Thursday, November 29, 2012

Yangon a minute

If you arrived in Bangkok and found your illusions of technologically backwards Asia cruelly shattered by the ubiquity of smartphones, head to the Myanmar embassy and arrange your visa pronto, as visiting this emerging travel destination is really like stepping back in time. Specifically to about 1986, judging by some of the nostalgic Toyotas trundling along the dusty roads.

Yangon is where most flights go to, and with its mixture of painstakingly maintained government parks and appallingly run-down public buildings it gives a fair overview of this slightly mad country. You might know it as Rangoon if you're more than 100 years old or the sort of stubborn pedant who refuses to acknowledge that names change and still insists on calling Myanmar 'Burma,' Starburst 'Opal Fruits' and people with darker skin than you 'coloureds.'

There's something very distinctive about Yangon though, and it took me most of the first day to realise what it was. There are no motorbikes here. There aren't even any bicycles, apparently due to a government initiative to reduce congestion that seems to have targeted precisely the wrong end of the spectrum. After going back and forth to Hanoi a few times the previous month, where cacophonous bikes are standard issue, this was a welcome shock.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A Buddhist trilogy (of five)

They take Buddhism very seriously in Myanmar, which isn't a surprise when you consider that many countries suffering through oppressive regimes and terrible quality of life end up turning to faith for some paranormal relief. At least they chanced into one of the less tyrannical religions, though that's a bit of an unfair stereotype, as demonstrated by the frequent participation of Buddhist monks in the persecution of the country's minority Muslim population. So much for Buddhism being the harmless one.

But hey, enough of the dwelling on local politics and opening my eyes to the misery and suffering around me, this is supposed to be a holiday! Let's visit some of Myanmar's most significant Buddhist sites and pay extortionate and ethically dubious entrance fees to the fascist state instead.

My girlfriend was keen on visiting Myanmar's Famous Five Buddhist sights during our visit, and being a sucker for anything approaching a quest or OCD checklist I was happy to help, but unfortunately we didn't have time / couldn't be bothered to travel to some of those further afield, so here's 60% of them. Hey, it's better than I usually manage!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Burmese days

When I wrote about my visa run across Myanmar's southernmost border with Thailand, I half-heartedly expressed a desire to see more of this country than just a harbour, but I didn't expect to be back so soon. But when flights to Nepal and Indonesia turned out to be slightly more expensive than I'd budgeted for two people, it seemed an obvious choice to explore further afield in this strange nation before my girlfriend started work and I'd be out on my own again.

Travelling in Myanmar was very different from more mainstream Asian destinations, but in other ways it wasn't as much of a leap or challenge as I'd been led to believe. While I can criticise some overly demanding tourists for their expectations from a country that's had its development severely stilted, there are some things that probably matter to me more than most travellers, like the terrible internet access that made it frustrating to get my work done during these two weeks.

Due to this dodgy/non-existent internet access, I made the unprecedented decision not to write any blogs while travelling in Myanmar, instead taking notes and photographs that seemed funny or relevant at the time and trusting that I'd be able to make some kind of sense out of all this when I got back to my Thailand apartment, loaded up on snacks and ready meals from 7-Eleven and locked myself in with the router for a week.

We'll see how I get on when I write about my trips to Yangon, Mandalay and Bagan separately, but first here are some chaotic, general notes about Burmese idiosyncrasies that didn't fit anywhere else, and will hopefully set the right tone. I mostly had a good time.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thieving Bastards IV: The Colossal Waste of Time


Finally, fuelled by blind rage and in spite of sanity and the desire to not waste my life, I've caught up with the present in my compulsive searching of literally every photo I've ever put in this blog.

You'll notice this is an extremely slim version compared to earlier ones, which is most likely the calm before the shitstorm as the Asian travel industry gradually uncovers my photos of places they can't be arsed to send a photographer to themselves and spread them around. Or it could just be that my photos are no longer of any value now I've exhausted the major tourist traps.

A high proportion of these travel company sites and blog posts are from November 2012, so they wouldn't even have existed if I'd done this a couple of weeks ago, and there'll doubtless be new ones springing up even as I type this. If I do waste another weekend searching for new (s)hits, it won't be for at least a couple of years.

Please don't take this lapse in vigilance as an excuse to use my photos for your own nefarious commercial purposes. Like you ever needed an excuse to steal someone's intellectual property, you stinking, cheating, lying, thieving poos!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thieving Bastards III: This Time It's Racist


More tedious cataloguing of innocent bloggers and dastardly companies who used my photos without asking, this time from the first six months of my second year of travelling (September 2011 to March 2012). I'm hoping there'll be fewer of them as I get closer to the present and beat them to it, but then I'll probably be compelled to search again in a couple of years' time and see how things are getting on. I'm bracing for frustration, let's dive in.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thieving Bastards II: Boo-Bloody-Hoo

Further adventures with Google Reverse Image Search uncovering who's stealing my photos for innocent and nefarious purposes. If you like anything you see, have the courtesy to credit your sources or be forever labelled a thieving bastard.

