Friday, July 28, 2006

Ko Chang

Not bad...not bad at all!
Andie and Sumit
Lonely Beach
Ooooh..isn't the water fun!

On arrival in Thailand there was a week to kill before meeting my sister. The original plan was to head to the far north of Thailand and do the usual stuff with elephant trekking and the like, but such thoughts had been long left behind for the niceties of a beach. Now as most people know, Thailand is spoilt for beaches but despite the imminent and renowned full moon party down at Hat Rin we decided to go against the crowd and head to Ko Chang. If this decision had not already been taken the sight of numerous British travellers of the worst kind on the Khao San Road all heading to said party would have been the final straw. (I even convinced some girl full of mouthy Arsenal chants that I was Italian having spoken to her in my normal English accent for a good 10 minutes). The full moon party was fun when I did it back in 2001 but I think one is enough for me.

Back to what we did do. Rarely have I heard such a constant trickle of compliments about a place from other travellers and these pictures give just a minor reflection of how the majority of a week we spent in Ko Chang lived up to the high expectations.

For those of you without perfect geography Ko Chang is located a short boat ride off the coast of Thailand just past the Cambodian border. And it is a truly stunning island. When you get beyond the small strip of coast being rapidly developed for money-dripping tourists, it is a paradise of relatively pristine rain forest running down to beaches that become more 'lonely' as you head south.

I say lonely because we stayed on the not so lonely 'lonely beach'. A collection of dollar a night bamboo huts. No mirrors in sight, just outdoor toilets and a gorgeous view out onto the Gulf of Thailand. As is best at the beach very little was done beyond eating, drinking, sleeping, a little bit of party, swimming, Thai massage (2 hours a day no less) and ....well...very little.

Unlike Dave, I did make it to the beach more than once - including on one occasion having to dodge a black snake during swaying middle of the night strowl. A highlight that unravelled from one such visit to that stunning shoreline was a rather confused trip to a waterfall in the rain forest. Sumit suddenly announced his intention to be active and against most of the bones in our bodies we were exactly that. After 20minutes in a uye (truck) and a 40 minute trek through the forest we arrived at a crystal clear waterfall spilling its load into a channel and pool that at one end was as tranquil as it comes and at the other a fun little rapid to swim against. Unfortunately we had left it until our final few minutes to go the falls so the splashing around was cut short.

Apart from that I only left the beach to go to some mini-full-moon party that apparently resembles a Goan rave - I can not corroborate that from personal experience. And right, that is about it short of saying that those gorgeous days were surrounded on each side by suitably fun weekends out in Bangkok (though I can not believe most stuff closes at 1am these days), to curse the Power Girls I was forced to drink at the treehouse and say cheers and thanks to Sumit (there is something about the dutch - the Power Girls were his fault), Andie (a good right kick but you need to work on the surprise a bit more), Grant (cheers for the South Africa pictures - I will get round to thanking you personally soon) and a couple of others who made it all such an enjoyable time.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Positional Update

Went back to Bangkok, went to a bar, crazy Dutchman bought Jaegarmeister, buckets, more buckets, strange dance places, suicidal wheelies in a tuk-tuk, god damn samsung, light again (never seem to sleep in this bloody city), utter daze, went to have come to my senses again in Laos with my sister. Cool. To the north we go....

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Oh yes, after a strange connecting flight in Bangladesh and an interesting weekend in Bangkok I have truly settled down into the perfect refresher after India - serious beach time.

And this is it - Koh Chang and all I can say is wow. (The picture does not even do it justice)

Fits the bill and some!!!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Author's Note

While relaxing around the holy lake of Pushkar I have finally come round to filling some of the gaps in my blog that have inevitably appeared as a result of too much running about followed by settling down.

I have finally finished off the Burma section and for those interested in politics or the situation that that country and its people face it may be worth flicking back as their fate is something worth shouting about (click on MAY 2006 in right hand column).

As I fly to South East Asia in just 2 days it felt appropriate to get my blog up to date before leaving the fascinating sub-continent. Oh and mind any typos as it 40 degrees here which means a lot w/o air-con in sight.

