September 16, 2005

Home – 16th September

Hi Everyone!
Well I suppose this is the final installment of my Asia e-mails…. soon to be followed by Venice related e-mails ofcourse – jk I might well spare you all that joy. My last e-mail was sent just before going to the Phi Phi islands in S W Thailand. Although there was quite a lot of damage after the tsunami the beaches like those in 'The Beach' (which was filmed there) really were stunning. Elliott and I went on a dive there which was really good and saw leopard sharks. After a few days on the beach Rob and I headed up to Bangkok for Rob to fly home. I liked Bangkok more everytime I went there and although it was hectic I started to feel a little more at home. Rob flew home at the end of July and I met up with Elliott (who flew home shortly after), Ewan, Karen and then Adam. We spent a day in Bangkok before daring the journey to Cambodia.

Getting to the border was easy. Proper roads, proper bus. Getting over the border was a little stressful and time consuming but certainly manageable. Then came the journey to Angkor Wat. A mere 150km…. on a muddy track filled with pot holes, in a tiny bus that rattled its way along. I'm surprised it lasted as long as it did before it broke down. So along came a taxi to take the driver and the broken 'part' to the nearest village to find someone to weld it back together. A couple of hours later he returns and we continue on our travels. In total that 150km took us 10 hours. Oh yes…

OK so then we were in Siem Reap – Gateway to Angkor Wat. We got ourselves some friendly tuk tuk drivers and we started visiting the temples. Now to be fair it was without doubt worth the journey. Angkor Wat is amazing and there is nothing else like it. I will upload all my pictures as soon as I can but picture a huge area once covered in jungle that houses many great temples in various states of repair. In my opinion some of the most stunning ones were those that hadn't been restored and had trees growing on them and out of them. The (second?) Tomb Raider film was filmed there incidentally… Anyway yes all rather magnificent and only marred slightly by the hundreds of children who wanted to sell Karen and I bracelets, postcards, scarves, t-shirts and everything else under the sun. After 2 days we were only turned mildly insane…

Cambodia is beautiful and so different to home. On our many long coach journeys we drove through rural areas and I've never felt further from home than when I looked out of the window to see haphazardly arranged paddy fields, cattle, and houses on stilts in the middle of lakes. It was strange to think that we were coming to the end of the holiday yet I'd never felt further from home. Unfortunately behind the beautiful landscapes there is a huge problem of unexploded landmines in the countryside. It was devastating to see so many adults and children who had been in accidents.

From there the 4 of us travelled to Phnom Penh which was surprisingly pleasant. The French did a great job in giving the city wide boulevards.We went to a museum that had once been a prison during the Khmer Rouge's rule to find out a bit more about Cambodia's past. It was bizarre to walk into rooms that had once been torture chambers to see photographs of people being tortured and have the actual weapons laid out before us. There were endless photographs of the faces of those who had been imprisoned there. The whole experience was made even stranger by the fact that before it was a prison it was a school but when you walked into a classroom, you actually walked into tiny prison cells.

We returned to BK to see Karen off and for Ewan to go down to Ko Phangnan for the last few days of his holiday. Adam and I decided to chill in Kanchanaburi for a few days before flying home from Bangkok. We continued our holiday of depressing activities by going to the Death Railway Museum (concerning the railway built by allied prisoners of war during WW2) and the ajoining cemetery. Both were very moving. We then began as things continued from then on by shopping. a lot. I think I may have bored adam just a little with endless trips to department stores to accumulate presents for everyone (and me!). We left Kanchaburi, went to Bangkok, went shopping and flew home. After just over 24 hours of travel I found myself back at Heathrow airport and now safely back home. Trying to beat the jet lag and stay awake!

Anyway it would be great to hear from you all and make sure you all keep in touch as I won't see a lot of people until January at the earliest. Take care,
Love Claire.xxx
p.s. sorry it's been a long one!


Krabi – Aug 23rd

Hey Everyone. Hope you're well! OK so it's been quite a long time since I last e-mailed but I've been having an amazing time!

After the Cameron Highlands we headed up to N E Malaysia to the Perhenthian Islands. I was quite sure that they'd be a disappointment after Pulau Tioman which was lovely but the island was covered in forest, had one long sandy beach on the side we stayed on and was full of friendly backpackers and locals. Unfortunately Adam and I were in a bit of a hurry and even though I fell in love with the place we had to leave after a few days to meet Rob in Bangkok.

