Friday, December 30, 2011

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Chang is


...an island, a beer and a Klingon played by Christopher Plummer in Star Trek VI. But let's start with the island.

This was my final destination in South East Asia, so I was determined to make the most of it. By doing as little as possible. It was nice. Here are my photos of absolutely nothing.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Preah Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan



Admiral Kirk's least favourite Khmer temple. Right, that's the rubbish pun title over with. Come on, I know it's another Cambodian temple, but at least it's one of the nice overgrown ones and not another of those pyramid ones. You know you've visited too many temples in too brief a time when the prospect of clambering over a 1,000-year-old pyramid loses its appeal.

Preah Khan was the last temple I visited on my Cambodia trip, and is probably the one I'd least mind getting trapped within forever as some sort of malevolent spirit, doomed to haunt its crumbling passageways for eternity, or until someone builds a car park over it. The fact that I managed to muster some enthusiasm after feeling seriously templed out must mean it's something special.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Templed out



Cambodia's ancient temples are my favourites I've seen in South East Asia, and second only to the monuments of Ancient Egypt (it's all downhill once you've seen the pyramids. My life since November 2010 has been a pointless postscript). But I'm glad I signed up for a second day of templing to make the most of my limited time in this country, though ideally this second day would have taken place about two weeks later in Earth time, so I could have appreciated it more and felt less fatigued.

On the way back to my hotel, after two days of tramping around ancient ruins, we passed a temple that I thought would be particularly nice to visit, and I felt a mixture of sadness and relief that the tuk tuk continued and didn't stop. Then I wondered if I'd visited it the previous day after all. Then I realised it was the Bayon - probably the most distinctive temple there is, but one that my historical architecture appreciation glands were incapable of processing due to overload. I didn't even recognise some of my photos when I looked back at them.

Thanks to the wonders of post-dated blogs, I was able to forget all about Cambodia for a few weeks and clear my head before doing these write-ups. Except now I can hardly remember what was where and why it was wherefore. I'm not even sure what the first pyramid temple here is called, except I'm pretty sure it's not Ta Keo (that's just the closest match I've found). To get the full benefit of the following blog post, you may wish to deprive yourself of sleep for a couple of nights and watch an Open University lecture on enumerative combinatorics so you haven't got a clue what's going on.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

If it's broke, don't fix it



'Dilapidated' has always been one of my favourite words (I'm a writer; I have those), as well as my all-time favourite state of deterioration. It's why I prefer the dingy Nostromo from Alien to the sanitised Discovery from 2001, the run-down Red Dwarf from Red Dwarf to the sleek UFOs from UFO, the gritty Battlestar Galactica to the U.S.S. Enterprise. And probably some more varied examples that aren't sci-fi spaceships too.

I like walking around historical ruins, but I want them to look old. Not just lived-in - I want them beaten down hard and not given the chance to get back up. I was never interested in visiting the extravagantly maintained Edinburgh Castle when my bus used to drive past it every day, but I always jumped at the chance to spend a night in dangerously ramshackle castle ruins out in the Scottish wilderness (there's another one: 'ramshackle').

So as you can imagine, I was pretty enthusiastic to explore some Cambodian temples that really hadn't been very well looked after at all. If these jungle temples were children, their parents wouldn't let them stay up late to watch The X-Files and Cracker until they'd cleaned that bloody mess up. Contrary to appearances, some of these places have actually been pretty extensively restored - but that didn't include chopping down the trees, clearing the vegetation or evening out the exploded brickwork. They know decent dilapidation when they see it.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

That one with the big faces



The 216 identical giant stone faces gazing serenly out of Prasat Bayon will already be familiar to anyone who's ever walked down any tacky party street in any city in South East Asia and seen cheap fibreglass imitations adorning gaudy clubs unfailingly named 'Angkor Wat.' These establishments are presumably run by the same people who think the Sphinx is in Cairo, that every establishing shot of Britain needs to have Tower Bridge in it and that Frankenstein's monster was named 'Frankenstein' (when we all know 'Frankingstein' is the correct pronunciation).

