Sunday, September 30, 2012

Buddhy hell

I just realised I missed a trick by not using that title for the Ten Courts of Hell blog more than a year ago, so I had to get it in somewhere.

If you're the sort of free-thinking or stubborn traveller who prefers not to base their plans and schedules on the experienced advice of others, you might have made the mistake of spending more than one night in Laos' tedious capital Vientiane. But have no fear, there's a slightly unusual sculpture park constructed by an exiled shaman just an hour's bumpy bus ride away, which is well worth the trip to fill all those unforgiving minutes. Maybe I'll listen next time.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Paradise Laost

I've been trying to track down South East Asia's legendary lost kingdom of Laos, but I think I took a wrong turn. This place I'm in is called Laos all right, but there's nothing 'lost' about it, if the endless guest houses, karaoke bars and white people walking around distastefully topless are anything to go by. Are we talking about the same Laos here?

Laos doesn't come close to being a tourist-unfriendly country, especially compared to the likes of Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and China where I had to put in a lot more effort to find places than just hopping in a jumbo with seven other white people and a couple of Koreans and being escorted around the conveyor belt of popular sights. I got sick of this pretty soon and went back to using the local buses and hand-scrawled directions, but even these buses are air conditioned and have pedal bins in the centre of the aisle. You don't even get that in Japan.

I was most worried about Wi-Fi before going, after some bad experiences in the aforementioned countries where hotels either lied about being connected at all or connections were interrupted any time a bird sat on a telegraph pole, but in 21st century Laos I was able to keep up with work and illegally download new episodes of Breaking Bad in record time. You won't have to squat over any toilets and you can still use all the Thai you learned in Thailand, so you don't need to learn many new phrases. What do you mean you didn't even learn any Thai?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Paradise is overrated

Travelling isn't all that stressful, it's life that's stressful. I get stressed at the drop of a hat, which is why I can never wear hats. I tried it once, let's never speak of that again.

Or at least I thought I got stressed a lot. It turns out all that time I was just getting a bit annoyed. Now I know what stress is, and what it's capable of doing to my formerly invincible body. I won't bore or sicken you with the details, but I have my reliably unreliable bank to thank for making an annoying situation steadily worse and piling on problems and bureaucracy like a stress Buckaroo until my digestive system couldn't cope any more. No, I don't have any formal medical training. Why do you ask?

The result was that I had to spend a lot longer limboing in Bangkok than I'd planned, or than Thai immigration allowed me, with a dwindling supply of emergency baht and no way of accessing my own money that I work for.

Then I remembered I was in Thailand, where there are loads of idyllic islands designed for just these situations, and sought to counteract the most stressful experience in my life with the most relaxing. It was going quite well for an afternoon until the typhoon struck.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Another pointless ebook

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

That's right, I put myself through this time-wasting ordeal again, despite having work and life to do.

These edited (though mostly not) blogs cover September 2011 to September 2012 in the Philippines, Borneo, Thailand (several times), Cambodia, South Korea (twice), Japan (twice), Sri Lanka (never again), China (not all of it) and Laos (some of it). I saw a petrol station in Brunei too, if you're interested.

That's right, it includes my Laos blogs that haven't been published online yet. So why wait for them to come on TV when you can rent the VHS? PDF rather. Just as redundant a format. I couldn't get the Kindle converter to work.

(62 MB)

Go on, what's the worst that can happen? It could have a virus that destroys your computer and accesses your personal information, I guess. I'm not a very good salesman. But I'm not making any money from this vanity project, so who cares?

  • 280 PAGES!
  • BRAND NEW! lazy introduction
  • UNSEEN BLOGS! for a couple of weeks until they go online anyway
  • NEEDLESSLY! comprehensive appendices
  • STILL NO HYPERTEXT OR LINKS! for difficulty of navigation

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Two years later...

Well now, the massively misleading travel map is starting to look more impressive now I've scraped the edge of one of the world's biggest countries. East Asia's coming along pretty well, though it now looks like I've got something against Vietnam. I suppose I'll have to rectify that.

At the time of writing, I still don't have a clue where I'll be spending the next 12 months, though I should probably get out of Asia soon or I might be trapped here forever. I'm still not ready to go back to my home country and see friends and family again, as much for their sake as my own. What if I've turned into one of those despicable 'travellers?'

Saturday, September 15, 2012


Another flight connection in Thailand meant another chance to finally get round to things I'd pointlessly missed out the last six or seven times I passed through immigration's revolving doors. The monkey infested historical town of Lopburi was one of them, and you could ask why this wasn't my first destination in Thailand back in February '11, and why I haven't been living here permanently in the nineteen months since.

