking their offer of a taxi to Siem Reap. Still not sure exactly sure what we're supposed to be doing, we head by foot towards the border. There are no tourists lurking here so no one we can really ask advice of. We need to find a bus. We clear customs, with loads of Thais or Cambodians with children, chickens and pets in tow. Then we arrive in Poipet which is on the Cambodian side of the border, yuck. It’s been raining so the dirt road is now muddy and filthy too. The rubbish is piled up and stinks. There seem to be loads of giant casinos, all gaudy and they look awfully out of place in what is quite pleasant countryside, subjective point of view, maybe locals think they look good? We stop off at a cafe for a coffee and deliberate what to do next. I rename Poipet; ‘Dirty Vegas’. I don’t recommend it. I nip into a casino for a pee. It’s vast, full of gambling Thais apparently. It’s about 10.30am, what a scary world gambling is? I run back to Sarah, just as we’re about to leave the café, there is a loud explosion behind us. A man up a metal ladder has dislodged an electricity cable. The cable is free and dancing in the air like a bionic serpent. Sparks are flying, the man is OK, but not really sure how he’s going to sort this out? Sarah and I edge out of the café, in search of a bus. It appears we still need our passports stamped by Cambodian officials, although I thought we’d gone through customs? Into another office, here we meet two guys from Iceland; they are also trying to get to Siem Reap. It’s decided to take a taxi the whole way, bugger the cost, the road looks bad, and the wait for the bus is ages. We walk into town in search of a cab, and find one a little way in.

$60 for four of us on a three hour drive to Siem Reap. We cram our packs into the boot and are immediately overcome by a putrid smell. It is emanating from something wrapped in soggy newspaper, I think it’s durian? Hodi sits in the front because he’s the biggest. Sarah, Krissi and I, on fill the back seat. We head out of town. After five minutes the driver pulls over and halts the car by the side of the road. A young Cambodian woman, runs from a house and opens the driver side door, she gets in next to our driver. Remarkable! A tandem driver seat? They're both quite small so can just about fit on the one seat. We trundle out of town bursting at the seams, three in the back, three in the front, along the dirt road bound for Siem Reap. I wonder if his insurance covers this scenario?! The road doesn’t get any better. The further we get out of town the muddier it gets. We're ploughing deep grooves in the road towards Siem Reap. Either side are paddy fields which stretch as far as the eye can see. There are skinny boys riding water buffalo, which are submerged up to the belly. There are women in their gingham headscarves working in the paddy fields. The houses are all on spindly stilts and seem to float above the water filled fields. We overtake motorbikes pulling trailers in which twentyodd, Cambodians sit, balancing on sacks of grain and shopping. It rains and thick mud splatters the car from vehicles which overtake us. This drive is going to take a while. We've been in the car for over an hour, so the repulsive stench from the boot has tamed our noses and I hardly notice it. We stop for a fag and wee break. As soon as we stop, and smell the fresh air we realize how revolting the smell in the car is. It’s hard to get back in. Another hour or so later we hit a traffic jam. We all get out again and refresh ourselves with clean air. The road is so muddy and the car tires a quite flat, the car is floundering in mud. Ill be surprised if we'll be able to drive out of this. We all wait for about an hour, not really knowing what’s going on. Finally there is some movement. Unfortunately the wife of our driver has run off somewhere (we think to see what was going on). He looks frantically for her, we have to move now. Cars, trucks and motorbikes start to overtake us. She’s no where to be seen. He skulks about, calls her name, and asks passing cars if they’ve seen her, but no sign. Begrudgingly he gets back in the car and tries to start up. The wheels spin and we all hold our breath. Then they hold, and our driver edges the car out of the mud hole. Slipping and sliding all over the road we inch along. But where his missing wife? Then she appears up ahead. Our driver is furious, seething in fact. He has a few harsh words and they both get back in. He gives her no space on their shared seat, so her face is pushed against the window. She looks really uncomfortable. We’re all silent, not really sure what to do? They speak no English, we no Cambodian. Two hours, two more wee stops and some beers later we arrive in Siem Reap. The poor wife has been squashed against the window all this time and looks miserable.