There's no need to get too pedantic about this arguably trivial distinction between two ancient cities located a short tuk-tuk jaunt from each other that were abandoned more than four centuries ago, but I've made the thankless effort to label these photos correctly so you're going to bloody well learn something.

Visiting the compact and creepy Angkor Thom directly after stomping around its broader and more famous relative really hammers the differences home. Which is what I'm going to attempt to do here. With real hammers.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

You Wat-n't like me when I'm Angkor



This is the big one - the 12th century Hindu/Buddhist/Hindu-again/Buddhist-again-and-let's-all-get-along-now temple/city complex at the heart of the Angkor Archaeological Park, with its five distinctive towers that have worked their way into all non-harrowing imagery of Cambodia in recent years (it's not that one with the big faces though, that's another one).

It wasn't my favourite temple in Cambodia - not by a long way - but it was a great starting point. Even if my tour group's actual starting point (arriving around 9AM) was possibly the worst time for taking photos. I hope you like blindingly bright backgrounds and obscured details.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Let's do Cambodia properly



I saw more than just the border this time, at least. Even if I still spent less time in this kingdom than I have in any other country (Brunei excluded), at a disappointing 72 hours - abandoning some of my remaining principles and booking a despicably lazy package tour from Bangkok.

These are my last few weeks in South East Asia, and I didn't feel like spending too much time and effort getting to grips with a new culture, a new currency (not that they even use their own currency as it turns out) and some new phrases to half-heartedly learn and be too embarrassed to use, for fear of pronouncing them like an idiot.

But even after just two days out in Siem Reap, I was pretty templed out and ready to go back to easy-peasy lemon polka-dot Thailand.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Sufferin' Sukhothai



Like the high-profile temples and tombs of Egypt (and pretty much all the temples in Bali), much of what you see in the Sukhothai Historical Park has been reconstructed in the last few decades, in the interest of nicer photos and not getting sued by clumsy American tourists falling over stuff.

Would you rather walk around crumbling, perilous, dilapidated ruins? I would, actually. That sounds great. Fortunately, you can still find plenty of these when you stray from the pack into fields of overgrown grass and barbed wire.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Crime and gunishment


Dave curbs his enthusiasm at meeting Uncle Tow


When I was a kid, I loved dungeons, haunted houses and the Chamber of Horrors section of wax museums (I still know the sequence of torture instruments at the Brading Wax Museum on the Isle of Wight like the back of my severed hand). I'm happy to report that I've never grown out of this.

It's no so much morbid curiosity or a disturbing gore obsession as the amusement of someone putting hard work and care into creating dummies and dioramas to really scare the shit out of children - especially when they contain more gore than is strictly necessary (Haw Par Villa in Singapore is the best example I've found in the world, so far).

I've been trying to find 'unusual' attractions in Bangkok on my most recent visit, so I was delighted to find out that there are a few museums devoted to death and suffering in various forms. Excellent! I was going to categorise these next few blog posts as The Dark Side of Bangkok, but then I remembered there are much darker things around here than that, which I have no interest in seeing. No matter how often tuk tuk drivers make the sales pitch.

Monday, December 5, 2011

They're grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr-good


Not Photoshopped


I'm very glad I finally got the chance to visit Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yannasampanno Forest Monastery (popularly and slightly misleadingly known as the Tiger Temple) on my day out in Kanchanaburi.

Not only for the unique chance to recklessly hang out with these dangerous predators as if they were just oversized cats (though really it's the other way round), but also because I'd read mixed things about the ethics of the place, and needed to see it for myself.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Kwai-t a nice bridge



After the unpleasantness of the floating market, I needed to lift my spirits somehow - which meant a trip to Kanchanaburi to see the iconic landmark Bridge 277 of the Burma Railway, constructed by slave labour, POWs and Alec Guinness under the occupying Japanese during the Second World War.

Or the Death Railway, as the more sensationalist history books like to call it. Or the Bridge on the River Kwai, as tour companies are only too happy to inaccurately call it.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Like a rubbish Venice



That was my market-weary verdict when I arrived at Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, the most famous floating market in Thailand (or at least the closest one of any significance to Bangkok, for the lazier sightseers) and apparently the most popular tourist attraction in the country (again, probably due to laziness).

