Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Chile - Santiago

So I am back reminiscing about the trip of a life time. What makes this post all the more exciting is the fact that I am recalling on memories so accuracy is likely to be debatable. It is almost like the bible and great religious texts being put together many years after the magic occurred. So were did I leave this, oh yeah that right - we had just completed the pretty bog standard trip around NZ in a green bus that shouted "made to measure for a typical brit backpackers". The green fuck bus as it is otherwise known as was a quick fix to a critical issue, time! We had overstayed in Asia and Aus resulting in flights from Auckland to Santiago to make the gigantic leap to the more relaxed south american continent a rare delicacy. We were told that flights were fully booked until September, well that wouldn't do bearing in mind it was frickin May. We were put on a waiting list and then told the following day we must travel in 10 days i.e. shot gun NZ trip in a bright green bus.

The flight to Santiago was in LAN airways, a blend a national south american airlines fused to make one credible large carrier - maybe Africa could learn from this rather than insist flying obsolete russian topolovs, alas this is another story. The flight was uneventful and we landed in Santiago, Chile. My first impression of Santiago was really positive, the back drop of the andes completely surrounds the city, which looks like a poor man's Madrid. I have not made this comparison because I didn't like it, much the contrary as there is a lot of 20th century architecture to feast ones eyes but all a bit run down on the whole. We decided to stay in the centre of town in a beautiful quarter/district called London, which was funnily enough adjacent to Paris. It was a dated hotel/hostel with communal bathrooms and an old lady running it. We were beat from the flight and decided to sleep it off waking up at silly o'clock with my sleep pattern all screwed up. Mark and I decided to go for a late night bite whilst Weli continued in his comatose state. We walked around for ages until we came across an infamous market (not busy at all). We found a local cafe/kiosk and ate like emperors. The food was awesome, we ate crab/fish stew which seemed like the perfect hangover cure and some red wine. There was fat indigenous women running the kiosk who didnt understand a word we were saying, I will still refining my portugues, adding some spanish words when I could. During the walk back the sun was rising on the city of Santiago and the feeling that we had reached the final continent started to sink in!

The next few days we continued to stay in the dated hostel with not much happening, I tried to meet up with an old school pal Diego Morales but he was off skiing in Portillo. We really didnt have the trip to Rio planned at this stage. We endulged on local delights like the italian hot dog which was so "manly". Its a straight up hot dog with a gigantic helping of guacamole, sour cream and ketchup (ie the italian flag, this didnt come to me that quickly either). Each cost typically 1.5$ and was great value for money, especially for a couple of broke ass travellers such as ourselves. By the third day and after a lot of site seeing, that's right folks we actually did museums etc we decided to seek some action and look for a more happening hostel and boy did we find it, two words, casa rosa!!!!!! however this is for another day, another post!!!!

Right I am tired now from this trip down memory lane - and now that I work and have entered the real world I need to sleep.


Saturday, 30 May 2009

The Auzie Experience, Cairns to Sydney avec Bernie Mac. AUSTRALIA (April-July 2009)

Captain’s log...... our boeing 747 has sustained minimal damage from the clingon attack we will have to stop and refuel our gullets in Australia and gather provisions as well as take in the local sites.............. (Star Trek was great!!!)

