All 27 entries tagged Travel

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January 08, 2008

Where Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus come together

Mark and I landed at a hot but rainy Kuala Lumpur Low Cost Carrier Terminal (such a grandiose name!) on Friday evening where we were reunited with another former member of Warwick BuddSoc: Peyshan! We made a quick get-away from the airport, but unfortunately it is further from the city than Bangkok’s new airport is from Bangkok! So we had a long journey around KL and then another couple of hours driving up to Peyshan’s house. We stopped at a service station for food but none of the Malay restaurants had any vegetarian food, except bread. This was a bit of a surprise, and going without rice for the whole afternoon was a shock to the system given that we had eaten at least every 3 hours whilst in Bangkok! Luckily when we arrived at Peyshan’s house at around 1am there was a full meal waiting for us and after that we slept very well.

The next morning we left Peyshan’s house and set off for Penang. Peyshan trusted me driving her precious Malaysian-made car – initially I was quite cautious but I soon learnt the rules on Malaysian roads: 1) ignore lane markings or drive across as many lanes as possible; 2) tailgate to indicate to the driver in front you want to get past; 3) ignore somebody who tailgates you; 4) signal randomly to warn other drivers that you have no idea when you might change lane; 5) utilise slip-roads and hard-shoulders for over-taking. Having said all this, driving here is slightly more disciplined than Thailand, which I assume is one of the many British influences.

Our accommodation in Penang is owned by Peyshan’s employers – the central bank of Malaysia – and employees can use it whenever they like. The bank owns resorts all around the country – British institutions take note! Our residence for two days is right on the beach. I counted 24 steps from the room to the sand. Obviously the first thing we had to try was the sea. One of my last swims was in a Finnish ice-hole (less of a swim and more of a panicky splash around) and so it was a joy to swim in warm water!

The next essential activity, as you would expect from BuddSoc’s best eaters, was to find some food. For this we headed to Gurney Drive, the hot spot in Penang for food, where we found fried noodles, rice, rojak (fruits in a strong spicy sauce), ice kacang (ice with jelly, fruits and ice-cream) and jun jui nai cha (pearl milk tea). This brought back happy memories of Taiwan! We spent the rest of the evening wandering around the night market, while the locals tried to sell us pirate DVDs, fake Billabong t-shirts and plastic flip-flops.

On Sunday, after an early morning swim and a good jellyfish sting, we set off for the Kek Lok Si temple with its huge Quan Yin statue on the side of the mountain and a tall pagoda from which there were beautiful views across the city. The highlight of the temple for us though was the vegetarian restaurant where we ate a huge lunch.

Next stop was the centre of Penang to explore the history of the city. We visited the ancestral home of the Khoo clan – one of the earliest families to emigrate to Malaysia. They bought a piece of land off the British and over the years established a big complex of buildings for their clan, including a shrine hall where they keep the remains of the dead family members. Further down the road is a mosque – the land for which was ‘given’ by the British – followed by a Chinese Buddhist shrine where the land was also ‘given’ by those friendly Brits! Round the corner we found a Hindu temple where we were conned into a tour. It was quite amazing how the Malays, Chinese and Indians all live mixed in together – especially as they all live together along roads with English names like Cannon Street!

We ate dinner in the Little India area where a muslim guy forcibly coaxed us in to try the vegetarian food we could not refuse. It was quite tasty but we felt nervous having food forced on us. We finished our rice and curry fairly quick and left the unfamiliar surroundings to retire to a traditional Chinese tea house that we stumbled upon on the outskirts of the city. Although this was not the sort of place that tourists usually frequent, the atmosphere was far less pressured and much more enjoyable. For some reason I find the Chinese Malaysian places much more homely than anywhere else. The tea house was a great way to end the day, relaxing with friends over a good cup of Chinese tea.

After several rounds of tea, we paid another visit to the night market where I gave in and bought the flip-flops. But I did not stop there in boosting the local economy. I must have been in a good mood because it seemed that I was easily swayed into buying things I probably do not need by those smiling female sellers!

Monday, our final day in Penang, started with a trip to a Thai temple and a Burmese temple. We found another veggie restaurant for lunch where we once again ate like kings. It was a buffet with around 50 dishes, all vegetarian and delicious and cheap! After another drive around the town, we caught the ferry to the mainland, waved goodbye to Penang, and started our journey back to KL.

(The photos)


January 05, 2008

48 hours in Bangkok

While most people were out partying on New Years Eve, I was searching for my toothbrush to pack in my luggage. Midnight was not the big event – for me it was setting off for Thailand the next day. Despite it being New Years Day, Heathrow was as painful as usual and I was glad to escape from it when I got on the plane. As the Thai Airways staff greet you it feels like you are already stepping into Thailand.

