January 2007


Thailand25 Jan 2007 11:12 am

I’d yet to experience an area that I dont like in Thailand.   Something that does not have a unique charm or selling point. In Koh Samui, I found it. 

Having traveled down at break-neck speed from Laos on a journey that included a pick-up truck, tuk tuks and rediverted planes from an airport with 5 flights a day (see video below) – to hit Koh Samui gave me mixed emotions

Great to meet up with friends that you get on with and have fun from Australia, but the intensity of going from laid back Laos to this Ibiza of Thailand was a little disturbing.  

The large clubs that are flanked by legions of lady-boys (who could have made more of an effort to be lady-like), the shopping all expensive and not open to negotiation, the large number of Srilankans selling suits and the Burmese posing as Napalese all trying to get your into their restaurants that line a street stinking of sewerage. 

Call me a snobby stuck up traveler now, but the tourists on this island, mainly young Australians; were not all great ambassadors for their country after a few buckets.  I hesitate whilst writing that, as there re some of you i met there – that were GREAT and will understand what i mean by that comment.

BUT – you become part of it.  Whate else is there to do but party?  You can stay there at your resort and lie around all day and have an early night, or you can just go out and get drunk also.  

So it was.  Some footage has not / could not be posted (tabloids… make me an offer).    Nearly went to Koh Phangan but thought it would be the same if not worse in regards to parties. Having now arrived in Koh Phangan – I know now that that is not the case.

Advice for the future – bypass Koh Samui, go straight to Koh Phangan and Koh Tao.

 

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Title: BIG-JOURNEY
Description: Journey to Samui

 

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Title: Swimming-Hole
Description: Destroyed Swimmers.

 

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Title: Thai-Haircut
Description: So boring it hurts.

 

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Title: Mornings
Description: Average morning in Samui.

 

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Title: Maaaasssaarge
Description: Suits massage and Monsters.

 

Mongolia24 Jan 2007 10:46 am

Outer Mongolia.. It sounds like the back-arse of nowhere. Indeed, if you leave the thriving city of Ulan Bataar – it IS.

There is so much open space here – 1.5m sq/km for 2.5m people… ie just under 2 people per sq km.

Considering that 1m of these live in the main city UB – you can see why the country is so wild.

Wake up on the train from China – you are crossing the Gobi Dessert. Just you, on a train and thousands of sq km of dessert that the train track cuts through.

Look carefuly you can see carcasses of some poor animal dry and picked clean, just lying there.

NB: The difference between Outer and Inner Mongolia?

Inner Mongolia is distinct from Outer Mongolia, which was a term used by the Republic of China and previous governments to refer to what is now the independent state of Mongolia.Inner” and “Outer” imply a perspective centered on China. ie – the bit nearest China was called Inner Mongolia and Mongolia the COUNTRY itself was called Outer Mongolia.

EG – if the brits called Northern Ireland – Inner Ireland, they would have called Ireland proper Outer Ireland.

Most people, when doing the Trans Mongolian (Beijing, across Mongolia to Ulan Bataar then up to Irkukst in Siberia to join the trans-siberian) either stay on the train for the full 5 days to Moscow non-stop.

OR take 2 or 3 days in UB to do a quick tour with a local tour company.

ME – my plan was to stop, get my Russian Visa and then carry on. However – i wasnt banking on the Russians not liking the state of my passport (it got wet in Laos) .

SO – as the video at the bottom of the page shows, i had to get a new passport and then get the visa ( i apologise for losing it in the immigration office).

End story – just under 1 month in Outer Mongolia; more than enough time to get to know the city, the people, become a card carrying member of a nightclub and even star in a beer commercial (as you do).


This country is just WAITING for an explosion in tourism and become a destination in it’s own right – and not just a stop off.

I expect, the Beijing Olympics will help fuel this – but… look into it.

Its an amazing place. Having time to meet people such as locals and expats who work on VSO projects there – i made some great friends and learnt some incredible facts.

Example: An advert for a position as a bank-teller, has no problem stating qualifications must include the candidate being “female, tall, slim and pretty.”

Problem is – most of them are.

Further, it gave me time to locate a more ‘realistic’ tourism experience to get out into the wilderness- and not just some tourist camp set up for the folks jumping off the train.

The video is below of what a fantastic experience i had through a sustainable tourism initiative called Ger to Ger, and also where i took m ost of these shots. If you are planning an excursion -as you must – use these people. http://www.gertoger.org/

You, a sheet of paper with some language help and them with the same.

The real deal – riding horses on the Steppes going to real nomadic Gers (a Ger is a tent-like house structure- not disimilar to a canvas igloo) Watch the video below and see why its so incredible.

