Published: June 16th 2011March 27th 2011
From Marina bay sands.
Back in Thailand. The 'downtempo groove' to which we aluded in the last entry was to be a 10 day Vipassana
meditation retreat in the south - and we had a 15 day visa in which to make it work. Better get on with it...
Our one night in Bangkok was spent in the ever-restful Kaosan Rd
area. The room was a dark little shoebox and it was unfortunate that K was hit by a sudden bout of illness that kept her bed-bound for most of the next day. Our journey to the south should have been disasterous, according to the guidebook, which cautions against buying bus & boat tickets through private companies - particularly those in our area, which are said to be especially dodgy. There's not much we can say on that topic other than that our trip was rather delightful - the bus didn't break down, our bags weren't taken in the night, the driver wasn't drunk (or if he was, he didn't show it) and we arrived safely in the morning to Surat Thani
, where we were loaded onto another bus, driven to the Pier and shown the boat.
The boat ride was
unpleasant as we
Someone in this city has an almighty broom.
pitched around for 3 hours in rough seas, eventually arriving at Ko Phangan
- imfamous for it's full moon parties
. We found a room and crashed out in the heat of the day, watching the drama of the Japanese earthquake unfold on our little TV screen.
The next day we were up at our new home - Wat Kow Tahm
- for course registration. It was to be a silent retreat
, with about 10 hours of varied meditation each day. The Wat is situated on a jungle-clad hilltop so gives the impression of being 'in the thick of nature' and of above it at the same time. It's quite a beautiful place. ...times passes...
Of course, the hardest part of doing these retreats is leaving. After 10 days one tends to develop some rather zen-like qualities of calm and thoughtfulness - something which is much harder to maintain in the outside world! We boarded the ferry and promptly ran into a couple of fellow participants - one of whom we suspected of being a sex-tourist. Yes, all sorts turn to meditation these days! From the boat we were back on the bus, and then settled down to
Towers of Glass
wait for our 1am train, having been up since the course wake-up at 4am the previous morning.
The next afternoon we arrived at Butterworth, Malaysia where we put ourselves up in a bit of a swish hotel who's rate included both breakfast and
dinner. Moving right along, we spent most of the next day on another train, eventually arriving in Singapore at about 11pm. We emerged from the train to find plenty of restaurants but no ATMs or money changers at the station. Jumping into a taxi, we made a stop at the nearest bank and got out at the Ibis hotel, which proved to be far to expensive for our meagre budget. The staff were helpful though and suggested some places nearby. Off we went into the night. We soon located a budget crashpad which seemed to cater to the Asian backacker market, and set up camp before going out in search of food. The neighbourhood turned out to be 'little India' and as it happened there was cricket on TV - India Vs Australia. Street corners everywhere were alive with attentive crowds of Indians leaning and craning to see the restaurants' televisions. No one was actually eating
Spotted in a chinatown temple.
in the restaurants but it made little difference to the proprieters who were after all Indian themselves. We later learned that they won in decisive fashion but in the meantime we'd found a 7-11 wolfed down some pot noodle and hit the sack at the end of a long journey.
The next morning we headed back to the Ibis, where we met up with 'the women' - Ben's mum and Aunty Kim who were in town having a joint birthday celebration
. They'd come across some tickets for an 'open tour' type bus thing and we decided to come along and see a bit of the city. Singapore has without the doubt the most 'modern' feel of any city we've visited. The streets are spotless, wide and leafy and the buildings are a mix of well maintained colonial and ultra-swish glass skyscrapers. This was quite a change after the rest of SE Asia, who's cities often appear to be in a state of semi-collapse. On our way around the city we stopped at Chinatown and took in a rather impressive temple, as well as the Chinatown museum which shows the living conditions of early Chinese settlers in Singapore -
K hanging out.
quite different from the gleaming temple around the corner!
The next day we visited the Changi
museum - dedicated to the soldiers who'd been imprisoned during WWII. Conditions for these
men were obviously terrible but they made the best of things thanks to comeraderie and the sense of community that occurs wherever there is terrible hardship. That evening saw us installed in the Hard Rock Cafe
, where Pam planned to spring a trap on Kim in the form of a staff-led birthday ditty. This plan backfired on her as both
of the birthday girls received a restaurant-wide 'happy birthday' along with a polaroid to preserve the moment.
