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


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.