View of the sun rising over Angkor Wat
Lets get the apologies out of the way; apologies for the horrendous font, it was either facebooks font or my iPhone notes apps... and that one is bloody ridiculous and sorry for the huge gap since my last blog. I am alive and I've been having a cracking time. It's been so long since my last blog that I'm going to have to split it in to Asia and Australia. This one is all about the rest of my South East Asia travels. So if you actually have the attention span or the procrastination, grab a coffee or redbull because this is going to be a longen. Worth it though! A lot has happened, including; the Vietcong tunnels, Cambodia- The Killing Fields and Angkor Wat, Dan costing me 500 baht on his birthday, jack appearing and causing absolute havoc, Koh Phangan and the inevitable full moon party, escaping from a tuk-tuk like Tom cruise in mission impossible, Koh Tao and my PADI Open Water course, Koh Phi Phi, Malaysia particularly the Perhentian Islands and my Advance PADI qualification and finally Singapore.
I'll start with Hoi An in Vietnam, I think that's where I finished off last time, forgive me if
Nature dominating the landscape and the site used in the first Lara Croft movie
I'm wrong and repeating myself. Hoi An itself was pretty quiet, it's really just a place for backpackers to go and get clothes tailored for dirt cheap...only to then never wear them as they're such shite quality it wasn't worth the effort, don't believe me? Ask the Irish how many of them still have what they bought. The hostel we stayed at was decent, we had a freakin pool! (Gap yah) and was practically a hotel, but for only 4 pound a night, finding hostels that cost so little is certainly something to get accustomed to. The place was so nice I even threw 2 fingers up at my stomach and delved in to the Vietnamese food, ordering a noodle soup with a variety of spring rolls which was all very tasty. We were hoping for a few quiet days to give our livers a decent rest after the battering they'd been out through ever since Castaway...the Irish on the other hand had other ideas, first off they dragged us to crappy bar where you could write on the walls, fair to say childish comments were written everywhere (and not just by us). The second night was another matter what
with the arrival of the second half of the Irish, quickly leading to us being in a club...alone, with it being all you can drink for £3. I took full advantage of this and remember little of the night except a 3 person scooter ride home and buying 4 meals from a kebab shop. Thankfully the beaches of Hoi An were the perfect place to nurse a hangover, each morning we would hire a bike and cycle the 3k to the beach, an impressive feat in its own right with the condition we were in but worth it. The beaches along Vietnam are incredible, all with perfect white sand, crystal clear water, a lining of palm trees and locals willing to fetch you anything from nearby for a small tip.
After Hoi An we caught another 14 hour overnight bus down to the holiday resort of Nha Trang, I was so tired on arrival I couldn't face doing much more than chilling in my air conditioned room, so that's exactly what I did. I watched random documentaries on national geographic, including some on animal taming, fishing programmes, Lego and carpet... Sometimes my life is so exciting I need to
just an example of what we saw when diving in Koh Tao and the Perhentian Islands
take it down a level and in my defence I had already exhausted all the football games from the previous week so I was left with little other choice (and carpet is fascinating). On the second day we agreed to go out on a boat and do some snorkelling, incredible. Despite the area being pretty touristy we were taken out to a series of islands, all with blooming coral reefs and an abundance of interesting fish. Dan managed to get 2nd degree burns on his back after refusing to put sun cream on, what massive dry lunch.
