Tag Archives: Thailand

Couch Surfing in Ubud

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scanning for Couch Surf hosts… is anyone out there?

Five weeks prior to our arrival in Bali we contacted Di and Nigel through Couch Surfing (CS). At the time, Indonesia felt like a far-off dream, and the prospect of sailing home to Australia, a ludicrous endeavour.

We had our backs bent to the task of digging rice paddies on a burgeoning eco-tourism project on Koh Phangan. The barrage of bass-line from late night doof-parties, for which the island is famous, and the bloody proclivities of the local mosquitos was taking its toll. For the first time in a long time we were at a loss: couldn’t say where we were going, when, or for how long.

After hanging up our gardening gloves for the day, we took up our laptops and pegged our hopes on a series of couch surf requests: a life-line of introductions that stretched all the way from Southern Thailand to KL and Singapore, and from peninsular Malaysia all the way across the sea to Jakarta, Kuta and Ubud.

Di and Nigel received our CS SOS with felicitous welcome. They stuck with us while our plans changed and accepted us even after the date of our stay shifted from the 17th to the 27th of April – a mere three days before they were due to depart for their holiday in England.

Fast-forward five weeks to the afternoon of the 27th of April and there we were, trussed up like a couple of Christmas turkeys on bean bags on Di and Nigel’s front porch, gazing into limpid mugs of coffee and mooning over proferred plates of door-stop sandwiches – organic white ciabbata!

During those first crucial hours of host-surfer bonding it became apparent that the four of us shared a cultural lineage: Nigel and Richie grew up within 129 miles of one another in Birmingham and Thetford respectively, whereas Di and I are both Queensland lasses, our home towns separated by a meagre 1,600km: which in the spacial-geographical terms of our country, meant we were practically neighbours.

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Nigel shares his passion for micro-brewed beer with his fellow countryman

Once we’d established the parameters of our youthful follies, we fell to that favourite passtime of refugees and migrants: laughing over the quaint traditions of our countryfolk; recalling landmark festivals, fads, celebrity-downfalls; and sharing humorous anecdotes about the inexplicable customs and idiom of our ‘host’ country – Indonesia: it was Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island meets Down Under all over. Continue reading

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TRAVEL, EAT, SLEEP

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Travel, eat, sleep. Boil mine and Richie’s lives down to their bare bones and there’s little more to them at the moment than these three things: travel, eat, sleep – each element supplied in fluctuating amounts of excess and scarcity.

Among the three, Travel is the undisputed heavyweight champion: the other two, eating and sleeping, are its dependants: we eat as much as necessary to sustain ourselves during our travels, and sleep as much (or in this case, as little) as travel permits. More often than not, we do two of the three activities simultaneously: eating while we travel, sleeping while we travel, and in some cases, dreaming of eating and travel while we sleep.

toying with the idea of sleep

toying with the idea of sleep

Out of the last eleven nights: we’ve travelled from Koh Phangan to Yogyakarta; spent two nights aboard ferries and two aboard trains; had seven changes of bed; entered our 18th and 19th countries in 15 months; and covered a total distance of approximately 3, 500km. No wonder we feel tired!

The panoramas of rice fields and jungle glimpsed from the window of the train from Jakarta to Joygyakarta twist our necks and put our noses out of joint, making us wisftful for experiences we won’t be having, not this time. Volcanoes, crater lakes, rice terraces and national parks beckon from the pages of the Indonesia Lonely Planet, threatening to turn us aside from the task at hand, which is, finding a flightless passage from Indonesia to Australia.

“On our way back to England,” / “next time” / “if we do this jounrey in reverse” I find myself fantasising twice, sometimes three times a day, “we’ll come back here” / “we’ll climb Mt Bromo” / “We’ll visit Ijen” / “We’ll go via Papua New Guinea to the Philippines”. Richie shakes his head, smiling at my optimism. He pretends he knows better but I know for a fact that he too is planning the return journey from Australia to England: first New Zealand, then the Americas from south to north, arriving in Ireland from Canada, from Canada to Wales, then finally across to England. We’re as bad as each other.

