About Me

If you want to get a different perspective on my journey, try this blog from Zac. A friend I'm travelling with. zacstravelcolours.wordpress.com

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Asian Adventure Day 8: More Buddhas than you could poke a prayer stick at

I’m just a little bit in love with Laos. I couldn’t exactly put my finger on it until today, but I think I’ve found the reason. It’s not the kind, happy people, it’s not the price of everything, it’s not even beerlao (not that all of those things aren’t great).

It’s beauty. The place is just stunning, out of this world beautiful. Everywhere I look, there’s a gigantic river, mountains reaching to the sky, a Buddhist temple drenched in gold, and green as far as the eye can see.

Today we went to Pa Kou cave, a place only discovered in the last few years. The Tuk Tuk ride out was horrible but what we saw made every pothole, every little almost vomit burp more than worthwhile.

Inside are thousands of little Buddha statues, placed there by I don’t know who, I don’t know when. It’s pretty spiritual, I think.

But for me it was the natural formations of the cave, the surrounding mountains, the seemingly never ending river which blew me away. You can be struck dumb by the green cliffs in front of you, before realising there’s another one behind it. Your eyes refocus one more time to find another and another towering mountain range just out of reach.

I think the pictures might do a better job of explaining it, but nothing will even come close to the real thing.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Asian Adventures Day 7: Water water everywhere but not a thing to drink

Of all the days we’ve spent in Asia, today is undoubtedly the hardest to describe with mere words alone. Someone with far more writing talent than me would probably simply say something like: We went to some awesome waterfalls, jumped off them for a while, had lunch and then went to some more awesome waterfalls which we also jumped off. But I’m going to have to use a whole lot more words than that. Plus a bunch of incredible photos.

And I forgot to mention, we rode elephants. That’s right, riding elephants was the third or fourth most memorable thing we did today. Pretty incredible.

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of a five tonne beast between your legs, I shall elaborate. First of all, elephants are prickly as fuck. Wear long pants or live in regret. Secondly, be prepared for the vast majority of your weight to rest directly on the spot between your legs, whatever that may be. It was incredible to see just how much control the mahouts (elephant trainers) had over these gigantic beasts. Despite the animals’ ability to kill a man with a single swing of their trunk, they seemed more than willing to obey them.

Now let’s get to the waterfalls. Here is one of them.

And here is another.

They were incredible, even these photos don’t come close to conveying their majesty. But I think the most remarkable thing was just how lost you could get in the moment, chatting, eating lunch, whatever, and then all of a sudden you would look up. Every single time I took a fresh look at the falls I was absolutely blown away.

These falls are nature at its best. No question. Life at its best even.

In one day, I rode an elephant, walked amongst some of the most picturesque jungle in the world, whiled away hours jumping off two different waterfalls, both of which are among the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen and ate literally the best fish I could ever hope to consume. You think that’s good? The whole thing cost me about $30. Incredible. I know I’ve used the word a lot but there’s just not much else I can think of to say.

Asian Adventures Day 6: The wheels on the bus go 'round and 'round.... and 'round and 'round and fucking 'round.

Welcome to hell.
That’s what the sign should have said on the front of our bus. Instead it said รถกลางคืน, which I can only assume means night/death bus.

Thanks to a travel agent I have since grown to dislike very much, Zac and I bought bus tickets from Chiang Mai, Thailand to Luang Prabong, Laos. We initially tried to get there by boat but the lovely lady assured us this was impossible. Turns out, when she said impossible she meant easily the best way to get there. Put it down to the language barrier?

So instead of two days of cruising down the Mekong River (with two guest house stays included) we endured five hours on a minibus, followed by 13 hours in a freezing cold, erratically driven minibus averaging 30 km’s an hour (at best) through some of the windiest roads I’ve ever seen.

It was bad. And even slightly too many sleeping pills didn’t really help. At one stage we crossed to the other side of the road, to pass another bus. Our driver soon realised the truck hurtling in the opposite direction took quite a dim view of this sort of road arrogance. Brakes were slammed, heads were bruised and the stuff still sitting on Zac’s seat went flying down a stairwell. I’m fairly confident this would’ve been Zac’s fate too if he hadn’t moved. Also, a bit of the ceiling fell off at one stage.

Unfortunately in my sleep and comfort deprived state, I didn’t take a single photo of the death machine. So you’ll just have to use those imaginations.

We arrived in Luang Prabuang about 6 AM and were greeted by an extremely entrepreneurial guest house owner who knew we’d do anything for a bed.