A few hours later and a good sleep later I was stepping into the new airport at Bangkok and being greeted by familiar faces: Mark, Pie and Paradise. It was like being back in England again! We were soon on our way to downtown Bangkok, eating ice-cream, and then going for dinner where we were joined by Nun and Earth. That evening we went back to Pie’s house which is on the outskirts of Bangkok in a beautiful area with a canal in the garden. Our room not only had its own bathroom but also a walk-in wardrobe – I am not used to such luxuries!

The next day Mark and I set off for Bangkok using the public transport, much to Pie’s concern. After a motorcycle ride, a bus journey and two taxis we had stopped by to see my Thai Mum and Dad and then we were at a temple in the centre were I met Grandma and some monks. Next we were met by more Warwick people, we went for lunch, and then we met more Warwick people, and then cake, plus more Warwick people. Thanks to Lyn, Vas, Arty, Noon, and Gate for all coming to see us!

Yesterday we had another quick trip to town before Pie took us to the airport where we caught a plane to Kuala Lumpur. So that was my shortest visit to Thailand yet – just 48 hours – but I will be back in a few days. Right now we are at PeyShan’s house and soon we are off to Penang and the beach!


December 20, 2007

Lapland trip: final part

Writing about web page http://video.google.co.uk/videoplay?docid=2436311861522438691

The final part of our trip to Lapland included a visit to Santa’s house in Rovaniemi, dinner in Sweden, and then a long drive back to Joensuu. They must have heard that we were coming as we got a police escort through Joensuu at 2am in the morning to locate Myriam’s house. A short promotional film has been compiled of our trip for your entertainment!


March 28, 2007

Berlin photos

Writing about web page http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/aharfield/gallery/berlin/

The rest of the photos are in the gallery under Berlin—enjoy!


March 27, 2007

The troops return from Berlin

Team Awesome and Team Supreme landed back in England late last night after another successful mission for Queen and country. I was reunited with my car in the early hours of this morning and very carefully drove home to Warwick. Since then I have had a few hours sleep and most importantly, a cup of tea and a chocolate digestive. When I have had a second I might be in a position to upload some photos from Berlin…


March 26, 2006

Back in Bangkok

As with all the places I have been in the last 3 weeks, I didn't spend as much time in the north as I would have liked. It was a flying visit to Isahn, a flying visit to the south, and similarly I managed to cover Uttaradit, Chiang Mai and Phitsanulok in 4 days. On the plus side though, I met lots of friends: Dan, Pond, and the energitic students of Uttaradit Rajaphat University; Mod Daeng and her family (including her Mum who is my new girlfriend), plus more friends in Chiang Mai; and finally P'Fong at the Naresuan University to talk about Empirical Modelling research (although more time was spent eating!).

Now with only a few days left in Thailand, I am hanging out in Bangkok with the bestest of company. On Friday night we had a Warwick gathering at a karaoke restaurant, at which I attempted to sing various songs that I had never heard before. Yesterday I spent the whole day with the Warwick crew, heading out of Bangkok to visit Bang Pa In palace and the ancient city of Ayuthaya. Luckily we had the amazing P'Bua driving us, who (with her VIP status) was able to drive down the motorway in the wrong direction, and avoid a collision with a barrier that resulted in a whole bag of iced tea being spilt all over her car. After all this excitement, we returned to Bangkok and went for a massage! And then to top an already wonderful day, we ate sticky rice and som tam at the night market.


March 21, 2006

Going to Yala

After the amazing Issahn experience, Vic and I turned up the style, flying back to Bangkok and down to Songkhla where we were met by Joob and her father who had arranged for us to stay in the poshest hotel in town with a room overlooking the beach. We had only been there 15 minutes before I took an evening dip in the sea. As you might imagine, Joob had us treated like royalty for a few days, being driven around Songkhla and Had Yai, and eating lots of nice food (some of it free cause Joob knows half the town).

On Friday we got up early to offer food to the monks who walked past the house before sunrise. Then it was off to our next destination, and unfortunately I had to say goodbye to Sis who was returning to Bangkok for a day of shopping before going back to England. Joob and I sent her to the airport and then we headed to the bus station to catch a bus to Phuket!

We arrived in the afternoon to be greeted by Tam — my fellow computer scientist — who we were to stay with for a couple of nights in this bustling tourist destination. Actually it wasn't as touristy as I thought it might be; away from the beaches in the town there were very few tourists. The first night was a trip to Phuket FantaSea, an evening of entertainment featuring the very best of Thai culture — food, music, dancing, and animals! It is well worth a trip if you are planning a trip to Phuket, the show keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout, and I especially liked the animals. Chickens sliding around the stage, goats, birds flying around the theatre, and at least 10 elephants on stage all at one time. Issahn dancing was good too. I am going to buy me some instruments to bring back to England and form my own band!

The next day got even better with a trip to Koh Phi Phi, one of the most famous islands in Thailand, the home of the movie The Beach, and also heavily damaged by the Tsunami over a year ago. Although it has mostly been cleaned up now, you can still see places where trees have been destroyed. The island itself is beautiful, from a distance it looks like a big rock protruding out of the sea and as you get closer you realise it is covered in lush green vegetation. There are so many small islands surrounding it waiting to be explored! We had a great time on the boat tour, swimming, snorkelling and generally getting a bit of a tan. The water was so clear I was swimming underwater without any mask. I really wanted to stay there longer!