So there are now a more respectable 10,000 words getting my blog up-to-date since my departure to Burma 2 and a bit months ago and I shall depart for a final chill out around that most holy lake of Brahma safe in the knowledge that the above picture is from google. Then off to Delhi and Thailand via an interesting quick stop in Bangladesh. Just have to think of a new heading for the blog.... hmmmmm...

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Race to the Quarter Finals


The crowd including a very inquisitive young lady
Picture-perfect scenes like this over 2000km

So there we were, hurtling out of what had been our home for the previous 3 weeks with an hour to get across the bustling city of Bangalore and catch a 45 hour (yes FORTY-FIVE HOUR) train from this metropolis of the south to Ajmer in the hot northern plains. If (BIG IF) the train ran on time that would leave us just two hours to make the further considerably shorter journey to Pushkar and somewhere find a TV showing the big game. That is a journey of some 2172 kms on basic Indian public transport leaving at 8.30pm on Thursday night with an absolute deadline of 8.30pm on Saturday – kickoff. A challenge indeed!

After the usual arguments with the rickshaw driver we bundled in with our seriously overloaded baggage and arrived with loads of time to spare despite the famed traffic of this city. On entry to the second-class sleeper compartment I had the pleasant surprise to see that it was as clean as they get. Not clean per se but comparably so. Perhaps most of the trains begin their journeys in this way because it certainly did not end it so.

On these mid-standard carriages you have a series of 8 bunk areas within a space of circa 5ft by 8ft. That is two 3 tier bunks running perpendicular to the side of the train, one two tier bunk running parallel and a narrow passageway running down the train in between the two. There are around 10 areas per carriage, a couple of increasingly dire holes in the ground to empty into, spurious fans and caged windows. In truth, when the train is rolling along I find these trains no problem at all. You always have plenty of company, great scenery and a comfortable enough bed to sleep on. It is the heat of the Indian summer, shere length of journey and sometimes a little bit over-oppressive company that get to many.

Dave took the middle bunk that folds down in the day to form the back of the “3 person” seat lower bunk that is only meant to accommodate one at night. A very pleasant night ensued in the cool Karnatakan hills waking up late the next morning approaching the border of Maharashtra (12 hours done no worries). We quickly got to know many of the people surrounding us. In large part they were a wedding party heading up to Mt. Abu (very holy Jain site in southern Rajasthan) and various hangers along. All very friendly even if there was constant repeat of the same set of questions you seem to be asked by every stranger in this country:

-How old are you?
-Do you have a girlfriend?
-Are you married?
-Why not? No children……..etc.etc..
-What does your father do?
-What does your mother do?
-What education do you have?............................. ad infinitum…etc…etc

Anyone who has traveled this intriguing country will I know exactly what I am talking about. Sometimes I wish I had a tape a recorder so I could hand the answers to them pre-recorded and cut-short the neverending rigmarole (I have no idea how to spell that word – answers please to my email). Instead I try and politely answer the questions every time, say 50 times on this journey (very believable when it translates to only twice every waking hour).

On we went inland parallel to the rain-swept beaches of Goa and into the Maharashtran hills. From paddies and gentle hills to stunning rises with awe-dropping views of verdant plains stretching out towards the heartland of the sub-continent - wonderful. My favourite times on such journeys are standing or sitting at the open doors watching mile after mile rush by as if in a daze. Contemplating, simply contemplating. Time is a gift I find I can only fully dive into when I have nothing to do in it or with it.

We descended down from the hills and as night approached rolled into the fast-developing industrial heartland of this precarious nation. First Pune and then past the outskirts of Mumbai as I lay my head for the second night on the train. By now the cool climate of altitude had been transformed into the hot, humid and rain-lashed climate of the monsoon. Quickly a fresh carriage turns anything but so and the smells and dirt of hundred and hundreds of crammed people are not blown away but linger menacingly. At one point I had the feeling the whole train was mildly rotting. Ditch the over sheet and extra t-shirt, the climate necessitates a sleep in the open policy.

