Will he, won't he?: Chinese whispers (Updated)

OK, lots of you guys have written in the comments "ARE YOU REALLY GOING TO CHINA, YOU KNOW THERE ARE OVER ONE GAJILLION CASES THERE NOW AND EVERYONE IS DYING EVERYWHERE" (OK, I exagerrate a little, but the sentiment is there).

WHO has now issued a travel warning for people not to go to Beijing (much in the same vein as "don't go to Hong Kong unless you really, really, really have to") and many countries are seriously thinking or already have closed their land borders with China. All this means travelling through China is now a moot affair, and only to be tackled if I had sado-masochistic tendencies and wanted to fight all the way against immigration/customs/health officials.

So the short answer is, "no, I am not going to China". I'm not even going to Hanoi.

I am, in fact, going to fly to Ulan Batar via Seoul. This is because there is no direct flight from Ho Chi Minh to Mongolia, and because I've never been to South Korea, might as well take this chance to visit the place.

Any tips on what I should do when I get there?


posted on Thursday, April 24, 2003 - permalink
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DAN CHERTOW If you are reading this, please send me an email - I keep trying to send one to you, but I've got the address wrong or something.
posted on Thursday, April 24, 2003 - permalink
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22 April 2003 - Ho Chi Minh
On the road to Saigon

The overland journey continues from Phnom Penh, straight into Vietnam. On paper it looks easy - a bus ride to the border, and then a short hop to Ho Chi Minh. Reality is always more interesting.

Although a lot of the road between Phnom Penh and the border is tarmac, it just means that the potholes are made of macadam and not dirt. This must have been the most uncomfortable bus journey of the trip so far, more so than the rollercoaster ride between Bangkok and Siem Reap. At least this ride didn't have the added benefit of extra-long rest stops (which were extremely welcome to my sore backside when we did stop).

Getting across the border into Vietnam is like entering another civilization. Everything just feels so much better, from the comfy bus seats, to the smooth ride, to the nice and friendly bus operator.


posted on Wednesday, April 23, 2003 - permalink
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20 April 2003 - Phnom Penh
You should try the nasi lemak in Phnom Penh

After the highs of Angkor, the capital city of Phnom Penh was a let-down. I chose to travel by boat from Siem Reap, which was an event in itself. I had to change boats three times, and spent the last two hours baking on the roof (it was either that or to roast inside the tin can). I had the foresight to cover myself liberally with suntan lotion, but forgot that the inside of my knees burnt just as easily as an other part of me. Currently, I have very tender knees. Really.

Phnom Penh must be the most dismal capital city that I have ever been to. It doesn't look like the pride and joy of the country, and it pales significantly when compared to the Khmer empires of the past. Perhaps it had a lot to do with the part of town I was in, but it all looked pretty same.

I didn't feel so good, so I wasn't too adventurous with food when I was there. In fact, I stopped by a mamak shop for some nasi lemak. And it's pretty darned good, I've got to say. It's run by a true-to-life mamak who has now settled down in Cambodia. If you really want to know, it's Mamak's Corner, No. 17, St 114 Sangkat Phsar Thmei I, Khan Daun Penh, Phnom Penh. He seems a nice guy, and appreciates a chat, I think.

The Russian Market is also pretty cool, although all the illegal stuff alluded to in adventurous travellers tales are now gone, and you have to look a little hard to find the marijuana and the AK-47s.

They do have a firing range, though, in Phnom Penh, where you can fire just about anything - machine guns, hand guns, whatever. You can throw a grenade for USD20. USD20 for the chance to blow my arm off? Maybe later, ok?


posted on Wednesday, April 23, 2003 - permalink
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18 April 2003 - Siem Reap
The temples of Angkor

OK, this is a biggie. This is one of the main things I was looking forward to in this trip, and I wasn't disappointed by it.

For those of you who like to know exactly what things are before I enthuse about them, here's a brief summary: The Khmer empire blossomed between the 9th and 14th centuries, resulting in a 400-year civilization that matched anything in the world at that time. Influenced by Indian religions, and later, buddhism, they built a vast number of temples, some of them mega-projects that took many, many years to complete. Now, they are all that remain as a legacy of stone, for anything else (including most of their writing) was eaten up by the jungle.

Firstly, let's just get the scope of this into perspective. Around Siem Reap (meaning "within 30 km or so"), there lies about 300 temples. Temple-building was a big deal. It pretty much guaranteed a legacy that would last for quite some time - in the case of the temples of Angkor, nearly a thousand years.

And size did matter. The bigger the temple, the better the impression you made. The kings described themselves as "God-Kings", and God-Kings need to do God-like work.

Between 1108 and 1153, Angkor Wat was built. It eventually became the largest and most famous of the temples in the Angkor area. It was built to impress.

The temple is surrounded by a square moat about 1.5km long on each side. On motorcycle, it takes about ten minutes to ride around it.

As you walk in through the Western entrance, you begin to get a glimpse of the famous towers, and it's a pretty long walk, designed to keep you mindful of the grandeur. The path is wide enough to cater for elephants (which they did) and in its heyday, a whole city sprung up within the walls of the temple.

Intricate carvings cover so much of the temple. A carving half a meter high by half a meter wide could take up to a month to complete, and almost every wall has at least one of these. A long bas-relief mural stretches around the central towers, depicting hindu mythology and celebrating the king who built the temple. Asparas (the king's maidens) smile at you from every alcove. False windows adorn the thick stone walls, designed to keep out the oppressive heat.

All this is just window-dressing for the temple within the main towers, and you have to work quite hard to make your way up there. The steps become extremely steep, and very narrow, and it is a harrowing experience for some. By the time you reach the top, there really isn't much space left, and the actual place of worship is pretty ordinary compared to the rest of it. But, you stand up there at the top, surveying the vista that surrounds you, and you feel as if you've done something worthwhile. Which is the whole point of it, I guess.

This is only one temple. It takes about three hours to go through it properly with a guide, explaining all there is, and probably another hour for you to go on your own.

There are 299 left to talk about.

Well, I exagerate. There are probably about 10-20 temples in the Angkor area that are awe-inspiring. The rest are best seen in the context of the others, sort of like 'practice'efforts for the main show. But the workmanship of the decorations in almost all that I saw was incredible.

And they're not all the same. These temples were built over a period of four hundred years, and there was a game of one-upmanship being practiced by the kings.

The archetectural styles are different, the motifs are different, there is enough variety to make you think, "well, I haven't seen this before".

The other big thing for kings to build were resevoirs, as a good resevoir ensures water during the dry season.

All this ties up nicely with temple-building. Temples generally wre built to symbolise lands surrounded by oceans, so moats and reservoirs were pretty common. Sometimes the moats were also functional defensive structures, but mostly I guess it was done because it looked so good.


posted on Saturday, April 19, 2003 - permalink
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18 April 2003 - Siem Reap
Man, it's hot here!