Onto a tuk tuk into town, we are glad of some fresh air. I hope our bags and the contents wont smell of rancid fruit? We find a cheap guest house called Popular, which it is. $6 per night, window onto a brick wall, but own bathroom. Dinner in town at the Khmer Kitchen, which was recommended to me by Paul and Nicky in Argentina, really tasty. Siem Reap is a pretty town, rough at the edges but with some really nice shops and good feel. Drinks with the boys then bed. It’s and early start to see some Wats in the morrow.

We arrange a tuk tuk driver to take us on a two day tour of Angkor Wat and surrounding temples. Bayon and Angkor Thom on day one. Just beautiful. Spellbinding. Bayon is covered in giant Cambodian faces. It’s so beautiful. Then Angkor Thom is like something out of the Jungle book, with vines wrapping and enveloping its crumbling walls, and trees growing in and on the temple (tomb raider was partly shot there too). We spend a really nice day driving round lots of other temples and through wonderful forests and lakes. The weather is threatening and we’re pooped. We head back to town before dinner. Back at the guest house we sit in the bar sipping beers while the rain pounds the corrugated roof. Sarah has a quick freak out about the cleanliness (or lack of cleanliness) in our bathroom. She gets into bed, lying on her back, wrapped in her cotton sleep sheet. “sorry est, ich ekel mich uber alles”… translated, everything is yukky and I don’t want to touch it. We’ve opted for a sunrise at Angkor Wat, fingers and toes crossed that the weather will be OK.

Out of bed, a quick check on the weather, it seems clear! Our tuk tuk driver is waiting and without breakfast we head towards Angkor Wat. We arrive with many others. But by doing the sunrise, you do miss the big bus loads of tourists which swarm the site later on in the day. It is still dark but you can make out the familiar silhouette in the dawn sky. We find ourselves a nice position on the path leading up to the Wat, sit ourselves down and wait. Dawn happens so quickly and before we know it the Angkor Wat comes alive in front of us. It’s bigger that I expected and grander and beautiful! We move and stand in front of the beautiful lily pond to the left of the site. Still trying to figure out my camera, so take about hundred shots at different settings. Then before the sun is completely up we head into the temple. We spend a good hour nearly completely on our own. Like Machu Picchu, I can feel energy here. It’s a mystical place. The carvings are incredible and the scale and spaces are breathtaking. I’m so lucky to be here with Sarah. We sit in silence just feeling the place. Sarah is about to pass out because of no food. So we start to make our way out. Of the few people we do see we bump into the Icelandic boys and we spot a woman, 40’s ginger hair which new age traveler style is all braided. Sarah points out she looks exactly like a Catherine Tate character. After a few hours (five since we got up), we head to a stall outside, for a bite. I order Thai noodles, thinking about the yummy Thai noodles you get in Thailand. I get instant ramen noodles with a sachet of Thai flavouring. Sarah laughs at me. Sadly as I’m about to discover Cambodian food is quite sketchy. When it’s good it’s very very good, when it’s bad it’s horrid. After brunch a long ride (30km) to Bantrai Srei in the afternoon. This is a small temple, with very fine intricate carvings. Which they say must have been done by women. At this point we’re both pretty pooped and templed out. We order our driver to take us home. We’ve loved Angkor Wat and all the other temples. Our tuk tuk driver has been great, so we tip him well and he’s very grateful. We decide on route home that we might be able to manage a massage, so he drops us at Seeing Hands massage school. You get massaged by the blind! In fact everyone who works in the school is blind. I lie on my front and drift away. Incredible, I’m semi aware of a thunder storm outside. An hour of pure bliss. Afterwards we get out our wallets and pay. $10 for the two of us. They are very trusting because no one can actually see what we’ve paid. We head back to the guest house freshen up then hit town for some shopping and some nibbles.

NB:

Catherine Tate woman – is it her?
Banana milkshakes.
Sarah’s boob being bitten by a pony.
I have a fungal toe – cant talk about it.
Cold showers + Booth sisters = pathetic. I have to properly psyche myself up for about 10 minutes, Sarah the same.
Sarah’s moist loo paper – yeah now we’re talking.
‘Rubbish bag’ – sorry too funny!
Our blow out in Siem Reap – get me out of this shop Sarah.
Buying three big wooden sculptures for the wall, which we now have to carry.
It’s quirky and bizarre, but so are we, Cambodia rocks!

