A quick trip north

South of Golspie

Scenery on the way up

My first little trip in a while and another UK-based one. Laurie is working as a schoolteacher up in Thurso, about as far north as you can go without your feet getting wet, and invited me up any time I wanted. Partly as it’s a nice place to show people around and partly as it’s always nice to have visitors to remind you that there are places with such futuristic inventions as cinemas. Thurso’s apparently shut down some years ago and the nearest is now in Inverness – about 3 hours’ or so drive.

I was tempted to drive up. It’s about 8-10 hours depending on the roads from Glasgow, but I would likely add at least an hour to that stopping and taking pictures. Add the cost of fuel these days and the train was the best option. I drove to Perth and caught the train from there – the saving on ticket price (and one less connection to risk missing) more than compensated for the cost of fuel to get there. £16.50 each way for around 6½ hours of travel isn’t too bad.

Still a fair bit of snow up here...

Passing through the Cairngorms

Of course, there are always problems. About two weeks ago a train was derailed south of Inverness in the recent harsh weather. They are still working to repair damage done, so there is an “emergency timetable” in effect. I did check thoroughly and this was having no real effect on the train I was booked on *phew*. Said train was about ten minutes late leaving Perth with my connection at Inverness departing at 13:59.

As I settled into my seat, I was informed that we were currently due to arrive in Inverness at 13:47 – over 20 minutes behind schedule. Oh dear. Still in time for my connection, but you never know…

Well, not to worry about something I can do nothing about I relaxed in the wrong seat (some open-mouth-chewing, ignorant old git had taken my reserved seat and didn’t seem keen on giving it up), popped some Fear Factory on and buried my head in back issues of 2000AD.

Once in a while I raised my head to admire the passing scenery, and it wss gorgeous. As we spent an hour or so going through the Cairngorms, it was obvious that not quite all the snow in Scotland had melted as it seemed to have in Perth and Glasgow. Hills, fields, and mountains were coated in the stuff. As we passed out of this cold zone, streams could be seen and rocky areas looked more like snow had been splattered on them and left to congeal.

The main town square by night, Thurso

View from the window

Fortunately, we made it to Inverness at the newly-advertised time and I swapped onto my new train where I’m currently sat, listening to Megadeth and typing this lot up. We’ve just had an announcement that we’re waiting for a southbound train to clear a single-track section before we can leave Muir of Ord, but hopefully I shouldn’t be too much past the 17:45 scheduled time into Thurso.


Pulled into Thurso pretty much on time where Laurie met me. Spag bol for dinner, a great chat and basic plans laid out for tomorrow.

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It’s gone quiet here…

Yes, the page is pretty much on hold at the moment barring a few backdated posts I really should be working on. There will be more stuff on here as time goes on and I will be going to new, and returning to old, places.

But right now I’m residing in Scotland as I managed by some miracle to jump onto a PGDE Secondary course at Strathclyde University. It’s a one year course with a one year probationary year immediately afterwards. As a teacher I will get those nice long summer breaks which will allow me to get a decent foreign trip in!

Long term, I don’t know what will happen. I may opt to go straight onto a PGDE Primary course if the job market’s still slack in 2 years. I might get a really good offer and stay in the UK. I might remain here for a year or two working and then use that experience to get myself a job overseas – perhaps Bangkok or Hanoi.

Right now, my priority is to complete the course. Lifewise it’s to meet Ms Right and settle down, wherever that may be. Or to convince a Ms Right I already know that such is her surname and she’s just not realised it yet!

I guess we will see.

But in the meantime, I’d recommend you bookmark the page and check back once in a while; subscribe to my Twitter feed (not always family-friendly but I don’t go too overboard on it); or click on the RSS link and add me to your feed reader. That way when I add something new you won’t miss it.

Thanks for the company over the last 3-and-a-half years, people. It’s been a great ride and I look forward to seeing you all again soon for the next trip. Whenever that may be!

