Sunday, August 30, 2009

24th to 26th August - Bangkok

So, Bangkok.... wow what a difference to India... Bangkok has this interesting mix of smut and tradition... You get to Khao San Road and the place is alive.. it just drags you in and refuses to spit you out the other side. I've been here for a few days now and the time has flown by as has, unfortunately, my budget. You see all of these Thai girls milling about wearing the tightest, shortest dresses with beer slogans on them. They get sponsored to walk around wearing them enticing guys to drink that type of beer...

Heineken...

From Bangkok


I think this is Bacardi...

From Bangkok


I've bought so much tourist junk that people back in Sydney need to start fearing where they are going to put this stuff...

The place is cool and it is totally set up for tourists. I'll try and sum up the last few days as best I can... there are a million stories that I could tell so i'll see what I can recollect.

I got here tired and broken after India. I met Allen from my India tour at New Joe Guest House on Khao San Road after having no sleep whatsoever.

Bizarrely, I didn't feel tired after the journey. I wanted to go out into the thronging masses of the road. We went for something to eat. Aah Caeser Salad.. after so many weeks of not being able to eat salads for fear of the water in India, it was a pleasure to have a salad again. It sounds weird but when you travel you crave things that you take for granted normally.

So, day 1 we went for a thai massage... and a pedicure.... err.... and a manicure... it was a weird experience. They are such good salespeople over here. They saw how tired I was and they pounced. Before I knew it I was being buffed and rubbed like a shiny stone. It was heaven though. After India and after the flight a massage was perfect. The pedicure and manicure were indifferent but hey... i'm a modern man who's comfortable with who I am....

I got some sleep and we went out that night for a few drinks and dinner.

From Bangkok


From Bangkok


From Bangkok


We ended up buying these laser pens off a street salesman. I don't know why we did it but the classic man instinct kicked in....

"What... so you're telling me you press this button and it shoots a green laser for up to 100 metres.... no way..... and you twirl the end and it shoots green laser shapes into the sky.... That's just priceless... how can you put a price on such a gift.... we'll take one each thanks."

So we bought these 'exclusive' laser pens. Happy with our purchase, we settled down to a couple of beers. Then another guy came up to offer us these 'once in a lifetime exclusive laser pens'.... what... you're kidding.... after the 5th guy in an hour tried to sell us the same laser pens we realised that they were more popular than exclusive.. oh well.

Afterwards a 13 year old girl came to our table to sell us some roses. Now, Allen and I get on well but we're not quite at the roses stage of our relationship just yet... still this girl was hilarious. She came up to Allen and held her hand out. Allen shook her hand and she said...

"1, 2, 3, 4 - I declare a thumb war"

From Bangkok


Now for those who don't know what a thumb war is, you basically have to try and hold down the other persons thumb while holding hands. I'm crap at it.

She then said... "Ok Mister... 100 baht winner"

Allen, aware that she was probably reigning Bangkok Thumb War champion declined.... he offered her 10 baht.... She took the bait and promptly embarrassed Allen into submission. It was a walkover. Classic.

From Bangkok


We ended up going to listen to live music and then this club called Gazebo to smoke a sheesha pipe and relax.

From Bangkok


From Bangkok


We got to Gazebo and these 5 or so Irish girls sat down on the table behind us. They asked what we were smoking and we offered them a go. They were good fun and we chatted to them for a bit.

From Bangkok


From Bangkok


From Bangkok


We then braved the dance floor. Allen proceeded to spend the next 2 hours or so dancing with a dwarf. He's 188cm tall. It was quite a sight.

From Bangkok


From Bangkok


We had a good night and Thai people are just so friendly.

The next day we took it easy. We browsed the stalls on Khao San Road and went to find a massage place. Getting a massage here is so cheap. You have to watch out for the obvious pitfalls of a back alley massage place that offers even cheaper 'hot oil massages' with a particular type of ending but if you've got a bit of common sense you're generally ok. We went to this reputable place and the massage was great. Allen then went to buy a suit from the tailors which just so happened to join the massage place. How convenient.....

We started chatting to this English girl called Lisa and we invited her to join us for a drink as she was travelling alone. We went to Mulligans Irish Bar where we got hounded by all the street hawkers that Bangkok could offer.

From Bangkok


We left there and went to Roof Bar to listen to some live music with another guy called Pablo. All in all we had a good night and arranged to meet Lisa the next night for dinner. She's such good fun and a very talented fashion designer.

From Bangkok


The thing about being a guy in Khao San Road is that there are so many people who want to sell stuff to you.... you walk along the street and these are the general offers in a five minute stroll....

"Hey mate, you want Armani Suit.... really cheap.." (err... you're a tailor right... are you Georgio Armani or do you work for Georgio Armani? No, didn't think so, so how can it be an Armani Suit... idiot...)

"Mister you want massage... really nice. Special massage for you" (anything with special or hot oil before the word massage is generally going to be dodgy)

"My friend.... ping pong show... pat pong markets.... turkish bath..." (no more needs to be said about this)

"You want taxi... where you go... spicy club...."

and it goes on and on...

