I’m now a month into my travels and I can finally catch a breath whilst travelling on a bus in Cambodia to reflect upon my experiences of leaving the UK and the start of my travels.
A quick history to my story
I left London on 28th May 2012, a heat wave day in UK terms. I boarded a plane to Kuala Lumpur via Hong Kong having spent a week partying with friends and family, going to my good friends’ Graham and Lisa’s wedding and sleeping on sofas. I was actually really looking forward to the long flight just to be able to sit back and relax for 17 hours. I have to say Cathay Pacific were pretty good hosts and it was a comfortable trip even though I stupidly reserved a window seat in a row of 3. Seriously, no sane person over 5 feet 5 does that on such a long flight? I must have been tired when I checked in! Anyway it just meant that toilet trips were disturbing for the 2 British engineers sitting next to me who had to get up out of their seats to let me out. Oh well.
As I sat on the flight (awaiting take-off) it was the first time that it properly hit home that I was taking to the road having given up my rented flat and sold everything (or given to charity) minus what was in my backpack and a couple of guitars and small things which my sister and friends were kindly looking after. A liberating feeling whilst also more than a little bit daunting because at the ripe old age of 31 you get niggles; – should I be being more sensible and planning for my future with mortgages and pension plans? What if I spend all my money and come back with nothing? When will I see my family and friends next? I quickly filed those queries under ‘irrelevant’ EXCEPT for the family and friends bit that I couldn’t find an answer too. I settled into the knowledge that things will just work out (one way or another) AND that this is just one of the many risks that I’ll take in my life to experience as much as possible.
Relaxing back into my window seat in row 68 with a cold beer (not ideal for the bladder when you can’t get to the loo without making people move) I made 2 decisions. The first was to let things happen as freely as possible. By that I mean that rather than having a set itinerary I would see what opportunities presented themselves and go with them with little questioning. The second was to make this a financially sustainable trip, I had in mind studying a TEFL course and then teaching English somewhere but as of leaving had not decided where to study or where to teach. I would chat to people I met on the trip and see what their thoughts were and find out if anyone had either done a good course or knew of one.
The Trip Part 1
Arriving in Hong Kong for a change of planes was great, I loved Hong Kong as a child as my family lived in China for 6 years and we made several trips there over the years. Even though I wasn’t leaving the airport it was great to look out of the big windows at the skyscrapers and misty mountains. It felt right to be here although again I knew it would be tough being away from family and friends for an indefinite period of time. But at least these days with social networking and Skype calls, it’d be pretty easy to keep in touch.
Back on a plane and the next thing I knew I was picking up my backpack from the carousel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I headed into KL Sentral Masjid Jamak near Chinatown via the high speed train then tube. It was about £7 for a half hour journey but having travelled for quite a few hours at this point I wasn’t going to start scrimping by getting the local bus. I just wanted to get to the hostel quickly.
KL is called the city in the Jungle because it was literally built in the middle of a jungle. The huge trees that line the roads and stand tall between the space-age skyscrapers (like the PETRONAS towers – once Asia’s tallest buildings) are a constant reminder of that. I really liked it and had been before. I was coming back in a couple weeks hence why I decided on only a 1 night stop, plus the fact that I’d bought a cheap Air Asia plane ticket to Bali for the next day. My return flights for my week trip to Bali being the only set plans on my itinerary.
After a night drinking and eating some local street food with some nice people from my hostel (Reggae Mansion – recommended if you’re happy with Japanese pod style dorm rooms and a cool rooftop bar for approx. £8) I headed to the airport again this time via bus for about £1 to catch my flight. On my bus I was sitting next to an old Australian lady who told me about her family and politics in OZ. She also told me she’d been on the programme ‘Banged Up Abroad’ which was interesting but made me feel slightly dodgy as I’ve watched a few of those and I know that Bali where I was headed was a place not to mess around!
