The End.

Well, I made it home in one piece (just about).  I got to the airport (in the end) and made it onto the flight QF1.  I didn’t get a wink of sleep during the 12 hours – that I’m blaming on having the middle seat of three and the girl in front of me fully reclining hers but I did, at least, have a luxury on demand entertainment system so I watched an arty film with Kate Winslett, lots of Wife Swap and Faking It, a few documentaries on Australia and New Zealand and lots more besides.  Managed to meet Mum & Dad at Heathrow without incident and made it back home.

So, it’s over.  It’s all very strange being back home.  I’m a bit jetlagged – it’s 5.45am but it feels like I’ve had a massive lie-in.  I’m going for a check-up at the doctor’s today to ensure my dramatic wound is okay and then there’s nothing to do but write a big summing-up post here and get on with my real life!  Really looking forward to seeing everyone – shall do my best to try and work my way around you all.


Adios, Thailand

I’m just about six hours away from getting the bus to the airport. That means it’s time for one of my semi-traditional breathless recaps of the place I’m leaving.

Thailand has been a challenge. Even disregarding the whole dog incident, I’d still say it’s been challenging. The weather’s been ferocious and unrelenting in a way that Australia never was. Even just wandering around town is a challenge; ducking and dodging potholes, limboing under low-hanging wires and awnings, darting away from persistent taxi drivers and street vendors. Staying in single rooms is luxurious but makes it hard work sometimes meeting other people. I’ve found it hard work.

That said, travelling in Thailand is also, in a way, easier than everywhere else. My money certainly goes a lot further and I can live a lot more comfortably than I had been doing previously: three meals a day in restaurants, my own single room, laundry done for me (and neatly folded and ironed) and cheap transport (which generally doesn’t involve planning out schedules – I can afford to go where I want, when I want without thinking too deeply about it). Also there’s no doubting at all thatSongkran and the five-day waterfight was one of the highlights of the entire trip.

I haven’t really *done* all that much but that’s part of the fun of it all. I think I would have done much more had the incident with the dog not taken place – I’d certainly have rushed through the small towns between Bangkok andChiang Mai rather than taking my time because of close proximity to decent hospitals. I would also have made more of an effort to get down to the beaches but, to be perfectly honest, I cannot think of anything worse than sitting on a beautiful beach, knowing that I’m not allowed to go in the sea.

So what have I done? I kayaked down the River Kwai and walked across the Bridge Over the River Kwai. I learned how to cook Thai food (sort of). I saw the Grand Palace in Bangkok and many, many, many, many smaller temples and palaces. I took part in the greatest waterfight ever. I went to Burma and Laos – albeit for twenty minutes. I got to know far more about the Thai medical system than anyone really ought to know. I have mastered about five words of the Thai language. I saw a seven-tiered waterfall. I know the difference between red, green, yellow, Panang and Masaman curry. I have eaten rice at least once a day for thirty four consecutive days.

Despite it being very hard work at times I’m just about glad I came, balancing everything up. And that’s the measure of whether or not a place is good, isn’t it?

Some sort of roundup to come. A huuuuge recap of the entire trip. I bet you just can’t wait.

Bangkok – the final countdown…

Well, the last 24 hours is just how you thought it’d be.  Yesterday I bought souvenirs and messed around a lot.  I went out for dinner in a fairly fancy Indian restaurant (one of my favourite things about Thailand – there’s lots of really, really good Indian food) which ended up being quite expensive – five pounds – but I didn’t really spare any expenses.

I sat in a bar next to the guesthouse; it gets so loud in my room that you don’t have much choice but to go out in the evening.  They were playing really, really bad Europop music (the Thais have a thing for it?) but it was entertaining.  The bar manager went off and came back with a smorgasbord of edible insects.  I ate a thing which looked like a baby frog – it wasn’t a tadpole but it was frog-shaped.  I also ate some crickets and some maggots.  Classy.   I ended up talking to some Canadians, which was nice, and some Swedes.  I rather amazed myself by managing to hold a conversation with them in Swedish.  Wonders never cease.

Today I went for a final injection.  The hospital was terrible – very clean, very Westernised but I had to wait for hours.  Only when I did my stroppy foreigner routine did they start to move me through the system.  I realised when filling out the forms that the guesthouse was getting commission for referring me.  They really do make money out of you here in every way they can.  The treatment was relatively expensive, too.  I paid twice as much for the one injection as I had done in total for everything they gave me on the day I got bitten.