Covers the second half of my first year of travelling in what's sure to be an endless, fruitless exercise in pissing myself off.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thieving Bastards I: The Insanity Begins

I started writing this post earlier this year when I discovered Google's 'Search By Image' app for Chrome (if you didn't know about it already, I may have just killed your afternoon) and was irritated to find out some companies were using my travel photos to help flog their tours and other wares. But I abandoned the task for two main reasons:

  1. Because searching for every individual image out of the thousands on this blog to see where they're being used elsewhere on the internet is an even more fruitlessly time-consuming task than even I was prepared to undertake.
  2. Because it's a bit hypocritical to condemn people for using my images without permission or giving credit when I've done that a lot myself, especially for the first few months of travelling when I didn't have a camera. Though I was just a kid with a non-AdSense earning blog who wanted to illustrate a post about haggling in Egypt, which I think is a bit different to a company purloining my less terrible snaps to sell their overpriced tours of South Korea.

I tried and failed to leave cynicism and litigation at the door when exposing these DIRTY, THIEVING BASTARDS, and tried to take it as a compliment that they thought my amateur photos were worth nicking. This doesn't include images that show up in galleries or wallpaper sites under the irrelevant name of a pop singer, there are too many of those to bother with. Just the sites that know what they're doing.

This covers my first six months of blog posts, because I do actually have things to be getting on with. It still took bloody ages to do, but since when have I let that get in my way?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

That's what real work looks like

When my tranquil mountain retreat in Sapa turned out to be less recuperative than expected, I got away from the computer and had the sort of really relaxing rest that involves trudging along muddy paths for hours getting burned by the sun and almost getting trampled by buffalo. I liked it a lot.

I've always been a farm boy at heart - my dad's a farmer, so I don't have to go back generations or anything. I love watching people doing the sort of real, practical work I would have been doing if I'd been born at any previous point in time and eaten my greens as a child. Though even if I'd been born in the 19th century I still probably would have forsaken the fields to write about ghost sightings in saw mills for The Cheshire Observer or something. Useless twat.

There are plenty of tribal vilages in the Sapa area, but Cat Cat (which isn't pronounced how it's spelled, sorry to disappoint) is easily the most accessible, just a mile or so downhill from the town. That would do nicely.

Monday, November 12, 2012

That time I didn't have malaria

Where can you go after being blown away by the insultingly photogenic Ha Long Bay? If you're a more ambitious and less burned out traveller than I was at this point, you could head south along Vietnam's dysraphic spine to visit demilitarised zones, napalmed jungles and more ancient cities, but I went north into the mountains for a rest.

That was the idea anyway. But less than an hour after drifting off to sleep in a cosy hotel bed in a comfortably cool climate, my fifth different bed in as many nights, I woke up delirious, shivering, sweating and subsequently doing a few other things I won't describe here because you'll probably be eating at some point today.

I'm still not sure exactly what was to blame, but like any other unqualified internet commentator I have my wacky theories. As sceptical as I am about these pseudo-medical observations, I will give you one piece of sage advice: if you're already struggling to get to sleep due to a mysterious fever and troubled thoughts, don't make the mistake of looking up your symptoms online.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Conquest of Monkey Island™

No sooner had I got my sea legs, than they were snatched from under me as we went ashore for some extremely medium-duty jungle trekking on Cat Ba Island™. After getting suitably sweaty, we took another short voyage to spend the night on Monkey Island™, which was inevitably disappointing given my impossibly high expectations.

Not only did I not see any monkeys, I didn't see a single pirate skeleton ghost or come across seemingly random objects for my inventory that would later prove ingeniously useful when combined with other objects or parts of the background. I feel like I've been the victim of an extremely long-winded marketing con by Vietnamese travel companies in collaboration with Guybrush Threepwood and the good people of LucasArts. I've heard they are contemptible sneaks. Still, I always enjoy a rickety wooden cabin.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Dave in a cave again ag… however many we’re up to

The counting system for my caving blogs is a lot less formalised than for my childish days out. These are more jazz. Here’s another couple of well jazzy caves I visited, hollowed into the not-floating islands of Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay. They make the punier caves in Vang Vieng look like something a cartoon mouse would chomp out of a skirting board.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Islands don't float

Comparing my travel blogs with those written by other people, one of the major things you'll probably notice - apart from mine going on forever while theirs tend to fade into silence after a couple of months, the quitters - is that I don't talk about the people I meet. The reason for this is that I don't choose to meet people very often, preferring my own company and having had enough bad experiences to feel socialising with drunk strangers isn't worth the gamble of making a new friend who I'll immediately alienate by not staying in touch.

I tried to explain this in an earlier post about how extroverted people aren't willing to understand that introverted people's brains work differently to theirs, but comments indicated that these people still aren't willing to try to understand even after I've just explained it to them. So I won't waste more time trying to open your mind and convince you that I'm not some kind of aberration for not feeling comfortable in large groups for extended periods, I'll just comfort you by admitting I had quite a nice time talking to some of the people on my lazy package tour of Ha Long Bay. Some of them.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Ha Long is a piece of string?

That depends on the scrupulousness of the travel agent you book your tour of Vietnam's tactically voted Wonder of the World with, and how stubborn you are to fight through their deliberately ambiguous sales pitch and outright lies about 'VIP' boats and 'superior' bungalows before they admit that everyone just gets handed the same length of tatty old string frayed at the edges and with a couple of frustrating knots that they've tried loosening with scissors, but that just made it look worse.

If you enter the tour company's office prepared to deal with their bullshit, and don't get indignant when the tour guides advise you that you shouldn't leave any valuables in your boat cabin because the crew routinely breaks into rooms to look for anything salvageable, you'll probably have a great time in Ha Long Bay. Once you've accepted that you're going to be scammed, the satisfaction lies in minimising the collateral damage.