For those who don't know (I didn't), April to June is considered to be the dry season in this part of the world. And it isn't 'dry'in the sense that Malaysia has a "non-monsoon"season. It's dry, as in the grass turns brown, the lakes dry up and the temperature hits 40 degrees celcius. Or maybe even more.

I'm sitting out here on the verandah in the shade and I can feel the reflected heat soaking through my damp t-shirt. And I have a slight headache now.

This is nothing compared to the day before yesterday when I'm sure I was suffering from heat exhaustion. I was absolutely zonked. My brain was fried, I was incapable of making straight-forward decisions. As soon as I realised, I drank lots of water, tried to get some sleep, and eventually went to the bathroom three times that night.

Anyway, things I learnt the hard way:


posted on Saturday, April 19, 2003 - permalink
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Bangkok Q&A

Q: A whole week in Bangkok! What did you do?
A: Saw some sights, got wet, fought city traffic, got wet, took a day trip to Chatanaburi and got wet.

Q: Was it raining a lot?
A: It was Songkran, the New Year, and by tradition, people throw water at each other. Sometimes with gusto.

Q: So that's the lasting memory you'll keep of Bangkok?
A: That, and the city public transportation system. I took just about every option possible: by foot, by tuk-tuk, express boat, longtail boat, skytrain. It is hard work getting from one part of the city to another. I also rode an elephant, but that was in Kachanaburi. I didn't take the taxi, though - too easy.

Q: You like things hard?
A: I want to try new things. I practically have to force myself sometimes.

People sell insects in Bangkok. To Eat. Seriously.

Fried six-legged critters, anyone?

Q: What about food?
A: Not as many new things as Hatyai. I ate a lot of street vendor snacks. I found a few vendors selling insects. No, I did not try that. There is still a gap between my intention to do all things new and the willingness to really be daring.

Q: What about the people?
A: People are generally nice. My faith in humankind is still intact, thank you very much (although I would have been very surprised if that had changed).

Q: What about the girls?
A: What are you getting at?

Q: You know, are they nice?
A: Yes they are. This question is for Eddy's sake, isn't it? Because he asked me if I met any çhicas'yet.

Q: Maybe.
A: The girls are nice. If you really want to know, the Maybelline girl is especially nice. Eddy, if you can find her name and phone number for me, that would be appreciated.

Q: So, what was good about your time in Bangkok?
A: The Grand Palace, and the incredible adventure of using the public transportation system. Chatuchak market was also interesting.

Q: What was bad?
A: Gettin soaking wet at every street corner when I had just dried off, and the incredible adventure of using the public transportation system.

Q: Would you go back again?
A: Yes, if only to see Ayuthaya.


posted on Saturday, April 19, 2003 - permalink

15 April 2003 - Siem Reap
How not to travel from Bangkok to Siem Reap

There are three ways to get from Bangkok to Siem Reap. The most obvious, and the most comfortable, is to fly. Flights are not cheap, though, costing USD100 upwards. The other way is to make it on your own, by taking a train to the border and then hiring a taxi from the Cambodian side onwards. The third way is to take a bus. The bus seemed the most convenient, all-in package, so that's the one I went for.

Firstly, note tht it's less than 500km between Bangkok and Siem Reap. Driving non-stop, you should be able to make it in about half a day. The advertisements say that you should make Siem Reap by 6-7pm, when it is still daylight enough for you to find a place to stay.

But, it doesn't quite work that way. Let's say that there is a chain that stretches from Bangkok to Siem Reap, and that the chain begins when you pay for your bus ticket and ends somewhere in Siem Reap. The people who operate the buses try to maximise the number of opportunities along the chain that they can can extract money from.

The most obvious point to do so, at the beginning, is where they don't take any money at all. The tickets are advertised cheap, and they are the lure to reel in the unsuspecting. Everything is well until just before the border. You then stop, while they arrange your visa for you. Firstly, they stop for two hours, which seems to be an uncomfortably long time to get a visa. Secondly, they charge 1200THB for a visa, which should cost around USD20 (about 800THB). If a van takes ten people, then that's ten times USD10, which is a sweet USD100, just like that.

Of course, because you're stopping for a few hours, you buy food to eat. I bet any amount of money that the rest stop pays the bus company a cut.

OK, after that you cross the border, and everything is done in immigration, and all is hunky dory. Except that the bus journey from the border is a slow one, where many, many rest and toilet stops are made. We had three, but I'm sure they could have made up a few more. Each place has food to eat and drinks to drink, of course.

The whole point of this is that you don't reach Siem Reap until 8 or 9pm, when it's dark. And the bus conveniently stops in front of a guest house down a dark lane. If even a few decide, "well, enough's enough, I catching some sleep", then that guesthouse makes money from you for the place you stay, and for the food you eat. And they'll probably get something for arranging your tours, and for the bus ride back to Bangkok. The chain just keeps getting longer.

Of course, I didn't stay at the guest house it stopped at, and it took me maybe another hour to find a place to stay, but at USD3 per night, I ain't complaining!


posted on Saturday, April 19, 2003 - permalink
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Met a couple of guys on the bus to Siem Reap. Dan is almost a fully fledged doctor and he talked a little bit about SARS and the danger of epidemics in today's world.

Basically, yes SARS is serious, but it could be much, much worse. We're kind of lucky that it relatively poor at spreading (compared to influenza) and that it isn't more destructive.

As for the masks, they're not very effective, it seems. This confirms what WHO says about vectors of infection including the eyes, and when you put fingers in your mouth or when you rub your eyes.


posted on Saturday, April 19, 2003 - permalink
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14 April 2003 - Bangkok

If you're outgoing and don't mind getting wet, then the only time to be in Thailand for you is during Songkran, the Thai new year festival. It is cutomary during Songkran to wash the hands of elders with scented water. It symbolically represents the washing away of bad luck. There's also talcum powder involved, but I'm not quite sure what that represents.

OK, that's Songkran in theory. Songkran in reality is this: free for all water fights. I challenge anybody to walk up and down busy Bangkok roads in the afternoon or the evening and not get wet. Or get pasted with chalk. Or both.

Officially, Songkran falls on 13 April, but the fun begins the day beffore. Water guns start appearing and you have to expect the odd squirt now and then as you walk down the road. It can come from anywhere. Drive-by splashings are not uncommon. You notice that tuk-tuks cover their seats with cellophane, and you begin to get an inkling of what will happen later

As midnight approaches, things get more hectic. Water guns get replaced by bottles of water and squirts become splashes.

Sometime close to midnight, all hell breaks loose. Pails, buckets and hoses now are called into action, and your face, your hands, your clothes - everything - becomes covered with a sticky paste of water and chalk.

I guess everybody needs to sleep sometime, because on the morning of the 13th itself things quieten down a bit. However, things pick up again in the afternoon.

