Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Citadel



'Citadel' is another word I love, like 'dilapidated' (and there's plenty of that here too). It's one of those terms that feels loaded with historical intrigue, like 'labyrinth,' 'catacombs' and 'Maharajah.' Or maybe these words just take me back to early-90s dungeon quest Amiga games. Either way it felt very satisfying to be wading through overgrown fields and discovering parts of Anuradhapura's forgotten city.

At least it feels forgotten compared to the likes of Angkor in Cambodia. I didn't have to make use of odd angles and strategic cropping to avoid the tourists this time - no one was here except me and my monkeys.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The fresh prince of bell stupas



(Yeah, I know - but it was either that or an even worse Star Wars pun based on these bell-shaped shrines being called 'dagobas' in Sinhalese).

The difficult-to-pun Anuradhapura was my third major stop in Sri Lanka, and the point at which this country finally became good. Wandering around in the overgrown ruins of the citadel was my favourite experience in this country, but the dagobas were pretty nice too - mainly for being absurdly gigantic on occasion. These were among the biggest structures in the ancient world, and not all of them have been annoyingly renovated and made to look nice.

Walking around on these vast stone plateaus took me back to the Egyptian pyramids, and I had a similar feeling of awe about the achievements of early human civilisation, long before the founding of Rome or Athens.

Or aliens did it, whichever.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Eye Kandy



Despite receiving a typically bad first impression of taxi drivers in Sri Lanka when a driver charged me 100 rupees to retrieve my own bag from his vehicle (to be fair, I had left it on the seat and he'd had to drive back around the corner again to find me, but still - prick), and generally having to shoo away more relentless taxi touts than mosquitoes in this country, I gave them a second chance by arranging a tour of Kandy and the surrounding area with a more reputable driver.

I was hesitant because I don't feel comfortable having my own dedicated driver, the same way I don't like people serving me in restaurants (you can cook the food, but at least let me do the washing up). But I wanted to see as much as I could in as short a time as possible, so as with Siem Reap and Jeju Island I ticked off a week's worth of blog material in one day, giving myself plenty of free time to lie around in my pants reading novels about Benedictine monks and eating ginger nuts. Makes you wonder why I complain so much, doesn't it?

This was supposed to be a day tour, but because I'm an efficient, unfeeling android with no interest in lingering in places beyond the time it takes to collect sufficient photos to document their existence in this blog (and because I passed up the factory visits after experience in Egypt taught me most of this time would be spent politely declining samples in the stores) we were finished by lunchtime.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Elexphloitantion



I exploited an elephant again today. These Sri Lankan elephants at least seemed better cared for than the filthy, depressing ones I rode in Chiang Mai last year, but since no one got back to me with any photos from that day of me riding a jumbo, it was necessary to recreate the evidence of my crimes against nature. Yes, that's the excuse we'll go with. File it alongside the camel, the monkey and those other elephants.

Riding around on a massive animal was fun, but I won't do it again. Fortunately, I was able to hypocritically alleviate some of this guilt by visiting the nearby elephant orphanage and contributing towards the care of the rehabilitated herd. Throwing money at a problem is much easier than helping out.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Live and unplugged in Kandy


It was live for me, anyway. You know, at the time


It won't have escaped your attention that I'm not exactly in the best place at the moment, both mentally and geographically speaking. It was tougher than I expected to get used to poor countries again, even though I'm far from being a luxury traveller and have spent most of the last two years in what could be arrogantly described as the Third World.

Most of the time I'm happy to assimilate - taking the local bus, eating at humble restaurants and staying at places that are not called things like 'Sri Lancashire Guesthouse' (it's like someone won a competition to come up with the hotel name that would appeal to me the least).

But when I arrive at a remote hotel that promises Wi-Fi access on its website and turns out not even to have a phone line, I tend to forget where I am and slide back into righteously indignant consumer mode. I'd considered taking some time off work and blogs and going unplugged, but didn't appreciate this being forced upon me.

