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November 30, 2004
Jody writes:

I'm bowled over by the beauty of Ko Phi Phi. It's like a desert island paradise, but with fifty hotels, noisy bars and ten thousand sunburnt tourists crawling around the place.

Actually it's not that bad. From the snobby Lonely Planet guidebook, I expected it to be totally ruined like the beaches of Cyprus, but there's not even a McDonalds here (but just wait a few years - there's a lot of construction working going on).

Phi Phi is much smaller than I thought it would be and for those who haven't seen a map of the island, it's an odd shape - as if it's been pinched in the middle where the main tourist area is, with higher land to either side. Walking between the two beaches on the North and South of the island only takes five minutes, which is quite novel. Amy and I have settled on the chilled-out North beach, eating Pad Thai in the restaurant there and drinking fruit shakes (fruit liquidised with tap water ice - we haven't caught dysentery yet, but give us time).

As you travel closer to the sea in Thailand, two things happen: costs rocket and the manners of Thai people plummet. We tried to buy food from a street vendor last night, but he was so uninterested in the trade that he turned his back on us until we left. Even in big 'ol Bangkok, the locals treat you with the upmost courtesy (true, they rip you off as soon as look at you, but at least they do it with a smile). Thankfully, rude locals are still very much in the minority and most of the people we've met have been helpful.

What have we been up to? Not much really. We've been spread out on the beach, reading books and occasionally strolling out for a paddle. We may move to another part of the island in a few days, but we've only been here a day and are both quite happy. Our current room on Phi Phi opens out onto an alley that's home to a legion of stray cats. We end up wading shin-deep in writhing fur whenever we open the door.

Tomorrow, we're sailing off for another island tour and cave visit and are currently trying to decide where we'll be for the King's birthday on Sunday December 5. The King is much loved here. In fact, I think that anything short of total adoration for the King is classed as treason, punishable by death. Pictures of him and his lovely Queen hang in streets, houses and taxis. Long may he reign!

I'm currently in an internet cafe next to a bar that plays The Beach on loop all day (it was filmed here). Just thought I'd add that for atmosphere. I shall now return to our room to see if Amy has finished doing her hair so that we can go and explore the East of the island before sun sets.

November 28, 2004
Jody writes:

On Thursday we arrived in Ao Nang - a small beach resort North of Krabi on Thailand's West coast. Since then we've relaxed, eaten lots of seafood and today went on a tour of four islands.

While Amy got down to some serious snorkeling on Poda Island (in water, she says, as bright green as jade), I hassled a group of monkeys. We were warned not to approach them due to their track record of attacking and robbing humans, but they seemed pleasant enough. Soon lots of people came over to photograph the apes, who were happy to fool around for the camera. Then I saw one of them slink away from the others and make a beeline for our bags, but I was quick to chase it away before it got near. Unimpressed that their plan had failed, the alpha male monkey (he was twice the size of all the others with a mean set of Dracula fangs) stomped down to the other tourists and made it known that there would be no more pictures today.

I've uploaded some photos from today, but need to rush off now to have dinner with some friends we've made since being here. We plan to leave Ao Nang for Ko Phi Phi tomorrow - I'm sure Amy will fill you in when she has time.

November 22, 2004
Jody writes:

See our Chiang Mai pictures.

I'm bloated. We've just completed a Thai cookery course at a place called Thai Chocolate (there was none of the sweet stuff in sight - 'Thai Chocolate' is a slang term for red chillies in Thailand). We cooked and ate six meals in seven hours, finding space for two plates of fruit in between. It was a lot of fun and the other eight people on the course felt just as sick as we did by the end.

Amy's currently getting her hair chemically straightened, which leaves me with some time to kill. Best of luck to her - she went for a trim a couple of days back and the Thai lady hacked about four inches off.

We went elephant trekking yesterday, which was a giggle - though we were slightly worried when our driver hopped off and disappeared, leaving the elephant to lumber on unguided (he returned a few minutes later). Our elephant was a stubborn beast and refused to move at times. We later learnt that the small elephant that had been following us was our elephant's calf and the reason she refused to move was because she couldn't see her baby.