Our flights from Tokyo International left at similar times but where our oneworld tickets predetermined that we have a stopover at Brisbane to then catch an internal flight to Cairns using the infamous Qantas Airlines, the Mac would take their sister company Jetstar straight to Cairns. As Bernie would land in Cairns first we were expecting him to have a taxi upon arrival ready to drive us to our booked accommodation. Of course not even the simplest of arrangements went according to plan. Having arrived at the domestic terminal we were expecting Bernie to be waiting at the arrivals area preferably with a bottle of the fizzy stuff. We waited 15 mins and collectively we reached to the same conclusion that Bernie had not even thought about coming to meet us at the domestic terminal and to be more precise that he hadn’t even made it outside. As we walked to the international terminal which for the record was deserted we found the Mac curled up in the corner of the waiting area catching some shut eye. Let us hope that Bernie never becomes prime minister of Nigeria as he is so predictable that an assassin wouldn’t need much of an IQ in order to get in the mind frame of his target.
Ok we were all in a gigantic ford falcon on our way to Gilligans Backpackers Cairns. As we drove from the very small Cairns airport into town I must say that I was not impressed at all with the area even less the architecture. This is Australia, a country which didn’t even exist until 300 years ago when a Captain Cook came across New Zealand in search of the mythical southern continent. I would try my best to take a neutral stand point and to put my experiences with Australians in London to one side.
I had never really thought about what to expect from Australia, of course beer would play a dense role in the grand scheme of things. Seriously I thought the east coast of Australia was one long sandy beach. I will address this later!. Having spent 3 days in Cairns which in my opinion was 2 days too long, there isn’t really much to say. There is nothing to see in Cairns but I hear there is much to do apart from going on the taky pub crawls which make you guzzle cheap alcohol and perform sex positions with strangers (which for some of the readers i.e. Dom Adlem is bliss). In fact the beach area makes some of the worst stretches of coast look more appealing. What they do instead which completely bamboozles me, is to you use a manmade lagoon which overlooks the coast. We went out every night in Cairns, it was really “the same shit but different toilet”. The hostel was really nice especially for the price we paid, with the inclusion of Bernie searching for rooms for 4 is really economical and relatively easier.
I guess some of the aristocratic snobbery from backpackers in Japan had rubbed off on us and we rented a very decent car instead of travelling with the rest of the cattle on the Australian Greyhound busses. Having two black men with a say on the vehicle of choice proved difficult, where Mark and I wanted space and practicality, Bernie and Weli wanted rims and hydraulics. We wanted Toyota Corrolas and they wanted 4x4 Jeeps. Well we settled for a Toyota Sportivo Camry, it was a dam nice car, I am writing this having just rented a Toyota Yaris. We had an intricate plan for our east coast experience. We would drive to Arlie Beach and visit Whitsunday Islands times two nights then drive to Brisbane time 2 nights and finally Byron Bay times two nights before returning Bernie to Brisbane Airport where he would return to Europe to talk of his travels. This did not happen, not even close in hindsight what we did proved to be much more beneficial for Bernie. Australia is huge this cannot be underestimated having driven well over 7000km I really appreciate its size. We drove for 4 hours to Townsville where we stayed in a really nice hostel for one night before setting out to Arlie Beach. The hostel had a great atmosphere down to the individual who ran and maintained the building. His name escapes me but he definitely made us feel right at home instantly.
The drive from Townsville to Arlie beach was a monster. As Russian KGB from Rounders famously said “he lays down a monster.... the f@ck you lay that down”. Guys the road infrastructure in Australia is woeful making an English country land look like route 66. Along the east coast of Australia we have pretty much one road connecting the towns such as Cairns and Townsville in the North with the more prominent cities such as Newcastle, Sydney and Melbourne in the South. This route is known as the Pacific Highway or alternatively Bruce Highway. Now the word Highway has been desecrated on every Australian road sign because by definition a highway is surely a free flowing road i.e. dual carriage way similar to our motorways in England. To be more truthful the roads are terrible making the long journeys such as Brisbane to Sydney. The road is ancient and passes through every settlement and town along the east coast which results in numerous variable speed limits. For instance you leave a relatively small town and find yourself cruising at a comfortable speed (120kmh) to then suddenly be told to reduce to 30 as it is a school zone. This occurs time after time making road rage an everyday occurrence here down under. For my second rant I shall focus my attention on the criminals that call themselves car rental companies mainly Hertz, Avis etc. The area of the rental agreement that I will address in this entry is “Young Person Surcharge”. By definition this surcharge is applied to all customers under 25 years of age. This has no bearing on the experience of the driver, simply age. I am fed up of paying a young person’s surcharge to the crook rental companies. I have news for them; I am 25 in October which means they will never claim that extortionate charge from me ever again. So where were we, oh that’s right Brisbane would be the scene of radical sports. The trip from Arlie Beach to Brisbane was broken up and segmented with failures and successes to tediously boring to discuss.
We rented a place near Story Bridge in Brisbane in a backpackers place called Bunk, very nicely nestled in Chinatown. Did you know 1 in every 3 people are Chinese? The apartment was more like a bachelors pad and perfect for the four of us to hold foreplay (predrinks) before nights out. I have failed to mention the sessions of pro evolution that were had, alas that is a story for another blog entry. Whilst Mark and Weli spooned each other in their quaint queen sized bedroom, Bernie and I wondered the streets of Brisbane. We walked a couple of km over Story Bridge and caught a ferry across the River to the CBD, the weather was perfect and the site line was great. We got off at the CBD terminal which had great early 1900 colonial architecture very Pall Mall like. Brisbane has a very wholesome feel to it, a great place to live. By wholesome I mean very clean and pleasant. A farmers market was being held that sunny Friday afternoon it made me miss home. We both indulged on huge German sausage style hot dogs with plentiful amounts of sour crout. We simply just got lost in Brisbane which in all honesty is quite hard to do. After picking up a free tourist map we saw that the infamous XXXX beer brewery was close by. We didn’t hesitate and we made haste to the brewery where we booked for two on the brewery tour. It was an insightful tour giving a comprehensive history of beer from its origins right up to present day production. I think it is something that all beer lovers should read up on. For example do the phrase “he got away scott free” originates from the Tavern days in England where a scot tax was charged on all beer consumed within the London region, therefore people who consumed beer in the countryside were said to have gotten away scot free. You live and learn.... and then die and forget it all.
Bernie’s holiday was coming to a closure and I could tell that he wasn’t completely happy with his trip in the sense that it missed an extraordinary event. This was swiftly dealt with once we had booked the ultimate skydiving experience over Brisbane. We would drop 14,000 feet, which is approximately 60 seconds of free fall from an aeroplane. I cannot speak on behalf of Weli and Bernie but for me it was an amazing experience and I will struggle to describe it thus I have decided to leave it to all your imaginations or alternatively you could check out my dvd. It all happened so fast, one minute we were looking at the brochure the next minute we were getting in a propeller plane painted green with a dragons face climbing rapidly to the desired altitude. Bernie dived first, then all of a sudden I see Weli being thrown out like a bag of spuds, one second he is there the next he is gone. Shit I am next...........That was the pinnacle of Bernie’s visit for me and I am guessing that Bernie feels the same way. The remaining time we had in Brisbane consisted mainly of site seeing and walks around the city. The plan was to drop Bernie at the airport and for Mark and I to drive to Sydney where we would return to London for 10 days. As they say the rest his history.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Tokyo by Filipe Martins

