A Travellerspoint blog

March 2014


semi-overcast 8 °C
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So here I am, after 4 months, 11 countries, too many places and too many forms of transport (sorry Andreas, I didn't count like you). It was an awesome trip. My travel map started like this, and now looks like this:

I had so much fun, and I met so many amazing people who made it so much better:

- my British tour group for taking care of me, and Aung, and especially Shelagh for the chocolate and hugs and Sian for many laughs
- the German girl who looked after me when I was sick
- my trishaw driver in Bago who 'took me to the Buddhas'
- Amanda for making my first day away bearable
- the others at the only hostel in Yangon
- the lovely people who gave us tea in Mandalay market
- the Moustache Brothers for a fun evening and keeping up the cause
- the monk in Kalaw who used to work for the railway and whose friend went to Aberdeen

Cambodia and Laos
- the water-chicken and rule no 7 crew, Matt, the drinking buddies (Steve, Andreas, Ute), the bakery tour of SE Asia (Erin, Andreas), Claudia for a good chat in Bali, and the Danish boy for Lao-Lao (why?) and cake and good company at Christmas in Vietnam and lots of emails regaling me with his travels
- the French girls and the other mad people who I spent New Year with on an almost deserted beach on Koh Rong, Cambodia
- my homestay family in Laos, and their adorable daughter
- our awesome guide at Angkor

- being drowned rats on the back of motorbikes in Hue with Alba
- tiramisu coffee and pho with Cynthia in Hanoi
- buckets of gin and lemon juice with Ida in Ho Chi Minh
- my Halong Bay buddies
- my Melbourne girls at the Hanoi Backpackers
- Maureen in the Mekong Delta and my British buddy in Hanoi

- the amazing Born Free hostel in Bangkok for being a fountain of knowledge, good fun and being lovely when I was sick
- the boys with the scorpion
- Sherry, Tony and Ciara for markets, temples and drinking
- Victoria for cheering me up in Railay
- Midian, Shellie, Steph and Cat for making Phi Phi a good laugh
- the Lipe collective
- Laura and Nina for fun in Ko Lanta, and Anna for her many gifts and a good chat, and my snorkelling buddies

- Mark for food in Penang
- the amazing Elin from Penang to Bali - all the temples, Indian food, orang-utans and reggae - many adventures shared
- Susie for joining me in history and food exploration in Melaka
- the lovely girls in KL

- the fabulous Gerald for his list of where we should eat

- the boys in Bukit Lawang (I can still sing the song)
- the paparazzi of Borobodur
- the people in the reggae bars of Yogya and Gili T

Papua New Guinea
- Eve the amazing Houghton in Kimbe for being Eve
- Asi (and Gaby) for letting me stay, Anne and Ifor for much dinner, Nils for laughs and music, Chris for the lifts and looking like a smurf in the hot river, Nicky for taking us shopping PNG style
- Arnold and Maureen for making Kavieng so welcoming
- Stephen and Cecilia for looking after me at their lovely guesthouse
- the surf dudes at Nusa

- Phil and Rora for putting me up, spoiling me, feeding me lots and taking me to lots of fun places and being such great friends
- Annette for scones, jam and cream and a BBQ
- Dinah and Rob for letting me stay, and lifts, and a beach trip and roast dinner
- Jono for drinks and kangaroos and music and lots of fun

Hong Kong
- the Swiss girls for a fun last night abroad
- Melissa for making a wet Hong Kong amusing

I must have forgotten someone, but you all made my trip unforgettable.

And finally, Will, for pubcrawling and Dojo's to make me remember how much I love my home too (and encouraging me to travel even more).

Posted by GoonishPython 09:51 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (1)

Dim sum Sunday

Hong Kong: 1-2 Mar '14

rain 18 °C
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My final stop was Hong Kong. My flight from Melbourne - London stopped here, and rather than sitting in the airport for 7 hours, I chose to do a stopover and spend 31 hours in Hong Kong. Sorted. I was staying on the mainland in Kowloon, rather than Hong Kong island, but its probably got a bit more life...