Don't you like spending sleepless, uncomfortable nights on long-distance buses where the staff go through your bags and steal anything of value? What's wrong with you?

Anyway, spending an hour and a half in this floating tourist tat trap didn't do much to change my opinion, though I could at least look forward to the better things coming up later on my package day tour. (Who's the lazy one now?) The floating market was just the reluctant extra - like all those damn butterfly gardens in Malaysia.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Missing pieces



I'm almost done with South East Asia now. I'll almost definitely come back to this fantastically cheap part of the world at some point in the future, but my clinical, bridge-burning approach to life means it's time to move on before I get too bored - as reluctant as I am to start spending real money again. My next destination is the more expensive South Korea, followed by the even less frugal Japan - still, I'm looking forward to experiencing a cold winter and actual weather again.

But before I leave, I wanted to tie up a few loose ends that I didn't get around to earlier, for whatever reason. Usually this reason was Thailand's unfair immigration policy that meant I had to pack everything into just 30 days in February and March (extended by another 14 days with a desperate visa run).

If Thailand had allowed me to stay for a less picky 90 days I certainly would have taken them up on it, like I did in Malaysia and Taiwan where there wasn't even as much to see. But I decided to leave Thailand when my second visa ran out, to see what the rest of South East Asia had to offer. Do you know what? It wasn't quite as good.

Friday, November 25, 2011

So Niah and yet so far



What a rubbish drawing - I came all this way to see that? I appreciate the artist was working with haematite on the unforgiving medium of cave wall, but it can't even be excused as cryptic modern art as they reckon it's around 1,200 years old. 1,200? I was drawing better people than that when I was just four.

Unless these were painted by aliens and represent their true, gangly proportions? I don't even have to Google it to know that screwball theory definitely exists. Why give real humans any credit when you can heap praise on non-existent ancient astronauts who succeeded in developing technology to transport them several thousand light years across space, but couldn't invent creosote?

The Niah caves were excellent really. So nice, I almost forgave a rubbish tour company for not getting in touch with me after I made my reservation to see the more impressive Mulu caves (website background image), meaning I couldn't end up going. But it wouldn't be my blog without some element of failure.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Well, that about wraps it up for Brunei



That's about all I have to show for my holiday in Brunei, which lasted two hours and twenty-eight minutes so is at least better than I managed in Cambodia. It's only thanks to Borneo's slightly silly borders that I needed to pass through this country at all on my epic cross-country/cross-island bus journey between two bits of Malaysia.

At 11 hours, the Borneo Express from from Kota Kinabalu to Miri wasn't the longest bus journey I've ever taken - that tedious honour probably belongs to several low-budget school trips from North West England to Germany, which must have been at least 18 hours, and the overnight/overday bus I took from Bangkok to Krabi Town during floods, which was similar.

But this is the first trip I've taken where I've picked up practically one passport stamp per hour.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

He's changed



A few months ago, I might have settled for that Basic Dorm and risked suffering the snores and nocturnal telephone calls of 15 people. But my budget backpacking days are behind me, and I was happy to splash an extra 43 pence on air conditioned Superiority. Ooh, la-de-da - who does he think he is? He's changed.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Bignose strikes again



I debated whether to go to Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary on my last day in Sandakan, because I was about to spend a couple of annoying days on buses and could have really used the time to catch up on work.

Then I realised that hanging around with massive-conked monkeys would be the best thing it's possible to do on any day ever. This turned out to be the best day I had in Borneo by far, and for once my photos weren't a let-down.




The only problem I can see resulting from this is that the regular, non-snouted monkeys I used to enjoy hanging out with aren't really going to do it for me any more. It'd be like playing Spellbound Dizzy on an 8-bit ZX Spectrum emulator when you grew up with the superior 16-bit Amiga 500 version. Substitute this analogy for two comparative game consoles produced after 1990 if that's easier for you.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

All work and no play



dull boy All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy All work and no play makes

Jack a dull boy All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy All work and no play makes Jack

a dull boy All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy All work and

Monday, November 14, 2011

Curious orang



As far as I can gather from my total lack of research compensated by a surplus of reactionary imagination - so correct me if I'm wrong - the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is a place where celebrity orangutans can overcome their addictions to various substances through a strict diet of bananas, which are dispensed twice daily in humiliating rituals that the braying public is invited to attend.