Richie, you see, has his heart set on Uluru. Meditating on the red rock would be a peerless way to signal our arrival: “Hello Australia, we are here, please give us the best.” Richie could stage a rave and I’d give Alice a dance performance the likes of which it had never seen, not since Felicia and her feathered friends pulled into Alice in a shiny candy-pink bus. Continue reading

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never miss your water

Now, I-I know that you never miss your water ’til you’re dry…
Diesel

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April in Koh Phangan and my body is a mobile irrigation system. Perspiration seeps unceasingly from pores that never close their eyes on the world. At the slightest sign of exertion – picking up a towel from the floor of the bathroom or tearing a square of paper from the toilet roll – a new response is triggered. I’m wet: perma-wet.

Cotton clothing works overtime in the heat, wicking moisture away from hard-to-reach places. Fresh sarongs, singlets and trousers become sodden in minutes, drooping un-flatteringly from my arms and legs in flaccid pockets that resemble a pelican’s throat pouch. My clothes have a permanent case of tuckshop lady’s arms, or is that just me?

The capacity of my body’s inbuilt sprinkler-system is astounding, if not slightly embarrassing. I’m dishing up salty water all over the place and meanwhile, more than half the island’s households, not to mention their gardens, are screaming out for water. Continue reading

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On a mission in Phuket… in photos

cruising the beaches, yacht clubs, marinas and piers in search of a ride south...

cruising the beaches, yacht clubs and marinas in search of a crewing opportunity south…

that one would do...

that one would do…

... or that

… or that

checking out the competition at the Boat Lagoon Marina

checking out the competition at the Boat Lagoon Marina

spot the cheeky mugs! Putting ourselves out there...

spot the cheeky mugs! Putting ourselves out there…

Crew for you!

Crew for you!

It's not all hard work... strolling in old town Phuket

It’s not all hard work… strolling in old town Phuket

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local cats on the look-out

local cats on the look-out

high glamour in one of Phuket's more picturesque lane ways

high glamour in one of Phuket’s more picturesque lane ways

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a golden horizon of fishcakes

a golden horizon of fishcakes

power (present) & Portugal (past)

power (present) & Portugal (past)

another crumbling facade

another crumbling facade

Richie ogles the jackfruits in the market... eyes as big as saucers

Richie ogles the jackfruits in the market… eyes as big as saucers

dusk... and still 60% humidity

dusk… and still 60% humidity

a late night in the lobby finding WorkX, Wwofi, Couch Surfing and music opportunities

a late night in the lobby finding WorkX, Wwoof, Couch Surfing and music opportunities

Crew for you...

Crew for you…

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Bangkok Cheap Eats

plates don't stay full for long in Bangkok!

plates don’t stay full for long in Bangkok!

As travellers, Richie and I are devoted to cheap eats. Eat cheap, eat local! In Bangkok, where food is fresh, bountiful, varied and tasty, it’s hardly a difficult motto to live by. Nor does it require a spirit of self-sacrifice. By eating the food that locals eat, where locals eat it, we’ve saved ourselves loads of money and disappointment.

On average, Richie and I get by in Thailand on about 200Baht ($6.50) p/person p/day for food: that’s three light meals a day, one or two cold beverages, a sweet treat AND some fresh fruit.

So, dive into the closest alley, market and cafeteria with us and kick up your culinary heels as we take you into the world of Bangkok eats and drinks for under $2.

Eating cheap with the Lonely Planet 

If you’re feeling dubious about eating local or trying something new, the Lonely Planet (or other trusted guide book) is a good place to start. In general, we find their suggestions useful and reliable. In Bangkok we put the Planet to the test by eating out at two of the restaurants/stalls recommended in the 2012 14th edition. Here’s what we reckon:

  • Khrua Phornlamai; Th Plaeng Nam (Chinatown) for pàt kêe mow (wide rice noodles fried with seafood, chillies and Thai basil). Cost: 60B/$1.90.
pàt kêe mow (wide rice noodles fried with seafood, chillies and Thai basil)

pàt kêe mow (wide rice noodles fried with seafood, chillies and Thai basil)

The lowdown: This Chinatown street stall consists of little more than a few woks, a trestle table covered with bowls of fresh ingredients and a handful of plastic tables and chairs.

The pàt kêe mow arrived quickly on sizzling plates. Despite our request that the dishes be prepared ‘Thai hot’ they arrived with only a hint of fire. In order to achieve the required heat factor, we added fresh and dried chilli from the pots on the table, which included the ubiquitous fish sauce, sugar and vinegar.