So, Saturday night (with two Swiss girls):
- the light show over the river is rubbish (don't bother), but the lit-up skyline is pretty impressive
- the night-market on Temple Street is very much like all most of the other Asian night-markets I went too, but the food is something to be believed: 90_P3012805.jpg
- excellent and enormous portion of noodles and pepper beef at a place full of locals
- Portuguese custard tart from Macau restaurant very much recommended
- inadvertent visit to karaoke bar not advised

Sunday morning dawned sunny and bright, and the view from my hostel looked like this:
I followed this good start to the day with searching out some dim sum. It was very tasty. I like dim sum enormously.
I then wandered the streets of Kowloon and saw some increasingly weird buildings before heading on the famous Star Ferry across to Hong Kong island. By this point my views were basically obscured, as it was now, frankly, damp. So Hong Kong was swathed in mist. I have a rather fine selection of pictures of grey skyscrapers disappearing into grey skies and grey clouds next to a grey river.

Hong Kong's central district is intriguing. You don't walk along the roads, you walk along walkways in the sky, connecting each set of buildings. It sort of feels futuristic. The Apple store is enormous (I wandered in in search of cheap goods. They've cottoned on and they aren't really cheaper than the UK any more.). There are some Henry Moore statues (pretty) and some cool skyscrapers (all glass and metal and weird angles). On a Sunday there are also these:
Yep, that's right. Bagpipers. Hong Kong bagpipers. News to me too. There was also some random band.

Whilst trying to work out what was going on, I met an American girl. We decided to wander round together a bit more. This is what we discovered:
1. The cathedral is pebble-dashed. Not attractively so.
2. There is a free aviary in Hong Kong Park.
3. The teahouse in the park is rubbish. The setting is beautiful, the tea is lovely (I had a special type of yellow tea), but the service is dreadful, it costs too much and they didn't have half of the dim sum on the menu, including running out of some after we'd ordered it. Useless.
4. Macau food is epically good. Try it. Portuguese-Chinese is a good combination. Melaka's Nonya (Portuguese-Chinese-Malay) food is also good, but quite different to Macau food. Except for the custard tarts, both of which are definitely nearly as good as proper nata.
5. The Temple Street night market is good for at least two visits.
6. There is a giant Muji in Kowloon. Yay.
7. Kowloon at night is much more fun than Hong Kong island by day.

And random fact about Hong Kong. Women spend their Sunday's out of the house. When it is sunny they go to parks and other outdoor green spaces and sit around and gossip and eat food. When it is wet, they shelter in the walkways sitting on flattened cardboard boxes. So you walk through a narrow path down the middle of a walkway packed with women having a chat. Its really strange. Almost as strange as the bagpipers.

Posted by GoonishPython 00:46 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

Music and munching in Melbourne

22 Feb - 1 Mar '14

sunny 28 °C
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So after Papua New Guinea I headed to a place just a little different: Australia. I pretty much had to go through Aus to get home, so a week with my friends in Melbourne sounded like an excellent plan. Apart from taking an age to find Phil and Rora at midnight, and some Burmese bracelets confiscated by customs (possibly the wrong sort of watermelon seeds), it all started swimmingly with me making a new friend on the flight from Brisbane. This turned out rather well as with my buddies at work, I had someone else to hang out with. I was overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of people in Melbourne - yes I was with friends, but Rora's mum took me out for the afternoon and so did my mum's friends. Oh, and it was my birthday so Phil and Rora spoiled me too.

Melbourne appeared to be all about food, something my stomach very much agreed with after months of rice and noodles. It's amazing how much you end up missing proper bread and cheese. Melbourne provided cheese in the form of some rather nice taleggio from an Italian deli, and many lovely breakfasts, as well as a BBQ, a home-cooked roast dinner and scones with jam and cream. Exactly what my stomach ordered. It couldn't manage proper beer though - the nearest I came to it was a too cold too fizzy bitter-type beverage, and a pint of cold Guinness. Not quite right, but the wine made up for it.