The following day we headed down to the Asian cultures museum
which was actually promoting an African exhibition at the time. Getting into the spirit, we busted some grooves with the band before heading down to the river, only to find that the city's famous Merlion
statue had been enclosed in a big box. The box was actually a hotel room which could be rented out on a nightly basis over a period of a month. They called it art.
We have no doubt that waking up next to a huge
Breakin' it down
with the African dancers.
stone lion's head would be an experience, but shudder to think how much people were paying for the privledge... There is a rather odd structure visible from all over the city which looks like a giant ship run aground onto a trio of towering glass buildings. It's called Marina Bay Sands resort, and we set out around the waterfront to scale it's heights - something that proved quite easy as the high speed lifts did their thing and whisked us up to 80 with stunning efficiency. Stepping out onto the viewing deck and glancing over the rail was a vertigo-inducing experience and the views were (obviously) spectacular. On the coastal side the building overlooks the many ships doing whatever it is that big ships do when they're floating offshore - probably something nautical. On the city-side we were treated to the spectacle of a fiery sunset doing it's best to pierce a cloudy sky. In terms of this competition, we can probably call it a draw - it was nice to look at though.
Our last day in Singapore was spent in the company of animals. We're generally not big zoo fans but we nevertheless had a blast at
On top of the world
...well, the city anyway.
the Singapore zoo. In fact we spent most of the day there hanging out with psychadelic lizards, giant tortoises and the like. And that was Singapore. Next morning we were on a plane bound for Thailand again, where we'd have a few days to amuse ourselves before heading on to Myanmar.
It was a day full of travelling as we left the plane and boarded a bus, then a mini-bus, then another bus and finally the intercity bus to Kanchanaburi
. This city is (slightly) famous for being the scene of the 'bridge over the river kwai' - a film which neither of us had seen. It turns out that K'chanaburi is also a little bit of a 'sex tourist ghetto' and as we rode the makeshift tuk-tuk (a scooter with a sort of trailer and a single plastic chair strapped onto it) to the guesthouse area we cruised by a string of dimly-lit girly bars. Other streetside bars proudly advertised that one could 'get shitfaced on a shoestring' and 'get drunk for 10 Baht'.
It's a town of two sides then...
Our own reason for being here was mainly just not
being in Bangkok and having a
few days to relax before heading to Myanmar. Our first night was spent on the Kwai itself, in a floating bungalow which was very nice, but which at $12 per night wasn't sustainable for a pair of economically deficient backpackers like us.
Having located some dingier accomodation, we took some mountain bikes around town, including a trip to the huge Tesco Lotus supermarket, which is a lot like Tescos in the UK except of course for the live fish in the produce section. We then set off along a road out of town, in search of the floating nun
who comes out for an hour or two each day and floats in a cave pool making buddhist Mudras
(hand gestures) to a crowd of ecstatic pilgrims and other onlookers. This sounded like a blast, but in the end we got lost and ended up visiting another cave temple somewhere in the hills. We also had a look at the Death Railway museum, which was both stirring and tragic at the same time.
The following day, our trip to Erawan National Park
started strangely when K spotted a baby leopard in a market as we drove past. Stopping to
investigate, we found that it was part of the display for an 'open zoo'. Ironically, the big kitten was chained down - probably not the best advertisement. It was a sweet little thing though and we played with it just like a kitten. After this we left town, headed for a 7-tiered Erawan falls. It was quite busy and although it was beautiful, we wouldn't want to be there on a weekend! Under each level of falls there are clear pools in which we swam and had our feet nibbled by the little fishes who seemed to be hanging out for just such an opportunity. Our trip back was punctuated with a stop at 7-11 - that air-conditioned haven from which much pot noodle issues. We were hungry, hot and tired and this was about the best thing we could imagine. Thank you 7-11.
After a bit of running around we were on a bus bound for Bangkok, where we would be couchsurfing with a host called Um
. Um earns his living in a variety of interesting ways and is very much an interesting guy. He shared his house with a pair of big dogs (one of whom looks
BnK at Erawan.
like a horse already at only 9 months old) and loves good Thai food. Consequently we spent a lot of time at good Thai restaurants, which wasn't too bad at all actually! He's also quite a busy CS host and when he picked us up from the bus station, he told us he had 2 others staying as well. We spent a couple of days relaxing, visiting local markets and a very cool hindu temple with Um and getting ready for our last big destination - Myanmar.
There are more photos below