Friday, May 18, 2012

S(or)ri(e), Lanka


'I'm no psychologist sir, but maybe the bleak, lonely, pointless emptiness of our hopeless, futile predicament is beginning to get to him'
- Kryten, Red Dwarf

Sorry Sri Lankans, I might have been a bit unfair to you in the last couple of posts. The good news is, I've now had encounters with a few locals who haven't been primarily concerned with trying to rip me off - like my friendly guest house owner and inquisitive street urchins - so I don't have to create a YouTube account and spam every pleasant Sri Lanka video I come across with groundless racist abuse.

Colombo may have reminded me of Manila (and must therefore never be spoken of again), but away from the city, this country has reminded me most of my first week in Bali, when I stayed at a similarly middle-of-nowhere place and might have been in the most relaxed state of mind I've experienced at any point over the last year. Or maybe it just seemed that way in contrast to the extreme stress of my first few days there, which might have been the greatest anxiety I've experienced since I started travelling. Whichever, the same thing has happened in Sri Lanka, and by Day Four I feel a lot more relaxed and ready to enjoy this place and its friendly/irritating people.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

My wife loves your city



If there was anything worth showing you in Colombo, you would have been spared that terrible joke. Unfortunately, there really isn't.

There are some quite attractive colonial buildings that seem symbolic in their decrepitude, and it's always nice to see colourful back-street temples demonstrating the diversity of religions, but it's nothing I haven't seen before in Malaysia. I didn't enjoy the compulsory sightseeing walk-about as much as usual, as I often had to make a choice between walking in the crazy road or walking through actual shit and around dead birds being eaten by their friends. Plus, this is Sri Lanka, so there were people pretending to give a shit about me because their brother owned a car rental company.

Staying in the Little India areas of Malaysian cities and Singapore gave me a taste (sometimes literally - yum, yum) of what South Central Asia might be like, but if it's this bad in Sri Lanka I'm now almost convinced I don't want to go to India. As remarkable as its jungles, crumbling ruins and wildlife would be (my idea of India is a little outdated and is largely based on The Jungle Book), I don't know why I'd choose to subject myself to more terrible cities like this when I could be relaxing on some pleasant island or something instead. I have the choice.

At least spending the morning in Colombo made me appreciate my little resort town more, relentless touts and all. And I did enjoy the train journey along the coast - even cheaper and more rickety than Thailand trains - which makes me optimistic that I might get away with never having to use the roads while I'm here. Yeah, right.

Monday, May 14, 2012

So friendly



Let's start my Sri Lanka blogs off with a complaint. Just to be different.

I don't usually do a lot of research before I arrive in a country, beyond trying to find the lowest priced room and getting a rough idea of the exchange rate so I won't be violated too roughly by taxi drivers. This lazy research is probably the reason I end up booking these cheap hotels several hours distant from the airport, when I really could have done with something closer on a day I hadn't slept for about 40 hours (I wasn't going to rely on my alarm after last time).

But one constant that shone through in the various websites I read about Sri Lanka is just how friendly the people are. Seriously, these people are almost paranormally friendly - so friendly, they'll follow you down the street when you're trying to enjoy a peaceful walk, reminding you that they can give you a tour of the city in their taxi even after you've politely declined several times.

The waiters are extremely friendly too, standing right next to you and distracting you slightly from your lamprais, in case you suddenly change your mind about getting that second bottle of ginger beer and they can run to your aid. Despite previously having made you wait up to 30 minutes to take your order, making the lethargic Italians look like Sonic the Arseing Hedgehog.

The three-wheeler taxi drivers are the friendliest of all though. So friendly, they'll even take you to a hotel you didn't ask to be taken to, because they're concerned about your wellbeing and finances. Despite your protests that you've already booked a hotel and told them the specific address when you finally gave in to their nagging at the bus station and realised the extra cost of a taxi would be worth it for getting to your hotel faster than taking another bus, not having accounted for these time-wasting detours.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Siamese twins



When does a model village stop being a quaint tourist attraction and require its own postcode? When does a doll's house stop being a creepy kid's toy and become a viable dwelling requiring planning permission and a broadband connection?