After that… yeah.  There’s four and a bit hours left so I’m typing lots of melodramatic fin-du-voyage posts.  I’m going to go and pack my bag in a few minutes to see how much room there’s left for all kinds of other junk.   I’m going to have another big feed later and then sit around in the reception of the guesthouse so there’s no chance that they’ll forget me.

That’s just about it from the travelling, then.  There’s going to be a few more posts to finish things off, tie up some loose ends, that kind of thing, but once I get home and start seeing you all there’s not so much need for this.  Do keep checking back once or twice, though!

(the end of the road leads to) Bangkok

Bangkok is now part of a very elite group of places – Auckland & Bangkok – that I have travelled to three times on the trip.  It is also, touch wood, the last place I’ll be visiting before I head home.

I don’t know if I’ve got a big sign painted on my head saying that I’m open to being ripped off… but it certainly feels that way this time!  I have somehow, despite arriving at the best time for finding a room for the night, ended up in a bit of a dive.  It’s clean enough but it’s next door to a massive pub (the Khao San Centre which has an Irish pub upstairs – some of you might know it?) and my room is on the fourth floor.  Good exercise, I suppose.  I went around some places I’d stayed before but they were very unwilling to give me a single room and all wanted me to check into a double room with aircon for fifteen pounds a night… far nicer than I need!

I’m not really planning on doing very much – just to be drastically different to the past few weeks!  Well, that’s maybe a lie.  I’m shopping.  I’m not quite sure what for… but things are pretty reasonably priced here so I’m having a look around.

A little story.  I went shopping last night (mainly because the shopping centres have really, really nice food halls – not the cheapest places to eat in Bangkok but they’re really, really tasty and have food from all over Asia).  Hailed a tuk tuk and asked to be taken to the shopping centre.  About two minutes into the ride the most almighty thunderstorm you’d ever seen in your life started.  Massive, massive forks of lightning lighting up the sky, the loudest thunder I’d ever heard (I actually for a splitsecond they were about to coup again or something), it was all incredibly dramatic.

My tuk tuk driver turned around and was going on about the BOOM BOOM, did I like the BOOM BOOM?  I told him I liked it very much and it was much better than we have at home, which it was.  He kept on turning around and going on about the BOOM BOOM and I just smiled a bit and watched the storm as we edged through the traffic.

After a while, I realised the journey was taking longer than I thought it should and I didn’t recognise where I was.  We drove through a market and into a sort of concrete clearing with awnings.  I was getting ready to make a run for it (which would have been pretty funny, running away from a lean Thai in the rain, wearing flip flops) and he turned around, announcing that we’d reached the boom boom lady.  Realising that we’d had a slight (insofar as ‘slight’ means ‘major’) communication barrier I told him he’d made a mistake, take me to the shopping centre or I’d report him to the tourist police.  He took me there but got his revenge by abandoning me in the middle of a traffic island.  Luckily it was still raining heavily so I could walk through the parked cars, climb over a railing and shop a bit.  Even so, 1-0 to me.

Had a similar (well, not really as scary) experience this morning.  The driver wasn’t happy at all to just take me where I wanted to go.  Did I want breakfast? No, I’ve just eaten.  What are you doing today? Shopping.  I take you to Pattaya, you can buy good ladies there*.  No thanks.  (*Let’s just put the distances here into perspective.  Imagine getting a taxi in Roath, asking to be taken to Howells in Cardiff.  Why are you going to Howells?  To go shopping.  It’s closed.  No, it’s 10.30, it’s open.  No, today is a special holiday.  No, it’s not.  Why go to Howells?  You can buy better ladies for less money in Birmingham.  I’ll take you to Birmingham…)

Got there in the end, after he’d tried to sell me everything under the sun and had come up with a thousand reasons why I really didn’t want to go to the place I’d asked for.   When we arrived, I paidfor the 80B bill with a 500B note.  I was hardly shocked when he informed me that he only had 300B change with him.  1-1.

(I’ll have to get some sort of public transport tomorrow to get to the hospital to try and con them into jabbing me before time… I suppose that those journeys will be the deciders?)