The short stay in Shanghai was due to Mr Bernard Molokwo arrival from London to Tokyo. We were to catch Japanese Airlines for the first time; it would prove to be a nice insight to JAL as we would be taking a considerably longer flight to Cairns 10 days later. Tokyo airport was a stylish airport typically found in 1st world countries following the usual architecture found on most new international airports across Europe. Once we had landed we all switched our mobile phones on inside the plane to find that UK mobile phones do not work in Japan. A new dilemma developed, how would we communicate with Bernard once we had passed immigration?. Not too concerned at first as Bernie was due to land at least one hour before us, so we presumed that he would be waiting for us at the exit. Bernie’s plane landed a clear one hour before our flight to Tokyo yet he managed to be a clear 45 minutes later than us in reaching the exit. We had asked the young lady at the information desk to do a call out for a one Mr Bernie Mac to no avail.

Once we were all together at the departures exit, the Tokyo holiday was to begin. Our first exposure and experience with the powerful Japanese Yen would occur instantly. We had been monitoring the exchange rate for almost 4 months. We had heard numerous nightmare stories from the very few backpackers who had ventured to Japan of the high cost of living. A taxi from the airport to Tokyo central would be 130£, that is right pound sterling. We made the conversion various times as we felt we may have made a fundamental error. It was in fact the cost so we pursued other avenues. We took the fast train instead taking us to Shinjuku central station, a place we would become more and more familiar with. Japan is a well run efficient machine, the level of organisation is unbelievable and warrants a 16 hour flight from London Heathrow. The trains are beautiful with modern stations to match. The train map looks more like a big bowl of spaghetti Bolognese, being very complicated at first. The sheer number of stations on the network is mind blowing. It put Bernie the transport for London engineer in a gay state.

We had a gay old time on the train to central Japan, excuse the second use of the word gay. We talked about our plane journeys to Tokyo, the extortionate taxi costs and other such educational discussions that we have become accustomed to (bullshit). When we arrived to the capsule hotel we were all anxious to see what they would be like. A warning I would give to anyone travelling to Tokyo who is planning on sleeping in affordable accommodation, make sure you book in advance as there is a distinct shortage of cheap accommodation so demand is high. The capsules were a bit old and where placed in a room as opposed to stacked perpendicular into the wall. Each capsule was fitted with a radio, reading light and a television. On the right hand side would be a panel with a number of buttons which would control all the gadgets. Although quite old these capsules 15 years ago would have been at the vanguard of technology.

Bernie brought with him a new lease of life that the group desperately needed, this manifested itself in the form of drinking in bars. Tokyo has a real city nightlife, it resembles more of a London nightlife than one in Bangkok. The main streets are a cocktail of neon lights each club competing with their rival neighbours for the attention of passersby. The two areas that posses the main bulk of Tokyo’s nightlife are Rompongi and Shinjuku respectively. The Japanese Rail Pass would be the best manor in which we could discover Japan, very similar to the Inter Rail Pass in Europe. I will now issue a warning to all who intend on visiting Japan or those who are even in the imaginary stage of planning such a trip. YOU CANNOT BUY THE JAPANESE RAIL PASS IN JAPAN. It sounds ludicrous that you cannot buy a rail pass giving you privileged access to a wide range of bullet train services at a discount rate to the majority of Japan. The individual costs of individual journeys would mean we would have to resort to mugging old very wealthy ladies or carrying out more traditional bank robberies. We all agreed that we would stay in Tokyo and enjoy city life. This little technicality really confused me; apparently you may buy a voucher i.e. from an accredited Japanese tourist office which may then be exchanged in Japan for said Rail Pass. This in my opinion is a trap, how on earth was I to be knowledgeable on such technicalities.

Our trip to Japan very luckily coincided with the infamous cherry tree blossom that is widely celebrated across all three islands. It is truly a perfect site that all should see, I would recommend going for a stroll through Yoyogi Park where all the youngsters and students celebrate the blossom by having parties involving large quantities of alcohol. There is a magnificent mood during the 5 or so days during the blossom. Site seeing consisted mainly of getting lost in Tokyo, which may I add can be achieved with considerable ease. We visited the palace and various museums i.e. science, history etc. Tokyo is littered with fast food joints on every single corner, they are very different to ones found in London. On top of the McDonalds and Starbucks there is also sushi, tempora soba and generic Japanese fast food places. The ticketing system I find makes the whole experience even faster as the name suggests “fast food”. One select his or hers meal at the machine and insert the money where a ticket it then issued. You must then proceed to handing the ticket over to the chef behind the counter who will have a noodle or rice based dish served up in front of your eyes in minutes. You will never pass a Japanese fast food joint and find it completely empty, no matter the time you are guaranteed to find a Jap slurping noodles away, with his face buried in the bowl.
Sushi dominated my Japanese diet heavily, as I took every opportunity to eat sushi. I was on a suicide mission to overdose on the stuff. The best sushi I have ever had in my life was had in Tokyo. Bernie and I after a night out in Rompongi caught the first train/metro to the famous fish market at around 5am. We had read on various websites namely wikitravel that it is a great bit of site seeing to do. We explored the fish market with great fascination, I have never seen such a variety of fish. There is mass confusion at chaos for an amateurs eye, but after an hour or so the mass chaos suddenly becomes more transparent and starts to resemble a system of pure efficiency. Little fork lift trucks pass by at rapid speed taking no prisoners, just fish. Fisherman are gutting and cutting, sellers are poking their noses and buying and finally tourists are just plainly getting in the way. The fish looked of the highest quality; I have never seen such tender red tuna fish steaks in all my life. My only regret is that I did not have a nice kitchen to take such fish to really test my culinary skills which are meagre to say the least. Instead Bernie and I had a go at tasting some of the finest sushi in Japan. Some of the most famous sushi houses can be found within the fish markets compound. There were queues running right around the corner being told that it would take at least 45mins we almost gave in, but fortunately we found the courage to soldier through. Finally we sat down at the counter similar to a bar where a lady would drop two cups of scalding hot green tea, ahhh sobering juice. The chef then commenced to make our set menu breakfast; the following experience was had with my eyes closed. The fish was exquisite and I shall never forget the coldness of the fish not from refrigeration but from the sea. The queuing seemed very worthwhile and I would not hesitate to do so again.