After a bumpy hour on elephant back, we made it to one of the famous Chiang Mai hilltribes. Hilltribe trekking is one of the main reason travellers come to the city, but we can't be arsed with it. The romantic view is that the hilltribes are small societies of natives, untouched by modern civilization. But, judging from other traveller's stories and the hilltribe we visited, the reality is that what you actually visit is a series of salesmen and women in silly hats intent on flogging you tat. Though some of the goods are made locally, much of it seems to be imported from the mainland and Burma.

I spoke to a couple who had just returned from a hilltribe trek and they weren't impressed. They visited the Karen tribe (famous for their longneck women: see this picture I've found) and although the longneck ladies greet tourists, everyone else in the tribe slouched around in tracksuits.

We also took an hour-long ride on a bamboo raft with three other people and a couple of guys who were employed to steer. We enjoyed taking in the beautiful scenery and the ride was very slow and peaceful other than the instance when we ran into a fallen tree and almost capsized.

We leave Chiang Mai and head for Krabi in Southern Thailand on Thursday. After all this rushing about we're planning to spend our final three weeks in Thailand exploring some islands and lazing on beaches.

November 20, 2004
Amy writes:

Ta Prohm - Amy finds her roots (arf!)
Amy finds her roots (arf) at Ta Prohm.

It was amazing... Got up super early to see Angkor Wat (which is both the name of the city of temple ruins and the most famous single temple there) at sunrise and spent another two days exploring the rest of the temples. We saw the major ones (about 20 of 100), got bitten alive again (deet does not do it for me) but really liked it.

Here's what else we noticed:

Pesky kids trying to sell you stuff (even tiny ones) and who look like they're about to cry when you insist you don't need 20 braclets for $1...

They're waiting for you outside all the temples screaming: "Col' drink sir! You want col' drink. Food madam, you want some thing eat?". And the boys with the guide books try and corner you saying: "Where you from?" And when you say England... They spiel off "Capital city, London. Borders with Wales and Scotland". I started testing them on our last day and asked the capital of Canada. When they gave me the answer, they told me about Canada having two languages and then started gabbling to me in French! It's funny now to think about it now but at the time it was a bit much.

We probably would have bought something (Jody liked this Angkor Wat paper weight which lit up with disco lights at the touch of a button) if we'd been able to browse the stalls but as it was, once you approached them, the kids wouldn't leave you alone.

Out of Angkor Wat. Cambodia is a lovely looking country - green and lush when you get out of the town. Driving past paddy fields and villagers just getting on with their daily chores was for me the best part after the temples. Part of the country is flooded for three months of the year. We saw this when we flew in but couldn't work out what we were seeing. From so high up, Jody thought it looked like broccoli in a pan (obviously, the trees in the flooded area). It doesn't really rain much either. We experienced a shower that literally lasted for about 50 seconds when we were at a temple one afternoon. The locals got really excited but it was over before it had really begun. Not like in London then...

Jody writes:

The ruins. This is what we came for. On our first night we took a tuk-tuk (more basic than those in Thailand - these ones are simply motorbikes pulling a cart) to Phnom Bakheng to watch the sunset. I didn't know that we were driving via Angkor Wat itself, but as we passed the sight of the massive complex looming out from the jungle it was worth the trip alone.

After spending three days (two of which we started at 5am to catch the sunrises) exploring temples, we learnt to enjoy the remote ruins more. Angkor Wat is in such good condition (following constant restoration - it is Cambodia's flagship tourist attraction after all) and is always so crowded that it ends up looking quite bland close up.

We prefered the more ruinous jungle temples, such as Preah Khan. We reached the complex at 6am and were the only two people there for quite some time. It felt like we were the first people to ever discover it. Some structures had collapsed and elegantly tumbled through standing doorways. Trees straddled ruins, both destroying and holding together the ancient structures. Headless statues rose up from the rubble and plants and flowers grew everywhere. We spent hours there and took a lot of photos (which we will show in a 10-hour slide projection, with commentary, upon our return).

The people. While the children at the temples chase you with trinkets and clothing to sell, the adults try and get you to eat at their stalls. Once we made our choice and finally sat at a stall, the owners changed completely. They're warm, friendly and relaxed and sometimes shooed the children away so that we could eat in peace. Most Cambodians have excellent English too. The English and historical knowledge of one of our drivers was so good, there was no point in shelling out $20 for a guide (we prefered to explore for ourselves, anyway).

