Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sand, please.

After the depressing Killing Fields and visits to S21, the prison where the Khmer Rouge tortured their victims, and a couple of days more sightseeing in Phnom Penh, it was time for some more lying on a beach I thought! The southern coast of Cambodia was my next destination, and although it's not famous for its cracking coastline, it should be.
A sunset. For some reason, all of them have been brilliant in Cambodia.

Some of my fellow travelers. After you drink the contents, they make for excellent beach-based fun. The bucket of course, the Asian standard alcohol receptacle, not the backpacker.

After about 5 days of this sun loving environment, it was back to Bangkok so I could then head south to, erm, some more beaches. And, relax...

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Killing Fields

The Rhmer Rouge, the political party that ruled Cambodia from 1975-1979, lead by Pol Pot intended to reduce Cambodia into a form of agrarian communism where the whole population had to work in collective farms or forced labor projects. Anyone who opposed this regime was killed, anyone who was educated was killed. This went so far as to kill people who wore spectacles, and all of their immediate family, just because it was assumed that they were clever. Estimates of the numbers of people executed tend to be around 1.5 million, which is more than Hitler managed in the Holocaust.

For most Cambodians, who on the whole are very cheery people, Pol Pot (who died in 1998 of a heart attack, still awaiting trial) is a very sore subject and, considering his rein ended only 30 years ago, the adults now are the sons and daughters of the that generation, so it's entirely understandable at it's status of taboo. There are many mass graves dotted all around the country, but one of the largest, labeled the Killing Fields is just outside of Phnom Penh.

The monument at the Killing Fields. Within are thousands of human bones found at the sight that are impossible to identify.

"Mass grave of 166 with out heads."

Only recently are members of the Khmer Rouge party being taken to trial, the surviving members of which all tend to act innocent of blame each other. Considering Pol Pot also acted dumb when he was charged it doesn't surprise me.

This is probably one of the saddest and depressing places I've ever been too and the fact that nations still engage in genocide, even today, (Dafur anyone?) is a demoralising state of affairs.

Angkor What?

One of Asia's most famous tourist destinations are the Temples of Angkor based just outside of Siem Reap. It's a huge site with loads of old Hindu temples built by various guys from about the 10th to the 12th century, the gem of which is Angkor Wat, boasting the title of "largest religious site in the world". Sadly they have all been neglected for ages and sacked by the lovely regime of the Khmer Rouge lead by Pol Pot. He sounded like a really nice fellow. It's only recently that many of the temples have gone under serious conservation efforts, as Cambodia wakes up and realises their cultural and economical worth.

Angkor Thom, one of the more run down of the temples.

Angkor Thom had 216 on these massive faces carved into it, apparently resembling King Suryavarman II the fellow who had them built, just so he could keep a good eye on his minions.

Some of the temples had been taken over by the surrounding jungle and gave a great Indian Jones vibe. Tomb Raider 2 was shot here I've been told. Great.

Angkor Wat.

Naturally, such a magical and magnificent place draws an unfathomable number of tourists every day, the place being hoarded from the beautiful sunrise to beautiful sunset. So like most cracking places I've been, the herds of people took something away from the experience, but I was one of them, so who am I to judge?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Numb Bum

From Ko Chang I headed into Cambodia, to a place called Siem Reap. Not as easy as it sounds mind you. From Siem Reap you can do days trips to Angkor Wat, an enormous collection of huge and incredibly ornate temples that is a must see, but more on that later. The journey began with a 5 hour boat and bus ride from Ko Chang with a nice and early start, next a 4 hour delay at the border sorting out visa's and what not and then another 5 hour bus ride at the other side. In this last 5 hours you travel only 156km, but because the road is such poor quality it takes an age. I don't think I've ever been on such an uncomfortable journey. Dust, mosquitoes and vibration; not the greatest combination of things when traveling for almost 14 hours straight.

Welcome to Cambodia.

