The thoughts, stories and advice of Bill Riddell.

Around SE Asia by Facebook

June 5th, 2010 Posted in advice

I had planned to write the travel diary of lifetime – accompanied by brilliant photography, a masterstroke of photo-journalism. Or something like that. I had pens, a laptop, two cameras, notepads, moleskins and every other device needed to document a month-plus lap around South East Asia.

I made a few early attempts, writing in the cramped cocoon of my sleeper cabin from KL, Malaysia to Hat Yai, Thailand. On arrival at our first destination, Koh Samui for New Years, I managed to write a bit on my laptop and on the ferry back to the mainland I scribbled away furiously on the rear deck in my moleskin.

However it did not last…

The only place that I consistently detailed the journey was Facebook.

Via patchy WiFi connections in hotels, backpackers, airports and coffee shops I updated friends and family every few days. Spurred on by encouraging replies and many thumbs-up for my micro-blogging style I present here my lightly edited updates and replies along with a few photos.

All packed (I think), ready to head to the airport and fly out for SE Asia at 1am, ouch. Will spend a day in KL before travelling by rail, bus and ferry to Koh Samui for New Years. What was I thinking!

Survived the flight to KL, Malaysia and spent the day exploring the city. Now preparing for much more transport to get to Koh Samui for New Years. First up is a 16 hour overnight train across the border to Thailand. Doh!

Highlight of the trip so far, my travelling mate Josh somehow paying 20 cents to NOT use a toilet at KL Sentral train station when confronted by a squat toilet. Lowlights, I have been up for about 34 hours… got maybe 5 minutes sleep on the 8 hour overnight flight. I’m going to collapse in that sleeper carriage.

Swing Bar Lamai

Done with the planes, trains, songthaewes (old utes/pickups with bench seating for 14 in the back), buses, ferries and taxis. After missing two nights sleep, finally crashed in a real bed last night.

Chilling on Koh Samui, back from a debut cocktail and some reading on the beach at Swing Bar, very cool little beachside pub/club in Lamai that has swings instead of seats around the bar and lounges on the beach.

Getting ready to head out for New Years on the beach at Koh Samui – wish all back home a great night and wonderful 2010.

Spectacular New Years on Koh Samui done – fireworks, paper lanterns and good times. Next stop Bangkok.

Safe and well in Bangkok, can’t knock Nok Air. Leave 10 minutes before schedule and arrive 25 minutes early. Pretty sure the pilots were afraid of missing happy hour.

Private Tour of Chao Prya River

Sleep time after incredible day in Bangkok – kicked things off with our own longtail boat tour, then a 20km private bike tour at night covering the big temples, amazing villages along the rivers, carving up the crazy traffic (ask for Nok at Velo Thailand)  and then recovered with Big Gulp rum and cokes on the roof top bar. Simply awesome!

Culinary day in Bangkok – late breakfast room service even though our cheap hotel doesn’t offer it (thanks ChefsXP), 25 cent street food for lunch followed by 5 star dining over 60 floors up on the rooftop of a skyscraper (Vertigo at the Banyon Tree).

Most locals here in SE Asia seem to see me as either a fully functioning ATM, Godzilla or the reincarnation of Buddha. What are your thoughts?

Just got to Kanchanaburi for the Bridge over River Kwai, nice little 3hr train trip, slumming it in 3rd class with wooden bench seats.

After the War Memorial and Museum for the Thai-Burma railway today we will go see Hell Fire Pass and Bridge over the River Kwai tomorrow. Kanchanaburi is a beautiful town.

Walking Hell Fire Pass was very moving, followed by spectacular Erwan Falls. Off to the ancient capital Ayutthaya (Thai’s moved to Bangkok after the big bad Burmese ransacked it a few times) then onto Chiang Mai in the north.

Elephant Trekking in Chiang Mai

In Chiang Mai after another marathon train journey. Yesterday was a 4 hour temple spotting spree in Ayutthaya. Tomorrow arvo I go zip-lining amongst the jungle canopy.

Almost trod on by an elephant walking back to our rooms after scoping out the night markets. It was just wandering the streets poking its nose in at various restaurants and pubs with its owner/mahout leading the way for some reason. They weren’t completely ignorant of public safety though, he had a blinking red bike light tied to his tail so traffic could see him ahead.

A manic second last day in Thailand, fired a few rounds at the local military shooting range (seems appropriate amongst all the Buddhist temples), then went flying through the rain forests zip-lining and abseiling followed by a crazy 11 course dinner with a show.

Up first thing Saturday for elephant trek, some hiking and water rafting before flying back to Bangkok late at night and then to Hanoi (Vietnam) first thing Sunday morning.

Pagoda on Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi

No love from Vietnam, hours to be allowed through immigration, then scammed by driver and taken to wrong backpackers. Ha Long Bay cruise was amazing though – now to escape insane Hanoi via another sleeper train to Hue.

About 24hrs all up on Ha Long Bay, was incredible. Too freezing to jump off the boat for a swim but did kayak for over an hour – saw this amazing cove with about 30 or so different monkeys milling about.

Inspecting the Royal Tomb of Tu Doc in Hue

Another overnighter in the top bunk of a train – now in much more chilled Hue. Enjoyed a nice evening wandering the old-quarter of Hanoi scoffing pastries (bless French colonialism), dodging scooters and a local lady who seemed to go into shock after seeing me, almost throwing a pot of boiling water at me then fell down a few steps when I walked by again.

Thanks all for the Birthday wishes. Had a great day so far (only 5pm here in Vietnam) – chauffeur driven from Hue to Hoi An over the spectacularly scenic Hai Van pass, where the ocean meets the mountains.

Resuming the Ho Chi Minh trail – at Danang airport about to fly to Saigon (HCMC) then Cambodia awaits.

