One night in Bangkok

Dum dum dum dum dum-dum. OK, trivia time. The song came from the musical Chess written by Tim Rice and two guys from ABBA. Anyway, that’s all that Amy and I had – one night. And two long days! Yet another early morning after too little sleep and we shared a minibus to the airport with two Aussies which worked out even cheaper than getting a tuk-tuk.

The whole airport/flight/landing thing was a bit of a blur courtesy of Amy’s snoring keeping me awake. OK, that’s a lie. If anyone was snoring, it was me. Somehow we managed to stay conscious as our Air Asia flight dropped us at the new (to me) Suvarnabhumi Airport. It’s certainly glitzier than the old one despite obviously not having been finished yet. Unplastered concrete shows between miles of glistening tubing. Or maybe that’s the “look” the designers were going for. It still doesn’t have free wireless, though. *tut*

Immigration was a breeze and we walked right onto one of the express buses. I believe the BTS (overhead train) is being extended out to the airport which will make transport even quicker in future. I’d elected to stay at the HI Sukhumvit this time rather than Big John’s. Partly as Amy was staying there and partly as it would be somewhere different that’s still in a good location (ie not crappy Khao San Road – I am such a snob). I won’t rattle on about the hostel and duplicate information you can find on the Thailand accommodation page.

Despite the best efforts of Bangkok’s notorious traffic system, we made it to the hostel by a little after 11:00. Not bad for a flight that landed at 9:50. Despite being exhausted, we agreed on a quick shower before heading out for lunch to make the most of our stay. The advantage we had was that I’d been here before, so anything Amy wanted to see, I did have a good idea of how to get there and how long it would take. As such, there’s not a lot new for this visit apart from the companionship!

I’ve decided just to lump this visit into one post as it’s easier on my doddery memory…

For lunch we (for “we” read “I”) settled on the Bull’s Head. I couldn’t visit Bangkok and not pop into the best British pub it has. So I did. While sitting force-feeding myself a delicious cornish pastie smothered in HP Sauce (which Amy declared she would have to try and get in the States now she’d tried it), Billy walked up to me. Billy runs the Bull’s Head and he’s a great guy – though he admitted he’d have walked right past if I’d not been wearing my Newcastle shirt.

We got talking (about football – surprise) and the Billy mentioned there was a pub quiz on that evening. Amy wasn’t too sure, but it’s an English Pub thing so we managed to twist her arm. It would be “quaint”. Billy also told me that I’d made it into the final cut of the music video being filmed when I was last at the Bull’s Head. He didn’t have a copy but after much searching, I located it online. You can see me around 2:08 through, and Billy giving out a red card a second later. I can’t get this to work in Firefox, but it does play with Internet Explorer:

Same Same – Give It All You Got video

Our stomachs full and our wallets emptied (lovely food, but pricey compared to eating on the street!) we boarded the BTS and headed for the river where we hopped onto a boat. The conductor on board didn’t take any money from us until we got up to disembark opposite Wat Arun, and then took so long sorting out our change that we missed the stop and had to get off at the next one. The walk back down one stop wasn’t too far, and we hopped on the next ferry across the river to see the Temple of the Sun.

I’d been before with Prashant, but it was still good to revisit. Amy loved it, and I think I appreciated it more this time than I did the first as well. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to wait till sunset and watch it being lit up, so made our way back to the hostel via the Siam Paragon mall. This has filled up somewhat since I was there last year, with most of the units now containing shops. Even the Ferrari dealership has opened its doors fully to non-Ferrari Club members. There we spotted that Spiderman 3 was on. At the IMAX. For less than the cost of a regular ticket back home. Times noted for the next day, we returned to the HI and showered.

A quick turnaround and we made it back to the Bull’s Head for 8pm and settled down for dinner. My stomach was still working on the pastie from lunch so I settled on the world’s best barsnack – a small plate of double-fried beef strips. Amy had something Thai and kept pinching my beef.

At 8:30, the quiz began. I won’t go into detail regarding the poor wording of the Great Plague question which cost us a point, though it wouldn’t have helped anyway as we managed to come last by a fair margin. I wish we’d played our joker on the music round instead of entertainment. Ah, well. Amy really enjoyed it, much to her surprise, and everyone who entered got a free bottle of beer. We also “won” a booby prize of a generous discount from a dive shop, but unfortunately as we were both flying out we couldn’t make use of it.