We headed over to Penang which is on the other side of the peninsular… a long journey. I found Georgetown to be way too busy and hectic after a few days on the beach and although enjoyed the initial excitement of seeing my first ladyboy I decided it was time to ditch my flight, go back to the Perhenthian islands and learn to dive. Ho hum onto an overnight coach I went… I was pretty scared travelling by myself but thought this would be a good little adventure and though permanently convinced I was surely seconds away from my imminent death I do appear to have survived. Just kidding mum, it really wasn't so bad…

OK so Perhenthian Islands Part Deux… I went to learn to dive and indeed I did. Was most incredible with loads of beautiful fish, crystal clear water etc… Only problem is that I fear I'll have to go a long way to find diving to equal it. After a few days and over a month apart from Rob I figured it was time to head down to KL and get a flight up to Chiang Mai. Leaving the Perhenthians the second time was a little easier or at least initially. Arriving on the mainland, I discovered that some obscure public holiday had resulted in every (and there were about 7) coach to KL being fully booked. No flights either. As I had a flight from KL and had wanted to see KL this time around, it seemed appropriate to take drastic measures. Well it's only an 8 hour journey and I'm quite sure that a taxi was a perfectly rational decision…

My first visit to KL had mainly revolved lying around in bed with painful stomach cramps so I suppose it's no surprise that my second time there was more fun especially as I actually got to see the sights and leave my hostel room. After only 2 and a half days I flew up to Chiang Mai to meet Rob, Adam and Elliott. Seemed slightly bizarre at first after a week on my own but all good fun. I did a Thai cookery course which was a lot of fun and just wandered round Chiang Mai looking at temples and enjoying the fact that it was significantly cooler than anywhere I'd been for a while.

The moon was waxing and it was time to head south… to the Full Moon Party. We celebrated Rob's 21st on an overnight train from Bangkok … in a disco carriage… served by a lady boy. Certainly a 21st party to remember!! We went first to Ko Samui which to be honest I really didn't think was anything special but then headed to Ko Phangan which had a beautiful beach, great (and cheap) accommodation and lots of things to do. Decided to splash out and do my advanced scuba course which was certainly not as good quality as diving in Perhenthians and in fact during my final dive we found ourselves in water with 0.5m visibility… all good experience I guess. Full Moon Party was really good but to be honest I was feeling a little sleepy and didn't managed to make it 'til sunrise.

Now we left Ko Phangan this morning to go to Ko Phi Phi (island) on the west coast of Thailand. Tonight Rob, Elliott and I are in Krabi on the mainland which means I've finally found somewhere where the internet is cheap enough to justify a long e-mail.

For all you Venice people…. I've just had myself a pizza and a glass of Italian wine in preparation for our Venice trip which Steve tells me begins in 32 days time.. wooo! I can't tell you how great it feels that I'm going straight from one holiday to another! Thanks everyone for your e-mails it's really great to hear what you're up to and I'm sorry I can't really afford internet enough to reply to them all separately. Keep 'em coming though! Take care and see you all soon. xxxx


Cameron Highlands – July 25th

Hi Everyone

I hope you are all well and having really great summers! I know all these mass e-mails can be really irritating but I've sat through enough of them for the past few years so I may as well tell you all what I've been up to!

Singapore was really quite cool looking back and although it didn't feel like England much at the time now that I'm in Malaysia I feel so much further from home. They even have Topshop and Marks and Spencers so we could go in there and immediately feel like we were back in London! The only downsides were that the whole city seemed to be full of places selling fish head curry which just sounds disgusting and places selling Durian fruit which has just about the most horrible smell with the exception of raw sewage… There must be so much wealth in Singapore because there are so many ridiculously expensive shops – i saw Louis Vuiton, Ralph Lauren, Gucci, Prada and Rolex all as next door neighbours! In the (lovely) Raffles hotel there was a shop selling huge fossils that were all about 55 million years old. They were really amazing and although no prices were displayed I'm sure they slightly exceeded my holiday budget. Would have looked lovely on the mantle piece though… On our last night in Singapore, naturally we went to the Long Bar for our Singapore Sling, it was a prey cool experience but I felt like such a tourist.

The next morning we left our rat infested hostel and headed across town on the swish underground system to get the bus to go to and island (Pulau Tioman) off the East Coast. We didn't know the bus times and missed the last one so decided to hope on a bus that was leaving in a couple of minutes to Melaka on the West Coast. Melaka was ok but not as historical as I had expected it to be. The highlight was a curry we had in a little local place which was served on a banana leaf with no cutlery. Everyone was really friendly but they seemed slightly confused as to why us white people were there! Looking back I think I committed a bit of a faux pas by using both hands to eat with (but curry and rice are hard to eat with your fingers!!) when clearly one hand is supposed to be reserved for other business… (It is best I try not to get started on the toilets here because as Adam has realised I am endlessly fascinated by them…) I guess that is enough about our curry – the museum in Melaka was very nice too (but could have been improved by having better air conditioning).