Oh and I certainly recognize the irony in calling for a more adventurous, less comfortable destination and a couple of days later experiencing this. After a few hours sleep the journey doesn’t really seem so bad, and the destination is looking pretty amazing. More on that later.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Asian Adventures Day 5: Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is a breath of fresh air. No. That’s not exactly correct. After the hustle, bustle and sleaze of Phuket Chiang Mai feels like a veritable gust of revitalising wind. It really does soothe the soul to be in a place as authentic feeling as this.

Sure it’s still filled with thousands of tourists. But the local people feel different. More genuine, less corrupted. Even the tourists seem to be a different breed. The old men with whores have given way to dreadlocked backpackers.* Interestingly, all the westerners seem to be overwhelmingly less fat. And in direct contrast to the Phuketians (is that a word? No.) hassling for Ping Pong shows, hookers and sunglasses, the people of Chiang Mai seem to shine with warmth and happiness.

For me, the most striking difference was simple. It didn’t feel like it had all been put on for us. There was no shortage of tacky souvenirs at the markets and most restaurants sold French Fried (sic) But there were almost as many Thais in the market as tourists and we actually saw them buying food from the same places as us.

The city itself is achingly beautiful, a perfect square encapsulated by a tree lined, free flowing river, about twenty metres wide. Amble around the inner city and you’re guaranteed to see countless Buddhist temples, Glistening with Gold from every angle.

Chiang Mai’s also the gateway to some of the best adventure tourism in Thailand, Mountain biking, rafting, trekking, inordinately huge flying foxes populated by monkeys, you’ll ind it all there. But most of all I guess it’s a vibe thing. Chiang Mai is a pleasant place to be.

*obviously not all of them were dreadlocked. That would be ridiculous. Some were dreadlocked though, and sweeping generalisations are kind of my thing.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

BONUS fauxlosophy post: Travel Theory

There's a good chance what I’m about to say is neither new nor true, but it’s a thought which has come to me recently and I need to try to express it. I’m also guessing it’s not something many of you would have spent any amount of time thinking about so it could be interesting.

Travel destinations are a balancing act. Each and every place in the world sits somewhere on a line between accessibility and unique experience. Between traveller comfort and genuine adventure. Risk and safety.

 I’ll try to explain. At one end of this line is Brisbane, my home. Almost everyone I know lives here (or the Sunshine Coast), I have almost infinite connections to a huge variety of familiar things and perhaps most of all, it’s where all my stuff is. The other side of this line is a random spot in the middle of the Amazon, the Sahara, Antarctica. Some of the last true wildernesses on earth. In a place like this the risks and rewards are exponentially greater. Will you discover ancient artifacts, be accepted by a previously undiscovered tribe and live off nothing but wild berries and animals you’ve caught with your bare hands? Or more likely, die starving, miserable and alone and have your carcass eaten by (/coyotes/penguins)? The vast majority of us will never know. and of course this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Travel is all about finding your own spot on the line. The destination with the perfect mix of comfort and excitement for you. Those last two words are absolutely integral because every single person is different. For some people the perfect destination might be home. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. For some it might be Melbourne or Sydney and I’m sure for a lot of people it’s Phuket.

Where you fit on the line doesn’t really matter. But the sad thing is many people don’t get the chance to find out, for whatever reason. The thought of travelling to other countries, mixing with other cultures might not appeal to you in the slightest. But if it does, you owe it to yourself to give it a go. I’m still searching for my spot on the line, and it might sound corny but this is one journey which is at least as rewarding as the destination.

Asian Adventures Day 3/4: Is it me or is it them?

Westerners have fucked Phuket. Quite literally in an astonishing number of cases. Phuket is behind me and the almost complete unknown of Laos is in front. So now seems to be a fitting time to reflect.

Unfortunately those first few words are the overriding thoughts I’ll  take from Phuket. Having said that, the place is still incredible, just in such different ways than it would have once been.

One of the quieter beaches in Phuket

I’ll start with the not so great and hopefully finish in an uplifting fashion by telling you all the things I love. My major complaint? It just feels like Australia. The people serving you are different, everything’s cheaper and there are a lot more women with questionable objects in their vaginas, but I just don’t feel like I’m in in another country. Thais and tourists don’t mix, It feels like an amusement park more than a town. I know there must be so much more going on beneath the surface but it’s as completely invisible and inscrutable here as it would be from my lounge room in Brisbane.