My favourite word in Thailand is no. It's a shame for such a place with so many positives that I have to live by a negative but I guess that's part of the charm of the place.

We heard all of this on our walk back to the Guest House that evening. Allen was supposed to be flying to the islands the next day (Wednesday 26th) so we bid farewell. The next morning, I got up and went to the internet place to get all my pics uploaded and get a headstart on my blog. Checked my email and had one from Allen... He got to the airport and started feeling sick. It turns out he was in hospital with food poisoning... The email started... Greetings from.... (subject line).... Bangkok Hospital.... (main body) poor guy.

I met Charlie and Neil from South Africa who were such a laugh. We ended up sharing funny you tube videos for about 2 hours... so much for the blog updates.... I went back to the hostel to try and figure out what I was going to do... head up to Chiang Mai or stay around Bangkok for a few more days.

I met Lisa for dinner at 7.30pm and we strolled around not really making a decision about what to have. We ended up being forced into a place due to rain. Neither of us are decisive people so it needed a force of nature to make the choice...

From Bangkok


It proceeded to rain solidly for a good couple of hours after that. The rain really came down. I don't think i've ever experience such a deluge. We were stranded. The streets were flooded and so were the pavements. People were wading through knee deep water.... (My pedicure... I silently thought in anguish...:))

After a couple of frames of pool we decided to brave it. Lisa was flying back the next day and she needed to get some sleep. We plunged into the street and waded through ourselves. It was a weird experience. You spend you're whole time not wanting to look into the water to see what's floating around your ankles while also being drawn into looking down... Kind of like hanging on the edge of a cliff I'd imagine. Please don't be any sausages .... uuurrgghhh what's that..... plastic bag eeewwww...

From Bangkok


From Bangkok


Oh, there is one other story of my first three days in Bangkok which I should share... Allen and I were sat having pad thai one evening and this 6 year old girl selling roses came up to us.... She was the best sales person ever. She came up and held her hand out for a shake.. and promptly pulled it away when my hand got to hers.... she then said "Sorry mister." with a really cute face and came and gave me a kiss on the cheek.... Allen asked if he could take a picture of her... she said yes and grabbed hold of my arm and gave me a cuddle. I couldn't help it... I had to buy a rose from her... how could I not..... I gave it to the waitress for our table who blushed and rushed off giggling... We left soon after but we saw the same 6 year old a few times more and she kept running up and giving us hugs... just so funny.

From Bangkok


Next installment.... what happens to Allen in hospital and does Andy stay in Bangkok or go north to Chiang Mai... all will be revealed soon....

Thursday, August 27, 2009

21st to 23rd August - Kolkata

We left Varanasi somewhat more spiritually awakened but becoming exceedingly broke because of the amazing silk products they had there.

My last day in Varanasi saw me take a rickshaw to the post office to relieve my burgeoning bags of more souveniers. While at the post office, the customs official complemented my handwriting. He told me that I had handwriting like newspaper print which was a little odd.

So I gave him a list I wrote of the stuff in the parcel I was sending back to Oz and he seemed genuinely enthused to receive it.

"I give this to my daughter so one day maybe she has handwriting like you." he said...

This other guy then pursuaded me to go with his brother to his silk factory... I did this and found myself walking around a series of rooms filled with looms and people making all sorts of silk based products. I bought a scarf and bid farewell...

We took the overnight train to Kolkata that night. 20 hours all in all and the journey was a lot more pleasant than previous trains. It went pretty smoothly.

When we arrived in Kolkata, I have to admit I was very impressed with the city. It was by far the nicest city we'd been to. Very clean and no cows on the road. It's apparently because it is a communist state of India and cows aren't allowed in the City. All in all it makes for a much cleaner environment.

From Kolkata


From Kolkata


From Kolkata


From Kolkata


From Kolkata


From Kolkata


From Kolkata


From Kolkata


From Kolkata


We relaxed that day and went out for dinner that night where we proceeded to sing every tacky karaoke song we could thing of. It was such a spontaneous act and we were all getting into it. I think 3 weeks being together coupled with the end of the trip really unleashed our singing. We got so into it the manager came over and asked us to keep it down because people had been complaining downstairs... Ha ha ha...

He didn't seem too impressed when I said: "No problem, please tell them we do requests...."

From Kolkata


From Kolkata


From Kolkata


It was a good night.

The next day I took a taxi to Victoria Memorial and Mother Teresa house. The memorial is very impressive and Mother Teresa house was a very powerful place. It was a good way to spend a few hours.

From Kolkata


From Kolkata


From Kolkata


From Kolkata


From Kolkata


From Kolkata


From Kolkata


From Kolkata


From Kolkata


From Kolkata


I don't know if it was the fact I visited Mother Teresa's coffin but I got a real urge to help people afterwards. I ended up buying 20 bananas and gave them to a poor family on the street. I felt a little selfish because it made me feel good to have done it. They seemed to be very happy and I hope I did the right thing.