Downstairs, I lucked out completely. Virtually everyone I know in Bangkok was there! Louise’s cousins Joy (who part-owns the Bull) and Sharon as well as Joy’s husband Nacho. More free drinks (thank you everyone!) and some great conversation. Ciaran, the quizmaster, got chatting to me about the dive prize and it turns out his wife La works for the company (Dive Site Asia) who offered the voucher. She explained that the voucher’s fully transferable (I passed it on to two girls in the hostel the next day) and that the company offer dive master courses including accommodation should I wish to head back to Thailand sometime… Hmm… Another seriously interesting offer which I may take up. We’ll see what life throws at me in the meantime!

The next bit can’t be read by Amy’s mum. After wandering for ages as we are rubbish at following directions, we found Soi Cowboy. This is an area of go-go bars and, despite her feminist leanings, Amy was curious to see what Thailand had to offer. When in Rome, etc. Soi Cowboy’s basically the same as Pat Pong which I went to with Louise last time and it’s a curiosity for anyone quite liberal. I’d not make a habit of going, but at least I can say I’ve been!

Of course, this meant another late night but we walked back to the hostel anyway rather than haggle with taxi drivers. We bid a sad farewell to Amy’s umbrella on the way as it died a fairly snappy-broken-twisted death.

The next day was fairly well planned and we hopped around a few things. The Dasa Book Cafe wouldn’t take my photocopied Lonely Planets, but sold great warm chocolate brownies. We stopped by a little roadside place for lunch (top notch cow pad guy) and made it to the Snake Farm in time for the slide show. The snakes brought out were slightly different to my last visit but I managed to talk Amy into getting a Python draped over her shoulders. For someone who claims to be scared of snakes, she did well!

Just enough time to grab a massage for me and a pedicure for Amy (not at Miss Puke’s but the place next door. I didn’t get a photo of Miss Puke’s sign, so there’s the link to prove it exists! Then we dashed over the road, dot in time to catch the start of Spidey 3. On IMAX. Woah.

The sound was significantly better than when I saw Superman Returns in Auckland, though the lipsyncing was out for about half the film. Otherwise, I loved it. Yes, it shoe-horned a lot in. Yes, it was slightly predictable. Yes, some of the fast sequences were a little too fast and blurry. But who cares? It’s Spidey. I didn’t look at my watch until the credits rolled!

From there to a small cafe next to the Bull’s Head for some Kang Gai (chicken curry) and then the Robin Hood on the corner where I introduced Amy to Newcastle Brown Ale. Which she liked. I’m impressed. There’s hope for this American yet!

And finally… back to the hostel where I manage a quick shower and pack before the taxi arrived to take us to the airport. Despite flying opposite directions (Amy to Seoul, me to Dubai) our flights departed two gates and ten minutes apart, so we hung around until Amy’s flight was called. Many hugs were exchanged and I promised (and still do) I’ll catch up with her somewhere, somewhen! At least I have a guide in Chicago should I get there before she finds another country to work in for 2 years!

Then to my gate, onto my plane… and on to another country! I do like Thailand. Once more, I hope I get back there again sometime soon.

Chào Hà Nội

Yeah, back here again after a restful couple of days in Singapore. A quick catch-up as it really was restful:

I lazed around the hostel, updating blogs and emailing people. Went on the walk around Bugis with Karen and a bunch of tourists (hey – I keep forgetting I am a tourist) for the second time. I was quite pleased I remembered everything she’d told me the first time around.

After deciding on an early night, I stayed up until 5am talking to some people who came rolling in drunk before forcing my itchy eyes open after far too little sleep to try and convince people to go to the water park with me. Which failed. At least a lot of them were heading to the zoo which is a worthwhile alternative. Instead, I loafed. I made a start on Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell but gave up after two days. It’s crap. Avoid.

I collected my passport avec visa from the Vietnamese office. They have given me the 14 days I applied for. I was expecting them to give me 30, which is the most they allow, but I did only ask for 14. Still, I’m expecting to only stay there for 10. The extra four are in case flights/buses are full or expensive and I decide to wait it out.