Landmine victims beg wherever tourists can be found. They frequently followed us, waving torn limbs and shouting "disabled." One day, we were eating at a temple and saw a local girl who had serious facial burns sharing a joke with the cafe staff. The minute we stood to leave she changed completely, chasing us, pointing at her face and screaming and moaning like the undead. Our driver found it hilarious - he'd probably seen the act before. Neither Amy or I knew what to do in these situations, so we just ignored them. Is it right to encourage begging by giving money? We didn't think so.

On the whole, we loved Cambodia and wished we could have spent more time exploring other parts of the country, rather than just the well touristed area. We're currently killing time in Chiang Mai, having plotted some things to do in the next few days, including an elephant trek.

November 19, 2004
Jody writes:

Everyone seems to have it in for Japanese tourists. Ok, so they do generally travel in large groups and lurch into every landmark photo en masse, standing hands on hips and exclaiming "waaah" (translation: "wow"). But that old cliche about them carrying loads of camera equipment isn't relevant anymore - almost everyone we've seen is carrying a ton of it.

A big group of Italian tourists were pissing everyone off on our flight last night though. They pushed to the front of the check-in queue, then - dragging their Louis Vuitton luggage - piled in front of the departure doors to make sure they were the first on the plane. Then the botoxed old hag who sat in front of me refused to put her seat forward for the duration of the flight, depite me having hardly any room to juggle the numerous drinks Bangkok Airways plied me with.

I would have caused a fuss, but knowing my luck they were probably Mafia. Incidentally, I saw a Japanese man with a finger missing, which either means he's a member of the deadly Yakuza clan, or once had a run-in with a big dog.

Where are we? At the airport again, waiting for our flight to Chiang Mai. We've just returned from Cambodia, but will try and tell you about that some other time.

November 13, 2004
Amy writes:

Khao San street vendor Starting to realise we haven't been explaining what we have been doing much - just the quirks of Bangkok (BKK). We've seen all the sights now though and are just returning in transit between Cambodia and the beaches. Some of my personal highlights:

First lizard spotted: - scarpering out of toilet as I went in, in our first hostel (Number One Guesthouse, Sukhumvit). Hostel was okay. Our room had good aircon and a shower cubicle in the room. But we were dubious about the cleanliness of the bed and ended up sleeping on top of it.

Tour of the Wats (buddist temples): - We did them all - Marble temple, lucky budda, Golden Mount - on a man made mountian. A 250-step climb up and great views over Bangkok. Plus a smaller Wat - but one that has (in the grounds) a huge 39 metre tall golden budda - Luang Pho To, which was errected in 1867 AD.
That day, we became an attraction of Bangkok ourselves! Our tuk-tuk driver deserted us at our last stop, Golden Mount (a ploy by the drivers to get more of the petrol vouchers we later learned). Thus we were forced to get another one which took us 45 minutes in the wrong direction first to huge Jewellery store and on the way back, got us stuck in an 100-strong mob of thai people on the way to pray. They surrounded the tuk-tuk, laughing and pointing and offering us flowers. Weird experience..

Wat Pho: - We eventually made it on our last day despite being told by 4 different people that it was closed. I don't know why thai water vendors/random people on the street do not want tourists to go there. It's right next to the Grand Palace - but by comparision is empty, and probably because everyone else is also being told it's closed. It has the most amazing huge reclining buddha (lying on it's side) which is like 50+ metres long by 15 wide.

Bangkok Bar - our fav bar on Soi Rambutre in Banglamphu. Plays great music and always seemed to meet really sound people in there. Also was just round the corner from our fav hostel so far - Four Sons Village (fan room with ensuite bath and balcony) only 350 baht a night! About four pounds fifty. Quite new and they let us make some free phone local phone calls too. A great place but don't trust Tom, the camp travel agent there...

Chatuchak Market - a weekend market of everything! Furniture, fishtanks, animals, clothes, mops, spiders (live hairy ones), food (spiders, locusts if you like) etc. It must stretch over a square mile. We only got round a small bit in like 6 hours but did plenty, plenty shopping.

November 12, 2004
Jody writes:

Amy in Erawan waterfallAmy in Erawan waterfall

We're currently living in a hut in a field. It's one of many strange little African-style bungalows just out of the main town of Kanchanaburi. The hut's bedroom roof is thatched with straw, only a mosquito grill covers the windows and the bathroom doesn't have a roof, leaving us to shower by sun or moonlight. The shower itself is a mini-waterfall we turn on by twisting a bamboo tap. Take a look on the Little Creek website for pictures.

