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Surveying The Feast Ahead

A Prologue

overcast -50 °C

My Finger hovered over the send key on the Emirates website like the president contemplating the red button of destruction. A Cuban missile crisis was raging in my head. This will be the point of no return. It could be financial annihilation. Oh dear timed out, have a look at it tomorrow. However: "life's too short",” clichés to plentiful”, “you can't take it with you”, “do it while you can”. My mind is still wrestling in debate. I then pictured two conflicting scenes. The first is a typical Sunday morning scene on Edgeley precinct, Stockport. Picture abandoned shopping trolleys, broken bottles, the Sun newspaper joining other trash as it is swept away by a breeze, an incontinent drunk clutching bag of cold chips. Imagine another scene, a few weeks and a few thousand miles away. I am basking on the golden sand of a Thai beach; a beautiful woman serves me fresh swordfish, as I watch the fishing boats bobbing up and down under the inviting glare of a tropical sun. Oh Stockport, so cold and so grey. Picture me diving into Home Bargains to escape the elements. Hello warm, luscious Philippines. I am diving into the ocean to cool down and escape the elephants. I hit SEND.

Here I am now at another call centre but thankfully a job with a clear conscience. A proper company. No upselling . Really good bunch of peopple! My job is processing claims for an insurance company, and boy is it complex! It is not rocket science; it’s much harder than that! To add to the brain ache, my efforts are frustrated by the the computer system wheezing and spluttering like a very sick patient. So many convoluted quirks, idiosyncrasies and exceptions to the ever changing rules and processes. So many updates, so many things to remember. "No I don't remember the email on 23rd May 2012". My mind is a bijou flat in the heart of Hong Kong. To accommodate any more knowledge I have to turf items out. Out goes the sofa, the dining table and chairs. Any more new product briefings I’m going to sleep on the floor. Out goes the bed.

It is really sweet though that the employer finds time to entertain us you with puzzles. Yes invoice puzzles. "Why hasn't my invoice been paid?" The clues manifest themselves in a kind of whodunit. Each suspect (i.e. specialist, excess, hospital) is referenced in a series of cryptic clues provided by the invoice team. It is a bit Agatha Christie, a bit John le Carre with a touch of Dan Brown. The Nonpayment Code if you must.

It’s time to close that book for the time being. Not the most sensible thing to do in this economic crisis you may think. On the smart move scale maybe close to JFK's choice of an open top convertable in Dallas 63. It is time though. Time to surrender the senses, empty the mind and replenish the soul in Asia again. Join me a for 15 weeks through jungles, beaches, active volcanoes, hectic cities, and busy bazaars. Smell the spice, feel the heat, taste the feast and open up the Imodium with me.

FOOTNOTE: I am leaving tomorrow night. Great leaving do on Friday and Saturday. Passepartout (Joe) is joining me mid February which is great. Safety in numbers yet adventure guaranteed. Looking for sea snakes in the Andamans Joe?. Remember the Coked up nutter in Zanzibar Joe? Jumping on trains in Italy Joe? WHAT NEXT?

Posted by gavinbose 01:27 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

ALL THAT GLITTERS............

All you can Souk Middle Eastern Buffet

semi-overcast
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I have almost commited a had trick amongst faux pas on Dubai Transportation alone. I am however safe now as the authorities can't find me here in Kolkata. Yes I took the Metro from Dubai Airport, the most luxurious of transportation. Those we as until I realised that I was in Gold (first class). The following day I took the ladies only carriage and was told politely to join the mixed sex infidels in the rest of the train. The lovely sequined turquoise dress I was sporting clearly fooled nobody. The following day I saw a curious sign outlawing the transportation of fish on the Metro. Good job I noticed that as I had visions of having to hide the live tuna I had intended to purchase under my t shirt. Can you imagine having to explain the flapping about?