Some people might think it's cruel to parade these troubled apes in this manner, but they've got to learn. Here are some lousy photos.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Borne-no



Borneo looks pretty nice.

I'm sure there's supposed to be some wildlife here though...?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

An accidental day out



Bus conductors are the bane of my life, and when today's joker failed to drop me off anywhere near the stop I'd asked for (Green Connection Aquarium, where I was hoping to have a childish day out again again again again again again), I decided I'd try to make the best of the situation by investigating whatever there was in wherever I'd ended up.

Conveniently, as if to balance out the yin-yang of this annoying day, the Kota Kinabalu Wetland Centre was inexplicably offering free entry today. So while you could have had some of out-of-focus photos of me fondling stingrays, here are some out-of-focus photos of birds and crustaceans instead.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Anyone know anything about wounds?



Apologies, this is a slightly unpleasant post about a wound I received while unwisely trekking across the Malaysian island of Pulau Tioman in sandals, back in May. That was six months ago now, which is why I'm starting to get a bit concerned that the thing hasn't decided to go away yet.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Cruise for a conk


Not my photo.
We'll get to my disappointing photos in a minute


Borneo might be best known for its orangutans, but it's also home to a more hilarious primate that I felt it was more pressing to see first - the big-nosed, preggers-bellied proboscis monkey.

Like the solitary tarsier, I feel affinity with this distant evolutionary cousin, as we're both blighted by enormous hooters. Though these monkeys also have humongous bellies, while I seem to be wasting away.

Monkeys can generally be relied on to be funny, so add a massive conk and you've got a winner in the comedy animal stakes. But if you feel a pang of guilt when guffawing at these sideshow freaks in places like Singapore Zoo, you can go down the responsible tourism route and see them hanging out in their native habitat on a cruise down Klias River.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The element of surprise



As I took that photo from the optimistically-named observation tower on Bukit Bendera ('observation tower' is Malay for 'small car park with view'), I had a brief, pleasant, nostalgic feeling that took me back to childhood.

I knew Kota Kinabalu was on the coast, but I hadn't expected to sea the see from here, and it made me realise that I really don't get as excited about the big blue wet thing as I used to.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Mm, that's nice



After a slightly downbeat post summing up my disappointing experiences in the Philippines, you might wonder what I'm doing out here if I'm intent on not appreciating Asia or enjoying myself.

Sometimes I wonder that too, but then I look back at my amateur, blurry, overcast photos of the ace things I've seen so far, and then check out professional, idealised, Photoshopped images of what's to come, and I feel like I'm not completely wasting my time.

Here are some of my favourite natural sights I've seen in Asia so far. The quality of the photos won't be enough to make you go 'WOW!' or 'oh my god, how does that exist on the same planet that brought us Preston, Lancashire?'

But hopefully they'll be enough to make you go 'mm, that's nice.'

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Washout



Really? That's all I have to show for my Philippines trip?

You might have noticed that I haven't blogged much about my extraordinary adventures in the Philippines. This is because I didn't really have any, save for a few nice days out.

I can't blame it all on the water. The Philippines just isn't the best country for solo backpacking in South East Asia, and as satisfying as it can be to hop between jeepneys and end up where you intended (about half the time), travelling longer distances can get a little stressful if you're determined to do it cheap and don't have anyone to split the cost with.

Still, I would have made more effort if it hadn't been pissing down all the time. I'm English by the way - can you tell?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Japanese burn



Manila's historic, walled city centre doesn't seem to be a big hit with tourists, which I put down to most of it not actually existing, thanks to a solid month of devastation at the hands of the occupying Japanese in the Battle of Manila (part of World War II we don't hear so much about in the West, because it mainly affected brown people).

Those no-good Japanese, someone should destroy some of their major cities and see how they like... oh. Right.