Oh yeah. That's why.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Typhool me twice

Macau Tower on Sunday and Tuesday.
I wonder which photo they'll use in the tourism brochure?

If more evidence were needed that I don't learn from my mistakes, the inaugural event of the South China Sea Typhoon Season 2012 caught me by surprise, despite these same meteorological menaces spoiling my travel plans in the Philippines this time last year.

I wasn't the only one to be embarrassingly unprepared for the weather though, as everyone except the nonplussed locals seemed similarly unable to cope with these freak storms arriving precisely on schedule, crowding into doorways, looking around in helpless confusion like a doomed polar bear on a dwindling ice cap and bemoaning the effect this weather was having on their poorly planned holiday, while the fatalities slowly added up.

I wasn't so callously self-absorbed of course, mostly being in Macau because it was the next place along and having already taken most of my tourist photos in my first few days here when, if anything, it was a bit hot and dry. No, I was much more concerned with not being able to access the internet, which already required trips to cafes and government buildings in the city centre several times per day, thanks to my heritage hotel being too Luddite to even have sit-down toilets. How would I survive?

Monday, September 10, 2012

The dark side of Macau

I spent a little longer in Macau then I'd intended, having already booked my flight for the end of the month but cutting my time in the People's Republic of China mercifully short due to various stresses. I completely failed to make the most of this extra time though, and didn't even bother leaving the four square kilometres of the peninsula to check out the islands. There'll be more islands in other places - this was my China detox.

I always seem to end up getting stranded in these colonial outposts, and Macau is one of the nicer ones. For once, the colonists were Portuguese too, not British, so I didn't even have to feel guilty!

I don't really have a theme for these compulsory pictures of tourist sights. I notice all my pictures are usually taken in the day time, because my camera doesn't take very good night shots and I'm usually in bed by nine, so I stayed up late to get some blurry night time photos. Sorry to disappoint anyone who came here hoping to read about the disgusting stuff that goes on here - read this instead. But if you want a less depressing, conservatively bland experience, check out my photos.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Things I didn't like about China

I liked this

Here's a post that'll come back to bite me and threaten to expose the values I've tried to explain to / impose on others out here in less liberal Asia as a sham. Those frustrated English teachers blaming their host country for their own shortcomings, Malay girls dropping casual homophobia into unrelated conversations and internet trolls boldly leaving racist comments behind anonymous IDs will finally be able to point out my hypocrisy as I reveal why I didn't like China very much.

I don't just travel so I can justify moaning, by the way (compare this to this). Sometimes I really enjoy my time in countries, but China wasn't one of those times. I haven't technically finished China yet, but I'm sure Macau will get creative with problems of its own that I can deal with elsewhere.

First I'll clear up that I don't have any problems with Chinese people, which should be taken as read. I've met nice Chinese people travelling in many places, who came from Real China as well as Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and other expat destinations. Of course I have - what country doesn't have 'nice' people? Except maybe England. That's right, I'm following the wrong assumption that slagging off my own country gives me a free pass to be mildly racist about another one.

Most of the problems I had with China are problems its Chinese residents have to deal with too, on a daily basis. And there are a lot of residents. And they can't even moan about it on Blogger.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Oh, Yuexiu sir!

If you've had the patience to follow these blogs for a while, I hope I've succeeded in making some of the major differences between China and other countries in this part of the world clear. Things that might not be so evident if you live in the West, where people don't seem to be very interested in absorbing much from over here except their cars and some of their food, but that can make spending any amount of time in China, Korea or Japan very different experiences.

But when it comes to public parks and other green spaces, the differences become less clear as you could really be anywhere in North East Asia. Things like old people exercising on playground equipment with impressive dexterity, middle-aged women dancing with an impressive lack of shame, pristine mountain trails, boring flowers painstakingly categorised, attractive old things to climb and no other white people in sight.

Really, it's only the constant, loud spitting right onto the footpath that reveals you're on the Chinese side of things, but let's put a lid on my bubbling Sino-stress until I leave this country and can let it foam out in unabridged borderline racist anguish. I'm already cheating the system to write these blogs on a German IP address, I shouldn't push my luck. Here are some pleasant parks.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

You can Canton me

After the economic tedium of Shenzhen forced me to seek solace in model villages, I was happy that Guangzhou had a lot more going for it. Alright, so it's pretty much the same stuff I saw in Taipei when I first came to Asia almost two years ago, but at least that gives my time in this continent some kind of circular narrative. Like those circular doorways I'd been missing too.