Travel Blog 13; SE Asia Worst & Best Part 1

I left Asia today. Well actually I left it yesterday but due to yesterday being a day of minivans, buses, aeroplanes and layovers it all went by in such a haze that it feels like it was part of today. Plus I haven’t slept and am writing this here piece from Terminal 3 of Perth International.

You don’t need anybody to tell you that SE Asia is a gem worth uncovering, probably because these days so many 18-100 year olds (and maybe beyond) have done it that there isn’t much left to actually uncover but still do so! During my 3 month trip I spent time in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, Indonesia and Laos. Just to get the basics out of the way; barely anybody in any of these countries knows any Kung Fu/Muay Thai/Shaolin Soccer/has Jedi powers, the levels of English in all except Singapore are not a fraction as advanced as you may be lead to believe but you can still get by, food and booze are mostly cheap, the first time you use the ‘Bum-Gun’ is an unforgettable experience and if a bus ride is advertised as 3 hours long its best to assume its actually 6. Oh and they’re getting taller, seriously they really are.

So I’ve landed in Perth and I’m waiting for my flight to Adelaide (the lay-over is around 11 hours!). I’ve left Asia with an extension on the old gut, an impressive array of Mosquito bites that if you join together with dots almost spell the word ‘Dengue’, a valiant but ultimately un-earth-shattering sun tan and a t-shirt or singlet advertising a beer brand from each country; that’s Chang, Tiger (both Malaysia and Singapore as Malaysia don’t have any!), Cambodia Beer, Bintang and Beer Lao for those keeping score.

Although I’m quite literally buzzing like the aforementioned Mosquitos for Australia I will miss the cheapness of Asia, how easy it is to make snap decisions, how you can remedy the rudeness of the locals by just being rude back because they cant understand you anyway and how despite the way that most barely tip the scales at 5,4 most of the women have such phenomenal legs! Seriously its f*cking crazy!

Everybody’s travel experience is going to be different and by writing that I’ve just rattled off another traveller clique, still working on the dreads and the beard and the love I have for my morning shower hasn’t quite waned enough for me to give it up entirely just yet folks. However with that said I’m going to quickly get the Negative Nigel s*ite out of the way and then move onto what were my personal favourite things/activities in and about the countries I touched down in.

Here we go; Thais cant speak any English by and large, their obsession with their King seems sweet at first but is bizarre, overbearing, perverse and borderline unhealthy; they call him ‘Dad’, think he still lives in the ground and the water (you know, like a God), had magical powers and you can go to jail for 15 years for saying otherwise. You know less time than you get for Rape or Manslaughter. Also the traffic is a nightmare.

Malaysians have an incredible penchant for rudeness, will intentionally give you false directions, have WAY more of an incline to scam you than any other country listed (only one that I legitimately got done over in actually!), the men have a thing for spitting and the women have a thing for cracking their knuckles, they refuse to serve you anything on their menus that they cant nuke in 2 minutes but then serve it to someone who looks more like they do minutes later after telling you ‘No have’ and pretend they cant understand you when your asking them to be helpful.

Singaporeans live in a far more expensive place than the other countries listed but still take the same lackadaisical approach to customer service; Me and a friend were charged the full rate for a hostel that was only actually half finished (like getting a donut with a bite taken out of it) and when I handed my money over to a barman he disappeared with it for over 30 minutes before I had to physically stop him (as he ignored me several times) at which point he informed me, with a smile no less, that he ‘forgot’. Wouldn’t have been quite so hard to swallow if the bed wasn’t $40 and the drink almost $20; both are amounts that I’m currently willing to do things you wouldn’t normally do in order to possess by the way.

Cambodians; I really don’t have much negative to say about. They’re mostly polite, have a good sense of humour and they look phenomenal. I guess if I had to I’d say the touting (that’s lingo for ‘Tuk-Tuk! Tuk-Tuk! and ‘Cheap Price! Cheap Price!’ by the way) can get a little long in the tooth but ultimately they’re just trying to make a living and when the coffee stand owners at Angkor Watt are telling me their names are David Beckham, Mike Tyson and Darth Vader I cant help but smile.

Similar thing with Indonesia to be honest. In fact out of all the countries I had the pleasure to visit I’d say the people of Indonesia were my favourite, especially in Java. Although I did lose a perfectly good debit card to a perfectly sinister ATM whilst on Gilli T this could have happened anywhere. I guess at a push I could say that the touting folk of Bali can get a little sinister, though one did return our bike key to us that we’d dropped nearby earlier in the day and didn’t ask for anything in return. Speaking of bikes though; the roads are insane, like Gus off Breaking Bad insane.