There's been some rebuilding of walls and gates in the decades since, but most people would probably agree that the Philippines has more important things to spend its money on, like cosmetic surgery and embezzlement. For colonial sightseeing, Intramuros isn't as good as Georgetown in Penang or Singapore, but it's better than Malang in Java.

I still enjoyed spending an afternoon walking around these orderly streets, which offer a welcome escape from the bland, endless uniformity of Metro Manila in general. I always feel much more comfortable enclosed within crumbling walls than I do in bigger cities, and I grudingly accept that this will inevitably lead to me developing some sort of BDSM/asphyxiation-based sexual perversions in middle age, for which I apologise in advance.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Mamma mia



After 26 years, I'd just about grudgingly accepted that hills in the real world don't look like the perfectly round domes found only in children's drawings, Postman Pat and Super Mario games.

Then I visited the Chocolate Hills in Bohol and realised I was right all along. Take that, experience! Let's a-go.



Except the clouds didn't really have eyes
(unless they were just looking the other way?)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Oh Bohollocks



After a pleasantly sunny first day in Bohol, I was woken early to find the typhoons had followed me south. I thought I'd escaped their inexplicable wrath, but like the Grim Reaper and those scary flying faces in Mario 2, they were going to catch up with me sooner or later.

The tour guide taking our depleted group around the island's sights couldn't understand it - apparently the storms don't usually reach this far below the typhoon belt. I felt guilty. Clearly I'd done something to piss off Anitun Tabu, Thor, Tlaloc or one of the other storm gods, and according to Oliver (who knows about these things), I needed to get a blessing to make things right again.

But where should I go? Which one of these obviously pretend deities was the right one?

Then I remembered - there is only one God; namely God (clue's in the name, duh). Silly me! I'd spent so long in the heathen world that I'd forgotten. Luckily for me, the Philippines was raped by the Spanish 500 years ago and they sorted things out by leaving the permanent scars of Catholicism and Colonial architecture. I just had to find me a church. Gracias, seƱores!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The littlest bastard


Not my photo.
We'll get to my disappointing photos in a minute


The Philippine tarsier was one of the things I was most looking forward to seeing in this country - and not, like many people, because of their teddy bear style cuteness. I don't see that myself. To me, they look sort of like a cross between an owl, a lemur and a poo.

But I find all primates fascinating, especially these older types who were clinging to branches with their funny fingers long before our ape ancestors learned to walk upright and were taught to kill by a weird alien monolith. Go back far enough, and we might have been a lot like these guys.

I feel a particular affinity with the Philippine tarsier. They enjoy a solitary existence and don't like staying in one place too long. They only mate once a year and like eating crickets. We both look a bit like aliens as well, or at least when I was ill at school once, the popular concensus was that I looked 'like ET when he's dying.' These things look more like Ewoks.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Lil' bastard



Hooray! I finally actually did something in the Philippines, making the most of my last day in Manila.

I didn't spend it in Manila, obviously. I'm not insane. I went to a volcano inside a lake with a lake inside it.

I don't need to split costs with a lazy Canadian to make it more affordable either - I just relied on public transport, paid local prices and enjoyed a slightly stressful sightseeing adventure using 4 jeepneys, 4 scooter taxis, 2 buses and 2 boat trips to get from my Manila hostel to Taal volcano and back.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Philippines phailure #3

Yesterday, me and a Canadian guy tried to see this:




But what we saw was this:




The megatropoplex of Manila is too big and confusing to get anything done.

I'm going back to my book.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Do first impressions count?



Day one in most countries I visit is usually pretty disappointing/frustrating as I'm forced to deal with over-zealous airport security, incompetent bus drivers and sleazy taxi drivers to get to my accommodation, hoping I don't have to share it with pests (bed bugs or English people).

Sometimes I get rained on as well (the fact that you're even reading this anthology blog means the weather here hasn't improved, or I'd have some tedious travel photos to show you instead).