Zac (travel partner) summed it up pretty well on his blog:
"Patong beach is a hub for the western world to satisfy every possible indulgence a person could ever have."
Having said all this, Phuket is what it is. It doesn’t pretend to be a cultural metropolis. It’s a place where tourists go to get absolutely shit-faced. To go wild and have a great time. It also seems to be a place where it’s impossible for a man over a certain age (about 50) to go without buying himself a Thai girlfriend. But that’s irrelevant. Phuket is fun. In fact, it’s a hell of a lot of fun. It’s a place to over indulge in just about everything. And despite what I said earlier, it’s beautiful. Long white beaches, tree covered hills flowing right down to the water’s edge and a freedom that you couldn’t hope for anywhere in Oz. I’d recommend it to anyone, especially those who’ve never travelled, particularly because I think it’s a place which would be seen better through the rose coloured glasses of an entirely new experience. Like I said, it didn’t particularly feel like another country to me. But this is because I’ve seen it all before to some extent. To someone who’s never left Australia, or even never been to Asia, the differences would be astonishing. Indeed it would feel less like a different country than an entirely new world.

I guess what I’m trying to say is the minor complaints I have with Phuket (and I really must stress they are minor) are not the fault of the island. They’re mine. When I think of my first trip to Asia, the thing which stands out most is my sense of wonder, the feeling of discovering something absolutely new. This isn’t something I was ever going to find in Phuket. Laos however, is looking like a great place to find it.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Asian Adventures Day 2: The Baby Elephant Walk

Yes, I've got a satchel. Who cares. Look at the damn elephant.

So last night we bought some suits. A lot of suits. Four suits and eight pairs of pants between us to be precise (3 for me, 1 for Zac). That's a lot of suits by anyone's definition.

As a direct result of the evening's extravagance, we tried to be as stingy as possible today. Free entertainment was the name of the game and scooters were the obvious means of transport. $8/day isn't exactly free but I'm not complaining.

The original plan was to head to a massive statue of Buddha on top of a hill, about an hour away. Instead we decided to go to some waterfalls, about the same distance away but in the opposite direction. Finally, we made the wise decision to just wing it.

We ended up at a really nice beach which almost had waves. Looking up to the mountains, we saw the Buddha we'd earlier forsaken. We redoubled our efforts to see the large fat man up close but ended up a good 10 km's away at a ridiculously golden temple.

I apologise for how tediously written the last paragraph was, but I'm keen to stop writing and go out.

One last thing, on the way home we saw a baby elephant wandering along the side of the road with its keeper. We stopped, fed it, got some photos and rode off. No biggie. This is why I love Thailand.

FOOD UPDATE: Turns out cold Asian chicken is totally fine!

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Asian Adventures BONUS POST: Fauxlosophy

As the title suggests, this is my attempt at a bit of philosophising.

A fairly uncomfortable flight has left me with this thought. "Man that was a fairly uncomfortable flight."

But more interestingly, also these ones:

  1. I wish there was a more comfortable way to travel.
  2. Even if there was we'd still find a way to complain about it.
  3. This love of whingeing is probably what's made humanity what it is today.
This sounds like wanky bullshit but I think it makes sense. If someone hadn't first thought riding horses was a bit shit, we never would've invented the wheel. Unhappiness is synonymous with a desire to make things better. The day we stop is whingeing is the day humanity starts its decline.

Day 1: Welcome to Thailand.

So it looks like this has temporarily become a travel blog. For the next 20ish days I'll be in Asia, and writing. If you've never been to Asia, hopefully you'll learn something useful or read an unusual story. If you have then you should at least be able to laugh at our mistakes. Whichever it is. Enjoy! (or not, that's really up to you.)

Pictures are a bit thin on the ground at this stage. But i think this one's cute.

One minute in the streets of Phuket was all it took for a kind local to offer me a prostitute. Impressive, even by Thai standards.

With that essential information out of the way, let’s begin.

For once we'd thought ahead. Zac had booked us into a guest house in Phuket a full two days before we even arrived. Unheard of. Unfortunately, he booked us for four nights when we only needed three. Even more unfortunately, it was in completely the wrong part of Phuket. Kind've the equivalent of going to Brisbane and staying in Strathpine.

We decided to cut our losses and find a new place closer to the action. That's $18 (for the remaining three nights) I won't be seeing again in a hurry. God I love Thailand.

Today can be summed up pretty easily. Beach, massage (the legitimate sort), and suits (the potentially illegitimate sort). Everything I've seen online has told me to steer clear of Thai suits. Needless to say, I'll be buying three.

Well that's it for today. Stay tuned for more borderline interesting stories.

FOOD UPDATE: My first meal included cold chicken. It'll be interesting to see how that one pans out.