We were bowled over by the romance of it all - far away from the roar of Bangkok's traffic and with nothing but open fields, streams and mountains surrounding us. But that's where the fairy tale ended...

Returning to our hut at night, we found it infested with all manner of insects (attracted to the light that had been left on by the cleaner) and mouse droppings all over the place. We quickly hung the mosquito net and cowered inside, swatting bugs that got trapped under the cover and flicking their corpses out into the melee.

Once we'd cocooned ourselves inside, we were scared to get out again for fear of breaching our stronghold. We slept beneath a wall of hungry insects that were fearlessly searching for an entry point and were frequently woken by rodent squeaks, bats chattering and a fan I'd left on full pelt that chilled us to the bone.

Like a bad zombie film, we were glad when the sun came up and the brainless hoards, intent on sucking our blood, drifted away. We both walked away unscathed, but Amy has since been less fortunate, receiving a number of bites probably as an act of insect revenge (and prompting me to start a tally in the right hand column on this page). Recently we have found a hornets nest outside our door and a two-foot long snake skin, shed behind our toilet.

We've since moved to another hut which still has mice, but less insects. Which of course is far better.

What we've been up to: Yesterday we headed to Erawan Falls - a seven-tiered waterfall that stretches down a mountain. We trekked to the top (over 1,500 feet up - which took about an hour and a half) where the water was so clean you could drink it... if there weren't fish swimming in it. We cooled off in the water, then walked / climbed / fell back to the bottom again. We even saw some monkeys on the way down (probably fresh from robbing some tourists for their wallets).

We then took the 'Death Railway' that was built by POW in WWII for a two-hour trip back to town, crossing the Bridge over the River Kwai at the end. Just by chance it was November 11 - D-Day. For the first half hour the journey was hot, stuffy, crowded and with hardly anything to see - much like London Underground. But when all the locals got off, we could enjoy the rest of the journey and hang our heads (and tongues) out of the window like sweaty dogs.

We're off to see if there's anything worth eating on the floating restaurants in a moment, before heading back to Insect Armageddon again.

On Sunday November 14 we fly to Cambodia; a week later Chaing Mai (Northern Thailand), then South to some of Thailand's many islands.

November 08, 2004
Amy writes:

We've been taken for a ride quite literally this week in our first experiences with the infamous Tuk-tuks of Bangkok.

They're basically a metal cage on three wheels with a driver sitting on a seat in front steering and contributing more smog to this already-polluted city.

Riding in one can be like a rollercoaster if the traffic is not too bad. It can be fun but dangerous/scary if you've got a loony in front driving in the wrong lane (on the wrong side of the road) just to try and beat the traffic. Yes, that did happen to us and it was not nice.

It's not just riding in them. In this city, you've also got to make a real effort not to be run over by one.

And before you've even got in, you have to bargain - like this:
Me - "To Khao San Road?"
Driver - "How much you want pay?"
M - "30 baht?"
D - "Hmm.. bad, bad 70 baht" *frowns and waves hands*
M - "40 baht?"

This goes on for a while until we agree on 50 baht and no stops.

This means he won't divert from our 15 min journey to Khao San road to drive us 30 mins in the opposite direction to take us to a top quality tailors/jewellers/tourist tat centre - just so he gets petrol coupons as commision from the shop. From the way I see it, he probably uses so much petrol taking us all that way in the wrong direction that he's definintely spent the petrol coupon before he's even got it! But anyway, it's a scam you try to avoid.

Even so, we still managed to get a bit lax on Friday and ended up visiting two jewellers, a tailors and a carpet shop...

Jody writes:

We went to a Go-Go Bar last night. It's something that just has to be done if you come to Thailand. Missing the experience would be like travelling to Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower. And no, I didn't bully Amy into it. She was just as keen, I promise.

The plan was hatched when Amy and I met a couple of Irish guys our own age in a bar round the corner from our hostel. They'd just arrived in Bangkok and while ticking through our lists of sights to see in the capital, the subject of ping pong came up and before we knew it we were in a cab on our way to Patpong.

Patpong used to be Bangkok's main red light district, but since word of the city's Go-Go Bars has got round (partly thanks to films like Priscilla Queen of the Desert), Bangkok's seedier underworld has moved elsewhere, turning the area into a popular destination for curious travellers. (Right, that's my spiel out of the way attempting to make last night seem more respectable.)