People run around in groups and have mass splashings. You can do it in two ways: You can stand on the roadside with your posse and wet everything that passes by, or you can ride a pickup truck with your posse and wet everything you pass by. Of course, when a pickup truck passes a waiting posse, all chaos ensues.

Generally, it's all pretty good-natured. People usually just squirt you with guns, but once in a while, somebody with a bowl or pail will stalk and attack you. It's good fun, really.

Pretty girls are favoured targets. Think "wet t-shirt"and you know what I'm getting at.

After dark, Banglamphu becomes a war zone. It is imposible to move and not become a target.

The next morning is cleanup time. The road is white from the chalk, and icky to walk through. The thing is, they go and mess it up all again that night.


posted on Saturday, April 19, 2003 - permalink
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14 April 2003 - Bangkok
Muay Thai

Muay Thai or Thai Boxing is one of those things that is uniquely Thai, like Tom Yam. As as Tom Yam are to most western soups, Muay Thai is more exciting, more frentic and more sweaty.

The ring itself is not particularly large (although I haven't been in many boxing rings myself). Muay Thai is held in one of two stadiums: Radjamamoen or Lumphini Stadium. I understand that these stadiums exist solely for thai boxing and nothing else. I wonder where Mike Tyson fights if he comes to town.

Tickets to get in are surprisingly pricey. The cheapest go for 500 THB, and they go up to 1500THB for a ringside seat. It seems those who sit ringside have an opportunity to pose with winners of the bouts for pictures.

A night of boxing is broken up into several fights. Each fight consists of five three-minute rounds of boxing, with about a minute's rest in between each round. Although boxing may start, say, at 6pm, the really good fights don't come on until about three hours later - I wish somebody had told me that. Radjaemon stadium is miles from anywhere and once here, you don't really have a place to hang about for an hour or two nearby.

Each fight begins with the boxers coming into the ring, offering prayers, and doing warm up exercises.

OK, now for the nitty gritty. As far as I can make out, you can punch, knee or kick your opponent anywhere above the belt. You can also elbow them, strangely enough. You can block with either your arms or legs. Clinching is allowed for the simple fact that it doesn't inhibit you from using your knees. At times, the bout degenerates into a mini-wrestling match. All the while, there is music playing in the background.

I'm not really a fan of boxing, but it sems to me that Muay Thai is more exciting than its western counterppart. It may have to do with how people can get twice as many hits in per minute, but also that the main strategy being employed is "punch and kick your opponent into submission before he does that to you".

It still isn't my cup of tea, though. I'm just not a huge fan of these kind of things, but my interest, I suppose, would rise if I had money riding on the match. This seems to be true for the Thais as well. A whole group of them congregate in one small area to place bets with one another on the outcome of the fight. There's a great deal of shouting anytime a punch or kick lands, so I suppose all we need to do is to count them to see who wins.


posted on Saturday, April 19, 2003 - permalink
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Observation of the Week: Enjoy the good times while you have them, and remember that bad times don't last forever. I kept telling that to myself when there was a credit card problem when trying to buy my Eurail ticket, and I was stuck in the travel office for three hours. I even got into a little argument about who was to pay the long-distance call to Malaysia that was needed to solve this.

But, the bad times have passed, and I now have one Eurail ticket. I bought it here instead of waiting to get it in Europe because it's 10% more expensive over there (N.B. that's not the same as it being 10% cheaper here).


posted on Saturday, April 19, 2003 - permalink
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14 April 2003 - Bangkok

OK, I'll admit it: I've been a bad boy. I was walking around Siam Square and I was a tempted by a poster in front of a cinema. I didn't want to, it was the devil, I say, and her name was Renee Zellweger!

Anyway, as a result I have now watched a movie in Thailand. It's not that much different from watching a movie in Malaysia except that the subtitles are in Thai, and the ads are in Thai, and some of the credits in the trailer are in Thai. You also have to stand up for the national anthem before the film begins. That was a novelty for me, and I'm not sure I might have done it so confidently in an emptier cinema. Anyway, it seems to be an honest gesture of respect towards king and country, and I'm not knocking it.

Chicago is the story of two girls who have fallen on the wrong side of the law and are using their notierity to their own advantage. They both happen to have hired the same top-notch lawyer to save them. Well, he's never lost a case for a female client, ever, so he's probably worth the five thousand dollars he's asking for.

It's based heavily on the musical of the same name, and it's basically many song and dance routines around a plot and some talking in between to pad it out. As I said, a musical.

I have to say first that whoever says that there are no good parts for women in movies must be hiding under a rock or something. Both Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta Jones drive this movie, and Richard Gere is just the window dressing to make the plot make sense. There's non-stop singing and dancing, and it's all very, very good - makes you want to applaude out loud sometimes.

Renee's acting is absolutely first class. She's really very, very good, and she pulls off Roxie with ease. The only problem is that Roxie the character and Roxie the singer/showgirl seem to be two different types. One is selfish and conniving and the other is winsome and appealing. Well, I liked both of them, anyway, and I prefer to think of Renee as the latter and not the former. I thought she was very good in the under-rated Nurse Betty, and it's good to see her win proper accolades this time around.

Catherine Zeta Jones is pretty good too, and boy - can she dance! Well, I'm sure some of you out there will be quick to point out flaws, but I thought she was amazing.

In all this, Richard Gere needs to be outstanding to hold his role, but he just manages to be adequate.

All in all, a very worthy movie. Great songs, great dancing, excellent acting by the two ladies. It does need to be seen in a cinema for full effect. Richard Gere comes off second best, but that shouldn't detract what is an immensely enjoyable film.

Does it deserve the Oscar? To be honest, I haven't seen all the nominated movies, but in my opinion, the Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers was better. But then, that doesn't have Renee in it.


posted on Saturday, April 19, 2003 - permalink
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Somebody pointed out that I don't put titles on my pictures ("What's the big deal? We have cars in KL too", I believe, was the quote). This is true. I don't put titles on the pictures because it takes time, and I haven't had that much to do so. I will try, however, to arrange them in some sensible order - look for the names on the folders.

Also, if anyone can reccommend a better photo album thing than Yahoo!Photos, I will be happy to hear from you. I use it because it auto-generates the thumbnails for me, and I don't have to mess about too much before I upload it, but there is a problem when trying to upload multiple pictures - I can only do 12 at a time, and it constantly gives errors.

posted on Saturday, April 19, 2003 - permalink
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12 April 2003 - Bangkok
Bangkok Transportation Part II - The Khlongs

You can traverse Bangkok by bus or skytrain, but probably the most interesting of all is to go by boat along the khlongs. A khlong is basically an oversized drain leading off the main river (in this case, the Chao Phraya) that crosses the city. It's possible to get to most places and it beats using a bus during rush hour.

The first thing that strikes you when you get to the water is that it's very brown. Very un-watery, in fact. And then you realise there is a thin line between "river tribituary in the city", över-sized moonsoon drain"and "very large effusion outlet".

