Killing Time and Asia Review
Trip Start Sep 05, 2005
284Trip End Ongoing
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The looks we received from the other people as we strolled up to the check in deck of Singapore Airlines was priceless. You could read there minds thinking, "what are those backpacker scum doing on our flight?". Even the stewardess checking us in didn't seem too pleased. Oh well can't complain as I get to fly on one of the best airlines in the world for a fraction of the price everyone else was paying. Haha!
Spent a few hours wandering around using the free Internet and Xbox games before getting a Whopper Meal, with 1 gallon of Coke, before sitting down to watch the rugby on TV. This is when I started to fell ill. My whole body ached and I suddenly got a stupidly high fever. Felt terrible when I finally got on the plane and hoped I would feel better in the morning.
Review of Asia
With the upcoming flight to Australia my foray into Asia will be coming to a close. I am having some conflicting thoughts about this event and I'll try to get them across here.
Asia has been my home for the last 5 months and it has passed so quickly that it can only have been good. I have loved my time here and it has been all I could have expected and nothing like I imagined at the same time. The places I've been have been a world away from home but I expected to experience far more culture shock than I have. Indeed sometimes the places seem so natural to me that I hardly feel like I have left home at all. I expected the town/city life to be completely opposite from home but to be honest they are one and the same, albeit with a different language, but even that was for the main part hidden behind the fašade of English.
I expected to find travelling in Asia a challenge but apart from certain places in NE Asia it was simple. It is all made far too easy for you. Indeed for most places in SE Asia you needn't even leave your hostel to arrange transport to another place. After the hassles of arranging transport in the smaller places in China this seemed too easy and as a result not the challenge I expected. But don't get me wrong, I could have done it all myself but the temptation to have it all packaged up in front of me for minimal effort was too much.
As a result I feel that the "backpacker scene" in SE Asia especially is a case of hop on - hop off buses, on a pre ordained route, that inevitably leads to you bumping into everyone all the time. This was always going to be the case however as we all blindly follow the guidance of one singular piece of information, myself included, the Lonely Planet.
Whilst the information included is invaluable it is also the downfall of individual travel. The book was my constant companion and trusted guide throughout the whole of SE Asia, so much so that I can't bring myself to part with it and it will be sent home, forever to sit on the mantle as a permanent reminder of this journey.
Reading this book on a daily basis helped me decide exactly where to visit and even though I avoided the tailor made itineraries they provide I still hit all the big locations, and for the main part turned to the book to see what I should visit each day.
You believe you are on some big adventure and only you have this source of information but you look around the fellow travellers on the buses and every hand is clutching onto the unmistakable yellow book, SE Asia on a Shoestring, and you know you are likely to see them again at some point down the line. The hostel in which I am currently residing, Travellers Lodge in Melaka, has a book shelf full of travel guides and there are no less than 4 copies of the said book, a new one appeared overnight, and it is no doubt always readily stocked as people fly off for pastures new in the guaranteed next stop of Australia or picked up by a new disciple, freshly arrived off the plane from somewhere in Europe or the promised land of Aus.
Speaking of hostels, I believe there is a serious drawback to travel in SE Asia and that is the lack of hostel culture. The whole way through NE Asia was spent in hostels which were great for meeting loads of people. They all had lounge/meeting areas where you could sit around and chat with the other travellers in the hostel. In SE Asia it was totally different. For the most part you were staying in hotels and the only way to really meet people was in bars. Travelling around on my own for 6 weeks around Thailand was quite difficult and I know that some hostels would have made it far easier. That said the majority of people travelling in Thailand seemed to be couples on holiday or in a large group. The hotels/bungalows were so cheap that I doubt a hostel would even work which is a real shame.
I make the book sound evil, and it really isn't, it is a fantastic source of information and there is no other way of travelling through an unknown country than with the guide at your side, and I would have it no other way.
But back to Asia. Up until Thailand I had the trip almost planned out to the letter. I knew before I left home the cities I wished to visit, almost exactly what day I would arrive and what I would see when I arrived there. My planning was fantastic and until Thailand I hardly had to backtrack to previous cities at all which I found incredible. However it took most of the fun out of the travel. It lacked spontaneity and it felt like I was just drifting along an endless conveyor belt from one place to the next. I believed my trip would be unique but you soon realise you are doing the same as everyone else. Long journeys ceased being an exciting challenge and more of an inevitability. This however is a good thing. I am far more patient than I was when I left England. Back home I despised the 30 minutes it took by train to London from Guildford and it seemed like an eternity. Out here 30 minutes seems like seconds. I relished the prospect of 20+ hour journeys as they were a test of my endurance. Getting somewhere new became the challenge and I still get excited when I finally arrive somewhere new for the first time. This is the reason for travel and to be honest I think I preferred the getting from one place to another more than some of the places I strived to reach! Indeed in Thailand I moved around from one place to another as an excuse to break the monotony of a country I really had no time for but found myself stuck there, something that may shock and appall most people but more on that when the time comes.
I'll start by returning to the journey into SE Asia from China, somewhere I was intensely glad to be away from at the time yet now find myself strangely drawn back. It's weird how somewhere you despised at the time now seems so good and having said at the time that I would never return, I am now planning not if but when and where. Yes it may have been hard going and I may have found it disgusting but after the bubble wrapped simplicity of SE Asia I long for a challenge again. For this reason I severely envy Lars who will soon be flying off to India for 2 months, said to be one of the hardest places you can travel, and somewhere that is now high on the list of my next travel destinations.
