Myles Harrington

Archive for 2010|Yearly archive page

Thai Good Times to Bangkok Blues

In Thailand on December 19, 2010 at 8:41 am

The Union of Myanmar thankfully let us back out into Thailand and we headed straight to Chiang Mai for my last night with Adam. We did well on our last night hitting three clubs throughout the city using my previous knowledge that I gained three months ago to full advantage.

Been there and got the t-shirt

Firstly we tried to go and find Nogh, the gay guy who took me out on my birthday to Mandalay Club. Sadly for us he had left The Queen Vic pub job to work for the Tourism Authority of Thailand, a step up he said he wanted. I was pleased for him to discover this, but disappointed we wouldn’t have our gay guide for assistance. Adam was especially disappointed.

Instead we took a Chiang Mai pub crawl into our own hands starting off at The North Gate Jazz Collective for a couple of cocktails, moving on to Hot Shots where the band publicly took the piss out of us for drinking the cheapest whisky on the menu. Next up was Mandalay with some new Thai friends we met in Hot Shots, who very kindly drove us there and we skipped on by the entrance, avoiding the 300 baht fee. Bored of camp men and their queens we missioned it all the way to the outdoor reggae bar that I frequented on many occasions on my last visit to Thaland’s former capital.

It seems to be a running occurrence that when I drink the cheapest whisky I spend the whole next day in bed and luckily I only had to get up so I could get the night bus to Bangkok. I had two seats to myself on the half empty coach so I could spread out and get a relatively good night’s sleep. I got chatting to a retired Iranian school teacher who was sat opposite me and we discussed travelling and family. I then asked him the question that obviously sprang to my mind when he said he was from Iran; “What so you think of Mr Ahmadinejad?”, to that he simply replied laughing and grabbing my arm “I think it’s best we don’t talk about politics”…mysterious. Read the rest of this entry »

Myanmar? Might As Well

In Myanmar, Thailand on December 12, 2010 at 11:37 am

I had a couple of places in mind to visit for the week I had to return to Thailand before my flight from Bangkok. Chiang Rai was the natural stop off point from Laos being the first major town. After a swift and fun border crossing that involved drinking the only cider I have managed to find in Asia a couple of Swedish pear ciders and we paid the boatman an extra 10,000 kip to go a long route to Thailand, slightly down stream on the Mekong. Once over we had a swift transfer to a rickety local bus for two and a half hours to Chiang Rai.

CIDER!

When I’d spoken to people about Chiang Rai they pretty much all said the same thing, it’s like a mini Chiang Mai and has an amazing white temple that is well worth a visit. Our first night there didn’t involve much, just the usual drunken antics like annoying a couple of Thai girls by trying to cook in their kitchen and making friends with groups of locals in the hip Face Club in order to have some of their whisky.

Annoying the staff

On day two we got a local bus from the conveniently, and unusually for Asia, centrally located bus station to the White temple. I was blown away by the place. Its official name is Wat Rong Khun and it’s the brainchild of a Thai artist called Chalermchai Kositpipat. Kositpitat is hoping to expand on the current building and have nine identical white temples on the site completed by 2070, the outside of the temple is magnificent and it’s a shame it wasn’t a sunny day when we visited because I can imagine it would have looked even more impressive glistening in the sunlight. The inside of the temple was just as fantastic. It’s meant to signify a type of heaven and hell with Buddha on the wall facing the entrance and on the entrance wall ‘hell’ depicted using modern sci-fi creation murals, these include Neo from The Matrix, the guy from Avatar, Spiderman and Superman. Read the rest of this entry »

Scaring Kids With An English Bloke

In Laos on December 10, 2010 at 10:46 am

Adam, the cynical and fellow innuendo obsessed Brit and I decided to leave Luang Prabang together and develop our friendship further north in little idyllic and remote villages. The first such place was Nong Khiaw, a destination Lonely Planet describe as ‘a sleepy market village with a humbling backdrop’.

 

The humbling backdrop

Our only afternoon there involved a walk to a long and dark cave where villagers hid during the Second Indochina War. While we were there two small and innocent looking children followed us around, whispering to each other as if they were plotting some kind of hit and run mugging scam. We started to whisper too so they felt just as scared and at the chosen moment jumped out at them which made them look like they saw their lives flash before their eyes. We shook hands with them and smiled after but it was a cruel yet funny trick. Perhaps it will teach them it’s rude to whisper behind peoples’ backs.

 

The whisperers

We walked on a little further up the tarmaced road to a small village where the children only knew the English word ‘pen’. It seems like it’s quite universally known for children to know that specific word but I don’t know why. Unsurprisingly the village shop had a good stock of pens for falang to purchase, so we bought 20 and distributed accordingly with bonus sweets and the full bag was eventually swiped from us by a couple of mothers with sweet teeth.