Saturday was spent just chilling out until the evening. Leah – a teacher from the wilds of north Scotchland – and I went to see The Hills Have Eyes 2. Sick, brutal, violent and hugely predictable. Full of “what the hell are you doing?” and “I bet you a tenner he’s not dead” moments.

Back at the hostel we worked on making our eyes bright red by staying up till silly o’clock watching the second Harry Potter film. It got quite a crowd – good choice of film!. Then someone put on From Dusk Till Dawn 3 and everyone left.

Oh, yeah. And I accidentally bought a PlayStation Portable. Given that it was less than half the price I’d pay in the UK I decided to just get the thing. Great for movies and so on, especially when I take a lot of budget flights.

Sunday was the day of my flight so I had the usual rush around packing things and panicking that I’d written down the flight time wrong and stuff. Leah and I took a wander around the Colonial area – me being tour guide again – and I left her in a techie mall looking at cameras as I (literally) ran back to the hostel as I realised I was running late.

Beans on toast comfortably (almost – they were too damn hot) down my throat, I said my goodbyes and pegged it to the airport. It was great to see the people at the hostel again. A shame it’ll be so long until the next time. Hopefully I’ll catch Karen in Europe later in the year. Not sure when I’ll catch up with Dylan and Raj again though.

And then to Hanoi. Again. I got talking to a few people on the minibus who’d just flown in from Vientiane and got dropped off near the Backpackers Hostel. There have been a few changes around the place, but it’s still cosy.

I dumped my bags quickly, ran to an ATM and found a cafe/bar showing the Newcastle match. A great start to what I hope will be another memorable visit. 45 minutes of passably entertaining football, a point against a team I thought we’d get stuffed by, a rather tasty chicken burger, some delicious fresh fruit, a bottle of Hanoi Beer… and I only spent around 2 quid.

It felt like coming home after a long trip. I really do like it here. Tomorrow I’ll sort out my trip to Sapa and maybe catch up with the good folk at Blue Dragon.


Well, I’m safely ensconced at Mel’s house with free interwebnet and a handy nearby rail link to the city centre. I have a little schitzu squished up next to my thigh and the “untouchable” cat keeps trying to sit on my lap. The new labrador pup keeps trying to chew the laptop cable. I’ve not had much to do the last couple of days, so I decided to make up for not frequenting the cinemas in recent weeks.

I’ve seen five films in two days.

Mind you, I’ve not paid more than $10 a ticket for any of them. Got to love cheap cinemas. Although the $5 one in Canberra’s still the cheapest I’ve seen outside of Asia.

OK, upcoming plans first and film reviews second. Check out the schedule down the right hand column as I’ve pretty much decided where I’m going and what I’m doing. My only slight problem is getting a Vietnamese visa somewhere quickly enough to ensure I have it to make the flight on the date I want. I don’t have time here to mail my passport off (especially over Easter), and I only plan on 2 days in Singapore which may not be enough time to get the passport done in person – so I don’t want to book a flight in advance. Grr.

Possible solution: fly to Laos first and sort the passport there while I explore Vientiane; or to Cambodia and have it organised in Phnom Penh. I guess I better start checking out flight prices from Singapore.

As far as the next week or so go, though, it’s all busy. Tomorrow I’m being treated to a BBQ in the park near the city and I’ll spend a good couple of hours walking around the place. There are some nice statues and monuments in there from what I’ve been told.

Over the weekend I’m spending one day with Mel – who’s going to take me round Fremantle – and one day with her mum Jacqui – who’s going to take me round north Perth.

Monday morning will see me jump onto another bus for a 3-day trip around the SW corner, getting back late on Wednesday. I’ll then have Thursday daytime to recover before the Slayer gig that evening and my flight to Darwin on Friday 13th (which is also my mum’s birthday).

Back in Darwin I’m really looking forward to seeing my old bunkie Esther, the still-21-year-old Sharna and my French island-travelling-companion Delphine. Should make for a good few days before the Singapore flight.

I also think I’m firming dates up for the round-Europe trip around The Walk. Having spent a good few hours in Borders going through the Lonely Planet books, I’m getting a hankering to check out some of the Eastern European countries. I may do these between Prague and Italy. Just a night in Bratislava another in Sarajevo and so on.