As I've said before, everyone is trying to rip you off in Bangkok, but this claim cannot be more true than in Patpong, where we were mobbed by touts attempting to get us into different bars. Thankfully, a friend had warned me of the scams that the bars try to pull (cheers Matt!), so we were a tad more clued up than some of the poor sods who we saw getting caught out.

A popular scam in Patpong is letting people into bars for free but charging them a fortune to leave. With no way of knowing which bar would be honest, we tried to find a lone lecherous old man who might be able to give us some tips. This wasn't an easy task - Patpong was mainly full of couples and even a few families out dining or drinking. We eventually found a jolly, middle-aged German chap out drinking who pointed us in the direction of a bar called the Queen's Castle. So after a brief walk, we bit the bullet and went in.

So what's the difference between Thailand's Go-Go Bars and Western strip joints? Well, while in the West clubs are filled with groups of men wanting to get their rocks off, entertainment in Patpong bars is more like a circus act. You couldn't possibly find what these girls are doing a turn-on. It's just frankly bizarre. And while I don't want to get into any detail, it involves stunts such as blowing out candles, picking up things with chopsticks, shooting darts at balloons and of course firing ping pong balls - all without the use of their hands. Give it a few years and I'm sure you'll see contestants attempting the same stunts on Jim Davidson's Generation Game.

Other than a couple of girls who seemed to be having a whale of a time, the other performers looked bored out of their minds. Another, although stripped to her waist in bikini bottoms, kept her socks on.

We only noticed a couple of quintessential sex tourists in the bar - other clientele included couples and some groups of girls (all Western, it appeared). We left an hour later and only spent 100baht each (1.40 GBP) on a drink. A cheap night's entertainment that we won't forget in a hurry.

Oh yeah, and I was hit on the leg by two ping pong balls and Amy had to punch one away from her face. But we washed afterwards.

November 06, 2004
Jody writes:

It's our third full day in Bangkok and we've packed loads in already, so today Amy and I are planning to take it easy. We've stayed in three different guesthouses on two different sides of the city but now we've given in and are settling near the Khao San road - the main tourist area.

Bangkok is a fantastic city - totally hectic (I like to compare it to Barter Town in Mad Max). Here are some things that have made an impression on me so far:

The traffic. The roads in Bangkok are gridlocked all day and night, despite attempts by the government to put on buses, sky trains, river taxis and now a new underground train service. This leads drivers to take as many short-cuts as possible, ignoring traffic lights and pedestrian crossings, turning the streets - and sometimes pavements - into one big bumper car race.

The people. Every Thai person in the tourist areas are trying to rip you off, albeit usually for as little as 20p. They'd sell you their own grandmother for a quick buck and probably overcharge you by 50 baht. But people out of the tourist areas are much more friendly, though I'm sure they still have an agenda. While visiting the 'lucky Buddha' statue in a temple yesterday, Amy and I chatted to a Thai man who said he worked for the UN. After a few minutes the man strayed from rejoicing over how much luck Buddha had brought him, to then give us the hard sell on a tailors in Southern Bangkok.

Blind karaoke beggars. They're everywhere! A boombox strapped round their neck, clutching a microphone in one hand and a begging cup in the other, belting out showtunes as they stare out at you with dead eyes. They make a fortune.

Stray cats and dogs. Always sleeping in the shade, like this dog we found outside a temple.

The smell. It stinks here. The roads make you dizzy with fumes and the streets sometimes smell of sewage. But enter a temple and you'll smell sweet incense and flowers... ahh.... I'm now contributing to the problem, by sweating pure chilli sauce after four days of spicey food.

Sex tourists. Old, pasty white men dining alone or seen walking through streets clutching the hand of a young, doll-faced Thai girl. When we stayed in Sukumvit, Eastern Bangkok, the place was full of them, but the Khao San area is mainly young travellers.

We're currently planning our move up north to Chiang Mai for cleaner air and a slower pace (and elephant rides). You can see some of the pictures we've taken so far on my flickr account.

For older entries, see the archives at the top right-hand side of this page.
Jody and Amy have finished their 10 month adventure around the world, that began Nov 2, 2004, and ended Sep 2, 2005. They're back home in London now, doing normal things, like going to work and drinking tap water. You can see a map of what was their planned route, but we didn't quite follow it.
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