There are several types of boats but all of them work on long tail motors. I assume that's because the khlong isn't very deep, and the water level probably changes with the weather, anyway. The smallest I tried could just about seat two people per row and the largest about five or six.

The boats are pretty cheap. It costs anywhere between 5 and 7 THB per journey, but finding out exactly what you have to pay when you don't speak Thai is difficult. It's even worse when the conductor is standing on the six-inch edge and asking you as the boat rocks side to side.

If you have an adventurous streak, I strongly reccommend that you go for the small one. If you think that getting some Bangkok khlong water in your shoes, eyes, nose and mouth is not a particularly good idea, then I would advise you to stay clear of khlongs altogether.

They have no problem loading the boat to the limit, and in the smaller ones that means that the water line is less than six inches below the edge of the boat. Add to that the sheer impossibility of keeping the boat level, both while you are travelling and from the wakes of other boats - well, you shouldn't be surprised that your feet get wet.

The larger boats have plastic sheeting that you can raise to protect yourself from splashes, but where's the fun in that?

The other problem is in trying to figure out where to get off. I used landmarks, although the Bangkok Hilton seems to have moved, and so I missed my stop by a good kilometer or so.

All in all, it's good fun, and everyone should try it at least once, although the squeemish may think it's an experience worth missing.


posted on Saturday, April 19, 2003 - permalink
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10 April 2003 - Bangkok
The Grand Palace

Probably the most visually stimulating and locally revered site in Bangkok is the Grand Palace and its environs. Home to the royal family and as old as the city itself, it is the single "must-see"sight in Bangkok.

As soon as you step in, your visual senses are overwhelmed by all around you. The wealth of detail is absolutely breathtaking. It is possible to stand in one spot and take twenty or thirty pictures, each telling its own story. Things look different at different distances. A building becomes an ornate door becomes the fine mother-of-pearl inlaid design. There are places where there seems to be no room left for elaboration, such is the attention to detail.

I got myself one of those tape recorders, which gives a 90 minute walking tour (although I dare say you could get as much information hanging around the passing tourist groups and their guides).

The main thing to keep in mind throughout all this is that this is not some past monument of glory, but a set of buildings very much still in use. In fact, they were preparing the halls for the Songkran festival.


posted on Saturday, April 19, 2003 - permalink
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10 April 2003 - Bangkok
Crossing the road

One of the best kept secrets of Thai tourism industry are the adventures you experience trying to get from one end of Bangkok to another. I believe its a well-crafted tourist attraction to engage the unsuspecting visitor in thrill ride after thrill ride.

I've already written about the tuk-tuks, but surprises lurk around every corner even when you travel by foot.

And I'm sure it's all deliberate. For example, take the route to Bangkok's biggest "must see" attraction - the Grand Palace.

Most tourists on packages will be dropped off at the front door by their bus, but those who avoid walking there miss out on the joys of crossing two four-lane highways one after another.

Crossing the road seems to be a cultural heritage for each country. In some countries, you wait for a traffic light to give the signal for a pedestrian to walk across. In other countries, there are no indicators, and its every man for himself. In Bangkok, the traffic lights are a trap for the unsuspecting tourist.

How else can you explain the following: (1) There is no button for pedestrians to press at traffic lights. (2) Traffic lights take an eternity to change for pedestrians and what it does, it lasts for all of five seconds. (3) When the light does eventually turn green, there is actually a signal for cars to swerve onto the road that you are about to step on and catch people unaware.

I even saw a zebra crossing across a four-lane street that had no traffic lights attached to it. That's like painting drivers a bullseye that says "fresh pedestrian meat here".

The real way to cross a road takes cunning and guile. You can to lean over the kerb, ready to take a chance when it comes, but yet keep all those drivers guessing as to when exactly you'll run across.

When you do step out, don't think for a second that cars will automatically slow for you. They are the enemy, expect the unexpected. Your best bet is to linger in one lane until a car pulls into it, lining up on you, and then sprinting to the other side to catch them unaware.

I'm not a local and haven't mastered all these techniques. What I do is to wait until a local tries to cross the road (even if she is a six-year old) and then keep them traffic-side of me. The hope is that Bangkok drivers are less likely to run over one of their own.


posted on Monday, April 14, 2003 - permalink
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11 April 2003 - Katchanaburi, Thailand
Elephant riding over the River Kwai

Mr. Ooi was keen to do a day-trip to Katchanaburi, simply because he hadn't been before. For me it was either that or Ayuthaya (or even perhaps both), and since I had been to neither, it was a good idea.

The whole reason why people go to Katchanaburi is because it is the site of the famous bridge that straddles the River Kwai. Yes, it's _that_ bridge, the one that Alec Guinness and William Holden tried to blow up (although I haven't seen the film and don't really know how hard they tried to do it).

To be honest, there really isn't all that much other than the bridge and the railway that runs over it. The bridge itself is nothing spectacular, the ride on the raft under it less so. I guess it's technically a bamboo raft if it had bamboo in it, even though the main buoyancy comes from the plastic drums lashed underneath it.

Even the museum that presents a history of the bridge and the Death Railway is quite brief, but there are some witness testimonies and it does try to educate the uninitiated.

The train ride across the bridge and beyond is quite interesting though. The landscape is pretty, in a Thailand-countryside sort of way, and you do get some brilliant vistas, but if you're not into that sort of thing, you should stay clear of it.

The elephant ride after that is pretty cool though, if you've never done it before. Basically, you sit on top of an elephant as it goes around a path. The ride takes about half an hour, and goes through some jungle and some village. Riding an elephant is like going on a slow-motion roller coaster ride that likes to stop and smell the leaves. Actually, it's more like "grab the leaves and stuff it into your mouth", but it's being done continuously anyway, so you don't really notice it after a while.

The trail does undulate quite suddenly in places, and there are points where you go "hang on - an elephant wouldn't fit down there". But the miracle is that it does, one foot at a time. Of course, it doesn't matter if the passengers above it are tilting at an acute angle and that one of them is hanging on for dear life by wrapping his arm around a one-inch diameter rusting steel tubing. I don't think my insurance covers "death by tipping over elephant".

One thing I share with these animals is that elephants eat non-stop. Actually, the probably have to stop when they reach out for a new branch, but generally speaking, I think they take these hikes as an opportunity to forage for food. Anything within the trunk's reach is fair game, and even a stubborn branch can be brought down with enough determination.