We spent 2 nights in Melaka then headed across he country to Pulau Tioman. This was an amazing island which exceeded my expectations in so many ways. As we approached I realised that the island is actually quite big but covered in Jungle – like proper massive trees and hills covered i thick cloud – like real jungle. Just trying to get that across cos I could hardly believe it! The island was like a sort of utopia – everyone was so happy there that everyone said hi and smiled at everyone else. There were big monitor lizards everywhere which were really cool to see just lazing around in the sun. Best of all there was a really amazing coral reef just out at sea and we had an amazing time snorkelling there. The sea was just alive with beautiful fish. We trecked through the jungle from one side of the island to the other. It was only 7km but all uphill and after swimming so much the day before my legs really ached. I was amazing to be inside the jungle but the novelty wore off after 2 hours in the heat and humidity. The beach on the other side was even quieter than the one we came from but a storm began and we got on a boat to take us home. The boat took as long as it had when we walked and this tiny boat was being rocked about in the waves which kept making the engine cut out…. slightly worrying! We stayed on Tioman for 4 nights feeling thoroughly relaxed and getting completely sunburnt.

Next we got on a bus to Kuala Lumpar which for me was when everything started to go wrong. We stopped on the way to get some food and with hindsight have no idea what I ate… After visiting China Town in KL and realising you can get ANYTHING in the world fake I started feeling rough. I thought it would pass by the morning so got home to get some rest. After a few days of (presumably?) food poisoning I had clearly lost a lot of weight so Adam took me to the hospital. By far this is the most interesting thing that happened to me in KL as for the rest of our trip I was just stuck in bed with crippling stomach cramps. For a start I was expecting to wait hours to see a Doctor with no appointment but instead he had his lunch (20 minutes) then saw me. The way the nurses fussed around me and the doctor completely unappreciated felt like I was going back in time; their uniforms were verging on the kinky side and hey seemed so unrespected by the doctor. It was strange to think how valued they'd be by comparison in England where we have such a shortage. Also rather than actually hear my symptoms and talk to me the doctor preferred to talk to adam at great length about religion and politics while the nurses fussed around us doing all the actual work. Eventually the doctor spoke to me and prescribed me 5 medicines and sent me on my way. I expected to go through a fortune on medical expenses but the consultation and medicine together cost less than 10 pounds which makes me wonder what the NHS is doing wrong!

The next day with a little more strength in me I got on a bus to the Cameron Highlands which are mainly covered in jungle but also tea. So far today I've mainly just stayed in bed but I'm hoping that tomorrow I will be able to go out and do something for the first time in a week! I hope you've all had more fun especially for the past week than I have and it would be great to hear from you all. I'm sorry this e-mail's been so long but I've not got much else to do at the moment hehe. Ok take care all and speak soon. xxxx


Singapore – 13th July

Hi Everyone.

We've been in Singapore for a day and a half now. The flight here was quite stressful – at heathrow they weren't sure we'd be allowed into Singapore because we had no tickets to get out. Our flight ran an hour late and consequently we landed at quarter past for a flight that left on the next hour… had a mad dash through Bahrain airport and got on just after the last call. Then had another loong flight to singapore. Our hostel is basic but fine. It's very cheap for Singapore – just a fiver a night. We went up to Little India yesterday (after having a much needed sleep) and also just wandered around the city spending our money. Today we went to China Town and braved the local food which was lovely and I still feel fine. The main thing to do in Singapore seems to be spending money and we feel we've wandered enough and spent enough considering our budget for this holiday! consequently we'll probs go to Malaysia tomorrow and spend a few days on an island. I won't carry on e-mailing everyone with every stop on our tour but I just wanted to let you know that I've set up a blog to upload my photos to so feel to take a look:
link

Also adam has an amazing blog which will be often updated with mind blowing facts and figures about our daily activities. Tune in soon for his deepest feelings about Pulau Tioman:

"http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/adamwestbrook"

p.s. please be sympathetic to the pictures – it's not easy to look glamorous when you've been travelling without sleep for nearly 24 hours!! ooh and there probably shouldn't be soo many pics of blurry sky scrapers but I'll sort that out when I'm not paying for the internet…

Take care everyone and let me know what you're up to. xxxx


July 07, 2005

Off to the East

So while normally I wouldn't be able to think of anything more pretentious than keeping a blog it might be a useful way to store photos for the next few months while I'm in Asia and Venice. If I'm feeling particularly space age I might update this text area with the e-mails I send out but at the moment I'm not even sure how this works (hence the irrelevant ramblings). Anyway make sure you all keep in touch via e-mail as I suspect after a few weeks of travelling I'll get bored of this new toy and prefer to go out and actually DO something. hehe… shouldn't really go all the way to Asia to sit in an internet café.

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