South-East Asia - 15-26 April 2011


DESTINATION SOUTH-EAST ASIA


These are the places I visited.



KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA


Kuala Lumpur was a nice little place that was easy to get around due to a user-friendly and efficient public transport system. This coupled with a good old fashioned map and compass (the last thing I packed just in case I needed it) made navigating this city a piece of cake. For somewhere that wasn't supposed to have a great deal for tourists to see and do (from my research and according to family living there), we sure found plenty of things to keep us occupied for the 3 days that we were there. One thing that I was most looking forward to in KL was the food (most of all my favourite Hokkien Mee) and that sure didn't disappoint. I enjoyed my time in KL and it was a great way to start the trip.

No prizes for guessing the first thing I did in KL...Hokkien Mee and fresh coconut juice - you could not get a more perfect meal!



Bukit Bintang. The heart of KL's shopping district.



KL Tower, the second tallest freestanding tower in the world at 421m.



360 degree panoramic views of KL, 276m off the ground.



Jalan Alor...the legendary hawker food strip.







Batu Caves...a Hindu religious site featuring a massive statue of "Murugan".



A small reminder of home from inside the cave.



Going to the toilet in Malaysia is just like doing so when camping...you gotta squat.



This was certainly my beverage of choice over there.



Merdeka Square...the site of Malaysia's independence.



Markets of Petaling Street, Chinatown...cheap imitations everywhere.



Sumptuous satay.



These little suckers are supposed to be therapeutic by the way they eat the dead skin off your feet.



I found the feeling of them chomping on my feet quite disgusting, not to mention the overwhelming tickling sensation.



The mighty Petronas Twin Towers...once the tallest buildings in the world.



Catching up with the family.



Having a few drinks on our last night in KL at the La Bodega Bar.



Sepang...the home of the Malaysian Formula One Grand Prix.



BANGKOK, THAILAND


Moving on to Bangkok... Unfortunately, the praise I had for KL cannot be shared with this city. In my opinion, quite frankly Bangkok is a terrible place and I absolutely despised it! You couldn't go anywhere without someone trying to scam you. The people were sly, deceptive and you just could not trust anyone.

Prior to us even landing in Bangkok, someone was already trying to scam us. On the plane, there was this Aussie bloke (who looked like the bad guy in the movie "Speed", played by Dennis Hopper) sitting next to me who was supposedly from Oakleigh and claimed to be a tour guide who spent most of his time around Thailand. He was quite helpful and seemed friendly enough initially by giving us tips while we were trying to plan our few days in Bangkok. However, once we got to the airport terminal at Bangkok, I had a rather long wait for my luggage to appear on the carousel and throughout this wait, despite suggestions from us that he didn't have to wait for us, he hung around. He continued to hang around us like a bad smell while we were going to get food despite further hints from us as he wanted to "make sure we got into town okay". He was being a little too nice for our liking. In the end, we managed to give him the slip as he was supposedly leading us to the food court when signs clearly stated that the food court was in the opposite direction. How could someone who spent so much time travelling around Thailand not know the airport back to front?

Once we got into town, we immediately realised that the dodgiest people around here were the taxi drivers. They are supposed to use the meters but most of them refuse preferring to charge exorbitant flat-rate fares for rides. It takes a bit of patience to find a cabbie who would charge a somewhat reasonable fare to get you to where you want to go. However, once you get into a taxi, there's no guarantee that you'll go directly to where you want to go as more often than not they'll either offer to or try to talk you into going to your destination via a suit shop, jewellery shop, "somewhere better" or to pick up a hooker on the way. It is only after arguing with them that you actually get to go directly to your desired destination.

On another occasion, to avoid getting ripped off by cabbies that you flag down, I thought I'd stand in a taxi rank queue where it is compulsory for the meter to be used. After a bit of a wait in queue, I got into a cab. But a minute into the ride, as soon as the cabbie worked out I was from out of town, he sneakily switched the meter off. I noticed that the lights had gone off on the meter, became suspicious and questioned him about the cost of the fare. To that, he replied "200 baht" (Thai currency), but I knew the fare should cost me around 50. I firmly told him "50", to which he replied "150" and he didn't budge. I reaffirmed "50" to him and threatened him by saying "no meter, no baht!". By now, he realised that I was no chump and he reluctantly switched the meter back on. I felt like unleashing some Muay Thai on him! I couldn't believe this was happening!

These were just a couple examples of the countless times people attempted to scam me in Bangkok. You couldn't really enjoy yourself or relax there because you were constantly watching your back. If you weren't constantly on guard, someone would take advantage of you. My opinion of the place wasn't helped either by the fact that I had a bout of the customary "Bangkok Belly" (nausea, fever and stuff coming out of me at both ends) that resulted in me spending the first half of our stay in Bangkok in bed.

Despite all of this, there were some nice things that I saw in Bangkok which lifted my opinion of the place, albeit only very slightly! I still hated the place and couldn't wait to get out of there!

"Cheap suit! Cheap suit!"


The Canals

One of the highlights of my trip and definitely the highlight of Bangkok was hiring a private long-tail boat for a tour through the canals of Thonburi. Bangkok is sometimes called the "Venice of the East" and it sure lived up to that billing. Starting from a pier on the Chao Phraya River (the main river that runs through Bangkok), I was taken through the canals which are used as part of everyday life and I saw traditional Thai houses and villages on the poorer side of town along the way. It was quite an experience going through the canals on a boat and to see just what a simple life these people live and to see their living conditions was spine-tingling stuff. It really made me appreciate just how fortunate I am to be living in Melbourne.

