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Sunday, 18 April 2010

Kuta, Bali and the 100% perfect match surfboard

Its probably too long now but this is the board i learned on

Curing sunburn, Kuta
The massage family

Kuta consists on one big urban sprawl of hustlers hawkers hotels bars clubs and massage parlours lined along the beach on the southern peninsula of Bali. It has absolutely no connection with Bali, or Balinese culture, just the same as Khao Sin Road has no connection with Thailand or Thai culture. As such it's populated by package tourists, semi- backpackers, and oddly enough Japanese. Lots of typical Germans, Swedes and Dutch, who all basically look identical, i have spoken to lots but couldnt tell any of them from the other. Mostly they are called Anna though, i do remember that much.

The saving grace is that the beach is great for surfing. Beginners and intermediates can go to the beach area, and more experienced surfers can get a boat out to the reef. The result then is a smattering of surfers, or in the case of me and many many others, guys who are crap at surfing but want to tell people 'they are surfing in Bali' and get their photos taken with surfboards etc. so girls back home will think 'ohhe must have a sixpack then if hes a surfer' and they hopefully will get laid more often.

Anyway, the best places i could see to stay are in and around Poppies gang 1 and 2, which are near the beach. Most places have little entraces and consist of rooms round a main pool, and are quiet enough despite the carnage on the main road (Legon - thats where all the main bars and clubs are)

I stayed in 'The Secret Garden' off Poppies Gang 1, which is 250,000Rp (19 pounds) a night but has free wifi and breakfast and air conditioning. You dont really need air conditioning so when i go back then ill go to Kirins, and take a room with a fan for half that price.

Everything here is about haggling, so the headline prices are much higher than the real prices. You shouldnt have to pay more than $25 for a decent room in Kuta, and usually you should pay half that, especially if its off season. Surf boards can be hired for $3 a day, and a 1 hour lesson from a local dude for $6. Dinner is about $3 too for a nice bit of grub. You can also smoke everywhere of course (as i can see from smokers puffing away in all bars and restaurants, savouring that moment of normality - for these guys im sure worth the ticket alone)

Anyway, the place can be as chilled as you want it. The hotel next to the secret garden, along with many others allows people to drink beer in the pool, so its full of young people getting drunk by the pool all day (how stupid is that, especially for aussies, who could be doing exactly the same thing for the same price back home) Anyway, here and the main drag are real party places, the other bars usually show movies and are more laid back. Poppies Gang 2 has a few surfer bars to check out but the locals, although theyre freindly enough (especially if your a desperate looking chick) are usually trying to hustle something out of you.

Today i got the perfect size surfboard, and i suppose i now know a bit more what im doing. Its not the best surfboard. Its not beautiful either, and has some funny things in it. But still. Its the 100% perfect match surfboard for me. The guys down the beach who surf all day (in between playing chess, and harassing swedish girls) are good and cheap teachers so i have 2 days of the 100% perfect size surfboard for me and an hour lesson each morning for 100,000 thingies - its about 8 euros, brilliant!

The rain has been pouring down, but thats a godsend as although the seas a bit choppy and currents are strong, i dont get sunburnt. The waves seem consistant, thought varying time to time a little but nothing i havent been able to handle.

Lets hope flights to London are canceled forever!

I know your gay because you listen to Coldplay - Ubud, Bali

Ubud is everything Kuta is not. It's in the hills. It's overflowing with temples, cafes, art galleries and things that western people consider 'cultural'. Despite being full of twats, its a nice wee town nevertheless.

The shuttle bus drops you off at a place outside one bungalow complex called Dra Sri Bungalows i think its called, where after some deliberations i ended up staying. Its not cheap (180,000 or 15pounds/$18) a night and it doesnt have WIFI but theres an internet cafe next door and most restautaurants etc have free wifi anyway so its all there if you so wish. Ive taken a photo. One day, ill make it so i can title these photos but meanwhile you can guess which one it is.

There are a lot of westerners however in Ubud. They sit though, at the exact opposite end of the spectrum from chunky english girls or beer drinking aussies of Kuta. Here were in the environment of annoying ethnically aware women, and their metrosexual poodlemen, who listen to Coldplay and wear stupid beanie hats, or even worse these really daft 'ethnic' Balinese hats, or even worse headbands.

There are also, thanks God a lot of Japanese. My yellow fever is coming back with a vengeance.

There are two main streets - monkey forest road, and jl Hanoman. The bus drops you on Hanoman. Both are full of restaurants galleries and craft shops, and most are good. You can get much cheaper soap/incence etc in the supermarket if you are interested. On the Hanoman, theres a place called Nicks homestay that looked great, and my new freind Irina said it was good and had free wifi, and breakfast, for the same price as my place.