These first days may be quasi-traumatic on occasion, but they're at least useful for setting the bar extremely low so that I'm easily impressed when/if things go right. And sometimes, they give an accurate indication of what I can expect during my time there.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Bare bones



So I came up with this idea for a steampunk/sci-fi story earlier this year, got really excited developing it and carrying out the historical research (my idea of fun is probably a little different to yours), and then felt all my enthusiasm exfoliate away when I tried to actually write the thing and remembered I'm not actually all that good at writing. My optimistic first draft got as far as chapter three.

Then recently, my MP3 player broke which tragically meant I had to spend time actually thinking about stuff, like I was from the 1950s or something, and I finally figured out an ending to the story that worked and (most importantly) could be fun to write. It was pretty irresponsible of me to come up with a comprehensive plot outline so close to National Novel Writing Month, but maybe I need that ridiculous, needlessly stressful 30th November deadline to finally get this out of my brain and onto the page. By which I mean the Microsoft Word 2003 file in Arial 10. Even if it's rubbish, at least I can get it out of my system.

Here's a summary of the situation and plot that I've kept as brief as possible, with minimal aren't-I-clever explanations of my genius ideas. Think of it as the York Notes plot synopsis for extremely lazy English Literature students who've already structured their timetable of minimal lectures and seminars so they only have to go to campus on Mondays and Tuesdays and have the rest of the week free, but still consider it unreasonable that they have to actually read stuff.

While Paradise Lost and Ulysses arguably lose something when stripped down to a 500-word synopsis, in this case it's the ideas I'm happy with and the joining-the-dots exercise of inserting conjunctions, verbs and dialogue that ends up spoiling it. If you fancy reading it and letting me know if you think it's worth writing, that would be great. Alternatively, if you think it's awful, this disillusion will save me lots of wasted hours in November.

Then again, once you know the story, there's no reason for me to actually right it - write?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tears in rain


Image: BBC News


It's about time the rain pissed all over my travel plans, as I've been quite unfairly lucky with the weather so far. Well, if you count being uncomfortably hot and dehydrated most of the time as lucky.

There's no risk of me accidentally mummifying now though, as I evidently thought it would be a great idea to visit the Philippines and plan entirely outdoor-based activities during typhoon season.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Singappalling



Do you see what I did there?

There might not be much to see or do in Singapore, but this peculiarly well-ordered city is an oasis amidst the chaos of South East Asia. With its wealth of cheap food options and modern facilities, this place has become my base on this side of the world.

But saying all that, some of it's fucking shit.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Do I want a kid?



Don't worry, this isn't a decision I'm currently facing or anything. Nor one that I expect to rear its ugly, vulva-stretching head for many years yet.

For starters, I can barely look after myself - that ankle wound I got trekking through jungles four months ago is still swollen and infected-looking, and I've been bleeding regularly from a private place since Christmas 2009 without seeking medical attention. No wonder I've constructed these indestructible mental blocks that prevent me from thinking about the future in any way. Even signing up for a six-month phone contract would feel like too much commitment, let alone the time investment required to raise a mewling, pewking, diarrhoeaing infant.

But like many otherwise rational people, I do have a slight urge to spread my pollen and cultivate a flawed genetic duplicate. For some people this is due to vanity, for others the key to a few extra pounds from the government. I think I've finally worked out my reason.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

One year later...



Oh look, I've been travelling for a year, as this massively misleading map shows (I only visited two of Indonesia's millions of islands, and won't set foot on Borneo until next month).

I was bundled into a plane and exiled from the United Kingdom at 07:20 AM on Saturday 18 September 2010, never to return (for a bit). Like a bird with one wing shorter than the other, I've been heading generally south-east since.


What have I learned?




Yam flavour milkshake, which I used to scoff at when I ate at a Malaysian restaurant in Edinburgh, turns out to be dead nice.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Greatest tits



I've been writing this blog for nearly a year now - stubbornly refusing to keep a travel diary of my experiences for what seemed like a long time, but can only have been a week at most (it was in Florence that I wrote a couple of entries on WordPress, before getting pissed off and switching to good old, unreliable Blogger).

One of my favourite features of Blogger (aside from its dodgy spam detection filters that mistakenly restrict access to my blogs and then finally restore them after I lodge an appeal, but with all the images accidentally, permanently deleted) is its 'Stats' button, which allows me to autistically keep track of everyone who stumbles across my pages through Google image searches for sexy teachers and Michigan cheerleaders.