More about the people around us. They were very friendly indeed. I ate at least two meals off their hospitality. It is amazing how prepared people can be with vats full of pre-prepared roti, chapatti, dal, chutney and a whole host of starters, mains, puddings and snacks that I could not name. This is all eaten with the right-hand, a slight hygiene issue with no proper washing facilities in evermore dirty conditions but eminently better then the left – toilet paper is not an everyday commodity in this country. Alongside this beneficial aspect of their company, I would not be wholly truthful if I did not admit that at times it can become more than tiresome. One on one is great, two on six is fine, but two on twenty-three. No shit. In that 5 by 8ft area there were Dave, I and 23 Indians squeezed round all to ask the normal questions and follow with mixed humour. Luckily though there was a very cute little girl doing much of the talking diminishing to the minimum the usual annoying man who wants to be the centre of attention syndrome.

After a second night where I took the bottom bunk, I woke up to a bright sunny morning in Gujarat. The only problem being that that morning started rather earlier than I would have liked. After being kept up half the night by the commonplace I do not know how to whisper problem - no, shouting problem - by the guys sleeping on the floor I was eventually arisen by a combination of one of them playing mobile phone tunes on full blast before 7am (oh what an evil look I gave him) and a boy just sitting on my legs - this time the equally common personal space issue. Saying that, it all worked out for the best as I dragged myself off my bed, along the carriage and to the door of the train where I spent the next blissful few hours with my legs dangling over precipices, the ears tuned into soulful tunes on the ipod and the eyes staring transfixed out at the passing country. Add a few walks around random stations and you get one of the most pleasant mornings I have had in India hours before Dave fell out of his undisturbed (except for strange men tickling his feet) middle bunk.

To the border and across into Rajasthan the hills rose on both sides with the most holy Jain site of Mt. Abu looming in the distance out the north facing window. The wedding party departed all shaking hands and handing over of cards. We were off, racing (as far as Indian trains race) through scenery reminiscent of Hampi and then suddenly the arid plain spread out with hills only far in the distance. The heat really kicked in and only after 43 hours had passed when we were all but left alone on the train did the inevitable travel madness settle in. Some mad bongo playing, an annoying stop in the middle of nowhere and some chanting later we were finally there - Ajmer.

There was no time to dither about the ups and downs of the journey as there was only 90 minutes until kick off in Germany. So into the smelly northern town we rumble through arguments with rickshaw drivers and buses leaving us behind until, eventually, we found a driver for 100 rups. Pass the bus we went and after another argument over price (oh they are so commonplace to get anything done here) we were eventually dropped at our loegings....30 minutes until kickoff...."have you got a TV with ESPN?" need ride manically swerving past cows....Dave hits foot in minor unhospitalising bump....TV, but no ESPN.....ahhhh....15 minutes.....our saviour - a small TV in the kitchen of the Moondance restaurant. Bliss, they are lining up for the anthems....bugger...he has tripped over the wires and hopes dashed.... some sparks, a match and a brick later....a go go... 5 minutes to kick off. COME ON ENGLAND. We had 48 hours to travel up most of India and we did it with 5 minutes to spare. Before we know it 6 other Brits are there for company and we watch the brave but eventually devastating finale (no more about that, but I have to admit Crouch played well).

The only thing left to tell is of an incident of heighteded momentary concern involving two huge fighting bulls and us walking past inconsolable after the game, with our red England shirts on ...oooppss....hide in door and after a great journey and a great game I lay in bed gutted!!!



Yes, there is little else to say about the World Cup Quarter Final last night except that I like many English are totally gutted and dejected at what is becoming all to commonplace for our national side. Despite one of the best crop of players in the world, undoubtedly some of the best fans, and a performance to be very proud of (yet again, no team dies as nobly) we have again fallen to a dodgy reffing decision and the nightmare lottery of penalties. Believe it or not we have been knocked out on penalties in 5 of the last 9 major championships. In fact in the last 10 years (6 major competitions) we have only lost one knockout stage match and that only by a goal to the eventual champions in 2002 - Brazil. What could have been!