The final stop of Vietnam was Ho Chi Minh, named after their main man in the Vietnam War. It had a contrasting feel in comparison to Hanoi, which had felt old with small bustling streets and old buildings. Ho Chi Minh was instead full of new towering buildings and wide roads that actually seemed to have some order to them. We only stated here for 1 night due to our tight schedule but it felt like it was enough, we did our classic method and went by night bus, arriving early one morning and then leaving late evening the day after. We
The Island- Koh Phi Phi
site apparently used in the movie 'The Island' (haven't seen it)
visited the War Remnants museum on the first day, a pretty bleak place as it highlighted the damage America caused during The Vietnam War with the use of napalm, agent orange and cluster bombs. It was still filled with propaganda, ignoring the damage the Vietcong did during the war but wasn't quite as biased as Hanoi's prison, the top floor even contained photos donated by a series of war photographers and journalists present in the war from a variation of countries which was fascinating. The day after we visited the Vietcong tunnels with a tour guide nicknamed Jackie (he apparently looked like Jackie Chan but I couldn't see it) the tour was great, I was able to be one of the first of our group down a non-widened tourist tunnel with absolutely no light, forced to crawl on all fours and with nothing to go on but 'always turn left or you'll end up in the Mekong'. A series of traps used in the Vietcong's guerrilla warfare were in a hut where we could see just how they worked, all of them were grim, intending to cause as much damage to a person or collection of people with minimal effort. Imagine Rambo, but real and more metal... in fact just imagine the Saw movies. Traps included some with barbed hooks aimed downwards and one in the middle facing upwards to impale a foot and trap the entire leg, rolling traps that basically impaled and dragged the soldier through into a pit which held snakes or scorpions and finally a small pad with spikes on the floor, someone treading on it would cry out in pain, soldiers would gather to help their friends only to lift the pad, activating a bomb underneath. Killing them all. They were ingeniously simple but brutal.
It was a shame to leave Vietnam, the country is beautiful and has such a complicated history that there seems to be an infinite number of things to do. I've promised myself I'll come back someday to truly enjoy it, hopefully before it all gets tourist-ed to death. 2 weeks is not enough in any country. BUT, we managed to squeeze Cambodia in to 4 days, impressive I know, we weren't sure exactly what to cover in Cambodia and how long we would need. The only sites we knew we couldn't miss, no excuses, were The Killing Fields near Phnom Penh and The Angkor Wat so that's all we did.
First off was Phnom Penh and the second largest genocide in the 20th century. Phnom Penh itself was a tourist site, filled with old men creepily wining and dining young Asian girls (and other 'activities') so it wasn't the best of places. But I did meet a middle aged Canadian man who was smashed at lunchtime who decided to show me how bad the table mats for the table we were sitting at were. Resulting in him throwing my cutlery everywhere before saying 'I've never worked a day in my life'. He needs to work, he was a bellend. It was St Paddy's day the day we arrived so the evening was spent drinking green beer and listening to an out of tune/time Irish band who'd clearly smashed a few too many Guinness's beforehand.
Hangover free we spent the last day doing the Khmer Rouge massacres in the form of the Killing Fields and the jail S-21. Both were indescribably bleak and depressing but I'll give it a go. If ever in Cambodia you simply have to visit these sights, it feels almost like you owe those killed the acknowledgement of the trials and trepidation they experienced over a short 4 year period. If you haven't heard of it, read a book called 'And Then They Killed My Father', it's an account of what a small girl aged only 6 at the beginning of the regimes takeover experienced, how most of her family were killed or simply disappeared in work camps.
We grabbed a tuk tuk to take us to both sites, visiting the Killing Fields first. The first thing you see when entering the site is a large tower like mausoleum which houses thousands of skulls and long bones found at this site alone. The guided tour led us around the site from where the prisoners first arrived to where they finally met their deaths. Enroute we were shown sites where the prisoners were kept in small double sided wooden shacks to prevent them from seeing what was happening outside. The tour even stopped us at a small palm tree, here it told us how the Khmer Rouge never fired a weapon in the massacres, instead just they used blunt or edged weapons, the sides of a palm leaf are sharp and were actually used to cut the throats of those executed. And by far the most disturbing site in the Fields was a tree covered in bracelets and prayer beads. It turns out the tree had actually been used to kill women and children, especially babies, simply by hitting them against it and right next to it a mass grave was discovered with over one hundred women and children inside. That was easily the hardest and most disturbing thing I have seen. I understand why so many Cambodians are furious at how Pul Pot was allowed to die of natural causes in a home arrest far away in Thailand, he should have been put in front of an international court and been held responsible for his actions.