One place to avoid, unless you want a laugh at some complete tools - you will see it at the top of that road, is a place that does a 'great cappucino' and is called 'kafe' Its full of thirty something guys with beards, wearing stupid headbands, and you can imagine that they certainly have' dancing in the moonlight' on their i-pods as they sip their cappucinos and talk about global warming. And their nightmarish wives/girfreinds are like younger versions of Cheri Blair, and just as acidly smart and correct about everythng (which is why their trustafarian boyfreinds smoke weed all day and keep out of their road) I think id rather hang around with drunk aussies to be honest. Theres a good curry shop at the top too, imaginatively named 'little india' and it has a few resident rats you can talk with if your bored.

There are loads of tours and temple visits and so on around here. I went on one, and deleted all my photos accidentally, but to be honest id say theyre only any use if you are really into this stuff, otherwise a mediocre day out.

The monkey sanctuary at the bottom of the town is good fun, especially if you get a bunch of bananas. I watched some fight too. There are also 3 temples here if your interested, but teasing the monkeys are more fun. The trick is to drop bananas on a 'disputed boundary' where two troups think its their territory, so they fight it out. Check this video, i took, i was kinda hoping for blood but no luck. Theyre kind of like African tribes i suppose, or guys in slums selling drugs.

Heres a really bad film i took of a monkey rumble...

Bikes and motorbikes are really cheap, so its a good idea to get one and explore the areas around - I eventually got out into the paddy fields, its not easy but worth it, so long as you dont get caught in any of the afternoon downpours as the drivers are bad enough here without rain like that.

Last night i watch a 'balinese fire dance' as well as the famous 'kecak dance' (its the one in Baraka) In the fire dance, the dude (for some reason) is in a trance and jumps around in a fire with a horse head on a pole. He walks through the fire and kicks it around - total carnage! I took a video here..

KL- Singapore

The train from KL to Singapore is every bit of its $15 price. 6 hours, in average comfort, but the main good thing is that there isnt a single white face on that train. Refreshed from being away from tourists, i arrived in Singapore early evening. There is a check point you get off at to get your passport checked when you arrive in Singapore - i understand actually you should get back on the train again to the central station but i got a taxi to the cozy hostel on north bridge street, which is $14 singapore dollars (about 5 pounds) and about the cheapest you can get in Singapore. However, there is free internet, and its right in the centre beside city hall, Raffles hotel etc etc. As it happened i didnt use it as i went to eat and got bored, and went to the casino until 7am. There is a new 'supercasino' opens on 27th April, just a few days after i leave, mores the shame. So i ate in the 'bakery' at Raffles, id say some of the best food ive ever had, then onto the Metro to Singapores super efficient airport to Bali...

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Malaysia is a first world country just desperate to get out of it's 3rd world clothing. Kuala Lumpur is Tallinn if Singapore was Helsinki (except warmer and smellier) But i was surprised at 1. how nice my KL apartment is and 2. what a great quality of life you can have in these poor hot countries for peanuts. My flat here cost 160k, same as a studio in a crappy part of London. But it's 1500ft2, with swimming pool gym, great views of the city, and walking distance to all the city centre things you need. It even has a servants quarters, where you can lock the person in there. Great for kidnapping children. My first night i had one of the best curries i've ever had (in the 'Passage through India' for $5.) Then the next night we had a night out in 'expat' KL with Iga (Interesting Girl Abroad) from Poland and the two Brasilians Natalia and Daniella. The first thing i noticed, that in the normal parts (we were round near the Golden Triangle crossroads), no one is drinking or drunk on a saturday night. It's a muslim country. Everyone just eats and drinks the amazing and cheap fruit juice. It may be connected to the fact that the toilets are disgusting generally (squat holes in the ground) Anyway we moved on to 'expat bar street' which is full of 'molly malone' style bar/restaurants. This is a nice part of town, but beer is expensive everywhere ($7 or 8 a pint) London prices, another reason why no one is drunk. Except here everyone is drunk. It felt like a hot Nimeta bar (Tallinn), where lots of vacuous expats drink away their empty lives and get seduced by little sweet chinese girls who are interested in Western men. The foreigners here seemed even more Ostracised than in Estonia - something i noticed in Japan too. Asian culture is way to different to integrate properly into, and no matter what, you will ALWAYS be a foreigner here. So hence the general shallowness that you get from a transient population - like in London, the empty heartedness was apparent all round. The girls were good company though thanks God, and making the most of their time there, so i suppose there is always the 10%. But of course in KL they may as well be lesbians, as all the guys attention are on the asian babes. Why have an opinionated western girfreind with a personailty when a submissive chinese girl will cater to all your needs and not ask questions? (guys who disagree, give yourself 2 months living in Bangkok and i'm sure you'll change your mind!) Personally im over yellow fever but still...