The quality of all the other roads in Cambodia is pretty darn good. So why such a poor road connecting Bangkok, the international hub of these parts, through to Angkor Wat, one of Asia's most renowned tourist attractions, I hear you ask? It appears to be common knowledge that the one and only airways that does that connection via air, pays the Cambodian government a significant amount of money to delay the construction of a new road outright. Madness.

Although the trip made all the passengers grumble, especially when they try and scam you by dropping you off at only one accommodation outside of the town centre, it did create an excellent sense of camaraderie between my fellow travelers.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Ko Chang - Sunny!

East of Bangkok, close to the border of Cambodia, just off the coast is the serene island of Ko Chang. After much deliberating it was decided that this was to be the place to get thoroughly Thompsonated. From the ferry, the island looked surprisingly like Jurassic Park with it's steep jungle walls and beautiful beaches. I was expecting Richard Attenborough to meet us and show us some brontosaurus's or summit.

Lonely beach. We spend 5-8 hours each day sat in it, carefully numbering and placing rocks underwater.

After some initial drawbacks we finally got settled in this nice little place where we got a couple of bungalows between us, about 5 minutes from the beach.

Hammocks were the way forward here, this one expertly modeled by CT.

Basically the week was spent going to the beach, kicking footballs, discussing how much CT looked like Mike Ashley in his Newcastle shirt (because of his gut), avoiding lady boys, laughing at outrageous lady boys, asking lady boys if they can bench press a tank, discussing the modern day hip-hop scene, getting beating by Andy T at pool and eating and drinking. Oh, we also learned to hate the fact that Michael Duberry had invaded out beach.

See ball, kick ball, swim.

Our bungalows at night. Peaceful with a capital P.

Discussing hip-hop in it's raw form. L-R Mike Ashley, Big Foot and the Hendersons and the Original OG.

They love climbing stuff, just look at how happy they are. Not seen them grin this much since the '93 Tour of Mediterranean Medieval Lighthouses.

All the peeps from out place of residence at one of the many beach-based parties. And yes, I'm the most tanned (apart from the guy who is actually Thai).

As ever, all good things must come to an end. They both had to get back to something called "a job" otherwise they would "be fired". Dunno what any of that means to be honest. It was great to have a holiday type holiday and be settled in one place for a good while and to share that with your much-loved siblings made it an honour. Needless to say, we all had a crackin' time doing what brothers do best; laughing constantly and creating fun times out of next to nothing. It really would suck to be boring! I'll see them again in just over a month.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

International Brotherhood of Reunion

Our original plans were to travel around the southern islands of Thailand, but due to information about incredibly suspect weather from our man in Krabi (that's me) there was a massive change of logistics. Instead of the boys flying south to meet me, I was to fly to Bangkok to meet them. They next day I went to airport and demanded from the steward the next possible ticket to Bangkok. I felt like James Bond, how often to you go to the airport and demand next available tickets to somewhere?! Never! That's how often. And why? 'Cos it's already all sorted through Thomas Cook. Thankfully, I play a different game...

So, Bangkok! I arrived and located the boys without problem, they were staying on quite possibly the most touristy street in the world called Ko Sahn Road. The hustle and bustle of people trying to get as much many from the thousands of tourists as possible is basically what was going on. It was awesome to see them. The boys, not the hustle and bustle-ers.

Team Thompson, in the flesh, true to life.

We spend to next day and a half moseying around Bangkok looking at stuff; some temples, statues and monuments and whatnot, perusing the amount of bootleg and faux goods you could buy from the never-ending supply of street fenders.

One of the many Buddhist temples with surrounding fancy roofs.

"The Monument of Democracy". Ironically, the country is currently ruled by the military.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


The relatively small island of Pulau Pinang (or just Penang) lies just south of the Malaysian border with Thailand. The whole island is full of colourful temples of pretty much every major religion. That and fish. While here I definitely caught the end of the rainy season and got thoroughly drenched on a daily basis.

The view from the top of Penang hill. Cloudy. Boo-urns.