The long-tail khlong (canal) boat that I rode in.





Traditional Thai houses and villages.





Wat (temple) Arun...Temple of the Dawn.



Wat Pho, also the birthplace of traditional Thai massage.



The Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho.



The Grand Palace had very impressive grounds and architecture.





Khao Sarn Road (not Khe Sanh!)...the backpackers capital of the world.



Riding in a Tuk-Tuk...a quaint novelty but I copped 2 lungs full of pollution in the process!


The Ping-Pong Show at Patpong

One thing that I just had to do in Bangkok was to see the much hyped and infamous Ping-Pong Show to see what all the fuss was about. On the last night in Bangkok, my curiosity led me to the notorious red-light district of Patpong but due to unfortunate circumstances, it was a trip that I made alone. That night would prove to be one interesting experience!

I was hoping to find a venue with a lot of tourists but I couldn't tell one from another and I ended up in this dodgy little upstairs bar where I was the only patron there who was conscious, the other being completely blind drunk and asleep. Needless to say, I wasn't feeling all that comfortable being there (I was freakin' out) because those of you who know me would know that these aren't the type of places that I frequent plus I found myself in the dodgiest of bars, in the dodgiest of districts, in the dodgiest city, all by myself! I reckon I was only in there for about 15 minutes because I wasn't feeling at all comfortable being there, I soon realised that I was almost effectively paying by the minute to be in there (they failed to mention that when I paid the price for admission) and by which time, I had seen enough. Luckily, not too much damage was done to the hip pocket in the process. However, most of what I saw in there can only be described as wrong in every aspect.

Anyway, I could now tick that off the bucket list but it is one show I won't be seeing again.

The red-light district of Patpong.



PHUKET, THAILAND


Patong Beach, Phuket's main beachside town was hardly the paradise I had imagined it to be. It was actually quite an eyesore as it was an ugly, messy, disorganised concrete jungle with power lines everywhere. In terms of shops, all you'll find there are market style shops, currency exchange, massage parlours and tour agents with several restaurants and tailors/suit shops breaking up the monotony. It is only when you venture away from Patong that you get to see the natural beauty of the area. We booked ourselves on to a couple of speedboat tours that had us venturing off the island of Phuket into Phang Nga Bay and the Phi Phi Islands which featured crystal clear water and beautiful beaches and islands. One of the highlights of the whole trip was where we hired a little Suzuki 4WD for AUD$16 and explored the more rural parts of the island, getting lost in the process. Driving around in an exotic location whilst driving Bangkok style (where those painted lines mean diddly-squat and where there are no rules except to go wherever you want whenever you want) was one hell of an experience!

For most of the time, it was very much a hectic holiday (rather than a relaxing one) as we crammed in as much sightseeing as possible into the time we were there. But in Phuket, we did manage to fit in some relaxation into the trip in the form of massages. A one hour massage only sets you back AUD$10 per hour so as a result, we spent a fair bit of time in the massage parlours. We had a plethora of massages ranging from extremely effective traditional Thai massages (where they basically put your limbs in yoga positions and then stand on you!) to incredibly relaxing foot massages. However, if you ask for an oil massage, chances are you'll get a massage with a difference!

The main street in Patong, an ugly mess.



Seafood would become a staple in my diet while in Phuket.





However, the food here wasn't all that cheap. This meal (Oysters, Tiger Prawns plus an already consumed steak) cost me AUD$50 but it was one hearty meal that definitely hit the spot.



Cruising Phang Nga Bay.



This stop was the gateway to what is popularly known as James Bond Island.



Khao Tapu (Thai for nail) was the location for the 1974 James Bond film: The Man with the Golden Gun.





Beautiful islands.



Sea-canoeing through the mangroves and then into caves.







Lawa Island.



This image would look rather odd anywhere else in the world but after all, this is Thailand.



Paradise.



Viking cave.



Launching myself off the boat into Pileh Lagoon for a swim.





Maya Beach on Phi Phi Leh...the set of the film "The Beach".



Doesn't that bloke just have such a striking resemblance to Leonardo DiCaprio?





Snorkelling out at the Phi Phi Islands.



Your classic tropical beach scene.



Khai Nok Island.



Our ride, a little Suzuki that we used to explore the island of Phuket.



A hike through tropical rainforest to Kathu Waterfall had us working up one hell of a sweat!





The view from Karon Lookout.



Elephant Trekking in the hills behind Patong Beach.



View of Kalim beach from atop an elephant.



Sun setting on Patong Beach and on my trip to SE Asia.



What a way to finish the trip. Livin' it up after an upgrade to business class!



FINAL THOUGHTS


There were many things I saw on this trip that I liked along with some things I didn't like (namely Bangkok) but much of what I saw was real eye-opening stuff to me. However, everything I saw along the way both good and bad is what made this trip such an invaluable and wonderful experience! I also had great company (Tiger and Bondi or Bukit's Nanas and Bintang as they were dubbed while in KL) who I am glad to have shared the experiences of this trip with. Travelling is not something I have done a great deal of in the past but I had an awesome time on this trip and I reckon I've got a case of the travel bug that leaves me itching to see other parts of the world.