The second capsule experience was more what I would call a typical experience. I had always imagined capsule hotels being such that they housed 1000 people in capsules stacked in rows of 3 along long corridors. This was exactly that. Capsules in Tokyo are rarely mixed and so this proved to be a man’s world. Not just a luxury capsule where one can rest and enjoy a very quiet night’s sleep in Tokyo. It is also a spa for men, the fourth floor was an area where us men could walk around naked with hot tubs, Jacuzzis and saunas were available. I had one of the best showers up until now at the Shinjuku capsule hotel. There were beauty rooms with mirrors and every sort of product a man could need i.e. face cream, body cream, hair spray etc

I would say the failure in obtaining the Japanese Rail Pass meant that we spent too much time in Tokyo, yes there was considerably more to do but this came at a substantial cost. Tokyo is a very costly place to visit made even more so by the terrible exchange rate discussed earlier. We had a few crazy nights out in Tokyo managing to avoid the yakuza triads. One of the best nights would have to be the karaoke night. This as everyone knows is an extremely popular way that Japanese spend their soirées and I would have to say I went to town that night. In fact we all did, most places offer a room and all you can drink deals. For approximately 20£ per head you can get a room with a television, a couple of mics and a phone. It was a great night apart from the Swedish girls who were sharing the booth with us. They of course in true immature fashion had too much alcohol and thus the following occurred; drunken behaviour, incoherent conversation and plenty of vomit. I find girl slivering around in their vomit to not be a very classy affair, but who am I to judge it is all good fun in the end. These girls are exactly what I referred to previously with regards to snobbish backpackers and most backpackers who visit Japan consider themselves to be the aristocracy of backpacking. The girls attempted to speak Japanese at every possible moment; of course it was not this that annoyed me but the constant dumping of Japanese on Weli, Mark and I. We didn’t understand a word for all we know they could have been saying complete bullshit.
As the reader of this blog you may be asking yourselves “they had 10 days, why only Tokyo?” well the main reason ignoring many ins and outs and what have yous (Big Lebowski et al) Tokyo is just like London. Tokyo has a strong magnetic effect that binds you to the capital. How many relatives and friends have spoken of visiting the lands in the northern territory (Scotland & Northern England)? Now compare that number to how many that have actually gone on to visit said places. Tokyo is interesting due to the distinct original culture it possesses making it not as diverse in terms of people compared to Paris. To conclude visiting Tokyo will absorb even the most ignorant traveller i.e. football lout who has no interests except for getting drunk, violence and singing renditions of “no surrender to the IRA”. There is something for everyone whether it is the strange but familiar nights out or the wonderful world of Japanese cuisine.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Hong Kong & Macau

