Sunday, 3 May 2015

Untitled

Before I start droning on, I'd just like to point out that the strange lettering in my posts is beyond my control. I downloaded an app for my travels, knowing that I couldn't do what I wanted with just an iPad. It's called 'Blogsy,' and isn't bad except that it takes matters into its own hands. Downloading my photos should be in cinch in theory, except that it seems to choose the images it wants. Of course the images that I want don't seem to turn up. I'll just have post them on Facebook.


Went to Angkor Wat today. I really didn't know what to expect, but, apart from it being very touristy, it was absolutely astonishing.

Things got off to a bad start. I set the alarm on the iPad and went off to sleep, having booked a Tuk-tuk for 5 in the morning, so that I could see the famous sunrise over the main temple. I woke up and looked at the time. It was 6.45; somehow the slide thing for am and pm was on pm, when I distinctly remember setting to am. It must have slipped back without me noticing as I set the rest of the time. Rushing downstairs, I found my driver, who had been waiting patiently since 5.


We set off on the twenty minute drive and were soon in a very pleasant suburb, which then became a tree lined avenue. Monkeys frolicked? gamboled? or whatever it is that monkeys do. Couldn't tell you what sort of monkeys, as I'm no expert on primates, only being able to positively identify chimpanzees and American Christian Fundamentalists.

We came round a bend and there it was. The big, famous temple, with the pine cone shaped spires. It's enormous. There's a Stone walkway of a good 400 metres, which approaches the huge wide facade, which must be getting on for the width of Versailles. On arriving, this turns out to be just the first part of something much bigger. Passing through the central gate reveals another walkway which is possibly even longer.

Buddhist monks were pretty well represented and like everyone else were taking lots of pictures. Everywhere you look, there is something of interest. The only other place I've been which has such a powerful feel, vibe or whatever you want to call it is Stonehenge.

I wandered around for an hour or so and climbed the incredibly steep steps to the upper levels. I don't have a head for heights, so took it gingerly. Although it was only about eight thirty, it was already getting hot. After an hour, the 1.5 litre bottle of water I'd brought along was nearly gone. I tipped the remainder over my head, which was like a hot shower.

Back to the Tuk-tuk and on to the next temple. Maybe it's my imagination, but I kept seeing similarities between these structures and the pre-Colombian temples of Central America. There are lots of faces carved into the stone which had the same chunky, intimidating stare that you see in pictures of Inca and Aztec sites. Even the buildings had a similar look, with central stairways up the main edifice. One thing's for sure; the South American boys didn't share the meditative and philosophical ideas of the Hindus, who built the first Angkor temples, nor those of the Buddhists who appropriated the place a few centuries after it was built


Drove to temple after temple and finally decided to have a break for lunch. There are restaurants scattered around the 550 square mile site; this one had a roof with open sides and lots of fans. It turned out to be only 10.30.

There are young kids, normally girls, everywhere trying to sell you stuff you don't need. One girl came up with some postcards. She was about 12 and had masses of personality. 'You wanna buy postcards?' I said that I wasn't really interested. 'But If I sell cards, I can go to school in the morning, get a good education.' Compared to some of the kids I've taught in France, she, and several of the other kids I've come across would, in 'normal' circumstances be destined for great things.

One girl told me that if I didn't buy her wares, she'd cry. 'Go on then.'

'I've changed my mind.' Good banter, much better than what passes for repartée in French schools, the ubiquitous: 'Quoi?' These kids can all speak passable English.

You just hope that they fulfill their potential and don't end up as prostitutes.

Walking past a shrine, I saw a monk sitting just in front of the Buddha. He was playing with a telephone and smoking a Winston Light. There was something of the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland about him. I said hello and he invited me up to join him in his ten words of English. We tried to communicate and he chain smoked his pack of Winstons, interrupting the basic conversation, from time to time to ask me for a light.

I was unable to pick up any of the finer points of the Theravadic tradition

At that point the elephants turned up, something I wasn't expecting. You can rent an elephant to do the temple tour. It must be many years since I last saw an elephant in the flesh, but they seemed a lot smaller than I remember. They were Indian elephants, but maybe there's a Cambodian sub-species built in proportion to the human population. Even compared to the Thais, the people here tend to be tiny. I'm a giant by comparison.