 

The lazy Lao bulls

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Back In The Tubing

In Laos on December 5, 2010 at 9:42 am

Vang Vieng was the final stop off on Shubes’ journey and I wasn’t too disappointed to be returning to one of the legendary destinations of the South East Asia backpacker circuit. We got to it straight away, renting out the tubes and booze cruising our way down the Nam Song on our first day. Then we got a bit lazy for four days pretty much just eating, sleeping and watching TV. The Lao baguettes were a firm favourite for our diet and I can’t resist ordering the cheap noodle soup at least once a day.

On our last day we decided to do something slightly cultural and went to a cave with a beautiful blue lagoon at the bottom, stupidly we didn’t think about taking our swimming stuff so all we could do was look at it, but at least the walk there was nice.

Take it to the bridge

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The Long Haul North

In Laos on November 27, 2010 at 6:08 pm

We had one week to go from Pakse in the far south of Laos up to the capital in the north, Vientiane. Our first trip wasn’t going to get us far, from Champasak we were going to Pakse, an old French admin post just opposite Thailand across the mighty Mekong. I’d heard from fellow travellers it wasn’t a great place, with just a row of restaurants and not much else. On our first night there as we were strolling along the riverside boulevard I trod on something squishy and warm, I thought I’d be spending most of my night stinking from that point but fortunately it was just a snake. When I felt something warm I tried to tread lightly and it slithered away into the undergrowth seemingly unharmed from its 70 kilo crushing. I think I must have got its head otherwise I would probably have required a trip to the new looking Pakse A&E.

One of the reasons why people stop off in Pakse is to travel east in to the Bolaven Plateau and other remote eastern provinces. Having become a couple of waterfall hunters recently we thought we should give it another go and head out on our own wheels to see what is supposedly one of Laos’ most impressive falls just a few kilometres out-of-town. The Tat Fan falls were cool but sadly the drop was so long from our vantage point you couldn’t even see the plunge pool. The water looked like a gas as it hit the rocks half way and flowed like liquid nitrogen into the abyss. After the obligatory South East Asian noodle soup for lunch in Paksong we were back on the road on our 100cc bad boy back towards Pakse via another less impressive waterfall.

 

Yet another waterfall

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Just In The Kip Of Time

In Cambodia, Laos on November 16, 2010 at 1:12 pm

As the end of another visa approached we were at our last destination in Cambodia, Ban Lung in the Ratanakiri province. The dirt off the track for the last four hours of our journey covered everything in a think layer of red dust, just like how you’d imagine Mars to be, or a tropical Devon. On the mini bus we met a British couple who we befriended and both stayed in the Star Hotel. That evening we invited them to join us on the hotel’s balcony for a few Mekong whisky and Cokes, after that ran out we sent the girls down to try to gather more supplies from the mama who looked after the guesthouse. They came back twenty minutes later with a bottle of the Isle of Skye’s finest Talisker whisky, aged 10 years for a mere $10. That’s one great thing about Cambodia, they import all of Europe’s finest spirits through Singapore and sell them tax-free for cheaper than you can get them in the EU. Absolut, Gordon’s and Scotland’s best whiskies all for Asda smart prices, even though the $2 Mekong stuff actually tasted better.

 

 

The prince and the pauper

 

We’d arranged to be up early for a day on motorbikes with Matt and Cheryl and just as I’d finished throwing up the remains of the night before’s beef and green pepper and spirits, Matt knocked on our bedroom door. We struggled downstairs and eventually we were on the road to Ban Lung’s most spectacular natural wonder, a perfectly round crystal clear lake that the locals say was created 700,000 years ago by a meteor strike. A dip in the chilly water soon cleared the hangovers and we drove down some treacherous unsealed and slippery tracks to a couple of Rattanakiri’s other natural wonders; waterfalls. Read the rest of this entry »

Two Sites Worth Seeing

In Cambodia on November 12, 2010 at 5:27 pm

Our first overnight bus ride in over a month took us to Siem Reap, famous for pretty much just one thing, Angkor Wat. The famous 900 year old temple is even emblazoned upon Cambodia’s flag; it must be something special. We were considering at times not even visiting the so-called heart of Cambodia, but thought we should as we were around. I was worried Angkor was going to be another Taj Mahal moment, rammed with too many tourists, overpriced and not as magnificent as hyped, but I was really wrong.


At US$20 the entrance fee was cringingly steep to someone as frugal as myself and with the $15 tuk tuk ride on top it’s an even more painful day out for the poor. Approaching from the south you get the idea of the scale of the site, seeing the vast moat which looks more like a giant lake and makes old saxon castle moats look like punctured paddling pools. Angkor Wat is placed symmetrically on the middle mound and is massive. It’s not really the scale that struck me as the most important aspect of the temple though, it’s the detailing on such a scale, triple layers of carvings cover the whole structure from top to bottom and the views from the top are incredible.