On Sunday though, I took (yet another) flight back to Bangkok and prepared myself for the final part of my trip — to the north.

Note: I didn't actually go to Yala.


March 16, 2006

Ban Yahng Noi

There is a place far from my home,
Different and opposite in every way,
Where life is disjoint from my norm,
But somehow it draws me near.

A simple lifestyle out in the country,
Spicy hot food, fresh fruit, sticky rice,
An abundance of meditative forest temples,
Is where some of the appeal lies.

But the rest is all due to the people,
Warm–hearted, kind, friendly and fun,
Thank you Por, Mair, Bom, Joob, Bank, Mew,
and all my family in Bahn Yahng Noi.


The Thai Wedding

After a night with 70 students on summer camp in Sattahib, and a night out with the liveliest farang in the best club in Khorat, we arrived in Chaiyaphum on Friday afternoon. A quick tour of the town for Vic kicked off proceedings, including a snack of som tam and sweetcorn juice at the best veggie restaurant in Thailand (or at least I think so). The main event, and the reason for our trip here, is to witness a Thai wedding, that of P'Michael and P'Ae whom I know from teaching in Chaiyaphum and summer camps all over the place. This being my first Thai wedding I was pretty excited, and I was not disappointed.

The wedding started the evening before the ceremony with a party at the school. It was great to meet so many familiar faces: teachers, students, and family that I had not seen for a year at least. The party featured performances by students from the school — the Thai dancing was really good. It was very professional, easily competing with our Warwick Grand Thai Night (and the food was better!). Most people retired to bed after the show, ready for the 6am start the next morning, and I was pleased to do the same after partying (and avoiding arrest) until the early hours of the previous night in Khorat.

Despite being told that it was strictly farang time the next morning for the wedding, Vic and I rolled up just before 7am in perfect time for the start. The ceremony was in the biggest hotel in the town, and it looked like half the town had actually turned up. There were monks for the ceremony and we started chanting and taking the precepts as soon the proceedings began. The farang were looking a bit bored and disinterested after 10 minutes, but it was good to see farang joining in. The married couple offered each of the monks some things, including a bowl and other useful monk stuffs. Then the monks broke into the parittas chanting — I couldn't help smiling at the thought of the farang (and the Thais) sitting still for this super-long chant! Luckily for them we had to go pour water on the bride and groom halfway through, which somehow took the fun out of sitting there watching them practice the art of endurance! There was food and alcohol served almost as soon as the five precepts had been taken. Luangpor would be appalled that people's precepts didn't even make it to the door with them — there were large piles of them strewn about all over the floor. After speeches, dancing, singing and a burst of karaoke, there were a few of us vegetarians getting pretty 'hungry rice'. Dan, Pond, Vic and I headed to my favourite 'J' (veggie) place where we proceeded to order nearly every dish they had.

In the afternoon, after I had caught up the family, we met up with the farang again and set off to the nearest waterfall in the National Park. It was packed with Thais who were surprised (and probably disturbed) to see 10 farang get out of a car and start wallowing around in the water, jumping off rocks, and attempting to climb up the waterfall. It was great to cool off after an exciting day and an amazing end to my first Thai wedding experience.

The evening was spent chilling out with Nong Tan and her family whom I must thank deeply for taking care of us in Chaiyaphum. Just before midnight we boarded a bus for our next destination. Before I knew it, I was woken up in Ubon bus station!


The Khorat Constabulary

We were fairly tired on Thursday evening in Khorat after two long bus journeys, but somehow the Dragonfly guys with whom we were staying persuaded us to go out for 'one drink' at midnight. Driving back to their house at 3am, having enjoyed several hours and rather too many drinks in Khorat's best club 'Zoom Zoom', we spied several policemen standing in the road up ahead. There was a fair bit of nervousness as we approached the inevitable meeting with the local constabulary, not least because of the state of the 6 occupants squeezed into the car, especially the driver Jake, who was British and drank like one too. Sure enough, we were pulled over and I have roughly translated the following conversation into English for your amusement.

"Are you drunk?" says the officer.

"No sir, I am not drunk," replies our blurry eyed Jake.

"Have you been drinking whiskey?"

"No, no whiskey!"

"Are you sure?" the officer persists.

"Yes, really, I am really not drunk."

"So why are you driving around at 3am without your lights on?"

"Oh I am so sorry officer," Jake replies having realised his huge mistake.

"Well, do not do it again."

"Ok officer."

"Off you go then!" and the officer waves them on.

Jake thanks the officer, switches on his lights and we are back on our way.

The next hour was spent laughing about how Jake, with no driving licence, got away with driving with no lights at 3am in the morning completely drunk. Very occasionally there are advantages to being a farang!


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Edwin Markham
"It is better to rust out than wear out."

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