Dubai was just an after thought to the trip but am I glad I went. I was expecting a Middle Eastern Vagas or a gold plated Blackpool but there is much, much more to the place. For one thing, despite staying in a budget hotel, it was in a prime location. It was right in the big of the Gold Souq principally, but also near the perfume Souq, the spice Souq and more excitingly the kitchen utensil souq. Shop after shop of glittering jewelry. There is even a machine dispensing jewelry, anything from 80 quid a shot. You almost need sunglasses to protect you from the bling glare. For me though, the main draw was the close proximity to the atmospheric creek. In the past the Creek had been heavily dredged to allow for the vessels and Dow boats access to transport their ware. These fantastic wooden boats still line the Creek. For the princely fee of 18p you can get an old wooden boat across to the other side to see the immaculately and lovingly preserved old Dubai. 19th century merchant’s houses and forts have been turned into restaurants and forts.

You can never escape the dramatic backdrop of New Dubai. New York skyscrapers dominate the surroundings, including of course the 850 m Burj Khalifa. Everything is big in Dubai, including the biggest shopping centre in the world, right next to the aforementioned tower. The most impressive thing about the Trafford Centre for Sheiks was the huge Aquarium slap bang in the middle of it all. Apparently there are more than 400 types of sharks and rays alone.

Also crammed into my trip were a visit to the Arabian nights style Madina and the modern madina in the middle of skyscraper city. On the coast, best appreciated via the monorail is the staggering feat of engineering which is the palm. This is a mini city of a man made island literally shaped to look like a palm leaf. Before you ail rush out to get a mortgage though consider the fact that after only a few years it is sinking and the breakwater surrounding it is creating pretty smelly stagnant water. Guess Ill stick to Stockport. I even managed to don bathing burkher and sit on the beach overlooking the mega expensive Sail hotel, the one you never see on lastminute.com. All in all a great place for a stopover. The people have been very courteous to me. I have not been executed, let alone arrested. This is always a bonus.

You can almost roll pastry on the streets of Dubai, it is so clean. I wouldn't recommend it in Kolkata, unless of course you are an Imodium junky. So I arrived on the Saturday morning and was greeted by a chap ho has been in the service of my aunty and Uncle Gori and Nilhu for 23 years. The guy has 2 alternative first names, both are great, depends on the mood. He can be either Ram or Mighty. He is however quite a small chap and he has no horns. He greeted me as if he was on an arctic expedition, as was everyone else at the airport. It is their winter despite it being like a very pleasant English Spring.

I have now been in Kolkata for a few days and am having a good relaxing time visiting family and chilling out. This morning I visited a great aunt. She is a real Anglophile as she lived there for a few years. She is 87, a little frail but still her mind is very active. Wonderful character. Always reminiscing about the UK. I did worry though when I rang her up and she didn't recognise me. Babbling on in Bengali I thought she had forgotten the perfect English. Maybe a way of saying go away, your boring t and I don't want you round here. Or maybe she has lost it. I then realised that I was talking to the maid. Anyway she is fortunately still active although she has not been too well lately. Still finds time to do charity work for the Rotary club.

There was a communication issue when I took a taxi from the metro station to visit the 200 year old Park Street cemetery. "Park Street Cemetery". I announce. "Chemistry Street" he replies. No "Park Street Cemetery". "Ah, Chemical Tree". I decided to get off the taxi, get directions and walk, despite the implied risk of a biochemical hazard

I saw both sets of Aunties and Uncles including Roma and Tapan. They have a servant Deba, who is effectively like a surrogate son. He in turn has a 14 month old boy who they are now doting over like a surrogate grandson. Unlike many Indian kids his age he is not selling souvenirs’. Cliche alert - not true, just a gratuitous joke.

My family is spoiling me rotten. I am also getting to go out. The night I arrived I went to a wedding reception of my cousin's friend who has just managed a statuesque Parisian. She is so tall that I couldn't see her face although I believe she was beautiful. After that party there was another party full of arty and acting types. This included an artist, music producer, actress and film director. The film director makes low budget Tarentinoesque movies. No doubt a lot of violence interspersed with a lot of banal dialogue about the Chennai quarter pounder Chapatti Royale with cheese.