As for Laos? Again, the language barrier is insane but frankly I didn’t even no the meaning of the word poverty or undeveloped until I touched down in this country so I feel like that needs to be kept in mind and the locals are largely pretty sweet. There is touting but not as much as Cambodia or Bali and I got particularly p*ssed off when I almost missed my flight out of Vientiane because when I asked the guy at the hostel to book my taxi for 11am he basically just…didn’t. Despite saying that he would and despite it being a 2 minute job that you can do whilst sitting down he simply didn’t. I’m basically saying the people aren’t exactly the most efficient and most of the hostels look like halfway houses and their still working on soap. So when I checked into my first hostel hoping to catch some winks the only thing I was actually in danger of catching was Pink Eye.

Okay so that’s the worst bits out of the way. To be honest they’re probably all part of the experience anyway and now we can get onto the fun stuff. Part 2 is coming later today so keep it locked!

I’m Tha Bozz and that’s my opinion.

Travel Blog 12; In Need of a Second Wind

Although it might not be The Ritz, more like The Nits, I must say that my last hostel had some surprisingly strong Wi-Fi going for it. So strong in fact that I was able to use it to catch up on the previous weekends card of boxing. Predictably enough Anthony Joshua did away with Eric ‘ Upper Mid-Card At Best’ Molina in efficient fashion but it was Whyte vs Chisora that was the real highlight. Two very good but not quite great British heavyweights trading blows for 12 straight rounds and although they may have been gassed after 5 of them and neither would have stood a chance in a title bout you cant deny that it was exciting and both guys showed more guts than a Romero marathon.

Now my mind works in mysterious ways and as one of my few readers you may wonder how and why it managed to draw a comparison between the sight of these two pugilists scraping all the way back in Manchester and my current mind state and stage of my journey. It did though and I felt inclined to write about it, that’s kind of how it works for me. The main reason for this being that, like the once mighty but ultimately underachieving Dereck Chisora at the sound of the fifth bell, I am frankly gassed and although I have the urge to keep moving forward I feel like I could use a second wind.

Now don’t get me wrong my travels are nothing like a boxing match. I don’t get paid to do it and only 3 people in the last 13 months have tried to punch me and only one of them succeeded (and that chicks hands were so dainty and soft it could hardly be considered a punch) but mainly due to some culture shocks, serious jumps in temperature, a bout of illness and the fact that I’m not a massive fan of my current location a few days ago I seriously contemplated packing up, saying ‘f*ck it!’ and heading home. I mean just because Australia have accepted me doesn’t mean I have to go.

Its true though, this writer is not a big fan of Malaysia. Thailand was great; the weather was pleasantly hot, the booze was cold and readily available. The locals ,although basic at best when it came to English, were still relatively warm and helpful and it was impossible not to meet other travellers and despite what some will tell you the country is well organised and the locals play a fair game. Singaporeans are also cool and having my own local guide and friend at hand made the country a particular highlight for me. Alternatively and I must stress that this is PURELY my own opinion derived from my own experiences but Malaysia feels like a direct paradox. The weather is sticky and suffocating, drinking is frowned upon and expensive and perhaps most distressing of all; the locals I have interacted with are flippant, rude, unhelpful and, dare I say, rather prejudice and incredibly dishonest. Oh and they spit, by God they love a good hawk and even more so when it almost hits your shoes and the sight of some 5,3 local Malay-Indian lass in KL with a pair of the fastest, hardest and most dangerously accurate fists I’ve ever seen literally giving some poor European girl the Floyd Mayweather treatment (complete with head movements, foot-work and taunting!) outside a restaurant nearly had me packing there and then. Swear to God despite the predictable size difference Whitey didn’t stand a chance and it took 3 guys to eventually pull the local girl away, one of those ‘you know its bad but you just cant stop watching’ type of scenarios! That along with the way that they pretend they cant understand you when you ask them questions, allow others to be served before you despite you being ahead in the lines, tut at you in the street and purposely block your way on pavements to try and force you onto the road all leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Oh and I once caught one guy in a hostel trying to go through my trousers (no I wasn’t wearing them!) thankfully a fellow traveller dived in as well meaning that he won’t be trying that again anytime soon and some jelly-brained chick at a bus station purposely sold me a ticket to Singapore for the wrong date forcing me to pay twice because, you know, white privilege and stuff right?