At the end of it all, you are given an opportunity to buy some food and feed the beasts, although a bowl of bananas doesn't actually go that far for one of these animals. Hold a banana in one hand in front of a hungry pachyderm and half a second later, all you have is a hand covered in elephant saliva.


posted on Monday, April 14, 2003 - permalink

From a page on the WHO website (relating to SARS):

Q. What about the masks? You still insist it’s ineffective?

A. Dr Heymann:
This virus, we believe, can transmit through any mucus membrane and a mucus membrane is the nose, the mouth, the eyes. And if the mouth and nose are covered and the eyes are not covered, you’re probably not protected. And if you’re not washing your hands, you’re probably not protected because coronavirus is transmitted very easily from person to person through a handshake, and then a touching of a mucus membrane.


posted on Sunday, April 13, 2003 - permalink
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I'm sorry I haven't posted anything new for some time, but the diary writing is a little behind schedule. Some new pictures are up though, but I've had to open a new account to load them (see above for two links to photos now, not just one).

I will update it sometime in the next day or two, as soon as I get the chance to do so.

On a serious note, as of 11 April 2003, WHO has classified Beijing as a SARS-affected area, although they have not released an advisory restricting people from going there. I am currently working on a backup plan around this risk, but it certainly looks like the "do the whole trip over land" bit is seriously at risk.

As a backup, I am looking at whether flying to Ulan Batar via Seoul works. Well, I haven't been to Seoul yet, so I suppose that's a reason to go there... :)


posted on Saturday, April 12, 2003 - permalink
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12 April 2003
Chatuchak Market

I like markets. A microcosm of everyday life, you can get a good hint of what people consider 'normal'by what they buy and sell everyday. I'm making it a point to try and visit a market in every town that I visit.

Ed sits on a coconut, boloting a drink

Ed enjoying a drink at Chatuchak Market

Chatuchak is a permanent complex of markets north of Bangkok. It should be visited just to experience the sheer breadth of what is available there. You get can everything from food to garden ornaments to clothes to electronic goods to books to pets. It is hard to imagine anything that isn't available there, short of massively expensive goods, such as cars. Even that, I wouldn't put it past to have a Sunday car auction or something.

I went on the day before Songkran. Although it hadn't officially begun, people were begnning to squirt water pistols already, and walking through the market was a bit like walking a gauntlet (although it was nothing compared to full-blown aqua warfare conducted the next day).

The market is so large that it is impractical to talk about seeing everything. The best you can do is to walk down a cross-section and hope you see a bit of everything.

I was most intrigued by the pet section. There are a lot of fish, but also mammals like dogs, rabbits and cats (although, not that many cats). It seems they even sell animals like tigers and monkeys, but these are kept well away from the main areas (probably because they are illegal, also perhaps because of the uproar it causes with some visiting tourists).

But although the market is officially segmented into areas, in reality a little bit of everything spills into one another. As a result, you have situations like food stalls setting up right in the middle of the pet area., something I thought very unhygenic and risky. Need I say "cross-species infection"to make myself clear?

The other thing is that there are usually no price labels on goods, leading to an unofficial two-tiered pricing system for locals and foreigners.

Some of the complexes are very stuffy to walk into, especially on a hot day. I couldn't help but think about what would happen in some of these congested, crowded areas if something like a fire broke out.

All in all, with the variety of what is on offer, it's a good place to visit and spend half-a-day, browsing and maybe even shopping.


posted on Saturday, April 12, 2003 - permalink

10 April 2003
Riding the Tuk Tuk

We arrived in Bangkok sometime just before noon. The train was late by two hours or so due to the carriage from Butterworth arriving late in Hatyai itself.

The first thing to do was to pick up a tuk tuk to the hotel. They're cheaper than taxis and nippier to boot.

Haggling for one is partly a lottery. You go to the first and ask him how much. If the number is too high, you try to bargain, but not for too long. The best thing to do is to just head for another one and ask again. For a ride from the train station to Banglumphu, we were offered 140BHT, 100BHT and finally 60BHT.

The only safe way to experience a tuk-tuk - from the outside

There's not much space in a tuk-tuk. It's a tight squeeze with two people and baggage and with one hand on a bag and another on a camera, you kind of need more arms to really be comfortable.

And when the ride begins, the first thing that comes to mind is that tuk-tuks are not really designed to carry two people and luggage comfortably and safely. You get this when the tuk-tuk suddenly sits on its back wheels, ready to pounce at an instance. To comply with the most basic of safety laws, a tuk-tuk needs a couple of safety belts and a pair of crash helmets. Air bags wouldn't hurt either.

Tuk-tuks travel at two speeds: Fast and Stationary. The bits in between are a blur, probably due to the adrenaline rush that you get. It could have also been the blood vessels in my eyes getting crushed by the g-forces.

A tuk-tuk is narrower than a car but wider than a motorbike. I wish somebody would tell the drivers that just because a motorbike can get through a gap, it doesn't mean that your tuk-tuk can. Squeezing through seems to be done through intimidation as your ride lurches forward, inches at a time, towards the imaginary gap in front of you. Miraculously, the gap usually opens up.

But the tuk-tuk is in its element hurtling down the centre line of the road, swerving in and out of traffic. You can almost touch the wing mirrors of nearby cars as you zip past, except that doing so would probably result in a trip to a hospital to extract shards of broken glass from your hand.

Finally the tuk-tuk comes to a stop at a destination. You half-expect a reminder to keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle until it comes to a complete stop and to see people trying to sell you "I Rode a Tub-Tuk and Survived" t-shirts.


posted on Thursday, April 10, 2003 - permalink

9 April 2003
Hatyai Q&A

(I've decided to use this format because the response to the first one I did was so good)

Q: How was Hatyai?
A: Slow, peaceful, easy-going. I wasn't originally going to spend so much time there, but in the end, I spent all of five days.

Q: Why so long?
A: It's those darned trains. When I met him on Friday, Mr Ooi insisted I stayed at least two nights. However, there were no trains available Sunday or Monday, so we were forced to take the Tuesday train. Sunday was a holiday, you see, and so was the Monday after that. I guess long weekends are treated the same the world over.

Q: Who's Mr Ooi?
A: He's somebody I used to work with on the Smart School project. He retired a few years ago and now he's spending his time helping out at a Buddhist community centre. In his spare time he's building a university.

Q: So what did you do while you were in Hatyai?
A: Lots. I had a traditional Thai steam bath, and a traditional massage. I ate lots and lots of seafood. I also had ox. And Thai laksa. Actually, I ate lots in general. I climbed a hill. I rang a bell at a temple. I helped out an English class. I fed an elephant. I looked at the building site for the University. I helped set up the school's computers so that they could access the internet via one connection.

Q: So you were busy?
A: Very. But I found it hard to get to sleep some nights. I think it's the food.

Q: Which of all these did you enjoy the most?
A: Erm. Probably the massage, but only because I'd never tried that before. The hill walk was OK, but a bit short and a bit hot. The food was good.

Q: Would you have stayed longer?
A: Nah. Tight schedule and all. I would have preferred to leave earlier, in fact. I was stressing about it at one point.But why get stressed when the whole world's waiting to be explored? Anyway, the food's good.

Q: Did you like the food?
A: Yes.