I'd heard about the Ancient Siam open-air museum on previous visits to Thailand, but I wasn't prepared for the scale of its reconstructions of significant historical landmarks from around the country, which in many cases are 1:1. When you build a faux-dilapidated facsimile of a temple or shrine as close to the original structure as possible, what prevents that from being equally revered? The virtues of age and location?

I was a fool to spend two months travelling around Thailand last year, when I could have just cycled around the world's largest open-air museum and ticked off the sights in one afternoon. Plus, some of them are painted in gaudy colours, which is more eye-catching than just loads of old brown. Bo-ring!

I've made it even less hassle for you - you just have to look at my photos and you've basically done Thailand. Is there a difference? I don't understand anything any more.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Pointless e-book

My first year of travelling and writing about it is now available as a FREE E-BOOK!

Covering September 2010 to September 2011 in Italy, Greece, Israel, Egypt, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Singapore again (plus 20 minutes in Cambodia).


(46.7MB)


...though I don't know why you'd want to, really. You can already read it all here, with easier navigation. I really did spend far too long on this pointless project over the last few weeks, when I should have been working or just trying to enjoy life rather than getting pissed off by disappearing text boxes. But look what's included:

  • 268 PAGES!
  • SOME! new photos (but mostly loads taken out)
  • LESS! content overall
  • ANGRY COMMENTS! left by dicks
  • ILLEGAL! third party copyright images used without permission
  • LIMITED EDITION! in that it's loads more limited than a website




I'd love to bring out an actual book of this some time, but that would require far too much trimming down. If I only included the decent entries when I visited something interesting, and leave out the rubbish where I'm trying to work out which country to go to next or being unintentionally racist after getting pissed off by bus drivers, you wouldn't be getting an accurate overview of my journey.

I don't have an iPad/Kindle/e-book reader, I'm just working off a 10-inch laptop and it looks okay on that. Please let me know if there's anything seriously wrong, or if you're annoyed by the formatting, image sizes, file size or whatever, because I'll doubtless go through this ludicrously time-consuming project again in September when year two's over.

How is it?

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Bye bye baby



I'm back in Bangkok for a bit, before taking another flight at the end of the week. For all its faults, Bangkok is a much better place to kill a few days than Kuala Lumpur, where I would have been otherwise, and this at least gave me the chance to tie up a loose thread from my last visit here in November, when the morbidly fascinating Siriraj Medical Museum was closed following the flooding. It was worth the wait.

Bangkok is many things to many people - for some it's a sex tourism paradise or a convenient place to get a realistic-looking driver's licence without having to go through the tedious process of learning how not to run people over. In my case, it largely serves as a Deep Space Nine-style spaceport connecting my trips around various parts of Asia - a Bangkok Nor, if you will. If you're such an irredeemable nerd that you understand the reference.

This city isn't so renowned for the quality of its museums, but what they may lack in educational value and dinosaur skeletons they make up for with a commendably non-squeamish approach to death and deformity. Readers of a sensitive disposition and pregnant women (or anyone who doesn't really like seeing dead babies) might not want to read more. Seriously, this could be a bit upsetting.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Living on the edge


Me at the airport


I'm usually unfashionably early to the point of paranoia when it comes to catching flights, trains and buses, or when arriving at venues well in advance of the time specified by people I'm meeting. I've never understood people who are always late, which is sometimes just rude but other times could really screw up their day - such as when catching the first crucial flight in a sequence of flights that you really can't afford to miss.



You at the airport


But now I've experienced what it's like for these slackers when I slept through my alarm and woke up more than three hours later than planned, on the morning I needed to catch a flight from Seoul to Kuala Lumpur, connecting to Bangkok, connecting again several days later to Sri Lanka. As I pulled on my clothes, grabbed my prepared-in-advance bags and functionally urinated at slightly higher pressure than I would if I'd woken up at 04:00 rather than 07:10, I ran the kilometre-or-so to the bus station telling myself (probably audibly) that I might just about make it.

This should give you some idea of how unnecessarily over-prepared I normally like to be.