Near the hotel is a road sign which says: 'Beyond.' Don't know what it says on the back.


 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Angkor away.

Flew to Siem Reap yesterday, which is close to Angkor Watt. I was expecting it to be a small, sleepy town, a sort of Asian equivalent of Knock in Ireland, or Heavies, sorry, Lourdes, whose only raison d'etre is to accommodate the tourists/pilgrims/nutters who visit.

Not a bit of it. It's a city of 300,000 people. For a country decimated by the Khmer Rouge, it's amazingly upbeat. I smile gets you a long way, even with Tuk-tuk drivers and prostitutes - something of a shock for someone living in one of the least smiley countries in the world. You hear 'I will survive' on every sound system. Even the maimed victims of land mines, (there are still a lot lying about), have big grins. Fair play to them. (I really ought to rephrase that penultimate sentence, but what the hell).

 

 

 

Getting in wasn't easy. I suspect that the French influence is responsible for the neurosis with useless pieces of paper. It took an hour to get through customs, with lots of ridiculous forms to fill in. I had some photos taken in Penang, as these were required for entry. On arrival, I couldn't find them anywhere. No problem. On top of a the 30$ visa fee, I was charged 2$ extra. Nobody took my a picture, but that seemed to be OK.

The 30$ really was 30$. The local currency, the Riel, is hardly ever used, apart from small change, a bit like the bon-bons you used to get in Italy at the time of the Lira. The Khmer Rouge abolished currency, along with glasses and laughing. There are now the usual proportion of four eyed folk and lots of laughing, and the dollar somehow slunk in as the principal currency.

After the decadence of Penang, this is very different. Like Thailand, there are Tuk-tuk drivers everywhere. I guy pulled up, this evening on his small motorbike, which had an entire bar on the side of it. Just about any cocktail you like for 1.50$

Guess what this place is called.

Mobile cocktail bar.

 

Walking down the main strip: Pub Street, I was accosted over and over by Tuk-tuk drivers and prostitutes. The girls actually surrounded me at one point and grabbed hold of me. Some of them look very young indeed.

Of course the reason I'm here is to see Angkor Watt which is only 10km away. (I fall into the tourist/nutter category.) I've booked a Tuk-tuck for 5 in the the morning to catch the legendary sunrise and hopefully get my first memorable shots of the trip. I seem to be doing well at the moment for must see places, having done the Mesquita in Córdoba in November.

The Pyramids and the Taj Mahal go to the top of the list.

I just hope Angkor Watt lives up to the hype. These things can often be disappointing; the Mona Lisa, for example, looks just like the postcards outside The Louvre and the Leaning Tower of Pisa is so familiar that it's a real anticlimax. Maybe the Leaning Pizza of Tours is better.

It really is blisteringly hot here. I went out this morning and finally fitted myself out for the climate with a pair of shorts and a polo shirt, both bearing famous logos, but, I suspect made either in China or locally.*

I realised this morning what it is that is so appealing about the people of south east Asia. They don't take themselves very seriously, unlike some places I could mention. There are jokey things all over the place. A restaurant in Penang called 'No Eyed Deer' and a bar here which proudly trumpets: 'Encouraging irresponsible drinking since 1986.'

Passed a restaurant this morning advertising 'Gordon Bleu.' Betty's brother perhaps.

Night gives the place a completely different aspect. Everything is lit up, less traffic, apart from Tuk-tuks, and lots of people, including locals, doing a sort of passeggiata.


Before

After

Tuk-tuk driver.


*I hate clothes with logos, but here there was no choice and the shirt was a beautiful green, my favourite color. It ain't easy.

 

 

 

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Penang

I've been on the small island of Penang now for nearly a week. Known as 'Little Singapore,' it's the sort of place that normally, I would loathe; a consumerist pressure cooker, with huge shopping malls, endless luxury hotels and massive, (but well designed), tower blocks everywhere, not to mention the Porsches and Ferraris. Us Europeans (and you too America), look like the poor relations which we are becoming. At bars, the one word I've overheard repeatedly is: 'percentage.'
Strange, but I really like it. In spite of all the bustle and frenzied activity, the people are remarkably laid back.

