Monday, April 29, 2013

Hello me, it's me again



Outside of tranniversaries, this blog has developed a small assortment of annual features (or biennial if I forget) that are useful for keeping tabs on my progress, as well as for filling time when I'm not getting up to very much. This one, a gallery of photos of my face taken over the past 12 months, is the most pointless post since last time I did it.

At least I thought it was pointless - that post has inexplicably racked up more than 1,500 views in a year, just shy of my all-time top 10 thanks to the efforts of dead babies, sexy teachers and used schoolgirl panties (if you haven't been following my blog you might be a little lost). What's going on? Why do so many people want to see mostly wonky or poorly framed photos of tourist sites spoiled by me being in them?

Whatever the reason, here's a load more. Fluctuating beard growth is a reliable barometer of whether or not I was travelling alone at different times.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Dead stuff in a cave



It's always a delight when my interests unexpectedly cross paths and we get a label crossover. If only they'd thrown some monkeys in there too, this might have been literally the best thing ever.

I've been enjoying surprises more since I stopped bothering to do even the most preliminary, misleading Wikitravel research before heading to a place, so when I walked around Sagada with vague notions of rice terraces and waterfalls I had no idea I was going to see a load of boxed dead guys piled up and left to fester in the mouths of caves or on perilous precipices.

But I did! Obviously. Otherwise, that introduction would have been superfluous.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Sagada? Yes son, your ma ain't as firm as she used to be



I wasn't sure what to expect from the lengthy bus trip from Baguio to Sagada, after reading contradictory accounts in two travel blogs. This guy described it like an ascent into hell while this girl thought it was 'pleasant.' They couldn't both be correct, unless she's some kind of sadomasochist.

It turns out the guy was dead wrong, as were the scenery-jaded people on travel forums advising fellow travellers to skip out the winding mountain route via Baguio and take a more direct bus from Manila. If the prospect of looking at some mountains, river valleys and rice terraces bores you, why are you even heading to Sagada?

Though I probably shouldn't dispel the myth of Sagada's inaccessibility, as this might be a factor in most of the unpleasant tourists being sieved out and left to lurk in the coastal cities. I didn't see any couples with a noticeable age gap here, which was a welcome change, nor even many innocent interracials for that matter, which probably made me and Jackie the most perverted thing there.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

It's Baguio-nning to feel a lot like Christmas



Every few months in South East Asia I'm lured into the highlands by the prospect of scenic views, forgetting all about the even more tempting cooler climate until I'm blasted in the face with cold air and filled with warm, yuletide nostalgia. It's ridiculous.

I first diagnosed this phenomenon in a blog post two years ago when a summer day in the highlands of Bali conjured thoughts and feelings of a typical childhood morning during the Christmas school holidays, waking up at 6 o'clock sharp to watch Alfred J Kwak before adding a few more pages to the pointlessly ongoing Crazy the Cat Annual 1995 and annoying my mother by rearranging the living room chairs to create an ergonomically unsound reading hub and losing myself in a Narnia book for a few hours.

It wasn't even that cold in Bali. My body's become such a wuss. More so. It was forged by the biting winds and hammering rains of England and that's always where it'll feel most comfortable, but like a boring mainstream person my tolerance of warm and sunny climes has gradually turned into affection, and my enjoyment of inclemence is limited to a few days at a time.

But the nostalgia's still there, and when we arrived in the cool mountain town of Baguio as a stopover on the way to Sagada, I convinced Jackie to extend our stay by a couple of nights - if she wants to spend time in the UK, she'll need to undergo some gruelling orientation in temperamental weather first, but mostly I wanted to continue blissing out on the paranormal contentment I was feeling.

The fact that we were back together after a few weeks apart might have had something to do with that too...

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Faking it



One of the numerous annoyances of checking in for international flights, even if you've mastered the efficient organisation of your belongings to ensure your bag hovers just below the maximum weight limit for carry-on luggage so you don't have to pay extra, is having to show evidence of an onward or return flight from your destination.

It's an understandable precaution against visitors overstaying in a country or sneaking in to find work and staying permanently, but for innocent travellers like me who prefer to make things up as they go along, it can really stamp down on your freedom to set a return date and next destination so far in advance. How am I supposed to know where I'll feel like going in three weeks' time? Who am I, Nostradamus?

Alright, so this goes beyond first world problems into whatever ridiculous, responsibility-free realm I currently inhabit, but it's a problem many people share, as I've seen plenty of forum discussions where people are asking for advice. Most people suggest buying the cheapest onward flight you can find and cancelling it later, or just letting it go to waste if that isn't an option and you don't choose to go through with it. Sometimes I've tried to guess when booking these flights in advance and ended up regretting it, as neither the destination nor the airport itself seemed appealing any more when the time came.