Q: Did lots of people really say that they liked this format?
A: Well, two did. But none said they hated it. So that means 100% of those who responded agreed with the format.


posted on Wednesday, April 09, 2003 - permalink
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9 April 2003

I completely missed yesterday's significance yesteday. It was exactly a year ago when I got the idea of doing this trip, and a year later I am. Ain't life wonderful?


posted on Wednesday, April 09, 2003 - permalink
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9 April 2003 - Somewhere between Hatyai and Bangkok

Wow. The romance of rail travel can sure evaporate quickly. Especially if you get up at five in the morning to go to the bathroom and you realise that you're freezing cold, and then you remember that train bathrooms are basically holes in the carriage. This is symptomatic of tropical developing countries when the air-conditioning is put on, regardless of the temperature outside, when leaving it off would mean that it's just nice.

The upper bunks on Thai trains are actually slightly narrower than Malaysian trains. Sleep last night was memorable for the number of dreams I had. They all had some variant of "travelling" as it's central theme. I dreamt that a guy from MDC called me and asked me to help with some project, and I had to tell him that I was not in Malaysia. I dreamt that I was flying with Adzam to New York and that he forgot the name of the restaurant that we booked dinner for later that night. I also dreamt something about a hotel and trying to catch a criminal, but the details escape me.

I'm not sure how one is meant to take travelling on rail. It certainly is more comfortable than bus, even if it takes a little longer. You can, if you want, talk to fellow passengers. That is, as long as you can speak the lingo. And if it's light outside (which it isn't at the moment), you can take your time to appreciate the countryside as it whips past. You can see people get on with their everyday life around you. It's a microcosm of the outside world in a moving carriage.

I suppose, all in all, it's a more interesting way of getting to where you want to go.


posted on Wednesday, April 09, 2003 - permalink
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8 April 2003 - Hatyai
Updated Itinerary

I think I've spent too much time in Hatyai. The original plan was to spend no more than one or two nights and then head off to Bangkok for a week. This would have left me plenty of breathing room to reach Hanoi before 25 April (a Friday), and I could to either take the Friday or the Tuesday train to Beijing.

However, because of the holiday (Chakri Day) that fell on Sunday and the resulting long weekend, it wasn't possible to get a free seat on a train out of Hat Yai until today.

This delay of two-three days has been further compounded by my need to spend time in Bangkok to check on my Vietnamese visa status, to buy a Eurail pass, a day-trip to Ayutthaya and Mr Ooi's suggestion that we visit Kanchanaburi. This means that even with my original plan for a seven-day stay in Bangkok, at least three of those days will now be occupied. The original idea of leaving Bangkok on Monday is now unrealistic if I still want to really see the city. Certainly, if I have to apply for a visa from the Vietnamese embassy, I cannot plan to leave Bangkok until about Wednesday, 16 April.

This brings me to another problem. I wanted to spend weekdays, not weekends, at Angkor, because I expect the crowds to be less.

Phnom Penh will have to be cut short, to probably only one night, instead of two now.

Furthermore, Hanoi is currently still on the WHO's affected areas list. If there are no cases reported by the end of next week, I anticipate that they will clear that area. However, if it is not clear by the time I reach Ho Chi Minh, then I may have to travel straight through to Beijing directly.

Anyway, the current itinerary is now as follows:

* Actual itinerary dependant on WHO travel advisories. Alternative is to stay longer in Ho Chi Minh and fly to Beijing.


posted on Wednesday, April 09, 2003 - permalink
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7 April 2003 - Hatyai
English Class

Guess what? After spending half the day climbing up the hill, Mr Ooi decided to reward me by introducing me to a group of young ladies. And two men. I was volunteered by him to talk to the English class the school holds on Sunday for 17 year olds.

Their English wasn't so good, so I decided to skip the part where I explained to them the difference between Malaysian and Thai monarchies. In fact, I spent some of the time enthusing about Thai food. How great it is! What you put in it!

In the end, I made them write up for me things I should do in Thailand. What should I see, what should I do, what should I eat.

Some teacher I'd make. But it was fun, I guess.


posted on Wednesday, April 09, 2003 - permalink
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posted on Wednesday, April 09, 2003 - permalink
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Aston Villa 1 - Arsenal 1

I hope y'all out there noticed and paid attention to the scores this weekend. I'd like to point out the highlight of it must be Villa's performance holding title-holders Arsenal to a draw. I wasn't able to watch the whole match, but I did see the goals.

And, by the way, Adzam? Tough luck - Liverpool has another four corners to turn now, I guess.
posted on Tuesday, April 08, 2003 - permalink
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5 April 2003 - Hatyai, Thailand
A Traditional Thai Massage

After the rigours of a traditional Thai steam bath, it was time to try the more famous Thai massage. Mr Ooi assured me that he knew of a good one in the middle of town, and on Saturday afternoon we jumped on the nearest bus and round into downtown Hatyai.

I say "bus", but what I mean is "pickup truck", because that's what it is. The truck goes up and down a pre-determined route and there's no official bus stop or anything like that. Anybody hailing one on the dusty side of the road is entitled to one.

As a preamble, Mr Ooi first led me up and down the various market places. They are like squashed indoor shopping complexes, selling everything from T-shirts to electronic goods to traditional medicines, criss-crossed by narrow alleyways. You have to walk sideways at times to squeeze past other customers and the occasional motorcyclist. The electricity had gone down as we were getting out of one - I can't begin to imagine the heat and discomfort.

We finally made our way to the massage parlour. I wondered if Mr Ooi had made a mistake, because the inside was gaudily decorated with red carpet, walls and probably the ceiling if I had bothered to look up. There were a gaggle of female masseuurs in the corner, and to be honest, I'm sure any massage parlour worth its salt in Hatyai is flexible enough to cater for all kinds of clientle. However, Ooi was particular enough to say that we were here speicifically for the massage of muscles and stretching of tendons and not anything else. Actually, I'm not sure exactly what he said, because my Thai is non-existant, but I'm sure that was the drift.

For those who don't know (and that included me at the time) the, the procedure is this: you are led to a room and you are given this loose robe to put on. I suppose you're meant to strip buck naked and put it on, but I left my underwear on, because I didn't really think about it at the time. You then get your feet washed and scrubbed and then the massage begins.

It begins with a gentle kneading of the feet, calves and thighs. I now fully understand what a fine line it is between traditional massage and the more exotic kind - about an inch or so, I would guess. The masseuse makes full use of her weight to press down on muscles, and it only takes a slight shift of weight sometimes to move from PG-rated to 18-rated, which would have been difficult to accept anyway, seeing that Mr Ooi was on the next bed. But I digress.

After the first half hour or so, I was thinking "this ain't so bad - what's the fuss?". All I had been subject to was gentle pressure on both the arms and legs, with a little bit of stretching. I am not ashamed that although I may seem nimble and flexible on the outside, pushing my leg anything past the 45 degree angle is one sure way to see me suffer.