On the waterfront.


Not that there aren't any bargains. Have eaten a few times now at a great Indian restaurant, which is ludicrously cheap and looks like what you would expect to find in India. No flock wallpaper here. No wallpaper at all in fact. One of the cheery owners is a remarkable looking man; very tall and as skinny as a rake. Indians stand out here. They seem more exotic looking for some reason.

On one of the walls is a poster of a very lurid hue, which at a distance you would guess being some Hindu deity. On closer inspection, it turns out to Disney's Snow White, Grumpy and co.

The restaurant cat was a formidable looking beast. I speak reasonable cat, but this guy was scary - looked like a biter. We soon became best pals though when I gave him my fish-heads. (His portrait is on my Facebook page).

One of the people I've been hanging out with is a pretty Japanese girl called Sanae. Her English is pretty rudimentary. At the wonderfully named Mr Pot's,' she looked at the menu: 'What is Le Monty?' 'The what?' Turned out it was lemon tea.
I mentioned my Japanese sounding name: Fuké. When I lived in London, I once got a letter, entirely in Japanese, except for the telephone number. I called them and they explained that they were a new Japanese restaurant. They'd gone through the telephone book and sent invitations to the opening to everyone with Nipponesqe sounding names. I'm a sort of Smith equivalent in Japan.
Mr. Pot. A good breakfast place with an even better name.



Went to 'Chinahouse' a couple of nights ago. A gigantic bar. You walk down what must be near to 100 metres of bars, chill areas, a well stocked library, lotus pools and suchlike. Finally, got to the bar and concert area: Jazz Night, I wasn't expecting it to be my cup of tea.

It was brilliant.
The band were great musicians, particularly the bass player. A girl singer did a few numbers with them, she was pretty good, but the guy who followed was great; sort of Marvin Gay/Al Green style.
On these occasions, I've been driving, as Tapa had a stroke in August and is still walking with a stick.There are few things more pleasurable than driving through a city at night, especially this one, which as a city of light would put Paris to shame. Nîmes somehow doesn't do it for me.
The music bar, Chinahouse.
 
 
The boys in the band.
 
 
Chinahouse corridor
Drove past a sea food restaurant today. Their rather extravagant claim was that 'if it swims, we've got it.' So that's sorted. I was wondering where I could get a decent platypus sandwich.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

A rainy day in old Chaweng Town.

The weather was rainy and overcast again today, so I decided to have a look round a bit more. Went out with my camera to the beach which is close by. Things got strange immediately.

Firstly, I couldn't see properly; my vision had gone all blurry. Having lived so long in France, I'm as prone to hypochondria as everyone else. It took a second or two to realise that I wasn't having some sort of seizure. Just having left the air conditioned confines of the hotel, my glasses had steamed up. However much I polished them, they just steamed up again. Had to wait until they got up to ambient temperature before I could see properly.

Looked around the beach and decided to take a few shots. Unfortunately, my camera had the same problem. Retreated with half a dozen blurry images.

So, what to do? Holiday resorts are never at their best in inclement weather. I wandered down the main strip where I saw several tourists with baseball caps that said: 'Dope.' Prediliction or autobiography, we can only guess, although there was a guy sitting on a chair at the side of the road who enquired whether I might be interested in cocaine or marijuana every time I passed. He didn't seem to say this to many people. Do I really look like some super annuated dope-head?

The sequence of shops goes roughly: Tattoo parlor and body piercing, tee shirt shop, Thai Massage, holiday tat boutique, Seven Eleven (there are millions of them), tours of the island, currency exchange, nail bar and gaudy paintings. It then repeats ad infinitum.

It was either a tattoo or a massage.

At this point I noticed a street seller with the aforementioned funny looking fish on a barbecue. Had one of those as a quick midday snack and went in search of the perfect massage.