Hong Kong makes me remember a guy in my secondary school called Johny Wong and a little song we would sing every time he would pass in the corridor “Johny Wong play ping pong in Hong Kong”. Yet another financial centre in Asia similarly to the very clean cut Singapore. We had been travelling without the use of lonely planet guide book for some time now, however I did have the Hong Kong & Macau edition as my brother gave it to me before I left. It was around 6 years old and it is surprising just how much prices have gone up since then. We decided to stay in Kowloon due to necessity as the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens made it impossible to find cheap accommodation on Hong Kong Island. The room was designed for 5 feet tall Nepalese monks, it was miniscule. Privacy was minimal as the glass door which acted as the barrier between the toilet and the room was neither sound proof nor smell proof. Ahh the glamour’s of the life of an international backpacker extraordinaire. Kowloon is definitely worth a look with its many tourist traps and shops selling everything from fake Rolex watches to Gucci ipod accessories. We arrived around 7pm, Mark and I proceeded to do a reconnaissance of the area i.e. Mark would locate all fast food outlets within walking distance from HQ and report to Captain Elmi. We found a great road to grab food; it had all types of restaurants covering most Asian cuisines from Thai to Vietnamese. Mark and I went for the wholesome option which was noodles. The food in China is not my favourite I find it is either boiled or fried, black or white with no grey areas i.e. grilled for example. With regards to taste it doesn’t really stimulate my taste buds into a frenzy like the Vietnamese food. That night we kept a low profile and had a quiet one in order to best recuperate our financial losses incurred in Singapore. We did find a 7-11 adjacent to the building where we were residing, it seemed to be the local hangout for Nigerian men where they are free to drink beer and hold discussions. Before it escapes me the building where our so called hotel was located in was a communal building with apartments, hotels, hostels and small businesses. Ghetto would be a very nice word to describe it, I am confident enough to say that that is how a local estate agent would advertise the property. I am guessing that he or she would focus on location location location.
After a good night’s sleep we were up and ready to go, of course it was not 9am like normal tourists but approaching 2 instead. Our first real day in Hong Kong the so called “Singapore but on speed” city. The city definitely had a buzz about itself largely due to the Rugby Sevens, the Hong Kong tournament being very famous for its unparallel atmosphere to say that of Dubai. We took the metro to Central which is located in the heart of Hong Kong Island as the name suggests. The metro in HK is world class, making the Parisian metro look second rate in comparison. It is fast, slick, clean and frequent, all the attributes that I think a metro should be rated on. They have been using an oyster card system for well over 12 years, called an octopus card. The key difference is that this card can be used everywhere from buying cigarettes (or a gentlemen’s magazine) in 7-11 to paying your parking meter on the road. It replaces the need for coins; it is something I think London should already have. We all got an octopus card and certainly noticed how effective they are once we left and took the metro in Shanghai. There are many high rises of corporate banks and international companies in Hong Kong Island giving rise to its famous skyline. When you are there you can definitely feel just how densely packed the area is, quite claustrophobic. Many people who want to live a spitting distance away from Central tend to live in the Mid Levels area where it is impossible to see what the weather is like from you apartment without sticking your head out and looking in between the two towers that sandwich the building. I find this quite extraordinary as a person who grow up in London because even in a crime ridden ghetto estate in say Peckham you can still see the sky from your window.
As mentioned before, it was the all famous rugby sevens. We set out to borrow, steal or beg for tickets constantly reshuffling and streamlining the personal finances so as to be prepared both emotionally and financially to pay a ticket tout an extortionate sum of money. On Friday Mark decided to stay in and attend to some r and r, Weli and I had itchy feet and our plans lay elsewhere. I contacted a family friend called Hugo who works for a prestigious wine trader company and in one sms text he managed to write in the most concise English all the hotspots and hip places to go out. We grabbed the metro towards Lockheart Road which is a strip full of bars, coincidentally the all famous bar that appears in the James Bond Man with the Golden Gun. We examined each bar for both atmosphere and people; it would be completely dominated by rugger buggers. I paid around 6£ sterling for a bottle of San Miguel, which explains why 7-11 looked more like Favela Chic on a Friday night than a convenient store. So from there on in we would grab drinks from 7-11 and just walk into the busy bars as if they had been purchased there. This might not be acceptable in terms of bar etiquette, oh well. That night we met many people ranging from Swiss traders to Australian boggans which we avoided like a case of chronic Black Death. All in all it was a great night, we were feeling pretty confident at 6am that if we made it to the stadium within the hour we would find many early bird ticket touts selling tickets. Optimism became disbelief almost instantaneously when we found the surrounding roads well patrolled by the police. My mum had told me the night before that some friends, that is Hugo’s sister Lucy maybe able to get me tickets so when I got back home I kept two phones close to my ears, it looked like a blackberry call centre.
