Posts Tagged ‘guest house’

Taman Negara, Pulau Tioman and Singapore

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

It’s been an eventful time since my last post, with no access to internet, so this’ll be a short update on lots of things. 😉

I left the Perhentians on my 29th birthday, September 18. The trip to Taman Negara national park turned out to be a long one, due to Hari Raya, the festival marking the end of Ramadan. The most memorable was probably when our bus was driving around the small streets of Jerantut city, looking for an ATM where we could get cash to bring into the chemically ATM-free Taman Negara. I had 69 Ringgit with me, so going without more cash was hardly an option, and I was not the only one in that position. The first ATM was out of cash, since everybody had been stocking up for the Hari Raya bank holiday. The second one wouldn’t accept foreign credit cards. The third one was also empty, but luckily at the forth ATM (the last one in town…) we got our cash.

Several guest houses in Taman Negara were closed because of Hari Raya, but eventually I got myself checked in. The next morning I slept long, before going into the National park itself. I asked about doing the nine day trek to Mount Tahan, the highest mountain in peninsular Malaysia, but all the guides were off for … you guessed it: Hari Raya. 😉 Instead I headed out alone on a short trek, that turned into a long trek, and nearly an involuntary overnight trek… I went on the Canopy Walkway, long bridges high up in the trees, and then I continued on to scale at least a small mountain, Bukit Indah. When I came back down, I was five kilometers from the village I came from, Kuala Tahan, and six from Kuala Terrenggan. I decided to go up to Terrenggan instead of going back the same way I’d come. It was a pretty hard trek, up and down small canyons with a creek to be forded in the bottom of each, and fallen trees across the path every few meters, to be climbed over, crawled under or walked around. A wild boar got as surprised as I did, when we were suddenly staring each other in the face a few meters apart, and I don’t know who jumped higher, me or it… Luckily the startled hog decided to head the other direction, because I barely had time to remember how aggressive these tusked animals can be, and look for a tree to climb to get out of the reach of those sharp things before he was gone in the undergrowth.

In the middle of nowhere I walked into a camp of Orang Asli, the aboriginal nomads inhabiting the national park, and they could tell me I was not too far away from Terrenggan. With lifted spirits I pressed on, anxious for a meal and a boat back down the river to Tahan. Imagine my disappointment when Terrengan turned out to be nothing more than a long-abandoned resort, in the process of being reclaimed by the jungle… I was sitting on the old ramshackle pier by the ghost town resort contemplating what to do if no boats came by. I figured I’d have to head back to the Orang Asli, and ask if I could stay the night with them, and head back in the morning. I had a bit of money with me, so at least I could pay them… When I was about to give up, a group of overnight trekkers came down the path, and met with their pre-arranged transport on the very same pier I was sitting! I managed to get a ride down the river, to a shower and a hot meal. The trek that started out as a 45 minute easy walk, turned out to be a gruelling seven-hour adventure that saw me back in my guest house after dark… 😀

I met a nice German girl called Katharina in the dorm I was staying, and we travelled together from Taman Negara furher down the east coast of Malaysia to Pulau Tioman. She left there a few days ago, and I left this morning. Tioman was like a bigger version of the Perhentians, with more monitor lizards, more monkeys, and more people. 🙂 I dove with Fisherman Divers there, had five dives on three different days. I was only planning to stay there a few days, but it turned into a whole week. 😛

This morning saw me leaving on the 7:30 boat to Mersing, and then get the bus at noon to Singapore. When I arrived, I spent almost an hour making my way by the subway to Little India, and it turned out I could have walked here in less than half that time… I then strolled around Little India, which is supposed to be the backpacker area, looking for a guest house and asking people, but nobody seemed to think there were anything else than more or less expensive hotels!  Eventually I sat down at an artsy fairtrade restaurant, had an expensive (but organic and fair) meal, and used Singapore’s fantastic free WiFi to find out that there were in fact lots of guesthouses nearby. I chose one that I’d heard of from another traveller on the ferry to Tioman, Ali’s Nest, and so far I am happy about the choice. It’s basically a Chinese family in the middle of the Indian quarter who’ve made a couple of the rooms in their apartment into dorms… The family also lives here, and grandma (looks like she’s at least a hundred years old) is looking over my shoulder as I write this. 🙂

Tubing in Vang Vieng

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

On Wednesday night my train left Bangkok a little past eight. I was travelling with Daniel and Joachim, whom I€ met in Pattaya, and in a bunk near us was a Dutch girl who was going to do an internship in the tourist industry in some National Park in Thailand. The girl was nice, and had a deck of cards, so we sat in the cafe carriage playing until they kicked us out. We returned to our own carriage, and probably kept people awake with our talking long into the night.