In the West, we have a very dubious view of Thai massage parlours, or any other massage joint, for that matter. Here, they look like a mixture between very upmarket hairdressing salons and health spas, which, I suppose, is essentially what they are.

The first one just across the road was full up, as was the second. At this point, I came across some Francophones, who were asking themselves the same question: 'where's the rub?' They suggested a place further along which looked good, so I followed them.

It turned out to be a very posh looking place, which of course was also nearly twice as expensive as the others. I booked for a back, shoulder and head massage. I was led to a comfortable and rather dark cubicle, with a pristine pillow and mattress sort of thing.

What I was expecting was a relaxing and soothing 40 minutes.Thai massage isn't like that, at least it wasn't here. I was pulled, kneaded and poked for the duration. Most of it was quite painful, especially when the masseuse forced her elbows under my shoulder blades. This caused every nerve ending in my body to scream in protest.

It has to be said though, that when it finally came to an end, I felt great. When I left, I did something which I've never really done in my life. I walked really, really slowly. It took me 15 minutes to get back to the hotel, when it would normally have taken 5. The Thais have a word for this phenomenon, hold on a sec, it'll come to me: 'relaxed' was what I was, and still am. Had a shower and went out like a light, only for about 45 minutes, and awoke feeling refreshed and revitalised.

More fish this evening, though not at the same bargain basement price. A large barbecued white snapper in chilli and honey sauce with a salad and of course, a beer. Had so much fish that for some inexplicable reason I keep thinking of Dougal in 'Father Ted.' Imagine an Irish accent: 'Oh yes Ted, I love fish. If I have any more, I'll probably turn into a big old fish meself.

To digest my meal, decided to explore the part of town on the other side of a quite sizeable river. This was completely different. There was an enormous bar, really huge, called the Reggae. Outside was a thirty foot high Les Paul guitar sitting on marijuana leaves. The whole thing lit up. It looked like something out of a theme park for old hippies. I'd found the nightlife area.



It also transpired that I'd stumbled across the red light district. Around this huge, modern club were loads of rather dingy bars full of young women. 'Herro, you wanna come in? Where you from?' I was nearly physically dragged in a couple of times. One bar was called the 'Boom Boom.' Basil Brush was sitting there enjoying a beer, surrounded by girls. There's stardom for you.

It was still quite early in the evening, so business was slack. I chatted to a few of the girls and beat a retreat back across the river. I ordered a beer and noticed that the guy had a stock of some exotic looking fruit, so I ordered one. It's called Dragon Fruit and frankly, didn't have a great deal of taste. Looked good though.

Dragon Fruit.
 
 
 
 
Peeled Gragon Fruit.


By this time it was about 10, so I decided to have one last beer. While I was sitting on a café terrace, some Swiss people I'd run into a couple of days before came walking past. We got chatting and they invited me back to their bungalow for a drink. Arriving at their place, my first question was: 'what on Earth is that noise?' It was the local frogs doing their thing. We get a lot of loud frog noise where I live, but here, it sounded like a herd of cows leaning over your shoulder; 'moo' being the Thai word for 'ribbit.'

I was going to suggest that they shouted 'Campbell's Soup,' but thought that that was too much of an obscure reference from my youth.

I've been fascinated by the diversity of French accents here. The Swiss couple were no problem at all, apart from the fact that they both spoke at the same time. Earlier, as I was wandering along, I heard some people speaking a language that had the music of French, but was completely unfathomable. I stopped and listened for a while and gradually tuned in to the conversation. They were Americans from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Geordie is a cinch by comparison.

Off to Malaysia tomorrow. Up at 5.30 for a thirteen and a half hour boat and coach trip, so doubt if I'll be posting until Friday. Hope to get some pictures though.







 

Monday, 13 April 2015

Songkran - The New Year.

Songkran is the Thai New Year. Nowadays, the year begins on the 1st of January, like everywhere else. Today is a traditional Buddhist/Hindu festival, which is also celebrated in China, India and of course, er....... Poland. It's to do with the Vernal Equinox. April fools day also derives from the same event, which started in France in the 16th century, so I'm told, and was to do with mocking the diehards who didn't like the New Fangled Year starting in January, instead of April. Sort of temporal UKIP types, but without the racism. (Probably a naive assumption on my part).