At 10 am the phone rang with great news, I had tickets to the Saturday games RESULLLTT. I was already dressed due to the amount consumed on my part the previous night. Sprayed some aftershave and shifted swiftly towards the stadium. Met Justin, Lucy’s husband and made our way to the BNP (French Bank) box with everything included, it was amazing free beer and food. It didn’t feel so wrong sipping that free beer at 11am, in free beer drops like warm honey down the gullet. I mixed around and got to know some nice people, the crowd were mainly men who seem to get a free pass every year from their wives. The day was amazing I saw Portugal get comprehensively beaten by the Pumas. After the Saturday games ended I was determined to get tickets for the finals. I had a great time on Saturday night meeting Justin in a restaurant for some beers and food where I got to meet some of his pals. I ended up at a place called Red Dragon until 6 am.
On Sunday we phoned Arnold Wong were we arranged to go for dinner and some site seeing. We walked around the shopping district. The shops are arranged by what they sell i.e. all trainer shops on one road and clothing shops on another and so on. The intense use of lighting makes this a great place to walk around at night time. We were impressed by the amount of electronics; it was possible to pick up 32 gb usb pen disks, which I never even knew existed. We ate and talked for hours it was good to see Arnold.
On Monday night I had dinner at Lucy’s flat, the food was beautiful plus I could drop all my laundry and have it nice and fresh for the next chapter of my travels which would be Shanghai. We went to Macau the following day the casino land which has overtaken Las Vegas over the last few years. It has been described as the Lisboa of the orient. That morning we made our way to the harbour near Central to and boarded the next ferry to Macau. The flying cats are similar to those used in Athens and the Islands. The journey took approximately 45 mins and cost around 15£ which I thought was pretty reasonable. Upon arrival it was very strange to see all the sings in Portuguese then Chinese and finally English. WE had splashed out on accommodation in Macau having booked Starworld Casino Hotel, the tallest hotel in Macau. That won’t be for long as next door was under construction and the building was at least 5 floors higher. We booked for two but of course we crammed three into the very nice and spacious hotel room which had break taking views of Macau and all the casinos in the area. The food in Macau is great, very influenced by Portuguese cuisine which made me a happy man as I could put the bloody noodles and rice aside and feast on some nice bacalhau grelhado. I would put the grilled cod that I ate in La Loarca as one the all time best that I have had, they are lucky in that they get great fish in the China Sea. Macau involved some site seeing as the old town is very beautiful littered with old Churches, ruins and a fort. Once again we went to the history museums which were dominated by the Portuguese exploration and their achievements. All in all there was a lot of relaxation and gambling (on very small budgets of course). The routette royally shafted me I lost 40£ in minutes and called it day. I returned on Friday to HK earlier so that I could collect my laundry all nice and pressed from Lucy. She was kind of enough to prepare me a packed lunch for the 19 hour train journey to Shanghai. I felt like a school kid again being given a packed lunch. What makes that gesture even nicer is that on the train they would not except HK dollars choosing instead to only accept Chinese Yuan. This meant we would or should I say Mark and Weli would not be able to eat for 19 hours hahaha I gave them the tube of Pringles which Mark duly dispatched into the black obis that is his stomach as I tucked in to the lovely pork sausages that Lucy gave me.
We had a funny episode concerning Shanghai and Chinese visas. The visa was so dam expensive totalling 100£. It was made even dearer as we would only be in Shanghai for approx 35 hours not making it worth whatsoever. The British seem to overcharge the Chinese when they get UK visas so as governments work on the basis of tit for tat they had done the same to UK passport holders. I must say that the HK to Shanghai train service was pretty slick and I pretty much slept the whole way through. The train was fully booked so Weli, Mark and I had to settle with being in different cabins it worked wonders as Weli the insomniac would not keep me up or Mark the serial Pringles muncher would not be masticating crisps the whole night.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Malasia & Singapore