I do not feel some of the negative feelings that I felt in my younger years. In the end I blame no-one. We gave our all, the opposition played fairly and although the ref made a dire decision, that is life. Unfortunately I am sure his life will take a turn for the worse - he does not need another person’s animosity and so he does not have mine. Quite possibly negligence but I am sure an honest mistake which FIFA will undoubtedly condone due to technical regulations. It is just such a pity that it should happen just as we were getting it right…what could have been!

I have to move on, ever the optimist, even if in a dejected mode. I look forward to that elusive victory in my life that will taste ever the sweeter for past loss.

Despite the result, half of what I will remember of this occasion is the lead up to it. A fourty-eight hour race that took us from one end of the country to the other with no time to spare. Some of the memories of that I will note below.


BANGALORE: Volunteering and asides

These three weeks will go down as some of the most enjoyable and satisfying of this whole year and indeed all my travels. An interesting city, some settled nightlife based around the World Cup, but most of all the volunteering.


Shukla Bose (founder) et al.

The Mighty Benny

Dave and I spent 3 weeks mainly in the Jaya Nagar school teaching English, football, cricket, frisbee and even rugby, making World Cup presentations, drawing charts, “looking after” classes of up to 40 5-10 year old kids when their teacher was absent, and generally playing with the children. It was sometimes a bit hectic, sometimes a bit disorganized but nearly always fun.

The Parikrma Foundation is a first class organization that takes slum children at the age of 5, educates, clothes and feeds them up to the end of school and then aims to send them on scholarship to university. They look after every important detail, providing health care and sending social workers into their communities to make sure the kids have the best possible chance in life. If you want more details or wish to support this very worthy organization then go to the link on the right of this page.

While the rhetoric is admirable, what is impressive is that everyone seemed to believe in it and in what they are doing for it - from the brilliant guy who looked after the gate to the founder Shukla Bose. The combination of this spirit and the entrepreneurial know how and contacts of its founders make this project very exciting indeed. They already have four schools sponsored by such companies as Levi-Strauss, Yahoo and Dell and they are expanding fast. They look to provide a model for education in India at a much higher and more equal level then the government provided equivalent AND for the same or less cash. From what I can see they are achieving just that.

Unbelievable. I have not even mentioned the best thing about the schools. The kids. They are simply fantastic. So many of them have been through so much but they are still so bright, enthusiastic and simply lovely. They are boisterous as one would expect from their background but the school does a good job of balancing discipline and fun for these children. The point of school is to learn but fun is essential for them to enthusiastically take this helping hand to a better future.

The majority of time was spent helping a handful of children to improve their English and therefore step up a class and here I thought our assistance was useful. Taking just two at a time I could see a significant improvement in their standard even if “What’s the Time” book became a tad tedious. In the afternoons we usually played sport with the awesome Benny (middle of bottom picture). Here is a guy who works three jobs but prioritises his time to helping these kids. A guy of truly good heart, but also a heck of a lot of fun. Those who know me will not be surprised by the idea of me contentedly running around after any ball or disk of any description and so it was – I even broke a window of the next door hospital with a slightly wayward shot (think Waddle/Di Baggio) – no-one was hurt!

Primary school teaching is not for me in the long run, but I seriously enjoyed this experience and will look to do similar volunteering in the future and in particular to help this foundation that unlike so many others you see or hear about in this part of the world has the plan, heart, personnel and ambition to succeed on a big scale. It deserves my support and will receive it.

When we did eventually leave the school I was genuinely sad to leave such beautiful kids and such a beneficial organization behind. You can grow surprisingly attached to such wonderful naughty beings in such a short time (6 jumping on your back at once) and I think they also become rather attached to you. To see such smiles from kids with such underprivileged backgrounds (we visited the shelter where over 40 of them live in one room, not necessarily orphaned but parentless, abandoned) was a privilege and one I choose to keep in my mind as I start a very different career path in the fall. People can really help others and do – this is proof!!!!