My cousin is a guy who has done really well for himself in the finance sector. I am meeting him and his boss for a drink at the Saturday club.
Whilst there I am g oing to air my views on the world bank and the post liquidity Tokyo Debenture Market.
Signing off. Stay tuned unless of course I become a vice president of the bank.Signing off.

Posted by gavinbose 02:23 Archived in India Comments (0)

Film and Faith

A Bavarian in Bishnipur

sunny 25 °C
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People have bladders, some more slack than others. UK cinema owners simply do not recognise this. 30 + years ago you were awarded a piss break half way through the move, although not the case now, even though they sell blockbuster sized and priced coke before the film starts. Fortunately this is not the case in India. No need to sit cross legged during the important plot exposition. "And the murderer is...". No can't hang on any longer. Need to go.

In the UK you get more trailers than a caravan park and countless commercials before the film starts. In India this lasts a mere 10 minutes and the intermission is a sufficient 5 minutes. Over my many trips to India I have exhausted most of the museum experiences, anything from the toy museum to the History of Head Shaking From Side to Side museum. I don't often like seeing a movie on holiday as I usual feel that it doesn't relate to the travel experience. This time I however saw 2 Indian flavoured moves. Firstly I saw life of PI, about the best boy stranded on life boat with Bengal Tiger movie that you will ever see. I also saw the less impressive though still entertaining Midnight Children. This had children born on India's independence as a story backbone. The "who made this chutney" scene was far fetched I must say. I did note that a flash of breasts in one scene was obscured by a censor imposed opaque blob on the screen. No doubt when Basic Instinct was shown a huge shower screen was pulled across the cinema.

To add to the movie experience I picked up some DVD's. There is a guy openly selling the latest Hollywood releases on his market stall. All for 65p. These perfect pirates even come with a guarantee. He will even show you a movie clip on his portable player. I must admit being conned though. I had selected Lincoln, hoping it would be a gentle tale of the Fenland folk and that wonderful East of England Cathedral city. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered it was about some American President who got shot or something and ended slavery.

Finally I got to the Saturday club, a place full of colonial splendour. You can imagine in days gone by Major Foreskin Snotrag Jones discussing the colony with Admiral Flatulent Twatty. "Bloody savages the lot of them". But these "savages' have done good for themselves with a lot of hard work and innovation. My cousin and his friends are all successful business men. All seem to work 12 hours a day in high profile roles. Some are involved in buying and selling, finance, whilst one guy owns an engineering firm. "So what do you do for a living" they ask me? I am always tempted to make something up. "I used to be the global Marketing Director for a leading FTSE Suppository business but the bottom fell out of the market"

"Why are you not visiting us in Lucknow/Pune? Do you not like us?" asked a relative. Most of the family are fortunately in Kolkata, although some are 1 day plus away on a train. Travel on trains is a way to really see the real India. It can also be a very dusty and draining experiences. I made my excuses. "I would love to come but I have a touch of Leprosy". As a break from Kolkata instead I opted for a couple of days away in Bishnipur. This small, semi rural town is famous for its impressive 18th century terrocotta temples. I took a taxi across the congested arteries of Kolkata, estimating that the 45 minute journey knocked a day off my life. After arriving at chaotic is Howrah station, I took a mere 4 hour trip (anything under 7 is a short journey in India). I was then thrust apparently into old world India. The narrow, dusty streets of Bishnupur are lined with ramshackle corrugated iron shops, dilapidated houses (some made of mud), oh and the odd cow. There is hardly a car in sight. Mainly it is just cycle rickshaws, bicycles and the occasional motorbike. And very rarely a western tourist.