Early bus to Phnom Penh...

Love my sis xxxx

Posted by spacebooth 04:41 Archived in Cambodia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Thailand

Bangkok

all seasons in one day 29 °C
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I leave Manila as I arrived, in a torrential rain storm. It's coming down so hard that I'm soaked to the skin just by walking from the taxi into the terminal. As it happens, the wrong terminal. Back to another cab to take me to the correct one. I'd left plenty of time so no biggy. I go to check in. As I wait in line I see a familiar gold baseball cap. It's Sebastian and Merie! They're moving on to Bali. We check in go though security and sit down for a coffee. A sweet coffee of course. We don't have much time so we say more goodbyes and then head off to the different gates. A pleasant flight and I arrive in Bangkok. Albeit at 2am in the morning. I haven't been here since 1994, when I spent my student loan on a two month stint backpacking around Thailand with best friend Claire from school, and a whole bunch of brilliant girls she'd met at University. We were seven girls in Thailand, just turned twenty, Full moon party, opium, the whole nine yards. Back then it was so exotic. I'd never been anywhere like it, and I'd never dreamt of anywhere like it. We'd paid 320GBP for a return flight to Bangkok on Aeroflot via Moscow. I've dreamt about returning.

I don't head to Khao San Road this time. But get a taxi to Suk 11, which my super organised sister has booked us into. She arrives later that morning. I get to the hostel and hit the bed. It's a really nice room with twin beds, our own bathroom and it's all spotless. My memories of cockroach infested Khao San Road with paper thin walls, melt into sleep. I wake up early, shower and just as I finish there is a knock at the door. I open the door to my beaming sister! It's so good to see her. After lots of hugs and kisses and catch up. She unpacks her backpack to reveal some new clothes for me! She freshens up and we head to breakfast (included) and spend the morning wagging our chins.

Our plan is to spend a day or two here in Bangkok and then head on to Cambodia. We both need a Visa so after we've caught up on the gossip, we head to the Cambodian Embassy. Of course Lonely Planet is wrong again with the address (quite unbelievable really). Some Thai woman approaches us speaking great English and tries to coerce us in getting a visa though her. It all sounds a bit far fetched 'she just happened to be there, and can help?!' ... we don't take her up and then find out later that she was trying a well rehearsed 'visa scam' on us. Ahh Thailand. It all comes flooding back. We finally find the Embassy, only to find it shut for lunch. We pop round the corner for a quick bite. Yummy Thai street food, probably the best in the world? The Embassy once open is very efficient and we walk out twenty minutes later with Visas. Sarah's fading slightly, so its decided we'll head over to Wat Po for a massage at the school there. Just as we arrive the heavens open and we scuttle into the school of massage for some relief. A dark room, fragrant herbal balls, wondrous massage all conducted with a thunder storm in the background. I think I drift off to sleep. It's still raining when we finish, so Sarah treats me to a foot massage too. The rain has cleared, as has every stress in my body. We walk out and hail a cab to take us back to Sukumvit Road. The traffic is so bad that after about an hour we give up and walk he rest of the way. Once safely back at the hostel we dine at the restaurant next door on delishious phad thai and green papaya salad. We decide to leave the day after tomorrow on the early bus to Aranya Prathet (border town with Cambodia). The next day we visit the Grand via the river boat, and do a little shopping in the afternoon. There is a failed attempt at trying to buy our bus ticket early (1 hour walk in the dark), then a failed attempt at a ping pong sex show in the evening. We do see an interesting sex show with some very beautiful naked girls sliding around on a podium, pouring water over each other from champagne bottles. Then back to the hostel walking down Sukumvit road. It's teeming with traffic, hawkers, food stands, clothes stalls, lady boys, dogs, cats, roaches and then all of a sudden we're navigating around an elephant! In the middle of Bangkok! Was it a dream?

We have a silly early start at 4.30am. It's the best to have my sister here, it's been far too long.

Notes:

Sarah's backpack is tiny, she insists I told her to get one that small. So didn't.
Cabbages and Condoms - good restaurant with condomania and aids awareness.
Lunch by the river, brilliant food stands.

Miss you Sarah xxxx

Posted by spacebooth 23:14 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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