That's why I usually follow these simple, stress-free and borderline illegal steps to fabricating a foolproof fake flight.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Great National Park Off



I'm not much of a city person. As much as I loved the steep cobbled hills of Edinburgh, I don't have any interest in shopping, fine dining, nightlife or any of the other criteria cities are usually judged by, and if I had some kind of horrific accident or illness that meant I couldn't travel any more (or had kids or something), I'd favour a quiet rural village or mountain town close to pleasant natural sights. So even if I couldn't use my legs any more, I could at least stare wistfully out of the window and curse my frail body. I know, I'm a dreamer.

I've sought out nature in most countries I've visited, after shaky and uncertain beginnings that saw me miss out the Tuscan countryside completely when travelling down Italy on a self-imposed tight schedule (it looked nice out of the train window at least) and being too scared to head out into the desert plains of Egypt without a minibus.

Here are some of my favourites (so far), which I'll try to contrast with each other despite their fundamental differences, though I'll probably just end up forgetting like I did with the museums.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Kep calm and carry on



When I left Australia I thought I'd strolled along my last patronisingly well-maintained mountain trail, but with Kep Mountain squatting right behind my cabin it would have been rude to ignore it. Plus, I'd just spent an evening dealing with the incompetence of HM Revenue & Customs and getting nowhere, so getting scratched to pieces by branches and being found dead on a hillside wasn't an entirely uninviting prospect.

No, seriously, I'm fine. Stop calling.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Bachelor



Freedom used to be my most cherished possession. I'd sooner have gone to prison than have my freedom taken away from me... oh hang on, that's the same net result.

The glimmer of freedom has tarnished since I met someone I like spending my time with, who I had to leave behind for a few weeks due to a combination of visa expiry and a cleansing religious festival that didn't exactly require boyfriends to be around.

Fortunately, I'm an expert at killing time and treading water in South East Asia, and I took the opportunity to visit a few places on my to-do list that Jackie probably wouldn't be that interested in when we started travelling together. Staving off my depression by visiting some of the bleakest tourist attractions in the world helped for a while, but then I accidentally checked in at a tranquil resort where everything was mockingly designed for two and the solitude was rubbed in my face.

As I watched the sun set over the Gulf of Thailand from my balcony with one too many chairs, I comforted myself by visualising the shackles of codependence slowly approaching over the horizon. We'd be together again soon. I'm a traitor to single travellers and the values I've stood for over the last two years, but I have to admit it's nice being able to share experiences and actually have someone to talk to rather than just typing my frustrations. Here's hoping this is my last solo excursion for a long time.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Exorcising the ghost town



Isn't progress annoying? The devastated colonial ruins of Cambodia's Bokor National Park have been a favourite stop on the tourist trail since the country opened its gates in the 1990s to let in the eager hordes of backpackers looking for something edgier than Thailand. These tourists, in typically thoughtless fashion, proceeded to benefit Cambodia's economy significantly, to the point that the country now has the resources to clean up some of the ugly and depressing eyesores from its war-ravaged past and build lucrative casinos and resorts in their place.

How DARE they? If you've ever visited Cambodia, YOU are responsible for this desecration of this arbitrarily defined heritage. I wanted to see the black and burnt ruins of a 1920s hotel jutting tombstonelike out of a serene hill, not a polished building ready for renovation and a new lease of life. When will you people realise that by aiding the economic recovery and development of these countries, you're ultimately only serving to make your travel photos look slightly less poignant and yourself look a little less adventurous as a result? You make me sick.

Before Anonymous chips in, I should point out that not everything I write here is completely sincere. Though I am glad I got the chance to see the Bokor Hill Station and some of the other surviving, grotty buildings around here before they were torn down to make way for the Chinese Las Vegas of Cambodia, even if they don't look so exciting these days.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A harrowing day out



Last time I visited Cambodia I didn't get much beyond the 15th century when retracing its history, with the exception of a small shrine I came across housing jawless skulls and other assorted bones. This time around there was no hiding from the legacy of the Khmer Rouge regime, with the country's biggest Killing Fields memorial and execution centres just a short drive from Phnom Penh.

I'd been looking forward to visiting these places, partly out of a sense of obligation to spare a thought for the very unfortunate but also, admittedly, because I wanted to see what lengths they'd gone to in jazzing things up for the sake of tourism. It's impressively plain.

While Seoul's Seodaemun Prison combines wax dummies with Halloween sound effects to help visitors imagine what being water-boarded might have felt like, and Hanoi's Hoa Lo Prison distracted me with its blatant propaganda and covert anti-American sentiments, the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and Choeung Ek Killing Fields have been left pretty much as they were found by the Vietnamese invaders, albeit with most of the dead stuff tidied away.