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So, despite spending far too many mornings sitting with a book, I actually got out and about to quite a few places...
- Camberwell Market on a Sunday - its a market full of random stalls selling bric-a-brac of the slightly artsy fancy variety. Good for a wander although you might need a) a house to put stuff in, b) money - they've definitely cottoned on to people wanting retro and vintage goods
- open-air cinema at Abbotsford Convent - a lovely setting, a seriously bizarre movie (An American Hippie in Israel) - it had laughable sharks. Rora swears she could see a foot underneath.
- Mornington Peninsular - some lovely beaches at the other side of the bay to Melbourne and wilder ones facing into the Southern Ocean
- Williamstown - once the dock area, now becoming more upmarket, but still full of old charm. Plus a BBQ.
- Fairfield - an excellent teahouse by the river. Earl Grey + scone + jam + cream. Yum. If they'd managed clotted cream I would have been in heaven. 2014-02-25_13_29_38.jpg
- St Kilda - some excellent live music at the Espy, and a British pub...
- National Gallery of Victoria - some pretty cool art
- Melbourne city centre - street art galore. Very cool. Shame they've covered some of it up!
- Ponyfish bar - under a bridge on the river. Nice setting, nice beer. Cheese board looked damn tempting. 2014-02-26_17_58_48.jpg

But my favourite? A gig at the zoo. I got to wander round the animals whilst clutching a bottle of wine. I saw most of the famous Aussie animals. I got to stroke a kangaroo. And then I got to eat samosas and drink more wine whilst watching the excellent Josh Pyke.

So Melbourne for me was pretty wicked. I loved it. Partly because it felt like home, partly because I got to see my lovely friends, and partly because I met amazingly nice people there (old and new). But its also the kind of city I like - it lays claim to be the cultural centre of Aus, and I guess that's why it appealed - anywhere that can give me good food, good music and good art is my kind of town.


Posted by GoonishPython 03:43 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

New Britain to New Ireland with a smattering of New Zealand

Kavieng: 19-22 Feb '14

all seasons in one day 33 °C
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Flights in Papua New Guinea are of a different breed. There are no lights at any airports except Jacksons, in the capital, Port Moresby, so flights have to leave when the sun comes up and arrive by the time the sun sets. Hoskins, near Kimbe, is a tiny airport - it can only take propeller planes. It has a bench where they put the bags that have just come off the plane and one building. There is definitely no security scanner, just a couple of guys asking you what's in your bag. Kavieng is pretty similar. Except the building is bigger, they have two benches for bags, and they can take small jet planes. They have three people asking about your bag. It's luxury. Port Moresby is a-whole-nother level. It has a couple of shops and cafes. One does an excellent bacon and egg roll. Trust me, this is the most exciting thing about Port Moresby airport. I spent a lot of hours there. I also got to see Lae and Kokopo airports. Even if I'd been allowed to get off, I wouldn't have in Lae. It's dangerous. A guy from the Highlands that we met in Walindi said you see dead bodies on the streets. Bits of Papua New Guinea are like that, but that's not the part I saw.

In New Ireland I was meant to be staying in a lovely little bamboo bungalow on the beach on a tiny island, but the weather defeated me. A few days before I was due to fly to Kavieng, I got a phone call saying the weather was too bad and they just couldn't get the boat over. Damn. That was my plans for snorkelling off a deserted beach over. Suddenly I was faced with finding accommodation at short notice in the middle of surf season. I found some, but accommodation in Kavieng is significantly more expensive than on the islands. The owners of my guesthouse, Stephen and Cecilia, were absolutely lovely, and really took care of me, feeding me breakfast and dinner far too much, including traditional New Ireland mumu (the meal is cooked in banana leaves in the coals of the fire - we had chicken with two types of taro, it melted in the mouth) and ferrying me to and from the airport. Very kind and welcoming. I also met some other lovely people there - the girl whose house I'd been staying in in Mahonia, Asi, had links to another volunteer in Kavieng, so the very kind Arnold, also from New Zealand, picked me up and took me for dinner, where I met Maureen, a Red Cross volunteer. So I had a pleasant evening with them both, and met up with Maureen, an Aussie, and another New Zealander for drinks the next day. Again, the kindness of complete strangers overwhelmed me. I was touched.