Apart from all the taxi troubles, I suppose everything’s alright.  I don’t know anyone in Bangkok – part of me half wishes I did know someone to go for a quiet drink tonight with, since it’s the last night of the entire trip but part of me has really, really had enough of the Freshers’ Week conversations you have everytime you meet someone new – What’s your name? Where are you from? Where have you been? How long until you go home? What did you think of Place X?

I think I’m ready to come home now… truth be told I have been since I left Pai but I’m glad I didn’t come home after my grumpy week in Ayuthaya/Lopburi/Phitsanulok as Chiang Mai was brilliant.  At the very least I’m going to find myself a very nice place for dinner tonight and spend maybe five pounds on my (sort of) last supper.

Difficult to know what to do tomorrow – I’ll need to leave Bangkok at about 7pm.  I’m going to have to find somewhere to leave the bags for the day – I’m not sure I trust the receptionist at the current place so I might just pay for the room for tomorrow night.  Failing that, the Israeli Guesthouse did have a luggage storage room but it’d be nice to get changed and have a shower before I get on the flight.  It’s very, very strange to think that there is only really one or two more posts from Thailand, one or two End of It All posts from the UK and then it’s time to consign the whole thing to memories… I was thinking earlier… Newcastle seems ages ago (about three months), New Zealand seems even longer ago and New York seems like another lifetime ago… even though it’s just six months.

Anyway.  I’m limping to the finish – I think they’ve just waved the chequered flag – read all about me crossing the line sometime soon.

Kanchanaburi (again)

My impressively lazy final days in Thailand have brought me, once again, to somewhere I’ve already been.

I decided to come back to Kanchanaburi over heading down to the islands. I think I’m being vindicated. The weather is really, really hot (apparently we’re in the ‘hot season’ now… it’s all relative, really) – not-to-be-messed-with CNN give it as 40oC for today, yesterday, tomorrow, forever… walking down the wooden steps at the guesthouse, however, really makes it feel like a dry sauna.

I’ve spent my time doing fabulously little.  On Monday, after spending two hours with my knees quite a long way up my armpits on the bus from Bangkok, I spent a hectic afternoon

I read in the garden yesterday, punctuating the afternoon with hectic activities such as buying a pineapple shake, a bottle of water, some chicken on a stick, that kind of thing. I had a big dinner and a nice early night. My early night was somewhat ruined by a powercut from 1am to 6am… meaning there was no fan and nothing to keep me cool. Which was nice.

Yesterday (Tuesday) I decided that I really ought to be doing things so I went kayaking. I wanted to go kayaking in New Zealand but it was the one thing I never got around to doing… so I was quite pleased to be able to do it here at a fraction of a price. I realise I like to complain – I enjoyed kayaking and I would no doubt have enjoyed it in New Zealand too. Here is a recap of how it was in Thailand and how it no doubt would have been in New Zealand:

NZ: briefing, safety points gone through, twenty minutes of instruction on how to kayak, setting off with a chirpy guide and a group of 8-10, an hour or two of kayaking, photo opportunities, back to the kayaking centre, get changed, free hot drink, opportunity to buy merchandise, ferried back to the hostel/bus.

Thailand: picked up on the back of a truck with a kayak, soon realised I was kayaking on my own, driven to the starting point, given a map telling me to paddle ‘to the Chinese temple’ 7km away, asked if I could swim – “oh you no need lifejacket then!”, about 30 seconds of being shown how to kayak, kayaked on my own, picked up at the temple an hour after I’d finished.

I’m not really criticising the Thai way… but I hadn’t realised I was kayaking alone… and I managed the 2 hour route (7km) in one hour ten minutes so there was a lot of wondering whether I had actually got to the correct Chinese temple or not (I had). It was quite good fun and I’d do it again. Though not in this weather.

Yesterday afternoon I thought I’d have a look at the main centre of Kanchanaburi.  Not that I mean to sound negative (again) but shopping in Kanchanaburi is like shopping in Cwmbran – quick, efficient but not necessarily fun or an experience you’d do for fun.  I bought a few essentials in a supermarket… and headed back to the guesthouse.  I think I ws feeling all giddy after having bought my first Thai T-shirt in Bangkok on Monday morning but I’ll be waiting until I get back to BKK before buying any more souvenirs, I think!