I had 1 bottle of whisky in my backpack (a present for a friend) which I checked in and going through duty free decided I’d buy another as spirits are really expensive in Bali due to the tax (a bottle of Jack is about 70USD). I thought nothing of it. Arriving in Bali I filled in my arrival card, which clearly stated just 1 litre of alcohol per person to brought in. So I declared 2 bottles on my form, as the officials are well known for being corrupt and fining you a lot!
I got my 25USD visa on arrival and went to pick up my backpack. It was the last one on the carousel and as I put my hand on it I immediately had 3 airport officials grab my arms, pushing me in the back asking me, ‘Is this your bag Sir’. ‘Err, yes this is my bag’, I’m assuming this is because of the whisky but to be honest at this point I’m a little bit worried that someone has put something in my bag as the way they were dealing with me was way more harshly than I would have expected. Anyway I got dragged through an x-ray machine along with my bags and asked if I had anything in my bag. I said, ‘Yes, a bottle of whisky as mentioned on my declaration form’. Seriously, why had I met someone who’d been on Banged Up Abroad just hours earlier? Anyway they took me to a desk where I paid 20USD to keep the bottle of whisky otherwise it would be ‘destroyed’. A strange entrance to Bali and I was very glad to see my friend Alex waiting at arrivals! We immediately downed a bottle of beer and smoked cigarettes once I told him what happened. Although he explained that it’s very common as the country is very corrupt.
We headed back to his place in Sanur which he shared with his girlfriend via taxi for 80,000IDR – approx. £5. The flat was actually in a Homestay with an Indonesian family. Their flat was separate to the family’s house but was within the walls of their land. I had a lush separate 1 bed flat in the same place with a patio area and outdoor kitchen for 150,000IDR per night. Sweet! That first night Alex and I stayed up to test the whisky and make plans to surf the next day.
In the next week we surfed in Kuta beach 3 times which for me was ideal as I had little experience and the waves we’re ideal near the shore for beginners with some bigger 6ft sets rolling in at the back for those who knew what they were up to! I caught a wave on my third attempt then spent the next couple hours on the first day trying to achieve the same result. By the end of the week I was trying to catch the bigger waves at the back, often getting tombstoned but loving it all the same. We left all our bags on the beach with locals whom we hired boards from as Alex said ‘they believe in Karma so nothing will get stolen’. It’s only the other foreigners you need to worry about!
We spent the next week hanging out in Kuta, Sanur, Pedang Petang and Ulluwatu with Alex’s sister (Charlotte) and her husband (Ross) as they’d headed out for a 2-week holiday at the same time. We climbed to waterfalls, surfed, visited temples and drank cocktails. It was great to see them too and have a laugh as we’ve all know each other for about 12 years but haven’t had much of a chance to hang out in the UK. A great week all in all and I didn’t really want to get on my plane to Singapore, I considered changing flights but they were so expensive that my decision to go as planned was made easy.
I wasn’t looking forward to Singapore particularly. The only reason I’d bought a flight was to catch up with another friend Matt but he’d changed his travel plans from the very expensive Australia with his girlfriend Caz and ended up in Bali at the same time as me, so we caught up on a beach one day and hatched plans to catch up again wherever our trips collided again.
I got the tube from the airport to Lavender tube stop near my hostel. It was gone 11pm when I arrived and so I dropped off my stuff and headed straight out in search of food. I found a food court right next to Lavender station where locals were eating and scored some seriously good veggie noodles for about 50p and made plans for my next day.
In the morning till afternoon I walked through Little India sampling various foods and through Chinatown. It was actually a lot more reasonably priced than I’d remembered and very tasty! This time I was travelling as a veggie and was surprised at how many food options there were in Singapore.
In the hostel I got chatting to some other travellers and ended up heading out that eve with an Aussie kick boxer called Ben a young German guy called Mo and a Yorkshireman called Andy. We were a strange bunch but enjoyed each others company and went in search of a big screen to watch Germany playing the Euro 2012 football. We found a massive outdoor screen, purchased some 7/11 beers and settled in for the eve. I decided that I’d make a move the next day as I’d overheard another traveller from hostel talking about going to a place called Malacca in Malaysia and I needed to head that way.