When we got up the next morning our train soon pulled into the city closest to the Laotian border, where we bought tickets for the final 15 minutes into Laos. We went through the Thai border control before boarding the train, and got our visas with surprising efficiency when we reached the other side. We shared a minibus with some other backpackers the 20 minutes ride into Vientiane, where Daniel, Joachim and I eventually found the bus station where the cheap local buses for Vang Vieng leave from. Apart from a couple of girls from Denmark, we were the only westerners on the bus. It was an old and rickety bus without aircon and with broken fans, but the windows were open, so I wasn’t too hot. One funny incident on the way, was when we passed an overturned pick up truck in the road. The truck lay on it’s side, and it’s load of fruit had been gathered up on the side of the road. The bus pulled over next to the truck and everybody got out. We promptly tipped the truck right side up, got back in our bus again, and continued on our way.

When we reached Vang Vieng I asked the Danes whether they had a guest house booked, because that’s often how I get to the cheap places to sleep, by leeching off of other people’s research, not to mention it’s a great conversation starter when you meet beautiful young women… 😛 They didn’t have a reservation, but we set out together to see if we couldn’t find a decent place anyway. The first one we stopped in had a nice laid-back lounge up front, with lots of DVDs, hot water, free wi-fi, a roof terrace, free drinking water, and basically seemed nicer than most places. Since we arrived at the same time, we were asked if we wanted a room for five people, and after a little deliberation and some overdue introductions, that became the arrangement, so that night we were five Scandinavians heading out to an Indian dinner together.

Vang Vieng is located in beautiful karst scenery, like Halong Bay and Ninh Binh, and this has been developed by the locals, to offer kayaking, climbing, caving and tubing. Seeing as the young crowd these things attract don’t necessarily have a lot of money, the place is set up to cater to backpackers, and the prices follow suit. The small town is packed with backpackers’ guest houses, restaurants-cum-TVroom that show Family Guy, American Dad or Friends non stop, not to mention bars galore. Thus, after dinner, Daniel, Joachim, Simone, Cecilie and I headed across a plank bridge to an island in the middle of the Nam Song river, and a place called Sunset Bar. The place is outdoors, but has platforms with roofs over for those rainy days, and hammocks and pillows strewn all along the platforms. We all really liked the place, and stayed there till it was time to head home to sleep.

Friday morning we all got ready to go tubing, which is the main attraction in Vang Vieng. That meant that we put on our swim suits, rented inner tubes from trucks’ wheels and got driven by Tuk-Tuk three kilometers out of town to a place in the river where we got dumped with our tubes to float our way back down on the river. All along the banks were bars with swings, zip lines, water slides, mud pits and the like, and we had a lot of fun. On the way, when we stopped along the banks, somebody took two of our tubes, though, but we decided to return the next day, and just swim down the river instead. 🙂 The mud pits were at the last place we stopped at, and we didn’t get all the mud off, so our bathroom was literally COVERED in mud by the time we’d showered. After some pizza we headed back to Sunset and the hammocks, but were so exhausted from tubing that we soon went back and to bed.

Saturday morning started with breakfast at one of the places where you lie down on pillows by a low table, and watch Friends. After breakfast we checked out of the Babylon, since the power was gone, the water was gone, internet wasn’t working, and the owner was a psycho who hauled Joachim out after his hair when he asked when the power might be  back… We checked into a much better AND cheaper room in the guest house next door, called Nazim. Like we had planned, we went back to the river without the tubes, and had a great time again, and again rounded off the night at Sunset after dinner.