Laos however was fantastic and the ideal tonic to cleanse myself and recover after my time in China and prepare for an assault on SE Asia. Looking back I really did very little and hardly saw anything yet I still have a fondness for the place that I could easily return someday and do the same again. I now believe though that those 2 blissful weeks will be my only foray into the country, no matter how much I believed I would return whilst I was there, and very nearly did whilst I was in Thailand. It's not that I don't want to return, it's the fact it'll never be the same again. It was somewhere new, exciting and exotic. I mean 2 years previous I had never even heard of the place let alone expect to be there!
It will change drastically in the next 5-10 years and is already becoming firmly intrenched in the backpacker scene, the circle from Chiang Mai, through northern Laos ending in Vientiene having been done by almost everyone we encountered. Not that that is a bad thing as I think everyone should experience the current slow way of life, fantastic beer and great baguettes, that make the country so appealing whilst it still retains it's irresistible charm.
Next port of call was Vietnam. Now at the time I firmly believed I would visit again but to be honest I now have absolutely no desire to. I can't say I really enjoyed my time there, and used the rain as an excuse to get the hell out. People say you will either love it or hate Vietnam, I am indifferent. I neither love or hate the place. Sure there is a lot of history, mainly war history which doesn't particularly interest me but other people may love it and some of the hassling in the cities was worse than China. The open bus ticket whilst being a fantastic bargain really should be avoided if you wish to see the country and integrate with the local people, I didn't really wish to partake in either. The LP actually advises you not to use these buses and if you aren't on a tight budget I would agree. However my budget is miniscule and the prospect of getting from one end of the country to another for less than half the price of a train single from Bristol to Guildford had to grabbed with open arms. Screw what the LP says!
Cambodia was the shock package on the trip so far. I had no idea what to expect and it amazed me how much I enjoyed the place. Phnom Penh was a lovely little city, save for the rabid dogs, Sihanoukville had a couple of paradise beaches that would have been packed in Thailand but deserted here and the crowning glory of Angkor. But that's only the half of what's on offer. I could happily have spent more time visiting Battambang, Kratie and Bokor, and probably would have done if Dave hadn't become ill, and would love to have been there for the New Years Eve party. A rave in a ghost town would have been an incredible way to see out the year rather than bloody Koh Pha Ngan, although I did enjoy NYE so I can't complain really. One things for sure, if you're visiting Cambodia make sure you get the rabies shots before you leave home!
Like Laos I believe the country will soon experience a rapid influx of tourists. It has the almighty draw point of Angkor, which is unmatched in all SE Asia, and its only a matter of time before direct flights from Europe become more commonplace and then we'll see what happens.
Thailand was a real mystery to me before I set off on the trip. I knew a lot of people go there on holiday for a few weeks, and loads of travellers visit for months at a time but I couldn't really see the appeal. It just didn't seem to have any real highlights (save for the beaches) to merit spending a huge amount of time there.
However it was somewhere I had to visit and expected to like it there so had no worries when I found out I'd need to spend 2 extra months in Asia. However no matter how much I read about the country, nothing seemed to stand out as a place I really wanted to visit.
So I hit the main sights and did what I thought I should do. Chiang Mai was a nice enough little city but nothing magical like I had pictured it. The trek was fantastic however and well worth the money I spent on it.
Bangkok was also like I had imagined it but not really a place I wished to spend a lot of time. When I go back, which I think is inevitable even though I wasn't that impressed, there is no way I am going to stay in Koh San again, no matter how much it costs me!
The islands. I'm not really one for sitting around on a beach, although I've done a fair bit of it so far in Australia, so I really struggled to find other things to do to keep my mind occupied. If anything they were a way for me to get my head together and plan out the rest of my trip. I'm not saying they weren't nice places to visit. I thought Ko Phi Phi and Koh Tao were very nice, not as fond of Koh Pha Ngan though, and I'll probably end up back on Koh Tao again only to dive this time.
I'm not saying Thailand is a bad place to visit, I just belive that it doesn't live up to the hype. Maybe it deserves a second chance that I'm sure it'll receive some time in the not to distant future.
Malaysia was fantastic! After the amount of tourists in Thailand I was relieved to be in a less travelled destination. The amount of sights in Malaysia meant I was constantly on the move, which I really enjoy, and always had something to see.
When I look back on my time in Malaysia they are always going to be fond memories. Running through the rainforest in Taman Negara, the diverse mix of races and as a result the great food, the structural masterpiece that is the Petronas Towers and climbing Mount Kinabalu. Malaysia is a truly great place to travel and should receive far more visitors than it's neighbour to the north but oh well, it's their loss.
Singapore is a strange country. Well you can hardly call it a country really as it's just a big city. I didn't really know what I was going to do there, and I didn't really do anything, but I still had a reasonable time. Everyone I met really didn't want to be there, they were just killing time until their flights to Aussieland but it was still a nice enough place to spend a few days. Sip a few coffee's by the river and eat some great sushi, just make sure you avoid the Prince of Wales hostel and choose one of the many hostels nearby.
So that's it. Asia is over and I'm now sitting in Australia. It's a truly remarkable continent that everyone should see, even if you only go to Thailand. I will be back for sure as there are still plenty of places that I haven't been and loads that I long to return to.