Talking of Borders, I very nearly bought Europe on a Shoestring as they’re doing 20% off all the Lonely Planet books at the moment. The thing is, I did the maths and with the discount the book’s barely a pound cheaper than the full UK cover price! Books over here are not cheap. I’ll dig out a second hand one somewhere…

OK, films. I’ll rattle through these quickly as they’re not really travel-related! I hopped between the local Hoyts (big chain) and the Palace (local old-fashioned art-deco cinema with as much legroom as a Bangladeshi bus). Both charge $9 before 5pm on weekdays, and the Palace is still only $10 after that and at weekends.

Meet the Robinsons was well worth the money. It’s also the first time since I was a kid that I can remember seeing a Mickey Mouse cartoon before the main feature. Said film was great on both kiddie and adult levels with a huge amount of thought gone into the little details. The “bad guy” is like Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves‘ Sheriff of Nottingham taken to extremes.

The Good Shepherd was overlong, convoluted and rather dull. If it had been around 45 minutes shorter, I’d have enjoyed it. Maybe.

TMNT was pretty good. Some outstanding fight scenes and cracking dialogue. Eastman and Laird have a lot to be thanked for. The fully-CGI work has given what was a floundering franchise a new lease of life. I’m just wondering if it has the title TMHT in the UK?

300 was fairly enjoyable. Storywise a little thin, but visually stunning. Not as awe-inspiring as Sin City (from the same brain-pan), but that’s not surprising considering how superb that was. What is surprising is that despite the grim effects and violence, some of the dialogue had the audience laughing out loud (in a good way).

Finally Babel which I appreciate has been out for ages. Not bad for an arty effort, but one or two things never really made any sense. Having hung around in a couple of Islamic countries over the last few months I was pleased that I recognised a few of the phrases used during the Moroccan sequences!

Less films, more Perth from now on. I promise.

Blisters and Balboa

My feet were aching this morning. After all that trudging around Tasmania with neither a blister nor a whinge, my feet were punished by the wet weather and destroyed footware yesterday. In fairness, I spent an hour walking around the town centre looking for an open shoeshop, but due to the storm damage there wasn’t a single one open. OK, that’s a partial truth. I found one, but much as I have the legs for them, a pair of high heels just wasn’t what I needed.

Fortunately, most stores had reopened today so I first located a McD’s for breakfast and then a Big W in the mall for a pair of shoes. I changed footwear in the mallway and dropped my knacky old SIN$18 trainers into the trash. Much better!

After checking out of the hostel and storing my bags in a secure locker ($6) I plotted out my day. Some information was gathered from local bus companies and I decided to walk around the Canberra Museum and Gallery. Unfortunately the main permanent gallery was closed due to flooding, but I saw an art exhibition (yawn) and an interesting display detailing the recovery of artifacts from a fire in a university building 20 years ago. Archaeological techniques applied to a modern-day setting to try and figure out what was left in the rubble after bush fires destroyed a storage warehouse.

One thing I’d like to point out about the museum is the loo. Each cubicle had a sign on the door relating to the artwork painted on the inside. Very novel.

I managed to get a sew-on patch for Canberra (I wanted an ACT one, but they’re nigh on impossible to find) and sent some postcards. I have one state to visit – South Australia – and I’ll have been round the whole country.

Next up was lunch with Rach and her husband, more of my online friends, in Mooseheads. Less than ten bucks for a huge chicken burger and chips. Thank you for the beer, folks! As ever, they were the shining example of Aussie hospitality. I’ll be returning to Canberra next week and now have both a room for the night and a lift up to Newcastle! Seriously, folks – thank you so much!

I had a couple of hours left before my bus, which was nowhere near long enough for the Parliament Buildings, Botanical Gardens or Museum so I went to see a film instead. There’s an $8 cinema in the town centre and it was showing Rocky Balboa at just the right time so I popped in. Hard to believe I’ve been alive for all six Rocky films and this is the first one I’ve ever actually seen all the way through. It was OK, though. Not a classic, but enjoyable enough. I think I’d have appreciated it more if I’d seen the older ones.