On Sunday we decided to go explore a cave, after our long Friends-breakfast. We rented three scooters between the five of us, bought a map, and headed out of town. Some 15 kilometers out we turned off from the main road, and followed a gravel road a few hundred meters towards, and across the river. From there it was more of a path than a dirt road… 🙂 We finally reached the cave, where they rent out tubes and torches, and we started swimming into the cave. A tributary to Nam Song River runs out of the cave, and although you can wade in during the dry season, it’s been raining enough lately that we had to swim. The cave is apparently 500 meters long, but we didn’t follow it all the way to the end. It was a really weird experience to be floating around in a tube, deep inside a mountain! On our way back it got dark, and it was time for dinner. After dinner we decided to honour the Scandinavian tradition of a Vorspiel, before-party, in our hotel room, so we bought some beer, and sat around playing games and listening to Kim Larsen… 😀 Once again, we rounded off the night with our friends in Sunset, since that was THE place to meet people.

Monday morning saw us at the Friendsfast again, and I went tubing with the girls, while Joachim went for a looong ride on a rented scooter, and Daniel was stuck in bed with problems of a digestive nature. At the end of the  day’s playing in the river and dancing at the bars, we didn’t even TRY to rinse off the mud from the mud pit, and instead headed into town covered from head to toe, assaulting other, cleaner specimen of tubers… 😛 I thought the bathroom was dirty the first night after tubing, but after we’d helped each other get rid of all the mud on this day,  we had to shovel the mud from the floor! Even though it was still early, the others fell asleep as soon as they’d dried off from the shower, and in one case before, so I just headed out on my own for a baguette for dinner and went to bed myself.

Yesterday the boys headed back to Bangkok to get some clothes made and stuff before going back to Norway, and the three of us that were left moved into a smaller room in the same hotel. A slow day was spent watching Friends, buying bus tickets out of there, getting a massage, playing pool, and as usual rounding off in the hammocks. This morning the bus left at 10am, and we arrived in Vientiane around 2pm. I said goodbye to Simone and Cecilie at the bus station, where they were getting on a bus to Hanoi in Vietnam. I myself took a Tuk-Tuk downtown, and I’m finishing this post in my room here. There’s unfortunately no wifi here, but I’m hoping to get this posted somehow before I go to bed.

May 17 in Pattaya

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

May 15

I reached a decision as to where to head next on Wednesday, and bought a bus ticket to Bangkok for the following morning. The dreaded road from Siem Reap to the Thai border has been renewed, and is now one of the best roads I’ve seen in months. The border crossing was long, hot and tedious, and the wait for our connection from the border into Bangkok was just as bad, but around 6pm we were finally there. I tagged along with some other travellers from the same bus, and we found a cheap guest house in the pouring rain. The rainy season is just on time, and at least a shower is to be expected every afternoon, but that doesn’t make it any colder, only more wet… 😛

This morning we all went out for breakfast together, before I started looking for a way to get to Pattaya. A crowded inner city bus took me from the backpacker area around Khao San Road to Siam Square, and from there I got on the Sky Train. It’s been over six years since the last time I was riding that same line to my then hotel on Sukhumvit Road, with the aircon blasting, and an ingratiating female voice announcing the stations, my favorite being NANA, pronounced in a distinctive nasal voice… I got off next to the bus staion on Ekkamai, bought a ticket, and was on the bus about ten minutes later.

Last night I did a CouchSearch, and put out a request for a couch in Pattaya. When I arrived here, I found a place where I could use the net, Viking hotel and restaurant, and found to my surprise that the request went through, on such short notice! One of the girls working here let me borrow her cell to call the guy, and now I’m expecting him here in a few minutes.

Tomorrow I guess I’ll see if I can find the Norwegian Seamen’s Church, and on Sunday I’ll be celebrating there, with the Norwegian community here. I’m curious to see what it’ll be like, I’ve never been to an official celebration the Norwegian National Day outside of Norway before. When I lived in Italy we’d get together for a breakfast and some waving of flags, but here I’ve read they even have a march! 🙂 For all of you back home, enjoy the weekend, and have a good 17th of May, hipp hipp hurra!