A northern monkey and two southern pansies

Emma and two pretty boys!

"AAAAAH" Michelle the flash is surely not that frightening

Whats Tim doing to Dave?

You da man Dave

What's Arnie doing in Pub World

Permilicious at Zero G

And you wondered why the smile got wiped of Dickmunch's face = Neil

A quick note to say thanks to Pub World, Taika, Pizza Corner, Subway, Brigade Inn, Refugee rugby team, Neil, Gareth, Tim, Emma, Michelle, Frenchies, and many others for making our stay so goddamn pleasant. And a special one goes out to dickmunch for all the arguments over the room (what a wriggly little tache)... loads and loads of fun!!

Bye bye Dickmunch - and no I can not be bothered to turn your photo the correct way up!!!!

Across India in the Blink of an Eye

I am going to try a new skill on this blog. Keeping things ultra succinct. So here comes 2 amazing weeks travel from across the expanse of the Indian sub-continent in a few paragraphs.

Howdy Victoria

The Mecca of Cricket that is Eden Gardens and me

An undoubtedly over-crowded and poverty stricken city that I still find charming. Go to see architectural shadows like the magnificent Victoria Monument representing what once was, flower-markets, temples, and the mecca that is Eden Gardens. Despite multiple arguments with taxis and police that reminded me that I am back in India, a very enjoyable experience in a fascinating city.

Overnight train

A crime against humanity was thwarted and the dodgy beard and goaty were cleft shortly after this picture was taken

Back to Varanasi, but this time in the searing heat of summer. Days in the 40's (degrees C) were spend tiringly doing nothing. It still retained the same charm and the streets were as confusing and as eye-opening as before. Still failed to see the Ganges at dawn but said goodbye none the less.

30 hour train to Mumbai - a very hot journey that included one of the most serene moments of all my travels. Waking in the middle of the night still half in a dream to stare at the moon-struck background of rural India. At such times life stands still in contemplation as the world rushes gently past.

Hello Sarah
A city I could live in. A megalith of some 18 million people - HUGE. A wee bit of a crazy weekend was spent here. See other blogs, add some of the sights and then another impromptu night out (missed the train after beer lubricated the Saturday night feeling) with a cool English guy and some drunk Aussies. Fun, but a monster of a modern India. Wealth pouring in at the top with Asia's biggest slums beneath it.

12 plus 2 plus 1 hour bus to GOA - A glimpse of the beautiful, lush, tropical countryside and white washed churches that a longer visit to this old Portuguese colony has to offer.

Days sleeping and wandering the truly beautiful beach looking out on the Arabian Sea. Nights at Kennedy's place on the beach for drinks (oh dear - far too much rose) 'til dawn with a some English and Irish. Needed it. Interesting conversations nearly made me miss the onward train. Dave made me catch it.

10 hour train to Hampi

Stunning, just stunning!!!

So glad Dave made me catch the train. A very special place indeed. A hilly green landscape almost inexplicably littered with huge majestic rocks and temples. A bit like Guilin in that it looks more like a fantasy landscape than a real one. We stayed in a bungalow fitted with swing seat overlooking the jaw-dropping scenery for just 50 Ruppees a night each (40p). Again very chilled - not much incentive to move. Did venture away to see magnificent temple ruins of Hindu warrior kings. Such surprises as musical pillars, elephant temples and adrenaline walks up and over off-the-beaten-track hills with many spiky, slithery things trying to get us (I am not joking - one of the biggest adrenaline rushes I have had in India). And finally an afternoon at the most relaxed eatery in the world. High up amongst the trees on a bank overlooking the simply stupidly stunning scenery sits the Mango Tree complete with travellers staring into space and a huge swing. Marvellous. Oh and quite a sunset to say farewell.

Last 12 hour train of this 80 hour transverse, arriving sparrows fart and starting the next 3 weeks of life with some interest.... would it live up to it!!

(uuuuhhhmmmm - sort of succinct!!)