To satisfy my snorkelling cravings and slight Robinson Crusoe empty island fantasy, one day I headed over to Nusa Island, where there is a surf/scuba dive resort. As some of the staff were heading over to another tiny island, Nago, to do some building work, they took me with them and left me to snorkel off a deserted beach and wander round an almost deserted island. I got to see hermit crabs in tiny green shells and sit on golden sand with trees reaching out over the water. It was bliss. If only the waves had been less strong (I kept getting pushed towards the coral) it would have been absolute bliss. I loved it. And the people really took care of me. I even had a lovely chat with one of the kitchen staff when I had lunch back at the resort. And a green lizard joined me for lunch too.

90_P2212523.jpg P2212531.jpg90_P2212585.jpg 90_P2212587.jpg
P2212589.jpg 2014-02-21_14_05_44.jpg

Kavieng, even when it was raining, was beautiful in its own way. It had a stunning setting, and the islands just off the mainland New Ireland are simply gorgeous, but the town has its own beauty in the people. To Western standards its a pretty poor town, but the people there are so kind and friendly. I know I stood out, being white and with red-brown hair and blue eyes, but almost everyone said hello to me, whether it was in a store or just walking down the street. Two girls came running up to talk to me, and they were so shy, but they hugged me when it was time to say goodbye. Another lady just came straight out with something like 'and aren't you brightening up the day?' as I walked past in a red dress in the rain and smiled at her. The people of Kavieng were brilliant. Its what I loved most about it.

And that's the impression Papua New Guinea left me with: stunning scenery, even in rainy season, and such amazingly friendly helpful and smiling people!

Posted by GoonishPython 02:13 Archived in Papua New Guinea Comments (0)

Welcome to Paradise

Kimbe: 11-19 Feb '14

all seasons in one day 33 °C
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Luckily we never planned to stay long in Kuta - just a couple of days before Elin and I went our separate ways - her to the Philippines, and me to Papua New Guinea...

As you begin to descend into Hoskins, you see the volcanoes pushing through the clouds towards you, and as the little propeller plane descends further, the green trees slope down to the coastline spreading beneath you, and as you circle, tiny islands, little more than sandbanks, loom out as a shade of yellow and turquoise in the murkier deep blue depths of the ocean, as you seemingly almost skim the waves and then the treetops as you arrive at the tiny airport, set in such a majestic landscape. This is West New Britain province, the left half of the large island to the east of "mainland" Papua New Guinea, itself the east half of an enormous island. West New Britain is home to twenty-one volcanoes, five still active, massive palm oil plantations, WWII relics, and spectacular marine life. I was heading to Kimbe Bay (just past the provincial capital of Kimbe), where there are reputedly "more than 350 types of hard coral and 860 types of fish" - as Lonely Planet puts it, "you might see anything from a tiny glass prawn to a pod of killer whales". And that's just under the sea.

My real reason for heading here was my friend Eve, researching for her PhD in Anthropology, currently staying at Mahonia Na Dari, a conservation and marine research centre. Quite a few of the bungalows are rented out to Westerners based in the area. The (almost) waterfront bungalow I joined Eve in was the home of Asinate, a Fijian-New Zealander Seventh-Day Adventist working at Mahonia as part of a volunteer project - and her newly acquired puppy to be her guard dog - Gabriel, or Gaby for short. So I settled down to a quiet week, punctuated by the puppy's mad adventures and a flavour of what West New Britain had to offer. Kayaking and snorkelling were tried once, but a little unsuccessfully as I had a cold (which makes snorkelling surprisingly difficult, despite you not breathing through your nose) and the current was really strong that day - we ended up a good few hundred metres up the coast from where we started.