There was a good amount of seafood in the dish, mostly prawns and squid. The wide rice noodles were not as chewy as perhaps they could have been. The dish was a bit flaccid and lacked the clarity of flavour I’ve come to expect in Thailand. Still, it was an enjoyable and filling meal, the basil was yummy and the location ideal. A perfect place to to sit and soak up the bustling atmosphere of Chinatow. Experience: 3/5 (In Richie’s opinion: 4/5).

blow! It's hot!

blow! It’s hot!

  • Thip Samai; 313 Th Mahachai; 5:30pm-1:30am closed alternate wednesdays, for pat tai (fried rice noodles with egg, shrimp and peanuts). Cost: 70Baht/$2.20.
pat tai perfection

pat tai perfection

Okay, we broke the budget on this one. But it was worth it! When we arrived at Thip Samai at 5:20pm after a hot greasy stroll from Wat Pho, the queue was out the door and down the road. The theatrics in the outdoors kitchen made the time pass quickly: 12 busy staff with woks rocking, flames jumping and food flying. In no time at all we were sitting inside eating. The place was spotlessly clean and the wait staff friendly and polite.

wok 'n' roll, the busy kitchen at Thip Samai

wok ‘n’ roll, the busy kitchen at Thip Samai

Out of the 3 dishes on offer we opted for the pat tai served in a crepe-thin layer of omlette.

The experience took my appreciation of pat tai to a whole new level. Each thread of noodle was separate, al dente and elegantly coated in flavour. We were liberal with the chopped peanuts, basil, bean sprouts, fresh chilli and lime (delivered fresh to your table when you order). No messing about!

Every mouthful a pleasure: the crisp crunch of the raw sprouts, the silky wholesomeness of the omelette, the pungency of the spring onion and the nuttiness of the roasted peanut. A full and memorable taste experience. Two days later, we were back for more! Experience: 5/5.

Our recommendations

 You won’t find the following options in ‘the book’ but we found them ourselves and reckon they’re just as worthy of inclusion.

  • Moo satay (pork satay skewers with peanut sauce) at Nothaburi Market. Cost: 40B/$1.30
moo satay on our very own plastic plate

moo satay on our very own plastic plate

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Voyage home: boat-hitching to Oz

All journeys eventually end in the same place, home.”
– Chris Geiger

Fletcher ship

The bank balance was telling us what neither of us wanted to believe: the journey was coming to an end. Time to think about heading home…

It had been an expensive few months: purchasing visas, long distance travel, a parcel home, new DJ equipment and a visit to Angkor Wat. 50 and 100 baht notes coursing through our fingers, flowing out like folded paper boats on an outgoing tide. And not just baht: riel, US dollars, Lao kip and renminbi: tiny slips of colored paper with embossed kings’ heads and national monuments – bound for other places, other peoples’ pockets. It was as it should be. Flowing out, flowing in.

Despite the recent bout of spending we were still proudly more or less on budget: roughly 140 pounds (AUD$200) p/week for the two of us – gas, food and lodgings. In this way, we’d managed 14 months of travel in 15 countries: by our standards, it was a triumph!

With less than one thousand pounds remaining we decided to turn all our energy toward what really matters: completing the journey overland from England to Australia without flying, at the least cost, maximum fun and adventure.

Problem = solution!

The answer was simple: boat hitch-hiking.

A friend of Richie’s had made the reverse journey a few years ago, travelling from Hobart to Bangkok, via New Caledonia, Vanuatu and the Soloman Islands: looking after children, scrubbing decks, cooking and keeping lookout. It was possible. It had been for her, and it would be for us.

We put out our feelers. Phuket and Langkawi sounded like the most probable destinations from which to hitch a ride. Our friend Bonnie, a seasoned sailor, recommended a number of crew-seeking websites, and Dad forwarded links to cargo ships plying the route from Singapore to Sydney. We ruled nothing out, piracy and people-smuggling included!

Today you can find us shacked up in old town Phuket, waiting for the tides to turn: haunting marinas, liaising with salty-dog sailers, eavesdropping on itinerant surfers, and taking advice from yacht-club veterans who have seen more than their fair share of vagrants and hopefuls board ship, bunker down, and sail home.

It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
– Ernest Hemingway

CREWAD 

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