Travelblog#2: Bangkok & Ko Chang – Thailand

10th – 18th of August, 2014

On the 10th of August I left sleepy Kanchanaburi for bustling Bangkok to meet Roy. We found each other at around about midday and, after a quick catch up, began making our plans to sort out our visas for Burma and Indonesia.

We then found out that the embassies were going to be closed for half of the week because it was Queen Sirikit’s birthday – which meant that total processing time was going to take nine days.

We both looked at each other.

“I am not spending nine days in Bangkok.” I can’t even remember which one of us said it first, because the feeling was very mutual.

It’s not that we hate Bangkok. It does have lots of interesting things to see, such as the palace, Chinatown, and numerous temples. The weekend market is very good. If there is one good thing about Bangkok it is definitely the shopping. Wave enough bhat at one of the many touts lined up along the touristy streets and you can get anything you want, and, I really mean, anything, in Bangkok.

It’s just crazy. Crowded. Noisy. Cluttered. You constantly come across people sprawled out across the pavements or stumbling around because they are drugged up, drunk, or both. It’s the sort of place that will drive you insane if you stay too long. And, as Thailand is pretty much geographically central to SE Asia, it’s a place you often find yourself passing through.

Me and Roy have already “done” Bangkok, several times. And we’ve seen enough.

We decided to get a travel agency to sort out our visas, so we could spend our time somewhere else while they were being processed. Tickets to Ko Chang, an island not too far away, seemed to be quite cheap.

We handed our passports over,  and at 7am the next morning we put our backpacks on and walked towards the bus stop to make a hasty exit. We were forced to navigate our way through Khao San road – Bangkok’s most infamously touristy street – where last night’s debaucheries were still petering out. Drunken Brits and Americans were making loud displays of themselves from the still-open bars with a self-gratifying air. As if what they were really saying was; “Look at me! I am still drinking! Look at me!”

“Can I just say something to you?” one of them said as he stumbled over to us. He had a bottle of beer in his hand, which he was waving around like it was a trophy. He put his other arm around Roy’s shoulder. “Bob Marley… he is the king, right?”

His eyes went to Roy’s dreadlocks.

“Actually… I don’t really like Bob Marley,” Roy replied.

We carried on walking, and the drunken reveler looked crestfallen.

“I think we’ve made the right choice,” I said, dryly. Once we were out of earshot.

Often when you are travelling around Asia you encounter locals who are just plain rude to you. Farang (a Thai word which roughly translates as “Caucasian foreigner”) is not a racial slur in itself, it is a word most often used playful, tongue-in-cheek way, but you do occasionally hear it being spat out, like bile. In those moments, you do think to yourself, “why do you hate us so much?”

This is why some of them hate us. For many westerners, Asian countries are not a place they want to come to experience culture, nature, or even just a relaxing holiday. It’s a playground. A place where they can wave money around to attract younger and prettier girls than they could ever get at home, drink cheap beer, and generally act in ways that they would never dare to on their own doorstep.

When we reached Ko Chang we decided to head to Bang Bao, a fishing village to the south of the island which is away from the all party-beaches. We were there for eight days, in total, and most of them were spent relaxing. I did some writing, and Roy has been updating his blogs and doing other internet-related things which were neglected during his four months in India. You should check out his blog as well by the way – he has been to lots of interesting places.

Ko Chang doesn’t have a great reputation for marine life: most of the coral near its sandy beaches has been ruined so you have to go a bit further out to really see anything worthwhile. I went snorkelling around one of its rockier coves and saw lots of tropical fish, but nothing spectacular. I am waiting for when I am in Indonesia and the Philippines for that sort of thing.

Towards the end of our week there we hired out a pair of motorcycles for the day so we could explore more of the island. It had been a while since I had last been on a scooter, and within the first twenty minutes I fell off, skidding into the ditch. Twice. I got the hang if it again eventually though, and we managed to do a full circuit of the island without any serious mishaps. Roy has cuts and bruises on one of his legs, and I walked away with a slight limp which lasted for a couple of days. It was worth it. I took many pictures along the way of the beaches, mangroves and fishing villages we passed, which you can view on my Flickr account here.

Tomorrow we will be heading back to Bangkok to collect our passports which will (hopefully) now have the visas we need. After that we will be heading straight to the border and crossing into Burma. First stop will be Mawlamyine.

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Cover reveal for The Janus Cycle

Elsewhen Press have revealed the cover art for Tej Turner’s debut novel, The Janus Cycle.