One of about a bazillion different temples. Mystically surrounded my cloud and mist.

...and chips.

The really like to test the wide-range of colours in the Dulux outdoors paint collection.

Wandering the various different quarters of Georgetown, the shops, the food courts, the water fronts and temples gave me good time planning the next step of my trip, a reunion with AT and CT. Having not seen CT since I left home (however long ago that was) and AT since April, I was getting quite excited to spend 2 weeks with my brothers amidst the sunny beaches of Thailand. Good times around the corner!

King Kong in KL

After returning to KL from Borneo with the official airline of Manchester United (the excitement alone, just seeing the huge images of Christano Ronaldo and Wazza plastered everywhere was almost too much to take), it was time for me to start heading north. It was nice to return to a place that I already vaguely knew, to re-charge the batteries after the hectic schedule of travelling about all the time in Borneo.

Not quite King Kong, but almost as hairy.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus Diving

Known more commonly as scuba diving. Oh how I love my acronyms! I know them all, even laser. Oh yes.

Right, scuba diving! Having always wanted to do it, you could go as far as a life-long ambition, I positively jumped at my first proper opportunity to try it. And what a setting to to my first set of dives! I'd found out about this place called Semporna in the fair east of Borneo, that a reliable source (who shall remain anonymous after his last piece of skeptical travel advice) declared as one of the finest dive sites in the world. In the bay around Semporna are loads of little islands and reefs to go exploring whilst submersed. My island for the day was Sibuan.

The paradise island of Sibuan. Not habited by Malaysians, but sea-gypsies, don't you know.

The first part of the day was learning the basics, more complicated than you may think, but I picked it up nice and quickly (I am an educated fellow after all). Did three dives in total over the day and despite getting a nice wet-suit sun-tan, I can safely say that it was an absolute joy to do. Saw seamlessly unending corals, copious numbers of species of fish and more turtles than you could shake a stick at, although I was stickless. Thoroughly hooked, there will be more of this before I'm done, you can be sure of that.

Our vessel for the day. In between the dives you have to chill on the surface, allowing the build up of excess nitrogen out of your body. It was such a horrible place to hang about.

I didn't have an underwater camera, but still managed to spot the stars of a Pixar film... "Attack of the Killer Sea Enemies" coming summer 2008.

The definition of grace, the turtles just glided through the water.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Jungle Boogie 2: Uncle Tan's

Another recommendation from fellow travelers was that of Uncle Tan's - a jungle homestay in Kinabatangan National Park where you go out and do jungle treks, boat safaris, night boat safaris and other such jungley adventures. Armed with insect repellent, insect repellent and some more insect repellent, off I went.

The only way to get there was an hour long boat ride.

The jungle cabins were pretty straight forward and simple, but having been in jungle environments before I thought I knew what to expect, thankfully I vaguely did. Over the next 3 days our little group went out and spotted a huge amount of wildlife including crocodiles, probiscus monkeys, macaques, wild bearded pigs, lizards and any number of insects and frogs. Sadly no orangs.

You mustn't forget your roots.

A Kingfisher chillin'.

The camp at night time. There were BILLIONS of insects.

After seeing loads of different types in vast amounts, I have concluded that anything is more hilarious when you add monkeys to it. Example: Tennis is fun, but monkey tennis is better. Monkey poker is superior to normal poker. Monkey butlers, monkeys in Hawaiian shirts, monkey cluedo (it was Professor Coco, in the cage, with the lead banana), monkeys welding, monkeys on unicycles juggling, monkeys covered in bees. Basically, take any sort of normal day-to-day act, complicated or mundane, add a/some monkey(s) and then sit back and revel in your own brilliance.

The macaque is a big nuisance, they will stealing anything you leave about and even attempt to get at stuff you would think would be impossible to get at. They'd pinch the socks off your feet given the chance. But they were hilarious to watch so I left them off. I don't have many socks left.