After The Killing Fields we jumped in the Tuk Tuk for a far more sombre ride than earlier, and headed off to the S-21 Jail in the heart of Phnom Penh. The S-21 Jail was a converted school used to contain perceived political prisoners, here they were tortured until they provided a confession of guilt, many convicted here were in fact innocent but caved under the endless torture they were put through. The Jail/school complex looked similar to flats from the 60s you see in the rougher areas of London, just huge pieces of concrete. Each block had been converted in to a series of rooms, the first block was for the most important of prisoners, usually those known to be guilty or believed to be in contact with the outside world. These cells were the size of the classrooms what were once present, I don't think they converted them at all. Still present though were the solid metal beds that the prisoners were chained to and in some beaten to death (in a few dried blood is still visible on the floor). In the courtyard outside was what would have once been a set of swings but the Khmer Rouge had converted it in to gallows, prisoners were hung until they lost consciousness and then dropped in faeces in large jars just below until try regained consciousness, only to be hung once again. The other blocks were converted in to tiny cells just large enough for a man to lie down in. The bottom floor of the final block documented some of the forms of torture used and those who suffered at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, and was definitely not suited for children or those with a weak stomach. There were walls of photos showing men who had been beaten to death or with slit throats, taken by the Khmer Rouge so weren't censored at all. One picture is still vividly ingrained in my mind, a man probably about my age who had been beaten to death, not just beaten to death but beaten so hard that his skin had practically dissolved. Beaten to a pulp doesn't do it justice.
From Phnom Penh we made our way over to Siem Reap and more importantly Angkor Wat, one of the 7 Man Made Wonders of the World. Our hostel we stayed in was pretty interesting, they messed up our reservation so it ended up being me, Dan and Ollie squished in to a small room with 3 double beds and nothing but a fan to keep us cool (it failed miserably, but probably because we spent far too much time throwing stuff in to it) and Ryan had a private room with a king sized bed, the lucky bastard. We spent the nights relaxing in bars on an appropriately named Pub Street with 3 of the Canadian girls we had met at Castaway, that and browsing the night market for tshirts as they seem to get ruined at an insane rate. After a couple of 50 cent beers and a good look around the night market we stumbled across some lurid silk shirts, I'm blaming the beer but we all bought one in a different colour...just so we could look ridiculous on nights out (like we needed any help anyway). Anyway! Back to why we were actually here in the first place, Angkor Wat. The sun rose at 6am over the massive temple complex so we agreed to be up for 5am to get there with plenty of time to spare, unfortunately the night before had finished only a few hours before so Ollie was still smashed ad Ryan had done a runner and was nowhere to be found so got left behind.
The day at Angkor Wat cost us $20 dollars, which may seem pretty extortionate but I'd say it was easily worth it, we were there to see the sun rise over the Angkor Wat, an unforgettable experience and something few people can say they has witnessed. We spent the early morning exploring the Angkor Wat complex, climbing up a huge stupa to pay respect to a large golden Buddha at the top, receive a bracelet from a monk whilst being given a prayer (it was in Cambodian so I have honestly have no idea what he was saying, but hopefully it was something nice), and seeing huge murals of battles carved in to the stone walls. After the Angkor Wat complex we moved on to Ta Prohm, where if anyone remembers, the first Tomb Raider film was shot and I believe part of an Indiana Jones movie. This temple had been largely left as it had been rediscovered by the French, the ruins were over run by towering trees with roots ripping walls apart. This was perhaps my favourite of the temples, it was great to see nature having such a destructive impact on a man made structure and made the place even more memorable. Our final stop was Angkor Thom, another huge complex but the highlight was easily the temple covered in stupas with faces carved out of the stone towers, from what I can remember there was a total of 216 faces in the temple. By 2pm the temperature and risen to about 36 degrees and with next to no shade or breeze we called it quits, we had seen the 3 largest temples and with the heat the others just didn't quite seem worth it, my tshirt got ruined just from the dust on the tuk tuk ride home because I was sweating so heavily.
With The Killing Fields and Angkor Wat both visited it was time to say goodbye to Cambodia and head back to Bangkok to meet Jack and start what was bound to be a heavy couple of weeks with far too many buckets seen off and shapes thrown profusely. It was Dans birthday in Bangkok so we had agreed to avoid a hostel for a change and go for a hotel, it cost us about £15 a night but had aircon and a swimming pool on the roof! That night we met up with the Irish on nowhere else but Khao San Road wearing our lurid silk shirts from Siem Reap. They went down an absolute storm and so did the Sangsom whiskey, perhaps a bit too well for Dan. By 2am he had long since peaked and was crashing, it ended up with me and Ryan having to pay 700 baht for a taxi to take him 50metres back to the hotel and in that time he managed to cover not only us in sick but the tuk tuk as well. We had to carry him back up 3 flights of stairs to his room with the help from a massive Scottish guy who then went on to threaten to kill us. A lovely chap. Jack arrived early the next morning to find Dan asleep not on his bed but on the floor between the 2 beds, he didn't quite manage to make it the extra foot up the bed. That day was spent doing nothing but dying by the pool and eating our way quite comfortably through a McDonald's and a Subway. I am a terrible traveller, but frankly I'm long since caring. That evening was spent once again at Khao San Road with Jack buying buckets left right and centre, forcing us all to drink (like we needed help anyway) upstairs we found the Irish bar had a covers band so the rest of the evening was spent moshing away to covers of 'Killing in the Name', 'Chop Suey', 'Lithium' etc. so many and they were actually really talented! We bloody loved it and were the last ones to leave, long after the band had packed up and left but the bar was still playing some absolute classics and the rest of Asia only seems to play house so it was a great change (and house is perhaps the worst genre of music to ever be created).