Most evenings were quiet affairs, although a few were spent at the neighbouring dive resort (i.e. nearest bar), Walindi, and on one evening we were invited to a dinner party at some local expats house. This was an intriguing affair - Anne and Ifor, a Welsh couple running the school in Kimbe, were lovely and Anne a brilliant cook (the walnut cake was wow) - the other guests were all of a similar age (45-65?) and although very nice, very much living an expats lifestyle - driving around in their big 4WD cars, living in aircon houses with servants (a house-murray I believe), and not really interacting with locals much at all. They were pretty shocked at Eve being in PNG alone, even more so at her imminent move to Bialla (a small local village, where she would be even more isolated and with no Westerners), at my travelling there and onwards alone, and most definitely at our using the PMV (essentially like a bus, but just a minivan run by anyone who fancies it). Now I know the PMV has a bad rep - attacks and rapes etc. - but when you have no transport and live 20 mins drive from town, it makes sense as long as you keep your wits about you - you wait for a PMV full of women and children, not one with just 2 guys. Besides, we kind of got the impression that any problem at all in PNG gets magnified out of all proportion.

Our trips on the PMV were to Kimbe town, the provincial capital of West New Britain. It is tiny. It's probably smaller than Sawston, the town I went to secondary school in. It has a few shops, and some of them are wicked. The local clothes shops are excellent - they get clothes from Australia and New Zealand - some new, some second hand - and it looks like TK Maxx - essentially you trawl through racks and racks of stuff, but you get some great clothes - new Billabong for a quarter of the price in Aus, or a second-hand vintage style dress for under 20p. Sorted. Everyone in the streets is so friendly - they're interested to see you wandering around, and everyone says hello. I liked Kimbe.

At the weekend we joined some new friends for a trip to the hot river at Garu - this is basically a river that has been heated by the many volcanoes nearby - and its pretty cool. You basically climb up a river/mini waterfall in the middle of the jungle, and its like having a hot bath. It had been raining that week so it was significantly cooler than the time my friend had been before, but it was still pretty hot! And there is blue mud on the bottom which is apparently good for the skin. So while everyone else went in for the beauty aspects, Eve and I of course we ended up with angry eyebrows and dodgy moustaches. Good fun.

Basically the area is pretty damn beautiful, everyone is friendly, I got to properly catch up on my sleep, and it was wicked to see miss Eve the amazing Houghton again! Kimbe rocked.

Posted by GoonishPython 01:57 Archived in Papua New Guinea Comments (0)

Bali in two towns

Ubud and Kuta: 7-10 Feb '14

sunny 30 °C
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So on we headed to Bali - legendary paradise of Indonesia. It is the only Hindu part of the country, and it is strikingly obvious. In Ubud, Bali's cultural hub, we stayed in a homestay guesthouse - like Lombok, this was a family compound containing houses around a central area - but in Bali, the centre was occupied by Hindu shrines, with lots of birds and animals in the grounds as well. Everywhere you walked in Ubud there were little square leaf trays containing offerings of flowers and food - you really had to watch your feet! It was great to see lots of Balinese architecture nestling amongst the modern buildings, and some good food to be found off the main roads.

Despite being the cultural centre, we didn't actually go off to any dance/music/art - we were just ready to chill out. We did head to Goa Gajah, the Elephant Cave - which has a very elaborately carved entrance and beautiful grounds in the jungle, with trails leading off to other temples. Other than that, we ate (discovering another bakery was fatal), wandered through the fascinating market (all souvenirs, but so pretty!) and got pedicures - a very relaxing time! I even managed to meet up with Claudia, who I'd travelled with in Cambodia and Laos - it was lovely to see her again and catch up on her travels.