The Kolkata travel agent had booked me a room. I can imagine in a brochure it would have read "delightfully rustic" . I would have said "delightfully rancid". Student dorms accommodation dominated the ground floor of the establishment. The students, who had clearly not seen many foreign tourists treated me as some kind of celebrity. They also wanted to practice their English. They can now say "that curry was a real ring stinger". The first floor is the hotel, to which I was the only guest. I did have to share my prison cell of a room with a family of Geckos. They are cute, fly munching creatures though. No problem with them. They are not repulsive or aggressive like cockroaches, spiders or car sales people. Aggression on my first night seemed to stem from a fight I heard outside between a stray dog and a monkey. No worse than Edgeley precinct though.

Even an ape would have found the bed hard though, the tatty mattress gossamer thin. So what the air was clean. My pollution cough had instantly abated after arriving. This was the simple charm of old India that I first experienced 16 years ago. I recall settling down for sleep, perversely happy that I was staying somewhere with such character. The lights and the fan worked, although the latter at only one speed, airplane propeller fast. The first night I woke up to use the loo, hitting the light switch. There was then a huge spark as all the power shorted on my floor. THIS IS INDIA.

As if to compensate for electrical failure, my host, the hotel manager was the star. His name roughly translated means clean friend (endless euphemisms with that name). As the only guest I was treated like a king. Excellent food was served in my room. He even took me on the back of his motorbike for a tour of the temples.

I always seem to be an eccentric magnet on my travels. For the duration of the 4 hour train journey back to Kolkata I was chatting to one such individual. The colourful Sari, Bindi and fluent Bengali betrayed her German routes. I must admit I was trying to feign a coma whilst she gave me a multi faith dissertation on worship and spirituality. Unfortunately for her my Zen receptor was empty. I did contemplate feigning a coma or even jumping from the train. What was more interesting for me was her background, which I had to prize out of her. Just the usual story of young male Hindu dance instructor, headhunted by a Munich dance school to teach in Germany. Dance instructor falls for pupil, lures her back to India (kolkata and latterly Chennai). They marry. Couple split up after having one child. Husband goes back to Germany to teach. Wife goes native in Chennai for 25 years.

So I survived the journey. Back to Kolkata for a couple of days. Next time I will be staying at the families ground for flat, which is theirs again after finally being able to evict the squatting tenants, who with a little help from the corrupt former communist West Bengal Government m have been able to elude rental payments for a staggering 40 years. But that's India. Corruption knows no political, class, caste or status boundaries. It is something in the DNA.

I was sad to say my goodbyes although excited that the adventure was to continued. My Aunti Gori accompanied me to the Airport with a package to take on the flight bound for Bangkok.

To be continued................

Posted by gavinbose 04:57 Archived in India Comments (0)

THAI A YELLOW RIBBON

ROUND THE OLD BANYON TREE

sunny 32 °C
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Sweaty palmed, my chest beating into my ribcage like a locomotive engine. Standing in line at Bangkok customs was an agonising eternity. The thump of the stamp sparked my imagination. Did it foretell the bang of the judges hammer? "Guilty". I had seen too much banged up abroad?. Should I break off the queue and flush the evidence down the toilet?. "Next". I look from side to side. No he means me. I walk forward. I fumble with my passport. The sound of the customs stamp. Successful entry gained. A sigh of relief I have made it I have taken the sickly sweet Bengali sweets that my auntie had given me into the country.

Only joking. Entry to Thailand all ran smoothly. No death sentence commuted to life following a trumped up charge so far. I arrived at Bangkok DM Airport on time and jumped on the train from the airport bound for Ayuthia, former capital of Siam. This place is brimming with a number of 17th century (and older) temples. This town is circled by a meandering river. The historical heart of town is a UNESCO history park which is pleasant to negotiate via cycle (which I did do). 3 of the temples I also reached via boat trip.