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Adelaide then Melbourne

Another quick roundup as I’ve not done a lot of touristy stuff, just hung out and travelled.

I ended up going for the redeye flight from Perth to Adelaide. Mel very kindly dropped me off at Perth International Airport. Then realised this wasn’t much use as I was flying domestically and even more kindly drove me the extra ten minutes to the Domestic Airport. Thanks, Mel!

It had been a good, smooth flight with Tiger Airways. We even took off late as there was a tailwind. The flight time was reduced and we were dot on time for landing. Craig (Mudcrab) picked me up at a little after 7am after I landed in Adelaide. He dropped me at his place where I caught up first on email and then on sleep.

Dinner was from the Adelaide Burger bar on O’Connell Street. This is heartily recommended. The chips are slight crispy, but I don’t know what they put in the batter. Whatever it is it tastes delicious. This was followed up by an exceptionally good slice of fruit crumble from the 24 hour bakery over the road.

Our home for the evening was to be the Crown & Anchor (if I remember correctly) where we chewed various amounts of fat and drank far too much and until far too late. Or early. They really don’t do “chucking out time” here.

Thursday was a bit of a blur until Craig came home. Just about recovered, we went to the Grace to see about 5 local bands each doing a short set. The final act, Raw Ether, were playing their last set for several months. The bassist is heading to Germany for some reason I didn’t quite pick up. All three members are 19 years old and annoyingly talented. Great set, and thanks for the free CD!

As the pub closed we relocated back to the Crown & Anchor until they did actually throw us out. A steak and pepper pie and a cake from the bakers on the way home and we crashed out around 5am. No worries. 2½ hours sleep would do us fine for the next day…

Only we had nearer 4½ hours. Craig was late for work and I was late to start hitching to Melbourne. However, Craig got me to the outskirts just before the M1 route begins and set me down around 10:00 for my trek to Victoria.

Almost 45 minutes later I got my first lift off a lady heading just outside of Adelaide to see a relative. A 20 minute drive, but it was a start. Next up – after 30 minutes – were two guys finishing work for the day. They both had beards as good as mine! They dropped me off after around half an hour with instructions on how to get to a really good truck stop if I was struggling.

Maybe 15 minutes later, I was picked up by Geraldine and her two dogs. They kept me company for 4½ hours as we stopped for a beer and headed deep into Victoria. 300km to go and I was picked up by Rick, a truck driver heading back east in his 4×4. He left me around 2 hours’ outside of Melbourne at a roadside café. I’d barely put my bags down when Jason, a young IT guy who works for a large financial company, picked me up and dropped me off right near Shelly’s place. Almost 12 hours to the dot since Craig left me in Adelaide.

However, by this time Shelly had caught a tram into the CBD. Cue a farcicle attempt to locate each other which we finally did. We had a quick meal (it was after 11pm by now) in Red Pepper on Bourke Street. This was amazing – only $5 for a small but filling and very spicy dahl dish with two nan bread. Just about the right amount for me at that moment.

We sat and talked for about an hour until Amy and her sister Emma picked me up to take me to their place where I’m typing this up now. The two girls are Vietnamese and if I remember correctly I got talking to Amy as she’s also a big sponsor of the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation in Hanoi.

So now to bed. I have a couple of plans for tomorrow (after sleeping very heavily) and then will be meeting up with Shelly, Amy and her boyfriend for a couple of drinks (oh, no…).

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Aussie catch-up

Hualamphong Station, Bangkok

Hualamphong Station, Bangkok

Fair bit of travelling since the last post, but I’ll try to breeze through it all. My flight from Yangon to Bangkok was on time, but I had some “fun” at the departure tax kiosk trying to convince them to accept a torn $5 bill and a $1 with the tiniest little rip in it. Two other passengers swapped the bills for me, stating how ridiculous the system was in Mynmar where the condition of the notes is so important. Their own currency can be battered, torn, ripped, covered in grease… and still accepted.