 

I went out this morning at about ten, to find that nearly everything was shut, which was a bit of a problem as I was starving. I was walking along looking for a café, when I was annointed on both cheeks with what turns out to be white chalk. Instant Buddhist look, especially for a baldy like me.

Finally found a café open, where I had a strange breakfast of coffee and garlic bread. As I was sitting there, things started to swing into action. Everyone puts large dustbins full of water in front of their shops and houses, so that you can fill up your water pistol, or whatever receptacle comes to hand, in order to project water over passers by. There's a wonderful, smily carnival atmosphere, with pickup trucks constantly passing and throwing water at you. I stayed in the café to minimize the soaking, as I wanted to photograph the event.

 

After about an hour it started to rain, which didn't bother anyone very much as it was still warm, and we were all soaking anyway. People were very considerate. When they saw I had a camera, they just squirted me with water pistols. When I took my camera back to the hotel for a recharge, things changed and I had buckets of water tipped over my head, which in fact was extremely refreshing.


Fun for all the family.

Only went a few hundred metres from the hotel all day, as this ritual soaking gave me the opportunity to change shirts several times and at least give them a quick rinse before the laundries open again tomorrow.

By about four this afternoon, it was just about all over. Quite a few people, mainly locals, were starting to get pretty wobbly, I noticed lots of half bottles of spirits being passed around. This would explain why more people are killed in road accidents on this day than any other time of the year.

Just got back from a very good meal, Nasi Goreng, followed by fruit salad and a large beer. As usual, there was music in the restaurant, on a large amplified TV, featuring a blonde woman doing a blatent rip off of Madonna. Give her her due, she didn't stop running about on a massive stage in front of a mega audience somewhere in Argentina. Whoever she was she had both stamina and thighs capable of squeezing the life out of a robust rhinoceros. Turned out it was Madonna.

Have to say, that was a really great day. Felt like a kid, only wetter.

 

 

 

 

Songkran - The Thai New Year.

Songkran is the Thai New Year. Nowadays, the year begins on the 1st of January, like everywhere else. Today is a traditional Buddhist/Hindu festival, which is also celebrated in China, India and of course, er....... Poland. It's to do with the Vernal Equinox. April fools day also derives from the same event, which started in France in the 16th century, so I'm told, and was to do with mocking the diehards who didn't like the New Fangled Year starting in January, instead of April. Sort of temporal UKIP types, but without the racism. (Probably a naive assumption on my part).




I went out this morning at about ten, to find that nearly everything was shut, which was a bit of a problem as I was starving. I was walking along looking for a café, when I was annointed on both cheeks with what turns out to be white chalk. Instant Buddhist look, especially for a baldy like me.

Finally found a café open, where I had a strange breakfast of coffee and garlic bread. As I was sitting there, things started to swing into action. Everyone puts large dustbins full of water in front of their shops and houses, so that you can fill up your water pistol, or whatever receptacle comes to hand, in order to project water over passers by. There's a wonderful, smily carnival atmosphere, with pickup trucks constantly passing and throwing water at you. I stayed in the café to minimize the soaking, as I wanted to photograph the event.

After about an hour it started to rain, which didn't bother anyone very much as it was still warm, and we were all soaking anyway. People were very considerate. When they saw I had a camera, they just squirted me with water pistols. When I took my camera back to the hotel for a recharge, things changed and I had buckets of water tipped over my head, which in fact was extremely refreshing.

 
 
 
Fun for all the family.

 

Only went a few hundred metres from the hotel all day, as this ritual soaking gave me the opportunity to change shirts several times and at least give them a quick rinse before the laundries open again tomorrow.

By about four this afternoon, it was just about all over. Quite a few people, mainly locals, were starting to get pretty wobbly, I noticed lots of half bottles of spirits being passed around. This would explain why more people are killed in road accidents on this day than any other time of the year.