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School’s Out

In Cambodia on November 2, 2010 at 3:45 pm

Last Thursday was the final day of term at Chumkriel Language School, that meant it was time for the end of term exams and then a long ‘bank holiday’ style four-day weekend to celebrate the King’s coronation and birthday. It was also our final day in Kampot so we treated the kids before their tests to a few pressies we’d bought at the market in the morning, two fishing sets, lots of building blocks, skipping ropes and a golf set. They were thrilled and manged to break all of the golf clubs and squash all the balls within a few minutes.

 

A Cambodian Tiger Woods teaches Shubes a thing or two

 

My first class that has been learning its ABCs simply had to write A-Z on a piece of paper. It’s traditional in Cambodia to cheat in tests, something that the teachers were weakly trying to eradicate for this exam and joking that of course they have cheated in every exam they’ve ever taken. One of the cutest little girls, who is actually the best in the class of 50 at reciting her ABCs was even found with a strip of the alphabet written on her lap. The kids were openly chatting during the test and glancing around the room for inspiration or a helping lip sync from a friend. It brought back all the nerves of school exams to me and I couldn’t help but give a few clues as I wondered around and saw the struggling teary eyed kids with sheets that only contained A B C D.

 

The cheating little shit didn't get away with it

 

The second class that I had to independently supervise for their test was quite a bit older, probably ranging from 13-17. I was a hard task master and managed to keep the exam room European style silent. There were the odd whispers that I had to let slip when I couldn’t detect the perpetrator, but on the whole I think I did a good job at keeping the cheating to a minimum. I moved two students and deducted marks off four. They all hated me at the end, so it was lucky I was leaving town the next morning.

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Comparisons Between My Hometowns

In Cambodia on October 22, 2010 at 9:03 am

Today is my tenth day of living in Kampot and I really feel like I know the place now. We’re taking shortcuts through the dusty streets and are regulars at a couple of the restaurants and bars, I even get a nod of recognition from the cashiers at the supermarket. Although the town’s population is supposedly 33,000, there is much more of a village feel to it. One of the most fantastic aspects of Kampot, which definitely makes me feel at home, is the amazing array of roundabout designs. My other hometown of Basingstoke is well-known for its roundabouts, the Chineham Wave and Stonehenge examples spring to mind as wonders of modern architecture but Kampot takes the doughnut on this one, with the year 2000 monument and the new, yet to be finished, jack fruit centrepiece on the main traffic circle.

 

Roundabout wars, left the year 2000 monument Kampot, right the Chineham Wave, Crockford Lane roundabout, Basingstoke

 

The work at the school is going well, it’s strange to be in a routine for the first time in over six months but this one is a lot less taxing of my time than my previous job. A normal working day goes something like this; wake up at 11am, go to the market and buy some bread or instant noodles or stroll down to a local restaurant for a light lunch. We then head back to our guesthouse for some relaxation time, usually filled with an hour of BBC World News or a nap. At ten to three we have a 3km cycle to the school in Chumkriel village. I play football, create some Lego statues and draw some pictures with the children between 3 and 5pm and then take two English classes between 5 and 7pm. My first English class is full of little kids that I’m teaching the alphabet to, the second class is half monks and half teenagers all at the level of about five or six-year-old English children but with half the confidence. It’s extremely enjoyable teaching the kids as they pick it up really quickly and come in every day humming ABCDEFG HIJKLMNOP, they get a bit stuck after the speed of LMNOP but we’ll get there.

 

The Chumkriel Learning Center, Kampot

 

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Setting Up Camp in Cambodia

In Cambodia on October 15, 2010 at 11:24 am

For the last two weeks we’ve not had a single day without a torrential downpour lasting at least a few hours, if not all day or night or both. I thought it rained a lot in the UK but this is something different, raindrops the size of marbles cascade in waterfalls down the sides of buildings and pound on the tin roofs to make a deafening tribal like drum beat. As I’ve come to expect when arriving somewhere totally new, it’s normally pissing it down upon my arrival, our disembarkment in Cambodia’s capital was no exception. Luckily for us, King Guesthouse where we were dropped by the chilly air-con minibus was offering rooms for a steal at $6 a pop. After six months away I’m starting to get weary of the hunt to save 30p, I’ve realised sometimes it’s just not worth it. Why traipse around for an hour in the storm to save a few pence and find a scummier room when the first option was adequate, a good deal and not mouldy?

 

In Asia the roads turn to rivers when the rain comes down

 

With Shubes feeling a little under the weather on our first full day in Phnom Penh we did virtually nothing. With the promise of a Heinz baked bean and cheese toasted (Breville) sandwich on the guesthouse’s menu, who would want to go out and see one of Asia’s prettiest capitals? They failed to live up to their promise and served an imitation bean on an under-toasted baguette. If this was the UK I would be complaining under The Trade Descriptions Act 1968. I eventually managed to drag Shubes out of the room, after a disappointing lunch, but only with the promise of clothes shopping. She didn’t disappoint in living up to the reputation of woman worldwide, a couple of new items and some new shoes later and we were done for the day.

 

The best bit of the shopping mall was the roller blading rink, Shubes would disagree

 

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