Don’t get me wrong its nothing I cant handle. Having people stare disapprovingly at me as I walk down the street and trying to block my path is eerily like what walking down the school corridors was like back in Corpus Christi High and for all the flaws the women in this country are often incredibly striking, when they aren’t Mohammed Ali reincarnated and trying to do the striking, but it does zap the soul a little. Making friends in Malaysia is more difficult as there are generally less travellers, they seem less inclined to socialise (with the exception of Penang) and as mentioned the locals just don’t want to know meaning it can even get a little lonely.

Couple this with the aforementioned intense heat of Asia, the different food and the fact that a lot of local people give off a ‘We want your cash but make no mistake you aren’t welcome here’ vibe and treat and speak to you in a manner that would have the socialists and liberals of the UK up in arms if we did it to our visitors and the whole thing has got me feeling a little disheartened.

I’m finding it harder to get up in the mornings, I walk around in directionless dazes, partly due to my British-ness but also down to past experiences I hate asking for directions or help and, for the first time in years, I’m struggling to socialise. I’ve also developed a greater sense of paranoia towards strangers and although I’ve secretly known this all along its still tough having to witness first hand that double standards and the judging of people before you know them based alone on their appearance or race is not an exclusively western thing. In fact if anything and for a number of reasons they’re worse for it here. Who would have guessed?

Now please don’t get this twisted I am not trying to discourage people from visiting SE Asia, or even Malaysia, rather just exposing a few home truths that are not going to be exposed in the brochures, on the websites or by the travel agents. You will get heat stroke, you will get sick, you will get scammed and quite a few of the people there perceive you as a millionaire who has never worked a day in his or her life (when ironically their job consists of sleeping on a desk and telling people ‘no have’ or ‘don’t know’ in response to simple questions) so in their eyes you deserve such treatment and aren’t really a human being like they are. Not always the case but often enough to make it worth mentioning. Fact is that as rewarding as it is long term travel can become oddly stressful and can tire you out and you’ll certainly find yourself going through peaks and troughs. Mainly because when things do go tits up there’s nothing you can do about it. Most times its small things that are worth just laughing about but occasionally it can throw things into chaos and the lack of empathy from the people at fault can be enraging and believe me they are usually at fault.

Metaphorically I guess I could say that this stage of my journey is like that 6th round in the fight where exhaustion is starting to set in and I need to land something good to spur me on. However as mentioned, the situation isn’t nearly that desperate or strenuous and its important to keep that mentality in mind as even through the tough times being able to travel is a privilege. It is however a personal challenge at times and like our old boys Dereck and Dillian I plan to power through and go the distance. I just hope that Cambodia is bringing a different vibe to the party. Just calling it how I see it and have experienced it as always so I sincerely hope none of the opinions in this piece have caused any offense and as previously mentioned I am not judging entire races, religions, groups or genders; just the ones I’ve met.

I’m Tha Bozz and that’s my opinion.

Travel Blog 11; The Quest for the Train Ticket

So yeah I’m in Thailand now. Have been for over a week in fact. In very much the same way as James Buckley’s character in the first Inbetweeners movie greeted the shores of Malia (which was actually Magaluff but, you know, logistics) my initial reaction was as follows;

“F*ck me its hot. Might be too hot…”

It still is an all, hot I mean. It doesn’t matter if the sky is full of sunshine, cloud or even torrential (and I do mean torrential) rainfall it is sweltering over here. Don’t get me wrong I fully expected it but the first few times you feel it are a shock to the core and all points in-between. Luckily, as mentioned in a previous post, I was met by a good friend of the family at the airport which certainly took the sting off things a bit but after an initial run-down of the ‘hood, so to speak, I was left to my own devices. In a city the size of Bangkok this is somewhat daunting but not quite as much so as you may imagine.

The reason for this? Firstly the transport links are good, like really good. Buses run regularly and often, the underground and BTS systems if anything are more reliable than the London Underground has ever been to my knowledge and even though the traffic is a slog, even on Sundays, you will get where you’re going with a little bit of patience and it won’t cost you much either. Secondly the people. Now before I go into this I want to do away with a false and shockingly common misconception that I think has probably been created by travel brochures and other marketing ploys and it kills me to do this but here goes; Thais DO NOT speak good English. Many speak non at all and although some are, many signposts and street names have not been translated. Yet despite this, by and large, the people are often still helpful. Hop on a bus and 9 times out of 10 if you tell the money collector where you want to go they’ll give you a shout when its time to get off. Ask for directions in the street and more often than not they will try and direct you and if you do happen to get on the wrong bus, minivan or boat then they’ll let you jump out and redirect you without a charge; least that’s what happened to me.