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Title: Trans-Mongolian-Train
Description: Train across Gobi from Beijing to UB

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Title: Mongolian-Outback
Description: Chris lives with Nomadic Tribes

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Title: Mongolian-Advert
Description: Chris stars on TV in Mongolia

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Title: Visa-Issues
Description: Chris loses it with passport issues

China23 Jan 2007 08:15 am

Out of EVERY country so far – I have enjoyed meeting the locals where I can and trying to get to know them. Beijing, excuse my language F**** that trend up for me.

It’s an incredible city- clearly. Poets have written about it for .. years.

You think of the name and it conjures up thoughts of millions of bicycles, the Great Wall, Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square… what it DOESN’T do is prepare you for the countless scam artists.

If there was a genuine Chinese person who wanted to speak to me out of friendliness in Beijing… I can honestly say they must have found me rude, abrupt and not interested.

As soon as you get your guidebook out, or if you have your day-pack on – you are a tourist target.

Many people come up to you, pretending to want to learn English, practice their English or just find out where you are from.

Then, when they have spoken to you for 5 mins – they say they want a cup of tea… One, that if you are not careful could cost you $$$…

Or are selling art. These people, truly, are ruining China’s image and – I can see, will have a field day when the Olympics goes live.

Moving on from that rant – the city was truly amazing.

Everything you would expect and more so. Again – these people love to build BIG.

I got lost in the forbidden city it was so large. The Great Wall… HOW did they do that?!?

Tianamen Square… yes, I got the idea of tanks on there… and judging by the security presence – not much demonstration gets started there.

I swear that a group of plains clothes police talked to me… maybe that’s because of the video footage I boldly took as students were told to lower their banners (see Beijing video).

 

As you can see -too many photo opportunities and not enough space for them all.

 

I had a few hiccups with trying to get a train onwards into Mongolia – but that is in the next posting!

 

 

 

 

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Title: Mag-Train
Description: Journey to Beijing includes 430kmh train!

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Title: Great-Wall
Description: yeah…it’s winter.

Laos23 Jan 2007 07:04 am

 Laos.  What a stunning country.  The people and the place. Such kind people but still a hint of the unusual.    First night stop of a two day journey by slow boat along the Mekong river. The journey full of new sights smells and sounds. 

Monks being dropped
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Vietnam23 Jan 2007 02:03 am

Hanoi.  So different to Saigon.

This, is where the huge communistic structures appear. Ho Chi Minh’s body, embalmed
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Burma21 Jan 2007 10:44 am

A Visa Run to Burma. . That will give me time to do more on Koh Phangan and Koh Tao, time to check out Bangkok and then get going again. So, after a days panic of imagined lost passport……,calling embassies, filling in new passport applications, booking flights to Bangkok and then FINDING the passport (see video), I did the Visa Run. Hard Core travel. A night boat from the island to Surithani port on the mainland.
What was supposed to be a VIP bus at 5.30 am becomes a truck-taxi for 4 hours to Ranong, where you take a 30 min trip in a failing longboat to Burma (MyanMar), get your stamp and get out again the same route.

But the scenery and people you glimpse when you hit the crossing – well worth th effort and why it warrants a seperate post here so it doesnt get confused in the Koh Phangan posting, where i took the visa run from and back.

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Title: LOST-Passport
Description: What a nightmare

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Title: Visa-Run
Description: How to extend your visa

Vietnam20 Jan 2007 01:53 am

Hoi An. Worth a section of it’s own. A jewel in Vietnam where i could easily see myself settling down. 45mins from a city called Danang which has no experience value other than getting lost on a moped with no fuel,no foreign ATM’s and only 11,000 dong in your pocket.

Now a UNESCO worldheritage site, Hoi An used to be one of the most important SE Asian trading hubs in the 16th century and has the architectural influences from Japan and China to match it.

Add to that the French influence – it is just beautiful.

It is mainly known for all of the tailors (show any suit, shirt, jacket, shoes etc.. from any catalog in the world- and they will make a replica for you).

Driving your moped out of town however and stopping a market off of the highway will show you how tourists never leave the town.

Just buying an orange will have a group of locals following you around fascinated at your hairy arms and skin.

Spent Chinese New Year here and was lucky enough to share this experience with them.

Best moment, zooming through mist at 6.30am glimpsing rice paddies poking through.

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Title: HOi-An
Description: In and around Hoi An

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Title: Chinese-New-Year
Description: Spent in Hoi-An, Vietnam

China16 Jan 2007 02:40 am

Wuhan – literally exhausted me.