May 16

So. Things don’t always work out as planned. The couchsurfer I was going to stay with showed up, but he had a Thai girl with him, and said I couldn’t come because she was going to stay with him. We went out for dinner, I met a couple of his friends, and I checked into a crappy guest house instead. Pattaya is known for the sex tourists coming here, but I had no idea to what degree before I got here. One of the couchsurfers’ friends was showing me around, since my host was “busy”, and the friend stated quite matter-of-factly that he’d slept with 20 girls in the past 10 days, but he did not consider himself a sex tourist, since he didn’t go with girls that wanted payment, only the opportunists looking for a rich husband. He was in his mid-thirties, doing his job over the net, and doing quite well for himself, so he put himself in a different category than the retired old men who come here for whores. Like he said, “they know that I’m only in it for the sex, and I know that they’re only looking to land a rich, western husband or lover and benefactor, so the playing field is level and we both know the rules…” He did not appear to have any qualms about taking advantage of the fact that these girls have only that one chance to find a way out of poverty, or even considering himself to be taking advantage of it. He was an otherwise nice guy, and wanted to show me more of the city today, but I didn’t know if I could take another evening talking to someone with opinions that deluded, so I claimed to have plans…

I found out in other ways too, why the Thais in Bangkok that I asked about how to get to Pattaya looked confusedly at me and wondered if I was sure I wanted to go there… There are at least two “Go go bars” or strip clubs on every street. The pubs that aren’t strip joints, have “bar-girls”, pretty girls who hang around and shout lewd suggestions at people walking by, or physically ambush them, to get them into the pub.  There are at least three massage parlors on every street, and two of them will offer a “happy ending.” The staff at any kind of establishment will also offer other services, like this example from yesterday: I needed to do some laundry, so I took a bag of my dirty clothes to a place that offered laundry service. One of the women working there sorted through the clothes, told me how much it would cost to clean and also wanted to know if I’d like to have sex with her while the clothes were being washed!

This morning I checked out of my guest house because it smelled too much of mould in the room, seeing as it had no window, except one facing the hallway… At noon I headed over to the church for the Saturday Rice Porridge, and met some of the people who live here. There were a lot of retired people, as I had expected, but also a couple of other backpackers, here to celebrate May 17 as well. I asked one of the volunteers there if there were any decent but cheap places to stay, and she was going to show the three of us to an OK place. One of the retired people I’d talked to over dinner, Liv, came over as I was talking to the other backpackers, though, and said she had a spare bedroom, and asked if I wanted to borrow it for a couple of nights! Here I am now, in a big appartment on the 31st floor, with my own bedroom and bathroom! 🙂 Tomorrow we’re getting a free May 17 breakfast at the church before Service, and later there’ll be the celebrations.

May 19

SjomannskirkenThe celebrations for May 17 were very nice. At ten am there was a short service outside the church, and then a proper Norwegian breakfast. At noon there was the parade, but the marching band was exchanged for a pick up truck with a sound system. 🙂 The parade ended on a big lawn, where there were the usual speaches, ice cream, hot dogs and games. Most of the time the weather was swelteringly hot, but we had a half hour of tropical rain as well… There were somewhere between 150 and 200 people, most of them retired people who’d moved out there, but there were a couple of other backpackers as well. They were going to Bangkok the next day as well, so after we’d spent the evening together, we made plans to meet up the next day and go together. We arrived back in Bangkok yesterday afternoon, and tomorrow we’re headed out to Laos on the overnight train.

We met some nice Brits in Bangkok last night, and with them, we tried crickets and some roachlike insects. They were pretty good, but they obviously look gross… 😛

Proposal of marriage

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

It’s turning out to take a bit longer between each time I post, now that I’m not moving around. This is for several reasons. I already mentioned that I don’t have internet access at home, but I’m now at the Higher Ground café, which is the only café I’ve found that offers free WiFi for the customers. Also I’m a bit more busy, and my activities are a bit more commonplace and thus a little less interesting to write about. 🙂 I’ll relate a little from the past week that has been memorable, though.