Ok next stop Singapore. I'm on the train today. I finally am beginning to feel alive again....

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Death in the Ring, Bangkok

Who ever wants to smoke when this is all over any packets you buy? Anyway, these photos were taken over the last few days in Bangkok. What a weird time. As soon as i started drinking, the riot police finally started shooting and using tear gas. By which time i understood it was time to leave sharpish.

However, before i left i managed to catch a real Muy Thai boxing, which also ended in a bad way (i ghoulishy took a video since i guessed no-one would beleive me) Apart from the odd rare in-ring death, It's a totally different experience from the style back home. The main thing is that the focus is all on kicks, with the occasional knee and elbow (killer blows) Great atmosphere though and i recommend it even for squeamish people. I'd recommend getting up the back so you can make bets with the local thai taxi drivers, straight out of deer hunter but be careful you dont get diddled and remember who you give your money to as they all look the same, especially after 5 beers.

After the match it seemed correct to go for a further drink with the guys i met there. Which turned into a random 14 hour drinking session lasting until 10am next day. Which was awful since my flight was leaving at about 1pm. We ended up in 'backpacker street' Khao San Road, which i have to say is the worst overall experience ive ever seen travelling. It's an enormous road full of bars, stalls etc. and obnoxious 'backpackers' drinking beer and eating chips. Why anyone goes all the way to South East Asia to hook up with fat girls from Essex, drink beer and eat chips, i do not know....Spain (or southend on sea) is only down the road guys.

Anyway for 12 year old travellers whove never been away from home, it may be a comfoting place so heres a link...

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Red Shirt Riot, Bangkok

Today was a great day. I think it was mainly because i was still drunk. I went to see the 'red shirts' protesting. I was kind of hoping for a riot, but although they did manage to close down parliment today, which was interesting, the whole thing was quite good natured. The guys were loving me, as their only 'farang' supporter, all the way from Scotland. As i got off the skytrain, a whole bunch of stalls were set up, selling every kind of red thing you can imagine.

I was wearing a blue shirt - i understand if your wearing a yellow shirt or a pink shirt, you are the enemy. Just like wearing a Celtic top in a Rangers pub, best avoided, so i stayed neutral. I did buy a bandana just to fit in a bit. Here are some photos of me with my t-shirt which says in Estonian - 'The guy on my right has a tiny penis' Luckily the people in the photos didnt know that, poor buggers.

By the way, it just occured to me that 'what?' in Thai sounds like 'i like' No wonder i think im so funny here.

Bangkok Rock

I landed in Bangkok at 6am so got a taxi straight to the hotel - Legacy Suites on Soi 29, off Sukhumvit Street, the main middle class drag in town. 50 pounds a night is steep for Bangkok but it has wifi, a lovely breakfast and a swimming pool (and air co of course which is essential in the sweaty 38 degree heat we had today)

After sleeping most of the day, I ate some amazing dinner in a cheap local restaurant - 2 euros for a nice fresh curry sets you up for the big night ahead. So then I met up with the guys in 'new wave pool bar' on Soi 7, a semi seedy girly bar where a lot of farangs seem to hang out with skanky looking local girls. They took me to the posh end of town, where we had arranged to meet the models from the Bangkok car show.

Seems that in the world of the Thai elite, Europeans are NOT no 1. - our penises are too big and our wallets too thin. The ethnic group of choice for rich Thais are those uber clean polite and efficient asians, the Japanese. To your budding Thai Paris Hilton, a small penis and big wallet is preferable.

We turned up at 'funky villa' where the afterparty was happening. Lamborghinis and hummers parked outside, the place looked like an oriental beverly hills rather than a 3rd world country. We were the only white guys, but it made it more fun. We bought a bottle of Vodka and the Thai red bull started flowing.

The people were mighty funny. Lily white little rich girls glued to their mobile phones, and sponsored by even littler little spikey haired fat guys who all seemed to look like the North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. Maybe the more dodgy looking geezers around them were security, but the fat wee chinese Cartmans were definately the alpha males of this party. Talking to the people generally, all to a man/woman were totally shallow, and not interesting. I suppose typical Elite of a tinpot country. Not surprisingly even the models didnt have much interesting to say.

There were three bars in the place, and the live band playing actually were quite ok. As in all official Bangkok places though, the venue closed at 2am, so after downing the vodka we left to an 'underground' club....

'Climax Club' is probably pretty nasty when you are sober. Stuck at the back of an underground car park on Soi 11, im not sure how we found it, but here were were at the 'Avenue' bar of Bangkok. Im sorry i cant tell you much more of this place except that the jetlag and vodka started to catch up with me and im sure i couldnt find the dancefloor. When i had trouble finding the exit then i knew it was time to go home. But i understand from the stories, its the main place to hookup if you are western and drunk and its 3 or 4 or 6am (but if you are as drunk as we were it was best to go home or you wake up minus a kidney and with a sore arse)

Today i'll go to the Red shirt Riots, near to my Siam Square in central Bangkok - theyve taken over the whole area. I'm hoping that they will storm the parliment. However i feel like crap, i dont know if im up for fighting Thai police today.