And sometimes a travel-based search term too. But let's be honest, it's mainly the sexy teachers and cheerleaders.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Singa-poor



Do you see what I did there?

When I was travelling down the Malay Peninsula through Southern Thailand and Malaysia and the conversation topic of Singapore reared its ugly, lionesque head (on a fish body - how long would that creature last before devouring itself?) people would invariably complain about how expensive this place is.

Singapore likes to cultivate this affluent image, with its flashy malls and Filipino maids serving every loveless household (too harsh?) But unless you buy all your liquid sustenance from the needlessly extravagant Long Bar of the Raffles Hotel or insist on staying in the most luxurious and eye-catching hotels (and thus have a worse view than the people in cheaper hotels who can actually see your building - suckers), it's very easy to live cheaply in Singapore. It's not too far behind Malaysia, or even Thailand.

And with higher quality of life, well-behaved traffic and plenty of free attractions, you're getting considerably better value for money. Well, sometimes.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Fortune favours the feckless


Hard at work


Freelance writing is the perfect job for me. Whether I'm travelling around the world or sitting around enjoying wasting the precious gift of life, it gives me all the freedom I desire and means I don't have to go into a bloody office and suffer twats (there were always a few cool people too).

This is the job I plan to do forever, however the industry evolves. There's no way I could have worked and travelled like this even five years ago. This is so much better than a real job.

But as I realised last month - when the company that's been funding my travels, keeping me alive and has even helped me build up savings over the past year in an extremely convenient situation suddenly ceased sending me work in any kind of sustainable quantity - this job never lets you get complacent.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Is that all I get, Indonesia?



Earlier this year, I complained that 30 days wasn't enough time to fully experience Thailand. Even by maximising the daylight hours by taking night buses (and sometimes managing to sleep for as much as 45 minutes per night), I still had to renew my visa just to see a few more places before giving in.

Time for another complaint - 30 days to see Indonesia is even crazier. Especially considering this scattered island nation is one of the largest countries in the world and it takes practically all day to get anywhere.

This probably doesn't matter to the 80% of international visitors who never venture beyond Bali (the lazy bastards), but I would have liked to have spent longer In Donesia.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Big momma's temple



After a month in Indonesia, it's easy to succumb to temple fatigue. Especially after seeing the same mass produced ornamentation everywhere, and stores selling these minarets and things looking pre-worn and artificially aged. I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out Bali was constructed from fibreglass in 1992, its entire Hindu heritage a cunning marketing ploy.

But I'm glad I saved the Mother Temple until last. After you see this bad mother, you don't ever need to see another temple again. Except maybe that scary one from Indiana Jones with the cool mine cart ride. That would be ace.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Ubud-der believe it



If you can drag yourself away from the monkeys in Ubud, there's plenty more to see around the unspoilt capital of Bali.

That's 'unspoilt' meaning no big shopping malls or KFCs - you can still rely on hawkers trying to force the same five pieces of tourist tat down your throat every time you come across something worth photographing, ensuring you have all you'll ever need to commemorate a right ripping-off time on the Island of the Gods. You can never have too many shit 'Jiggy-Jig' T-shirts.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Twelve monkeys



I haven't finished seeing the sights of Bali yet, but if anything beats the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud, I'll eat my sarong.

This place is right up my street. Literally (I'm staying on Monkey Forest Road). I haven't had such convenient macaque access (macaqcess?) since Taiwan, and as that means I'm obviously going to come here every day, this blog could easily turn into an endless gallery of hilarious monkey photos.

But you deserve to see more 'interesting' things than that (i.e. less interesting things), like temples and rice fields, so I'll simply present the top 12 monkeys.


Disclaimer: I am aware that some of these photos contain more than one monkey; that crab-eating macaques aren't technically monkeys; and that I've cheated by including monkey photos in other sections. Are you looking for a fight?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Bedugul? No, the gull and I are just good friends



There's more to enjoy in Bedugul than just low temperatures and pushy strawberry merchants. Look, there are also temples and things.