But, sometime after 70 minutes or so it starts to get interesting. You now understand what the whole process of the first part of the massage is about. It's to relax you so wholly and completely that you have gradually submitted under the will of the masseuse. Suddenly she starts posing you in various ways, all the while, saying "relax", because the first instinct of your body when it is so handled is to try to move your limbs back to something approximating a normal position. Like one where your arm is wrapped three times around your head.

Remember that this is the traditional version - it's like a line referring to "Career Girl Barbie" from Spilt Gravy on Rice - "Can bend arms and legs everywhere, but cannot part the legs".

But, wow, whenever she says "relax", you know it's a precursor to some muscle-wrenching activity. I didn't realise that my muscles had sub-muscles until that day.

At the end of it all is a calming down period, and there is a head rub. I like head rubs, they really feel good, although in this case I half-expected to hear the word "relax" and find my head turned 360 degrees like some captive owl. When the whole thing is over, I felt very relaxed. Very, very relaxed. It is absolutely incredible, no wonder Errolyn loves massages.

All in all, in cost us 200 Baht each for two hours. This is kinda cheap compared to what you get in KL - more than RM100, I think.


posted on Monday, April 07, 2003 - permalink
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4 April 2003, Hatyai
A Steam Bath

I was told that the accepted spelling is "Hatyai", and not "Hadyaai" or "Hat Yai", so that's what I'll use from now on.

I actually fell asleep in the afternoon, after being shown to my room in the school. It actually straddles three shophouse lots and is very open. Ooi lives and works there, and life is simple (well, especially for a city dweller like me!). I guess all the rest and relaxation rubbed off on me.

After my nap, Ooi looked up at me and asked "Want to go for a Thai Steam Bath?". One of the main rules of the Big Trip is to experience anything new, so the answer had to be "Yes!". It really is something that should be experienced.

He drove me out into the boondocks of Songkla, up to a hut placed at the edge of a remote field, deep into the darkness of night. You see all these semi-robed people trotting in and out of these rooms, glistening with sweat. Men go to the left, women to the right, and it's ideal to strip down to swimming shorts or something else you don't mind getting wet.

Walking into the room was like something else. You're hit by a wall of heat, and you grimace through to find a little plastic stool to sit on. There are no lights in the room. It's like some sort of sensory-deprivation oven. The smell of super-heated herbs saturates your nostrils, which is not all that often because the air is so thick that you have to breath through your mouth. A layer of moisture condenses upon your body as soon as you step in.

The whole idea is just to sweat it out. The herbs and the hot air encourage your body to expel toxins. I actually found it impossible to completely relax through the sweltering heat, and you feel light-headed after a while. I had visions of myself passing out and being steamed alive, like some herbal hainanese chicken. They even sell oil outside, just to make it all complete.

Ooi told me to relax and just sit there until you feel you have to get out. Twenty minutes is about right. Just like boiling four eggs in a row, I thought.

But after a while, it feels ok, I guess. Your body does try to scream at you to get out, because the temperature must be a good 40 degrees C or something, and I put that all down to heat shock.

When you really can't take it anymore, you laboriously get off the chair and make your way out again to cool down with herbal tea and a view of the night sky.


posted on Monday, April 07, 2003 - permalink
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4 April 2003
Klintiendharm Foundation, Hat Yai

What a buzz! Mr Ooi met me at the train station as planned - it took some time because he was waiting for me in a different place from where I was - and we went off to have lunch, a good roadside stall. I was filled to the brim.

I know Mr. Ooi from the Ministry of Education. We, together with Banard, used to occasionally go for hillside walks (hill-tromping, I call it). Ooi shot pictures of just about every living thing in sight (including when he once took his time with a four-inch long leech that slowly made its way up my shoe).

He has retired now, and runs a buddhist school where locals are taught English. It's actually more of a community centre, and the doors are open to all.

In his spare time he is also building a university, which is a pretty good thing to do I guess, if you can manage it. It will be an International Buddhist Centre and will act as a central point for buddhist scholars from around the world. The campus being constructed will occupy 25 acres of a 100-acre plot.

Kind of puts my spare-time work with DramaLab in perspective.



posted on Monday, April 07, 2003 - permalink
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5 April 2003
Thai Food

One of the things I like to visit when I'm in a new town is the market. I'm not talking about the local Tesco's, I mean like a patch of ground where there's nothing one day and then rows and rows of tents the next. The Hatyai market near where I'm staying only opens on Wednesday and Saturday. It's not all that much different from the markets back home, except for one big exception: the food is different.

Eating is kind of like a hobby for me. I like to eat. And I like to try different things, as long as they don't have more than four legs.

It's amazing how different food is over the border. Penang is only two hours drive from here, and there are variations of food here that are familiar but taste very different from what we get back home.

Those pudgy dough bits in the middle are fried bananas.

Let's take the pisang goreng for example. The batter they use here is much heavier and sweeter than the ones back home, resulting in something more like dough bananas than fried bananas.

They have apum here as well, except that it looks like apum balik but tastes like the apum you eat with coconut.

The cucur udang they serve here is fried in hot oil so that it is crunchier than the Malaysian version.

A word or two needs to be said about the tea. They mix something like one part condensed milk to three parts tea, and then they add sugar to it, just to make sure that it's sweet.

Another thing: Back home, teh tarik is made using tea dust. You always hear of stories of shops adding extras like sawdust to add bulk to the tea. Well, the shop I stopped at over here had a sawmill and a mound of sawdust right behind it.

Me unashamedly tucking into some thai laksa

Probably the best meal I've had here so far was the Thai laksa. The gravy was a mixture of assam laksa and one based on kunyit and santan. It was the best laksa I've ever had. The fish is actually the secret - it's a little sweet after boiling it, and this stock is reduced, magnifying the taste before the other ingredients are added to it. When you sit down to eat it, the shop puts a large plate of leaves in front of you, and you add whatever garnish you feel like.

Another yummy dish is this simple thing that they pack for people on the go. It's a piece of fried chicken, some pulut and fried garlic. It's a really simple dish, and it works really well.

They also sell nasi ulam here, with lots of cili to go with it. It tastes a lot like the nasi ulam you get back home, but I don't eat it all that much, so I really can't say.

It seems they add sugar in a lot of their dishes, including curries and soups, so things have a slightly sweeter taste to it, but I haven't really been able to make out the difference, except for the chilli sauce.


posted on Saturday, April 05, 2003 - permalink

4 April 2003
Padang Besar immigration

It's pretty cool. I managed to get my Thai immigration sticker. This is good because of two reasons: I am now pretty much officially on the first leg of my journey and because I'm sure now that I didn't leave my passport at home.


posted on Saturday, April 05, 2003 - permalink

3 April 2003

On train somewhere between Alor Setar and the border

Have you ever taken an overnight train before? I have, twice, to Singapore. If you really want to know what it's like, do this: Find a double decker steel bed no more than 2 feet wide, climb to the top. Put your bags at one end and try to fit yourself in between all that junk. Switch on the air conditioner to, say, 20 degrees C. Get somebody to rock the bed for you. Have somebody else open and close the door loudly. Get another group of people to talk loudly. Get yet another group to complain that people are talking loudly. Do this for half the night.


posted on Saturday, April 05, 2003 - permalink
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4 April 2003

On train somewhere between Alor Setar and the border

It's like a little wierd. You think things are going to be one way, and then you find that they are another. Adzam and Aniza (I call them Adzniza) were kind enough to drop me off at the train station. It wasn't what I expected.