On route to Ayuttia I was chatting to a Burmese chap who had lived in Thailand for 37 years. He had just dropped his wife off at the airport where she was to return to Burma/Myanmar to be with their 6 children. He couldn't hide the delight of being a free man, free to explore the massage parlous and bars. He told me his occupation was sweet roti vendor. He had parked up his motorcycle and confection enabling side car at the train station. He gave me a lift on this contraption the 3 miles or so into town. Prizing one finger at a time from a bar on the sidecar and after a Valium or 2 I went looking for accommodation. I managed to find somewhere clean, safe, cheap, in a good location. Bloody hell though, was it hot that night. Anyway I had a good time and could not have timed it better as it was the Chinese New Year Celebrations. The streets were decorated with ornate candles, streamers etc. There was live music. Best of all there was a huge strip of food stalls on show to sample. This included a very appetizing selection of deep fried bugs.

The next stage of the journey was a minibus to the mega city of Bangkok. This is the eye opening city with something for everyone and I mean everyone. Its a pretty exhausting concept of a place. Having been I started low key and stayed a night in a really nice city park, a mini central park if you like surrounded by skyscrapers. You never stray from the unusual though. I saw a huge lizard jumping out of the bushes in the park one day, the other day a prostitute and another time a ladyboy. What next, Lord Lucan? For a couple of days I explored on boats, the MRT (metro) and skytrain. Getting lost is the way to do it as you end up discovering places like riverside, china town, various fish markets, obscure temples, neon lit seedy areas by accident. I took a gamble and stayed in an immaculate new hostel. So immaculate that the dorm rooms had not officially opened although one person had and was checking out the day I arrived. I took a gamble with the 90% assumption that I would be the only one staying in the spacious A/C room. The gamble paid off.

To further temper my exposure to Bangkok, after 3 days I checked into the Nasa Vagas hotel in another part of town where I had arranged to meet Joe. For less than 8 quid a night it was pretty luxurious. The hotel has apparently 700 rooms. After that experience though I decided that small guest houses are the way forward. It took a full 90 minutes to check out. That was after threatening to demand an extra free night B&N

Fortunately, like me, Joe appreciates good SE Asian street food. This is very tasty, very cheap and unlike the equivalent Indian street food does not have to be drowning in grease or mean that you are playing Russian roulette with your bowels. The proprieter of our food shack of choice introduced himself either as a current policeman or former policeman. He was happy to point out his pistol in his holster. There you are. Free security thrown in and great food to boot. Ronald McDonald never carries an oozi

I decided that I like Bangkok. There are so many different facets to the place, so many nooks and crannies to explore. A vibrant, colourful place night and day. Stunning food, temples women, night life. Lively markets. Dodgy, seedy, inviting, scary. It is the campest country in asia; 50 shades of gay. It is however like Kolkata a car exhaust of a city. This is why we didn't stay too long and instead took a minibus and boat to the island of Chang, several hours SE of Bangkok. this is one of the biggest islands in Thailand. The sandy beaches and palm trees have dense cropped jungle as a back drop. The wildlife occasionally pops in to visit tourists and locals alike. I saw a snake at one resort. One of the locals tells me a python gate crashed a meal of his. I even found a baby scorpion our room. Should I say ex baby scorpion after I introduced my shoe to him? Dotted on the West coast of the islands are a number of resorts. The marine life is excellent hence a full day snorkeling.

Fortunately planning laws are very strict and there are now high riSe hotels on the beach. We stayed 2 nights in a typical back backers haunt, Lonely beach, although it wasn't so lonely. The night was good, nicely balanced. Lots of restaurants, life music, and one or two places selling cakes that Mr Kipling would not approve of. After that we took the bus again to the former fishing village of Bang Bae. Extremely picturesque. Token fishing boats boats around. The wooden stilted houses line the piers, many of which are restaurants or guest houses. One is even a hospital. I even contemplated making myself ill so I could stay and be a resident. We stayed in such a guest house. A basic room although from my window I could see dawn light the ripples;es on the water with a velvety hue. Pretty dead at night although we ended up drinking Hong Thong ( the local spirit) with the locals and the Thai tourist. The last stop on Thai was a resort by a creek. This was a relaxing shack in the woods, with a walkway leading to the glorious beach. Whilst at this resort Joe picked up a lovely souvenir of a fine for not wearing a crash helmet. I hired a push bike although the loose handlebars gave up before my legs had a chance to when faced with a ridiculous climb.