Our chapter in the more undeveloped world would come to a closure once we departed Siem Reap on an AirAsia flight to Kuala Lumpar. The flight was very choppy, going through bad areas of turbulence which made the experience more white knuckle than relaxing. On arriving to KL we made haste to finding our accommodation. We had actually booked a place before arrival which made things a hell of a lot easier. We dumped our luggage and Weli proceeded in having his afternoon nap. Afterwards we would go to the PETRONAS towers which have arguably put KL on the map or for you Hollywood enthusiasts watch Entrapment again with Sean Connery. We walked for a couple of miles armed with the free map given to us at the hostel. Around 7pm we found this really nice road full of fast food eateries mainly Chinese and Malayan food. We had some great food. After supper we went to an electronics mall and called it a day, we were tempted as we passed various happening bars on the way back to the hostel.
The next day Weli stayed in and Mark and I explored KL. We walked to the station and the national mosque as well as stopping by a few museums. We caught a taxi that would take us to the PETRONAS towers so we could visit the bridge. Unfortunately we got there too late, it really is something you have to plan in advance and wake up around 7am to queue by 8 am. We decided to do the next best thing KL tower which roughly 130m high. It offers fantastic views of the city with the big binoculars that these sorts of tourist attractions always have. It makes for perfect peeping into all the apartments and roof top pools. It is just a shame it was a cloudy day. We had booked the day before a 6 hour bus to Singapore. With all the travelling we have done i.e. planes, trains etc 6 hours goes by like minutes. We have developed some skill in keeping busy on the bus, Weli finds that sleeping helps him get through most journeys.
Upon arrival to Singapore we had to go through immigration control. It was a really nice building located just after the bridge that connects Singapore to the mainland. It was a slick run control point with no smoking signs punishable by law not the puny fines that similar signs in London offer. Weli had some problems getting through the check point and had his finger on David Milleband’s fast dial number just in case things went down. Finally we were in a taxi, Adam recommended that we stay above a pub in Little India called the Prince of Wales. We arrived around 9pm with the plan of looking around for places to stay of course we agreed on the first thing. So we stayed at the POW and got ready to go out and meet Adam K. We met Adam at the White Rabbit are really nice classy joint about 20min taxi ride away. The first thing he told me whilst getting a round of vodka red bulls and shots of sambuca “Fil the piss in Singapore is really expensive”. Wiser words have never been spoken. The drink prices are worse than London. That night Adam was on a serious mission and we enjoyed ourselves a great deal. We went to the world famous Zouk Club Singapore, it was immense. It’s a really cool club, good size, good sound and nice women all a growing man needs really. After Zouk we decided to end the night with a few swift halves at the “living rooms” at some classy hotel. It became immediately apparent that this is a place where men with money can meet so called ladies of the night aka professional women. It reminded me of Hotel Panorama but with the added class, the women at times were arguably men.
The next morning we woke up around lunch time and headed down to Orchid Road where you can find every type of mall i.e. electronics, clothes. It is a really wide road with shops stacked side by side, a smarter, cleaner and more organised Oxford/Sloane Street. We grabbed some food from the local canteens which can be found off some side streets. Our attempt at trying local dishes etc failed miserably the food was shit. May I remind the reader that up until recently I haven’t had a McDonalds for well over 3 months. We made a few purchases and met Ad who had a friend in a West Ham top, how that happened I will never quite understand. We drove to Sentosa Island to commence our lazy Sunday whilst simultaneously trying our best to heal very big hangovers from the previous nights minus Weli of course. Sentosa Island was beautiful and real estate companies have gone to town on it. We ended up by chance having a few coronas at Cafe Del Mar, it gave me a chance to talk about my visit to Ibiza as well as to explain how overrated the real Cafe Del Mar is. Ok so the beaches are manmade who cares, I’m sure the locals from Singapore don’t mind as their consistent weather all year round means they can stroll down the beach and do a spot of tanning. One thing that might worry that local from Singapore is that when he rubs the sun cream from his eyes and looks upon the shoreline he will find it contaminated with tankers. For me I have no problem with that similarly to me not having any problems with Battersea Power Station. Of course the environmentalists will as oil spills can be found if you look hard enough.
The remaining days in Singapore consisted mainly of malls and cinemas. We have watched nearly every movie out. Dragonball, Watchman, Streetfighter and Push were seen in one sitting. May I just add that Street fighter the chronicles of Chung Li is horrible and it would be a crime against film making to even put that on VHS let alone blue ray with all those lovely extra features you get these days. In fact all these films are extremely bad clearly amplifying the state of Hollywood and the lack of story lines with substance. They are remaking every film, how is it possible that 10 years on Van Dame’s version of Street Fighter is far superior to the more recent.
The Raffles experience is one that I will never forget. The place of origin for the famous Singapore sling (not the Dingaling). The bar had an old feel to it, like it had been preserved from the colonial days of men smoking cigars but had been given the modern touches i.e. speakers with surround sound. It is customary to eat the nuts provided and to throw the shells on to the ground, which felt good. The drink was delicious but pricey but worth every cent or dollar. The Raffles hotel looked amazing and old. We walked through the arcade area and the gardens in the middle I definitely would stay here in the future subject to salary. It oozed class and offered pure relaxation with that 5 star treatment. Once Adam arrived we made our way to a roof top bar that had breath taking views of Singapore at night even better than the Millennium wheel equivalent which I failed to mention we had done on the second day. For some reason happy hour made a bottle of Moet 25£ so the decision was made for us, we guzzled every last drop. Ladies night in Singapore doesn’t just mean free entrance while men pay extortionate prices it means free drinks also. I cant remember exactly the name of the club but it felt studenty and ME LIKEYYYY. They had a special on drinks and we let the good stuff flow. We met some of Adams friends they were cool and very friendly.
So next stop after Singapore was Hong Kong and it would be Jet Star’s turn to offer that service. WE arrived to the famous Hong Kong airport. Weli based his final year project on a similar scheme so I heard all the facts and intricacies of this complex project hmmmm interesting. We had booked on a room in Kowloon a couple of stops from Hong Kong Island. Well let begin by saying that the photo that they posted on the website must have been taken in the 60s with a 14 mega pixel digital camera when the rooms were last decorated.