Early Saturday morning, I took a bus out to Suriya Binayak, which  is the place Milan lives, just south of Bhaktapur. I met up with Milan there, and we walked south into the hills. Milan was telling me how he’d been thinking of buying a plot of land up there, and building a small cottage to go to in weekends, and maybe renting out to tourists. We stopped in little villages on the way, for refreshments in the form of small cups of milk tea and barley or rice beer. The “beer” tastes nothing like western beer, it is a cloudy, milky white, and the taste is  slightly reminiscent of lemonade with just a hint of sugar… Milan spoke to the locals, asking them about distances between villages, directions for where we were going as well as other villages in the area. At one point we met a local school teacher, who knew actual distances in kilometers, instead of in the time it would take them to walk… 😉 At one point a group of mountain bikers zipped past us down the hill at break-neck speed, and I made a mental note that I’m going to HAVE to do that before I leave!

As we went on hiking, we came up through a pass, and as we were heading down into the next valley, a small suzuki 4wd stops on the shoulder of the little road we were walking down. As always, Milan makes a little smalltalk, and quickly realizes that the driver is a friend of a friend, and we’re invited up to their cottage just up the hill next to the parked car. It was a gorgeous place, with a marvellous view of the Himalayas from the Lang Tang to Kangchenjunga and if the weather was clearer we would’ve even seen the Everest. The guy had recently finished building it, and was planning to hire a couple of people to run it as a guest house in the tourist season, and then use it as a private cottage in the off season. He and Milan really hit it off, and even discussed possible furnishing options, publicity, and the like, and before we left, after having been treated to a traditional lunch, they’d exchanged phone numbers and planned to meet up again to continue the talk!

The views of Kathmandu Valley had been gorgeous along the way, and we both agreed it’s weird that not more people come out there for walking! You can get out there on a local bus, for the neat sum of 15 Nepali rupees, and it’s completely quiet, the air is fresh, and the atmosphere is the exact opposite of the busy, traffic-clogged streets of Kathmandu! It was an almost religious experience to walk along the forested ridges and up and down hillsides, here dry and warm in the sun, and there moist, lush and  green in the shade. After a while we reached another pass, and from there it was all down hill. It fogged up as we descended, and by the time we reached the floor of the valley at Lamatar, it was dark. The goal for the day was Milan’s cousin’s house, but with the horrible cell phone coverage in Nepal, he’d been unable to get through, so we showed up unannounced. Milan told me that over four years ago he’d been acting as stand-in for his cousin’s parents when her marriage to a christian Nepali man was arranged, but he hadn’t had an opportunity to visit her since then, even though it’s not really that far away!

When we’d finally managed to ask our way to the house, it was completely dark, and it turned out the the cousin and her husband weren’t home. Their two children were there, however, with the cousin’s mother in law. We stopped in for a cup of tea, but when we said we’d be taking the bus (about fourty-five minutes) back to Kathmandu, the old lady looked hurt, (I’m not too old to cook, you know!) We were treated to a wonderful baal bhaat, and I played with the children, a two year old boy and a four year old girl.

The next morning we got up at seven, had a cup of tea, and left for Kathmandu. While we were waiting for the bus, a rather wealthy looking couple in a big SUV picked us up, and I was home at eight already, in time to have breakfast and a shower, and prepare a sign-up list for the youth social the following Saturday, which I brought with me to church at eleven. After the service I was invited to lunch at a restaurant by some Norwegians, and then I tagged along to a youth group meeting they have every Sunday afternoon, called “Sparks.” I had dinner with the host and some of the older youths after Sparks, and then headed off back to church, because they were having an evening “contemporary worship service” that Sunday.

Monday and most of Tuesday I was basically locked up at home with a stomach ache, and I don’t think I’ll be going too far today either, at least not to anywhere with no proper toilet… Yesterday I got a phone call from Mikhel, the Dutch buddhist guy I met in Irkutsk, and then spent time with in Mongolia. He’d just arrived in Kathmandu, and I went to meet him. He’s staying with me for a few days, while he’s here. 🙂

Now, you might be wondering about the heading of this post… When we were in Lamatar, and were sitting around having supper, Milan suddenly started laughing so hard he almost fell over. When he got himself together enough to answer my inquiries, he explained that the four year old girl had just asked him if he could make her father contact my parents, and arrange for our marriage! Milan proceeded to patiently explain to her that she would have to be grown up before she could marry anyone, to which the answer was clear: “I’ll make sure I grow up by Wednesday, when Daddy comes back!”

(EDIT: Pictures from my trek in Panchase outside Pokhara are finally up – captions to come later)