As a complete contrast, next stop was the legendary Kuta beach - where Aussie's come on holiday. The surfing is meant to be good but its totally commercialised and Westernised - also dirty, noisy and expensive. The best description is like Magaluf for Aussie's. On our first night we went out, but it wasn't the most exciting and we got robbed on the way home. This ruined the next day - sorting everything out and feeling pretty pissed off at the world. The final day we spent relaxing - trying to get a better impression of Kuta. We briefly visited the beach (nothing special) and indulged in Western food (pizza. nom.) and a massage, but our overall impression of Kuta was it sucked. Totally different to both the other Kuta and Ubud. I wished we'd stayed in Ubud - much more chilled and friendly and pretty!

Posted by GoonishPython 23:45 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Jah on Holiday

The Gili Islands 3-7 Feb '14

sunny 33 °C
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Our stay in Lombok was really just a stop off on the way to the Gili's - three small beautiful islands set just off the north-west coast of Lombok, We were staying on Gili Trawangan (Gili T) - the supposed party island (it's not really), but much busier than its sisters Gili Air (bit posh) and Gili Meno (super quiet). There are no cars or motorbikes on the Gili's - if you don't want to walk your only choice is bicycle or horsedrawn cart. Our booked accommodation was unfindable, and after Elin had slipped on a wet floor and injured her arm, we ended up at a guesthouse where they saw she was upset and tried to help.

Our days were spent chilling on the beach, our nights sampling the local bars and clubs. Our favourite was the little reggae bar on the beach - a live band (Jah on Holiday) who were surprisingly food - and one of the singers looked like an Indonesian Jack Sparrow. Very enjoyable times were had. We also watched a movie one night - Django Unchained seems slightly bizarrer when watched in a beachside shack.

I also re-indulged my love of snorkelling, taking a trip round all three islands. Beautiful, although I wasn't lucky enough to see a turtle or even a clownfish!

Unfortunately our encounters with room-invading multiple-legged beasties continued - cockroaches in the bathroom, ants and a spider in the bedroom - and worst of all, a giant flying beetle thing that looked like a cockroach. It could jump too. Elin got injured trying to catch it, and eventually I chased it out the door with a toilet roll. Weird.

Gili T was cool. We could have stayed on the islands a lot longer - although a room with a more effective fan and no flying beetles would have been preferred.

Posted by GoonishPython 23:36 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

The other Kuta

Lombok 1-3 Feb '14

sunny 27 °C
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After the fun of Yogya, we headed on to Lombok - the first island of Nusa Tenggara. Lombok is easily accessible from Bali, but is really quite different in character - it is much much less developed, more villages and chilled out, and far far fewer tourists. In Kuta (the other Kuta, not the famous Aussie filled party one in Bali), the "amenities" are there (Western food, laundry, souvenirs, ATMs and much surf gear), but they are not the whole of the town. Kuta (Lombok) is pretty small and pretty relaxed, and full of surfers. Almost everyone at our homestay guesthouse was a surfer, and off they all trekked with their surfboards strapped to rented motorbikes.

Kuta beach itself was a long stretch of golden white sand, punctuated by washed up coral and overhanging trees, and framed by dramatic rocks tumbling into the sea. Unfortunately it wasn't the cleanest in parts, and very busy down one end - I settled down with my book and was immediately surrounded by 20 kids asking questions and wanting photos. Needless to say I ended up back in a dirtier part of the beach, where we only had to put with hawkers trying to sell bracelets continuously and a herd of buffalo, and later on persistent showers.

We also encountered rather too many bugs in our room. Our skills at catching them became legendary, but how to explain the three bags outside our door - two containing ants and one with a cockroach in a toilet roll tube? Just when we thought it was safe - a giant dragonfly. Safely captured and released into the wide world, but not what you want flying round when you try to sleep.

All in all Kuta was a pleasant place, and the food was excellent - I managed vege Indonesian food for everything but breakfast (the regular pancake) - it seems only Yogya that can't oblige. We even ended up in a reggae bar again. Oops.

Posted by GoonishPython 23:23 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

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