Landed safe yesterday in Saigon. About to go and organise a bus to take us across the border to Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Interesting dining last night, the menu had everything except dog, from snails to a platter of pigs snouts and feet as well as many other things I’ve tried to block out of my mind.

Probably the oddest thing I have eaten so far is deep fried lawn clippings (was supposed to be lemon grass) with some shredded chicken mixed amongst it – at least I think it was chicken.

Haunting Images of Tuol Sleng Victims

Safe and well after another border crossing. Now installed at the FCC Phnom Penh in Cambodia. Ahhh…

FCC is the Foreign Correspondents’ Club – superb view from our apartment of the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers while kicking back in our robes and slippers. Had an incredible dinner last night.

Just got back from Tuol Sleng/S21 a former high school which was used as a prison and torture chamber by the Khmer Rouge right in the heart of the capital Phenom Penh. Very horrific stuff.

Amongst the Ruins and 216 Stone Faces of Bayon

National Museum was a bit more pleasant however there are only so many statues of Buddha and the various Hindu gods a man can see before he considers that torture as well.

Enjoying Cambodia much more than Vietnam – people a lot more friendlily. Even the touts and sales people not as pushy (e.g. instead of “You buy suit” its “Hello, you like suit/look at suit”). Although the 12 year old kids riding scooters alongside your motodop taxi saying “Hello you want marijuana?” are a little off putting.

The Amazing Sight of Angkor Wat

Now in Siem Reap and ready for Angkor Wat tomorrow. First up though sleep time, sitting on half of a seat for the 6 hour bus trip is exhausting.

Amazing experience, two days touring the Angkor regions Wats with our amazing tuk tuk driver and guide Sambo (if your heading to Siem Reap please contact me and I’ll happily pass on Sambo’s contact details – I highly recommend him).

Farewell Cambodia! I may be a crazy & BAD tourist but it’s been a pleasure to witness a bit of this beautiful country. Bussing it back to Bangkok first thing in the morn, that’s where crazy & BAD tourists belong. Travelling solo now – Joshless.

The 6 year old salesman/tout who called me a bad tourist also knew more about Australian politics than most Australian’s so perhaps he knows what he is talking about.

“You crazy man, you have bad luck now. You a BAADDDD tourist. Crazy!”

Basically he wanted me to buy some of the usual collection of hats, pillow cases, silk scarves. etc, while I wasn’t so keen.

Worst bus ride ever – 6 hour trip taking 13. But at $6 to get from Siem Reap, Cambodia to Bangkok it wasn’t really a surprise, my ticket even had $18 marked on it – some fool in the group paid $35, now he was really angry.

Far too many stops to admire roadside cafes which pay kickbacks to the bus company. Then spent 2 hours waiting just inside the Thai border for the new bus, which had somehow transformed into an old flatbed truck roughly converted into a military style people carrier with a bench on either side. 20 minutes later another roadside cafe where we wasted another 1 & 1/2hrs before 58 people were jammed into a bus designed for 10 less. Safe in Bangkok and glad to have regained use of my legs and feeling in my….

After a few days tripping around in taxi’s I’m convinced Bangkok cabbies speak no English beyond “Yes”, “No Worries” & “Sir”. As in, “Siam Center, MBK, yes. No worries Sir”.

Fortunately bad female drivers in Mercedes Benz’s are universally funny, so we broke the ice and I got to the dentists. Fortunately she spoke a lot better English. Unfortunately she could have perhaps spent more time studying dentistry than English. Fingers crossed my busted tooth is all healed up.

Hanging Out With a 6 Month Old Tiger

Another crazy day in Bangkok, first scored free ride in tuk tuk, then free tickets to see Avatar at IMAX (awesome movie) followed by hilarious souvenir shopping with my new sumo wrestler friend Yamamotogao (was nice not to feel quite so King Kong like amongst all the midgets here for once).

After catching the overnight train again to lovely Chiang Mai I have been mauled by a tiger and had a run in with a local bikie gang. How was your day?

Disclaimer: ‘mauled’ means playfully bitten by a 6 month old. Didn’t break the skin, but I got an awkward hicky on my forearm to cover up.

Disclaimer: ‘local bikie gang’ means a group of about 30 teenagers who ride around on old Vespa’s and Lambretta’s wearing military surplus jackets and rasta hats. A bizarre Che Guevara/Bob Marley tribute bikie gang. Nice guys though.

Going to miss Thailand – beautiful country, great food, friendly people & being able to say ‘crap’ all day and have people think I’m polite.

Basically in Thai if you say crap (pronounced more like krahp) after a few sentences it basically means ‘with respect’. So ‘Sawadee crap’ is ‘hello/goodbye respectfully’. Or something to that effect.

This concludes today’s lesson in Thai. I don’t know much more except how to get Bangkok cabbies to turn their meters on (respectfully of course by saying ‘meter na crap’, you’ll thank me when your quoted $10 taxi ride ends up costing $1.50).

Waiting to fly Chiang Mai, Thailand to KL, Malaysia – then 12 hours to kill in KL airport before I trade sweating non-stop because of the humidity here for sweating non-stop because of the heat at home.

Back in the land of Oz… back in my comfy bed. Sadly it also means back to work. Got to pay for my next overseas jaunt – this time it won’t be 3 years between trips.

  1. 4 Responses to “Around SE Asia by Facebook”

  2. By Starsailor on Jun 5, 2010

    Wow, great pics… gives me the travel itch.

  3. By Bill on Jun 6, 2010

    Really glad you liked them and thanks for the hurry up.

    More to come.

  4. By Arun on Jun 11, 2010

    This is AWESOME Bill! Sooo Jealous. I should be in Australia at the end of July!

  5. By Bill on Jun 11, 2010

    Glad you liked it Arun, will get in touch during July.

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