At Bangkok, I hooked up with another guy and two girls and we shared a taxi into the city. The chap and I were both getting off at Hualamphong while the girls were going on to Khao San Road. That involved a lot of haggling with the driver, but overall it worked out at around 50 baht each cheaper than getting the bus, and far faster.

At the train station I loafed in the KFC for an hour or so until my train was ready for boarding. A menu was provided for dinner and breakfast on the train, which would cost me 250 baht in total. You can take your own (non strong-smelling) food on board if you prefer, but the grub on board wasn’t too bad for the price.

The journey was quite long – departing at roughly 3pm and arriving at Butterworth in Malaysia around 2pm the next day (an hour ahead due to the time difference). It’s fairly comfy with large seats for the start of the journey. Around 10pm, the staff wander down and convert the seated areas into berths – one upper, one lower.  The upper ones are slightly cheaper and – apparently – slightly smaller, but certainly not cramped.

I enjoyed some brief conversation on the trip with two Japanese people travelling independantly of each other. I still find it unusual to see Japanese who aren’t on package/coach tours but they’re always very nice to chat with.

No hippies allowed!

No hippies allowed!

The customs stopoff as we crossed the border at Padang Besar was fairly casual, very much like the one coming from Singapore and heading north into Malaysia. However, here there are no x-ray machines. You still have to disembark with all your luggage, stamp out of Thailand, into Malaysia and then open your luggage. The check was cursory and polite with my bag being waved on after a quick prod and a query of “clothes?”

I did spot one sign as I queued at immigration giving details on how to spot a “hippie”. Click the thumbnail for the full details. I’m hoping this dates back to the 60’s and isn’t used these days!

At Butterworth, I haggled my bus fare down from 32RM to 28 (saving about 80p…) but had to find an ATM. If you’re arriving there off the train, go to the end of the platform to the station and look to the right. You’ll see a big glass building – the dental college. It’s about a five minute walk on the other side of the freeway. There are three banks located around the bottom with ATMs.

My 14:30 bus departed at 15:45 which wasn’t great. It was very comfy, though, with fully reclining seats and just the right level of aircon. It took quite some time to get to KL – over five hours – so it was rather late when I arrived.

The stage is set...

The stage is set...

I tried to find my guesthouse – Haven – but couldn’t spot it. As I stood looking puzzled, a man walked up and identified himself as one of the staff. Due to the heavy rain in KL recently, the ceiling had sprung a leak and they’d had to close down for repairs. He then walked me to another hostel nearby where they’d made arrangements for some of their guests to be houses. It was more expensive, but they were covering the difference. Nice place, too. So next time I’m in KL, I will be booking with Haven again and hoping their ceiling’s working!

I didn’t do much in KL apart from use the internet a lot and eat too much McD’s. I had some good company in the hostel, though, with Kiki from Vietnam, a German guy who’s name I didn’t get, James from England and a chap from Sri Lanka (now living in India) who I talked to for ages.

Then the usual Skytrain/bus combo to the airport (another McDs) and late flight to Perth where the lovely Mel picked me up after midnight. Immigration was a little hiccupy as I didn’t know Mel’s address. The usual rule – if it’s got an address space on it, fill it in. Even if you don’t know one, put any old nonsense in. The immigration guy was fine about it, to be fair, but it’s still one of those daft niggles. Back at her place I was introduced to Mason – 11 months old and cute as a button. He wasn’t around the last time I was in Perth!

Again, not a lot to do in Perth except lay back and chill out with Mel, Matt, Mason and Jezza. I bought a bundle of second hand books from an OpShop (charity place) for $4. The bill only came to $2.50 (a pound!) for about 12 books, but I don’t mind giving a charity shop a bit extra. My plan’s not to use aeroplanes so the extra bulk/weight shouldn’t be a problem.

Rocking hard!

Rocking hard!