The food is awesome, as I knew it would be but not going to lie after almost 12 days of eating it I have had a mild touch of the ‘Thailand-Tummy’ and the ‘Changovers’ can get a little rough but there’s usually a lavatory near by oh and by the way, the whole low toilet with a shower spray thing is very much in around these parts. Just thought you might want to know. The nightlife in Bangkok is pretty live as well and there’s plenty of sites to see. Even with the country currently being in mourning all these aspects are still very much alive and the grand palace at night when the Royal’s come driving through is quite an amazing scene and one that you can’t help but join the locals in unison with, even though you technically don’t have to. I don’t know it just feels respectful and like the right thing to do if you know what I mean.

Only been in Bangkok so far and just got into Chiang Mai via a night train and what a mission to get that ticket it was. As I said before; getting around Bangkok may not be too difficult but it can certainly take a while. Rising early (ish) I headed to my usual market place to see if I could grab a minivan heading there, they usually take me to Victory Monument so I figured why not? No, that’s why! So that idea went begging but the guy holding down the station gave me a number of a bus that goes to an underground station that I can THEN use to get to the main train station to book my ticket.

So I dash across the street, not literally people, with traffic like Bangkok’s its just not worth the risk, to catch this bus and after a pretty tolerable wait it turns up. So in I hop instinctively. The bus gets halfway up the street before the lady giving out the tickets reveals that THIS particular bus isn’t going to the station I need to get to and that the ones that are carry the same number but are in-fact Yellow in colour. Rather than any other colour under the sun.

 What followed would not have been out of place in one of those Hangover movies. Hearing this news I was in a hurry to get off but the driver didn’t seem to into my request and the previously mentioned lady didn’t seem to understand it whilst all the while this bus was getting further and further from the stop I needed to be back at by the second. The door was open, the pavement was in leaping distance, due to the build-up the bus was slowing down a little and…yeah. Not going to lie I didn’t land as elegantly as I had envisioned and had a couple of grazes on my elbow and leg to show for it but I was out of the bus and knew now to get on the right one. Actually, as it goes, the Yellow’s stopped at a different stop just ahead of the original one but it didn’t take long for that to get pointed out so no harm done. Ten minutes later I was on-board.

This journey went on, like ridiculously, to the point where I thought we heading for the end of the earth, clearly I had forgotten about how big these ‘big’ cities really get. Honestly, I was starting to think that I’d missed the stop but every time I asked the lady she insisted that all was good. Seriously, I’d been on this thing for a while though but out of the blue when I was just about ready to consider getting off and risking it on foot the lady who gave me the ticket all of a sudden pops up behind two other standing passengers and tells me that we’d reached my destination. Seriously though I was sweating bullets at that point; I’d never been in that part of the city before and all I knew was it was a long way back to familiar territory!

So having hit the underground I got my ticket from an attendant who actually spoke very good English and was offering a lot of help. The underground, as I said is very simple though so didn’t need it but the gesture was nice. Once I got to the main station purchasing the ticket was a piece of p*ss and after all that I had beer and food on the brain; off to Khao San it was but not in the way I had envisioned.

Outside the station, shockingly enough, were a slew of taxi drivers and I had every intention of trying to flag one (meter only though, mind you) but was instead advised by a security guard that I could get there for free or at least as far as The Palace, which was close enough, using a free Shuttle Bus. So your damn right I did and once I got there I happened to witness a few members of the Royal Family passing through (kind of a big deal or it was at least for me!), got given free food and water by some volunteers and was directed the rest of the way to Khao San where, predictably, I got steaming drunk, ate more food and didn’t get back until gone 9:30am the next morning. Sweet!  

So that was my Quest for the Train Ticket and I’m happy to say that with some help from some lovely locals and a few mighty bounds of my own (literally) it was a success. Not going to lie I am not used to countries like Thailand and this whole thing is being run on a strictly day-to-day basis at the moment. Its hot, it kind of stinks in places, I’ve seen more rats than I care to count and this place has got more Thai’s than The Godfather (yeah I know, not my best but couldn’t resist). Still, its exciting and whilst still keeping my guard up I am starting to feel more comfortable.

Who knows what’s next and how long it’ll be before I hit Australia for the next main leg of Tha Bozz on Tour. All I know is I’m in Chiang Mai, I want Elephants, Muay Thai (watching not playing!) and maybe a few more sneaky bevvies.

I’m Tha Bozz & that’s my opinion.