And so it truly begins. After Bangkok and it being the end of the month it meant Full Moon Party on the island of Koh Phangan. An island of partying for 5 nights a month where 30,000ish travellers flock to buy buckets for £4 and wake up on the beach with no recollection of what happened. Our bus down to the island was perhaps the best we've had so far, they even played the latest Spider-Man film! Get in. Our hostel was brand spanking new as well which was fantastic, it was owned by a really nice hippy European couple with their children (all of which had dreadlocks) and we had the entire place to ourselves. We had decided to stay a couple of kilometres outside of the main party place on the island to get a decent nights sleep (we never managed it anyway), for the extra security and the other half of our team the Irish were next door so we always had something to do.
On our first night we went down to the beach, it was quite compared to the other nights but there was still quite easily 5000+ on the beach and stall upon stall of locals selling booze. My downfall was some free shots given to me by the stall called 'Tom is a c***' they seemed like a great idea at the time but looking back on it they must've been paint stripper and going back for seconds when no one else did was definitely a stupid idea. The rest of the evening was spent throwing aggressive shapes to drum n bass on the beach, swimming in the water every 5 minutes (I love water apparently) and jumping off tuk tuks, sorry mum and dad. But it was a great night.
The next day was spent hungover, relaxing by the Irish girls hostels pool and sleeping, readying ourselves for that nights activities. A party called the Jungle Experience,no don't really need to explain it...it was in the jungle with far too much house music. We were loving it though with Ryan (Dryan) and Jack on top form, appearing with fluorescent hats and bracelets that they had bought for way, way too much money. We left the jungle at about 4am to go for another late night dip in the pool, the highlight of which was Ollie appearing half an hour later apologising 'for being so dry' when he had refused to get on our tuk tuk after we had found him in a kebab shop with a French man buying him food.
The third night on Koh Phangan was the big one, the Full Moon Party, the beach had huge flaming signs 20 foot high, podiums for people to dance on, about 200 stalls selling alcohol and 30000+ travellers wanting to do nothing more than have a good time. It was knackering, we stayed there until the sun rose, throwing shapes and looking for replacement flip flops as every single one do us had managed to lose ours (it was Dryan's 8th pair he had lost since Laos). Many of the girls stopped off at a tattoo/piercing place to get some piercing a done, none of us are stupid enough to get a drunk tattoo nowhere near stupid enough! I was too late and missed a guy who decided to get a huge tribal tattoo on his face like Mike Tyson. Waking up in the morning with that would be the worst thing ever, you've practically ruined your entire life and what makes it even worse is how badly it was done. Getting a tattoo on your face is bad enough, but if you're going to be that stupid at least get it somewhere where they actually seem to know what they are doing. The photo the girls got was genuinely that bad.
Our final night was a quiet, relaxed one where we all just watched a movie and relaxed. We all needed it, our livers desperately needed it and to be honest we had exhausted the islands, a couple of nights there is incredible but anymore than that and I would go insane.