Today… I’ve done nothing much again.  I overslept a lot (didn’t get up until 10.30am) so that kind of put pay to the plan of going back to the waterfalls.  I went up to the Bridge again and sat in a floating restaurant for some lunch.  I hadn’t really been paying attention but today (Wednesday) is ANZAC Day – what with Kanchanaburi being the nearest town for all the Bridge Over the River Kwai stuff, the place is swarming with Australians and Kiwis.  They are a strange mixture; lots of families and schoolies (the equivalent of visiting the Normandy Beaches, I suppose) and lots of servicemen all dolled up in their uniforms, looking uncomfortable.  Anyway, it meant that the service was rubbish but I did at least get to finish my book and had a nice view of the river.

So time to walk back, sit in the garden and read some more book, have a snooze, have another big dinner… then pack up the bags (although I don’t leave town until 1pm tomorrow) ready for my destination – Bangkok (for the third time).  Really hasn’t hit home that in four days time I’ll be home…

Bangkok Reloaded

Just a quick message… I’m only really writing for completeness’ sake (but I suppose it also confirms to you all that I am Still Not Dead).

There’s about 36 hours of Bangkok to fill you in on.  I slept for about 50% of that.  I spent Saturday night in a very constructive way indeed – eating lots of Indian food and having a drink on Khao San Road with Emma and her friends.  Khao San Road fulfills anyone’s definition of ‘urban jungle’ – amongst all the tourist tat sellers there are bars, food carts… and the odd bar.  We sat on little plastic seats huddled in the middle of the melee.  It was a good location… it was excellent for people watching and the drinks weren’t that expensive.  We watched people coming and going and watched all the kids selling roses, ‘tribal’ things, etc.

Yesterday (Sunday) I didn’t do very much either… it was ridiculously hot so I really couldn’t be bothered taking on the weather!  I went back to do some shopping in the afternoon as it was the only place that I could think of in Bangkok that’s air-conditioned.  After that we pretty much did the same as the night before – a few drinks and people watching.

Oh, and the other absolutely thrilling news is that I went to a tailor to get measured up for a jacket.  Doesn’t get much more exciting than that!

I decided to head back to Kanchanaburi today.  I think my decision’s just about vindicated… despite a really uncomfortable minibus & having to walk for twenty minutes longer than I wanted to (i.e. for twenty minutes) when arriving, I checked into the Jolly Frog again, have a nice, dark, cool room and can sit on the balcony watching the garden & the river.  Now I’ve E-Mail-checked I’m going to have luncheon, have a shower, have a siesta then start my new book in the garden and just wind down for the last few days before heading back to Bangkok for the final time.

Pai > Bangkok

Just a quick one.

I’m back in Bangkok.  Yesterday I spent 14 hours on buses (!) – one three hour ride from Pai to Chiang Mai, an hour in Chiang Mai and then an 11 hour overnight ride down to Bangkok.  It’s come to something when I talk about rides this long in a way that implies I didn’t go insane with boredom.  The night bus was pretty comfortable (it would have been ‘very comfortable’ if it wasn’t for the girl in front reclining her seat back as far as it would go) and got me to Bangkok without any major incidents.

I’ve checked into the Greenhouse Guesthouse.  It’s alright – charmless but cheap – and surprisingly full of Israelis.  The restaurant only does Israeli food.  It’s all a bit unexpected.

Tried to go shopping this afternoon.  I went to MBK – like a ten storey version of the Kingsway Shopping Centre’s InShops – only for it to be interrupted by a fire.  Thailand being Thailand, Bangkok being Bangkok they neglected to announce the fire in the conventional way.  No fire alarms, no anything.   Just a little man blowing his whistle a lot, hoping that people would notice what was going on.  Turns out an escalator’s motor had burned out but it added a bit of drama to proceedings.  Got a taxi back and managed to choose the only driver who hadn’t heard of Khao San Road.  I do pick them.

It’s 3pm – going to phone home, have a nap, try and sell my library (and buy a few new books) and just loaf around for the rest of the day.  I’m going to go out with Emma and some of her friends tomorrow and I think on Monday I’m going to go back to Kanchanaburi.  There’s no way I’m going to manage spending an entire week in Bangkok and I think I’d prefer going back to Kanchanaburi and doing some of the things I left out last time (kayaking, maybe going back to the waterfalls for a day so there’s time to climb to the top & bringing swimming shorts) and just living well (I now know where the nice restaurants are, etc).  Then back here on Thursday to finish shopping at a few markets, filling my bags with tat and getting ready to come home.

More to follow!