For a start, I should have finished packing at 5.30, and taken my shower and everything. By the time I got the phone call at 6.45, I was dripping wet from the shower and my things were strewn over the bed. I climbed into the car fifteen minutes later, wet with sweat, an anxious look on my face.

Aniza pointed it out first. "I know what you're thinking", she said. "I can hear it - tick, tock, tick, tock - Stop it". The car was creeping past Pusat Bandar Damansara at that time, thanks to my advice that we take _this_ route, not _that_ route. But being late for the train was the least of my problems.

"You're thinking: did I forget anything, did I leave anything behind, have I got everything," she carried on.

She kinda got it right, I suppose. Just the week before I froze momentarily, thinking about this trip while I was parking my car in the garage. For some reason I was thinking how the normal thing I was doing would stop being normal. In fact, everything that I knew to be normal would not be for three months. That got me a little scared. I had a little heart flutter.

My heart was fluttering the same in that car with Adzniza. What was I doing? I'm going to do something I've never done before, and the scope for failure is huge. I don't even know if I'll even make the train station on time.

Well, actually, I did, with plenty of time to spare. That's why I suggested leaving the house 90 minutes before my train was due, so that if I was late by half an hour - it wouldn't matter.

That's how you plan for a trip like this. Lots of contingency. Lots of places where, if I get this wrong, it won't matter so much, I can do that instead. The idea is to keep being flexible and not get fixed, to be able to change at a moment's notice.

There are many things that can go wrong on this trip. One thing that everyone points out to me is SARS. My response is that Thailand, Cambodia and South Vietnam are not on the 'affected area' list at the moment. I'll travel until I reach a point where I'm blocked. Then I'll travel around it. It may mean flying, which rather kills the 'overland'ness of my journey, but hey. Flexibility.


posted on Saturday, April 05, 2003 - permalink
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Big Trip FAQ

Q. What is this Big Trip?
A. It's my attempt to travel from KL to London overland. Overland means no planes, only things like trains, buses or ferries.

Q. What about SARS?
A. I plan to keep a lookout on the WHO pages and monitor the situation. As of this moment (2 April 2003), the indication is that Thailand, Cambodia and South Vietnam are safe to travel in. Hong Kong and Guangdong are not. If I have to bypass affected areas by air, I will.

Q. What about the war?
A. The war is in Iraq. I do not plan to go anywhere near there at the moment.

Q. What's the route?
A. The intended itinerary is (deep breath): KL - Hat Yai - Bangkok - Siem Reap - Phnom Penh - Ho Chi Minh - Hue - Hanoi - Beijing - Ulan Batar - Irkutsk - Moscow - St Petersburg - Helsinki - Stockholm - Copenhagen - Berlin - Prague - Budapest - Innsbruck - Paris - London - Oxford - Dublin. Then fly back to KL from London.

Q. What's the timeline?
A. I leave KL on 3 April 2003 and will be back in Malaysia by the end of June 2003. I will reach Beijing by early May, and will leave Beijing on 10 May. I will be in Helsinki by 28 May and intend to reach London by 19 June. Everything else in between is a little up for grabs.

Q. What anticipated "big attractions" do you plan to visit?
A. The journey is more important than the destination, man.

Q. No, seriously - what do you especially look forward to seeing?
A. Angkor Wat, embalmed Uncle Ho, Great Wall, Trans-Siberian, Ulan Batar, Lake Baikul, Prague, Budapest, Musée Marmottan-Claude Monet, adik, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Dublin.

Q. Who's going with you?
A. Ed the duck will be my permanent companion. My mum will be joining me in Beijing and we will travel on the Trans-Siberian to Helsinki.

Q. You'll be stuck for two and a half weeks on a train with your mum?
A. And I'll be enjoying every moment of it. Actually, the train journey only takes up seven of those days. And don't forget Ed.

Q. Ed?
A. Ed: See this and this

Q. I want to know what you're doing! Keep us informed!
A. Go to - I'll try to keep that up-to-date as I travel.

Q. How do we get in touch with you?
A. In order of priority:
1. Send SMS's to my handphone
2. Send emails to
3. Send voicemails

Q. How do we send voicemails to you?
A. By telephone.
1. Dial the access number. From Malaysia, this is 1800-804-146. From England, this is 0800-376-1705. From anywhere else, look at .
2. Press *2 on the telephone.
3. Enter my account number: 2019721016 (20 followed by my birthday)
4. Leave me a message. Keep it short, keep it sweet. Like me.

Q. How much will this whole thing cost you?
A. Lots. Budget runs from under RM100 per day in South East Asia to over RM200 per day in Europe. Plus expensive rail in Europe (about USD600 altogether). Plus the flight home. Donations are welcome.

Q. What about visas?
A. Malaysians have it easy. I only need visas for China and Russia. But boy, is the russian visa a doozy to get...

Q. How on earth did you come up with this?
A. Short story: I saw it on a website.
Long story: Claudi and Ben wanted to know about trains in Malaysia, and while I was searching the web, I came across this page: . Somewhere in the middle of all that is the following sentence: "If you have the time (it will take you a good four weeks one-way), it's possible to reach Singapore overland all the way from London". This was on 8 April 2002.

Q. Why aren't you starting from Singapore?
A. Well, I travelled by rail to and from Singapore last February (when I was there to watch Cliff Richard perform - no, don't say anything, don't ask anything). So, I've kinda done that leg of the trip already.

Q. Is it true you won't be eating American fast food on the trip?
A. "America Evil". Or "Evil America". It works both ways. I'm boycotting US-made products, where possible, so this includes McDonalds, Coke, etc. It's not as difficult as you might think.

Q. I can't believe that Dzof will be able to make do without a computer for three months!
A. There are internet cafes, you know. OK, and I'll also be bringing along the following:
- An Alphawriter (a text editor that runs on batteries and can upload to just about any PC).
- A digital camera (Fuji digital camera).
- My trusty palm pilot.
- A Sony Ericsson handphone, with global roaming activated.
- SmartMedia/SD card reader.

Q. How much does your backpack weigh?
A. About 12kg.

Q. Doesn't this scare you a bit?
A. Only if you remind me about it.

Q. Are you really doing this?
A. Yes.

Q. No, really?
A. Yes.


posted on Thursday, April 03, 2003 - permalink
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