Man of the Forest

Borneo is famously known for being the home of the orang utan. It's quite hard to see them in the wild as they live independent and solitary lifes, only really coming together to mate or when the mother is looking after a bairn (of which they only have 3 or so in a lifetime). A lot of locals will keep them illegally as pets, so when they are reclaimed by the authorities they are generally taken to a rehabilitation centre. In this part of Borneo it's the Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary, I went and checked them out.

Tasty fruits.

At Sepilok they've got about 30 or so orang utans, teaching them skills (nun-chuck skills, computer hacking skills, bow-staff skills) so that they can be re-introduced into the wild. They feed them twice daily at various feeding platforms so that tourists can give them lots of cash and taken pictures of them (cash to the sanctuary, pictures of the apes, wouldn't work well the other way round).

Was a cracking experience to see them all swinging about doing monkey-business, as it were. Sadly the place was crawling with tourists, particularly loud-mouth followers of the stars and stripes. I don't like to stereotype the yanks, but they don't know when to shut up when on holiday (sorry Foresters). Certainly took a touch of the shine off such an amazing spectacle.

Arms were legs and legs were arms with these guys. If it weren't for the head, at times you wouldn't have a clue as to which way round they were.

In Malay, orang utan means "man of the forest". I saw an orang utan once in Amsterdam zoo. He sat there in a rubber tired with his head balanced on his hand looking bored out of his mind. They struck me then as being so human-like in their body language, facial expressions and actions, and the orangs at Sepilok were no different and more positively, not a single one appeared bored. They were so humanoid and absolutely awesome to observe.

Hi Clyde, where's Clint?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Road Trippin' in Borneo

After some thorough planning and sage advice given by fellow travelers and many friends to pass through these parts, I had decided to visit Borneo. Known for it's fantastic array of wildlife, I had to drop by. It is seen as a one of the world's hotspots for large numbers of species of all walks of life, many of which are yet to be discovered; virgin forests I believe the phrase is, so I had to check it out.
The jungles of Borneo.

I flew into a place called Kota Kinabalu and from there made lots of little stops along the road, visiting small towns and seeing some special sights along the way, most of which were part of national parks. Getting around was quite simple, local buses and mini-vans, but what seemed to happen most frequently was for a local to stop and offer me a lift. I didn't really have the intention of hitching, but they stopped anyway; a young police officer, a older doctor and his family, a stall owner, a young boy-racer. All these different walks of life were more than happy to pick up a stranger just to satisfy what came across as only innocent curiosity.

The dominant language here is Malay, but basic English is relatively common also so they would want to practice it more than anything. Mainly the topics of conversation involved Manchester United at some point (sadly...). They love them here! I'm not sure if some of them even know that they are a football team, but it seems to be the "in fashion" to have any sort Man U clothing or decorations about your person. They've never heard of the Toon though...

Kinabalu National Park was the first major stop. Mount Kinabalu stands a foreboding 4100m above sea level and is a pretty major peak to behold, surrounded by rain forest. Although I didn't actually climb it (it takes a couple of days) I did manage to do a number of jungle treks and walks, some of which involved some cool canopy walkways. Pretty magnificent stuff and good fun too.

Trooping along in the tree-tops on the nice and rickety canopy walkway.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


Kuala Lumpar (KL), the capital of Malaysia. This place is mint! After a few days here, I feel I can safely declare that. Lots to do, sights to see, food to eat and bargains to be bartered.

Malaysia just celebrated their 50th national anniversary (on the 31st of August) and they all are pretty proud about it. Having been in British hands for a considerable length of time pre-WWII and then in Japanese occupation throughout the war, it seems they were stoked when then got themselves to themselves in 1957, which is reflected in the huge number of flags on display throughout the country.

The Merdeka Square (or Independence Square) was where the countries independence was declared and nowadays it is surrounded by museum, galleries and monuments celebrating that fact.

KL's iconic Petronas Twin-Towers are, without doubt, the cities most famous landmark, spectacularly lit up at night with an almost fluorescent white light. They also starred in the film "Entrapment" featuring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Sean Connery. It was rubbish, but the towers are great.