Finally, FINALLY! I had the chance to do the very thing I had decided to come to Asia in the first place and something I had been intending to do for the last 6 years, my PADI Open Water diving course. There are few better places in the world to do it than on the island of Koh Tao; a tiny, relaxed island with its sole purpose being scuba diving. A group of 8 of us signed up for the Open Water course with a large dive school called Bans. Our instructors were great, Becky was a youngish woman who spoke good English and was a great instructor, Santi was also a decent instructor who really knew his stuff but spent most of his time speaking in innuendos to the girls. At first this was pretty creepy but as we got to know him the girls took it less seriously and actually joined in. The PADI course started with an insanely boring introduction video lasting 3 hours and led to me staring blankly at a wall but after that it was all fun and games. The next day was spent in the classroom going over techniques before we headed to a pool to put the basics in to practice. It was a great experience, quite a few people found the idea of breathing underwater difficult, relying entirely on a respirator to keep you alive but I guess with me being confident in the water I embraced it straight away and absolutely loved it! I got buddied up with Laura (we were the A Team), whilst Ollie and Ciara quickly got the reputation of being calamitous (Ollie forgot to breathe when first going underwater, his tank fell off twice, he almost gave himself the bends by rocketing up to the surface, him and ciara didn't seem to do their buddy checks, he lost his flippers...I could go on). The second day was spent actually diving in the ocean, doing 2 dives going to a depth of about 12 and 14m. The first was a simple dive with no skills just so everyone could get their heads around what we were doing and then in the second we began to practice skills such as; losing and finding your regulator, giving your buddy the back up 'octopus' regulator, clearing a flooded mask etc . Even here tropical coral reefs were everywhere, the number of fish we saw and the variety was unbelievable, even if my life depended on it I could only name about a third of what we saw. After the dives we completed the final exam, it wasn't exactly carried out in exam conditions (we were allowed to do it in groups and some of the Kiwis even got a photo of the answers), safe to say we all got 100%. Our final day of diving meant going down to the maximum limit that Open Water divers are permitted to go down to, 18m. It sounds like a lot but it really isn't when you're down there, you can descend to 18m in a couple of minutes. Our entire group had agreed to hire an underwater cameraman to document our last dive for like £10 each so we spent most of our final dive just enjoying it, not practicing techniques or skills. We finished our dives and diving admin by about 5pm...and what else could we do but have a few drinks to celebrate? I was expecting a heavy night but this one was pretty huge, I don't remember much of it except being one of the last people left in the flaming limbo competition (I don't know how, I'm insanely inflexible) and emptying them of their cheap booze so they had to give me tequila instead. Apparently later on in the evening I bought a communal bucket for everyone to enjoy but spent most of the time bowling about with it on my head repelling all women and their advances (beyond standard).
Sadly everything has to come to an end and that was the case for Koh Tao, I don't think I've ever been somewhere where I've felt so at home as its so relaxed, friendly and with a sea that stunning. But it was time to move on, and onwards to the island of Koh Phi Phi...tourist central. The night ferry/coach/ferry we caught there was actually a great laugh. Dan, Ryan and Jack had moved on the day before to visit another island so we were meeting them on Phi Phi so it ended up being just me Ollie and the 5 Irish girls playing games like the one where you have a name stuck to your forehead and you have to guess it. Everyone was absolutely crap and we weren't even drinking.
Koh Phi Phi was exactly as I had imagined it, tourist hell. When getting off the ferry you have to walk through narrow alleyways reminiscent of a shanty town with stalls overflowing with random crap...and at 3x the price of the rest of Thailand. The highlight was the hostel, this was the last time we would see Mary, Kate and (A)Shelly and we ended up being in a 20 bed dorm but just for the 10 of us so we had the run of the place so made a hell of a lot of mess and noise. The nightlife was similar to that on Koh Phangan, we started in our dorm playing ring of fire, 4 card game, bullshit and I have never before moving on to an Irish bar to throw ludicrous shapes before heading to be beach for a club right on the sand. Unfortunately there was a pole about 3-4metres high for people to climb up on, Jack after his 3rd bucket decided to climb it, fall off and break his wrist the muppet. Trying to be responsible I went to drop him home but I was bribed by a chicken burger and the promise of further shapes being thrown. Yes I was bribed by simply a chicken burger and the possibility of shapes, I am a simple man and that becomes only more obvious after a couple of drinks.