The guys also had a gig in a nearby bar on Saturday night which I went to. They’re Matt drums, Mel sings and Jezza plays guitar. There’s also a bassist and another vocalist/guitarist who I met. The band’s called Crimson Ink and they’re pretty good! The sound was a little squelchy on their first set, but by the second and third they had a decent sized crowd up and dancing.

After the gig, there was a little altercation outside. Kids who couldn’t hold their beer – same all over the world. I helped break it up and ended up with blood down my arm and on my shirt. Not my blood, I hasten to add! And I don’t even know how it got there as I didn’t see anyone actually bleeding. Still, it all ended more or less peacefully and the venue seemed to like Crimson Ink – with luck it could mean a residency.

And that’s me up to date. I’m currently trying to get a lift to Adelaide ASAP. Failing that I’ll bite the bullet and get a flight. Tiger have one for the ridiculously low sum of $88 at 1:45am on Wednesday although I have to worry about those books. Hum.

Oh, I also have an Aussie mobile. If you need the number, contact me through the link on the right and I’ll give you it. It took me an age to register it as – like in the UK now or soon or planned – you have to register with a valid Australian address. Which is pointless as it’s not checked. The online registration refused to recognise Mel and Matt’s address, so I had to go through the voice recognition system over the phone. In an area with a really dodgy signal. Somehow I got it working though.

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Heading south

National Express East Coast HST

A train. Moving. This doesn't often happen in the UK

I’m typing this up on a train from Perth to Newcastle via Edinburgh. The trip begins. Or continues. Depends how you look at it.

I do have a rough plan. This weekend I will spend with Tony & June in Durham and then off down to London to see Andy and hopefully a couple of others.

On Tuesday morning I jump onto an Etihad flight to Bangkok via Abu Dhabi. I arrive at Suvarnabhumi Airport around 7am and should be able to make it (using Airport Express 3) to the eastern bus terminal on Sukhumvit for around 8:30. From there, there’s a bus ever couple of ours to the south-west border of Cambodia.

I will make a choice on the day to stop off at Chantaburi, Trat or cross the border and stay in Krong Koh Kong. The next day I’ll make my way to Sihanoukville, perhaps with a stop-off if anywhere looks nice enough.

Once in Sihanoukville, I’ll definitely be seeking out a good dive shop and will do at least a day’s diving. The area around the south west has a load of national parks and wildlife reserves, so I will explore them as well before making the journey to Phnom Penh.

I need a visa for Myanmar/Burma so I’ll sort it here and maybe do some trips around the area while I’m waiting for it. I’ve not explored the backpacker area in PP as yet, so I’ll likely stay there – maybe just chill. And without a doubt I’ll head for the Kanta Bopha children’s hospital next to the grand palace to give blood again.

If I’m lucky (really lucky) the train to Batambang will be running, although this seems hit and miss to say the least. If not, I’ll work my way up there and then cut west back into Thailand, making my way to Bangkok again.

Next up is a return flight to Yangon (formerly Rangoon) in Myanmar. Or Burma. Take your pick. I’ve checked and although I could visit a few border towns in exchange for $10 and – in one case – someone holding onto my passport, I can’t stay in the country if I enter by land. I also can’t exit back into Thailand by land, so flights both way it is.

No other plans within the country as yet, but I’ll read up and see what the options are. I’ve heard very good things about the country, although internet access may be hit and miss so if there’s a dead spot in communications, that’s why.

After that, back to BKK where I’ll get one of the train services down to Kuala Lumpur. The timing will depend on whether I’m catching up with friends there, whether I want to stop off on the way down and so on.

Regardless, I must be in KL for my flight to Perth where Mel, her partner and their lovely new(ish) baby will accommodate me for a night or two.

And there we are. I am absolutely buzzing with the thought of travelling around Asia again, especially seeing new places and new people. It’s going to be a slog as I’m on a timescale, but that stops me bedding down and wasting time.

Roll on Wednesday morning!

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