Also, I was walking along the street and saw this guy climbing up the side of a building using just a rope... madness.

From Kolkata


From Kolkata


I left India that night leaving behind a country that has beauty and colour at its core but so many problems on the surface. I really enjoyed my time in India but I don't think I'd rush back. The busyness, the mess and the dirt coupled with the complete and obvious poverty were very unattractive qualities. I wish there was something I could do to help the kids that have no family and live on the street. I don't think I was alone in the group thinking that.

The airport was hellish but I got through it... Next stop Bangkok....

Thursday, August 20, 2009

19th to 21st August - Varanasi

What a pleasure the overnight train journey was...... so, to sum up... I spent 12 hours on a train in a bed made for a midget, with the snoring championships of India taking place in the next cabin and with a bag rifling gypsy making his way through our stuff at 2.00am...

I didn't get much sleep... I was on guard duty after Mr Bag Thief tried his tricks... It was a weird experience... I had just drifted off to sleep... it was about 1.30am and it had taken me a while to settle. It's difficult to sleep when your legs are at a right angle to your body but exhaustion took over... I then heard and felt this presence next to me... I woke up and saw some guy pulling all of both Allen and my bags out from under my bed...

"Oi... what do you think you're doing?" I said...

insert a series of grunts here...... came the reply....

"Leave our bags alone now...!" I said more forcefully... pulling myself up to my complete and imposing 5 ft 10" size.... (that must have scared him....)

Grunt grunt gruntedy grunt came the response...

So I grabbed our bags and shoved them back under my bed and pushed the guy away... Bloody idiot... He got off the train at the next stop but it was difficult to sleep after that...

We arrived in Varanasi and it was more chaotic than any of the previous places we had got to... Uttam our tour leader was mobbed by people trying to get him to use their rickshaws... the traffic was just a complete joke... I don't know how anyone can get anywhere in this place...

The heat was stifling and i'd been wearing the same pants for 30 hours... I needed a shower and a change of clothes before my smell scared even the cows...

The hotel room was basic but it had a bed and running water so I didn't complain. We went out for lunch and then came back to the hotel for a nap..... and then the building work started.... great... no sleep at all...

So, surviving on say 1 and a half hours sleep in 36 hours, I joined the group for the orientation walk. It was very interesting.. we walked to the banks of the river Ganges and I started chatting to these kids selling flowers with candles in them.

From Agra and Varanasi


From Agra and Varanasi


From Agra and Varanasi


From Agra and Varanasi


They are used as an offering... you light them, float them on the Ganges and make a wish. So I bought one off this little kid and said to him:

"Mate, you light it and make a wish.... I think you need more luck than me."

From Agra and Varanasi


From Agra and Varanasi


From Agra and Varanasi


From Agra and Varanasi


From Agra and Varanasi


So he did and I felt really good about myself afterwards.... then his uncle appeared and clipped him around the ear... not sure for what reason but I don't think the wish he made came true somewhat.

Then we happened upon this goat which was either brave or stupid... you decide.

From Agra and Varanasi


Then we got to one of the more bizarre places of the trip. It was the place where families cremate their dead on the banks of the river Ganges. It was quite an eery place and I felt quite rude just standing there and watching people burning their loved ones....

So we walked along the banks a little and I started talking to this young girl who was also selling flowers. Her english was very impressive and she told me she goes to school from 7am until 12pm and then sells the flower and candles after that. She likes to learn English and History and would like to be a teacher... She was such a bright thing that I really hope she gets to be a teacher... I bought a flower and candle off her too and donated my wish to her also... I hope she has more luck than the last kid...

From Agra and Varanasi


From Agra and Varanasi


Today we took a trip to Sarnath where Buddha gave his first reading. It was a stifling day again and I think the group are templed out.... We came back to Varanasi and had lunch.

From Agra and Varanasi


From Agra and Varanasi


From Agra and Varanasi


From Agra and Varanasi


From Agra and Varanasi


From Agra and Varanasi


From Agra and Varanasi


From Agra and Varanasi


From Agra and Varanasi


From Agra and Varanasi


From Agra and Varanasi


From Agra and Varanasi


I took a walk for a bit and got talking to this girl and her mum who owned a store near the hotel. They invited me in for Chai and we had a chat for about an hour. It was great to find out about their family and life in India. They invited me to dinner at their house but I had to decline as we are taking a boat ride along the Ganges this evening but it was a lovely way to spend an afternoon.

The boatride on the Ganges was very special. It was just turning from day to night and we were sending out 108 wishes on floating candles into the Ganges. We then went to see a religious ceremony which was an amazing experience. Almost poetically, a dry storm sent lightning forks through the sky in the distance. It was all very special.

From Agra and Varanasi


From Agra and Varanasi


From Agra and Varanasi


From Agra and Varanasi


From Agra and Varanasi


From Agra and Varanasi


From Agra and Varanasi


From Agra and Varanasi


From Agra and Varanasi


From Agra and Varanasi


From Agra and Varanasi


From Agra and Varanasi


From Agra and Varanasi


From Agra and Varanasi