With our one full day on Koh Phi Phi we took a boat tour around some of the nearby islands to site see and do a bit of snorkelling. We visited an island called Monkey Island, yes it had monkeys on it and yes one of them out-smarted Ryan and stole his water and another called Mosquito Island, there were no mosquitos. Our final stop was the beach where...well The Beach was apparently filmed, we spent a good 15 minutes arguing with our boat driver as we had to pay an extra 100 baht to get off the boat, it's only £2.50 but we felt ripped off as we had already paid 400 baht and were told it included everything. Asian people never get tired of scamming you. Our final evening spent together was somewhat relaxed compared to most of the others, well to start with anyway. We spent ages chilling in our dorm drinking and joking before we moved on to the boxing club just next door, within 5 minutes and the promise of a free bucket Laura and Mary were in the ring boxing. I saw boxing because they were wearing full boxing gear and in the ring, but they spent most of their time dancing and messing around, still got a bucket though! We ended the night back on the beach at the club just down from the previous nights club and we were the only ones there (we probably scared everyone off) dancing to some absolute classics.
Moving on to Malaysia meant saying goodbye to Mary, Kate and Shelly, a massive shame but I guess that eventually happens with every group of friends you make when travelling. Lucky for us they're just over in Ireland and Shelly has already agreed to pick me up in her dads 1696 Shelby Mustang (YEEEES, I'm holding you to that). My first impression of Malaysia and one which lasted almost right the way through was just how quiet it was. Our first stop Penang had little to do, couple of temples, a few shopping centres and 1 bar. The weather was also terrible, with torrential rain most of the time we were there so we ditched the idea of walking around the temples and got dragged along to a shopping centre by Laura and Ciara. Guys being guys we quickly left them to it and messed about, Ollie to this day still owes us 250 push ups. The bar we went to on our last night was weird, very weird. It reminded me of a Pitcher and Piano but with absolutely no one in it...oh and they had burlesque dancers wearing little else but bandanas. I'm all for scantily clad women, but not standing on the bar when I'm trying to order a drink, at one point I almost had to stick my head through one of theirs legs to make an order and was very conscious of chlamydia being flicked in to one of my drinks.
Moving on from Penang also meant saying goodbye to the final 2 Irish girls, Laura and Ciara who had to head down to Singapore to catch a flight to Melbourne to start work. The one advantage about saying goodbye to these 2 was how we knew we would be seeing them again in Melbourne (hopefully for free if they have a house by then). On the plus side though moving on from Penang meant heading over to The Perhentian Islands! A haven for diving, still relatively unheard of and absolutely tiny, the beach (1 of 2) was about 200 metres long and had about 10 people sunbathing along its entire length at any 1 time. We caught a small shallow boat over there early in the morning after a crappy night bus and were all too keen to find a hostel to crash in for a few hours. Annoyingly the Perhentian Islands are so relaxed that you don't even have to book how long you're staying for, you just pay when you leave, so we had no idea where we could stay until late morning. We actually ended up giving in a bit and agreeing to spend £10 a night on a small A frame hut between 2 but was directly on the beach. The views were unbelievable! My parents had decided to pay for my Advance PADI course for my birthday and Dan and Ryan wanted to do their Open Water Course after missing out in Koh Tao so we strolled off to browse around the many small diving school along the water front. We found a great place called Ombak, the woman who practically ran it and called Crystal was fantastic and really knew what she was doing. The groups were so small I only ever went diving with 1 other person doing their Advance course. The Advance dive consisted of 5 dives, 2 compulsory dives- the deep dive and navigational dive, and 3 dives of your choice so I chose- night dive, wreck dive and computer dive. Sadly underwater photography wasn't an option due to some bad weather conditions but the computer dive was good fun, I went down with Dan and Ryan just shadowing them and enjoying myself. The dive was made even more memorable by how we were watched by huge 6ft black tip reef sharks, underwater they looked like slightly smaller versions of great whites except with a black tip on their dorsal fin (...hence the name). The wreck dive took place on a wreck called Sugar Wreck, a large sugar container ship that sunk over 40 years ago, since then it had become overrun with coral, sea anemone and giant puffer fish. Recreational divers aren't allowed to enter wrecks for countless reasons but as this one had sunk and settles almost upside down you could dive underneath and in to the large container compartments, to finish the dive we ascended swimming through the propeller shaft right passing the 3m propellor that's still in place. The night dive wasn't quite what as good as I was expecting, with the powerful underwater