9781908168467“Tej describes The Janus Cycle as “gritty, surreal, urban fantasy”. The over-arching story revolves around a nightclub called Janus, which is not merely a location but virtually a character in its own right. During the events that unfold in the book, we are told that Janus has a ‘shiny new sign above the door’ on walls that had been painted. This was the starting point for designer Alison. Creating an image like those that would have been used to represent the god Janus in Roman times, but making it out of neon lights fixed to a painted brick wall, was an ideal way to produce the sort of sign that nightclubs favour. Adding the book’s title and Tej’s name in the same style of neon lights was the finishing touch that makes the cover not only perfect for the book but also eye-catching.”

to read more go to the Elsewhen website here

Travelblog#1: Kanchanaburi – Thailand

29th July – 6th August, 2014.

This first entry might not be quite as exciting as usual, for I am not really “travelling” yet. I have mostly just been hanging low in rural Thailand while waiting for my travel buddy to arrive (Roy is currently in India and will be flying over to meet me soon). When he gets here the two of us will be crossing the border together into Myanmar, and then the adventures will truly begin.

That said, the last week or so hasn’t been too uneventful. I decided to go back to Kanchanaburi, which was one of my favourite places last time I visited Thailand. The fact that I have come back here is a special occasion in itself because it is not very often I return somewhere. Kanchanaburi is special. It is a scenic, laid back area, surrounded by green mountains and tapioca fields. I couldn’t think of anywhere better to kick back and unwind for a while.

I got myself a cheap little room by the side of the river Kwai, and I told myself I was going to relax. Maybe even write some of that novel I am currently working on. And, for the first couple of days, that is exactly what I did.

But eventually I started to feel a bit restless and I began taking afternoon strolls which, over the passing days, escalated into full on day-trips.

I visited some old haunts, such as this famous bridge over the river Kwai:

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But, once again, I found the idea of paying money to ride across it in a sparkly, tacky, rainbow-coloured tram somewhat distasteful considering its dark history.

 

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Instead, I chose to walk across it, quietly. There were some pleasant views of the Kwai valley from up there. Kanchanaburi is such an idyllic, peaceful place, that it is often hard to imagine the terrible war crimes which were committed here.

I visited some of the local museums which were, just as last time I went, informative, respectful, a little bit upsetting, but a compulsory part of the experience. One I believe everyone visiting the area should explore.

One of the new places that I visited was the Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum. It was a bit out of the way (about two hours on the local bus) but well worth the journey. When I arrived there I was handed an audio-guide and set walking upon a 4km trail which took me on a journey through some of the infamous railway line prisoners-of-war and Asian peasants were forced to build by the Japanese army during the Second World War. Many of the accounts the audio-guide gave, as I walked along, were from POW’s who survived the horrific experience. The previous museums I had visited had taught me quite a lot about what happened and shown me many relics, but this was different. It made the whole thing much more vivid and real, treading along the rough and rocky ground, seeing the sides of the railway cutting they were forced to hack out of the mountain, towering on either side of me.

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They call it “Hellfire Pass” because the war-slaves were eventually forced to work well into the dark hours in their rush to complete it. They were all malnourished, and many were suffering from cholera, malaria, dysentery, beriberi, and a whole range of tropical diseases by then. The sight of their emaciated bodies lit up by fire of flaming torches, as they hammered away at the rocks at night, was said to resemble a scene from hell.

It is all surrounded by bamboo forest, now, and the views you can see from up there of the surrounding mountains are stunning. Walking through it, as I listened to stories of the terrible things which happened there, was both melancholic and oddly serene. It captured the very essence of the Kanchanaburi experience in general.

On a brighter note, I went to Erawan Waterfall again.

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Look at it! I don’t need really to explain myself, do I? That was just one tier out of the total of seven you can swim in, stretched along a 2 km trail. In a rainforest. Here is another picture:

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And apart from that most of my time has been spent sat at this little table on balcony of my guest house:

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Writing away. It is a nice spot. In the morning there are usually lots of tropical birds flitting between the greenery on the other side of the river.

Every now and then, when I get a little bit sweaty, I have been having a little dip in the free pool.

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And that’s it, for now. I am heading back to Bangkok soon to meet Roy and sort out some visas. Overall, I don’t really I have anything bad to say about Kanchanaburi apart from that, like many touristy places in Thailand, it does have a few “girly bars” and therefore plays host to some of the western sexpat brigade. And the sight of greasy, old white men with their arms around much younger (and much, much more blessed) Thai women can be quite spiritually challenging sometimes.

Stay tuned for the next instalment. Myanmar here I come!

Oh, and for more pictures click here to check out my Flickr account.