I had some choices to make…. Continue travel up through the middle of China towards Beijing… or divert across to see Shanghai whilst I was in China.

Having had a very good taste of real China, I took

a cheap flight straight to Shanghai, where, Anna, a friend lives…

What a city! The largest and most expensive in China. BOY do they like to build things big in this country!.

Entire buildings were television billboards, rich kids drove around in rich cars – whilst beggar kids chased you for a bite to eat.

What a relief to speak English, read an English menu etc..

The vibe here, I could only liken to a frontier town in the gold-rush.

 

I was taken to several bars / nightclubs – where the ex-pat community was on fire. Such a young invigorating vibe.

I stayed here a week. It was like a holiday from traveling and a much needed one at that.

Despite the new, there was also the old however – and i marveled at the museums and old houses.

WEIRD fact: In the museum – there was a carving called ‘1000 buddhas’ – clearly, a stone with 1000 small buddhas carved into it.

If you remember the ‘magic eye’ pictures…. you may understand my creepy feeling when i looked absently at that relic and they all jumped out towards me.

 

 

Next stop- Beijing.

 

 

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Title: Flight-to-Shanghai
Description: from Wuhan

Vietnam13 Jan 2007 01:42 pm

Observation: If you ever want to drop the F* bomb – do it here in Vietnam. When you are locked out of your hotel at 4am, down a dark alley and two prostitutes jump off a moped and are pulling at your limbs not listening to the words ‘no’ ‘goodnight’ ‘goodbye’ ‘leave me alone’; just drop the F- word loudly and watch the speed at which they disapear. It seems to hold an effect which has been lost elsewhere in the world now that the word is so common.

Saigon is a busy busy city. Never seen so many mopeds. Coming from cambodia to this city was a big surprise. Not the socialist asia that you would expect. I went to a club that could have been a top capatilist night-spot in new york.

Here, just outside of Saigon i shot my first and last AK47 – ( despite the opportunity i had a moral issue paying to fire weapons in Cambodia considering the strife they have caused there). I had the opportunity at the old Cu Chi tunnels, that helped the VC defeat the Americans (did you know that Korea were allies in that war also?!?).

Those tunnels… no way would you get me down there again. Looking at my pictures and videos now and knowing what these people as well as the other sides in the war went through – i feel a little shitty that im smiling and laughing so much. That tunnel network should really be a memorial site and treated so with according respect.

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Title: Saigon
Description: Hectic mopeds and VC tunnels

Getting out of Saigon was a problem, as it was leading into the chinese new year that Vietnam share with China and all the trains planes etc..were booked out. Nothing that a good old fashioned bribe couldnt fix though ;-)

China13 Jan 2007 03:08 am

Plan = catch a train to ChangSha heading north towards Beijing.

Ticket in hand, I board the train and settle down for the journey across scenery reserved for “Monkey Magic” tv shows. Lots of finger pointing, gesticulations and underlining character symbols in my guidebook, I determine that the train arrives at the destination at 3.30 in the morning.

3.30 am …. I couldn’t see myself locating a hotel…, getting settled and relaxing in the middle of China at that time. So- I look on my map and choose another destination. 30 mins later and my arms are tired from more gesticulating, pointing and underlining characters with the train guard. My wallet is also slightly lighter, as I had succeeded in bartering my bed-bunk till a city called Wuhan, where we would arrive at 7.30am… a much more civil time. MUST watch the video below to get an idea of the task.

WUHAN! You could not be further from the Western World if you tried. Roman Alphabet? What is that? Holding 8 fingers up to say ‘8’ – no, you just use your thumb and forefinger of course!

What a remarkable experience, to wander through a city of 8 million people – all with their own language and writing…. And just you with yours.

You tower above them and can be seen coming a mile off. You get a feeling akin to minor celebrity status. This is not a tourist destination. People in the shopping malls, as busy as London’s Oxford St on Xmas eve – part for you slightly like Moses and the Red Sea. It’s not impolite for them to stare – so they do.

Do as the guidebook says and get lost… these people were so friendly and in shock at seeing a westerner, I had no concerns about wandering down back alleys in the older part of the city.

Tubs full of frogs, turtles, whatever you want to eat – overflowing. Stalls bbq’ing chicken tongues on a stick – looks lovely, but no thanks. Cats outside restaurants on display, as we would have lobsters in our own Western version… yes – (see Average-Day-In-Central-China ) video below.

If there was ever challenges to your own upbringing and way of life, culture, civilized nature – this city is the place to explore those to the utmost.

Spend a week here uttering not a word of your native tongue nor reading a menu or sign in your own language (what AM I eating if I point to this menu item?!?) and you leave a changed person.

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