torches you still have very very limited vision and the reefs didn't seem as colourful which was a shame but I did see some squid, most memorable though was experiencing the phosphorescence, I've seen it before when in Halong Bay but being 18m underwater with no light and every movement sending off blue flashes of light was incredible and something not many people get to experience! My final dive was my navigational dive and was easy enough, we spent most of our time enjoying the sights but I did have to rely on landmark navigation which is harder than it sounds underwater when all lumps of coral look pretty similar. At the end of the dive I also managed to spot a huge turtle swimming across the coral, I'm not sure on its actual size as water makes everyone appear 33% larger than it is but in my opinion it looked to be about 4-5ft, it was huge! And turtles was on my list of animals I've always wanted to see in the wild (along with sharks and puffer fish) so was the perfect way to complete my Advance diving qualification. The ferry back to the mainland was something else, my word it was bad. When waiting on the pier the sun was out, all was fine...until we got on the small boat that was about to take us the 5km across open sea in what quickly developed in to a full scale tropical storm. I have never seen rain that ferocious and the wind was kicking up waves 4-5ft high, without the skill of the Malaysians steering the boat we definitely would've ended up capsized, this almost happened a few times anyway. The most eventful part of the boat trip was nearly being struck by lightening, I'm not sure just how close it actually was to striking us but I would guess within 10 metres, it scorched my eyes so was blinded for a few seconds afterwards and we could actually smell the scent of burning metal, it was far too close for comfort. After that I spent most of my time with my head in my knees trying to stay dry and praying to the sea god Neptune to allow us to get through it in one piece.
The rest of Malaysia was frankly pretty timid, even Kuala Lumpur had little going on other than shopping, all we really managed to see there were The Petronas Towers, the tallest twin towers in the world and I believe the 7th/8th tallest buildings in the world. Kuala Lumpur didn't say much other than the towers and our hostel Reggae Mansion which was incredible an had a roof top bar, Melaka had even less going on so both seemed to be a means of getting down to the Singapore border and Legoland! As you'd expect, Ollie, Dan, Ryan and myself aren't particularly mature...so Legoland was insane! We almost had the place to ourselves so didn't have to queue for anything and was a great way to be idiots for the last time after two and a half months on travelling together. Travelling with Dan and Ryan has been unforgettable and worth every penny, a bunch of guys never arguing, always keen for a drink (and a bit of culture) and all being very dry made us a great group. Bloody loved it!
Singapore was similar to Malaysia, very expensive compared to the rest of Asia as it was incredibly westernised as it was once a British colony, the architecture was memorable though. On the one day we had there we climbed up a series of 3 sky scrapers joined together at the top by a strange curving boat which offered views across most of Singapore and out to sea.
I'll call this the end of this blog, I've got Australia to do and it makes sense to keep both of them separate. All in all travelling Asia had been one of the best things I've ever done, I've met some incredible people and certainly seen more than my share of unforgettable sights. I wasn't going to make an actual list, but I live on the edge so here's a list of my most memorable places I've seen, been to and done in Asia:
Thailand: Bangkok and its temples, Elephant trekking in Chiang Mai, Pai, Koh Tao- especially it's diving, Koh Phi Phi and Koh Phangan for their night life.
Laos: Luang Prabang and the 2 day boat trip down the Mekong River (despite the fact it was ill for the entire country).
Vietnam: Hanoi, Halong Bay- Castaway Island, Hoi An, Nha Trang and Ho Chi Minh for the Vietcong tunnels and the museums documenting the Vietnam-American war and it's atrocities.
Cambodia: Phnom Penh- The Killing Fields/S-21 Jail although disturbing and haunting they really are unmissable places to visit in Asia, Siem Reap- Angkor Wat... Enough said.
Malaysia: The Perhentian Islands for how insanely quiet they are and the incredible range of dive sites with their diverse marine fauna and flora.
I also didn't think I would mention money in any of my blogs...after all it doesn't concern anyone else. But just to put everything in context, over the last two and a half months I've stayed in pretty decent hostels, eaten out for every meal, drank way more nights than I haven't, flew from Laos to Vietnam, survived the Full Moon Party and worked my way through two PADI qualifications. With all that just scratching the surface of what I've been up to I spent £2500. Looking back on it I can't believe how Ta possible to do so much and spend so little, it really does highlight just how cheap Asia is and how it's the perfect place for someone with a hole in their lives that needs filling. I can't promote that area of the world enough, and one thing is for certain. I'll be back again some day.
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