Just got back from a very good meal, Nasi Goreng, followed by fruit salad and a large beer. As usual, there was music in the restaurant, featuring a blonde woman doing a blatent rip off of Madonna. Give her her due, she didn't stop running about on a massive stage in front of a mega audience somewhere in Argentina. Whoever she was she had both stamina and thighs capable of squeezing the life out of a robust rhinoceros. Turned out it was Madonna.

Have to say, that was a really great day. Felt like a kid, only wetter.

 

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Koh Samui.

Got the boat to Koh Samui yesterday afternoon. While I was waiting, got chatting to an Australian family. While the teenage daughter played my guitar, I asked about the island. The father told me that it was the place to be thirty years ago, but that they were going on to the next island, Koh Phangan, which is quieter.

They weren't wrong there. Got a minibus to my hotel, which is in a very touristy area indeed. Took the elevator, made by a company called Schindler. It looked like it had been designed by Philippe Starck, with illuminated buttons which don't seem to always work. Can't say that I'm very impressed with Schindler's lift.

The place is not cheap. When I left, I thought that I had a pretty robust budget to see me through six months in the Far East. In fact, Europe seems to be cheap By comparison.

I seem to find myself in a sort of Asian Benidorm. It's a bimbo's paradise, with nail bars every 50 metres and trucks going by every few minutes, announcing everything from Thai boxing to 'Russian Showgirls,' on massive sound systems. Anglo-Saxon types are everywhere, all with the standard classy look: shirtless, to reveal the tattoos and topped off with a baseball cap. Wanna buy a selfie stick? This is the place to be.

Not that the actual beach here is too bad. The water is warm, with big waves to get bashed about in and body surf. Surprisingly, not too crowded either. Only problem is that like all such super touristy places the World over, there are beer cans and fag ends all over the place. Had a great lunch there though. There's an old lady with a barbecue selling chicken brochettes and a type of evil looking fish, resembling a small shark about a foot long. I'm not a great fan of shark meat, but this was absolutely delicious. Finally got a bargain; the whole lot with a tasty, spicy salad, all for 3€.

Whilst wandering through this contemporary Hieronymous Bosch landscape,I saw a tourist shop selling trips to Penang. Admittedly, it's a thirteen hour trip by boat and train, but I can catch up with my old Malaysian mate Tapa, who is at his place there until the 26th, before returning to Paris with his son, Farid. I've always wanted to go to Penang and I'm sure that with time and money I could find an island here that was more to my taste, but I think it's time to regroup. It's also much easier to get to Cambodia from Penang, with flights costing only 30$ from Kuala Lumpur. I have a feeling that Cambodia is more likely to have the types of beach I'm looking for.

The New Year started tonight. Everywhere you go, people throw water over you, which is rather pleasant in the heat. Even when completely soaked, you dry out in about ten minutes. Have worked out a strategy to film the real action, which is all day tomorrow. Saw two middle aged ladies earlier on, probably Brits. They were getting very grumpy about all this foreign water business. What did they expect? There are very few things funnier than people who lack a sense of humour/fun.

It's a bit like Thai people complaining about the noise of Christmas Carols, or vegetarians getting upset with Americans eating turkey for Thanksgiving.

One small blip is that I only bought four shirts with me. I've been alternating them in the fierce heat, having failed to find anywhere to get my laundry done until today. Unfortunately, everything is closed tomorrow, so I'll have to bluff it out. The last couple of days, I've been self-conscious to the point of mild paranoia, waiting for people to keel over as I pass them in the street. I tried to get some tee shirts, but they all had logos of fashion houses YSL, Emporio Armani etc. If I'm going to wear something like that, I want to be paid for advertising their product, David Beckham does,after all.


I finally found one that said: 'Fuck everything. Become a pirate.' What that means,I'm not sure, but it was a toss up between that and 'Drugs saved my life.' As I'm heading to Malaysia in three days, I didn't think that that was a good idea.


The food here is outstanding. Suckling pigs on spits, lobster the size of...well, lobsters and wonderful, fish everywhere. I'm living on a diet of cold beer and fish. Tomorrow, I'll get very wet and hopefully get some good shots of the festivities.


HAPPY NEW YEAR.