Waterloo Sunset and how London trends

I made a couple of days in London this weekend. It was mildly nostalgic to see all the old sights and hangouts from when I lived there. One thing that still really gets me about that city though is its increasing mediocrity as a city. From what i can gather everyone who is smart, ambitious and wants to make something of their life comes to London. So why isn’t it a world beater? Where is the passion for life? Where are all the innovations? The lovely Alina pointed out that in London every man is in Real Estate or Banking (like me) and the women are in PR (like her) which does explain a lot. Whether your ‘being totally different from everyone else’ in Shoreditch or Camden Town or your ‘so classy you have plastic tits’ in Kings Road or Mayfair, it’s seems the drive to survive and make some money for yourself has overtaken any inspirational ideals and the worlds real ideas have moved elsewhere.
That said there are still a few little unique pieces of London that shows it has a soul. We went to Speakers Corner on Easter Sunday, a place I do have a small ambition to speak at one day. Its where Londons true eccentrics go and stand on their soap boxes, and give their (usually quite strong and not mainstream) opinions. Heckling is a great laugh, and it’s often more of a comic show than a serious event. But it was great to see it still going strong (it’s the top NE corner of Hyde park, every Sunday if you want to know) The late and great Carnaby Street, despite becoming a nest of Pakistani souvenir shops in the 90’s has started to come back a bit – flagships shops of the old British labels are back here, like Lambretta, Henri Lloyd, Ben Sherman.. all the old Mod and classic British looks. I couldn’t see any speedos there to buy but i’m sure i’ll get some in South East Asia (where i’m headed now)

The one thing Londoners do excel at, and seem to spend their whole lives doing is ‘discovering’ that ‘great little Molvanian restaurant’ or ‘quirky little pub that sell only pink wine’ or ‘amazing little gallery that has real blood on the walls’. The whole city, (when they aren’t being slaves to their life as lab rat office workers ) is on the hunt for the ‘new’ place to go or to live. In the 60’s it was down at heel Chelsea, where the punks were on the Kings Road, moving on the places like Islington and Notting Hill, and now on my own manor, Shoreditch and Hackney.
You can spot the trend and the people a mile off. First of all you need a scruffy area that has some big Victorian houses and is (reasonably) central and cheap. Then the true arty people move there because it’s all they can afford. Then a few connected things open, like vegetarian cafes or art galleries. Then suddenly the area ‘is edgy but with a buzzing arts scene’ . The braver white collars move in, journalists, and the like. They write about the area. The area becomes ‘cool’ Then BINGO the lawyers and bankers realise that if they live there, people will think they too are ‘cool’ and ‘edgy’ and ‘brave’ and ‘trendy’ (ok ok enough clich├ęs) so they buy into the lifestyle, move there, prices jump up, poor people and crime move out, and so do the original arty farties who made the place cool to begin with. And there you are full Gentrification, and the neverending London cycle of neighbourhoods. So guys, when the Stockbrokers move in, it’s time to sell up,
Now i’m on the way to Bangkok. It feels great to be travelling again. I believe there’s some kind of bank holiday on the day i’m landing so who knows what political riots or other carnage awaits. Either way, if it’s weird and dangerous, i’ll be sure to land in the middle...

Friday, 2 April 2010

Packng for cheap and hot countries

There is almost no need to pack at all for cheap and hot countries. I've decided to do 'hand luggage only' for a month in Malaysia/Sumatra and see how that goes. Maybe i'll smell a bit but well so do the locals so at least im 'going ethnic'. All you need (apart from love and maybe wine) are 1. Speedos and swimming shorts (in case the speedos offend the locals) 2. Toilet bag with toothbrush soap and thats about it. 3. flip flops 4. Wind up lamp (in case of the inevitable powercuts/tsunamis/earthquakes etc) 5. diary and laptop (you dont need these i was just showing off) 6. stripey long trousers-either in case you meet hippies and want to fit in, or in my case, in case i get suburnt/mosquitoed and need something to cover my legs. 7. one long top (for same reasons) 8. 2 'pairs' of socks (just for show really, they dont need to match) 9. 1 pair of boxers/underpants (optional, remember smelling is part of the experience) 10. Goggles for swimming or if your famous, disguise. 11. 3 t-shirts 12. 3 books - 1 of each non fiction, fiction, and totally bizzare fiction. 13. I-pod And Bingo! you can now even fly Ryanair without having to unpack and repack 30 times at check-in for being over weight.