Then just collecting my bags, back to the bus station and onto the coach for the 3-ish hour jaunt to Sydney during which I snoozed like a baby.

Being a cheapskate I opted to walk from Central to Kings Cross where my hostel was located. What an eye-opener. With the Mardi Gras on Saturday, Sydney is buzzing with people. All the clubs I walked past were heaving, and the sex shows and shops all had staff on the door trying to convince people to go in. Thankfully with two rucksacks, they didn’t seem to want to target me!

It took almost an hour to check in at the hostel – it seemed someone had failed to put any details of any of the bookings onto the system. The couple in front of me had a booking, but no room alloted to them so they ended up in a dorm rather than a private room. I got my chosen 10-share and met four very nice German people. The one in the room when I arrived was a girl (Anita, I think – again I apologise for being rubbish with names) who had just arrived, flat broke, from seeing her boyfriend back off to Germany from Bangkok. She was hungry, penniless and I’m a soft touch. So against her protests I dragged her to McD’s. If she hadn’t come with me I’d have brought something back for her!

While we were there we were nattering about our travels and those of friends, and a guy at the table overheard us talking and joined in the conversation. He was African – from Sierra Leon – and wondered if we’d been there. I think Hans may have, but don’t quote me. It made for great chatting, so thank you Moses! It’s always good to talk to new people from new places with new viewpoints.

The rest of the evening – till 2:30am – was spent on the roof and in the lounge at the hostel just gassing about where we’d all been and were all going. A very pleasant evening after a lot of plodding and footache.


I ended up in another new room when I got back to the Witch’s Hat, this time sharing with an Irish and an English girl. They went out about the same time I went to bed, but I slept rather soundly and only heard one of them doing her best to be quiet when she crept in at I don’t know what time.

Fortunately, I don’t think she realised I’d stirred as she undressed for bed. Nice bum! I hasten to add that it was pretty much near-darkness and I didn’t realise what I was seeing until it was too late to get my camera close my eyes.

At 6am, the same girl was crawling back out of bed as she had a flight to catch back home, poor sod. She was, again, as quiet as could be but it didn’t matter as the bin lorry arrived as she was packing. Ever heard three lowly paid council workers emptying several wheelie bins full of glass bottles? It’s loud. Even I couldn’t sleep through it.

After breakfast, I got talking to Margaret the Irish girl in the room. We decided to wander down to the Mint in town which I’d been planning for about 6 days. It’s definitely worth the visit if you’re in Perth. It’s the oldest currently functioning mint in Australia, though it produces bullion bars and coins rather than general currency. All that is now made at the new mint near the airport.

If you do go, check any kind of discount card you may have. They take a lot, including YHA/VIP and it gets you 10% off or thereabouts. I also found a voucher in one of the tour guide books which got me a "free silver coin" – an old 1960’s three penny bit! It’s only tiny, but a nice souvenir.

There’s not a huge amount to see at the Mint, but what’s there is fascinating. Every hour there’s a gold-pouring demonstration where a staff member melts around $160,000 worth of gold them pours it into an ingot. The whole procedure is described and some history of the building is gone into. When they decomissioned it from full-time gold production, even the soot on the ceiling was refined – and $20,000-worth of gold retrieved from it!

In a sealed perspex box there is a gold bar you can try and lift up. It’s darn heavy. Also, a set of scales linked to the current exchange rate will tell you your value in dollars if you were made of gold.

All in all, really only an hour or so’s wandering but enjoyable enough for our $8.80.

I picked up two tickets for Ghostrider tonight at the Piccadilly. Toni has checked out of the hostel, but as I type the person who was supposed to collect her and put her up for a few nights hasn’t appeared. Oh dear. And the hostel’s fully booked now. Oh dear, oh dear. Well, we’ll kill some time with the film tonight and see what transpires!


Toni is now checked back into the hostel in the same room I was moved to. The guy who was supposed to be putting her up has gone utterly AWOL. As for Ghostrider… if it were any cheesier, it’d be for sale in the delicatessen at Asda. Superb special effects, plot-by-numbers, painful dialogue.

As I’m typing this up, I’m enduring Walk the Line and forcing large qantities of free date/walnut pudding and caramel sauce down my neck. I wonder which will be the first to make me ill.