View from the 170m high bridge between the 2 towers at the 41st floor. It took a staggering 160,000 tons of concrete for each tower. I could go on about other stats and facts, but will only bore. But did you know that the first western company to invest in war-torn Germany post-WWII was McDonalds? Not really relevant at all here though.

Malaysia: Melaka

It was a simple mission of just hopping on a bus that took me across the border into neighbouring Malaysia. Up the coast about half between Singapore and Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpar is the town of Melaka, which was my next destination for a couple of days. Melaka has a lot of history to it, involving a lot of major empires owning it at different points in history. The Portuguese, Dutch and British have all had their own time here as it is a very significant point on the map of naval trading routes.

There seemed to be a museum of some kind on every street. The National Museum of Internal Affairs, the National Museum of Taxes, the National Museum of Young Malay Nun-Chunks Warriors. And so on. Above is on of them.

Walking round the place you could see a great of different types of architecture of foreign influence as well as domestic , particulary a huge number of various religious buildings. Ambling down just one street you would pass a number of temples, mosques and churchs. Malaysia is renowned for it's great cultural diversity, the country being made up of 3 main groups of peoples; Malays, Indians and Chinese with all of their associated religions living in relative harmony.

The town square with some Dutch touches.

Melaka was interesting but quite touristy, the locals only too happy to attempt to swindle you out of some dosh. Melaka also means something quite explicit in greek if I'm informed correctly. Thankfully the Greeks didn't name it.

Me, sat in a crazy flower covered taxi bike. Very masculine.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Little India

While staying in Singapore, it was recommended to me that I reside in Little India. It's a part of the city that you can easily loose yourself in; lots of small alley ways, endless shops, loads of people, markets with a million spices. Plus, while here there was a party pretty much every night as the predominantly Muslim population celebrated the end of Ramadam, so the general feel of the place was one of merriment, of which I was made to feel most welcome.

The streets were colourfully decorated for the end of Ramadam.
Another advantage of staying in Little India was the fact that you could get an awesome curry whenever you liked (although you generally had to use your fingers to eat most of it - for some reason there must be a cutlery shortage, Sheffield's not that far is it?), or just some cheeky samosa if you fancied. I reiterate; the food here ROCKS.
One of the temples in Little India.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Singapore - the Lion City

My first taste of south east Asia was the extremely culturally diverse city state of Singapore. It's population of 4.6 million is relative to that of New Zealand's 4.2 million and yet Singapore is only 0.003% of the size. Madness!

This is a city of cleanliness, efficiency, technology and tons of good food. They have a subway system here named after me, I was delighted to find. The MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) is fast, reliable and thoroughly air-conditioned which is greatly appreciated; it certainly kicks the arse of the Underground and even (I hate to say it) the mighty Metro.

Downtown skyline.

Oh yeah, it's BOILING here. Really humid and hot. The kind of heat where as soon as you step out of the shower and you think you're clean you automatically start sweating regardless. Apparently it is actually warmer than usual for this time of year, but to come from the start of spring in New Zealand to this is quite the climate shock. It has taken a few days to get used to it, as well as billions of pints of water, but I'm getting there.

The Merlion is the national symbol of Singapore.

As you travel about the different parts of the city and through the difference quarters, you come across lots of different types of architecture, as well as different races with their associated cultures. From modern day sky scrapers in the downtown/banking area to the original British Colonial buildings. There's a Chinatown, Little India and Arab Quarter amoungst others, all with something new to discover.

So, I've landed on a new continent (taking the running total to 4) and so far it looks pretty good, plus my new life skill of mastering chopsticks is well under way. You get some tasty grub here! I get the feeling I'm really going to get on well with Asia....

Colonial, modern and even futuristic space-age architecture, all thrown in.

One perculiar place, called the Esplanade, reminded me a lot the Sage back home, but only a bit more spikey and wierd. Kind of looked like an armadillo!