The next morning I found that traveller who was Dom from Germany and we headed off to find the bus. This guy was a hard-core budget traveller, which suited me fine. We walked for 3 hours in the burning heat with our backpacks on (his 9kg, mine 18kg) in search of the local bus. We finally got to the Malaysian border at Johor Bahru for 1USD and then after a bite to eat and another hour walking with backpacks and found the next local bus to Malacca for 5USD. I think I lost about a stone that day!
Malacca is a very European looking little town with a lot of Dutch architecture, even a windmill on the banks of a river that winds it’s way through the heart of the town. We stayed in a cheap dorm room. The guy in the room with us was a huge Indian chap who snored like a freight train. His noise combined with the huge rats I saw outside the room at night led us to check out and find a different backpackers. That was better but soooo hot. I can’t believe how humid it was there, I literally never stopped sweating. We spent 3 days there spending very little money, walking, eating street food, chatting and drinking the occasional beer. I really enjoyed it but 3 days was enough. I said goodbye to Dom as he went off to board a local boat to Sumatra in Indonesia and I took the local bus heading back to KL again. I was the only falang (foreigner) and got to Kl in a couple hours for another 5USD. Total trip from Singapore to KL approx. 11USD!
Back in KL I headed back to Reggae Mansion as I knew they had a big screen on their rooftop that ended up being a good place to watch England draw with France, although it did mean watching a 1:45am kick off.
The next day I booked onto an overnight sleeper train to Hat Yai the Thai border town. I had in mind heading from there to Raleigh Bay near Krabi where all the rock climbers go as the climbing there is incredible. Sure enough on my train I met 3 young American climbers who said I could tag along with them and also an English girl who also decided to tag along.
The train journey was great, beds very comfortable and cheap tickets, about 15USD for a 14-hour journey. They had a great food carriage serving food for about 1 or 2 USD.
Having got our visas sorted out at the border we all got in a mini van for the 5-hour journey to Krabi, then a 20 min boat ride to Raleigh Bay. But the backpacker area is actually not at Raleigh bay, it’s on the other side of the Peninsula in a place called Tonsai Bay but the tide was too low to sail there. To get there we did an almost vertical rock climb up a few metres at the end of the Raleigh beach to the start of a trail with a rope hanging down. Doing this in the near dark with an 18kg backpack and another bag with a laptop in is seriously not recommended. Also if anyone does do this in the dark make sure to have a head torch because you need both arms. After the 20-minute trek we found our way down off the rocks and onto Tonsai beach. A 10-minute walk up the first dirt track and we found some bungalows for about 3 USD per night, the Americans shared 1 and the English girl and myself shared another. Just to clarify, I didn’t succumb to her quite blatant advances. I guess I’m just not into hairy armpits…
I spent 3 nights and 4 days around Tonsai climbing with a Thai guide called Dee. He was a decent enough guy with a massive scar across his stomach where he’d been shot by a stray bullet during the most recent (few years ago) skirmishes in Bangkok.
During that week I’d been in touch with Matt and Caz who had made their way to Bangkok to stay with Matts’ brother who lives there with his wife and children. So I needed to head there to catch up with them.
Another boat and night bus later and I arrived in Khao San Road in Bangkok at 5am – absolutely shattered. Ehhh, what a horrendous time to arrive tired amongst all the craziness that is a drunken Khao San Road. I headed to Burger King (as it was the closest sanctuary) to gather my thoughts and decided where to stay, as it was an obvious escape from the crazy shit. Almost immediately I was accosted by a definite ladyboy who would not leave me alone. So I made a quick exit from Burger King, followed hot on the heels by the ladyboy. I went to the first decent looking hotel ( DD’s) and managed to get rid of the ladyboy before paying well over the odds for a room. However I did get to check in at 6am and there was a pool there for the next day so I couldn’t really complain.
The next day I finally met up with Matt and Caz after we sat in adjacent restaurants for an hour waiting for each other. I’m sure Matt and Caz won’t mind me saying that they were in the wrong restaurant, not me!
– the travels continue and so will the blog in Part 2 –