Thursday, 2 April 2009


I get sms and emails asking for the next installment of my travelling blog. I ask the question how are there more people asking for my entry than there are people linked to the blog. I would like more to sign up so that I can post the new entry incl.

Malaysia i.e. KL
Singapore and our outing with Adam
Hong Kong

I know its a pain but as ben stiller says in Starsky & Hutch "DO ITTT"

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Shotgun Backpacking the story so far. HANOI TO CAMBODIA

I will now attempt to describe the events that occurred post Hanoi. I will have grave difficulty in doing so. The reason being largely due to our over stay in Hanoi, we had planned in the original itinerary to stay for 3 days, however as we all know that these plans are subject to change we stayed 10 days. Plan of action therefore was to shoot down to Saigon in a matter of days. We caught the train down to the historical capital of Hue. It would be a smash and grab touristic visit, see the old city and palace and get the hell out of there. Hue is an interesting town, more so in the old part. Similarly to the rest of Vietnam very rich in history which again mainly involves the Chinese. I didn’t see much evidence of the American war if any. In all honesty that is how I know Vietnam.
Hue as warned by the Lonely Planet was very quiet and chilled out during the night. We visited a bar called DMZ at night. Oh yes almost forgot we met some fellow backpackers in the old town. Jess and Rachael from Newcastle University, Weli and I realised that they were similar to us as they were not typical backpackers living it rough and surviving on a 50p daily budget. We had a few drinks that night and exchanged stories and future travel plans, it turned out they were going south as well and that we may cross paths again in Auz. The thing you must understand about Vietnam is that it is so narrow that you see similar faces from Hanoi in Hue, Hoian and Nah Trang. There is no avoiding it everyone is making their way south to Saigon.
In Hue we did the DMZ tour. The DMZ stands for Demilitarized Zone which was the area that divided the North and the South. It is ironic because the name certainly doesn’t reflect its past. During the American Imperialistic Attack on the People ....... ohhhhh my lord has the commy propaganda taken a hold of me already. Well during the Vietnam war this was the most heavily fortified regions. We say various old museums, a completely shot down Catholic Church and some hills where the Americans had their artillery. The following day we caught a bus down towards Hoian with Jess etc. I had heard a lot about Hoian from the one they call Massi Crea. This place is absolutely beautiful a colonial marvel. I will try to do it justice by describing how I saw it, ok here goes. It is like wrapping up all the best features of southern French architecture i.e. old French manor houses and placing it in Vietnam. The area is full of villaesque building very few having more than 2 stories all around a river/canal. It even looks better at night with great little features such as the Parisian street lamps. This is certainly a place i will come back to later on in life. I fully recommend it. There is something for everyone here beaches, food, architecture, museums (not that I saw any) and nightlife. We spent a total of 3 days in Hoian . Hoian is full to the brim with tailors so we decided to get ourselves suited and booted not with suits though but with smoking jackets for Hong Kong. Be on the lookout and let us know which jacket you prefer from the pics.
Even further south we went, the penultimate stop before Saigon the all acclaimed Nah Trang. This area is a beach resort party capital of Vietnam. Where the crème de la crème take holidays would I be bold enough to say “the Vietnamese St. Tropez”. Upon arrival after a 12 hour coach journey with a gang of stupid fat Irish girls I realised that the South was truly beautiful in a developed and less raw way as Hanoi and Sapa. Oh sorry the reason I use gang and not group is due to their sense of fashion (all wearing the same trainers with the tongues pocking out) and their constant loud and disturbing convos. The beaches were beautiful, white sand with palm trees separating the beach road. There are really nice bar stroke chill out zones along this particular stretch of coast, with nice food available at most places and good music. We checked into a hotel/apartment the type you would find on a shoe string budget in St Anton Ibiza. It had the basics, more importantly aircon, a contraption that I have become fond of especially now as I write this from the very humid Singapore. The nightlife of Nah Trang does not offer a wide variety of choice, what is does offer is one place known as the Sailing Club. This club is great, open air with good music along the beach. Everyone starts off relaxing by the beach on tables having colourful cocktails or the jam jar which is just as lethal as the infamous buckets from Koh Pagnan. As soberness turns to tipsiness the crowd shifts on to the dance floor to strut their stuff. Everyone makes a real effort to dress up and I must admit it makes the place look sexy and classy. To emphasise just how good this place is, of the three nights we spent in Nah Trang, we went there each and every night. It is just the thing to do, the alternatives that attempt to do something different will find themselves on their lonesome in a vacant bar. After Sailing Club everyone stumbles down to the bar I think called Now and Then, which doesn’t close. Here jam jars are sold at a fierce rate, they are absolutely horrible and I would recommend drinking them as late on as possible. The first night we met a group of Norwegian travellers who are travelling around the world in 2 months. Their names were Sarah, Line, Pendta, Elizabeth and Camilla (wow I got it right). We all got on really well and enjoyed three very drunken nights in Nah Trang. They had the missing energy we were desperately needed making sure we appreciated every night as if it were our last. So Nah Trang was pretty much a blurry image of beaches and nightclubs. From the people we have met we are picking up some great terminology I would like to make an addition to the british phrases. In Norway apparently when people meet up and have drinks before going out (mainly for economical purposes) they refer to this as FOREPLAY. All I can say to that phrase is ME LIKEYYY.
We made a conscious decision one night in Nah Trang that the following week of travel for both parties involved was identical and that we should not go it alone but unite and travel as one large Anglo-Norwegian posy. We made our way from Nah Trang to Saigon, our bus was little early so we had a whole day and night before the girls in Saigon to scope out the joint. We found some hotel near the busiest part of town aka back packer central and checked in. After all the partying in Nah Trang I was in no fit state to go out but Weli insisted I do a bit of Wing Man as he so eloquently put it. The next day the girls arrived Mark and I went site seeing with them as Mr Elmi lazed in bed until 4pm. We walked around for hours, going into every museum we passed, trying local dishes (one restaurant had a photo of Bill Clinton eating there) and shopping malls (girls of course haha). We stayed in Saigon, it is a nice enough place with some beautiful French style promenades and old hotels that must have been just as classy pre Hoh Chin Mihn. Like Bangkok it is the sort of place you pass through before delving deeper into the country and finding the real treats.
The shotgun backpacking commenced in Saigon and carried right on through Cambodia and Singapore. In one week our passports were stamped at over 6 authorities i.e. 4 countries. We caught a bus from Saigon to the capital of Cambodia Phnom Pehn the land of Happy Herbal Pizzas. We stayed in Phom Pehn around 50 hours, enough time to see the killing fields caused by the terrible Poll Potts thats Poll Potts not Paul Potts the Britain’s got talent winner who can sing operah. We then headed further north to Siem Reap to the land of Angkor Watt. I literally had only one reason to go to Cambodia and that was Angkor Watt. Cambodia is not terrible in fact it is rather a beautiful country full of untouched landscape but then again so is Vietnam and Thailand. Siem Reap is a backpacker colony, when the French were forced out there must have been a fully equipped army of backpackers ready to invade which they did in numbers. Everything in Siem Reap is about extracting money from the tourist. So much so that Atms in Cambodia issue dollars, thats right folks the crispest US notes money can buy. It ruined my dream of withdrawing US dollars in time square (f*ck). Cambodia is expensive, I was under the impression it was a forgotten country with some impressive temples at that everything could be bought for a six pence. Like all backpacker stories of how poor these countries are and how cheap everything I will only respond with the following BULLSHIT.
We had to say goodbye to the Norwegian girls who were great and I think I am speaking for Mark and Weli in that we would very much like to stay in touch. We had a flight to Singapore whereas they were going further afield to Sydney for 10 days. Off to Singapore.
Finally I am up to date, you guys who enjoy the above reads should show me some love in the form of pints when I get back in April, this is hard work. Ball please do the word count. Love to you all and peace on earth and harmony and .......................... will write about Singapore in due time next stop Hong Kong.