After almost a week on the beach it was time to cool off and head for them there hills. This was via another night in Thailand

Posted by gavinbose 19:51 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

THE DIESEL DISCO TO CHAING MAI

SHARED BATHROOM I'M AFRAID

sunny 33 °C
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"Where is the room?'. In draining heat in the jungle village, after several hours of sweaty trekking jungle the guide gestured towards a shared hut with granite hard beds. "Where is the toilet?". The guide pointed at a hole in the ground. "Where is the bathroom?'. The guide nodded towards the moderately flowing river.

This was alfresco accommodation, far away from the rigours of Bangkok. But how did we get there? We took an overnight sleeper train. It was supposed to be 14 hours but it took 16. The AC was a bit over zealous and it was a bit chilly that night. The buffet car was glowing with heat and energy that night however. Karoke was playing all night. Lots of drinking and dancing of the kind you would not see on a Virgin train. The star of the show was this senior policeman who was partying till the early hours, gun in holster and getting his picture taken with every westerner around. I was happy to observe this jolly spectacle, however several staff members had to talk me out of jumping train after the 3rd time airing of Gangam style. North Korea has a good motive to invade South Korea for that punishing ditty.

I got up early the morning after to observe sunset over the undulating verdant hills. Sipping my coffee I looked around and noted that the Buffet car doubled as the hangover carriage. At 11.30 we arrived at our destination Chaing Mai. Although the 2nd biggest city in the country is a place that everyone seems to like. Infact it is one of my favourite Asian cities. It is less frantic than Bangkok. A raging torrent of traffic wages around the ring road, however the compact historical centre is leafy, dotted with wonderful temples, cobbled streets and ideal for cycling (which we partook in). It is a big city with a small town, laid back feel to it. You never know what you will find when cycling. We came across a major celebration at one of the temples. Food and drink was flowing. A wedding I assumed. I was still puzzling as to what the occasion was when we were dragged into the celebrations and practically ordered to tuck into the food. So much joviality. some of the locals took photos. Finally mystery resolved when I spoke to an English speaker. "So what actually is going on here?". "Oh its a funeral". The dead in Thailand know how to party.

At the funeral we even came across a brit, a brummie woman who was also dragged in. After a 5 minute conversation she announced that she had come to Thailand to find herself. At the same venue a German woman was scratching her head over the map and was physically lost. We put the 2 ladies together - the pan European lost and found duo and made are way before a life story kidnapped the day.

Of course most people come to Chaing Mai for a jungle trek which we did. This was all done as a convenient package. It included 2 full days of trekking. The final day was composed of a short walk, bamboo rafting (perfectly relaxing) and an elephant ride. The guide was excellent, very informative, with a strong echo angle. It transpired that he was a champion of organic farming in Thailand. Prince Charles pop over you leach dodger.

There was an international bunch of tourists (much younger than Joe and I) including a young Dutch couple. "So what do you do for a living?" I enquire. We are both Barristers I thought they said. "So if I get into trouble when someone plants drugs on me you will set me free" I joke. Puzzled expressions. "We are Barritzas. We work at a coffee shop". At least a good cup of coffee on death row is guaranteed.

As for the accommodation, it beats the Hilton hands down. The first night I quickly went to sleep following natures lullaby. Frogs, cockerals, pigs and other undisclosed sounds joined in on the chorus. On the 2nd night someone had left the light on I noted as I nipped to the toilet at 3am. No torch required as I noted the moonlight bathing down on us. I looked above at the nights sky. Why do you need 5 star when you have all the stars in the universe.

Finally we waved goodbye to Thailand but not before we had a farewell meal with some friends made on the Trek. We splashed out and went for an unlimited sushi bar. The most complicated meal in my life. Witness the stack of 10 plates and the appearance of liver and prawns in the boiling soup that had been placed with no finesse.

Goodby Thailand and hello Indonesia

Posted by gavinbose 03:08 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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